“My teams are on their way,” he said.

“That’s good,” I said.  “The Undersiders and Travelers are too.  I’m going to go fill them-”

Ah, fuck, he’s not gonna let her, is he. Confidential information.

“We need them to back off,” he interrupted.

What? Why?

“Another bombing?”  I asked.

He shook his head.  “No.  It seems we’re facing the worst case scenario.”

What??

Endbringer interfering??? Except that’d come with airhorns…

Crawler not being so dead after all?

Wait. Didn’t Piggot mention something about a worst case scenario back in her Interlude.

Ah, yes:

“In short, our worst case scenario is the Nine feeling spiteful or cornered, and deploying [Bonesaw’s bioweapon].  When we attack, we need to make it an absolute victory, without allowing them an opportunity.”

Well, fuck.

“I- I don’t follow.”

“No,” he sighed a little.  “I suppose you wouldn’t.  It does mean we know who he is.”

Ooh, tell me more!

“Someone I’d know?  An old costume?”

He shook his head.  “A scholar.”

Jack glanced up, and Legend fired in the same instant.  With Siberian’s strength, the group of the Nine lunged to one side, disappearing behind cover.

A scholar. Huh. Doesn’t look the part, but sure.

I sent bugs after them.

My swarm sensed other arrivals.  The Undersiders and Travelers came from the west, taking a circuitous route around the top end of the bomb site.

Hiya, guys! You missed the show!

Legend fired a series of blasts after Siberian and gave chase, but she was keeping a building between her group and Legend.   He stopped where he was, one hand outstretched, and touched his ear.

Do they have to touch the ear when there are incoming messages, or…

I mean, it makes sense for it to be just a habit, but it seems so consistent.

Could the swan be a secondary mark Cauldron uses to denote something more specific? Or maybe it’s related to that quest for vengeance that drove Siberian off the deep end according to Lisa?

Siberian flickered violently as she crouched beside Jack and Bonesaw, one hand on each.

Dammit, of course!

But wait. Is the real body dying because they focused on saving Bonesaw and apparently Jack?

In between the three of them was a man, hunched over.

Oh, okay, so he’s still with them, and may have been protected too for some of the time, but he seems to have gotten hurt. Possibly badly.

Damn, of all the characters to go out with a heroic sacrifice, Siberian certainly wasn’t one I expected it from.

Legend raised one hand, but he didn’t shoot.

I suppose he knows shooting Jack and Bonesaw won’t do anything and he doesn’t want to shoot a man when he’s probably dying anyway.

“Legend?”

“They haven’t seen us.  I would like to take out Jack or Bonesaw while they’re distracted and unguarded, I just need Siberian to step away or let go of them.”

Oh. That works too.

The group shifted positions, so the man had an arm around Jack’s chest and an arm around Bonesaw’s shoulders, Siberian behind him.

Group hug! 😀

(I’m kidding, I can tell it’s a matter of support.)

“See that?” Legend asked.

“What?”  I could barely make them out from our vantage point.  “I can’t.”

“My eyes are better than most.  A minor benefit of my powers.  The backs of his hands, perhaps you can make out the tattoos?  A cauldron on the left hand, a swan on the right.”

Ooh! Well, that confirms one thing – Siberian is a Cauldron client or otherwise related to them – and opens up another major question: What the hell does the swan mean?

I know what herons on the hands mean, but a swan is a new one to me.

“I’d like to think so.  But if I’m being realistic-”

I stopped mid-sentence.

Yes, I can see that… but why? Did you just realize what you’re doing here? Chatting with the head of the Protectorate?

My bugs had found a group of individuals on the edge of the blast radius.

Ah, fuck.

Well, at least they got Crawler.

“No fucking way.”  I pointed.

Okay but imagine this from Legend’s perspective. :p

“You know this city better than I do, I’m sure.  I like to think people are stronger than they appear at first glance.  Perhaps the same goes for cities as well?”

“I’d like to think so.  But if I’m being realistic… no fucking way.”

