Daybreak – 1.4

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There was no way to process the series of collisions that followed me hurling myself down between the logging truck and the school bus.  My focus was on deflecting the impact, clawing at the logging truck with everything I had to try to put it off course, before the bus made contact and hopefully moved it further.  As the two vehicles came together, I extended my whole body, trying to push them apart in a way that would keep the collision from being the head-on sort that might kill Jasper.

In no particular order, the school bus hit the logging truck, the logging truck  hit the school bus and the wall, and I, my forcefields down, hit the ground rolling.

I came to a stop and lay where I was, face down.  I felt the sting of the scrapes where I’d come into contact with the road, and waited for the real pain to start.  I wanted to know where the real damage was before I moved the wrong part and made it worse.  My ears rang from the sharp noises and impacts.  Playing dead helped, too, because the villains were rousing, opening the door of the truck cab, glass tinkling down to the street below.

“What the hell?” someone asked.  They were younger- probably teenager.  I couldn’t pinpoint if they were male or female.

“Are you okay?” a deeper voice asked.  The nature of the voice made me think brute.  “Any injuries?”

“I think I have whiplash,” the teenager said.  “I wasn’t expecting that.  What the hell?”

“You were intercepted before impact.  It looks like teenagers in uniform.  With a bus.”

“I can see that,” the teenager said.

“You missed the side door you were supposed to drive through.”

“I can see that too,” the teenager said.

“I can’t tell what you’re looking at, Blindside.  Let me know if you need help.  Snag?”

“I’m fine,” was the response, a rasp.  I heard metal creak.

“Your arm isn’t,” the teenager said.  They would be Blindside, going by what the Brute had said.

“I’m fine.”

I heard the sound of someone hopping down to land on the street, not all that far away from me.  Metal struck the road shortly after.

I only saw a glimpse of him.  Work boots, a long coat that hung down low enough that it almost looked like his legs were only two feet long, and arms long enough that his wrists made contact with the ground.  The hands rested flat on the road, fingers splayed.  He wore gauntlets.

I wanted to see something more than just his feet, but as I started to raise my eyes, looking through the hair that had come loose from my braid, my eyes were forced down, until they were staring at the road.  I heard the scrape of another person’s feet as they climbed down from the truck to the street.

“My fucking neck,” Blindside said.  The person in question.

Try as I might, I couldn’t look at them.  My eyes and head refused to cooperate and do what was necessary to put them in my field of vision.

“Don’t complain,” said the Brute.

“You weren’t on the truck.  You don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t complain about.  Fuck, I wasn’t expecting that hit.  Did both K.C. and Nursery fuck up?”

“The timing was wrong,” a woman said.  Nursery, I assumed.

There were so many of them.  The Brute, Snag, Blindside, Nursery, and K.C.- I really hoped that K.C. was the mass-master I’d seen in the crowd.  If they weren’t, then there were six of them in total.  Six and the crowd that the exploding parahuman had control of.

We had four capes on the inside, me, and a bunch of high schoolers, some of whom had guns.  None of whom, cape or student, that I wanted involved in this conflict.

The five or six attacking capes wouldn’t be attacking like this if they weren’t sure they could win.

“Don’t be stupid,” Snag said, his voice a rough growl, volume raised.

He wasn’t talking to me.  He was directing that at Jasper and the other two.

Drive away, I thought, willing Jasper to think the same.  Be okay, drive away.  Leave me.

I heard the chugging of the bus, the battered engine protesting as the vehicle started to reverse, pulling away.

At the edge of my Blindside-limited field of vision, Snag’s metal, long-fingered hand lifted from the ground.  He leaped toward the bus without making the movements necessary to jump.  I didn’t want to move my head and risk being seen just to see him land, but I heard the metal-on-metal sound, the impact of a heavy body on the hood.

Every set of eyes, mine excepted, had to be on him and the retreating bus.  It was an opening, and it was an opening our side opted to use.  The side door of the building opened without a sound.  Fume Hood and Crystalclear were in the doorway.

Crystalclear threw a chunk of crystal at the ground, and the chunk passed through without sound or apparent impact.  Fume Hood had six green orbs with her, all around her hand.  She sent one out in the direction of the bus, then, a moment later, sent a second.  Both exploded, off to one side.

Crystalclear’s shot passed through walls.  Tempera had let me know that.  Apparently, it needed to pass through walls, or the ground in this case.  He’d thrown it into the ground, and a moment after Fume had released her two shots, both landing, Crystalclear’s shot emerged from the ground, an explosion of vapor, glass splinters, and fragments of road.

One of the villains, the Brute, only laughed.

Fume Hood paused, her four orbs around her hand.  Her head was turned so she could only see me with one eye- Blindside’s power was limiting them there.

Through the hair that had fallen over my face, I could see Fume Hood look at me.  Making eye contact.

I couldn’t see the villains, so I knew the action was risky.  I had to hope they were more focused on her than on me.

I raised my head up and  motioned for her to go, moving one hand, swiping my fingers toward her.

The pattern was much the same as with her first shot.  One shot, then firing the remaining three all at once.  One to gauge how it would fly, then the rest to deliver the hit.

They slammed the door shut, just before the three near-simultaneous explosions.  The detonations were small and sharp, and produced a wind that blew my hair away from my face.  I held my breath.

The Brute laughed again.

I really didn’t want to pick a fight with four capes at once.  The bus was gone, the door was shut.

“This is going to slow us down,” the Brute said.

“You don’t have to sound so happy about it,” Blindside said.

The Brute chuckled, and climbed down from the roof of the truck, and in the doing, he put himself between me and Blindside.  It blocked my view of Blindside, and it gave me a chance to get a glimpse of him.  The ground smoked around where his boots touched pavement, and the smoke solidified into formations that looked like branches and twists of metal, all in an ashen white-grey.  His entire body was made of the stuff, as if he wore armor made of white-grey bandages made solid and immobile by resin, all of the ends curling up and away from him in horns or branches.

I knew him, even just seeing his legs.  Or I knew of him, to be precise.  Yeah, based on what I knew of Fume Hood’s group, they might be outclassed.

The big guy was the Lord of Loss.  There were two ways a cape could go with a name like that.  The most obvious was to fuck up just once, and forever after have people wondering out loud what he was thinking, taking a name like that.  Being called a loser.

The other way was to succeed and ascend the name, to take that name and make it a title.  The Lord of Loss had managed that.

He had been one of the villains in a big city on the West coast, and now he was one of the villains running a settlement on one of the corner worlds.  Was it Earth-N?  Not far from here, if it was.  He wasn’t top tier, as capes went, but he was A-list.

He was a Brute with Breaker flavor.  He cloaked himself in abstract forms, with a set selection.  I knew one resembled a bird, which he would have been using to fly alongside the truck.  He was versatile, big, strong, and his breaker power multiplied his efforts over time.  That multiplication played into how he flew, how he grew, and back before Gold Morning, a few occasions where he’d been able to slug away at a bank vault until he’d torn it open, or even drag a smaller vault away with him.

He turned his attention toward me, turning around and approaching me as the others backed away from the cloud of gas.  My chin jerked toward my chest as Blindside stepped out to the side, back in my field of view.

I would’ve rather had just about anyone else step close enough for me to get my hands on them.  It had to be the guy I couldn’t take out of the fight.

