Shadow – Interlude 5d

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

It’s my night.  No control over what happens.

Rain’s senses were flooded with a turpentine-alcohol taste, filling his mouth, then his nose.  People laughed and cheered, and flesh strained around his face.

He pulled free of the headlock as the fluid hit his eyes, and leaned over, sputtering, trying to blink the alcohol out of his eyes.  The cheers became more laughter.

Rain groaned, facing the ground, and it was a primal sound.  “Are you trying to kill or blind me?”

“Ew, you’ve got some fucked up snot,” Nell said.

He brought a hand to his nose, and realized the ‘fucked up snot’ was a tendril of snot that was extending from his nose, made more liquid by the caustic, homebrewed alcohol.

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, caught the snot, and threw it into the fire before leaning back.

“Here,” Jay said.  “Drink.”

He pushed the glass jug at Rain.  The inside looked almost moldy with the way the pulp clung to the exterior and caught the light.  The contents sloshed within.

“If I drink more I’ll be useless tomorrow,” Rain said.

“You’re going to be useless no matter what happens,” Allie said, to laughter.

“Fuck you,” Rain said.  He felt his face stretch into a smile.

“Drink, Rain man,” Jay said, more forcefully.

Rain looked up at the guy.  A year older, Jay was tall, his hair shoulder length and blond.  His light facial hair and the smoke of the fire behind him caught the light of the bonfire, but the same light didn’t catch most of his other features.  His eyes weren’t visible.

No choice.  Rain took the jug.  He tipped it back, and the taste of it made him cough more.

The other teenagers around the fire cheered.

“You’re going to be a soldier,” Jay said.  His tone was such that none cheered.  Some knew what it meant to be a soldier, some didn’t, but all respected Jay as the leader of their age group and they knew this exchange was between Jay and Rain.

Rain nodded.  His vision shifted slightly as the alcohol made itself felt.  He looked up at Jay, and his eye settled momentarily on the long hair.

“I’ll be a soldier,” Rain said.  “The Bible talks about the end times, it talks about armies springing forth, powers, and the deaths of the unworthy.  Everything that happened and happens, the Dragon, the Harlot, the seven bowls, and the armies, with all of the soldiers… even the bad stuff is all God’s will and God’s doing.”

“God’s will,” some others echoed.

“People have to step up to be soldiers in those armies,” Rain said.

Not original words, but they were accepted as truth by the group.  Some believed wholeheartedly, and it was clear in their eyes.  Others were newer, unfamiliar with it, but they played along.  As they heard the voices of people who truly believed, they would hear it and start to come around.  Such was the intent.

The Rain of the past, as he spoke the words, believed.

Jay reached over, and put his hand at the side of Rain’s head, fingers in Rain’s hair, where it had started to grow out.

“Put the fear of God in them,” Jay said.  “And you watch my back.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “We’ll give ’em hell.”

Jay let go of his head, refused to take the jug back, and walked around the circle, attention on others.

Time passed.  He could remember a lot of the thoughts he had, as he’d looked at people.  He wasn’t the only person who was earning his stripes as a soldier.  Others, he knew, would be there, and he’d looked at each of them, powered and unpowered, thinking about whether he could trust them, what to watch out for.  Barnabas was violent and could never stop when he got riled up.  Hiram hated Rain because Tabitha, the girl Hiram had liked, had liked Rain.  It didn’t matter that Rain had never reciprocated or liked her back.  Hiram might even take an excuse to hurt Rain, if he had one.  Rain had thought about how he’d try not to be alone with the guy.

They ended up together anyway.  Hiram was a good soldier and he asked for Tabitha.  Now she’s pregnant with his kid, and she pretends to be happy.

Helps that I’m on the lowest rung of the totem pole.

More time passed.  Rain felt the alcohol even through the dream, laughed more than necessary at a few of the jokes from people in the sidelines.

He looked at Erin, who was sitting on the other side of the fire, talking to Jay, shaking her head.  He’d sat where he sat because it gave him a better view of her.

Delilah got up from her seat, hands filled with the blanket she’d draped over her lap, and sat down next to Rain.  “Give me a drink?”

Rain hefted the jug.  It was heavy enough that he had to help Delilah manage it, controlling its tilt so she wouldn’t have it all slosh into her mouth, as Jay had done to him.

“Oh, gawd, that’s awful,” Delilah said.

Rain offered the jug to others in arm’s reach.  When nobody took it, he set it down on the ground by their feet.  The fire’s light illuminated the contents.

Firewater, he thought.  He’d thought it at the time, though it was closer to moonshine.

“Here,” Delilah said.  She held out the blanket.

“I’m warm enough,” he said.  Even in the dream, he felt the alcohol warming him from within, the heat of it, the buzz.  Everything was fuzzy around the edges and his stomach felt ready to revolt if he moved, so he didn’t move.

“Here,” she said, again.  She scooted closer, until her side pressed against his.  “I’ll make you warmer.”

He didn’t resist as she arranged the blanket over their laps.  He didn’t resist either as she slowly undid his zipper beneath the blanket.  Everyone around the fire was talking, the fire had died down and nobody was stoking it or replacing the wood.  Some people had started home.

She took him in her hand, easing him out past the zipper, and he made sure to fix the blanket so nothing was apparent.

“My brother,” she said.  “He’s going out for the first time too.”

Rain nodded.

“Protect him?”

“If we’re even in the same place, sure,” he said, trying to sound normal.  He glanced at Erin.

I’d been so worried about what she thought.

They sat like that for a bit, her hand moving.  The fire snapped loudly, as a log broke, and they both jumped.

Nobody saw or cared.  Delilah’s hand moved again beneath the blanket.

Rain let his head move, leaning it on her shoulder, nose and mouth in her hair.  She smelled good.

“Talk to me,” Delilah said.

“What do you want me to say?”

“Tell me you’re a good soldier.”

“I’m a good soldier,” he said.  His mind had been a blank.

“Some imagination, please.  Tell me what you’ll do.”

“That’s what you like?” he asked, almost incredulous, but he couldn’t put much incredulity in his words without heads turning their way.

He felt her hair move as she nodded, and he definitely felt her finger move.

“I’ll make them beg for mercy,” he said.

“Work your way up to that,” she said.  “And you’ll make them beg for God to save them.”

“I’ll make them bleed,” he whispered.  She nodded fiercely.  He added, “I’ll make them cry.”

“Weep,” she said.  “Better word.”

“You’re so fucked up,” he said.

“Keep going.  If you stop, I stop.”

“We’ll make them think they’re already in Hell, with the fear and the pain,” he whispered.

“That’s good,” Delilah said.  “That’s imaginative.”

“It’s stuff I’ve heard all my life.”

“Are your aunt and uncle your real family?”

“I think so.  I don’t know,” He said.  Rain could remember how weird it had felt to be talking family while in this situation.  “My mom called my aunt her sister when we lived in the same places, which wasn’t always.  I know I’m related to a lot of people here.”

“Not me,” Delilah said.  Her face brushed against his as she pressed her mouth to his shoulder and bit him lightly.

Near Jay and Erin, Allie stood from the log stump she was using as a seat.  She took a second to gather her guitar and sling the strap over her shoulder.

Rain put a hand on Delilah’s, telling her to stop for a moment.

Allie approached.  She looked at Rain and Delilah, eye dropping to the blanket, and rolled her eyes, whites visible in the gloom.

“You good?” Allie asked.

“I’m great,” he said, terse.  “Obviously.”

“Obviously.  My prayers are with you tomorrow.  I might not see you before you go.”

“Thank you.”

“My prayers are with Joel too,” Allie said.

“Thank you,” Delilah said.  “We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”

“Do you want to meet?  We can keep an ear out for word on how things go, watch the news.”

“Allie,” Rain said.  More terse than before, he said, “Go.

Allie smiled, smug, and sauntered off, guitar bouncing behind her.

“Can I keep going?” Delilah asked.  “I have to be up early, but I want to send off at least one soldier.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Rain said.

In the dream, he was warm in many ways, face flushed, buzzing with the strong alcohol, head pounding in time with his heartbeat, and a good feeling suffused him.

In the dream, as he went through it again, there was none of the psychological, where it was divorced from the physical.  He despised himself a little for succumbing to his instincts in this moment, he’d never even especially liked Delilah.  He agonized over if Erin would notice anything, because he liked Erin.  Even back then, he’d gotten along with her little brother.

And above all else, he dreaded what came the next day.

It was a sunny day as they climbed out of the little bus and the trucks.  Rain watched as a few people in the parking lot looked their way, saw the tattoos, the shirts with crosses on them, and the masks.

The people turned the other way, changing their minds about their plans to go into the shopping center.  They would, Rain knew, agonize over what to do, whether to call for help.  The Fallen appeared here and there, sometimes only to make their presence known, only causing trouble on the rarer occasions.

In a matter of hours from this point, weeping, these people would be talking to the news cameras, saying they should have seen what happened and called.

Rain fixed his mask.  It was hard plastic.  A demon’s face.

“You,” Seir said.  He had his horse’s head on, and heavy black clothes that left his arms bare, where he’d wrapped chains around them.  He indicated Rain.  “Special job.”

He never liked me, Rain thought.  Something about family ties, old grudges he can’t resolve because some people aren’t around anymore.

But he’d listened.  Rain went with Seir, looking back at the others.

They went around the side of the shopping center.  One employee was out the side, smoking.  A teenager of Rain’s age, slightly overweight, her hair tucked under a flat-top cap with a visor at the front.

Her eyes on her phone, cigarette at her mouth, she didn’t see them.

Seir raised a hand.  There was a sound, halfway between a rumble and drumming, almost a stampede, and curling lines of black spilled from Seir’s palm.  The dozen or so lines didn’t curl so much as they bounced, each moving in a smooth half or quarter circle before stopping, curving back or at a right angle to carry on its way.

Where they hit solid surfaces, they exploded into rough silhouettes of Seir, mask and all.  Each was as black as the lines – like gaps in reality rather than mere black that absorbed the light of the sun.  Each had eyes that glowed as they looked around- one human eye where it peered through the horse’s eye socket, and one of the horse’s eyes.

One, twenty feet above the ground, tore the security camera from the corner of the building.  Another appeared beside the store employee, who was running now that she’d heard the sound and saw them.  It snatched her up.

Seir became shadow, and the figure with the girl in its arms became Seir.

Others were turning over trash cans, breaking glass in car windows.  Ten in all.  The ones that finished doing their damage disappeared.

Rain continued walking.  He could feel his heart pounding.

“Bad for you,” Seir said, wrestling the girl around and taking the cigarette.  He took a puff.  “Are you bad?  Are you a sinner?”

“Please,” she said.

“Open,” Seir said.

“What?”

“Open wide!” Seir screamed the words.

She opened her mouth and kept it open.  Seir took another puff, still holding her, his face next to hers.  Rain could see her trembling.

He could remember how he’d felt.  Uneasy.

Seir held the cigarette, only half burned, and held it up in front of her face.  Then he flicked it into her mouth, hard enough it had to have hit the back of her throat.  His hand caught her before she could spit it out, and he held his hand firm over her mouth.

It took what had felt like a minute before she stopped struggling and went still in Seir’s grip.  Only fifteen or twenty seconds.

When Seir held her by only one wrist, she didn’t fight.  Her eyes were wide, terrified.

“Spit on her,” Seir said.

Rain spat on the girl’s face.

If I’d hesitated even a fraction of a second, he would have destroyed me and said he was justified doing it.

“Give me an excuse,” Seir said.  “Fuck up one time.”

“I’m not going to fuck up,” Rain said.

“I’m giving you an easy job,” Seir said.  “You won’t have much of a chance, but I think you’ll manage to fuck it up anyway.”

He dragged the girl, jerked her arm when she wasn’t fast enough.  Her hand went away from her face to wipe away the spit, and Seir shook her hard.

“Leave it there,” he said.  She did.  Seir looked back, and said, “Kid, what do you think you’re doing?  Open the fucking doors.”

Rain opened the double-set of metal doors.  Rain could see within, see the plaza on the far, far end of the hallway, the signs on either side, and the stacked tables and pallets, people walking this way and that, going about their days.

Rain heard a muffled shriek.  Three shadowy Seirs hauled the girl off her feet, the fourth holding her hair and mouth.

She was lifted up until she was horizontal to the ground, then forced to the ground.

“Make a sound,” Seir said, “And I’ll kill you.  Stay.”

Fingers knotted in her hair, Seir held the hair and let the doors swing shut, trapping the hair there.  He stepped on it for good measure, straightening with a grunt.

The man took a chain from around his arm and wound it through and around the door handles, squares of sheet metal, and hauled the chains tight.  He rummaged, and a moment later, came up with a padlock.  He put it through several of the chains to keep it tight, but left it unlocked.

“You’re guarding the door,” Seir said.

“I wanted to do more,” Rain said.

Did I?  Rain wondered.  His old self was so long ago, so far away.

“Cry about it.  We’re scaring the shit out of them.  Step one in scaring the shit out of them is not letting them escape.  Got it?  Let any of them go, you’re not going to get another shot at being a soldier.”

He reached a hand out for Rain.  Rain knocked it away, then backed up a step.

“Don’t disappoint us, boy,” Seir said.  “You know how fucking bad it is to disappoint us.”

“The only disappointment today is that I’m left guarding a door.”

Seir snorted.

Black lines flowed up from Seir’s head and shoulders, arcing and bouncing off the wall on their way to the roof.

Seir took the place of one of his shadow selves, leaving a shadow on the ground.  It lunged at Rain, and Rain jumped back.

Only a feint.  The shadow looked like it was snickering, then disappeared.

Rain gave the now-absent Seir the finger.

Then he was left to wait.  He stared down at the hair that still stuck through the door, stuck there.

Someone at the corner of the building walked out to their car.  Rain turned away, hiding his masked face.

The day was slightly overcast, but the sun was bright.  Rain fidgeted, back to the wall, hood up and head down.  When the explosion hit, he could feel it through the walls of the building.

He looked down at the hair.

The door jumped, chains clacking and screeching against the metal of the door handles.  Rain stepped back.

