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Charm Learning Shard (Worm/Exalted) (COMPLETED)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Daniel Snuts, Apr 24, 2022.

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  1. Whitesnake Pelinal

    Whitesnake Pelinal Like a dream without a dreamer

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    Calling it now: Aisha slips the leash, goes to an Endbringer fight, and gets her body destroyed before Taylor can retrieve it.
     
  2. bornagainpenguin

    bornagainpenguin Making the rounds.

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    Oh c'mon now predominate representation doesn't necessarily mean control of an industry.... /s
     
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  3. DigBickBaddy

    DigBickBaddy Making the rounds.

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    Grue would have most likely give the spell private plaza of downcast eyes or a variant that blocks vision
    Tl;dr Mantellum effect
     
  4. Threadmarks: K.10
    Daniel Snuts

    Daniel Snuts Know what you're doing yet?

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    Once you're done, Contessa portals you into a vast hall (same sterile white non-decor as always) filled with capes gathered into several distinct groups.

    "Khonsu just appeared in Qiqihar, China," she says.

    "I will not enter the CUI," you counter. She just nods in response. If they know everything about you, they know your reasons. Of course they understand that this ultimatum is entirely reasonable, when divided by your importance to the cause.

    "You will be in the third group to arrive." She points towards to closest group of capes, then portals out without further comment.

    You had at first been confused by the amount of capes present, but that statement makes it clear: They're decoys. Two groups to grab its attention and soak the initial hits, with the true attack hidden within the third.

    You wonder if you should change clothes and/or faces to help facilitate this. But no, you recall being told that Endbringer eyes are merely decorative. Whatever arcane senses they have are far more likely to resemble sorcerer's sight, against which you have no camouflage. In which case you should remain as Esper, who is at least a walking (flying), talking battle flag to raise morale.

    You can see it working immediately as group three spots you approaching. You wonder whether you should pity them their role. On the one hand, they are explicitly here as cannon fodder. On the other, by acting as decoys for you they will contribute more than anyone else in the history of Endbringer fights.

    You let none of this show on your face, instead accepting handshakes and high fives with good cheer, like the good little battle flag you are. There might be some slight envy radiating from groups #1, #2, #4 and #5, but none of them break ranks to join in the festivities. Except one - a man dressed as an action train conductor.

    "Strider!" you call out to him. "Big fan!"

    "Likewise, likewise," he assures you, a huge grin splitting his face below his giant mirrored goggles. "I don't suppose this would be a good time to ask for an autograph?"

    "I don't do autographs. Can I offer you a side-hug selfie instead?"

    "Deal!" He actually teleports the final distance between you, appearing with his arm already around your shoulders. "Sorry, sorry," he says as you startle (and very nearly delete him from existence, though he doesn't notice that part). He's already raising his phone as he apologizes, so you lean your head next to his and raise your fingers in a V for victory.

    Click goes the camera, and with a motion that speaks of well-honed reflexes his finger immediately hits the 'share to social media' button. Though to his credit, he hesitates before confirming, glancing at you for permission.

    "Caption: 'Endbringer Express,'" you suggest.

    This triggers a cavalcade of further photo ops from the rest of group three.

    "Ulan Bator, Mongolia," Contessa's voice comes over the loudspeakers some time later, interrupting the festivities. "Go!"

    Strider is gone from your side, and you glance over at group one just in time to see them vanish. Strider is back, group two is gone, Strider is next to you again, you are on top of a skyscraper, facing the rising sun.

    Were it not for the time of day, it would not be immediately apparent to you that you were not still in America. Tall buildings in the middle, with the height tapering off further out. You suppose it would be different if you were on street level, where you could fail to read the signs.

    Your musings are cut short by a cry of "To the left!", and you turn to see the telltale cylindrical time fields in the distance. Without further prompting, your entire group takes to the air. There's another group ahead of you, approaching from a different angle.

    The nearest time field swerves to intercept you as you approach, but you've seen this move already, and most of your group manages to change course in time. Then another one comes from the left, and you grin savagely behind your mask as you avoid it with yards to spare, though it shaves another few decoys off your group. You're past the time fields, with a straight shot at the Endbringer itself. Flight is going to be a noticeably less common power by the time this is over, but if that's all it's got-

    The world goes black. There are screams around you, but they are of shock rather than pain.

    "Aaah!"

    "What happened?"

    "I'm blind!"

    "Who did that?"

    "Ah, scheisse."

    Looking around in the pitch darkness, sorcerer's sight reveals five other capes around you. There were a lot more a second ago.

    One of them is also visible to normal sight, a faint purple glow coming from several protrusions on the his power armor. The others are moving to congregate around him, so you follow suit.

    "What is going on?" you ask, bobbing gently in the air next to him. The Tinker was the last one to speak, and he sounded more resigned than surprised - he might know what's going on.

    "Ve're trapped in a time field," he says.

    "What?"

    "No!"

    "It isn't dark inside the time fields!"

    "Not from ze outside," the Tinker explains. "But if one year for us is a second for ze rest of the vorld, vell... Zen ve're getting 30 million times less sunlight zan eferyone else."

    He starts moving again as he speaks, flying towards the presumed edge of the time field. The rest of you follow him, though it's obviously futile: If people could just walk out of a time field, they already would have.

