Shadow – 5.6

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Sveta tugged my arm, dragging me off the train.  The sky was dark and the lights of the city were at their deceptive stage where so few apartments and buildings were lit up that it looked like it was four in the morning, not seven in the evening.

“Come on,” she urged, tugging.

“There’s stuff to do before everything happens tomorrow,” I said.  “I really want to, but plans.”

“Change your plans.  You need to talk to the Wardens, right?”

“I was planning on doing a write-up I can bring with.  I sent an email before we got on the train, I’d have to get my computer or phone out to see if they responded already.”

“Come on.  Talk to Weld.  We’ll work something out for the rest.”

More to keep us from getting in other people’s way, I let Sveta drag me out onto the train platform.  We stood outside the train while people got on.  I had only a minute to decide if I’d do what I wanted to do, which was to go with Sveta, or if I’d do what I needed to do, which was to prepare for an imminent war that too few people seemed to be aware of.

Lots of the people were staring or glancing at Sveta, with her unusual body.  The noises that body made as she tugged at me drew as much attention as the colorful suit.

“Let me check my phone?” I asked.  “It might change what I’m doing.”

“Okay.”

The connection was slow as I waited for my email to load, the diamond shape in the center of the blank page folding into itself endlessly in the ‘loading’ loop.

I sighed a little as the train doors closed and the train went on its way.

“Don’t sigh at me, Victoria,” Sveta said.  “The train doesn’t matter.  You can fly.”

“People make fun of you on the internet if you get caught on camera while browsing your phone or laptop while flying.  I wanted to sit and chat with you about dumb, meaningless stuff-”

“Which we thoroughly did.”

“-and then spend the rest of the trip typing notes.”

“I used to admire that side of you.  It was a good thing when you were doing the physio, and when you were watching those videos of university classes.  Which were incredibly boring, I’m sorry.”

“They were the highlight of my day.”

“They were so boring.  I don’t know how you make powers boring, but they managed.  But you had the mental fortitude to push through it.”

“I enjoyed it,” I said.  “Really.”

“But I’m worried about that attitude now.  If I had real hands I’d reach up and feel your shoulders to see how tense you are.”

I relaxed my shoulders as casually and naturally as possible.

“If you’re stiffer than the girl with the prosthetic body and her metal boyfriend, you need to relax.  Spend some time with me and Weld.  We’ll talk about tomorrow.”

“I need to call Crystal first.”

“Invite her!” Sveta said.  She reached out and jostled my arm roughly.  “Bring her.  Tristan was going to come by later with some stuff for me, when he has his turn again.  He’ll have updates.  We can make it a little leadership meeting.”

She looked so happy at the notion.

“I’ll ask if she’s interested,” I conceded.

“I’ll have to figure out what we’ll eat,” Sveta said, in an almost sing-song, happy way.

My phone finally loaded.  I had messages and emails.  I ignored them and sent one to Crystal.

Me:
Sveta’s trying to drag me to dinner with her and Weld.  You want to come?

“I’m not trying to drag you,” Sveta said, as she set her chin down on my shoulder.

“You were literally dragging me.”

Best Cousin:
yes!  where?  what do I bring?

“Nothing,” Sveta said.  “We’ll have to order in.”

Me:
Blue binder from the coffee table.  It has a magazine cutout taped to front.

“That’s not nothing,” Sveta said.

Best Cousin:
I meant food u dumbass

“I like her,” Sveta said.

“People are feeling abusive today,” I said.  “Something in the air.”

I told Crystal not to bring food, then typed out the address as Sveta recited it.  I left the message typed in the box.

“Address is right.  Hit send,” Sveta said.

“We’ll compromise,” I said.  “Because I have about a hundred things I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind, and I had everything arranged in my head so tonight would be the night I pulled it together.”

“What’s the compromise?”

“I need to get organized.  If we’re not getting some stuff done for tomorrow, I’ll cut out a bit after dinner, and we’ll do it another time.”

“Deal.  I think you’ll find we’re better at balancing the cape stuff with the real stuff.  In a way, it’s all mixed up for us already.”

“Alright,” I said.  “Yeah.”

She hugged my arm.  “Send a message to Weld, too?  Let him know?”

I did.

“This way,” she said.  She walked with a bit of a bounce in her slightly ungainly step.  I wasn’t sure she would have been able to if she wasn’t holding onto me.

Stratford station and the surrounding neighborhood were an area of the megalopolis I primarily knew for its airfield.  Helicopters were in and out, and as someone who often had to fly past, I had to be mindful of the airspace.  I usually flew low or gave it a wider berth, using the highway to the north as my guide.

Now that I was in the neighborhood and moving at a walking pace, I could see it was one of the quainter areas.  It was one of the first areas to be settled, and the buildings were smaller, with more houses.  Not too dissimilar to my mom’s neighborhood.  Even the apartment buildings were three or four floors tall at the highest.  Like many of the buildings in the early settlements, they’d been built broad rather than tall.

My phone buzzed and I checked it.

I had two messages, excepting the six others I had from Kenzie.

The first was from the Wardens.  They wanted to talk at ten thirty in the evening.  Committee.  Team heads would be there.

I showed Sveta.

“Damn.  We can’t spend that long together,” she said.

“We do have things to do.”

“I know,” she said.

I sent a copy of the message with the time to the others.

The other was from Ashley:

 

Dark Damsel Ashley:
At my apartment with BoB henchmen to get my things and talk to landlord.  Moving to apartment in BoB territory.  Taking chance to send message while away from the c-voyants.

She’d sent the message to everyone.

I reported, “Ashley’s moving into Cedar Point, which I’m not sure I would have recommended, but she seems to know what she’s doing.”

“She’s doing fine,” Sveta said.

“She’s doing exceptionally, when it comes to the acting.  If that’s acting.  The way she’s letting these people see where she lives and she’s taking her stuff to Cedar Point, when it might be the site of some fighting?  Or infighting?  That’s where I might have given her other advice.”

“The way she’s unreservedly going forward might make it more believable.”

I nodded.  “She’s in Stratford, isn’t she?  We could bump into her.”

“Other direction from the station, but yeah.”

“Do you meet or anything?  It’s hard to picture you guys together without the group.”

“We’ve met a couple of times.  Um.  Mr. Armstrong came by twice, and he invited us all to lunch.”

“Weld’s foster dad, kind of.”

“Kind of.  And he looked after Ashley, once upon a time, when she was in custody, once, and making sure she had some of what she needed, when she was homeless.  He’s a big reason she’s free now, instead of being an unofficial prisoner with a protective guard, like some of the people from the Birdcage and the S-class threats.”

“Yeah.  You met for lunch?”

Sveta smiled.  “It was a bit awkward, most of the time it was two or three of the four of us talking and the rest didn’t have anything to add.  But I’m glad we did it.  There was one moment where we were talking about something, I forget what led up to it, but for most of that lunch we were all very aware of the difference between us, and Weld said something about how people stared.  Ashley said she’d trade places with me or Weld, because she would like to be monstrous, because it would simplify things and it would make it more natural to be intimidating.  Nevermind that we’d really rather not be called monsters.”

“Yeah.”

“And Weld said something about that, and Mr. Armstrong tried to clarify, but it wasn’t getting through.  I remember thinking of just how huge the gulf was between us, and then I tried to explain things too.  I said how it was different from wearing a certain dress or acting a certain way, because you can’t take it off.  You can’t get away from it.  And that makes it something different.  Any situation you don’t have control over is automatically worse.”

“What was her response?  You said it was a moment.”

“It was really, really good.  She understood and then all of us were talking for the first time that lunch.  Weld, Ashley and I were all talking about very different things, pressure, differences, and the rest of the world feeling like something that presses in on us.  But we were on the same wavelength, with Mr. Armstrong chiming in now and again to clarify or add a point.  When the group started talking about wanting to make a team, I think that was one of the things that made it something I could be really interested in, instead of something where I had to say ‘yeah, that’s cool, but what about Ashley?’.”

“I can picture that scene.  Was it what Armstrong wanted?”

“I snuck a look at him, and he looked pleased as punch.  That was the last time we all got together.  I wonder if that moment was what he was going for, and he considers his work done now that it happened.”

“It’s taken me a while to get that far with the group.  I’m not sure I’m all the way there.”

“I’ve had to deal with it too, realizing it’s not all peaches and cream.”

“Peaches and-  You mean peachy keen?”

“Either,” Sveta said.

She was giving me a cheeky look, probably because she knew I’d react.  I rolled my eyes.

“Reality is a thing,” Sveta said.  “Stuff’s going on.”

“The honeymoon period is over,” I said.

“Yeah.  It wasn’t really a honeymoon.  More like it was nice when it was an idea, but once we executed it, we had to deal with stuff.”

I nodded.

I double checked my phone, which was still in my hand, then pocketed it.

“Was there another moment?” I asked.

“I went over to her apartment once, before a session.  Not long after the lunch thing.  It’s nice, she seems to save up to buy nicer things, but there are gaps.  So she has a really, really nice black leather couch, a black glass coffee table, a nice television, and a piece of art on the wall that looks expensive… and then for the rest of the room it’s moving boxes to sit on and put stuff on.”

“I can sort of understand that.  I don’t think it’s unique to her.  When you first move out on your own, most of the time, I think you get other people’s leftover stuff, or thrift store stuff.  Everyone’s getting started over anew now.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  She shrugged awkwardly, like it was a motion she hadn’t practiced much.  “But she loved all the things she had, so much.  There was something there.  I could see the person she might have been, without powers, or the kid she was before powers.  When I was defending her to you, in the first days we were with the group, that’s what I thought of.”

“I like what she’s been doing for the group.  She’s been honest with me, but I don’t know if I’ve seen that glimmer of light.”

Maybe I had.  When Ashley had seen Presley’s responses on the train.

“I don’t know if I’d call it light.”

“I don’t either.  But… I’m imagining what you’re saying.  I’ll keep it in mind.  I’ll keep an open mind.”

“Please,” Sveta said.  “And we’re almost there.  The place might be a little messy, to warn you.”

“Crystal and I are two people crammed into an apartment with room for one person, I don’t think it’s a problem,” I said.  I withheld the part where Crystal was a bit of a pig.

The apartment building was one among many, in a building with a post office built into one corner of the ground floor.  With the small post office taking up a quarter of the ground floor, the remaining three quarters were divided into two spaces, it seemed.  The hallway was open-air, more tunnel than hall, and there were windows on both sides, looking into both the tunnel and a small, narrow yard.  I could see children’s toys in the yard.

Sveta went to the door, and fished for a key on a lanyard that she wore around her neck.

“Ground floor.  Convenient.”

“Yeah.  Weld worries sometimes that if he was on an upstairs floor, if it was wooden floors, he’d cause too much wear and tear and then plunge through.”

Sveta opened the door.  “I’m home.  I brought Victoria.”

“Hey!”  Weld stepped into the kitchen.  He wore a black t-shirt in a tougher material, jeans, and the same rugged sandals I’d seen before.  A set of headphones were hanging from his neck.

Sveta went straight to him, and he had to catch her so she wouldn’t crash into him.  She kissed him, then planted another kiss on his cheek when he turned his focus to me, smiling.

“Victoria.  It’s so great to see you.”

“Sorry to drop in, and I’m also sorry I’ll be distracted tonight.  I hope you don’t mind if I get my laptop out at some point.  We have stuff to coordinate and figure out.”

“That’s fine.  I’d love to talk shop,” he said.  “Things have been weird with my team lately.  The gears of bureaucracy grind slowly.  Just one thing.”

“One thing?”

“Don’t say sorry.  I get enough of them from her.”

“Don’t say that!” Sveta said, scandalized.

“Three unnecessary apologies before breakfast, another two after breakfast, before she’s out the front door.  At least one in a text message.”

