Gleaming – 9.8

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For those who missed it, there was a Thursday update.  See the prior chapter.

Sveta was smiling, her face more relaxed than it had been when she had been challenging Byron and I.  Things were balanced out.  Kenzie was content enough.

Yet somehow, with whatever effect Goddess was supposed to have, more people in the room were upset than content.  Me.  Natalie.

Amy.  I didn’t want to think about or focus on Amy.  I didn’t want to think about the fact that she was here, invading my space yet again.  I could still recognize that she wasn’t happy with the current dynamic.

Tristan.

For all the advice, the good advice, that Tristan was supposed to calm down and focus his efforts on our number one enemies here, he was as angry as I’d ever seen him.  He’d taken off the bulk of his armor before switching out to Byron, and I had a full view of his face and neck.  I could see his eyes.

He turned those eyes toward me.  The look was dark, the tilt of his head and the overhead lights casting the sockets in shadow, with the shadows branching out through the lines along the nose and between the eyebrows.  His fist was clenched.

A study in contrasts.  In the moment before he had disappeared, Byron had looked okay.  Less tense than I’d known him to be in a long time.

“Enough,” Goddess told him.  “I can’t stand infighting.”

He didn’t back down, and he didn’t break eye contact.

“I’ve talked to some of my contacts.  They claim they’re ready.  Tell me what you’ve done.”

“We had a skirmish with Teacher,” I said.  “The team that helped us with that should sit this one out.    They’re depleted and as eager as they are, they’re also inexperienced.  Tiredness combined with being spent is a recipe for disaster.”

“You have others?”

“Plenty of others,” I told her.

“When you said ‘the team that helped us’, who was ‘us’.  Everyone went?”

“Capricorn and myself,” I said.  “Capricorn blue, to be specific.”

She looked at Tristan.  Seeing him still staring me down, she touched his shoulder.  He turned away from me to look at her.

“They ran into a cape,” Tristan said.  “Set powers and interdimensional doors on fire.”

“I know her.  Teacher will send her after me sometimes.”

“She’s the prison pharmacist.  She’ll be there.”

Goddess didn’t seem to be too bothered by that.

“Where’s Cryptid?” Kenzie asked.

“Assisting me.  He’s with the team that’s looking for the girl who has my power.”

“Oh, cool.  He’ll be good at that.”

“Can you give us more information on that?” I asked.  “I’ve studied powers in the past.”

“On the day of the final confrontation against the alien, I was pulled away from my world.  Many of my lieutenants and parahuman inhabitants of my world were as well.  When everything ended, Several of my lieutenants slipped from my reach.  I’ve found all but one.  The craven bitch was one of the five others who got powers when I did.”

“One of your other enemies has mentioned your background, and that you… somehow took the powers from the group,” I said.

“Tattletale?  Yes.  She’s similar to the woman with the fire.  She shows up at very inconvenient times.  Sometimes because she’s an unwitting pawn moved by Teacher.  Right now she’s busy keeping her area of this mega-city from collapsing.  A cursed place, Amy says.”

I flinched at the name.  I’d almost been able to pretend she wasn’t here.

“It’s probably because of the fact that she’s busy that Teacher is doing what he’s doing now,” Amy said.

“I want to ask, why are you here, Amy?” Sveta asked.

“Um.  I’m kind of uniquely situated to get a lot of this.  I knew Teacher, I knew Valkyrie, I’ve talked to Tattletale a few times, I had a sense of what was happening with Gold Morning before some others.”

I folded my arms.

“What I was asking is why are you here?” Sveta said.  “In this headquarters.”

“Because I wanted to make sure that everyone is okay.”

“Your being here makes things less okay,” Sveta said.  “I’m speaking for your sister here, because I’m sure she’s trying to avoid causing issues.”

My arms still folded, I nodded emphatically, my eyes averted to the ground.

“You’re causing problems,” Sveta said.

“I’m trying to take care of everyone, including the people important to me.”

“Enough of this,” Goddess spoke, her voice sharp.

Sveta shut up.  Amy went silent.

“Antares,” Goddess said.  “My power testing labs are very good and thorough.  I can’t imagine you have any new information for me.”

“Can I ask what her power is?  I might not know things that are better than what you learned from your labs, but I keep track of capes, as much as it’s possible, with clandestine groups and cults coming out of the woodwork.”

“A power battery.  She has five very minor powers, scraps of powers, but she has the ability to charge one, extending its range out dramatically in a straight line, usable once every long while.”

“And with this power back, you’d extend your range?”

“In a sense,” she said.  She made eye contact, and there was something searching in her gaze.  “Not straight lines.”

“Including the brainwashing?” Natalie asked.

“Nothing is washed,” Goddess said, her voice hard. “It is aligned.”

Natalie nodded, ducking her head down.

Her answer to Natalie’s question hadn’t been a no.

“If you’re done interrogating me, tell me about the prison.”

“I lensed the energy the gates put out to throw Teacher’s attempts to get in or out out of whack.  Teacher’s pawns are stupid-”

“They lack volition,” I said.

“And they’re gullible, which means they’re stupid.  We tricked them into talking to each other and we have most of them identified.”

“Including the people in charge that Teacher got to,” Tristan said.

He didn’t look any calmer.  It was an uncharacteristically cold kind of anger, though, one that left his voice level even as it stood out across his face, neck, and arms.

I could sympathize, on a level, but my anger wasn’t hot or cold.  It just felt sick.  It carried forward from the sick feeling that had come from being at odds with Sveta.  I was thankful that she was defending me and that she wasn’t causing issues, because I wasn’t sure if I could have managed if she didn’t have my back right now.

“We control the access for now,” Kenzie said.  “He’s trying to figure it out, but… I’m looking at data, and it looks like he keeps trying to open the portals a hundred feet below the prison.  The energy diffuses out into the ground.  He did four tries almost right away, and… it’s been a little while since then.  He made one try, still down there.  I think he might be out of energy.”

“Good,” Goddess said.  She smiled.  “Good work.”

Kenzie’s legs kicked, as she wiggled.

“Get ready.  We’ll go now,” Goddess said.

“We have one more play that’s in the works,” I said.  “An ally is going to make a move, and we should watch what happens so we know where people are.”

“Get ready in the meantime, then.”

I met Tristan’s eyes briefly as he turned toward the corner where he’d left his armor.  Still angry, in an inexplicable way.

There was too much to keep a handle on, and telling myself master-stranger protocols felt like it was about as substantial as shouting ‘Santa is real!’ when I knew he wasn’t- and Byron had been compromised.

My option now was Natalie, who I could maybe trust but couldn’t rely on, because so much of this cape stuff went over her head.

Or… or Amy.  Who maybe knew the cape stuff, but who I couldn’t ever trust.

Natalie.  I couldn’t reach out to her now.

And the others… compromised, by the rules and guidelines stipulated in black and white, outlined in tests that tens of thousands of PRT employees had to take and perfect, even the desk jockeys.

I checked my phone.  My phone was safe, covering distant territory.  No messages had been sent by Rain or Ashley before all communications had been shut off.  I looked at the monitors- also safe.

People were heading toward the cafeteria, and in that group, I could see Crystalclear and Rain.  It was good.  Coalbelcher was in the group with some of his lieutenants.  Less good.

In her apartment, Ashley stood with her back to the kitchen counter, her head bowed, her arms folded.  The Damsel, for lack of a better description, sat on a chair, one arm draped over the back, the other along the table, by the laptop that was now closed.  It wasn’t much use to them, now that the internet was cut off as well.

Another screen showed the video feed from Ashley’s eye-cam.  Once we were inside, if for any reason she wasn’t still in her apartment, then chances were good that we’d have to deduce her location.

