Torch – 7.8

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The arrival of Chris’ train at the G-N portal station had Kenzie running off to go get him.  The initial wave of trucks and cargo from the train began to flow from the station and out into Earth N.  I’d seen the process before, but it had been as part of the Patrol block, and I’d usually had duties, or I’d been a part of the convoy.

Sveta sat on the hill, while Tristan stood near me.  There were other people sitting around the slope or hanging around in the shade of the station, but we were mostly clear of eavesdroppers.  It was a question of waiting for a few people to walk away before speaking.

“Chris and I had a disagreement,” I said.  I watched the trucks go.

“I was wondering why you looked pissed,” Tristan said.  “I didn’t want to say anything.”

“He didn’t like that I showed up unannounced.”

“I’ve run into that,” Tristan said.  “He complains if we turn up unannounced, he complains if we don’t invite him to stuff like our group’s visit to the Wardens’ headquarters, when we were asking about hiring a lawyer and sounding people out on Hollow Point.  I think he likes complaining.”

It bummed me out a bit that Cedar Point’s name hadn’t survived, with all we’d done.

“It wasn’t complaining.  He was pissed,” I said.  “I’m telling you guys so you know.  He might be bothered enough to bring it up.”

“How pissed was he?” Tristan asked.  “Scale of one to ten?”

“Pissed enough to weaponize things I told the group in confidence.  Seven?”

“Okay,” Tristan said.  “Did you get the rage vibe from him?  Do we need to disinvite him from the meeting with Lord of Loss?”

“That’s- no,” I said.  “My first instinct is no, we don’t, but I don’t want to go by first instincts only.  The situation made it hard to tell if it was lingering rage, and… the more I try to find words, the less sure I am about disinviting him.”

Sveta was quiet, “It sets a bad precedent.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Shutting people out, and I don’t think he’d forgive it very easily.  I could have handled it better, but Chris isn’t the sort of person I really ‘get’.  I feel like every time I find out something more, I just have more questions.”

“I think if you asked him,” Sveta said.  “He’d say you don’t need to get him or get answers.  You should just respect his boundaries and let him do what he wants.”

“People in his day to day are scared of him,” I said.  “Teachers, kids.  I need some answers, just to make sure I’m not standing around doing nothing while missing something important or dangerous.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  She looked up at me, and said with grave sincerity, “I totally, one hundred percent get that.”

“You’re thinking about the Irregulars?” Tristan asked.

“Yeah,” she said.  “It gives me the worst feeling, when I look back on things in retrospect.  So many stupid things we should have paid attention to.  So many.  We let a lot of things slide because we were worried about how it would change the tone of things, and because of friendship, or what we thought was friendship.  I’d rather see people get upset now than have it all go wrong later.”

“Yeah.  We’ve talked about that,” Tristan said.  Then, like he was remembering I was there, he turned to me.  “Both of our teams capsized.  We’ve done the whole thing before, where you go out, get drunk, and rant about the past-”

“No we didn’t,” Sveta said.

“Let me finish.  We did it without the drinking part, I mean.”

“Oh.  Yeah,” Sveta said.  “I guess.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “A good rant can be healthy.  Get it out.”

“We’ve done that.  The drunken bemoaning of existence, without being drunk,” she said.

“I wasn’t able to talk,” I said.

“Still.  You worked that keyboard.”

I shrugged.

“I’m trying to be balanced about this,” she said.  “I made this mistake once, and I don’t want to be blind, but I feel like pushing too hard or prying might make things break down, and that doesn’t make it better.  I’m not going to say you’re doing it wrong, Victoria.”

“I don’t know if I’m doing it right.”

“Yeah.  But… you do what feels right, because I don’t know if I’m doing it right either.  I want to help people stay together.  That means protecting each other, being supportive, that’s my priority.  We have to know each other, that’s part of it, and it’s the part where I don’t necessarily sympathize with Chris.”

“I don’t want to repeat my error from earlier and pry,” I said, checking to see if Kenzie and Chris were coming.  “But… has he talked about his background?  His deal?”

“No,” Tristan said, at the same time Sveta shook her head.

“Some,” Sveta said, “But hypotheticals.  He’s real about the stuff like the center he’s living at now, and his health issues, his power, but even that’s…”

“Yeah,” Tristan said.

“He doesn’t leave you very sure about it,” I said.

Sveta nodded.  “I’m not going to pry or dig, but I am going to pay attention.  Not just talking about Chris, for the record.”

“I’m not good at that,” Tristan said.  “I hear you two.  I get it, we made a mistake with Ashley.  That hard conversation with Rain took far too long, he left, and he didn’t really reconnect until the whole thing with the Fallen camp ended… and he went straight from there to jail, pretty much.  Ashley… I felt like utter shit, sitting there in the pre-court thing, knowing we put her in that position.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  “Definitely.  Especially when I helped set her up to do it and then made her turn herself in, too.”

“She turned herself in herself,” I said.  “She went to the patrol block.”

Sveta shrugged.

“I get it,” Tristan said, repeating himself.  “We have to watch out that it doesn’t happen again- that’s why you’re talking about this stuff, right, Victoria?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “A part of it.  I think it’s what Jessica wanted from me.”

“So I’m not good at that,” Tristan said, repeating himself.  His fist smacked down into the flat of his palm.  “I want to chase the parts where we click as a team.  We had a few of those good moments.  If we have more, that could be where the walls come down, or where the team members who don’t click.”

“You’re reminding me of Kenzie’s seating chart,” Sveta said.

“Seating?” I asked.

“Figuring out the group relationships,” Sveta said, smiling.  “It started out normal, having to do with who sat where in the group therapy session, but she kept working on it.”

“It looked like a tinker blueprint at one point.  Mrs. Yamada ended up banning the chart and the topic of the chart from the room,” Tristan said.  “If you ever need to distract her from something, you can mention the chart.  She’ll talk about it until someone stops her.”

“She’s not a dog you distract with a toy,” I said.

“No, but-” Tristan said.  His head turned.  “Ey!  Taking your time!”

Chris and Kenzie were approaching, as part of a loose crowd of sixty or so people.  Most of those people wore work clothes.

“We had to wait for trucks and stuff to unload,” Kenzie said.  She wore a navy gingham dress with a folded white collar, and a heart hairpin I’d seen before.

“If you wanted me to show up sooner, you should have sent your messenger sooner,” Chris said.  “You were talking about me?”

“I mentioned we’d argued,” I said.  “That led to talks about group dynamics.”

“What?” Kenzie asked.  “Argue?”

“Did you mention that you threatened to kill me, or do worse?” Chris asked.

What?” Kenzie asked.

“No,” I said.  “Because I didn’t.  I said the kind of thing you were talking about-”

I stopped myself.

“Go on,” he said.

