Gleaming – 9.13

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The tunnel was a concrete tube, stabbing in the direction of the front gate of the prison, bright lights arranged on the sides at roughly eye level, each pair of lights spaced out from the ones before and the ones to come, all contained within protective cages, many of which illuminated the spiderwebs that covered them and the moths that had found their way down.  The matching pairs of lights made Rain and Byron cast two half-intact shadows, where they stood a little ways down the tunnel.  In the ring of lights that surrounded the short ladder down, I cast a half-dozen.  That half-dozen shadows narrowed to two as I approached the boys.

A heavy impact elsewhere in the prison complex shook the ground, and the concrete walls absorbed it.  The effect was muted, diffused through the tunnel.

Lookout followed me down, hopping down from the short ladder with a ‘hup’ sound.  She was small in the shadows of Monokeros and Damsel, who were right behind her.

“I hope you’re not claustrophobic,” Rain murmured.

I glanced at the walls of the tunnel.  It was narrow enough that the lights on the left side were only six feet or so from one another.  Because it was a tube, the path was only two feet wide or so, before it became a curved slope that couldn’t really be walked on.

No room to fly or to maneuver if it became a fight.  No real ability to throw ourselves to the side if there was trouble.  Dropping to a position where we were flat against the floor meant we’d be lying in a row, because the sloped floor would just see us rolling down toward the path at the center.  No cover to be had.

If anything, the open space extending both front and back was more… concerning than the unyielding concrete and dense earth to either side, above, and below us.

There was another impact.  Bugs fled cracks in the walls, tracing crazy paths in their search for hiding places that weren’t anywhere to be found.

“How are we doing this?” Byron asked.

“I have some experience in leadership, if you guys need some direction,” Damsel said, from the back.

“I-” I started, pausing to double-check myself.  “I know the team better.  I’ll give some direction, if that’s okay?  I have ideas.”

I saw her shrug.  Her gaze was cool, but her mannerisms nervous as she shifted her weight to her other foot, claw hands twitching.

“Byron,” I said, even as my thoughts were trying to judge that nervousness in Damsel.  “If it’s okay, we could use Tristan right about now.”

“Sure.  Why?” Byron asked.

“He can give us cover, and I know Blindside carries a gun.”

Byron nodded.  He blurred.

“I could lead if you wanted,” Tristan said.  “I led Reach for a while.”

“If it’s okay… given what we talked about just outside the headquarters, I’ll take point.”

“Because I said I didn’t trust myself.”

“Sure,” I said.  I hadn’t wanted to just volunteer that, with so many listening in.

“Do you trust yourself?” he asked.

I hesitated.  Then I shook my head.  “I don’t know.”

“Ahem,” Damsel cleared her throat.  She raised a hand, the claw-tips scraping the concrete wall.  “I trust myself.”

“Uh,” I said.  As Glory Girl and as a member of the Patrol, I’d occasionally run into situations like this, when dealing with people who were wholly unreasonable or hampered in their reasoning.  They never got any easier to deal with.  “…I’m mostly trying to aim for a happy middle ground between self-trust, being durable enough to be close to the front where we can see what’s going on, and knowing the members of the team.  Even if we accept you’re confident, you can’t take a bullet.”

“Mmm.  I suppose.”

“Tristan, can you make us shields?  One for each of us?  More like the shields SWAT teams and Patrol teams have than anything else.”

“It’ll be heavy.”

“Worst case scenario, it breaks in my hands.”


I nodded, thinking.  “Damsel- is it okay if I call you that?”

“Mm hmm.”

“If there’s trouble, can we count on you to give us a side area to duck into?  If you put a hole in the wall, will it be okay?  Do you know if it’ll make it more likely to cave in, doing what it does, swirling things around, or will it be less likely?”

“No idea.  We don’t lose much by trying,” Damsel said.  “Dirtying my prison-issue shoes?”

“Except a possible cave-in of the whole tunnel,” Rain said.

“Give me some credit,” Damsel said, her nose rising a fraction.  “If the whole tunnel collapses, it’ll be because I wanted it to.”

“Great,” Rain said.

“And Lookout,” I said.  “Any camera feeds down here?  Drones you can deploy?  The more we know about what’s going on-”

She was already shaking her head.

“No cameras down here.”

Lookout shook her head again.  “Connecting down-here to everything would defeat the purpose.  It’s a closed, secondary situation and a secret escape route for prison staff in case of emergencies.”

“Not a very good secret,” I observed.

“No.  Um!  Um, I don’t have any ongoing camera footage down here, but I can find the old footage from when they headed this way.  Some of it’s dead and it might not have any fancy extra perks like thermal vision, seeing backward in time or physical representations of social relationships-”

“You can get your cameras to track social relationships?” Rain asked.

“She said she can take pictures of the past and you’re focusing on that?” Monokeros asked, dry.

“Uh, yeah,” Rain said.  The rest of us nodded.

Monokeros seemed deeply bothered by that.  If there was a question to be asked or something to be made of it, it was drowned out by Lookout talking, her voice insistent.

“I’m saying stuff like that.  When it’s cameras I make a lot of the time I can get them to pick up other noise and waves and junk, and later if I want to toy with the feed or go enhance, enhance, enhance, then maybe I can.”

“Okay,” I said, interrupting before Lookout could get carried away.  “Footage of these guys, as they make the approach.  Maybe they brought something.”

“Oh, right, on it!”

“Victoria,” Tristan said.

I turned to look, and the orange motes he was drawing manifested into a shape.  It was a little more triangular than rectangular, the point scraping the ground, but it had a bar across the middle and it had a hole in the front to peer through, if I kept my head at the right angle.  Black stone, run through with veins of what looked like copper, gold, or a mix therein.  It tipped toward me, and I caught it with my burned hand and my shoulder, before catching it with my other hand.

“Stand back,” I said.  I glanced back to make sure the coast was clear, and then I activated the Wretch.

Stone creaked and strained as the Wretch grabbed it, and it bucked this way and that as hands gripping the top and then the side pulled at the edges.  Part of the bar broke almost immediately.

Tristan did something cruder with his shield, drawing it small.  He drew out more motes near where I was, and as I advanced, he advanced into the motes, putting his shield out so the stone would manifest and bond to it.

Once I knew he was doing that, I picked up the pace.

“Rain,” I said the word instead of calling it out, because the acoustics of the tunnel meant that sound would travel.  “If Tristan and I go down, use your ranged power to stall and distract, don’t hurt anyone, get Lookout and Damsel clear.”

“Yep,” he said, like it hadn’t even needed to be said, didn’t even warrant a full ‘yes’.

“And me?” Monokeros asked.

“Your orders are the same ones Goddess gave you.  Keep an eye on Lookout.  Make sure she gets out safe and sound.”

“I meant he should rescue me too.”

She didn’t even get it, did she?  That she was that ignorant, that fucking unable to see the wrong in what she did, that she might even say she’d do it all over again.  A complete and utter monster, behind me, her footsteps running.  She could use her power on me at any moment-

“He could,” Tristan said, behind me.  He was the only one besides me who wasn’t a little winded by the running.  Rain seemed to be doing okay too.

Hearing that voice, the firm shutdown of the monster, it helped.

Too easy to get pulled- sucked down a rabbit hole.

“Guys,” Lookout said.  “My mask is fritzing out.”

“Your mask?” Damsel asked.

“I’m all wired up.  I’ve got cameras for eyes, and they aren’t working,” Lookout said.

I floated in the middle of the tunnel, doing my best to orient myself in the air in such a way that if the Wretch started pulling the shield around to my left, I could rotate it back the right way.  I looked back and saw Lookout scrabbling at her mask, pulling the reflective insert that ran down the middle of her face back.  Her eyes, nose, and mouth were visible.

“Any special vision modes?” I asked.

“Not really.  Picking up some of the visual noise as a supplementary thing.  It’s wired so I can plug other stuff in or see through a video feed like I’m there.”

“But you could parse it if you took that recording back to your workshop and scanned it,” I said.  A statement, not a question.

“Uh huh,” she said.

“Blindside,” I said.  Far enough down the corridor that we couldn’t see them yet.

Lookout held up her camera, her expression serious.  I didn’t have long to see before she lowered it for Tristan, then turned around to show the others.

It had been a video loop.  Most of the cameras that were able to move had turned away.  The ones that couldn’t, I presumed, had gone black.  The images we had were of people at the very edge of the camera.

“What’s the takeaway?” I asked.

“Two people at the edge of the camera.  Kingdom Come and someone else.  A guy prisoner.”

Teacher had someone on the inside.

“No footage of the guy?”

“No.  He was walking right behind Blindside, and whatever mussed up the cameras meant he wasn’t very visible either.  He’s skinny.”

The Wretch jerked the shield to one side.  I flew around, my arm extending to its full length, my fingers gripping the view-hole in the shield.  Not wanting to fight it any further, I shifted position, ready to move on.  “We push on.  Save Sveta, get Ashley, get Natalie, make sure we have control over the bombs if we need it.”

“Go for it.  I’m right behind you,” Tristan said.

“If you have to fight Blindside, swing something that won’t stop when your arm does.  A flail, whatever.  Or strike from an oblique angle.  Switching elements might really work here.”

“Maybe.  They could also risk drowning us or washing us away,” Tristan said.

“Yeah,” I said.  The Wretch crushed a part of the shield, and I winced.  “Yeah.”

I flew forward.

Blindside, Kingdom Come, and one unknown.  Somewhere down this tunnel was a computer, console, or other network that allowed for communication with the other Earth.

The shield blocked my view, but that didn’t change that Blindside still blocked aim.  I was flying on a course, and I couldn’t pitch that course to go cleanly over Blindside.  I hit an invisible wall, my flight course altering against my will.  I brought my legs up, feet planting on the wall, and then flew, strongarming my shield in Blindside’s general direction.

I hit the invisible wall and canceled out the Wretch.  The shield carried on, slamming into the concrete wall and scraping a light clean away from its housing.

“Oh, it’s you,” Blindside said.  They didn’t sound like they were so close they’d almost been hit by the shield.  Had they scooted back?

Blindside moved, feet tapping against the tunnel floor, and I was forced to look away, turning toward the wall.  I could gauge from the edges of my vision and judge distance using the angle I’d been moved at.

“Reminder: if your head turns too fast the wrong way, you might snap your neck.  That’s not me trying to do it.  I don’t want to do it.  Believe me, it’s a problem, driver flies by, head turns too far to the left, car goes flying… if you go flying, actually flying, the same thing happens.  I don’t want the blame for that shit.”

“What are you doing, Blindside?  You work for Tattletale and Lord of Loss, got a heroine shot, and now you’re here, working for Teacher?  I can’t picture those two working together.  You can’t possibly think Teacher’s going to fix your problems and not enslave you.”

“Get this through your skull, Patrol girl.  I don’t work for them.  I don’t like either of them.  I work for money.  Cash.  Dollars and dineros.  Trading dollars and New Dollars, if you want to be modern.  I’ll even take some nice horses for barter if I gotta.  They tell me to guard the tunnel while they do what they do, I’ll do it.”

“Take it from someone who was a crime boss in an earlier life,” Damsel said.  “Sometimes it’s easier to leave the help behind than to fork over the cash to pay ’em.  You’re going to get left behind.”

“You weren’t that kind of person, right?” Lookout asked.

“I never did it, no.  But power makes people callous.  I might have.”

Blindside cut in.  “You’re talking about Teacher?  That man doesn’t want to be on my bad side.  Half of what he does is make thinkers.  The other half is making tinkers, some of which are still pretty darn affected by my power.”

“Power makes people stupid too,” Damsel observed.  “We have exceptions, like Goddess and yours truly, but…”

“Someone like Teacher?” I finished the thought.

“He seems like the kind of person who’s so smart they do stupid things,” Damsel said.

“Maybe,” Blindside said.  “But he’s at least smart enough to know that if he crosses me he’s going to have to watch his back.  You know why he’s going to have to watch his back?  Because I’ll be there, walking up to his front, grabbing his dick and balls, and cutting ’em off.”

“Ew,” Lookout said.  “Why do that?  That sounds gross and awkward to actually do.  You’d have to get his pants off.  Stab him in the chest if you have to do something.”

“Or be creative,” Damsel said.

“Or be creative, yeah!”

“Or don’t cut and stab people,” I said.

“The whole merry gang,” Blindside said, pacing while talking.  “Should I be happy you’re distracting me from the boredom or annoyed?”

“Annoyed,” Tristan said.  “Come on.  You’re outnumbered, we just fought Lung, plus the Pharmacist, the woman who sets powers on fire.  We won.”

“Yeah,” Blindside said.  “Here’s the reality.  I’ve had my power for a while.  I know a lot of the tricks.  I’m armed and all of you can’t hide behind one shield.  You could win.  But you might not.  Turn around, leave, I won’t stop you.  When we get what we want and we leave, we’ll bring your guys with.  Happiest outcome.”

“I can’t lock on,” Monokeros said, from the very back of the group.  “You guys are on your own.”

I saw orange motes start to appear in the corner of my eye.  My head flicked around as Blindside ran beneath me, toward the group.

“Incoming!” I called out.

I heard Tristan’s, “Fuck!”

Blindside had slipped past the wall Tristan had been making before it had been confirmed.  He dismissed the motes, audibly grunting as something crackled.

Voices overlapped.  “That itty bitty thing isn’t going to-” “That’s a tas-”

From what I could gather, Blindside had realized their stun gun didn’t work on Capricorn and applied it to Rain instead.

Poor Rain.

Damsel’s power crackled, then flared out, the noise deafening in the close confines of the tunnel.  Blindside shrank against one side of the tunnel, which meant I could turn my head to see three-quarters of the scene.  Damsel had backed off a bit, and now held her claws out.  The distortion of her warped space was being held within the confines of her claws, a roughly spherical shape of what looked like slices of space seen through very tinted glass, Vista’s warped space, slices and curls of total blackness, and crackles of black lightning.

I heard a gun cock.

“Shoot me, and this stuff I’m holding fills the tunnel,” Damsel intoned the words.

“And your team?” Blindside asked.

“They’re not mine.  They’re a means to an end.  Meanwhile, you’re an obstacle, which means you’re going to end,” Damsel said.  She couldn’t look straight at Blindside, so she turned her chin up, arms out, holding the contained storm of shadows and blurs.

“If you think I won’t put a bullet in any of them-”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care?  Haha, what?” Lookout asked.  “You said I was cool!  We bonded over a book!  So much for you being cool!”

The gun cocked again.  “I’m aiming at the kid now.  Don’t think I won’t put bullets in her legs.  I had to deal with the Tweens Between in New York, and that helps anyone get over the hurting kids thing.”

What?  Am I in upside-down world, all of a sudden?  Damsel being hilariously uncool and people saying the T.B.T. aren’t the best?” Lookout said.

“Lookout,” Capricorn said.  “You wanted to be on the front lines.  You need to keep your head on the task at hand.  Can’t get upset at Damsel and excited about some overrated hero group.”

“Okay,” Lookout said.  There was a pause, then she muttered, “They weren’t overrated.”

“Put the power away.  The noise is hurting my ears,” Blindside said.  “I will shoot the kid if you don’t.  In four, three, two-”

The power fizzled out.  Damsel had to shake one claw to get one flicker of power to disappear, and in the midst of the shaking, her claw tip scratched concrete.

“Turn around.  Go the other direction,” Blindside said.

At the front of the group, still holding his shield, Capricorn looked up at me, eye barely visible in the shadows behind the goat-styled helm.  At one hand, his finger indicated the end of the hall.

Me?  Going on alone?

I hesitated, glancing in that direction.  I’d be dealing with Kingdom Come and a strange cape alone.

“Don’t even think about it,” Blindside said.  “If you leave, Patrol girl, I’ll start shooting.”

We couldn’t fight them in close confines without hitting allies.  Couldn’t use something like Tristan or Damsel’s power without affecting allies.

I did believe that they’d shoot someone.

“Alright,” I said.

“Two options,” Blindside told us.  “You fuck off, or you stay until K.C. finishes what he’s doing and comes back.  Which might be a while, because he’s taking his time.  When K.C. turns up, you’re going to run because you don’t want him using his power on you.  That’s a fast ticket to Teacher getting his hands on you.”

“Which means we might as well just fuck off,” I said.

“Good girl,” Blindside said.  “You finally get it.”

“Our team,” Rain said.

“They’re in good hands.”

“Go,” I told the group.  “Back the way we came.  We head for the entrance, do what we can.”

“But Tress, and Swansong,” Lookout said.

Capricorn looked up at me.  Then he switched.  Tristan to Byron.

Was he thinking or hoping that Byron had a clever idea?  If he was, he was inside Byron now, very disappointed that his brother didn’t have any more ideas than he did.  Byron let the large shield drop, then headed back through the group, helping Rain and putting a hand on Lookout’s shoulder.

“I think dealing with Teacher is the kind of situation where nobody wins,” I told Blindside, flying above so that the limits of my field of vision kept track of where they were.

“That’s my problem to deal with.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“If you’re thinking about having the guy in the fish armor flood the tunnel, think again.  I wouldn’t be letting you go if I thought that was going to work.”

I nodded, and then I flew after the others.  My hand caught the ladder as I reached the wall, my arm catching some of my forward momentum.  I grazed Monokeros on my way up past the ladder.

“We’re really abandoning them?” Tristan asked.  He was already aboveground.

I looked down the hole.  Monokeros glared up at me.

“We’re not going down through there,” I said.  “Come on.  We’re heading to the front gate.”

“I don’t like leaving them,” Lookout said.

“We won’t.  Sveta’s my best friend and Swansong gave me an apartment with no strings attached.  We won’t leave them, I promise you.”

Lookout nodded.  “I want everyone together again.  We get Tress and Swansong, and then we get Cryptid, and we’ll have Damsel of Distress with us as a bonus.  Um, sorry.  I’m getting distracted again.  Usually Cryptid tells me to shut it.”

Cryptid.  It was a disorienting thought, because there was so little about Chris that let me orient my thoughts where he was concerned.  He was out there with my sister- and that last element was something that I actively didn’t want to think about.  Disorientation and aversion both.  Revulsion.  Hate.  Disappointment.

“Do you have an actual plan, or should someone else step up?” Damsel asked.

“I have a fucking plan, Damsel,” I said.  “Ease up.”

Talking about leadership in the first place had been a mistake.  I had to take a second, clearing my thoughts.  There was a way to do this.

“Lookout,” I said.  “We saw the tunnel.  We saw where it goes.  I know there’s no footage there, but is there any way you can map it out and help us figure out where the tunnel is, beneath us?”

“We’re going in from above,” Rain said.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“I think we could,” Lookout said.  “Um.  When I was lensing the space map, I wasn’t even thinking of underground tunnels, so I double checked before and-”

“Speed it up,” Byron said.

Lookout talked double-speed as she finished, “I have a strong guess and I can refine it.  With what we saw down there.”

“Do it,” I said.

“Yes!  Projector disc, Capricorn?”

He handed it over.

There was an outright war going on near the front door of the prison.  I could hear the succession of noises, of distant detonation, pause, detonation, pause, rumble of something collapsing.  The pauses were becoming fewer and shorter, and there were more noises that overlapped.  Here and there, gunshots could be heard.

“We get to the terminal for the bombs, and we end this,” I said, keeping my voice low.  “We sound off an alert for every ankle bracelet, and they’ll notice.  Neither Goddess nor Teacher want to lose the prisoners.  We can put an end to this fighting and make the prisoners stay put.”

“Some of the prisoners,” Monokeros said.  “Some are leaving with Goddess.  No negotiation.”

“Sure,” I said.  I met Monokeros’ cold eyes, and I felt my skin crawl.

“I missed out on the Tweens Between,” Monokeros said, wistfully.  “I liked them, from what little I saw of them.  They had moxie.”

“Oh hey!  Another fan!  Moxie is a great way of-” Lookout said.  She stopped working for a second, looking up.  “No, wait, hey.  That’s awful, haha!  No!”

“Work,” Rain said, putting his hand on her shoulder.  “Tress and Swansong are counting on you.”


She was a kid, in the end.  She was, as much as any of us, trying to wrestle with conflicting feelings, with tension.

I wrestled with my own feelings, trying to anticipate what came next, without letting my thoughts get muddled by the blood-and-bodily-fluid streaked elephant that was occupying one large segment of my thoughts.

For a moment, it was all I could do to just keep my equilibrium, stay calm, and try not to think.

One hundred and ten percentIt’s not about being the Warrior Monk.  It’s about being all of it, getting to where every part of me functions and functions well.

“Got it,” Lookout said.  She held up the disc, and lines sprung out, painting a fuzzy rectangle on dirt and grass.

Something struck with a sound like cymbals as large as a building, loud enough that every single one of us bent over, hands at or near our ears, wincing in pain.

“That’s Advance Guard,” Kenzie said, barely audible as my ears rang.

The heroes at the portal.  If they were coming in, that was because the people they were trying to stall had gotten through, and the heroes were following after.

If the heroes were following after…  Then Goddess had yet another massive advantage.  Teacher might be losing this, and if he thought he was losing while he had control of the ankle bombs…

“Damsel, Rain, can you use your powers?  Get us through the ground.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Rain said.  “But I sever, I don’t really dig.”

“Whatever you can do,” I said.  I looked over at Damsel.

“Only because you were good to my sister,” Damsel said.  “What’s a little dirt on an outfit this hideous?”

“I’ll buy you something,” I said.  The noise of her power tearing into the earth seemed like it drowned out the end of my statement.  I raised my voice a bit, “I think I know someone who knows the kind of clothes you like!”

I saw a smile on her face before she started swiping out, tearing into the ground and creating a ditch in a matter of a single blast.  People backed away as she widened it into a hole.

She did have control.  It wasn’t just holding the blast as a localized storm of energy.

The power geek in me wanted to spend hours thinking about what that meant, drawing an analogy between Swansong and Damsel, and me and… something else.  Was that something I could chase?  Something I should chase?

“Hold up!” Tristan called out.  Byron had switched out when I hadn’t been looking or focusing.  “Give me a second.  I’m going to shore this up.”

Damsel was panting for breath, animated, seemingly excited to be alive in a way that I hadn’t seen in Swansong or in Ashley.  Sweat streaked the dirt on her face, and she was illuminated by the orange lights that spiraled around her.

Rain dropped to a crouching position, pulling Lookout down as people ran by.  Women in red prison uniforms.

Pure luck that Damsel hadn’t been making noise as they came by.  I held out a hand, indicating for the others to wait.

For Breakthrough to be at its one hundred and ten percent, we needed to get Tress, Swansong, and Cryptid.  We’d help Crystalclear and Ratcatcher, we’d get to the console or terminal, and we’d get control of this situation.

I gave the go-ahead to start again, my eyes scanning the area for any prisoners running around.

“Another ten feet,” Lookout said, looking at the disc and the phone she was holding.

“Get us close,” Rain told Damsel.  “I’ll get us through the last bit.  Cleaner and quieter.”

Orange lights swirled, reinforcing the walls of the hole that was being dug, while Damsel stood at the lowest portion.  She swiped out with her power, with no staggering or apparent pain, glanced up at Lookout, got a motion to go again, and repeated the process.

“Good,” Lookout murmured, peering over the edge.  “One foot of dirt and one foot of concrete left.”

Damsel put a claw against the wall of stone, claw-tips reaching for purchase and finding none.  She lifted a foot so covered in mud that the footwear was impossible to see, placing it on a spike, and then used a blast of her power to ascend to the top of the hole.

More control there too.

Capricorn leaned forward, catching at one claw with a gauntlet before Damsel could tip backward and fall the way she’d come.  Damsel said something I couldn’t hear, walking away from the edge so the way was clear.

Rain threw his scythes, drawing a square.  I looked over at Tristan, who nodded.

“You block Blindside.  I cover the other end of the tunnel,” I murmured.

“We’ve got this,” he said.

I flew down, Wretch out, aiming for the center of the square.

It broke clean, concrete shattering only when it struck the floor.  I followed it all the way to the ground, landing with one foot, both hands, and one knee pressing into the dirt atop the shattered pad of concrete.  I had my orientation, which meant I was clear to go.  I flew in the direction of Tress and Swansong, Tristan landing behind me the moment I was out of the way.

Into the underground bunker.  Past a room with ten bunk beds, past a kitchen, and into the larger room.

Into the situation.

A man in a prisoner uniform sat in a modified computer chair, the chair’s back to the wall.  He had the kind of brow that meant a perpetually furrowed glare, a mullet, and a thick beard.  There were computers in the corner, and he’d opened the cases, strewing components around him.  Many had been worked into the chair itself, turning it into something more like a throne.

He was their access to the console… just as Lookout was intended to be ours.  Inconsequential.

Of far more consequence was Tress, who was partially out of her armor.  Tendrils flailed around her, grabbing everything in reach, pushing some away, pulling others closer, flinging the rare one.

When the tendrils moved, it was with a speed the eye could barely follow.  Something was whipped in our direction, and before I could see what it was, a crackle of electricity destroyed it, LEDs and boards across the tinker’s chair lighting up.  I saw the tension ease in the tinker’s shoulders, only to return there as he saw me.

In another situation, I might have wondered if he was an opportunist who found their way down here.  With the information from Lookout, I knew he wasn’t.

“Stop what you’re doing,” I ordered him.

Sveta’s head turned my way, by a rotation and flexibility that a normal neck didn’t have.  Her face was streaked in blood, her eyes were wide, and she was lost in herself in a way that broke my heart to see.

That heartbreak stopped when I saw a grouping of tendrils move, but it wasn’t a good stopping.  It was sudden, numbing shock that stopped all other feelings, thoughts and processes.  The grouping of tendrils all grasped the same thing- a lump of a shape in black fabric.  Blood streaked the smooth ground where the fabric touched it.

“What are you doing out of costume, Sveta?” I asked.  I sounded so normal.

There was no response.

“Where’s Swansong?” I asked.  Still normal.

She dropped her eyes to the ground.  Tentacles flailed madly.

“Crystalclear?” I asked.

More tentacles bunched around the fabric.

I stepped forward.  I felt the buzz of ambient electricity in the air.  I moved my hand and felt it intensify by multiple factors.  Something told me that if I reached the threshold where this invisible electric fence divided the room, the electricity would converge on a single point, aiming to repel me.

Tristan, Lookout, Rain and the others caught up.  They stopped a few paces behind me, looking over and under my shoulder at the scene.

“Where’s Ratcatcher?” I asked.

Tendrils twisted at the black fabric.  Something crunched inside.

She flicked it at me, limb snapping out like a whip.  I activated the Wretch by raw instinct, and the Wretch intersected the electric field.  An invisible hand caught the cloth, and the nimbus of electricity briefly drew an outline around the Wretch.

Better at dealing with sustained onslaughts.

Something crashed behind me.  I turned to look, still tense as the Wretch held out against electricity and held the black cloth.  Rain had kicked the tinker’s tech-upgraded chair.

Another kick, and the electricity went away.  Rain and Capricorn both hauled the guy out of his chair, back and away.

I let the Wretch drop away.  The fabric hit the ground, and immediately, tendrils began reaching for it.  Unrecognizable bits of flesh rolled out.

“You did that on purpose,” I said.

She looked at me, and I saw nothing of Sveta in that face.

“Kingdom Come,” I said.

The black cloth- none of the others had been wearing black.  They’d been wearing prison uniforms.  The cloth was Kingdom Come’s own costume.

“He’s controlling her?” Lookout asked.

“He’s trying,” I said, my voice shaky with the relief.  “But the thing about Tress is that she’s worked ridiculously hard to get to where she is.  It takes a kind of strength, and that asshole doesn’t have it.”

Kingdom Come opened Sveta’s mouth, worked her jaw.  No words came out.

She doesn’t have full lungs, Kingdom Come, I thought.  For her first year or so, she couldn’t talk or explain herself, not that she even knew the language.

“Let my friend go.  Reconstitute, end the breaker state,” I told him.  “And show me where Swansong, Ratcatcher, and Crystalclear are.”

“They’re in the back,” Lookout said.  She brought her hand forward, holding the disc.  The compass had lines extending out toward a door.  We’d have to get past Kingdom Come to get there.

Going for the exit at the far side of the tunnel?  Is there one?

Kingdom Come reached out with tendrils, groping at the ground and at piles of things.  He worked to drag her prosthetic body across the floor, putting himself between us and what looked like a large computer server with cables running into the ceiling above it.  Loops of metal bound tendrils together, and more cables and loops bound the tendrils to the body.  Only a portion were free.

“Let her fucking go,” I said.  I floated closer.  A tendril slapped into the ground between us, slicing through the air with a sound like a sword might make.

“Thane,” a crackle of a voice could be heard, from the mess of technology to my left.  “Stop what you’re doing, pull us out.  Tell Kingdom Come and Blindside.”

Kingdom Come crawled closer to the console, blocking it off.

Rain, scrambling to rummage through the tech, found the device.  He pulled it free and hit a switch.  He hesitated for a second.”Clarify.”

“Who’s speaking?”

I mouthed the name.

“Kingdom Come.”

Tentacles slapped against the ground.

“We give her nothing.  Find your way back.”

Kingdom Come dragged himself closer to the server.

What’s he doing?  I floated closer, and tendrils struck out, forcing me to retreat.

How did this happen?  Sveta in the center of the room.

I could deal with her grabbing.  I’d dealt with it as the Wretch, but she’d been careful to hold, not to strike out.  It had been the product of years of work.

Orange motes began to circle her.  I didn’t move a muscle, watching.  Tendrils reached.  Stone trapped them.  I saw ‘her’ react, pulling away, pulling tendrils out and through the gaps provided.  Others squeezed at stone, straining to crush it.  More tendrils reached, even using the stone as a point to grapple and pull herself forward.  More stone trapped them.

Others reached out for the server.  On the wall, there was a plexiglass case mounted, with wires hooked into the server.

It wasn’t a fire alarm behind that case.

“Shit,” I said, realizing just how they intended to leave Goddess with nothing.  I looked back at Damsel and Rain.  I saw Rain look down at the bomb that was still at his ankle.  The shackle that kept him in prison, currently quiet and black, but so easily it could become death or maiming.

Tendrils snaked in.  I flew closer, and tendrils almost immediately shattered the Wretch.  Orange lights danced around the tendrils at the case, but it was too late.  The light solidified into a hunk of stone, encasing those tendrils, while more lights solidified into chunks of stone that kept Kingdom Come locked into position, unable to crawl away or mount an effective attack.

Still too late.  Within that case on the wall, which contained an emergency button that might easily set off every single ankle bomb, I could hear the plexiglass shatter, crushed.

Beside me, Tristan took a deep breath.  I met his eyes.

No time for words, no time for communicating a message, that message being received, the understanding.

Only the understanding.

Tristan became Byron.  All of the rock he’d placed throughout the room, on the server switches and on Sveta became a rush of water, swirling and flooding the underground space.  Her prosthetic body was shoved, twisted around, and the tendrils pulled away from the button.

Given the choice between every single one of the prisoners being executed and every single one of the prisoners living and being free, we’d made a call, because some of those prisoners were important to us.  The server flooded with frigid water that quickly extended from floor to ceiling, and blinking lights went black.  As connections were disrupted, lights all around us went out, leaving the space as dark and cold as death.

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89 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.13”

      1. Why that isn’t followed up with explosions is beyond me as the easiest way to ensure that those with powers don’t just do this exact thing is to use a dead man’s switch…

        1. So a single technical error or burned out fuze should be able kill every single imprisoned parahuman? It’s bad enough that which a thing as an indiscriminate emergency detonator even exists. Many of the inmates aren’t even murderers. At least it can be excused with the extreme risk some of the powered represent. Imagine if RL supermax prisons had a self-destructive button that kills every inmate. The mere existence of such a thing would be considered dehumanizing.

    1. The water fried all the tech, so the trigger for the ankle bombs no longer works.

      The ankle bombs are no longer useable.

      1. It seems that the ability to remotely detonate the bombs is gone. I suspect that the anti-tamper measures on the actual devices are still active.

    2. Byron converted the rock Tristan had been layering on electronics into water and wrecked every piece of computer equipment in the whole place, bringing down the entire network. Ankle bombs go inert, communications are offline, cameras themselves probably still work but aren’t sending data anywhere.

      Partial Goddess victory; it’s no longer possible to kill all the prisoners at a stroke or alert the Wardens directly, and Lookout’s control over the remaining prison systems is now absolute.

      1. We both know they were bittersweet endings. Victory for the main character s and a whole lot of disasters for every one else.

        Still this is my favorite ark of ward so far, as Victoria is facing the contradictions of her situation with herself and Amy.

        It took a little for ward to get beyond excellent for me, but at least not as long as Twig.

        Guess that now as a full team breakthrough is well… going to breakthrough.

          1. The best piece of credibility to the coma is Alec’s appearance. The heartbreaker in Earth Alph wouldn’t have powers to get a harem and spawn Alec… Alec’s Earth Alph clone appearing in the US and crossing paths with her is equally unlikely.

            Further alternatives are that she’s in a sort of limbo. Due to her shard. Maybe under Valkerie’s Power or another cape. Maybe where the memories of dead capes go, awaiting rebirth like the clones.

          2. @Charles: People keep forgetting this, but the fact of the matter is that Alec did not appear. Yes, there’s that one segment that ends with Taylor thinking she sees Alec, but the very next Taylor POV segment opens with her realizing that she was mistaken:

            Taylor shook her head a little. The resemblance was slight, if it was even there. Her mind was playing tricks on her.

            So, clearly that was just Wigglybuff fucking with us, not evidence for or against any sort of interpretation of the ending.

    1. If those hunks of flesh were Ratcatcher then I’m calling it for the lazy attempt at creating tension through misery-mongering that it’d be.

      1. Pretty sure those hunks are leftover KC; the rest of the strike team is probably Mastered right now.

        I mean, more than Swansong already was.

  1. Damsel and her contrast to Swansong is an amazing experience.

    It’s interesting to watch how the alignment makes Seir and Rain tolerate each other, makes Kenzie less wary of Monokeros, but does nothing to everyone else’s opinion of the child-killer.

    I forget, was there any way to break KC’s control without him reconstituting? Poor Sveta, once again losing control of herself by means beyond her will.

    1. The Alignment only affects people’s opinions of Goddess; Seir and Rain are tolerating each other because they’re on the same team now and Kenzie is less wary of Monokeros because Kenzie has bad judgement. Also Monokeros might actually be using her Master power on Kenzie because Goddess assigned her to supervise, with at least an implicit “don’t murder her” rider. Everyone else hates Monokeros still and they’re only bringing her along because Goddess told them too and they’re waiting for the moment Goddess no longer requires Monokeros so she’s fair game.

      Kingdom Come’s control hasn’t been forcibly broken to date but I think it’s safe to assume his power only works while bits of him are on the person affected, so Sveta’s probably free now that she’s been drenched.

  2. Typo thread:

    That half-dozen shadows narrowed
    -alternative: That half-dozen narrowed to two

    It was narrow enough that the lights on the left side were only six feet or so from one another.
    -What’s the logical connection?

    The other half is making tinkers, some of which are still pretty darn affected by my power.”
    -of whom, but Blindside might not know that

    and lines sprung out,

    1. “He hesitated for a second.”Clarify.””
      Closing quotes instead of opening ones + lack of spacing.

    2. victoria uses rain and tristans civilian names in front of monokeros and the wretch has a 14 foot armspan but thats not a problem in a 2 foot wide tunnel, tristans at the top of the tunnel but it was byron then later it says byron switched to tristan without her noticing

  3. “You can get your cameras to track social relationships?” Rain asked.

    “She said she can take pictures of the past and you’re focusing on that?” Monokeros asked, dry.

    “Uh, yeah,” Rain said. The rest of us nodded.

    Monokeros seemed deeply bothered by that. If there was a question to be asked or something to be made of it, it was drowned out by Lookout talking, her voice insistent.

    That feeling when one person is an insane serial killer and it’s everyone else in the room who’s acting weird. Next up Victoria is going to be dismissive about concerns Tinker tech might explode if poked wrong.

    I’m not sure why Victoria is uncertain about why Damsel’s power is more cleanly controlled because we already know the answer; Swansong’s power gets screwy when her hands tremble slightly and Damsel was more willing to let Riley upgrade hers so they’re steadier. Swansong is still more controlled than original Damsel because her mechanical hands don’t have as many stray nerve impulses. It is the sort of thing that can be caused by a Shard going squirrely because it doesn’t like how you’re using it, but original Damsel and Swansong had it be notably screwy on them during the Boston Games and the Fallen assault right when they’d been in the middle of a big multishard free-for-all of the type Shards try to drive people to get into but also when their hands were the most shaky.

    1. I also kind of feel like Blindside screwed up and is only still alive due to sheer luck. I mean, normally this’d be a pretty safe situation and one Blindside is definitely in control of, except that one of the people in the tunnel was Damsel. Damsel is:

      1. Crazy and willing to kill; in fact crazier and more willing to kill than Swansong, who has killed Beast Of Burden
      2. Probably capable of blasting apart enough of the tunnel to collapse it on top of Blindside
      3. Controlled enough to selectively obliterate the parts of the tunnel collapsing on her

      That’s not really a great person to threaten and strongarm. Blindside either misread the situation and was lucky that Damsel didn’t opt to tackle Kenzie, go hurling backwards while blasting every part of the tunnel she could target, and let the whole mess collapse, or Blindside has more reason to stick around than one payday.

    2. To be fair, Team Breakthrough- or parts of it, including Antares, Tress, Capricorn and Cryptid- have actually seen Kenzie take photographs of the past. Social relationship cameras are new, and they’ve not seen them before.

      1. Yes, but they appear to have forgotten that cameras that can take pictures of the past are not a regular thing most people are familiar with.

        It’s kind of like how Skitter was confused about why the Undersiders were somewhat unnerved by the idea of filling their hideout basement with thousands of black widows.

        1. That is true, but they don’t really have time to explain it all.

          Also, a camera that sees physical relationships is weirder than a camera that sees the past. After all, most cameras already provide a snapshot of the past, even if it was the present when the photograph was taken. Kenzie’s just taken that and run with it, albeit probably not in a straight line.

          1. Yeah, I actually thought Monokeros was the one being weird there. Seeing into the past seems pretty straightforward as thinkers go, while seeing representations of personal relationships is a lot spookier, in a nebulous way. I took it as her just failing to recognize why personal relationships are important or worth paying attention to.

          2. Given Kenzie’s general trends to date I doubt the cameras actually take pictures of social relationships but rather do a ton of data mining that is presented in graphical form, like how she did the tracking of who’s a Teacher minion. That’s not notable as a Tinker thing the way “not subject to linear time” is. I mean, Dragon has been doing that basically her whole existence but she didn’t have cameras that could see into the past before the meeting. Probably has them in the works now because she chatted with Kenzie for a while and her special Tinker attribute seems to be taking ideas from other Tinkers and putting them into robots.

          3. @Guy: Technically Dragon’s a Thinker whose power is ‘understanding and duplicating Tinker tech’, which functionally makes her a Tinker whose speciality is other Tinker’s work.

            Her robots aren’t ‘hers’ so much as they’re based on the legged drones from one guy scaled up by the power/ratio tech of another guy, fitted with weaponry designed by someone else, given Kenzie’s cameras for eyes and fitted with lenses by some other dude and programmed by Dragon’s understanding of her father’s work, whilst everywhere Defiant’s miniaturisation/efficiency tech and Kid Win’s modular tech makes them super adaptable to whatever comes up.

    3. Victori’s thinking is all kinds of screwed up all over the last few chapters. It started with Goddess but really got started after Amy touched her and they entered the prison. I bet Amy has her own mind control virus she created to combat goddess and teacher’s control, and which she activated for Victoria early.

  4. This prison has really terrible backups, huh. I guess they just don’t want to accidentally murder all their prisoners in the event of a power failure.

    1. Well, mainly they very specifically only want to kill prisoners when an authorized person decides to kill them. So they’ve got a ton of redundancies but they’re all in a single secure location, so as to prevent, uh, Teacher breaking into the system and detonating all the ankle bombs.

      There may be some inadequacies in their planning.

      1. Yeah, I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t a dead man’s switch. That’s probably how I would have done it. You know…if I needed to imprison a bunch of dangerous parahumans.

        1. Well, this prison is high-security but not necessarily for severe crimes; it seems to be used as a prison for any parahumans who’d pose a serious escape risk from regular prisons. So the designers wouldn’t want to inadvertantly wipe out the entire population due to a mechanical failure, particularly not one induced by an external attack intent on killing the prisoners.

          Now, what I’d have a deadman’s switch on is the portal; something goes wrong, the portal seals, and the guards and prisoners sit tight until someone phones Valkyrie to come by with Doormaker.

          1. Doormaker’s power got used up/burnt out during Gold Morning, so it would have to be some other portal generation… probably one of the tinkers like what Teacher has.

  5. Okay, this ending was a major blow to my suspension of disbelief. You’re telling me that in a prison designed to keep capes on lock, the anklets don’t have a dead-man’s timer? Something which sets them off if they don’t receive a localized update signal or a manual override from the prison every few hours or so? They just made these anklets so that anyone who would jam their signal could escape, or so that anyone could wreck their primary security measure with a bucket of water? There’s no backup detonator, nothing?

    This would be a major security flaw in a normal prison for serious violent offenders, let along a powered prison.

    1. Remember that unless there’s an unknown portal power combination (and Scrub+Faultline are the only known wildly unexpected one to show up) there’s literally only one way out, which it’s been noted the prison might be able to close at will. They’re also under constant supervision with armed and trigger-happy guards, and only allowed to get into physical proximity under tightly controlled circumstances, they’re not allowed to congregate in groups larger than two ever, and this control center is heavily shielded, deeply buried, hidden, and has a whole mess of electronics probably shielding it from any single mechanical failure. Absent an extremely high-end Master showing up while also subverting the prison staff in advance the prisoners aren’t going to be able to launch a successful escape attempt by targeting the anklets; they wouldn’t be able to coordinate and plan a jailbreak that could get past the guards and Warden reinforcements prior to the system going down, and afterwards they’d take long enough getting organized and sorting out who’s in charge that Valkyrie and Dragon can show up.

      And since the prisoners aren’t actually sentenced to death, it would actually be pretty bad if someone could detonate all the ankle bombs by sabotaging the system; that would make it vastly easier for a mastermind to eliminate a lackey who’s been jailed and is contemplating turning State’s Evidence, for instance.

    2. Some security systems should be fail-closed, and some should be fail-open. A system that has the potential to kill or maim every prisoner should be fail-open. If simply killing everyone were acceptable, they wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of operating a prison in the first place.

      1. Well, depends on the prison. The Birdcage, in particular, had as one of its layers of security hard vaccuum to kill prisoners in the event of a breach, which would kill or maim a large portion of the prisoners if there was a catastrophic failure of structural integrity. But that was for very severe crimes and Rain and Swansong probably wouldn’t have been sent there; the designer specifically did not think Canary should have been sentenced to the Birdcage and made every possible effort to keep her out of there and then release her once in there, given that Richter’s shackle code prevented illegal actions.

        1. My recollection is that the Birdcage had automatic bulkheads and a layer of containment foam, so that a mere hole in the wall would not typically threaten prisoners who weren’t immediately adjacent to it. Also, lots of Changers, Breakers, and Tinkers could probably deal with vacuum.

          1. The Birdcage had a hell of a lot of defensive and security systems of an enormous variety, many nonlethal, but it was generally designed to kill prisoners if necessary to prevent their escape. The purpose of the vaccum was to provide a lethal deterrant to escape attempts able to breach physical barriers, like Ashley’s power or Sting.

            I’m not sure what would happen in the analogous scenario of the spatial distortion failing, since that never came up, but given how incredibly dangerous and actively murderous many of the prisoners were I would not be surprised if it was designed to collapse the mountain on top of the prison in the event it broke down.

        2. If Canary was sent there Rain and Swansong would definitely be sent in there too, especially with all the amti cape opinions being 100x worse and the court system being umder strain as it is

          1. Canary was a fluke, basically. She specifically wasn’t Birdcage worthy but the prosecutor was up for reelection or something and came up with some excuse to send her there despite actively not meeting the standard legal qualifications for going there.

            Rain and Swansong are here because there aren’t gradations of parahuman prisons right now; this is apparently the only prison for parahumans generically. Antitamper ankle bombs will put down most parahumans so they go with that because they don’t have the budget for targeted countermeasures or the Birdcage’s interlocking layers of security. The prisoners here are pretty much all thinking up ways to disable the ankle bomb and slip out through the portal to escape, while the informal Birdcage orientation included that you shouldn’t even bother because you’d have to blast through the bulkheads, survive the vaccum, break out of containment foam from the foam drones, survive whatever it is Dragon sticks in drones for when containment foam doesn’t work and it’s more important to keep you from escaping than keep you alive, burrow through effectively several miles of metal sandwiching containment foam, and then roll the dice on whether the greatest Tinker in existence with decades to plan and the power list of the entire prison hasn’t thought of some other security measure and opted not to mention it. You can’t teleport out because it’s in a spatial distortion such that you’ll telefrag. You could escape via hacking the elevator, but, you know, you can’t hack the elevator.

            Also, this prison’s real security is the portal. If the portal is shut or blockaded very few capes or sets of capes can actually make a credible escape attempt; they need the ability to open a portal and if they’re going to be a problem for Gimel they additionally need the ability to pick a particular world so as to not wind up either in some random location like wherever the people from the portal attack got scattered to or on a death world. The bombs are mostly to keep them from fighting each other or setting up a big coordinated move on the portal.

    3. Don’t forget that this “prison” serves double-duty as a jail for people who are still considered to be innocent according to the law. Rain, Ashley, and most of the other folks involved in the Fallen raid are still awaiting their trials — they have not yet been convicted of anything. It’s fine to take some harsh measures to make sure they don’t run before they can be tried, but setting it up to slaughter them all in the event of a disaster would be completely inappropriate.

      Also worth noting that there is no official government yet. Doing mass executions without the backing of a powerful government is dodgy business at the best of times…

      Thirdly, there is a well-established precedent in this setting of trying to keep villains alive just in case they end up being useful against an Endbringer, the S9, or what have you. And it wasn’t idle paranoia; threats of that magnitude happened on a regular basis, several times a year. In that context it makes plenty of sense to design your prison such that the inmates don’t get slaughtered wholesale if something goes wrong.

      1. I will note that the no-kill rule is probably cracking; I have the distinct sense Cauldron was pushing the Birdcage extra hard to keep them as a reserve for Scion. Which makes it odd that they didn’t push harder to keep the prisoners alive, but then again they were probably fine with feeding them to Glastig Ulaine as plan B.

        Even so, a good chunk of the people here probably aren’t really considered dangerous enough to fit this prison, but with Gimel racing to get infastructure up for all the Bet refugees before the winter sets in there’s not much slack for spending on multiple prisons capable of securing parahumans in general.

    4. It could also be that they have a deadman’s timer or backup detonator so now, despite Breakthrough’s intentions, Rain, Ashley and the other inmates are screwed. We haven’t seen the consequences yet so we can’t know.

          1. The train runs on the overwhelming guilt of what you did and the overwhelming pressure of knowing that you’ll never truly be forgiven in your own eyes. Not to mention that every fifth day, somebody tells you to kill yourself for eight hours straight.

  6. Blindside managing to hold off Victoria, Capricorn, Rain, Kenzie, Damsel (Slashley) and Monokeros singlehandedly is… honestly pretty damn impressive. His power is just insanely difficult to work around.

    1. Yeah, when he’s in the right environment, there’s really no way around him.

      Also, for some reason, since no one knows what Blindside looks like, I keep imagining him as Waluigi.

  7. The shadows not coming up in the Blindside bit bugged me a bit, though there might still be a payoff there.

    I quite liked their method of catching up, though, even if they left a back door open in the section they circumvented…

    Big fan of Sveta here.

  8. Also, is it just me or are Capricorn’s powers changing AGAIN? Tristan going back to metal would mean Byron going back to a gas that suffocates people, right? That’s also worrying because if their powers represent their relationship…Goddess has probably done some serious damage there.

    1. I thought their powers represented each twin’s current state of mind, so one could change without the other (to a degree, since they obviously affect each other). Tristan warned earlier he wasn’t exactly in the healthiest mindset, so maybe his anger goes metal.
      Probably more complex than that, since even the simplest power is so deeply meshed in the cape’s psyche.

    2. Alternately, Antares is getting a closer look of his rock-structures than she has previously, and the metal ore has always been there, but she’s been too busy/far away to take a close enough look to notice it.

      Also, when Tristan was metal, Byron was ice, not poison gas. Don’t think Byron’s ever been gas.

      1. Byron was gas when he first got his powers. Tristan’s was metal.

        I have a current theory that each twin’s powers correspond to how they feel about each other.

        Byron’s gas means that he felt suffocated by Tristan while Tristan’s metal means that he felt intense anger towards Byron.

        Later, Byron became ice, representing the overall coldness he feels towards his brother while Tristan’s was stone, unable to be pushed around or negotiated with.

        Currently, Byron’s power is freezing water, meaning while he still holds animosity towards Tristan, he is more willing to go with the flow. Tristan’s stone is easily crumbled, representing how he is more opened to being persuaded. The metal being within the stone now could mean that while he still acts like everything is okay, he is hiding a deep-seated anger towards Byron, most likely for the stunt Byron pulled, Goddess’s mastering of Tristan and the looming countdown of being ripped apart by Barcode’s crew.

        So, whatever Capricorn’s current power is, we’ll have some insight on exactly what’s going on with their relationship.

        1. I think it’s about mental state generally and somewhat abstractly; their relationship with each other is a dominant feature of their lives so their emotional state tracks it but the trends over time don’t seem to reliably correspond with changes in their relationship. Obviously it’s possible something Victoria has missed, but prior to Goddess showing up Byron had been trending towards colder water without any apparent shift in his relationship with Tristan, but with the obvious stress of the portal attack and related fallout.

          1. Also, I think the key point with the suffocating gas is “gas” rather than “suffocating”. Tristan generates various solids, Byron seems to do phases of water. Definitely solid and liquid, which makes me suspect the gas is just water vapor and it suffocates people by displacing O2.

            This also implies Byron might be able to pull a Sundancer under the right conditions, because plasma is also a phase.

  9. While I’ll agree that it makes sense that destroying the central detonator for the ankle bombs renders them useless aside from any anti-tamper features built-in, I think it odd that no one has mentioned that we’ve yet to see what the bombs’ actual reaction to destroying the central detonator is. For all we know, Breakthrough has just activated a death counter for everyone in the prison.

    Also, I don’t have the best memory, but I remember Worm, Pact, and Twig all ending on relatively high notes given how much suffering their respective protag ensembles went through.

    Gnlybe jnf qrcbjrerq, ohg ure fnavgl jnf erfgberq naq fur tbg qhzcrq ba gur bayl rnegu gb pbzr guebhtu Tbyq Zbeavat ernfbanoyl va-gnpg jvgubhg univat gb fgneg sebz fdhner bar. Nethnoyl sne orggre guna zbfg bs gur Org ershtrrf pheeragyl yvivat va Tvzry.

    Nfvqr sebz Tehr, gur bgure Haqrefvqref gung yvirq gb frr Tbyq Zbeavat fheivirq zbfgyl va-gnpg, ergnva zbfg, vs abg nyy, bs gurve cer-Tbyq Zbeavat pynvzf va Tvzry naq erznva va gur tnzr hagvy ng yrnfg gur Snyyra Envq va Jneq vs abg gur cerfrag.

    Wnpbo’f Ory jnf ybfg gb gur Nolff, ohg Ebfr naq gur Oynxrthneq fheivirq na rapbhagre jvgu n Qrzba zber be yrff va-gnpg jura rapbhagref jvgu qrzbaf hfhnyyl raq va sngrf jbefr guna qrngu. Oynxr jnf erqhprq gb yvggyr zber guna n oveq-funcrq nttybzrengvba bs fcvevgf, ohg trgf gb yvir bhg uvf rkvfgrapr sylvat serr jvgu uvf fcneebj snzvyvne(fbeel fcneebj, ohg zl penccl zrzbel ngr lbhe anzr) naq terra rlrf ng uvf fvqr.

    Gjvt raqf jvgu gur fheivivat ynzof erpvrivat gur orfg zrqvpny pner gur erzanagf bs gur npnqrzl pna cebivqr jvgu zbfg bs gurz va orggre funcr guna gurl jrer sbe zbfg bs Gjvt’f yngre nepf. Vs gung jnfa’g rabhtu bs na hcghea, cngpurf bs pvivyvmngvba znantr gb fheivir gur gjva nffnhyg bs erq cynthr naq oynpx jbbq, naq gurl rira qvfpbire n fcrpvrf bs cerfhznoyl angheny sbyvntr gung vf vzzhar gb ng yrnfg bar bs gurz. Naq rira jura gurl pngpu gur nggragvba bs gur Xvat, Gur Ynzof ner tenagrq gur punapr gb svtug sbe fheiviny.

    None are exactly “happily Ever After” but all are far from “everybody dies, The End” or “Everybody is trapped in misery, forever”. Hell, I’m not sure the endings could’ve gotten any happier without shattering suspension of disbelief.

      1. If you’re referring to the gibberish, it’s ROT13; every letter replaced with the one 13 down. It’s easy to turn the alphabet into ROT13 and back since it’s half the number of letters. You can find a ROT13 converter online.

  10. Wow this is a dark and edgy story. Needlessly so. This mind control fetish being portrayed here also isnt fun. That said I can’t stop. I just can’t I’m too fascinated to see where this goes. Hopefully Victoria can free her friends or at least her self soon. Her memories of her past boyfriend are cuter and its interesting that they help her but that is absolutely no substitute for being fee. Gah, mind control. Scary shit. Sveta is having a bad time this arc, so bad

  11. @ grinvader: In my defense, I first caught up to Wildbo’s work halfway through Pact, have only read each of Wildbo’s works once, and while I occasionally come across Worm fanfics that help keep my memory fresh on character names, I’ve yet to stumble upon any Pact fanfics. Rina vf njrfbzr, but I don’t have the best memory to begin with, and its hard to remember the names of several dozen to a few hundred characters, especially when following a serial web author and when the character in question hasn’t made an appearance in years. Hell, half the time, I only know which characters making their Ward debut are new and which are returning faces from Worm thanks to the comments.

  12. Here at, we are Case-53 friendly, evidenced by grinvader’s complete understanding that not everyone has legs or whatever passes as legs.

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