Queen 18.7: A Matter of Some Gravity

Source material: Worm, Queen 18.7

Blogged: November 5-12, 2020


Alright, so I found the body downtown, next to a vent. When reactor went off, I saw Eidolon and Noelle move away from reactor and towards downtown, which I thought was really sus so I followed. When I got there, I found Eidolon’s body and Noelle was nowhere to be seen, so naturally I’m voting… Eidolon.

…okay so none of that has happened (yet?) and this isn’t Among Us, but Eidolon is definitely sus, and it’s probably time to find out a bit about how it manifests.

Eidolon has gone into this ensuring that if he appears to die, the story of a desperate man trying to hold onto his power to fight the Endbringers is spread. He even managed to make it seem convincing, and Tattletale’s power backs it up suggesting there’s at least a kernel of truth, but I don’t trust it fully. Especially given that we know that once he did meet Noelle, they started talking big secret plot stuff instead of fighting.

At the moment, the only thing I have that points away from his plans here involving faking his death is that we already had a character faking death recently, literally last night in-universe.

Which means that it might not actually be part of his plan, but his real death is something he’s made contingencies for to throw suspicion off the deeper conspiracy, in case talking to Noelle goes wrong.

Another possibility is that he never intended to talk at all and that was at Noelle’s initiative, but I highly doubt that. His presence was sus from the beginning — it was very clear he had his own reasons for being here, ones that very likely overlapped with Cauldron’s.

Let’s hear what he’s got to say, and see how badly he and Noelle react to the Undersiders showing up!


“He’s talking to her about Cauldron,” I said.  “And Coil.”  I’d signalled the others to exit the van, and we were gathered around Bentley and Bastard.

Sometimes the reminder of how the last regular chapter ended is very much necessary after an Interlude, but here… I don’t think I could forget the ending of 18.6.

Still, I appreciate it. Helps readjust my brain to the right time and place while still getting right to the point!

“Cauldron?”  Tecton asked.

Yeah, that’s right, Tec, you and Wanton don’t have the proprietary rights to the concept of names ending in -on.


Sounds like the thunder part of the storm that’s been raging for the last 20 hours is picking back up. Ready for some dramatic reveals, perhaps?


“Cauldron worked out a formula that could give people powers, and the capes with monstrous features are the failed results,” I said.

Dropping the answer to the mystery of Case 53 on the two Wards just like that!

“The Case 53s,” Grace said.

Tattletale nodded.

I raised my finger to my lips.  To where my lips were behind my mask, really.  I wound up sliding my hands beneath the sides of my mask to plug my ears.  I’d hoped to shut out other sounds and allow myself to focus.  It wasn’t too helpful.

The funny thing about this exchange is that it’s clearly just here to bring the two outsiders up to speed, as it’s information we the readers are deeply familiar with by now, but if we had exclusively been following the Undersiders this whole time (all else equal, just Worm as it is minus Interludes and Migration), it would have been an important bit of recappery. The last time Cauldron came up this explicitly in chapters that stuck to Taylor’s POV was seven Arcs ago, easy enough to forget about if we had spent those seven Arcs knowing as little about Cauldron and its overall importance in the story as the Undersiders did.

Tattletale murmured something to Grue, and he surrounded us with darkness, leaving a clearing so we could communicate.  It took me a second to realize why.  Were he and Tattletale hoping to mask us from Noelle’s other senses?

Reasonable. The darkness fucks with a bunch of regular human senses so it’s worth a shot.

Rachel’s dogs could smell through the darkness, couldn’t they?  It wouldn’t stop Noelle if she really was smelling us.

True, but it might work against more eldritch senses she could have. Who knows?

“…saying he knew them…” Noelle said.  Is that a question?  I was having trouble discerning tone.

I suppose it’s also likely they did it to help Taylor’s concentration, seeing her trying to shut out sounds, especially if he left a little darkness at her ears.

I’m guessing “he” is Coil and “them” is Cauldron.

“…m saying exactly that, Noelle,” Eidolon replied.  “… … very beginning.  Coil involved … … people who made you like this.”

And Eidolon probably doesn’t know it, but one of Coil’s last ditch appeals before dying was offering to put the Travelers in touch with the Doctor, which Noelle may have heard. That gives her some reason to believe him.

“Eidolon just said Coil was involved with Cauldron.  And that Cauldron is responsible for Noelle,” I informed the others.

“Another of Coil’s schemes?” Grue asked.  “But why would he make Noelle?  What does that serve, really?”

Look, I could point and laugh at how Grue doesn’t see even a tenth of the full picture here and his questions seem rather silly with the dramatic irony layered on top.

But I recognize that this is exactly how I come across very often, and that if presented with this information as Taylor put it I would likely ask these same questions.

And so I’m absolutely going to point and laugh at how Grue doesn’t see even a tenth of the full picture here and his questions seem rather silly with the dramatic irony layered on top.

“He didn’t make her,” Tattletale said.  “But the rest is very possible.”

I’d spoken because I was worried I wouldn’t get a chance later, between fatigue affecting my memory and the possibility of an imminent fight.  I’d missed some of what Eidolon said in the process.  “…help you.”

Sus or not, Eidolon does at least seem to have Noelle’s best interests in mind. Question is whether the Doctor does.

Notably, Eidolon seemed to have moral qualms with Cauldron’s activities, but stayed with them anyway. Why? Was he successfully convinced that what they were doing was for the greater good?

“I’ve had too many…” she said one word that was too complicated for me to make out.  “…of help.  Can’t get my hopes … …”

“offers” isn’t very complicated, but “promises”, maybe?

I was disappointed in how limited these senses of mine were.  They were useful, but the tactile nature of my swarm-sense left me blind as to people’s changes in expression, and listening in like this, I could only catch the individual speech sounds, working out how they fit together into words while trying not to fall too far behind.  I wished I’d devoted more time to trying to figure out my swarm-sight and swarm-hearing.

Alas, you dismissed them as too difficult to process. But hey, you’ve already come a lot further on that front just with a month or so of practice.

Eidolon said something, and I couldn’t decipher the word.  He paused, so I grasped that there was some meaning there.  Ended with -tive or -shiv… prerogative?

Instrumentative. Locative. Dative. Accusative. Optative.

In any case, linguistics is fun.

Alternative.  It connected just as he started speaking again.  “Do you want to die…”

…that sounds like a threat when put like this but I don’t think he means it as one.

