Shade – Interlude 4b

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Rain climbed down from the back of the pickup truck, slinging his bag over his shoulder with the contents rattling.  Two older guys departed at the same time.  The truck puttered as Rain walked around to the driver’s side door.  He handed over some bills.  The inside of the truck was choked with the smell of cigarettes, and the man at the wheel was partially obscured in the dark and smoke, his features lit by the changing colors of the radio display.

“Thank you,” he said.  He didn’t sound like himself.

He only got a grunt in response.  The driver counted the money before putting it aside.

The two older guys approached the window, one of them with a twenty-four pack of beer that looked badly weathered, as if it had sat out in the rain for a month.  It was the other that went to the window to pay.

With the settlement being so off the beaten track, the only way to get in and out was to either have a working vehicle or to pay someone to make the drive.  Rain was pretty sure that his comings and goings were being reported to people higher up the food chain.

He didn’t have alternatives, not unless Erin gave him a ride.

He kept his head down and made the walk along the side of the road.  Here and there, the packed dirt was loose, not held together by weeds or grass, and his footing slipped.  It made the walk a trudge.

It was late, and houses were lit by candle and lamps.  Across the field, a tall bonfire blazed.  The two guys with the beer were making their way there, climbing over a fence to take the shortest path possible.  Were Rain to visit, he’d see people like Jay.  Old enough to mess around and get into trouble, but not yet married.  There had been a time when he’d wanted to be one of the older boys at those little parties.

Were he to visit, he’d be grudgingly welcomed.  He’d be expected to laugh at the jokes, to agree with the things said, to play along.  He would be expected to take the ribbing and jokes at his expense, and there would be a lot.  He would be expected to keep to the unspoken contract.  Adults let those kinds of gatherings happen because the people who attended played along.  They didn’t complain too much when it came time to do something with or for the sake of the community.  The tribe.  The gang.

Rain walked, well aware he’d let the day, afternoon and early evening slip away from him.  He’d left the others and caught a train, and he’d been unable to bring himself to come back here.  ‘Home’.

Jittery nervousness had transformed into a dull feeling of dread.  That dread leeched into and through him like a poison, as if his realization about his high chance of dying had transformed into something that made him feel like he was being eaten alive, being killed by the dread.

He would have thrown up, if he weren’t so tense that he wasn’t sure he could bend over and bring himself to.

He pushed himself forward.  Erin’s house was the next one, and there was light in the window.  He trudged onward, the earth at the side of the road giving way beneath his feet, as he sank in, pulled himself up and forward, then sank again in a few steps later.

He would have walked in the middle of the road, but Jay’s group was out there at the fire drinking, and Rain didn’t trust them or many of the others to have headlights on and their eyes on the road.

Erin was there, sitting at her window on the second floor.  She was keeping an eye out for him, still wearing the shirt with the cross on the front from earlier.  The light from her television cast the shadows around her in various shades of green.

She raised a hand in a wave as he drew close enough for the light from the house’s windows to illuminate him.  He raised his own hand.

With the house being at the end of a path, and Erin being on the second floor, her voice was almost inaudible as she asked something.  She pointed with him as she asked it, then raised her hand in a barely-visible ok sign.

Was he okay?

Rain stood a very real chance of dying.

He was standing there, not responding, his thoughts tearing through his brain.  He had options but none of them were options.  If he went to the Wardens for help he would become embroiled in something bigger, because he knew things and he’d be expected to share those things.  The Fallen would target him and there was no guarantee the Wardens could keep him safe.  There was a chance it would push away Erin and pull him away from the group, as he was taken to safe custody and expected to testify.  There was a chance the revelation would mean Victoria pushed him away, or Sveta did, or even Chris or Kenzie.

He could share with the group, but for many of the same reasons he couldn’t go to the Wardens, there would be a price.  Things would change.

The person online- no guarantees.

Mrs. Yamada – she could offer support, she could help him ask others for help, but there was a limit to what she could do.

Erin repeated the question, calling it across to Rain.

A moment later, she put her book, down, holding her hand out.  Telling him to wait.

“I’m okay!” he called out.  He wasn’t.

Erin reversed direction and put her head out the window.  In the background, one of her parents- her mom, it looked like, stepped into her room, standing behind her.

Rain raised a hand in a wave, and Erin’s mom waved back.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow!”  Rain called out.

“Yeah!” Erin replied.

Rain adjusted his bag at his shoulder, then resumed the trudge.  The false normal and the lie that he was okay was something that felt almost real, he could hold to it for a short while.

Not for the entire way back.  When he did arrive at the edge of the property, with its hastily constructed house, the fenced in yard, and the stable, with a field stretching out behind it, the dread, at least, seemed less pointed.

The knowledge he might die sat heavily, all the same.

He let himself into the house and put his bag by the stairs.  Everyone was in the kitchen.  His uncle was looking over the paper from earlier in the day.  Allie had a crossword and dictionary, and Rain’s aunt was engaged in what seemed like her neverending stream of tidying-up and tending to the property.

“Sorry I’m late,” Rain said.

“It’s fine,” his aunt said.  “Did you eat?”

Rain shook his head.

“Food’s on the stove if you want it.  If you don’t, let me know so I can put the leftovers away.”

Rain got a bowl from the cupboard and approached the stove.

“You look like lukewarm shit, Rain,” Allie said.

Rain’s aunt smacked Allie across the back of the head, hard enough that when Allie bent forward, she stayed like that for a few long seconds.

“He does,” Allie said.

“I probably do look like shit,” Rain said.

“Doesn’t mean she needs to say it,” Rain’s aunt said.  She gave Allie a lighter slap on the back of the head, while Allie was still bent over her crossword.

Rain hadn’t yet ladled the stew into his bowl.

He couldn’t do nothing.  He needed…  As horrible as this situation was, as horrible as each new thing he learned seemed to make the situation, he needed to figure something out.

“Uncle,” he said.

He heard the papers rustle.

“Face your uncle if you’re addressing him,” his aunt said.

Rain did.  His uncle was of average height, muscular as many of the farmers were, with graying blond hair that Rain’s aunt cut neatly every few days, and very tan, weather-worn skin.  The man could have looked so normal and disarming, with a face that might even have looked friendly, but instead he wore a perpetual glower.  He never smiled, and he rarely if ever spoke.

There was no light in his uncle.  Had Rain not lived with the man for years, he might have said he was a sociopath, just in how he held himself, the look in his eyes, and how joyless his rote existence seemed.  If the Fallen needed a job done and wanted able, loyal bodies, Rain’s uncle would go without question or hesitation.

“Would you teach me to fight?” Rain asked.

“You don’t want to do that,” Allie said.

“Butt out, Allie,” his aunt said, hand going up but not delivering another smack.  “This is between boy and man.”

Rain’s uncle folded his paper, then stood from his chair, putting it back under the table.  He made his exit by the side door, entering into the fenced-in yard, the door left open behind him.

“What are you waiting for?” Rain’s aunt asked.  “Don’t keep him waiting.”

Rain hurried, going back to the bottom stairs where he’d left his bag.  He opened the bag as he reversed direction, heading to the kitchen, fishing in the bag for the things he needed.

He had one mechanical arm out as he passed his aunt and cousin.  His aunt was unreadable.  Not as dark as his uncle was- his aunt gave the impression the light had been almost entirely extinguished, but the woman could smile, for the rarest of occasions.  She had things she cared about and prioritized.  Dim or reduced to dark embers, but not gone.

He pressed the arm to his shoulder blade, and felt the connection flare, burning through his nerves to his brain.  A small, tiny window opened in his consciousness, with his awareness of the arm and its position.  He was aware of the air against the current that ran along the outside ‘skin’ of the arm and hand.

He used the extra arm to help hold the bag while he got the other arm out, slapping it back against the blade of his other shoulder.

His uncle waited by the wooden fence, the perimeter made up of only three broad wooden slats punctuated by the stout posts.

Standing there, illuminated only by the porchlight, his uncle gave no impression there had ever been a light there at all.

Rain had two more arms to connect, but they were smaller, attached at the elbow, only reaching as far as his wrist.  They were older and he’d tuned them back up to working order with the intention of leaving one for Kenzie to study.  He’d forgotten, in his haste to leave.

He approached his uncle.  When he got within three or so paces, his uncle took a step toward him.  No prelude, no intent apparent in his action.  With a second long stride, the man reached out to shove Rain’s shoulder hard, pushing him toward the fence.

Rain cast out the emotion power around them, and felt the feedback buzz, the faint response that let him know the power was working.

That done, he reached up.  His normal hand grabbed his uncle’s wrist.  A mechanical hand grabbed his uncle’s elbow, fingers digging in there, in an attempt to force it to bend.  The smallest hand grabbed for two fingers, pulling them backward.

His uncle pulled his hand up and away, and then kicked Rain in the thigh.

Rain fell, his mechanical hands were too slow to let go, and he could see as the two right arms came apart in pieces, wires stretching between wrist and forearm, forearm and elbow, before snapping.  The individual parts fell to the shadows and grass.

His uncle kicked him while he was down, boot to ribs.

Rain reached for the pieces, picking them up with two left hands.  The forearm, broken at the front, was almost like a broken bottle.  He scrambled back, two broken pieces of his arms held in his real hand and his one remaining, full-size mechanical arm.

He dismissed the emotion effect, re-cast it out, just to ensure it was over his uncle.  Not that it seemed to do much.  He’d tried letting it sit on people and some of the farm animals before.  It didn’t work.  He could only hope there was some nuance he could use.

Fuck, his ribs and leg hurt where he’d been kicked.

His uncle walked away, his back to Rain.  He approached the fence, then reached over it.  Allie wasn’t far away.  She’d gone through the gate and was leaning against the outside of the fence, watching.

A shovel.  Rain’s uncle had picked up the shovel that had been leaning against the fence, almost as long as Rain was tall, with a spade-shaped head.  There was an implicit ‘if you’re going to wield a weapon, so am I’ to the act.

“Don’t kill him,” Rain’s aunt said, from the stairs to the kitchen.

Rain’s uncle turned, and gave Rain’s aunt a long, slow look.

“I don’t want to have to explain it to the leadership,” she said.

Rain’s uncle reversed his grip on the shovel, holding it near the spade-end with both hands.

Rain backed away a little as his uncle approached.

The first swing of the shovel was preliminary, measuring distance.  Swung like a baseball bat, it made the ‘whoosh’ sound as it sliced through the air.  If Rain hadn’t leaned back, it might have connected with his nose.

Rain lunged forward.  He had smaller weapons.

His uncle didn’t swing the shovel back the other way.  Instead, moving his hand up to grip it at the middle, he swung it so the upper end caught Rain’s mechanical arm, the lower end caught his wrist.

The mechanical arm broke with the impact, the shattered forearm dropping from its grip.

Rain felt the pain of the impact against his wrist as something that extended along his entire forearm, through his hand, tingling in his fingers.

He knew how to throw a punch, and with his uncle holding nothing back, he had no reason to do so either.  He closed the distance, his chest connecting with his uncle’s as he punched low, aiming for the stomach, just beneath the ribs.  Repeated blows, strikes with fist sharp against muscle and fat.

Fingers tangled in his hair, gripped tighter until Rain’s scalp hurt.  He was pulled away, then without the hand letting go, he was flung into the fence, cheekbone and shoulder crashing into the broad plank closer to the top.

He was pulled away, not allowed to get his balance, and then thrust toward the fence again.

He used his mover power to arrest the push, to make himself stop.  He drove his elbow into his uncle’s arm, where only the connection pad and the shattered remnants of the arm remained, raking the damaged metal and wire against flesh.

His uncle pulled away, and Rain was there, suspended for another second.

Rain couldn’t cancel out his mover power before his uncle got his footing and came back at him, driving a knee into his middle.  He crashed into the fence and landed hard.

He hauled himself to his feet, one hand on the fence, and his uncle kicked him before he was entirely there.  A kick at the armpit, so Rain’s hand couldn’t support him any longer.  His mover power wasn’t available to stop him from falling, and- and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest if it were.

The pain radiated through him, now.  His uncle stood tall, one hand at his arm, which was bleeding, and paced.  The feedback Rain got wasn’t accurate enough to let him know where his uncle was, and it was hard to find a position where he could look up and over.

He grabbed the fence and heaved himself to his feet.

His uncle looked at his aunt, and Rain took that as an opportunity to sprint full-bore for the man.  He leaped, heedless of personal risk, of the fall that might follow, and kicked sideways with all of his force.

He connected, shin to side.  He saw the pain on his uncle’s face.  Then he used his power to suspend himself, before he could tumble hard to the ground.

It suspended him for too long.  There was no canceling it, and however long it lasted, a second and a half, two seconds, maybe even approaching three seconds, it was enough time for his uncle to turn his way and kick him, hard.

Rain dropped, in too much pain to calculate how he broke free of the power’s hold, and landed in the grass and dirt.

He was kicked several times while he was down.  Back, buttock, leg.  He wasn’t sure if he’d been kicked sharply in the side or if it was only the way he’d recoiled and made an existing wound pull that made it feel like it.

His mechanical hands broke at the slightest excuse, his emotion power didn’t do anything he could identify, and his mover power made him a sitting duck in any real combat situation.

The kicking had stopped.  Rain lay there, his breaths coming out as wheezes.  His thoughts were so mired in sick hopelessness that he could barely think straight.

A hand was extended.  It seized Rain by the upper arm, firm, and heaved him to his feet.

It occurred to Rain, too late, that his uncle wasn’t the kind of person to offer a helping hand.

Still firmly holding Rain’s upper arm, with Rain bent over, his uncle struck him across the face.  It was only the fierce grip on Rain’s arm that kept him from being knocked to the ground yet again.

Again, Rain was struck across the face.  His head sagged.

The next hit caught him backhanded, across the ear.  It was impossibly loud, painful, and it made his thoughts dissolve into sparks.  His ear rang like a siren in the wake of the hit.

Rain, almost insensate, punched in the general direction of his uncle’s stomach, turned his face toward the ground so it would be away of any further blows, and kept punching blind until his uncle let him go.

Rain stumbled back, snorted, coughed, and tried to straighten, before giving up on the latter.  He put his hand on his knee to steady himself.

