Shadow – 5.2

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“Maybe trouble,” Kenzie said.

I was digging through my bag when she said it.  I set some of my things aside and headed to the front of the room.  Erin was standing beside Kenzie, while Kenzie regaled her with stuff.

Rain was thirty feet away, sitting in his computer chair in his nook.  Some of the tables we’d arranged were situated so the long side was against the wall, but in the interest of giving Rain some desk space, we’d set up two so the shorter ends of the table were against the wall and the tables jutted out into the room, his whiteboards against the wall between the tables.  He’d unfurled a roll of paper tablecloth, laid out his arms on it, and was using marker to draw on the tablecloth and make references.

His bag was open, and I could see the jaws of a bear trap and a bit of chain within.

He looked up, met my eyes, then looked at the screen.  He remained where he was.  He, Sveta and I were the ones who hung back a bit.  Him because of his work, and Sveta and I because we were rummaging in our bags.

“Continuation of a bit of family drama,” Kenzie said.  She hit a few keys.  The camera’s image on the screen focused in on one section and rotated.

Nailbiter and a teenaged girl were standing outside of the nail place where Ashley had been comparing her nails to the outdated example images in the window.  A middle-aged woman with bleached blonde hair was holding the teenager’s wrist.  The angle didn’t allow for a very good view of Nailbiter or her expression.  She didn’t seem to be doing anything to step in.

The teenager had a resemblance to her mother, but was slender.  Her hair reminded me of how Byron wore his, it was the same medium-long length, slicked straight back from the face, but the teenager’s was bleached where Byron’s was black.  In facial features and in expression, the teenager was a younger mirror of her mom.  Neither was happy with the other.

“What’s this?” I asked.  “What’s the drama?”

“The girl is Colt.  She was working for her parents, but business was slow, they weren’t paying her, and now she’s working for Nailbiter.”

“Working how?” Tristan asked.

“Muscle, I guess?” Kenzie asked.

“She can’t weigh more than a hundred and thirty pounds,” Tristan said.

“Okay, well, she’s hanging out with Nailbiter and she’s getting paid, I think, because she’s had new clothes lately,” Kenzie said.

“You’ve been watching her?” I asked.  “How do you know all of this?”

“I’m not watching her watching her.  That makes it sound like I’m being creepy spying on people.  Geez.  It’s because they keep having shouting matches at night, and idle cameras go on alert mode at loud noises, so I end up hearing stuff.”

“So you’re being creepy eavesdropping on people,” Chris said.

Kenzie glanced around her desk.  “I’d throw something at you if I could find something I’m okay breaking.”

“Family issue, okay, but what’s going on now?” Tristan asked.

“And do we need to step in?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Kenzie said.  “Colt left the place to go talk to Nailbiter on the street, and they started to leave when Colt’s mom, Tammy, went after her and stopped her.  Her sister, who’s about my age, she went outside with Tammy the mom and ran back inside.”

“Audio?” Sveta asked.

Kenzie hit a key.

Chris asked, “Who names their kid Colt?  Or is that a shitty nickname?”  Chris’s second question had him inadvertently talk over the start of the audio feed.  Kenzie shushed him.

“…cking let me go!”

“Get inside!  You’re still in trouble for stealing!”

“Fuck you!  I deserved something!”

“She’s been helping, you haven’t!”

“The one time she helps, you decide to pay her, and I get fuck all because it’s the one time I decided to go out instead!?  Fuck that, fuck you!”

“Is this how we’re doing this!?” the mom screamed at Nailbiter, ignoring her daughter for the moment. “You want money from us while you’re scaring away the business, and now you’re taking my little girl, too!?”

“I’m not fucking little!”

“She decides,” Nailbiter’s voice had a slight whistle around the words.  “I’m losing patience, Colt.  If I walk away from here without you, I’m not bringing you along again.”

“I decide, not her!” the mother raised her voice.  “I’m the mother!”

“Then the two of you need to decide,” Nailbiter said.  “Now.”

Colt hauled back, her arm still in the firm grip of her mother’s two hands.

I looked at the door.  If I flew over now-

A sound of an impact made me look back to the screen.  Colt’s mother had turned away.  Colt had her free hand raised.  She’d slapped her mother.

Her mother moved to retaliate, and Colt pulled back out of the way.  There wasn’t much heart behind the swing, either.  Not for the mom.  The teenager tugged to try to free her arm, and when she couldn’t, she swung again.  Not a slap this time, but a punch.

Kenzie looked away before the second punch could land.  She didn’t look back for the third or fourth.

“Shitty name girl’s got grit,” Chris said.

“No,” I said.  “I don’t think that’s grit.”

“Colt!” the father hollered the word, on emerging from the nail salon.  Colt backed away, arm free of her mother’s grip, while the father advanced.

Nailbiter stepped forward and to the side, to put herself between Colt and her father.  The father stopped in his tracks.  He looked at his wife, then leaned over for a closer look, touching her cheek where it already looked like it was going to be a heck of a bruise.

He and his wife stood together as they squared off against Nailbiter.

“She’s mine, now,” Nailbiter said.

“Are you, Colt?” the father asked.  He got angrier as he talked, “Are you hers?  You’d hit your mother, who sacrificed so much for you?”

Colt looked spooked, in that moment.  Kenzie zoomed the camera in further, moving the mouse.

It was Erin who said something.  “Say no.”

“Fine.  I’m hers,” Colt said.  “Fuck this.  At least she pays me.”

“Brave sounding words, while you’re standing behind her.  You’re not going to stand aside, let us handle this as a family?”

“No,” Nailbiter said.  “She’s an employee.”

“I don’t want trouble,” the father said.  “We can leave it at this.”

“If you want,” Nailbiter said.

“Good,” Colt said.  “Leave it and fuck off.”

“Don’t come home,” the father said, and his voice was hard, now.  “Don’t show your face in front of me, your mother, or Reese again.  Be her errand girl.  I’m done trying with you.”

Colt was silent.

“Patience lost,” Nailbiter said, the dry whistle catching on the ‘s’ of Lost.  “I’m going.”

“Mom?” Colt asked.  I heard her ask that, and I wondered if she wanted her mother to grab her, to drag her away.

“What are you asking me for?” Tammy asked, one hand at the side of her face.  “If you’re going to go, then go.”

“Yeah?” Colt asked.  She spat the words, “Fuck you.

“I’ll be by next week to collect,” Nailbiter said.  “See you then.”

Another whistle on the ‘s’ of ‘see.’  Nailbiter and Colt walked away.  The father hugged his wife.

“Is this kidnapping?” Sveta asked.

“No,” Tristan said.

I shook my head.  “We could call authorities, but I have a hard time believing we’ll be able to get cops out there, and have them take action with a nearly-18 person who doesn’t want to cooperate or go back home.”

“Having the police show up to take her away might make her dig her heels in more,” Sveta said.

“Stupid,” Erin said.  “So fucking stupid.  Colt and her parents both.”

Her eyes were a touch moist as she shook her head, arms crossed, and ducked past Sveta and I.

“Too close to home?” Sveta asked.

“I can’t talk about home.  Sorry.  Give me a second.”

“Okay,” Sveta said.  She met my eyes.

I had worries, but they were ones I’d rather not voice aloud.  Nailbiter had a history that had seen her arrested and sentenced harshly, without much delay.  Post-Gold Morning, she’d settled back into her role as a violent cape, serving as what might have been Beast of Burden’s second in command.

She was calmer than she’d been reported to be in the one article I’d been able to dig out of my boxes of notes, part of an article from a magazine, listing the Birdcage’s residents at the time.  The last page of the article, annoyingly, hadn’t been preserved.  I’d pulled the page out for whatever article or image was on the other side.

