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This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS relating to
some of the most pivotal parts of Worm. Although all articles contain spoilers, this article will reveal major plot twists and should almost certainly be avoided unless you have finished the story.
Gray Boy is dangerously unstable, even for a member of the Nine. Bonesaw speculated that he would likely loop someone in a room just because he could. Jack Slash had asked for only one clone of him, because he could only keep one Gray Boy under control.
The original Gray Boy would not have known how to operate a computer, but Bonesaw's version possessed memories and skills taken from a child. It is unknown how much Bonesaw's Gray Boy resembles the original in personality.
Gray Boy's clone is sadistic, using his powers to effectively torture people for eternity. When Purity disobeyed him, he devised a "special" punishment - she was left unharmed, but trapped, with the promise that he would eventually return and trap her daughter alongside her. On one occasion, he arbitrarily demanded a victim tell him an "interesting" story while torturing them, with the promise that they would be left relatively unharmed if he liked it. He grew angry at Jack Slash when they attempted to flee the heroes together, telling him that he was making himself "prey, instead of the predator."
Even after his first death, Gray Boy was the one of the most feared villains to have ever been part of the Slaughterhouse Nine.
Nicholas is prepubescent in appearance, older than ten but younger than fourteen, with neatly parted hair and a private school uniform complete with glossy black shoes. His voice is high and clear.
He has a monochrome effect surrounding him, with spots of light and shadow flickering around him. Periodically he flickers, a transparent double image momentarily overlapping him looking in a different direction.
Abilities and Powers
Gray Boy is able to form stationary time loops, and his power reverts any changes made to his body. A quirk of his power is that anything affected is heavily desaturated, giving him his namesake monochrome look.
Gray Boy was the only one who could enter the loops. During these loops, the only changes to the victim to carry over are those he inflicts on them (such as a cut or burn) and in the progression of their thoughts. Pain inflicted on the victims is repeated over and over again. Gray Boy can modify the time between loops, extending them to give victims time to speak full words or shortening them to more quickly repeat the initial burst of pain from a wound. However, he claimed to be unable to turn it off for anyone except himself. The powers of anyone trapped inside them were unable to reach out of the loop.
He claimed that victims would usually go insane after a few days, then work through that back to sanity, then crack again, in an endless cycle. He also claimed that they never grew used to the pain he inflicted.
The loops last for an unknown amount of time, as no loop he has created has ever stopped. Gray Boy told one of his victims that it was theorized that his loops would last “Until well after the sun goes out, [...]". However, Wildbow has stated that they would not actually last forever or even until the sun runs out, though he also questioned whether that would actually matter after the first few thousand years of torture.
Gray Boy can affect an area roughly 5' across and 8' high, and was able to freeze a ten-foot high "wall" of air on one occasion. He claimed his power operated at the "speed of thought," and that he believed no-one was immune to it. He was able to freeze Foil's darts in midair.
His power also makes him effectively immortal, constantly restoring his body to the exact condition it was in when he first got his powers. This prevented him from aging or even getting dirty. He retained memories despite his constant reversion. Any time he was hurt or debilitated, his power would take him back as far as he needed, allowing him to maintain his position if he wanted or move out of the way. Only two people are known to be able to permanently kill Gray Boy; Glaistig Uaine and Foil.
Gray Boy knew Bonesaw's name before she told him, and she believed he - like Jack - was aware she planned to betray the Nine. It is unclear what aspect of his powers allowed this. He had no special ability to aim his attacks, and didn't receive feedback from his power regarding what he'd hit.
Originally a young boy named Nicholas, Gray Boy was created by Cauldron, much like Shatterbird and The Siberian. Cauldron sold him powers and set him out to infiltrate the Slaughterhouse Nine, knowing that King saw a reflection of himself in disturbed young boys like Jacob and Harbinger. However, Gray Boy's mind was too affected by his powers, and he answered every question he was asked, revealing where he'd come from and why. Out of Cauldron's control, he fell in line with King and became one of the founding members of the Slaughterhouse Nine.
In terms of power-usage, the original Gray Boy acted similar to Labyrinth at full power; using his powers indiscriminately while staying within an area. King was effectively immune to him, as any loop used on King would be transferred to someone he had touched within the last 24 hours. His immunity to Gray Boy's power allowed him to introduce himself to him in the first place, and eventually lead him around and wield him as a weapon. Despite this, King had only a flimsy hold over Gray Boy. When King died and Jack Slash took over, Jack's power allowed him to leverage Gray Boy and control him.
Cauldron allowed Gray Boy to survive because he was the closest thing to a weapon they had against Scion since Eidolon. When the Slaughterhouse Nine started picking up momentum and more powerful parahumans started getting removed from the field, the losses became greater than Gray Boy's theoretical worth, and Cauldron moved in, maneuvering Glaistig Uaine into killing him and taking his power for herself, so that Gray Boy's power would still be available against Scion.
Jack Slash had been sure to tell Bonesaw bedtime stories about Gray Boy. As such, she took particular care when she resurrected him as a clone for the Slaughterhouse Nine-Thousand. Gray Boy was the only member who she only cloned once, as per Jack's explicit instruction.
The cloned Gray Boy had skills the original lacked due to Bonesaw implanting the body of the clone with the memories of an actual child. He stepped out of the cloning chamber fully clothed and dry, and unlike the other clones, he didn't struggle before finding his feet. He greeted Jack Slash and approached Bonesaw. The two had a brief, seemingly friendly conversation. The cloned Gray Boy was shown to be completely lucid and highly sadistic. Due to the unique circumstances where Gray Boy's power restored his original body, it is unknown whether his power also restored his original memories and personality in addition to the new memories implanted by Bonesaw, or if his personality was purely Bonesaw's construction.
Gray Boy was sent to retrieve Aster as part of Jack's game with Theo. Following his orders, he trapped Crusader, Purity and two PRT agents in loops. He told one of the PRT agents that he wouldn't torture her if she told him a story he found interesting; she chose to tell him the details of the heroes' plans to prevent Jack ending the world.
During the final standoff with Jack, Gray Boy managed to loop Scion. This proved to be ineffectual, however, as Scion was able to break out of the loop with little effort. Gray Boy was eventually killed by Foil, but not before he turned on Jack Slash, trapping him in a time loop and torturing him.
In previous drafts of Worm, Gray Boy was usually an independent villain. Some versions of him would shunt people into the future, during which they experienced sensory deprivation, rather than looping them; he began sending people thousands or millions of years when he was "broken mentally" during that story.
Gray Boy's power was inspired by Wildbow thinking of the worst thing he could do with a common time power.
It is theorized that Nicholas took the Vestige formula, the same Cauldron vial taken by Perdition and possibly Epoch.
↑ 1.01.11.2“Jack,” Gray Boy said. His voice was high, clear as a bell.
Jack extended a hand and Nicholas shook it.
Riley felt her stomach sink.It would be like Gray Boy to use his power and take out someone in the room, just because he could. Jack had only wanted one, and the unspoken reality was that he only wanted one because he could only control one. - Excerpt from Interlude 25
↑ 2.02.1A computer monitor on the desk flickered to life.
“I’m excited,” Jack said. “Gray Boy is working on getting the video up. Funny thing. The real Gray Boy wouldn’t be able to do this, but we gave this one the memories of a real child. Came with the necessary skills. I’m almost disappointed. People are so much more interesting when they’re flawed, aren’t they? Oh, here we go. I haven’t even seen this. Let’s see…” - Excerpt from Sting 26.6
↑Gray Boy (Status Unknown) – Once a member of the Nine, one of Jack’s first teammates. Has been referenced in passing several times, with a measure of awe or fear. - Cast (in depth)
↑The boy stepped out, and there was no sign of any difficulty. He didn’t struggle as others had, nor have trouble finding his feet. He was prepubescent, to look at him, older than ten but younger than fourteen. His hair was neatly parted, and he wore a private school uniform, complete with glossy black shoes. Dry.
Even though he was naked in the tube.
Then again, that was sort of his thing. One of them, anyways.
Visually, the most notable part of him was the effect that surrounded him. He was monochrome, all grays and whites and blacks, with spots of light and shadow flickering around him. Here and there, he flickered, a double image momentarily overlapping him, ghostly, looking in a different direction.
As far as parahuman powers went, his was as unfair as they got.
↑Gray Boy is the only person who may be able to touch her, but that doesn't mean Bonesaw can't give him a few things. - Interlude 26a
↑Nicholas Gray Boy Can trap those around him in manipulable time loops of pain at will. Undoes any damage taken/negative effects applied via. his power. - Parahuman List, bolded edit by Wildbow.
↑The well trapped powers within. Kayden's lasers wouldn't exit the area. Crusader's duplicates wouldn't be able to wander beyond the well's limits. - Interlude 26a
↑If it helps, Gray Boy's power doesn't really last forever. Or even until the sun runs out. After a few thousand years though, you have to wonder if it matters. -
Comment by Wildbow on Spacebattles
↑8:43 PM <soulpelt|> Hmmm 8:43 PM <soulpelt|> how large an area could Grey Boy affect, Wildbow? 8:43 PM <Howdy> I'm unconvinced Gray Boy would work on Endbringers. 8:43 PM <notes> And there's the argument for Taylor using Grey Boy's defense only being seriously underestimated. 8:43 PM <Howdy> Their rule seems to be "anything that could beat me doesn't work." 8:44 PM <El> She can still create an indestructible wall, right? 8:44 PM <•Wildbow> Roughly 5' across and 8' high 8:44 PM <soulpelt|> Hmmm 8:44 PM <El> Try caging one of them, or just use it as a forcefield 8:44 PM <Alathon> not very good for the city she's doing it in 8:44 PM <Howdy> Nothing is indestructible in Worm... 8:44 PM <Alathon> and better be hella careful about friendly fire 8:45 PM <soulpelt|> I thought stuff affected by the power was basically intangible. 8:45 PM <Alathon> hm 8:45 PM <Howdy> There are powers we don't see defeated but it defies credulity to believe that any power is absolute, when we know the genesis of powers. 8:45 PM <Alathon> I just remember the siberian seeming to touch one 8:46 PM <•Wildbow> Chances are good Gray Boy's power would bind one of the Endbringer's limbs, it would pull free, doing massive damage to itself. 8:46 PM <soulpelt|> Huh, okay 8:46 PM <•Wildbow> And it would likely stop holding back up until Gray Boy was dead 8:47 PM <soulpelt|> so it is tangible. 8:47 PM <soulpelt|> (then you have random bits of Endbringer flesh in the air.) 8:47 PM <Alathon> could gray boy go all the way in and out? or just reach in? 8:47 PM <•Wildbow> If you have multiple effects in place and you trap the whole Endbringer, it'll count as dead. 8:48 PM <•Wildbow> All the way in and out. 8:48 PM <Alathon> so he could step inside his bubble 8:48 PM <•Wildbow> Yeah 8:48 PM <soulpelt|> But not pull anyone out? 8:48 PM <Alathon> does his power go out from inside his bubble? 8:48 PM <Alathon> by rights.. he should be able to solo leviathan with that 8:48 PM <•Wildbow> No. - Wildbow on the IRC, archived on Spacebattles
↑The corpse flickered, and Gray Boy reappeared, sitting atop the forearm of the hand that had squashed him. He hopped down.
His time loop power protected him. Any time he was hurt, any time he was debilitated, his power would kick in, taking him back as far as he needed, allowing him to maintain his position if he wanted. He'd remain conscious, retain any recollection, and with his offensive power, he could shut down any threat.
It was that same power that kept him from aging. Aging was a danger, change was a problem, so he continually retained his appearance from the very moment he'd triggered, reverting back several times an hour, or any time he even got dirty. - Excerpt from Interlude 26a
↑The D.T. officer had turned the containment foam onto Gray Boy.
Except Gray Boy reappeared, out of the way of the stream.
↑“It meant more people with powers to fight the Endbringers, that was the lie we told ourselves. But we created the Siberian and Shatterbird, in a roundabout way. We created the Gray Boy, selling him powers, finding ourselves unable to stop him when he went out of bounds. There were countless others. Echidna is just the latest in a long series of grave mistakes.” - Excerpt from Scourge 19.6
“Yes, sir,” Nicholas said. The boy was standing in the doorway. Monochrome, tidy, wearing a school uniform.
Nicholas had told King that he had been given his powers. Not by demons, not by angels, not by Scion. By humans. He’d told King that they knew King collected boys- he saw himself in children like Kurt and Jacob. They’d wanted Nicholas to infiltrate. It hadn’t worked- his mind was too affected by his own power, and he answered every question he was given, revealing where he’d come from. - Excerpt from Last 20.e3
↑Her eyes tracked the rows and columns of incubation chambers. They weren’t her field either. A different row for each member of the Slaughterhouse Nine, past or present.
There were ten of each in various glass chambers. The original members. - Excerpt from Interlude 25
↑ 23.023.123.2King had a flimsy hold, Jack had a stronger hold. The former Gray Boy was closer to a Labyrinth in full-on powers mode than anything else. Using powers indiscriminately, staying within an area. King was effectively immune to him, and used this to introduce himself and start leading him around.
Jack cheats. He instinctively, intuitively knows how other parahumans operate, their weak points and their motivations, and was able to leverage original Gray Boy in this way, and the new Gray Boy in a similar way.
Cauldron permitted Gray Boy because he was the closest thing to a weapon they had against Scion since Eidolon. When the S9 started picking up and more parahumans started getting removed from the fiend than Gray Boy was theoretically worth, they moved in. Maneuvering Glaistig Uaine into taking him over, so the power would still be in play. - Wildbow on Spacebattles
↑ 26.026.1Gray Boy is one of those characters that cropped up a lot in the drafts.
Where Bonesaw sort of found her way to various teams in the drafts, Gray Boy was usually a loner. An independent who might have been in the same in-story role as Kaiser, with various tweaks to powers.
So you think, just in general, "What's a horrible thing you can do with [common power], as a variant?"
Fire goes out of control, that's sort of a metaphor for Burnscar. Water, Leviathan. Lightning strikes, there's not a fucking lot you can normally do about being struck by lightning.
Remember the last chapter of Migration? Peaks are higher, valleys are lower. It's just a question of scale.
Gray Boy was a fairly natural leap from 'time power'. I think in another variation, he just shunted you a duration into the future. For all intents and purposes, you disappeared, but you got to experience the ride in real time. In that incarnation, he was broken mentally, he started to shunt people around by thousands or tens of thousands or millions of years instead of the usual. Similar idea, less visceral, harder to get on paper. Idea gets refined, given his short appearance and need to 'show' more, and you wind up with this. -
Comment by Wildbow on Spacebattles