Glare – 3.6

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Group Text (@ Ashley Stillons, Chris Elman, Kenzie Martin, Rain Frazier, Sveta Karelia, Tristan Vera)

Me: Morning, everyone.  I’m planning to swing by the Wardens HQ today.  Some Qs for people, going to talk to a family  member about what you guys might need to do legally.
Me: In interest of not taking over your thing, anyone want to come with?  You can make calls & be involved

Ashley S:  I have appointments

Sveta K: I can come. I know my way around.

Kenzie M: I’ll come! are you going in the morning or afternoon?
Kenzie M: I can have my parents call in to school and get me out for the day if I have to

Sveta K: I don’t want your schoolwork to suffer

Me: Afternoon

Kenzie M: I’m an A+ student I can miss a day

Sveta K: No you can’t.

Me:  It’s best to stick to the rules of the old days.  Try to keep grades where they were before you joined a team.  If you can miss your study group for this that’s ok.  We meet at 2

Kenzie M: coo

Rain F:  Can’t make it

Tristan V: count me in

Me: Sveta, Tristan, Kenzie, & me then.  Chris is welcome if he wants.  2pm at the front doors.  Take extra time to travel, P.transportation strike may futz things up

I’d had to take the train to get to the Wardens’ HQ.  It was a fortress of a building, indomitable, and it was situated near the largest cluster of portals in Gimel, very possibly the largest cluster of portals in all the known worlds.

I looked  up at a knight in plate armor with his bowed head, both hands on the pommel of a sword, with the tip resting on the ground.  A cloth wrap partially covered the legs, like a flag worn around the waist, long enough to reach the knees in front, and to drape near the ankles at the back.  Two shields stood behind the figure, hanging in the air at a height and position reminiscent of folded wings.

It was typically simplified when shrunk down for website images and badges, the position of arms, hands and shields suggesting the lines of a ‘W’ for the first letter of ‘Wardens’.  Here, it was four stories of statue, built into the front face of the building.

It put me in mind of Gilpatrick’s speech.  Five pounds of gun, fifteen pounds of armor?  No.  Here, at this scale, it was fifty tons of sword, a hundred and fifty tons of armor and shield.  Every inch and pound of its composition was symbolism.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” Tristan asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “It’s something.”

I turned to look at him.  He’d just walked up to stand beside me. He’d tidied his hair some.  I had the impression he’d started to dress up for the occasion and his other impulses stylewise had taken over.  His shirt was a button-up, red silk, with buttons in twos at the regular intervals.  He wore it very casually, with the sleeves rolled up and the buttons undone at the collarbone.  He’d paired it with a nice pair of black jeans, and he’d painted his hair a red that more closely matched his shirt.

“Reminds me of that video that circulated online for a bit.  Chevalier and the last fight against Behemoth,” Tristan said.

“Absolutely,” I said.  “Probably intentional.  It’s a good mental image to have, the hard fight and the great improvements that follow.”

“And the disaster that followed that?” Tristan asked.

I frowned at him.

“It’s reality,” he said.

“It’s a little pessimistic,” I said.  I glanced back.  I spotted Sveta making her way up the steps from the sidewalk to the raised bit of ground in front of the building.  “Hey!”

She wore a black dress that gathered together as a halter neck, with tights covering the legs.  She’d redone some of the paint on her arms and shoulders, the paint around the ball joint and along the shell that encased each arm fresh and glossy.

“You guys dressed up a bit,” I said.

“We exchanged some texts,” Tristan said.  “I think we psyched each other up some.”

“I was redoing my paint after all the running around and tree climbing yesterday,” Sveta said.  “I started overthinking things.”

“You look good,” I said.

“Thank you.  You too.”  I was wearing a very similar outfit to when I’d been job hunting.

Kenzie was last to catch up to us, running up the stairs.  Knee-high socks, a skirt with overlapping stripes, and a blue sweater in a light material, worn over a shirt with the collar poking up through the neckhole.  The pin in her hair looked like a bow, but it was two-dimensional and metal.

“Did you go home to change?” Tristan asked.

“No,” Kenzie said.

“You actually wore that to school?” he asked.

“It looks nice, thank you very much,” she said.

“I agree,” I said.  “I might have worn something similar when I was around Kenzie’s age.”

“I can understand you not getting bullied,” Tristan told me.  “Your parents are superheroes.”

“I don’t get bullied either,” Kenzie said.  “I wouldn’t mind if I did.  It would at least mean my classmates would pay attention to me.”

“They don’t?” Sveta asked.

“Feels like everyone’s busy with their own thing,” Kenzie said.  She looked up at the statue that stood in relief from the front of the Wardens’ headquarters.  “Still hurting from recent losses.”

“We’ll see what we can do to keep future losses from happening,” I said.

“Absolutely,” Kenzie said.

Inside the building, statues of key members stood off to either side of the lobby.  Chevalier, Narwhal, Valkyrie, Legend, Cinereal, Stonewall, Topflight and Miss Militia.  The building was set up so the people on the second, third, and fourth floors could stand at the glass railings and look down at the lobby, and vice versa.  People in business clothes were walking every which way, upstairs, and people on the ground floor were free to peruse the gift shop or wait for tours.

There were larger display boards set up around the edges of the lobby, much like the maps that were stationed around malls, but these showed off the icons for each of the teams under the Wardens’ umbrella.  They might have been touchscreens.  There were screens for Advance Guard, Foresight, the Attendant, the Shepherds, and smaller teams like the Kings of the Hill, the Wayfinders, and the Navigators.  The screen for the Attendant was still up, but it was dark, only the faint outline of the Attendants’ icon on the screen.  The Shepherd’s screen had been moved forward and to a position of more prominence.

It was darker than the PRT offices had been.  The aesthetic of the PRT of yesteryear had always been predominantly white, with black stenciled letters and icons, the periodic bit of chrome or mirror when tech was required.  Here, it was dark stone, lined in gold or brass, and the lighting made me think of a cinema with lights set on high ceilings and tuned to be unobtrusive.  It was transparent and open in layout and the suggestion of there being very few barriers, like with the glass railings, or the way that it really looked like anyone on the ground floor could go anywhere without checkpoints or security.

“Where are we going?” Sveta asked.

“I should check on my mom first, see if she’s free for a short conversation.”

“Where is she?”

“Legal or Liaison.  I’ve been here twice before, but the first time they were still getting everything put together, and I don’t remember much from the second.”

Sveta turned around slowly, then pointed.

“Good,” I said.  “Thank you.”

“Are you on good terms with your parents these days?” Sveta asked.

“I’m…” I started.  “No.”

“Is she going to help?” Tristan asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “It’s not that kind of bad terms, where she’d say no, I don’t think.”

“Is it the kind of bad terms where you invite someone to come with you so you don’t have to worry about the ‘rents being super embarrassing and lame?” Kenzie asked.

“If I had any idea on what she might say or do then this would be easier,” I said.  “I think it’ll be fine.”

The stairs led from either side of the front desk to the second floor, going around the statue-in-relief that mirrored the one on the front of the building.  The security checkpoint was on the second floor, more or less hidden behind the statue and the slab it stood out from.  Glass walls separated the walkway from the offices and departments  around the building exterior.

“Names?” the man at the desk asked.

“Victoria Dallon, Sveta Karelia, Kenzie Martin, Tristan Vera,” I said.

“Intentions?”

“We have an appointment with Foresight on the fifth floor.  I was also hoping to stop in and see my mom at her workplace.  I’m not sure if she’s at Legal or Liaison right now.”

“Her name?”

“Carol Dallon.”

“One second.”

The person made a phone call.  I waited, a little nervous, emotions stirred up.  Anger, frustration, disappointment, worry.

Kenzie had her chin at the top of the railing, as she looked down at the lobby.  Sveta stood next to her, with Tristan off to one side.

“Is Weld getting a statue?” Tristan asked.

“Not for a while,” Sveta said.  “That’s more for people who’ve put in the years, and he only just got in.  He’s got a preliminary thing in the gift shop.”

“No shit?  Awesome.  We should stop in at the gift shop before we leave.”

“You’re such a kid,” Kenzie said, sticking out her tongue at Tristan.  He reached out to muss up her hair and she ducked back out of the way.

