Heavens – 12.5

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What the fuck was I supposed to do?  I wanted to rage, to tear in there and bring half the building down on them all.  I would, too, but it would only make more of a mess of a messy situation, with people and pieces of people caught in the rubble along with dangerous capes and explosives.  I wanted to take this egg he’d made to be uncrackable and take it apart, figure it out, unravel the riddle, but there was a small army in the way.  I wanted to curl up into a ball like the one in front of me, like my mom could do.  I wanted to think all of this through and I didn’t have the time to.

I couldn’t do any of those things.

I studied the scene and the egg.  A light glowed within, and a dulled red glow made it through the places where flesh was thinnest, whether that flesh was covered in skin or not.  Everything fit together and there didn’t seem to be any seams or keyholes.  All was rigid, frozen and held up in space.  I was put in mind of Clockblocker from back home.  I thought about the fact that something like the broken whip, which I’d last seen in Rain’s possession, would’ve been needed for this.  Was this a second version?  Something not like a whip?

I’d networked as best as I could, and I’d done it with this kind of situation in the back of my mind.  With situations like Sveta’s in the back of my mind.

My thoughts briefly settled on Chris.  Lab Rat.  They touched on other alternatives.  How would a biology-altering power interact with this?  No, not if it was effectively Clockblocked, for a lack of a better way of putting it.

What else, then?  Tackling the army so we could get close and do something more effective?  The glowing light shining between flesh made me think of my dad.  Of my mom.  It was uncomfortable to think of the glowing, widespread tangle of horror and associate it with my own time in the hospital.  Which of course led me back to the non-solution that was my sister.

I didn’t want to get trapped in circular thinking, that panic-space like a nightmare that had persisted from my first nights out that hadn’t ended in wins.  Trying to save someone who’d fallen from a high place.  I’d fly after, grab their hand, only to find it so slick with blood that it slipped out like a wet bar of soap.  Again and again, as they fell impossibly far.  Or like the nightmares that had been the hospital room, where all I’d had had been my mind, and that mind hadn’t had enough stimulation.  No place to go but in circles.

I turned my eyes away from the scene and turned my thoughts out and away from the circle.  One deep breath.  I focused on the tangible, instead.  The chill air that was trapped inside the bubble that was the Wretch with me.  The smell of oxygen, for lack of a better word, of earth and trees and the lack of the city smell.  It had been the first things I’d trained in doing when I had panic attacks.

What as I supposed to do?  Something.  Anything.  Non-action was the only thing that wasn’t allowed here.  The wall I was running into was just that- a wall.  An egg I couldn’t penetrate without hurting innocents or allies.

I hugged the roof, dodging the flashlight of the patrol that had settled at one corner, and flew to the opposite end of the building.  Sveta.

“That you?” she asked.

“It me.”

“I could grab it.  It’s huge but it’s hollow.  Pretty sure I could do it,” Sveta murmured.

I considered that option.

“There are a lot of things about that option I’m not sure about,” she confessed.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What if I can’t?”

“Yeah.  That’s an issue – if you can’t budge it and everything goes out the window.  And even if you can, where do we take it?  No exits big enough, so I have to tear a hole in the wall,” I said.

“And if you’re in a position to do that then we could be doing other things.  Yeah.  It was the best I could think of,” Sveta said.  “Those poor people in there.  Is that Moonsong’s group?  Byron’s ex?”

“I think.  At least some of them.  Some of our group.”

“Ashley’s foot.  Tristan’s middle.”

“Yeah,” I whispered.

“He’s buying time.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Yeah.  I’m… pretty sure that when it’s close to time for him to wake up, he’ll have all of the mercenaries he hired come back.  Any we didn’t disable, any he had elsewhere, anyone helping March, even.”

March- I thought of the situation at the city.  The city unfolding.

“It’s what Paris said.  We can’t take action without hurting people.”

“Probably.  He might have decoys inside, or he might be inside, with people set up.  He had to anticipate that we might be in this situation.”

And what happens next?  He gets to this stalemate, then… he has plans to move to another Earth?  He bails?  It’s a lot of enemies to be making.

I had another suspicion, a worry about what Cradle was considering, but I didn’t let myself consider it.

“I’m going to talk to the others,” I said.  “Can you keep watch here?”

“I can.  Happy to be useful.”

“High five,” I said, putting my hand over the ledge.

She slapped it.  More like a whip than a hand, but not too audible.

“Thank you,” she said, quiet.

As I’d flipped through faces like Chris and my parents, I found myself thinking of all of the various capes out there, living and dead.  Of the ones who fit categories, from cloning to flesh molding.  Blasto.  Rattenfänger‘s music.  Jerky-meat’s puppets.  Jamestowner’s radioactive mutant cannibals.  Non-options.

What did an answer to Sveta’s problem look like?  What gave her Weld and gave me a best friend I could hug when she needed a hug?

“Be safe,” I said.

“You too.”

I waited, watching the flashlight beams moving around the area before choosing a time to take flight.

I hurt.  My foot hurt.  My hand hurt.  I was cold, and the Wretch wasn’t as good as winter clothing.  My arms felt like I’d had the workout of my life and then compounded the aches and pains by getting beat around the upper body with baseball bats.

I hurt on other levels.  Dealing with all of this, seeing people hurt, it wasn’t easy.  Nobody was doing well, except for the worst people.

At one point- at a thousand points, I’d wished I’d been able to participate in the full course of events that had plagued my hometown.  I knew, objectively, that I hadn’t been emotionally mature enough to.  That I’d had my limitations as a person, my regrets about how I’d acted.  But that logic didn’t do anything to combat my other regrets, about the fact that I hadn’t been there.

Well… wish fucking granted, Victoria.

It wasn’t Brockton Bay.  But it felt a damn lot like I was picking up where I’d left off.  If I hadn’t been hit by that acid, taken out of action.

Dealing with villains who had scary-as-fuck tinker stuff going on.  Unreasonable, unreasonably violent, inscrutable.

The eggs.  Tricks and ploys that came from a place that just didn’t seem like they were human places, because they were so divorced from compassion or rationality.  A plague that turned friends into strangers.  The Dolltown surgeries.

I clenched the hand warmer in my grip as I dropped out of the sky, landing amid the others, my good foot down, the knee of the leg with the injured foot bent.  My hair slapped down at my back.

We had a small army of our own, I reminded myself.  Byron, Sveta, Ashley, Brandish, Flashbang, Rachel, Chastity, Foil, the Harbingers, and Moose.

“He made an egg,” I said.

“Good for fucking him,” Rachel said.  “What the hell does that mean?”

“A shelter.  A bubble made of parts he took from people, attached together or suspended in place.  It looks like he’s inside.  Or he chopped himself up and he’s part of it.”

“That’s insane,” Moose said.

“It’s- yes.”

“That’s what Paris meant?” Foil asked.  “We’d want to shoot because he’s in there, but we can’t?”

I nodded.  “They’re organized in the old Russian style from back in Earth Bet.  Squads of soldiers with parahumans in charge.  Even down to the armbands and badges.  It makes the squads extensions of the parahumans, force multipliers because they know their parahuman and they work with them.”

“It’s not the worst idea,” Swansong said.  “If you find people you can trust.”

“Or forcefully conscript into military service and force into a given squad,” my dad said.

“That too.  I’d have to take over a world first.  Probably better to settle on finding people I can trust.  I think I can do that now.”

I gave Swansong a warning look.  Stop needling your sister.

She simply smirked at me.

“We don’t know how long they’ve been working together like this,” Byron said.  “They might not have the level of trust you’re thinking of.”

“Some are ID’s I recognize,” I said.  “Eyethief, Mukade, Barfbat.  So you’re probably right, Cap.”

“I knew a cape once who was from there,” my dad said.  “Joined the New York Protectorate.”

“From Russia?” my mom asked.

“Yes.  Bunter.”

“Your drinking buddy.  He was cute.”

“What’s the relevance of this?” Damsel asked, hostile.

“We talked about what it was like over there,” my dad said.  “Maybe it applies?”

I rubbed the hand-warmer between my hands as I thought.  “Capes over there tended to break down into the ones who were conscripted, the ones who became fugitives of the state, the weird middle ground ones-”

“Almost always spies or state-supported capes,” my dad said.  “According to Bunter.”

I nodded. “-and the villains who were fugitives of the state who managed to establish themselves.  The whole dynamic was very anti-parahuman.  Setting up capes so they rarely cooperated, each squad was primarily expected to deal with capes, whether they were home-grown or not.”

“They’re set up to deal with us,” I said.

“Did it work?” Moose asked.

“The setup?  Yeah.  For the specialized task.  When they got hit by Endbringers they turned on the people who came to help, though.  For later attacks, they didn’t have the help.  They ended up trying to use airplanes, tanks… but we’re digressing.”

A digression that was at least helping me to get into a better headspace.

“Bunter was a squad leader,” my dad said.  “There was a drawback to that setup.  The squads end up subservient.  Power imbalance.  Every cape has their quirks.  Preferences, eccentricities.”

“Some of us are the sad kind of insane,” Chastity said.

“That, yes,” my dad said.  “When you surround yourself with people who don’t balance you out, you can spiral.  The neuroses get worse, the bad habits get more problematic.  Negative personality traits are magnified.”

“Which is fine if we’re dealing with them one-on-one, but this is a lot of people,” Byron pointed out.

“I counted ten squads of ten soldiers and one cape each, all inside,” I said.  “Three more patrolling around the outside, one last group on the roof.  Looks like they rotate.  It’s a lot.  Even if you remove all soldiers from consideration…”

“How?” Ashley asked.

“How did they afford it or arrange it?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“I don’t know.  It’d be nice to ask Precipice if he knows particulars.”

“He was researching his cluster before all this started, and he took notes,” Byron said.  “From the time of their trigger, Love Lost and Snag moved into doing cape work for hire.”

“They have good reputations,” Moose said.  “They do the work, they’re smart, they follow any extra orders and they adapt to changes in plans.  Cradle was networking with tinkers.  He developed some of his first devices to work with other tinkers before he developed for himself.  Made special armpit-length gloves that were really easy to plug your own tech into.  That sort of thing.  Not many tinkers do that and a lot of them want it.”

“Especially in a time like this, post-apocalypse,” Foil said.

“Yeah,” Moose said, smiling.  “No workshop, no stuff.  They want to get caught up, get notes, get prep-”

The movement of a beam of light in our vicinity cut off all conversation.

We were far enough back.  The light was a halogen bulb being turned on the field, aimed at one squad.

By mutual, unspoken agreement, we didn’t resume the discussion

“Sveta’s keeping an eye out.  We discussed how to crack this, but… it’s a lot.  The army we could deal with, but not while everything’s set up like it is in there.  We could deal with the setup, but not without dealing with the army first.”

“Traps,” Rachel said.  “Don’t forget the traps.”

“Yes,” I said.

I fielded some questions about the size of the orb, the composition, the mech that was set up beneath it.  My dad had questions about the soldiers.  The men wore enough winter clothing and the windows had been frosted toward the bottom, so I hadn’t had enough of a look to report on their background, but I was guessing it was mixed enough.

The costumes of the squad leaders?  Masks over balaclavas and lots of modifications to their winter clothes, like added body armor, chains wrapped around one part or another, one guy wore a full hazmat outfit with a squad of people in gas masks, or there were the ones who wore a mask with jackets and pants in particular colors of camouflage.  Was it possible that some weren’t flaunting that they were capes?  Yes, of course, but by my estimation, seven out of ten of the groups inside had seemed to be sticking to their own.  The other three groups had seemed to be interacting on a minimal level, but each with a cape as their nucleus.  I hadn’t seen a group without a leader.

“Sometimes people switch costumes,” Rachel said.  She had her arms folded, and leaned back hard into the side of her wolf.  “Take the guy you like least and make him wear the costume instead.  He’ll draw the attention.”

“You wouldn’t actually do that, would you?” Chastity asked.

“Nah.  I’d tell them to get lost a long time before that.  But these guys are dicks.”

We’re talking about this like we’re going to pick a fight, I thought.  It’s inevitable?  We go up against more than a hundred people with equipment and some degree of training, and a number of capes matching our own?

I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want the risk, I didn’t want the casualties.

The others talked while I ruminated.  I’d said what I had to say.

“Mukade was Bandsaw?” Moose asked.  “But had to change his name?”

“Twice, apparently,” Damsel said.  “I saw him at one of the villain hangouts, early on.  He had the centipede thing.”

My mom ventured, “Do you know anything about him, contact, or…?”

Damsel ignored her.

“Not our wavelength,” Swansong explained, filling in Damsel’s silence.  “Refugee turned villain.  First thing I ever saw or heard of him was that he was wondering which group was best set up.  No take on theme or fit, class, goals.”

“He wanted safety and security,” Moose said.  “Fits what I know.”

I was put in mind of Crystal and how she’d joined the PRTCJ.

“He disappeared pretty early on,” Moose finished.  “I figured he bit it.  Thought it was sad.”

“He was young,” Swansong said.  “I remember him putting three times too much sugar into his coffee.  It made me think he was a teenager.”

“He was,” Moose said.  “Is.  But that’s getting into uncomfortable territory.  We can smash their faces in, break them, but we shouldn’t hint too much at who’s behind the mask.”

“Fair,” I said, bemused.

“You mentioned Barfbat.”

“Yeah,” I confirmed.

Moose nodded, as if encouraged by that, or just by being able to contribute something.  “He’s decent.  Strong, polite.  Gets the job done.  He likes to hang and work with Chugalug.  If he’s here I’d bet money Chug is too.”

“What names,” my mom said.

“Barfbat did mercenary work in another Earth,” Harbinger One said.

“Really,” Moose said.

“He pulled one hundred thousand dollars for one job,” the Harbinger said.  “One weekend.”

Really.  Shit on me.  Did I miss a newsletter for high-paid villains and mercenaries or something?”

“If you put yourself out there, people are paying,” Harbinger Two said.

I tuned out the discussion.  Some tidbits on those capes, but beyond that, I just needed to think.

What works?  What doesn’t?

I glanced at my mom.

Take away what the villains want, and at worst we score a draw.  Except it wasn’t that easy, and what they wanted was… what?  Big picture, they wanted revenge and they wanted to secure themselves.  They were working with mercenaries tied to the hyper-religious Earth Cheit and it looked very possible that Cradle and Love Lost were going to run off to that Earth or some other corner world after all of this was done.

We’d stopped them from running.  Okay.  Revenge?  That was predicated on them getting Rain.

March was a third piece to the puzzle, but March wasn’t here, and March was inscrutable.  Hopefully we would be able to achieve something with Cradle or Love Lost that would help us scrute, or at least give us the tools to apply leverage.

