Pitch – 6.2

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Narwhal’s group were some of the more experienced heroes around, hand-picked from teams like Foresight, the Shepherds, and Advance Guard.  They were veterans with years of experience, many of them ex-Wards who had grown up with their powers.  The Undersiders had taken over Brockton Bay’s underworld and had allegedly compromised its overworld, with fingers deep in the pie of government, local business, and the local hero teams.

Now villain and hero sat together, crouching and kneeling on wet grass and in mud, hands over their ears, expressions grim.

We’d backed off a bit, and now we huddled, with Capricorn erecting more defenses.

Rain had moved his hands from his ears, lowering them.  Fluke looked at him and then nervously started to lower his hands.  Rain motioned for him to put the hands back, and Fluke wasted no time in doing so.

Rain had put his hands up only to show us and convey the urgency of it.  Now he could be our ears, and he had his phone out of his pocket, his fingers tapping on the onscreen keyboard.

The whispers I heard were indistinct, but they came with a return of the white snow in my vision, moving in my peripheral vision and creating shapes that weren’t really shapes, like the way faces could seem to stand out from a pile of leaves or the light and shadow in a cloud.

Rain’s head turned, and I followed his gaze to look at Rachel.  Her hands were pressed to her ears, and her mouth was open in an ‘o’.  I saw her stop, mouth closing, her chest expanding as she drew in another breath.  The water from the branches above poured down onto her, and she didn’t seem to care in the slightest.  Her shaggy mane of auburn hair was plastered across her face, and aside from rubbing her forearm across the edge of her eye to move the hair so she could peer between the wet locks, she seemed fine with it.

Again, she did the thing with the ‘o’ shape, and I could tell she was putting a good amount of effort into the sound she was making.

When the mutant dogs responded to her howl, I could feel the low sound run through me, and it was clear the others could too.  Rain winced in pain, covering his ears again.

Rachel was shouting, but I couldn’t hear her with my hands where they were.  The mutant dogs in the woods moved, running off to our right and left.  Around the camp.

My arm throbbed, and I wasn’t sure I could keep covering my ears, even when the effort was mild and I was hunched over, bringing my head down to my hand more than the inverse.

I chanced a momentary listen, and I could only hear howling.  Mama Mathers was being drowned out.

Rain typed out his message, and held out the phone for Sveta, Capricorn and I.  Vista and Foil drew close enough, and so they got a look too.

If you see mama you will start to see things.
If you hear… start to hear things.
Etc for touch/thinker senses
She can see/hear/thinker through these things

I nodded.  I’d known and inferred most of that.

Loose color scheme: white is leader/important Mathers

“Valefor and Mama Mathers,” I said.

Rain nodded, then typed.

Bamet mutates with a touch. Permanent physical mental change. Uses stolen features to alter animals and make them smarter.  Would be near stables.

“He wears white?” I asked.

Rain nodded.

He typed, and I felt a pang of irritation at the fact that Rain hadn’t shared this earlier.  I could understand that he hadn’t been able, but some of this would have been really good to know.

Coronzon pulls himself into portal and builds up strength. Ive never seen but he comes out messy and big.  Has cancer/is not active much except in sitting in as elder in council

“This is the leadership again?” I asked.  “White?”

Rain nodded again.

He was typing more when a dog came barreling out of the woods, straight for us.  Its mouth was open wide, tongue lolling out the corner, and it howled with the howl momentarily interrupted each time its feet slammed into the earth.

Vista’s power increased the space between the dog and us.  The dog might as well have been running on a treadmill, but the treadmill was real ground.

I started to move forward, ready to intercept, and I glanced at Rachel to double check.  Some of it might have been that she knew her dogs best, and I could use her reaction to know what to do.  Another part of it was that I knew she had a violent history.

I’d already made the mistake of letting that go too easily with Ashley.

Rachel, hands over her ears, was approaching.  She shouted something to Vista, but Vista couldn’t hear.

I leaned forward, and I used my good arm to pull Vista down.  The level of noise the dog was making was unreal, and I could hear shouting and commotion, including Rachel’s cussing.  I remained ready to shield the others as the dog lunged forward, faster in running than Vista’s distortion was extending.

The dog broke free of the distortion and closed the distance.  I saw the slobber flying, the rain splashing off of its back, and I saw the eyes, recessed in eye sockets framed in spiky bone.

I threw myself to the ground.

The dog leaped over us, and over Capricorn’s wall.

The Fallen were in the woods, closing the distance to us while we couldn’t look or see without risking running into Mama Mathers.

I covered my ears again, and I risked looking.

With my hands over my ears, I could hear my heartbeat, and I could hear the lowest sounds the dogs were making, the impacts when they ran too fast and hit a tree with the broad side of their bodies, and the crashing thumps when they hit one of their targets.

The patter of the rain was gentle and the moisture was cool against my lower face, the light from the overcast sky was mild and softened by the branches overhead.   But for the conflict, the monster dogs and the mass of people in costume, it could have been a really nice day for a walk in the rain.

It was an odd thought, I knew, but I was struck by the contrast.

I wondered if Chris experienced a bit of this, his headphones muffling the outside world, as he took stock of it.

Strange, too, to have the monster dogs present, but not to be having to deal with them as a horrific kind of opposition.  I didn’t have to try to get between them and civilians.  I didn’t have to worry about failing to save a civilian from the dog that had maimed them.

If and when I heard the howling in the distance, I wouldn’t be reminded that the outskirts of my hometown were being stalked by these kinds of monsters, sometimes with innocents getting hurt.

I really didn’t like Rachel, but…

Paradigm shift, I supposed.

Fuck, my arm hurt.  Pulling me back to reality.  Civilians were still a concern.  The first wave looked like Fallen soldiers.  Others might come.

I took flight, going from a position low to the ground to the upper reaches of the trees.  I took my hands away from my ears, and the only sound I could hear was the incessant howling of the dogs and the faint static sound of rain against leaves.

Dangerous to use my thinker-one power when Mama could be in the area, but my instinct was that she wasn’t. Now that I was thinking about her, the whispering was back.  The snow was the same as before.