“Yes,” Noelle’s answer was clear.

Oof.

There aren’t a lot of words Taylor could have missed after “die” that would make this not an oof.

“I’m …red to die too,” Eidolon said.  There’d been another longer word in the middle there that I couldn’t afford to stop and work out.  “My danger sense tells me you … alone.”

…”aren’t”? “can take me”?

“…red” read to me as “scared”, but that’s not really a “longer word”… ah. “Prepared”.

“No,” Noelle said.  She bumped into more of my bugs as she shifted position, moving one large leg that was likely so thick around that three people together couldn’t have reached around it with their hands meeting.  The bugs disappeared from my power’s senses.

She still has legs?

Ones she actually uses?

“Why don’t you … us…” Eidolon said.  Introduce.  It only made sense as a question:  Why don’t you introduce us?

Eidolon seems very aware that the clones are not going to let Eidolon kill Noelle in peace, even if Noelle wants him to. The part of Noelle that she struggles to fight likely won’t take it lying down either.

“Show my hand…”

“Why not…” Eidolon said, and I missed the tail end of it.  Another question?  I was starting to get a headache, trying to process all this.

“If you want to die, why not make it easier?”

Something peeled away from Noelle’s side, and when it bumped into my bugs, they weren’t absorbed.  The stature, the length of the hair… another Vista.

By process of elimination, this is either Draconia Blaze, the Spine Shredder, or one she didn’t show in the video call. More likely the former, as the heroes may well see this one moving her about and she’s still probably under the impression that her ruse about not being able to make more is holding (so it would be a bad move to use one the heroes didn’t know about visibly).

I thought maybe Noelle had produced another clone, but others started to emerge from the surrounding architecture, peeling away from nearby walls as if they’d been inside the surfaces.

So Draconia Blaze, the Spine Shredder makes hammerspace surfaces?

And they weren’t all Vistas.  I noted the presence of what had to be a Circus, disproportionate and thin, with a hunched back, using her knuckles to walk.  There was another Vista, two large figures who might have been Übers, and on the second floor of the building behind Eidolon there was a narrow young man, shirtless, with a gun bigger than he was.  Leet.

So, fun side effect of adding “Draconia Blaze, the Spine ___” to my power generator as a rare name option? I had to make it capable of generating Draconia Blaze names. *pulls up testing field in the generator editor*

Since I’ve run out of previously established names, this other Vista clone is going to be…

Draconia Blaze, the Spine Reacher!

Now I just gotta figure out what to call these non-Vista clones. The Circus one is probably safe to call Gorilla, and I’ve got a couple ideas for the Über and Leet clones.

(I know they get official names in the character tags, but because that’s where they are and they may hold implications for the ways powers are twisted, I want to find those out in retrospect. And in the meantime I need ways to refer to them.)

“…not expect you to … a trap,” Eidolon said.  He hadn’t budged, and as far as I could tell, his tone of voice hadn’t changed.

Did he not expect a trap? Then he hasn’t been paying attention.

Noelle didn’t reply.  From her vantage point, she had to be able to see through the open, glass-less window behind Eidolon, see the Leet silently setting up the gun.

So, the gun… did Haxxor steal it from actual Leet, or did they find materials?

“Trouble,” I said.

Grue banished the darkness.  “Trouble?”

“She’s ambushing him.  There’s a Leet with a gun inside the building behind him.  Tinker made, has to be.”

How would actual Leet carry a gun the size of that thing, anyway? Haxxor may have enhanced strength, but Leet never struck me as the beefy type.

“Eidolon knows what he’s doing,” Grace said.

Yes, there’s plenty of evidence that people think that.

But if his plan was straight up just “get close to Noelle to try to talk her down with secrets, otherwise fight”, then I feel quite justified in questioning his intelligence.

“And if he doesn’t?” Tattletale asked.  “If that gun just happens to be able to punch through any invincibility or whatever it is he’s given himself?”

“He’s better than that,” she said.  “He’s Eidolon.”

And that’s the real danger of the position he’s in, socially. Everyone around him expects him to be perfect, to the point where they don’t believe he can fail, that he can make mistakes. And when that happens, suddenly he’s got no one around who will call him on it when he does make mistakes, because they believe he has some perfect plan.

“He’s human,” I said.  “Humans make mistakes.”

“He’s Eidolon,” she repeated.

Remember what happened to a certain man by the codename Vikare? And how that established parahumans as parahumans rather than superhumans?

Parahumans were people, and people were flawed.

“I’m with Grace on this one,” Tecton said.  “Too dangerous to go.  She has a vendetta against you guys.  It’s not worth the risk that you’d throw his plan into disarray.”

Tecton, meanwhile, actually has a good point.

“Then why are we here?” I asked.

…true. You kinda already threw in your lot on the “mess up Eidolon’s plans” side.

“If things fall apart,” he said, “We can act then.  Eidolon’s powers are weakest just after he changes them.  If she creates a clone of him, the clone will be picking the powers for the first time.  There’ll be a window of opportunity where we can take them out.”

Interesting.

So you’re saying the powers grow stronger as he “holds onto” them? That one of the clones might perhaps lose the limits for how strong they might grow over time? That this is a terrible idea?

“Assuming we can get close enough,” Grue said.

“And there’s a good half-dozen capes around her,” I said.  “One Circus, one Vista that can apparently hide people in two-dimensional space, two Übers and the Leet with the gun.”

At least. Noelle is smart enough that she might have had Draconia Blaze, the Spine Shredder only reveal some of her forces.

“We compromise,” Tattletale said.  “Skitter, draw arrows on the ground, discreet but easily readable.  Point the way to the Leet, okay?  The rest of us hang back, and we wait to make sure we can get Eidolon out of a bad situation if one crops up.”

Fair enough, I suppose.

I started to draw the arrows.  I was going to ask why, but I realized I was missing what Eidolon and Noelle were saying.

“…think you can win…” Eidolon said.

I like the ambiguity as to whether he thinks she can win or is asking whether she thinks so.

If it’s the latter, “win” may be a fuzzy term.

“I hope I don’t,” Noelle replied.

Jessica, we need you.

“… … want to die, why fight…”

“Can’t think straight.  My … wiring is all screwed up.  Won’t let me give up.  Too angry, too …less.”  Ruthless? Restless?

Another good use of the ambiguity. By having Taylor not catch which of the two it is, Wildbow can suggest the idea that it’s both.

