Gleaming – Interlude 9.y

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

Byron

“We can do this,” Tristan said.  But for Boundless, who was working other venues, Furcate and Steamwheel, the young members of Team Reach stood behind him, silent.

Byron was silent as well, but not by dint of choice.  His attention was on the details, both of Tristan and of the unfolding mission.  He wasn’t sure why.  It wasn’t as though he could burst forward to offer advice, and it wasn’t as though Tristan was going to let him out to offer input.

“What if he doesn’t show?” Tribute asked.

“Then we wait a bit longer, and then we go back, and we can tell ourselves that we tried,” Coiffure said.

“Trying isn’t good enough,” Tristan said.

“Sometimes trying is all we can do,” Moonsong said.

“It’s not good enough,” Tristan said, more intense now.  Because it was Moonsong speaking?  Byron had to wonder.  Tristan seemed to rein himself in, and Byron could feel the intake of half of a breath, almost a snort as that breath cut short.  Appearing to be calmer to everyone but Byron, who had that inside view, Tristan added, “The guy hurt Furcate.  He hurt Reconciliation.”

Be a little bit less obvious if you don’t want to tell the whole team?

“And Long John and apparently Whipping Girl in Virginia,” Coiffure said, like she was trying to pacify.  “I know.”

“He’s breaking the rules.  I get it,” Figurehead said.  “But we can’t blame ourselves if we don’t end up taking a non-opportunity.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Moonsong asked.

“I… guess I don’t?” Figurehead answered.

Tristan turned around to look at Moonsong, giving her a hard look.

She’s being clever, and that usually brings people closer together, yet Tristan thinks she’s betraying him, Byron thought.

“The shitheel is escalating,” Moonsong said.  “This is crime 101.  Worse incidents, with shorter times between each.”

“You’re talking all fancy, Moon, but I’m betting you learned that from a crime drama,” Coiffure said.

“It’s true, though,” Moonsong said.  She met Tristan’s eyes.  He looked away.  She continued like it hadn’t happened, “He’s not just a lowlife scumbag who hurts good people.  He’s hurting good people more and more as time goes on, and he’s going to escalate to the point where he kills.”

“Yeah,” Coiffure said.  “Not disagreeing with you.”

“If he doesn’t show, he doesn’t show,” Figurehead said.  “We can agree he needs to go to jail, but it doesn’t change the facts.”

Moonsong ventured, “I think what Capricorn is saying is that if the target doesn’t show, we should focus our energies on chasing him down.”

“Maybe,” Figurehead said.  He looked at Tristan, who shut his eyes, leaving Byron to only detect the nod by the mechanics of muscles moving, the weighty sensation of fluids shifting across his brother’s head.  “He needs to be dealt with, not arguing that.”

Can you at least acknowledge that Moonsong’s backing you up, shoring you up where you’re weak?  You’re lost in the focus on the mission and she’s handling the team for you.

“Update from Furcate and Wheel?” Tristan asked.

“In position.”

The location was part of a mess of buildings, set in a triangular plot of land that seemed as though it had been pledged to three different buildings, ended up shared by all of them, and was then complicated further by the access and egress roads.  An apartment complex loomed over a capital-E-shaped section of storage lockers, with a view that was further blocked by a squat building that was shared by multiple stores.

It was no surprise that none of the three installations seemed to be doing especially well.  Like plants trying to share the same sunlight, water, and soil, all three withered, with an apparent lack of thriving.

A highway, a major road, and a road leading off of the major road and into a morass of suburbs boxed it all in.  The car they were expecting eased its way down a narrow passage that cut beneath the highway, onto a single lane road that would turn the bend and enter the area with the storage lockers.

They heard the slamming of the car door.  Tristan leaned out to look, a fleeting glance before he pulled his head back in.

The image was momentary, but it stuck in Byron’s mind’s eye.  A man with Boundless’ height, but Tribute’s frame.  Boundless could have been a basketball player, if he’d been coordinated in the slightest, and Tribute was a middleweight boxer.

It was Paris, in costume.  His mask was the sort that covered the top half of his head, going down over his eyes and nose, his hair was long, very straight and blond, and the costume was a mix of loose cloth, like a mantle worn over the shoulders, and the form-fitting, with cloth and leather bands wrapped around arms and torso.  Black and blue-green, with decorative flourishes in a spade-like shape at the front of the mantle, where it hung over his sternum, and in the metal at the end of his belt.

He’d been bent over almost double to look into the car window.

“Let him go, let him go,” Tristan whispered.

Is he talking to the group, or is he talking to himself?

The car had to maneuver carefully to navigate the tight space.  It had been here before- the roads in and out of the storage locker area were confusing to new visitors, with most being one-way and one being out of sight.

“This is where he comes after he gets hired for a mission,” Figurehead said.  “Our sources were right.  Shit.”

Figurehead’s nervous.  His power gives him better info with unfamiliar targets.  He’s run into Paris before.

“Good sources,” Coiffure said.  “Would it be weird to get them thank you chocolates or something?”

“Given the area, I think the chocolates would only work if they had heroin in them or something,” Moonsong said.

“I don’t think that would go over well with the boss,” Coiffure said, smiling.

“Let him go inside,” Tristan said, all seriousness, as if he was unaware of the light, tension-breaking conversation.  “Let him get changed.”

“Are we playing it that way?” Figurehead asked.  “Perception is going to be that we hit someone out of costume.”

“If he wants to grab his mask on his way out, that’s up to him,” Tristan said.

The shutter of the storage unit whisked open, banging as it reached its apex. Tristan peeked out, just in time to see the door sliding closed, Paris’ legs and feet on the inside.  He looked in the direction the car had gone, then stepped out of cover.

Orange motes began to move around the door, forming like the flames of lighters catching, then striking out in straight lines.

He spared only a glance over his shoulder for his team, who was behind him.  His focus was entirely on Paris, now.

With a clench of his fist, he made the lines into something solid.  A ramp with the sides curving around to the sides of the door, with the backing that kept it from rocking forward.  Had someone sat on the ramp and if the door had been open, they could have slid inside.

“What in the world are you making?” Tribute asked.

Tristan pressed a finger to his lips.  There was a pause as he listened, and then he began drawing his next object.  A pillar, singular, high above.

The door opened, and Tristan passed control, letting the pillar become water.

He can’t even trust me to follow his logic, Byron thought, as the water came down, hitting the funnel.  The stone structure bucked slightly, even with the reinforced back, but it did its job.  The water was funneled to flow into the door of the storage unit, straight at Paris.

Team Reach fanned out as Byron drew out more water.  The direction he drew was more important than the points of light- the opposite of Tristan’s handling of it.  He placed the lines so they flowed down, aiming at the ramp.

No movement from within, no sound, no response, no swearing.

Byron hesitated in his drawing.

Figurehead drew his fingers together, middle fingers and thumbs touching, so there was a circle in the middle, and he aimed it at the storage area.  “He’s moving!  He’s going through the far wall!”

Moonsong shouted, loud enough to be heard on the far side.  “Steamwheel, Furcate!”

Byron let the water down.  A spray this time, not just a body of falling water with some direction to its flow.  It hit the ramp and banked into the storage unit.

He didn’t wait for the water to finish flowing or moving away.  He released that water, disconnecting himself from the lines and then drew out others, low to the ground, pointing up at an angle.

Unlike Tristan, he didn’t gesture to confirm or out of some ‘rule of cool’, as Tristan had put it.  It was to signal Moonsong as the water sprayed.

They’d done this before.  They’d practiced it with most members of the team.  He ceded control.

Sprayed water became ramps.  His teammates ran up the ramps, leaped, and were buoyed by Moonsong’s gravity.

To work with her like this, to see the team working with them like this, it lifted his spirits.  In everything that he did with Tristan, in eating, in sleeping, in watching stuff, listening to music, there was so little in the way of middle ground.  There was nothing the two of them both enjoyed and could enjoy together.

Except this.  Finding that teamwork.  Ceding control mid-run, as the others bounded forward toward their quarry, knowing Tristan could leap off of the ramp, that Moonsong was at the other ramp, he was okay with it.  It-

Tristan reached the top of the ramp, and instead of leaping into the field of reduced gravity, reached out for the lip of his funnel and hurdled it, his armor skidding on the rock with its veins of metal running through it.  The water was already flowing out, calf-deep as Tristan landed in it, pushed himself to an upright position, and headed straight into the storage locker.

Not sticking with the team, but taking his own route.

Byron could feel the strain in Tristan’s legs as he ran through the water.  He could see the red lights, a row of them ahead of them.

Had he been able, he would have said no, he would have vetoed this course of action.  It was too brash, too aggressive.

He could only watch, worried.  Tristan’s armored boots stomped through water, Tristan ducked through the hole Paris had made, and he punched into the red lights in a move that Byron had seen him practice, though not with this nuance.  Never before to augment his glove and arm with a mass of spikes.

Tristan hurdled boxes, and he emerged from the storage locker that backed Paris’.  Into the fight where the others were confronting Paris.  Steamwheel on her knees ahead of him, Figurehead and Tribute flanking him, and Paris in the center, wearing a white undershirt, jeans, soaked sneakers, and his mask.

His arrival from behind caught Paris off guard, but, as far as Byron could tell, it also caught their team off guard.

Paris took advantage of it, leaping closer to the immobilized Steamwheel while remaining out of reach, and he swung his arm.  The swinging motion produced flying darts at set intervals, though dart might have been the wrong word.  Lines or needles more than anything thrown toward a bullseye in a bar or kid’s basement.  One sank into the decorative metal at the side of Tribute’s leg, another into a shield that Coiffure fashioned of her hair, while the rest buried themselves into the road.

Where each needle sank in, they became a spray, a geyser, firing the opposite direction the needle had traveled.  Decorative metal and road disintegrated, the pieces sent flying back toward the point Paris had been- now the point Tristan stood.   Coiffure wrapped up the damaged hair in more of her hair, that flowed out like strands of wire she could manipulate, ‘catching’ the geyser in a spherical bubble of hair that left her momentarily unable to use her power.  Flecks of metal and road chipped at Tristan’s armor, threatening to strike him in the exposed portions of his face, his eyes in particular.

Tristan had to blind himself by bringing his arm up to shield his eyes.  Byron could feel the pain explode as Paris used the blindness, kicked one from the side, maybe trying to sweep Tristan’s legs out from under him.

Let me out, let me fight.  We can trade off in moments like this.

Tristan landed on all fours, tried to find his balance, and before he could raise his head, felt the impact of a kick against the side of his helmet.  He went flat.

The giant wheel at Steamwheel’s back spun up, steam poured out, and Steamwheel skidded forward, still on her knees.

Tristan raised his head, watched as Paris backed out of the way, and created a mote of light, moving it only an inch or so before giving it life.  Paris walked past it, twisting around to throw more darts at Steamwheel.

Tristan didn’t even look at Steamwheel- he was focused on Paris, creating another mote, another short motion before he gave it life.

It manifested as a spike, and Paris stepped on it.

“I’m out of action!” Steamwheel shouted, her voice amplified by mechanics in her suit.

The spike hadn’t punched through, but Paris had rolled his ankle and tipped over.  Byron felt a surge of triumph at seeing Moonsong slap Paris down with an increased gravity effect.

Steamwheel hit the ground hard, landing on her back as her suit disintegrated around her, the fragments flying out.  While she was on her back, the fragments were directed at the ground.

Paris twisted around and threw darts toward the roof Moonsong stood on.  She had to move, and as she did, the gravity effect broke.

Another throw clipped Figurehead in the side of his mask.  He had to twist away to keep the resulting spray of his disintegrating mask from firing into the group.

He’s the worst guy for us to fight.  Maybe if we still had Boundless…

Or if you would fucking let me out so we can work together, Tristan!  Work with me!  Work with the team!  This guy is a professional, trained mercenary with more years of fighting capes under his belt than any three of us put together!

Tristan heaved himself to his feet, eyes moving to the ground, seeing the twenty dollar bills floating in the water that was still flowing from the storage locker.  He raised his eyes to Paris, and Paris flicked his hands down, sending darts into the wet road.

A barrier of geysers, disintegrating the road and sending the fragments directly upward.

Tristan trusted his armor to protect him, running past the barrier.  Byron felt the bite of a pellet at one corner of Tristan’s jaw, sharp, with an impact that made teeth clack together, followed by a pain that felt like a sore spot on a tooth had just been hit with ice water, magnified by ten.  Another pellet bit into the back of Tristan’s leg, finding its way into the space beneath armor, past bodysuit, and into calf.

Paris was careful with the one leg where he had rolled his ankle, and Tristan was far less careful with his own injured leg, pushing through the pain.  He closed the distance, orange motes appearing like stars on the ground behind Paris as Tristan charged in, swinging.  Paris backed into a field of spikes and uneven ground, his footing unsteady, every other step a stumble.  He blocked one gauntlet with the length of his arm, and the resulting grimace suggested it hurt.

The surge of triumph in the chest the two brothers shared suggested Tristan was glad to see that hurt.  Tristan shifted his footing, and with his fist still in close proximity to Paris’ arm, slashed out with the spikes that he’d attached to his armor.  Paris pulled back, stumbled more in the process.

A moment later, his feet skidded on Tristan’s rock, wet from the water that had splashed up with each footfall.  Moonsong’s work, pushing him down when his footing was insecure.

Tristan closed the distance, swinging in the moment Paris was essentially reduced to kneeling.  Byron knew every technique Tristan was employing, every thought process.  He’d seen the training sessions and he’d had his own turn at them.

Tribute’s power surged through Tristan’s body, and time seemed to slow down.  In the moment he felt it, Tristan felt confident enough to shift his footing and balance, and throw out a kick from the side.

Not a move Byron would have been confident making, but the reason Tristan did these things, took the risks, made the bad jokes, was because they worked.  Where Byron failed, Tristan succeeded in his recklessness.

The kick landed, Paris catching it with the entirety of his folded arm, being sent sprawling by the impact.  Tristan adjusted his balance, and in the same motion, brought the leg he’d used to kick down in a stomp, aimed at Paris’ ankle.  Paris bent his leg to draw it back and away.

“Agh.”

Moonsong’s voice, pained.

Byron felt a sudden surge of alarm, and his frustration welled as Tristan didn’t even take his eyes off of Paris.  He was drawing out more motes.

Look!  Check on her!

Shit!” Figurehead said.

At that, Tristan glanced to one side.  It was the holes that Paris had put into the ground.  The geysers had spat the high-velocity fragments skyward, and those fragments were coming down.  There was a line of blood at Moonsong’s exposed shoulder.  She bent nearly double and touched her hair as another came down.

Get away, Moon!

Help her, you jackass!

Tristan turned his attention back to Paris.  In that moment, Byron hated Tristan.

On realizing that Paris had shifted position, using long limbs to put one needle to the gap beneath Tristan’s helmet, that hate didn’t fade by half.

Switch.  Look at all of the rock you’ve left here.  The rock on your costume, pointed at him.  If you switch, that rock becomes water, we put him to the ground, and we fucking have him.

Trust me and switch.

Tristan stared Paris down, not moving, not switching.  Behind them, their teammates could be heard running for cover.

The strength and perception effect faded as Tribute had to give up his position.  Tribute gave advantages at the cost of his own, and he needed to focus to do it.

I know you like sports movies, because fuck me, you’ve made me watch a lot.  How can you not draw the short fucking line and connect yourself to the jerkass team ace who thinks the entire team exists to support him and let him score?

Especially when you share a fucking body with one of those teammates!

Tristan’s eyes were locked to Paris’, and Tristan and Byron were both aware of the moment Paris glanced away, noting the teammates who were now beyond the area that was being pelted with a rain of pavement shards.

Tristan moved, reaching, moving his head to one side.  Paris was faster, his free hand grabbing Tristan and throwing him to the ground.

No needle in Tristan’s neck, but Tristan’s armor had been caught, and was coming apart, and Paris was free to run.  More darts were thrown behind him, to cover his retreat.

Furcate was waiting, as Paris sprinted away.  Their arm was in a sling, but they had the other arm in their cat’s paw gauntlet.

As darts were hurled their way, Furcate split in two, each moving in a separate direction, with the darts passing between them.

Each of the two Furcates was different, one of them resembling the original, the other with an arm free of the sling, a costume of a different cut.

Tristan climbed to his feet as Furcate started swiping and slashing at Paris with their claws.  They were nimble, but it was an ordinary human nimbleness, nothing augmented.

For that matter, Paris’ strength and agility weren’t anything special.

Coiffure had apparently realized that her hair was done disintegrating, and she was next into the fray, hair forming a bubble around her as she leaped through the fence of flying particles.  She kept weapons in her hair, blades at the end of braids, hidden in the expansive, growing mane, and she used them, hands reaching out, catching a cord, swinging the blade, her own hair deflecting that blade from hitting her as it carried on its course.  She moved like she had Tribute backing her, with a flying leap like Moonsong was helping with the gravity situation.  When her blades came down, they came down with a force that Moonsong had to have helped with, biting into the pavement.

Then, the rest of the team incapacitated or stuck in support roles, it was Tristan, Furcates, and Coiffure fighting.

Here and there, they drew blood.  It was enough to tell them that they were getting somewhere, achieving something.

Furcate split again.  Unlike their usual gauntlets, this Furcate had gloves that extended to the elbow, with five long blades each, their mask narrow like a fox’s.

Three Furcates, one Tristan, and one Coiffure.

And it should be one Byron, Byron thought.  He wasn’t watching for clues or details anymore.

Furcate was used to fighting alone or as… a pair or a trio, a quartet if they felt like pushing themselves.  Coiffure needed to reach out, and Tristan worked best with battlefields he could exploit, and he was limited in what he could do when any changes he made to footing could hamper either of the others.

And, Byron had to admit, Paris was very good at what he did.  He didn’t curse, even under his breath, he wasted no breath and few movements, and when one person got in the way of another, he used that, taking a position that meant Tristan had Furcate in his way if he wanted to close in.

In one of those moments when he had no access to Paris, Tristan punched his fist into a collection of motes.  They solidified into a single spike, extending forward from Tristan’s hand like an extension of his arm.  Even with his enhanced strength, it was heavy.

Byron could watch as Tristan swung, could see Tristan’s eyes mark the point where Paris’ heart was.

Paris saw it too.  The swing was deflected, the spike pushed downward, that same hand gripping it, pulling Tristan off balance.  Paris’ other hand reached toward Tristan’s chest, where glancing contact with disintegration pins had sliced at his breastplate without producing the geysers.  Much as the spike had been aimed for Paris’ heart, Paris held a fistful of needles aimed at Tristan’s.  Coiffure’s silver locks caught Paris’ arm, stopping him.  As if he was expecting it, he slashed at the locks, freeing his arm to continue forward.

Tristan, only by virtue of the one second of delay, was able to throw himself to the side and fall instead of being struck.  Paris tossed the needles down to the ground near instead.  They erupted, and the violent eruption gave Paris the opportunity to back away from the group.  Moonsong hit him, he stumbled, but he continued to retreat, throwing fistful of needles after fistful of needles, until visibility was nearly gone.

There was no advancing into that storm.  A hail fell on the group, each fragment of ground, building or steel shutter razor sharp and heavy.

Tristan started to advance toward it, and Coiffure stopped him.

“You know you can’t,” she said.

“He’s getting away,” Tristan said, and he sounded hollowed-out, far from any Tristan Byron had ever witnessed.

“They have a way of doing that,” Coiffure said.

“But-” Tristan said.

The second of the Furcates that had appeared now advanced, flinching at the nearby spray of disintegrating street, hopping over potholes that the darts had made.

One metal claw thumped against Tristan’s chest, by his heart.  Furcate’s body rested against his side, head at his shoulder.

“We made him bleed,” the Furcate said, staring into his shoulder.  “We took his storage container from him.  It had money in it.  Probably a lot.”

“I wanted to stop him, for Reconciliation,” Tristan murmured.  “For you.”

“Yeah.”

“For me,” Tristan said.  His voice was barely above a whisper.  “I’ve never hated anyone before, and I hate that man.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s get under cover before those pellets start raining down any harder,” Coiffure said.  “Come on, you badasses.”

Tristan allowed himself to be led away by strands of silver hair tugging on his arm.  Furcate pulled back, lingered.

The three Furcates turned to one another.  It was as though they played a game of rock paper scissors, but they played with numbers.  Gauntlets were shucked off where needed, so fingers were free.  All three had injured left arms or hands, but in different ways.

Four-four-three, the one closest to the original signaled.

Five-three-five, the second one signaled, at the same time.

Seven-two-five, the one with the fox mask indicated, putting two extended, splinted fingers against the palm of the right hand with all five fingers extended.

“At least it’s a cool costume,” the first Furcate said, before dissipating into smoke.

The second dissolved away as well, leaving only the fox masked Furcate.  They hurried out of the ‘rain’, joining Tristan and Coiffure.

Tristan clapped a hand onto Furcate’s shoulder.  “You good, azúcar?”

Furcate nodded.

Then, seemingly lost for words, or defeated on some fundamental level, Tristan allowed Byron free.

“Fuck it,” Byron whispered under his breath.

“We did the best we could,” Coiffure said.

We?  I was barely there.

It wasn’t worth fighting.  He would hash it out with Tristan later.  Somehow.

“You okay, Moon!?” he hollered.

“Yeah!  Tribute got an ice-cream scoop’s worth taken out of his leg, though!”

Byron winced, and he saw a matching expression on Coiffure’s face.

He had to move his head to see Furcate’s mask.  “Two huh?  I don’t want to pry, but-”

“You can pry,” Furcate said.  They looked back.  “So long as it’s you, and not you and Moonsong together.”

“Moonsong has your back, Furcate,” Coiffure said.

“She cares about you,” Byron added.

Furcate shrugged.

“You had a two or close to two in the second position the last couple of times.”

“I’ll deal,” Furcate said.

They hunkered down.  Only a few more of the things were still geysering, spitting out their rain of pellets.  It would be another minute or so.

Coiffure got Byron’s attention, while Furcate was at the door, craning their head to peer at the battlefield.  A questioning gesture, shrug, and then an arched eyebrow above her mask, as she raised two fingers.

Two?

Byron tapped his head.

Mental.  Emotional.  He’d keep an eye out for Kay, some shitty candy and a hug ready if Kay seemed low.

It would be hard not to feel low after this.  This didn’t feel like a win, even though they’d sent the guy running scared.

But Paris wasn’t what bothered him.  Paris getting away was more the sort of thing that would eat at Tristan.

And Tristan was the thing that ate at Byron.  Insisting on doing that whole thing himself?  Fuck that.  It was a slap in the face.

Worse than that, though… Tristan had said that Paris was the first and only person he hated.

Yet I hate you every single day, Tristan.

Tristan

“Abide with me.  Abide with me, don’t let me fall,” Byron sang.  “And don’t let go.  Walk with me.  And never leave.  Be ever close, God abide with me.  Ever close, God abide with me.  Ever close, God abide with me.”

Tristan tried to lose himself in the greater service, ignoring the little things.  The acoustics- he’d always loved that part of it, the way many voices joined into one.

“O love that will not ever let me go.  Love that will not ever let me go!  You never let me go!  Love that will not ever let me go!”

Why did Byron have to focus on the book, glancing down as if to double check?  From the time he could read and sing at the same time, Tristan had made it a challenge to see how much he could memorize, seeing how long he could go before he had to check.  Seeing Byron do it now that he was fifteen pained him.  It was like someone who never took the training wheels off their bike.

The song had concluded.

“Tonight, Mrs. Garza asks that we keep her son Luis Garza in your prayers.  He struggles.  Pray for him.  Pascal Repp is not here, as he is finishing his most recent set of cancer treatments this week.  Pray for him, for he more than embodies the strength I talked about in today’s sermon.”

There were murmured responses.  Byron put their lips to work, adding good wishes.

Byron reached out for Brianna’s hand.  He gave it a squeeze.  Then he looked at Mama like- like he had to check with an adult that things were okay and that he had permission.

My brother, please.

People were filing out of the church, and bound in the claustrophobic darkness that was within Byron, Tristan felt an almost physical pain at Byron’s hesitation at entering the group of people filing out.  Mama and Papa had already found openings like the ones Byron passed up because he didn’t want to bump into anyone.  They were out of the church before Byron was out of the aisle.

It was like being stuck behind slow people on the sidewalk, every minute of every one of Byron’s turns.

“You didn’t mind this?” Byron asked Brianna.

She shook her head, then squeezed their hand.

Oh, dios mio and fuck me, the old women are hobbling toward us.  Please, Byron.

Byron passed up another gap in the file of people.  The old ladies approached, lights practically flashing in their eyes as they saw Byron holding Brianna’s hand.

“We’ve been caught,” Byron said, sounding far less anguished about it than he should have.  “The woman with the hat pressed over her heart was my grandmother’s best friend, Diane.”

“Oh wow.  It’s great that you have a community that goes back like that.”

“It’s a plus,” Byron said.  His hand found the small of Brianna’s back, as he worked his way forward.  They were intercepted by the old ladies.

He’s showing her off, Tristan thought.

“Tristan, how lovely,” Diane greeted Byron.

Tristan mentally pumped a fist.

“I’m the other one,” Byron said.

“Benson?  Bennett?”

“Byron.”

“Byron.  I thought your brother would be the one to have a girlfriend first.  He’s flashy like that.”

“Nope.  Anyhow,” Byron paused.  Stuck on finding the words in the latest of his awkward-ish situations he should one hundred percent have known how to deal with by now. “This is Brianna.  We go to school and work together.  Brianna, this is Diane, Mrs. Caudle, and Mrs. Plumb.”

“Brianna, dear, you’re a lovely young lady.”

“Thank you!  I’m touched- Byron told me that you were close friends with his grandmother.”

“I was.  She was lovely.  Tristan always took after her, I felt.  Naturally athletic, charming, go getters, both of them.  You’ve met Tristan, I’m sure.”

“I have met him, yes.”

You deserve this, Byron.

“I’m sorry, I’m so surprised he wasn’t the one bringing a girl to church.”

Byron flexed their lips in a forced smile.  No teeth showing, lips pressed together.

The conversation wrapped up, with only two more thinly veiled attempts at setting Brianna up with Tristan while Byron stood there, being far too polite about it.  It was Brianna, not Byron, who found the excuse to break away and rejoin Mama and Papa.

As they walked, Byron leaned in close to Brianna, “How are the injuries?”

“They’re okay.  The scratch in my arm feels tight.”

“I wish that had gone different.”

“We all do, By.  I wish- I keep replaying it in my head, wondering what I could have done better.”

“Yeah.”  Byron, still holding Brianna’s hand, raised her hand to his mouth, kissing the back of it.

“You two look so nice together,” Mama told Byron.

“Thank you,” Brianna said.  She smiled her politician’s daughter’s smile.  Practiced.

As a group, they walked to the car.  Byron didn’t let go of Brianna.

Tristan could only think about Furcate, sitting on stairs outside, back to the windows, wiping at their face.  It had been after Brianna had said something to them.  He wasn’t sure Byron got it, despite having seen.  That, or that Byron hadn’t wanted to get it.  Willful ignorance.

“I hope you’re doing okay, Tristan,” Papa said, looking past Byron’s eyes.  Byron dropped his eyes to the ground.

I don’t think I am.

“As soon we drop Brianna off, I’ll take you out for ice cream, Tristan,” Papa said.  “We’ll talk.”

“Oh, that’s nice, do you take Byron out for ice cream?” Brianna asked.

She couldn’t help herself.  She had to interfere, and she had to do it in a slimy way, acting innocent and dim-witted.

“I didn’t think Byron liked ice cream,” Papa said.

“I don’t mind it,” Byron said, timid.

“It was always a thing Tristan and I would do, after his games,” Papa said.  “Byron and I, we had other things we would do.”

“Oh?  What sort of things?”

“We would watch movies together while Tristan went out with Anita.”

“It’s been a while,” Byron said.

“Do you want to do something, Byron?  We could make plans, if you have any ideas.”

“It’s okay,” Byron said.  “It’s hard, juggling things with the team.”

“Are you sure?”

Byron shrugged.  “Yeah.  It’s no big.”

Brianna met Byron’s eyes.  Byron shook their head slightly.

Gutless.

The closer they were to Brianna, to Moonsong, the more distant the rest of everything felt from Tristan.

He thought of Nate and his failure to get the asshole that had taken a chunk out of Nate, even when he was giving his all, and that distance coalesced into a wedge, driven right at the muscle of his heart.

He might as well have been physical, trapped in this darkness as Byron’s world played in slow motion beyond it.

He had to do something, because he couldn’t keep feeling this way.  He’d die.

Byron

Tristan was all smiles and charm.  Mr. Wall was buying into it wholesale.

A two hour session and Tristan had taken an hour and a half of it.

“…does that make any sense?  I don’t… I don’t want a relationship with him, not like he wants.  We’re not that compatible.  But he’s one of the most important people in the world to me.”

“I think it makes a lot of sense.  You don’t have many real allies.”

“I- I guess not.  It stings to hear it put that bluntly.”

“You told me you wanted blunt.”

Tristan’s face stretched in a smile.  White teeth showing, and when he put on a face like he was trying not to smile, it was forced, acted.

Half of this whole thing had been.

No allies?  Most of the team backs you.  Dad backs you.  Mom backs you.  People we know forget I even exist, like Aunt Diane.

Fucking liar.

“I guess I did,” Tristan admitted.

“Is there a way to communicate that he’s important to you?”

“If you have any suggestions on how to do that without giving him the wrong signals, I’m all ears.”

“I guess that would be hard, huh?”

“Oh yeah,” Tristan said.  “He’s the only other gay guy I’ve met, you know.  I mean, there’s Long John, but… I don’t think I could have a conversation with Long John.  I don’t have mentors, I don’t have peers.  Just… one really cool, smart-as-shit guy who doesn’t deserve to have me and my situation inflicted on him.”

“I think we should talk about that.  Why ‘inflict‘?”

“Because I’m thickheaded.  Because I’m not there half the time.  I’m… not allowed to even pretend that I could do something with him that isn’t kissing.  It had to be hammered out as a strict rule.”

Because the only thing that stopped you that night was Nate.

“I talked to Mr. Vaughn about that.  I thought it was good of you to strike that compromise, Tristan.”

“It kills me.  It wasn’t a compromise.  It was me losing the ability to even daydream about something I think about every morning and every night.  Being with a guy.”

You can daydream, just like I daydream about Moonsong.

“The rule being in place makes it impossible to even hope or daydream about it.”

Not a question, but a statement.

Byron felt Tristan’s head jerk in a firm nod.

“I don’t know if this computes, maybe I’m just fucked up-“

Yes.

“Yes?” Mr. Wall asked.  A question, not a statement.

“It’s like, I had it in my head, Nate was just so neat, and I wanted to do something for him, right?”

“Sure.”

“And if I couldn’t put his dick in my mouth, then maybe I could show up by his hospital bed, and I’m still sweaty and satisfied with myself and Nate is pleased.  Except it’d be because I personally kicked that asshole Paris’ ass, caved in his face, and made sure he ended up in Federal prison.”

Violence as a facsimile for a blowjob, Tristan?  Nooo.  Not fucked up at all.

“Have you seen him?  In the hospital?”

Tristan shook his head.  “I had it in my head that if I could kick Paris’ ass, I could go see him and be proud, be okay.  As it is, it’s-”

Tristan clenched his fist.

“It sounds to me like you’re dealing with a lot of pent up frustration,” Mr. Wall said, but he said it with a smile.

Tristan smiled back.  “I haven’t manhandled the ham candle in the last year, Mr. Wall.  I’m fifteen.  Frustration is putting it lightly.”

“No compromise there?”

“Byron says no, and whatever he thinks I was going to do that night with Nate… I’m not going to do that to him.  I think I knew Nate was going to say no.  I just needed to be able to pretend.”

“What if he hadn’t?”

“Then I would have stopped, asked for his forgiveness for leaving him with blue balls- easier if I’m already on my knees, and I would have explained our situation.”

I was there, and I don’t believe you.

“I believe you,” Mr Wall said.  The man pulled his sleeve back to check his watch.  It had a Team Reach logo on the face.  “There isn’t long left in the session, but if it’s okay, I’d like to have a short conversation with Byron?”

Let me guess.  Can you compromise?  Tristan this.  Tristan that.  You’ve already been charmed by him, I don’t have a shot.

Tristan allowed Byron to have control.  Byron shifted his position, fixed his pants where they bunched up beneath his ass.

“Hi Byron,” Mr. Wall said.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Hi,” Byron replied.  He placed his hands on his knees, sitting back, and he braced for it.

“Let’s talk about what Tristan is trying to express,” Mr. Wall said.

Guess correct, Byron thought.

As the remaining fifteen minutes of the session continued, the guess was reaffirmed and then some.

Tristan

“Byron, I really don’t want to end up in a position where I’m mediating the disputes between you two.  Especially when those disputes involve your off time.”

“I don’t want this either, Mr. Vaughn,” Byron said.  “But what am I supposed to do?”

“Have you tried talking to Tristan?”

“Every day since we could form partial sentences.  I’ve come out with one win.  One case where we disagreed and I got what I wanted or needed.”

Sounds about right.  That’s your fault, not mine.

“Have you tried talking to him about this?”  Mr. Vaughn sounded exasperated.

“I told him it wasn’t cool, it was dangerous.  He shut me out.  No response.”

“Tristan?”  Mr. Vaughn asked.  He did the ‘change’ gesture.

Tristan took the driver’s seat, felt his body take shape from the blur, felt the lurch of his heart starting after a long period of dark stasis.

“What’s your take on this?” Mr. Vaughn asked.

“It was a group of people we trust.  Kay and Alison were there.  So was Reconciliation from Haven.”

“You drank.”

“Yes,” Tristan said, even as he thought snitch, he willed Byron to hear the thought with all of the emotion he put into it.

“Underage drinking isn’t great, Tristan.”

“Yes, I know,” Tristan said.  He drew in a breath.  “It’s how I cut loose, Mr. Vaughn.  I know Byron painted this as being a bad thing, but… it wasn’t that bad.”

“You slapped someone’s ass?”

“Yes,” Tristan said.  He let out a huff of a laugh, trying to lose some of the tension that was building up in his chest.  “It really wasn’t a big deal.”

“It was a guy’s ass?”

“I don’t see how that matters,” Tristan said.  Byron wasn’t vague enough.  Mr. Vaughn isn’t stupid.  He can draw connections.

“Okay,” Mr. Vaughn said.  “Doesn’t matter, then.  But you passed out, Tristan.”

“In a safe place with friends close by.”

“You passed out in a strange place.  I know Kay and you are close, but Kay has their issues.  Alison is a damn good cape, but she isn’t someone I would trust my daughter to, if my daughter was out drinking.  Alison works damn hard and parties damn hard.”

Tristan smiled.

“Some of those other friends you mention were from other teams.  It’s not impossible that they’d want to see Reach come down a peg, especially with our recent ratings.”

“Not Reconciliation.”

“Tristan- okay.  But… I think Byron’s right.  This sounds more negative than positive.  One photo from one bystander, head and face cropped out, matched to your selfless shots, and we have an issue.  Potentially a legal issue, or one with the Youth Guard.”

Tristan felt a tightness in his chest.  He wondered if Byron felt it too.

“No more drinking, Tristan.  Not in excess.  Have a beer with your friends if you must, but nothing like last night.”

That tightness became anger, impulse.  “That’s- you can’t tell me that.  You said before, it’s outside of work hours.”

“Tristan-”

Tristan brought his hand down on the desk, rising out of his seat.  There was a tremor in his voice as he voiced his response.  “No.”

“You drinking in moderation seems like a pretty decent compromise.”

“You can’t tell me what I can or can’t do outside of office hours.  I’m a damn good cape, Mr. Vaughn.  I earn for you.”

“You do.  The fact that I’m letting the drinking slide should count for something.”

“I’m just trying to deal.”

“So am I.  I’m trying to do what is best for Reach, and I’m offering you a compromise.  Moderation.  Please don’t fight me on this, Tristan.”

“What if I do?” Tristan asked.

“If you do, then I would have to talk to the staff about the possibility of having some random drug and alcohol testing for the team.”

Tristan slumped into his seat.  He sat forward, elbows on his knees, head bowed.

“I don’t have much,” Tristan said.

“Would you consider talking to Mr. Wall about getting to a place where you have more?  He’s very good.”

“I’m already talking to him,” Tristan said, around a lump in his throat.

“That’s good,” Mr. Vaughn said.

Tristan shook his head.

Well played, little brother.  I guess you win another, with the tactics you learned from Moonsong.

“Do we have a mutual understanding, Tristan?”

Tristan nodded, quickly.

No passion, no wild abandon, no freedom, no time, and less and less fun.  No life.

What was left?

He reached for an answer to that question, and a sizable part of him died when he couldn’t find much of anything.

When he opened his mouth to speak, it was more a fish gulping for air than anything else.  He swallowed the failed attempt at drawing in breath, getting it past the lump in his throat.

“Please tell me we have some news on that asshole Paris.”

“We don’t, but you’ll be the first to know the moment something crosses my desk.”

“Please,” Tristan said.  He raised himself to a standing position.  He walked over to the door, and found himself unsure if he’d said it loud enough to be clear.  More firmly, he told Mr. Vaughn, “Please.”

Byron

“Round fucking two,” Tristan said.  He sounded so normal for someone who had had so much trouble sleeping the night before.  “Furcate’s back in fighting shape-”

Furcate punched one gauntlet into the other.  Chains jangled.

“And we’ve talked tactics.  We’ve learned a lot, these past couple of months.  Gear upgraded.”

“My second best suit is revved up and ready to go,” Steamwheel said.

“It’s really him?” Coiffure asked.

“It’s really him,” Tristan said.

“How’d you find him?”

“I…” Tristan trailed off.  “I found him online, and I tricked him.”

You obsessed, you created an online persona, a convincing one, and you convinced him you wanted to hire him.

“Kickass,” Figurehead said.  “I’m worried I’m not going to be useful.”

“There’s a chance he has backup.  Just focus on the backup, support us where you can.  If you can get a clear scan on him and go in for the critical hit, that’s great.”

Figurehead nodded.  “If he has backup, though, and we couldn’t deal with him alone last time-”

“Last time was my fault,” Tristan said.  “I was too caught up in doing it myself.  Teamwork will make up the difference.”

“I hope you’re right,” Moonsong said.

“I’m right,” Tristan said.  “I’m always right.”

Nobody disagreed with him, beyond a roll of the eyes from Moonsong, and it bothered Byron more than he cared to admit.

“We corner him, and we don’t let up the pressure.  We’ve drilled on this.”

Tristan put out his gauntlet.  Other people tapped gloves and gauntlets to it, with Steamwheel going low, putting her power armor’s fist beneath the group’s huddle.

The group split up, everyone finding their positions.  The decoy car was black, parked in the middle of a concrete dock.  Shipping containers surrounded the dock, and provided hiding spots for the rest of the team.

“Switch up rapidly,” Tristan murmured.  “Like you’ve been talking about, like we did in drills.  I want this asshole off balance.”

Tristan passed control.

“Yeah,” Byron responded.  Then he passed control back.

Like a handshake.

“But please-” Tristan started.  He paused, looking over at other members of the team who were getting into position.  “Let me finish him.  So I can tell Nate I did.”

Control was passed.  Byron couldn’t bring himself to nod right away.

But he did nod, in the end.

“And if you’re going to hesitate like that, then just swap,” Tristan said, the moment he had control again.  He fixed his helmet’s position.  He didn’t extend control back to get a response to that statement.

It had almost been cool, Byron observed.  This had almost been the way it should be.

Paris’ car made its way past shipping containers and to the dock.  It stopped nearly a hundred feet away from the parked car.  Doors opened, and Paris climbed out of the back, almost unfolding as he stood straight, because he was so tall that even a spacious backseat required some contortion.  Tristan looked at the guy’s muscles, at the quality and condition of his costume.  It had been updated since their last excursion.

The people in Paris’ car looked like ordinary staff for some rich guy.  A chauffeur, with sunglasses and an earpiece, and a woman with a similar outfit of black suit, sunglasses, and earpiece.

The reality was that Paris just wasn’t around that much.  He was a mercenary, an admittedly capable mercenary, and that meant he got work.  When he came back, it was because this was home.

For whatever reason, coming home also meant attacking certain, specific people.

Tristan drew a spike in the air.  As Paris paced around the car in his languid way, Tristan let it fall.

The wind impacted the spike’s course slightly, made the point veer so it no longer pointed straight down.  It pierced the engine block with a crash that saw Paris and his staff practically fall to the ground.  The back half of the sleek, professional car practically leaped up off the ground.  Moonsong caught it with her power, and the residual impact of the hit saw the car fly up, spinning end over end, practically weightless.

Credit to Tristan that a professional like this fell for this.

But falling for it wasn’t as good as things being said and done.

Tristan passed control.  Byron began drawing out his circle.  He left it unfinished, in a way that tended to make his work unreliable in consistency.  In this moment, he was pretty sure he could trust it.

The lines and dots solidified.  There was a splash of water, but it was minor.  The primary focus of his power taking effect was now ice.  The area around the car was now an ice rink.

Immediately, Paris’ darts were thrown around that ice rink, dissolving it.

Still, it kept Paris from running for it.  He could maintain his footing, turning around to look for attackers, but running for safety required more traction.

Where darts disintegrated ice, cracks spread between impact points.  Paris used the cracks, running so that one foot was directly in front of the other, each footfall carefully settled on safe ground within the crack.

Steamwheel charged in, wheel spinning, steam venting, feet pounding with so much force that broken ice bounced up five feet with each footfall.

Paris leaped, feet going forward, like he intended to slide on the ice, arm going back as he planned to throw.

Byron passed control to Tristan.  Ice became stone.  Low traction became high traction.  Paris went from a slide to a roll, a tumble.

Steamwheel vented steam after Paris, a heavy plume extending forward.  Camouflage systems on her suit shifted tints and shadows, making her blend into the steam clouds.

Paris rolled, found his orientation, and sprung to his feet- springing too high as Moonsong caught him.  A moment later, as he was still moving through the air, she brought her hand down hard.  Low gravity became high.  Paris fell in an awkward way once again.

And, barely taking any time to recover, he switched to the offensive.  More needles were thrown, and the needles he’d set on ice were creating a storm of hail and rock shards.  He barely seemed to care as they came down on his own head, but it impacted the others.

Figurehead apparently had a read, because he went after the driver, who had backed off, and the black woman in the suit.

When Figurehead could use his power, he was an action movie star in a movie with great choreography.  Every strike was predicted, countered.  Every step was a weak point.  The woman reaching for a weapon saw Figurehead getting his hands on the weapon first, using the butt-end of a pistol to rap the chauffeur across the knuckles as the man threw a punch.

Coiffure lashed out.  Her hair was longer, this time, her weapons that she’d woven into her hair now tailored for ranged strikes.  Whips and chains.  When Steamwheel wasn’t in close, Coiffure was lashing out, forcing Paris to dance.  Tribute was focused on Coiffure.  He would switch to the next person as soon as they took focus.

Paris began throwing darts at Coiffure.  Steamwheel put on the pressure, this time, stepping from the cloud of steam to attack Paris from behind-

A feint.  He was expecting her, and needles went to Steamwheel’s elbows and knees.  She reacted by hunkering down, her wheel spinning, and producing vast quantities of steam.  The steam was hot, hot enough that Coiffure had to back off, and Paris had to hunker down.

Moonsong hit him again.  Furcate leaped down from a shipping container, splitting as they landed, and Tristan marched forward, leveling a glare at Paris.

We’re on a dock.  If he goes for the water, I’m the answer for that.

Somewhere along the line, the choking gas had become water, and then the water had become ice.  Where Tristan seemed static, remaining with solids with only slight nuance, Byron had evolved.

Byron liked to think it represented some growth within himself.  Finding Brianna.  Finding assertiveness.

Paris used his darts to create localized hazards, it was how he fought.  He was athletic, agile, and he knew how to fight.  As he threw down darts, Byron and Tristan took turns covering up the areas where the darts spat out geysers of bullets.

As the darts started getting flung in their direction, they swapped back and forth, closing the distance, forcing Paris to retreat further.  Furcate flanked, because they loved flanking.  Coiffure moved out to the other side, her hair creating limbs she could move on, chains and whip noisy against the concrete of the dock.

Paris stopped being quite so conservative with the darts.  He threw them out in messy ways, toward Furcate, who split into two, toward Coiffure.  They were lower velocity, landing in clumps, but the resulting sprays were violent and harder to work around.

Once again, Tristan created the spike, a fist-encompassing growth of rock laced with metal veins.  Once again, Byron felt his nonexistent pulse pounding out its diffuse alarm into a darkness without bounds or perspective.

Tristan broke into a run to close the distance.  The sudden movement drew Paris’ attention.  Needles were thrown.

Tristan swapped out for Byron.  The spike broke apart into water and ice shards, but that didn’t matter.  What mattered was that momentum didn’t carry over one hundred percent.  Byron could pivot, run another direction, then swap again.

This is what I had in mind.

Their more unpredictable movements upped the pressure on Paris.  Tristan materialized, created his spike.  He had to abandon it a moment later, but he was a few steps closed by the time they’d swapped and changed direction twice in five seconds.

The next time he had a turn, on impulse, almost out of a weird gratitude to his brother, Byron set up the spike for Tristan.  As Tristan materialized, punching out, the spike formed around his hand.

Byron felt the smile, almost more of a grimace.

Furcate was close enough to slash at Paris, who kicked them firmly in the stomach.  The other two Furcates were on him a moment later, one with spikes on chains instead of claws.

Paris backed away, then moved his hands in a new way, slow, as if drawing a blade out of his sleeve.

Not a needle or a dart.  This looked more like a railroad spike.

The spike was hurled toward the ground in the midst of the Furcates.  The result  was a detonation, not a geyser, scattering them.

Coiffure was next.  She tumbled, her hair going limp.

No!

Tristan was silent.

Tribute fixated on Tristan.  Byron could feel the strength, the increase in heart rate, and the way that cognitive processing sped up until the rest of the world seemed to move slower.

Tribute would be a sitting duck, dumb, slow, weak and fragile, so long as he was giving this kind of strength.  One thrown attack like what Paris was pulling out of his sleeve would destroy Tribute.

But Tristan was slowing, changing course.  He switched out to Byron, letting the spike at one hand fall away.

Byron could change direction, doing his best to add to the zig-zag, placing his feet carefully.  He switched back to Tristan.

Tristan wasn’t focused on Paris.

Tristan looked at Furcate, at the Furcates, plural.  When he looked back over one shoulder, he didn’t look at his teammates.  It was at the ice.

Paris threw a railroad spike.  Tristan ducked it, letting it detonate.  Then, still in slow motion, still with some augmented power from Tribute, that power slipping away with every moment as Tribute went on the offense, Tristan charged.

Another throw from Paris, and Tristan twisted, absorbing the hit, before tumbling to the ground.

He was hurt, but he wasn’t hurt so badly he couldn’t get back up, press the attack.

What are you doing?

Tristan’s body roiled with emotion as he crouched there, head bowed.  He kept a wary eye on Paris, who backed away.  Tristan didn’t pursue.

Tristan!

The rest of the team was hurrying to catch up.  The Furcates were picking themselves up.  Coiffure was still down, and Tristan began to move in her direction, like he was in a daze.

“Stop,” Figurehead called out.  He set a hand on Tristan’s shoulder.  “Don’t move if you’re hurt.”

Tristan stopped moving.  He turned to stare at Paris, who was still retreating, not turning his back on the group.

Moonsong and Tribute had caught up now.  Figurehead was using his power to do diagnostics on Coiffure, which he would be bad at, since she was a known quantity.  He eased her to a sitting position.  She looked up at him and nodded, before wincing in pain.

And Tristan-

Tristan remained where he was.  He watched as Paris climbed a set of shipping containers, making his escape.

“What’s going on?” Moonsong asked.  “What the hell happened there, Tristan?  You wanted to be leader, and you’re letting him get away?”

“He hit us,” Tristan said.  “Direct hit.”

“What are you talking about?” Moonsong asked.  Her voice was tight, like she knew exactly what Tristan was talking about.

“We were switching out, for evasive action.  Then- then Byron didn’t switch.  He kept running, I-I-”

Byron could feel Tristan forcing the sound, forcing his voice to break.

“No,” Moonsong said.  “No, I don’t believe you.”

“I think he wanted to throw off Paris’ expectations.  When he was changing, we were more him than me, and that cannon-shot of Paris’ hit us.”

No.

“I can’t switch to Byron anymore.”

No.  Please.

“I think he’s dead,” Tristan lied, looking a now-anguished Moonsong in the eyes.

Previous Chapter                                                                                        Next Chapter

140 thoughts on “Gleaming – Interlude 9.y”

    1. I’m sure Tristan is going to claim he always intended to let Byron out eventually. He just needed a little time purely to himself. Is that so wrong?

      Also, wow. I bet Tristan didn’t set up the Hitman because he felt regret and wanted to reassure Byron he’d never body snatch him. He did it to protect himself from fair retaliation – the thought of trusting his brother not to do the same to him as he did to Byron is impossible for him.

    1. Maybe not. She was saving the ‘she’ for when she felt she deserved it. This is later than it was, so… Maybe she’s a she now.

        1. Moonsong’s also a homophobe, and she called Furcate a ‘he’ in private chat with Tristan. (Glow-worm 2.)

          Moonsong is not somebody you should point to about this.

          1. I’m also starting to wonder if Tristan and Furcate didn’t help with that Homophobia. If Furcate is neglecting physical and mental health when deciding what version sticks around to focus on transistioning… And well we’ve seen what Tristan just pulled, and she was already skeptical of his being gay to begin with. But when you’ve got a Transgender who’s quite possibly engaging in self destructive behavior, and someone who fakes his brother (who you happen to be romantically involved with) dying and consigns him to a fate worse than death… It’s not going to help those pre-existing prejudices, especially since I doubt she’s going out of her way to interact with a large pool of LBGT people.

          2. If Moonsong thinks Tristan’s only pretending to be gay, why would his actions affect her opinion of gay people? Mate, she’s just prejudiced.

    2. Furcate mentioned they were saving the ‘she’ for when they felt done, maybe they’re further along their transition and comfortable using both

      1. I wonder if Furcate was keeping the versions that moved closer to how they wanted to be, since they seemed to be alternate versions.

      1. “and he emerged from the storage locker that backed Paris’. Into the fight where the others were confronting Paris.”
        Not sure if the break was intended.

  1. Haha, and people expected Tristan’s viewpoint to make us more forgiving of him!

    “Everything really was as bad as it looked” can be a very nice twist if done correctly.

      1. Not necessarily. At this point, Furcate could be going by she/her pronouns. I’m willing to think Byron wouldn’t intentionally misgender Furcate

        1. I’m thinking not intentionally but quite possibly accidentally. He apparently doesn’t realize how badly Furcate is hurt by that or similar.

    1. Eh, this is about what I expected out of his viewpoint. Wasn’t specifically expecting the end, but I was expecting him being stressed as much as Byron. And we’re seeing he dislikes Moonsong specifically, and that he has cause Byron has overlooked.

      Just because one person in an argument is wrong, that doesn’t mean the other person is right.

      1. Did we read the same thing? A big part of this chapter was showing that Tristan was only annoyed by the twin situation, not tortured. He only got actually ruffled when there were some limits imposed on his lifestyle, which Byron had essentially already placed on himself by default.
        Byron isn’t an amazing person, but Tristan is a complete sociopath.

    2. “Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” – Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19; City Watch, #3)

    3. “Haha, and people expected Tristan’s viewpoint to make us more forgiving of him!”

      I didn’t. He’s exactly the sociopath I was expecting him to be. Even a bit worse since at the moment (in flashback) he’s all but outright murdered Byron. I didn’t actually expect him to make that mistake.

      1. I’m understanding Moonsong a bit better now.
        “Let Bryon OUT Trystan” makes a HELL of a lot more sense.

        And Vicky’s rather facile “he needs an outlet” advice to Byron miiight not be the saving grace she thinks it is.

    4. I mean, it did help me see where he’s coming from, and how Byron may have been blind to some of the things he (and mostly Kay) were going through. But, well… It didn’t really justify anything.

  2. “Unlike their usual gauntlets, this Furcate had gloves that extended to the elbow, with five long blades each, her mask narrow like a fox’s.”

    Byron using the wrong pronoun?

    “Byron passed control to Tristan. Ice became stone. High traction became low traction. Paris went from a slide to a roll, a tumble.”

    Low traction became high traction.

  3. Furcate remains the best, with their weird and amazing “call up alternate versions of me then decide which is real” power. I also appreciate that Byron tries to remember to keep an eye out for their mental health and dispense hugs as necessary even if he misses Moonsong hurting them due to his attachment to Brianna. It does look like Kay might be the only friend the brothers really have in common-I’m thinking either Moonsong or Furcate will be the one to see through Tristan’s lie.

    1. We already knew there was an incident where Tristan didn’t let Byron switch back for a really long time (IIRC a month?), so I was kinda expecting these interludes to cover it.

  4. Wow Moonsong is actually supportive of Tristan’s vendetta here that’s a shock.
    I’m really liking Furcate’s power and Figurehead’s seems interesting.
    Also seems like we have more concrete evidence of Tristan manipulating people in this chapter, it’s harder to argue against when you read that manipulative mind set from his perspective.
    Also those last few lines…. what the fuck Tristan!

    1. …Is Byron the team member he was accused of murdering? Also, I think he really did kill Paris at some point.

      Let’s see, Moonsong and Tribute both survived and joined the Attendant, Coiffure was killed in an early strike upon the East Coast, Furcate was killed during Gold Morning and Figurehead survived but retired, maybe going solo. So really it’s Steamwheel (hope not, I like her- her steam tinkerness is cool), Byron or Boundless (who is named on the worm wiki’s Reach page as a member, but has no information about them) as victim.

      1. My money is on him contracting Paris for a hit on a teammate, then ambushing and killing Paris. I don’t really trust Moonsong’s objectivity on this, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually an agreed-upon plan that went sour rather than Tristan going renegade. But as Tristan would’ve committed murder and violated the Unwritten Rules he’d go to jail for killing Paris even if totally cleared of responsibility for the dead teammate.

        1. Hmm. You’re right, this is starting to sound like a Tristan Dumb Plan. Possibly not told to the entire rest of the team, either. “Furcate, are you okay with being decoy?” Moonsong doesnt’ hear about this, and is pissed later when finds out. Possibly after said party member gets killed and can’t actually back up “Tristan got permission!!” (which provides a reason for letting Byron out again).

          1. It’s unlikely that any of Tristan’s teammates get killed. The only ones who are known by Moonsong to be dead in the present day are Furcate and Coiffure, both of whom she said died during Gold Morning.

            It is possible that she’s lying. If Tristan’s shenanigans got one of them killed, Reach might have tried to cover it up. In that case, Gold Morning would provide the perfect opportunity for Moonsong to give outsiders closure. But that isn’t the impression I got from their private Reach chat.

            The only other members of Reach who are unaccounted for are Steamwheel and Boundless. If Tristan got one of them killed, then either Moonsong doesn’t actually know what happened to them, or she’s still covering it up for some reason instead of using Gold Morning to excuse their disappearance.

      2. It could be that Furcate died when Paris threw that big spike. If Furcate died because Tristan was trying to set up a “faking Byron’s death” moment, I could see Moonsong calling that murder.

    2. I think she has her own overlapping vendetta. Bonding over shared vendetta being limited by the fact that when she listed people Paris had hurt she left Nate’s cape name off the list where he was the only person Couffire was sure about adding.

  5. I have only one question.

    How the fuck are these two in a pseudostable semi-sane state by the time Victoria meets them? Is Saint Yamada really this improbably good?

    I cannot fathom any SoD preserving action for Tristan to take to make Byron forgive him for any of the shit he did this chapter taken piece by piece, and bundled up, murder by denial is the only comeuppance he deserves.

    1. Ultimately, I don’t think Byron has forgiven Tristan. He’s just got to live with him. They’ve both got to live with each other. I’m sure they’d be much happier if they never had to see each other’s faces again but that’s just not an option unless Kenzie pulls off a miracle-she mentioned a bit ago that she was closing on a way to get a two-way camera to talk to the twin who’s trapped in the sunken place.

    2. Well, like Tristran pointed out, it’s Byron’s own fault he didn’t think of the fake death plot first. If only one of them can live, it should obviously be whichever one makes the stronger effort to survive.

      Really, though, a lot of things happened after this. None of the Breaktrhough members were in pseudostable semi-sane states at the time this was happening. Victoria was a shoggoth, and bonding with Sveta over their lack of control over their bodies. Kenzie had three different child abuse scandals going on. Ashley was being pieced together from old news clippings in Bonesaw’s dimensional laboratory. Who even fucking knows about Chris. The end of the world changed a lot of people.

      1. [I]Well, like Tristran pointed out, it’s Byron’s own fault he didn’t think of the fake death plot first. If only one of them can live, it should obviously be whichever one makes the stronger effort to survive.[/i]

        Really? *Really?* That’s your takeaway here?

        Never mind that that’s quite a sociopathic way to look at things, it’s not true that only one of them Can live. Cooperation and coexistence are an option, if Tristan can pull his head out of his ass.

    3. I know it’s very, um, “but other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?” but, like, other than the very last thing AAAAAAAAH … what did he do?

      1. He faked His twin brother dying, so he’d never have to switch with him again. Well I guess that’s one way to avoid comprimising. So let’s see how long before he gets wasted, laid, and if he even acknowledges Byron’s there for the ride the whole time.

        1. Umm… yeah. There’s “I get to have control” and then there’s “I’m gonna break ALLL the rules”
          Not sure WB is going that far.
          (Rather hope that Tristan is, however, it makes more sense with his hogwild personality)

      1. I’m just severely concerned she’s the only competent PRT or PRT-affiliated person that doesn’t have powers in the entire setting.

  6. Well Furcate is really cool in many ways. The bringing in alternate versions thing is neat. I do have to wonder what’s up with the numbers thing exactly; the totals go 11, 13, 14 with 14 staying despite not being the closest visual match to the initiator. And there’s significance to the positioning, and recurrant twos are bad. And Byron can pry as long as he doesn’t bring Moonsong.

    My money is on it being a three-factor quality of life rating and factor two is related to happiness with treatment by teammates.

      1. If it’s just a pseudorandomizer there’d be no significance attached to using two in the second position. The numbers must have some inherent meaning if that’s concerning their friends.

    1. Two?
      Byron tapped his head.
      Mental. Emotional. He’d keep an eye out for Kay, some shitty candy and a hug ready if Kay seemed low.

      I’d say physical health, mental health, and. . . well, I reckon she’s trying to transition by picking duplicates with a body nearer what she wants. And will trade off heavily to get there.

  7. I used to like Tristan as a character, but at the moment I think he is the most vile and despicable character wb has ever written. And no, I dont think thats hyperbole. Unless its reveled he went through some pretty major character development since GM, I actually wouldn’t mind him being killed off as long as Byron somehow survived. What he’s doing to Byron is literally my worst nightmare. Just… fuck him.

    Anyway, im loving this story arc wb, keep it up!

    1. Seconded. Even as a twin myself, with downs, and many, many more ups.

      Gotta say, I have to agree with Moonsong’s assessment. Tristan straight up needs to die. I don’t really care what kind of redemptive arc he has, or what kind of rubbish some readers here have that allows them to deliberately and falsely interpret all his atrocities in the best light because they buy into his manipulations.

      More so than anyone, he represents a severe danger to others, including his Breakthrough teammates.

    2. “I think he is the most vile and despicable character wb has ever written.”

      Really? With Jack Slash, the Merchants, and Conquest (or whatever his name was) on the list of options?

      He is pretty high up there, though, I’ll give you that.

  8. Tristan. My boi. Twins can suck. You have been denied happiness for longer than most people could conceivably survive. The fundamental mismatch of your idea of fun and your brother’s idea of fun has created a hellscape for you.

    As a twin, I can tell you that this is way too fucking far.

  9. I know that keeping an impartial view of their situation is really rough and that Bryon is not perfect and that Tristan is also really struggling.

    That being said, the forethought, calculation and outright manipulation that Tristan shows here kills 98% of the sympathy I felt for him. He took a direct hit in the midst of a near life and death fight with a dangerous villain and then actively manipulated the situation to his social advantage. I’m so fucking heated right now……

    Perhaps a re-read in a few days will let me be a little more impartial but right now, seriously, Fuck Tristan.

    1. Just to add to the manipulation levels, don’t forget to add that he doesn’t Normally like switching… but ENCOURAGED Byron to switch back and forward directly before the battle, and then let Paris get away afterwards. Not sure why he did that- I mean why not kill him and blame it on Sibling death based rage- people would probably buy that MORE.

      1. What makes it worse is they way Byron felt it was the one thing they could do and get along at, and after he was feeling that if Tristan had just trusted him during the first fight they could have caught Paris… Wow Tristan just. Did. Not. Give. A. Fuck. About. His. Brothers. Feelings.

      2. I wonder if Tristan was afraid that trey’d catch Paris alive and that he’d contradict Tristan’s story about Byron taking a fatal wound. He needs to find a way to murder Paris (or hire someone to do it) without the risk that he’s captured alive.

      3. Tristan had to let Paris go – he spends the whole interlude building up how much he wants to be the one to bring Paris down, so it strengthens his lie at the end. Only something as huge and dire as Byron dying would interfere with his vengeance, right?

  10. How is it that Furcate gets better and better every time she shows up? It’s honestly amazing.

    Also, I’m guessing her rating system is Physical Condition, Emotional Condition, and Gender Dysphoria Condition, or something along those lines.

    I really hope Moon was lying about Furcate being dead 🙁 they deserve to be happy…

      1. “Happy? In a Wildbow story?”

        There are plenty of people happy n Wildbow’s worlds… he just doesn’t write about them.

  11. Tristan’s power appears to reflect an obstinate attitude and an unwillingness to change while Byron started out wanting to suffocate Tristan (gas) and now we see him hate Tristan and treat him coldly (ice). Remember that we still need to see Tristan’s rocks become more fragile (he becomes unsure of his actions) and Byron’s power turn to water (he’s more willing to accept his bro’s flow).

    Still, I’m not looking forward to seeing what was happening before the mind control that was making Tristan more powerful than Byron. I heavily suspect after reading this that it wasn’t just Tristan getting more time than normal.

    1. Possibly Tristan being the one who interacts with other Parahumans more? Byron and Tristan are time-sharing about 50-50 but to our knowledge Byron isn’t interacting with Parahumans nearly as frequently as Tristan. During their time with Reach they’d both spend all their time around Parahumans. If the Shard’s underlying purpose is mediating power transfer within Scion or between Scion and Eden, it might have the Eidolon thing going to a limited extent and focus its power in the twin who lets it contact other Shards more.

      It’s definitely not the only thing that could cause it, but it is the thing that’s increased the most on the Tristan side over the course of the story

    2. From what I’m gathering, Tristan’s power also manifests itself in straight line, like his usual line of thinking of what is right and what is wrong. Byron’s is circles, like how he usually dances around the subject.

      But, as far as I can tell, this Tristan is not the same as post Golden Morning Tristan. For one thing, he makes a deal with Barcode and basically restricts himself from ever pulling something like that again. In his own weird way, Tristan is trying to desperately make amends. This is also shown when Tristan immediately goes with Master-Stranger protocols, putting his trust in Byron’s hands again that maybe he is mastered. Also, remember, in the very beginning, Tristan says something along the lines of “Byron said he’s sitting out this therapy session as well.” This is possibly Byron’s way of making sure Tristan gets all the help they need. It might have been Golden Morning after everything went wrong that they finally sat down and said “We were both acting incredibly crummy.” I mean, Byron is not looking for compromises, just straight wins. Same for Tristan.

      What I’m seeing is the set up for one hell of a redemption arc.

      1. Well, to be fair to Byron with the compromise/win thing, he’s doing the best he can. If he leaves anything without clear rules and punishments, Tristan’s going to completely ignore it and do whatever he wants, Byron be damned. He can’t even talk to Tristan about it, because Tristan just ignores him.

        Byron could also be asking for a lot harsher rules than “Don’t have sex when I’m forced to watch and feel all of it,” and, “Don’t get blackout drunk in random unfamiliar places where anything could happen to us.”

        Considering that Victoria mentions that note that Capricorn left in their HQ with Tristan and Byron going back and forth, they definitely get better at communicating at the very least.

  12. Uh oh. Usually Breakers have their power start to go wonky if they start refusing to change forms, right? I’m guessing that Tristan is about to run headfirst into his version of that.

  13. Tristan, you son of a bitch. This is unforgivable. I can totally see where Moonsong’s diagnosis of sociopathy came from. I honestly can’t imagine how he and Byron got to the point of uneasy truce they’re in at the story’s start. Though I guess it’s not like they have much of a choice, they’re stuck with each other one way or another, no matter how much one of them deserves to be in jail.
    I do remember speculating over whether he would try this kind of stunt at some point, it seems like an obvious thing to do.

    Also, I don’t really get what Furcate’s deal is, they’re playing rock-paper-scissors to determine which copy gets to keep existing? Kind of hardcore. What’s the significance of the “two” though?

    1. Furcate’s deal is that each copy of her self-reports her condition to the others- the first number is how she’s doing physically, the second is emotionally, and the third is… well, “Girl”- how feminine she feels. Like a lot of trans people, she’s likely suffering a lot of dysphoria, and that third number helps her to cope by continuing to exist as the more feminine versions of herself.

      1. Sidenote, upon rereading Glow-worm 0.2 Moonsong refers to Furcate as ‘them’ in her initial eulogy post. We’re pretty sure they’re MtF, right? cause then she starts referring to them with male pronouns while describing their death.

        [A18 12:16:39] Moonsong: I didn’t like furcate. I did love and respect him as a teammate.
        [A18 12:16:51] Moonsong: I damn well held him at the end. For a long time. I talked to him the entire time.

        Jesus, Moon. idk if there’s something else Furcate did that made her all porcupiny, but that’s just shitty.

        1. Or, you know, it’s perfectly possible to be someone’s friend, to be the best friend you can be, and not buy into the whole trans-thing and thus end up being bigoted.

          Moonsong could still have been a friend to Furcate without respecting the pronouns, just one of those bigoted friends that hurts despite trying not to (to their limited capacity of ‘trying not to’).

          We haven’t exactly gotten a Moonsong POV. We don’t know how well she may or may not have actually understood or believed.

          1. @evileeyore As a trans person, I can definitely tell you- someone who is a bigot towards me is never, ever, going to be my friend. They can think they care about me, but they don’t. That’s like saying a white supremacist might try really hard to be friends with a black person, even though they’re a “lesser race.” That black person doesn’t have a friend, they have a ticking time bomb that feels entitled to their company.

          2. @emmavoid
            As someone who has said stupid, unkind, hurtful things to friends because I didn’t have a clue how to deal with or understand what they were going through*; but was still a good enough friend to give them a home when they needed one and stick up for them in violent, brutal fights, I can definitely tell you: You do not have a clue what you are talking about.

            Don’t alienate people just because they are dumb. They could eventually ‘grow up’ to be the best thing you’ve got going for you. Or not. Like, people aren’t always capable of getting over their issues or ignorance.

            * People grow. While I’ll never get what it’s like to be gay or transsexual, I’ve certainly come a long way in understanding from where I was 30 years ago. Yet, even 30 years ago when I was bit homophobic (and had no understanding about trans at all, I was f-ing clueless) I still stood up for my friends regardless of their orientation. I just also said stupid, ignorant, hurtful shit sometimes. Cause sometimes (who am I kidding, most times) I was a clueless, stupid asshole.

          3. Meh. Whether you agree with the trans/gender spectrum ideas or not, it’s simply rude and inconsiderate to not just use the god damned pronouns that someone asks you to.

            If you’re actually their friend, you’d respect their wishes, whether you agreed with them or not. End of story.

          4. If you’re actually their friend, you’d respect their wishes, whether you agreed with them or not. End of story.

            So if my friend wishes to commit suicide or abuse hard drugs, should I respect those wishes? Or should I consider the possibility that they’re suffering from an illness causing them to behave in a self destructive manner, and they need help, not an enabler?

            Examine the POV of an ignorant but non-hateful transphobe, whose friend is clearly male but has a mental illness causing them to believe they should be female to the point that they’re willing to have themselves irrevocably mutilated into a crude facsimile of femininity (or vice versa, as the case may be). From that POV, playing along with the “delusion” is being an enabler. If they don’t research it, a person could reasonably conclude that the best thing to do for their friend is to gently but firmly insist on the “correct” (read: assigned) pronouns to help anchor them, rather than doing things that they imagine would increase the odds of their friend drifting further and further off the rails until they lock themselves in the bathroom and carve off their dangly bits with a steak knife. It’s not about manners; it’s about trying not to exacerbate a bad situation, even if that means voicing some “hard truths” their friend doesn’t want to hear.

            You could argue that if they really cared, they’d research it, manage to sort the factual information from all the bullshit bias-confirming nonsense that’s out there, and realize that they should respect pronouns. Personally, I think this is an unrealistic expectation. I could make very similar statements about how anybody who isn’t an evil pile of shit would take at least a cursory look at their own religion to make sure that they aren’t worshiping a god who once commanded his people to take 32,000 girls as sex slaves after slaughtering everybody else they’ve ever known. Seems like a reasonable expectation, right? Yet there are a lot of obviously non-evil Christians in the world, despite things being laid out quite clearly in Numbers 31. People are not reasonable.

            I’m not saying you have to be friends with or even respect somebody who disregards pronouns; that is your prerogative. Nor am I saying that all of the people who do this have good intentions. What I am saying is that to brand them all categorically is an act of prejudice in itself. Some are plain old assholes. Some are well-meaning assholes. And some are just misguided, genuinely struggling to make sense of something they find fundamentally alien. You can choose whether to bother interacting with them, but you cannot choose what lies within their hearts. That belongs to them, just as your gender belongs to you.

          5. While this is true I definitely think that Moonsong is…fairly unlikely to be anywhere on the spectrum of “trying to understand Furcate.” Her relationship with them is more coworkers, she specifically says she was not friends with them in her eulogy back in Glow-worm. Now, I agree that it’s possible to care about someone while being an asshole to them unintentionally or otherwise, and Moonsong probably cared about Furcate to some degree (even if you were just coworkers with someone, them dying can hit you pretty hard), but I get the impression that Furcate at least felt she hurt more than helped when they interacted.

      2. Ah – this could explain the inconsistent use of “she” and “they”. There is a threshold on the third parameter at which the pronoun switches. Wildbow probably has a chart keeping track of where Furcate’s three parameters are every time she/they is in the narrative.

  14. Wow, just when we were thinking Tristan wasn’t a total douche, yes Tristan goes and is a total Douche.

    No wonder Moonsong insists on making sure Byron is okay whenever she sees him. Betting one of the team mates started figuring it out and that’s why he tried putting a hit out on them.

  15. Wait, if one of the twins die, the other survives? This is information they probably have based on other case 70s, and if they had it they would already have tried to murder each other, no? Byron was already halfway there before they triggered, and given the way he describes his cape life he would have been pushed the rest of the way.

    1. I don’t think Byron really has it in him to commit murder. Voluntary manslaughter, sure, but not murder. Tristran apparently does, but as we see in this chapter, actual violence is unnecessary. Either brother can just choose not to change, and the other won’t be able to do shit.

      1. Well, up until things get *really* bad. I think the aftermath of their trigger event included an involuntary switch, at least.

        1. I think it was more accident than involuntary. For powers that can be controlled, shards usually give their hosts certain reflexes and instincts concerning its use. The cape can override that if they focus, but first they have to be aware that the reflex even exists. Tristan wasn’t, so he didn’t even try. He was freaked out by his main power, fell back on reflex, and swapped for Byron.

          Given that Tristan is now aware of his powers and more than a little stubborn, I don’t see him making that mistake again. Excruciating pain would do it, but that’s not so much an involuntary action as an act of desperation.

    2. I can think of ways that either of the twins could murder the other one, but not in a way that wouldn’t end up with the murderer either dead with his brother or worse than dead. Remember that wounds don’t seem to carry over through switches and the switch is entirely at the discretion of the controlling twin. Given that, the only ways that I’ve managed to come up with for one of the twins to kill the other are:

      1) Subcontract the job out. Someone could simply off the other twin. However, it would be a real accomplishment for one of them to set that up without the other one knowing about it.

      2) Set up some sort of deadly situation and switch to the other twin as the attack is about to hit. Things like step in from of a speeding car and switch.

      The problem with anything like this, is: where does it leave the murdering twin? You’ve killed your brother. Congrats. What happens once the guy in control of the switches is a corpse? Do you die when your twin dies? Do you suffer the even worse fate of sitting forever in a nowhere place inhabiting a decaying corpse for the rest of time? The death of your counterpart might sever the connection between the two of you, but it’s a bad way to bet. And you can’t bet on your murder victim cooperating and switching as they die to make matters better for you.

  16. wow. just- wowww Tristan. reading 9.x, I ended up rooting for By at first cause I could relate to him and it was his pov. then giving it a second look put me more on the middle, since By was being really unfair on his assumptions on what Tristan was thinking and his motives (which was carried over a lot in this chapter). seeing Tris’s pov it’s clear that he’s doing the same towards By, but I understood him more now- but man, pulling THAT was a real fucked up move.

  17. *He had to move his head to see Furcate’s mask. “Two huh? I don’t want to pry, but-”

    “You can pry,” Furcate said. They looked back. “So long as it’s you, and not you and Moonsong together.”

    “Moonsong has your back, Furcate,” Coiffure said.

    “She cares about you,” Byron added.

    Furcate shrugged.

    “You had a two or close to two in the second position the last couple of times.”*

    This was completely incomprehensible to me until I read the comments. And I shouldn’t have to read the comments to understand what is going on. The odd character bit, making reference to stuff we don’t see, fine, but this was too big for something that is not obvious or explained.

    1. It’s a fine way to give yourself material to flesh out in a natural fashion.
      Discussions about sensitive topics end up either initially cryptic or a really awkward as-you-already-know sequences. I’ll take the realistic chat over the alternative – there’s always time to expand those numbers’ significance later, during a Furcate-PoV interlude for example.
      That way, even without the comments everything will eventually make sense, and readers who got it early can feel good for guessing correctly.

      1. Yes and no. The core question when writing, at least in my experience, is to ask “what does this add to the story/reader’s experience?”. Does it impart important plot information? Does it help situate the reader and understand the broader setting? Does it inform the reader about the characters in some significant way?

        Now, you could make the argument that this section gave the reader information about Byron/Tristan or Furcate’s personalities, relationships or powers. And that’s a valid argument. But that’s fairly obscured if it doesn’t communicate the information to the reader. All I got from the exchange, in conjunction with Tristan’s observations, was that Byron was skewed in his perceptions in a certain way (being more forgiving/blind to Moonsong’s effects on Furcate than Tristan). Which is a fine thing to communicate, but it was hampered by a large dose of “what in the name of the unholy avocado cheeseburger are they talking about? Two what? Injuries?”

        And yes, “as you know” sections are horrendous. But the advantage of this kind of narrator viewpoint is that it can include things like:

        “This was a how Furcate would decide which of their versions would stay, becoming the “main” Furcate. The different numbers indicated important factors, such as physical health, comfort in their body, and such forth.”

        It’s communicating stuff that Byron/Tristan would know, clarifies things for the reader, and in a post-action section like that was, where Byron/Tristan was basically sitting and watching the others, doesn’t significantly break flow.

        1. I disagree. The only confusing part was the initial “Two huh?” It’s ambiguous enough that it took me a few seconds to make the connection, so it did pull me out of the story for a moment. Changing it to “A two, huh?” would fix that right up, making it clear they’re talking about the number two, not two things. From there it’s really obvious that they’re referring to the numbers Furcate just used, and then the rest falls into place as the discussion continues. That yields a much more engaging result than spelling it all out does.

    2. I disagree. It’s not like he shoved a bunch of action in between the Furcates’ exchange and this follow up. It WAS left unexplained but quite a few powers are left unexplained and only fully comprehended after they are seen a few times in action. Like Error. Like Leet. Hell, Noelle was a looming what the hell does she do for a massive chunk of Worm. Sleeper still is an unknown. Besides, if everything was spelled out in plain text everytime, these stories would suck. The great thing about Worm and Ward, about any great story, are the details that only become apparent on rereading. The details you missed the first time that help solidify the story when you catch them on a reread.

    3. I shouldn’t have to read the comments to understand what is going on.

      If you read all of Worm and this far in Ward, and this is the first time a particular detail has escaped your immediate understanding, you must be some kind of genius. However, geniuses are rare, so it seems more likely that you’re just like the rest of us and have missed lots of details. Lots of readers like ambiguity and figuring out clues…

      1. Lots of readers do, and that’s good for them, obviously. But while with Worm I didn’t always understand what was going on immediately, it was usually explained in relatively short order. Also, I generally had an easier time following what was happening, at least insofar as the important details. This time I’m finding it a lot less clear overall. I don’t know if there’s a difference in the writing, or if my brain has for some reason become less good at pulling this information out, but it’s a rare chapter now that doesn’t have some seemingly important point being really, really unclear.

        Like with Goddess’s Mastering of the group. I was honestly baffled what had happened – it was as if she’d said something important? What? Her last statement wasn’t that weighty, and frankly she hadn’t seemingly done a great job of convincing anyone of anything so far. Granted, what had happened was made clear at the beginning of the next chapter, and I could puzzle it out with some work, but when there’s a lot of thinking and interpretation between “THIS IS A BIG EVENT” and actually understanding what the event was, it often (though not always) lessens the impact. Yes, sometimes a detail can be put in, and the *meaning* which comes after the interpretation can be really good (“Oh, so that happ-OH MY GOD WELD WAS CTHULU ALL ALONG”), but the impression I’m getting from the writing now is that what is happening is supposed to be clear, but it’s just… not. Or more recently when Amy tried to touch Victoria, I really had to piece things together (“What? Why is Victoria punching the ground?”) because Amy hadn’t been even mentioned in a few paragraphs and it makes no goddamn sense for her to touch Victoria, and even if she did why would Victoria punch the ground? That’s a really strange move to make, even if you’re repulsed by the person touching you. Seriously, try it: someone is touching your arm from the back or side that you don’t want, what are you going to do? Push them away, pull back, but you sure as hell aren’t going to punch the ground. So the moment had no emotional impact beyond creating confusion and frustration.

        I don’t mind puzzles, I don’t mind things not always being spelt out, but things are really unclear this time around.

    4. Fuck off brainlet. You and your ilk are why Bayformers has 6 movies and all blockbusters contain at least 15 minutes of expositional dialogue throughout. It’s going to be explained.

      1. It’s not the big mysteries that are bothering me. They’ll be answered in time, or they won’t, whatever. No, my problem is much more basic: I don’t know what is going on. Like, physically, what is happening.

        Like this part from 9.8:

        “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.”

        Completely baffled. The group is going to the fire escape, someone reached for Victoria’s shoulder, Victoria (or someone else?) punches the ground, Amy is scared. This doesn’t communicate “Victoria having a strong emotional reaction”, this communicates “wait, what? Were they attacked, maybe by a team aware they’re working with Goddess? Is Victoria having some kind of reaction to the Mastering?” It isn’t helped by Victoria then being very still and staring at Amy, which… doesn’t naturally flow from punching the ground. Did Amy punch the ground, maybe out of frustration, maybe to show off some new abilities in an attempt to impress Victoria? Punching is an uncontrolled, emotional outburst – not usually followed by controlled, nonverbal dominant behaviour like staring someone down.

        1. I think you’re misrepresenting “you don’t know what’s going on” with “you’re missing a larger part of the context with just that one segment”. Also another part of writing is show, don’t tell. The interpretations and clues that we receive throughout the writing helps us formulate the scene for ourselves without feeling hand-holdey. Other people get it, you’re the only one who doesn’t, and to quote your brazen sense of self-entitlement, “I shouldn’t have to read the comments to figure out what’s going on” really doesn’t help your case. The physical, emotional, and gender explanation works well.

          In regards to Victoria and Amy, you should know that Victoria has a uncompromising hatred for Amy, justifiably so, but with Goddess being there, she couldn’t just throw down on Amy. Destroying the floorboards and staring her down communicates her feelings more thoroughly than words ever could, because actions speak better than words.

        2. Dude, this isn’t complicated. Victoria sees a hand coming toward her. We’re confused about who the hand belongs to because she is confused about who the hand belongs to. Then she realizes the hand is wearing Amy’s tattoo, so she attacks by taking flight and lashing out at a downward angle with her force field (i.e. the Wretch). She specifically says that she “swung to strike her,” so she was aiming at Amy, not the floor. She hits the floor because Amy dodges and the Wretch has a long reach.

          The only confusing part is if you forget about Amy’s tattoos covering her hands, like I did. It doesn’t take long to figure it out from context, though, and Victoria eventually narrates about how both Amy’s tattoos and Tristan’s gauntlets symbolize the blood on their hands.

          By the way, when you want to quote chunks of the story, you can make it a lot more readable by putting it between blockquote tags instead of quotation marks, like so:

          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.

          That ends up looking like this:

          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.

          (Yes, it would be nice if the comment system actually documented this.)

          1. Dammit. I though I could wrap the blockquote tags in pre tags to avoid all that “but without the spaces” rigamarole, but the comment system was coded by an idiot.

            Blockquote tags work like this, but without spaces around the brackets:

            Text you want to quote goes in here.

          2. Derp. Take three:

            Blockquote tags work like this, but use angle brackets instead of square brackets:
            [blockquote]Text you want to quote goes in here.[/blockquote]

          3. They work like what?

            Did you mean something like this:
            [quoooote] quoted stuffs [/quoooote]

            Just spelled correctly?

          4. Yeah, okay…

            Excellent. Now my takeover of the comment section can move forw… nothing to see here. Move along.

  18. Wow, Tristan is just awful. Like beyond awful… like Shadowstalker awful.

    I get that we want to explore his life and such… but I really don’t. I don’t find Byron’s or Tristan’s powers that compelling.

    Also, I know this is happening in the cops and robbers era…. but it’s kind of ridiculous that no one gets really hurt.

    This guy throws explosive needles… This other guy jets out super heated steam…. This other guy drops rocks on people… This other lady shoots out monomolecular wires that tear things up.

    But everyone choreographs and pulls their punches/explosions/death beams/super heated steam so that no one gets anything worse than a scrape.

    The fight scenes in Ward read like this…. “These 5 people went in and had a grenade fight with these other 5 people. Everyone survived. In fact they have grenade fights, nerve gas fights, laser fights, the whole shebang, at least once a week, but the worst injury is a broken arm.”

    Apparently, everyone is using the downy soft grenade version of their powers where people only threw them just close enough to push but not to hurt. 17 year olds all have perfect coordination. We know that Victoria hurt a lot of people badly by accident but her mistakes could be covered by Panacea. None of these other teams have healers. People should be getting very seriously injured on the regular.

    1. That has always weirded me out. Always. The idea of ‘safe’ cape fights is insane, and I have defaulted to assuming that anyone with a shard must have an automatic unstated Brute 1 ranking, because sweet Jesus.

      Like, remember Contessa and the Numbers Man? The people with the top tier combat Thinker ratings? They win fights by making it clear that you can stand down or die. By the mid chapters of Worm, Taylor was the same way. I just find it really weird that we’re seeing teenagers having the equivalent of friendly lightsaber fights in parking lots, and everyone’s just ok with it.

      In other words: no-one in this entire setting has been sane since the 1980’s.

      Also, Tristan is a complete and total piece of shit, and the nice thing about his logic is that followed to its end, he doesn’t get to complain if someone shuts him down, even fatally. If someone decides to kill Tristan and succeeds in doing so, well, I guess they just /wanted it more/, huh?

      1. The Manton Effect means a lot of powers aren’t as hyper-lethal as they look because they literally cannot directly hurt living things. Then there’s the Unwritten Rules demanding people keep things controlled on pain of Birdcage or Contessa visit, because Cauldron wants capes alive.

        When there’s a kill order in effect or it’s Endbringer time, everyone cuts loose and you get things like Sundancer switching from very reluctantly floating an attack in someone’s general direction to flinging a sun every ten seconds at high speed directly into Leviathan. Cauldron and the PRT had a standing policy of keeping Endbringer fight footage off TV and the internet to reduce public awareness of how insanely dangerous friendly neighborhood capes actually were.

  19. Having calmed down a bit, I feel the need to state that “Current” Tristan actually seems to have come really far from this sociopathic version. I’m willing to believe that Tristan has learned a lot in the interim from here and current events, but I’d *Very* much appreciate a current POV for Byron/Tristan in the aftermath of the Goddess fuckery.

  20. I mean… i kand of expected it to happen at some point, it only made sense with Tristain childish actions of recently that he would try to win. But im still kinda surprised he actuslly did it with that face. Like, as if nothing happened.

  21. I don’t know if WB is aware of this, but trans girls get very often associated with catgirls, at least around the circles I participate in. I find Furcate’s costumes to be endlessly amusing because of this. And hey, fox girls represent! 😮 But they end up dead so boo :<

    One of the smallest and most insidious aspects of Tristan's narrative, was that he always took Byron's body as being "ours", whereas Byron always respected that Tristan's body was "his". (At least, I think so. This was a long chapter and I might be misremembering parts of it).

    And, yeah. Fuck Tristan. I am not sure if he can be redeemed at all in my eyes, neither as a character or as a person. I get that he has made progress since these events, but fucking hells he is despicable.

      1. As a fellow trans girl, I too appreciate it, and have made sure to mention it to him in the Discord server <3 (plus, I still think Furcate might not really be dead- why trust the transphobe who reported her death?)

  22. So, there have been references in the comments to what shard people have.
    Here someone speaks of Capricorn having the division of power shard, elsewhere someone else mentioned swansong have the rocket engine shard…

    Has WB listed off these at some point or are these fannons that have taken root?

    1. Not sure about Capricorn, but Swansong’s rocket engine shard is, I think, fanon based on her trigger memory of watching a planet blow up and seeing a massive space-whale riding the blast to leave the system.

      1. It’s hardly fanon when it’s written right there in canon. From Eclipse’s x.1:

        A sphere, cracked like an egg and cracking further, all in slow motion, with energy glowing through the cracks. Her awareness loomed above it all.

        As slow as it had been, the moment she realized it was a planet, time caught up and everything moved in fast motion. The planet became dust and debris and there was nothing left behind.

        She closed her eyes until they fit inside her eye sockets again. All went away, except for- for that energy that she’d seen and felt.

        Ashley could almost hold it in her hands.

        Keyword ‘almost’.

        1. I am well aware of what she saw when she triggered, and that certainly seems like her power- or a similar one- on a far larger scale, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily true that people have a trigger vision directly relating to their power. I think she probably has rocket-engine shard, but I don’t think it’s a definite. So, yeah. I’d say it’s fanon, but likely canon fanon.

  23. Damsel at the balcony. both wore the prison-provided coveralls
    -Both

    “She’s stuck where she is,” Damsel said, referring to herself in the third person. She didn’t look like she could sit still, her claws moving, metal scraping metal.
    “I could come. We’re on the same side,” Damsel made it sound like she was being intentionally insincere.
    -Speaking twice?

    Goddess, Lookout and Natalie are after the assistant Warden and the Wardens Teacher co-opted.
    We de-fanged the Warden and deputy Warden, the assistant Warden is on our side.
    -Should Assistant and Deputy be capped?

    Metal armor, pyrokinesis, enhanced senses, physiology, quickness, added parts.
    -Should Vicky know about the enhanced senses? She never fought Lung after Taylor did, and enhanced senses wasn’t in the wiki that Taylor researched him on.

    Until reinforcements.
    -reinforcement.

    1. You’ve actually posted this a chapter early, as that’s all next chapter.

      But I’ll say this about Vicky and the enhanced senses: We’ve never seen them in the same scene before. They didn’t interact directly in Worm, as far as I recall. However, Vicky is from a family team in the same city in which Lung led the most successful gang. Her family has almost certainly fought him, and may have found out about the enhanced senses that way. Alternately, Vicky’s a cape geek with a hero background. She’s got access to information that Skitter didn’t. Also, maybe Skitter edited the wiki after she fought him at some point.

  24. Another excellent interlude chapter Waitdoh, reminding me and others why we all initially hated Tristan in the first interlude. This just further confirms our feelings. Makes me wonder how Bryon managed with him after this event, cause after the ending…it’s atrocious.

  25. I am honestly surprised Byron hasn’t committed suicide. Tristan has been likeable through this entire series until this shit. Also Paris targets the lgbt community?

    1. I don’t think there’s any particular indication Paris actively targets LGBT people; all we know is he’s hit two. He is also apparently at least partially a contract hitman, so his targets may have been picked by employers rather than him.

      1. Out of his four known victims, two are gay (Reconciliation and Long John) and one is trans (Furcate). I don’t think we know anything about Whipping Girl, but if he’s picking victims randomly or on some criterion that doesn’t correlate strongly with gender identity/sexual orientation, that would be a big coincidence.

        1. Ah, I’d missed Reconciliation; I tend to lose track of names relatively easily. At three of the four for certain it’s not likely a coincidence. Since he’s apparently a hitman, it’s probably his clients doing the targeting.

          1. He is a hitman. He’s a hitman who was noted to take out contracts in other cities; when he’s in this one, he’s relaxing and not on the job. The people he targets here are people he’s targeting for the thrill, not the money.

            Or such is my understanding, at least.

          2. I don’t think the team knows or cares which hits he was or wasn’t paid for. But he seems generally a bit too careful and disciplined to be a thrill-killer who hunts targets near his primary base of operations, so I’m inclined to suspect he’s been contracted by the Fallen or similar.

            Could be wrong, but in a fight he’s clever and careful and that doesn’t fit with risking his safehouse with random unpaid violence, especially not when he’s had at least one victim in another state so clearly he does travel.

  26. I can’t help but note that most of the comments refer to Tristan as a sociopath, but given that he tends to seek stimulation more than validation and only cares about others liking him insofar as it’s useful to him, he’s more of a psychopath than a sociopath.

  27. On Furcate’s rating system for their divergent selves: I could figure out from the text that the middle number rated their mental health, and I guessed that one of the others was probably physical health, but despite knowing they were trans, I didn’t figure out that the remaining one was probably degree of gender dysphoria or progress toward transition or something along those lines until I read the comments. I’m still not sure why the commenters are so sure that the first number is physical health and the third is transition progress; to me, the text is equally consistent with them being the other way around.

    1. Wildbow clarified on chat, apparently.

      It’s getting that the two is mental that’s most important to follow the scene, so I don’t think it’s a problem if the others aren’t clear in the text.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *