Blinding – 11.3

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“I’ve got it,” Natalie told me.  She squeezed past me to get to the door, took the keys I had in the flat of my hand and opened it, stepping inside to hold it open.

I had Kenzie in my arms.  She was skinny, but her clothes for the cold weather were puffy, and it meant my arms had to go around more.  My arm still twinged from the gunshot wound in the left bicep, and my right hand had bandages around it, inside the glove though the skin was on its way to healing.

Kenzie, meanwhile, was resting her face against my shoulder.  When the cold weather had blustered, she had ducked her head down, and she hadn’t lifted her head back up.

The kettle was already starting to boil in the other room as we kicked off boots and got ourselves sorted in the front hallway.  Ashley took her boots off and stalked off into the kitchen with her coat still on.

Kenzie and I couldn’t take our coats off either, since I was carrying her.  Natalie did help me remove her hat and boots, though.

“Hold on,” Ashley said, as I entered the living room.  She had a sheet in hand.

The couch was quickly stripped of the backing cushions and then made up with a bottom sheet.  It took Ashley, Natalie and me to ease Kenzie down to a sitting position on the couch.  Kenzie had been shot twice and had undergone three surgeries in a thirty-six hour span.

“I’m a bit embarrassed,” Kenzie said.

“You’re fine,” Ashley told her.

“It’s going to change how you guys all see me.”

“We already know you,” Ashley said.  “Nothing to change.”

“It’s one thing if I talk about how I used to be, but if you actually see it then it’s worse.”

“Was that how you used to be?” I asked.

“See!?”

“Volume down.  Keep it at a two or three on the volume knob,” Ashley said.

“See?”

“I’m not saying anything’s changed.  I’m trying to give you a chance to expand on your thoughts there,” I said.

“I remember feeling like I did tonight.  Except it was all the time, and it ended up with me going to the hospital because nobody could get me to stop, even me.”

“You stopped,” Ashley said.  “You aren’t who you are then.”

“But I feel like I did then.”

“We all backslide.  Tomorrow we’ll return to business as usual.  Some people will say apologies.  If it makes you feel better, you can say yours.”

“Apologies are for the other person.”

“We can agree to disagree on that,” Ashley told Kenzie.  “For now, do you want a snack?”

“Yes please,” Kenzie said.

“Some tea to help you get to sleep?”

“Okay.  Whatever works.  I don’t know about that.”

“Get comfortable.  I’ll bring snacks, then I’ll get the rest of your blankets.”

Ashley stepped into the kitchen, past Natalie, who was warily watching Damsel, and then past Damsel, who loomed at the doorway, shadowy, with claws at the frame.

From my vantage point, more used to this kind of scene, I could see Kenzie raise a hand to give Damsel a little wave, and I could see Damsel smile.  When Damsel turned to go help Ashley, I saw the bed-head, a lick of hair at the back and the side that was pressed down.

I was pretty sure Natalie didn’t see that.  That Natalie saw Damsel reach out for Ashley with knife-fingers, touching them to Ashley’s back, and leaned in close- but didn’t see that Ashley was putting away the tea bags that Damsel had taken out of the cupboard, instead getting out the little jars of loose leaf teas and the tea infuser.

“This wasn’t what I expected, when I thought about having a sleepover,” Kenzie admitted.  She smiled.  “I thought it would feel happier.”

“Tomorrow will be brighter,” I said.

“I feel weird, not having my tech.  You said to leave it behind, but I’m used to falling asleep to the glow of the screen.”

“It’ll be good to try and sleep normally,” I told her.  “No late-night tinkering.  Eat, drink, sleep, enjoy your time with Ashley.  Recharge.”

“I recharge by plugging in, though.”

“You’re human.  You’re a mammal.  As much as any dog, cat, mouse or elephant, you should be able to enjoy a good nap, warmth, companionship, and treats.  They’re universal.”

Kenzie drew in a deep breath, then huffed.  “Are you staying, Natalie?”

“I don’t think so.  Even if I was welcome, I think I should really be back at my apartment, getting organized for going back to work.  I’ll stay long enough to make sure you’re comfortable, and then I’ll be by first thing in the morning to pick you up.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

I checked on the Ashleys in the kitchen, and they seemed to be fine.  Ashley had her arms folded while she leaned against the counter, and was inaudible as she talked to her sister.

“Does she need something?” Ashley asked, as she saw me.  “Do you?”

“I’m just going to get sheets and blankets to make up her bed.”

“There’s a nice throw in the drawer under the coffee table.  When you go to the closet for sheets, get the ones from the top shelf.  Someone lacerated the nicer sheets.”

“I bought the nicer sheets,” was the response.

“With our shared money.  If you refuse to fix your hands, you get to sleep in rags like a peasant.”

I rolled my eyes, and headed toward the closet door.  Natalie was talking to Kenzie in a quiet voice, while Kenzie was lying down with her head on a throw pillow.  I stopped to watch for a second.

In the other room, I heard the continued dialogue.  “The hands are not changing, my dear whitewashed clone.  I’m happy with them.  They’ll be needed when I go.”

“Go?  So you’ve decided?”

“It’s crowded.  I’ve deigned to give you free reign, let you have your guests-”

“Guests you like.  Also, this is my apartment.  Paid for with money they gave me for my help in research.”

“That I contributed to as well.  I earned my due, and you’d have nothing without my share of it.”

“I’d have something.  I’m disappointed either way.  You’re better than this.”

“I’m better than this.  This is all very cute.  Your friends are… cute.  But they’re yours.  I’m restless, and you know what this restlessness feels like.”

“I know what it is and what it becomes.”

“I’ve agreed to be good, little clone, because I didn’t want to bring trouble down on your head, and I’m willing to play along with the rules.  I committed crimes, they got me, they were taking care of me, and I didn’t want to spend any more winters hungry.  Fine.  I’ll stay in prison, even if I could easily escape.”

“Of course.”

“But there are no rules, there is no prison, and they’ve forgotten about me.  I’ll make my mark.  I’ll carve out a place for myself, and I’ll build a citadel that makes this cute little hovel feel paltry.”

“You can’t build anything if the energy you’re using is pure ‘restlessness’, if you want to call it that.  You definitely can’t if your judgment is so clouded that you think this apartment is anything but great.”

I stopped eavesdropping and left them to their bickering, relatively confident they’d stop when the tea was done steeping.  I might not have listened in at another time, but the two were volatile on their own and there was that one in a hundred chance that they could be explosively volatile if they clashed.  It was better if I could step in before they got heated enough to disturb Kenzie.

I gathered up the blankets from the closet, stole a pillow from a bed, then took it all to the couch.

Kenzie was already asleep, without blankets or pillow, dozing off to the background noise of Ashley and her clone sniping at each other.

“Are they aware we can hear them?” Natalie asked.  She was sitting by the couch, Kenzie’s colorful backpack resting against her lap.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Isn’t it concerning if the scary version of your teammate is talking about leaving to be a villain?”

“She makes noise about this now and then.  I’ve tried to convince her and she doesn’t tend to listen.  She’s gradually working her way up to it, but…”

I paused to listen to the back-and-forth.  I couldn’t make out all of the words, but I could definitely make out the tension.

“…Not tonight.  Probably.”

“Okay,” Natalie said.  Her forehead creased with lines.

“Something to worry about another day, if our Ashley doesn’t have input or ideas.  For today, I think we’ve worried enough.  Give me a hand?”

Kenzie roused only a bit as we set the sheet and heavier blanket down over top, with the folded throw blanket over her feet.  Her lifting her head up was a chance for me to get the couch pillow out from under her head and put a real pillow there instead.  Somewhere in the midst of it, the Ashleys noticed that Natalie had turned off some of the lights and went quiet.

I said my goodbye to Natalie, collected my tea and crackers, and headed to my room, leaving Ashley watching a television on mute while she had her tea, Kenzie sleeping on the couch behind her, a crossword or something in her lap.  Damsel had gone to her room, or their room.

Glowing screen after all, I supposed.

Kenzie had been too upset to go back to her place, and it wouldn’t have been fair to the staff at the institution to put that on their shoulders.  Ashley and Kenzie balanced out some of the most troubling aspects of each other, and after some debate and some phone calls, we’d agreed that this made the most sense.

I’d spent the last few nights researching, focusing and thinking about the group, and bracing myself for what I knew would be a tough conversation to have.  Now Kenzie was having her turn at the same things, with a bit less research, but she was figuring things out.

In line with that role reversal, I was now taking on the task of building something, putting off sleep and focusing on bigger things.  I flicked the row of switches for my computer, monitor, and peripherals to boot up.

Kenzie’s source had given us some information.  Photos of bulletin boards, with some more photos of notecards, all with Tattletale as the dubious source, I had the PRT data from Dragon, I had my notes from the Patrol, and I had my own notes.

Noontide was the one name I had to work off of, and from there, I could go to Tattletale’s notes to find out a bit more.

Noontide Demon – reference to apathy?
Partners with The Orders, Contender, Griph/Glyph (see 1104.aud)
1104.aud convo partner Griph could be one of Orders
Contender partners with 3rd G post-prison. ?Romantic?

Names to throw around.  I checked The Orders against everything I had.  PRT stuff from before Gold Morning, Patrol notes, and the listings in a ‘who’s who’ subscription that had come out in 2008 that had attempted to track every cape and where they were.  It had been a phone book of information that required far too much effort to maintain and had commanded a niche market of interested people.  At best, it had been the next best thing to an online search to figure out if a cape name or team name was taken.

Three issues had come out.  I had a tattered copy with pages starting to come free of the spine.

No ‘Orders’ under the team names.  While I was looking, I didn’t find a Contender.

Noontide, though.  There had been one, and the name was both in my ‘who’s who’ phone book and available with an online search.  The internet being what it was, my search turned up a positive search result, but clicking through returned a ‘page not found’ result.

The truncated description and single portrait of a mask that the search engine had coughed up from its servers was enough to tell me that they weren’t the same person.  Noontide had had brown skin, and her aesthetic had been entirely different from the woman in the picture that I’d found with the search.

That, and with a second glance, I realized that there was a termination to the old Noontide’s date in the date provided for activity.  Born 1985, dead 2008.

The old Noontide was almost certainly not the one we’d run into.  That was a tidbit of info, because it suggested things about how she’d gone about picking out a name, that she hadn’t used our internet, because she hadn’t been able, or she hadn’t cared enough to.

‘3rd G’ was the next thing that caught my eye.  My first instinct was to think of third generation capes.  Capes with parents that had been the kids of capes.  My second instinct was inspired by the mention of the prison.  Goddess.  I was left with the niggling feeling that more people had disappeared after Goddess had attacked the prison, and very few people had appeared.

Who was involved that hadn’t wanted to go back to Shin?  The third member of Goddess’ cluster, potentially?

If so… the Patrol was working with the Wardens to keep tabs on a limited suite of parahumans.  Because of the danger Goddess had posed, and because her cluster was paranoid about being targets and about being weak, her cluster had asked for protection.  The Wardens hadn’t been able to provide a safehouse and around-the-clock bodyguard, but they had provided some guidance.  Three members of the cluster were gone, Goddess included.  Two had joined the Wardens, becoming employees.  Two more had slipped through the cracks, maintaining a stipend if they would call in or visit on a regular basis.

Just to let the Wardens check that nothing too ugly was happening.

I could search them up, and with the search and the database access I’d been given, I could see some of the notes on the files.

Tori Heflin, NONE (109c)
Classify: Shaker
Power: Telekinetic reel-in, push-out, straight lines only, max 20 lb. weight.
Dispo: NON (Victim)
Age: 25
Appearance: Aboriginal, West Continent, Shin, round face, thick black hair, glasses.  Tattoos, neck, dotwork triangles.
Notes: 109c Sought asylum and refugee status, victimized by Goddess.  Claimed nonaffiliation, no interest in using powers or parahuman activities, but has been contacting other capes.  See MER_CONTENDER, MER_LIONWING, MER_CRETAN.  See attached files 109c_D and 109c_E.
To be monitored further.

I checked the profiles for each of the names.  The link to ‘Contender’ gave me the image of the guy who had sealed me in his personal fighting arena.

Bingo.

The attached images took a minute to come up.  ‘Tori Heflin’ was at a venue too dark to be a bar, sitting with a trio of people in civilian clothes.  Each had a label highlighting them- the extra metadata and labeling was part of why it had taken a minute.  I could click on each to bring up their respective files.

Tori was brown-skinned and round faced, small and of a build that someone might term cute, but she had a mean look on her face in each of the attached files.  The others at the table drank, but Tori didn’t- instead, she apparently smoked up a storm, favoring cigarettes with blue paper and a blue glow at the end.  I’d seen them before- blue flames or something.

In the time it had taken her buddies to finish several beers, she had downed an equivalent number of cigarettes.  Her unlabeled friend was mixing drinks and smoking, coming just shy of her in smoking and a bit shy of his friends in drinking, if I had to judge by the glasses beside him and the butts he’d stubbed out in the ashtray among Tori’s blue flames.  He was unlabeled, but I knew him.  I’d seen him as a civilian in past shoots with the time camera, and I’d fought him.

Kingdom Come.

The light-haired woman next to her was leaning heavily into her personal space, and Tori didn’t seem to either welcome it or hate it.  One photo where the blonde sat with her tattooed arm pressing hard into Tori’s shoulder, and another photo where the woman had an arm around Tori’s shoulders, half leaning into Tori and half onto the table, clearly tipsy.

The woman was Lionwing.  And she, too, had cropped up on the time camera.  When we’d first seen the Pharmacist, Kingdom Come had been there, and so had a strawberry blonde woman with a tattooed arm and cat mask.

I clicked the label, and I brought up a page.  Lionwing, in varying costumes.  She had light armor she wore when in the field, along with a sword and a triangular shield that had decorative arrangements of spikes at each corner.  A bit of a ‘gladiator’ look.

The last person sitting at the table was Cretan.  Muscular, with a shaved head and goatee.  Clicking through produced a blurry picture of him standing in the midst of fires.  He had a helmet with a bull motif, but didn’t even use the bull’s horns as part of the aesthetic- the helmet hugged his head pretty close, and the ‘bull’ arched over top like a mohawk, its eyes lining up with his.  His armor was similar, hugging his body pretty close, with the design etched in or marked out in white metal.

Okay.

Making sense of this- the pharmacist had been allied with Teacher.  Teacher was connected to the hyper-religious nuts from Earth Cheit, with some Fallen and Kingdom Come roped into that.

They or Teacher had hired six mercenaries.  Contender, the one who had created an arena, Noontide, who had tried to put Sveta and I to sleep, and the Order, a quartet of capes we hadn’t seen yet, with only two of them in my pictures here.  Attention had been drawn to them only because Tori had claimed to be a victim in the Goddess debacle, had asked for help as a non-threat, and had then started hanging out with people who hurt others for money.

Why come after us or send the mercenaries after us?  Because… they’d already been caught on camera, and someone had told them they’d need to keep it from happening again?

Noontide’s lack of research for her name was odd, but it made more sense if I reconsidered things from the angle that she wasn’t from Bet.

I looked into her file, and found a series of jobs she had done.  It was stock work for a mercenary, with bodyguard work for a celebrity, theft, and teaming up with another team to rescue a girl that had apparently been kidnapped by some people from the construction worker’s riot that hadn’t been willing to let things go.  She was a mercenary- there hadn’t been any lying about that.  Was this dry resume a cover?  Was she up to something else?

Contender, at least, wasn’t Cheit or Cheit in disguise.  He had a history and had gone by another name before.  He’d been ‘The Pug’, short for Pugilist, and had taken bids on sites to pick fights with capes, prior to Gold Morning.  He’d evolved toward the tail end of that embarrassing debacle, taking more serious money and going after Kill Orders, all the while refining his skill set.  He’d had a break, Gold Morning had happened, and a few months afterward, he’d emerged as Contender.

Then, as I turned my focus to the Order, I found them to be ghosts.  Some jobs, but they hadn’t existed a month ago, and they apparently worked together and socialized as a tight-knit team.  That didn’t happen; not with people who’d appeared so spontaneously and simultaneously.

Cheit, again?

Insidious, if it was the case.  Foreign agents operating as mercenaries, maybe picking and choosing the jobs they did, meeting other capes, sounding them out, and manipulating the ones they saw as vulnerable.

No, it was worse than that.

They’d permanently scarred our horizons, torn up a chunk of our city, and killed a lot of people.  People we cared about.  Jessica was gone.  The cracks that radiated out from that wound and the loss of some of our best Wardens and Warden staff had laid the groundwork for Goddess to take the prison.

They’d done that, and then they’d fucking insinuated themselves into the background of our cape scene, foreign agents acting as mercenaries.

I was left to wonder if Tori was among the scared and vulnerable that they’d positioned themselves to snap up.  A cluster-mate of the Lady in Blue?

I began looking into other jobs they’d done, going back to Noontide’s record, then extrapolating to people she’d worked with.  The patchy notes meant that even if Contender wasn’t listed as being on a job, I could find a note where Cretan was listed as being on that job, with Contender helping.

I was in the middle of a frustration-induced note that I was planning to send to the Wardens about cross-referencing when I heard Ashley using her power.

A sound like ripping, a sound like nails on chalkboards, and a sound like thunder, all rolled into one.

I flew to the living room, narrowly avoiding a collision on the way.  Damsel was exiting her bedroom, and she ducked low as I adjusted by flying high.

The window to the outside was broken, and cold air blew into the living room.  Kenzie was propped up, one hand on her stomach, and Ashley stood in the center of the room.

“What happened?”

Ashley was silent, looking around the room.

“Ashley!”

“Someone grabbed me.”

“Kenz?” I asked.

“I don’t know.  I was sleeping and I got a huge wake-up call.”

The wind whistled as it blew in through the broken glass door.

“This wasn’t a dream thing?” I asked.

Ashley shook her head.

“How sure are you?”

“Seventy.”

“Leaving a thirty percent chance you put a hole in the window for no reason,” Damsel said.  “Scared your little friend, and scared Kenzie too.”

I gave her a roll of my eyes.

“You got scared,” Damsel told Ashley.  “You’ve gotten soft.”

I’m a little scared,” Kenzie said.

“Shh, you’re fine.  All of us are here watching over you,” Damsel replied.  “We won’t let anything happen to you.  Ashley’s imagined monsters won’t hurt you.”

“You’ve become less funny and more of a bully in the time I’ve been in the hospital,” Ashley observed.

She was still turning slowly, checking the room.

“What was it?” I asked.

“A man.  He made noise, I woke up, and he grabbed me before I could react.  I was prepared to use my power to throw us both into the wall, but I didn’t get a chance.  He threw me from the chair, I used my power, and I didn’t connect.”

“Where did he go?”

“I didn’t see.”

I looked at Kenzie.  She shook her head.

“Powers?” I asked.

“Possible,” Kenzie said, her eyes wide.

I drew my phone from my pocket.  The contact screen had different icons by different names.  Most had ‘Zzz’ beside them.

Rain was awake.  Working late on Sveta’s arm- as much as was possible when his tinker power was in its wane period.

Me:
Trouble.  We might need help.

There was a pause.

Rain:
That not good.

Me:
Can you make your way to us if we need backup?

Rain:
No.
No – I have no transpo and time is wrong.  13 minutes until my power knocks me out automatically.  Then I sleep like dead.

I looked at the clock.

Rain:
What is trouble?

Me:
Ashley was grabbed, thrown from bed.  She broke a window.  No idea where the attacker is.

Rain:
Weirdness here too.  K’s projector box is sweating.

“Rain says your projector box is sweating?”

What?

“Is that dangerous?”

“No.  No, it just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Talk to our guy,” I told her, putting my phone on the coffee table and sliding it to her.  “I’m going to check the building.”

Ashley stayed with Kenzie, while Damsel came with me.

Front hall clear.  The door was locked.

The kitchen was fine.

Bathroom, first bedroom that included my office with the papers strewn everywhere, the second bedroom that belonged to Ashley, the storage room that still had Ashley’s furniture in it, from where I’d moved it in to make room for my things… all clear.

“Um,” Kenzie said, as Damsel and I returned from the hallway that led to the bedrooms.  “So it’s not just that my projector box  and computer are sitting in a giant puddle.”

“Spit it out,” Damsel said.

“The door was left ajar, so it almost froze.  Rain was hogging space heaters, so it took him a while to notice.

“Didn’t you waterproof it?” I asked, “because you knew Capricorn would be using his power around it?”

Kenzie nodded.

“And proofed it against cold weather?”

“Best as I could, but that has nothing to do with anything, except it means they probably survived the flooding.”

“Why?  How?  Did it malfunction?”

“It wouldn’t ever malfunction like that.  That’s like saying your barbecue is broken, it keeps making salad.”

“Kenzie, please.  Simple answers.”

“It’s the simplest answer!  It’s wet because someone put the water there,” Kenzie said.  “Then, according to Rain, this theoretical person left the door partially open on the way out.”

Why put water on a computer?  Attempted sabotage?  How did one put water on a computer without alerting the guy who was working late on his tinkering?

And if they were active there, and we had strangeness here

“Shit,” I said.  “My computer.”

I took flight, cutting a path through the hallways.

The door to my room and office was closed when I got there- and it had been open when I’d left it a minute ago.  I pushed the door open, and a blast of cold air mingled with choking, blinding fumes to dash my senses.  I couldn’t see, couldn’t smell, and couldn’t taste, and the only noise was the wind from the open window.

My files.  Months and months of effort, of back-and-forth, five hour round trips, to scrounge up papers from the remains of our house.  To dry papers, separate the mildewy and moldy from that which could be preserved, and typing out new versions of any pages that couldn’t be saved, even trying to keep the formatting intact.

The smell was gasoline.  He was setting fire to everything that was mine, from clothes to computer to files.  To the space that was mine.  To Ashley’s apartment.

The others caught up to find me standing there in shock, covering my mouth and trying to avoid the kind of coughing that prompted more coughing.

What the hell?

“He took my feathers.”

I turned back to look at Kenzie.

“They’re important, and they’re not on the coffee table.”

Important.  Priorities.  I shook off the shock and took stock.  The fumes filled my room to the point that it was hard to enter.

“Get to safety!” I called out to the others.  Then I covered my mouth and flew through.

If he went after the projector computer, he’d go after my computer too.  I had to rescue it.  If he was after fire or torching any and all evidence, then I had to deny him that.

A contest of parahuman against parahuman broke down to a game of denial and control.  Even if the power was strength.  When my mom stepped onto the battlefield, her ability to succeed was dependent on getting to where she could hold her weapon near her opponent’s vitals, and her opponents couldn’t respond or react.  That was the endstate.

For Crystal, it was about getting high, dropping forcefields in the right places or using them to protect herself and deny her opponents the ability to hurt her.  So long as she held that high vantage point, any place that was in her field of vision was a place her enemies couldn’t go.

For my dad, a thrown grenade created a radius around it where enemies could do nothing but get away, if they were even afforded the time.  Failing to do so meant they were concussed at the very least.  He essentially maintained a broader circle around him where he could quickly deposit grenades, and the only way to fight him without facing an endless onslaught of light-grenades was to stay out of his range, which extended about far as a strong man could throw a head-sized rubber ball.

For me… especially now, it involved doing a lot of damage, and measuring out how much.

Little things could be fixed or handled later.  I flew up, grabbed a bookcase, and used a pulse of my strength to haul it over.  It crashed down with enough force to create gaps between floorboards where there hadn’t been any.  There were books and papers on it, but the bookcase was metal, and with any luck it would interrupt the flow of fire across the accelerant. It might buy time, if the fire came from the hallway, or if the fire was traveling from here to the hallway.

I flew to the window, my mouth still covered.

No sign of anyone outside, no flame, no lighter being used or match being struck.

I flew to the bookcase.  I’d be sealing myself inside, but if worst came to worst, flying through a wall wouldn’t be making the damage that much worse.

A hand seized me by the throat from behind.  A sharp blow across the back of the head disabled the Wretch before it could even unfold, and I was pulled away from the bookcase.

He’d never even left the room.

I tumbled head over heels, disoriented.  The rush of cold air mingled with the odor of the gasoline vapor.  I found ‘down’ and flew straight to it.  We crashed to the hard floorboards, gasoline soaking the papers that had been scattered across the floor.

MineMine, and you ruined it!

In the wrestling match, each of us exchanged places, one of us on top, the other with back to ground.  I was getting gasoline on me, but so was my shadowy attacker.

I saw the hand reach for a weapon and grabbed his wrist.  A taser.

As quickly as it had been grabbed, it was dropped.  The spark would be a mistake, given our current battlefield.

The computers- black screens.

Hopefully the breaker switch for this room was down or the connection was otherwise a failure.  Because those computers being on meant any number of infinitesimally small ways to ignite the gas.

The computers.  I had to remember my goals.  Even though our attacker was in my hands, it was better to deny the control of the situation, as I’d done before.

I forced my way out of his grip, then barreled straight for the desktop tower that was my at-home computer.  Cables were all still plugged in, keyboard, mouse, and monitor were plugged or even screwed in.

I tore at them, letting the easier ones fall free, forcing the remainder.

The aura was affecting my attacker.  Where he might have swung a meaty fist at me before, he was holding on tight, as if trying to wait out heavy weather in a bad storm.

As I tried to fly away, he clung to me.

There were too many things to focus on, between the computer tower, the damage to property, the gasoline that could easily see the neighborhood go up in smoke, and my own well being.

I shoved my assailant off me, then flew closer to the ceiling, holding the computer tower with its stray wires dangling down.  Winning the fight wasn’t important.  Coming out ahead was.

My notes were everything.

Flying out of reach, near the ceiling, I had a view of the entire room.

Was it over?  Had I won?

Well, won insofar as I’d denied him what he wanted.

I shut the window.

“Two bullets to the back of the head.  The first will take out your forcefield.  The other will end you.  Drop the computer.  Fly away.”

I turned around slowly.

A girl in a black leather bodysuit with a black leather jacket and a scarf around her lower face.  The face I could see was covered in a gray mask, with eyes slanted to match the angle and slant of a woodland animal, each lens an opaque black.

“That’s not flying away,” Imp told me.  “That’s standing your ground.”

She was holding up a lighter.  I was very worried the vapor in the air would ignite.

“Put that out.  We can talk,” I told her.

The lighter flicked closed.  “I’m not here to talk.”

“We had a good working relationship a couple of days ago.”

“That was then,” she said.  “Put the computer down.  You’re going to tear out the hard drive.”

I drew in a deep breath.

“No games,” she said.  “I’ve got to protect the kid I’m looking after.  Your kid baited him into sharing secrets.  In the course of sharing those secrets, he used mundane networks, no encryption.  People have seen.  Some of those people are mentioned in the pictures.”

“Sounds like a failure on your part.”

“It’s a problem for all of us, Glory Girl.  But the kids are most important.”

My volume raised, “It’s a failure on your end, and our home has to burn to the ground?  Fuck that.

“The people who were alerted are going to pay more attention to you, G.G..  If they think you got nothing, if you avoid making specific searches about names, and if there’s a nice fire to assure them that all evidence stops here, the buck stops there.”

“It’s never as simple as that.  This isn’t about protecting us.  This is about protecting you.”

“Us, not me,” Imp said.  “I’m armed, you’re not.  Let go of the computer.  Let it fall to the floor.”

“If it sparks-”

“Just do it,” she said.

I did.  It clunked on landing.  There wasn’t quite enough accelerant or anything on the floor here to allow for a splash.

“I’ve been really nice,” Imp said.  “I could have humiliated you.  Instead, I’m sticking to nonlethal weapons and careful use of fire.”

“Uh huh.”

“Stay where you are,” she said, keeping the pistol on me.

I could use the Wretch, I knew.  It had reach, it was invisible, and if it got her, it would pull her in close and tear her to pieces.

Except I didn’t want to be that kind of person, and the computer by my feet was in the Wretch’s reach too.  I could trust an invisible hand to probably seize her outstretched hand, but I couldn’t trust anything else.

The gender confusion from earlier was resolved as I glanced back and saw how one of her arms was altered.  It was hairy, veins running down the back of the arm, and it was a little longer than her usual arm.  The bodysuit’s fabric didn’t roll past the thickest part of the bicep, so she had rigged some other kind of detachable sleeve to pull over and up to the shoulder.

Her power hadn’t effectively covered it, so it regularly figured into my processing of the scenes, and it lingered in my head even as the rest of her threatened to disappear while my focus was entirely on her.

“I’m going to need you to move the bookcase, G.G.”

I locked eyes with her.  She motioned with the gun, tilting her head so the lenses of her mask caught the light in a different way.

I used flight and a bit of strength to move the thing.  It screeched loudly with the motion.  I wasn’t even done  moving it when Imp pushed the door open.

She immediately leaped back.  I could hear Ashley’s power, almost entirely hidden by the raggedd sound of the bookcase moving over hardwood.

Ashley or Damsel was approaching, and I could hear the sound of it.  The power shredded the door and the surrounding frame as she stalked forward.  It was Damsel, and her claws contained a large sphere of destruction, annihilating everything in front of her, flickering and storming as power ran through it.

“Move a hair,” Imp whispered in Damsel’s ear, “And you’re going to get a bullet in your throat to match the one your sister got.  Except yours will be the last body mod you ever get.”

I wheeled around.  Imp had her gun to Damsel’s throat, her man-hand wrapped in a death-lock around Damsel’s front, pulling her off balance.  Damsel had her hands out to her sides, no power active.

“Pick up the computer, Glory Girl.”

“It’s not my name anymore.”

“I don’t care.  People change names too often.  It’s better to have one good one that you stick to.”

“Imp was taken, you know,” I told her.

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t really have it.”

I don’t care.  Pick up the computer.  Fly it to the ground outside the window.  No games.”

I pushed out with my aura again, but I kept it subtle.  Barely noticeable, like Rain’s often was.  I began feeding it to Imp, with Damsel as an incidental target.

“Now.”

I picked up the computer, stepped over to the open window, and flew down.  I planted the computer case on a stack of firewood.

“If you have any freaky porn that you’re embarrassed about, I promise I’ll only make a little bit of fun of you over it,” Imp said, from the window.  “I’ll only share your browser history with a thousand people tops.”

She beckoned, and I flew over.

I was flying, and I had someone in my arms.

The nose of the gun jabbed into the soft flesh beneath my jaw, forcing my chin up.

I was still tempted to drop her.  Instead, aware I was outputting a bit of my aura, I slowly ramped it up.  If I could do the ‘boiling a frog’ trick…

“Down by the red cloth.  I know it’s hard to see in the dark, but do your best.”

There was a red cloth tied to a post.  I flew to it.

She hopped down the last ten or so feet to the snow.  I chose that opportunity to push out harder with my aura.

“This was fun,” she said.  “We should never ever do it again, understand?  If someone slips you information that’s supposed to be ours, you hand it straight back over, or you’ll run into problems like your house burning down and you not being all the way sure why.”

“The feathers.  You need to give them back.”

“No I do not.  The feathers were a gift from a member of our team to a member of yours.  They don’t need to hang out any longer.  Normally I would encourage friendships, but I’ve read the horror stories, and it’ll just get messy when we’re all on opposite sides.  Trust me, I did that back in Brockton Bay for a bit.  Kid hero and me, bit of romance?  Got awkward when it ended.”

Really.  Who?”

“Not kissing, not telling.  Instead, I am…” she drew a flare gun out of her pocket, and with pistol in her right hand and flare gun in her left, kept the former trained on me and the latter aimed at the window.

“…Delivering my coup de grace,” she said, sounding tired.   Her flare gun was in her right hand.  “And I’ll do it on my first try, like a badass.”

“Damsel is up there.  It’s not badass to kill people.  That’s complete and utter failure for anyone civilized.”

“She’s not up there, not anymore,” Imp said, sounding even more tired.  “She’s at the side, trying to flank me.  Still.”

Imp indicated a corner of the building, about forty feet away.

I ramped up my aura.

“Stop,” she said.

So that was her limit for tolerance.  I pushed harder and I set my jaw.

“If you think that’s going to mess up my aim, you should know I thrive under pressure.”

I heard Damsel using her power.

“Stupid,” Imp muttered.

I heard Ashley using her power.  A little more oomph, more of an eruption of power than a jetting out.  Unpredictable, uneven, but it gave her momentum.

Those forty feet of distance closed fast.  Multiple blasts, and each one carried one of the two in a different direction.

They zig-zagged through the air, one pale shape and one dark one, and converged on Imp with the same timing, each set to collide with her in the same instant.

The two Ashleys landed, one of them clipping a branch from the overhanging foliage on her way down.  They didn’t fly so much as they propelled.

“Are you okay?” Ashley asked me.

I nodded, my eyes searching the battlefield.

Kenzie was still vulnerable, but as I groped for what the threat was, I drew a blank.

Fuck.

“Put up with this if you can,” I said.

I increased the push on my aura until it was at its worst.

“That’s nothing,” Damsel said, even as her face’s microexpressions betrayed what was going on behind the surface.

“Let’s hope our attacker doesn’t think so,” I said.

I closed my eyes, focusing.

I couldn’t sense through my aura, but my aura made it hard to deal.  Ashley and Damsel had talked about restlessness.  I was creating a sort of restlessness in this moment, of a very different sort.

The snow muffled sound, and with this area of the city being where it was and with everything being after hours, I could hear noise.  I started toward it.

We were moving in a direction, and with the weather being what it was, and me not having a coat, it was easier to keep moving.  When I hit my limit, I would loop back.

Just to be sure, I cast a glance backward, and spotted the computer case.

Wouldn’t do to lose track of that and let our enemy run away with it.

The Ashleys were advancing on either side of me, and as we heard a pant, we started forward with more vigor.

“You’re being irritating,” Imp whispered in my ear.

I blinked.

The Ashleys had fanned out a bit more to either side… and Imp had me.  Gun to my throat again.

“I’m trying to be nice.  I’ve been avoiding murder.”

“Me too.”

She whispered, “You try anything, I double-tap you.  And while we’re on the subject of doubling… we’re doubling back.”

From the woods behind Ashley’s place back toward the rows of buildings.

The Ashleys had noticed and were approaching cautiously.  For every one pace Imp and I advanced, they advanced two.

She’d called herself a wolf earlier, and I could see it now.  Pack hunting, stalking, dead serious, and very dangerous.

We found the computer once more.  Imp drew her flare gun.

She stopped when Kenzie stepped out from behind  a tree, wearing all winter clothing, including coat, hat, and earmuffs.

“You’re outnumbered.”

“Doesn’t matter when number one is super awesome,” Imp retorted.  “And when she has a hostage.”

Kenzie drew a gun and pointed it.  It looked like a toy weapon.

Imp shook her head slowly.  “No.  You don’t want to do that.  Hostage.  Use your common sense, kiddo.”

“I spent it all on figuring out my tinkering.  I’ve just got a big empty loneliness inside me right now, with some mad scientist vibes.”

Kenzie smiled, and then she pulled the trigger of her Flash Gun, blinding everyone present that wasn’t her.

Snuff held the door open for Tattletale.  The kids climbed out too, but they weren’t part of the show of force- not directly.  The Heartbroken kids ran around, and headed toward the mall that was at the far end of the parking lot, the older kids who were apparently in charge of them hurrying after.

Herding cats.

Tattletale remained, and so did the two members of Palanquin who were guarding her.  Imp was with her, but Imp was still blind.

It had been a few hours.  I’d had the presence of mind to fly away before more shots could land, so it had been about twenty-five minutes for me, where I hadn’t been able to see anything except hot white spots.

Rain and an unhappily awoken Tristan and Sveta were with me.

Not bringing backup just hadn’t been an option.

Chicken Little seemed to want to go with the Heartbroken, but instead Snuff positioned him at Tattletale’s side.  He had a hangdog look, for someone with a hard full face mask.

A few of the Heartbroken lingered.  Chicken Little’s age.

Parian and Foil lingered too.  I gave Foil a nod, and she nodded back.

Kenzie was with me too, in a sense; she didn’t get out of the vehicle.  She sat in the passenger seat, feet swung out over the side.  She had her costume on.

“Let’s try this again,” Tattletale said.

“Are you sure?  Because your approach of burning everything we cherish and love to ash to protect your info is a great plan.”

“Works for me,” Tattletale said.

I shook my head slowly.

“You gotta scrub it all.  You didn’t get it fair and square, and some of that is stuff only I and my sources know, that the kids don’t pay much attention to.  When people start blabbing about details that only I’m supposed to know, it makes my sources jittery.  Some of them are in very dangerous places.”

“Sounds like you got sloppy,” Tristan said.

“Having a thinker hunting us down and forcing us to relocate regularly is what makes us sloppy, as it would for anyone.  Now, you don’t want to be casualties of that sloppiness.”

“Work with us,” I said.  “I don’t like you, you don’t like me- but I could help you figure something out.”

“You’re making too many enemies.  Profitability-”

Fuck profit,” I interrupted.  “Fuck that.”

“And simple logic!” Tattletale raised her voice.  She stabbed a pointed, painted fingernail in my direction.  “If we spend too much time around you, your enemies become our enemies.  If you have a lot of enemies, which you do, then that fucks us.”

“And if you refuse to cooperate with us and play ball, then we let your intel leak, including that information about sources, and your allies become your enemies.”

“You’re really willing to play hardball?” Tattletale asked.

“Give Kenzie her feathers back.  Let the kids talk.”

“You realize what a monster she is, don’t you?”

I glanced back at Kenzie.  “Nothing resembling a monster, and I’m an expert.”

“Because you spent two years as one.  Of course.”

I looked back at Tristan, who held out my bag for me.  I put it down, and as I reached for it, Snuff tensed.  The Palanquin mercenary who looked like an ordinary person  tensed as well.

“Files,” I said.  I moved slowly as I drew the paperwork from the bag.

Tristan was the one who took the files and handed them out.  Some for Parian, some for Foil, and some for Tattletale.

All of the information on the Order and the mercenaries I’d picked up.  The PRT files.

“Your files are more up to date than mine,” Tattletale said, as she read.  “You found a central network server?”

“I was led to one.  Bargained.”

“The details on ‘Pug’?”

“Old collection of paper files.  Which you guys doused in gasoline but didn’t set on fire.”

“Do you have more?”

“There’s a bit more in there.  We’d have even more if we hadn’t been interrupted.  Again, your teammate tried to set us on fire.”

“You’re building a narrative here,” Tattletale observed.  “It all ties back to Teacher, I see.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “An awful lot of it.  Fallen, the baiting of Goddess, the portal attacks.”

“I’ll provide you a tidbit of information then.  If we’re going to deal-”

“If we’re going to deal, the feathers first.  They’re important.”

“Fine.  I’ll agree to that.  But Chicken Little is still grounded.  He can’t talk to his friends on the phone.”

Some conversation.”

“I’ll cut twenty percent off his sentence of being grounded forever,” Tattletale said.  She glanced back at Chicken Little, who ducked his head.

“Seriously,” I said.  “At limited times per day.  Or a limited number of messages,” I suggested.

I heard Kenzie groan behind me.

“That would be workable,” Chicken Little muttered, barely audible.

“Feathers and chat.  Some meetings allowed if they’re both on good behavior.  I’ve read her rap sheet, and I want to make sure he’s protected.”

I looked at Tristan, then at Rain.

They looked so exhausted I doubted they were processing.

I looked at Kenzie, who nodded.

“Sure.”

“We’ll negotiate.  You want in bed with us, you’re in bed with us.  Congratulations.  We’ll share resources.”

I nodded.

“Fine,” Tattletale said.  “Let it be known I’m immensely unhappy with this.”

“That’s allowed,” I said.

Behind Tattletale, I saw Chicken Little’s leg jiggle slightly.  Surreptitiously, after he looked left, looked right, and checked that nobody on his team was looking, he turned his hand to one side, extending the smallest of thumbs-ups.

I looked back at Kenzie, who nodded.

Tattletale heaved out a sigh.  She waved Imp forward.

Imp met Rain halfway.  She handed over two feathers, and he took them back to hand to Kenzie.

Important to do this.  She needed a friend.

And I supposed we needed the intel.

“You’re wrong, though,” Tattletale said.

“Wrong?”

“These mercenaries you’re looking at… they’re Cheit, your notes are right.  The Order is a reference to a verse in their texts.  The thousand-eyed beasts, front and back.  Lion, that’s your drunk girl.  The ox.  Your bull guy.  You’ve also got the beast with the face of a man, and the eagle.  They’re tied up in the fours that run through the texts.  Four apostles, four virtues, four whatevers.”

“I think I know the verse,” Rain said.  “We have it too.”

“Good,” Tattletale said.

“Why is that important?” I asked.

“Because it means they’re hardcore Cheit, which you guessed.  You were mostly on the right track and you might have stumbled on the right answer… if you weren’t keeping your eye out for the wrong destination.”

“The wrong destination?”

“Teacher,” Tattletale said.  “He doesn’t have control of his group, so he’s not pulling their strings.  He’s happy doing the prison thing, fucking with Goddess, tearing open holes in reality like the one across Brockton Bay and the ones in the heart of the city, but his people turned their attention to people caught in time loops, stasis, other fuckery like that… and Teacher drew the line there.  These guys here?”

She tapped the paper before continuing, “The mercenaries from another world?  They split from Teacher over it.”

“Are they after Jack?” I asked.  “Worst case scenario.”

Tattletale shook her head.  “They’re not that reckless.  No.  One of the names raised was closer to home than Jack.  And while the shit with March is going on, the Undersiders can’t go home.”

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166 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.3”

  1. For goodness’ sakes, Aisha. See, this is what happens when you rely on fire instead of talking to people, you get beaten up by a twelve-year-old and your kids laugh at you.

    1. Too be fair Aisha lost because she’s nice. She could easily be the greatest assasin in the world. Slitter rubbed off a little too hard on her. Vicky should be dead several times over, and she still talks all cocky.

      1. No. She’s not nice. She’s pragmatic.

        Breakthrough are organising and holding together a network of hero teams. They wind up dead, people are going to investigate, and they’ll find her. There’s too many possible powers and combinations of powers and synergies and what have you for her to remain hidden, even as a Stranger 7. Particularly since she’s having power issues with her new arm.

        She’s already the greatest assassin in the world. Or one of them, anyway- look at what happened to Nice Guy, a Stranger who faded into the background and got people to tear each other apart; slain by Imp cutting his throat open. And Heartbreaker, a Master who wandered around the northern US and Canada forcing women to fall in love with him, manipulating them into emptying their bank accounts and siphon whatever funds they had to him, having them raise his children and then, when bored, abandoning them with the belief he’s hiding and they should kill all the cops trying to get to him- even though he’d fled hours ago and they don’t know it. And she terrified Butcher Fourteen (but didn’t dare kill her), and cut Bonesaw’s throat- that failed because Bonesaw had surgically reinforced her own neck.

        Two very different capes whose powers made it tricky for the authorities to deal with them, slain by Imp. Not to mention the fact that Vicky says here the Imp name was taken; the previous Imp was either retired or renamed because this Imp outclassed them. Alternately they were arrested or slain by this Imp.

        1. There is also the fact that Imp generally follows the rules, or at least the spirit of the game, and reserves lethal solutions for the really big threats. Currently no one in Breakthrough qualifies as such.

        2. I think you’re misinterpreting “the Imp name was taken”. The other Imp didn’t need to be retired or renamed or arrested or slain. They were still Imp. Our Imp just chose the same name because she didn’t care, so both existed at once.

      2. IDK, if Aisha had started applying lethal force I’d give her a 50-50 chance of making it out without the Ashleys splattering her with random AoE fire.

  2. Typo thread:
    transpo > transport
    raggedd > ragged
    tinking > tinkering
    ⊙⊙ (is the double symbol intentional?)

    Three members of the cluster were gone, Goddess included. Two had joined the Wardens, becoming employees. Two more had slipped through the cracks, maintaining a stipend if they would call in or visit on a regular basis.
    Does this not add up to seven? It should be 2 members gone, the suicide and Bianca right?

    1. “transpo > transport”

      I think that’s an intentional shortening, not a typo. It’s a text conversation after all.

    2. “free reign,”
      -g

      “my projector box and computer”
      “wasn’t even done moving”
      “out from behind a tree,”
      “an ordinary person tensed”
      Extra spaces.

    3. “He doesn’t have control of his group, so he’s not pulling their strings”

      Context makes me think this is supposed to be this group, not his

  3. I’m trying to remember who was caught in stasis and time loops, but I’m mostly drawing blanks… New Grey Boy got a few E88 people iirc, and Bakuda’s stasis caught some high-profile good guys, I think? But “closer to home” than Jack Slash suggests that I’m forgetting someone important…

    1. The only one I could think of is Dauntless, but I have no idea why he’d be so important to go after. True, he technically could become extremely powerful if he keeps charging his items, but unless there is power fuckery that could take years.

      Woudn’t that be crazy though? If Dauntless spent years in stasis quietly charging up his equipment until he’s powerful enough to solo an Endbringer?

    2. The Bakuta grenade got Dauntless, Alabaster, and Jotun. Dauntless was a major up and coming hero in the Protectorate. Alabaster was a member of Purity’s branch of Empire 88 and apparently a rampant white supremacist even as E88 members went. The only reference I found to Jotun was him getting caught in the time bubble with the other two. His name’s reference to Norse mythology suggests that he was another E88 member, but that’s just a guess on my part

    3. I’ve been thinking when and how we will see those time-trapped people again ever since Taylor pondered that time-stopped bubble right after time skip in Worm. Looks like I may heave just gotten an answer.

    4. Dauntless? He has the potential to be really powerful. Especially if someone messes with the recharge rate or if Scapegoat can take the lack of charge from him. I mean, aren’t wounds basically not having something? Teacher can buff Dauntless’s control, so he could choose what he gets too.

      Now imagine top tier tinkering combined with the ability to choose new powers to scan for inspiration.

    5. I’m thinking closer to the literal home of Brockton Bay.

      CRAWLER! Caught in a Bakuda bomb.

      He didn’t have a thousand eyes but he fits pretty closely to the beast they’re apparently so interested in.

      Also fits closer to something that even Teacher would draw the line at.

      1. Seconding Crawler, from what we know his regeneration is nothing to be sneezed at. Mannequin should also be somewhere in the vicinity IIRC.

  4. Well, even if this was not intentional on Aiden’s part when he leaked intel to Kenzie, it got the blonde soccer moms corraling basket case cats to fucking talk it out and agree to cooperate.

    I am immensely enjoying the domestic lives of the Ashleys, and the way Swansong mothers Kenzie warms my shriveled misanthropic heart. I am also extremely angry at the fact that Imp’s go-to solution was to stumble awkwardly through sabotage when asking Victoria to chip in woukd have sufficed.

    Let’s see where this goes now, I suppose.

    1. > Well, even if this was not intentional on Aiden’s part when he leaked intel to Kenzie, it got the blonde soccer moms corraling basket case cats to fucking talk it out and agree to cooperate.

      And the best thing is that both Aiden and Kenzie probably know that too. Considering that they talked about it in the hospital, that thumbs up gesture looked like it included that meaning. Those meddling kids really managed to pull it off.

    2. “Imp’s go-to solution”

      Let’s be real, it’s 99% likely that it comes from TT. I still can’t quite place why she woke up Ashley though, potentially TT actually manipulated things to this exact outcome? Sounds like something she could and would do, and if we’re being fair Breakthrough (much less 2 Ashleys, Kenzie and Victoria while sleeping) can’t hold a candle to the Undersiders if they were really comited to doing whatever they wanted to do. There’s also the weird fact that Imp doused everything yet didn’t set it on fire despite having the opportunity to. I either missed something, or it looks like TT played them.

  5. Ah Dauntless, you may yet return… and then you have the last few years explained to you… By Glory girl who does it standing next to Tattletale…

    Well, so far Victoria has cooperated and tolerated her two least favourite women in existence, and her mother, too. Her final test will be… dealing with both at same time.

    But, here’s the question we’re all wondering about really? Where the hell is Bitch? I postulate,= that she’s absent due to patrolling and protecting an Undersider legacy. I’m also damned sure that she will turn up again in an interesting fashion; probably about the same time as we see Vista again.

    Vista: Hi Vicky, how did it go dealing with Tattletale?
    Vicky: Ugh, she’s as bad as ever.
    Bitch. “-”
    Vista: Rachel, are you sure you haven’t got anything to add?
    Bitch: Why? It sounds right to me.
    Victoria.:Why has Rachael Lindt turned out to the most sociable Undersider?
    Bitch: Taylor Hebert taught me to do better.

    Restaurant goes silent. ]

    1. Well, I was under impression that Rachel kept to herself most of the time nowadays, and visited the rest of the Undersiders only for big jobs (like the raid on Fallen), and such. She really doesn’t like city life that much these days, and has no ambition to take part in Tattletale’s politics. Other than that the rest seems to fit.

    2. > Where the hell is Bitch?

      Obviously she’s busy hunting mammoth on Earth L(arge). The Undersiders have a lot of mouths to feed!

      1. You mean Gimel is about to introduce ration cards or stamps for meat? I knew that the economy there was bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad? Will we see mile-long queues to butchers at 6 a.m. all over megalopolis? Will other products be rationed?

        1. Will Bitch face a prison sentence for stockpiling food in amounts that prove speculative intent or some similar nonsense, when she returns with the mammoth?

    3. > Ah Dauntless, you may yet return… and then you have the last few years explained to you… By Glory girl who does it standing next to Tattletale…

      – GG and TT together?! What is it, the world’s ending or something?
      – Well…you know, actually…

    1. Nah, I figured out it was her shortly after Victoria realized she took the feathers. After that it was all clear, no confusion at all.

      1. On Vicky’s end, Alfaryn. I didn’t know it was Imp, but I wasn’t surprised at the reveal.

        I followed the fight perfectly.

          1. Text-based medium, Alfaryn. Jokes and sarcasm are harder to pick up than vocal ones, and in this case I missed it.

          2. Understandable, but it is not like I can underline every joke I make with a squiggly line, can I? And I try to avoid using emoticons.

            (And sorry about that one about squiggly line, it is a reference to an old certain comedy sketch almost everyone in Poland, and probably very few people who were not at least not raised there know).

  6. Aren’t Mannequin and Crawler caught in a time bomb in Brockton Bay. Just dunno why Cheit would care about either of them any more than of the other options.

    1. mannequin and crawler were turned into some other material (carbon? i cant really remember) not frozen in time im pretty sure

      1. One of the Mannequin clones might be alive, though. IIRC Khepri found one when she was rounding up all the capes she could find.

  7. i know dauntless was caught, and given enough time he was supposed to reach big 3 material…. thats close to home since same hometown and all….but it doesnt really make sense. purity’s gang all got caught so night fog and crusader but again…they dont seem powerful enough

  8. “So you left your charge with two convicted, emotionally unstable murderers Ms. Matteson? Some legal guardian you are!” prosecutor would say. I is good to see that Natalie is the sort of a person, who is more concerned with Kenzie’s well being than with covering her own ass.

  9. One person that seems to be missing from the picture Victoria and Lisa put together is March. From what her power told Tattletale during her interlude we know she was recruiting on the night the Navigators were attacked, and was supposed to be able to act in six hours after that. It would fit the time of attack on the investigating capes, and it would fit “strategic timing” of March’s power. That attack (as well as the one on the other group of heroes) was perfectly timed to ensure that hero-villain war will be both big, and lasting.

    My working theory is that March tried to recruit at least some members of Goddess’ cluster, and got the rest of people from the photo with Tori. Alternatively she recruited Tori through those people. I also would not exclude the possibility that there more people from that cluster on that photo.

    On top of it the connection to the Goddess could also mean that Shin is responsible for at least some of the things Victoria suspects Cheit about. The way those gunmen who attacked the investigators reacted to Victoria’s power in particular looked a lot like the slave army from Shin sounded in Chris’ description. Cheit is still probably behind some of it, considering how the Order, and some named capes supposedly fit their texts, but I still think someone from Shin is also a part of it.

    It is also VERY disturbing how Rain notes how Cheit and the Fallen seem to share some of their religious texts.

    Finally if March is behind it, I wonder if she cooperated with Teacher, and left with the splinter group, or picked them up after they left Teacher. Either way it is interesting who in particular and why she would want from the people frozen in time? Does she just want some muscle? I don’t think so, there are simpler ways to get it. Is she after some particular ability, or a particular bit of knowledge someone frozen in time may have? Or is someone frozen in time either connected to March’s past somehow, or another part of some cluster?

    1. It is also somewhat disturbing that apparently Rain still refers to the Fallen as “we”.

      As for all of those connections wit Cheit and possibly Shin it sounds a lot like something Teacher could set up, so Tattletale is probably right to point out that he is or was involved in all of this somehow (though possibly largely indirectly at this point).

      1. It’s not that surprising, really. The Fallen are an extremist doomsday cult with its origins in- probably- something like the Westboro Baptist Church, or some other marginalised technically-Christian sect. So they likely still use a Bible, albeit a ‘translation’ they wrote themselves which emphasises and highlights the bits they want to highlight and emphasise.

        Cheit, meanwhile, is ruled by an Abrahamic theocracy. The Abrahamic religions are- well, the three biggest- are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The latter two take a lot of their scripture from the first, as it’s one of the oldest religions in the world.

        They probably share parts of the Old Testament, at the very least.

        1. It is still surprising that they apparently focused on the same lines. Cheit has a team of capes built around them, and it is not like I expect a young Fallen warrior like Rain to know the entire Bible by heart either, so it looks like those verses are of some special importance to the Fallen too.

          It says some disturbing things about religion in Cheit, and this situation sounds bad whether they focused on those parts independently from the Fallen or not, if for a bit different reasons in each of those cases.

          1. I don’t know the Bible, or the verse in particular. But I know that there’s parts of the Bible that are really vague. They might be putting the emphasis on different parts of the verse, to get a different interpretation.

            In addition, it sounds like Cheit’s putting more emphasis on the four. The Fallen wouldn’t do that; there’s only three (or five, depending on when you’re counting) Endbringers.

          2. If Rain, who is not exactly the most religiously minded of the Fallen (remember he avoided going to church as much as he could), recognized the reference, then I think that the Fallen may put more emphasis on the four than you probably suspect.

          3. Rain remembered the verse about the Order. Cheit focuses on the four, according to Tattletale. The Four Graces, Four Apostles, etc. Since the verse about the Order references four individuals, Cheit pays attention to it and references it, and a four-man band of Cheit mercenaries names themselves after it.

          4. Also, Rain avoided going to church after his trigger, and a year or whatever it was of watching the results of his actions every night. Before that? Before Gold Morning? He was probably a good little Fallen cultist, and had he not triggered in that cluster, he’d have likely remained a soldier and risen in the hierarchy with whatever power he manifested, something to do with breaking things.

          5. Maybe. Still I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some strong Fallen – Cheit connection and their beliefs we don’t know about yet, and it could point at several very bad possibilities – from their close cooperation to there being something to those beliefs we don’t know yet. Maybe they know something about the Endbringers other people don’t for example?

          6. Heck, maybe there is at least one Endbringer we don’t know yet, because it (or they) have been active on Cheit?

          7. We know the surviving Fallen have fled to Cheit, where they have to obey the theocracy’s ruling on scripture, which they just about fit. There’s going to be some friction there, though. They squeezed in because Cheit wanted the parahumans, and also they’re the Fallen. They don’t really want to get on with anyone else.

          8. Still makes me think that there is something that makes people on Cheit and the Fallen think along similar lines when it comes to the interpretation of the scriptures. The Fallen probably wouldn’t choose to run to Cheit if their belief system was fundamentally incompatible with belifs of at least one influential group on Cheit. Influential enough to be able to give them refuge.

          9. The Fallen are an apocalyptic cult which grew from Christianity. One which was nearly right.

            Cheit is an Earth ruled by an Abrahamic religion, which gives freedom of worship to any group that agrees with the basics of their own faith.

            Christianity, Islam and Judaism all have a history of throwing up apocalyptic cults and doomsday prophets. There probably is some overlap between the Fallen and a power-group, just like there’s overlap between the Mormons and the Catholics. Doesn’t mean there won’t be friction, or that everything’s happy between the two.

          10. Still makes me think that both the Fallen and people of Cheit have something more in common than Judeo-Christian or Abrahamic roots of they religion. It is not like typical followers of those religions on Bet thought they have much in common with the Fallen.

            Maybe it has something to do not directly with the Endbringers, with the Entities for example. If someone at some point had a vision of Entities, I could imagine that there is a group on Cheit that included the big Worms in their doctrine, or something. In that case they could look at the Fallen a bit like a Christian would look at people focused on worshipping the apostles – not Christans, but also not people you can’t find some common ground with.

          11. For what it’s worth, I think I might have recognised the verse that Wibbleboar is referring to here: a verse from the book of Ezekiel that’s describing the physical form of one particular type of angel, which has four heads: an ox, a lion, an eagle, and a human.

            Because Biblical angels didn’t look like people with robes and wings. There’s a reason why half the time when they show up the first line out of their mouths is “be not afraid”. 😉

        2. The part with the bull, the eagle, the human and the lion will be present in every earth. That’s symbolism used since the old testament (the prophet Ezekiel for example) in some variations and was later re-purposed to symbolize the four authors of the evangelium, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It’s also present in the book of revelations, which is a major sorce of inspiration for most christian-like doomsday cults. This is stuff that’s present since the 4th century at the latest… We can expect this to be largely equivalent across dimensions – with different points highlighted and emphasized, of course.
          Earth Cheit and The Fallen having common ground in their scriptures is therefore to be expected. Plus, I thought that Rain meant “Our universe has that too” when he said “We have it, too.” (As in, no reference to him still being one of The Fallen. Although you could read it like that, too.)

          1. Good call on a possible interpretation of Rain’s “we”, this may probably be it. Also I’m kicking myself for not making the connection at least to the Four Evangelists. It is also interesting that Tristan didn’t make this connection before Rain. His family is supposed to be very religious, but it looks like mostly slept through all of those those masses, and possibly some more formal religious education.

            Not that it doesn’t suit his personality. In fact I think it totally does.

          2. Alf,
            Tristan seems the type to like “family” rather than “the whole confessing your sins” bit.
            also, catholicism has always been lighter on “knowing all the bible” than protestant churches.

          3. At least where I live there is no practicing Catholic above some eight to nine years old who would not know about the relationship between the Four Evangelists and the bull, lion, human and eagle. At least I don’t remember ever meeting one, and I’ve met a lot, considering I’m from Poland.

          4. To be perfectly clear I don’t deny that Catholics generally don’t know the Bible well. It is the case in Poland too. It is just that at least in Poland this bit about the Four Evangelists is one of those things that every kid has to learn before they are allowed to receive their First Communion.

          5. Probably specifically these ones, Revelation 4:6-8

            6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

            In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

            “‘Holy, holy, holy

            is the Lord God Almighty,’[a]

            who was, and is, and is to come.”

            Revelation 6:1-8

            I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

            3 When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword.

            5 When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. 6 Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “Two pounds[a] of wheat for a day’s wages,[b] and six pounds[c] of barley for a day’s wages,[d] and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

            7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

  10. I love the way the Imp fight is written, confused the hell out of me at first with all those random line breaks. Nice to see the Ashleys fighting as a team, and even nicer to see their domestic squabbles. They’re adorable.

    As for someone trapped in a time loop…hmm, not sure who that could be if it’s not Jack. I remember Purity, Night, and Fog are all stuck in Grey Boy fields, right? That would fit with “closer to home”, but not sure why they would be divisive enough for Teacher to split with these mercenaries. In the grand scheme of things, the sad remnants of some neo-Nazi gang will hardly mean much. The other possibility is Dauntless, Alabaster, and that other guy, which would fit even better with Tt talking about home since they’re physically in Brockton Bay Bet, but again, why would they matter that much? Maybe these guys think they have some way to revive Mannequin and Crawler from their state of being turned into silicon from Bakuda-bombs? I was under the impression that they were actually dead for good. Those two would certainly be scarier to bring back, but I dunno. I can’t think of anyone else.

    1. I also don’t know, but I think that whatever is the reason, it is something bigger than just trying to get some extra parahuman muscle. I posted some ideas in one of my posts above based on an assumption that it may be March who wants one of those people out of the time trap or traps.

      One interesting thing to point out is that Tattletale mentioned both loops and stasis and “other fuckery like that” on top of it, so it may be both the time bouble in Brockton Bay and people like the Pure. It could also indicate a strong connection to the branch of the Fallen who worship Khonsu.

    2. If the Pure (especially Purity) get out of their loop, I wonder if they will go after Golem, or if they will want to blame only Taylor for Aster’s death. Looks like she may get another reason to never show her face outside Aleph.

  11. The Order members we’ve seen are themed off of a cherub. Cherubim have four heads, one of a man, one of an ox, one of a lion and one of an eagle.

  12. ” Trust me, I did that back in Brockton Bay for a bit. Kid hero and me, bit of romance? Got awkward when it ended.”

    And now we start the immediate shipping thread?
    Based on the fact that it was Brockton bay… presumably AFTER Regent died (probably?) and we have only seen Aisha take a serious interest in boys (with winding girls up, someone contradict me if I’m wrong)… assuming it was one of the wards that leaves…. Clockblocker, Kidwin and Weld?? (given time frame, and location)
    Could also be an offscreen character, but still….

    Anyone want to place bets? Either on one of these three or someone else?
    Not exactly expecting to get a reveal here, but still…

    1. I think we can write off Kid Win. Pretty sure he was seeing- or almost-seeing- Vista.

      I’ve got next to nothing to base that on, besides the fact she carried one of his tinkered pistols and she was absolutely distraught when he was killed. And also the fact that Vista and Imp got on quite well, which wouldn’t be guaranteed if they’d both dated the same boy.

        1. Kid Win died after the timeskip; she’d be 14 then. Kid Win was… I’m not sure. Older than Vista, younger than anyone else. He could have been 13 at Worm start, so that would be 15. Reasonable age to date Vista, or Imp who was (I think) 16 at this point. The wiki doesn’t have an age for him, either.

          1. I could also seeker beings patrolling, searching to see ifany portals endanger Taylor’s retirement.

      1. Is there any evidence he was dating Vista? I don’t think we saw anything looking like that.

        Clockblocker was graduating to the protectorate by the behemoth fight, and Weld would be in the same age bracket as him due to being in charge of the wards before him, so both of them would be too old to date an underage highschool girl. Vista and Toggle are both girls, and the word of God thread mentions that Imp is straight.

        That leaves kid win and crucible as possibilities, assuming there were no independent heroes in the bay. Of the two, my money is on crucible- the first time we see him he’s snarking at Taylor. Seems like the right type.

        1. None whatsoever. I don’t know, now, where the idea came to me from. But it’s an idea that’s been in my head for a good long while.

          It won’t be Weld, because he’s a Case 53, and too uptight to date a villain. Also, at that point he’d been leading the Irregulars for two years. That leaves, in the Brockton Bay Wards, Kid Win and Crucible. Crucible was quite new when they fought the SH9K, or at least hadn’t killed anyone before then, so it probably wasn’t him during the time skip. Hmm. It could have been Clockblocker during the time-skip, since he was still a Ward at that point, but he was quite cynical after Echidna and I don’t think Imp would have appreciated that. Also, he was closer in age to Skitter, so he’s probably too old for it to work.

          Imp and Kid Win kinda makes the most sense, but… I’m not sure a Tinker would trust a Stranger near their workshop. Just in case.

    2. Weld had left the Wards by then. To be honest, I kind of don’t believe her, but if it is real, idk, Crucible?

      (Vista wasn’t distraught, she was… very, very blank.)

      1. Remember when Tattletale admonished Parlance mentions that Parian should share ‘a few more intimate moments. Startling her. She followed upby saying that the Undersiders were quite accepting but none of them ‘batted for the othet team’.

    3. The only person I can think of is Tecton.

      Because if Imp was going to sleep with anybody, it’d be someone on Taylor’s Chicago Team.

      1. Yeah, but Law of Conservation of Detail typically states that it’s somebody mentioned already. And the only kid heroes that were mentioned are Wards, dead, or gay.

        Another good point is that she claimed she did it back in Brockton Bay, leaving the only real hero teams are New Wave and the Wards. The New Wave’s kids consisted of Panacea, Antares, Shielder, deceased during Leviathan, and Laserdream. So, unless it somehow managed to go unnoticed for an entire family team that Laserdream or Panacea and not make it back to Antares, then it’s most likely the Wards. The only other Wards that make sense to go back to Brockton Bay are the Chicago Wards, because Taylor. Golem was interested in Cuff, so we can eliminate those two. It really boils down to Wanton, Tecton, Clockblocker, Vista, Annex, Kid Win, Grace, and Mockshow.

        1. Ok, I know that I’m grasping at straws here, but what if some member of the Red Hand was originally a hero? By the way, maybe this is where Snuff popped out from?

  13. Is Cherish still alive in the pod? Is that considered stasis?

    But also who is dangerous enough that Teacher doesn’t want to deal with them but not as dangerous as Jack Slash?

    1. I didn’t consider Cherish, that’s a good idea. She could potentially be pretty scary if she was put back together, with her own power added to all the Butchers. As far as I know we don’t have confirmation whether she survived Scion’s strike near Brockton Bay though.

  14. Really the only one I can think of hitting close to home would be Taylor. Have someone restore her powers or even just the fact that’s she’s still kicking in a dimension cut off from the others… hell of a bargaining chip

    1. While I have thought for some time that Taylor could return in such way, I don’t feel it will happen at this moment. Those people are supposed to be going after loops and stasis, and not just “other fuckery like that”, and Taylor just doesn’t quite fit this picture. On top of it they are supposed to have split from Teacher, and if anyone would reach for Taylor in this way, I think it would be more likely Teacher himself than anyone else.

      1. There was a talk that Taylor is not actually safe and normal locked in another world with her dad, but is in a coma or a stasis and that epilogue was just her dreams or delusions. Contessa did whatever she did to her, but The Undersiders knew she wasn’t dead and if that theory is correct, Taylor was probably left in their care. But Contessa was still with Teacher after Gold Morning, so no wonder he knows about it too. He tried two or three times to brainwash her then when her mind was wonky and still failed. If he tries now it will really put the big target on him, even if he succeed it’s too big and deadly secret to keep, not only current enemies, but probably everyone… literally. Also the smallest slip up in control would spell doom for him and everything he is doing. So he turned to other means of controlling and amassing capes and prefers to let a disaster sleeps.

        1. I for one think that she is very much alive, and not in coma, mostly because Contessa’s apparently left him at some point, but either way I think if Teacher got her, he would have too much to lose, and too little to gain by trying to control her with his power. With her personality, and his paranoia he would have to either almost completely brainwash her to make sure, she would not act against him at some point, and that would just turn Undersiders from a serious obstacle to mortal enemies. At the same time he would be unable to use her intellect, and would leave her unable to use her power in a way that would really benefit him much.

          If she was in coma, and had her powers I still don’t think he would risk trying to teach her again. He failed it once, and a second failure could be catastrophic to him. I don’t think he can teach an unconscious, or possibly even unwilling person, or it doing it this way would probably be his standard way of doing it, and that means that to teach Taylor he would need to risk exposing himself to her power again.

          I think if he would capture her, he would either find a way to keep her contained in some cell, or try to use one of the Masters who work for him to control her indirectly (at leas at the beginning). I’m sure Valefor would be very eager to try considering the history he has with Taylor.

          1. Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. He doesn’t want her or need her, but this crazy Order might get some crazy ideas. They did split from Teacher over a disagreement, and that could be it.
            Depending on how serious or real you take this
            https://www.reddit.com/r/Parahumans/comments/363ww4/question_about_taylors_dad_spoilers/craj0yf/
            Taylor could be in some stasis, tinkery device or something and the Undersiders look after her, keeping her alive, maybe trying to find a way to fix her and her powers. I guess she is pretty well hidden and secured, maybe even with outside help, but moving her would be very hard or impossible (and stupid), especially if they are on the run.
            But this is all wishful thinking and I know we’ll probably not see her again and that whole thing is about something or someone else entirely.

          2. One more reason why I think Taylor really is on Aleph is that while with powers he could give to his students it should be trivial to keep her in coma, but having her dream dreams both as realistic and as calm as what happened in the epilogue would probably be impossible without some high level power, and I don’t think he has an access to a power he would need to do it. At least no proper capes who we know work with him seem to be people who could do it, and it is probably outside te ability of any legion of low powered tinkers and thinkers he could create.

            Of course there could be some cape we don’t know about involved, but I just don’t see Teacher organizing such cape just to give Taylor some sweet dreams. Especially not so soon after coming out from Birdcage that it would matter. Maybe Contessa would bother organizing something like that considering how she seems to feel about Taylor, but I think she probably would prefer to give Taylor real life instead of a simulated one.

            Trapping Taylor in such dreams would probably become even more complicated if she still had her full powers, because it would mean that her dreams, and the way she thought in them would probably be influenced by her Shard (and then their contents don’t seem to support this theory), and everything related to keeping her in coma, and influencing her dreams would have to be done from a distance, because of a risk of her power acting on its own.

            I also think that a proper stasis is completely out of question. If Taylor was in stasis, she couldn’t have any dreams or visions, so everything that we saw from her point of view in the epilogue, could not happen even in her head.

            Remember that the world of Parahumans is completely materialistic, so there can be no soul that could experience anything, while its body is out. The closest thing to a soul parahumans have is the imprint of their personality, and their memories they leave in their Shard, and I don’t see Teacher having a way to make Queen Administrator dream of anything in particular, especially not about a happy ever after in Aleph.

          3. Regarding link you posted.

            Ok, if Wildbow says Taylor’s trapped in her head than Taylor is trapped in her head. (Unless he is trolling us.) Still it must be one heck of a tinker device if it keeps her dreaming with so few oneiric elements thrown in. I honestly can’t think of a known tinker, who would be able to create something quite like that. Even Dragon seems to be not quite what this job would require. The only one I really caught was at the end of the epilogue, when it became more nightmarish, as she studied bullet holes in her head.

            Still if she is suspended by some sort of a machine it still may mean that she may be back some day in some way. Brain reconstruction Panacea-style, or artificial replacements of brain parts both seem within realm of possibility within world of parahumans. There is also a “resurrection via cloning”, and all of it’s variants (Bonesaw’s, Valkyrie’s, or Lab Rat’s), although probably none of us would like to see her “brought back” in this way, and I doubt Lisa, or other Taylor’s friends would go that route, considering that it would not really be Taylor anymore.

            Other people could do it, but what would they gain by it? Without Doormaker and Clarivoyant combo even with her full powers unlocked Taylor is probably not powerful enough to make it worth going through the hassle of creating her clone, connecting it to her Shard, and then controlling the resulting Taylor II. Not to mention that for the clone to have fully unlocked Taylor’s powers it would probably need to have exactly the same brain damage Amy gave to Taylor, and Contessa’s bullets probably made sure that it is impossible to recreate this state well enough. Not to mention that to do it you may need Taylor’s brain in exactly the same state it was (down to the same neutral connections) when Amy started her procedure, and that is impossible to obtain by simple cloning.

          4. Also flssdd if we consider Wildbow’s comment you linked to than there is one thing about it that doesn’t feel right:

            > Brain surgery with a bullet isn’t really possible, come on.

            Actually brain surgery with a bullet sort of is possible. A lot of early knowledge about what each regions of brain are responsible for comes from studying cases of soldiers who survived having their brains penetrated with bullets, and developed various disabilities as a result. The study was done by some Japanese doctor during Russo-Japanese war if I remember correctly. Of course nobody in our world could ensure that anyone could survive a bullet to the brain other than by pure luck, but I bet Contessa could do it. Then the rest could go just like Taylor described in the epilogue – bullets to the brain to disable her power, and a surgery to ensure that she survived, and that her powers stayed inactive.

            Sounds like a much simpler and easier solution than some tinker device that not only keeps Taylor alive (that part is easy), but also capable of experiencing realistic but false life. It is not only that creating such device would be difficult, but how would you ensure that it remains secure, powered and maintained over all of those years.

            Even assuming that Dragon could create something like this (and let’s face it – she is probably one of very few people who would even try), as far as we know she still can’t be at two places at once, so while she is out there playing a hero, there probably is no one to perform maintenance. It is not something she would leave for any other tinker, except possibly Defiant to do, and he is playing hero with her.

          5. Alfaryn, if this setting is completely materialistic, where is the inactive half of Capricorn? It isn’t connected to its assigned body, but rather it experiences all the sensations of its partner, in real time. What should we call a disembodied conscious entity, if not a “soul”?

          6. We know that there is a theory in the parahuman universe that “normal” bodies of most breakers get stored somewhere, when they enter their breaker state. Presumably inside their Shards, or in some place only they have access to. Remember that each Shard may even have entire universe at their disposal. It is a lot of space to store something, and with teleportation possible in the parahumans reality taking body away, and putting it back as needed is probably trivial for at least some Shards. Something similar is probably happening with the Capricorn too.

            The only thing we don’t know is whether the brain of the twin who is “gone” is still functioning, or if their minds are simulated by their shard then, and their brains appropriately modified before they are put back. Or maybe they are both completely brain dead, and both of their minds run in the shar at all times?

          7. Oh before I forget… I think it should be obvious, but in case some of you took my walls of text above too seriously for some reason, you may want to carefully examine the second Wildbow’s comment under the link flssdd posted.

          8. This whole discussion about Taylor’s fate made me think about how telepathy works in Parahumans. I don’t know if it has been discussed somewhere already, I’m relatively new to the fandom, and I don’t feel ready to dig through places like reddit, or WoG to look for answers, at least not yet, but here are my two questions slash theories.

            Number one. Did Khepri control humans, or did she control Shards using their parahumans as points of connection, and then using her control of the Shards to control the parahumans in turn? I’m not sure, but I don’t think she ever controlled a confirmed non-parahuman. The later would explain why she seemed to have such intuitive understanding of all powers in her range, and why at some point she started identifying people via their powers, and not the other way around. It would fit original Queen Administrator’s function. Ironically it would also mean, that if she was theoretically caught without her swarm, she could be easily defeated even in melee by some random Gilpatrick just like Jack was.

            Number two. Considering that in the epilogue Taylor’s mind seems to be free of her Shard’s influence, what if there is a structure in a human brain that is necessary to form a telepathic connection. It would be something different than Corona Polenta, which is responsible for controlling the comunication via presumably telepathic link between a Shard and a Parahuman, once the link is established. It would need to be a different structure since many telepathic effects work on all humans (even the ones without Corona Polentas) or on animals. What if sealing Taylor’s power involved removing or disabling this structure responsible for making telepathic connections? It would have a pseudo-power effect of making her immune to all telepathy-based effects. Possibly making some parahumans like Valefor, Relay, Imp, and maybe even Teacher and many more powerless when it comes to dealing with her. It could even be used to determine which powers, and to what extent are telepathic.

            Good theories, or too much like baseless plot hooks for fanfics.

          9. Also one of the things about certain capes like Noelle for example, seems to be that their powers seem to work even after total loss of their brains probably meaning that rhe regeneration works even when there is no telepathic connection between the Shard, and the parahuman.

            I wonder if this is a common feature of some capes (C53s or Cauldron capes for example), something unique to Noelle (that only her power kept working even after loss of telepathic connection) due to unique conditions of her trigger, or just a proof that I’m wrong about the telepathic nature of a link between parahumans and Shards, or Noelle’s nervous system has been extended elsewhere (to her lower body for example) to the point that she no longer needed her human head to maintain a link to her power.

          10. In fact maybe Cauldron capes are usually more stable, and display physical changes more often precisely because their Shards are dead, and as such can’t form telepathic connotations with their hosts (they no longer have minds to make proper telepathic connections with).

  15. > Tattletale heaved out a sigh. She waved Imp forward.

    > Imp met Rain halfway. She handed over two feathers, and he took them back to hand to Kenzie.

    A bit of a typo there, but Imp is supposed to be blind

    1. Not necessarily. She could be using one of the Heartbroken to help. The one who linked Aiden and the others in his interlude, maybe. Link Imp to one of the others, Tattletale or Snuff, or somebody else, and she can navigate using other people to keep track of where she is. Might not work with her power on, or maybe it will bypass her power. Or Rain could have walked over and she heard him approach and he said something softly to help ease the transition.

      1. Or she simply was already at the point where she saw some general shapes, enough to see Rain up close well enough to give him the feathers without colliding wit him in the process. Also one of the Palaquin capes, who were with her could just give her a nudge at the moment Tattletale gave a signal, so she knew when to start moving.

        Remember that plenty of people had described Taylor as “blind” when she could barely see any shapes after being injured by Coil’s bomb. Imp may have been in a similar shape.

  16. Point of view on fighting Imp, and then the smols successfully force Tattletale and Antares to cooperate? Thank you wildbow, this was an excellent Christmas present.

    1. On the topic of Christmas presents, some time ago I wondered how much Victoria changed in the apparent after she took it over from Ashley. I don’t know if it was intentional on Wildbow’s part, or if he even saw that comment, but it looks like I got my wish at least a little:

      Bathroom, first bedroom that included my office with the papers strewn everywhere, the second bedroom that belonged to Ashley, the storage room that still had Ashley’s furniture in it, from where I’d moved it in to make room for my things… all clear.

      Looks like Victoria moved a fair amount of furniture at least.

      On the topic of fight against Imp, it was nice to see how her new arm impaired Imp’s power in combat. Imagine how bad it would be for her would be victims if she still had her whole body intact. It is also disturbing to have it pretty much confirmed that the arm wasn’t something custom made for her, but repurposed Frankenstein-style. Let’s hope nobody had to die to get it or something like that.

      1. Dear Imp, we know how much you love Taylor and we know youwant to be just as badness, but losing an arm and ending up blind is overdoing it. What’s next? A head injury?

          1. As long as it is not a series of lobotomies, including at least one done with a gun, she should be just fine.

          2. By the way isn’t it strange that one more thing Victoria and Lisa would probably agree about is that if Aisha ever has a choice between a lobotomy involving a gun, and one involving Amy, she should probably choose the gun?

          3. Ok, maybe not choose the gun, but at least seriously consider it. Much lower chance of fate worse than death or something along those lines.

  17. So Imp was sneaking in and being bad and stealing a gift… In a chapter released on Christmas… This calls for a song.

    You’re a mean one, Ms Imp
    You really are a heel,
    You’re as cuddly as Trainwreck, you’re as charming as Skidmark, Ms Imp,
    You’re a bad aunt with a hairy mans arm!

    You’re a monster, Ms Imp,
    Your heart’s an empty hole,
    Your brain is full of spiders, you have garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch,
    I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot Tinkertech pole!

    You’re a foul one, Ms. Imp,
    You have termites in your smile,
    You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick Crawler Ms Imp,
    Given a choice between the two of you’d take the seasick Crawler!

  18. Something else that occurs to me is how very stupid this action was on the Undersiders part. Remember that their was an attack on Breakthrough, and especially Kenzie not that long ago. To keep them from investigating an attack on other heroes that left them in pieces. One could very easily get the wrong idea here. And the Undersiders are having enough trouble as is, since they literally got chased out of their own town. Right now they need allies, and if Imp doesn’t think they could figure out it was her… Well she should have left the feathers if that was the case. They should be thankful that Victoria is on the “Let’s work together” train with Aiden.

    1. I’m not entirely sure it was what you would call an Undersiders action. Imp has always been a bit of a loose cannon, I wouldn’t be surprised if she acted on her own without consulting with Tattletale first.

      1. I think if Lisa would be calling the shots, she would go for a less physical, direct approach, and she would probably know that pouring water into Kenzie’s camera would not accomplish much, and if she even considered it, she would make it a lower priority than getting rid of Victoria’s files.

        1. Of course I could be wrong, and the camera was just a target of opportunity, while Imp’s first attack would be aimed primarily at the copies of the files in Kenzie’s computer. This is a sequence of attacks that Tattletale could go for, but I still don’t think she would send Imp to do the job, especially considering Imp’s current condition. On top of it, I don’t think she would tell Imp to use water – too high risk that the data would stay intact. Just grabbing Kenzie’s hard disk, or even entire computer, and then trashing it as soon as possible would be a much better way to go about it.

  19. So I maybe nuts, but I swear I remember Dean being one of the people who got time stopped during the Leviathan fight. Maybe I’m just wrong, but I’m usually pretty good at rememberring this stuff since I read Worm once a year.

    1. You’re wrong. Gallant was seriously injured and died of wounds whilst Glory Girl looked for Panacea, who was healing Skitter’s broken back at the time.

      Which was a pity, because Gallant wanted to tell GG about Panacea’s impending emotional breakdown, since nobody else had a power that could pick up on it (except Tattletale, but, y’know, Tattletale), and if Skitter’s back wasn’t broken, or if she wasn’t panicking at the time, then maybe Panacea could have saved Gallant and the Wretch would have never happened.

      1. Didn’t Victoria say that Gallant was alive in like a coma for a couple days before dying? Pretty sure the implication was that Amy was intentionally avoiding Victoria long enough for Dean to die. Though that might have been Victoria jumping to the worst possibility because of her thing with Amy.

        1. I don’t think that fits Amy’s mental state at the time. This was when she was in love with Victoria, but before she’d affected Vicky’s brain. Amy at that point has no reason to avoid Victoria, and Amy at that point has no interest in killing somebody deliberately- and that’s what she’d have done, if she’d been deliberately avoiding Victoria. And if she’d been avoiding Vicky for a few days, she’d have found out that Dean was dying and needed her help. And she would have tried to save him, because a) that’s her job; b) he loves Vicky, and she loves him back, and she wants Vicky happy; c) he’s a hero and she’s got a black-and-white view of morality.

  20. We all knew this would get ugly when Kenzie mentioned that she was asked to leave her Tinker stuff behind. At least she had the Flash Gun, but still, when will they learn?

  21. Ironically, trying to get everyone working together keeps getting everyone fighting each other.
    Administrator and its offshoots are the most depressing shards around.

    1. Well, it is probably just Shards being Shards. They need to ensure continued conflict somehow, and Queen Administrator has always seemed rather heavy handed about it. Just see how it made Taylor interpret her surroundings right after Scion’s death.

    2. What happens at the start of every hero crossover? The two hero parties fight, then they agree to truce so they can take down the real baddies. And those heroes don’t have the shards and the conflict drive as excuses for their behavior, unlike Wormverse capes. This is only different in how dang long it took for the confrontation and the truce to happen.

  22. It’s been a good long time since we’ve had an Imp fight. Seems it’s even more confusing to fight against her than alongside her.

  23. Ooh, interesting! Sorry I’m a bit late. I didn’t get an email about this chapter (been a while since that happened) and then I was busy.

    Does anyone have any theories on what happened to the feathers and the files and stuff? I mean, where did the gasoline come from? Is there a cape who can make gasoline from a distance?

    (Seriously though, it took me embarrassingly long to realise what the section breaks signified, then I got to go back and reread much of the chapter with proper context.)

    1. A cape who can misplace your stuff, grab you in a confusing manner, and create gasoline from a distance? That sounds like the work of the The Gaslighter. Victoria and Ashley will rue the day they spurned his love!

  24. Something I’ve been thinking about: Is it just me, or is Rain acting a little different lately? Is his personality changing whenever he offs part of his cluster? Like, are the parts of them that were shuffled to him being removed, and when all’s said and done he’ll just be the Fallen kid again? Or is he just getting more confident now that his power isn’t the worst of everything?

    Did Vicky notice how much stronger his doubt aura was recently, or how he made tentacles instead of hands that time? Did they notice that his ‘good days’ have been better lately than they used to be? Or about how his cluster’s powers are shuffling around even without the rules Tattletale explained?

    Rain actually worries me, because the way his cluster works seems so far removed from anything else we’ve seen. I almost get the impression his shard is actively working toward some kind of agenda.

    1. I can think about a few other possible explanations for his apparent power-up.

      Some powers generally increase in utility as their parahumans experiment with them, or engage in more conflict or situations similar to their triggers. We could see it with Taylor in Worm, same could be happening to Rain.

      Distribution of powers could have changed because the team made Love Lost mistrust Cradle by suggesting that he is working with March to rob her of her power. It may mean that they no longer work together as much as they can to keep their powers specifically from him. It may be possible that if everyone tries to keep their main power a bit more of those powers leak to other members than if everyone else is cooperating to keep just one person with as little power as possible.

      Tinker powers generally seem to get better with more tinkering, and even more as if tinkers can exchange their ideas. Rain did a lot of both recently.

      Snag’s share of powers could be distributed equally among surviving members, as their Shards (I’m not sure, but I think clusters get as many Shards as there are original members of the clusters) no longer need to spare some of those powers for his use.

      That said your explanations can also be true. At least their Shards (or whatever is in the part of the room that has always been dark) do seem to play a more complicated game with members of this cluster than it is the case with most capes.

      1. I’m think there may be important clues to Rain cluster’s situation all over the descriptions of their dreams. The last scene of interlude 5.y seems particularly relevant, especially this last bit:

        The lights went off, the barrier went down, and he gained something of an understanding of what, not who, was in the fifth space, that had been between his and the Fallen boy’s.

        With that knowledge, he slipped into dreams of a different sort, knowing that even if they paused or were broken up by visits to the room, there would never be an end to them.

        1. A lot about this cluster can probably be explained by what is in that darkened corner. I think it may be something different than what Rain suspected (remember he thought that it was a person, who triggered with them, and died soon after). Considering that everyone in the cluster still has access to mover powers derived from Snag’s, and that it seems there never was a fifth power in the cluster, I think that whatever is in that part of the room that was always dark, it never was a parahuman.

          On top of it it seems telling that we never saw any scene from that dreamscape after the one when Snag died, and Rain never really explained in detail what has changed there since that day. There could be some important changes, he doesn’t want to talk about. If Snags dreams are interrupted by visits of the others, can they see him, or communicate with him there? Did he tell them what is in the space that was always dark? Is this the reason why Rain is so tight-lipped about his dreams? What is he not telling his team (or at least Victoria), and why?

          1. Another question. How did Snag appear in the dreamscape in interlude 5.y, if he was dead? Was that just a simulation of his personality run by his Shard for example? From Scion’s interlude back in Worm, we know that Shards gather data about their capes. S9000, Chris and Ciara’s power all seem to indicate that this data includes personality of their capes. Ciara’s power seems to indicate that at least her Shard can simulate a behavior of those personalities without physical bodies of those parahumans. Is this also the case with Snag’s Shard?

            We also know that Shards can apparently share at least memories of their capes with each other. It isn’t even limited to Faerie Queen, which seems to be intended for this purpose, since Ashley has some of Edict’s memories. Just how common is this comunication between Shards? Which shards participate in it? Can all participating Shards communicate with each other, or are some limits? For example can only Shards belonging to the same Entities can communicate with each other without some special means? We know that at least the Faerie Queen seems to be able to gather data from any Shards, or at least from the Warrior Entity and the Thinker Entity. The Shard Jack has also seems like it may be special in this regard (since Warrior used it to communicate with the Thinker). Queen Administrator may also be another special case.

            If Shards can simulate capes’ personalities, their minds, is it possible that Taylor is dead, and her point of view in the epilogue of Worm is just a simulation run by Queen Administrator or Faerie Queen for example? Or maybe the entire Parahumans universe is some sort of virtual reality?

          2. The key bit is the “what, not who”. That makes it obvious that the fifth member of the cluster isn’t a human. So what is it? The mall. Being lit on fire and forced to watch all those people die within its halls caused it to trigger. Now it’s a paramall with the power to create the cluster’s dreamspace, and the weaker spin-off version of its power is what the cluster uses to visit it each night. After all, what is a mall if not a place to meet with people and exchange tokens representing power?

          3. Considering that the whole trigger happened during the Fallen raid, maybe it is an Endbringer hiding in that dark place? How would Mama Mathers if it turned out that Rain and his cluster were chosen by Simurgh for example? Does Ziz has enough sense of humor (or another motive) to do something like that?

          4. “How would Mama Mathers REACT if it turned out[…]” of course. Maybe she already knew, considering how much attention she devoted to Rain’s situation?

          5. Considering that it all has to do with dreams, maybe it is Sleeper? Would Sleeper qualify as “it”, not “he” or “she”?

          6. Maybe Sleeper is called Sleeper because they trap other people in their dreams? Maybe the Heroes never bothered going after the Sleeper because Sleeper technically never kills anyone, just makes entire Earths fall into sleep, dreaming realistic dreams? Maybe this is what Taylor experienced in the epilepsy of Worm, and why Lisa pays attention to Sleeper? Maybe Rain’s cluster is Sleeper’s foothold on Gimel?

  25. Simply amazed by how Viatoria handled this whole situation. If I were in her place, my reaction would be “we’ve just reached a sort of agreement, and now you burn our house down?! fuck you three times over! guess that’s what we get from dealing with villains”. And what does she do instead? *Offers some intel to them*, and negotiates about Kenzie/Aiden friendship in the first place… Just wow.

    By the way, I wonder if I’m not the only one who didn’t get an email notification for this chapter. Initially I thought that there was no chapter due to Wildbow taking a Christmas break, but now I suspect there was some other reason. Err, what was it again…

  26. From my vantage point, more used to this kind of scene, I could see Kenzie raise a hand to give Damsel a little wave, and I could see Damsel smile. When Damsel turned to go help Ashley, I saw the bed-head, a lick of hair at the back and the side that was pressed down.
    I was pretty sure Natalie didn’t see that.

    Could someone explain what is meant here, please?
    Specifically “bed-head, a lick of hair at the back and the side that was pressed down”.

    1. “Bed-head” is when your hair is messy from sleeping. Victoria is saying that Damsel’s hair is slightly out of place on the side and back, suggesting that she was asleep recently.

        1. I think it is supposed to be a detail showing her humanity, in contrast to the scary claws and stuff Victoria thought that Natalie was noticing.

  27. When is Tattlechen ever going to learn that she can’t keep provoking people that are potential enemies?
    Like, at some point when she does passive aggressive comments like that to someone who she is negotiating with, the person she’s talking to should just get to the point, ask for a yes or no answer and when Tattle tries to talk around it again or insult, the negotiator should just get up and leave, so that Tattle has to beg for another meeting or for the negotiator to stay.
    She can’t keep getting away with riding on people’s good will during conversations.

    1. > She can’t keep getting away with riding on people’s good will during conversations.

      That’s like saying that Skitter can’t keep getting away with covering herself in dangerous insects. It would normally be true, but superpowers change the equation. In Tattletale’s case, her power gives her insight into how much needling she can get away with before things go wrong. It fails on occasion (Jack Slash) but mostly works out fine.

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