“Can I bring this up here?  Do you want to rehash this with these guys here, or do you want to let this be?”

“Go on.  I really want to hear how you justify it,” he said.

“Going to Bonesaw for help before you went to me, out of spite?  That’s the kind of thing that gets you killed or worse.”

He stared at me.

“I can’t remember how I worded it, but that was not what I meant.  I’m sorry, if it came across that way.  I’ve hurt people badly enough to risk killing them, like Valefor, but I don’t set out to kill.  I- I definitely don’t set out to do worse than kill people.  That’s not me.”

He continued to stare, until Kenzie elbowed him.

“Don’t do that,” he told her.

“Say something to her.”

“I’m not cool with you showing up.”

Chrisss,” Kenzie said.

He glared at me.  She elbowed him again.

“Stop, Kenz.  And I believe you,” he told me.  “I buy it.  That in no way is me being okay with you showing up.  I’m still ticked.”

“That’s fine,” I said.

“You and I can talk about it after,” Tristan said.  “You’ve had a few times where you were incommunicado.  We had to do something.”

“I could do a phone thing,” Kenzie said.

“You’re doing too many things,” I told Kenzie.

“It’s important that we can stay in touch, though,” she said.

“There’s got to be a simpler answer or policy than you going the extra mile every time,” Tristan said.  “Chris, your phone isn’t working at all?  Was it an outage?”

Chris shrugged.  “It wasn’t charged.  I was stressed, so I went out last night, went to the middle of nowhere, changed to Quiet Awe.  I put on some music and lounged, tried to shut out the world.  I spent too long like that, changed back by accident, went straight back to that form.  Came back at one in the morning, probably, power was off, I couldn’t charge it.”

I met Sveta’s eyes.  Quiet Awe didn’t sound like a derivation of anger.

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

“Alright.  Are we changing here?” Chris asked.

“We’ll go down into the town, find a spot, and then change out,” Tristan said.  “We’ll stand out less, and there won’t be as many cameras as there are here at the station.”

I turned my head to look.  Kenzie pointed at two.

“Don’t point at them,” Chris admonished her.

“They’re so shoddy it’s barely worth calling them cameras.  I’m scrambling our faces so they can’t track our secret identities.”

“We’ve got two team members without secret identities,” Chris said, looking at Sveta and I.  “And Tristan looks so much like a hero out of costume that it doesn’t fool anyone.”

“No I don’t,” Tristan said.

“You look like Legend probably did when he was a teen, except light brown with a modern haircut.”

“I don’t-” Tristan started.  He stopped as the last few passengers of the train and the people who were picking them up emerged.  As the crowd fanned out, they approached the point they might be in earshot.

“You know it’s true,” Chris said.

“Whatever.  Let’s disappear into this crowd and find a place to change.”

“I’ll try to scramble recording devices pointed our way,” Kenzie said.

The road down to the settlement proper was a bit sloped, so I gave Sveta my good arm to help her keep her footing.

Earth N was not a very populated Earth.  This settlement and the surrounding area were more or less it, with a few stations at key points around the globe, harvesting the most accessible resources that lined up with what we knew about from other Earths.

But with roughly one hundred and fifty thousand people settled on this world, ninety percent of them within twenty-five miles of the portal, it didn’t take much clout to control it.  Lord of Loss and his clique managed that.

Things weren’t as nice as they were in the megalopolis.  Roofs were often corrugated steel.  I saw houses with additions that were plywood with plastic tacked to them.  Others were best described as cabins.  It marked a stark contrast from a city where vast quantities of materials had apparently been arranged and even brought to key locations before Gold Morning.

The stores were basic, and any design beyond the bare bones had clearly been tacked on after the fact.  A long lineup outside of a larger building made me think of a soup kitchen or other kind of rationing.

There were two people with visible injuries in the loose crowd that we’d joined.  People from the train station.  They were young, they might have been friends, and one sported a black eye, while the other had a cut on his cheek that extended to his ear.  The injuries hadn’t seen enough attention- left to heal with the weight of the skin pulling the injury open, it would scar into an open line.

Both those two and roughly half of the remainder looked like they were denizens of Earth N.  Their clothes and hair reflected the same standards and ideas that the buildings did.  A lot was being done with very little, and that little was already a bit worn around the edges, strained by hard living and a lack of infrastructure.  I saw clothes which were clearly less than two years old, yet worn.  I imagined they had been washed with hard scrubbing in water outdoors.

“Fresh air,” Kenzie said.  She drew in a deep breath.  “It’s so nice.”

“It’s not like we don’t have fresh air in our neighborhoods,” Chris said.  “There’s barely been an opportunity to screw anything up.”

“It’s still nice.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed.  I’d been here before, but it had been in the winter, and I barely recognized the place now.  I’d seen other places like it, and it had always felt strained and desperate.

Sveta squeezed my arm.  I looked past her to Tristan, and I saw that he was indicating a route.  Off the road, into the midst of houses and high fences.

We found a spot where the fences met in a broad ‘v’ shape, not really in full view of anyone standing at the main road looking down our way.  Tristan and I put down our bags.  Kenzie began unrolling the sleeves of her costume from beneath her dress to her ankles, kicking off the shoes she wore over her costume footies.

“I’ll wait,” Chris said.  “I’ll use this spot when you’ve vacated.”

“I can leave you a cloaking thing, if you’re worried about dropping trou in public,” Kenzie said.  She messed with her phone, and the cloaking dropped away from the bag she wore at her back.  Her helmet hung from the outside of the bag, her gloves stuffed inside it.

“Sure,” Chris said.  “So long as you can’t watch me through it.”

“Stop saying that!  I wouldn’t!”

I put my breastplate on, strapping the two individual halves, which were curved out so I could bend over without it being too rigid.  The upper twenty-five percent of the armor was already attached to the upper half, needing only to be pressed against my collarbones and the inside of each shoulder.  The front corner of my hood that might have clipped up beneath my chin hung over most of that band of armor.

The spiked attachments on hood, sleeve, the center-front of the breastplate, and at either side of my boots were last.

I had only one good arm, which meant that I was only about as fast as Tristan putting on his whole set of armor, and I was only doing my armor and decorations over top of the costume-ish outfit.

“What form are you doing, Chris?” Kenzie asked.

“Strained Peace,” Chris said.

Strained peas?  As in baby food?” Kenzie asked.

“You know how blind people can train their minds to emphasize their hearing?” Chris asked.  “Well, you’ve done the opposite.  You’ve stared so much at your cameras and screens that your ears stopped working.”

“Ha ha,” she said.

“Made worse by you being a dolt.”

Kenzie smiled.  “So harsh.  Is peace on the awe or happiness line?”

“Happiness,” Chris said.

“Why ‘strained’?” I asked.

Chris shot me a hostile look.