“I’m not that bad.”

Weld smiled, then planted a kiss on the side of her head.

“Don’t try to mollify me or distract me.  Not while we have company,” Sveta said.  She pointed at me.  “She needs to unwind.  I thought we could do that and still hammer out the essentials.”

“We’ll try,” Weld said.

“Make yourself at home,” Sveta said.  “I’m going to go rinse off.  I’ve been cooped up in this body and I’m all waxy and gross inside here.  I’ll be back out in a minute.”

“Do you want me to take your body?” Weld asked.

“I’m okay.  I’ll bring a change of clothes in with me.”

Sveta broke away from him and half-crashed-into, half-hugged me.  Clearly happy, she went off to do her thing, leaving Weld and I.

“Make yourself comfortable.  I’d offer food and drink, but I’m not sure what we have.  I don’t usually partake-”

Weld paused as Sveta closed the bathroom door.

“-unless she’s inflicting an experiment on me.”

“I heard that,” Sveta said, opening the door, before shutting it again.

The apartment wasn’t what I would have called ‘messy’.  In a way, it was very different from Crystal’s place.  There was no detritus, nothing left lying around.

Drawers had flat, painted metal faces, with no handles.  Furniture was divided into things with no legs with what looked like it might have been stone framing the edges, and Sveta’s favored grappling structures, which were poles extending from floor to ceiling with various platforms and things to hold on to.  Even the walls had metal bracing at the corners, painted over so Weld wouldn’t stick to them.

“Case fifty-three living,” Weld said.

“She said it was messy.  I don’t see it.”

“Then I did a good job with my last-minute sweep and clean up,” Weld said.  “Living room?”

I let him lead me to the living room.  I put my bag down by the coffee table and sat down on the couch, which looked homemade to withstand someone who weighed a few hundred pounds sitting on it.  It was so firm I nearly bounced off of it while sitting down.  Once I set my weight down, though, it gradually eased up, hissing as it adjusted to my weight.

Leaning forward, I looked outside into the yard.  A toy plane was parked on the lawn, the kind a kid could sit in and push with their feet.

“Did Sveta tell you what’s going on?” I asked.

“Some.  I had trouble following who was who, sometimes, but I got the gist of it.”

“There’s an attack planned on the Fallen tomorrow.  One of our… not sure how to put it, or how much you know.  Our contact, they’re at risk.  There are innocents there, and I’m not sure the villains care about sparing them.”

“How can I help?” Weld asked.

I adjusted my bag at my shoulder, to indicate, and said, “I’ve got a report partially written up.  If you could glance over it, let me know what you think?  You know the Wardens and what their mindset is.”

“Sure.”

“I wanted to do some stuff with my costume later, but that might have to wait.  It’d be nice to finalize some costume things when I get back to my place, but timing is getting tighter, since it’s already… seven thirty, and we have to get halfway across the city for ten thirty.”

“My offer stands, you know,” Weld said.

“Offer?”

“To help with any of the metalwork, when you get a new costume.”

It took me a second to connect the thought.

“What the hell, Weld?  That was years ago, when I was thinking about rebranding and joining the Brockton Bay Wards.”

“It stands,” Weld said, smiling.

I paused.  “You’re sure?  I have stuff at my apartment.”

“I’m sure.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I fired off a quick series of texts to Crystal.

Me:
Have you left yet?

Best Cousin:
i’m on my way out the door. promise

Me:
If it’s not too heavy to carry, can you bring the black shopping bag with the yellow leaf on it from under that table?

“Thank you,” I said, as I finished.

“You’re worried about this,” Weld said.  “Sveta said you were tense.  It’s bad?”

“It’s the Fallen, which aren’t great, and it’s a lot of villains who are pretty desperate for relevance.  We’ve got to pitch this to the Wardens, I think we need more hands on deck, and from the murmurings I’ve heard, there aren’t many to go around.”

“There are some,” Weld said.  “Advance Guard is on standby, others are out of rotation.”

“Advance Guard is… a thing,” I said.  “We ran into them earlier.  I’m not sure they’d cooperate unless made to.”

“You might run into trouble getting anyone to cooperate.  If they aren’t occupied, they’re officially on standby.  Their instinct is going to be to be ready and available in case something bigger happens.”

“Then I’d want to frame it in a way that would justify bringing these people out of standby?”

“Yep.  Show me what you have?” he asked.

I pulled out my laptop, setting it on the coffee table, which was three planks set atop six planks, set firmly in place with metal bands around the perimeter.  I wondered if it was built to be easily remade or rebuilt if it got broken.

The planks had been painted in what I recognized as Sveta’s style.  Clear, bold outlines, almost like a paint-by-numbers picture, or a stained glass picture, but the colors that filled each space were rich, varied, and multi-textured.  Blue that became green, or shaded red, or mottled orange.

Weld sat down next to me.  I opened the document and showed him.

Three sub-factions in Cedar Point.  I’d outlined the people in brief, with them named in more detail at the appendix, pulling out old records, files, articles and more to depict them in as much detail as I could without getting too lost in the exact facts.  I’d put down their motivations, whether it was money or personal, I had notes on their adherence to the rules, real and unwritten, and I’d outlined other things about their behavior and patterns.

“The problem with some of this is it doesn’t leave the immediate impression that this is something that multiple hero groups are going to want to step into,” Weld said.  “It’s deep knowledge that someone going into the fight would love, the geeks will love it, but it’s not something that’s going to get people into the fight, if they aren’t already convinced.”

“Yeah.  It’s too dry.  I’m thinking the notes on petty crimes are distracting from the gravity of the situation.”

“Yeah.”

“Instead of an introduction to the parties involved, I could open with a presentation on the scenario, frontload it with words like war.”

“Not war,” Weld said.  “That’s going to remind people that there’s something bigger on the horizon that we need to be ready for.”

Bigger.  We had a group with a dozen capes and we had another forty or more capes from Cedar Point going on the offensive.

“Of course.  Maybe… potential loss of civilian life, fallout, and provoking a retaliative back-and-forth that extends across the city at a time when resources are already tested.  Something that you don’t want happening behind you while you’re facing a war in front of you.”

“Sounds like you have the right idea.”

“Weld?” Sveta called out.

“Be right back.”

I worked on the document while Weld joined Sveta in the washroom.  Title page written, the size of confrontation outlined, and the ramifications made clear.

I was writing it to try to convince a group of seasoned heroes and the people who managed them.  It felt convincing, because I was feeling nervous, getting into everything that was involved.

The last time I’d been in something of this scale, I’d been spit on by a mutant the size of a truck.  I’d had most of my flesh melted off and necrotized, and I’d been left vulnerable and helpless.

At that point in time, with the pain being as bad as it was, my emotions all over the map as I thought one thing and felt another, I’d been ready to die.  I hadn’t done nearly enough, but I’d fought and I was ready for it to be over.  The chance at living hadn’t been worth the risk of being healed.

Tattletale had lied to me, and had forced Amy on me.  She had some small responsibility for everything that followed.

So easy, in moments like this, for there to be a point of weakness.  Letting my guard down could do so much damage.

I left the document like it was, so there was room for more revisions before polish.  I checked my messages.

Eighteen total messages from Kenzie.  Photos of the body part of her costume in progress, some more stream-of-consciousness, she let me know when she was going to dinner, then when she came back.  Pizza, apparently.  She’d wanted to have her hands free to focus.  She also wanted to know what to bring.

Which raised a question about what our exact role would be in things as they happened.  Our priorities.

I put that aside.  It was for the group to discuss.

Tristan.  Last I’d heard, he was talking to the lawyer.

Tristan the Goat:
waiting for legal advisor nat now.
am not optimistic but got video footage from Ls as you recommended.
ugh.  if nat keeps me waiting any longer I’ll have to switch for byron.
going to svetas later btw. will update properly around then.

I sent him a message to let him know I’d be at Sveta’s place.

Tristan had been frustrated by Natalie earlier, but we’d try this, because I’d had a small amount of luck after giving her something more tangible to work with than my reports.  We’d try bouncing people off Natalie until we found one that worked.  If any one member of the group ended up being good at working with Natalie, we’d keep them in that role as legal liaison.  If Natalie couldn’t be worked with, we would find someone else.

An email from Byron, twenty minutes after that.

Byron the Blue:
rain left a voice message for me and Tristan.  sounded rushed.  he isn’t staying at his place tonight.  he might go back tomorrow but sounded weird.  specifically said he was messaging us to drop details so we would have lead if something happened to him.  ominous.

More details to come.  Will send you the voice message when I get home to computer and figure out how

Concerning.

 

A message from Presley, sent via Email and translated to a text:

Presley from the Train:
Can u ask ur friend from the train how she gets her hair so white?

It put a slight smile on my face, when everything else felt so heavy.  I made a mental note to ask.

There was also a group text discussion too long for me to search through, mostly Kenzie and Chris, where Chris was asking what forms we needed for him for tomorrow.  I scrolled down to the bottom, at which point Tristan was no longer participating.

Creepy Kid:
Blind rage would be a mistake I think.  Sudden Shock is quick…
…Or Keen Vigilance.  Slow but tough…
…and I’d be able to see and hear most of what was going on.

Heart Shaped Pupil:
Is that the one with all the eyes?

Creepy Kid:
That’s Multifaceted Interest.  You call yourself a good student?

Heart Shaped Pupil:
I am a good student.  Interest and vigilance are the same for you.

Creepy Kid:
Same range of the spectrum as Vigilance but diff’t. Is open and loose…
…You haven’t seen Vigilance. Same thing but focused more and pulled together tight…
…Think armadillo with ears like a fennec fox and bigger eyes…
…and claws because its keen

Heart Shaped Pupil:
Awww

Creepy Kid:
Very not aww. Ugh.

I added my own thought to the text conversation.

Victoria:
We want you on sidelines.  Fast would be good.  Rescue, evacuate civilians

Heart Shaped Pupil:
Vicotria!!!
Victoria!
How are you?  Excited?

Creepy Kid:
I can make that one form.  But I want to get my hands dirty too.

Hands dirty?  I paused, thinking about that.  Looking back at the conversation, I skimmed things.  Chris had contributed more than half of the conversation, going into detail, ideas, plans.

I had never seen him quite this engaged.  Was it because he was more comfortable online than in person?  Or was it because he wanted to get his hands dirty, as he put it?

Victoria:
Why?

Creepy Kid:
_This_ is why I’m doing this hero team thing…
…I missed the visit to the Warden HQ because I wasn’t at the computer…
…which was my fault. I need to be a part of this.

I didn’t reply immediately, instead sitting back, thinking about things, while Kenzie responded, sharing some of the same image she had already sent me as part of the chat.

Chris wanted to be a part of this, and the visit to the Warden HQ.  He wanted to be part of the big things?  The large events?  But he didn’t care about the rest?  Were the big events tied to big emotions?

I couldn’t understand him.

A knock on the front door got my attention.  Weld stepped out of the bathroom, towel at one of his hands, and let Crystal in.  She had the binder and the bag.  She was wearing her bodysuit with a jacket and jeans.  The ‘Laserdream’ logo on the front, an arrow with a series of lines flowing behind it at a diagonal.

“This is so damn heavy, Victoria” she said.

“If it was too heavy you should have left it,” I said.  I hurried across the living room and down the hallway to reach her, relieving her of the bag.

Greetings went around.  Sveta stepped out of the washroom, wearing her body again, with a sweatshirt and sweatpants on.  Her makeup had been washed off, and the tattoo was clearly visible on her cheekbone.  She gave Crystal a hug.

“They’re preparing for a crisis,” Weld said.

“I know,” Crystal said.  “Believe me, I know.”

We moved to the living room.  I set the black cloth shopping bag down, and fished inside.

“What’s in this bag?” Crystal asked.

I pulled out some of the costume materials.