Leet was still setting up.  He’d had to find a point where there was an open door, just so he had enough space behind him that the weapon could be positioned horizontally.  The design was crude, hodgepodge.  It resembled Squealer’s work, just going by what I was interpreting with my swarm-sense.

I remember, largely because I recently reread my blog of the chapter to check whether Clocky was present, that Squealer’s work had a pretty rough aesthetic.

Why is space an issue with space warpers on the team? Noelle, you need to get your clones cooperating more.

Draconia Blaze, the Spine Reacher is likely focused on transportation, since I don’t see Draconia Blaze, the Spine Shredder’s specialty being very useful for that aside from crossing pits or through cracks, A Link Between Worlds style.

That meant there was an excess of openings and gaps.  The part that burned hottest had to be the power source.  It was at the very back of the gun, at the point furthest from the mutant Leet.

Oh my cod please tell me we’re defeating a video game themed cape’s clone by stuffing his tech with insects in a way reminiscent of the original reason computer errors are called bugs.

I sneaked cockroaches in through the gaps in the weapon’s exterior and started them chewing through the wiring.

yesss

“… … you so sure that you’ll be any calmer when they’re dead?” Eidolon asked.

She’s not going to like the tech bugs, that’s for sure.

But no. I highly doubt killing the Undersiders would help her much.

“I’m not.  … I’m angry, and it’s like the … have been taken off my emotions.  My anger, my …tion, the pain, the hate, … so much deeper.  … it’s not mine.  Not my emotion, so I can still think … .”

She’s really struggling.

“They’re both stalling,” I said.

Neither of them want this fight, and that’s a good thing. Including for my estimation of Eidolon’s IQ. Helps add at least a couple points.

“Eidolon’s picked the powers he thinks will win the fight,” Tattletale said, “And is waiting for them to get up to full strength.  Noelle’s waiting for her evil-Leet to shoot.”

That too.

All the more reason to disable the gun, so Eidolon might get the choice of when the battle starts.

Either Tattletale is withholding important details of Eidolon’s power in a way that isn’t typical of her — she’ll withhold stuff, but she’ll also tattle if she thinks that’s better, and I don’t think she has much reason to hide the notion that Eidolon’s powers aren’t up to him — or Eidolon does actually have some say in which powers he’ll have. Which to me suggests that he’s got a smaller selection to pick from, determined by what the power deems needed.

Metaphorically speaking, he has a whole deck of cards, the power deals him a hand, and he picks cards from the hand to put on the table as his powers for the moment. At any time, he can switch out one or more of the powers on the table for powers in his hand, but he can only use the ones on the table.

“I’m trying to sabotage the gun,” I said.  “But it looks like he’ll be ready to shoot any second now.”

Tecton and Grace simultaneously looked at one another, but they didn’t speak.  What was that about?  Was their faith in Eidolon faltering as I described the situation, or was it more about me?

And if it’s the latter… is it positive or negative?

“Less than a minute,” Tattletale said.

Longer than I thought. Slow charging gun, it seems.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t have that long,” I retorted.

The words had only just left my mouth when Leet dropped to a position at the side of the gun, putting one eye to the scope.  The entire weapon shifted on the tripod mount as he aimed.

Oh, or… was “less than a minute” the time until sunrise?

Eidolon’s head turned slightly, as if he were looking at Leet out of the corner of one eye.

“Hi, yes, I know you’re there. Wait your turn.”

Leet pulled the trigger.

“There we go,” Eidolon said.  The gun wasn’t firing.  He pulled the trigger again, and an arc of electricity ripped out from a space by the power supply, toasting half of the bugs I’d positioned on Leet and sending him sprawling to the ground.

Apparently Taylor wasn’t alone in sabotaging the gun?

He was back on his feet seconds later, tearing one panel away to get at the sparking power supply.  Tougher than a normal person.

Been a while since we saw Sparky.

“Attack!” Noelle screamed.

Her minions started to move on Eidolon, but it was Eidolon who acted on the command.

Hah, that’s a fun description.

He swept one arm out in front of him, as though he were brushing a curtain aside or waving away some bugs.  There was a crash we could feel where we were huddled together, making the ground shake.

In that very instant, Eidolon had killed the vast majority of the bugs I’d placed in the area.  It took me a second to process what he’d done.

Did he use Self-Destruct?

The bugs that were still alive were unable to move, pressed hard against the ground to the point that they were sinking into the soft earth.  Even the more durable cockroaches had died where the ground wasn’t soft enough for them to be pushed down into it.

Big ol’ downwards forcefield?

Through the few surviving bugs, I could get a sense of what was happening.  Tufts of weeds that had stuck up between slats in the pavement now laid flat against the ground, as though they’d been starched and ironed in place.

The effect only lasted a few seconds.  I tentatively moved more bugs into the area to do an inspection, found the air both dense and strangely warm.  The ground had shifted, and both the pavement and the concrete panels of the sidewalk had cracked.  Chunks of rubble had been pulverized, piles of debris pancaked against the ground.  Plywood, siding and wood paneling had been torn from the faces of nearby buildings, rendered into unrecognizable fragments of wood and plastic.  Each fragment had been mashed flat or shoved into cracks and crevices.

Really seems like an explosion-like effect.

The Übers and the Circus were dead, pulverized against the ground with their limbs broken in multiple places, their chest cavities and skulls cracked like eggs.  The Vista was nowhere to be seen.

Which one? There were two, right? *looks back*

Wait, Taylor only listed one to the others (while referring to five clones as “a good half-dozen”). But earlier she definitely said “There was another Vista” in a way that sounded like she wasn’t talking about the Vista who had just revealed all the clones she was listing.

I think this is either an error or something prone to being misunderstood. I know I can be a little dense, but surely I’m not alone in reading “There was another Vista” as implying a second Vista present here rather than re-counting the one we already knew about?

*notes Draconia Blaze, the Spine Reacher down as “Schrödinger’s Vista”*

Anyway, I didn’t even get to decide which Über was Troll and which was Pro Gamer, let alone joke about something being a Pro Gamer move.

Eidolon hadn’t moved, and a tentative search told me that Noelle was still standing.  My swarm noted the presence of blood dripping to the ground beneath her massive body.

So, Eidolon… do you subscribe to the Sans Undertale school of combat, or do you have something even stronger to follow this up with?

Eidolon said something, but I didn’t have enough bugs in the area to hear him.

