Gleaming – 9.10

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A droplet of blood fell from Capricorn’s gauntlet.  Amid the patchwork of glare and deep shadow that illuminated the prison, this droplet fell while he jogged through the light.  I was hyperalert enough that it caught my eye, and it struck enough nerves to stay with me for far too long after the fact.

I was flying, which gave me some ability to twist around and rotate in the air.  I’d been glancing to one side, checking our flank, but in the aftermath of seeing that droplet, I found myself flying backward, looking back toward the group rather than out ahead of us.  It took Sveta meeting my eyes and a few simultaneous glances from the others to bring me back to reality.

Weird that she was talking to Rain like she was.  Did I need to worry?  I felt like Capricorn and I were more on the same page-

Worrisome given the blood and the flare of temper.  Me back at the hideout.  Him just now, with that Teachered Officer.

-But Rain and Sveta seemed a lot cooler about Goddess, and the protocols of proper caping were far less ingrained in them.

Tristan was talking to them about Goddess.  About trusting protocols.  The blind led the blind.

I wanted my own blind self to join in, but I didn’t trust myself to string coherent thoughts together.

Battle mode, Victoria.

Thinking about the ingrained things helped.

How many nights had the teenaged me gone out in costume?  White costume with the dress and the skintight shorts beneath for modesty, gloves, knee-high boots, short cape, my tiara with its spikes radiating out.  That was physical.  I’d stretch, check on any injuries from the night before, adjusting my costume to cover any hints that I wasn’t invulnerable, and then I’d be out the door, running first and then flying.  All of that was the physical, the external.

Internally, it was excitement, anticipation, reminding myself of all of Mom’s little tricks about how to present oneself when out in costume.  I would be thinking about the recent crime maps, the online listings of last known sightings by villains, and mom and dad’s rules for my costumed activities.

The lines blurred at times, but it was very much a role I wrapped around myself, past and present.  A mode.

It hadn’t been that long ago that hands tattooed in red, black, and gold reached out for me in a place I’d thought safe and mine.  I was shaken.  I remained shaken enough that a droplet of red threatened to bring me back to that wretched place where Sveta had been forced to grab me and stop me.

But routine left its- its scars, I supposed, even though I didn’t think of them as bad scars.  It wasn’t just the bad experiences that left their mark.  A route walked through the wilderness enough times became a dirt path, a scar through nature.  Cities were harder to alter, but a cape or team of capes making an area part of their regular routine changed that area.  A pair of gloves and knee-high boots could be washed and worn enough times that they came to fit perfectly.  Scars and marks, impressions.  Impressions had been the idea I’d been searching for, and I was glad to have it.

I had to be able to do this.  I had to find that worn path, that image that I could wear as comfortably as any pair of gloves.  I had to be able to settle into that mindset.

Any alternative to being functional was not okay.  Not for right this moment, with so many people counting on us.  Not for the long term, when it meant I might have nothing at all in the aftermath.

There were too many Welds, Crystals, Vistas and Major Malfunctions out there.  Too many Jaspers, Gilpatricks, Yamadas, Natalies, and Darnalls.

A droplet of red, blood red fingers.

I pushed the image out of my head.  There was a desperate edge to my thoughts as I forced myself back on track.  Into that well-trodden mindset.

The head office of the prison and many of the administration buildings were toward the south end of the complex, with the yard situated at the middle-south, minimizing travel time from any of the cell block apartments.  Those in the higher security cells to the north had to walk further, but I had to imagine they didn’t get yard time or they got less.  Either way, we had two options, only one of which was a good option.  The bad option was to head south, loop around the bottom, and make our way to the women’s half of the prison.  That route put us closer to the prison entrance, where Lung currently was.

We would have to deal with that, with him, but not now.  I was happy procrastinating on that particular encounter.

“Rain!” I heard the voice.  It was higher, but it was from the guy’s side of the prison.  “Crystalclear.”

The voice came from one of the apartment buildings near Rain’s.  I flew up for a better view, and saw the man at the window.  He was heavy, with the kind of double chin that hung over his collarbone.  He had wiry stubble, and there wasn’t much helping to distinguish the end of the facial hair and the start of body hair.  His hair was short and uneven, and it was greasy, which made the uneven spikes that much more noticeable.

Most notable was his mouth.  He looked like he had chewed on an ink packet.  His teeth were yellow-white, but the spaces between them, the lines around his mouth and his tongue were all black.

Coalbelcher.

“…and a villainess?  Heroine?”

“Heroine.”

He gave me an up-down look that made my skin crawl.  Still staring at me, he called down.  “How are you out, boys?  What’s this commotion about?  I’m offended you interrupted my motherfucking meal, and I’m more offended you’re running around with two legs.”

“Special dispensation, since we used to be heroes,” Rain said.  “Two masters are fighting over who gets to take over the prison, deactivate the ankle bombs and recruit everyone inside.”

“Yeah?  Are we hoping they win?”

“One of them, maybe,” Rain said.

“Neither of them,” Crystalclear said, loud enough to be heard from the second floor.  At a more regular volume, he said, “I think your judgment isn’t that good right now, Rain.”

“Neither,” I echoed Crystalclear, not sure I sounded like I believed it.

Crystalclear moved his arm, pointing, and Coalbelcher leaned over the railing to see him better.  While the prison boss wasn’t looking, I gave Cyrstalclear a slight nod.

The others hurried on their way.  I saw Coalbelcher practically twitch, seeing them leave without a goodbye.  He was the boss of the men’s side, and he’d been ignored.

I could afford to stay.  I had to think about the future, consider options.  If we pissed this guy off, we could win today and see Rain suffer for it tomorrow.  “They have to run.  Time’s critical, and the guards are coming.  We don’t know which of them we can trust.”

“Hm.  I could be useful there.  What do ya think about getting me some of that special dispensation?” Coalbelcher asked.  He licked his fingers, then smudged the black spit around one eye.  It looked more like grainy black paint than anything.

“I have trouble believing you were a hero,” I said.

His fingers dragged slowly down one cheek, smearing black there.  Between the black eye socket and the cheek, it was the initial steps toward a skull face.

“A lot of trouble,” I said.  “If you try to leave, they’ll take your leg.  Sorry.”

“You sure?  I said I can be useful, and I see fires over there,” he said.  He pointed in the direction of the prison entrance.  There was a diffuse orange glow.  “I love fire.  Maybe I save lives if that gets out of control.”

With guys like this, it was all about respect.  It was hard, though, when nothing about his appearance merited it, and his vaguely lecherous approach shattered what little I was able to sum up.  Still… “Our old teammate talked you up.  He said you were the guy in charge, and we could use some of that to keep the prisoners under control if things get hairy.  Would if I could, Coalbelcher.”