    Indeed, the moment he touches the boundary - you can just about make it out with sorcerer's sight, up close - his armor goes dark and plummets to the ground. There are more exclamations around you.

    "I'm fine!" his voice comes from below, and the purple glow comes back. "Armor crashed."

    "Yes, but why?" a female voice asks as you descend to join him.

    "No, like computer crash."

    You perform your own experiments while the Tinker mutters to himself, trying to diagnose the issue. You can poke your baton through and retrieve it without issue, but not your hand. Only dead matter can exit the boundary, in other words, while living beings can enter but not escape. Typical Manton bullshit, and nothing you didn't figure out just from watching the footage - if dead matter couldn't pass through, Khonsu would be bulldozing cities, not eroding them.

    The Tinker comes to much the same conclusion a few moments later: His armor poked through, and didn't like part of the circuitry running at 30 000 000x speed.

    "Excellent test of ze emergency shock absorbers," he concludes, with somewhat strained levity. He is, after all, doomed.

    "May I have honor of knowing with whomst to be sharing unmarked grave?" someone else requests. You can't make out colors, but the parahuman glow is enough to show you a tall bearded man, with a generous belly straining against a spandex costume. "To be called Zap! - or if prefer, Ivan." His pronunciation makes it very clear that the exclamation mark is part of his name.

    "Cyclotron," the Tinker says. "Gustaf."

    "Reverb - Emmelie." A girl who may or may not have some sort of pattern woven into her outfit. Musical notes?

    "Esper." You hesitate, but it isn't as if these people will survive to tell anyone your true name. "Taylor."

    "Doppelscheisse," Cyklotron says. "So much for killing more Endbringers." Reverb starts crying.

    You absently pat her shoulder while Inviolate/Nicholas and Glimpse/Sara introduce themselves. Yes, she utterly failed at her job as decoy, but you don't hold it against her. That last time field came out of nowhere.

    Cyclotron does something else to his armor, and part of one gauntlet shifts from glowing faint purple to shining bright white, enough to finally see properly. You may have figured out about living and dead matter yourself, but you didn't realize that your share of photons would be stretched out like that. Not that you strictly need sunlight, but there's a similar unforeseen complication with-

    "How much air is in here, do you reckon?" you ask.

    -the wind. With the clarity of hindsight, you realize that you should have added 'or breathe' when you ordered takeout from Contessa.

    Cyclotron shrugs. "Enough zat ve'll die of zirst zirst."

    "I do not need to eat or drink," you say.

    "Ah. Do what you must, zen."

    "Do what?" Inviolate asks.

    "Esper may surfife zis," Cyclotron explains. "But she must kill us all zirst, so ve do not breaze her air." He fiddles with some latches at his neck and takes off his helmet, before handing you a glowing purple knife. Polite of him, since you left yours in the Birdcage.

    "Pleasure to have served with great Esper," Zap! says, kneeling and lifting his beard aside to bare his throat.

    "Tell my mom I made a difference," Reverb requests.

    "No! Let me go! I don't want to die!" Glimpse screams.

    "Stop struggling, it won't make a difference," those are Inviolate's last words.

    Then a panicked civilian with a flashlight comes running out of the nearest building and starts jabbering at you in Mongolian, and you realize that there's a lot more than five air-breathers in here with you.

    At least with the rest of them, you won't feel obligated to feast on their flesh afterwards.

    In better circumstances I would crack wise about having 'a beauty on each arm'.

    On my left, an attractive Caucasian brunette who introduced herself as Miranda. Despite aforementioned circumstances, she attempts to present herself as innocently seductive. The latter is more successful than the former, considering her attire: An orange prison jumpsuit, which she has tied off at the waist. Leaving her torso clad in nothing but a white sports bra, the contents of which she takes care to press against my arm as she clings to me.

    On my right, a taciturn Chinese lady in a red cheongsam, who introduced herself simply as 'Ér', no second name, and would not respond to any further conversational sallies. Then again, perhaps she does not speak much English, and I do not speak Chinese.

    Further ruining any romantic mood is Eidolon, standing behind me and gripping my shoulders. As I understand it, one of his powers is being used to hide us from the beast, while the other two are Trump powers. The ladies are power-boosting Trumps as well, and all three of them are enhancing each other as well as me, taking all of us higher and higher in a never-ending spiral. I am not even using my power yet, but still I feel bloated, overfilled. The world is awhirl with vectors and relationships, begging for me to reach out, but I hold fast.

    "I should be out there," Eidolon mutters, audible to me only because he is all but breathing down my neck.

    "Negative," comes a voice from his armband, different from the artificial announcer voice. I recognize it as that of the woman who brought me here. "Maintain position. Group three is engaging."

    An unnecessary advisory, as we can see it playing out in front of us. The fliers dodge one time field, then another. And then, just as they are about to make contact, a third one springs up from nothing in their midst.

    "Esper deceased," intones the announcer voice.

    After going through the three-quarters of a building trapped in here with you room by room, apartment by apartment, floor by floor, you are finally certain that you are alone. You sit down cross-legged on the roof and close your eyes. You've never attempted meditation before, but you've read somewhere that it's supposed to decrease your oxygen consumption.

    This seems like an excellent time to learn.

    "-ride, override!" comes a different voice from the armband. "Esper is alive! I repeat, Esper is alive!"

