Heavens – 12.3

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I stared into the glare of a red light that shone out of a hole in the ground.  The two Harbingers had found the time to leap up onto the backs of others.  I wasn’t so nimble, not after a fall.  I chose to rely on base instinct.  Fight, flight, or freeze.  The latter two were out.  I punched the red light, putting fist into glass.

I rolled to my feet, and by the light of a sliver of a moon, the dark gray of snow wasn’t a factor, nor were the combatants, the road, the rises and dips of ground.  The only thing that mattered were the handful of red lights near me.

In my hurry to get back I performed a movement that was probably only logical or sensible if one were a seal or if they spent far too much time flying, half-rolling, half kicking, transitioning into a mad lunge-

In my hurry to get away from two lights I found myself with three in my immediate proximity.  I started to pull away, seeing them go from stationary red to a mad blinking.

“Forward!” was the shout.

I hurled myself at the red lights, drawing on that one-twentieth of the ability to fly that I’d recouped to move a little faster.

The whip struck the earth by the side of the road.  It didn’t break the lights, but it disturbed the placement of one, where it was in muddier.  As I pushed forward, the red lightning arced across my upper body instead.  A glancing hit, momentary, as the arc lanced through me, cut out, then resumed behind me.

The shock and the sudden pain made my heart skip, and it didn’t start again.  My muscles spasmed and joints strained across my arms, shoulders, and hands, and I couldn’t convince my body to take a breath, nor could I make my heart beat in a way that meant anything.

I toppled, landing with my head and upper body on the road, arms curled up in front of me, trapped between my torso and the road.  My legs, insignificant in the moment, were left draped along the steep incline between ditch and road.

I would have called out for help or first aid, if I could’ve breathed.

Time of death was given at the moment of the flatline, the arrest of the heart.  Was I already dead and unaware of the fact?

I twisted, kicking out with one leg to try to get to a position where I wasn’t staring at the ground.  I could see some of the road and some of the field where the villains had been making their approach.  Harbinger one was down, and two was wounded, making a limping retreat.

Etna had fallen out of the air too.  Paris didn’t have his power but was putting up a fight, keeping the remaining Harbinger on his heels.  One of the case fifty-threes was grabbing Sveta by the mass behind her face, where organs were hidden in the morass of tendrils.  Sveta and the other case fifty-three were limp, barely moving.  The powers that gave them the ability to move weren’t, at least for the moment.

I could hear a small, high pitched sound that seemed to rise in volume by the second.  It wasn’t in my head either.  The higher-pitched noise drew the attention of Rachel’s animal, which no longer had a handler.  It pawed closer, head low, every inch of it radiating hostility and tension.  And it was mutated and nearly its full size, which meant there were a hell of a lot of fucking inches of it.

A short whistle from Rachel made the animal stop.  The ongoing sound made its head turn back in my general direction again.

In a lapse between alternating twinges and spasms of my shoulder, I felt a vibration at my throat, and realized the sound was coming from me.

I made the strained whining sound stop, a process that saw me making an ‘agh’ gasp, then figured out breathing as an extension of that.  With breathing resuming, air surging into my lungs, I felt my heartbeat flutter, blood pumped, and the spasms became worse.

A whistle drew the wolf’s attention again, and this time it walked off, staying as close to its master as it could without treading into dangerous, trapped ground.

Every fucking one of my nerves were kicking off, forcing movements, causing muscles to jerk, pull, or just hold a too-flexed position until they cramped.  At any given moment there were at least six points in my arms and hands where it felt like wedges were being driven in deep into center mass of muscle or between muscle and bone.

My power was still just not there.  Flight that couldn’t actually hold me up.  An aura that felt like a memory of a feeling.  The Wretch- a forcefield so small that it didn’t extend any further than my clothes.  So fragile that my attempt at moving scraped it across the ground and destroyed it.

Swansong used her power, and it was a spitting of power, barely extending a foot and a half past her hand.  She’d fallen, sliding into the ditch, and the use of her power destroyed one of the red lights.

Chastity had pulled herself up onto the road, but it looked like her legs were mostly disabled, and the spasms there made it hard for her to even sit up.  Byron was beside her, and he was pretty badly off.

As traps went, it was effective.  Most of our group was out of action.  Now-

I shifted my weight, leaned back, then threw myself forward, getting to my feet.  My flight did about five percent of the work.  My boots skidded on the side of the road, putting me further into the ditch, while reminding me I had a row of stitches on the underside of my foot.  As my boots hit the lowest point of the ditch, a red light appeared, joined by others, further away.  I stumbled away as they crackled to life.

Each trap generated the red arcs about two feet around them, just on their own, but they also activated nearby traps that were even ten feet away, and the chains of electricity that connected each were what created the carpet.

I could make headway, I was pretty sure, but it was staggered headway.  If I was at the edge, I could avoid the worst of it, triggering them, waiting, then advancing until I triggered others.  Each crackle made my arms spasm almost sympathetically.

They were fucking hurting Sveta, and there was nothing I could do about it.

No flight, no strength, no aura.  Just me and a minefield.

Swansong used her power again.  She was on her knees, lashing out to destroy the traps that illuminated around her.  I saw her stagger to her feet, make it a few steps, only to collapse again.

I could see the expression on her face, all softness gone, only darkness behind eyes that smoked visibly with Kenzie’s tech.

“Help.”

Immediately, I started fighting my way back up the ditch, to the road where the traps weren’t set, then I jogged as best as I was able when my arms and shoulders were fighting me, jerking this way and that.  I was a person wearing a straightjacket, the strings being tugged and jerked this way and that.

It had been Swansong that had made the… the utterance.  Not a word I’d expected from her mouth.  Not a tone I’d imagined either, but one that made a profound kind of sense.  An order – she’d wanted to be the team’s leader at one point.  A plea – she had been a member of the therapy group, and to sit in on a therapy session she’d had to bring herself to ask for help before.

No, a plea… because she cared enough that she wanted to help Sveta much as I did.

I took the path that she’d clearly taken, off the road, into ditch, then into field.  Across what had been farmland, ridged with where the irrigation and crops had been.  A red light flared to my right, and I veered left, away while still heading forward.

“My arms don’t work,” I told her.

“Neither does my leg.  Give me your body,” she said.

She laid a hand across my back, fingers and fingernails digging into the back of my neck, the raw material of her damaged arm biting through the fabric of my costume.

Wasn’t- hadn’t her arm sparked earlier?  Was that a danger?

The case fifty-three had Sveta’s face in its hands.  It was a weirdly shaped figure, squat bodied, but with a skinny neck topped with a normally sized head.  All was clad in what looked like cylindrical extensions of shell, white and ornamented like a castle with crenellations.  What the shell didn’t cover was ropy, yellow, and slick with fluids.  A notch was inset into one shoulder, making it so one arm seemed to practically float in the air, joined to the body at armpit but not at shoulder.

I was put in mind of a ‘rook’ chess piece, given arms and legs, with internal workings that dripped phlegm.  I was especially mindful that the arm that was barely attached didn’t seem strong, but it was gaining strength as its powers returned.

My powers- one fifteenth of what they should be, maybe, if I judged by ‘flight’ alone.

I was Swansong’s legs, her arm at my back and her body lined up beside mine.  With an arm that still spasmed -still, and only from a glancing contact with the lightning- I tried to hold her around the waist, to keep her upright.

The red lights appeared.  Swansong lashed at them as they came into her meager reach.  It was a flirtation with danger, because her power’s range was so abysmal like this, the effect of that power random within the area.  Sometimes a twist, sometimes a tear, sometimes annihilation, but not always in a straight line, aimed in the direction her hand extended.  Sometimes it veered left, sometimes right.

How long until we got unlucky?  If we had two seconds and her power struck out wildly with six lashes of power in that span of time, three lashes if we were slow to react or get her in position to reach out, how long and how many attempts until the power just… didn’t hit the trap?

Sveta’s tentacles were wrapping around the ‘rook’ case fifty-three.  They gripped shelled sections and they gripped the soft sections of actual flesh.  There wasn’t much strength in them, but as she regained her strength, the rook seemed to regain his twice over.

Paris threw a dart toward the remaining, injured Harbinger, and the Harbinger leaned to one side to let it pass by.  Every step the Harbinger took seemed labored, heavily favoring one leg.  Actions were kept efficient, tight, and careful, as Etna found her footing and created a bubble of hot but not superheated glass and hurled it.

The Harbinger twisted around, striking at the orb with one gloved hand, then the other, deflecting it.  It was pushed off course and shattered on impact with the ground.  Red lights illuminated around the impact site.

Paris kicked out.  The Harbinger avoided the worst of it, but still stumbled back, doing the half-step with the injured leg to minimize the time spent on it, and tumbled to the ground beside the glowing trap.

“Hit it!” I shouted.

Fingers found a glass shard from the orb, then, awkwardly, thrust out, heel of the hand pushing the shard into the glowing red light.

The crackle was muted, dancing around the Harbinger’s hand, but it didn’t swallow him up or completely disable him.