He heard the thuds, the pounding of fists on the metal, and the first of the shouts.  As the thuds escalated, his own heartbeat picked up.  He could feel the rush, hear the pounding of his blood in his ears joining the cacophony from the hallway.

He could make out the words, the pleas.

His hands went to the chain, traveling along it to the lock.  He could feel each push from the people on the other side, until the pushing stopped outright.

Not because the people had stopped, but because there was so much pressure that it wasn’t possible to pull the door back.

He looked up, for Seir, then to the side, and he gripped the lock.

His hand fell to his side.

He could hear people screaming and shouting, and he closed his eyes.  There were still thuds on the door, pounding fists.  Those, too, came to a stop.

Just the outward pressure on the door, and sounds from people further inside.

An interminable amount of time seemed to pass.

On the other side, he heard the scream he now knew to be Love Lost’s.

A huff of noise left his mouth, more cough than anything.  He brought a shaking hand to his face, and his vision jerked, spasmed.

His hand fell again, grazing chain, and he stepped back.  No longer muffled, the laugh left his lips.  It didn’t stop, continuing when he couldn’t draw in the air properly, small, hysterical, wild.

He sucked in a breath, almost pulled himself together, and then the laugh came out again, while his hand pressed against the door.

He was still laughing some time later, when Seir appeared.  The man created a shadow near Rain, took its place, and shoved Rain down.

“Fucking moron!” Seir swore.  “This is supposed to scare them, not kill them!  How the fuck do you think we’re supposed to clue them into the power of God, goodness and badassness both, if they’re all fucking dead!?

Rain’s mad laughter continued.

Seir kicked him, hard, in the stomach.  It didn’t make the laughter stop, but it did make it quieter.

Seir hauled on the chains, then used his shadow selves, and began tearing at the door, breaking the chains with the strength of the shadows and the help of the pressure on the other side.

Rain’s laughter died as the handles shattered with the force.  Fragments of flat, shattered metal skittered along the pavement, alongside some pieces of chain.  The doors were open.

People had to climb over others.  They flinched as Seir’s shadows tore at the pole that stood between he doors, then tore more at the frame, opening the aperture wider.

People stumbled out, and smoke followed them.

Rain started to climb to his feet, then fell, his hand going to his stomach.

Seir shot him a look, then created his shadow copies, and went to the roof.

Rain climbed to his feet, hand at his stomach, and found himself staring down the crowd, angry, hostile.  His hand had been near his mouth from the laughter, and now it touched his mask.

He could feel the instant the trigger hit him like a bucket of cold water being sloshed over him.

Rain found himself in the room, awash in self-loathing.  Bending down, he reached for his chair.

Stumbling, he dropped to one knee, hand on the loose floorboards and pine needles below.

No chair.

No, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  It was ten feet away, lying on its side, broken.  The lighting in the room was different. Almost everything had been scattered to the ground, damaged, or both.

They invited someone.

He lurched to his feet, looking around.  In Snag’s area, a shelving unit collapsed noisily, metal shelves falling.  Snag cursed in his characteristic growl.

Snag emerged from among the shelves, giving a wide berth to some bent shelves that leaned precariously.  He looked at Rain, then looked away, scowl etched around his eyes.  To Cradle, he said, “This may have been a mistake.”

Cradle emerged from the shadows around his area.  His fingers traced broken construction, the concrete slabs had cracks running through them.  More worrisome, however, was the fact that the invisible wall that rested between Cradle and Love Lost was streaked with blood, which ran down in thick, chunky globs.

At the base of the wall, a body so mangled it barely looked human was slumped against the wall.

Love Lost approached it, and knelt down beside the corpse.

It’s like an intense fight happened while the rest of us were off dreaming, and this person lost hard, Rain thought.

“This is going to be a hassle,” Cradle said.  “She brought bodyguards.”

“Do you need help?” Snag asked.

“I took precautions when Love told me old one-tooth here was dangerous.  Fuck.  Fixing our situation is going to be hard if the powers lash out at the people who get involved.”

“Do you want one or not?” Snag growled.

“Give me one.  I might need to make a run for it.”

Snag passed one piece of glass over to Cradle.

Mama Mathers, Rain thought.  He braced himself for the appearance, and saw nothing.  He scanned the room, looking.  Too much to hope that it would have brought her in, for the same treatment the one-toothed woman had been given.

Emotionally, after his visit with Mama Mathers, after the dream, he felt raw.  There was a part of him that wanted to break down in tears.  But to show weakness?

Blood still worked its way down the invisible barrier.  It was responsible for some of the altered color in the room.  Where others’ spaces had been cast in shades of blue and purple, it was now redder.

The others would discuss, they’d share out powers, while leaving Rain out of the loop, and then they would go back to trying to kill him.  Rain, meanwhile, would wake up and find himself where he’d been the night before.  Mama Mathers would watch his every move.

“I need help,” he said.

The looks on their faces.  Hate, hate, and a cold stare through scratched-up glasses.  His heart sank.

“There are people with the Fallen who need help.  Innocents.  The Fallen- they use powers to force us to act a certain way, keep us from leaving.  There are-” Rain started.  He looked at Love Lost.  “There are kids at risk.”

Love Lost’s hand went out.  She punched the barrier between them with enough force that something in her hand audibly broke.  She trembled with a mixture of pain and sheer loathing as she lowered her hand.

The hand would heal when they woke up, but still- to go that far.

“There are kids who are being forced to comply with powers.  The ones who aren’t brainwashed the usual way are made to obey with powers.”

“Convenient excuse,” Cradle said.

“In that dream, I wasn’t under the influence of any powers except for a watchful eye,” Rain said.  “She was observing me back then, but it doesn’t appear in the dream.”

“Shut up,” Cradle said.  “Stop.  We hear this every five-”

“I’m desperate!” Rain raised his voice, advancing.  “It’s bad.

“Good,” Snag said.

Love Lost nodded.

“Suffer,” Snag said.

“Innocents are going to die, or worse!  I can give you information on the Fallen.  You can use it to stop them.”

“We’re not going to cooperate with you,” Cradle said.  “Anyone else, but not with you.”

“I can tell you where they are, I can tell you how they operate.”

“No.”

Emotionally ragged, Rain almost opened his mouth to mention Erin.

“I’ll- if you cooperate, if you save these people-”

Save Erin.  Save her brother.  Save Lachlan.

They’re going to force me to go to the team.  They’ll find out about them.  If they get their hooks in Tristan- in Sveta?  Kenzie?

His teeth chattered with emotion.

“We’re not going to help you,” Cradle said.

“If you do,” Rain said, “I’ll do what you want.  Tie me to a chair, torture me for days.  Kill me.  But save them.”

Love Lost shook her head, looking away.

“We’re going to come after you,” Cradle said.  “Could be tomorrow, could be a week, could be a year.  Then we’ll do that anyway.  If you’ll lose people and things you care about in the meantime?  Good.  And you can know we let it happen because of your fucked up attitude infecting us.”

“Fuck you,” Rain said.  “Whoever or whatever you were before, it wasn’t normal or good.  People staring at you with disappointed looks from across a desk, looking at reports?  What was it?  Because you weren’t living up to potential?  You’re proving them right.”

Cradle didn’t flinch.  “You don’t know anything.”

Rain clenched his fist.  He looked at Love Lost.  “Your daughter would be disappointed in you.”

She raised her other fist, ready to punch the barrier again.

“Don’t take the bait,” Snag said.  “Don’t give him that satisfaction.”

“If you got anything from me, it wasn’t evil,” Rain said.  “It was willful blindness, being fucking sheep with no self-esteem or self-respect.  What happened to that Snag that helped that girl?”

It was Cradle who answered, “You guarded the door while he was trampled on the other side, and you laughed.  You see what we went through in our dreams, but you were the one getting a drunken handjob and laughing while we faced the worst days of our lives.”

“It was panic,” Rain said.

“Fuck that.”

“It was panic.  It was a nervous reaction!”

“Fuck that,” Cradle said, dismissive.  “We’ve heard it before, but-”

“Why do you think my share of the powers breaks things apart?  They’re thematically tied into who we are!  And my share is to shatter things because I was fucking shattered, right then!”

“It’s a power to destroy because you destroy things.  Do you know how I know?” Cradle asked.  “Because you fucking told us.  Day one.  You, me, him, her, in this room.  You laughed.  You told us we deserved it.  You threatened us.”

“Kill me, then.  Stop the Fallen, kill the monsters at the top, like Seir, and then kill me.”

“We’ll do all that without your help,” Snag said.  “Give us time.  Wait for it, dread it.”

Rain was shaking.  He approached the dais.  He found the his shards of metal.

He snatched them up and gripped them as a stack in his hand.

He turned his back to the dais, the three others, and the mangled body.

Fingers ran through Rain’s hair.

“Shhh.  Easy.”

He closed his eyes.  All of the aches and pains, the soreness in his throat from vomiting, and the more physical side of his emotional exhaustion were making themselves felt with every beat of his heart.  Sunlight streamed in through the window of the machine shop.

“Rain.”

He startled, flipped over, and scrambled away from Mama Mathers, her fingernails scraping his scalp.  She knelt on the ground by where he had been sleeping.

His back was to the wall as he stared at everything that wasn’t her.  Looking at the images and hearing them made them last longer.  His prosthetic hands – if he dwelt on the design, focused on the schematics, on the work he needed to do, and the possibilities, if he didn’t think about-

Her hand touched the side of his head.  He flinched away, then froze, shaking.

He was so tired.  Already, he was on edge.

“You’re going to show me what you’ve been up to.  Show me the progress you’ve made in preparing to kill the others with matching powers,” Mama Mathers said.

He stared at the sunlight that came in through the window, the dust in the air illuminating it.  More dust and sawdust on the floor had patterns where footsteps had left tracks.  Clothes had been layered over a bag to serve as a kind of pillow.  Erin’s sweatshirt.  There was a wet spot where he’d drooled on it.

“Don’t disappoint me,” Mama Mathers said.

He made his way to his feet, his bruises and aches from his encounter with his uncle not helped by his sleeping on the hard floor.  He bent down to get the bag, picked up the sweatshirt, and folded it so his drool wasn’t too obvious.

Was Erin safe?  She-

Mama Mathers was in the corner of his vision.  Even his suspicion about who was responsible if Erin wasn’t safe was enough to bring her to bear.

She would have had to go home.  Her parents were fanatic enough they’d excuse almost anything, but he couldn’t imagine her staying all night.

A note sat on the table, beneath a connector tab from one of the digit manipulation systems he’d been working on.  He really wished Erin hadn’t moved it- just the fact that it wasn’t in order meant another ten or fifteen minutes of work.

Not that she could have known.

You sleep like you’re dead.  It’s freaky.
See you in the morning, bud.  We’ll figure something out.
~Erinnn~

The name was penned out in an exaggerated cursive, the ‘n’ exaggerated and drawn out long with a dwindling series of dips and raises.

Bud.

He touched the name and realized he still had her sweatshirt.

He wanted to hold it to his face and inhale, only because he felt so desperate and alone that he wanted any connection that wasn’t- wasn’t her.

Mama Mathers approached the window and looked outside.

He might have wanted and done the same connection if it was a boy.  If it was Byron, or Tristan.  Not because he was that way, but…

He didn’t have much.

There was a knock at the door.  He reached for the note, folded it, and put it in his pocket.

“Come in.”

Erin.  She’d showered, and she had a stack of lunchboxes under her arm.  Three.  She wore a t-shirt with a blurry skull design bleached onto the front, crosses for eyes and separating the teeth, jeans, and high boots.

“What’s that?” he asked, indicating the lunchboxes.

“Food.  I asked my mom for breakfast to go, and lunch too, and she went overboard.  I thought after a day like yesterday, you might want to take it easy.  Hot breakfast, coffee in a thermos, and some lunch for later.”

“And the other?” he asked.  His voice was more hoarse than it had a right to be.  He felt the disparity between dusty, injured, weary himself and clean, beautiful, vivacious Erin.

“Breakfast for me, duh.”

“Oh,” he said.  His thoughts went in the wrong direction.  Mama Mathers paced the length of the room.

His life wasn’t his anymore.

“You can crash in your workshop today, figure your things out.  If you want dinner, I can bring that to you too.”

“I have to go,” he said, aware of Mama Mathers’ stare.  “I need to talk to the others, and I need to deal with my cluster.”

“Okay,” Erin said.  “I can drive you.”

“You don’t need to.”

“I can drive you.  It’s fine.  When do you want to go?”

“As soon as possible?  I need to shop for stuff, for my hands, and I want to stop by the library.  We could eat on the road.”

“Perfect,” she said.  “I’m ready to go, so get your stuff.”

He nodded, stiff.

“Can I?” she asked.  She pointed.

Tired, dazed, trying not to think, he was momentarily dumbfounded.

She pointed with more intensity, until he looked down.  Her sweatshirt.

He handed it to her, then turned to get his arms together.  His stuff hadn’t been touched from the night prior, but there was other stuff he wanted to bring, just in case.

“Did you jerk off onto my sweatshirt?”

He looked at Erin, stunned.  He looked at the wet spot of drool.

“I- no.  Drool,” he said.  “Sorry.”

“Fuck, you look like you just ran over my dog.  I was joking, I wanted to try to get a smile out of you.”

She smiled, encouraging.

He opened his mouth, then closed it.  He was so far from smiling, he couldn’t even process the idea.  He was all too aware that Mama Mathers was watching the exchange.

“Oh, honey,” she said.  “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” he said, again, automatically.

“It’s okay.  Let’s get on the road and get the stuff you need.”

He nodded.  He followed behind her, firmly shutting the door behind him, and the smell of breakfast was intoxicating.  He felt hollow inside, in more ways than one, and the idea of food to fill him up, after throwing up, after missing meals, with only candy and caffeine to tide him over, it made him almost delirious, his thoughts momentarily freed of the trap of thinking, not-thinking.

But thinking about the trap only brought her out again.  She stood on the street, looking around, as he got into Erin’s dad’s car.

He took the boxes, opened his, and started eating immediately.  “Thank you.”

“My mom’s a good cook,” she said.  “I did the pancakes, because they’re easy.  Made properly, not out of a box.”

“It’s the best thing I ever tasted,” he said.

As the car rolled down the dirt road, he could see the camp outside the window.  People who were only just waking up, meeting in town to eat at the communal dining hall, or borrowing what they needed to harvest crops or do a day’s worth of building.

“So, silly story, bear with me.”

“Silly story sounds good.”

“My brother and I, we had a game we’d play a year or so ago, when we were new here and there wasn’t much to do.  A series of codes and signals.”

Rain nodded.  He worried he was too tired to process anything complicated, but Bryce was young.

“Some of it was so we were on the same page, and if our parents were being especially kooky we could touch our hair near the right ear.  It was a good way to stay sane without making them upset or defensive.”

“Okay.”

“And the other sign, it was folded arms.  We couldn’t do it all the time, or it’d be obvious, and we’d obviously have to change the subject.”

“I don’t follow.  You’d cross your arms when-”

“Be careful when you eat the sausage, by the way.  It’s handmade, but it has gristly bits in it that will do a number on your teeth.  I swear they’re bone shards, they’re that tough,” Erin said.

Rain looked at her.  He made the connection, realized what she was doing.

Mama Mathers was in the back seat, leaning forward, and Rain folded his arms.

“Yeah,” Erin said, with emphasis.  “Exactly.  It’s miserable, because my dad loves the things.  I can’t mention it, you know.  I haven’t been able to since we first arrived here and that was first dropped on my plate.  He’ll get super defensive, and my mom keeps making them and giving them to Bryce and I.”

The rest was filler.  Rain processed what Erin had intended to say, things he mostly knew.

The folded arms were to tip the other off that Mama Mathers was looking.  It was more of a concern for Rain than for Erin.  Erin’s introduction to the woman had been fleeting.  New visitors that were brought in as serious residents were given a glimpse of her, and a bit of a listen of her voice.  Most didn’t even realize what had happened, until they broke a rule.

The effect was weaker, only kicking in if Mama Mathers was mentioned by word, written or spoken, or possibly if she was thought about at the same time as a strong emotion was felt.

Erin couldn’t tell the others any more than he could, or Erin wouldn’t have been allowed to come.

“I’ll eat your sausage if you don’t want it,” he said.

“You go right ahead, you madman.”

They drove into the city, and his arms were crossed for much of the trip.

“Just don’t tell me whatever you end up doing to him, and we’re golden.”

“That’s fine,” Snag said, again.

In the background, the dog girl approached, the girl in the bodysuit, scarf, and demon mask walking at her side.

“Bitch,” Tattletale said.  “This is kind of a clandestine meeting.”

“My favorite kind,” the girl in the demon mask said.  Snag startled, his hand raising.  Tattletale moved forward, hand out to rest on top of it.

“My recordings do not like this person,” Kenzie said.  “I’m getting a billion and two warning messages.”

“Memories don’t track her,” Victoria said.  “She was relatively new when I left Brockton Bay.  Cameras record her better than the eye does, but the footage degrades over time.”

“Uuuuugh,” Kenzie groaned.  “This messes up so many things.  Let me reboot.”

The screen went dark.

“Our memories of this should be fine, unless she’s gotten stronger over time.”

“Do powers do that?” Rain asked.

“That’s a complicated question with a lot of answers,” Victoria said.  “Kid capes tend to get a better grasp on their abilities than adults do, but that’s partially because they adapt to the agent’s wavelength.  It’s part of what feeds into the myth that kids are stronger.”

“Not so much that they’re stronger,” Sveta said.  “Just that there’s less person and more power?”

“Something like that,” Victoria said.

“I know that reality pretty well,” Sveta said.

“There are other things.  Some have hidden uses or nuances that aren’t made obvious to the user.  Most powers are instinctively usable, but there are gaps, sometimes, or things about the power you need to figure out.”

“We’re back!” Kenzie announced, as the screen lit up, showing the camera footage, Tattletale’s group all gathered.  “And I have to say I love gothic doll girl’s dress.  That’s awesome.”

“Don’t wear a frock, Kenzie,” Tristan said.  “A tinker in a frock would be a travesty.”

“Having to keep all that neat and tidy would be a nightmare.  I’d rather spend that time on my cameras.  But she looks awesome.”

“Beside her is Flechette.  Was Flechette.  Foil, now that she’s gone over to the dark side,” Victoria said.

“Dark side?” Chris asked, from the other end of the room.  He snorted.

“Get out of the damn corner and join the conversation, you goon,” Tristan said.

“The corner is comfortable.  I can see everything.”

See everything.

Rain was aware of Mama Mathers, standing on the edge of the group, watching, paying mind to the others.

“Good boy,” Mama Mathers whispered in his ear.  “We’ll be ready for them.”

He crossed his arms.  Erin wasn’t around, but it was habit, and he worried his hands would shake if he wasn’t careful.

Knowing what he’d done to those people in the mall ate at him.  The woman with her hair in the door hadn’t survived.  Others had died in the crush.  Some were children.

But Rain knew.  He’d have to kill Mama.

He’d have to kill Snag.  He’d have to kill Love Lost.  He’d have to kill Cradle.

“I don’t want to go inside,” Bitch said, on the screen.

“You came all this way, and you don’t want to go in?”  Tattletale asked.

“Across universes,” the girl with the very ironic demon mask commented.

“Across parallel worlds,” Tattletale clarified.

“I came all this way because you said I had to.”

“I said it would be a good idea,” Tattletale said.

“And I came.”

“It’s a good idea because we all need to be on the same page, and we need intel on all these people we’re going up against.  I meant for you to come to the briefing.”

“Briefings are important,” Foil said.  “Especially for something this big.”

“Tattletale can tell me before it happens,” Bitch said.

“Or you can come in, and you can listen.  It’ll be good for people to know your face.”

“I don’t care about those people.  It’s a nice night.  I’ll sit with my dogs and stand guard.”

“She’s right,” the girl in the demon mask said.  “I’ll come with you and hang out, if that’s cool.”

“No,” Tattletale said.  “For you, it’s absolutely mandatory.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair.  Go.  Inside.  Rache, find a nice seat by the water.  Everyone, again, I shouldn’t need to repeat myself, but your antics are making me worry, watch what you say.  They’re listening, and they’re watching.”

“You sound paranoid,” Foil said.

“Deservedly so,” Tattletale said.  “If you have to say anything about the job, say it indoors.”

“Or I can not talk,” Bitch said.

“Or that.  Go.  Shoo.  You guys, indoors.  Snuff, watch the cars.”

Rain watched as Tattletale herded everyone.

“Jesus,” Tristan said.  “These are the guys who took over a city?”

“And run one of the most established areas of Gimel,” Victoria said.

“I ran into some of them when they came to Cauldron, right on the heels of the Irregulars and the whole mess there,” Sveta said.  “They were there at the end of the world.  They played a big role in it.”

“Credit where credit’s due,” Tristan said.

Victoria had her own arms folded.  Fingernails bit into her upper arm.  “Give us some intel later, Sveta?  Or do you think that would be unfair?”

“I can give some intel.”

Tattletale, business done, stepped away, and when she was at the side of the building, nobody in her immediate area, she leaned against the wall.

She drew a phone out of her pocket, and pressed it to her ear.  Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out a lighter, but no cigarette.

No, Rain realized.  Not a lighter.  It flipped open, but there was only a button on the top.

“What is that?” he asked.

Kenzie hit keys.  “No phone calls live.”

“You’re tracking that?” Sveta asked.

“Part of making sure we’re not being listened to.  No biggie.”

Tattletale hit the button.

“Uuuuugh,” Kenzie groaned.  “What is she doing?  This is messing up other stuff.”

“Victoria.”

All eyes went to the screen.  It was Tattletale that had talked.

“Optics, or whatever you’re calling yourself now.  Capricorn.  Sveta.  Creepy kid.  Boy from the Fallen.  Not sure if I just outed you, but there we are.”

“Are we supposed to reply?” Kenzie asked.

“I’m creepy kid?” Chris asked.

“Cute stunt, alleging I’m working with you.  I’m sure you have camera footage to help build the lie.  Fine.  You win.  You ruined my day and it’s going to be a headache for a while.  This insane grudge you’re nursing?  It’d be great to call it even.”

Victoria didn’t move a muscle.

“Fifty-fifty odds you’re shaking your head at me right now, G.H.  If you’re not, you’re standing there being all stoic, really wanting to be.  Fine.  Five of you need to butt the fuck out.  The sixth needs to run.  These guys really want him gone, and frankly, after hearing what they had to say, I’d almost cheer them on.”

I can’t run, Rain thought.  I would have run a long time ago, if I could.

“I know you’re not going to, but if I jumped straight to that, it’d sound too aggressive.  I’m going to be unusually gracious and give you this warning.   Tonight is the briefing.  After that, we’re going to have a war.  Be as far away as possible, be crafty, and maybe they’ll run out of money to pay me before they catch up to you.  If you can’t get away, put as many people you don’t give a shit about between yourself and these guys as you can.  You’ve been staying in the camp for a while, that’s a good place to be.”

“She’s giving us advice?” Chris asked.

“Mastermind games,” Victoria said.

“I’m going to hold nothing back when it comes to finding you, as soon as my contract starts, and I’ll tell them exactly where you are within minutes.  They’ll come after you, they’ll get you, and they’ll do things to you that make me squeamish.  If your friends are in the way, Fallen boy, they’ll probably do the same to them.  I could list off a hundred things I’ve seen and even done that would drive the squeamish point home, about how it’s actually pretty amazing they got me, but this doo-dad is almost out of juice, and I don’t want this recorded or overheard by our friendly clairvoyants.”

“Uuugh,” Kenzie groaned.  She mashed the keyboard with her palms.  “That’s what she’s doing.”

“Cost me a lot too,” Tattletale said.  “Sorry Optics.  Victoria?  Third time I’ve been really gentle with you or your people.  Kind of hope-”

Tattletale stopped.  She smacked the lighter-sized jammer with her hand a few times.  Looking back up to the camera, Tattletale gave it the finger, then turned to walk away.

“Thinkers are scary,” Tristan said.

“Fuck her,” Victoria said.

“Are you okay, Rain?” Sveta asked.

“Nothing about that was really news.  Except just how confident she is she’ll find me.”

“I think she could say the sky is lime green with confidence,” Victoria said.

“I’m… not reassured,” Rain said.

“Whatever you want to do, we can back you,” Tristan said.

Rain, arms folded, was aware of Mama Mathers.  He looked at her.  He prayed for someone to notice, to put pieces together.  He saw Victoria and Tristan exchange a look.

“Come home,” Mama Mathers said.

“I’m going to go back,” he said.  He didn’t have much of a choice.

“We’re going to help, okay?” Tristan asked.  “This thing is happening, you’ll be over there, we have people on both sides of the conflict, you on the one side, and-”

“And an agent on the other,” Rain finished, before Tristan could name names.  “If that group is even part of it.”

“They are,” Kenzie said.  “They’re attending the briefing.  A lot of friction.”

“This goes down tomorrow, and we will make something happen,” Tristan said.

“We’ve got your back,” Sveta said.

Rain nodded.  Tired as he was, with only a brief nap in the car to sustain himself, he felt emotional.

No words.

“I’m going to talk to the Wardens,” Victoria said.  “It’s time.  They’re probably already aware something’s up, this many major players getting together, but I can provide context and get you help.”

He nodded again.  He didn’t have it in him to speak.

The Wardens wouldn’t want to help him.

He walked over to where his stuff was, grabbed the cosmetic things Kenzie had given him, and exited the door.

Erin had gone home earlier, at the time of Advance Guard’s appearance.  With all the chaos after, they’d canceled the other plans.  It wasn’t worth it, and the cat was out of the bag.

He had the support of the group, potentially the Wardens, of Erin, and even Tattletale giving advice and a head start.

He wasn’t sure he deserved it.

The ferry-car that Rain had called was jam packed, and the trip was made more uncomfortable by the fact the road into the camp was choked with vehicles.  There were trucks, jeeps, and the barely-intact rush jobs that more enterprising people had put together from scrap, back when they’d needed workhorse vehicles and there hadn’t been enough cars coming out of Earth Bet.  Sheet metal welded together to form car bodies, with Frankenstein interiors and engines.

Even after the cars had been available again, the car junkies had kept making the ugly beasts, as a point of pride.

He had spent enough time around the other branches that he knew the cliques and groups, the tendencies, styles of dress, and the favored tattoos.  All three sub-groups of the Crowley family were present.  All three brothers.

Mama Mathers knew about the attack, because she’d seen what the group had seen.  She’d called in help.

Tents were going up, cars were parked on lawns outside houses, to the point it looked like every house was throwing a massive party, and bonfires dotted the dark fields and hills.  Even the forests were eerily illuminated, as whole groups of people were bringing down trees and dividing them into firewood.

The Fallen weren’t outnumbered three to one anymore.

There were others, Rain saw.  Groups that he didn’t know, but that the Crowleys were no doubt familiar with.  Bikers.  Scattered people from the Clans.

If they fended off the initial attack, and they might, Rain knew they would attack back.  They’d hit Cedar Point, wiping it off the map and they’d do a lot of damage to everything between here and there.

The truck stopped several times.  Many of the people in the vehicle with Rain were Crowleys, new to the camp, so the truck drove well past the point of the central settlement, to deliver multiple people to each house.

It meant, at least, that Rain had transportation direct to his place.  Two guys got out with him.  They were Crowley jackasses- actual titles they wore with pride.

“Rain,” Mama Mathers said.  “Stop.”

He stopped in his tracks.  The two jackasses gave him a look.  He waved them on.

The woman’s hand, spectral as it was, felt real as it touched Rain’s hair.  He flinched, but she persisted.  He remained where he was, head turned away, neck stiff.

“This was good,” Mama Mathers said.  “I’ll reward you.”

He didn’t move a muscle.

“Enjoy your evening, my soldier.  Tomorrow, we show them we’re not to be trifled with.”

Rain turned his head, to look for clarification, but she was gone.  There was a distant sound, like a flock of birds taking off.

He’d slept on the train, but this whole scene was so surreal.  She’d-

He stopped, bracing himself for her appearance.  For the physical contact.

