Shadow – 5.12

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Against a backdrop of screaming and writhing, with clouds rolling across the overcast sky, and both dust clouds and smoke rolling over the ground, the three assembled groups were very still and careful.

“Stop it,” Rain called out.  “Leave them alone.”

“Can’t,” Valefor said.  “She isn’t here.  But if she sees you stand down, this might end.”

There were kids in that group of writhing individuals.  There was an old man with the lines in his neck standing out taut, teeth bared and clenched together.

“I can’t stand down,” Rain said.  “Reversing the protection takes time and effort to undo.”

“Then this is your righteous punishment,” Valefor said.  As he started talking, I brought my hands up near my ears.

My powers were still wonky.  I could tell.  My flight and aura didn’t feel readily available.

Beside me, Capricorn had morphed.  From Tristan to Byron.

The Fallen guy I’d just been fighting said something low and under his breath, to Valefor.

“No.  The immunity isn’t him,” Valefor said.  “Not if the rest of them are the same.  Someone helped.”

Capricorn had changed again.  Back to Tristan.  He walked a little, moving away from me.  What were they doing?

The woman with the bunny mask walked, almost strutted around the periphery of things, her rapier in hand.  The capes with Valefor kept their attention on her, while Valefor was oblivous or uncaring.

“We’ve got other capes showing up, Valefor,” a Fallen soldier said.  Young, and possibly powered.  I wasn’t sure if I could read too much into costumes or outfits when unpowered and powered were so diverse, but if I was going to, I’d assume powers for the ones who had more identity to their costumes, with confidence rather than conformity in the designs.  This guy had bright colors and a hard mask that wrapped around the top and sides of his head.  It was made such that it looked like it had been nailed on, with blood, old and fresh, seeping out from the points the nails went in.

“The ones we fought earlier,” the one with the round mask said.  The round plate of a mask with four eyeholes cut into the hard was an identity of its own.  It stood out.  I knew there were powers there, already.  He supported the woman with the four-horned mask and red wrappings.

Those two aside, there were six other Fallen that kept Valefor company.  Nine in total.

“Team,” Rain called out, raising his voice to be heard over the screams.  “There’s one Fallen that isn’t here.  Mama Mathers.  She’s close.  You can’t look at her without her infecting your mind.  Her voice and touch does the same thing, but gives her other avenues of attack.  Mentioning her gives her a big opening, it’s why I couldn’t say anything earlier.”

Well, that cleared up something that had been plaguing the good guys for a long time.

“I saw a glimpse of her,” I said.

“You see things?” he called out.

“Yeah.  Some.  She got our Changer worse.  He seems to be dealing alright, though.”

“He’s enduring because he’s weird,” Capricorn said.  “What can we do here?  These people-”

“You don’t do anything,” Valefor interrupted.  “They’re ours.”

“Yours!?” Tristan-as-Capricorn asked, voice raised, blurring.  Byron-as-Capricorn shook his head, and offered a more sedate, “No.”

He was almost drowned out by the shouts and screams from the people on the ground.

“Where is Mama Mathers?” Rain asked.

“You should ask her, Rain,” Valefor said.  “Let her in, let me in, and pledge to obey.  We’ll let you drag these people away, so long as you stay.  They’re expendable, you’re blessed.”

“How are you immune?” Tristan-as Capricorn called out.

“Friends,” Rain said.  He created blades of silver light in each of his hands.  “Found these guys while researching powers and options.  March put the pieces together about who I am and where I’m from.”

He’d indicated the woman with the bunny mask.  March continued pacing around the group.  Her rapier’s tip dragged along the ground.  It left a trail behind it, like the water rippling in the wake of a stick being moved in it, and that water had hues of blue, purple, and black running through it for a second or two after the contact.

“I thought it was another kind of brainwashing after I heard about Valefor’s exploits in Brockton Bay, with the arrest and trial,” March said.  “It’s a good thing that my group has a lot of powers to work with.”

A lot of powers.  Cluster capes?

“A good thing, yeah,” Rain said.

“I’m not poaching him,” March said.  “He’ll help me out in exchange for this, here, but he can stick with you guys.”

“With the heroes here, not the Fallen,” Rain clarified.

“Oh yes,” March said.  She nodded and the one ear at the top of her mask bobbed where it was folded at the tip.  “I should’ve been clear.”

My eyes moved away from March to the people on the ground, then to the nearby buildings.  I couldn’t lose sight of the major goal here.  Was Mama Mathers there?  I could look at the civilians on the ground without a problem, which meant she wasn’t there, or her power was more subtle than that.  I’d caught a glimpse earlier, though, so she couldn’t be too far.  There were a dozen buildings in our immediate vicinity.  Was she watching through the window?

The trouble was, if I saw her, I risked being affected like the people on the ground were.  If I didn’t see her, she had the advantage and she could catch us by surprise at a time of her choosing.

The idea of losing my mind like that terrified me, to the point I felt like my gut and my brain were bound in knots.  I tried to focus that terror into a cold, rational look at what I needed to do.  Mama Mathers was the biggest danger.  Valefor was the second.  They were Masters and Strangers, the PRT classification for those who controlled others or minions, and the classification for those who infiltrated or deceived.  Mama Mathers and Valefor were squarely in the overlap between the two.

I found myself missing my old team.  New Wave had had its problems, but I’d known the team and how it worked.  I wasn’t a strategist, but I could do fine if I could identify the big problems and solve them.  My tendency back in the day had been to hit hard as my method of solving, and to rely on my instincts and the team.

These guys were hard to rely on.  New Wave had been all about straight lines of attack and barrier defenses.  Lasers and punching, shields and forcefields between danger and the vulnerable.  The most indirect we’d been was when my dad made his grenades bounce off walls or when my cousin had created forcefields in unconventional but otherwise simple shapes.

Here?  Sveta had disappeared while all attention was on others.  Capricorn was… it looked like he was changing forms rapidfire to switch identities, so no one self heard a single whole utterance referring directly to them.

Chris was off doing something, hopefully far away from this.  Rain was- he’d contacted people I barely recognized.  I’d seen March’s mask before, but it had been in passing.  An article about one of the big cities.  There’d been a weird dynamic there, but I couldn’t afford to dwell on it.  My mind went to a bizarre combination of upper-class and low-class crimes, like corporate espionage and petty vandalism, but I knew almost right away that I was thinking of the wrong person.

It had been something offbeat like that, though.  If the people hadn’t been screaming, and if I wasn’t focused on Valefor’s body language and Mama being somewhere nearby, I wanted to think I could’ve placed it.

I still had my hands by my ears, as a crummy and unreliable solution to a serious problem.

My powers had been disrupted, put out of reach and made unreliable, but the effect was dissipating with time.  It killed me that the time was time innocents were suffering.

There were goddamn kids in there.

If I flew and hit someone, would I be risking the innocents on the ground?  They were close enough together that people on foot wouldn’t be able to get to Valefor without trampling the civilians.

“There’s a pretty one lying next to me,” Valefor said.  “Short black hair, or so I hear, she tends to wear-”

“I see her,” four-eyes said.

“That’s all you needed?  Hm.  Step on her throat.  Not enough to kill.  Enough to give our Rain a time limit.”

The guy with the four-eyed mask transitioned the four-horned girl to another, more mundane Fallen.

Rain hurled his crescent blade.  Four-eyes drew his own, creating the diagrams- two faint and one clear, and he drew the clear one as part of the same motion.  His crescent-shaped sword was just in time to meet Rain’s power.  Both fizzled out.

I saw as the other silver blade Rain held fritzed, distorted, and faded away.  He looked down at his hands.

“He threw something at me,” Four-eyes said.

“If it hit you, don’t move.”

“It didn’t hit me.  I stopped it.”

“Then step on the girl, Amaymon.”

I flexed my aura, straining, praying it wouldn’t falter.  I saw people turn in my direction, including both Four-eyes and Valefor.

I saw Valefor pause for half a second, catching his breath, drawing it in deeper, and I clamped my hands over my ears, bending over, eyes shut.

Whatever he shouted, I didn’t hear anything muffled than a one-syllable word.  He had to refer to us to catch us, and now that I knew that, I could watch for tells.  If he drew in a deep breath to shout, or if he said something like ‘You’ or “Everyone’, I could cover my ears.

All around us, most people stopped in their tracks.  Capricorn, blurring, changed to blue armor, but he kept walking.  I was able to move, and the group with March and Rain seemed unaffected.

Valefor shouted out something, turning in my general direction as he did it.  Two words.  I didn’t try to make them out.

The Fallen were bringing their powers to bear, now.  A snake shaped out of intestine and barbed wire- one I’d seen before.  The Fallen that summoned it was drawing a gun with the other hand.  Amaymon was creating his four diagrams, reaching for the sphere.

He didn’t manage to touch it.  Sveta grabbed him and Valefor both, dragging them out of sight.  The afterimage of the diagram hung in the air for a moment before disappearing.

Another was going breaker, arms and bony limbs reaching skyward in a fountain of parts that grabbed their other parts and forced them down in the swell, a large human skull that ate their head, then was swallowed up by a larger animal skull, like a wolf’s, only horned.

They grew larger as they rose skyward, all white bone and jet black body parts.

I tried to fly so I could fly to it before it grew any larger, and my flight only sputtered out.

The one with the intestine snake lashed out, snake lunging from the palm of their hand to Capricorn and I.  They aimed and fired the gun at the same time.  Wild shooting.

I brought out the Wretch, stepping between Capricorn and the shooter, and even with the Wretch being a larger target, none of the bullets hit it.

I heard the shooting stop, the sound of the small pistol ringing in my ears.  I dropped my defenses for just a moment, so I could have the Wretch closer to me when I connected my fist to the Snake’s ‘head’.  It slammed into a building, shattering the stones and mortar that lined the lower half of the ground floor.  A half-second later, white noise filled my vision.

If that had happened a second earlier, I might have missed.  The noise persisted.

I scowled, stopping in my tracks, trying to find out what I needed to do.  I couldn’t run in and use the Wretch, not when people lined the ground like that.  Not when I couldn’t trust my eyes.  She wasn’t making me hallucinate, but she could obscure what I saw.

“Down!” Capricorn said, behind me.  “Give me a clear view!”

There were blue motes appearing around the snake-intestine cape and the giant breaker thing, which was slowing in its growth, but was a pretty considerable size already.  I realized the noise had gone away.

 

Ahead of me, the Fallen woman disconnected the snake-thing from her left hand, and passed the gun to it.  The motes above and behind her turned to water, spraying down on her and at the giant breaker.

The motes snapped into a solid form, making a creaking, cracking noise as they became a growth of stone that encased part of the snake-woman’s head and shoulder and part of three of breaker’s arms.

The weight of the stone pushed her down and snared the breaker.  A moment before she was crushed beneath the stone, it became water again.  She was down on three limbs in an awkward position as it all cascaded and sprayed down around her, stirring the packed dirt road into thick mud spray.

I leaped forward toward the spray, flight kicking in at half-strength to give me downward velocity.  I came down with one foot on her gun-hand, crushing it beneath my heel.  I stepped down by her face, and moved my foot off of her hand.  I pushed at her shoulder with my foot, flipping her over, then bent down for the gun.

“Good,” Capricorn said, behind me.  He was Tristan, but the water was remaining water.

“Careful you don’t drown the people on the ground,” I said.  “They’re helpless.  People can drown in shallow water.”

He nodded, quick, before turning his attention back to the big thing, which was adjusting its balance.  The unexpected weight on one arm had brought it partially down.

I had to do something.  I didn’t want to keep my head down.

I ran to the side.  Down toward the direction where Sveta was, away from the big thing.  Against my instincts, but I had an idea of what I could do.

Mama Mathers had been here.  She was close.  If I couldn’t see her without problems, I could only make assumptions.  Aura out, I ran along the side of the street, keeping one eye on the battle and the people on the ground, in case I was needed.  Women.  Young men.  Someone elderly.  Kids.  

Shit.

Ahead of me, Sveta was dealing with Amaymon and Valefor.  She’d pulled off her wig and stuffed it into Valefor’s mouth, and was now wrestling with Amaymon.  The cape broke her grip and pushed her to one side, and she collapsed into a heap, instead of catching her balance.

He created his diagram while she was down.  He touched the javelin-dart, and he sent it plunging into Sveta’s chest before she could stand.

I charged at him, running three steps and then flying the remaining twenty feet.  My knee connected with his jaw and he dropped.  I landed and made sure he wasn’t getting up.

“Sveta,” I said.

“I’m okay,” she said.  She sat up.  A tendril stuck out of the hole in her chest, feeling around it before withdrawing.  “I’m okay.”

“You have a patch?” I asked.

She nodded.  “You have your aura going.  It’s distracting enough I can’t coordinate.”

I nodded, and I temporarily eased up on it.  “Your power is okay?”

“Yes.  Why?”

She hadn’t seen, she’d already backed off before Rain’s had been shorted out, so she would have been too far away.  Staying out of Valefor’s earshot, possibly.

“He cancels out powers.”

“You can’t really cancel out being Case fifty-three,” Sveta said.  “You’d better get back while I get patched, if your forcefield is weird.”

I could have clarified, but I just nodded.  “Good luck.  Be safe.”

“You too.”

My aura back on blast, I flew across the street, then back toward the fighting.  March and her band of oddballs had been on the far side of Valefor’s cluster of capes.

The large thing had fallen over, one hand planted on the ground near some of the civilians.  March ran up its arm, ducking and using momentum to slide up the slope of the arm as a bony claw reached for her.

She ran along the shoulders, cutting as she went, leaped as the head sank into the morass of the body and became two avian skulls that pecked at the air, and then came down, stabbing her rapier into the chest and dragging the point against the giant thing’s torso, cutting as she went down.  The blue-purple-black watercolor spread in the wake of the blade’s tip.

She pulled it free, stabbed at a reaching hand, and used it to reorient her fall.  She landed hard, her feet planted on either side of a screaming teenage girls’ head.  A slight misstep, and she would have caved in the poor girl’s face.

March snapped her fingers and flicked with her blade.

At the shoulder, where the long cut had started, there was a flare of the watercolor spray.  Purple and blue, with deep shadow in the midst of it.

Her rapier swept out, pointing.  She called out, “Rain!”

The flare was tracing along the line she’d cut like a flame down a cartoon bomb’s fuse.

“I can’t!” Rain called out.

The ‘fuse’ reached its terminus.  What had been a flare became a fierce explosion, right down at the base of the breaker.

I flew toward it, bringing out the Wretch, so I could catch it if it toppled onto March and the civilians.  It didn’t, falling backward and dissolving as it did.

The breaker form dissipated, and there was only the Fallen with the demon themed skull mask, tipping backward to land on his ass.  March plunged her rapier into his chest, then flicked it up, toward his throat.

“It would have been perfect if that had also cut it in two, Rain,” March said.  “It was still perfect, but in a lesser way.”

“Can you not use my name?” he asked.  “And Amaymon nullified my power.”

The Fallen was patting his chest where he’d been stabbed.  He touched his throat.  Intact, but the line of watercolor marked him.

“Valefor used your name,” she said.  She snapped her fingers.  “And you didn’t give me another one.”

Still floating in the air, I could see the flare appear at the breaker Fallen’s chest.  He brought his hands to it, quick, frantic, then tried to pat it out.

“Hey!” the Fallen cried out.  He lurched to his feet.  “Stop!”

March was walking away.

“Hey!  Fuck!  Help me!”

She flourished with her blade and sheathed it, in the very same moment the fuse reached its terminus.  The explosion was smaller, but it was sufficient to take out the front of the Fallen’s throat.  He dropped to his knees, still moving inarticulately, eyes wide and stunned, and then collapsed to the ground.

I- I didn’t like the killing, or the casual ease with which she’d done it.  These were Fallen, but they were low-level Fallen.

I didn’t want to say not to kill, but…

But there were civilians suffering.  Other things to focus on.

I changed course, flying back to where I’d been.  I continued down the street.  I was putting the bulk of the lopsided engagement behind me, passing by Rain, by two twenty-ish capes with steel-gray hair, and that meant I could fly faster.  I kept my eyes on the people and goings-on behind me.

I found what I was hoping for.  The screaming, just briefly, changed.  The aura extended through the hostages to Mama Mathers, and she affected the hostages in turn.  I had a sense of my range, and through that, I had a good sense of her location.

“Rain!” I called out.

“What is it?”

“If she gets me, get people to take out the building.”

“You found her?” he asked.

I dug fingernails into the doorframe, then activated my forcefield.  I tore door and part of the frame away from the front of the store.  It was one of the smaller buildings on the street, and it was styled as a general store.

The screaming trailed off altogether.  I gripped the damaged wall where the doorframe had been attached, and tore at that too.  The Wretch struck at other things.

“She says to stop,” a voice said.

It wasn’t one of the people who’d been on the ground.  He was older- one of the soldiers.  In the eerie quiet, with people whimpering and making small noises, he still had to raise his voice to be heard, with distances.

He was possibly unpowered, and he was holding an axe.  He was average height, but muscular, and had a slight belly, such that his body looked more like a solid slab than a chest that tapered down to a stomach or had any proper shape.  His skin was sun-tanned, his hair blond with white shooting through it.  A bandanna with a demon’s mouth on it covered his lower face.

“You’ve disappointed her, Rain,” the soldier said.  Then he said, “You disappointed all of us.”

“For one of the first times in my life, I feel like I’m doing something right,” Rain said.

“No, Rain,” the man said.  “She says you might be doing good, objectively, but not right.  She says… she’ll surrender herself to your custody.  She’ll withdraw her power from everyone here.”

“From everyone,” Rain said.

“As you wish.”

March put the sword nearer to the man’s neck.  He gripped the axe tighter.

“Don’t,” Rain said.  “He’s a relative.”

She lowered the sword, and she poked the handle of the axe with the tip.  She said something I didn’t hear.

The soldier dropped the axe.

Rain was kneeling by Erin.  He placed a hand on a little boy’s arm, where the boy lay next to her, hands at his ears.

He reached out for Erin, and she pushed his hand away.  When he stood, it was abrupt.

“This feels like a trap,” I said.

Rain approached me.  He looked at the building, then raised a hand.  In the recess of one voluminous sleeve, I could see another hand hidden within.

“What is it?”

“One person,” he said.  “I think.”

“It could still be a trap,” I said.

“Yeah.  But… this gets people out safe.  If we went after her and she hurt them in the last moment, and if we couldn’t turn it off…”

I nodded.

March was walking toward us.

“You got a look at her.  She’s in you?” Rain asked.

“Barely,” I said.  “She blinded me once or twice.”

“Okay,” he said.

March joined us.  She put out a hand for me to shake.  I hesitated a moment, paranoid, then shook it.

“We have things to talk about,” she said.  “People we both know.  Power things.”

I nodded.

“I’ll go in to get her,” she said.  “I’m immune.”

“So am I,” Rain said.

“This is personal for you,” she said.  She put a gloved hand on his shoulder.  “It’s the objectivity that makes us valuable to each other.”

She winked at me, then sauntered indoors.

She bothered me.  I didn’t like whimsical and show-off in someone that could easily kill.  The mask and the marching band outfit only marked out the contrast.

“Immune?” I asked.

Rain indicated the two capes with gray hair, a young man and woman.  Both had eyepatches, the steel-gray hair, and costumes with white and black.  Chris’ age, or a bit older.  “Dino and Enyo.  They’re multi-triggers, and they’re also twin triggers.  One of their powers is that they can transplant body parts, with some special rules.  I’m borrowing someone else’s eyes and ears, and a few other bits, so she can touch me and make it hurt, but it’s dulled, and she can’t do anything else.  The transplant recipient is back at our base, sedated.”

“All multi-triggers?” I asked.

“She… collects them.  I guess.  She studies them.  It’s supposed to be important.”

Rain was looking back in Erin’s direction.  She had the little boy with her, and two adults.  From the resemblance, a sibling and her parents.  She and they all looked like anyone might after having seen things that had them screaming for ten or fifteen minutes straight.  Weary, eyes wide, defensive.

But, all that in mind, she seemed to find refuge in her parents.

“What-” I started.

“This power I lost.  Do I get it back?”

“Yeah.  I got mine back after ten minutes or so.”

Rain nodded.

“What happened with Erin?”

“The Fallen ruined it.  I ruined it.  She wouldn’t leave.  I couldn’t stay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t let me hurt Mama.  I’d do it in a stupid way that might get people hurt,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.  I nodded slowly.  “One day, maybe you return the favor on that.”

He made a small, amused sound.  Aside from a laugh here or there, at the bad cape names, or a good moment with Tristan, I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen that from him.

“Sure,” he said.

“All set, coming down!” March called out.  “We’re taking this slow.”

“What would you have done, if she hadn’t called it off?” Rain asked.

“Controlled collapse of the structure,” I said.  “If she had hostages in there, I’d set it up so she’d have to tell me.”

The whiteness in my eyes flared up.  I rubbed at one eye, uselessly.

“There’s a chance she’d throw their lives away to fuck with you,” Rain said.

I drew in a deep breath, sighed.  “Yeah.  That was a risk.”

“With some people, you don’t get to win,” Rain said.  “She’s that kind of person.  Be careful.”

I nodded, folding my arms.

“I like the costume,” he said.  “March told me I shouldn’t be so negative all the time, so I figured I’d say it.  I feel like I’ve missed a lot.”

I winced.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Damsel happened.”

“Damsel?” he asked.  “Is she okay?”

“She’s alive and mostly intact,” I said.  “Damage to her prosthetic.  But someone else is dead.”

