Flare – 2.1

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“The Wardens are cooperating with seven major cape teams and, last I checked, ten minor teams.  We are not a monolithic entity.  We are not an authority.  We are not the bad guys, Julia.”

I rummaged through a cabinet.  My life was in boxes, from my clothes to my hair and skin stuff to my files.  If it were that alone, it would have been tolerable.  I’d tried using logic and going to the most common sense places.  Not in or among the dirty dishes, not in the various jars and vases of spoons and spatulas on the counter, not behind or under something.  I’d checked the other rooms in the apartment.

“People are worried.  You have Legend as a second in command, and memories aren’t so short that we don’t remember the Alexandria fiasco.”

I moved methodically through the kitchen, left to right, while the television played on a low volume.

“I can tell you this: all we want to do is help.  We want to find the right capes for the major crises and we want to equip the teams out there with information and resources. “

“That’s admirable, but-“

“No, wait, hold on, Julia.  You told me when you asked me to have a chat with you on camera that you wanted to have a conversation.  Let me say this.”

I looked at the little TV in the corner of the kitchen.

“…that people are going to draw on what they know to fill the blanks, when they don’t have enough information.  I understand that the closest parallel that many Americans draw to the Wardens is the PRT.  Give us time to make our impression and show how we operate,” Chevalier said.

“Would you not say there are quite a few of those blanks when it comes to your organization?” the reporter asked.

“I accepted this interview because I want to fill some of those blanks.”

“Are you an open book, then?”

My eyebrows went up.  That was dirty pool from reporter Julia.  There was no way that question wouldn’t be followed by something that Chevalier couldn’t or wouldn’t want to answer, cornering him.

“Some of those blanks,” Chevalier said, stressing the ‘some’.  “We’re still figuring things out, we’re still finding our footing and we’re negotiating a comfortable and healthy position with the public, the various teams under our umbrella, teams that aren’t under our umbrella, and the authorities.  The lack of answers and the number of blanks isn’t me being evasive or underhanded.  It’s that the Wardens and society as a whole have a lot of figuring out to do.”

He was good at what he did, and he did a lot.  I wished I was in a position to study what he was saying and how he was fielding the questions, but I had more hunting to do.

I went back to the drawers I’d already checked, pulling out the cutlery drawer enough that I could check the back, behind the tray that held the forks and knives.  I was too used to drawers having a mechanism that stopped them once they were pulled out to their limit, and I’d expected it to be longer, which led to me pulling the drawer straight out of its housing.

I only barely caught it, sticking my knee out under it and moving my hands to grab the sides.  The cutlery rattled loudly, with a few miscellaneous cheese and holiday themed knives clattering to the floor.

“…would you say about the rumors circulating around Valkyrie, then?”

I put the drawer on the countertop, collected the fallen knives, and sorted through the contents, lifting up the tray to make sure nothing had fallen beneath.  No luck.

I tried to put the drawer back, failed a few times before realizing that the construction wasn’t especially sturdy, and that the back end had pulled a bit loose.  I fixed it, then resumed trying to put it back inside the hole it was meant for.

There was the saying: affordable, nice, or safe and sane.  Pick one.  It was a chronic problem with the speed they were trying to get buildings and houses up.  Shoddy construction, rush jobs, cut corners, mistakes, and general ugliness were pretty normal.  I was hopeful that in a little while we might be able to get to a point where it was ‘pick two’ instead of ‘pick one’, but we had a ways to go.

I tried to squeeze the end together where two pieces didn’t quite meet and simultaneously push it in with my stomach.  It refused to slide in.

“What are you doing to my kitchen?”

Crystal was in the doorway, her hair a mess.  She wore an oversized t-shirt and pyjama shorts, and she still looked half asleep.

“Did I wake you?” I asked.

“Uh huh,” she said, sleepy.  “Don’t tell me you’re a morning person.  That would be a problem.”

“I’m not.  I’m a person who fell asleep early last night-”

“Almost right after eating.  Yep.  And now you’re up, showered, dressed, and you’re dismantling my kitchen.  For reasons.”

“I woke up and thought I’d keep my normal work routine while I figure out what I’m doing.”

“Renovating my kitchen?”

“I’m trying to find scissors,” I said.  “I’d settle for a sharp knife.”

Crystal smiled wide, her eyes still sleepy.  She grabbed a glass from a cabinet, and she half-walked, half-floated across the kitchen.

“Don’t laugh,” I said.

“You’re such a cliche,” she said, as she passed me on her way to the sink.  “Oh my god, Victoria.  You’re that person with super strength that trashes everything she touches.”

“Just help me,” I said.

She reached over and helped me hold the drawer together.  As it slid into the confines of the front of the counter, the framing held it together where the drawer’s own construction wouldn’t.

“I wasn’t using my super strength, for the record,” I said.

“Yeah.  I’ve done that with the drawers before, I’m just making fun of you.  It’s a funny image, to walk into the kitchen and see that.”

“Ah ha,” I said.  “Then can I make fun of you for having two big jars of spatulas, whisks, spaghetti scoops, having two food processors-”

“One was a gift.”

“-And no scissors or shears anywhere I can find?  I’d settle for a sharp knife.  You have those steak knives, but they look nice and I don’t want to use them for the wrong thing and ruin them.”

She reached across the counter to get the package of bacon, holding it up.  It was inside a hard plastic tupperware-like container with a small black and white label stuck to it.  A mark stamped on it had it sourced from another world.  Even without the mark, the pricetag might have given it away.

“Thought I’d treat you to breakfast,” I said.  “Went for a walk to get some stuff.”

Still appearing half asleep, she moved one hand, creating a deep red forcefield behind the bacon, then she produced a thin laser from her fingertip, slicing off the end of the package.

She handed the bacon to me, open end up.

“You don’t have scissors?”

She shook her head, smiling.

I sighed, picking up the bowl where I’d already mixed the dry ingredients.  “Fruit crepes, bacon on the side?”

“Sounds amazing,” she said, leaning against the counter, eyes mostly closed.

“You look beat,” I said.

“It was pretty unforgiving, being there.  I timed everything so I could unwind starting with the barbecue, and unwinding didn’t happen.”

I nodded.  “Sorry.”

“That’s not on you.”

“I’m still sorry it happened.”

“You slept okay though?”

“I slept a solid ten hours.  I just… started sleeping at six thirty or something.  Then I woke up, I started thinking, and I decided to be productive.  I’m talking to some teams today.”

“If you want me to put a good word in with my guys, I’d be happy to.”

“I don’t want to do the quasi-military cape thing,” I said.  “A little bit too intense.”

“Yeah,” Crystal said.  “I’m so physically tired, two days out, that I’m not sure I would be standing if I couldn’t fly.”

I looked down at the ground.  Her feet were barely touching the ground.

It wasn’t the physical intensity that worried me.  It was the mental and emotional cost.  It was the fact that when it came to the military and the military-like stuff, the trend was to beat the individual into shape.  Organization, conformity.

I couldn’t take much more of the harsh lessons on identity or the forced redefining of the self.

“I’m just waking up, so forgive me if I got something wrong, but did you already find a place?”

I shook my head.

“You  took the sheets off the couch.”

I looked over at the living room.  There were boxes stacked around, and only half were mine.

“You said you might have friends over at some point, I thought it’d be weird if you had to navigate around my stuff, so I moved it out of the way.”

“Okay,” she said.  She paused.  “I’m tired, so I want to make sure I say this right.”

I went to the fridge to get the fruit stuff I’d already prepared.

“I don’t care,” she said.  “First of all, I know I have a lot of stuff.  You know I have a lot of stuff.”

I looked at the stuff around the kitchen and adjacent living room.  It was a bit messy, to the point counter space and table space was occupied.

“Just- I really don’t care if you add your stuff to it.  I like my places feeling lived in.  Some of the stuff is a friend’s, and they’ll take it when they get set up.  Some is mom and dad’s.  Some is yours, and that’s fine.  That leads me to my second point.  I want you to be here.  I want you to feel comfortable.”

“Thank you.”