    At first I think she escaped the time field, but no. She is sitting atop a building inside it, not moving, but not dying and rotting away either.

    "All units, attack!" the armband orders. "Force it to recall the time fields to heal itself!"

    Eidolon shifts, preparing to leave.

    You understand now that Newter did not give you a power. It was inside you all along. You can tell, because you've discovered another one just like it - but greater. You must have seen it before, you're pretty sure, all those times you've gazed upon your soul and its constellation of powers. But somehow the knowledge slipped from your grasp every time, until now. You don't know how long it's been - no light, and only the faintest stirrings of hunger and thirst, unchanging - but you are finally ready to comprehend its majesty. And it is majestic, able to channel an almost inconceivable amount of power, should you but find a mate for it.

    Are there even greater wonders hidden within you?

    "Not you, Eidolon," the recruiter's voice adds. "Maintain position."

    If the second power within you was majestic, the third is breathtaking. No, do not think about a lack of breath. You are calm, you are one with the universe. Meditation lowers oxygen consumption. Calm, one with the universe.

    Alexandria strikes, sending Khonsu flying backwards through a forest of Narwhal's razor-sharp forcefields. A dozen lesser attacks bombard it before it even touches the ground. A befuddled Ash Beast drops out of a portal to land on top of the Endbringer.

    It is not enough.

    "Everyone, avert your eyes!" a male voice comes from the armband. "Do not look at Khonsu!" I close my eyes, but not before catching a glimpse of Legend streaking across the battlefield, headed... towards a time field?

    There's a flash of light bright enough to be visible through my closed eyelids, and a wave of heat on my skin. When I open my eyes again, the Endbringer is standing in a lake of molten glass, its limbs skeletally thin, the sphere of its body turned gibbous. The result of days worth of Legend's full power, I realize, compressed into an instant as it left the time field.

    It's shocking, that such an attack did not do more damage - but it is enough. The time fields vanish from the battlefield to reappear around the beast itself.

    There is... something. As you meditate on the power flowing through your body and soul, you can feel it changing ever so slowly (how long has it been?). Not from anything you're doing, it is simply... deepening? Maturing. And as it does, you can feel a... a growing understanding, an idea just out of reach. With this power... why are you content to shape it into discrete abilities, pale copies of what is provided to others? What tethers shackle you to mortal limits? Why-

    You blink in confusion as the light hits your face, and the feeling evaporates. There is a regret so deep it is almost rage - you were on the very cusp of enlightenment!

    You clench your fists as you face the... sunlight? Yes, that's what that is. The cruft of mortal existence comes creeping back into your awareness, and you remember where you are. Who you are. What you were doing. You had a mission.

    Esper stands up. Her costume tears and falls away as she moves, grown ragged and threadbare in the seconds - years, decades - of her confinement, but she herself has not changed. Not a hint of grey in her hair as she stands unbowed and unmasked (is there something wrong with her mouth?) before the great beast.

    Then she moves, flying forward just as the time fields around the now fully regenerated Endbringer fall. As they meet I reach out, and finally release the ocean of power burning within me. Be still, I command, anchoring the beast to the very planet itself.

    There is a faint tug on the leash, like a child heaving against a grown man's arm, as it tries to escape Esper's attack.

    Be not, you command as fingers touch claw. Yet Khonsu remains. You can feel a third power inserting itself between you, harmlessly deflecting your unmaking. For a moment you are simply incredulous - how? - but that is immediately supplanted by a much greater shock: You recognize that power! You've touched it before, in circumstances quite similar. But that's a concern for later. So what if you've been countered not once but twice?

    This is why you developed multiple ways to kill an Endbringer.

    Esper and Khonsu exchange a single strike - no, not even a strike, a mere touch - and both reel back as if burned. Then darkness explodes out from Esper, and-

    I lose track of what happens next as the faint tug of the Endbringer trying to move is replaced by searing agony as it tries to teleport away. Miranda gasps and collapses against my side, while Ér coughs up a mouthful of blood. But their powers do not falter, and neither does mine.

    Everything else you've struck has parted before your void form like air, but Endbringer flesh offers some resistance - enough that you don't just pass right through as you leap, but have to scrabble and claw and kick your way through, burrowing into the sphere of its body. It feels like digging your way through clay, but that is something you can do.

    Of course things are not that simple. You have no way to see through Endbringer flesh, or otherwise navigate as you flail your way deeper inside your adversary. Nor do you know where the 'heart' Lisa pointed out even is. You know where it is on Leviathan, but Khonsu's body is completely different. So you just thrash around at random hoping to hit something important, a strange sense of urgency rising within you.

    Ah, you're suffocating. Even as an avatar of the void you still need oxygen to function, for some godforsaken reason, and the entry wound must have closed up behind you. Never mind the heart, which way is out? Every way is out, if you go far enough. With movements increasingly tinged by desperation, you start digging in what you hope is a straight line.

    Again and again it throws itself against the force holding it in place, each attempt a burning knife threatening to rip my very being apart. Yet I hold on, and barely notice my collarbones snapping under Eidolon's clenching grip.