I had a bad feeling that I knew what their long-term was.  I might not have connected to it if I hadn’t seen Ashley and the Harbingers, or if thoughts of Bonesaw and some of the other sketchy bio-manipulators hadn’t been so close to the surface of my thoughts, with Sveta’s issue.

Put that aside.  There was the issue of the short-term.

What did they want, in the here and now?  They were asleep, so… nothing.

“I have an idea,” I said.  It wasn’t necessarily an idea I felt good about, but I felt more confident because I had an idea, period.

Conversation stopped.

“If we attack this it’s going to be too difficult,” I said.  I could see Rachel, Foil, and Damsel weren’t so keen on that.  How could I use them?  They factored in for the here and now.  Hopefully that worked.  Hopefully this worked.

I wished I’d done more in the past to track who was even operating in the corner worlds.  I’d collected info from Earth as it had been, preserving records, and I’d collected information about Earth as it was, following who was where, but I hadn’t focused enough on the other Earths.

“I want to try disruption.  I want to try you.  I’ll stress this is only if you’re willing.  Because this is playing with fire.”

My finger pointed at Chastity.

“Against a hundred people with guns?  Tell me how and I’ll do it,” Chastity said.

“What’s the logic?” My mom asked.

“The logic is doing without the hundred people with guns.  Byron, Chastity, are you okay riding a dog?  Rachel, can you give them a ride?”

“Can,” Rachel said.

“Why me?” Byron asked.  “I’m a step behind you here.”

“Because you can tell her what Precipice said about the intruder into his dreamscape and what happened to them.  Make sure she knows the stakes.  That it’s dangerous.  There’s not a super high chance this works, and if it doesn’t or if she’s not down, I think there are two routes we can go down.  For now, we either need to make this work, we need to get lucky at the- whatever it’s called.  Frontier-”

“Frontier Row,” Moose said.

“We need to get lucky there-”

Chastity said something in French.  Jesus Prayer?  Jay-vays-pier?  I didn’t have the grounding to know.

“-or we need to get out of Earth N, which means using the remote Precipice and Cassie have.  We disrupt them at the foundation and… I want to start with their current setup.  I want to leverage the most subtle powers we have.”

The first sign that something had gone wrong was that the villains of the Row were gathered around the station.  The second sign were the fires.

Fuck.

I flew down to signal to Rachel, Capricorn and Chastity that they should circle around.  I returned to the air well above the city and watched the patchwork canine take its new route.  Not so dissimilar from the route we’d already traveled.

I landed in the midst of the crowd, a few feet from Bluestocking.  I was forced to dismiss the Wretch on my descent.

“What the fuck?” I asked.

“You had someone sneaking around,” Bitter Pill said.

“We had a vulnerable teammate and we were keeping them back and safe,” I told her.

“You didn’t tell us.”

Was this the dynamic?  Was it Bluestocking handling things when they wanted to handle the inter-team diplomacy in a half-decent way, running the show, while Bitter Pill was the designated stubborn asshole, when they didn’t care to play nice?

“We had more pressing concerns.  We still do.  Where is my teammate? He was out of action.  He had someone with him, and they had a dog.”

“They ran off,” Bluestocking said.

I could read her body language, see that she was spoiling for an argument.  Worse than before.  Was she that defensive?  Did she have something to hide?  Or was she upset about a potential spy because both were true, and she was doing something she really shouldn’t?

“I really don’t care what you’re up to.  I want my teammate and I want to deal with the monsters.”

“Then go find ’em.  If you ask, we can’t tell you much of anything.”

I shook my head a little, then took to the air.

“Antares,” came the call from below me.

It was Bluestocking.

“What?”

“Paris brought Contender back.”

“And?” I asked, a little tense.

“He needs medical attention.  Badly.  You took his eyes.”

His eyes.

Almost gentler than I’d expected, but… it sat oddly.  There were other avenues of attack or wounds that left some quality of life.  But the eyes?  That affected every moment of every day from here on out.

Was that worse than death to a Harbinger?

“They were going to tell Cradle’s group we were coming.  We wanted to slow them down.”

“You locked us in?” Bluestocking asked.  Asking to confirm what she already knew.

“Locked them in.  You associated with them, you deal with the inconvenience they bring home.  We’ll be done soon.”

Bitter Pill said, “We can’t extract the wirework from the mess that is his eyes and the bridge of his nose, not without damaging it more.  He’s going to bleed out or suffer permanent damage if you take too long.”

“If we take too long, it’s because of their people, not ours.”

“Don’t test our patience,” Bluestocking said.

Which was my cue to go.

Rachel was already running ahead.  She’d taken the long route, and instead of coming to the station, she’d just run on ahead.  She was running through low brush and over frozen, fairly barren landscape that was dotted with the rare fire.  One burning tree, low to the ground, one mess of detritus where a tree had fallen down in multiple pieces and decayed.

Etna, flying, and not flying that well.  It clearly wasn’t a strength of hers.  She created molten orbs in her hands and tossed them in the general direction of the fleeing dog and its two passengers.

Two options.  I was confident in my ability to go toe to toe with her.  I’d trained against the Legend-type flying blasters through my teenage years, and I’d sparred with Crystal.  Fliers came in all types, and Etna looked like a strong contrast to Colt.  Where Colt changed direction on the fly and went from zero to fifty in a second, Colt hadn’t been that fast.  Etna was slow to pick up speed and maneuverable with that velocity, but I could see how Cassie was leading the dog in different directions, and Etna wasn’t doing so hot with that.  When she turned, she maintained speed but her accuracy and reaction times seemed to go out the window.  In a straightaway, it looked like she could build up speed and I was guessing her top speed was good.  She was steaming as she flew, and her orbs were growing faster.

She’s a bomber, more than she’s artillery or an aerial combatant.  Mark a target, get up to speed, drop or hurl a slew of molten glass orbs at them with each pass.

I was fairly sure, just by seeing her fly, that she had a bit of the same issue Crystal did.  Middle ear wasn’t adapted to flying, so the sharp turns and anything else gave her one hell of the roller coaster feeling, if it didn’t make her nauseous or threaten to make her black out.

Option two, though, was to catch up to her when the constant turns had fucked with her most, tackle her, and use my flight and her disorientation to flip us both about ten times in three seconds, before arresting our movement and firmly depositing her in the nearest hillside.  The crash landing on her part was more because of her disorientation than any exaggerated force on my end.

She bounced.  It wasn’t a huge bounce, but her flight was still ‘on’ as she rebounded off the hillside and that made her buoyant.

I didn’t have time for these games.  I watched a moment to make sure she was more or less fine.  Then I flew away.

Just… far too many occasions where she’d gotten in our way.  Where she’d ended up on the team with the shittiest, most frustrating people, where she’d been reckless.  Now she was out attacking people without getting answers?

I was just done.  If I discounted one because she’d helped with the Fallen attack, then this was her second strike, as far as I was concerned.  I’d revise or amend my position if I could figure out if Bluestocking had sent her or if this was a reckless proving-herself thing.

I had no idea why I found it quite as irritating as I did.  Chalk it up to diminished defenses.

Rachel whistled.  She was catching up to Cassie, and the whistle was a cue to regroup, wolf and hound running side by side with a smaller mutant dog lagging behind.  Yips was moving in straight lines while the others traced routes that were more like S-curves, which let him catch up.  But those S-curves were for a reason, and Yips was running through every barely-iced-over creek and through very puddle, and a part of his shoulder was on fire because he’d blindly charged through a burning bush or tree.

“Capricorn!” I called out.  “Fire!”

Capricorn twisted around, saw, and created blue lights.

Yips yelped as the blue lights became a splash of cold water.

“Stop,” I called out.  I kept an eye on the spot where Etna had been deposited as the wolf and hound slowed, then came to a halt.

“They came after me,” Cassie said.

“It’s fine,” Rachel said.  “The-”

The straggler crashed into the two dogs, nearly unseating everyone.

“Yips, you numbnuts!” Cassie shouted.

“Gentle!  Settle!” Rachel ordered.

Yips, tail wagging, head lolling this way and that, did obey and dropped down to lie down on the ground.

“All the way,” Rachel ordered.

The mutant Yips flopped over onto his side, four legs sticking out to one side, tail slapping the ground.

“Did something happen?” Cassie asked.

“We wanted to try something,” Byron said.  “We need the remote, I think?  Or we’re doing something weird with Precipice’s situation.”

“The weird thing with Precipice first,” I said.  I walked over to Rain, and I pulled off my glove so I could hold fingers to his pulse.  “If everyone’s willing.”

The pulse was slow enough that I wouldn’t have imagined he’d been riding on that dog while it had been moving the way it had.

Chastity hadn’t responded.

“If you’re up for it, Chastity, I want you to knock Precipice out.”

“What?” Chastity asked, frowning.

“Turning him off and turning him on again,” Byron said, as it dawned on him.

“If he didn’t have that girl he was into, I’d be happy to turn him on any day,” Chastity said.  Her friend pushed her shoulder.  More serious, Chastity said, “Screwing with this situation he’s got going on hurt someone else, Capricorn told me while we rode.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s a chance it hurts him?” Chastity asked.

“I have no idea,” I said. “There’s a chance it wakes them all up, and that’s all that happens, and if that happens, we don’t have to wait until dawn to adapt and go after them.  There’s a chance it wakes him up and only him, in which case we can use his input.  There’s a really, really good chance he stays knocked out, and he was up with a sore cheek.”

“And there’s a chance that by waking him up, what happened to that other person happens to him,” Chastity said.

“That was actually going into the dream,” Byron told her.

“The person got chewed in going in.  Do we chew him up pulling him out?” she asked.

“What I know is that he’s been looking for ways out of the dream for a while now,” Byron said, quiet.  “I know it’s eating him alive.  And he’s talked about options since that thing happened with the intruder Cradle brought in.”

“He wants this, huh?” I asked.

Byron shrugged.  “Think so.”

Chastity nodded, then nodded more forcefully, like she was trying to amp herself up or get herself to the point of agreeing.

“If you don’t want to, we have other options,” I said.

“I told him I’d help him.”

“With his love life.”

“I’ll help him,” Chastity said, definitively now.  “And not just to impress the guy in armor with the nice voice.”

“You’re incorrigible,” I told her, as Byron acted momentarily flustered.

“Just who I am,” she said, smiling a little.

Chastity began pulling off the wicked jewelry she had on her right hand.  Studded rings and rings with ornate designs.  She handed it to Cassie, then shifted position, sitting so her front was to Cassie’s back, Rain lying across Cassie’s lap.

I saw her take a deep breath.

“Move the mask?” she asked.  “Just a bit.  Let him have his privacy.”

Cassie did, sliding it aside to show only a bit of eye, nose, and mouth, cheek exposed.

The slap wasn’t even that hard.  When Chastity pulled her hand back, a pinky fingernail was illuminated.

I checked his pulse.

Was it faster now?

“Okay,” I said.  “That’s something of a good sign.”

Chastity worked for a second to get secure behind her friend.  “Got me, hon?”

“Yes.  Absolutelymont.”

“We’ll work on that,” Chastity said, leaning forward to kiss Cassie on the cheek, before slapping her own cheek with the backs of her fingers.

She swayed, and Cassie caught her as she went limp, and then Rain stirred, with Cassie trying to catch him too.  I took over the duties there.

Rain groaned.  It wasn’t a fast wake-up.

“Got you,” I told him.

“Pass him here,” Byron said.  “Bigger mount.  If that’s okay?”

Rachel grunted in the affirmative.

“You’re close,” I noted, as I finished the hand-off of Rain to Byron, then helped secure the blankets around Chastity.

“Yeah,” Cassie said.  “Snuggle buddies.”

“You’re-” I motioned between the two girls.

“Buddies.  Only buddies.  We’d be best friends if we weren’t so far away.  But when we get together we can nap on the same couch and it’s the best nap ever.  Or we stay up all night bundled up in blankets, trading off between watching her awful shows and watching my stuff while she insults the characters.  I never thought I’d have someone like her.”

Rain was slowly coming to.  He groaned like he was in pain, but as I floated in to check, he recognized me and waved me off.

“I had someone like that.  A girlfriend.  We could talk all night.  My ex-girlfriend, now,” Byron said.

“We’re not girlfriends, though,” Cassie said, hurrying to protest.  “I like boys and she really likes boys.  I really want to clarify because I don’t want me being horrible with words to tank any chances she has with-”

“Stop,” Rachel said.  “You’re rambling, and you get mad at yourself when you get carried away.”

“Stopping,” Cassie said.

Rain worked his way to a sitting position.  The silence hung heavy.

“Good?” Byron asked.

“I’m goddamn sore, and even more tired than I’m sore.  It’s dark out?  What the hell day is it?”

“Same day.  We woke you up early,” Byron said.  “Once you’re fit to ride, we’ll see if we woke up the others, or screwed with them.”

“Okay,” Rain said.  “Water?”

“I’ve got broth for nutrients and shit,” Rachel said.

“My suggestion,” Cassie said, happy.

“I’ve put my lips on the rim, I don’t know if you’re a pussy about that sort of thing.”

“You can’t say that,” Cassie said.  “Pussy.”

Rachel sighed, heavy.  “When I say pussy I mean the lame-as-shit, wimpy-ass, useless-for-anything joyless dead-behind-the-eyes cat, okay?”

“Good,” Cassie said.

“There’s probably backwash in here too,” Rachel said.  “People are pussies about that too.”

“I’ll wait,” Rain said.

“My parents pack everything,” I told him.  “They’ll have water.”

“We going?” Rachel asked.

“Go,” I said.

“Yips!  Up!  Get going!”

As soon as Yips was off the ground, the three dogs were running.  I flew alongside, leaning on the Wretch.  My hands were cold.  Again, I felt the aches and pains.

“Depending on what follows, we might go back, see if we can find any capes who aren’t tied up with other things,” I said.

“What else were you thinking?” Byron asked.

“Power copiers to copy Precipice and get his emotion power, or see if there’s a Heartbroken or someone else with a power that’s subtle enough.”

“Amias,” Cassie said.  “He’s young, though.”

I winced.

“I don’t think we know any power copiers who work that flexibly,” Byron said.

“Any power that was subtle enough would work,” I said.  “If they want to stay locked up, then let’s make the conditions as unpleasant as possible, and see if they crack.”

“Ahh,” Byron said.

“They’re locked up?”

“Essentially,” I said.

“My power helps,” Rain said.  “You want to help them?”

“The way I see it, it helps when you’re doing something.  Makes your mistakes more pointed, so you learn from them.  But if you’re doing nothing at all, then-”

“Regret,” Rain said.  “Doubt.  Self-loathing.”