There were four ways to go with a costume.  The first was to make it yourself.  It leaned heavily on one’s own ability, and I wasn’t sure I had the ability to keep everything trim while also giving it a unique cut.  The second way was to buy it, but that had problems, and a lot of the places and people that offered costume making services had a way of injecting their own tastes into things, so one of their clients often resembled another.  The third way was to have someone else handle that for you, working for the like of the Wards or Wardens and leaving it up to the Branding department.  Not an option for me.

The fourth was to mix and match.  I’d take a small shortcut.  I’d bought black and white versions of the same hooded top, picked for the slanted cut around the collar, shoulders, and the more sleeves.  I could cut one up and use it to apply trim to the other and know the cut would match.  Then I’d apply the additional elements that would make it a costume.

“I was going to do some sewing to keep my hands busy while I read up on things, but plans changed.”

“Cloth isn’t that heavy.  What else is that, that makes it so heavy?” Crystal asked.

“Spare stuff from dad,” I said.  I pulled out some equipment.  It was the right kind of material, all in a matte gunmetal, but the texture was all wrong.  Dad was ‘Flashbang’ and the armor panels, mask, straps, and guards were all in the style of a grooved grenade exterior.  I’d always thought it was a dumb theme when most flashbangs were smooth-exterior canisters.  “I was thinking I could maybe get you to trim it, Crystal.  Sear off the knobby bits and leave just the panel of armor.  I haven’t quite worked the process out.”

“I can do that.  What look do you want?” Weld asked.

I grabbed the binder, and began flipping through it.  Costume notes and ideas.

“There are years of geeking out in that binder, for the record,” Crystal said.

Sveta collapsed into the seat next to me, looking at the art I’d picked out for reference and ideas.

I found pages, opened the binder to retrieve them, and then closed it so I could fish for more.

“Hood, layered long sleeves I can remove as needed for weather.  Fingerless gloves with decoration.  Metal decoration at the front and edges of the hood… like this image here.  Spikes, like my old tiara, but at the shoulder, decorating edges of the hood, and at the breastplate… which would be structured on a basic level, just like this image.”

The breastplate was flat, with only a slight curve to deflect blows.  A matching, briefer plate rested against the collarbone and upper breast, the bottom part overlapping and sticking up slightly.

“A bit of a warrior angel,” Weld said, turning one picture around so it was right-side-up for him.

“Without the wings.  Yeah, maybe,” I said.

“Sweetie, no,” Crystal said.  “You’re one of the very few capes who can get away with a breastplate that shows off the assets, because you have the forcefield.  You don’t want to be pervy about it, because that’s a whole different kind of cape, but a costume should make more of what you are.”

I rolled my eyes at her.

“It would be utterly criminal if I let you do that,” she said.

I shook my head.  “If any kids end up looking up to me, or if any became heroes, I don’t want them thinking that kind of armor is okay.  It’s asking to get hurt.”

“It’s still way better than a bodysuit, and we’ve been wearing those for years,” Crystal said.

“I like the idea of armor.  I intend to get up close and personal, and my defenses won’t always be up.”

“I know that,” Crystal said.  “I can see it.  But you shouldn’t hide in your costume.  It shouldn’t bury you.  I said the same to- I’ve said it often enough before.”

She’d said the same to Amy.

I hadn’t missed the fact that Amy had worn a hood as part of her costume.

Maybe I’d go with black cloth, applying the white trim, rather than the inverse.

“I think Victoria should dress the way she wants,” Sveta said.

“So do I,” Crystal said.  “But I also think sometimes friends and family need to steer you a bit.”

“I don’t see it as hiding,” I said.  “That’s not the reasoning or logic.  I want the costume to have weight, while still being form-fitting at the torso and arms.  Layers, armor, the hood.  Breaking from the norm is important, because it makes an impact.  Most of the time, you see a cape in a hood, and you naturally glance beneath, and there’s a gimmick keeping the face beneath from being seen.  Another mask, or power-generated shadow, or something else.  They’ll just see me.  Glaring or smiling, but it could have more impact when they do.”

“No mask?” Crystal asked.

“I thought about it.  I might have one for protective reasons, for intense situations or cold weather, but… it’s not me.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Spikes,” Weld said.  “You want me to do those?  And the breastplate?”

“I don’t have a breastplate,” I said.  “Just the extra pads.”

“I can blend them into each other.  The shiny coating will be pretty thin, though.  I have stuff of my own.”

“Please,” I said.  “That’d be amazing.”

Sveta bumped her shoulder into mine.  “See?  Seee?  It was so good you came.”

“You sound more like Kenzie than yourself right now.”

“This is good.  People!  We collaborate.”

“I need more information on the spikes before I do the rough shape,” Weld said.  “You made notes on this.  Five spikes at the shoulder, uneven?”

“Rays more than spikes,” I said.  “They space out, four, and then one shorter.  Minor gap between the four and one.”

“Any reason for the short one?” Weld asked.

“Symmetry,” I said.  “It curves in, so it’s more toward the front of the shoulder, and it leads into more of the same at the breastplate decoration.”

“Hmmm.”

“No?” I asked.

“Hhm.  I’ll trust your instincts,” he said.  “I can work faster if I heat the metal up.  I’m going to go set up the forge.”

“Why barbecue when you can use lasers?” Crystal asked.  “Lasers are great.  We can collab and gossip like schoolgirls while these two work out their business.”

“My schoolgirl impression leaves a lot to be desired,” Weld said.

Crystal grinned.  “But barbecue sounds good, while we’re on the subject.  I was tempted here with food and promises of a chance to tease my cousin.”

“Ah, right.  I tend to forget, because I don’t eat much,” Weld said.

“Wait, wait, wait.  Promises of what?” I asked.

“Implied promises, at least,” she said.

“I can order in,” Sveta said.  “We can do the teasing later.”

“You guys laugh, but I can fire back just as hard.”

“I look forward to it,” Crystal said.

They headed over to the door that led out into the backyard and the brick patio, collecting a few of the components, and paused at the door.

A kid, about five or six, was at the glass door.  His mouth was pressed to the glass and he was exhaling, so his cheeks puffed out and the inside of his mouth was in plain view.

“He’s one of the kids from next door,” Sveta said.  “We don’t use the backyard much, since Weld tears it up and I have a harder time walking on grass.  Sometimes they say hi.”

“Open sesame!” Weld called out.

The kid hurried to obey.  He milled around Weld and Crystal as they got themselves organized outside.  Crystal set up a forcefield to keep the kid at bay while starting to heat up the metal.  The kid seemed fascinated by the field.

Sveta and I remained on the couch, watching Weld, Crystal, and the kid through the glass.

“It’s nice, having the kids around,” Sveta said.  “Annoying sometimes, but mostly nice.”

“Yeah.  Do you do much with them?”

“We babysit.  I have art in my room that I got from them.  I gave them some back.  I think it’s important.  Reaching out, having that human connection, having people have good experiences with us.”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Five spikes, one shorter and set apart.  Is it a hand?” Sveta asked.  Her voice was quiet.  For me alone.  “A dangerous hand?”

“Yeah, a bit,” I said.  “A bit of the sun, glory, crown of the statue of liberty motif.  But the hands are- yeah.”

“Why?”

“Because sooner or later, people are going to find out about the w- about my forcefield.  It might be a certain power interaction, it might be dust in the air or rain streaming down it.  Maybe a person looks through a tinker lens and sees it.  I’ll make my uneasy peace with it first.  I want to own that side of myself, at least a little, before that happens.”

“What were you about to call it, before you stopped yourself?”

I hesitated.  “The wretch.”

“Is it?  A wretch?  It’s strong, isn’t it?  I was thinking about it, and how you carried Kenzie’s box.  You used straps.”

“More about where it comes from than what it is,” I said.

“Mine is anxiety and instinct,” Sveta said.  “If you ever want, I can tell you some things that Mrs. Yamada taught me.  But try to figure out what it’s doing first, then figure out how to work around it.”

“Thanks,” I said.  Looking for a bit of an escape or out, I reached out for the binder, and shifted its position on the table.

“Owning it sounds like a good start.  That’s the last I’ll say until you ask.  Now, tell me, do you have anything in here to help inspire my costume?”

“I have so much in here for your costume,” I said, smiling at least in part due to my relief that that conversation was over.

Sveta and Weld’s place had been tidy before, but it was something else by the time the next knock on the door came.  Costume pieces, straps, cut cloth, paper bowls of clearly recycled paper with inauthentic Chinese food within, metal, costume notes, and two laptops.

Weld had put his music on.  He had an eclectic taste, and the current song was, as close as I could place it, rock with one of the two vocalists using throat singing.

Tristan entered, carrying his bag over one shoulder.  Natalie followed him in.

“Who’s this?” Crystal asked me.

“Natalie, the paralegal, and Tristan, the teammate.”

“I like Tristan’s choice in colors,” Crystal said.

I didn’t get a chance to respond, because Tristan and Natalie joined us in the living room.

“Crystal.  We didn’t meet,” Tristan said.  “I was watching on camera while you visited Cedar Point.”

“I love the hair,” Crystal said.  “I like the color, too.  I have a soft spot for boys who are brave enough to dye their hair.  If only you were a bit older.”

“I’m flattered,” Tristan said.  “Those aren’t the boys I tend to go after, myself, but my dating life isn’t very… alive, either.”

“Ah, is that so?” Crystal asked.  “Here, come sit.  I think there’s a clear space somewhere here.”

“Costume stuff, apparently.  And we’ve got the munchkins on the screen,” Tristan observed.  He bent down and waved for the camera that was built into the corner of the laptop.  A tiny Kenzie waved back.  Chris existed only in text.

“And this is Natalie,” I introduced Natalie.  I wasn’t wholly sure why she was here, but Tristan had wanted to invite her, and I wasn’t about to object if he was trying another way to get her more onboard.  “Mom recommended her.  Natalie, this is Crystal, my cousin.”

“Pleasure,” Crystal said, half-standing to extend a hand.

Natalie shook it and gave Crystal a tight smile back.  Crystal gave me a momentary glance as she sat back down.

“I’m sorry we’re such a mess right now,” Sveta said.  “The apartment is usually nicer.”

“I totally understand,” Natalie said.  “Don’t worry.”

“Food,” Weld said.  “Help yourself, please.  Sveta doesn’t eat much and it’ll go to waste otherwise.  I think we kept track of the ones I ate from and put them away.”

“Why does it matter?” Tristan asked.

“I don’t have much sense of smell or taste.  We’ve been exploring, and we’re getting further afield, trying things that are not so good for flesh and blood.”

“We started with capsaicin and citric acid concentrate,” Sveta said.

“Among other things,” Weld said.

“We’ll find something,” Sveta said.

“Hoping so.  If it tastes funny, don’t keep eating it,” Weld said.  “I think we removed all of the dishes I tried.”

“I’ll pass, thank you,” Natalie said.

Tristan sat down on the floor next to Crystal, grabbing a spare bowl, before portioning out contents.

“Any more word from our absentee?” I asked.

“Nothing except a string of seemingly random words left in case he disappears for good.  It’s cryptic enough it would take some trying to find him, which I think is what he intends.”

“It might be a good thing,” Crystal said.  “If they’re after him.”

“Tactically?  Yes.  But he’s a friend.  He told me almost everything,” Tristan said.  “Not this.”

I looked at the screen of the computer.  Rapping my fingers against the edge of the laptop twice, I said, “C says it’s unusual for our missing member to use something that cryptic.  He’s not wrong.”

“There’s a lot of unusual happening with him lately, I don’t know what conclusions to draw from that,” Tristan said.  “He gives himself a hard time because he doesn’t realize that he has a lot of inner strength and a lot of general talents the rest of us don’t have.  I think he’s capable enough to come out of this intact, barring the worst case scenarios.”