Either way, violent, as might have been expected for an ex-con with rusty nails instead of teeth.  Prison and nine years might have changed her a bit from the person described in the article, but I doubted Colt was in good hands.

“Okay,” I said.  “We don’t want to ignore this.  I’ll make some calls later.  I’ll see what I can find on Nailbiter.  She was from North Carolina, I think, and some of their capes are still around.  I’d have to track down a veteran.  We’ll see what we’re up against.  If I get a chance, I’ll have a conversation with her.”

“And say what?” Chris asked.  “Parents don’t want her, intense nails-for-teeth lady does.”

“She didn’t want to go, and I think her parents wanted her to stay,” Tristan said.

“‘I never want to see your face again’ sounds like a real term of endearment,” Chris said.

If she’s with Nailbiter,” Tristan said.

“I’ll talk with her,” I said.  I looked at Ashley.  “Given the crowd you’re likely to run into while you’re over there, there’s a chance you may see her.”

“She hit her mom, several times,” Ashley said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Her mom was willing to hit her back.  Colt learned that behavior from someone.”

“You’re assuming she picked that up from her parents?  That’s a bit of a leap.  We can’t know for sure,” I said.

“We can guess,” Ashley said.

“But we can’t know,” I said.  “It’s… far from great, that situation, Colt, her parents.  Maybe think about what you might say or do if you run into her.”

Ashley shook her head slightly.

“No?”

“I was thinking more about Nailbiter,” Ashley said.

“Okay, you should already know she’s dangerous,” I said.

“I’m more dangerous, I’m not worried.  I want to go.  Sooner than later.”

“Do you still want to do the eye thing?” Sveta asked.

“If possible.  I’ll take my mask off when I’m with others.”

Sveta turned to me.  “Did you find anything usable?”

“Mascara.”

“I have stuff, plus the white cover-up.  Erin?  Do you have anything?”

“I have stuff,” Erin said.  “What are you doing?”

It was a series of last-minute tasks, Sveta, Erin and I helping do up Ashley so she could present a good face.  Kenzie was high-energy, switching from watching to fiddling with the yet-to-be inserted eye camera to talking to Chris about what he was doing when he went out.

“Any word on Snag’s group?”  Rain asked.  Ashley was in a chair with her back to the table Rain was using for work on his hands.

“We’ve seen Snag and Love Lost around,” Kenzie said.  “Love Lost more than Snag.  She was in a bad mood yesterday.  She went away for a while.”

“Snag is tinkering, and if Victoria’s description of how he operates was any clue, he can tap into his other powers through his tech,” Rain said.  He slapped something metal down on the table, hard.  “And I’m struggling with something that should be simple.”

“I want to talk to you about tinker stuff after,” Kenzie said.

“I had some small arms for you to mess with, but they got broken,” Rain said.  “I have the contact pads.”

“Awesome,” Kenzie said.  “I think we can figure something out.”

Ashley was patient as we applied some white and black eyeliner, then used Sveta’s cover-up to fix the color around the eyes.

“I wish I could do this,” Sveta said.  She was handling the holding of the various brushes and objects, so we could hand one to her and take another.  “But my hands can’t hold the brushes and pencils, and I wouldn’t feel safe with my tendrils out so close to Ashley’s face.”

“Tendrils,” Erin said.

“I don’t know what Rain told you, but I’d probably accidentally rip out Ashley’s eye.”

“If they do a bad job, we can wash it off and you can try,” Ashley said.  “If you rip out my eye, then I’ll have the intimidation effect I want.  Of a different sort.”

“Of course,” Sveta said, with an unusually sarcastic tone.  “You’re fine with losing an eye, that’s badass.  But you can’t wear a wig, because if it was knocked off, that would be embarrassing.”

Ashley sighed.  I nearly stabbed her in the nose with the eyeliner pencil.

“Don’t move,” I told her.

I finished with the eyeliner, and stepped back to admire the work.  A white line along the lower lid, to make the eyes appear larger, and black mascara, because her eyelashes were apparently white without.  Erin had handled the careful application of fine veins of black eyeliner that fanned out from the eyes in parallel with the eyelashes.  They had been drawn in waves with each wave washed out with pats of the white cover-up, so the lines appeared to fade out and have dimension.  At each corner of each eye, I’d drawn a hooked triangle, with the hook pointing down at the inner corners and up at the outer ones.

Erin had a bit of the softer, artistic touch for the lines and fading-out, I had the steadier hand for the line work.

The only mirror was a compact mirror, too small to show everything, so I took a picture instead.  I showed Ashley.

“Good,” she said.  She smiled.

“Stay put,” Kenzie said.  “Eye camera.  Here we go, and I can’t touch your face because  I don’t want to smudge the nice makeup.”

“Camera first next time, then,” Ashley said.

Erin clearly had the heebie jeebies, as Kenzie held the needle within a few inches of Ashley’s eye, swinging it within half of an inch of the eye as she rotated one part to get it tighter.

“Okay,” Kenzie said.  “Here we go.  Same as before, but don’t flinch and keep your eye fixed on one point.  Making contact on three, ready?”

“Ready.”

“Zero, one, two, thre- wait.”

Ashley stayed stock still, waiting.

“Haha,” Kenzie said.  “I should turn it on first, or it won’t phase in.  That would’ve been a mess.”

“Would’ve ruined my makeup.”

“On three, this time.  Zero, one, two, three.  Can you feel it this time?”

Erin shook her arms, as if she couldn’t shake off the goosebumps, and walked away, her back to the scene.

“I feel like it’s there, but it doesn’t feel five percent there.”

“And…” Kenzie held up another, shorter needle.  “For the effect.  On three.  Zero, one, two, three.”

Kenzie stepped back.  Ashley’s pupils were gone.

“Ta da!”

“Projection?”

“Super low tech,” Kenzie said.  “I put liquid eraser on the projection caps, which aren’t phased in.  It’s not perfectly matched to the rest of her eyes, but it works if you aren’t looking super close.”

I took a photo and showed Ashley.

She stood from her seat, and bent over, hand on Kenzie’s shoulder, planting a kiss on the very top of Kenzie’s head.

“You like it?”

“It’s good.”  Ashley looked at Sveta, Erin, Kenzie and I, and then said, “Thank you.”

With that, she put her mask on carefully, eyes still decorated behind the eyeholes, and walked briskly on her way.

“I feel pretty good about how we did there,” Erin said.  “Can you send me the picture?”

I passed a copy of the picture to her phone.

She checked she had it, then smiled.  “Thank you.”

“Not a problem.”

“It’s nice to have something.  I haven’t had many wins lately.”

“Are you doing okay?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Anything I can do?” I asked.

“This is cool, superheroes, distractions,” she said. “I was super into this cape stuff once.  And this stuff helps Rain, in a roundabout way.  Which might end up helping me.”

Rain was at his whiteboard, scribbling furiously in red marker.  He’d written a list of ten items, and he was erasing all but the bottom three, the aggressive side-to-side motion of the eraser making the whiteboard rattle against the wall.

“Rain?” I asked.

He stopped, still facing his whiteboard.  “I had ten ideas on things I wanted to try.  I did some napkin level tinker-notes and found out tolerances are lower than I thought.  Scratch eight ideas, now I have two, which is probably going to become zero when I do the next set of calculations.”

“Being a tinker is hard sometimes,” Kenzie said.

“Kenzie,” Rain said.  He brought one hand up to his forehead, back still to the room.  “If I could build one of the things I’ve seen you make, I’d be happy.”

“Sorry,” Kenzie said.

“I can’t do stuff.  It’s not hard, it’s impossible.

“Go easy, Rain,” Tristan said.

