Someone pointed out that in-jokes and sarcasm don't make a good summary for people who don't know anything about Worm. Somehow, I needed this pointed out to me. So, um...here's a better Worm summary for people who don't know Worm. 100% honest and simple.
Quick notes: "Cape" means "superhero or supervillain"—anyone with powers who uses them for something other than business. "Parahuman" means anyone with powers, whether hero, villain, rogue, or undecided. Also, all direct quotes from Worm are italicized.
Gestation, Chapter One
Wherein Taylor is introduced and bullied
Taylor Hebert, age 15, is in Mr. Gladly's World Issues class, a few minutes from lunch, which is an hour long, which Taylor thinks is too long. Mr. Gladly is a teacher who tries to be "cool," offering light, fun homework, ending class early, and asking people call him Mr. G. He assigns some light homework for the weekend: Think about capes and how they affect the world. No, seriously, think about. I promised I wouldn't make anything up this time! Now that class is over, some of the popular kids gather around Mr. G's desk to chat, one of them being Madison Clement, a popular girl who plays up the "kawaii" angle.
Taylor heads out once she can, and heads straight for the bathroom. She waits for it to clear, then hides in a stall to eat lunch. Once she finished that, she'd read or do homework, still hiding in the stall. The only book she had was a biography about the Triumvirate, the three leading members of the Protectorate; Taylor was finding it dry and possibly somewhat fictionalized, so she'd probably do homework. Not that she got the chance—Madison and her friends Emma Barnes and Sophia Hess. Emma is the leader of the group, red-headed and pretty enough to get amateur modeling jobs; Sophia is slender, athletic, and dark-skinned. All three bully Taylor frequently.
When they realize it's Taylor in the stall, she tries to escape, but discovers that the door won't open. The three of them hurl juice into the stall, covering her clothes, backpack, and so on. Eventually, the trio lets the door open so they can laugh at Taylor, which she takes stoically. The bullies leave; Taylor tries to clean her glasses, salvage what she can of her belongings, but loses it, venting her anger on small inanimate objects, including her backpack. Taylor came to the conclusion that, between her juice-soaked clothing (described as looking like a bad attempt at tie-dying) and the fact that she probably smashed the art project she was supposed to turn in, she probably couldn't finish the school day. She says she's been holding back for three months, and can't be bothered right now.
Taylor closes her eyes. Innumerable "tiny knots of intricate data" surround her, swarming closer. Taylor opens her eyes, sees creepy-crawlies of every description entering the bathroom from every opening. Taylor describes her superpower—she can control bugs, individually or in groups, finely or broadly. She contemplates using these powers to get vengeance, on Emma, Madison, and Sophia, on the other students who helped them torment her for a shot at getting their favor, the remaining students who refused to step in, the staff who wouldn't help even if Taylor asked. But she doesn't, and instead orders the swarm to disperse. Part of it was the three teams of superheroes who would intercede; a bigger part was thinking of her father's reaction; but mostly, it was her own conscience.
And the fact that Emma was her best friend, once.
Gestation, Chapter Two
Wherein Taylor decides to just go for it
Taylor can't keep Emma out of her mind as she takes the bus home. They were close friends through elementary and middle school, so close that Taylor's mother said they were practically sisters. Then, Taylor gets back from nature camp a week before high school starts, and out of the blue, Emma had switched BFFs to Sophia, and wouldn't even talk to Taylor. Every secret and vulnerability Taylor shared with Emma was turned against her...and there weren't many she'd held back.
Trying not to dwell on this, Taylor looks through her backpack. The backpack itself is basically ruined, but Taylor bought a cheap one with that in mind. All her books were soaked with grape juice, ruined, her art project destroyed. Of particular concern was one notebook, containing roughly two hundred pages of ciphered notes relating to Taylor's plans for being a superhero. Gone.
