Gleaming – 9.15

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We had enemies here.  We had put Monokeros in an extended time out, and there was nothing saying that any of our enemies here could decide to do the same thing to us, or worse.  There were Fallen, tertiary members of Prancer’s group, old Birdcage villains like Monokeros who could be a danger to anyone, and any number of ex-prisoners who might have unkind views when it came to heroes.

The rain wasn’t as intense or driving as it had been before, but it was still a factor, still freezing most things.  Prisoners were using forcefields to shield themselves, because they didn’t have jackets, and the prison uniforms, while warm, weren’t outdoor clothes.  The ground was hard with frost and ice, except for where the passage of dozens of feet warmed it and turned it into mud.

I glanced at Goddess’ makeshift platform.  The portal that led from Gimel to the interim world had been set on a hill with some lesser structures on it, the land leveled out.  The platform was a large rock that had been cleaved in half, forming a flat sheet of rock with a crisp edge that would dull with a few more winters and rainy seasons.  I could see the top half in pieces further down the slope, now serving as seats or perches for various capes in Goddess’ battle line.  The rain traced a loose fractal pattern as it wicked off of Goddess’ bubble of telekinesis.

On that platform, beside Goddess, I spotted Amy, and I immediately looked away.  On the train with Tristan and Ashley, weeks ago, I’d seen Presley out of the corner of my eye and it had reminded me of Amy.  That had been enough to fuck with my mood and my head.  Now she was here for real, not for the first time tonight.

In the corner of my eye.

Keeping her in the back of my mind weighed on me.  Keeping her out of mind meant I was unpleasantly surprised when she came up.  I could rationalize and reassure myself, and those reassurances about her character and the girl I’d grown up with fell to pieces when I thought about how she had repeatedly breached my boundaries.  When she’d used her power on me in the first place – if only that, I could have maybe forgiven.  When she’d used it on me a second time, following my explicit no, because I’d been scared and I’d been dissolving alive?  When she had repeatedly, constantly showed up despite my express wishes?

There was a kind of fear where the heart raced.  There was anticipatory fear where the heart pounded, a singular body-jarring thud at what felt like a slower rate, though it wasn’t.

My chest felt as though everything had seized up, and I couldn’t feel my own heartbeat in my own chest.

Enemies.  Thinking about enemies was easier than thinking about… whatever Amy was.

Lung stood at the furthest end of the makeshift stage from Goddess, tattooed arms folded.  Someone had picked up his mask for him, and he now wore it.  The metal had dark mud still caked in some of the creases. and from the angle of his head, he was watching me with eyes that still glowed.  He didn’t look pleased with his immediate company, which included Seir, and he didn’t look pleased with me, either.

To wait, take a detour, get medical care, or go straight to Goddess?

Straight to Goddess meant getting past the Fallen, and ‘past the Fallen’ could never be a thing that occurred without incident.

Straight to Lung, angry as he was.

Straight to Goddess, who we would have to tell about Monokeros.

Straight to Cryptid, who wouldn’t look me in the eye.

Straight to Amy, who stood at the edge of that stage, lurking in the corner of my eye, not looking at me.  Going out of her way not to look at me.  That didn’t make it better.

Crystalclear’s voice interrupted my thoughts.  I’d forgotten I was with the group.  “I’m going to go see if they’ll let me talk to Ratcatcher.  I’m supposed to be keeping an eye on her.”

“Or a crystal.  Keeping a crystal on her,” Lookout said.

Crystalclear smiled.  “Yeah, I guess.  Can you keep an eye out for Fume Hood, Antares?”

“I will,” I said.  I floated a little higher, so I could see over just a few more heads in the crowd.

Crystalclear jogged off, costume boots tromping in the mud and the puddles that had formed on frozen dirt.

“I miss my gear already,” Lookout said.  “I feel blind.  I can’t believe I didn’t get any readings from him.”

Blind was right.  It was still dark, even with the light of powers and the lanterns and freestanding lights that had been brought over from the prison.  The storm above didn’t make it any better, diffusing the glow of all of the electric lighting.

“What’s broken?” Rain asked.

“Everything’s a little broken, or it’s moist.  Half of it won’t work at all, diagnostics and reboots aren’t helping, and the other half doesn’t work well anymore.  Water between lenses, balances and tolerances are off, uuugh.  My phone doesn’t work, my flash gun is a fifty-fifty about if it’s gonna work, and my other stuff is on the blink, cutting out.”

“I know the feeling.  I miss my body,” Sveta said.

“Oh, gosh, sorry!  Here I am complaining, and-”

“It’s okay.  It’s fine,” Sveta said.  There was a smile on her face, and her voice was light.  “Complain all you want.”

“You’ll fix it,” Swansong said.  “You’ll both be fine.”

I turned to face the group and observe, glad to have my back to the stage.  Freezing rain pattered on my hood.

Lookout shook her head.  “I’ll fix some of it!  Some.  Some is broken forever.  The broken-forever stuff is like my easier, cheaper work, like my mask, and less cheap stuff like my projector disc, but still, that’s a lot of work, and I don’t have my regular workshop anymore, so it’s harder to find the time and get stuff done.”

“You might have a workshop where we end up,” Rain said.  “We don’t know where we’re going from here.  Maybe we all end up with a small country to run.”

“That caught your attention, huh?” I asked.

“I-” he started.  “I’ve kind of always fantasized about having a place of my own.  Even my fantasies don’t ever get nearly that big, but it’s easier to imagine because I’ve imagined smaller scale versions of it.  Give me a cabin or a quaint house with a good size backyard and I’ll be content.”

Standards, Rain,” Swansong said.  “Think mansion or tower.  You need room for servants.”

“Uh,” Rain said.

“Cute young men in elegant black uniforms who run to obey when you snap your fingers,” Damsel said.  Two claws clacked together.

“And young women,” Swansong said.

Damsel arched an eyebrow, “You think so?  Are you more worldly now, or is this a strategy?  Distracting male visitors?”

Swansong shook her head.  “We’re talking about Rain.  Rain would want women, I imagine.”

“You say imagine, but I cannot imagine Rain in a manor with maids,” Byron said.  “Sorry, Rain.”

“No.  I’m grateful you pay enough attention to know I’m not a maid guy, if anything.”

“It would be maids and a singular manservant.  A Jeeves type, if you will,” Swansong said.  “If you’re to go that route-”

“I’m really not going to.”

“-it’s a good idea to have a same-sex servant who has the right sensibilities when it comes to your hygiene, fashion, and other needs.”

“I don’t want any servants at all.  I’m saying my standards are perfectly good where they are.  A house just big enough for me.  A whole country is an interesting thought exercise, but if Goddess wanted me to run a country, I’d still lean toward having a small house, and no servants.  Servants rub me the wrong way, after some of what I saw growing up.”

Swansong made a disappointed ‘tsk’ sound.

“Um, so, hm… you wouldn’t want a Jeeves, that makes sense,” Lookout said, before her tone of voice changed to a maximum unsubtle, “What about an- um, a you-know-who?  Wouldn’t you want room for at least one more person in your cabin?  Even as a maybe?”

“You-know-who and I haven’t talked enough lately,” Rain said.  He paused.  “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really imagined myself having both a house and someone I really care about as part of the same scene.  Well, once, but… that was special circumstances, and it wasn’t a happy sort of special.”

“Now I’m curious.” Byron said.

“I’ll tell you and Tristan later, I guess.  Anyhow, I wonder if it’s because it felt like even that was asking too much.”

“Set your standards as high as you can,” Swansong said, while Damsel nodded beside her.  “Then live up to them.”

“If I set my expectations low, then me being in prison is tolerable.  Things sucked before, and the only thing I wanted was out.  I got what I wanted and I’m happy about that.  I am- was actually genuinely reasonably okay with being here.”

“And now we’re free,” Swansong said.  She looked around.  “Or something.”

Something.

They were talking about future and dreams, and all I could think about was the uncertainty before us.

Either the Chris thing was all in my head, or they hadn’t been looking at the right times to see it.

“We need to get through this first,” Sveta said.

Thank you, Sveta, for saying it.

She went on, “Look at Goddess.  She’s tense.  Teacher isn’t done, and we still have enemies out there.”

“We have enemies in here,” I said, my voice quieter.  “And that’s something we need to be careful of.”

Rain looked over his shoulders.  Lung’s end of the stage was closest to us, and the Fallen were closest to Lung.  They didn’t have much of a ‘tribe’, exactly- the other gangs that they’d roped into their circle to defend against the good guys were too low-level to contribute much to the prison population.  Dealers and bikers.  It meant that they were mostly limited to a gathering of ex-Teacher followers.

“I don’t think they’ll start anything.  You’ve gotta have balls and be stupid to pick a fight when the rest of the crowd could come after you, or if Goddess could get upset.  Shitty as he is, I don’t think Seir is that stupid and that brave.”

The Fallen weren’t my only concern.  I looked at Cryptid, who was still transforming.  More feathers now.  It was a form that looked pretty much exactly like his earlier shape.  The twisted-up wingless bird with the hooked beak, and a neck that looked broken, head dangling.  The point of the beak grazed skin where feathers were pushing through, more spearlike than featherlike as they were slick with moisture, and where the beak grazed, it left a line of oozing blood.

“What’s Cryptid’s form there?” I asked.

“No idea,” Sveta answered me.  Others shook their heads.

“He likes birds for the grieving-sad-pensive-thinking realm of things,” Lookout said.

“I’ve never seen him change,” Rain said, observing.  “And he’s changed a few times today.  Twice earlier in the day, before anything even happened, then to this bird form, he changed later towhatever he was just a few minutes ago, with the ridge of cysts… and now back to this?  Did he-”

Rain stopped mid-question, looking at me.

“Did he get help from Amy?” I asked.  The word sounded wrong in my mouth.  “Panacea?  I don’t know.”

“He might hurt tomorrow,” Byron said.

“Maybe,” I agreed.  It might have sounded callous to say it out loud, but the pain he’d suffer tomorrow was the least of my concerns.  Every time I looked his way, I was trying to find some eye contact, some signal, anything that would suggest he was working with the group.  I felt like I was seeing the opposite dynamic at play.

I saw him limp up behind Amy, the head swung like a pendulum, and he had to catch it with a talon-hand to keep it from hitting Amy.  Amy said something to him.

My skin crawled.

“Lookout,” I said.

“Yes?”

“I know you hate being left behind, but-”

“No,” she said.

“It would make it easier to gloss over the Monokeros thing if you were with Natalie and not front-and-center in front of Goddess,” I said.  Not my only reason.

“No,” she said.  “I don’t want to split up.”

“Even if staying with the group in the short term means Goddess might get worried again, assigning you another babysitter?”

“Even if,” Lookout said.

I found myself a bit at a loss for words.  I could argue logic, but this wasn’t borne of logic.

My issue wasn’t borne of logic either.  Half of the reason I wanted Lookout to hang back was because I didn’t like how Cryptid was acting.  If he was in a bad place, if he was thinking about hurting himself to try and do something, or if he really wasn’t part of Breakthrough anymore, then I didn’t want Lookout in the midst of it.

“She should come,” Sveta said.

“It’s best if we stay together,” Lookout said, sounding solemn and sincere.  “But thank you for thinking about me.”

“Can I call in a favor?” I asked.  I made a rectangle with my index fingers and thumbs.  “Or use the it’s complicated card?  Let me do this, let me explain later?  I have a gut feeling about this.”

“I have a heart feeling about this,” Lookout said, stubborn.

It couldn’t be easy.

“Antares,” Swansong said.  “She stood up to Monokeros.  She’s strong.”

“I know.  I’m not disputing that.”

“She stood up to Monokeros because she’s worked really hard with dealing with obsessive and overwhelming feelings,” Swansong said, her voice quiet.  “And because she really wants to stay with the group.  She wants the group together.”

I bit my tongue.

I looked over my shoulder at Chris.  He still stood by Amy, growing taller and taller, the feathers filling in the space to the point that barely any skin showed, and the skin that did show had large goosebump-like growths on it that indicated the feathers pushing through.

Amy had her tattooed hands clasped in front of her, Dot on her shoulder.  Amy’s hood had been pulled up and to the side, used by Dot for warmth.  Goddess’ power kept them protected from the rain.

The group being together or not together was the problem.

“Stay close to Swansong and Damsel.  Keep that emotional training in mind.  This might be a tough situation.”

“Got it,” Lookout said.

I nodded to myself.

Fuck.

I ran fingers through my hair to fix it, then adjusted my grip on Sveta’s prosthetic body to ensure it sat squarely on my shoulder.

Of course the Fallen stepped into our way.

“Rain-man,” Seir drawled the words.  “We were talking about you.  I’m hurt you didn’t come say hi earlier.”

“Yeah, well, didn’t see the point,” Rain said.

“Respect is the point, Rain-man,” Seir replied.  “We’re not people you want as enemies.”

“I don’t want the Fallen as friends either,” Rain said.  “The respect thing is already decided.  You don’t deserve any.”

The heavyset man smirked.

“We have business with Goddess,” I said, before Seir could answer.  It was, in a passive way, my way of backing Rain up.  More voices in the conversation made it hard to retort, to cut Rain down, and I wasn’t sure Rain was the best guy when it came to wordplay and coming off as intimidating with words alone.

“The lady says she doesn’t want any hassle.  If we let just anyone up there, then everyone’s going to want to come by, say how they can be useful, try to elbow their way in.”

“It’s important,” I said, “And it won’t take long.”

It was Tristan who added his voice to mine.  “Refuse us access and you can be the one to explain why she didn’t get the information she needed.”

When had they switched?

“The drowned rat in gold armor can fly, can’t she?  She goes alone.”

Me?  I could, but-

“We’re sticking together, Seir,” I said.  “I don’t think you were even assigned this job.  You’re trying to make yourself important, pretending to be a gatekeeper.”

“Do you really want to test me, little girl?” he asked.  He locked eyes with me.  “Rain-man, you should tell these ignorant fools to think twice about what they’re doing.”

“Why would I do that, Tim?”

“Because, Rain, you’d better believe we know where your slut friend lives.”

Tristan put a hand at Rain’s shoulder, as if to stop him from advancing.  Rain wasn’t quite the type to charge forward to swing a punch, though.

“Some expert advice for ya.  If you have one person you want to keep in line, Rain, then it doesn’t work if you hit ’em, take a belt to ’em, stick their head in a water barrel.  Takes forever.  But if you get them as a pair, sisters, mother daughter, man and his wife, boy and the girl that will forever be too good for his useless self, it’s easy.  Tell the first one that if they don’t listen you’ll hit the second.  Tell the second that if they don’t listen, you’ll hurt the first.  Takes no time at all to break the both of them.”

“I think the fact that you have to do that makes you all look pretty fucking pathetic, Seir,” Rain said.

“You call me pathetic, I call you the same thing,” Seir said, and his voice was a growl.  “Difference between us is that in a matter of hours, you’re going to be on your knees, sniveling and begging for us to stop hurting the girl.  Could be that you’re there, could be that you’re on the phone.  I won’t even ask, and you’ll still be begging to take back any insult you said about me.  That’s how that is.  And the other way around?  There is nothing you can say or do that will change my mind about how shit you are.”

His words were followed up by some shuffling movements and chuckles from the four or five Fallen and assorted others that were keeping him company.

Rain started forward.  Tristan’s hand was still at his shoulder, and it might have been what stopped him from doing something regrettable.  Tristan became Byron, and Byron leaned in to say something to Rain.

“Can I shoot him?” Lookout asked.

“No,” I said.

“Can I?” Damsel asked.

I thought about it for a second.  “No.”

“What’s going on here, now?”

Another person joining the conversation, with a retinue at their backs.  Coalbelcher.  He’d found clothes, and now wore a heavy jacket with a hood, zipped up all the way, a ball cap and jeans.  I had no idea how he’d found anything that fit him, but he’d managed.  A bit of black drool extended from the corner of his mouth to his chin.  He was of a similar frame to Seir, but a little more put together, now.

Family,” Seir said it like it was an epithet.  “A boy not respecting his betters.”

I saw Coalbelcher’s eyes.  He was crude in dress, in speaking style, and in apparent intent, but there was calculation going on there, as he assessed the situation here.  He hadn’t earned his position as top man on the guy’s side of the prison by pure luck.

“Tell you what, Tim,” Coalbelcher said.  “Let me talk to ’em.  Consider it a stipulation.”

“Stipulation?” Rain asked.

“We still don’t know what’s happening next,” Coalbelcher said, “But they need to shore up numbers, and then there’s me and my people, all without a place to go.”

“You’re joining them,” I said.

“Maybe.  Depends.  If our empress there is giving us each a territory of our own, doesn’t make sense to.  But if she’s grouping us together, could be we join in.  Work with.”

“Bad idea,” Rain said.

“We can hold our own,” Coalbelcher said.  “But I won’t be lowest of the low.  I go in as an equal, and I bring six powered boys from the prison and one powered son with me, in exchange.”

“You want to be a brother of the family so you can tell me to back off and let you talk to these pukes?” Seir asked.  “Seems like a waste.”

“Sure, it’s fine,” Coalbelcher said.  “We have a pre-existing relationship.”

Seir shrugged.  He gave one of his guys a push on the shoulder, and they walked off.  They were still close enough to get in our way if they wanted, not necessarily in earshot.

“You kind of disappointed me, Coal,” I said.

Disappointed?  Must be we got our wires crossed.”

His higher voice had a wry, mocking tone as a baseline, as if everything he said was sarcastic.  It was hard to tell if he was serious about the wires getting crossed.

“Maybe I was too subtle,” I said.

“You said you wanted me to do for her what you did for me.”

“And?” I asked.

“And you got me out.  Or close enough.  Now I’m really out, I’m bristling for a fight.  It’s all good.  Won’t deny that.  Did I misinterpret your intent?”

“No.  You read that right.  Except she’s still there, with the other civilians.  You didn’t get her out.”

“Natalie?” Lookout asked.  She looked up at me, head craning back.

I nodded.

On the stage above, Goddess was walking toward us.  Half of her attention was on the horizon.

“I let her go.  She got away for a bit.  Then they caught her.  I can’t keep letting her-”

He stopped as Goddess came within earshot.  All voices in the vicinity stopped outright or went quiet.  Even the rain was silent, bouncing off of the telekinesis.

Amy stood at the other end of the stage, framed by Cryptid’s black feathers, his rear legs to her left, one of his front legs planted on the ground to her right, head dangling so that his beak was near her elbow.

Couldn’t get rid of her.

“I can’t seem to be rid of you,” Goddess said.

The weird alignment of thoughts threw me for a momentary mental loop.  “Sorry?”

“This meeting,” Goddess said, indicating Coalbelcher and the rest of us with an extended finger- Seir fucked off just enough that he was too far away to be included in the group.  “Two groups that concern me.  Where the fuck is Monokeros?”

She wasn’t just tense.  She was pissed and tense.

“She pulled a knife on Lookout.  It was over the top and unwarranted,” I told her.  “We put her in time out.  Two of Teacher’s thralls are in there with her, Blindside and Kingdom Come.  You should get them, carefully, and get Monokeros if you absolutely have to, but I really recommend keeping her there.”

“I will be retrieving her, but it’ll have to wait, there are other concerns,” Goddess said.  “My danger sense is emanating from your group, from you in particular.  It’s identifying Coalbelcher and his group in a similar way.  Tell me why.”

“I don’t know why,” I told her.

“We may just be those types of people,” Sveta said, her voice slightly muffled.  “A little closer to being dangerous than average.”

“Gee, thanks,” I said.

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Lookout asked Goddess.  “You know, if you give me a computer, I can gather information, or I can pull up records on people you have here, see if we can find the right tool in the toolbox for your particular problems.”

“You’re among my problems, according to my danger sense,” Goddess said, her voice hard.  “Teacher has more coming.  Not an army this time, but a trap.”

“Mama Mathers?” Rain asked.

“Yes.  I won’t put my hand into that bear trap.  We meet strength with subtlety and subtlety with strength.  Coalbelcher?  I’ll have you as part of the army that sweeps over that part of the city.  Destroy everything, and destroy her with it.”

“I can do that.”

“Work with Seir and Knock Knock.  Keep them in line.  Do this and I’ll reward you.”

“I’ll get everyone organized.”

“Be ready to move quickly.  The Wardens may choose that time to attack.  Once we know she’s gone, you’ll fold back, and catch the Wardens by the rear.  Immobilize, don’t kill.”

“I’m not much of a killer,” Coalbelcher said.  “I’m not much of an immobilizer either.”

“If you can’t do it, I’ll ask someone else.”

“I can do it.  Let me find people.  I think I know someone who can move large groups.”

“I assigned one to Knock Knock,” Goddess said.  “City Slicker.”

“That’s the one I was thinking of.  We’ll get it done,” Coalbelcher said.

Goddess didn’t respond, didn’t change in expression, or move her head or hands.  She stared at Coalbelcher, and he shifted his weight a little, before raising his heavy chin, emulating a soldier standing at attention, if a soldier could be of the greasy, drooling-black, baseball cap sort.

“You have a choice, Coalbelcher.  My power is telling me there’s something about you that I should be wary of.”

“I have no idea what you mean.  You’re promising power, fame, fortune, a territory of my own, and a slice of normal pie after two years of living in this shithole we slapped together here?  I’m all about that.  I’m yours, I’m loyal.”

“Perhaps,” she said.  She turned her head, found someone, and indicated for them to come.

It was Crock o’ Shit.  The lie-detector.  The tattoos of scales on her arms were standing out slightly in relief.

“Say it again.  That you’re loyal, and that I don’t need to worry about you.”

“I’m loyal.  You don’t need to worry about me.”

Crock o’ Shit nodded.  “He’s fine.”

“He doesn’t feel fine,” Goddess said.  “If something happens, Coalbelcher, if something occurs to you, a thought that you haven’t fully formed, a memory that surfaces, an idea you’re not quite ready to have yet, consider it very carefully.  It may matter more than you think, and your entire fate hinges on the decision you make.”

“Yes ma’am,” he replied, his voice nasally.  He horked up something and spat it off to the side.  The spit was like a gunshot, silent but bullet-quick and violent, with a chunky black splatter that smoked visibly.  His voice was slightly less nasal as he finished, “I’ll think carefully.”

She dismissed Coalbelcher with a sweep of the hand.

“I’m in alignment,” I said.  “We all are, in Breakthrough, Natalie excepted.”

“Natalie?”

“Our lawyer, the civilian.”

She looked mildly annoyed that Natalie had even been brought up in that context.  She glanced at Crock.

“They’re fine,” Crock o’ Shit said.

“They feel like an ambient danger,” Goddess said.  “Stay where I can see you, Breakthrough.”

“You should know, we disabled the ankle-bombs,” I said.  “Your army should be safe.”

“Mm,” Goddess made a noise, not even a full word.  I could see a sheen of sweat, where hair was sticking to her head near her temple.  More sweat shone at the back of her neck.

“Are you okay?” Sveta asked.

“This was easier the first time,” Goddess said.  “A decision I made as a teenager, to take over, solve all of the problems.  Eternal youth, through my cocoon man, beauty, endless wealth and power.  It was fine.”

“It sounds great,” Lookout said.

“Then it was all taken away.  Each and every one of my enemies expects me to take it back, which forces me to do just that, because a third of them would eliminate me, a third would enslave me to use me, and another third would castrate me and take… everything vital to me.  All of my power.  That castration wouldn’t guarantee I’m saved from the first two groups.”

We were silent.

“I feel it.  My danger sense makes me aware of the proportions, and how close they each loom.”

“Do you want a hug?” Lookout asked.

“I want my enemies crushed and gone,” Goddess said.  “Be ready to assist in the fighting if they get this far.”

“Yes ma’am,” I said.

“The Wardens will strike in a matter of minutes.  They’re partially protected from me, so timing will be critical.  Teacher will also time his attack, delivering the Mathers woman, in the hopes I stick my hand into the trap.  Be ready.  Maybe you could die in the fighting and simplify things.”

“If it helps, then sure!” Lookout said.

“I’d rather not,” I said, putting a hand on Lookout’s shoulder.

“I was joking,” Lookout said.

“Mm,” Goddess said.  She fixed her hair and her collar- I wasn’t sure why, since she could look like anything and nobody here would mind, and then she lifted herself off the ground.

Wardens inbound.

“I hope it’s not Weld with the Wardens,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” Sveta replied, voice soft.

“Or Vista, or Miss Militia… or anyone,” I said.  I grit my teeth.  “Are you guys ready?”

“I don’t have stuff,” Lookout said.  “Maybe if there’s a computer somewhere nearby, I can track things in the city, or do a quick repair of my phone.”

“We’ll check inside,” I said.  “Capricorn, Rain, Swansong, Damsel, you guys handle the front line?”

“Leave me Sveta and the prosthetic body?  I’ll see what I can do to get things working,” Rain said.

“Please,” Sveta said.

“No promises,” Rain said.

“So after I made a big deal about not wanting to split up, we’re splitting up?” Lookout asked.

I frowned.

“Sorry to be needy,” she said.  “I just, you know, heh, I’m a bit weird after the whole ‘tear your throat out’ thing.”

“You’re a bit weird always,” Rain said.  “But so are the rest of us, so you’re in good company.”

“Yeah,” Lookout said.  “Listen, it’s okay, I”ll manage something somehow, I’ll get stuff fixed, and I’ll have a neat trick.  Maybe I can supercharge my light gun and we can blind an entire attacking force.  Then-”

“Lookout,” I interrupted her.  “We’re short on time.  Let me go get a computer from the entrance building.  I will bring you tech.  Good?”

“Good,” Lookout said, breathless.

Good.

I took off.

We were fighting the Wardens, now.  We were fighting Mama Mathers.  Us against the world, and it didn’t feel triumphant.  It felt like we were up against the whole fucking world.  Multiple worlds.

I was spooked, and I wasn’t happy.  I didn’t like this, even as I could take it as necessary.  We didn’t have a choice, just as Goddess hadn’t.

I saw Crystalclear with Fume Hood.  I dropped to the ground.  One foot slipped in mud, the other hit ice-hard soil.

“Five second recap,” I said.  “Wardens are coming, be ready to fight.  Teacher’s bringing in the big guns, one is Mama Mathers.  If she doesn’t come from the city, it’s going to be up to all of us to deal with what she does, capture and kill her despite the insanity effect.”

Crystalclear made a face.  He’d be vulnerable.

“Five second response,” he said.  “They wouldn’t let me talk to Ratcatcher, but she seems healthy, if irritable.  I tried to check on your lawyer, but again-”

“No contact,” I said.  “I’m getting a computer and then I’ll be back.”

“Good luck!”

Natalie.  I flew toward the building, finding Natalie while I was on my way.  Lights were few and far between, so the entire group of staff was huddled beneath a lip of rock, one light shared by a hundred people.  Natalie was fairly close to the front, near the assistant warden, her fingers pressed together and to her mouth for warmth.

Nothing I could do.  I’d tried to create an opportunity.

Ratcatcher was easier to find again, since she was mounted on one of the trucks in a group that was being used to produce light, headlights cutting through the mist of freezing rain, people’s breath, and people’s body heat.

She saw me, and then she looked away, the rain-soggy cone of her paper mask making the direction she was facing abundantly clear.  Similar to what I’d seen with Cryptid, with Chris.

A rebuke?

No, this wasn’t a rebuke.  I saw the nose move as she angled her head to check where I was in the sky, looking askew at me, then the nose moved again.

Pointing.  A staff building.

I changed direction.

She’d done something before getting caught.  What?  I didn’t even know her power for sure.  Rodent control?  It was supposed to be thinker.

I wasn’t sure what I’d expected.  My heart had been frozen in my chest for what felt like fifteen or twenty minutes, and now it pounded.  The building interior was dark, with many lights burned out or broken, and the contents of offices, of trash cans, and the papers that had topped desks were now strewn everywhere.

“Hello!?” I called out.

She’d been in the tunnel, and she’d run.  She’d gone through the vents and… she’d come here?  A small building with offices and files.

Chairs, a bench, plants.  No animals to be seen- no rodents.

I shivered.

Paperwork, file folders, filing cabinets, with drawers pulled out and thrown into walls with enough force to make dents and holes.  Nothing about or in the dents or holes, that I could see.

More benches for sitting and waiting, with metal loops embedded in the walls for prisoners to be handcuffed to.  Paperwork, more paperwork, another potted plant, a vending machine that had been raided, the chips and candies that hadn’t been eaten now piled on the ground beneath the shattered glass pane.  A few feet away, there was blood.  Not from the vending machine.

The blood was part of a trail of splatters leading to a dead guard, one of the metal loops for handcuffing prisoners now embedded in his chest cavity.  I felt for a pulse, and I knew there wasn’t one.

My heart pounded harder than before, feeling the lack of a pulse.

What could he have told me?

I reached the end of the hallway, found the stairs, and flew in a zig-zag to navigate the flights.  The building only had two floors, and the damage to the second was negligible, nothing strewn around, most offices locked.

I shivered a bit more.

Lookout was expecting me to deliver a computer.  I was- I was chasing a vague hint from a girl in a paper mask, if it could even be called a hint.

“Hello!?” I called out, again.

Back down to the first floor.  I stared down the length of it.

She’d left the tunnel, and she’d done what?

She’d been caught, just like Natalie.  She’d caused enough of a fuss that they’d tied her up, despite the fact that she was aligned.

Was she aligned?

The tainted food- the drugged food.

Natalie had had her bound hands pressed to her mouth.  Had she been warming her breath, or had I caught a glimpse of something in the way of a message?

They’d crossed paths, met, collaborated.

I flew down the hallway.  The stuff from the vending machine.  Bags of chip that were half air and half chip.  Boxes of candy.  Many were damaged.  Some were dirty, in a way that could have meant they’d been walked on.

I held the candies, and I hesitated.  It was hard to convince myself to.  It felt disloyal.

Master-stranger protocols.  I imagined Natalie with her fingers to her mouth, like it was a mimed order.  Driven by an impulse, feeling like I was potentially about to take poison, I took the most dirty, most damaged package, opened a hole wider, and then tipped a few of the gummy candies back into my mouth.

In the distance, it sounded like Goddess was tearing a mountain out of the ground.

I chewed, tasting the chemicals and preservatives of the candy, something I’d never been a huge fan of, and… it tasted delicious.

I swallowed, turning my head toward the ceiling in the process, and I closed my eyes.

Was it just candy?

A part of me wanted it to be.  A part of me wanted an excuse to feel less uneasy.  The conflict was brewing and- and good people were going to get hurt.  Goddess was-

-fucked in the head.

Fuck her.

Fuck this.

I hope your fucking danger sense is making your head spin, Lady in Blue.

I grabbed the other candies and chips, favoring the broken bags.  When my hands were full, I speared them on the spikes of my costume.

Style be damned.

How had they managed it?  The building had been collapsed.

Rats.  Mice.

It might have been Natalie who gave Ratcatcher the direction, Ratcatcher who did the lifting.  Had they known they were going to be caught, and laid this as a trap?  Something that anyone coming through might pick up and share?

Coalbelcher would’ve been near Natalie, if he’d been protecting her or watching out for her as part of the deal.  Had he taken some candy?  Had he eaten some, or did he have it saved for later?  Was that why Goddess didn’t like her sense of him?  I could see him being loyal but not aligned, or aligned but carrying tainted candy.  More the former, since he didn’t seem the type to save something for later.

I reached the first large group, near the interim portal.

“Chips or candy?” I asked.

“What?”

“There’s a big fight brewing,” I said.  “We need to get energy up, and there’s not much food.  Do you want chips?  Candy?”

“Chips, fuck yeah,” a guy said.

Share,” I said, with emphasis.

With luck, he’d have one or two, it would kick in, and he’d start sharing out of spite.

I sure was.

Another group.  It might have been Auzure, though it wasn’t members I recognized.  They’d come to help defend the portal and stall for time.

I just threw them the candy.  The woman who caught it saluted.

“Share!” I said.

Goddess should be getting pinged pretty hard right now, if this is working like I hope.

Another hero group.  I tossed them two small bags of chips.

Hopefully it got us another set of non-Goddessed allies.

There was a chance that some of this wasn’t treated.

I just had to hope that most or some of it was.  We were picking a massive fight.

A small gang of criminals.  I threw them something, and I didn’t wait for a response.

Rain streamed down around me, drumming against my costume, loud against the plastic of the chip bags and the bags and boxes that had the candy.

I saw my team.

“No computer?” Lookout asked.  “Were they all broken?”

“Something better,” I said.  I tossed her a bag of candy, then tossed another to Rain.

“Uh,” Rain said.  “The sentiment’s appreciated but…”

“Eat.  Energy,” I said.

“Mind trading, Kenz?” Rain asked.

“You don’t like grape?”

“Not this type, no,” he said.

“Only because I like you,” she said.

I felt like my heart was beating so fast it would give everything away.  I focused on the distance.

“It’s bad,” Byron said.  “You can’t see it right this second, but she’s altering landscapes.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I heard.”

There was another blast.  Another sound like a mountain was being uprooted.  The ground shook, and this time my feet were touching it to really feel the impact.

Not a mountain- a building, with some foundations.  I saw it move.  From a distance, it seemed to move very slowly.  I knew that it would be moving at a dangerous speed if one was actually at the scene.

Kenzie, her mask still open so her eyes, nose and mouth were visible, her face otherwise enclosed by the helmet, looked up at me.  I raised an eyebrow, and saw her nod slightly.

“Ash.  Want grape gummies?”

“That sounds atrocious.”

“Atrocious in the best way,” Kenzie said.

Swansong took two.  Damsel did the same.  I watched as the candy was shared around.  Kenzie cracked Sveta’s ball open to give her some.

“Nice fashion,” Swansong told me, indicating the packages that had yet to be delivered, speared to my shoulder.  “I prefer less colorful accessories.”

There were few enough that I could pluck them free.  I held the assorted packages in two hands.

“Ahh,” Swansong said.  She met my eyes.  “Good candy.”

“How the heck did you find this?” Lookout asked.

“Others did the legwork,” I said.  Relief surged through me.

“Guys!” Sveta shouted.

The momentary peace was disturbed.

One of the buildings in the distance had changed trajectory.  Two stories of apartment building flew end over end as it soared toward us, shedding a stream of concrete fragments.

“Look out!” I shouted, at the top of my lungs.

I put my arms out, and I flew.  I caught Lookout and Swansong, and Lookout had Sveta.  I almost had a grip on Damsel, but she slipped free, moving her hands to avoid slashing my hand and arm open rather than cling.  My flight was uneven, and my burdens heavy and awkward enough that I didn’t feel confident flying up.

Tristan and Rain were running, trying to get clear.

It was already so dark, the night so chaotic, that I couldn’t fully process what happened as it hit.  The casualties, the devastation, whether other teams had been caught in it.  The rush of air threw me off course, and my grip on my team members was broken.  Everyone rolled, tumbled, or otherwise sprawled.  Damsel used her power to shoot at the incoming projectile.

I could see most of the team.

I’d dropped the candies.  If only I’d kept them on my armor.

The Lady in Blue.  It had been her, reacting to danger sense, hurling a building.

Now I could see her, flying toward us.

She landed, shaking her head as she did.

The dust seemed like too little for the impact and the size of the chunk of building.  It might have been the rain, or the darkness obscuring some of it.

I could see Lung.  Other teams, people I had definitely not given candy to, were converging on our location, supporting the Lady in Blue.

I could see Amy, in the background.  She did nothing to help.  She was silent, passive.  A ghost to haunt me.

My costume shifted around me.  The Lady in Blue lifted me into the air by my costume.

Not all people who could affect inorganic things only could do that.  Sometimes just being adjacent to something organic made it hard to manipulate inorganic materials.

I fought with my flight.  She held me firm.  I activated the Wretch, then deactivated it as soon as I saw that Lookout was too close, just below me.

One by one, she plucked up the members of Breakthrough.

Her head turned.  Dirt and mud sprayed sky-high as she used her power.  Dealing with another attacker.  Someone I’d given candy to?

The dirt and mud hadn’t even finished raining down when she used her power again.  I saw the shape of him, leaping to one side.  He was more visible in the cloud of dirt, rain and mud than he was ordinarily.

Black feathers on black background.

I could feel the dim impulse that she pushed out.  The punctuation mark.  The power to control.

He moved faster.

I felt it again.  This time, he dropped to all fours.

“Harder!” Crock o’ Shit shouted, from the sidelines.  “You almost had him!”

The Lady in Blue used her power again, more forcefully than before.

Cryptid leaped.

I saw the moment of hesitation, the moment of realization that there was nothing inorganic on him to grab.  She ripped up the earth instead.  He was thrown into the air, lost in the flurry of mud.

I used my power, hard.  To distract, to break her focus.

Appearing sooner than should have been possible, Cryptid was right next to her.  The ground broke under his feet, point blank this time.

It didn’t go any further than the cracking of ground.  Cryptid’s talons found the Lady in Blue’s midsection.  He tore her open, sternum to pelvis, and his talons hooked into vital organs.  He pulled them free, and all of the strength went out of her.

For how much damage had been done, it took four or five surprising seconds before her power canceled out.  We dropped out of the air, and I flew to catch Lookout before she could land too awkwardly.

All around us, people were shuffling closer.

Amy was among them.

Cryptid was at the center, his broken neck twisted around, his head dangling.  His beak was like a curved blade, gleaming in the rain, pointed at the small of his back.

I could see what that was supposed to mean, now.

Crock o’ Shit hadn’t been telling the truth.  Goddess’ power hadn’t almost worked.  Crock had been among the people I’d given candy to, just before I’d reunited with the group.

Fitting.

I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the irony.

“Chris,” Lookout said.

Cryptid looked at her, then seized his head.  He moved it side to side.  Shaking it in a ‘no’.

“Did Amy do this?” I asked.

“I didn’t do anything,” Amy’s voice cut through the dark and the patter of rain.  “Organized.  Struck a deal.”

I swallowed hard.  “Deal?”

She wouldn’t look me in the eyes.  “Everyone!”

I couldn’t remember her shouting.  She’d never been one to do it.

“Everyone!  You have a choice!  We are going to Earth Shin!  We are going to be an authority!”

I couldn’t bring myself to speak.

Sveta did it for me.  “Amy!”

Amy shook her head, glancing at Sveta.  “There will be rules!  This means submitting to my power!  It will not be as Goddess’ was!  You’ll follow a code of laws, you’ll maintain control and peace, and you’ll protect populations.  You’ll be reasonably good!  Or you can stay here.  You’ll be freer, but you’ll also be a target for heroes!”

She planned this.

I looked at Cryptid.

She planned this with him.

Dot was perched on her shoulders, clearly excited, but Amy’s expression was impossible to read.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.

She met my eyes.

She looked almost angry as she looked away.  As if she had the fucking right.

“Come with us or stay.  It’s your choice,” she said.  She looked at Cryptid.  “Is that okay?”

Cryptid seized his head, and moved it in a ‘yes’ motion.

Amy’s expression was both angry and sad as she surveyed everything.  Freezing rain streaked down her hood, and her breath fogged.

She met my eyes.

“Red Queen,” Lookout said, under her breath.  “Dot called her that.”

My skin crawled.

The Red Queen started to walk away.  Cryptid was at her side.

Some prisoners were fairly quick to leave to follow.  Ones who knew her from the Birdcage?  With them went followers, and once a critical amount had left, a majority followed.  Only the heroes really stayed.

Only rubble dust, and mud, now.  Scarcely any lights on this hillside.

“What?  Chris?”  Lookout asked.  She giggled, sounding uncertain and Swansong pulled her into a hug, so Lookout’s face was buried in Swansong’s side.  It would have been a full-body hug if Lookout hadn’t been hugging the orb.

What just happened?

Others were arriving now.  Natalie was with the prison staff.  Ratcatcher was with Crystalclear and Fume Hood.  They seemed to be free of the influence of the Lady in Blue.

Who had been practically torn in half, now lying ten feet away from me.  After seeing my- seeing Amy like that, the grisly scene was somehow one of the least shocking things in the midst of all of this.

“He was just waiting for an opening?” Rain asked.

“Shh.”  Swansong.

The assistant warden drew closer.  We’d been some of the people on point through all of this.  He wanted answers.

I didn’t have any.  Amy?

“We need to- to do something about this,” I said.

“Are you up for it?” Byron asked.

I shook my head.  Images of Amy and the sounds of her voice were weighing on my mind, interrupting half of my thoughts.

I reached out for Sveta’s ball.  Lookout handed it over.

“Sorry,” I told Sveta.  I hugged the ball tight.  “Sorry.”

I felt her forehead thunk against the side of the orb.

“Okay,” Byron said.  “I’m officially passing the baton… we both know you’re good at this part.”

He blurred.  Once I realized what he was saying, a second or so later than I should have, I could understand it.

I nodded.

“Yeah,” Tristan said.  He started striding toward the assistant warden. Without turning to face us, he intoned the words. “Damage control.”

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151 thoughts on “Gleaming – 9.15”

    1. Given the amount of writing you put out in a week, I think you can be forgiven for being late once every few years or so.

    1. >I used my power, hard. To distract, to break her focus.

      Goddess previously immunized herself to Victoria’s power. Could just be Victoria forgetting under the stress.

      1. Goddess immunised herself to Victoria’s aura. Could also be she’s using the Wretch, which is something she thought of initially before noticing Lookout was too close. Maybe they’ve been moved further apart.

        I keep forgetting about Vicky’s aura, honestly. Though I’m not sure why; pants-wetting terror is not an emotion you’d forget easily.

        1. It’s just not very memorably described from Victoria’s perspective. In Worm it was very well described, Taylor’s experiences of it were super vivid and it was impossible to forget that Victoria had this in her pocket whenever she showed up.

          But in this? Eh. There’s very little physical or emotional description of people’s reactions to her power. And maybe that’s on purpose, to show how much of an afterthought this power is to Victoria when it’s so impactful to those she uses it on. But the result is that it doesn’t really feel like an integrate part of her character and it’s easy to forget about.

      2. Goddess can only be immune to one power at a time, IIRC. It’s more than likely that she traded the aura immunity for something else during the fight. In fight, I think it might have been mentioned she did.

    2. >Twice earlier in the day, before anything even happened, then to this bird form, he changed later towhatever he was just a few minutes ago

      to whatever

      >I almost had a grip on Damsel, but she slipped free, moving her hands to avoid slashing my hand and arm open rather than cling.

      I almost had a grip on Damsel, but she slipped free, moving her hands out of the way to avoid slashing open my hand and arm, rather than clinging to me. [edit for clarity]

    3. “Capricorn, Rain, Swansong, Damsel”
      Poor Rain. Can’t get any codename respect either.

      ““Chris,” Lookout said.”
      “Sveta did it for me. “Amy!””
      “What? Chris?” Lookout asked.
      Stilll no codenames ? Even the kid who just ripped an S-class a new one gets outed.

    4. > Straight to Goddess, who we would have to tell about Monokeros.

      Should be “whom”, Goddess is the direct object here.

    5. “was nothing saying that any of our enemies here could decide to do the same thing to us”

      I think this should be couldn’t. Otherwise it reads weirdly and doesn’t have much of a point.

    6. > Tristan and Rain were running, trying to get clear.

      Earlier we see Byron, then later at the end we see Byron becoming Tristan. Probably it should be Byron here as well.

    1. Mildly anti-climatic in a way. On the other hand I’m just glad the mind control parts are done.

      That’s the downside with constantly throwing underdogs into fights against the top tier heavyweights. They win too much they aren’t underdogs, but at the same time they don’t win… You kinda loose your story.

    2. Maybe – but did teacher’s candy just free them or did it also make them teacher-thralls?

      And it looks like Goddess might have actually been an Amy-thrall all along.

  1. Earth Shin is probably not going to be happy with another parahuman with an army showing up to conquer them. I wonder why Amy-sorry, the Red Queen-decided to target Shin? Maybe because the damage Goddess did there makes it easier to use her terror tactics to take over again.

    1. I think maybe Amy’s made a deal with Shin, or at least some people on Shin. It gets them an army of parahumans, ones which don’t have ultimate authority.

      Amy has, after all, made a deal with *someone*, so it could be Shin.

      1. It depends on what she does, and what the situation is like on Shin too. You suddenly loose the dictator who’s been brutally ruling everything… Well it rarely goes democracy and puppies for everyone. Not expecting Amy to do better, but there’s something to remember. Victoria cannot give an unbiased view of Amy, and a lot of pain could have been avoided if in the past Victoria better understood Amy. This is not blaming Victoria. This is pointing out the things she didn’t realize, and never knew needed to be addressed in Amy festered until… Well we all know.

        1. Victoria has literally mentioned in her inner monologue how she blames Amy for violating her ‘no’ to healing when she was literally dissolving alive
          it’s pretty clear she’s physically incapable of being objective here

          1. Yeah, I mean… I’d rather someone I love hate me forever than let them dissolve in acid. The fact Amy couldn’t get her back together is… fucked up. But for fucks sake of course she’ll heal you if you’re dying. Who the fuck wouldn’t?

            Yeah, doctors in an hospital will grudgingly respect those kinds of wishes, or not so grudgingly when the quality of life after healing will be shit either way. But a family member definitely WON’T. Specially one with romantic feelings for you.

            Let’s not forget that this all started when Victoria decided to hug Amy when Amy explicitly told her to not do it. So it’s not like Victoria doesn’t understand the feeling of doing what someone asks you not to do when you think it’s the best thing for the other person.

    2. Earth Shin is also a place described by goddess as being very advanced in its parahuman studies.

      So Amy will have access to all that research. And whatever other “riddles” the old cauldron put there.

    1. Amy’s following Nilbog’s advice and Chris is riding along because it’s all win for him – she’ll handle the life-threatening consequences of his power and he gets an out from anyone who knows anything about him.
      Hope the next interlude will be Chris-centric.

  2. aaaAAAAAH

    I—don’t—Chris, though. Chris is okay. Chris is still with them.
    Infinity plus seven. Only minus… minus the infinity.

  3. Well.

    Fuck yeah, Ratcatcher.

    Fuck yeah, Chris, I think. I still want an Interlude.

    Amy….for fuck’s sake. Fine, but this is not going to go as well as you think.

    Whoever let Mama Mathers fall into Teacher’s hands goes on a list. That’s the Big List Of People Who Never, Ever Get Trusted With Anything Ever Again.

    I’m glad we’re done with the mind control arc, I was getting well sick of that shit, which I appreciate was part of the point.

    Damage control time.

    1. To be fair, whoever they were, guarding MM, they had teacher to contend with. Who just gets a portal door opened where he wants, another parahuman to unlock anything and another to knock everyone out.

      As for Amy, you’re probably right but she did learn from her father how to run a prison block and Earth Shin is described as a place taken over by criminal Parahumans using a lot of terroristic tactics to leave people reliant on them. So it’s already setup for that kind of rule.

      1. At the time that she was being arrested, I did suggest quietly killing her. If she turns out to be a huuuuge asset for Teacher, well, that could have been avoided.

        That aside, I’m sure that Amy both means well and has some administrative ideas, but I still think the whole thing is probably not gonna go well. From what we know of Shin, it wasn’t exactly an efficient, orderly authoritarian utopia under a benevolent dictator, and that doesn’t get cleaned up in a hurry. I’m not saying it’s gonna blow up in her face right away, just that it’s not gonna be clean or easy or smooth.

        1. It might be what Amy needs though. For once, people will be affected by her decisions and not just her power. Hopefully for the better.

          1. That’s actually a fantastic piece of insight. For most of her life, Amy has felt like she is merely the vessel for her amazing power, and that that power is what makes her matter, and ultimately what rules her life. In part because Amy was a weak person with a fantastically shitty upbringing.

            So, hopefully now she can interact with people the way you described. With her decisions and not just her power.

          2. Until running a well-ordered society the nice way turns out to be hard. After that… Well, there’s a book you might have read about what happens when an authority with terrifying power over biology has to keep a reluctant populace in line.

        2. Eh, killing people to prevent others from using their powers doesn’t have a 100% reliable track record either. Ask Valkyrie and Grey Boy 2.0.

      2. The fact that no one put a bullet in the head of mama Mathers is the big mistake. She is literally too dangerous to live.

  4. I love how confused Victoria is about what Amy is doing here.
    She’s doing exactly what you asked.

    She’s leaving.

  5. Okay, how did Chris manage to counteract Goddess’s danger sense? That’s the one key piece of the puzzle they were missing to be able to pull this plan off; it’d give her too much advance warning.

    1. Also, hang on, she’s a cluster trigger. Remember what happens with Rain’s cluster and presumably at least some others when a cluster member dies? Bianca is dead, but Goddess may be another story.

      1. Good thought. There should be another four living members of her cluster of six… and one of them is there if they haven’t left Amy to return to their home world.

    2. He didn’t. Her danger sense is quite generic and vague, though she’s good at interpreting it. He was registering as a danger, and it’s that sense of ‘there’s a danger’ that she’s aiming at. The problem is, he’s fast enough that by the time she’s using her power on where he is, he’s moved. If her power was better than vague, she’d have executed Antares before she found the candy. She knew there was something likely to happen there, didn’t know what and took Antares’ word- with Crock o’ Shit’s assurance- that she was loyal and aligned.

      And Crock o’ Shit yelled that she ‘nearly got him’, which was a lie. Whatever her thinker power is, I bet it’s not just detecting the truth when she hears a lie. And even if that is all she can do, maybe one of the others Antares gave candy to was able to tweak the outcome with their own precognition.

      1. During the actual attack, yes, but he had to have at least partially negated it to get away with standing around free and clear when she already knew he was at least partially resistant, and same with Amy walking around with the power to counteract Alignment and a plot to murder her. They should’ve been activating her danger sense much more strongly than Breakthrough was when she heaved a building at them.

        1. Goddess gives capes she doesn’t trust minders, right? Cryptid was next to Amy. They knew each other. I think maybe Amy had a way around Goddess’ danger-sense, and she was told to be Cryptid’s minder. Except that backfired horrendously, because Cryptid’s got ways around Master powers, Amy has a way around Goddess’ danger-sense and there was nothing Goddess could do to see Amy’s betrayal coming. Except, maybe, sending Crock o’ Shit over to have a chat with her.

          Goddess was willing to let capes that triggered her danger sense live, if she had assurances of their loyalty. Giving a Changer whose power rips him apart to a Striker that rewrites biology is a good way to ensure loyalty, if not to you then to an underling who is. Except the underling wasn’t, and it backfired hard.

          1. Well… for all of Goddess’s faults, she wasn’t a killer first. She seemed relatively willing to let people live most times if it wasn’t the heat of battle or something/someone truly threatening.

      2. Antares only said she was aligned, not that she was loyal. Contrariwise, Coalbelcher said he was loyal, not that he was aligned. That is, Antares truthfully said that she was affected by Goddess’ power, and Coalbelcher (presumably) truthfully said he was on board with Goddess given what she was offering.

        1. Yep. Antares shouldn’t have been disappointed in coalbelcher. He freed Natalie who knew about the tainted food, gave the plan to ratcatcher and they retrieved the food and even got some to coalbelcher.

          Nat got caught again because escaping wasn’t her goal. Big kudos to her bravery yet again. She’s proving a serious asset to the team.

  6. Coalbelcher for all of Victoria’s poor impression of him kept his word. Was he in the target zone of the “building drop”?

    1. He had been sent on the attack already. Also if he were already unaligned due to candy, he was probably aware enough of the situation to place himself far away from Breakthrough.

  7. I know there’s a popular theory that Ratcatcher is Scurry, the Echidna clone of Taylor, but I really hope that’s wrong. She’s been great, and I don’t want her to just be the reflected glory of Taylor.

      1. If she is Scurry then it would be narratively inevitable that she will eventually join Breakthrough. After all Echidna clone is another rare flavor of screwed-up cape origin.

        1. Ratcatcher is highly unllikely to be Scurry. There was an interlude showcasing a Tattletale clone, and it was one of the rare times that WyldBoar pulled the chapter and completely replaced it. The clones were all murderous and short tempered.

          But as I write… Maybe Ratcatcher was originaly an Earth Bet Villain setting herself up as a funny little antagonist for Mouse Protector, but sadly, Mouse protecotr was lsot and heavy heartded Ratcatcher turned herself in and swore to defend people, be a hero and irritate the living crap out just about anyone she ever worked with ona regular level.and

          Thus does MP’s legacy live on!

          1. @ Liliet: Ratcatcher’s powers don’t match that. Mouse Protector and Ravager were used to create Murder Rat, and they cluster-triggered. Mouse Protector could tag somebody and teleport to them, Ravager inflicted wounds that spat black smoke and didn’t heal properly and knew where those she injured were. Both had different enhancements to their agility, stamina and so on.

  8. I did not expect Goddess to go down that quickly. In hindsight, though, it makes sense; she was always much less impressive as a person than her powers would make you think, so its rather fitting that she gets an unimpressive death as well.

    Though, I may only be justifying that out of my general love of anticlimax…

    1. Honestly I’d been specifically assuming this plan wouldn’t work; I thought her TK wasn’t subject to the Manton Effect any more than the Wretch was so she could effectively use it as a forcefield.

      1. She had that whole fractal thing going on, and it was emphasized especially in regards to her TK, which makes me think it’s a power that’s way more effective at scale. I think if she were to use it as a personal forcefield, it would still have gaps and be vulnerable.

        “More effective at scale” is kind of a theme with Goddess, honestly: she kicks Teacher’s ass and deals pretty comfortably with the prison and the people who show up to protect it, but she’s been struggling to control Breakthrough the entire time she’s been dealing with them.

        1. She’s able to rig it up well enough to serve as an umbrella. It seems like she’s able to reliably use it as her defense against physical attacks, unless negated by the Manton Effect.

          I’m pretty sure that if she couldn’t use it to dependably block bullets she wouldn’t be striding out at the head of her forces and instead have Aligned Narwhal or someone to serve as shieldbearer.

    2. No, I think you’re right. Retrospectively, the story’s been subtly undercutting her skills since pretty much that first meeting with Breakthrough. Teacher, meanwhile, has been weirdly successful compared to the arrogant kinda-failure we met in Worm. I wonder what’s going on there.

      1. Well, Teacher did screw up, lose two of his most powerful assets, and get bailed out by a totally unrelated betrayal that he’s going to be pretending was his plan all along.

        Goddess has generally been midrange-competent and Victoria level in skills, but with a very good and pretty easy-to-use powerset putting her in the big leagues. If she’d had a reliable defense against direct physical attacks by living beings she’d have been carried through this one too.

        Also we still don’t know what her sixth power is so I guess it might be contingent reincarnation of some description. Or hell, a repeat of the Butcher thing.

      2. Why do you think Teacher was a failure in Worm? He was in the Birdcage, sure, but I suspect he got put there with some assistance from Contessa, and he successfully got out of the Birdcage, recruited Ingenue, Scapegoat, Mama Mathers, Valefor, and possibly others, had Lung discover and kill Simurgh’s glass tube payload, and has resisted being dropped down an elevator shaft by both the collected Undersiders and DnD.

        Guy says here that he lost 2 of his assets, but now that Goddess is dead I think Lung and the Pharmacist are free to rejoin him.

        To my eyes he has a really damn good track record. Arguably better than Contessa who seems to have been asking many of the wrong questions. Speaking of, she also might be working with Teacher. That could be an explanation for why he seems more competent to you than before. (even if I have a different impression)

        I didn’t get the vibe that Teacher was arogant either. I felt like he was actually a bit self-effacing in his scene with Satyrical where he expresses that he knows he is paranoid and that it’s a self fulfilling prophecy that turns everyone against him.

        Maybe I’m biased because I like him as a seemingly exceptionally self aware villain, but I do think at least part of his reputation with other fans is undeserved.

        1. I am of the opinion that Teacher is very competent but his reach neverthless exceeds his grasp. He lost Lung and the Pharmacist. His plan there failed. He got them back because someone else entirely resolved the problem for him and not at his behest. I mean, assuming they go back to him instead of heading off to Shin.

          Likewise, he did in fact have Lung kill the Simurgh’s glass tube payload. But, you know, that was stupid of him. Most likely the Simurgh wanted that to happen because if she’d really wanted it to be safe she’d have curled into a protective ball around it, but if she didn’t want that to happen then Teacher pissed off the Simurgh on purpose for basically no reason. I mean, sure it maybe disrupted her long-term plan for that glass tube, but she could always wake back up, arrange for the relevant Tinkers to get together, drop in on them, and make another glass tube. So he hasn’t eliminated any threat to his interests in the long term but he has given the being who most definitely killed Alexandria and I credit with killing Scion motivation to kill him specifically.

          So my opinion of Teacher is that he has the competence to arrange a daring raid on Warden HQ using the destruction of the Simurgh’s glass tube baby as a distraction and the blind hubris to think that’s actually a good idea.

  9. Victoria is still in many ways every bit as blindered by her judgmental tendencies as she was as Glory Girl.

    Literally nothing Amy could do would satisfy Victoria. And she can’t come to terms with or acknowledge the fact that while Amy far and away committed the worst violations and crossings of boundaries, Vicky herself was the one to commit the first.

    Amy self-diagnosed enough to know it wasn’t safe for Vicky to hug her, Vicky ignored that and then lambasted the person in Worm with probably the strongest self-control who had to near constantly exercise it for not having it. And never mind that she also unin did the exact thing she was angry at her sister for doing to her to Amy first.

    It’s like listening to someone who used to molest a child who somehow didnt recognize they’d done something wrong in the process complain that the person in question raped them right back after they grew up and turned the tables on them. “Without intending to” somehow needs to be apppended to every action in the chain except Victoria’s hug of Amy.

    And the fact that I have to write that sentence sums up why Ward has been a deeply uncomfortable read and why Victoria’s perspective is deeply uncomfortable on a Crime and Punishment level.

    Everything that happened to her was catalyzed by her knowingly and uncaring violating her sister’s consent.

    And I guess that’s why I am so angry with the story right now.

    My fucking country allowed a credibly-alleged rapist onto its highest judicial body. Again.

    It makes it hard to want to read what feels like an examination of the interplay of two people who raped one other. Only unintentionally for the added angst.

    As always, Wildbow, credit to your writing skill for evoking these emotions. I just may have to sit out the story until Chief Justice Brock Turner is less of an open wound.

    1. Thief, you keep showing up here and telling us how you don’t like story and want to leave.
      Do so.

      I don’t mean “We’ll be glad to see the back of you”, I mean, this is a heavy story, and as you correctly state, Victoria and Amy’s dynamic is all sorts of fucked up… and it effects different readers in different ways, and honestly, I suspect the fandoms going to keep arguing forever trying to decided who deserves more blame, or sympathy, or whatever. (Personally, I disagree with your take on some of it… but getting into that discussion is going to be less than productive, for anyone).

      If the dynamic is that upsetting to you, then YES, seriously, sit this one out. Don’t just talk about it (I know you’ve mentioned it before), go and DO it. Read a nicer book. Watch “My neighbour Totoro”. Go kick a pile of leaves, or a brick wall, or a ball. Look after yourself for goodness sake, and stop punishing yourself by reading something which clearly doesn’t bring you joy.

      *(NOTE, normally I’d just leave you to go and do it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you say similar things before, hence the encouragement or whatever the hell this is)

    2. FINALLY someone that thinks Victoria is no innocent as much as she is not to blame for what happened to her. People on this website keep forgetting that we are looking at the story through her perspective, so of course we see her as being right, specially knowing how traumatized she is, but no one ever stops to think how Amy feels considering that a lot of what happened was unintentional, done with the intention of saving Victoria -She was trying to save her because she was literally melting alive-, and outright discard Victoria ignoring all the festering problems on her sister, how troubled she was abour her bio dad, that her own parents didnt loved Amy, that she was overworking herself, feeling guilty for not saving people 24/7, that she demanded Amy to violate her boundaries regarding brain healing for her own sake, then violated her again when she hugged her after Amy said it wasnt safe, and that she didnt wanted to be touched, not to mention continued exposure to her awe aura at a formative age, effectively mind raping her and causing her crush.

      So yeah, Victoria is not 100% innocent and you have every right to be mad at the story for being so biased or at least at people for not realizing what an unreliable narrator is. And you dont have to stop reading it because of it. Is uncomfortable for me too sometimes, but is the type of story where uncomfortable is good and good writing. It makes you feel things. So yeah, you dont need to stop and you are most certainly not alone on this one, trust me.

      1. Yep, this story could fairly easily be written from Amy’s viewpoint and we’d probably get a whole lot of the same things said about Victoria from Amy. That, in part, is why I want to see a first person interlude arc next, from Amy’s pov.

        Also, I think Amy played absolutely everyone, here.

        She convinces Goddess not to align her, then she manipulates Vicky, already knowing how it would play out, and uses Dot, like she suggested way back in Dot’s own Interlude, to channel her anger issues.

        First, Amy joins up with Goddess, knowing what will happen, but herself having had a lot of experience of how being mastered works, preplanned for it. She alters Dot to be immune and with a saliva that transmits the bacteria to any thing she licks or touches. She then eats something Dot brings to her. She then continues to work with Goddess to neutralise Teacher.

        Later, she has Dot go on a Candy dousing spree. Then she has Dot tell Ratcatcher her plan, and Ratcatcher lets herself get caught and ut sup no resistance. This is more convoluted plan than before because her originally idea to stealth touch release Victoria from Mastery failed, due to Victoria’s justifiable paranoia.

        So, knowing that Victoria is martyr to heroing, daughter of a notoirous supervillain, ally of Taylor and by uncorfortable extensin, Tattletale, this youngoman who spent two years in the Birdcage, (where she could study Teacher, too) sets her mind to her scheme.

        Or, she got really sodding lucky.

        Ps. isn’t Teacher stuck down a metphorical elevator shaft rght now?

        1. > [Ami] convinces Goddess not to align her […]
          I wonder, maybe alignment would not work on her? Her powers tend to prevent subtle changes to her biology. She can get shot, but she can’t get sick, she can’t change herself with her own power. I wonder if alignment would have worked on her. Vicky’s aura did, but if the alignment could be cancelled via pills it might suggest that it has a more biological mechanism.

        2. apparently he was only stuck down there for long enough to allow the Megapolis to have a couple of years to settle, and then climbed out and continued with the same shit again )= at least that’s how I interpreted this

    3. Victoria owes Amy nothing. Victoria is not in any way obligated to ever be okay with Amy’s presence again. There is a big difference between whatever unintended impact Victoria’s aura may have had on Amy and Amy deliberately both making Victoria love her and turning her into a monstrosity. And even if Amy’s actions were somewhat understandable; *Victoria still has no obligation to forgive her or let her into her life again*. People have the right to not associate with other people, especially in a situation like this.

      I’m genuinely baffled (and honestly kind of concerned) about the fact that anyone sides with Amy in this dynamic.

      1. Part of why you’re baffled might be this misunderstanding.
        “Amy deliberately both making Victoria love her and turning her into a monstrosity.”
        Amy didn’t deliberately do either of those things, she accidentally reached into Victoria’s mind when she hugged her because she’d just opened a valve of her power she didn’t have any experience with, (and she immediately apologized and tried to switch it back, but Vicky shoved her away and wouldn’t let her) and she only messed with Victoria’s body later to save her life, I’m alarmed that you think Amy /wanted/ to turn Victoria’s body monstrous, she just did a really bad job because of how fucked up of a time she was having, then she couldn’t remember how to turn Victoria back into something normal so she gave herself a life sentence in guilt.

        1. Aye. While it can seem kind of absurd that Amy could forget how to put Victoria back, people do get pretty stupid when they’re panicking, and being recruited by the Slaughterhouse Nine is an excellent way to get with the panicking.

          Another point in Amy’s defense is that when your sister is literally dying before your eyes and claims she doesn’t want you to save her life, you damned well don’t respect that wish. You save her life, period. If she really doesn’t want to live, she can always off herself later when you aren’t around to stop her.

          But I do agree that Victoria owes Amy nothing. Her first priority needs to be to her own sanity, and right now that means avoiding Amy.

    4. “And she can’t come to terms with or acknowledge the fact that while Amy far and away committed the worst violations and crossings of boundaries, Vicky herself was the one to commit the first.”

      So if Andrew punches David, David is justified in stabbing Andrew in the throat?

      “It’s like listening to someone who used to molest a child who somehow didnt recognize they’d done something wrong in the process complain that the person in question raped them right back after they grew up and turned the tables on them. ”

      Stan has to walk down a tight corridor past Bradley every day. Every day, Stan’s hand accidentally brushes Bradley’s bum every day but Stan doesn’t realize it. Bradley doesn’t consciously realize it either but internalizes it. Cumulative years of accidental bum-brushing later, Bradley snaps and rapes Stan in the middle of the hallway. It seems that, according to your argument, Stan deserves no sympathy when he later complains about being raped by Bradley.

      “Everything that happened to her was catalyzed by her knowingly and uncaring violating her sister’s consent.”

      That is not equivalent to rape. That’s not even equivalent to sexual assault. That is *at worst* criminal assault. Still wrong, yeah. Victoria should have listened and taken the ‘no’. It just simply isn’t comparable to rape, where what Amy did to Victoria (albeit unintentionally) was just as bad or worse than rape.

      I can agree with you that both Vicky and Amy have really, really messed up perspectives on what happened. But I also think that the damage between them is so severe that Victoria is right in wanting to cut Amy out of her life completely. Amy is nothing but a toxic presence to Victoria.

      “My fucking country allowed a credibly-alleged rapist onto its highest judicial body. Again. … I just may have to sit out the story until Chief Justice Brock Turner is less of an open wound.”

      Is that what this is about? Is it that you’re angry about shitty US politics so you’re finding a weak comparison in the story so that you can take out your feelings here? Find a better outlet that’s more appropriate for venting about politics, friend. I recommend the various political meme pages. Also, in the case of the new Justice, just about any left leaning subreddit will do for that.

  10. Very satisfying end to Goddess. She came across as a childish thug, and died trying to mindrape another cult into submission. Good riddance.

    And unfortunately – because she got a pretty raw deal – I have much the same thought towards Amy declaring her intentions to go off and become Goddess 2.0. For whatever reason I’m just not reading her as a character worthy of sympathy in Ward. The amount of collateral damage she caused in her bid to supplant Goddess was kind of atrocious, evidenced by her serving Victoria and her team up on a silver platter.

    And what exactly was her grand plan in the first place? Because from an outside perspective it kinda boiled down to “wait for a clean shot”. Not exactly a mastermind-level play there, so that’s another area as a character she fails to really earn any respect in. It reads as if she just stood around with her thumb firmly planted while aiding a psycho queen in causing lots of damage; she was an entirely passive actor that lucked into power, which only puts out more Goddess 2.0 vibes.

    While I admit it’s entirely possible she was a lot more clever and careful than she came across as, since our perspective re her side is very limited, my feelings at the end of this chapter basically summed to, “Good, leave and go be angsty in some other dimension. We’ll do the hard work of making the world better once you’re out of the way.”

    (Also, I’d be interested to know how she worked around Goddess’ danger sense if this was part of a long-term coup plan.)

    1. My guess is she was specifically planning to supplant Goddess and thus waited for her to Align a ton of people and stage the jailbreak so Amy could take charge as the Red Queen of Shin. Chris didn’t really add any assets she didn’t have and was unable to obtain at will, and her only other reason to wait would be to have Goddess take out Teacher and that wasn’t finished.

      She must’ve had precog cover, either from Marquis and associates or a third party. Dinah and Teacher’s minions are the known precogs involved in this scenario, and the Simurgh abides, but it could be someone else.

      1. Also Amy’s always been kind of nuts and even before meeting Bonesaw she had a distinct habit of threatening people with variously-elaborate lifelong conditions as punishments rather than more prosaic things like stopping their hearts. Or even just, you know, not threatening people with horrible vengence for no tactical reason.

        1. I don’t think that’s quite fair. Amy’s threatening of Taylor at the bank had a clear tactical purpose, to distract Taylor and push her to surrender, and it was working until Tattletale arrived. At the hospital, she only discussed the possibility once Taylor brought it up.

          And I really doubt she was planning to supplant Goddess from the start. She probably believed in and sympathized with Goddess when the latter claimed she wanted to do things differently, but that changed after Goddess watched Breakthrough’s interview on TV and decided to brainwash them against Amy’s explicit wishes. If Amy had really been planning all this, she wouldn’t have been foolish enough to literally tell Victoria she was on her side in front of Goddess.

          Amy’s always been a follower, irresolute and unwilling to use her power freely, and that hadn’t changed by the time she was discussing her plans with Nilbog. It’s hard to believe she became bent on usurping absolute power through murder before it became necessary to save Victoria and co.

          And afterward, what else can she do? Leave the leaderless villains free to go rampage in Gimel until Teacher catches them? Help the Wardens who have proved time and again that they have no defenses against Teacher and anyone they imprison can and will be taken by him?

          Goddess probably told Amy something about her world and what state it’s in. There’s no reason to believe she’d be a brilliant administrator, but she can use overwhelming force to try to create a new central power to replace the one destroyed by Goddess’ exile and use its resources to try to transform the formerly-imprisoned villains into useful leaders or guardians of society, stand up to Teacher, and perhaps turn around Earth Shin’s situation enough to make it a useful ally or trading partner to Gimel. Finally, Victoria wants her gone so, as a major power, the only way Amy can safely leave is by going to another world with enough allies that she doesn’t expose herself to being captured and brainwashed by a rival.

          1. lol she wasn’t threatening Taylor for “tactical” reasons, how is it even possible to be this bad at reading things.

            She was threatening her because she really fucking hated the Undersiders due to Tattletale almost revealing her secret (and Tattletale shooting Victoria, even if it was her forcefield), and she was definitely pretty mentally unstable due to the whole “being in love with Victoria” thing (I can’t remember if she knew who her father was at that point, so I forget if that also factored in).

            Amy is definitely not a good person and is not particularly sane at this point (which was likely exacerbated by spending time with people like Reilly – who is still pretty messed up herself – and taking the things Nilbog says remotely seriously). Victoria has flaws as well, but currently is a better person than Amy because she’s at least working towards resolving her issues (and keeping Amy out of her life is a big part of that, since that well has been too poisoned).

  11. Am I the only one who feels bad for goddess here?
    Pretty sure I’m the only one.
    Pretty sure I’m not aligned.

    Taking over the world was a hugely jackass move… but given her powerlevel, age, and the possibility that she was Auto-Aligned, I’m not really sure how many people would have done significantly better (ethically).

    And as for here….
    There doesn’t seem to be any reason to DISBELIEVE her claim that she was backed into a corner.
    She literally has a power in her head that is constantly telling her “People are coming to get you”, and no Allies, and she probably barely even knows what having Allies FEELS like any more.
    So… she feels enemies closing in, and then she’s what? Supposed to line down and die? Hand herself over to teacher to be used as a weapon? Fight against Teacher, and his entire army without using one of the most potent weapons at her disposal?
    Yes, she’s a spoilt brat, and her alignment power is super creepy…. but she is also a person with her back to the wall, who KNOWS her back is to the wall, and that she has no real allies.
    Heck, even if her claim of threats was wrong (doubtful), she still believed it, and that is reason enough for most people to go on the warpath in self defense.

    (Also, for goodness sake, can someone PLEASE go and make sure she is actually dead, partly out of Mercy and partly to prevent Teacher picking her up just like he did Valefor and Mama Mathers)

    1. She had her organs ripped out and is dead as hell. She and her powers won’t be back unless someone else steals them or raises her from the dead, so we’ve seen the last-

      *looks at Rain, then at Damsel and Swansong*

      Fuck.

      1. Well… also her four living cluster mates… although they’d likely have different expressions of the power like Rain and his cluster.

    2. The Thing about Goddess is that she kinda does just keep making poor decisions. Literally all of her problems are self inflicted.

      The hostile attention she’s garnered? Direct result of Mastering an entire parallel Earth, which is an escalation from choosing to Master her entire cluster.

      Her unwillingness to be parted from her OP Powers, or “castrated” results in her discounting her best and kindest options, and puts her at odds with the heroes.

      She drags Amy into her scheme, then actively antagonizes her at every opportunity, then just leaves her with an extraordinarily powerful cape with obvious synergy to her. This cape is also mad at her, because she took advantage of a supposedly friendly meeting to Master him and the rest of his team.

      Speaking of Breakthrough, she discounts the non-cape member of the team as a non-threat, and cruelly insists on keeping her in the thick of an extremely dangerous battle Just Because. She also threatens the youngest member of the team, and makes a point of treating the group as a whole as her enemies, even as they prove time and again that they are both extremely strong and extremely Mastered.

      In short, she chose to make an enemy of everyone she ever met and so died alone.

    3. I feel bad for goddess.

      Sure she was a bit of an ass and not especially smart, she probably killed and terrorized people offscreen, either herself or by proxy.

      But inside she is still a scared, lonely teenager that made one bad decision, from which a whole lot of other bad decisions followed naturally. Her power makes followers, not friends or allies. Her social skills, leadership skills, empathy are all atrophied as a consequence of this one power. Still, from what we´ve seen on screen, she didn´t go out of her way to kill or be cruel.

      And in the end the one person she didn´t align and tried to trust, conspired to get her ripped to pieces. Maybe she deserved this end, but I still feel bad for the lonely, little girl inside of her.

      1. ^^^ same here. I was kind of extremely uncomfortable with what happened to her in the end, I kept thinking she might be a potential ally… and yet, there really wasn’t anything that could be done to prevent this. Her power fucked her over about as badly as Taylor’s did her at the end of Worm, only without a friendly Contessa to lend a second chance. Honestly, I see her as a parallel to Taylor – a scared and confused teenager who made the choice to take over and then had nowhere to go from there. Just… a more fucked up outcome.

        Maybe she’ll be back yet.

  12. So, with that, The Red Queen not only stole Cryptid and the only fucking chance we have at figuring out his deal anytime soon, but she cemented herself as a major player.

    The Red Queen has one of the best combat-related powers out of the major players, second overall power to Dinah’s precognition. She has Master-potential and can limit-break shards making her incredibly dangerous if she has loyal players. Thanks to Nilbog’s daughter and Cryptid, she has a flurry of powers that she can have. She’s also been mentored by Marquis on how to be a good leader. She also knows Dinah, Tattletale, and Teacher personally, making her already accomplished repertoire even more accomplished. Her downside is few, but incredibly exploitable in the form of Victoria Dallon, her lost love. After a very complicated relationship where nobody is truly in the right, just having Victoria nearby is a major disadvantage to Amy and would cause many openings, justifying Victoria’s status as a major piece. Dinah, Tattletale, The Numberman, Teacher and The Red Queen will not leave Breakthrough alone anytime soon.

    Also, Rain can’t even have his own private fantasy without it being sad and pathetic. Get this man a win.

    1. About Rain and what it is that he regards as an impossible fantasy?

      The dude is seventeen years old and his insane dream is to have a house of his own and live quietly. In a situation where other people are being promised countries to rule by a Goddess, and they are Mastered to believe that this is a real possibility, he concludes that ruling a country wouldn’t be a good idea, and that having a staff of servants would just be awkward, so he would just like a quiet home. Ashley and Slashley even try to prod him about the idea of a wife, girlfriend, lover, concubine, and he’s just like “Nah, I don’t think I’m there yet. I need to think about that.”

      This man has his head firmly on his shoulders. I like him.

  13. Well shit! Natalie and Ratcatcher MVP. And Chris I guess, but, he’s still an impenetrable enigma as always. WHEN will we get his interlude?
    And yeah, I kind of always suspected Goddess was gonna get taken out in a hilariously anticlimactic way, and this didn’t disappoint. Good riddance.
    Don’t really understand what Amy is aiming for here, but it’s appropriate that she’ll become a major player, will make for a very nice story given her connection to the viewpoint character. That’s one thing Worm kind of lacked, I think – Taylor was mostly just reacting to external threats, rather than having a real personal stake in the story.

    1. But that was what Taylor was. A pitiful person who was always reacting to external threats from Emma’s bitch posse. Everything was always an external threat from her and she was always thrown in the middle of it. She just wanted peace and she ended up becoming that peace in a scary way.

  14. That transition between Goddess’d Victoria and Normal Victoria made me cheer. Holy god what an amazing chapter. While a few people are saying Goddess’ death was an anti-climax for me it was hype as hell… though I guess those two things might not exactly be mutually exclusive.

    Thankyou Wildbow. I don’t know if I say it too much or too little but thankyou. Worm is up there in my short list of all time favourite works of fiction and Ward, even unfinished, is already up there. If it wasn’t there already this chapter cemented it.

  15. “This was easier the first time,” Goddess said. “A decision I made as a teenager, to take over, solve all of the problems.”

    Wasn’t expecting to see Taylor in this story. But why is she calling herself “Goddess” now?

    1. I sort of was half expecting Goddess to be a different Earth’s version of Taylor at one point, but it didn’t take me long to dismiss the thought. It just seems weird, from a storytelling standpoint.

      Maybe that was a bit premature, but given how Goddess died,* I still doubt it.

      *While the actual death itself was not confirmed, exactly, the scene did not leave much room for doubt… though Taylor hassurvived worse.

  16. Well, RIP Goddess. I’m sorry to see her go, she made things interesting, but Red Queen Amy is a far more fascinating development so oh well. This arc has been so good that I’d be ready to like almost any ending.

    That said, it seems a bit premature for Chris to leave since we know basically nothing about him and nobody in the group even especially likes him, besides Kenzie who likes everyone. He’s never really contributed anything to any of their adventures, either, aside from his medical supplies saving Rain that one time I suppose, so I’m not sure what motivation they have to ever connect with him again. Maybe they’ll investigate as a duty to Yamada and Kenzie, find out that he’s actually Sleeper or something.

    Generally, it seems like we’ve had a break in the status quo, but no more. The latest battle between the major powers has been fought, Goddess has been dealt with, Amy has been gotten out of the way for now, but Team Breakthrough and the rest of Gimel are mostly back to square one. That’s okay, but I do hope we’re not going back to Victoria checking her email and fights with the multiverse’ lamest villains.

    Regardless, this has been an excellent arc. The Victoria/Amy relationship is really the core of the story, in my opinion, and that was developed nicely at every turn. The others got some good moments, too. The Goddess thing could have gone farther, but it definitely made its mark.

    I wonder if Lung went back to Teacher, or left with Amy?

    1. I wouldn’t mind an arc of general crime fighting/”Victoria checking her email and fights with the multiverse’ lamest villains” with just slight threads of the metaplot wildbow stories leave me high strung usually from the end of the first arc to the end of the story and an arc like that would be a nice breather

      chapters where we get to see characters in non ridiculously high stakes are few and far between like I don’t know how 90% of the cast act when they’re not in intense situations.

      a lot of stories you rarely see how characters act under pressure in wildbow stories you rarely see characters not under intense pressure which is why id like to see a more laid back arc of fighting worlds lamest villans

      1. Then you’re in luck. Just check the last arc, Beacon, it’s the one I was describing, or the one before that. Or any of the previous arcs besides Shadow and Pitch.

        High-intensity situations may be the norm in the author’s other stories, but that certainly hasn’t been the case in Ward.

    2. I kind of really hope Victoria is going to go back to coordinating other teams against the ‘lamest villains’, because those lamest villains add together to a major threat to the civilian population of Gimel, and low key taking care of that? Would be majorly fucking awesome.

  17. Hahaha, status quo? Nuh-uh. You’ve forgotten one of the main background threads in this story: the rising anti-cape sentiment. Goddess’s stunt with prison break just dumped a bucket of kerosene on that little fire.

    Calling it now. Things are going to eventually get so ugly on Gimel that Breakthrough (or at least Victoria) will end up having to emigrate to Shin. After all, making Victoria live under Amy’s rule is the next logical step in the ever escalating game of forcing Victoria to cope.

    1. I hadn’t forgotten. I was just considering that part of the status quo. Next up: Gary reveals that Jeanne Wynne is Citrine, etc. Dramatic, but still what we’d been expecting for awhile.

      I hope you’re right, though. Exile on Shin would be great.

  18. There a few interesting bits to take not of here.

    First off, Vic cannot call Amy an enemy, she says that she doesnt know what to call her but the fact that she consciously rejects enimity with her is noteworthy.

    Second that now we have only two Breakthrough members that have not killed, if Chris can even be called a member at this point.

    Third, the confirmation that yes Amy can help Chris and is willing problably for free.

    Fourth, that Amy sticks true to her words, Victoria comes first to her and if Vic wants her out, then shes moving out, and she went ahead and made everyone a even better plan than ANYONE could have thought.

    With one move Amy: makes good on her promisse of leaving Vic alone; destroy any chance of she being happy, ever; brings about the balancing of Shin, by right of fire (fight fire with fire); and frees Gimmel (? I forget) of 90% of its villains.

    All while making Victoria so confused with her own emotions, since we have confirmation thanks to point 1, that she hasnt quite gotten around her feelings yet (isnt a surprise i know, but its confirmed now)

    1. Second that now we have only two Breakthrough members that have not killed, if Chris can even be called a member at this point.

      This isn’t Chris’s first kill. He admitted to having killed somebody way back when Victoria was first starting to coach the team.

  19. You’d need a miracle worker to fix this damage. In fact you’d probably need a entire charity organization for this situation.

  20. I knew Amy and Chris would be revealed to have hustled Goddess, it was sooo clear that Vicky’s bias is just to keep readers from cheering on Amy 24/7, this is yet another time Amy pulls everyone’s ass out of the fire, but because her power is scaaaary, she can’t get credit for it. Basically this story is from the opposite viewpoint of Worm, and we are gettting the bias from the incompetent heroes.

    1. Worm – the competent capes save the day while ignoring their own issues

      Ward – the people who were too busy dealing with their own shit to save the day flounder about while everyone else is too busy to involve them in important stuff

    2. …I mean.

      Can you really blame Victoria?

      Her trauma with Amy involves Amy mind controlling her, then using her power on her without her consent, then leaving without a word

      Here Amy… got Victoria mind controlled, tried to use her power on her without her consent, and is now leaving before they can talk.

      I agree that Amy scored a major win here, and has overall become a better person since Worm, but when it comes to Victoria she’s still making the same mistakes.

      1. > Here Amy… got Victoria mind controlled

        Goddess got her mind controlled this time. But jugding from previous Victoria’s attitude, it wouldn’t be surprising if Amy takes the blame for this as well, even if she just wandered around doing nothing.

        > and is now leaving before they can talk.

        Oh yeah, Amy certainly should try talking to Victoria now – it was already so long after the last time she said OH FUCK DON’T TALK TO ME WHY DO YOU EVEN EXIST, she needs yet another opportunity to say it again! A huge Amy’s mistake, indeed.

  21. 1) I was waiting for the moment where either Amy or Chris betrayed Goddess. Didn’t quite expect it to be this but hey, that’s what you get when you take a whole bunch of extremely dangerous and powerful people and turn them into slaves instead of taking the long route and convincing them properly, like a real leader. So in part this is a good case study in the downside of powers.

    2) Red Queen. Lady in Blue. How did I not catch that.

    3) Goddess’ last premonition of death felt hollow. Very appropriate given her end.

    4) Weren’t Chris and Amy assigned to finding Goddeses’ wayward clustermate? I feel that ties into this well-timed betrayal somehow.

  22. We don’t know that Blue’s missing clustermate, once tracked by Chris, didn’t both have, and make use of, a mini-Alignment variation getting Chris and Amy on board with overthrowing Blue, and then taking over Shin as her puppets. Sometimes clusters have access to variations of the powers of the rest of the cluster, and we don’t know what we don’t know.

    We don’t know that Marquis, known for ruling through proxy, didn’t put Amy up to this from the start as part of a long con, still with the notion of training Amy for rule of what is, in reality, his Shin. Shin is Birdcage writ large? Marquis sizes up competition and he knows leadership. Hell, Chris might be a Marquis agent.

    Tristan is Emma and Byron is Taylor? There are lines at the start arcs of Worm where Taylor speculates that if it was guys doing guy bullying, the whole thing would be over with in a single exchange of blows. When we see the brothers fight, we get the shards’s subversive twist to that. Think of how Emma and Taylor were like sisters, then enemies. What if Emma is just in a coma, and they are coma sisters? Byron is happiest when everyone is working together.

    Maybe cycling through forms allows Chris the erode Masteries? He has to change forms just anyway, so “what he can’t do” is stop, and thus he must free himself anyway.

    1. Christ is most definitely not Masterable for any long period of time yeah
      no idea what the fuck you’re talking about re: coma sisters, although somewhat interesting point re: bullying and ‘single exchange of blows’
      and I think Amy is not Masterable either. Victoria’s aura wasn’t classified as a Master power for a reason

      1. The PRT classification system is about utility, not mechanism. Victoria’s aura and Alignment both manipulate emotions, but the way the aura does it can’t get Victoria minions, just disrupt people over a wide area. Hence Shaker, not Master.

        I do not recall any reason to think Amy is inherently Master-proof; her power is only to manipulate biology and does not directly affect herself. She can almost certainly engineer bacteria that will modify her biology to block Master powers, but doesn’t necessarily have a universal blocker or even any blocker installed. That obviously raises the question of why she wasn’t Aligned, but as a representative of an external power with a large number of parahumans Aligning her would likely be detected and taken as an act of war.

      2. Coma sisters? Yeah, I was thinking how ironic it would be if the pair of them, who started out as friends so close that they were like sisters (Gestation 1.2 – “I remember my mother saying that we were so close we were practically sisters”), and then became hate-filled enemies, had to share the same fate as coma victims, thus “coma sisters”. One interpretation of Taylor’s fate being that she remains in a coma, and my wild speculation that Emma, presumed dead, somehow remained alive in a state of coma. I’m pretty confident Emma is dead, and Taylor being dead works story-wise, so I’m not claiming anything here, but the potential irony excited my speculative tangent exploring a sibling relationship.

        That line about bullying? Insinuation 2.4, paragraph starting – “I clenched my fist, then forced myself to relax it. If we were all guys, this scenario would be totally different.”

  23. Next arc – team Breakthrough is MM’d/Valefor’d/Teacher’d and we must abide the team’s struggle against their being mastered for ~15 chapters, until they are saved by Amy and Chris, neither of whom will have gotten interludes yet.

  24. That feeling when an unlikeable overpowered villain bites it. That was freaking awesome. I know that dot and co are super loyal to Amy, but I hope they pick up nilbog on their way out.

  25. “Not his power”

    What if Chris is a clone? A Slaughterhouse Nine-thousand clone? Would be kind of lame, since we already have Swansong, but it would make sense if Bonesaw screwed with his power enough that he’s literally falling to pieces. Also would show how he already knew Amy.

  26. But a clone of whom? The first one who comes to my mind would be Crawler. Cryptic indeed changes his physics to counter his enemies, just not permanently, but it still seems very far fetched to me.

    1. Honestly, Crawler was one I thought of, though I would be most inclined to believe the clone would be of a parahuman we’ve not yet met. I agree it seems far-fetched, but it seems the most far-fetched may play closer to home with Wildbow; his writing capitalizes the most eccentric climaxes possible.

    2. Though now that I think about it, it is entirely possible he’s a clone of Spawner, that Breed + Crawler fusion from the 9000 arc, seeing as we never actually got to meet him or see his powers in action.

  27. Chris still ever mysterious. What’s with ‘his’ power?

    It really seems to be not his power. It has some nasty side effects for his power, and his apparent immunity to Blue’s power would make sense if he’s actually not a parahuman – some other parahuman just made him how he is.

    Can’t wait for the Chris interludes.

  28. Comments section got me wondering.
    Why is the focus of the debate yet again on the victoria/amy dynamic?

    Chris, a kid, just fucking murdered goddess. And it wasnt a spur of the moment-fight for your life kinda thing. It was a gosh darn calmly premeditated assassination. And he did it with his bare hands (claws?). That’s kinda… Jeez. I dunno. I feel like that should be the bigger takeaway from this chapter, whatever it implies, rather than the trite old psychological amy/gg debate.

    1. Chris is super badass, man. Has been pretty much all along. His response to Mama Mathers was to generate a terrifying bird monster form and say “Stop showing me the sanity-blasting horror which lurks beneath every mundane surface, blah blah blah. It’s boring.”

      Chris has some shit going on.

    2. Eh. Obviously this was going to end with Goddess dead or victorious, the only real question was who’d do it. She’d have been kill order territory even pre-GM.

      Also I’m not actually surprised Chris would commit premediated murder if the situation called for it. Sveta would surprise me, but no one else on Breakthrough except possibly Natalie and honestly probably her too.

    3. A big part of it is that the Victoria-Amy situation hits a lot closer to home for many people than Chris does. You can pretty easily replace Victoria with a rape or other abuse victim, for example, and anyone who’s had a few major screwups that just seemed to compound out of control as their whole life came crashing down around them can sympathize with Amy. Then there’s the fact that a lot of people are either too lacking in imagination or too tunnel-visioned to be able to sympathize with more than one of the two sisters, so they get outraged when they see a commenter sympathizing with someone they can only view as monstrous.

      Same thing applies to Tristan and Byron, now that we’re seeing inside their heads and pasts.

      Chris, on the other hand, is still alien enough that he doesn’t stir up these strong feelings in most people. Most people just shrug him off as an asshole they can’t really sympathize with, and those of us who can sympathize with him tend to have enough experience viewing things from the outside that we don’t fall into the “They don’t understand so they must be monsters!” trap. End result is that discussions involving Chris are much less charged; there’s far less emotional energy tied up around him.

      1. That was very well put. Me? I hope beyond hope and probably forlornly that both Victoria and Amy can heal. I’m also the opinion that if anyone ould pull off writing -of all things a believable reconciliation- it would be WyldBoar.

        But, however this story ends, I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises. and surises that we all saw coming and were surprised by anyway!

    4. I think we kind of had the pieces to that puzzle already. Chris has been the walking embodiment of the word ‘creepy’ since his first introduction, and he has admitted to having killed before. I’m upset he’s leaving the team just because of ‘collect them all’ issues, but this came as the exact opposite of surprise. Just ‘ah yes, the Goddess really should have expected this’

    1. I still think he was; as someone else noted earlier Wildbow called Chris’s latest form Twisted Betrayal on Reddit. I think he got Aligned so he shifted into a form that betrays those he admires, symbolized by having a beak threatening to stab his own back at all times.

  29. Yessssssssss
    Ever since worm I’ve been curious to see what would happen if Amy cut loose with her powers. Remember when Taylor guessed Amy could easily replicate her own power? Amy has a closer claim to the title of goddess then the lady in blue ever had.
    The only thing hold her back was her emotional frailty and lack of imagination and ambition.
    Well this is fucking ambitious and I can’t WAIT to see the results.
    Long live the Red Queen!

    1. I anticipate this ending badly. Her power is incredibly strong, but part of the reason she’s always been holding back is that when she doesn’t she tends to break things in ways she can’t easily fix. She’s got power enough Glastig Ulaine called her an equal, but it’s got its limits. It doesn’t come with any automatic inherent defenses, and it takes time to do anything sophisticated and targeted, like she’d need if Teacher dropped forty thralls with flamethrowers and biohazard suits in her bedroom. She’s a Queen, not a Goddess, and like all royalty she needs councilors to truly rule her nation.

      Her current supply of trusted advisors is Dot and possibly Chris. Her power has the capacity to make more, but I don’t think she has the necessary competence to pull off enthralling her current stock of dubiously loyal minions and without finding Riley I don’t think she’ll be able to cover her bases power-wise with artificial life.

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