My shout had drawn attention.  Etna created another globe of hot glass, then hurled it.  It was barely on the cusp of being hot enough to change colors, and I could see the glow emanating as her power provided a little extra push to the throwing motion, staying with the globe as it flew.  Like it was less a globe of hot glass and more like a rocket.

I shifted position, putting Damsel between myself and the globe, bracing her and holding her as she reached up with both hands.

The blast annihilated the shot.

Yeah.  There were things that still caught me off guard, like that ‘help’, but I knew this much.  She preferred to face danger head on and blast it out of existence than to run.  Even before I’d fully braced and supported her, she’d been reaching up to blast.

We were past the worst of the minefield.  Ashley broke away from me, staggering forward on peg leg and one leg that wasn’t cooperating, and she struck out with her power, twice just to keep her balance or push herself upright when her leg was starting to give, a third time to strike at one red light that had blinked to life.

I followed, mindful of Swansong’s blasts.  The spasms had subsided enough that I could put my arms at my sides instead of having them folded up against my chest or awkwardly around Swansong.  ‘At my sides’ wasn’t the best way of putting it, as fingers were curled up into claws and I couldn’t really extend, swing with, or rotate my hands and arms.  It was a fight just to keep them from getting in my own way.

A glance over my shoulder suggested the others weren’t recovering in any visible measure.  This recovery seemed to be because I’d only taken a glancing blow.  That my heart hadn’t actually stopped seemed to be because I had armor at my chest.  Something to conduct or take the focus of the arc, I couldn’t say.

Contender, a case fifty-three with ‘feathers’ that looked more like worn leather than any featherlike, Paris, and Etna all stood lined up against Swansong, the Harbinger and I.  In the back of their group, Sveta wrestled with the ‘rook’ case fifty-three, and she seemed to be losing.  He was pressing the edge of her face into the ground like he was trying to break it in half.

“Leave her alone!” I hollered the words.

I saw him visibly pause.

“He don’ like tella he what do, no yah?” the other case fifty-three said.  A string of English with some heavy tonal emphasis on vowels, especially on the ‘tella’.

“Not unless you want to egg him on,” Contender said, putting one fist inside his hand, cracking knuckles.

I tried my forcefield on for size.  Skintight, but I could feel the rustling, sense the extension of it, as a hand reached out here, a Victoria-ish shape emerged there.

Something simultaneously reassuring and quietly horrifying.  If only there was some way to keep the forcefield in its wet-paper-fragile state, where it hugged my body again and didn’t echo my worst nightmares.

At least it didn’t break when I took a step.

Powers were coming back into play.  I was still grounded, but I could use a bit of flight.  The winged case fifty-three seemed to be in a similar boat.  Half-mummy, dessicated with ‘feathers’ like straps, half-bird, with its body extending into wings that weren’t like a bat’s or a bird’s, draping down and out from the arms.  They moved sideways more often than they moved forward, and a glimpse at their feet indicated why.  Bladed feet, not talons, but a single blade in place of the middle toe, another at the heel.  The hands were similar, it seemed, kept out of sight, hidden in the drapery of ‘wings’.

Etna had more globes of superheated glass forming in her hand.  The other hand had her phone out.  She’d been wearing a skimpier costume in the early fall when the weather was warm, but her outfit now was more along the evil sorceress look, with high collar and draping coat, all with a ‘flame’ cut.  She looked down, checking her phone-

Swansong lunged.  With her power not at full strength, the recoil of the blast wasn’t severe, and the resulting propulsion wasn’t too meaningful.

I had to trust her.  I flew straight for Paris.

“No,” Etna said.  She threw the globe.

Swansong shot it, but the recoil was just enough to burn her forward momentum, and her footing wasn’t secure, one foot not cooperating, the other foot absent.  She landed on her knees, skidding on ice.  As Etna formed a smaller globe and threw it, she blasted that too.

My attempt to close in on Paris was blocked by the case fifty-three.  A flap of the draping ‘wing’ saw him… not fly, not bound, definitely not a teleport, but slide through the air, upward and at a diagonal.

When he came down, he came down kicking, the blade sweeping down toward me.

Twisting around, throwing myself back, I kicked up to meet the claw with the bottom of my boot, forcefield active.  My meager flight made my landing easier.

The slice at my boot was followed up by something heavy striking at my foot, almost twisting my ankle.

I could see it hanging in the air.  A shadow, like a smear that followed the talon’s trajectory.  It only lasted a couple of seconds.

The Harbinger went toe to toe with Contender, neither apparently using powers.  Contender seemed to have the upper hand, pressing the offense, while the Harbinger did his best.

I couldn’t afford to help.  By advancing, I could maintain some pressure, keep Paris on his toes, while occupying the aerial assassin here.

Wing ‘flapped’, and the assassin slid to my left.  I saw one hand raise, another flap imminent, their head turning toward Swansong.

A bit of my own flight gave me the ability to focus my movement and make it more effective- I couldn’t swing punches with my arms still spasming, so I had to kick.  With flight, a roundhouse kick could hit that much harder.

He slid out of the way, hands coming around in parallel slashes toward my middle.  With forcefield up, I met the blurs that followed in the aftermath of the slashes, and I was shoved almost five feet away.

All one power, it seemed.  Swoop and slash, he created the blurs that propelled, drove movement, slid.  When he used them, they facilitated movement.  For others, it was a focused kind of pressure.  I imagined that if he cut me, the blur would open up the cut.

Swansong, meanwhile, was entirely preoccupied as Etna hurled a glass globe, which was shot, but Paris immediately followed up, timing his hurling of a long, thin black dart for the moment Swansong wasn’t able to strike.

It sliced her as it passed her, and carved a divot into the ground.  The divot began spraying out a geyser of frozen dirt and ice, cutting Swansong’s cheek.  She had to move out of the way- and Etna was already cutting off retreat, hurling another globe.  The same Swansong blast that consumed the globe also arrested momentum, kept Swansong in the area of the spray.  Paris followed up, throwing another two darts-

Fuck.

I tried to get by, running footsteps and lunges augmented by flight, like moonwalking, but tighter, faster.  The case fifty-three was right there, to cut me off.  When I tried to slip by, they somersaulted in the air, changing direction while mid-slide, and slashed a flurry into the air.  Left hand cut a zig-zag, foot struck up…

Not aimed at me, but at another purpose.  A barrier of the high-pressure blurs cut me off from getting to either Swansong or Sveta.

I kicked the ground, hard, and sent a spray of crud directly at them.

“Kicking dirt?” Etna asked.  “Really?  That’s what you heroes have sunk to?”

I kicked again, aiming at her, the kick aimed for a mound with a rounder shape within it.  Dirt and ice flew, and a flat stone six inches across flew past the barrier, clipping her on the hip.

Paris hurled darts my way.  One hit the forcefield and was destroyed on impact, but the other missed, and that one was an issue.

Another barrier, a geyser of pellets flying like tiny bullets.

“You’re working for people who cut up kids and you’re calling us low?” I growled.

Swansong was lunging in to take advantage of Etna being distracted, reaching out.  Balance off from the stone’s impact, Etna had a panicked response, throwing the half-formed globe, then a glob rather than a globe, barely a handful, all while floating backward.

Still holding onto that phone with the one hand.

Swansong couldn’t advance while the ground was littered with cooling masses of glass.

“She doesn’t care about hurting kids.  She hit Lookout because she can’t aim,” Swansong said.  “Embarrassed an entire neighborhood of supervillains.”

“You want to see how good my aim is?” Etna asked.

“Are you suggesting you weren’t trying before?” Swansong asked.  “Because you saying that doesn’t intimidate me.  It suggests you’re a lazy supervillain halfwit.”

Etna threw more globes, floating and doing her own moonwalk.  Swansong ducked, wove, started to close the distance, and then was forced to back off again as Paris threw more darts.

They had everything they needed to ward us off.  The globes were just too menacing in terms of the sheer damage they promised to inflict if she could actually hit us with one, the aerial assassin had the ability to create a fence of slashes, and Paris produced the geysers, though he seemed more focused on capitalizing on momentary weaknesses.

Contender- he’d dispatched the second Harbinger, knocking the kid out.

For the time being, we were two against one.

I glanced back at the other group.  It would have been nice if that wolf came charging in, but it was staying close to its master.

“Don’t turn your back on the enemy,” Contender said.

I was fully aware of him, as he joined the aerial assassin, standing beside the guy.  I was aware of Paris, and of Etna.  Of Sveta, who had fluid running down her face, but who was at least holding her own, against another case fifty-three who seemed implacable.

Swansong was bleeding in multiple places from the geyser, and the bandage at her neck was soaked through.  Something had pulled at the injury.

It couldn’t be easy.

“We should end this,” Paris said, very quiet.

“Why?” Contender asked.

“Do you disagree?”

Contender shook his head, as if exasperated.  “Vulturehawk, you and I take down goldie.”

“Not confident you can do it alone, Contender?” I asked, taunting.

“I’m very confident we can manage it as a pair,” he said.

