Gleaming – 9.5

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Instinct: throw up my defenses to protect myself against this purple fire.  Charge in, and remove the threat.  Wrong move, putting myself in harm’s way.  If Caryatid could be hurt, then so could I, theoretically.  I had to hold myself back.

Plan?  Taking a second to think things through, remind myself of key points and moves, accounting for things, they took time.  It was time that she had to throw out some purple flame, setting the middle of the house’s living room on fire.  It bought her space, as she moved in the direction of the window.

I’d come in through the side door, Caryatid through the front.  The woman -pale and thin with thick-frame rectangular glasses, the sides of her head shaved and her hair tied into a messy bun at the back- had her trash bag of drugs in one hand and fire in the other.  Jeans, sneakers, and a purple t-shirt with some new metal band advertised on the front, their logo surrounded by flame.

Her head turned from the flames, where a motion of her hand made the swiftly dwindling fire grow, to the window.  She’d need hands free to haul it open.

In the heat of the moment, trying to consider my options, I turned to process, to follow the laws, and if that wasn’t possible, to do what was right-

I looked over in Caryatid’s direction.  She’d crumpled over, and she looked like she was alternately trying to stop, drop, and roll and be very still while the flames licked her costume and skin.  The skin I could see at her hand looked angry and red, her other hand gripping her arm at the elbow.

“Talk to me, Caryatid!”

“I can’t put it out!”

My heart broke at the composed, stylish young woman sounding so unlike she’d sounded.

I could circle the flame in the center of the room- it was swiftly dwindling.  Edging around, I could keep relatively the same distance from the woman with the purple flame-

She moved her hand, and the flame swelled violently, barring my path.

“Let me-”

She moved her hand again.  The flame billowed out in a slow moving explosion, though an explosion was the wrong word.  It was though a balloon was swiftly expanding in the center of the flame’s mass, and the existing flame was forced to ride the surface, moving out as a wall with nothing beneath it.

“-help her!”

I was left to retreat, and I flew in the direction of an armchair.  I hit it, Wretch-strength, and sent the chunks careening toward the woman.

But it wasn’t really possible to aim it, and I didn’t score any direct hits.  One chunk hit her bag.  Another rolled through the flame.  A dismissive move of her hand extinguished it.

My heart pounding, breath coming hard, frustration welling up inside me, I had to force my thoughts back on track.  Not instinct – plan, logic, law.  My train of thought from before.  My impulses still shaped my thought process.  The first place my thoughts went was to Goddess- she was a ruler, she had a system of laws, and she had some idea of what she was doing, because one didn’t rule a universe without knowing something.  She studied powers, too.

No use, though, because I didn’t have her on speed-dial, and I didn’t know what she would say or do.

The second place my thoughts kept getting caught on was the master-stranger protocols, because I’d been thinking about them so recently.  What was the law, the rule, the textbook way to do this?  Other protocols, other rules or by-the-books procedures.

This, for all intents and purposes, was a trump power, because it affected or involved other powers.  Penetrating supposed invulnerability?

S.O.P. for trumps was to get the hell out of dodge, reassess, and step carefully.

I heard a pained noise from Caryatid.  The flames were re-igniting at her sleeve and shoulder, perilously close to her face.

“Put out the flames, I’ll let you go!” I called out.

Bag still in hand, back to the window, she tried to lift it.  Ignoring me.

“Listen to me!” I screamed the words.  Then, in anger, lashing out in much the same way I might have struck her across the face with the back of my hand, I used my aura.

This time the fire exploded.

Purple flames became purple-white and blindingly bright, filling my vision in the course of filling the room.  I threw up my forcefield on reflex alone, and my thoughts followed a moment later, with a stark awareness of why that was a bad idea.

The light that had washed over me became heat.  As the glare faded, the heat remained.  Even after being active for only a moment, I could see the vague profile of the Wretch, coming to pieces in dribbles akin to burning oil and scraps like flaming paper.

The woman across the room was busy extinguishing flames that had ignited curtains near her, not looking nearly as bothered by it as she should have been.

“Caryatid!  Are you okay!?”

“What happened!?” still a voice without confidence, tremulous, small and afraid, like it belonged to someone years younger.  Hearing it was almost enough to make me forget what I’d needed to say.

“Don’t use your power!  The fire ignites powers!”

I saw the woman at the other end of the room react to that.  That observation was blunted by the more pressing fact that I was on fire and I could feel the heat.  My costume had absorbed the worst of it.

Get away, I thought.  The rule for the powered dealing with trumps – especially the ones that screwed with powers.  I had to fight my instinct to get away faster by flying.

