Scourge 19.4: No Use Crying Over Spilled Beans

Source material: Worm, Scourge 19.4

Blogged: April 18-24, 2022, but basically just the 18th


Ho there, traveler!

When last we waved farewell to our intrepid young buckaroos and buckaresses, Miss Tattletale had enlightened us about the possibility of defeating our frightening rival by means of interdimensional ripping of the fabric of spacetime akin to my tightest new pants at a particularly well-produced country ranch on a summer’s day. What a magnificent postulation!

On this fine day that has befallen us, it appears the time has come for us to hear more about this bold scheme of hers, yes indeed it does. I’m certain her comrades in arms will have their own contributions to add to this fantabulous discussion, for such a suggestion is not an everyday occurance by far! I must say, however, I believe these phantasmic youngsters may be running out of their temporal allotance, and in advance of this installment’s inevitable conclusion we may encounter tidings of our monstrous foe’s Houdini-esque escape from her rubblous confinement.

Let us venture forth into the unknown!


I’ve got the 19.3 liveblog open ahead of starting the 19.4 one, and I just noticed something Tattletale says towards the end of 19.3 (sidenote: that time it took like seven tries to write the number correctly):

“Of course,” Tattletale added.  “There’s that too.  I can’t really say more about Echidna without finding more about Cauldron’s process for granting powers, and I’d really like to grill the Travelers on that front.  But understanding all this is our best bet for understanding Echidna, and potentially stopping her.  Or even fixing her.”

This might be a part of why she wants Faultline’s Crew on the scene. She knows it would be hard to get them to give her the information they’ve found over the phone, let alone safe, so she wants them to come to her.

That said I’m still banking on Labyrinth’s power being involved in the attempt to shunt Echidna into another dimension.

If that’s even the intended goal. Tattletale also said “or even fix her”. Does she maybe think that something from another dimension would be able to do that?


“I was perfectly happy,” Scapegoat said, “Being able to tell myself that hey, the news is blowing things out of proportion.  There’s no way Brockton Bay is as scary as they’re making it out to be.

Ahahaha naaah

Dragon suits get sent in and are promptly forced out, but really, the mayors telling Washington it’s safe enough.  The media got something wrong, or they’re making little problems sound bigger than they are.  See the piles of dead bodies where this girl-”

Yeah, somebody here might have had something to do with that mayor part.

“Echidna,” Tattletale supplied.

“Where Echidna spat out clones.  Okay.  I can live with that.  An unusual power and strong parahuman.  Could be an exaggeration.  See the destruction, the ruined buildings and the streets that still haven’t drained a hundred percent.  More or less what I expected from the news.  The girl with the mutant dogs?  Bug girl?  Still manageable.  But she opens her mouth,” Scapegoat pointed at Tattletale, “And pop goes my bubble of happy self-delusion.”

Ahahahahaha

“You want to tear a hole in reality?” Tecton asked Tattletale.

The impulse to rip holes in spacetime can be strong. It’s a villain thing, you wouldn’t get it.

“I do.  I want to use Scrub’s power in conjunction with another power that draws heavily on accessing other worlds.  It’s why I contacted Faultline’s crew.  They’re our best bet.

So basically… Labyrinth thins out the barriers between dimensions, creates some amount of overlap, and then Scrub punches through what remains.

Seems legit.

Myrddin might work, but he’s unlikely to cooperate.

Eyy, I called that. Kind of.

Scapegoat could work too, but I think it’d take too long, and it might need a human sacrifice, having Scrub hit someone who was heavily affected by the goat’s power.”

…yeah that’s not really the Undersiders’ style.

Regent nudged me.  “With Grue gone, it’s your job to lay down the law.  No human sacrifices.”

Heh. Yeah, you’re not wrong.

He’d mimicked Grue’s tone of voice, with a forced lowness.

No human sacrifices?  Did I really want to veto any possibilities, when we were faced with threats like the Endbringers and Echidna?

Damn, you’ve come a long way.

“You’re not saying no,” Regent commented.

“Tattletale,” I said, “What’s the point?  Why open a hole like that?”

I don’t think Regent was quite expecting that.

“It’s a place to put Noelle, for one thing.”

Do keep in mind that it’ll only work for that if you can also close the hole. Hopefully that’ll simply be a matter of Labyrinth cutting off her power.

Another issue I foresee is the possibility of Labyrinth having a good day.

“We can stop her other ways,” I said.  “She’s not invincible.”

“Yet,” Tattletale said.

Ominous.

“Yet.  We can put her down.  With Legend, Eidolon and Alexandria alone, we should be able to do enough damage that she can’t keep regenerating.”

“Maybe.  It was hard enough before.  We’ve got big guns, now, but it’s going to be rough.  It’ll be a lot easier if we have the Travelers on our side, and we’ll have that if we can give them what they want.  A way home.”

Now that’s a much nicer idea.

Wait, nobody else here knows about that whole thing yet, right? Ballistic never mentioned it.

“A way home?” Tecton asked.

“Cauldron’s the group responsible for plucking people from their realities, wiping their memories and leaving them changed, marked with a tattoo,” Tattletale said.  She glanced at Gully.

…wait, did she figure out that they were from a different reality, but not that the Simurgh was involved, and make guesses about Cauldron being responsible for that too? I suppose looking at Noelle and coming to the conclusion that she got dumped like the C53s isn’t too much of a stretch.

Or maybe Tattle just doesn’t want to elaborate on the Simurgh’s involvement.

I did too.  Gully’s eyes were wide behind the curtain of braids.