“Miss,” Lord of Loss said.  “Are you injured?”

I couldn’t pretend to be unconscious- I’d just moved because of Blindside.  I settled for an inarticulate, small moan.

Lord of Loss knelt beside me.  “Can you walk?”

I shook my head, keeping the movement small.

“Is it because your back is hurt?  Can you feel my hand, here?” he asked.

I felt his hand touch my knee.

I nodded, again, small.  I screwed up my face, feigning more pain than I was in.

I didn’t like this.  I didn’t like being so close to the guy, I didn’t like the scrutiny, the eyes on me, the attention.  I didn’t like being treated like I was an invalid.  I didn’t like suppressing my forcefield and aura.

I didn’t like being still.

It was easier to keep my composure if I was moving, doing.

“Blindside,” Lord of Loss said.  “Watch her.”

“What?”

“You were always going to be the lookout, with Kingdom Come helping.  We stick to the plan.  We’re going in, we’ll get our target, you’ll be the lookout, and you’ll look out for this junior soldier while you’re at it.”

“Pain in the ass.”

“Plans change,” Lord of Loss said.  “You’ll learn that sooner or later.  Our clients hired us to capture an ex-villain who made a bystander lose her child.  I don’t think they’d be pleased if we let another bystander get hurt while we carry out the task.”

“Yeah, no, I get it.  Just go.  Let’s get this over with.”

“Keep an eye out for the vehicle with the other soldiers.  They drove in Kingdom’s direction.  If they can’t get through or around, they might come back.”

“I get it.  It’s fine.  Go.  I can handle my shit.”

My eyes had closed, because it kept my head from being jerked around as Blindside kept compelling me to move to avoid seeing them, but I could tell when Lord of Loss moved away, as the bulk of his body ceased blocking the light of the sun above us.

“Snag,” Lord of Loss said.  “Any injury?”

I heard a cough.  “No.”

“Then go with Nursery,” Lord of Loss said.  He paused.  “Kingdom Come?”

Another pause.

“It’s time.  Move in,” Lord of Loss said.  “I can’t go inside, so I’ll take the roof, I’ll watch the other sides of the building, and do what I can to help.”

I cracked my eyes open.  Nursery and Snag were walking up to the door.  Lord of Loss was breaking into pieces, his arms spreading out as the wispy smoke formed into the ‘feathers’ of his wings.  He wasn’t fast at all as he started to flap, lifting off the ground.

That would be the downside of his breaker power.  It let him hit harder every time he hit something, and that included the beats of wing against air, but it took time.

Still, it let him move in the direction of the roof.  He paused, circling, as Snag raised one long arm and pushed at the door.  White paint leaked around the doorframe.

Sealed shut.

“This would be why I’m here,” Nursery said, her voice soft.  She began humming, and it was a lullaby sort of hum.

A music box sort of chiming joined the humming.

“Fuck that shit,” Blindside said.  I was the closest person to them as they stood somewhere near me.   I lay near the butt end of the eighteen wheeler, which had its nose in the wall of the building.  Nursery and Snag were at the door.  I wasn’t sure if Blindside was talking to me.

The humming seemed to be picked up elsewhere, and the music box noises intensified, with new notes and a higher tempo.  The area near the door blurred.  It was a window into another world, what had to be a pocket dimension, but for the most part it seemed unsure if it was our world or the pocket world.

An indoor setting, at a glance.  Beds and walls that didn’t line up with things in our world.

I felt Blindside’s hand on my neck.  They felt for my pulse.

“Asshole is invincible, and so he doesn’t even think to get your gun from you.  You’re lying on it,” Blindside said.  “If I roll you onto your back, will it kill you?”

It was a question I’d heard variants of before, in a tone I’d heard before.  A tone from someone that didn’t really care about me.

We’re going to roll you over now and check for sores.  Is that alright?

We’re going to wash you now.  Can you try to move this arm?

Can I get you anything?  Would you like water, or something to eat?

Condescending, caring more about themselves, feigning concern or consideration.  They just wanted to get on with their day.  Even the ones that did care lost patience sometimes.  Stubborn, aggressive people like me made it easy to lose patience.

I made myself be calm.  I exhaled slowly, and the exhalation came out as a shudder.  It wasn’t because I was hurt, but because the memories were close to the surface.

Blindside eased me onto my back, then I felt them touch my gun.

My eyes snapped open.  My arm lashed out, one swing, mindful that they were probably just a fragile human being.

I didn’t make contact.  Muscles in my arm wrenched, seized, and cramped as the entire arm locked up, just in time to keep me from touching them.

“Aha,” Blindside said.

I felt them grip my gun hard.  My initial fumble to grab the gun ran into the same problem.  My hand hit an imaginary wall.

The gun had a buckle keeping it in the hip holster.  They hadn’t undone the buckle, and they weren’t able to pull the gun free before I jumped up to my feet, backing a short distance away.  The hand pulled free.

I still couldn’t see them.  My head was turned to one side, I had a glare on my face, and I walked slowly, keeping track of them by keeping them at the very edge of my field of view.

I imagined I looked a little feral, pacing as I was, trying to track them with my other senses, being unable to make eye contact.

I moved my hand experimentally.  I hit the wall.

I couldn’t point at them, then.  I couldn’t hit them, based on my earlier issue.

“What do they feed you shits?” Blindside asked.  “You get thrown from a bus mid-impact and you have it in you to pull this?  I’m impressed.”

The dreamy blur was disappearing, the way in closing behind Nursery and Snag.  The background humming and chiming was fading.

I hoped the others were retreating, finding a place in the building they could hunker down until help came.

“Listen,” Blindside said.  “I don’t want trouble.  I don’t want to hurt a civilian.  I’m keeping to the rules.  Lie down, put your hands on your head, let me take the gun.  I’ll give it back when I’m done.”

“You’re going to kidnap Fume Hood.  I can’t stand by and let that happen.”

“You can’t do anything about it,” Blindside said.  “We’re going to borrow them, then we’ll be on our way.”

“Borrow?  You’re giving her back after?  Unharmed?”

“Yep.  Mostly unharmed.  The woman who lost her kid wants to have words with her.  Shout at her, make her feel bad.  She and some others paid a lot of money to make it happen.  Then we drop her back off somewhere near here and drive off.”

“For that, you drive a truck into a building and traumatize a crowd?”

“Intel said we were good to hit the building there, use that as our entry point.  Scaring her was part of the deal, so was fucking her over,” Blindside said.  “Stirring up the crowd, it doesn’t affect us much.  We live in one of the corners.  For her, it keeps her from finding any success.”

“For the sake of the woman who lost her child?”

“Yeah.”

“And she’s personally going to shout at Fume Hood there?”

“Fume Hood, Bad Apple, Horse Apple, Apple Cider, whatever you want to call her.  Yeah.”

I nodded slowly.

“Just lie down.  Let it be.  Give up the gun, stop fighting, we do our cape shit and you carry on with your day.  Police are under our control, nearest capes are half an hour away.  This is the way it is sometimes.”

“The files I got when I accepted this job said the woman in question died,” I said.  “The pregnant lady who lost her child.”

“Really?”

I nodded, my eyes still fixed on the ground, as close to Blindside as I could get.  If they moved into my field of vision, a forced movement of my eye and head would let me know.