Goddess walked over to look at the screens.  Kenzie, organizing her stuff and unplugging things from the computer, looked up.

Amy moved in my peripheral vision.  I shifted my stance.  My aura was on and off in such a short period of time it barely rippled past my skin.

She wasn’t focusing on me.  She’d taken a step toward Sveta, who was attaching her armor, her mask on the table next to her.

“Hello,” the small creature on Amy’s shoulder said, voice high.  A few people glanced over.

“Hello,” Sveta said, before returning to what she was doing.  She kept Amy in the corner of her eye.

“Dot, meet Tress,” Amy said.  “My mother told me a lot about her, and I make- made small talk with her boyfriend when I ran into him at the Wardens headquarters.”

“You have a machine body, and you don’t smell much like flesh or blood.”

“Be polite,” Amy said.

“It’s good!” Dot exclaimed.  “So special, to have something made like that.  A lot of love and care.”

“There was,” Sveta said.  “The most important person in the world had to work hard to make it even possible, and someone had to study very hard to learn how to make it, and that’s a kind of love too.”

Lookout, helmet on, gear gathered, approached to get a better look at Dot.  I opened my mouth to express a warning, but Lookout stepped back as Amy turned to look at her.

Good, I thought.

Dot didn’t seem to care, instead adjusting her perch on Amy’s shoulder.

“My Red Queen does good work with a lot of love too,” Dot said.

“I’ve seen the work she does,” Sveta said.

I could feel a weight pressing in on me.  Amy looking my way made it worse.

Tristan, on the other end of the room, was getting his armor on.  He watched intently, still silent, but for a few of the strategic comments he’d dropped for Goddess.

“Natalie,” I said.  I was desperate for an out.  “Can we talk organization?”

“Please,” she said.

“We can step outside,” I said, “If you don’t mind your jacket getting wet.  Give these guys some elbow room.”

Natalie nodded.

“Stay inside,” Goddess said.

There went that plan.

Why did this have to be so hard?  One person standing in the center of the room while her squirrel-like companion made small talk was harder to deal with than just about anything.

“My Red Queen has fixed a few of my kind.  Big ones, weird ones.  She could fix you.  She can make you just as wonderful in shape and strong enough you don’t need the body.”

“Don’t volunteer me,” Amy said.  “Things are more complicated than that.”

“But you can!  You can make her any shape at all, and then she won’t need that machine anymore!  Then I can take a hand or take an arm!  It’s all so colorful!”

“That’s enough.  I’m sorry, Sveta.”

Sveta didn’t respond, only giving Amy a cold look that, ten minutes ago, she’d been directing at me.

“But I want-” Dot started.  Amy brought up a hand, and stroked Dot like Dot was a cat.  I saw the contact, and revulsion gripped my entire body.

Natalie looked between Amy and me, and then stepped closer to me, hand moving as if she was going to touch me.  I flinched, and she stopped.

I nodded, and she touched my upper arm, just below the ornamentation of spires there.  She moved between Amy and me, blocking my view, and the gratitude that rolled through me could have stopped a moving vehicle.

I hated feeling weak and powerless in front of people like this- in front of Lookout, who couldn’t understand.  In front of Sveta, Tristan, and Goddess.

I looked away, tried to swallow and it got stuck, caught somewhere between up and down, in a position that paralyzed, too ominous for me to figure out how to breathe again.  I really truly felt like forcing it would leave me either choking, if I moved one way, or outright coughing out a mouthful of vomit.

Fuck her.  Fuck her for being here.  Fuck her for intruding, for not getting it.  Fuck her for her selfishness.

In anger, disgust receded.  I could swallow, the motion hard enough it hurt.

What’s going on?” Natalie whispered.  “This is Goddess’ mind control effect?  And you’re resisting it?”

“I’m not resisting it,” I murmured.  “Every iota of my being is telling me that it’s not a problem, it’s minor, I’m making the sensible calls.  But Byron said I’m affected.”

“Byron is-” she turned to look in Tristan’s direction.

“He’s affected now.  Swansong and Precipice too.”

“Oh,” she said.  “What do I do?”

“If you ask me, we ride this out, treat Teacher as the bigger threat, and we deal with that first.  We resolve the prison situation and we let Goddess go rule her world as she sees fit.  If she asks, we go with, we switch our focus… a lot could be done if we do our part there and use that work and accomplishments there to help Gimel.”

“And if she says she wants to destroy Gimel?”

“My first instinct would be to evacuate everyone and then destroy it.”

“And if she didn’t want to evacuate?  Kill everyone?”

“I couldn’t do that,” I said.

“Just like in the video, then,” Natalie said.

She’d seen Byron fighting me, had apparently heard the audio.

“I can get away and call people,” she murmured.  “The Wardens?”

“I think you trying would set off her danger sense,” I said.  And as I said it, I turned my head.

Goddess stood by the computer terminal.  Lookout was standing by her again, chattering away.  Goddess wasn’t listening, though.  She was watching Natalie and I.

“Be safe,” I said.  “We’ll figure something out.”

Natalie nodded.

I was pretty sure I was lying.

“Do you know master-stranger protocols?” I asked her, my voice a dire whisper.

As expected, she shook her head.

“You’re not compromised.  If you say to do something, anything, I’m going to put my trust in you.  Byron might.  I don’t know.”

Natalie opened her mouth to reply.  She was interrupted by a change in the lighting.  A whole wall of projected images flicked over to being a single image from a surveillance camera.  It was in color, and the sky on the other side was lit by hues ranging from blue to pink and orange.  The shadows of the people in the image were long.

Rain was a step behind Crystalclear.

On another wall, in another panel of projected image, Ashley had moved to the balcony.  Damsel stood beside her, claws wrapped around the railing.  Others were watching too.

“Audio,” Tristan said.

“…this with full knowledge of the consequences,” Crystalclear said.  He’d been close to the head of the group of prisoners that were going to the cafeteria to eat, and now he stopped, arms out to the sides.  Guards were moving to flank, weapons drawn.

“Don’t be stupid, Crystalclear.  Your record is good, you haven’t had problems yet!”

“Yeh, don’t be stupid,” Coalbelcher’s voice was accented, with nasal intonation that didn’t fit him.  “I was looking forward to my dinner, and I get cranky when something or someone gets in the way of that.”

“I have it on good authority that this prison is under attack as we speak.  Part of that attack involves the drugs they intend to hand out at the cafeteria.  I’m asking you to put a lockdown in effect and put everything on hold, medication included.”

“I’m seconding this,” Rain said.

“You’re delaying our dinner, boys?” Coalbelcher asked.

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” Rain said.

“Not smart.”

“Stand down, everyone else, kneel!  I don’t want funny business!”

The other prisoners in Rain and Crystalclear’s group were dropping to their knees.

“If a few hours pass and nothing happens, feel free to come after us, Coal, but we’re pretty sure on this,” Crystalclear said.

“Us,” Rain said.  “Put me out there, feel free.”

“Sorry,” Crystalclear added.

“I’m going to make you sorry if these guards don’t.  Getting between me and my motherfucking meal.” Coalbelcher growled.  From a distance, through the speaker, it sounded more like a child trying to sound menacing.  I wondered if he was more dangerous-sounding in person, backed by reputation, in a Brando-as-Godfather way.

“Down on the ground!” a guard called, indicating Crystalclear.

“I’m already kneeling.”

“Chin to dirt!”

“Again, requesting facility-wide lockdown.”

“Chin to the fucking dirt!”

“Figured it wouldn’t work,” Rain said.

Crystalclear dropped, hands at the back of his head.