Taylor goes home, still sad but starting to feel better. As she gets ready for a shower, she tries to find a silver lining. The first thing that comes to mind is "one more reason to kill the trio," but she knows she doesn't have the killer instinct. She keeps thinking about that ruined superhero notebook...and afterwards, heads into the basement. In an old coal chute, she's hidden the more concrete results of her superhero plans, primarily a costume she made for herself out of spider silk and chitin. It was flexible, lightweight, and so durable that she had to use wire cutters and elbow grease to cut it apart when she made a mistake.
With her notebook destroyed, she felt she had an excuse to stop procrastinating and go out as a superhero. She decides to do it this weekend.
Gestation, Chapter Three
Wherein Taylor meets the ABB
The rest of Friday was spent dying and painting the costume and armor gray and black. Saturday was used to get some important temporary pieces—a belt, straps and lenses for the mask—and on Sunday, she went over her plan. It involves leaving the Boardwalk, the nice part of the Brockton Bay oceanfront, and going into the Docks, where unemployment after the collapse of Brockton Bay shipping contributed to the city's boom in supervillain activity. Brockton Bay (which is later said to have a population around 300,000) is said to probably be somewhere in the top 10 cape cities in the US (though not the top 5).
Taylor began gathering a swarm, and eventually saw a sign of activity, specifically from a few members of a gang called the Azn Bad Boys, or ABB. They're a gang composed of Asian-Americans of all kinds forcibly recruited by the gang's leaders, a couple of which have powers. Taylor specifically mentions that it speaks to the quality of the gang's leadership that they have so many distinct nationalities together without any notable friction...without mentioning what kind of quality was used. These members were gathering, she could tell, not just relaxing.
Soon, they were joined by their leader, a tall, muscular man with dragon tattoos covering his body and a dragon mask covering his face. Taylor had done research on the local capes during the planning phase, and knew this man was Lung. In case being big and strong wasn't enough, he also regenerated, and while in combat he became bigger and stronger, with armor plating covering his body, giving him claws, and some said that he eventually grew wings if he kept it up. Finally, he had pyrokinesis—the power to generate and control fire—which also got more potent the longer he stayed in combat. Taylor also describes his lieutenant, Oni Lee, a sociopath who could create doubles or teleport or something like that—reports were vague. Aside from them, Taylor didn't know of any capes in the ABB...but they're enough. Oni Lee is potent, while Lung is so powerful that he's fought teams of heroes...and won. Taylor notes that at least one of the gang members has a handgun, but reminds herself that Lung is more dangerous than all of the gang members having guns.
Taylor finds a vantage point on a roof near Lung, and listens in. It takes her a moment to adjust to the distant and Lung's unfamiliar accent, but when she does, she is disturbed. Lung is ordering his men to deal with some "children"...and the orders were "...just shoot." And all of them had guns.
Gestation, Chapter Four
Wherein Taylor bites off more than she can chew
Taylor realizes several omissions from the supplies she brought—EpiPens in case she accidentally stung someone allergic to bees, a pen and notepad, her pepper spray, and some chalk dust. No cell phone, disposable or otherwise. No way to alert the proper authorities that Lung was going to kill a bunch of kids, a deed which Taylor had problem imagining anyone would want done. She tried to think of other options. Probably no one would let her use her phone if she wasn't dressed in a black-and-gray costume armored with bits of bugs, nowhere would be open, and she didn't even have the change for a pay phone (if she could find one). Soon, a few more drive to the group, then they all start heading north, past Taylor—about twenty-five of them.
Taylor orders her swarm to attack. She keeps back the venomous ones, to avoid accidentally killing anyone, but the others are still quite effective. Lung began using his pyrokinesis to kill as many bugs as he can; recalling that regeneration means Lung can recover from toxins more quickly and easily than most people, Taylor sends some of her venomous bugs at him, including brown recluses, black widows, and fire ants, as quickly as she can. Already, about a quarter of Lung is armored in overlapping, triangular, metallic scales. With what she (or whoever the narrator is, but it's first person, so that way lies madness) describes as "sadistic glee," Taylor sends wasps and bees to attack Lung's face, while the crawling bugs attack his nether regions, trying to ignore the feedback those provided. Taylor tries to justify or explain the sadism by reminding herself that he was a monster, a murderer, who was going to kill kids.
I think that I'll give a direct quote for the next part: "Lung exploded. No metaphor there. He detonated in a blast of rolling fire that set his clothes, several pieces of litter and one of his gang members alight. Almost every bug in his immediate vicinity died or was crippled by the wave of extreme heat. From my vantage point on the roof, I watched as he turned himself into a human bomb a second time. The second explosion turned his clothes to rags and sent his people fleeing for cover. He stepped out of the smoke with his hands burning like torches, the silvery scales that covered nearly a third of his body reflecting the flame." See, this is why wildbow writes the epics and I write the crossover fanfics.
Taylor concludes that he is either fireproof or very, very skilled at not burning himself with his own fire. Since his last rags of clothing burning off didn't bother him, it's probably the former, at least for all intents and purposes. Lung roared, a human scream of anger and frustration. People down the street were taking notice. Taylor probed Lung's defenses with more useless bugs, which Lung swiftly burns to death.
Taylor considers her options as quickly as possible. This fight would only get harder and more destructive the longer it went. She sends a wasp to sting Lung's eye, but a fireproof eyelash gets in its way and he blinks, sinking the stinger into his eyelid and provoking another explosion. She tries again with a honeybee, hoping to swell Lung's eyes shut. The sting sticks, slips, and then sticks for good in the corner of his eye, right by the nose. Lung ignited himself, wreathing himself in flame from head to toe for an extended period. Rather inconvenient that he apparently has secondary powers that stop him from hurting himself with his primary powers...
Taylor watches, hoping that the toxins took effect. She takes joy when Lung folds over at the waist...then it turns to despair as she sees his spine shift, revealing a meaty gap quickly filled by scales. Lung stands, perhaps a foot taller, with an armored spine, and completely fine. Taylor turns around slowly and quietly before putting a foot on the gravel of the roof. Lung whirls around. Apparently, another of those helpful secondary powers is super-hearing.
Gestation, Chapter 5
Wherein Taylor's (mostly) literal cavalry arrive
Lung just jumps most of the way up the building, clinging to the brick with his claw-like fingertips. Taylor looks at the fire escape, but realizes that she couldn't get down before Lung got over there, leading to Lung either jumping down to cut her off or, more likely, just roasting her. To quote wildbow again, "The irony of the fire escape being anything but didn't escape me." She was stuck, and took the time it took Lung to claw his way to the roof to consider her options, her supplies. She takes out her pepper spray and hopes for the best.
Lung climbs over the side of the roof, seven or eight feet tall by now, completely covered in his triangular scales, smouldering with fire, one eye shut. On the bright side, Taylor's plan worked, a little. Taylor tries to spray Lung's open eye with the pepper spray, but misses, hitting him in the armored shoulder, where it ignites. As Lung brings a leg over the side of the roof, Taylor sprays again, more carefully, hitting his face and making him clutch his eye. Taylor realizes she has no way of hurting Lung, and so bolts for the fire escape. Lung curses at her and sends a wave of fire across the roof.
Taylor is thrown to the edge of the roof, made sure she wasn't burning anywhere. Costume fine, hair fine. Lung blasts another area of roof and curses at her, demanding she give him some clue as to where she is. Lung blinked several times. Taylor is, understandably, annoyed. Pepper spray is supposed to put someone down for half an hour, but it hadn't blinded him for much more than half a minute. How is this monster not an A-lister? He moves, flames wreathing his hands.