“At Gold Morning.  Her home address was one of the cities hit hard.  No sign of her after the fact.  Authorities investigated when the word about this attack first came up.  Which leads me to think you’re lying through your teeth.”

“People visit family, go out of town for work, have stays in the hospital…  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people who narrowly dodged being in the wrong place at that one critical time.”

“Stop,” I said.  “I caught you in one lie, let’s leave it at that.”

Blindside fell silent.

I heard a scuff.  My head turned-was allowed to turn- as Blindside moved around to my side.  I backed away a few paces.

I heard Blindside stop moving.

“Change your stance,” Blindside said.

“My stance?”

“Your head is turned as far to the right as it can go.  If I move to your right, the reflex is going to be to move your head further right.  You could snap your neck.  You’d probably close your eyes first, but I’d rather not risk it.”

I obliged, shifting where my shoulders were, so my left shoulder pointed at them.  I was aware that it made it easier to circle behind me.

“And raise your chin a bit.”

“Why?” I asked.

I heard the sound of Blindside moving too late.  I reached out to block or catch the incoming attack, and hit the wall where I couldn’t move my arm too far toward them.

Something swung at an angle that avoided my arm.  I brought my forcefield up just in time for the thing to hit me on the chin.  An uppercut with a blunt instrument that should have broken my jaw.

Before Blindside could recover or figure out what had happened, I went on the offense.  I couldn’t hit them with my hand, I couldn’t point at them, but if I swung my hand at them, elbow jutting out-

I felt muscles seize, locking up.  Blindside caught my arm, pushing me in the direction I’d already been going, and shoved me to the ground.  Martial art.

The blunt instrument-I saw the tip of a metal bat- struck down toward my shin.

It rebounded off of the forcefield as the field came back.  The metal sang.

“Ah fucking hah,” Blindside said.  “Fuck me.  You’re a cape.”

I lurched to my feet, putting some distance between myself and them.

Elbows didn’t work either.

The muscles in my arm and shoulder twitched with the lingering strain or sprain that had gone with the interruption.

I backed away until my forcefield came back up.  I drew in a deep breath.

“You’re full of surprises,” Blindside said.

I undid a buckle and pulled my armored vest over my head in one smooth motion.

“That’s not very surprising though,” they said.  “I can see where you’re going with this.  I’ve been at this a few years.  Some of the workarounds and tricks are getting old by now.”

I shifted my grip so I held the vest by the shoulder.

“The bus is back.  Are they capes in disguise too?”

The bus was back?  I couldn’t see without looking past Blindside, and I didn’t want to lose my bearings.

They were watching then?

Well, I imagined Blindside made it hard to watch.

I swung, using the vest as a bludgeon.  My arm stopped, but the vest continued.

I felt hands against my back, gripping the back of my top.  Another move, Judo or Aikido, stepping into arm’s reach, too close for the vest to hit me, trusting their power to keep my arm from hitting them, and throwing me to the ground.

I used my forcefield, and I used its strength to arrest the movement, stopping myself.  A bit of my flight.

With Blindside directly behind me, I drew my gun, and I turned to the right this time, swinging out with gun in hand.

“Nope,” Blindside said.  “That won’t-”

I dropped the vest, my hand going to my ear, and I fired the instant my arm stopped moving.  I shot the stone wall of the community center eight times.

The volume of it was such that I only barely heard Blindside’s exclamation of pain.  My ears rang- but the gun had to have been right next to the villain mercenary’s ear.

This was how I operated.  Even if I was trying not to be too blatant with others watching.  I was trying to consider more before I acted and took this route, moderating myself.

Shock.  Shake them on a sensory level.

I stooped low to pick up the vest, then swung it as I had before.   Blindside stumbled forward, much as they had before, into my reach, both forearms pressing against my back.

I’d had to moderate my aura, back at the hospital.  My mood darkened even thinking about that time, much as it had darkened when I saw myself in the mirror and remembered what I had been.

It took all I had to not let that darkness affect how I handled the aura.  I’d told myself, so many times, I wanted to be better.  Regrets weren’t worth anything if I didn’t let them drive me to do it better in the future.

For two months my aura had been one of the only real communication tools that I had, that didn’t require rounds of blinking and interpretation, or fumbling at a special keyboard with hands that didn’t map to how my brain thought my body should move.  I’d had some practice with the nuance of it.

Blindside was pressing against my back, and my aura was stronger the closer people were to me.  I controlled the aura’s expression to keep it small and more concentrated.

Awe.  Catch them on an emotional level.

Blindside stumbled back.

I spun around in the other direction, and bludgeoned them with the weight of my vest, using it like a flail.  They bounced off of the logging truck and collapsed.

Destroy was my usual third step.  I hoped I’d held back enough.  I’d wanted to disable only, but it was hard to know my own strength.

“You conscious?” I asked the villain.  My own voice sounded far away, distorted, hard to hear over the ringing.

I should have heard any response.  I didn’t.  Silence.

Blindside’s power didn’t let me check their condition, visually or otherwise.

I bent over them, fumbling, tracing their outline with the back of my hand, and finding walls even there, somehow.  I found their head, medium length hair, and tried to press the back of my hand against their ear.  My arm muscles seized.

I tried to use my knuckles to get into the ear, since I couldn’t use my fingertips without pointing or driving them toward Blindside, and I still hit the wall.

Blindside had been using something to communicate with others.  If it was a walkie-talkie, phone, or earpiece, it wasn’t anywhere I could access it.  Blindside’s power protected them.

The movement in the corner of my eye caught me off guard.  The bus.  The front corner was badly damaged, but it was chugging along somehow.  I hadn’t heard it approaching.  Where the paint had been black, it had broken away, revealing some of the bright yellow paint that it had once had, when it had been a school bus.

Jasper was waving his arm out the window, pointing.  I could hear his shouts, but the words were muted.

Incoming.

The villains would have heard the shots.

I looked up, and I saw Lord of Loss at the roof’s edge.  He’d turned himself into something resembling a tree.  A static emplacement, less able to move, but with roots that would extend into the building and secure his position so he could leverage his full strength.

He was growing by the second, smoke billowing out and solidifying into branching points.  He might just have the reach to hit us down on the street level, big as he was.

There were two entry points that weren’t windows.  Two courses of action stood out to me.  The first was to simply fly to a window, abandon Jasper.  I’d lose my job, but I would have to trust they would leave and be safe while I did what I could to help Fume Hood.

But I had something I wanted to ask.

I motioned for them to come, to hurry.

There were two doors into the building that I knew about.  The front door was no doubt seized by the mind-controlled army.  The side door had been painted.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to tear my way in and find out that the paint was a problem.

I didn’t want to charge in, only to find that they were securing their retreat.  They’d be looking for trouble coming from either of the entrances after hearing the shots.

There might have been a third way in.

I ran toward the nose of the eighteen wheeled logging truck, and I climbed over the nose of it.  It had collided with the wall, and it had done some damage.

Reaching up, I pulled at the damaged part overhead, and I leveraged the strength my forcefield provided to tear it away.  I pushed at another part, widening the gap.

The bus parked so its nose was tucked into the corner between the nose of the logging truck and the wall.  Jasper, Mar, and Landon climbed out of the bus.

“Are you okay?” Jasper asked.