His uncle approached, and Rain backed up.  His uncle’s turn to return the favor, now.  Swats, a knee, a punch, a shove.  Even the lighter contact was painful, because Rain hurt, and each light contact forced him to move one way or the other while existing bruises and injuries punished those movements.

“Okay,” Rain managed, huffing out the word.  “Stop.”

His uncle didn’t stop, pushing out with both hands to shove Rain back into the wooden fence.

With an edge of desperation, Rain pulled out the silver blades.  It didn’t make his uncle hesitate.

He threw the first blade, and the pain at his armpit altered the trajectory, meant he didn’t finish the swing.  The silver scythe passed through his uncle’s head, the two remaining pieces carrying forward, sailing out to strike the side of the house.

A silver line encircling his head, Rain’s uncle stood there, drawing in a deep breath.

“Okay,” Rain said.  He hunched over, hands on his knees, coughed, then snorted.  “Don’t sneeze or do anything.  That’s all.  Thank you.”

His uncle remained where he was, glowering, eye sockets only barely illuminated by the silver light from the mark.

The mark would fade soon.  Ten, twelve seconds.  Rain watched and waited, nervous of the possibility of disaster.

The silver line thinned out, went away.  Rain’s uncle touched his face.  A moment later, the man strode toward Rain, a dark look on his face.

“Stop,” Rain said, voice weak.  He realized the futility of it as he said it.  His uncle didn’t intend to stop until one of them was unable to move.

The other blade still in his hand, he threw it out, with the blade only traveling a matter of feet before it crossed through his uncle’s midsection, the vertical and horizontal lines of the plaid work shirt illuminated in the gloom.

“Stop,” Rain said, again.  “Or you’ll die.”

His uncle looked down, spreading his hands.

Then, his expression changing, the man looked skyward, sighing.  Rain took the twelve seconds of rest to try to gather his thoughts, not looking skyward, but toward the ground.  He-

Heedless of the mark, his uncle kicked him.  The force was such that the silver mark flared, and it cut what lay beneath.

Again and again, the man kicked Rain.  He stomped once, as Rain lay too close to the ground to be properly kicked.

“I think he learned whatever it is you wanted to teach him,” Rain’s aunt said.  “Why don’t you come inside?  I’ll make you tea, and I’ll look over those scratches.”

Rain waited, knowing that if his uncle decided to ignore the order, there would only be more pain.  Pain that could kill him, if it meant he wasn’t able to fight back when Snag, Cradle, and Love Lost came for his head.

Instead, fabric draped over Rain’s head.

“Replace it,” his uncle said.  Perhaps the eleventh and twelfth words Rain had ever heard the man say to him.

Rain reached up and pulled the fabric away.  The plaid shirt.  Sliced across the middle.  His uncle was fine, because-

Because, Rain realized, closing his eyes, the power only affected one thing at a time.  It would hit clothes first, the person second.

He opened his eyes to watch as his uncle walked away, wearing an undershirt and jeans, opening the door to the kitchen and closing it behind him, the light in the fenced-in yard diminishing with the door closed.

Rain lay there, trying to breathe, hurting from head to toe.

“Dad doesn’t even have powers,” Allie said, from the other side of the fence.

Rain winced, realizing she’d seen.  She was still there.

“You did better when you weren’t using your powers,” his cousin said.  She paused.  “You okay?”

Rain’s nose felt stuffed, every heartbeat making his entire nasal cavity pound.  He snorted, hard, and pain ripped through his skull, blood spraying the grass in front of his face.  He huffed out a breath.

“I’m-” he started.  “Fine.”

He was going to die.  Not here, not because of this.  But he was going to die.

“I’m not sure what you were expecting,” Allie said.  “Dad is the kind of guy who thought he’d teach five year old me how to swim by throwing me into a pond.  I think this is him applying that same principle to teaching you to fight.”

Rain huffed out a breath.  His ribs hurt like hell, but-

He drew in a deep breath, winced at the pain.

Not broken.  He’d had broken ribs before.

“I don’t know if you were around then, but when mom had cancer, it was just dad and me and a couple cousins in the house.  He’d do stuff like tell us to sweep, and if we didn’t sweep right, he’d give us the belt.  He wouldn’t even tell us what we did wrong or why we didn’t meet expectations.  We had to figure it out.”

“I remember,” Rain managed.  “I was there.”

“Then why the hell did you think this was a good idea?  There are other people you can ask.  That you have been asking, unless you’ve been lying to us.  You could have gone to them.”

“I could have.  I wanted-” Rain coughed.  “I wanted this.”

“This?  Oh, you’ve gone and lost your mind.”

Maybe, Rain thought.  Maybe he had.  He’d fit right in, if he had.  But he’d wanted, needed to know if, when he was desperate and in very real danger, there was anything he could pull out or do.

There wasn’t.

“You sure you don’t need help?” Allie asked.

“I’ll manage,” Rain said, his voice coming out strained.  He fumbled out with one hand, reaching for the fence.

It took him some time to get to his feet.  He ended up leaning against the fence, hugging it, while trying to breathe properly.

He was pretty sure the dread and emotion in him was enough that he could have thrown up if he’d tried to.  He was also pretty sure he would black out if he did.

A truck roared as it rolled down the dirt road, moving too fast in the dark.  That would be why Rain walked on the side of the road when he walked that way in the dark.

“Rain,” Allie said.

“Mm?”

“I know we’re not close.  I’ve probably been shitty to you.”

“Better than a lot of people,” he said.

“I mean I’m not in a position to ask any favors from you,” she said.

Leaning over the fence, still hugging it, he stared down at the dark grass on the other side.  He didn’t respond.

“But I really, really need you to get your shit together,” his cousin said.

He winced, closing his eyes.  He opened them almost immediately, because he worried he might black out.

“You’ve turned some heads and drawn a lot of attention,” Allie said.  “You managed to do something nobody really thought was possible.  You put a rung on the ladder that’s even lower than the unpowered.  The person with powers that suck.  Because if you have shit powers, you’re not going to trigger and get other powers.  You have no chance.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  He barked out a couple of coughs, feeling a stabbing in his sides with each one.

“I really, really need you to figure something out,” Allie said.  “If you need something from me to help you figure it out, I can try helping.  But I need you to be… not this.”

He focused on breathing, absorbing the words.

“You know why I’m asking, right?”

He nodded slowly, mindful of the throbbing headache, pounding in his ear, and his sinuses.  He wasn’t sure if she could see him in the gloom.

“Nobody really wants you as a husband for their daughter, or as a husband for them.  They’ll go through the motions but they don’t want you.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“Sooner or later, they’re going to get fed up with you.  Then they’ll try pairing you up with someone and getting some babies out of you, see if those kids end up being worth anything in a few years.  When they do, nobody’s going to jump at the chance to be with you or marry their kid to you.”

Rain winced, tried to stand straighter.

“They’ll look back and forth and everyone will avoid eye contact, and then their eyes will settle on my mom and dad.  They’ll pair me up with you, because that’s who mom and dad are.  They’re dutiful, and they’ve sunk so much into this that they aren’t going to stop believing anytime soon.”

He knew it to be true.  He’d worried about it.

“And don’t go thinking of Erin.  I know you like her.  I know you probably hold out some secret hope you’ll get paired up with her.”

“No,” Rain said.

“It’s fine if you do.  Everyone probably does.  She’s hot.  But it’s because she’s hot that she’s going to end up with some forty year old guy close to the leadership, or she’s going to run.  Give up on her now.  If you don’t, I won’t just be the pity incest wife, I’m going to be the pity incest wife with a heartbroken husband.”

“You could leave.”

“Everyone thinks they’ll leave if it looks like they’re going to get a bad pairing.  How many actually do?  When things are close to that point, they start keeping a closer eye on you.  You get asked to have a chat with the leadership.  They don’t leave you the choice.”

Rain used the fence to help himself stay upright as he limped toward the kitchen.

“I’m not going to be one of the idiots that thinks she can get away,” Allie said.  “I’m making peace with it.”

He paused as he saw the shadows of his destroyed tinker arms.

Slowly, he began working his way toward the ground, so he could pick up the pieces.

“Stop,” Allie said.  “It’s painful to watch you.  Let me.”

He let her.

She hopped the fence, walked over to the shadows, and bent down, feeling out for the pieces and picking them up.

“This isn’t going to zap me or anything, is it?”

“Don’t-” Rain paused.  “Don’t touch the oblong pieces, the thin ones.  Hold them by the stems with the wires, or the shoulders.”

“Okay.”

Gingerly, Allie collected most of the pieces.  She handed them over to Rain.  He took the contact pad that had ripped away and switched it off before gathering it into his arm with the torn shirt.

Allie gave him the last piece, then kept her hand on top of it.

“Figure it the fuck out, Rain,” she said.

I’ll die, I’ll get killed by my cluster, and I won’t be a concern for you anymore, he thought, staring into the little dots where her eyes were reflecting the distant fire.

I’ll die, he thought.  I can’t fight my unpowered uncle.  How can I fight… all of that?

“I’ll try,” he said.

The door opened.  Rain’s aunt.

“Allie, there you are.  Inside.  Get the bigger first aid kit from the basement.  I want to patch up your dad’s cuts, and the smaller kit doesn’t have any bandages.”

Allie turned to go, obedient.

“If you want first aid, Rain, knock on the master bedroom door, or go straight to Allie.  She’ll tend to you.  For now, get yourself to bed.  You’re coming to church in the morning.”

Rain swayed slightly on the spot, then said, “Okay.”

The door closed behind his aunt.

He got to his bag and dumped the pieces of the arm into it.  Picking it up, he made his way inside.  The stew had been put away.  No dinner.

He went up the stairs and into his room.  He settled in at his desk.  The day’s homework was on the table, waiting to be done.

Slowly, he set out the pieces of his tinker hands.

Days worth of work.

No secret to be uncovered, no use he hadn’t yet figured out.  Not legs, not claws.

This, these fragile things, they were the only things that came to mind when he reached out for his tinker power.   Between ten and thirty minutes passed while he found all the smaller pieces, setting them in the right places.  He had some wire and tools on his desk, and he got them out.  To start with, he would fix everything he could fix in five seconds.  Then he would move on from there.

The spell was broken as his alarm clock buzzed.  He always set it for the evening, not the morning, because there was a timeframe.

He started to rise to his feet, but he’d been sitting still too long, while hurt too badly.  His body refused to cooperate.

With inching progress, he made his way toward the alarm clock.

“Rain!” his aunt called out from the other room.  “Shut it off!”

Inching progress, shuffling steps.

He made it to the alarm clock, but not to the bed.

Rain’s consciousness was snuffed out like a candle.

Cradle.

His dreams are strange.

A hand slamming down on the table, a paper beneath it.  A mouth opening.  A man that might have been Cradle’s father spoke, but it wasn’t words that came out.  It was the frantic cries of the crowd, the screams, the shouted jumble.

The paper crumpled slightly as the hand on it closed into more of a fist.

In the background, a very prim and proper woman stood with her back to Cradle.

The parents, Rain interpreted.  Disappointment and anger.  I can understand that.

The scene changed.  A balding man in a suit, sitting across from a desk.  The bulletin board behind him had child’s artwork on it.

His expression was plaintive, worried.  The words from that somber older man’s face were the scream of someone that had been burned, stopping as lips closed together, starting as they parted.  His hand moved more papers, sorting through the pile in front of him.

Cradle’s point of view moved, shaking left and right as he shook his head.

The balding older man’s expression changed from worry to something stronger.  Upset.  Deep concern.

The principal, Rain interpreted.  He’d seen variations on this.  It was usually like this, or else smoke, rubble, or broken glass poured from people’s mouths instead of words.  Cradle wasn’t doing so well?

He could understand that too.

It’s even of a similar vein.  Unrealized potential, as far as I can understand it.  Report cards, teachers, father figures, they want something from him and he doesn’t deliver.  He doesn’t hand it over.

Then the long hallway.  The trudge.  Cradle’s hand was visible as he reached up to fix his glasses, as he reached out to the window.  In the distance, far away, the sounds of disaster could be heard.  The stampede, the fire.

School again?  A lonely hallway?  Isolation?  I used to call him the recluse.

Cradle took off his glasses, and all was a blur.  When he put them back on, he was facing teenaged peers.

Their faces moved as if they were shouting, expressions twisting.  The only sound to come out was that of the stampede.  Feet tromping, people shouting with words blending into one another.  Teeth came together as a word was finished, and the sound was of a bone breaking.  One of the teenagers pushed Cradle down.  His glasses were set ajar by the fall.

This time, as he fixed the glasses, he was in the shopping center, standing.

Things moved as if in slow motion.  Inevitable.

What does Cradle feel when he’s here?  Dread?

Cradle’s head turned, everything moving as if it was underwater, as he looked at a group of men and women with tattoos.  They were loud, too loud, as they gathered together, talking among themselves.

He looked the other way.  He saw other faces.  Faces that would be in the crowd shortly.  A couple that were about thirty years old.  Then an older man and woman.

The old couple get trampled early on, Rain thought.

Eyes roved slow-motion in the other direction.  In a store with colorful graphic images in frames, and other things in glass cases, a big guy with long hair, a nose ring and an impressive beard was talking to an older man, while tapping one of the framed cartoon images.  No sound came out of his mouth as his lips moved.

Images like this would be the best Rain would get at seeing Snag’s face uncovered.

There were others.  The twelve year old girl with her friends, that Snag would fail to help.  She would die in the crush, after slipping from Snag’s grip.

A lot of the children and elderly in the mall would be counted among the dead.

One of the three girls said her goodbye to her friends.  The movement was slow motion as she ran across the plaza of the mall.

She was smiling as she approached the woman who waited for her.  The smile fell from her face, she slowed, then hung her head.

The woman showed the girl her watch, tapped it, her words were stern and entirely unheard.  There was only silence in this slow motion prelude to the event.

The woman with wavy red hair, a sweater that failed to hide her impressive chest, and an ankle-length skirt.  Heads turned to watch her berate the child.  The child looked nervously back at her friends.

Love Lost.

Things accelerated, as the scene rushed forward.  Everyone to their positions.

Three explosions in quick succession, loud after the silence, the blasts tearing across the plaza the opening of one of the exits.  Blue flame.

Then the movement, everyone trying to get away.  The layout of the shopping center allowed only one good escape route, and everyone rushed for it.

Another acceleration, skipping ahead in time.  The sound of the stampede, the crowd, all of the noises that had been made or hinted at earlier, now came to the forefront, crashing into the present moment.  Cradle was close to the front of the crowd.  He was shoved, he tried to catch his balance, and he fell.  His glasses came away from his face, they were stepped on.

Twice, he reached for the glasses, and his hands were stepped on.  There was a desperation in it, more of a struggle to get them than there was even an attempt to stand.  The scene was blurred but his hands were as clear as anything.

Close by, a woman screamed, and the sound was prolonged, multi-part.

He found his glasses and put them to his face with bleeding fingers.  He was kicked, stepped on.

Did I subconsciously take myself there?  Rain thought.

He reached up, hand extended.

Pleading for help, reaching and unanswered, Rain interpreted.

How did all of what came before lead into this?

Rain was in the room.  He picked up the chair.

He didn’t venture a response.  He knew what the answer would be.

He didn’t really want to face the others, either.  They were the people who wanted him tortured to death.

For now, he sat in the chair.  There was no reason to stand.  He didn’t even need to find his three tokens.  It wasn’t as if he was giving them away, or getting anything.

His power would be what it was.

Snag approached the table, clearing away the debris, finding his glass.  He turned to stare at Rain.

Rain wanted to answer that stare, wanted to provoke.  He stared across to Cradle’s space instead.  He breathed deep, none of the injuries from earlier present.  They appeared as they were, in a way.  Snag in the same sorts of clothing, partially hiding his appearance, never looking like he’d just come from work.  Cradle wore civilian clothes.  Love Lost…

Love Lost rose from the chair.  Still wearing the muzzle-mask, still wearing the dress with the slit up the side, the heels, her nails painted.  She never took off the mask, now, so it was enough of a part of her to be brought into this space.

Her eyes were downcast as she approached the dais and gripped the edge.  She only lifted her eyes to stare Rain down.  Abject hatred.

It felt like an hour passed before Snag spoke.

“Cradle.  I’d like the coins before we run out of time.”

Cradle came from around the corner of one of the concrete slabs.  He looked worse for wear.

It’s always harder when it’s your night, Rain thought.

Cradle found the coins, gripped them in one hand, and slammed the hand against the invisible barrier that separated his section from Snag’s.  Snag caught one out of the air before it could hit the floor.  The other two landed on the flat surface of the dais.

“You know what the shittiest part of this thing is?” Cradle asked.

Cradle always liked to talk on his nights.

“You infected us,” Cradle said, looking at Rain.  “We each got a piece of each other.”

“Bleed-through,” Rain said.

“So you’ve done some research,” Cradle said.  “We were pretty decent people before.  Love Lost yelled at her daughter, but-”

Love Lost’s hand slammed against the dais.

“But she wasn’t evil,” Cradle said.  He turned to Love Lost.  “Sorry.”

Love Lost glared at him.

“Snag was even a bit of a hero,” Cradle said.

Snag sighed.  “I don’t really think so.”

“The girl you helped?  Friend of Love Lost’s daughter?  Come on,” Cradle said.

“I don’t think so,” Snag said, looking away.

“We were decent people,” Cradle said.  “And now we’re not.  Because of you.  Because you’re infecting us.”

Rain looked away.

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.  “I don’t want any piece of you in me.  Just… wake up and kill yourself.  You can’t be happy with the Fallen.  So just end it.  Kill yourself.  Everything becomes easier.”

“I’m not going to do that, and I’m not with the Fallen,” Rain said.  “Not anymore.”

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.  “At least that way it’ll be easy.”

“Are you listening to me?” Rain asked.

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.  “If you don’t, then some time, maybe a month from now, maybe a year, we’ll come for you.  We’ll take all of that ugliness you gave us and we’ll give it back.  With interest.”

The coins rattled in Snag’s hand.

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.

Love Lost’s fingernails clicked against the top of the dais.

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.

The fingernails clicked.

Rain stood, turned with his back to the dais, venturing further into his section of the room.

A bang made him turn.  Cradle had slammed his hand against the dais.

“Pay attention,” Cradle said.  “And kill yourself.”

“You think I’m going to listen to you?” Rain asked.  “Because you say it over and over?”

“I think if I say it often enough, there’s a chance it’ll catch you when you’re weak.  It could cross your mind at a critical time.  It’s a small chance, maybe, but I’m not doing anything else with the rest of my night.  I could keep it up tomorrow night, or the night after.  I could come up with something else.”

Nails clicked against the dais.

“Kill yourself,” Cradle said.

The church service concluded.  The speakers rotated on the regular, and today’s was Mrs. May.  She was a respected figure in the community, but she wasn’t respectable.  She was a harpy of a person, with a shrill voice and a grating laugh she was inclined to use at the slightest provocation, and most people either loved her and her rhetoric, or they despised her.  She performed a lot of sermons, usually with plenty of warning to others and often with women in attendance.  Much of what she said appealed to that crowd.

Rain took some small solace in the fact that because his aunt and uncle had made him come, they had been obligated to sit through this.  They weren’t part of Mrs. May’s sub-congregation.

He wanted nothing more than to go, to get to his workshop, and to do what little he could to prepare.  As he made his way to the door, however, his aunt was caught up in a conversation with one of Mrs. May’s group.  Oh, wasn’t the sermon so delightful?  The word choice here, the passage, wasn’t it perfect?  Rain was here, that was unusual, was Rain married off yet?  No?  What about Allie?  Surely Allie had suitors.

Different preachers to appeal to different crowds, with diehard adherents attending every sermon.  It didn’t matter that the ideas contradicted, that the sermon the nervous Reverend Patman gave to a small congregation of Mrs. Sims’ type was the polite kind of message that could be heard elsewhere, while the inappropriately dressed Mrs. May preached how wives had the duty of keeping their husbands’ balls drained, prostates massaged, and stomachs full.

The people who wanted to believe believed, and Mrs. Sims’ type stayed because… Rain wasn’t entirely sure.  Because there was a safety in madness, maybe.  Part of why he stayed, really.  Or because leaving and trying to forge a life elsewhere was harder than staying and ignoring the ugliness and contradiction.  Harder than lying to herself and thinking she could bring order to this chaos.

Rain walked through the door to the overcast outside.  Allie joined him, her eyes widening slightly in the only communication she would give him that she didn’t agree with the sermon or the crowd.

“Hi Allie,” a guy said.  He was about eighteen, his tousled blond hair was grown out, and he had a natural smile with a mouth that seemed too wide.

“Hi,” Allie said, shy.  She looked down.

“Hi Rain.  You look like you went to war and you fought your way through the entire enemy line.”

“Hi Lachlan.  I think that might just be the politest way anyone could describe this,” Rain said.

Lachlan chuckled.

“You guys are just… hanging out here?”

“We’re waiting for a ride,” Allie said.  “I think Rain would rather get a ride than walk, after fighting through that battlefield you described.”

“I can give you guys a ride,” Lachlan offered.

“No thank you,” Allie said.  “You’re a dear, but I’ll just wait for my parents.”

Lachlan twisted his head around.  “They’re caught in conversation with the Screeching Mimis.”

“Shh!  Lachlan!” Allie shushed him.  Some heads had turned.

Lachlan grinned.  “I’m just saying, they’re going to be a while.  Once those four get their hooks in, people can’t get away for half an hour or more, and with your parents not being regulars, there’s a lot to catch them up on.”

“Don’t underestimate my mom and dad,” Allie said.  “We’re stern stock.”

“I will keep that in mind,” Lachlan said, smiling like he’d been let in on a secret.  He looked at Rain.  “You want a ride?”

Rain looked at Allie.

“Go,” she said.  “It’s embarrassing being seen next to you when you’re this beat up.”

“What?” Lachlan asked.  “Be fair, come on.  Rain’s one of the esteemed.  He’s blessed with power.  He’s like nobility around here.”

“Bastard nobility, maybe,” Rain said.

“You’re blessed,” Lachlan said, voice firm.  He smiled, then said, “And I’m your humble, obedient servant that would be glad to take you anywhere you want to go.  I’m at your service.”

Rain glanced again at Allie.  “If you could give me a ride to the machine shop, I’d be grateful.”

“Absolutely.  Bye Allie.”

“Bye.”

Lachlan led Rain to his car.  It was a nice one, a sleek blue sedan, roughly five years old, and in near-pristine condition considering it had survived the end of the world.  Rain got in the passenger seat with a wince and a grunt.

Every part of him hurt.

He could remember being in the room, the repeated words, and he dreaded tomorrow.  Every moment that passed ratcheted up the dread.

Being hurt and facing a night like that magnified the fact that he didn’t feel rested.  Even naps were beyond him, when his thoughts were this disturbed.

He looked over at Lachlan, and felt a twinge of sadness.

The car whisked its way along the road, slowing here and there to give a wider berth to the people walking on either side.

“You like Allie, huh?” Rain asked.

Lachlan laughed.  “Yeah.  It’s part of why I asked you if you wanted a ride.  I’m at your disposal if you need anything at all, though.  Don’t think I’m disloyal or selfish.”

“It’s okay,” Rain said.

“I sort of hoped I could give her a ride too and have a chat.”

“I guessed that too.”

“You know how I’m sort of the poster boy for the Fallen?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m eighteen, and I’m of a good age for marriage.  They say I’ve really helped out, so I can have my pick of almost anyone.  I made it really clear I don’t want anyone who doesn’t want me, and the leadership told me anyone I took would come to love me in time.  That’s how it works.”

“Okay,” Rain said.

“But I’d rather have someone who wants me, still.  So I was wondering, you know…”

“If Allie was interested?”

“Do you think she is?”

“I could tell you,” Rain said.  “But that’s only what I think.  With something as serious and binding as marriage, you’d want to be sure.  I can ask her outright, then pass it on to you.”

Lachlan chuckled.  “Yeah?”

“If you want.”

“Now I’m nervous.  Yes.  Yes!  She’s great, you know.  There was a campfire a month ago-”

“You heard her playing guitar?”

“She sang.  She doesn’t like singing because some of the others, like Jay- don’t think I’m disloyal…”

“It’s fine.”

“Jay and some of the others make fun of her singing, or they join in and she hates that.  But her singing is really nice.  It was a small group, just a few of us, and we listened, and I think I fell in love with her right then.  If I could listen to her sing for the rest of my life, I’d treat her like a queen.”

“I’ll ask her.  I’ll tell her some of that, if you don’t mind it.”

“Yes.  Sure.  I’m nervous now,” Lachlan said.  “I was also wondering- she’s not necessarily the only one I’m considering.”

Rain’s heart sank.

“Do you know Nell?”

“I know Nell,” Rain said, feeling relieved.  “Jay’s twin.”

“She has power too.”

“Do you like her?”

“I- she’s pretty, and she’s told me she’s interested.”

“But do you like her?”

“She told me she’s interested, and she’s close to the leadership.  Do you know if I have to say yes?”

“I don’t know,” Rain said.  “I might not be the person to ask.”

“You’re the easiest to talk to.”

“If they told you that you can pick anyone… you can probably pick anyone.  But Nell might not be a fan of yours afterward.”

Lachlan frowned.

“Let me ask Allie, on the down-low.  Maybe if she says no, you go to Nell and act like she’s the first and last person you considered for a wife.”

“What if she says yes?”

“Then you would have to decide if having her at your side is worth possibly having Nell be upset with you.”

Lachlan huffed out a sigh.

“The machine shop is just down the block,” Rain said.

“Thank you for talking to me,” Lachlan said.

Rain looked his way.

Lachlan’s hand adjusted its position on the steering wheel.  His hand trembled a little in the moments where it wasn’t gripping the wheel.

“Sure,” Rain said.

Lachlan pulled the car to a stop.  “Gotta ask you one more thing, if you don’t mind giving me a minute of your time.”

“Okay,” Rain said.  “You saved me more than a minute, so I don’t mind.”

Lachlan got out of the car as Rain did.  In the time it took Rain to work his way to a standing position, Lachlan walked around the front of the vehicle to the side of the road and pulled off his t-shirt.

He turned so his back was to Rain.  Rain, in turn, was faced with a tattoo.  Words in bold letters, inches-high, shaded, with thick outlines.  The first word was just below the nape of his neck, and the last was in the small of his back.

Jesus
Virgin-Mother-Fucking
Christ

Two hands, middle fingers extended, were on Lachlan’s shoulder blades, the fingers pointing up and outward.  Each hand had a nail through the center.

“It’s new.  What do you think?”  Lachlan asked.  He smiled as he turned to look at Rain over one shoulder.

“It’s big,” Rain said.

“Isn’t it?  It was hell to get it done.  Shoulder blades and ribs especially, all in one session.”

“It’s… very high quality.  I see a lot of bad tattoos around here, and that’s… the lines are straight, and the shading of the letters are good.”

“Then you like it?  Awesome.  You think Allie would like it?”

“I don’t want to speak for her.  I can ask her.”

“Nah, I’ll show her.  I see her at the bonfires a lot.  Thanks,” Lachlan said.  “I’ll see you around.  If you need anything-”

“I’ll ask.”

Lachlan grinned, and got back into his car.

Rain was left only with the deepest feeling of sadness.  He was so tired, he ached all over, and his heart ached too.  He wanted to tinker, and later, he would reach out to Erin.  She would listen, he would give her a tempered version of how his days had been-

The machine shop was badly weathered, not well insulated, and existed primarily as a large shack, with two stories.  It was where cars and pieces of equipment were brought to be repaired, with communal tools left for anyone to use.

The second floor, though, was mostly left to Rain.  He winced with every step up, then let himself in.

He wasn’t alone.

Erin was already there, sitting with her knees to her chest, face buried in her arms.

Rain’s heart sank.  A tiny, selfish part of himself bemoaned the fact that it didn’t stop.  That he didn’t get to rest.  It was threats to his life leading into him asking to be beaten to restless nights, church, Lachlan

He wondered if that was the monstrous part of himself that he’d passed on to the others.  The person he had been felt unrecognizable now, to the point he couldn’t even say what was him anymore.

Erin was crying.  Clever, brave, beautiful, compassionate, caring Erin.  Seeing her cry made him want to cry, more than anything else in the past twenty-four hours.

He had never seen her cry and he felt as terrified with the unanswered question of what had done this as he had felt with the threat of being tortured to death.

“Are you okay?”

She jumped slightly at the words.  She hadn’t heard him come in?

“No,” she said.  She blinked, and the blink squeezed out a tear.  She looked away and wiped the tear away.  “I’m sorry.  I know this is your workshop, but I needed to get away.”

“It’s okay.  What happened?”

He didn’t want to know.  He wanted to help her at the same time.

“I had a run-in with Tim,” she said.  She swallowed hard.

Tim.  Another of Rain’s uncles.  Tim who was Seir, who wore the preserved head of a horse but was the furthest thing from the lithe, athletic form of the horse, and the furthest thing from the attractive form of Seir the demon, as was described in the book some of the preachers liked to recite from.  Tim was forty, fat, ugly, and he had standing sufficient that he would run the settlement if the top two people in charge were somehow unable to.

A run-in with Tim.  Rain had his suspicions about what had happened.  That it had happened to Erin?

“I’d beat the shit out of him if I thought I could,” Rain said.

“You look like you had the shit beat out of you,” Erin said.  She blinked a few times, wiped away the tears.  “Are you okay?”

He wasn’t, and he couldn’t tell her he wasn’t.  Not when she was this upset.

“I’m always a little bruised and scratched.”

“That’s more than bruises and scratches.”

“I’m okay,” Rain lied.  “And you’re not.  Can I do anything?”

As if that had brought everything back, Erin’s expression briefly crumpled up.  She fixed it with apparent effort, and wiped away at more tears that had been squeezed loose.

She shrugged, and it was very, very apparent to Rain that she was trying to seem cavalier about something that wasn’t cavalier.

He had such a sick feeling in his chest, seeing this.

“Every time I cross paths with him, he makes comments,” she said.

“Yeah.  That’s- that’s Tim.”

She shrugged.  “He told me I should go to church.  Mrs. May is lecturing, I think?”

“She finished.”

“And he said Mrs. May could teach me what I needed to know to please a husband.”

Rain nodded.  If she was marrying Tim

“I told him to go fuck himself.”

“No,” Rain said.  He saw her expression and looked away.

“I know it was stupid.”

“You can’t- he has a lot of power.  It’s not that he’s right, but sometimes you have to keep your head down.  Some of these people will kill you if you say the wrong thing.  Or worse.  Surviving is- it’s the most important thing.”

“I know,” she said.  She averted her eyes.  “I felt like I could, in the moment.  There were people nearby.  I- he pushed me up against a wall, he threatened me with some pretty vulgar stuff, with the crowd watching.”

“You need to get out of here,” Rain said.  “You’re- you’re not Fallen.  You’re decent.  You’re kind.  You think.  You don’t believe this stuff.  You don’t deserve this.”

“I can’t go,” she said.

“Because of Bryce?  Your parents?”

“Of course because of them!  You don’t understand!”

“I really don’t.”

“My parents are the good, decent people.  If I have any good traits it’s because of them and how they raised me.  They- they’re really kind, they were perfect.  They tucked me in at night and they punished me fairly when I was wrong, they- they played with me and sat down to do my homework with me and they really truly loved me.  They did everything right, they never embarrassed me.”

Rain stood there, taking that in.  He tried to imagine what it was like.

“They- they talked to me and cared about what I had to say.  They- they aren’t this.”

“They aren’t Fallen?”

“They aren’t!  They’re… they’re scared.  The world ended and they lost everything, we lost family and friends and everything they worked for, and they broke down a little.  These people got their hooks in and my parents bought it.  But they’re still the same people.  They’ll turn around and realize how bad this is… won’t they?”

“I don’t know.”

Fresh tears spilled forth.  She buried her face in her folded arms, brought her legs closer.

“You need to get out, save yourself first.  Then you can try pulling them out.”

“I think if I do that, I’ll lose them forever,” she said, her voice muffled.

Rain wasn’t sure what to say.

He’d never really had family, certainly not like Erin had described.

Even if she lost them forever, at least she would be okay.

“My dad,” Erin’s voice was small, muffled.

“What?”

“He was there, while Tim said all of that stuff.  Bryce too.  He just stood there.  Then he apologized for my behavior.”

Rain was lost for words.  He felt a tear well up and out and wiped it away before Erin could see.

“I’m so sorry.”

“After Tim left, I freaked, and all my dad would say was that I shouldn’t have provoked him.  He said I should go to church like Tim suggested.  My dad, Rain.  With Bry there.”

Rain reached out, then withdrew his hand.

“I can get a car,” Rain said.  “I’ll borrow one, we can go for a drive.  We’ll do whatever you want, find your favorite food, talk.  Get away from this.”

“I don’t want to go out there,” Erin said.  “Not like this.  Can I stay here?  Please?”

“Of course,” Rain said.  Was it for the best?  If she got in a car with him, he wasn’t sure he would be able to stop driving her away from this.  He’d been born to this, but she hadn’t.

He still felt lost.  He wasn’t sure what to do.

“Do you- can I give you a hug?” he asked.

She didn’t even answer.  She rose to her feet, walked up to him, and wrapped her arms around him, face buried in his shoulder.

He put his arms around her.  He’d never imagined such a thing could feel so horrible and harrowing.  The horribleness didn’t even have anything to do with his injuries, that every point of contact hurt.  It wasn’t his body that hurt.

Rain stared off into space, feeling much like he imagined the shell-shocked in war-zones to feel.

He thought of Cradle’s reaching out for help, people stumbling past him, knocking his hand away.

“Hello?  Mrs. Yamada speaking.”

“It’s Rain.  I’m- I’m really not doing great.  Can we talk?”

“I thought you might call.  Victoria and Sveta reached out to me.  I’d planned to call you this afternoon to check on you.  Listen, I’m expecting a patient shortly, and I can’t adjust that.  We can talk for a few minutes, or, if it’s not an emergency, I can call you in an hour and a half, and I can give you a lot more time.”

“Please,” Rain said.  “The second one.”

“Be easy on yourself, Rain.  I’ll call you in an hour and a half.”

Rain hung up.

He’d reached out and there was a reach back.

He had that.

Erin was asleep on the other end of the room, on a makeshift bed, Rain’s spare change of clothes piled atop her as a kind of blanket.  Her hand was under her pillow and her gun was in her hand.  He wasn’t sure if she knew he’d seen her do it.

Cradle had described him as a monster.  He wasn’t sure if he was, but as he sat at his work table, trying to work quietly, he imagined he was willing to become a little more monstrous if it meant saving the likes of Erin from becoming a lost soul like Lachlan.

His tinkering might have been limited, but he had other skills.  He’d survived in places more rustic than this for a time.  He could make blades.  He could make traps and snares.  His scrap with his uncle had taught him he couldn’t win a fair fight against even the unpowered, not with his powers being what they were.

He’d draw on every resource he had to keep it from coming down to a fair fight.  When he went back to the group tomorrow, it would be with a different mindset.

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181 thoughts on “Shade – Interlude 4b”

    1. My personal theory is that they are capable of channeling his blaster power. After all, the other’s tech that we’ve seen so far boost powers, though typically not their main ones, so who knows. Snag’s arms and shuriken seem to boost/cause his emotion attacks, and Love Lost’s has tinker boot-claws and runs on walls.

      1. I like this theory a lot. Seems even more plausible with how each blade is limited to a single material, making clothing or layered armor a significant barrier.

        The thought of an Asura Rain with tens of arms and dozens of hands hurling a storm of blades sounds pretty cool.

      2. This is a cool theory, but in an earlier chapter (forget which one) someone asked about “breaking in interesting ways.” Like, he told his cousin not to touch certain parts of the arm/touch them carefully. Make it so that the touchy bits are the first thing that are exposed, smack someone, and watch the fire works.

        You either accept taking x3 as many Alexandria-killing projectiles or have to tank whatever nasty stuff is in the arm. Seems reasonable.

        Mind, none of this is worth a damn if Rain isn’t willing to actually hurt/kill someone, an area he seems to be remarkably deficient in. Good for the purpose of attracting lovely women with names that start with E, terrible for fighting.

        1. I think the reason he told her not to touch certain parts was because they were the nerve interfaces. He mentioned turning one off afterward and it would make sense to not touch those.

          1. That doesn’t invalidate the point. Have you read Warbreaker?

            Infure xvyyf Qragu, n zhpu orggre fjbeqfzna, ol tvivat hc uvf Oerngu, gurerol vapncnpvgngvat uvz sbe n srj pevgvpny zbzragf.

            Or similarly, maybe he can affect disorientation in a much diluted form of what happened after Taylor stopped touching the clairvoyant.

      3. Not every tinker makes useful things, and it sounds like Snag gets outside inspiration to augment his stronger tinker talent, even Cradle and Love Lost can trade for boosts to the talent. Rain doen’t have the options the others do, maybe he can use his powers through these arms and maybe he can’t, I imagine he has a couple different options for even the smallest arms, he can either use them to project his power, cutting people and objects multiple times, from different angles, on each swing; or the can “snag” by locking themselves down with the mover power when they contact someone.

      4. That’s a fantastic theory. Or if they are applying secondary powers they could work to apply his breaker state to other people/objects (Snag already has arms applying emotional effects so that is probably out).

        1. I believe it was stated in Rain’s Glow Worm chapter that Love Lost’s prosthetics were capable of tearing through doors and maybe a steel vault. I would guess she was augmenting Rain’s power there.

          1. Hmm… Rain might have the (seemingly) useless combo of arms that channel the dream power? Maybe he can bring them into the dreamspace with him and use them to reach past the barriers?

      5. Can’t wait for him to become ruthless and get rid of Cradle, Love Lost, and Snag, steadily getting more and more powerful.

      1. He’s tried legs and feet and things. I think he’s limited to arms, as in shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands.

        That said, his mind-impulse units seem pretty advanced, given the fragility of his limbs. I wonder if better materials will help out?

    2. He should just strap knives to it, or do any of the other various things to make those arms way more combat ready. The sheer stupidity in his applications of this tech is amazing to me, he can make a non-invasive BCI ffs, Elon Musk would pay this guy millions.

  1. Typo thread:

    “But it’s because hot ” -> because she’s hot

    ” It’s a small chance, maybe, but I’m doing anything else with the rest of my night.” -> I’m *not* doing?

    “I don’t want to speak of her. ” -> speak for her?

      1. “It was threats to his life leading into him asking to be beaten to restless nights, church, Lachlan…”

        Needs a comma between “asking to be beaten” and “to restless nights.”

    1. The sad thing is a lot of it’s his fault. Not in the traditional way, but… He needs to stop being so defeatist. If Wildbow can come up with a way for making words appear be a master assassain’s power, I’m pretty sure he can manage things with Rain’s set. Rain’s the sort of person who’s so concerned with what he can’t do that he passes at what he can do. Thankfully that seems to have changed at the end. Hopefully he’s going to reach out to the group, and then maybe they’ll even help his save the girl. Because Rain, you think you’re life is missirable now, I think it’d be much worse if you let Erin get raped.

      1. The thing is, he’s not wrong. This kind of community, the backwater religious places where everyone knows everyone and faith is king, tends to be very capable of hurting those who want to go against the flow or, heaven forbid, leave. It doesn’t matter if they worship Xenu, the big G, Endbringers, or a bull statue…when everyone you know and love is in one place, devoted to one thing, that one thing can destroy your life if you go against it.

        1. It was a hypothetical in the comments somewhere in Worm. Someone challenged Wildbow to make a seemingly lame power like making words appear into a legit dangerous superpower. He came up with an assassin who used it to torment people psychologically until they went insane and committed suicide, or were so sleep deprived they drove off the cliff and the like.

          1. Just found it: And that is not what anyone would call a “deadly” power.

            A normal guy with a sufficiently modern projector could perform the same trick, and would be just as defenseless in combat.

            The problem isn’t that Rain has a non-physical combat power. (So does TT, and she does fine.)

            The problem seems to be that all his powers look oriented toward combat, but are too weak to actually be effective.

          2. @Exejpgwmv

            No, you couldn’t do it nearly that well with a normal projector, everyone would notice, the visage would be stopped or malfunction, you’d need an electric outlet to do it, etc.

      2. I’m not totally convinced Rain *can* stop being defeatist. The kid has a lot going on and no support system outside of Yamada and his therapy group. He has no safe place of his own. He can’t even sleep to recover. I don’t know exactly what bleed-through is doing to his personality or his cluster’s, but I suspect being assailed mentally and emotionally from all angles isn’t helping anything. Regardless, it’s not something he can handle with the power of positive thinking. I think he really, really needs help from outside and he needs a win first before his mental state can start to change.

  2. That fight dragged on for an awful long while, but the rest of the chapter was pretty appropriately paced. I think this will serve the same purpose the Alec interlude served in the original of making one of the least considered members of the team one of the more interesting ones. This does make me anticipate a 4c, to show Rain’s escape from the Fallen compound. I know how much Wildbow likes threes.

    I wonder what else we’ll learn about the rest of the team now. We’ve got a good portion of the backstory for Kenzie, a bit on Tristain from Moonsong, enough about Ashley and Sveta from Worm knowledge. Who knows what will come up next?
    (Wildbow. Wildbow does.)

      1. One things clear. Uncle is a shit teacher. Sure Rain learned he’d get his ass kicked and about being viscious. But that’s not really teaching. No advice on what he’s doing wrong, what to do, no teaching. It’s like a math teacher to just hands you the notebook and spends the whole time running their own calculations, then flunks you because you didn’t do as well as them.

        1. At least we cleared up the strength of the light-blades: no need to worry about hurting the person underneath if they’re covered. It’d work fantastic against an Iron-Man style tinker. Expensive tech neutralized in a single swing.

          1. I have to wonder what defines an “object” to Rain’s power. If you wear three t-shirts, can he only cut the outermost one? If you stitch them together, can he cut through all three? Where’s the transition point — does a safety pin through all the layers count as making them one object, or do you have to bind all of the hems?

            Right now, someone with paper manipulation would be Rain’s biggest weakness, because they’d have an abundant supply of cheap ablative shielding.

          2. Rain’s got what I call a good Bunker Buster attack. Not so great against a mobile opponent, but it’s perfect for cracking hard shells. Works better if he’s with a partner who can do the hits needed to trigger it. Either someone fast and accurate with a blaster attack that doesn’t do much damage, or a fast mover/brute.

        2. Yeah, Uncle has no clue how to impart knowledge via words.

          That said, Rain has learned some valuable lessons from the fight. He learned key weaknesses to his powers that could get him killed in a fight for his life. He learned that it’s gonna be more effective for him to rely on his knowledge of fighting dirty than his powers. He’s learned that he needs to use the sliver blade on bare skin.

          Coupled with the determination to protect Erin, I hope that this is a turning point for Rain.

          Also, Victoria needs to help him figure out how to use his emotion power. Snag proved that it can be VERY effective if used right.

          1. If only Rain had some sort of blaster power that could go through cotton fabric and would kill quickly from a range.

            Oh wait he does.

            It’s called a gun.

            He should have realized that he should learn to use Erin’s firearm before doing all this “martial arts Montage bullshit”

            Except no…

            Because apparently Ward is going to be about superpowered people being idiots and never using guns because… Reasons.

            Even with very explicit and acknowledged intent to kill.

            It kills the plausibility of this world.

          2. I’m sure Rain is fully aware of guns, but he wasn’t trying to kill his uncle in this chapter. The value in his slicey power is that it briefly holds the opponent hostage – at least, in theory. He has to get better at actually using it first.

            Pretty much none of the fights in this story so far have been between participants willing to kill one another. We’ll see how it goes once the war vs. the Fallen starts in earnest.

          3. I totally understand how Rain has felt- even when your life is in danger, the mere idea of taking a life can be terrifying. Considering he likely got the entirety of his cluster’s conscience… I’m not sure the kid will be able to kill anyone. (Unless maybe if the life of the one person he loves is in danger…)

        3. I’ve studied martial arts a lot less than many other people have, so take this with a grain of salt. However, I have learned from a number of sensei whose general teaching style could be described as “nonverbal”. These were 6-, 7-, 8-dan dudes, and they didn’t come to the dojo to have a conversation. If I was paying attention, I could discover something that would improve my performance. If not, why would they care? Fortunately the desperate survival-mode situation described here has been fairly rare… A fight is what happens after the talking has stopped. If your practice includes speech, you’re not practicing combat.

  3. This was an interesting chapter and another one I’d gladly accuse of being a reaction to reader feedback – in this case, to show how Rain sees his own powers which we consider OP and he sees as useless.

    He needs a Taylor to browbeat him into using his powers creatively, seeking out synergies and tactics.

  4. We still haven’t seen Rain’s POV at the trigger event. So excited to see what that is about…
    Good Writing WildBow!

    1. We’ll probably get that, but I suspect that we’ll get to see it from the view of Love Lost first. You may have noticed that the interludes and the shared “dreams” have been following the schedule as only a single day has progressed for Rain. The order is Snag, Cradle, Love Lost, Rain, mysterious blank spot. I think that we’ll get to see Love Lost’s view of it before Rain’s.

  5. Ahem. Fuck the Fallen.
    Reads further ahead.
    Okay fuck the Fallen. Not in the way they are thinking. Like crotch rotted off by insects fuck them. I’m almost rooting for the other cluster members at this point, because the Fallen need to be broken. The kind of broken that makes them realize that they are *WRONG*

    1. Pfft. You think they can realize they’re wrong.

      Remember the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham? The one where Ham explicitly and proudly stated that nothing could change his view on Creationism? That’s the kind of mindset you’re dealing with here, except more entrenched since this community has no institutions that aren’t ultimately associated with the church.

    2. Are they really wrong, though?

      They used to say that the world was coming to an end, and that turned out exactly correct. All the maggots in Valefor’s eyes couldn’t stop it. Now, they mostly seem to be saying that organizing into a cult is a viable survival strategy in the post-apocalyptic world. And while that remains to be proven, it doesn’t really seem obviously false. Nobody is really bothering them. None of the cape teams are interested in them. They have the food and infrastructure they need. They’re well off enough that they can advertize their community as a genuinely good place to live to the vulnerable refugees who come through the portals.

      The cult maintains order, in its own way, and provides a strong social safety network. Some people find it easier to fit in than others, but as a group, the Fallen seem to be thriving.

        1. The Fallen are a vile group of people who need to be shut down. They are nevertheless not wrong in terms of the literal things they say. Their cult is at least arguably better than the alternative for refugees, and certainly a step up from what the refugees are fleeing.

          1. (Well, they’re wrong when they say they’re not evil. But otherwise, “you are factually incorrect” isn’t the argument to make against them.)

          2. How is their murder-incest-cult better than, say, the Golden megalopolis that Victoria lives in? Or the other small farming villages?

        2. Exejpgwmv: Yes, they maintain order, like I said. 🙂
          Also, the golden megalopolis isn’t an option for the kind of people the Fallen are recruiting. The people flowing in through the portals get to choose between being murdered by robots, living in a miserable, overcrowded refugee camp, or the Fallen who have fun parties and houses with running water and electric lights. The plumbing is pretty bad, but it probably beats living in a tent with three other families.

          1. I’d personally take living in one of the dozens of other farming villages that don’t have thought-crimes or community endorsed incest/rape.

            And I suspect others would as well if Fallen recruiters were honest about what awaited refugees.

          2. You mean, the other dozen farming communities, each with its own feudal powered protector like Lord of Loss, or Bitch, or another potent villain? The ones which are so isolated that if you don’t have any experienced farmers in the community- which is possible, many refugees came from cities originally- people can starve to death in the time between sending someone off for help and said help actually arriving with food?

            The Fallen are good at advertising, we saw that, and we don’t know the exact situation in any of the other communities- besides the fact there’s a high demand for farmers, and whatever happened to the fungus-cape from Glow-Worm who’s name I’ve forgotten- and many of their long-term members are originally from rural areas.

          3. Earl of Purple: Making a lot of assumptions based on nothing about how the farming villages work and are run.

            While my assumptions about the Fallen are based on their personally history and the current behaviour in Rain’s community.

            And so, based on what we know: Trying to tough it out in a refugee camp or a poor farming village that gets supplies from the growing Gov. or the Golden city itself is substantially better than living in a Fallen community.

      1. “A genuinely good place to live”.

        Really!? Unless, you know, you’re an uppity woman who for some reason OBJECTS to a life of sexual servitude and community-endorsed rape…

        1. Or if you are gay. Or a case 53. Probably not to fond of the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus either. Do we know what they think about Blacks, Asians, and Latinos?

        2. Well, if you refuse to live by society’s rules, then obviously you are going to encounter some friction. And even then, it might well be better than available alternatives. It’s just *one* arranged marriage, and if you don’t like it, maybe you should have put up a less pathetic defense against Zion.

    3. This isn’t the only Fallen encampment though. And an unprovoked attack by an army of capes is going to make these people into martyrs, and therefore great propaganda tools…

      1. I wasn’t talking about smashing just some of the Fallen either… Though this really is turning into an opportunity for Team Therapy and those they’ve associated with. This could be used as an intelligence operation to influence the outcome of the upcoming fight. If nothing else they could use this from discouraging people to run off to the Fallen. It’s not such a good place for safety and security if armies of supervillains can attack you.

        1. They have guns.

          Every member of team therapy except for Victoria dies.

          Well if they shoot her twice in quick succession then she dies.

          1. Firstly, Sveta is bulletproof.

            Secondly, are you seriously just going to hang around and rant about your highly specific versimilitude problem based on your idealized vision of how a post-apocalyptic society would have tons of firearms everywhere and the fact that nobody shot Taylor in the head in arc 3 of Worm dragged you out of the story on every comment vaguely violence-adjacent? Is this something we have to look forward to in every comment section from now on, you making snide commentary about how everyone on the team should be dead immediately after half the comments where people theorize about how violence might happen shortly?

            What do you actually gain from this? What purpose does filling the comments section with “guns guns guns everyone should be shot” serve, beyond a passing feeling of smug superiority and the impression that you’ve somehow proved yourself better than those foolish Internet persons who thought they could have a discussion without considering how by your version of realism all the characters should be dead now?

          2. @glassware

            In Agitation 3.6 of the original Worm, tattletale explained cops and robbers to Taylor.

            “No, no. Hear me out. Grown adults running around in costume? Making up code names for themselves? It’s ridiculous, and we know it’s ridiculous, even if we don’t admit it out loud. So there’s capes like you and me, where we go out in costume and it’s fun. Maybe we have some agenda or goals, but at the end of the day, we’re getting our thrills, blowing off steam and living a second life. Then there’s the crazies. The people who are fucked up in the head, maybe dangerous if there’s not something or someone to help keep them in line. The people who take it all too seriously, or those guys you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, even if they didn’t have powers. Lung, Oni Lee, Heartbreaker,” she paused. “Bitch.”

            I nodded.

            “And there’s the monsters. The really dangerous motherfuckers, who are barely human any more, if at all. The Slaughterhouse Nine, Nilbog-”

            “The Endbringers,” I interjected.

            Lisa paused, “Right. But you have to understand, ninety percent of what goes on when you’re in costume? It’s the first group. Adults in costumes playing full contact cops and robbers with fun-as-fuck superpowers and toys. This mindset applies to the people without powers too. Way I see it, having a local team of superheroes is like having a sports team. Everyone’s rooting for them, they make for great media that isn’t about wars or the water crisis or whatever, there’s merchandising and tourists… all good shit that the local government loves. But what good is having a team if there’s no competition?”

            “Which is where we come in,” I figured out where she was going.

            “Exactly. At the end of the day? We’re not doing much harm. Property damage, theft. A few civilians get hurt if they don’t move out of the way fast enough. But insurance payouts cover that stuff, and people aren’t that much worse off. The property damage is covered and the injured bystander has a great story to tell at the water cooler. The city gets revenue in an indirect way, from merchandise, tourism and the rising property that come with being an exciting city….

            … But the real evidence to my ‘cops and robbers’ theory,” Lisa continued, “Is the reaction you see when someone crosses the line. You’ve heard about it happening. Someone finds out another cape’s secret identity, goes after the cape’s family. Or a cape wins a fight and decides his downed opponent isn’t in a state to say no if he’s feeling lusty? Word gets around, and the cape community goes after the fucker. Protecting the status quo, keeping the game afloat. Bitter enemies call a truce, everyone bands together, favors get called in and everyone does their damndest to put the asshole down. ”

            So in the original Worm it’s talked about as ridiculous with the caveat that it makes money and that it is all sort of low stakes.

            Furthermore, as we learn later, Cauldron purposely kept dangerous capes alive for the later fight against Scion and were the reason why the slaughterhouse 9 ran free for so long.

            So in pre apocalypse Bet, guns weren’t commonly used against hero teams because they were playing for lower stakes and Cauldron was also keeping a lid on it.

            Now, post apocalypse, neither of those are true.

            What struck me as false about this chapter is that we see it from Rain’s perspective and we don’t see him reject a gun. Lots of people in the comments have posted good reasons why he wouldn’t, but they aren’t in text.

            Two sentences about considering it and rejecting it for X reason were badly needed.

            It doesn’t even have to be a good reason, just something.

            I spammed the thread a bit because I want wildbow to see and address this.

          3. I would also have expected more guns from the post-apocalyptic society. You’d expect Earth Gimel to be basically teeming with wild animals, both large predators like wolves and big meaty herbivores like elk. The former would be a serious threat to an unarmed farming community, and the latter could be hunted to supplement the food stores, which are confirmed to often run a bit low in winter. It’s crazy not to carry a gun when settling the frontier.

            There are possible explanations, of course. Maybe whatever killed humans in Earth Gimel’s history also wiped out most other large mammals. Maybe the first thing the human settlers did was get Genoscythe to wipe them out. Maybe it’s that the farming communities we’ve seen up close basically run on cape feudalism.

            The Fallen are ruled by the people with powers, who presumably protect the group from outside threats. Lachlan specifically used the word “nobility”. The same was true of that group whose shit Imp pushed in in the Worm epilogue. It might be that the common people are unarmed, because their local leaders want them unarmed, because they’re essentially serfs.

          4. IIRC Bitch mentioned “Huge cow things” she was hunting, and Taylor speculated it was Aurochs. At the very least the various species that went extinct from human activity will still be around. That means in North America you’ll have several species of Bison still roaming, Wolves, Mountain Lions, and the Passenger Pigion among others. And IIRC there was speculation in comments that with when the human extinction event was there could be various megafauna running around on some of these earths. So Dire Wolves, Cave Lions, Cave Bears, etc might still be a thing on some Earth.

          5. The whole reason I like Worm is because “why don’t they just…” questions all have answers. Either they do just, or they have a good reason for not just.

            Why don’t they just shoot the heroes?

            (Because the heroes aren’t a threat to them, and they don’t want to escalate, and that’s also why the heroes don’t just attack the Fallen.)

          6. This was why I’m harping on the guns. In Ward, the “why don’t they just xxxxx…” questions aren’t being answered.

            Guns are the most obvious xxxxx in this case, but there are others.

            I feel like Wildbow hasn’t written enough in world justification for why sending untrained teenagers out to fight in costume against criminals in the post apocalypse is a good idea.

            In Worm, Taylor does the Cape thing but she is explicitly naive and inexperienced. There was a reason she didn’t know better.

            Now, Victoria does know better, but rather than being a voice of reason about the wisdom of forming a team and fighting criminals, she’s a voice of reason for their therapy.

            She should be both.

          7. Team Therapy won’t be reasoned with- these are kids who are gonna try to be super heroes whether they do it within the system or without. And Victoria? She’s just like them for the most part, with just a little more experience in caping. She knows it would be “better” (i.e., safer) to do the caping within scope of the law, but she’s still used to the old laws that were very lenient on heroes because cops and robbers, and she’s already chafing against the edges of the new system.

            Long story short, it’s only a matter of time until they all go vigilante. I’m guessing that’s even what TT is hoping for- it’ll give her the playing pieces she needs to shut down whatever Teacher is up to.

          8. This was why I’m harping on the guns. In Ward, the “why don’t they just xxxxx…” questions aren’t being answered.

            I’m sure you mean “they haven’t been answered just yet.” Have patience with an author who’s earned all the benefits of the doubt!

  6. Oh, great. Rain has a voice in his head telling him to kill himself. I’m not sure if the fact that he knows that voice belongs to someone else makes it better or worse…

    Well. I’m predicting that Rain and possibly Erin aren’t going to have their main support network for much longer. Good luck, you two. And bad fortune on the Fallen institutions which are built around making it impossible to win or quit the game without losing everything.

  7. I have to say, I get the impression the rest of the cluster is using bleed through from Rain as an excuse. Yeah, they got his rage and hate, but it seems like they’re treating it as something that’ll go away when they’ve painfully killed him, rather than a part of their personalities to deal with. And someone who won’t admit they have an anger problem when they clearly do is never fun.

    Interesting that the Fallen have multiple subgroups living in the same town and using the same church but preaching different doctrines…I guess they keep from murdering each other by directing all that hostility outward.

    1. I don’t think they have any trouble admitting they have anger problems. It’s just that Rain is the reason they have anger problems.

      Also, I’m not sure if they genuinely think killing Rain will solve anything. My impression has been that they’re in it for vengeance.

        1. Even if he didn’t cause it directly, he was a Fallen at the mall. Due to the shared dreams, all his clustermates know what happened from his point of view that day; maybe distorted one way or another like Cradle’s here, but clear enough to understand the situation. They all know they turned worse from his influence, and they all want to kill him over what he did.

          The 5th member is still a mystery and learning more might change how we see things, but I’m not holding my breath.

  8. Normally I would say Erin and Rain both escape together, fall in love etc. but because I know wildbow I fear for the worst D:

        1. She triggers, ends up in a position of high (but not absolute) power in the Fallen, and the group has to fight her at some point when she starts killing people.

          1. Well it’s hopefully less Skeevy… So I’ll take it. Even if she get’s some fucked up power like making people vomit up evil zombie clones of themselves that then murder and eat the original.

  9. Rain *should* be a tragic, sympathetic figure, but given his incessant inner monologue about being so ineffectual, about dying imminently and badly, he’s actually more of a tragic, *pathetic* figure.

    If self-pity were a Worm-power, Rain would have a dumpsterfull of those Shards.

    1. Yeah. I was about ready to just plain give up on him by the end there. At least it looks like he’s going to try something, and hopefully pull it out.

      1. He can learn how to fight from a certain silver-tongued stunted schemer… At least he reached similar conclusions, and he’s got a decent headstart, what with belonging in an analogous group.
        Kid might be going places.

        1. Seriously… Learn how to fight?

          He’s not Daniel San going against cobra Kai in the championship.

          He’s fighting superpowered assassins. Most of whom are not immune to bullets.

          Erin has a gun. His uncle probably has a gun. Half the people in the compound have guns. Rain should learn to use a gun.

          1. How much do you shoot? It’s harder than it looks on TV! If I pick up a rifle I can typically hit something with it, even if I haven’t shot in a couple of months. I’ve shot a lot of rounds over my life, to get to that point. A handgun, on the other hand, requires regular intensive *recent* practice, to be able to hit anything far away enough to be out of reach of one’s prosthetic arms. If Rain has never picked up a gun, picking up a gun three days before the fight of his life is not going to help him at all. Especially if he doesn’t have immediate access to 200 rounds of ammunition for target shooting. Which access he obviously does not have.

  10. Rain’s uncle and aunt are somehow even more sinister in their total lack of names. Even in his internal monologue they are identified only by their relations to him.

  11. I really enjoy that Rain got a second interlude, I’ve always felt there were a lot of characters who needed one in previous works so I’m hopeful this is an indication of more to come.

    Also, discussion on another site has pointed out-the Fallen’s aesthetic is so weird. Like they’re a southern US patterned Protestant doomsday cult, except all their names are also occultist in-jokes? Like, I’m guessing some of their founders were just really into the Golden Dawn or something and decided to borrow a couple names and declare the Ars Goetia a holy text and things just snowballed from there.

    1. They Venerated the Endbringers, so they more of a satanic cult. Hence all the demon names. Same as the two Fallen from Worm.

  12. I love the Rain portion of the story. I hope we continue to get snippets of his POV as the story progresses.

    I feel really weird rooting for Lachlan. Like, he seems decent, but if he’s a poster boy for the Fallen I have to wonder if there’s something we don’t know about what he’s done and is willing to do. I want to like him, but I also don’t want to set myself up for disappointment.

    Bryce is the official name of younger brothers when groups of poor violent people are involved, I guess.

    1. The thing with Lachlan is he’s mostly decent and normal. But there’s those points where the Fallen’s idology has gotten into him, and he doesn’t realize how wrong it is. Like that tattoo. That’s bad. It’s insulting, stupid and honestly pathetic. It’s like… Imagine a guy who’s perfectly normal and nice 95% of the time. And then the remaining 5% he’s doing something really fucked up, but he doesn’t realize it’s fucked up. Because it’s normal in the group he’s in. It’s like how Erin’s father and brother stood there while a pervert threatened her. Then apologized to him. That’s not normal. But the cult has convinced them it is. It’s one of the creepiest things about cults.

      1. Actually he may very well be a convert. It must have been over at Spacebattles, but someone caught something from Glow Worm and Victoria’s early chapters. There was a “Lachland Hund” mentioned as a case where someone ran off with the Fallen, and their family was trying to take legal action to get them back, claiming he’d been brainwashed.

        I also just realized something about our transistion piece being called Glow Worm. It goes from Worm… To a story about Victoria. Who’s got family members who have light powers.

  13. Rain. Boi. Take a moment, dump freezing fucking cold water over yourself, and ask yourself “how do I best kill people?”

    Inventory of powers:
    Kill-Alexandria scythes
    Guilt Aura
    Shitty Tinker arms
    Red-light Mover power

    The scythes… yeah, those are self explanatory. Hit someone’s weapon or face, slap, fight over. This should not be hard for you to realize. I get that you don’t want to kill your Uncle, but at least hit his arm, force him to keep it still, then kick his legs out and go all stompy.

    Guilt Aura: Never turn this off in combat. Cry piteously, try to make it look like you’re losing. Uncle actually stopped attacking for a moment when he looked at his wife, probably an effect of that. Way better than you’re giving it credit for.

    Shitty Tinker arms: everyone is telling you to try to channel your power through it. Try that. Or make them break in interesting ways. Remember how you had to warn your cousin what NOT to touch? Make it so breaking the arms makes you touch that. Pain ensues.

    Movement power: Grab someone, lift them into a throw, activate. That’ll break limbs. Becoming essentially immovable in a 1v1 fight is pretty easy to abuse if you know how joints are supposed to work and how they’re *not* supposed to bend. Read an anatomy book and get cracking.

    Not-a-Tinker-power: You have arms. Use them to retrieve knives/rope/wire, entangle your opponent, trip them up, then apply sharp objects until opponent is no longer such. If you actually know how to make snares and traps, what business do you have losing a fight to a man older than fifty with a spade?

    Listen, I get that Rain is in a shitty situation with a lot of guilt, but come on. Like, 100% of his actions make sense and are believable, but I’m really having a hard time rooting for him here. It’s going to sound callous, but I have a hard time buying that he has NO killer instinct whatsoever. Maybe the power bleed through will explain this at some point down the line, but goddamn if it isn’t frustrating now.

    1. “Listen, I get that Rain is in a shitty situation with a lot of guilt, but come on. Like, 100% of his actions make sense and are believable, but I’m really having a hard time rooting for him here. It’s going to sound callous, but I have a hard time buying that he has NO killer instinct whatsoever. Maybe the power bleed through will explain this at some point down the line, but goddamn if it isn’t frustrating now.”
      It’s what I call “Shinji Ikari Syndrome”. You’ve got a protagonist who’s thrust into situations where he needs to get his shit together and step up, not just for his own sake, but others. The thing is they are utterly unprepared for it, have deep psychological scars already, and it’s utterly against their nature. While this might make them realistic, there’s a reason you don’t really see it too often. We *want* to see the stories of how a meek and mild person becomes better. A coward becomes if not brave, able to at least still stand up, and swallow their fear. We don’t want to see them fall flat on their face. But if you realize eventually they just will keep fucking up and don’t develop their own agency, it gets exasperating or annoying. Evil can at least be interesting to watch. Pathetic less so.

      It can be done, but it’s not easy and there’s a limited audience for it anyways.

      1. Rain is not pathetic, he just hasn’t figured out yet what to do about his situation. I suspect his strand in the story will be about him doing just that. Since with all this character development I doubt Wildbow is setting up for him just to get killed right away.

          1. What is your weird thing with guns? You realize guns wouldn’t stop the literally dozens of supervillains aiming to kill him specifically, right? And yet, every comment: use guns! Use guns! Guns guns guns guns! Oh, no guns? UNREALISTIC!

            What does a gun do when you’ve got two fast, mobile people attacking you from different directions? When someone obscures your vision? When you have to reload? A gun is a tool, not a trump card, and this isn’t a situation where it’ll do much. It might be better than nothing… or he could shoot someone he doesn’t intend to, and make things worse.

            Furthermore, in a literal post-apocalyptic situation there’s a problem with guns a lot of people forget about: they need very specific ammo. If you’ve got the infrastructure set up and the materials and knowledge, you can make more bullets, but they’re probably going to be shittier bullets for a while. And Rain’s not really trusted or liked by the rest of the Fallen. Sure, he’s got a shitty powerset without getting boosts from his cluster, and he’s not very good at using his powers effectively, but the problem the Fallen have with him goes deeper if you pay attention. He’s ideologically pulled away and it shows. Even if they’ve stockpiled guns and ammo, which is likely, they probably aren’t going to just give him one without him earning it.

          2. Erin should use her gun to defend herself against the people who are unlikely to have any compunctions about killing her and may want to use her suffering to get to Rain.

    2. Geez, he’s working on it, okay? That’s what the last few paragraphs are about. Hell, that’s what asking his uncle to beat him up was about. He had to get his teeth kicked in before he could abandon his humanity.

    3. You’re assuming ultra-competency where there is none:

      Knocking his Uncle down while a line was on his arm would have made the arm come off. And unlike Taylor, sudden limb loss is actually lethal.

      The aura “maybe” made his Uncle listen to his wife and not use the sharp end of the shovel. It did not, however, stop him from repeatedly stomping on Rain while he was down.
      So I am dubious of it having any affect on people determined to kill him.

      And lastly: Rain doesn’t know how to fight and freezing in place for 3-4 seconds while fighting more than 1 person at a time is beyond almost anyone’s ability to leverage.

  14. Sooo… if Rain were to die, would Snag’s, Love Lost’s, and Cradle’s personalities change from the cessation of the “bleed-through”? If so, if they die instead, will Rain revert to having the personality of someone who is a relatively willing participant of the Fallen as the foreshadowing seems to suggest was the case before?

    I’m not saying that Rain would revert to wanting to be a member of the Fallen, just that he could revert to being a far more unpleasant person.

    1. Remember the last arc of Worm when Taylor lost access to her ginormous swarm, and her grip on reality didn’t get any better because “damage done is damage done”? I’m betting this situation would be something similar. The personality bleed-through has happened, and it probably won’t just snap back if a member of the cluster dies.

      1. Yep. And that’s even assuming that’s the main cause. Trigger Events are really, really traumatic shit. They can mess up someone’s personality before you factor in the aliens who want conflict messing with the brain as well. So it may be there’s not even as much bleed through as they think, and everyone simply got broken by the experience, and the others target Rain, since it’s easier to blame him than to not be bad people now.

  15. I love the description of the Fallen community, it feels very real. I can completely imagine this kind of place existing, especially after a disaster like Gold Morning.
    The way Rain thinks of himself as lower than garbage yet gets treated as a minor VIP by Lachlan is interesting. I think it’s because the average joe within the community isn’t really aware of the whole power hierarchy apart from who the really important guys are. That, or Lachlan was just sucking up to Rain to try and get in good with Allie.

    1. Allie told him to get his shit together because the community hasn’t come to the conclusion that Rain’s useless yet. Lachlan doesn’t know that he lost a fight to someone without powers.

  16. I don’t know that I’ve seen it called out this way, but Tim & Co’s treatment of Erin is a very nasty form of gaslighting. “You’ve done something wrong. You are bad.” “But I haven’t done anything wrong!” “You’ve done something wrong. You are bad.” Ad infinitum. Until you start believing it.

    I was raised in a fairly mainstream religion, and the sheer volume of well-meaning religious people who tried to ‘help me’ by telling me what I was doing wrong (according to their interpretation of scripture) was a source of self-doubt and self-hatred that took decades to cut through. Unlike a deliberate cult, they only intended good, but the human mind works the same way no matter the intention of the people talking to you.

    Even if other things go wrong… dear god (or lack thereof), please get them away from the Fallen.

  17. Man, I hate the Fallen so much that I really want them to be crushed by people who are after Rain so much that nothing will remain from them. Only Erin and Lachlan seems to be decent people and they have to survive (especially poor, poor Erin). But all others, FUCK them! I hate them as much as I hated E88 from Worm, because they both remind me of two very real-life organisations of evil people, like sects and nazis (white-supremacists) . Funny enough, I didn’t hate Slaughterhouse 9 and Cauldron as much as the other two above, mostly because you’ll never meet organisations like psycho killers with superpowers or superpowered people who make experiments with superpowers on people in real life so I can’t be so emotional with something completely fictional. On the other side, no matter what he did in the past to the super-angry and vengeful trio (I’m sure it was only an unfortunate accident), Rain seems like a good, decent and helpful guy and he doesn’t deserve any of this shit. And I hope that he’ll open his heart in front of his team and tell them everything he did and might happen to him so they’ll be able to help him. All of them (even Ashley…SOMETIMES) are kind and understanding guys and they’ll help Rain and Erin for sure if they’ll know their situation. He needs to man up and trust his team and his abilities because otherwise he won’t survive too much. I dislike when people don’t trust others that might help them and prefer to fight alone.

      1. They also weren’t hypocrites. They were a bunch of psychos who wanted to kill people in horrible ways and ruin lives, and they knew it and didn’t try to present themselves as being rightious.

      2. Yes, you’re right. And they’re so interesting, I had a fun time reading their arcs. Actually they’re my favorite supervillains from the entire Worm. My favorite members were Jack and Riley, I was so fascinated with their ideas, their intelligence, sadism, cruelty and dark charm (but I’ll never EVER want to meet people like them in real life, HELL NO!!!) . I’m so glad that Riley appears in Ward too, hope she’ll have a significant role.

      3. They were also… Not useful, but… This is hard to find words for, but I’d be nearly glad they existed, in a world like Earth Bet, pre-GM.

        They gave a place to the true monsters, the ones whose powers meant they couldn’t integrate with heroes, or sometimes humanity in general. You’re a Blaster whose screams shatter the bones of everyone in earshot? And you can’t modulate it to only affect some bones, or lower it to cause headaches? Yeah, the PRT aren’t going to want you aboard; you get in a fight, there’s mass civilian casualties. Horrific ones, too; my parents used to recycle glass with a machine that shattered it with sound. When glass shatters from soundwaves, it’s blunt. Some bits are hard and some are pointy, but it’s not actively sharp. I’d imagine bones are the same. So you’ve got people suffocating because their diaphragm isn’t anchored to ribs, just shards of bone, and others with brain damage from falling over when both skull and leg-bones disintegrated. Most villains won’t want you, either; there’s a kill order on your head. You either never use your powers, go on a rampage until somebody tough enough stops you, or you join the Slaughterhouse Nine.

        No matter how gruesome your power, how widespread the casualties, how potentially devastating it is to your allies, there’s always the Slaughterhouse Nine. They’ll take you and give you family, so you don’t die alone. And maybe you’ll live longer, too.

        1. If you’re trying to kill someone with sound waves, I wouldn’t bother trying to shatter their bones. Targeting soft organs seems much more efficient.

          1. That was purely an example, and as noted by him being unable to give headaches through sound, he can’t modulate it. He screams = bones break.

            But my main point was that having a place for those that wouldn’t otherwise have a place concentrates them. If the SH9 weren’t a thing, Crawler would be trying to freeze himself in Alaska, Shatterbird would be swooping around shattering windows on the east coast, where more people are (and hence windows), Mannequin would be really creepy somewhere else and the Siberian would be chasing down farmers in Wyoming or Utah where it’s flat and they can see her coming. And it means if you DO get a power that is truly gross, you won’t be lonely for the rest of your life.

          1. Sveta is unusual. She’s human enough to regret the deaths she’s caused, and she was lucky enough that, wherever she was dropped by Cauldron (we don’t know) she fought capes that were both resilient enough for her to not kill and kind enough to capture her and ensure she went to the Asylum, rather than the Birdcage. Perhaps because she was always apologising as she tried to strangle the life out of them. Or maybe because you need to either volunteer to go or need to be sentenced to the Birdcage by a squishy judge and jury of easily-broken fleshthings, and historically neither is needed for an admission to an Asylum.

            Had she been unlucky, though, and found by the Nine, or a group of capes that weren’t resilient enough or had instakill powers (or both), then she could have turned out differently. Maybe there’s other equally horrific capes lucky enough to go to the Asylum, but Chuckles didn’t. Skinslip didn’t. Burnscar did, but broke out and joined the Nine. Of all the capes we’ve seen from the Asylum, Sveta’s the only one who actually improved because of their stay. Labyrinth apparently justified her rating of Shaker 12, was used to calm Burnscar, and only after escaping and joining Faultline’s Crew did her condition improve, with less catatonia and physical hallucinations. Burnscar… Didn’t improve after she left, but her power’s emotional aspect really didn’t help her at all. They did what they could for Victoria, but they couldn’t do anything to actually help her condition, just… Make her comfortable, and stop her getting worse, and keep her company.

        2. I hadn’t really thought about that aspect, but it does make sense. The S9 were actually a remarkably healthy social group, if you ignore their mass-murder of innocents. I was mainly just more upset with Cauldron than with the E88 or ABB, because the latter two (like the Fallen up to now) keep their sex slavery quiet enough that it doesn’t get screentime, while Cauldron’s omnicidal stupidity gets the oddest mix of vagueness and top billing.

  18. Can… like… the Fallen and Rain’s Cluster just wipe each other out. Deal with themselves. Poor Rain needs a break. Erin too. Well done Wildbow for making a chapter that was so damn disturbing and sad.

    But that last paragraph or two gives me hope. Rain’s gonna be taking a page out of Skitter’s book.

    If you can’t win in a fair fight. Don’t.

    1. The problem is, if the fallen gets wiped out, there is going to be a huge amount of innocent bloodshed. How many girls are in the same position as Erin? How many people like Allie and Bryce simply have no where else to go without abandoning everything? Even that Lachon dude, who seems like in any other context could be a normal decent teenager doesn’t deserve death. About half of the people here seem to be victims more then anything else.

      1. Yeah… it would be wishful thinking to assume the truly vile members of the Fallen and Rain’s Cluster could wipe each other out without any fallout on innocent people.

  19. I really like how you’re giving Rain a few POV chapters rather then just the one per character rule you had in worm. I hope you do the same for other Team Therapy members. In my opinion, one of the improvements Twig had over Worm was that each Lamb had more POV screentime then the undersiders did, meaning they developed more over the course of the story. Im sorta wondering over the format- is each team member going to get an arc dedicated to them (which would be cool but may feel a bit unorganic) or is Rain and his subplot special in some way? It sorta feels like he’s the protagonist of his own little story here, which is interesting and I wonder where its all going.

  20. I see a lot of people complaining about Rain’s self-pity, cowardice, etc., but this is something I find refreshingly enjoyable and starkly realistic about his character. We’ve seen teenage characters going up against seemingly insurmountable foes (anyone who fought against endbringers and/or S9 in Worm, for example), but they all exuded bravery. Even if their internal monologue was filled with terror and dread, they were still effective enough to overcome that fear and make a stand.

    Real fear, though, is paralyzing and suffocating. Rain is experiencing this. He can’t make effective use of his powers because creativity has been stifled by fear. He can’t effectively plan against his cluster because of that fear – notice how he never has a single offense-related thought in his thoughts? It’s not like he’s planning a defense either; rather, everything he does is purely reactionary. Because that’s what being terrified means. Even the simple act of revealing his true origin to his teammates is stifled by this overwhelming fear.

    And this makes it so much more relatable than all the other unwaveringly brave characters, the ones who can act despite their fear. The vast majority of people simply cannot be so mentally strong like the POV characters we’ve seen in Worm and Ward, not all the time at least. Which is why I’m very much looking forward to seeing Rain’s character development as he now finally has something to get him out of that cramped headspace.

  21. Look, Wildbow. I get that you love making people suffer, but could you, just for ONCE, let Allie, Erin and Rain have a happy ending? They don’t need to be torn apart by the horrors of the Fallen, they don’t need to be destroyed for your story to proceed. You’ve made the point, the Fallen are as always monsters and people do horrible things when they’re desperate. Just let this go well, please?

    1. I’d argue that Lachlann and Erin’s father make the same point that most of Parahumans does: (even or perhaps especially) amongst monsters, people are still people. People have reasons for what they do, even if so many of them come around to socialization or pettiness.

    1. Nope. Hamlet comes across conflicted, and trying to determine what is true, not merely indecisive. Hamlet you feel is actually trying to do something, which is what Rain is doing at the end of this. In Hamlet’s case he’s first got to determine what to do.

    2. Hamlet sucks, man.

      Don’t get me wrong, great writing, some of the most famous speeches in the English language, lots of interesting metaphysical and philosophical ideas and wordplay to bounce around.

      But the plot, and characters? Meh. How many people do you actually know who really felt spoken to by Hamlet? Who understand themselves and humanity better because they read it? Maybe some angsty teens, I guess, but anyone over the age of 25 who can relate to Hamlet needs to get their shit together.

      The Tempest is more moving, King Lear is more tragic, Macbeth and Richard III are more exciting and have better villains. And all of them, Hamlet included, are riddled with literary conventions and cultural assumptions that didn’t age that well.

      I like Shakespeare. But he’s a writer, just like any other, flawed and writing for his audience with his particulars issues, not some magic deity. Shakespeare is Good, This is Like Shakespeare, Therefore This Is Good is basically the reverse Godwin’s Law.

      Ironically, I love Rain as a character and am enjoying the heck out of where this is going.

  22. Those last three paragraphs finally sold me on Rain. He may not have been a good person before, as far as we’ve been led to believe so far at least, he seems to have found some motivation. His story is shaping up to have a little bit of what Taylor had with Dinah or Tattletale with Taylor, granted the circumstances are different but still.

    Amazing as always Wildbow, you managed to make me look forward to learning more about one of the main characters I so far cared least about.

  23. Erin’s situation might be the worst I’ve read in any of Wildbow’s stories. Mostly because it’s so real.

    I’ve never met anyone who died to an Endbringer attack, or was experimented on by an insane biotinker.

    I’ve have met more young women in abusive home situations that were being prayed on by older members of their church community then I want to remember.

    This entire chapter made me feel unclean and a little sick to my stomach in memory. I hope Erin figures a way to get out, with or without Rain’s help.

  24. Is the communication and powers-fluctuation between cluster members present in Rain’s trigger group typical of group triggers or an exception to the norm?

    1. An exception to the norm. We don’t know much about the internal dynamics of cluster triggers, but they’re not mentioned waxing and waning elsewhere in the literature Rain looks up, and Fletchette/Foil was apparently a member of a cluster trigger and at no point in Worm does she mention anything remotely similar to what Rain is experiencing.

      My suspicion is the dream-weirdness is entirely due to the fifth member of the cluster, and is such a manifestion of one of the powers shared in the cluster rather than something typical to clusters. Power-boosts in the form of the tokens would be a Trump power, and the other 4 being able to shift their power boosts around willingly like that would be THEM using the Trump power.

      That also opens up the possibility that someone is deliberately editing Rain’s dream portions to paint him in the worst light possible, since while I’m taking him at his word that he was a vile person before he triggered, he also remembers what he was like and probably what he was thinking around that time and he seems to think things are being distorted to make himself look even worse.

  25. Erin has a gun.

    ERIN HAS A GUN.

    So Rain has access to firearms and, instead of going to Erin or one of the many people in this right wing compound who know how to shoot and have guns, his best plan is to learn redneck jiu-jitsu by getting his ass kicked.

    There is no reason for this.

    Wildbow, as a lover of all your stories, I can’t get my head around this. I feel like the world keeps having to twist itself in implausible ways to make “people wearing costumes and using their particular powers/punching each other plausible”

    A gun makes anyone a blaster 6. Which is better than Rain’s other powers.

    The people are coming to kill him so none of this “cops and robbers” non lethality.

    Is it supposed to be a meditation on his self hate and self destructiveness that he does not use a gun? That he doesn’t even think about it?

    The characterization, the relationships, the place setting are all still stellar, but the lack of guns when someone really really could use one is astounding.

    It is breaking suspension of disbelief.

    1. Erin does indeed have a gun. And she’s going to keep her gun and Rain’s not going to take it because she might need to use it on Tim one day, it’s pretty clear that keeping it around has serious psychological importance to her. The other members of the community aren’t going to give Rain a gun because he has powers, he shouldn’t need a gun when he can cut people in half with his powers. Guns and ammo are not exactly in high supply in a post-apocalypse situation where the main sources of manufactured materials are through tightly controlled portals to other worlds, if Rain can learn how to kill people without using a gun that’s one more teenager that can be armed with that limited supply of weaponry in the event of an attack. Again, they’re likely relying mostly on Kyber Pass Copies and the materials for those are scarce.

      1. Shit Taylor had a gun. She didn’t use it much, but she had one. And one of the most important litmus tests for me in a superhero setting is this: How do you not die from being shot.

        And the manufacturing of Firearms would actually be pretty high up on the list of things to set up first when other worlds get opened up. You need firearms for hunting and protecting yourself from predators. Handguns might be in small supply, but in the frontier there should be a lot of hunting rifles. The biggest thing cutting them back would be Warlord capes who don’t want to be shot. And the Fallen seem like the sorts who would have stockpiled the hell out of guns since before Parahumans were even a thing.

        1. So here’s the thing, the average person may indeed need firearms to protect themselves from predators on other worlds…but what incentive do the parahumans who now effectively control society have to enable that? Firearms manufacturing would indeed be a large priority if it weren’t for the stranglehold the parahumans have on force. Acquiring food can be done with tinkertech weaponry, whose production and distribution line is almost entirely controlled by capes and requires regular maintenance. Any attempt to produce guns is going to be at the individual gunsmith level, which allows for the hunting rifles you mention, and anyone trying to get a production line going is probably going to find that Lord of Loss has been hired by concerned parties to tear their building down.

          1. Glassware, this sounds like post hoc rationalization.

            We know two things about this world already. Hand guns exist and they are common enough that a 17 year old girl gets one.

            So none of your speculation works with those facts.

            Some individual warlord capes would prevent it but someone like tattletale wouldn’t. She took over coils mercenary force in Worm and they had guns. She also knows how an unpowered person with weapons was able to defeat Jack slash.

            Tattletale is not so idiotic as to not have a gun.

          2. TT had a gun back in Worm. It was a Tinkertech laser gun.

            And out on the more rural areas, you will be seeing more guns. Because they’ll need them. These Earth’s aren’t like Bet where everywhere was settled for centuries. Hunters will need guns because they need them to hunt. Farmers will need them to keep wildlife from eating the crops and livestock. Sure you could say the Capes are going to give them tinkertech guns or keep them from having guns. But then the Tinkers spend a lot of their time maintaining those weapons rather than preparing for other things like say attacks from other capes. If capes are going out and doing all the hunting and killing predators, they are going to spend a lot of time doing that. At which point you stop being the boss and start being the servant. The smart warlords? The one’s who succeed in the long run? They aren’t going to be the assholes that treat the people living under them like slaves and beat them down. Because that won’t fill their bellies or grow their drug crops or mine or whatever when a pack of wolves eats the cattle and wild boars root up the fields. They’ll delegate, they’ll find trusted individuals and they’ll give them the guns and authority. Both E88 and the ABB back in Brockton Bay had footsoldiers used with guns.

            And the Fallen are one of the factions that are smart enough use a method beyond “Obey me or I’ll fuck you up.” To give the illusion of trust and power to the non capes. They are also a US based religious fundimentalist organization. You’d get them to part with their limbs easier than their guns.

        2. It wouldn’t surprise me if the burgeoning government of Gimel had intentionally suppressed firearms manufacturing for the purpose of giving parahumans an easier time, given how important the Wardens are to this new world’s establishment. It wouldn’t be that difficult to do.

    2. So in general, yeah, I think it’s a fair criticism of the Wormverse that the cape death-by-gun rate isn’t portrayed as being very high. Why didn’t an unpowered sniper team put a bullet in Jack Slash’s temple years before Bonesaw reinforced his anatomy? Why didn’t a street thug with a handgun pull the trigger twice and end Glory Girl’s career in its infancy?

      But in this case I think Rain’s behavior makes sense. One dude with a gun is not going to change the outcome against forty super-powered mercenaries. There’s no room to hope for a miracle, there.

      On the other hand, Rain’s self-image is caught up in the paradox that he’s supposed to be powerful according to his community, but in practice he’s not powerful at all. Breaking through that paradox, discovering that when his back is against the wall, his “powers” actually do give him real power, would change his sense of what’s possible. That’s why he wanted his uncle to beat on him — he’s desperate enough to actually find out if his last, wild hope is real or not. And he does find out: it’s a dumb hope. His powers are what they are; he doesn’t turn into eidolon after getting kicked in the face a few times. But he needed to discover and face that, and the fact that he does is why he’s finally ready at the end of the chapter to stop hoping and fearing and instead take what action he can with the resources he has. Damn good writing on Wildbow’s part.

    3. People keep saying “Rain should just use a gun” like that’s the obvious unaddressed answer that would solve all of this, but… none of that is accurate?? For one thing, it has already been established that Rain is a poor shot. Yes you can learn, maybe he could be spending time at a shooting range, but even if he becomes a FANTASTIC marksman, that brings us to logic failure number two: the rest of the cluster, as well as the cluster’s army can have guns too! Anyone can have guns! Yes im a fight where one person has a gun and the other has superpowers the gun may have the advantage, depending on the powers. But if both people have guns and one has superpowers, or in Rain’s case, both people have guns and both people have powers but one persons powers suck, the person with the better powers still has the advantage. And as for using the gun against the fallen? Their whole thing is that they’re a redneck cult. There is no way redneck cultists do not have guns. No way. I’ll defend the realism of worm, but I think the argument that guns beat powers was WAY stronger back in worm, especially the gang -centric arcs of worm, than it is here in Rain’s situation

  26. I think that something is being missed in the Worm gun-use talks. Until recently, capes weren’t really a war resource. Outright combat wasn’t the norm. The norm was capes as gangsters/anti-gangsters. And here’s the thing about gangsters: if you are in a gunfight with the cops, you’ve already lost. Badly.

    For capes to become the organized/not-so-organized crime norm, they don’t need to be able to universally kick an armed gunsman’s ass. They just need to have a competitive edge over whomever else might be jockeying for territory. And powers give that competitive edge. Particularly in non-combat situations where being able to do something *different* is often all you need to exploit system vulnerabilities and make tons of money.

    Capes aren’t the core of the criminal world because they’re on a level gunsman can’t compete with. Nor do they exist free of competition from gunsman (Coil’s forces prove that, Skitter’s run-in with E88 at Rachael’s place proves that, the night Lung was gearing up with his armed gang proves that). But capes have a relative advantage compared to other people. Particularly in intragang competition, which tends to be limited in the scope of its violence, even minor combat powers are an *enormous* advantage. Rain may suck at fighting, but in a ‘who’s the baddest gang member on the block’ fight between two people of otherwise equal skill, the person who can whip out ‘this touches your skin and you’re fucked’ blades at will is gonna win. Hookline may not be a better soldier than a rifleman, but he doesn’t have to be. In a criminal situation which doesn’t involve gunfire (i.e. most) he’s much more effective than someone without powers.

    (Also you’re going to see a fair number of capes whose powers are criminally useful but only marginally combat useful (Circus, Uber, Viktor, etc) getting involved in combat. Not because they necessarily have a huge combat edge, but because their powers are useful in the other aspects of a criminal life which happens to come part and parcel with infrequent violence).

    And you want cape heroes to combat cape villains for a few reasons. First, marketing. Sooooo much money to be made in that. Second, not all villain capes are pushovers vs. guns. Some are legitimately dangerous. And for dealing with someone who can ignore gunfire, you can do a lot worse than having a menagerie of powers on hand, one of which might do something. Third, just like how most gangsters who get into gunfights with cops are doing their job wrong, most heroes who get into gunfights with perps are doing their job wrong. You don’t need a hero who’s scarier than a gunsman. You just want a hero who can casually overpower an unarmed (or knife-armed) person. That allows them to disable without using lethal force or incurring risk to themselves, in which regard someone like Victoria or Crystal is worth a dozen cops.

    Now after the Gold Morning, things are different. Capes are more of a war resource. Civil life, on a government and personal level, is going to be more militarized. Things are going to change as people form militias. Certain classes of combat capes will continue operating unhindered (Imp, Oni, Aegis), while the Victorias and Rains and Tristans of the world will be forced out of militarized areas or pushed into less combat oriented roles. But that hasn’t happened fully yet, and it won’t happen everywhere. It still makes sense to me that Hollow Point is ruled by cape villains, despite them being theoretically weak to the community’s eponymous ammunition. Because I could imagine a place like that being taken over by simple gangsters, and where simple gangsters can take over villain capes will do the same thing but with more advantages.

    Which brings me to the last point. Why are Snag and Lost Love getting capes together instead of gun-wielding mercs? In a scenario in which gun violence not only could but should come into play (unlike the vast majority of most criminal activities, despite what popular culture says), why bring capes? Especially if you’re bringing B-listers, and not a Lung or a Kaiser.

    Well, I think the answer to that is actually incredibly simple. For all they know, Rain could be protected by a Weld. There is jack fucking all unempowered mercs can do to someone like Weld. A *thousand* mercs are only so much whack-a-mole-fodder against Weld. At best they could do cosmetic damage to him with RPGs. Or maybe instead of Weld Rain has a forcefield user on his side who can just bubble him and fly him away to safety. (We’ve seen how many capes who could do just that?) Maybe he’s got someone with a danger sense helping him, or a tinker who can make personal defense systems capable of knocking a few sniper rounds out of the sky. Maybe he’s got a Case 53 on his side who could involuntarily slaughter a mercenary company in 0.3 seconds if one of them happened to break her prosthetic body. You know. Reasonable concerns.

    They don’t know who Rain has. So their best solution is to (pun intended) throw everything but the kitchen sink at Rain. If they have enough powers on their side, they’re almost guaranteed to have a counter for whatever Rain has. Hookline is shit in a gunfight, but he counters Weld very neatly, might as well bring him along. Victoria isn’t much use against an AK-47, but you still want someone who can fly in case she grabs Rain and zips away, bring a few flyers. And yeah, you bring guns too. But you don’t *only* bring guns. Not unless you want to get an intimate and personal lesson on what the receiving end of Weld ass-kicking feels like.

    But to be sure you can counter anything, you need a *lot* of powers. Especially if there’s a risk that your opponent might have recruited somebody higher-tier. If you bring half a dozen capes and it turns out none of them are Sundancer counter, and less murder-squeamish Sundancer is there, you are going to have a Bad Day. So you don’t bring half a dozen capes. You bring forty. You bring everyone but the kitchen sink. And then you bring him too, because maybe his power will synergize well with someone’s.

    1. Funny thing is a gun would Synergize well with Rain’s power. He has to be able to get a second hit on something and exert enough pressure to make it break, and while it’s not much he’s also best if he can do it with range. Even a decently tough brute could be done in two hits with Rain’s power and a gun. And some powers will also work well with guns. If you have someone who’s power is super accuracy or controlling the movement of small fast moving metal objects, a gun is a good pick.

      Now as I stated before, having some way of not dying from being shot at is a litmus test for me with superheroes. But it doesn’t need to be a 100% for me to keep the suspension of disbelief. Let’s take Superman and Batman. Superman obviously laughs at being shot. Batman gets away with it for my suspension of disbelief by having body armor, and using ambush tactics and misdirection. Yes he could be killed by bullets, but it’s enough to satisfy my suspension disbelief.

      Now on team therapy, Vicky’s got a one shot shield, and her awe aura to hopefully keep them from trying followups. Sveta tanked a Scion blast. I’m assuming Capricorn invested in a bulletproof costume. Chris is presumibly enough of a brute in transformed states to tank it. That leaves Ashley, Kenzie and Rain unanswered.

      1. Kenzie is presumably covered by whatever you use to not scoff at Oracle. Like, she is sitting in a building far away from the action, kicking her cubes.

        Ashley’s current answer seems to be ‘bounce around a lot’, but there is probably a reason she died once already.

        Rain better buy some armor, because he wants to be visible in a fight, and nothing about his power set will keep someone from just shooting him.

        1. In Kenzie’s case we just don’t know. She wants to be in the field, so she’s going to need something. Though with her tinker specilazation she could do stuff like active camo, or hologram clones.

          Let’s face it. Original Damsel of Distress was very much a cops and robbers type cap, even if she could never know or admit it. Once the actual monsters in the S9 recruited her, she wasn’t going to last long.

      2. Rain’s arms might also provide a bit of extra synergy with a gun. At the very least, it seems like he could have one or two preparing a magazine for reloading, which would let him maintain a slightly higher rate of fire than a non-powered human. Not a huge advantage, but it could help a little with fighting off groups. Depending on just how fragile the arms are, they might also be able to provide a bit of extra stability, so long as he doesn’t rely on them too much for recoil absorption.

        So he could find an advantageous position, lay down fire just a bit faster and more accurately than a regular person, combine the gun and blaster power to take care of particularly tough enemies, and have his mover power in case he needs to, say, jump off a building to get away from enemies. Basically a parkouring anti-brute/anti-crowd sniper.

    2. Good analysis.

      Also it just occurred to me that Kitchen Sink is essentially a lamer Ballistic. If he weren’t such an embarrassment he’d be a good team-up with Foil.

      1. Yeah. Well he does seem to have one thing going for him. He seems to conjure up his items, and be able to cycle through until he gets what he wants. It seems like he was going for setting someone on fire since he had Kerosine, and was going for something else for fire I think.

        Ballistic is still better. While he’s got to find ammo, damn near everything is Ammo, and his power is nice, simple and effective. Shoot shit at the target at high speed, which tends to be pretty good.

        1. Well Ballistic had the problem of being TOO good, and only having one speed, so it was hard to use his power without killing people. Kitchen Sink seems like he’d be able to hold back a bit.

  27. My thoughts on more usefulness from the arms is the ease with which they seem to connect with nerv-endings on contact and the notes about them causing brief flares of pain.

    What if he reversed that as a weapon? The other end of the arm can clasp, connect to nerves, detach and cause pain.

    1. I also wonder what limitations there are on his mover power. It seems to stop and freeze momentum for not only Rain but his clothing and belongings. Much like clockblocker’s power could expand out to freeze a gun and a long spider silk attached to the gun, could this power expand out to stop the momentum of some other things that might be advantageous somehow?

  28. So the Crowleys faction of the Fallen are doubtlessly named after Aliester Crowley, The Great Beast.
    The McVeys are named after OKC Bomber Tim McVey, right?
    But the Mathers…
    …Are they named after Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers or Marshall Bruce Mathers III?

    1. Is the name “Mathers” or just “Mather”? Because I was thinking Cotton Mather, Increase Mather, etc. Those dudes thought about demons and the end of the world a lot.

  29. Rain, Rain, think about things for a bit. You basically have two-three paths forwards: you can ditch the Fallen and fort up in a Warden citadel somewhere(For the best personally, but Erin’s not coming without her family, who probably aren’t coming willingly), you can stick with the Fallen and throw down with the rest of the cluster with them, or you can go on the attack hard.

    Given that you appear to be settling on option 2, why aren’t you telling the Fallen about the clustermates? The Fallen are an insular and dangerous cult, with a strong focus on gathering parahumans; I’m sure with forewarning they could put up a hell of a fight. But if outnumbered and surprised it’s not going to go as well for them and especially not for non-combatants like Erin.

  30. I have been thinking a lot about this chapter, and especially about something I realized while reading it: I feel like the common thread in this book, both in terms of characters and of plot, is the theme of teams and partnerships. I am not sure how this ties in with the title – I am not sure I understand fully the meaning of “Ward”: does it mean to protect? To ward off? To be protected and nurtured and to belong to a larger family? Either way, it seems to work with this interpretation.
    Indeed, it seems that most main characters are unwilling members or partners in groups that are for them full of danger, pain or grief: Victoria and her wreck-field, Sveta and her body of tendrils, Tristan and Byron (since there is this hitman thing we still haven’t clarified) Rain and the cluster, Rain and the Fallen, who are at the center of those interludes, they are all stuck in a relationship with something that does not look over them nor look out for them. Those are all false teams that precisely lack the double dynamic of the “ward”, protecting and being protected in return. (I am not sure yet how/if Ashley and Kenzie can fit into this pattern, so it’s one limitation of this interpretation). So, one the one hand, we have those characters that are somehow ‘homeless’ in this world (they lack a place with heart and hearth), but on the other hand, what the story seems to be about is the work of finding, joining, building new teams, new partnerships, of tearing themselves out of the toxic groups into groups that are really families.

    I don’t know if the rest of the book will keep with this pattern or on the contrary totally contradict it, but in any case, I love the depth of the story that I have been reading until now.

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