Blinding – 11.7

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“Make you a deal,” I said.

Lord of Loss shook his head, his ‘face’ a smiling collection of metal strips.  It was overlarge, looming as much as the rest of him.

“We’ve got a big, big bag of money,” I said.  “We want to buy your services.  You’ll get more than you will working for Love Lost, you get to keep your hands clean, and you can steer clear of the clusterfuck surrounding that group.”

“No,” Lord of Loss said.  “That’s not how we operate.”

“You’re mercenaries,” Chastity said.

“We are.”

“That’s the number one thing about mercenaries, you’ll do anything for money!”

“We work for money.  Rules are necessary.”

“Being able to switch sides and do the crazy betrayal thing while getting paid for it has got to be the best part of being a mercenary, and you’re giving that up!?” Chastity asked, aghast, the tension of the small army that was lined up against us adding to the extremes and modulation of her voice.

All around us, the landscape was changing.  Snow was melting, heaps of it by the sides of the road that had been cleared for construction toppling and folding into itself.  The wind continued to whip around us, and the air that carried that air to us made me aware of how stale it was, with something mixed into it, like an oppressive haze of baby powder or shampoos.

“We get hired, we do the job, we do it well.  Rinse, repeat,” Lord of Loss intoned the words, his voice low in the way only Brutes could manage.  “We keep up the rules of the game, we don’t make enemies we don’t have to.”

Others in that mob were looking ready to throw themselves at us.  Nursery in particular looked ready to draw blood.

To stall, I decided to try something.  “I’ll make you another deal.  Talk with us.  Let’s make sure we’re on the same page.  If you still think that this is okay when we’re done, then we pick up where we left off.  In-”

“No,” Lord of Loss said.

“In exchange,” I said.  “We pay you for your time.  We pass you money hand over fist to buy your time.  Nursery gets more control over her area, we get nothing except your consideration.”

“Not your money to give away,” Aroa said, under her breath.

“I’m guessing it’s not yours either,” Lord of Loss said, talking past me to address Aroa.  He chuckled as much as anything as he uttered, “No.”

“Did you hear what happened to the Navigators?” I asked Lord of Loss.  To Nursery, I said, “Are you aware they’re putting kids in the line of fire?”

“If we talk, it’s going to be after we’ve captured you,” Lord of Loss said.

He shifted position, which prompted me to look back.  Past the ground floor of the house, past kitchen, living room, and back stairwell, I could see the rear door, and I could see his bodily mass planted down there.  Whatever form he wore, it was extended enough that he could cover two exits at once, and his oversized head was mobile, free to move where he needed it.

Foil, quiet up until this point, started shooting the crossbow, launching her augmented bolts.  I’d known her as Flechette, back in the days when I’d thought my boyfriend, Eric, and Uncle Neil dying at the hands of an unstoppable giant lizard was the worst life was going to get.  Back then, she’d had something elegant.  Now she had something big.

The skewers were about as long my arm was from elbow to fingertip, tapered at both sides.  They punched through Lord of Loss’ digits, where a hand or clawed foot had just touched ground to give him leverage.

He didn’t react to the pain.  He did try to lift his hand up, only to jerk to a halt.

Our cue to go.  I covered the rear flank as the others charged for the door.  The headless spider with the crossbow strapped to its body was Foil’s mount.  Parian slumped between Foil and the crossbow, leaning hard into Foil.  She was, at least, managing the spider, despite her condition.

“Cut through buildings!” I told them.  “Lord of Loss never seems to go indoors at any point!”

I heard crumbling and looked back.  Through the narrow aperture of the front door, I could see Lord raising an oversized, clawed extremity, shedding debris.  He hadn’t managed to un-impale himself or pull the needles from the stones, but he had managed to pull up the pavement.

Someone ducked underneath the hand, skidding on the ground.  A cape, dressed in an all-covering orange bodysuit, who ran fast enough that they clipped the edge of the doorframe in their crazed run.

I raised my forcefield as I saw them fix their attention on me.  I could fly backward without worrying too much about bumping into anything, so I kept the majority of my focus on them.

I saw them glance to one side.  They aimed to go around me.

Half right.  They leaped, power activating, to throw themselves at the wall.  They collided in a shower of orange and amber light and sparks, and rebounded, no longer human.  A swirling mass of energy.

The impact when he hit the Wretch was violent, the impact carrying through the air to scatter papers, money we hadn’t grabbed, and the washed and dried silverware that had been laid at the edge of the kitchen’s counter.

He recovered, momentum lost, clearly startled that what he’d planned hadn’t worked.

Reminded me of mom, just… bigger and spikier.  Aggressive instead of defensive.

My focus was on him, so I didn’t get to see what was happening at the exit here.  Precipice was stepping in, at the least.

I stared down my opponent.  They were dressed like a hero from one of the old Japanese superteams, covered head to toe, hard helmet with full face coverage, a bodysuit with stretchy material with light decoration.  They did have some padding, though.  Elbow and knee pads-

“Need help, Antares?” Candy interrupted my observations.

“Save your juice,” I said.

Elbow and knee pads, and some chest protection that made it ambiguous if they were flat or if they had pronounced pecs.  Whatever the case, armor could indicate vulnerability, either to bait, as was my case, or by accident.  Theirs was too light, too built for things other than deflecting bullets or stopping knives.

They acted again.  Again, a sharp, high-speed lunge, not aimed at me or at the others, but at a wall.  Again, the impact, sparks and light.  Post-impact, as they rebounded off, they’d become a large, whirling death ball formed of hard energy.

A stray arm of the Wretch blocked the way, deflecting them.  They landed hard, sliding on the floor and bumping into a table.  They wasted no time in using their power again, holding to the pattern, but glancing off of the ceiling instead.  Blocking it meant flying back to get myself thoroughly in the way put me perilously close to the Heartbroken.

They were an air hockey puck.  Not well suited for the direct strike, always bouncing off of something sufficiently hard and flat.

I was ten invisible people superimposed over one another, each wildly swinging sledgehammers around.

The thought, as casual as it was, threw me off.  The natural hazard.  It had made taking care of me at the asylum that much harder, and I hadn’t made it easier.

I drew in a deep breath, throwing myself to one side to intercept again.

The pit of despair was there, waiting for me to get too close before I had that stomach-sinking feeling that anyone felt if standing on a ledge, provided they were unable to fly.  It was easier to deal with and wholly recontextualized now that I didn’t feel like someone was lurking nearby, ready to give me a shove or hem me in.  But easier was different from easy.

The others hadn’t slipped through.

“What’s the holdup?” I called back.

“Spider’s too big for the door!  Moving over to snake, dealing with the big guy!”

I would have provided some assistance, but I couldn’t take my attention off of the air hockey puck.

The puck leaped forward, but dropped like they were tripping over their own feet.  The goal, though, was to make as straight a shot as he was capable of, lunging while close to the ground, striking the floor at a shallow angle and then going directly for our team.

I’d kind of expected it, though.  My mom had done that a few times in sparring, trying to roll between my feet.

Pads meant vulnerability.  The hard bit of plastic or metal at the wrist was meant to help him when post-power, skidding to a stop.  I blocked the impact, mindful that I wasn’t too close to heartbroken, then followed up, chasing.

They weren’t fully recovered when I crashed into them.  I wrapped my arm around them, gathering them up into a full nelson.

They stomped the ground, propelling us both into a lunge, straight for the ceiling.  I used my flight to reorient us in the air, denying them the follow-up contact.  Then I used my aura, my chest pressed hard against their back, the feeling emanating from me and into them point blank.

I wanted to break them, to make their efforts less strategic and more flailing.  I could feel it in how they jerked and kicked, now.

They grazed furniture with a kicking toe, and again, we were propelled away, hard.  I twisted us in the air so it was my back that slid across the ceiling.  The paint and the ceiling’s surface cracked badly with the contact, and something on the other side pushed back.  It was meaty, broader across than my back was, and it slurped.

I didn’t break through that thin layer of ceiling, and neither did the thing on the other side.  Not until my enemy reached up to hit it.  Paint broke, cracks spread out, and we were boosted away from it, the boost no doubt being the original intent.

I was glad it wasn’t a death-ball boost, at least.

Their power had two components.  The dash, the boost, the ‘kick-off’, where they moved four or five times as fast.  If they could bounce off of a solid surface as they did it, then they went full death ball, becoming a whirling sphere as tall as I was.

My goal in the now was to pump them full of emotion without saturating my own team, and to keep them from achieving their move.  I kept us away from the spreading break in the ceiling, with red membrane-covered flesh pressing down against the hole, too wide to penetrate.

“Bring him here!” Chastity called out.

Him, then.  I’d assume the girl from the villain family who worked with villains knew who the villainous mercenary was.

Bringing him closer to the ground came with a danger, though.  If he touched the ground, he could kick off of it.  I tangled my legs with his, moving us in the air so those tangled feet weren’t anywhere near the floor.

Chastity stalked closer.  She raised her right hand up over her left shoulder as she advanced, and it glowed nebulously with a dark blue energy.  She had to make a small hop to give herself the height to make contact- a backhand swing that caught the air hockey puck across the face of the helmet.

He was torn from my arms, slapped down against the ground.  He didn’t bounce or rebound.  The floor cracked beneath him, far more fragile than it should have been

My foe groaned, as he slumped down to the ground, hands going to his helmet, so he could hold his head up.  The sound he made was a long groan like every single involuntary utterance I’d made while cringing about middle school me, except with the duration and volume dialed to the maximum.

Chastity raised her hand up near her face, covering the smile she wore.  One of her fingernails was glowing, and a ring at one of her other fingers was catching that light in a way more intense than normal.  “Bitch slap delivered.”

“Not the reaction I expected,” I said, as I floated away from the air hockey puck.  “Distilled defeat, you said?”

“It looks different for everyone, but everyone reaches a point where their body can’t take anymore and shuts down, whatever the mind thinks it wants.  I hurry things along,” she said.  She gave the ceiling a dubious look.  “Let’s get outside.  Outside has to be better.”

I nodded.

“You’re going to need to protect me,” she said, waggling her hand in my general direction, the glowing fingernail in focus.  Then, like she was just now remembering, “And I’m going to need to protect Precipice.”

She hurried back toward Precipice with a kind of urgency.  The bitch slap target was ignored, assumed out of commission.  She had a body sense, too, which apparently mapped out to anyone she’d used her power on, while also helping her aim her attacks by keeping her aware of where her potential slap targets were.

Her ‘bitch slap’ was a dangerous weapon, but a fragile one.  One shot, and if the target wasn’t immune or resistant to emotion powers, then they were out of the fight.  If she was more confident or powerful in her target’s eyes, it hit harder and lasted longer.  The fragility, though, was that the second she was taken down a peg, the effects all broke, everyone she’d slapped down was back in play, and she ate some of the backlash.

It wouldn’t be too bad so long as she only had one foe she’d slapped down.

The others were outside, with only Candy at the door, watching and waiting for her sister’s return.

I flew outside and up to a point where I still had the house to my back but I could see over the others’ heads.  We were surrounded, but they were managing.  Parian had threads going out in every direction, hampering the potential attackers, Lord of Loss was having to pull a clawed extremity from the side of the house where it had been nailed down, and it looked like he was reconfiguring into a form- three giant heads and multiple arms were drawing back into a central mass.

“I wasted juice,” Candy was telling Chastity.  “Lord of Loss doesn’t feel it.”

I could have told you that, I thought.  That was a shame.  “Nursery.  If you can hit Nursery, do it.  Just- nothing permanent.”

Candy looked up at me, then nodded.

As horrifying as that woman is, I thought.  Foil was still assisting Parian, who was hunched over atop a spider.  Her being there made using the large crossbow difficult, but Foil did her best.

The Heartbroken hurried toward Parian and Foil.  Aroa got tangled in threads that Parian was manipulating, and Parian had to devote attention to maneuvering the spider, rotating it so she could see Aroa, and then disentangling her.

With the damage to her throat, it was apparently easier to use cosmic power to telekinetically fill a spider made of fabric, then manipulate that spider to turn around, than it was to twist herself around.

Lord of Loss reached out with a clawed extremity, spikes still embedded in it.  Closer to his main body, that limb was unfurling, but there was still enough anchoring for it to move and manipulate things.

The claw reached, and I flew to put myself between the others and the hand.  I’d block and fend it off-

The length of the arm hid a lance within it.  It passed through a gap in the palm of the claw, thrusting toward me and toward the others.  I used the Wretch to grab it, but the banding of white stone-like or metal-like strips ran along the length from tip to base, twisting it to give it a kind of rifling.  Not something I or the Wretch could get a hold on.

Instead, while it skidded past me, scraping by the Wretch and numerous invisible, super-strong hands, I pushed it off course.

The lance dissolved.  I had to maneuver to keep the strips from catching or slicing at me as they withdrew.

I couldn’t get in close, because that put me in reach of another three claws.  Five claws if I considered the dissolving ones.

He’d been a mass of large faces, thin arms, and large claws.  Everything about reach and perception.  Or I was assuming the extra faces were for perception.  It was possible it was the equivalent of a man in the jungle wearing a mask on the back of his head to confuse the tigers that wanted to pounce on him from behind.

He’d improved over the last little while.  I could remember him being limited to forms.  He’d spent time with Marquis, hadn’t he?  And Marquis was a top tier changer, with inventive, by-the-moment adaptations.

Lord of Loss seemed intent on taking a few lessons from that playbook.  I kept a wary eye out.  This was brute-against-brute standard playbook, unfortunately.

I raised my voice.  “They tore people to pieces and those pieces are still alive!  They took pieces so those people can’t even be put back together!”

“You pulverized Valefor’s jaw,” Lord of Loss said.

“If you don’t see the distinction between Valefor and a plucky band of heroes who made it their life’s mission to stop human trafficking, then something’s really fucking wrong with you, Lord of Loss.”

“I think there are lines,” Lord of Loss said, as he dissolved into more narrow lengths.  Two claws with morasses of white strips joining them to his main body gripped the house to hold him aloft.  “Between Valefor and those heroes, yes.  But playing fair and destroying others?  That’s a clear line too.”

“He’s a monster, Loss, and if that’s what you think, why the fuck are you helping people who butchered heroes?  They crossed your line!”

“My line gets drawn when I’m hired,” he said.  “I can’t quit a job partway through.  I’ll consider things after.”

“The damage is being done now!  They’ll use that weapon or power again!”

“You think,” he said.

I grit my teeth.

I saw the silver blades appear.  Precipice’s power- slicing through the air, to cut at the thickest portion of Lord of Loss’s supports.

I flew, maximum speed, to capitalize on it before the opportunity was lost.  Precipice had to have decided to do it to capitalize on Lord of Loss being distracted with conversation.

Lengths of Lord of Loss’ mummy-wrapped-in-iron-bandages form extended out, encasing the parts that had been marked out with silver lines.  External support.

A clawed extremity reached my way.  I slammed into the palm, hoping to throw him off enough that the silver would snap and the limbs would give way.

No effect.  He didn’t topple.  Clawed digits of a hand larger than I was closed in around me.  I spun, relying on the spinning force combined with the reach of the Wretch to ensure I had enough of a gap to get out.

He laughed.

The music box tune was plinking all around us, and as Precipice and the heartbroken hurried to stay in rough formation with the spider, I could see tracks of footprints where the snow had been pressed down, and the thin red of bodily fluids was leeching up into the compacted snow, through the slats in the road-turned-flooring.

Crimson footprints in white snow.

Snowbanks were moving, not just because they were crumpling to become misty building interior, but because they acted as suitable containers, and Nursery’s power worked by filling up containers.  That included filling up living, people containers, throats, sinuses, ear canals…

Chastity had her whip out, and was using it to repel soldiers.  The cracks were audible and distracting as she cleared a path for the spider to move forward.  The soldiers that weren’t powered were dealing with being tugged and limited in their movements by a thousand fine pieces of thread.

The ones that were powered were the focus of Foil’s crossbow and darts.  One shot aimed at a man wearing armor bands that hugged his muscular physique, with each band connected to the next with short chains.  The bolt passed through armor by the ‘penetrate anything’ effect, grazed the skin, then came back into reality through use of Foil’s enhanced timing.  The bolt was effectively fused to the armor it had been passing through, it retained its momentum, and it threw the the man off balance.  His hand touched the road, and another bolt passed through armor to secure the armor of the forearm and armor of the gauntlet to the floorboards below.

Lord of Loss shifted position on his perch.  He was making himself into the heavy-hitting centaur form, but for now the four legs and one arm were spindly, drawn overlong, to the point it didn’t look like he could support himself.  The arm that wasn’t formed was expanding into a shield to protect him.  At the top of his head, strips were hardening into a position where they formed a crown of braided antlers.

Where one spindle-leg punched through the roof, I could see the red mist rising.  Meaty squelches and growths reached up and wound around his leg, only to break away as he shifted his footing.  Umbilical cord growths reached out, groping for potential targets.

I considered striking at someone else while Lord of Loss was finishing.  How long did I have?  Ten seconds?  Twenty?  How much time to get to another point on the battlefield, eliminate the biggest problem, and still be here if I was needed to protect the others?

He might have read my mind, because he proved why I couldn’t just leave him to his own devices- he reached out with a hand, as if to point.  Again, the lance emerged from within, stabbing out, rotating as it emerged this time.  A hundred feet long, and the tapering point closest to me was still thick enough I could have wrapped my arms around it, if I didn’t have the Wretch to do it for me.

Again, to much less effect than the last time, I deflected the point.  With the Wretch doing the heavy lifting, I was free to look back, seeing what he was aiming for.

The cloth snake flanked our group and kept a good five or six of Lord of Loss’ soldiers from approaching.  It was winding through and among cars.  If I were him, I would have speared the snake and flicked the cars to put them in the others’ way.

For now, I could keep it from being accurate.  It struck ground close to the snake, then swiped to one side.  Cloth tangled around the lance’s point, and the snake tore, losing a quarter of its total length.  The thing started to deflate, and then the tail section twisted itself together, tight enough to offer a seal.

In the movies or comics, sparks would have flown as the Wretch fought the rotation and force of the lance.  Here, it was only movements of cold air, some collected ice and snow shedding and falling as a deceptively gentle rain to the street below.

He drew back, his entire body pulling away to help bring his lance far enough away that I wasn’t embracing its length anymore.

He laughed.  My expression behind my mask could have been stone.

I couldn’t stop it.  The next one would strike home.  Every time he repeated himself, he was more forceful, more consistent.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

That he was being such a gloating asshole about it made me feel worse.

Options.  What are my options?

If I couldn’t deflect, catch, or otherwise influence the hit- predict the target and move them?  Or something else?

Just thinking about my options helped matters, my confidence surging back… and in the wake of that, I was aware that my emotions were jumping all over the place.

Precipice.  Fucking Rain.

He’d hit me with his power, after being explicitly asked not to.  Why?

To signal.  There was no visual indicator he was using his power.

He wanted me to act… and I had an idea what he wanted me to do.  I flew at Lord of Loss.  Another hit, like the one I’d delivered before, only the silver blades weren’t in place.

Even if this didn’t work, it might delay the next telescoping lance from coming out.

I slammed into Lord of Loss, and this time there was an effect.  Far below, two forelegs of his centaur form were breaking.  I was slower than the thrown silver blades, so Precipice had signaled me, then timed the throws to connect just before I did.

Lord of Loss lurched forward, his forward tilt and the falling legs damaging the house as they toppled.  His shield came forward, the end slamming into the ground, which allowed him to avoid a faceplant.  Already, his legs were reforming.

Silver blades hit the shield, and I hit Lord of Loss.  The shield broke, and the broken end skidded on the ground.  Where it skidded, floorboards broke and shattered, and masses beneath the floorboards began to move, disturbing them further.

It was taking two of us just to keep an Endbringer-sized breaker from getting fully put together and building up his momentum.  Our team wasn’t getting away because forward progress was a slog, hampered by Nursery’s power and the soldiers that had to be dealt with one by one.

My ears rang in the wake of a blast somewhere down on the battlefield.  It was one of three shots- lasers that hurt to listen to.  The cape was one of Lord of Loss’s underlings, it seemed, and they were slinging blasts like nobody’s business.  A flaming lob high overhead that forced our guys to scatter, then a volley of green and black spheres, that cracked like eggs and leaked out acid.  Foil turned the spider-mounted crossbow around to fire, and the blaster threw something to their feet- crystal encased them, freezing them immobile within for less than a second.  It was less than a second because Foil’s shot hit the crystal and both the bolt and the crystal shattered.  The cape was free to fire off some more artillery-like lobs.

Foil was running out of ammunition.

Lord of Loss advanced, two of his legs unsteady, forcing him to use the end of the lance or the shield to support his weight.  I circled over his head like a vulture, ready to act, and he was keeping an eye out for me.  The lance moved, swiping out.

The movement of the lance produced a shockwave that threw my flying off course.

Have to be careful, I told myself.  Can’t- can’t repeat the Crawler situation.

With the force that lance was swinging around with, a good hit could destroy the Wretch and produce a residual flurry of wind that would slam me into a hard surface.

Mood, I thought.

Self-doubt and regret was Precipice.  Another signal.

I took the signal for what it was and engaged Lord of Loss.  Again, the lance swiped past me.  The aftermath was worse than it had been, pulling me into the eddy of air that followed after the lance.

I closed the distance, and I landed a solid blow.  Lord of Loss began to crumble.

One-two punches.  I wasn’t even sure it was possible to take Lord of Loss out of commission, but if we could slow him down enough…

The crumbling continued.

Did we kill him?

With each piece that hit the ground, more of the ‘floor’ broke, where the floor was just something interdimensional, a landscape rewrite that produced floorboards about as durable as popsicle sticks, with a whole lot of fertile meat things beneath that surface.

He emerged, a phoenix from its egg.  Bird-form, built like a hawk, but with elaborate, extensive wings, and ‘streamers’ of metal strips that were more rigid than not, with sharp edges.  Each pump of the wings was slow, barely matching the downward pull of gravity.  Each pump was stronger than the last.

He turned human, shedding his breaker exterior, then went breaker again.

I flew to intercept, while it was still largely immobile.  He didn’t try to dodge, and he didn’t fight me.  With the Wretch active, I punched in, and I broke through the exterior.

I saw Lord of Loss himself.  A figure, not that tall for someone who made such chronically large breaker forms.  He wasn’t human, but existed instead as a nimbus of glowing strips that formed a vaguely human silhouette where they intersected most and were brightest.  Where they pulled away, they became solid.

The loose strips and broken ends began to close in around me, like I was now standing in the midst of an giant’s open mouth, fangs on either side of me, fingers curling in to keep me from escaping.  It was still flying, if lopsided, but that wasn’t my immediate concern.

I had to pull away.  He got to keep flying.

Aroa and Chastity were dealing with the blaster of infinite variety.  Aroa’s power was a blast of her own, but not the kind that was easily dodged.  It was as instantaneous as lightning, and it left afterimages more than actual images, and those after images curled instead of zig-zagging, peeled off instead of forking.

She wasn’t one of the strongest Heartbroken, based on what I’d been told.  Not in this kind of situation.  Not with relatively short range.  Her power stung people, whole-body, and it adjusted the pain response to make them like pain, whether it was from her or another source.

In another circumstance, I imagined she could be like Regent, insidious and very dangerous.  Here, it was a way to distract, unnerve, and even condition an unwary foe to not want to get out of the way of danger.

Lord of Loss’s bird form took evasive action to avoid Precipice’s power. One good hit could buy me the chance to get in and take him down, since he would be unable to flap his wings, but he wasn’t inclined to allow that.

As I closed him, I saw his head turn, noting me.  He veered to one side, crashing through the skeleton of a building that was only beams and girders dusted with snow and covered in sheets of ice.  As pieces toppled, I was forced to back off.

We were getting bogged down.  The blaster had been doing something strategic in lobbing that fire and spreading that acid.  The ground had been broken, and one mass had sprouted, less of a tongue and more like a woman stretched out to ten feet in length, hairless and skinny, and wrapped up in a layered straightjacket of her own flesh and translucent, veiny flesh.  Her toothless mouth yawned open as she jerked one way and the other, her attention on Candy.

Escape routes were lost to mist and Nursery’s power.  The enemy’s soldiers that were still in the fight were putting up a good fight.  One had a Foil bolt through the barrel of his gun, but was holding the gun by the barrel with the bolt used as a spear.

I changed direction, swooping in to go after the problem elements.  Broken legs would have to do.

As I veered off, so did Lord of Loss.  One could have seen it as us flying in formation, but it was the opposite.  I made a sharp right turn, Lord of Loss made a sharp left.

I knew what he’d do- there were only so many destinations for him.  I was faster, but he could hit harder and bigger.

He’d flown through the construction sites that littered Love Lost’s neighborhood.  I did the same.

Come on, Wretch.  Don’t fuck with me.  If you go from grabbing shit to refusing to grab anything here, I’m going to be pissed.

The first attempt failed, as I skimmed past a stack of what looked like solar glass panels, rigged up with chains so the crane could lift them up.  The Wretch didn’t touch any of it.

On the second attempt, I veered too close to the mist.  The tarp I grabbed with both my real hands and the Wretch broke away.  Nursery’s power had turned some of it to curtain or some shit like that, and the connection between the two halves wasn’t strong.

I could see something writhing beneath the curtain that fell aside now that the tarp was no longer attached.

My teeth grit, I circled around.  The others were winning their fights but losing the war.  Candy wasn’t using her power, Aroa wasn’t a gamechanger, Chastity had a tightrope to walk, and Foil was doing a damn good job considering she was preoccupied with the injured Parian, but she was still running out of ammunition.

And then there was Precipice.  Rain.  I looked at him, and he turned from looking at Lord of Loss, who was tracing a loose u-turn, to look up at me.

To be sure he could see me, I used my arm to point at the nearby crane.

He fired, striking at the neck of the crane itself.

Again, still flying toward my target, I indicated.

Come on, I thought.  Get this right, and please, don’t let the wind jar the crane and make the neck split, because that’s not what I need.

The silver blade cut into the cable, this time.

I flew into the hook, grabbing it, activated my strength and tore it free.  Multiple cables thinner than my wrist trailed behind me.

Lord of Loss was diving.  He skimmed damaged buildings on his way down, and the ones touched by Nursery’s power broke apart.  More holes in the ground, more meat rising up.

But he was drawing nearer and nearer to the ground now.  He wasn’t going to crush anyone in the group, slamming into them with a bird form the size of a large truck.  He was going to destroy the landscape and let Nursery’s things out.

A loop in the air let me catch the midpoint of the cabling.  From there, it was a question of catching up.  I’d turned right, hit the construction site, and now was charging in.  Lord of Loss was bigger, more ungainly, but powerful, and he’d needed more time and room to turn around.  Now we were roughly the same distance from the group, both flying in like jousting knights, and my teammate and allies were hunkered down near the point where Lord of Loss and I were likely to clash.

Parian was knitting her snake and spider together, forming something else.  Chastity and Aroa fended off the others nearby, with whipcracks and blasts.

Precipice hit Lord of Loss across the wing, and Lord of Loss froze.  He glided, not flapping, not moving, and continued his steady, inexorable descent.  With his course being what it was, he would hit the edge of the road and slide alongside the group, carving out a trench.

That trench would mean no escape.

Precipice’s silver line wore off.  Fresh silver blades hit.  One at the head.  Another at the body.

By virtue of being faster, I passed over the group, veering to one side so I didn’t brain or slash any of them with the trailing ends of the cabling, and flew straight at Lord of Loss.

The giant bird made of calcified metal strips laughed, a booming sound.  Like he was having fucking fun.

I crashed into him, the loops and cabling catching him at the neck- but he wasn’t rigid.  I tried to steer his whole body up, but he angled his wings to force the dive.

Futile.

Leaving the loops where they were, I grabbed the hook.  I had a split second to decide what to do with it, and… there wasn’t a building or landscape feature in reach that I could latch onto.  Given scale and momentum, I doubted it would have mattered.

Instead, using my strength, I impaled the one wing and hauled on it.  He fought me, and it was an arm wrestling contest, with the distinction that neither of us were using our own strength.

I almost faltered, feeling the doubt creep in, knowing that a particularly violent crash with steel cabling whipping around everywhere would be worse.  Then the feeling disappeared.

It wasn’t enough to steer Lord of Loss far enough away to matter.  But Parian had her combined animal, almost shaped like a hand planted on the ground, with the arm extending up and out.  Akin to a spear planted in the ground to stop a charging horse.  Lord of Loss rammed into it and the vibration that ran through him rattled my brain, shaking my senses to the point that I momentarily lost touch with everything.

We spiraled out, and a combination of jarring impact and a cable looped around my arm kept me from flying up and away from the crash site.

I lay where I was, cold and hurting from head to toe, a steel cable draped behind me and two uncomfortably beneath me, and I thought about how I’d need to kick Precipice’s ass, after this.  I knew he was trying to make Lord of Loss hesitate, that I’d caught only the edge of the effect, but he needed to put one and one together.  If the heartbroken’s power wouldn’t work, why would his?

Lord of Loss was pulling himself together.  I was just about as fast as he was, which wasn’t fast at all.

A silver blade hit Lord of Loss in one wing.  He’d been leaning on it for support and balance, and it broke with the pressure.

I backed up, skirting the hole that Parian’s stuffed spidersnake had made as the impact had driven it into the ground.  Mass was rising up, but it was enough competing parts that they were getting jammed up in the hole.

“How’s Parian?” I asked.

“Not good.  We’ve been trying to get out, stick to shaker protocols-”

“Don’t fight them on their turf,” I said.

“But she covers so much ground with that power.”

I nodded, my jaw set.  Fuck, I hurt all over.

There weren’t any good escape routes on foot, and I didn’t trust carrying a whole team by air.  It was one thing if I carried Kenzie’s projection cube with straps.  Another thing if it was a team of people, some injured.

Aroa had a bloody nose, but her eyes glittered.  Chastity had three glowing fingernails.  Candy-

“I still have a shot.  I’m saving it for Nursery, right?”

I nodded.  “Might not end the effect.”

“You could let us be taken prisoner,” Foil said.  “Fly away, get help.”

I shook my head.

“Keep it in mind as a last resort.”

“Last we saw, Nursery was pissed.  If I leave you, you all get the Nursery treatment.”

Chastity’s voice was low, dangerous.  “I told myself I’d never have a baby.  I’ve changed too many diapers, given too many baths, fed smelly food to smellier cousins and whatever.  I’d sooner die.”

“Let’s not let it come to that,” I said.  “And while we’re assessing what to do and what not to do…  Precipice.”

“Sorry,” he said.  “Panic.”

“If it was a gun or a toy I’d take it away from you,” I said.  “It almost fucked me up when I tried to lasso him.”

“Sorry,” he said.

The bulge where the stuffed doll had been driven into the floorboards was opening up now.  The bits of flesh that had been competing for space at the edge of the hole were now rising tall.  One reached out to start pumping seeds into the ear of one of Lord of Loss’s soldiers.  Another started trying to feed on the stuffed animal.  Futile.  The stuffed creation fought and smashed until it was pulled down.

Others were creeping out, trying to seize on fallen soldiers.  All together, they stopped, leaving those soldiers alone.

“She’s here,” I said.  They’ll be controlled instead of acting animal.

“She’s there,” Aroa said.  She grabbed Candy by the shoulders, spinning her around.

Candy blew a kiss.

I couldn’t see a result, aside from a stagger on the distant Nursery’s part, where she stood by a building.  But I felt a general change in the movements of Nursery’s creations.  Some started groping for unconscious and injured soldiers again.

“Two out of ten,” Aroa said.

“I don’t trust your reviews,” Candy said.

“If you want to pose while using your ability you have to do way better than that.”

“You’d lie just to make me feel bad because you get your-”

Focus,” Chastity said.

“Okay.  But I’m out of power, just so you know.  I hit her with a quarter tank of happiness oversaturation.”

The battlefield was Nursery’s, even if she wasn’t in control; she was keeping one hand on her head and looking around in alarm, but she was still creating mist.  Any hard impacts broke the ground and released monsters.

Lord of Loss, immune to those monsters, was stomping around, tearing everything up.  Some of his soldiers were still there at the edges.

I had to digest the flow of events, scouring my brain to think of how we were supposed to get out of this.

I surveyed the battlefield, where Lord of Loss was near the center, standing tall again, not any worse for wear.  The ground was room temperature with stale air, the air above cold, and the two combined to make something that was the worst of both worlds, reeking of blood and bile.  Tentacles, tongues, and skin-straightjacket women were standing out from the ruined landscape, others were moving beneath the cracked floorboards to the point that those floorboards bulged or oozed with meat.  The stuffed animal that was losing its fight against the meat.

“I think I get how your power is really supposed to work,” I said.

“Mine?” Rain asked.

“Who else?” I asked.  “Listen carefully, because whether I’m right or wrong, this is going to suck.”

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149 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.7”

  1. I’m really liking the dynamics here. Precipice and Antares with the one-two punches, Parain as a mobile artillery platform for Foil, Lord of Loss using Nursery’s area control strategically since he’s immune to it. High-tier cape fight here.

    And are we finally gonna get to see what the point of Precipice’s useless emotion power is?!

    1. Cooperation between Rain and Victoria with using his emotion power to signal was great but also risky. What would have happened if Victoria did not understand the message when she did?

  2. Well, Lord of Loss is incredibly unstoppable, but it’s still great to see Precipice realize how his Dead Space slicey powers are supposed to be used. If Victoria figured out how his dread power should work (ironic that his least useful emotional power will apparently save the day when none of the Heartbroken could), this is going to make him even more efficient even without Tata’s cluster-fucker-over recipe.

    And dayum, the Heartbroken are incresibly diverse, power-wise, despite coming up from the same stock. I wonder if they’re all buds of Heartbreaker or there are some first-gens in the mix somewhere?

    All in all, a fun action filled chapter. The Nursery fleshlings are starting to remind me less of Silent Hill and more of SCP-610, the one called “The Flesh That Hates”.

    1. It wouldn’t surprise me if Heartbreaker had a pretty generalist shard, one trying to figure out how brains work and putting a lot of effort into it. Also, if it weren’t for the fact all the Heartbroken have Master/Stranger powers, I’d query if at any point he’d married a parahuman of some kind. Even so, they’ve got a lot of diversity in delivery- blasters, strikers and shakers, plus others that are harder to figure out.

      1. It would suggest that all shards of the Heartboken are buds of Heartbreaker’s. Remember that buds form when the parent shard has enough information to split. As far as we know Taylor’s shard produced only one bud. What is the chance that Hearbreaker’s shard split so many times that it’s buds got all of his children?

        It could be that at least some of the Heartboken got other shards that were inspired by what Heartbreaker and his passenger did to his children, and this is why they tended to manifest as thematically related powers. Even some of non-emotion-related powers the Heartboken got seem to be consistent with the kind of abuse they’d been through.

        1. Some of the younger children probably didn’t get much attention from their dad, so they might be third-gen capes, with buds of buds. Even so, I doubt a shard looking for a host would look so closely to Heartbreaker’s family- unless it picked one of his wives, in which case things might get interesting.

          Also, the family’s abilities all seem to focus on one or two aspects of Heartbreaker’s own power- either controlling people, or manipulating emotions. Sometimes both, as with Cherish, but all the Heartbroken are either empaths or puppeteers.

        2. Taylor’s shard budded after three months activity as a cape, the activity and conflict were so intense. Heartbreaker had decades of being active as a cape, and thirteen of his children are confirmed parahumans. Easily possible.

          1. On the other hand Taylor has been very active over those few months with her shard supplying it with a variety of information about use of power in very different conflicts. Heartbreaker may have used his shard just as often, but probably did not provide it with nearly as much information useful from shard’s point of view. If you read Scion’s interlude carefully, you will notice that he closely linked the fact that Queen Administrator was ready to make a bud with the fact that it gathered a lot of useful data.

            If time spent as a passenger was the only factor that determined how many buds each shard made, then everyone who was a cape as long as Heartbreaker should have plenty of bud-children, and unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t appear to be the case.

          2. Except Heartbreaker’s shard wasn’t designed for conflict. It was designed to figure out how human brains worked, in the hopes of achieving true telepathy. Whilst Heartbreaker didn’t get involved in many cape fights, and preferred to escape his enemies than defeat them, he kidnapped, manipulated and abused a lot of women over his decades as a cape, and each time he did that his shard gathered information relevant to its primary purpose.

            Conflict is, in Heartbreaker’s case, a secondary concern.

          3. I may be wrong, but I don’t think that the Entities would be all that interested in studying brains of a species they considered vastly inferior, and probably did not expect to meet after this cycle. I also fail to see how such study would lead them to improving their telepathic abilities.

          4. There’s a lot of master/stranger abilities that interact with thoughts, minds and nervous systems. In addition, whilst humanity is inferior, like many other dominant species encountered across the galaxy, brains are universally complex and hard to understand.

            They were driven off a world by technology-users with brains, and learnt how to create and mimic that technology with Tinker shards. Figuring out how human brains work might help them next time they encounter technology-users, and prevent them being kicked off again. Telepathy won’t help them talk to each other- their own minds are a level of complexity above humanity’s, and they’ve got ways to communicate amongst themselves. Telepathy to read the brains of humans gives a hint in how to read any other human-like brain they might encounter in the future.

  3. Typos

    and the air that carried that air to us (seems redundant)
    as long my arm > as long as my arm
    in the way put me perilously close to the Heartbroken. (suggest “in the way; it also put me perilously close to the Heartbroken.”)
    when post-power, skidding to a stop. (suggest “post-power, when skidding to a stop.”)
    too close to heartbroken > too close to the Heartbroken
    a ring at one > a ring on one
    clawed extremity (not wrong, but it’s is repeated 4 times in this chapter.)
    Precipice and the heartbroken > Precipice and the Heartbroken
    it retained its momentum > retaining its momentum
    the the man > the the
    nursery’s power > Nursery’s power
    As I closed him > As I closed in on him
    heartbroken’s power > Heartbroken’s

    1. “I lay where I was, cold and hurting from head to toe, a steel cable draped behind me and two uncomfortably beneath me” two -> ?? weird sentence

      Very good chapter!

    2. “than it should have been”
      Punctuation.

      “it left afterimages more than actual images, and those after images”
      Inconsistent spelling.

    3. If I couldn’t deflect, catch, or otherwise influence the hit- predict the target and move them?

      It was one of three shots- lasers that hurt to listen to.

      […]and the blaster threw something to their feet- crystal encased them,[…]

      I knew what he’d do- there were only so many destinations for him.

      (Spaces before dashes?)

      […]and wrapped up in a layered straightjacket of her own flesh and translucent, veiny flesh.

      (Two kinds of flesh? The sentence does not seem very clear, and could probably do without repeating the word ‘flesh’. Maybe replace the second ‘flesh’ with ’tissue’ or something?)

      The enemy’s soldiers that were still in the fight were putting up a good fight.

      (Maybe replace one of the ‘fights’ with a synonym?)

    4. He recovered, momentum lost, clearly startled that what he’d planned hadn’t worked.

      (In all other instances Victoria calls this cape ‘they’, not ‘he’, until Chastity tells Victoria it is indeed a ‘he’).

    5. >Back then, she’d had something elegant. Now she had something big. The skewers were about as long my arm was from elbow to fingertip, tapered at both sides.

      I think there may be a missing negative or something here, since Flechette’s arbalest was always described as bulky and firing three-foot-long bolts back in the day.

    1. Let’s keep the First Womb folk out of the wormverse… we really don’t need Nursery starting to stretch thin and drink deep of the stars on top of the resident planet-eaters.

    1. First time, LoL (now I realize why he chose this name) was threatening the team with the lances.
      Second time, she had lost track of Nursery’s position

  4. “I think I get how your power is really supposed to work,” I said.

    “Mine?” Rain asked.

    “Who else?” I asked. “Listen carefully, because whether I’m right or wrong, this is going to suck.”

    It’d better be good Vicky, I don’t think Chastity is the only one who’d prefer to not have Nursery’s babies here.

  5. This is the second time someone said they figured out Rain’s emotion gimmick.

    Last chance, boys and girls. What’s the secret of the depression tickle?

    My idea: it plays along with his silver blades thing, where he sets up an act/lose scenario and the emotion power feeds into that. They might lose something if they move, and the emotion power makes them think it’s more likely to go wrong if they do. Except it doesn’t just apply to people: lay out a bunch of funlines in the area around someone, slap them with self-doubt, and now they’re afraid to take even a step in case they might set off a domino chain of failure.

    1. I like the theory that it projects his current emotional state, and Rain just always feels regret and self-doubt so that’s the assumed effect. This could synergize well with pretty much any Heartbroken though it would be unpleasant (like everything else) for rain.

      1. Thinking on it…

        Love Lost always feels anger, right? And her scream emotion power makes people rage?

        Anyone remember if Snag or Cradle had their own emotional flavors? Or if the emotions they felt tended to stay within that one spectrum like Rain’s and LL’s seem to?

        Because I’m wondering if Rain is locked into self-doubt, but the sad bubble gets worse the more doubting and depressed he is. Could explain why he keeps seeming to make weird or bad decisions when his aura is strong enough to be noticed.

        1. I think you’re onto something.
          Snag made affected targets feel their worst moment, and that was maybe his mindset, although he didn’t speak much of it. The whole cluster’s emotions was changed as/after they triggered, so it could definitely be shard-nanigans at play here.
          Maybe that’s what Victoria means by suck – if this is right, Rain will feel shitty as long as he lives.

    2. The silver lines don’t last very long, but it would clearly help their dissuasive effect (as long as Precipice makes sure everyone he fights knows what they do…).
      But there definitely are terribly bad/weak powers; evolution doesn’t always bring progress, after all. The shard battle royale is supposed to cull these from the pool.

      Maybe being Rain is simply suffering.

    3. Could be that Rain is meant to be able to use his power with his cyborg arms. They don’t need to be strong, being fragile is fine if all they need to do is constantly throw out slicers.

      The arms fill the area with breakable lines, his guilt/doubt power keeps people from moving, and his momentum-stopping power keeps him from falling into the holes he creates everywhere. He’s the only one who can move through his trapped area.

  6. so in the first part of the fight Victoria’s opponent is referred to as ‘he’ and ‘they’ interchangeably and it’s kind of confusing. Feels like it should be all ‘they’ if Vicky has no idea

    1. All instances of that cape being called a he before this point:

      “Bring him here!” Chastity called out.

      Him, then. She did say she had a body sense.

      probably belong in the typo thread.

  7. Whoa, nursery is funcking scary. Creates creatures who impregnate people they touch to create… more creatures? Actually, can those in turn impregnate others.

    Considering all this, I’m surprised nobody killed her yet. While there is the amnesty, creating self-reproducing spawns should still lead to an immediate S-Class treatment. The only reason I can think of is that she never went that far.

    1. A) She never went that far, B) the effect wears off after a while, so it’s not truly self-reproducing- it’s limited to an area which reverts to normal after Nursery leaves C) We’ve got no evidence the babies implanted by her minions are themselves capable of reproduction.

    2. Maybe Nursery really isn’t a parahuman, and it really is her baby. What do you think would happen if that baby had to stop hiding in Nursery? Just a random guess, but I think it might be a Bad Thing.

  8. 1. Wretch gets my nomination for the goalkeeper of the month on the powers ligue.

    2. There seem to be plenty clues in this chapter that suggest that Wretch is largely directed by Victoria’s subconscious:
    a. Wretch’s shape during confrontation with the orange-suited cape doesn’t match Victoria’s body in asylum, but a compromise between what she fears about her body and what she needs at the moment. Maybe I’m reading too much in it, maybe it is just Victoria’s hyperbole, but I don’t think that her misshapen body ever looked quite like “TEN people superimposed over one another”. If it is not a hyperbole, maybe the Wretch grew, because Victoria needed it to cover more space?
    b. Wretch reacts to Victoria’s needs, but also her fears. It fails to do what Victoria wants from it mostly when Victoria fears that it will fail to cooperate.

    Come on, Wretch. Don’t fuck with me. If you go from grabbing shit to refusing to grab anything here, I’m going to be pissed.

    The first attempt failed, as I skimmed past a stack of what looked like solar glass panels, rigged up with chains so the crane could lift them up. The Wretch didn’t touch any of it.

    It was probably the first time in this chapter Victoria consciously had doubt about Wretch’s cooperation, and the first time Wretch has failed to cooperate. Coincidence?
    c. fear of Amy’s power, and the possibility of becoming something she was in the asylum,
    d. fear of the Wretch harming someone or damaging something next to Victoria,
    e. Victoria’s fear of her own power,
    f. Victoria’s feeling that her current body is not truly her own (Amy really did a number on her by mentioning insects and stray cats and dogs).

    To me it seems that how Wretch looks and behaves is determined by a combination of all of those fears and Victoria’s needs and wants at the moment, with fears playing larger role when Victoria thinks about her power, and what it means to her, or how it can betray her, while Victoria’s needs and wants play a larger role when she thinks less about the Wretch or her traumatic past, and more about the task at hand.

    3. Victoria is trying not to focus too much on the threat just in front of her, but has just enough tunnel vision that she probably wouldn’t be a good fighter pilot, at least not on close dogfights other than one-on-one duels with no chance of third party involvement.

    4. With how her power is manifesting Nursery seems less and less like a “carrier” of a parahuman unborn child, and more like a parahuman with a trigger event related to something like miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, infant death or even pseudopregnancy or learning about her sterility.

    5.

    Chastity’s voice was low, dangerous. “I told myself I’d never have a baby. I’ve changed too many diapers, given too many baths, fed smelly food to smellier cousins and whatever. I’d sooner die.”
    […]
    “Two out of ten,” Aroa said.

    “I don’t trust your reviews,” Candy said.

    “If you want to pose while using your ability you have to do way better than that.”

    “You’d lie just to make me feel bad because you get your-”

    Really Heartboken? Joking in a situation like this? Just what did your father do to you? Wait… don’t answer this question.

    1. If I’m right about 2., then perhaps overall behavior of Victoria’s forcefield is as important (and possibly easier to interpret) indicator of Victoria’s mental health as contents of her internal monologue?

    2. Regarding 4, what I’m noticing from her power is a theme of helplessness and abuse. The toothless straight-jacket women, the tongue monsters that violate you and fill you with babies, the sealed containers, the way monsters are lurking just behind the cloying facade of a safe environment…

      I think she was having a very bad time in the years leading up to her trigger.

        1. Not that I’m trying to suggest that striking a pregnant woman even one can be justified, but maybe she’s been beaten up many times, and one of those times resulted in a miscarriage and a trigger?

          1. Being struck, even and especially if the blow caused a miscarriage, wouldn’t be shaker/master. Not with reality overwrites.

            I think she was in an abusive relationship with the child’s father, and it’s likely the baby didn’t survive and is still semi-fossilised in her body. But I think she felt she was alone and couldn’t escape, and I don’t think he was physically abusive- or at least, not as the main focus of his abuse. I think she miscarried the baby from stress, caused by constantly being belittled, ignored and so on, not from violence.

            I also think it’s likely he’s dead now, killed by Nursery’s power- either deliberately, or accidentally.

          2. Could be, especially if she was going through mental image of a place that is similar to areas she creates? Maybe she was in the room she’d been preparing for her unborn child when she triggered? Or maybe she was just focusing on a mental image of that room around that time? The room could even be her fantasy she originally created to deal with abuse she suffered.

          3. Or maybe there was no abuser at all? Maybe the father just died, she had no one to turn to, and was left with just that room, and no means to keep herself and her child alive until birth?

          4. Fantasy worlds fit with Labyrinth, the other cape we know who imposes their own reality onto the world around them. But I’m certain there was abuse and not abandonment- even through death. Even if the father died, she’d have someone to turn to, friends, family or the emergency services… Unless somebody worked to make sure she couldn’t turn anywhere else, for any thing, by belittling her, putting her down, ‘why’d they want anything to do with a useless piece of trash like you?’-type deal.

          5. Or maybe she had miscarried after she’d lost both the room and any human support at the same time around Gold Morning? I don’t think that we’ve seen any confirmed triggers directly linked to Scion’s final rampage, but shouldn’t there be plenty of those?

          6. There should, yes. But I think Nursery’s a pre-GM cape. Antares has some paperwork relating to her, which wouldn’t be as likely with a cape that triggered as a result of, or after Gold Morning destroyed the infrastructure that produced the paperwork about capes.

          7. I wonder if majority of non-Bet capes triggered during Gold Morning or it’s aftermath. Before GM most other Earths supposedly had little to no capes. Triggers were mostly reserved for Bet. It seems to have changed after GM. Was it because few humans on other Earths were biologically modified to be potential parahumans (in which case triggers on other Earths post-GM would be as rare as before GM, once life returned to more or less normal after GM), or were shards just directed by Warrior Entity to focus on Bet (which could have changed after his death).

            Since Cauldron apparently could find suitable candidates for their experiments with powers on other Earths, not to mention that Contessa is probably originally not from Bet, I would guess that natural triggers happened mostly on Bet only because Warrior’s shards were told to go there. It could have changed after Scion’s death in which case Gimel may quickly lose it’s numerical superiority of capes, and will be left only with more experience on how to deal with them, and how organize them into effective force (like they did during Endbringer attacks). One more reason to be afraid of places like Cheit…

          8. Remember that threat of war with Cheit was a response to a broken trigger in the City? That the diplomat from Cheit suggested that they were unhappy that people from Gimel couldn’t deal with that trigger in a satisfying way? Maybe people on Cheit blame people from Bet both for Scion attacks and/or (possibly more importantly in the long run) for the fact that triggers started happening on Cheit in large numbers?

            It could also mean that Taylor’s retirement on Aleph could be less peaceful than we imagined. If people started triggering left and right there, then everyone from Bet, especially someone as closely connected to capes and organizations meant to deal with them as Taylor is may suddenly face some serious complications in their lives, when Aleph governments and other powerful groups will take interest in them.

            Will Taylor’s mother’s counterpart from Aleph know to keep her mouth shut about Taylor’s true identity when that happens? Sounds like a plot hook for a fanfic or possibly a future book in the series if Wildbow decides he wants to take a break from majority of established characters and action taking place over multiple universes. Such book would not even need to involve Taylor as its main protagonist. It could revolve around one of the Travelers or even Danny, who we know has a potential to trigger, and wouldn’t it be a strange twist of fate at this point?

          9. I just re-read the article about corona pollentia and found a mention there that you don’t need it to trigger via Cauldron’s vial. If you don’t have it – it will grow when you trigger.

            This leads me to the following theory.

            What if most or all of the humans modified to have corona pollentia lived on Earth Bet? It would mean that a lot (quite possibly most most) of people equipped with inactive corona died during Gold Morning, and most of the survivors ended up on Earths different than Bet. If Scion’s shards keep looking for “suitable hosts”, maybe they can’t find them, and start attaching themselves to “less suitable hosts”. It could explain broken triggers, animals triggering, and other wired happening post-GM.

            If this is the case, who knows about it, and what are they doing with it?

          10. @Earl of Purple

            > I think Nursery’s a pre-GM cape.

            I imagine her power contributed a lot during the last stage of the battle against Scion if this is the case.

          11. Quite possibly, if it could be used safely and without horrifically impregnating every cape in proximity.

    3. 2. a. The term “superimposed” suggests ten bodies intersecting one another, with the final result looking like a fleshy blob with random appendages such as arms, legs, feet, nostrils, eyes etc sticking out everywhere.

      Basically, a small version of Eden’s corpse.

          1. @Jack Baxter

            Could be that this is what Amy did, but Victoria has no way of knowing it, unless Amy somehow consciously realized it before or during Gold Morning and shared those details with Victoria when she was putting her together. I find it doubtful.

            @Vilheim

            I would have to check relevant descriptions again, but from what I recall about Victoria’s body in her Asylum days it didn’t look like ten superimposed people. Maybe three or four.

  9. Ooops, meant to post here.

    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.”

  10. My God. I wonder if Tattletale’s party and Kenzie’s party are also having kick-ass parahuman fights or if Victoria just cut their pay and they went off scot-free.

    1. My guess would be that some of LL’s mercs could decide to stand down, or even turn on LL and co. at this point, but there is still a fight going on. Not everyone on LL’s side is a mercenary, and not all of those mercenaries were hired by Love Lost. Cradle and March probably also brought their own.

  11. – so wait, is Aroa’s power permanent? 😱
    – Lord of Loss is crazy-strong
    – love the idea of the giant versatile Breaker-Brute professional being a tweenage girl
    – I strongly suspect Lord of Loss’ laugh is as much an expression of genuine amusement as Kenzie’s smile
    – way to troll us with the hope of Parian’s real power. Still, Rain’s is an acceptable second prize
    – poor Power Ranger dude. Sometimes you just get a poor matchup and Vicky was one of the worst possible for him. He can’t hit her twice before her field comes back up. Ironically, the same strategy she and Precipice used against LoL would have worked very well against Antares if he had someone to pull off the one-two punch with or the right weapon
    – really *really* can’t wait to see the proper use of Rain’s emotion power

    1. > Ironically, the same strategy she and Precipice used against LoL would have worked very well against Antares if he had someone to pull off the one-two punch with or the right weapon

      I think there is a good chance that he could pull it off by himself if he knew that Victoria’s forcefield needs to recharge after a good hit. He probably doesn’t know though. For someone as bad at keeping secrets as Victoria, she is remarkably good at making sure that not many people know about this particular weakness.

      Maybe Victoria will even realize one day just how much she owes Tattletale for not blabbing about this particular secret left and right, especially now that the unwritten rules seem to mean less and less every day. Lisa knew about this weak point at least since the bank job back in Worm, and Victoria knew just as long that Tattletale knew…

        1. She literally went on TV to blab a bunch of secrets. It is quite possibly the thing she is currently best known for, in-setting.

          1. Eh. She doesn’t blab about all the little things in therapy, she doesn’t defend Kenzie with details she learned in private when told Kenzie doesn’t want to publicize it. She revealed secrets that really, shouldn’t have been secrets in the first place, to protect ones she cared about from being the discussion on a public broadcast.

            From the perspective of others, sure, Victoria’s a blabbermouth. But as a reader, it should be clear that she’s keeping secrets beyond her forcefield. Secrets to protect her team/friends.

        2. It is not that she tells secrets as much as taking unnecessary risks with other people’s secrets. For example it took Kenzie and her holographic tech (and at least a few weeks of work) to make Victoria Dallon – a well known cape, to stop openly appearing in public with members of her team who actually have secret identities to hide – like Tristan, Byron, Rain, Chris or Kenzie.

          Gimel does have internet, phones with cameras, and it’s share of Greg Veders. It is a wonder that civilian identities of her entire team aren’t public knowledge by this point. Of course everyone else in the team is just as guilty as her of being careless, but she is supposed to be the cape geek here – she should know better.

          1. She even did this stunt with a photo for her fan on the train in chapter 4.4. Sure, she made sure that Tristan’s and Ashley’s eyes were covered in that shot, but she also made a scene on that train. Chances are that some passengers of that train took their photos of the trio of capes when nobody was looking, and when no faces were covered. It was probably not a big problem for Ashley, but Tristan does have a secret identity to hide, and such situations can be endanger it.

          2. Sorry for an obvious grammatical error in the last sentence. Someone distracted me while I was editing it, and I sent it in the middle of the edit by mistake.

    2. Parian already has a power capable of going head-to-head with Leviathan and not embarrassing herself. What more does she need?

  12. Straightjacket -> straitjacket
    phoenix from its egg -> Not so much a typo, but isn’t the motif associated with phonixes is that they rise from their ashes? I think that fits better anyway, what with LoL crumbling into ashes.

    1. Oh, I meant for that to go in the typo thread. Sorry. I messed up by reloading the page.

      @Woolly Bammoth
      I don’t want to annoy with what might seem as a nitpick, but considering that you introduced a trans character previously, and Vicky was mindful of using gender neutral pronouns for her opponent in this particular fight, I think the following is worth pointing it out <3
      I know Vicky is in the middle of a battle and contradicting Chastity would be counterproductive. But I take a small issue with Victoria suggesting that Chastity could determine the pronouns (and by extension, gender) of the parahuman in orange through her body sense. Gender and pronouns aren't determined by body parts.

      To everyone else, I know it's super duper late, but I have a question about Chris's interlude, that I have not seen asked before. Namely, how in heck did Lab Rat get access to a lab and Chris get to it?

      Was this Lab Rat's lab at the Birdcage? Why on Earth would Chris's caretakers take anyone, leave alone a child, to the Birdcage? That place must be one big booby-trap. Similarly, if this was the PRT lab, there is no reason to be taken there, and LR shouldn't have had the time or know-how to change the access codes. If this was any other lab, Chris's caretakers should have been evacuating him out of Bet.

      1. Victoria was using gender neutral language because she had nothing to go on. Then Chastity revealed the Orange Ranger’s sex. That may not define his pronouns, but it’s pretty strong evidence given that gender and biology are only misaligned a fraction of a percent of the time. So, now she’s reverted to her default behavior of making an extremely reasonable guess and accepting the tiny possibility of needing to be corrected later.

      2. “But I take a small issue with Victoria suggesting that Chastity could determine the pronouns (and by extension, gender) of the parahuman in orange through her body sense. Gender and pronouns aren’t determined by body parts.”

        Take issue with it all you want but a vast vast majority of the time they are determined that way, it’s a perfectly safe assumption to make until someone says otherwise.

      3. If we’re going to be nitpickers and dickwaffles about it, biological sex is independent of gender identity, and is referenced by pronouns. Antares can be calling them a biological male and be 100% correct.

        Personal preference can be one thing or another, but using the same words(/pronouns) for gender identity that also denote biological sex is just asking to confuse people. I never understood why Trans and DID peeps tried using the same goddam words for a wholly different concept.

        But I’m not the most smartly-ish person in the world, so that’s probably why I don’t get it.

        1. While I agree with Antares using what she has to go on to refer to the guy, I’d say that the pronouns for identity are what the person is probably trying to turn their body into. A trans man is on the road to having biological male parts, a trans woman is on the road to having biological female parts. Once the surgery is complete, whether or not they still acknowledge the transition to others, there’s not a difference that matters in the biology between trans and natural. That’s why the same words are used. Because the intention with a trans person is to make the body fit the identity over time. Like Furcate slowly using their power to bit by bit move more towards female, but with mundane means.

          1. In the specific context of referring to a trans person’s current gender, sure. But there’s a point where you have to sit down and ask yourself “how do I refer to this person I know nothing about, when using a language where pronouns denote gender.”

            Your only options are to try and be as vague as possible to allow for every possibility (and vagueness is anathema to communication), or to use the pronoun that references what you’re able to observe.

            This only becomes a problem because, ironically, the concept of gender identity is being confused with the concept of chromosomal gender, despite the fact that the distinction between those two is the entire reason why trans and related gender identity conflicts exist at all.

        2. For somebody with gender dysphoria, it’s unpleasant to be reminded that their body doesn’t match their identity. Pronouns can be one of those painful reminders. That is why they prefer pronoun selection to be based on their gender identity rather than their body. It helps them cope.

          Of course, it’s not reasonable to expect people to abstain from gendered language until a gender identity is known. But it is perfectly reasonable to expect people to respect others’ pronoun preferences once those preferences have been stated. That’s just common courtesy, the same as if somebody asks you to accommodate their peanut allergy.

          1. Alright, I see that. The nature of the identity [i]is[/i] (html? other?) the conflict of biological gender. Their gender identity will use the same pronouns regardless.

            Confusing. But I suppose it goes both ways.

            Somewhat of a side note, that has me wondering about LoL, up there. I remember WibblyBoo talking about various trigger events that would lead to breaker/(other) powers, and one for breaker/changer had the person with gender dysphoria, but not knowing what that even was. So they had this nebulous idea that they weren’t what they should be, but couldn’t grasp the idea of what they were supposed to be. The conflict of identity, but with the self-identity just being this blank, resulted in them “tumbling down the breaker hole,” as WB put it.

            LoL has a distinctly male appearance and (seems to?) acts like a male traditionally would, but the internet typing and the name joke has me wondering if they’re actually a teenage girl wrapped up in a male breaker form. As in, maybe they didn’t know what they felt like they were supposed to be, and just shaped the breaker/changer state until they ended up with what felt comfortable, and were surprised to see a man looking back in the mirror.

  13. Sorry for bringing up Teacher again, but I think I just found another reason why he can’t be the main antagonist of this story.

    I already told not long ago that between the fact that Contessa, who belongs to “do the wrong things for the right reasons” camp, left him in charge of Cauldron and the fact that in the epilogue of Worm Teacher hinted that he wants to create “An alliance, not for villainous purposes, but to achieve something greater. Fighting against entropy and all that is wrong in the world”. It sounds like he also may be doing what he does for the right reasons, which probably already disqualifies him as the main antagonist.

    There is more however. Between Scapegoat’s interlude, Aiden’s interlude and chapter 11.3 we learned that someone is going after powerful precogs. In Aiden’s interlude we see Tattletale’s question “Why capture/corner/co-opt precogs?. Since dealing with them does not prevent a number of people from realizing that some great threat is coming, and what the nature of this threat is, I think that the answer to this question could be not “because they can be used as tools to do something bad”, but “because know more than just the nature of the threat – they could tell how to deal with it”.

    This means that Someone or Something is trying to benefit from whatever this threat is. Possibly this S. or S. even engendered this threat. It doesn’t look like this S. or S. is just a bunch of shards randomly trashing after Scion’s death – S. or S. is working with purpose and a plan, and that in my eyes makes S. or S. a candidate for the main antagonist of this story.

    1. As for who or what this Someone or Something could be, consider who knows about the threat, and what hints they could get. My current list of people who know for sure what the threat is exactly is: Jessica Yamada, Valkyrie, Snag, Love Lost. Tattletale also knows about the threat, but doesn’t know what it is exactly (see Aiden’s interlude).

      Love Lost knows from Snag. Valkyrie could know from Jessica or vice versa. Jessica seemed to be very tongue-tied about the problem with the therapy group, but at the same time insisted that Victoria needs to take care of it. Since we saw the main threat of Worm (Scion) hiding in plain sight from the first arc of that story, chances are that the same thing is happening in Ward. Rain’s cluster seems to be the obvious answer linking Love Lost, Snag and Yamada, but is it something that simple? How would Valkyrie be convinced that this threat is so serious? Did she ever see any of Rain’s cluster members? How would she know if she never saw them? Why would Tattletale suspect the threat, but not know what it is if it was connected to Rain’s cluster? She saw all four of it’s known members. Why would it be connected to problems with precogs?

      Any ideas? Do you think it is Rain’s cluster, and someone is trying to get precogs to benefit from the situation somehow? Or do you think it is something else, something not so directly connected with the cluster? What it could be? I would guess that whatever or whoever it is we saw this threat in the first arc, or maybe even in Glow-worm.

      1. Is there something that doesn’t quite fit in Glow-worm or act 1 of Ward? Something different from the obvious red herrings planted there – like Scion as we saw him in the first interlude of Worm was in hindsight different from all capes mentioned in the first act of that story? I would bet that this element, which I think is the main antagonist or threat of the story is something we saw even before we met the therapy group in the second arc.

        And no, I don’t know answers to all of those questions. I just think these could be the questions we need to answer to know what is the ultimate threat or antagonist of this story.

        1. Also, why only Love Lost (and possibly Snag) seem convinced that the city already doomed? Even Valkyrie and Yamada don’t seem to be certain about it. I’m not sure that it is just Love Lost’s defeatism speaking here. She may know something that even Valkyrie doesn’t.

          Sorry for posting so many questions without answers, but I think that maybe if I happen to ask the right question here, maybe one of us will figure all of it out. A good question could be half of the answer after all, couldn’t it?

          1. Here is a “not necessarily quite joke” answer to the question about what could be the element from Glow-worm, that doesn’t fit. Could it be Madison Clements? We didn’t see her after Glow-worm, at least not under this name. What if she triggered, and was looking for info about Taylor for some nefarious reasons for example?

          2. Heck, maybe Madison wasn’t even looking for info about Taylor, but instead trying to find out something about Victoria? Either way it seems suspicious that she got an entire chapter of Glow-worm for herself, and then just apparently completely disappeared.

          3. Another suspicious thing about Madison is how did she just figure out Victoria’s civilian handle so quickly after PHO went back online? Was this chat just to confirm that Point_Me_@_The_Sky is Victoria Dallon? What if Madison was looking for is in Victoria’s post in the first chapter of Glow-worm? There are Victoria’s posts presumably from before Madison started bombarding Victoria with anonymous messages in that chapter. What if Madison just needed to confirm that those post came from Victoria? What would she get by such confirmation?

        2. The thing that continues to sit on me is the unknown, possibly inhuman fifth member of Rain’s cluster. If Snag understood it, which he seemed to after death, and communicated the knowledge to Love, that’s how she’d know. Jessica was involved with counselling Rain and connected to the dream research. Not sure about Valkyrie, but she seems like she might be able to figure it out on her own. Or Riley might be involved to link her in.

          The dead alien world is presumably the setting for the cluster dream. The dream seems to be a unique aspect of that cluster so something is keeping them all together.

          I like the link that clusters are miniature reenactments of entities though. Multiple shards in sync.

          1. It bugs me too, though I’m not sure if whatever is there could even be called a member of the cluster.

    2. Dude, I think you need a creative outlet.

      But since I’m the kind of person who likes watching things spiral out of control:

      Have you considered the possibility that Rain’s cluster might all be one shard, instead of four different ones?

      1. Who knows? There is definitely something “wrong” with this cluster. An unexpected number of shards could be a part of it.

        As for the creative outlets, I’m in my opinion unfortunately quite bad at most “traditional” creative forms – from writing stories, through drawing and painting, and beyond. The only “creative” thing I think I’m any good at, and I’m comfortable sharing, seems to be analyzing things in more detail than most people would do, and creating overly complicated theories linking all of those details I can see. Who knows, maybe I’m just borderline schizophrenic?

        1. There definitely seems to be one will behind the cluster, and both Snag’s thoughts when we last saw him in the dream-room (about something, not somethings in the dark space), and especially Love Lost’s mail from the previous chapter seem like they may support the single-shard theory.

          HE SHOUTS AT ME FROM THE BOTTOM OF A WELL FILLED WITH
          THE POWER OF A DESTROYED ALIEN WORLD AND I HEAR ECHOES OF WHISPERS

          Note single, not plural “alien world”.

          What I fail to understand at the moment is why it could be significant that it is a single shard, and not plural. Is it a shard we already know from somewhere else, or otherwise rare one, like one of the Abandon’s shards, or shards performing some key functions in Warrior or Thinker Entities (like the “Queen” shards for example)?

          1. Okay, Here’s a fun theory for you:

            Shards take… impressions from people.
            What if the threat is aliens… not in the sense of the shards themselves, but in the sense of one (or more) of the dead/ghost civilisations they have subsumed… that has left enough of an “imprint” to be a serious actor now that the shard network is borked.

            As evidence for this I present….
            absolutely nothing.
            It just sounds really really cool, and if that happened, I would be super excited and satisfied.

            Also, about your earlier discussion of “The threat is always in arc one”….
            personally I suspect that WobbleBubble will have forshadowed the damn thing pretty heavily (as is obvious), but I kind of wonder if this time WB will have avoided putting things quiet so early, if only for the sake of stricking down meta-gaming as you have proposed earlier in the comments.
            Thoughts?

          2. Here is another theory – the beast is trying to regrow it’s head. The shard, or shards of Rain’s cluster recognized that humans are intelligent enough to kill Eden and Scion, and are trying to incorporate become a new core of an Entity by incorporating humans into themselves. In case of this cluster at least Snag may be just the first to be “incorporated”.

          3. Scratch ‘incorporate’ in “are trying to incorporate become” above… As much as I understand why we can’t edit our posts here, I keep doing things that make me wish it was not the case.

            Annoying…

          4. @ninegardens

            As for your “aliens” theory, who knows? We know (from Valkyrie’s interlude for example) that shards seem to retain imperfect echos of personalities of the parahumans they were connected to. It could be the same with the beings they met in the previous cycles, though I would expect personalities of those beings to be even more degraded than those of any of Valkyrie’s shadow or any member of her flock.

          5. You act like there’s no possible way a random person on the internet could empathize with you. Like you’re somehow alone in your troubles, or your age, or all your oh-so-insurmountable difficulties.

            I’m thirty. I have a degenerative connective tissue disorder that means I’ll be fully immobile within ten more years, and I already have the mobility of a person three times my age. I do have the schizophrenia you suspect you might, and another problem that literally retards my ability to understand human social relations. All I ever wanted in life was to be heard, or if nothing else, to leave more behind than a corpse. I’m lucky if I can physically lift myself out of bed some days, and I’m luckier if I can hold a conversation with someone long or well enough to convey and idea.

            None of that matters in writing.

            Also, what you linked is still better than what I started with.

            I’m not saying something dumb like “You can succeed at anything you try, because reasons!” What I’m saying is “If you know you’re good at something, you can use that to pretend you’re good at other things and gloss over what you aren’t good at.” I learned more by cleverly writing around what I didn’t know how to, than I did by trying to write things I didn’t know how to.

            Such as, if you think you’re good at observational humor and you get ideas for how things might work together (like this sequence of posts), write those down on a page. Then look at them and see how they might go together. That’s called a setting, or a background idea, or even just an outline. Keep doing that long enough, and let it build itself up enough, and you’ve already done ninety percent of the work.

            Then you do the same thing for people. What is a person’s “details”? What specific things make them tick? People have rules for how they interact with other people, and there are actual books that succeed off that principle alone. If you can get human interactions to work with the “setting” you outlined above, you can call that an epic. You can also call it a completed story. Again, it’s just building: you’re letting details play off each other, and filling the spaces between with gloss and bullshit. Nobody notices the things you don’t call attention to, and if they do you get to pull the “it was necessary for the story” card.

            Freezing in front of a blank page is something everyone does. It’s not a flaw, it’s called being new. There isn’t even a solution for it, it’s just something you learn to not focus on.

            But whatever, dude. You can tell yourself whatever you want to. If your life has been grand and fulfilling up to this point, then you’re doing nothing wrong and don’t need to change anything. I do what I do with my life, because mine wasn’t, but if we really aren’t the same then that doesn’t matter.

          6. It is not that I don’t think that nobody on the internet can empathize with me, or that nobody has it worse then me. I know this is not the case, and I’m very sorry to see that you are one of those people.

            It is just that I’ve already tried activities closely related to creative writing, and I know it just rarely worked in a way I would be satisfied with. I could write about how being able to observe, analyze, theorize, and make an occasional joke doesn’t translate to an ability to creating stories – from making a setting and a plot, through thinking up interesting, believable characters, to writing descriptions or dialogues. I could write how my professional career, my personal life, and probably even my chances of living a long, happy, healthy life were basically ruined by a combination of some foolish choices I made decades ago, and some of my problems related to what keeps me from writing fiction, but what’s the point?

            It is not that anyone comes here to listen to our sad life stories. If anything, I suspect plenty of people here are here to get away from similar big and small problems with themselves and their lives. What is the point of reminding them here of all places that those problems exist?

          7. I guess what I was trying to say, is that I just wanted to explain why I don’t feel comfortable doing creative writing, or any other “traditional” art, and not to burden anyone with my problems or look for anyone’s sympathy here.

            I guess I should just consider posting those crazy theories and occasional bad jokes my form of creative expression, and be happy with that. Unless there are people here who don’t want me to do it? So far I’ve seem mixed responses, though as far as I remember nobody’s told me yet to just stop posting here at all, so for now I’m just trying to find a way to do it that doesn’t make either me or other people here unhappy. I admit that I struggle with finding both the right form, and the right contents for my posts, but I feel like maybe I’m slowly getting there. How about I try to do it some more before I decide to quit?

          8. Are you asking me for permission? Because you shouldn’t be.

            As far as I know and/or care, the one consistent rule in life is that people have regrets when it ends. They regret being selfish, they regret not taking that one chance, they regret not being more accepting of other people, they regret not giving as much as they could, and they regret holding back.

            It’s weird how it’s always the same things. Maybe it’s just my family (or, more specifically, the old people in my family), but I don’t think it’s a bad takeaway. We only have so much life: it’s just a fact that there will be some things you can’t do. And if writing isn’t something you want to spend that time on, then I don’t exactly get a say in that.

            I can say it looks like you want to, but that comes from my own experiences.

          9. I’m not asking you specifically for permission. I’m just stating that I’m aware that certain people here may find my posting habits bothersome. I’m not entirely happy with them myself, so I’m asking anyone who wants me to shut up to just say so. I can see that I probably should try post less, and think more before I do it.

            As for writing stories I would very much like to spend my time on it if I thought I could write something I thought people would enjoy, and at the same time I would not feel embarrassed about posting. I just don’t think I have what it takes to do so, and I don’t expect to change my mind about it in the foreseeable future. What I don’t want to spend my time on is writing stories that no one would like to read, and probably should never have been published. There are enough of those around the Internet already.

        2. :eyeroll:

          I used to think the same thing you did, and used to be much the same with my writing as well. Then I spent a year trying to write, scrap, and re-write a simple fanfic, and now I’m writing 3K words a day because I finally have a way to let all the ideas out and it feels fantastic. Moreso when people recommend my stuff to other people on places like Reddit, and the whole time I’m thinking there’s no way I deserve people appreciating the things I do but apparently I don’t get any say in the matter.

          Turns out the real problem was one of confidence, not skill. I don’t think you’re any different.

          1. The thing is that I’ve struggled with disgraphy and disortography for most of my life, and I’m not exactly all that young anymore. Add to it my tendency to either freeze for hours in front of an empty page, when I’m supposed to write anything longer than a page or two, or creating overly long and complicated, unnaturally sounding, difficult to follow sentences when I finally start to write, and you can see my problem. I haven’t managed to write a somewhat satisfying (at least from my point of view) scenario for an RPG for years, much less a story!

            That’s even not counting language barrier if I were to try and write in English.

            And don’t even get me started on things that require any sort of hand-eye coordination (like drawing), or really any coordination at all. I completely suck at those.

            And I don’t see any appeal in creating things I would be so dissatisfied with I would have problem looking at myself, much less showing them to other people.

            Once again – I’m not exactly all that young anymore, if there is something I’m really bad at right now despite repeated attempts to get better ( like writing), I doubt I’ll ever manage to become any good with it. I think it is well past the time in my life when I stop trying to learn doing things I suck at, and focus on things I seem to be at least somewhat good at. I think like analyzing, looking for patterns may be one of those things.

          2. And if you really want to be exposed to a horror of me trying to write a short fanfic, I actually posted something along those lines on this site a few chapters ago, when I tried to extrapolate an idea I had at that time about Taylor possibly being a great manager even without her powers. The fic begins here: https://www.parahumans.net/2018/11/17/polarize-10-8/#comment-53807 and runs for a few more posts. The idea that started that fic is in my wall of text just above it. Fair warning – I was really dissatisfied with that short story I wrote there, and that is even discounting obvious grammatical, punctuation, spelling and similar technical issues with it.

  14. Anyone else wish Lung had a redemption arc? I like his personality and he isn’t evil just kind of an asshole like Armsmaster use to be. If he becomes even slightly anti-hero he would be one of the strongest heroes out there.

    1. I don’t know about redemption, but I suspect that being aligned by Goddess could clear any influence Teacher had on him. And if not Goddess than maybe Panacea or Cryptid could do it? If Lung was to have a change of hear, or otherwise do something that would define him as a person, now is probably a good time for it to happen.

      1. Thats true but its weird that he would even align with teacher or go under his control considering how much he hates mind control and not being in command himself.

        1. If I recall correctly (though I may be wrong here), Lung agreed to it in the Birdcage in hopes of breaking out of this control later.

          1. That gives me hope, after seeing him slowly begin to respect taylor and follow her orders at the end of worm I thought see might convert him into some type of hero😂. My hopes were dashed when she left and he went back to being a villain for hire.

    1. I personally hope that Purity gets out of her time loop. I think there is an excellent chance for a lot of character-development-through-suffering there. Any of the people time trapped or time looped before Gold Morning would have a ton of adjustment to do after learning that the world they knew was destroyed, but for Purity there is also a question of her personal tragedy as a mother.

      1. I like Purity’s power but i disliked how easily kaiser led her around and kept bringing her back to empire. She would also be mentally broken with Aster dead already.

        1. She would need a lot of time and help to recover for sure, but I don’t necessarily think she would be a hopeless case. Difficult – sure, but not hopeless.

  15. Here is another crazy theory. What if Scion and Eden were not true cores of their Entities, but just parts of Entities designed to think they are the cores, oversee data collection and then die? What if it happens during every cycle, and the “true cores” of Warrior and Thinker are either hidden, or just don’t exist, as what makes the “true identity of an Entity” is distributed among multiple shards?

    If that is the case, then the cycle is going exactly as planned, and the Entities are in the process of putting themselves back together.

    1. I don’t buy into this theory. I think that both Scion and Eden were killed by the third entity.

      Eden swapped shards with #3, noticed that 3 was way ahead in lots of areas, used #3s superior future sight shard to plan the invasion and then immediately crashed into earth and died to someone Eden had given an unfortunately overpowered shard to.

      #3 had a better more evolved Path to Victory style shard than either Edn or Scion and used it to kill both of them in a casual drive by. The two entities we met so far seem godlike by human standards, but they were out classed and out smarted by #3.

      I’m more worried that number #3 was doing a long loop seeming to move out of range and will now circle back to collect all the remaining shards after having picked off the two entities.

      1. I also think it is more likely that the Warrior and the Thinker were truly killed by Abandon (as those entities are called in the wiki). I just stated a remote possibility, that could become an unexpected plot twist in the future.

  16. WIBBLEBOBBLE!! YOU CAN’T TEASE US ABOUT PARIAN’S REAL POWER LIKE THIS!! :'(
    (although yay for maybe finding out what rain’s power is 🙂 )

  17. Since we probably are up to see Sveta’s interlude in the near future, I wonder if we will learn there why Sveta seems to insist on using exclusively what sounds like diminutive form of name Svetlana, and what form of this name appears in her American documents.

    If Bet was anything like our Earth in this regard, I have little doubt that any Russian documents about her used basic form ‘Svetlana’ at least until she was moved to States, at which point she could have requested her name to be officially changed to ‘Sveta’.

    Some Slavs do it, when they move to places like US, where most people are bad at figuring out diminutive forms of Slavic names, because they find it weird being called with basic, “proper” form of their names, like ‘Svetlana’ in this case, while in Slavic countries many of those basic forms are used only in formal or official occasions, or if the speaker wants to stress certain emotional distance from the person whose name they’re using. Other Slaves, when they move to non-Slavic countries, leave their name in the official papers in its basic form, and just introduce themselves to everyone with a diminutive. There were also cases (though I guess mostly in nineteenth and maybe early twentieth centuries) when people had their names changed by immigration officers who asked for immigrant’s name, and after the immigrant responded with the diminutive form (a hard habit to break for some Slavic people) just wrote this form it the papers, and it stuck as far as legal system was concerned.

    I wonder which one is the case with Sveta. If for example Jessica Yamada got documents with Sveta’s basic information before meeting our favorite case 53 for the first time, did those documents say:
    – First Name: Svetlana,
    – First Name: Svetlana (insists on using Sveta),
    – First Name: Sveta?
    I know it is a small thing, but being Slavic myself I would really like to find out. It could say us a little something about either Sveta’s personality and/or the bureaucratic machine that handled her personal data.

    1. And I won’t even go into double diminutives (basically diminutive forms derived from diminutives like ‘Sveta’), triple diminutives and so on, though between a name like Svetlana, and how nice this particular case 53 appears to be, I could totally see those used often, especially by another speaker of Russian who knows Sveta well.

        1. I’m not even insisting that Weld calls her ‘Svetyushka’ or something along those lines. Simple ‘Svetka’ would probably mean even more to her if he used it in a right context.

          1. Maybe, but Russia is just where Cauldron dumped her, not where she grew up. Their language and culture might not have any real significance to her.

          2. Russian is probably the first language she remembers. In Worm Taylor noted more than once that Sveta had Russian accent. Victoria makes no such note, but considering how long she knew Sveta in the asylum, I guess she would notice if Sveta didn’t have the accent when they were reunited in the second arc of Ward, so I guess that Sveta still has it after all those years, which in turn means she probably still remembers Russian quite well.

            There is also the fact that both Taylor and Victoria noticed at times that Sveta inserted one or two words from Russian into her English, especially when she was agitated.

          3. And if she knows Russian, and Russia is the first place she remembers clearly, not to mention the place where she, despite her best attempts, managed to accumulate triple-digit bodycount, then I think it is safe to say that Russia, and probably also it’s culture and language still mean a lot to her, even if not all of it is good.

          4. @chema

            Tt wouldn’t even be the worst case. Imagine if Weld tried to calm Sveta down using those diminutives after she learned what he and Victoria were talking about last time.

            “Don’t you try to ‘Svetka’ me Weld! My name is Svetlana, and better remember it!”

            And then he would have to sleep on a doormat. (How much does he sleep anyway? I don’t remember, but you get what I mean.) Which is why I told that diminutives could help Weld if he used them in the right context.

          5. She was only in Russia a few years, and she spent those years as a mass murderer and fugitive with no ability to blend in. So it’s not like she was doing the full-immersion routine of living with the locals and getting lots of friendly interaction to rapidly learn from. Language lessons from the general populace would have consisted almost entirely of swear words and pleading; anything else she learned would have had to be from TV and radio, from overheard conversations while hiding, or from her captors prior to being sent to America.

            That means it’s possible she never learned enough Russian to pick up on and integrate nuanced things like naming conventions. That’s especially true if the Russians realized that she’d eventually be sent to the Institute and decided it’d be more productive to start teaching her English rather than fleshing out her Russian.

          6. I think you may underestimate complexity of her interactions with the Russians. She had Russian accent during Gold Morning – at least two years after she came to States. Judging from Victoria’s reaction (or rather lack of it) during their reunion she probably still has it. Also she interacted with people to the point where someone named her Sveta. Considering the meaning of the name, I highly doubt whoever named her saw her swa her as a murderous monster, quite opposite actually. Even if she chose the name herself it would mean that she knew enough Russian to understand the meaning of that name, and interacted with people enough to feel the need to have one.

            By the way I wonder if her surname indicates that she was dropped off by the Cauldron in Eastern (Russian) Karelia? Maybe in one of the ports along the White Sea, or one of the big Karelian lakes? We know Cauldron left her in a big population center.

          7. What I’m trying to say is that while she may not be able to quote classic Russian literature from memory, sing popular songs, or try keep up with current political affairs in pre-GM Russia, or even speak Russian quite like a native speaker, she probably formed emotional bonds with someone (at least one person) there, which means Russia probably still has personal meaning for her, and she probably still knows the language well enough to pick up on, and react to nuances of diminutive forms of Russian names.

          8. Not to mention that I don’t think she would not have much of an accent, or tendency to use Russian words if she learned the language fully passively – just by listening to people, radio, etc. She speaks Russian, and that tells me she had someone to speak to, someone willing to listen. And if that was the case, then that someone didn’t see her just as a monster, and she didn’t see that person as just another passerby.

          9. And don’t tell me diminutive forms of names are a difficult thing to get when you learn the language by talking to native speaker. Names are first things people exchange when they meet, and considering how important and commonly diminutive forms of names are used in Russian (significantly more often than in English), learning them would follow very quickly – they are not rocket science, they belong in ABC of Russian as it is used in practice.

          10. Being sworn at in Russian for a few years would be more than enough to adopt the swears for herself, learning English from somebody with a Russian accent would result in a Russian accent of her own, and upbeat, pretty names like Sveta can be picked off a list.

            I’m not ruling out that she had a Russian friend at some point who meant a lot to her and taught her the language, and I do find it a more interesting explanation. I’m rooting for it, even. I’m just not taking it as a given.

          11. Let me put it this way then. In Slavic languages diminutives are just as natural ways to express emotions, to emphasize, to communicate your emotional distance from your listeners or even your mood as body language or a tone of speaker’s voice. And in normal conversation they are used just as automatically. Even using the basic form of a name is not emotionally neutral. It often means establishing some sort of emotional distance – just like using a surname instead of first name would be.

            Sveta would have to be completely devoid of empathy to not pick up on this cultural code, to not connect such universal cues as body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice with certain diminutives. And I think we can both agree that she doesn’t lack empathy. Perhaps she has even too much for her own good.

          12. Now that I think about it, perhaps the widespread use of diminutives (and to a lesser extent argumentatives) in Slavic languages come from the very basic structure of those languages. Almost all Slavic languages have both very flexible sentence structure, and are highly inflected.

            This conditions speakers of those languages to think of a word not as a static, uniform whole, but as something that consists of a relatively static “core” which indicates basic meaning of the world, and more flexible part or parts (almost always a suffix, sometimes also a prefix) that indicates the relationship of the word with everything else in the sentence.

            This system with flexible suffixes and prefixes lends itself quite naturally to modifying words to creating and using multitude of diminutive and argumentative forms of not only names, but also many other nouns, adjectives, even numerals and so on.

            In English, which puts more emphasis on using strict word order to indicate relationship between words in a sentence, and has much simpler word inflection system (in grammatical sense), creating and using extensive systems of diminutives and argumentatives probably feels a bit less natural, and as such those forms are used less often.

          13. Ups… sorry. I’ve just realized that I typed “argumentative” instead of “augumentative” above, which obviously means something completely different.

    2. Yeah, her name should be Svetlana Karelina to sound 100% Russian.
      Also should be some patronymic in the middle like “Alexandrovna”, but I can’t guess what she would like.
      Weld could call her ‘Svetochka’ 🙂
      Chris (Lab Rat) called her ‘Svet’ in 8.2, which is correct short form to address in conversation.

  18. Ward needs some more anti heros, people like punisher or deadpool who show up and just murder all the villains (maybe due to being wronged by one before) and all the heros can say is thanks but stop please killing them.

    1. Gavel. Went to the Birdcage after taking it too far. Put everyone else off. Shards do like to escalate, after all.

      Lethal force has long been frowned upon because of the need for Endbringer defenders.

      These days? It could happen. I’m not sure anyone we know would do it though.

      1. That is very plausible especially since she was trying (somewhat) to be a hero before everything went down. Theo is one of my favorite characters so that would also mean more screen time for him which is another plus for me in her coming back.

        1. Thats true but I was mostly thinking the 2 in the original post because they are so OP and worm desperately needs some more OP heros with a likeable personality in my opinion otherwise the world is gonna go the same way as the last book with the amount of untamed S class threats running around

        2. Whops… I meant the two comments above to be in response to the anti-hero comment, not necessarily the one about Crawler and Siberian clones.

  19. That makes more sense, she does fit the niche well though bringing her up opened my eyes to how many characters that survived worm are missing.

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