“I’m sorry I touched a sore spot,” Kenzie said.

Rain shook his head, turning around, hand still at his forehead.  He dropped it, looked at Kenzie, then looked away.  “I do appreciate the thought.  Yes, being a tinker sucks sometimes.”

“Maybe you can take a look at my tech later,” Kenzie said.  “You can see if it inspires stuff.  And you can explain the contact pads.  Being a tinker might have its bad points, but we can be two tinkers working together.”

“I’d like that,” Rain said, and it sounded a touch forced.  “Yeah.”

Kenzie’s smile looked more forced than Rain’s.

“Why don’t you take five minutes, step outside for some sun and fresh air?” Tristan asked.

Rain looked like he might resist.  He looked at the board.

“You’ve said it helps,” Sveta said.  “It’s how you unwind.  Nature and space to think.”

“I have,” Rain said.  “Yeah.”

“If it’s okay, I’ll have the camera above the door turned on, so we can make sure you won’t get kidnapped,” Kenzie said.  “Or someone could keep you company.”

Rain nodded.  “Alone is good.  The camera is fine.”

“Got it.”

He paused at the door.  “You’re great, Kenz.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m sorry I’m shitty, that wasn’t about you.  I was ready to snap at anyone, I was so frustrated at this stuff.”

“It’s okay.”

“Go outside.  Take a bit,” Tristan said.

Rain stepped out onto the fire escape.  The door slammed behind him, more because it was a heavy door than because he’d actively slammed it.

“He needs help,” Erin said, quiet.

“It’s a bad situation,” I said.

She nodded.

“That wasn’t about you, you know,” I could hear Tristan telling Kenzie.  “He’s stressed.”

“I know.  But it isn’t cool.  There’s a big part of me that feels like it is about me.”

“It isn’t.  Cool or about you.”

I looked around the room.  Chris was at his station at the point in the apartment furthest from the screens that wasn’t inside the bathroom.  He was bent over a video game.

The cameras were capturing video from high overhead.  One came down at an angle, and the other was a bird’s eye view, depicting only the tops of heads.  Ashley had yet to arrive.  The cameras tracked automatically, based on the people they recognized and their apparent importance.  One was following Nailbiter and Colt.

But there was another measure of tracking: it seemed to judge by number.  The other camera was shifting to look northward.  The labels popped up as people were recognized, so distant they were barely more than stick figures.  The labels congealed together into a single large label above the small crowd.  Twelve unrecognized individuals.

“We didn’t have a patrol coming through, did we?” I asked.

“Not for an hour,” Tristan said.  He turned to look.  “Oh what?  Fuck me.”

Kenzie ran past Erin, Sveta and me to get to her desk, seizing control of the cameras.  She focused in on the crowd.

“What’s going on?” Tristan asked.

The costumes were distinct enough for me to recognize them before any icon came into view.  Bold contrasts of light and dark, angles, armor panels, and bright colors.  Masks tended to be full-face.  All of it looked like they had one very tired designer working on their costumes.  Cohesion to the max.

The camera caught the icon, and it popped up in a window, blur-corrected.  A figure running to the side, drawn out as a collection of triangles and irregular shapes.  Their arm was out and holding an arrow-shaped shield.  Others had slight variants on the same icon, to play into costume textures and other minor details.

“Advance Guard,” I said.

“We haven’t talked to Advance Guard,” Tristan said.  “We actively avoided bringing Advance Guard into this.”

I looked at Erin and touched her shoulder.  “Do you want to go get Rain?”

She nodded.

A second screen was projected onto the wall to our left.  The camera began gathering blurry portraits together, lining them up in three rows and four columns, each showing one mask.  As the camera got better resolution shots, they were overlaid over other shots of the same person, the images clarifying in stages as each image was uploaded.  Some details remained blurry, while others became bold and precise.

Rain entered the room.  He approached the desk with arms folded, looking weary.

Everything was still clarifying as Chris exited the washroom and belatedly joined us.

Spright was one.  Shortcut another.

“They invited themselves?” I asked.

“Fuck them if they did,” Tristan said.  “This is our jurisdiction.”

“We can worry about that kind of thing later,” Sveta said.  “Do we intervene?”

“It could be a trap,” Rain said.

“He’s right,” Chris said.  “Prancer’s supposed to try something.”

“We’re supposed to think he paid off Advance Guard?” Tristan asked.

“He could have,” I said.  “They’re money hungry, with fancy costumes and nice facilities.  I’ve had pretty mixed reactions dealing with them, too.”

Tristan frowned.  “Okay.  I’m bothered they’re just marching in here.  Assuming it’s not a trap, what’s even their plan?”

“The locals might have called for help,” I said.  “Advance Guard could have been that help.”

“It hasn’t been that long,” Sveta said.

“Twelve capes.  Many I don’t know or recognize.  I don’t want to rule anything out.”

“Makes sense.”

“They’re good,” Tristan said.  “And there’s a lot of them.”

“But they’re aggressive.  Their usual M.O. is to blitz a target,” I pointed out.

“Not out of the question here,” Tristan said.

Even though they were walking in as a group.  The place being a peninsula mattered.  It meant there were less routes to get in.  It made it easier to keep watch.  There would be eyes on Advance Guard, clairvoyant or no.

“I should go,” Chris said.  “I’ll have my phone.  If we need to do something, I can jump in.”

“Be careful,” Tristan said.

“I’ll be fine.  I’ll change when I’m close.  Don’t record me, Kenzie.”

“Why?”

“Because I have to ditch the clothes, or I’ll tear them to shreds.  I’ll be naked.  I want privacy.”

“Okay, um, I’m very fond of you, Chris, but despite the fact that everyone seems to think ‘tinker camera’ and immediately think of that, the perverts, that’s not how I operate.  I don’t want to see you naked, so you’re good.”

“I’m noting that you haven’t said you won’t record me.”

“I won’t record you, Chris!  Relax!  You’d think you already did the anxiety thing.”

“I did, yesterday, to get home faster.”

“Okay, um- lost my train of thought.”

“That’s a good thing,” Tristan said, taking some authority.  “Chris, go.  Kenzie, turn the cameras away.”

“I’ll go too,” I said.

“No.  Hold back,” Tristan said.

“Hold back?”

Tristan said, “Ashley’s in there.  We don’t want her arrival to coincide with yours, and you’ve shown up a lot.  We already came pretty close with you and her being within a day of each other.  Her being connected to Chris is less bad, and he won’t even be human.  Let’s keep them from making the complete connection.”

I saw his hand move.  Flat, at an angle, as if telling me to stop, but not quite stop.

He was trying to communicate something with me?

Caution?  Something else?

“Okay,” I said.

He gave me a little nod, turning back toward the screen.  “We send you in if it gets ugly.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t,” Rain said.

“Is Ashley in their clairvoyant’s usual range?” Tristan asked.

“Yes,” Kenzie said.  “Should we call her anyway?”

“No,” Tristan said.

I wanted to ask why he’d signaled me, but I could hardly do that.  I likely wouldn’t get an answer until this was over with.

The villains were gathering.  The initial group that appeared was roughly the same size as Advance Guard’s group.

I could see Kenzie’s labels with the attached names.  Love Lost was in the crowd of villains.  Snag was absent.

Colt was hanging back, not far from Nailbiter.

On the wall, the Advance Guard mugshots were filling in.  I looked for the familiar first and found them already named.  Spright, Shortcut.

Mayday, Siren, ReSound, Gong…

“Mayday,” Kenzie said.  “He was Baltimore.”

Signal Fire, Flapper, Prong…

“I trained under Signal in San Diego, too,” Kenzie said, adding, “I’d really like to use that training someday soon.”