“I worry about the people around him, too,” I said.

“I do too,” Sveta said.  She held out her arm while Weld checked the fit of a different arm encasement.  His finger drawn to a point, he raked it along the metal to mark a part that needed fixing.

“We’ll figure this out,” Tristan said.

“How did the talk go?” I asked, looking between Tristan and Natalie.

“Natalie and I covered the events of the day,” Tristan said.  “Byron is loaning me time so I can do more.  He’ll help some tomorrow too.  He’s not up for the hero thing, but this is serious enough that he’s on board.  We’re a little more divided on tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Byron,” I said.  “As for tomorrow, Natalie, maybe you could take a look at the proposal for the Wardens?”

I turned my laptop around for her.  She took a seat on the ground to read it, no longer standing and hovering around like she didn’t know what to do with herself.

On the screen of Sveta’s laptop, Kenzie was elbow-deep in electronics, unable to type.  No recent messages from Chris.

Just about everyone had their costumes ready.  Kenzie was going to equip Chris with some projectors.

“Two major groups of capes,” I said.  “The Fallen aren’t to be messed with.  They were a minor nuisance for years, with some bad stuff going on in the background, with kidnappings, murders, mutilations of minorities, case fifty-threes included, and a lot of low-level terrorist or attention-grabbing stunts.  The group we’re focusing on now, I believe, are the Mathers.  Each of the major branches took an Endbringer as a theme, and the Mathers took the Simurgh.”

“The kidnappings were their thing,” Weld said.  “Back in Bet, they would go after isolated capes, ages sixteen to twenty-five.  These capes would be married into the family.  Thirteen incidents over seven years.  Three of the kidnapping victims stayed.  Three died.  The rest escaped, were released, or were freed by PRT intervention.  The PRT tried to go after them, but they moved frequently and they had anti-thinker measures in place.”

“It stands to reason they still have them,” I said.  Because Rain had been hiding among them.

“Stands to reason,” Tristan said.  “Looksee, that means you keep cameras off of the Fallen, unless we give the all clear.  We don’t know if it goes through cameras, and your cameras are weird enough it might be more dangerous.”

Kenzie took her hands off of her work to type.  Protests, it seemed.

“We’ll present our situation to the Wardens and we’ll do what we can to get them on board.  Whether we get them or not, we’ll have some priorities, small scale and big,  and they’ll be what we default to if we’re caught in the moment.”

“May I?” Tristan asked, scooting over and shifting the laptop so it was at a middle ground where both he and Natalie could read it.  Natalie gave him an annoyed look.  “You wrote them down.  Good.”

I leaned forward.  “This attack on the Fallen?  It’s villains looking for validation and a chance to show their stuff, and a lot of natural and justified hate for the Fallen.  They’re an acceptable target, and the Hollow Point group wants to show they’re a force unto themselves.  Part of the group will be going after our teammate, unfortunately, and we can’t control that directly.  But he’s not the focus of the larger group.”

“We’ll trust him, that he knows what he’s doing, if he’s hiding,” Tristan said.

“We have to, your buddy Chris says,” Crystal said.

“I was gracefully avoiding mentioning that, Chris,” Tristan said.

I went on, “Depending on how the scenario unfolds, we may need to evacuate bystanders.  The Hollow Point group is attacking the compound.  They arrived in cars, they had low-tier members out gassing up the cars for a trip, so we can assume they’ll drive and they’ll arrive at the compound, taking action from there.  They’ll probably split up, with teams that know each other sticking together.”

“Factions within the group,” Sveta said.  “Already some infighting.”

“Yep.    I emailed people my last draft of the document.  It covers the groups to expect.  Read it tonight or early tomorrow.  In a big engagement, we can’t just throw ourselves into the skirmish and hope things will resolve themselves,” I said.  “Tristan is more comfortable managing the group in the heat of the fight, I think.  I can give a bird’s eye view, and I’ll communicate what I can.  If I can’t solve an emerging problem myself, I’ll try to give direction to those who can.”

“Are the younger members of the group participating?” Natalie asked.

“Not directly,” I said.  “We talked about it.  We’ll do the same as we did in Cedar Point yesterday.  Looksee as toolbox, if she participates it’ll be as a projection, and we’ll keep her removed from the Fallen.  She focuses more on the Hollow Point group.  C runs interference.”

“Text from Looksee,” Crystal reported.  “She says her mom can drop her off with her projector.  That’s an adorable image, a cape being dropped off by a parent.”

“Not so adorable,” Tristan said.

“She wants to know if you can carry her projector in.”

“You’re the one carrying it,” Tristan said, to me.

“Not in,” I said.  “We’ll bring it and keep it near our retreat, so we have a point to fall back to.”

“Alright.  What does Looksee think?”

“She says that’s fine,” Crystal said.

“The focus in big engagements is to identify the points we can change, and act on them,” I said.  “Rescue and civilians will be a continuous one.”

Natalie moved the laptop, turning it toward Tristan.

“You’re done?” I asked.

“I read it.  I didn’t get into the list of capes, but I read about the ones in charge.”

“And?”

“I think the justifications for getting involved are sound.  That depends on what the Wardens say, mind you.  If they don’t agree, I don’t agree either.  It does seem to me, however, that it seems like the kind of thing where heroes are very badly needed.  I hope you get their help.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I don’t think the younger members of the group should be involved.”

“Looksee will be more or less remote,” Tristan said.  “Creepy kid will be venturing in only when we give the a-ok.”

“As… Sudden Shock and Deep Reflection?”

“I guess,” Tristan said.

“If the Youth Guard were active, they’d say no,” Natalie said.

“Can you mute the laptop so they don’t hear?” Tristan asked.

Crystal covered the microphone on the laptop with her hand.

“Natalie,” Tristan said.  “If they Youth Guard were active, they’d say no, and the kids would get involved anyway.  That was a thing that happened in my experience.”

“Oh man, my brother and I gave everyone headaches,” Crystal said.  “Our grades dropped and our parents were told we had to give up the costumes for a few months until we pulled them back up.  Our parents, the Youth Guard, even the PRT was asked to keep an eye out for us.  We were scoundrels.”

“Right?” Tristan asked.

Crystal took her hand away from the microphone.  Both Chris and Kenzie were protesting at length about being deafened for that segment of conversation, with lines of chat appearing so fast they were hard to read.  Kenzie seemed to mostly enjoy joining her voice to Chris’.

“I’ve given my advice.”

“They’re members of the team,” Sveta said.  “We’ll keep them safe.”

Natalie pursed her lips but didn’t say anything.

“Let’s talk about major objectives,” I said.  “On the small scale, we help the civilians.  Pulling away from that, there are a few worst case scenarios here.”

“Major objectives,” I said.  “Containment, control, resolution.”

It was late, and the light from the windows were dark.  The administration in charge of the Wardens were sitting at the tables in front of us, to our left, and to our right.  Chevalier and Valkyrie were present, sitting directly in front of me.  Legend’s seat was empty.  I saw the name plate for Chief Armstrong, white haired with a very pronounced chin and a crooked nose.  He looked more like a mad scientist or a quirky grandfather than a major figure in the cape scene.

Some of them had laptops or tablets.  Chevalier was one of them.  He’d taken off his gold and silver helmet and wore a cloth mask beneath.  Not his serious armor set.  Valkyrie was in full costume, helmet on, and had no technology.  She did have a a specter standing just behind her right shoulder.  A man with a hazy silhouette.

I wore my costume.  The white decorative  trim on the black fabric was missing, and I planned more ornamentation for my gloves, but the rest was intact.  Spires of gold like my old tiara stood up at my shoulders, the middle-center of my breastplate, and decorated the armor around my legs and on my gloves.  The decoration at my forehead was a weight that kept my hood down, and my hair draped out over my right shoulder.  A protective mask hung from my belt, the curved surface resting around the curve of my thigh.  I’d don it if there was danger, and if I didn’t need to speak.

The costume had a weight to it.  It felt almost right.

“Talk to me about containment,” Chevalier said.

“The worst case scenarios here are that this becomes a problem for the city,” I said.  “If the Fallen lose but aren’t wiped out, precedent suggests they’ll hit back harder.  We could expect guerilla tactics throughout the city, terror attacks, and a hit against Cedar Point in particular.”

“The area that has been colloquially named Hollow Point,” a woman said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Capricorn answered.

“We’ll be operating from the perimeter, because getting into the thick of the situation would be beyond our abilities.  Part of our aim will be to keep Fallen from splintering away to regroup and lash out.  We’ll have a tinker trap waiting on the main road out of the area, and we’ll have eyes on the logging roads.”

“Does this perimeter extend to containing the villains of Hollow Point?” a man in a suit asked.  “If they rush in… does this tinker trap trap them there?”

I looked to my left, where Capricorn stood in his armor, then to my right, where Sveta was.  She’d donned some decorative additions.  As I wore spikes that echoed the wretch’s hands, Sveta wore armor that curved and curled away.

Kenzie was workshopping and had an earlier bedtime.  Chris had wanted to come, but we hadn’t been able to get him in costume, and having him around and uncostumed wasn’t a good look when we wanted to present our best face.

He’d been a little upset.

“We debated that,” Capricorn ventured.  “Our instinct is that Cedar Point’s villains would get desperate, if they were trapped on hostile territory.  That would risk civilian well being.  The trap is a soft deterrent more than anything else.  We think we’d let them go rather than try to force it, but we decided we’d leave it up to you, should the Wardens decide to get involved.”

“Then we will get back to you with our thoughts, should we decide to get involved,” the man said.  Tristan ducked his head in acknowledgement.

“Control,” Chevalier said.

“The document we sent you outlines a few priority targets to watch out for.  In the old days, their wiki pages would have had warnings.  Our focus is more on Cedar Point than on the Fallen, because we have an incomplete picture of the latter.  These people are more likely to hurt civilians, and they’re likely to escalate the situation.  If we can target them and remove them from the picture, we will.  We have a contact keeping an eye on them already.”

“We could supply what we have on this group of the Fallen,” Chevalier said.  “Whether or not we get involved, I think we lose very little by rounding out your knowledge there.”

He checked with others, and got nods of affirmation.

I felt my heart skip a beat.  Whether they agreed or not, they weren’t saying no.  They weren’t telling us to go away and mind our own business.

“Thank you,” I said, once I found the words.

Capricorn spoke up, “Our goal with control is to keep an eye out for anything that would make the situation that much worse.  If we take out or hamper these problem elements, the situation is free to wind down.  If we don’t, there’s a risk it perpetuates, and that’s something we want to avoid.”

“Resolution, then,” Chevalier said.

I was so glad I’d outlined things as Weld suggested, with clear objectives and scenario outlined in the first few pages.  Chevalier was really using them as guideposts, picking up whenever nobody else was talking, keeping the meeting running smoothly.

“What resolution do you want?”

“We want a resolution,” I said.  “If this ends and the Fallen aren’t wiped out, they’ll hit back.  The city suffers.  If it ends and they are wiped out, Cedar Point is going to become something more pronounced.  We’ll want to be mindful of who is in play, and who might take charge of that.”

“As things come closer to a conclusion, we may take a role,” Capricorn said.  “If we’re strong enough, and if we have the resources, we could clean up those who are left.”

“That’s a stretch,” Sveta said.  She hadn’t said much, but I had the impression she was intimidated by the room.  “We focus on civilians first.  We’d need a lot of firepower before we can think about handling that kind of clean-up.”

“We’re not in a position to give you a lot of firepower,” Chevalier said, emphasizing ‘lot’.  “Valkyrie cannot engage that group of Fallen, and I’m tied up elsewhere with diplomatic roles.  Many other Wardens and subordinate teams are busy.  Advance Guard is on standby.  We’ll ask them to assist you.”

I don’t want them, I thought.