I didn’t press, leaving him be.  I finished sorting out the straps of my sling and thought about getting a cape that would cover the one arm.

I hadn’t ever really loved full capes, though.

“Strained is a modifier for forms, it goes around the circle with Repressed Anger, Tense Acceptance, Paralyzed Fear, Stifled Disgust, yadda yadda,” Chris said.  He took Kenzie’s cloaking device.  “All of which are the bases but with faster reactions and movements in a pinch, like I’m made of elastic bands that are all taut, ready to release, or I’m a gun with a trigger that needs only a light touch to fire.”

“That’s not a good thing,” Capricorn said.

“It’s fine.  Faster action, lower stamina, lower strength, more durability.  Changes the abilities that manifest.  Strained Peace doesn’t really have much in the way of special features, so there isn’t a trigger to pull.”

“Why choose it then?” Sveta asked.  She’d attached the last of her stylized additions to her exterior.  They’d been painted, much as she had, but it was the same mandala-style effect, where some hadn’t been filled it, and the absence looked like a conscious choice.

“Because we don’t want a fight and peace works for that,” he said, and the easygoing tone from before was gone. “I need to get it out of the way, it works.  Trust me when I say it works out.”

Sveta put up her hands in surrender.

“We’ll give you a minute,” Capricorn said.  He stuffed everyone’s bags into the big gym bag.

“I’ll hold that,” Chris said.

“Sure,” Tristan said.

Chris held up the tinker device Kenzie had given him, and hit the button.  The camouflage effect crept over him.

The guy with the black eye from the crowd was hanging out at the front of a store, talking to two others, and he saw us as we emerged from the residential side road.  He wasn’t the only one who seemed to notice, but he was the most blatant about his reaction.  Instant hostility.  A glare.

Even the low-level hubbub of the street and the workers on the street changed, conversations dropping in volume, others stopping talking to see why.

“Wow,” I said, under my breath.  I kept my back straight, my apparent confidence up.  It would not be a good look if we gave the wrong impression and Lord of Loss’ town picked a fight with us before our meeting.

“I remember times like this with the Irregulars,” Sveta said.  “Especially when we turned up without warning.  Except you guys aren’t Case Fifty-Threes.”

“Bit of a gut punch,” Capricorn said.

“Yeah,” Sveta said.

“I’d say we get out of here, but we can’t bail on C,” Capricorn murmured.  “I feel like this is going to become something.”

“Anyone noticing the injuries?” I asked.

The one with the shiner was the most obvious and the closest to us.  The silence on the main street had drawn a few people outside, and it had brought others from side areas and streets.  A dozen of them had their wounds.  Arms and face more than legs.  Some skinned knees.

Defensive wounds.

Looksee raised her hand, giving the crowd of stone-faced glares a little wave.

“Easy does it,” Sveta said.

Looksee dropped her hand.

Then, because the last thing we needed was a monster showing up, Chris materialized, dropping the cloak.

The indulgence form had apparently been derived from the happiness line, as far as I understood things.  There were similarities.  The form was tall, but where the other one had been broad in the gut, shaped like a teardrop with a tiny head and thick elephantine limbs, this one was… shrouded.  What I thought was a shawl at first was loose skin with no pigment, draped in a fashion that resembled a hooded robe.  Hair and a whisp of what should have been a beard hung down, long and growing as I watched, the length of hair and the hood hiding his face, even though he loomed a foot or two above the tallest person present.  The long, narrow limbs and frame within that shroud were gaunt, and stood tense with muscles strained and tendons standing out.  By the way the joints came together and the weight of the skin shroud, it was forced into a permanent crouch, hands bent in and back toward the body, head bent and turned toward the ground.

The teardrop shape remained, but it was well hidden.

“Looks good,” Looksee said.

It was something.  But Chris’ ‘peace’ form had raised the local tensions to a palpable degree.

A long finger with a raw nail bed instead of a fingernail reached down into the dirt of the road, scratching out two words.  The red nail bed had grit caked in it when the finger came away.

Where to?

“We’re supposed to head east from the camp,” I said.

“He said it was a ten minute walk away, past a hill,” Capricorn said.

‘Peace’ Chris turned his head slowly, until he looked down on Capricorn.

I could imagine his expression, were he normal.  The unimpressed glare.  This form lacked in stamina, he’d said.

“What were you going to do?” Capricorn asked.  “Not change?”

The ‘peace’ form turned to look in the direction we were supposed to go.

The robe billowed out slightly, puffing.  The form’s head seemed to lack a mouth, or even any clear features besides maybe eyes and the waves of brown hair that hung in front, but something in the midst of the shroud had served for the exhalation.

I could have flown, but as I’d observed a few days ago, flying had a way of disconnecting me from things.  I floated alongside the group.

“You saw the injuries?” Capricorn asked, when we were a little ways away, walking along dirt and grass with rocks at irregular intervals.  Up to a point, trees had been cut down to use for the building of the settlement on this side of the G-N portal.  Past that point, the woods were dense.  From the looks of it, we wouldn’t necessarily get that far out.

“Defensive,” I said.

“Soldiers?” he asked.

“Soldiers would have run off to tell their bosses,” I said.  “Made a phone call, even texted.  They didn’t.  They didn’t run, they didn’t care enough to challenge or confront us.”

“Are they not locals then?” Sveta asked.

“They’re local.  The clothes,” I said.  “They fight, but they’re not soldiers.”

“Lord of Loss might have a situation going on,” Capricorn said.  “It could be tied to our suspicions.  Another faction in his territory.”

“If it is tied to it, he can’t not know about it,” I said.

“It’s times like this that I feel really dumb,” Looksee said.  “I don’t pay much attention to any of that stuff.  Um.  But someone did make a call, though.”

“What call?” Capricorn asked.

“Uh, from the city to one of the local towers,” Looksee said.  She pointed off into the distance, where something I’d thought was a tree stood out against the sky.  “This is unfamiliar ground so I don’t know where call went after the tower got it.”

“Probably someone calling Lord of Loss to let us know we turned up,” I said.

“Or, if the portal attackers are really here, they’re passing on word,” Sveta murmured.

“Looksee, You mentioned the cameras at the station,” I said.  “Did you tap into them?”

“I did, but it wasn’t me being sneaky, I swear.  I was bored, because Mr. Peaceful here was being so slow and we were waiting so long.

Chris moved, skin billowing around him as he dropped into a crouch with a jerky snap, then moved forward with another, until his face was a few feet from Looksee’s.

She barely flinched.  “Yeah.  You were slowwww.”

He straightened, standing taller than he had been before turning away.

Looksee reached out to pat his leg.

“The cameras?” I asked.

“I was curious about them because they looked analog and low rez, and I was wondering if they were trying to be clever and hiding something fancier.  Nope.  They’re just crummy cameras that were out of date when I was in diapers.”

Chris turned her way.

“Can’t talk, huh?  Bet you had a line,” she said.  To me, she said, “Four-eighty-p, black and white, record to tapes in the station that have zero security.  They write over the old tape after an hour and a half.”

“Can you use them?” I asked.  “Keep an eye out for anyone running for it while our backs are turned?”

Looksee nodded.

“Good,” I said.

We reached the top of the hill.  The wind was cool as it blew past us.  The sky above was blue, the sun shining, but it didn’t penetrate the ambient cold air.  At most, I just felt cooler when we were in areas of shadow, like the side street and beneath the buildings.

The area was a dozen buildings framing a kind of cul-de-sac, where a lot of people had gathered on the road.  More uniformity to the materials and construction than we’d seen in the last spot.  No road ran from it to elsewhere- there was only the road to it, as if it was a defined endpoint.

There was a nicer house at the far end.  I could guess who lived there.

The response to our arrival at Lord of Loss’ site was as cold as the send-off from the portal station had been.  Every step of the way, things caught my attention.

A lot more injuries.  More defensive wounds.  The injured were corralled, kept in groups with capes or intact soldiers in front of, behind, and to either side of each group.  They kept their eyes down.

We walked down the hill.

Nursery and Lord of Loss were standing at the path leading between the manor and the dirt road.  Lord of Loss was in his human form, massive.  There were a lot of people standing to either side of the path we had to travel to reach them, and he wasn’t walking forward to meet us halfway.

“Be careful,” Sveta murmured.

Capes aplenty.  I recognized a few.  Bitter Pill was one.  No Prancer, and none of the hyperviolent capes I’d come to think of as being the red-tagged, like the old capes on the parahuman online site who’d had the ‘do not approach’ banners across their profile.

Not that anyone here looked friendly.

Several in dark clothes with loose threads and designs bleached into them, like fishbones and snakes.  Teenagers, at a guess.  They stood opposite a couple in white armor with crisp black designs painted on them.  That armor hadn’t seen a fight in recent memory.  Moons and astrological symbols.

Three men were staring us down.  They wore simpler costumes with maximized utility between the belts, pouches, and bandoleers they’d strapped on.  As I walked past, I realized that they weren’t focused on me, on Chris, or Looksee.

Sveta was between me and Capricorn.  They were looking at her or him.

Not her, I realized, as I saw past the eye-slit in Capricorn’s helmet and saw his sharp focus on those same men.  Sveta didn’t seem to notice them.

Okay.

We walked further.  We were effectively surrounded, because the people we’d left behind us were free to come at us from behind, and there were plenty to either side of us.

Lord of Loss raised his hand, indicating for us to stop.  We stopped, and Chris immediately dropped into a sitting position, hunching over.

A hundred feet still separated us.  A man stepped out of the crowd to our right, bearded, with parted hair, a hard mask and crisp clothing- a button-up shirt that was rolled up to the elbows, and a vest.  He walked with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Any guns?” he asked.

“Flash gun,” Looksee said.  “Nonlethal.”

“Would you set it down on the ground?” he asked.  “It’s symbolic.”

She looked at us for confirmation, got a nod from Capricorn, and then drew the gun and set it down on the dirt road.  A little too fast a draw- in another situation, that kind of recklessness might have provoked a reaction.

“I’d like to use my power to search you,” he said.  He held up his hand, and a shape manifested in his palm, swelling to take the form of something that looked like an origami onion, the layers folding back and into themselves.  “I would sweep it over you and become aware of anything on your persons.”

“No effect?” Capricorn asked.

“No,” the man said.

“I’m fine,” Capricorn said.

“No objection,” I said.

“I’m pretty much all armor,” Sveta said.  “It contains me.”

“That’s fine.  Can I look?”

She nodded.

“I’ve got more stuff,” Looksee said.  “I can put it on the ground.”

“Please.”

She began unloading.  The heart hairpin, phone, batteries, the eyehook, the projector disc.

“And you?” the bearded cape asked Chris.

Chris shook his head.

Kenzie put a pair of the little boxes like the ones she’d used to hack the keypad lock on the ground.

“I must insist.  I could do a physical, full body search if you wanted,” the bearded man said.  “You would have to adjust your robe.”

“It’s skin,” Capricorn said.

“Ah.  So it is.”

Lord of Loss and the parahumans of Earth N were patiently waiting while we were investigated by this man.

Dangerous territory indeed.  If they took issue with us, we wouldn’t have a great shot.  We’d been promised safety, but promises were thin, and at least a few people here could have grudges against us.

“I must insist I be allowed to search you.  I’m circumspect.  I’ll only tell Lord of Loss what he needs to know.  What I want is for this to go smoothly.”

Chris hesitated.

What the hell were you doing, Chris?

Chris nodded, giving his assent.  He stooped down lower, head bent.

The origami onion unfolded into a whirling frame of lines and flat planes.  Where it passed over Chris’ leg, the leg on dirt, the dirt settled, flatting down, like there was a gravity or space warping effect in play.

Meanwhile, Looksee was putting a pair of pens, a few marble-sized metal spheres, and a glass case with what looked like three memory cards inside it down on the ground.

The man with the beard and parted hair walked behind Chris, the effect sweeping up and down Chris’ back.  He searched Chris’ midsection.

“There we are.  I see the shape of things, now,” the man with the parted hair murmured.  His eyes were alive behind the hard ivory-white mask.  “I can extend you a measure of trust, I think.  Do us a favor and stay still.  Give us no reason to be concerned.”

Chris was still for a moment, before nodding slowly.

The man moved from Chris to Looksee.  The process was faster- a quick up and down.

From Looksee to me.  I felt my costume rustle against my skin as it swept over me, my hood moved.  The effect passed.

Then Sveta.  He made no remark or comment before moving on to Capricorn.

Capricorn barely paid attention to the power that was sweeping over him.  He was focused wholly on the three men that had been staring at him earlier.  They’d moved from their position, approaching Lord of Loss, and were now leaning close, exchanging words at a low volume.  Nursery had stepped away to give the three and Lord of Loss some measure of privacy.

“Good.  Leave your things where they are and remain still,” the man said.  “Do you have a name?”

“Beg pardon?” Capricorn asked.  He tore his eyes away from the three men and Lord of Loss, all of whom were looking at us.

“A name.  So I can announce you.”

The three men stepped back and walked away, in the direction of the side of the largest house.

“Oh, um, oh Jesus,” Capricorn said.  “No.  We’ve been putting it off for forever, it’d be easier if you asked us to go pick a fight with Goddess or something.”

“We’re not asking for that,” the man said.

“You want our cape names, or group, or-”

“All of the above,” the man with the parted hair said.  “It matters.  This is a place where formality, titles, and roles matter.  The name you choose is important.”

“Can you give us a moment?” Capricorn asked.