“I thought about what I want to do, and I want them to hurt.  I want them to feel and recognize what they’ve done here.  I want them to feel a thousand times the pain they’ve inflicted on others, and I don’t know if that’s possible, but maybe your power gets them there.”

“They might be asleep.”

“Emotion effects accrue, I think.  There’s a physiological and mental component.  We just… let that accumulate.  A little trickle for a long time.”

“About that,” Rain said.

“What?”

“I’m maxed out.  I didn’t get my power, or any tokens, pretty sure… I’m-”

The silver blade he created was just that- a blade, a foot and a half long.  He made a throwing motion, and it dissipated.

That’s maxed out?” Cassie asked.

“My emotion power.  It’s turned up.”

“Nothing else?” Byron asked.

“Zero on the tinker power.  Zero on the mover.”

Why?” I asked.

“I have no fucking idea.  But if you want to boil them inside whatever room they’re holed up in, I think I can do that.”

Rain was on his feet again, a bottle of water in hand, talking to Moose, as Moose outlined some of the faces inside the building.  Foil had slipped in between the patrols and used spikes to scale the wall, and she’d taken photos while at the window.  At the factory-like building, the windows were up near the tall ceiling and the roof.

I heard the names Moose rattled off -mostly new ones for me- and I heard Moose talking about which ones were more compassionate, which were assholes.  The ones who had killed.

Chastity had roused, looking a bit worse for wear but, at the very least, not unconscious.  She was with Rachel, but most of her focus was on the Harbingers.

“Incorrigible.”

I turned to look.  It was Cassie.

“You called my friend incorrigible.”

“I’m sorry.  I was trying to play along.  Byron hadn’t mentioned the ex he was talking about was the same girl that’s chopped up in that factory, I kind of wanted to distract her.”

“Oh… oh no.”

“It’s okay.  I’m sorry I wasn’t as deft as I could’ve been.  Tired.”

“It’s okay.  It’s true that she’s incorrigible, but… it’s hard, you know?  I want her to be happy.  But she doesn’t want to be someone who goes out with someone and lies from the start.  I think something bad happened once, while she still lived with her dad, when she went to school under an alias and had a boy who liked her.  I think he ended up meeting her dad.”

I nodded, swallowing hard.  I wondered if I heard a name, if I could dig in files and find a case report.

Cassie continued, “And if she’s honest about where she comes from, most guys, most good guys, they run screaming.  So she plays the odds, I think.  Any time she’s with a guy who might work, she takes her shots.  A lot of the time those guys aren’t great people, y’know?  I kind of got hopeful, seeing her around the good guys, this time around, and not the guy who pops pills or the fourteen year old who’s killed people.  That’s why I acted weird and ranty.”

“It’s fine.  Really truly.  It came from a good place.  No judgment.”

“Her dad used to throw away women when they were twenty two or twenty five or around that age.  I think she kind of feels like she has a time limit, and after that no guy’s going to want her around?”

“Fuck,” I said.

“And I can show her Charlotte and Forrest or Nancy and Theo and point to them, and I tell her they’re happy together.  But she doesn’t really see it and I don’t think she even totally gets why she feels like she has the time limit.  She can know it’s logical and feel a complete other way.”

“I’m running into that an awful lot,” I said.  “The feelings and rationale being in completely different places.  She’s lucky to have a friend like you, you know?”

“Snuggle buddy.  Best friend.  Shitty thing about Nancy and Theo, you know?  I was all, rah rah, look, they’re so cute together, they’re so happy.  Role models, woo.  Then they broke up.  I actually think it messed her up a little.  She was at the farm when it happened and the next day she went back to New Brockton with barely a goodbye.  We never even talked to them, we ate at the same table sometimes, but…”

“Yeah.  I see what you mean.  Kind of connects.”

“Yeah.”

“You want good things for your best friend.”

“I want good things for a lot of the people here.  I thought- I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this.  Rachel doesn’t care, she says to be open, but it’s Chastity’s whole deal I’m talking about and now I’m feeling like I’m betraying her by talking to a near-stranger about it.”

“I won’t say a word,” I said.

“Thank you.  I can’t really talk to Rachel about stuff like this.  She’s great.  She’s the very best. But not for talking.  Tattletale used to be someone we could go to, but she got worn out, and it became a not-this-week thing, and then a not-this-month thing.  I was going to ask Imp for help, but she’s hurt now, and she’s not here.”

“Help?” I asked.

“I dunno.  You’re pretty and you’re confident, and Chastity seems to like you.  If you ever… feels dumb to say out loud.  But if you ever met someone who might like her…?  And who’s strong enough or caring enough?  And who’s, um, perfect?  Because my best friend doesn’t deserve anything less than perfect.”

I could hear something in her tone of voice in that last sentence, serious and almost dangerous or gruff, that told me this girl had spent a lot of time with the very serious, very dangerous, and very gruff Rachel Lindt.

I nodded.

“Don’t nod and get my hopes up if you won’t try,” Cassie told me.

“My best friend needs help too,” I said.  “She needs a body.  I’ll keep an eye out for your friend if you keep an eye out for mine.”

Cassie nudged me.  When I looked, she had a hand out.

I shook it.

“What’s this dealing about?” Chastity asked.  She’d left the Harbingers behind.

“I should go see to the mission,” I said, stepping away from Cassie.

“Careful going out,” Chastity said.  “They sent a patrol down the road and they had lights up at the windows during one route they took.  Group back here had to scram, and Foil almost got caught.”

“Thank you,” I said.  I put a hand on her shoulder as I passed her.  “And thank you.  For waking up Precipice.  Taking the risk.”

“No prob.”

Others were glancing my way.  Briefings petered off.  They were close to ready.

“What do you think?” Byron asked.

“I think we should get set up,” I said.  “I’m thinking it’s me, Precipice… mom, are you okay being in ball form?  If we hand you off to Sveta, we can have you for the pineapple.”

“Bowling seven-tens,” my dad said.

An old in-joke.  We’d never been able to agree on what to call the maneuver.

My mom smiled a little.  “That’s a good idea.  If things go poorly?”

I nodded.

“Okay.  I can be patient.”

“I’ll go too,” Foil said.  “I can avoid the patrols.  I can deal with problems.”

“Good,” I said.  “Everyone else?  Be ready.  If there’s a bit of trouble, judgment call.  Either make a bit of noise for a distraction and scram, or Capricorn seals it off once a few people are out the door.  We can always get ourselves in later.”

“Or I act like a representative from the Row,” Moose said.  “A quieter distraction.”

“Perfect,” I said.  “Thank you.”

“If there’s a lot of trouble?”  Ashley asked.

I looked at her.  At Damsel.  At my dad.  At Moose.  The Harbingers.

“Knock the building down,” I said.  “Take out the ones who escape.  Then we shift gears, get the people and the parts out.”

That got me some sober nods.  A smile from Damsel.

I couldn’t see smiling at that end result, but… I supposed she needed to grandstand or act.

“Ready?” I asked Rain.

A nod.

I put my shoulder at his armpit, my arm at his waist.  He put his arm around my shoulders, and we tested lifting off.

Good enough.

My mom went ball-form, and she was wrapped in a dog blanket to mute the glow.  I put her under my other arm.

We went high first, because people didn’t usually look a quarter-mile up in the air for intruders.  We dropped down, eyes peeled for soldiers with and without flashlights.  Chugalug was out with his squad, jellyfish mode, floating, but he was taking a route that ranged further afield.

“Your heart’s pounding,” I told Precipice.  I could feel it through his chest.  “Was too fast a drop?”

He shook his head.  “Must be involuntary reaction to being so high up.”

He was breathing harder too, but I didn’t get the impression he was being cute or coy – he seemed surprised.  Not a boy-girl thing.  Mercifully.

A long night, really.  All of us were on edge.

We lowered down to the side of the roof with Sveta.  I motioned for Rain to hang back.

I handed over the cloth-wrapped ball, only glimmers peeking through.  Tendrils wrapped around it, binding the cloth even tighter to the orb.

I explained what was up, what had happened, and what the strategy was.

“Perfect,” Sveta said.

I wasn’t sure it was, but it was the best we’d been able to come up with.

Foil was making her way across the darkest parts of the fields between our group and the building.  I could see her because I knew where to look.  I was nervous, but I had to trust.  She was one of the good ones.

Rain and I, meanwhile, dropped down to the edge of the roof.  The window was recessed enough to set a foot down, and Foil had left some pieces of rebar jutting out of the wall.  Footholds.

We could look in through the window.  We could see the soldiers.

Rain laid his hands against the glass.  His breath, even with the mask in the way, was hard enough to leak around the edges and fog against the glass.  I motioned for him to back off and keep that to a minimum.

“Low strength,” I whispered.  “At least when targeting the soldiers.  Keep it subtle.”

“The god-damned irony,” Rain said, under his breath.

“Full strength if you can keep it to the contents of the egg and the mech.  Let’s make sure we target Cradle if he’s trying to be clever and hide inside that.”

“Yeah,” Rain said.

He began using his power.

You want to make yourself an egg, Cradle?  Let’s see if we can hard-boil it.  Keep the shell intact and cook what’s inside.

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208 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.5”

  1. Wanted to finally comment after reading along since somewhere in the middle of Pact. Sorry if it is slightly off-topic (and for the wall of text). Already tried to post this on the last chapter, doesn’t appear to have worked.

    I’m not the most analytical while reading and can rarely say what exactly makes a story click for me, but all of Wildbow’s stories have done so. Especially Worm and Twig continually amazed me, showing me amazing characters, problems and perspectives that I would have had a hard time consindering on my own. I felt that reading them was a tangible, permanent enrichment to my life and myself, while being immensely enjoyable on the way and actually making me feel very real emotions, which altogether is pretty much the highest compliment I can give a work of fiction. I could gush about the many things I liked, loved, adored or found horrifying or disgusting, but that could inflate this comment to essay-length even more than it already is, so for this part I’ll leave it at saying there were a lot. (Poor Pact is suffering a bit from being the unfavorite middle child here, but I don’t want to leave it out entirely. It was a very enjoyable read and has also had some impact on me, just less so than the other two, and so I won’t really mention it anymore)

    It’s easier to talk about finished works than ongoing ones, so Ward is a bit tougher to sort. It was a bit of a slow start for me. Though from the get-go it started the exploration of some very interesting topics that have continued since then, I did not really develop a bond to the characters in the way I did for the Undersiders and the Lambs, or other persons of interest in those stories. Therefore, it felt at times like reading a very well-written and entertaining text book rather than a story (not a perfect description, but close enough). I was interested in seeing what the characters would do, how their experiences would influence their actions and what new perspective one would see on the topics of past misdeeds, trauma, insensitivity, escalation and de-escalation, forgiveness and more. However, at the same time I wasn’t feeling for them as intensely, their suffering and their successes not evoking the same response in me that previous stories had. Using a real world analogy, it was a bit like learning about the fate of a stranger versus experiencing such a fate in a close friend.

    Now, both of the above paragraphs use past tense, but for different reasons. The first one because it talks about something finished and (mostly) concluded, the second one because it does not hold true anymore. While at first my enjoyment of Ward was lower and more academic, I very slowly found myself drawn in more and more, each arc bringing us slightly closer to the characters, showing more of them, and making them more real for me. Whereas Worm and Twig very quickly made me empathic towards its protagonist and then branching out from there to other people (the second part almost equally quickly in Twig, slightly slower in Worm for me), Ward did something similar very slowly, in a perhaps more thorough manner. After each arc I found myself liking the story just a bit more, and it was because each time I cared more about Team Breakthrough. And once that happens, I also start caring more about other characters, because the entire world becomes more real to me.

    While I’m not always sure what lifts a story from ‘good’ to ‘great’ for me, sometimes a point comes up where I know the story has grasped me. For Twig, it was the conversation between Sy and one of the antagonists of an early arc, involving somebody being held at gunpoint. That was where a mental picture of Sy coalesced in my mind, of what this character was like and with it an idea about what I could expect for the future of the story. With Worm I’m not quite as certain about a clear point, but I remember my first time reading the school meeting with the principal, feeling the indignance and helplessness experienced by Taylor in that scene. The sheer emotional response I had to that told me I would care about what happened in the future and broaden my horizons along the way.

    The moment with Ward for me was Byron’s first interlude, for similar reasons as the Worm one. Not even the horrific consequences of the trigger, but already the lead-up to the trigger event itself was what did it to me. Again, the feeling of helplessness for Byron, how he feels there is nothing besides violence he can do to make himself heard resonated with me and almost made me feel physically ill. As funny as that might sound, experiences like that are among my favorites when reading fiction. They not only show me how invested I’ve become in fictional characters, me responding that strongly to a specific scene also makes me learn more about myself, making it one of the ways in which stories can reflect and teach us about the real world. (As a side note, the recent Love Lost interlude has been another fantastic example of this)

    All this is to say I’m incredibly grateful for these stories existing and to Wildbow for writing them. I would be a slightly different person today without them, and I believe I prefer the version of me that has read them. Thank you.

    1. “Poor Pact is suffering a bit from being the unfavorite middle child here…”
      For me Pact was the best thing I’ve read in a long time. One of a handful of stories where I liked the main character, rather than only liking the side characters (don’t get me wrong, I loved Maggie and Evan, but Blake was actually also compelling).

    2. Such a beautiful comment! I just want to mention why I think worm and ward have those differences, as far as growing to love and empathize with the main character in the different ways that it happens. In Ward, Victoria is an incredibly closed off and emotionally fragile person. Everything is from her perspective and I found her just so unlikeable until we saw Sveta which really humanized Vicki. I think this is the point! As Vicki gets to know and care about breakthrough and find purpose in her life, and also balance between all the facets of herself, we are on that journey with in. Vicki’s trauma is not completely relatable so it was hard to process at first as the reader. Conversely, in Worm, most people can relate to an adjacent level of trauma Taylor goes through. Her insecurity and shyness evolve into a level of godlike power and understanding and so we essentially go from being completely with her, to moving farther away. Both techniques are super compelling and I think the choice of each protagonist is extremely intentional and results in such different experiences.

    1. OR DID HE??
      I dunno I’m concerned about Rain. Something about the way he’s acting has me on edge, the way he’s weirdly excited at the end of this chapter. I hope I’m wrong, but who’s to say he was telling the truth about the power boosts?

      1. Because we didn’t see him even prepare to hand out his tokens. His primary power’s at the weakest it’s ever been; I reckon he was woken up early and didn’t take any tokens with him.

        1. So it doesn’t matter that his tokens were in his segment? Or does this mean that not only did Rain get a dose of LL but that he gave away his own tokens somewhere?

      2. On second thought, his weird emotional state may just be a reaction to Love Lost throwing her tokens at him before he woke up, thus bequeathing to him increased emotion power as well as her rage. Hopefully that’s all it is.

      3. Well, he did just get a huge helping of Love Lost’s rage. I’d imagine that he’d be pretty happy to have someone to go after.

        Not to mention, one of his powers is finally strong! He’s always had weak powers, and now he gets to try out a strong one.

        1. Yeah let’s not jinx something good happening for the heroes for a change. I mean does Karma operate in reverse or something in the Parahumansverse?

      4. The description seems pretty clear – he’s got no Tinker or Mover juice, but full-on Master/Shaker, and his blade is about normal. So it was not ‘his’ night, and he got LL’s last push behind him.
        The emotional high he’s probably riding right now will definitely change his attitude, that’s the whole point of this token bleeding after all.
        It seems he’s still unaware that LL and Colt are dying, for what it’s worth.

        1. No, he’s got no blaster. It’s not ‘about normal’- it’s smaller than usual, and dissipates the moment he lets go- striker now, not blaster- and the line it makes probably doesn’t last very long at all. He’s got his blaster power as if it wasn’t his primary and nobody’s given him any tokens for it.

          1. If LL could just throw her tokens into his room and they would work if he didn’t collect them and throw them back, then I don’t see how is it possible. His own tokens are in his room from the very beginning. Except if Cradle has a way to drain him too, despite him not taking any tokens yet.

  2. “It’s what Paris said. We can’t take action without hurting people.”

    Honestly? This is the thing, right here. This is the frustrating part of it all, so far.

    And just seeing it brought up in-story is super relieving. Thank you, Wildbow.

    1. Victoria- “Just once I’d like a bad guy we can just punch in the middle of nowhere!”
      Valkyrie-“Trust me, it’s got it’s own problems.”

  3. That’s one way to deal with an egg you can’t get in. Maybe the people that make up the egg feel really shitty, but they probably feel bad enough that they’re on painkillers or something and don’t actually feel it at all.

    And hopefully, if Cradle was draining Love Lost in there, they’ve woken up early, too. And now Cradle has to deal with a woman he just tried to murder whilst stuck in an impenetrable bubble filled with doubt, self-loathing and any other bad emotion they can get in there.

    1. I can see one problem with this approach. It may also affect people, whose body parts ended up in the egg. I’m particularly worried about heads. Tattletale was in a bad spot already, how deeply traumatized will she be by maximum output of Rain’s supercharged emotion power?

      1. You think they want Tattletale’s head close enough to see what’s up and call them out on being shitty people?

        But yeah, that’s a fair point. I don’t think Tattletale’s head is in there, though. Or at least, not all of it.

        1. Anyone who disliks her this much to do this to her is probably smart enough to leave her mouth in a high security vault.

  4. “The Dolltown surgeries.”
    Funny, those got brought up on Spacebattles earlier today.

    Someone also commented that while it’s been fun, it feels like this arc/fights been going on forever. So apparently we can add that to “Ward is an anime”

    So this was a really great chapter. I ended up liking it, and being calmed down from something else that upset me. Like an inverse reaction from the last one. Wildbow you’re putting me on an emotional roller coaster, please be consistent, thanks.

    And we get more Breaksiders bonding. Daww, Cassie wants the worlds best boyfriend for her BFF, and Vicky wants a body for her BFF. Wait Vicky’s BFF does have the worlds best boyfriend. No stealing.

    And now for maximum Irony. In so many ways. Cradle made himself an uncrackible egg. So they hard boil it. Cradle doesn’t like emotion bleed-over taking him from him. So they are gonna guilt blast the shit out of him. Cradle has been using emotional bleed-over through token boosts to manipulate his cluster mates. Pulling Rain out has allowed him to supercharge his emotion power, and will be used against Cradle.

    1. I feel like most of the arcs have had people saying they felt like they went on for a while. It does feel like the arcs here are longer than Worm, but I read Worm after it was done and was able to binge it, so I can’t say how they actually compare from my own experience. It does seem like Wildbow is taking a bit more time to set things up; from what I remember, the general progression in Worm was “Bad guys show up and wreck things->preliminary fight->dealing with bad guys’ actual plan(s)->final showdown->repeat,” while here it is more along the lines of “Bad guys show up and wreck things->gather info->strategize and network->quick probe at the bad guys->pull back and reassess->plan more->bad guys disrupt plan->heroes scramble to adapt for a couple chapters->final showdown->repeat,” with potentially a couple instances of “bad guys disrupt plan.” It fits with Breakthrough’s setup, and I think it does a great job of highlighting the differences between them and the Undersiders, but it would only naturally result in a slower pace which could probably feel like it drags for a lot of people.
      Additionally, someone in the previous chapter pointed out that most of the powers focused on in Ward are more complex and harder to explain than in Worm; this would both result in requiring more exposition, and force the team to spend longer in the “figure out the enemy’s powers” phase of the typical superhero fight, so the fights themselves end up being longer but having the same amount of things actually happen as the ones in Worm, or the fights are the same length with less action

      TLDR: Ward feels like it drags more than Worm because the focal team is more focused on info-gathering and networking, necessitating a slower approach, and the fights have to be explained more and thought out more both in-story and out.

      Personally, I’m loving it, but I can see how it would start to feel slow.

      1. Things always go faster when binging. The problem is less time to digest individual bits.

        There’s also an issue with the arcs, and by that I mean the overall “This is the big problem” not Wildbow’s segmentation, tend to get longer in stuff as you go on. Using the Manga comparison, you’ll be able to contain the first few stories in a volume or two. They get longer and longer. Then the final battle is like three years of weekly chapters.

        More Worm specific, let’s say the S9000 was an arc, and then it led into Gold Morning, which was several arcs.

        1. So if I’m understanding you correctly, you’re saying that Ward is continuing a pattern from Worm of story arcs getting consecutively longer? I suppose I can see that, and I can also see how that could be a problem, what with Ward essentially resetting the stakes from where they were at the end of Worm. I do still feel that it makes sense for Ward, even without the same level of constant escalation as Worm, but that’s for factors related to Breakthrough and the general story related above, so I won’t go into that again.

    2. That bonding stuff, the personal conversations and reveals…that’s the part I really like, and could always use more of.

      Also…Theo and Nancy? Who’s Nancy? I thought Theo (Golem) was still with Cuff, and her name was Ava?
      Or am I totally missing/misreading something?

      1. Read it again: he broke up with Nancy at some point and it had Cassie bothered. Presumably, Ava came in after that.

        1. But he’s been with Ava since they were Wards together, I thought. I know he’s liked her since then, and I don’t recall any mention of anyone else. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen off screen, but I’d never pegged Theo as a lady’s man. 🙂

        2. Good chapter. It’s cool when Victoria thinks. It’s cool when people talk. Set up is great. Pay off is great. This is good setup and it leaves me feeling like something awesome is round the corner.

          Also I love that they never agreed on a name for the maneuver.

      2. I guessed it was a different Theo. Imp and Golem know Vista, and may have met that way, but that doesn’t mean Imp would introduce her charges to Vista or Golem, especially out of costume. Bitch might have been so careless, and they met during the 9000 arc- Bitch gave Golem a puppy- but that doesn’t entail the level of intimacy in knowing who is dating whom.

        Theo might be a sibling, since there’s a lot of Heartbroken, or one of the Sons of Bitch. Or maybe Nancy’s the sibling/Daughter of Bitch.

        1. Sure but WB generaly avoids using the same name for multiple ppl, they didnt even say theodor or a different nickname
          They didnt even say Theo-deux

        2. Impossible! There can never be two people in the Paraverse with the same name if it could cause the reader to confuse them with each other.

  5. Jesus, Contender. What the fuck did Harbinger hit him with? He’s got fucking wires in his eyes? You are a cruel god, Wildbow.

    But hey, at least Rain’s alright. Kinda. Seems like he didn’t take Cradle’s booster, but he did take all of Love Lost’s power, and that really can’t be good for him.

    Maybe we get to learn LL and Colt’s fate in the next few chapter. For once, I’m rooting for them. Maybe if we all pray really hard, they both come back with no powers and live happily ever after.

    1. I kind of feel sorry for Contender. Paris should have been in his place, Condender didn’t hurt anyone to deserve this shit, unlike Paris.

      1. Did Contender hurt one of the Number Boys? Maybe they took that personally. Or just wanted Paris to watch.

        As for what they hit him with, my guess is a pellet that had improvised shrapnel of some sort.

      2. I mean, he didn’t hurt anybody because he never got the chance to.

        I’m sure he would’ve, if he didn’t get his shit kicked in several times

      3. Well, he was in the crew that took the Navigators apart. He was in the ambush at the crime scene where they shot at the heroes, including kids. Now he was in this ambush too.
        So yeah, he got exactly what he deserves. Its a pity Harbinger couldnt fire faster and take out Paris too.
        It is way past time somebody on the heroes side produces lasting results. Seems they have to hire villains to do that. Like with Lab Rat.

    2. Contender’s costume had a fencing-style wire mesh mask. Hit that with a high velocity slingstone and those wires are going into his face.

  6. Okay… Does anyone remember how long is the clusterdream usually? Because I get a feeling that there was already a few hours or so since the action started, and Vicky is still not in a hurry.
    And how do you understand this bit:

    The army we could deal with, but not while everything’s set up like it is in there. We could deal with the setup, but not without dealing with the army first.

    “Set up like this” – i.e. like an egg which just sits somewhere in the room, probably contains Cradle and does not bother anyone? How does it hinder their dealing with an army, if Vicky says that they could deal with it?

    1. They don’t want to damage the egg. And once an army starts shooting and powers are flying as capes deal with said army (and the army’s cape commanders start retaliating), the chances of it getting damaged by accidental crossfire or weird power interaction rises.

    2. One of the Erin-focused Fallen chapters showed that he makes it through most of the night, which is why he was so confused about what day it was when woken up – the next day hasn’t even begun yet!

      1. I wonder what Cradle’s reaction to this turn of events is. Also is he alone… ish? I mean Love Lost and Colt are there, but does he even see and hear them anymore?

        I’m just kinda picturing Cradle sitting all alone in his space, and being “Well now this is boring”. I mean probably not happening, but funny.

        1. He’s probably freaking the hell out about Rain popping out of their dreamscape and trying to wake himself up (if he isn’t already, but locked in his egg because he timed it for a full night or something).
          I am incredibly curious about Nicole’s current state of mind. Hating someone for so long and betting on him with everything you’ve got after all this time is hard to envision.

          1. … I wonder if pulling Rain out of his space early left it unattended for Cradle to scoop up, and that’s why he has so little of his own power right now.

            Which means Cradle’s about to come out of there with supercharged breaking …

          2. Hating Rain for turning you into a hateful, bitter person through personality-bleed, and for becoming a better person by taking your own goodness and regret only to find out that Rain’s guilt and regret is all his own and it was someone else giving you their anger and hatred has got to be a shock.

            I’m expecting Love Lost to turn on the others after this.

      2. I’m pretty sure you’re correct that it’s roughly equivalent to a normal night’s sleep. Rain was surprised that it was dark out. The horrible thing about that period of time is that I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t count as sleep, which is why Rain is perpetually tired and we saw him napping on car rides.

  7. I think Dennis would be proud about the legacy he left, people describing things frozen in time as beeing clockblocked sounds exactly like something he would have enjoyed.

  8. At Aname, since we ran out of respond room above
    “I like to imagine Murphy is a shaker 15 with global range.”
    Actually one of my ideas for a cape during Worm was Murphy. I thought about probability altering Shaker, but eventually went with Thinker, who depending on the details is either going to be stupidly weak or stupidly powerful.

  9. Typo thread

    > The wall I was running into was just that- a wall.

    > The silver blade he created was just that- a blade, a foot and a half long.

    Spaces before dashes?

    “It’s what Paris said. We can’t take action without hurting people.”

    “Probably. He might have decoys inside, or he might be inside, with people set up. He had to anticipate that we might be in this situation.”

    No clear indication which of those lines was said by Sveta, and which one by Victoria. Considering what each of them seems to be more focused on (Sveta on the victims, Victoria on solving the problem), I would guess that the first one was Sveta’s, and the second – Victoria’s, but perhaps adding something more obvious should be considered here.

    > Byron, Sveta, Ashley, Brandish, Flashbang, Rachel, Chastity, Foil, the Harbingers, and Moose.

    Don’t know if it is intentional, but there seems to be one Ashley missing from this list. I assume that Victoria, Tristan and Sveta were omitted intentionally.

    > She’s the very best. But not for talking.

    Only one space between these two sentences instead of the usual two.

      1. What as I > What was I
        “It me.” > “It’s me.”
        Rattenfänger‘s > Rattenfänger’s (backwards apostrophe)
        resume the discussion > resume the discussion. (missing fullstop)
        another, one guy > another. One guy
        My mom asked. > my mom asked.
        sign were the fires. > sign was the fires.
        hell of the > hell of a
        very puddle > every puddle
        he was up > he wakes up
        chewed in > chewed on
        Was too fast > Was it too fast
        be involuntary > be an involuntary

    1. I’m not sure if it counts as a typo, but…
      “We went high first, because people didn’t usually look a quarter-mile up in the air for intruders”.
      They would have to account for flying intruders too. I guess?

      1. People in general are bad at looking up. A quarter-mile up? That’s pretty far, and it’s only worthwhile doing that if you know your enemies can fly that high. Vicky’s a brute, she usually flies low because that lets her attack people on the ground. Plus, we don’t even know if Cradle’s lot have any flyers, or how good those flyers may actually be. Every flyer’s different, as Vicky pointed out against Colt and again, here, against Etna.

        1. Apparently a quarter-mile is a little over 402 meters, so.., yeah, it’s quite high.
          I’d still spare, um… 4 crooks? as lookouts for flyers.

          1. In the dark? Pretty sure it’s night time. Better plan would be having people stationed on the roof via ladder. But they might not like it- the roof’s probably not bulletproof, and there’s no cover. They’d be sitting ducks if somebody started shooting or blasting powers around.

          2. Using a ladder to put people on the roof can also be problematic for other reasons. A roof can easily become a death trap if your opponents can for example fly or leap from the ground to the roof and back quickly, and you can’t. Taylor learned this lesson during her first night in a costume, so I’m sure pretty much anyone else who has fought with or against capes for any length of time is aware of this problem.

          3. That’s true, but ignoring the roof at all is not a better alternative. Given that they have at least two tinkers (and possibly more), I’d trap the roof if I were them.

          4. Well, they are just tinkers specializing in hands, not Accord. They don’t need to compulsively put traps in everything around them. Plus it is not like they had unlimited budget and months or even weeks to prepare this place.

          5. I’m not saying that the whole situation isn’t a trap including some tinker components, but chances are they decided that it is enough of a trap before they got to the roof. Accord on the other hand probably had a real problem with putting words “traps” and “enough” in the same thought.

    2. “Where Colt changed direction on the fly and went from zero to fifty in a second, Colt hadn’t been that fast.”
      I am not sure, but this phrase bothers me. Its either shouldn’t be Colt in one of mentions, or “that” should be removed, or “as Crystal” or “as Etna” added,.. or I am missing something.

      1. It’s right. Colt’s top speed is relatively low, made up for by her instant braking and acceleration. She’s manoeuvrable, and her instant acceleration, stopping and turning makes her a nightmare, but in a race with another flyer she’s likely to lose.

    3. ERRATA TO MY OWN RAPORT

      > Don’t know if it is intentional, but there seems to be one Ashley missing from this list. I assume that Victoria, Tristan and Sveta were omitted intentionally.

      Whoops, I’m blind. I just realized that Victoria did NOT omit Sveta there. Sorry for that. Still, my main point stands. We are missing one Ashley.

      1. And another erratum, which is… The word “erratum” itself instead of “errata” above. I posted only one correction, so I should’ve used singular form “erratum” instead of plural “errata”.

  10. I don’t have much time at the moment, so just a couple quick messages to Rachel for now:

    1.

    When I say pussy I mean the lame-as-shit, wimpy-ass, useless-for-anything joyless dead-behind-the-eyes cat, okay?”

    You know what Rachel? Both me and my dog deeply disagree with your opinion on cats.

    2.

    “Sometimes people switch costumes,” Rachel said.

    I’m sure Victoria knows that one. She was there when it happened, remember?

    1. She was, but that was slightly different. That was two heroes baiting the villains into using the wrong tactics and getting trapped, by using serious force on the striker that could freeze them in time and trying to avoid the brute-dressed-as-the-striker. This is a villain sacrificing one of his mooks to get a slight advantage, regardless of if that mook dies.

  11. “They have good reputations,” Moose said. “They do the work, they’re smart, they follow any extra orders and they adapt to changes in plans. Cradle was networking with tinkers. He developed some of his first devices to work with other tinkers before he developed for himself. Made special armpit-length gloves that were really easy to plug your own tech into. That sort of thing. Not many tinkers do that and a lot of them want it.”
    Actually is very interesting, and explains a lot. Aside from explaining the money, there’s two other things that stick out to me. Cradle has had a lot of opportunities to study other tinker’s stuff. If his specaliztion is actually a broad enough one like Defiant’s, he’d be able to really get a lot of ideas and tech up. Other thing is once again networking rears it’s head.

    1. Cradle’s tech focus feels more and more like a hand-themed “connect” specialty, only with the range dialed way the hell down. Normally something like that would be a ranged/AoE affair, controlling stuff like vehicles, turrets, drones, you get the picture. With the mall cluster though, their stuff acts like connect specialty, except the range is gimped to striker distance. We’ve never even seen Cradle operate his Manus Mecha from anywhere outside five feet at most, have we?

      Connect also usually involves lots of stuff at once, not just one or two at a time. So, gimped range and gimped quantity?

      Normally that many “is like X but”s would imply it’s not an accurate label. In this case though, it could just imply they’re a cluster trigger and operating under halfsies rules at the best of times. If that’s the case, then I can get why Cradle would seem so strong when he’s actually operating under strict limitations we just can’t see.

      1. I always got the impression that that’s what rain’s tinker power will be when he figures it out. Why have crappy arms that break in any close combat? because they’re intended to work at range, triggering those traps he made a big deal about in the Fallen arc. (honestly have his arms done anything since he hid shivs in them against Snag)

        1. He made tentacles for Sveta and giga-hands for her later when that didn’t work out (I think they were giga-hands? Might’ve been normal ones). He also made some non-hand stuff after, like his glo-mask and the scanner, but the mask didn’t exactly work out.

          That was actually a pretty funny scene. Poor Rain, suffering for our amusement.

          1. oh yea, he made the thing for Sveta! Curious that his hands can be easily broken by his uncle but can withstand Sveta.

          2. Jet,
            That’s ‘made of glass’ actually. Good at withstanding pressure, bad at single points of force.

      2. > Cradle’s tech focus feels more and more like a hand-themed “connect” specialty

        Again this connection theme. Add to it disconnection, and flow of information or lack of it. They seem to be more and more important recurring themes in this story. Let’s see:
        – Tattletale mentioned not long after the attack on Fallen that she is like one of the blind people who each can feel only one part of the elephant, and is trying to keep channels of communication open to coordinate with the others (or something like that),
        – we have connections between therapy group members in form of Kenzie’s “sitting chart”, and Yamada’s idea of putting together people who can support each other,
        – there are also connections between capes and shards belonging to clusters,
        – there is a problem lack of information flow between the hero teams, and between capes and the unpowered – both of which Victoria tried to handle (by setting up her hero network and through TV interview respectively),
        – there is also a lack of communication between the heroes and the well-meaning villains (handled by Breakthrough-Undersiders alliance),
        – the success rate of the villains seems to be closely tied to their ability to communicate and coordinate with each other,
        – there is a problem of almost complete communication blockade between Victoria and Amy, and partial blockade between Victoria and her parents,
        – Chris’ decision to leave seems closely tied to his unwillingness to truthfully communicate his problems to the team,
        – we have a problem of the shards being disconnected from each other and unable to clearly communicate with their parahumans,
        – and we could probably add many more examples…

        Looks like Wildbow take that idea dating back to Worm that plenty of problems everyone there had could be avoided if people talked to each other more openly, and decided to explore the heck out of it in Ward.

        1. > idea dating back to Worm that plenty of problems everyone there had could be avoided if people talked to each other more openly

          From Worm we know that problems may be solved if everyone is working together, and talking is an inferior alternative to assuming direct control 🙂 Imagine getting everyone to coordinate against Scion by talking…

          1. Connections to Scion himself were also important. Aside from his all-important connections to his counterpart and his shards, two people who managed to form a meaningful connections with Scion – thanks to it one of them become “the most powerful man in the world”, the other managed to pretty much end the same word.

        2. Oh, and add to this list those two major points:
          – disconnection from important people and the world in general caused by powers (like Weld, Imp and Capricorn) and prosthetics (Sveta, Ashleys…),
          – powers that form connections (clusters mentioned before, ironically also Capricorn, Darlene!).

          You can also add old good Queen Administrator, who still wants everyone to “work together”, and Valkyrie’s Flock, who are disconnected not only from Valkyrie, but also from the society.

          1. I almost wonder if “The first sally, or the trap of Garganius” from Stanisław Lem’s “Cyberiad” was a major inspiration for the Parahumans series (especially Ward)…

  12. Another chapterwhen Victoria should really be killing or seriously injuring someone and refuses in a way that is definitely going to bite her in the ass.

    ” Etna, flying, and not flying that well. It clearly wasn’t a strength of hers. She created molten orbs in her hands and tossed them in the general direction of the fleeing dog and its two passengers.”

    What’s that, Etna? You’re throwing lethal balls of glass at my friends? It’s non lethal because you haven’t hit them yet?

    Well, I, Victoria think you’re just a lovable scamp who needs an eensie weensie timeout.

    “firmly depositing her in the nearest hillside. The crash landing on her part was more because of her disorientation than any exaggerated force on my end.

    She bounced. It wasn’t a huge bounce, but her flight was still ‘on’ as she rebounded off the hillside and that made her buoyant.

    I didn’t have time for these games. I watched a moment to make sure she was more or less fine. Then I flew away.

    Just… far too many occasions where she’d gotten in our way. Where she’d ended up on the team with the shittiest, most frustrating people, where she’d been reckless. Now she was out attacking people without getting answers?

    I was just done. If I discounted one because she’d helped with the Fallen attack, then this was her second strike, as far as I was concerned.”

    See Etna, don’t try to murder my friends three times. Then I’ll be mad! But for now, sit on this hill for 5 minutes and think about what you did.

    I am going to be totally surprised when I see you two chapters from now trying to kill us again. And then I’ll give you a longer timeout and talk to your mom.

    Seriously, Victoria should at least break her arms or something, but she isn’t and it makes me dislike her as a character because it shows that she’s an idiot.

      1. She’d explicitly called out her regret for that earlier this chapter, so yes, excellent character illustration here.

      2. There is overcompensating and then there is being an idiot.

        Wildbow isn’t going to have Etna kill anyone… (because Plot Armor and because he really doesn’t want to have his characters wonder why Victoria didn’t kill her.) but it is destroying the belieivability in the world and the character.

        Victoria was a brute to unpowered criminals doing petty crimes in single interactions.

        When dealing with parahumans who have shown a pattern of lethal intent… it breaks suspension of disbelief that she isn’t doing more to put these people down permanently.

        There have already been in story consequences of her not killing people when she had the chance… and the closest anyone has come to acknowledging it in story is Victoria’s internal exasperation in this interlude.

        Most of Breakthrough and the Undersiders are missing limbs and organs because Victoria refused to Rain’s cluster down properly. The stuff they did even before the Navigators, their avowed goal to murder Rain at the first opportunity, their use of henchmen with guns (lethal intent), all would have been enough to get kill orders on them pre Golden Morning. (Nursery especially is a serial rapist with hundreds of forced impregnations, Victoria gets to cave her skull in, no questions asked.)

        Instead, Victoria keeps to an even weaker version of Cops and Robbers that that has gotten all of her close friends greviously injured.

        With great power comes great responsibility… and her responsibility right now and for the past 10 arcs has been to stop Rain’s cluster in a way that’s actually effective. And she hasn’t.

        Worse, (and this speaks of bad writing) no one in story seems to be wondering as to why these villains are being repeatedly treated with kid gloves.

        1. Killing people is a big deal. Victoria’s the only one on her team, minus Kenzie and sort-of Capricorn, who hasn’t done it before. She’s also the front-line fighter, so the fact that she hasn’t and doesn’t kill is most immediately apparent when compared to everyone except Sveta, who it should be noted has the highest kill count and is plagued by that kill count. She’s not a hero to do good, is Sveta; not really, anyway- she’s a hero to try and atone.

          If Antares kills somebody, it’ll be a serious event and one she’ll have to deal with for a long time. Especially as a hero who’s supposed to be better than that. Etna, at the moment, is a minor nuisance who has already stepped aside once to let the heroes through. She’s not big enough for Vicky to kill, honestly. Not as a first-time.

          1. Etna is throwing molten glass at people.

            We know she’s a “minor nuisance” because we are story readers who know who the main characters are. We’ve read the script… We’ve seen how big her name is on the movie poster.

            That said…

            It is the mark of bad writing when IN STORY characters understand that a man with a gun is just “Thug #2” and therefore can be ignored.

            There have been great works of webfiction that run on genre savvy and story logic being explicit parts of the world, Ward isn’t one of them.

            Why should I believe any of Victoria’s enemies are actually dangerous if “plot relevance” is going to dictate how she reacts to them?

            “He’s not really dangerous.”

            “Really, his power is making directed clouds of sulfuric acid that can melt you face off.”

            “Yeah, but *pulls out script* according to this, my first kill has got to be with someone of great personal relevance to me. Someone who I’ve known and interacted with for half a decade probably… or maybe a family member? It’s vague, but the important part is that he is unlikely be my first kill. The actor playing him was only hired for like 2 episodes and wasn’t even there last season. I don’t think the showrunners would do it.”

        2. This reminds me of “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?” conversations I’ve had. Where I point out a lot of the key thing isn’t so much about Batman, but the fact Joker is in general able to keep being more and more murderous. Because Joker doing shit like trying to replace every playing card with a joker to get royalties, or seeing the biggest boner he can make is a lot easier to explain that than Joker murdering a dozen busloads of schoolkids. Along with the fact that not just Batman, but the courts, and prisons fail to actually, meaningfully keep the Joker from simply repeat offending.

          Here we’ve got Etna apparently having learned nothing from nearly drowning a few chapters ago. Victoria is… Not the best judge of how much force to use, or how to dissaude Etna in the future. Sadly for Etna, several of Victoria’s compartiots are not so nice, as Contender can attest. Etna’s gonna keep this up until someone kills her.

        3. See, this actually makes sense on a shard-level. Because there were STRONG indications that a core piece of shard programming goes into instilling a ‘conflict, but not kill’ mindset in capes throughout worm. The general reticence towards killing, and the extent to which capes go to continue the ‘game’ of cops and robbers (and to find nonlethal applications for lethal powers) just doesn’t make sense otherwise.

          If all (or most) cape fights ends with one of the capes dead, the shards are never going to collect a satisfactory amount of data. Non-lethal fights which give capes time to develop, figure out tricks, and second-trigger are much more in line with the shard’s objectives.

          1. This is the only explanation that makes a lick of sense for how inept Breakthrough has been about actually dealing with their antagonists.

            That said… Tattletale, in Worm, had figured out Cops and Robbers and had used lethal intent with Taylor to kill Coil and many others.

            At this point, in Ward, while she appreciates Cops and Robbers… Tattletale (and by extension Foil and the rest of the Undersiders) would know the importance of putting people down permanently.

          2. Well, as far as shards and non-lethal fights are concerned, I’ve been suspecting for some time now, that Etna’s shard is messing with her to make sure she doesn’t kill anyone.

          3. I mean there must be a reason that Etna can send her glass at holograms or people protected by invisible forcefields, but never hits a person who can’t take it. Looks like her shard is one of those benign ones, to the point that it affects Etna’s aim to make sure that she never kills.

          4. @Alfaryn

            The problem for the idea of making the aim off so they never kill is that the shards are too perfect at being bad.

            Cape fights have 18 people throwing around deadly powers, like molten glass. Even if the shards are making it so they miss… there should still be a lot more accidents.

            Victoria throws a lot of concrete around non lethally… which doesn’t make sense.

          5. But look at how Etna’s flight works too. For something so supposedly poorly controlled it did the perfect thing to cushion her fall in this chapter, so I guess that this aspect of her power gets similar “assistance” for her shard.

            Did we just discover a shard that uses her computing power to make sure that all fights respect the rules of the cops and robbers game / respect very broadly taken Manton effect / stay PG-rated?

          6. And don’t tell me it doesn’t make sense. Powers do plenty of things that wouldn’t make sense if you didn’t consider that they made their best to reflect the concepts they found in their parahumans’ heads when they triggered.

          7. In other words, if a shard with sufficient control over it’s powers for whatever reason decide that they want to avoid any deaths, those powers won’t cause any deaths as long as it is possible to prevent by whatever shard may do to influence those powers and/or their parahumans.

            Of course some shards may just wait for a killing intent from their parahumans to start killing.

          8. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Shard is ‘making sure’ that nobody dies – I think it’s more subtle than that – encouraging people to go for non-lethal shots, spoiling shots that might otherwise be leaving, and generally being more cooperative when fighting non-lethally than lethally. I also suspect that the parahuman themself has a lot to do with how their shard develops – Remember, for instance, that Zion described Jack Slash’s shard as ‘not unusually aggressive’.

            But the fact that the shards are generally pushing people towards non-lethal applications of their powers (and most cape fights are pretty controlled, insofar as we’ve seen, in terms of only bringing non-lethal weapons, and not using powers in lethal ways).

          9. > a core piece of shard programming goes into instilling a ‘conflict, but not kill’ mindset

            And it influences only heroes but not villains. And heroes are so heroic that they can’t shake off this influence even when villains are going all-out for a pretty long time already. Oookay.

          10. @InvertCausality

            > I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Shard is ‘making sure’ that nobody dies

            Most of them don’t, but Etna’s sure feels like it does. Maybe Etna watched too many “family friendly” cartoons?

          11. This is very interesting. Because I distinctly remember people suggesting WWE-style cape-fights (as in, with an actual league and rings and rules and Pay-Per-View and no deaths) as a way to assuage the conflict urge of the shards and Wildbow vetoing that shit. This was for Worm, pre-Ward obviously.

            Perhaps that’s what The Rules Have Changed meant: the shards are switching over to less-lethal functioning as a mission-creep purpose-drift bug in their programming in the absence of Warrior-Hub Scion and Scholar-Hub Eden.

          12. This is actually a very good idea and explanation. Actually I would really LOVE this to be true because it explains a lot of really illogical twists in Ward.

            But then: How do you explain March and her merry band. Who go out of their way to kill people they really dont need to kill.

          13. > This is very interesting. Because I distinctly remember people suggesting WWE-style cape-fights (as in, with an actual league and rings and rules and Pay-Per-View and no deaths) as a way to assuage the conflict urge of the shards and Wildbow vetoing that shit. This was for Worm, pre-Ward obviously.

            That was for arranged fights without genuine stakes or motivations behind them. That’s very different from really fighting but not killing your opponents as often as you could do.

          14. > How do you explain March and her merry band. Who go out of their way to kill people they really dont need to kill.

            I don’t know about the rest of the “merry band”, but maybe March’s shard got inspired by nineteenth century children stories? The ones where death was common, but were still considered appropriate for children? Taking March from “Alice in Wonderland” does seem to indicate May’s intrest in this sort of literature. Her shard could’ve picked up on this interest, and adapted to that. Considering that May’s mother apparently wanted her daughter to be a “proper classical musician”, she could also expose May to such “classical” literature from early age.

            In other words May wanted to have “fun”, and got the sort of “fun” she was familiar with, because her shard learned the definition of “fun” from her.

          15. And since this is supposed to be “fun” for May, I’ll guess that “exposure to classics of nineteenth century literature for children” was done by May’s mother reading her daughter those books as bedtime stories, making them some of the best childhood memories May has.

          16. If it wasn’t March’s mother who read her those stories after long days of practicing her violin, than maybe it was Ms. B.? And if you don’t believe me that those “children stories” can’t twist your head into killing people without remorse when you reenact them, then off with your head.

          17. I guess Bonesaw, Goblin King, and Glaistig Uaine would understand March perfectly. Lord of Loss with his fondness for chivalric romances, would appreciate the little fantasy land in March’s head. Both he and March have been called lunatics not long ago after all…

          18. Story genres popular in particular societies generally seem to influence capes a lot. There is a reason that whenever we consider any larger groups or organizations of capes from outside North America (particularly US), we see that they generally operate in ways less resembling characters from superhero comics, which simply were never that popular there.

          19. In other words fantasies, and wishes of newly triggered capes, and people close to them during the trigger can influence what powers they will get, and what capes they are going to be just as much as reality of those lives, or their traumas. Sometimes (like in March’s case) fantasies and wishes are particularly important.

            Victoria is no different. Her wish was to become a cape. Not any particular cape, with particular powers, but just a cape – like almost everyone in her family, so it is no wonder that she got an “Alexandria package” – a very generic, common power set.

        4. You know what? I’m going to have to disagree with you, and your baying for blood is kinda pitiable.

          Murder is the resort of the incompetent, the short-sighted, the intellectually cowardly, and those who can’t tolerate others having ideas. It’s what you do when you lack the skill necessary to make a better solution.

          You can defend yourself from violence, yes. If you’re the sort who needs to. But descending to murder is a short-term response with long-term consequences, to a problem that ultimately had mundane, tangible causes which could be addressed in other ways. And the moment you put that option on the table, others pick it up, for the very same reasons you claim to.

          Victoria killing Etna does nothing to address the reasons why Etna followed the life she did. Leaving those reasons in place simply means others will turn out the same way, for the same reasons. Rather than change anything, you leave the trap in place and kill anyone who falls into it. As if that’s what you actually wanted to do the whole time.

          Believe it or not, murder is addicting. That frustration from other people not believing you, or not listening, or any of that, and it all goes away for a couple hundred dollars and a single bullet. Feel that release, that feeling of being right? The first one’s free, as they say. And now you never have to think about why they did what they did: you can tell yourself whatever you want, and doing that feels good. Dehumanizing someone is a kind of power and control you just can’t get any other way.

          Want to know the funny thing? The reasoning that leads to murder is exactly the same whether “hero” or “villain”. Take any person you think deserves to die, and try to justify your position. Then ask them why they killed one specific person, and they’ll say exactly the same things you did.

          So, no. I disagree with you, Matthew, and take severe offense to the mentality you espouse.

          1. This isn’t about sentiment or murder as a way of life.

            Or that Victoria should be using murder as a “first option.”

            The world before Golden Morning had a non lethal permanent solution for parahumans who were too dangerous to be free. It was the Bird Cage.

            That option is gone now.

            The current story arc has had Breakthrough fight against the combined forces of Rain’s cluster and March who are about to do something really bad. The story arc started with them doing something really bad in the living dismemberment of the Navigators.

            What’s worse, is that when they first fought against Rain’s Cluster… Breakthrough pulled their punches while Rain’s cluster did not. Rain’s cluster hired dozens of people with guns with the intent to use them.

            Then, two thirds of the Breaksiders have now been similarly dismembered… including children like Lookout and Chicken Little.

            March is about to release the people trapped in the time bubbles (Which include Crawler and Jack Slash if I remember.) All of the thinkers want her stopped.

            Victoria has the job of stopping this.

            The problem of how to stop people like Etna from making those choices in the long term is not the problem that Victoria needs to be solving. She needs to be solving “How to stop March and associated allied parahumans in the next two hours.”

            Leaving Etna free and not incapacitated (even temporarily) is very clearly in opposition to Victoria’s actual objective.

            Victoria has been really bad at achieving her actual objectives for the past couple arcs and all of that stems from her unwillingness to remove people from the board permanently (or even temporarily for more than one fight.)

          2. I think it’s also important to look what leads to that “Kill all the criminal scum” mentality. The reason why characters like the Punisher, and the various book series with names like Executioner, and Eliminator were popular in the 70’s.

            And that’s frustration. The viewpoint that even if the cops arrest someone for a crime, they’ll just be out on the street because of some technicality, and the go back to robbing, raping and murdering. That they’ll never change. That you’ll need someone who’ll be willing to do what needs to be done, to make sure that good, god fearing people are able to sleep at night.

            I mean You end up with the viewpoint that what Killing Etna does accomplish is making sure she doesn’t come back to try and kill anyone else. And that’s the thing. Right now Victoria’s mindset is doing shit to keep villains from just showing back up, complacient in Cradles little chop shop scheme a day or two later after they had to let one of them out of jail. So increasingly it does come across as Victoria’s methods are ineffectual at actually acomplishing anything to prevent various criminals and monsters from simply going back out to do anything. That the thing. Victoria has been coming across ineffecutal. I mean it’s been less than an hour and Etna is already back at trying to kill Victoria’s friends.

            I’m not condoning the idea of going all Punisher or Mack Bolin on people. But right now Victoria is failing to achieve any kind of actual deterrent to the opposistion just going back to their hurting people. You want to be able to punish, reform, and deter.

          3. Gotta disagree. There are 100% times where you have to kill someone to stop them from killing others. The absolute exemplar of when it’s okay to kill someone is when they are actively firing a lethal weapon at another human being…and that’s exactly what Etna is doing in this scene. Rain isn’t conscious. he has no special defenses against molten glass. If she hits him, he will die, and even if she’s not trying to hit him (and if she isn’t, what IS she doing? she’s not going to make the dog stop with warning shots), she’s being colossally irresponsible with his life. In that situation, no one would even remotely fault a police officer for shooting to kill. Victoria leaving a dangerous, apparently homicidal villain in action here is actively irresponsible on her part. If she was unable or unwilling to kill, then she should have disabled her from taking part in the combat (say, by breaking her arms and legs).

            Killing prisoners is certainly a thornier issue. But if you have no options to actually keep prisoners secure, even in the short term, when said prisoners were actively shooting at you with lethal intent a few minutes prior, and when said prisoners are EXTREMELY LIKELY to go back to doing so immediately if released…and when said prisoners are actively involved in an organization which is inflicting a fate worse than death on people, has done the same to your friends (including children), and is actively involved in trying to release one or more world-ending threats…that’s not a viable alternative either. Disabling or killing them is the only viable solution (and disabling them isn’t guaranteed to be a long-term solution – see Valefor).

            I grant that tactically, it’s necessary maintain the social contract between heroes and villains (by only killing when it’s something you can reasonably justify to the surviving villains), because no one wants an all-out war between capes. But pulling punches only made sense in Worm SPECIFICALLY because of the endbringer threat, and in Ward, with a MUCH more precarious society and no overarching threat that the villains need to be around to help with, it makes no sense that people are going to such lengths to avoid lethal force (barring shard intervention, which is still my best guess for why there’s such an aversion to killing other capes).

            But the mentality you espouse? The one where killing is never ever right, and never justified in any circumstances? That’s a mentality that you are only able to hold when someone else is willing and able to commit violence on your behalf. It’s

          4. “If we kill the baddies, we’re no better than them” is an idealistic point of view. You’ll be alive, they’ll be dead.
            Nowadays the death penalty (or as some would call it, institutionalised murder) has become a very politicized topic, the fact is that it is a moral luxury to not execute criminals when there is no hope of rehabilitation. It takes a lot of manpower and resources to confine people. Any developed nation ought to not have the death penalty for legal moralistic reasons.

            My point is this; the world ended, you cannot confine these people anymore due to a very real and present lack of ressources. Many times in the story lack of food and shelter has been mentioned as pressing concerns. Let’s be generous and say Etna didn’t assist in acts of mutilation and frankly out-right terrorism, let’s just say she wrecked shit lots as seem to happen in these cape fights. Instead of the city merely having to cut the new library out of the budget to rebuild what she set on fire/wrecked with her molten glass, it means 20 less houses, it means 1 less truckload of emergency relief grain, it means no gasoline for field hospitals on the frontier. In other words, it means people die.

            Not reacting to destructive and violent capes with lethal force in a society on the brink of logistical collapse is illogical and cost lives. Going easy on them is an unaffordable moral luxury. I honestly don’t understand why capes like Etna aren’t kill-on-sight.

          5. Aname,
            Most people who murder their own children don’t go on to be serial murderers.
            Most people who murder their own children don’t suffer consequences for doing so.
            Murder can be seen as Increasing the Costs To Do Business (in this case, child-murder for hire).

            Yes, naturally, we could actually fix the system, but that shit’s a lot more expensive.

          6. You can talk about necessity all day long if you want. But that’s avoiding the point I was trying to make: a person who can’t find a better solution is not the one who should be making the decision. We as a species have a terminal habit of settling for the immediate solution over the better one, and it’s always the suboptimal route.

            I’m not an idealist, though. I just prefer a more utilitarian evil. A criminal mind is a medical affliction caused by maladaption, and requires medical study to cure; a truly effective society requires expert psychology to function acceptably.

            Have you ever seen a person who regrets their past? Like, when they came to understand the impact their actions had on other lives, or when they recognized that the people they were affecting were in fact other lives? Guilt can drive a person to suicide, when living becomes worse than dying would be. It’s not terribly hard to do: ironically, the first step is coming to know them and understanding them as a human, instead of writing them off and trying to convince yourself they’re unsalvageable waste.

            Naturally, you don’t want to let them die. Guilty people are super productive. But the skill required to reach that far into a person is… well, who can really say? How many of you bother to support psychological research? Nobody in the American government does, and we see the consequences of that daily. Or, you would, if you weren’t going through so much trouble to avoid thinking about it.

          7. That whole argument is weird. You are confusing real-life with a reality in which people actually have powers that can kill/maim/etc. We are not talking about everyday people, we are talking about people who do this daily and risk their lives regularly. You can compare them with soldiers or police. And the police… some of them are trigger-happy. And that is within a system, that supposedly has rules and works. What about when there are no rules or no oversight or it’s lacking? Human psychology is a complex thing, it is a hard line to cross, in order to go to murder, but self-preservation is strong in each and everyone of us. We would make different decisions, based on the situation. Can we protect ourselves sans murder, sans going too far? If no, some people will cross the line.
            I am not so sure murder is addicting (otherwise every soldier or cop who have ever murdered, should have had a killing spree by now, and that is not the case) but it could turn into the solution you reach for but that would work only in a reality in which there are no checks and balances. Even Ward is not like that, yet alone Worm or our world. It is not so simplistic and frankly, the topic is too complicated to try and explain it or attach absolutes to it.

          8. Aname,
            On Evil:
            At least supervillains are trying to create something, do something with the powers they have.
            Superheros never actually fix jack fucking shit.

            Utilitarian Evil can lead to murdering small children (Send A Message to good ol’ Dad).
            Non-utilitarian evil tends to revolve around sexual fetishes.

          9. A few points:
            “Murder is the resort of the incompetent, the short-sighted, the intellectually cowardly, and those who can’t tolerate others having ideas.”
            This sentence is complete and utter horseshit.
            “It’s what you do when you lack the skill necessary to make a better solution.”
            This is simply false, not complete horsehsit, just false.

            ‘Justifiable Murder’ is what you do when you do not have the capacity to do anything else to solve the life-threatening problem another person is creating.

            Note, I said ‘capacity’. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to problem solve. Sometimes you have neither the time nor means to implement a non-lethal solution to another’s life-threatening problem.

            “But that’s avoiding the point I was trying to make: a person who can’t find a better solution is not the one who should be making the decision.”
            Again, false. The person making the decision and taking the action is always the best person, by dint of actually being the one taking the action. If someone better is available, they would be making the choices and taking the actions. /If they are not doing so/ then, Q.E.D, they are not the better choice.

        5. I think if a story is supposed to be believable it depends on realistic responses. Is it realistic that you think about the well being of your opponent in a fight? Maybe. Is it realistic if that opponent tried to kill you and your friends on multiple occasions? Not so much I’d say.

          The problem the Heroes face is escalation. The Villains kill Heroes left and right and the response the Heroes have to that simply is not very realistic.

          In this instance it kind of makes sense for Vic. Etna hasnt killed anybody. She hasnt even seriously hurt anybody. But she should have learned by now that Villains tend to come back a few arcs later and do worse if they are not stopped.

          Its the old moral conundrum: If you let the Bad Guy go you know he will kill some innocents. If you kill him now you will be a murderer. Whats the right thing to do?

          1. People as a rule don’t deal well with the idea of killing other people.

            There’s debate over how pervasive it is, but there’s at least a noteworthy percentage of humans who will not fire a weapon in their own defense in combat, and a portion of those who will often feel overwhelming guilt for having done so.

          2. Lives of innocents (2 or more) are more important for society than life of one criminal. So killing the Bad Guy is a right thing.
            But law usually allows killing only for designated people, because there are nuances in how sure/truthful you are about intent of Bad Guy, absence of other solutions and innocence of civilians.

    1. Victoria can’t afford for Bitter Pill and Bluestocking to outright turn on them right now, and breaking Etna’s arms right now would be in danger of doing that.

      1. Probably the only reasonable excuse, but does not excuse ALL the other mooks & villains who have aided and abetted known murderers, child mutilators, and who knows what other criminal acts the people in Frontier Row have committed.

    2. I think it’s in the same line as an issue on a larger scale: the society as a whole is portrayed as far softer than it could be, given the circumstances. In a world two years past an apocalypse, I’d expect killing, looting, marauding, lynching, and posters like “Wanted dead or alive, preferably dead” all over the place.

  13. What if… they aren’t in the egg…

    Feels like a great one to pull. Setup a body part egg defence the heroes are completely convinced that’s where the villains have set themselves up while vulnerable, but they’re in a shipping container, basement or other building.

    Even fits that Paris told them not to use powers to blast into the egg but left out the detail they’re not in the egg.

    1. Daaaaaayum. That would even be yet another reason to take out Tattletale first before executing this plan (you know, like there weren’t already enough reasons for people in their position)

  14. “Stop,” Rachel said. “You’re rambling, and you get mad at yourself when you get carried away.”

    Aunt Rachel just wants us to be our best selves

    Kind of like Rain’s emotion power

    And Victoria’s shard

    It’s almost as if that’s a theme or something

    I effing love this story

    1. So did anyone reading Worm ever thing Bitch would end up the Undersider with their head the most together, and with the best understanding of how to deal with people? And that it would make sense?

      1. No. And she’s probably not (Imp has to be better, right?)
        But Bitch got help, and that’s really helped her out

        1. Imp lost points with her handling of Kenzie and Aiden’s friendship. Unlike Rachel who had a good relatinship with Vista and Miss Militia.

          1. IDK, she didn’t know enough about Kenzie to make a decision that is not about keeping Aiden away from her. We know Kenzie, she doesn’t and what she knows is… not good. At all. Not to mention that she is also a hero AND a surveillance expert with disregard of personal space. 🙂 But yes, Rachel is awesome. 🙂

  15. Will Etna finally take the hint?

    She’s got nearly drowned and then bounced in the same day. Maybe So maybe Vicky knocked the super villain out of her?

    1. I’m gonna be honest here. I think we should take up a pool on which person who isn’t Victoria is going to get fed up with Etna and maim or kill her first. I put fifty Quatloos on Bitch.

      1. I raise your fifty Quatloos half a can of lemonade and my left boot. I’m going to say Chastity. I want to say ‘any Heartbroken’, but Chastity’s the only one here and intact enough to actually use her power to make Etna fall from the sky and break her neck.

      2. A Harbinger. ‘Random’ slingstone on a high trajectory just ‘happens’ to fall out of the sky and knock her tiny brains right out of her skull.

  16. Someone bounce ideas off me. Probably deserves to be commented on the last chapter, but I thought of it too late.

    Powers are dying. March has the means, motivation, and opportunity to superpower capes and turn them into Goddess-tier individuals. Knowing her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were aware of the fact that powers are dying. I know it’s easy to dismiss March as a psychotic albeit intelligent killer (because she is), but it’s not like she’s petty. I mean, she’s been completely focused on Foil up until Ward because she’s single-minded in her focus; it’s always on her goals, and she has no time for anything else. So could it be that she is using her knowledge of clusters and their power interactions to ensure that at least a few people will still have powers when the shards finally finish dying out?

    1. No. I don’t think March does understand. I think March is operating on a fundimentally flawed understanding, and one that is now outdated. Her whole thing is the belief that she and Foil are destined to be together in the shard matrix. She got a glimpse of it when she had a near death experience. The flaw is she sees this as a good afterlife. After all Parahumans personalities and counciousness are perserved possibly forever, right? Wrong. It was likened by an actual Shard to being able to access limited parts of the library. And possibly just being leftover data that’ll be deleted once you are no longer of value. Only now that’s cut off and it’s just going to be stuck in a dark room slowly decaying, stuck with someone who hates your guts until you finally get the release of true death. That’s the thing. Everyone keeps saying that “If you only knew what I knew, you’d agree with me”. But it’s the blind men and the elephant. None of them are right, because they only see part of the elephant. And so it is a snake or a wall, or a spear. And that lack of the full picture leads to devistating mistakes.

      Some Men want to see the world burn. March thinks it’s all on fire, and is having a merry time roast marshmallows. March is crazy, the idea of trying to put out fires is futile to her, and the idea of backing off and letting them burn out is boring, and should instead see gasoline thrown on them.

      Well at least that’s my take on it.

      1. Maybe I’m attributing too much rationality to March. I guess I’m hopeful that there’s even the smallest bit of reason in her…? I mean, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary, but… eh. Either way, it was an interesting theory while it lasted.

        1. Even her girlfriend Tori was freaked out by the sheer “What the Hell” of what they’d unleashed just to power Ixnay up. I’m thinking it’s more likely the megacluster decides it’s going too far and kills her before March stops for a silly thing like reason.

    2. She doesn’t know the shards are disconnected and they won’t run out of energy for centuries (unless the thing she just did with the time things changed that…)

      I say March just wants to hang out with her friends. 😊 Forever. ☺

  17. – Cassie aka WagTheDog has really come into her own
    – Harbingers managed to represent after all. Fuck you, Contender’s eyes!
    – I mean, woulda been turbo-level sweet if it had been Paris instead but hey
    – Vicky’s power-synergy-fu is *on point*, goddamn
    – you know who on the good guys’ team would be really amazing in this Russian!MGS capes-and-camo dynamic? *Darlene* 😄

    My thoughts briefly settled on Chris. Lab Rat. They touched on other alternatives. How would a biology-altering power interact with this? No, not if it was effectively Clockblocked, for a lack of a better way of putting it.

    As I’d flipped through faces like Chris and my parents, I found myself thinking of all of the various capes out there, living and dead. Of the ones who fit categories, from cloning to flesh molding. Blasto. Rattenfänger‘s music. Jerky-meat’s puppets. Jamestowner’s radioactive mutant cannibals. Non-options.

    Vicki has gotten very good at not thinking about pink elephants, hasn’t she. And by Pink elephants I mean Amy. In case you were wondering.

    it’s been a long time coming but finally it looks like the good guys are FINALLY about to get an unambiguous big win and we’ve even seen an in-character explanation for why the bad guys have been so much better organized and better funded up to this point.

    Great chapter. Love it.

    1. The subtle parallel between Vicky taking on the villain base with a small army and March doing the same to BB is also pretty nice.

      If March can win Brockton Bay, Victoria can win against Cradle.

      1. Except Victoria actually has a plan that sounds pretty good. At least on paper. It does not involve just walzing in there and killing everybody in her path like someone else did.

        1. Well, if Ward stays true to form as it has so far, Victoria’s non lethal plan will completely not work and result in half of her team being more injured than they already are.

          Which is a marked contrast to March’s “Murder everyone plan.” Which we already know was super effective.

          1. Hey if a plan like “lets go in, kill everybody in our way and stab Vista through the heart to break some time bubbles” actually works flawlessly then a plan as clever as Vics can only fail. Its inherent logic.
            But maybe we do get a big surprise here.

            I am fully convinced if society breaks down and humanity fights for survival the FIRST thing to go will be non lethal responses to crime.
            Simply because nobody has the resources for a prison system. Thats one of the things that made no sense to me in Ward from the start. It certainly makes no sense at this point.
            Because when push comes to shove the thin veil of civilization will come off and humanity will be the savage beasts we always were.
            10.000 years of civilization does not erase 1 million years of evolution.

          2. Mentioned something like this above, but it bears repeating:
            War is not a natural trait of humanity, its an invention. There’s no archeological evidence for it among pre-urban societies- the occasional murder or tribal squabble, sure, but no mass graves, protracted conflicts, or battlefields. In major disasters, you’ll find far more people handing out bottles of water to strangers than running around shooting random people. It’s simply in our nature to work together and be civil to each other by default.

            That’s why we have societies in the first place- laws mostly just a way to explain to the psychopaths what most people understand inherently. (that and figure out who gets to turn left first at an intersection)

          3. Your narcissistic view, especially considering your previous tangent of wanting Vic to kill, which isn’t what Breakthrough’s about, forgets that March’s plan was too simple to fail, and more complex plans are harder to account for rogue plans. Plus the team’s reinstating control and not forcing escalation, something that’s necessary to avoid any further bloodshed. If everyone just killed for whatever reason, nobody would live to continue the story.

          4. @Scorpion451
            > War is not a natural trait of humanity, its an invention
            No, it comes from biology.
            1) “Humans didn’t even rank in the top 30, though other animals commonly thought to kill each other” “The most murderous mammal species? Meerkats — around 20 percent of meerkats meet their end at the hands (and teeth) of other meerkats.”
            2) Steven Pinker: “Violence has declined by dramatic degrees all over the world in many spheres of behavior: genocide, war, human sacrifice, torture, slavery, and the treatment of racial minorities, women, children, and animals.”

          5. > There’s no archeological evidence for it among pre-urban societies- the occasional murder or tribal squabble, sure, but no mass graves, protracted conflicts, or battlefields.

            Not only that, but probably no firearms, tanks or traces of atomic bombings either. Such a peaceful time… When there are 1.5 tribes in the area of several hundred kilometers around you, and you might not even have domesticated a horse yet, it’s hard to wage a large-scale war – “tribal squabble” is the closest thing you get with technology levels of that time.

  18. Did anyone else find it ironic that Rain decided to wait to get his water from Victoria’s parents, while there was Capricorn Wet right next to him?

    1. I mean there could be plenty of reasons why drinking Byron’s water might not be the best idea, including a possibility that it is just water with no electrolytes, but still… ironic.

    2. Did they ever test if Byron’s water is potable? Dude used to generate choking gas, then chunks of ice, probably warped in from another dimension where they’re available in large amounts. If it’s teleporting untreated water from a random lake in an alternate Earth drinking that stuff won’t end nicely.

      1. Yeah, I remember about the gas. Like I said, plenty of possible reasons it may be a bad idea to drink it. On the other hand it probably isn’t that bad, since Byron doesn’t think it is a bad idea to drench people (including his own teammates) in it.

        1. It could also be that they simply don’t know if Byron’s water is safe to drink, and have no way to test it without risking someone’s health.

          1. And the biggest problem may be that Capricorn’s power has been known to change. A result of test conducted one may not tell you anything about potability of water Byron produced another day.

          2. And the change has been gradual. At one point in interlude 9.x Tristan’s power produced rock with some metal, and at the same time Byron said that power produced “Almost entirely water now” at that time. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the brothers to assume that the change to rock and water could be incomplete, which probably isn’t a big deal for rock, but could mean that there may be dangerous pollutants in Byron’s water left over from the previous substances his power produced (especially the gas).

      2. > Dude used to generate choking gas, then chunks of ice

        I just thought that Capricorn might have an unexpected synergy with emotion manipulators. What they generated depended on what state of mind they were in, so probably they can become even more versatile if you apply a strong enough emotion aura…

        1. I think the current popular theory is that each twin’s degree of element is based on how they view the other. In theory, an emotion manipulator might be useful for that… except the other twin is always sharded out, and I think the only emotion master we’ve seen who can affect how you feel about people who aren’t present was Cherish. And she’s kind of inconveniently immortal at the moment.

          1. > each twin’s degree of element is based on how they view the other

            Not sure about that. Tristan viewing Byron as stone? Byron viewing Tristan as ice? Tristan viewing Byron as angry spikes of alive metal when Byron was locked and not let out? It doesn’t fit, more like it’s their general frame of mind. I’d say the choking gas was the only thing that fits that theory, but it could be interpreted equally well as viewing Tristan as choking, just the state of being choked, or wanting to choke him for all he’s doing.

    3. If you drink it and he turns into Tristan… shitty day would not begin to describe what will happen to your body. Especially if the water has been processed by your body by that time.
      🙂

  19. If Tristan shows up, his brother’s material can potentially turn into stone. So it may not be safe to have Byron’s water (heh) drank.

    1. Remember that they can control which chunks/volumes of the materials they crate can be later turned into the other material, once the brothers switch. Not to mention that I suspect that Manton effect would prevent any water made by Byron that was drunk to be turned into stone, no matter if it was originally primed to do so, or not.

      1. I didn’t realize they had that kind of control. And I forgot to account for the Manton effect too.
        Thanks for the clarification.

        1. You may want to re-read chapter 3.2, in which Tristan explains how the ability to control which of their creations change, and which don’t, than the brothers switch back and forth to demonstrate.

  20. More Thoughts:

    – A few chapters ago, Vicky had decided enough was enough and that she was 9/10 of the way to going full Punisher on her foes. She has clearly calmed down enough to dial it back to a hair-trigger 7.5 — because Etna would be dead otherwise.
    – I suspect one more provocation, one more “Cradle did something even worse than she has already grown to expect” will result in a 10/10
    – Bluestocking can go die in a small fire
    – Etna needs to seriously rethink her life choices before a Number Lad kills her with her own glass
    – where is Faultline while all this is going on?
    – looks like waking up early made Rain leave his tokens behind, taking only Love Lost’s rage-boost
    – does this mean he will be unleashing Furious Regret next time on Cape Ball Z?
    – because that will get real ugly real fast in a crowd of Genome Soldiers and FOXHOUND operatives
    – Cradle better not be immune to a double dose of emotion power because goddamn it, that fucker has caught enough breaks already
    – god I hope he and Love Lost have woken up inside the same egg (or shipping container or whatever), their biting-scratching fight to the death would be epic (although Love Lost without her RAGE? Wonder what that looks like)
    – where’s Colt in all this? Who even is running the blood-transfer skin-suit power-stealing rig?
    – seriously, Darlene would be an amazing force-multiplier for an ex-JSOC kill team

    Heheh. Wanna know how this could end up even worse? What if Rain isn’t Rain but Cradle in Rain’s body? Heheheheheehehehehe

    1. – Cradle better not be immune to a double dose of emotion power because goddamn it, that fucker has caught enough breaks already

      It’s been said on more than one occasion that capes with emotion powers tend to resist emotion powers. The Mall Cluster are all probably resistant to some degree. Though with Rain hogging all the teeth, that balance might be skewed unfairly in his favor.

    2. Furious Regret sounds like an awesome Chris form.

      And damn you I thought about the body swap, but damn it I wasn’t going to give Wildbow that idea! If it happens I swear I’m gonna swear at you RazorSmile!

    3. Body hopping and possession is not realistic situation, considering at no point is has been introduced as an option and it would be cheating if it happens now. 🙂

  21. I had a moment of Fridge Logic.

    Eden’s shards have been *called* dead for a long time. That, despite the fact they were obviously still functioning in some real way. Weird term, no? If you stood next to an Eden shard or Abaddon shard (or now a Zion shard) in the dimension(s) where the physical ‘well’ or body was…. That thing would absolutely look alive.

    So what is “dead”? WoG said “disconnected,” and now we finally see why. Shard reproduction, growth, and adaptation are colonial. Given end-of-cycle shard numbers, when Earth was supposed to be 90%+ parahuman, and the shards’ expectation of ‘burn out’, I’m not sure they can even *feed* themselves at this point.

    Connection to an entity-hub is life for a shard the way connection to the fish was life for sashimi. Disconnection from an entity-hub is death the way fresh carrot sticks are dead: cells may still be active in there, a lab might (with real effort) keep it that way, but you can’t put them back in the dirt. Fresh salmon cuts might look alive under a microscope, but they aren’t going to spawn.

    Okay so far.

    If what humans call a “power boost” power is actually just a “connection-enabler” shard, connection is everything. We’d expect to see cases where the most-connected shards are absurdly over-powered relative to “dead” shards. If a group of shards could somehow all directly focus on a single host, for example. Or maybe a host in a cluster could benefit from a connection boost? Or what if a cluster had a mechanism for periodically linking and transferring shard focus from host to host?

    *I wonder if we’ll see anything like that in the story.* If Wowbild did something like that, it would have internal consistency with the plot and especially themes of the work. I GUESS WE’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE.

    1. Interesting interpretation, but remember that the shards are “dead and broken”. What do you think “broken” means? Victoria’s shard seems to called itself and all shards around it “dead and broken”, while March’s shard called itself (and groups it belongs to) just “dead”.

      My current theory is that “broken” means unable to connect to a hub, even if one was in range. I explained it in more detail in my theory that March’s shard could be Abaddon’s (it is in the comments section of the last interlude if you want more details), but what do you think? What is a “broken” shard? Is there even a difference between a “dead and broken” shard, and just a “dead” shard, or is it just a difference in the language Victoria’s and March’s shards use to describe the same thing?

      1. One thing about my theory from the previous comment section is that around the time I wrote it I think I saw March’s shard use the term “dead and broken” once to describe shards other than itself, but now I can’t find this bit of text anymore. Maybe I just thought I saw something that wasn’t there, or maybe Wildbow made an edit to already posted text to eliminate word “broken” from language of March’s shard?

        I noticed something similar happened not long ago in chapter 11.9, where “time portals” I saw near the end of that chapter suddenly, and without explanation turned into “The time-stop and time loop effects”, so it looks like sometimes Wildbow does such small edits shortly after posting a chapter.

  22. “Connection to an entity-hub is life for a shard the way connection to the fish was life for sashimi. Disconnection from an entity-hub is death the way fresh carrot sticks are dead: cells may still be active in there, a lab might (with real effort) keep it that way, but you can’t put them back in the dirt. Fresh salmon cuts might look alive under a microscope, but they aren’t going to spawn.”
    Even back when we found out about the Entities in Worm I was reminded of sea life like… Siniphores? Can’t remember the spelling, but related to jellyfish. Each organism is a colony of animals that act as different organs for the whole.

    The key issue is the Hub is gone. It not only linked them, but is regulated them. The question is even if there’s another shard that can act as hub, is it going to know how to regulate them? My first guess would be that Queen Administrator could have done it, but that one was ultra crippled by Scion before handout.

    1. By the way, Entities have to have a way of uncrippling shards when harvesting them back. And while Scion definitely didn’t hand the uncrippling shard out, it might possibly connect to a parahuman (well…or a para-someone, if we remember the dog) after his death.

      1. Entities have to have a way of uncrippling shards when harvesting them back.

        Amy’s shard was able to ‘fix’ Queen Admin back so it could control other shards instead of invertebrates.
        So… that’s probably the one. Possibly several capes could have a differently-maimed copy of it, but at least one’s left in a state to restore everything ?

        1. With a range of 16 feet and at a cost of losing an ability to communicate in any way and much of control over own body? I’d say it’s not so much a fix but rather a redistribution of capabilities, so the power stays broken but in a different way. And as I understand it, Amy’s power didn’t work with shards actually, she influenced powers by affecting corona pollentia (like Bonesaw also did).

  23. I’m not happy with all the murder happy people, in-world or in the thread. Killing is only a short term solution, one that only ends up creating more long-term solutions. Escalation isn’t a solution, it’s another problem. Breakthrough’s obviously playing for the long haul and all their efforts to institute control and rules have effects, considering teams like the Undersiders and Hollow Point have joined with them. I’d say doing good is just as inspirational, if not more.

    1. Especially considering that one of the major themes of the end of Worm was that Taylor bitterly regretted her needless escalation and unwillingness to compromise.

    2. The fact that there are villains joining with Breakthrough at all is a serious win, especially the kinds like Tattletale who practically specialize in running interference against large organizations.

      1. Tattletale joined with Breakthrough because March was trying to kill them and get Foil.

        Victoria’s behavior was the biggest OBSTACLE to them working together. Victoria has never forgiven Tattletale for defeating Victoria and Amy in Worm, taking control of Brockton Bay and being there when she was turned into the Wretch.

        The entire story of Ward from the founding of Breakthrough has been Victoria trying to do what Tattletale does (be a clearing house/coordinator of Cape information…) and doing a worse job.

        Tattletale from the end of Worm.

        “It’s a little more complicated than that,” Tattletale said. “There are dynamics to pay attention to, group interactions, politics, there are unwritten rules, and the nuances of what happens if and when we’re viewed as the aggressors when we violate the truce. Not to mention the danger if we disrupt whatever he’s setting up and inadvertently set it off. Like we sort of did with Jack, though that was more exception than rule.”

        “Orrrrr you could give the go ahead, we cut past all the bullshit and we tear him apart,” Rachel said.

        Tattletale sighed.

        “Lemme hash it out for you,” Imp said. “You know how Tats said he’s like the gatekeeper? He’s like an asshole, standing in the middle of the elevator doors so they won’t shut. You can kick him in the balls, but then you’ve got to deal with his friends, you’re dealing with being the jerkass that kicked someone in the balls and you’re maybe dealing with the big bad motherfucking dude that just came up in the elevator, who wasn’t coming out because there was someone in the way. Someone you removed from the way by kicking him in the balls.”

        Victoria is the one who escalated and kicked Teacher in the balls.

        Victoria messed this up.

        The story of Ward so far…

        “Victoria tries to do Tattletale’s job.

        Is bad at it.

        Victoria holds grudge against Tattletale.

        Is good at it.

        Victoria holds a grudge against Amy.

        Is good at it.

        Victoria tries to fight murderous parahumans effectively.

        Is bad at it.”

        1. > Victoria tries to fight murderous parahumans effectively

          That’s a pretty strong assumption here!:) Except if by “is bad at it” you mean bad at trying

        2. You’ll go through a lot of trouble to rationalize your positions, won’t you?

          It is actually getting tiresome.

    3. Rrrright. Let’s inspire Cradle and March (and probably also Jack Slash, if we are at it already) by showing them the redeeming power of Love.

    4. I’m all against a lethal solution, but you gotta consider that beating the living daylights out of some villains (Cradle and March, so far) would improve morale and deter other villains from joining the opportunistic bandwagon.
      If they can still plan for revenge, you didn’t break enough bones. Let’s see how far they can escalate back on (non-Tinker) crutches.

      1. First off not everyone is the same, not everything requires the same response, and the Devil is in the details.

        So for example what purposes does incarceration serve? Well first off it prevents a criminal from harming others, by seperating them from others. It’s a detterent because if you do this bad thing, you are punished. It’s a punishment because it’s not suppossed to be a pleaseant experience. And you can use this chance to reform people. That last one is part of why repeat offenders are so disliked. You did your crime, you did your time, but apparently it did nothing to dissaude you from just doing it again, and if we spent the time and effort to try and educate and help you, you simply turned around and used it to be a more effective criminal.

        Next up, how much of a immediate threat is this person to others? Police do not try to talk an active shooter down. They use lethal force, because every second this person isn’t surrendering, they are a threat to the lives of others. A comic book superhero example is the time Captain America had to shoot a terrorist dead, because they had opened fire on hostages, and every second they were firing, people were dying.

        Now there’s “Victoria shouldn’t escalate, it just makes things worse”. Well then what should she do? She always leads with trying to talk them down. She’s tried that repeatedly with Etna. What was she suppossed to do, warn Etna that maybe she’ll have to hit her and get cross if she doesn’t stop throwing molten glass at non combatents, oh no that was so naughty to disfigure Cassie and Rain, and Etna you should feel bad? She’s given Etna multiple chances to change course. Etna keeps not doing it. The same applies to a lot of activities by the likes of the mall cluster, the Fallen, and March. They continuously harm others, and are not detterred.

        Before Gold Morning their were three main detterents. First off was the Birdcage. If you are bad enough, you get thrown into a prison you can never leave. Second was kill orders. Be a big enough monster, they’ll let it be open season on you. Finally there was the Endbringer truce. Break that, everyone comes down on you.

        What’s the Detterent now, and how effective is it? Some people do crimes because they figure they can get away with it, “It’s not the severity of the punishment, but the certainty”. Others don’t think they’ll really need to worry too much even if they get caught. I mean that prison was basically you get a bunglow, three squares a day, and medical care. Not that bad compared to the outside.

        So the question is, what do you do when you have to fight the ones who just keep escalating, taking advantage of you being more merciful, and trying to paint it as your fault for tying to stop them?

        I’d like to point out we do have many examples of people who’ve reformed. Assault, Fume Hood, Mockshow, Swansong, Rain. But sometimes you can only give someone so many chances or can’t risk it.

  24. I ask for clarification on some things:

    “And there’s a chance that by waking him up, what happened to that other person happens to him,” Chastity said.

    Question is: Who is ‘that other person’?

    “Because you can tell her what Precipice said about the intruder into his dreamscape and what happened to them. Make sure she knows the stakes.

    Questions are: Who is ‘her’ and ‘she’? Who is the intruder into his dreamscape?

    1. I can’t recall who those other people are, or I just never figured it out, but the intruder into the dreamscape is Colt, who budded from Love Lost and then joined them in the dream room.

    2. It was mentioned earlier (in some interlude, I think) that Cradle hired Snaggletooth, a cape who could invade dreams, to try to interfere, and she ended up brain dead.

    3. I believe that “the other person” and “the intruder” both refer to Snaggletooth (also referred to as the old one-tooth in interlide 5.d) – a cape with a power to invade other people’s dreams. Snaggletooth was a cape hired by Cradle to enter his cluster’s dreams as an “experiment” of some sort (see interlide 4.a). The experiment apparently went very badly, since in interlude 5.d we saw Snaggletooth’s dead body next to a blood streaked wall separating Cradle’s space from Love Lost’s space in the dream room. In chapter 12.2 we learn from Rain that Snaggletooth is brain dead in the “real world”.

      This means that whatever is in Rain’s cluster can kill people who interfere with cluster’s dreams. It lead to concerns about Colt’s safety shared by Rain and Victoria in chapter 12.2 (as they expect Colt to appear in Rain’s cluster dreams). In the current chapter, since Chastity’s was supposed to try to interrupt this “killing dream” there was a concern about her safety too expressed by Victoria, and later explained to Chastity by Byron “off-camera”.

      1. Thankfully Chastity was ok. There’s two possibilities I can see.
        1-Her power works on a different mechanism than Snaggletooth’s and thus she didn’t have the same risk. So if for example she wasn’t going into the dream so much as bringing Rain out.
        2- Whatever it is that regulates the Dream was ok with them waking Rain. The 5th or shards not crazy about what Cradle’s up to?

      2. I hope I’m not thick or dull…
        Why did Chastity need to knock herself down at all? Besides, I thought that her power was to induce a sensation of “overwhelming defeat”… Would that wake Rain up?

        1. Her power knocks people out, but if she loses concentration they wake up again- and when they do, she gets knocked out for a time equal to the total of all the people she’d knocked out. So she knocked Rain out with her power, though he was already asleep, then deliberately lost concentration in the hope her power would drag him awake again. That worked, but she also went down.

    1. Presumibly do the very thing Cradle was bitching about before. The “He took me from me”. It’s very likely Cradle is sociopathic, and Rain is about to make him start feeling bad about the things he’s done and is doing.

  25. The whole talk about how the ex-Russian soldier teams work was pretty much unnecessary. Like, 70% of everything in between
    >“That’s insane,” Moose said.
    and
    >Conversation stopped.
    could’ve been cut.

    Also:
    >She points at the smallest one present.
    turned out to be Chastity. So Chastity is even smaller than the Harbinger clones?

    In general, I find it odd how much trivia and exposition is being vocalized, while people keep repeating how short on time they are, sometimes even using it as an argument to not talk about more urgent and important topics (like how the Harbingers said they have no time to explain the portals some chapters earlier). Your writing gets better once people start doing stuff.

    Bluestocking and Bitter Pill really need to step down from their high horse. They were willing to help Cradle murder Breakthrough and Undersiders. They were effectively at war and she (probably) even thinks Cradle had drugged her. Now she’s offended by Breakthrough & Undersiders going all out on Cradle’s forces? Bitch please.

    >“Zero on the tinker power. Zero on the mover.”
    Okay, that’s good I guess? No psycho-personality bleed through from Cradle?

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