“You call yourself Contender and there’s no fight in you,” I said.  I pushed out with my aura, full strength, and even at that it felt like I was outputting a three on my normal one to ten scale.

The taunts were borne of nervousness, and a little bit of it was the conscious awareness that powers tended to make sense.  Contender’s name, his power, his assured cockiness, and the way he tended to go after people he thought he could beat, it painted a bigger picture.

Whether he was a prize athlete who’d hit hard times or someone who’d never been able to score a win before he had powers, whether it was a school that had exerted pressure… I felt like being called out for cowardice would get to him.

“We each get one easy one,” Swansong said.  “I get the halfwit who can’t aim unless she’s hitting a kid, and you get the contender who can’t win his fights.

Contender arched an eyebrow above the white and black mask he wore, looking back at the Harbinger.

“Holding that up as a victory isn’t making you look better,” I said.

“Hey ‘tend, ya got dez deaf it,” Vulturehawk said.  His eyes were sharp.

“Yeah,” Contender said.

I tried to slip past, but Vulturehawk was fast, more mobile with two-thirds of a sliding power than I was with two-thirds of a flight power that didn’t really do more than make me weightless.  I continued to exert pressure, studying them.  When there was a chance, I glanced back toward the others, to check.

There were headlights on the road.

The claw skimmed along my arm.  I kicked, another roundhouse with part of a flight power accelerating the movement, then used more flight to change my direction as I fell, while Contender ducked in low, trying to flank.

I could avoid the opening swing, bring arm and leg up to shield the one side of my body as he kicked-

I didn’t miss the weapon that he slipped into one hand.  My thought was knife.

A baton, that whipped out like a switchblade, striking me across the face.

I drove my forehead into his face.  The icon at the front and center of my hood slashed forehead and eye.  He stumbled back, but I was on his heels.

He found his bearings, and instead of panicking, he began to respond.  Blocks, a strike to my jaw, then a kick.  The kick to my side hurt.

He knew my forcefield was something that ‘broke’, or he thought it was fragile.

He was bigger, stronger, and if I was a hundred percent honest, his hand to hand technique was better than mine on a general level.  I was willing to press it regardless, trusting that one in every two hits that he landed wouldn’t count, while I could make mine count just fine.

He created his circle, a flash, a flare, and I lost my power.

Which- well, of fucking course he did.  Now I wasn’t ignoring one in every two hits, and he had the baton.

I shifted to the defensive, looking for an opening.  Punch after punch, and I kept my arms up, dealing with the fact they were still spasming.  The cut on the bottom of my foot made footwork hard, and I couldn’t use any degree of flight to ease my weight off of it.

I was too out of practice.  The patrol training had been me instructing the newbies more than it had been me learning.

Swansong’s power was audible, and the nothingness that extended around the perimeter of the area became a universe of roiling distortion, blurs, and shadow.  The bubble collapsed.  I saw Swansong with her hand extended my way.  She’d caught another glancing hit from Paris for her trouble.

A bit of flight and the ability to take one baton swing without flinching or slowing down in the slightest bought me an opportunity.

My thumb slipped one of the rings from the base of my finger to the middle part.  Each ring had spikes that swept back along the back of my hand, and by moving it to where I had, with my hand in a fist, the spike pointed forward.

I aimed for the throat, worry for Sveta burying the clear awareness of what I was trying to do.  The spike punched into meat.  I repeated the hit, flying close so my legs wrapped around his upper body, punching- catching the underside of his jaw, his face, mask, then helmet.  He twisted to keep me from getting at the neck again.

“Vic!”

Swansong’s voice.  I kicked away and flew back.

Vulturehawk was swooping in, and I was ready for a fight.  Ready to just fly in close and put a mess of holes in him.

But he wasn’t interested in a brawl.  He cut me off and backed away, dropping down near Contender to check the wounds.

“No arties, ‘tend.  All sho’, rest sure.”

“Fucking hurts,” Contender growled.

“Yep,” Vulturehawk said.  Even the single word had its peculiar inflection.

“Don’t stand in the water,” Paris ordered.

“Water?”

He pointed up.

Above us, a diagram in blue lights.  Byron’s constellation.  He was still lying on the road, I could see, but he was focusing enough to draw something for us.

As if seeming to realize the other guys were onto us, Byron activated the diagram.

The water the diagram writ across the sky created was something that gushed skyward.

I took advantage of the distraction to fly straight for Swansong.  I still couldn’t hold up my entire weight with flight -whatever had shaken our powers had shaken them good- but I could make myself nearly weightless.  I pulled a Harbinger and situated myself above her.

I’d heard the term raining buckets before, but this- this was closer to the idea.  It was as though a swimming pool had been dropped on us from above, diffused by the fact it had been cast up, breaking apart as the wind and slight differences in timing added up together.

I leaped upward, and then I used my powers.  Flight, to stay airborne longer.  Forcefield, to block and break the worst of the water.

Swansong used her power.

The water settled, sloshing and filling up irrigation ditches.  The villains found footing on higher ground, where snow and ice piled up, or where the dirt was highest.  Paris had one foot up on a fence, the other on stone.

Byron had drenched them, at least.  When I looked at Swansong, she looked sixty percent dry.

The Harbingers – slumped over dirt mounds.  Drenched but they would be fine if they got warm.

Not for the first or second time, I took the time to glance back.  The truck had stopped a distance away from where our group had settled.  New blue markings in the air blocked the roadway.  People had climbed out of the vehicle.  Prancer and Moose.

That- it would have to wait.  The others were vulnerable, but as shitty as Prancer was, I was pretty sure he wasn’t about to take helpless people hostage.  Those ‘helpless people’ were probably able to use powers, too.  Too dangerous for him to crack.

He might have been calling friends.

Didn’t matter.

Each time I’d checked back over my shoulder, I’d been looking.  This time, with water settling, swirling, and frothing or carrying loose debris, I could make out particulars in the darkness.

A swirl where water at the edge was settling.

I flew to it, reaching it just in time.  A cylindrical hole in the ground, three or four inches across, and deep.  As I got to it, the red light of the trap that had been embedded into the ground illuminated.  It had been triggered by a disturbance from the sudden rush of water.

I grabbed it and I hurled it, grenade-style.  The Wretch provided the strength for extra distance.

Etna’s attention was on her phone.  When Paris got out of there, Etna didn’t.

The device activated.  A crackle of red energy that swept over Etna.  I saw her drop, limp, spasming, and she landed face down in the water.

Paris started forward, and Swansong used her power.  A warning shot, fired off to her side.  Paris stopped.

Etna remained where she was, periodically pushing herself partway up, then splashing back down.

Paris waited, chin high, hands clasped behind his back.  Swansong stood, hair damp, head bent, glaring up and across at Paris.  Four good paces separated them.

Etna, unable to move on her own, floundered in the water.

“Is her phone there?” I asked.

Swansong started forward.  Paris threw darts, planting them in the dirt between Swansong and Etna.

With a blast of her power, followed by a short stumble and recovery, Swansong destroyed the swathe of dirt and the geysers.

I had blood running down the finger of my glove.  The ring squelched as I adjusted its position, the blood on the inner circumference squeezing out.

Etna continued to flounder.

“Do you think we care?” Contender asked.  “She was two-bit.  Vulturehawk and Thud aren’t even from around here.  They don’t give a shit about her or me or Paris over there.  I’ve got a job.  Cushy gig in another universe, gets me out of this sad echo of the world we lost.”

“Joining the fourth sect,” I murmured.

“Yeah,” Contender said.  “And Paris?  Paris has his own thing going on.”

“You don’t need to talk about me,” Paris said, creepy-quiet.

“If you’re trying to scare us, it won’t work,” Contender said, one hand at his neck.  “You can’t use her for leverage if none of us give a shit.”

“She’s not leverage,” Swansong said.  As she paced, Paris threw another dart.  She destroyed it before the geyser could appear.  Pale as she was, the red line and the trickles of blood stood out on her face and at her scalp, running through her hair to matt an area with blood.  “We’re getting used to the idea of killing.  Again, in my case.”

I drew in a deep breath, exhaled.  Etna blew bubbles.

Sure.

“This looks worse for you than for us,” Contender said.  “She hasn’t hurt anyone, not that I’ve heard, she wasn’t a part of this except that she was one of a bunch of people they hired.  I don’t know what happened with this kid she apparently hit, but-”

“Contender,” Paris said.

Contender looked over at the tall, long-haired man.

Paris just shook his head.

Telling Contender to shut the fuck up, using silence to evoke silence.

Etna struggled, but she didn’t find the means to get her head out of the water.

Ice water, it had to be.  When I glanced at Paris, Contender, and Vulturehawk, I could see how the cold and damp was getting to them.

Thud,who held Sveta against the ground, didn’t seem to mind overmuch.  Sveta was adapting to more targeted holds, hauling on Thud’s knees, pulling his head down.

This- it was a stalemate of a particularly dark sort.  If we- if I backed down now, hauling Etna out of the water, then I wasn’t sure I could go as far as was necessary the next time I had to make the call.

And Contender was probably right.  They probably didn’t care.

We needed a break for the stalemate, and it was either going to be one of theirs or one of ours.  Ours were out of action.  Theirs…

I glanced back.

Prancer and Moose were approaching, picking their way across the water.  They had one of ours hostage- Sveta.  Three of ours if we included the Harbingers, who we couldn’t help.

“Big bad Paris,” Swansong said.  “Can’t even protect his subordinate.  From all I heard about you… I thought you’d be more.”

He didn’t take the bait.  I was put in mind of the cold, calculating professional, rather than Love Lost’s type.

Moose and Prancer reached the edge of our collection of capes.  I saw Moose pause as they got to a vantage point where they could see Etna moving awkwardly while belly-down in water.

“Hey,” Prancer said.  “Blue and Bitter are coming, along with the rest.  Your buddies won’t recover before they get here.”

I glanced at Swansong.

“We don’t need your help,” Paris said.  A voice at normal volume, steady, condemning.

“Help would be nice, to get out of the cold,” Contender said.

Paris gave Contender a look.

As much emotion as we’d seen from him yet.

“I don’t care enough about this to help or not help, or to care that you hate me for no damn reason,” Prancer said.

“I’d care, but I get the impression this is complicated,” Moose said.

“It’s really not, Moose.  They cut up kids,” I said.  “Carved off pieces.  Left ’em crying.  For a good few of them, they were crying over what happened to their friends, not themselves.”

“Took my leg,” Swansong said.

“You think I’m nicer than I am,” Moose said, his voice low.

“I think you’re a cape who flew under the radar for a long time-”

“Your polite way of saying I’m B-list.”

“-You lived in the woods of British Columbia and you oversaw drug grows.  Kept ’em safe, scared off trespassers, dealt with police.  As villains go that’s pretty harmless.  You didn’t sign on for this bloody, killing stuff.”

“Nope,” he said.  “But I didn’t sign on to stop it, either.”

Bull,” I retorted.  “This isn’t you.  You can’t be okay with this.”

“I came out of the attack on the Fallen compound needing three inches of colon removed after it got pulled out of my middle and left exposed to the world,” he said.  “A friend died.  I’ve had to face a lot of ugliness.”

“Boo fucking hoo,” Swansong said.

“No,” I said.  I could see a dark look in Prancer’s eyes.  As dark as any I’d seen in Swansong’s earlier tonight.  “Ugliness sucks.  It hasn’t been great.”

“I can’t stand gutless villains.  There’s no point to this, and there’s no point to holding back and being neutral except to be an utter coward.  You cast yourselves in the worst light by hiding when it counts.”

“Swan?” I asked.  “Speaking of standing by, give Etna a breath of air?”

She didn’t budge.

“One breath,” I said.  I glanced at Paris.  “Unless you’re going to stop her?”

A gamble.  Was he going to act differently while Prancer and Moose were here?

She walked over to Etna, and Paris didn’t stop her.

She hauled back on the decorated ‘flame’ collar of Etna’s costume and lifted her up.  Etna took in gulps of air, coughing and sputtering, her arms curling up awkwardly, like t-rex arms.  Not that I’d been better.

Swansong dropped her.  Etna splashed down into the water.

“This is who you are, Moose?  Gutless?”

“I’m sayin’, feeling awfully mortal after that little funeral service.  All I’ve wanted since the world ended was a place and some people to keep close.”

“Do you want those people to be people who maim others?”

“I wanted Hollow Point, but that didn’t work out.  This… it’s closer to a summer camp.  Some shitty people, sure, but freeing, finally a chance to breathe, after a lot of bad days.”

“People who maimed others,” I reminded him.  “When I gouged you beneath your mask, you said your mom would’ve cried over it.  How’s she going to feel about this?”

“Low blow,” Prancer said.

Moose just made a bit of a face, almost a scowl, but then faltering, like he couldn’t bring himself to.

“Prance?” Moose asked.

Was that him deferring, because he legitimately couldn’t come to a decision, or was he checking with his boss or partner because anything else would be dangerous?

Not that I could imagine Prancer being an outright danger to Moose.

“We negotiate,” he said.  “Give her a breath, come on.  Enough have died.”

Swansong looked at me, then at my nod, lifted Etna up.

“What do you want?”

“Call off the reinforcements,” I said.

“Can’t.  I’m not in charge.”

“Convince them.”

“Can’t.  They don’t like me,” Prancer said.  “I made a play for power and I failed.  Lost my Queen.”

There were more vehicles on the road now.  The cars Foil had disabled were moving now.

A convoy of capes and the kind of locals who’d worked with Nursery and accepted her methods because it meant a shot at a house.

Our team still wasn’t up.

“Let Sveta go,” I told the others.  “We let you have Etna.”

The chess case fifty-three turned his head slowly to look at Paris.  Sveta gripped the head from five different angles.

“This the Svet’?” Thud asked, in his booming voice.

“Yeah,” I heard Sveta.  It sounded like she was having trouble making words.  “Let me fucking go!”

“Let her go,” Paris said.  “She’s more dangerous to them than to us.”

They released Sveta, who escaped.  Swansong let Etna slump to the ground, backing up to stand by my side.

I bent down and picked up one of the Harbingers.  The second Harbinger was up, and crawled our way until he found ground steady enough to stand on.  His leg looked mangled.  In this manner, we gathered together.  A very small group when compared to what felt like a larger assortment of others.  Not because we were outnumbered by that much, but because they were more intact as a whole.

Swansong elbowed me.  When I looked, she passed me a phone.

Ah, Etna’s phone.  What had she been interested in?  The reinforcements?

An overhead map with a field of red dots.  The traps.  Easily fifty.  She’d been keeping an eye on the layout while trying to herd Swansong toward the traps.  While moving around on her own.  Probably everyone had something like this.

Seemed like Love Lost had been making a lot of use of the tinker power, lately.

“It’s going to mess with the dog’s tracking,” Swansong said.  “How can they follow a trail if it’s littered with this garbage?”

“Let’s talk about you showing us the way to them,” I said, to Prancer.

I saw others react.  Firming up, tensing, getting ready for debate, fight, argument.

“You leave anyone I name alone, your targets aside,” Prancer said, calm, “Then yeah.”

“We shouldn’t,” Moose said.

“You really shouldn’t,” Contender said, hostile and angry.  Beside him, Paris looked like he agreed with the villain consensus.

“Give my guys protections, keep the peace, I’ll show you where those guys  are,” Prancer said.

“You’re not making any friends,” Contender told him.

“Deal,” I said.

Prancer laughed.  “Fuck no.  That’s one of my conditions.  Second?  Money.  Enough to get resituated.”

“You’re making enemies who’ll come for you,” Contender said.

“I promised my girl I’d make something of myself.  I’m not doing that here,” Prancer said.  “This is a mess, those guys have gone around the bend, and hearing about that kind of horror?  Kids?  Doesn’t sit right.  Having talked to Cradle, Snag, Love Lost, I believe it.  It’s fine when it’s Fallen and Fallen soldiers only.  But they were too okay with it, and now it’s other people?”

“How much money?”

“I’m not greedy.  A hundred thou?”

I grit my teeth.

“Fifty thou,” Prancer amended his statement.  “And I hold a hostage until the payment comes.  I’ll call in favors, get you your safety.”

“You can’t call in enough favors for that,” Contender said.  “They paid mercenaries and hired them to defend these spots.”

“That’s their fault for not being discerning about clients,” Swansong said.  “Greed made them stupid.”

“What the lady said,” Prancer echoed.  He seemed to stand a little taller, in the mid-strides of a deal.  “How much of you being a pain in my ass was your game in Hollow Point, Damsel?”

“One hundred percent,” she said.

“Even down to killing Beast of Burden.”

“That was different.  The rest?  An act.  I’m the easiest and most reasonable person in the world to get along with, when you’re obeying my every whim.  You… didn’t obey.”

“Mm.”

“You call them off as best you can, you lead the way, we give you safe passage and we pay,” I said.

Prancer smiled.

Byron’s power went off again.  A diagram high above, drawn out in blue lines and bluer lights, it became a vast quantity of water, and that water flooded the area, spraying to cover field and road both.  We were beyond the worst of it, but at the road-

At the road, it was a defensive measure.  The wolf had been standing guard and the wolf had just been knocked down.  They were picking a fight.

“Yeah,” Prancer said.  “Deal then.”

“You’re fucking us,” Contender said.

You’re fucking us,” Prancer retorted.  “How’s Moose supposed to have his adult summer camp-”

“Winter camp,” Moose said.

“How’re we supposed to call this place home if they bring this garbage here?” Prancer asked, almost snarling.  “If you help them?”

“If you thought it would be any different, you were lying to yourself,” Etna said.  “This is the default.  The way things are staying.  It’s the best we get.”

“Fuck that,” Prancer snarled.

He turned to go, but as he did, the villains we’d been fighting with tensed, shifted footing, got ready to pursue.