Taylor realizes that she isn't being burnt to death, that Lung's aiming at the roof of an adjacent building. She can't see what he's aiming at, but luckily, the target gets closer so Taylor can examine it. Again, I'll borrow wildbow's description. "With no warning, a massive shape landed atop Lung with an impact I could swear people heard at the other end of the street. The size of a van, the 'massive object' was animal rather than vehicle, resembling a cross between a lizard and a tiger, with tangles of muscle and bone where it ought to have skin, scales or fur." Nice kitty? Lung hits it on the snout, causing the thing to rear back, backing away, before "rhino-charg[ing]" Lung off the roof.
As Taylor stands up, shaking, she notices two similar creatures with two riders each on the roof. Two girls, one boy, one Taylor recognizes as male only due to height, thanks to the skull-shaped motorcycle helmet and leathers which concealed his body. As his teammates watch Lung fight the first creature, the tall one dismounts and heads over to Taylor, thanking her for her help and offering to shake her hand. Taylor remains silent and refuses the hand. The tall one says that the group had been arguing all day about what to do, once they heard Lung would be coming after them. Taylor remains silent, watching one of the girls whistling, apparently ordering the other two beasts to join their brother on the ground. The tall one says they agreed to try meeting him, but instead of Lung and his gang, they ran into Oni Lee and several others, with Lung nowhere to be seen, spooking Lee, who ran. Taylor doesn't respond, even when the tall one asks if she caused Lung's absence. He asks what she did to Lung; the girl who didn't whistle answers, without taking her eyes off the fight. She mentions that he's not holding up well, and will feel worse tomorrow.
The tall one does introductions—he's Grue, the talker is Tattletale, the whistler is Bitch (though the heroes call her Hellhound for obvious reasons), and the other guy (who Grue describes as "Last and certainly least," to his irritation) is Regent. Taylor catches that Grue referred to the monsters as dogs. After introductions, Grue decides to ask why Taylor isn't talking, if she's hurt or something. Tattletale says she's just shy. Tattletale then says they have to leave; Grue offers Taylor a ride. Right before they leave, Tattletale asks Taylor her name. Taylor admits that she hasn't thought of a cape name yet.
Tattletale warns that someone from the Protectorate is coming soon, and says that if he sees two "bad guys" fighting, he won't let one escape. As the group rides off, three things occur to Taylor. These teenagers are probably the "children" Lung was going to kill, they're villains (well, not a huge revelation), and they think Taylor's a villain, too. (It's probably the costume.)
Gestation, Chapter Six
Wherein Taylor meets a "hero".
As Taylor watches the teenaged villains ride off on their monstrous dogs, she hears another cape ride up on a motorcycle. Taylor didn't want to get closer to Lung, or to be seen running, so she sat still, rested. A hero who Taylor identifies as Armsmaster uses a grappling hook in his halberd to ascend to the top of the roof. She describes the Protectorate, the government-sponsored superheroes in the US, Canada, and Mexico if they can reach an agreement with the government. It's the largest superhero organization in the world, with teams in every big cape city. Armsmaster, leader of Brockton Bay's team, isn't one of the top-tier Protectorate members, but he's pretty close. He has action figures, and shows up towards the edges of photos with all the biggest heroes in the Protectorate. Taylor notes that he even looks heroic—not a trait shared by all heroes, as we'll find out. He has blue-and-silver armor and a halberd crammed with super-science gadgets, like plasma injectors along the blade and an EMP for disabling enemy super-science gadgets.
Armsmaster asks Taylor if she's going to fight him, and Taylor quickly explains that she's "a good guy". Armsmaster points out that she doesn't look like one, which Taylor says wasn't intentional. Armsmaster stared for a moment before saying that she was telling the truth, and saying that she's a new face. Taylor says she hasn't even chosen a name, noting that good (and non-villainous) bug-themed names are rare as gold dust. Armsmaster boasts that he "got into the game" before all the good names were taken.
Awkward silence follows. Taylor blurts out that she almost died. Armsmaster brings up the Wards, a sort of Junior Protectorate, without providing any pressure. Taylor had considered joining, but feared that it would be a lot like the high school she wanted to escape. Taylor dodges the implied question by asking about Lung. Armsmaster tranquilized him and welded him under a steel cage on the sidewalk. Taylor says she's glad she accomplished something, and says she stepped in when he mentioned shooting some kids (which turned out to be supervillains). At Armsmaster's silent request, Taylor explains the whole story.
Armsmaster's first question: "They knew I was coming?" Taylor nodded, and Armsmaster decides to explain what he knows about the Undersiders. "They're slippery. On those few occasions we do manage to get in a toe to toe fight with them, they either win, or they get away more or less unscathed, or both. We know so little about them." Grue and Hellhound were small-time solo villains, but the others are complete nonentities. Armsmaster pinpoints Tattletale as a reason they're so successful, though Taylor's focusing more on how a hero was admitting to them not being on top of things. Taylor mentions that they didn't seem that serious; Armsmaster is surprised that they were so open with Taylor, prompting her to explain the whole "they thought I'm a villain" thing. Armsmaster points out that, since she definitely couldn't have defeated them, that's a good thing. Taylor notes this as a successful implementation of the "take a negative and turn it into a positive" thing she tried to use a few days prior.
Armsmaster then brings up the most important question...who gets to claim Lung? Armsmaster says that there are consequences for defeating a major villain like Lung—for instance, his underlings will want revenge. Oni Lee, of course, is a problem, but in case that isn't enough, Lung also recruited Bakuda recently. Bakuda is a tinker, a type of parahuman which can create super-tech (a la Iron Man), within limits or specialties varying from tinker to tinker. Bakuda is a tinker with a bomb specialty (and Taylor says that Armsmaster either is a tinker or has his gear made by one). There are two ways Taylor could deal with this: Join the Wards and enjoy their protection, or stay silent on who actually beat up Lung. It's late enough that Taylor doesn't feel prepared to make a snap decision, especially one that could potentially have Oni Lee and Bakuda on her tail, and Taylor's aware Armsmaster wants to get credit for single-handedly taking down a major supervillain (presumably he'll leave the Undersiders out of his report, too), but Taylor is aware that Armsmaster would be a bad enemy to get on her first night.
She asks that Armsmaster keep silent about her involvement; he agrees, and tells her to call him at the Protectorate headquarters in the bay if she ever needs help. He owes Taylor one. Taylor prepares for the half-hour trek home, reminds herself that her father is probably asleep, and focuses on how much worse it could have gone.
Interlude 1, Danny Hebert
Wherein a father worries
Danny Hebert is watching a documentary about the history of parahumanity. It started in May 1982, when an ocean liner came across a floating golden man who cured one of the passenger's cancer. This man became known as Scion after someone asked his name—the only time he's ever spoken. Scion continued appearing around the world, solving problems of various kinds (including what is implied to be Hurricane Katrina and what might be 9/11) with almost god-like powers, inspiring an almost religious awe in many. Scion was nude, but eventually donned a sheet and then a white body suit; no one knows where he got them, or why he put them on. Five years after his first appearance, other parahumans revealed themselves as superheroes, using their powers like Scion did, to benefit the world. Villains followed, but it was the heroes who shattered parahuman illusions of divinity, when a hero called Vikare died from injuries sustained while trying to quell a riot over a basketball game. The documentary says that governments took a firmer hand towards parahumans, and then cuts off as Danny gets up and paces.
It was 3:15 AM, and Taylor wasn't home. A little past midnight, he felt a disturbance in the house from the back door closing. He checked his daughter's room, and she wasn't there. Danny wanted to ask his wife for advice, for support, but he knew she couldn't help. She hadn't been there for a while. Danny banished the thought, wishing for a moment that he had gotten Taylor a cell phone even though he knew why he hadn't.
He wondered where Taylor could have gone. She wasn't the type to go to parties. There were two possibilities. Taylor liked to go running; Danny knew it helped her work through her problems, but wished she didn't have to do it in their neighborhood. A skinny teenage girl would be too easy a target...and if she left around midnight and wasn't back after three, something happened, a mugging or...worse. The second possibility was barely better: That bullies had lured Taylor out somehow, for some nefarious reason.
Danny knew Taylor was being bullied, after she was sent to the hospital's psychiatric ward over it in January. Under the influence of the drugs they put her on, she admitted to being bullied, by a they, not a he or she. Taylor wouldn't mention it since; if Danny tried to bring it up, she just withdrew. He wanted to let her reveal the details in her own time, but it was April now, and nothing. Still, all he knew about was the incident which sent her to the hospital—a grotesque one—and that more was almost certainly still going on. The bullying was so bad that even Emma, Taylor's best friend, stopped spending time with her.
Danny felt completely helpless. He threatened to sue the school board; they settled out of court, the board paying the hospital bills and promising to "look out for her to prevent such events from occurring in the future," a promise which failed to ease Danny's concerns. He tried to put Taylor in another school, but regulations on how far a child could go for school limited her to Winslow, her current school, and Arcadia, already overcrowded, with a waiting list hundreds long. And Danny was still helpless, in this moment. He tried calling the police department about an hour prior, and the officer on the other end said that, without more to go on, there was nothing they could do. If Taylor hadn't returned after twelve hours, they said, he should call again. All Danny could do until then was wait, pray, and hope he wouldn't get a call from the police or another hospital, telling him where Taylor was.
A slight vibration ran through the house, signifying warm air inside escaping outside, followed by a whoosh as the door closed again. Danny was conflicted. Was she hurting or hurt? Would his presence make things worse, her father seeing her at her most vulnerable? Taylor had all but told him that she didn't want that. He was worried that, if the issues from bullying came up at home, it wouldn't feel like a refuge from the bullies.
Danny heard a door open and close, and again a few minutes later, probably the bathroom. It couldn't be a closet, or she wouldn't have done it again, and why would she be going into the basement at this hour? Something banged on the kitchen counter, and then the only sound was the grown of floorboards. Five or ten minutes later, she ascended the stairs. Danny considered clearing his throat, letting Taylor know he was awake if she needed him, but decided not to, admitting to himself that he was being cowardly.
Her door shut, almost silently. Danny stood, entered the hall, and almost crossed it to knock on her door, before smelling jam and toast. He couldn't imagine that Taylor would come back from being mugged, tormented, or worse, and immediately made herself a snack of jam on toast. Danny returned to his room and began turning his relief into anger—at Taylor, at her bullies, at the school and the city, and most of all at himself. He hadn't gotten any answers, solved any problems, or protected his daughter, and he couldn't help but fear this had happened in the past and he slept through it. He had to stop himself from going into Taylor's room and demanding answers. It would do more harm than good.
Danny's father was a powerful man, who passed nothing but anger issues onto his son. Danny long ago vowed never to lose his temper at his family, hoping to avoid passing it onto his children, but had managed to lose it near Taylor three times. The first was when she came to his office on the promise that they would go out that afternoon, on a day when he flew off the handle at a mayor's aide saying that (contrary to promises) projects to renovate the Docks would be cancelled, and more layoffs would replace new jobs. The second was the only time he broke his vow, the last time he saw Annette. Taylor hadn't seen that, but she had surely heard some of it. Finally, last January, when he and Taylor were at the hospital, he screamed at the principal (who probably deserved it) and one of Taylor's teachers (who probably didn't). A nurse threatened to call for a police officer, so Danny stormed into Taylor's room, discovering her conscious and wide-eyed. Danny worried that the reason Taylor had told him so little about the bullying was that she was afraid he'd do something stupid in a blind rage.
Danny finally calmed down, told himself he'd ask for answers in the morning. He went to sleep and dreamed of the ocean.
I recommend you read the actual story, at least in chapters like the Lung fight, if only for the vivid description.
Also, don't worry—there won't be a quiz. Might not hurt to take notes anyways...