“Victoria, was it?” the person at the desk asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Your mother says you can go up.  She’s at Legal on the third floor.  She’ll take her break when you arrive, so you’ll have about fifteen minutes.”

I resisted the urge to wince.  Fifteen minutes was too much.  Still, saying that would cause problems.  “Great.”

“Give me five seconds, and I’ll give you your guest ID cards.  Can your friends come to the desk?”

We lined up in front of the desk.  The printer didn’t take long, spitting out four cards in four seconds.

“Check your names are accurate, please, and- there seems to be a problem with miss… Kenzie?”

He turned the card around.  A slash of distortion masked Kenzie’s face, tracing from her cheekbone to one corner of her forehead.  It looked like the heavy compression artifacting that came with any image that had been compressed too many times, but it was dense to the point that her eyes, nose, and cheekbone were almost completely covered.

“Do you want to try again?” Kenzie asked.  She had her phone in her hand as she clasped her hands behind her back.  I saw the screen momentarily light up.

The man tapped at the keyboard for a few seconds, then turned around to grab the card as the machine spat it out.  He gave a singular nod and passed the card with its attached lanyard to Kenzie.  Picture normal.

We headed for the stairs up to the third floor.

“I didn’t know they were going to take our photos,” Kenzie said.

“What are you even doing, obscuring your face like that?” Tristan asked.

“It’s not on purpose, obviously, it’s a byproduct of tech I’m wearing.”

Once we reached the third floor, there was less in the way of civilian-facing offices, and there were more people in suits and business clothes.  The glass wall had letters applied to it.  Just ‘303 – LEGAL’.

My mom had had a study back at our house, with the hundred or so legal tomes with all of the case history, precedent, and whatever else, on top of the books we’d fashioned ourselves, binding in a variety of ways, saving team stuff, parahuman case files we’d printed off the net, and more.

This was that, it was the same kind of heavy oak desks that my mom had had in her study, the shelves, the desk lamps and the scattered paperwork that had yet to be gathered together and bound.  It was files and filing cabinets, a storm of legality as if a giant had sneezed in a legal office.

My mom might have been one of the older people around.  A lot of the lawyers looked young, and at two in the afternoon, jackets were off and slung on the backs of chairs, sleeves were rolled up and perfect hairstyles were just a little bit messed up.  She was doing a lot of the talking, taking charge and getting people organized.

A young lady approached us at the doorway.  “If you’re wanting to lay charges against the Wardens, or if you have witness testimony to give, you’ll want to go to Casework on the second floor.  I know it’s confusing.”

“My mom is Carol Dallon, I’m just stopping in to ask a question.  The people at check-in said it was okay.”

“Oh wow, yeah, look at you.  I definitely see the resemblance.  Your mom is awesome, you know.”

“I know,” I said, my eyebrows going up momentarily.

The lady stepped away to fetch my mom.

The feeling of trepidation got worse as I watched my mom walk toward me.  It was hard to divorce this scene and image with my memory of being on the street outside my mom’s house, the hurt and the feelings there.

My mom smiled, acknowledging the other three.  “Victoria.  This is a pleasant surprise.”

“I  had a conversation with dad last night.  He suggested that you might be the person to ask for this thing these guys are doing.”

“Ah,” my mom said.  She barely seemed fazed by that.  “Just business?”

“More or less,” I said.

Man, I was still so pissed at her.  I was more pissed somehow that she was being nice and casual.

“I’m happy to help however you need it,” she said.  “The only issue is I can’t step away right this minute.  We’re waiting on a phone call from some people in the would-be government, and my coworker is away on a late lunch.”

“I don’t need you to step away,” I said.  “These guys are starting up a team.  Dad suggested they’d do best if they had someone legal to call up before any big moves.  Make sure charges stick.”

My mom looked over at the three.  Kenzie put her hand up in a small wave.

“Is that Sveta?”

“Hi, Mrs. Dallon.”

“I didn’t recognize you at first.  I can’t believe it,” my mom said.  She approached Sveta, taking Sveta’s hands and lifting them up.  “What beautiful work.”

“I’m pleased with it,” Sveta said, ducking her head a bit.

“And the art- is this yours?  It reminds me of what I saw you working on during one of my visits.”

“It’s mine.”

“It’s stellar,” my mom said.

“I don’t suppose you’d know someone you could put us in touch with?” I asked, more tense than I’d wanted to sound.

“I can ask around.  Are you paying them?”

“I think we’d have to,” I said.

“We’re pretty overloaded right now.  I can’t make promises.”

“I don’t think the team has any major moves planned for early in their career,” I said.  “Having someone available a month from now or two months from now might be good.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still moving at this clip two months from now.”

“What do you do?” Tristan asked.

“We’re lobbying on behalf of the Wardens.  The government is figuring out the law as we speak, and we’re trying to figure out the most effective approach to handle law and parahumans and how they interact in the new world.  A lot of precedent, citing past history, pulling from the law of Earth Bet.”

“It sounds heavy,” Tristan said.

“We’re deciding the legal fabric of the new world.  It is,” my mom said.

“Can you sound some people out?” I asked.  “Having someone we could trust to be discreet would be ideal.  It wouldn’t be heavy.”

“I’ll ask around.  I know we’ve got a few ex-law students who are in limbo,” my mom said.  She gave me a look.  “They could use the extra funds, and they should have enough knowledge of the system as it stands.  They’re even on the ground floor for the legal system we may end up with, if we’re successful here.”

“Thank you,” I said.  “We’ll discuss and I’ll look at the books, and we’ll see if we can pay them something fair.”

Keep it business.

“Would you come to dinner tonight?” she asked.  “We can talk.  If I have a better idea of what you’re doing, I can find you a better fit.”

“I’d really rather not,” I said.

“Communication is key.  We should talk.”

“Another time,” I said.  Weeks or months from now.

“Okay,” she said.  “I’d like to invite your sister to a sit-down.”

My dignity and grace were dashed away, just like that.  A startling, painful jar from reality to somewhere else.  The lights of the brightly lit legal office seemed too bright and the dark shadows and the dimly lit building interior of the Wardens HQ and its lobby seemed too dark.

It was very, very hard, in the moment, to separate my recollection of being outside the house with her inside that house, from this, and to convince myself that she wasn’t here, somewhere nearby.

“Nah,” I said.  My voice too soft.

“Victoria-”

Mom,” I said, my voice sharp.  “Do you want this conversation to go in the same direction as the one at the barbecue?”

“That’s up to you,” she said.

I thought about saying something regrettable.

“Bye mom.  Good luck with your thing.”

She looked like she might say something, but she smiled instead, and said, “Good luck with yours.”

I turned to go, and the others followed.

We walked a little way around the circumference of the floor, between the offices to our right and the railing to our left, until we were a distance away from the legal department.  I leaned on the railing, and wrapped one of my hands around the other, squeezing it.

Sveta put an arm around me, and then Kenzie walked up to the other side of me and put a hand on my back.

“I’m okay,” I said.

There wasn’t an immediate response.

“She was never my favorite person,” Sveta said.

“You seemed to get along with her before.”

Sveta shook her head, hair flying out a little ways.  “You were always really down when she was due to visit, and you were down when she missed visits.  And you were down after she came.”

“I was down all the time.”

“It was different kinds.”

“Family’s hard,” Tristan said.  “It really sucks sometimes.”

“Yeah,” Kenzie said.  “Family can be the best and it can be the worst.”

Sveta let her arm slide off my shoulder.  It settled on Kenzie’s head with a faint clack.

“Ow,” Kenzie said.

Sveta’s fingers lifted up, then came down, in a pat.

I stood straighter, and Sveta moved a bit away, her arm reeling in, giving me freedom to stand back.  “Hopefully this gets you guys one step closer to being a team with everything you need.  We should go talk to Foresight and see if we can get you the rest of the way.”

“What’re we talking about with Foresight?”

“Jurisdiction,” I said.  “There might be a few other pieces of ground to cover, finances, selling info.”

“Sounds good,” he said.  “You up to talking about the kind of info you can gather, Kenz?”

“I think so.”

The fifth floor wasn’t built around a hole in the floor like the bottom four were.  There wasn’t a view of the lobby, a railing, or anything of the sort.  Another security checkpoint was set up at the base of the stairs.  With our lanyards and guest IDs, we were clear to go.  Our arrival was preceded by a shift in lights visible from the stairwell.