She hadn’t appeared.  The sound remained.  A thunderous flapping, far away.

Mama Mathers, he thought.

There was only the sound.

She’d freed him?  For only tonight?

Adrenaline coursed through him.  His eyes were wide as he strode forward.  He had- not opportunity, but something.  He walked at a speed that was only a run, passing the jackasses, pushing his way into his aunt and uncle’s house.

His aunt and uncle were in the living room, organizing sleeping arrangements for five boys and girls, ages ranging from sixteen to mid-twenties.  Soldiers, like Rain had once been.  Crowleys.  Allie was at the kitchen table, with others her age sitting around her.  Adult women were cooking.

He was free, or almost free, and he was surrounded by Fallen.  What was he supposed to do?

His aunt spotted him.  Her expression was unreadable, and she shooed him off.

His room.  He’d go there, he’d regroup.  If it hadn’t been commandeered to give others a place to sleep.  He had some spare things in his room.  Weapons, traps.  He took the stairs two at a time.

Jay’s sister was in the hallway.  Nell.  The house was crowded, but the upstairs had been kept quiet.

Nell stared at Rain as she put headphones on.  The stare persisted as he walked past her, her head moving to keep him in her sight.  He was uncomfortably reminded of Love Lost.  This wasn’t hostility, but-

Threatening?  Ominous?

He opened the door to his room, and let himself in.

The room was occupied.

Rain swallowed, hard.  “Erin.”

Erin sat on his bed.  She didn’t make eye contact, her fingers picking at the blanket she’d put over her lap.

She was wearing only a silk nightgown.

“They were waiting for me when I drove in, like last night,” Erin said.

“No.”

“They took me to the big house,” she said.

“To the leadership?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Elijah?  Valefor?”

“To the elders, in the sitting room.  They told me I’m to marry.”

Rain swallowed hard.

Erin put her hand forward.  When she pulled it back, two simple golden bands were left on the dark wool blanket Rain kept at the foot of the bed.

“They’re giving me to you,” she said, her voice lacking inflection.  “If-”

“Erin.”

“If you want me.”

“Not like this.”

“Can you hear me out?  Can you let me talk?  Because I’ve been sitting here for hours.  They took me to my house, they made me change.  When I wasn’t dressed how they thought I should dress, they went through my room and picked this out.  This isn’t my choice, so you know.”

“I don’t-”

“Hear me out?  Please.  Before you say anything and I lose all composure.  I know you’ve helped me out a ton, and I’ve helped you out, but can you do this for me?  Let me talk?”

Rain nodded.

“I want to do this.  I want to- I want you.  Please.  I thought about it and I’ve been thinking about it as a just-in-case.  They asked me at the big house, they said Mama Mathers wanted to pair you and me, and they asked what I wanted, if it were to happen.  There’s this dilapidated house I think it could be fixed up nice and expanded to be a proper house.  It’s on the outskirts, near the old gate.  It’d be ours.  For us.”

“Erin-”

“And my parents could move in.  I want them away from everything, not so involved and tied in.  They’ll make them move, and they’ll start being more rational if there aren’t those influences.  You and I together.  I know you don’t want to stay, but we’d barely be part of the community, that far out.”

“I can’t.”

“Listen,” she said.  She stood from the bed, and he looked away as he realized how short the nightie was.  She scooped up the rings and held them in cupped hands.  “Listen.  Please listen.  I only liked you as a friend, before.  But a few days ago, you gave me a hug, and it was nice.  I started thinking, if it had to be someone, I wanted it to be you.  Once I started thinking like that, I started thinking about how you looked nice.  Kind of 90’s bad boy, with the long hair, ripped jeans and flannel, very Bender in Breakfast Club, except you’re way more attractive than Nick Cage.”

“You’re rambling, and-”

“I’m terrified,” she said.  She stepped forward, well inside his personal space, until her chest touched his.  He pulled back, back to the closed door, and she didn’t pursue.

Instead, her hands went up, fingers pinching at the very edges of his shirt.

“Please,” she said.  “You.  My parents.  My brother.  This is the only way I get anything close to a happy ending.”

“You need to come with me.  We’ll run.  There’s going to be this war, anyway, and-”

She was already shaking her head.

“I can’t leave them.  I lost everything.  My family lost everything.  If they lost me too?  If I lost them?  I couldn’t ever.”

“This place will destroy you.”

“Not if- not if we get that house on the outskirts.  We’ll be far enough away, we won’t have a lot of involvement.  Please.  I see the way you look at me.  I’m not dumb.”

“I can’t.”

“If you want me barefoot and in the kitchen, I can-”

Rain made a face, shook his head, looked away.

“No.  I didn’t think you would.  But…”

Her presence was overwhelming enough he worried he might do something stupid.  Every look he’d averted, every thought he hadn’t completed, every time he’d jacked off and thought of her, but hadn’t ever been able to let himself imagine a scenario to go along with her, they were things that had been left incomplete, like a hole inside of him.  Love with a missing letter.

She was, standing before him, promising that.

“That you’d suggest that… isn’t that the destruction I just talked about?  That’s not you.  That’s this fucking place.”

Mama Mather’s disconnected presence was like bird’s wings against the exterior of the house, rustling.

Erin was barely able to speak and barely audible as she said, “You want this.  I want this.”

“Yeah.”

“Give me my family, Rain.  Be my family.”

“It would destroy you,” he said.

She shook her head.

“And it would destroy me.  It’s the one thing I can’t do.”

She went very still.

“I love you, Rain.  I really think I do.  It took me hours sitting in here and considering possibilities, but I do love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Don’t say that.  Not when you’re also saying no, when they’ll marry me off to someone else instead.”

“You need to leave.”

“I can’t.”

“You need to leave.  You can go.  While everything’s going to pieces, I can get your parents and brother.  The team will.  We’ll kidnap them, we’ll get them out.”

He could see the glimmer on her face.  The hope.

He could see it die.

“If it failed, I’d lose them.  Unequivocally,” she said.  “I can’t risk it.”

“Erin-”

“I can’t!” she raised her voice.

The murmur of discussion downstairs grew quieter.  People were listening now.

“I can’t.  The world ended and I have nightmares every night.  I lost friends.  Losing my family will destroy me more surely than anything.”

Rain wanted to reply.  He remained silent instead.

Something in his expression conveyed what words couldn’t.  Her expression changed.

She hit him in the chest, hard.  She hit him again, drumming him with her fists.  He didn’t resist.

She stopped, clutched his shirt, and pressed her face to his chest.

It was all he could do not to wrap his arms around her in a hug.

“This isn’t you,” he said.  “It’s this place.”

She pulled away.

“You need to leave,” she said, with restrained anger.  “If you say no to this, they’ll want to know why, and the reason why is that you aren’t loyal.”

She wasn’t wrong.

He stepped away.  He approached the window, and he looked outside before creating his silver blades.

“I’d die for you,” he said.  “But I can’t be Fallen.”

“Then fucking die, Rain.”

He cut into the bedroom window with his blades.  With a strong tap, he let the glass fall to grass below.

If it hadn’t been his day, he wasn’t sure he’d have had the precision to cut like that, or the ability to so easily tap it out, without breaking the glass.

He hit the ground, and he started running.

Rain punched the numbers into the keypad.  He was on the train, and he had no destination to travel to.  He couldn’t go to the others.  He couldn’t go back to the camp.

His finger traveled over the number pad.  One, seven, four, six, nine, three, and M.

The numbers painted out a letter on a conventional number pad.  He’d just drawn out ‘H’.

Nine, seven, four, six, four, one, three, and D.  He’d drawn out ‘E’.

Seven, one, three, and N.  ‘L’.

‘P’ was the last letter.  One, seven, nine, six, four and S.

The letters were a code of their own.  An incomplete word or phrase.

He sent the message, and he waited, staring at the phone.

He got his reply.  A text: 9713A97139E17593S9746413Y

He translated it.  ‘Come’.  Letters: A, E, S, Y.  Put together with his, ‘Madness’ and the stray Y.

In plain text, he asked ‘where’?

In code, he got his reply.  It was lengthy enough it had to have been pre-prepared.  An address.

It took him an hour to get there.  A dark part of the city, where the power hadn’t been kept on.

A door as opened.  Candles were lit within.

The woman who faced him was petite, and wore a rabbit mask with a uniform that looked like a soldier from the 1800s.  A rapier dangled from her waist.

“March,” he said.

Wordless, she invited him to come in.  He did.  Further inside, he could see others.  A trio of people.  Another pair.

Other clusters.

“I’m out of options,” he said.

“You know what I want,” March said.

“Foil.  Flechette.  From your cluster. I’ve seen her.”

“I’ve been planning on dealing with her and her acquaintance Tattletale for some time now.  It puts me in a unique position to help you.”

“You want her to die.”

“That discussion can wait until tomorrow.  For now, you look like you need to sleep.”

Heartbroken, exhausted, he couldn’t bring himself to say no.

He dreamed, and the dream slipped from memory as soon as he entered the room.

Rain bent down for the chair, found it in its usual place, and set it on the ground.

There was no discussion.  The others stood, Snag approached the dais.  Love Lost hung back.  Cradle paced.

Rain sat, and he watched.  After so many hard days and nights, he felt eerily calm.

Not so much left to lose, in a way.

It dropped from the sky, and it bounced on the tip of the crystal spike that stood up from the center of the dais.  A token.  A coin, flipping in air, a shard of metal as it showed its other side.  A tooth, shadow moving across it as it rotated in the air.  A piece of glass.

It bounced on the point of crystal with eerie accuracy, landed, wobbled, and then slid to one side, breaking apart as it slid.  Rain stood, and he approached the dais.

He pushed everything else aside, and he collected his shards of metal.

With them, a piece of glass and a coin.

Today mattered.  The others’ expressions were trying not to betray anything, but they were bothered.

I’ll see you tomorrow, Rain thought.  And at least one of us here is going to die.

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

209 thoughts on “Shadow – Interlude 5d”

  1. Nothing before now had driven home just how much the Fallen suck, as Rain’s decision just did. Erin has been the center of his life for some time now, and he didn’t think twice about walking away from her forever.

    It’s nice to pick up the March thread from the prologue.

    1. A serious question:

      Is this bad enough for Erin to trigger?

      She’s been in close proximity with a number of capes, so a bud isn’t out of the question, especially with her connection to rain. She tried one last gambit to achieve some level of freedom, relying on her best friend and potential lover.

      He failed her.

      Now the reckoning is coming. When it arrives, how bad will it be?

      1. Maybe? It could be interesting, but it doesn’t seem necessary to the narrative. Mama dominates everyone in the compound, capes included. This probably wouldn’t even be the first time that Mama engineered a trigger. Skidmark could do it, Mama seems much more capable than he did, and capes are valuable. A triggered Erin would still be under Mama’s thumb. Erin could probably get the drop on everyone in Therapy other than Rain, because they won’t know about how she has changed.

      2. I don’t think so. It’s been implied that Shards bud-off when they gathered enough data and Rain’s neither as powerful or versatile enough for that. We’re not even sure if cluster shards can bud before the kiss-kill cycle is complete.

        1. It probably wouldn’t be Rain’s shard that budded, but it could easily be a bud from another shard.

          Heck she was just at the leadership! She’s not going to be related to any of them, so maybe one of their shards malfunctioned and instead of preferentially choosing someone their host spent time around and was related to it did the opposite! Then we just wait for the final push and she triggers with the malfunctioning shard!

          1. Uh, considering her state of mind, she might want to kill Rain then- OHGODSTOPRIGHTNOW!!! WE DO NOT WANT TO GIVE WILDBOW ANY IDEAS!

      3. “He failed her.”

        Wow, that’s so not what I got from this. The Fallen didn’t give her to him, they took her from him! Rain HAD to leave her.

        The Fallen have powers that can make you believe something against your will! That is so much more horrifying than what someone like Khepri could do. It almost doesn’t matter whether they used those powers on Erin or not, because Rain can’t assume they didn’t. Anything she says is tainted now. Rain wasn’t left with any choice but to leave her. Even after the Fallen leadership is broken and their Masters killed, could her thoughts still carry that taint? Can Rain EVER believe her when she says she loves him? I just…

        Sooooo horrifyingly clever.

        1. Her visit to leadership means it could’ve been engineered by the main two…aka, the human embodiments of the need for M/S Protocols. She’d not even know. Worse, it could be genuine, but Rain couldn’t know or trust.

          Also, Rain just found his “I would do anything for love….but I won’t do that” threshold.

        2. I think the “he failed her” line was meant to express Erin’s viewpoint in all of this.

          We, the audience, have insight into Rain’s thinking, but Erin isn’t privy to the whole “Tainted Love” thing that the Master powers-that-be have wrought.

  2. Man, Rain… hard decision. Has to be the right one, but I don’t know if I could go through with that.

    How did he end up with a coin and piece of glass? I’m not sure I understand that part.

      1. I thought that Rain had just had his ‘buffed’ day, making him more able to cut open the window. Or was that his buff for it being his night the previous night, and that random buff is the day after?

        1. Yeah, I think your second part is correct. Someone on reddit mentioned the random day too, which I had forgotten about.

        2. His night was before, hence the Rain-perspective nightmare. The missing member’s night was after, hence why the other members were unhappy he got the buff. They were almost certainly on a time-related crunch, otherwise it’d be simple good sense to have things go down on one of their strong days.

          Oh, oh Hell. The sad part of all this, Rain’s power was the power to have opened the doors in an instant, cutting the binding chains.

        1. Apparently their dream is only a trigger memory, so I’m blindly guessing that the fifth member is all their passengers. That’s why it has access to each of their powers and randomly distributes it.

          1. I agree that the fifth member is probably the one who’s power facilitates the dream room, however I’m fairly certain that person (hair lady by my guess) died, otherwise we would get her dreams on the fifth night

        2. My pet theory is that the fifth member is the trump/stranger with dream powers who’s facilitating everyone else’s cluster dreams and power sharing. They’re still alive, but using their control over the shared dreamscape to hide it from the rest of the cluster because the cluster are a bunch of murderous assholes.