“We have junior Wardens, as well.  They’ll assist.  We’ll let them know tonight and they’ll be at your disposal tomorrow.”

Them, I wanted.  It meant Weld.  It meant potential others, who I knew and very much respected.

“Thank you,” Tristan said, my voice and Sveta’s only a bit behind his.

“You’re right about this.  We knew something was stirring, but we didn’t have the impression it was this bad.  I’ve been keeping updated on the Fallen, I can’t promise it’s accurate, but you should know the families interact.  There may be one or more of the Crowley sub-branches present.  They also associate with various biker gangs, the various racist factions, and other religious villain groups and ideologues.  Be prepared for any of them.”

“Yes sir,” Tristan said.

“In case of emergency, if you find you’re in over your head, leave.  Retreat, wash your hands of it.  Your lives come first.”

Sveta and I nodded, as Tristan said, “Yes sir,” again.

“I think those are my thoughts,” Chevalier said.  “Any further comments?  Anyone?”

Some heads shook.  Others were silent.

He fixed his eyes on us.  “Any final thoughts, concerns?  Anything not in this document we should know, or anything you’ve learned since writing it?”

There were a few somethings in the document we hadn’t mentioned or outlined in full.

We’d mentioned Rain, though not by name, as only a contact in the Fallen, who might or might not have been compromised.  I’d detailed how we had someone, Ashley, acting on our behalf in Cedar Point, and how we might have Rain in the Fallen camp when we took action.  It would give us more control over the situation, if we had that information and those levers to pull.

We could have said more about Rain, and we hadn’t.  Rescuing him was a mission statement.

We hadn’t said one word about the therapy group, or our individual issues and crises.

Much as I’d wondered if I should mention my time in the hospital during job interviews or when applying to teams, I’d been left the question of it here, standing before the committee.

I could be honest, say something, and they almost certainly wouldn’t let us do this.  I could have mentioned my background when applying to teams, and I would have had even worse luck joining them.

Or I could stay silent.

“No,” Sveta said.  Her voice was soft in what someone else might have mistaken for timidity.  I knew she was nervous, but I didn’t think it was timidity.  She was thinking the same thing I was.

“No sir,” Tristan said, with confidence.

“No,” I said, adding my lie to theirs.

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114 thoughts on “Shadow – 5.6”

    1. Yeah. I thought this chapter was great. WB does a great job with the characters hanging out and working but also just being people.

  1. We have a costume people!

    And a Valkyrie! And a Chevalier! And WeldXSveta Cuteness! And more mounting dread and fear!

        1. Gosh, I didn’t even think of the bit about not wanting Valkyrie to get powers.

          Man, Chevalier and Armstrong must be terrified all the time. Valkyrie, Amy, and Riley? One misstep and any of them backslides?

          1. Or all of them backslide effectively. They spend time with each other after all.

            Valkyrie kills Amy and Riley and starts making Lovecraftian cyborgs

            Amy makes both of the others hate everything as much as she does on her worst days.

            Riley gets a surprise attack in and her newest frankenstien is a self healing power eater who can probably do a real nightmare like making her own powered clones of anybody she’s killed everytime she gets a hold of your meat.

            Worst case: Who or whomever is in charge, With their shared knowledge and powers, they try to grow a new Khepri.

          2. Yeah Valkyrie is a Trump/Master, but when we saw her in action as Glaistig Uaine she primarily acted as a Blaster/Mover/Striker/Brute. That’s less complicated to think about. The multiverse doesn’t need her with a wider range of Master or Thinker powers.

            I agree that lots of people are thinking about Khepri. That’s part of why no one ever talks about her.

          3. I’m sad that the epilogue of Riley, Valkyrie, and Nilbog wasn’t expanded on in Dot’s interlude. I really want to see what their powers can do together

    1. Mounting dread and fear? No favored cousin, this is falling it until either your ass fucking makes it or does in the attempt. Either way, songs will be sung of this day.

      1. FML, I tried changing my name to victory or Valhalla and fucked it up.

  2. Typo thread.

    “the slanted cut around the collar, shoulders, and the more sleeves.”
    Missing something ?

    “If they Youth Guard were active,”

    “The white decorative trim on the black fabric”
    Doubled space.

    “That would risk civilian well being.”
    > well-being

    1. >People make fun of you on the internet if you get caught on camera while browsing your phone or laptop while flying.

      Would read a little better if you remove the first “while”

      >I told Crystal not to bring food, then typed out the address as Sveta recited it. I left the message typed in the box.

      >“Address is right. Hit send,” Sveta said.

      You specifically mention that Victoria refrains from sending the text, but never say that she does. Drawing the reader’s attention to the fact that the text wasn’t sent right away makes them look for when it was actually sent, so it feels like a hanging thread there.

      Does Weld avoid shaking hands or hugging people (other than Sveta) to avoid contacting metal? I was just a little surprised at how indifferently Victoria greeted him after not seeing him for years. No physical contact, not even a hello, just her apologies.

      >Sveta broke away from him and half-crashed-into, half-hugged me. Clearly happy, she went off to do her thing, leaving Weld and I.

      Weld and me.

      >I pulled out my laptop, setting it on the coffee table, which was three planks set atop six planks, set firmly in place with metal bands around the perimeter.

      Earlier it was mentioned that exposed metal on the walls was painted over to prevent Weld from sticking to anything, but here, there’s no indication that the coffee table, which he presumably touches more than the walls, was similarly protected. Consider changing the description to “painted metal bands” or something so it’s consistent.

    2. > It was late, and the light from the windows were dark.
      Should be “the light […] _was_ dark” for correct grammar, though that’s kind of an oxymoron so I’m not sure it’s intentional or a half-finished edit.

      > There were a few somethings in the document we hadn’t mentioned or outlined in full.
      Not quite a typo, but things being in the document and not mentioned feels contradictory. They could actually be written down but not discussed during the meeting, though it seems strange that the chapter would finish with the three explicitly lying given the written evidence, if that’s what you meant maybe you should reword slightly for clarity.

      > I’d been left the question of it here
      Either an extra “been”, or another incomplete edit.

    1. Yeah… For Mama Mathers. Just imagine all the ways Kenzie can bug her. Mama’s gonna cut that link in six hours tops, and hide from the cameras.

      1. Damn I hadn’t even thought of that. Looksee getting someone to constantly be besides her at a moment’s thought ? She wouldn’t even need to be Valefor’d to be glad, were she not trying to be a hero.
        Honestly though Gagis is raising an interesting point. Looksee has said multiple times before she doesn’t like getting sidelined, and has been shown to have little regard for self-preservation, so it’s likely she’ll at least want to take a peek at the Fallen camp, especially if she’s concerned about Rain’s safety. She really, really needs to calm down, because as she is right now she’s guaranteed to fuck up in the future, even if not against the Fallen specifically.

      2. “Yes, Kenzie, that’s very impressive, but I’m busy right—wait, who did you say you were making that for?”
        “Um…Lane. Um, you know, same name as Superman’s girlfriend?”
        “I wasn’t born yesterday, dear.”
        “Oops.”

    2. Only if Mama Mathers propagates via pictures of her. Looksee is probably a pretty good counter to Mama Mathers if that isn’t the case. Her tinkering lets her act like a stranger/thinker, but wouldn’t be stopped or countered by Mama.

      Of course if Mama does propagate via picture Looksee will be in trouble.

    1. Yes. I was thinking “Ah now they’ve got a plan. All that’s left is for the plan to go out the window.

  3. “Best Cousin:”- Well that’s true… And I think Crystal is her only living cousin

    Tattletale had lied to me, and had forced Amy on me. She had some small responsibility for everything that followed.”- Yeah, and there we have it. Vicky does indeed place blame on Tattletale.

    ““No,” I said, adding my lie to theirs.” – and so it begins.

  4. Oh wow. Victoria actually blames Tattletale for what Amy did to her. Holy crap. Can we get a Thinker with some kind of verifiable Past-O-Vision to show Victoria what actually happened on that rooftop, and how the Undersiders tried to talk Amy into *not* doing something stupid and terrible?

    1. Because she doesn’t have the advantage of having read Worm, I totally understand why she does believe that of Lisa. TT would totally do that if she thought it would do something she wanted. I do hope that gets worked out before it blows up, either through Victoria getting past it psychologically, via third-party verification like you said, or by TT doing something that radically changes Victoria’s perception of her. I’m still trying to figure out her motivations for supporting Cedar/Hollow Point of all places. The villains there are not doing the area any favours. It’s not like Brockton Bay where things were such a shitshow that the Undersiders were an improvement, even if they had to let other, worse people also hold territory. Unless her shard is manipulating her in that direction because she’s used her abilities a lot for genuinely constructive ends, prevented a lot of conflicts rather than starting them. I’m hoping she’s got some sort of other, better game going which she can reveal to Victoria and shake her up a bit.

    2. I think victoria blames tt for everything because she needs to. Tt aside, she’s actually quite reasonable with grasping nuanced morality, eg Ashley and Rain. But remember the person who actually destroyed her life was someone she’d loved for years. She can’t say she 100 per cent hates Amy in the same way as she can with tt. So she uses tt as a hate sink, the one person she can absolutely hate with a passion and want to take down so she doesn’t have to focus on her more complicated feelings towards Amy and her mother ect.
      Even if that leads her to disregard anything to suggest tt isnt some evil, infallible manically laughing overlord.

      1. She doesn’t blame her for everything.

        In this very chapter Victoria says that the only thing TT was even remotely responsible for was making Amy heal her against her wishes.

        1. So, she doesn’t heap all the blame on Lisa’s head, but she does put a small slice of the blame for *everything* on her, and Victoria does kinda frame it that way. ‘Some small small responsibility for everything that followed.’

          I’m picturing Victoria in the asylum, hating, loving, and wanting Amy…and just hating Tattletale, despite the effort that Tattletale put in to save her from death, and prevent her from falling victim to Amy’s psychosis. Shit does not look good. You know, for Victoria and her state of mind.

          See, I’m under no illusions about Lisa. She’s a huge asshole and is often a nasty piece of work…while also generally being nowhere even close to as bad as she could be, and often acting behind the scenes to limit the destruction and cruelty of villains worse than her. Victoria doesn’t see that, refuses to see that, and is proceeding as though Tattletale is some kind of monster.

          I guess I’m disappointed in her lack of perspective? This kind of black and white thinking is what fucked everything in Brockton Bay. Amy went through hell and back, and did some horrendous shit, but at least she managed to uninstall the fucked up sense of rigid, explicitly superhero-based morality that her adoptive mother forced on her and which caused such spectacular suffering for herself and for others.

          Basically…this little insight says that Victoria is nowhere even close to being as healed and mentally and emotionally stable as she appears to be.

          1. When you take it upon yourself to explicitly ignore someone’s consent and make a potential dangerous decision for them then you are by definition at least partially responsible for the consequences of said actions.

            “while also generally being nowhere even close to as bad as she could be”

            So is literally every half-way decent person in the story, even most parahumans. That’s not an accomplishment.

            “I guess I’m disappointed in her lack of perspective? This kind of black and white thinking is what fucked everything in Brockton Bay.”

            She doesn’t like Lisa.(And Lisa antagonizes and doesn’t like her. So it’s mutual.)
            Considers her a villain.(Which she is.)
            Considers Lisa to be in some small part responsible for what transpired. But didn’t let that cloud her judgement when dealing with her.(And even gave Lisa the benefit of the doubt concerning Rain.)

            ^ What part of that is “black & white” morality? It’s just natural dislike of a person that specifically goes out of their way to be annoying and antagonistic.

            What Victoria’s currently doing doesn’t even have anything to do with her personal feelings about Lisa.