“I can,” the man said.  He glanced back at Lord of Loss, then over at the crowd.  No statement to any grand effect, but the point was clear.  This was a large crowd and it would be poor form to keep them waiting.  “I’ll be waiting.  Signal me when you’re ready, and then announce yourselves.”

“Talk to me,” Capricorn said, before the man was even gone.  “Fast.”

“We have you and Looksee hammered out,” Sveta said.

“No,” Looksee said.  “Um.  I’ll be Lookout.  Change me to Lookout, as an inside joke, because of what he said, after the Fallen thing.”

“Lookout?” Capricorn asked.

Beside Lookout, Chris was clasping his hands together, head tilting high with hair falling across his face, like he was praying.  He reached out and gave Lookout a pat on the helmet.

“A bit dark but I’m not going to complain with the time constraint,” Capricorn said.  “Lookout.  Right.  Me, you.  Sveta?”

Sveta said a single word in Russian.  “It wasn’t my first choice, but Weld told me if I didn’t choose, someone would choose for me.  I guess our hands are being forced.  Tress.  Because it sounds pretty, at least.  But call me Sveta when it’s not official.”

Capricorn turned to Chris.

The word was already on the dirt, scratched out.  Cryptid.

No surprise.  It had been the last thing I’d seen on the whiteboard in the hideout, before we’d moved everything out.

They looked at me.

“I’m breaking every single rule,” I said.  “Because it’s a name that needs an explanation, and you’re not supposed to do that.  There’s no time to spell it out.”

“I don’t care,” Capricorn said.  “Out with it.”

“Antares,” I said.

“The heart of the scorpion?” he asked.  When I arched an eyebrow, he said, “I pay attention to stars, and I looked up some when you mentioned you were thinking in that direction.  That wasn’t on my top twenty.”

I nodded.  I had reasons and explanations, but we didn’t have the time, as I’d said.

“I’m not about to complain,” he said.  “Team name.”

“We talked about Defense Mechanism,” Lookout said.

“We said it was too tinkery,” Sveta said.

“I’m not complaining,” Lookout said.  “But I get it.”

“And we’re not very ‘defense’ oriented,” Capricorn said.  “Calling us ‘defense’ when I’m the only defender is like going with mechanism when you’re the only tinker.”

“It’s a little on the nose, by the way,” I said.

“Anything else?” Capricorn asked.

“When we were talking about names in that conversation where Defense Mechanism came up, we mentioned one, and it might be too on the nose, but Swansong liked it,” Lookout said.  “She’s not here right now, but it might be nice if she got a say, and it suits Rain, which would be nice.”

“What was it?” I asked.

“Breakthrough.”

There was a silence.  Capricorn had his arms folded.  The others were quiet.

“At this point, it’s better than no name,” Capricorn said.

“It works with the original focus of cracking the tougher nuts,” I said.

Sveta nodded.

“Let’s do that,” Capricorn said.  He drew in a deep breath and sighed, before turning to face Lord of Loss.  Capricorn gave a nod to the man.

Lord of Loss extended a hand, palm up.  An invitation.

“Team Breakthrough.  Capricorn, Tress, Antares, Lookout, and Cryptid.  We’re here to talk about the state of things, and to see about sharing information.”

Technically, we came to find out about the attack on the portals, but we can’t say that outright.

“Lord of Loss, leader of Earth N,” the man with the parted hair said.  “We welcome you.”

Lord of Loss’ body language was magnanimous, hands spread.  He seemed warm, even, for a giant in ragged armor.  He approached at a walk.  “I’m sorry for the mess.  Things have been chaotic.  I recognize the heroine from the community center.  Antares?”

“Yes.”

“We did that to try and get ahead of what we’re seeing today, serving up a scapegoat.  We had a riot two days ago, because we weren’t able to get out ahead of things or give the masses another sacrifice.”

“It shouldn’t be about sacrifices,” I said.

“It all comes down to blood and bread,” he said.  “With snowfall only fifty or so days from now, we don’t have the bread.  Will the community center and its outcome be a problem?”

I shook my head.  “Not especially.”

“Good,” he said.  “What brought you here, Breakthrough?”

“Can we talk about that alone?  Our team and you?” Capricorn asked.

“I don’t know all of your powers, and I won’t call in any of the expensive favors needed to get that information.  You keep your five.  I’ll keep four I trust.  Fair?”

Capricorn glanced at Sveta, then me.  He gave Lord of Loss a nod.

Lord of Loss selected his people.  The others were dismissed with a wave of the hand.

Nursery had an updated costume, I noted.  It was fitted to her slender frame, a curved golden band at her belly highlighting the slight bump.  She stayed.

Oddly, it wasn’t the professional looking man or woman in the white armor with the sharp designs that were tapped for his retinue here.  He turned to the group of teenagers with the bleached animal designs.  One was asked to stay, a boy with fangs bleached into the black fabric of the bandanna that covered his lower face.

The man with the parted hair, too, stayed.  I thought it might be because he was Lord of Loss’ lieutenant.

He wasn’t.  Lord of Loss turned toward the house behind him, paused, then beckoned.  Another cape stepped out, walking down the dirt path, and joined us.  Most of the others in the area were gone by the time he reached us.  The one with the parted hair stood just behind him, as Nursery and the fang kid stood at either side of Lord of Loss.

Tall, with long brown hair that passed his shoulders, carefully cultivated facial hair, and reading glasses that he looked over most of the time.  He had a billowing shirt that ninety nine percent of people wouldn’t be able to pull off, and tight black jeans tucked into boots.  His fingers had a lot of rings, and another ring hung from a simple leather cord at his neck.

Marquis.  Amy’s bio-dad.  He met my eyes and smiled.

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105 thoughts on “Torch – 7.8”

    1. Hey at least Amy didn’t step out there too. Why heck I’ll bet he even brings her up less than Carol. But yeah if Breakthrough ends up in a fight, they’ll be very lucky to get away.

    2. “Ah, hello Victoria. I’m not quite sure-”

      “Please don’t talk to me.”

      “But you, I really do want to know more about-”

      “I’m serious, if this keeps up I’m going to snap.”

      Sveta: “Victoria, don’t blow this for us.”

      Tristan: “GDI Victoria, your personal shit is fucking everything up again.”

      Kenzie: “So is he like your uncle or something?”

      Chris: *incoherent gesturing*

      Victoria: “FML.”

        1. I just love how people always remember the mindrape yet forget to mention how Victoria guilt tripped Amy to force her cardinal rule of no healing brains to try and force her to save her dad, and when she had to, and Amy tried to run away she kept harassing her as well. People forget too how Amy was subjected to Victoria’s awe aura at a formative age on daily basis for which her crush came so she was essentially mind raped too. Seriously, I cant completely like Victoria because her fans keep puting her as a saint and Amy as a demon when both were human and made mistakes.