The power wasn’t really a power, but the benefit of flying.  A bird’s eye view, being able to see the battlefield from a semi-decent vantage point, provided I could get up high enough.  I could see motion through the trees, but I couldn’t see much else.

No white.  Seir had dressed in black – if Rain had continued to talk, would that have been part of it?  How set was it?  I could imagine the Fallen identifying themselves as closer to the Simurgh sticking to white or silver, while the Leviathan-favoring Crowleys might prefer green.

No green, no black, no white.  I wasn’t even sure if it was that hard-set, or if my speculations were off-point, but it helped on a level.  It helped validate my assumption that Mama Mathers wouldn’t be part of a headlong rush, and I liked even the idea that my enemies’ costumes might be conveniently color-coded.

Valefor and Mama Mathers were scary, or Valefor had been scary, but they weren’t warriors, and they weren’t generals.  Their weakness in this was that they were subtle players and the small-scale war wasn’t subtle.

I descended, aiming for the group where the Fallen were more numerous and the one dog was alone.

One cape, that I could tell.  She wore a biker helmet, with fragments of helmets worked into her costume.  Her arms looked like melted plastic, swords with the blades curved into hooks on the end.  Weld was fond of the design- what the hell had he called them?  She was using them to climb the dog, hacking at its face, and missing as it shook and twisted its head away.

There was a limit to what I could do when my arm was hurt to the point my entire body was feeling it.  I grabbed her by the helmet with the one hand, and pulled her back into a more upright position, until her stomach was exposed.  I drove my knee into her stomach, and felt some resistance.  Light armor.

I kept my knee where it was, and flew straight up, twisted around so my bad arm was furthest from her.  She pulled back, trying to get into a position to hit me or fight back, and I used my grip on her helmet to jerk her head down, until her ass was higher than her head.

My old mantra, from before.  This was the disorientation.

The issue with her weapons was that they had reach, where the more dangerous part of the weapon was the hook, and I was in too close for her to properly use it.  Toward the base of the weapon, the melted plastic was sharp in places and jagged, but it wasn’t going to gut me.

Hook swords.  That was what Weld had called them, back when we’d been on a team together.

She brought the crude base of the hook-sword against my armor, and it caught on the breastplate.  She used the catch to reposition, twisting around.

I could see that her helmet had changed.  It had waves and ripples that looked almost like hair, and it had a melted-plastic emblem as part of the visor, appearing where the eyebrows might meet.  It was no larger than my palm, and looked like a star with the bottom two legs removed, spikes radiating up.

It was my emblem.

The armor I’d felt at her middle was my breastplate starting to form.  It was completely formed now.

Faceless, featureless, biker girl wrestled to get to a more upright position, and she leaned back far enough to catch the hook of her right hand on my breastplate.  She reared back, other arm back, and I did a barrel-roll.

The hook came at me as she fell away, a last-ditch effort to catch herself.  I brought out my forcefield just long enough to deflect it, and the hook caught on that instead.  When I put the Wretch back where it belonged a moment later, she fell.

Biker-girl was eerie, because of the black melted-plastic look, the faceless visor, and the fact I hadn’t heard her make a sound.

I flew after her, faster than she fell, and I was ready to catch her if she needed it.  I watched as she used the hook-arms to swipe at the tree branches, trying to find traction.  She caught one branch with two hooks, and one slipped free of the thinner edge of the branch.  She swung in a quarter-circle before the other hook came free as well.

She made her descent, hooks finding more purchase, until she found a branch thick and sturdy enough to catch her body weight.

She swung forward, backward, and then lifted the hooks free, performing one flip in the air before landing square on two feet, hooks out to the side.

I hit her a second later, literal flying kick to ribs.  She bounced off of a tree before collapsing to the ground.  I winced at the pain in my arm, as the impact from the vibration traveled through my body to the injury.

I flew to her side and checked her vitals.  The plastic was melting into black ooze, breastplate included.  I heard and felt her cough and saw her whole-body flinch in reaction.

“Ribs?” I asked, as I put my hand to her bodysuit-covered collarbone and felt the already wheezy vibration of her breath.  She nodded, tight.  I asked, “Do you have any fight left in you?”

She shook her head.

“You’re biker, right?”

A nod.

“Stay,” I said.  She slumped back.  I checked my directions and used Capricorn’s wall as a reference point, as the wrestling in the air had turned me around.  I looked down at biker girl, “Nice descent, by the way.”

“Thank you,” she said, her voice soft but strangled, before she coughed hard, with more full-body flinches.

“You guys have got to stop fucking working with the Fallen,” I said.

“I-” she started.

Then I heard her try to scream, and I saw her try to move, as if to get away from something, only for both things to fail.

Mama Mathers.

Rain’s refresher- she watched, she heard, and she could pull something like this, to take any of her people out of commission or make them suffer for a perceived failure.

Or to mess with us.  Like with the breaker.  Also a biker, now that I thought about it.  They were expendable in her eyes.

Nothing I could do except deal with Mama Mathers sooner, or pave the way for others to do the same.

I flew to the others, looking for Weld amid the dogs and Fallen, and finding him taking on four unpowered Fallen and one biker.  The dogs kept their distance while Weld fought, barking and howling with a volume like cannons firing.

“Go down!” I called out.  “Getting beat by Weld is better than somehow winning and the dogs coming after you!”

“Eat cocks, heathen!” a Fallen soldier shouted.

I approached at a walk, keeping the guy between Weld and I.  I saw his agitation grow, as he tried to keep Weld in focus while not ignoring me.  He couldn’t run out to one side either, with the dogs around.

A face in the corner of my eye made my head turn.  Visual snow.  The guy ran from Weld and came after me while I was distracted, machete held high.

I hit him with my aura, and I saw his expression change.  His attack was delayed, thrown off by the surge of emotion, and I flew up a bit to put a foot on his chest, my hand down and ready to smack the blade with the Wretch out if it looked like he’d cut me.

I used my foot and my flight to push him in Weld’s direction.  The Fallen soldier landed on his ass at Weld’s feet, and Weld stepped on one of his calves.  I could hear the bone crack.

A young ‘punk’ Fallen in the group surrendered, dropping to his knees, hands up.  One Fallen hefted a baseball bat while approaching his surrendering kin, but then backed off as Weld quickly advanced on him.