I liked that it was the first thing he’d asked.  Gilpatrick’s five pound of gun speech taken to heart.  Less than five pounds of weaponry, more than fifteen pounds of protection, twenty five pounds of support and problem solving.  Jasper’s first thoughts were on the latter.  Those were supposed to be the priorities, the ratios.

“A bit of road rash,” I said, examining my arms.  “Too much adrenaline to feel the pain.”

Shadows shifted.  Lord of Loss had decided to detach from the roof, and was pulling himself together enough to start climbing down.

“Come on,” I said.

We ducked in through the gap, into a staff washroom.  I couldn’t see the source of the water, but it pooled on the floor below.  We passed through the door and into the hallway.

“So you’re a cape,” Mar said.  He’d been the kid who’d sat behind me on the bus and made smug insinuations about my name and background.

I gave him a dark look.  It looked like Landon was on his side.

“You’ve got blood on your upper lip,” Mar said.  “It looks like you’ve got a mustache.”

“Fuck off, Mar,” Jasper said.

I rubbed at my upper lip with the side of my hand, looking back to make sure Lord of Loss hadn’t followed us.

I could hear the humming and the music box.  Upstairs somewhere.  I could hear people in the building.

“Jasper,” I said.

“What?”

“I have to ask.  How much of this is setup?”

“Setup?” Mar asked, incredulous.

“I know I sound paranoid,” I said.  “I know if there’s a scenario or something, it’s probably against the rules to ask or answer, but I need the honest truth here, no bullshit.”

“You sound really fucking paranoid,” Mar said.  “Holy fuck, you capes are screwed up in the head.”

“Shut up, Mar,” Jasper said.

“Just answer, please,” I said, my eyes fixed on the end of the hallway, watching for the mind-controlled soldiers.  “Gilpatrick set me up with a bunch of new soldiers I don’t know that he can somehow vouch for, he insisted on them, and he sent me into a situation that was liable to get messy.  It doesn’t make sense unless I somehow imagine I’m being set up to fail.”

“Fuck me,” Mar said.

“It’s not really setup,” Jasper said.  “Gilpatrick explained before I left.”

I nodded to myself.

“They wanted to make sure you could be trusted.  They thought they’d stick you with some objective observers for three, four routine jobs, make sure you stuck to the rules, grade you, leave it at that.”

Objective.  I looked at Mar.

Yeah.  Right.

“And if I didn’t accept the job?  If I’d told Gilpatrick I didn’t want to do this patrol?”

“He really thought you would,” Jasper said.  “He told me that.  He was a bit stuck, caught between superiors saying he had to make you or he couldn’t keep you on, and thinking you wouldn’t.  Then you said yes.”

I frowned.  One impulse.  One spur-of-the-moment decision.

Cause and effect.  Every time I acted on impulse, bad things happened.  Some of the worst things had happened.  People around me got hurt.  I got hurt.  Two years in the hospital.

It was so much of why I’d wanted to slow down.

“I’m pretty fucking glad you said yes,” Jasper said.  “If it had been me in charge here I’m pretty sure most of us would be dead already.”

I exhaled.  Deep breaths.  I couldn’t fall into the mindset of dwelling on the past.

“You’re a good guy, Jasper.”

“I try,” he said.

I paused, thinking for a moment, listening to the noises elsewhere in the building.

I glanced at Landon and Mar.

“I’m a good guy too,” Mar said.

“Stay put,” I said, firm.

“You’re going alone?” Jasper asked.

“Yeah.  Just find a corner of the building to hole up in.  Hide, be safe.”

There was a balance to be struck.  I wanted to think I’d reasoned this through, as much as I could with the time constraint, the enemy no doubt closing in on the capes.  It was too risky to bring these guys with.

Going alone.

“Stay,” I said.  “Be safe.”

I sprinted off, raising my forcefield for good measure.

I entered the kitchen by another door.  Where I’d talked with Fume Hood.

Something exploded overhead.

I looked up.

Vapor, shards of crystal.

A moment later, there were two more small explosions, one after another, in a line.

Crystal clear, Crystalclear.

Not alone, then.  I hurried in the direction indicated.

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174 thoughts on “Daybreak – 1.4”

  1. Hmm! This Blindside guy strikes me as something of a variation on themes from the Prince Taylor had to fight who kept people from intentionally acting to hurt him. I wonder if their shards are related? I hope he’s alive.

    Also crap, this was a setup? D:
    Okay, so Gilpatrick and the higher-ups knew Victoria was a cape, and the higher-ups made him send her on this mission to test her somehow?

    I still really like the compare/contrast going on between Victoria and Taylor.

    1. The verb he used was “make” her. In this context, it means that he was meant to identify her or expose her. Like when a spy is trying to maintain their cover and someone figures out they aren’t who they say they are, they might tell someone, “He made me.”

      1. I suspect so. It only extends to people trying to interact with him or see him directly, but not when they use tools. What I mean is, it’s not like his power stopped her arm so that it couldn’t swing anything at him, it just stopped her arm from getting too close. I think using a tool like a mirror would be fine. Especially if you bring it down on his head, perhaps while saying “Here’s seven years of bad headaches, motherfucker!”

    2. It’s probably the August Prince with a second trigger under his belt, now an older adolescent instead of a creepy ass kid.

  2. Fantastic chapter. Clever power usage, clever responses, a bit of behind-the-scenes machinations… this is why I sit refreshing my browser when I should be coding.

    Also, minor typo:
    “I knew one resembled a bird, which would he would have been using to fly alongside the truck.” Extra ‘would’ before the ‘he.’

      1. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or not, but I noticed that you’ve been using plural pronouns to refer to Blindside.
        Some examples:
        “I bent over them, fumbling, tracing (their) outline with the back of my hand, and finding walls even there, somehow. I found (their) head, medium length hair, and tried to press the back of my hand against (their) ear.”
        And
        “That’s not very surprising though,” (they) said.  “I can see where you’re going with this.  I’ve been at this a few years.”

  3. I’m really liking Victoria as a protagonist so far. Her reluctance to use her powers has made her far more creative in terms of unpowered combat techniques. I’m also enjoying her obvious trauma, which unusual for Worm in that it’s unconnected to a trigger. I’m looking forward to seeing how she evolves.

    1. LoL reminds me of Lung, but with less fire and more shapeshifting. (He gets larger/hits harder the longer he fights, it looks like?) I kind of want to see those two fight each other someday …

      1. Taylor beat lung by blind luck and recklessness, combined with her trademark cleverness.

        I want to see how Victoria beats this guy by being clever and thinking before acting.
        I’m liking this.

  4. “For two months my aura had been one of the only real communication tools that I had, that didn’t require rounds of blinking and interpretation, or fumbling at a special keyboard…”
    -is that supposed to be two years? Or did something change after two months?

    Anyway, this is so good. I was a little iffy on Victoria as the protagonist at first, but she’s really growing on me. There’s so much *there*, so much that changed her has a person since we last saw her in Worm. I love it!

          1. Or possibly her getting fixed took several sessions to get right. So she was left with even fewer ways to communicate after one of them. Dear lord I hope I’m wrong about this.

  5. More new capes! And rather interesting ones, at that. I’m really liking Lord of Loss; he seems like a fairly decent guy (villainous acts nonwithstanding), and I’m always a fan of weird shapeshifting powers. Gotta wonder what the limits are, though: he seems to have a limit on shapes? What determines that?