“Someday,” Tristan said.

“You dropped the ‘soon’,” Kenzie said.  “We need to talk about that, after.”

This was difficult enough without you getting involved, Advance Guard, I mused.

“Every time I run into Advance Guard, it’s a headache,” I said.  “I run into the one incorrigible asshole in the group, their timing sucks, their choice of where to show up sucks, or it’s more than one of the above.”

“Must be how Prancer feels,” Tristan said.  “Heroes turning up out of nowhere.”

The two groups advanced until they were in sight of each other.

One of the capes on Advance Guard’s side held up a hand.  She continued approaching until she stood halfway into no-man’s-land between the two factions.

Kenzie’s computer blipped as the label connected to the individual at the front.  ReSound was the spokesman, apparently.  Her outfit had a lot of circles reminiscent of records or speakers, with the depthed concentric shapes and circles of color in the center of black circles.  The icon on her chest was made of crescent shapes, not triangles, with the shield being a half-circle.

Prancer didn’t step forward to meet her, not immediately.  Instead, he waited for a moment, surrounded by his allies.  Velvet was in the crowd.  Moose was absent.  So were Hookline and Kitchen Sink.  Some stragglers were catching up.

Ashley entered the street, and Kenzie’s camera provided the label above her head: ‘Swansong’.

“Should be Damsel, until she takes the name officially,” I said.

Kenzie typed it out, replacing it.

Damsel was situated near the back of Prancer’s group.  Some people reacted, but nobody attacked or lashed out.

She didn’t even flinch at the people around her or the unexpected situation.  She walked through the left side of the crowd, until she was near Prancer’s left flank.  She leaned against a wall, arms folded, and stared at him, rather than at Advance Guard.

Prancer did note her presence, and looked momentarily annoyed.

The annoyance seemed to spur him forward.  He met ReSound at the middle of no man’s land.  The camera zoomed in to focus on them.

“This is getting tiresome,” Prancer said.

“What ‘this’?” ReSound asked.  I’d expected her voice to sound altered, as many capes with sonic themes did, but she sounded normal.  Confident.

“The routine.  You guys show up, you’re interested in the area, but you don’t commit.”

“We commit,” ReSound said.

“Hm?  I don’t follow.”

“We’re committing.  We’re staying for long enough to finish the job.  We’re here to break up the villains in Hollow Point.”

“Job.  You were hired?”

“We hired ourselves,” ReSound said.  “We break up priority targets, and we got to talking.  You guys seem priority enough.”

“Based on what?” Prancer asked.  His composure had cracked, but he didn’t raise his voice so much as he allowed emotion to affect his words.  “We sell grass, we live here.  We don’t shit that much where we eat.”

“Who was it?” ReSound asked.  “Kitchen Sink.  Hookline?”

“They pointed you our way?”

“Someone thought they were funny names, and they were joking about it-”

Tristan groaned out loud.

“-and they wouldn’t say why they were here in the first place.  They aren’t alone either.  Others have been through.  A lot of people find you very interesting.”

“We’re very boring villains, really,” Prancer said.  “Insignificant.”

“Houndstooth, no,” Kenzie said.  “Ugghh.  I recommended you.”

“It was fucking Foxtrot,” Tristan said.  “Foxtrot is the clown in Houndstooth’s group.”

ReSound was taking a moment to consider Prancer’s claim of being boring.

“I don’t believe you,” ReSound said.  She offered a half chuckle and said, “It doesn’t matter.  We do this, we get some points with the public, and with the current attitude about capes?  Points matter.”

“We outnumber you.”

“We train.  I’m sure you went to great efforts to get your people together.  Did you watch us on your cameras, then make sure to bring in a few more, so you could say you outnumbered us?”

“Cameras?” Prancer asked.

On camera, ReSound pointed skyward, not that far off from pointing directly at the camera we were using to watch the scene.

Some heads turned, following the pointing finger.

In the headquarters, Kenzie shoved her keyboard out of the way and brought her forehead down to the desk.

“Not ours,” Prancer said.

“Again, I’m not sure I believe you,” ReSound said.

“If you’re going to doubt everything I say, why are we even talking?”

“Because we always declare war, Prancer.”

“No.  You’re up to something.”

“What makes you think that?”

“The fact this conversation feels like someone trying to keep me on the line so they can get a wiretap, doling out just enough information to keep me interested.  We’re done,” Prancer said.  “Don’t pick this fight.”

Prancer was halfway back to his group when Advance Guard took action.

Spright.  He dashed forward.  Enhanced movement, straight for the Hollow Point group.  If he was a speedster, he wasn’t much of one.  Faster than a normal human could manage, but hardly a blur.

Avant!” ReSound called out, and the sound was magnified, loud, echoing far faster than a normal echo could or should.  The camera’s sound died, dissolving into crackles.  Several of the Hollow Point villains covered their ears.

Prancer was one of them.  Spright ran past him, and the leader of the Hollow Point group flared.  He became blurry around the edges, with the blur reaching out five feet in every direction.  It subsided, but he retained the effect around his silhouette.  The gold on his costume, from his mask to the deer’s head in profile at his collarbone, with antler over one shoulder, all became larger, more intense, more like glass with amber colored lava within its confines.  The green of his costume became smoky.

Breaker form.

But as he adopted the form, Spright used his own breaker form.  It wasn’t much different, and Spright managed to keep ahead of Prancer, running toward the thinnest ranks of the stunned villains.  Toward Ashley.

She used her power, a blast to drive herself in Spright’s direction, as she aimed to intercept.  She was in the midst of people, which limited her options, so she ran several paces before she was clear to use another blast.

Still in breaker form, Spright reached out.  A scintillating cloud of energy exploded from his hand.  He used the recoil to change course.

Of course.

From there, it was a brawl.  Spright disappeared into enemy ranks with his own powers exploding out around him.  With the use of powers, he ducked and dodged between, went over, and slid under people.  He made it out of the back of the crowd and dashed toward the deeper part of downtown.  Ashley couldn’t keep up, but Prancer could.

Love Lost staggered forward as ReSound maintained her sonic assault.  One we couldn’t hear or get a sense of, because the camera audio had died.

She ripped off her mask.  Then she screamed back.  Advance Guard was throwing up defenses before it seemed like the scream hit them.

I couldn’t hear what it sounded like, but I could see the effect.  The people who weren’t fully protected, ReSound included, were laid low.

Had it not been for shimmering forcefield-like barriers and strange crystal growths, she might have been able to hit the entirety of Advance Guard, aside from the absent Spright.  As it was, she got maybe three or four.

“The emotion attack,” Rain said.

Resound’s body language changed completely.  A moment later, she lunged for Love Lost, swinging punches, grabbing.

The black haired woman didn’t let her make contact.  She stepped back out of the way, raked with claws, avoided the grab, clawed again.  With the second slash, blood was spilled.

The other affected people in Advance Guard were turning on teammates.  Most shouted, silent with our lack of audio, rather than attack.

My first thought was, fuck Advance Guard.

My second thought was to register the blood.  Blood.  This is serious now.

“I’m going,” I said.

“We’re coming,” Tristan said.

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119 thoughts on “Shadow – 5.2”

  1. Looks like Group Therapy is going to be publicly declaring themselves, now. I wonder what their official team name will be?

    1. I bet it will be something silly and childish someone will blurt out without having time to think or talk. We’ll probably love it.

      Any guesses?

        1. Dime n dash.

          Dime for reference of cheap cost or play on word for dine to possibly reference to ‘having done a dime’

          Dash simply being for the get in, hit quick, and get out… Emphasis on the last part.

          Also let’s here it for advanced guard… No Intel, no planning, and already knowing about the amount of villains there already so they arrive under manned vs a group they know nothing about.