Masks on.

The floor plan was closer to a proper office building, with hallways studded with posters and pictures of team members and leaders, teams, and framed news articles.  The hallway to the right of us had ‘SHEPHERDS’ and a shepherd’s crook running down the length of it, a burgundy stripe of paint lit up by lights on the underside of the crook.  Red-brown colors to the wall, and the articles and pictures were all for the Shepherds.

In the hallway to our left, Foresight, blue and black paint and lights, Foresight members and victories on the wall opposite.

A door opened and a few Shepherds stepped out into the hall.

“Holy shit,” one said.

“Fuck,” Tristan said, under his breath.

It was the moon girl, from my job interview with Attendant.  She was the one who had urged me away from the Fallen.  I was hardly enthused to see her either.

“Tristan,” she said.  “Tell me you’re not interviewing for a team.”

“I’m not,” he said.  “I’ve got the team already.”

She pursed her lips together.

“History, Moonsong?” someone asked.

“Yeah,” Moonsong said.  “Tribute knows.”

“Yeah,” the guy who was apparently ‘Tribute’ said.  He wore what looked like a hypermodernized version of the suit of armor with the cape over one shoulder.  It wasn’t old fashioned armor, though.  It was panels on a bodysuit, and the cape was cut to cling close to his body, angular for flowing cloth, with glowing lines where the sharp angles were.  “History is putting it lightly.”

“We’re late for an appointment,” Tristan said.

“You’re the guys who are talking to Foresight,” someone else said.  “They mentioned something like that.”

“Yeah,” I said.  Then, aware of the opening in the conversation, I elaborated with, “Hello again, Moonsong.”

“Hello,” she said.  “What was your name again?”

“Victoria.”

“You seemed cool, Victoria.  What are you doing with this bastard?”

“Wow,” Tristan said.

“Just helping out,” I said.

“He doesn’t need it, and he doesn’t deserve it.”

“Whatever’s in the past, he gets his second chance, like anyone.  He wants to help people, and I’m going to help him do that.”

“He’s one of the monsters you help save people from,” Moonsong said.  “You get that, right?”

“That’s not fair,” Kenzie said.

She stopped as Tristan put one hand out in front of her, keeping her from jumping forward in his defense.

“Tribute and I arrested him,” Moonsong said.  “You know that, right?”

I could see the lines in Tristan’s jaw standing out.  He said, “I know.  I remember.”

“I want to see Byron,” Moonsong said.

“Not your call.  His turn isn’t until later.”

There was a shudder, and then my hair started to move.    The light further down the hallway seemed to grow darker, and my stomach lurched in a sensation that I connected to a lot of aerial acrobatics.

“You want to pick a fight here?” Tristan asked.

Tribute shifted his footing, stepping forward a little, and clasped his hands in front of his groin.  With his head bowed slightly, he was faintly reminiscent of the Wardens’ emblem.

I stepped forward, ready to put myself between them, and I felt the stomach-lurching sensation again.  My leg buckled, and I nearly fell.

My hair was floating now, and my legs were straining, almost locked in position with the stress of keeping me upright.

Gravity manipulation, but somehow a mix of zero-grav and enhanced gravity.

I flew instead of walking, and it was hard to keep my position.  I stopped when I was between Tristan and the other two.  “This isn’t helpful.”

“Victoria,” Moonsong said.  “I’m going to tell you how this goes.”

I felt the gravity shift again, an attempt to put me down against the floor, and threw up my forcefield to avoid twisting my ankle or hitting the ground too hard.  I was glad my skirt wasn’t the kind that could flip up, as it hugged my thighs, but my midriff was exposed now.

“Tristan joins the team, and he charms the pants off of everyone he meets.  He’s good at the stuff he does in front of the camera, he’s good at the hero stuff, he’s strong.  He gets decent grades, he makes friends, he finds allies and he works on them.  Because that’s what sociopaths do.  He doesn’t actually care about them.”

“Sociopath?” Tristan asked.  “You’re as deluded as ever.”

“He jokes and acts all cute about how he’s competitive, he likes to win, and he tends to win so you don’t really see how sore of a loser he is when things go bad.  He sets his sights on something he wants, he gets it.  Sets his sights on something else, he gets it.  Until he doesn’t get what he wants.  Like being team leader or getting a key role in an event that’s coming up.  That’s when he starts using the people he’s been working on.  They’re usually desperate people.  Vulnerable ones.”

I thought of Rain, who Tristan had called a friend.  Or did the whole team count?

“It’s called leaning on people when you’re struggling.”

“It’s called manipulation.  And you’re good at it,” Tribute said.

“Fuck off,” Tristan said.  “Drop the power use and let us go.  We’ve got things to do.”

“Moonsong,” Sveta said.  “I don’t think you know Tristan as well as you think.”

“Same,” Moonsong said.  “I feel really sorry for you if he’s already got into your good graces.  Because that bastard is the kind of guy who hires someone who kills people by looking at them to cover his ass, and uses them against teammates.  He likes to win and he wins at any cost.”

“We know the story,” Sveta said.

“I doubt you know the entirety of it.  Have you split the discussion fifty-fifty between listening to him and Byron?”  Moonsong asked.  She didn’t even wait for a response before deciding, “No.  Because it doesn’t work that way.”

“I gave Byron the opportunity,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” Moonsong said.  “I know how that goes.  Like with Team Reach’s therapist, right?  You get your turn, Byron gets his, you go in for extra advice, you take over, and somehow the team’s therapist gets weird ideas in his head about Byron.  You suggest things and then when Byron gets his turn he’s having to play defense, get rid of these preconceived ideas.  He gets no time of his own with the therapist, because he’s stuck trying to undo the damage Tristan did during his time.”

“All I did,” Tristan said, lines standing out as his neck, “Was try to figure shit out.  There’s a lot to figure out with the situation being what it is, and somehow I end up doing the legwork.”

“It’s a lot of work to manipulate everyone around you, isn’t it?” Moonsong asked.

“Stop,” I said.  “Stop this.  Now.”

I pushed out with a faint hit of aura.

“Please,” Sveta said, adding her voice to mine.

“I want to hear that Byron is okay, from Byron’s mouth.  I don’t give a shit about Tristan’s time.”

“Fuck this,” Tristan said.  “Fine.”

He blurred, his eyes becoming crimson points, then transitioning to become teal.

Byron, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans.

The gravity effect dropped away.

“Hi Byron,” Kenzie said, her voice small.

“Hi Kenzie.”

“You okay?” Moonsong asked.

“I’ve had better weeks, but things with my brother are as tolerable as they get,” Byron said.  He slouched, sticking his hands in the pocket of the sweatshirt.  “You kind of went overboard.”

“I had to check.”

“I know,” Byron said.

There was a noise behind us, and I turned to look.

Foresight.  Anelace and someone I hadn’t met.

“Why don’t you come on in?  Step into the office,” Anelace asked.  “Moonsong?  Can I have a word?”

Foresight’s administrative office wasn’t the same office I’d been in when I’d interviewed with them.  Their headquarters was situated elsewhere, and this was something else, a space set up for meetings, for paperwork, interactions with other teams and more.  Much like the hallways had, it looked like an office.

Right away, Moonsong, Tribute, and the member of Foresight stepped into an office, closing the doors.  The blinds were at an angle where I could see where they stood, but not their expressions or what they might be saying.

Anelace stepped into the back, then came back to the sitting area.  He looked at us, then at the other members of Moonsong’s group.  “Come on.  Let’s keep everyone separate until things are settled.”

Our group walked into a back room, a single table and some nice chairs in a room with a coffee maker and microwave.

“I was looking forward to seeing you again, Victoria,” Anelace said.  “Sorry it’s not under better circumstances.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’m going to go talk to the others.  There won’t be a problem if I leave you guys here?”

“Not at all,” I said.

Anelace left us in the room.  Kenzie flopped forward, forehead hitting the table, arms extended all the way in front of her.

Byron changed back to Tristan.

“No,” Tristan said, quiet.  “So long as I’m here, Moonsong is going to be frothing at the mouth.  I’m trading out until she’s good and gone.”

They swapped back.  Byron slouched into his seat.

“I didn’t know that about the therapy, Byron,” Sveta said.

Byron shrugged.