    Took me a while to catch on to Blindside’s power. I think I accidentally skimmed over the paragraph that mentions, hey, Victoria physically can’t look at this guy. Whoops. At any rate, it’s one of those powers I wouldn’t think of being super useful, but coupled with some good old fashioned martial arts gets the job done well.

    Not quite sure what to make of Nursery’s power? Weird alternate dimension garbage + music boxes? Hopefully next chapter elaborates a little.

    I’m assuming Mr. Goresplosion is Kingdom Come. A rather foreboding name, although he is a rather horrifying cape. I like it. Still, I wonder about how he survives after goresploding: does he reform? Does he grab someone random as a host? Truly a mystery.

    1. From what she did with the doorway, she seems kind of like a cut-rate Labyrinth. Similar power, but smaller area and more soundtrack?

    2. If these capes are concerned with injuring bystanders I have to assume KC just reforms. Permanently possessing a civilian seems too dark for what these guys are willing to do, at least on this job.

    3. I’m thinking these are the collectable protection people from Glow Worm. Maybe Fume Hood’s not actually the one they are after?

  6. Damn this was so cool. At first I thought Victoria’s freezing was because of ptsd or something, but then the name Blindside finally hit me.

  7. So far, I’ve like the way the story is pulling together, and this chapter is my favorite so far, giving a glimpse into the parts of Victoria that she doesn’t like. And Blindside’s power is great! I hope we get more details on how it works later.

    And a few grammar-related comments:

    “This is going to slow us down,” the Brute said.
    “You don’t have to sound so happy about it,” Blindside said.

    I would recommend “replied” or something else instead of using “[name] said” twice in a row without any other content in the paragraphs.

    The other way was to succeed and ascend the name

    I’m not sure that the phrasing there is correct, especially the use of “ascend.”

    Less than five pounds of weaponry, more than fifteen pounds of protection, twenty five pounds of support and problem solving. Jasper’s first thoughts were on the latter.

    This is easy to understand, but technically, “latter” should only be used with pairs; this should read “last.”

    I’ve got a few more nitpicky complaints about word choice and such, but I think I should limit my comments to the ones that really stood out when I was reading.

    I can’t wait for Saturday!

      1. That’s because Nice Guy’s power was active, though – he had to notice them to be able to use his power on them. Blindside’s power seems to be passive and always on (at least, it still works when Blindside is unconscious).

        1. I think Imp’s advantage vs. Blindside would be that Blindside would have trouble seeing her to stop her from coming up with ways through Blindside’s mojo, like Victoria managed.

        1. You know. Nice guy. That guy from the S9 who’s power was you couldn’t register him as a threat? He had the clone who… I think he fell down some stairs into acid? Wow really weak death.

          But seriously it’d be hilarious if Imp shows up late in the story and suddenly it turns out there was a whole lot of shit that was her doing the whole time.

  8. Love the fight between Victoria and Blindside. Lots going on here: between us seeing Victoria flex her power in subtler ways, adapting where brute strength alone is more of a hindrance than an asset for her long-term, and reflecting on her time in the asylum, we got to see a lot more of Victoria’s mentality here. Said this on Reddit, but in a lot of ways, Victoria’s character arc here is shaping up to be what was implied on the tail-end of Taylor’s: that after everything, she has to live with herself, regrets and all, and come to terms with her new circumstances.

    As much as Worm was a race of escalation on a road of unending disaster, the same could be said for Taylor’s personal journey, as she lost more and more of herself over time, becoming entirely undone by the end. And so, on the flipside, perhaps Ward will explore what it takes for both society and person to come back and rebuild in the wake of that, and Victoria seems primed to be our core lens into that dynamic, as the inverse of Worm itself.

    1. Speaking of escalation, I’m really wondering if Ward will bear out that theme, or if things will be different. Any guesses, anyone?

  9. Woo!
    Love the new chapter. Im only worried that there’s not much power buildup to be had with victoria. Taylor learned new ways to use her power often and while I’m hopeful that vic can do the same I’m sure you can see my worry. Nevertheless great chapter and the end result will probably be as stellar as all your other stuff.

    1. Have faith in Wildbows story telling skills. Look at how he grew Taylor’s powers in his first big story. Do you not think he maybe have learned a thing or two since then?

      1. Exactly why I’m such a believer! I wouldn’t have thought Victoria would be that interesting (of all the options from the capes we already know), but if Wildbow is going with her, I’m totally prepared to trust his handling and his plans!

    2. I doubt we’ll see this happen ’cause Victoria’s too traumatized, but I’m actually desperately hoping to see her overcome that a little and start developing some genuine charisma. A talented persuasive speaker with her aura power would be hard to tell apart from a straight mind control-tier Master.

      And that’s ignoring her *other* three powers, which let her no-sell an arbitrarily powerful attack every ~3 seconds, evade the rest with flight, and hurl back any projectiles she likes with impunity using her super strength.

      In terms of raw potential, she’s darn near a match for Alexandria if she uses her powers right. Again, I doubt we’ll see any of this, tho.

  10. Nothing like a clever street level brawl to get a Parahumans serial going. These new powers and characters are cool and interesting and well-described without it dragging or feeling excessive.

    I like the intrigue with the people in charge putting Victoria on this mission to test her. They’re willing to have capes in their organization but don’t trust them. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s secretly being run by capes anyway.

    That crystal clear pun was brilliant and by far the best line in the chapter.

  11. Victoria is a surprisingly interesting protagonist. Seeing things from Taylor’s perspective, we tended to see the brutes as having some sort of advantage over her in any given fight, but from the brutes’ perspectives, they were fighting an enemy with perfect information, capable of attacking from every direction at once and taking and advatage of any weakness, and virtually impossible to track.
    There’s a reason the Undersiders, the chronically underestimated team of masters, strangers, and thinkers, were the ones ruling the city.

    Brutes have it tough in Worm. Let’s give them some respect.

    1. I would have loved to have an interlude that tells one of Taylor’s fights from her opponents’ perspective.

      1. That’s completely possible now.
        Especially if it humanize a cape we previously hated.

        A bit too close to the kinda sequel nonsense that prevents stories from standing on their own.

  12. I’m reminded of that high-way fight scene in Winter Soldier.

    Two smart opponents trying to physically get the better of each other. Victoria just happened to have surprise and numerous powers along with intelligence to be victorious.

    Man Mars is worst mars. I wish for former, hotter, Mars to return.

    So LoL has to break himself down to change shape, setting strength back to normal mode right? Sounds like the best time to fight him then.

    A very well done chapter Bow.

  13. >“Fume Hood, Bad Apple, Horse Apple, Apple Cider, whatever you want to call her. Yeah.”

    I love how Victoria and Blindside make the exact same joke about Fume Hood’s name.

  14. You can’t imagine how glad I am Victoria has learned enough to work her gun into her tactical approach. She didn’t reload the gun yet, though? How many shots does that have?

    1. Depends on a few factors, like the gun, which round it’s using, and magazine size. The famous Desert Eagle can carry 7 if it’s .50, but 9 at .357 Magnum. The FN Five-seveN’s standard magazine capacity is 20. A Glock 17 might be packing a 33-round extended magazine.

      You can go even crazier with stuff like drums, but it’s pretty clear that’s not what’s happening here. I’d generally assume between 10 and 12 to be safe, not if they had one in the chamber.

      1. And now you know the real reason revolvers are so popular in fiction. It’s easier to keep track of how many shots the gun has before the reload.

        1. Not as much as you’d think. Some of those might have only five shots, instead of being the famous six-shooter. Then there’s a little beauty called the LeMat. 9 round cylinder around a secondary 20 gauge barrel. Fire off the 9, adjust a lever on the hammer, and then fire the shotgun shell. Of course, reloading was hell, so Confederate generals would fire everything, then switch to sabres.

        2. You might think so, but even with a revolver, it can be easy, in all the excitement, to lose track of whether you fired six shots or only five. In such cases, it really just boils down to whether you feel lucky.

          1. Or you could use a 7-shooter magnum, and get all those who like to count bullets with a nice headshot when they jump out of cover.

  15. I reread the other Daybreak chapters today, and am quite enjoying the feel of Victoria as a protagonist. Had a few thoughts, of no particular significance, about the contrasts between Victoria and Taylor.

    At first, I wanted to say that Victoria feels more socially adept than Taylor, but that’s not quite right. A lot of what I’m reading as social competence is actually social *power*. She’s in a position of status and authority here, in a way that Taylor never was (or could have been) in the first four sections of Worm. That colors everything about how Victoria functions socially.

    To talk about the difference between them as people rather the difference in their circumstances, I’d say that Victoria is interactive. Taylor, as a social creature, was either observing from a position as an outsider or acting decisively to leverage what she had learned by observing. Victoria, on the other hand, uses the points of contact between her and the people around her to gather information and to act in her own interests. It’s more direct, in a sense, and it leaves her doing both things at once. When she suspects Gilpatrick is up to something in 1.2, she asks to have Jasper along for the job. Her narration makes explicit that she’s trying to learn more about Gilpatrick’s motivations, and this is also an overt attempt to secure a resource for herself (Jasper), and a social maneuver that gives her leverage in the larger negotiation with Gilpatrick (she hasn’t agreed to the job at this point and could still refuse on this point). She follows up on the maneuver by trying to offload some of the potential troublemakers (which fails) and trying to get Gilpatrick to acknowledge that he owes her for this (which succeeds). Contrast this with, say, Taylor’s interactions with Mr. Gladly or even her father, where I see more a pattern of trying not to engage in the early part of an interaction and then stepping up to more direct social confrontation.

    Granted, a lot of this difference could be chalked up to the difference in age, experience and social capital/position rather than intrinsic differences in approach/outlook, but I think there’s at least a little bit of that last going on here. Also pleasing is the way this parallels the nature of their powersets. Victoria necessarily has to get up close and personal, has to act and be acted upon, in order to use her powers, whereas Taylor at her best still needs time to prepare before one-fell-swooping in.

  16. “For two months my aura had been one of the only real communication tools that I had…”

    Possibly a typo? She was in the hospital for a lot longer than two months. Did they get a better communication setup after that point, or was that supposed to be two years?

    I like seeing how Blindside has learned to compensate for the workarounds for dealing with his power. That’s a pretty potent defensive power, but he doesn’t take it for granted.

    Hoping that Mar gets his head on straight and becomes a regular character. He seems like he’d be a fun character if he stopped being such an ass.

    1. Also you don’t have to look at someone to hit them. You just need to know where they are. Many a foe with the power of invisibility, or fighting a blind opponent’s been beaten because they didn’t shut up.

      1. Nah she can’t punch the guy. It’s a slightly stronger version of August Prince’s power I believe, but I think it’s activity is based similarly to Taylor’s power. I’m sure he could turn it off, but the power stays on if he falls unconscious with it on. I think

        1. It’s similar to August Prince, but I feel like it’s weaker. The tricks Victoria used on Blindside here wouldn’t work on August Prince (although she would at least be able to look at him).

          1. I think using the gun would technically work though, similarly to how Taylor combatted August with webs

  17. Ah yes, an aspect of guns that not everyone thinks about when they’re used. They’re loud. Really loud. Hearing damage loud, which is why people often use earmuffs. Not sure she needed to fire so many times, though.

    1. Well it only stands to reason that if one gunshot is loud, then eight gunshots must be at least eight louds. More, if they compound.

    2. Also concussive…in the USMC if I was somewhere behind a machine gun firing, hearing protection was fine, but standing 10-15 feet 90 degrees to the side of the barrel had me flinching as it was almost like someone smacking their hand against my ear over and over again.

  18. Yes, Victoria. Turn on them, kill them for momma Vorhees!

    Seriously, this wannabe PRT has trust issues already. They seemed to like Victoria, had her working for them for awhile, but all of a sudden they want to test her to make sure she’s on their side just because she has powers. They did indeed set her up. Even if she isn’t going for reprisals afterward, it’d be a good time to pack up and find a new job.

    Harsh? Tell that to anyone who’s ever been in a situation where they had to trust their life to a teammate. If that trust isn’t there, then that team doesn’t exist. It’ll be every man for themselves because they can’t know if they walk into a room, someone has their bind spot. They have to spend just as much time watching out for teammates as they do the enemy.

    And finally, I guess you could say Blindside was…

    (•_•)
    ( •_•)>⌐■-■
    (⌐■_■)

    Awestruck.

    Please, stop giving me these setups.

    1. I don’t think they’re operating in the scenario that Gilpatrick sent them on anymore. My read is that this was a legit job of sending Victoria out to handle a possible mob situation, but the ‘setup’ was just the unfamiliar soldiers and secret evaluation.

      “I’m pretty fucking glad you said yes,” Jasper said. “If it had been me in charge here I’m pretty sure most of us would be dead already.”

      Unless this is a very elaborate and costly scenario, I don’t think this is the “routine job” she was sent on anymore.

  19. Oogh, I hope Blindside gets his ears checked after this. Tinnitus is a serious problem!

    That said, Blindside is probably my favorite new cape here. That sight power is enough to make him a potent tactical asset in a variety of situations, but not being able to point anything in his direction either is downright tilted in his favor. Makes me wonder if he can even turn it off, though… People never being able to look you in the eyes or touch you could mess you up emotionally after a while.

    1. > People never being able to look you in the eyes or touch you could mess you up emotionally after a while.

      Well… Yes. Shards mess with people. That is old news.

    2. Just not being able to look at someone would already be fairly powerful, especially if you combine that with some sort of weapon. Imagine trying to get into a firefight with someone you can’t look at. And then you can’t even point the gun at them anyway!

      But yeah, not being able to turn it off would suck in a lot of ways. It would be impossible to have a secret identity, hard to have relationships, etc.

      1. It’d be really easy to have a secret identity. You could just walk around stealing from people. They can’t tell anyone what you looked like. Plus, you’d always win one of those arguments where you’re like “Look me in my eye and say that!”

        As far as guns go, it’s called “spray and pray” for a reason.

  20. Exciting to get a peek into Victoria’s state of mind – so interesting that even whilst she was a blob of flesh after what Amy did to her, she still had enough thought to limit her powers – she could’ve easily gone off the deep end, but she didn’t. I guess Jessica Yamada had a lot to do with that, and maybe a lot to do with why she’s in the Jr PRT now.

  21. This is part of the reason why I love the Wormverse so much! Unique and interesting powers that are used creatively as hell.

    The first cape fight of the new series has not disappointed so far. Loving it!

    1. She can’t see them, and based on Blindside’s voice alone, Vic says “I couldn’t pinpoint if they were male or female.” So she goes with gender-neutral. Either Blindside’s power extends to their voice, or they have a naturally ambiguous register.

        1. Use of the singular they in contexts like this has been a part of informal English since the fourteenth century. Wildbow isn’t writing for The Economist and neither is Victoria – and singular-they is a lot more polite than guessing and potentially misgendering someone.

  22. “Objective”. For cripe’s sake.

    That was a fantastic fight scene. Blindside has a hell of a power and isn’t stupid about using it, but Victoria was canny enough and put together enough clever tricks in combination to take them down. (Probably helps that Blindside didn’t know which cape she was.)

    1. Fittingly enough Blindside’s power works best if they, well blindside someone. Once you know what it does, you can start working out countermeasures.

      Hmmn, wonder how it’d react to Master Abilities that involve minions? Let’s take the Undersiders three Masters. Skitter, Bitch, and Parian. Would Skitter be able to use their bugs to see where Blindside is, or would the bugs be forced to look away? Would Taylor be able to put bugs on Blindside and tell where they are from that? Would Bitch’s dogs be affected? Or for that matter Parian’s constructs? I mean does Parian need to see what her constructs are doing, or can she let them act somewhat independently?

      1. Parian needs to see her constructs. I think she would have a hard time with Blindside. Maybe it would work if Parian could make the construct spin around with some flailing strikes… but I’m not sure exactly why Victoria had trouble with some of the attacks. I would think a blind fighter should be able to hit Blindside, so maybe I’m missing something.

        Skitter doesn’t. I think Skitter would rip blindside apart with little trouble.

        as far as Bitch is concerned, it depends on if Blindside’s abilities work on dogs.

        1. The way Blindside’s power seems to work is that it forces your body to not look at/come near them. Blindside even has to consider the possibility of people snapping their necks if he moves in the wrong way. Parian’s creations don’t have muscles, so they’d likely be able to attack him without much issue. She would have trouble looking at him, though, so aiming would likely be a problem.

      2. Hard to say. He might counter Skitter quite effectively, by forcing her bugs (most or all of which probably have near-omnidirectional vision, can’t blink, and can’t fly toward areas they can’t see) to avoid seeing him. She would probably still have options – dropping things on him, trying to blind her bugs with spidersilk, setting traps and boxing him in – but it would be kind of a pain. Unless his power doesn’t work on bugs, in which case he’s basically a civilian with martial arts training.
        Rachel’s dogs is simpler. If they can close their eyes and hunt by smell and hearing, they should be fine. Otherwise, it goes to Blindside, assuming he can actually hit Rachel.
        Parian is a telekinetic who is misusing a sandstorm power to make giant killer teddy bears. With or without spidersilk puppets, she has options. She probably has an easier time of it than Taylor.
        I wonder how Sveta would fare, though…

        1. With enough bugs, being unable to move the bugs on Blindside might become an asset. “I can’t see Blindside anywhere. On an unrelated note, there appears to be a strange human-shaped gap in the middle of the swarm”. Even if unable to directly affect them, Skitter would be able to block their own vision and possibly deduce their location. Grue would work similarly.

  23. I’m just happy current Victoria is, apparently, old Victoria, relatively speaking.

    As in that Amy didn’t permanently screw her up, and she still has her powers(one of my favorite cape powers, by the way).

  24. Just going to have the woman yell at Fume Hood. Yeah. Sure. If you believe that I’ve got a bridge to sell you. On Earth Bet. In London.

      1. “London Bridge is going boom, going boom, going boom, London Bridge is going boom, time to swim like hell!”

        Rule (what’s left of) Britannia!

  25. Took me a little while to catch on Blindside’s power, I thought Victoria was too hurt to move. The fight scene was amazing, glad to see that Vicky isn’t juste brute force but can be creative in the way she fights !

    The new favicon fits really well with the story.

  26. Lord of Loss seems like a decent guy. Also it seems Vicky’s time as a blob led to her gaining more control over her aura.

  27. I wonder if blindside can turn his power off like Imp does. Also, I love how we’re seeing a clear difference in how Victoria fights now vs before, she’s putting more emphasis on think now destroy later.

  28. Nice! I’m thinking these are the collectors Satyrical was communicating with!

    Something weird is happening, but I can’t wait until we meet the heartsy girl with the AI and the rest of the crew. I’m imagining this thing with the high school won’t go too well and Vik will return to being a cape.

    1. K is already my favorite character in Worm, after Dragon. And not just ’cause she’s a tinker. Glow-worm 0.7 darn near broke my heart. And it’s not often you see a genuinely altruistic cape!

  29. In all honesty I never really liked Victoria that much during Worm; however, after a bit of life changing trauma as well as seeing things from her point of view rather she is seriously starting to grow on me.

    This fight scene was ace, as with Taylor it’s good to see the different ways that she can use her powers.

    Also I read Worm after completion so was able to binge read the entire thing- I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with the wait between chapter releases with Wildbows’ penchant for epic cliff hangers >.<

    1. And finally worked out the time difference between the release and where I am so I won’t have to wait as long next time! 😀 HURRAH!

  30. Rereading and just now realising we don’t even know Blindside’s gender. Wildbow wrote it so carefully I didn’t notice how little information we have about somebody Glorygirl spends half the chapter fighting.

  31. Guns…it appears in the wormverse, guns are merely flashbangs.

    I don’t recall any single parahuman dying from gunshot(except to the Path, which can use grass blades or just words, just as well as bullets-cheating cheater-), which might be author bias or simply an artefact of the N-dimensional clairvoyant copilots denying the simple forward approach, and instead requiring the host to use the powers in clever ways.

    Dragon stumbled into the foam and bypassed this problem, by allowing the shards to save face, for non-lethal and tinkermade formula. Tinker products are automatically imbued with powers and thus considered legit by shards.

    That being said, a cone or radial discharge weapon, even better if tinkermade, would likely shut down Blindside easily. I’m surprised Victoria hasn’t realized that she can’t use mundane weapons against parahumans.

    Which makes me ask, is Contessa’s gun tinkermade? It should be.

    1. Coil died by gunshot once his power got effectively negated. Taylor survived gunshots by taking them on her armor.

      The main reason why people don’t die from gunfire very often is that the Wormverse standard rules of engagement for parahumans banned lethal force; I think partially orchestrated by Caldron to preserve their numbers for the final battle. Parahumans subject to kill orders generally had the sort of power that makes guns ineffective; Jack Slash didn’t have them himself but kept Siberian around for that purpose.

      1. Not only did he have Siberian around, he also had the Bonesaw mods.

        Guns are used to good effect a few times. Besides Coil, there’s also Oni Lee being injured by a sniper and Victoria having her shield taken down by TT, letting Taylor get her bugs through. But yeah, the narrative escalated to a lot of things that guns weren’t terribly effective against. If guns were good enough to get the job done, they wouldn’t have needed to use Taylor.

        1. The Bonesaw mods may not have been enough by themselves. Remember that Cherish used her power to keep Ballistic from shooting her. And the chapter before, the Undersiders talk about *escalating* to using guns and grenades because the S9 broke the rules. So the reason guns weren’t normally used was definitely due to the rules of engagement, not due to them being ineffective.

          1. There are two things at play. When the normal rules apply, guns aren’t used because people don’t want to escalate to lethal and get a kill order or a trip to the birdcage. When the normal rules don’t apply, it’s often, though not always, the case that guns aren’t all that useful. Guns just don’t cut it against the likes of the Endbringers, Nilbog, Echidna, or Zion. There’s a relatively thin area where the rules don’t apply but the enemies are vulnerable to firearms. I think it’s rare for someone to escalate that far unless they have some serious survivability, and even rarer for them to last long. If you escalate too far, you better be able to handle the triumvirate coming for you, and they hit a lot harder than a gun.

            As for the mods, they may or may not be enough, depending on the extent of the mods. Riley takes a knife to the throat and through the eye and is not even temporarily incapacitated. Now, sure, enough small arms fire might do the trick, but a stray bullet from a 9mm isn’t going to cut it.

  32. Yeah… Everything planned things was ruined by these meddling kids in the van!.. Oh. In the bus.
    By the way, Vicky accidentally get the mustache! She was just thinking about them chapter before.

    It’s incredible awesome when Brute solves problems with the head work! Not in the Krogan way.
    In addition, it is interesting to feel from the side of the discharged force field and these periods of defenselessness. From the outside, it always seemed that the Glory Girl is truly invulnerable. Just a really good poker-face all the time? Coool.

    1. >Shock. Shake them on a sensory level.
      >Awe. Catch them on an emotional level.
      >Destroy was my usual third step. I hoped I’d held back enough. I’d wanted to disable only, but it was hard to know my own strength.

      Shock and awe and… something more. Now we saw how Vicky thinking in the tactical plan.
      Really sounds like MO of her powerset. Effectively, simply and completely similar to what she did before. This is an experience, not just improvisation.

      1. I’m curious to see if we’ll see more of this MO play out as time passes. And if it’ll play out in more nuanced forms…or how it’ll change.

        I almost feel like we should have gotten to know her more in Worm, which tells me I’m getting really invested in her character.

  33. I was surprised and pleased to see Wildbow using they/them pronouns for someone, even if it’s not necessarily their pronoun set, just the default. I know that’s a weird thing to hit me but since those are my pronouns, it always really strikes me and makes me feel quite warm inside to see them used.

  34. Loving Ward (first time following Wildbow real-time) and loving the new Victoria – especially how she’s still so much the old Victoria.

    In any other hands I’d be worried about Victoria as protag, but I trust WB too much after Worm to worry: if he’s chosen her, I know he’s got good reason!

  35. Nursery sounds interesting. Her pocket dimension sounds like more of a place for recuperating, a safe space (hence Nursery) but they used it for transportation here so I’m wondering if distance traveled in her PD is distance traveled in this one. Although the name ‘Nursery’ provokes some scary thoughts about her trigger event…

  36. Seems like Fumehood might be Moonsong from Glow worm…. well only piece that fits is where Cap sends Mercenary Capes after her.

    Assuming Cap = T_Enki and X29V5n = Lord of Loss

    The attitudes don’t seem to match up to me though. Moonsong’s tone doesn’t seem to match Fumehood.

  37. I really liked this chapter. While the previous three chapters were good, they didn’t give me the thrill I felt when I read Worm. But with this chapter, I’m starting to feel it again.

    1. Yeah, we’re starting to get back into the swing of things. I was starting to worry we had an unpowered protagonist on our hands, but thankfully those fears have been put to rest.

  38. This was definitely an interesting fight Wildbow likes to start with the heroine facing very poor odds, doesn’t he?

  39. I thought Victory was paranoid, turns out they actually did set her up. Huh. Just what kind of organization are these guys running?

  40. It would be interesting to see what agenda the kidnappers have. Since attacking reformed villains will likely cause a good part of these reformed to leave and become villains again, spiraling violence again. Is it a cycle thing? A Teacher plot?

    Also, I notice they waited untill Tattletale was out of town to attack, most likely because they fear the Simurgh ending them, like she did with the Elite. Not that anywhere would be safe if Simurgh is out to get you…

  41. Blindside is consistently referred to with they/them pronouns- a sign that they sound too androgynous to gender from their voice. But, Vicky doesn’t guess one way or the other at any point- maybe a hint that Wildbow has given us a nonbinary character? 😀

    1. Or maybe it’s part of the Stranger power. It sure would suck if you couldn’t be seen, but could be identified by your voice…

          1. On the other hand, we know that the effects of powers tend to relate to the way in which they are triggered-

            “Stranger powers are result of a trigger event involving a threat to emotional and mental security or social or collective pressure, often with a focus on unwanted attention. This attention can be from individuals, groups, or even the world itself.”

            A nonbinary person seems very likely to trigger under these conditions, and it would be quite ironic to get what they want- to not be seen as male or female- but consequently being unable to be seen at all.

            So yeah, calling it now- Blindside is nonbinary, and triggered in a situation where their gender attracted negative attention from some bigots.

  42. And the box opens!

    In the land where powers rule, you can’t escape using them. And as Victoria is forced to use them over and over again, we’ll have an opportunity to see more of the changed world. Textbook execution.

    Great Blindside fight. Really shows the way basically everyone is forced to fight smart, for even a strongest cape would be affected by the weakest of Blaster or Stranger powers. Para- is not super-, after all.

    Thank you for your writing.

  43. This this is why I need to check my email more often. I just found out that the sequel has finally started. Now for the chapter I like the way that vicky’s grown from collateral damage barbie to who she is now. I guess ending up a blob of flesh in an asylum will have you reexamine your life choices.

  44. First time commenting on a Wildbow story! Mostly to get the email subscription (no other way to get on the mailing list?)

    The Victoria POV writing is gettimg more natural and pleasant to read, at first it felt a little off, forced. I’d really like to build an emotional attatchment toho her as it happend with Taylor.
    Curious as to how this whole situation will evolve

  45. Oh man, that pun Victoria, I love it.

    I like how the nuances of Victoria’s powers are being explored (I didn’t know her field had an off switch, or that she could focus target her aura), and how she’s incorporating her powers with brawl tactics.

    I like big epic showdowns like Golden Morning and the Khepri fiasco but I’ve also got a sweet spot for nitty gritty ground level tussles y’know? There’s a bit of rawness and viscerality there that gets lost when fights get big and shiny, I think.

    I’m looking forward to see how a brute like Victoria does conflict resolution differently than a master like Taylor. Understandably, Taylor didn’t much go for the fist-to-fist brawls.

  46. “too close for the vest to hit me”
    I think this should be too close for the vest to hit them, considering Victoria is the one swinging it.

    Great chapter though, feels really good to get back to cape fights. I particularly liked the move with the gun, always interesting when capes supplement their powers with mundane tricks.

  47. Between the Lord of Loss, Crystalclear, the Wolverine wannabe, etc, it seems like visibly inhuman capes are a lot more common in this story than they were in Worm. I wonder why. Did something change with trigger events and whatnot after Zion died? Are there some Cauldron knock-offs making lots of low-grade Case 53s? Is it a quiet Doylist shift in which aspects of powers are being brought up regularly to fit better with the themes and plot of the new story?

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