“And the Travelers, far as I can figure, are the same.  Only they still have their memories, and they weren’t altered in appearance.  It’s like Noelle got her entire group’s share,” Tattletale said.

Actually she only got half a share.

Gully slammed her shovel into the ground, but she didn’t say anything as seconds passed.

“You want to tear a hole in reality to send them home?” Tecton asked.

Well, yes, in order to get their allegiance.

Sundancer in particular is absolutely a versus-Noelle-scale heavy-hitter.

She’s also really uncomfortable with attacking people who aren’t long-time friends. Getting her on board might be easier said than done, even with the promise of going home.

“It’s the best bargaining chip we have, short of a cure for Noelle.”

“How do we even know which world it is?”

Oh you sweet summer child, you have no idea who you’re talking to.

“We don’t, but we can ask,” Tattletale said.  “What I’m getting at is that this is our best weapon, our best bargaining chip and our best tool.  If I’m right, if Iclose to right, then this is a way to shut powers off at the source.”

That really does sound like she’s planning to access the world Noelle is drawing her clones from.

“Assuming you have a way to kill or break the connection with these things you’re describing,” Tecton said.

“I’m assuming we can get our hands on some weapon of mass destruction,” Tattletale said.

So… the Avengers gambit? Nuke the fuck out of Noelle’s power source?

“Too many potential disasters,” Tecton said.  “Listen, I get it.  I’ve been where you are.  There’s a lot of tinkers and some thinkers who’ve been where you’re at right now.  Who’ve had that brilliant idea with the power to change the world, for better or for worse.  Most of us stop at that line.  We have to.”

It’s a villain thing.

“This isn’t changing the world,” Tattletale said.  “This is going to the heart of every single damn problem we’ve been facing and surgically removing the most dangerous parts.  We can access the places where the powers are coming from and shut them off.  It’s an answer.”

I wonder… are the Endbringers… worlds?

Their fractal nature, the way at least Leviathan gets denser the further in you get. Are their bodies themselves holes into fractal dimensions…?

I’m not sure what I’m asking even makes sense, but it’s a thought. I’ll have to come back to this one.

If you can manage the risk,” Tecton said.  “And I don’t think surgically is even close to being the word you want.  With tears in reality, it’s equivalent to using explosives with a yield you can’t even guess at.”

I mean he has a point. She’s good with risk management, but she’s not that good.

“I’m a good guesser,” Tattletale said.

“And this is the part where I cut in,” I said.  “We’re short on time, and I have stuff to see to.  Why don’t you guys talk this through, and I’ll collect supplies with Scapegoat in the meantime.”

Authorspeak: This debate could go on for ages without resolution but I’ve made the main points so my POV character can tune out now.

“Go for it,” Tattletale said.

“I’ll come,” Rachel told me.  “Too much fucking talking.”

As much as I wouldn’t mind continuing the debate, Skitter, Scapegoat and Bitch sounds like an amazing team-up. Poor Scapegoat.

“We can’t let Scapegoat leave in the company of two known, dangerous villains,” Tecton said.

Gully, wanna come? You’re cool.

But I suppose you’ll probably have questions for Tattletale.

“Send someone with us,” I said.

“Gully and Wanton, then,” Tecton said.  “If that’s alright, Gully?  We’ll watch your prisoners.”

Excellent.

“I’ll ask,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Atlas isn’t far from your territory,” Tattletale said.  “Head a little north, and you should find him with your range.”

I nodded.

Awesome.

Gully gave me a thumbs up, her phone still pressed to one ear, and we headed to the van.  Wanton was the only one who could fit in the driver’s seat and who had a license.

Bitch has a license, but it’s crudely carved onto a bit of leather from a dog’s collar and lists her vehicle category as “W” for “woofer”.

With Gully and Bitch both in the back, I figured it would be safest to ride with them.  Rachel was managing better these days, but a fight between her and one of the heroes could spell disaster.

Nice.

Scapegoat called shotgun for the best view, then remembered he was blind.

It took a minute for all the dogs to climb into the back of the vehicle.  I used the time to gather my bugs in nearby buildings, where I could collect them on my return trip.

Rachel wasn’t feeling talkative, Gully seemed lost in thought, and both Wanton and Scapegoat were in the front.  That left me to get a discussion going, and I was too tired to bother.  I closed my eyes, arranging my bugs into an arrow on the dashboard of the van.

Guess we’re not gonna be saying much, then.

They rearranged themselves into a right turn sign to steer him toward Lord street, and from there it was relatively smooth sailing.

Someone had given the order for evacuation, and people were being directed to the shelters.  We had only two indications that things would get any worse.  Tattletale’s gut, which wasn’t a sure thing, and Dinah, who’d indicated that there was a good chance a large portion of the city would suffer at Echidna’s hands.

At least people are finally being evacuated.

Echidna or her clones might attack the shelters to hold them hostage, but it’s still better than people being in the actual buildings.

Or, even, not specifically at her hands.  With our luck, it would be Tattletale’s plan that leveled half the city and we’d find out that Echidna was permanently trapped beneath the rubble, not even a consideration.

Oof, now that would be a kick in the face.

Twice, I nodded off, my head starting to drift forward, before the sudden movement of my bugs stirred me fully awake.  The interior of the van was warm, dim and the vibration was oddly soothing.

You really needed to sleep, like, days ago.

The third time I drifted off, my bugs didn’t catch the movement.  My head leaned back against the wall of the van, and I slipped into the twilight state of near-sleep.

So this movement of the bugs… is that because she’s in a moving car or is she actually detecting something but too tired to realize it?

It was the appearance of Atlas that brought me back to my senses.  I signaled for Wanton to stop the van.