I ran, feeling like a coward, feeling worse because Caryatid was still on the ground.  Head low and face turned away from all hints of flame, my movements stumbling as I almost bounced off of a wall in my not-quite straight run down the hall.

Purple flames that licked me turned orange as I left the house.  I spotted a puddle where road met a dip at the edge of a lawn, and threw myself at it.  I chanced a use of my flight to get myself to the right angle, limiting the impact as I rolled into it.  The coldness of the water and the wet corner of my hood slapping my cheek was a shock to the system.

A high whine caught my attention.  I turned my head and saw a man in a white coveralls, a black jacket and black winter boots pointing a janky wires-and-kid’s-building-set gun at me.

I raised my defenses, and then remembered it had burned.  What did that mean?  I started to fly away, and he shot me.

The forcefield took the hit, sparks flying from the point of impact, visible flashes of light traveling between raindrops like lightning.  Before he could line up another shot, I changed direction, to one side, flipping around to be right-side up, a spark of light passing just to my left, and then, planting my toes on the ground to help arrest myself and give myself a physical point to orient myself around in space,  flew into his legs, rising once he started tipping over.

The result was that as his feet went up, his face went down with that much more emphasis.  He had the weapon in his hands, and he was unwilling enough to let go of it that he only used one hand to brace himself in the fall.

He failed utterly, and more or less met the ground face-first, landing with half of his body in the puddle.

The gun fired in the moment of impact, or out of some reflexive action, the spark hitting the edge of the lawn, conducting through the water, and making his body convulse and jerk- which included a spasmodic pull of the trigger.  The spark hit the same spot, more or less, conducted into the puddle, conducting into him, which made his finger jerk-

I kicked the gun away before it could happen again.

I could hear more guns- there were enough people around and the light was bad enough that I couldn’t see who was aiming at what.  I could see the glows and crackles of guns as they reached the point of being charged enough to fire, the faint illumination giving me some sense of where guns were pointed, but that only gave me a moment to react to each.

The woman with the purple fire was either inside or leaving the other end of the house.  And as for Caryatid-

I flew up, and much like the woman with the purple fire had divided her attention between me and the window, I was left to divide my attention between laser beams flicking through the sky and a barrage of wildly aimed white spark-balls that were each surrounded by nimbuses of electricity, as they conducted to nearby rain.  A red flare jumped up from near a fence that one of Teacher’s goons was using for cover, and I gave it a wide berth.  It detonated like a firework.

I chanced a glance down, and I saw Caryatid outside, slumped over on the ground.  I had to help her.

At the same time, the others were being overwhelmed by sheer numbers.  Outnumbered ten to one, with the ten being armed.  Withdrawal leaped from one ancient tree to the roof of a house so prefabricated it looked like a dollhouse.  His stilt-feet skidded across the roof, cutting and dislodging shingles, followed a moment after by a raking of a thin blue laser beam and a few haphazard shots of brilliant white sparks, like the weapon of the guy I’d just taken down.

I used my aura, primarily to distract.  Heads turned, shots were altered last-second.

Those guns seemed to be firing at very steady intervals, roughly one shot every second and a half, and they didn’t run out of ammunition.  Where they hit a target, they crackled outward, arcs lancing out to the nearest conductive target.  It was one of these shots that hit the ground beneath Withdrawal’s stilt-legs, then arced up to shock the metal there.

Once I recognized that there was a pattern, I could adjust.  Earlier, I’d had to dismiss instinct.  Here, old sparring matches against my extended family came into play.  There had been brief skirmishes against thugs who were willing to pull a real gun on a teenage girl in costume, and even an intense skirmish against Fenja had its relevance.  As I’d moved in time with her giant-sized weapon’s swipes, I flew in general circles while I found the cadence here and they divided themselves by focus.  Three people who had turned my way had those guns.  Two of them were firing almost together, one firing out of sync with them, their spark-gun being bigger.  A fourth had a laser gun, like the one that had produced the blue laser.

Two shots, change direction by going to their flank, change direction again to account for the adjustment of the third man, going up.  The laser gun glowed blue as it charged up for the next shot.

Two shots, change direction, dropping down, account for the late shot from man number three by flying up and to the right.  The laser beam fired, and it hit the Wretch.  The Wretch was better at handling sustained damage than a single good hit.  The beam burned out before the Wretch did.

I closed the distance, grabbing one of them by their hair.  The movement of my arm reminded me that I’d been burned- my skin felt tight.

Fingers gripping hair and coverall-shoulder, the top of my foot hooking in between the man’s legs, I strained my entire body and used my flight to fly him into his buddy.

My aura was affecting others, as I was flying closer.  They turned, ready to complicate what I was doing.  Withdrawal bounded over their heads, moving as if in slow motion, while his fluid spurted out over them and their heads.  Guns fizzed and popped, and people fell, sprawling messily in the luminescent bubblegum pink stuff.  One or two people who fell in the thicker patches of the spurt spun in place by some invisible force, their legs failing to find traction.

Someone shot at the ground just below Withdrawal’s landing point.  Arcs jumped up to his legs and out to nearby puddles.  His suit failed to make the final movements that would secure his landing, and he landed hard, tumbling.

“Bam, blast, zap, bam, bam and fuck you!” I could hear Finale.

The peppering of shots saw the one who’d knocked Withdrawal out get knocked onto his own ass.

A brief appearance of blue motes and a splash of water that covered face and weapon saw the man convulse as his weapons’ energy discharged into his body.

“I have to go get Caryatid!” I called out, as I spotted Byron.  “You good!?”


“Don’t try to put out any purple flames with your power!” I called out.

He responded, but I was already too high up and far away to hear.

Moving across was dangerous.  Adding a healthy dose of up to my plane of movement let me see more of what was going on, kind of, and it let me complicate things for those wanting to shoot me.  People were not generally that good at hitting human-sized targets a hundred or two hundred feet away from them in the heat of the moment.  I had one bullet wound that told me that there were exceptions to the rule, but I also had years of experience telling me that being airborne, mobile, and far away made me pretty darn safe in a firefight.

I flew up, looked, and saw Caryatid still on the ground.  A few houses down the way, there were people in white standing around a contraption – they were setting up a tinker device.  The woman with the purple flame still glowing at one of her hands waited.

As fast as I’d flown up, I flew down and at an angle, moving in more of a gentle arc than a straight line, to confuse anyone trying to target me.

I’d been the one that had involved these guys.  If any ended up seriously hurt, permanently hurt?  I swallowed hard as I dropped to Caryatid’s side.

“Did you get her?” she asked.

Costume burned.  Her right hand and arm were charred black from fingertip to shoulder, the charred bits surrounded by red flesh-

No.  The black was scraps of costume.  I could see yellow where the voluminous inside of the sleeve had stuck behind.

She reached up with her burned arm and gave me a shake.  “Did you get her?”

“She’s out there.  They’re prepping a tinker thing.  Maybe evac.”

Can you get her?”

I glanced over.  “I can try.”

“The others are okay?”

“Withdrawal fell badly, but I think so.  Outnumbered badly.”

“Then go!  Get her!  Or help them!  Help me stand?”

I got her arm over my shoulder, then straightened to a standing position.  As we drew to a standing position, Caryatid was letting her breaker power creep over her.  I could see the pattern by which it took over her hand and costume and made the two extensions of each other- the same pattern that the burn had traced.  Residual heat had led to the more polyester-like fabrics clinging to skin.

Her body and arm remained utterly still, but her eyes urged me in the moment before her face dissolved into a morass of butterfly wing movements.  Then even those movements went still, finer details becoming harder ridged structures, collapsing into a telescope-shaped structure.

I turned toward the yard where the woman and the squad had been.  Caryatid’s head oriented, the ‘telescope’ narrowing to a cone, the point facing them, before almost immediately breaking apart.

“They’re making a door.”

Their exit.

There were others arriving.  Crackles of electricity, rectangular apertures framing silhouettes, and those silhouettes became people.  More in coveralls, moving in fours and fives.

Different guns this time.  These ones had bands of teal encircling them.

I took flight, using the same evasive maneuvers as before.  Around me, I could see the beams of the teal cannons, if they could be called beams.  They stabbed out, glowing and became rigid, transparent and luminescent, not unlike the hard light forcefields my family could create.

Each had spokes, or spurs, like thorns on vines or spikes on barbed wire.  Where the beams were close enough to one another, spokes extended, moving around to connect to nearby beams or spokes with a force and suddenness that I could feel in the air, with sounds like whipcracks.

As more beams filled the air- the space between me and my target in particular, I saw my paths steadily closing.  There were gaps I could have dropped an eighteen wheeler through broad-side out, but it was a huge unknown, made worse by the suspicion that this had been deployed as an anti-flyer method.

He’s a tinker, I thought.  The principles are the same.  The toolbox that evolves to answer problems, the need for resources.  The only thing that hold him back, like any tinker, are time and resources.  He’s had two years of time, and Goddess had enlightened us about his resource-acquisition.  Valefor, Mama Mathers.  Others.

Like most tinkers, he has them make resources that help them acquire or refine their resources.  And because one key factor in this network or engine of his are people… he gets the hypnotist to help him get more people.

I flew in a course that put me over the ‘side’ of the growing webwork of glowing teal beams and bars that seemed to stab off into the stratosphere.  I had to get to that door before they slipped away.  More beams appeared high above, beside, and below me.  The cross-bars that connected them slammed out, connecting them all into the solid mass.

Wasn’t doable.  There had to be twelve of those assholes down there, firing in batteries.

I didn’t have any routes to travel that weren’t to the sources of the beams- something I wasn’t sure would work, traveling in the opposite direction, far enough away that maybe the beams terminated or got far enough apart that there weren’t cross-beams, or fly for a gap.

The first and second options meant I wasn’t flying down, to get to the woman with the purple fire or the group that was building the door, and they had their own flaws- the fact I was flying into dense webwork and the sheer lack of guarantee, respectively.

I flew for one of the gaps I could have rolled an eighteen wheeler through.  Wretch out.

Teal webwork flared around me as I approached.  It shrank around me, breaking from the larger structure.  A lasso, securing itself around the Wretch with enough force that the Wretch broke.

I slipped the noose in the same way that someone could escape a pursuer by shedding the jacket the pursuer had grabbed.  Being smaller, freer, not caring about that which had broke.

But there were more gaps.  I was forced to judge distances and timing.  The Wretch took time to reappear, but it wasn’t too long.  So long as I timed it so I was moving through a gap as it came back up…

I disconnected my mask from my belt, and I hurled it ahead of me and down, toward the center mass of the device and the people clustered around it.  My hopes that the mask’s passage would activate the lasso-closures and clear my way were dashed.  It landed in the midst of the work they were doing, and heads turned my way.

The ‘dash’ became the sequence of movements through that webwork, as more lines and bars of forcefield-webbing filled the sky between me and my targets.  The Wretch was broken as soon as it re-emerged, and I had calls close enough that I nearly lost a boot as the webwork closed.

I was losing this battle, but I could get closer.

There had to be an opportunity.

The webwork steadily closed around me, and theoretically possible escape routes became impossibilities.  My focus remained on staying clear, sticking to more open areas, where no lasso could close around me.

Far below and behind, Byron climbed over a fence, making his way in my direction.  I pointed.

People on the ground seemed to report my action, or they’d sensed Byron through the use of a power.  The ones who weren’t actively setting up the door prepared to deal with him.

Too many for him to reasonably deal with.  Even if he drenched every single one of them now, if every single gun failed because of the thorough drenching with water, I wasn’t sure he’d win.  Thirty people, easily.

I saw the nervousness of the woman with the trash bag in her hand.  She backed up, putting some distance between Byron and herself, while her people lined up at the fence.  Blue motes began to collect in the air, which didn’t help matters.

Come on, come on, I thought.

Then I couldn’t watch.  More beams were flying in close, and I had to use the Wretch while throwing myself into the densest patch.   The rectangles and triangles of empty space closed, paused for only an instant as they seized the wretch, giving me only a second to figure out which direction I was flying in.

I was literally upside down as I saw it- a flash of purple.  Her hand drawn back, flame ready.  Byron’s arrangement of motes included the air above him.

The webwork snapped closed around my upper body and one of my ankles.

I pushed out with my aura, for maximum range.  I wasn’t sure the power mattered, but I gave that my all too.  I squeezed my eyes shut.

The aura reached the woman and reached the flame she held.  The aura ignited- the woman’s fire spread across powers like flame across oil, and I’d filled the space within a hundred feet of me with ambient power.  Gas. Aerosol.

Too much to hope for that it would hit this forcefield webbing and destroy it.  Too much to hope for that it would destroy the door.  It had staggered that group, and distracted a few by setting them on fire.

Two individuals were burning with purple fire and they didn’t move or react.  Their stares were vacant.

Byron looked up at me.

“Drench them!” I hollered.

“You said-!”

I moved my arm.  Another lasso was prompted to snap closed, seizing my arm in a position where it was over my head.

I hoped the gesture had worked.  I drew in a breath to shout again, but he was already using his power.

Blue motes became the shape of the water and the lines became the courses that water was to travel.  The water pressure was still lacking, but it was a lot of water, and the frozen ground didn’t want to absorb it.  It sloshed over and through the fence, across ankles, feet, and into the work area where a doorway was being constructed.  People were knocked over.  The tinker work was left awry.

He looked up at me, and there was something in his body language.  Defeat.  There was something imploring.

I knew what he would’ve asked, if he could’ve done it safely, with the distance between us, or if that wasn’t a consideration, what he would’ve asked if he’d been able to summon up the courage.

Right now, if he used his other power, and gave control to Tristan, that water would become stone.  It would impact the device and it would trap most of the people there, the woman with the purple fire included.  He wanted my permission, which was the opposite of the way this was supposed to work.

And then?  Tristan would help, we’d have the evidence, go back to Goddess, and work out a game plan that worked for both Gimel and Shin.  We’d screw over Teacher and we would organize against him.

Yes, it would be a win.

Yes, it was workable long-term.

Yes, in service of the law, fighting the lawless, in what felt right, and in turning to someone else for help if we were struggling as we were, yes.

In service to that kernel of warmth in my heart when I thought about Dean and the classifications, when I thought about the black text printed on white paper, that detailed the rules to be followed, the chain of command in times of crisis?

I shook my head, dramatically enough he could see.  No.

I was reeled in, ice sloughing off where it had formed on the beams.  In the course of my forced trip back, as I used flight to try to resist or change my course, more of the webbing snapped closed around me.  Byron peeked over fence at the collection of people around the door, then reversed direction, heading for the source of the beams that had me.

I had nothing besides the vantage point that let me see the tinkers return to the door-shaped aperture they’d constructed, with its generators, engines, and other tech built up around the base and the sides.  There were shouts from the woman, as she looked over her shoulder.

Switches were thrown.  Electricity crackled, and a shimmer appeared in the doorway, before promptly bleeding out to the surrounding area, through and into one of the generator-like machines at the base, causing it to detonate.

The electric portal energy bled out like watercolor, crackling loudly enough that I couldn’t hear the people on the ground.

I pushed out with my aura.  Nothing.

I couldn’t even summon the Wretch without it being canceled as my bindings continued to entrap me.  More of me was covered than not- only my head and neck were left clear.

There was a pause.  Then the woman ran, nearly slipping on wet ice that covered the backyard of the house, and she leaped for the center of the blurry mass, disappearing within.

A moment later, the energy of the electric portal ignited violently.  The fire traveled to the sub-systems and engines, and they began to explode.  The thralls that had been working on it scrambled to get away.  A few didn’t manage to, and were close as visible shockwaves rippled out, through and past them.

Discarded like they were nothing.

In the other direction, Byron was focusing on the guys with the teal web-beams.  His motes began to form.  Men and women backed up, holding their guns, with the almost flexible beams almost all together, stretching out toward me, forming a single line that drew me in.  Only four were positioned with their guns resting on the ground, pointed skyward.

And behind?  There were still people from the earlier confrontation, though Caryatid, Finale, and Withdrawal were facing them down.

Fifteen or so left able-bodied in the yard with the now-destroyed and burning portal, ten or twelve as part of the group the Malfunctions were dealing with, Finale and Withdrawal crouched behind a slow moving Caryatid, and then the team of six with the anti-aircraft force-webbing.

Not just anti-aircraft force webbing.  One of the guys on that team was reaching for another weapon at his ankle, one hand still propping up the larger weapon.

“Careful!” I shouted.  “Gun!”

Byron broke into a run, the crampons giving his feet bite on the icier patches of road.  Blue motes became water, washing over that squad.  A drenching of cold water, in the midst of freezing rain.

“Bam!” Finale shouted.  One of the men staggered, where he’d been finding his footing, and fell.

“Finale!” I shouted.  “If you’re building up to something, now’s the time!”

“I don’t want to if-”  she started.  Then she shrieked as a group that had been huddled behind cover burst out, opening fire.  Caryatid was slow to move, but Finale was quick to put Caryatid between herself and the attackers.

Behind her, another group was emerging, weapons ready.

“Behind!” I called out.

No place to take cover.  Withdrawal shielded her with his body, empty syringe-gun held out like a shield.  Both groups fired in concert, from opposite directions.

I used my aura, aiming to break up the rhythm.  It affected Caryatid’s group, but it affected the attackers too.  More, if I had to guess.

“What’s the catch!?” I called out.

“Do it,” I could hear Withdrawal’s voice, muffled around the edges.  I’d been reeled in enough that non-shouts were barely audible.

Byron, meanwhile, was dealing with the group.  He was taking cover by the back end of a car.  The group couldn’t move much, so they were continually drenched.  One of the guns had stopped working.

“If there are any more-” Finale said.  “I don’t want to use my power if there are more coming.”

“There aren’t!” I shouted.  “They got what they wanted!”

She looked at me, eyes wide beneath her brimmed cap and behind her mask.

Byron’s water took out the guy who was lassoing me.  The gun fell to the ground, the beam twisted into a thousand loops like a badly kinked hose, and then winked out with a sound like a titan clapping his hands together a single time.

And Finale was doing her thing, wheeling on one group.

A blue light shone at one of the thrall’s shoulders, then detonated with a musical intonation, like a gong being struck.  He was thrown to one side, as was everyone in his immediate proximity.  The movement was slower than it should have been, glittering particles surrounding them.

More lights shone, one after another, with a rhyme and reason that likely only made sense to Finale.

Another detonation, throwing people in another direction, toward the group that Byron was working on incapacitating.  One of those people was illuminated with an imminent explosion.  As the flying bodies drew into range, the detonation that was waiting for them came down, a higher sound, a faster roll-out, sending them the opposite way.

Juggling them.  Herding them together, so people crashed into each other, were thrown into waiting explosions.

Not perfect- people fell free of the cascading effect, of detonations synced out to sound like a drum solo writ out in gongs, bells, and cymbals, complete with a soft destructive effect.

I flew down to take out one of the guys who had fallen free of the chain reaction, who was fleeing for cover.  I kicked him to the ground and then landed on him with added force, before stepping on his hand and driving my weight down with my flight.  My eyes roved for other strays.

It seemed Byron and Withdrawal had them.

The explosions weren’t true heat, fire, shockwave-that-liquefies-organs kind of detonation.  They got sloppier toward the end, as more people fell free and some landed far enough away that their own detonations affected only them, making them flop once or twice like fish on dry land.

The metaphorical dust settled.

“Patrol block is on its way,” Byron said.  “Called them pretty early on.”

“Thanks, Capricorn,” I said.   That would complicate things with Goddess, but- I kept my mouth shut.

“I didn’t do that right,” Finale said.  “I took too long to set up and I didn’t finish it right.”

“You did good,” I said.

“I practiced on balls and sandbags, but humans fall in weird ways.”

“They absolutely do,” I said.  “You did good.”

She didn’t respond, to either agree or deny.  Her teeth simply chattered.  That would be adrenaline as much as the cold.

“They got away?” Byron asked.

I nodded.  “The one did.”

“Shit,” Withdrawal said.

On the ground, one of the people in white smiled.

I bent down over them, my eyes searching for anyone who was up to more fighting or attempted running.  There were too many here.

“Care to share with the class?” I asked him.

The thrall shook his head.

“Not worth it,” Byron told me.

“I know,” I said.  “Brainwashed.”

“These guys are scary,” Withdrawal said.  He was more unsteady on his stilt-like limbs than before.  One of his shoulders was venting a thin, steady stream of smoke.

“Teacher’s.  He’s a major player.  The fact we made it through this unscathed is… it’s going to have to be good enough.”

“I’m going to call the team,” Byron said.  “Is there anything I need to tell them?”

“We’ll have to figure out where the woman with the pills went.  Maybe if we get the destroyed tech to Lookout?”

“The woman from the house?  Our target?” Caryatid asked.  She was still gripping her arm with one hand.  Her skin looked red, even in the meager light.  “That’s what she had in the bag?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Can you remember who she was?  We gave you a list, and she was number-”

“Number two,” Caryatid said.

My brain was so tired.  I shook my head a bit.  “Can you remember her job?”

“The prison pharmacist,” Caryatid said.  “High risk because of her access and criminal history.”

The serious look that Byron and I shared communicated a hell of a lot, but for the benefit of our novice Malfunctions, it needed to be said.

“What if she wasn’t taking those drugs out of the prison?” I asked.  “It’s their overwhelming focus.”

“I’ll call,” Byron said, all seriousness.

Poisoned supply?  Something more sinister or obscure?  Whatever it was, it was serious enough that Teacher had been willing to sacrifice…

I looked around the neighborhood, still drenched in continuous freezing rain.  People were looking out of windows and standing in open doors, now that it had all gone quiet, all rounded off with an explosive musical solo.

Easily forty thralls that hadn’t slipped away or escaped by some other means.

The prison.  After this, whatever she was up to, whatever Teacher was up to, the pharmacist would be putting it into motion now.

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40 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.5”

  1. Sheesh, does Teacher have any upper limit beyond the time it takes to brainwash and empower a given thrall?

    1. No indication in that direction, and since he’s not in constant communication with them I don’t see why there would be short of his Shard running out of power, which for properly dispersed Shards is for all practical intents and purposes impossible. It can happen to ones in Entities, Cauldron capes, and maybe broken triggers, but even then they have a huge reserve.

      He has a partial limitation from his thralls losing initiative; they need to be supervised to handle unexpected situations, and he can’t rely on the loyalty of anyone with enough free will to handle that. But he can secure their loyalty by conventional means, and a mild application of his power makes people tend to obey him, though not to the extent Goddess’s power does.

  2. Holy hell’s belles!

    That was quite a bit of bullet hell flying Victoria attempted there, admirable even as she got dogpiled in the end anyway. (Still inconsistent capitalization of the Wretch here and there)

    Was I the only one let down by the fact that Finale’s “fuck you” didn’t do anything different from her other attacks?

    In other news, Victoria still has her M/S doublethink going even through losing a tactical option to drive it, but I just realized Tristan is probably stewing behind Byron’s eyes, realizing what Victoria is doing and why. I hope he doesn’t get out until this situation clears up.

    Damn this is intensely worrying.

    1. I understood it as, Finale was marking the thralls with her primary attacks–she didn’t want to use it until she was sure more weren’t coming because if she used the “marks” now, she wouldn’t be able to use them again when reinforcements showed up. It also makes sense why she’s called Finale if she can’t just do that every single time. She has to build up marks on her targets over the course of a fight, and then she can detonate them to juggle people with concussive blasts at the end.

  3. Hey I recognize this power! From one of the Trump Trigger discussions on Reddit. What a call-back.

    But damn, this fight was intense and amazingly well-written. I got goosebumps from the desperation the group had in trying to stop Purple Power Pyre Pharmacist!

  4. I’m having a hard time separating the actions Victoria takes because of Goddess and the one she would have done anyway.

    That being said. Teacher is an extremely terrifying villain and the more we see the more it scares me. Greatest thing is that his power isn’t that great to begin with, it’s how he uses it that terrifies.

    1. Goddess wants her to counter Teacher’s move on the prison, so there’s not a huge difference at the moment. The main practical effect is that she didn’t drop everything to fly to the Wardens and raise the alarm before Goddess decides she does want to enthrall everyone.

      1. Yeah, I guess that’d be it for now wouldn’t it? Still, I have a feeling the differences are going to become a lot more pronounced in the following chapters.

        1. To an extent; the way the power works it’s never going to end up too blatant. She’s still Victoria, she just works for Goddess now.

    2. I’m having a hard time separating the actions Victoria takes because of Goddess and the one she would have done anyway.

      All according to keikaku, since she can’t either. Applying the protocols doesn’t make her aware of how she’s been compromised.
      warbrew’s pulling another unreliable narrator, level 12.

  5. Awesome Scene! It was great getting to see the Malfunctions cut loose. I was pretty happy to see Purple Fire too, though it’s a shame she’s in teacher’s clutches.


  6. Unfortunately for Antares I think she has to call this one in. It is, to say the least, unlikely that Lookout will be able to decode the portal destination in a timely fashion; outside her specialty. So if they’re to chase the pharmicist they’ll need to get her location from a clairvoyant or by questioning one of the thralls. Which raises the question of whether they count as having powers for Goddess’s purposes. The fact that she’s having trouble handling Teacher’s attacks would tend to indicate not, but then again he has enough Thinker&Tinker throw weight to maybe protect against it in combat.

    Alternatively they basically know where she’s going, but with the rest of the prison staff possibly compromised they can’t rely on just sending a warning.

    1. It is, to say the least, unlikely that Lookout will be able to decode the portal destination in a timely fashion; outside her specialty.

      I disagree. Her tech is all based on a deep and exotic understanding of space, the very thing portals work by manipulating. Don’t forget that she was looking into building her own teleporter network not too long ago, she’s already demonstrated tech that can phase partway out into another universe, and she’s been working on building a camera that can peer into the mysterious land of Capricornucopia. Of the non-Teacher tinkers we’ve seen so far, Lookout is probably the one best suited to this particular job.

  7. Well I hope Rain and Ashley, and Ashley haven’t been taking any meds at the prison.

    I’m guessing this one’s a win for Teacher. Also purple fire lady’s trump power is pretty nasty for fighting other capes.

    1. Personally I’d be reluctant to use it unless it came with fireproofing. Particularly since it starts mundane orange fires from the heat, which are probably exempt from the default immunity to your own power.

      Incidentally I’m surprised the Protectorate-approved default anti-Trump plan was not “call PRT”. Can’t have your powers manipulated if you don’t have powers. And it’s probably pretty rare to have a Trump power and the ability to break containment foam.

    2. Ashley is medicated for what looks like bipolar disorder. If the meds are compromised so is she, almost certainly.

  8. I wonder how compromised. Assuming Teacher hasn’t picked up an existing biochem Tinker, it’d have to be from a Tinker-1 at most, which I’d think would rule out inducing specific alleigence. It’s presumably meant to impact his and Goddess’s attempts to sieze control of the entire prison population (they want specific prisoners but Goddess can trivially claim the rest and Teacher wouldn’t pass up extras). Thing is, countering Goddess also seems above Tinker-1. Making people easier to convince would simplify enthralling them himself (Scapegoat makes that unneccessary but is logistically inconvient) but frankly I don’t see that being particularly worth doing by this route. He’d need unrestricted access to the prisoners anyways, meaning no need for fancy smuggling. The only reason to be elaborate about it is if he wants a prison full of controlled minions when Goddess shows up. Except that’s only really useful if they’d continue to obey him once she shows up. Which would only work if Master overrides don’t obey the transitive property. Khephri’s control overrides his, and Goddess’s power wiped Khephri’s control. So smart money says if Goddess uses her power on a powered minion of Teacher’s, it works.

    1. Maybe he doesn’t want to counter Goddess. Or not in that way, at least. Maybe he wants to poison them, forcing them to come to him for cures. Goddess adds herself into her victim’s moral code as a priority. It doesn’t remove ‘helping oneself’, and any particularly self-preservation-focused individual might go to Teacher to cure his poison, even if that opens themselves to Teacher’s influence which isn’t so kind.

        1. I had forgotten about that. But even so, Panacea can only be in one place at a time, and that many poisonings could stretch her abilities. Or he might think Panacea can’t remove it.

          1. After she cured Brockton Bay of Bonesaw’s plague, I seriously doubt anyone would be counting on either of those things.

    2. Maybe Scapegoat, having been convinced to accept more Teacher power, can put effects into pill form?

  9. Good to see Vicky is still following the protocols! Even when Byron turned to her on what to do, she did what he /should/ have been focused on- keeping the uncompromised teammate in control.

    (Honestly, I feel like this is an amazing way to get us more screen time with Byron- he /has/ to stick around, or else there’s nobody left on the team to oppose Goddess’ control)

  10. Finale has me wondering “was she the first person to pick that name?” And ” Just how awesome is her power? “

  11. I love how Finale’s all “I screwed that up and this is hard” and no one’s able to say “kid, c’mon, you just *won that fight for us*” because it’d be too much and she wouldn’t buy it. Even if it’s obviously true.

    What endgame could this group have had for this fight without Finale?

    1. “but it’s getting exhausting having the team never catch a win.”

      That’s *all* of wildbow’s writing.

      1. And that’s always been wildbow’s major weakness. Worm was his only work where there were some unambiguous victories and periods of recuperation. I wonder if he could take a break to rest from the breakneck pace, and give his characters and readers some time to recover, too.

  12. They’ve had wins, just not lasting ones. They took out Mama Mathers, only for heroes to reveal a Fallen allegiance and betray them. They saved a portal, but not fast enough for the others. And in the beginning, Vicky saved Fume Hood from abduction and an unknown fate, though Fume Hood was injured, she wasn’t hurt by a villain and none of her colleagues were either.

    And this is only part 5 of Gleaming; the end step’s not here yet. The end of the chapter might have the win.

      1. “OMG, Breakthrough! You guys really saved the day! Thanks so much!”

        “No problem, Goddess. Just doing our job!” It felt so great to finally have a solid win under our belts, with no guilt or gotchas attached.

  13. I’m thinking that the pills are targeted at the Lady in Blue’s presence-based domination. If her plan is to bust into the prison and collect all the capes, then having all of the capes insensate means she has to either retreat with no one, or wait for the effect to wear off while opponents gather.

  14. Finale’s reluctance to use her power with too many targets makes me think she practiced how many sandbags her juggling could handle and caused some massive collateral as a result.

    1. FWIW, my interpretation was that she didn’t want to use up her finale in case more targets showed up right after she’d depleted it, not that she was scared of using it on too many people. I could be wrong, though.

  15. Glad to see the newbie team made it okay, and while I can understand and appreciate what Victoria did here, I wonder what would’ve happened if she had captured them.

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