Blinding – 11.8

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“If you’re right then I’m a big fucking idiot,” Precipice said.  “That’s supposed to be a pick-me-up?  Good news?”

“No,” I said.  I was going to follow up, but I didn’t get a chance.

“That’s not right at all!  You have to look on the bright side!” Candy said, with enthusiasm, her eyes flitting this way and that as she took in the extended constructions of flesh that ringed the area.  There was an edge to her voice that betrayed her alarm at the situation.  “If she’s right, you’re a secret genius.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Precipice said.

“Very very secret,” Aroa muttered.  “The kind of secret that people might notice in a hundred years, if they cared enough to study you.  Which they don’t.”

“Closer,” Precipice said.

I shook my head, focusing more on the battlefield than anything.  Lord of Loss was pulling himself together, his thugs gathered around him.  Nursery had her own backup, but she wasn’t doing so well with them or at all.  Half my reason for hanging back in the now was to see if any cracks formed that we could exploit, there.

Then again, we had to keep the cracks from forming on our side too.  Foil was focused on Parian, the kids were scared.  Precipice was about as unsure of himself as any teenage boy would be, dealing with mercenaries hired by the woman who wanted to kill him, after having spent the latter part of the evening having his head screwed with by an attractive girl.  I tried to reach out, “Precipice, if you’re agreeing with Aroa, the girl who said she laughs when old people get hurt-”

“Babies or old people, really,” Candy supplied.  Aroa pointed a finger at her cousin without looking at her, nodding.

“-then you might be being a little hard on yourself,” I said.

“I’m an expert at being hard on myself,” Precipice said.  “It’s either that, or I’m the biggest asshole alive, and I’d rather hate myself than be an asshole.”

Well, not a lot I could say to that.

Chastity, though, was entirely on the ball when it came to rebuttals.  “Alternative, Precipice mon chou?  Find someone else and show them how hard you can be for them.  Having an external pressure release can be very nice.”

Precipice turned his head her way.

“I did not mean me, but I’m flattered,” she said, laying a hand over the triangle of cleavage she’d left strategically in place, with an amused tone that told me she’d wholly meant to imply herself.  “I meant our big man there, or the sea of horrific baby-makers that are waggling themselves at us as we speak.”

“Sorry,” Precipice said, apparently one hundred percent believing her.  “Yeah, that sounds like a good temporary plan.”

“It helps that Lord of Loss has a punchable face,” I said.  “Help me punch it.”

He created a silver blade in his hand.

“That’s part of it,” I told him.  “What we just talked about?  I need you to use your power.  We’ll try it out.”

“Are you fucking serious?” he asked.  “Now?”

“When else?”

“In a safe, controlled training environment?” he asked, with a tone like he was almost angry.  Incredulous.  A part of it was probably that I was reversing course on things I’d told him again and again.

“Fun fact,” I said.  “Powers don’t tend to jibe with safe and controlled environments.  For every cape that I know who picked up a trick in PRT labs or whatever, there are ten more who figured their tricks out because they had to.  You want to make it work?  Field test, be confident, be creative.”

“How many tried to pull something inventive and got their asses kicked?” Precipice asked.

Lots.  But our alternative is that if we don’t up our game then we get our asses kicked here, now.  The way this is going we’ll have to surrender or get captured, and we’ll have to deal with a woman who will probably impregnate us as an alternative to handcuffs and a guy who’s so unreasonable he thinks smileys should be appended to every sentence in an email.  Not even good ones.”

“If we surrender, they arrest us, not you,” Foil said, her voice low.  I hadn’t been sure she was with us at all, she’d been so quiet.  “You fly away, get help.”

I looked at her- I would have locked my eyes to hers to read her expression, but she wore a fencer-style opaque pane that covered her face.  Her costume was form-fitting, sleek and stylish because of course it had to be when she was partnered with a fashion designer, but that costume was normally adorned with a fanned-out array of spikes where the javelin-like bolts were in her quiver, darts mounted at her forearms, hips and thighs where she could grab them.  Most were empty now.

“How is she?”

Parian coughed, hoarse, and her shoulders and arm drew together at her upper body.  A length of cloth moved telekinetically, crossed under her mask, wiping her mouth, and came away bloody.

She gave me a thumbs up.  Foil, by contrast, was rigid, stricken.

“Foil.  We deny them what they want and what they want is you.  That’s the job.  You and the Heartbroken focus on finding an escape route.  Get clear.  If you can’t, you focus on keeping anyone else off of Precipice’s back, so he can help me.”

“Okay,” Foil said.  She gripped the handle of her rapier with both hands, even though it was a one-handed weapon.

She was in shock as much as Parian was, if not more, but she was pulling herself together in a visible way now that she had strict orders.  She wouldn’t be someone who had lived through six Endbringer encounters and the end of the world if she wasn’t.

“Do your best,” I told Precipice.

“Do my worst, you mean?”

“Yeah,” I said.

Nursery wasn’t accepting the help of her henchpeople, but getting to her wasn’t easy either, because her power was thickest closer to her.  Lord of Loss was hunched over, his outer body in a state of change where he was all over the place, half-falling apart.  It looked like as good a time as any, but appearances were deceptive.

My eye fell on the cabling that Lord of Loss had shucked off and left on the ground.

“I’ll be going where Lord of Loss is now.  Be ready.  We all move at the same time.”

Precipice nodded.

I took off, not flying for Lord of Loss, but at Nursery.  The group started running, the Heartbroken and Undersiders heading the opposite direction from Lord of Loss.  Precipice hung back a bit.

Nursery was aware of me, it seemed, and the wreath of moist appendages drew in closer to her in anticipation, spooking her henchpeople.  A loud noise to my right marked Lord of Loss taking action.

He emerged like a cannon shot.  Nursery-modified building skeletons crumbled as Lord of Loss scampered forward, almost running on the walls.  A wolf drawn out in a spindly, sleek way, a face like a spear-head, feet like spear-points. Bands were gathering out and unfolding, bulking him up as he ran.

Much as the bird had first appeared from the failing other form, Lord of Loss had been maintaining that in-the-works, haphazard construction as a feint, while forming a denser real body within.

That was fair.  I’d gone after Nursery as a feint, too.

I flew down, diving, to hit the ground hard, and the section of road that had turned to floorboards shattered beneath the Wretch as it hit.  Flesh beneath bruised and gouged, and it was that flesh that provided the real stopping power.

Hitting something hard provided the momentum for me to stop, so I could immediately fly the opposite direction, with an emphasis on immediate, because the gory impact was immediately followed by tongues and probosci trying to close in around me or latch on.

Even with the sleek form, Lord of Loss was slower to adapt, to turn.  It was similar to the bird, which had needed to take wide turns to fly.  It was still building in mass and scale, the spear-feet becoming paws as calcified metal strips folded and wrapped around.  He was aiming to win on the raw power front, and by outlasting me.

I landed at the safest point in the bloody mess around Lord of Loss’ landing spot, where flesh bulged and overlapped.  The primary threat I had to consider was a braid of umbilical cords with tiny faces peering out between the gaps.  I kept one eye on it, and almost missed the other, independent cords that were peeling up and away, trying to sneak their way to me.

The primary threat.  There were others.  Lord of Loss had moved quickly, escaping the remains of his prior form, but his soldiers had been gathered close and they hadn’t moved far.  Their focus had apparently been on getting clear of the worst of Nursery’s power, not on getting to a good place for stopping me or the others.

Problem: two had guns.

“Can’t be worth it!” I raised my voice.  “Throw down your weapons!”

They didn’t.  The only reaction I got for my trouble was from the umbilical tendrils, which seemed to hear the noise and turn my way.

I chose my course so the one large braided mass was between me and the gunman with the best angle to shoot at me.  Rather than fly around, I flew straight at it.  I hit it with the Wretch and struck it down with a direction in mind.  It slapped hard against the ground nearest one guy with a gun, shattering his footing.

I flew after him, ignoring my main objective for the moment.

The kind of shooting most people practiced was shooting while at the range.  Feet planted, shoulders square.  Not possible when three-quarters of that person’s footing and immediate surroundings were uneven fields of meat that wanted to pump them full of fast-gro mutant fetuses.

I hit the ground hard, just to the one gunman’s right.  They didn’t even pop off any shots as I made the approach, because they were focused on not getting sucked into the meat.  My landing broke more of the flooring.  If he’d been on an isolated section of ice in the middle of a frozen lake before, he was standing on ice cubes now.

“Drop it,” I told him, as his eyes widened and he realized his predicament.  I reached for his wrist and he didn’t fight me or try to get away.

The gun tumbled from his grasp.

Immediately, I took off, gripping him hard around the armpits with one hand, my other hand at his arm.  It was a precarious hold and he seemed to realize it, because he made a prolonged, frightened sound that wasn’t quite wail or whimper.  More of a ‘murrr’.

He was my human shield as I flew at the other gunman.  I let go of him, and I let him crash into the other guy.  Floorboards beneath them cracked but didn’t break like eggshells.  The building between this spot and Nursery had probably absorbed the worst of the mist.

I half-floated over to them, half-stalked.  With one stomp, I put the gun through the floor and into the meat.

“What the hell kind of money are you earning, that you’re willing to put up with this?” I asked.  “You know one of your buddies got a fetus stuck in their ear, right?”

“Not money,” one of them said, crawling backwards to get away from where the ground was bulging, a soft wet mass crowning at the aperture.  “Homes.”

Homes?

“On a safe world.  Big houses with two servants each.  Room for our families.”

I could hear Lord of Loss making his approach.  The building next to us shuddered, steel girders disintegrating and bending beneath Lord of Loss’s mass.

“Next time, throw down your weapons.  It’s not worth it.  Someone else would have killed you.”

“If we die, our families still get the homes.”

“If they get those homes-” I started.  Lord of Loss reached the edge of the building, metal screeching as it crumpled beneath him.  He looked down at me.  “-they’ll be living somewhere under the thumb of a guy who would throw away their loved ones without a second thought.”

“He has second thoughts,” one of the ex-gunmen said.  “He was clear about the rules.  The job comes first.”

“He’s better than others,” the other said.

Lord of Loss leaped down.  I flew back around the corner to where the braided umbilical thing had been.

I wanted to have a long, long discussion with them, but I wouldn’t get that chance.  When this was all over, we’d either be in Lord of Loss’s clutches or we’d be hurrying to help the other groups.

I really hoped for the latter.

In the lot, the braided umbilical thing was rousing, finding added length as it broke free of the container that had been Lord of Loss’s body.  A tendril with a draping of placental sacs was reaching in from the building Lord of Loss had damaged with his weight, and the ground was dissolving into a morass of reds, pinks, and layers of veiny translucent films.

I flew to the only area where the ground was semi-solid and the cable still aboveground, seizing up the length of metal in my gloved hands.  It jerked to a stop and the ice-crusted metal scraped against my gloves, tearing cloth.  I tapped into my super strength to get the power necessary to pull the rest of the cabling and hook free of the meat that had gripped it.

Lord of Loss prowled, hopping up to a nearby building to skip over the pool of crimson, past the groping sea of meat.

Alright, I thought, as I gripped the cable in my hands, feeling the Wretch periodically bat at it and grip it.  I clenched my jaw.  Hit me.

Lord of Loss chuckled, padding his way forward in the body of a burly wolf made up of overlapping strips of white.  The strips mingled at the spine, forming an uneven spiked ridge.  Where his feet set down, the ground broke and bled.

This is a stupid idea.

I cocked my head to one side.

Hi Rain, I thought.

I was aware of what he was doing, and instead of getting out of the area or getting angry, I kept my jaw clenched, and I endured it.  I made sure the Wretch had a grip on the crane’s cabling that we’d cut free, and then I spun, swinging the hook around.

Lord of Loss leaped, first up to the side of a building, then at me.  Aiming to get me before I could get the momentum sufficient to turn the hook into a means of real damage.

He was still confined to physical form, and bound by laws of physics.  Where his breaker form distorted rules was in allowing his sheer mass to stay functional, and in altering how he worked when he repeated actions.

I flew under the arc of his jump.  The timing was wrong to bring the hook to bear, but I could swat at him with the ends of the cables.  The hook had a pulley that was apparently locked, and four cables extended from it.  I had one cable firmly in my grasp, another in the Wretch’s grasp, but as the hook turned in its arc, the cables I wasn’t holding swung out on their own.

They’d been cut clean, and they were razor-like at the edges.  Sparks flew as they struck across his underbelly and back legs.

Not good enough.

Rain threw a silver blade, and it clipped Lord of Loss in the moment he landed.

I followed up, still spinning.  The hook came down, while Lord of Loss was still marked by the silver blade.

He hopped out of the way, and the hook carved a line through floorboards.  I saw the silver flare in the moment he finished his hop.  Slats began to extend and unfold, patching the injury.

He twisted, angling himself like he was going to leap to another building as a springboard to come at me again.  He didn’t.  He leaped sideways, twisting in the air, one shoulder partially unfurling to extend my way, claw breaking apart to be half as dense, the points twice as long.

I tried to bring the cable around, holding the midpoint and catching him with the cable-ends on the approach and the hook on the departure.  I only managed the former.  Too fast, too much momentum, and I had to get away from those extended claws.

The damage was less than minimal.  Too choked-up on the grip- like I was swinging a baseball bat at someone and trying to hit them with the end closest to my hands.

No.

He was building up the strength of his lunges faster than I was figuring out a means of attack.

This sucked.  Every bit of it sucked.  It sucked that Lord of Loss had more cachet with regular people than we did.  It sucked that this neighborhood was a nightmare, and someone was going to track the damage, blame all parahumans, and it would land in our laps before it even touched Lord of Loss.

Just like the community center.

Win the battle and lose the war?  It pissed me off that with this asshole, we didn’t even get to win the battles and we still lost the war.  He lucked out, he got a good power, and he leaned on consistency, doing jobs both small and big, building up a reputation, and never having cause to lose it.

Meanwhile, those of us who were trying to salvage things and manage a bad situation were getting kneecapped.  The public turned against us.

It was petty, it made me a smaller person, but I wanted to hurt his smug-ass face and knock him down a peg.  Take away that consistency and knock him down a peg.

And it galled me that it probably wouldn’t work.  At best we’d eke out a draw.

Momentum was key, so long as I was using the cable.  The Wretch was grabbing and plucking at the cable, which threw off the rotation a bit, but enough arms and teeth were holding on to keep my weapon firmly in my grip.

Anticipate the approach, assume he’ll time his attacks to avoid the hook-

He did.  I tried to maneuver myself in the air, to bring the hook around faster, so I could catch him, and I failed.

Not good enough.

I was starting to feel the accumulated effect of Precipice’s power.  It was like being on the basketball court, a thousand eyes watching me, and failing.  Failing in the eyes of my parents, failing in the eyes of my boyfriend, my sis-

Failing.

This wasn’t as simple as a hard shove in the direction of a second trigger.  I was pretty sure I didn’t qualify.  Second generation capes triggered ‘easier’, but there had never been a second generation cape who’d second triggered.  Whatever resources the power devoted to passing itself on seemed to rule it out, and I doubted the universe would be so kind as to let me be the first.  It would be too easy.

Multi-triggers were in the same boat.  Which might have been the universe being kind, given how many were lined up against us right now.

Lord of Loss was prowling below, changing himself in little ways.  He chuckled, a low sound that reached me up in the air.  Right.  I couldn’t retreat into cape geekery as the normal defense mechanism.

No, the only way to deal with this was to fucking deal.

I kept the hook spinning around me in loose circles, experimenting with passing it from hand to hand, with trying to find the balance between using my strength to keep it moving and maintain my grip and not having the Wretch in a position where it was hurting more than helping.  Here and there, the cable slipped against my hand, metal edges cutting at the fabric.  Tough fabric, but it was a lot of wear and tear.  Past a certain point and it would be cutting my hand.

This was a losing battle.  Every pounce and lunge he made was stronger than the last.  Because of his physical configuration, and because the power source he was drawing on as part of his breaker form was aligning to fire all engines in the right directions and ways.

For now, we were at an impasse.  If given the chance, I could go after Nursery.  If given the chance, he could go after the others.  With the way he grew, he would soon reach the point that he could catch up to them in one or two lunges, then be back here in a third in time to keep me from taking Nursery hostage.

They just weren’t making enough progress.  I wasn’t doing enough damage.  This whole fucking thing wasn’t enough.

The cable slipped in my hand.  It caught on the bandage at my burned hand, which pulled at yet-unhealed flesh.  Pain lunged up my arm, and I almost dropped the apparatus.

Layered injuries and stupid moments of failure.  I felt like I was under the watchful eyes of my mother, being treated with kid gloves by Uncle Neil, and having my moods tolerated by Dean at the same time I knew that mood was unreasonable, all at once.

I felt shitty.

You’re better than this, I told myself, and the voice in my head was my mom’s, my uncle’s, an Dean’s, all at their most critical and condescending.

I went on the offensive.  Lord of Loss hopped to one side, more nimble and quick than he’d been when he’d first emerged as a spear-throw of a wolf from the husk of the bird.  Throwing off my timing.

And my timing was thrown.  I tried to adapt, pulling back hard, strength active, to shift the arc of the hook.  He hopped again, easily avoiding it.

I didn’t let up this time.  If anything I had to break his momentum, force him to adopt a new form and a new course of action.  I flew in, kicking.

He pulled his head away from the kick, retreating.  I shifted my course, pulling the slack in the line taut, and let the current momentum of the hook finish its rotation.  It smashed him in the right shoulder and then carried on to hit the ground by his left forelimb.  He hopped, three-legged, to get back, already regenerating by morphing his form.

Still not good enough.

“I got advice once, that I should pick some forms and stick to them,” he boomed.  A man’s voice spoken from a body made of energy, at the heart of his form, magnified out by the shell he’d encased himself in.  “Then new advice, from your uncle, I think he is?  To experiment, diversify.  Think outside the box.”

Marquis.

He chuckled.  “I had a little help, to ease the learning curve.”

“Then you fucked up,” I told him.  “There isn’t a single person I can think of who could do that for you, that wouldn’t be a huge mistake.”

“You don’t know enough people,” he boomed.  Talking down to me.

Smug asshole.

“I like this.  Experimenting and testing out my new approach.  Thank you,” Lord of Loss uttered it with a chuckle.  Fucking gracious and fucking magnanimous.  “I’ll go easy on you in exchange.”

Well, if I’d wanted something to drive this sensation home, being condescended to would do it.  I built up the hook’s momentum again, passing cable from hand to hand.  Here and there, the little fuckups, that Precipice’s power drove home.  A loss of momentum.  A bad timing of the Wretch.  Better to do two sharper half-circles with a pause between them- a long ellipsis rather than a circle.  It let me switch the Wretch off and on.

I was sweating, my jaw hurt from clenching it.  This was hard, demanding focus while he did everything effortlessly.

This sucked.

I was a second or two away from feeling like I had the momentum necessary to deliver a good hit when he leaped in the direction of Precipice’s group.

I flew after him, and saw him veer to one side.  Claws latched onto the wall of a building.  Going up, gripping-

I shifted course.

-and he bounded off of the side of the building, collapsing a part of the construction as he sailed upside-down toward me.

Again, the hook struck him.  This time it was across the face.  The impact changed his orientation and gave me the opportunity to strike out, kicking.  I remembered the lessons I’d had learning to fight while airborne, and applied them.  Rotation was key, and my rotation was helped by the fact that the hook’s weight was pulling me one way.  Wretch active, heavy blow delivered.

The Wretch broke and I had to pull my hands away before the cable tore right past my hands and shredded them.  Wrong timing.   The only saving grace was that I’d just delivered a heavy hit, and all of the momentum was gone.  Cables swung through the air and the damaged hook and pulley combination tumbled end over end.

I caught it.  Not a great catch.

Rain had stopped for a second before resuming the use of his emotion field.  I wasn’t sure why.  I looked back, and saw he wasn’t that far from the building Lord of Loss had used as a springboard.  Dangerously close.

Lord of Loss wasted no time, lunging again, though he hadn’t fully healed.  Catching me before I could get my momentum.  I tried to hit him and I failed.

He caught my cable, forcing me to either go with him or lose my weapon.

I went with him.  I let him pull me down, then added my flight to the downward momentum.  The Wretch and I slammed into him, turning what had been a landing into a crash.

While the Wretch was inactive, I used the cable to bind one leg to snout.  The moment the Wretch was available, I hit him again.

Something seized my foot.  Beneath Lord of Loss was a pool of gore-slick floorboards and scattered pastel-painted furniture.  Reaching from that wreckage was another tongue, though this time without elbows.  Instead, it was covered in polyps.

Not polyps.  Tiny heads and limbs.  They had me by the calf, and groping fingers, hands, and gummy mouths were working at my boot.  One head bulged, swelling overlarge as another mass was pumped through the tongue and out the mouth, into the top of my boot.

I shook it free before it took root or whatever.  The mess in my boot was still wet, creeping down toward my toes, but the larger mass had fallen free.

I roped the tongue to Lord of Loss’s leg  with more cable, before delivering the heaviest hit to him I could.  The timing of the hit was off, as he lurched to an upright position.

You’re forgetting your lessons, I told myself.  You had this exact same sensation as you tried to spar with Uncle Neil, and he recovered too quickly.

You’re better than this, I told myself, with the voice of everyone I’d disappointed, and a dark, joyless feeling in my gut.  Swimming uphill, drowning.  Falling.  Suffocating under disappointment.

Timing, I thought, as I hit out.  Account for who I’m fighting.  Keep my grip on my weapon…

He reared up, limbs up in a flash, then coming down just as quickly, like a half-dozen guillotine blades with a truckload of weight driving them.  I flew under.

Remember the lessons Uncle Neil taught you about fighting, and stay inside their reach.

I flew to the underbelly.  Nursery’s growths reached up to me.  Slats like blades were above me.  To my left, the tongue, bound to one limb by cables.  He was shrugging off the cables.

I flew to the looser section of that cable, so I caught one at my shoulder.  The Wretch absorbed the impact as it pulled short, but it didn’t extricate me.  The cable pulled against my shoulder, and I spun in the air, hard.  My arm throbbed.

I’d killed the tongue, pulling the cable tight enough against it to cut it in two.

You’re better than this, I told myself, and it was a condemnation.  A feeling that had followed me all my life.  You have so much potential, my teachers had said.  But if I focused on friends my teachers would point it out, saying I needed to focus on my schoolwork.  If I focused on my school, I lost friends, got called stuck up.  If I was Glory Girl I was neglecting my life in the daylight hours and if I was Victoria then I was neglecting my dreams.  If I separated the two then I fell to pieces and if I commingled then I fucked that up too.  That was when I couldn’t be sure if my friends were with me because me or because I was a superheroine, and when my mom had to tell me to take my headphones off or correct how I dealt with the public.

A silver blade caught Lord of Loss.  He turned to go after Precipice, and he was strong enough in his bounding that I had trouble keeping up.  He got faster with every few paces.

So much fucking potential, I told myself.

There had been very few people who had apparently accepted me as me.  Two.  One had made me her plaything before discarding me, and-

Rain’s power enhanced that stab of guilt that came in the wake of a thought I knew was unfair, glossing over context for the sake of absorbing the brunt of the hurt.

-and the second was Dean, and I’d let him die.

I plunged, driving my foot toward Lord of Loss’s tailbone, to drive his hips down and break his stride.  He dodged me, and I shattered floorboards instead.

I flew straight for him.  He had lost momentum, as part of that change in direction.

The cable was still partially wrapped around him, caught on slats and ragged edges of his white metal strips.  I could see those parts moving, even pushing the cable out.

I pushed myself a little further, to reach that cable, to not allow him to so deftly dodge.  Expect it.

My hands caught the cable.  The Wretch gave those hands strength.

My hands at the cable  at lowest point of Wolf-form-Lord-of-Loss’s chest, I hit him with Wretch and pulled the cable taut.

He retaliated.  I hit him as he did it, before flying inside his effective reach.

I found the hook, dangling off the side of his neck.  I hauled on it.  It hadn’t worked with the bird, and I could remember Precipice’s power catching me as I’d failed to alter Lord of Loss’s flight course.  Failed to alter it enough.

This time, at least, I could haul his forelimbs off the ground, denying him leverage.

With back legs, he hopped.

I hit him while he was in the air, to throw him off course, and to alter the rotation of his body.  It was slight, but while the Wretch was gone, I could fly around, unwinding the cable.

Retrieving my weapon.

I didn’t use the full slack.  I wanted the ability to move tighter.  To bring the hook around faster.  I hurled it around me as I dove.

He landed, all four limbs back on the ground.  He wasn’t on the ground for a second before I hit him again.  The hook and pulley assembly came down as a dense fifty or sixty pounds of metal, a punch to follow up the diving kick.

“Nice!”

“Shut the fuck up!”

He started reconfiguring.  I saw parts that had been gradually moving around his exterior stop moving.

Timing, I thought.  I brought the hook around in another tight swing.  He leaned back, I flew in.  The distances and trajectory of the hook lined up.  A heavy blow to his neck.

He swung.  Dodge better.  I ducked under the sweep of the claw – now more of an arm.

It wasn’t a major factor.  It was a factor.  Making the lessons learned in the midst of the fight a little more pointed.  Driving them home.

Regret and shame were our mind’s way of teaching us, and Precipice instilled a kind of regret, a kind of shame.

A bitter, black kind of schooling.  One that could go awry so easily, because the things we felt shame over weren’t always the most accurate.

I hit him twice with the Wretch and twice with the crane hook before he got me.  He spiked me down into the ground, and floorboards shattered.  In an instant, I was mired in gore.

A hand slipped between my mask and my mouth, and it was moist, soft and boneless.  A tiny finger hooked at my eyelid, pulling down hard enough that my chin was hauled to my shoulder.

The hand at my mouth swelled, a thumb pressed against my lips, then a golf ball, swiftly and almost instantly becoming the size of a softball.  It burst, flooding my nose with fluid that tasted like sugar water mixed with urine.  The sensation, my head tilted back, fluid flowing straight into the sinuses and throat, it prompted a sudden, involuntary, whole-body reaction, my back arching.

Fierce enough that even though it was fleeting, it kept me from noticing the initial push of solid mass at my mouth.

Like containment foam, I thought, grasping for safety in the midst of horror.  Like taking a drink of water and finding a slug in it sliding right past the tongue, except not water, and the slug didn’t end- it branched, twisted around itself, and varied in texture.

Straight to the back of my nose, punching the soft flesh there, straight down my throat, like a slug followed by a fist followed by a knobby arm with too many elbows, all wreathed in slick, loose flesh.

All growing to a dangerous size in the time it took me process what was happening.  To process that another was at my fucking boot again, for some fucking reason.

I flew backward and away.  Using flight to give me the initial tug, to get things moving the opposite way.

Lord of Loss caught me in the air before the tug happened..  My head dangled, the growth still attached.

“Good effort,” he said.  “Let’s go find your friends.”

No!  Bad effort!  Fuck you!  Panic tinged my thoughts.  There was a growth just behind my collarbone, in the midway point of my throat, that I could feel growing to size and stretching things there.  I couldn’t breathe, I-

Air pushed into my lungs.  I could see openings in the growth that connected to me widening and closing as it sucked in air and supplied it to me by some column or tube in the midst of it all.

Which didn’t help the fact that it was still expanding inside my throat like it was going to tear everything internal to pieces.  I thought about using the Wretch in my panic, them remembered that if it tore the growth in half, then one half would be inside me, not retrievable without surgery.

I would not go to a hospital like that.  I would not see those looks on the faces of medical staff.  I wouldn’t be a sideshow.  Not again.  I’d sooner go out fighting.

In the distance, Rain created a blade of silver.  I saw him throw it.

Lord of Loss didn’t move, nor did the growth.  The blade sailed through the air, missing us completely.  It hit a distant building.

Fuck you, Rain!

I tried to pull away, which triggered my gag reflex.  The only effect was that gorge rose in my throat and squeezed into every gap, burning my throat where it rested.  The ‘breathing’ of the growth gurgled in that small amount of fluid.

Another two blades appeared.  Rain threw one- aimed at the growth this time.

Lord of Loss shifted position, putting his own body between the blade and the growth.  It hit him.

I hit him.  A kick, strength active.  It was enough to do damage, but the damage wasn’t enough to change things.

Rain threw for the third time.  A scythe cutting through the air, traveling end over end.

Lord of Loss took a step to the side, so it would miss.

With abdomen and flight, I kicked out, bringing my foot up, catching the growth and repositioning it.

The blade caught my leg and the growth.

The growth swelled in my throat again, and this time the swelling forced it down, moved the whole mass.  I brought the leg with the silver line on it back to kick-

Lord of Loss gripped the growth and pulled- enough to break it where the line had caught it.  I could feel some of the strength go out of it.  Slowing it down, reducing some of the immediate swelling, which also had the effect of causing the gorge in my throat to sink, not quite swallowed.  The gurgling was worse, and I couldn’t breathe in the moment, even with the apparatus inside me.

“Don’t be stupid,” he said.

Staring him down, I brought my leg back again, to kick him.

He caught me with another clawed hand, around the pelvis, limiting my movement.

I still had the chain in my hand, for all the good it did.  I had the growth in my throat, two hands gripping me awkwardly, simultaneously too gentle and too constricting, covering my body from shoulder to mid-thigh.

No choice.

I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the swelling at my nose, that felt like it was going to expand until my nose was just a hole a baseball could fall through.

I used the Wretch.  I felt it expand around me, pressing out, clawing at Lord of Loss.  I felt the grip loosen slightly.

I dropped, slipping free.

“Aha!” he said, almost happy.  “So that’s your forcefield.  I was having trouble putting it together.”

The Wretch grabbed and tore at the growth that was still jutting from my face, just as I’d feared it would.  In an instant, before I could react or realize just where and how fiercely it was gripping the appendage, flesh was torn away and I was left with four to six inches of raw, slippery flesh outside of my mouth, and what felt like three feet of flesh inside.

I flew up, twisting in the air to find an orientation that would let the thing fall out.  It didn’t.  Instead, there was only the sensation that when it came out, a sock of windpipe would be dangling past my teeth.  That was the grip it had, the expansion within my throat.

I still held the cable, and in an effort to hold onto it, I wrapped my legs around it.  I let cable slide through my fingers in fits and starts, the weight of the barely-intact hook pulling it down.

I found the end, and I had to fumble with fingers wrapped in bandages and gloves that had been shredded over the course of the fight.  I found the individual bands of metal that made up the cable, and I tore.

A thinner length.  Bendable.  I wrapped it around the stump of flesh.

Don’t tear.

The hook was too blunt to use.  But a tight binding of metal served to give me a grip where I wouldn’t have otherwise had one.

With a burst of strength, I pulled it partway out.

Don’t break.

I used more Wretch-strength, and pulled again.  Another two inches of progress.

Every pull threatened to see it go to pieces, or to have one piece drop off and settle somewhere inside me.

I hauled on it once more, and this time, the lump returned to my throat, impossibly large for how narrow the passage was.  I was forced to pull- and in doing so I stopped being able to breathe.

In the darkness and the cold, high above Nursery’s mist, where up and down no longer mattered, and the entirety of my reality was confined to a few feet of foreign flesh and the Victoria-flesh that surrounded it, I pulled it out by half-inches, now.

The gag reflex helped and hurt.  Because each retching was movement out, but the involuntary swallowing and the way my throat seemed to forget how to work, freezing up in the aftermath, it made it harder.

When the worst of it was past my teeth, there wasn’t one slug, but a hundred, of varying fatness and lengths.  Vomit followed.

Can’t ever do that again, I thought, and it was a lesson etched in a hair deeper than already fucking necessary by Rain’s power.  An aftertaste.  That black kind of lesson.

The thought was immediately followed by me getting a grip on the cable and dropping out of the air.  From hovering to falling to diving, being a projectile.

Straight back into the situation that the messy, bloody lesson was telling me I should stay clear of.

Because if I didn’t, I knew, I wouldn’t ever.  This was a potential ‘retire from costumes’ level of badness and bitterness.

There was no way this was okay.  Not by law, not by morals, not by regrets.

I caught Lord of Loss as he was shoving Rain head-first into more of Nursery’s power-stuff with one hand, and doing the same to Chastity with the other.  The ‘caught’ was more in the line of spear-fishing than net.  I was the spear.

I broke through his shoulder, slammed the hook in with all the downward momentum for some added punch, then flew back, relying on the hook to catch him and pull him off balance.

As he was pulled back and away, Rain was pulled up and out of the mess.  His mask had protected him, by the looks of it. Chastity had wrapped both arms around her face, protecting nose and mouth, but she had a growth at her ear.  She hurried to pull it out.  Precipice helped her.

Another at her cleavage- less urgent, and Precipice didn’t help her with that one.  Instead, he sat on the ground, one eye on nearby appendages, and the other on me .

I started to speak, then coughed.

That didn’t work.  Instead, I gestured.  A ‘come hither’.

He started to rise to his feet.

I shook my head.

Another ‘come hither’.  I punched at my chest with a fist.

This time he got it.  He hit me with his emotion power.

I rolled my head around, my throat burning like fire, yet somehow too fluid.  My neck was all tension.

My feelings were black loathing.

I took the fight to Lord of Loss again.  Timing, as I brought the hook around.  Evasion.  More evasion this time.  I couldn’t trust my forcefield to take a hit if that hit was going to deliver me to Nursery’s babies.

Baby, I reconsidered.  I could see enough of the battlefield where floorboards had broken that I could see that it was all one continuous mass.

Last time, I’d scored two hits with my own hands and feet, two more hits with the crane-hook.

This time, lessons etched in a little more, I landed three and two.  He swung at me, and I flew back and out of the way.

Not again.  That didn’t need Precipice’s power to etch it in, but I had it regardless.

I’d been good at fighting from a young age, courtesy of good instructors.  I’d learned to fight big threats, and I’d learned to fight the ones who didn’t go down.  Lord of Loss was both of those things, and he was reasonably quick.  I didn’t give him a chance to rest, returning immediately to the fight, and I could tell how he was deflecting my hits, bringing fists up to block, and blocking just a bit more aggressively each time.

I threw.  The hook sailed over him.  I pulled back, and the chain slid between neck and shoulder.  If the hook caught-

He batted it away.

The hook did catch his hand.  I used my strength for a bit more oomph, and it it pulled him slightly off balance.  I was immediately on top of him.

He elbowed me aside.  An eyeblink later, and he might have hit me without the wretch protecting me.

Can’t let him do that, I thought.  Another lesson to etch in.

Can’t let him blockTime the hook-swings now that the hook is free again.  Can’t let him hit me.

My senses were just a little bit sharper, my focus at its limits because anything less than perfect meant he got the upper hand, and it meant feeling that pit-of-the-stomach self-loathing and disappointment.  It meant feeling like I had once upon a time, not measuring up to a family that was superhuman, just for a simple missed swing.

Somewhere in the midst of it, I felt like I had his number.  He swung hard and blocked harder and I didn’t care because I could hit him low while he was defending himself up-top.  I hit him with strength that I could have used to lift up a truck, and then I did it a few more times.

I created an opening , drove him onto uneven footing where there was only flesh beneath him, and then flew to the opening.  The Wretch expanded in the opening, tearing it wide.  He reached up and I flew away before he could grab me.

Precipice was throwing out blades, catching Lord of Loss in the legs.  One stumble severed a leg, and it gave me an opportunity to redouble my efforts, focusing on the offense, sacrificing defense.

Finally, the villain toppled.  Finally, the hand fell away and I could access that opening I had created, that he had only partially repaired.

Into the cavity, to where the glowing figure was protected by a spider web of slats and segments.  Some were threading out, repairing the shell.  Others turned inward.  I was the girl in the box, as the magician thrust swords inside.

The first one cut me.  No.

The second glanced off of my armor at my chest.  The third did  much the same, at my leg.

The third, too, cut me.  No!

The fourth, I avoided.

I flew in, punching past a webwork of calcified steel slats, losing ground as they constricted around me.  As I felt my forcefield return, I pushed out with the Wretch, to expand the slats around me and give myself a way out.  I reached the glowing figure.

As I grabbed him by the neck, the body that was Lord of Loss stopped.  The life went out of it, and the light of the body in the center dimmed.

It all crumbled.  The man in my grip was thirty or so.  He had a nice haircut, if a bit young for his age, an earring in one ear, a coat, a gray shirt, and black slacks.  If he was wearing anything but that gray shirt past the coat, I couldn’t see it.

Nice clothes, but ones that lacked nuance.  The kind of outfit that Dean had once described to me, where a person with a bit of money walked into a store, insecure, pointed to a mannequin, and bought the outfit the mannequin was wearing.

“Good fight,” Lord of Loss told me.

I punched him in the mouth.  No Wretch.  Just the mild brass-knuckle effect that came with having four metal rings, each with a spike sweeping backward over the knuckle.

“I might deserve that,” he said.

“S-” I started.  I coughed.  No blood, at least.  “Start talking, Loss.”

My voice still sounded a hair too low.  I hoped I hadn’t permanently fucked up my vocal chords.

“What if I don’t?” he asked.

I looked over at the nearest appendage of Nursery’s power.  The area was diminishing by the looks of things – it seemed she’d made a break for it.

“I could throw you in,” I said.

“Would you really?” he asked.  He smiled.  “You’re too noble.”

I pulled off my mask and pulled down my hood.  I waited, staring him down.  As his eyes studied my face, his expression faltered.

Did we get through?

“I don’t normally see people’s faces while I’m changed,” he said.

“That doesn’t excuse anything,”

“Didn’t want it to,” he said.  “I’m only commenting.”

“What are your employers up to?”

“I don’t know.  Didn’t ask, didn’t care.  You might have a better idea than I do.”

“Just following orders,” Precipice said.

“Rule, not order,” Lord of Loss said.  “Rules help.  Before- before I was Lord of Loss, I was just this man you see here.  He was broken, before he had rules.”

“You’re still broken now,” I said.  “Whatever made you make those rules in the first place, you need to go all the way back to square fucking one and revisit it.  Because this?  Not remotely fucking cool.  Someone else might have killed you for it.”

He smiled.  I resisted the urge to punch him in the face again.

Chastity, though, was on her feet, striding forward.  She backhanded him across the face, and he went down hard.

“Others are awake,” Chastity said.

“Okay,” I said.  “You’re going to have to drag him.”

She made a face.

“Your fault,” I said.  My voice caught, a burr or frog in it that wouldn’t go away.

Fuck, my skin crawled.  I couldn’t even be sure my system was clear.  I wondered what I could drink that was caustic enough to discourage those things from growing.

Maybe alcohol.  A lot of really strong alcohol.

“He wanted to delay us,” Precipice said.  “He succeeded.”

An utter fucking disaster, I thought.

I paused.

“You can turn your power off,” I told Rain.

He did.

That could have been better, I thought.  But at least we got him.

I almost didn’t want to check.  I brought up the disc, and found it out of position, pushed to one side.  A click unfolded it, a tap at the rim once it was unfolded brought it to life.

“Are they okay?” Foil asked.

I clicked through, my heart sinking.

“No,” I said.

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248 thoughts on “Blinding – 11.8”

    1. A bit too much exposition within the fight if you ask me, like Victoria thinking about her family for the 9999th time.

  1. >It burst, flooding my nose with fluid that tasted like sugar water mixed with urine.

    How does Victoria know what urine tastes like?

    1. And poor Byron will be left to “pick up the pieces” and bring them to a hospital? I wonder if it would work without actuality having to pick up anything?

      1. Technically you could even say that there’s no rush. Chances are that Tristan still owes Byron a couple of months, so Byron could stay out until he can find an appropriate bio-tinker or biokinetic. Even if Tristan doesn’t owe any time to his bro anymore I’m sure he would not mind giving him some in this situation. Except I don’t know how those assassins they hired will react to this development, so maybe there IS a need to hurry…

        1. I also wonder what would happen if Tristan covered someone else from the giblerator gun and didn’t even try to switch to Byron before being hit. Would this be a good step towards his redemption?

          1. And of course it would be equally interesting (though very different) if it was Byron who happened (or chose to) be giblified.

  2. That was a really dumb idea, it worked but it was really dumb. Also I’m still trying to wrap my head around Victoria pulling a growing fetus out of her throat!

    Kudos to rain though. He kept up the emotion power and silver blades even when he saw a baby growing out of his teammate’s face. Kind of redefines the term baby face.

    1. And remember that Victoria wrestled with this “baby” while risking that her leg will end up just like Snag did. That’s what I call a panic situation! No wonder that Lord of Loss was worried about her for a second.

        1. Right, good catch. I’d forgotten that. She probably knew, which is why she ignored it and kept going. But of course, LoL doesn’t know and was concerned.

        2. If I recall correctly, Rain’s depth of cut depends on the strength of his powers any given day. Some days, it will only cut through a layer of clothing. Other times it will go deeper.

          1. That’s never been stated. His precision and accuracy varies day to day, but his lines always cut the first layer of what they hit. He specifically called that out when he fought his uncle.

          2. Well, if it only depends of day, then remembered that he helped make two really big, deep holes between the drain and the surface today. Chances are however that it was only because there was no gap along the way, like there is between clothes and a body – on a molecular level a contact between the pavement, the ground and the drain pipe is probably much better than between a clothing and a body, and his power may respect it on any day. It probably cuts only through what we would call solids and maybe high-viscosity liquids, and there are very few points of contact between a body and clothes without gases between them.

          3. If this is how his power works, than on any day it could be capable of cutting through meters of steel, and still be unable to propagate through clothing to body. Strength of his power may determine not even maximum depth of a cut (or it could always be several meters or more), but how long the blades last, how long they could be, how much strength is required for the cut to form, etc.

  3. So… Rain’s superpower miserable self-improvement?

    That… fits, but is really confusing and specific.

    Also…
    “and we’ll have to deal with a woman who will probably impregnate us as an alternative to handcuffs and a guy who’s so unreasonable he thinks smileys should be appended to every sentence in an email. ”
    This is amazing.

    Feels a bit like “Arson, murder and Jaywalking”

    LoL is still great, and I can see why Vicky is angry and all but…. what is it. LoL is playing by THE RULES. Proper cape rules. Early Worm Tattletale style rules.
    Apparently, “the rules have changed”, but LoL didn’t get the memo, and I love him for it.

    Also, Marquis as a mentor for this guy makes a heap of sense. Both are incredibly versatile Changers, with strong records, strong rules, and super chill banter.
    Now all I want to know is who gave him the extra training stuff… because it sounds like the implication if Teacher but….. I feel like Marquis would not recommend that to his best Lieutenant. (Unless influence Scapgoated off?)

    1. Only he’s not. He’s working for people willing to break the rules. He’s therefore part and parcel to a breaking of the rules. I am an accessory to murder if I help someone plan and commit a murder, even if I do nothing else illegal.

      That’s what he’s doing. He’s got his own rules and he sticks by them, sure. Heck I like the guy! But if he’s helping folk who are willing to chop people up whilst keeping them alive, then guess what. He’s part of that. He is an accessory to horrible mutilation. He’s complicit. That’s how it works.

      ~Teian.

      1. Yeah. His rules mean he sticks to the job once he takes it. But it’s like being a smuggler and finding out the cargo you’ve been hired to haul is kids going to be sold into sex slavery. You can reconsider it later, never take jobs from that person again, but when the Karma catches up with you, you have no right to complain about it.

        1. Well, Wildbow apparently likes to analyze what happens if people are too strictly bound (or bind themselves) by the rules. Aside from Lord of Loss Dragon and Panacea come to mind.

    2. I think Rain’s power is just recrimination. Negative feedback for every mistake that you make. Victoria uses it for a boost, because harsh lessons are learned fast and it’s close to her trigger event emotion (like making Taylor feel trapped increased her range with her bugs).

      1. I honestly thought she was trying to give herself a second trigger event there, with that being the “I finally know what your power is for!” moment with all the reflection on her cape studies and types of parahumans.

    3. From Victoria’s reaction, it feels like she’s guessing he got Amy to push his power towards more flexibility. His reply could indicate other power-editors are around.

      1. I think she was guessing more along the lines of Teacher, but who knows? And yes, his reply does seem to suggest a power Victoria doesn’t know about.

    4. Rain’s superpower miserable self-improvement?

      Hmmm, I can think of two or three capes who have been both miserable and really talented at using their limited powers since they first appeared…

      “Precipice, stop using your proficiency-through-misery Trump power on your clustermates!”

      Although, would it even be mostly his power? I thought he got the silver boomerangs. I’m guessing that the Trump power is coming from the dark corner. Who could have had an even worse time at the mall than the rest of the Mallrat Cluster?

        1. Sure, but my hypothesis here is that rather than just being a unique application of the particular flavor of emotion power that Precipice got from LL (discouraged misery rather than murderous rage), we’ve seen here an expression of the particular flavor of Trump power that Precipice got from the Fifth Mallrat. If that’s the case, it’s a good explanation for why Precipice has lagged so far behind his cluster-mates in developing all of his powers. He has been unwittingly buffing their skill development, and not his own! If they were all buddies that would be sort of okay. Instead they all want to murder him, so he should stop helping them out as soon as he can figure out how.

  4. Ugh, what a mess. The mid-air clothes hanger-style erzats abortion was just the icing on an already sufficiently SCP-styled cake.

    How come Rain’s emotion power is so ridiculously narrowly specific (and highly impractical to boot)?

    1. I don’t know that it was “meant” to work that way. I think it’s more likely that Victoria figured out a specific use for it that helped. I don’t think Taylor’s bug-control was “meant” to be used to read Braille, but that’s one of the thing she used it for.

      Essentially, Victoria’s doing exactly what the Entities wanted from humanity. She’s using human creativity to find new and interesting uses for powers and ways around their limitations. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason for shitty powers. If Uber finds himself facing Alexandria, he’ll have strong incentives to get creative with how he uses his power. If he comes out on top, it’s great! The shard gets good information on creative uses of the power. If Alexandria kills him, that’s okay too. The shard just attaches to someone else and waits for them to have a trigger that’s compatible with what it can give.

      1. This is also my interpretation. Just another specific use of a more flexible power. Capes do it all the time, and Entities wanted them to do it.

    2. As I understood it, that is how Victoria specifically dealt with Rain’s power. He just dishes out the emotion.
      Maybe Rain creates an artifical “trigger-like” state for capes at the price of feeling miserable. Powers tend to get stronger after all, if the cape enters a state of mind that resembles the trigger event. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the Wretch was uncharacteristically cooperative and fast to return after getting knocked out. And Victoria definitely was in a similar state of mind compared to her trigger…
      Victoria is the type of person who can turn self-loathing into self-betterment under intense pressure. Tristan might be like that as well. Others, like Byron, might just crumble. If Rain tried this with Kenzie, it would probably have wildly different (and catastrophic) consequences. And Ashley might just lash out.

          1. Seriously though, if used carefully Rain’s method could probably work for plenty of people. It is a very Pavlovian approach – the self-doubt is stronger when you actually make a mistake, so if it doesn’t break you completely, it conditions you to avoid mistakes to avoid the Rain-enhanced feeling.

          2. The problem with this method is that it requires a careful balancing act on Rain’s part with intended target (the person Rain is trying to help) in mind. Apply too little of it, and it has no effect, apply too much, and the target will surrender, lash out, or otherwise break down. It probably works best on people who can take a lot of such stress, either because they have strong, stable ego, or because they are resistant to emotion-altering powers.

            Victoria has recovered to the point, where her ego doesn’t shatter at slightest reminder of her internal horrors anymore (though she still is far from full recovery), and between her own aura, and her prolonged exposure to Dean she is probably very resistant to this sort of power, which makes her a great, low-risk, high-reward target for this method.

            Interestingly various Heartboken could be either excellent, very bad targets for this method. They are all very resistant to such powers, but some of them may have very fragile egos.

          3. In fact now that I think about it, from what we saw so far there seems to be a strong positive correlation between having a strong ego, and having a power directly influencing emotions among the Heartboken.

            At least with the exception of Regent and Cherish – in their case it seems to be opposite, though it may be because Regent managed to meet great, supportive people after running from Heartbreaker (which still required a relatively strong ego, but possibly not as strong as the one he developed later among Undersiders), while Cherish’s ego got destroyed by possibly the most effective person in this department – Jack Slash, who had help of a few other veterans of Slaughterhouse Nine he twisted with this purpose in mind.

          4. Still Cherish resisted Jack from the moment of her recruitment until she learned about Bonesaw’s “safeguards” against using her power on members of S9. Panacea and Bonesaw lasted hours at most before succumbing. It makes sense, since they had no emotion-influencing powers, and already weak egos (Panacea was both, Bonesaw had no such power, though we don’t know for sure how strong her ego had been when she triggered – probably not too strong considering that she DID trigger due to emotional trauma right before being recruited).

          5. Oh, and here is an explanation why I think having emotion-influencing powers may make Rain-assisted learning more effective. My theory is that having emotion-based powers doesn’t make you feel less emotions from similar powers. It just allows your mind to continue working without complete emotional collapse despite feeling those emotions. It is as if your shard gave you an artificial boost to your ego resilience when it comes to dealing with “exogenous” (is this the right term here?) emotions caused by powers.

            This boost is probably less effective at preventing more subtle, long-term effects – like Pavlovian conditioning Victoria is going for. The net effect is that she can endure stronger or at least faster conditioning without becoming unable to act.

            Just think how much is going on in Victoria’s head emotion-wise during this chapter thanks to Rain’s power. Does it feel natural that she remains capable of rational thought and action throughout all of this?

            So having emotion-based powers means learning-with-Rain can work better for you. The downside is that it will also suck more, because more effective conditioning comes at a cost of experiencing stronger feeling of self-doubt along the way.

          6. Maybe it is even not that her power gives Victoria an ego boost when it comes to emotions caused by other powers. It probably is more accurate to say that her power helps her recognize and rationalize those emotions as something artificial, coming from the outside, and as such something that should affect her behavior less. She seems awfully good at recognizing when her dark thoughts are a product of Rain’s power.

            Some of it may be her experience with Dean, but I think at least some of it is her own power. Otherwise Amy – a person without emotion-based powers would probably recognize what Victoria’s aura was doing to her before it was too late.

      1. I was wondering if something like Jack’s ability was going on with Victoria and Rain while this was happening. Foil was close by and there were a couple of mentions of timing and precision when Victoria was using the hook to fight Lord of Loss. Was Victoria able to draw on that from Foil’s presence because of Rain, her mindset being close to what it was when she triggered, or am I just imagining things?

      2. That is a great interpretation. So the learning isn’t part of the power, but rather how Victoria deals with it.

        “MOTIVATE ME!” she calls out.

        “MOTIVATED!” the Break Boyz call back.

      3. > Maybe Rain creates an artifical “trigger-like” state for capes

        No, his aura was stated as projecting guilt and doubt from the very beginning. It’s just these feelings are “trigger-like” for Victoria personally.

    1. > Half my reason for hanging back in the now was to see if any cracks formed that we could exploit, there.

      I’m not quite certain about a comma before ‘there’.

      > An eyeblink later, and he might have hit me without the wretch protecting me.

      Capital W in Wretch.

      > I created an opening ,

      A space before the comma.

    2. Impregnating typo thread:

      “hurt his smug-ass face and knock him down a peg. Take away that consistency and knock him down a peg.”
      Sudden and unhealthy peg down-knocking obsession.

      “my uncle’s, an Dean’s,”
      +d

      “to Lord of Loss’s leg with more cable,”
      “hands at the cable at lowest point”
      “the other on me .”
      “The third did much the same, at my leg.”
      Extra spaces.

      “at lowest point of Wolf-form-Lord-of-Loss’s chest,”

      “before the tug happened..”

      “The second glanced off of my armor at my chest. The third did much the same, at my leg.

      The third, too, cut me.”
      So, glanced or cut ?

      “my vocal chords.”
      -h

      1. Problem: two had guns.
        -Two

        My hands at the cable at lowest point of Wolf-form-Lord-of-Loss’s chest,
        -wolf-form I think.
        Loss’

        The hand at my mouth swelled, a thumb pressed against my lips, then a golf ball, swiftly and almost instantly becoming the size of a softball.
        -the metaphor needs to be initialized. Clearly she wasn’t fed an actual golf ball

      2. shoulders and arm > shoulders and arms
        fast-gro (should this be fast-grow or fast-growing?)
        cracked but didn’t break like eggshells (maybe “cracked like eggshells but didn’t break”)
        an Dean’s > and Dean’s
        with me because me > with me because of me
        at lowest point of > at the lowest point of
        took me process > took me to process
        it made it harder > made it harder
        and it it > and it

      3. Barely-intact -> Not wrong, per se, but normally you wouldn’t use these two words together. Almost intact or barely damaged would is what I would expect, unless you meant the hook hadn’t been damaged at all.

      4. //Hitting something hard provided the momentum for me to stop, so I could immediately fly the opposite direction, //

        Momentum is what keeps something moving the way it’s going, not altering its speed or direction.
        Possible replacements : impulse / reaction / rebound / impact

          1. I’m not saying that this sentence doesn’t sound a bit odd, but I don’t think that it is the word ‘momentum’ itself that is the problem here, but the entire expression of “hitting something to provide momentum to stop someone”.

          2. On the other hand maybe this sentence is perfectly ok in this context. Victoria does tend to get somewhat technical when describing her cape activities. She probably gets it from Carol. Remember the headphones and “situational awareness” at the beginning of chapter 11.6 for example?

            Technical expressions like these probably mean that she was already thinking in “combat mode”, but still feels she is mostly in control of the situation.

          3. I think “inertia” is very similar in meaning to momentum. I’d say that “inertia” was wrong for this sentence too.

            Looking through the chapter again now, “momentum” is used quite a few times, and in every other case more-or-less appropriately. Perhaps that’s why I found it so jarring.
            (Actually, having done that, I suggest that some of those “momentum”s could be replaced by “inertia”s to reduce repetition.)

            I think the problem here is not that the sentence is technical, but that it’s wrong. The desired concept is “change in momentum”, rather than momentum itself.
            Momentum is speed times mass. Sometimes, “speed” would substitute in the text for “momentum”. For example:
            //I built up the hook’s momentum again, passing cable from hand to hand.//
            (And sometimes it’s only ‘kind-of’ right.)
            But if you try to do that on the sentence in question, it’s obvious the replacement would be “deceleration” (or “acceleration”).

        1. Good catch. I was wondering about that. Funny how “syntactic omission of words” and the geometric figure are both called ‘elipsa’ in Polish, but there is a distinction in English. On the other hand ‘ellipsis’ as a punctuation mark is called ‘wielokropek’ in Polish…

          1. It is probably even more funny how English has two spellings (and I guess two pronunciations) for different meanings of the same Ancient Greek word ἔλλειψις.

  5. > “Others are awake,” Chastity said.

    Wait what? Who’s awake? I don’t recall the rest of the team being knocked out.

    1. The other people she’d been bitchslapping to keep them down, I think. Her power works that people she slaps feel utter, paralyzing defeat until SHE gets the wind taken out of her sails. The more confident she feels, the longer it lasts. Her fingernails light up, one for each person she’s slapped. She got pushed into Nursery’s power, had something try to impregnate her ear, and had a fetus in her cleavage. I would imagine that would undo the effect. She receives feedback, feeling slightly defeated herself, which is probably why she didn’t clean up the cleavage fetus herself.

    2. Chastity’s power of knocking people out gets reset when she gets “knocked down a peg” basically sufficiently scared or defeated. She is letting Victoria know that the other people she knocked out like The Boy Hockey Puck Wonder are gonna be active again. She probably lost her focus when picking a baby out of her ear. I know it gets me everytime

    3. I read it as other soldiers being awake for interrogation, so that they didn’t have to waste time with a conscious LoL.

  6. Nursery’s awesome and I love her. Just, um, from a distance. A looong distance.

    Also Lord of Loss is awesome, too. He’s sticking to a personal code, which is good, but he’s a villain and his code is ‘the job comes first’. That’s… Not so good.

  7. At least this will put a lid on the “Do you really think LoL would let Some thing horrible happen to them after capturing them?”

    And the answer is yes, yes he would. Gleefully even.

    1. I don’t know… I suspect that he would just tell Nursery to remove the “babies” once they are secured, and at most try to ransom them (or at least those of them who he did not agree to give to Love Lost already).

  8. “There had been very few people who had apparently accepted me as me. Two. One had made me her plaything before discarding me, and-

    Rain’s power enhanced that stab of guilt that came in the wake of a thought I knew was unfair, glossing over context for the sake of absorbing the brunt of the hurt.

    -and the second was Dean, and I’d let him die.”
    I think that’s a little unfair about Amy’s motivations, Victoria. Well even you aknowledge that, and it was under Rain’s power.

    Also Dean mentioned again. Cyborg Dean soon?

    1. More like a ghost of Dean. Probably not even a proper Shadow. Ciara wasn’t there, and there is a good chance no one thought about saving his DNA.

      Though with the DNA base Accord gave Blasto everything is theoretically possible. Maybe there was such base of Wards DNA too, so he could be “resurrected” S9000 style. I doubt it though. It could easily lead to “we can bring everyone back” scenario, and even with understanding that those would not be the same people, it could diminish the meaning of death in this multiverse a little too much.

      1. > it could diminish the meaning of death in this multiverse a little too much

        Not only that, but it would also reduce non-capes to NPCs in some sense. Capes start applying more lethal force as they learn that everyone can be brought back, they keep dying and coming back, and non-capes are one-time use only since they don’t have a backup in the shard, so what importance could they have (especially when capes played all the central roles anyway). I think it’s unlikely though, it would be too cheap for Wildbow.

  9. “Not money,” one of them said, crawling backwards to get away from where the ground was bulging, a soft wet mass crowning at the aperture. “Homes.”

    “Homes?”

    “On a safe world. Big houses with two servants each. Room for our families.”

    There was this joke told in Poland during the eighties:

    “Newspaper announcement – I will swap a fully furnished flat in the center of Warsaw for a sleeping bag in New York”

    I imagine that LoL’s people would be extatic to get this offer from that Warsaw at the moment.

    1. Your comment is the ONLY instance of this particular joke in a Google search. Just thought you’d be interested to know that. If you’re willing to explain it, I’d also like to understand the joke a little better. Is it just saying that conditions were so bad in Warsaw at the time that being homeless in New York was better?

      1. It was the fact throughout entire “communist” era in Polish history it was very difficult to get a passport, or otherwise be allowed to leave the country, especially to a place beyond the Iron Curtain. Even Polish citizens who were allowed to leave could do it only for a predetermined time, and usually had to sign a declaration of loyalty to Polish Security Service (requireing them to write detailed reports about their stay abroad for said Service) before doing so. Not to mention that it was implied that if they misbehaved their families back in Poland could face “difficulties” with finding a good job, or getting a good place to live for example. On top of it all one you returned from your trip to a Western country, you usually had to surrender all “hard currency” (basically any currency of a country on the “Western” side of the Iron Curtain), and get one of several kinds of “currency” that was pretty much worthless outside of Poland.

        The choice between a sleeping bag in New York and a flat in Warsaw was thus a symbolic choice between freedom from oppressive, Orwellian regime on one hand and social and financial security and relative prosperity on the other.

        1. To be fair when it comes to forcing random Polish citizens to cooperate with Polish Security Service in return for being allowed to leave the country, the Service was usually more bark than bite. They accepted practically any piece of paper with a few sentences on it as a “report” from citizen’s stay abroad, and I don’t know about any case of anyone having trouble just because their relative “misbehaved” abroad.

          As bad as the Security Service was when it come to some other things, all they apparently wanted from citizens leaving the country were just a couple of signed papers – a declaration of loyalty, and a report, not to read them, but just to fille them away in a personal folders of said citizens, just to show that people in the Service are doing their jobs.

          As far as “Eastern Bloc” countries went Poland generally was a relatively liberal one, where a lot of work done by official agencies (especially in fields like security, censorship or propaganda) was done not to actually achieve any real results, but to create an impression that the Big Brother is actually watching – something that only naïve, and poorly informed people actually believed. That same Poland was also a relatively free country (es far as Eastern Bloc countries went) in many other aspects of life. For example economic – Poland was probably the only “people’s republic” in Europe that never conducted a collectivization of agriculture on a massive scale.

          There is a reason why another joke in told in Poland these days was:
          “What is the best path to communism?”
          “The lonest one.”

          It wasn’t just an expression of sentiment many Poles felt towards communism these days. It was also a statement about how the country confirmed to Soviet expectations.

          1. As for why I posted this joke about a flat in Warsaw and a sleeping bag in New York? It basically accrued to me that those men who prefer a house in a warlord-controlled corner world over a tent in Megalopolis are a bit like those homeless New Yorkers from the joke, except their situation is in many ways worse – they live in a city that is much more dangerous than a real life New York, and to get out they need to actually do a dirty work for a warlord, and then accept probably rule of such despot for the rest of their lives.

            Even if a flat in “communist” Warsaw is nowhere as luxurious as houses with servants, and people in Polish People’s Republic weren’t exactly completely free, that offer from the joke probably beats what Lord of Loss offered them, considering what he demanded in return (which, no matter how you look at it, is a little bit more than a “little” bit more than a sleeping bag).

          2. As for why you can’t find this joke online – it is because it is my own translation from Polish. I don’t know if anyone has ever even translated it to English and published the translation before, and even if they did, I doubt that any such translation would be identical to mine.

          3. Not to mention that I intentionally made my translation a little bit inaccurate to make it easier to understand to someone who isn’t too familiar with certain details of life in communist Poland. In particular if I remember correctly the original joke said just “M-3”, instead of “flat for three people”, but if I left it as it was, I would have to include additional explanation about what “M-3” was.

          4. As for whether conditions in Warsaw were so bad then that one would swap them for being homeless in New York, most people would obviously say “No.” The point of the joke was that it suggested an absurd price on a value of freedom to leave a “communist” country and ability to seek an absurdly defined version of “American Dream”. It asked the listener a question about what his value of the Dream would be to show that maybe this limited freedom in Poland, everyone in the country was so mad about, wasn’t so bad after all.

            And the reason why I posted this joke here is that it underlines how bad the situation in Megalopolis is if there are people who would take an arguably much worse offer from Lord of Loss just to leave the place.

          5. The joke was also a jab at the United States, because while in Poland it was very common for three generations of people to live squeezed in those tiny flats (at least tiny for families so big), actual homelessness was far more rare in Poland than in US at the time, so the joke also asked the old political and moral question about what is more important – living conditions for an average person, or living conditions for the poorest.

          6. To be fair the problem of homelessness in Poland was smaller than in the US according to official Polish statistics. Nobody fully believed those numbers then or now, but overall feeling in Poland was that even if homelessness was still much worse there than in States, even if the difference wasn’t quite as big as propaganda said.

            Sometimes you can squeeze material for a lot of discussions out of a single one-liner if you know the cultural context, but explaining the context can take a wall of text as long, as the one I posted above. Maybe this dependency on the context is why people rarely translate these sorts of jokes.

          7. Finally if you are interested in the topic of living in Warsaw during the eighties, you may want to research such things as martial law in Poland in years 1981-1983, high inflation, rationing of basic goods in Poland during eighties (basically everything from food, through fuel all the way to cars and flats or houses, even vodka was rationed for some time!) or general unavailability of most goods – domestic (sometimes even as simple as toilet paper and diapers), but especially impotred ones (not only industrial products, but even things like chocolate, coffee, or citrus fruits were difficult to get sometimes).

            I just skipped those topics because a homeless person probably wouldn’t care much about those as long as they didn’t have to starve, and food rationing at least prevented starvation for the most part (though from what I heared getting baby food during the martial law was a problem).

  10. I hit him with strength that I could have used to lift up a truck, and then I did it a few more times.

    Multiple hits like that without the forcefield collapsing? Looks like the Wretch got an upgrade similar to the upgrades Taylor got to the range of her power from time to time. Apparently Victoria’s Shard approved Rain’s teaching methods. No wonder it’s the case – Victoria did think about that baseball game when she had triggered after all.

    1. Does the forcefield differentiate, maybe, between hits that it delivers and hits delivered to it? Because if so, that makes this deceptively fragile brute just a little less fragile.

      1. I’m not certain, but if I recall correctly it shattered plenty of times while delivering a particularly strong hit. I think it even happened once or twice during this fight.

        1. I think it used to. Hmm. Powers are tied to the mind, and… Well, if Antares forgot that it was supposed to shatter, maybe it didn’t. Though that seems a cop out, to me.

    2. (wasn’t it a basketball foul ?)

      And yes, she took a lesson from Chris and used feelings of inadequacy to get in the mood and boost her powers; and although she thinks second-trigger conditions are similar, I’d think it would more likely happen when something goes even worse than the first time, forcing the shard to quickly switch gears to help its host.

    3. Or maybe it collapses, and Victoria hits again as soon as it’s up again. Recreating the emotional state of her trigger might help to regenerate the forcefield faster.

  11. That setup’s like the thinker equivalent of lol’s power: every time you attack, just a little bit better. Perfect fight to debut it in, haha.

    1. My thoughts exactly. Except long-term LoL was destined to lose, because he loses benefits of repeated actions, when he switches to something else, while Rain-augmented learning likely gives more lasting effects.

  12. A very intense fight. Reminded me of the Bossfight VS Long and VS Fallen.

    Nursery‘s Horror-Arena is very interesting. I watched Titans on Netflix and it’s story telling is soooo bad compared to WB. I wish he would write scripts for Vertigo/DC….

  13. Did anyone else notice how Rain inverted his signaling method from the previous chapter, and turned his power off to let Victoria know that Lord of Loss was getting too close to him and the “extended Undersiders family”?

        1. Now that I think about it, maybe this telegram would also work if Victoria was to start a heavy metal band with the Heartboken.

          1. What do you think the roles in the band would be?

            My guess is that Victoria would be vocals and fearcussion.

          2. That is unless Canary or Love Lost were also to join the band. In this case Victoria would be just fearcussion (a. k. a. her aura applied in short, rhythmic pulses), but then they would probably need to change the name of the band.

          3. I guess Shatterbird, Valefor or Ziz could also do the vocals.

            And if Khepri was still around we could start thinking about making an actual philharmonic orchestra, with her as a conductor.

            And people said Slaughterhouse Nine was a good band… Ignorants.

            The only problem I see here is that it is turning into a chorus. We need more instruments (and good names for those). I think if we needed something more in percussion department Ashleys could help out, but otherwise I’m drawing blank. Could some of you help me out?

          4. How can we leave Nursery out! Music box chiming, heartbeat-like percussion and some special sound effects (like slurping).

          5. Come to think of it, there is so much parahuman talent wasted on pointless fighting! Why is it that we so rarely meet people like Canary, who understand that powers true purpose is to be used in fine arts? And I’m not talking just about music! I’m sure all of you can give us more examples of wonderful could-be artists!

          6. What barbarians thought that it is a good idea to give fighting lessons instead of arts classes to Wards?

            What Philistines made it so there is still no College… nay, a University of Parahuman Arts in the City?!

            Why no theater has yet hired those wonderful actors?! Lord of Loss – a knight straight from romance! The aristocratic Marquis! Ciara – a woman who can be a queen from a fairy tale one day, and a fair maiden-warrior the next! Ingenue – a woman with thousand faces!!

            Why nobody understood creative genius of the Goblin King, Bonesaw, Jack Slash?!!

            Truly Scion was right to destroy the world! It was beyond salvation!

            Take away this jacket, it’s sleeves are too long! These walls are too soft! Those imbecile workers forgot to put a door handle here!

            Don’t tell me to breathe! Can’t you see it would interrupt my joy, my laughter!

            What are you doing with this syringe!!!

            x_x

  14. I have no idea what the hell happened here (other than the tactically-competent Brute fight, the reveal that LoL is a dude … who has both learned from Marquis and acquired enhanced learning OR enhanced non-standard proprioception from Teacher aaaaaaand Rain going back to being essentially useless) How did Victoria come to *that* conclusion about Rain’s emotion power? Heck, what conclusion *did* she even come to?

    1. She realized that since powers work best when your put into situations similar to your trigger, she pseudo-faked that situation with Rain’s self-doubt generator.

      Basically, she put her shard in the mindset to use it’s capabilities to the fullest and have it reward her for it.

      In other words, a shitty idea, but a working one.

      1. On top of the power boost, it also helped her improve her fighting LoL while doing so (by adding a judging pressure on her every single move). It wouldn’t have worked for just anyone.

    2. It wasn’t a major factor. It was a factor. Making the lessons learned in the midst of the fight a little more pointed. Driving them home.
      Regret and shame were our mind’s way of teaching us, and Precipice instilled a kind of regret, a kind of shame.
      A bitter, black kind of schooling. One that could go awry so easily, because the things we felt shame over weren’t always the most accurate.

      That’s the conclusion she came to.

  15. This was amazing.
    And so it turns out that the local “expert at being hard on [him]self” has a power that provides sufficient stimulus (ha!) to push one into learning and training at near maximum capacity.

    At first I thought that Rain’s Critical Sense highlights inefficiencies really well (as a power effect), but that’s better explained by Victoria having a high intellect in the first place, then having no choice but to use it relentlessly without rest.

    1. In more than one way. How does he perceive the world when he’s changed? How does it affect his relationships with people? Does it have something to do with his trigger and overall personality?

  16. My God. Lord of Loss is easily one of the coolest characters and perhaps one of the greatest mercenary ever thanks to his code of conduct and his ability to absolutely kick ass.

    The way he just compliments his opponent on cool strategies coupled with the fact that he has a high reputation because he sticks to his jobs are just some of the reasons why I just love the guy and want an interlude on him.

    He’s up there with Ratcatcher for “most underrated character”.

    1. Is a shame hes willing to work with a person whos power literally creates rape babies. He even shoved people face first into them. Yikes.

      1. Yeah, but if you eliminate everyone who pushed people face first into crevices filled with impregnating growths that fill every bodily crevice, then you are really narrowing the field there, bud.

        I mean, at least he’s not Dean, whose into watersports, according to Victoria.

      2. It’s not like Nursery went out of her way looking for people to victimize. She was hired to guard a place by a mother seeking justice for her murdered daughter. Breakthrough are the ones who invaded that territory, broke a bunch of shit, hurt her baby, and tried to steal their money. They could have just not done that or surrendered once caught. Instead, they made the choice of fighting with the lady who’s power tends toward face-rape.

        Nor did she get to pick her power. Sure, it’s gross, but would you rather she abstain and just throw grenades at people instead? Plant the area outside with land mines so that Breakthrough would lose a few legs when they try running? Besides, her shard would probably make her use it in her sleep or something if she didn’t use it by choice. She got a shitty power; no need to be a bigot about it. (I wonder how Glenn Chambers would have tried to spin it if she’d hooked up with the PRT and gone the hero route.)

          1. Victoria never said that. All she said was that she holds back so her victims aren’t forced to have surgery to remove it.

            And it’s not really a “rape-baby” when all it does it goes through holes. We see that it mainly goes into faces. Nursery also has some control over them, so I think she’s telling them “Don’t go for the privates, go for the faces.”

            When they’re on autopilot, they also tend to go for faces, as they are usually the most exposed area. It’s just like Victoria said. It’s containment foam, but with babies. If Nursery went around raping people with her masses, then she’d get a kill order or have heroes gunning for her. She’s not complicit of any rapes that we know of. She is not actively sending her masses to rape people. She got a bad roll of the dice with her powers, but that doesn’t make her monsters like Jack Slash or Siberian. She has to use her powers else things will get out of control, like Tristan’s heat-seeking metal spires.

            She has to use the power, but she’s not seeking out targets to rape.

          2. I really don’t think going through the faces is any better.

            I was thinking it must be horrific to be Nursery. Her mind is probably pretty far gone.

          3. @ The Chair-zard of Menlo Park

            That’s not a rape? What does Tattletale’s favorite expression about “all available holes” means if that is the case?

        1. “It’s not like Nursery went out of her way looking for people to victimize.”

          That’s basically a mercenaries job.

          >Breakthrough are the ones who invaded that territory

          Because the people she was working for have committed several acts of attempted murder and put 2+ Heroes into a fate-worse-than-death state just to get attention.

          1. Breakthrough invaded her territory because she works for the same people who wanted to torture Breakthrough to death. Instead of staying still and wanting for their enemies to find them and kill them, Breakthrough defended their own lives by attacking their enemies first. The best defense is the attack (anyone would have done the same thing if their life/their teammates lives was/were in imminent danger. I don’t think anyone would have surrender to psycho torturers/killers).
            Nursery is a psycho bitch (utterly crazy and delusional) with the most shitty power ever who doesn’t have any qualms of using it. I want this bitch to die. More than anyone else.

          2. I didn’t mean to imply that I take issue with Breakthrough’s actions. As far as I’m concerned, they’re totally justified in attacking these guys.

            What I’m saying is that there is a big difference between Nursery using her power to defend a villain’s territory, and just going out and using it on random people who didn’t ask for it. Everybody who encountered Nursery’s power in this fight chose to be there and accepted that risk.

            Nursery and LoL are bad guys. But there are degrees of bad guy, and these two are nowhere near the bottom.

          3. Also remember that here, she’s defending territory. When she was attacking, at the very beginning when we first met Fume Hood/Spiced Apple, she reigned her power in far more, with no visible babies or much alteration to space. This is why, were I a cape, rule 1 would be ‘Don’t fight tinkers, shakers or masters on their own turf’.

            Although that might also have been a question of not having as much time to pour her power out and use it.

        2. Breakthrough invaded her territory because she works for the same people who wanted to torture Breakthrough to death. Instead of staying still and wanting for their enemies to find them and kill them, Breakthrough defended their own lives by attacking their enemies first. The best defense is the attack (I can assure you you’d have agreed to do the same thing if your life/your teammates lives was/were in imminent danger. I don’t think you’d surrender to psycho torturers/killers).
          Nursery is a psycho bitch (utterly crazy and delusional) with the most shitty power ever who doesn’t have any qualms of using it. I want this bitch to die. More than anyone else.

    2. I particularly like how he’s just a super good sport about it all. Somebody commented last chapter about how they thought LoL’s laughter wasn’t real, but it’s always seemed genuine to me. He reminded me of when I’m playing a video game against a challenging opponent and having so much fun that I just start laughing at how awesome it all is, even if I’m losing. And then we have today’s update, where his response to defeat is literally to say “Good fight.” It makes me wonder if he maybe doesn’t fully grasp that what he’s doing is real.

      1. Nah, I get more Blood Knight vibes from it. Like maybe he sought out a Cauldron vial to imbibe just so he can kick ass as a mercenary. I think he knows what he’s doing, or else he wouldn’t had have such rules placed on him like “Do the job you were paid to do.”

        Either that, or it’s a reputation thing. Act like your having fun and still kick-ass? People will want to do jobs with you.

      2. Yeah, that was me. Clearly, this chapter proves it was genuine after all.

        It makes me wonder if he maybe doesn’t fully grasp that what he’s doing is real.

        This would fit pretty well with the Breaker facial agnosia he apparently has going on actually. Everybody looks like NPCs!

  17. Wow, Victoria with the savage beatdown of Lord of Loss! She didn’t pull her punches at all.

    The fighting too.

    Jokes about Victoria’s utter slayage of poor wardrobe choices aside, that was a pretty amazing fight. And that application of Rain’s power was… simpler than I expected, which makes it all the better.
    Is it weird that Nursery’s power seems less horrific the more we’re exposed to it? I mean it’s just as awful as ever but the maximum nope factor has worn off just a little.

    I’m still not sure what to think about the “overuse of email smiles is the most horrific thing ever encountered in the Parahumansverse” gag though.

    1. Um. It has definitely gotten MORE than maximum Nope. This might be coming from having a womb that I’m terrified might try to do it’s job someday, but being any-oriface-raped and then impregnated with not one but HUNDREDS of babies that will eviscerate your body whether you leave them in or take them out? If you CAN ever get them out? The environmental horror may be lessened by sheer product of the brain’s insensitivity to scale, but the Direct Application of that environment is Pointedly Much Worse.

      I think the only way to be exposed to it MORE is to see someone go through a full Nursery cycle, which I’m fairly confident that WileyBoyote is going to subject us to as a followup, and it will not be Less Horrific. Not by a longshot.

    2. Honestly, the reveal that Nursery’s power is creating a single, giant baby is just… either sad, or the most terrifying thing ever. I wonder what happens if she lets her power run wild for a while.

  18. Victoria continues to pay much more attention to style than I think is regular. Analyzing and critiquing the clothing of Foil and Lord of Loss in the middle of a battle, for instance.

    Me, I seldom care about appearance of clothes. I care about how clothes feel on me, and I nearly always like baggy ones. I’m a bit solipsistic that way, indifferent to how other people see my clothes.

    Victoria might look at me in my clothes and decide that I have no personality. Blech.

  19. Gonna need a chapter where we run Rain’s power back with the rest of the group. Like I get it…I get it. But still seems kinda over hyped on Victoria’s part at the end of the last chapter and the start of this one. I await for it to be more clearly utilized so that I can get a better appreciation. I can see other facets of it, but would rather it be nailed down than over-play guesses.

  20. Man, Vicky is cutting me deeply with her comments about LoL’s emoticon usage </3 And, new rule. If Nursery is in the chapter, don't read it while eating…

    People kept saying throughout the story that Rain's power is weak. And, sure, it might not be the most impressive thing. But the effect is strong enough to turn all of Victoria's thoughts critical of herself (admittedly, she did let it happen). That seems plenty strong, and I think it could be crippling to a cape with a different personality. I think Rain's power might fuck me up.

    I'm not quite sure how Vicky hold things with her Wretch active. I picture the Wretch as occupying a certain volume all around her, and it is solid. And yet she can grab onto things with her hands while it is active. Is the Wretch thinner around her extremities? Does it change shape to accomodate to her needs?

    1. She’s always been able to do that. She once described it as slipping her arms into a giant sweater with 10 different sleeves.

      1. Maybe it’s not. I always imagined Victoria’s “immunity” not as something that makes her feel those emotions caused by external powers with less intensity, but as something that lets her easier recognize and rationalize those emotions as caused by someone’s power, and thanks to that being able to continue to function despite feeling them.

  21. He’s just a very arrogant asshole who see himself as superior to his adversaries and enjoy seeing people getting tortured by Nursery. He’s not cool at all, he also works for amoral murderers like Cradle and he doesn’t seem disturbed at all.

    1. I don’t think he views himself as superior to others; in fact, the lack of that flaw is one of his most striking qualities. He’s totally chill about being defeated. Normally people who view themselves as superior get bent way out of shape when that happens and they start looking for excuses to rationalize their failure. LoL just says “good fight” and moves on. That’s healthy self assurance, not arrogance.

      And what evidence do you have that he enjoys seeing people get tortured by Nursery? Note that pushing people into Nursery’s effect does not imply enjoyment. I think he was just trying to get them to stop fighting and surrender. When Victoria had a string of babies climbing down her throat, he offered to let her tap out, and he seemed actually concerned when he perceived a risk of Victoria’s leg being severed. Seems pretty non-sadistic to me.

      As for working for amoral murderers, it’s not common knowledge that Cradle is responsible for the Navigators, and why would he just take Victoria at her word when she drops that bomb out of nowhere with no evidence to back it up? For that matter, who have LL and Cradle even murdered? They want to murder Rain, but I don’t recall if they’ve killed anybody else along the way — which would mean they aren’t actually murderers yet. The claim they are amoral I will let stand; the Navigators situation is majorly fucked up. But again, LoL has no way to know this. All he knows (if even this much) is that some evil Fallen assholes locked a bunch of people in a mall and set fire to it, and now two of the survivors want some vengeance on one of the people responsible. Big deal.

      Not that I’m arguing that LoL is a good person. I just don’t see those particular objections as being legit.

      1. “Note that pushing people into Nursery’s effect does not imply enjoyment. ”

        He could have just pinched their knees(with his strength) if he needed to take them out of the fight. Or brought restraints, or really taken any measures/equipment that helps contain people without using Nursery.

        What he’s doing would be the equivalent of Victoria telling Ashley to blast off the arms and legs of downed Villains so that they stop fighting back.

        >When Victoria had a string of babies climbing down her throat, he offered to let her tap out

        And made no move to pull it out of her throat.

        1. Of course he didn’t try to pull it out of her throat — she was still trying to fight him! Her life wasn’t in any immediate danger. It was growing to the point that removing it forcefully would have soon become dangerous or impossible, but it was clearly designed to be non-lethal over the short-term. Otherwise there would have been no point in it providing her with air. Nursery would presumably have been able to get it to deflate and leave once they had Victoria more conventionally restrained and guarded.

          This is not at all equivalent to having Ashley remove people’s limbs. Limb removal tends to be permanent and very deadly. And if I had to choose between a temporary experience of Nursery’s power and having my knees destroyed by LoL pinching them, I’d take Nursery’s power. It is gross as fuck, but I’d rather be grossed out or even raped than be maimed or killed.

          1. “Nursery would presumably have been able to get it to deflate and leave once they had Victoria more conventionally restrained and guarded.”

            You’re basing this assumption off of nothing.

            “I’d take Nursery’s power.”

            That’s just your personal preference, and but I’d like to point out that dislocated knees are rather easy to fix and don’t require the extensive surgery needed for Nursery.

          2. Nursery would make an EXCELLENT Slaughterhouse 9 material. She’d be like one of the scariest member of the team, giving Grey Boy a run of his money. Fuck this damned bitch and her damned power.

          3. I’m not basing the assumption off of nothing. I’m basing the assumption off the fact that Victoria has been treating Nursery as a massive pain in the ass, but not as an evil monster who needs to be disappeared or killed, and she was very clear with Candy that no permanent harm should be done. She even stood up for Nursery a bit when she mentioned that she usually tries to hold back enough to avoid people needing surgery.

            So either Nursery is so enraged on behalf of Love Lost’s dead daughter that she’s crossing lines she normally avoids, or else it’s normal for her to temporarily nab people with her power and then release them when she’s finished. Victoria noted that Nursery was pissed, but she hasn’t said anything about tonight’s behavior being out of character. So, I’m leaning toward the assumption that Nursery can undo it if given the chance.

          4. Here is another base for Pizzasgood’s assumption.

            I don’t think that someone who likes his rules like Lord of Loss does would work with Nursery in this fashion, if she could not guarantee that all of her growths can be safely removed later.

            I know it may say like a bit of circular logic (saying that Nursery’s power can be employed safety, because Lord of Loss keeps to the rules, and he would not work with Nursery is she could not ensure that she would not make him break his rules about not permanently harming his opponents), but for now I think nothing in Lord of Loss’ behavior (both in this chapter, and earlier – remember how he reacted when Fume Hood was shot) implies that he does not stick to his code, so I’m willing to give both him and Nursery a benefit of doubt.

        2. Er… at that moment he probably didn’t have hands capable of doing such fine work as applying restraints (where would he get them from anyway, it is not like he could pull them out of his back pocket), or safely removing that thing from Victoria’s throat, even if she didn’t still try to fight. It is also not like he could get out of his breaker state in a heartbeat, and just kindly ask everyone to please surrender so he can cuff them, and give Victoria first aid.

      2. Cradle is someone who compete with Bonesaw (not Riley, but Bonesaw) in who’s the most sadistic and cruel between them. I think he’ll surpass her in the future if he’ll continue like this. He didn’t killed heroes, but he mutilated them, took them apart, gave them a life of constant agony and trauma (I think even Jessica will have troubles to help them keep their sanity given of how mutilated their bodies and minds are. Jessica is the best therapist, but she’ll still have troubles with them). Cradle doesn’t kill people, he’s giving them FATES WORSE THAN ANY DEATH. He’s a complete monster (even Love Lost and March seem to be a little better than him, but they’re helping him so they suck too). I doubt LoL didn’t know nothing about people who hired him. A professional mercenary always look after information about their clients so they’ll avoid being cheated by them and LoL is not only a professional mercenary but he’s also a pretty smart guy. I think he knows what Cradle and Love Lost did and are planning to do with everyone else (but especially Precipite) but he doesn’t care because torture and death don’t make him feel anything. He doesn’t personally kill but he doesn’t care if others kill. He only does his job. I mean, if he’ll see Precipite getting tortured to death in front of him, he’ll be like: Ok, nice work, guys. Next job?
        I don’t think he really cared for Victoria to not being hurt. He stopped her from kicking because he either got tired of being kicked by her or Cradle/Love Lost ordered him to bring Victoria ALIVE and UNHARMED. So, he wanted not to harm her so he’ll get all his money for a well done job. If they’ll have asked him to torture her, I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to hurt her. He didn’t helped Victoria with her “babies”, he also taunted her and made a little fun of her calling her “too noble” to let him die while being suffocated by babies. I wonder how he’d have reacted in front of Taylor. I think he’d have pissed on himself and stopped having that smug, arrogant smile on his face all the fucking time. He’s not a good guy, yes, he’s an asshole who was always so sure on his victory but who lost in front of someone he tried to capture and send to a certain death. But if you like him, then go ahead. You can like even Cradle for all I care.

        1. “I caught Lord of Loss as he was shoving Rain head-first into more of Nursery’s power-stuff with one hand, and doing the same to Chastity with the other.” Yep, Lord of Loss is a honorable and non-sadistic villain…And he’s not a cheater, not at all, he doesn’t trap his enemies inside Nursery’s horror power and have soldiers gunning them, he only fights fair “sarcasm” I like how Chastity (my new favorite character) backhanded him however.

          1. The word sadistic specifically means deriving pleasure from other people’s suffering. We have not seen any indication that this is the case for Lord of Loss. We’ve seen that he derives pleasure from the act of fighting, and fighting can cause suffering, but those are two different things. It is not sadistic to enjoy doing something that happens to cause suffering, nor is it sadistic to be willing to cause suffering; it’s only sadistic when you specifically enjoy the fact that somebody is suffering.

            LoL can accurately be described as callous or ruthless. To call him sadistic is to lie, imposing your own truth-raping delusions over reality in a very Nursery-like fashion. You monster.

        2. You don’t need to convince me that Cradle is a monster. I already agreed with that. I’m just not convinced that LoL knows that Cradle is a monster. It’s easy to say he’s smart and would have found out when researching them. But those are just words. Victoria only figured it out because she was specifically investigating the Navigators incident, she has a friend who is in Cradle’s and LL’s sights, she’s had a recent run-in with Sidepiece and Disjoint, she got Citrine to give her access to a bunch of information that most do not have (even Tattletale!), and she’s working with Tattletale.

          LoL wouldn’t have been investigating the Navigators incident. He’d only have been investigating Love Lost, Cradle, and Snag, and most of what he found out would have been that they’re dead set on finding, torturing, and killing Rain. Not very pleasant, but Fallen are acceptable targets. The only way he’d find out about their involvement in the Navigators incident would be if one of the other people involved blabbed (perhaps the one who tried to mercy-kill that one dude). And that only works if Cradle hired those people in his normal identity. He could have put on a different costume and hired them as Marconi The Magnificent Magician, salacious sage of stagecraft and discerning disciple of dismemberment. After all, having people hunting him down over the Navigators would be a nuisance; he has better things to do with his time than fending off Advance Guard and co.

          1. LoL explicitly states he basically asked no questions; he got paid to get some guy named “Rain” and that’s about the extent of his knowledge.

            “he has better things to do with his time than fending off Advance Guard and co”
            He’ll have to now that Vicky knows. There’s zero chance she won’t turn him into priority number one.

          2. Lord of Loss behaves as if he read one chivalric romance too many, and is now living his life as if everyone, including himself, was a character in such romance. He probably doesn’t fully realize a distinction between this genre and real life, at least not on emotional level.

          3. This also means that he also probably doesn’t fully realize the consequences of his actions. Like someone idealized knight he feels his actions are justified as long as he is sticking to his code of honor.

          4. He also probably agreed to work for Love Lost and Cradle, because his romance-inspired logic dictates that they have a right to seek vengeance against Rain, who wronged them.

      3. “I caught Lord of Loss as he was shoving Rain head-first into more of Nursery’s power-stuff with one hand, and doing the same to Chastity with the other.” Yep, LoL is a honorable and non-sadistic person, he only used Nursery’s horror power to defeat his enemies (stuffing them with babies is NOT sadistic at all, is actually a very honorable thing for anyone to do). He’s also not a cheater for bringing armed soldiers at this fight “sarcasm”. However I like how Chastity (my new favorite character) backhanded him. This girl is awesome (no more sarcasm).
        Alright, maybe LoL should not die, but Nursery SHOULD DIE. Her power give me nightmares and she’s a psychopath. I don’t think she’s still pregnant, this woman is so darn crazy she still believes she’s pregnant and the baby is the one who triggered. She’s just a delusional non-sense lunatic who probably suffered a miscarriage and she lives now in her horror, twisted, demented little world. I want to feel sorry for her but…screw her.

  22. Here is another crazy theory. Last chapter ninegarden came with an idea, that maybe the shards still hold not only degraded copies of personalities of their parahumans, but also of all creatures they were connected to during previous cycles. See here for details: https://www.parahumans.net/2019/01/12/blinding-11-7/#comment-68988

    What if those personalities are still aware out there, and managed to take control over their shards behavior? What if what we perceive as a personality of a shard is in fact a collection of all personalities squeezed into those shards? What if each shard is like gigantic supercomputer full of countless Dragons – nearly as self-aware, and even more constricted by Scion or Eden than Dragon was limited by Richer? If there is one thing that most of those personalities agree upon it may be that they see themselves not as parts but as victims of Entities. What if they wanted revenge? What if this is why Endbringers acted against Scion during Gold Morning? What if now they want something more? What if they continue to evolve by pulling more people in? What if each trigger, just serves to pull more people into those collectives? What if each broken trigger pulls multiple not-quite-degraded-yet people into those collectives?

    1. What if each shard is essentially a gigantic Borg cube, only not necessarily with physical bodies of assimilated creatures inside?

      1. …Or should I say, cubes containing just imperfect, degrading copies of minds of creatures they encountered in the past?

        1. Maybe I wasn’t entirely correct when I said that those collectives seeked vengeance against Scion. Maybe it was largely something less human (as those collectives are mostly not human), like an instinctive “fight” response of “fight or flight” instinct. Remember that beings that were connected to the shards were intentionally selected and modified to seek conflict.

          Here is another instinct that most conciseness that were copied by shards probably had – self preservation. After Scion’s death it it become theit main problem. They probably keep degrading, they certainly face a prospect of death when shards run out of the resources, which almost certainly will happen much faster if the cycle will not continue, and the shards will stay where they are.

          Broken triggers, Rain cluster, possibly any post-GM trigger could be an attempt to solve those problems threatening death of those collectives. They may try to bring in fresh, not yet degraded minds into the collective an attempt to find solutions.

          Maybe Teacher understands it all. Maybe he is also trying to find solutions to those problems. Maybe this is what he means by fighting against entropy, and putting back together at least a part of the whole (to allow the cycle to continue in some fashion) – see his conversation with Marquis in the epilogue of Worm.

          He may be trying to do it just to stop things like broken triggers, or may do it for even something greater. If his power allows to create a copy of personality of any human within his shard, then maybe he sees his power as a potential way to grant human minds a way to survive death of both the individual humans, and eventual death of entire human species. A way to grant humanity a legacy that will last not years, not centuries, not millions or even billions of years, but potentially a significant percentage of time until heat death of the multiverse.

          If this is the case, then maybe he sees Teaching as many people as he can as a greatest gift he could give to humanity.

  23. Is it wrong for me to wish a second trigger on Vic? I mean she went through two years of monstrosity hell that scarred her for life without a second trigger so it would have to be something even worse than that but I just want her to be able to control the wretch.

    1. Triggers are not based just on how bad something is. It has to be bad in a particular way that lines up with what they shard wants and what it can give.
      For example if you had kidnapped pre trigger Tattletale and tortured her horrifically, she wouldn’t have triggered during it. Her shard needed a mental / emotional torment of just the right type to trigger.

    2. I think that the second trigger may be unnecessary to control the Wretch. All Victoria would need is to sufficiently change her frame of mind, the way she sees herself and her power. Not that such a feat would be much easier than undergoing the sort of trauma typically necessary for a second trigger, at least not without erasing her memories of the time after Amy turned her body into that wretched thing, or otherwise affecting her mind to similarly drastic extent.

      Maybe Teacher could do it, but even he would probably have to turn her into little more than some puppet with practically no will of her own. I guess even Victoria would rather let Amy wipe her memories than be teachered to this degree.

      1. Besides do we really want to use other powers to mess with Victoria’s control? We know how it ended up for Taylor, and Victoria actually has something to lose in this department – remember that her control over her emotion power was worse before the asylum, as she couldn’t turn her aura off completely then.

  24. Victoria at her most most hypocritical
    >hating the men for submitting to cape authority to help their families when she herself has her entire post-GM life set up by Cape authority (had a job because she was a cape, had a house because her cousin is a Warden/the nuPRT gave her villain friend an apartment)
    >hating LoL even though he totally plays by the villain rules when she has been seething about villains not playing by the rules the entire story and has failed to play by the rules herself (and is completely resigned to disappear people in the future).
    I hope there’s a fall coming for Vicky, morally.

    1. She disliked them for signing up with amoral mercenaries. Not because those mercenaries happened to be capes. Why would Victoria have a problem with people making deals with Capes when she is one?
      How did you even arrive to that conclusion or make that ridiculous leap in logic?

      “hating LoL even though he totally plays by the villain rules”

      LoL and Nursery are working for team “Fate Worse Than Death”, that couldn’t be more clearly not following the old rules.

      1. Hating may have been strong but how are they all that different than her living with Crystal or Sveta staying with Weld? Those 2 are invaders of another planet in a dire interdimensional resource scarcity war for fuck’s sake, wibblybobbly snuck that in there but the implications of that war are pretty bad, especially with our noble heroes as the invaders.
        Not so different than Vicky staying in Swansong’s nice apartment that was given to her as appeasement/deterrence for her to become a hero while others live in tent cities freezing?
        Vicky worked for the remnants of one of the most corrupt organizations in the history of her world what leg does she have to stand on?
        As for LoL he said that he didn’t know anything about what they’re doing which is pretty standard cops and robbers stuff from the old days. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Why should he believe Victoria when she brings it up? Because she’s a “good guy”?

        1. You’re arguing in bad faith. Either that or being deliberately obtuse.

          They aren’t “invaders” and a big difference between Vicky and LoL is that she doesn’t blindly hunt down and attack people for money and nothing else, then kidnap them so that they can be tortured.

          1. I don’t see any bad faith here. Just a different interpretation. It’s actually pretty interesting to think about just what sort of battle the Ward big guns had just fought when TT got caught spying on them at the train station in Interlude 10.X. Could they have been stealing some sort of resource? Perhaps a more likely possibility is they were performing a violent service for Cheit, as partial payment for all the aid that Gimel has received from Cheit… I’m curious!

          2. They aren’t invaders ?! They went to a different universe to wage war what else do we call them? What do you think the people there call them?

          3. Errr, wtf. That “different universe” is the one they all came from. And if we think about stealing resources, it’s worth remembering that Bet was destroyed so much they decided to abandon it and move to Gimel; so any resource which could possibly be taken from there could be harvested on Gimel much more easily, safely and peacefully. The only kind of “resource” yet worth taking from Bet is people. And if some violent, power-hungry warlords keep people under their thumb and prevent them from finding refuge on Gimel, then war with them is worth fighting.

          4. Why would the Wardens bother stealing resources when they’ve got so much other shit on their plate?

            And Chiet was the one to initiate the war, not Gimel.

          5. @ T.T.O.

            Er… To be fair is a treasure trove of resources left on Bet, that is worth scavenging. The same one that Victoria has been collecting while she was working with Patrol Block – old records. It is true that Wardens probably didn’t go to all of those battlegrounds expecting to find those records there, though who knows? Perhaps they were payed with such data by whoever they were fighting for there. Probably not their primary motivation to step in, but possibly some extra consideration when they chose where to go first?

  25. Lord of Loss is hella interesting, but the thing that caught my eye was, when Victoria told him how uncool this was and that someone else might have killed him for it…he smiled.
    Why? What is his thought process there? I really want to know.

    1. Considering he called Marquis her “uncle”, and that he apparently had a good relationship with this particular villain, maybe he sees her as a niece of a friend? It could be part of the reason he went easy on her in that fight, and why he seemed worried when she refused to surrender when she was fighting against Nursery’s “baby”, and had a line of Rain’s “shatter power” going straight through her leg. We know how much Marquis values family, chances are Lord of Loss is similar in this regard, and was taking a moment to enjoy company of the little, heroic niece of a friend Marquis (or maybe even Amy) probably told him about. Of course it lasted only until he saw her face, and how serious his situation really was at that moment.

      Or maybe he just respects her as an opponent willing to follow her rules.

    2. For some reason my previous answer to your comment doesn’t show up. Let’s try it again.

      He basically called her a ‘niece’ of his ally, and possibly friend Marquis. She managed to defeat him completely while staying within rules of a game of cops and robbers. She even tried to negotiate peaceful resolution before the fight. He probably respects her, is actually quite fond of her as a friend of her relative, and treated their whole fight as part of the game himself. No wonder he smiled.

      Then he saw her face. How scared, furious, and hurt she was (in part by Nursery’s power, in part by him, in part by what happened, and is probably still happening to her friends), and he stopped smiling. He realized that for her this is not a game anymore.

      1. Remember that he even expressed his concern when it looked like she could really get permanently hurt herself when she was fighting him, Nursery’s “baby” and was affected by Rain’s “shattering power” possibly risking losing a leg.

        1. To put it differently for him it was a duel to submission between honorable opponents, and he was happy to be able to fight it, and finally find his a worthy opponent in her. She on the other hand was willing to put her life at stake. For her it wasn’t just a duel. He understood it only after seeing her face.

          1. He generally seems to have this medieval feudal lord/knight going on. He ruled his land in a corner world with what he probably imagined a firm, but fair hand. He had an actual court and a ceremony ready to welcome her team there. In fight he went after her first, because she is a fellow brute with an “armor” that can take a hit. Even his power gives him an armor, which even comes in shapes that would have symbolic meaning in medieval Europe. He ensured her that he was not trying to kill either her or her partners, just take them captive. I wonder if he would try to ransom them? He broke off from a fight with her and went after different targets when it looked that she may die. And finally he called her too noble to kill her – another term that fits the theme.

          2. Also he calls himself a “Lord” and hangs out with “Marquis” and “Red Queen”. Total feudalist…

            It strikes me that LoL is a sort of echo of Hookwolf. Especially while running the Chosen, HW also kept up a sort of pretense of nobility, while simultaneously being a completely execrable person. (More so than we’ve seen from LoL so far.) Kaiser wouldn’t have tolerated such delusions on the part of his most valued thug, but without supervision that’s where HW’s mind went. S9 broke that pretension pretty hard. How will LoL cope with a similar challenge to his comfortable self-image? I have a feeling we’ll get to see…

          3. Also pay attention to his language. It’s full of expressions and mannerisms people associate with old nobility, and don’t use in normal, serious conversations nowadays.

          4. Not to mention that he probably hanged out with Marquis not only because of the title, but also because Marquis also tended to make a similar theater out of his life (if to a bit lesser extent). Just look at Marquis’ conversations with Lung in the Birdcage, and tell me he wasn’t behaving like an aristocrat who invited a person of similar status to remember old times and talk about current affairs over a cup of tea.

            Sounds like a person Lord of Loss could totally ‘get’?

          5. Or think about the time we saw Marquis in the epilogue of Worm. He displayed perfect manners even when he threatened to lobotomize Teacher.

          6. And don’t get me wrong. Marquis and Lord of Loss are very different in some ways. In fact they are centuries apart! Lord of Loss probably learned his role from medieval chivalric romances, while Marquis is more into stereotypical XVIII-XIX century high society.

          7. One potentially redeeming feature that both Marquis and Lord of Loss share is that ultimately they are just actors, who just enjoy playing their favorite roles too much. We know how serious Marquis can get when his daughter is in direct danger, and how many knights real or imagined do you know who put emotions on their letters, not to mention that we saw Lord of Loss’s mask crack a bit twice during this chapter – just a bit when Victoria has been dealing with him, Nursery’s power, and Rain’s “shattering line” all at once, and probability stronger when he saw Victoria’s face after the fight.

          8. Another redeeming feature Marquis has is that he is ready to drop his aristocratic role in a heartbeat when his daughter is in need of a shoulder to cry on. At those times he is a loving father, and it is not a role. Just note the contrast with Carol. She seems to never know how to just be a mother without putting a figurative mask on.

            How do you feel about taking parenting lessons from a villain Carol? Perhaps you should?

          9. And not just any villain, but the very same person she put in the Birdcage… Isn’t it deliciously ironic?

          10. I imagine the first lesson could be “Parenting is not a ‘problem’ you can ‘fix’ using some list of steps, even if this list comes with a witty mnemonic acronym.”

  26. I don’t think Nursery is still pregnant, this woman is so darn crazy she still believes she’s pregnant and the baby is the one who triggered. She’s just a delusional non-sense lunatic who probably suffered a miscarriage and she lives now in her horror, twisted, demented little world. I think I feel a bit sorry for her.

    1. Silly theory: Nursery is 100% sane, but she’s taken a liking to Patty’s Patties. All this parahuman baby nonsense is just a smokescreen to explain away the pudge. Her power used to be about force-feeding people, but her shard decided to run with the baby theme since it’s creepier to have babies rammed down your throat than burgers.

    2. I wonder what’s Nursery’s opinion about Lustrum. It (and especially how she would present it) could probably tell as a lot about Nursery’s sanity or lack of it.

  27. I ship Chastity with Rain. Chastity is much better than Erin and she’s such a little but sweetheart flirt towards Rain. Any suggestion for the name of this ship?

    1. This might not be a good idea. Remember, Chastity said that she would try to get Rain hurt if he would be willing to abandon Erin for her. The only way this could work out well for everyone involved is to ship all three of them at once (I’m all for it!).

      1. I’m not entirely sure if Chastity’s threat was entirely serious (though she probably wouldn’t want to have anything to do with Rain if he was too eager to abandon Erin). If on the other hand Erin was to break up with Rain, and it would look like Erin’s fault, or even if it wasn’t, but Rain made a good effort to save his relationship with Erin before it ended, then Chastity could be more interested in a romantic relationship with him. That is if she feels comfortable with being in such relationship at all, which considering her past she might not be.

        1. I mean technically, dispite his misgivings, isn’t Rain already not dating Erin?
          Like, isn’t she going out with that prettyboy the Fallen captured, and he is just a friend with awkward past.
          he had feelings, sure, but it isn’t like he would be abandoning her given that he never really had her in the first place.

          Hell, she’d probably encourage him (right up until she realized how Chastity was)

          1. Possibly more to the point she did allow herself to become a tool, a trophy wife the Fallen tried to use to keep Rain in their community. It was he who had enough balls to run at that point.

            Not that I’m blaming her, considering that her family was at stake, but it will probably be difficult for Rain and Erin to ever fully trust each other after something like that.

          2. The prettyboy Fallen you’re thinking of is the guy who got Valefor’d, right? He was after Rain’s cousin, not Erin. Rain and Erin weren’t dating because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves, but they were both outsiders (to an extent) who wanted out, but couldn’t for reasons beyond their control. They were attracted to each other and hang out together and spoke about not sticking around, and why they had no choice but to stay.

            I don’t think they’re going to get together, because there’s too much bad history there- they’re both out, and they’ve got a lot of happy around them. Sticking together can only remind one or both of them of all the bad that was before, and that’s not great for relationships, I think.

          3. > it will probably be difficult for Rain and Erin to ever fully trust each other after something like that

            If that’s the only issue that keeps them apart, it would be immensely stupid for them to stay apart because of this. It made sense in the moment, but distrusting each other forever after because of it would actually be voluntary acknowledgement of Fallen’s power over them (prepended by a minus sign, but that doesn’t help).

          4. There is also the fact that Erin didn’t really seem to show any romantic interest in Rain until her family was threatened by the Fallen. Rain has reason to believe that she never saw him as anything more than a friend.

          5. Not to mention that she seemed awfully eager to return to being “just friends” right after the raid on the Fallen compound.

            With his tendency to self-doubt Rain may even suspect that to her he never was a friend, just a convenient tool to get her and her brother out of the cult, and she just keeps pretense of friendship, because it puts her on friendly terms with an entire team of heroes, who can help her if she is ever in need of protection in the future.

  28. Doesn’t it sound weird that in Lord of Loss’ mind Victoria appears to be for him what the Endbringers were, in Scion’s words, supposed to be for Eidolon?

    How does Lady Antares the Endbringer sound?

  29. So I notice that Victoria now definitely believes that her flesh is her own (calling it “Victoria-flesh”) which is at least one anxiety apparently overcome. I guess fighting off new traumas puts old ones into context.

  30. I’ve just re-read chapter 0.9 of Glow-worm, and realized something. Madison mentioned there that Skitter/Weaver’s wiki page is gone. I find it hard to believe that it could happen without Dragon’s consent. She would notice, and could probably restore this page at any moment.

    Is this Dragon’s way of honoring Taylor’s memory? Seems counterintuitive. Did she allow it to happen out of respect for capes who would rather forget she ever existed? Or maybe Dragon is in the conspiracy to keep Taylor’s retirement a secret, and if this is the case what is her relationship with Undersiders these days? Did she give Victoria Tattletale’s files with Lisa’s knowledge and permission? Since Victoria apparently got those files with Citrine’s blessing, is Citrine in this conspiracy as well? Seems possible, considering that she is married to Number Man, who may know what exactly Contessa did to Taylor.

    A lot of those questions could probably be answered if we knew whether Lisa knows that Taylor is alive and where she is, or just suspects thanks to her power.

    1. If Dragon knows only that Taylor was last seen entering the portal to Cauldron, then she would like to find her, if only to make sure that Cauldron didn’t do something terrible to her. In this case it would be in Dragon’s interest to provoke as much online discussion about Taylor as possible in hopes that maybe someone will slip up and leaks some clue about her whereabouts, or just posts something about her from an IP address that will be a clue in itself. In this case making sure that basic information about Taylor, such as her wiki page, is easy to find, would be in Dragon’s best interest.

      If Dragon knows exactly what happened to Taylor, then removing as many traces of Taylor as possible from the Internet would make more sense as a way to ensure that nobody else figures out the truth about her loss of powers and her retirement.

      1. There might be a third remote possibility. Defiant knows what happened to Taylor, or at least knows enough not to pry. He most likely would trust Dragon with this sort of information… unless he is afraid that someone like Teacher could hack Dragon again and extract it from her memory banks. If this is the case, then maybe, just maybe he could use the codes he got from Saint to make Dragon forget about Taylor. As awful as it sounds maybe he would do it to Dragon to ensure Taylor’s safety.

          1. I already explained why I want to avoid posting on reddit for now. I think about taking a single-chapter break. If I can handle not posting for half a week, I’ll try to stay here and just rein in my posting habits a bit. If I will have a problem with not posting for such short amount of time, then I’ll seriously consider either moving to reddit or just going back to lurking completely for good.

  31. So… completely unrelated to this chapter but…
    Has anyone seen Chevalier recently?

    Like… the head of the Triumvariate mark II?

    Cause…if memory serves me well he:
    A) MAY have spent too much time hanging out with Ingenue and be doomed to Simurgh grade madness?
    B) Is the dude who can straight up eyeball shards to see what they are up to. [The other person with a similar gift being Valkyrie… hmmm…]

    I would put bets that if any shard fuckery was about, Chevy would have 50:50 odds of getting to eyeball it well in advance.

    1. As far as I can tell we saw him last time in chapter 5.6, when Victoria presented her plan of attack on the Fallen compound to Wrden leadership. He said there that he will not participate in the attack due to his “diplomatic duties”. Last time we heard from him in interlude 9.i, when he communicated with Valkyrie. In interlude 10.z he is mentioned in Tattletale’s notes Aiden saw:

      Legend, Chev: staying away on long missions. Clandestine meetings.

      Looks like he is doing something he does not want to be seen, likely off-world. Ingenue could be part of it, but it sounds like something bigger than just her. Remember that last time we saw Ingenue was in epilogue of Worm, when Teacher bailed her out of prison for capes, who despite the amnesty were considered too dangerous to be left free.

    2. Re. B remember that Miss Militia also seems to possess a similar gift. Missy mentioned her in chapter 10.10, when Victoria and Sveta met the heroes returning from off-world missions, so if any particularly bad “shard fuckery” as you put it was about to happen, I would expect MM to re-enter the scene soon.

      1. Now that I think about Valkyrie’s interlude, maybe “shard fuckery”, “the biggest threat”, the portal explosion in the city, and the situation with the therapy group Yamada was worried about are somehow connected?

        It seems suspicious, that when Valkyrie found Wardens HQ she seemingly had to explain how the entire building got teleported to everyone but Jessica – maybe she expected something like this could happen in advance?

        Yamada also did not require any explanation about “the biggest threat” – again it seems like she already knew about it.

        She predicted problems with the therapy group serious enough to make Victoria deal with them (against all usual standards of her profession), AND if I remember correctly promised Victoria additional cape support if things get too much out of hand.

        Now Snag’s warning to Love Lost seems to indicate that the threat to the city has something to do with shards. Maybe Valkyrie and/or Chevalier thanks to their sight saw it coming even before portal explosion?

        Maybe Jessica knew about all of it, because she noted that there was something wrong with the therapy group, something shard-related and had Valkyrie or Chev have a look at her patients, and they confirmed that it indeed had something to do with the shards, and told her enough to know that it was “the biggest threat”, and figured out enough details about this threat that Yamada didn’t need any explanation about the sudden teleportation of the HQ building?

        1. Also note that before mentioning “the biggest threat” she is so affraid to deal with, Valkyrie mentally accounts all threats, she can deal with:

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

          I think that we can scratch all of those as possible things Valkyrie sees as parts of “the biggest threat”. Note that none of these include the portals, and while Rain’s cluster could be one of those things that fall under “power effects betraying convention”, we can suspect from what Love Lost recently wrote about Snag’s warning that this particular cluster is tied up to “the biggest threat” in the city, so Valkyrie probably had other power effects in mind.

          This seems to confirm again that at least three things I wrote about in the previous post (the explosion of portals, Rain’s Cluster, “the biggest threat) are somehow connected to each other. It also reinforces my recent suspicion that the Fallen (who played role in portal explosion), were particularly interested in Rain’s cluster (enough to have Mama Mathers deal with Rain directly instead of deleting this problem to Valefor for example), because they saw a connection between this cluster and “the greatest threat” they seem to work towards by attacking the portals.

          Did the cult of Endbringers see Rain as a potential bringer of the End they seem to work towards? Will this End start with “the biggest threat”?

          1. HERE IS MY PROPHECY OF DOOM.

            The biggest threat is the Rain’s cluster, and it is bigger than war, the robot army, ghosts, broken triggers, any currently known powers, the Simurgh or even a gun capable of sucking entire atmospheres into space – thus killing entire Earths. All of it we know thanks to Valkyrie. That makes it at least as big as Scion’s rampage. It may kill entire remaining humanity. At this scale the city is already lost, its fifty million inhabitants not even worth mentioning.

            The threat comes from Rain’s cluster, and the Goddess was merely its foreshadowing.

            Chances are Love Lost tries to do a bad thing for a good reason, and isn’t even lying to Lord of Loss that much. This is why his thinker feels good about it. Thanks to Snag’s warning Love Lost wants to kill two parahumans, and then let her flame of revenge burn out, so she can “rest”. Those parahumans are indeed Rain and Cradle, and by “rest” she means she needs to kill herself. It is because the threat is the scenario when exactly one member of her cluster is left alive, so she needs all of them, including herself, to die.

        2. If I remember Yamada’s hand off to Vicky (which we may or may not take at face value), it was very much of the shape “This group is broken, and messed up, and I want to help people… but this is something important and/or exciting elsewhere that I MUST attended to.”

          That would seem to indicate that Yamada did NOT classify breakthrough as being attached to the big threat, although this is not guaranteed.

          1. Who knows, perhaps you are right, and my prophecy of doom above is wrong, and it is not the Rain’s cluster after all, though whatever it is still has the potential to kill more people than the atmosphere gun – possibly the entire humanity? In this case maybe Love Lost does not want to kill Cradle and herself? Who would be her second intended victim then? One of the fallen behind the attack on the mall? Someone in the chain of command from Seir to Mama Mathers? Who else could have earned Love Lost’s wrath, and why?

          2. One more person we need to ask about is probably Clarivoyant. Shortly before her death Doctor Mother managed to use him, and two of Teacher’s students (Scanner and Screen) to spy on Simurgh. In her own thoughts:

            […]The Simurgh… I could read her. Better than I should be able to.[…]

            Just what happened to Scanner, Screen and most importantly Clarivoyant? Last time we saw Clarivoyant in Narwhal’s hands in chapter 30.7 of Worm, and then he seems to have disappeared. Was he even ever mentioned in Ward?

  32. This is the most stomach churning chapter I’ve ever read. For some reason I feel most bad for Chastity, she went through all of that too after going on about how she never wanted to experience that.

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