He was inside a garage, so still I thought he might be dead.  Without ingrained instincts, he had only the barest minimum of processing.  Enough to breathe, at least.

Wait, would you be able to sense him if he was dead?

He hadn’t eaten in twelve hours.  I was sure to feed him a supply of the less essential bugs from the area, moving them straight into his open mouth.  I could reach my lair, and drew out every single one of the bugs I had stored there, calling them to me.

Come, my pretties, and become a feast!

He would be weak, I noted, but at least he wasn’t hurt.  Coil had probably ordered for Atlas to be left alone for much the same reason that he’d carted the giant beetle to this area.  Doing otherwise could have clued the other Undersiders into what was really going on.

Sounds about right.

Wanton opened the back of the van, and I stepped outside.  Gully emerged as well, likely due to curiosity as much as anything else.

Atlas, at my bidding, found his way past the closed and unlocked door, made his way outside and flew to me.

Long time no see, big buddy!

Scapegoat might for once be glad he’s blinded.

When the giant beetle dropped out of the sky to land just beside the van, Wanton briefly shifted into his other form, and Gully raised her shovel protectively in front of her.

My bugs flowed over Atlas’ carapace, and I used my hands as well, checking there was no damage.  Scrapes and gouges on his underside.  Had they lifted him into a truck to transport him?  My gloved fingertip ran along the length of his scythe-like foreleg.  Maybe I needed to take the time to give him more care, sharpen the natural weapons, tend to his shell…

It’s moments like this that make me want to see Skitter on a screen. When she’s blatantly uncaring or even oblivious of how she comes across to those less used to her.

I blinked a few times.  I was tired, and my lack of focus was dangerous.  Time was short.

Yeah. Yeah, your lack of focus is dangerous. That should tell you something.

“Are your dogs well enough to run?”  I asked Rachel.

She was still in the truck, sitting on one of the benches that were built into the side.  She hopped down to the street, the dogs milling around her.  “Probably.”

“Then let’s go,” I said.  I stepped onto Altas’ back, but I didn’t take a seat.  I let him rise into the air, and I drew all the bugs in the area to me.  I didn’t settle into a sitting position until I was obscured from view.

Are you bringing the heroes along on the dogs? I would assume at least Scapegoat.

I couldn’t move too far away from Scapegoat.  I was tethered to him by an invisible, intangible cord, about one hundred and fifty feet long; about half a city block.

Still, provided I was directly above him, it let me fly about eight or nine stories above the ground.  I wasn’t untouchable, but I was safer.

Yeah, that’s definitely helpful.

You’re not the target I’m worried about, though. What happens to the effect of Scapegoat’s power if he gets hit, if he gets eaten or killed?

“…Hear me,” Wanton spoke.

Sort of.

My bugs spelled out the word ‘yes’.

“Creepy,” he said.  “I need …rections.”

You should talk to your GP about that.

There were two possibilities that sprung to mind as far as what that last word might be.  I guessed it was ‘directions’ and pointed him back to Lord street.

They’ve got an apothecary thataways that might carry what you need, but the employees have probably evacuated and you don’t seem the longfingered type.

I wanted as many of the good bugs as I could bring, but I was limited in how many Atlas could carry and I doubted the others would be keen to see them packed into the back of the truck.

It’d really just be Gully who’d have to deal with it, right? Not even that if she can join Bitch in riding a dog.

Instead, I drew out lines of thread, ferried the slower moving bugs onto my back, and loosely bound them.  Bugs strung out on silk cords, like kindergarteners did with popcorn on thread.  The rest found shelter in the folds, compartments and creases of my costume.

Skitter’s all bugged-up.

I kept close to the ground as I followed.  Had to stay close to Scapegoat and I couldn’t trust that Atlas had enough energy to carry me until we’d flown a bit and I could see how his stamina was.

Right, yeah, 12 hours stashed away like that might do that to him.

My hair and the tatters of my costume flapped behind me as we flew, clumped together in parts with the fluid that I’d been soaked with while inside Noelle.  I had bugs crawl over both to devour and separate the worst of it.  The ones on the threads that trailed behind me with the faster flying insects were surviving, which was key.

What’s with these particular bugs that would have you go to such lengths to import them into the battle?

The little tasks kept me awake, if not entirely focused. I was caught off guard when I let the van miss a turn.  If a good shot of adrenaline didn’t wake me up, I might be at a disadvantage in the coming fight.

I got that kick of adrenaline sooner than I’d wanted.  We reached the clearing where the others had been and found it empty.  The Travelers, Tattletale, Regent, Scrub and the heroes were gone.

Dang it, Tattletale, you could have waited until we came back before shunting everyone into Cauldron’s jungle world.

I landed, and the van doors opened.  Bitch stopped just beside me, Bentley at full size and the other dogs standing maybe three feet tall at the shoulder.

“Gully, you have an armband.  Have the heroes communicated anything?”  I asked.

You’d think she’d inform them already if they had.

“No.”

“Can you do me a favor and see if anyone has answers on where Tattletale and the others are.  For now, we should head back to the perimeter.”

“You’re giving orders?” Wanton asked.

Heh, did you think you were in charge here?

Besides, these are just authoritative suggestions.

“Consider it a suggestion,” I said.  Gully had been pleased at the semi-promotion, with being put in charge.  I could concede to let her call or confirm the shots if it kept her happy.  “It’s Gully’s choice.”

Oh right, I forgot about that.

She glanced at me.  “It’s sound.  I’ll use the armband while Wanton drives.”