    When you finally pop out into fresh air, the Endbringer is waiting for you. Before you can draw more than a single breath, a giant hand closes around your head. The flesh of its fingers is no more more able to withstand the void than that of its belly, but it turns out the silver trim of its claws isn't just decorative: Each line is the outer edge of a forcefield sandwiched inside its flesh. They too shatter against your pitch-black skin, but they slow the process enough that it's able to grip you and pull you out even as its fingers melt away.

    But it does nothing to stop you from continuing forward, and digging your way into its palm. You'd have no leverage to do so - except you can still fly. When it tries to throw you away from itself, you're already far enough inside its arm that you won't be dislodged.

    -painpainpainpainpainpainpainpainpainpainpainpain-

    You rip your way out of its arm and drop back inside its body before it can react. Same thing again, but with a fresh lungful of air, and a plan. Once you're a fair ways inside you strike out in all directions, lacerating the flesh around you. Then you bring up a mind-hand for light and sit back and watch, firmly ignoring your body when it starts reminding you about the oxygen issue.

    The heart should be located in the the densest, most indestructible part... but it all gives way the same in the face of your void-form, or close enough that you can't tell. But the part closest to the heart should also be the fastest to regenerate, right? So if one part of your little cave closes up quicker than the others... Yes! That direction.

    You throw your way forward and resume tunneling, and soon enough your fingers skid against something that does not part so easily. Something spherical, like an alien heart. It feels like glass compared to the surrounding clay - but glass you can shatter. With the full force of your flight, and every ounce of strength you inherited from the Butcher, you plunge your arms forward and spear your fingers into the heart.

    The explosion renders you momentarily insensate even through your invulnerability. When your awareness returns you are in the air, still rising. Below you, a city with a spirograph of time-worn desolation drawn across it, and a surprisingly small crater in its center.

    It looks like victory.

    ===

    Taylor spent long enough meditating in there that she was just about to hit Essence 6, which lets you transcend human limits (have more than 5 in all your stats). She has no idea how long that is, because she's a celestial exalt shapeshifter. She doesn't even have a biological age.

    Unfortunately for her, she's a second edition exalt. In 1e, Pattern Spider Touch reads "this can destroy anything - yes, even that." In 2e, with a different writer in charge of the Sidereals book, it reads "this can destroy anything - except my Mary Sue boss monsters." And what is an Endbringer if not a Mary Sue boss monster? Removing Khonsu thus involved extra steps.

    Um. Shouldn't you be slowing down soon? Preferably before you reach space? But no, your void form parts the air as easily as anything else, offering little resistance. Yet if you stopped being invulnerable and started being air-resistant, the sudden deceleration could very well kill you.

    Chain-teleporting downwards is nowhere near enough to counteract your velocity, and your flight only works in close proximity to a surface. Can you walk into the desert?

    No. Apparently in order to walk into the desert, you need something to walk on.

    Just as you're about to curse your third breathing-related emergency of the day (it was only a day for other people, wasn't it?), you're suddenly a lot closer to the ground. But still rising. Then you're closer to the ground again. Rising. Closer-

    Ah, you see what's happening: That's a portal below you, that you just passed through. It seems Cauldron is on the case, and has endeavored to keep you in breathable atmosphere until gravity can finish what air resistance couldn't, ie slow you down to survivable speeds.
     
  5. DigBickBaddy

    DigBickBaddy Making the rounds.

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    Hey a novel solution to the khonsu problem! Hopefully she finds a way of nomming the body. Or remembers to.
     
  6. JustCurious

    JustCurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Nice! A few things I'm wondering about and hope to see clarified in the next chapters:

    Where did she see that shielding power from Khonsu?
    What did she learn from her meditation? (Did her Essence level increase or was it already at 5?)
    Is her decades long meditation spree in vain now that she's been interrupted?
    What do the new powers do?

    Next stop on the powers express: holding her breath! Not like it'd be useful against a hydrokinetic that can encapsulate her in a big sphere of water, after all.

    ... also, does she have any counter to further time based power shenanigans? She didn't even try the escape through the desert here, I guess because of the 5 days delay, but when it's time for Tohu and Bohu and if they copy Grey Boy's power, she'll be in a delicate position.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2022
  7. ses

    ses Versed in the lewd.

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    She went from Ess 3 to Ess 4, then to Ess 5. She was interrupted before she could cultivate her way into a breakthrough into Ess 6. She also taught herself Celestial Circle Sorcery and Solar Circle Sorcery. It's unclear if she's been initiated into them but she has the Charms now at least.
    Her meditation is not in vain, she got 2 essence ups and solar circle sorcery. She doesn't need decades to hit Essence 6 on the next try since she meets the age requirements now, but it'll still take either months/years of meditation or fulfilling her Motivation.
     
  8. JustCurious

    JustCurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Thanks!
    ... What does that mean? I don't know a thing about Exalted, outside of what's been said in this quest ^^'
     
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  9. Paralein

    Paralein Not too sore, are you?

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    How nice of Simmy to give Taylor a way to meditate in peace for a few decades. Or at least I suspect this was planned by her, considering she has been feeding Taylor powerups before.
     
  10. JustCurious

    JustCurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Making everything a Simurgh plot (or a Contessa plot) is bad writing. You don't need a Simurgh plot to explain being caught by a Khonsu field when fighting Khonsu AND being a credible threat to it.

    The point is undecidable without a Simmy pov or WoG anyway, which I doubt we'll get.
     
  11. KyleDaScourge

    KyleDaScourge Getting sticky.