“He just crushed everything around her,” I said.  “Almost as if he dropped a house-sized, invisible anvil around her.”

How would you know it was invisible?

“Around Imp?”  Tattletale asked, gripping my arm.

Oh fuck.

My gut says Taylor would have found her, and also it’d be a really bad way to kill off Imp, but it does raise an interesting question:

Would Imp’s body be forgotten?

Generally, I assume most continuous-use powers would stop taking effect upon death, but Imp’s power was established as working backwards. Active use is turning it off, as though being forgotten is her default state and her power is being remembered. It is very possible that if she died, only Tattletale would know she was ever on the team, that she ever existed, without being continually reminded.

“Around Noelle,” I said.  “What do you mean, Imp?”

Jeez, are we going there?

“The building where Leet was-” Tattletale started, grabbing my arm, “Did he hit it?”

…I see no reason he wouldn’t attack Haxxor too, if he had the opportunity…

“No.”

“Turn the arrows around!  Give every warning you can!  We just sent Imp in there to deal with Leet!”

Get her the fuck out of there!

I did as she asked, using every bug I could to draw warnings, turning the arrows to point to a retreat.

Damn it!” Grue said, “Why did we send her in there!?  We need to get in there, in case anyone-”

No, you need her out, not more people in.

Stay,” Tecton warned, “Evacuate your teammate, but don’t get in Eidolon’s way.”

There was another crash.  Once again, the vast majority of my bugs in Noelle’s vicinity disappeared.  Only a small few who were lucky enough to be in the right place and tough enough to endure the pressure survived.  The bugs who had been flying above Noelle sank into her flesh.

This is not what is usually meant by a writer dropping anvils, but I like it.

Through them, I could sense her advancing, moving one massive leg forward, relaxing and letting the pressure Eidolon was generating slam the limb into pavement with enough force to crack it.  Then she moved another leg forward.

*sticks m’legy out really far*

Eidolon floated higher, maintaining the same relative distance between himself and her.

How long will that last? I’m thinking until sunrise.

She dropped lower to the ground, as though she were succumbing to the pressure, then leaped in the same instant the last of the bugs who’d sunken into her flesh were absorbed.  I couldn’t follow what happened next.

Nothing good, I’m sure.

There was another crash, another earth-shaking rumble, and even the bugs who’d survived before were obliterated, leaving me utterly blind.  I moved a few bugs closer, to gauge if the effect was still active, and they died as though they’d moved beneath a falling hammer, going splat against the ground at the effect’s edge.

The whole thing seems like gravity manipulation. I wonder if Harsh Mistress could do something like this.

Behind Eidolon, Leet had finished fixing the gun, helped by the fact that the electricity had killed my saboteur-cockroaches.  In the same instant he moved to take position by the trigger, Eidolon turned around, raising one hand in his direction.

Here comes the banhammer for the Haxxor.

And Imp was there.  She drew her knife across the psycho-Leet’s throat.  Eidolon froze as Leet staggered and slumped against the windowsill, blood pouring from the open wound.

Nice work, Imp! Good thing you weren’t two seconds too late!

I felt a momentary confusion.  Leet was dead?

Moments like this are still so fun. Imp is a very interesting wildcard, and the way she’s only mentioned when she specifically comes up makes it easy for the reader to forget about her presence just like it is for Taylor — yes, even now, eight Arcs later, Imp still catches me off-guard more often than not.

Eidolon seemed to be reeling as well, but he recovered faster.  He wheeled around to strike out with the effect again.

“time to go all out wait fuck there’s someone there— what just happened? oh well time to go all out”

“Leet’s dead,” I said.

“How?” Tattletale asked.

“Throat slit.”

“I didn’t realize Eidolon could do that. Neither did he, it seems.”

“Imp.  She’s not listening to instructions.  Did Eidolon attack Leet?”

I shook my head.

Barely. That could’ve gone really badly if Imp hadn’t shown herself at just the right moment.

She released my upper arm from the death grip she’d been maintaining since Eidolon had attacked.

I love Tattletale here. It’s easy to fall in the trap of a character like her being detached and aloof or arrogant just because they’re the one with the answers, but Lisa is pointedly not like that and moments like this where we see how deeply worried she is for her teammate help reinforce that.

It wasn’t like her to get that upset.  She usually had more information to work with, so she had a better idea of what was going on, but that couldn’t account for her full reaction.  I wished I could read her expression.

And then there’s the fact that the rest of the team keep forgetting, which leaves her as the only one who knows how bad this is. She has to worry about Imp on behalf of all of them.

Plus if anyone here knows how powerful Eidolon is and how destructive he’s likely to go in the belief there are no allies around to take the hit, it’s Tattletale.

Leet slumped almost entirely out the window.  In a dying gesture, he feebly reached out for the end of the gun, gripping the barrel.  When he fell from the window, he kept hold of the gun.

Shame. Imp with that thing would be incredible.

The tripod skidded, and momentum coupled with Leet’s weight pulled the gun after him.

It’s gonna go off, isn’t it. Too much build-up, otherwise, even if Wildbow hasn’t always been on speaking terms with Chekhov.

Eidolon glanced over one shoulder at the body falling from the second floor window, then soared straight for the sky.

I was already sliding from Bentley’s back, heading toward the ongoing battle.  The movements, Eidolon’s reaction, everything spoke to something deliberate, something devastating on Leet’s part.

Welp.

The weapon’s power supply detonated on contact with the ground.  I didn’t have many bugs in the area to track it, only experienced a momentary sensation from the bugs in the area, much like I sensed when they were burned or electrocuted.  When the sensation disappeared, they were gone, dead.

This whole battle is no place for insects.

By which I mean humans who aren’t at Eidolon’s and Noelle’s level.

could see the actual explosion, a flare of white that I could most definitely make out with bug eyesight and with my own damaged eyes, a glow that rose above the buildings around us.

Welp.

No way Imp ran from that.

No,” Grue said, just behind me.  The both of us had stopped in our tracks in the wake of the explosion.

That sounds like he remembers, which is just about the most damning thing that could happen.

(Though “Imp is dead and only Tattletale remembers her” is still absolutely a premise I’d read a fic of.)

My bugs flooded into the area, to give me a better sense of what was happening.  I caught Noelle stampeding toward a tall building. She had been in the blast radius, and she hadn’t slowed down.  I hoped she hadn’t slowed down, because she was damn fast.