I ventured to ask him a question, “Can Brockton Bay take this?  It feels like it was on the verge of collapse already.  Add this mess, the firebombing… can we really come back from it?”

At least this mess and the firebombing is somewhat localized. Doesn’t mean it’s not going to cause an uproar throughout and maybe beyond the city, though.

Also, you say “on the verge of collapse” as if it wasn’t largely collapsed already.

“You know this city better than I do, I’m sure.  I like to think people are stronger than they appear at first glance.  Perhaps the same goes for cities as well?”

Maybe! Sounds unusually uplifting, but this story isn’t all dreariness and bleakness. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be reading it.

“people are stronger than they appear” is a really good message without bringing cities into it, too. (More good guy points for Legend. All of the good guy points!)

Also, in a more physical sense, it’s a good assumption to make for someone with a career in fighting parahumans.

There was a series of smaller explosions below.  I could see a section of ruined building glowing red, then detonating in a blast of light that sent a nearby glacier spinning into a patch of burning ground.

…delayed reactions between separate areas?

Also, I like how it took me a while to process that this paragraph mentioned a “nearby glacier” in the middle of a northeastern U.S. cityscape.

“And the other three?”

“Remains to be seen.  The civilians are dead, but it’s something of a mercy.  Bonesaw’s mechanical spiders were welded to their skeletons, allowing her to remotely control them.  Like zombies, only they were aware and in incredible pain.

Yikes.

I expect she had measures to inflict agonizing deaths on them if we attempted to disconnect them from her spider-frames.  Maybe I could have saved them, can’t say.  From the glimpses I saw of them, I don’t know if they would have thanked me.”

And you didn’t have much time once you realized you had limited of it.

We spent a minute staring down at the devastation.

Judging by how Taylor hasn’t asked what the hell just happened, I’m guessing she recognized it. Especially the time bombs, presumably.

I wonder what exactly killed Crawler.

“Clockblocker managed to tether Mannequin in place.  Crawler freed himself from the same trap by tearing himself in two against the immovable object.  It was Piggot who managed to keep Crawler in the blast area.”

Tearing himself in two… that’s actually a pretty creative use of Crawler’s power.

But how did Piggot do it?

“How?”

“She had Weld pass on a message, telling Crawler what we had planned.  He was so tickled at the idea that we would be able to hurt him that he stayed where he was while the teams made their retreat.”

Pfft. Nice.

“Just like that?”

“Apparently so.”

“If he survives-”

“He didn’t.”

Woo! The big guy’s down!

The rest are less likely to have made it than Crawler was. Even Jack, with his maybe-plot-armor. We may have stamped out the Slaughterhouse Nine here, most chaotically.

I drifted toward Legend, raising my hands over my head to show I meant no harm.

“Hey Legend, what the fuck?”

“Thank you for the assistance,” he spoke, when I was in earshot.  “Some was misguided or off target, but it did make a difference.”

He’s a seriously good dude. He and Weld. I really like that he acknowledges Taylor’s help and makes it clear that he appreciates it, even though she’s supposedly a villain.

I do suppose he has a lot of experience working with villains in Endbringer fights and the like.

I could only nod.

He put one hand to his ear, then paused for several long seconds.  When he spoke, it was vague.  “Acknowledged.”

Oh jeez, he’s still got Piggot in his ear, probably telling him not to be too chummy with Taylor or something. If it’s not just “we’re done bombing now”.

I waited, staring down at the disaster area below.

“Crawler and Mannequin observed to be in the blast site.”

Oh, nice, got all of them! I wonder if any of them are going to make it.

I mean, Crawler’s likely to, but even he’s vulnerable to stuff like time stops.

“How did they disengage while keeping them there?  They- they did disengage?”

I should hope so. Piggot isn’t that stupid. And if she was planning to deliberately get rid of the heroes in the same go (which goes against a lot of what I said when talking about her and the Incredibles), she wouldn’t have told Legend ahead of time. And there are plenty of other people involved in actually doing this, so it’d be quite easily traced back to her.