“It’s why you don’t want to sit in for Mrs. Yamada’s?”

“It’s part of it,” he said.  “Look, I don’t want to demonize Tristan or anything, like Moon is so good at doing.  He has his good side, but a lot of the time, I’ve got to conserve my strength for dealing with the rougher patches.  Minor, basic stuff.”

“Do you think he’s a sociopath?” I asked.

“No,” Byron said.  “But I think… he’s got to be the worst possible person to end up sharing a body with.”

“Is there anything I or we can do to make it easier?” I asked.

“I’m working on a camera that looks inside Tristan to find Byron, or vice-versa,” Kenzie said, without raising her head.  “It’s not going so well but I’m going to figure it out.”

“Thanks Kenz.  No, nothing makes it easier.  You can… tackle the broad strokes, you can be careful not to talk past my face to say something to Tristan and never do the opposite when Tristan’s the one in front.  It doesn’t make a difference with the stuff that really matters.  That’s my stuff to deal with.”

“What stuff?” I asked.

“He’s… stubborn, destructively stubborn, he holds this idea of what should happen in his head, and if that doesn’t work for you then you’re probably going to be pretty unhappy, because you aren’t going to change anything about it.”

“Reminds me a bit of my mom when you describe it that way,” I said.

“Yeah, but you can walk away from your mom, can’t you?” Byron asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  I sighed.

“I really appreciate that sigh.  Maybe you get it,” he said, leaning his head back until it rested against the wall, his face turned skyward.  “He thrives on competition, you know.  He’ll be a terrific hero, probably.  Put a challenge in front of him, and he’ll give his all to kick its ass.”

“But?” I asked.

“That’s him.  That’s who he is, intrinsically.  I don’t know if there’s a but.  It’s reality, and it’s reality that I’m the challenge and he’s energized when it comes to the tug of war over this one body we share.  He thrives on it in a way, and I’m… drained, beaten down.”

“We have your back,” Sveta said.  “Not just Tristan’s.  We’re backing Capricorn, and we’re invested in finding answers for both of you.”

“I appreciate that.  But I don’t like this.  At best, it’s… more draining.  More of me being beaten down and left more exhausted.  At worst… Moonsong might be right.”

“At best,” I said, “It’s Tristan doing what he’s good at doing.  What happens if he doesn’t have that outlet?”

I didn’t get a response.

There was a knock on the door.  Anelace, the dagger-themed member of Foresight.

“Can you join us?” he asked.

We migrated from the team’s lunch room to the office where the team leader, Moonsong and Tribute were seated.

The leader stood by his desk, one foot on his chair.  He looked larger of frame, and had Foresight’s symbol on an eye patch.  A bit of a corsair look, with a jacket and lots of belts, and long black hair tied back into a sailor’s ponytail.  Veins of gold decorated his costume.

“Sorry for the hassle,” Tribute said.  “History.  Things never really resolved so much as we all walked away with the situation left halfway through a disaster.”

“It’s alright,” I said.

“We’ve been having a conversation with the Shepherds,” the leader of Foresight said.  “They’ve explained some of the history.  It muddies the waters.”

“We understand,” Sveta said.  “Sorry about this.”

“They had the suggestion that we make sure both of the Capricorn twins are on board with this plan of yours.”

“Why’d you have to drag me into this, Moonsong?  This doesn’t help.  I don’t want to own any part of this, whatever they do.”

“I will always fight to give you your voice.”

“I don’t want to speak,” Byron said.  “I want to ignore this side of my reality and conserve my strength for the fights that need it.”

“Is that a no, then?” the leader of Foresight asked.

“No,” Byron said.  He seemed to flounder for a moment.  He looked at me.  “Fuck.”

He didn’t break that eye contact with me as he said it.  My eyebrow went up.

“Don’t let me get in the way of you giving these guys their chance,” Byron said.

“You’re vouching for them?” the Foresight leader asked.

“Yeah.”

Byron punctuated the sentence by changing into Tristan.

“I’m good with this,” Tristan said, shifting his posture to avoid looking at Moonsong.

“Good,” the Foresight leader said.  “Thank you for your time, Shepherds.”

Tribute and Moonsong left the office.  Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.

I looked around the office and saw an article.  The leader was on the cover, with the name ‘Brio’.

“You really want to do this?” Brio asked.

“They’re suited for it,” I said.  “They have the ability to gather the information and figure out how to crack the toughest nuts.  Tinker devices and people on the ground who won’t get a second look hanging around Hollow Point.  They get the info, they sell it to you guys, and if you want it, they work with you on the actual cracking of the nut.  Joint operation, or it can be solo, one way or the other.”

“Are you participating?” he asked.

“If I’m wanted, I’ll add my strength to theirs for the big plays.”

“To be honest, there’s a lot about this that could work,” Brio said.  “When the Wardens gathered us all together, they assigned territories by lottery.  We’ve got other things we’re focusing on, and Hollow Point is in a bad way.”

“If you’ll pay a modest fee, enough to cover their lawyer, buy the info, keep them supplied, they’ll bring you in for the actual arrests.  It’s a win for you guys, while these guys do the leg work.”

“If it works,” Brio said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“We’re hard workers,” Kenzie said.  “We’re really good at what we do.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Brio said.  His voice had a tone shift that suggested he was used to talking to kids in a certain context.  “You have a lot of hurdles.”

“We’ve been doing our initial research,” Anelace said.  “Figuring out how we might fix Hollow Point.  They’re tied into some bigger-picture stuff.”

“Tattletale,” I said.

“Her on one end,” Anelace said.  “But she’s more the kind of person you have to deal with further down the road.  Once you scare them, they’ll call her.  They already called her once about us, and she reached out to try to convince us to leave the area alone.”

“And?” I asked.

“And we’re leaving it alone, or we were, until you sent your proposal,” Brio said.

I nodded.  Not good to hear, but understandable.  I wondered what played into that decision.

“On the front end, you’ve got some others to deal with.  You’ll have to get past them before you can even start on the project.”

“Who?”

“Speedrunners,” Anelace said.  He turned around, reached for a file, and put it on the desk, pushing it in our direction.

“I know them,” I said.  I left the file for Sveta, Tristan and Kenzie to look at.

“A couple of times a day, they use their time powers.  Sweep the area, search every nook and cranny.  You won’t be able to set up shop.”

“That’d be Secondhand,” I said.

“They use Final Hour to cover other business.  Even if you avoid being caught in the sweeps, you won’t be able to look or listen in if they’re conducting meetings in banked timestreams.”

“And Last Minute is still with the group?” I asked.

“Yes.”

Fucking time manipulators.  “Something to work out in advance then.”

“They’ve got two thinkers, Braindead and Birdbrain, working as a team.  You won’t be able to have undercover agents if they’re checking things.  You will be tracked and your agents will be thoroughly investigated.”

More folders hit the table.

“Powers complicate things, and they’ve got a lot of powers there,” Anelace said.

“Bitter Pill, tinker,” Brio said.  “A lot of the people in Hollow Point are expected to partake, and that means truth serums, just to start with.”

I looked at the other members of the group.

“You really think you’re up for this?” Brio asked.

“Just speaking for myself, I’m more excited to do this than I was before you started talking about what we’re up against,” Tristan said.

“I already have some ideas,” Kenzie said.  “Not about the time guys, but I have ideas.”

“We knock the time guys down first,” Tristan said.  “Without a question.  We’ll have to.  We can do this.”

I looked at Sveta, who had been quiet.

“I want to do this,” she said, meeting Brio’s eyes.

“Then we’ll give you our files as starting points.  You guys own this if it ends up being a disaster, you keep us informed, and-”

“In exchange,” I interrupted, “You guys give us access to your costume sourcing.”

“I can do costumes,” Kenzie said.

“Without battery lives?” I asked.

“Oh.”

“Give us access to your costume manufacturing. I know you have it and I know you’re branching out to share it.”

Anelace and Brio exchanged a look.  Brio nodded.  “Okay.”

“And you give us your blessing to operate in this territory,” I said.

“I don’t know if I like what I saw earlier,” Brio said.  “Blessing might be a strong word.”

“All parahumans have their issues,” I said.

Brio seemed to consider for a moment.

He extended his hand to shake.

We shook it, each of us in turn.

No name yet, costumes to be decided, codenames to be determined.

