Blinding – 11.6

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It had been a long, long time since I’d fought with any musical accompaniment.  Glory Girl had worn headphones for a little while, to fill the silence while she patrolled, and because she hadn’t been one to have a back and forth with the small fries she was taking down.

Mom had put a stop to that.  Situational awareness was too important, she’d said.

Now, the music box chiming came from nowhere, and the dull heartbeat thud was a percussive element overlapping that.  Other sounds creeped in, but it sounded like they were mostly aboveground.  It didn’t quite come together as a complete musical piece, but that gave it more effect, not less.

Situational awareness was in full effect now.

“Don’t touch the walls,” I said, as we hurried down the storm drain’s tunnel.  About two hundred feet ahead of us, there was a section that was open to the air, where the upper half of the drain hadn’t been laid in yet.  The mist that Nursery’s power generated was coming in hard, rose-tinted and distorting the surroundings.  Where it was heaviest, especially around that open air, it was rewriting things.  Curved walls became hallways with straight walls perpendicular to floor.  Water with a paper-thin sheet of ice atop it simply terminated, not flowing into the lower ground where there was no water.  Just stopping.

“It’s not an illusion?” Parian asked.

“No.  Localized reality overwrite.  Reality works differently in her nursery-space.  Don’t touch the walls, don’t touch the floor where it’s fully changed.  And if we run into her, remember that area-effect powers don’t tend to work in the rewritten area.”

“I don’t know if my powers are area-effect,” Precipice said.

“Mine either,” Candy said.

“Let’s not fight her on her turf and hope we don’t have to test it.  Parian, can your snake be a bridge where the effect is most intense?”

“Yeah.  I can handle that… but I’m really wondering what happens if we touch the walls or floor?” Parian asked.

“Hopefully nothing.  But I’ve read reports of bad things happening when people got stuck in her shaker effect when it’s most intense.”


I looked back at Candy and Aroa.  “I don’t want to scare you guys.”

“Our daddy gave us fear for breakfast,” Candy said.  “I was so young I’m not sure I would have even been in school then-”

“You would have.  Definitely,” Chastity cut in.

“Okay, but I don’t remember much from those days, and I remember getting chocolate frosted fear bombs for breakfast-”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Aroa cut in.

“Stop interrupting!  Sacrament!  It’s metaphor!”

“It’s dumb,” Aroa said.

“What are you saying, and is it important?” I asked.

“Daddy made me scared when he wanted me to stay out of his room, he made me as happy as a little girl getting a puppy on Christmas morning when he needed me to clean up some baby barf tout de suite…”

My skin crawled.

“…I don’t remember much, but I remember those moments.  Don’t look down on me,” the girl finished.  She was still jogging along the side of the column, periodically slipping where the sloped wall on either side of the water was icier or slimy.  Chastity was fully in the water, and whatever contention the sisters had, Chastity was there to support her younger sister and keep her from outright falling into the damp.

“Fine.  As the power saturates a place, containers will fill with her power.  If containers don’t exist, they’ll appear on their own.  One thing that can happen is that you touch a wall and your hand goes through it like it would go through wet paper, and there’s something living on the other side.”

“Or the floor.  You said we have to watch the floor,” Parian said.

“Yeah, but there isn’t much we can do about that,” I said.  “The way powers tend to prioritize things, walls will be a problem before floors are.”

“How do you know that?” Parian asked.

“Studies,” I said.  “PRT research.  Classes.  There’s a whole mess of research into why people like Shadow Stalker from our hometown didn’t fall through the floor to the planet’s core.”

Precipice was typing on his phone while using it for light.  He aimed it at the floor, nearly tripping as he kicked a bit of ice crust on the top of the water that others hadn’t already broken up.  Chastity caught him.

Before straightening, he aimed his phone at the ground.  I could see that he’d modified it, with a chunk of what looked like battery with wire wrapped around it mounted on the top.

“Scanning?” I asked, quiet.

“Trying.  I used Lookout’s numbers as a model.  Our- that other tinker’s scanner we found earlier, I looked at that too.  But it’s mostly noise, I don’t know how to use it yet.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re right,” he said.  “Walls are more intense than floor.”

“Good to know,” I said, my expression serious.  I put a hand on Parian’s shoulder as I passed her.  “It’s probably going to be a little while before we need to worry about stepping into a hole.  Let’s get out of here before it’s a real problem.”

“Good plan,” she said.

I nodded.  I flew ahead.  As tense and borderline sick as I felt, my gorge not in my throat but definitely ready to go there, I felt a bit happy that my little bit of cape knowledge from a paper I’d skimmed years ago had been relevant and validated here.

Feeling sick with mixed feelings did provoke another thought.

“Candy talking about emotions is reminding me,” I said, fibbing about the source.  “Precipice?  We need to figure out how you’re handling your power in a fight.  Friendly fire.”

“Ah.  Shit.”

“Last few times, it’s been a problem.  Nothing big enough it’s changed the outcome, but it came close.  Sorry to bring it up here, but-”

“But if you didn’t you might forget, or it might change things now.  It’s fine.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I can take my lumps.  It’s about all I’m good for, a lot of the time.”

“You’ve got a lot of good points,” I said.  “Don’t undersell yourself.”

“What’s the power?” Chastity asked.

“Shame and regret thing.  I’ve been meaning to figure it out, so I’ve been trying to use it more often.”

The music box sounds were fading, but the thudding was heavier.  I wasn’t sure how to interpret it, but there was enough of a distinction in play that I was pretty sure there was a pattern to be deciphered.

“You used it at the hospital,” Candy said.

“Yeah, on its lowest setting.  I thought it might help make you guys go away,” he said.  He was holding his phone up to the wall as he jogged by it, the top and bottom thirds of the screen filled with numbers, the middle section showing a graph.  “Sorry.”

“Apologize when your power actually does something.  You used that emotion power on us.”

“I’m trying to figure it out,” he said.

“Let’s stay focused,” I said.  “We’re close to the hole, so keep your voices down.”

“Right,” Precipice said.

“We’ll figure your thing out,” I told Precipice.  “When things are calmer.”

“I’m happy to help,” Chastity said.

“Uh, sure.  Thank you,” he replied.

We edged closer to the place where the drain was empty.  The mist was flowing down from the street above, and the entire area had changed.  No ice, no water, just walls with peeling wallpaper, floor that might have been hardwood, and scattered children’s blocks.

Parian’s snake slithered past us, the knotted material sloshing through water and ice on its way to the area, then scraping against the floor, depositing moisture on the surface.

As we drew nearer, ready to move across it, the walls pressed in.  They were wallpapered, but there wasn’t any wall behind the wallpaper.  Something fat and wet like a tongue pressed in, moisture blotting out to color the surface as it bulged.  The thudding from behind the walls was evident in how the fleshy bulge throbbed.

All with one singular heartbeat.

Foil had her rapier out, pointed at it but not penetrating, while the others hurried forward.  Precipice was one of the last to cross.  He held up his scanner, aimed at the bulge, then passed his hand between scanner and bulge.  He startled a bit.

“Go,” I hissed the word.

He wasted no time.

The thudding from behind was mixed up with added impacts as Lord of Loss touched down somewhere not too far away.

We hurried down the drain tunnel, putting the effect behind us.

“Lord of Loss is close,” I whispered, as I floated to catch up with the group  I saw Foil and Chastity look back at me.  “Familiar with him?”

“Shapeshifting breaker,” Foil said.  “Big, brutish.”

“Repeated motions are more effective,” I said.

“That’s always the case,” Chastity said.  “Find what works and keep doing that.”

“It’s more the case for him, I assume,” Precipice said.

“He’s got size on his side too,” Chastity said.

Precipice turned his head, giving her a long look.  Chastity’s face was barely visible, with none of the flashlights aimed directly at it, but I could see the smile.

“We’re close to the first building that we thought might be theirs,” Precipice said.  “If we’re going aboveground, we should do it further down the street here.  There might be a side tunnel.”

“Good,” I said.  “Nice work, keeping an eye on that.”

“Lookout’s stuff, not mine,” he said.

“You did figure something out with your stuff, didn’t you?” I asked.  “Your scanner picked something up.”

He turned to look at me.  He nearly tripped a second later, but Chastity put a hand to his shoulder.

“Yeah,” he said.  He raised his phone, and tapped the screen with his thumb.  The feed of numbers and movement of the graph changed, changing from red on a black background to yellow, instead.  He scrolled, and the readings went backward in time, flowing the opposite way, tinted green as they did.

“Means nothing to me,” I said.

“There’s something haptic in there.  Sense-sharing, binding biology, not all that different from what I do with the tactile feedback pads.”

“Yeah.  Parasites.”

“The tongue in the wall infects you?” he asked, with a note of alarm in his voice.

“Oh my god,” Parian said.

“Yuck,” Candy said.

“Basically infection,” I said, trying to sound as casual as ‘infection’ warranted. “Sure.”

“She’s lying,” Candy said.

Fucking fucker emotion readers.  The ones who weren’t Dean sucked.  I shot Candy a look, and Precipice noticed.

“What the hell, Antares?” Precipice asked.  “I need accurate info for my scans.”

“Fine.  We’ll talk about it later.  Your scans don’t matter until we get back to your workshop anyway, right?  It’s not like you’re calibrating anything in the field.”

He was a grim kind of silent as he jogged along.

The tinkling music box chimes had come to an outright stop.  The thudding persisted, but it was more general and dull than it had been.  Less of a sound like someone banging against the walls, less of a heartbeat, and more of a distant pounding.

Not that we had walls here, per se.  The storm drain was a concrete tube with iced-over water in the bottom tenth of it, and a whole lot of dirt and pavement in the area immediately around it.

“Assimilation?” Precipice asked.

“No,” I said.  “Can we drop it?  Let’s hide out, figure out what we’re doing, figure out which of the teams is being targeted, and then mobilize.  Hopefully without ever having to deal with Nursery again.”

“Is it a lotophage thing?  Pulling people into a specific, themed dream state?”

“Fuck me, Precipice,” I said.  “You can’t let it go?”

“I’m stubborn.  It’s the only thing I really have going for me.  Knowing would help me interpret my scans.  I can potentially use this!”

“Then, again, I’ll explain when we’re back at your workshop.”

Foil cleared her throat.  “I’d like to know.”

“It would help to counter it,” Parian said.

I didn’t want to talk about it because it bothered me.  I didn’t want to picture what it involved.  That gorge was closer to being in my throat now, to the point it hurt to swallow.

“Not assimilate, not exactly infect.  Not… whatever you just said.”

“Lotophage.  Lotus Eaters?  The Odyssey?”  Precipice suggested.

“I never read the Odyssey.  Only got what came up in adaptations,” I said.  I paused.  “Impregnate.”

“Uh what the fuck?” Precipice asked.

“That’s the theme,” I said.  “Close to infect, really, but-”

What the fuck?” he asked.

“I”m not good with the ick,” Foil said.  “The Dolltown victims were almost too much for me.  Parian knows.  I’d always prefer riding Parian’s dolls instead of Bitch’s dogs.”

“Wouldn’t anyone?” I asked.

“Not Bitch.  Not a few other people, believe it or not.”

“You asked, now you know,” I said.  “We won’t let it get that far.”

“How far does it get, worst case?” Precipice asked.

“Surgery,” I said.  “To stop the cycle.  Get everything out of your system.  But she doesn’t like taking things that far so she holds back, I think.  Authorities came after her in her apartment at one point and one guy got it bad.  She got away because people were trying to help him.”

“Fuck me,” Precipice said.

“Absolument,” Chastity added.

“I’m a little scared now, not going to lie,” Candy said.

“We’ll stay clear,” I said.

“We’re close to the house,” Precipice said.  He pointed.

He paused, after pointing, then created a blade of silvery light.


“No,” he said.  “Just realizing I’m an idiot.  Just realized my blades shed more light than my phone.”

“Not idiotic,” I said.  “There’s always a learning curve.  And you’ve got more powers to figure out than most.”

Precipice led the way, venturing down a side-tunnel with a much steeper incline.  There was no water or ice on the underside of the tunnel, which was a nice upside, but I did have to position myself to keep others from sliding or falling.

Precipice checked his phone, then looked back at me, his blade a hair away from the wall.

Quiet, I asked, “Chastity, can your body sense detect people?”

“Not much further away from arm’s reach,” Chastity whispered.

“Okay,” I said.  “Candy, the lie sense, that doesn’t have any application here, figuring out if anyone’s above us?”

Candy snorted.

“She doesn’t have a lie sense,” Chastity said.  “She has a hallucination power.  We went over our powers.”

“I just called you a liar,” Candy said, gleefully.  “You seemed a bit hesitant so I tried it, and it totally worked.”

Aroa put out a hand and Candy slapped it in a little high five.

I clenched a fist.

“Roll with it,” Foil said.  “You won’t win, it’s not worth the fight.  You can’t discipline them, you just… guide.”

Chastity was nodding, even though she was one of them.

“You got me,” I said.

“Yep,” Candy said.

“Emotion powers usually have some feedback aspect to them, or emotion reading.”

“Often,” she said.  “Not me.”

“Okay.  Because you said yours was emotionally charged hallucinations, if I remember right.”

“I have a certain amount of juice that refills over time.  I can push it into people… can’t dodge it, can’t stop it.  Makes you see, hear, feel, taste what you like most in the world, except it maps to everything.  Makes you sick of it, really fast.  If I push in a lot of juice then it’s a lot of seeing things and hearing things, tasting things and feeling things, and it takes forever to go away.  By the time it does, you’ll never go back to liking that thing.”

“Or person,” Aroa said.  “Or food, or experience.”

“Nathan wouldn’t let me play with his game consoles, said they weren’t for girls and girls should stick to fucking, having babies, cooking, and cleaning.  I hit him with a full tank of juice because.  For five days he was living his video games, and now, after, he can’t even look at a screen or touch a control, even for tv and tv remotes.”

“He can’t do much now,” Aroa said.

“That’s his own fault, and it’s not all me.  But I don’t get to see whatever it is.  I just know they’re juiced and I can tell where they are because I can feel the ‘juice’ while it’s stirring in someone else.”

“Which isn’t actually juice,” Chastity said.  “Energy.”

“Yeah,” Candy said.  “Alien too-much-happy stuff.”

“Don’t use a full tank on anyone here, okay?  No matter how dire the situation is.  No permanent effects,” I said.

“Can’t anyway.  If I’m full up then I start brimming over and affecting people around me.  I wouldn’t do that to my cousins or anyone like Chicken Little or Lookout,” Candy said.  “I find people to dose.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to think too much about what that would look like.  “You couldn’t push some juice up into the space above us and see if it hits anyone?”

“Good idea, but no.”

I pulled up the disc, then turned it on.  The distortion wasn’t what it had been.  Less bad.  People were intact and moving.  Both groups were in a hurry.  The image distorted here and there, fluctuating.

My phone had no service.  We checked with Precipice sending me a text.  Again, there was too much distortion.

“Nursery’s effect is still here.  I think that’s why we’re having trouble connecting to the rest of the world,” Precipice said.

“She was here earlier, then,” Foil said.

“Or close by.”  I drew in a breath.  “I can’t imagine them staying put here while the others are on the move.  Three active teams converging on one point.  Let’s get up there and see if there’s anything.  It could be an empty house, the occupants could be out there looking for us.  Let’s go  Let’s make a hole and be ready for a fight.”

“Got it,” Precipice said.

The blade touched the wall.  A square of silver light was marked out.

I punched it, Wretch active, then flew to the side.

It came down in pieces, the concrete pipe wall, then the gravel and compacted dirt above it.  I could see the wood and plastic-covered insulation where the exterior wall of the house was.

I signaled, made sure the other heroes were with me, then flew forward, busting through.  I moved quickly, as soon as I was through.  To wall, then another wall, floor.  Hallway, another room.

The place was occupied.  I saw sleeping bags.  I saw food.  A pile of construction supplies had been made into a makeshift desk.

Footsteps behind me.  Foil.  Precipice was right by her, heading another direction, blades glowing in his hands.

We fanned out through the house.  Empty.

Precipice, Foil and I found ourselves in an upstairs room that had most likely intended to be an office.  We chose it not because it was central, but because it was undeniably Love Lost’s space.

On one of the desks, a series of bars, rods, and blades were arranged, laid out on paper with lines scratched out in something that looked halfway between an engineering blueprint and calligraphy.  The layout made it clear what the assembled package would be.  One of Love Lost’s claws.  It looked like the claws were meant to extend into whips, which would go from razor thin to being fifty or a hundred ring-shaped razor segments compacted together into a covering over each finger.

There were computers, I noted.  There were planners.  I paged through one planner.

“Careful,” Foil said, as Precipice opened one laptop.  “Tinker means traps.”

“It’s true,” I said.

“I can scan,” he said.  “No guarantees, but it might turn up something.”

I nodded.

He slid the laptop closer to me, pulling out his phone.  He attached the bulky scanner over the open socket where the camera had been torn out.

He swept it over the computer.  I watched as he went over the entire room, periodically going back to Love Lost’s gauntlet.  He typed something out, then held out the phone.  It beeped as it swept over the gauntlet.

“How do you distinguish a trap from regular tech?” I asked.

“She’s working from a similar starting place to me,” Precipice said.  “If I see something like what she makes, it should stand out like… a word in English in a jumble of random characters.”

“Traps can be mundane,” Foil said.  She used a dart to penetrate a locked cabinet that was part of the desk, then stood as far away as possible, using her sword to open it.


She approached the area with the laptop.  Precipice put out a hand.

He brought his phone to the computer.  As he did, it beeped.

He rummaged for a bit before finding an attachment at the side.  A fake side panel.  When he pulled it away, needles spilled out.  I wasn’t sure exactly how it was supposed to work, but it looked ominous.  They were barbed.

“Oh,” Foil said.

“Seems like the kind of thing she would protect,” he said.

He gave the room a once-over.  Foil fidgeted.

“Let us work here,” Precipice said.  “You focus on downstairs.  Take my phone?  Check for traps.  If it beeps, call me.”

Foil nodded.

I let the laptop Precipice had opened boot up.  It showed a login screen.

“Password protected,” I said.  “Do you have a hacking thing like Lookout does?”

“No,” Precipice said.  “Try… Father’s daughter two-zero-closing parentheses-number-sign.  Chevron instead of space, no apostrophe, capital F, capital D, capitalize all vowels.”

I typed it out.


I showed him.  He nodded.  I hit enter… and nothing.

“A checkered scarf for Ever.  Capitalize each word, all vowels.  No spaces this time-”

“Are you sure you don’t want to do this?”

“Let me finish the sweep.  Try in the meantime, if that’s ok.  Or leave it, and I’ll get to the computer.”

“I think this OS sends an alert to your phone if you get a certain number wrong.”

“She sets it to alert her phone if someone gets one wrong.  It’s fine.  If we pull her away from whatever she’s doing and get lost before she turns up, that’s good, right?”

I nodded.

He walked me through the next password.


The computer hung.

The OS came up.  Immediately, I set to work.  I brought up the wheel menu, went to the browser, and opened it up.

“There’s a password vault,” I said.  “I need a single password to get things to auto-fill.”

Rain took over.

“I saw her on this computer in some of the dreams.   Before our trigger.  She still has it.  She doesn’t look at her hands while typing, but I can feel what she types.  After a couple of days of doing research with Erin and getting practice typing myself, it started clicking,” he said.

“Muscle memory.”

“Her muscles.  Kind of.  I could figure out what she was typing, the characters came into my head.  She likes the long ones for things she wants to keep secure.  The checkered scarf one is long, so this might be even longer.  We could bring it with us instead of stumbling through.”

I pointed at the bottom-layer wheel.  There was an icon.

“Location tracker.  That can be worked around,” Precipice said.  “Flip some switches, wrap it in tinfoil…”

“I’d feel better just not worrying about it,” I told him.  “Can you?”

“I can try.”

He tried four variants, using no spaces, then chevrons instead of spaces, then moving on to another phrase.

While he worked, I checked the disc.  The scenes were distorted, but it wasn’t as bad as before.  I could make out figures reasonably well, enough to tell something from body language.

Yellow team was scrambling, but they didn’t look like they were running for their lives.  Nobody limped, nobody was shouting, and when they came to a stop, they did so collectively.  They would be the ones closest to Cradle, if things weren’t more mixed up than I was assuming.  Tattletale was talking, and Chicken Little was nodding, hanging on her every word.  They set to running again.

Red team was looking more stressed out, but they were doing less.  They weren’t running.  If anything, I imagined them hunkered down in a fortified area.  Swansong turned her head to shout something.

The issue was that it was a thirty minute trip to get to either of the other groups, assuming my team drove.  I could fly there in a shorter time.  The question was what I could do to help in the now, that might help them enough that they could last another thirty minutes.

The password manager lit up.  There was a list of everything the password manager had unlocked, except Love Lost used code or a shorthand only she understood.  Leather, leash, quartz, catclaw, pitch, pigeon.

Quartz drew my attention, because it looked like there were six quartzes, running from Quartz00 to Quartz05.

I right-clicked it and found a ‘go to location’ option.  I hit it.

The folder it took me to had a ‘read first’ file, describing the program it was meant to be used with.  The six quartz files were six halves of encryption keys for six drives that were supposed to be plugged in.

I rummaged and I found them.  A case beneath a set of screwdrivers.  Opening it up, I saw a set of small storage drives, each in a brushed aluminum case, with a single cord laid out in the middle of the package, for connecting the drives to a computer.

That wasn’t what was especially important right now.  I put it aside.  Leather… family albums.  Photos.  I didn’t want to browse, this wasn’t a priority either, but I saw one photo highlighted because there was a preview in the sidebar.  A red haired woman with a red haired daughter, an Asian man with a shaved head and a cigarette perched in his mouth.  There were others of her with friends or family members.  Of her on a beach.  Of her in a uniform, receiving an award.

A real person.  A person with a past.  I shivered.

It bothered me more than it should have.  I didn’t want to betray secret identities quite like this.  But lives were at risk.  People were crossing lines, chopping human beings to pieces and letting them suffer.

Leash was the location tracker.  Having the admin password let me open it.  While it was on, I could see where Love Lost’s other tech was.  Her phone was on her person, and her person was… very close to Ashley’s group.

I sent a warning.

“We could pack up,” Precipice said.  “Disable it.”

“It looks like disabling the location tracker means neither device knows where the other is.  There’s no way to control it so we’re off but we can watch her.”


“Let me work a second more.  There has to be something we can do to alleviate the pressure on the others,” I said.

“I trust you,” he said.

Catclaw: tinker notes, scans, files, images.  Villain stuff.  There were communiques there.  Nothing we could use for the current situation.

Pitch.  An online wallet.  Thirteen thousand dollars sat in the account.  A transaction list showed a long list of transactions with nothing identifying the recipients or reasons.  Only amounts.

Just a matter of hours ago, sixty thousand had been moved from her account elsewhere.  Twelve thousand to one account.  Twenty-eight thousand to another.  Ten thousand to one account, ten thousand to the same account the twenty-eight had gone to.

Each entry had a set of options by them.

I moused over, looked over my shoulder, and saw that Foil and Precipice were behind me looking over my shoulder.

“Yes?” I asked.  “Any objection?”

“I don’t know if it’s going to do what you think it will,” Foil said.  “But sure.”

I hit ‘contest’.  A bubble came up with a list of options around the radial.

“Service not rendered,” I said, as I selected the option.

“You think it’s the mercenaries she paid for?” Precipice asked.

“And I’m guessing escrow,” I said.  “To go through when the job is confirmed done.”

“That makes sense,” he said.  He looked at the numbers.  “Being a villain pays.”

“Considering it?” I asked, trying to sound casual, as tense as the overall situation was, as not-casual as the possibility of him turning to the wrong side might be.

“No,” he said.  “It costs too.”

I nodded.

I went down the page and contested everything.  I was twelve options down before I was redirected to another page.

Account suspended.

“That might tie up her ability to act for a bit,” I said.  “And maybe it’ll give mercenaries out there in the field second thoughts.”

“Scary,” Foil said.  “I’m going to go check on Parian and the Heartbroken.  I came up to tell you we already found cash and weapons.”

“Good,” I said, but she was already leaving.  I looked at Precipice.  “I have a guess what pigeon is.”

I opened it up.

An encrypted email client.

There were already three warnings in the inbox about the online wallet.  I looked at the most recent exchanges.

“Ryan,” I said.  I opened it.

A back and forth about mercenaries, apportioning cash.  Who paid what ratio.  Love Lost had done the fundraising, ‘Ryan’ was doing other things behind the scenes.  A ‘Jonathan’ was mentioned in passing.

A lot of talk of ‘nights’.  Whose night it was.  A room.  Precipice.

I looked over at Precipice.

“Yeah,” he said.

Communiques with Lord of Loss.

I am happy to do this level of work because I trust you. A job done is reputation.  \ ._. /
Get the job done get the pay build rapport. (E >_<)E   ~(L o L ~)
My thinker has a good feeling about this :->D

“Wow,” I whispered.  “That’s more horrifying than Nursery’s power.”

“No kidding,” Precipice said.

Nursery was at least somewhat sane.

I sent Lord of Loss and Nursery messages.  I had to check Love Lost’s typing style before crafting it.


There was a pause.

If they called, demanding answers, then there wasn’t much we could do.  But if they didn’t, it was a potential chance to take two capes out of the equation.

There were already two angry emails from mercenaries.  One was Lionwing.  The other was an encrypted handle.  Apparently their accounts had been frozen by my interference with Love Lost’s.

That seemed like an oversight to me, but the economy was a fragile and nascent, and what they were working with looked like a system built upon layers of trust.

A third angry email.  Contender.  My enemy with his personalized, no-powers arena.

I paged through quickly.  I had to go back a week to find it – the anti-parahuman group.  Love Lost had correspondence with them, setting up a meeting.  Twice, she asked them to meet in person, and she was rebuffed.  They didn’t want to meet a dangerous parahuman, even if they were armed.

Which meant the Lyme center, the anti-parahumans having weapons, and a few other terms.

It meant Love Lost told them her objectives.


“She can’t,” Precipice said.  “I don’t see it.  I can’t envision her if she isn’t brimming with rage.”

“Who’s the second parahuman who needs to die?” I asked.

Precipice shook his head, but he didn’t respond.


“It’s possible.”

I scrolled down.  From [email protected], a simple question:

How can we trust you will go?


“The city is lost,” I said.  “She said this four days ago?”

Another message from ‘Driskey’.

Why do you think the city is lost?  You sound mad.


That was all there was.

“Fuck me,” Precipice said.

“You’re saying that a lot.”

“Fuck a lot of this.”

I nodded.

Nothing I could use.  No sign the anti-parahuman groups were  in play – if they were, we’d have to deal with them.

But it was something.

I looked around and I found paper.  I scribbled down a note.

“What are you doing?” Precipice asked.

“A note.  We have her family photos on this computer.  I know you and her are at odds.  I know she’s threatened your life.  But I don’t want to play it that way.  Take illicit money?  Screw up her deals with murderous mercenaries?  Fine.  But if she wants the photos, I’ll send them to her.  They aren’t hostage.  They aren’t part of a deal.”

There was a pause while I scribbled it out.  Precipice was silent.  I underlined ‘not hostage’ on my note.

“Is that okay?” I asked.

Precipice nodded.

I penned out a final line.  I said it out loud as I wrote it, “We want… to talk.  Breakthrough.”

I underlined it.  The willingness to talk, to communicate.  If we couldn’t get there, then there was a very real possibility that Love Lost was on our shortlist of people to trap in an alternate world, not disclosing to anyone what we’d done with her.

Just… too angry.  Too violent.  Even in talking about rest, she talked about guns and claiming her corner.  She talked about being mad.  She thought she could take thugs like Sidepiece and Kitchen Sink and drag them off to a corner world, where they wouldn’t bother anyone, and she could wrangle them there?

I just… didn’t see it.  We’d have to talk it over with others.  Try talking to her first, to see if any middle ground was possible.

I closed the laptop and took the cords.  There was a messenger bag that we could slide it into, along with the other things, including the storage drives.  Precipice took the claw-whip framework that was meant to fit over a hand.

“It’s not set up with location detection?”

“Nothing my scanner sensed.  Maybe there’s a ping it responds to, but for right now I think we’re okay to bring it.  It’ll be useful.”

I nodded.  I’d trust him in this.  This thing with Love Lost, the cluster, and the dynamic, I knew he was well versed in it.

“Are we good to go?” I asked, as we headed down the stairs.  I paused as I saw the cash that was gathered in bags.  The pile covered a countertop that could have had three medium-sized microwaves set side by side.  A mix of currencies.

There were, I noted, three traps. Two had the barbed needles.  The other had something like a spring-coiled version of the claw-lash that Precipice had stolen.  All three had been demolished.  Foil’s power, it looked like, stabbed through and fusing to the internal components, before the shelf or drawer was removed.

“Fuck me, being a villain pays,” Precipice said.

“It really does,” Chastity said, winking at him.

“There are villains who build rep by doing something big,” I said.  “Go after a big hero and win, pull off a major job.  They have ups and downs, but the ups are big.  The Undersiders are an example.”

“Fair,” Parian said.  She was in the kitchen, rooting through cabinets.  There were bricks of drugs wrapped in plastic, most no bigger than a clenched fist.

“Heartbreaker would be one of those,” Chastity said.  She packed up the cash, filling bags.  Precipice went to help her.  “He had some low lows.”

“Yeah,” I answered.  “The other kind of rep is the kind that comes with the record.  Having done fifty jobs and not having any losses under your belt.  Lord of Loss is one of those.  He doesn’t take big jobs, but he doesn’t have anything he’s done that counts as a fuck up.”

“Why not make him fuck up?” Aroa asked.

“Because not everyone can make people do things, hon,” Chastity said.  “We’re kind of unique because most of us can do that.”

“Some heroes specialize in that,” I told Aroa.  “Mouse Protector was an early one that I think stuck in people’s memories.  Ruining perfect records, humiliating villains, knocking them down a peg.  Making their reputation the thing that gets hurt.  She was a good one.”

“Dead?” Candy asked.  I couldn’t even see where she was.

“Disappeared… for a good while.  Turned out the Slaughterhouse Nine got her.”

“Love Lost has that reputation.  She’s good,” Precipice said.  “Commands more pay, I’m guessing.”

“Yeah.  Are we taking all of this?”

“Free money,” Candy said, peering over the pile of cash to look at me.  “And I finally get to try… cocaine?”

“Something opiate,” Chastity said.  “The plastic isn’t like our plastic, either.”

“I get to try opium!”

I looked at Parian, who shook her head.

“Don’t take the bait,” she said.  She was using a roll of cloth at her back as an overlarge arm, raising herself up, moving around, and checking cabinets.  She was finding a good quantity of stuff that had been stored on top shelves, all the way at the back.

Taking the cash and taking the drugs was a way of gutting Love Lost’s revenue stream.

I backed off, pulling up the disc to check the status of the other groups.

Bodies in pieces.  It still made my heart skip a beat.

It was… oddly intense, as far as distortion went.  Why?

As the others worked, I held out my arm, the disc mounted on it like a buckler.  The projected image of team yellow was visible over top, everyone drawn in miniature.

I floated back, and the distortion eased up a fraction.  I could see where disparate pieces were drawing together into something more coherent, between flickers.  I tried to find the place where the signal strength was best.

The others seemed okay, at least.

I heard a beep.  Foil moved Precipice’s phone in front of cabinets, trying to figure out where the trap was.

“Careful,” Precipice said.

Foil raised her rapier, then pointed it at the cabinet.  She let Precipice take his phone and move it around.  When he’d confirmed her target was in the right location, she thrust her sword through.

Five spikes punched through the wood of the cabinet, each a foot long.

Foil’s sword shimmered slightly as she tugged it free.  With a few short swipes up and down, left and right, she demolished the trap.  Spikes that were four feet long tumbled to the counter, then the ground.

The cabinet was open.  There was a miniature filing cabinet inside, partially damaged by the rapier’s swipes.  While Chastity helped Foil take it down, Parian took the phone and started sweeping over the fridge.

I don’t think I’d be comfortable stealing food, I thought.

I was even less comfortable with the distortion.

“Is the distortion in this image not Nursery?” I asked.  I indicated the projected images.

“I thought it was,” Precipice said.

I shook my head.

I moved the disc around more.  This time, my aim was on finding the area with the most distortion.

A triangular closet beneath the stairs.

“Quiet!” I hissed.

All of the rustling and packing up stopped.

There it was.  A dull thud.  Like the heartbeat of someone catatonic, as large as the house.

Precipice raised a hand, touching his ear.  I nodded.

He heard it too.

“Didn’t realize there was a closet there,” Foil said.  “Suddenly glad I didn’t, because I might have opened it.”

“Is she here?” Candy whispered.

No mist, no rose color, no changes to the environment I could see.

“Can’t be,” I said, whispering so I wouldn’t disturb what was inside.  “No, as near as I can figure, the chiming means she’s doing her work, setting her power into an area.  The dull thuds mean the power’s there, active.”

I backed away from the closet.

“So long after she left?” Foil asked.

The door was shut.  Nothing leaked out- no gas, no fluids.

“It’s sealed tight.  The seal is keeping the power inside the containing space,” I said.  “Don’t-”

The fridge door, ajar, opened with enough force that it banged into the wall.  What lunged out was far larger than the space that contained it.  A tongue but with elbows segmenting it.  A length was covered in transparent skin, and the contents looked like a collection of babies, visible as shadows through a translucent skin.

Parian fended it off with cloth.  It grabbed the cloth, then surged- not moving forward, but by growing new segments in a strategic way.  It caught her around the face.

“No!” Foil shrieked.  She leaped over the counter, rapier in hand.  She was slower than Chastity.

Chastity’s hand glowed as she slapped the base of the tongue, close to the fridge.  Nothing.

“It doesn’t feel anything!”

“Then get back!”

I flew in, keeping to the ceiling so I didn’t get in anyone’s way.  Parian was pressed against the wall, her legs kicking, heels skidding against painted surface.  Her cloth and hands found no purchase, pulling away loose tissues like layers of placental sac.

Foil’s weapon severed the creature.  I caught Parian, one arm around her body, the other hand seizing her jaw, hard, because there had to be three hundred pounds of mass latched on, and if that fell to the ground in the wrong way, it would have snapped her neck.

Either way, the landing was violent enough that a trap in a cabinet we hadn’t yet reached snapped to life, punching spikes through a door.

My grip shifted to a two-handed grip on Parian’s head, fighting as the Nursery-beast flopped around violently, like a snake with its head cut off.  It maintained its grip, and Parian’s body was arching under me, fighting violently.

I could have thrown up, just being near this, knowing what was happening.  The fact I couldn’t bring myself to inhale or exhale, or to do anything except strain was maybe the only thing that kept me from vomiting.

Foil slashed the thing that was flopping around, cutting it in half, meaning I no longer had to worry about one wrong flop snapping Parian’s neck or tearing her head off.

I allowed myself to look.  What had Foil been doing?  Dealing with the stump that had been trying to crawl from the fridge.  Rain had that now.

The task at hand changed.  I made room for Rain as we gathered around Parian.  It took two of us to pry it away from her face.  Three to heave it back, to pull out the strings and knots of flesh that filled Parian’s nose and mouth.

At her ear, a tiny umbilical cord threaded to a calloused, quarter-sized lump of flesh with a nascent leg attached.  At her nose, a hand was extended from a nostril, fingers twitching.

Parian’s fingers went to her throat.  Gesturing.  I couldn’t even see her eyes because her mask had been pulled ajar.  I couldn’t use a hand to move, because I barely had a grip on the fleshy growth as it was.

Braided and branching umbilical cords.  Parian gagged as Foil and I pulled.

“I can cut it,” Foil said.

Don’t.  What’s left inside will set root,” I told her.

The gagging got worse.  Parian’s fingers at her own throat curled into claws, and the efforts to pull were getting harder.

There was blood.  We were tearing her throat.

The grub we pulled out had to be four pounds.  Proportioned like a baby.

The others came easier.  A string, seemingly endless.  The children apparently set to grow to size in turn, to emerge in a steady cycle.  Once we had the three largest free, Parian could breathe again.

There was a heavy thud outside.

Lord of Loss.

The tiny hand at Parian’s nostril tried to maintain a grip before it was pulled backward, inside.  Down through sinuses, to the back of her mouth, and out the mouth.  One of the last parts to come out.

Parian flopped over, so her face was aimed at the ground.  Foil held her, fumbling for a short bit of bandage from her belt that Parian could hold to her nose- blood was streaming out.  Every breath came with gags.

She was breathing, but I could barely bring myself to.

“We’d better leave,” Aroa said, weirdly casual and disconnected.

“I can carry her,” I said.

Foil shook her head.  She got in position, and with me giving her a helping hand, lifted up Parian, holding her in both hands.

Around us, the area was filling with the dusky rose gas.  Intense, now.  More than I’d seen it before.

She’d sensed us cutting it up.

Chastity and Precipice hefted bags.  Money and drugs.

“Drop them if they slow us down,” I said.

Precipice nodded.

We hurried to the back door.  We stopped as Lord of Loss touched a limb of overlapping white strips down by the surface.

Other door.

An impact marked him touching down there too.  It was followed by him clawing at the door, pulling it free of the frame.

We backed away, past the closet door.  Toward the center of the house.

“She’s not paying you, you know,” I said.  “Matter of principle for a mercenary, not to work for free.”

He smiled, not giving me a response.  Nothing in him faltered or showed any sign he was second guessing things.  There was only resolve.  Professionalism.

His parahuman allies, that were standing in the background?  From Earth N?  They would follow him.  Nothing there would hesitate.

Nor Nursery, who stood in the background with the other soldiers.  She stared at us from behind the holes in her cloth mask, and the music box plinked the most intense tune I’d heard of it, the dusky rose gas filling our neighborhood.

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144 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.6”

  1. Hey look, weird Nursery babies.

    Also, Candy could make a tinker hate their inventions and making them. Sounds like something that could be useful right now…

    1. Candy has a lot of long term usage’s for her power. Got an addiction? She can fix that. Want to make someone who loves fighting give it up and be a pacifist? She can help with that. Of course there is the issue of the several days of doing it like crazy first, and getting through that.

      1. I can’t imagine doing all the drugs for five days straight counts as a long-term solution. Or leaves much of a long-term after, for that matter.

        1. Well it is just hallucinations, it’s not real. So as long as you can mentally take whatever is thrown at you, you should be fine.

      2. It won’t be actually doing it like crazy for several days, it would be hallucinating that everything surrounding you has become it. So, no need to get through several days of crazy fighting and no doing all the drugs for five days straight. But there’s still a possibility that a fight-loving guy loves something else more, and that’s what he’ll hate after the experience (and then he’ll come to whoever has done it to him, wanting to fight even more than ever).

          1. No, she doesn’t even know what her target’s visions will involve.

            > But I don’t get to see whatever it is. I just know they’re juiced and I can tell where they are because I can feel the ‘juice’ while it’s stirring in someone else.

          2. So could it be a proximity thing, then? Whatever they like/love that’s closest to them is what gets targeted?

      3. Also the risk of collateral damage. Is curing addiction worth the risk of hating your family, your dream job, your favorite books, etc?

  2. Well fuck if that isn’t one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever read. Here I thought Nursery was Silent Hill inspired, but instead we have a mashup of Silent Hill packed with Xenomorphs.

    1. Joke’s going to be on her once people start suing for paternity. That’ll teach her to go around impregnating them.

    1. I”m
      (E >_<)E ~(L o L ~)
      -extra line break within emoticon

      Which meant the Lyme center,
      -I think center was capitalized in the past


      were in play
      -double space

      The fridge door, ajar, opened with enough force that it banged into the wall.
      -The fridge wasn't ajar yet though. They were checking it for traps.

      and the music box plinked the most intense tune I’d heard of it,
      -from it?

      1. I’m pretty sure the fridge was booby-trapped (well, impregnating-tongue-trapped) and opened when they all focused on that other closet instead.

    2. “catch up with the group I saw Foil”
      “Let’s go Let’s make a hole”
      Missing punctuation.

      “Shapeshifting breaker,”
      “A checkered scarf for Ever.”

      “made sure the other heroes were with me,”
      Not enough heroes… there’s only Precipice.

    3. No sign the anti-parahuman groups were in play – if they were, we’d have to deal with them.

      Extra space between ‘were’ and ‘in’.

      1. Hm… For some reason the extra space was cut from my report above. It is in the chapter text however.

    4. Before our trigger. She still has it. (“She still has it” seems redundant)
      ‘contest’. > ‘contest.’
      economy was a fragile and nascent > economy was fragile and nascent
      Nothing there would hesitate. (should this be “No one”?)

  3. Rain is now fighting a impregnating eldritch abomination and a guy who is proven to be bigger than him in the sheets with a gadget from his human experimentated and experimenter former best friend.

    Being Rain is suffering.

  4. Wildbow my man, french here, it’s not tout de suite it’s tout suite and it’s not ‘absolument’ but ‘absolutement’

    1. I don’t know what happened but the opposite of what I wrote appeared.
      so yeah the correct words are ‘tout de suite’ and ‘absolument’

      1. ‘Tout suite’, sometimes ‘toot sweet’, is an English phrase heartlessly stolen from the original French and altered to fit the English language. Not sure about absolument, however- my British English spellchecker isn’t recognising it as a word.

        1. tout de suite means ‘right now’ in fr, absolument is absolutely.

          unless wildbow meant what you said this is normally the correct form.
          Heartbreaker was from Quebec IIRC, it’s not surprising his kids would speak fr.

          1. Tout suite means right now, in a ‘hurry up’ sense. At least it does here in the UK. So the meaning hasn’t changed there.

          2. The elision of ‘de’ comes from the pronounciation – the final ‘t’ in “tout” is silent, so it should be “too deh sweet” (approximately), but speaking fast the ‘de’ tends to be shortened and hardened from a ‘d’ into a ‘t’ sound.
            Which ends up sounding like “toot“.

        2. What does British English have to do with anything? WB is Canadian but I believe not French Canadian, and the typical stereotype is that he would know a bit of French but makes mistakes, and he would know French Canadians swear with religious words. All as expected.

          1. Because I’m British and familiar with the phrase ‘tout suite’, so I was querying the necessity of it being a mistake that needed pointing out. Particularly since the individual questioning it was French and might not have known an altered version of the phrase had migrated into English. And also because as I’ve never hopped the pond, I don’t know what phrases are uniquely British and what I share with those in Canada and the US.

      2. A mysterious ninja has simply ‘visited’ your post. Do not attempt to correct the situation, else further shenanigans may ensue.

        1. So they are basically queuing to get a piece of meat? Looks like food rationing in the City is on, with usual consequences.

          1. Good that we’ve just seen a power in action which could help with generating meat. No time to be too picky with food…

          2. Let’s be glad that ultimately Gimel.US is not a “proper” communist country, and having such power won’t mean poor Nursery will go to jail for private ownership of means of food production.

          3. Still maybe Victoria’s group should think twice before grabbing this meat? If there is food rationing system in place, wouldn’t taking it be basically equivalent to obtaining it on a black market?

          4. Spit it out Parian! Spit all of it out! You will go to prison if you won’t do your best to do it!

          5. Ommmm nom nom don’t you think I’m trying my best already? And if anyone asks, I’ll confirm that you tried your best not to eat that slice over there…okay? nomm…

          6. Why don’t you just stand in the same queue as Erin, Chastity and Victoria instead? I heard that kind of meat is mostly safe (with certain precautions) and legal?

            Parian, Foil? Why are you looking at me like that? Is there something on my face?

          7. (Hm… Why do their looks make me feel that I’ll need an appointment with doctor Bonesaw for some reason?)

          8. (Oh, well… I’m sure my good friend Spright can explain it to me. I think he mentioned one time that he has some sort of personal experience with these sort of situations.)

          9. *watches the meat dubiously* Better we go to jail for eating illegal meat than illegal meat goes to jail for eating us…
            *notices bags of cash on a countertop* Wow, Foil, look at these! Now we can hire Nursery for our team, and wander off together having all the meat we ever need, for eating or otherwise…err, I mean, we can help our people, or whatever…

  5. – Well. I thought Monokeros was the worst but no, Nursery is the worst. Fuuuuuuuuuck
    – can’t believe I didn’t think of this. Rain needs to intern with the Heartbroken! Who better to train him on how to use his seemingly shitty guilt aura?
    – Rain’s blaster power is a lot more useful and potent than he gives himself credit for. Glad he and Victoria are starting to realize that.
    – seriously, Nursery is like an unholy combination of Breed, Night Hag and Labyrinth.
    – actually, calling that combination unholy is redundant

  6. They say a grown man using too many emojis is more terrifying than Nursery’s power and her power’s response is to immediately burst out of the closet and knock a lesbian up by punching her in the face, right in front of her girlfriend. 1 point for style, minus a million for good taste.

    I wish that reference didn’t contain taste.

    1. Nursery’s the adoption alternative nobody wanted, especially considered that she apparently knocks up guys too.

    1. Why, seriously? That’s weird… What’s not to like about her?!

      //and you get the prize for phrasing it in the mildest way I think is even possible:))

  7. Nursery: So horrific, she scares people fed fear for breakfast!

    She’s awesome and I see the link between her and Brooding Anger now. Not a power anyone would want, but since when has anybody gotten the power they wanted?

    1. The previous chapter seemed keen on convincing us she’s psyching herself up to admit that LoL needs to get BoB’d. She has Rain at hand who can work as an Ashley replacement in a pinch?

      1. Convincing Foil and Parian to go along with it probably won’t be too hard either after the tounge thing.

        1. It’s probably gonna be harder to convince Foil to NOT use lethal force on Nursery than it is to convince her to use lethal force on them

  8. Well, this felt very Silent Hills/PT throughout, right down to the fridge holding a bloody mess of a trap.

    I hope Parian gets out of this okay.

    In other news, Snag’s ghost may be a sign of LL cracking up, given that he probably communicates to her in the vision room, and Cradle and Precipice are there with her always. They’d notice if she was talking to someone, wouldn’t they?

    (But also: neat trick with the screwing LL’s Mercnet account up)

    1. Right as he was dying, Snag kinda regretted the whole murder-Rain-at-all-cost plan. So it’s probably not Snag or an echo of him, just something that uses his face or voice to get her riled up.
      It looks like the shard is making sure its cluster’s dynamic remains fully foxtrotted.

      1. Snag isn’t telling her to murder Rain though. He’s telling her to get away from the city.

    2. I think it’s more she’s paying more attention to Snag then Rain and Cradle rather than her trying to communicate with Snag. Like lip-reading.

      1. Not sure that’d work, since his portion went all dark and shadowy like the empty partition. Rain and Cradle think it’s empty, like the other one.

        1. I’m not sure if Rain and Cradle continue to think this way. One thing I noticed is that Rain seemed very quiet about what is happening in his dreamscape ever since Snag died. Far more than he was before.

          1. On the other hand if I remember correctly Snag’s space in the dreamscape is between Love Lost’s and the dark one. In interlude 5.y Cradle said he had problems hearing Snag. Maybe at this point only Love Lost and whatever is in the fifth space can hear Snag, while Cradle and Rain remain ignorant of danger Snag can see? It is not like Love Lost can just repeat what Snag told her, and if she will write a warning after waking up, she won’t address it to Rain, only Cradle.

          2. From interlude 4b:

            Cradle found the coins, gripped them in one hand, and slammed the hand against the invisible barrier that separated his section from Snag’s.

            Looks like I misremembered the layout of the dreamscape. If it is only a question of distance than Cradle should have no more problems hearing Snag than Love Lost does.

            I will need to figure out the sitting arrangements there. As Kenzie says – sitting arrangements are important. It is entirely possible tat it applies to the dreamscape as well.

          3. It is not like they chose those places, but considering that during trigger events powers try to understand their parahumans and manifest in a way reflecting that understanding, there may be some deeper meaning in who ended up next to who in the dreamscape.

    3. If LL is not cracking up, it looks more and more likely that the dreamscape is what holds “the greatest threat” first clearly mentioned in Valkyrie’s interlude (I think).

  9. 1. Knowing her power, I wonder if “Candy” is a name she took at some point after Heartbreaker’s death, as a reference to drugs Coil gave Dinah.

    2. I wonder if the “Dinah Alcott: compromised? Shift of motives?” from 10.z could mean that someone has started giving Dinah “candy” again? Or would it be too easy for Tattletale’s power not to point out?

    3. Looks like it is confirmed that Victoria’s method of dealing with too dangerous capes involves sending them to another world(s):

    If we couldn’t get there, then there was a very real possibility that Love Lost was on our shortlist of people to trap in an alternate world, not disclosing to anyone what we’d done with her.

    4. It also looks like my hunch about whatever’s in Rain’s dreamscape being “the greatest threat” seems even more likely now:


    5. Last chapter I speculated if Parian will need to accept Bonesaw’s help to heal her family members. Now, after what Nursery did, it looks more like Parian herself may need Bonesaw to save her own life. What is next? Will Foil become pregnant with Nursery’s pseudo-children? Do those children carry DNA March needs for her power leeching?

    1. 6. You know what Victoria?

      “She’s not paying you, you know,” I said. “Matter of principle for a mercenary, not to work for free.”

      It sounds pretty weak considering that they most likely found you because Love Lost just told them on the phone that someone is trying to break into her computer.

      1. Even if LL called them and said the cancellation wasn’t her, CAN she pay them now? Her bank account is frozen and her cash stolen.

        1. Considering that it wasn’t Love Lost’s fault, a professional muscle would still deliver the service, and wait for Love Lost’s accounts to be reactivated. Also, LoL and Nursery may still be able to recover the cash, which (depending on how much of it is there) could be used to pay them.

          1. That probably required some careful negotiations, offering a better price, proving that they can’t just take that money from her, and give it back to Coil in hopes for a bonus, AND figuring out which mercenaries would be more willing to betray Coil than her (remember that Tattletale managed to ‘turn’ only some of them).

            Probably not something that Victoria can do, especially since LoL and Nursery need to take more care of their reputation than Coil’s mercs did. Coil’s people were anonymous enough that they could probably easily find a new job in a new town (where probably nobody would recognize them as people who betrayed Coil) once Tattletale stopped working with them, and many of them probably did just that. If known capes with distinctive powers (like LoL or Nursery) did that, they would have a problem finding anyone who would like to hire them in the future. Getting a bit of easy money from Victoria now is not worth losing prospects of future employment.

        2. Well. That seems like a good reason to not let Victoria steal the cash and the computer, rather than a reason to back off.

          1. They don’t need to steal the cash to do it. Destroying it would yield the same result. As for the computer, I think there is a good chance, that loosing it would at best only delay LLs access to her accounts a bit more. At this point it seems valuable to the heroes mostly as a source of intel.

      2. There was some discussion about whether you comment too much, so please allow me (a long-time reader, first-time comment writer) the chance to chime in using this as an example. I don’t think you should feel bad if you comment too much, but perhaps it would be a good exercise to take a deep breath after reading a chapter, wait an hour, and re-read the chapter again before commenting? For instance, the text has the sentence “[Nursery]’d sensed us cutting [the fridge tongue] up” that does a solid job explaining how they got detected, and thus it obviates the need for this particular comment of yours.

        I apologize for making a somewhat mean-spirited comment myself. I used to like reading readers’ theories/speculations below WB’s stories, even if there were hundreds of comments. But recently I find myself having to scroll past walls of posts of the above kind.

        1. Don’t feel bad about pointing out, that I comment too much. I realized I have this problem a long time ago, and I’m trying to work on it.

          As for your example, I’m not sure just how much Nursery knows about what’s happening in space modified by her power, so maybe she can’t use it to detect intruders. On the other hand we know from this chapter that Love Lost gets a message whenever someone fails to enter a correct password to her computer, so she could rise an alarm at thet point.

          Considering that Victoria took time to examine Love Lost’s laptop after successfully logging in, we can expect that Lord of Loss and Nursery know about Victoria’s group whereabouts for at least a few minutes (something that would not be the case if Nursery only learned about their presence at the moment you described). This means LoL and Nursery probably had enough time to coordinate with the armed people around to organize a proper ambush before revealing themselves – something they couldn’t do if they learned where Victoria is the way you described.

    2. Re. 5. No, I’m not forgetting Precipice as a possible target for Nursery. It may not fit “let’s force Parian to ask Bonesaw for help” plot, but if those pseudo-babies indeed can carry DNA for purposes of power leeching, going after Precipice may be exactly what Love Lost or Cradle would ask Nursery to do.

    3. 7. Could it be that by “REST” Love Lost means suicide? Sounds like a likely course of action after her vengeance is complete. I know LL suggested leaving to some corner world, but if she is so constantly restless, and if she is so certain that the City is lost, she may be planning to end herself. It doesn’t feel like she has any aim in life besides revenge left anyway.

        1. It would be an ethical use if she ever turns hero, but I’d suppose right now it’s more in character for her just to find some random unsuspecting victim.

          1. If someone’s addicted to a drug, they maybe not like it as much as something else- classical dancing, maybe. Then they remain addicted, but are forever off classical dancing.

            Also, it depends on the dose. She might just dose off five seconds of power to lots of people to empty the bucket. Five seconds of emotionally charged hallucination in a place where people are going to have fun- a circus, say- and people might not even realise the power’s been used… Unless they hallucinate five seconds of their favourite TV show, or something.

          2. @T.T.O.

            Being a villain doesn’t need to mean that everything you do is unethical. Not to mention that if she was officially recognized as a hero, someone worried about law or public opinion could protest against what basically amounts to a child performing an experimental drug therapy. It is probably easier to offer such therapy in secret, as a villain. Such approach would probably also fit the way Undersiders run things in New Brockton.

            @Earl of Purple

            How do you know that? We don’t know that much about how specifically Candy’s power affects brain long-term, not to mention that as far as I know some mechanisms of addiction are still a subject of research and controversy among scientists. There is even a theory (though I don’t know how serious) that basically anything pleasant, people do habitually – even as innocent things as reading books, or dancing can become, and often is a minor form of addiction, and addiction therapy should focus on forming such “harmless” addictions to prevent or reduce effects of more “harmful” ones (like drug addictions, alcoholism or basically any compulsive behavior that is harmful or disruptive to addict’s life).

          3. Not all addicts take drugs for fun. Doctor Gregory House, from the eponymous American medical drama, is addicted to Vicodin. Not because he enjoys taking the painkiller, or because he likes the feelings it induces- he became addicted because he has chronic pain. I don’t have any personal experience, but those who take drugs often start to try and escape a desperate or unpleasant situation, and then find the addiction dragging them deeper into that situation.

            In that case, if they realise this, they don’t enjoy being an addict, maybe they don’t even enjoy taking the drugs any more, but they’re still psychologically dependent upon the drugs and can’t stop themselves from taking them. Doctor House’s most favourite thing is puzzle solving; it’s why he’s a doctor, and specifically a diagnostician. He solves problems other doctors can’t. I don’t think Candy would hit him in the Vicodin addiction.

            Or to put it in another way, I’m making it up as I go along, but it makes sense to me.

          4. I also have no personal experience or solid knowledge on the topic, so I mostly make it up, however I would expect that with between various drugs and mechanisms of addiction, “Candy therapy” could be effective in some cases and useless, counterproductive or otherwise harmful in many others. Just one more reason why Candy probably shouldn’t advertise it too openly.

          5. @Alfaryn
            > Being a villain doesn’t need to mean that everything you do is unethical.

            Sure, and we’ve seen a lot of this in Wormverse, but it seems to me that Heartbroken don’t care much about ethics, and like to have fun in their own perverse sense.

            @Earl of Purple

            True, but we don’t know how Candy’s power defines “what you like most in the world”. It might or might not work as expected, depending on it.

          6. Actually from what I’ve seen so far most of the Heartboken seem to behave in very ethical ways. Other than constantly making horrible sort of fun of other people or putting a post-hypnotic suggestion on a villain who probably deserved it (see epilogue of Worm), few of them intentionally do any serious, lasting harm to anyone.

            Most of them probably need less supervision than they get, and this supervision seems to be mostly there not to prevent them from intentionally ruining someone’s psyche, but to make sure that they won’t go too far in their fun, and so something they would regret later.

            Another reason for this supervision could be to simply calm more skittish people around them – from Chicken Little to Victoria. Ashley’s reactions in chapter 11.4 seem to indicate that at least she thinks so.

          7. I think that one thing keeping the Heartboken (at least most of them) from crossing certain ethical or moral lines is that they don’t want to become like their father. If there is someone’s legacy they want to continue, it would probably be Alec’s – not exactly a best role model, but also not a monster like his father.

  10. I wonder if Nursery’s second slit throat requirement is the child within. Maybe she is sick of it and wants to be free. It may be that Nursery considers herself not a Parahuman but enslaved by one, (said unborn child) which, to her, is Rain’s fault; rather accurately so.

    Also, I wonder if Cradle and vLoe lost were ever an item… and WB gave us a clue to that in their cape names.

      1. With very good reason. There has been absolutely nothing to indicate that and if she had, she’d be part of Rain’s cluster, which she isn’t.

    1. Love Lost is the one who wants 2 people dead, not Nursery. Rain’s Cluster is: Snag (dead), Love Lost, Cradle, and a 5th that died before they fell asleep the first time. Nursery has no connection to Rain other than working for people that hate him, (and they told her that he was a monster)

      1. I don’t believe there is a fifth.
        Mover power from snag
        Tinker from cradle
        Emotion from LL
        Blaster from precipice
        There is no fifth power, so there is no fifth member. There was that little moment in snag’s last moment that made it sound like that fifth space was occupied by the shard (s) and that he got his space chewed up by them, but nothing concrete beyond that vague passage.

        1. Actually we don’t know for sure if it is the shard. All we know is that it is “something” not “someone”. See the last scene of interlude 5.y for details.

          1. Yeah, it could be another time-controlling dog or whatever.

            Have you seen how cats treat their prey? A cat with a cluster power would be terrifying.

            He never keeps his own tokens, though. He always swats at them and pushes them off the table, which is why someone else randomly gets them.

          2. Whatever it is, it looks like it is connected to the fact that Snag thinks the City is already lost. Doesn’t sound like “just” a few regular Shards. Would Valkyrie be terrified of just a few Shards? Could be some VERY UNUSUAL Shards, could be something else, or something MORE than just Shards.

        2. Another issue with the dead-fifth-member idea is that when Snag died, everybody was yanked into the dream early. If that’s SOP for their cluster rather than an anomaly, then it should have happened when the hypothetical fifth member died.

  11. Unless Charity can get him with her hallucination power, I’m not sure if there’s anything that this group can do to stop Lord of Loss other than cutting him in half with Rain’s power followed by a punch from Victoria.

    1. In the comment below the previous chapter grinvader suggested Foil “firing for effect”. As bad as it is, it could work, and sounds like a less lethal option than Rain and Victoria combo. Considering that as far as we know nobody in Victoria’s current group is willing to go for a kill without a very good reason, I think they’ll try a crossbow or the sword before Rain’s blaster power, and even the Sting will probably be one of the last measures to try.

    2. That would be Candy; there is no Charity. But you’re forgetting Aroa. We don’t know what her power is yet. Maybe it gives you the unstoppable urge to tap-dance and sing show tunes. Maybe it makes everybody you see look exactly like you, so that you can’t tell friend from foe. Maybe it gives you that feeling like when a lump of burger is lodged in your esophagus. Maybe it makes you think you were the tragic victim of your sister’s mental breakdown and are now trying to wrangle a coalition of villains severely messed up heroes. Maybe it forces you to narrate everything you do out loud with increasing degrees of verbosity the closer you get to her. Maybe it makes you fall utterly in love with her. Or maybe it convinces you that you are now a moth.

      Anyway, they don’t actually need to beat LoL. They just need to get away. Good thing they’ve already set up that handy-dandy escape tunnel, which the bad guys don’t appear to have noticed yet. The trick is to distract and stall the villains long enough for the landlubbers to get a good head start so LoL doesn’t realize what’s happening and just cave in the tunnel on top of them. That’s where Candy’s power, Parian’s critters, and Victoria come in. Once some chaos is underway, everybody but Victoria and the expendable cloth golems can boogie. When Vicky can’t delay the baddies from finding the tunnel any longer, she can just fly away.

      1. I don’t know if using the tunnel to escape is such a good idea. That place offers no cover, and is very easy to block off, especially if someone was to take out Rain’s power from the equation.

        1. I mean of course it is a great cover from someone outside the tunnel, but if someone was to chase them inside, or just use their Shaker power to affect the tunnel, it would be very few ways to run, and no way to hide. At least if someone was to chase them inside, and try to shoot them Foil could shoot back, but in such situation her crossbow would not necessary be better than a simple gun, and we know that there were plenty of armed people patrolling the area. Wretch could take one bullet, if Victoria acts quickly enough, but what if someone in the drain would say “to hell with my eardrums”, and just spray the drain with automatic fire as soon as he sees Victoria’s group there?

          1. There is also a possibility that those patrolling people know exact positions of all exits from the drain, other than the ones made by Rain. It is their territory after all. In this case they may not even need a gunner inside of the drain. As I said beneath last chapter grenades or gas could be just as lethal against someone in the drain, and less risky for whoever is attacking them.

            Generally the drain seems too much like a potential deathtrap to be used as an escape route.

        2. Whether the tunnel is a good idea is definitely dependent on how much of a head start they can get. If they don’t expect much of one, they’d be better off making a surprise door in the side of the building and then fleeing overland. But the nice thing about a building is that it offers bottlenecks and a lot of concealment. If Vicky and the fearsome fabrics can hold their ground for a minute, the others can get far enough down the tunnel to get away before anyone even realizes they’re gone. Main risk is that LoL just rips the building open. On the other hand, if he tries to collapse the building on top of them rather than ripping into it, the tunnel plan works great. Nobody would realize anything was wrong until they started digging through the rubble to find bodies and didn’t find any.

          1. I think there is a good chance that LoL and co. have already realized that Victoria’s group used the drain to get into the building. Even if Nursery didn’t know that Victoria’s group passed through her area of effect when they were in the drain (and I think it may be possible that she did), the fact that the heroes managed to pop up in LL’s HQ, when everyone has been looking for them above ground, coupled with the fact that there is a hole in the middle of the street, where the drain is unfinished and easily accessible (I’m not even taking about the hole Rain made, but the one they passed along the way), is probably enough to clue someone on LoL’s side that the invaders used the drain to bypass patrols on their way to LL’s house.

            I think there is a good chance that all exits from the drain in the area (except the ones Rain made) are now guarded by gunmen. Remember that they probably know the area. It may include the drain, or at least all manholes etc. leading to it. If LoL and Nursery will manage to force Victoria’s group to go back into the drain it will only mean that they are being herded straight into ambush. To survive Victoria’s group needs to run in an unexpected direction, and I don’t think the drain is such direction at the moment.

          2. LoL’s men may not even need to risk a gunfight. Considering that the drain is full of water, they may for example drop enough calcium carbide into it to fill the drain with acetylene, at which point just one spark would probably be enough to take out everyone inside. And calcium carbide is just one example of easily available chemical you don’t want to get into contact with water in a closed space.

          3. Here is an example that is probably even easier to implement. If the cars the patrolmen are using are running on gasoline (diesel may also work, but gasoline is probably better), then all they need to fill the drain with highly flammable (even explosive in right concentration) fumes is to park their cars next to closest manholes, grab some rubber hoses and drain contents of their fuel tanks into the drain.

  12. I’m confused by Lord of Loss’s message to MADAM SCREAMSALOT. Is he mocking her? Is it an intimidation tactic? Some kind of obscure flirting technique? Is his humanoid form another breaker state obscuring the fact that he’s really Kenzie’s age? Are his thumbs so huge that he’s delegated message-typing to a teenage girl? Is he just plain awesome?

    I require a Lord of Loss interlude.

    1. For real. He’s suddenly skyrocketed to the top of my “characters I want to know more about” list.

  13. I never realized that Love Lost was a tinker. She never pegged me as a tinker of any kind, just a shaker? I think shaker is her classification. Her claws seem in the normal capability of people. Also, Tinker seems to be the only power they all share. Cradle is a thinker, tinker I believe, LL is a shaker, blaster? and tinker, Snag was I think only a tinker and ol’ Rain is a blaster, mover, and tinker (though low level)

    1. You may want to re-read chapter 0. of Glow-worm, where it is explained how clusters work. In short to an outside viewer who doesn’t know about their shared dreams Snag, Love Lost, Cradle and Rain look like a typical cluster. They share the same powers – as many as there are members of the cluster (mover, tinker, emotional power – master and/or shaker, the ability to make things fragile – probably classified as blaster in Rain’s case, not necessarily manifesting as blaster power for others), though those powers manifest in a bit different ways for each member of the cluster. It is also typical that each of those powers is a primary power of one cluster member (Snag – mover, Love Lost – emotional, Cradle – tinker, Rain – fragility).

      There were however problems with this cluster from the very beginning. First it was suspected that there was a fifth member of the cluster, but there was no corresponding fifth power. From Glow-worm we know that all cluster members should have access to all powers their cluster triggered with even if some of the cluster members die. Then we learned of the shared dreams, meetings in a shared dreamspace, and a complicated power distribution system Rain’s cluster experiences. Finally there is the fact that Snag apparently did not completely die, and that he saw ‘something’ instead of ‘someone’ in the fifth space. And now there are ominous warnings Love Lost apparently gets from Snag.

      It is not the fact that each of the four members of the cluster have access to four very similar powers that makes most readers nervous. It is everything else. Something is very wrong with this cluster. It seems to masquerade as a typical cluster described in Glow-worm, but the more we learn about it, the more it looks like it is anything but a typical cluster.

      1. Given the diversity of powers and parahumans, and the diversity of trigger events and rarity of cluster triggers, I doubt there’s anything ‘typical’ about any cluster, besides the way powers are portioned out.

        Also, the only clusters we’ve had a close look at are Rain’s and Foil’s, and Foil was initially unaware that anybody else triggered in hers. We’ve seen a lot of cluster capes, but we’ve not seen them in detail. Goddess is the closest I can think of, and we learnt nothing about any other member of her cluster, nor what ‘her’ power was, or even the event that caused the cluster (although I personally suspect, given the high incidence of trump powers in her cluster, at least one cape was involved).

        It does differ from the others given in Glow-Worm, but at least one cluster mentioned ended in cannibalism, and not all cluster capes are heroes who can talk about stuff like the dream-room, if there’s something similar going on with them.

        1. You could be right, though I feel that the entire situation with Rain’s cluster seems to be too complicated for typical shards. I’m not saying that shards don’t have enough intelligence to set up something as elaborate as this, I just fail to see a motive to do it. Remember that shards generally turn off most of their functions after trigger event to save resources. It may be just my hunch, but constructing the dream-room with all of its rules seems to contradict this general behavior.

          I’m also not convinced that if something as big as what seems to happen with Rain’s cluster also happened with other clusters, then it would stay undiscovered for so long. Some clusters could stay tight-lipped about it, but how many clusters with something so big could exist before one of their members would let the world know about it?

          I may be wrong, but to me there are just too many pieces in this puzzle that just scream that something is very wrong or at least very unusual here.

          1. They’re sharing the resources for the dream room- it might be too much effort for one shard, but for four shards working together, the costs are a quarter what they’d otherwise be, and probably less per shard than a bud is.

            And as to remaining undiscovered… All it really takes is for the complex cluster (like this one) to happen somewhere outside North America, Australia and Europe. A complex cluster in Asia is likely to be absorbed- at least partially- by the Yang Ban, and they’re not sharing info with the PRT or other organisations. Maybe not even sharing knowledge with Cauldron. A complex cluster in Africa will find itself in the middle of a parahuman war zone, with the only international aid consisting of flights of foreign heroes swooping in and arresting the worst warlords to send to the Birdcage. A complex cluster in South America is in an environment where the ‘heroes’ are involved in political corruption, drug smuggling and human trafficking, and the ‘villains’ burn down drug factories, free slaves and similar behaviour. In Russia, the capes probably get killed or recruited by the ‘hero’ team that isn’t afraid to be lethal even in its own internecine politics. Or recruited by the Bratva, in which case they can’t fight each other because all capes are needed to fight off the Russian heroes.

            How, in any of these examples, can any clustermate spill the beans and inform the world? Especially bearing in mind that clusters are driven by Kiss/Kill, and I just bet that, to conserve resources, complex clusters like this ramp up the Kill.

          2. If a high percentage of clusters are this complex, they probably would be discovered sooner rather than later. Remember that the clusters mentioned in Glow-worm are probably just a relatively low percentage of all clusters – because clusters appearing in some places you listed probably would be reported, or because some of the clusters never announced themselves as such in no small part of their Kiss/Kill tendencies. A cape who managed to kill at least some of their clustermates would probably not want to advertise this fact.

            I do realize that shards have their quirks and tempers that make them do things in certain ways, not always optimal from resource use. If I saw just one or two of those “pieces in this puzzle” that disturb me so, I would just shrug and say “some shard are weird”, but those pieces just keep coming… Remember that shards have a relatively simple task and directives. Why does this cluster seem to function in such complicated ways if this is the case?

            And it is not just Rain’s cluster (though it is probably the most worrying example). Shards generally seem to behave more and more erratically after Gold Morning. Broken triggers, the tower and the dog we saw in Valkyrie’s interlude… I’m not 100% sure if Rain’s cluster triggered after Gold Morning, but I think it was the case, because more or less all of the Fallen we saw in Rain’s interlude (the one where his cluster dreamed of his past) were there during the raid on Fallen camp. I doubt that this exact group we saw in the dream would manage to stay intact and together after Gold Morning. If anything at least some of the capes would probably die after being drafted by Khepri.

            It seems to me that there is something linking all of those shard-related post-GM oddities (including Rain’s cluster), and I doubt it is just shards dying after Scion’s death. If this was the case the same would happen after Eden’s death, and there was nothing that would indicate it. In my opinion there is someone or something intelligent, possibly sapient working here. Something with agenda more complicated than simple shard’s directives.

  14. Also, something else that occurs to me:

    With the way that Nursery is using her power, wouldn’t she be breaking the unwritten rule about not raping parahumans on the other side? Given that she seems to have some degree of control over and feedback from her hentai rape tentacles, judging by what Rain said regarding his scans of them, I think it’d count, and presumably she could use them in ways that don’t result in the penetration and impregnation of whatever orifices the victim has available.

    1. Sveta also has some degree of control over and feedback from her tendrils. That doesn’t mean they do what she wants.

      And to be fair, Nursery claims that this isn’t actually her power. According to her, she’s just the host for an unborn parababy, which would mean the feedback and control circuits link back to that baby, not her. I think that’s probably BS; my theory is that she only has limited control over her power and the baby story is a delusion that lets her believe that it isn’t her fault when things go wrong. Though she may be right about having a baby on board; her power probably recognized her womb as a container and installed a personal defense system do be deployed in emergencies.

    2. No. Because she’s not raping the parahumans. She’s generating minions who *are*, but she’s a shaker- they can’t easily leave the area she’s affected and dissipate outside it. Plus, she tries to hold back to prevent things going too far.

      And as Pizza says, ‘control’ might be less using them to rape somebody, and more directing who they rape. Or designating people not to be attacked, and then they attack anyone else driven by power-inspired instincts. ‘Keeping track of them’ meanwhile might be an ability to sense all the babies her power has implanted, and hence the people so affected.

      1. If the law was that specific about who’s technically doing the raping, then Canary would never end up in the Birdcage.

        1. Nursery’s still guilty of ‘sexual assault with a parahuman ability’, I just don’t think it counts as rape with regards to the Unwritten Rules.

          1. Does Sidepiece throwing her uterus in someone’s face count as ‘sexual assault with a parahuman ability’ ?

          2. I don’t think so. I think that’s probably just assault/attempted murder with a parahuman ability, depending on just how explosive her uterus is. Possibly murder/manslaughter if an exploding uterus to the face kills someone.

            Which would be a pretty embarrassing thing to have on your death certificate, though it’d probably be altered to ‘killed by a villain’, or ‘caught in parahuman crossfire’.

  15. After months of reading I’ve finally caught up with Worm and Ward. Time to wait for a new chapter and/or read Wildbow’s other works I suppose.

    I really hope Parian is gonna be okay. We haven’t seen too much of her in Ward.
    Also really curious as to how the other groups are managing.

  16. This happens after they are outside…floorboards?

    “and another bolt passed through armor to secure the armor of the forearm and armor of the gauntlet to the floorboards below.”

  17. Precipice, Parian, Foil, Heartbroken: That whole “pregnancy” thing was pretty obvious to me, after the things Antares compared it to and how uncomfortable she was about it. If it wasn’t obvious to you, you have a serious problem. Specifically, you haven’t seen Alien. Does Blockbuster still exist in Earth Bet?

    (Though Nursery’s power is a good bit more disturbing than the xenomorphs, to my surprise. Must be the recognizably human features? Regardless, I think Giger would be impressed.)

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