Gleaming – Interlude 9

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The tower extended from the floor of the valley to the stratosphere, a gleaming testimony to the power of patience, persistence, and inhuman nature.

Most would have expected the structure to be sealed, or for the layers of overlapping metal along its exterior to be welded to one another.  It wasn’t the case here.  The entire facility was channeling heat, air, and atmosphere up, while it channeled the lack of those things down, and the design of the facility caught the air in the same way the curvatures of an airplane’s wings did. The edges of the tower seemed to glow, even, because of the air that ran concurrent with the fanned-out plates that stabbed upward, concentrating atmosphere and heat around the tower exterior, as well as its interior.

High above, where the sky was transitioning from the light blue of day to the near-black of night, the peak of the tower was topped with a diffuse, flower-like bloom of the lighter blue.  The exhaust or output.  The peak was so high as to be invisible, but the venting wasn’t.

As though it had stabbed through the perimeter between sky and space, and the wound bled a light blue.

It roared, because the vacuum it gathered in its squat base drew in atmosphere and air.  It screamed, because the very design of the facility defied physics, and the alien metals that formed the panels that caught the air or channeled ambient heat upwards were still bound by some laws of physics.

Bound and tortured for their disobedience, she thought.

“I don’t think that’s going to help you.”

She turned toward the voice, arching one eyebrow.

“Sorry to break the spell.  I meant your helmet,” the guy said.  He had a costume, more sleek than most.  The mask around the eyes was hard, but the back was flexible, tied in a knot at the back of the head, the two lengths of fabric loose and billowing in the strong influx of wind the tower generated.  The costume was a similar mix of hard segments flowing naturally into loose, flowing fabric, all red with gold trim.  She couldn’t help but see double when she looked at him, and his double was badly wounded, his costume torn.

She decided she would call him the wounded man.

She was holding her helmet in both hands.  It was crafted of another alien metal, different from the tower’s sweeping, overlapping panels, and had elaborate wings at the sides, sleek and pointed back.  She couldn’t remember when she’d taken it off.

In reverence, as someone would when approaching a holy place?  No.  She wasn’t reverent.  Her god was dead.

She had wanted a better look at the monster that loomed before her, a beast that screamed, roared, and made the sky bleed.

Glines, the Switch-Thrower, she thought.

The shadow manifested to her left, as if it was stepping in from another room, its feet still planted firmly on the ground.  Young.  He folded his arms, and in the shroud of his indistinct form, the lines between costume and flesh were blurry.  He could have been a reptile, covered in thick layers, with sleek, broad bands.

“Hi,” the wounded man said.

Glines gave him a small nod of acknowledgement, before turning his full focus to the tower.

Valkyrie could have asked the shadow a question, but she didn’t.  She let him study the distant tower, and she turned her attention to the hero who had noted her helmet.  One finger tapped the metal, producing a sharp sound.  “These things are more important than you would think.”

The wounded man smiled.  “No offense, Valkyrie, but I don’t think that, whatever it is, is going to bop you on the head.  If it does, that bit of metal won’t change the outcome.”

The man in costume was nervous, she realized.  He’d been here for at least a day- she looked back in the direction of the camp, where tarps and tents were erected, positioned where they could watch the tower, still far enough away that it would take twenty or thirty minutes of driving a conventional vehicle to get close.  At least a day that he’d endured the roaring, the screaming, and watched as the Earth’s oxygen was slowly and steadily pumped away into oblivion, to no seeming point or goal.

“I don’t think it’s about to strike me across the head,” she said.  And this is still important, for other reasons.

“You know what it is, then?”

She shook her head slowly, turning her attention briefly to Glines, who was still studying the thing.

“No,” she admitted.

“Uh huh.  That’s reassuring,” the wounded man said.

The helmet was heavy in her hands, and it felt even heavier as she shifted it to one hand, so her other hand was free to adjust her hair, pushing it out of her face.

It was possible that events could have unfolded in such a way that the masks and helmets weren’t necessary.  But some of the first capes, including Vikare, who had worn a costume very similar to her own, had wanted to protect their identities.

Somewhere along the line, the masks and helmets had become synonymous with identity.

With her hair sufficiently adjusted and pushed out of the way, she set the helmet down on her own head.  Anchor-heavy.

“You look so calm,” the wounded man said.  “You’re not freaked?”

She raised a hand, holding it flat.  The only tremor or movement was because of the wind, as air flooded in the direction of the vacuum-driven vortex the vacuum at the tower’s base.  She was calm.

“No,” she said.  She unfurled her decorative wings, then wrapped them around herself for warmth.  She stood straighter, chin raised.  Her heartbeat was much as it always was.  If her breathing was any different from usual, it was because the tower was stealing the air.  “I’m not especially worried.”

“Some of the guys called it a space elevator.  Which, you know, super cool, except it’s clearly not helping us, and it has defenses to keep us out.”

“No,” Glines said.  “Not a space elevator.”

“Jesus, they talk?” the wounded man asked.

“What is it?” Valkyrie asked her shadow.

“A gun.  That’s the barrel,” Glines said.  He extended his arm to indicate the length of the tower.

“What the son of all fucks would they need a gun that big for?” the wounded man asked.

“Dunno,” Glines said.  “But I don’t think the target was important.  If I were making a gun that big to deal with a specific enemy, I would have paid attention to targeting.  Any attention at all.”

“The target could be so large that targeting doesn’t matter,” Valkyrie said.  “If it filled half of the sky as it made its approach?”

“Uhhh,” the wounded man said.  “That’s a thing?”

Glines, though, was nodding.  “No need to worry about aim if you’re aiming at the broad side of a barn?  Dunno.  Maybe.  But if you were building a gun to shoot the side of a barn, wouldn’t you want enough firepower to hurt the barn?”

“You would.”

“Uhh, please tell me this sky-filling enemy is hypothetical.”

Valkyrie shook her head.  “It’s real.  But it’s not an enemy we need to worry about again.  When they came the last time, they left markers, to ensure none of their kind wasted effort coming to the same places.  To go against that procedure and habit would run contrary to their entire being.  It won’t happen.”

“You said these guys are building a giant gun to shoot at things on that scale, and this is the gun.”

“No,” Glines said.  “I don’t blame you for getting caught up in the attention-grabbing details, but we didn’t say for sure that this is meant to shoot at anything.  The ammo they’re using isn’t sufficient to hurt anything that big.  The ammo is the point.”

“What’s the ammo?” the wounded man asked.

“Explain,” Valkyrie said.

“The air.”

“Someone built a fucking thirty-one mile long airgun?”

“Technically, I guess,” Glines said.  “Less technically, it shoots all of the air.  Each shot is one earth’s worth of atmosphere, gathered up into a ball and superheated.”

The wounded man was silent, his eyes wide.

“One shot, and Earth whatever this is is emptied in about two seconds, everything dies well before it can suffocate, with the sudden atmospheric and pressure shift.    The next shot empties the adjacent earth, probably.”

“Earth Bet,” Valkyrie said.

“Sure.  Home, huh?” the shadow asked.

Valkyrie nodded.

“Then the next closest earth, or a share of all the connected earths.  Enough to do widespread damage.”

The wounded man sat down heavily on the grass-less hillside.

“You said the ammunition was the point.”

“The best analogy I can think of is the idea we had of putting all garbage on a rocket and shooting it into space, so we don’t have to have landfills.  This guy is shooting in the same way.”

“Disposing of atmospheres,” Valkyrie said the thought aloud.  “That helps.  Thank you.”

“No prob.  That’s really all I’ve got.  Oh, and if you’re going up, you want to go up through the tower, not outside of it.  Most defense is aimed at protecting against external attack.”

“Thank you.”  She dismissed the shadow with a thought.

Do you need anything? she thought, pushing the thought into the space where the shadows lived.

No, came the distant reply.

I’ll get to you soon.

I don’t mind.  I was never very good at asking authorities for help.  I got patient.

Why?” the wounded man asked.

“I intend to find out.  Will you walk with me?”

The wounded man nodded, falling into step beside her.  Behind them, the tower continued to bleed out atmosphere, screaming the cry of a hundred thousand metal panels straining to their limits, roaring with the rush of wind and internal tinker technology.

He was the first to say anything, “We’ve got sixteen parahumans and twenty non-parahuman staff at the camp here.  Nerves are shot, morale is nil.  Nine of them got seriously injured trying to investigate.  I need to know what to tell them.  Telling them that a team of tinkers or whoever are aiming to shoot all of the earths’ air into space isn’t going to fly.”

“Tell them nothing except that their job is done.  My team will handle it.  If I can’t resolve this, there won’t be anything your coalition can do.  Eat the good food you were rationing out, drink.  The more you consume, the less you need to take back.”

The wounded man nodded, but he looked worried.  He hurried forward to get to the gate and hold it open for her.

The main tent was a gathering place and a dining hall both.  People were gathered out front and at tables within.  Out front was fine, with only a few oddities, like a handful of people in costume standing up as she approached.

Within the mess tent was a different story.  The tension in the room was palpable.  The capes on duty took up three quarters of the tent, sitting at their tables or standing nearby.  Cards and some of the food from the were scattered across the surfaces.  There wasn’t a buzz of conversation, and there was a noticeable gap between the people at the three tables and the denizens of the last table, furthest from the tent’s opening.

Silent stares accompanied her on her way to the far table, aimed at her from both sides.

The people at the far table were hers.  Not hostile, but not necessarily talkers, either.  They wore uniforms with a fair degree of cohesiveness running through them, but they were more united by the masks they wore.

A woman with striking tattoos around the eyes, in black, red, and yellow, the colors too solid and bright for an actual tattoo.  She had been one of the heroes that had come after Valkyrie, back when Valkyrie had been Glaistig Uaine.  Glaistig Uaine had broken the woman until she was only barely on the cusp of life, and then pulled the woman’s soul from her body.

A skinny man with no hair on his skeletally gaunt head.  She remembered him having hair when she had watched him die.  A goon in the Birdcage who had made a mutinous bid for power and lost.  He had been turned away by each cell block leader in turn before venturing into the depths of the Birdcage, where prisoners too dangerous for a cell block had been put.  He hadn’t survived his first run-in.

A handsome black man had a mark on his face, akin to vitiligo, but not quite the albino white that came with vitiligo.  A loose representation of a skull, drawn on his face in a lighter brown.

There were others.  Some had more extreme touches than others.  A consequence of how information was stored.  Longer-term storage reduced things down more, put information such as what people wore on their skin into the same categories as the skin itself.

And there was no storage longer-term than death.

“Cleo, Naja Haje.  Voltrage, Third Execution.  Edgeless, Forward Facing.”

The capes in question stood.  Cleo’s eyes glistened with opaque teal-green moisture, the fluids leaking out and weeping regularly, the brilliant color a striking contrast against her olive brown skin.  Where she dabbed with the corner of her sleeve and napkins, the fabric was bleached or eaten away entirely.  She wore extra layers, including a scarf to keep her hair out of her face, a shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket, possibly just to have the extra fabric, and possibly because she had other physiological issues.

The sad fact was that they weren’t Valkyrie’s.  She didn’t know them, beyond what she’d seen the last time she’d had them.  She couldn’t know their needs.

Voltrage was a recent piece of work, pale, with paler, drier hair than he’d had in his first life, a perpetually angry expression marked with arched brows and a pointed beard.  He was skinny, his shoulders especially bony, collarbone sticking out a bit more than was natural.  He’d ripped the sleeves off of the sweatshirt he’d been given, but had later donned a white long-sleeved shirt.

Edgeless was older, unfortunately bearing more of a mask than a face, a consequence of a lack of personality in life- which was why she’d made him one of the first she experimented with.  Dull in many senses of the word, he was big, bearing a combination of muscle and fat, and he obeyed orders.

“What about the rest of us?” Milk asked.  She was the heroine with the too-bright-to-be-tattoos marks on her face.

“Stay.  Do you need anything?  You’ve been fed?  You’re entertained?”

“We’re telling each other stories for entertainment,” Milk said.

Valkyrie looked at the other tables.  There were cards there.  Not at this table.

To ask or demand would be a power play.  She wasn’t interested in that.

Waggish, Twelfth of the Fabricators.

The shadow appeared, short, with dirty, blemish-covered skin everywhere but his face, where he’d once worn a mask.  The face was frozen in a serene smile, blemish-free.

Waggish had to hop up onto the bench to reach the things on the table.  He snatched up a piece of trash, then reached for another.  Some people nearby began sliding him things.

With two hands that were disproportionately large for his small frame, Waggish pressed the collected debris in between his hands.  There was an acrid, burning smell as it reconsolidated.  She could see the power work in the movements in the air.

Waggish set two decks of cards down on the table, holding one up for her to see.  Custom card faces, the upper left and bottom right of each card featuring a minimalist illustration of someone from around the table.

“If we don’t return in three hours, assume we’re dead or trapped.  Use thinkers if you can, verify our status, then mount a rescue or leave, as you see fit.”

“Understood,” Milk said.  She had already picked up one of the two decks, fanning it out so people could see.  She plucked one free and held it out.  Milk’s own.  “Thank you for the cards, Valkyrie.  And can you tell whatshisname thank you for not going the cliche route and making me a hearts card?”

“He heard,” Valkyrie said.  She glanced at the three she had picked out, then started toward the door.  They fell in step behind her.

Nobody else in the mess tent spoke.  Except for the idle chatter from the table she had just supplied with the cards, discussing rules and bets, the only noises were the buzz of the lighting that had been rigged up at the top of the tent, the flap of the wind against the taunt tent fabric, and the distant screeching and roaring of the colossal gun barrel.

“Cleo, stay safe.  Voltrage, Edgeless, clear the way once we’re inside.  There are traps.”

“Tinker?” Voltrage asked.

“Tinker, at the very least.”

Her phone buzzed at the side of her utility belt, where pouches and pockets were hidden by the armor that covered her upper body.


The specter appeared.

“My phone,” she said.

“The Wardens,” Dialback said.  “They said their thinkers read the situation here as critical, and want to know if there is any news.”

“What they want is good news.  Let them know I’m busy, and that we’ll contact them shortly with that good news.”

“They’ve complained in the past about my use of my power to communicate.  It reads as slightly corrupted, and trips flags.”

“Then ignore them,” she said.  She waited for the rebuttal, then dismissed the shadow.

Mushroom, Leadletter, Esclavage, Knallen.

The four shadows appeared in a half circle behind her.  Cleo, trailing behind, found herself right between Leadletter and Esclavage.

The burly Mushroom exhaled a dot of light, which flew forward.  It traveled the quarter-mile to the base of the tower, hit the closest thing the base of the tower had to a door, and blew it wide open.  Valkyrie could feel the rush of the wind from the blast.  Leadletter opened fire, drawing her guns and shooting at the fragments of door and frame that still hung on, to exaggerated effect.

Esclavage couldn’t act until they were closer.  The leather-bound villainess produced bands of metal from her wrists, each studded with spikes.  She wrapped the bands around pieces of rubble, and then flung them to one side.

Turrets began to spring out of the side of the tower, while drones began to emerge from the hole in the front.  Some of the drones set to repairing, while yet others advanced, weapons leveled at the group.  There was laser fire.

She had a functional team working in concert.  Voltrage’s electromagnetics caught the incoming fire, redistributing energy and stopping bullets.  Edgeless simply tanked the shots, while providing some loose cover for Valkyrie and Cleo with his power.

“What am I doing?” Cleo asked.  She tensed as weapon fire struck the dirt a foot and a half to her right.

“You’re here if I need you.”

There was a rolling explosion, as Knallen used her own power.  Waves of the defensive and repair drones were obliterated, hot scrap metal scattered at the corner where the edge of the tower met flat ground, and along the interior floor, where they’d been sent flying back through the open door.

Inside, there was vacuum, which the group had to fight past, using handholds and powers.  They reached the stairs and climbed up a floor before air was available again.

The interior was hollow, with complete floors at set, clearly planned intervals.  A staircase ran up the side of the tower, while a vortex of airless void plunged down the middle, as if the lack of air was a force unto itself, filling the bottom floor as air was forced out.

The waves of defensive drones were apparently endless, minimal in their design, with only two or four legs and a basic weapon each, sometimes with their ‘brain’ circuitry or batteries exposed, and often with some of the alien metal used in the tower’s construction as extra armor.

What was the distance they’d said?  Thirty-one miles?  Then this was an ascent that could require them to travel for thirty one miles up.

With drones every step of the way.  Ten or twenty on every flight of stairs, and the firepower she’d brought to bear with Knallen and Mushroom threatened to destroy stairs, making the climb more dangerous.

She dismissed them.  Two others.  Thirty-Eight and Gobsmack.  Thirty-Eight almost immediately matched up with Leadletter, the pair of them shooting in concert, trading off drone executions.

An uphill battle, in a sense.  Edgeless took the lead, not out of any specific intent, but because he was the only one who didn’t need to slow down, as he pounded the villains with soft, doughy hands that could batter but which could easily struggle to finish even a lowly drone off.

Voltrage, however, could collect debris and absorb incoming fire, letting his electromagnetic shield charge up, and then release it all in a burst that wiped out a whole flight or two of drones.

One flight clear.  Four hundred and thirty more.

She dismissed Esclavage the Rack, and called up Goose Down.  A supportive ex-heroine who could buoy the team.  She would climb four hundred stories on her own, if she had to, but the shattered remnants of drones threatened to sprain ankles or cause people to fall.

With the lift Goose Down provided, they moved faster.  With a bit of time, they got better at dispatching the drones.  The things were fragile and stupid, prone to repeating the same behavior without learning from the destroyed drones.  The feint and kick combination that worked against one worked against another.

Beyond the stairwell, she could see daylight and the rush of the heated, condensed air along the tower exterior, being swept up and channeled by the design of the tower.

Zappatore the Underminer.

The shadows she’d already called out felt the appearance of the fifth of their kind.  They would feel a fraction weaker and slower.  The net loss was much greater, but she did have Cleo, Voltrage, and Edgeless.

“Bombs?” she asked.  “Traps?  I don’t want the tower to self-destruct when we’re at the top.”


Grazie,” she replied, in her accented Italian.

The drones were numerous enough that they could come down the walls, now, or fall between stairs and land on stairs below, with just enough surviving the fall to be a problem as they attacked from the rear.  Cleo threw a knife at one, knocking it over.  Three more appeared at that same step a moment later.

It was bad enough that Voltrage wasn’t able to release his shield, because the incoming fire was too incessant.  The group would be riddled with holes in the one second it took him to regroup and bring his shield back into place.  As it was, the lightning barrier rippled to the point it was hard to see past it.

Niente qui.  Vai su?” Zappatore asked.

“Up,” she replied.  “Be ready, Voltrage.  The moment we stop.”

Away with Thirty-Eight the Eye.  She called on Yonder, the Gatherer.

Yonder needed to gather power.  When they did, it was to gather everyone in a bubble of air.  Beyond that bubble, the electromagnetic shield kept most of the enemies at bay.

The bubble lifted the group, with a suddenness that made the stomach lurch.  They flew up ten stories, and then they stopped.  The bubble caught them again, as Yonder prepared to move them again – a good thing, given the mile-long drop beneath them.

Here, undisturbed, the walls were so covered in the blinking lights of drones that a human couldn’t put a hand flat against the wall without touching one of those lights.  At least one light to each drone, no drone any larger than a medium sized dog, many as small as a gourd.

Voltrage released his power.  Electricity and the stored accumulation of bullets and other weaponry was flung out in every direction.  It crackled against railings and against the machinery inlaid in the interior walls.

“Sideways,” she instructed.

The air bubble floated over to the wall, and the assembled group was deposited on the stairs against that wall.

Already, there were more drones making their way down to fill the void.  It was getting hard to breathe, because the burned electronics smell, the ozone, and the burned air from the laser fire the drones output was so noxious.

“Oh my god,” Cleo whispered.

Zappatore shook his head.

“Take us up further,” Valkyrie ordered.  “Or this will take forever.”

Forever.  Even with shortcuts taken, it took half an hour for them to reach the point in the tower where an attack had been made by heroes looking to halt construction.  The tower, barrel, space elevator had nearly collapsed, but enough infrastructure had been at the top to hold it up until repairs could be made.  She could see the scars, and the effect it had on the air running along the exterior.

Up another hundred stories.  Her people were getting tired, so she tapped other resources.  Diaspora served to turn drones against one another, while masking the group’s presence.  Mudstreaked slowed the drones down, turning nearby surfaces into goop the finer or less nuanced legs couldn’t work with.

But there was no substitute for good violence, at least sometimes.  In the absence of the gunners and mass-destruction capes, the drones soon pressed in, until they were up against the electromagnetic field again.  Voltrage was getting tired.

“This is worse than the fucking world ending!” Voltrage screamed the words, amid pants for breath.  Where his hair had stood on end before, sweat now slicked it close to his scalp.

“No it isn’t,” Valkyrie answered him, her voice nearly lost in the chaos.

“What can I do!?” Cleo shouted.

Valkyrie wasn’t able to answer, because the noise rose.  Yonder was signaling that he was ready for another air bubble.

Up another hundred stories.  Zappatore signaled for the group to go back down another ten stories, because he had identified the collection channels, which captured particulate matter and carbon from the air, for the purposes of making materials.  Centrifuges were sorting that material by atomic weight.

Voltrage seemed happy to destroy something that wasn’t replaced a moment later.  The debris flew into the airless vortex right down the middle of the tower, and was cast straight down.

The air was getting thinner as they ascended.  Yonder’s air manipulation turned toward ensuring the group had enough to breathe.

The final twelve floors.  Machinery tore free of the walls- robots, loaded to bear with higher-end weapons, and covered from head to toe in the hardest armor this structure seemed able to provide.  Cleo’s thrown knife and slip of paper seemed to glance off.  Voltrage’s power rocked the military robots, but it didn’t damage them.

Edgeless threw himself into the fray, pummeling.  Alone, the muscle-bound brute was able to keep two of the robots from turning their weapons on the group, though he couldn’t stop them.

Valkyrie added her own strength to the affair, unfurling the living wings that one of her creations had attached to her costume, then drawing her weapon.

Her blade plunged into the first robot’s head, and as she pulled it free, she used the force of the blade coming free to sink it into the neck of another robot.

Relentless, dangerous, but ultimately lacking in imagination.

She had an idea of what she was up against by the time her squadron reached the workshop floor.  Drones were adding layers to the wall, gathering hot metal in beads, that they laid into gaps as the workshop floor rotated above.  With the continual rotation, gaps were exposed, and the platform steadily ascended.

She pushed the door open.

Not a conclave of mad tinkers.  No lesser Endbringer.

The man was small and broken.  Tinker technology riddled his body, not as a cyborg might do, but as an invasive organization would.  As a tree shifted its branches to work around an unmoving object like a fence or hydrant, the man’s body had worked around the technology.

His belly faced the sky, and he was almost naked, but for the catheters and other tubes that festooned his nethers, much as they did nose, ears, and heart.  He was moved as a quadruped moved, arms extending back as far as they would go, following the limping gait of the greater construct.

There were shackles that were clearly bolted to bone, the flesh angry around where the bolts had gone in, and some of those shackles served as places for tech to hang off of, including clusters of miniature arms and manipulating devices.

He or it was gathered around what looked like a motherboard, one arm hooked into a complex array of wires that stretched taut or ran between walls and from ceiling to floor.  The small arms and tools handled the finest details, like soldering spots on a computer board, the rigging of wires helped make the larger movements almost instantaneous, and the tinkertech festooned hands covered the remainder.

A human eye watched them as the body worked.  He called for no drones, drew no weapons.  Still, Valkyrie knew she had to be careful.

The entire body tensed.  The man’s body arched, belly reaching toward the ceiling, and then he gagged.  With choking coughs and a smell of burned flesh, he deposited white hot metal onto the floor of his lab.  Mechanical hands slid it across the floor.

The Scholar, Valkyrie thought, before she even properly looked.  Scion had been the warrior, but he hadn’t been alone.

The Scholar was long gone, but the fragments that had made her her were still out there.  There were some with a more malicious design, intent on breaking their hosts.  Specific, dangerous hosts.

It was hard to divorce her line of thinking from the way she’d used to think, faced with one of the dangerous ones.

She wasn’t worried, she wasn’t afraid, and she hadn’t been for the entirety of the climb.  Stressed, yes, but only that.

Now… pity.  The man’s back was arching again.  Valves in the tangle of catheters and other tubes were switching.  It wasn’t urine that was vented out, but something colorless and cloudy.  Long after it had finished venting, the man spasmed and twitched as much as he was able.  His legs and arms were moved without his permission, dragging him here and there so the other limbs and parts could work.

Turned into his own workshop, his resource supply, and apparently provided all the care the agent could provide that would keep him alive.

A tinkertech tower, thirty-one miles tall, created by one monster of the most inhuman nature.  Past a certain point, he would have created things like the resource collection vats, that distilled carbon from air.  He would have automated the creation of drones.


Cleo stepped forward.  “This is why you wanted me?”

“Whoever or whatever it was, if they were angry enough to aimlessly destroy worlds, they needed to be put down.”

Cleo nodded.  She drew a knife from beneath one layer of clothing, tested its weight in one hand, then spat on the blade.  She threw it at the man, the blade sinking in where neck met shoulder.

Flesh almost immediately began to die, turning black.  The tinkertech set to work, gathering resources, kits of regenerative bio-agent, making injections, and excising damaged flesh, all at the same time.

The poison was faster.

Valkyrie waited, listening and watching.


The broken man.  She could identify him now, see the power he was given.

When she created him as a shade, he was a man again, without the technology hanging off of him.  He did stand with a hunched back, knees close together while feet were planted further apart, knobby-kneed.  Even like this, existence seemed to be painful for him.  Lingering psychic effects.

“How long were you working on this?”

“Ah,” he made a noise.

“You don’t have to answer, idle curiosity only.”

“Three years of preparation.  Two years of work,” the broken man answered.

“Were there failsafes or traps built in?”

He nodded.

“Show my people,” she said.  She called up the Mad Bomber and The Man Who Stands Atop.  “Explain to them.  Disable it.”

The broken man nodded again.

“Broken trigger?” Cleo asked, dabbing at one eye.  She had cuts on the side of her face, but they were small and shallow.

“No.  Nothing broken.”

The group was left to recuperate, the tinkers working on disabling the tower before anything untoward could happen.

As she waited, standing silent, her helmet removed and resting on the edge of a desk beside her, she reached out to Dialback, where he had a position deep inside her.


The Wardens need help with things, and they’re worried about your silence.

Tell them I’m fine.  What do they need help with?

The Simurgh, was the reply.

Almost instinctively, another spirit deep inside her shifted, agitated.  Eidolon.  David.  The man’s battery was nearly spent, and the cost of replenishing it was high.

Stirred to life by the mere mention of his long-time opponent.

“That,” she said the words aloud, feeling the weight of them, “Would be the opening act of a tragedy.”

Heads in the area turned her way, curious at how she’d suddenly started speaking to nobody.  She waved them off.

They agree, came the response.  The Wardens don’t want you engaging with the Simurgh.  But they need help covering other crises and targets while they focus on her.  They know you’re tired, but-

I’ll go, she answered.

The effect fluctuated, barely visible in how it distorted the air.  When looking at any person or thing closely enough, the light distorted around the very outline of that person, shining brighter or appearing darker than it was.  This was like that outline, wrapped around a wide area.

People in very drab clothing were gathered as a mass nearby, wary enough that they huddled together, parents gripping their children to keep them from approaching or getting too inquisitive.

Two people had gone inside the effect, fallen, and couldn’t get up.  Attempts to rescue with tools had failed.

Shadows bubbled forth, emerging just enough to use powers or prod at the edges of the effect.

This Earth had diverged a hundred years ago.  It was very lightly settled, and even there, it was largely by accident.  Disease had hit just a touch harder during some critical years, and the population had floundered.

Now she appeared before these people as something akin to an angel.

“Time,” came the answer, from a member of her greater entourage.  “Slowed time.  It’s easier to enter the field than to exit.  The fit barely notice, but the sick and elderly can’t push out.”

She had a wide collection of shadows at her beck and call, and a strong squadron of other capes supporting her otherwise.

It was a question of finding the right ones.  At least here, there shouldn’t be any wounds to tend, nothing to delay her.

This was better than a mercy kill, tinkertech left unattended, a power run rampant.

She had other work to do.  There was a source to this effect.

She walked away from the scene, listening and watching.  Two of her servants followed as bodyguards.  Milk was one.  Cleo was another.

“Ma’am,” someone called over.

She motioned for her bodyguards to stay where they were.  She approached the woman, an elderly matriarch.


“What can you say?” the woman asked.

“A small fragment of a… very mighty creature, that died two years ago.  It touched this place,” Valkyrie said.  “Did you see golden light in this world, two years ago?  Followed by devastation.”

“We heard it struck on the far side of the ocean here.”

Valkyrie nodded.  “That was him.  A piece of him fell.  Like a drop of blood, but he was complex and intricate enough that a single drop of blood could be a living, wanting thing on its own.  That droplet could be divided even further, and each division would be a life unto itself.”

“Like gods of myth.”

“A very small piece touched here, and it found root.  The effect is slowing time.  It grows with every passing day, little by little.”

“Is there anything that can be done?”

“Yes.  You can come if you want.  I can’t promise it will be pretty or easy.”

“I should, shouldn’t I?  I’m in charge here.”

Valkyrie walked through the quiet town, one metaphorical ear to the ground.  The woman walked beside her, and the two bodyguards walked a distance behind them, talking to one another.

The old woman looked back.  “Uncanny in appearance.”

The words were accompanied by a visible shiver.

“Touched by specks of blood, which found root in them.”

“As I heard it, the Wardens that we broke bread and cracked drink with were the same.”

“They did a good job of explaining things, then.”

They weren’t so uncanny, Ma’am,” the old lady said.

“These ones…” Valkyrie started, searching for the words.  “They died, and I brought them back, with some help.  In exchange for this life, they’ve agreed to provide me with assistance.  Some strangeness is to be expected.”

In another circumstance, they might have been the worst or most alarming words to say.

Here, the old woman seemed to take it as matter-of-fact.  What was a resurrection, when an active attack from an apparent god and visitors from another world were only two years fresh in one’s memory?

“Here,” Valkyrie said.  “I feel them over here.”

The path was a circuitous one around a house, knocking and getting permission to enter, and finding nobody else within.

It was only when Valkyrie and the now-impatient old woman stepped out onto the porch that Valkyrie had reason to pause.


The specter took form.

“No traps,” she instructed.  Then she pointed at the porch.  “We’ll want to put it back the way we found it, or better.”

Machinavelli nodded, mechanical mask switching between modes each time the head stopped moving.

Nails were pulled free and boards were uprooted.   In a matter of seconds, the porch was in its constituent pieces.

Beneath it all, matted and wet, was a large dog, breathing hard.  She could view it with a kind of double vision, and she saw the rush of images, the flickering, and a collection of impossibly tall people with the faces scrubbed away.

“I’m sorry, girl,” she murmured.

“The dog?” the old woman asked.

“Things aren’t as they should be.  Power fit for beings of myth are falling here and there like litter.  Sometimes it dissipates.  Other times it swells.”

“And other times it finds it’s root?” the old woman asked.

“This beast is the cause of your mysterious deaths and incidents.  It couldn’t know what it was doing.”

“The massacres?”

“I would guess it trapped prey by accident, and driven to the edge by hunger, it ate pieces of the accidental victims.”

“I see.”

Valkyrie had to pick her way through the foundations of the porch, with concrete settings for pillars- the pieces that couldn’t be uprooted.  She knelt by the dog.

She could tell almost immediately.  “Too far gone.  Even if it wasn’t, it’s incapable of using the power it has.  More would die.”

Settling down, sitting in the mud, she coaxed the dog closer.  Stroking it, she spoke to it in a soft voice, keeping her awareness tuned for any power use or flickering from the animal.

“If I could conscience it, I would bring you with me, brave girl.  How scared you must have been.”

The tone was more important than the words.  She lapsed into her native tongue, and the dog seemed to like the sound of those words better.

With her awareness of powers, she studied the dog as thoroughly as she could manage.

The dog was fast asleep when Valkyrie snapped its neck.  She could feel a tension release over the entire area, as the ravelings of time came undone.

The ones that had been slain by this accident of nature wouldn’t be coming back, either way.

The mess was tidied up, a means of communication established, and farewells said.

She actually used her phone this time, rather than relying on an intermediary.


“It’s Valkyrie.  I found the culprit.”

“They’re not blaming us?  We’re their new neighbors, they have reason to be squirrely.”

“No blame.  They thanked us and invited us back.”

“That’s a relief.  Thank you, Valkyrie.”

“Chevalier.  It was a dog.”


“A dog with powers.  I tried to feel around it, see why or how.  I looked at the moment of the trigger.  The poor beast had a refrain of human words running through its head at a critical time, and the agent was damaged enough to try meshing with the animal, sick and diseased as it was.”

“How much do we need to worry about this?”

“One in a million chance.  But it’s a chance, and that chance may grow.”

“I see.”

“It’s handled.  I killed it.”

“Damn,” Chevalier said.  The disappointment was so palpable she could have laughed, if it weren’t over a dead animal.

“Take my word for it, Chevalier.  Whatever fun you might imagine a dog with powers to be, it would be the opposite in reality.”

“You think I’d imagine it to be fun, Valkyrie?”

“I think you have the traits of the best of little boys and the greatest of men, Chevalier, with courage to spare besides.  I can imagine the thought crossing your mind.”

There was an amused sound on the phone.  Then, more somber, he said, “It’s shit to have to put a dog down.  I’m sorry, Valkyrie.”

“It’s our mission.”

“Staying sane and on the level is part of that mission, so we don’t betray what we stand for.  That means acknowledging the shittiness of it.  You hear me?”

“I hear and understand,” she said.

“It also means taking a break.  Return to the city.  Rest, unwind.  You’ve fought an army of ghosts, staved off a potential world-ender with the atmosphere gun, hunted down and dealt with an exponential class-S threat that had gone exponential, you had a week off where you were supposed to be resting, but you decided to hunt down the breaker assassin instead, and you went straight from that to this, a dog with powers.”

“This was easy,” she said.  “A touch sad, but easy.  You were dealing with the Simurgh.”

“She was restless but we can’t figure out what she was actually doing.  It was scary but it was easy, as you put it.  You can’t keep going like this.  Why don’t you go back to the city and relax?  Sit around in your comfortable clothes and watch movies.  Go hang out with friends- I know you have a standing invitation from an old friend of mine.”

I’ve never watched movies, that I can remember.

I’ve never ‘hung out’ with friends.

And the city…

“I’ll think about relaxing,” she said.  “But I’m fairly certain I’ll come to the same conclusion I have before.  That I need to do this.”

“Valkyrie,” he said, voice stern.

“I’m fairly sure I’m older than you, Chevalier.  Don’t talk down to me.  I need to do this.  To help, to make up for past acts, and to gather the resources and contacts to attend to my flock.”

“Your flock.  I thought you had to stop.”

She looked back in the direction of Milk, who was talking to Edgeless.

“I did.  I want to find a way forward, regardless.”  She seized on the word like it had a deeper meaning, a power to it she could draw on.  “Regardless!  If I were to put my needs aside, I believe the rest of the world needs me to do this.  Too many of these incidents are ones only I have the ability to handle.”

“I could refuse to give you any information.”

“You could.  You won’t.  You and Legend work through injury and sickness, exhaustion and mild insanity.  You’ll let me do the same, because you recognize the need.”

He was silent on the other end of the phone.

“Is there something you need for me to handle, Chevalier?”

“There was a prison breakout in the city.  Frankly, we could use some eyes on that situation until things settle down for sure.  Shin is… stuff’s happening, Valkyrie.”

“I halfway suspect that you’re telling me that out of connivance, Chevalier.  Has the job corrupted you so quickly?”

“I am many things, but I’m not conniving.”

“To get me into the city, for a task where there is nothing meaningful to do, leaving me nothing to do but rest?”

“I have a very hard time imagining that there would be nothing to do there.”

“Something else, Chevalier.  Send me somewhere else.”

“They’re going to forget what you look like.  I think they’re already talking about you like you’re a myth or a memory.”

Something else.  Please.”

“The battlefront, then.  The Tyrant Kings.”

Africa, Bet.

“I’ll go.  Cote D’Ivoire for headquarters?”


“I’ll contact you when I’m there.”

“Good luck.  I may see you and your ‘flock’ there.”

He hung up.  She put the phone away.

Her ‘flock’ was waiting for instructions.

“Everyone on duty is on rest mode.  Head back home, relax.  Everyone at rest is with me.  Prepare for war.”

Clouds of silvery poison gas rolled across black sand.  Soldiers in gas masks ran up a hill and slid down the other side, to where rocks provided some cover.

Valkyrie walked through the poison gas, protected by shadows that had granted her boons before fading away.  Her eyes teared up slightly, but that might have been the silicate dust rather than the chemical weapons.

Her flock was in step behind her, their feet scuffing in the fine sand.  Her shadows were likewise in step, but they made no sound, left no tracks.  They had their own boons, but some had decided to wear the gas masks regardless.  They wore no uniforms, but there was a commonality that tied them together, because their clothes had all come from the same stores at the same stops, or because they’d all come so close to the foot of the mountain that was her power and then they’d come back.

Subdued, but not submissive.  Quieter, not quieted.

Each and all of them remembered dying.  Many remembered dying at her hands.  It was a select few of those that she had brought into her flock.

Nineteen individuals, favoring the young and disciplined, the powerful, and the needy.

Then she’d been forced to stop.  The umber horse Disaster had reared her ugly head and made her imminent presence known.

The soldiers that had gone down the slope were none the wiser.  Valkyrie approached within fifteen paces of them, then raised her rifle.

It was only right that she kill, when expecting it of her soldiers.  She knew which of her flock would kill and which might aim just off to the side, so they could claim loyalty and let their consciences rest easy.

She had brought the killers and capturers.

The skirmish that followed was quick and brutal.  They were matched in numbers, but Valkyrie’s number included ten parahumans, eight being members of her flock, and six shadows, the power shared out among them to allow for greater number, intimidation and distraction, at the cost of less raw ability.

The opposing group was twelve or so Europeans who had hired themselves out as mercenaries.  Scum who enjoyed hurting people, pillaging, and looting to the extent that they were staying on Bet for it.  Staying despite dwindling food and climate, health risks and diminishing numbers.

Scum with powers.  She scanned her eyes over the glimmers.  Images of violence and pain.  For five individuals in the group, the images were closely mirrored.

One of the groups that had figured out how to create triggers.

She identified the powers as best as she could, by looking at the glimmers and identifying the agents by name and title.

The Solemn Child.  A tall, broad shouldered man with a red sash.  She aimed to take fire, and someone on the enemy side raised a wall.

“Shoot the one in red first!” she ordered.

The man could undo powers.  Given a moment’s opportunity, he could undo hers, and her power wouldn’t be the same again.

There was a small measure of satisfaction as she watched the man die, the top of his head removed as it poked over cover.  She avoided collecting him, leaving his power where it lay.

As others died, one by one, her own side holding firm while the enemy dwindled, she inhaled and exhaled steadily.  Calm in the storm, in the endless thunder of more than thirty weapons going off.  Then twenty weapons.

Her hand was steady, her aim true.

She had her rifle in one hand and a shield in the other, and she held her ground, shield out in front.  When there was a pause, she brought her rifle around, firing off a series of shots.  A bullet came close enough to touch her costume, though it left her untouched.

One of her shadows was being cheeky, letting them get that close.  She felt no fear.  Her flock protected her, and her shadows warded off the harm.

One power remained on the enemy’s side.  She saw the glimmer, and she drew out her power, bringing her shadows closer, raising them into the air as floating images, fully clear.

If he aimed at me and shot me in the heart, if the shadows I’ve instructed to protect me move too slowly, I could die right here.

The glimmer proved to be truth when the man raised himself up, surrounded by a storm of black sand.  Painfully bright slices of light lunged out of the ground and closed around him, with more sprouting out of the ground to make approaching him difficult.

Of the sixteen powered individuals with her, none seemed able to break or disrupt the shell.  The prism slowly rotated, its pointed tip aimed at the horizon.  As it moved to the side, the ground under it was made jagged with razor slices of light.

If he got away with this message, it could mean the local warlord was alerted about what he was up against.  Not disaster, but it could mean that the captives in the warlord’s possession could become hostages or negotiation fodder.  Better that he didn’t know what was taking out his forces and forcing him to keep his armies closer and closer to home.

He can’t get away.

I want to fly, she thought.  A shadow lurking within her responded, and it lifted her up.

The crystal jolted into motion, going from zero to two hundred miles an hour in an instant.  She only barely intercepted it, her fingers grazing the surface, bending painfully and burning at the brush with the light.

But she made contact with something.  She held onto that something with her power.

He flew away, and a part of him stayed behind.  He made it a few hundred feet before the power quit on him.

His body tumbled into the sand, the gas mask coming loose.  He didn’t reach for it, scramble, or gasp in pain at the poison he was inhaling.

For all intents and purposes, he was in her grip.  She’d taken his life the moment she’d made contact.

She let that glimmer of life and the simulacrum of power and personality settle into being.  A shadow.

“I need you to tell me where the captives from the raids in Rome are being kept,” she said.

The shadow shook its head.

“Tell me what you know about the people who can create the triggering moments.”

She saw and felt the surprise.  He knew something.

Again, a head shake.

“You’ll realize your position soon,” she said.  She looked to the parahuman that had come with her group.  “Any others?”

The woman shook her head.

As they prepared to leave the area, walking through the sand and checking the bodies for any identification, Valkyrie plotted a course that took them past the body of her shadow.  She made sure that he saw the corpse and the face.

This is what you have wrought, she thought.  But we will return to Gimel, that land of second chances, and you may, given time, have yours, as I had mine.

There were other squads, roving a village that had been evacuated in advance.  Motley groups, they used chemical weapons to make fighting back in response impossible, then roved through the vulnerable areas, where the only ones alive were gasping for breath.

Three more squads.  There were more parahumans among them, but it was closer to conventional, with the normal soldiers outnumbering the parahuman auxiliary.  She didn’t collect the fallen.

Valkyrie’s group had two captives, bound and firmly sealed with powers, and those captives took the bulk of the preparation time as they prepared to leave, figuring out how to carry them out.  Once the job was done, the group organized, powers were gifted and shared out, and they flew as a squadron, so close to the water that their toes could trail on the surface and the spray of mist both drenched and concealed them.

She breathed air with no traces of poison in it, and she felt faint anxiety.

She drew nearer to the Warden’s base in Cote D’Ivoire and that distant anxiety drew nearer by equal measure.

On the horizon, a fan of blue-white lasers rained down on a territory.  It was Legend who had arrived, not Chevalier.

The portal to Gimel loomed as the centerpiece of their destination, well before they were able to set their feet down on solid ground again.  People scattered, with places to go, showers to take to get poison off, and minor wounds to tend to.

The city needed help, but she couldn’t do anything to help it.  She could do this, ensuring that no one person would amass the power or the army necessary to seize a portal, this portal, and come through to raid the one lucrative settlement on Gimel.  They would have to bring boats through, but there were boats here.

There were too many human rights abuses, too many cities worth of people being prevented from leaving.  There were pockets like this all over, and as winter approached, things looked grimmer and grimmer.

“Did it go okay?” one of the capes on duty asked.  A PRTCJ uniform.

“It went fine,” Valkyrie answered.  “No casualties.  Some captives.  We’ll get information on the powers they’ve been using.  I have the spirit of one, and I think he’ll tell me what he knows soon.”

“Wow.  That’s pretty crazy creepy,” the PRTCJ officer said.

“Perhaps,” Valkyrie replied.  “Excuse me.  I need to rinse off the poison before the adaptations fade.”

As she walked away, she could hear a whispered exchange between the PRTCJ officers.

“You can’t just call them creepy when they’re Valkyrie, Crystal.”

“Oh, just stole a soul, gonna interrogate it, nothing wrong about that.”

Valkyrie paused.

“Oh, shit,” the not-Crystal PRTCJ officer replied, before ducking away.

“Don’t just run and… hi again, Valkyrie,” PRTCJ officer Crystal said.

“You don’t like it?  You’ve been on the front lines here, in the northwestern American states, and in Russia.  You’ve seen what we’re up against.  We need information.”

“I don’t like it,” Crystal said.

“It will be more lives saved in the long run.”

“It’s capturing someone’s very essence.  It’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable.  If you’re capturing guys on our side with permission and bringing them back like I’ve seen, I’m okay with that.  Otherwise, I’m not cool with it.  I’m not going to shoot you or fight you or anything, but… not cool.”

“I’ve had at least one of these conversations every day for the past few months,” Valkyrie said.  “Different points, different particulars.  I have people telling me to take time off, but this– this is what wearies me.”

“Am I wrong?  What am I missing?”

“You might be right.  I just find that having the question constantly put before me is… it’s hard.  If I hadn’t taken his life and automatically drawn him into me, he would have notified key people, and we would have lost the element of surprise.  Many more would have suffered and died.”

“I don’t believe in the ends justifying the means, sorry.  I think once you start thinking that way, you stop looking for those hard-to-spot answers.  But I’m a flying blaster girl.  Pew pew.  It’s shitty of me to judge you when I got the easy, awesome power, and you got the power with the built-in moral dilemmas.”

Valkyrie smiled.  “I’ll think carefully before I press him.  Can I ask, before we part ways?  A fiddly question.”

“Surrre,” Crystal responded, drawing out the sound in a hesitant way.

“Why ‘Crystal’?  Your power doesn’t match, as far as I can see.”

“I… I could be a flying shoot-crystals girl, for all you know,” Crystal said, almost defiant now.

“But you aren’t.  If it’s an issue, I can leave you alone.”

“No.  It’s not an issue.  It’s just weird you know.  Crystal is my name, Valkyrie.  My birth name.  It’s not a secret.”

“Of course.  Of course.  I feel stupid now.”

“Nah,” Crystal said, smiling a bit.

There was a small sort of rescue as Legend dropped out of the sky, spotted Valkyrie, and then flew over.

“Suddenly very intimidated,” Crystal said.  “Wow.  Hi.  I’m going to… walk away.”

“You’ve been doing good work, Laserdream,” Legend said.  “Take care of yourself.”

Mute, Crystal nodded, before flying off.

Legend sighed.

“I have one captive.  My team has two more,” Valkyrie said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Legend said.

“What doesn’t?”

“The warlord of this area is surrendering.  We still need to see how the politics fall down, but they think the army will return to its prior state, and they’ll serve the state, not the challenging party.  There’ll be some tidying up to be done, but they will protect the portal.”

“We’re done?” she asked.

There was that faint anxious feeling again.  The fear.

“The Wardens?  No, the Wardens aren’t done.  But we are.  They don’t need people who can level armies or subdue errant nation-states.  They need attention, resources, time, and a careful eye.  We can keep things tidy here with a skeleton crew,” he answered.

“And turn our attention to other things.”

“For this specific moment, Valkyrie?” Legend asked, “There’s nothing.  The monsters are quiet or dealt with, the armies are hunkering down for the cold weather, the unrestrained power effects seem to be restrained and quarantined for now.  There is only the city, which is seeing its first snow, just days after freezing rain.  They’re trying to find their equilibrium, and they’re counting on our help.”

She pressed her lips together.

“I know you don’t want to take a break, Chev told me, but I assure you… there’s a lot of work to be done there.  It won’t be a break.”

“I think…” she started.  She saw his eyebrows go up.  “If things are quiet everywhere else, I may take that vacation I’ve been told about.”

His eyes searched her face, looking for the lie or the catch.  “Hard to imagine.  It would be healthy if you did.”

I have errands to run, she thought.  If there are no monsters to slay, warlords to oust or towers to topple, there are still things that need attention.

“I’ll leave my flock with you,” she said.

A week.

A weeks of searching, of flying through worlds with only her shadows for company and assistance.  Of finding the meat and vegetables for her own meals, including tubers and edible roots found in nature that were dim substitutes for things found on supermarket shelves.  Her shadows prepared and cooked the meals while she rested.

A week.  A week, a day, and four hours, and she found the first settlement.  Shattered buildings had been repurposed.  Graves were laid out at the far side of a field.  Water, food, and shelter seemed to be secured.

There were cheers and cries of excitement as they saw her.  An eerie feeling, given that they were people from the city.  The Megalopolis.

And the questions.  They came one after another.  They wanted to know what had happened.  The portals had expanded and then things had connected.  People had been cast through, but they wanted to know why.  They wanted to know about the city, and if the city was okay.

She felt as impatient as she ever had and she forced herself to answer in as patient and measured a way as she could.

It might have taken ten or fifteen minutes before there was a break in the conversation long enough for her to ask her own question.

“The Wardens?  Did their headquarters come through here?”

“Yes, actually,” came the response, from a younger member of the group.

But that answer was less of an answer than the exchange of glances, the silence from the people who had been so talkative a short while ago.

A finger pointed the way, and Valkyrie flew in that direction, buoyed by shadows.

Had the two sites switched, the remnants of the Warden’s headquarters serving the hundreds who had come through on the other site, the remnants of the one or two apartment buildings lying on their side for the patch of people situated here, it might have seemed more fitting.

She released the shadow that was allowing her to fly, and stepped to the edge of the Wardens’ site.

Riley was here.  So was Rinke.

There was a thinker who had been kept in isolation, because he found stimuli to be too much, and there were five members of the Warden’s office.

Again, she was pulled into conversation, when she only wanted to ask.  Questions about the state of things, and that sing-song rhythm that Rinke and Riley could pull her into, where they played off of one another and seemed so natural, in a world that felt so hollow, shadowy and unnatural.  A siren call.

Because they were Rinke and Riley, it took even longer for the gap in the conversation to happen.  After twenty minutes, Valkyrie couldn’t effectively interrupt.  Rinke wasn’t making goblins, he was making homonculi, and he felt that was an important distinction, because they didn’t have personalities and they existed purely for labor.  Riley had questions and answers and she’d been experimenting to figure out options.  Rinke had things to say about being king or not being king.

But Jessica appeared, knees and hands grimy from gardening or farming on the small scale, and Valkyrie abandoned the conversation, quite likely offending the king-who-wasn’t.

“Ciara,” Jessica greeted her, smiling wide.  “You found us.”

Ciara nodded.  Emotions welled up, but she managed to keep them from overflowing.

“I’ve only had the chance to seriously look for a week,” Ciara admitted.

“A week you’ve been away from the city?”

Ciara nodded.

“Still keeping your distance, I see.  Venturing this far away from home when you could be there?”

It was meant to be joking, light, observation, not admonishment.  But Ciara wasn’t used to showing weakness.

The tower and the atmosphere gun.  The Simurgh.  The power effects betraying convention.  Broken triggers.  Ghosts.  Tinker devices left unattended.  Chemical weapons.  Mutants.  War.  Being hated or treated as alien or creepy everywhere she went.  Being judged for tending to her flock.  Being judged for failing her flock.

She could deal with that.  She could stand tall and she could face it down.  They were comfortable unknowns and question marks.

“The city.  We’ve talked about it.  Why I’m… staying comfortably away,” Ciara said.

“The biggest threat,” Jessica said.

“The biggest threat.  Yeah.  I’m terrified, Jessica.”

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170 thoughts on “Gleaming – Interlude 9”

  1. Valkyrie!

    Valkyrie’s ghosts can talk! They have personalities, and she’s talking to them!

    With Nilbog and Riley back she can start making them again and giving them bodies!

    She’s thinking of them in terms of the second chance she herself got!

    Everything is wonderful!

    Oh also Eden’s remnants appear to be trying to end humanity out of, what, spite? That gun was being planned before Gold Morning…

    1. >Oh also Eden’s remnants appear to be trying to end humanity out of, what, spite?

      Denial and resentment of thwarted “Destiny”

      1. Have to reread Eden’s interlude, but I seem to remember her being a BITCH. Zion didn’t really have malice per se when wiping out a planet, but she seemed to enjoy the idea, and was even planning on dumping him if something better came along, IIRC.

        1. Not really. Her interlude talks about the long-term need for their species to find a way out of its broader malthusian cycle, and she considers her meeting with Abaddon to be very lucky, but she only starts to realize that there are alternatives to the conflict strategy after the exchange, and she never gets a chance to follow those ideas to their logical conclusion, since she crashes before she can fully assimilate the new shards and info she got from Abaddon.

          1. Also, when asked what a Tinker 10 would look like, Wibblebob described that chap. And said that chap got that Tinker power, where everything was automated and he created his own materials, because Scion/Eden saw him as a threat using their precognition.

            That shadow is worth talking to.

          2. It mentions the breadcrumbs left behind to stop their own species following again… but I have a theory.

            What if Abaddon has wasn’t a lesser evolved being of their kind. What if it had evolved into a sort of predator.

            So it travels around, finds another of its species, engages in shard exchange but it actually “poisons” the other to lead them on a path to their own destruction. Afterwards, it follows to their destination once the entities have died and consumes their shards/bodies. Then consumes the world/s and moves on.

            What if the big gun wasn’t just vindictive of Eve but a conscious decision she made as she met her end to try and kill Abaddon when it arrived.

          3. It’s specifically noted that it doesn’t have enough power to be effective against an enemy big enough for it to hit. Assuming it was going to be completed as expected it’d just be a giant plasma cannon with no targeting whatsoever. Even if Abbadon came in totally blind and flew directly into its line of fire it’d only blast away a couple Shards worth of material; no more effect than a God Driver hit on Scion.

            Now, if Eden had sent her Sting and a Thinker 15 and Stranger 15 that’d be enough to hide it from Abbadon, track and target him, and probably kill him instantly. But as is it’s not a serious threat to an Entity, and if a Tinker 15 were being directed to build an Entity-killer it’d probably rely on esoteric space-time distortions to attack them in every reality at once.

          4. I honestly suspect she never intended for the gun to actually be fired; the real purpose of it is to compel the heroes to attack and destroy it before it can be completed. Assuming they’d have Valkryie sidelined somehow (sitting in the Birdcage equivalent probably) and Eidolon never existing, assaulting the tower would be a hellish extended campaign with the duo leading the fight, and it’d severely weaken the participating organizations and give them all kinds of chances to kill off inconvient parahumans without anyone suspecting a thing.

            It’s a handy backup contingency for if something went wrong with their divide-and-conquer plan and say Goddess Aligned everyone and made them coordinate and share information. It’s very straightforward so Tinkers can figure it out in a couple minutes, but the only solution is to fight all the way up the tower through unceasing waves of drones, with deadlier ones at the very top that could eliminate an initial comnando team. But of course, it’s not actually supposed to win; if it were then Eden would’ve packed in AI designs and the defenses would be run by SuperDragon and rapidly adapt to counter threats instead of mindlessly continuing the same failed strategy.

          5. the only solution is to fight all the way up the tower through unceasing waves of drones

            Not true. Valkyrie opted to climb it because she wanted answers. If the goal is only to eliminate the threat, however, then you have the option of cutting the Gordian Knot by taking out the base of the tower (or the ground beneath it). The bigger they are, the harder they fall. >:)

          6. Forever. Even with shortcuts taken, it took half an hour for them to reach the point in the tower where an attack had been made by heroes looking to halt construction. The tower, barrel, space elevator had nearly collapsed, but enough infrastructure had been at the top to hold it up until repairs could be made.

            Thought of that, apparently.

          7. Quite possibly. I mean, Eden would have only realised after she crashed and probably not had all that much attention to spare on the task of stopping Abaddon. But he was mentioned as being smaller and even present on only one dimension from memory.

            But I don’t think the idea that Abaddon is an Entity predator is so far fetched. Abaddon was the one reaching out for others, the one who changed course, expending vast amounts of energy to do so and gave Eden its victory shard which ultimately led to her/its undoing.

          8. I think the idea that Abaddon intentionally killed Eden is very plausible on its merits. Valkyrie apparently does not think so, but while she is exceedingly well-informed it seems like she got her information on the cycle as a big data dump from Scion dating back to when he launched her Shard and he never sent her an update with new information. And she never did see Eden personally. So basically last she saw Eden was a bit beat up but looked like she was going to be fine, and unless Path To Victory told her she doesn’t know there was a direct relationship between Abaddon colliding with Eden and her death.

            However, I don’t think Abaddon is weak enough that this gun could be a plausible weapon against him. He’s smaller, but only relatively speaking. Scion and Eden are so big it’s not really possible to conceptualize, and they’re ungodly tough. How tough? Well, the only brute-force attack that didn’t have some flat override like Sting or Siberian or suchlike where physical resillence is irrelevant that seemed to have any meaningful effect on him was a direct hit from the God Driver. Which is an upgrade to the Firmament Driver. Which was a gun that could destroy the moon in one shot.

            This gun is a big deal by human standards, but it’s probably not big enough to kill an Endbringer, much less an Entity. Using this gun on Abaddon is like trying to kill a blue whale with a blunt toothpick. If you want that to work, you hand the toothpick to Foil and have Contessa help her aim. If Eden was planning to use this to kill Abaddon, step one is to build the gun and step two is to have Foil and Contessa at the controls. That’s an Entity-killer. The gun by itself is not.

          9. Also, notice that Valkyrie and Glines Switch-thrower don’t dismiss the idea that it’s an anti-Entity weapon on the basis that no more Entities are coming. Valkyrie only mentions that because Wounded Man got distracted by the question of whether there might be some threat that fills half the sky. The reason they dismiss the idea it’s meant to be used offensively is that it’s the considered opinion of Valkyire’s top stupidly gigantic thingy Tinker that it cannot hit anything it could hurt. If he might be wrong about the properties of a stupidly gigantic thingy, Valkyrie would have assigned someone else to examine the stupidly gigantic thingy. She calls up six apparent Tinkers this interlude not counting the guy in the tower: Glines Switch Thrower, Waggash Twelfth Of The Fabricators, Zappatore, Mad Bomber, The Man Who Stands Atop, and Machinavelli. Those are just the Tinkers she got around to using, and they presumably know their business the way Looksee knows cameras or Bonesaw knows biology.

    2. I think basically a lot of Eden’s contingency plans for if people started to get too much of a handle on things are bouncing around activating at random. Originally this would probably be for if the Protectorate or equivalent had gotten portal-making together and started expanding, using other worlds to bypass disaster zones or outmaneuver the “Superweapons”.

      1. Agreed. My first guess is that the atmosphere gun is the result of an Eden shard that never got the message that the original plan couldn’t succeed.

        1. Possibly, though my impression was that Eden’s Shards were intended to be prepped but on standby because her precog powerset wasn’t properly recursive, so it was used to script out Scion’s Shard deployments and Eden’s would be used for instances where things went off script. So this might’ve been outside the plan entirely, speculatively slated in for 2170 if things went off course in certain ways.

          1. I don’t think we actually disagree? We do see her shed a few shards in her interlude, but she stays in contact with them, and she doesn’t appear to assign them to hosts.

            My guess is that this was a contingency shard that observed things going off the rails by 2010 or so (by which point it would have been clear that Eden’s predicted future wasn’t happening), and so it just started enacting its contingency without the overall guidance from Eden that was supposed to be there. At best it just got the message that things weren’t on track, because that’s all Eden had time to see before she crashed.

          2. Net effect isn’t much different, it’s just the question of whether the Shard was supposed to be deployed and waiting for conditions or held in Eden to be awakened if she identified a problem and got inadvertently scattered during the crash. Given her precog was somewhat uncertain when it came to her own Shards I don’t think she’d want an autonomous contingency set to wipe out Bet. If the duo needed a big crisis on a schedule to force a desired reaction I’d have expected them to use a Scion Shard so Eden could more reliably forcast how it’d play out.

    3. They’re just doing what they were designed to do. They’re pet projects and if one ever got out of hand, Eden could always just step in and end the experiment.

  2. So the people who got sucked through the portals are alive! Hopefully we get to see more of Bonesaw, but Ms Yamada is going to be pulling overtime with everything that’s happened to the team while she’s been gone.

      1. And I shall advocate for Grue, (same oil rig, remember), This ime with added personality. Maybe they can team up…

        1. Actually… I wonder what would happen if she caught a clone.

          Would that impact the other clones accessing their shards?

          But yeah. Many of the capes who died in gold morning were probably in range of Valkyrie for her to collect. Particularly when she was in Skitter’s retinue if the ability travelled through portals. But it may also depend if the capture of nearby dead is a passive ability or an active one that Skitter would have had to control.

        2. It seems he’s already here.

          > A handsome black man had a mark on his face, akin to vitiligo, but not quite the albino white that came with vitiligo. A loose representation of a skull, drawn on his face in a lighter brown.

  3. Typo Thread:

    “vacuum-driven vortex the vacuum at the tower’s base. She was calm.”
    Extra “the vacuum”

    “Where his hair had stood on end before, sweat now slicked it close to his scalp.Y”
    Extra “Y”

    “The debris flew into the airless vortex right down the middle of the tower, and was lo”
    Sentence ends abruptly.

    ““Time,” came the answer, from a member of her greater entourage. “Slowed time. It’s easier to enter the field than to enter. The fit barely notice, but the sick and elderly can’t push out.””
    Easier to enter than to exit, I presume.

    1. “some of the food from the were scattered across”
      Missing something.

      “against the taunt tent fabric,”
      > “taut”

      “it finds it’s root?”
      > “its”

      “Cote D’Ivoire for headquarters?”
      “base in Cote D’Ivoire and”
      > “Côte d’Ivoire” (official capitalisation) or just go with “Ivory Coast”, they won’t mind.

      “nearer to the Warden’s base”
      “five members of the Warden’s office.”
      > “Wardens'”

      “A weeks of searching,”

      1. I am a native Italian speaker, and Zappatore’s (seriously? I mean, it works as a cape name, but it also made me giggle) dialogue feels a bit stilted.

        Aside from that, there is an outright type: “guaderó” should be “guaRderó”: the former means to traverse a river on foot, the latter means “I will look”

        1. To be fair, we’ve also had “Lord of Loss”, “Damsel of Distress”, and “Crock o’ Shit”. Some capes just have dumb names.

  4. This chapter was ridiculous and also hilarious. What is Valkyrie afraid of??

    I guess the atmosphere gun was not the same thing as the machine army? Seemed too easy and localized.

    1. Atmo-gun seems sort of like that WoG I remember seeing in that archive on Spacebattles, about a then-hypothetical Tinker 12. I forget the exact wording but the details of that situation dovetail fairly well with Tinker-12’s predicament, right down to coughing up xenomaterials.

    2. I’d guess Ciara is afraid of either herself going nuts again, or of interacting with people. And she really doesn’t have any idea of how to relax, how to interact normally, and… The girl really does need a movie night with some friends. And friends.

      1. It would make more sense if the threat is what Jessica hired Victoria to look into.
        Not entirely sure, but…

        1. Possibly a tiny fragment of The Threat. If it’s got Valkyrie scared it is for sure mandatory reporting territory as a whole and it’d be the Wardens looking into it.

          Though… Swansong and Rain’s Cluster both have concerns about their passengers stirring in some nonspecific fashion and the broken trigger we saw was connecting back to some larger thing. Valkyrie may be worried about that and not able to successfully explain it to the rest of the New Triumvirate.

          1. The enbringers are apparently out of town, so I think, that Valkirie may be affraid of somebody, whose mere appology can be more terryfying than an S-Class threat. We know that this person is active in the city. There is also another person with a simmilar power, who may or may not be there.

    3. Totally unrelated. It’s a world-killer an Eden shard had been prepping for some purpose, while the Machine Army is an old quarantined exponential S-class threat.

      1. How is everyone picking up the connection to Eden in this chapter? I think I miss a lot of the self-references…

        I also forgot the end part of this chapter – the reaffirming of the dependence of literally everyone on a single specific therapist.

        1. The Scholar, Valkyrie thought, before she even properly looked. Scion had been the warrior, but he hadn’t been alone.

          Valkyrie is not a great believer in standard nomenclature.

          1. To be fair, the Scholar was named so for the entirety of Worm, and Eden was a reader consensus that turned unofficial canon in… Contessa’s interlude? I think. Been a while.
            But yeah, noone ever pronounced that name in-universe, unlike Scion/Zion’s.

        2. I’m calling it. Yamada has a power. It’s not from Zion or Eden, it’s from frikkin Abbadon, who figured out that the way to reverse entropy is the Magic of Friendship and Sanity.

          1. You’d think that Valkyrie would have seen the shard and classified it the moment that she saw Jessica.

            However, I just don’t like the idea of Jessica having some power that makes her a better therapist. It lessons her. It says her very human strengths of empathy, intelligence, and compassion are not enough to perform the wonderful job that she does.

            Remember what Taylor said in the end, that fight Scion was more about us than it was about him. It was our humanity that was the dagger at Scion’s heart.

            All that said, if we want to joke about it, sure. Abbadon gave her the ability to be such a good therapist that capes that spend too much time around her un-trigger.

          2. > It was our humanity that was the dagger at Scion’s heart.

            Actually, the dagger at his heart was *his* humanity which he wasn’t able to cope with.

  5. Oh hey there, famous Tinker 15 from WoG.

    It appears we haven’t encountered Sleeper or Ogun yet, and I doubt the Machine Army would be handwaved as mere errant tinkertech. Maaaaybe Teacher is the Threat, but that would be too good for him, I hope not.

    I’m terrified that it’s Dragon.

    1. Pretty sure the Machine Army is mere errant Tinkertech; it might be the exponential S-class threat that had gone exponential Chevalier mentioned her dealing with.

      It had the same sense as the tower, really; a mindless automated system that reacts to threats along a predefined script. All it does, as far as we can tell, is produce more drones, cover more territory, and kill whatever it identifies as a target. The Wardens know exactly how to stop it: destroy every single drone, and the Tinker behind it assuming they aren’t long dead. They just hadn’t because that would take a really long time and it was a good long way from threating any portals.

      1. Kinda doubt The Threat is any broadly recognized player. Firstly because Valkryie essentially has all of the powers; not only does she have her enormous collection of shadows, she also has Eidolon and could apparently recharge him if strictly necessary. She also apparently can just rip out people’s Shards by touching their power in action, which pretty much screws over most everyone. She’s apparently susceptible to some Trumps but she just kills them first so it’s not like the Pharmacist would scare her. Second, she is basically the recognized expert on weird power stuff and no one would question her judgement if she told them there was some bad power interaction.

        Also she spent a good while making Teacher call her noble Faerie with a straight face. She is a net exporter of terror in that relationship.

  6. *Guaderò* should probably be *Guarderò*, meaning “I’ll watch.” Google translate doesn’t get anything from “Guaderò.”

    (Comment seems to be marked as duplicate but hasn’t been posted successfully yet?)

  7. After all of the mind control, I really needed this chapter. I am extraordinarily happy to see Jessica again, and to see that Riley and Nilbolg are behaving themselves.

  8. What could Valkyrie be possibly scared of?
    This is interesting….
    i like the way other parts of the plot get filled out in this chapter…..

  9. Things looking bleary. Chaos everywhere. Valkyrie scared shitless of her divorce lawsuit (he wants half of her shadows.) And, worst of it all, the RSS feed stopped working as of the previous chapter (interlude 9.z).

    Also, Ms. Yamada!

    1. Not only does he want half her shadows, but he’s suing for half her flock too! The bastard!

      The RSS feed should be working fine, the problem is that the table of contents hasn’t been updated, and that’s where the feed updates from.

      1. Forget Scion. The scariest power in the Wormverse is the Master Lawyer shard. Currently it is attached to a particularly vicious white shark who triggered after being bullied mercilessly by the nastiest herring school in the oceans (high schools have nothing on fish schools.) He calls himself Shardnado. Valkyrie is trying to drag her divorce in hopes of reaping it.

        Thanks for the tip on the RSS feed! You, dear sir, are a gentleman and a scholar.

  10. That was very revealing. Still a little confused about exactly how Valkerie’s power works… Some of her flock have bodies, and some are just shadows. How did they get physical bodies again? Was that Riley’s doing?

    Even so, great to get some answers on what exactly is so damn scary to the Wardens that a massive parahuman prision break is no big deal. And whatever it is that scares Vakyrie about the city must be terrifying.

    And Jessica’s OK!

    1. Well, things Valkyrie can’t deal with are known to include the Fallen under Mathers and the Simurgh, so I’m guessing it’s somehow a Simurgh-style problem.

      Though actually it could be straightforwardly the one we know about already, rising anti-Parahuman sentiment. Valkryie has comprehensively demonstrated she doesn’t really have to personally fear that as long as she keeps the right shadows on call, but she’s honestly the biggest threat to a stable resolution as opposed to sliding into Goddess-era Earth Shin. More than any other parahuman she gives off the impression of being a god who has deigned to come down among mortals for a time. It’s probably culturally best if she does become a legend to the people of Megalopolis before she becomes a queen or a devil to them.

      1. she’s honestly the biggest threat to a stable resolution as opposed to sliding into Goddess-era Earth Shin

    2. Still a little confused about exactly how Valkerie’s power works… Some of her flock have bodies, and some are just shadows. How did they get physical bodies again? Was that Riley’s doing?

      Riley, Nilbog, or both, I think. All three of them were together in Valkyrie’s epilogue when she had the idea, and she says in this chapter that she was “forced to stop” because “the umber horse Disaster had reared her ugly head and made her imminent presence known.” Umber is a very dark, brownish orange color. If it was black I’d take this to be a reference to Contessa, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. Regardless, though, the act she’s talking about is probably the attack on the portals, which cut her access to Riley and Nilbog.

      1. Yeah, seems most likely that was how. She does probably have a sufficent chorus of biotinkers to do it on her own, but Tinker work is time-consuming so it’d take her off the front lines for a while.

  11. I wonder how Simurgh would react if Eidolon was brought back somehow…

    Other than that we also get yet another tinker who ends up being nightmare fuel. Still, I’m waiting for the tinker who literally uses nightmare fuel.

    Also Jessica is alive! Yes! The yamada is back!

    1. Rain uses nightmare fuel. His powers literally run on the fuel he gets from a nightmare.

  12. Interesting, but that ending…tears, you guys. Tears like I haven’t had since we saw Sveta with a body.

  13. Can we just take a moment to mourn the powered dog and then agree that Rachel must never know what happened there?
    (She even talked to Taylor about how the world might be better if dogs could trigger.)

    1. Wildbow 2 Edgy for superpets or talking space racoons. Rest in peace Time Doggo, I’ll try to remember you for the Golden/Silver Age Worm project.

      1. Rachel could maybe soothe time doggo’s confused feelings if Ciara kept its soul. Could we get time doggo the friendly ghost???

        1. Dog needs a proper cape name.
          -Is a dog, Valkyrie called it girl, but that’s the default choice for a lot of people
          -Time related power vaguely similar to Gray Boy’s

          I suggest ‘Good Boy’ as it’s cape name!

    2. Val kills a guy: quickly glossed over, dosnt even mention it after
      Val kills a dog: Basically nearly cries, chevalier’s all “you ok hun? Xoxoxo”
      RIP time doggo. Your scene was short, but you will be remembered. May you go to a heaven fit for the goodest boy.

      1. You joke, but I dunno maybe I’m broken. I’ve worked in situations where hard calls were made and I’ve seen some truly PTSD inducing stuff. Seeing horrible things happen to kids or animals has always hit me harder than full grown adults. Much much harder.

  14. This was a really amazing chapter. It felt solid and real, and it had a real sense of action to it. Not in the sense of violence but in the sense of performing actions. It made it really easy to get sucked into Valkyrie’s perspective.

  15. Well I guess Wildbow got tired of us always asking what was so important that the Wardens and Dragon couldn’t be doing anything about the stuff Breakthrough has been dealing with. And in typical Wildbow fashion, it’s even worse than we thought. Remind me to never, ever play a D&D campaign he’s DMing.

    On the upside, yay, Mrs. Yamada lives! Even the ominous parts of the ending can’t negate that!

    1. This is pretty much the moment when it needed to be addressed, really. The prison break is the first S-class threat there’s been time to organize a response to, and S-class threats merited a full Triumvirate response on Bet. Prior to that “important stuff” was a good enough answer.

      Now we know it is a combination of S-class threats and weird power crap, which are both very much Valkryie’s territory. Also that she’s actively avoiding the city and not big on answering phone calls when she’s in the middle of something so she’s not gonna be immediately on hand if something does come up.

      1. She’s not big on answering them, she is big on having a shadow intercept them to figure out if it’s more important than what she’s doing. If ‘yes’, she’ll reply, if ‘no’, she won’t. And she’s looking for reasons to answer ‘no’.

    2. Honestly the biggest factor, aside from the fact that there are some Triumvirate-only problems that we see Valkyrie handling, seems to be distance. Breakthrough is handling mostly things that are relatively local to the Metropolis: Hollow Point, the portals, and even Goddess are all issues that are pretty much “domestic” to the Bet refugees – and note that Chevalier talks about the prison break in those terms too. The Wardens are out handling things that are more distant, and don’t revolve around the primary Bet settlement: dealing with problems left behind on Bet, conducting diplomacy with other worlds, and digging up Weird Power Shit scattered throughout the Earths. They know that they’re the only group that has the resources to get to those far away problems, so that’s what they do, and they’re stuck trusting the fragmented local hero groups to handle the Metropolis itself. And the one time we do see Breakthrough dealing with a more foreign-affairs type problem (the Mathers compound assault), the Wardens do send a team. The Second Triumvirate are all busy handling Triumvirate-only problems, so they can only send … Narwhal, one of the best squadleaders they have. D&D, similarly, seem to be mostly dealing with the Cheit war. Their announcement in 8.1 amounts to “we’ve been looking into this, and now that we have actual info we’re going to bring in more people”. And then we proceeded directly to the Goddess stuff, where Breakthrough was deliberately trying to quarantine themselves.

  16. I rather wish Valkyrie was the Ward protagonist instead, but Wildbow do Wildbow i guess.
    That tinker on the tower sounded a lot like Leet actually, but maybe he died earlier in Worm?
    Powerdog needs a name people, i submit Sleepy, (or maybe this was the actual Sleeper? ) for consideration.

    1. Leet died during the timeskip. He, Uber and Circus went to South Americs to escape Skitter’s wrath. Only Uber returned for Gold Morning, IIRC.

    2. Wildbow has explicitly stated that Valkyrie was never even considered as being the protagonist, and that he doesn’t think a story with her as the lead would work.

      1. Gotta say I agree. First, she’s to far removed from most of the background population for any story centered on her to stay grounded in human events, instead of just spiraling off into wonky power stuff. Second, she knows significantly more than the audience about powers. Victoria has more details than the audience, but all the details she has fit into what the audience already knows, so she’s really just shading and refining information we’ve already got. Valkyrie, though, has access to reams of information that the audience has only been able to speculate on, and she regularly acts on that info, as we see here with the tower-gun. And that means that instead of a natural process where the audience and the protagonist(s) are presented with an unknown or uncertain problem, learn about it, and then develop a solution over the course of a story arc, we’d be stuck with a structure consisting mostly of either Valkyrie infodumping answers to major mysteries, then mechanically following through on whatever solution is appropriate to the problem at hand, or wandering around being needlessly coy about what the actual answers are a la Sherlock Holmes.

        1. I could read Valkryie infodumping all day, really.

          The bigger problem is that she’s just too powerful and too competent to have real difficulty. She never has to work her way around a bad matchup because she can always pick powers that give her an advantage. When she doesn’t already know what’s up she can call up Thinkers and Tinkers to figure it out. And she’s smart enough to not screw up; she figured out she’d picked attack powers that threatened to destroy the stairs all on her own and picked new ones.

          She just went up against the fortress of the most powerful Tinker in history and cleared it in half an hour and the outcome was never in doubt.

    3. Valkryie is great but not exactly serial-length protagonist material. I mean she cleared like four arcs worth of material onscreen in just this interlude.

      When she’s not fighting Scion or an Endbringer she pretty much just calls up whatever powers are required and wins outright. She can have trouble with social interactions, but she’s not really personally invested in socializing so she can just walk off whenever and people will just kinda shrug because she’s Valkryie and is not really expected to socialize like a normal person.

      Much better as someone who occasionally appears in glory than a standing viewpoint character, though I could read her narration all day.

    4. The Super Dog’s cape name was Tempus Furgit. The Time Dog. In a better world they would have been Clockblocker’s pet dog, and a member of the Legion of Para-Pets.

      1. Tempus Furgit. This name needs to be canon. D:
        And someone write me a fanfic where Clocksie has a time slowing pet dog and there are generally para-pets! Bonus points if Rachel’s dogs and Atlas get powers as well!

  17. Well I guess we know now that Thane wasn’t the only ghost Valkyrie brought back…

    I’m sad about the dog though, but also happy about Yamada’s return. I wonder how she’ll take the news about Chris?

  18. I have but one question, Mr. Bow.

    Was the Roadside Picnic reference deliberate or accidental?

    >“Things aren’t as they should be. >Power fit for beings of myth are >falling here and there like litter. >Sometimes it dissipates. Other >times it swells.”

    1. Are you referring to Zones in general? Or some specific quote from Roadside Picnic?
      I think overall situation on Earths in this multiverse is like a Zone.

      1. The specific quote that executes the title drop in the original novel, yes, and the comparison to littering.

        Scion’s GM rampage and the subsequent random spread of ‘god’s blood’, however metaphorical, is pretty close to what the Visitation Zones are.

        In retrospect, now that I’m out of the moment, it probably wasn’t intentional, but makes for a neat parallel.

  19. I see that while Valkryie has changed in many ways she still unhelpfully exposits at people and gives them strange nicknames. Poor Wounded Man.

    I’d think she might be one of the capes who couldn’t remember Nives’s name except that I don’t think she’d bother to apologize for forgetting. Also she probably has a Thinker to remember/psychometry names if she needs to.

    1. What’s even worse for Wounded Man is that based on precedent the wiki is going to be calling him that a lot.

    2. Also of note: It turns out Valkryie is actually more powerful than we knew. I’m pretty sure she’s never kept more than three active onscreen before, though apparently at more than three there’s a dramatic fall-off in effectiveness (Eidolon is apparently the same way, mentioned during the Echidna arc) and she can do this

      The crystal jolted into motion, going from zero to two hundred miles an hour in an instant. She only barely intercepted it, her fingers grazing the surface, bending painfully and burning at the brush with the light.

      But she made contact with something. She held onto that something with her power.

      He flew away, and a part of him stayed behind. He made it a few hundred feet before the power quit on him.

      She, uh, can just rip out people’s lives by touching their powers. I’d been wondering how she managed to get herself started and collect enough shadows to reach critical mass. I guess we know now.

      1. I want to know what her original power is. Jessica said in her Epilogue Interlude that Valkyrie was a second-trigger cape. Is that true? What did she do originally?

      2. For some reason I already had the impression that she was capable of ripping people’s souls out by touching them before this chapter, I’m not sure where I got this idea though.

        1. Taylor implied it when she freaked out because GU was stroking her face while they talked after she was released from the birdcage.

          Now that I think of it, i think every time she has made physical contact with someone people react with fear. Taylor was just the first to say “she could rip my powers out and kill me right now.”

          1. I think I filed that under her generally being incredibly terrifying rather than a specific power she had.

            Also her being able to do it by touching a forcefield bubble is definitely news. Makes me think it’d work on anything the Pharmacist could ignite as long as it’s from a parahuman.

      3. Also, I’m pretty sure I remember her having four shadows out at some point during Gold Morning, though again I can’t remember exactly when. I always wondered how that worked.

        1. I think that involved some sort of Eidolon-fueled boost. Presumably she’d need something like that to get around the diminishing returns mentioned here.

          1. I recall either she or Tohu using her mask was able to duplicate shadows using a power.

            Aside from that she might’ve had more than three out during a lull but ran three during at least the vast majority of the fighting. Probably because she needed everything at full strength to be effective against Scion. Apparently three is the number of powersets you can have at full strength; she, Eidolon, and Tohu all use it as their standard.

          2. @guy: Three is quite an important number in Shards anyway, I think. Lady Photon, Antares, Laserdream and Shielder all have three powers; Prism splits into three copies; Eidolon has three powers at once; Valkyrie has three ghosts at full power; three original Endbringers; Tohu has three faces; and that’s just off the top of my head. Also, three threes is nine, which is why nine was important to Norse paganism, and there’s the Slaughterhouse Nine.

            It’s not a unified number theory of Entities, but if Wowbob has decided a number is important, I’d say it was three.

          3. I would say it seems likely that a single Shard-person connection can be split up to three ways before it can’t increase total output. That covers both the power-switchers and the triad duplicators like Prism and Furcate.

            New Wave having three powers is just because the first were a three member cluster; clusters get one power per member. The three original Endbringers weren’t of special significance; it started as just Behemoth and new Endbringers were added as the heroes got a handle on how to fight them.

        2. Except New Wave weren’t a cluster. Brandish had a bud of Photon Lady’s shard in what, if Brandish hadn’t been present, may well have been a second trigger for Lady Photon. They all deal with light because it’s all one shard, split between the three siblings of Brandish, Lady Photon and Uncle Eric.

          1. I’m strongly inclined to think Brandish and Lady Photon cluster-triggered buds off the same Shard, really. The Laserdream/Shielder/Lady Photon lasers and forcefields seem disjoint; they’re related but the lasers do not seem to be hitting people with the forcefield, like how Grue’s Echidna clones all had darkness in some sense but not Grue’s fog. And Victoria’s flight is not having her forcefield carry her. So I figure someone else had been kidnapped and triggered alongside Lady Photon and Brandish (maybe someone they know, maybe someone who took a bullet to the head shortly after triggering), and the second generation got buds that packaged together what the Shards figured out from the initial cluster.

            Hence Victoria having a Brandish bud yet flying like Lady Photon and all the kids definitely having a triad. Solo triggers tend to have a defined power used in multiple ways plus required secondaries, so having a total of four people with clear and related triads is quite unusual, especially since the three kids are the only ones who definitely got buds after the trigger event. Brandish seems to only have two, but her breaker form could be composite flight/forcefield and her weapons composite laser/forcefield.

            I also doubt it’s really a general rule for the Entities overall; Scion rotated powers around but didn’t seem to stick to three active. Then again he has full access to all his Shards so who knows how many apparently unique powers he could derive from any particular one.

          2. Obviously the Awe-ra isn’t lasers but it’s not completely out of the scope of things a Shard which gives you lasers might manage, depending on what it’s actually for.

          3. Victoria got a Brandish or maybe a Manpower (or whatever her father’s called; Manpower and Uncle Eric are the only two adult male New Wavers I remember) bud, which learnt from the Shard of the other parent to give the full range of abilities. Vicky got the emotion power from Dean/Gallant, who was watching and had already taken his Cauldron dose.

          4. Triggering in proximity to existing Parahumans does not result in multiple powers pretty much every time we’ve seen it happen. Most notably Scrub, who triggered in the center of attention for like a dozen parahumans and got exactly one power. Unless she got buds from Gallant and Brandish, the emotion power wouldn’t be Gallant’s Shard, it would have to be a derivation of Brandish’s, even if the manifestation is affected by Gallant’s.

          5. She’s a second-gen cape, Scrub was first-gen. When a parahuman triggers, it ‘pings’ against any other parahumans in the area- that’s why they always block out and get trigger visions even when they aren’t triggering.

            Also, Vicky’s trigger had an emotional component. Dean’s in the crowd, watching, with an emotion power; she triggers, it pings on him and learns enough about Dean’s power to give an emotion power.

            Scrub did just get one power, a short-range hyperlethal blast. Lots of parahumans watching, not directly causing the trigger but also not helping or trying to help the situation. His blaster power annihilates matter to bypass parahuman defences for a borderline Trump effect, as the parahumans’ presence or absence and actions informed the trigger, a little. Remove the parahumans from Vicky’s trigger, and the trigger remains the same, so no Trump-like elements.

          6. @Earl of Purple: You’ve got the family tree kind of twisted up. There’s no Uncle Eric; Eric Pelham was Shielder, Victoria’s cousin. His dad was her Uncle Neil, Manpower. Victoria’s dad, Mark Dallon, is Flashbang.

            I find the New Wave page on the wiki very useful for keeping these folks straight.

          7. You’re right, I’m thinking of Uncle Mike, who was Lightstar and left after Fleur’s death.

            Manpower and Shielder are the only males whose names I remember, even if I forget the family’s relationships sometimes.

          8. @Earl Of Purple

            Scrub doesn’t have a Blaster power and a separate Trump power. He has one power that tears reality to function as both. He’s also a big reason I don’t consider PRT categories and their respective triggers inviolate rules; the arena was for sure a Brute trigger. He got a Blaster/Shaker power suitable for use at point-blank range.

            This seems to be the standard way solo triggers work; Taylor had like four categories not counting automatic +2 but at base she had the ability to control simple invertabrates plus a Thinker rider allowing her to manage them independently.

            Victoria has three separate powers, as do her cousins and Lady Photon, and Brandish seems to have at least two; Breaker powers generally don’t do anything unless you’re in a Breaker state.

          9. Correction, Scrub’s trigger might have been classic Striker rather than classic Brute; it’s not specified he was actually injured but it is pretty unlikely he was not. He was definitely facing immediate close-range physical danger, however.

          10. Scrub’s trigger makes sense as a Blaster/Shaker, though. Everyone in the arena wanted the powers and so had to beat everyone else in the arena. Scrub’s a small boy; he was 12, I think? In an arena like that, nobody’s going to be concentrating on hurting 12-year-old boys. They’re ganging up on anyone who looks threatening, and so Scrub- not wanting to get hurt- could get away from those big, chaotic melees and get a little space. But not much space, and not for long. He knows he’s going to get hurt badly in the near future and he can’t escape. Chaotic environment is Shaker, he has that. Nobody’s directly threatening him and the harm he’s triggering to avoid isn’t immediate, but it is very soon, so it’s a short-range blaster.

          11. In fact, Scrub could have feasibly gotten some kind of Shaker/Stranger power, as he tried to escape notice and stay safe.

          12. I’m pretty sure that when a trigger event happens the Shard does not check the PRT power category list and pick one that checks all the boxes on the trigger list. And at the stage in the fight where Scrub triggered I am pretty sure he was being targeted; Taylor is distracted before the trigger and for a while after so we don’t know for sure, but it’d been ongoing for a while and both his friends were badly hurt.

            Based on Jack Slash with Broadcast I am pretty sure the Shards just figure out a way to apply their underlying power to the relevant situation. Then this usually maps to a PRT power category with a standard trigger relationship, but if the Shard can come up with a Blaster/Shaker power suitable for dealing with large numbers of opponents at close range then it will do that and will not care the PRT thinks that should be a Striker trigger.

          13. That makes enough sense that I understand what you mean.

            Yes, I think I agree with you. I don’t have an argument, anyway.

  20. I half expected Jessica to tersely admonish Riley for making the potatos sentient again.
    Also, all of the relief. Thanks, wildbow.

    1. Pfft, those potatos weren’t sentient. It was just organic chatbots.

      Come to think of it, Kenzie and Riley meet. Might be interesting.

      1. One’s a troubled girl who makes chatbots out of computers! The other’s a troubled girl who makes chatbots out of potatos! Together, they fight crime!


    Ahem. Man, that was a great chapter, there’s a hell of a lot to unpack here.
    Where the heck is Doormaker? Did she revive him, in which case why isn’t he chauffeuring people around, or is she just not using him for some reason? His power is way too useful to just not use. Well, I guess maybe his power well running out during Gold Morning could be the answer to that, but I thought it got “recharged” somehow when she took him. Also, interesting to note that Eidolon’s well is still almost empty, how come he didn’t get recharged? Maybe I’m misunderstanding how this works. From a narrative standpoint though, it totally makes sense that Eidolon would be unusable, because she’s overpowered enough without having free access to his bullshit.

    That poor dog…bad things happening to animals always hits me harder than with humans.

    Interesting also that Valkyrie has apparently stopped reviving people for some vague reason. Some limitation on her power, or is is just because the portal thing happened and separated everyone? She’d better get around to bringing Clockblocker back at some point dammit. Though given how her “flock” was presented this chapter, he might lose some of his humanity depending on how long has passed. It’s also not clear to me how free-willed the revived people are, are they inherently devoted to her or are they just helping her out of gratitude?

    And of course, we end with the ominous foreshadowing of whatever mysterious calamity is on the horizon at Gimel City, which we still know absolutely nothing about. I guess it must not involve Amy and Cryptid, since they’re leaving for Shin but Valkyrie is still scared specifically of the city? Hmmm.

    Jessica yaaaay

    1. She specifically says that recharging Eidolon has a “high cost,” so it’s apparently not something that she does lightly. We know that Eidolon recharged himself during Gold Morning by tapping other capes’ wells, so part of that high cost could be depowering other capes. I don’t think that’s all there is to it, though, because she kills several capes in this chapter without harvesting their shards at all, and we know from Worm that Eidolon was able to use the wells of dying capes to recharge.

      Perhaps when a shard’s host dies and the shard is not harvested, it begins searching for a new host, so she wants to leave those shards powered up so they can do that. Another possibility is that the process of recharging Eidolon damages the shard she’s draining, resulting in possible broken triggers or other such malfunctions down the road. And with Eidolon specifically, maybe recharging him risks waking the Endbringers.

      1. It’s also possible it has to be specifically allied capes; her explanation of how the High Priest works indicates part of its role is leading and inspiring so its power draw may not function offensively. The only time we’ve seen it done was when he was battling Scion alongside all other capes.

      2. Recharging Eidolon probably destroys the shard ghosts- if a depowered cape is functionally no longer a cape, then it makes sense that the shard might lose its grip on whatever connection they use to upkeep their impression of a human mind.

        And, since a lot of Valkyrie’s atonement seems to revolve around treating her shadows more like people, the act of deliberately destroying one would be… uncomfortable.

        1. From Eidolon’s interlude it sounded like the forcible recharge doesn’t totally depower the cape but does permanently weaken them. And I’m not sure it’d work on her shadows, since she was pretty specific that his power relates to the living while hers relates to the dead. And it’s probably just not a very efficient use of resources when he’d be stuck following her around and she can basically solve everything anyway. If she needs to fight another Entity that might change matters, but she is evidently not concerned Abbadon is planning to swing by.

    2. Doormaker’s power is based on his line of sight, so he is *that* useful only when in combo with Clairvoyant (where is he, btw? his power is supremely useful on its own as well)

  22. It would seem Grue got a second life. I assume Imp doesn’t know about it, or she’d have had words for the Wardens.

    Last two chapters were a welcome reprieve from the arc before. Good to finally see some actual character growth as well, in terms of Tristan’s interlude.

    1. I was scanning thru all these comments and starting to wonder if no one else picked up on Grue’s return.

      Or maybe Grue just lost appeal to many reader’s as his importance in Worm Dwindled.

      I’m looking forward to how that plays out. Only reason to mention him in this chapter is foreshadowing.

      1. To be honest I’m terrible at remembering character appearances and I only remember Grue is black because it came up in relation to the Empire Eighty Eight. I assumed that was some Birdcage cape with a grim reaper theme.

      1. woah guys remember let’s make dragon proud on this comment board.

        wiffleboard’s a tough cookie, and while i’m sure he really appreciates the ppl who always love his work he’s looking to improve his craft. that means accepting good critiscm, bad criticism, fair criticism, whiny criticism, witty criticism and praise and taking them all with a grain of salt.

        All of the above can come from the same person. Telling someone to fuck off only alienates readers and discourages commentators. It’s one thing to rein someone in when they’re being too harsh on something and another to make this space unwelcoming.

        (And yes, I know that someone was saying they were thinking of dropping this story bc it was too depressing, and other ppl were saying that if the story was making them unhappy then they should really put it down, and the whole debate was carrying over across multiple comment threads. Can’t remember if this was thief of words or not. WHatever. All of the above still applies.)

        Love your works, whisperpig. Haven’t stopped thinking about this chapter in three days. Valkyrie is so cool.

    2. As much as I’m happy to see Brian back, I can’t help but feel for him. First Bonesaw and now this. Universe must hate him.

  23. “A handsome black man had a mark on his face, akin to vitiligo, but not quite the albino white that came with vitiligo. A loose representation of a skull, drawn on his face in a lighter brown.”

    Is that motherfucking Brain???

  24. “A handsome black man had a mark on his face, akin to vitiligo, but not quite the albino white that came with vitiligo. A loose representation of a skull, drawn on his face in a lighter brown.”
    Uh nice to see Brain alive, but how much is still him, I wonder.

  25. > “Do you need anything?” she thought, pushing the thought into the space where the shadows lived.
    > “No,” came the distant reply.
    > “I’ll get to you soon.”
    > “I don’t mind. I was never very good at asking authorities for help. I got patient.”

    … Khepri, is that you?

  26. So odd point; Valkyrie isn’t collecting the fallen much, and didn’t give Crystal a good answer. That seems strange and actually inconsistent with her rename.

    As I understood the mechanics, the Shards basically take a recording of their hosts, and the shadows are those recordings. Valkyrie isn’t creating the shadows, she’s just bringing them in. To, by her name’s symbolism, Vahalla rather than the Hel of wandering loose waiting for the end of the cycle that will never come. So if anything I’d expect her to be more insistent than ever at collecting them, even make it part of proper last rites for a parahuman, to ensure their “soul” finds peace in the “afterlife”.

    I figure there’s two possibilities:

    1. Valkryie knows something we don’t. I mean, she basically knows everything about powers and is bad at satisfactorially explaining them to people, so that wouldn’t be news.

    2. It relates to The Threat, which I think might be the whole parahuman sentiment crisis. It’s the one thing in the known multiverse other people can handle better than she can. It superficially looks like she’s claiming souls and is thus really creepy, and a full explaination of the truth would not reassure the public that parahumans aren’t dangerous.

    The one flaw in theory 2 is that I kinda think telling people what Valkryie’s been up to in the right way might settle things down a bit. Sure, she’s fighting threats caused by parahumans to begin with, but she fought her way through thirty-six miles of constantly replaced Tinker combat drones to prevent total removal of the atmosphere of, presumably, eventually every Earth. Non-parahumans just can’t do that; obviously they need Valkryie. And she has it all under control, no need to panic. Inexplicable weird power shit from broken triggers? Well, not much to be done to stop it, but getting one is like being struck by lightning and Valkyrie can sort out the aftermath. Renegade bands of Parahumans? They can’t stand against Valkryie.

    Then again Valkryie is just really bad at reassuring people. Legend and Chevalier could possibly sell the hell out of it, but they’re set on playing down the extent of the threats. Plus if they leaned into it it’d still set Parahumans apart as beings to be venerated rather than as humans with powers, which would be bad in its own way. They could kinda split the difference; Valkryie is set apart even from other parahumans by her power, knowledge, and apparent immortality. But that really wouldn’t help sentiment towards parahumans who aren’t Valkryie.

    1. For The Threat theorizing more generally, we can be fairly confident of several factors:

      1. It is not a problem that Valkryie can solve using powers. That very likely means it flatly cannot be solved with powers, but it might be a bad power interaction.
      2. It’s probably not a simple social interaction issue; she’s terrified of going to Megaopolis specifically and hasn’t begged off by saying she doesn’t like crowds so Chevalier stops trying to contrieve an excuse to give her a break in the city.
      3. It’s probably not a particularly straightforward thing or she’d just tell Chevalier what it is.

  27. Is anyone else finding this enjoyable to read but borderline impossible to follow? Completely forgotten about all these Shard creatures that everyone talks about in the comments…abaddon? Eden? What? Who? When? I remember Valkyrie was glaistig uaine but it’s very hard to care about these characters we don’t hear anything about for ages…and Jessica isn’t dead? What?

    I love reading Ward it’s fun and interesting and engaging…I’m just finding all of this extra stuff…confusing…would anyone explain the plot to me in simple words so I can understand?

    1. The Entities are enormously powerful multidimensional creatures that move between worlds and distribute their Shards to bond with the inhabitants and give them powers so as to gather data on how those powers are used to improve the Shards, and also it lets the Shards draw in energy to feed the Entities.

      The three Entities of direct relevance are Scion/Zion, Eden, and Abbadon, the latter two being fanon designations themed off Zion. Scion and Eden worked as a pair with him doing the fighting and her doing the planning. Abbadon is another Entity who collided with Eden and swapped Shards while Scion and Eden were heading for Earth. As a result of the collision and incautious Shard refinement, Eden screwed up her approach, sent out her precog Shard to Contessa, and was promptly knifed while she was trying to reconstitute and become immune to knifing. Cauldron was formed to carve up her corpse and stuff Shards in vials in the hopes of getting a power they weren’t supposed to and thus the capacity to kill Scion. They didn’t manage it directly, but were indirectly responsible for Foil being able to use her Shard, a dedicated Entity killer named Sting, to kill Scion.

      1. Also Jessica was never dead, she was lost when the Fallen forced the portals near Warden HQ to expand and shift destinations. There was a slight possibility anyone caught mid-expansion would have been torn apart, but the standing assumption was they’d just been flung to some random Earth where no one could find them.

      2. If you’re lost regarding the Shards I would seriously recommend going back to Worm and rereading at least 26.x and 29.x. The Shards and Entities are absolutely critical to the entire plot and are not well-known among humans; most of the terminology we use comes from those two interludes. Most specific Shard names come from what Glastig Ulaine/Valkryie calls them, with Sting(Foil) and Broadcast(Jack Slash) being the only two we have other names for.

        1. We also call Contessa’s Path To Victory, but I think that’s more the name of her personal power rather than the Shard that grants it; it’s just really important so we need to call it something

    2. NotQuiteHere:
      The shard creatures were the things that made powers. Scion/Zion was one of them, colored gold. Valkyrie refers to it as the Warrior. Eden was the other one, colored silver, that Contessa killed before it could fully form on earth. Valkyrie calls it the Scholar. Eden is the one that all the Cauldron powers came from. For a while it was just referred to in-story as The Counterpart or The Thinker or things like that, to contrast it with Scion being the combat focused one of the pair.

      Abaddon is the third shard creature. It was the one who showed interrupted Scion and Eden’s normal pattern and made it possible for them to lose. It said something to Eden that made it expend too much power before they reached earth. I don’t think it was ever called in that the actual story.

      Jessica was went missing in the aftermath of the terrorist attack that opened new portals in weird ways and made stuff disappear. Some people assumed she was dead because that’s the default assumption when you go missing for long enough, but she went missing alongside a bunch of heroes and trained professionals, so they survived. Nobody had time to go on what might be a wild goose chase until Valkyrie took a vacation. She’s uniquely suited to survival in the wilderness, since she has multiple people worth of labor but only needs to feed one mouth, and probably has absorbed some sort of tracking skills.

      1. Thanks Guy and Kindred. I get it now. I thought Jessica was 100% dead and gone and that Eden was *Echidna* which was making me v confused. Cheers for the summary both of you!

        1. Echidna is very connected to Eden and one of the big clues about just what was up; she drank half a Cauldron vial and got a very adverse connection to an Eden Shard. Her monsterous form was the Shard leaking into Earth Bet and visually resembled Eden. Her berserker impulses were from her Shard acting like the one attached to the poor Tinker in this one. Her clones had alternate connections to the Shards of the originals, tipping Tattletale off about the underlying nature of the Shards.

  28. Probably my favorite interlude since Riley’s own back in Worm. I’m absolutely sold on Valkyre, she’s cool and collected despite having literal voices in her head. Seeing how differently she thinks compared to her Birdcage days is yet another reminder that Yamada is a miracle worker.

    1. Admittedly she never was all that crazy. It was just that she had weird nomenclature and a cohesive and well-thought-out plan to live forever and become a god.

      Then that fell through and Jessica convinced her to normalize her nomenclature and not try to become a god, and also to come help deal with crises rather than sit on the sidelines eating popcorn and commenting.

      It says a lot about her competence that in the Khonsu meeting she told them that if they killed 200,000 natural triggers at once so she could watch them die she’d hang out providing advice and Doctor Mother had to think it over.

  29. Wait, so does an approaching Entity fill half the sky? Or are the sky-fillers another class of interplanetary threat that already visited Earth and got defeated (by Scion?) without most of humanity noticing?

    1. The worms’ bodies can be huge (Eden’s took an entire hangar back at Cauldron’s base), but they’re transdimensional and equipped with so many defences they’d no sell an entire planet’s superheated atmosphere easily. Literally a ball full of hot air to them.
      Valkyrie confirms that big sky monsters exist (well yeah), and her Tinker-Thinker deduces it wasn’t built against them.

      From Scion’s memories, the only clear threat to the worms’ expansion were the first few really advanced civilisations they parasited and grew Tinker shards from (plus a bunch of defensive countermeasures). No mention of anything else cruising around space and hunting them down.

      1. Valkyrie seems to be talking about the big sky monsters when she says “It’s real. But it’s not an enemy we need to worry about again. When they came the last time, they left markers, to ensure none of their kind wasted effort coming to the same places. To go against that procedure and habit would run contrary to their entire being. It won’t happen.”

        So either the worms *are* the big sky monsters, or else the sky monsters are a different threat that once visited Earth but got defeated. Almost certainly the former, now that I think about it, since the latter would be kind of ridiculous. I just didn’t picture them looming so large in any given dimension.

    2. The full bodies of the Entities are incomprehensibly vast; the Endbringers regenerate by drawing matter from a tiny fraction of Eden’s corpse. If they shift a noticible percentage of their body into a single reality half the sky is conservative.

  30. Okay so Nilbog, Bonesaw and the Therapist are all alive and instead of making their way back to where they might be needed, they decided to stay where they are and become farmers? Why?

    Digging the Valkyrie POV. I like her talks with her ghost-shade-things. Did they always have personalities or is that something new? I know she seemed to communicate with them somehow, but they never really talked out loud before did they? Was that first one she talked to Taylor BTW? It sorta seemed so when it said it “was never very good at asking authorities for help”. But that doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to gloss over really. Was the handsome black zombie with the skullface Brian? If so, one assumes the undersiders are unaware he’s alive again. Anyways cool stuff, but now I have WAAY more questions that I want answers for. I can’t wait for the rest of the series. If anyone has a spare time machine can I borrow it for a bit? Just need to go into the future to the end of the series and read it all, then I’ll bring it right back. Promise.

    1. Re: the first question, I’d say they couldn’t get back. The portals exploded into a new shape and everything caught within the new shape was teleported to a new world- except the portal didn’t stay stable enough, and whilst one end is anchored on Earth Gimel, the other end isn’t and doesn’t stay put. It probably hasn’t returned to this Earth since Bonesaw, Nilbog and Jessica arrived.

      Re: the other questions, I think they always had personalities, but Valkyrie was scary enough that nobody wanted to get close enough to hear. I don’t think that was Taylor, either; lots of capes have difficulty asking authority for help. But Taylor’s biggest problem was that the authority didn’t want to know, not that she couldn’t bring herself to ask. I think skullface handsome black man is Grue, as do many others.

      I think they’ve agreed to work alongside Valkyrie as a thank-you for giving them bodies again.

      1. I suspect they’re sorta Aligned to Valkryie as a result of spending a while as ghosts. None of her long-term ghosts have ever disobeyed that we know of, and many weren’t exactly minion material. The merc she grabbed refused to answer questions but she wasn’t expecting that to last.

        Their independence is probably as lost as their original appearances.

    2. No one heard them talk independently before except possibly in whispers too faint to make out. She seemed to listen to them and when she spoke it was with all of their voices, though.

  31. Loving this chapter immensely. A chance to take a look on a *huge* world(s) beyond the line of sight of our protagonists, with lots of huge problems beyond their competence and even comprehension. And Valkyrie is one of my favourite characters too; she definitely wouldn’t work well as a protagonist of a story, but just like Contessa’s power is basically Plot Device, doing what author needs to be done, Valkyrie’s is Worldbuilding, and I’m enjoying every bit of it 🙂
    And it tells much that there is some threat even *she* is afraid of.

    Strange that she does not collect every parahuman she kills. Maybe the power-undoer was dangerous for her to have, but others?

    1. I figure either she’s worried she could gather enough to birth a new Entity or it’s to be slightly less creepy to Crystal and others.

    1. I think the ghostly image is Valkryie’s Shard-vision, which seems to also let her in on trigger events, so I figure he’s a regeneration-type Brute, like how Chevalier looked at Miss Milita and saw a ghost image of her playing with a knife.

  32. So, random question, do we know if Legend’s family is still alive?

    Also, I love that some of the most mentally misguided “villians” are getting a second chance. Riley and Rinke have so much potential character growth. Valkyrie is already growing more than I hoped she would after I read her epilogue chapter. Jessica is still FREAKING ALIVE!!! I’m super happy about that.

    What is the difference between Vallyrie’s flock and her shadows? I’m kind of confused about her power now.

    This is my first time consulting the comments section experts, and I’m excited to see the (hopeful) responses. This is the closest I’ve ever gotten to being up to date with a wild bow work, so hopefully I’ll be able to comment more in the coming days!

  33. Okay, interesting to see that there is more to Valkyrie. I mean, before she was just the creepy, overpowered, spiritual birdcage fairy woman.

    Also, the people ended up within the expanding portals are alive?
    Why the hell is that being kept secret from the Gimel Megalopolis? Granted, Victoria never went looking, similar to how Taylor never went looking for Grue or her dad. Still, odd.

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