But we were a team with a mission.  We were doing this.

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117 thoughts on “Glare – 3.6”

  1. Wow! I just randomly happened to be on when it updated for me. Funny thing everywhere says tomorrow’s date for me since it’s Jan 22 11:39 pm. Here on pst time.

  2. Minor quibble, but Stillons should be Stillions, in accordance with previous WoG. I always thought that was particularly appropriate, since so much of Damsel’s existence is consumed by the struggle to show that she’s still a predator to be feared.

  3. It feels signfificant to me that Vicky goes from using “they” to describe the team, to using “we” through a conversation. I am 70% positive that she is gonna slide from a mentor-role into a member-role on Team Therapy.

  4. Ah. Moonsong is one of those people that will try to “save” you even when you really don’t want to be saved.

    People theorized she was a Thinker, but it looks like that’s inaccurate. Nasty gravity manipulation power instead.

    1. No, no it’s quite obvious that she’s in love with Byron. MoonsongXByron OTP!

      Seriously though what I find most interesting is what it says the twins. I kinda take away there’s also some resemblence to their elements for their personalities. That Tristan is more hard and unyeilding, and that Byron is more soft and go with the flow. I can see Tristan getting set on a plan to take down a villain group or something, and then when the part of a plan that involves removing a key member of their as a certain time falls through, he puts out a hit, because that way the plan still goes through, right?

  5. That was tasty worldbuilding. How did Sveta’s last name come to be? Should I be picturing her as Karelian or Finnish?

    Carol being Carol was expectable, but also went better than it could have. Now, the Team Reach standoff, that’s interesting: the assassination thing we saw in Glow-worm comes out here, huh. Byron not wanting to do much with the team, but also vouching for them must have been unexpected to Moonsong?

    I wonder if he’s one of the two on Ashley’s Troubled List.

    1. I think Tristan and Kenzie are the ones with dangerous issues. Rain is also dangerous but not because of his mental health (probably).

      1. Wait, so it’s a Thing He Does?

        Calling it just in case some time in the future, Victoria has to fend off a hit on Crystal.

        1. From the sounds of what Moonsong was saying, what I think might have happened is he ended up putting a hit out on someone as part of a plan, or to enable a plan to go through because he’s driven and trying to have things go his way. Something like-
          “Hey the plan to take down the Breakfast Bunch is still a go.”
          “How? The whole thing hinged on taking Flapjack out of the picture. Now that the case against him is dropped because of lack of evidence-”
          “Guys someone just shot Flapjack to death!”
          “Tristan you didn’t-”
          “Hey the important thing is the plan’s back on track, and this is going to look great we took these guys down, and he was a badguy anyways, so isn’t that what really matters?”

          1. WELL THEN MAYBE THEY SHOULD HAVE STUCK TO THE PLAN!!!

            Okay to be honest that’s a bit harder to explain away. Which makes me think it’s even more complicated and messy than I’d thought.

  6. Kenzie is an A+ student, going through therapy, training as a superhero, and building massive tinkertech.
    Even Taylor, queen of multitasking that she was, had a hard time balancing her schedule of schooling and supervillainy.
    Is this insane overwork, or is Kenzie just so amazingly talented enough that the first and last of these are easy?

    1. Taylor wasn’t trying very hard to balance school in, and Kenzie isn’t a superhero *yet*.
      Also yes amazing talent.

      (and a lot of experience with the tinkering)

    2. Taylor had a hard time staying in school before she became a full-time supervillain. Kenzie isn’t being bullied and probably isn’t going to be doing this cape stuff full-time; it should be easier.

      1. She is, actually. Her powers are set-up so that she gets insane multitasking abilities as a secondary power to support her bug use, rather than it being a primary power of “using bugs + being able to use them, and only them, well enough”.

        1. Yeah. Don’t forget Taylor’s Shard was the “Queen Administrator” and it’s original function was managing all the other shards. Bugs reflect one aspect of that, controlling others. But multitasking is also a part of that, since it managed all the other shards. We don’t know what GU/Valkyrie would identify Victoria’s shard as.

      1. Well, as my math teacher told me in high school when I admitted I’d written a program to do my math homework for me… If you know the subject well enough to do create something that can produce the answers, you deserve the A+ anyway.

    3. Depending on the specific of her Tinkering, school might be mostly handled for her. Either because she’s automatically good at it, or because a soft-light projection is going to school for her.

      Therapy often makes it easier to handle other stuff. I think Taylor would have actually found it easier to balance her schedule if she’d had some therapy worked in there.

  7. “Fucking time manipulators.”

    Calling it right now, the Thursday update’s gonna get skipped due to time manipulation shenanigans.

          1. Imp vs Erasurr: Ultimate showdown of ultimate destriny

            And I gave you… um… thingy…. vs… wassisname…

    1. Timker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy

      :p

      I think in this world if you’re a rock, you get beaten by paper, lizard, spock and a big enough set of scissors.

      Plus if the scissors are smart you lose because they cut the Rock’s base.

      I’m curious where this story is going. It seems like we could get Metal Gear Worm here with lots of stealthy info gathering rather than a Mortal Worm-bat serious of battles. Is Wyldebeest going espionage focus? Can’t wait either way.

    1. Ceiling Kenzie, as a surveillance experts, knows exactly how many ways there are to casually surveil people, and is taking appropriate countermeasures.

    2. She claims it was an unintended side effect of other tech. And if it’s supposed to do that, it could be much more thorough.

      1. If her power *can* interfere with information transfer, then a blindness gun/invisibility cloak/total silence bomb is defiantly on the table.

        Again, Kenzie is too sweet and precious to be real. There’s something scary as shit in her past, and the end result is going to be something like sentient computers enslaved to her will, memory erasure, total and permanent hallucinations, or something equally horrifying.

        Also, I really want to know what’s up with Tristan now.

    3. My speculation was that Kenzie was using some type of tech that was feeding her additional visual information and that the effect mucked with the camera…and/or maybe she just routinely uses anti surveillance technology.

      My next paranoid thought was that Kenzie doesn’t look remotely like the what we’ve seen and that she uses optic tech to change her appearance.

      Regardless, I’m worried about that girl. It has to do things to you to start that early in the cape business. Kinda like show business, but with death rays.

      1. I liked the part where she offered to do the costumes but got turned down because of the need for batteries. I dunno holo costumes you can just turn on and off seem pretty appealing to me.

        1. They could have great advantages and having one that you could just turn on would be a great backup. Victoria doesn’t want that to be the primary costume. Plus, the best costumes also have state of the art body armor. I doubt a Kenzie-made holo-costume is going to do that. It might, but her tinker field is still a little fuzzy, as I’m sure it’s meant to be. Plus getting that concession out of Foresight was partially the point.

          Whether the team would want Kenzie to make them backup holo-costumes would depend, amongst other things, on opportunity costs. What is Kenzie NOT working on that she could be doing if she weren’t making costumes? What resources are consumed that might have gone ito maintaining that teleport network she was talking about?

      2. I’m slightly worried about her out-of-nowhere faceplant on that table. Better learn how to properly fall before going for hero antics…

      3. I am on board with the “she looks nothing like her face she shows” idea.

        Add to that,
        1. She avoided Tristan ruffling her hair. I know he has tried before in previous chapters, did he succeed in touching her head previously? Or is this a subtle, “look, nobody touches her face” foreshadowing?

        2. “Sveta let her arm slide off my shoulder. It settled on Kenzie’s head with a faint clack.” Is the clack supposed to be her plastiod body making the noise? Would it make that noise against a normal skull with hair, or is there something we do not know yet?

        3. The ID Badge not showing the correct information? I call bull that it was an “accidental side effect”. She is totally hiding her face.

        I guess I have gone full paranoid with the idea that she is hiding something about her identity. Thoughts?

        1. Calling it now- Kenzie is an AI with an android body and hologram projected disguises, which is how she always looks perfectly dressed, even after a school day.

          I knew there was a reason I like her the best…

        2. As to your number 2… This was (probably) a callback to the ‘bow’ that Kenzie was wearing.

          ” The pin in her hair looked like a bow, but it was two-dimensional and metal.”

        3. My money is on her wearing a holographic disguise. It wasn’t properly set to interfere with the camera, so it got weird imaging artifacts until she switched modes.