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    Sorcery in exalted operates on three levels depending on how good you are at it and what type of exalt you are. Terrestrial, Celestial, and Solar, each of which is approximately several D&D spell levels above the last.

    Terrestrial Sorcery has spells along the lines of summoning a small-ish tornado for you and your friends to ride around in or making it briefly rain perfectly nutritious bread over a small area.

    Celestial Sorcery does stuff like cause tidal waves or summon a choir of ghostly banshees who sing at the top of their lungs and kill anyone who hears them.

    Solar Sorcery does things like convert 500 square miles at a time of barren desert into thriving farmland (or the opposite if cast on healthy and fertile land) or curse a single city, town, or region with a horrible fog that casts it into perpetual twilight, limits vision to five yards, depresses everyone, gradually kills all plant life, and begins to cover everything in quick-growing and nasty fungi which all lasts until an arbitrary condition chosen by the caster ("such as a marriage, pregnancy, admittance of guilt to a crime or action or some other suitably dramatic event") but not necessarily revealed to the poor people of wherever the fuck is fulfilled.

    It's worth noting that while Taylor seems to have unlocked the ability to cast sorcery, she doesn't seem to know any spells, so I'm doubtful we'll ever see it used, but it has the potential to be very cool.
     
  12. space turtle

    space turtle Know what you're doing yet?

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    So what new horrors will Taylor have to come up with to deal with her third EB?
    Presumably these two methods will work on Simmie and Levi, if they target her.
    But the twins can copy Codie’s power to unwind behemoth felling strikes, and be too big to blindly fly into her core while cosplaying as a black hole.
    So I can see problems arising even without making new EB whole cloth.

    Im betting some combination of stat down effects removing enough Mary Sue ness to enable a spider slap.
     
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  13. queermunist

    queermunist Cummunism Will Win!

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    I wonder, if they copy Taylor could they feed the copy of Taylor more charms until the copy is stronger than the original? Cuz that's basically the end of the world lol
     
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  14. JustCurious

    JustCurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Leviathan will be easy toast I think. Fix it in place, Behemoth-felling strikes and/or Siberian body, done. Just have to make sure she doesn't get exploded from the inside because water.

    The Simurgh is.... weird. She's been almost nice to Taylor up to now, and anyway Taylor isn't precog proof. I'm sure things will become very interesting if they confront each other.

    If the twins copy Glaistig Uaine and Cody, she loses the opportunity to use pattern spider touch, since a touch become insta-kill. Which leaves a bunch of ways to screw her over even more with a third power, like Mama Mather's, Heartbreaker's, Eidolon's, Strider's or Doormaker's...

    Anyway, two EB dead sounds like something entities want to prevent, according to the small canon Eden PoV on this, in order to maintain pressure on the world. I wonder if Scion will finally pull his head out of his ass and react to it.

    I'd say copying charms like Taylor takes far too much time in the context of an Endbringer fight. Any fight will be over before she learns a single one. Besides, there's a risk that it'll reset at each fight, since she has to select the three powers anew each time.

    If you really want a terrifying power ramp-up, copying Glaistig Uaine and Eidolon is a good start. Pity they themselves are limited to three usable powers at a time. Though I wonder what a Spree'd Glaistig Uaine twin could do...
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2022
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  15. queermunist

    queermunist Cummunism Will Win!

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    Unless there are power synergies that could make Taylor learn faster. The EB can have three at a time iirc, so throw a couple of Thinker powers on top (Alexandria and March for example) and then crunch the charm learning down into moments.

    Though that'd escalate beyond the story's grasp so it probably doesn't work.

    Still fun to think about lol
     
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  16. Whitesnake Pelinal

    Whitesnake Pelinal Like a dream without a dreamer

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    So, uh... rest in pukerinos?

    In the grim derp world of Worm they don't have useless eaters, they have useless breathers.

    Get cucked.

    Belgarath: Count your lucky stars.

    Possible interpretation of these repeated instances of timely interference is that Eidolon has been sandbagging all along. He only seems weaker than the rest because it's part of his role. He was inserted first to control the opposition. This explains why he spends all his time doing blasty punchy stuff when he's supposed to have all the powers.

    Yay, Cauldron!

    Speaking of which, I wonder if Contessa has the same sort of problem Dinah does.
     
  17. space turtle

    space turtle Know what you're doing yet?

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    The being terrified of the monster at the end of the world stealing her soul problem?
    Or some other concern?

    I feel path to changing my souls price is either possible, or if the price is “the death of the second entity” then she’d consider it a win either way.
    Assuming Taylor doesn’t become a worse threat to humanities future.
     
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  18. Daniel Snuts

    Daniel Snuts Know what you're doing yet?

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    Leviathan has set his status to Busy. Reason: Household chores.
    Leviathan: Just doing the washing away.
    Leviathan is no longer Busy.
    Behemoth: Nice one bro. *fistbump*
    Leviathan: Dunno what was supposed to be special about this one.
    Simurgh: ¬‿¬
    Leviathan: Hm.
    Behemoth has set his status to Busy. Reason: Endbringin' home the bacon.
    Behemoth: Roar roar stomp st- omgwtfbbq!?
    Behemoth has left the chat. Reason: Ded.
    Leviathan: Oh my god, she killed Bemmy!
    Simurgh: ¬‿¬
    Leviathan: Easy for you to say, you helped her hide from the scary AI. I SHOT HER DOG!
    Simurgh: ¬‿¬
    Leviathan: She WHAT?
    Khonsu has entered the chat
    Khonsu: Chill bro I got this.
    Leviathan: Oh thank god. I'll just hide on the sea bottom until you've dealt with this shit.
    Khonsu has set his status to busy. Reason: Dankest Buddha World Tour!
    Khonsu: Got her. Eezy peez- omgwtfbbq!?
    Khonsu: Help she's eating me what do I do!?
    Leviathan: Self destruct! For the good of Terror Drones everywhere!
    Simurgh: ¬‿¬
    Leviathan: What do you mean indestructible? That's OUR schtick!
    Khonsu: Help she's an endbringer endbringer!
    Leviathan: Shaped charge self destruct! Blast her into space!
    Khonsu has left the chat. Reason: Kasploded.
    Leviathan: Godspeed brother, your sacrifice will not be forgotten.
    Leviathan: ...
    Leviathan: ...
    Leviathan: That DID get rid of her, right?
    Simurgh: ¬‿¬
    Leviathan: Fuckballs.
     
  19. zapking5

    zapking5 But I don't want to have a title!

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    The Simurgh has it figured out. Forget those supernova broadcasts the entities use, finger guns are the true highest form of communication.

    Well when I paste what she is saying elsewhere I get a face with a smirk, but it looks like finger guns on my screen because the middle character is the rectangle that appears when the character is unknown.

    ¬¬
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2022
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  20. John Doey

    John Doey Making the rounds.

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    I see the smirk on Snut's post, but why not both??
     
  21. zapking5

    zapking5 But I don't want to have a title!

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    I looked up the rectangle character so I could post it as an example of what I was seeing.

    ¬¬ ¬‿¬
     
  22. Whitesnake Pelinal

    Whitesnake Pelinal Like a dream without a dreamer

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    Yeah, that one, though not necessarily the specific problem of soul-stealing so much as pathing questions like "how powerful can Taylor become" and "how will Taylor use this power" while guesstimating whether she's a useful tool against Scion.
     
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  23. Threadmarks: Z.01
    Daniel Snuts

    Daniel Snuts Know what you're doing yet?

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    Things can't go on like this, you reflect as you step through into another of Cauldron's white rooms. The Behemoth-Felling Strike was immediately countered, and you shudder to think what absurd monstrosity will appear next, that would counter your void form. Oh, with the support of Cauldron and an atrocity-full of the flesh of innocents you could probably keep ahead of the curve for one more battle. Maybe two. The thought does not appeal.

    Fortunately you don't have to worry about any of that, because you can just nip the problem in the bud. Which is why you requested a private meeting. As expected, Contessa and Doctor Sillyname are waiting for you.

    "This meeting isn't private enough," you announce first thing.

    "We're in the heart of Cauldron's fortress, which is not located on Earth Bet," the Doctor objects.

    You just cross your arms and say nothing. That's exactly your problem. You're in the first place anyone wanting to listen in on secret Cauldron meetings would check. And there's a mortal in the room.

    The Doctor sighs, and turns to Contessa. She doesn't even have to vocalize 'deal with this bitch in my place' before Contessa nods, and a portal opens up next to you. You step through.

    You arrive in a place of desolation. The land is flat to the horizon, and you see no signs of life anywhere. No plants, no animals, only a rolling, wind-carved expanse of rock. It's windy, but not unpleasantly cold. Mid-afternoon, late summer you'd say, if any of your reference points applied to this planet. Not a place you'd want to be marooned, but luckily you always know the way home.

    Contessa follows you, and the portal closes.

    "Speak," she says.

    "Can you guarantee that no one else is monitoring this place?"

    "Only the door system - you think of them as portals - which cannot be turned off. We are the only multicellular life on this world, an unremarkable barren planet randomly chosen among countless trillions."

    You consider this. You could do better, but you may not have five days to waste. It's funny that, trapped incommunicado with what is presumably one of the most dangerous parahumans in the multiverse, your only worry is that you might not be isolated enough. Can she be sure you're safe? If the wrong person is listening in, could even she protect you?

    What is her power, anyway? Now that you're not distracted by an ongoing Endbringer situation, you can finally take a moment to find out.

    "It tells me the path to victory," she says the moment sorcerer's sight activates.

    "Define victory."

    "Any goal I choose."

    Seriously? Her power does look fairly Thinker-esque to your eyes, you admit. With, now that you're looking for it, shades of precognition. But any goal? "Convince the Triumvirate to rebrand to hot-pink costumes, with orange highlights?"

    "47 steps. They would trust me to have a reason, and to work in the best interests of humanity as a whole." She smirks, and adds "To convince Esper, 211 steps, even forewarned."

    There's something else to her power, though. It's not just Thinker, it almost looks like... Regent? You walk up to her and lean on her shoulder as you stare intently at the side of her head. She shifts slightly, and you see it.

    It's not telling her what to do next. It does hook into her auditory cortex, but that is merely a logging function. Her power permeates her entire body, ensuring that each step is carried out perfectly, not a single twitch of a single muscle fiber out of place. A secondary Master power exactly like Regent's, but puppeteering herself.

    So how-

    "Arbitrarily many, provided the required steps don't conflict," she says. "Currently, several hundred."

    -many paths can she pursue simultaneously? And the-

    "Yes."

    -only one currently requiring action is 'Answer Esper's questions before she can open her mouth.'

    You wonder what it feels like from the inside. Is she a prisoner observing her body move on its own, or does she believe she obeys the instructions she's given, granted inhuman precision in all things?

    "The latter," she says.

    Wait, with the way her power works, does she-

    "Not unless I request a 'path to knowing what Esper was thinking just now' - in which case I'm immediately presented with the answer, because it is also perfect postcognition."

    "Oh," she adds a moment later, this time unprompted by her power. "I've never though about my power that way before, but it must be true. Otherwise I could not execute things as precisely as I must."

    Perfect precognition, perfect postcognition, perfect execution. When you surmised her to be one of the most dangerous parahumans in the multiverse, you were not wrong. Even so, you must be one of the closest things to a counter to her there is. If you could study her for another week or so, you would be able to interpret each step as her power provided it, derailing any prediction into paradox.

    Contessa shakes her head. "The flesh is weak, Esper. I would strike in the gap between intent and action."

    True, there would be an input delay, and you don't have perfect execution. Yet. But you know how to fix that - more powers! It's possible that you could become her match, as long as you could see her coming. Of course, she could remain outside your line of sight, and arrange some doom to befall you through other means... Though you can't be surprised, not any more, and between shadow form and void form you're damn hard to hurt.

    You could clearly be launched into space... but you've already decided to fix the breathing issue as your very next priority. Getting back, though... and you can't walk into the desert, without anything to walk on. Your flight won't work either, and Butcher teleports only change your position, not your velocity.

    But if you got a power that conjures matter, you could become a really slow rocket with infinite fuel. Wait, you can technically already do that. Mind-hands don't have an equal and opposite reaction on your body, so you could just repeatedly throw your panoply of orichalcum equipment with your regular hands, and snatch them back with mind-hands before they flew too far. An exceedingly slow rocket.

    Though if you were portalled into the sun, the gravity would be too much to escape, yet there'd be no solid ground to walk on...

    "This is not what we came here to discuss," Contessa says.

    Ah, there it is. She'd been remarkably patient with you up to now, given that in her shoes you'd definitely have a 'path to preventing Esper from studying me too closely' running right now. And she's right, you're here to talk about what must be her other weakness.

    "Despite your power, you have not defeated the Endbringers," you state.

    "I would say that I have defeated two of them so far, using a weapon called 'Esper.'" That's what you get for questioning her free will, huh? "But you're right. My power is blind to the Endbringers. No path can involve them. When their actions interfere with other paths, the steps change without warning. Certain parahumans I'm aware of also have this effect - and quite possibly some I'm not aware of."

    Ooh, you could copy those powers.

    "However, even things I cannot see directly I can model, but only to the extent of my mundane knowledge. I saw that you could kill a great many things. I did not know whether you could kill Behemoth. We know some things about the physical properties of Endbringer flesh, and my model showed me that your void form would be able to burrow through it. But I could not see Khonsu exploding, and had to act quickly before you could fly out of door range."

    The doors have a maximum range, limited to near-earth space? That's excellent news: You can't be portalled into the sun! No, focus on the issue at hand.

    "I know who controls the Endbringers," you say.

    "So I had surmised."

    Surmised. You realize that there is one way you could defeat her: She cannot see the end of this conversation. You are about to impart novel information that will disrupt her every path. You could strike in that moment. She stands within range of your Behemoth-Felling Strike, and it would only take a single blow to render her mortal. The Simurgh may have guided you here, precisely so that you could strike down humanity's champion in her moment of weakness. No, you can't think like that. You have to keep fighting.

    "Eidolon," you say.

    Her power shudders as it reacts to information it could never provide on its own. For a single moment, her face registers shock. You do not strike her down.

    "How did you know?" she asks in the same calm voice as before, the Paths firmly back in control.

    The Simurgh told me, you don't say. You didn't believe it either.

    "He is one of the 'unpathable' capes, right?" you say instead. She nods. "Well, now you know why. What did he do after the Behemoth fight?"

    "He spent the entire day sulking, as I recall."

    "Not sulking, recovering. He stabbed me in the back, tried to stop me from killing Behemoth. I hit him with the Behemoth-Felling Strike in return, stripping away the power he used against me. Leaving him, temporarily, with only two."

    "So he hid," Contessa says. "My model of him is quite comprehensive after our years of working together." Whatever her feelings about this betrayal might be, none of them show on her face. But sorcerer's sight shows what you suspect is a 'path to remaining calm' keeping a firm grip on her facial muscles. "He could not let anyone discover what had happened to him, what he had done."

    "You know that I also got a power from Flechette, that using it was my plan A against Khonsu. I've seen Eidolon's power, I touched it when I struck against him. There can be no doubt about it, his was the power that reached out, and protected Khonsu from being unmade.

    "But even beyond seeking to thwart me twice, no one else has faced the Behemoth-Felling Strike and lived. He is the only person in the world - present company excepted - who knew that its effects would wear off on their own. No one else could have known to send a time-manipulator against me."

    "Door to Doctor Mother."

    Another portal appears, and the Doctor steps through. She looks at you expectantly, but neither of you speak until it closes again.

    "Esper discovered who controls the Endbringers," Contessa says. "I am convinced that she is correct."

    "Well?"

    "Eidolon." Contessa says.

    The Doctor's aloof facade vanishes in an instant. She sways, and would have fallen if Contessa hadn't been there to catch her and ease her into a sitting position.

    "He was our best hope." she whispers. Neither of you offer a comment.

    "It-" she clears her throat. "It may be worth it to leave him alive." Again Contessa remains silent, but you don't.

    "What!?" You are having serious doubts about the merits of leaving 'humanity's champion' alive, all of a sudden.

    Contessa holds up her hand in a warding gesture. She exchanges a significant glance with the Doctor. The Doctor nods, and proceeds to explain to you what Scion is, how many populated Earths there are, and what will happen to them if nothing is done. And thus, by implication, why sacrificing the entire mortal population of Earth Bet would not be too high a price to pay, if it ensured that Eidolon would stand against the apocalypse.

    Fuck.

    ---

    Eidolon is floating in the air, not far from where he stood when the battle ended.

    "David."

    He doesn't turn around at my approach. He keeps staring out over the city, and I must admit it's an arresting sight. The smooth arcs of weathered rubble where the time fields passed, contrasting with the colorful, uneven masses of people celebrating the victory in an impromptu carnival. In the middle of it all a crater, and a great white tent surrounded by capes and PRT officers, where Khonsu's remains are being secured.

    "It was supposed to be me," David says. "I was the one who should have defeated them, not some freshly-triggered girl with a handful of tricks. I failed. I was too weak."

    Yesterday, those words would have made me reach out to reassure and comfort him. Today, they make me angry.

    "Was it not you?" I demand. "How many Trump powers did you burn out, keeping the beast in place?"

    "All of them."

    "And so? Would this victory have been possible without you?"

    "...no, I suppose not. But it is not my name they're shouting, below."

    "An Endbringer is slain, but our work is not over," I say, "There are matters that must be discussed with the hero of the hour. Will you be able to remain civil in Esper's presence, despite your wounded pride?"

    "...yes."

    "Then follow me."

    We land on the roof of one of the taller buildings, and after making sure we're not being observed I call up a door to Cauldron. We step through, and end up face to face with Esper, who regards Eidolon through narrowed eyes. Time stretches uncomfortably as they simply stare at each other. Then, after almost a minute of silence, Esper nods.

    I strike, and the white walls are painted red. Her nod meant that he had no Brute powers active, no reactive forcefields, no enhanced reflexes or danger sense. Nothing that would preserve his life against a sudden, treacherous attack.

    "I'm sorry, David." I do not say it until after he is safely dead, though I wish I could have. But for him to be warned and somehow survive, and start acting openly against us with all his might, was an unacceptable risk.

    Esper pulls down her mask, revealing an inhumanly large mouth, and far too many sharp teeth. Then she bends down, and digs into the meal I just provided her. I cannot help hating her, just a bit. The council did settle on this course of action, and would have even without her as its newest member. But...

    "So I guess the plan is to keep going as if nothing happened, and hope really hard that he doesn't betray humanity when it really counts?"

    That is what she said at the meeting. A sound argument, but just because the argument is sound does not mean the intentions are pure, the reasoning unmotivated. I understand more about this Esper now that her many faces have been revealed to me. Her obsession, as destructive as that of any natural trigger. The lengths she will go to in order to feed it. There is no way she didn't realize that she would be asked to take his place, and 'inherit' his power. There is no way that the prospect of feasting on the greatest of us did not color her judgement.

    Despite telling myself that I would stay and watch, that I would face what my actions meant, I find myself turning away from the grisly scene before me. I've done worse before, I tell myself. Feeding a traitor to a cannibal is among the least of the crimes I've committed for the cause. It's true.

    But I have never done worse to someone I considered a friend.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2022
  24. PeriodicPedant

    PeriodicPedant Making the rounds.

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    I'm not sure why I didn't see that coming.
    I really should have.

    Edit Oh dear. Just noticed the arc letter.
     
  25. NotaWriter

    NotaWriter I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I sort of hope it comes out somehow he wasn't doing it willingly, but I don't think Taylor is capable of regretting it.
     
  26. Waterfly

    Waterfly Not too sore, are you?

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    Monster at the end of the world indeed.
     
  27. Fernando

    Fernando Part-time Loaf

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    She had acknowledged it, the cruelty and misery she perpetrated during her time in Cauldron.

    But she never internalized it until now.
     
  28. zapking5

    zapking5 But I don't want to have a title!

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    I bet the story is nearing its end now that we are on arc 'Z' presumably for Zion. I'll be sad when it ends, a good story that updates regularly like this is so rare.

    I assume that Taylor won't betray humanity and become an Entity or something, since that vision she had under Newter's power had her keep going for 3000 years if I recall right.
     
  29. JustCurious

    JustCurious Not too sore, are you?

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    Who wants to bet that Esper will rebrand to a hot-pink costume, with orange highlights?
     
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  30. queermunist

    queermunist Cummunism Will Win!

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    Taylor might realize it herself, actually.

    Also I think Taylor is absolutely consumed by regrets. She's just stubborn and self destructive, so those regrets don't stop her from getting perpetually worse.
     
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