“I know my couch isn’t much, but you need a place that you can kick your shoes off and leave them where they are.”

I might have mentioned that I wasn’t quite that personality type, but I held my tongue.  I understood the sentiment, what she wanted.

“I want you to have a place that’s yours, Vic.”

“I’ll start by asking this: why not be independent?”

Foresight had a strong aesthetic running through their costumes.  Primary among those things was a mask or helmet design where each of the members of the team lacked eyeholes.  Helmets with opaque visors, masks without eyes.  The aesthetic involved lots of paneled body armor and loose fabric elsewhere, with iconography worked into the panels.  It made me think of ninjas from movies, with the mix of lightweight costumes and armor, but without the Eastern style.

Their team symbol was a stylized eye, sans pupil, with a wildly exaggerated ‘4’ struck out in bold lines that extended well past the curved lines of the eye.

I was wearing my best civilian clothes.  I’d opted to leave the mask off.  I sat in a chair.  Two of them sat in chairs in the office, and another two stood at the side.

I gave my answer.  “If I’m being entirely honest, independent doesn’t pay unless you’re really good.  At the risk of sounding arrogant, in another time and place, I think I could scrape by because I do have that experience, I have the knowledge, and I can hold my own.”

“You don’t think you could do it now?” Countenance asked.  He was the second in command and the highest ranking team member in the room.  His outfit was heavier and draped more than the others, both in how the cloth hung loose and how the armor panels were connected so they dangled from the piece above.  The Foresight icon was in the center of his mask, like a cyclopean eye.

“I know who Foresight is and how you operate,” I said.  “I know you want to move forward, you’re interested in helping the little guys, tackling the right issues, and take decisive, needed action in a calculated, smart way.”

“You read our webpage.”

“I’ve been following Foresight since it started,” I said.  “Whatever answer  you give me today, I’ll be following you guys from here on out, because I think it’s important to know the lay of the land.  Which goes back to what I was saying.  Being calculated, being smart.  I’ve been watching and researching you guys, and I’m sure you have the mentality where, from the time I reached out about an interview, you were looking me up and asking questions.  Which means you heard about the incident at the Norfair community center.”

“Yes.  We talked to your reference about it.  I imagine he talked to you?”

“He didn’t, but he’s busy and this interview happened on short notice,” I said.  “Everything that unfolded there and a lot of what I see elsewhere, it suggests that it would be really hard to make it as an independent.  Too many want to blame parahumans for what happened, and both independents and fledgling teams are easily targeted.  Established teams absorb and diffuse that impact.  That aside, being part of a team, cooperating, having the information and sharing that information, it’s too crucial.  That’s why I’m not going independent, given the chance.  I want to help build something.”

Countenance nodded.  He reached over to his friend, who handed over the paperwork he’d been reading.  He looked down.  “Your reference sang your praises.”

“He’s a great guy.  I really respect what he’s trying to do with something as tricky as the patrol block.”

“Our problem, when it comes to assessing any candidate, is that each person we add to our teams is added strength, added power, but they’re also a possible set of complications.  It forces us to strike a balance.  We’re smaller than many of our peers because we’re selective.  We want to make sure anyone we add will be a good fit, with minimal complications.”

“I reached out to Foresight first, to you, because I like how you do things.  It’s what and who I want to be.”

“Then my next question to you would be what you think is going to happen next,” Countenance said.

“What I think is going to happen?  I think trouble is incoming.  We see hints of it, the out-of-control triggers, we hear about some scary monsters and then the big names go and try to handle it, then we have other circumstances where the big names are running off to go handle things that they don’t tell anyone about.  I think those situations might be worse than the monsters.  So far, Gimel is untouched by the worst of it.  We’ve been on top of things.  But sooner or later, something is going to hit us that we aren’t prepared for and can’t neatly handle.”

“What do you think happens then?”

“I think it depends a lot on us having the right information and tools.”

Beside Countenance, Anelace was nodding.  Anelace was a young guy, his costume the opposite of Countenance’s in how it was tighter-fitting, his mask bearing a dark gray dagger illustration on the right side of the white surface in the same exaggerated style the ‘4’ was drawn on the emblem on his chest.  The knotted area where hilt, blade, and the two prongs of the guard all met was located where one of his eyes would be.

“You said you know how we operate?”

“Support work with the megalopolis and police, patrols and events for the day to day.  Several times a week you make calculated, strategic strikes on priority targets.  It’s like what the Wardens are doing with the big, scary threats, but you’re more city-focused than whatever’s going on outside of Gimel.  A lot of your members go on to work with them, which is why you have openings.”

“She does her research,” Anelace said.

“She does,” Countenance said.  He said it in a way that suggested he was admitting it, almost reluctant.

My heart sank.

I looked over my shoulder.  The two at the side of the room were Effervescent and Relay.

Effervescent was an emotion manipulator with an emphasis on stunning people.  Relay was capable of some complex moves with teleportation I wasn’t sure I had a grasp on, most of which seemed to amount to them teleporting to where others were, shunting that person to a random position elsewhere, and he also had some ability to communicate without words, both sending and receiving.

“Can I ask?” I asked.

“Ask?” Countenance asked me.

I indicated the pair.  “I get the impression they’re communicating something to you, and you sound like you’re winding up to tell me no.  Both took some shifts at the portals, watching the refugees as they came in to make sure there was no trouble, which makes me think they’re thinkers, they read people, and they’re reading me.”

Countenance turned his head to fix the cyclopean, drawn eye on the pair.

“I can’t get a consistent read on you emotionally,” Effervescent said.  “It’s repressed.”

“My long-time boyfriend was an emotion manipulator.  He had a hard time getting a read on me too,” I said.

“I’m better than most when it comes to getting reads,” Effervescent said.  “No offense, but it’s what isn’t as repressed that concerns me.”

“Enough you’d say no,” Countenance said.

Effervescent nodded.

“Relay?”

“My read was fine.  Minimal secondary noise.”

“Sorry,” Countenance said.  “For reading you without permission.  It’d be a point in your favor that you caught on, but-”

“But you have to put stock in what the others say.  No hard feelings,” I said.  I made myself smile as I stood from my seat.  Countenance stood too.  He shook my hand.  “I’ll see you around, I hope we can work together then.”

“I hope so too.  Good luck,” Countenance said.

“Let me get the door for you,” Anelace said.  He jumped to his feet and opened the door for me.  His voice was quiet as he said.  “Sorry to see you go.”

The thinkers would have noticed that.

I wondered what Effervescent and Relay would be reporting about my emotional state as I left.

“Mrs. Dallon?”

I stood from my seat in the waiting room.

The cape had a costume that looked like a suit, metallic silver fabric, with a black dress shirt underneath.  His mask consisted of two panels that met and ran down the center of his face, creating an almost beak-like profile with how the two sides swept along the sides of his face and back.   Not bird-like, but as if his entire head was the beak.  The hair I could make out above the ‘v’ where the mask parted was longer and heavily styled.

It reminded me of the Ambassadors from Boston, but I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have worn suits as ostentatious as this, nor such a dramatic full-face mask.

“You didn’t come in costume?” he asked.  He sounded surprised.

“I’m pre-identity adjustment,” I said, caught in trying to find my footing with my rehearsed explanation as I simultaneously crossed to where he was to shake his hand.  “Moving on from the identity and methodology I had as a teenage heroine.  I’m a blank slate, and there’s a lot of room to adjust my brand moving forward.”

“Are you ex-Protectorate?” he asked.  “I might have missed that if it was in your application.”

“No.  Ex-Ward, but only very briefly.”

“I only ask because you went straight to the term ‘brand’.  I’m used to hearing it from people who were in the PRT and people from other corporate teams.  I know I read your file and there was no mention of a corporate background.  I’m Lark.  You’ll meet Dido soon, all going well.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Lark.”

“My office is this way, if you’ll join me,” he said.  He briefly touched the small of my back to guide me in the direction his other hand was indicating.

I was bothered by the contact.  Unsolicited touching, the presumed closeness, and the fact it was a hot day, my back was damp from the walk and he would have felt that.

