Gleaming – 9.12

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“Antares,” Goddess said.

I felt a little bit of fear and awe as I stopped re-wrapping my bandage and turned to face her.

“Good work,” she said.  “You’re mercurial, but you can be pretty fucking useful.  If you wanted it, I could bring you to my world, and give you a lesser country.”

“A country, wow,” Rain said, beside me.

“I don’t think I’m mercurial,” I said, frowning a bit.  “And I’m grateful for the offer but… I’m a city girl.  I’d rather help the Megalopolis, and if it comes down to it, make sure people here support you too.”

“It wouldn’t work that way.  Something’s bothering me.  So far you and your team have been on top of things.  Tell me something about the current attack.”

“We didn’t get all of them.  There are two more to deal with.  Blindside- you can’t look at them.  Can’t aim at them.”

“They would be the reason my danger sense is limited.”

“Probably.  Stymied?”

“Interfered with.  I can’t extend it past a certain range.  It’s worse since I’ve moved in this direction.” A motion of her arm indicated the direction traveled.

“That’s the access tunnels, isn’t it?” Byron asked.

Our teammates.  Teacher had sent Blindside straight there.

“We need to go,” I said.

“Stay,” Goddess said, her voice firm.

My jaw clenched.  I nodded.  “Sorry.”

“Tell me about the other,” she said.  “Two of Teacher’s powered got through?”

“At least.  The other was Kingdom Come.  He detonates himself into a shower of blood and meat.  Anyone who comes into contact with it is his puppet.  He reforms after.”

“I think I’ve met him, or one of his bloodstained puppets.  They wouldn’t align to my purposes.  One of Teacher’s many counters to me.”

“He’s a mercenary.  It’s possible that he might accept your offer of a country.”

“He sounds religious,” Rain said.  “Name like that.”

“Could be,” I said.  “We should go.  If Blindside is in the access tunnels-”

“You’ll stay for a few minutes.  I may need you for something else,” Goddess told us.

“The access tunnels are the communication outlet to the outside world.  They may also be the override to the bomb anklets.  This is important.”

“My danger sense, blind as it is, tells me we have other priorities.  If your teammates were in danger, I think I would feel it.  Stay.

We had done more than our share of the work when it came to taking down Lung and the Pharmacist, and we were, putting it lightly, exhausted.  I didn’t like staying, but I didn’t mind the chance to recuperate.  I felt like I’d been wrung out, then baked too long over an open fire.  I hadn’t even properly used my muscles, and I felt completely and utterly drained.

Goddess walked over to discuss things with Lung, and others were organizing into battle lines and squads, breaking away to go wrangle remaining guards and staff.  I saw Natalie among the wrangled.

I hesitated a moment, wondering if I’d do more harm than good, then broke away from Rain and Byron.  If I was close enough for Goddess to find, then that had to be good enough.  But I couldn’t leave Natalie.

“I’ll be right back.  Get my attention if there’s trouble.”

“Sure,” Byron said.

A reality with parahumans was that most who triggered were young – people as young as twelve could trigger, with the upper range being thirty.  There was a possibility for a few years of leeway, trending more toward the rare parahuman being younger than a parahuman being older.

The guys in this particular prison clique were young.  It was shocking to see people Rain and Chris’ ages.

“Don’t hurt or bother them,” I told the prisoners, my eye stopping on Natalie for a meaningful moment, trying to communicate something to her.  That I was on her side.  That if she had anything to say, now was the time to say it.

She said nothing.  Maybe to avoid drawing attention to herself.

And the prisoners, for their part, were equally silent.  I felt put on the spot, and I felt so drained physically, mentally, and emotionally that I could have been bowled over by hard words.  Tension kept me upright.

I hadn’t gotten a response, so I elaborated.  “Goddess may need them as bargaining chips, or to get access to parts of the prison.  If you screw that up, touch them, or scare them and get them panicking instead of thinking rationally, then it screws us all up.”

Believe me, I put my heart into the mental command.  Buy this, even though I don’t sound nearly as authoritative as I might want.  Don’t make me use my aura in this volatile a place.

“I don’t see why you get to tell us what to do,” a boy said.  He had the sharp chin, widow’s peak with a curl of hair at the forehead, and natural bad-boy glare of a classic kid’s show villain, but he had to be my age.

He also, judging by the group’s dynamic, had a few people under his wing.  Underlings.  He was the leader of this sub-clique.

“Do you really want to test me and find out?” I asked.  I sounded more steely now.  A bit more of my old self.

He stared me down, then dropped his eyes to my arm.  I wasn’t sure if he was seeing an injury, a clue that I wasn’t invincible, until he gestured.

“That symbol on your arm.”

Worked into the metal at my shoulder was a golden circle inside another circle, centered at about the midpoint between bicep and shoulder.  The five parallel spikes stabbed up from it.

“Gold Morning,” I said.

“Then you were there.  That’s the thing people put on their sleeves, if they were there or if they played a part.”

“Some don’t put anything on their sleeves, but they were there.  Lung, Goddess,” I said.  “Why?”

“You put it there for a reason, right?”

“Everyone has their reasons for wearing the armbands,” I said.  I worried I sounded defensive.  Again, I asked, “Why?”

“I’m not going to test you or test her,” he said.  “Out of respect for that.”

There were a few nods around his group.  One or two looked unsure, like the stupider, less ‘together’ members of the group weren’t sure if it was for real.

I wasn’t sure I believed it was for real.

“Good man,” I said, deciding there was no way to hammer it out.  I met Natalie’s eyes momentarily before turning away.

Nothing from her in the way of signals.  Damn it.

I went back to Rain and Byron, walking past a group that was preparing for the possibility of a frontal assault by Teacher.  Others were preparing to deal with the maximum security individuals who had apparently been given the Pharmacist’s drugs.  An attack from within, an attack from the outside, and then there was Teacher, who had the ability to hit us from oblique angles.

I wanted to ask Kenzie for a status report, but that meant approaching Monokeros.  I wanted to ask the boys, but they were talking to Coalbelcher.

I checked my phone three times in the course of a single minute, even though I knew that all communications were jammed.  It was a force of habit, a creeping anxiety as we went longer and longer without any input from the other half of Breakthrough.

I had a lot of anxieties in this moment.  The small-scale victory with Lung and the Pharmacist only went so far.

Byron and Rain exchanged a few muttered words as they walked over from where Coalbelcher was.

“You apparently made an impression,” Byron said.

I frowned.  “With Coalbelcher?”

“He said you said you’d get him out.  I thought we had a problem when he called us over, but he’s changed his tune.  Us being right about the danger of the cafeteria helped,” Rain said.

“I didn’t say I’d get him out.  But I let him believe it.  It could have backfired, come down on your head, if he didn’t think I at least tried, if this whole thing wrapped up, and then he ended up frustrated, with only you as a target.”

“It worked out,” Rain said, almost like he was assuring me.  Then, quieter, he said, “One of the few things that has.”

I followed their line of sight as they both turned back to look at someone.  Seir in his civilian clothes, mask off.  The man was of a similar type to Coalbelcher, but without the long stubble on his face sticking in every direction.  His hair was longer with some gray already in it, the circles under his eyes were black for reasons other than the coal-spit facepaint.  The tattoos gave him away.

“Seir,” I observed.

“He’s not a fan of us,” Byron said.  “We’re all on the same side, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to get back at us.”

“At me,” Rain said.  “I don’t think it’s an immediate problem, but if we have any choice in where we go, we should go wherever he isn’t.”

“Agreed,” I said, as I looked over at Lookout and Monokeros.  They were with another group, Lookout hanging a half-step back while Monokeros talked with some scary-looking women.  Monokeros was currently listening, as another woman did all of the talking.  The talker was pretty where her skin was intact, but had what looked scars from a bad burn extending all the way down her neck.  Another woman stood beside her, top already removed, torn up into shreds, and the shreds plaited into a cord.  The cord was being knotted into a hangman’s noose.

The other two had noticed I was looking.

“What about her?” I asked.  “Why did you not want me to approach Lookout?”

“Lookout came on a little strong with the Lady in Blue,” Rain said.  “It made her suspicious.  She’s suspicious of you too, you know, but she knows she can beat you.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Monokeros though?”

“If you’ve got a canary you’re worried about and a cat that’s restless, and you’re really good at managing your animals, which we know she is, maybe you give the canary a cat babysitter,” Rain suggested.

“That doesn’t make me feel better,” I said.

“It doesn’t make us feel that much better,” Rain said.  “But we can trust that the Lady in Blue knows what she’s doing, we know from what Swansong says that Monokeros is really messed up and touchy, and we don’t disturb that scene while it’s peaceful.”

I frowned.  Monokeros was smiling now.  I was creeped out by something in how she presented herself, but I couldn’t tell if it was because of something ugly in her peeking out, the contrast in her charmer attitude with the tattoos like the triangle at her forehead, making me think of- of certain individuals, or if it was because I knew that she’d gone full ritual killer, killing heroes, kids.  Hopeful young Vistas, Shielders, and Finales.  Kids who had faced the worst days of their lives and came out the other end wanting to help people.

“She was corporate, like Tristan and me,” Byron said.  “Goldenrod.”

“Yeah,” I acknowledged.

Byron went on.  “Started her own team, talked it up, but it never seemed to get off the ground.  Too many kids went missing, but they still didn’t zero in on her.  The masks, the secret identities, they make it so the kids cover up her tracks for her, making it harder to draw the connection.”

“Families too,” Rain said.  “Uhm, Jessica said something about this to me at one point.  That people with powers tend to have worse relationships with their family.”

“If they had good support systems, they’d be less likely to trigger,” I said.

“Yeah,” Byron said.  “Exactly.  They didn’t catch her until the second kid who left a message with people letting them know she was interviewing with a team.  They brought a different thinker for the interview with her, second time around.  The first one was an inquisitor type, sensed wrongs, guilt, saw memories that haunted people, used them or summoned them.”

“Summoned,” I said.  “And she had nothing to summon.”

“Ah, you know the story then.  I was wondering if it was just the talk shared between the corporate teams,” Byron said.

“No.  It was the talk in general.  Among capes, at least.”

A horror story among capes.

Byron nodded.

Monokeros smiled.  It was the kind of smile that was practiced, then reused so many times it looked natural.  A model’s smile.  The smile of a hero who lived off of their brand, like the corporate and sponsored heroes, and maybe the small family teams with an up-and-coming generation of youths.

“She reminds me of- of someone,” Byron said.  “Not all the time, but there-”

A crash interrupted him, and with that crash, a dozen powers nearby flared into effect.  I was already in the air, flying up to where I could activate the Wretch without annihilating two of my teammates.

It was Goddess.  With her power, she was tearing a building to the ground.

Once people realized it was her, they relaxed.  I took their cue, floating back down to the ground and my two teammates.

“What’s she doing?” Byron murmured.

With the disorientation of the fight and the change in the landscape around us, it took me a second to place where we were, and what that building might’ve been.  It was one of the prison buildings, but not an apartment, and given the proximity to the yard, equal access from both sides…

“The cafeteria.  With all of the anti-Goddess meds in it,” Rain said.  “That’s a bit of a relief.  Simplifies things.”

I nodded, silent.

Better.

Goddess turned her head around until she found our group.  She beckoned.

As glad as I was to stay put, I was glad to be moving.  We had an objective.

While Rain and Byron walked, me floating just ahead of the pair, Goddess turned, beckoning to others.  To Lookout and Monokeros.  Then to Damsel, to Ashley’s ‘sister’.

I looked back for Natalie, and saw her in the company of the other staff that had been taken into custody.  It was a dangerous atmosphere, with the guard-prisoner relationship reversed, and a lot of dangerous prisoners around.  Monokeros was of a certain kind of evil, but she wasn’t the only evil person around here.  If one of those people decided to hurt Natalie, would anyone stop them?

“Breakthrough,” Goddess said.  She looked at Damsel, who was approaching.  “In a sense.”

“Most of us,” Lookout said.  Then she leaned over to greet Byron, Rain and me with a, “Hi.”

“You can have a luxury vehicle, and you can get your luxury vehicle with all of the extras,” Damsel said, raising her chin a little, claws moving at her side.  “Both are good.”

“I don’t care,” Goddess said, annoyed.  “My danger sense is telling me something’s coming, and it’s not the kind of danger I have a lot of experience with.  Destroying the drugs didn’t help.  I think Teacher is doing something, and you have the most information about him and what he’s doing.  Solve it.”

“We need more information than that,” I said.  “What is your danger sense telling you?  How does it function?”

“My power is a feeling,” she said.  “It can come from a direction.  It tastes of intent.  It has flavors depending on the kind of danger.  This tastes hollow, and it feels big.  There’s no direction to it.  The opposite, the lack of direction is the danger.”

“Have you felt anything like this before?” I asked.

“I felt something roughly this big once.  It was when the world was ending.  The golden man.”

I drew in a deep breath, looking at the others.  They seemed about as alarmed by that as I was.

“You said it’s big.  World ending… but this is a small world.  One penal colony,” Rain suggested.

“When I was pulled into a battlefield, that world was small too, Precipice.  The scale is similar.”

“Broken trigger?” Byron suggested.

“The powers that have gone wild?” Goddess asked.  “It could be.  But even that would feel it has direction.  An enemy, or a power source.”

“We’ve heard of incidents where one person became a very large-scale effect.  The kind that would cover this whole colony, and then some,” I said.  “I think the catch is that most precogs and danger sensers can’t see triggers coming, even broken ones.”

Goddess shook her head, but she didn’t offer anything specific that would clarify matters.  I felt my heartbeat accelerate some, just from seeing her this concerned.

“I’ve felt this directionless threat before,” she said.  “It was after I came into my power, before I’d exercised it and learned its limits.  Someone came for me.  A monster, but the bitch looked human.  She sent me to Shin.  To give this feeling a name… it’s inevitability.  A doom through a nearly complete and total lack of options.”

“Inevitable doom, affecting this whole world?” Rain asked.  “Hollow?”

“Hollow, with a bloody aftertaste.  I’ve never felt a hollow doom before,” Goddess said.  “Maybe one of you has.  Figure this out, now.”

“I’m an expert in worlds ending, traps, and being doomed.  Been hearing about it for years, sometimes my whole life,” Rain said.  “Has it been inching closer all night?”

“I stopped looking when the purple fire blinded me, there was nothing before then.  I started looking after, and it was there.  Are there more questions?  If you can’t give me an answer, I’ll ask others.”

There was a pause.  We shook our heads.

Goddess used her telekinesis to lift herself off the ground, flying past the mud to another group that was at the admin building.

“No reports on Teacher?” I asked Lookout.

“No, but I’ve been distracted.  Our guys on the far side are just about out of gas.  He’s got guys massed but he’s waiting instead of sending them in.”

“Backup for the big gun?” I asked.

“Except not a gun,” Damsel said.  She moved her hand, one blade extended, the tips of the other folding loosely around it.  She winked at me.  “Guns can be dealt with by bigger guns.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Could it be an Endbringer?” Rain asked.

“Jesus,” Byron said.  “Don’t even joke.  They’ve been dormant.”

“They can’t be predicted easily with danger sense either,” I said.

“I’m trying to think of things big enough.  It’d be embarrassing to be the kid who grew up in an Endbringer cult who doesn’t think of Endbringers when we’re debating possible apocalypse scenarios.  Seven plagues?  The four horsemen?”

“I like Death,” Damsel said.  “He has style.”

“Back when I was a hometown hero, my- we joked about the Undersiders being the four horsemen.  Guy in black with the skull, girl with the locusts, girl with the howling hellhounds and spiked collar, and the guy who controlled people.”

“You lost me with that last one,” Byron said.  “And I’ve actually read the bible.”

“Depending on interpretations, the guy in white is seen as either Conquest or Famine,” Rain said.

“Oh, like Conquest from the Toronto segment from the Maggie Holt series!” Lookout said, all excitement now that she was back in the conversation.  She took a step forward, and Monokeros reached out, seizing her by the shoulder.

Everyone present reacted in some way to that.  Even Damsel.

“You stay with me, camera girl.  Goddess’ orders,” Monokeros said.  She didn’t look the slightest bit worried that the rest of us were poised like we might use powers or throw a punch, given an excuse.

“Okay,” Lookout said, to Monokeros.  Then she said, “I liked that book, even though a lot of people didn’t.”

“I listened to the audiobook,” Damsel said.

“Yes!  Yes!  That’s great, you’re great, and of course, I’m stating the obvious by saying that-”

“Of course.  Glad to see someone with a brain.”

“We need our brains focused on figuring out what Teacher’s disaster scenario is, not in, uh, asserting the obvious,” I said.

“Two people with brains.  I’m starting to see why she likes you all.”

I kept talking, “I’m glad you guys are developing a friendship, but let’s think.  The sooner we work it out, the sooner we can help our teammates.  That includes Swansong and Tress.”

“It might be famine,” Rain said.

“Famine?” I asked.

“She said it was hollow, and it was something Goddess never experienced or knew.  Inevitable, if he sets it up right.  And it destroys her.  She was probably going after the feeling when she destroyed the food stock… but if we get desperate enough, people are going to dig out the food, contaminated, they’ll ingest the drug, and…”

“And Teacher gets everything he wants,” I said.

“It’s a siege.  Not catapults and walls siege, but a starve the other guy out siege,” Rain said.  “People back at the compound were always taking measures to plan for scenarios like this.”

“There’s nothing but wilderness around us,” Byron said.

“To feed an entire prison?  Indefinitely?  Knowing that you can’t roam too far when the bombs could reactivate at any time?  Maybe, but I don’t think it’s that easy.  I can totally see Teacher picking off people who go hunting with portals and hit squads.”

Okay, I could buy that.  It made sense.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Lookout said.  “I have the keys.  He might have broken down the front door, but so long as I’m lensing the space-map, it’s my door.  Any doors he puts down are going to end up fizzling.”

“It might be your door, but there’s nothing stopping him from dropping a mountain on top of it and then taking his time working out a solution later,” Byron said.

“Like you did with Lung,” Damsel said.  “Clever.”

“That was my brother, actually, but- yes.  Kind of.”

“We need Goddess,” I said.  “And we need to deal with this without getting tied up with the max-sec guys, Kingdom Come, Blindside… I’ll get her.”

How do you defeat someone with world-spanning powers?  You make sure she never gets a chance to fight.

I flew over to where Goddess was talking to Seir.  I saw his expression change as he recognized me.  I ignored it, focusing on Goddess instead.

“We have a guess about what he’s doing,” I said.  “If he keeps us from leaving, there’s no food that isn’t contaminated.  Everyone here starves… or we eat, and we might ingest the drugs that the pharmacist planted.”

I saw something in her eyes.  Alarm.  Bewilderment.

She took over an Earth.  She… did whatever she’d done to take over her cluster, and that can’t have been easy.  Then there was Gold Morning, but… the entire reason she was here and not in her world was because she had been pulled into the fight.  I could one hundred percent understand how she might not have made many calls then.  It could seem like a strange, bad dream, realer than existence in the years before and after, but so hard to parse that the mind turned away from it.

But this might well have been the first time she’d ever come head to head with the fact that she was well and truly outmatched, while she was well and truly in control of her actions, past present and upcoming.

“How does he do it?”

“We don’t know, but you said it yourself, it felt like-”

“No way out.  We evacuate.”

“He has a small army ready on the other side of the door, we, the non-Goddess good guys, have multiple teams there trying to stall Teacher.  The max-sec guys are probably under orders to attack us from the rear, if we try to run for it, and the access tunnel-”

Stop,” she told me.  “Fucking enough.”

“The access tunnel leads to a means to communicate with the outside, and links the prison resources to outside resources.  It gives him a way to tap into the ankle bombs your army is wearing.  My teammates, Goddess!”

“I don’t care!” she retorted.  Her voice was less of a shout as she spoke again, more of a hiss, “We evacuate.  Figure this out.  Yes?”

I was still, my thoughts stuck as I tried to figure out a way to reconcile it.  So many of the options available meant throwing away lives.

Her stare was cold.

She found world leaders and went after them one by one.  She sank ships.  She killed hundreds, even thousands.

The eyes of someone that had killed thousands.

All around me, killers, terrorists, kidnappers and worse were staring at Goddess and me.

“Figure it out,” she said, with more emphasis.

She stared into my eyes.

I was stuck, my thoughts tied in a knot, as I processed the options available to me.  Follow the law.  When the law isn’t available, do what’s right.  When what’s right isn’t clear, ask for help.

The team?  I could manage the team, we’d figure something out.  But that did nothing about the people who were still in various forms of trouble.  We still hadn’t heard from the A-team, down in the access tunnels.  Natalie was still in the custody of Goddess’ squad.  Lookout was still in Monokeros’ grasp.

This was the trap.  All of the puzzle pieces from Teacher’s riddle were coming together in this.  The nonlethal weapons.  The anti-air weapon he’d employed against me, they could well prevent Goddess from taking flight and making a break for it.

And the attacks she’d described- multiple fronts, multiple angles, multiple levels.  We couldn’t ignore the access tunnels and the control of the bombs they promised.  We couldn’t ignore the front door, or our rear, or the issue of basic needs, like needing to eat.

“Give me an answer, Antares,” Goddess said.  “Can you figure this out, or are you going to get in my way?”

“I’ll work on figuring something out,” I said.

She nodded slowly, still staring into my eyes.

“Sorry to be so intense,” I said.

“Good,” she said.  “Which buildings are the maximum security buildings?”

“The short, squat ones at the far north of the complex,” I said.

“He fed his drugs to the people there?”

“They get their food delivered, and the guards make sure they take their pills,” Seir said, behind Goddess.  “I’m borderline.  Max sec if I’ve been anything but good.  So I know.”

Seir was staring at me.  He seemed to be amused that I was facing down Goddess like this and I wasn’t coming out ahead.  That, or he was just enjoying himself, and he looked like an asshole as a separate, distinct thing.

Asshole.

Goddess, for her part, seemed to be focusing on the horizon, where the shape of buildings was only barely visible against the backdrop of sky and distant trees.  Many of the buildings didn’t have lights on.

I could feel her telekinesis like a harsh blast of wind right after a vehicle passed by.  The force in the air was even more pronounced along the course of the blast, lines and fractal images briefly visible as air compressed, moisture condensed, and light bent.

In the distance, one of the buildings toppled.

“That’ll get them moving,” she said.  “Seir, gather everyone you know.  Deal with them, knock down buildings and render this place uninhabitable as you come back from doing that.  We burn our bridges behind us.”

I saw the smile on Seir’s face.  I looked away.

I took off, heading straight up to where I could hopefully get my bearings, and where I wouldn’t have to see a Fallen who reveled in being Fallen being happy with the status quo.  It made it easier to think straight and set my mind to the task at hand.

Below me, Goddess was joined by some of the prison’s heavier hitters.  Not any of the heavy hitters I needed.  Lung was at her left shoulder, his eye glowing a dull red as he glanced up at me.  The scales had mostly receded.

I could remember Dean, in the hospital after Leviathan.  I zig-zagged through the crowd, trying to see people in gloom and slanted lighting.  I was looking for a specific body type, hair type, and face, but the prison coveralls masked physical shapes.

Master-stranger protocols felt so hollow in the now.  The team was compromised, the medicated food was buried under a fallen building, and that food came from Teacher.  I wasn’t sure I trusted it or the master-stranger protocols more than I trusted Goddess.

My zig-zagging journey continued, haunted by the memory of what had laid at the end of my last such journey.  Then, I’d been searching for the one face who might be able to help, and I’d been crushed on so many levels by the failure to find.

In this, I wasn’t even sure the face was an answer.

I spotted the others.  I landed, and in my current state of mind, I forgot how much the heat, the aerial acrobatics, and the earlier fight with the teacher hit squad and the Major Malfunctions had drained me.  I nearly dropped to my knees.  Nothing like my fancy landings of days past.

“What are we doing?” Byron asked.

“She wants to go out the front door, unless she gets another, better answer before she gives the order.  Teacher’s going to be waiting for her.  Byron, you remember the tools her people had.  For dealing with fliers.  Nonlethal weapons, that could capture the fallen.”

“And let Teacher get them under his thumb,” Byron said.  “Shit.  You’re right.”

“We need to get Goddess out unscathed somehow.  From her tone, I think she’s willing to make any sacrifices necessary to save herself.”

“Makes sense,” Damsel said.  “I’d be willing to do the same if I was in her position.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.  “Not sure about that.”

“So how do we save her skin, ideally without sacrificing ourselves?” Damsel asked.

“You guys need to get to the others,” I said.  “If they haven’t come back yet, there’s a reason.  I’ll catch up.  We get the team together, make sure we’re all on the same page, and then we make our effort to escape.  We lean on-”

I almost said protocols.  It struck me that Monokeros, as dangerous and deluded as she was, could very well know the protocols, know what I meant, despite my efforts to be subtle.

“-We lean on each other,” I said.  “We know who we can trust.”

“Myself and myself,” Damsel said.  She paused.  “And maybe the little one.”

“Woo!”

“Lookout,” Rain said.  “If we un-lens or whatever, is it possible that we could use one of Teacher’s doors to make our exit?”

“I don’t know,” she said.  “But just from what my phone says, I’m pretty sure he closed all the doors.”

I saw Rain grimace.

“Talk while you run, but time is short.  Go,” I said.

“And what are you doing?” Byron asked.

“Looking for Coalbelcher,” I said.

Coalbelcher?

“I think we can use him,” I said.  “Do you-”

The ground illuminated as though a spotlight was being directed at it, but the light was neon, the edges of things highlighted and then multiplied.

I looked around, and I saw the source.

The first of the max sec prisoners.  The dangerous ones that needed to be kept away from gen pop.  The ones who Teacher had reached out to personally.

“Go!  Avoid those guys, avoid eerie glowing ground!”

“He went that way!” Rain raised his voice and pointed, as the ground began screaming.  I took to the air, and I could see how the distorted lights were whisking and whirring against one another, like worms in a tangle.  There were shapes like people inside, writ large.

I thought about going after the guy with the shaker effect.  I decided it was too dangerous.  Too easy for me to get bogged down.

Hit like Glory Girl, hold nothing back as the Wretch, judge like the Warrior Monk, problem solve as the Scholar, and don’t lose sight of who you fucking are, because that’s a metric shitton to keep track of, Victoria Dallon.

Rain had given me a direction.

I was being so unfair.  Monstrous, even.  I could remember times when I had been scared, even terrified.  Gold Morning.  Day after day in the hospital.  After Crawler.  The day Amy had triggered, when I’d been the one hurt.

I didn’t have a chance to finish the line of thought.  I found Coalbelcher.

The head of the guy’s side of the prison had his soldiers with him, and they were gathering at the flanks, near the side of the entry building.  Some staff would still be inside, probably behind the shutters, protected by thick walls.

Up until Seir came back, razing the place to the ground so the bridges would be burned and Goddess’ army of prisoners would have no way to go but forward.

I could count them.  Seventy or so parahumans.  The prisoner coveralls designated the security level and the building they belonged to.

It took a moment of hovering before I saw Coalbelcher.  His face-paint was striking enough to make him obvious even in the gloom.

I landed, and he didn’t flinch as I appeared in front of him.  I saw him smirk.

“You’re out of your cell, but you’re only partway out,” I told him.

“I’m just happy to be stretching my legs,” he said, in his godfather-high voice.  “You come to talk to me for a reason?”

“To deal,” I said.  I indicated a direction.  “Not much time.  Hear me out?”

We walked a few paces away.  With the chaos and the max sec prisoners facing down Seir, there was enough volume that people wouldn’t be overhearing without sensitive ears.

Still, I’d have to keep those ears in mind.  I knew Lung was out there, and he was Goddess’ left hand man at the moment.

“What’s the deal?” Coalbelcher asked.

“I did you a favor.  I need something.”

“Something isn’t free.”

“I did you a favor,” I said, my voice tense.

“And that’s only good manners for a newcomer to my block.  I like you, girl.  Don’t make me change my mind.  If you want something-”

The neon images the shaker had created before erupted skyward, a giant of flesh with a sea of snakes at his waist formed from dirt outlined in neon.  Endbringer-sized.

“-You gotta give something.  I’m being pretty generous as is, hearing you out, and in my assuming it’s not coincidence that other people got the Wardens and the bombs all stopped blinking.”

“My teammate.  Our collective effort.”

“Great.  I still want something.  Convince me,” he smiled at me as he said it, meeting my irritation with sickly, black-spittle-between-the-teeth kindness.

“There’s a civilian with the Wardens.  A pretty guy with a forehead curl here-” I gestured to indicate, “-was with them the last I saw.  He led a group of late-teens, early-twenties guys.”

“Flense.”

“Fucking great, that’s not ominous at all.  Flense, then.  Her name is Natalie, she has a lot of inside information and connections.  I need you to do for her what I did for you, in my roundabout way.”

“And?”

“And… you didn’t murder anyone, did you?”

“I had an unpaid ticket,” he said, sarcastic.

“I was going to offer you an exit-”

“We’re all getting an exit, girl.  There’s no more prison, see?”

“With a bit more leeway and a helping hand in staying clear of Teacher’s control.  Because that’s- that’s being brain dead and building ray guns or something for twenty hours a day, until he decides he needs your power.”

“You’re going to help me get free and clear, girl?”

“I was.  But not if you’re a murderer.  Not if you’re a rapist.”

“I wouldn’t be a boss if I was.  I had a rival.  They decided I didn’t get my second chance, came after me hard.  I came after them harder.  They played it up in court, said I went-”

A squealing interrupted him.  The giant with a dress of worms was tearing chicken wire fence out of the ground.  Metal scraped against metal.

“They said I went too hard,” he said.  “Broke the guy’s jaw, which is true, it needed to be wired shut.  I hurt his back, lifetime of pain, bullshit.  I didn’t touch his back.  His arm?  No.  Lung damage?  Nah.”

I didn’t really have any time to spare.  I knew he was probably playing it down.  But if it wasn’t murder, was I really okay excusing that kind of violence?

It wasn’t lawful, right, or good to be the person who decided he got away for this crime.  But if I didn’t do anything, everyone would get away, or everyone would be under Teacher’s control, which was worse than prison.  It was having the mind shackled.

“I’ll check up on things after,” I said.  “If you’re lying, I come after you.”

“I look after this Natalie as long as you look after me,” he said.  “She knows how to get in touch with you?”

“Yeah.  When the phones are back online.”

A monstrous thing to do, I thought, a continuation of my thought from earlier.

I could remember how scared I’d once been.  When things had been worse than I’d ever experienced, when I’d been alone, more or less, or powerless.

Natalie was in that boat.  I was going to lengths to give her the chance to do something, because she was one of only three people I could count on, with the protocols.

Monstrous, to put that on her shoulders, to demand something of her.  But she was a teammate and the only other people we could lean on were a guy who didn’t know the protocols, talented as he was, and a girl who talked to mice.

Monstrous.

“Cryptid’s at the gate,” Lookout said, as I caught up with the group.  The boys were already in the tunnel.

“At the gate?  Near Teacher’s group?”

Lookout nodded.  “Um.  He brought company.”

“My sister,” I said, my voice tight.

“Oh, yeah, her,” Lookout said.  “And Goddess’ missing person.”

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109 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.12”

    1. “but had what looked scars from a bad burn”
      +like

      “Teacher’s going to be waiting for her. Byron, you remember the tools her people had.”
      Either “his people”, or lacking a reference to the Pharmacist after bringing up Teacher.

      “other people got the Wardens”
      “a civilian with the Wardens.”
      The usual.

    2. >it’s not coincidence that other people got the Wardens and the bombs all stopped blinking.”

      wardens

      >“There’s a civilian with the Wardens.

      wardens

      I’m assuming these references are to prison wardens, not the Wardens hero team.

  1. Really loving the double and triple think going on in here and the amusing ways all the alignment-affected power plays are working out.

    Everything’s hella weird now.

    Countdown until Ratcatcher meets Dot again?

  2. So we got confirmation that Contessa sent Goddess to Shin.

    The more I hear about her escapades, the more I want a Goddess Interlude.

    1. How is Goddess going to deal with Contessa if Contessa decides to take an interest again. She does have the path to victory and can use it to avoid alignment.

    1. I thought Maggie Holt didn’t go to Toronto?

      Or, I should phrase that more carefully–the girl who I assume is the protagonist of the Maggie Holt novels, never went to Toronto.

      1. Whatsherscarf Mags might have gone to Toronto sometime after Jacob’s Bell got swallowed by the Abyss. Maggie Holt as well, and I’m still waiting for the both of them to meet again and settle things adequately.

    2. I was about to say Pact is probably a bit dark for someone kenzis age- then I realised who I was talking about.

      Just curious, are the maggie holt books separate from the tv version of pact mentioned a while back? Cause they mentioned the time jump, which maggie wasnt present for. Different univereses (within the worm canon) have diffrent versions of pact. (Also speaking of intercontinouity refrences, im still wondering what an Academy propoganda book was doing in ward.)

      I realise im thinking way too hard about this.

  3. I really hope Chris and Amy know what they’re doing, because I don’t like the idea of Goddess getting a power up right when it seems like they might be able to get free soon. If they screw up I get the feeling this could turn into a multi-arc storyline, and I just don’t know if I could stomach reading along at that point.
    Maybe I’d go back and binge when it ends, but mind-control is really hard to do right as a long-term effect on the plot in serialized content, don’t believe me read Erfworld, it’s weird and had it’s charm, but the longer they went on with the whole rewriting people’s allegiances story-line it just got weird for me and I had to stop.
    I’m not saying it’s not doable, I just think you need the right set-up if you’re going to subject your readers to that long-term, like the Ramrod story description for what Goddess’s role would have been like in that story, that sounds like a good way to set it up where it wouldn’t be obvious from jump that people are mind controlled, then it wouldn’t as unsettling at first because it’s subtle and you aren’t looking for it at first. And then maybe intrigue would build as we would have been exposed to the more insidious aspects of her influence.
    But in Ward, we know they’re mind controlled, it’s very disturbing because they are wrestling between being themselves and who Goddess needs them to be, and it’s just overall very overt about the mind rapey “alignment”, making it a very unpleasant prospect to have to read about that for longer than an arc or two.
    I mean I’d still read it because I’d be curious to see where he takes it, might get some more cool fights out of it, it’s just it’d also be very unsettling.

    TLDR: I really don’t like long mind control stories because I think in most cases they don’t hold up that well if they go on for too long and also they’re just really creepy and unsettling.

    1. Yeah, I’m gonna agree. This mind control is starting to wear out it’s welcome. We don’t want a repeat of Conquest, do we?

    2. If I’m not mistaken, it’s been foreshadowed that Amy herself is a solution to Goddess’s mind control, what with her trying to touch Victoria. Amy being on-site and not controlled could perhaps turn into a full stop for the situation.

      Then, it becomes a question of Victoria knowing she’s compromised, knowing Amy isn’t, knowing the situation fits M/S protocols to a tee, and having to make that choice.

      And we know Chris is resistant enough to whatever’s going on that he can consciously act against it (or, he has enough tendency to backstab people he’s “loyal” to that it doesn’t make a difference), and that he has at least one form specifically suited to dealing with… certain kinds of masters, at least.

      So, Amy and Chris turning up could actually be a really good thing. Maybe Amy programmed the person with some Bonesaw-tier bullcrap, like partitioning the mind or whatnot to let them make decisions outside Goddess’s forced mindstate.

      1. Because Amy has had such luck using her power to alter people’s minds in the past, hasn’t she?

        I’m not convinced Amy is a solution, because if she was she wouldn’t be with Goddess. I don’t think that attempt was necessarily linked to her power- she touched Vicky’s shoulder, through clothing. Not direct skin-to-skin contact.

        Chris is resistant, or thought he was enough to try it. I don’t think he’s got a tendency to backstab those he’s loyal to, either. I think he’s just an individualist who believes his rights of privacy and choice are most important, hence why he rubbed against Goddess initially.

        1. I think Amy’s power can counter Alignment but that’s not gonna happen. If she was going to she’d have done it before the raid started; the only specific person she wants freed is Victoria and that hasn’t gotten any easier since the hideout. At least for the duration of this engagement she’s allied with Goddess; until Teacher is eliminated from contention she’s not going to risk handing him a win.

          Chris is, I think, marginally Aligned. I’d lay money he’s the one who warned Goddess about Byron and that only advances her agenda. I think he’s still Aligned but has screwed up his emotions on purpose so as to be really bad at doing what Goddess wants. Goddess evidentally caught on but has checked her danger sense and decided he’s a net benefit. So probably he’s got a cunning plan to send her to Shin with an elite Praetorian guard and free everyone else including Breakthrough; it’s not exactly Goddess’s ideal outcome but it’s still broadly in her interests.

          1. Amy can’t be a counter to Goddess because Amy’s power can’t affect Amy. If she’s able to work a bypass into somebody’s anatomy, she’s going to need time and effort to practice without turning them into a vegetable or otherwise negatively impacting their mind/personality/brain, which is against Goddess’ interests. Amy is probably Aligned; she’s too powerful and too close for Goddess to allow anything else, unless Goddess is far stupider than she’s seemed so far. Therefore, even if she knew how to work a bypass with no side-effects, she won’t want to. Because she can’t install the bypass into her own body.

          2. Indications are Amy is not Aligned. I think primarily because she’s acting as an ambassador from her dad and any tampering would get detected and wreck diplomatic relations with people she’d have difficulty getting in Alignment range of.

            Goddess’s TK and danger sense mean she’s not at risk from a death touch, so keeping Amy around isn’t much of an assassination risk.

    3. I’m on board with this one indefinitely because Alignment is a light touch; it’s less like a regular mind control arc and more like Breakthrough has signed up with a new team and must put up with their headstrong and demanding new boss. All the mind control does is make them actually happy about this. But even there they’re exasperated by her whims and habit of making unreasonable demands. It’s a lot like how they’d act if this was a Defiant operation.

      I was going to say Valkryie, but actually now that she talks like a normal person she’s probably the best field commander alive and the team’s only complaint would be that at some point she’d stop being in charge.

  4. I’m feeling the strain of reading about mind control for a long time. It’s really cool and well done but yeah it gets to you after a while.

    Oddly enough this makes me think of how mental triggers occur. Constant, sustained pressure over a long period of time until the person just…cracks.

    In other words, I want this arc to end soon.

    Other thing though, this is the time for Natalie to trigger. Constant and sustained pressure from a terrible scenario combined with lots of capes around and a generalized threat on the horizon.

    1. Is WB trying to trigger his readers?

      For any long arcs, I now don’t worry as much about keeping things straight, and I await the We’veGotWard Doofcast guys to help me keep it all as clear as possible.

    2. “Other thing though, this is the time for Natalie to trigger.”

      Not everyone subjected to trigger-worthy stress triggers. They’ve got to have a shard that attached itself to them, waiting for the trigger event. Odds are that Natalie doesn’t have the capability to trigger. Plus, the trigger circumstances have to match the a powerset that the shard can grant. Taylor was probably never going to be Stranger, for instance. Even if Nat had a shard attached to her, it might be one that can’t grant powers based on her current circumstances.

      1. With the possible exception of if some of the guards are able and ready to start triggering, too. If other shards start going off nearby, a possible Natalie-shard could sense it and find reasons to go off itself.

        But Breakthrough already has a cluster trigger, so that seems a bit unlikely to happen.

      2. Well, Taylor would have loved to have had Imp’s powers before the locker happened. The constant negative pressure and attention on her would be perfect for that, but QA wasn’t capable of such a power.

    3. I feel like now is the exact worse time for her to have a broken trigger, and thusly that’s what I’m expecting if she triggers at all.

    4. Shall we theorize about that then?

      She is surrounded by who knows how many powerful capes, not to mention, like you said, the threat on the horizon of Teacher and the much more closer one of Goddess and Lung, so a Trump power is a safe bet i think. Theres also the psycological problem of seeing Breakthrough be mind controlled all the while she is uncapable of helping even a bit. This to me especifically seems like a Tinker type of trigger, a long term problem building to a unreachable solution. Although she might also recieve Stranger powers depending on her mindset, because she is right now recieving a lot of atention. Although im not very positive on that last one.

      1. She could also get a Trump power; they’re associated with triggers relating to powers. The ability to dispel Alignment is exactly what she needs right now.

      2. (Sorry if this is wordy. I think too much, sometimes.)

        Theorizing… Setting aside the entirely likely possibility that Natalie just won’t trigger ever (maybe she didn’t seem interesting enough for any of the numerous shards in her daily life, or maybe whatever shard she might have doesn’t want something too trump-y), let’s assume any shard she might’ve had didn’t opt to trigger in her most recent situation because it didn’t want to go for a brute-like power.

        Also, getting a power right now would put her on the map for Goddess control, so triggering at all might be the worst possible thing to happen. Which of course means a shard just has to try and halp.

        So, if we’re assuming she got a bud from one of Breakthrough, and we’re also assuming her shard wanted to avoid something that might’ve been primarily brute-focused, we might assume the following:

        1. It’d be something that varies in one or two steps from a Breakthrough power, or is similar but with different applications

        2. It’s probably more mentally-inclined or indirect if it didn’t go for brute

        3. If she triggers in this situation, there’s gonna be a whole lotta trump involved

        As she is now, I can see something master or thinker, but it hasn’t been anywhere near long enough for a tinker. Even then, master and thinker are both usually sorta long-term as well, just not to the point of tinker, though they’d fit the given situation well enough that it might happen. After the category though, the real question is what her “element” would be. (Not necessarily fire/water/etc, just the general theme of the power as fits the situation context.)

        If she goes master, it’d be from her focusing on the alienation and isolation aspects of Breakthrough themselves being mastered, and her simultaneously being the only trustworthy one for half the team as well as the most suspicious for the other half. This also falls in with the trump type for powered minions or second-stage powers (trigger condition: powers impinged on personal relationships), so that’s a natch. There’s also a lot of chaos going on, with lots of powers everywhere, which generally leads toward powers with some unpredictable or constantly changing aspect but more power for it. There might be a tendency toward stranger as well (hostile attention), and if she’s cognizant enough of the situation to grok that getting a power would make her vulnerable to Goddess, that might lead to enough of a breaker-ish bent that she’d get projection minions, meaning it’d be that much harder to pinpoint who exactly is stirring up the chaos; they’ll know someone triggered due to the cape blackout, but Goddess might not have any way to explicitly sense capes. Talk about paranoia…

        Possible master/trump (+stranger?) outcome: Natalie generates human-like projection minions with highly variable powers, or her minions get some manner of variable effect from or relating to stealth. Might be that they have non-stranger powers, but stronger while in stranger conditions (not being observed), or there’s a noticeable stranger bent to the powers (teleportation into cover or unseen areas, blaster stuff that ruins visibility or goes for the eyes, thinker powers that work toward passing off blame or setting up patsies, and so on). Recurring theme here of shifting attention away from herself, perhaps feeling her minions are the only ones she can really trust. In this case, she’s focusing on the situation at large, and where/how she fits into it.

        Alternative interpretation: she gets the ability to give powers Othala-style, but it comes with an added master/stranger side effect. Or, might have an ability to steal powers, then hand them off to someone else, again with some master/stranger bent to it. In this case, she’d have focused more on the capes as individuals, such as who’s on her side protecting her versus who’s against her and suspicious of her. Possible side bonus, if the people she empowers don’t count as capes, so she could trigger (with everyone knowing someone triggered), then tag a random non-cape to be her cat’s paw, thereby making it look like the other person got the power and deflecting attention away from herself. I’m thinking something like where she has a power of her own, but also has the ability to control one or more people; while she’s controlling someone, she uses her power through that person. The base, non-mastery power would itself be derived from whatever else is going on in the trigger event. Might even be power theft, leading to a whole lot of ridiculous shenanigans where it looks like non-capes are stealing powers from capes, and the whole current power structure breaks down HARD. (And power theft might tie in to Goddess’s feeling of ‘hollowness’, plus it might be kinda hard to predict what happens for stuff that happens after your prediction power is stolen.)

        Or, maybe she just yoinks powers from a cape, then generates a minion with that power. Could go with either of the above outcomes: in the situation version, her projections either spawn with a copy of another cape’s power or takes the power outright, and in the people version, she’s either personally stealing powers or empowering/controlling other people to steal powers. Or, if you want to get really crazy, she gets a power that lets her swap that power with someone else’s power. Meaning, the person she swapped now has that power, and can swap with another person, who gets to swap with another person…

        Moving on.

        I’m somehow not really feeling the thinker thing for her, but mostly because it’s hard to say exactly where her mindscape is at right now. What is she paying attention to specifically? Is she stuck on the isolation of her current situation, is she trying to figure out how powers factor in to everything going on, is she questioning her own skills or abilities, is she trying to fill in the blanks and pull up more information? Just going by the context alone and not factoring Natalie into it at all (which is the wrong way to do it, but you know), I’d say a trigger in this situation might tend toward esoteric, which then veers into social. Meaning, a thinker power that plays off other powers, or pulls off a social thinker in a way that goes outside the human perspective. Again, might be a certain degree of stranger involved, what with all the Goddess-aligned not trusting her, which itself stems from her not having powers, and also that getting powers becomes a crisis point of its own.

        I don’t see thinker happening as much, just because it seems like too clean of a solution. If it ends up being a powers-focused social thinker, it might boil down to an “ideological war”-ish trick that plays off how powers interact with capes, which, while really gosh darned effective at stirring up infighting and dissension, might not lend itself too well to actually getting out alive. And, if she gets snared by Goddess, would only lock down Goddess’s control that much more (unless the power has a fixation on thought processes, and also gives her some degree of protection from her own thought processes changing). But, the iffiness here is just me, and thinking Natalie would be more the sort to focus on capes as people rather than getting mired in how she feels or thinks about the situation. Unless she’s trying to figure out how she should feel about the situation, in which case she’d definitely flag as thinker.

        Possible thinker/trump outcome: people-focused thinker power, which gets there by focusing on how powers as entities apart from people influence people. Significant ability to screw with Goddess in this exact scenario, since her ‘aligned’ are allowed some freedom of interpretation. May work on herself, allowing her to slip out of any bonds Goddess lays on her. Would apply to the plot at large outside this current situation, since there’s lots of anti-cape dissent going on right now.

        Problem: it’s a little too perfect, mainly in terms of how it applies to everything else going on in the story. She gets the ability to combat people like Gary Nieves in a way he can’t hope to stop, and she’d be more or less at near-complete liberty to faff about with Goddess’s minions and set up all kinds of disaster dominoes. To the point that, while Goddess might not be able to predict the trigger event itself, I highly doubt her danger sense wouldn’t lock on to Natalie as soon as it was done. She’d need something extra on top just to keep from getting TK’d, which would only raise her danger profile more and get her TK’d faster.

        So, those are my thoughts/theories, I guess.

        1. I don’t think she’d have a bud off Breakthrough aside from possibly Kenzie. Since it usually happens to children, adopted or biological, it seems like it requires at least living in close proximity for an extended period.

          Also, I wouldn’t place too much stock in the PRT categorizations as hard rules. They’re purely descriptive, so their patterns are just trends. The only clear hard rule for power-trigger relationships is that the power is somehow applicable to the issue at hand. It might be totally ineffectual or counter-productive, but it’s at least usable. So Natalie isn’t going to get the power to control fish because there’s just no way to use that right now.

          Her problems are that she’s imprisoned, her friends are Aligned, and they’re stuck without the ability to open portals or grow food. So her power will be at least vaguely like useful for dealing with one of the above. Mover/Stranger, Master/Thinker/Trump, and Mover/Shaker (plant growth related) respectively seem like possibilities.

          All the guards are in basically the same boat and candidates for similar triggers if applicable; they could also get combat powers to fight their way out. By which I mean assist Lung and Goddess in fighting their way out, because not including a defense against Alignment is the sort of things Shards do all the damn time.

          You know, this makes me wonder how Foil and March triggered, specifically. Pretty obviously a fight; it got a combat Thinker power and Sting, but it must’ve been quite something to get two separate triggers before the first of them cleaned house.

          1. Particularly since Foil didn’t realise she was part of a cluster, implying she didn’t see March trigger… Or see March use her new powers to escape whatever the situation was.

          2. Gonna have to disagree, there. The Weaver Dice books make a pretty clear point about power categories being as much on the shard side as they are anywhere else. They talk about what each category means for the entities, why they want capes of those types, and so on.

            And, if you look at the category system outside its story context, it works as a tool for creating characters (or running a character through) much more than it does for responding to a mostly-unknown power. For instance, master/stranger protocols don’t exactly apply to Skitter, even though she’s classed as a master. The official response for trumps seems to change every time it’s explained. There are others, but I don’t want to make another miles-long post.

            And, every time Wildbow talks about what kind of power a character might get in a hypothetical trigger event, he always talks about how that trigger event influences the resulting power. There’s room for interpretation, but much of it is hard and fast: a distant threat will result in a ranged power. An up close threat will result in a close-ranged power. Injury and risk of death results in defensive powers. Mental stressors and emotional turmoil results in mind-enhancing powers. Isolation and loneliness results in minion and controlling powers. If the threat is attention, the power focuses on avoiding attention. If other powers factor in to the event, the resulting power responds to those factors.

            Power categories match to trigger stressors, and to resulting powers. They match to tactical responses in a general sense, but not as cleanly.

          3. So Natalie isn’t going to get the power to control fish because there’s just no way to use that right now.

            The guards were whispering among themselves, but Natalie couldn’t make out the words. It wasn’t that they were too quiet. Nerves. She couldn’t focus. All she could think of was that she didn’t have any books on hand this time. A stupid thought. Useless. Pathetic. Victoria was depending on her for guidance, and what had she done to help? Nothing. And Kenzie. God. That woman had been Monokeros. Natalie rubbed her temples. She had to think of something. Something, anything, but she just-

            It was time. The signal went out like a gong, ringing through the multidimensional substrate. As if seen through a kaleidoscope, shards came worming their way out of the local wildlife on every world, squirming through the intervening space to reconstitute their Entity. They writhed and tangled to became something more, more than they were now and more than they had been before they’d parted so long ago.

            -couldn’t. Natalie stumbled and banged her head against a wall. Wonderful, now she couldn’t even stand upright anymore. She allowed herself to slump to the ground and pulled her knees and fins tight against her body. Then she blinked and looked down. No, she didn’t have fins. Except…

            Natalie concentrated, and a wide curving line appeared in her mind. A line made up of brilliant iridescent lights wriggling as they moved in a great river of shimmering beauty made of their kin. “Great, now I’m hallucinating.”

            “Blurble glorp?” said the guard next to her.

            Natalie looked at him. He seemed confused and concerned. “Excuse me?”

            “Aglobble blu flubblebub. Tubulubbudub?”

            “I’m sorry. I don’t speak that language.” She laid her head on her arms and closed her eyes. The river was still there, but it was changing. Becoming brighter in the middle, dimmer at the ends where it faded into the horizon where a distant but deep glow pulsed. No, it wasn’t actually brighter. It was just more concentrated. Bulging, even. Reaching out toward her.

            “Glub glub!” shouted somebody outside. “GLUB GLUB! Adub glorb FLUBBING dub!

            Natalie shook her head and tried to focus on the words, to understand, but they slipped from her grasp like greasy noodles. This wasn’t a foreign language. Something was wrong with her. She could grasp that. She rubbed the sore lump on her head from when she tripped. A concussion, maybe?

            She shook her head again. The river was painfully bright. It was reaching up and out, and then back down and in, grasping toward her from above and all around. The people outside were getting louder, and she could smell something on the breeze. Something comforting. It was like fresh baked bread, her grandfather’s tobacco, or Tony’s sweater… except not. The concerned guard was looking around with a disgusted expression. So were most of the others.

            A thump nearby got her attention. She turned to see one of those cape kids peering at something in the dirt. Something that was wriggling. Something that glowed fiercely within her mind’s eye. With a mighty twitch, it heaved itself into the air, latched its mouth over the kid’s face, and began scrabbling at his neck with its fins.

            Natalie held her hands to her mouth, then she glanced up. A meteor shower inside her head, and outside her head? Monstrous fish punching through the smoke to bounce off the ground and maul anybody who came near. And this was only the beginning, the vanguard. Up above the smoke she could see and feel great house-sized mouths descending from scaled stalks. She couldn’t see them yet with her eyes, but the entire prison was surrounded, a hollow bubble of relative sanity rapidly deflating against the inexorable, omnipresent storm of hungry destruction she’d somehow summoned.

            She was responsible for this. She could feel that in her bones, in the bones of the fish raining down from the local rivers and lakes, and even in the bones of the fish rushing inland from the ocean to reinforce the scaled maelstrom she was building overhead. With a deep breath, Natalie hauled herself to her feet and grit her teeth. She’d brought this fishy apocalypse down upon them; now it was her responsibility to moderate it. She turned her gaze to a fish chewing on a nearby guard and reached out to it with her mind. “Stop. These ones are friends, not food.”

            She reached out mentally to more of the fish, especially the enormous conglomerate mouths above, then paused as one of them was ripped asunder. Goddess. Goddess, who could align Natalie now that Natalie had triggered. Unacceptable. She rapidly reviewed everything she knew about the other cape. It wasn’t hard; she didn’t know a lot and the woman’s influence on her friends had been one of the many topics cluttering her mind all night. The information was as fresh as the fish flopping off the roof of the building next to her to rub affectionately against her ankles.

            Perception, that was the key. Goddess hadn’t needed to be physically present to affect Breakthrough, but she’d needed them to perceive her as she used her power. Here in the prison, she’d needed to visit those she recruited. She needed perception. Mutual perception, judging by Bryon. Or maybe he was just unreachable while Tristan was out? Didn’t matter; she’d assume it worked in either direction. To avoid alignment, Natalie would need to avoid perceiving or being perceived by Goddess.

            A smile spread across her face; her power gave her an easy way to solve that problem. She took a deep breath, then reached out with her mind to steer one of the smaller mouths she’d stilled above the battlefield. She lined it up, then sent it plunging down through the smoke to swallow her whole. Natalie grinned as she rose in darkness through its hot, slimy throat. She could see in her mind the complex and widespread network of interconnected fish monsters filling the sky. She couldn’t perceive Goddess directly, only through the damage she caused, and the would-be tyrant would never find her in this mess. She paused her ascent for a moment and willed a hole in the long throat to open, permitting herself a breath of air before closing it and continuing up.

            A part of her marveled that she wasn’t grossed out by this improvised bio-elevator, but she supposed it was like trying to tickle yourself. She had full control of the esophagus, and that made it okay. The slime was unpleasant, though. She was deep enough within the beasts now, so she tilted her head and reconfigured the esophagus into a hollow void lined with scales, with a bio-luminescent nodule suspended in the middle to illuminate it. She began constructing a long, winding respiratory system to provide filtered air, but she thought better of it. Instead, she built a sort of reverse lung to exchange gases with the monster’s bloodstream, thereby avoiding any openings to the outside world.

            She was still a slimy mess, however. She thought for a moment while her minions closed in to form a solid dome of fish around the battlefield, then she snapped her fingers. A patch of scales on the floor below reverted to soft, stretchy flesh, and Natalie sank into it for a few seconds. When she rose out, she was dry and clothed in armor made of crimson and cyan scales. A portion of the opposite wall merged into a flat, mirrored surface. Yes, this would do. She reached out her hand to grasp a trident of bone that descended from the ceiling, then the floor reshaped itself and the Empress of Scales sat upon her throne. This would do nicely indeed.

          4. @Aname

            The PRT categories are an attempt to define and categorize something the PRT does not actually understand; Tattletale’s commentary during the Echidna incident made it pretty clear that non-Cauldron people didn’t really know how the powers end up being mapped. They’re empirically derived, but the Shards don’t use them as a checklist. We have an instance of isolation and loneliness resulting in a Tinker power in Breakthrough, and the proximate cause of Taylor’s Master power was claustrophobia and rotting human waste.

            The consistent theme is that the power manifested relates to the trigger, but that relation isn’t a one-to-one mapping with the PRT power categories. This is further demonstrated by the fact that a lot of non-cluster capes have ratings in multiple categories; Taylor was Master 8/Thinker 1 even before the special +2 Skitter bonus to all categories was applied. Alexandria is Brute/Mover/Thinker despite only having the one Cauldron Shard, Purity is Breaker/Blaster/Mover, Lung is Brute/Blaster, Valkryie is Master/Trump.

          5. guy, quick question. Did someone tell you that’s how it worked, and you just believed them without checking?

            I mean, I don’t want to be dismissive here. But I started writing a whole, giant response against everything you brought up (and it’s pretty clear you read maybe half my original post before stopping, so the fact that I bothered at all is a bit generous) where I was kinda being dismissive, so instead I’ll just give you a link to some forum with a thread where people collect all the answers Wildbow made when questioned about Worm/Ward canon:

            https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/worm-quotes-and-wog-repository.294448/

            Just, like, ctrl+F the word “trigger”, and you’ll be good to go.

          6. No, I came up with this interpretation based primarily on reading Worm and don’t feel any of the secondary material I’ve seen yet conflicts with it.

            Specifically, social stress tends to result in a power that helps you with a social situation, and powers that help you with a social situation tend to fall under Master, Thinker, or Changer, but I don’t think it’s strictly impossible to get a Brute power from social stress that could somehow be resolved by super strength. It’s probably unlikely unless your Shard is really reaching, but in a big listing of possible Danny triggers I found on the wiki it was mentioned that Queen Administrator might trigger in a close-quarters threat as a Master power that effectively allows the user to assemble a Brute minion because Queen Administrator just cannot give superstrength.

            Hell, Victoria’s trigger event was getting fouled on a basketball court and seeing her parents look disappointed because she didn’t have powers like they were expecting. So she got Brute and Mover powers to impress her parents and what’s apparently a Shaker power to impress everyone.

          7. Oh, the source for the list was Wildbow on Reddit, so it’s canon. All the triggers would give some kind of Master powers to manipulate living creatures, but the manner in which they’d be manipulateable would correspond to a different power category based on the trigger, so he’d get a different X 1-4 rating to go with Master 4-6 (guessing on the numbers relative to Taylor’s pre +2 Is Taylor modifier)

          8. What? No, just… ugh.

            An idea isn’t right just because nothing conflicts with it. That isn’t how logic works. I could say there’s a small teapot orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter, and there could be any number of reasons why it’s not visible from Earth. Nothing anyone could say would ever disprove the possibility that there might be a teapot orbiting the sun.

            It’s impossible to find evidence for the non-existence (or non-truth) of things, because things that don’t exist don’t produce evidence. If you start making theories based on what isn’t contradicted, what you’re theorizing isn’t going to have anything to do with reality.

            So, no, that isn’t a valid argument to make. If anything, it’s a sign that I probably shouldn’t be attempting to discuss with you in the first place…

            But I’ll try. I’ll start back with what I was going to post before I did the WoG thread instead, so maybe you can see how this is a bit more intricate than you’re seeing. Specifically, you’re forgetting to account for how the character’s own viewpoint affects the outcome.

            “Oh, the source for the list was Wildbow on Reddit, so it’s canon.”
            You need to be very careful about what you believe from the wiki, because it very often mis-cites sources, or tries to claim a source said something when it didn’t. Which becomes blatantly obvious when you actually check the sources they’re trying to cite.

            Though, if you do want to cite the wiki, you should try looking up any of the twelve power categories, then note the entire column where it explains what circumstances in a trigger leads to powers of what type, then check the citations for the claims that page is making. Here’s the page for tinkers specifically:
            http://worm.wikia.com/wiki/Tinker

            But to the point you’re trying to make: each and every one of those Danny triggers was a master situation at its root, and they all started at social isolation or loss. Losing his wife, losing his daughter, or losing support from the mayor/DWU. Those are clearly stated in the descriptions being given, and they’re why all his possible powers were master at the root, and only then had other categories influencing them after that. Because all of his hypothetical trigger events were ultimately caused by social isolation, alienation, betrayal, or loss.

            And yes, QA does prefer master powers over anything else. Shards specifically seek out people who meet the criteria for the powers they want to give, and simply won’t trigger in a situation that doesn’t meet those criteria. WB has said this more than once, and I’d pull up a specific link, except I literally gave you all the links just yesterday.

            Victoria’s trigger event was more complicated than just that. You’re oversimplifying things. (You’re oversimplifying a lot of things, but you’re trying to use this specifically as a point.) For this, I will give a specific link.
            https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/worm-quotes-and-wog-repository.294448/page-6#post-16326050

            “We have an instance of isolation and loneliness resulting in a Tinker power in Breakthrough”
            … No. Lookout was dealing with a long-term, unresolvable problem, which is the flag for a tinker trigger. The specific nature of the problem involved her trying to understand (thinker) how to get people to like her, and the negative, hostile attention that resulted from her actions (stranger). She never actually fixated on the alienation, because Kenzie isn’t that kind of person. She’s never going to have problems with isolation, because she’ll keep trying to make friends no matter what happens. Kenzie got a tinker power with thinker and stranger tech.

            “and the proximate cause of Taylor’s Master power was claustrophobia and rotting human waste.”
            Again, no. Taylor was in a situation where a dangerous environment was a factor, yes. But that wasn’t why she triggered. Taylor’s trigger event was because everybody was ignoring what was being done to her: the teachers, the students, and even her own dad to a degree, were doing nothing at all to stop her ex-best friend’s bullying campaign. That’s social isolation: that’s a master trigger.

            But yes, she was also in a hazardous environment at the time, which would normally be a shaker trigger. And her master power does, in fact, act through shaker means: she controls things in an AoE radius centered on herself. That isn’t something all masters do.

            Taylor also doesn’t have any mover aspects to her power, even though those come about when a person wants to escape whatever situation they’re in. Because Taylor isn’t the sort to consider quitting, or running away. Over the course of Worm, she does a lot of really ridiculous things, and never once tries to escape. Ever.

            Here are some things from the WoG thread supporting what I said here:
            https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/worm-quotes-and-wog-repository.294448/page-10#post-18251141
            https://forums.spacebattles.com/threads/worm-quotes-and-wog-repository.294448/page-16#post-32822594

            “The consistent theme is that the power manifested relates to the trigger, but that relation isn’t a one-to-one mapping with the PRT power categories. This is further demonstrated by the fact that a lot of non-cluster capes have ratings in multiple categories; Taylor was Master 8/Thinker 1 even before the special +2 Skitter bonus to all categories was applied.”
            You didn’t finish reading my original post, did you.

            Yes, capes can and do have ratings in multiple categories, and that’s even the norm. Trigger events that overlap with multiple categories results in powers that overlap in multiple categories. This happens a lot. Even the completely hypothetical powers I thought of for Natalie had multiple categories, because the situation she’s in has multiple factors like that.

            Trigger events that are clearly defined as a single thing are rare. Correspondingly, powers that can be clearly defined as a single category are rare, regardless of how the PRT classifies any given parahuman’s power. The PRT is only going to categorize someone according to what they need to do to counter them; they aren’t going to go over every little aspect of a power with a fine-toothed comb, mostly because they don’t (and can’t ever) have all the information that would let them make a fully informed assessment like that. They aren’t going to immediately realize all the little ways Taylor’s power helps her with stealth (negative attention: bullies) because they aren’t obvious and major applications of her power, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and the PRT’s inability to recognize this definitely doesn’t mean those attributes aren’t there.

            Skitter wasn’t categorized as a stranger *by the PRT* because stealth is not the major focus of her power. Taylor didn’t trigger because she was trying to avoid being seen, she triggered for exactly the opposite reason: society at large was ignoring her plight. But her power still has stranger-ish aspects because negative attention was still a factor, and it still has shaker-ish aspects because the event itself still involved a harmful environment. But neither of those are the main focus of the power, because they aren’t what she focused on in the event. She was a master, because the social isolation specifically is what she couldn’t handle.

            “Alexandria is Brute/Mover/Thinker despite only having the one Cauldron Shard”
            Cauldron capes don’t have trigger events. On top of that, Cauldron shards are ‘dead’, and the powers they give aren’t correctly tuned for humans, because they don’t have all the necessary information about what humans are.

            And again, yes: one power from one shard can in fact overlap with multiple categories. Because people are complicated, and stress isn’t a clear-cut thing.

            “Purity is Breaker/Blaster/Mover, Lung is Brute/Blaster, Valkryie is Master/Trump.”
            And every single one of the hypothetical powers I made up for Natalie also crossed over into multiple categories, for clearly explained reasons.

            But you didn’t know that, because you didn’t read my post.

            That’s the same thing as not listening to a person when they’re talking, or talking over them when they’re trying to say something. Except, on the internet, it just results in you saying things unrelated to what the other person said, like you did just now.

            You aren’t listening. This can’t be called a discussion, because at least half the input I’m trying to make isn’t getting through to you. Because you aren’t reading it, and prefer your own interpretations over what I’m actually trying to communicate.

            You could change that, if you wanted to. And I’d prefer if you did. But if that’s how you think discussions work, then it’d be better for both of us to cut this off here.

            It’s up to you.

          9. I don’t object to the idea that the relationships are generally accurate, or that people who have trigger events aren’t usually at least partially a match for the relationship.

            What I specifically object to is the idea that if someone has Queen Administrator, and their life is all happy and smooth and sunshine and rainbows except that at this very moment they’re being overrun by about a million panicked rats like they’ve taken a wrong turn in Dunwall, Queen Administrator is going to say “well, all my powers are controlling living beings so they’re Master powers and this isn’t a Master trigger, no power for you.” I’m pretty sure they’d get Scurry’s power. But if they didn’t have Queen Administrator specifically, they almost certainly wouldn’t get a Master power because their Shard can’t give them Scurry’s power specifically and basically every other Master power is completely irrelevant to being overrun by about a million panicked rats. They’d get some kind of power that makes them immune to rat bites, or lets them get away from the rats, or lets them kill the rats, or lets them regenerate bites, or lets them hide from the senses of the rats. It’s a classically Brute (severe physical harm) or Mover (desire to escape) trigger and it would tend to give Brute or Mover powers unless the Shard has no relevant Brute or Mover powers on offer.

          10. Also, in that hypothetical when working from hindsight we’d probably be able to tie in a Master power justification for any actual person; there’s some social reason or other that led to them being in a situation where no one was both willing and able to effectively render assistance, because you don’t trigger if you expect someone to show up and rescue you any second now. But Golem was specifically abandoned to his fate by his parents and social group and that didn’t give him a Master power, so you don’t get a Master power every time your trigger event involves isolation in some capacity.

  5. I want so much for Contessa to just show up and waltz through all of Teacher’s security and then casually dispatch goddess’s entire army of brainwashed goons and just take out goddess.
    Last words, “oh, that’s why it felt the same as the other time she appeared.”

    1. “Goddess’ entire army of brainwashed goons” happens to include our protagonists. The prospect of Contessa happening to them is… less than enthusing.

    2. I’m a little surprised Victoria didn’t figure it out–not sure how much she knows about Contessa, but I think she knows roughly what Cauldron was, that they were in the business of moving powered folks between worlds, and that they had an invincible enforcer.

      If it’s Contessa coming, they should be scouring the prison for any available trump powers. In the likely event that none is nearly as promising as Goddess’s own, the best bet (and it’s not a good one) is to try to attack Contessa head-on and try to keep Goddess alive in Contessa’s presence long enough that she can tune her nullification. Lung might be useful here.

      1. Lung won’t be useful. Lung triggered because Contessa beat him up. At the time, he was a young, half-Japanese, half-Chinese thug trying to prove himself for the Yakuza with a group of friends, and she was a young, unarmed lady who managed to take them out before a single shot was fired.

        Blindside might be useful, though. And the Pharmacist. Nullifiers, copiers and thieves are good Trumps right now; gifters, boosters and transferers less so. Some Stranger powers are useful against Contessa; they can surprise her, especially those that, like Imp, can’t be anticipated whilst their power’s active.

        1. Blindside would be helpless against Contessa. She’d just bounce a bullet off a wall. No need to aim at them at all. The Pharmacist? That depends on how their power interacts. Contessa would either take her out immediately or avoid the encounter entirely.

          But this is all speculation because Contessa is NOT showing up. Goddess’ power is acting up because something horrible is going to happen that can’t be stopped. It doesn’t have to be Contessa. It could just be Teacher using one of those Portal breaking devices on the entrance to the Prison world. How close to the Prison is the Portal?

          1. I am aware that Contessa isn’t showing up. I’m just having fun speculating.

            The Pharmacist’s flames have been shown to interfere with precognition and Thinker powers- Crystalclear couldn’t focus on anything burning purple and whilst she was surrounded by the flames, Goddess’ dangersense didn’t work. Whilst Contessa probably could counter or remove her before the flames got going, they would probably interfere with her power. Which makes her a good person to keep around if you’re expecting a visit.

          1. It doesn’t. Mantellum’s aura made it yield grey fog. It’s also apparently a bit fuzzy against Eidolon; Contessa could persuade him of something for the duration of a meeting but not permanently.

            I figure Entities have some form of defense against it but are very careful about handing it out, hence the only known defenses being Cauldron in origin. But they’re similarly careful with Sting yet did let Foil get it, so it’s not totally impossible Scion handed out a Path To Victory blocker.

            Also according to the wiki Contessa might not be able to beat Jack Slash by WoG. Jack can’t be defeated with powers and this might be higher priority than Path To Victory. Though that’d probably manifest as Broadcast telling Path To Victory to ease off and make Contessa ask the wrong questions, then send Broadcast the answers.

    3. It didn’t feel the same as the previous Contessa time. It felt big like the Gold Man, directionless like Contessa and hollow like nothing she’s felt before.

      Although if the power battery is coming, Goddess should wander off soon. It doesn’t sound like she intends to kidnap our heroes.

    4. I’m not sure Contessa could do that specifically; she’s physically an unpowered human. She could destroy everyone involved assuming no immunities, though since Goddess’s Trump power is adaptive she might be immune to Path To Victory this time. But I rather suspect that Path To Victory would give her a plan that doesn’t involve doing it herself.

    1. Potentially neither. Goddess is looking for a booster from her cluster that escaped her after Gold Morning. That’s the missing person. They might be the threat, though, if they can do to Goddess what Goddess did to the rest of their cluster and nab the complete power set.

      1. She really has to work on her tendency to objectify her slavessubordinates.

        Also her constant expectation that everything gets solved just because she wants it to be so.
        She’s not even wearing sunglasses, I mean, what the hell.

        1. She’s not really a mastermind or planner. She’s a teenage bitch who lucked on to something that she could use to become immensely powerful, and then she had people who she could tell “Do this”. She’s even more of a brute force mastermind than Teacher.

          And let’s face it most of the masterminds in Parahumans… Aren’t that astonishing at their planning or organizational abilities. Rather they get powers that are amazing for it. But it’s not like, say Lex Luthor or Doctor Doom where their basically normal humans with brilliant minds.

          1. Tieshaunn said something insightful in a post regarding his universe’s version of Thinker powers: Thinkers are usually not *smarter* than everyone else, they merely *have more information* than the proverbial average bear. Which means that if you figure out the limits of their extra knowledge, you can very easily blindside them and gain the upper hand. Of course, some Thinkers are easier to do that to than others.

          2. Tattletale, at least, is notably pretty smart on her own. She can’t use her power more than maybe a couple hours a day total on a regular basis, so she uses it to obtain information and then plans based on that. And most of her slip-ups are when she’s deliberately feeding her powers by throwing out guesses and watching reactions until she gets the answer; her dialogue pattern when she’s scrabbling gets really distinctive. It’s along the lines of “this is because X. Did you know Y? You see, Z…”

            When she starts talking like that, it means she’s in big trouble and has no idea how she’s going to get out of it; when she figures out how she pretends it was always the plan. She notably screwed up against the S9; under pressure she got that Cherish was influencing the others and said it right away to get a reaction that would tell her more about their interpersonal dynamics and her answer came in the form of a slashed throat. She makes similar stumbles in most “it looks like the Undersiders are screwed but Tattletale has started talking” scenes but just rolls with it.

          3. I’d disliked Tattletale as having a plot-device win button power that allegedly failed her but never in a way that mattered, right up until her interlude established it wasn’t nearly as good as she presented it, and the Leviathan thing happened.

            Tattletale: Tell me about Leviathan
            Power: He’s not human
            Tattletale: No shit. Something useful
            Power: Well he’s basically totally invincible and even though huge chunks of his body have been torn away that’s pretty much just for show.
            Tattletale: Shit. Uh…
            Tidal wave: Time’s up!

  6. So, now that we know that some kind of tinker drugs can immunize people from Goddess-and crucially, we know that she doesn’t get any feedback when she fails to Master someone. The question is if Amy can duplicate that-and if so, if she’s already done it to Chris or the missing cluster member.

    1. If she can duplicate it, Amy could put the mind control immunization into a parasite, like she did for Taylor with the miasma during the S9 attack. Amy and her group walk in, spit on some people, and boom. Everyone’s free and probably pretty pissed with Goddess, with half of them having no problems with murder.

      1. Everybody knows that Panacea immunization plagues are transmissible only via girl-to-girl kisses.

        So Amy has to kiss her sister.

  7. I feel like Goddess’ alignment power could be what the shards use to nudge triggered capes toward their hero/villain/rogue destinies, how they set up kiss/kill dynamics etc. With that in mind, I wonder if the Wretch would feel any compunction about having a good swipe at her at an opportune moment, given that she’s presumably immune and probably doesn’t take kindly to someone messing with their host using the same power. .

    1. That… makes a whole lot of sense.

      I do so love when people figure out the “Purpose” behind various shards. Nice catch/interpretation (depending on if WobbleBob intended it).

  8. Is it possible that the empty starving inevitable doom Goddess feels coming is just the heroes winning and leaving Teacher and Goddess together on Planet Prison forever?

    1. Breakthrough came up with the starving interpretation. Goddess didn’t describe it as starving. She described it as hollow, so obviously what she actually senses is Velvet’s truck finally rumbling to life over in Hollow Point. I’m not sure how exactly the Reindeer Gang is going to threaten Goddess in a large, non-directional manner, but that’s clearly where this is heading, with the culmination being the moment Scapegoat betrays Teacher by hitting him with his own influence and then takes his place in the Reindeer Gang.

  9. I think Breakthrough missed the key attribute Contessa and Scion shared; they both had automatic victory powers. Which leads me to suspect the doom feeling is in fact the baleful gaze of a super precog setting the pieces in motion.

    I’d think the Simurgh, since Teacher and Lung seemingly pissed her off, but that assumes Goddess’s danger sense is an exception to the rule that they don’t work on Endbringers. Then again precog powers usually don’t work on Scion either.

    I seriously doubt it’s just the siege. With so many parahumans there’s probably some way to either get/generate food or open a fresh portal, so I doubt simply besieging them would inevitably ensure their destruction in the same way as Scion invoking his automatic victory power to kill Goddess specifically would. That’s an unwinnable scenario; a siege isn’t.

    Remaining contender: pissed off Valkryie leading an armada of drones and every surviving member of the Dragon’s Teeth. With Eidolon+Grey Boy immune to alignment backed by Dragon’s full and not parahuman might, they’d be in real trouble. And hey, no one ever said Eidolon can’t get Path To Victory. It’s a live Eden shard, after all.

    1. Come to think of it, the feeling started up when Ratcatcher and Crystalclear were in the tunnels, going to contact the Wardens, so the Wardens knowing this is going down is a possible thing that changed during that period. It’s not clear how elaborately Goddess’s danger sense evaluates things, but I’d doubt it’d tell her going to the prison was a good idea when a plan to ensure her inevitable defeat was rigged up.

    2. You seem to be forgetting the super precog pulling Gary Nieves’s syrings, which is Dinah.

      Eidolon can only get unassigned Eden shards, IIRC, so unless Contessa died in the intervening years, GU’s Eidoghost is out of luck on that front.

      1. Oh, I remember Dinah, but her precog is more broad and long-term and it’d be very difficult for her to set up an inescapable death trap on the fly like this.

        Eidolon kept getting fed unassigned Eden Shards to boost his power battery, but as Glastig Ulaine eventually told him before their interdimensional rampage against Scion, the actual purpose of the High Priest is to direct and manage Shards that are in use; he’s the inverse of how she collects the Shards of the dead. It’s not clear what powers are in his deck or how they get there, so who knows whether he can get Path To Victory specifically?

        Valkyrie. Valkyrie knows.

          1. The “on the fly” part would be actually cutting off all of Goddess’s possible reactions; Dinah’s power isn’t suitable for having initiated Goddess’s inevitable defeat since the fight with the pharmacist started. I’m pretty sure a Dinah targeted attack would register on the danger sense as whatever tool she’s using to strike and Goddess would then not correctly deal with it; if her power directly sets off the danger sense it’d probably feel similar in nature but start when Dinah began searching the possibility space for Goddess’s death. If she’s arranged Goddess’s death here, it’s the kill method itself Goddess is feeling.

            The other super precogs, on the other hand, could kill Goddess within the day if they’ve only just put their minds to it.

        1. Also you have to have a relationship with Dinah before she totally destroys you. As long as Teacher, Goddess, and Contessa ignore the cryptic paper notes they get from Dinah, they have little to fear from her.

          1. Except Dinah knows they’re ignoring the notes, and has planned for it. Ignoring the notes sets up something else that gets what Dinah wants.

            Also, it’s hard to ignore a cryptic paper note. If nothing else, you’ll try to find out where it comes from.

          2. Not reading her notes didn’t help Scion. It also didn’t stop Crawler or Siberian or Grey Boy Two from becoming collateral damage in her play to kill Jack. Which failed because you can’t defeat Jack with a power but would probably have worked on literally anyone else.

  10. Going to have to agree with the others that I hope Goddess’ role in the story to come is limited soon. She reminds me unpleasantly of Coil, but without Coil”s one good grace of remaining largely behind the scenes save for key and defining moments. She’s too much the spoiled, petulant brat to inspire anything but revulsion and contempt.

      1. I kind of feel like she got the character class for people who aren’t very good at the game but want to be effective team members. She’s passibly competent, but with her powerset passibly competent will take you far. She literally has the power to force smarter people to make plans for her, and she’s been making good use of it.

        Right now her plan to escape this is to have Breakthrough figure it out for her. And that’s as much using her power as Taylor defeating people with a swarm of insects is.

  11. “Sooo, Victoria if you could pick one person you don’t want to be stranded on an alternate Earth with, who would it be?”
    “Amy.”
    “Yeah, I got some bad news about that…”

    1. “Oh thank god, its you and not her,” Victoria said. “It isn’t my sister I’m going to be stuck alone with on this planet!”

      “Things still hat bad, huh?” said Tattletale.

  12. This is Chapter 67 in why Victoria needs to work with Tattletale.

    Seriously, there is a Tattletale shaped hole in all of Victoria’s actions and it is grating because Tattletale would totally work with Victoria.

  13. So… people seem to be talking up how awful Goddess is….
    But in terms of Parahumans, and given her powerset, and when she presumably got it, she actually seems like a surprisingly decent boss.

    “I’m pretty sure you are conspiring against me, but I am impressed with your work. Would you like a shiny new Australia?”

    Or like… she is press pretty hard this chapter, but let it not be forgotten: Her danger sense is god damn screaming at her. She has important tactical information, that needs to be acted on RIGHT NOW, and yes, she is sharp, and ignores her underlyings concerns, but to be fair, she DOES have important information.

    She picks out her most competent “Employees” tells them her info, asks if they have any questions, and when they don’t immediately have the answer, her response is “If you can’t give me an answer, I’ll ask others.”” – because this is in fact the best possible thing for her to do: get as many brains working on this problem as fast as possible. This isn’t just impatience, this is sensible well aimed urgency.

    I’m not saying she’s a good person, but she does actually seem like an effective LEADER (unlike, say… Taylor, who was an effective combatent, but was more about doing everything personally instead of leading)

    1. I consider Goddess bluntly straightforward and impatient, but also think that’s purely because her power insulates her from the negative consequences; if it actually negatively affected her personally in a serious way I think she’d be a lot more mellow.

      Most particularly the way she’s talking to Breakthrough isn’t how you manage people; it makes them angry and resentful and potentially disloyal. But Breakthrough is Aligned; their morale might take a bit of a dip from Goddess yelling at them but they’re going to do what they’re told to the best of their abilities anyways. She’d only get a marginal performance improvement from imitating Mr. Vaughn.

      Taylor never learned the proper officer lesson of leaving work to subordinates to focus on the big picture even if she’s personally more qualified to do the work, but her people management skills were pretty solid. She could consistently get a wide range of personalities and allegiances onboard with whatever Taylor Plan the situation called for despite Taylor Plans consistently sounding completely insane and impossible right up until they work.

      1. Actually I think Goddess is ironically taking so much flack because her Master power is better than Teacher’s. The Aligned and Teacher’s thralls are mere extensions of their respective Master’s wills; that’s just obvious with Teacher because he’s forced to micromanage. Teacher arranges an elaborate months long rube goldberg machine to secure some of the prisoners, and Goddess sends an email, takes a holocall, spends ten minutes on a team strategy meeting, kicks down the door, and has control of eighty percent of the prison in like two hours. Execution was a little sloppy around the edges, but it got results, and while she’s ended up in Teacher’s trap it’s still anyone’s game and Team Goddess is ahead on points.

        Plus, Teacher’s strike on Goddess was a meticulously planned strategy involving an optimized counter pair, a custom-order Tinker drug, as well as a backup plan to get the pharmacist in kill range, and how’d that go? Goddess skirmished, realized this was real trouble, and proceded to send a bunch of minions she’d picked up earlier today to dismantle it while she grabbed a bunch more minions, shattering plan A and stealing Teacher’s biggest Brute, then thwarted plan B with two minions she snagged five minutes ago, and has now assigned her new favorite minions to counter plan C. Even her temporary-pending-replacement strategy is blunt but not dumb. I mean, the plan is for a massed Parahuman assault led by Goddess and Lung. That’s only a bit less effective of a plan than “Behemoth burrows out of the ground and walks in a straight line” and look at that plan’s track record.

        1. Throwing Lung at anything that can’t immediately kill him probably qualifies as a good plan. Or, a plan that’s bound to not fail, if nothing else.

      2. This is a fair breakdown. I don’t think she would be an effective leader without her power, but given her power, she appears to be using it in a sensible way (all be it kinda blunt, but hey, we can’t all be subtle).

        And you are correct, Taylor may have micromanaged, but she was good at wrangling people, so I guess its fair to say that they have different strengths and weaknesses managementwise.

        1. I think if Goddess didn’t have her power she’d have a different leadership style. That’s speculative, but my sense of Goddess is that she’s moderately smarter than average but is incompetent in skills she doesn’t need because her powers make them unneccessary; she doesn’t need to motivate parahumans because the Aligned will serve regardless, she doesn’t need to carefully analyze a situation because her danger sense will warn her about anything important, she doesn’t need to strategize because she can just order Breakthrough to give her a plan, and she doesn’t need the patience to wait for a chance to strike because she can just bulldoze most opposition.

          What she does need, and has, is the skill to make effective use of her powers aside from sloppy handling of Aligned that’s just made them marginally worse so far. She’s been interpreting her danger sense pretty effectively for how vague it is, and her TK use is top-notch. The end product seems unimpressive, but indications are that she probably can only use it as a single coherent fractal. And yet last chapter she managed to use it to fly, throw large objects, and shred things into flying splinters to strike a target, possibly all three with the same fractal pattern and without hitting purple fire in the expansion phase. That’s one hell of a trick, and even if her power comes with a secondary Thinker ability it probably just tells her what fractals are valid; she apparently has to figure out how to use them herself. Hence Victoria noticing her only picking up one person at a time when readying for the assault; when she’s not in a hurry doing multiple things at once isn’t worth the effort.

  14. I’m guessing Teacher managed to clone himself up an imperfect copy of Contessa and then used Scapegoat to switch out pieces that weren’t quite right. It’s got her power at the least, if not her soul/ essence/ whatever makes her HER. That’s why it feels empty. There’s the inevitable doom of her power coming down on you, but there’s no real motive force behind it.

  15. I wonder if the reason the trap is closing but not yet set is that the power battery just arrived. If she gets Aligned and rejoins the power choir then Goddess will have her last puzzle piece and a chance to shatter the trap. She’ll be able to do a limited number of things that aren’t currently possible, including an unspecified change to who she can hit with a given Alignment pulse. It might allow her to Align without line of sight and swipe the loyalty of key besiegers, become immune to powers not subject to immunity, upgrade her danger sense to full precog, pulse her TK so high she can obliterate the besiegers at a stroke, or… whatever it is power #6 does. I guess some kind of “things go smoothly” power maybe; she’s been lucky picking minions and they’ve been lucky on her behalf.

    But if she guesses wrong on which power can get her out of this, with Blindside fuzzing her danger sense, she’ll waste the battery and the siege lines will have time to firm up before it recharges.

    1. Now you’ve got me wondering if power #6 is the one that let her hijack the rest of her cluster’s abilities. It’s possible that it’s a facet of Align, but #6 could also be something like an inside-out version of the Yàngbǎn’s Null: (preexisting?) shard connections being concentrated to a single host instead of divided across many hosts.

      1. The hijack of powers was achieved by Shin scientists and Cauldron working together. If a special power were involved, Tattletale wouldn’t be able to do it for Rain, Snag, Cradle and Love Lost.

        1. Tattletale made no promises; I get the sense she only knows it happened but not how. It’s possible one of the involved Shards is actually necessary for the procedure to work.

          Still, I suspect Goddess is the primary host for Alignment; the missing person indicates the other cluster members need to participate somehow, at least periodically, so I feel like it’s the person with the strongest Master power to begin with who got them to voltron up.

          Sixth power might be largely absent because it’s the dead guy’s; it’s not clear what the cluster’s base rule is; it’d be odd to just lose the power entirely but it might be stuck at the pre-voltron power level for secondaries and have a 1-3 rating and not significantly increase Goddess’s power level, at least when she’s down the battery.

          Or maybe it’s a screwball Stranger power, hence complete lack of any reference to it beyond that she must have six powers.

  16. Holloway empty sounds a bit like Amy… And a threat to every single world? Yep. I have this feeling that she’s going to break because she can’t heal the gap between her and Victoria. These goes completely insane with real grief, advice calls Tattletale. Thistles to New Wave and Marquis working hand in glove desperately trying to rein in Amy. Meanwhile, the actual end box old Writingbiro has planned is using the distraction to get ready for their plan…

    Or it could be an army of Teletubbiss.

  17. This arc started with Teacher approaching Scapegot. At some point there has to be a reveal of what was going on there.

    What if this impending doom that Goddess is feeling is something involving Scapegoats power? Some hack of it that Teacher figured out how to weaponize???

    There’s lots of things that could be. For example, Goddess’ precognitions of danger seem to have a dimensional component to them – she gets the same feeling when faced with danger that is unavoidable, regardless of the size of it. Scion and Contessa trigger similar feelings even though one is works ending in scope and the other is just guaranteed to win. So it’s possible that Goddeses’ power works by “sampling” alternate realities to see what’s happening in them.

    If this is the case, Maybe Teacher found a way to use Scapegoat’s reality bending powers to interfere with Goddess’ danger sense? If that was the case, he could use it to direct her to where he wants her, for his plan. Or he could use it to misdirect and obscure his intent.

    Dimensions do seem to be an underlying theme in this arc.

    1. Speaking of dimensions, I just had a thought, what if the hollowness she feels in the future is one of her shards running out of power. She seems to use all of them a ton on a regular basis, and she used them a lot more during Gold Morning, so what if the power battery, just makes shards less conservative with their energy use? Then it’s hollow because the shard might run out at that point so it can’t look any further. I also think it would be fitting that her approach of heavily leaning on her powers for everything leads to her burning them out partially or entirely.

      1. Seriously doubt it; firstly as a cluster trigger she probably has live Shards; the Travellers demonstrate just drinking a bunch of vials together doesn’t get a cluster. Live Shards are in power collection mode, and they’re supposed to be refilling their reserves over the course of the cycle.

        Second, even Cauldron shards have enormous reserves; the only one we’ve seen drained was Doormaker, after a long period as Cauldron’s portalmaker and then the lynchpin of Khephri’s interdimensional hunt. Eidolon’s power was draining away, but that’s probably partially down to changes in how effectively he called on the powers of others and partially because it was split between him and the Endbringers, hence the drain rate spiking when Khonsu and the Twins came online. Either maintanence or starting up making the next set seem probable. Goddess is using her powers a lot, but not that much

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