No, this isn't a creepy porn thing. Get your mind out of the gutter.
While sufficient knowledge of RWBY to understand Shards is easy to come by and relatively superficial, people who haven't read Worm will be pretty confused about who these people are and why they act like they do. This isn't ideal, so I decided to write up a summary for those who haven't. Also, I should probably reread Worm—I've had people mention that my characterization for one of the minor characters brought to the forefront in Shard is off.
It should go without saying, but Worm spoilers follow. They'll have a lot less impact in the summarized format than when you read the actual story. It shouldn't go without saying, so beware sarcasm and the occasional blatant lie.
Taylor Hebert, a completely normal teenaged high school girl who definitely doesn't have superpowers or anything, waits for lunch, wishing it wasn't a whole hour long. A curious complaint that will soon be explained. She mentions that she had been looking forward to the current unit in Mr. Gladly's class, World Issues, because this unit is about capes. Who knew she cared so much about fashion? Oh, wait, she means like superheroes. Nerd. She describes her teacher, one of those people who care more about their students liking them than actually educating them, and who apparently isn't doing a very good job because Taylor hates him. We also see Madison Clements, a bully who—hey, are you taking notes? There's going to be a quiz. Mr. Gladley assigns some really vague homework that's probably going to get an A if you just make it up on the spot and clarifies that it's Friday before dismissing class.
Taylor quickly leaves the classroom for the bathroom, where she eats lunch, narrating to herself that she does this every day and also does homework to kill the rest of the lunch hour. Wow, exposition sounds really weird when you summarize it like that. She mentions that her only unread book is about the Triumvirate, a hard word to spell which refers to the three most powerful superheroes in the world. They don't come up again so it's safe to forget them. Unfortunately, she doesn't get to read a comic book in boring biography form because a bunch of other girls come in and, upon discovering that the person in the stall is Taylor, they decide to throw juice at her. Clearly, Taylor is popular. No wait, what's that other one? A nerdy punching bag for the entire school who's grown so accustomed to this role that she doesn't even think about contacting the authorities because she knows that won't make the torture stop? Yeah, that's the one.
Taylor finally manages to break out of the stall and sees her main three bullies: Emma Barnes, their leader (revealed at the end of the chapter to be Taylor's former best friend), a redhead amateur model; Sophia Hess, a dark-skinned and track star, and Madison again, a cutesy brunette who has no real function in the plot aside from being the third bully. She's like Rosencrantz or Guildenstern, except she doesn't have a Guildenstern or Rosencrantz and so just hangs on to some plot-relevant characters. Weird. Anyways, between the three of them there's a fair number of trios filled, all of which decide to leave Taylor alone as she silently turns around to look at her purple-splotched backpack. They're probably just out of juice, which is a pun I didn't even intend to make. Taylor tries to calm down and clean her glasses; when the latter fails, she decides the former has to, too, so she starts kicking a plastic bucket with a toilet brush in it, scream, and throw her backpack. She realizes that her next class—art—will be significantly tougher than normal, since she's more colors than she was at the start of the day and probably just smashed her big art project. See, this is why planning ahead is important, kids.
Taylor says she's held back for three months before revealing to everyone in the bathroom—that is to say, herself and the reader—that she can control bugs, which start flooding in through the windows and gaps and holes in the wall, ceiling, and floor. She goes over reasons to "go Carrie" ranging from minor nuisances to actual crimes (like stealing her mother's flute), not to mention how many of the students decided to pick on Taylor in hopes of garnering favor with three of the most popular girls in high school. She forces herself to not kill everyone in the school, or even just Emma, Sophia, and Madison, because that's slightly illegal and there are superheroes with powers a bit more imposing than bugs. Besides, Taylor wants to be a superhero.
Good luck, kid. How are you going to kick supervillains' asses with butterflies?
End of chapter one.
Taylor decides to catch a bus home—who needs art?—and dwell on her former friendship with Emma. Apparently, keeping your friends close doesn't work so well when they use that closeness to stab you in the back, and also they know exactly where your weak points are. She examines the contents of her backpack, noting that the backpack itself is cheap, new, and ruined, and that everything inside it is ruined with either dents from someone throwing the bag against a wall or grape juice. Casualties include books of many varieties—the monsters! Taylor focuses on one ruined work, one that was completely irreplaceable: Her superhero diary, where she was planning tactics, costumes, name ideas (crossed out), and more. Two hundred pages of carefully encrypted notes about what she could do to be a hero...gone.