“Find a way, yeh?”

That kind of order felt vaguely like a threat.  I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I simply nodded, then flew after the others.

A part of me had hoped for reasonable from the guy.  I wasn’t sure if I’d made anything better, but I wasn’t sure I’d made it any worse either.  Rain and Crystalclear running without saying goodbye had put the guy in a worse mood, but I wasn’t sure anything short of being part of the action would have put him in a good mood.  I’d tried, I’d left a door open.

It would have to do.

Rain had used his blades to cut through the fence and the wall separating the two halves of the prison, and the group was through.  Halogen lights were on and being manually operated, and the lights roved across the prison complex.  I saw one start to move in the direction of the group and the hole in the wall,and I flew in that direction to intercept.  If they had rifles-

The light stopped moving, then turned in the direction of the front gate, panning over the empty yard, over a group of officers who were hunkered down by a building, and then casting a light on the distant scene where, presumably, Lung was engaged in a fight.

I flew closer, just to double check it wouldn’t spin around, and I saw Sveta perched on the fence by the light.  I stopped short when I saw the disjointed tentacles poised around her.

“It’s okay,” she said.  My eyes were adjusting to the gloom, but the adjustment to seeing her face was helped by the fact her face was as pale as it was.  I could see the black tendrils at her face and around her battle damage.  “These are courtesy of Rain.”

It was what he’d been talking to her about on the ground.

The ‘tentacles’ were arm segments, repeated over and over.  Black tendrils snaked through the connecting mesh, but didn’t snake out, which was the important part.

“Is it fragile?” I asked.

“No.  Maybe.”

“Are you okay with it?”

“I want to be useful.  I don’t have to be human-shaped.”

“You want to be human shaped.”

“Yeah.  I guess that’s something Sveta gets, but Tress will have to put it off if she wants to operate at her best,” she said.  She stood up straighter, moving the prosthetic tentacles in the weird, stilted way that I’d seen her walk when I’d first seen her at the group therapy session.  She braced herself against the platform, then moved the tentacle down to the catwalk at the searchlight tower’s edge.  She grabbed an officer and pulled him along the grating that was the catwalk floor, where the glow from the spotlight illuminated him.  He was as young as either Tress or I, black, wearing a uniform.  An earring glinted at his ear.  “Can you check his cuffs for me?”

I did.  One was loose.  I tightened it.

“You’re unhurt?” I asked the officer.

I could see his nostrils flare, his lips pressed into a line.  He glared up at me.

“Situation normal’s all fucked up.  We’re here to help, really.”

No response.

This wasn’t being a hero in a neighborhood, even a hostile neighborhood like Hollow Point or the worst areas of Brockton Bay.  We were invaders, people who didn’t belong.  Whether it was guard or prisoner, we had few people we could count as true allies.

I met Tress’ eyes.  She nodded.

We left the tower, heading in the direction the others had gone.  Capricorn was leading the way to Ashley’s cell, the projector compass in hand.

Not that it was necessary.  I’d been before.

As I flew closer, I could see the pair of Swansong and Damsel at the balcony.  both wore the prison-provided coveralls, but Swansong wore a white undershirt or camisole under hers, the front left open.  Damsel wore only a black sleeveless top, her coveralls tied at the waist.  Fitting those claws through the sleeves would be very difficult.  They gripped the railing, metal blades long enough for her to scratch her toes without bending over, a thin, ripped webwork of skin stretched over them.

It was only Swansong who hopped down from the balcony.  Her blast interrupted her descent, and interrupted many of the shouts and calls from the woman inmates at the other doorways and balconies.

Swansong was as elegant as her raw, crude detonations of darkness and warped space were violent.  At the same time, I could see the tension in Damsel as she looked down at us, claws gripping metal railing, her eyes wild.  She looked like she could barely resist jumping down as well.

Capricorn and I were the first at the scene, as Tress dropped down to Rain’s side, touching one of her new parts.

It was Tristan and Byron, Swansong with Damsel looking down, and then myself.  Our halves removed by one step, one way or another.

“Your… sister?” Capricorn asked.

“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.

I met Swansong’s eyes.

“She watched the meeting with Goddess,” Swansong said, as if that summed it up.  She tilted her head to one side.  “Where are Cryptid and Lookout?”

“Lookout is with Goddess,” I said.

Swansong’s stare was level.  Again, that curious stillness.

“Your little friend is in good hands,” Damsel commented from above.  She smiled.

Everything in her micro-expressions was different.  The degree to which she fractionally widened and narrowed her eyes in the course of a single sentence, the slight movements of her bladed hands, as if to create implications as she said ‘hands’, the intonations.  All of it was keyed in a way that suggested an implicit threat or imminent action, like she was coiled up and ready to… blast with her power or lash out.

This wasn’t the Ashley I’d come to know.  This was the Ashley I could imagine working with the Slaughterhouse Nine.

“Is she safe?” Swansong asked.

“She’s-” I started to answer.  “She’s with Goddess.”

Swansong nodded, “And Cryptid?”

“Cryptid left.  On an errand for Goddess with my sister.”

“He’s being more Cryptid-like than usual today,” Tristan observed.

“Of course he is,” Swansong said.  She glanced at me.  “Your sister?”

All around us, prisoners were noticing the scene.  Women’s voices were raised.  Pleading to be let out, threatening, commenting.  Less lewd than the guys’ side had been, but there was still lewdness.

My skin crawled at the thought of Amy.  My heart raced like I was only a step away from attacking Amy again, yet she wasn’t anywhere near here, and I wasn’t that angry in the moment.

“The less said the better,” I answered her, as diplomatically as I could.

“Then I won’t say anything.”

Rain and Tress caught up.

“Those are my arms,” Swansong said.

“What?” Tristan asked.

She pointed at Tress’s new addition.  The black wire mesh connected individual cylinders… pale shells that would have once been parts of Swansong’s arms.

“Uh, yeah,” Rain said.  “I wanted to do something more practical when we thought things were getting bad.  I made a few prototype versions of your arms.  With levers, switches, and wires inside, like the snapshots Lookout took of the inside of Tress’ suit.”

“Sneaky,” Damsel called out, smiling.

“There’s a limit to what I can do with your hands without leaving you worse off,” Rain sounded apologetic as he explained to Swansong.  “And I had a few days where my tinker power was working better.  Not that that is very tinkered up.  Half and half.”

“It’s fine,” Swansong said.  “If you’re going to use anyone’s arms as a model, you at least used tasteful ones.”

“I appreciate the thought,” Tress said. “And thank you, Swansong, for being okay with the use of your arms.”

“Your hands are okay?” he asked Swansong.  “They’re working fine?”

“They’re sufficient for tonight, thank you.  Let’s focus on Lookout and the prison, not me.”

“We have one more person to grab,” Crystalclear said.

Tristan held up the compass.

“I’ll get her,” Crystalclear said.  “You catch your teammate up.”

He wants to tell her that we’re Goddessed. 

That was fine.

Capricorn clapped his gauntlets together.  I didn’t miss the flash of dark red across the back of one gauntlet.  He spoke with authority and confidence, “Then let’s talk goals.  Goddess, Lookout and Natalie are after the assistant Warden and the Wardens Teacher co-opted.  Lung and Teacher’s soldiers are at the front and are presumably after Goddess.  Prisoners are staying put, but we’re in a weird place right now.”

“Weird how?” Rain asked.

“It’s about confidence and doubt,” I said.  “Prisoners could riot or test their ankle bombs if they get too agitated or overconfident, and that leads to either casualties or an unsalvageable situation.  They could betray us if they think this situation doesn’t work out for them, you never know with all the powers we have around us.  Officers don’t know who to trust, but they could start shooting people or people with the power could start detonating bombs if they panic.”

“That’s without getting into Teacher and Goddess,” Capricorn said.

“Or us,” Tress said.

“Or us,” he conceded.

I looked away, back toward where the fighting was worst.  The fires extended from the hole Goddess had put in the wall to a nearby administration building.

“We support Goddess first,” Swansong said.  “Get Lookout, get Natalie, get control of the situation.  All four of those things are tied into one another.”

“I don’t entirely disagree,” Capricorn said, “But Goddess is complicated.  Do you know what master-stranger protocols are?”

“No,” Swansong said.

“It sounds like the kind of thing the annoying Protectorate mooks would use,” Damsel threw out her remark from a distance, as if it was an extension of Swansong’s ‘no’.

“It is,” I said, my voice firm.  “But let’s settle for saying that the situation is complicated.  The nicest way I can think of framing it is that if we help her too blatantly, we hurt ourselves in the long run.”

“Why do we care?  Deal with tomorrow when it comes.  I know at least two of us are clever enough to come up with something,” Damsel remarked.

I wondered if we could or should just walk away.  If we weren’t waiting for Crystalclear to catch up with us again…

“Maybe we think of it as a question of reputation,” Swansong said.  “If we appear to be too subservient…”

“Mm,” Damsel made a sound.

“Mm,” Swansong echoed her.  She glanced at me and rolled her eyes slightly.

“I don’t really care about status,” Rain said.  “I want people to be okay, and… I want us to be okay too.  I’m here for a reason, and I don’t want that to get flipped upside-down or screwed up along the way.  I know that’s a crummy thing to prioritize when there are higher priorities, like people’s safety, Goddess, keeping the peace, and keeping Teacher from becoming the most powerful man on all the earths.”

“If he isn’t already,” Tress’s expression and tone were dark.

“It makes sense to go to Goddess,” Swansong said.

“It makes sense to split up,” Crystalclear said, as he rejoined us.  “We have other issues.”

He’d returned from the apartment with the other undercover member of Foresight.  The girl was short, her uniform not really fitting her, and she had improvised a mask of several pieces of paper and tape, several sheets forming a cone that encapsulated her face, with holes for the eyes that had pen scribbles surrounding each hole, darkening the perimeters.  Sheets of paper were connected at one corner each to form ears at the sides of her head.

“Ratcatcher, meet Breakthrough,” Crystalclear said.

“I’ve theen thome of them around,” she said.  “Thveta and I talked thome before I came.”

“Tell them what you told me.”

“A little friend of mine thayth that Teacher ith in the tunnelth beneath uth,” she said.  She pronounced Teacher like ‘tee-shirt’ with a silent t at the end, and little like ‘liddle’.

“What’s in the tunnels?” Rain asked.

“Networking,” she said.  She raised one leg, tapping the bomb.  “Control and everything that goeth out of the prithon.”

“He’s turning to his backup plans,” I said.  “We de-fanged the Warden and deputy Warden, the assistant Warden is on our side.  The person with the control of the portals and the bombs effectively has control of the prisoner population.”

There was a detonation near the front of the prison.  I saw the flame leap high.

Fuck,” Crystalclear swore.  “That fire is painful to look at with my senses being what they are.”

“Yeth.”

The fire.  Purple flame.

I could connect the dots, even if it was a little belated.  Multiple dots, now that I thought about it.  Multi-layered plans and contingencies.

We were fighting a mastermind after all.

“He paired Lung and the Pharmacist,” I voiced my thought aloud.

“Who and who?” Ratcatcher asked.

“Teacher picked a mercenary tag-team who want to level the prison just as much as Goddess does.  If we don’t want people to get hurt, then we’re going to need to step in.  Lung is… an old enemy.  Since half my life ago, about.”

“You know him?” Crystalclear asked.

“Yeah.  More or less.”

“You handle that then, if you’re comfortable.  I’ll go with Ratcatcher to the access tunnels.”

“We could use a thinker and a level head,” I said.

“I’m kind of under orders to be the level head for Ratcatcher, and I don’t want to go anywhere near that fire, in case I blow a mental fuse.  I don’t think this is really negotiable,” Crystalclear said.

“Ugh,” Ratcatcher said.

Ugh is right.  Crystalclear is just about the only person who isn’t Goddess influenced, who knows what’s going on.

“I can’t change your mind?” I asked.

“No,” Crystalclear said.  “No, this is the network.  It’s important.

It’s important.

I connected to what he was thinking.  The others, going by their faces, might not have.

The network.  Possibly with the means of calling for help.

“Alright,” I said.

“You know the way, Rat?” Crystalclear asked.

“I do,” Ratcatcher said.  “We’ll want more firepower.  My friendth reported a few powerth.”

“Then I’ll come,” Tress said.  “It’s- it has to be better than talking about master-stranger protocols and doubting myself or my teammates.”

“I’m still not sure I get those protocols,” Rain said.  “But I’ll do what the team needs.  Do you need wall-breaking power?  Get past any secure doors?”

“No,” Ratcatcher said.  “I can get through motht lockth quick.  Or my friendth can.”

As if to punctuate that last statement, a mouse poked its head up from her prison uniform collar, followed by a much larger rat.

“You talk to rodents?” Rain asked.

“No.  Not mush.  Only crathy people talk to rodenth.  But rodenth talk to me.  Very different.”

“Handy,” Rain said.

“Yes.  But we don’t need handy.  We need firepower,” Ratcatcher said.

Still?” Tristan asked.

“I’ll come,” Swansong said.  “If the rest of you think you’ll be okay?”

The rest of us.  Tristan, myself, and Rain.

“Why go?” Tristan asked.

“Because I trust myself more doing this than I do being near that.”

“Can you fight in tunnelth?” Ratcatcher asked.

Above, Damsel shook her head, as if it was already known.

“We’ll find out,” Swansong said, contradicting her ‘sister’.  “But I know I’m very good at fighting brutes like Lung.  Too good.  I don’t want to put myself in that situation again, not this soon.”

“I… can’t argue with that,” Tress said.

“Take my phone,” Capricorn told Crystalclear.  “We’ll stay in touch.”

Crystalclear nodded.

As a quartet, Ratcatcher, Crystalclear, Swansong, and Tress hurried for a spot at the midpoint between three buildings.  If there was an access hatch, I didn’t see it.  Women looking down from balconies hurled obscenities, complained about the delays for their dinner, and shouted to each other, asking what was going on with us being down here and the fires at the gate.

It left Capricorn, Rain, and I as the strike squad.  When we reunited with the others, we would have Goddess and Lookout.  If there was anyone at the other side of the portal, then we could sure use them too.

But Lung was a problem.

And- I moved as Tristan took a step forward.  My hand caught him right in the middle of the chest.  He stopped here he was, me in front of him, hand against his chest.

Lung was a problem, but so was Tristan.

My hand moved down to his gauntlet.  I grabbed it and lifted it.  Had we been on the other side of the portal, the gauntlet would have been cleaned by the freezing rain.  It wasn’t cleaned.

“I think we need Byron,” I said, moving his hand so the light highlighted where the blood was.  “We can’t have you acting like you did with that guard.”

“He had something going on mentally.  Wouldn’t stop,” Tristan said.  “It wasn’t as uncontrolled as it looked.  I was just trying to apply enough force to get him to stop.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“You told me to rein you in.  I’m reining.  We need Byron.”

Tristan was still for a long moment.

Too long a moment.  The fires were growing in the distance, and there was too much going on.

“No joking here, Tristan.  Change.”

“You had to ask like that.  Evoking the Tristan-Byron protocol?”

“Yeah?”

“If you ask, I’m switching,” he said.  “Just- there’s no guarantee he’s on board.”

“We’ll trust him,” I told Tristan.  “He recommended the protocols to me when he was clear and I wasn’t.  I have to believe he’ll abide by them now.”

He nodded, and then he passed me the compass.

Dissolving into a blur, he shifted to become Byron.  Lighter armor, in multiple senses of the word.  No blood marked his gauntlet.

“Okay?” I asked.  “We’re on the same page?”

“Master-stranger,” Byron answered.

We cut across the yard, with Rain using his power to slice through the fence.  It looked like posts were now being abandoned because of the chaos at the front gate.  Inmates were getting more agitated, and the guards weren’t at nearby towers or posts to tell them to shut it.  People were heading to where the fires were, to put them out or put the causes of the fire down.

“Fill us in on Lung, since it looks like he’s our biggest problem,” Byron said.

“Lung is a changer, with powers hooked into the change,” I said.

“Like Cryptid?” Rain asked.

“Different than Cryptid.  Lung changes to the same thing every time, slow progression, but a steady ramp-up the longer he’s in a fight.  Metal armor, pyrokinesis, enhanced senses, physiology, quickness, added parts.  He’s a warlord by temperament, but he was always missing something that let him take his gangs to the next level.”

“He has pyrokinesis?” Byron asked.

I nodded, content to let the scene that we were approaching serve as the more complete answer to Byron’s question.  Fires, purple and otherwise, spread out across ground that should have been exhausted of all fuel sources.  The heat was being turned up on the admin buildings and the entrance.

Teacher wasn’t the type to sic Lung on Goddess and expect a win.  He was the type to sic the combination of a fireproof monster who manipulated fire and a person who set powers on fire on Goddess and expect a win.

Lung was already partially changed as we sighted him.  He had enough scales that the officers who shot at him weren’t getting through, and he was big enough that the bullets that did make contact seemed to lack stopping power.  Each couple of gunshots was answered by Lung throwing out a rolling wave of flames.  The flames would travel a ways, hit one of the lingering purple flames on the ground, and then explode in size by three times.  Whole squadrons of officers were sent running.

No Pharmacist to be seen.  She was nearby, but it seemed to be the peeking-through-a-window nearby, not standing on the battlefield nearby.

No Blindside, no Kingdom Come.

Plenty of armed Teacher thralls.

Lung used his pyrokinesis, and purple flames swelled, billowing in his direction.  The flames would draw close, then the Pharmacist would extinguish the flames closest to the brute of a man and his underlings.

Interplay.

Byron began drawing out blue motes.  Rain created his silver scythes.

“Careful,” I murmured.

“Purple fire ignites powers,” Byron said.  “I remember.”

His water splashed down on one of the worse blazes at the admin building.  It had been the building where the Warden, his deputy and his assistant had all been set up.

It served to get Lung’s attention, pulling it away from Goddess and presumably Lookout.

“Dallon,” Lung growled the word.  Still capable of speech.  “Pests.  Too many of you remain.”

They were hard words to hear put out there so casually.  Words that made me think of Crystal’s family, of too many funerals in too short a span of time.

He moved one hand in an almost casual way, and the flames expanded, becoming a slow-motion, rolling detonation, with a sound like the thunder of a dozen lightning strikes.  A lick of purple flame caught it and ignited the pyrokinesis itself, the purple disappearing in the rolls of blinding oranges and reds.  Lung’s regular pyrokinesis manipulated those flames, in turn, expanding them.

No games, nothing held back.  Only a wall of flame that could have swamped many houses and conventional buildings, produced in mere seconds.  A ball passed between two people, growing with each toss, with us in the line of fire.

I saw it coming, braced myself, and activated the Wretch, positioning myself between the wall and my teammates.

For a moment, an eye-blink, I saw the Wretch outlined.

Byron had bent his head down, armored arm shielding his eyes.  Rain was the one who seemed to suffer the most from the ambient heat, with no shield or barrier to protect him.

“Go,” I told him, indicating.

He bolted for the building.  I saw Lung move, drawing a hand back with flame appearing in the palm.  I pushed out with my aura, taking flight, with every intent of interrupting his throw.

A fast-moving spark struck the Wretch, leaving me without my defenses.  Another hit me dead center in the breastplate, making me sag in the air as my body was momentarily paralyzed, my heart skipping a beat with the intensity of the shock.

Other shots were aimed at Byron, who seemed to endure, and at Rain, who didn’t.  I saw Rain fall where Byron and I had withstood the hits, not making it to the door into the admin building before the momentary paralysis gripped him.

“Go,” Byron said.

I flew in Rain’s direction, while Byron stopped using his water to put out fires and started using it to get at Lung from oblique angles.  Here and there, the water caught purple flames, and became gouts of the stuff.  Wherever she was, the fires extinguished before they reached Lung.

If he was immune to it, there was no reason to continually extinguish it.  It was very possible that the Pharmacist’s fire could ignite Lung’s fire immunity.  But she had eyes on the situation, and she was keeping him safe from her power, while he thrived in an environment where fire and heat were so ready at hand.

Lung ignored Byron’s water, ignited or no, and threw out flame, walling off my access to Rain.

In the midst of it, I saw Rain using one of his lesser-used powers.  I could see it only because I saw the purple sparks and the lesser purple flames in the grass swell.

Reinforcements had to be on the way.  Crystalclear was working on it in the access tunnels.  We had Cryptid on the far side.  We had- fuck me, we had my sister, of all people.  The people we’d lined up on the far side to delay Teacher were no doubt regrouping.

We had to survive long enough for help to come, while keeping the monsters like Lung from doing any real, lasting damage.  If we could do that, then our lesser sins might be forgiven or looked past.  The harm of guards, our means of gathering information.  The false pretenses by which we’d arranged our visits, when we had a real stake in things.

We had to endure.  We had to endure against a man-turned-dragon who would burn any normal individual to a crisp, and a hidden woman who would expertly burn the abnormal out of anyone else.  Until reinforcements.

They were showing up now.  Help.  Assistance.

The first of them, unfortunately, were Lung’s reinforcements, not ours.  A blood-spattered Warden and Deputy Warden.

Our reinforcements were worrisome in a completely different way.  When Goddess lowered herself from the top of the building to the ground, voices went quiet in nearby buildings.  She was essentially alone.  Natalie and Kenzie were close enough to see, but they were apart from Goddess.  They had the assistant warden with them.  Our guy, who theoretically was able to detonate the bombs that were strapped to most prisoner’s ankles, or to leave them be.

It looked like he was closer to panic than not, for what little it mattered.  He, Lookout, and Natalie were in the company of a woman who stood behind Lookout, hands on our teammate’s shoulders.  Monokeros.  The child-killing Unicorn IV.

And I couldn’t even afford to do anything about it.

Lung roared, as only a person with an enhanced physique could, and then he leaped forward.

Goddess matched him, lifting herself up, the purple fire catching and then tracing the invisible diagrams and forces that buoyed her, only a few feet behind her because she moved fast enough to outrun its pace.  More fire traced other powers she was using, blinding her and burning away the invisible, abstract forces that reached out from her and toward Lung’s brain.

It didn’t seem to give her pause.  She flew forward, no doubt straight into the convoluted trap that Teacher would have planned out weeks before.

I took flight, past flames and toward blue motes and lines, into that selfsame snare.

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83 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.10”

  1. Holy hell but this is shaping up to be a fine mess. I presume the ‘solution’ to the puzzle boss is ensuring that the purple fire reaches Lung, which means throwing Pharmacist off her game, but to do that Breakthrough has to find her first.

    Also, Ratcatcher is still best background character. Even if she is Scurry under that paper mask (she probably isn’t), she’s still neat, like a less annoying Squirrel Girl.

    (Bonus points to the dichotomy moment of comparing siblings in the Capricorn, Damsel and Dallon pairs, especially once Swansong starts disagreeing with Damsel)

    1. Would people stop praising Ratcatcher?

      We want her to live through Ward!

      All you’re doing is waving a big fucking sign that says “Crush my feelings and kill Ratcatcher horrifically!”

    2. The solution is any scenario that renders Lung vulnerable to Alignment or takes him out of the fight. That’s pretty much going to require disrupting the pharmacist’s cover somehow, unless Goddess’s Trump power protects against the purple fire and she gets right in Lung’s face.

  2. I hope the snare snaps shut on Goddes honestly, I’m sick of her prep school dictator bs.
    Also cool that Lung and the Pharmacist came up with a combo counter for her. Though I doubt Lung would be amiable to realignment anyways, he escaped the Yangban for crying out loud. Also he probably knows a little master stranger at this point, you’d have to do if you’re working for team Teacher brainwashing.

    Side note: I’d be very interested to know what the alignment master power looks like while burning.

    1. That’s the stuff that was aiming at his brain (guess invisible abstract shapes don’t really get clearer when they burn).
      Can’t blame Goddess for trying right away, really – would have instantly turned miss Pharmacist into a sitting duck.

      1. Watch Victoria lose a diceroll and get roasted only to end up in Amy’s care again. Teacher and Goddess make a truce to fight Valkyrie and Pandora together…

        1. Or, did anyone else forget the uh, other class S threats in play? Also, what did Dragon (Pandora) get called away for? Couldn’t have been Nilbog, though Valkyrie could’ve handled that easily, whether through diplomacy or power usage.

        2. Teacher communicates pretty clearly to Skapegoat “I want my own Contessa.” as the reason for all of this, seeing as there’s hardly a prisoner, hero, or villain resembling Contessa in the prison, THEN… logic might indicate a total farce as far as this prison skirmish.

          1. Sounds dark, but if you play chess, it’s not all that uncommon to throw all your pieces away on a side of the board you’re not really focused on, to eliminate potential threats… and also sac seemingly crucial pieces to disrupt pawn structures.

          2. Teacher has a number of things running at once. I think this bit is about killing Goddess but overlapping with using Scapegoat within and outside of the prison.

  3. Ah. The child-killing brain washer has her hands on the too trusting little girl during a literal firefight. Good. I was thinking to myself “Well this whole situation is too cheery. Wildbow must be off his game.” So, I’m glad that Kenzie is literally within death’s grasp. Bully for you.

    In all seriousness, I’m so glad that we have this clear distinction between Past-Tristan and Current-Tristan. Tristan here now clearly states that if someone says switch, he’ll switch. It shows that he’s actually willing to allow Byron to take the lead. There’s only bitterness that remained with being forced to keep a form, but it doesn’t stop him from doing the job at hand and intentionally letting a villain go free so he can fake his brother’s death. Character growth. All it takes is an apocalypse.

    1. I think the reason we’re getting the contrast now is because WashingBoard is going to introduce a new stimuli into their whole situation. Either their powers change again, drastically this time, or we found out what happens if one of them actually dies. Or they get separated, somehow. I don’t know. I’m waiting with trepidation.

    2. It may be that, if Tristan doesn’t switch when asked, he gets thrown in prison. At some point after the last interlude, his team would have found out that he tried to pull a “I have no mouth and I must scream”
      on Byron.

      Since they can’t kill or imprison Tristan without killing or imprisoning Byron, the compromise would have to be… Tristan has to let Byron out if asked, because he has proven he can’t be trusted.

      Don’t assume character growth when they probably forced it on him.

        1. Also stops Byron from ever doing the same thing to him in revenge, which was probably what he was thinking about when he ordered the potential hit.

      1. Good thing Monokeros is working for somebody who has access to at least one cape who is more than capable of removing such flaws!

  4. Unicorn IV being out of her cell is bad bad news. I know goddess thinks she has things under control, but if Unicorn IV applies her power to goddess she might become immune to goddess’s alignment power. Maybe the big G can counter that with her trump power, but now there are a lot of master trump powers in play. Unicorn IV, Teacher, Purple Fire, even Victoria’s emotion aura. Since Goddess needs to tune her trump power to a specific power she vulnerable if many different kinds of master power are used at once.

    We were all worried about Teacher grabbing goddess, but I think it may end differently. The trump is tuned on Victoria’s aura now. Maybe black goat try’s to drop Teachers power on goddess and she tunes her trump power to counter that, and then all of a sudden Unicorn IV grabs goddess and we have someone who took over a planted being fanaticaly devoted to a child murdering serial killer.

    1. Monokeros is mostly likely mastered by Goddess though. She’s already bragged to Ashley about how Goddess is so great and how she’s gonna get her plastic surgery and a private kingdom. So if Monokeros breaks free at least it’s probably in a situation where everyone’s free and can do something about it.

    2. If Monokeros’ is ‘aligned’ with Goddess, why would she use her power on Goddess? The only reason I can think of is another Master, and because she’s a (twisted, psychopathic) empath, Monokeros has resistance to empathic powers, leaving either hypnotists or puppeteers. Like Teacher, but his power wears off and Monokeros has been here probably since the beginning. If she’s ever been under his thrall, it’s worn off, and she’s likely cold-turkey’d her way out of the addiction aspect as well.

      No, I’m actually more worried about Valefor and Mama Mathers. Teacher has had access to them, and Valefor at the least has been influenced.

    3. I expect Monokeros isn’t going to be trouble in the immediate tactical situation; she’s Aligned now and presumably in charge of keeping the assistant warden on team Goddess, so she’ll stay on him for the moment.

      Longer term, I think Goddess’s Trump power negates a limited number/level of powers at once but it can work on anything it’s previously tuned to. If she could be immune to exactly one of the hundreds of powers in this prison, the Awe-ra would be pretty far down the list. It’s inconvienent and annoying to be caught in its AoE, but it’s not going to be disabling even if Victoria maxes it. If she had to give up other immunities she’d probably just have told Victoria to watch the AoE.

  5. I have to say, Goddess seems way out of her league. She’s gonna fight powered-up, possibly Teachered-up Lung with what, her telekinesis and flame resistance? Also, Teacher’s got plans inside plans, incoming reinforcements, fucking Scapegoat, AND he’s got a counter to her Master power. Meanwhile her plans are so flimsy some kid saying something about “separate cells” makes her change her mind.

    She’s clearly used to getting what she wants and mind-controlling her way out of any problems, which isn’t gonna cut it here. Whatever the hell her sixth power is, it had better be really freaking good. And I’m kinda rooting for her not to get beaten just yet, because Teacher scares the hell out of me.

    Where the hell is Valkyrie? What could possibly be higher priority than these two?

    1. I mean, would YOU want Valkyrie in range of the uber-Master? It was said earlier that they didn’t want to send her against the Fallen family, so I would assume they would really, really, REALLY not want to send her against Goddess.

      Also, good googly moogly, this story is shaping up to be Master after Master after Master as big bads. Teacher, Valefor, Fallen boss, Goddess….kinda miss the days when the villains didn’t make you doubt all the protagonist characters because brainwashing.

      Watch Taylor be the final boss.

      1. I feel like there’s got to be something else with the Mathers beyond just the Master power risk; Valkyrie has at least one Einherjar who can shield against Master powers; she was able to walk right up to Khephri in the aftermath, when she didn’t need to battle her and Scion simultaneously. Though it’s possible she doesn’t have a reliable defense against multiple Masters; she can do Eidolon draws and has a better idea how it actually works than he did but probably can’t be entirely sure if a given defense will totally negate a given Master without field testing.

        So if she went up against Goddess solo my money would be on Valkyrie’s stock lineup becoming Eidolon, Goddess, and Doormaker or Grey Boy in about three minutes, but with Goddess and Monokeros in play it’s anyone’s guess whether she winds up Aligned.

        And if she does, everyone’s probably screwed; in addition to being basically unstoppable at this point given that she was in competition with Eidolon for strongest parahuman before she picked him up she’s an excellent demonstration case for why Alignment is arguably the best Master power. I mean, we’re seeing it falter around the edges from Master-Stranger protocols (admittedly they exist because they counter Master powers reasonably often) but this is counterbalanced by retaining intelligence and initative. Valkryie is pretty smart and has a considerable ability at analyzing the powers of others; if she were Aligned she’d become Goddess’s top powers advisor and go around telling minions what’s up with their powers. Give her ten-fifteen minutes and Byron might be able to choose between gas, liquid, and solid and work out why Tristan is stronger now so as to make it so that the active one is stronger. Is that even possible? I don’t know, ask Valkryie.

    2. Goddess seems to be in Teacher’s league by a different route; she’s not more than a passible strategist but she’s so strong personally that takes her pretty far. Teacher’s set up a dedicated checkmate scenario for her here and yet she might still pull through between personal combat ability and high-quality minions.

      1. People really overestimate Teacher’s powers. He is a medium-level Master/Striker, and he imagines that if he is clever enough in his mastery his swarm can have some low-level Tinker and Thinker powers. That doesn’t mean he is a Thinker, or that in conjunction with his swarm he can do any impressive Thinker work. Mostly he’s just a regular human playing a game of four-dimensional Lemmings with his regular human brain. He was overpowered by the non-capes and sent to the Birdcage; he is not a powerful cape. He is currently allied with some powerful capes, but they have their own interests and their own vulnerabilities.

        1. Teacher successfully arranged to disable Dragon and blackmail the Protectorate into releasing him from the Birdcage. He became a significant player during Golden Morning, until defeated by Khephri. He controls an army of thralls so large and powerful Goddess has to avoid engagements where reinforcements can portal in.

          His power isn’t useful in personal combat, but his ability to gather an endless army of enhanced thralls, including Parahumans, and his strategic planning whether Thinker or not puts him into S-class territory.

          1. his murder/rapeduction of Dragon was a special circumstance- he ONLY pulled it off because he randomly pawn’d a dumb schlub who’s essentially stumbled across her Admin password/a backdoor into her core code-and the time he chose for his move was literally the most stupid,MORONIC possible from a self-preservation/power-building standpoint!

            nothing more then sheer luck allowed it, and i have NO idea why he wasn’t hit with a kill order- they were granted for FAR less offences given that he directly jeopardised the continued existence of the human race…and afair he did fuck all to help fight the Golden Idiot so he shouldn’t be included in the amnesty!

            guy gets a lot more credit then he deserves-and i was genuinely surprised he wasn’t collateral’d during Golden morning

          2. I’m reasonably confident Teacher specifically pawned Saint for the purpose of having him stage a jailbreak by hacking Dragon and then blackmailing the Protectorate into releasing Teacher to fix her, all before he actually got arrested. He’s arrogantly overconfident, but he’s also an effective long-term planner.

          3. Also, while hacking Dragon ended very poorly, when Saint did it Dinah’s numbers dropped a couple percentage points; it was the first move that actually progressed in the direction of preventing Golden Morning.

  6. So this is basically a battle to master the art of prison breaks. As in literally breaking the prison apart and putting everybody under a master effect.

    I feel like I’m extremely late in realizing this but Taylor was a master who frequently dealt with brutes and Victoria is a brute who frequently deals with masters. Why bring this up now? No clue, but Lung is terrifying and Masters and Trumps are everywhere at this point.

    1. I would say the master-brute thing just has to do with dramatic tension. Except as exposition to show how someone’s powers work, it’s not interesting to show someone fighting against an opponent that their powers deal with easily. It is interesting to watch someone be confronted with an opponent that they’re not well equipped to defeat and have to think outside the box to win. Superman is at his most interesting when he is faced with an opponent that he can’t just punch; Professor X is most interesting when he can’t just mind control his opponent.

      1. Yeah, mirror matches can be fairly boring because if both sides are doing the same thing, the better one wins. It’s not as bad for Master vs. Master because they’re both doing clever plans with partial information so it’s much harder to say which is winning. With Antares, a brawl with another Alexandria package is pretty much down to which is stronger/tougher, though Antares’s forcefield introduces a bit of a wrinkle where usually she can tank one hit but not two in a row.

    2. The whole story of ward- “Victoria gets in a situation where Tattletale would know what to do. Victoria doesn’t talk to tattletale. Bad things happen.”

    1. American English varies, but in most cases the consonant in this case would be the alveolar tap “ɾ” rather than the voiced alveolar plosive “d”. If Ratcatcher is going to the trouble of completely stopping her breath for that consonant, the pronunciation will be different enough to comment on. Which is presumably why Antares commented on it…

      1. (Aaagh necro cause I didn’t realize people had been commenting on this and also this has been really bugging me)

        The thing is that, in my experiencce at least, most people uneducated in linguistics are going to identify [ɾ] as “dd”, paritcularly in words like “little”. It might be unfair to wildbow to assume he’d make this kind of honest mistake; but if he were trying to mark it as [d] instead, I might have expected a different way of representing that variance. Something like, “and [pronounced] little like ‘lid-ul’, the ‘d’ hard in particular”.

        Besides, the fortition of [ɾ] to [d] in this circumstance doesn’t really seem to be consistent with the lenition of [tʃ] to [ʃ] that Antares also notes, or have anything to do with the kind of lisping Ratcatcher’s exhibited.

    2. I think the idea was that she speaks like someone with a clogged nose on top of her already-established lisp, or maybe this was supposed to be an indicator of regional accent? I dunno.

      1. It’s not a regional accent I’m familiar with*, more of a ‘sloppy’ speech impediment to me.

        * I’ve lived all up and down the east coat (Maine to currently Florida) and the midwest. Maybe a sloppy New York or Bostonian? But I wasn’t getting that vibe off the rest of her speaking.

    1. Good spot on which power it was- I’d forgotten he’d had that. I’d guess maybe he was trying to do the same thing that Antares did with hers and ignite a whole lot of things that the Pharmacist and Teacher didn’t really want burning, spread it towards some Teacher thralls. Or maybe he did it in the hopes that the fire would burn his weaker power, enabling him to throw one of his more powerful break-boomerangs at something without it getting intercepted and destroyed.

      Unfortunately, Victoria’s too far away and not paying enough attention on what’s going on elsewhere to know what kind of situation Rain is in, just see the sparks and flare as he uses it.

  7. Things are really heating up now, both purpley and literally. If only Lung was the type of dragon to eat purple fire makers, but that’d be too convenient.

    Speaking of, we also now have Monkoros/Unicorn IV (how’d she get the second name) right with the only child currently in this situation. Granted maybe Goddess aligned her once she got there, but we don’t have evidence atm to confirm or deny. Either way, things just keep getting better and better, eh.

    (Feels nice to be early btw thanks Wildbow)

    1. Monokeros bought the name Unicorn from Unicorn III, or otherwise inherited it. Then somebody discovered that she was a torturer and serial killer who had been spreading rumours of setting up a team in order to capture, mutilate and (eventually) kill preteen and early teen parahumans, keeping evidence of her crimes on her phone. She went on the run so the PRT announced what she’d done so she would have no allies and also alert her favoured targets to the threat she posed, and as part of that they renamed her to Monokeros, as they didn’t want to sully the reputations of Unicorns 1-3, of whom at least one was still alive.

    2. Monokeros was already aligned well before the jailbreak. Remember her conversation with Swansong, that we watched through the eye-cam?

      1. 50/50 on aligned or so crazy she acts like it on her own. But Goddess would’ve aligned her on arrival; in her case there’d be no downside.

    1. 1) Chances are, Lung isn’t being controlled. Not by powers, at least- he’s too suspicious for that and there’s not enough he can gain to be worth it. He’s probably being ‘controlled’ by money.
      2) Krouse is not OK. Hasn’t been for ages; he was killed in Gold Morning, moving Ash Beast around. I asked about him in an earlier chapter, and somebody told me this.

    2. I don’t think Lung would really need to be controlled. I can imagine it going something like:
      Teacher: “Hey, Lung, wanna go fight everyone in the supervillain prison when Goddess is also there? We can keep her from mind controlling you by literally setting the mind control power on fire.”
      Lung: “Okay.”

      1. Lung has been hired muscle for Teacher before; probably still is. Remember, Teacher’s control power is, unlike Alignment, a huge pain. He needs mostly-free people to supervise; this scenario is too chaotic to rely on drones with pre-scripted instructions.

  8. Typo thread… in the right chapter this time. See Olivebirdy’s comment last chapter for some more.

    “we had two options, only one of which was a good option.”
    Clunky.

    “I gave Cyrstalclear a slight nod.”

    “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.”
    “the building where the Warden,”
    “A blood-spattered Warden and Deputy Warden.”
    Capitalisation of warden(s), to differentiate from the hero organisation.

    “Yes. But we don’t need”
    Ratcatcher suddenly lost her lisp.

    1. Oh, whoops. Here’s what it was that I posted in the wrong chapter.

      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?

      (Excised Warden stuff.)

      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. Victoria probably did engage Lung at some point during the fighting after Bakuda and Oni Lee sprung him, or it could have been confirmed by the Protectorate and Wards during his defeat and capture.

  9. Hm. So if Pharmacist’s flames can burn Goddess’s Master power, thus “blocking” it from affecting new people, I wonder if it could undo it in people already Mastered? Without taking the thrall’s head off, I mean.

    1. More importantly, can someone walk the purple fire onto Lung’s regen/dragoning effect by laying out a path for it with their own power? The fight is effectively over the moment Lung gets set on purple fire, after all.

      1. Be tricky; it’d have to form the entire path prior to igniting, so it needs to be both invisible and shapable very finely. If any of the team can it’d be Goddess with her TK, but since it’s seemingly one contiguous thing probably she couldn’t pull it off while also using it for defense.

  10. Calling it now, the purple-fire cape doesn’t actually have eyes on Lung. She’s been granted someone else’s vision/sense by one of Teacher’s minions and *that* person has eyes (or whatever) on the scene. Victoria won’t be able to find her because she’s not actually there.

  11. I met Swansong’s eyes.

    “She watched the meeting with Goddess,” Swansong said, as if that summed it up. She tilted her head to one side. “Where are Cryptid and Lookout?”

    /facepalm

    I can’t believe you guys may be able to get out of this situation with literally the same screwup that got you into it. Goddess hasn’t specified, but it seems likely she needs to see the target based on what she’d originally asked Lookout to do.

    1. Come to think of it, we’re missing a piece of the trap for Goddess; Lung and the pharmacist counter her tactically but are crucially missing the capacity to bait her into a fight she’ll lose; they can ignite but not decieve her danger sense. While Goddess isn’t a tactical genius she is able to make reasonably intelligent use of her powers, so I’m pretty sure her thought process if the pharmacist had been intercepting her danger sense would’ve been like this:

      “Hm, that combo looks nasty. Danger sense, should I fly in and fight them directly? Nothing? Oh, it’s on fire. How about no. Minions!”

      So either this plan is doomed or Teacher has messed up her danger sense in some non-obvious way.

      Theory: this battle is fundamentally Dinah vs. Teacher, and Dinah’s play was getting Breakthrough Aligned (and probably later unAligned) by arranging their TV show. Lookout wrecked his ability to portal in directly and has given Team Goddess overwatch that’s not purple-flammable. That’s seriously disrupted the trap already and its on-the-fly modifications probably aren’t all that thought through (and Dinah’s attentions will wreck Teacher minion precog) so Teacher is pretty badly off at this very moment.

        1. Precogs are always a factor!

          More directly, she’s believed to have engineered the Gary Nives thing that led to Breakthrough being on TV that led to the wave of emails to Breakthrough which included the one from Goddess which led to her getting Kenzie to screw up Teacher’s plans.

          It’s kinda like how the Simurgh killed Accord but shorter.

          1. Also this is somehow going according to the Simurgh’s plans given that she met Goddess once and has interacted with a thing Lung interacted with, but her motives remain inscrutable so there’s not much to go on.

          2. I think Ziz’s plan was just to get everything just right to deal with Scion.
            It killed a lot of people, including her brother and father, but that probably means there was no better outcome.

          3. She took actions after Scion died, though; she has some further motivations.

            Also, I think the deaths of Behemoth and Eidolon weren’t part of plan A; Scion is shielded against her precog so she can’t perfectly predict the outcome of events involving him, and prior to the Endbringers moving on Golden Morning Eidolon and Glastig Ulaine had Scion pretty hard-pressed. Pretty sure plan A was that they just killed him.

          4. When we got a glimpse of Ziz’s perspective, “she” seemed like an Artificial Intelligence programmed to give Eidolon worthy opponents (for some technical definition of “Eidolon,” “worthy,” and “opponents.”) This let me make a successful prediction when I saw the words “glass tube,” though I forget how much certainty I attached to this at the time. So I’m still thinking Ziz wants to convert as much matter as possible into Eidolon clones, ultimately placing them in Matrix/Roy-style simulations controlled by specialized Endbringers, with other Endbringers to spread this system throughout the cosmos.

            In principle, though, if defeating humanity seemed too costly and Ziz could see that losing would lead to Eidolons^2 fighting aliens throughout the cosmos, she might settle for that.

          5. I’m suspicious it’s quite that straightforward, partially because Simurgh and partially because Lung wouldn’t have been able to destroy the clone tube if it was that important to her; even assuming her precog was successfully fouled up (I so would not count on that) she’d have grouped up with her surviving siblings and nested around the clone if it was that important to her.

  12. Wait…. can the pharmacist burn away the master brainwashing?? That would be super useful about now
    …I’m not sure what the flames would need to touch, as Victoria was already hit with the fire but didnt get free nor looked two years older (meaning Amy’s effect didnt get burned up, turning her into as she is supposed to look), so it might require setting a brain on fire… but still, that would be neat.

    I’m still under the assumption that Damsel isnt under the influence of goddess. Since byron was fine, despite seeing her through Tristan, it seems like goddess needs to be aware of the person she is addressing, so just seeing the vid feed wont help. Same with cryptid, his body changes so much it might be a different thing she needs to address when he changes and even changes back

    1. It appears to destroy presently active powers but not undo their consequences* so it won’t undo physical changes in the brain induced by a power but might break some Master powers like Mama Mathers where the power actually sticks around continuously.

      However, many of those probably are in the brain so it’s not a good idea to use it on people you want to survive.

      *unless you count reality catching fire when it hits a portal, but that’s a special case

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