“We’re going to cuff you, and then we’re going to take you two back-”

An explosion.

Lookout hit keys.  Our view shifted to surveillance camera footage of the cafeteria.  The detonation had wrecked the door and surrounding brickwork.

“By the look and sound of that, it seems like Crystalclear’s power,” I said, my voice quieter than I’d meant it to be.

“At least they don’t realize it’s him,” Sveta said.

“Yeah.  They had to take the guy who can grow explosive crystals on his head and send them through solid surfaces face-first against the ground, huh?”

The guards were focusing on getting the prisoners away from the site of the blast.  Crystalclear and Rain were pulled to their feet.  They didn’t seem to realize that it had been Crystalclear.  It was possible they knew what he did on paper, but recognizing it in the field was something else entirely.

“Over there,” Rain said, turning his head.

Crystalclear stumbled as he turned partially around, while the guard had a hand at the back of his prison-issue jacket.  As part of the stumble, he brought his leg back and kicked, scuffing the ground.

A moment’s delay, and- an explosion, off-screen.

“Can you get that for us, Lookout?”

Amy had moved closer to me in her effort to see what was going on in the video.  Natalie positioned herself, guarding me.  Sveta, too, had moved to another point.

Goddess was watching but not intervening.  I knew she meant well, but…

Lookout’s voice cut through my thoughts.  “Going back ten seconds.  Play.”

Video footage.  People running from the cafeteria.  One of them was the pharmacist, marked with an icon over her head, courtesy of Lookout’s tech.

Crystalclear had to have put a crystal in his shoe, because he’d sent something forward when he’d scuffed the dirt with his toe.  The explosion was the usual Crystalclear sort, but as it hit the pharmacist, she flinched, reacting, and the explosion unfolded into something more dramatic, with rolling waves of purple flame.

The shoe-crystal would’ve been his plan for if they hadn’t had him put his head to the ground.

The smoke was clearing away.  Our pharmacist was fine in the wake of it.  Of fucking course.

“That’s our cue,” Tristan said.  “We’ll have to trust they’ve got this figured out.  Rain and Crystal know what the pharmacist can do.”

Goddess turned toward the door.  With a power, she bid it to open.  Wind and flecks of moisture came in, beading the first few feet of floorboards.  As she approached, however, wind and rain stopped.

The group headed for the fire escape, Goddess lifting herself up to the railing, then floating down.  Tristan was behind her.

My thoughts were on Crystalclear and Rain, on the pharmacist, and how we’d travel to get there.  To my right, a supporting hand reached for my shoulder.

It was a colorful hand in my peripheral vision.  My first thought was that it was Sveta.  Then, after processing color, that Natalie had pulled on gloves.

A hand of mostly red, black secondary, with lines of gold running through it for highlights.

I hadn’t even fully processed the thought, or the warning shout of, “No!” before I was flying.  Forcefield out- I swung to strike her pre-emptively, before she could make contact.

The swing came at a downward angle.  Floorboards became splinters, and I could hear Lookout shriek off to the side.  I saw Amy’s eyes wide, her stumbling steps back as the floor shifted subtly under her feet.  Dot went from under her jacket to her shoulder, then bounded off.

Floating, I had no reason to move a hair.  I’d spent so long trying to avoid thinking about her, trying to find my equilibrium, to deal.  Even swallowing or breathing could be made hard.  Wearing skin could be hard, when the idea of her was close.

But if I didn’t move a hair, if I was a statue, all bridled fury and potential energy, I could stare her down, and hope that there was something that I could convey here.

My aura was still active.  I was probably disturbing the neighbors.  Just like with the swallowing, I couldn’t bring myself to do more than hold it in uncomfortable, bad-for-me limbo.

“Victoria,” Sveta said.

“Sorry about the floorboards,” I said.  I didn’t look, but it was hard to miss, even in peripheral vision.  “That’s probably the security deposit and then some.”

Amy’s lips parted.  Anger flared in my chest.  She got out just the two and a half words, “I’ll pay-”

I flew in, Wretch up.  She hurled herself back and away, and it was like she was moving in slow motion.  My flight was faster than her running.

Something connected with my forcefield.  With it, the paradigm shifted.  I couldn’t be close, couldn’t risk being touched.  I changed the direction of my flight, placing myself near the wall.

It had been Sveta.  As I turned around, she was reeling in her arm.

Amy had to circumnavigate the hole I’d put in the floor to get to the door.  Dot jumped from Lookout’s arms to Amy’s shoulder as she passed.

“You’ll be happier if you stop here,” Sveta said.  “We have a mission.”

The mission.

Do what’s lawful, do what’s right, when neither are clear, reach out for help.

The law and right aren’t in the prison right now.  They needed help.

“Okay,” I said.  “Absolutely.”

I headed for the door.  Sveta reached out, extending an arm to my shoulder.  I stopped.

“Give her a second to leave.  Some distance will be good,” Sveta said.

“She won’t leave,” I said.  “Because leaving would be the right thing to do.  I have to make her.”

Sveta’s expression shifted, a frown.

“Sorry, Lookout,” I said.  “I probably spooked you.”

She laughed.  I imagined a smile on her face, on the other side of her mask.

I floated past the hole and through the door.  I had to lower my head a little so I didn’t get a faceful of freezing rain.

On the ground beside the fire escape, Amy stood beside Goddess.  She hadn’t left.

“Sorry, Natalie,” I said, as I passed her.  She was standing on the uppermost stair that wasn’t the landing at the top of the fire escape.

“No,” she said, her voice small.  “I get it.”

I wondered if she actually did, now.

Goddess was staring me down, looking utterly unbothered, beyond maybe some impatience about getting to the prison.  Amy stood a little ways back, in her civilian clothes, her jacket’s hood up, her eyes not visible.

And I was- I was shaking, like the cold had gotten to me.

It hadn’t, but close enough.

As I drew nearer, I brought the Wretch out.  I let the rain outline it.

Goddess didn’t flinch.  Amy- I saw Amy take a step back.  She said something I couldn’t make out over the drum of the rain.

I flew around the pair- put myself in front of her, instead.  I touched down on the surface of the parking lot, and the Wretch scratched at it, scrabbled at it with multiple fingernails of a multitude of hands.

She turned away, and I put myself in her field of view again, my expression like stone because anything else would have broken in a second.  My fists were clenched, and I was acutely aware of the burn… yet I didn’t feel pain.  Even the old bullet wound in my upper arm didn’t hurt in this moment, which made me realize it usually did, just a bit.  A tightness that wasn’t there in this moment.

Because I didn’t feel pain, I felt like I could do this.  I could manage this because that almost-contact had shocked my system and my senses were altered in the now.  That allowed me to show Amy.  I could show Goddess because I trusted her.  The others- they knew or they’d seen.

Well.  Maybe they’d seen, but it might have taken the damage to the floorboards to show them.

Adrenaline surged through me to impel, drive me forward, in a moment I was stiller than even a person standing could be.  A person that stood needed to make micro-adjustments to their position, to keep their balance.  Weight shifted from foot to foot.

Not so, for me.  I could have been a corpse.

I saw moisture on her face that wasn’t rain.  Like the two and a half words she’d spoken, it was almost enough to provoke me again.  I felt outrage, seeing that.

I knew I wasn’t being rational.  I knew I was in shock.

Like with the master-stranger protocols, I had to recognize where I was, and what I needed to do.  Things divorced from instinct, biological impulses, and baser needs, like fight or flight.

“Did you get your closure?” Goddess asked.

Amy turned her head to look at the woman, and I could see her eyes.  Bewildered, haunted.  Hurt.