We couldn’t turn our backs and a small village of capes had turned up to defend their turf.  They were wet and cold after Byron’s impromptu shower, but that didn’t count for nearly enough, not when our team was halfway disabled, if not outright down for the count.

“And this isn’t even going to be the hard part,” Prancer said.

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106 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.3”

    1. Prancer is smart. He’s lost the love of his life. But he’s realized that he can’t keep going on like this. Indeed it’s because he tried being more like this that he lost Velvet, and Moose got maimed.

      1. Prancer is a drug dealer and a bit skeevy, with his ‘attending parties and sleeping with teenagers’ thing, but… I don’t actually think he’s a bad guy. I have very little info for this, but he was content being a super-powered drug dealer in Alaska, which had few enough villains and heroes that he could have tried being more than just Skidmark-in-Anchorage, and his power’s decent enough he could have been an effective thief or something- breaker-state that gets faster and more manoeuvrable the faster and more acrobatic he gets? That’s… Really not bad.

      2. I love how Prancer mimicked Victoria’s line when she saw graffiti with the safe fatalistic view of this just being the way things were now.

        But this also goes back to Prancer’s mindset that he can’t really settle and stay in one place anyway.

  1. “Kicking dirt?” Etna asked. “Really? That’s what you heroes have sunk to?”
    Well in addition to what Victoria said there’s also the fact you can talk well because apparently you get to recover better for some reason. Also shut you damn mouth to Prancer. He’s right. This isn’t the new normal you’d want. This is going to be war if you keep escalating, and you’ve been benefiting from the other side being nicer than you for a long time. You don’t want them to get to the point where they say fuck it. Or next time Swansong won’t be hauling you up out of the water.

    1. “apparently you get to recover better for some reason.”

      She isn’t recovering better, her power is as weakened as the others. The reason Vic can barely breathe, is because got hit on the torso with lightning

    1. Sorry, I should’ve included the relevant quotes from the start:

      Prancer and Moose were approaching, picking their way across the water. They had one of ours hostage- Sveta. Three of ours if we included the Harbingers, who we couldn’t help.

      The they in the second sentence appears to point at Prancer and Moose, but we know this is wrong, both because Sveta is engaging with Thud, and because those two could probably not contain Sveta. So this probably belongs to the typo thread.

      Also, why are Harbingers and Sveta potential hostages, while all the other fallen capes (Foil, Damsel, the Dallons, Rachel, maybe someone else?) are of no concern at all?

  2. Seemed like Love Lost had been making a lot of use of the tinker power, lately.

    Heheheheheheehhehehehe.

    – Paris is definitely some flavour of combat thinker. He is way too good at this
    – Number Lads did *not* represent
    – Moose!
    – Prancer has finally realized how far he is from where he wanted to be
    – villain civil war incoming?
    – all that water Byron is dropping? Chekhov’s Gun. Tristan is going to come out mutilated and all and turn it all into stone at the opportune moment. Count on it.

    1. -Paris is a cluster-cape, with the spike blaster/shaker power being probably ‘his’ power.
      -Number Lads got knocked out by a Trump-cancel effect, which is especially devastating if you’re a Thinker that uses your power for every movement.
      -Yay, he survived!
      -Pity it took Velvet’s life to do it.
      -Villains have never been very united; and unlike the heroes they’ve never needed to play nice with one another. Kinda hoping Prancer and Moose find themselves turning their capes after this, trying to make a difference so this kind of shit never stands again.
      -I think there’s a limit on how much they can keep ‘alive’ and ready to shift from one to the other. And a skyfull of water is probably a bit too much, at least not two skyfulls of water.

    2. > all that water Byron is dropping? Chekhov’s Gun. Tristan is going to come out mutilated and all and turn it all into stone at the opportune moment. Count on it.

      It is pretty much standard Capricorn tactic, and something that will most likely fire within next five minutes (probably even much sooner than that), or not at all. Hardly a Chekhov’s Gun in my opinion.

  3. Typo thread

    > Thud,who held Sveta against the ground, didn’t seem to mind overmuch.

    Space after ‘Thud,’.

    Also the link to chapter 11.9 is still missing from the sidebar.

      1. Not necessarily. Victoria has been calling both Ashleys “Damsels” in her mind from time to time. It would be a problem if the other Ashley was up, and next to Victoria, but the reader knows this is not the case here.

    1. It didn’t break the lights, but it disturbed the placement of one, where it was in muddier.
      -?

      The powers that gave them the ability to move weren’t, at least for the moment.
      -weren’t working

      No, a plea… because she cared enough that she wanted to help Sveta much as I did.
      -as much

      Contender, a case fifty-three with ‘feathers’ that looked more like worn leather than any featherlike,
      -anything

      Ashley broke away from me, staggering forward on peg leg and one leg that wasn’t cooperating,
      -staggering forward on one peg leg and one leg that wasn’t cooperating

      but who was at least holding her own, against another case fifty-three who seemed implacable.
      -nix comma

      1. in muddier (missing word)
        center mass > the center mass
        any featherlike > anything featherlike
        to matt > to mat
        drug grows (should this be drug growths?)
        those guys are > those guys are (extra space)

      2. I’m going to contest against the need for ‘working’ after ‘ability to move weren’t’. The powers that gave them the ability to move, weren’t (giving them the ability to move). It’s maybe not the best English, but it’s a valid conversational use and I knew what was meant immediately.

    2. “She doesn’t care about hurting kids. She hit Lookout because she can’t aim,” Swansong said.

      Extra space before the start of the second sentence.

  4. The chess case fifty-three turned his head slowly to look at Paris. Sveta gripped the head from five different angles.

    “This the Svet’?” Thud asked, in his booming voice.

    “Yeah,” I heard Sveta. It sounded like she was having trouble making words. “Let me fucking go!”

    Looks like Sveta’s is even more famous among the C53s than I suspected… I wonder if it is a good or a bad thing in this situation.

    1. Considering the response was “she’s more dangerous to them if we let them keep her,” I’m guessing isn’t one of those ‘helpful now but indicative of larger problems down the road’ dealies. Poor Sveta can’t catch a break.

      At least, I think that’s what the context was.

      1. Maybe it is not that bad. It could be that Paris knows something about Svetlana that we don’t, and that it is something that makes Sveta a danger to the heroes, but it could also be that he thinks that she is more dangerous to her surroundings than she actually is thanks to her recent training with Rain. Remember that Paris has no way of knowing about that use of Rain’s power, not to mention the fact that it wos used on Sveta to give her a better control over her body.

        1. If Paris is right about Sveta being a danger to her allies, I imagine that it is most likely due to one of two reasons:
          – Paris knows about some power, tinker device or a weakness in Sveta’s psyche that is likely to be used to make her go berserk, or otherwise lose control of her body in the near future,
          – Paris knows that someone is hunting, or otherwise going after Sveta, and that someone is likely to harm anyone trying to stop them, or even any nearby bystanders; I imagine that plenty of people, especially C53s who are angry at her because she took Weld’s side in the Cauldron, would be willing to do something like that.

          1. It could even be both of those reasons at once, if Sveta’s hypothetical hunter or hunters have access to knowledge and/or powers needed to make her lose control.

          2. Apropos making Sveta go berserk or otherwise controlling her. I’ve always been wondering about two things:

            1. Did the old Cauldron set up some means of controlling her, similar to the “pacification button” Bonesaw put into Slaughterhouse clones? If so, then I imagine it required some particular device or an involvement of a particular person, who wasn’t there to save Doctor Mother. If such means still exist, I wonder ho has access to them.

            2. Why did the Cauldron release Sveta in a populated area, where she quickly started killing people? It is obviously not something that either Sveta or the Russians would want, and I don’t think it is something the Cauldron would do for no reason. What would Cauldron’s reason be? Did they still see her as an asset of some sort? Maybe they:
            – used her to kill someone or some particular group of people in Russia in a way that couldn’t be traced back to them,
            – used her to terrorize some people in Russia (maybe even the general public),
            – wanted to occupy someone who ended up dealing with her instead of doing something Cauldron didn’t want them to do,
            – predicted (possibly using precognition) that leaving her there will end up with her becoming a hero, but failed to predict that it would happen only after she took part in a raid on Cauldron and killing Doctor Mother; I think it would be possible if they used Contessa for example, and she asked how she could make Sveta a hero, but failed to ask her question in a way that ensured that Sveta wouldn’t kill someone in the Cauldron along the way, or her precognition was fooled by Mantellum to an extent that she couldn’t predict all Sveta’s actions even after Svetlana left Mantellum’s range.

          3. Or maybe Cauldron’s failure to predict Doctor Mother’s death had less to do with Mantellum, and more with the fact that Scion was in the area when it happened?

          4. My personal thought on Sveta being released the way she was is Contesa’s Power. They wanted the C53s to live so they muddy the scent back to HQ.

            Contessa used her power to determine how to release Sveta so she would be survive/live.

  5. My God. Did Moose and Prancer come to represent.

    Obviously, things are slowly crossing a line where there are going to be some villains that realize that enough is enough. Undersiders realized that and maybe Earth Shin too. I think this is the first real step into getting back the unwritten rules. What happened with Cradle will echo throughout the world. This might be the win that all of us needed.