“Shit.  Is it-”

I could hear March.  “I’ll catch you up on particulars later.  But you should know, because we’re going to have to explain it to Looksee.”

Rain nodded.  “Shit.”

March emerged.  She had Mama Mathers wrapped in a bedsheet, which was bound with cord that had tassels on the end.  Something from her costume, it seemed.

I didn’t know or trust March.  “Is it her?  That’s Mama Mathers?”

“It’s her,” Rain said.  “I’ve seen her enough to know.”

“You and I need to have a conversation about your power,” March said.  “The emotion power.”

“I forgot to turn it off while you were inside.”

“I know what it does,” she said.  “It’s not strong.”

“It’s never strong.”

“But it’s not useless either.  Nearly useless,” she said.

March walked the Fallen leader out to the street.  From the other end of the fight, Sveta had Valefor, the wig stuffed in his mouth and tied in place with lengths of hair knotted together.  Her head seemed slim without ears or hair to bulk it out.  She looked more intense in expression and demeanor, her ‘scalp’, the sides of her head and her neck formed of the muscle-like gatherings of tendrils.  Everything was bound down firm with the metal rings, only the shortest of tendrils curling up and out, an inch or two long, each.

The boy of the eyepatch pairing had a syringe with him.  He looked grim as the girl -his sister, I was assuming- reached out to wrap her fingers around Mama Mathers’ arm.  She flinched back.

The boy held out the syringe, and the girl depressed the plunger to squirt some out.

They inserted the syringe and injected the contents.  Mama Mathers slumped, and then collapsed into waiting arms.

Rain nodded, watching.  Capricorn and the others were catching up, with Capricorn reaching out to grab Rain’s hand as he reached his friend.  The soldier from before was shackled, the pair with eyepatches went to March’s side.

The civilians were a herd of people, wounded and scared.  Some approached us.  Others backed off.  I had to wonder about the latter group.

“We’ll reunite with Narwhal’s group, to give or get backup,” Capricorn said.  “Then we cut across… just about everything, and we evacuate out.”

“Sounds good,” March said.

“We’ll help Weld if he needs it,” Capricorn said.

I weighed the alternatives.  There weren’t any great answers.  Going it alone and trying to get to Gilpatrick’s group meant we could be intercepted, and it left the others fighting a nasty sort of fight, where guns were being brought into things.  Going to the others meant possible problems could complicate things.

The practice of getting ourselves to the western edge of the wider settlement was a bit of a herding game, keeping a dozen traumatized people moving, while simultaneously managing our hostages, Valefor and Mama Mathers.  Half of the group kept gravitating in the pair’s direction, and the other half seemed scared of them, even when they were bound and tranquilized, respectively.  Erin seemed to do more with an active focus, so she took on some of the cheerleading duties, especially with the younger ones.

One of the Fallen groups was led by a cape with a horse’s head and a dozen shadowy duplicates in his company, all connected together by a mess of black lighting with weirdly curved arcs.

In any other circumstance, the Fallen would have been losing against the Wardens’ bench team and young members, but there were twenty or so civilians with them, and the civilians had assault rifles, and the Fallen capes in their group seemed both confident and costumed enough to be of some importance.

There was a flanking group of the Fallen who’d fallen back and were taking cover by a building.  Some Clan capes were mixed into the group.  Guns were pointed in our general direction as we emerged, but the guns immediately pointed skyward as they realized who we had with us.

That effect seemed to sweep over the Fallen.  I made special note of the Fallen who weren’t immediately going still and quiet.  There were ones in elaborate costumes, many with tattoos of text or numbers down their arms.  They’d be the leadership.

The one with the horse head mask wasn’t backing off, either.  He just gathered his shadowy clones around him.

I kept my distance from the rest of the group, floating out in front, the Wretch active.  March was doing much the same, but without the benefit of invincibility.  The rapier was extended out, pointing at the people with guns.

Hollow Point’s capes were on the fringes, gathered like they had when Advance Guard had turned up in Cedar Point, with a divide marking the distinction between Prancer’s side of things and the others.  Beast of Burden’s group, minus both Beast of Burden and Damsel, a twenty foot gap with only three capes in it, and then Prancer’s assembly, with an injured Moose, an injured Velvet, Bitter Pill’s group with Bluestocking frothing at the mouth, and the Speedrunners.

I recognized the three capes in the no man’s land as Love Lost, Snag, and Cradle.  The clients who’d paid for this whole thing, with the aim of getting Rain in the midst of the chaos.  If they had an assassin, I couldn’t tell who it was.  Nobody seemed especially out of place.

It was my first proper sighting of Cradle.  He wore a bodysuit and an elaborate sculpted mask with a hand worked into it, fingers and thumb curled into claws, worked into his face and around his eyes and nose as if seen from the side.  His bodysuit had much the same design, white hands against black mesh fabric.

More noticeable was the mech, if it could be called that.  He stood on a platform that looked like an outstretched hand.  A framework of six mechanical arms and four giant hands extended out and around the platform.

With our arrival, the gunfire had stopped.  The heroes’ side wasn’t sending any volleys or attacks out, now that the Fallen seemed more subdued.

Someone on the Fallen side said something, and guns were put down.

“It’s over!” Capricorn shouted.  “Stand down!”

They were rule-breakers, killers, child kidnappers, addicts, and worse.  They included racists in their number without flinching, because it served their ends.  They’d celebrated the end of the world, where billions had died.  Maybe tens of billions or more, depending on how much damage Scion had done to parallel worlds.

If they didn’t listen- if they even got desperate, this would be a disaster.

Please stop, I thought, even as I simultaneously thought about what I’d need to do if they snapped.  When they snapped.

I had zero faith they’d back down.  By body language alone, it seemed Rain felt the same way.

I watched as the first one stepped away from cover, hands raised.  Others followed.  They glared, looked tense, even said coarse things.

What was the catch?  The trap?

Not because they were outnumbered.  They’d always been outnumbered.  That left me considering other traps, along a broader line.  Access to certain people?  Would Valefor reveal his eyesight power when people like Narwhal were close?  Did Mama Mathers hope to catch someone important with her power?

Or was it more mundane?  Surrendering and going to the overtaxed courts could be a way for them to get a voice, with a wealth of attention.  If the lawyers and administration on our side wasn’t up to things, and if the Fallen matched it by playing things particularly well, then they could walk away more or less free, with many more followers.

I heard Rain and Capricorn exchange words.  Rain turned toward Sveta and I and subtly indicated what he and Capricorn were talking about.  Snag was staring us down from the far end of the battlefield, with hilly, rocky ground between us, the trees and Wardens to the left, and the assembled Fallen and their allies to the right.

“March reached out to him before she reached out to me.  He knows who she is, which… isn’t great.”

“You think he knows who you are?” Sveta asked.

“We’ll see, I guess,” Rain said.

Prancer had emerged from Cedar Point’s group, and was approaching heroes, hands raised.

If I accepted that things were going reasonably well here, this was a good outcome.  Civilians had been hurt, people had died, but Prancer hadn’t achieved his win, and Snag’s group wasn’t going to get their opportunity.

If I accepted it.  I couldn’t bring myself to.

There were powerful capes here.  Mama Mathers hadn’t had enough people defending her.  Had it been that she’d been caught off guard by Rain being prepared?  Or was my initial impression of this being a trap correct?

What did she want and what did she get?

I heard a commotion.  Noises of surprise and alarm.

The Fallen who had been turning themselves in were now turning on heroes.  People were picking up guns.

The number of heroes there had diminished.  Heroes had disappeared.

What followed was like dominoes falling, as the trap fell into place.  Narwhal created her crystalline forcefields, only for the forcefields to change tint.  The horse-head cape sent a duplicate her way, and she wasn’t able to get her forcefields up or into place in time.

From that, I knew the culprits of this turnaround.

More heroes were disappearing.  A member of Prancer’s group threw something into the midst of their group, and that something exploded.  The explosions repeated, one after another, at steady intervals.

The other-

From our first briefing on them, we’d know they had a guy who could appear at our most vulnerable point and catch us off guard.

I turned away from the spectacle in front of me, looking for the one who might be coming after the ones who’d gotten Mama Mathers and Valefor.  Behind us, to the sides-

In the midst of us.

Secondhand looked average, with flat, opaque goggles and a flat top cap, but he flickered intensely with afterimages and suggestions of places he might be in the future.  The images were violent enough he looked ready to burst, and he was right in the middle of our group.  I swung a punch, and he moved with enhanced speed, ducking it.

The quick movement pushed him over the brink, or so it seemed.  He detonated, and everything moved like it was slow motion, as I was thrown off my feet, the wind knocked out of my lungs.  Others were shoved back and away from him too.  My skin felt like it was tearing apart, because the slow motion was real, and different parts of me were slowed, while others weren’t.  My lower body was more affected, as was the part of me closer to the front.

It hit everyone except for Mama Mathers, who Secondhand zipped over to, to catch out of mid-air, and Valefor, who blurred, hair moving slightly, but the rest of him remained unaffected.

That would be Final Hour.  The targeted slow-motion, granting a kind of protection.

I used my flight to keep myself from being thrown back too much, canceling out the inertia and then flying toward them.  I didn’t have long, and with them this coordinated, they’d dogpile me in an instant.

I went straight for Valefor.

He was still protected as I brought the Wretch out.  When I punched him, I could feel the Wretch meet that invisible barrier.  I could see, in slow motion through both the expulsion of Secondhand’s detonation and Last Minute’s protective effect, the destruction of Valefor’s lower face as the Wretch passed through the barrier.

I couldn’t bring myself to kill, even now.  I canceled out my power of my own volition, when it was clear that I’d destroyed his jaw.

As one, the hostages we’d rescued were taking action.  They moved in near-unison, some reacting to the movements of others by taking up the call.  They climbed to their feet, and they reached for us, clutching.  Their expressions weren’t the ones they’d worn a moment ago.

The disconnection in my thinking and the speed of our immediate reality let me connect that dot too.  Valefor hadn’t managed a secret command.  He’d planted one on the group before Mama Mathers had laid them out flat.

Telling them to attack us when we were off guard, or when he gave some signal.  Erin was coming after Rain.  So was her little brother, who couldn’t have been older than nine.

The slow was wearing off.  I had only a moment.  I flew to the others, grabbing them, dragging them away.  Sveta and Capricorn.  Capricorn had a grip on Rain’s arm, so I brought Rain too, my fingers straining as I tried to hold onto three people for just a moment.  I’d never tried or even thought about it, but in the instant, I pulsed my forcefield on and off, to try to keep the Wretch from getting enough of a presence to reach out and hurt anyone.

I just needed to carry them for a few seconds.

Capricorn disappeared from my grip, and for an instant, I thought I’d lost my grip on him.  and my hand crackled as he did.  I turned to look, and saw the man with the goggles and mustache pointing his finger at us.