          1. This is great! That hadn’t occurred to me, but there is supporting evidence. Are these cluster dreams typical for a cluster? I don’t think they are, because they wouldn’t be a secret. I have to think Vicky would have heard of that, and we know she hasn’t. Your explanation fits perfectly. This is my headcannon now until disproven 😉

        3. I’m pretty certain the 5th is a Thinker who came in contact with Mama Mathers while triggering and promptly self destructed.

  3. There is something so deeply fucked up about how the cult can make having the person you love offer themselves to you be so utterly harrowing. They’ve taken the thing he wanted most, the one person he trusted as an escape from this place, and broken her.

      1. The scene with Delilah already had me thinking of the Pact cult. Then we get the scene with Erin, and a reminder that the first rule of Wildbow is It Gets Worse.

        1. A highlight of that scene for me was how cool and well-adjusted Allie seems. We know she has struggles too, but she’s being strategic about it. She knows how much leverage she has (or doesn’t have, mostly), and instead of butting heads with what she sees as inevitable, she’s trying to make the best of it. I think that’s an attractive quality to have, even if it’s arguably counterproductive for her here.

          Is Allie blood related to Rain, or not? Their relationship doesn’t feel brother-sister-y to me so shipping them doesn’t feel gross to me, but it’s ambiguous enough that I bet other readers are making different assumptions about that.

          1. From a strict survival of the species standpoint, having a child with a first cousin isn’t any more dangerous than having one when the mother is past 35. As long as you aren’t double first cousins at least, at that point you’re genetically half siblings and that’s definitely bad if you’re caring some “fun” recessive genes.

        1. I’m not sure what the policy is on Pact spoilers so this is rot-13 (paste it into rot13.com or a similar site to “decode”): V’z cerggl fher Oynxr/Ebff unq n eha-va jvgu n phyg jura ur svefg ena njnl. Gur eryrinag punenpgre vf gur phyg-yrnqre, Pney, jub fubjf hc va gur Qenvaf (ubcrshyyl gung’f rabhtu gb frnepu sbe gur eryrinag puncgre).

  4. Wildbow … Rain … Erin I never even conceived of anything this awful. This chapter was heartbreaking poor Rain poor Erin just fuck. You’re a monster Wildbow and I love it.

    Also nice to see more sexuality in your works Wildbow. It feels very real and I think is an important aspect to characters like Rain, Taylor or Blake were never those kinds of people but I think the work in Twig has brought out a nice unexplored aspect of your writing.

    1. Some people on Spacebattles were a bit surprised saying it was explicit and I was all, “Pfft, dudes you should have read what was in the westerns my dad used to get, or the romance novels my mom read, this was tame.”

      1. The theme of sexuality and desire played so well across the Interlude.. The drunken and awkward teenage handjob, a primer for cult control as much as the aggressive peer pressure or fervent religious backdrop.. Then that call back at the end where Rain shows his character growth and makes the Hard choice (sorrynotsorry) .. Damn, WB, well fucking played.

        1. So suffering, giving up worldly temptations… Will Rain achieve enlightenment and become a Buddha? Cause you know that’d be ironic and hilarious considering the Fallen. He could even do a multi armed thing.

      2. I don’t know the original context, but calling such a tastefully done handy “explicit”…are they real? That’s a very extreme viewpoint, for anyone old enough to be reading this.

        Out of curiosity I looked up the US FCC regulations, which are far more permissive than I would have guessed. I don’t know what rules they actually use in practice, but it’s not what their website claims:

        “In our assessment of whether material is patently offensive, context is critical. The FCC looks at three primary factors when analyzing broadcast material: (1) whether the description or depiction is explicit or graphic; (2) whether the material dwells on or repeats at length descriptions or depictions of sexual or excretory organs; and (3) whether the material appears to pander or is used to titillate or shock. No single factor is determinative. “

        1. It was a lot more explicit than I’d expected. Was it graphic? No. Did the text itself actually feel wrong to me? Also no. But it crossed a line that Worm, Pact, and even Twig didn’t: it mentioned the event in present tense. That is explicit, to some degree.
          Also, ‘anyone old enough to be reading this’ is… factually incorrect? People have different boundaries for different subjects, and the permissiveness of their boundaries is only loosely correlated with age. I shouldn’t need to list examples, but I can if you want.
          @negadarkwing: Those were porn. Not everyone seeks it out, or reads it if they see it. I don’t. Neither do the people I know socially.

    2. +1. I don’t want to say anything like more sex = always better, but that scene was brilliant. Sexuality is a part of how the Fallen control people, and seeing it in action, working despite Rain’s mixed feelings, accomplished a lot more than an abstracted approach could have.

  5. It strikes me that Mama Mathers might have had another purpose besides the stated one, in freeing Rain tonight. She might have decided he’s worth more to her on the outside, if that’s the direction he wants to go. She can’t tell him that, and she probably can’t tell her minions that, but he will go places and learn things that no other Fallen can go or learn. He has already done more to save the Fallen than any other single soldier could do. In future he could do even more.

    Either TT has really underestimated Mama Mathers’s powers, or she’s been planning on fucking over Hollow Point the entire time. Even if we assume that the short-lived anti-snoop device worked against Mama for the 45 seconds it functioned, she saw and heard plenty to give them a really bad day tomorrow. Now Rain and March are planning to give Foil a really bad day. If that turns out to be another TT scheme, I’ll be impressed.

    1. Foil was the primary target all along. It’s the Simurgh, orchestrating a cape war to eliminate one of the only powers that could truly destroy her.

      1. So I guess March was a kill for Foil instead of a Kiss? Shame. I was just having fun imagining Foil always trying, and failing to break up Parian and Foil.

        Also damn it, we had enough fucking close calls for Foil in Worm already! Go screw with some other Lesbian couple already! Not my favorite couple in Parahumans that doesn’t include a robot!

        Speaking of which, Dragon’s about the only one not sucked into this Clusterfuck yet.

        1. Kiss still seems possible? If so, it must have gutted March when Flechette turned villain but still didn’t rejoin her.

    2. “Either TT has really underestimated Mama Mathers’s powers, or she’s been planning on fucking over Hollow Point the entire time. ”

      Hollow Point is screwed. They do not walk away from this. Its too late. If they don’t strike now the Fallen will wipe them out. So they need to win.

      But I think Hollow Point villains get wiped out if they win too. Suppose you are the Wardens and you have two nasty groups of villains festering, but they haven’t done anything too terrible you can pin on them, YET. Well, if one of the groups were to take out the other group while turning themselves into acceptable targets? Well, I guess Christmas comes early for Valkyrie and I no have two fewer festering villain groups to worry about. Everyone wins! Except for those who are dead.

      The Fallen use unpowered soldiers. With guns. They use KIDS. This isn’t some friendly battle where they beat each other up, trash the place and then all go home happy. Hollow Point needs to be willing to kill or they’re getting gunned down. So, if Hollow Point wins they’ve gone to the homes of civilians who haven’t done anything at all to them and killed a bunch of kids. They just became the most acceptable targets around.

      Of course, Hollow Point might just get rolled, but as long as they manage to lose without feeding the Fallen new members that’s fine too.

      Now they just need to find an excuse not to intervene in time after Vicky contacts the Wardens.

    3. Whoa, hold on, why are you assuming Mama Mathers wanted to free Rain? He jumps to that conclusion immediately, but I think he’s wrong. I re-read that section, and every bit of evidence I wanted to use to support my feeling that there is outside interference (and that M.M. is probably rather livid right now) could also be interpreted in a way that supports the exact opposite conclusion, that this is all just part of her plan. Regardless of anyone’s guesses, I think we can agree nobody knows the answer yet

      1. Clearly Rain is actually using his power wrong. It’s not for use on physical objects but rather metaphysical links. He will be able to simply sever his connection with Mama Mathers, and will even turn out to be able to sever the connection Parahumans and Shards have, depowering them. Please don’t take the following too seriously as I was just Bullshitting.

      2. Her words just before the disconnect were pretty unambiguous. Ignoring that, it seems a disruption in her connection to her most valuable intelligence asset while that asset was located in her compound would be a five-alarm event. That would require immediate response, from all of her minions. If we assume she didn’t notice it, what could cause such a disruption? From a narrative standpoint it would be a total ass-pull.
        It’s not clear whether this inverted *primae noctis* is something she does for all of her favored soldiers or if it’s something special for Rain. If the latter, it would be a strong indication that she wants him to get out of the compound, but she wants him to think it was his choice to do so, so he’ll continue to do what she wants him to do rather than thinking more deeply and changing his pattern. (This could be a bigger concern among the Fallen than for any other group.) He won’t be surprised when she comes back in the morning, she’ll complain enough to keep him distracted, and she’ll continue to have access to lots of information that can only come from him.

        I’m not saying that we’ve seen Mama in action enough to know her psychology. I’m saying that she’s a top-flight thinker of long experience, so when events work out in her favor we have to suspect that she meant for events to work out so. It is an enormous tactical advantage to know about an attack with enough advance notice to call in reinforcements. Only a fool would remove an asset who provided such an advantage from the position in which he could provide other such advantages, and Mama ain’t no fool.

  6. You idiot.
    Why didn’t you say yes to Erin.
    Why didn’t you PRETEND to say yes?
    What do you think is going to happen to her if she isn’t given to you?
    You asshole- even if you disagree with the fallen, playing along for now is your best bet of keeping her safe.
    Hell, its going to be a hell of a lot easier to leave if you can say “I’m taking my wife and in-laws over here now”

    What you say in that room isn’t binding. Just play along long enough to keep her safe.
    Fucking hell- I’d do that for a friend even if I DIDN’T like them. If you both like each other that’s just icing.

    1. Dude, they’d never actually let them leave :p

      And Rain knows that. So you can forget the “I’m just taking my wife over here now” plan. If it were that easy than a lot of married couples would have tried it before, and the Fallen would have caught on.

      The only real chance Rain had was to run away in the brief window of time that Mama Mathers wasn’t watching him.

    2. That’s the thing. It’s not that Erin liked him romantically. He’s just the least bad option for her if she stays. He’s offered to leave with her plenty, but she never took him up on it. She choose to stay, for family sure, but she chose to stay and since staying means getting married she figured if she had to, Rain was the best she’d do.

      If she’d ever shown any romantic interest before it was forced, things might’ve gone different. But no, this was Erin saying, ‘Whelp, guess I’m Fallen now, join me?’ and Rain saying that even for her, he wasn’t going to be Fallen. Slippery slope, that’s how the cult works.

      Erin made her choice, Rain made his.

      ~Teian.

      1. I think they would have been happy together. Rain would have had his perfect girl, and Erin’s marriage to a powered member of the cult would have made her important enough she wouldn’t have had to deal with the rest of them. It’s the best possible ending for someone who’s resigned to staying with the Fallen forever. Erin is, but Rain isn’t.

        1. Except Rain is at the bottom of the ladder, and we already know the Fallen’s plans for him if he fails. If they had married, Erin’s only use to the Fallen would have been producing children with a higher chance of triggering.

          Children that she would have to watch become Fallen. Not so happy, in the end.

        2. Heh, “happy” with the Fallen! You are a wonderful person for being able to think so though. Never let anyone call you unromantic 😛

    3. It took a long time for Rain to make himself no longer Fallen. It wasn’t easy, and while Erin is pretty, her appeal was mostly that she wasn’t Fallen and she could help him imagine not being Fallen.

      Erin had never suffered a full blast of Mama before today. It was possible for her to imagine a future, when she didn’t understand what Mama meant. It was possible for Rain to love her, before she was really Fallen. However many hours she spent waiting in Rain’s room, Mama never left her side. Erin is a different person now. Rain can’t love that sort of person. He didn’t make her that way, had things gone differently he might have saved her from that, but it isn’t his fault and he can’t concern himself with it. Perhaps eventually Erin will make the sort of journey that Rain has, but she has to do it herself. Rain is the only person we’ve met who has made the journey, so it seems unlikely.

      A recovering addict might love another addict, but it’s still best to walk away from the scene completely.

        1. I’m giving Erin the benefit of the doubt to think that Mama’s close attention is the only way she could have turned from a ray of sunshine into… this, in so short a time.

          Mama wants Rain to go. He isn’t a soldier. He is a strategic asset, and he’ll continue to have access to things no other Fallen can touch. This whole scenario is an example of that. She knew his cluster could be the nucleus of an anti-Fallen effort that was probably brewing even without it, and she knew the best way for him to deal with that was outside the compound. So, she let him go to therapy, but not because she cared about his psychological state. (Lachlan didn’t get to go to therapy!) If Rain hadn’t been embedded in a quasi-hero team, he and Mama wouldn’t have learned who was attacking and when. Mama might not have predicted that TT would provoke Therapy into homing in on Hollow Point, but one is suspicious when things just work out for high-level Thinkers.

          For Rain to escape like this is ideal for Mama, because she doesn’t want other Fallen to wonder why he gets to do what he wants. She’ll mumble something about patience while putting the no-kill (but hurt if you get the chance!) order on his head. Seir will be the only one to suspect anything, because of his longstanding hate-on for Rain’s folks. Mama knows she can control Seir.

          Mama believes she can call Rain back whenever, and she’s probably right about that. Until then, she’ll let him do his thing, because it suits her purposes.

          1. I note that when Rain thinks about killing his cluster, he thinks he’ll have to kill Mama before he thinks of them. He knows that until she’s dead he’ll never be truly free. I expect she’s gonna be his main target in the big fight, since she’ll be distracted by all the other capes and might be trying to use her powers to help fight instead of focusing on Rain.

          2. I don’t think it’s necessary to invoke master/stranger stuff to explain why Erin is acting the way she is, I believe her when she says she didn’t meet with Mathers or Valefor. The simplest scenario is just that she was instructed by the non-powered elders to marry Rain, and she has no choice but to accept because that’s how the Fallen works, even without bringing powers into it.

    4. He doesn’t want her ‘given’ to him. He wants to be with her, yes, but he doesn’t want anyone to ‘give’ Erin to him. He wants Erin to come to him. Not as the least bad option of a shitty life, but as a proper choice, with the option of saying no.