          At this point I feel as I’d tattle tail hired them to ‘fight’ if only because she knew how badly it would end.

          1. Also because Tattletale knows that it would force Team Therapy to commit themselves before they’re ready, thus embroiling several teams that might have been threats to her and her organisation in a drawn out conflict with each other and letting her operate behind the scenes in relative peace.

        1. Also, advance Guard started the fight,when Prancer moved to walk away, which means they can possibly claim self defense quite legitimitely.

  2. Starting to wonder if there are any actually competent people in Advance Guard or are they all posers?

    This has been a fun chapter, between Ashley continuing to be best girl, Sveta being best mom and Tristan doing his odd leadership gesture thing.

    And now, CAPE FIGHT!!!

    1. Not every cape has the same level of experience, the same motivations or intentions.. AG seems to be proving their intentions pretty quick. Reminds me of how PCs tend act in similar games: confident, selfish, amateur, and aggressive.

      Ashley smiling, that was a great moment. I love how we are slowly seeing what the characters see in each other, as time goes on.

    2. To me, it doesn’t seem like Advance Guard is incompetent, per se, just overconfident. I get the feeling that if whoever was in charge had decided to spend more time on research and planning and whatnot, things wouldn’t have fallen apart nearly so badly. But they misestimated how dangerous Hollow Point was and how well the Guard understood them, and here we are.

      1. I would argue not chefking jurisdictions with the Wardens before “declaring war” is a vlear sign of incompetence not over confidense. Jurisdictions seem to be constantly changing in this world, it seems stupid to not check before you send in boots on the ground.

      2. Think of all the different cape powers we’ve seen, all the way from “I sing really good” to “I look at you and you’re frozen in time for all eternity.” Then think about all the ways Taylor managed to get random one-shot our weak powers to synergize together . Now tell me that not researching a group you’re going to attack isn’t incompetence bordering on actively wanting your own team dead. If it was one guy that’d walked in, sure I could accept over-confidence as an excuse, but AG went in with a team. That’s 9 other lives the team leader is risking.

        1. Advance Guard at least thinks they’re on the Taylor synergy end of the equation here, and Ceder Point as a whole definitely isn’t, and we can be reasonably confident there’s no top-end powers around because no one has effectively challenged Prancer.

          It’s still pretty reckless to go in blind, but it’s also fast.

          1. There’s hard and fast; then there’s walking in, letting your targets choose the battlefield, exchanging some ‘witty’ banter with them, and then bending over and taking it. Sure, I’ll give Advance Guard the fact that they’ve been a team longer than Hollow Point’s been a thing, which does actually help as a force multiplier in the context of figuring out various synergies. BUT AG is acting as the red team in this instance. A role that heroes don’t seem to practice with any regularity (reading from the fact that the team that Weld was involved with before his transfer to Brockton Bay had to do inter-team exercises in their off time) and aren’t used to.

            This is offset by the fact that the villains haven’t had to play blue team all that often (if ever because these are all B listers and likely never held territory before) BUT, and this is a huge but, if Prancer has two brain cells to rub together he’d have asked Tattletale for her files on the local hero team_S_ as a question, and pitched it as a ‘I know you’ve already done the work for yourself, there’s no reason to look at it as an actual question, so it’s like a freebie as far as out agreement goes.’ Of the two kind of fair deals go, this is actually the better one for both parties, TT gets a free question that Prancer could have answered on his own given enough time and Prancer gets information that’s been verified by a cape that has the ability to take ‘two and’ and get four.

            If AG was going for a hard and fast victory the way to go is send someone in as a civvy and buy information from a local, or get someone that wouldn’t be out of place in a villain commune (Fume Hood immediately comes to mind) and use them as an asset to figure out where your targets regularly congregate and hit that as hard and fast as you can. Preferable when most of THEIR heavy hitters are going to be on a job. But even if they aren’t on a job, you catch enough people with their pant’s down it doesn’t matter how much they would overpower you in a fair fight, if they trip over their pants legs cause they were taking a shit…

            AG doesn’t know what the windows on the bus tastes like. Not because they never licked them though, but because they don’t know what the word glass means. THAT’S why I’m saying their incompetent. Not because Advance Guard has a generous view of their own abilities, but because they view their enemies as a group of individuals that not only don’t talk to each other, but don’t talk to other higher tier villains either. Even the one that can see everything in a specific height from themselves could find information on every hero in range, just by spending all their time next to the headquarters of a hero team for enough time. Hollow Point’s been there for more than long enough to get information on heroes, who team up much more regularly than villains AND aren’t adverse to letting the public know what team their a part of.

    3. I get the impression that they’re at least reasonably solid on unit tactics and such. They’re coming in with a twelve-member group that seems cohesive and has apparently trained together.

    4. Well at the very least, they knew to check their surroundings for surveillance, and managed to pick out some sky-painted cameras (though, depending on the time of day, that might not be as hard as it sounds. I don’t know if I would call them incompetent, just stupid and perhaps more focused on image than results. It seems they’ve basically decided that their place in the cape community is leading the charge against villain groups, and if they take time to do research, someone else might beat them to a victory. It fits the name, at least: typically, an advance guard is the first unit of an army to meet the enemy, but they aren’t necessarily the ones who gather intelligence, or stick around for cleanup when the fight is over.

  3. Okay chapter. But okay Wildbow is really great anyone else. Also this judgement doesn’t include value contributed to the rest of the story.

    Fuck the Advanced Guard. Fuck the Agents. Fuck the Fallen.

    Kenzie continues to worry me.

    Ashley is great.

    Prancer continues to play the straight man.

    I liked the bit with Colt and Nailbiter. Messed up bunch. I hope it works out.

    1. “Fuck the Nine. Fuck Shatterbird. Fuck Jack. Fuck Leviathan. Fuck Coil. Fuck Hookwolf. Fuck me, most of all.”
      This list is growing fast.

    2. I don’t Kenzie is what she appears, literally. Cutesy little girl Kenzie is just a projected image. I wonder what the real Kenzie looks like?

      1. My guess is she’s the big box in their HQ. I’d guess some relationship with Dragon as well, either a “daughter” or a “sister”.

        1. …but they’ve physically touched her before. Ashley kissed her on the head after the camera thing, and I’m pretty sure everyone has at least gotten high fives from her before. Doesn’t seem like that would work on a projection.

          1. Thinly layered perhaps. Maybe she’s the same height and all the physical specifics, she just looks different …

        2. Better Theory: Our Kenzie is the Simurgh. She’s using the box to hide herself and project the image of a little girl over a telekineticly controlled pile of rubble and sponges. The real Kenzie perished during Golden Morning and left a stockpile of tinkertech behind that the Simurgh is emulating.

    1. Imagine a villain with overlong fingers being given a makeover by a cute Fallen girl who is destined to be one of the wives of some high-ranking Fallen cape. That’s what Ashley looks like right now.

  4. Mr. and Mrs. Colt’s parents, I don’t think you had any chance of reconnecting with your daughter. Too many “fuck you”s going around. I don’t know what your home life has been like, but I suspect you lost this battle well before Colt even realized Nailbiter was an option. I won’t say you deserve what happened to you, but I will say that it was a direct result of how you viewed the duties and privileges associated with being a family member. You expected Colt to just quietly give more than she wanted to give, without getting as much as she felt she deserved in return.
    Maybe you were being unreasonable. Maybe Colt was. Regardless, I want you to know that this trouble all came as a result of a disconnect between your expectations of her and her expectations of you. Nailbiter was just Colt’s first chance to get away, to forge a path independent of the people who she thought were holding her back from achieving anything of value. I don’t expect you to listen to me, especially since you’re fictional characters who—wait, crap, I don’t think I was supposed to say that. Disregard that last sentence, okay?

  5. Typo Thread?

    “Her sister, who’s about my age, she went outside with Tammy the mom and ran back inside.”

    Not actually sure if actually typo, but this line was slightly confusing. May just be kenzie being kenzie

    1. Resound’s body language changed completely.

      If it’s supposed to be consistent with the rest of the chapter, “ReSound’s body language”.

    2. “ducked past Sveta and I”

      “Sveta, Erin and I helping”

      “looked at Sveta, Erin, Kenzie and I”

      All of these should be “…and me”, though the second one is maybe arguable.

      1. A similar issue:

        “Him because of his work, and Sveta and I because we were rummaging in our bags.”

        The “him” is in object form, so to maintain parallelism, the “I” should be “me” instead.

  6. Well there goes the plan. Advance Guard just went all Leroy Jenkins on shit. The question is are they just idiots, or are the asshole idiots? Was this planned to step on Team Therapy’s toes or just happenstance?

    And Love Lost’s scream is causing the members of the team to start attacking each other? Well that explains the name. It also makes her a lot more dangerous than I’d previously expected.

    1. Emotion powers do that. I’d guess they’re feeling betrayed, surrounded, angry and maybe guilty. Snag does ‘loss and guilt’, so does Rain, so it’s like that, but more.

      Never mess with anyone who messes with emotions, unless you’re either emotionally atypical (Bitch, Regent, Cherish) or also mess with emotions (which might make you fall in the first category).

      1. Yeah, like powers tend to interfere. Gallant couldn’t get a clean read off GG and her awe-ra wasn’t fully effective on him either.

    2. Seems like they’re mostly just regular idiots, except for Shortcut. I also got the impression that they didn’t specifically know about Team Therapy, but they heard there were some villains with stupid names who had attacked other heroes, and decided to put a stop to that, Leroy Jenkins-style.

  7. Why is group therapy intervening?

    The only “good” thing that could come out of them being there is they might get the chance to murder the other members of Rain’s cluster.

    Prancers group isn’t going to kill advance guard, especially if they want to keep the boring villain. If they do kill someone… Problem solved for Rain since you can bet all of the other hero groups will be out for Prancer’s blood.

    No one expects Group therapy to intervene and the reasons for not showing up as a group were just explained.

    I can’t parse what Group therapy is hoping to accomplish by being actively involved.

    1. They hope to establish their rights as the local team, they hope to not waste all the time and favours they’ve already traded, they hope to prevent things denigrating into a complete brawl. They hope to knock everything down a step.

      Second, Prancer doesn’t have complete control. He’s a laissez faire mob boss. So long as they keep the rules, he’s happy. It only takes Nailbiter resorting to prison rules, or Love Lost using her claws on someone’s throat, or an Advance Guard member under Love Lost’s influence to lose a bit too much control and somebody dies.

      1. What does it mean to establish the rights as a local team?

        Do they get a flag? Does someone have to pay them a salary once they have said flag?

        The favors that they traded were designed to cause something like Advance Guard coming in. They wanted the villains in Hollow Point to feel stressed and hounded.

        Third, their mission brief on putting pressure on the villains in Hollowpoint did not cover… “What do we do if the villains start using lethal force?”

        (This is a WB failure here. He wants Ward to maintain the “cops and robbers” aspects of original Worm when it comes to Cape fights and so far, none of the back story explains why people actually bother spending 2 hours on makeup or buy costumes or keep to petty crimes. Original Worm explained this pretty well with the idea of settled cities, PRT sponsorship, Cauldron working to keep parahumans alive, a settled system for really bad cases which was the Birdcage. As I read Ward, it seems like WB just wanted to maintain “costumed people fighting each other non lethally” and why that is still the standard mode has yet to be explained.)

        Also, Yes, Victoria would go in… if she was by herself or just with Ashley. But she’s not. She knows that when she flies, she is also bringing in all of damaged teenaged compatriots in with her and so far she has been very responsible around them.

        Flying in is irresponsible. But she does it anyway… to beat up some villains… who want to murder Rain… but not beat them too lethally… since she doesn’t kill… but maybe save Advance Guard…. who have experience and training and can handle themselves…

        None of it makes sense.

        1. Victoria pretty clearly intends to go in herself. She was in reserve in case things got hairy, they got hairy. Tristan’s the one who decided to insert the rest of the team, and we have yet to see Victoria or anyone else’s reaction to that.

        2. Well, “costumed people fighting each other non-lethally” is just how the world works. It might have a reason behind it or it might not, but it’s the most fundamental building block of any capeshit setting, and it’s unlikely to go away until Ward finishes.

          I don’t see why the world would suddenly abandon the costumes, though. Or why people would start killing each other more. The cops-and-robbers thing existed long enough to have some inertia behind it, and I can’t think of any sane reason why anyone involved would actually want the superhumans to murder each other more often. If spending two hours on makeup before going out to collect protection money is what it takes to uphold a system where you’re less likely to be shot dead and more likely to be beaten up by a guy in a leotard, that seems like an easy price to pay.

          As to why Group Therapy is intervening, it’s because Victoria mentally divides the world into heroes and villains (and insignificant civilians), and sees herself as a hero who must fight villains. Yes, it’s a bit irritating, but it shouldn’t be the least bit unexpected if you remember her from Worm.

          1. Or… what we have here is a bunch of people clinging to ‘Tradition’ and ‘Normality’ with teeth and nails after everything else around them has changed so utterly.

            Prancer himself has been stated as someone who clings hard to modes 9f operation and needing a jolt to shake him out of his ruts.

            Victoria too is holding on to the ‘Normality’ in joining a team, going after the bad Guys.

            All clinging to a sundered normality.

            It’s all part of what Bow is trying to show… the center will not hold, not unless a much healthier new ‘Normal’ is made. Criminal shenanigans of old and costumed heroics of the new are going to need to be discarded or change.

            All of this works with his themes in the book so far. Transformation, Renewal, Forgiveness, Being trapped in old cycles that don’t work, and ultimately changing the game to something that does.

    2. Firstly just want to say thanks WB for a great chapter. Excited for the upcoming one too.

      In response to the above I kind of agree. Let advance guard get pounded, intervene only at the very end if at all. No need to stick your neck out to bail out those turkeys.

    3. It’s straightforward enough. Victoria always jumps in when she sees people in danger. A super fight between > 20 people is incredibly hazardous, even before you consider that she knows (or, ‘knows’ for Colt) some people involved.

      Team Therapy has her back.

      It isn’t a grand plan, just a chain of people making decisions. Ashley<-Victoria<-Rest of team.

    4. Well for one, Ashley is involved, and Advance Gaurd are liable to mistake her for a villain and attack, which is like one and a half good reasons to involve yourself right there. Plus, while yes Prancer knows that killing the AG is a terrible idea, love lost does not seem as concerned with that. Honestly though, even if neither of these points where true, I think Team Therapy would step in anyways, because that’s who they, or at least Victoria, is. To her heroes need to win and villains need to lose, even if the heroes are jackasses and the villains aren’t particularly dangerous

      1. This way of heroes need to win and villains need to lose… is the old Victoria. This is Glory Girl thinking.

        I was appreciating the more cerebral and thoughtful Victoria. And then she does this.

        1. For the protagonist to have character growth over the course of a story, she must first recognize her flaw, and then overcome it. If she never engages in her flawed behavior over the course of the story, then she hasn’t overcome anything.

          It is still very early in the story. We are only in the very early stages of rising action. Give the girl a chance to actually be flawed.

    5. I would imagine Victoria wants to step in and try to save Advance Guard before they get their shit kicked in, and the rest of the team is coming because they want to back her up. Also, it’s a dim hope. But Team Therapy showing up to back Advance Guard might just be enough to tip the scales and win the fight.

    6. Group Therapy is going in trying to keep it from escalating any further.

      I do find Advance Guard to be idiots. Team Therapy has been spending a lot of time observing Hollow Point, and learning everything they can about Prancer’s operation and affiliated capes. Advance Guard… Yeah LEEEROOY JENKINS!

    7. Yes, I agree. Last Chapter i couldn’t figure out why Victoria was doing anything. Now, I can’t figure out what Victoria and Team Therapy are doing anything.

      I mean….I mean….

      Look! Over in this shithole called Cedar point, which is the beginnings of some sort of Cape-Mafia takeover with second rate powers! There’s a bunch of people who think they are cops coming to potentially take out the mafia! The people coming are the assholes who are part of the reason why Victoria can’t get a job!

      So…if the two groups fight: (1) the Cape mafia might get picked apart, which might kill off Rain’s antagonists, (2) AG might get picked apart, meaning that there will be less competition and more likelihood that Team Therapy can get jobs, (3) both sides could get destroyed or hurt, and Team Therapy would be stronger in the aftermath (and maybe could wipe out some of its enemies).

      So…let’s intervene in this battle, where we might get killed, because….?

      1. Ashley is in there, plus Advance Guard is annoying but Victoria doesn’t want them dead, so 2 and 3 aren’t actually good outcomes from her perspective.

        1. Victoria is not a coldblooded win machine who ruthlessly escalates until she’s in control of whatever situation she’s in. Correct.

          1. Yeah, that too.

            I was just implying that letting a bunch of really annoying Heroes, that had just spectacularly ruined your carefully laid plans through no fault of your own, get kicked around by the local villains sounds like something (Mid-Late)Taylor would do.

          2. Well, for Taylor that would just be letting two groups of enemies fight each other.

          3. I still cannot remember any case where she escalated other than her meeting with Shadow Stalker and perhaps her treatment of the Fallen. She didn’t deescalate, but she always just met the escalation of the other guy.

      2. Because they’re not willing to let people die when they could help them, just because those people are kind of annoying and treading on their toes business-wise?

  8. “Haha,” Kenzie said. “I should turn it on first, or it won’t phase in. That would’ve been a mess.”
    “Would’ve ruined my makeup.”

    Somehow, I suspect that “I almost accidentally stabbed you in the eye” wouldn’t have gotten such a calm response from anyone else. It’s absolutely adorable how Kenzie brings out the best in everybody, even clones of the worst para-murderers on the continent. (Except Chris.) For all of that girl’s issues, you can’t deny that.
    The question is, who in the group can help Kenzie with the aforementioned issues?

    “Did you watch us on your cameras, then make sure to bring in a few more, so you could say you outnumbered us?”
    I was wondering if anyone would notice them, or if they had good enough cloaking technology that they wouldn’t get noticed.
    In the headquarters, Kenzie shoved her keyboard out of the way and brought her forehead down to the desk.
    Sounds like Kenzie expected the latter.

    Oh, and good work on that research, Advance Guard. And those reaction times on setting up defenses, which seem like they should be your first resort to a lot of attacks? Top-notch. Your training has clearly paid off.

    1. Remember, only one of the cameras had better cloaking technology. The others were just painted sky colors. It’s possible they noticed one of the latter.

      1. With a name like ReSound, I would expect maybe something like radar. That would completely ignore the sky coloured camouflage.

        1. And now Kenzie’s going to spend a few nights making her flying cameras phase-through to dodge that one.
          Hope Victoria caught the fact she doesn’t really sleep properly either, what with having alerts popping for every loud noise in Cedar Point.

  9. Two things that set off alarm bells for me: Erin casually asking for a picture of Ashley, and Chris asking for the cameras to not track him. This whole situation seems too coincidental, AG showing up out of nowhere, pointing out the cameras, almost immediately killing the audio… I have to wonder if this is a setup, and if either (or both!) Erin or Chris are involved.

    1. Erin’s been seen to be having a rough time and probably needs something to hold onto. Her “win”, as it were. Chris is a bit more suspicious, especially since Jessica has all but confirmed that Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark. Everyone else has clear character flaws, but affable Chris is still sitting in the fog of war, reader-knowledge-wise.

      1. I agree. But also, if my power required me to go buck naked, and it wasn’t an invisibility power, I probably wouldn’t want cameras pointed at me, either.

  10. All of these sonic attacks and Tristan’s hand signal make me think that the Team Therapy will develop a secret or tactical sign language like the lambs.

    1. Or Tristan is the guy who sees SpecOps movies with the hand gestures and thinks its SO COOL but no one else has a clue what he’s doing pointing at his eyes all the time.

  11. I’m enjoying watching advance guard get beat down. They seem like poachers at this point. Pretty sure the villains or therapy crew wins this one. They may have serious personality defects, but they’ve got some serious powers (except for rain.) Hoping rain figures out his theme soon. He reminds me of kid win.

    1. Rain is ideally suited to messing up Advanced Guard in a major way.

      They’ve got a lot of highly stylized costumes that are presumed (by Victoria) to be created and maintained by a single person. Rain can absolutely go ham on those costumes, letting them get rifted into millions of tiny pieces by the ensuing fisticuffs.

      This will “hurt” the super team badly, without much risk of “injuring” anyone.

  12. God, what a gigantic capesterfuck…

    Advance Guard is definitely my least favorite hero team so far. I guess they don’t know about the thinkers on overwatch.

  13. Between ReSound, Love Lost and an incoming Mad-Anxiety-Chris, I sure hope Team Therapy brings something to cover their ears. AoE sound attacks seem to be all the rage in Hollow Point… Plus, in Prancer’s interlude, we briefly saw Biter around. Maybe Barker is there as well?

    1. You know, this might actually be a good use for Kenzie’s weirder “countersurveillance” gadgets, like the light gun that stops people from watching you by blinding them. Some kind of hearing muffler.

      1. It had not occurred to me that the light gun counted as countersurveillance gear but now … well now I feel silly for not noticing it earlier.

  14. Well, let’s try to look at this positively:

    The Team comes out officially and hopefully makes their debut by deescilating a situation.

    Kenzie’s cameras are still (probably) out of most people’s range, and she’ll only need to make a few adjustments to circumvent people hiding in buildings.

    …. Yeah, that’s about all I got. Victoria, Tristan, and Ashley is going to give AG an ear-full after this.

  15. And here I thought that the various characters would have their cape names picked out before they went public. Shows what I know.

    Okay, so Tristan/Byron, Ashley, and Kenzie have picked names. Sveta, and Chris probably have one that they’re not hating at this point. I have no idea what Rain’s doing and I’m pretty sure that Victoria doesn’t have one. Although I think “Victoria” would also be a great cape name. If she didn’t want to use her first name, she could use Nike instead.

    1. “Nike” is one of those names that requires a lot of hubris to pick. One, it might relate to the brand of shoes in people’s minds first (assuming Nike exists in Wormverse, or in the megalopolis post GM). Next — it comes with an assumption of victory. If you have a bad string of fights or one particularly humiliating one, you’re hosed. Victoria is too adept at cape culture for that.

      I could see Victoria (the name) be exempt from that logic simply because it’s literally her name.

      A few ideas:
      Awestrike
      Astonish
      Reverie

      1. All you have to do to separate the name Nike from the shoe company, is to pronounce it like the original:

        Nee-kay

  16. Let’s get into a cape fight. We’re gonna do it by walking slowly down the main street in a big group all together, and openly asking for an ass kicking.

    Jesus Christ.