Can she use the building as a springboard to reach Eidolon in the sky?

Also, Taylor doesn’t seem immediately concerned about Imp. Maybe Grue remembered because he’d been concentrating on her, which Taylor has not?

Or maybe he doesn’t really know why he felt so strongly about that “no”…

She wasn’t in Leviathan’s speed class, but she was moving at the sort of speed I might expect from a car on the highway.  Maybe the comparison wasn’t so apt, because she was a living thing.

I mean, there are absolutely living things that match both the speed, size and mass of a car, at the same time.

What you’ll want to compare her to, Taylor, is a rhino.

(Or an elk if you want to focus more on the speed and get it up to proper highway speeds while retaining some of the large and imposing aesthetic.)

Like a predator, she shifted from a standstill to eighty miles an hour in a heartbeat.

Okay, even the cheetah doesn’t actually go that fast.

She was more like a rhino than a jungle cat, though, and she was ungainly.

Eyyy, she got there!

Of the examples I mentioned, the rhino is the slowest, but it’s also the most carlike in size and weight, and a car driving 55 kilometers per hour (34 mph) with a giant pointy horn on its grille will absolutely fuck you up.

My bugs could track the vibrations of her footfalls better than they could trace her outline, and I could sense how her movements weren’t synchronized.  There was no pattern to how her legs moved; rather, it was as if each leg had a mind of its own.

So I’m kinda picturing a rhino-shaped Fall Guy, with a helping of QWOP on the side.

Still, the sheer power of her movement carried her forward, while having six or more legs meant she always had several feet on the ground for balance.

Update: A tardigrade-shaped Fall Guy.

With a rhino horn.

She reached the base of the tallest skyscraper in the area and scaled it just as fast as she’d moved over ground.  Chunks of concrete were pulled and clawed away as each of her feet found or made footholds.  The debris fell in her wake, but her movement was steady and unfaltering.

> [S] Noelle: Ascend to the highest point in the building.

Eidolon turned her way, laid down that same pressure he’d applied earlier, tearing a full  third of the building to the ground.  A large part of the upper floors cast straight down, torn free of the building’s housing.

(extra space before “third”)

Let the readers be reminded that there was no evacuation order this time. Hopefully Eidolon checked whether the buildings around here were abandoned first.

The debris moved straight down with such force that it punched through as many as five or six of the floors below.  Noelle was already moving out of the way as the attack landed, circling around to the other side of the building, still climbing.

Noelle, you’re supposed to have a kidnapped human love interest with you when you do this. Come on, it’s Being a Monster 101.

She reached the top before the dust from Eidolon’s destruction rolled past us.  I held my breath.  I couldn’t afford another coughing fit.

This is becoming far too habitual.

We made our way to the spot where their fight had started.  Where Eidolon’s power had struck, the pavement had depressed until it was a good two feet lower than where we were standing.

I wonder how deep the effect went.

“Imp,” Grue breathed the word, stepping down to the depressed pavement and breaking into a run as he headed for the explosion site.  Tattletale gave me a hand in stepping down as we followed.  It wasn’t necessary, but I didn’t turn her down.

Go, Grue. Find her.

At least this place isn’t totally destroyed.

The explosion had shattered one exterior wall of the building, and scorched the inside.  My swarm fanned out to search the building’s interior.  It didn’t take long to find her on the second floor; she was so caked in dust and debris that I’d almost mistaken her for a piece of wreckage.

Oof. Let’s hope that wouldn’t be an accurate assessment.

“Second floor, near the back.  Stairwell is this way.”

Noelle, I realized, was vomiting from one of the three mouths on her lower body.  The slurry contained a human being, naked, with ulcerous growths all over her body.  Circus.

Good morning, Freakshow.

And Noelle wasn’t in contact with Circus.

That’s… ominous.

At the very least, being in contact with Circus is not outwardly apparent. Nom?

Maybe she’s keeping multiple victims alive inside her somewhere?

“Fuck me,” I said.

“Maybe later,” said Tattletale.

“Is she hurt?” Grue asked.  It took me a second to realize he meant Imp.

I shook my head.  “I don’t know.  I was swearing because… It’s Noelle.  She’s creating clones, and she apparently doesn’t need to be in constant contact to do it.”

Which raises questions about Vista. Tattletale seemed sure Vista was alive and figured it was so more clones could be created, after all.

“She does,” Tattletale said.  “Everything the Travelers said indicated it, and my power corroborated.  She’s touched people before and hasn’t produced any of them in the time she was with Coil.”

Yeah, I think I know where Vista and co. are.

“Maybe it’s a short duration thing,” I said.  We’d reached the staircase.  I was a little slower than my teammates in ascending the stairs.  My stamina was nowhere near where it needed to be, and my chest was aching as I breathed harder.  It made talking harder.  “She absorbs someone and she can create clones for a little while after.”

You’re so close to my theory, just one more step.

“Maybe,” Tattletale said.

We reached the top of the staircase.  The floor wasn’t entirely intact at the landing, so Bitch and her dogs hung back.  With the damage the explosion had done to the exterior wall, I could feel the saltwater scented air stirring my hair.

I thought for a moment that she was somehow sensing the saltwater through her hair. That, mixed with the clock’s claim that it’s 4:30 AM, tells me I should probably call it for the night.

[End of session]


Noelle.


[Session 2]

Right, let’s see how Imp’s faring!

We reached Imp’s side.  She’d slumped against an intact wall.  I worked with Grue to clear away the pieces of wood and concrete that had joined Imp in being thrown against the wall.

“Turn around,” Tattletale ordered Tecton and Grace.

Checking behind the mask?

Tecton listened.  When Grace didn’t immediately obey, he grabbed her by the shoulder and forced her around.

I like Tecton.

Grue took off Imp’s mask.  My bugs traced her, and I could sense the trail of blood running from one of her ears.

“Hey,” Aisha murmured.  “Owie.”

The mask comes off, and so she’s suddenly Aisha to the narration.

In any case, she’s talking, so that’s a good sign.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“Ear hurts.  Hurt all over where I hit the wall.”

“That ear’s a ruptured eardrum,” Tattletale said.

That tracks. Shockwaves and eardrums don’t get along.

“Shitty,” Aisha said, “Least I save money, not having a reason to buy surround sound when I get my own entertainment system.”

Pffft! This is why I think she and Alec go together so well. They’ve both got this irreverent humor, sometimes gallows humor, to them, that comes out in otherwise serious situations.

“You’re not so lucky.  It’ll heal,” Tattletale said.

“Did you hit your head?” Grue asked.

“No,” Tattletale and Imp answered in the same moment.

That’s good.

Grue smacked his sister lightly across the head.  “Idiot!  You’re supposed to listen when we give you orders.”

“Did you hit your head?”
“No.”
“Great, then it’s free real estate.”

“I know why you were giving that order,” Imp said.  “You wanted me to clear out in case he smooshed this building.  Except I knew I couldn’t get out fast enough.  I figured I’d take out that gun guy.”

You know what, fair enough. There’s room for critical thinking. It’s a little unfortunate when your power makes it hard for others to know you’re going against their plans though.

“Leet,” I supplied.

“Leet, yeah.”

Grue cuffed her across the head again.

Okay, there’s one thing that’s been bugging me this chapter. Taylor’s narration keeps calling Haxxor just “Leet”, where she was previously pretty consistent about denoting one way or another that the Draconia Blazes weren’t the real Vista. Even the Über and Circus clones never got called just the names of their respective originals.

That could just be her/Wildbow growing tired of coming up with new ways of referring to the clones along with the reinforcement of that notion being less important to the reader as we go along. But it kind of makes me feel like Taylor doesn’t care about the distinction when it comes to Leet, or worse, that we’re not supposed to because unlike Vista, Leet only exists in the story as a low-level antagonist with not a whole lot to him.

But that’s me and my oddly particular opinions on the matter of clones, I suppose.

“Hey!” Aisha said.  Then she cringed, or winced, as if she was in pain.  “Ow.”

“What?”

In a quieter voice, she said, “Ear hurts when I speak too loud.  Stop hitting me.  It was the right call.”

“You still didn’t listen,” Grue said.  He took the mask from Tattletale and helped Aisha put it on.  “Get up.”

Look. Half your team would act the same way in a similar situation. More than half, probably. For all your talk of leadership in the team, you guys are generally not that great at following authority if you think another solution is better.

Imp stood, then wobbled.  “Dizzy.”

“Ruptured eardrum will do that,” Tattletale said.  “Let’s go.  We should see what we can do to help against Noelle.”

Grue and Tattletale supported Imp between them as we made our way to the stairwell.  I turned my attention to the fight.  “Eidolon’s holding his own.”

How long until sunrise?

It would be a delicious irony if it was the realization of the Undersiders’ presence that distracted Eidolon just long enough for everything to go to shit. Even if I do think his plan was bad in the first place and it would still be largely his fault for putting himself in Noelle’s path.

“Told you,” Grace said.

“He’s using that pressure-”

“Gravity,” Tattletale said.

Not a difficult call, but I’ll take a “called it” nonetheless.

“Right.  He’s using supercharged gravity to try to pin her down and simultaneously take out any of the clones she spits out.  He’s staying out of reach with flight, and he said something before about a danger sense.  Precognition, I guess?”

…ah yes, precognition, which has been noted to be notoriously unreliable. Especially when another precog is involved, including the Simurgh.

“Didn’t help him stop the explosion,” Regent commented.

“It let him move well out of the way before it went off,” I said.  “And it’s helping him when Noelle tries to trick him.  She’s… I don’t even know how to put it.  She’s wearing a Vista that can turn two-dimensional, and the Vista is helping keep her other clones alive.

Wearing. Heh.

*changes her status in his clone list from “missing after anvil” to “clothing”*

When people talk of heroes in battle being worn, this isn’t usually what they mean.

Whenever Eidolon moves like he’s about to drop that gravity magnification on them, she folds Noelle’s clones against whatever surface they’re touching and then pastes herself into Noelle.”

So he has the opportunity to feint in order to cause the clones to go 2D at the wrong time, leaving Noelle more open than she’d otherwise be.

“Can we help Eidolon by taking the Vista out?” Grue asked.

“I don’t know how we’d get the Vista without attacking Noelle,” I said.

“Eidolon can hold onto about three serious powers at a time,” Tecton said.  “If he’s packing flying, danger sense and gravity manipulation, that’s it.  Sometimes he does four, but two or three of them are usually pretty minor.  Enhanced accuracy, whatever.”

Huh. No direct offensive powers other than the gravity manipulation that has already proven to not be enough against Noelle herself.

“Unless the flying’s an extension of the gravity manipulation,” Tattletale pointed out.

Oh yeah, good point.

(And one that pings the “this relates very vaguely to my own stuff” part of my brain. One of my MLP OCs is a unicorn with a talent in flight, which specializes her magic and lets her self-levitate with telekinesis in a way that usually requires far more raw magic power. Though she still only has enough power to levitate herself a short distance, so it doesn’t satisfy her obsession with real flight.)

“I’d guess he’s maintaining a kind of power immunity, in case Noelle manages to close the distance or one of her underlings tries to hit him from range.”

That would be a good call. Let’s hope he makes those from time to time.

Of course, if his power does work like a deck of cards, he might not have drawn power immunity. He’s said stuff that suggests he and his power don’t always agree on what is needed.

I could follow the fight as Noelle leaped to another rooftop.  Being airborne, she might have been vulnerable if Eidolon had been able to devote his full attention to her, given how it wasn’t possible to dodge while midair, but she’d timed the jump to coincide with a killer-Circus’s pyrokinetic attack on Eidolon.

Was pyrokinesis always part of Circus’ powerset? I… don’t think so, so that might be a quirk of Freakshow. It does fit the theme, at least, what with flame-eaters and the like.

Wait, a killer-Circus. I guess that means she’s made more while we weren’t paying attention.

The hero destroyed the Circus with a use of his gravity power, and I could guess that the same power had destroyed any incoming fireballs she’d thrown his way, because he wasn’t even touched by any hot air.  The top floor of the building the Circus had been standing on was still collapsing as he directed another gravity-slam in the direction of Noelle’s landing point.  She was already moving on, leaping to a building face that Eidolon wouldn’t have a line of sight to.

I don’t know for sure whether that clone was the same one I named Freakshow, but I might as well note it down that way.

The degree of mobility the pair had meant it was hard to get bugs in a position where I could follow what was going on.  I moved the bugs up through the various buildings, spreading them out as best as I could.

And then when the bugs do get in position, they get anviled alongside everything else.