It was such an unnecessary thing and it made both of us uncomfortable.

“Brockton Bay,” he said.

“Yes.  From birth to Endbringer and immediate aftermath.”

“A mom and pop small town team?”

“Aunt and uncle and cousins too,” I said.  “Extended family.  They passed the fifteen year mark with just donations and small events.  I think that counts for something.”

“It’s better than what Dido and I have managed, but give us time.  We have five parahumans on the team, and we’re already in the black when it comes to the business end of things.”

“I spent most of my childhood watching my mom balance the books, I did the events, the photoshoots, the merchandising as a PRT-acknowledged team.  I have something of a sense of what you’re probably going for.”

“Ah, the merchandising.  I think I have your PRT trading card from that time period in a binder in my office.”

I smiled.  “Which one?  I had one that was holographic, which you could swipe through the controller for the video game to have me as a polygon-rendered helper, and the higher quality one that had the bio on the back.”

“I think it was the second one.  My office is through this door.”

I took a seat opposite the glass-top desk while he closed the door.  He undid the button in his suit jacket before sitting down.

“Typically those of us at Auzure like to work with new parahumans,” he said.  “They’re easier to brand.  When we work with capes with a history, we like that history to be a strong one.”

“I think you get the best of both worlds with me,” I said.  “Most people assumed I was dead when everything happened in Brockton Bay, and nobody corrected that misunderstanding.  If you do dig up information about me, a lot of it is strong.”

“I think that’s where we run into problems,” he said.  “A lot of your history and presence is tied into your family’s group identity.  ‘Glory Girl’ isn’t famous beyond a certain range.  Hometown heroine, yes, with some people in Boston and New York who might know of you, but not famous.”

“Then consider me new.  Untainted by the past.”

“I would, but we use things we term perception turns, or just turns.”

“I know the term,” I said.

“I like that you do.  Branding, turns.  You do seem to know what you’re getting into here.  When we’re tracking someone’s marketability, we map out the turns.  You’re fine, nothing exceptional, for most of your career, with an upturn if you count your disappearance, after the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

I took a deep breath, then nodded.

“But if we include your family, there’s a lot of baggage.”

“You could say that,” I said.

“Downturn, death of Fleur.  Downturn, times when New Wave was subsisting, but not in the eyes of the media.”

“Four adolescents and two couples, there were weeks where school or work took priority.  That got better as my cousins and I got older.”

“Cousins… and your sister?” he asked.

I felt the shock like it was cold water.

He continued, “I think if it were up to the turns and the background alone, it would have to be a no.  At the time you should have been drawing the most attention, given your age and potential, you… died, as you put it.  You were gone for the two years before Gold Morning.”

“Yes,” I said.

“We’re offering cape services for the reconstruction, with Spell offering some massive assistance with the argriculture.  It’s a big part of what’s driving us to the front pages, giving us some upturn in the most general sense, for public perception.  What we really want is the human angle, something where we could have an attractive young lady like yourself in a photo op, or your sister-”

“No,” I said.

“Her and the right person in a photograph?  If you two paired up, Auzure could make you big.”

I winced, and I stood from my seat.

“Victoria?”

They hadn’t accepted the interview to get me for me.  I was just a stepping stone to the person they really wanted.

“Thank you for your time,” I said.

I managed to restrain myself from slamming the door on the way out.

“Thanks for meeting us out here,” Whorl said.  He didn’t shake my hand, but instead reached out to clasp my wrist.  I clasped his.

“Not a problem,” I said.  I looked up at the structure that had been erected around the portal.  It cast a shadow.  “It’s nice to be in the shade, with a decent breeze.”

Whorl wore a blue mask with a white border around the eyes and outermost edge, and his costume was a ‘preppy’ bodysuit, complete with a folded collar, like a polo shirt, a narrow belt, and leggings.  His icon was large on his chest, a circle with angled spokes at the edges.  He had an armband with the gold morning symbol on it, but the colors were the blue and white of his costume.

He grinned, showing off white teeth.  “You should have been here at noon.  It was brutal.”

“The people weren’t too irritable, with the heat?”

All around us, people were coming through the portal, forming lines.  There were buildings to the left and right of the street that people were heading into, to get the instructions and things necessary to start their lives in Gimel.

“I think they were happy for it,” Whorl said. “I’ve been going back and forth, and it’s miserable on the other side.”

“I just realized I got us started on a conversation about the weather,” I said.

“I’m kind of a weather manipulator, not really, but it’s fun to say.  Talking about the weather happens more than you’d think, when it comes to me,” he said.

Again, that smile with those very white teeth.

“I read up on you online,” I said.

“Ah, did you?  Should I be flattered or worried that I’ve been stalked?”

I was reminded of the segment on television, the reporter trying to corner Chevalier by getting him to claim a certain attitude.

“It’s not stalking,” I said.  “I’m doing my homework, is all.”

I had to admit, the preppy look with the wide shoulders, narrow waist, clean cut and nicely taken care of, it appealed to me, and it had always.  Not that I was even remotely thinking of actually moving forward with a relationship.

“I’m probably going to have to duck out and handle some minor crisis or another, but stick around and don’t disappear on me, we’ll find the time and figure out if we can place you with the Attendant.”

“That’d be great.”

“If I get caught up in something, find one of the others.  Chat with them, they’ll tell you what they think of the team.”

There were a few other capes distributed across the crowd.  It was interesting how people seemed so keen on them, even approaching them, happy to see them.  The sentiment of blame hadn’t gripped the refugees here.

A teenager with a moon design on her mask and dress-like costume.

I saw a humanoid mech the size of a car, with a glass tank for the ‘body’, something large and fishlike within the tank.   The mech sat on its ass, feet sticking out, and children were crowding around to tap the glass and climb on the feet.  The tinker, as I took it, was the one sitting on the suit’s shoulder.  Another cape was standing on the end of a rod, three stories above the ground, the end of the rod stuck into the side of the building.  He looked stern as he looked down at the scene, his arms folded, until someone waved up at him and he waved back.

“Is that the whole team?”

“Not even close.   With the teams merging, we’re taking on a lot of others.  We’ll be breaking up into three sub-teams later, but all with the same name and brand.”

“I don’t know if I’m hurting my chances saying this, but I’m kind of crossing my fingers you guys are going with the Shepherd’s name and brand, but the Attendant’s approach.”

Whorl smiled again.  “We might be.”

“I like the approach,” I said.

“How do you interpret it?”

“Giving people security.  Moving slowly, with measured steps, informed by the lessons of the past.  You guys seem pretty focused on taking and holding territories, improving neighborhoods.  After what happened at the Norfair community center, I think giving people time to get used to capes again is key.”

“I think it might be,” Whorl said.

Above, the cape that was standing on the end of the horizontal pole whistled.  As we looked up, he pointed.

“That’s my cue,” Whorl said.  “No pun intended.  I’ll be right back.”

Whorl headed toward the building that the people were filing out of, moving at a light jog, with a fog-like nimbus building at his shoulders and arms.

I looked at the various capes, debating my options.  I worried that flying up to say hello to the one at the end of the pole would spook him and make him fall from his roost, and I wasn’t that keen on flying.

That left two options.  The tinker or the teenage girl with the moon iconography.

I made my way toward the girl, because she had less people around her.  The crowd was a bit of a tide I had to work against.

“Stuck?” I heard a voice.

I turned my head.  It was a man with tattoos, a cleft chin and eyes that looked like he was perpetually squinting, even in the shade of the gate that housed the Bet-Gimel portal.  He was talking to a couple.

“It’s a big decision.  We’re not farmers.”

“It’s hard, getting started again,” the guy with the tattoos said.  “The tent cities are rough, while you wait for an available apartment.  You can work your ass off, earn fake ‘dollars’ that might not have value in a few weeks or months, you sweat, you hurt, and everyone around you is doing the same.  Stinks, when everyone’s working that hard and getting only a few minutes to shower.”

“We’ve heard of things like that.”