We reached the perimeter around the destroyed building before she got a reply, and we found Tattletale in the company of some of the major heroes.  Legend, Alexandria and Eidolon weren’t present, but that wasn’t a huge surprise.  They apparently had secrets to keep.

As far as things that could have happened go, this is on the less concerning side. Worst case scenario, it could have meant Noelle was out through sneaky means and had gotten to them.

More than one cape turned their attention to me as I approached.  They didn’t shoot, though.  I was relieved at that.  It would be a bad way to go, getting gunned down out of the air by heroes with twitchy trigger fingers.

In a situation like this it’s already crucial to be sure whether you’re looking at a friend or foe… and then someone comes back riding a monstrous beetle and covered in a fuckton of bugs.

I had to pause while the van stopped to pass through a contingent of heroes.  Rachel sort of strode through without really asking for permission.

It wouldn’t be winning us any points with the good guys, ignoring courtesy, but the fact that Tattletale and Regent had disappeared from our rendezvous spot and that they were now in the midst of a group of twenty-seven heroes.  They weren’t at gunpoint, not really, but the implied threat was apparent.

There’s definitely tension.

I waited until Scapegoat was out of the van and hobbling toward the crowd before bringing Atlas in for a landing.  I rose to a standing position so I wouldn’t be sitting down when the bugs parted to reveal me.

Queen of Entrances.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  My bugs passed through the crowd, not getting in anyone’s way, not touching on faces or bare skin where I could help it, but giving me a way to track everyone nearby.

It was Tecton who answered me.  “Tattletale wasn’t willing to drop her idea.  I suggested taking it to our superiors, and she agreed.”

Ah. Yeah, that might make things a little awkward.

Strike two.

“It’s too dangerous,” Myrddin said.  He stood by with Miss Militia and Chevalier beside him.

“It’s our best option,” Tattletale said.

“It’s a plan that puts everyone involved at an immense degree of risk, and it costs us time we don’t have.”

He’s not wrong there.

“We have a little time,” Tattletale retorted.  “I don’t see any movement there, do you?”

I really feel like that’s not a good thing. Surely by now she should be trying to get out. Even with the foam keeping things in place, it’s suspicious that it’s not at least shifting as she tries to break free.

Let’s not forget she’s a tactician. If she can find a way to get out while letting them think she hasn’t, she’ll use that for all it’s worth to gain the upper leg.

“We can’t even guarantee it’ll work,” Myrddin replied.

“Are you saying that because you consider yourself the resident dimension manipulator or because you’re afraid it’ll lead to a big revelation about Cauldron?”

Here we go again.

I could have imagined it, but I could have sworn my bugs were aware of a collective intake of breath.  Not everyone present, not even one in five… but people did react.

Who?

How far did this reach?

“What are you talking about?”  Myrddin asked.

“No?  I’m not seeing anything from you.  Guess you’re in the clear,” Tattletale replied.

“seeing”… I wonder if she’s using this terminology specifically to throw off the scent a little on how her power actually works.

“Tattletale,” Miss Militia cut in, “This isn’t the time for games, making accusations in the hopes of finding information.”

“I agree,” I said.  “Stick to the topic at hand.”

…yeah, probably best to.

“It’s not a game,” Tattletale said.  She looked at me, and she wasn’t smiling.  “And I don’t see how we can discuss it if we ignore the elephant in the room.”

Although she did say she needed more intel on Cauldron to figure out more about Noelle.

Try,” I told her.

“What’s going on?” Chevalier asked.  Of everyone in the immediate area, he had the most presence.  He wore gleaming gold and silver armor, but it was the massive, ornate cannonblade that made him so imposing, with a blade that was twelve feet long, three feet wide and capable of growing larger, resting against his shoulder as though it were as light as a feather.

Oh right! He was the one with the cannonblade! Look, I really wasn’t far off when my mind jumped to him in response to a vaguely-remembered long-ass weapon that could grow bigger!

So, what, is he another Tinker? Or maybe he has super strength specific to melee weapons?

“Rest assured, Chevalier, this is a discussion for another day,” Miss Militia said.  “One I’m definitely interested in continuing, but not when it threatens to distract us.”

At least you have her interest, Tattle.

“If you’re sure,” Myrddin said.

“Trust me.  Please,” Miss Militia replied.

“Cauldron is led or backed up by the Tr-”

Coddamn it, Tattletale.

Miss Militia struck Tattletale, cutting her off before she could finish the sentence.  It was only as Miss Militia dropped to her knees, setting one knee on Tattletale’s throat, that I saw she’d had a gun in her hand.  She gripped Tattletale by the cheeks, pinching her mouth open, and slid the gun into her mouth.

Well, that ought to shut her up.

Which is really not good for you, because Tattletale fucking hates people shutting her up.

I could sense Rachel striding forward, saw Regent moving to raise one hand in Miss Militia’s direction.  My arms went out to either side of me: one to bar Rachel’s advance, another to catch Regent’s wrist.

This is not a fight you would win, and not one you could afford to fight even if you would.

“Don’t be foolish, Tattletale,” Miss Militia said.  “Why would you risk everything like this?”

Tattletale glanced at me, then mumbled something incomprehensible around the gun barrel.  Her cheekbone was bleeding where she’d been struck.

“What? Yes, I know about the Teletubbies, but what do they have to do with anything?”
“Mhmfmmhhmfmf…”
“…A pimp? What crib? I really hope you haven’t started training babies to sell drugs. And no, I will not drop this gun like it’s hot.”

Miss Militia looked up at me.  A gun materialized in her other hand, identical to the one that was jammed between Tattletale’s teeth, but she didn’t point it at me.  “Do we have a problem, Skitter?”

I mean. Yes? But no, they won’t attack for now.