      4. Having a permanent hologram around her that glitched with the camera was actually my first thought. It matches with other people’s theories about robot dad, and Victoria’s observations that her clothing is very deliberate and perfect.

  8. For some reason i was expecting byron to be the one who moonsong disliked and tristan to be the one moonsong liked in the glow worm chapter.

    looks like tristan had previously used the insurance hitmen and that’s what got him into trouble (although they do have multiple tiers only the highest of which is murder, so could have been tristan wasn’t actually trying to kill a teammate), but in the glow worm chapter byron was the one who contacted them and tristan was the ‘contact’ who ‘told’ him some of how things worked. And moonsong knew about what byron was doing and thinks it was kosher so i think it is indeed something like ‘if tristan goes too far and tries to mess with byron then the hitmen are activated’.

    1. “For some reason i was expecting byron to be the one who moonsong disliked and tristan to be the one moonsong liked in the glow worm chapter.”

      I think you need to reread the glow-worm chapter. She names Tristan there, it’s not a mystery which one she likes and which one she doesn’t.

  9. So … Sveta’s encased in a hard ceramic shell, complete with ball joints, detachable limbs, and optional grappling hooks. What’s next, extra chains and retractable knives?

    (Also, interesting that her last name’s Karelia – I wonder why she picked it? Is that where she’s from, perhaps?)

    1. Well, most Case 53s are from other worlds, right? Either she remembers it from her time there and it’s entirely foreign, or perhaps she picked it / made it up herself.

  10. “Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.”

    Fairly certain the “I” should be a “me.”

    (Yay for not mixing up the two this time, still have no idea how I swapped the correct and incorrect versions last time.)

    1. I am rereading Worm right now and WildBow has a fair number of those. (If you follow the “drop all other names” rule and assuming there is not some specific weird rule of English I am missing)

  11. Typo thread!

    “Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.”

    Should be “Anelace” (and “me”, but maybe that’s not a conversation to start now…).

    1. Yeah, should be “me,” since “just I” doesn’t make sense (unless this type of hypercorrection into a grammar error is somehow part of Victoria’s voice).

      1. It’s a hypercorrection endemic to wildbow’s work. That specific error is in at least every third chapter he writes.

    2. “going to talk to a family member about”
      “I looked up at a knight”
      “I had a conversation with dad”
      Doubled spaces.

      “Having someone available a month from now or two months from now might be good.”
      A bit heavy on the repetition.
      > Having someone available a month or two from now might be good. ?

      “Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.”
      Byron just switched back to Tristan (and the aforementioned Anelace typo).

  12. > “I already have some ideas,” Kenzie said. “Not about the time guys, but I have ideas.”

    Kenzie has Ideas.

    *That’s when she’s at her most dangerous.*

  13. I’m really fascinated by the idea of multiple separate hero teams working under one roof. Also kinda weird for the top tier team to embrace a Darker aesthetic after the Apocalypse.

    1. Darker times, darker expectations, darker creations. It happens with fictional superheroes, it’s plausible for real ones.

      1. Also interesting how floor 5, the one with all the Parahumans on it was not built around the hole in the centre. Probably signifiying how it isn’t transparent and open to the rest of the world.

        1. People still use masked identities. The closed off portion allows them to walk around their private office area without needing to stay in full costume. Also, they’re law enforcement organizations, even if the actual laws are highly loosie goosie at the moment. You have to have areas that can be closed off so that your bulletin board with all your case notes can’t be spied out be someone with telescopic vision or just a good camera.

    2. I’m more worried about the giant statues. In the modern day that kind of self-aggrandizing strongman stuff is more often associated with fascists who need to reinforce their strength on the populace. It could be just a carryover from the Protectorate’s history as a PR firm for parahumans, but the setting was already in the middle of a worrying slide towards warlords seizing power, the destruction or subversion of existing democratic institutions, and a focus on pure strength or power as a source of legitimacy.

    3. I think what they were going for in that design is to say that the darkness has always been there, it was just hidden behind a mask of white, them embracing the dark theme is echoing their promise to be open with their inner workings, no matter how bad it may make them look.
      But, their refusal to disclose what Taylor did in the Golden Morning points to the fact that they have already broken that promise to a degree, how much so we have yet to see.

  14. “I don’t get bullied either,” Kenzie said. “I wouldn’t mind if I did. It would at least mean my classmates would pay attention to me.”
    In another world, Taylor is rolling her eyes.
    Be careful what you wish for, Kenzie. I hear capes aren’t as lionized as they once were.

    It was transparent and open in layout and the suggestion of there being very few barriers…
    The Wardens have a clever interior designer.

    “A lot of precedent, citing past history, pulling from the law of Earth Bet.”
    Considering how ticked people are about how that precedent turned out, I’d recommend changing a few key points…

    It’s official, they’re a superhero team. Now they just need to figure out all the details like names and costume designs and how they’re going to handle the challenges they’ve chosen for themselves…um…I think they’re doing this in the wrong order.

  15. Loving the Amy foreshadowing. I cannot wait for an interlude to see from her POV at some point? Really loving how the depth and complexity is being added to our hero team. And yes Victoria is now using ‘we’ rather than ‘they’. After recently re-reading Worm, and how brash and loud and … bull in a china shop Glory Girl was, it is so fascinating to see this methodical, careful planner but with some VERY deep seeded emotional triggers and insecurities.

    I am also curious – did Amy fix her love/infatuation with her in Victoria’s brain. Victoria clearly has body image issues, but I am also curious if she considers herself bi-sexual, or maybe even now after everything, asexual? The forcefield seems to clearly indicate that deep inside she is a blob of flesh with three heads still.

    1. Yes, Amy fixed that in her brain. There was a story of Vic telling someone about it, don’t remember where exactly. Basically, when they met in Gold Morning, Amy undid the flesh-coffin-blob thing, then temporarily turned off all emotions in Victoria… she then asked her what she wanted, if she wanted the love thing to just be undone entirely, and (I think?) if she wanted to keep those memories or not. Vic, divorced from all emotion and using only her rationality, obviously decided that she didn’t want the love thing, but also didn’t ask any memories to be erased – including the ones about when she was in the blob form.

      If I recall, Vic’s own hypothesis about it was that Amy had a small hope that she’d *choose* loving her by her own volition.

    2. Amy fixed Victoria to the best of her ability, which is very good indeed. At least that’s what Victoria thinks Amy did, and I don’t really see a reason to doubt either of them here.

      The forcefield is POWER FUCKERY, and it might not actually make any sense. Victoria’s self-image could have something to do with it, if her passenger is capable of reading her self-image and cares about it, but it’s just as likely that the forcefield just grew to accommodate her new body and wasn’t designed to shrink back down. The forcefield is shaped the way it is because a symbiotic alien that attached to Victoria when she was young analyzed her entire existence at the moment she triggered, and concluded that this is how the forcefield should work. Maybe it was always meant to eventually become a blob, because the passenger thinks that’s the optimal forcefield shape.

    3. I’ll say it again, the forcefield angle is a misconception – she lifted Kenzie’s big box by pulling with her extra invisible arms alongside her normal ones, which isn’t very ‘forcefieldy’ in nature. Ok, Marvel’s Sue Storm often shaped her forcefield into extensions she’d use to TK things around, but here Victoria doesn’t (cannot ?) change its shape, but can make it move its limbs by pupeteering it (like her ground-rending stunt to send Amy away, or extending her arm to give Jasper cover).

      Body double. It’s not clear yet why it’s still using the wretch’s template, but not for a lack of possibilities.

      1. Considering that powers in Worm often don’t do what we think… I mean Chevalier’s power for example isn’t just being a guy in armor with a sword. Jack Slash’s was actually Communication, it just looked like it was knife beams. Shards don’t give the powers you’d first think a lot of the time. Victoria’s might not be what we think either.

  16. Okay come on, where’s the statue for Taylor! I mean she only saved the Earth’s by killing Scion. Not to mention all the other stuff she did. I mean who are Cinereal, Stonewall, Topflight, and what have they ever done?

    OK seriously I understand it’s a Wardens thing, and Taylor was never a Warden. But I am a bit concerned with the whole Unpersoning Taylor and ignoring her contributions to stopping Scion, and everything before. For good or ill she was part of history, and once those in power start rewriting history, no matter their reasons, it’s not a good thing.