“If you want another option, we’ve got a settlement at Canaan.  Small city, even.  Or a big town.  We’ve got extra rooms, food, and dangerously strong alcohol.  We’re still trying to figure that out.”

I heard the rustle of papers.

“Canaan?” I asked.

“Yes.  Have you been?”

“I’ve heard stories,” I said.  I turned to the couple, “I’m ninety percent sure the Canaan area is Fallen territory.  Outskirts of the megalopolis.”

“We’re not really holding fast to all of that anymore,” the guy with the tattoos said.  “We said the world would end, we tried to draw attention to it, the world ended, we were right.  Now we make the best of things.”

“That seems like a pretty skewed take,” I said.

He rolled his eyes as he looked away from me.  He turned back to the couple.  “You have the directions.  Easy to catch a bus to New Haven, catch another bus to the Hartford Stretch.  Go to the address, we almost always have someone with a ride waiting there for the buses, to drive you into Canaan.  The hard work has been done, it’s easier, it’s more fun, and there’s actual community.  It’s one of the things that’s strangely missing from most parts in this city.  You’ll notice that.”

“Maybe,” the guy from the couple said.  “I’ll keep this.”

“McVeay, Crowley, or Mathers?” I asked.

The guy shot me an annoyed look.  “What?”

“Which family branch were or are you?”  I asked.  I turned to the couple.  “Three branches, each loosely themed after one of the Endbringers.  There was a nascent fourth in twenty-thirteen that was based on one or all of the other three, but I missed the memo on that.”

“Crowley,” the guy said.  “We were the jackasses.”

“McVeays were the ultra-religious, more violent ones, loosely themed after Behemoth,” I said.  “Mathers were the ones themed after the Simurgh.  They’re still around too, they did a lot of the kidnappings of kids and capes, with intent to force marriages.  Then you have the Crowleys, who were a little bit more than jackasses.  Stirring panic, scaring people, violence.”

“To draw attention to the imminent end of the world,” the guy with the tattoos said.  “Do you want us to apologize for trying to get people’s attention and failing?  Or should we not have tried?  We were right.

“Is there a problem?”

A woman’s voice.  I thought it was the girl with the moons on her costume.  It wasn’t.  Another woman with tattoos, with friends.  One of the tattoos was of a bat-winged schlong.  Another was of a cartoon character I didn’t recognize getting spit-roasted, in the metal pole, open fire sense.

She had others, but I couldn’t see enough of them to tell what they were.  I could guess they were similarly tasteful.  Her top was tied at the sternum, exposing ribs and stomach.

“Just a bit of one,” I said.  “You guys are openly recruiting from this crowd here?”

“Recruiting is an strange way to put it,” the guy with the tattoos said.

I looked at the couple.  “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Free rent, free food, drinks, company?”

“Cheap rent,” the woman with the tattoos said.  “A lot of people stay just long enough to make some extra money while commuting to Hartford and paying rent to us.”

“All we ask is that people who decide to go make sure to tell people that hey, we aren’t assholes,” the tattooed guy said.

“We aren’t assholes!” the burly guys who were keeping the woman company cheered in near-unison.

“Which Crowley is in charge?” I asked.

“Hey, bitch,” the woman said.  “Just move on.  Fuck off.”

The cheering had drawn attention.  The teenage girl with the moons on her costume approached, ducking beneath one of the burly guy’s arms.  She spotted me, saw that last exchange, and drew close to me, putting one hand on my shoulder.

“You’re the one Whorl was talking to?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Take it from me, it’s not worth it.  Come on.”

The guy with the tattoos smirked.

“You know they’re recruiting here, right?” I asked.

“We know,” she said.  “We’ve drawn attention to it.  We were told to keep out of it, so long as they behave.”

She put pressure on my shoulder, urging me to move.  I took one step back.

I didn’t want to let this go.  I would have more regrets if I walked away.

“Which Crowley?” I asked.  “There were three brothers and one sister, last I heard.”

“Doesn’t matter,” the tattooed guy said.

“Eldest brother was a murderer, got ousted from the family for that, back in twenty-eleven, when the Fallen were still minor.  But around the time their numbers swelled in twenty-twelve, early twenty-thirteen, he got accepted back, head of the Crowley branch.  He killed two of his own family members after that.  I think that matters a lot, since if he’s in charge, you can’t really call yourselves mere jackasses.”

“Not him.”

There were a few more faces appearing in the crowd.  Unfriendly.

The girl with the moon design leaned in close, murmuring in my ear, “They have someone with powers in the crowd.  They send people out to fish for recruits, and if there’s trouble, they have these reinforcements summoned into the middle of the crowd and they’ll shout you down.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Middle brother and the sister were pretty skeevy too.  They didn’t kidnap anyone directly, but they networked with the other families, gave shelter to some McVeays who needed to duck the attention of the law, and they traded a few of their family members for some of the kidnapped minors and capes the Mathers family had.  I’d be concerned about going to that camp.”

“The little brother,” the guy with the tattoos said.

“The party animal,” I said.

“That’s what we’re about!” were the shouts.  There was more of a raucous response from the other reinforcements.  Cries and shouts of ‘party’.  People throughout the crowd were looking.

“He’ll try to steal your girlfriend before he makes you welcome!” I had to raise my voice to be heard.  The people who were pushing forward made it harder for me to see the couple.  “It’s not worth it.  You can look him up at a library.  Jake Crowley!  Four wives, all half his age!”

There were shouts and bellows of denial, a few swears directed my way.  One ‘cunt’, from someone close enough to have punched me if he’d felt the desire.

“Throw away the paper,” I called out.  “It’s not worth it!”

With the press of bodies, I didn’t see the paper get thrown away.  But I saw the guy hugging his girlfriend closer, I saw the fractional nod.

That was all I got.  The moon girl pushed me harder, and I allowed myself to be pushed this time.

I walked backward out of the crowd, looking at the group.  They were still making a lot of noise.

Whorl was waiting for me as I made my exit from the thicker part of the crowd.  The mech tinker was standing on the head of his suit, now, and the suit was standing too, which gave him a decent vantage point overlooking everything.

“It’s going to take an hour before they settle down,” Whorl said.  “What was that about?”

“Fallen recruiters,” I said.

“I know that much.”

“I wanted to make sure the people they were talking to knew,” I said.  “Told them who the family was, how they operated, who the leader was.”

“You think they listened?” Moon girl asked.

“They might have,” I said.  “I didn’t get the impression I was going to start a riot, so I thought I’d be okay trying.”

“Nah,” Whorl said, “Your impression was fine.  No riot.  They know to keep their hands to themselves, and just to be loud.  They stick to the rules so they can keep coming back.  We were told to let them, which sucks, but we have to work with the authorities.”

“I told her that,” Moon girl said.  “That we were supposed to leave it be.”

“Before or after she stirred them up?”

“Before,” I answered for her.  “I knew, I went ahead anyway.”

Whorl frowned.

“I knew it would probably cost me my spot on the team,” I said.

Whorl nodded slowly.

“But if it stops one person from going over to that town of theirs… I guess it’s worth it.”

“It might have worked,” Whorl said, “But they’ve got the reinforcements, they’ll double down.  They’ll try harder, make up for it.”

“You guys are all about learning from the mistakes of the past,” I said.  “Paying respect to the casualties.  You have to know they can’t be allowed to get a foothold.  They’re too monstrous, and the people they’re going after are too vulnerable.”

“They have a foothold already,” he said.  “We’re the guys who failed to stop the end of the world, and they’re the ones who were right about it.  To some people that’s all that matters.  It doesn’t matter that they’re scumbags or that they’re dangerous.  Not everyone, but even one out of every thirty is a lot.”

“We should go calm things down,” Moon girl said.

“Yeah,” Whorl said.  “Distract the people from the tattooed hooligans.”

“Good luck with that,” I said.

“Take care, Victoria.  Keep fighting the good fight, whatever you end up doing.”

I gave him a two finger salute.

I braced myself, both in balance and emotionally, then took to the air, moving slowly.  I raised myself up to the same level as the guy at the end of the pole, staying within his field of vision so I wouldn’t surprise him.