      By taking Erin, in this case, he’d be agreeing with all the shit he wants rid of. He’d be taking a step backwards in his personal development, he knows that. And he doesn’t know if he’d ever gain the courage to take back the step he’d lost. Especially as, in this instance, he’d no longer have Erin talking him into taking those steps- she’d be his wife, ‘given’ by the community. She’d compromise the morals she’s tried to teach him.

    5. Make sure your own oxygen mask is secured before you see to others.

      Rain needed to get out. He needed to make that decision, to leave the Fallen for good. Now that he’s free he can actually do something.

      1. That is a perfect analogy for Rain’s situation! Rain can’t help Erin if he’s busy dying himself.

        If Rain said yes HE would be the instrument of Erin’s torture. He either escapes or he might as well slit his wrists right now.

    6. That’s assuming that it’s Erin asking for this. She just met with the leadership, complete with Mr. Forget-I-Gave-You-This-Order. It’s perfectly possible that Erin is scared here because she doesn’t want to do this, and is only “consenting” because she’s mastered. Saying yes for anything but a momentary distraction would be completely unethical.

      As for leaving at a later time… that’s never going to be possible. The Mathers specialize in keeping people on a leash just tight enough that it always /feels/ like you could get free and then reigning it back at the last moment. It’s a game they’re very, very good at. There house on the outskirts would be payed for with regular visits with Mama Mathers, or a live-in Valefor

      1. Yeah, I know saying yes is only good for a momentary distraction. I know ACTUALLY agreeing to this is a bad idea. But… I’d settle for a momentary distraction right now. You can even go with “No, this is terrible, but if anyone asks you, tell them I said yes, and then ordered you to stay here.”

        My point is the refusal is a direct threat to her immediate safety. If he is gone then they will punish HER for his refusal, and they will probably do it as soon as they find out.
        If Erin and Rain are ever going to escape,they will do it in the next 48 hours, hence momentary distractions are a valid strategy. He doesn’t have to promise her his life, he doesn’t have to sleep with her, or promise her that he’ll play along forever. He has to play along for one freakin’ day.

        And if they ask “Why didn’t you sleep your new fiancee” he can say “Oh, I dunno, busy preparing for the WAR tomorrow”.
        He doesn’t have to DO anything, just give the girl enough of a lie to keep Seir away from her for a day or so.

    7. They sent her over in that dress because she and Rain were expected to consummate the marriage that night. Rain wasn’t willing to do that, and I 100% agree with him on that decision.

        1. It also liberates him from any attachment to the fallen so it is about as equally liberating as it is crushing.

    1. A coin, flipping in air, a shard of metal as it showed its others other side.

      Others other? Not sure what that should be, maybe just “…as it showed its other side.”?

    2. “my mom keeps making them and giving them to Bryce and I”

      Object pronoun needed, should be “to Bryce and me.”

        1. Dunno, I think it’s more likely that people in ordinary dialogue will mistakenly use “Bryce and me keep getting these awful sausages” than mistakenly using “These awful sausages keep getting fed to Bryce and I”

          And yes bone shards in sausages are annoying, but if the sausage flavoring is really good I’d take the effort of picking them out.

    3. >There’s this dilapidated house I think it could be fixed up nice

      Sentence kind of sounds awkward to me? Maybe just take out the it, or add a comma after the “house”

    4. In the code, N and E are swapped around.

      H/M – E/D – L/N – P/S
      C/A – O/E – M/S – E/Y

      This spells MADENSSY, not MADNESSY.

      1. The letters aren’t interleaved with a 1:1 ratio, which makes decoding it more an anagram problem than anything. Here, Rain skipped all his vowels (but March didn’t, in 0.4). I’m kinda stumped, really.

    5. A minor detail regarding the number codes between Rain and March.
      Telephone keypads have a different layout to just about all other numerical keypads. They go from top to bottom, with ‘1’ being in the top left corner.

      The current numbers e.g.
      > Seven, one, three, and N. ‘L’.
      would be vertically flipped letters when typed on a phone keypad.

  7. Taylor was to a degree, but it was pretty well buried under her constant sense of her own unattractiveness for the early parts of the story, and she had other things overruling it as a serious consideration for the later parts.

    As for this bit, I like that Rain’s break with the Fallen wasn’t an add-on effect of the trigger or personality bleed.

    Also, the notion of Foil getting a power-up post the death of March? Or of an aggrieved Parian figuring out that ‘proper’ use of her power WB has hinted at in the past? That’s just terrifying.

  8. So! This chapter was disgusting. And that’s a compliment!

    I… don’t feel well at all about where any of this is going :/

  9. This whole situation bothers me immensely. Mama Mathers and her way to imbed herself in your mind, the way how you can never say or do anything without her seeing it. Rains situation which is so utterly hopeless and bleak. The way they forced Erin upon him and the way this broke them both.

    Wildbows stories always had a way to up the ante, to make a situation even more seemingly insurmountable, but most of these obstacles were physical. A fight that can´t be won, opposition much more capable and powerful than the protagonists. But this is psychological hopelessness and much more depressing as a consequence.

    It speaks volumes about WBs skill and maybe myself that I am so invested in these characters, but if they don´t get a serious win, pretty soon, I may have to turn away from this story for a while, because it starts becoming hard to read for me.

    1. Welcome to the club. WB has a knack for giving the protags (and by proxy, the readers) just enough hope to keep you going through all the despair. It’s all REALLY double-edged and all fantastically well written. Kudos Bow, you’ve successfully made my heart bleed, yet again

    2. This basically sums up my experience reading twig, i just could not handle the depression every week so i just let chapters accumulate and binge read them to catch up.

  10. Well this is going to be a fucking mess.

    Sorry Erin, but Rain’s going to save you and your family even if you hate him for it, and it kills him. At which point you’ll be all sad a love him again. Women.

    And come one, can’t we just have the Fallen get wiped out?

    1. I might have given the Cedar gang decent odds before. But now that the Fallen know they’re coming and are preparing for them, I don’t like their chances. Even the hordes of unpowered individuals are very much capable of killing capes using guns or traps or even just swarming them with numbers.

  11. Holy fucking hell, this chapter.

    I guess Being Rain Is The New Suffering. And now, let’s see how March intends to sabotage Hollow Point’s assault on the Fallen in order to abduct Foil to be hers, forever. Because we don’t actually know what breed of kiss/kill they actually have, the only Worm line Lily says about March is “persistent”, after all.

    1. Yeah, I’m just imagining scenarios where March is constantly trying to NTR Pairian now. And getting megaton punched into a twinkle in the sky by a stuffed animal every time. I need something lighthearted and silly after this chapter.

      1. Now I’m imaging that every time Parian and Foil fight March appears due to her sense of perfect timing and tries to convince Foil to date her instead.

        Of course, this immediately causes Parian and Foil to realize how silly they were being and make up.

    2. I really hope that March just wants to abduct Foil to experiment on disturbing cluster science together. She does seem to be forming a team of cluster capes.

      1. I’m just imagining something like this when the Undersiders have a meeting.
        “So yeah turns out March was behind the trainlines.”
        “Why would she do that?”
        “So she could tie Parian to the railroad tracks, and threaten her with a train until I marry her. She forgot rope’s just a bunch of fibers though, so Sabah’s powers work on it.”

        On another note, March’s powers are the timing for the main and the sting for the minor, inverse of Lily’s? Oh shit Clock King Thinker, and considering how OP some thinkers are…

        1. Is this written in code? I sense that there is a logical thought in there, but it looks like shorthand you’d write for yourself to jog your memory…

          “On another note, March’s powers are the timing for the main and the sting for the minor, inverse of Lily’s? Oh shit Clock King Thinker, and considering how OP some thinkers are…”

          1. It’s written in “I need more sleep.”

            Okay I’m assuming you are talking about the quoted parts, not the railroad track joke.
            -March and Foil are from the same cluster trigger.
            -Foil has the Sting power, Aka enchant objects to kill anything for her main power. She has a lesser thinker power for timing, which helps prevent her from overpenetrating targets and killing whatever’s behind her. It was also how she got Grey Boy, by standing behind space he’d looped so she looked grey, and timing her screams so she sounded looped.
            -So it would seem then that March has also got some form of the same powers, only her primary power could be a Timing related thinker power.
            -If you ever saw the episode of Batman the Animated Series with Clock King, you know just how dangerous having good timing can be.
            -Two of the most dangerous people in the setting are thinkers with BS OP powers. Contessa, and Numbers Man, the guy who’s power is being really good at math.

        2. “On another note, March’s powers are the timing for the main and the sting for the minor, inverse of Lily’s? Oh shit Clock King Thinker, and considering how OP some thinkers are…”

          I certainly hope that’s the case! Just imagine if it was the other way around! What could that be? Having a perfect DDR game and being able to turn herself into a extra deadly version of the Siberian?

    3. Someone in an earlier Rain interlude put it well:

      It never Rains but it pours.

      (•_•) ( •_•)>⌐■-■ (⌐■_■)

  12. I did not foresee this development with Rain and Erin. I usually see the path a story is going to take. Wildbow is pretty good at going paths I don’t expect in a skillfull way.

    I’m surprised, appreciative, but I really can’t say I like it. I’m eager to see how things continue to develop.

    1. The question is how quickly is it going to take for Erin to plummet from one of the most liked characters in Ward to one of the most hated?

      1. I’m giving it all of two updates. She’ll have a gun on Rain at the end of the second one, blaming him for the fact that she’s now getting it tegular from Seir and it is all his fault.

        1. Tegular: of or pertaining to tiles

          My first thought: what the SHIT dude???
          My second thought: this is hilarious

          If wb lays down this plot twist, my shit will hit the ceiling. There’s already too many tegular revenge stories, and it’s an insult to tegular survivors. We have Rain’s custardtile demonstrating the problems with misdirected-if-understandable anger. Cementing Erin into the role of irrational avenger would unglue my faith in this story. People need to feel anger when they’re in pane, it’s part of the reconstruction process. The alternatives are terrible. This is we have a justice system, to bridge the expanse between pure emotion and what’s necessary to protect others from dangerous individuals (groups). There is no legal system in this multiverse, and that’s why we’re seeing this mosaic of problems.

          Erin is dead. In wormverse, if you can’t read the writing on the wall, you’re dead, and she’s living in a camp where Uncle LoyalSoldier could have been murdered for gently caressing Rain’s face with a shovel. Erin failed in her duty to hammer Rain down. Erin’s window of salvation was self-defenestration. Her choices were to save herself or save her family, and knowingly or not, she chose to save her family. The Fallen might let them stand. But not her. Because if the Fallen can’t use her to hold Rain, they’ll use her to hurt him.

          Rain is only looking out for Color Pattern Number 1. I respect how he’s building new rules for himself, but suspect that their foundations are still based in fear and selfishness. I’d have liked him better if he’d dragged Erin kicking and screaming with him, regardless of what that did to their relationship and everyone’s basic respect for women’s decisions. They’re both still ignoring the rules of their world, and reality is going to come crashing in like a wrecking ball.

          1. Rain locked the padlock. Seir wouldn’t have needed to rip apart those chains if he hadn’t.

            Seir must have set up the lock in such a way that the crowd’s force would open the door, then gave Rain the order not to let any escape. Rain was standing right in the path of the panicked crowd. If he tried to follow orders, he’d be trampled when the lock popped off. If he didn’t follow orders, he’d be punished when the lock popped off.

            He got around his predicament by locking the door.

            Rain’s scary.

          2. You’re probably right. Padlocks are much stronger when locked. An crowd of frightened people pushing on doors would have been enough force to break the hasp off if the lock had been left unlocked.

    2. After Erin refused to leave her family, something like this was inevitable. The exact circumstances were worse than I expected, however.

  13. This chapter was so fucking good and thanks for another great one, Wildbow! I wasn’t expecting another interlude, and the outcome of this one just left me depressed. As for Rain’s development… it’s sad that it had to come at Erin’s cost, but I think he made the right choice. I’m excited to see where this is gonna go.

  14. This was extremely well written. Some of Wildbow’s best character building ever.

    Also some of their most depressing work ever, and I have read all of Worm, Pact and Twig. I am not feeling very well right now.

  15. Damn. One of the best chapters so far I think. I really love the Rain interludes. Poor guy, and poor Erin. It really would have been the best option for her, if she wouldn’t leave. She could have a husband who she could at least tolerate, and wouldn’t beat or rape her like the creepy old dudes eying her up. But Rain? Definitely a good thing he’s running. He’d never be able to leave her if they were married, and besides, he’d always know that really she didn’t love him, and that she was the bait in a trap. Not a recipe for a happy marriage.

    On a lighter note, Nick Cage? Really? And since this is the wormverse, the nightmare universe for those with a fear of any form of insect all I can say is,

    NOOO NOT THE BEEEES!!! ANYTHING BUT BEEEESSSSS!!!!!!!

        1. In our universe, Bender was played by Judd Nelson, but every other character in every other movie seems to have been played by Nicolas Cage. So our universe sucks, but Bet’s is worse. The “bees” thing is apparently from Cage’s “Wicker Man” remake, but I haven’t seen it because I avoid remakes.

  16. Funny thing is: Rain probably would have given himself up on a silver-platter, if Tattletale hadn’t made that call.

  17. The scene with Erin was difficult to get through. It showed just how badly the Fallen destroys people.

    This whole thing is going to be a mess. Team Therapy, Hollowpoint, the Fallen, March’s group, and the Undersiders are all involved in it. All I can hope is that Rain survives.

    1. Rain or anyone else surviving may be a bit ambitious. I am being modest and kist hoping Victoria won’t end up locked up in an asylum again as a consequence.

  18. So, Rain was the guy who held the doors closed while people died in a fire.

    He tries to get out of being a Nazi by offering himself to his cluster — no deal, they want him to suffer, don’t care about any honorable Nazis.

    He spies on his own team, essentially betraying them, and as a reward is offered the hottest girl in Camp. He turns it down because he doesn’t want to be a nazi any more.

    I’m supposed to feel sorry for this Nazi because….he has some redeeming qualities? Among them, he doesn’t want to marry Erin, but instead, he risks her existence by rejecting her.