End of Days, I thought, as I headed toward the ground.

He wasn’t even a time manipulator.  I felt deeply offended at that fact, or I must have- it was a poignant enough feeling that I could feel it even as I took in the magnitude of just how the tides had turned, and how bad a thing that was.  They’d hit each of our groups, and they’d hit us hard.

I heard an assault rifle fire, and others took up the call.  It was more one-sided, this time, not two sides shooting at each other, but one side shooting at the rest.

I landed on the far side of a slope, with just Sveta.  I took the moment to try to gather my senses.  I hurt all over, and I had blood in my eyes.  The slow-motion effect from Secondhand.

Sveta had a rip in the edge of her face, but she barely seemed to care.  She was more focused on getting to her feet.

Capricorn had disappeared.  Damsel wasn’t here.  Chris and Looksee were on the fringes or not even in the area.

I could feel droplets of moisture on my bare skin.

Rain.

I flew close to the ground, using the hill as cover, Wretch out in case a stray bullet came my way or cut through the dirt.  I peeked around the edge of the hill’s slope.  My eyes took in the scene at a glance, and partway through that glance, the scene changed.

Darkness.  No sun shining through overcast clouds.  Only darkness.  Light leeched in through some other way, giving just enough to outline the surroundings.

The air smelled like ash, and it was dry enough that it felt like my mouth and body were being leeched of moisture.

End of Days.  He’d caught me, seeing me before I’d seen him.

My heart was pounding.  I couldn’t bring myself to speak, because I was afraid I’d scream.  The best case scenario was that at this vital, critical moment I’d been shunted out and away, to some strange, dark place.

The worst case scenario was that it was a permanent shunt.

A small sound escaped my throat as I looked around.

A minute passed.

Two minutes.  When my eyes played tricks on me through the darkness, I saw Valefor’s jaw shattering.  I imagined the battlefield, as it had been.

Anger took over the devastation and surprise.  I fidgeted.  I adjusted my costume.  I flew around in circles, trying to get a sense of what this place was like.  I stopped when I flew into a tree I couldn’t see.

I watched as the light grew brighter, as if it shone in through invisible cracks that were widening.  The cracks soared tall and wide, and the light flooded in, blinding.

I was hauled out of that dark, strange world and back into my reality, and I felt the change in air pressure, the moisture of the drizzling rain. and I saw that things had happened in the meantime.

Sveta and Capricorn were fighting side by side, with Love Lost and a crowd of controlled civilians between them and Rain.  The presence of the mob of Valefor’s affected hostages kept Sveta from getting to any of us, and complicated her skirmish with Love Lost.  Two of March’s group members were part of that same crowd, trying to fend the civilians off, and they weren’t trying to be gentle about it like Sveta was.

Rain, meanwhile, was trying to fight Snag.  Snag was above him, pushing him to the ground, knee on Rain’s stomach.  He’d destroyed one of Snag’s arms and his two good arms were at the remaining, damaged one, which had a slice taken out of it.  His other two mechanical arms were gripping Snag’s normal arm, no longer encased in the giant, oversized prosthetic part.  Even with their combined strength, the two mechanical arms were losing, cracking and splintering under the pressure.

This was the chaos Snag had wanted.

I flew to him, praying I wouldn’t get another End of Days timeout.

I was halfway to him when Rain’s arms broke.

The blades fixed in the midst of the breakable shells continued up and out, piercing Snag’s forearm and scissoring the space between them as his weight came down and made them shift.

Snag hauled back, pulling away, swinging his damaged prosthetic arm, while holding his damaged regular arm out.  Blood poured from the ragged wounds in his arm.  One of the blades had gone in one side and out the other.

In any other day, any other circumstance, I never would have imagined I’d have let this go.

But others needed help.  Rain was mostly in the clear, as he and Snag parted.  Sveta and Capricorn weren’t.

I flew down to where Sveta had been pulled to the ground.  Her balance wasn’t good, and when she was brought down, it was hard for her to find her feet again.  Once I touched down in the middle of the pack of people, it was a question of getting people back without hurting them too badly.  I grabbed her and used flight as much as anything to haul her up and away, so we were above the fighting.

It was a vantage point for me to see Rain facing off against Snag.  He’d hit Snag with a crescent blade, and the man had a line of silver across face and shoulder.  He didn’t move, and blood continued to seep down his arm and hand.

Sveta reached over, grabbed grass, because it was the only thing to grab, and hauled herself to the ground over there, to where she could talk to Rain or help Snag.

I flew down to Capricorn.  Love Lost leaped up at me, intercepting.  Her initial contact broke through the Wretch.  Her mover power let her connect to me despite the interruption in her course.  I felt her claws scrape my breastplate.

I punched her, and she dropped down and away, landing amid people.

Rain had hit Snag again.  Keeping him from moving.

On my second try, I got to Capricorn.  I pulled him free, holding him with both hands, my arms straining.

I saw Love Lost get to her feet, reaching for her mask.

I saw her sway and then fall, like the lights had gone out.

Snag had already fallen.  Either he’d been hit, or he’d elected to try moving, because one of the silver lines had split.  His neck was gouged where it joined the shoulder, a wound deep enough it should have exposed shoulderblade and collarbone.  It didn’t, because the blood was thick, and his beard was dense.

Rain was on the ground.  In the distance, perched on a hill, Cradle slumped on his platform.

The drizzle became rain, punctuated by gunfire.  There was fighting everywhere, and even the people that were holding back were hitting pretty damn hard now.  Not dissimilar to how I had with Valefor.

Not heroes and villains.  Only monstrousness and madness.

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196 thoughts on “Shadow – 5.12”

  1. Sorry this one’s so late. Discombobulated from travel last weekend, and I wrote 1k words I didn’t like in retrospect, so I cut it and started anew at an hour I normally wouldn’t have.

    Aside: I know the bonus chapter thing is out of date. I’m thinking – and I’m really opening this up to feedback, but maybe a week with 8 chapters as an interlude side-story, timed for after this overarching story arc is done and there’s a lull. Something to get away from Victoria’s perspective for a brief bit and provide context on some background stuff. Interested? Would you (donor or otherwise) be cool with this as a way of me catching up? Quality might be a bit lower because there’d be less downtime between chapters, but it’d be, say, a bit of the old Wormverse, featuring the Boston Games (mentioned in arc 2), a bit of Blasto, New Wave, Accord, and Damsel, among others. It’d tie back to the main story in a roundabout way, or I might have it flick back and forth.

    1. The Ambassadors live?? Yes I would be fine with a drop in quality because clearly you’re trying so damn hard. Don’t pressure yourself too much.

      1. >a bit of the old Wormverse

        I certain Wilbow means going back to older periods, like the Boston Games. New Wave isn’t around anymore, Blasto is dead, Damsel is different, Accord is dead (but the Ambassadors could technically still exist).

    2. Sounds great to me. I’d donate for that.

      I loved the different perspective every day for a week thing whenever that came up in worm.

    3. Wait, Blasto AND Damsel? I thought I’d never get to see Blasto again! That guy is awesome! Not Ashley awesome, but pretty damn cool.

      Also Ashley is awesome!

      I say go for it. Disclaimer: I’m not good at writing. My advice may or may not be horrible. All I can really do is say if I like a character or not.

    4. Mr. Bow, first, thanks for the communication and candor!
      Like many here, I think your writing is great but your attitude is really what makes me a fan.
      Everyone agrees – so far – that getting a little vintage worm would be great.
      Knowing that, I still have to vote in another direction, for a different character spotlight…
      K?

    5. I’d be super hyped for that. It’s omake-style but canon, it’s more characters and the nuanced voices and perspectives of those characters.

      I’d love it.

    6. YES!!! ACCORD and Blasto among so many other reasons make this interesting and great. More accord would be so wonderful.

      I’m all for the 8 chapter week, but my only caveat is some nervousness of what it would do to your output/productivity/headspace going forward. Maybe two weeks of every other day just to give you some slight peace and rest? I think you regretted in retrospect the impact which the chapter a day arc in Worm had on you?

      Also – I’ve said this before, but if this is you discombobulated, my goodness it’s great, and I can’t imagine what a recombobulated Pig would be able to write!

      Thanks!

      1. Thirding the spaced-out pacing suggestion. I like the idea of a different storyline for a bit and it’ll be great to revisit the Worm era. But we get better material when you’re well-rested, and eight writing days in a row will burn our boar out. We want you happy and healthy, for both our enjoyment and yours.

        Also, I don’t think you’ve raised the donation threshold since the middle of Twig, have you? I wouldn’t mind if you bumped it up again to keep it near 2.5 chapters a week.

      2. Yeah, I definitely think you should feel free to space it out. Whatever makes for the best story!

    7. YES PLEASE! 😀
      Totally down for that! Not that I’m not enjoying Victoria’s story, but getting backstories, lore and all that stuff is always nice. Especially with a world that carefully crafted. 😉 Would be a waste not to explore it. 😀 Plus, there’s the chance of “meeting” some familiar faces. What’s not to love?

    8. I’m gonna be honest, that’s one of the things that made Worm so great. You need a break every once in a while to flesh out characters and events. Builds understanding, intrigue and empathy. It’s a tool you use well and I think you should do it.

    9. I didn’t know you your donation chapters worked. Is it one every week? What are goals? Is it something only people that are already patreon donors know?
      #howdobonuschaptersevenwork

        1. Oh thanks. I have looked at the patreon page, but never saw exact numbers before. Always wondered what the exact systems was. 🙂

    10. The only intelligent response I could give to that is do what you think best. I’m not a good enough judge/writer to know what I’ll like in advance. I like your stuff, so please write stuff that you want to write. That’s worked out great for me on my end so far and I sincerely hope it’s working out for you.

      In short, I trust you.

    11. Trust in your writing and instincts-they seem to work pretty damn well. Do what you think best-with a fan base like this, we’re with you no matter what.

    12. I very much like the idea of reading about the Boston Games – or anything else you would like to write about, really. I’m not as excited about the idea of you forcing yourself to churn these out at one per day to catch up on bonus chapters, not if you think that the quality might suffer for it. Personally, I donate because I think your writing is superb and want to support you in it (and in general), not in order to pressure you to prioritize quantity over quality. I’d much rather the updates be kept at a pace that does not exact a toll on the writing itself.

    13. I would really like to see some Blasto action, but i do remember getting a bit frustrated with the long interlude arcs in Worm(still my favorite book) while binge-reading, so i think back and forth interludes would be better. And great job with this chapter.

    14. 8 chapters in 1 week? Please no it’s too much to read. If you need to write 8 of them so you have a buffer & are able to post extra chapters every week until you catch up it’s fine, but I’ll be up all night reading if you suddenly post that many extra chapters at once.

    15. Personally, if it’s gonna be 8 chapters, I would prefer to either not have it at all,or for it to have narrative significance in terms of its own side story.
      I like world building, but that’s a long time for a side story, especially if it bounces between characters.