          1. I am sorry, but turning your sister into a monster for 2 years and mind controlling her into being in love with you is a horrible crime. Being concerned about your sisters well being and running after her when she tries to run away, and wanting her to fix your dad’s brain damage with her superpower is not horrible actions at all, but normal behavior from a human.

            Victoria is guilty of being slightly too high on herself and being impulsive and violent when fighting criminals (nothing compared to, say, Skitter though). Amy is guilty of horrible crimes against a sister who loved her, as well as threatening to release a horrible plague if the PTR did not lock her up.

            These are in no way equivalent.

          2. Yeah, the whole moral of Worm is that everything’s messed up and it’s no one’s fault.

            The whole world runs on self fulfilling Greek prophecy.

          3. Yes, they both made mistakes. Amy’s mistakes were just several orders of magnitude more severe than Vick’s. Amy was also a lot more malicious than V.

            Do you disagree with that, or think those differences don’t matter?

          4. Why would the actions of Victoria’s fans have any bearing on your own feelings about her? There are lots of people who stupidly hero worship things that I like. Doesn’t stop me liking those things. Don’t let your enjoyment of things be controlled by other people.

          5. @Warren: I agree that Amy’s mistakes were a lot worse and that the difference is meaningful, but I disagree that Amy was more malicious than Victoria. Those big mistakes were born of self loathing, not malice. The only malicious things that I recall her doing were the mind-games she’d play on criminals, and I wouldn’t call that worse than Victoria’s penchant for torture.

          6. I know that Amy’s mistakes were worse but what people never take into account is that she wasnt deliberately trying to mind control Victoria. She wasnt, say, heartbreaker who was using his powers deliberately to make women fall in love with him. When Amy did so, it was an accident, a moment of doubt caused by her powers and the fact that she was unstable after what happened with Bonesaw. And turning Victoria into the wretch was a result of that as well, of her being mentally unstable. Im not completely condoning her actions, but she wasnt on her right mind.

            Victoria has the right to hate her, but it wasnt all Amy’s fault. She suffered and did her penance for her crimew and is trying to get things right and redeem herself just like Victoria is doing. The whole breakthrough team is about redeeming yourselves of past mistakes but they are congratulated and loved and Amy is still a bitch for a lot of people on the comment section.

          7. I’d say the magnitude of Amy’s mistakes is caused by the magnitude of her power. With great power comes greater ability to f- things up.

          8. It’s not just the mind rape. There was also implied to be a certain amount of literal rape.

          9. “It’s not just the mind rape. There was also implied to be a certain amount of literal rape.”

            Quote?

          10. It’s pretty vague and subtle but if you read what Amy says in Carol’s interlude in Worm she says she took “breaks” that involved doing something with Victoria besides trying to fix her.

          11. @Placid Platypus “It’s pretty vague and subtle but if you read what Amy says in Carol’s interlude in Worm she says she took “breaks” that involved doing something with Victoria besides trying to fix her.”

            No, she just wanted Victoria to hug her again before she left. The break was just her way of delaying the inevitable. It doesn’t imply any rape at all.

  1. Kenzie panicking and switching names is adorable.

    Who’re those guys who recognized Tristan? His team seems to have stayed mostly on the straight and narrow or died, so I’m guessing they’re criminal contacts.

    1. we know when he snapped under his own expectations/goals, he ended up hiring some people to do bad things he could take advantage of to look good. my gut reaction is this might be them.

      of course, with him having a hero career history, they could also be some people he had run ins with before during his time in Reach that he recognizes simply as ‘I have dropped rocks on that guy before’ more than anything deeper

  2. Is her arm under her costume now? I can’t imagine trying to work it out of the sling and then into this complicated costume.

  3. Was the Seating Chart joke a nod to the perpetual Shipping Chart memes permeating the fandom?

    But also: Yay for a finalized team name and member names! Victoria is a star after all, and Sveta gets a hair joke (though the wording made me think she’s choosing a word in Russian at first, hah), and Kenzie switches names at the last moment and will probably switch it again one or five times before the story ends.

    So, the wounds on the civilians came from LoL’s forces subduing a riot following the portal blowout? Marquis is here to negotiate or did he form an alliance? Is Amy somewhere here as well along with her dad?

    All these questions! Wanna bet we get an interlude next?

    1. Yes, let’s hope Amy isn’t around. Or is smart enough to keep out of Vickies sight.
      Marquis: “It seems you sister is here Amelia.”
      Amy: “What? Oh hell that’s the other group!?”
      Marquis: “So I take it you haven’t had any luck patching things up?”
      Amy: “She nearly disowned Carol when she brought me up.”
      Dot: “Do you want me to eat her face?”
      Amy: “NO!!”

      And the guys that recognized Tristan… Maybe the hitmen from the prologue?

      And this is why you make sure to get names decided on beforehand.

      1. Marquis: “You know putting this off is only going to make it worse.”
        Amy: “Somehow I doubt that interfering with my sister’s hero-ing career will make it better.”
        Marquis: “And retreating to my home to consume a quart of ice cream every time you almost meet her is all part of your plan to meet her.”
        Amy: “. . . are you being sarcastic?”
        Marquis: “What? Me? No, I’m far too sophisticated for that.”
        Dot: “Bring her a dead rat. That should help. The Good King always liked it when we brought him dead rats.”

    1. Apparently the cupboards aren’t well-stocked, but they do have a planet. In the long term that will be worth… approximately a planet. Marquis is patient, and rather than LoL’s lieutenant he may be in more of the role that Lung occupied with respect to Marquis back in the Birdcage. At this point in time they’re more concerned with turning the populace into a tool they can use, than they are about getting rich. Anyone who hasn’t bought into that will probably not be around very long.

      1. Marquis is patient… And he’s got a daughter who can take years off someone’s life if she wants. The tricky part is finding something to extend Amy’s life too.

        1. Amy can use her power on herself, she did it to prevent bleeding when Siberian bit some of her fingers off.
          She is (understandably) very reluctant to do so, though. It will take a long way to convince her to reach immortality.

          1. She didn’t use her power on herself – she used it on bacteria and such to create a ‘skin’ symbiote/organism that would stop the bleeding.

          2. Oooh. I completely misunderstood that part, so. It seemed logical that, after two out of her three limitations (can’t do brain surgery, can’t kill and can’t alter herself) had been revealed to be white lies, the third one would be one too.
            All this time, I considerably overestimated Amy’s mental distress. I thought she could effectively have altered her own fucked-upness for the greater good all this time (like give herself back empathy, or change her feelings for her sister). Which would be very fucked up in itself.

            Well. Excellent work as always. It all started a bit slow but things get more and more interesting with every arc.

          3. She literally said the words “I’m ammune to my own power!” when Grue asked why she didn’t regrow her fingers.

  4. Team Breakthrough.
    Antares, Capricorn, Tress, Lookout & Cryptid*
    *with Swansong & RoFF on manslaughter timeout.
    Apt.
    All apt.
    I will allow it.

      1. Not surprised by Cryptid in the least, happy my fave name for Creepy Kid came out the winner.

        Team Breakthrough, brilliant. I’m a little surprised by Antares though, but only because as Tristan says, it wasn’t in my top choices.

        Thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. Feels like a lot of the pieces I loved most about the original jaunt through Worm: the novel team dynamics and unknown capes, deeper games at play, lots of payoff for a lot of setup and Fandom discussion.. The conflict-ridden but mature discussions about team disagreements and dynamics, the little comic moments, along with some great scene setting and non-dialogue/verbal communication in Chris’ mute form, leaving us guessing motives. The realization that some advantages weren’t worth always using for the drawbacks (flight vs a tighter focus on team awareness and dynamic).

        It’s Arcs like these last few that have kept me coming back for more, for years.

        1. The absurdity of the costumes in a post apocalyptic world is a big stretch for me. It can be cool anyway.. (We all never questioned when and how Batman put on his eyeliner in the Christopher Nolan movies) but it’s hurting the suspension of disbelief.

          1. Perhaps your schema for imagining this world isn’t calibrated right. What do you need to adjust about your beliefs to make everything fit together?

          2. There’s nothing absurd about costumes. It’s a well established tradition that people who intend to control others through use of force wear costumes, whether that’s a lavish robe, a gold star pinned to a duster, or a ballistic vest with POLICE written across it. A cape’s costume is their uniform. It’s how they signal that they have both superpowers and the arrogance to use those powers against you if they feel the need.

          3. A uniform that is functional and takes 3 minutes to put on as in the case of the police is a lot different from one with artful tailoring that has gold accents etc.

            Having fancy elaborate costumes made sense before Gold Morning when the Protectorate was doing it. But afterwards, who is footing the bill?

            The capes in Ward have ridiculously elaborate costumes. We saw how much work it was for Ashley to do her makeup.

          4. Recall that we saw, in pretty exacting detail, how Victoria herself constructed her costume. Is it so difficult to imagine that the other capes we run across went through similar processes themselves?

        1. I don’t think he liked his Fallen-given name very much, but if he did, in that same vein there’s always Tephra

    1. Rain is currently the only person without a cool cape name because of being in a cult.

      Being Rain is suffering.

  5. Antares

    A red giant nearing the end of it’s life. Likely to explode within the next ten thousand years. When it does, the Antares supernova will be bright enough to be visible in the daytime sky.

    1. Red supergiant, if you want to go technical. Cool (relatively…) and damn large – with pulsations making it hard to tell exactly how far it reaches.
      Pretty fitting.

      1. Yep no ominous connotations with the whole supernova (relatively) soon part. Then again maybe this time we’ll have nice happy, everything works out, not exiled to another universe depowered to keep her powers from making her a even bigger theat, with her friends ending for our protagonist. I can hope right?

    2. What I’m thinking about is the phrase Capricorn said: “the heart of the scorpion.” If the heart is Victoria, then the scorpion is the Wretch.

    3. There´s also the Etymology of the Word. It comes from the greek anti and Ares, Ares being the greek god of war. Something like rival-to-Ares.
      Maybe she wants to express something of her self-image or ideal as a warrior monk.
      Or maybe she wants to distance herself from her past, more violent self as a juxtaposition to that.

  6. Fascinating. Thank you.

    Many things came together. I have a sneaking suspicion that I know who Chris’s shard budded off of… and who messed up his powers.

    I can’t quite put my finger on why, but this chapter feels like you caught your stride again. Very enjoyable and additionally mysterious. You have my curiosity running wild… and somehow LoL and Nursery feel a lot more sympathetic as characters.

    It seems odd marquise is wearing reading glasses with Amy as his daughter. I wonder if he wears them out of a sense of style?

    1. It could be Amy just isn’t comfortable working on her close family due to previous bad experiences.
      Or that Marquis isn’t comfortable with Amy working on him.

    2. “Many things came together. I have a sneaking suspicion that I know who Chris’s shard budded off of… and who messed up his powers.”
      Oh? Who do you suspect? Let’s see was the one S9 Member Psychosoma? They are the only thing I can think of.

      1. I prefer to wait. There is every chance I am wrong anyway. Im going to gather evidence for a bit and think about it.

    3. Amy said in Worm that she can’t do anything about old wounds or old medical problems that have been there for a while.

  7. Does anyone know if there is an article somewhere keeping track of all of Chris’ forms, modifiers, what they look like, do, powers, etc? Because I would be fascinated just to look into those

  8. It’s so wonderful to name the team after that breath mint commercial. Maybe their logo could be that bad-ass unicorn pawing its way through a brick wall…

  9. In he paragraph describing the “Peace” form it’s first described as “the indulgence form” and being derived from happiness. Wrong word or am I missing something about how his power branches work?

    1. Victoria’s noticing similarities between Strained Peace, and Wan Indulgence she saw earlier, and noting that they’re both derived from happiness.

    2. effectivly, he has 8 ‘main’ forms based on 8 major emotions, but then he can modify those forms to fit specific moods/situations

      peace and indulgence are both variations of the Happiness branch, so Victoria is noting peace looks simmilar to Indulgence and making the Happiness connection (that Indulgence was Happiness-based), not that Peace is Indulgence-based

      it’s quite an interesting power.

  10. Current theory on Lookout: she is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and prior to triggering that manifested as an extreme lack of awareness about human appearances, especially how she herself appeared to others. Her crowning moment of super-embarrassment was when she appeared on TV news or somesuch with a really messy appearance, disappointing or entertaining everyone she knew.

    Her super powers of observation were originally focused on her observing herself and those around her so she could be sure to put her best face on. It’s a bonus that she can observe everything else too. Her difficulties interacting in appropriate ways stem from her still-existing autism coupled with a new hyper-focus on appearances. It’s why she always wears such cute, catalog-perfect outfits and does things that would be charming in moderation, but to extreme degrees. She can’t sense when she’s going too far. She memorizes lots of facts and has tinker insights on top of super awareness, but cargo-cults typical human interactions. She doesn’t have the mental wiring to understand the emotions that drive the actions. As she says in this chapter, “It’s times like this that I feel really dumb. I don’t pay much attention to any of that stuff.”