Amy wasn’t under Goddess’ influence.  She was a lieutenant who had connections to key players like Tattletale, Marquis, and Teacher.

I’d seen those eyes before too.  Around the edges of memories that had been wiped away.

“Amy,” Goddess said.

Amy wasn’t up to speaking any more than I was.

“Go to Cryptid.  You’re useless to me here.”

Amy nodded slowly.  She backed away.

I had no idea if she planned to catch a ride somehow, run, walk, or do something else.  I didn’t really care.  She was leaving.  She was gone.

She’d tried to touch me.

What to call it when someone I wasn’t prepared to forgive did something unforgivable?

I wasn’t sure.  But I could cuss at myself in my head, for letting things get this far, for letting my guard down.  A ‘fool me once…’ thing.

As the rush lost its hold on me, the shaking got a bit worse.

“Natalie,” Tristan said.  “Can you lock up?  Tress has trouble with things like keys, I don’t think Lookout keeps keys readily available- she has other things to do with her belt pouches.”

“Yeah,” Lookout said.  “It’s in my satchel.”

The satchel was more like a fanny pack, worn at the back, strap extending diagonally over the right shoulder and around the left side of her ribcage.

“And I don’t want to go up and down the stairs in armor,” Tristan said.

“Okay,” Natalie said.  Tristan threw his keys to her- a small object thrown in the dark.  By his accuracy more than anything, Natalie caught the keys.

And just like that, things were close to normal again.  The shaking in my hands didn’t quite go away.

I saw Goddess raise one hand.  The surface of the parking lot cracked, and in the lighting, streetlights and lights from the nearby building hitting the icy ground at an angle, it made the shift in the ground and the breaks in the ground stand out that much more.

She used her telekinesis to lift up a disc of ground from the parking lot, and as she did it, it was clear that the telekinesis had its own shape to it.  Something geometric.

I’d have to keep that in mind, like I had to keep Sveta’s suit or Lookout’s facial expressions in mind.  Quirks and weaknesses.

Tristan approached.  I could still see glimmers of that earlier anger.  I wasn’t sure exactly what was coming of it, though.  To be that angry and- what?  No focus?  Was he burning it off or eating that anger and digesting it into some other form?

It was too many question marks in a row, coinciding with the shaking of my hands.  I hated feeling weak.  I liked being the declarative sort, the one who could list off bullet points and elaborate on them, not get caught up in wonderings and doubts.

“I get it,” Tristan spoke.  His voice wasn’t his usual.  “The sibling thing.  Wrestling with… with wrongs.”

I nodded.  I could believe it.

“Difference is, I was the wrongdoer,” he said.  “The blood was on my hands.”

He held out a gauntleted hand, where it could catch the light.  Amy had tattoos.  Tristan had metal that had been tinted orange-red, with a wash that let the tint collect in crevices and cracks.

“I’m going to need you to keep me in check,” Tristan said.

“Check?”

“There aren’t many things that get to me, but we managed to press a few of those buttons tonight,” Tristan murmured.  “The last few times I felt like this, I did things I wasn’t proud of.”

“Got it.”

“Keep me from doing something stupid, and I’ll have your back.  Yeah?”

I nodded.

Goddess lifted up her disc.  With a gesture, she picked up Lookout by the satchel, then deposited her on the disc.  Sveta accepted a hand of help from Tristan and I.

While we waited for Natalie, Tristan stood with his eyes on the group.  Quiet, he stated a simple pass phrase.

“Master-stranger?”

“Yes,” I said, barely audible.

“Okay.  I think I remember the rules.  Who’s our person?”

“Natalie,” I whispered.  “Until replaced.”

“Replaced?”

“Byron was affected.”

“I felt it.  Yes.”

“Then the first untainted, trustworthy cape we can find.  We should keep them unaffected where possible,” I whispered.

“Crystalclear?”

“Maybe.”

The disc was ready.  Tristan stepped up onto it, and then he offered a hand to Natalie, lifting her up with no apparent difficulty at all.

The disc levitated- a chunk of ground fifteen feet across that rained a bit of gravel down on the ground far beneath.

I flew.  Goddess landed at the midway point of the disc, and she lifted it, carrying herself with the rest.

Another thing to file away.  She could lift herself, and she could lift a lot of weight, but in the here and now, she was using that power one at a time.

The rain didn’t let up, and being airborne didn’t help.  There were less buildings to break up the flow of the wind, less sources of heat that could warm us up.  My costume was covered in a thin sheet of ice before we were halfway to our destination.

Five minutes after that halfway point, my armor began to crack.  The weight of the ice was its own downfall, and it came away in Victoria shapes, cascading down to empty streets below.

We reached the first portal and passed through.

The weather was different.  The lighting from the now expired sunset, the sky bright even though it was night and it had been raining.

Eerily tranquil.

We approached the second portal in the airlock-like arrangement.  Lookout deactivated the scrambler, and we had a clear shot through, the ability to see through the gate to the other side.

With that clear shot, we had a view as well.

The guards, their guns, and apparently prisoners that they’d released to assist them.  Capes standing at the edges of the group of correctional officers, ready to back them up.

The wave of telekinetic force that reached out struck at them one by one. It had its own pattern, like a series of numbers that matched to the earlier pattern we’d seen.  It swiped over guards and it disarmed them of their weapons.

A moment later, like a fractal pattern cracking the wall before the shape took its form -a pattern not too unlike Tristan and Byron’s power- Goddess tore an entire wall out of the side of the building.  People who had been standing ready to defend this place now scrambled to get clear.

“We tear it all down before we leave,” Goddess said.

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97 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.8”

  1. Ah, so *that’s* how Goddess got all that power. She didn’t seize it from her cluster, she aligned their minds so that they gave her their strength. If she doesn’t have control, she doesn’t have their powers.

    1. So she’s really just a decent level master. One of those people who just got lucky with their trigger. I’m not buying her hype as a ruler. Powerful cape sure, but law and order for her world? Pfft. She ain’t no Doom or Dire.

      1. She ruled Earth Shin like how Victoria used to fight, stupidly. I’m expecting a North Korean style regime with Potemkin villages/cities/facilities for her “state visits”.

        1. I’m expecting nonspectacular but not that bad. She’s childish and narcassistic but also has seemed reasonably intelligent and takes good advice from minions, so I expect her governance is kinda okay from an organizational perspective and her sub-rulers handle the day to day stuff well enough. If Goddess wants a well-run world, they’ll do all they can to deliver.

          Its main defect would be that it’ll indulge any random whim she has, regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea, but on a global scale that’s probably not going to be crippling

    2. Yeah I’m guessing she has something like Rain’s setup going on, and she’s impelling her lieutenants to give her all of their power. Except it also seems like there’s a bunch of Trump powers in her set, at the very least a power-affecting Master/Trump ability and a power-boosting Trump, and maybe some others. So the unification of her set’s powers made something much, much greater than the sum of their parts.

      1. Tattletale mentioned that anyone in Rain/Precepice’s group could also grab all the power, so it doesn’t feel like the master power at work since surely that wouldn’t work on his cluster. Heck, it even sounded like Foil/Fletchete could grab all power from her cluster but choose not to.

        BUT. At least in Goddess’s case, it seems she needs physical access to the other group members.

        1. As I remember it, Tattletale didn’t know *how* Goddess managed it, only that she had. Her plan was to send Cradle to learn how to do it. So she might have just been assuming it was something that could be done in any cluster, rather than being specific to Goddess.

          Rain’s cluster trade tokens when they’re asleep. What happens if one of them gives all their tokens to another and doesn’t take any in exchange?

          1. Tattletale knew it was something Cauldron had done. She’s got contact with people who have contact with the surviving leadership of original Cauldron, and probably direct contact with them herself. I’m pretty sure it can’t be done with every cluster, only those with a more fluid powerset or some other special circumstance- though it should be noted ALL clusters result from special circumstances.

            If Rain gave all his tokens to Love Lost, he’d have the power to stop his momentum and suspend himself in space for a few seconds, a really weak guilt-aura, and the power to build fragile arms that plug straight into his nervous system, as well as an energy boomerang that creates a weakness along which something can be broken. The latter is going to be really, really weak- it won’t last as long, or it needs more force to break it, or both. Love Lost’s breaky-claws, meanwhile, would be as potent as they can ever be.

          2. Tattletale knew Cauldron was somehow involved; it sounds like they’d made some kind of arrangement with Earth Shin to contract out research to their power labs, those labs created Goddess, and then Cauldron made some kind of arrangement such that she stayed on Shin and had its power labs keep contracting out with Cauldron. They were apparently of sufficient quality under her reign that Cauldron sent over research subjects they’d been unable to figure out and Shin’s labs were in most cases successful; it seems probable that none of Shin’s parahumans have anything akin to Valkyrie’s or Chevalier’s ability to sense facets of the powers of others (it’s very rare) but they have a vastly superior scientific understanding of the process as compared to Bet.

            The precise conditions may or may not be replicable, but it sounds like it’s probable the labs could work out any conditions applicable to a given cluster.

    3. There’s apparently more to it than that, since she mentioned that the labs of her world made her what she is, and if it’s just the cluster transfer she could kill them and make the transfer irreversible.

      Probably Shin Superscience rigged up a way to pass powers around more freely than normal and Goddess got her clustermates to use it.

  2. Well, this is bad, but at least there’s hope Tristan, Byron, Crystalclear, Byron, and Victoria might still be able to pull off a win.
    Also wow Amy, there are so many different ways you could have handled that better. Like seriously I know she thinks she’s got good intentions here, but read the room, Victoria is not okay with her mere presence, what made her think physical contact would be okay?

    1. I think she was hoping to “fix” the Master-Stranger effect Victoria is under. Maybe create an immunity? She as much as she regrets forcing her own will on Victoria, she does not want anyone else doing the same.

    2. If it weren’t for her danger sense, I’d half expect Damsel to suddenly come out of nowhere and nochalantly blow her head off, and then point out the mods Ashley ditched included Bonesaw’s Master countermeasures. Just because it’d make me laugh my ass off.

      1. There’s many reasons why that won’t happen, not least that it’s way too anticlimactic for WongleBong to write. I want it anyway.

      2. No effect. Goddess has a variant of Scion’s anti-power defenses; she’ll almost certainly shrug off any single power except possibly Sting. But it seems to run like Behemoth’s dynakinesis; its effectiveness degrades against multiple distinct powers.

        1. Probably no effect. Goddess’ power works on one power at a time, which is how she was scooped up by Khepri- she immunised herself against Khepri, allowing Canary to get past her defences. To me, that suggests it’s an active and not a passive power- caught by surprise, Damsel may very well be able to kill her. Same goes for any other cape, especially one whose power affects themselves rather than others. I think Victoria could probably thwack her head off, and I doubt she could survive getting entangled in Tress.

          1. I’m pretty sure it auto-adapts; my comparison to Behemoth was that it seemed like hitting Behemoth with two different attacks was more effective than hitting him with one attack even if that attack was more powerful than the different ones combined. I think Goddess’s power works the same way; Khephri didn’t just have to bring in Canary, she had to have the Yangban power boost aura amplify Canary. That meant their abilities were as much as twenty times stronger than usual, depending on how many Yangban were brought in, if we assume its effects are proportional.

            So we’ve only seen her definitely overwhelmed by two distinct attacks, each of which may have been up to twenty times stronger than would otherwise be possible. And she might’ve shrugged off one of them even if it were sixty times stronger than usual. So I’m expecting it’s basically impossible to breach with most single attacks in which the power itself contacts her, and hitting her with two powers is not automatically successful, but by the time you got to five distinct powers they’d get through without having to take additional amplification measures.

            It probably doesn’t work on indirect effects of powers like throwing something at her (it is Scion-like, so it might) but that is why she has a TK bubble too. And a danger sense so she knows when to raise it. And a Master power so she can make capes engaging her directly into her servants. And until recently a power battery to make any of these things stronger. And another power. Each of her powers is good enough it’d make her stand out by itself, and the interlocking combination makes her very hard to beat.

          2. Really, the general thing with Goddess is that she’s just a Triumvirate-tier cape when all her powers are online, and triumvirate tier capes are just very hard to beat; they have previously only been out-and-out beaten by Echidna, Path to Victory use, or Taylor, and none of those are present at this battlefield to our knowledge.

          1. I’m not sure how Foil’s manifestation would interact with power negation. The bolt could not be prevented from striking her but it’s at least impacted by Trump powers that weaken the powers of others in an area; Foil shot Hatchet Face in close quarters with minimal effect.

          2. Scion simple caught one of the bolts. He used PtV to do it right, but he caught it. I expect that Goddess could simply use TK to prevent getting hit.

          3. Absolutely no way. Scion activated Path To Victory every time Foil fired; it is an Entity killer and is designed to defeat every defensive power. No forcefield, time loop, telekinetic ability, or invincibility possibly avaliable to humans has the capacity to stop the bolt before it reaches its destination. After it reaches the point Foil targeted, it’s just metal.

            Only evasion, negating the power (quite possibly only prior to its use) or not being seriously hampered by losing a crossbow bolt sized chunk of eye have served as effective countermeasures.

          4. @David- Scion had to catch Foil’s bolt, because his ability to tune his defences didn’t work on Foil’s power. It punches through forcefields like they’re nothing, and can penetrate Crawler’s flesh even at his toughest. She could injure Leviathan, whose centre is denser than stars. She can hit Shadowstalker whilst she’s phased out, and if she shot Capricorn, I rather think she’d hit both twins. She killed Grey Boy in the middle of his time loop.

            If there’s a world that Goddess’ TK misses Foil’s bolt, she misses the bolt in every world. That’s the way Sting works. Foil’s power is hyper-lethal, and more hyper-lethal than any other hyper-lethal power out there.

          5. EoP,

            I hadn’t envisioned the multi-dimensional properties of Foil’s attacks quite working like that. It would definitely make it more difficult to counter. She still might be able to use her power to move herself out of the path of the attack. I also don’t know how it would interact with her defense-tuning power.

          6. The key point about Sting is that Scion had no defenses against it except evasion or preventing its use, so it is impossible anyone with a Scion Shard has any either. And it is pretty unlikely any Cauldron cape does.

          7. Now, Foil can’t beat Goddess alone; the danger sense will protect against sniping or surprise attacks, and in close quarters where Foil could fling a spray of darts (and I think she can’t crank Sting up to full power on those anyway, at least not quickly; the wiki has two instances of a (Cauldron) cape defending against a hasty spray of darts) Goddess could control her or blast away her ammo before it’s charged up. But the danger sense is probably the easiest of the powers to counteract or disrupt, and Foil can for sure pierce the TK. And even if the negation effect does work, Goddess will still be hit by a crossbow bolt in a vital location, which is generally fatal even for wholely mundane bolts.

          8. Scion does not use PtV to evade Foil’s attacks. PtV is way too expensive; he only calls on it when he’s actually losing (as against Eidolon). He uses some other power (or pair of powers) to know when a Sting-based attack is coming and dodge or otherwise evade it, because he knows the Sting shard is out there and capable of causing him problems

          9. @David: Scion couldn’t tune his defences to Sting, therefore I rather doubt that Goddess can, either. I think Foil could kill Goddess, though, depending on how confident Goddess was and how her danger sense works. If she detects every attack, she might raise her TK and expect that to be enough, or tune her defences. Neither of those would work on Sting, so really dodging is the only viable response to the attack. If the danger sense alerts Goddess to that fact, then she moves out of the way. If it’s just ‘there’s an attack coming from that direction, be ready!’ then she probably tries to block it.

          10. @Gazeboist

            His future sight power wasn’t like Contessa’s. Narrower, lacking imagination, but he’d set up contingencies. If X happened, then the power would automatically kick in.

            Apparently the cost of being hit by Foil’s power was worse than whatever it cost him to use that power.

            Speck 30.5. He used his version of Path To Victory (not exactly the same as Eden’s) to evade Foil’s shots. Considering that Foil was used for the actual kill shot on him, it was probably a worthwhile expenditure.

            @EoP

            Her danger sense is apparently good enough to provide specific tactical intelligence on Teacher’s response time to her attacks in future engagements. I’m not sure how well it recursively accounts for Goddess’s response to its use, so it’s possible there’s some way to trick it by only shooting in response to Goddess dodging into the line of fire, but generally I’d think it’d keep her from getting in a situation where Foil could exploit a limitation of it to kill her. However, as a precog power its effectiveness is most likely degraded by competing precog powers like everything except Path To Victory (the Simurgh’s interlude implies she gets timeline branching but is able to fully analyze every branch) so it’s probably the most counter-able of her powers.

    3. I’d bet that although Amy’s mental trauma has been downplayed as simple guilt and dissatisfaction, she’s dealing with as difficult of core impulses and as sickly crushing of needs as Victoria has been clearly shown to be suffering. I hope there’s a chapter from Amy’s perspective sooner or later so I can know for sure, but if anyone besides Victoria is likely to be as stunted and painfully twisted up inside about their connection it’s Amy.

      1. I do see it many things that are given to us from Victoria’s perspective as applicable to Amy, to the point of thse poor fucked up women mirroring each other. Amy is desperate to make it right with soemone who only wants to get as far from her as possible.

        Oh, anyone else wondering if the first unmastered cape they find turns out to be Tattletale?

        1. The entire story of breakthrough has been about how much they need tattletale or someone like her.

          Victoria has been trying to play the role, but she’s awful at it.

          Also, Tattletale is generally aligned with Victoria’s goals and she isn’t going to be caught near the Goddess.

          1. I am so glad to read that Matthew. espcially as I also see Tattletale herself in need of overoming her own burden and guilt. We’ve seen one exchange between Vicky and Tattletale and now we find out Amy has spoken with Tattletale a few times. Considering the dislike she harbours fot eh sisters, Tattle (for her anyway) is rather approachable.

            Also, I would not now be surprised if at some point around arc ten, WaterBowl changes perspective to Amy and it then takes place form her perpsective for some time. After all, Amy was after all, a ward of the Dallons.

            And knowing the WorldBoss, I won’t now be surprised if he changes it at arc twenty to Tattletale… (if only for an interlude, or and intelude arc) who is ‘warding’ off threats greater than her, and even has Aiden as her own sort of ward.

            Ow, my brain. Thanks for making me so much, WiredBrain! I love it and my attempted extapolation.

            Hmm, any plans for a Carol and Mark Dallon interlude?

      2. I mean, she was already suffering from constant soul crushing guilt when it was only strangers that she wasn’t able to help. Now the girl she loves is suffering(from the brainwashing, on top of everything else), and Amy (probably, hopefully?) has enough control to fix it at a touch, and yet she that’s one thing Victoria has made it clear she will never allow to happen. There’s no way she ISN’T suffering from this.

        Victoria’s experiences make Amy out to be a villain from her perspective, and at this point, maybe she is. But if she is, she’s a tragic one.

  3. So…. to what extent do we trust Tristan, and to what extent is he still mastered, and this is a ploy on Goddesses behalf to keep ahead of the Master Stranger protocol currently in effect?

    1. Goddess told him to focus on her enemies a couple times now. As confirmed in this chapter, she only needed a moment to get Byron brainwash-properly aligned (cough), so we can safely assume Tristan is fully mastered. But it seems her influence is subtle enough that it leaves her agents able to consider M/S protocols (they wouldn’t on their own, but they can accept it from someone they used to trust). That’s an interesting thing, since she probably never had to plan against that on her world (no PRT over there, after all).
      However you bring an interesting twist – Tristan might be trying to work against Victoria. We’ll see what’s what depending how he acts with Natalie and other capes in the prison.

      1. I almost thought Natalie was somehow going to be killed as he picked her out to lock up.

        Goddess’s master power almost reminds me of the D&D suggestion spell. You’re not quite forced but compelled to comply and your own mind builds up the justifications.

      2. Her power does seem to corrode their following of the M/S protocols and drive them towards invalidating them. On the road trip, Victoria kept thinking up reasons why Byron no longer qualified as trustworthy, and here she specified a cape as a replacement; a PRT agent would be equally capable and less likely to be at risk of “alignment”.

        For my money, they’re not going to act against her directly no matter what, and the only risk from the protocols is degraded effectiveness. Which could come back to bite her if it happens in the field at an inopportune time, but isn’t a threat to her rule in peacetime.

      3. I think we’re about to see Tristan with the limiters removed.
        I DO NOT think this is Tristan CAPABLE of working for Goddess.
        This is “win at all costs, every cost” Tristan, and it’s a personality trait that’s so dangerous he’s getting Vicky to look out for him… and everyone else.

        (This may be Tristan COUNTERING every alignment he’s got, including the one from Goddess. Chaotic Neutral for the WIN… um, literally. because Tristan can be ALLLL about the winning)

    2. Goddess doesn’t have direct control, and she’s not very smart. She relies on her danger sense and on allegiance of mastered capes to keep her afloat. It makes perfect sense that Tristan would be familiar with protocols as well as Victoria, and be exactly as capable of following them as she is, and we get her POV. She’s still mastered too, remember.

      1. Yeah. She lucked out, but she doesn’t come across as deserving. It’s like the difference between Purple Man using his mind control power to take over the world, and Doctor Doom using Purple Man to take over the world. Also Goddess lacks style and class.

      2. Lookout should be familiar with them as well, but her specific issues would probably make it particularly difficult to ignore her new Greatest Person’s wishes in favor of what the rules say needs to be done. In fact, I’d say that she’s probably the most likely to mess all this covert resistance up since, not only is she familiar with those protocols, she’s also familiar with trying to act normal when you aren’t feeling it AND observation is kind of her thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if she caught on to Vic and Tristan/Byron’s(?) actions and bring them up at the most disastrous moment possible.

  4. Well it seems like Tristan’s probably grown for the better since his Reach days. Or at least realizes he had problems. Hope Byron does too.

    And that went better with Amy than I hoped. I mean she didn’t end up splattered. Question is what was she trying to do there touching Vicky? Was it longing for what she lost and can never fix? Or was she trying to help?

    1. Or maybe just a quick tap to get her attention and ‘hey, I’d really like to speak to you’ but she didn’t get all the previous hints that Victoria really can’t deal with her presence anymore.
      Of course from Amy’s side this feels terribly unfair as she can’t even begin to apologise and mend things, but some burnt bridges are just impossible to rebuild.

    2. Oh shit, new theory. I hadn’t thought of Amy trying to help beyond just wanting to be close to Victoria again, but it makes sense. Amy doesn’t want Victoria to be Mastered. Amy can affect people’s brains, including subtly changing how they think, we’ve seen her influencing emotion in particular. What if Amy can change the part of the brain that’s most affected by Goddess, make it immune? She tries to fix Victoria without thinking about how it would seem to her, and Victoria reacts exactly how you’d expect. Amy’s extra surprised because she was genuinely trying to help fix the situation. That’d be a good chance for Victoria to grow as a character, where she has to choose between accepting help from Amy and remaining under Goddess’ influence.

      1. We know there’s ways to alter the nervous system to escape Master effects. Jack and Bonesaw were ever so pissed when Tattletale told them Cherish was going to try it on them, since they wanted to see the look on her face when they revealed they were just playing her the whole time.

      2. Problem is, she’d have to trust that Amy is actually trying to make her immune to Goddess’ influence in order for that to be a dilemma, and right now she really, really doesn’t.

      3. Amy hasn’t offered to tweak Victoria’s mind again since Gold Morning and I don’t imagine she’s going to, Victoria is way way way way too opposed to that, and being hated by Victoria seems to be Amy’s worst pain, so she’s not going to break the rules. Also I’m not sure if Amy even knows Team Breakthrough is under Goddess’s power right now, yeah it’s really obvious, but I haven’t seen any sigh of defeat from Amy about that since she seemed to think she talked Goddess into releasing them, so it wouldn’t read well for her to know they’re being controlled at this stage.

  5. For me,Dot is the highlight of this one. She’s certain she and Amy can help, and is earnest with her praises… To a roomful of people so biased against the Red Queen, it’s not even funny.

    1. Amy can make anyone earnest about her, if she’s in regular physical contact. I don’t think anyone took Dot’s testimony at face value, but it did creep them right out. Think back to when they first met: Dot didn’t just have a different attitude, she had a clearly different way of thinking. It hasn’t been so long since then… perhaps Amy felt more comfortable experimenting on a subhuman brain but clearly it holds no more mysteries for her. Maybe she’ll get good enough at this “instant loyalty” technique to be really useful to Goddess… or maybe she is the biggest threat to Goddess around.

      1. Dot was dealing with the fact that everything she knew and loved was slowly dying, and her King/Father/God was broken and okay with it. From the sounds of things Amy helped with that. So an attitude change and “Amy is the best thing ever” makes sense.

        1. Nilbog taught his minions to worship him, because his power creates but doesn’t coerce. Dot’s a second-generation goblin, born of Polka who was, in turn, created by Nilbog. Her whole life she’s been in a personality cult based around a lonely banker who lost his job, went home and went crazy.

          Dot’s switched to worshipping Amy, because Nilbog refused her.

          1. This makes me realize how much Dot and Kenzie have in common; both astoundingly resilient in many ways, but desperately looking for someone else to “save” them.

    1. We know Amy can screw with some Master powers. Maybe she was trying to free Victoria and turn her into a false positive perfectly positioned to strike at Goddess when the time came. Of course being Amy, she did this in the worst way possible.

      1. Haha just in case Victoria had softened in the least about Amy’s “ruin your life with a single touch” power, she adjusted her pet Dot’s brain right in front of everyone just to get her to cool it with the Red Queen worship.

        Confirmation of my earlier “missing battery” speculation…

      2. If that’s what she was trying to do, then she really should have succeeded. We know from last time that Amy can disable Victoria’s mind faster than Victoria can bring up her forcefield. Maybe she was trying to be nice about modifying Victoria’s brain, but that’d be at least as clueless as trying to offer her a friendly pat on the shoulder.

        Victoria did notice that none of her many injuries hurt afterwards, though she chalked it up to adrenaline, so I’m a bit curious if Amy actually did something.

        1. Doubt it. First of all, the story implied that physical contact did not actually happen; Victoria noticed the incoming hand and reacted before it could reach her. Second of all, Amy needs skin contact to use her power, and Victoria is wearing her costume. Unless she was intending for a delayed delivery via microbes rather than a direct power application, she’d have needed to touch Victoria’s exposed face, not her armored shoulder.

          I’m thinking it was just a mundane attempt to touch somebody she cares about, and that she thought she’d be able to get away with it due to Goddess’s influence discouraging Victoria from lashing out at one of Goddess’s advisors. But unfortunately for Amy, Victoria hasn’t been Bianca’d nearly hard enough for that.

  6. Wet wretch typo thread.

    “sit this one out. They’re depleted”
    Extra spaces.

    “everything ended, Several of my”
    Capitalisation.

    “the shift in the ground and the breaks in the ground”
    Repetition.

    1. >Tiredness combined with being spent is a recipe for disaster.

      Tiredness and being spent are the same thing, no? or does she mean spent as in, spending capes like a general spends soldiers?

      ***

      Ok, so I found the physical description of Goddess’s position to be pretty confusing.

      >On the ground beside the fire escape, Amy stood beside Goddess. She hadn’t left.

      So Goddess is standing on the ground when the disc is first pulled out of the ground.

      >The disc levitated- a chunk of ground fifteen feet across that rained a bit of gravel down on the ground far beneath.

      Then the disc is levitated far into the sky.

      >I flew. Goddess landed at the midway point of the disc, and she lifted it, carrying herself with the rest.

      Then Goddess is suddenly landing on the disc, but there’s no mention of her leaving the ground.

      >Another thing to file away. She could lift herself, and she could lift a lot of weight, but in the here and now, she was using that power one at a time.

      Then after the fact, Victoria mentions in her thoughts that Goddess could lift herself or the disc, but not both. But there was no mention of Goddess actually lifting herself, only this observation made afterwards. Also, the disc was already in the air when she apparently lifted herself, but if she can only use her TK on one at a time, what kept the disc in the air while she lifted herself? Does Victoria just mean she can only move one thing at a time with her TK, but she is able to hold the disc still in the air while she flies up to it?

      ***

      >There were less buildings to break up the flow of the wind, less sources of heat that could warm us up.

      Nitpicky, and could just be one of Victoria’s colloquialisms, but these ‘less’s should be ‘fewer’s. Fewer is generally used for specific, enumerable amounts (‘not as many’), while less is generally used for things that can’t be counted or don’t have a plural (‘not as much’). Less sand, fewer seashells.

      >Five minutes after that halfway point, my armor began to crack.

      I think this should be, “Five minutes after that halfway point, the ice covering my armor began to crack.”

    2. The rain didn’t let up, and being airborne didn’t help. There were less buildings to break up the flow of the wind, less sources of heat that could warm us up. My costume was covered in a thin sheet of ice before we were halfway to our destination.

      less => fewer

  7. “The last few times I felt like this, I did things I wasn’t proud of.”
    And just like that, I like Tristan again.
    The twins both have some pretty bad anger issues, but at least Tristan has come to recognize it in himself. It’s kind of a nice parallel to the master-stranger protocols – knowing that you can be compromised by your own fucked-up brain, and trusting someone else to take the lead when necessary. Very nice.

    And Amy…sigh. I’m almost unable to get mad at her anymore. At this point I think she simply didn’t understand what she had done to Victoria – either in the physical sense with the Wretch forcefield, or mentally. Maybe now she’s FINALLY gotten it.
    And random note, I didn’t understand why her hand would have been red until Victoria mentioned the tattoos. Duh. I just can’t hold a mental image of her with a bunch of elaborate tattoos even now.

  8. The one thing I absolutely love about Victoria’s freakout is that she had to slowly come to that conclusion. Like, Victoria, for all her hatred for Amy, still had some hope that maybe Amy would understand it would be a bad idea to touch her.

    She had to rationalize that it was not Sveta nor Natalie. That sort of slight trust that Victoria had is probably shattered now that Amy actually touched her. If it wasn’t for Sveta, Amy would be fucking dead.

    Also, I just want to remind everyone that Jessica Yamada is a total badass and managed to have Tristan go from Byron’s Interlude to now. He knows his issues. He knows what can happen. And he’s so much better now than before. It also shows that Tristan was actually listening to Byron, something Byron complained majorly about in the last interlude.

    In fat, Jessica Yamada is probably over in Portal Overlap world making the multiverse’s only Utopia with S-Class threats. You go girl.

        1. Detective Yamada looked up as her partner, Hebert, thumped down beside her with a groan. “I tell you, Jessie, this case is the stuff of nightmares.”

          She raised an eyebrow. “Nightmares, Danny? I can tell you a thing or two about nightmares.”

          “You’re still dreaming about that bug girl your sick mind turned my poor innocent daughter into?”

          Jessica shook her head. “Not lately, no. Remember the healer I mentioned, and her sister?”

          “Oh, hell no. Forget I said anything. Hearing about your nightmares gives me nightmares.”

          Detective Yamada smiled as she turned back to her paperwork. “I think I’m going to turn it all into a book, someday. After I retire. A series, maybe.”

          “Better change the names,” muttered Hebert.

          Jessica frowned. “Of course. I couldn’t do that to poor Taylor.”

          “Not her I’m worried about.” He flicked his eyes as Commissioner Tagg walked past.

  9. I personally think that Goddess’s power is of the Master/Thinker variety. When breakthrough first meets her it seems like she uses a combination of imitating their behavioral quirks and out right brainwashing to bring them all on board. This is something that we have seen from tattletale, and then later, Alexandria when they’re trying to get into somebody’s head .

        1. her power set alos puts me in mind of the old “World of darkness Vampire powers, Presence, Dominate and Fortitude.

          “Love me… No?! Crap, Dominate! Ow, it failed; thank goodness I have Fortitude…”

          1. Fitting, though I’m personally thinking of it as being like how Antares has the Alexandria package: Goddess has the Simurgh package.

            She’s got TK, precog danger sense, and a long-term ability to influence the minds of others. Unlike the Simurgh she’s not Endbringer tough, but her Trump power negates many of the attacks TK doesn’t work on which the Simurgh had to face-tank. She’s a lot lower-end in the category, but also doesn’t nap for months then fight for an hour.

  10. Maybe my favourite chapter?

    I really like the scene of Victoria making Amy see The Wretch. Also this part:

    “Five minutes after that halfway point, my armor began to crack. The weight of the ice was its own downfall, and it came away in Victoria shapes, cascading down to empty streets below.

    We reached the first portal and passed through.

    The weather was different. The lighting from the now expired sunset, the sky bright even though it was night and it had been raining.

    Eerily tranquil.”

    Deceptively simple, very effective. The phasing is very appropriately ‘eerily tranquil’.

    I’m kinda amused at the phrasing ‘untainted trustworthy cape’. Yes not being under Goddess’s mastery is an improvement but they’re still capes 😛

    1. Also I think she said that because subconciously she’s trying to re-secure their loyalty for Goddess. A PRT team lead would be equally qualified and at much less risk of being “aligned”.

      1. You keep bringing up the PRT, but that organization died with Bet. Do you mean the Patrol Block? Gilpatrick or Jester would definitely be more reliable than Natalie in a situation like this. On the plus side, they’re invading a prison. Prisons tend to have libraries, and where there are libraries, there are books for Natalie to throw at supervillains.

        1. I mean in the sense of someone who had been a PRT agent. Bet died very recently and their skills would be still current. Some of them are probably with the Patrol Block, some of them are probably with the Wardens in some capacity, and some are probably with Best Cousin’s neo-PRT.

  11. The way weather is described as stopping around Goddess makes me think of Scion’s ‘stopping’ power, which would be a worrying one for her to have…

    1. It’s not. It’s her telekinesis being used to create a bubble of still air, with wind and rain both being diverted away from her and not actually stopping. She used it when she arrived to the meeting with Holo-Breakthrough a few chapters ago.

  12. I have a relatively higher opinion of Goddess’s personal competence than seems typical. She comes off as a spoiled brat who is neverthless reasonably smart, and has approached her personal goals in a reasonably intelligent way. She’s ignoring and overriding the various emotional issues here because she just doesn’t actually care; ordering them to stop with the infighting is sufficent to get them to focus on carrying out her orders.

    But she’s also shown that she’s fairly competent in terms of getting what she wants. She made effective use of the advantage of her looser control, which is that her minions will think for themselves and care about what she wants rather than simply obeying her orders. Chris pointed out risks in her initial plan and she listened. She asked the team if they thought her updated plan would work. Her TK has some weird limitation but she’s still able to make effective combat use of it.

    1. I wonder what her weird TK limitation actually is, but I don’t think she’d be showing off everything she can do with it at any particular moment, particularly in low-stress situations. From how she has used it, I would guess she can generate it in rapidly-expanding patterns following some mathematical constraint, making it annoyingly finicky to do multiple independent things at once. When she’s finely manipulating things she focuses on one person at a time, but her opening strike on the prison seems like a single wave that struck in a jagged pattern rather than her disarming one person then generating a new pulse to disarm another. That would also be consistent with her just walking straight at a wall of people with guns rather than having Antares position the Wretch to intercept incoming fire; if it’s a single wave with no gaps then it’d intercept bullets aimed at her from any guards even if all of them opened fire at once as soon as she generated it. And since she uses it as a rain umbrella she was probably holding it ready to pulse out as soon as the portal opened, so there’d be no point at which any physical projectiles could strike her. With her Trump power to negate powers that aren’t affected by her telekinesis she was most likely not in any danger whatsoever even if they’d been warned by precog to fire as the portal opened. It’s reasonably likely it is not possible for the security forces to defeat her without drafting additional prisoners, which is their only presently avaliable source of reinforcements.

      That said, with numerous powerful Thinkers known to be interested in this situation, it’s possible they’ve made arrangements to kill her that would have escaped detection by Lookout. If her danger sense can be disrupted, she will have no defenses against Foil whatsoever; Sting is a dedicated Entity killer and is engineered to defeat every defensive measure known to Scion.

  13. Okay so… just an insane cactus theory that might paint Bianca in a weirdly sympathetic light….

    Her power aligns people with her interests. It takes doing things that help her and sticks those things forcibly at the top of that persons priority list.
    What if she is under the effects of her own Master ability? (much like Valefor)
    What if previously she wasn’t a selfish princess type , and her own power just rammed her wants and interests to the top of her priority list… whether she wanted that or not?

    I mean… look at the weird skewed narrating inside V’s head at the moment… maybe the exact same thing is happening inside Bianca’s head? It’s subtle enough that half the readers here didn’t notice it when it happened to V… so how the hell would anyone be able to tell the difference between “Bianca is a selfish princess” and “Bianca has mind whammied herself by mistake”.

    And… if she has… ummm… actually I have no idea what that would imply.

    1. Low probability. Shards the Entities intended to distribute have built-in safety coding to avoid that kind of thing, and downing Cauldron vials together doesn’t get a cluster. So probably she’s immune to her own power just like the pharmicist wasn’t burned by igniting powers in her face.

      I figure she was a pretty normal little girl or young teenager, and she’s just never had to grow up.

  14. Just a thought on the Amy/Victoria meltdown:

    Hasn’t Victoria still got the love-whammy on her brain? Could it be that Amy was going to fix that in an attempt to bring some reasonableness to their interactions?

    1. It was removed alongside the body horror. Amy asked Victoria if she also wanted a mindwipe to go with it so she’d forget all the nasty stuff, but she refused because no karma houdini for you, Amy.

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