      Yes, I wanna know more about the Boston characters including damsel and blasto, but I would hate it if it turned into a filler arc that didn’t seem important until much later. For instance, a lot of the interludes in the entire first half of Worm could be skipped entirely with literally nothing being missed. Some seemed that way until later, where certain things happen that were explained or hinted at in a p previous interlude. Those ones kinda bugged me (pun intended) at times. I mostly was cool with it since they were spread out, but eight is a bit larger of a bite than I’m willing to chew unless it’s clear that it isn’t potentially filler to the Ward story and/or has its own plotline that is relevant to the main story.

      If anyone has seen the Hitman Reborn anime, they had awesome fillers that most didn’t realize were fillers even when they had little to do with the main story. That’s the kind of mini arc that I’d personally be totally happy with

    16. A Boston Games arc sounds like a lot of fun. I think learning about the early days of Damsel and New Wave, in particular, would be really valuable to our understanding of the characters. However, I think it would be a real shame to sacrifice quality and would probably devalue the work in the long run.

      Other than that, there are two potential objections I can think of: 1, it might be confusing to go back twenty years or whatever, introducing a lot of capes we haven’t heard of before, just when we’ve come out of a really long battle introducing or re-introducing a lot of new characters. 2, as good it would be to expand the Worm-era, I think the new world of Ward also needs a lot more exploration. The second and third interludes have really been my favorites so far for that reason.

      Overall, I think if the chronology is clear and if there’s plenty of time for more Ward-era side-content in the more distant future, a Boston Games thing would be great.

    17. I’m happy to get to know more about the Boston games, though long arcs with pre-drawn conclusions get under my skin, not a fan of prequels.

      that said i have an all consuming need to know more about everything in the worm/ward verse and extra view points whenever they happen to be chronologically help satisfy that itch.

    18. Boston Games would be cool, but other (smaller) things I’m interested in include:
      *Who were Jay/Gel and Nell/Pazuza? We got only a few lines on them, and no real idea of their powers. They feel like an unresolved plot thread.
      *Was Beast of Burden’s power simply unlimited carrying capacity, or what?
      *Sidepiece. It seems to me that Victoria doesn’t like her because her style is a bit trashy, while Ashley does like her because she has style. In any case, she seems interesting.
      *William Manton’s perspective. More clarification on his backstory would be good (why does his invincible dissociative-guilt-fantasy daughter go naked, particularly when she could make her clothes as invincible as she is?), and what happened to his various clones would be interesting.
      *Scapegoat’s trigger. Such an interesting… Breaker profile? Yeah, I’m guessing it was disassociative.
      *Who were Rattenfanger and Jamestowner?
      *More about March’s group. Particularly Eino and Dino, who appear to be fraternal twins, rather than identical. (Although it’s entirely possible that one or both have modified that with their transplant power. Maybe so they can have children? Kiss/Kill probably still applies…)
      *Faultline’s crew. I’d especially like to see Shamrock’s backstory. This may have been covered by the rewrite, though.
      *Popular entertainment on Earth Bet.

      1. I can explain the Siberian bit for you. As seen by Brian and the manton clones, first materialization of the projection is without clothes. So if a power shunted the projection away or cancelled her out like scion did, she’d disappear and leave her clothes behind, and reappear later needing new clothes.
        If you don’t want the group of murderers who keep you around because they think you are invincible and if there is a kill order out for you, having that hint about your very vulnerable and very killable real body existing is a problem.

        Besides, since the projection isn’t a real person and isn’t really a female, there’s no embarrassment just going naked. It sells the “Siberian is a fearless psycho you don’t want to mess with” bit really well.

        Additionally, when crafting a new persona to escape trauma, people often want something as far from their actual or previous selves as possible. A scientist who lived under organization and structure is pretty far from a murderer who focuses on natural instincts and rejection of all forms of society. Going full nude is in character for that persona.

        1. *Just pretend to be a poor-quality teleporter as well.
          *That would make sense if the projection didn’t resemble his daughter. Since it does, a denial-of-reality ‘this is really my daughter and of course she’s still alive, nothing can hurt her’ thing would make a lot more sense. Basically, I’d expect him to behave like Cradle, not like… well, The Siberian.

  2. Typo thread?

    “The blades fixed in the midst of the breakable shells continued up and out, piercing Snag’s”

    Unfinished paragraph.

    1. “The round plate of a mask with four eyeholes cut into the hard was an identity of its own.” ‘hard’ most likely should have another word going with it.

      “I realized the noise had gone away.” Extra new line after the paragraph ending with this line.

    2. “and part of three of breaker’s” Extra ‘of’ maybe

      “cut into the hard was an identity” Is hard meant to be head

    3. Not o=in this chapter, but the table of contents page has a typo: interlude 1 is labeled “1.x (Prance)”, missing the r.

      1. They’re both fighting – doesn’t necessarily meam that they’re fighting *eachother*. The rest of the paragraph clears up that they’re fighting off the Valerfor’d Fallen.

    4. I found this exchange to be unclear:

      >March emerged. She had Mama Mathers wrapped in a bedsheet, which was bound with cord that had tassels on the end. Something from her costume, it seemed.

      >I didn’t know or trust March. “Is it her? That’s Mama Mathers?”

      >“It’s her,” Rain said. “I’ve seen her enough to know.”

      >“You and I need to have a conversation about your power,” March said. “The emotion power.”

      >“I forgot to turn it off while you were inside.”

      >“I know what it does,” she said. “It’s not strong.”

      >“It’s never strong.”

      >“But it’s not useless either. Nearly useless,” she said.

      >March walked the Fallen leader out to the street.

      At first I thought that March was talking to Victoria about her aura. The text does not specify who she’s addressing, nor does it specify who is answering March, and both Rain and Victoria have an emotion power and are present in that conversation.

      I suggest that you either have March address Rain by name, or add “Rain said.” after Rain’s initial response to March.

      1. Huh, thanks for that. I also thought it was about Victoria, since she has (had?) a habit of “forgetting” the aura on.

    5. “Valefor was oblivous”

      “I didn’t hear anything muffled than a one-syllable word.”
      Missing something.

      “I’d lost my grip on him. and my hand crackled as he did.”
      Punctuation or capitalisation.

    6. “What followed was like dominoes falling, as the trap fell into place. Narwhal created her crystalline forcefields, only for the forcefields to change tint. The horse-head cape sent a duplicate her way, and she wasn’t able to get her forcefields up or into place in time.

      From that, I knew the culprits of this turnaround.”

      Victoria doesn’t really elaborate on this even after the Speedrunners trap her with End of Days’ power, it’s something that creates a lot of confusion. I had to read the last section multiple times to understand what was happening and I’m still not sure what happened to Narwhal, or if Prancer’s group attacked the heroes or were themselves attacked.

    7. “The one with the intestine snake lashed out, snake lunging from the palm of their hand to Capricorn and I.”

      Should be “to Capricorn and me,” since object pronoun is needed.

    8. “Capricorn disappeared from my grip, and for an instant, I thought I’d lost my grip on him. and my hand crackled as he did.”

      Should be “him. And” or “him, and”

  3. Chaos and blood and incredible violence. Betrayal and suffering and hopefully Valefor can’t use sign language to enact his power. Wretch is OP, plz nerf?

    Lots of interesting powers on display, March and her graphic ultraviolence, End of Days and his terrorfying time-out, the interplay of the time-manipulators, and everyone’s most favorite mainstay: the sleeper agent hostage.

    I’m still confused as to what made Narwhal’s power fail, and if this was supposed to be a reconnect between the factions, where are Vista and Weld?

    1. Fortunately, I think you need to understand what Valefor says. Maybe if he still had his hypno-gaze, he could get away with ordering people around with sign language, but he doesn’t.

  4. For fuck’s sake, Hollow Point. You couldn’t wait until the Fallen were actually beaten to backstab the heroes, could you?

    1. Well, their logic is probably that the heroes would want to arrest everyone, not sit back and let them slaughter Rain. So the heroes are an obstacle.

    2. The whole point of a backstab is to catch your target at a moment where they are unable to fight back. If they’d waited for the Fallen to be taken into custody and everyone to get their bearings, they would have lost the element of surprise.

      1. That they grabbed Mama Mathers and left Valefor unaffected makes me suspect that at least the Timestoppers are actually working with the Fallen. They may have gotten mind-controlled or hired.

        This isn’t going to do great things for Vista and Rachel’s friendship, is it? 🙁

        1. I think the Undersiders are also getting face-stabbed here. Its not clear which villains are in on it or not. Clearly Ashley wasn’t informed, so presumably either BoB wasn’t or he was a really awful leader. Or both because the later is clearly true.

          It sounds like the Speed Runners and Rain’s clustermates are probably with the Fallen though.

        2. If it was possible for Love Lost &co to work with the Fallen, they probably would have done that to seize Rain before he got his shit together and brought in reinforcements. If they could secure the cooperation, or even the non-interference of someone like Mama Mathers, this entire fight would have been completely unnecessary. The sole reason they hired all these capes was that Rain was hiding behind a villageful of Fallen thugs.

    1. wow, Sveta weaponized something made of a mass of tendrils. Perhaps that’s her shard’s specialty.

      Maybe Sveta’s body is the shard’s wig.

  5. Also, unless Valefor gets medical attention really quick I’m pretty sure Victoria just killed him. There’s important blood vessels in that area she just pulverized.

    1. Its for the best. Do we really want Valefor’s power to mutate to writing?

      Now I’m imagining Valefor walking around with a costume that he’s hand-stitched “Don’t attack me!” to with a bunch of large cards he can hold up.

      1. I love that mental image. Just imagine the PRT briefing…

        “Valefor. Master 1, Stranger 1. He used to be a big deal, scary as shit. If his power gets a hold on you, you are completely subjected to his will. Upside is, his power only works through the cue cards he’s holding up. Don’t. Read. Them.”
        “Naaaaaah, don’t sweat it. The poor sod tried to rob a bank a few months back, couldn’t find the right cue card. He made the clerk bring him to the bathroom. The next card he tried made the clerk try to bring him a double cheeseburger, some fries and a large soda. After the clerk left, he tried to scribble a NEW card, but since he’s blind and was quite agitated, he didn’t notice he was scrawling on the desk in part. His card compelled everyone to “GIVE ME ALL THE M-“.
        “I’m just glad he does not try to control people by licking them, at this point.”
        “Why are we bothering with him again? He makes Uber and Leet look competent.”
        “Who?”
        “Exactly.”

        1. I still maintain there should be an alternate universe where Leet and Uber are awesome.

          Well there was Dire Worm, but I’m pretty sure being a henchman for Doctor Dire makes anyone awesome.

          1. I’ve occasionally thought of doing a little fanfic where Olympiad and Masterwork are Protectorate elites. The Famine Engine was a hell of a thing.