Taylor decides to take a shower and plan some; once she's finished getting juice out of her hair, she heads into the basement, where she retrieves her superhero stuff from an old coal chute. Among this stuff is a costume she's had a bunch of black widows weaving while she's at home, thanking her awesome bug multitasking. She describes how the pure spider silk costume (aside from bug-chitin/shell armor) is tough enough to resist X-Actio knives, flexible, and lightweight. she considers delaying more, but decides to just go out this weekend and be heroic.
If you want all the details, why are you reading a summary?
End of chapter two.
Skip to Sunday night, then flash back to a textual montage of dying and painting the costume black and gray, adding a few bits like yellow lenses, and—wait, black and gray and a little yellow? Why not white armor on blue fabric or something? Much more heroic. Also, she has armor sorta imitating a bug's mandible on her jaw. Yeah...um...Taylor should probably make business cards so people know she's supposed to be a hero. Anyways, it's just after midnight on Sunday—the start of Monday?—and she's leaving the nice part of town for the bad part. Brockton Bay used to be a booming trade port, but then no one wanted to send things to a city they didn't know exactly where it was anymore and it dried up. The old docks became a haven for supervillains, which drew a bunch of superheroes who didn't want supervillains running the city, which lead to Brockton Bay being in the top 10 cape cities in the US despite only being around #60 in total population.
Taylor runs into a bunch of gangsters from the Azn Bad Boys, who everyone calls the ABB so they can keep a straight face about the name of one of the most powerful gang conglomerates in the city. Taylor says that most of them were East Asian normal people recruited with varying degrees of willingness, but there were a few capes at the top. The supervillain kind, not the superhero kind. She notes that the biggest and most muscular one among them is wearing pants, a metal dragon mask, a bunch of awesome dragon tattoos, and not much else; she quickly identifies him as one of the capes, due to his weird dress. In fact, he's Lung, a regenerator who got neat toys like metal scales and claws, super strength, durability, and being even bigger as he fought more. Also, he makes fire, and eventually grows wings. Hate to break it to you, Lung, but that's more of an Occidental dragon you're turning into than an Oriental one. Lung leads the ABB, maybe because he's strong enough to single-handedly take on teams of heroes and win. Taylor also mentions Lung's lieutenant Oni Lee, who either teleports, creates duplicates, or creates teleporting duplicates. Something like that—Wikipedia got rid of the specifics because they were original research. Taylor decides to climb a building so she can eavesdrop on the most powerful supervillain in town, who also incidentally has a few powers well-suited to not being affected by bugs, and manages to catch Lung telling his flunkies to murder "the children" and make sure they were dead, which Taylor thought was bad..
She's about to do something stupid, isn't she?
End of chapter three.
Taylor checks her pockets, realizing she forgot her cell phone that she doesn't have. She wants to call the police, but not being MacGuyver or a tinker (that's a thing that will make more sense later), she can't whip one up out of her EpiPens, notepad, and pepper spray. Taylor tries to decide what to do as Lung tries to figure out what time it is despite not having a watch. He borrows someone's arm. Not willing to risk that Lung or the increasing number of ABB members would embark on their quest to kill these kids, she decides to attack. She holds back on the venomous bugs for the mooks, saving them for the regenerator, on the principle that it would probably be a bad idea to get a substantial body count on her first night as a hero. Of course, her ability to affect Lung was swiftly drawing to a close thanks to that pyrokinesis and that metal armor and stuff, so Taylor decides to make the most of her chance by having the flying venomous insects sting Lung's face while sending fire ants and spiders—including brown recluses—to his dangly parts. For some reason, this makes him very, very angry, enough that he starts setting everything on fire. Also, did we mention Lung's fireproof? Because apparently he is. Taylor (successfully) sends a couple stinging bugs at Lung's eye, since the rest is getting covered in fire of fiery death and metal of metallic not-getting-stung, hoping to blind him. Lung decides to stop playing around and just sit around all wreathed in flame, which prevents wasps and bees from reaching his eyes without burning to death. Lung keeps growing, searching for the meany who attacked him with bugs for no reason (aside from conspiracy to commit murder, but who cares about little things like that?); Taylor decides to back off, which makes enough noise that Lung hears her.
He has super-hearing, too? Man, Lung is just full of surprises.
End of chapter four.
Lung decides he can take her, and hops up the building, not quite reaching the roof but definitely getting high enough that the people working there will need to try pretty hard to see the claw marks. When he climbs up over the edge of the roof, Taylor sprays him with some pepper spray that manages to completely miss his remaining not-stung eye. Second time's the charm, and Lung lets go of the roof with one of his clawed hands to try and make his eye better. Since it's clawed, he fails. Lung tries to set Taylor on fire. Since she's running, he fails. Second time isn't the charm for him, but he manages to make Taylor uncomfortably warm while trying to provoke herself into letting him know where she is. Taylor manages to not be suicidally stupid. Well, again.