It hardly mattered.  Maybe the bat would have been more merciful.  The surrendering Fallen slumped over and fell to the ground, eyes wide, twitching.  No screams, only a near-immediate catatonia.

Those who remained looked and saw, and then they turned toward the most vulnerable target they could see- me.

I hit the ground to spray them with dirt and mud, flying back a little, and one of the dogs lunged in, trampling them.

Weld and I remained where we were, checking that nobody was going to get up anytime soon.  We relaxed when they didn’t.

Well, insofar as I could relax, seeing the person Mama Mathers had taken out.

“You get Mathered?” I asked.

Weld glanced at me, then tapped his ear.  He turned his head to show me.

No ear canal.  He’d welded his ears shut.  It was one way to do things.

I gestured, and he nodded.  We headed back to where the others were at the more fortified wall, a short distance into the woods proper.  Another wall was at the wood’s edge- this group had to have climbed it, and beyond it were the two farmhouses that were near.  The denser settlement was a few minutes of jogging beyond the closest farmhouse.

We’d have to leave the fallen Fallen where they were.

As I rejoined the others, I could see more signs of fighting.  Fallen had flanked this group.

Prancer’s group was struggling, but these capes knew what they were doing.  Sveta, Narwhal, Vista, Capricorn- Rain was just about the only cape present who didn’t have a lot of experience in crisis situations.

Parian was at the far end of the clearing with Foil.  As she rejoined us, she tossed something at me, levitating it with her telekinesis.  I caught it.

Cloth set around beads or something hard, with thread binding it shut.  I saw her tap her ear, and I nodded.

The makeshift earplugs fit snugly, and the cords trailed out a bit.

Rachel looked annoyed.  She said something, and nobody could hear her.  Imp laid a hand on her arm, indicating her ear, and she gave Imp a more annoyed look.

I turned to Rain, and waited as he typed his message into his phone.

Missing dog.

I raised a hand, then did my best to indicate with gestures that I’d look.

If someone or a group of someones was capable of tying up a dog, then there was a chance it was one of the more problematic factors in play.

I used the bird’s eye view, moving carefully at first, then checking with more confidence as I verified that Mama Mathers wasn’t close.

There was movement.  Something big.  I flew down to where Rachel could see and indicated a direction.

I flew to the dog.

The dog prowled, the low growls it was making deep enough that I could feel the vibrations in the air, even though I couldn’t really hear.  It was a gangly thing, as Rachel’s dogs went, and the plates were lighter.  I wondered if it had started as a chihuahua.  I was pretty sure breed factored in.

I realized it was focused on something, and flew closer.  It snapped at me as I got closer, and I flew back and up.

A small movement made the dog jump back.  It saw me and jumped back again.

I realized what the movement was- a figure, camouflaged.  The camouflage was dying out, and it wasn’t nearly as effective as it had been.

“It’s you,” I said.  I pulled out an earplug.

“-get this thing to stop growling at me?  You’re supposed to be strong,” Chris said.

“What are you doing this close to the fighting?”

“Get this thing off me!  What are you, deaf?”

I flew down between him and the dog, and in facing the dog, I could see Rachel approaching at a jog.

“Can you call him off?” I asked, gesturing.

She whistled, and the dog backed off, going to her side.

Thank you,” Chris said.

“What are you doing here?”

“Keeping an eye on things, trying to be ready with my next form if we need it,” he said.  His features were almost visible as he moved and the camouflage shifted.

I looked over in Rachel’s direction.  “Dog spotted him sneaking up on us.  He’s friendly.”

“Hi friendly, I’m Imp,” Imp said.

“Ha ha,” Chris said, humorless.  He turned his camouflage-cloaked face my way.  “Should I transform?”

I considered for a moment, then shook my head.  In a softer voice, I said, “The form’s slow, you said.”

“Yeah.  I could keep an eye on things, though.”

“We have someone we’re trying very hard to avoid keeping an eye on, out there,” I said.  “You should get those headphones of yours on before we go to the others, because we don’t want to hear her either.”

I heard him rustle.

“Besides,” I said.  “We might want to move to a phase two kind of approach.”

“I didn’t think you guys made that much progress,” Chris said.

“Speak for yourself,” Imp said.  “Please.  I have no idea who you are or what you do, so speak, fill us in.”

“Don’t be annoying,” Rachel said.

“You have a really bad gauge of what annoying is, for the record, especially when you bring Yips along all the time now-” Imp said, indicating the gangly dog.  “And Yips is your worst dog.”

“I’m trying to make him a better dog, like I’m trying to make you a better human.  Don’t be annoying.”

“Fine.  You handle this without my help.”

“Fine,” Rachel said.  She reached out, then let her hand drop to her side.  She looked my way.  “You found my dog quickly.”

I nodded.

“Good work.”

“Okay.  Thank you,” I said.  There wasn’t a follow-up and there wasn’t really anything for me to say or ask her, so I turned to Chris.  “We didn’t make much headway, but they have a crapton of capes and the Hollow Point guys seem to have crumbled.  I’m thinking phase two, but I haven’t brought it up with anyone else.”

“Phase two?” Rachel asked.

“Contain,” was Chris’ blunt response.

“Okay,” Rachel said.

I wanted to explain further, but my eye and ear were somewhat compromised.  Would Mama hear and adapt?

That’d have to do for an explanation.  I’d outlined a multi-stage course of action with a list of priorities, and we were already having to skip to the next big phase, without having removed the capes Rain had mentioned.  Valefor was out of action, but Mama was in play, Bamet the animal herder was out there, Coronzon the monstrous changer was there, and then there were the Crowley brothers.

As far as I knew, they were the only Fallen left.  The Mcveay’s were kaput, the Behemoth-worshipers with the strong religious bent hadn’t survived the apocalypse.

The Crowley brothers weren’t really water manipulators, by and large.  They and their immediate family members tended to riff on the duplication theme, often duplicating things that weren’t themselves.

I’d really wanted to knock out at least most of the leadership before moving on to the next phase.  Taking out all of the major leaders would have worked too.

“I recognize you,” Rachel said, interrupting my thoughts.

“What?” Imp asked.

She was talking to Chris.

“You know him?” I asked.

“What?” Chris asked.  “No she doesn’t.”

“I know of him,” Rachel said.

“No she doesn’t,” Chris said.

“What?” Imp asked, again.  “Wait, the changer thing- this kid is the fucked up bird thing we saw and the crawly skull thing we heard about?  And the tentacle thing from the video Tats showed us?”

“Video?” Chris asked.

“Is he?” Rachel asked.  “Oh, okay.”

“What?  How is that okay?” Imp was incredulous.  “You can’t just raise a topic like that and say oh okay.”

“Whatever.  It’s not important,” Rachel said.

“You have me on video?” Chris asked, sounding as alarmed as I’d ever heard him.

“No big deal,” Rachel said.  “Not important.”

“It’s important to me!  I don’t like people recording me without my permission.  I get enough of that with the one teammate.”

“Fuck me,” I said, under my breath.  Louder, I said, “Guys.”

“You know him?”

Rachel shrugged.  She laid a hand on her dog’s neck, and the dog jumped.  She sounded like she was trying to be soothing as she told Imp, “Forget I said anything.  And you’re being annoying again.”

“Guys.”

“Rachel, you know I love you in the most hetero of ways, but telling people to calm down never works and it’s not working here.”

“I told you to stop being annoying, not to calm down.”

“It’s the same thing, with me.  I get stressed, this is how I deal.  And I get stressed when you say you know him-”

“She doesn’t, by the way,” Chris said.  “Needs to be said again.”

“-I have a right to be irritated when you don’t finish the thought.”

“Thought’s finished.  I recognize him.  Thought started and ended.”

“How?  Who?  When?  Where?  When?  Who?  Explain.

“Too much hassle now that you’re being annoying,” Rachel said.  “I’m fine leaving it be.”

“I can and will do horrible things to you without you knowing,” Imp growled.

“I’m fine leaving it be too,” Chris said.

“Good for you two, but I’m not fine!” Imp retorted.

I pushed out with my aura, getting their attention.

“We have a job,” I said.

“Good,” Rachel said.  Imp, meanwhile, only huffed.

We backtracked to rejoin the others.  Chris stuck by me, adjusting his clothes so that the garment he wore in monster form cloaked him like a poncho, the folds covering his lower face.  He wore the headphones, but he didn’t have the braces on.

“You’re okay?” I asked.  “Not seeing things?”

“I’m seeing lots of things.  I need distractions.”

“There are others who are comatose right now because she got to them.”

“Emotion powers don’t affect you as much, right?” Chris asked.

“Yeah.”

“Monsters don’t get to me.”

I thought about responding, but we were back where the others had gathered.

Sveta was with Weld, Narwhal had most of her team, Foil was with Parian, and Vista was sticking close to her team with Capricorn sitting next to her.  She was saying something in Tristan’s ear, while he held the earplug just slightly out of his ear, ready to put it back in at a moment’s notice.

I needed to say something to her.

Rain was just far enough ahead of the others that I thought he wasn’t part of the greater group.  He was with the stragglers in Narwhal’s team, Fluke included, and they were coming back from a brief excursion, carrying some of the injured they’d collected.  The biker girl with the broken ribs was one.

“Can you hear?” Rain asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“We grabbed these guys because we need to see if we can shake them free of the effect.  I wrote up more on my phone, to catch you up.”

“Snag did a number on you.”

He nodded.  “But I want to help.  Take my phone.  It’s a resource.”

I nodded.  I took the phone, then gestured to the others.  “Come.  I want to discuss this.”

When I approached Narwhal, Vista and Weld, it was with Sveta, Rain and Chris at my back.  Capricorn was already hanging out with Vista, so he had to take only a few steps to join us and be part of our group again.

We were missing two members.  We’d soon have another backing us, if Narwhal was game.

“I’m thinking phase two,” I said.

“If we can’t crack this army of theirs and knock out their leadership, do you really think we can contain it?” Weld asked.

“I think we have to change venues,” I said.  “We leave.  We make this a siege.”

That’s phase two?  No,” Rain said.  “They still have hostages, and they have the food to drag this out.  Hostages.

“We’re hurting the hostages by being here,” Narwhal said.  “The Fallen and their allies are being subjected to mental torture the moment they fail expectations.”

“We can back off, and you can fill us in so we’re armed with knowledge,” I said.  “The closer we get to them the more we get caught up in their rhythm, so I want to pull back.”

“You’re sure about this?” Sveta asked.

“I think so,” I said.  “I don’t see a clear other way.  We’re pinned down, and that’s even with us having heavy hitters.  We can’t get close if seeing or hearing one person can destroy us.  The big issue is that they’re united in their horribleness, and we’re… all on different pages.”

Rain hissed, “If I can contribute anything at all, let it be me telling you that you can’t let these guys have a chance to regroup.”

“Multiple buildings are damaged, Prancer’s group set fire to a number of them.  They’re in disarray,” Narwhal said.

“They revel in disarray,” Rain said.  “W- they were the fastest growing settlement to start from scratch.  They’re good at kicking ass when they have nothing going for them.”

“I know you’re concerned about the hostages,” I said.

“Victoria,” Capricorn said.

I moved my hand.  The same gesture he’d given me, before.  Flat, angled so it wasn’t quite a ‘stop’ gesture, not facing the grass and mud beneath us either.

“Fuck,” Capricorn said.  “Rain, I get what you’re saying, but you left.  You’re out of the loop.  We really discussed this and planned this, and we took it to the heroes.”

“Not that it worked out great so far,” Chris said.

“Don’t snark,” Sveta said, quiet.

“We’ve been accommodating of your situation,” I said.

“You’re playing that card?” Rain asked.

“We’ve been accommodating,” I said, again, reinforcing it.  “We’re here, and a big part of the reason we’re here is because you wanted this.”

“I wanted to save good people in a bad situation.”

“Accommodate us,” I said.  “Please.”

I saw him make a fist.

“Please,” I said.

It took him a moment, but he relented.

“I’ll talk to Advance Guard,” Narwhal said.  By her resigned tone, I could tell she didn’t want to pull out.

I nodded.

“We’re with Prancer, you know,” Foil said, behind us.

“I know,” I said, turning around.

“If you go, we’re staying.  We’ll do what we can here.”

“We’ll have to dodge March if she’s still around,” Parian said, quiet.

“Yeah,” Foil said. “This isn’t a good day.”

“Be safe,” I said.

“That’s the plan,” Foil said.

Narwhal called out the order.  Rachel called out another.  Her dogs were guarding the perimeter, and they drew closer.  Some capes took up the job of watching for trouble.

I grabbed Rain by the wrist, as we walked away.

With Mama Mathers infecting us, there was a limit to what I could do.  As it was, I dragged my finger along his wrist, and I spelled out words.  They weren’t very clear words, only ‘ERIN’ and ‘NO-‘.  I didn’t get to write the ‘W’, because he pulled his hand away.  He stared at me through the lens of his mask.

I heard him sigh.

I made sure the others were secure and Narwhal’s team was ready to go, and then I flew skyward, until I was high enough up to be safe.  I made a call.

“Looksee,” I said.

“Oh my gosh, you have to fill me in on everything.”

“Soon,” I said.  “Can you do me a favor, though?”

“Yes,” Kenzie said, with no hesitation.  No qualifiers, either.

“Tell me how things have gone on your end, first.  Distract me.”

Sure enough, I could trust Kenzie to talk nonstop at the slightest provocation, and I could use that in the moment.

I asked because I needed a bit of cover to give me time to type a message that was easily in my top three messages I never thought I’d write, while not looking at the screen.

Shh. Find Tattle. Coordinate with us & undersiders.

I heard Kenzie’s voice pause as the text reached her.  She kept talking, but I heard the renewed excitement in her voice.  What kid didn’t love a secret mission?

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116 thoughts on “Pitch – 6.2”

    1. I think it was more ‘oh, he’s the weirdo bird/skull thing. I get it now.’

      Followed by Rachel being a stern mother to Imp because she’s trying to make her a better human.

        1. Definitively intriguing though. So far Chris has been a mystery wrapped in a enigma but we’re finally starting to scratch a bit past the surface and getting closer to an opportunity to glimpse further inside.

          1. You know I thought about going there. But then I thought our comments are too classy for that right?
            Right?
            Right?
            Damn I miss Psycho Gecko. Fine I dub tentacle form Raging Lust.

          2. You know, it’s not ONLY school girls who need to worry about tentacles. Japanese tentacle monsters cater to ALL sexual preferences!

            I have SEEN THINGS…

    2. It occurred to me that maybe Chris is one of Skitter’s orphans from after Leviathan. Bitch would remember him from then, maybe. But that doesn’t make much sense, because Imp doesn’t recognise him, and it’s been four years. And why wouldn’t he tell Vicky he’s from Brockton Bay?

      1. But Rachael was a vagrant prior to being hired by Coil to move to Brockton Bay so she may have heard of him prior.

          1. Actully, I think he might be only 11 or 12 now, which would make him around 6 when Bitch got to BB.

        1. My first thought when I read that was that Rachel knew Chris from one of the homes she was at back when she was in foster care, before she got her powers.

  1. I’m sort of surprised that none of the heroes was willing to sacrifice themselves to take out Mama Mathers. Sure, her power might still keep rolling after she died, but it wears off over time.

    1. The bigger issue is all the other people that she’s whammied. Maybe it wears off over time, but if she thinks she’s going to bite it you’re looking at effective casualties of at least dozens/hundreds of civvies, plus what ever heroes messed up. On the other hand, if the capture her alive they can toss her to a powerful Master and make her dismiss her power, then chop her head off. They’re trying to minimize damage.

      On the other hand, I am concerned about the lack of lethal weaponry on the hero’s side. If ever there was a situation that called for having a group of about six combat Thinkers armed with sniper rifles, killing off the group of hyper-crazy cultists that are also serial rapists, mind-breakers, and mass-murderers seems like a good justification. The gloves sound like they’re off for Seir, but why no knife for Vista? Why are there normal Fallen left standing when Bitch has a pack of dogs that are essentially immune to gunfire?

      Something’s off/I’m missing something. Why are the Undersiders and Wardens not matching the Fallen’s force?

      1. We haven’t really seen Vista fight yet, she’s best of staying back as support rather than getting into knife fighting range (which is stupid) or gun-fights. Battlefield controllers should never engage the enemy directly but if an enemy gets close enough to threaten her then she might still have her tinkertech pistol from the S9000 arc, which is much better than a bloody knife.

        1. Her powers might work on a knife or sword, though even if they do, I doubt it would be as good as Chevalier or Jack Slash. When she reshapes buildings, it’s fairly slow, and mass seems to do funny things that might make a knife awkward. Also, again, she can reshape buildings (and space, and the ground). The analogy I’m thinking of is putting a bayonet on a bomb, but she’s not really that destructive.

          I bet that she could be a fantastic sniper if she wanted though. At first I thought about her using something like her ability to deflect bullets to keep her own on course, but the obvious solution is just minimizing the distance between barrel and target on a very narrow corridor.

      2. The Fallen keep their capes intermixed with their nonpowered cultists, so while a dog can tear through the normal Fallen, the capes are stopping them from rampaging too badly. Combined arms doctrine.

      3. Most of the Wardens are stretched thin and have a lot of their members off doing other things.

        Also: This was a rescue mission, not a “kill all the Fallen” mission.
        Maybe if the Wardens had been notified early and thus given more time to properly respond to the threat; but the villains elected to not notify the Wardens.

        So the Heroes have to make due with a rescue team.

      4. If we take into account the very serious toll that Golden Morning had in human lives, offing even a few of the “baddies”, justified as it may be, might be equivalent to executing several tens of thousand of criminals before. Just some food for thought. This is probably the reason for the pardons directly after GM.

      5. Wardens are still sticking with the old system, where use of lethal force by capes is generally illegal unless a specific kill order has been issued. This may end up being the domino that sends that crumbling; they’re no longer well-resourced enough to hold back and still win when it matters enough to push hard.

        Undersiders are presumably partially in a similar boat; neither Foil nor Parian really approve of killing on principle and only really joined in the first place because Brockton Bay’s city government effectively ceased to exist for a while, and Tattletale is the person who explained the whole limited conflict principle to begin with and is probably not interested in undermining it when it preserves her ability to show up on the battlefield and not worry about being shot most of the time.

        1. That last bit is probably true for a lot of capes. A lot of heroes and villains alike really want the honor system to work, because it means they’re personally a lot less likely to get shot.

          Probably one of the reasons it was so easy for Snags team (well, Love Lost’s team now) to hire people to fight the Fallen. Nobody likes them.

      1. That or if you spend say six months with Mama Mathers screaming in your head and then the effect wears off, in those six months is quite likely that you wind up with PTSD or other problems.

  2. I felt a disturbance in the force, as if a thousand Bitch/Imp shippers cried out at once, and then started typing furiously.

  3. Suddenly, cooperation. The big thing, I think, is figuring out just what the hell was Tata doing while the fighting was going on, and whether she’s been Mothered.

    (Also, eeeee, I’ve missed Aisha’s quips so much)

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tattletale has been off getting the Fallen to lose leadership cohesion. They’re a hastily amassed coalition with at least two different organizational trees only nominally part of the same group, plus a lot of loosely organized coerced support. That makes them easy pickings for her, and they don’t seem to have made a very good attempt at exploiting the immediate chaos from the Speedrunners and Mama’s awakening. I expect the Fallen elites Victoria hasn’t seen are busy bickering over whether Tattletale is bluffing about her backup plan and arguing over whether her hints about a traitor feeding her information are a red herring.

      I’m pretty sure she hasn’t been Mothered, because if it worked through her power Mama would’ve known what was happening before finding out via Rain, which doesn’t seem to have been the case. And if it doesn’t work through her power, then her power probably told her enough to avoid getting a full blast; she’d at least know Master powers were in play among the Fallen and she has actual experience with pre-maggot Valefor.

    1. Alternate title “the one where Victoria decides to take the high ground and does what Tattletale should have done a week ago, cooperate.”

      1. Tattletale a week ago. “mama Mathers needs to die.”

        Victoria a week ago. “I am a hero. I don’t murder. There has to be another way.

        Victoria now. ” mama Mathers need to die. “

        1. Tattletale a week ago: “Hey vicky, I’m gonna help some criminals torture and execute your teammate in exchange for favors, okay? Don’t interfere.”

          Victoria a week ago: “Well, I guess diplomacy has failed.”

        1. In the face of a greater threat work together or Taylor will do something really stupid and make you work together?

          1. No, that’s not it. I’m pretty sure that Taylor would find a way to do something really stupid even if they were working together already. She’d just find a way to make them work together more efficiently.

          2. I wonder how MM would react to being swarmed by bees and venemous spiders. Would that apply to MM’s power through touch? Although a big net of sticky silk coated in capsacin might be better.

        2. What are you talking about? Valefor and Mama Mathers totally understand that Mastering is the most effective form of cooperation.

    2. Talking to Tattletale was one of the first things Victoria did when she decided to get out of retirement.

      And Tattletale promptly told her to fuck-off, poked at her trauma, threatened her, and then later threatened her teammate.

      Is it really anyone else’s fault but Lisa’s own that Heroes don’t like/want to talk to her?

      1. Yeah, Lisa should probably cut the heroes some slack. She personally knows that the new Triumvirate are a lot less shitty than the old.

        That said, the superheroic ‘establishment’ is still at least a little in the red side of the ledger on the issue of corruption and casual brutality, on account of how fucked up things were prior to Gold Morning and how the Undersiders personally had to survive a lot of that shit.

        1. I’m not asking her to cut anyone any slack. Her paranoia or need to be the smartest is fine.

          Just that maybe she should try new methods of negotiation that don’t needlessly antagonize people.

          1. Yeah, that’s an aspect of her personal skills that needs work.

            It’s also part of her motivational core. Much like Victoria kinda low key *loves* heroic attention and adulation, Lisa feels the need to smirk in the face of people who are stronger than her and antagonise them.

          2. I’m actually pretty sure pissing people off so she can watch their reactions helps power her info gathering.

      2. Tattletale needling Victoria is bad.

        Victoria assuming that Tattletale is going to actually help murder Rain is stupid. Victoria seemed to take that at face value when she really shouldn’t have.

        Also, when Tattletale showed that she wasn’t going to destroy Looksee’s camera’s Victoria should have figured out that they can deal.

        1. I believe you are mistaken.

          Victoria originally did give Tattletale the benefit of the doubt concerning Rain:
          [QUOTE]“She…” I started. I bit my tongue.

          “What?” Tristan asked.

          “I don’t want to jump to conclusions. I don’t want to give you the wrong impressions, either.”

          “Any impressions help,” Tristan said.

          “I don’t know,” I said. “But what she said when I talked to her, the way she wanted to make herself out to be one of the good guys, bringing good things to others…”

          “Oh,” Kenzie said. She fiddled with her phone.

          “It doesn’t necessarily jibe with her working with people who are out for blood and murder. She seems to want to be a very low-key villain or even a Robin-Hood type desperado while simultaneously leaving a trail of bodies in her wake, or she wants to portray herself as such,” I said.

          “I’m now sharing the love and bringing some of that security, stability, and safety to others, in my very, very roundabout way,” Kenzie’s phone said, in Tattletale’s voice.

          “Yeah, that’s it, thank you,” I said. Kenzie gave me a thumbs up. I felt a bit of the heebie-jeebies at having heard Tattletale’s voice without being braced for it. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts before I added, “It makes me wonder what she would say if she were told that Snag and the other two were out for your head.”[/QUOTE]

          It was only when Tattletale hijacked Kenzie’s camera and told the all of them that she knew exactly what the Cluster was doing, had no intention of stopping them, and would in fact help them to the best of her abilities as soon as she got paid.

          ^ By the time that happened Victoria was already on a time-crunch and needed to; notify the Wardens, gear up, and plan for the rescue effort.

          Maybe, MAYBE, if Tattletale had adjusted her approach Victoria might have had more faith in her moral fiber.
          But as things stand: What possible reason would Victoria have to legitimately assume that Tattletale meant the opposite of the words coming out of her own mouth and to go out to meet with her again instead of preparing?(This isn’t even factoring in that their first meeting ended with veiled threats, armed thugs, and hurt feelings on both sides.)

    1. Not really. The name is no secret, she’s not going to disrespect her by calling her by Hellhound but she also likely isn’t comfortable using the term bitch. And Vicky isn’t super big on hidden identities anyway so she uses Rachel.

  4. “I’m trying to make him a better dog, like I’m trying to make you a better human. Don’t be annoying.”

    I know we’re all about a new story with a new team but I REALLY MISS HANGING WITH THE UNDERSIDERS

  5. Damn I love Imp. Also, Rachel being all mature and emotionally together and having superheroes think of her adorable doggies as reassuring gotdamn.

    1. Rachel’s “good work” still felt a bit forced (reminded of that one Hancock scene…), but she seems to have kept the right mindset from the end of Worm.

    2. Remember the Undersiders showed up for a lot of Endbringer fights. Rachel wasn’t going to let them treat her dogs as expendible fodder, but they did do a lot of search and rescue, and be the Calvery quite a few times. I suspect a lot of heroes who’ve been around for long enough and seen enough action have had their asses saved by Bitch’s dogs at some point.

  6. I’m very interested to see what Victoria’s plan is. She hasn’t hugely impressed me so far with her strategic thinking and subterfuge abilities but she seems to have something specific in mind here.
    A variety of people did a good job here in quickly adapting to the presence of MM – good idea with the howling, Rachel, and good work with the earplugs, Parian. I feel like Victoria’s skirting the boundaries of appropriate caution with her constant glances at the battlefield from above though.

  7. “Sveta, Narwhal, Vista, Capricorn- Rain was just about the only cape present who didn’t have a lot of experience in crisis situations.”

    That should maybe be a full stop or comma instead of “-“

  8. Yeah, I don’t think contain is a viable strategy either. For one thing you’ll still have all the problems you had before with the Fallen, and you’ll have to expend resources to keeping them contained. Plus everyone else that’ll see civilian meat shields works for getting the Wardens off your back.

    On the other hand if you can get those people away, not only does it weaken the Fallen, but after seeing how Mama Mathers treats allies nobody will want anything to do with them, making it harder for them to grow.

      1. Yes Victoria lied to everyone, and then clued Rain in a little bit, and now she’s going to make a secret plan together with her BFF Tattletale, using teenage Kenzie to pass notes. The heroes will be so surprised! Mama might be surprised…

    1. The thing about how the Fallen work is that it’s a really all or nothing strategy. It’s terrifyingly powerful as a force for social and strategic cohesion, but if it breaks once then word gets out.

      ‘If you make alliance with the Fallen, they’ll hit you and your faction with a Master power that can affect hundreds of people at once and will turn you into a remote slave if you even think about betraying them. That’s why all those bikers went in to a party and then afterwards couldn’t retreat, even in the face of the Wardens and the Undersiders. If any of the Fallen ever say they want to introduce you to Mama, run. Fight. Don’t go with them, don’t let them take you.’

      1. It was a desperation strategy where they are fighting for their existence and they decided to not pull any stops by making sure their allies are their allies. Sure, it hurts the fallen in the long term but they aren’t certain the fallen will live to tomorrow without it. If the fallen win their threat level goes up leading to more opportunities to get paid off big time before the inter-dimensional war where the government can’t afford to waste parahuman resources destroying them and where other villainous factions take them seriously as they can fight off multiple allied coalition of villain and heroes.. If they lose they will be dead cause they are fighting to the bitter end.

    2. And with a big war on the way, tying up heroes to contain the Fallen in a siege would be worse for the heroes then any other outcome as they would have to devote more resources than are already there to do that.

  9. Victoria seemed really semi-relaxed and scatter brained in this update.

    Can’t figure out why, just a feeling I got.

    It might have been because she was intentionally trying not to think about MaMa.

    1. Or going into shock from the arm injury. If I recall correctly, being unusually calm in the face of injury is a symptom of that.

      1. Victoria: Oh, i’ve been shot. That hurts and sucks. Oh well, if i lose it The Wretch always has a few spares hanging around. No biggie.

          1. It’s an improvement from “Oh whoops, I accidentally beat this criminal to death in the street, better emotionally blackmail my sister into fixing this before he fully quits breathing.”

  10. Top Three messages huh?

    3) Message to Tattletale
    2) Can someone get me Taylor Hebert, please?
    1) “Hi, Amy. I’ve missed you.”

  11. “I chanced a momentary listen, and I could only hear howling. Mama Mathers was being drowned out.”

    Bitch, you brilliant, magnificent, devil ^_^

    1. “Weld glanced at me, then tapped his ear. He turned his head to show me.

      No ear canal. He’d welded his ears shut. It was one way to do things.”

      Weld, you brilliant, magnificent devil ^_^

      Seriously, very happy with the way certain characters are adapting on the fly.

      1. “Parian was at the far end of the clearing with Foil. As she rejoined us, she tossed something at me, levitating it with her telekinesis. I caught it.

        Cloth set around beads or something hard, with thread binding it shut. I saw her tap her ear, and I nodded.

        The makeshift earplugs fit snugly, and the cords trailed out a bit.”

        Parian, you brilliant, magnificent devil ^_^

        Seriously!!!!!

        1. Is it wrong that I think of Parian making little earplugs in the middle of battle as adorable? What other cute accessories has she made to help out over the years?

      2. I was kind of confused by that. Does Weld even need countermeasures? I thought his power made it so that Manton limited powers don’t work on him. The whole “doesn’t target people/organics=he is organic/only targets people/organics=he is a lump of metal” aspect of his power seems like it should have made him immune to Mama’s power.

        1. Maybe? but Weld is going for the better safe then writhing on the ground for in trauma for hours/days/a year on end approach. His power also makes him a unique asset so it is better for him and his team that he doesn’t test if it works on him.

          1. Point. I had considered that. Still this seems like something he should be very safe against and being deaf has its own problems. Clever application of his power though.

        2. That works against strikers, shakers, and so on, but masters tend to be limited in what they can affect. I.e. people or not-people. Skitter was limited to bugs; Aiden to birds; Rachel to canids. Mama is limited to humans, and Weld is still one of those. He has emotions that Canary could affect, that’s why he liked her music.

  12. Loving the glimpse of how rachel has adapted. She is so smart! Not many with the loss of social skills would react like that, even given the prompt she was from skitter.

    Loving the secret plan and very happy to know looksee managed to avoid getting mathered. Ive been worried about her.

    I am a bit surprised at how the fight is going. Something feels like it isn’t right. As if something big is happening unknown to the characters we are watching.

    Chris, hmmmmmm. Curiouser and curiouser

    1. How do we know Looksee wasn’t mathered? She is too useful of a resource to have screaming on the ground and is much more useful as someone Mama can look over the shoulder of… Although i suppose to do that Mama might have to make her presence known?

  13. Pitch.

    1 Pitch as in, Pitch Black
    2 Pitch as in, Sale Pitch
    3 Pitch as in, Sports Pitch
    4 Pitch as in, to Pitch Over
    5 Pitch as in, to vigorously join in to help with a task or activity.
    6 Pitch, as in the Pitch of Rachael calling instructions to her dog
    7 Pitch as for someone with a speech imp-ediment to get Rachel’s name slightly wrong

    1. Considering that all of the arc names thus far have been related to light and shades there of, my guess would be pitch black. Ominous.

  14. The Nazi turncoat narcissist couldn’t have told his team that the Fallen were color-coded? Really?

    Fuck you, Rain. Fuck you very much.

    1. Could he have? Sure.

      Without alerting MaMa Mathers and having her take him out early? Almost certainly not.

      And I wouldn’t describe Rain as a narcissist. He doesn’t even seem to have a neutral view of himself, let alone an inflated one.

      1. Without going back to actually look it up, I’m remembering MaMa having Rain kiss her. So she can feel everything he can? Even if he writes stuff it won’t remain secret from her

    2. He couldn’t say anything without revealing his hand to Mama, come on. Until the last moment he had to keep stuff bottled up so she wouldn’t take specific measures against March’s friend’s power.
      He can share the stuff now that he’s in the thick of it, and she instantly messed with him speaking out loud, so typing it is.

      There are reasons to hate the guy, but I don’t think this one is warranted.

  15. I’m loving seeing all the old Brockton Bay faces again – Undersider and Ward alike, but especially Imp and her snark – and I’m so worried that this is Wildbow making us think we can have this before he snatches it away again in the most painful way possible.

  16. Is anyone else having a problem with subscribed comments? I was getting an E-mail asking me if I wanted to subscribe each chapter after I commented, but now I’m not getting any e-mail notifications whatsoever.

    1. I had a bug where it would keep telling me to “slow down on posting” on several posts I made a couple of days back, including the first one.

  17. Finally some earplugs. Parian proves herself the most sensible person on the battlefield. Meanwhile the biker’s adaptive armor is kind of cool, but I can’t help but think a regular person with a machine gun would be more effective.

    I’m a bit surprised and disappointed that Victoria is suddenly all chummy with the Undersiders. I thought she hated them? That she didn’t believe in forgiveness? But now she’s all just, ‘well, Rachel used to wander around town mutilating random civilians but times have have changed, so meh’? And Tattletale is literally here to kill Rain. Why does Victoria want to work with her? Seems reckless and weird.

    1. …Tattletale isn’t there to kill Rain, she’s there to take down the Fallen. She gave info on his location to the Cluster members, who want to kill Rain, as a part of deal. And Victoria knows that in order to the slightest chance of beating Mama, they have to work together. She has to be practical, she can’t afford to hold grudges and prevent cooperation when that cooperation is what could save the hostages.

      1. Yes, Tattletale is ‘only’ giving Rain’s location to the cluster. Who want to kill him. So, de facto Tattletale is out to kill Rain. Keeping in contact with her is going to feed her information on Rain and on the rest of the group, especially if it goes through Kenzie, whose vulnerability to villainous influence has been talked up over and over again. Victoria knows all this.

        And I don’t see any reason to believe that the Fallen can only be beaten with the help of the Undersiders. Why? So far, what have the Undersiders even contributed to this fight, as far as we know? I mean, earplugs and howling monster dogs are great, but they’re not some irreplaceable game-changer. This isn’t an Endbringer battle, where everyone is absolutely forced to cooperate to the end or die. Victoria didn’t even want to have the fight in the first place. Tattletale tried to talk Team Therapy out of participating at all.

        But beyond that, I thought the whole point of Victoria’s philosophy, indeed of having her as the protagonist, was that she wasn’t about being practical, or willing to overlook past crimes for the sake of the greater good. That was what Taylor was all about in Worm: trying to make everyone cooperate no matter what. In Ward, I thought the idea was that we were going to see the injustice and resentment engendered by that situation. That’s been the theme with Victoria’s family, with the Undersiders, with the Fallen. Victoria’s grudge against Tattletale has been building since the second arc. But now she’s just going to roll over and say, ‘well, too bad, but we just can’t do it without them!’ It feels weak to me.

        1. I do not think having a protagonist who holds grudges over what they consider “moral” really fits ‘Bow.

  18. I know it isn’t an option for her, but there’s a really easy solution to mama mathers. Amy. Rain has shown that changing or swapping physical body parts makes you immune to her. There’s someone who helps out who can do that at will to anyone she touches….
    I mean, at least narwhal should make that connection.

    1. How would that work exactly?

      The only reason Rain is immune is because the sensory organ being targeted aren’t directly connected to his mind and thus the power is being routed somewhere else.

      ^Amy can’t do that. She might be able to cure people of it’s affect if it’s a power that physically changes someone’s neurons.
      But that would still require her having access to someone that was already affected to know what to do in the first place.

      1. I for one would not want Amy anywhere near Mama Mathers, considering how that woman could use her powers to make an unwilling recipient love her unconditionally.

        The way that the above sentence is written so as to make it applicable to either person mentioned within is ‘quite’ deliberate.

        So… Amy, Nilbog, Bonesaw, Mama Mathers, Glaistig Uaine… Cherish… And then just three to find.

  19. goddangit I forgot how good the undersiders are since finishing Worm XD

    like, just from Chris/Rachel/Aisha’s exchange I have the biggest grin on my face – no offence to Team Therapy, but they’re just lacking the presence and energy of the old team

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