    1. I’m not a professional, and anyway it’s impossible to diagnose just based on the information we have, but Kenzie doesn’t seem to have any sort of autism to me. She is very communicative, and appears to have a pretty good understanding of the social situations she finds herself in (even if her own actions and expectations are often inappropriate). Saying she doesn’t understand emotions seems to me to be very far from the truth – she’s very sensitive and empathic, is more emotional than anyone else on the team, and cares about others’ emotions. As for the quote in your last sentence, that refers to noticing the physical injuries and conditions of the people observing them. It is not a skill whose lack is typically associated with autism, but is rather just something that Capricon and Victoria are good at due to their longer experience as capes in the field. To compare, Sveta is also not as skillful as they are – Victoria figures out that they’re local from their clothes, Sveta doesn’t make that connection.

      1. Out of the three autistic friends I have, two of them are excessively communicative (one in a pretty similar way to Kenzie) and the other can talk your ear off it just has to be about the right subject. “Talks a lot” is by no means a disqualifier to being autistic.

        Not understanding emotions is *very* different from not being empathetic. Once again, all three of my autistic friends are intensely, somewhat overwhelmingly actually, empathetic … but they don’t always catch emotional cues or parse behavioral signals correctly. Being emotional, caring about people, being sensitive, once again none of these things are mutually exclusive with autism, nor mutually exclusive with having difficulty interpreting others’ emotions.

        Autism isn’t Schizoid Personality Disorder. It’s not a lack of interest in people or a disinterest in interpersonal interaction. It’s closer to a pattern-recognition problem, having a brain which highlights different things as worth being flagged or not.

      2. I am also not professional! It’s just a theory, but very little of what we’ve seen of Lookout says “good understanding of social situations”. She doesn’t enjoy messing up; it’s a surprise disappointment every time. She doesn’t have the reliable mental faculty that most of us have to model and predict how other humans feel and interact, so she relies on other techniques, including an applicable superpower, a compulsion to repetitive behaviors, and the fact that she’s intelligent enough to figure out intellectual models of human behavior. She observes human behavior and tweaks her models (or sometimes the server is overloaded so she has to throw the models out completely) but she still lacks the context that motivates that behavior.

        She certainly observed the civilians’ injuries. Not only did she not understand what the injuries meant from a social perspective, but after she heard her teammates figure it out she couldn’t follow their reasoning. Antares’s intuition comes from experience; experience is a necessary but not sufficient condition for that intuition.

        1. I don’t think the autism thing is even essential to the theory, the key bits work either way.

          This is a solid theory, it provides a complete framework for understanding her. But as this clip illustrates, just because it makes sense and fits the available evidence doesn’t mean it’s correct: https://youtu.be/Zzk4wLgnYao

          1. Mild Autism such as Aspergers syndrome is of great interest to meantime could so see Kenzie being on the Spectrum.

            I am if the opinion that Greg Veder and Colin ‘Armsmaster/Defiant’ were as well.

            Now imagine Kenzie and Defiant having a conversation…

    2. This is a brilliant analysis of Kenzie and it would not surprise me in the least if Wildbow was going for this.

    3. I’ve been wondering if Kenzie might have bpd. She very strongly hits a lot of the common indicators, though I haven’t seen much of the “splitting” that people with bpd often show.

    4. It’s pretty clear from everything we’ve seen and heard about her so far that she has BPD. I’m “professional” in training, FYI.

  11. “Oh, hi there Marquis.
    Guess my parents put you in jail and took your daughter, huh?
    And then she raped me.
    I won’t mention it if you won’t mention it”
    Awkward.

  12. “A man stepped out of the crowd to our right, bearded, with parted hair, a hard mask and crisp clothing- a button-up shirt that was rolled up to the elbows, and a vest.”

    I can’t shake the feeling that it’s Teacher, even though the power doesn’t really seem to match.

    1. it also doesn’t match his description from before. teacher has been consistently described as short, pudgy and his hair thinning, and not using a mask.

      1. I don’t think his height was mentioned here, though? The clothing and the beard do fit, though. But yeah, I agree it’s a wildly unlikely possibility 🙂

  13. Team Breakthrough!! I love all of these names. A shame Rain and Ashley couldn’t be here for this day…

    Also oh shit Marquis. I still don’t really get him, will be interesting to see what he’s up to.

  14. Wild theory – Chris is Kid Win. Kid Win’s name was also Chris, he had a major unfinished plot-line, and we never saw him die. All we know is That scion messed up his suit and that it was presumed to have destroyed him. What if the suit was tinker-tech that caused him to mutate in to Cryptid? We were told that he was new to his current powerset, but Victoria assumed that meant he was a new cape, it was never confirmed. It would explain why he never talks about his past Pre-Gold Morning, Victoria’s suspicion that his illnesses were the result of someone else’s power, why he was afraid of being scanned by LoL’s minion, and why he’s so depressed all the time. Any reason it can’t be true?

    1. Kid Win would be much older than Chris, he was about Vistas age. He was also a Tinker and their personalities aren’t similar in the slightest. Way to think creatively though

  15. I wonder if Vicky is Antares cause it means in a way Anti Ares ( god of war ). So it could be a way of saying she is agains conflict?

    1. Yeah, something is decidedly up with Cryptid. It’s odd that he was reluctant to get scanned for objects on his person when he literally shouldn’t have any. And then the scan apparently found something, though it’s quite possible the guy was understating his capabilities. Still, clearly he either found something undisclosed about Cryptid’s powers or recognized either him specifically or a category he’s part of.

      1. My theory is that When Chris changes it ends up being something like with Rachel’s dogs. He’s inside all of his forms.
        He asked Kenzie if her cameras could see inside people. Something he was “just curious” about
        He let slip that there are sometimes strange things in his bed as a result of his transformation – kind of like the excess flesh and gore that the Dogs leave behind.
        The scan is supposed to check for weapons and other hidden things – I think it paused over his torso because his form was inside.

      2. Chris’s weirdness aside, there’s nothing odd about being reluctant to let an unknown cape use their power on you. The guy claimed it was just a way to scan for items, but there’s no way to know if he was being truthful. It could be that what he was really doing was setting up an effect he can apply later, like what Mama Mathers does.

      3. “I must insist. I could do a physical, full body search if you wanted,”
        (snip)
        “I must insist I be allowed to search you. I’m circumspect. I’ll only tell Lord of Loss what he needs to know. What I want is for this to go smoothly.”

        I still say there’s something horribly, terminally, wrong with him and he’s hiding it. Fits with the stealing medical supplies and symptoms described.

  16. Horray! VillianDad is back.
    Why do I suddenly feel like everything is going to go totally okay.

    … that or WoodenBowl is about to remind us precisely why Marquis is classified as a villian.

    1. “Brandish took my daughter from me. The next time I saw her was when she arrived in the Bird Cage. And yes. I know all about what happened between you. Well done… Hero…”

      Victoria yawned hiding her felings as she smiled back at him. “Sorry about that but repeats bore me and tone honest, Prattlefail does it better and it’s not like your code will allow you to go after a single.solitary.remaining. undersides.”

      .

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