“Not unless you pull the trigger,” I said.  “We aren’t going to start a fight with this many people around.  It would be suicidal.”

I looked Tattletale in the eye as I said that last word.

Yeeeeeeeeah. Tattle, you fucked up.

“Is she a clone?” Myrddin asked.

How innocent. You haven’t spent much time in this town, so you really don’t know how good Tattletale is at getting on the local Protectorate’s nerves.

“I almost wish she was,” I replied.  “No.  It’s the real her.”

Miss Militia may hold the gun but it’s Skitter that’s out here murderin’.

“Can you tell me why she’s doing this?” Miss Militia asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Yes, but not in entirety.”  We were tired, but that wasn’t it, it wasn’t all of it.  Couldn’t be.  It wouldn’t account for the almost suicidal edge to her actions in just the last half hour.  There was something else going on.

She seems unusually desperate for intel on Cauldron, beyond just what she needs to understand Noelle. Hmm.

She had quite a bit of interest in the documents at the Merchant party, too. Of course she would, seeing what the vials were said to be capable of, but what if it went beyond that? What if Cauldron is involved in her backstory? She seems to have run away from home, and her brother was part of it (Piggot made him sound like a victim of something Lisa had done). What if her brother got involved with Cauldron in some way and she found out about it, and she’s been seeking info on them ever since?

“Tattletale,” Miss Militia said, “I’m going to remove the gun.  Think very carefully about what you say.  Deliberately attempting to divide our ranks could be seen as a violation of the truce, and I will push for the kill order if it goes that far.”

That’s honestly fair.

You’re lucky Miss Militia has more patience than the last guy.

Tattletale nodded.  She winced as the gun was removed.  “You can’t put a kill order on the other Undersiders.  They aren’t responsible for anything I’m saying.  Heck, two of them aren’t even here.  You’d be killing innocents.”

Also relatively fair. They’re responsible for you as a team member though, and I’m not sure the same kind of logic would be applied should one of the Undersiders actually attack.

“I don’t think anyone here thinks any of you are innocent,” Miss Militia said.

“They’re relative innocents?” Tattletale tried.

Relatively.

“Quiet,” Miss Militia said, her voice tight.

“I’ll be quiet when you tell me you won’t punish others because of me.”

“Just be quiet,” Miss Militia said.

Should probably have thought of this before you started pushing it, Tattle. Like it or not, you are representing the team.

“M.M.,” Chevalier said, his voice low, “I won’t gainsay any of your decisions, and with this being your city, you have the say unless one of the Triumvirate supercedes your order… but you’re attacking a girl when she was only talking, and there are a lot of eyes and ears here.”

You’re not wrong.

Chevalier is fairly forgettable in the long run, but I do seem to remember him at least being nice and reasonable back in Extermination.

It might be worth noting that Protectorate documents say not to talk to Tattletale though, if it can be avoided.

“You’re saying it doesn’t look good,” Miss Militia said.  Her eyes were fixed on Tattletale.

“Not for your career.”

Well, no. Of course it doesn’t.

“I don’t give a flying fuck about my career,” she replied.  “I care about all of us getting out of here in one piece.”

It’s been ten Arcs and Miss Militia is still a breath of fresh air after Armsmaster, even when doing dubious things like this.

“And you think she’ll put all of us in danger if she opens her mouth?” Chevalier asked.

Again, your files literally say not to let her talk.

“Yes.  I think Tattletale can do a catastrophic amount of damage if she opens her mouth,” Miss Militia said.  “You’ve read her file.”

“I have,” Myrddin said.

“Is the information she wants to share pertinent to this crisis?”  Chevalier asked.

Sort of?

“Not immediately,” Miss Militia said.  Tattletale cleared her throat, apparently asking for permission to speak, but Miss Militia gave her a tight shake of the head in response.  “Not as far as I’m aware.  I’ve discussed much of it with Skitter.”

“If I may,” I spoke up.  Innumerable sets of eyes turned my way.  I let go of Regent’s hand and dropped the hand that was still held up in front of Rachel.

“What is it?” Myrddin asked.

“I can try to explain.  You can send away the rest of the capes, I explain to you three, and you decide if and how much information to disseminate to your underlings.

That could work.

I’ll try to be more delicate than Tattletale was, avoid the more sensitive parts.  I don’t agree with Tattletale’s plan, but it’s too dangerous to make calls without knowing the key details, and some of this stuff is need-to-know, if we’re to have any chance of getting the Travelers or Noelle to cooperate.”

Over the Arcs, Skitter really has leveled up her diplomacy skills.

Myrddin looked at Miss Militia, and she nodded.

Myrddin raised his voice.  “I’d like everyone who isn’t immediately involved in this discussion to find something else to do.”

Some people started shuffling away.  Aside from heading straight towards the site where helicopters were still laying down containment foam or walking face first into the containment van Wanton had parked, there were only two directions to walk, and one group of people weren’t moving.

I wonder if the stragglers have much overlap with those who recognized Cauldron’s name earlier.

Gully.  One of the twins was tugging on her arm, but she wasn’t budging.

You know what, yeah, that’s fair. She’s immediately involved, I’d say.

“Gully,” a cape I didn’t recognize spoke, “Get a move on.”

“I want answers,” she said.  “The Undersiders have them.”

“And Chevalier will contact me with what he feels we need to know, and I’ll pass that on to you and your squad,” the cape said.

This is a bit more personal, pal.

“That’s not enough,” she said.  “I don’t want the condensed version.  I want to hear why I’m like this.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, and I noted that some of the capes who had reacted before were standing out more.  One was breathing harder, another was fidgeting where she’d been calm before.

Interesting. How many of them are aware of the experiments, how many of them read the fine print about deviations, how many are just piecing it together that “oh shit that’s where Case 53s come from”…

“This kind of insubordination is what goes on your file and costs you promotions,” the cape said.

“I’ve been passed up for promotion so many times I’ve already gotten the message.  Monsters don’t get to be team captain.  Your argument doesn’t have any weight to it, Lono.”

Fair. Hard to take something she wouldn’t get anyway.

Weld approached her.  Their eyes met, and Weld came to a stop, turning around so that he stood just to her right.  He didn’t say a word.

And Weld! Weld, who is the exception to what she just said. Weld, who has more to lose. Weld, who also wants answers. The monsters stick together.

Miss Militia stared at him, and he didn’t even flinch.

Look, Hana, they deserve to know.

“This is a critical situation,” Myrddin said.  “We’re on the brink of another potential conflict with an S-class threat.  If the Undersiders have information we can use, information that could be sensitive, we need you to clear out.”

“I’ve spent years like this,” Gully said.  “It’s not just me, either.  There’re others.  Weld…”

“Hunch,” Weld added.  “Gentle Giant, Sanguine.”

Wasn’t Hunch one of the Thinkers the Protectorate consulted about the threat rating?

…no.

I kinda hope they’re a Thinker, though, who’s just also got a serious case of hunchback.

The name Sanguine plus the information they’re considered monstrous just screams vampire aesthetic, and I feel like Gentle Giant goes without comment (they were obviously shrunk).

“Weld and Hunch, Gentle Giant and Sanguine,” Gully said.  “And the others who weren’t even lucky enough to find the Wards or the Protectorate before they found themselves in trouble.  It’s not just for me.  We need to know for them.”

I really like this moment.

“This isn’t the time or place.”

“With all due respect, spend a day in my shoes, Myrddin.  Just one, and then tell me again, that I have to wait one day, one hour, even one minute longer for an explanation.”

The ground shuddered, and I thought at first that it was her, but she looked surprised.

Tecton? Is that your way of showing support here?

If it’s you, Noelle, stay down a little longer, please. Don’t you dare ruin this.

It was Noelle.  Echidna.  She was active and fighting her way free.

Well, at least she’s still there.

Alright, folks, no more time to argue, you either let the Undersiders spit it out with the 53s present or you go into battle missing info. What’ll it be?

“We’re out of time.  Enough of this,” Myrddin said.  “Gully, Weld, join your teams.”

Gully planted her shovel in the ground, put one foot on top of the blade, and folded her hands on the handle.

“We could share with them,” Miss Militia said.  “I know Weld is an exemplary hero, and we could trust him to keep necessary information to himself.”

“I might agree,” Chevalier said, “If it weren’t for the dramatic flair Gully was displaying.  I don’t trust that she will stay quiet on the subject.”

No way is she going to let them get away with only telling Weld.

Another shudder.  Heroes were running to adopt battle lines, forming a circle around the construction lot with the ruined building.  The invincible, the power immune, masters with durable pets and forcefield makers were positioning themselves at even intervals around the circle.

I like the phrase “masters with durable pets”. Makes me think of Duracell bunnies. I think the closest we get to that around here is Parian.

“We don’t have time.  Myrddin,” I said. “You and I can both fly.  If we go to a nearby rooftop-”

“Fuck me,” Tattletale said.  “So much wasted time.”

I think if you wait any longer Tattle’s going to burst.

She grabbed for Miss Militia’s gun.  When Miss Militia didn’t let go, Tattletale took one step closer and pressed her forehead against the gun barrel.  “Do it.  Kill me.  You’ve seen a lot of people die in your lifetime.  People important to you, dying because of an idea.  So kill me because I believe this idea should be heard by people who care.  Close the damn circle.”

Damn.

Why? I thought.

“The Triumvirate,” Tattletale said.

The words are out. What will you do, Miss Militia?

Miss Militia stared at her, but didn’t pull the trigger.

“The… Triumvirate?” Gully asked.

“I’m in deep shit anyways,” Tattletale said.  “For saying what I already have.  We all are.  Sad fact is, I have better chance of surviving if it’s all out in the open.  The Triumvirate is Cauldron.  Eidolon, Legend, Alexandria.  They started it, or they’re so involved in it that it’s incestuous.”

Close enough, yes.

I guess Tattle knew that after her stunt in front of the Triumvirate, she’d become a target. She’d shown them too much, shown herself to be a loose thread, so she might as well try to unravel the whole thing fast if they were going to try to snip her anyway.

“Fuck me,” Regent muttered.

I couldn’t even breathe.  I was waiting for Miss Militia to pull the trigger.

Ooof.

“They made me like this?” Gully asked.  “Why?”

“Not sure.  A warning, maybe, to people who didn’t pay their bills.  Or they figured that while they were brainwashing you, they’d implant you with a built-in weakness, something a paying customer could exploit.”

Oh shit. The Nemesis program.

“That’s it?  That’s your answer?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing because it was insufficient or because I’d let Tattletale take things this far.

The ground shook, more violently than before.  The air was filled with the thrum of the helicopters that were flying overhead.

This goes deep. I wonder if Tattletale has pieced together who Alexandria is.

By contrast, he flew so silently that I almost missed him setting down.  I didn’t have bugs in the area, and my eyes were trained in the general direction of Gully and the wreckage of Coil’s collapsed base.

Oh fuck he’s here. There’s only one he that flies that silently.

And he’s just been ordered to use lethal force.

Legend, landing in the midst of us.

Uh. Two hes apparently.

Fair enough.

Well, if you were going to get caught having this conversation, at least Legend is better than Eidolon.

Legend, landing in the midst of us.

“You heard,” Tattletale said.  She didn’t sound surprised.

Cauldron’s the kind of secret organization that hears more than you might think.

…also someone in the crowd may have alerted Cauldron about this conversation.

“Lipreading,” he murmured.  “I can see very long distances.  Put the gun down, Miss Militia.  The cat’s out of the bag.”

Ah, yeah, that’s one way to keep watch on the potential tattletale.

“You’re admitting it,” Chevalier said.

I don’t think Alexandria would. Eidolon definitely not.

But Legend recently had an “are we the baddies” moment, and I’m not sure whether he knew Cauldron was behind Case 53s.

There was another rumble, shaking the ground so hard that most of us lost our balance.  Legend stayed perfectly upright, no doubt using his flight to hold himself a hair above the ground.  He turned to check the fighting hadn’t started.

Yeah, yeah, Noelle, hold your various deformed horse heads. We’ve got stuff to deal with over here.

“It’s true?” Gully asked.

“We started Cauldron in the early days,” he said.  “They had a way to give people powers, and each of us were desperate for our own reasons.  We should have had trigger events, but we weren’t lucky enough to have the potential.  Nobody deluded themselves about the risks.  We knew that it was all too possible to die or become a monster.”

I was skeptical for a while about the “potential”, but I would assume Cauldron to be ahead of the game in research on that stuff. Besides, the corona pollentia is a thing.

“But you did.  You made monsters,” Gully said.

“Everyone who took a dose went into it with their eyes open,” he said.  “They refined the process, and we reduced the chance to a single digit of a percent.  Two, three percent, if that.  And at the same time the numbers were decreasing, we were realizing how badly we needed the heroes that Cauldron could provide.  Capes without traumas to drive them toward villainy.  Cauldron turned it into a business, producing heroes and acquiring funds from the wealthy to redirect to Endbringer recovery and further research into powers.  We knew it wasn’t ideal, that some would turn to villainy, but with the appearance of the Slaughterhouse Nine and the damage the Endbringers were doing, we had to do something.”

It’s certainly a good story to tell yourself to convince yourself you’re the good guys.

And I mean, there is some truth to it. They do need the heroes. It’s just a shame so many people are hurt or killed in the process.

“How do the Travelers factor in?” Miss Militia asked.

“They got ahold of a dose meant for another group of people.  They weren’t screened, they didn’t follow the necessary procedures, didn’t get the psychological or physical checkups… and even with that, we had no idea that the formulae could produce anything like this Echidna.”

Oh, interesting, so Cauldron did actually know about that.

…I suppose they did know about the lab that got misplaced into Madison, and records about the set of doses Krouse found there.

“But the Travelers are from another world,” I said.  “Aren’t they?”

That’s almost certainly one factor, yes.

“The Simurgh,” he said, simply.  “Madison, Wisconsin, one and a half years ago.  She opened a dimensional gate.  You were there, Myrddin.  You met Trickster and Echidna.”

Tattle didn’t seem to have pieced together that the Simurgh was involved earlier. I wonder if learning that sends her power along some new and spicy routes.

Myrddin’s eyes widened.  “The hospital room.”

The ground rumbled again.  A burned husk of a building at the far end of the street toppled with a crash.

“But… if Cauldron’s not taking people from other worlds,” Gully said.  “What-”

Uh, about that.

“It’s not Cauldron,” Legend said.  His voice was flat, without affect.  He met her eyes.  “Manton worked for Cauldron, before an incident with his daughter led to a psychotic break and a break with the organization.  He left with samples that he passed on to others.  One of those people sold them for personal profit before Cauldron found him.  Another was responsible for the case fifty-threes.  We thought it was Manton, but it wasn’t.”

Wait, what? We’ve seen Alexandria pick up Newter. I think you need to think more about what the others might have been lying to you about, Legend.

He glanced at Tattletale, and she cocked her head a little to one side.

Why?” Gully asked.  “Why do that?  Why make us like this?”

“I’d give you answers if I could.  Some people abuse others for the sense of power it gives them,” Legend told her.  His voice sounded hollow.  “To change someone’s body and mind completely and irrevocably?  It could be the same impulse.  The appearance of the case fifty-threes has stopped or slowed dramatically.  It’s little consolation, but we think the person who did this to you is be dead or completely out of formula.”

So either he’s been lied to more than he realized, or he’s now lying to do damage control.

“is be dead”

“That’s no consolation at all,” Gully replied.  The ground shuddered.

“It’s worth noting,” Legend said, “That we tracked Manton down.  He and Siberian’s master are the same person.  Dragon and Defiant have a bead on the Nine.  They expect a confrontation to start soon.”

I wonder how the timeline shakes out. Has Blasto’s Interlude happened yet at this point in the main chapters?

But I could only think of when Legend and I had been looking down at the Nine from above.  He’d recognized the Siberian’s master then, and he hadn’t told me.

I mean, yeah. At the time he had no reason to tell you.

Was he omitting facts now, in the same way?  Was he lying like he had then?

“The Siberian is Manton?” Myrddin asked.

Sort of. For most intents and purposes, yes.

Legend nodded.  “And Manton is ultimately responsible for the case fifty-threes.  I know it’s not the explanation you each hoped for, but it’s the reality.  Understood?”

There were nods all around.  I wasn’t sure if anyone else saw, or if they knew her well enough to say, but Tattletale was smiling, and it wasn’t the one she wore when she was being friendly and easygoing.  It was the one she’d had before she’d unloaded on Panacea, back at the bank.

Hooo boy.

The one she’d had before she revealed to Coil just how she’d screwed him over.

Legend, I think you’re about to regret you tried to do anything here.

I directed a bug to fly across her face, brushing the skin.  She flinched and looked at me.

Not. Now.

I only stared at her, willed her to be quiet.  Saying anything would be disastrous here.  I wasn’t sure how much of what he was saying was truth, but Legend had just stepped in here, pacified the situation.

You definitely have more immediate issues to deal with now. You can tear his world apart later.

Tattletale shrugged with one shoulder, a fractional movement that only my swarm really noticed.  The smile disappeared from her face.

“Sure,” she said, a little belatedly.

Thank you.

The rumbling continued, steadier now.

“Is that the essence of what you wanted to tell us?” Myrddin asked me.  “What Legend said about Cauldron?”

“Only thing I’d have to add is that the Travelers came from another Earth.  Except for Trickster, they’re more or less on our side here.  Tell Ballistic, Sundancer and Genesis that we can get them home, and they’ll help.  They have the kind of firepower we need.”

I’m unsure who’s more likely to refuse out of Sundancer and Genesis.

“We’ll-”

My bugs sensed Echidna clawing her way to the surface.

“–have to talk later.”

“Armband!”  I interrupted Chevalier.

Here she comes.

“What?”

“Warn them.  She’s here!”

It was too late.  The Grue that was accompanying Echidna emerged from the hole she’d dug.  He raised his hands, and I could see the wave of darkness rolling out from the entrance to a parking garage to sweep over the assembled heroes.

ROUND 2


[Session 2]

FIGHT!

She wasn’t beneath the fallen base.  With her shapeshifting and the teleporting Grue’s help, she’d found her way through a side tunnel, clawed or punched her way up into a nearby parking garage, a place where she could stage her attack.

So I kind of called it?

Sort of?

Echidna materialized out of the darkness the Grue had created.  She was nearly twice the height she’d been before, to the point that the human body on the top was miniscule, a speck by comparison.  A human figure atop a broad three-story building.

Damn.

Endbringer or not, she’s got everything down in terms of scale and threat level.

Is this S-level enough for you yet, Rebecca?

Also, one thing worth noting: This is Taylor’s first time actually seeing Echidna through human eyes. She had a good idea of what she was like before, and eventually saw her through the distorted gaze of the swarm, but this is the first time she’s seeing Echidna the way most other people would.

(I say specifically “Echidna” because that one time she saw Noelle’s human section on webcam doesn’t count.)

Her legs were more robust, now.  There weren’t any feeble limbs like the ones my bugs had glimpsed or touched.  Her lower body was plated in a crust of bone, and two more heads were just emerging from her front, one with the beginnings of a mouth, the other with two large eyes and a lump that would become a snout.  She’d developed.

Should’a pressed B. Definitely should’a pressed B.

There were no less than ten capes within range of her claws as she appeared.  Ten capes that were caught in her flesh the very instant the fighting began.

Fantastic start.

I’d placed bugs on Legend to track his movements, and they went with him as he took to the air and fell into formation with Alexandria and Eidolon.  Those same bugs allowed me to sense the smallest movement of his head, as he directed a slight nod toward his longtime comrades.

Interesting. Let’s keep a compound eye on these three.


If you ever wonder why things take time when you’ve got ADHD, I just got distracted for like half an hour by the plural of “chili” and the overseas territories of France.

Did you know France’s longest border is with Brazil, and that its only land border with the Netherlands is in the Caribbean?


If I’d been suspecting that he’d been lying before, that clinched it for me.

I mean, it doesn’t have to be a nod of “yes, she knew”, but it very well could be.

Better watch your backs, though. The same goes for Gully, Weld, Miss Militia, Myrddin and Chevalier.

In his shoes, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have done the same.

I mean yeah, if you were protecting a secret like the extent of Cauldron’s activities, of course you’d spout lies. Or leave it up to Lisa to handle the situation.


Oh.

I thought there was a lot more left of the chapter. This could have been out almost a week ago, whoops.

The comments-removing extension has stopped working, so the scrollbar isn’t a good estimate of what’s left anymore… Hm, looks like it works on Chrome. I guess I’ll switch to Chrome for the source text screen too, then. (I was using Maxton for the story on my top screen and Chrome for the post editor on my bottom screen.)

While it’s a good safeguard to have against accidental scrolling and careless commenters, the removal of the comments in itself isn’t actually nearly as useful to me as the fact that when the comments aren’t taking up 50-75% of it, the scrollbar can give me a decent idea of how much is left of a chapter. It helps me avoid situations like this.


End of Scourge 19.4

This was a fun one, with a very clear highlight. I mean, the discussion of Tattle’s dimension-ripping plan was good. The collection of Atlas was alright. The reactions of the rest of the group to Skitter’s bug-care routine were pretty solid.

But the tension between Skitter, Tattletale, Miss Militia and the Case 53s? That whole scene? That was excellent.

Legend popping in to do some damage control was interesting too, and I’m really looking forward to when Tattletale gets to unleash the venom her smile was holding. Legend’s recent discovery that Cauldron wasn’t as good a cause as he thought is a very intriguing wrench in all of this.

Oh yeah, and Noelle’s back. Please tell me there exists fanart of Noelle as an evolution chain of Pokémon.

Next time, it’s presumably time to fight this refreshed hell. I think to make up for the wasted week, I’ll skip the Between and just continue right on to that right now, so I’ll see you soon for that!

One thought on “Scourge 19.4: No Use Crying Over Spilled Beans

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