  6. Hmmmm. Hey, I’m gonna sound like a bloodthirsty lunatic for a second, I hope that’s ok.

    Your enemies can’t spring a subtle trap on you which involves using mind controlled innocents as shock troops, complete with devastating counterattacks, etc, etc…if your enemies are *dead*.

    Stop fucking around.

    1. I don’t think killing Valefor or MM would have prevented this, since Valefor implanted his backup commands ahead of time. And the rest of the chaos came from hidden Hollow Point guys waiting for the right moment.

        1. He killed Snag. At least that’s how I read it. All three remaining clustermates falling down at the same time for no visible reason? That looks like a trigger event to me, one only the three of them can see. Snag died, and the rest of them got his powers.

          1. I agree with Soadreqm’s interpretation. Makes the most sense.

            I suspect Rain’s lines might have sliced through Snag’s spine or maybe carotid arteries. Those are the primary vulnerabilities in that area of the body.

          2. Holy shit, I think you have a point. But it is kinda odd that, for a cape that has supposibly worthless powers, that he actually managed to kill one of his clustermates.

          3. A trigger event that doesn’t give trigger visions to every cape present is unprecedented, I think. It sounds to me much more like their regular shared-dream-power-room hijinks – which had the effect of knocking them clean out, simultaneously, at set times. It’s possible that this would have been triggered by Snag’s death instead of their regular program, but it seems more probable that Snag only activated the blade due to losing consciousness and falling down – meaning he was still not fatally hurt at the time of the dream.

          4. If it were a proper trigger event, every cape would have fallen over.

            My impression is that they got Imp’d.

          5. I have to concur with Zinc — this to me looked like it was the group’s “scheduled unconsciousness period”, and Snag happened to be killed/injured by it. That, or his death caused the others to go back into the dream state for a negotiation over his space or some such.

    2. I…honestly have to concur. There’s no Birdcage anymore. What’s the endgame with capes like Mathers or Valefor? The infrastructure to hold them safely no longer exists, if it ever did. Just…do it.

    3. With how prominent “permanent” master powers are that warp mind.

      I’d say that Victoria was right when she said it’d be safer to just knock out/disable both of them instead of killing and potentially dooming every hostage.

      1. I can see the sense in that, but my answer would have to be that Mama Mathers and Valefor simply cannot be safely contained or disabled. Cannot be done.

        It’s like watching Jessica Jones and having people argue about the best way to contain Kilgrave. Naw, dudes. No. There is one way to contain Kilgrave, and that’s in a wooden box six and a half feet long. Anything else means that innocent people are *going to die*, because you cannot contain him.

        1. They absolutely can be contained safely. You can just gag Valefor and Mama is defeated thoroughly by wrapping her in a sheet and knocking her out.

          Their powers are impressive, no question, but they’re not the first powerful or sensory based Masters the Wardens have had to deal with.

          1. And yet, the situation is now that Victoria was forced to half tear Valefor’s head off anyway, and Mama Mathers is probably either gonna be killed in the fighting, or escape/be rescued by the Fallen, in which case they will likely split off, go guerilla, intensify their terrorism, and kill or enslave many, many more people.

            In Worm, things get worse. Inevitably, inexorably. The better bet would have been to kill them, swiftly and painlessly.

          2. @Lee

            They escaped through unexpected outside influence, not because they’re un-containable.

            And I don’t think any Hero on sight would approve of executing a disabled criminal on the grounds that(and possibly hurting hostages by proxy): “They’ll inevitably escape because the world is sad, so kill them anyways.”

          3. @Exejpgwmv

            We’re just gonna have to disagree here. If Valefor and Mama get away, it’s because Victoria didn’t stop it.

          4. @Lee

            I’m pretty sure it would be because the time manipulating villains tired to free them.

        2. Every parahuman released from the Birdcage at the end of the world was only there in the first place because they got caught, sentenced in a trial, and sent there. Every S-Class threat that broke containment during or after Gold Morning likewise had to be contained in the first place.

          There is a power threshold where containment becomes impossible, but Valefor and Mama aren’t even NEAR it. Shove them in a cell with some basic Master/Stranger quarantine protocols, and there’s nothing they can do.

          1. I get that, I do, but the Birdcage isn’t around anymore (to our knowledge), and while containing Valefor and Mama Mathers is fine once you have the cell already set up for them, trying to contain them on a battlefield where they have ready access to hostages and minions can only result in a bloodbath. As I did point out, the situation at the end of this chapter is that both Valefor and Mama Mathers are equally likely to die or escape as they are to be successfully contained. Getting them off the battlefield and into a prepared cell was the hard part, and it didn’t work. Now a lot of people are going to die.

          2. Mama’s unconscious and Valefor has a broken jaw. They aren’t going to do any killing today. If someone dies, it’s because of the OTHER Fallen thugs, whom the death of Mama and Valefor would not have incapacitated in the first place.

            Their powers are already neutralized. If they’re carried off the battlefield in the chaos, they’ll definitely cause some trouble in the future, but the containment measures seem quite sufficient. If you think these two are too dangerous and must die, what kind of criminal do you think you could take alive? How do you get less threatening than “blind man, unable to speak and in considerable pain, carrying his unconscious mother”?

          3. They are being carried off the battlefield though. This is not Valefor struggling to carry Mama Mathers away, the Speedrunners have them. The only question is whether the Speedrunners are actually on their side.

            I get that in a perfect situation, they could be contained. I’m arguing that that perfect situation is what’s not ever going to happen.

          4. “Perfect situation”? Your actual escape scenario here is that a group of villains with time powers might suddenly intervene and carry them away. Literally carry, since they can’t walk much. Again, if that’s what you need to prepare for, what possible target could you justify taking alive? You’re not complaining about Victoria sparing the hostages, but they’re just as capable as Valefor of waiting to be rescued.

            And actually reasonably likely to firebomb a shopping center or something. They’re under Valefor’s orders, and probably indoctrinated into the cult.

            Of course, that’s not really what your argument is about. It has nothing to do with the difficulty of containing someone, you’re just assuming that, for narrative reasons, the villain is inevitably going to escape. There’s two problems with that, though.

            Firstly, it’s not really true in this setting. Sometimes villains escape, sure. Lung escaped once, while being transported to the Birdcage. However, he didn’t escape the second time, and he stayed in jail until endgame. There’s a pretty good track record of permanent incarceration being exactly that, barring the end of the world.

            Secondly, in the settings where it is true, any attempt to kill the villain is going to fail anyway. If the bad guy is guaranteed to get away, the last thing you want to do is try to kill him. He’ll just be saved by some contrived deus ex machina. Batman breaking his oath and killing you rather than letting you shoot the Joker, or something like that. The reason why the protagonist doesn’t just see the structure of the story and break away from it is that if he has accurate information about the structure of the story, he CAN’T break away from it, because that’s not how the story goes. If the reason the villain always escapes from prison is that the writers need him, the villain is also going to escape certain death. Or, failing that, come back from the dead.

        3. I spent half the first season of Jessica Jones going, “Punch his head off. Punch his head off, Jessica. Right now. Just punch his head off,” and counted at least ten people who died as a direct result of her not doing so the first time she had the opportunity.

          1. Jessica Jones spoilers follow…

            That’s because Jessica lives in a society that prosecutes and imprisons head-puncher-offers. Jessica sometimes seems to get some extra freedoms, and she eventually did strangle the dude with her bare hands, but that was only after it was obvious to the right people (i.e. a bunch of cops) just what kind of threat Kilgrave was.

          2. More Jessica Jones spoilers:

            Generally, waving a severed head around a cop shop gets you imprisoned, too. Jessica was willing to do that to try to save Hope, but wasn’t willing to do what it actually took to stop Kilgrave. If the season had ended with AKA WWJD? with Kilgrave dead and Jessica and Hope in prison (but alive), it would have been a net win. Instead, Jessica got to avoid doing time, but got a bunch of other people, including the girl she was trying to save from prison, killed.

        4. Mama has in fact been safely contained and sedated. It’s completely possible to keep her and Valefor comatose for the rest of their natural lives at minimal expense, thus avoiding the question of failsafe commands.

          1. That is possible…but it is very, very much not what is happening here. Valefor is likely to die anyway as a result of Victoria having been forced to punch his lower jaw out through his neck, and Mama Mathers is now in the hands of some skeevy mercenaries.

            The plan did not survive contact with the enemy. Mama Mathers is probably going to continue doing truly terrible shit to people.

          2. When presented with a captured MM the plan was to get the Fallen(enemies) to surrender. Which they were doing.

            It’s just that the Hollow Point villains weren’t viewed as enemies.

            At least not enemies on the Fallen’s side.

          1. Batman should kill the Joker? No, not necessarily. Society should probably kill the Joker though, via a swift and painless execution. The Joker is quite literally never going to stop murdering people, and will always escape to get out and murder, and past a certain point that is the fault of the people who basically refuse to stop him.

            As has been pointed out, though, that’s a weird meta problem. In the DC universe, you can never kill the Joker because even if one writer writes that story with editorial approval, another writer will just bring him back. This is because mainstream comics with the weight of canon behind them are weird as hell.

          2. Which is basically another way of saying that for meta reasons, the DC universe is some kind of hell where things can never, ever actually get better, the Joker and all the other monsters like him can never be permanently killed or contained, and people will always suffer at their hands. That’s kinda the problem with a great big sprawling comics universe which has to publish books monthly. Shit can never be allowed to end, because that’s not how the publishing model works.

            I find more self-contained stuff with just one writer telling a story to be better, or at least, less weird on that meta level of a big shared universe where, for instance, the Joker is a shared ‘toy’, character/plot device, and other writers will periodically want to use him for a story, so you can’t permanently get rid of him.

            In other words, yeah, I get what you mean. I think it’s a weird artifact of the way that shared publishing universes work, not a good thing.

    4. I agree. You just caught two people who were torturing civilians in front of you and had serious powers that made them an ongoing risk. They were hell bent on hurting you as well.

      Kill them. Kill, and be done with it.

      1. Okay, so they kill Valefor.

        Several dozen civilians have failsafe commands triggered and suddenly attempt to kill themselves. While the heroes are dealing with that the rest of the Fallen attack, as happened here. Same result, more civilian casualties.

        1. Right, but what just happened is that Victoria had to hit Valefor in the mouth with the Wretch, hitting him so hard that she described it not as breaking his jaw but as destroying the lower half of his face. If Valefor dies as a result of having his throat destroyed, right in the middle of a pitched engagement, that’s just the same outcome but under less controlled circumstances.

          1. She did that because he just got de-gagged, and while safe containment is preferable, she needed a way to disable him pronto before he got taken by the time guys.

          2. @ Exejpgwmv,

            Yes, but it’s like I said. Pitched battle, horrible circumstances, couldn’t be contained because it was a trap, and Victoria eventually decided to hit him hard enough to disable him. It was the right thing to do. She should have done it sooner.

            I get that you and I disagree on this, and that’s fine. If it all works out and no-one else dies because of this, then I’ll freely admit that Victoria got it right. I just don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.

          3. @Lee

            There is no unequivocally “right call” in this situation. Victoria explained why pretty well.

            The lethal options carried just as many risks as the non-lethal ones and would have deprived them of certain opportunities.

    5. Well, here’s an idea… how do we KNOW Mama Mathers is still alive? Only March went in, and I’m unsure how far their timing powers reach. She could have tied up a hostage in that sheet after a deft flick of her wrist, forseeing this potential betrayal. She did mention something about objectivity, and Victoria’s power not being useless.

      That, and March is unlikely to take half-measures, as we’ve no doubt seen.

  7. Victoria should get some credit for using her aura to home in on MM’s location. That’s a real treat in a story of amazing powers: using a fairly weak power in a new way we haven’t seen, that is totally dependent on the specific situation.

    It seems possible that MM wanted to be caught and even that she didn’t particularly want her hostages to get hurt, but she couldn’t have planned for Vic to do what she did here.

  8. Great chapter! Lots happening, I could really feel the chaos and confusion and “fog of war” as Victoria tried to navigate through this.

  9. It looks like WordPress ate my comment, so I’ll try again

    Well this was fantastic. I was worried MaMa would get captured and just end up like Bakuda, but this is better and worse.

    There were a few typos, this one was most confusing IMO: “Sveta and Capricorn were fighting, Love Lost and a crowd between them and Rain.”
    I’m not sure if the comma should be there. If the sentence was restructured it could make sense with it. It sounds like Capricorn is fighting Sveta and there’s something else going on with Love Lost.

    Anyway, I hope Rain is okay. He finally seemed to get his game on and kill or fatally wound Snag. But it sounds as if Cradle got to him. It would still be a cool death but I hope he lives.

    1. Don’t think Cradle got to him. Love Lost, Rain, and Cradle all slumped over as Snag died, so I imagine it’s part of the power empathy. Our boy Rain might just get a power boost here.

    2. >There were a few typos, this one was most confusing IMO: “Sveta and Capricorn were fighting, Love Lost and a crowd between them and Rain.”

      That’s not a typo, I don’t think. I’m pretty sure it means this: “Sveta and Capricorn were fighting [the villains], [with] Love Lost and a crowd between them and Rain.”

  10. Love the blades hidden in Rain’s arms for when they inevitably break. That’s pretty awesome. And if he just killed Snag, he might get the ability to use the arms to channel his other powers through too…

    1. I wonder if after a kill the deceased’s tokens get evenly divided among the cluster, or if they all go to the killer, or if it’s a mix with the killer getting some bounty and the rest distributed.

      It makes a big difference because in on case Rain gains a big edge on the rest of the cluster, but in the other they all get stronger.

      1. Well, now that I think about it, it’s been pretty heavily implied that one cluster member already died; on their day, their “tokens” get randomly distributed among the others. I don’t recall if they altered Rain’s powers in any way when he got them, or just made them stronger, or if we just haven’t really seen either way. Regardless, my bet at the moment is random distribution on the killed cluster member’s days; thus, if Rain managed to kill all three of the others, he would get a boost every day.

        1. Problem is, there aren’t any tonkens for the last member. If the fifth really died, we would either see another set of tokens for a fifth power, or everybody in the cluster lose their mover power now.

        2. I’m thinking it’s the bounty purely based on what the Shard’s would like.

          If you get all the power by killing another, it railroads too fast. Whoever starts the attacks probably wins by sheer momentum.

          If it’s evenly distributed, less motivation to fight at all. Why even program in a strong kiss/kill?

          But if it’s bounty, it’s a good mix. Yeah, you have reason to kill the other people in your cluster, but every kill makes them stronger, even if not as strong as you just got made. Which means there’s a lot more chance for the survivors to team up, at least until the first killer is dead themselves. And even if they don’t, the defenders still get some additional power to work with and the knowledge that somebody is coming for them. Which means everybody is going to get creative, which is the real goal all along.

          We don’t actually know how the one cluster member died, so it’s possible the power distribution is random because they weren’t actually killed by anybody else in the cluster.

      2. If the powers went to the killer, the anti-Rain coalition would have broken a long time ago. Any one of those three psychos would have gladly killed any of the other three to get more power. Since the powers are split, killing their teammates would have actually made their main goal of killing Rain more difficult, which has kept the team together so far.

        1. Not necessarily. They don’t know what killing him will do; they think it’ll make them stronger. Most importantly, they also think they then won’t have to watch him laugh on the other side of a door as they trigger every five nights. They also KNOW that if he’s dead, he won’t be sat at his chair in the room. Furthermore, their desire to kill him is fuelled by Kiss/Kill.

          They aren’t working together to boost their powers; they’re working together to kill Rain. If that happens to boost their power, then maybe the coalition will fall apart. I’m not so certain. I think that Love Lost may have had a bit of Kiss towards Snag, but I’m not sure why.

        2. That’s only the case if they *know* the killer gets the full share of the dead clustermate’s power. Assuming CM-5 is actually dead, that’s been the case from the beginning, and none of them would be considered the killer; no other clustermate has died thus far, so there’s no point of reference for them to assume killing each other would provide such a power boost.

          Now if Rain really did just kill Snag, and it does result in Rain “stealing” Snag’s power, I could see Love Lost and Cradle each consider offing each other and hoping to subsequently take out Rain with their own boosted powers.

  11. I’m increasingly interested in the actual mechanics behind the Wretch. It seems like it’s just not affected by any other powers and can go through them. It’s like it’s a totally other being mostly under Victoria’s control, and is a hard hitter, immune to mental control, and able to go through barriers because it doesn’t actually physically exist.

    I wonder what PRT ranking just the Wretch would have, and how that would affect Victoria’s ranking. Also interested in how the entities used this power or if they even knew of this usage.

    1. Seeing how the climax of Worm played out one of the meanings of that word (avoiding spoilers here), I have vague-but-excited feelings about the Wretch and the many meanings of the word “ward.”

  12. So … we haven’t seen the Undersiders for several chapters now, as far as I can tell. What is their big play going to be? Or was it all Tattletale’s big play to say “let’s you and him fight” and just stand back and mop up survivors? I can’t see Foil and Parian being super on board with that, but then it’s been two years, perhaps they’ve hardened some.

    I keep waiting for the Undersiders to step in here, because while the Fallen are definitely heavy hitters, Imp alone could be absolutely tearing through most of them, let alone with giant beast dogs doing a fair approximation of Mayday’s artillery drops or Heartbroken being a band of mobile Valefor-lites, or however many other capes they’ve gathered over the years. Perhaps Valefor being neutralized will free them up to intervene.

    Also loving March’s cool yet similar Accord-brand craziness, and I really want to see her and Foil interact some.

  13. Two Questions:
    A) Why are Mama Mathers and Valefore still alive? Both of them should have been killed. Having his eyes eaten out didn’t stop Valefore so why does Victoria have faith that ripping off his jaw will? MM is in a sheet and Victoria can punch through steel… or use Rain’s blades… or let Sveta hug her.

    B) Where are Tattletale and crew? They seem to have disappeared. I was pretty sure that she wants to kill Valefore and MM which means Imp should get with the stabbing right about now.

    1. “I wasn’t a stratagist.” This makes me feel like Wildbow is hinting at how different Victoria is from Taylor

      I think the “fog of war” is cool to read through, but it’s SO different from Taylor’s battle field awareness

      Point being, I wish we knew about TT&Co and we would know with Taylor, but we’re just gonna have to wait for more chapters. I’m sure we’ll get more March, which means more Foil, which means more Undersiders (fingers crossed!)

    2. >“It could still be a trap,” I said.
      >
      >“Yeah. But… this gets people out safe. If we went after her and she hurt them in the last moment, and if we couldn’t turn it off…”

      Add on to the fact that Rain thinks Mama is the type of person to throw away civilian lives in a last moment of spitefulness = coming in with clear lethal intent was never gonna happen.

    3. >Why are Mama Mathers and Valefore still alive?

      Keeping them alive preserves their ability to reverse the effects of their powers. It’s not clear what would happen to the hostages if Mama died without withdrawing herself, and Valefor can probably issue commands that still take effect after his death. Both of them are capable of reversing their powers’ effects, so keeping them alive but neutralizing their abilities to use their powers is the best option. Obviously, their surrender ended up being disingenuous, but it was still worth trying to keep them alive.

      1. Do we know that Mama MAthers can/needs to reverse the effects.

        The way I read her was that she puts a bit of herself in everyone that sees her. Killing her, kills the bit.

      2. There’s also the fact that they just aren’t that dangerous in the grand scheme of things. I mean, they’re pretty dangerous, but the grand scheme of things also includes people like Lung.
        Remember Canary’s interlude? Those were some pretty effective quarantine measures against a voice-based mind controller. She was gagged for the whole trial, AND had a collar that was set to inject her with knockout drugs if she somehow raised her voice, AND was encased in Brute-level restraints just in case. She got free of the collar and the gag during transport (because she was in the same truck with Bakuda, against Dragon’s recommendation), but she was deliberately transported under zero guard so there was nobody to hear her sing.

        Valefor apparently didn’t get that, presumably because by the time they could figure out he could still mind control people, he had already mind controlled everyone. Thanks for the false sense of security, Skitter, that was really fucking nice of you. This time, though, his captors have a much better idea of how his power works. Once he and Mama are in Warden custody, there isn’t much reason to think they could break out.

        Assuming the Wardens can still afford quarantine cells. They seem to be a bit stretched for resources, without Dragon.

        I really wonder where Dragon is.

        1. Alternately, Valefor was jail-broken by other Fallen during/before the trial, and never made it as far as the Birdcage or any other serious prison. That’s what I assumed, anyway. He could have Mastered his way out, but I think it more likely that another Fallen got Valefor out. Or a group of them, maybe. Or some allies, or even another villain group working to free one of their own let him out by mistake- or deliberately, to cover their tracks.

  14. >See the Heroes arrive with several detained and highly dangerous parahumans and are currently calming down most of the cultists with guns

    >Attack Heroes, re-antagonize all of the cultists, and free the highly dangerous and violent parahumans

    >???

    >Profit

    1. I believe step 3 is something along the lines of “use the renewed chaos to kill Rain, thus fulfilling the job Hollow Point/Undersiders were actually hired for.” Should that go well, step 4 would indeed be “Profit.”

      1. I get the feeling the Fallen won’t stop attacking just because Rain died.

        And I don’t think “profit” matters much when you’re dead or mind-controlled. Something the villains may very well be if things go badly.

        1. Well, they’re villains, just wiping out the Fallen as a whole wouldn’t be entirely out-of-character for them, nor would killing Rain and then just leaving to let the heroes clean up the mess and take the casualties. Also, MM is still drugged up and unconscious, while Valefor just got his mouth torn off; I don’t think a lot of mind-controlling will be going on.