    1. I feel like there was someone who would be ideal to play a hostage in this situation, but I forgot who it was, and that person isn’t with Victoria’s group at the moment anyway. I wonder if, after what Paris said, Prancer would accept Sveta as a hostage (hypothetically speaking of course – it is not like I think Victoria would allow it to actually happen).

  6. Is it just me, or does it feel like a lot less happens in Wards chapters than Worm? This whole chapter was just about 5-10 minutes in terms of story timeline.

      1. In fairness, this is one of those cases where the objective facts don’t actually factor in. The same amount of progress can happen in the same amount of real-world time, but the way the story is written will change how the flow of that time is perceived.

        Worm was punchy. It kept up a pace (consistency notwithstanding), and it always had something lined up whenever the previous pickle was dealt with. It may not have been walking in a straight line, but it was still walking.

        Ward plays it by scene, or at least that’s what it feels like. Chapters are these discrete packages where “we’re dealing with this right now, and the other stuff can wait until after.” Which, granted, ‘address your problems one at a time’ is a pretty good message in and of itself, but it makes the story feel like it’s plodding instead of walking.

        Because, apparently, people want positivity and good themes in their stories, but they won’t read those stories if there isn’t conflict and drama.

  7. Another “Villain of the Week” chapter.
    Missing story and story progress more and more.

    Lately I find myself hoping for Interludes. Because they tend to be actually good and give us some story.

    WB doesnt seem to find his mojo with these protagonists. Considering how well he did with Taylor…

    1. I’d agree the interludes are some of my favorite parts. But they were in Worm, too.

      My favorite parts are watching super people interact with the mundane world; when it’s good it’s good in Ward (Kenzie parent stuff was awesome) but the setting (inherently less mundane than in Worm) seems to make it happen less.

      I do think the fight scenes were better in Worm. Most of the cape fights in Ward are messy and confusing, without clear objectives or resolutions. Maybe Taylor is just better at narrating then Vic.

      1. I feel like the messier nature of combat is an inherent side effect of our PoV being a Brute in Ward.

        Taylor was a battlefield tactician with the ability quickly parse and disseminate information, and she tried to avoid direct blow for blow combat. An obvious strategy for anyone with a thinker power that isn’t a combat thinker.

        With Victoria though, she’s a well trained soldier. She knows how to fight, she knows what she should do in different circumstances because of her training, but she can’t sit back sit back and focus on the big picture, or her powers get wasted. She has to be in the fray, and that reduces her ability to macro and keep track of what’s going on elsewhere.

        It took me some getting used to, but it makes sense. Taylor had “eyes” everywhere. Of course the action was focused and well narrated. She had a better sense of battles than most anyone she went up against or worked alongside.

      2. The fight scenes in worm were better because they had meaning. They were leading to something. They had consequences in the story and were consequences of the story.

        Here they feel just like “another random fight leading to another desaster leading to another random fight”.

        Maybe I am a bit unfair.. because I was such a big fan of Worm my expectations for Ward were maybe a bit too high…

        But the world building here leaves so much to be desired and the story development is so stunted.
        I feel all the interesting stuff in all the multiverse is happening but just outside of the narrative.

        1. “All the interesting stuff” I get the impression that’s because Ward is telling a slightly different kind of story than worm. Victoria’s character development is much more fleshed out than Taylor’s, for example, and there seems to be a stronger emphasis on the morality, villain-hero themes.

        2. Both Ward and Twig are considerably better written than Worm, so I feel pretty comfortable saying that anyone who preferred Worm just has worse taste. I wouldn’t be surprised if the “Worm was better” opinion correlates with the people who somehow managed to read Worm and come away with the impression that Taylor was right.

          The biggest differences are that the general writing/prose is considerably better and the characters are *far* more interesting in both Ward and Twig.

          1. That might be your opinion.

            I might say anybody who prefers Ward to Worm has no idea of good dramaturgy and story development.
            I find the characters in Ward a bad fit for superhero prose. They make a good self-support-group story though.
            And anybody who just categorizes characters in terms of right and wrong should find other stories to read, anyway. I am not happy with WBs writing right now but I would never accuse him of being so trivial as to create “right and wrong” stereotypes.

  8. Sometimes I wonder why people like Prancer and Moose don’t switch sides and become heroes finances either by the city or by some private entity. If all they wanted is money, they could get it this way. Is being independent, and having full control over their territory and organization that important to them? Do they mistrust authorities so much? They had no problem taking part in the attack on the Fallen camp, so I don’t think they are so cowardly that the risks heroes face regularly are the reason they insist on being villains, especially since this is not exactly a very safe lifestyle either – if fear would be their main motivator, they would probably be rogues, not villains.

    The way I see it they have much less to lose by being heroes than someone like Tattletale, who already not only already controlled her own territory, but also used her position to protect people who lived there – something that could become difficult to do if she officially joined “the good guys”.

    1. If Prancer and Moose want the money, and at the same time they don’t want anyone to order them around, then why don’t they become vigilante-ish mercenary heroes instead of getting a permanent sponsor (either private or public) like most hero teams do? The way I see it they’ve just agreed to do this sort of work for Victoria.

      1. I kinda feel that villains like them (and most of the original Undersiders) go into villain work because:

        A) heroing doesn’t pay enough, quickly enough
        B) heroing comes with a lot of rules and hoops to jump through, and/or they don’t want to stop doing some kinds of shady shit
        C) their friends are villains and/or they have distrust of the authorities
        D) they have self esteem or image issues that keep them from seeing themselves as a ‘good guy’.

        This is why I could VERY easily see Kenzie as a villain.

        1. Wasn’t there a video of that game of heroes an villains Weaver played with kids in chapter 23.4 of Worm? I think Madison mentioned seeing it in chapter 0.9 of Glow-worm. If what Weaver said to the kids can be heard in the video, then it’s definitely something that aspiring villains like Prancer or Moose should see, since it nicely defeats arguments like these, especially argument A.

          1. Prancer and Moose at that point were already villains, with a criminal record for drug dealing, and possibly various forms of assault or battery or violence. Whilst they probably could have just turned around and become heroes with a new name at that point, they didn’t know that- the PRT tried to keep it quiet when a villain turned coat, to make the civilians feel better.

          2. They knew about the amnesty, not to mention that if someone with Taylor’s record could become a hero on Bet, someone like Prancer or Moose should be able to become heroes on Gimel with little to no legal problems. Remember that at the moment law enforcement isn’t even interested in bringing in the small-time villains like them. They could probably be quickly pardoned or get away with only symbolic punishments if they have done something show their willingness to become heroes right now.

          3. Prancer made a power-play, he no longer counts as ‘small time’. He’s a crimelord, now, albeit a deposed one. And the amnesty might not count any more, since he’s continued being a villain for two years after Gold Morning.

            Also, Taylor was a special case. She’d just killed Alexandria. These guys aren’t that big. They’re just big enough to be thrown the book at to make it seem like the powers-that-be are doing what they can.

          4. Well, Victoria has an ok relationship with the mayor, so I guess that she could at least ask her boss about what “powers-that-be” think about Prancer’s case. Remember that Prancer could be a former crimelord, but at the same time he, as far as I remember, has never been accused of any sort of unlawful killing (and the law enforcement isn’t even interested in taking in alleged killers like Sidepiece – see chapter 10.9). Participation of Prancer’s group in the attack on the Fallen camp probably also works in his favor.

          5. I think that after his power-play Prancer may overestimate his own importance in the eyes of “powers-that-be”, and this is why he probably doesn’t even consider asking for pardon and a chance to work as a hero. If there is one big obstacle to him doing just that, it is probably not the law, but the fact that some heroes from all of those groups that “patrolled” Hollow Point to provoke his reaction may feel offended if he was allowed to join their side without being seriously punished first.

          6. Alfaryn; while I agree it would be helpful to have anybody with powers play that game of Taylor’s, I don’t believe it ‘refutes’ any of the arguments I made, at least in the sense that it makes them not true. Especially not point A; Taylor was very open about the fact that she made a fuckton of money through villainy, and it is doubtful she would have made that money legitimately.

            What Taylor’s game DID do (and her point) was that while those are reasons people might go villain, they are still not worth the risk you run by going villain. She didn’t deny the upsides; she just pointed out the substantial downsides that outweigh them, in most cases.

            But take Grue; going hero instead of villain would likely not have enabled him to get what he wanted (custody of Aisha and keeping her away from their parents). And also Regent; going hero would have likely prevented him from using the full scope of his power, which he greatly enjoyed and didn’t want to give up. It also would have entailed way more “work” than he was willing to put in.

          7. What I meant to say about point A is that Taylor specifically mentioned that while villainy does pay short-term, all this money is worth little if you end up loosing all this money even quicker than you made it, in prison, maimed or killed – all of which are far more likely to happen to villain than to a hero. All money in the world is worthless if you are not in position to use it – something plenty of villains seem to forget about.

          8. So yes, Taylor’s argument was mostly about risk of being a villain, but when it comes to money she pointed out that this risk drastically reduced value you can expect to get out of this ill-gotten money.

          9. And Grue just got lucky that he had enough time to spend his money on what he really wanted. Most villains aren’t that lucky in no small part because most villains want to be able to live long and be able to enjoy all this money for the rest of their lives, which they probably won’t be able to do for all reasons Taylor mentioned. I think Prancer is one of those villains, which is why Taylor’s argument applies to him.

          10. It is also the main point Carol had in her recent discussion with Damsel – Marquis did not get to enjoy his little empire, and all money he got for long. He didn’t even get to rise his own daughter. Carol on the other hand might have seemingly gotten less, but what she did get lasted longer.

          11. By the way maybe this is what made the difference that caused one of the Ashleys to become a hero, and the other one to stay a villain. The memory Swansong got from Edict showed her the value of having a relatively safe, stable family and work situation heroes can get easier than villains. Maybe the other Ashley simply doesn’t have this memory, or it hasn’t been pointed out to her the way it was pointed out to hero-Ashley, when she met Edict?

          12. In other words while villain-Ashley praised benefits of living in an ivory palace, maybe hero-Ashley understands that the more important thing to do is to avoid being alone, and living in a dump or a prison. And this approach did pay off already – while she did end up in prison, she also got friends who pulled her out of there relatively quickly too.

    2. They might become heroes, but they were villains because there’s less oversight in independent anythings, and Prancer- at least, not sure on Moose- didn’t have the right kind of contacts to go hero. Prancer was a drugdealer, who grew his own cannabis and, given his power, may have triggered whilst high. He is a breaker, and breakers tend to trigger whilst in an altered mental state.

      In addition, most capes trigger when feeling isolated and alone, when society has failed to protect them in some way. It’s why many heroes go independent, possibly even being vigilantes that aren’t afraid of killing, and why many capes are villains. Somebody who got beaten up by an abusive father after social services came by and did nothing isn’t going to feel too friendly towards the government.

      1. Well, now they definitely have the right contact to “go hero”, and in chapter 11.4 the heroes have been discussing hiring mercenaries. Do you think Victoria should give them a counteroffer? A longer employment as mercenaries working for the Breakthrough-coordinated network instead of one-time payment?

        1. Prancer’s a mover, and attributes to that feelings of restlessness. A hero tends to stick around in one area, and can’t generally go to where there feet lead them.

          1. I don’t see why a mercenary group of heroes couldn’t move around, and not stick to one territory. Also remember that Prancer supposedly wanted to settle down in Hollow Point.

          2. Velvet wanted to settle down, not Prancer. Prancer wanted to move forward with his life and not be so skeevy, and didn’t want to be small-time.

            A mercenary hero group could move around. So could an independent vigilante, but neither of those are as profitable as a villain, and their resources are likely smaller. The one group of mercenary heroes we’ve seen were willing to take big cash hand-outs from Tattletale for information on hero activities.

          3. From the current chapter:

            Prancer laughed. “Fuck no. That’s one of my conditions. Second? Money. Enough to get resituated.”

            “You’re making enemies who’ll come for you,” Contender said.

            “I promised my girl I’d make something of myself. I’m not doing that here,” Prancer said. “This is a mess, those guys have gone around the bend, and hearing about that kind of horror? Kids? Doesn’t sit right. Having talked to Cradle, Snag, Love Lost, I believe it. It’s fine when it’s Fallen and Fallen soldiers only. But they were too okay with it, and now it’s other people?”

            I admit that there is more than one way to interpret this, but I feel like Prancer is saying here that he wants to try to grab a territory somewhere else, and settle down there, if for no other reason than to keep his promise to Velvet. As for money – I think that at least for now the situation is desperate enough that Jeanne could afford to be generous, if just to turn Prancer an Moose – a pair of potential problems into assets.

    3. The market for heroes is apparently not that good, at least in the post-Gold Morning era. Remember, Victoria couldn’t even find a job. And I get the impression it also isn’t that well-paying.

      I also get the impression that parahumans are generally inclined to not use their powers for non-combat purposes, so they’re limited to working as guards/mercenaries.

      1. Where did you get that idea from? Parian and Canary both used their powers in non-combat, and in public- Parian hired herself out to children’s parties with giant stuffed animals and Canary was a popular musician. Skitter used her power to make costumes for herself and the other Undersiders, and whilst it’s true those costumes were intended to be worn in combat, the making of them wasn’t combat. Vicky doesn’t have a driving license because she can fly, and I doubt Laserdream has one either.

        Every power has a combat/conflict usage, doesn’t mean they don’t have non-combat usages too. Capricorn was helping out in construction- either using his enhanced strength to move things, or- and something that would make him really useful- creating walls and foundations for houses.

        1. @Earl of Purple

          > Vicky doesn’t have a driving license because she can fly

          Actually Victoria does have a driving license – see chapter 7.3. She just practically never used it to drive on actual roads, making her one of the worst kinds of drivers in my opinion – one with the right to drive, but almost certainly no actual ability to do it safely.

          As for Parian and Canary – yes, they were rogues, but it is important to note that they both ended up becoming involved in conflicts eventually. My guess is that some of it was caused by influence of either their shards, or shards of people who forced them to fight. Note also that Victoria didn’t stay as a non-hero expert of the Patrol Block for too long, possibly in part due to influence of her shard on her personality.

          So yes, powers may have non-combat uses, but the shards will do their best to make all parahumans test them in some sorts of conflicts sooner or later, and I guess this is what Zach meant.

          @Zach

          I don’t think that the situation when Victoria was looking for a job was anything like it is now. At that time small-time heroes probably felt they could afford to be picky because for practically the first time in history they outnumbered the villains, and things seemed peaceful. Of course the big players (like the leadership of the Wardens) knew better even then, but even they probably didn’t expect an outright hero-villain civil war. Their attention seemed to be focused mostly on external threats.

          Currently there are clearly not enough heroes to deal with the current situation, and it looks like things are about to become even worse. My guess it is a perfect moment to become a hero, if you want to make money on it, or just want to do something that will make people forgive your villainous past.

          1. It might just be me, but… Vicky was non-hero expert for the Patrol Block for about two years, I thought. Since its founding until the attack on Norfair Span, anyway. And two years is pretty long for a person her age- my first two jobs combined lasted that long, though I’m older than she is.

            And yes, there’s a conflict drive, but it doesn’t stop one having a job besides ‘hero, villain, mercenary and guard’. Kaiser was able to hold down a top-level managerial position in a major pharmaceutical company, the Major Malfunctions were unable to find a fight for years. Long enough to grow up. It took Leviathan for Parian to pick a side, and she was quite well established before then. Canary didn’t have much conflict drive as she’s a Cauldron cape, not a natural trigger.

          2. Well, I do remember that Vicky was with Patrol Block for years. I could even name a few capes who avoided cape-on-cape conflict for much longer than that. Heartbreaker is probably a good example. All of them however ended up either returning to fighting (like Victoria) or getting killed by a cape they managed to piss off (like Heartbreaker).

            Remember that it probably doesn’t always have to be your shard that forces you to participate in conflicts. It could be someone else’s – probably both Heartbreaker and Canary are good examples or that. In other words even if you don’t want to fight, and your shard doesn’t particularly mind, some other shard will make their parahuman force you to do it sooner or later. After all, capes who are driven toward conflict by their shards aren’t driven toward any conflict equally – they are mostly driven toward conflict with other capes, and I imagine that capes who avoid conflict may be particularly high on target lists of certain shards.

          3. Heartbreaker didn’t avoid conflict. He avoided confrontation, not conflict. He swept into an area, drove a wedge between a pretty rich woman and her friends/family, swooped in with his family after she’d alienated everyone, ‘married’ her, drained her finances, and moved on, to repeat the process elsewhere. He’s causing conflict in the woman’s family, and appeasing his shard that way, teaching it how to manipulate people and how they tick. If he wasn’t doing something like that, there wouldn’t be so many Heartbroken.

            Oh, and I’m pretty sure he used the wives he’d gotten bored of and his older children as drug dealers, petty thieves and so on to supplement his income.

          4. Ok, I can agree on this definition of conflict when it comes to Heartbreaker, but I think my point still stands – the parahumans were supposed to use their powers primarily against each other, and as far as I remember Heartbreaker avoided a situation where he would need to use his power against any capes except his own kids, who were in no position to retaliate, so even that conflict was limited. He probably fought against the other capes as much as he needed to make them leave him alone, and he succeeded for years. It was only when some of his powered kids started to break out of his control that things began to crumble for him, and even then he did little to force them to re-establish that control – he did send a couple of his kids after Cherish, but he didn’t get invited directly or press once she joined S9. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that his fight against Imp the cape-on-cape fight he has been in years, and it probably wasn’t much of a fight.

          5. I admit that I may be entirely wrong here, but Heartbreaker’s death seems suspiciously as if the shards finally decided that he is not worth the resources they wast on him, so they decided to make him go to the place where a cape who had both an excellent motive to kill him, and a perfect power to do so happened to live. Seems like on some level his death could be an indirect execution by shards that became disappointed with him.

            Once again – I could be wrong. There is a chance that the shards that were involved neither coordinate nor understand interactions between humans (outside of the moment of trigger of course) to a degree that would allow them to pull something like that off, but I also wouldn’t rule out a possibility that I’m right here – the situation he got himself into by coming to Brockton Bay seems a lot like some sort of a setup to me, and not a decision he would make himself if he thought clearly. If he wanted to avoid fighting capes – why did he come to a city with so many of them?

          6. Shards don’t coordinate like that. If they did, Leet wouldn’t have lasted as long.

            Heartbreaker died because his power needed him to see and be aware of his target, and Imp decided to avenge her boyfriend on his father- when her power prevents people being aware of her, with a few exceptions.

  9. I’ve been thinking about what could be the result of March’s tampering with portals, and I remembered that when Doormaker lost his power during arc 30 of Worm, he did not only lose an ability to create new doors, all of his already opened doors closed too. Since the portals contain a lot of energy, and that energy apparently gets released when the portals interact with triggers, do you think that March is doing could cause them to close? Where they even permanent in the first place? if not – how long could they last?

    As a side note regarding arc 30 of Worm – do you remember this quote from chapter 30.3?

    I opened a portal within the Birdcage, to capture my first prisoner.

    Containment foam rained down from the ceiling, sealing him in place.

    What do you think happened to this person captured in the foam?

    1. I don’t think March interacting with the timey-wimey’s will cause the portals to close. I mean, maybe since powers seem to stall when a trigger happens, a big enough multi-trigger would be able to shut off the portals (do they count as powers? I know they’re made by powers.) and they won’t be able to be reopened without Labyrinth and Scrub maybe not even then.
      “Were they even permanent in the first place? if not – how long could they last?”
      I think they’re permanent. They seem to remain open without assistance until someone shuts them down physically. I suppose if they aren’t permanent they’ll close on their own when they run out of power. Though, when that is depends on what they’re using for power. Do we actually know what they’re using? Are they drawing energy from Scrub’s and Labyrinth’s shards or from some kind of cosmic energy or all the potential energy from whatever earths they’re connected to something? And are all the portals connected to the same energy source? If they are, then I suppose whatever is keeping them open should drain pretty quick.

      Dude probably died. Taylor wrecked Dragon after that didn’t she? (in the sense that she took most of her control away, not like actually totaled her) So there was no one to let him out of the foam and even if it dissolves on its own, the portals would be closed by the time it does, so he would be stuck in the Birdcage by himself with no one sending food in anymore. Probably died of thirst or starvation or lack of breathable air or something.

      1. Regarding the Birdcage inmate who ended up covered in foam, I wouldn’t be so sure that he is dead. He could have been released from the foam and taken by Taylor when she collected everyone from the ‘Cage. All she needed was an access to a power or combination of powers that could do it quickly. It is entirely possible that she had it at that point.

        If Taylor left him there, I still wouldn’t be surprised if he was still alive. Some capes don’t need air, water or food, and even if this one did need it, there could be enough non-perishable food left for him to survive for years. Remember that Birdcage was designed to hold hundreds of people. Same with water and air.

        I also wouldn’t discount a possibility of someone coming back and rescuing him later. I imagine it would be possible without Dragon acting as a warden anymore. With amnesty in effect I think even Dragon herself could do it.

        1. I suppose it’s possible Taylor got him out somehow, though I think the last we see of him is him getting foamed and she doesn’t mention getting him out but I might be wrong. Dragon probably would have gone back and opened up the elevator for him provided she knew he was still there, but I don’t see anyone else being able to go and get him. Far as I know, there is only one way in and out, and the way is shut.
          The Birdcage itself is inside an artificial vacuum which itself is inside a mountain right? So any air would need to be filtered in and out of there by way of machine, and while it’s very probable that Dragon had a program to run that, the likelihood of that program surviving what Taylor did is rather low. So he would HAVE to be able to live without oxygen in order to really survive long-term. Same with food deliveries (though, you’re right about the probability of non-perishables) and water.

  10. So that’s another group of villains Victoria’s working with.

    Also she tried to stab Contender in the throat, multiple times.

    She’s 6/10 okay with killing Etna, who has shown she’s willing to play by capes “rules” and continually attempts to not cause lasting physical damage.

    I’m surprised Thud didn’t know A) who he was fighting and B) didn’t start frothing at the mouth when he learned. I’d pretty much assumed there was a little bit of of a vendetta at work there, but it wasn’t targeted at her personally at all apparently.

    1. Thud’s not from Bet, meaning he wasn’t part of the Irregulars, meaning he heard of Sveta second-hand. He knows she was involved in attacking the organisation that mutated him, and that she protested against the violence and brutality used by various Irregulars in dealing with Cauldron’s leadership. But he wasn’t there and didn’t witness it, so he doesn’t have the anger of somebody who was there and feels betrayed by it, like that bio-speeder with Faultline’s Crew.

      I’m not sure how many people know she killed Doctor Mother; there weren’t exactly many witnesses to the act, but if the word of that has gone out she’s likely also seen as a hypocrite as well as a traitor, though her personal situation doesn’t make that so clear-cut.

        1. I don’t think all those C53s are mad at Sveta about “kill-stealing”. They are mad because Doctor Mother’s death was an accident, not the vengeance they wanted. They wouldn’t have anything against Sveta if she didn’t side with Weld to protect the Doctor and other Cauldron members first. Some C53 may be even more mad at Sveta because she killed Mother, making it impossible for them to have their vengeance the way they wanted it.

  11. Every time I try to visualize Etna, my brain snaps to the image of Edna Mode from the Incredibles movies. Makes it hard to take this chapter seriously. 😐

  12. For last few chapters I thought that Love Lost thought that “the city is lost”, because a large percentage of its population (possibly even every non-parahuman) is about to suffer broken trigger thanks to what March is doing, but it can’t be right for two reasons.

    The first is that in interlude 12.e Love Lost was convinced that March would not case a massive disaster. In fact the plan she was told assumed that March would make a threat without actually popping even one time effect if possible.

    The second reason is this fragment of a mail ftom Love Lost to Lord of Loss we saw in chapter 11.6:

    THE CITY IS LOST ALREADY
    IF YOU WANT IT YOU CAN HAVE IT

    It seems that Love Lost thought that even after the city is “lost” there would be something left to “have” in it. Doesn’t sound like it would be the case if everyone or almost everyone in it died because of broken triggers.

    My current theory is that not only Love Lost, but also Cradle really did plan to warn everyone about some impending threat, and March simply lied to them, because she had other plans. The threat Love Lost and Cradle wanted to warn everyone about probably had something to do with time effects (and possibly with their interactions with the portals), but I don’t think it is safe to assume that it was a threat of broken triggers. It could be something else – possibly even worse.

    I also don’t think it is safe to assume, as some of us apparently did, that the threat to the city Love Lost and Cradle are concerned about is the same as Valkyrie’s “biggest threat”. Occam’s razor says it is, but I think that we may also need to consider a possibility that it is not, and those two threats will either manifest themselves one after the other, or (a possibly even worse scenario) will both pop up at the same time.

    1. Also, since Love Lost wrote that “the city is lost already”, and apparently she wasn’t the only villain certain of it, then whatever the threat they are so concerned about is, it is probably not something that can be prevented (or at least the villains don’t think it is). It is possible that the best thing that could be done is to evacuate as many people from the city as possible, and it would be the case even if March didn’t do anything to time effects at all.

        1. I mean it could happen if everyone in the city would storm all working portals at once… and if Rain will not figure out in time to turn off the Scrambler in time, he may relive what he has gone through during his trigger event once people from the city will trample each other to death at the Gimel-N portal station while trying to go through the disabled portal.

        2. Your comment made me suddenly see what the premise of this story could be: *everyone* triggering. Just … everyone triggers. Or near enough that it doesn’t really make a difference.

          That would add a whole new context to Victoria’s scholarship of powers, to her focus on restoring the old balance, to the way civilians have been feeling about capes, to everything.

          And it would also explaining why anyone sane who knows this wants to get the fuck away from large population centers like The City.

          1. Yeah, I have been considering a possibility of a city-wide trigger event for some time now (and by city-wide trigger event I mean either a large percentage or even every non-cape in the city triggering). I wouldn’t even exclude a possibility that people in other words, but still close to the portals could trigger as well, though I doubt that people farther away will.

            What March is doing could very well lead to that. Let’s just hope there will be at least some survivors of those triggers.

  13. Oh man, I happened to read this en route to work, right after stupidly planting my face into the thin ice. Had a nasty pain shock and it was a not-particularly-nice little refresher on how Vicky felt at the beginning of the chapter. Yay for empathy, haha!

    So happy Moose is coming back in a biggish way! The true gentleman villain that isn’t full of sass (looking mostly at you Accord).

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