    1. Regarding Kenzie: I’m pretty sure she did *something* for her to be left alone in school as she is. Otherwise, with her personality and with how fashionable she is, she seems to me like the kind that’d either be put as extremely social or as the bullied one, with no inbetween. (Assuming she uses the same personality we’ve seen so far at school, that is.)

      I’m also pretty sure she was lying about the camera blurring being unintentional – it’s put there as foreshadowing, I feel. Getting chronic liar vibes from her… the fact that Victoria doesn’t seem to have noticed only reinforces it to me, given that chronic liars can also be very good at lying with a straight face.

      1. “she seems to me like the kind that’d either be put as extremely social or as the bullied one, with no inbetween. (Assuming she uses the same personality we’ve seen so far at school, that is.)”
        I disagree with this. I went to class with a guy that reminds me of Kenzie. He was just a bit too… much. He always wanted attention, always went too far to get it. Think, suddenly breaking out in song, just because someone was talking about musicals. He wasn’t bad at singing, but it was just so obvious he wanted praise, and it was exhausting. There were a lot of little things like that. He wasn’t bullied, but he wasn’t popular either. He was ignored as much as possible.

    2. Letting people know of Khepri in detail is DANGEROUS.

      Letting people know that Bonesaw and Panacea contributed to what she could do is ÜBER DANGEROUS.

      It’s easier to pretend Taylor Hebert never existed, or died in GM, than admitting the fact that without her, everything would have gone pear-shaped, and that is the path to doomsday cults. Which, for all we know, Sophia may already have started.

    3. I think those guys are just the current Warden heavy hitters, or were at the time the statues were commissioned. Not really connected to past accomplishments.

      I don’t think people are really rewriting history, either. It’s more that it’s cape business, and doesn’t belong to the muggles. Everyone either knows what she did, because she used them to do it, or isn’t entitled to the knowledge. The same reason there wasn’t any good footage of Endbringer fights before the Behemoth tape was leaked.

      Also, Imp is running around silencing anyone who disrespects Taylor’s memory. Maybe there was a statue, but it wasn’t very good, so now no one can remember it clearly and the sculptor sings I’m A Little Teapot every time someone asks him about it?

      Anyway, if it was causing some lasting damage on society, I’m sure there’s like twenty thinkers who would be able to detect that and independently spill the beans if they wanted. For the truth to be forgotten, the entire current generation of capes would need to die, so that’s not liable to happen in the next few decades. If humanity survives that long and the secret still hasn’t come out, they can think about amending policy.

      1. But if they don’t remember Taylor, they are going to be totally unprepared for when she shows up having taken control of Earth Aelph and now out to conquer the multiverse because it’s being run so poorly when Wildbow finally does the inevitable crisis crossover!

        That was a joke.

        While I see where you are coming from, it strikes me this could potentially blow up in their faces. Letting it be outed that Taylor was the key factor in killing Scion, and that they covered that and her existance up? Someone could use that to hurt the Warden’s image and raise questions about how honest and transparent they really are. Someone could go “Everyone would have broke and run if it weren’t for her, and then they stole all the credit so they wouldn’t seem like cowards and could get you to do what they want.” It’s not the truth, but there’s stuff there that could hurt if used at the wrong time. Kinda like how much of a mess Alexandria’s stuff and Cauldron were when they came out during the Echidna fight.

    4. Taylor also mindfucked almost every cape through turning them into Fleshpuppet Katamaris. I’m not surprised that there might be some trauma involved for the survivors, trauma they’d much rather bury and move on.

  17. Have we heard of Cinereal, Stonewall, and Topflight? The names don’t sound familiar. I wonder if they were involved in Gold Morning without really being mentioned – presumably only people with a good deal of experience get statues.

    I’m happy to see Miss Militia get a statue, she’s cool. But now I’m really curious what all the big names are up to at this point in the story… It’d be neat to get a Legend or Chevalier or someone interlude to see what they have to deal with. I’m willing to bet there’s some really tense interdimensional conflicts we don’t even get to hear about.

    1. So far as I know they are new. What’s interesting is who’s missing. Dragon and Defiant. So I really wonder if they haven’t joined the Wardens, and if so what they’ve been doing.

    2. Cinereal’s in the wiki. She was the leader of the Atlanta Protectorate, she generates ash that she can use to teleport, heal, or set herself and everything around her on fire. She didn’t show up for the Endbringer fights apparently because her power isn’t that useful for it (it confines her to the area where she spread the ash), and unlike certain people knows when to stay home.

      1. I wouldn’t be surprised if she could do more than just that, seeing as Cinereal also can mean pertaining to Cinerea, a medical term for grey matter. After all, there is only so much you can do with fire, and if mental manipulation is a part of her powerset it makes sense for her to sit out of the endbringer fights even more, they don’t have minds to manipulate, or at least none with grey matter.
        One possibility is that long term exposure to her ash lets it incorporate into the base instinct parts of your brain, and she can agitate (same basic mechanic as setting it on fire) those particles to induce instinctual responses like fear, euphoria, or pain.

  18. Moonsong, that is the perfect way to talk to people, if you want them to A) hate you B) Do nothing you suggest and V) want to look like a complete and total bitch.

    Congrats girl, you’ve just ruined any potential allies you had in that room.

  19. I like how aside from whichever family member is currently occupying the “not enough emotional energy to feel empathy for them” space, Carol is actually really nice to everyone and a joy to work with. She even befriended Sveta, presumably while she was trying to avoid spending time with the horrible twisted mass of flesh that was once her daughter!

    1. Being ‘nice’ to people doesn’t really need any emotional connection.
      Carol is still ‘nice’ to Victoria, she just doesn’t love her.

  20. I can see this story going through its entirety without any major exploring of the memory of Skitter, Weaver and/or Kephri. I also have the feeling Imp is going by a new name, as she isn’t a mere imp anymore. Honestly, if Miss Militia is here at the Wardens, then so is Bitch. I think she might actually be going by The name Hellhound, too.

    I’m so desperate for interaction between the Undersiders and Lopsided (I’m naming this salad team).

  21. I have to wonder who else is tied into this bigger picture stuff with Hollow Point. Tattletale is a big name now, and she doesn’t come cheap. Not to mention she should be able to pick and choose. And now we’ve got these Speedrunners. Who sweep the territory several times a day? Again that not only can’t be cheap, but it has to be in very high demand. And they apparently do a very in depth sweep too. And I wasn’t getting the impression Hollowpoint were that big a power. This is the sort of thing the Undersiders would have wished they could get when they were running Brockton bay. Somebody else has to be involved.

    1. Hollow Point isn’t a big power. It’s just where a lot of wandering villain groups, teamless b-listers and homeless mercenaries have decided to call home. The Speedrunners probably get a cut of the profits brought in by drug-dealers, like Prance, Moose and… Um. The third one, whose name I’ve forgotten. Plus they get a place to live, with electrical power, and a whole host of other villains to call on if they get pressured.

      Hollow Point is what happens when the Travellers, Faultline’s Crew, the Merchants, the Pure and a bunch of independent, semi-successful villains and maybe some rogues decide they want to settle down and live without being pushed around by New Wave, the Protectorate, the Undersiders or anyone else. On their own, they aren’t a major power, and together, they’re… Still not a major power. They can’t go toe-to-toe with the Teeth, or Tattletale, or Lord of Loss. But they have the numbers and the motivation, and enough oddball powers, to make upsetting them tricky. And the best thing, as far as the major powers are concerned, all they want is one neighbourhood to call their own, and some of them are still available for hire as extra muscle or mind.

  22. Hot damn Carol have you no basic empathy for your child? “My daughter ran away when I said her sister was gonna be over…. but it’s been a few days she should be all stable now~”

  23. Heh. ‘Kenzies computer doesn’t bother tracking ‘time’ Just what happened. I’m assuming she’ll be pretty useful in getting some info on said runners.