          2. @Exejpgwmv

            Perhaps I am being a little unfair to Victoria. Essentially, I’m basing my expectations here on how she and Amy acted in Worm, which means I’m expecting unexamined self-righteousness followed by catastrophic screwup.

            In other words, I saw her blaming Lisa for what Amy did, and I expected the same behaviour from her as she and her sister showed before when dealing with the Undersiders.

            I may be a little uncharitable here.

    3. Victoria is absolutely right to blame Tattletale.

      To make a real world analogy the situation was that you have a patient with a mortal injuries that can only be cured with a extremely risky medical procedure that could make their life a living hell even if it succeeds. Victoria as the patient decides that the risks are not worth it and refuses to go through with the operation, preferring to die on her own terms instead. Then someone else comes in with some medicine that they claim is just painkillers but is actually knockout drugs, then after tricking the patient into becoming helpless to resist they convince the doctors to go through with the procedure anyway and while it saves the patients life it also does make their life a living hell just like they feared.

      That’s what Victoria blames Tattletale for and she’s right to do so because that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Sure Tattletale tried to convince Amy to not do anything and she had no control over Amy’s decisions but she was still the one that took Victoria’s right to choose away from her and put Amy in a position to do what she did and Vicky has every right to be resentful about that.

      1. I mean…Tattletale explicitly told Amy not to go overboard, just keep Victoria alive for now, undo the sexuality change/assault, take it one step at a time so she doesn’t lose focus, etc. Amy having a psychotic meltdown and turning Victoria into the Wretch is kind of a separate issue from the part about immediately preventing her from dying.

        Tattletale could absolutely have done more to prevent that, but the ways in which she could have done more would have been to either let Victoria die, or straight up abduct Amy, right before going in to fight the remnant of the Nine.

        In addition to which, Tattletale is the one who tracked Amy down after and gave her location to the Dallons.

        Basically…sure, Victoria can hate Tattletale. But I am forced to agree with the earlier reply, that Lisa serves as a ‘hate sink’ for Victoria, someone whom she can just hate and blame without traumatic ambiguity or cognitive dissonance. Throwing around blame isn’t all that healthy in the first place, but if Victoria were assigning ‘blame’ for what happened in a genuinely accurate fashion, then she’d have cut her ties with her parents long before Ward even started.

        Only thing now is to see whether this piece of narrative which Victoria has fed herself is going to cause problems down the line.

        1. The thing is, none of that is really relevant so much as it is a predictable outcome of letting Amy at Victoria. Victoria had the choice of dying or letting Amy at her, and she chose to die. Tattletale didn’t respect that choice. Everything else followed from there, but it started with Tattletale ignoring Victoria’s lack of consent, and Victoria rightly blames her for that. I don’t agree with some readers that Victoria has some kind of biased narrative going on. I think she dislikes Tattletale, for several very good reasons:

          1. Tattletale forced an unwanted medical procedure on her.
          2. Tattletale is a supervillain who’s currently helping to start a war that could engulf the city in violence and leave thousands dead or wishing for death, and also supporting Prancer, with all his own various crimes.
          3. Tattletale is an irritating and unpleasant person to talk to.

          1. I can agree that it was shitty for Tattletale to trick her that way. In the moment, she would rather have died than let Amy touch her, and yeah, Lisa probably should have respected that. And, well, let Victoria die.

            But blaming Tattletale for somehow ‘allowing’ Amy’s subsequent mutilation of Victoria is a bit much. Like I said, Tattletale did explicitly tell Amy to take it slow and not do anything awful, they were literally in the middle of a battle with the Nine, and if Victoria were in the business of accurately and honestly blaming other people for what Amy did to her, then she wouldn’t have been on speaking terms with her family at the start of Ward.

            It’s fine for her to hate Tattletale because Lisa is a huge asshole. It’s fine for her to associate Tattletale with a horrifying sequence of events which happened to her. However, Victoria’s understanding of who and what Tattletale is is kinda flawed based on the way that she is choosing to remember events and to weigh past decisions, and right now it might be affecting her judgement.

          2. @Lee

            “But blaming Tattletale for somehow ‘allowing’ Amy’s subsequent mutilation of Victoria is a bit much.”

            Which is why Victoria doesn’t even consider Lisa partially to blame for any of it. Just responsible for handing her over to Amy in the first-place.(Which she is.) And against her wishes.

            And Lisa’s current behavior, which she herself describes as “antagonistic”, doesn’t lend itself to people being understanding towards her.

          3. @Exejpgwmv

            But she *does* blame Tattletale for everything which happened after. To a limited degree, which is fair enough, but part of what comes to mind as I’ve already said, is this: if Victoria is in the headspace where she feels that it is appropriate to be dispensing ‘blame’ for Amy’s actions in a way which can include Tattletale, then I have to ask why it is that she was even on speaking terms with anyone in her family, at all, at the start of Ward. Amy’s mental breakdown has far more to do with Amy herself, Amy’s relationship with Victoria, and the ways in which she was almost cruelly conditioned to break by her parents than it has to do with Tattletale threatening to reveal that she was fucked up.

            Also, as I’ve already noted, part of this is that I as a reader have already extended to Victoria all of the benefit of the doubt which I felt she was owed. She started as the protagonist of Ward and I liked her (and like her still!) but I don’t *owe* her anything. She and her sister fucked things up badly enough in Worm that she starts with no credit to her name, as a character, whatsoever.

          4. I continue to be amazed at how many people seem to think that there’s nothing wrong with lying to a patient to force them into getting a treatment that they absolutely do not want to have because the potential consequences could and did end up being worse than death.

            Like, if a doctor pulled that shit in the real world they would be stripped of their license and thrown in jail faster Amy could jump off the slippery slope.

          5. 3. Tattletale is an irritating and unpleasant person to talk to.

            One of these things is not like the others, one of these things is a subjective judgement based on how much people like someone that is completely irrelevant to morality or ethics.

            Besides, we’re talking about a complete Catch-22 here. Either Lisa respects her consent and lets her die, or she violates it and saves her life. Either decision is going to have people calling her a bitch without actually offering any alternatives. So why should she even care?

          6. @Lee

            Can you really not imagine why her family might be getting more leeway than Lisa?
            Her family, most of whom are at least making an *attempt* to make amends with her. And Lisa who is… being Lisa.

            As for blame, let’s go through the sequence of events:
            Victoria told Lisa “no” because she thought Amy would screw her up or something equally horrible would happen.
            Lisa ignored her and tricked her into letting down her defenses. Presumably because she thought she could handle Amy.
            Lisa can’t handle the situation and Amy fucks-up Victoria.

            ^ Lisa’s deception and decision are directly affecting the situation at hand.

            And what do you mean by “credit”? Victoria has only ever expressed noticeable dislike and distrust toward Lisa. Not violent or vitriolic, even when talking to her face-to-face.
            In fact, the only one of them to escalate their interactions was Lisa.

            @Reveen

            Tattletale herself admits that she goes out of her way to be annoying and poke at people’s mental weak-spots.
            It’s kind of her thing.

          7. @Exejpgwmv

            Regarding her family? The fact that Amy got so screwed up is because of their mother’s treatment of her and the way that she was effectively raised to dread herself. In addition to which, Victoria’s not on speaking terms with much of her family *right now* because their attempt to make ‘amends’ was to lie to her and trick her into attending an event where she would be blindsided by Amy.

            I’m just seeing this as some weird double standard on her part. Lisa did a bad thing in ignoring Victoria’s choice to die, that is absolutely the truth. At the same time, she did save Victoria’s life in the end, and she did make multiple attempts to prevent Amy from going off the deep end. Lisa did more to save Victoria from Amy’s mental breakdown than her family did, especially considering that her parents created the problem in the first place by raising Amy as a timebomb of self-loathing.

            Ultimately, the answer kinda looks like Victoria is ok with blaming Lisa for what happened but not holding a grudge against her family because even though her family are ten times more to blame than Lisa is, Victoria still loves her family but dislikes Lisa.

            It’s fine for her to dislike Tattletale. Tattle is a huge jerk. However, she’s not being objective about how that shit worked out and where it came from.

          8. Besides which, people have already pointed out the moral Catch 22 here. In what canonically happened, Lisa disregarded Victoria’s consent and made Amy heal her, and that was a shitty thing to do. However, if Lisa hadn’t done that, and if instead had gotten Taylor to drag Victoria out of the combat zone to seek other forms of help, people would still be blaming Tattletale for Victoria’s death. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

          9. Yeah.

            As for family:
            Amy is hated for obvious reasons.

            She seems to dislike Carol just a little less than Lisa.(If only because Carol is less likely to pull a literal gun on her.)

            Mark gets back on speaking terms because he apologized.

            Her Uncle flipped out when he found Amy at the party. So he gets a pass.

            And Laser Dream has been completely loyal so far.

            ***

            I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Vicky had died.

    4. To be fair, it seems this is what she remembers last (Prey 14.6):

      “Crawler spit on her, then knocked out her forcefield. Move! Fix your sister!”

      She staggered forward and reached out toward Victoria.

      “No,” Victoria mumbled.

      “You’re dying,” Grue spoke.

      “No,” Victoria repeated herself. “Not-”

      She coughed sharply and mumbled in the same breath, and didn’t bother trying to correct herself.

      “Do it anyways,” Tattletale said.

      Victoria swung with her good hand, slamming it into the sidewalk. Cracks spiderwebbed out from the impact site. She coughed. “No.”

      “If she hits me, she’ll kill me,” Amy said.

      “Okay,” Tattletale said. “If she doesn’t want help, you shouldn’t give it.”

      “She’s not thinking straight. What I did-”

      “Doesn’t matter,” Tattletale said.”

      *****

      “Enough,” Tattletale cut in. “Victoria, listen, I’m going to pour some sterile water over you, and hopefully it’ll flush some of the acid away, okay? I don’t know what else we can do for you. I know you can’t see, so don’t be surprised when it happens.”

      Victoria turned her head slightly, but she didn’t respond.

      “Okay,” Tattletale said. She didn’t have water in her hand. Instead, she grabbed Amy and shoved her in Glory Girl’s direction. Amy looked at her, scandalized and horrified, but Tattletale only mouthed the word ‘go’.

      Amy knelt by her sister and touched her hand. Glory Girl’s back arched as if she’d been electrocuted, and then she went limp. Paralyzed, unable to resist.

      “I’m sorry,” Amy said. “So, so sorry. Oh god, this is bad.”

      None of the rest of us spoke.

      *****

      While one can play the Amy Blame Game all day. Victoria is right that Tattletale lies to her.

      Worst of all, this chapter implies that Victoria was at least somewhat aware after being paralyzed by Amy.

      1. Not only that, but Victoria explicitly says she only attributes some of the blame to Tattletale, not a large amount, not all of it. And yes, Lisa does deserve her share of the blame.

      2. I think the analogy with a patient who did not agree to treatment does not really apply. Giving or denying consent implies that you are wholly concious and aware of implications and consequences. This was clearly not true for Victoria at the time. And if you have a dying person on your hands who is clearly not “all there” and likely in shock, you’ll try to save them. Death is pretty final, it denies the patient all other choices. You’d need to be pretty messed up to just watch somebody getting dissolved in front of you because they uttered something sounding like “no”. With no explanation whatsoever, mind you. What were the Undersiders and Amy to do, just start looking for a nice tombstone? Plus, if this story ever came out, they’d be tried for not helping a dying person. “She didn’t want us to save her!” is a pretty flimsy excuse, nobody is going to believe that.
        Not defending the whole mind-rape thing that Amy did, but the ONLY OPTIONS at that time where “everything-that-happened” or watching Victoria melt into a puddle. And letting her lovesick step sister with the potential to end humanity watch it, too. Blaming Tattletale might be understandable, especially from Victoria’s point of view, but speaking rationally and with all the info we have? It’s bullshit. The Undersiders did the right thing. Amy, however, did not.