In tracking the movements of the bugs through the buildings, I got a sense of where Eidolon had done damage and where the civilians were.

Ah, there’s a way you might be able to help out. Evac.

“He’s doing a fantastic job of avoiding hitting any civilians when he uses his powers.”

Huh… maybe that “danger sense” he claimed to have is actually more of a people sense?

“Told you,” Imp said, mimicking Grace’s tone, in the same moment Grace said, “Of course.”

Hah!

Oh, how sweet it will be to watch that trust crumble.

Imp laughed, then winced at the pain it caused her.

“Could be an extension of his danger sense,” Tattletale suggested.

We’d reached the stairwell, and the others declined to go back for the van.  Imp and I got on Bentley’s back.  I sat behind Imp so I could help keep her from falling.  We weren’t broadcasting it to Tecton and Grace, but I wasn’t in great shape, myself.  Even if Bentley wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel with a cracked rib, it still beat running.

Frankly, Taylor, after the gauntlet you’ve been through, it’s a wonder you can stand.

I pointed the way, and we headed for the site of the battle.  I wasn’t exactly sure what we could do.  This was a fight between titans.  Eidolon had hit Noelle a thousand times as hard as any of us were capable of, and she hadn’t even slowed down.

Yeah, uh, bugs and hellhounds aren’t going to cut it here, and you didn’t bring Shatterbird along… why exactly?

…right, the casual mind control of a really dangerous psychopath might make the PRT even more wary of working with the Undersiders, and we really wouldn’t want Noelle getting a Shatterflock on her side. Not as bad as Eidolon, but still pretty bad.

I was getting increasingly worried that there was some factor here that would decide the battle, something I should grasp but wasn’t.  It didn’t help that both Noelle and Eidolon had powersets that I didn’t fully understand.  Noelle was apparently pulling clones out of nowhere, despite not having contact with Vista or the other villains.

I’m still thinking they’re being carried around somewhere inside that writhing mass she calls a lower body.

Getting a sense of any given power and accounting for all the possibilities was hard enough, but Eidolon had a bunch of them at any given time, and they could change.

As if Eidolon clones weren’t already a bit of a foregone conclusion, he’s not just powerful, he’s powerful in a way that would be a thorn in the side to Taylor’s tactical mindset.

Eidolon struck at one cluster of clones that were lurking in a half-destroyed building, then hit himself with a gravity attack.  He and his costume were left untouched, but the bugs I had on him were annihilated.  I was left blind.

…did he do that on purpose? Or was he just in the way of where his attack needed to go?

Why?  The attack was pointless.  There hadn’t been any of Noelle’s servants in the area.

Definitely on purpose. He probably knows you’re there and doesn’t want you to be able to track what he’s doing next.

Was he sending me a message?  Did he want us to back off?

Perhaps. You are likely to get in the way.

Noelle was consistently managing to avoid being struck by any of the gravity attacks, or scrambling out of the way of trouble after sustaining a glancing blow.  

I suppose it did get described as having some effect on her, the first time. So not completely useless if he can corner her.

She was keeping tall buildings between herself and Eidolon.  He used the gravity manipulation where he could.  He had changed up his tactics, sending chunks of building flying, then spiking them down to the ground with the gravity-slams.  He wasn’t changing powers, though, even though Noelle had adjusted to them.  It was very possible he couldn’t: that if he gave up one power for another one more suited for the situation, he’d be too vulnerable while it grew to full power, or it would be too hard to catch up after the fact.

Yeah, that makes sense, regardless of whether he actually has any other powers available to switch to.

One of the heads of Noelle’s lower body vomited up a slurry of flesh, with two naked bodies in the midst of it.  A Vista covered in fingernail-like plates of hard flesh and a Leet with one forearm and hand as big as his torso.

Spin the wheel! Ah yes — meet Draconia Blaze, the Spine Entertainer.

The Leet clone can be… Left Hand Gamer. Might change if it’s the left one that’s big.

*looks down at his notepad* cosplaying… as… Allen… Walker…

The two clones were on their feet in seconds.  The Vista ran in Eidolon’s direction, while the Leet made a beeline for a nearby mall entrance.

Sounds like he’s going shopping for tech materials and paper tissues.

I wonder, could a Leet clone that still has the “make anything once” restriction make something that real Leet has done before?

I sent a swarm of bugs after them, focusing predominantly on going after Leet.  They weren’t fast, but they would hopefully interfere with his efforts to build anything.

We arrived at the edge of Eidolon and Noelle’s battlefield.  As I drew a swarm together with the bugs in this new area, I found Eidolon and tagged him with some houseflies and wasps.  Best if I knew if he was moving in our direction, so we could clear out of the way.

Let’s see if he’ll remove them again.

Might not bother to, if it was meant as a “go away”. He needs the power he can muster for Noelle.

“Circle around,” I said.  “We keep eyes on one another, but our goal is to clean up clones wherever we can, so we need a broad perimeter.”

“Got it,” Grue said.  Tecton nodded as well.

That does seem like the best way to help. We don’t need any of these clones running off and harassing other heroes or civilians, and the fewer shots Eidolon has to dodge, the easier of a time he’ll have.

Rachel signaled, and Bentley ran.  Tecton and Grace moved as one pair, while Regent, Grue and Tattletale formed another group.

The Leet had entered a mall.  The place had been looted, but he stopped somewhere long enough to grab some basic clothes.  He wrenched a piece off a clothing rack and used the ragged end to cut a sleeve off and open up the shoulder enough that he could fit his oversized left hand through it.

Of all the clones to seemingly have modesty.

Also apparently it is the left hand, so he’s now Right Hand Gamer. I think I prefer that, because it makes the Allen Walker joke more accurate.

The activity bought my bugs enough time to catch up to him.  As they attacked, he started thrashing.  I was in the middle of changing my focus to other things when I noticed something curious.

Hm?

A rat.

…what about it? Has Noelle been cloning rats too? She wouldn’t have access to Mouse Protector to control them through.

Maybe it’s here for revenge against the supervillain who killed its family.

The rat itself wasn’t so unusual.  Large for its size, maybe.  But it had moved in the same general direction as my swarm, and it was wet with fluids.

Some kind of trap for the swarm?

Oh, or are the fluids the thing being noticed?

The vomit?

I’d been flying bugs over surfaces at a height sufficient to catch humans.  It was a waste of energy and bugs to fly them over the ground level, when I generally knew that a road was flat, and any obstacle that was shorter than one or two feet wasn’t worth dwelling on.

So basically there are probably a whole lot more rodents and similar creatures running about around Noelle?

Moving my bugs closer to the ground, I found more.  Rats, wet with the fluids of Noelle’s vomit.

She’d absorbed rats?  She wasn’t limited to cloning people.

The good news is this alone would have made her a valuable teammate to you, as an endless source of bugs. The bad news is, well, everything else.

I made a point of searching the vermin out and killing them with my bugs.  I’d played exterminator once before.  Not over so large an area, but I’d done it.

Y’know, of all the things in this Book, this was not one of the things I thought would come back into play in the climactic Arc(s).

I pointed the way to Noelle, and Rachel changed direction.  Eidolon was dealing with the last Vista-clone that Noelle had spawned.  The girl wasn’t going on the offensive, but she was using her power to move quickly, using every spare moment to raise lumps of pavement and concrete from the ground, sculpting them into rough images of Noelle.  It would be sunrise, now, but in the dim light, they would be something that distracted Eidolon and potentially drew his fire.

Maybe you could draw bug arrows between them and Eidolon, pointing towards the real Noelle?

He paused in his attempted murder of the mutant girl and eradication of the statues, striking himself with another gravity-slam.  Again, he killed every insect I had on him.

“Get the hell out of here!”

Maybe he’s planning something with a wide area of effect?

Was he aware of something we weren’t?

*gestures at Cauldron*

They may not be what’s up right now (though it’s possible he’s arranged for Doormaker to pull something), but, just. YES.

Noelle turned toward a group of people who were evacuating one of the buildings that had taken damage.  Before I could open my mouth to shout a warning or take an action, she lunged into the lobby of the building.

Is she looking to take a hostage, or is she going in there specifically because she thinks they’re getting everyone out?

The people she touched were absorbed as quickly and easily as if she were quicksand.  Some were almost drawn in.

Ah. Nope, buffet time.

If she can clone rats, she can probably clone unpowered people, so maybe she intends to use some of those as mooks and/or to hide the powered clones among them?

It took a minute and a half for her to form the clones within her.  We closed the distance as her body swelled.  When she’d reached critical mass, each of the three mouths on her lower body opened to heave out a tide of blood and gore, along with eighteen or twenty people.  Half of the people she’d heaved out had clothes.  The other half had mutations.

So she did at least leave them alive, if perhaps scarred for life.

The mutants were on their feet as soon as they could find traction in the sludge, the innocents seemed as though they could barely move.

Can you blame them?

One of the people was Vista, I realized.  Not a clone – she was costumed.

!!

I called it! I wasn’t expecting her to be freed like this, but she was there!

An extremity, a tentacle or tongue, extended from one of Noelle’s lower mouths to wrap around Vista’s midsection.  The girl was hauled into the mouth and swallowed in a flash.

Oh.

“Whoops, I didn’t mean to vomit up this one.”

So… did Über, Leet and Circus just happen to not make it out? Or were they treated differently?

“She’s keeping them,” I said.

“What?” Tattletale asked.

“The capes she keeps spitting out.  Circus, Über, Leet and Vista.  She’s holding the four of them inside her, so she can keep creating more clones.”

Called it!

Imagine if Über and Leet were streaming from in there. Category: Just Chatting.

“She doesn’t have to let people go,” Tattletale said.  “Fuck me.  We won’t be able to kill her without killing whoever she’s holding inside her.”

This would be far more of a pressing conundrum if you had a way of killing her in the first place.

As the mutant clones around Noelle began to thrash and strangle the near-helpless victims, their maker shifted position, stepping on arms and legs.  Her body was oriented more towards Eidolon.  I wasn’t willing to sacrifice bugs to know her exact position, but I got the sense she was looking up at him, despite the fact that there were several buildings between her and him.

Those buildings sound like jumping pads to me.

She made contact with the bugs I had in her immediate vicinity as she twisted her body to look towards us.

Oh… hi there.

Then she ran in the other direction.

What?

Is she trying to lure them into a trap? Or maybe she’s still fighting her instincts…

“We rescue the people she just vomited out, clear away the clones,” I said.  I used the bugs I’d gathered near the other two groups to speak to them.  “Then we signal Eidolon and chase Noelle.  We need to get in contact with the heroes.  Whatever Eidolon’s plan is, it’s not working.”

Speaking through the bugs remains one of Taylor’s coolest tricks.

And yeah. No shit, it’s not working.

I could track the rats that were crawling out of the vomit.  A dozen of them, and they were homing in on people, savagely biting and clawing into any flesh they found.  I made sure to cluster my bugs in as dense a swarm as I could afford, to keep them contained.  The bugs I didn’t devote to the task worked to disable and distract the more mundane clones.

Extermination, small and large.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t had the bugs pressed together to contain the rats.  I had missed it already, countless times.  Wasps, hornets and cockroaches were crawling free of the slurry of flesh that Noelle had vomited into the building’s lobby.  They were attacking my bugs and any people they found.

Aw, dammit, they don’t register to her power. The teamup potential I was talking about earlier wouldn’t work.

I couldn’t sense them, and I couldn’t control them.

Which means that if Taylor gets cloned, the clone would likely control these instead and it would be less of a tug-of-war than I pictured.

Oh, and there are hostile bugs afoot. But frankly, that doesn’t sound half as threatening as most of the other stuff going on when they’re not being directly controlled by a human mind. That’s what makes Taylor’s swarms scary.

So I suppose this is why Eidolon would clear himself of bugs. It’s bad news for any attempts to make contact with him, because it gives him reason to think Skitter is sus and wearing real Skitter’s costume to hide her mutations.


End of Queen 18.7

Sunrise. The real action has begun, and Eidolon hasn’t fucked everything up yet, at least, so that’s good.

This chapter was good, but not as big as it feels like the ending of 18.6 and the Interlude between them hyped it up to be. The Undersiders barely got anything on Cauldron, and while Eidolon fighting Noelle is pretty cool so far, it really felt like the other shoe should have dropped here, and it didn’t. Maybe in the next few chapters.

It’s also possible I’m overestimating the likelihood of Eidolon getting mass cloned.

Next up is pest control and… following Noelle. Is she trying to draw the Undersiders into Eidolon’s view, perhaps, after convincing him that Skitter or a clone of her is acting with hostility against him? Yeah, sparks could fly here.

See you soon!

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