Luckily, a big lizard-tiger monster comes to save Taylor from Lung! Yay? The two of them fight and end up falling off the roof. Yay! Two more come up being ridden by four people, two guys and two girls. One of them, a really tall guy dressed in motorcycle leathers and a skull-shaped motorcycle helmet (so basically a Ghost Rider cosplayer), tries to strike up a conversation and thank Taylor for helping them deal with Lung, mentioning that he and his friends had dealt with Oni Lee earlier. He asks what Taylor did to Lung, and one of the other riders—one of the girls—answers for Taylor. The tall guy identifies the know-it-all as Tattletale and himself as Grue. (He wasn't even trying to reference Zork or anything, he just chose a name with a meaning that sounds creepy in Old English and happens to work well in pop culture. No, really, it's Word of God.) He calls the other girl a bitch and says the other guy's called Regent. He and Grue get along really well, like brothers.
Grue keeps trying to chat with Taylor, but she doesn't respond, because—as Tattletale explains—she's shy. She then alerts the others that they need to scram; Grue offers Taylor a ride, which she declines. Tattletale asks Taylor's name, and the latter finally speaks up, saying she doesn't have a name. Tattletale tells Taylor that the heroes are coming, so she shouldn't stick around. Taylor realizes that, for some reason—maybe the fact that she's in a homemade, black-and-gray costume, with no hero support, skulking around, did I mention her costume was black and gray—they've mistaken her for a villain. She also realizes that Lung was probably planning to kill these guys, so Taylor just almost died trying to protect supervillains.
They don't come up again so it's safe to forget them.
End of chapter five.
A superhero approaches the scene, which Taylor takes as an opportunity to provide exposition about the Protectorate, the largest superhero organization in the world, to which the hero in question belongs. He's Armsmaster, who leads the Protectorate East-North-East (alias "the Brockton Bay Protectorate"). Armsmaster's one of the big-name heroes—not quite Superman or Aquaman, but maybe Black Canary. What, you've never heard of Black Canary? Well, maybe you would have if the Justice League was real, because Worm people have heard of Armsmaster and he's second- or third-tier Protectorate.
After waiting for Taylor to finish exposition, and me to finish comparing him to Black Canary, Armsmaster asks if Taylor's going to fight him. Taylor claims to be a good guy; Armsmaster points out that she doesn't look like one. Taylor says it wasn't intentional; Armsmaster confirms that no, it was not intentional. Armsmaster and Taylor briefly chat about names, which Taylor is still having trouble with, since all the bug-related names are villainous, stupid, or taken. Armsmaster brings up the Wards, basically the Junior Protectorate, but Taylor's reluctant to join them, fearing that it would be a lot like high school, except with super powers. Taylor asks about Lung, and mentions Grue and the others; Armsmaster mentions that they're a slippery group, not easy to catch, and that the girl Grue called a bitch was Hellhound.
Armsmaster brings up the consequences of her beating up Lung, pointing out that—while beating up Lung would be quite a boost to prestige—it would also bring great danger. After all, Lung's cronies (and Lung himself, if he breaks out from prison) would probably be out for revenge; said cronies include a bunch of random people in Brockton Bay and neighboring cities, plus two other villains, the aforementioned Oni Lee and Bakuda. Taylor hasn't heard of Bakuda, so when Armsmaster explains to her both who Bakuda is (crazy bomb lady) and what tinkers are (super-people who make super-science things). Armsmaster points out that all of these people would be out to get the guy who took Lung out, so it might be best to let her involvement stay secret. It is implied that Armsmaster, being an upstanding citizen, would graciously accept the credit—I mean blame and risk—of defeating Lung.
Except, of course, that there are a bunch of people in the street who know that Lung was attacked not by a guy with powered armor and a halberd, but by a girl with bugs. So, basically Taylor would be giving up the credit with everyone who would think better of her for defeating Lung while keeping the blame with everyone who would want to kill her for doing so. Taylor, detecting the kind of wonderful person Armsmaster is, decides she doesn't want to get on his bad side and accepted his offer. Armsmaster sorta-kinda admitted that he owed her one before slipping away. Taylor heads home and reflects on how it could have gone worse.
Tomorrow, back to school.
End of chapter six.