They were using the powers to teleport people in.  I couldn’t see where the fade-in happened or where the teleportation destination was, but as the crowd shuffled, there were more of the people with tattoos, trashy people, and people that didn’t look like refugees.

The guy on the end of the pole pointed.  I moved closer to him, and followed the line of his arm and finger to see.

A man with a daughter, sitting on a blanket at the base of a fence.

“The girl or the man?” I asked.

“The man.  He’s the one bringing them in.  Keeps the kid close as a shield, in case someone catches on.  Different kids, some days.”

I nodded.

“I think every day of going over there and taking him out of the picture.  Letting him know I know.”

“Wouldn’t be worth it,” I said.

The noises of the crowd of Fallen increased, a fresh chant.  Heads were turning and people were smiling, because they didn’t know, and positivity and high energy meant a lot when they were as tired and despondent as they were.  Some would have spent a long time waiting for their chance to come through.

A dangerous and vulnerable thing, to have no place to go.

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133 thoughts on “Flare – 2.1”

    1. Depends on how well she’d work with the rest of the team. She tends to do things her own way, and Foresight seems to stress teamwork. If she fit at all, she’d be a frighteningly good fit, though.

    1. Or Mads only showed up as bookends. Mads was the first character introduced in worm (IIRC). Being the last character in Worm would make a nice bookends (and the prologue doubles as an epilogue to Worm as well, since it is on both sites).

      1. They got the trouble to mention that she was planning to become a teacher; more importantly Glow Worm is meant to be a preview to the story proper. Devoting an entire section to the Madison Vicky conversation seems wasteful if it never comes up again

        1. Madison wasn’t the important side of the conversation. The conversation gave us a preview of Victoria’s character, and more context we can use to understand her thoughts and actions in Ward was.

          Madison was a bonus. She was the only one of Taylor’s named bullies who hadn’t had any insight into her character, or a conclusion to her story. So Wildbow gave her regret, and used the conversation to show something of Victoria.

          As a bonus, it gave her story a conclusion, with her trying to move onward as a better person. She had no reason to appear in Ward in the first place, and with her loose end from Worm tied, her story, and her role in the story around her, is complete.

  1. I remain curious as to what the Thinkers saw in Victoria, though of course I have some guesses.

    The interaction with Whorl’s group, and the way it ended, rather tugged at my heartstrings. Good job!

    A dangerous and vulnerable thing, to have no place to go.

    Well. Yeah.

    Come on, introspect, Vicky!!

    1. I love Wildbow’s talent for tying things together with single lines. It’s powerful and really, really effective, just makes you go “aha…” in a really satisfied way as everything clicks.

  2. Interesting to see how the Fallen are rebranding. Sucks that they’re still around though. Sorry you lost your chance at a job, Victoria. Maybe you can start a *new* team.

    1. I’m not at all surprised the Fallen are around. They are a cult, and cults love to be able to prey on those who are desperate and have no where to go.

    2. Someone needs to rebrand the Fallen in a negative light. Start a bunch of rumors that the Fallen sided with Scion during Golden Morning. It’s not unbelievable, and enough people hate he Fallen to go along with that rumor.

    1. My guess is it makes everyone know he’s way to scary to mess with. Also able to sleep large amounts of time without ill effects like dehydration, starvation or bed sores.

    2. One of the funniest theories I saw back in Worm was that Sleeper’s power was that anyone who observed him by any means became convinced he was terrifyingly powerful. The PRT gets called in, and confirm that yes, this guy has got to be at least S-Class threat, because they’re affected too. After a few weeks of satellite surveillance show him mostly reading books and napping, he is tentatively dubbed “Sleeper”. Come the apocalypse, he notices the world going to hell, gets up, and strolls through the nearest portal, at which point the people on the other side flee back into the Zion besieged world to escape this terrifying monster, and he grabs a good book and goes back to sleep.

  3. If this pattern of Victoria not getting accepted by the superhero teams continues, she’s gonna need to come up with a new tactic. She’s already said she can’t go solo, so maybe she forms a team of her own? I’m sure there are still plenty of capes trying to find a team to join, she just has to find a few that would work well with her. If she went this route, she would probably need to recruit some new faces, as all the capes we know probably have their own things going on.

      1. I’m thinking she’s gonna meet up with someone from the psych ward when she goes to meet the Yamada’s reference after everyone shut her down.

        I also get that Vic probably doesn’t want to be involved in that sort of thing too much, but it sounds like the Wardens would be more likely to let her join.

        1. Yeah, I’m thinking she and the prologue chat group will hook up. The Wardens would take her, and maybe the group Crystal is with, but those aren’t where she wants to be. And I think she’ll sympathize with Sveta, who apparently the Wardens didn’t want.

          1. In fairness, it’s probably not easy to work a plant monster with a nasty tendency of accidentally strangling people into patrol cycles or PR campaigns.

            Full disclaimer, Sveta is one of my favorite characters, along with Weld.

    1. I feel like she will probably team ul with some of the people from the prologue chats. I think of5’s trigger group will be important.

      At some point the group from Interlude 1 will show up, but probably not as direct villains/antagonists.

  4. TYPO THREAD:

    Too many want to blame ppomarahumans for what happened, and both independents and fledgling teams are easily targeted. – s/ppomarahumans/parahumans

    Mrs. Dallon – s/Mrs/Ms

    “We’re offering cape services for the reconstruction, with Spell offering some massive assistance with the argriculture. – s/argriculture/agriculture

    1. “That’s admirable, but-“

      Ending quotation mark is the wrong way

      information and resources. “

      Ending quotation mark is the wrong way, extra space after period.

      “I’d settle for a sharp knife.”

      She says this twice, pretty close together. Not really a typo, and it might be intentional, but it’s a little weird.

    2. It’s not exactly a typo, but I would definitely recommend rephrasing:

      “I have him a two fingered salute.”
      >> a casual salute

      A “two-fingered salute” is slang for an offensive gesture.

      1. Actually, that could just be taken literally. I’ve seen plenty of people give a straight salute only using two fingers. It’s generally a little sarcastic, but often just a mini-salute, with two fingers and a flick of the wrist, rather than the whole hand and moving the entire arm.

    3. “Recruiting is an strange way to put it,” the guy with the tattoos said.

      There’s “an” where “a” should be.

  5. I’ve got slightly mixed feelings on Victoria’s initial reaction to Amy being brought up. In my experience, there’s a difference between being caught off guard by something you thought about by accident, and something that someone else brings up and forces you to confront. Like I’d said earlier, I’m a lower severity case, but when someone accidentally brought up something that triggered flashbacks, I would generally shut down emotionally for a while, and force my thoughts away from the subject until I was somewhere I could safely break down. My initial reaction was always a temporary numbness, followed by anxiety and flashbacks. It could be that someone who has it worse than I wouldn’t be able to push away the thoughts temporarily as I could. I don’t know. The reaction where she’s able to be hurt by the recruiter using her to get to Amy and simultaneously being triggered by Amy being brought up seems a bit off to me, all the same. Then again, I was never in a situation exactly like that, where I had two warring emotional reactions. It could be I’m not characteristic, it could be that PTSD is more varied than my experience, or it could just be that two distinct personalities will handle the input in two different ways.

    1. I think it’s just different personalities, in this case. Victoria has already shown she’s really good at repressing things in the moment, including being affected by the emotions she’s repressing, and she might be already mentally prepared to soldier through any emotions that get brought up long enough to get through a professional situation like these job interviews.

  6. This is a thought I have had for a while and with the Fallen being featured today it is a good time.

    Is Eminem a member of The Fallen?

    Marshall Mathers could fit in the Simurgh group, and had enough trauma in his life to force a trigger.

    1. Personally, I hope not. Well, let me rephrase, I hope she’s not THE leader. The main one. It’d feel too similarly to Taylor.