          If the Hollow Point gang wasn’t willing to risk life for profit, why would they have picked this fight in the first place?

          1. @Exejpgwmv maybe, but that doesn’t mean their first thought would be to back down, especially since they’ve started losing members. It’s easy to fall into sunk cost thinking: “This has cost us too much to turn back now, so we have to double down.”

  15. The most suspicious person here is March. I give it very low odds that the person in the bedsheet was actually Mama Mathers.

      1. Rain “said” he recognised her. The capture happened offscreen with March reappearing with a preprepared blanket that it didn’t mention her carrying.

        Plus, Rain is untrustworthy as fook.

        Going with shenanigans.

    1. Good point; everyone just sort of trusted Rain on that. March has given Rain resistance to MM&V and helped him out in other ways too. He would definitely have be willing to play along with her schemes.

      1. Mama’s scary enough, and Rain knows full well how scary she is, that I don’t think he’d lie about someone being Mama Mathers unless he’d seen the real one dead. And even then, he wouldn’t trust that he wasn’t under her influence to see her dead. Maybe I’m naive and stupid, but I trust Rain on this.

        1. You’re probably right, if for no other reason than it would have been impossible for March to have been sure who MM was. So, she couldn’t reliably have given the real MM the shot herself and stuffed a decoy in the bedsheet. For all she knew, the real MM could have been watching from a hiding place. Only Rain could confirm that March got MM.

          Since Rain could have pulled off a decoy switch by himself if he had gone in, March insisting on capturing MM instead of Rain actually made the whole operation more credible.

  16. Oh, well that’s bad. Now everything’s gone to hell. And Victoria, I think you need to learn when to not be so nice.

  17. While reading this chapter, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop because I knew that things couldn’t possibly be going as smoothly as they seemed to be going. Things started to go bad when the Hollow Point villains attacked, but I still feel like the shoe hasn’t finished dropping yet.

  18. Ohhhh this won’t end well. Still, surprising that the response to one of the cluster dying seems to be all of the rest going straight to the shared dream.

    …hmm, did everyone pass out right after the trigger, since one of them supposedly died right away?

  19. All the folk agitating for Vicky to kill Momma…

    That’s not how Vicky’s mind works in universe, and not how dramatic stories work. If Vicky kills, it won’t be out of some min/max game theory calculation. It’ll either be an accident or heat of the moment thing after being put through emotional stress, and it will be traumatic for her afterwards.

    She’s a dramatic character, not a Player Character.

    1. >It’ll either be an accident or heat of the moment thing after being put through emotional stress

      Like what she just did to Valefor? 😉

  20. “Then this is your righteous punishment,” Valefor said.
    For one man’s sin, you give nigh-immeasurable suffering to a bunch of people tangentially connected to that one man? Is that what God would want you to do?
    glances at the Original Sin
    Never mind, that checks out. (Though you’re still a dick.)

    Another was going breaker, arms and bony limbs reaching skyward in a fountain of parts that grabbed their other parts and forced them down in the swell, a large human skull that ate their head, then was swallowed up by a larger animal skull, like a wolf’s, only horned.
    Have I mentioned that some of these capes remind me of Pact? Because a bunch of these capes remind me of Pact. Especially Mama Mathers.

    The ‘fuse’ reached its terminus. What had been a flare became a fierce explosion, right down at the base of the breaker.
    So…March Hare can basically do the anime thing where you cut your opponent, land, and then they die, except with fireworks. Cool.
    She flourished with her blade and sheathed it, in the very same moment the fuse reached its terminus. The explosion was smaller, but it was sufficient to take out the front of the Fallen’s throat.
    …Never mind, not cool.

    The blades fixed in the midst of the breakable shells continued up and out, piercing Snag’s forearm and scissoring the space between them as his weight came down and made them shift.
    That’s one way to use arms that always break!

    Now for something serious…geez, this is taking a dark turn. Victoria left a dark world where everything was wrong and saw a place which could be described with the same adjectives. And that’s two formerly-villainous members of Team Therapy who have committed manslaughter (maybe third-degree murder? I’m no lawyer) in the past 15 minutes. Natalie is going to have a freaking aneurysm when she gets the after-action report.

    1. “Now for something serious…geez, this is taking a dark turn. Victoria left a dark world where everything was wrong and saw a place which could be described with the same adjectives. And that’s two formerly-villainous members of Team Therapy who have committed manslaughter (maybe third-degree murder? I’m no lawyer) in the past 15 minutes.”

      Naw. Rain was even more clear cut on being justified.

      Honestly, if Mama Mathers escapes hires a decent PR consultant she could spin this as Villains working with the Wardens to blow up their town. It will be a little harder to explain away the hostages though. Team Therapy might be the only people who come out clean.

      Mathers Fallen: Hostage taking, and torturing hostages.
      Crowley Fallen and co.: Got played for suckers, assuming people don’t package the Fallen into a single group.
      Villains: Blowing up houses with children inside.
      Wardens: Fought alongside Villains.
      Team Therapy: Rescued civies and hostages.

  21. Okay, so first off: Overall I love this whole work and are super appreciative.
    This chapter didn’t work for me. I don’t mean that in a super critical way (I’m getting a free story after all), I just mean it in terms of feedback (hopefully helpful). It felt… too fasted, too jumbled, as if the narrative is trying to get somewhere, and then 3 chapters worth of events got crammed into one.

    Bringing down Mama and Elijah feels like it could/should have taken AT LEAST an entire chapter.
    I mean… wouldn’t Mama at least SAY something before being KOed?

    When all the various teams showed up togeather where was the dialouge? I feel like even if Vicky is on full alert for trap etc, there should have been a bit more interaction between the parties. (Prancer is a talker after all…)
    The Banishing act with End of days is cool… but it gets jammed in to like two paragraphs, so the Weight of it, the sensation of time, uncertainty kinda gets lost.

    And also like… Vicky (and Me!) was sitting there expecting a trap on the part of Mama and Valefor… and then the trap is something Prancer and Co get up to? I mean, is that even a trap, or just “Speedrunners being speedrunners”?

    Also: while I agree that It makes no sense for Vicky to kill Mama mathers (particularly given past Valefor instructions), why the hell isn’t March doing it? You’ve knocked her out, so unlikely to be a final revenge… and March has shown zero qualms against killing… and unlikely pretty much ANY other cape, Mama is dangerous just by being alive. There is no prison that can contain her harm.

    Oh also- probably going WAY to far on the crazy conspiracy theory bullshit, but: By the time Vicky showed up, March and Rain were already chilling WITH VALEFOR.
    And then they explained that they were immune, and that yes, this lady here is definitely Mama Mathers. Ummm… proof?
    …. Still, probably the fallen wouldn’t have reacted that way otherwise, so it is unlikely to be TRUE…. but I’m not really sure why Vicky is so trusting of people she has seen chilling next to Val… or for that matter herself (“do X, forget I said this”)…

    1. Yeah the second half of the chapter is a bit of a mess. Kind of brings down the whole arc. I hope there’s a rewrite at some point

    2. I feel it’s safe to assume March and her Thinker power on the level of Foil’s attack power would not go up against Masters without a countermeasure.

  22. I’m a bit confused here. I was under the impression that Victoria was still under the influence of a lingering command which prevented her from hurting Valefor.

    Did this thing turn off, and I missed it? Or did she find a way around it?

    1. Maybe she unconciously knows that the best way to serve Valefor is it make it so he can’t use his power and be a threat to whoever has taken him?

      1. Victoria: You have a bad case of jaw cancer, Valefor. Nothing a quick little mandibulectomy can’t cure though! Now stand still and gimme a big smile…

        1. Gimme a break, gimme a break, break me off a piece of that valefor.

          What if Valefor really wanted was an everlasting gobstopper?

          Or Victoria collects pez dispensers and wanted her very own Valefor dispenser?

      2. “If he keeps this up, I’m going to end up murdering him later. It’s best that we stop this while we can.”

  23. I’ve really gotta hand it to Rain, his powers may be weak, but they sure were handy this time around. It was smart of him to keep a trick or two up his sleeves as well.
    Cradle seems a bit heavy-handed with the cluster’s theme, but I guess that’s just how he handles his tinker power.

    Victoria is really struggling to get a grasp on this situation. There’s just too many hands stirring the pot, and she’s ill-equipped to fight an enemy who rules with such an iron fist. She could use the wretch to crush Valefor and Mathers, but she doesn’t really have a power that allows for the softer touch she’d prefer.

    Ok, I’m done. But I just want to say, between Sveta, Rain (and his cluster), Ashley, Victoria, the weird biker, and that Fallen breaker who’s apparently a bunch of skulls and limbs and body parts, there are a lot of strange hands in this story. It doesn’t seem quite as important a theme as cluster-triggers and power-adaptation, but maybe the final boss will turn out to be Master Glove.

  24. I love that Taylor took Valefor’s eyes, and Victoria took his jaw. He just has bad luck every time he runs into a main character.

    Wonder what part of him the hero of book three is gonna take away?

    1. His hands, after he develops the ability to control anyone who reads his writing. After that, his power will shift to control anyone who understands the Morse Code he taps out with his feet, or the stumps of his hands, or what have you, and then, finally, he will die to some villain who doesn’t understand the code, but is very annoyed at the now deaf-mute-handless guy who constantly knocks on any available surface.

  25. I find it weird that March has no problem killing subordinates but won’t kill two high level masters once they’re contained. What could she be up to?

    1. I think it’s as simple as Rain telling her not to kill Mama. She’s only here because it’s Rain’s price for his help. Her team is immune to the Masters, so she’s got no tactical reason to kill them, so Rain gets his way. Like he did with his uncle.

  26. Wildbow–Not sure if you’re still reading feedback about your question regarding the Boston Games, Accord, Blasto etc. But hopefully you are. I’ll love what you’re describing as long as it has *some* plot relevance. I mean, you’re not thinking of going back and doing interludes from the POV of characters who are already dead are you? I’m hoping what you were suggesting was some combination of flashbacks and present stuff for characters like the former members of the Ambassadors who are still alive today. Or flashbacks +present events for characters like Fumehood and her time with Blasto. If you were going to do flashbacks of Damsel’s time in the Boston Games, please make sure they have at least some indirect plot relevance? Pretty please?

  27. Oh, what a monstruos mess this is. I must admit that I did not believe that they could win so easily (I wondered for some time if I had missed a chapter for them to have defeated the Fallen so quickly), so the trap did not strike me as a twist, but everyone is suffering/dying in a truly Wormian fashion and it is terrifying and exciting. Really happy to see Rain opening up a bit, the March group is hella shady but clearly helped him out a bit.

    So in one day, at least two (maybe even three of Valefor does not get medical treatment) of the therapy group have killed someone…

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