We switch to Taylor's dad, Danny, because only having one viewpoint character is for squares. He's watching a documentary which, coincidentally, is about plot-relevant superhero stuff, like the first "parahuman," Scion. He's a golden guy who showed up floating naked over the Atlantic, and wound up curing someone's cancer. He showed up again over the following years, eventually getting a sheet to wear and then a white body suit. The documentary narrator guy muses about where he got them from. This doesn't come up again so it's safe to forget it. Scion uses the fact that he literally has more superpowers than Jesus Christ to help with everything from car crashes to what sounds suspiciously like Hurricane Katrina. He's been helping 24/7 since the mid-1990's; the only word he's ever said has been his name. The "c" is silent, by the way. It took five years for superheroes (and soon villains) to come out of rumors and into the main part of the real world, and seven for the first death—Vikare, clubbed over the head by some basketball fans in Michigan who were busy rioting. (Note to self: Avoid Michigan basketball.) The documentary has enough time to mention that this golden age of superheroes was short-lived, and that the government stepped in to bz.
Poor Danny is concerned about his daughter, who he's realized isn't at bed despite it being 3:15 AM. He woke up just past midnight when he felt the back door slamming, presumably because of said daughter, and had been worrying ever since. He thinks about asking his wife for advice before remembering that she's not there, and wishes that he had given Taylor a cell phone even as he remembers why. (Unlike Taylor, he doesn't exposit his reasoning.) He's worried about why Taylor left so late and hasn't come back yet. Knowing her daughter, it's definitely not a party. It could be that she went out for a run and ran into some kind of trouble, which is true the way that "Darth Vader killed Anakin Skywalker" is true. (Not entirely fair; the Star Wars one uses much more questionable logic.)
It could also be something to do with the bullies. Danny knew that Taylor was being bullied, badly enough that Emma didn't want to spend time with Taylor (although he hasn't figured out that Emma is among the bullies). He tried to do something about it, but there was precious little to be done. Not even school transfer—the only nearby school was Arcadia High, already overcrowded due to being one of the best schools in the city (and also where everyone knows the Wards go, though Danny doesn't mention this). Danny worried that the bullies might have lured Taylor out somehow, which is true in the Darth Vader way, since it was the bullies that lead. Danny had tried calling the police, but they didn't have anything to go on and hence told him to call again at a reasonable hour if Taylor didn't get back by then. He felt impotent.
But then, he felt signs that the door was opening again. He listened to Taylor moving about downstairs, trying to decide what to do. He heard her open and close a downstairs door, and again a few minutes later, figuring it was the bathroom because there's no reason she'd go to the basement at all. Really. Then, she came upstairs to her room, and Danny tried to convince himself to check that Taylor was okay. He admitted to himself that he was being cowardly, and decided to knock on her door to check. He hesitated and smelled jam and toast, then let his cowardice take over on the logic that if something bad had happened, she wouldn't be eating jam and toast.
Danny felt angry at himself for not doing anything now or earlier, worried that something like this might have happened before without knowing about it, and resented that he lived in a neighborhood that he couldn't trust his daughter being alone in. Well, Danny, I've got good news and bad news. Good, she hasn't done this before and she went to the Boardwalk. Bad, she went right past the Boardwalk and fought supervillains. Regardless, Danny finally starts the convenient internal exposition, mentioning that he was a nerd who inherited nothing from his father except his temper—a temper Taylor knew three instances of, though Danny did his best to not lose it with his family. The first was when a mayor's aide said that, instead of funding the revival projects for the Docks (remember them? That place that really sucks?), a bunch more people would be laid off, despite all promises to the contrary, on a day which he promised Taylor they'd spend the afternoon together, meaning she was in the office. The second, Taylor probably only heard, but Danny was more ashamed of it because it's when he lost his temper to his wife. Four years ago, the last time he ever saw her. The third, right after she was hospitalized (Oh, crap, I didn't mention this yet, did I? Well, Taylor was sent to the psych ward after some severe bullying that hasn't been described yet, but it has been mentioned a couple of times. See, details like that are why you should read the actual story.), involved him yelling at the principal (deserved it) and Taylor's biology teacher (probably didn't), ending only when a nurse threatened to call the police and Danny stormed into Taylor's hospital room...to see her awake and shocked. Danny worried that the reason Taylor hadn't told him anything about the bullying was that she worried he would get angry and try to do something about it. He didn't like that he might have contributed to Taylor's isolation...
Convincing himself that Taylor was fine for now, Danny went to bed.
End of Interlude 1.
End of Gestation. No, seriously, get your head out of the gutter. It's filthy.