  24. I like the aesthetic of the Speedrunners. (Although the name gave me brief hope that, in the rewrite, Leet survived.) Very worrying how powerful they seem to be. I’m guessing Secondhand is mostly a Thinker, who can get info from paths-not-taken, and lots of them at once. Final Hour seems to be a bit like Coil, maybe with hints of Cache, and I’m guessing he has points of vulnerability in between his ‘banked timelines’. Also, I suspect he has to recharge.
    Last Minute is probably a transport and/or combat specialist, and a powerful one, but beyond that, I don’t know. Lots of interesting stuff, though.
    (I bet Kenzie is a Tinker/Jacker, by the way. But it shows up like a Tinker-Thinker/Puppeter. Also, I think Tristain is the Blaster-Shaper* and Byron is the Breaker of the two. Byron would be responsible for their swapping ability, while Tristan is responsible for the sparks and summoning ability.)
    *Shaper is a new classification I’ve come up with. I’ve decided to split Shaker into highly mobile area effects (which are usually centered on the caster, so I’m calling the class Cloakers), and the mostly-immobile area effects (which are usually built up over time, so I’m calling the class Shapers).

  25. Any episode where Taylor Hebert becomes a major player in ‘Ward’ will have to be the last episode I read. I’m having enough trouble dealing with the spasms of visceral disgust I feel whenever Tattletale prolapses into this story that it just wouldn’t be worth trying to keep reading if that snivelling, manipulative hypocrite and all-around-psychopath Taylor Hebert return.

    I salute Wildbow for creating two characters so memorable and effective… but in my case, the “effect” Tattletale and Skitter have is roly-eyed loathing. I detest them both so much more than is appropriate for mere fictional characters.

    A big part of that is having them presented not only as protagonists but ‘big damn heroes’, ‘ultra-competent’ and ‘good/great people’, assessments that are endorsed by other characters in contradiction of their own characterisations [i.e. no way in HELL should this character think Taylor or Lisa was a wonderful person]– but since I ranted about this AT LENGTH during the original posting of ‘Worm’, I’m going to resist the urge to reprise.

    I actually hate both characters, and not in an involving, ‘must-know-more’ way, but in an ‘I don’t even want to THINK about them again’ way. I certainly don’t want to read about T&L, but people keep rhapsodising about them in the comments, and I can’t contain the urge to respond. Tattletale’s already returned, which is unfortunate, but if they BOTH show up… I’ll have to stop reading or go completely schizoid.

    1. With how things ended, I’m pretty sure Taylor won’t be coming back. There might be a crisis where news of Khepri gets released, but I don’t see her being more involved than that with any major events.

      1. I could see something like the problems it made when Cauldron got outed during the Echidna fight. Someone outs the Khepri thing at a bad time. Maybe puts a spin on it. “Hey you know how you can at least trust and respect these guys for saving the world? Well nope they didn’t, they just got used by the person who did. Yep someone else killed Scion, and funny thing they dissappered afterwards while these guys claimed all the credit. Still so sure you can trust them to be honest? Or maybe you are wondering what else they haven’t told you?”

        It doesn’t have to be fully true to be the most damaging. But that grain of truth makes the lie harder to dispel.

    2. She must be really good at warping characterizations, then. Contrary to my usual characterization, I think that she was very competent and, despite her mistakes, basically a good person.

  26. So something I’m wondering. First we got some insight on Ashley’s issues. Then we got some hints involving Rain. And this chapter we get some more hints for Capricorn. So will we learn something about Kenzie or Chris next chapter?

  27. I think it’s notable that while Byron said Moonsong went overboard, he doesn’t dislike her and he’s on good terms with her. Also, Moonsong seems to be on good terms with the rest of Team Reach while Tristan is most definitely not.

    That makes me much more inclined to trust Moonsong’s version of events. I have a kind of hard time imagining a scenario in which Moonsong really is twisting Tristan getting emotional support and being competitive into him being a psychopath and breaking the team as a result, which also ends with Byron still being friendly with her and her being the one to stay with Reach. It’s just really hard for me to rationalize her being crazy. Whereas it is *very* easy for me to rationalize Byron not thinking of his brother as a sociopath (even though he is one) or not saying so because, well, his brother is a sociopath.

    And I mean, maybe Tristan isn’t a malignant sociopath. Maybe he’s just got other issues. But when your issues get you labeled as a sociopath and kicked off your team and absolutely no one involved, not even your brother, takes your side? Yeah he might as well be a sociopath so far as the level of concern that should be shown around his past behavior.

    1. I feel like it depends on what sort of tone this story is going to go for. If this were Worm I would agree that he’s definitely a sociopath, but I’m holding out hope that Ward will have a more hopeful tone and he’ll turn out to just be misunderstood.

    2. Everyone agrees that Tristain is in the wrong (probably even Tristain, since he doesn’t defend himself), but it also feels like Moonsong took the worst, least charitable interpretation of events and ran with it.

      It’s important to note that in the Glow Worm interlude, her behavior around everybody that she disliked was pretty antagonistic- her eulogy for Furcate contained both a great deal of criticism and went out of its way to mention the fact that she didn’t get along with Furcate. Her eulogy for Scritch and Scratch outright stated that she thought nobody would mourn them. And, of course, there’s the fact that she picks several fights with Tristain in the memorial chat.

      For all that she’s supposedly a hero, she acts pretty scummy towards those she thinks are beneath her. She strikes me as a very black-and-white thinker- the sort that thinks that it’s okay to attack others because the people she’s hurting are eeeevil.

  28. When Valkyrie’s statue was mentioned I was reminded that she has Dennis as one of her “ghosts”. Since Victoria knew/was friends with him, I wonder how she’d react to seeing him pulled out by Ciara.

    1. Depends on if that one part of the end that implied Valkyrie, Nilbog and Bonesaw could potentially resurrect capes she’s claimed between them, and if that was Clockblocker she was looking at. If that’s the case he may already have been pulled out of her.

  29. “Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.”

    Shouldn’t that be ‘Tristan’ since you just described Byron changing back into Tristan?

  30. I would like to know more about the Kings of the Hill. Where’s the Hill? Are they all Kings, or do they have Queens as well? Do they fight a group called the Dirty Rascals? Oh, no, wait. That would require them to have a castle.

    But anyway. Jokes and questions aside, I think it’s a pretty cool team name.

  31. If nothing is what it seems then maybe it’s Byron who’s the sociopath.

    He’s the one who had the conversation with a certain kind of professional after all. Maybe Tristan is simply a competative person who gets emotional support and Byron used that to frame him for the hit. Moonsong likes Byron and hates Tristan… Maybe Byron is the real archmanipulator. Maybe he thinks that if he gets rid of Tristan he an have the body all to himself.

    Beware the quiet ones, after all.

    In other news I peg Moonsong as a future problem and one of those heroes who will make the team falter on the path of heroes.

  32. Byron punctuated the sentence by changing into Tristan.

    “I’m good with this,” Tristan said, shifting his posture to avoid looking at Moonsong.

    “Good,” the Foresight leader said. “Thank you for your time, Shepherds.”

    Tribute and Moonsong left the office. Just Anlace, the leader, Kenzie, Byron, Sveta and I, now.


    Shouldn’t that still be Tristan in the last line?

  33. As someone who is sibling to a psychopath (or whatever her diagnose is), let me just say that Byron’s situation horrifies me more than anything else Wildbow has written. I’m usually not one to be unsettled by the horror genre, but I think this’ll give me nightmares.

    Which one of the twins had the trigger event? What was the trigger event? We don’t know yet, and that makes me think Tristan is the one who caused Byron to trigger.

    I hope it’s not that bad though. I also hope Byron gets his happily ever after with Glory Girl. Didn’t miss those looks he sent her, he’s totally into her.

  34. Kenzie has major distortions all across her face, including her eyes when she has her picture taken by surprise.
    One of two reasons this happens.
    First is that she uses this distortion so that her identity is safe from cameras when doing something nefarious.
    Second is that she has major facial scarring, and this is likely what caused her to trigger. If she were to have gotten her face gouged out along with her eyes, she has the perfect power to fix both problems, the scars can be covered by holograms and the eyes can be replaced with her cameras.
    I’m leaning towards the former as it is simply too perfect a power for such a thing and I severely doubt she is as innocent as she seems.

  35. “Whatever’s in the past, he gets his second chance, like anyone. ”
    So how does this apply to Amy? Or is it rather a second chance with society, not necessarily with everyone they ever interacted with?

    Every time we see this team (and it looks like Victoria is belonging to it, now), an added wrinkle of complexity is added. So exciting to dwelve into all this conflict and mystery 🙂

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