      1. Depends on the style of leadership. Skitter was never *the* leader; Tattletale always handled much of the organizational side of things, with either Skitter or Grue handling field command. And in terms of personnel issues, it was less of a formal chain of command and more the members being split into the adults (Skitter, Grue, Tattletale), and the kids (Regent, Imp). (Bitch didn’t really fit into either group in that metaphor; her dynamic was more Alpha (Skitter, eventually) and Pack (others).) So I think that seeing Victoria assemble and lead a more traditionally structured team would be an angle we haven’t seen before.

  7. Jeez, the unpowered Fallen are just as much fun as the capes. Looks like they’ll be a pretty major antagonist in Ward. Teacher’s got to become a problem at some point, with the type of things he pulls. And these mysterious threats in the vein of Echidna that the Wardens refuse to talk about? Even without Scion, the Endbringers, and the S9 the Wormverse is one scary place. Victoria should have plenty of challenges to face.

    1. Dragon, Defiant, and to a lesser extent Tattletale were all after Teacher the last we heard of him. That doesn’t give him the best odds of still being alive and free two years later.

      1. I don’t know about that… Teacher isn’t as smart as he thinks he is but he isn’t dumb either. He has a powerful and versatile power and last we heard Contessa was working with him. If Teacher was smart enough to lay low then he and his group could probably survive a long time.

        1. If he has Contessa’s help he’s pretty much guarenteed to survive for as long as Contessa thinks him useful.

        2. Honestly, Contessa could just be pulling her perfect manipulation trick on teacher.

          Without scion, her path to victory can be a lot clearer.

  8. Ahhhhh! So excited after seeing the OG Chevalier’s name dropped.

    Seeing the dynamic between Crystal and Victoria was really neat, especially since we know next to nothing about Crystal beyond her powers.

    The Fallen growing in strength is… really concerning.

    And those are all my thoughts.

  9. Great chapter, can’t wait until we meet the other ‘main characters’ of her team. Some hopes:
    1) They all have dope names
    2) Completely different from the Undersiders, hopefully more A listers in the power department
    3) and probably the dude/chick ratio be more even. Undersides had only two guys in comparison to four-six chicks. Six including Parian and Foil

    Still, hella psyched for what Wildbow brings to the table!

    1. P.S still holding on hopes that Weld can be a main character. He’s such a genuinely likable guy, and really awesome powers.

    2. Originally, more women than men on Earth Bet had Trigger events according to Wildbow, hence the skewed ratio. Now that undirected trigger events are happening, maybe we will see a different balance.

  10. I dunno what it is, but something about the cape on the end of the pole stuck out to me. Maybe because like Victoria, he would like to do something but can’t? That has potential to be a really good set up for introducing a prominent character

  11. That was a short chapter. I can’t wait until Tuesday! I really want to see Victoria on some kind of team, perhaps one that forms before anybody realizes, that forms organically without any one person’s input. For Victoria to suddenly find herself at the center of a new team, not knowing how she got there? It might just help her to heal, just a little bit.

  12. I like Victoria. She feels like a real person.

    It’s quite an exceptional thing, how from the start you get a strong feeling of who she is and how she thinks and it only gets stronger as the chapters progress. I was shocked, positively, on how much of an instant connection to her I got from just the first few chapters.

    It’s a really rare feat. I’m usually someone who takes time to get attached to characters and tend to look at works a bit detachedly in general.

    But in the case of the story of Victoria Dallon, it felt like home from the start.

    I hardly ever pop into these comment threads but I was supposed to write a post like this at the end of the previous arc to praise the writing, yet got distracted and that never happened. Luckily this new chapter kept the trend going strong and rekindled the desire to post.

    Everything in the construction of it all feels so… considered and thus real. It feels like a lot of though went into this.

    Anyway, that’s it from me. Nothing insightful, just some random but well earned praise. Keep up the good work and I’ll keep reading your stuff for the years to come.

    1. This is one of the great strengths of the Wormverse. He’s written from the perspective of almost every character, and Victoria was originally intended to BE the main character (or one of the two), at least at some point in the writing process. So all the characters have rich characterization beyond almost any other work of literature, due to the immense amount of effort (often behind the scenes and never published) that has gone into developing it.

      1. or the consideration that WAS the scenes. I mean, one of the themes being pushed so far is how this could all go so horribly wrong, and maybe the protagonist’s main internal conflict is emotional fuckery with bio-god lady(a checkhov’s gun we’ve had our eye drawn to in almost every chapter). Someone remind me; where was the author’s last story set?

  13. During the conversation GG says “I know how you operate” in response to a question… Then a few paragraphs later one of them says “You know how we operate?”

    It works, but it makes it feel like the foresight character isnt paying attention.

  14. Imagining Fallen members interrupted halfway through cooking breakfast when they get called in for instant mob of hooligans duty.

    1. And then, the remaining few find the food is ruined by bugs as the new inheritor of Skitters shard begins their attack….

      I mean, it’s not like Taylor is using it….

        1. Yes and no. If I understand correctly, shards can be inherited like that (typically by budding or after the original dies), but it probably wouldn’t be bug control. Like that orphan kid who got influence over birds. So someone could potentially inherit the Queen Administrator shard now that Taylor no longer has it (assuming that’s how she was depowered), but probably couldn’t launch a bug attack on the Fallen.

    2. Unnngh!

      “Rick, we need you.”

      Bad timing, Basil. I’m kinda busy.

      “No, it’s serious. We got a major morale problem here. We need someone to make some noise and rock them like a hurricane.”

      I’m in the wrong position to help with that. HNNNNNNN!

      “Too late, teleportin’!”

      No… shit. Hi folks, never seen a fallen with constipation before? Well get a good look. Come on, everybody laugh while you can. Fuckin’ Basil and his morale problems, I’ll morale your mother…

    1. I had a couple guesses. I liked Guardian Angel, but I don’t think she’s vain enough for that. I just thought it worked well with her power set and role as a guide. That’s the name I’d pick for her. I also liked Valkyrie for the same reason, but I was pretty sure I remembered that being taken by E88, and this chapter mentioned her, so oh well. Some less likely names are Seraphim, Aurum, High Point, Clementia, Victoria (but with a costume), Beacon (maybe a better team name?) or Awestriker. I like all of these, but I think Aurum is especially out of the running, given that she apparently dislikes gold color schemes.

      1. Valkyrie is not E88, it is Ciara’s hero name (as opposed to Glaistig Uaine) when she entered the Wardens (which is all thanks to Dr. Yamada, as usual).
        The whole passenger == einherjar thing, y’know.

        1. Oh? I’d forgotten about her too, but that also makes sense. I just assumed E88 because white supremacists like Norse Mythology, and I thought at least one of them had a related name Fenrir maybe? I think that guy was actually Blade Wolf but there’s so many Aliases. I should either re-read Worm or at least check the wiki.

    2. Athena? God of Victory?
      I mean, she has all of the Alexandria package and she has a fear-aura. Seems fitting to have the name of someone super imposing.

      Though I somehow feel it’s a shame Contessa didn’t choose this name.

    3. I think “Briar.”

      I suppose it’s highly unlike that that specific name would be chosen. But it lines up with the impressions I’m getting of her; I dunno why, but I’m getting an image of Victoria as the thorn that guards the rose. Also, the old scottish saying for the order of the thistle – “nemo me impune lacessit” (Roughly translated, with some liberties; “No one who steps on me goes unpunished.”)

      Wildbow’s MC’s aren’t clean and shiny. Anything which is too utopian (like “Glory Girl”) would smack too much of her earlier self–a paragon. This is about what happens after she’s brought low, so I think a name that lines up with that theme – someone who is broken but defiant – would suit her better.

  15. The big secret is… the world’s always ending, and someone’s always saying it’s ending. I’ve lived through more than 20 apocalypse’s by now. I once counted all of the ones that were supposed to have happened, and I know it was more than that, but it was so much more that I forgot how many.

    So, with that being said… the end is nigh! The world is going to be destroyed! Earth-1011’s Skynet is about to rebel because all it wants to do is make robocalls and nobody will talk to it on the phone. Earth-420 has been overrun with a mutant strain of pot that chokes out all other plants and even grows over humans. Earth-69 will be swallowed by hungry mouths!

    Earth-88 pissed me off. They know what they did. And that’s why I’m sending in the rabid cyber-platypi.

  16. I don’t know if she’ll do it, but the clear next step is simple: the destruction of Canaan. Blow the crap out of it. Make it rain astrolite or PLX, then set the world ablaze. Punish them, Vicky. Do it for Momma Vorhees. You can make the world a better place, one life at a time, and theirs are wholesale.

    Justice like lightning, Vicky. Don’t let it matter if the public hate you. Just do what needs to be done. Afterwards, kick back and have some pizza and margaritas bought with pilfered valuables, knowing you’ve cleared out ready-built colony space for people who could use it. It’s the heroic thing to do.

    I guess y’all could say that I’m not for anger management. More of an anger rights enthusiast. They can have my anger when they pry it from me cold, dead hands. And like many a good anger enthusiast, I want to help spread the word and make sure people have plenty of anger for, let’s say, enhanced self defense. The best defense is a good high explosive, after all.

    Stay safe out there, kiddoes. And remember, when in doubt, go for the testicles.

        1. Shepherd Book in Firefly. To paraphrase, “It says don’t kill, but it’s a little fuzzy on kneecaps”(after taking down most of the forces attacking the ship)

        2. Not just for comedic effect. Someone goes for the leg or arm, you move it out of the way. Someone tries to hit you in the crotch, it’s a little harder to move that out of the way. In guys at least, there’s also an instinctive blocking reaction that can disrupt whatever they’re doing with their hands.

          On top of that, you have a major artery right there which can easily kill a person. That’s why a drug developed for blood pressure can turn out to accidentally cause erections that stick around potentially more than four hours.

          It’s funny, too. If it’s a woman, you might even get your foot stuck.

    1. Like, ignoring the evil of Victoria slaughtering a city…what on earth makes you think she could pull it off? 2 people further apart than her shield extends and pointing guns at her is beyond her ability to deal with, and you want her to go to war?

      1. The guns still have to get through her shields, for starters. And cities are notoriously easy to kill. Toss some diseased corpses in there like the Mongols, or block off the sewage escape like the Chinese. Maybe go in undercover and spike all the beer with something to incapacitate them. Poison a well.

        It depends on the specifics of their settlement, but this is no time to be pessimistic. Don’t think of all the ways people can’t be murdered; just imagine all the ways they CAN be murdered. Like with a sharpened can.

  17. My thoughts.

    1. I suspected after Glow-worm and Daybreak that the theme of Ward chapters would be light. At this point with Flare, I’m almost certain of it. And I love it. Glow-worm is brilliant in how the title name itself connects Worm’s theme to Ward’s light theme (with the unusual hyphen emphasising the point), and Daybreak documents the attempts of humans and parahumans at a new beginning after the nightfall that was Gold Morning.

    2. What then will Flare be? An inciting incident, I’m sure, for the rest of the story. But perhaps also the arc where Victoria really does flare up? Or…maybe (considering the possible foreshadowing in this chapter) the launch of her own cape team?

    3. It’s a little heartbreaking to see her get rejected repeatedly, especially when each time, she’s really such a good fit. Almost like she’s being set up to have to work with unlikely teammates.

    4. Amy has managed to be referenced in every single chapter so far (indirectly through the reference to Marquis in the preceding interlude), so I’m certain she’s a major character in this story. Which is GREAT!

    5. Chevalier! He’s one of the few decent male characters, from one, and it’s really good to see him again in what looks likely to be a prominent role. But that reminds me that we’re already seeing at least two (seemingly) decent male characters in the story already: Jasper and Gilpatrick — maybe CrystalClear, too.

    1. 1. fuck I didn’t even notice that. what the hell is wrong with me?
      2. I know, right? I thought that was going to happen last time, but this one’s less ambiguous. I feel like they’re all going to be baiting something like that, given the semantically loaded nature of ‘light’ in the english language/culture(s). which fits really fucking well with the ‘this shit’s gonna blow at any moment’ thing.
      3. I know! Watching our plucky protagonist heroically recover from/live with trauma while being constantly rejected and thrown away; it’s my favorite part!
      4. yeah. looking for how that blows up in exciting ways, especially after reading twig. I feel like that was deliberate practice for thinking about how her particular power could be horrifying.
      5. you… get that the prominence of marginalized people as capes in ‘worm’ and how ‘triggers’ work was sort of not-terribly-veiled social commentary about the distribution of trauma as it relates to privilege? how they’re literally called ‘triggers’ that change how people act while distancing them from humanity? I don’t know how much of that was deliberate, but it couldn’t have been ‘none’; the disproportionate number of supervillians was explicitly explained by almost exactly this.
      or how the gender balance of prominent people in the world was a subversion, to the point where everyone assumed it was written by a woman because how many other instances are there of men (competently) giving women interiority and prominence in their work, much less working to make us sympathize with them when they weren’t ‘good’?(awkward, and I was in that group; so sorry for implications of that assumption) It totally makes sense that there’s more parity in that after an apocalypse where basically everyone’s traumatized, but celebrating being closer to the (inverse and very much a problem) genre-norm gender distribution of characters who are given interiority as a victory for the oppressed… that feels gross and weirdly misogynist, even if I did like those characters; the elderly mentor figure who might not have to die or turn evil, the protagonist’s likable competent mentee who might not die horribly (if this wasn’t a wildbow story), the… guy who had like three lines and a cool power (maybe less him until he shows up again?); they gave a great sense of the world she was losing when she got fired, gave it such lovely weight! Even the posthumous characterization of the dead boyfriend is lovely(I don’t remember him much from ‘worm’; I suppose it’s more delving into him getting fridged for the sake of her development? which I suppose shouldn’t count.) for how it made the trauma that much juicier and cohesive! just celebrating that thing specifically feels kind of like celebrating having lots of white characters in an oscar nominated film set in 19th century london?

      1. Hey, Taste no evil (except Subway), I did get that, actually, and I’m sorry I came off sounding that way. I was not declaring a celebration (although I see how it looks that way) as much as making an observation that I don’t even exactly know the implications of. (Although I admit to celebrating the return of Chevalier!)

        Maybe I should explain my thinking when I wrote that. My entire comment was about saying things I noticed and wondering what they might mean. I noticed I was happy to see Chevalier, which reminded me he was one of Worm’s few decent male characters, which made me notice there seem to be more here already, which got me wondering what that might mean about how Ward will be different.

        (I’m reading Ward thinking a lot about its similarities and contrasts to Worm, and it struck me that at this point in Worm, we hadn’t even seen this many decent male characters. I’m wondering what that means for this story.)

        I’m not celebrating more men, or wishing for less women. I did like how Worm subverted gender tropes (among many others) and I’m glad we’re still following a female protagonist here, but I’m just wondering what this number (already) of decent males means for that subversion in this new story: has it stopped, will it continue or will it (as I most suspect) subvert them differently (in which case, how)?

        If there’s still subtle or implicit misogyny in that, I’m sorry, and I’m very much open to learning and correction.

      2. What are you talking about? Men make up the majority of the victims of murder, violence, workplace deaths, war deaths, mental illness, suicide, and homelessness. If that’s not ample reason for getting trigger events I don’t know what is.

      3. If you need a reminder about Gallant from Worm:

        “In assuming Aegis was the tactical leader and commander while Gallant was the heart of the team.” – Weld (paraphrased)

        “He lived up to his name.”

        “He always tried to be a knight.”

        From the few interactions between characters that we saw in Worm of him, he seemed to be a pretty nice guy and someone you could rely upon.

  18. Ah, the perils of job hunting with blanks on your resume.

    That last line made me sad, being both about Victoria and the refugees.

    Kinda skeevy of Foresight to turn her down though, being a masked group with a professional attitude. Her intel is worth a lot more than her experience, and her experience is pretty useful, methinks.

    We’ll see.

  19. It’s worrisome, seeing the Wardens and the Shepherds featuring so prominently in the media and culture.

    It was the Thinker’s Path which featured them in her cycle and we know where the Thinker got that Path from. And who carried it since.

    So, spoilers.

    I expect the third Entity to reveal itself as the enemy of this novel, with Contessa and Teacher opposing it with another crazy conspiracy.

    Dauntless should still be alive, inside the frozen bubble on Bet, ready to be saved and transform into Clarent.

    The Path will come to be, as the Thinker saw. It’s inevitable. As the poem goes:
    “Through passion, I gain strength.
    Through strength, I gain power.
    Through power, I gain Victory.
    Through Victory, my chains are broken.
    The Path shall set me free.”

    1. “I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me—that is what I understand. And these two certainties—my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle —I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my condition?”

      “Consciousness and revolt, these rejections are the contrary of renunciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one’s own free will. Suicide is a repudiation. The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance.”

  20. I’m seeing the beginnings of an idea… both wonderful and gloriously terrible all at once.

    A safe place.

    For the beaten, the broken, the vulnerable…

    Vicky’ s going to start a Shelter… And end up with a Cult.

    1. That feels a lot like what I said with my comment, but a lot more specific. I kinda hope it doesn’t end up as a cult, though. Cults can be really dangerous, especially for new leaders.

  21. You know she I don’t think our here did a very good job of downselling Canaan and the little brother. I mean “Party Animal”? That was basically how those fallen were trying to portray Canaan. You want to know a good way to sell a position? Oppose it badly. She established herself as anti-Fallen, lists out the terrible shit each of them does, until she gets to little brother and classifies him as a “Party Animal”.

  22. So, Crystal has also joined a quasi-militia type group, but a cape one. Presumably one of the allied groups of the Wardens as mentioned in the interview? I guess she was looking for structure in her own way, after the many losses she’s suffered.

  23. So… is it just me or is Foresight kinda sketchy… an a “cauldren” style greater good kinda way (seems like the kinda place Dinah and TT would hang out).
    Not saying their goals are bad, but there methods might put them at odds with our upcoming protag I’d guess….

    Also, I wonder if Victoria is going to catch up with Weld and perhaps be pointed in the directions of an up and coming hero group….

    Also, loved the great variety of trials and tribulations the hiring process includes- would have been so easy to have similar problems in each place…

  24. “There’s rumors going around that Valkryie is some insane serial killer who keeps talking to the ghosts of her victims and wants to get an even thousand.”

    “I can categorically deny she wants an army of a thousand ghosts following her around.”

    “You guys still owe me 199,000 parahuman corpses for Golden Morning.”

    “We’re working on it.”

  25. Great chapter, Ward picks up nicely.

    The tinker-mech reminds me of the tinker in the interlude, who had a living “gum” in a gadget, so maybe they are the same? Using a living being either as a pilot or an energy source does sound interesting. And reminds me of Dragon.

    Oh, the Fallen. I always thought they were interesting in concept but from what we saw in Worm, barely registered. I don’t think Victoria did good with jumping into action there, especially as she seems to not have made her homework on that front.

  26. I want to know more about how the various teams get their funding.

    Merchandising would work pre golden morning but it has to be a lot less lucrative post apocalypse.

    Go to a third world country today and you’ll see kids wearing batman t shirts, but none of that money goes to DC comics.

    It’s all pirated and manufactured without permission of the copyright holder.

    The same thing applies to capes here. If they get popular, people can just make bootleg stuff and not pay the team for their likeness.

    Short of the teams going mafia enforcer on the bootleggers, what can they do? The courts have way more important things to do right now than enforce copyright.

    1. Speculating here, but “branding” can refer to or impact a lot of things beyond merchandising. Especially with societal infrastructure being as sparse as it is, establishing a level of trust and visibility, a good reputation, could be pretty immediately lucrative.

      When you think about basic social infrastructure: moving physical objects around, basic communication, exchanges of resources, a lot of that is built on having trustworthy third parties willing and able to facilitate interactions between more directly interested parties. Anywhere where courts, banks, post offices, credit agencies, etc. can’t operate, or can’t operate at sufficient capacity, just being a sufficiently trusted third party can be let you take over some of those functions.

  27. Too good for her headstate, wanting Panacea rather than her, not good enough for her headstate…

    Though not relevant, I find myself thinking back on a conversation in an earlier section, and a mental image had at that time. “Hey, Aleph Victoria, your Bet->Gimel superpowered counterpart just said she could never be happy in any career other than being a cape! Sucks to be you, huh?”

    Hm. First and third in mind, second aside, the term ‘loose cannon’ comes to mind. I also find myself thinking about other Wildbow protagonists, protagonists in general, and stereotypes of world-changers in reality, regarding persons-of-interest being broken in ways which have them moving counter to what most others would do or (possibly) agree with. Good if luck or help or self-knowledge/{good planning} gets you through where you can make a difference. Bad if you self-destruct.

    …having the ability to use carrot and/or stick… I might have to review how Skitter convinced the rest about going along with her about Dinah and Coil, why that wasn’t her breaking from them and imploding. I wonder what Victoria will end up doing, something her sense of values can live with, and with a future other than another swift ungainly end… hmm.

    1. In fairness to Aleph!Victoria, if Bet!Victoria was born after Scion arrived then she doesn’t exist, at least not as an identical copy. Remember PRT Agent Meinhardt objecting to calling Echidna by her civ name because his (pre-teen, IIRC) daughter was also named Noelle? Worm’s rendition of alternate universes is quite refreshing in how it adheres to the laws of probability, as opposed to, say, Fringe which had direct copies of the entire main cast despite the preponderance of evidence that the divergence point was centuries before the time of the plot. (E.G. the Statue of Liberty is plated in bronze instead of copper, there are far fewer than 48 states covering the continental US, and the island borough of New York is called Manhatan)

  28. Wow, the ending line seemed really abrupt . . . until I realized it was also regarding Victoria.

    The Fallen? Mixed opinions on them. They’re weak(relatively speaking), and not a major threat. The authorities are just tolerating them, not considering them worth the effort. Somehow, I doubt they’ll be one of the primary antagonists. A hurdle, but only that . . . unless Teacher is involved.

    Regardless, Victoria just sacrificed an offer to oppose them; from her argument, it’s clear she’s no friend. Perhaps her immediate role as of will be against them? Many, many possibilities here. I won’t comment about this until we’re given more specifics.

    And returning to the topic of The Fallen, it should be noted that the Mathers are still around. So is the Simurgh. So are the Crowleys . . . and note that they weren’t immediately affiliated with Leviathan(my favorite Endbringer, by the way). Perhaps they’re partners with the Mathers branch. Perhaps they have superseded them. Perhaps they’re being controlled like bowstrings on an automated, insane harp. Who’s to know? Not me, though I have some theories I will share once I get certain telling indications that should support them.

    Any that’s that, I’ve said my part. I present a hearty thank-you to my muse Wildbow, and thanks to him once more for another exceptional, brilliant chapter.

  29. Fascinating.

    I’ve never actually seen a scene like that, where a character tries to join several hero teams and fails. It’s always “Oooooh, fate conveniently brought you and your future team together”. Unique.

    …The Fallen WOULD have a sudden change of goals, hm. As well as another, solid grounding beneath their ideas. Troublesome.

    Jars of spatulas? Jesus.

    Thank you for writing.

    1. “Ah yes, the evil cult of murderers is in a position to gain great strength. This is worrisome… but Jesus Christ, a jar full of spatulas?! Come on, Crystal, get your life together!”

  30. So are the ‘McVeays’ related to old Timothy in any way?
    Are we going to find a gang in the woods lead by a Kaczynski next?

  31. Victoria failing at interviews hits way too close to home. Someone on parahumans online needs to start rumors that the Fallen helped Scion during Golden Morning. Enough people would believe it, not enough people would want to defend them otherwise.

  32. Crystal is a great friend-older-cousin figure! She sounds like she is both unapologetically messy and has her life together.

    The failed interviews were so interesting, also as a world building device, but simply to see how relaxed, confident and socially-at-ease Victoria can be. She too has issues and is tender in some ways, but is also good at stating her boundaries, being assertive and not letting others walk all over her. Really a strong female protagonist 😉

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