        1. >You’d need to be pretty messed up to just watch somebody getting dissolved in front of you because they uttered something sounding like “no”.

          I feel like Victoria repeatedly saying “no” and smashing the ground when Amy attempted to get closer was a pretty clear indicator of her sentiments.

          And I’m dubious of Tattletale doing it because it was “right” considering she used the opportunity to try and recruit Amy while she was mentally vulnerable.

          1. Do Tt’s motivations matter?

            I’m with Reveen (I think) in that this is a complicated situation in which reasonable people can disagree. But that’s also boring.

            I think Tt absolutely violated Vicky’s nonconsent, if consent even matters here. I don’t believe you should be allowed to choose suicide while in acute pain. You’ve gotta make that decision clearheaded for it to be valid, so if Tt saying “do it anyway” isn’t right, it’s at least not wrong.

  5. So why can’t Valkyrie go after that group of Fallen? Too much chance she’ll have the wrong defenses up at the wrong time?

    (I bet she’ll show up anyway, though … even if she doesn’t fight anyone, there’s probably going to be plenty of quite powerful capes dying out there.)

    Also, Victoria’s irregular spike motif reminds me vaguely of Kaiser, with his armor and his uneven crown of broken blades.

    1. I’m guessing it has something to do with Mama. Valkyrie has thinker abilities. They don’t want to risk Valkyrie when she’s so damn powerful.

      1. Either her, or Valefor, or some previously unseen Mathers family Master/Stranger. There’s nothing saying Mama only has one powered kid.
        Her shard is OP. Please nerf.

      2. Valkyrie is a walking “I win” button, except because she is the sum of all powers instead of Contessa’s literal “I win” button.

  6. So it seems like the Wardens are behaving better than I thought they might. Huzzah! Good guys. 🙂

  7. Interesting to see that Chris has a level of enthusiasm for the real big events-I wonder if that’s Mad Anxiety pushing him to be more active, or just the excitement?

    1. Chris is still the most mysterious of the therapy capes… We don’t know the circumstances of his trigger either.

      And he needs his costume already. I’m kinda thinking he’d want something he can get on or off easily, or that’s tinker designed to handle his transformations. Maybe go with some sort of images or sculpting of faces displaying various emotions?

      1. Short of transforming clothing phlebotinum (probably not from Kenzie, unless he’s fine with holo-clothes), I’m not sure what Chris would use a costume for. Does he have any normal powers when he reverts to normal?

  8. Holy shit, I thought this arc was already wrapped up. I guess we are still up for at least one more Rain chapter, witch is awesome!

    Also, question for Wildbow: I noticed how your chapters are like, 10x longer than they used to be when you first started writting Worm. Do you actually manage to write an entire chapter in a single day? Do you write them all the day before you publish them, or do you maintain a buffer of pre-written chapters that you polish the night before you release them?

  9. Nice to see Victoria finally get her new costume. Hope it helps out a bit with her self image problems. I mean, it’s a Wildbow story, things have to get better instead of worse, right?

  10. “I’m flattered,” Tristan said. “Those aren’t the boys I tend to go after, myself, but my dating life isn’t very… alive, either.”

    This was an awesomely written exchange.

    In general, I hope we get to see Tristan/Byron’s love life developing. The fact that they have opposite sexualities is bound to give rise to lots of drama.

    1. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure it’d be less awkward if they were both the same sexuality. There’s still be a great deal of voyuerism involved, I guess?

      1. And the implicit incestuousness of that voyeurism.

        Honestly, you’ve got to be pretty twisted to want 1st person voyeurism of your twin having sex.

    2. Is Byron straight? Yeah, as a straight guy, I’m not sure I could ever become ok with living a POV gay scene, that’s some horrifying psychological torture. Like everyone here I’m wayyy down on the tolerant end of the spectrum, as these things go, but it turns out that’s entirely based on “you do your thing and I’ll do mine.” I would likely give up girls before going through with that.

      Imagine Tristan getting smoldering vibes from a dude he likes after a messed up battle, and having to tell him “no, you can’t follow through on that.” I don’t even ask that of most girlfriends (if you replace “messed up battle” with “intense concert” or “awesome party” or whatevs).

      Now, there IS a solution to this mess, but I’m not sure I would be able to go through with it if it was me. Remember how Amy can change a person’s sexual orientation for them? Yeah… ..

  11. Considering all the powers Valkyrie should have already I do wonder if she shouldn’t have either something that counters Mama Mather’s or Valfor’s powers.

    Also I’m becoming more certain Dragon and Defiant aren’t part of the Wardens. Dragon at least would have a seat at the big guns table, and wouldn’t have much trouble being at meetings, but again no mention of her.

    1. It’s probably not worth the risk. That, or there are concerns about Mathers or another of the Fallen’s capes interacting poorly with Valkyrie’s power, should the worst happen. And with a parahuman capable of killing Gray Boy and standing toe-to-toe with Scion, the worst is always worth watching out for.

      Weren’t D&D out in the stix somewhere during Worm’s epilogues?

      1. But this is a problem. If the Wardens are too scared to use Valkyrie, she becomes useless.

        Are they going to say she has to only fight non powered people from other worlds?

        She was a boss in the birdcage. She can eat the Fallen for breakfast.

        1. All they know about Mama Mathers power is that it leaves clairvoyants who see her catatonic and hallucinating spiders for weeks, if I remember right. Whilst Valkyrie does have a spectre that she can shunt puppeteer-Master effects onto (she used it to escape Khepri’s control), it may not work on hypnotist-Masters like Valefor, or… I guess Mama herself is. She fits hypnotist than any other sub-category I can think of.

          When dealing with Masters that can make you do things against your will, ANY powerful cape is a potential weapon in your enemy’s hands. Valkyrie may very well eat the Fallen for breakfast, but all it takes is Valefor to get a word in edgeways, and she’s summoned three flying artillery capes and is strafing Warden HQ and nobody can stop her.

    2. I’m not sure that Valkyrie can be counted on to have a reliable counter to Mama. Scion could counter anything because he probably kept back some very adaptable defense powers for himself. Eidolon could have made himself immune by picking the right power. Valkyrie has a nice, wide stable of powers to choose from, but they seem more static.

      If there’s a power that can counter Mama, then Scion already has it, Eidolon can get it, but Valkyrie has to *hope* she already has it. That is, if you’re just looking to no-sell the entire thing. I think that, even if she’s already inside your head, nuking her house from orbit would also be an effective counter.

      The hard part to guess, though, is whether any of the good guys even know about Mama Mathers in the first place. We don’t know whether knowledge of her is contagious, or if you have to be exposed to her directly. I think it’s pretty telling that she hasn’t been mentioned at all outside of Rain’s interludes. Knowing that the Fallen group under discussion call themselves the Mathers clan doesn’t mean you know about the shriveled old lady at the top.

      1. As long as you’re putting something in orbit, a solid metal rod the size of a telephone pole can hit the ground with the same force as a tactical nuke. It’s also much cheaper!

  12. This was an enjoyable chapter. Victoria owning the Wretch via her costume design, Sveta and Weld veing cute together, Crystal being Best Cousin, Tristan proving his worth as field leader…

    And then also Chevalier being Chevalier. Jawsome!

    Belated realization: Weld and Sveta see Victoria as an honorary Case Fifty-Three. They get her, and they know she gets them.

    1. Does that make Amelia honorary Cauldron, then? Do we hAve to worry about her killing Sveta in self-defense in the future?

  13. “It wasn’t really a honeymoon. More like it was nice when it was an idea, but once we executed it, we had to deal with stuff.”
    So, more like the engagement period?

    I’d never thought of Weld doing metalwork, but it makes sense. If he applied himself and practiced, he could probably get results approaching the level of detail and flexibility you’d get with 3D printing, but with superior strength and quality. Something to consider. Maybe just as a side gig, something to focus on while dealing with daily drudgery? (Though I imagine he’d look a bit silly with a half-formed sculpture sticking out of his forehead…)

    Weld had put his music on. He had an eclectic taste, and the current song was, as close as I could place it, rock with one of the two vocalists using throat singing.
    I also have an eclectic taste in music, and am curious if that description is based on any band in particular, because it sounds like something I’d want to listen to at least once.

    “Looksee, that means you keep cameras off of the Fallen, unless we give the all clear. We don’t know if it goes through cameras, and your cameras are weird enough it might be more dangerous.”
    Oh god, can you imagine if Mama Mathers started visiting Kenzie? She’s awfully impressionable, and we already know Kenzie almost went to join one old lady looking for a substitute daughter…

    1. Eh The Fallen are Racist, and Kenzie is black. Besides if Mama Mather’s power worked over cameras, she’d be a lot more dangerous since all she needs to do to bring a nation to it’s knees is have one TV press conference.

      1. I got the impression that the Mathers leadership didn’t care so much about that – it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you’re loyal. Still should keep her away from the biker gangs and the rabble, though.

    2. Honestly I would be a lot more worried about Valefor, if she picked up anything he said there would be huge consequences. This is also probably the reason Valkyrie isn’t able to attack this group.

  14. I love costume designs in Worm/Ward. There’s something about the plain language and careful descriptions that just side them feel very real and practiced. Artificial in the sense they are a work of artifice.

  15. I am slightly concerned aout Presley choosing now to email Victoria… could she be a Tattletale agent and this be a hint Tattletale knows about Ashley?

    1. Tattletale definitely knows about Ashley.

      Tattletale also knows about Looksee’s cameras and had a conversation in front of them on purpose.

      Tattletale is trying to give Victoria a head’s up. We don’t know why yet, but it is abundantly clear that TT is purposefully not keeping Operational Security. Remember how she killed Coil. If TT wanted Victoria out of the loop, she would be.

  16. I’d wondered why Victoria took the train instead of flying. New costume sounds pretty cool. Flashy, but still practical and mature. Really, Victoria should have been wearing armor from day one. Gloves/gauntlets are a great idea, too, if she’s going to be grappling without her forcefield. Now we just need a name.

    The part about Tattletale is very interesting, and something I’d never considered before. Would have assumed Victoria was too out of it to remember that conversation, or had those memories erased. I can see how her desire to die would really push Tattletale’s buttons, though. Shines a new light on their recent interactions. Now I can see why Tattletale thinks Victoria’s grudge is irrational, and why the whole thing might bother her a bit more than we might have initially assumed.

    Personally, I think Tattletale did the right thing in the circumstances. At the very least, I think it would be inhuman to expect the Undersiders and especially Amy to just stand there and watch Victoria die. Also, Tattletale probably assumed that, with her power, she could guide Amy through the process and keep it honest. Right after that she asks Amy to join the Undersiders, which doesn’t seem very sensible in light of their previous interactions but might be explained by Tattletale thinking too far ahead and focusing too narrowly on the problem of healing Victoria.

    She assumed Amy’s loneliness and desire for guidance would outweigh her obsession and fear of becoming a villain. She was wrong, but even so I don’t think she could have reasonably predicted what happened or that it would be so irrevocable.

    Beyond that, however, even if what happened was terrible, at least Victoria survived. Even in the asylum she could still write, she could still watch videos and make friends. And she was eventually restored to her proper self. If she had died, she’d just be dead, and there would be no chance for any of them to ever rectify the situation or move past it.

    Tattletale absolutely shares some of the blame for what happened, but letting Victoria die would have made all of it far, far worse.

        1. Which says more about Tattletale than Victoria to be honest. Maybe on the whole it ended up being better in the long run but it was not Tattletale’s decision to make. She betrayed Victoria’s trust, stripped away her agency and left her in the hands of her mentally unhinged rapist who ended up subjecting her to a fate worse than death that would have lasted her entire life if Khepri hadn’t essentially forced Amy into confronting and fixing her mistakes.

          Victoria has every right to be upset about that and she’s being entirely reasonable about it, only placing a very small amount of the blame at Tattletale’s feet. The fact that Tattletale can’t understand why Victoria holds a grudge really says a lot about how terrible Tattletale is at truly understanding people. I’m not sure if her cheat sheet powers helps compensate for that or is the root cause of it.

          1. Framing it as “betraying her trust” is incredibly bizarre. Tattletale was never in Vicky’s trust at all, they were effectively enemies and Tattletale didn’t have any social obligation to not lie to her like Amy did.

            The idea of getting pissed at Tattletale for her call is kinda twisted too. Because expecting people to just let someone die like that is ridiculous. It’s a Catch 22 situation as well. Oh, Tattletale lied to Vicky to get her healed, that bitch. Oh, she stood there and let Vicky die, that bitch.

            Quite frankly all this outpouring of indignation against Tattletale is morally and ethically incoherent and is just an example of POV bias doing it’s thing just like it did with Taylor.

          2. What other decision could Tattletale have made, though? What would have even happened if Tattletale and the others had respected Victoria’s wishes and left her to die?

            I really, really doubt Amy would have just walked away. She probably would have stayed there, pleading for Victoria to let herself be healed and trying to touch her. That would have led to either A, Victoria hitting Amy and killing her, leaving both of them dead, or B, Amy successfully touching Victoria and the same situation playing out but with Victoria even worse off for the time wasted and nobody there to help.

            The only feasible way the Undersiders could have respected Victoria’s wishes would have been by physically dragging Amy away, which would have almost certainly led to plagues in their faces. Unless they knocked her unconscious first, but that would have led to plagues later unless they actually murdered Amy to make sure. Given they needed as much help as they could get with the Slaughterhouse Nine on the loose, neither option could be realistically considered even by an Undersiders cold-blooded enough to think of it.

            Finally, even if Victoria had just died right there there’s a WoG that Amy could and would have brought her back to life through a brain-parasite (the alternate Leviathan scenario) if she had died. So the same thing still would have happened, but with even worse and more dangerous circumstances for everyone involved.

            And this was all while the city burned and the Slaughterhouse Nine and heroes were battling right next door. Nobody had time to sit around thinking. Tattletale took the best possible option in a moment of crisis.

            I agree that Victoria has a right to be upset, and that Tattletale is bad at understanding people (or too arrogant, at least). However, I have to disagree that Victoria’s fate was worse than death, and I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that Amy wouldn’t have sought out Victoria as soon as she was allowed, post-GM, or that some other cape wouldn’t have been able to fix Victoria sooner or later.

          3. Notably, it seems that if Lisa knew what Amy ended up doing she deliberately concealed it from the other Undersiders-she’s the one that gives Amy’s location to Brandish, but Taylor later has no idea what happened to Glory Girl. I think she, like Victoria, feels she bears some measure of responsibility for what happened, and it eats at her.

          4. This is getting ridicilous.

            “Tattletale didn’t have any social obligation to not lie to her”

            Fucking seriously? By that logic Piggot did nothing wrong when she tried to call in a air-strike on the Undersiders while they were risking their lives to fight the Slaughterhouse 9. After all they were never on the same side so Piggot didn’t have any obligations to not put them in the line of fire. :V

            And there were plenty of things Tattletale could have done besides hand a unconscious Victoria over to little miss Bonesaw-candidate. For one thing she could have called in medical support and then tried to delay the damage long enough for help to arrive. Or she could have tried harder to convince Victoria to accept treatment, for example by offering more concrete assurances that she wouldn’t let Amy do anything to her. She could have waited for Victoria to lose consciousness instead of lying to her. She certainly could have done more to push Amy into fixing her or at least not leave her completely unsupervised with her mental rape victim.

            Or honestly she could have just let her die, you’re tilting at windmills with these accusations that people would have called Tattletale a bitch for not saving Victoria’s life. Both in and out of universe it probably would not even have occurred to most people that Tattletale could have done something to force Victoria into being healed if it hadn’t happened in the story. There is also no evidence that anyone would have called Tattletale a bitch for respecting Victoria’s wishes and I for one do not appreciate you representing everyone who disagrees with you as strawmen that just hate Tattletale for no reason.

            I will echo your words right back at you Reveen, quite frankly all this outpouring of indignation against Victoria is morally and ethically incoherent. The only thing Victoria has done is put a specifically very small amount of responsibility for what happened at Tattletale’s feet and for messed up things that Tattletale did in fact do.

          5. Tattletale had no time to call in medical support and there was nothing she could have done to delay the damage. Victoria’s organs were melting right in front of their eyes. If the situation had allowed any other option, Weld would never have given Victoria to Taylor in the first place.

            How would it possibly be better to wait until Victoria fell unconscious? Just give her longer to be in agony? In a perfect world, they could have waited until she agreed to healing, certainly. But what would that have actually amounted to, except waiting until Victoria was in such a bad state her ‘no’s’ sounded like ‘yeses’?

            Tattletale and the others certainly could have done better in the situation afterwards, but I think that’s a separate issue. The point is that Tattletale acted as fast as possible to save Victoria’s life, and that’s a good thing. A hell of a lot better than if she had stood there watching Victoria die, both from a moral and a practical standpoint, in my opinion.

          6. “And there were plenty of things Tattletale could have done besides hand a unconscious Victoria over to little miss Bonesaw-candidate”

            I notice that *every last* suggestion you come up with adds more complexity to the situation, each one creates more ways for things to go wrong. Do you honestly believe anyone would try and think up a multi-step plan there, then also commit themselves and everyone around them to seeing it through?

            If Tt saves her and is wrong, that mistake is cheap and easy to fix. Letting her die and being wrong is a lot more messy.

            you’re tilting at windmills with these accusations that people would have called Tattletale a bitch for not saving Victoria’s life

            This is fairly strong evidence suggesting you’re a troll, but [up until this post] you weren’t implying people are stupid or crazy if they don’t see things your way, which might suggest you’re not. But if you honestly don’t think Vicky’s family would have blamed Tt for V’s death…ok if you’re not trolling then this is way beyond my capacity to help, let’s just move on.

            I get the vibe that overall, your argument is rooted in the modern concept of sexual consent. In that context, it’s reasonable to say that consent should take absolute priority. That’s good. But why do the rules there apply to someone in the field during a military operation? Why does Vicky have the right to choose at all? Letting her die puts others in danger in multiple ways, so no, it’s not her choice to make.

            Personally I think Vicky owes Tt a thank you for not listening when she asked to die. If she truly, deeply to her soul wanted to die, why is she still flying and breathing?

    1. It’s also been established that Vicky thinks some key things about Lisa that are wrong. And it may well be that much like how she’s got Lisa’s power wrong, or what her relationship with Taylor.

      As much as Lisa’s a bitch on the outside, she was not setting up and manipulating Taylor the way Vicky thinks she was. Oh she did manipulate Taylor at points, but not in that way. Lisa despite whatever flaws she has is not someone who wants to see someone kill themselves. And this fundimental misunderstanding of her nature by Vicky is going to end up causing a huge mess before we are done, I’m sure.

    2. Heh, I didn’t even think of that. Yeah, I can see Tattletale being genuinely upset about someone wanting to die.

      1. I feel like she was really too busy empathizing with Amy to empathize much with Victoria in the situation.

        I mean, having a beloved sibling die and subsequently agonizing about how maybe you could have saved them if only they’d seen you as someone they could rely on for it was, you know, just LITERALLY HER TRIGGER EVENT and all.

  17. I have to say, Chris’s names for his transformed states are awesome. He’s an intriguing guy, when he isn’t being a jerk.

    Also, don’t know enough to know whether to trust him yet…

  18. This talk about how to obtain a costume feels like a callback to the very start of Worm, and Taylor thinking about the same. Except her approach was less “branding and style” and more “secret identity”.

  19. ““My offer stands, you know,” Weld said.

    “Offer?”

    “To help with any of the metalwork, when you get a new costume.”

    It took me a second to connect the thought.

    “What the hell, Weld? That was years ago, when I was thinking about rebranding and joining the Brockton Bay Wards.”

    “It stands,” Weld said, smiling.”
    Just when you think Weld can’t be any more of a great guy, he remembers a promise made to a girl in an asylum stuck as a bunch of extra body parts. What a guy!

  20. Ok. So here is my view fwiw.

    1. How does Team Therapy get paid out of all this danger? I mean, I guess they get street cred and take out some bad guys but what is their profit? Cedar Point?

    2. How is it that Weld doesn’t get his girlfriend a place on a team directly? Why doesn’t he tell the wards hi, I’m weld, you line having me around, my girlfriend is on the team. She will pull her own weight but you want me you take her or I’m outta here.

    3. Why isn’t Weld just hiring Victoria along with his girlfriend? Weld seems to have some pull a— why not use it?

    4. I still hate Rain the Self-centered Nazi but I don’t get how come he is not well known to Weld and the crew. He’s a powered individual who is a member of the fallen receiving therapy from Ms Yamaha and known to the girlfriend of Weld. Why isn’t this guy front and center of the discussion? What — they keep no files on local powers?

    5. Shouldn’t Victoria have talked more about the fact that the Undersiders appear involved? I mean, seems like it might be important?

    1. And further to that last point — um hey? Bitch and Imp and Tt are involved. I think they might pull something since they acknowledged our interest in the upcoming battle. Maybe you could task some thinker to do some recon? Just a little? Pick up the phone and call Ms Alcot? Give us a little more backup? Maybe give us some tinker shit?

      At the very least wouldn’t you want to tell Weld how high the stakes might be? You know, your friend HIS GIRLFRIEND is headed into danger?

    2. “1. How does Team Therapy get paid out of all this danger? I mean, I guess they get street cred and take out some bad guys but what is their profit? Cedar Point?”

      No clue on how they’re getting paid. I suspect the Wardens will kick some cash their direction.

      “2. How is it that Weld doesn’t get his girlfriend a place on a team directly? Why doesn’t he tell the wards hi, I’m weld, you line having me around, my girlfriend is on the team. She will pull her own weight but you want me you take her or I’m outta here. ”

      One, that’s Nepotism and Sveta probably doesn’t want that. Two, Sveta probably wants something separate. Three, Sveta might not qualify actually. She’s still a touch murder squid. Routinely going up against stuff that might shatter your prosthetic body?

      “3. Why isn’t Weld just hiring Victoria along with his girlfriend? Weld seems to have some pull a— why not use it?”

      Amy. Having Victoria near Amy will cause both of them stress. That’s a BAD IDEA.

      Also Victoria wants to succeed on her own merits, not because of her connections.

      “Why isn’t this guy front and center of the discussion? What — they keep no files on local powers?”

      Team Therapy hasn’t been up front about Rain. Yamada isn’t going to share details on his power. They don’t track therapy patients as a matter of course. It would destroy trust.

      “Shouldn’t Victoria have talked more about the fact that the Undersiders appear involved? I mean, seems like it might be important?”

      I assume its in the dossier of information and videos and stuff handed over.

      1. They aren’t getting paid for this operation nor expecting to, but remember they didn’t choose this fight, they’re compelled to help.

        I don’t understand how they’ll make money in general either, but there they have possibilities.

  21. Oh yeah, you’re right. Well that was more impressive because it was longer ago, and before he’d have associated her with monsterous capes, Sveta, or the Asylum.

  22. So there aren’t any other headphone enthusiasts wondering what kind of headphones Weld is rocking?

    I’d guess something on the high end, closed backed and durable. The Mr. Speakers Alpha Prime would look great on him, but I’d bet it’s something a little more practical like a Sony x1000

    I bet Chris is stuck with Skullcandy or some other consumer junk 😉

  23. I know there’s a war going on (soon) but things still feel like they’re going too well (Fallen nastiness aside).
    How bad is this going to GET?

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