    A quick comment on how I see cape combat in Worm and Ward:
    Step into a room full of people. Everyone in the room, including you, is holding a black box. Every black box contains some kind of weapon. You know what’s in your black box. You can guess what some other people have, but you can never be sure. Maybe they have a club and you have a taser and you’ll win by hitting them first.

    Maybe their black box contains the remote control for the orbital death laser which has been trained on you from the second you walked in.

    Go ahead. Pick a fight in a dramatic fashion. I fucking dare you.

    1. To which Advance Guard replies, “But they have names like Hookline and Kitchen Sink! Obviously, their black boxes are much less useful than ours, no further research necessary. Besides, if someone else establishes a real presence there first, we won’t be living up to our name!”

      Not gonna lie, I think it’d be hilarious if AG was at least crippled beyond any hope of effectiveness by the most ridiculously named villains in Hollow Point.

      1. “Boo… Boo… Bear… Is a lot scarier than he sounds…”
        “And I learned to never understimate someone who’s power is the creation and manipulation of Infinite Tapioca Pudding.”

        Hehe reminds me when I started the conversation about Shitstorm the fecal kinetic and thought that he might not be as dangerous in a rural setting. Then everyone reminded me of just how much shit their is in agricultural areas, which as someone who lives in one I should have remembered.

    2. I dunno man, the Yangban ran around in formation yelling and they kicked so much ass they became the shadow government of China. It has advantages like making it easier for your forcefield people to cover several people right away.

    3. It’s impressive that Advance Guard is still alive with tactics like that. I’m guessing they mostly just do work with the various released S-class threats, where subtlety is completely unnecessary, and decided to come over to beat up on some supervillains for funzies.

    4. Marching down the street in broad daylight works fine, as long as everyone else is doing it too. It’s like fighting a war by having your army meet the enemy’s army in an open field. Not very efficient, but if everyone’s playing by the same rules, the guy with the biggest army and the best timed cavalry charges is going to win anyway, and it shows good sportsmanship.

      Good sportsmanship is extremely important when your enemies might potentially possess orbital death lasers.

      In a SERIOUS cape fight, hundreds of people die offscreen. There were several of those back in worm. What the Advance Guard is doing here is just friendly low-stakes cops-and-robbers stuff, and issuing the opponent a formal challenge is an entirely reasonable way to enforce that.

    5. It’s dumb is what it is.

      It hurts the world building that this is still a thing.

      I don’t believe in the world of Ward the same way I believed in Worm.

      Ward seems to be stretching itself to make it seem like Team therapy has a use. I feel like I’m watching a movie about a PTSD support group who all happen to be expert ice cream makers and wouldn’t you know it? A surprise heat wave has arrived necessitating the use of all their skills! Isn’t that great?

      It seems contrived that Team Therapy has the perfect situation of boring villains, established norms of non lethal combat, costume design, and cape names.

      1. Wildbow mentioned somewhere that on some of his other stories (esp. Twig, I think), he practiced slower pacing and more character development.

        I feel like he’s trying to keep things slow here and draw them out for character development. I’m not sure I like his approach too much – this story is going slow, right now. And the situations do seem like they’re a bit contrived to slow things down and meter out “action” at a pace that is decidedly not Worm-like.

        What I’m hoping is that the “contrived” feeling you’re talking about is just a slow start – a front until the shit really starts to hit the fan. And then we watch the contrivances ripped away and we get to see the rawness under the pretense. It’s worth noting, too, that a lot of these contrived situations are well-explained within the context of the world. Every parahuman getting a second chance (a facade of redemption), villains deliberately staying small-time to avoid attracting the wrong attention. Everyone jockeying for power in obtuse ways in order to avoid sparking off an all-out war which would damage their fragile society and leave them vulnerable to aggression from alternate dimensions.

        It feels to me like they’re going through the motions and playing at being heroes/villains because they’re in the calm before the storm and looking to pay the bills while nursing their wounds from Gold Morning. So they fall back on old pretenses. I’m okay with what’s happened so far but I really hope Wildbow starts making things happen in the near future.

      2. I think this is what most people are forgetting, there *is* a rule of law. It’s really, really easy to fly under the radar right now. A protection racket is annoying, and on people’s watchlists, but ultimately not as important as war. But if you outright kill a bunch of heroes in broad daylight in the middle of town, that’s the kind of thing which earns your gang 30 seconds of attention from one of Dragon’s rapid-fire orbital death lasers.

        Advance Guard can confidently stroll down the middle of the street, fully expecting to not get murdered for their trouble, because they *know* that the villains have to hold back. The villains can’t kill Advance Guard without serious repercussions.

        Now this doesn’t mean that Advance Guard isn’t foolish. They can’t be sure that all of the local villains are stable/sane. Maybe some powers could have an unexpectedly bad interaction. There are things which could go wrong and they really should have done their due diligence.

        But if they’re strong, have trained a lot, and are only expecting to go up against a few kitchy B-list villains who will be forced to limit themselves in combat? Well then the reasonable potential loss factor goes from death down to beating a hasty retreat. And while I wouldn’t do what they’re doing, that puts their actions into a realm I can understand.

        1. Advance Guard aren’t the people I find inexplicable. It’s Victoria who is taking in her team…

          (Woops, just herself. Except we’ve had 2 whole arcs where she has worried about her influence on the Team and that they might be too attached to her as a coach, so she should know that intervention will bring group therapy in.)

          She went in specifically when it looked like people were going to die. And her plan is to beat up people so that no one dies. It’s a bit convoluted.

          1. “Beat up people so that no one dies” yeah, it’s a superhero story, it’s kind of their thing.
            What, did you expect the story to randomly turn into a police procedural five arcs in?

  17. I dont mind the slow pacing story. In my opinion, it is far less believable to have fast paced action all the time, and I enjoy the subtle character development.
    I think a lot of the frustration in the comment section comes from having to wait for chapters. I remember slow chapters in Worm and twig to, but at that time I could just keep reading, and the action didnt seem that far apart ..

  18. Heh. Foxtrot caused a Charlie Foxtrot. I see what you did there. -_-
    😛

    P.S.
    Are people seriously complaining about how its contrived that things aren’t exploding every five seconds. Seriously? o_O

  19. Erin is already under the control of Mama Mathers, and has been assigned to spy on Rain and any capes he might lead into a trap unwittingly, further strengthening the breeding stock of the Fallen. When that happens, how does Rain react? How much further does Mathers’ power impact what results? Does Hollow Point become Fallen Point?

  20. So it seems like shit finally hits the fan… Great chapter!

    Also, seeing people complain about the story being too “slow” and that nothing happening is too contrived. And I mean, okay, if you like your stories fast-paced, that’s cool, and a pace that’s too slow can be a fair criticism, but the problem really seems to be that people are expecting this to be Worm 2.0, and are disappointed when it’s not. Gathering that most of the criticisms I’ve seen go hand in hand with comparing the story to Worm, instead of looking at Ward as its own story.

    A slow pace doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, and people seem to be equating the two. I think people are forgetting that being too fast-paced was a flaw of Worm’s, the fact that there wasn’t a lot of room to breathe between arcs, and that there wasn’t a lot of time where we got to see the characters interact in regular settings, either. A lot of stuff has been happening, but it’s been character-based, and too many people think things happening = action, in my opinion. But we are getting the action now (which was always inevitable). The point of the long build-up was that’d so we’d actually care about the characters when shit went sideways, after all. Fingers crossed that the complaints about the lack of action will die down, now.

  21. Entertaining chapter. Incredible how advance guard could be so dumb, attacking with no preparation on the basis of a joke and then being all smug and condescending with the pseudo noble “we always declare war attitude”. Ugh.

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