    As I can see at this point is that he is an accomplice to murder who got a bad case of too-late conscience and he wants to avoid the consequences of his actions.

    Fuck you, Rain. Time to die.

      1. Haha yeah some people might forget that WB writes characters who have been brainwashed by Mama Mathers since they were sold to her as children. Maybe they believed Seir when he claimed that Rain should have opened the doors before Seir returned? Haha Rain isn’t that dumb. He wouldn’t have triggered he would have just been murdered by Seir. The Fallen wouldn’t have missed a soldier who couldn’t follow one simple order.

      2. No, I don’t think I am.

        I think Wildbow has described an evil sociopath with narcissistic personality, introverted, but who cares only about himself and will sell out every person with whom he has the slightest bit of connection.

        He’s a bad guy. I can’t feel sympathy for him, just because he is a central feature in the story.

    1. Geez, get it right. The Fallen aren’t nazis, they’re satanists. The Empire 88 were the nazis.
      Also he’s not accomplice to murder, it was manslaughter. Like a hundred counts of manslaughter.

      1. This would definitely not be manslaughter. Manslaughter is unintentional and usually arises through negligent behavior on the part of the killer. The people who died in the mall were 100% murdered. There may not have been intent to murder specifically, but any reasonable person would know that Rain’s (and the rest of the Fallen’s) behavior could lead to people dying taking it from manslaughter to murder.

        The only real question is if they could be convicted of premeditated, first-degree murder. And I think that, because even a dumb person would know there was a good chance of people dying due to this premeditated attack, a jury would absolutely convict on the charge of first-degree murder.

        1. If we believe Seir here, and we absolutely shouldn’t, the plan was never to kill the people in the shopping center. It depends on where you are, but many places draw a line between voluntary manslaughter (killing someone when you were just intending to HURT them), and murder (killing someone because you want them dead). And a second line between premeditated murder and intentional-but-not-premeditated murder.

          I agree that a reasonable legal system would never buy it, though.

    2. Rain is an idiot, and the situation for most everyone else could maybe be improved if he simply died quietly and painlessly…but that isn’t the same thing as him deserving to die.

      I feel bad for Rain, but I feel that leaving the Fallen was the correct choice. The smartest thing for him to do would be to just fess the fuck up about exactly what Mama Mathers is and how she works, so that information can get to a. the Wardens and b. Tattletale. Instead, he’s going to his even more secret allies and making an even worse secret deal to fuck over someone else whom we know to be a fundamentally decent type. God dammit Rain.

      However…I also feel bad for Erin, but she made the wrong choice. Not her fault, she’s young and also an idiot, but here are the facts: You cannot save your parents from a cult when they are balls deep in it and you are only seventeen. Furthermore, you do not owe it to your parents to let them destroy your entire life for the sake of the cult.

      Rain saying to Erin that he would die for her, but he would not be Fallen for her? That’s moral courage. Pity he followed it up by returning to even more scheming idiocy. Dude, just fess up, throw yourself on the mercy of the Wardens, take your lumps and serve some time.

      1. I think Rain just lacks faith in the Wardens ability/will to help.

        It’s an ill-founded assumption, but not unreasonable from his perspective.

        1. “It’s an ill-founded assumption, but not unreasonable from his perspective.”

          Is it? I suspect the Wardens are planning on sitting back, letting the Hollow Point derps do something unforgivable, like going to the homes of people who have done nothing wrong (personally, yet) and then murdering their kids (who were shooting at them), and then killing any survivors from the Hollow Point side. Right now they have two groups of villains they don’t have a good excuse to stomp on. Afterwards the Fallen will likely be weakened or gone and Hollow Point will be Valkyrie food.

          1. Chevalier is a genuinely heroic dude who isn’t really about the whole arranging mass murder thing, and Valkyrie (last we saw her) was making a real good faith effort at embracing being a hero.

            I had no time for the PRT and Protectorate because they were dirty to the core. As yet, we don’t see too much of that in the Wardens.

      2. Or….just run away.
        Seriously: run. Go away. Flee. You could have fled before Momma showed up. You could flee today. Run, dude, run!

    3. Rain wanted to avoid having the adults and children that are held against their will getting caught in the cross fire.

      How is that avoiding the consequences?

    4. Dude what the fuck. How the fuck do you look at a situation where:

      1) a former criminal offers to both hand over everything he knows about the criminal organization he’s forced to be a part
      2) to let himself be tortured to death
      3) only asks that the people he’s offering the deal to don’t kill innocent people in their revengequest
      4) the people on the revenge quest refuse not because they don’t trust him (they have ways of verifying if he’s being genuine anyway) but because they specifically want to kill innocent people just to hurt him more

      and reach the conclusion that the former criminal is the bad guy in that situation. He is offering them their revenge on a silver platter, is willing to give them information that will make their attack on the Satanazis have a far smaller bodycount on their side and let them target the monsters in the Fallen far more effectively and they’re refusing just to spite him.

      Rain is not the person you should be saying “Fuck you” towards in this situation. He has screwed up a lot but he proved himself willing to suffer a fate that would make Bonesaw victims pity him all in order to protect innocent people. Meanwhile his cluster are perfectly fine with killing completely innocent people just to hurt him.

      1. This. Why are people struggling to understand this? He hasn’t made up for his terrible deeds, not yet, but it’s a moral 180. He can do nothing more than what he’s offering.

        1. I think his offer was too little, too late, and too self-aggrandizing martyrdom to be anything other than self-delusion.

          Oh look! I offered to kill myself if they would just save Erin! Of course, I could just kill myself and then then wouldn’t have any reason to kill Erin. Or I could flee…..But no, alas! I will instead betray my ally group, my wanna-be girlfriend, my friends with Team Therapy, all to get a chance to kill the victims I hurt before!

      2. While I don’t disagree with you, you also have to consider that Snag, Love Lost, and Cradle are not “heroes”. They have taken the role of “villain” for a reason. They are not reasonable, friendly people, and I can understand why they might have turned out that way considering their trigger event(s).

        Another way to put it: at this point, their motive is not justice; their motive is revenge, and revenge is selfish by nature.

    5. …um.

      Did you miss the part where the door was locked by a chain so strong that it took a cape with brute powers to break it? And also had a lock that had no matching key? What do you think Rain should have done?

      …and Rain was offering to help his cluster kill him so that the actual 4 year olds in the Fallen camp aren’t tortured/brain washed into being cultists. Like, he was literally trying to get killed faster. Should he have just ignored the problem?

      As for Erin… do you think he should have stayed in the compound, when he knows that means helping the Nazis win a war?

      1. “The man took a chain from around his arm and wound it through and around the door handles, squares of sheet metal, and hauled the chains tight. He rummaged, and a moment later, came up with a padlock. He put it through several of the chains to keep it tight, but left it unlocked.”

        Note that the padlock was unlocked. Presumably Rain could have pulled the padlock out of the links of the chain and then unwound the chain from the door handles. I guess it would take some work to get the padlock off and the chain out since the pushing on the doors may have tightened it and put it under high tension.

        Maybe that is why Seir broke it off instead of pulling it out — it would be quicker to break it off.

        But the point is that Rain could have tried to pull the padlock out and remove the chain, but he did not.

    6. Do you think you would have managed to be more moral under Rain’s circumstances? How exactly would you have resisted constant indoctrination under duress since birth?

    7. 1. The Fallen are not Nazis, they are a cult. Their (non-criminal) activities and methodologies are pretty much identical to how real cults operate. Most of the time, they only commit atrocities within their group, where nobody outside can see, but you still have the problem of nobody wanting to tell anyone outside the group or otherwise work to stop them. In a world where there isn’t a strong rule of law (and where many high-ranking cult members have superhuman powers), it’s little surprise that these crimes would spread to areas the cult doesn’t directly control…and utterly unsurprising that those raised by the cult would just go along with it. It’s as normal to them as communion is to most Christians, and they barely think about how weird it is more than Christians think about how weird their ritual cannibalism is.

      2. Rain does have character traits other than “member of the Fallen”. It’s just that those character traits all come from (and are largely defined in the context of) his relationship with the Fallen. He has crippling feelings of inadequacy, seemingly originating because his powers (and mundane skills) aren’t enough to properly serve the family, and continuing because he can’t find any way to fight them. He’s confused and noncommital, due to struggling with his new perspective on all the prejudices and beliefs he never had a chance to question before. And so on. It’s no surprise—the Fallen have been his everything for as long as he can remember.

      3. I know I can’t change your perspective, but I can share mine. To me, it seems less like Rain doesn’t want to face the consequences of his actions (on himself) and more like he understands the consequences of his actions (on other people), and wants to get out before he’s forced to do something like that again. Because those are his options—leave the Fallen, and everything they’ve represented for him, or accept the orders of Mama Mathers and her ilk for the rest of his life.
      Given the kinds of stories I’ve heard about insular religious communities, as well as some of my own experiences (which are orders of magnitude less severe in every dimension, so I can only imagine what it’s like for Rain)…I personally find the fact that he has it in him to rebel as a very redeeming quality. Most people would just accept the things their friends and family do and try to shut up the nagging voice inside until it faded away.

  19. Does TT actually care about Rain? Of course not. It is much more likely she warned him because she wanted the Fallen to gather their army.

    As I recall Cheit demanded a better security in exchange for deliveries
    and “surging crime” was a problem raised during the negotiations.
    What better way to demonstrate progress than by cracking down on a big, known and for most moraly acceptable target such as the Fallen and their supporter?

    If we consider this point, then the job becomes pretty relevant for the big picture.
    Maybe even enough to gain the support of other big names/the Wardens?

    1. I think TT cares for rain. The parallels in her backstory about being trapped in guilt and being blamed for her brother’s suicide and rain’s tale is notable as well as the fact she knows that one’s evil reputation doesn’t mean that one is gonna suddenly freak out and control all the capes around the world to bring a god to it’s knees. TT is giving a despairing, freaking out, trapped kid a chance.

      Plus the Fallen gathering for the battle is a delightful bonus, but there are other ways she could have arranged that and stated her intent for Mama.

  20. I was wondering about this.I reread that part several times and I don’t see anything from Seir telling him to open the doors at a certain time. It’s almost like something else misfired in their plan and Rain was a really good scapegoat for the fuck-up……

    1. WB is happy to mislead us, but he’s usually honest about motivations. Since Rain suspected Seir had a grudge against absent family, we can be pretty sure that Seir was trying to engineer an excuse to kill Rain. If Rain had opened the doors, that would have been it. Seir would have killed him immediately and in Fallen logic he would have been totally justified. Soldiers follow orders, and Rain had received only one order. Disobeying the order would have meant he was still an ethical person, after all that brainwashing, so the Fallen would have had no more use for him.

      It turned out that Rain actually followed the order. Seir screwed with him by pretending “hey, we’re not really terrorists!” but that was so much bullshit. (Haha that sort of reminds one of Lord of Loss’s lame excuse after the Fume Hood hit.) I doubt Seir would have given up, but Rain’s trigger took it out of his hands. Rain triggering in a cluster was very useful to Mama, so Rain was (and ISTM still is) untouchable.

      1. It also might be partly Fallen Protocol, make sure the newbies get blood on their hands so that the only people they can turn to is The Fallen and if they out in the world the only people they meet are enemies.

        1. Which, minus the outright criminality, is pretty close to how real cults work. And also insular communities of mainstream religion which are absolutely not cults. And, on a much larger scale, North Korea.

          …Say, what’s Korea Bet like?

  21. Looks like everyone’s been successfully suckered into missing the really important stuff… the extra letters in March’s code mean something too. Time to go reread that chapter again.

    (I’m kidding, obviously. But this might still be important.)

  22. The thought occurs that either Foil or March seem to have deliberately designed their costumes so they can have a cool sword-duel between the two of them. They kind of echo each other.

    Meanwhile we’ve got the cluster, desperately trying to pretend that Rain’s evil changed them, and that what they’ve become wasn’t in them all along. Have to wonder if they’ll deliberately take time out of the attack to track down Rain’s loved ones. Then again, with how much of a slaughter this is shaping up to be, they might not have time before they’re killed or Mastered. If the Fallen win here they’ll get a major power boost, and they’ll be even less stoppable than they were before…

    However, this is also an opportunity. The Fallen’s strength was always in that they’re a network of cults, they can fade into the wilds and move their scariest capes between different camps to make a team worried about attacking any one of them. If they’re all in one place, someone like Valkyrie can drop in and wipe them out all at once. Maybe that’s what Tattletale’s planning, if she actually is aware that Rain’s been Mastered by Mama.

    Or maybe Tattletale’s isolated, friendless, and exhausted, and she’s making mistakes, and a whole lot of people are about to pay the price.

  23. Wow, this entire chapter was one heck of a ride. A little surprised that Rain didn’t do something more awful- did he even have a key with which he could have opened the lock on the chain?- but offering himself to his cluster definitely makes me feel like he’s a good person now.

    1. The padlock was kept unlocked. There’s a good chance the reality of a stampede of people killing themselves was something he couldn’t deal with; combined with Seir’s “don’t let anyone out” direct order, standing still was the only conclusion.

    2. Anything hard and slightly weighty can break a padlock. A pocketknife can cut hair stuck under a door. Rain might not have been a horrible person, but he was afraid enough of horrible people to do what they told him. Probably because he was brainwashed by a pyscho clairvoyant omnipresent hypnotist ever since his parents sold him to a cult, but still. It doesn’t take a great deal of courage to make an offer in a dream to people one knows won’t take the offer. Anyway, if anything could break superpowered cult conditioning, it’s got to be that hellish recurring dream. At this point Rain seems to be a reasonably ethical person, in that he cares about friends and innocents enough to place himself in danger. Meanwhile his visible clustermates are murderously insane and also they are assholes.

      Rereading, I notice that while Rain took the glass and the coin, he left the tooth. Does that mean something? Whom did Cradle bring in, and did her violent death in the dream mean anything outside the dream?

      1. There is no “probably”. That’s exactly what happened to him; so early in fact that he can’t remember his real name.

        Rain is still responsible and to blame for what he did or let happen though.

