Shade – 4.7

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“Hello?  This is Andre Giannone.”

“Andre, hello.  We were hoping you could help us out.  We want to rent some locations in Cedar Point.”

“Where did you get this number?”

“We went to the source.  Mortari Construction handled the building in Cedar Point, and they gave us the name of… Andrea Giannone?  Could it be your daughter we’re wanting to contact?”

“I am Andrea, I go by Andre.  Easier, not having to explain that I’m not a woman.  It’s a man’s name where I was born.”

“That’s great.  Andre, aren’t you the one charged with leasing the properties?”

“Their records are out of date.  I’ve washed my hands of the business.  Look elsewhere.”

“Can you give us the number of the person we can call?”

“No.  There are no vacancies in Cedar Point right now, and I won’t give you the number because I don’t know who is handling things.”

‘Won’t give you the number’, I noted.  Not ‘can’t give you the number‘.  Despite not knowing?

“A cursory internet search suggests there are a lot of vacancies in Cedar Point.  People are noting it and asking why.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“You live there.”

“I keep to myself.  Look elsewhere.  Stop bothering an old man.”

“Mr. Giannone, I understand if you’re scared.  Don’t answer me if you’re worried people are listening in.  We’re heroes.”

Was the summary silence on the other end because he was worried people were listening in, or was it shock?

“We’re heroes.  We’re a corporate team with plans of settling in.  We know there are vacancies, and we know you still have signs up.  If we can get this working, we’re going to look after you and the people in Cedar Point.”

“What?  A corporate team?”

“Of heroes, Mr. Giannone.  We call ourselves Auzure.  Au for the chemical symbol for gold, azure for blue, I don’t know if that will help you remember.  You’ll see us around, if we can do this without stepping on anyone else’s toes.”

“Toes?  What?”

I glanced over the others, and saw Tristan doing the same thing.  His eyes met mine.  I wondered if he had the same thought I did, about how Dido’s clarification about the name would only confuse people.

“Jurisdictions, Mr. Giannone.  It wouldn’t be good if we turned up there and ended up in a turf war with fellow heroes over who gets to help.”

“Why would there be fighting to- there’s nothing here.  There’s nobody here.  It’s a nowhere place.  Everyone who could leave left.  Everyone else wants to be left alone.”

Was he aware of the contradiction in what he’d said?  That there were no vacancies, but there was nobody there?

Dido went on, taking on a tone that made me think she was in sales.  “It might be a nowhere place right now, Mr. Giannone, but I promise you, Auzure can change that.  The other heroes want to change it.  Whatever happens, you’re going to get some stellar heroes in your neighborhood.  Hopefully it’s us, and we can clear the way so that everyone that left can come back.”

Dido’s earnest, almost painful optimism toward the end was contrasted by the sputtering reply.

“You’ll make this place a warzone.”

“We’ll handle things in a good way.  Trust us.  Auzure is gentle but we get the job done.”

There was inarticulate sputtering on the other side for a few seconds.  “I’m not the person to bother with this.  Don’t call me again.”

Mr. Andre Giannone hung up the phone.

“Kenzie,” Tristan said, putting a hand on the back of Kenzie’s chair.

The camera shifted, focusing on a small house on the edge of the downtown strip.  Tall windows and a realty sign, with the second floor having suggestions of an upstairs apartment.

“I feel bad,” Dido said, speaking to the dead air.

“Can we talk back to her?” Sveta asked.

“No, but-” Kenzie hit a few keys.  The call ended, and then the phone rang.

“Here you are,” Dido said.  “Beautiful.  Was that what you needed?”

“We’re going to see,” Tristan said.  “The man you called is going out for a walk.”

Mr. Giannone was dressed in a suit jacket over what might have been a thin sweater or long-sleeved shirt, with nice hair combed straight back from his face, but where he might have looked dashing, gray hair or no, he had bad posture that made him look older than he probably was.  He walked with what I could only call alacrity.

“Patching in,” Kenzie said.  “We’ll send you the video after, but for now it’s going to be audio only.”

“Lovely!  I get to see and hear the rest?”

“It’s part of the deal,” Tristan said.  “We’ll pass on info about villains and the greater villain network as we pull things together.  We’re hoping you’ll keep from stepping on our toes in the meantime, as you put it.  Houndstooth was saying you were better than some of your teammates about jumping into something like this without regard for us.”

“Hmm.  I could see it if we were itching for something to do, but I don’t think it’s likely.  Right now, I don’t think we could.  Too much to do already.”

“The war?” I asked.

“That’s a big part of it.”

“How is it?  How bad?” Sveta asked.

“I have no idea.  It feels like none of the people doing the talking and negotiations want it to happen, especially as we’re getting hints about how bitter a war it could be.  Earth C doesn’t mess around.”

“Do you think it’s going to happen?” Sveta asked.  She sounded more anxious now.

“The diplomats and most of the people at the very top on both sides are fighting it, but it seems like things are moving inexorably in that direction.  Yes.”

Sveta’s chin dropped a bit as she looked down at the ground.  I reached out for her, and stopped as I heard a small ‘thup’ sound, followed by another.

Her arms and legs hadn’t moved, so I took it as her tendrils striking at the interior of her body in the same way a prisoner might punch the wall of their cell.

“My hope is we’ll keep moving at this steady, unwilling pace, there will be an initial exchange of blows, and both sides back off,” Dido said.  “My worry is that something explosive will happen.  Another broken trigger, an attack from Earth C doomsday radicals, an attack from the Fourth Sect, someone stupid from our world trying to take territory over there.  I could go on.  It might spark something lasting.”

I approached Sveta in a way that let her see I was coming, moving slowly.  I wanted to ask if it was okay to make contact, and I didn’t want to say it out loud, where the others or Dido might hear.

“Fourth Sect?” Tristan asked.  “Have I heard of this before?”

Sveta saw me and reached out.  I took her hand in mine, and reached out with the other arm to put it around her shoulders.

“I’d call it a cult but I’m not sure it’s the right term.  They’re a minority power with a strong political voice.  They want war, to thin their own populations after too much ‘be fruitful and multiply’.  Hard to get into in any detail on that cycle.  Some of Gimel’s biggest allies in Earth C are people who want to postpone war because it makes the Fourth Sect weaker.”

“Your thinking is if they get to the point where they’re desperate, they’ll try to spark something,” Tristan said.

“Not my thinking.  People higher than me.  They’re some of what we’re watching out for.”

Tristan glanced at Sveta, then said, “We’re okay, right?  We do have the edge on powers.  Makes for an incredible toolbox.”

“We have an edge, but it’s not as big as you might think,” Dido said.  “Our side has people who can detect or see powers, and what we keep hearing from them is that this guy has powers, but on the down-low.  That woman has powers, nobody seems to be aware.  A lot of them are using their abilities to maneuver into positions of power.”

“Can we stop talking about this?” Sveta asked.  It felt strange hearing so abrupt a question when I hadn’t felt it in her body or breathing.

“We can,” Tristan said.

“Sorry,” Sveta said.  “To cut in like that.”

“I don’t mind, love,” Dido said.  “We can talk about other things.  I’d welcome the distractions.”

“Mr. Giannone is at the center of town.  He seems to know where to go to talk to the villains,” Tristan reported.

“Lovely,” Dido said.  “Some silliness to take my mind off of things.”

Silliness.  We were treating this situation as serious, we were trying to save Cedar Point and the people within, and we were trying to break up a criminal organization before it extended its reach too far or imploded.  With all of our various issues, with one team member’s life on the line, we were making sacrifices and devoting ourselves to this in the long term.


To someone that was trying to head off a war with another universe?  I could concede her that, but I could also think she could have worded it way more respectfully.

I decided to write her off as a bit of a ditz and let it be.

Giannone entered the bar, and my first thought was that we wouldn’t have the audio or video.

Moments later, however, he emerged with Prancer.

“…not involved in this.”

“Andre, if you don’t want to be involved, walking into the bar where we gather isn’t the way to do it.  Not voicing your issues in earshot of ten people with powers.  Let’s talk in my office.”

“Being seen walking into your office isn’t any better,” Andre Giannone said, resisting being led by the arm.   Prancer stopped trying, and the older man said, “Thank you.”

“We’ll keep it polite,” Prancer said, “Both in what we talk about, and in appearing civil.”

The people in the bar could see out the window.

“They called me.  What am I supposed to say?  If this goes to court-”

“Let’s not talk about court.”

“What if?” Andre said.

“It’s not going to.  The courts have too much to do to bother with someone like you.  Even with people like us.”

“You said the heroes wouldn’t bother either, and how many have we seen or heard about now?”

“Andre.  Listen.  If they decide they’ll bother with petty crime, they’ll come after me, the other villains.  They won’t go after the scared citizens.  If they thought someone had done something, they would think it was because the people were forced.”

Prancer’s tone changed at the end there.  Too light to be anything but joking.  I wondered how tone would play out with the court, if Giannone was charged.  I let go of Sveta and walked over to the whiteboard to note the question.  Something for a future discussion with Natalie or someone like her.

“I don’t want this hassle,” Andre Giannone said.

“I understand.  We’re already taking steps.  We’re getting information, we’re getting help.  We’ll have more in a bit, and we’ll fill you in.”

“What am I supposed to do when they call?”

“Hang up.  Say whatever you said.  Tell them you have no space.  Do whatever you have to, but don’t rent to them.  And don’t show up at the bar.  Call me.”

“I wanted to get you sooner than that.”

“Call.  Now, who was it that called?”

“Something about blue and gold.”


“No.  I don’t know.  Maybe.”

I felt a kind of satisfaction at the confusion.  Dido was a salesman, maybe, or a face-person, but she wasn’t a marketing person.  The way she’d described Auzure hadn’t been a good way to make it memorable.

“Could it have been Auzure?” Prancer asked.

“That’s it, I think.”

“Okay,” Prancer said.  “I know someone I can ask for more details on what they’re doing.  That’s good.  Useful.”

“Who do you know?” Dido asked, as if Prancer could hear her.

Prancer continued talking, oblivious.  “Next time, remember.  That’s all you need to do.  Leave it to me to decide if we need to worry.”

He laid a hand on Andre Giannone’s shoulder as he said it.  It was a way to show support, and also a way to steer his conversation partner, suggesting the man walk back the way he came.

“I’ve held up my end so far,” Andre said, resisting being guided as he said it.

“And you get allowances others in the neighborhood don’t.  Nobody knocks on your door.  You have tenants.”

“Nobody’s knocking on my door, maybe, but I’m getting calls.”

“A call.  One,” Prancer said.  He walked, one hand on Andre Giannone’s shoulder, getting Andre started on his way.  “And we’re taking steps to rectify the unwelcome attention.  Things should calm down soon.”

“Okay,” Andre said.  He looked at Prancer.  “I don’t need to worry?”

“You don’t need to worry.”

Andre walked away.  Prancer stood where he was, hooking thumbs in his jacket pockets, head tilted.  The camera got a good angled view of his expression as he turned around.  A confident smile.

A smile for the people in the window who might be looking at him, but he spoke under his breath, too quiet for even Kenzie’s camera to pick up.

“Can you get that for us?” Tristan asked.


It took a short bit, and Prancer didn’t re-enter the bar, instead walking over to the building across the street, where his ‘office’ apparently was.

“What the hell is going on?” Prancer’s hiss came through the speakers.

“We’re going on,” Chris said.

“Thank you for the help, Dido,” Tristan said.

“I’m glad to, hon.  I was worried I’d bothered an old man for nothing, but he’s in this, isn’t he?”

“We had cues he was.”

“Let us know if you need anything else.”

“Thanks,” Tristan said.

The conversation wrapped up with some goodbyes, and the call ended.  Windows closed, and parts of Kenzie’s computer-cube went dark.

“We’ve got one group passing through later this afternoon.  We could postpone it if needed.  These guys are Houndstooth’s recommends,” Tristan said.  “Victoria?  You’ll handle it?”

“My cousin will come with.  Just in case they’re keeping an eye out for me and have surface-to-air planned.”

“Missiles?” Chris asked.

“Anything,” I said.

“They’re starting to adapt,” Tristan said.  “Info and help?”

“As far as info goes,” I said, “Natalie said someone tried hacking into the Wardens’ headquarters, specifically targeting my mom.”

“Wasn’t me,” Kenzie said.

“I feel like if it was Tattletale, they would have been cleverer about it.  Sveta, since you were seen too, though they probably can’t connect you to your past self, you might want to make sure all accounts are secure.”

“Okay,” Sveta said.

“Then that only leaves Rain,” Tristan said.  “Decompress, take notes, do whatever.  We leave to meet him in a few minutes.”

He was taking on the leadership role.  Ashley had seemed to want it, and she’d included herself when Houndstooth had wanted to meet people in charge, but she wasn’t fighting him on this.

I noted that, and I wondered.

I watched as the tight cluster of the group broke up.  No longer gathered around the screen, standing behind Kenzie’s desk, they moved toward their individual spaces.  Chris had the largest bubble around him, where he didn’t have people within it.  His gait was different than it had been.

Ashley went to her board.  She’d been quiet throughout, and now she stopped in front of her whiteboard.  A mix of her writing and Kenzie’s marked it, with her writing along the center, each line slanted as if it was written on an angle, like a tower of stacked coins that was about to buckle and fall.  Kenzie’s writing marked the bottom third, with a few drawings of eyes.

Whatever means of communication they had devised between them, I couldn’t decipher it.  I couldn’t even begin to read Ashley’s handwriting.  Kenzie went to Ashley to resume their prior discussion.

“You okay?” Tristan asked.  I turned to look.  He was talking to Sveta.  “You didn’t like that talk about war.”

Sveta shrugged.  She smiled as I joined their conversation.  “Thank you for the hug.  I didn’t even realize how upset I was until you came up to me.”

“Anytime,” I said.

“Was it the thought of Weld over there that got you?” Tristan asked.

Sveta shrugged, but it wasn’t too effective with her suit.  “What threw me was when Dido talked about how people with powers were getting positions.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it might not be only that.  The people with positions might be getting powers.”

“Cauldron?” I asked.

Sveta nodded.  “Earth C is a major reason we had the supplies to rebuild.  They say they did it out of goodwill.  I think Cauldron made it happen.  Gave powers to key people so they would agree, made deals.”

She put out one arm, indicating the window and the city beyond it.

“How much of that was bought and paid for with crimes against humanity?  I saw some of what they did.  I heard a lot more about it.  My entire life, this body of mine, it’s because of them,” Sveta said.  “It’s awful to think about.”

I looked out at the city that gleamed with traces of yellow and gold in the light of the early afternoon.

“I don’t know a lot about them,” Tristan said.

“I only know some,” I said.  “The info came out after, but it trickles out, there’s a lot of guessing to be done.”

“I don’t have to guess,” Sveta said.  “I can tell you more some day.  But it’s going to take a few minutes longer than it takes to talk to Rain.”

Chris had joined Kenzie and Ashley’s conversation.  Kenzie was bouncing with excitement, trying to get Chris’ input.  He seemed reluctant to dish, but quick to shoot down this idea or that idea.

“You want to sit on this, skip out on the Rain conversation?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Sveta said.  “I think I have to go, because I’m one of the only people who knows most of the story.  It feels like I’m the only one who knows most of everyone’s story.  I know yours, Victoria.  I know Rain’s, I think. I have my suspicions about what he’s going to say.”

“I think I know,” Tristan said.  “And I have a few big worries.”

I flew around the area before settling down.  Everyone was gathered.

Erin drove a different vehicle than the last time.  It was a sedan, small and very dusty.  The accumulated fine dirt on the side had settled into waves that looked like very flat, spread out sand dunes, set on a vertical surface, with peaks, valleys, and patterns.

Erin opened the door.  The dark makeup around her eyes was heavier, her hair was unwashed, and she wore a slim-fit sweatshirt with the sleeves rolled up, a cat on the sleeve.  Her low-rise jeans were tucked into calf-height boots.

“Hi Erin,” Kenzie said.

“Hi, critter,” Erin said.  “How are you doing?”

“I was having a good day, but now this is happening.  Feels ominous.”

“Yeah,” Erin said.

Rain took more time to get out of the passenger seat.  He moved like an old man, shutting the door, letting a backpack fall to the ground by one of the car’s wheels.  He had a black eye, his ear was swollen and scraped up, and his face looked asymmetrical in a way that suggested swelling on one side, with no distinct source.  His knuckles and fingers were badly scraped up, with tape covering up some of them.

He was wearing a raglan tee with black sleeves, and jeans so old that they must have been as soft as sweatpants.  The knees were worn through, and the knees beneath were speckled with scabs.

“You’re hurt,” Kenzie said.

Rain nodded.

“Did you get attacked?” Chris asked.

Rain shook his head.  “Not by Snag’s group.”

It was hard, to pull back and watch.  I’d tried for the call with Dido, stepped back to observe, letting Tristan take point with directing the others.  He was good at it.  Sveta being the one who had struggled had pulled me in a bit.

I wasn’t sure strict objectivity was the way to handle this, but getting too close didn’t help either.

That line of thought got me thinking about how I hadn’t ever really had to watch my back.  Not among those I considered allies.  Not among friends.  Not among family.

And that, in turn, made me think about my sister, and the sick, hollow, angry experience of being betrayed by someone I’d thought I could trust more than I trusted myself.

I stood across from Rain and I felt like I had in the bank.  The bank had been dusty, partially my fault, the floor scratched up by the passage of giant dogs, littered with discarded pieces of paper and dropped belongings.  It had been dark, the rain pattering outside.

Much like Rain stood by the front of the car, hurting, his life in danger, my sister had stood a distance away from me, a knife to her throat.

Following that there had been the revelation of secrets.  It wasn’t that I held Rain close to my heart or anything.  It wasn’t even that I particularly trusted him.  Only that I recognized the pattern.

“Shit,” Rain said.

“If you’re going to draw this out, at least tell me this isn’t you explaining everything and dropping something heavy on me,” Tristan said.

“No big news for you,” Rain said.

Tristan nodded.

“You’re going to tell us what’s been going on with you?” Sveta asked.

Rain looked at Erin.  “Yeah.”

“She’s tied to this?” Sveta asked.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “Kind of.  She could walk away free and clear if she wanted, I think.  She knows most of my situation.  Not all.”

“I’m moral support,” Erin said.

“No,” Rain said.  “Because there’s stuff you don’t know.  Kind of.  It’s complicated.”

“You’ve got a look in your eyes,” Ashley said.  “Fiercer.”

“I spent a good day and got a beating trying to find that fierceness,” Rain said.  “That thing that would let me say this.  Tristan called me out, said I needed to tell you guys, because it impacts what we’re doing.  I needed to do some figuring out before I was able.”

“Yeah,” Tristan said.

I was silent.  I could only see the parallels.  I held my tongue because I didn’t trust it.  If this was an echo of that situation in the bank, I had no better idea on how to handle it now in the present.

No rain, no enclosed area.  We were at the edge of a park.  It was sunny out.

No knife to anyone’s throat, not that Rain’s expression said any different.

“You’ve been hiding with powerful people,” Ashley said.  “Capes, probably.”

Rain opened his mouth, then nodded.

“A gang.”

“A family,” Rain said.  “Gang doesn’t really say it.”

“It was always us and them.  And there was a lot of hate directed at them,” Rain said.

The in-group, out-group… and family.  I could connect dots.  I deliberately avoided doing so.

I focused on the situation instead, on the others.  Chris was quiet, smiling slightly, but the smile had been a small, persistent thing since he’d nose-dived into indulgence.  Tristan was quiet, but most of what he had to add were things that it was Rain’s responsibility to share.  Ashley handled the questions.

No- Sveta joined her voice to Ashley’s.  “You’re related to those powers.  It’s why you have such a hard time pulling away.”

“The Fallen,” Rain said.

I winced.  There were a lot of implications to that.

“Oh,” Kenzie said.

“I kind of connected the dots already,” Sveta said.  She put a hand on Kenzie’s shoulder.  “You first connected to Tristan after the God thing.”

“Religion came up in therapy,” Rain said, for the benefit of the rest of us.  “Tristan came up to me after and asked about which church my family attended.  I’d had a bad week.  Nearly as bad as this week has been.  We’d already connected some.  Both of us have people invading our heads, questions of self, we talked a lot together in therapy.  I cracked.  I told him.”

“Yeah,” Tristan said.  “Mom and dad were looking for a church.  I thought I’d ask Rain.  I don’t think Rain’s church would’ve suited them.”

“It’s not funny,” Kenzie said.  “Don’t make jokes.”

“I’m not laughing, Kenzie,” Tristan said.

“They hate black people, don’t they?” Kenzie asked Rain.

“They’re a big group,” Rain said.  “It’s hard to get into just how varied the branches are, the different beliefs, how they add up, some of the leaders that have come and gone.  It’s hard to just point at them and say they hate this or they hate that.”

“Most of them hate black people,” Kenzie said.


“Did your family?  Did you?  Do you?”

Rain looked back at Erin.  “Yeah.  I did.  Once.  You have to understand- it’s hatred for anyone and everyone, because that way it keeps everyone close to the family.  So ‘black’ was just one more label, you know?”

“Back at the first meeting with Mrs. Yamada.  You kept giving me looks,” Kenzie said.  “They weren’t because I pay attention to the clothes I wear and dress nice, or because you were trying to figure out what was wrong with me.”

“It wasn’t about you,” Rain said.  “I was figuring stuff out then.  I was trying to reassess my whole way of thinking.  It was me, not you.”

“It was you,” Kenzie said.  She paused.  “Being uncomfortable with me being there.”

“It was-” Rain started.  “Me being uncomfortable with everything.”

“Including me.  Especially me, right then,” Kenzie said.  She paused, waited for a response.  When Rain didn’t deny her, she added, “That… sucks.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“I’m not saying you suck.  It sucks to hear it.”

“If it helps,” Rain said.  “I’ve changed a lot since then.  I’m still figuring some stuff out.”

“A lot of different groups to un-hate,” Chris said.

“I- kind of,” Rain said.  “I still catch myself a lot.  I think of things, I realize I’m making these assumptions.  Then I want to change and I don’t know how.  I try to use you guys as role models or talk to Mrs. Yamada, or I read, look up and watch a movie.  But it’s a lot to re-teach myself.”

“Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Natives, Middle Easterners, then gay, trans,” Tristan rattled off.

“Deeper than that,” Rain said.  “I had to start with re-figuring women and how I thought about them.  I’m still pretty shitty, as much as I’m trying, because I hear you rattle that off and my first thought is ‘some of these aren’t like the others’ and I have to stop myself.”

“You’ve said a few things,” Chris said.


“I figured you were a redneck.”

“Worse,” Rain said.

“They get in your head,” Erin jumped in.  “They got my parents.  My little brother.   They got Rain when he was little.  I accept he’s trying.”

“There was a Fallen group that found a pair of people like me,” Sveta said.

Rain closed his eyes, looked down.

“Boy and a girl.  Case fifty-threes.  Arizona.  Peat and Fen.  They showed up in a few cities, did some stunts, hero-ish.  Junior level stuff.  But they were juniors, we think.”

“I know the story,” Rain said.

“They were terrified of vehicles and they hated the idea of the PRT.  They had a lot of peculiarities.  They couldn’t stay in one place for long.  Communities pulled together.  It was a really cool thing, they’d get motel rooms paid for by fans, they had tutors come to visit.  There was talk of trying to get them into the school system.  It was tricky because they were tricky.”

Rain nodded.

“It was a really cool thing,” Sveta said.  “There were blogs that followed them, and they were really positive.  There was art drawn of them- I really liked that.  A couple of times a week there would be articles talking about how they were doing something new and better and it was a step forward.”

“I knew some of it,” Rain said.

“You should know all of it.  There was a time in my life when I could only vicariously enjoy those sorts of things, and I’d wake up and I’d tell myself I would check the blog after lunch and I would check the art page after dinner, and that was the sort of thing that helped me get through the days.  Weld stuff was first thing.  There were others.  But Peat and Fen were big.”

“I know,” Rain said.

“They went down the wrong stretch of road and some Fallen jackasses on motorcycles thought they’d get a good reaction from people by holding the pair down and taking a chainsaw to their horns.  To decorate their fucking helmets!”

Rain nodded, averting his eyes.

“Knife marks suggested someone tried to cut off one of their faces to wear it as a mask.  You can imagine how I felt,” Sveta said.  She moved her hair, showing the edge of her face, the mass of pencil-thin black tendrils behind it.  “Since I’m only a mask and an assortment of lethal weapons.  You can imagine how I felt, when instead of my daily pick-me up I got the news that they’d died from loss of their horns.”

Kenzie ducked her head, and started to walk away.  When I went to follow and check her head, Ashley held up a hand and bid me to stop, following Kenzie instead.

“This isn’t an inquisition,” Erin said.  “Rain isn’t responsible for everything the Fallen have done.”

Sveta ignored Erin for the moment.  “Other Fallen groups have taken us for freak shows.  The embodiments of the end times.  Tom and Jake Crowley.  I know that’s not on you, Rain, but you have to realize they aren’t good people.”

“I’m more than aware.”

“Then at least tell me you’re not going to go back,” Sveta said.

“I have to,” Rain said.

I could see Sveta’s face fall.

“I have to,” Rain said.  “I have no choice.  Really.”

“Okay,” Sveta said, her voice sad.  “I think you have more choice than you think you do.”

“I really don’t.  If I could do anything else, I would.  I’m aware of a lot of things that are worse than Peat and Fen,” Rain said.

“What happened to Peat and Fen is pretty fucking bad,” Sveta said.  She turned to Erin.  “You’re not responsible for what others did, but if you’re leaning on them for protection or strength, then that’s not okay.  You can’t use that strength.”

“They have my family,” Erin said.

“And they don’t let you go,” Rain said.  “It’s all… very complicated.”

Ashley returned to the group.  Kenzie was still sitting in the grass, a distance away, her back to us.

When I looked, Ashley gestured.  Telling me to stay.

Rain looked pretty battered.  Dejected.

He met my eyes.

“There’s more to it,” Ashley said.

“Oh yeah,” Rain said.

“If you won’t say it, then I will,” Ashley said.  “I’ll guess.  You killed people.”

Rain went very still.

I could remember a similar look on my sister’s face.

He huffed out a breath, hands at his lap as he slouched back against the front of the sedan, sitting against the hood.  He didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands.

“Yeah,” he finally said.

“Innocents,” she said.

“Kids,” Rain said.  He looked in Kenzie’s direction.  At Chris.  Then he looked over his shoulder at Erin.

“Why?” Chris asked.

“I’ve been asking myself that a lot.”

“You maimed people,” Ashley said.  Still on the offense.

“Long term injuries.  Burns,” Rain said.  “To people of all ages.”

“For fun?” Ashley asked.

“For respect, if anything.  I don’t know,” Rain said.  He looked back to Chris, since he was really answering his question.  “Because a large part of me had only ever known the family, the lifestyle.  All of the language – outsiders were… less.  It was okay to hurt ten of them if you helped one of the family’s.”

“They had your whole childhood to work on you,” Erin said.

“Doesn’t excuse it,” Rain said.

“No.  But it explains it,” she said.

“Your whole life?” I asked.  My first time speaking in this conversation, maybe.  I wasn’t sure – I was in a different mode.

“My parents were early adopters, mostly on the fringe.  They got more into it as it grew.  Renamed me early enough I don’t remember my original name.  Rain O’Fire Frazier.”

“That’s terrible,” Chris said.

“Shush,” Sveta said.

“Everything about the Fallen is terrible,” Rain said.  “A few years after the name change, they sold me to a family halfway across the country, used the money to fuck off traveling like they’d always talked about.  My guardians right now are people I’ve called my aunt and uncle my whole life.  I got powers with the cluster trigger, at a time I was just one more set of hands and a weapon, a henchman.  That was supposed to elevate me and… it did the opposite.  That was my wake-up call.”

“It’s good you had one,” Tristan said.

“I don’t like the idea of you going back,” Sveta said.  “When you pull away is when things get worse, when violence happens.”

“It’s why I’m not pulling away,” Rain said.

“You’re with us,” Tristan said.  “You’re doing your own thing.”

From the bank robbery to the period after.  Trying to find normal again. Rain had been more open.  Did that change the course of this particular river, compared to the one I’d known?  Or were the key elements all there, still?  The discomfort, the ‘I’m trying but I’m not going to do anything different’?

Did it still lead to disaster in the end?

“Is the critter okay?” Erin asked.  “Kenz?”

“She’ll be fine if this ends and the group is still together,” Ashley said.

“Are we?” Rain asked.

“I’m not going to say no,” Sveta said.  “But I think you need to go.  Yesterday.  Get out of there.  Trust the Wardens.”

“I would if I thought they would protect me,” Rain said.  “But they’re busy.  The news articles say they’re not even here lot of the time.”

“I’m okay,” Tristan said.  “This is ninety-five percent known stuff, and elaboration on other stuff.”

The voices of the others were a jumble.  Chris didn’t care about anything.  Ashley, as odd as it was, seemed most uncomfortable.

“Victoria,” Rain said.  “You’ve been quiet.”

“Yeah,” I said.

I was aware of the silence that followed my statement.

“Snag’s army.  They’re after the Fallen,” I said.

“Yeah,” Rain said.

“But they want you.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  His expression darkened as he said it.  No illusions about what was in store for him if that happened.

“Because of the kids, and the others you killed.  Because they blame you.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

I nodded.

“I can tell you the details, if-”

“I’m going to go,” I said, interrupting.  I was aware of the looks I got.  “Tell Kenzie everything’s cool.  I’ll be back.  I just need to think on this.”

No actions out of instinct.  I’d think, piece everything together.

I flew away from the scene before I could say or do something I’d regret.

Another group was patrolling the area that afternoon.  Crystal and I stood on a square of crimson forcefield, well above Cedar Point, watching.

They were an older group, a bit of armor, some swords, a spear.  One of them was a Brute who carried a crossbow bigger than I was.  I’d always liked those things.

Simple.  Easy.  Bad guys bad and a bit lame.  Good guys a bit lame and doing good work.

“I’m going back to the PRTCJ,” Crystal said.  “Next week.”

I didn’t want her to go back.  There was very little to like about the group.

Ironically, the advice I was following in regards to that had to do with cults.  Not putting up too much of an offense, not scaring them into throwing up walls.

“It’s been two weeks,” I said.  “How do they handle that?”

“No idea.  Pay deduction, extra drills, demotion.”

“I told you what I heard from D.  There’s war on the horizon.”

D.  Dido.  In case we were being listened to.  Prancer’s clairvoyants could have been listening in, and he could have hired additional intelligence gathering.  No telling.  We dodged particulars.

“That’s part of why I’m going,” Crystal said.

“Spooks me,” I said.

“You doing this spooks me,” Crystal said.  “I want to meet everyone at some point.”

I nodded.  “Okay.”

“You think you have a handle on this?”

“I think so,” I said.  If ‘this’ meant Cedar Point.  “On other stuff?  Less sure.”

“What can I do?  We want you more sure.”

“Looks like our guests are free and clear.  We’ll see what they say later.  I’ve got a meeting.  Do you mind flying with me?”

“I’m glad to.  But we gotta eat.”

I wasn’t hungry, I was rarely hungry after thinking too much about the past, and I’d been thinking about it a lot during the discussion with Rain.  Still, I nodded.

I picked up the bag and the books I’d placed atop the field, putting everything away.  Crystal dropped the forcefield, and we flew with me leading the way.

It was already getting dark.  The flight wasn’t a short one.  I put on my music, because conversation was hard with the wind in my ears.

Time to think about Crystal and the PRTCJ.  The war with Earth C.  Rain.  Kenzie.  About what the hell I was doing here.

The sun had set by the time we arrived.  The waterfront had a railing with oversized posts a boat could be lashed to.  I leaned against the railing, checked my phone, and sent a message.

Mrs. Yamada approached from our right.  She had food from a nearby food truck.

“Crystal,” she said.  “It’s so nice to see you.”

“You too,” Crystal said.  She gushed just a bit as she said it.  She’d met Mrs. Yamada at the hospital.  They’d had talks about things.  About Crystal losing Uncle Neil and Eric.  About me.

There was a brief catching-up.  Pleasantries.  I chimed in once or twice, then found I didn’t have it in me.  I stared out over the water.

“I think- do you mind giving us privacy?” Mrs. Yamada asked.

“Sure.  How’s the food here?”

“This?  It’s good.”

“Wave when you want me to come back.  I’ll be enjoying the view until then.”

Mrs. Yamada leaned against the railing next to me.  Her dinner smelled amazing and I still didn’t want to eat anything.

“Sorry to be eating while we talk.  I haven’t had a bite to eat since grabbing a protein bar and a pear at five forty-five this morning.”

“It’s okay,” I said.  “Please eat.  Thank you for seeing me.”

“Thank you.  Is everyone okay?”

“Intact, yes.  Okay?  Were they okay when I met them?”

“They were in a place where I felt like they could finish their own journeys.  Most of them.  I imagine there’s some backsliding here and there, difficulties and things that aren’t okay because of external stresses and internal factors within the group.”

“Some,” I said.  “Some figuring things out from moment to moment.  Small triumphs.”

“That’s good.  More or less what I expected.”

“Rain revealed his situation,” I said.

“I heard,” Mrs. Yamada said.  “You wanted to do some thinking.”

“I did,” I said.

“I can’t do that thinking for you.  But if you want to talk out loud, I can help you along the way.”

“When it comes to Rain, I think I get it,” I said.  “I’m not okay with it, but not in a way that’s going to ruin anything.  It sucks to see the big and little things that affect the others.  Some issues close to Sveta’s heart.”

“You’re thinking about something else,” she concluded.

“Yeah,” I said.  “When Weld showed up at the first session, he said he was sorry he couldn’t sit in.”

“He did.”

“You asked him to counsel the group on their hero idea before you asked me.”

“Before the community center, before your boss called me.  Yes.”

“He said no, but he could help in a while.”

“More or less.”

“But you chose me in the end.  You could have waited and had him sit in, and he’s… a great guy who everyone respects.  You chose me, for reasons besides timing.”

“I’m not much of a schemer.”

“That’s not saying I’m wrong,” I said.

“No it isn’t.  But I’m worried if I say yes, then there’s expectations, and there’s disappointment if this doesn’t end up going well.  I’m far from superhuman, I make mistakes, and this could be another.  What are you thinking this is?”

“You wanted a quality I had, that Weld might not.  I was thinking about the team, the traps we could fall into.  Is it the paranoia?  The fact I can’t quite trust people?”

“That seems like an unkind way to describe yourself.”

“It’s true.”

“Unkind, still.”

“You wanted someone that isn’t too enmeshed into the group.  Someone wary that’s seen the Asylum and knows the sort of thing that comes out of there.  Someone that might see how they operate within the dynamic now that most have let their guards down.  You think something’s up, and you didn’t tell me what it is because you didn’t want me going in with too many preconceived ideas.  Because… you wanted to see if I drew the same conclusions.  Something bad’s in play with this group.”

She nodded to herself.

“Am I wrong?” I asked.

“You’re not wrong,” she said.

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139 thoughts on “Shade – 4.7”

    1. Hijacking for typo thread!

      > ‘Won’t give you the number’, I noted. Not ‘can’t give you the number‘.

      Last single quote didn’t autocorrect correctly. Also, the italics are inconsistent here — only “Won’t” is italicized in the first quote, but the entirety of “can’t give you the number” is italicized.

      1. >I feel like if it was Tattletale, they would have been cleverer about it.

        I feel like if it were Tattletale, she would have been cleverer about it.

      2. ““A family,” Rain said. “Gang doesn’t really say it.”

        “It was always us and them. And there was a lot of hate directed at them,” Rain said.”
        Cut despite Rain saying both lines.

        “Weld stuff was first thing.”
        Missing comma ?

        “they’re not even here lot of the time.”

      3. the typo thread really doesn’t need to be on top. Most people reporting typos are going to ctrl+f “typo” anyway

  1. I’m dumb. What bad is she referring to? The general messiness of their situations and how they mesh and how it could all go wrong?

    1. I think the implication is that Rain isn’t the worst of the group, still, and the group is ij for a betrayal or three. The trick is, while everyone has a skeleton in their closet, it’s hilarious that the Slaughterhouse Nine member is the least at-risk member of the group aside from Victoria.

    2. I have the impression Victoria suspects that someone on the team is a bad actor. As in has nefarious motives… maybe more than just 1 someone.

      What do we really know about Chris? Is Kenzie the sad little girl she portrays, or something more? Is Rain truly wishing to be better, or just using the team the same way he uses The Fallen? Is Tristan truly so bad he is involved in a hit on himself as a failsafe? Is Ashley truly trying, or doing exactly what she says… taking notes on heroes until she goes villain again?

      Any one of them could be bad. All of them could be catastrophic. A survelliance team that goes rogue after enmeshing itself into the covert ops side of things? Very bad. A covert ops team that breaks up and most go rogue to spread secrets to multiple villaib groups? So much worse.

      1. And even without any hidden motives, most of the team has issues that could blow up all on their own. Mix some of those issues together, and the chance of a dangerous reaction skyrockets. Rain gets tired and doesn’t catch some of his deep-set Fallen prejudices, Kenzie takes it hard, Ashley blows that out of proportion, things escalate as more problems get involved, everything falls apart.

      2. Capricorn scares me the most in this team. I’ve still not worked out why the others seemed to cut in and prevent fights between him and Chris before they could start but I think something is telling in that. It’s possible that Chris’ paranoia is not unfounded and he sees things we don’t yet. With a changing personality he might have been harder to manipulate or more aware of the manipulations Capricorn was using on others.

        I could totally see Capricorn’s response to the forum thread on Weld being a manipulative play on Sveta because he saw she’d replied to it and knew she’d see his response.

        1. I’m not sure that’s all on Capricorn. It might be Chris, too. He’s functionally a sociopath, due to his deadened emotions (except when and shortly after he transforms with his power). And the only emotions we’ve seen are Wan Indulgence and Not-Wan Indulgence; he has about six others, possibly more, depending on how his thirty-four (or whatever) names on the Parahumans Wiki relate to his power.

          1. That’s not really what sociopaths are. Sociopaths are just people without an automatic sympathetic reaction to the feelings of others. Their emotions aren’t any less intense than neurotypical people’s, but it’s an understandable mistake to make, especially if you catch them while everyone around them is reacting very intensely to some empathetic stimuli and they’re not.

      3. Hmm what other groups should have imploded or fell apart but didn’t.

        Ah, yeah, Slaughter House 9. Maybe Jack’s shard branched off. Cap or maybe Chris?

    3. My own theory (also mentioned by another person in the reddit) that it’s syspicious how the group doesn’t fall apart despite all the problematic people in it.

      They’re possibly under a master effect of some kind that keeps them together.

      1. Hmm. You know, there was a character in the prequel’s epilogues who managed to talk down the Faerie Queen from taking over the world. You know, that crazy Faerie Queen who was the only one who could actually resist Queen Administrator Kephri’s mindrape control field.

        And now that I think of it… Dina’s “Cut all ties”/”I’m sorry” was just a manipulation of putting Taylor in the path of Mrs. Yamada, the Real Hero of Worm who manipulated Taylor into becoming Kephri by just talking to her.

        1. “I’m not much of a schemer.”

          The last thing you hear before the trap closes on you….

          1. Moral of the story, don’t undergo Yamada’s therapy for too long or you’ll untrigger.

        2. A Yamada Shard would be the power gained from consuming humanity, rather than being a master power.

          Thats my headcannon, and I am sticking to it until proven otherwise

          1. “…power gained from consuming humanity,…”

            This is Worm/Ward, not Dark Souls (Right? Right!?!). Yamada can’t be the Gwyn of this series, my mind can’t take it.

  2. Ouch. So painful to realize someone we like might not be trustworthy. I guess I didn’t believe Rain’s cluster could be right to hate him, right to despise everything about him.

    This chapter side swiped me emotionally. I was loving the team and excited about how they seem to be improving, now I can’t imagine them going forward as a team. This isnt a villain team with a protagonist working to fit in, it’s a hero team that just discovered one of them is far from heroic.

    Ashley was right in that she is far from the most messed up on the team. Though I find myself worried for all of them, I am terrified for Erin. Being a beautiful woman in a cult like that is a potentially horrifying fate 🙁

    All that said, very good chapter. Drew me in by interest and emotion. Thank you

    1. I can hardly process Peat and Fen. The raw fear that being a target brings is just too much. The Fallen used to be a group I disliked for a variety of reasons, but now they are a group that fills me with fear. I hope they do not get ahold of sveta. It will be heartbreaking for her to lose so much progress because they broke her shell and her body killed again 🙁

      1. So… You hope Sveta gets ahold of them instead?

        But seriously, The Fallen are exactly the sort that would trigger Sveta’s bodies killing mode. The funny thing is I wonder if in one way she’s not the one who’d be able to understand why it’s hard for Rain to leave the group he’s been with his whole life, due to her own experiences with the Irregulars and how that turned out.

      2. I didn’t like the Fallen, but yeah. Peat and Fen did not have a pleasant end.

        We wondered what the Fallen thought about Case 53s; people were speculating demons and so on. Not that they harvested them for trophies.

    2. “…I am terrified for Erin. Being a beautiful woman in a cult like that is a potentially horrifying fate 🙁”

      Especially a beautiful very young woman. She’s the same age as Rain, right? 16 or 17? That’s a dangerous age for a woman as pretty as she anywhere any time under any circumstances.

    3. At least he is trying to change, though. Like Erin said, he was indoctrinated into the cult since birth and didn’t know any better- which doesn’t excuse it, but it does explain it.

    4. What’s… really bad is that Rain isn’t who he used to be. Imagine that he’s gotten the heroism, the love, and some of the loneliness from other people.

      Everyone else got his assholeishness. And can feel how different they are now. They may want to kill him to STABILIZE THEMSELVES.

      Imagine if they do kill him, and then all turn Hero?

  3. Man the fallen cult stuff hits home. The stuff about how killing 10 outgroupers if it helps 1 ingrouper a little bit is no big deal, general dehumanising of those not in the cult etc.

    Guys who are on the news and people think are monsters, but because youre ingroup youve met them in person and they seem like a nice dude, or you knew them since you were a kid and remember sitting in their lap and playing with them etc.

    The fact that its just a completely different paradigm but it makes perfect sense from the inside ifbyou start from the weird axioms.

    Still catching yourself every so often thinking like you used to even though you think youve moved past it.

    I got out of it and had my wake up call young enough and early enough that I didnt actually do amything horroble myself, just celebrated it when other people did. But thats largely luck. If I had less internet access as a kid, or even if I was a bit younger and didnt leave before e.g. ISIS became a thing, it could have been so much worse.

    I super relate to rain, and really loving this storyline. Thanks for including it wildbow.

    1. I loved the implied “Wait a minute, are you really equating middle-eastern people to black people and trans to gay?” knee-jerk reaction as well 😀

      1. We just need a non-christian religion member in team Therapy, and we can check off most the broad boxes of people the Fallen hate.

          1. Don’t know if you’ll catch this response two months later.. but Kenzie has been described as black several times in the story. The interesting thing is that you just caught yourself thinking of the character as white, because you missed any descriptions saying otherwise.
            It’s something I catch myself doing pretty often, as well. It’s something that, I think, is good to try to catch yourself doing. The really interesting bit is wondering if that perception flavored your image of the character’s personality. Would you have percieved them differently? Do you, now?
            Don’t take this as accusing you of being racist. It’s somewhat natural to perceive others as similar to who we are used to seeing. It is good, though, to try to break that habit. Mostly I just think it’s interesting to observe how my own perceptions affect how I imagine people.

          2. While it surprised me Grue was black, Kenzie being black didn’t surprise me at all. This might be because I came across fanart early on though.

    2. Thing is when you’re young and someone you trust tells you some cult like things and they have a real religion backing them, you don’t really know any better because you are programed to listen to your parents.

      I am speaking from experience.

  4. Oh, maaaan, Fallen are WORSE than even token white supremacists. They hate any race that isn’t white, they hate women, they hate gay, they’re criminals and religious fanatics. Not even E88 was that bad, at least they treated women members as equals and they only killed people when they messed with their bussinesses. All Fallen members who truly believe their group’s shitty ideology, without ever asking themselves if its bad, deserve to die, no mercy for them. I appreciate Rain’s bravery for telling the truth to his team, feeling honestly bad for his crimes and beliefs and trying to be a better person, but he also should accept his team’s protection and never return back to those monsters, because that would be a huge mistake. I just hope he won’t regret this, he won’t turn his back to his team and he won’t change his mind about protecting Erin. Also, I cheer for Snag’s people to kill those monsters, as I said before. What a great and thoughtful chapter, btw!!

    1. I mean, they’re not that much worse than plenty of real-world right-wing fundies. (Aside from the Endbringer thing, of course.) There are some things people really don’t like to question under ideal circumstances, and religion tends to be fundamental enough to one’s worldview to occupy that space. When it’s so tied to community and family…well, then you practically can’t.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, per se…I’m just saying that many of the things you condemn the Fallen for apply to a disturbing number of real-world people. That’s what makes many of Wildbow’s villains so real. With a few exceptions*, they uncomfortably mirror real-world groups. If you gave the Westboro Baptists superpowers, what might they become?

      *There’s no good parallel to Jack Slash or Cauldron, for instance. I mean, unless you believe in the Illuminati.

      1. Radicalised or cult isolated individuals are often easily rehabilitated when removed from their ideology’s reinforcing influencers and exposed to ideas of reason.

        Many of us grow up believing in a virtuous fatherly figure in the form of a large white man with a big white beard who flies above us and omnisciently knows if we have been, and are, good or bad and rewards the good. This belief is instilled in us and reinforced by family, friends and community all supporting the deception. Then we grow older and wiser, beginning to question it until the falsehood is unsustainable and we know the truth that there is no Father Christmas.

      2. The only real life group I can compare Fallen with is ISIS. Those assholes terrorists are exactly like Fallen, the only difference is that they hate all non-muslim people (they call us infidels) and they believe that islam is the best religion and everyone should embrace it. But they kill people, they use their women as sexual slaves and future terrorists- makers, they’re fanatics and they hate peace, in general. They’re already a nightmare (plus they seem countless and near invincible -they always recruit new members, they receive weapons from muslim countries who support them, etc), and they don’t even have superpowers.

        1. I left before ISIS was a thing, but yeah comimg from radical islam I see a lot of parallels relate to rain a lot. If I hadnt left before isis became a thing I might have done things on the scale of what rain did and had to deal with that guilt etc.

          1. Wait a minute. You’re a member of a radical islam group and you left them? And they didn’t tried to hunt you down and kill you (or worse, go after your family)? Wow, you’re very lucky indeed. Also, a very strong and brave person to do that. Have all my respect and admiration for you.

        2. ISIS hate muslims too – the majority of their victims are muslim. Like the Fallen they’ve perverted the message of religion and got the Us vs Them down to a tee.

        3. The others exist. Lord’s Resistance Army, boko Haram, branch davidians, even a couple of groups of buddahist terrorists in southeast Asia, and a ton more I’ve only heard tell of in passing. (Shining Path out of Peru? Idk) Patriarchy+ religion + “enemies” tends to get the same set of horrors no matter where or when.

        4. I dunno, they seem pretty similar to the KKK to me. Like, I see the ISIS comparison too, but when I first read Rain’s interlude I thought to myself that I wouldn’t be surprised if Wildbow had directly taken inspiration from the experiences of an ex-KKK member.

        5. “The only real life group” you can think of is ISIS? How about the rich white Evangelical Christians who believe that they are discriminated against more than any other group?

      3. Well, the parallel to Jack Slash or Cauldron…I’m sure that in real life, there also groups of scientists (like there were in Cauldron, but not parahumans or having a twisted but noble final purpose) who experiment on people to create powerful weapons (biological, chemical) for governments to use in wars or to test technology who allow them to mind control people or some shit like this. I don’t believe in Illuminati, but I do believe in crazy government shit, doing shitty things behind our back. As for Jack Slash, I can think at world dictators who would like to see the world burning in order to have their ego stroked. Not very smart and not super-powered, but dangerous and twisted indeed.

        1. Yeah, between MKULTRA & the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, my incredulity at what governments will do has worn thin.

      4. Cauldron’s real-world equivalent is stock-market moguls that manipulate the economies at large to get rich and then do it even more.

    2. I, for one, do not cheer Snag kill everyone. Too many have been humanized: Rain’s sister who is all sad, Lachlan, Erin’s little brother. I’m afraid they’re all going to wind up dead. Villains aren’t known for being the nicest.

    3. All the info about Rains cluster and personality bleed makes me think about identity and agency a lot.
      Cradle said that the bleed over from Rain to them made normal, rather decent people into violent criminals that were completely okay with torture and murder. This very likely goes both ways. Would Rain feel honestly bad about his crimes without that personality bleed? If the death of the rest of his cluster reversed the personality bleed, would Rain go back to being a full-time Fallen? Did the “core” Rain really change or is it only the influence of people far better than pre-trigger Rain?
      Going a bit further, is post-trigger Rain really the same person as pre-trigger Rain, philosophically speaking, or is he an entirely new person, made up of bits and pieces of different personalities, who just happens to have the old Rains memories? And that’s disregarding the muddy waters of the shards and their influence on parahuman personality.

  5. This was full of revelations. Prancer is starting to feel pressure, Rain starts to come clean, Ashley shows that she can totally be a team player.

    I’m still thinking that there’s shady stuff going on with Byron’s odd relationship with his brother and Capricorn’s departure from Reach, and still confuzzled why Rain and Erin can’t just steal her little bro and bug out when Snag and Lord of Loss come to attack the Fallen. Not like they have anyone there to care for, or could prevent the loss of innocent lives.

    1. Two teens kidnapping a kid and escaping a community which contains essentially all of their contacts and support network would be tricky under ideal circumstances. Trying to do so when that community has a fair number of superhumans is going to be trickier. Managing that in the middle of an attack by a small army of superhumans (including some heavy hitters) who want to kill one of those teens? One step short of suicide.

      1. Also we have to remember that everyone is still recovering from the literal apocolypse. The Fallen are one of the better off groups. Where can they go that’s safe and ,more importantly, where the Fallen won’t just track them down?

        1. How old are you? Usually adult males want to do something to beautiful teenage girls, and killing them is NOT it.

  6. Well I guess that explains Rain’s reluctance to kill. I was really looking foreword to this chapter and man it paid off, Rain’s reveal and the reactions to it where fantastic. Victoria’s also making a much more interesting protagonist than I would have excepted. Now all I’m hoping for is to see Amy more soon, but I trust she’ll get her spotlight when the time is right. Or wrong maybe

  7. It’s weird that Sveta still believes Cauldron is a factor, since she personally killed Doctor Mother and saw their base destroyed. I guess she figures that since Contessa and Number Man escaped they might have immediately gone back to work.

    1. Sveta may know things we don’t know from Weld or other Case 53s, who presumably care about staying on top of any Cauldron legacy operations. We also saw Teacher re-establishing their base, and Contessa is on his team. Not a stretch to think he’s being nefarious and trying to play both sides off each other. Finally we don’t know if there were any other Cauldron created contingencies. Doctor Mother may not have shared them with Number Man, and we don’t ever get Contessa fully coming clean.

      1. Yeah, it can be reasonably assumed that Cauldron still has some contingencies that survived GM in the form of other worlds they have been propping up, probably to either create a well-off place to assist in reconstruction efforts, another world with a more stable government and parahumans to enforce order, etc. It will be interesting to see how these contingencies are being employed or possibly subverted by presumably Teacher’s people.

      2. I think they almost certainly can’t give people superpowers any more. Zion destroyed the facility that held Eden’s body, and Contessa’s power told her that all the vials had been destroyed along with the ability to make more vials. Unless they’ve somehow dug a dimensional tunnel to Zion’s real body, the only powers Teacher’s group can bestow are the ones Teacher has.

        Unless he’s set up some kind feedback loop with Ingenue where they’re recursively making each other’s powers more powerful, and unlocked the ability to manipulate all powers.

        1. That feedback loop is a clever thought, but I don’t think either Ingenue or Teacher are suicidal enough to try it.

        2. “Path to giving people superpowers?” Don’t underestimate the sheer bullshit of Contessa’s path to victory. She’s got resources now that she’s with Teacher’s group. So I do not find the possibility of them finding a way to Scion’s body and harvesting it to be out of the question.

          1. She might not even need to do that. There are still shards seeking hosts, and theoretically there might be a path to making people trigger in a nearly-safe way.

            Question is, does Contessa have any real reason to do that? Creating Cauldron-capes used to have three main purposes, in my view: ensure more capes were on hand during Gold Morning, seed hero organizations (or ambiguously heroic groups) with extra people, and search for a magic bullet capable of taking out Scion. None of those really seem to apply now. (Well, not with as much force.)

    1. It was pretty much the worst case scenario that I envisioned. So, unless he’s done something(s) even worse than what he admitted to, no surprises.

  8. So is Earth Chet being called “Earth C” now?

    C vs Gimel is basically
    The third letter of the english alphabet
    The third letter of the hebrew Aleph-bet…

    Post your illuminati / Abaddon conspiracies below.

  9. [Sveta’s] arms and legs hadn’t moved, so I took it as her tendrils striking at the interior of her body in the same way a prisoner might punch the wall of their cell.
    Ominous choice of imagery.

    The Cauldron discussion makes me wonder how Contessa’s doing. Most of Cauldron’s personnel and all of its assets were destroyed during the Golden Morning, but Contessa does well at anything she tries almost by definition. Could she, Teacher, and some new allies have found Zion’s body and remade Cauldron?

    That line of thought got me thinking about how I hadn’t ever really had to watch my back. Not among those I considered allies. Not among friends. Not among family.
    A subtler reflection of Victoria’s persistent issues with black-and-white morality.

    “Rain O’Fire Frazier.
    I’m sorry, I laughed out loud at that. We all thought that they named him Rain because they worshiped Leviathan, but no, it’s for a lame apocalyptic pun. I love it.

    No actions out of instinct. I’d think, piece everything together.
    I flew away from the scene before I could say or do something I’d regret.

    Not a bad choice. Here’s hoping you don’t come to regret this action.

    1. “The Cauldron discussion makes me wonder how Contessa’s doing. Most of Cauldron’s personnel and all of its assets were destroyed during the Golden Morning, but Contessa does well at anything she tries almost by definition. Could she, Teacher, and some new allies have found Zion’s body and remade Cauldron?”
      Well there’s a cheery thought. Not to mention that idiot Teacher was thinking about trying to put together a new entity.

      ““Rain O’Fire Frazier.
      I’m sorry, I laughed out loud at that. We all thought that they named him Rain because they worshiped Leviathan, but no, it’s for a lame apocalyptic pun. I love it.”
      Yeah. Then you get the part where he mentions his birth parents sold him, and you realize just how freaking bad Rain’s life has been.

    2. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a reading of Worm. Wasn’t Cauldron able to use Eden’s body, because it was still alive, but without a driving intelligence. I had thought that the tinker device that killed Scion, actually killed his entire body. Would it have been useful to a new Cauldron, even if they could find it?

      1. I’ve always gotten the impression that the distinction between living and dead entities was ultimately just one of if there was a guiding intelligence behind all the shards. Also, I’ve always thought shards seemed pretty independent of the central intelligence during the cycle.
        If those are wrong, any conclusions and speculation built on them are obviously going to be much shakier.

      2. Initially it was alive but braindead, but they later killed it by accident and were still able to make powers (although I think that did cause some sort of problem?). The difference with Scion is that he was killed by draining his reserves, rather than assassination, so there should be no “body” to find. It’s possible bits of him were knocked onto other worlds by the tinker gun, though, and a big enough chunk might be enough to make more powers, especially given that he kept back more powerful shards for himself. Cauldron wouldn’t have any kind of “balance” component, though, so it’s questionable whether they could successfully make a formula work from such material. There’s also the question of Abbadon and whether it is taking any sort of action.

      1. Tristan is close to being just as cruel because punishing him means punishing Byron.

        But yeah… maybe Sveta’s passenger has found some grounds in her mind and turned her thoughts dark with all cauldron did to her and abandonment of her fellow case 53s… she’s quite isolated now really.

    1. He’s certainly the one we know least about. That’s often a tell.

      But then, Sveta’s body is high dollar hardware. She might be beholden to somebody for that body. Somebody who knows a bit about a similar kind of body. Just putting it out there. For the body politic and all.

      1. So they said her body is not tinker tech, but they said it in a way that made it seem close. My thinking is in real life we have some actually impressive tech in the prototype stage (I specifically know about the prosthetic stuff because I’m a transhumanist) but how much do you think could be made by some mechanic/engineer with a normal education but augments that with thinker (not tinker) powers?

  10. “I have no idea. It feels like none of the people doing the talking and negotiations want it to happen, especially as we’re getting hints about how bitter a war it could be. Earth C doesn’t mess around.”
    Well no, considering they got rid of all the Heathens, Pagans, and Infidels, I’d guess not. Religious crusades ending in genocide seemed very likely to me.

  11. Can Cauldron even still be in play? After the events of Worm, they’ve lost the resource they used to source powers from and their backlog of already processed serums, how could they be making more? I guess it’s highly possible they might have created a backup base with a secondary stockpile.

    1. God, I hope not. I hated Contessa, I hated Number Man (the only things I liked about them were their awesome nerdy powers, but they sucked as human beings, both of them. I had a hard time reading about them when they didn’t use their powers. But still the Doctor Mother was worse). I also despise Teacher and I don’t want to hear about him in the near future. On the other side, if Amy/Amelia will finally become a villain (I really don’t want this but it will be an interesting twist), i think she’ll be like my favorite villain, because she’s very interesting in terms of personality, her powers are GREAT, and I personally love her as a character, good or bad. Amelia as ultimate villain- what a welcomed idea to use in this story!!!

      1. I feel like I got Contessa. She really got the kind of damage the entities would do–weighing thousands of lives against billions, she could feel the weight of those billions. And her power meant she knew that no, honesty would not be the best policy–bring brutal really would pay off.

        Teacher, on the other hand, has me saying, “Can someone please just kill this guy?” Actually, when Contessa starts working with Teacher at the end, I can’t stand her either.

      2. I feel much the opposite. Cauldron made fascinating antagonists (for all that they were crummy human beings who probably sabotaged their own goals by being paranoid control freaks), but I often disliked when Contessa (and sometimes Number Man) used their powers; at times, they felt too much like a convenient plot device. (The bullet brain surgery is, obviously, the worst example.)

    2. They don’t have a Doormaker any more, but there’s a second massive space-whale corpse around now. If they find that world, the loss of the first won’t matter too much.

    3. Remember, Cauldron made people pay their gifts forward. We got an inkling from Battery’s interlude. Number Man + Contessa means that any customer could get tailored offers so they’d want the powerset just above their budget, leading to hundreds of “you owe us X favours” deals.

      And the enforcers for those favours just happen to be the remaining members of Cauldron. The power-selling may have ended, but there’s a lot of ‘payment’ still up for grabs.

  12. If someone is really a bad apple, and today’s confession makes that less likely to be Rain (although I still have my doubts about Erin), who could it be? Maybe we should consider who is opposed to or wants to take advantage of the group or some subset of its members? Of course Snaglost don’t like Rain. Various assholes don’t like Victoria. Many case 53s don’t like Sveta. Lots of people might not like an S9er: although they would fixate more on Riley than Ashley, Ashley might be more available. I’m willing to write off Capricorn’s issues with heroes as mostly personality conflicts, although maybe someone from Reach still has a hate-on.

    That leaves the sprogs. I suspect them both at this point. I have found believable exactly zero of Kenzie’s several denials. Both she and Chris have left huge aspects of their powers either unexplained or conveniently unpredictable. We’ve seen the system behind Rain’s weirdness, but why really does Chris have different personality drives from day to day? Maybe that would be convenient for springing nasty surprises in a deniable way. Why does he have a completely open, responsibility-free situation, both with school and daily life? Maybe that will ensure he’s in position when his boss wants him to be.

    There seems to be an outside chance that TT has run a sort of Kansas City shuffle on Yamada: cause some member of Therapy to be “off” in a way that would prompt her to bring in Victoria, who was the real target all along. Why would she target Victoria? To get to Panacea, of course. *Maybe* for noble reasons? Maybe not.

    1. I’m most suspicious of Tristan right now. He seems superficially the most together of the group — he’s stepped into a leadership role, earned Rain’s trust, doesn’t melt down the way Ashley does, etc — but clearly he has backstory we haven’t heard… what did he do to make Byron think a hit on him as insurance was necessary? Why does Moonsong regret not killing him? The whole “super-competitive and driven” thing feels like “my weakness is that I’m too much of a perfectionist”. Sure.

      Meanwhile Kenzie is obviously a walking nuclear time bomb, and I assume her unsolicited denial this chapter about trying to hack the Wards meant that she was the one responsible, but I don’t think she has her shit together enough to be running a scam: she’s too bad of a liar and too out of control to be more than what she looks like.

      Chris, we don’t know enough about, but the fact that he’s the most disagreeable member of the team is a point in his favor: I get vague autism-spectrum vibes from him, which is the opposite of a manipulator / abuser profile. Also, his brutal rejection of Kenzie’s romantic overtures suggests he’s explicitly not interested in leveraging her crazy as a way of weaponizing her, which also suggests he’s not a bad actor. But admittedly we still don’t know his full deal.

  13. Kind of… inspiring(?) to see Kenzie and Sveta take Rain to task like that.

    Also; Really sad to see that Fallen essentially turned Rain into child-solider. Got him so young he can’t even remember his original name.

    And equally fucked-up to hear that Rain killed people and was a “henchman” when the Cluster Trigger happened.

  14. It’s a good show really of just how people can grow up all their lives among people who fill their heads with these ideologies and beliefs. Their most trusted influences and information inputs from family to friends to mentors, authority figures and a whole community all supporting everything you know. Anytime you question the ideology it’s only someone else in the ideology to answer for you.

    The whole thing is surprising brittle when faced with outside influences and removed from the group. It’s why these groups reject and resist the outside influences so fiercely and keep their members close. Because it’s only with continuous reinforcement that the fragile set of lies manages to maintain strength.

    Even then there are some who will reject reason vehemently. Maybe they had leadership and privilege status afforded by the group and are as much in it for personal gain as for upbringing. More likely it’s vehement denial because admitting what you’ve known and essentially that you have been wrong your whole life is no small feat when you’ve invested and sacrificed so much of your time and self to it or done things which mean you must now view yourself as pathetic or disgusting rather than heroic, righteous or virtuous. Heck you can draw similarities to gamblers who can’t walk away because it means admitting and acknowledging your losses to that point rather than hanging in for the heroic victory of the win they imagine to not only clear their investment into it but justify and rewarded them.

  15. “As far as info goes,” I said, “Natalie said someone tried hacking into the Wardens’ headquarters, specifically targeting my mom.”

    “Wasn’t me,” Kenzie said.

    Sure Kenzie, why would anyone think that? >.>

    1. She’s a tinker. That’s something people might be worrying about. And given Kenzie’s neuroses, it makes sense that she would worry about people worrying about that.

  16. This was a great chapter. Thanks WB.

    Not sure how to take this all. I’m just going to say I worry/suspect the Ashley / Kenzie dynamic is much much more problematic than most readers have been taking it.

    I don’t think it’s safe to regard it as a surrogate big sis / little sis thing.

    And we still don’t know the real deal with Chris or Tristan yet. And I don’t think we’ve heard all of Kenzie’s backstory.

  17. Helpful of Ashley to barrel straight into the heavy questions about Rain’s past so he didn’t have to say it on his own. Why not? She is not going to be shocked by anything.
    Important Point! It would be super hypocritical of this group to reject a Fallen member when they accept a former S9 member. Former – but while Rain rejects the ideology he grew up with and what it led him to do, Ashley appears to exult in her villain past and possible future. And everyone is somehow cool with that.

    1. Because Ashley was a villain. She played the game, cops and robbers and all that. She managed to play the game well enough with her destructive power that the PRT was still hoping to recruit her eventually, before Jack strolled into town and got her instead. She was a proto skitter. A potential win for the good guys down the line.

      That’s not the Fallen.

      1. Except this isn’t Ashley. It’s a clone who probably only had a week or so of life with the S9 crew before authorities chased her with the threat of a kill switch.

        All those villainous deeds are not her personal own.

        But we’re also seeing some suggestion here that she’s rattled by the thought of the killing of innocents, children and maiming them. It’s quite possible her vision or ideal of villainy isn’t quite as evil as some might think, that it’s more about being in charge, being respected, power and the ability to punish those deemed deserving. She wants to instil fear and punish those she doesn’t deem innocent but she’s not necessarily cruel or out to do it for fun.

        A sort of dark justice trait that may actually put her closer to a chance of becoming a hero than some of the others if it’s moulded towards the community/established justice system rather than her own.

    2. And yet Ashley was concerned about the news. Could it be that she is feeling threatened? Someone else with a dark past that might make her reflect more on her own? Or make the group reevaluate how they have to treat both of them. Could she be concerned about Kenzie and the group? Anyone seeing a relationship (on a different level) of Ashley and her protective nature of Kenzie back to Siberian and Bonesaw?

      1. In the prologue Ashley was demonstrably worried/irritated in a private chat exchange with, I think it was Kenzie, that she wasn’t the group’s member with the most intimidating/villainous aura. She did show concern about Rain’s rap sheet of horrors, but it’s possible that her concern is from a position of “this guy threatens my rep as the group’s bad apple”. Another concerning point people here are overlooking is that the s9000 clones were, unfortunatelly, still pretty close to the originals in the way their minds worked. Even though this Ashley is not really the same person who committed the crimes of the original, she’s not a better person because she was created to be the opposite of a blank slate. This being said, it’s also fair to note that Damsel wasn’t ever really one of the worse members, and plenty of s9 “candidates” were able to keep on the good side, or simply reject them, even Bonesaw was able redeem herself a somewhat and she should be the kind of broken you can’t mend.

  18. After all the fucked up shit in Wildbow stories so far, Rain’s big reveal feels a bit tame, compared to the reactions he’s getting. I mean, come on, he just has a bit of a cultist background. He’s not even proud of it. It’s nothing really dangerous. He’s not going to suddenly snap and start lynching people.

    I guess it’s because this bunch of protagonists is the first one we’ve really gotten with any moral high ground to stand on. Regent’s background was way worse than Rain’s, but Skitter was the only person in the team with any morals, and she’d more or less resigned to being a villain by the time it came up. The Lambs were all fine with each other’s psychoses, because they’d trained to work together, and the world was bleak enough that being evil was pretty much the norm for everyone.

    These guys, though, seem to think that they aren’t horrible people, and therefore feel entitled to criticize others for being horrible. Some of these guys, at least. Tristran’s no stranger to the world of cape hitmen, and Chris deliberately reduced his emotional range to that of a cauliflower before this conversation. Kenzie and Sveta are really vocal about it, though, and Victoria’s thinking it pretty loud.

    By the way, I think Victoria’s way of thinking about heroes and villains is probably at least some part due to Zion’s programming. This kind of “good guys are good and bad guys are bad and it’s okay to punch a nazi so hard you break his spine” thinking occurs naturally, sure, but it also feels like it’d be really convenient to a parasitic alien looking to cause conflict in human society. The villains are driven to cause chaos, and the heroes are driven to hate villains.

    1. “I mean, come on, he just has a bit of a cultist background. He’s not even proud of it. It’s nothing really dangerous. He’s not going to suddenly snap and start lynching people.”

      Rain just said the equivalent of “I was part of the specific group of KKK members that burned down a black church in the middle of services. It killed a whole bunch of them including women and kids. I know the KKK are the worst people imaginable, but I’m still going to stay a member and hang out with them at their compound.”

      That’s really bad. There’s a the mitigating circumstance that Rain was brought up in the cult, but he’s admitted he knows it’s wrong. Plus, has he actually said that he’ll refuse if he’s told to do some new horrific thing? The other members are not being unreasonable. Even if they’re willing to forgive his crimes and welcome him back in, I don’t think you can expect them to just process the whole situation and go back to one big, happy, dysfunctional group immediately. Imagine if Ashley had been secretive about her membership in the Nine. I wouldn’t expect anyone to immediately say “Well, you’re a better person now.”

      1. Yeah, he’s an *active member* of the KKK (ahem, Fallen) while on this hero team. And he intends to stay an active member of the KKK (Fallen). If Natalie thought Victoria’s handling of Hookline and Sinker was judicially problematic, wait until she hears about this. “Oh, your team apprehended a criminal? Great! Except they’re black, your team broke their arm, and your team has current ties to a violently racist terrorist organization. Their lawyer is going to rightfully eat you alive.”

      2. It’s more like the KKK, if the KKK also worshiped Satan, who is a real entity and currently located in low Earth orbit with the entire rest of the world collectively praying she stays there.

        Still, we the audience have seen worse. So much worse. As nasty as the Fallen are, they’re nowhere near as dangerous as the really bad guys. Before the world ended, if someone suddenly revealed they were a member of the S9, the question was less whether they deserve forgiveness, and more whether you were better off trying to kill them, or trying to run away. The answer was usually that it didn’t matter, and you could only hope that you die soon. The Fallen, though, are evil in a normal way, that ordinary baseline humans can easily match. So soon after the ending of Twig in one sense, and the ending of Worm in another, it feels a bit strange.

        I don’t really think it reflects negatively on any of the characters that they’re offended by such petty and mundane things as hate crimes, but it does reflect on them.

    2. I don’t really feel like he’s getting that many bad reactions. Tristan already knew, Ashley was uncomfortable about some aspect of it but didn’t mind the killing and maiming, Chris was… Chris… Half the group is OK or only moderately bothered by it.
      Victoria was upset specifically because the situation reminded her of Amy (which colored the entire chapter, since she was narrating), Sveta has a very personal reason to despise the Fallen, and Kenzie seemed more upset that Rain hadn’t been comfortable with her race. All in all, relatively tame reactions for a reveal that is pretty bad, but not on the sheer scale of, say, Cauldron’s activities, or Zion deciding to kill everyone.

  19. “I decided to write her off as a bit of a ditz and let it be.”

    I feel like this is a key difference between Taylor and Victoria. For better or for worse, I can’t imagine Taylor writing someone’s behavior off and letting it be.

    1. And/or actually letting others take point when she wasn’t satisfied with their decisions.
      Actually, would Taylor have disengaged from that fight with Hookline and Sink?

      1. Taylor would have probably disengaged from the fight when backup showed up, but I think she would have gone into the fight keeping that eventuality in mind, and done as much disabling damage as she could in the time she had.

        Which, honestly, I think is one way in which we see Victoria’s approach having advantages compared to Taylor’s. Victoria is making progress without unduly escalating the situation (so far). Taylor, on the other hand, would have started a full fledged turf war by now and sent half a dozen people to the hospital because she doesn’t know how to take a measured loss.

      2. Well…given her powers, Taylor has the option of “disengage and continue to fight by proxy”. So that’s going to impact the answer.

  20. So, my first thought was “That was a great Wham Line to end the arc on. Next up: Love Lost’s shared dream.”

  21. Very curious about what Victoria is thinking about regarding the ‘something bad’, particularly if it’s on the lines of ‘they’re going to become the next Slaughterhouse Nine’ rather than ‘the group is going to break apart’. Bonesaw’s guidance could be interesting.

    Mental image:
    “It’s like… you know that thing in some fictions, where there’s a normal group and then it turns out that one of the members is deeply, disturbedly INSANE and the whole thing ends up having been in the horror movie genre?”
    “You think there’s someone like that in this group?”
    “I think EVERYONE in this group is someone like that.”

    Funny mental image (association, not directly relevant): a group entirely composed of sociopaths, each near-flawlessly acting normal to fool the others. One day, something clicks, and after a few words all the masks come off. Maybe just one of the members /wasn’t/ pretending, and the day turns into their worst nightmare. And, either way, the group activities become very different…

    Ah, Bonesaw’s name was Riley, wasn’t it?
    I can somehow see Kenzie as a childish terrifying Riley, with Tristan as a (more hardened/ruthless) Jack. Maybe Ashley like Manton’s puppet, though it gets recursive since she was sort-of a member in the past. Chris as Crawler, –oh! Got it! Sveta as Mannequin! (The suit!) I have no idea ow Rain could humourously(?) correspond to, though if interesting things happen when other cluster members die then all bets are off. Hmm.
    (Also wondering if this parallels-searching has been done already.)

    1. A childish Riley (in her SH9 version) sounds like wet water to me…
      I would originally say Sveta is too nice for this, but she definitely showed some teeth today.
      Question, though: we’ve had a Rain chapter. I’d assume at least he is not a sociopath (anymore?)?

  22. Were I in the group, I’d have just one question for Rain:
    What’s your plan if the Fallen want you to kill and main some more people?
    If I like his answer, we’re good. If not, he’s out of the group or I am.

  23. Is there anyone else who thinks Kenzie is the broken one?

    Last chapter I think there was a big clue. Calling her a “Surveillance/counter-surveillance tinker”

    And what is she building? A flashbang gun and big heavy boxes. Big stuff.

    Hardly surveillance/ counter surveillance.

    Nah. Lookit her drones. That’s closer to what she could be. She’s sandbagging, hiding stuff in reserve, she’s much, much more powerful than she shows. Kids with powers tend to be stronger. And the other kid-tinker we saw was bonesaw.

    Something with Kenzie is seriously off. Sooner or later she’s gonna go off the reservation in a big way.

  24. Byron is more bug than mole. He knows so much. Yet he has no allegiance to Yamada’s Armada. He could be as fickle as water. I wonder if Tristan is aware of everything Byron does.

  25. There are lots of subtle hints dropped over the last several chapters that hint that something is off. I don’t think anyone would have read them that way if Wildbow hadn’t come out and said it.

    Tristan putting a hit out on himself (which twin put the hit out on which, and why?)

    The relationship between Ashley and Kenzie (Ashley validates Kenzie in a way the rest of the group doesn’t, and has talked openly about recruiting her. This got a bit more disturbing after learning about Kenzie’s backstory and just how vulnerable that makes her). Also, some of the foreshadowing early on about Ashley knowing more than she lets on.

    Rain’s revelation. With these last pieces in place, it seems like it’s right to assume that Snag, Love Lost, and Cradle are actually, in some ways, the good guys – the innocents at the mall who are trying to purge Rain because he’s a murderer. And if the bleed-through that Wildbow implied about the link is correct, then we may have to face the fact that Rain is only good because he sucked some of the goodness out of the others, and transfered some of his rottenness to them. What happens if they get killed?

    Chris is still a mystery in a lot of ways.

    The one thing I find myself going back to a lot, though, is in one of the glow-worm chapters. The boy who triggered and became nothing but moss/spores, and was only able to communicate with others because he basically animated his dead family.

    Why would Wildbow create and tell that story, when we haven’t heard a single word about it since then? Where does he come into play?

    I like the interplay between Yamada and Victoria. And the specific phrasing – “something bad is at play.” I’m not sure what to make of that. Could be that one of Team Therapy is there in bad-faith. It could also be that there is no way that so many deeply disturbed people should get along the way they do, so the decision they made to band together has to be influenced by something else. It makes sense that it would come to a head for Victoria after hearing Rain’s confession. The biggest thing that was off about that scenario was how *mild* everyone’s response to Rain was. Tristan is gay. Kenzie is black. Sveta is a product of Cauldron. These three in specific should all be in a place to have genuinely horrible reactions to Rain. But they all kept it in check, perhaps too much.

    So, my thought is that Victoria sees that, and is genuinely suspicious that they are not explosive. The question after that is, why?

  26. Hmmmm. It is at this point that I am actually a very little bit disappointed in Victoria’s attitude. In the earlier chapters, she was great, reflective, calm, always striving for de-escalation and consideration.

    Now, embedded in a superhero team, it’s like she’s reverting (in a small and manageable fashion!) to the same black and white thinking which almost ruined everything in Brockton Bay. In particular, I’m referring to the fact that Tattletale is not some kind of grand ultimate evil mastermind overlord. Mastermind, yes. Evil overlord no. Tattle’s a shitty person, but she’s shitty in a sort of ‘ethical supervillain’ fashion, and unless she’s changed a lot since Gold Morning, she’s not going to aid and abet in the murder of a random scrub (Rain) or the planned massacre of dozens of Fallen cultists.

    It’s like, hey, hey, Victoria, you know whose contribution to saving humanity from the Worms dwarfs yours by orders of magnitude?

    Oi, Sveta, during Gold Morning, you know who was running ops for the raid which got Weaver’s battlegroup into Cauldron?

    Hello there ex-PRT guys. I know that Tattletale orchestrated the death of a PRT Director, and that was awful of her. It was kind of justified by the fact that he was Coil, though.

    Chevalier, you should keep on being awesome! But also, who was your squire during the final Behemoth battle? (I still ship it, Knight’sTale FTW).

    What I just said about Tattletale goes for the Undersiders and ex-Undersiders too. Yeah, they’re kinda shitty people, but post-timeskip they are undeniably heroic shitty people who showed up and fought the apocalypse with every breath they had in them.

    Meanwhile, Victoria is palling around with an ex-Slaughterhouse clone who openly states her intention to go back to villainy and threatens mass murder whenever she feels insecure.

    Also, Rain is an accomplice to multiple murders (or at least manslaughter). That’s something which I find kinda weird about the group’s response to his confession. The guy was raised in a horrible environment where he was indoctrinated as a racist supremacist homophobe, and he struggles with throwing off that programming, and the other members of the group are justifiably uncomfortable with that. But they gave him way more grief over “The Fallen are awful people and you are still hiding out with them” than “You are literally an accomplice to murder, hang on there while we call the police.”

    I’m just wondering what the hell Victoria thinks is going to happen here, basically. Her ‘centred and grounded warrior-monk’ mentality may be there, but her worldview is still pretty warped.

    1. I don’t think Victoria really got over her mindset before the storyline began. She isn’t slipping back into her black-and-white mentality, she’s just getting into situations where it’s showing clearly.

      Hopefully, she gets to know the ex-Undersiders as personally as she does the ex-S9 in her party. But come to think of it, that would be the obvious way to do it, and Wildbow’s good at less-expected, subtler ways to nudge characters in a given direction.

    2. How do we know that Rain wasn’t subject to some sort of punishment for his role in the fire? Court-ordered therapy would explain how he became Mrs. Yamada’s patient. She doesn’t seem like the type of doctor that you see without a referral, and the Fallen don’t seem to encourage mental health and wellness programs.

  27. A thought occurs to me- everyone’s pointing out the ways in which Team Therapy might go bad. What if they do, and Victoria winds up working with the less awful bad guys we’ve met to take them down out of feeling like it’s her fault that they got as organized as they did? I’d hate to see Kenzie turn out to be the bad guy, but I’d love to see what she could pull off as one…

  28. “Something bad’s in play…”

    Okay, so quickly running through my thoughts on that….

    The wording here is “SomeTHING is IN PLAY” … that seems like a strange wording to use if Victoria is suspicious that some person is manipulating the group. Not to mention that IF any of the group members were the manipulator, I would have expected Yamada to spot it- spotting the exact sort of thing is her job.
    If there was a manipulator outside the group, that still seems like the sort of thing Yamada would have the skillset to pin down on her own. Dealing with manipulators is part of her schtick.

    The phrase “Something in play” really heavily makes me think of power shenanigans.

    “A Simurgh did it” seems… not right, because how to put it… Ziz throws the stone. If you are just observing the stone, and don’t see who threw it, or what the target is, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell anything is “In play”- it would just look like a natural series of events… up until it hits some critical piece of machinary at some hideously unlikely angle. But I’m not sure you would be able to detect anything being “In play” before hand. (Is this a correct interpretation of Ziz?)

    The other shard related mischief that comes to mind is:
    Cluster Triggers… but that wouldn’t really make sense.

    A really subtle Master/emotion effecting power (??). Most obvious possiblity there is that Rain is doing something weird, possibly without even noticing? Or potentially Chris’s power has some OTHER effects besides changing.

    Ingénue: Basically tiny innocent Ziz on a stick, tends to make her boyfriends go insane. Last seen hanging out with her old boyfriend Chevy(!!!!!!!!!!) and then skipping town with Teacher. (Gawd I hope Chevy isn’t compromised by that… and given that this story presumably needs the “Big good organisation” to be comprimised in SOME way…. 🙁 ).
    Don’t really see any reason to believe she is at play here- but that level of subtle but not totally subtle manipulation seems about right given Yamada’s reaction.

    And then there is the OTHER, non shard related possibility:
    Ummm… its mentioned in Worm that therapists are cycled regularly, so as to prevent a single counselor gaining undue influence over a group or individual. … but that protocol was probably dropped GM, and Yamada has been this teams main therapist the entire time. And… she hand picked the therapy circle to begin with, right? And recruited Victoria.
    What are the chances that Yamada herself is compromised in some manner? (Either knowingly or unknowingly).
    I don’t know.
    It seems like insane conspiracy stuff… but I’m trying really hard to find another explanation. The way people are talking, it feels like a GROUP effect, rather than an effect coming from one individual. And… that either feels like power fuckery, or the effect is coming from the “Center” of the group in some way.

    Probably its some sort of stranger/master power mischief. I HOPE its as simple as that.
    The alternatives are too horrifying to contemplate. 🙁

  29. Erin should not go back home. After her recent behavior, and to a lesser extent Rain’s behavior, it’s very likely she’ll be placed under lock and key the next time the Fallen bigwigs can locate her. Maybe she can get back out when Snaglost attack, but maybe not…

  30. So many things! But really mostly this last conversation, how suddenly everything is other than it seemed to be, the ground of the story crumbling down for a terrifying reveal, I love those audacious moves in your story telling!

  31. Earth C has its own version of the illuminati confirmed! Either that, or high ranking officials there can’t resist Teacher’s grasp.

    This is a hefty roadblock the team is facing. Rain has definitely been a good guy since meeting everyone, but that’s a lot luggage they’re all going to have to accept there.

  32. …I just realized, Jack is technically still alive in Grey Boy’s time loop, isn’t he?
    Knowing Worm, I can’t shake the feeling that Jack will eventually get out, twice as crazy as he was before after suffering Grey Boy’s torment.

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