      2. I think that there were two tokens bouncing off of the central pillar, that were changing as they flew through the air. They landed on Rain’s side as a glass and a coin, but since it’s the fifth day in the cycle (The day of the darkened area, aka random power up day), those tokens could have wound up being anything, including another two shards of metal. This would keep with the fact that the rest of the cluster gets two extra tokens on their day.

    1. He pushed everything else aside, and he collected his Vote Points.

      With them, a vote for Worm, Pact and Twig too.

      Today mattered. The others’ expressions were trying not to betray anything, but they were bothered.

  24. Starting to realise that Erin might just be a pretty face. Doesn’t want to be in the Fallen but refuses to find a solution or listen to any other alternative.

    Yeah, stick your head in the sand. Sure that’ll make everything better.

    Maybe it’s just a half assed rebel phase.

    1. To directly quote Erin.

      “I can’t. The world ended and I have nightmares every night. I lost friends. Losing my family will destroy me more surely than anything.”

      Any options they can come up with would mean she would have to abandon her family, people she’s loved for her entire life, and it’s been made clear from Rain’s interludes that it is simply not an option. Especially after the horrors of Gold Morning.

      None of what she did during the climax of the chapter was motivated by “teenage rebellion” or idiocy. Even the strategy that Rain suggested of leaving and returning with Team Therapy to kidnap/rescue Erin’s family was incredibly flimsy of a plan at best and bound to go wrong, which is why she refused.

      1. And yet her involvement is a result of her ongoing decision to support a group of murdery, rapey, psychotic people.

        As to her being destroyed by leaving her family, that’s very dramatic wording there. Almost like an angsty teenage girl justifying her fear of being alone.

        I’m thinking that Rain and her are perfect for each other.

        1. Or, you know, it’s a teenaged girl with the very real understanding that she knows basically no one (who’s still alive) outside the Fallen. She and Rain would be damn near alone in the world, without the support network which the Fallen community provides. That’s enough to keep people in cults and other religious communities IRL even without the additional pressures caused by the Fallen’s superpowers, the recent end of the world, or the murderously-angry parahumans who want to kill Erin’s best friend.

          It’s a shitty situation, and contrary to popular belief, you’re not weak and worthless if you don’t have the “willpower” to ignore that and do what outsiders assume is the obvious solution. It’s kinda like Taylor’s bullying in that way, only with much less focus.

    2. It seems obvious that by the end there, she had either been brainwashed or was in such terror thanks to seeing Mama that she had no other choice.

      Even aside from that, it sort of seems like you are ignoring the terror and oppression of being in a cult, especially one as bad as the Fallen, so that you can rag on a female character for being just a “pretty face.” Kinda.. reductive. At least.

  25. Holy fucking shit, this interlude was one hell of a ride and dark as fuck. One of the best chapters in this story without question.

    I am wondering something, though. This interlude is the 4th one following Rain in the span of 2 arcs. We have never gotten so many interludes for a single character before. WB is clearly spending a lot of effort building Rain’s character. I wonder if this is means that, eventually… Rain will become the new protagonist of Ward?!

    1. Maybe Wildbow wants a backup protagonist because he’s going to copy past Wildbow and roll dice to decide who dies in a later chapter. That would actually be a really neat meta parallel, come to think of it.

      1. The upcoming confrontation with the fallen definitely looks like it could be where WB does it. The problem is, I don’t want WB to roll dice on my beloved Undersiders!

        1. I know it would suck, but I’m sure they’d get good send-offs. Like getting shot by Contessa, or lasered by Scion, or “Oy, shitcrumb!”

    2. Trickster got all of Migration.

      Clearly this means wildbow is rounding out Rain’s character so we fully understand him before he dies.

  26. So Rain’s clustermates are pretty clearly murderously insane. No way this is personality bleed. I mean FFS, the terrorist attack that his clustermates pulled to kick Ward off? That could have turned bad and killed a bunch of people just as easily. Oh and Rain didn’t actually do anything except stand around not doing anything.

    I don’t think one lukewarm cultist was able to turn three upstanding citizens into crazed killers. This is them.

    1. We have reason to believe that it’s not just personality bleed, absolutely correct! However, all of the characters whom we’ve seen have been demonstrably different before and after. Before the event, Snag was some burly dude who tried to fight his way through an entire stampede to save a little girl. After, he’s notably mean by villain standards, and is 100% in on a killing spree. Love Lost was a cop with a sad divorce behind her, but who loved her daughter very much and was genuinely trying to overcome her own issues and be a good mother. Now she’s a wall running throat slashing lunatic who appears to be permanently trapped in a state of grief and rage.

      So, it may not be personality bleed at all, but the trigger events in play do seem to have warped the cluster’s personalities far, far more than most triggers do.

      1. Could it be that the personality bleed that is influencing Snag and Love Lost’s is from Cradle? So far he is the most misterious member of the cluster so far.

        1. I think it’s just a combination of having to relive their trigger events over and over and a belief that they are not really responsible for their own actions.

          1. That seems pretty believable. And being able to feed off each other in that dream room.

  27. Now we know Rain’s role in the massacre, it was more passive than I expected. Interestingly, it seems Sier hoped/expected Rain might defy orders and open the door, which would give Sier an excuse to punish him, perhaps fatally. And Rain was almost on the verge of doing so a couple times.

  28. Maybe it has something to do with the supposedly dead fifth member?
    Do we know if the dream – room is normal for cluster – triggers?
    Maybe the fifth one has a power that controlls the room or one that can manipulate perceptions and is influencing them to kill each other, so s/he will be the only one left.

  29. Not sure if I missed if this was ever revealed, but did we ever find out what Ms. Yamada knew that she didn’t want to divulge to Victoria? In 5.1, Victoria even mentions, “‘Double agent? Someone under the influence of another?’ I asked.”

    Does Ms. Yamada know about or suspect Mama Mathers?

    1. We have no idea! Juries still out on weather or not Rain was the only really big surprise in the team. He’s probably not the only one, because Wildbow (and also we still don’t know why Byron hired that group of assassins, or what Chris’s deal even is, or what sort of debts Ashley inherited just by being Damsel.)

  30. Seems like Tristain was right on the money about not leaving Erin at the base unattended or letting her get alone-time with Kenzie. She is to be pitied but not trusting her was definitively the right move.

  31. I have to say, I think that Tattletale’s giving herself a little too much credit when she says Victoria has an “insane grudge” against her. Like, Victoria personally dislikes her and will go out of her way to ruin Tattletale’s day, yes, but that’s because Lisa is objectively a pretty vile person who can’t go ten minutes without verbally eviscerating someone. Victoria moving into Hollow Point, I think that would’ve happened even if Lisa hadn’t done the most counterproductive things possible to make her back off. And from there, ruining their trust in Tattletale as a reliable source is just good sense.

    1. Eh, Victoria’s personal dislike of Tattletale is…personal. She does bear a grudge, and on some level she knows it. Besides that, Lisa’s often a nasty piece of work, but she did just warn Rain to get going, she did in fact try to save Victoria from Amy’s mental breakdown in pre-timeskip Worm, and her contribution to saving humanity from Scion so utterly dwarfs Victoria’s that it’s not even funny. Basically, I reckon that Victoria has a hard time with Tattletale because her own hero-centric worldview wants Tattletale to be a baby-eating horror, and yet she has trouble with the evidence that Tattletale is more like a vaguely ethical scumbag who occasionally fucks people up.

  32. Good chapter. Exactly what I wanted from this arc, I think. The cycle of revenge. The Fallen gearing up for war. Ashley staying undercover. Tattletale and Victoria. Finally tying Foil’s backstory into things. This is the kind of thing I wanted to see more of in Worm, so it’s really good to see it here.

    I was a little disappointed, at first, that all Rain did to provoke the cluster’s hatred was stand outside a door. Then again, on consideration, maybe in some irrational way that was the worse for them. Maybe if he’d actually been in there, participating in the massacre, carried along by the fear and adrenaline and violence, he would have been, in some way, more like them. But instead he just stood there, passively watching and laughing while they struggled and were brutalized inside, when he could have so easily let them out. Maybe that’s bad enough.

    Still pretty confused on how he ended up in therapy with Mrs. Yamada, though, because if he was captured when he triggered, shouldn’t he be…in jail? And even if he wasn’t captured, and just found Yamada on his own, why on earth did she decide to introduce this criminal accomplice to mass murder, who is still living with the mass murderers and under their influence, to a bunch of vulnerable capes who include Kenzie and Ashley? I’m starting to think Mrs. Yamada has actually been Mastered, and that was what she was trying to warn Victoria about.

    Anyway, can’t wait for Victoria to actually find all this out in gory detail, hopefully from Snag and Love Lost. Meanwhile, Rain introduces Mama Mathers to yet another group of vulnerable capes she can probably manipulate. Hoo boy. The part with Erin was great, too. That whole relationship was far too good to be true. A lot of new things to think about, in general, and all of them pretty exciting.

    I think the personality bleed-over must be real to some extent, otherwise why would the cluster get that idea in the first place?

    1. Oh that would be awesome if Yamada had gotten a visit from Valefor and that’s what started everything. She couldn’t tell anybody, but she could call in Victoria for help. I’m predicting it now, the wretch will pull out Elijah’s tongue, so he’ll have to develop v3 of his power, which will be so OP that he will basically be Khepri without the neurological issues.

  33. The Rain interludes just hit you hard, man….

    Almost makes me wish he was the protagonist, but at the same time, I wanna see how Victoria’s story gonna go.

    1. I am convinced that the reason why WB gave us 4 interludes with Rain is because he plans to eventually make him the POV character for the story.

      1. Or maybe the other members of Team Therapy will also end up getting a bunch of interludes once it’s time for their arcs.

      2. Tbh, I think it would be more likely that Erin would be the possible POV character. She’s the only one to start the story unpowered, she’s spent enough time around the rest of Team Therapy and the Fallen to have some chance to pick up a shard bud from someone, and with all of the crap going on having to do with powers she could quite possibly get a trump power.

  34. That’d be cool, but personally I’m hoping that ALL of Team Therapy gets this much character focus. In the past the “one interlude/character” rule has often left me feeling frustrated that we don’t get a good view on character development due to the first-person narrative, and it’s not a coincidence that some of the favorite characters are the ones who get multiple interludes due to name shenaniganry.

  35. I also hope for more interludes from the same character in future, but I would be hugely disappointed if Rain became the POV character. To me, he just seems really generic and boring. Entirely defined by his circumstances, with no notable personality traits or distinguishing features of his own and no connections or interests beyond what’s been forced on him.

    I think that might even be the point. Rain is such a typical reactive protagonist-type. He even has the rustic background and the beautiful-but-helpless love-interest. He’s such a cliche, there must be some serious subversion waiting down the road for him.

  36. “Let any of them go, you’re not going to get another shot at being a soldier.”
    “How the fuck do you think we’re supposed to clue them into the power of God, goodness and badassness both, if they’re all fucking
    dead!?
    So what you’re telling me is, Seir has no business planning anything more complicated than a wedding reception.

    “I’m creepy kid?” Chris asked.
    Chris, you turned into a giant screaming face.

    Rain, arms folded, was aware of Mama Mathers. He looked at her. He prayed for someone to notice, to put pieces together.
    That’s the kind of thing you want Tattletale on your team for.

    The Erin stuff…sucks. I kinda want the Fallen to be destroyed enough that Erin doesn’t really have any choice but to leave, and I feel bad about that. I mean, the Fallen are a scourge on the Earths, but that doesn’t mean any reason for wanting them gone is good.

    “You know what I want,” March said.
    “Foil. Flechette. From your cluster. I’ve seen her.”

    Ooh, the plot thickens!

  37. So I really want the Fallen to die, but lots of them are brainwashed and trapped. So… life would be improved by them dying, but not surey whether they DESERVE it.
    Mathers-lady, on the other hand, really needs to get murdered. Please. I mean, she couldn’t really stop a high-level Stranger just walking in and stabbing her, right? Imp? Would you mind?

    1. I… Think her power relies on being observed, tbh? So, anybody who tries to take her out on purpose is gonna have a hard time, no matter what method is observing her they use

  38. I think that maybe what these people see on their dreams… are not each other, but rather, a fascismile meant to aggravate both parties’s hatred for the other… instigated, maybe, by the fifth of the cluster? Would be a cool twist if the trio never heard Rain pleading, and it was all a manipulation.

  39. Ok question about bitch/hellhound that’s been bothering me for awhile: Why is she considered a “master”? Let me put it like this: you’re a parent who knows a lot about child psychology because you’ve read books and spent a lot of time dealing with kids. this allows you to train your kids in the way normal parents could if they actually understood kids. so you say jump and your kids ask how high. then you have the parahuman ability to turn your children into hulking monsters. Are you a master? I would say no, because the control (which is the important aspect needed for master class capes) is not inherent to the power, it’s trained. i think the same is true for bitch then. she’s more akin to a changer-class cape, with an outward focus, with perhaps master as a secondary class because of the psychological changes in her brain that allow her to better train dogs.

    1. A ‘master’ is any cape who creates minions. Brood’s bugs are practically uncontrollable, even by Brood- they instinctively protect him, but don’t go where he tells them to. He just vomits one up twice a day or so. Likewise Nilbog. His creations worship him as a god, because he created them. But he controls them by telling them fairy tales, and teaching them feudalism. Bitch is basically a Trump who turns dogs into mid-level Brutes, but without her power they’d just be dogs.

      The control only really matters when they turn people into minions, like Cherish, Heartbreaker, Kingdom Come or Regent.

  40. This chapter was breath taking and also had a lot of breadth. The mall scene, and Rain’s crime was a little vague to me, or maybe I have started liking him to much, the control through sex, pleasure and family in the Fallen is really terrifying; it really looks like everything is going to end terribly bad, and it’s both very scary and very exciting. (Plus a good Lisa monologue, I had missed that)

    Also, that part about the love without a letter was really poetry, it really embodied this yearning you can feel when love has been un- or misrequited, and it feels like you are getting what you were wishing for, except you realize it really is not at all what you wanted. Heartbreaking moment.

    (PS: if anything happens to Foil and Parian, it would be scandalous!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *