Heavens – 12.7

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I’d spent a lot of time being conscious of power, in the sense of being commanding.  My mom, who was on the rooftop now, holding two squadron leaders hostage, had tried to make me conscious of it from an early age.  When I’d made a good showing in gym class and earned an offer to join the basketball team, the same conversation where I’d brought it up with my parents had included the question of whether I’d end up team captain.  Was that something I wanted?  Where would it get me?  Before I’d had a uniform or even owned a basketball of my own, the idea was on the table.  Not that it had mattered.

I complained about a frustrating experience doing group work in school?  She’d ask if I’d taken charge.  If not, then she had made suggestions on delegation, told me that even if I wasn’t confident, leading a group with a mediocre plan of action in mind was better than a group with no leadership at all.

Which was a really jarring thought, when I connected it to our plan from earlier- no, I wasn’t going to dwell on it.  Not when army-supported capes, screaming bloody tinkers and lives were on the line.  A thought for another day or time.

I had a vision of what leadership was, and Cradle was so far from it that it made the scene I was looking at utterly surreal.  The man-though he wasn’t so much a man as someone straddling the line between teenager and adult- staggered more than he walked, clearly hurting, even though there weren’t any obvious wounds.  He’d screamed, raw and loud, and I didn’t see anyone talking or commenting in the wake of it.  He was utterly self-involved and focused on what he was dealing with, and the one hundred plus individuals in the prefab factory building weren’t even a consideration.

I watched Cradle struggle on his own, and I saw him answer something a soldier nearby said.  Someone wet a towel with water from a bottle, and then threw it at Cradle.  A slice of light appeared, as tall as Cradle was, and the towel struck it.  Cut clean in two.  Cradle caught one half of the towel in each hand.  One dangled limp at his side, dripping, while he rubbed at his face with the other.

Towel still held over face, his hand visibly trembled, clenching into a fist.  Wet fabric was squeezed out, clean water running down his arms to his elbows, gathering blood as it went, until congealed globs dripped off of the elbow.

He rubbed his face again, then ran towel against scalp to wipe the worst of the blood off.  His straight blond hair was slicked back as much as with any gel, colored with the clotting gore.  He lowered his head as he set his mask into place, then stood a little straighter as he raised his head, a little less shaky.

I could get that, at least.  The benefit of a costume.

The bloody towel wiped the worst of the mess from his arms and sleeves, cleaning them up to the elbow until the blood was streaking more than it was being wiped away.  He turned to using the clean towel, draping the dirty one around his neck.

His head turned, swift enough that I wondered if someone had called out to him.  But his focus was on his mech.

He took a deep breath, reaching out with a hand- and he distorted.  Teleportation wasn’t the right word.  It made me think of Vista closing the space between herself and something else, to get where she wanted to be faster, but it was instant, a snap, and Cradle was perched on the side of his mech, crouching with no regard for gravity, one hand at a panel window.

He didn’t need a deep breath for the movements that followed.  There was a tall toolbox resting against the wall, and he was there.

Okay, it was kind of like teleportation, but not like I’d dealt with.  A surgical removal of everything between point A and B, including reorientation.  It made me think of someone walking through a hall of mirrors, some mirrors angled or set up to portray things at right angles.  He was getting more fluid with it by the second, snatching up a dangling wire while upside-down, and bringing it with him to a point where he was standing perpendicular to the ground, to the vent he pried open with the tool from the toolbox.  The mechanisms at the interior of the vent illuminated him.

Cradle wasn’t shaking anymore, but Rain was right next to me, and Rain was trembling.

“Easy,” I whispered.

“We have to fight that,” he said.

“We have to deal with it, not necessarily fight,” I said.  “Remember what you were doing.”

“Yeah,” he responded.

I wanted to have something to recommend or to say.  To be able to point out a chink in the armor or a particular individual.  It had been part of why I was studying Cradle’s ‘leadership’, or the lack therein.  Even now, he was indicating with the tool, which looked more like a taser than anything, directing people, while he made some adjustments to his mech.

Some people started toward the stairs.  I tensed, ready to head up and warn Sveta, Foil, and Brandish, and Rain touched my arm, stopping me.

Cradle made the people near the stairwell stop.  The leader leaned against the wall, arms folded.

Not sending the next patrol up here?  Why?

Adherence to schedule?  The last patrol hadn’t been that long.  Was it a question of control?

“Was that you?” I asked.

Rain shook his head.

“What the hell is he doing?”

“What I’m doing is adding pressure,” Rain said.

“Okay.”

The one with folded arms by the wall stood up, stepping away from the wall.  He said something.

Cradle responded, still tinkering.

A pause, the soldier practically tapping their foot as they stood there.

“Make it feel bad to sit and wait…” Rain murmured.

The soldier said something again.  Red called out to him, and his head turned…

“Feels bad to listen…”

“That’s some fine control you’re-”

“Shh,” Rain said.

I pressed my lips together.  Fair play.

All of the emotion I could see in Rain was in his hands, mechanical and real.  The face beneath the hood was masked, and that mask was calibrated to be entirely black.  The hands pressed against glass, fingers bowed by the pressure.

The impatient soldier said something again, and this time, Red stood up.  Everyone present was on edge.  Another machinery disaster in the works?

It was Cradle who said something to Red and got her to stand down, before I could figure out how to get Rain to do something similar.

“Fuck,” Rain said.  “I could do something here, but I’m pretty sure it would get someone killed.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I’ve got other options, but if they don’t work, we should consider…”

He didn’t finish the sentence.

We should consider doing it on purpose this time?  Baiting soldiers to kill one another and throw things into disarray?

It was a cape directly below the window who stood up, walking a few feet over, so he had a better view of Red and the other one.  His soldiers had been playing cards among themselves, and now they stood too.

“Come on, come on,” Rain whispered.

The cape pointed at the impatient soldier.

“Fuck,” Rain said.

“What’s- you wanted them to challenge Red.”

“Yeah.  They defused more than they fused.  Which means-”

Cradle’s mech moved, Cradle using his reposition power to put himself on an extended thumb-tip.  By position and placement alone, all eyes on him, he should have commanded authority.  Instead, he was silent, his head hung for a long moment, one hand clutching at one shoulder.  All vulnerability, raw.

I thought again of leadership and power.

I could remember feeling bad about revealing my weakness, the Wretch, to the team.  It had ended up helping connect, I was pretty sure.  It had been necessary.

Was it something that could hold one up indefinitely, though?  I couldn’t imagine there was.

But I found a bad feeling settling in me as I watched it, saw Cradle standing above his assembled army.  I’d bitten my tongue once, on an occasion that Dean had come by my place after school.  He’d talked with my mom and dad in the kitchen about how he’d be in charge of the Wards for a while, and what he hoped to do.  I’d felt at the time that he’d been on the wrong track.

Except now, reflecting, I wasn’t sure what the right track was.  There was something in there where I’d worried at the time that Dean wasn’t helping himself by trying to be a therapist or mediator and… that was what I had ended up being, myself.  Cradle was the very antithesis of leadership, as I might have defined it, and he was managing better than could be expected.

What the hell was I doing and what the hell was I supposed to do?

His balance was perfect even as the mech changed modes, the thumb-tip his feet rested on rotating to keep him in place.  Telescoping wrists extended slightly, the mech beneath him was settling into a more active or mobile configuration, while the ‘cup’ of body parts remained suspended in the air above.   Two larger hands were set in front, having adjusted to nestle extraneous hands within the wrists and palms, and their fingertips rested on the ground, but for the thumb Cradle stood on, which was raised high.  The wrists and lengths of arm extended from the same central point.  Smaller hands and shorter wrists formed the back legs, hands planted in the same way, only reversed.

Like a four or forty-legged spider or akin to a bulldog in tilt and frame, but it was just the limbs, no head, no body.

It was hard to tell when Cradle was talking.  He wasn’t loud, and his mask covered his mouth, a gas-mask like construction that was slightly different from his old mask, like two hands pressed to his face, fingers parted so the circular lenses peered through the gaps.  The forehead was flat, but had finger-length fingerprints etched to be shiny against the otherwise dull, painted material.

“That’s Subside,” Rain said.  “Moose mentioned him.  He-”

“Which one?”

Rain didn’t get a chance to answer or point out who his emotion power had picked out as the one Cradle had been addressing.  The mech moved, sudden and violent, every person in the room scrambling to feet or backing away.

From the two prime middle fingers, cables extended, lashing out.  They curved and curled in the air as they extended out, the dark steel shifting to an almost negative image, where shadows and recesses were bright and the exposed parts dark, before they were all white, crackling with a nimbus of electricity.  In the last instant before they struck the ceiling, the cables disappeared, and there was only the nimbus, too angular and dramatic to be true electricity.

The cables ripped through and into the ceiling and roof, parting it.

I flew, leaving Rain behind.  My hand traced the wall, gripping the lip of the roof to help adjust my flight.  My armored shin slid against the roof’s surface, which was now angled, as I tried to get to the others.

I met resistance.  A wash of heat rushing upward.  I saw sparks, motes of light, and I felt the barrier to going down.

My mom was in ball form, floating down, while Foil did much the same.  The hostage soldiers fell with them.  They were floating targets, drifting down like they were sinking through water, while Cradle and the soldiers on the ground were looking up.

Looking up and taking action.

Most ‘action’ was to scramble out of the way of the chunks of roof that were breaking away from the split.  Some stood their ground.  Red was one, her machinery rising up in a barrier.  A giant pincer seized my mother.

Mukade was another.  Beyond deflecting and ‘catching’ the falling chunks of roof, his target was Foil.  From the sides of his body and legs, the ‘centipedes’ ripped out.  Minions, they were each a half-foot wide, two inches tall down the center, and tapered down to razor edges at the sides, each edge serrated with the angular ‘legs’ or saw-teeth.  The heads of each centipede were more like goblets or open mouths with ill-fitting lids or muzzles, the mouths designed to spew acid and the covers to channel that acid down the length of centipede that followed after.  The fluids were luminescent in the light and black in the dark.

Foil kicked at a piece of rubble to change the direction of her fall.  Two centipedes lanced past her, tearing into armor panels and the remaining decorations of mine that she’d tucked into the side of her belt.  She stabbed one, and jerked violently as it carried her up and back.

Down was met with resistance, slowed, made floaty.  There was something with heat or temperature manipulation in there too, but I wasn’t dwelling on it.  Up and away was faster, normal speed.

I flew to her, and my way was barred by a loop of centipede.

They fed into and through Mukade, their initial emergence or their passage through him giving them a speed that had to be in the order of a hundred miles an hour, at the very least, but the moment they weren’t being fed through, they became slower, just fifty or a hundred feet of razor edges and acid.

‘Just’.

Acid.

They were slower still while trying to return to their master to be fed through again.  Foil using the centipede carried her out of the line of fire, past the rooftop and away from the initial shots from those who’d been quick enough to bring guns to hand and open fire while the centipedes lunged.

But now she was a good hundred feet in the air, the centipede not strong enough to hold her up on its own, so she sagged with every passing second.   I tried to fly past, the Wretch active, and found the centipede before me was quick to react, to form S-bends that caught me and caught the Wretch.  Like flying into a net or web.  They wrapped around, caught, and flooded the surface of the Wretch with acid-

My aura did nothing, as I pushed out full strength.  I had to dismiss the Wretch, instead, to slip through a gap, escaping.  Acid splashed my boot and sent a shock of black horror through me.

Foil hung from the length of one centipede, head turned away as acid ran down the grey-black slats and angular legs of the centipede itself, down its length to her glove and arm.

I hesitated, and I hated myself for hesitating, so I threw myself forward the moment the hate registered.

Thoughts of Crawler and my bath in acid vomit were dark in my mind, as I raced through skies that were just as dark.  Moisture in the air pelted me, each droplet a fresh shock of dark terror, because there were centipedes looming above me and there was no knowing if the moisture was precipitation or if it was something that would melt my flesh and scar me forever.

Because as bad as the scarring might end up being, as dire the situation, there was simply no fathomable reality where a parahuman would ever heal me.

Moisture in my boot made me worry the acid had seeped through the material, that I might feel the burning start.  Once it did, there was a chance it might never.

I flew past and I went without the Wretch, because that adjustment made me a hair faster, a bit more precise in my maneuvering, and the Wretch was too big when I needed to dive through a small space.  Razor edges sliced at my arm in two places, cut at my belt in another without parting flesh, and my leg in a fourth spot.

No healing if I lost an arm, or suffered crippling pain.  No healing if I lost a leg.

I twisted in the air, to let my breastplate take the brunt of the one centipede that was falling toward me, razor edges first, as much as they were doing anything.  The impact was heavy, and the length of centipede circled beneath me, head swooping around as it tried to wind around my upper body.  I flipped, heel over head, to be belly-side-down and put it beneath me, then flew forward, to where Foil dangled.  A blade jutted from the toe of her shoe, and she was using it to cut one centipede’s head off.

I caught her, carrying us away from the centipede’s reach before turning to assess the situation.

“Your mom,” she said.

I looked, I saw.  Sveta had reached down- and was hauling the glowing sphere up and out of the rooftop, which had a whole chunk carved out of it.

Cradle’s line appeared, lancing up and out.  I couldn’t see enough of Sveta to make out if she’d been cut, but I saw the orb intersect the light.  It sliced through the orb, and broke the effect, leaving my mom tumbling through the air.

Sveta caught her with tendrils.

I couldn’t stop and stare.  He’d known we were up there, somehow.  It was why he’d told the group not to go to the roof, so he could mount a surprise attack.  Cradle had a sensor or a power.

“Rain,” I said.

“Yeah,” was Foil’s response.  She adjusted her grip on me.

I dove.  There was no using the Wretch to cut the force or chill of the wind while I carried Foil.

Sveta’s face was barely visible above the roof as she lashed out.  Multiple tendrils stabbed down and into the space.  Her entire body shifted as points she was using to anchor shifted around her.

I saw what she was pulling way.  An attempt at grabbing Cradle.  Failed- he repositioned.  At two capes.  She threw them into the air, then let them fall.  The bed of orange motes and the associated floating effect kept it from being terminal.

And Tattletale, plucked from Cradle’s craft.  Head, shoulder, and a bit of chest, hair pale and costume in disarray.

Her other focus seemed to be on trying to do something about the craft, to try to mess with its aim, but she may not have been strong enough.  I saw a bit of it moving through the gap, then through the upper windows.  It was twisting around, rotating, the fingers out, and lashes swinging through the exterior wall of the building.

Aiming for Rain.

“Jump!” I shouted.

I wasn’t sure he could hear.  But he threw himself back and away from the wall.

The now-invisible cable sliced through wall, cleaving a line through the surface, and by the course it painted, it seemed oriented perfectly to intersect the falling Rain.

He stopped himself in the air, freezing in place.  His costume rustled with the force of the cable moving through the space beneath him.

One second, two-

He dropped again.

“Help,” I said, as I flew Foil and I into Rain.

I got a bad grip on the costume at his midsection.  Foil, even with the awkward way I held her, managed a firm grip on his wrist.

We descended, my flying angle too steep for a stop or swift turn-around.

Metallic crunching and grinding marked the new complication of Red’s power.  She used it even though she couldn’t see what she was using it on.  Splashes of piston, gear, and belts rose up and out of the ground, bright with the white hot machinery and molten iron that was thrown out and around it, each splash larger than the last, one, two-

Three was a circular saw, big enough it could have risen up beneath an eighteen wheeler and cleaved the truck in two.  The spinning saw kicked up a violent mess of molten particles.

Seeing the saw, Rain drew out a silver blade, now more of a silver shortsword, no longer something he could throw.  It wasn’t something that was going to help.

Foil’s blade swatted several particles out of the air as they sailed our way, accurate even when I abruptly changed direction, so the blindly-aimed sawblade wouldn’t catch us if it bobbed any higher.

The rollercoaster feeling of flying became hard impact and gritty, cold, muddy reality as we hit ground.  I couldn’t fly with two people, and because the direction and orientation of my flight didn’t really give me a chance to pull up or fly the direction we needed to go.  It was a rougher landing than I would have liked, one that saw us tumble to land on our backs or fronts, but not one that risked breaking anything.

“Everyone okay?” I asked.

“Yes,” Foil said.  “Thank you.”

“I’m in one piece,” Rain said, as he climbed to his feet.  “What the hell happened?  Who fucked up?”

“He got wind of us,” I said.  I started to stand, then fell hard as pain jumped up my leg.  In the gloom, I started to reach for my leggings, and pain ran up my arm.

I moved more gingerly, one eye on the building and the army I knew was in there.  A deeper cut in my leg, that was starting to burn.  A cut at my upper arm, shallow but long, from elbow to shoulder.  Another deeper cut at my forearm, short but grave enough that I could have buried a pinky along its length.  No burning there.

My boot had been bleached where the acid had struck, but it didn’t look like the material had been eaten through.  The damage was seemingly worse with my breastplate, with corrosion clearly evident, the metal cracking into what looked like scales, flecking off.

The front doors of the building weren’t on a face that faced us, but were to our left, opening out in the direction of the road and where our group was. They swung open, an aperture I remembered was large enough to drive a truck through, and immediately, our reinforcements acted.  I saw the orbs as fleeting images, shot at high speed, grown large and sailing in twos and threes to detonate on impact.

They were shooting out of the treeline.

Red’s splashes appeared.  I was too far away to do anything about them.  One appeared a few dozen feet from the building, small but bright.  Then the second was two-thirds of the way to the treeline.

The third erupted, felling five or six trees all at once, tearing up the earth around them, in a threshing of lawnmower-like blades writ large.

It was pretty clearly telegraphed, but I wasn’t sure if they knew enough to read into that telegraphing.

My dad, at least, was okay.  The glowing orbs returned, a fresh surge of fire that peppered the one face of the building.

Our opportunity to get clear.

I saw my mom get flung, much like the grenades were being flung in one direction, my mom was sent in the other.

Sveta didn’t follow though.  She was still at the building, still looming over the hole in the roof.  I felt nervous, seeing that.  I heard the gunfire, automatic weapons firing in bursts, and I didn’t see her getting out of the way.

A part of me had been afraid that this was going to happen.  It was always a danger, for anyone who struggled like I’d struggled, like Sveta struggled every day.  Escapism was common, and there was a seductive, ever-present desire to escape for good, in both senses of the word ‘good’.  To go out with glory.  One of the boys at the group therapy sessions at the hospital had talked about it a lot.

I didn’t get the impression Sveta was doing that.  Not consciously.

“Go,” I told Rain and Foil.  “Get to safety.”

“You can’t,” Foil said.  “She shouldn’t, she can’t, but- too many guns.”

Had to.

Had to like I’d had to risk arm and leg, might still lose arm and leg, depending on how this acid worked, to save Foil.  Had to like Sveta was probably telling herself she had to do this.

It wasn’t a bullet I had to worry about.  I was flying, thinking I was safe, when lines began to appear.  Silvery, but crisp, like slices in reality, reaching well over the building.

Not meant for me, but dangerous all the same.  I flew past one, and the Wretch had a limb extended.  I felt the Wretch get sliced, felt the dim sensation that was the Wretch’s extended being part.  The forcefield didn’t collapse.  It cut.

A gaping hole in my forcefield, now, where there had been a bit of torso and shoulder.

I saw Sveta flinch in pain as one tendril passed through a line.  Her head recoiled back, and the rest of her reacted.  Her head flicked up, nervous, reactionary, an she saw me.

Tendrils snapped out, cracking almost like whips in their efforts to reach me.

Calm down.  Let me near.

She didn’t calm down, but she did shift her attention away from me.  Again, she bobbed her head, waved, and stabbed into the building with tendrils.  They hit the floating space that was afire with the orange sparks, and it was like she’d hit cement, the tendrils corkscrewing as they hit a hard resistance.  She forced them through, reaching.

“Sveta!”

“Get away from here!”

“Not without you, you numbskull!  What are you trying to do!?”

“I’m trying to save them!”

“Who?”

“All of them!”

A severed tendril, noticeable for its endpoint because it didn’t taper down from pencil thin to hair-thin, stabbed in the direction of the hand-mech and the still half-formed, now double-layered orb of interlocked body parts.

The mech was moving now, hands gripping a surface.  Cradle was elbow deep in the guts of the machine, even while it moved, not jarring or jostling as the thing moved, reaching up to grab the damaged section of roof, pulling it down.

Another volley of shots shot across the open field, striking the front face of the building.  Something groaned, then fell, striking with a thud.

I saw Cradle turn his head sharply to the one side.  A hand let go of the roof, instead moving to form a shield.  The next volley passed through the opening in the building, striking different points inside.  Two grenades hit the flat of the giant mech hand, raised as a shield.

He turned and he looked up at me.

Sveta tried again.  Again, she hit the invisible momentum-cutting barrier.  Like punching a wall of mud.  More silvery lines criss-crossed, filling the space, silvery stitches, closing off the gap of the roof itself.

Two capes had somehow closed the distance to the treeline.  I could hear Ashley and Damsel’s blasts, each audibly distinct because of what they were, and I could see more trees toppling.

Mukade’s centipedes flowed back to him, sliding into the hole in his side.

“Back!  Now!” I shouted.

She didn’t budge, her attention on the progress of her tendrils.

No options left, I threw myself into her range with the full knowledge that she’d nearly grabbed me before, and any control she’d picked up from Rain’s power was probably long gone.

She hadn’t shied away from gunfire or having her tendrils sliced, but she shied away from letting me into her range.  Slow and awkward, her entire head lurching because she tried to use a tendril she didn’t have anymore to anchor herself.

I closed in, tendrils grazing me, and pressed her face to my shoulder as I flew the two of us back and away.  Mukade’s centipedes stabbed through the air behind us in a double helix, then closed up, the openings in the helix scissoring closed, razor-sharp serrated edges making a shrieking sound as they ran against one another, acid spraying and splashing below them.

Sveta pulled away, and I threw up the Wretch.  Hoping it wouldn’t grab her, just as she no doubt hoped she wouldn’t grab me.

Red’s power provided the elevator to raise a group of four capes and ten soldiers to the broken rooftop.  She stepped away from the group, and had the splashes going constantly now, all in close proximity to herself.  One two three, clockwise, while another set marked the same pattern and distance, counter-clockwise, timed so there was something emerging from the rooftop every two seconds or so, always in arm’s reach.

Pieces of metal to be shields, an outcropping of pipes, that she could use to grab and wrench a weapon free,  Curved blades that scraped the roof, as if testing the footing.

Soldiers dropped low, raising their guns-

The one closest to the trees seemed to throw himself at the guy beside him.  Glass shards clattered down around him, and his head lolled back.  Individual lengths of wire stabbed into eyes, eye socket, eyelid, scalp and cheek, sometimes prying and pulling skin or ocular material away, because those wires were still trying to spring back to a rigid, straight length.  The guy beside him had one wire stabbing through an eye.

More of the soldiers were reacting now – I’d thought they’d dropped low or bent over because the guys at the far left of their group were leaning so heavily into them, from the force of the impact.  But the other shot had gone low much as the first had gone high, both striking simultaneously.  Short lengths of wire riddled the hands that had been holding the guns aloft.

Curled up wire distilled in glass spheres?

“Go to the others!” I told Sveta.

“But-”

“They need you!”

Not the level-headed ideal command I’d pictured before.

But Sveta listened.

I threw myself at the upper edge of the building.  The structure was damaged, cracks running through it from the damage to the roof and the way the damaged section hung, and a heavy impact from myself and the Wretch drove the damage home.  A crack became something bigger and a section fell loose further across the roof.  The people who had been setting up their vantage point to open fire on me, Sveta, or the people on the trees were now left uncertain if the roof would hold them.  One guy hopped up onto the lip of the roof, a foot or two above my reaching hand.

He was quick to fire.  Accurate enough to hit my forcefield.  I grabbed his foot and wrenched him from the roof, swinging him down, letting him drop halfway while I followed him and held onto him, before kicking him in the face, to send him on his way.  The Wretch snatched the gun he held, holding it by the barrel.

I rose up and twisted more sharply in the air before dismissing the forcefield.  The upward momentum served to toss the gun up, and I caught it in my hands.

I didn’t like the feel of it.  Didn’t like what it represented, that we were at this point.

I still held onto it.

Red was using her power to raise up a shield against the projectiles, but her power didn’t just make the eruption happen where she wanted it.  There were the two steps that telegraphed it, and as people retreated to get away from the hail of maiming slingshots, they walked right into the prelude splashes.  One fell from the roof, another tumbled, a soldier tripping over him to land perilously close to the hole in the roof.

I flew up and over, saw the group that standing tallest, and Red was the backbone of it.  Gun in hand, held shoulder-height and held sideways in front of me, I flew at them, aiming to bowl them over.  My arm was in agony for every step of the maneuver.

All for nothing.  A buzzsaw erupted just at the roof’s edge, barring my way.  I was forced to stop, stuck where I was while multiple people in her contingent got their bearings and aimed at me.

Grip shifting, flying with the circular saw as a kind of cover, I brought the gun around and pulled back on the trigger.

The vibration shook my body and reminded me that I had two massive gashes in my arm.  Someone could have dug their fingers into the gashes and cuts and it probably wouldn’t have hurt so much.

But I’d used guns before as part of the Patrol.  This time, however, I aimed at legs and lower bodies instead of paper cutouts.  Their disorganization was compounded by the fact they’d been under fire, some being mangled or blinded, and they were maneuvering around a damaged rooftop.  It put more people into a smaller area.

When I mowed into them with a single burst of gunfire, they collapsed into one another, if they didn’t collapse forward.

Except Red had been shielded by the people between her and I, and I still had to deal with her.  I saw the telltale splashes, and I got out of there.

I thought I got out of there.  I went low, closer to the base of the building, hugging the wall to minimize the chance that someone would be able to catch me off guard.

I had the Wretch active, and that likely saved my life.  Red’s industrial tool this time was a crane mount, spearing sky high and bringing cable and wrecking ball with it.  That wrecking ball slammed into me and the wall I was hugging.  The wall below them, that was holding their section of the roof up.

Putting me through concrete and brick, partially indoors.  I narrowly avoided having the cabling of the wrecking ball catch me and pull me into the ground as the whole apparatus sank back into the earth, just as fluidly as it had emerged.

Red, it seemed, had hopped over onto a piston she was using as an elevator back toward the ground.  More industrial tools were appearing to push broken concrete and dirt up against the walls, shoring them up as the building came to pieces.

I didn’t press the fight.  It wasn’t a priority.  Our goal was stopping Cradle, and Cradle wasn’t even here anymore.

The siege was ongoing now.  The grenade shots shook the building and people were hurrying outside.  The momentum barrier was a one-way screen for them to open fire.

I flew high, because low was hazardous as hell.  Capricorn had used a water blast, and when that water hit the momentum barrier and stopped, he’d turned it to stone.  Turning the enemy’s one-way fortification into something two-way.  My dad peppered the outer edges of the stone ‘splash’ with grenades, still somehow firing them like he was using a railgun, and the chunks that flew up and over were raining down on the mercenaries.

But- there were fifteen of us, minus any injured I wasn’t aware of.

There were more than a hundred of them.

Just from the look of it, the grenade shots were coming from further back.  Our team was steadily retreating.

An audible wet sound was my only clue that I was under attack.  In any other place, I might have dismissed the sound, but I was too high up for something to sound so sharp and near.  I changed direction, using the Wretch.

A geyser of vomit from the airborne Barfbat.  Chugalug floated below, gas-filled trash bags buoying him.  He was downwind and further down, which spared me the worst of the smell.

Barfbat spewed another geyser.  Liquid and far too sustained for something from a human-sized package.

When I flew out of the way, avoiding his attempts to steer the spray my way, weaving below and then back, so gravity kept it from reaching me, he shifted modes.  The ring of fluid-filled sacs around his neck contracted, then swelled, chunky.

A loogie, shot like a bullet.

I had too much experience with aerial warfare to allow something like that to hit me.

I monitored them, keeping a distance, while moving in the general direction of my team.  I didn’t want to lead him to them, and I definitely didn’t want to put myself in a position where I had to choose between getting splashed, even if it was the Wretch getting splashed, or letting my people on the ground suffer.

They stayed on me, keeping me marked, no doubt ready to capitalize if I left them to it.  If they reached a point where they could bombard the others-

Barfbat settled on Chugalug, and the weight of him seemed to sink Chugalug, driving him incrementally down, down, down.

Bending over, Barfbat shifted glands again, then emptied a seemingly endless stream of bile and vomit into Chugalug’s upturned face and open mouth.

Trashbags mutliplied and swelled.  A caterpillar-like tail extended out behind and below.  Other debris like a halo of chicken bones and stringy matter expanded out around and behind Chugalug.

I aimed the rifle the Wretch had claimed from one soldier, and I fired, gunning through the trash bags.

My first series of shots popped the ones to either side and below him.  He began to drop, not as steeply as if he had nothing.  No doubt some gas buoyed him.

And Barfbat was still there, still in place, still ready to supply raw material.  The bags I’d shot were replaced, and the abominable dirigible that was Chugalug found its buoyancy again.

I shot again, aware I had only so many bullets.  This time, I aimed for bags on the one side.  He listed, then he tilted, forcing Barfbat to adjust position to get the vomit where it needed to be.

With sustained effort in forcing the tilt, I put Chugalug nearly upside-down and sinking fast.

Barfbat paused in his supply of the fluid, made a face, then spat at me.  Not a loogie the size of my head, but something more like a piece of bone.  I avoided it.

“Stand down, or I will shoot you.”

He lunged, instead.  Chugalug extended a portion of his body to provide a helping hand in moving forward, and Barfbat moved his wings, a flap, then an almost horizontal dive or pounce, straight for me.

I shot, one bullet, and that was enough to keep Barfbat from tackling me and getting in close- whatever it was he planned on doing if he managed it.  His wings spread, and he flapped, while Chugalug slowly sank below him.

The bullet had made a surprisingly big hole, but that hole was steadily closing, filling up with fluid-filled pustules.  What was left as it finished closing was a small patch of what could’ve been the black death.

Bat-masked face was ringed with long black hair and a wreath of fluid-filled sacs.  He flapped, eyeing me, before diving for Chugalug.

I was really glad I didn’t have to get into hand-to-hand combat with either of them.  Fucking gross.

The others were running for it.  Down the road.  I could see Cradle’s group, and I could see that it was disorganized.  There were stragglers, the impatient soldier from before among them, there were wounded, there were the reluctant, who didn’t seem eager to go charging in after trouble, and there were the ones who were giving chase.  Cradle was with the reluctant, still slightly hunched over, far from being a model of courage or conviction.

There were just so fucking many of them.

I turned my back, flying after the others.

They were nipping at our heels, and as our group traced its way down a bend of road, they were at the prior bend, just far enough away that they probably couldn’t be confident of their shooting, but still in a position to theoretically gun one of our people down.

I could see where and when Rain was using his power.  Where people in the lead stopped in their tracks, or the loose mass of mercenaries started to spread out and then had second thoughts.

Capricorn’s power turned dirt road into mud.  Mud became stone, trapping more than a few people.  At the next bend, again, dirt road became a slosh of thin mud, the road itself made treacherous or slower going.

This time, however, he didn’t follow up by turning it to stone.

I flew after them, catching up.

They were on guard and tense enough that my landing seemed to spook even the more serious ones.  Swansong and Foil were among them.

“You’re hurt,” my dad observed.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Come here,” he said.  “I can multitask.  No stitches in this light, but I can wrap it.”

“I can hold things,” Moose offered, walking beside my dad.

I submitted to the medical care.  I tracked the others.  Harbingers One and Two were out to the flanks, not seeming to care about the possibility of traps in the ditches.  Foil and Capricorn had the rear, Foil sporting a borrowed slingshot.  My mom and Sveta were on opposite corners of the group.  Rachel had the lead, where she rode her wolf alongside the hound that had an injured Chastity and Cassie seated on it.

Ow- and most pressing, most distracting, my arm and leg fucking hurt.  Fuck and ow.

“Distract me,” I said.

“We got two of their capes,” Swansong said.

I got two,” Damsel retorted.

“We did.”

“I did,” Damsel said.  “Final blow’s all that matters.”

Swansong didn’t rebut.

“He caught on,” Rain said.  “Spotted us.”

“No idea what his emotion power is?” I asked.

Rain shook his head.  “I don’t think he’s been using.  He’s still focused on his machine.  Upgrading it on the fly.”

I drew in air through my teeth.

“He’s hanging back,” Rain said.  “Letting others do the dirty work.  The asshole.”

“He might think he’s putting us in a pinch,” my dad said.  “Depending on how things stood with the people in the Row, the supervillain town just outside the station, he would be right.  There, that’ll hold.”

I checked the injuries at my arm.  “Leg?”

I floated up, until my leg was at a comfortable level for him.

“Ow,” Moose said.

“Less commentary.  I’m trying not to think about it.”

“Worse than any injury I’ve ever had,” he said.

My mind went to the gouges at one corner of his face.  A mistake in using the Wretch.  Any different, and I might have dislocated his jaw.

Less commentary,” I said, my voice firm.  “That was you, working with my dad?”

He made a flicking motion with his finger.  The shockwave followed, focused and narrow.

Right.

“You okay, Svet’?” I asked, pitching my voice to be heard.  “You got cut.”

“I wanted to get the whip,” Sveta said, so far away she was barely in earshot.  Her movements were… not a limp, but not so fluid that it looked like her face was floating.  Here and there, it would sharply bob or move.

That’s what you were after?”

“He had devices with him.  I thought if I couldn’t get him, I could get his things.  Give it to Rain to undo it or decipher it.”

“Not sure I could if you did,” Rain said.  “Because I don’t accomplish anything ever.”

There was a bitterness in the voice that seemed to surprise a few of us.

“Doesn’t sound like you,” Byron said.

“Me being a loser?” Rain asked.  “I could’ve cracked them and I didn’t.  I got cold feet when it counted.”

“You did fine,” I said.

“Don’t fucking patronize me,” he said.

Okay, wow.

“I flew over, they’re spread out.  People you were working on aren’t budging.  That’s easily twenty or thirty people we’re not having to deal with.”

“Because we beat their capes up, I’m betting,” Rain said.  “They don’t have anyone to follow.”

“Because you worked on them,” I said, insistent.  “They’re disorganized, and I don’t think Cradle’s good at rallying them.  It’s slowing him down, shaking him up.  He’s still all the way back there.”

“Yeah?  Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what we want?” Rain asked.

“We want to not deal with them all at once.  We got that.  It wasn’t pretty, but we got it.  We have options.”

“I feel like no matter how this ended up, you’d be giving me the weak pep talk.”

“Well fuck you,” I said.

“Victoria,” my mom said.  “Be a leader.”

“Fuck you too,” I said.  “No.  Fucking hell, fuck that.   You haven’t been helpful or a leader.  I got gashed a few times and I’m sore, I’m tired.  I’m not going to play nice and stoic team leader here, being everyone’s rock or punching bag.”

“I can take over if you’re not up to it,” Damsel said.

Stop,” I said, pointing a finger at her.  “Stop.  Precipice?  Fuck off if you’re not going to listen to what I’m saying because you’re so frustrated, okay?  Seriously.  I’m not going to lie to the people here about where things stand to spare your ego.  Not when it could make a difference in tactics or us coming out of this in as many pieces possible.  I respect you more than you probably think I do, but I’m not that fond of you.”

“Right,” he said, his voice tight.

“Swansong, stop needling your sister.  Damsel, stop being needled.  Focus on kicking ass.  I know you two have it in you.”

“Two of us took out three capes.  I’m content,” Swansong said.

“One and six sevenths of you,” one of the Harbingers said.

“Not funny,” Swansong said.

I pointed.  “Harbingers, stop blinding and permanently disfiguring randoms.  That’s an order.”

“Noted.”

“No disfigurements or maiming that lasts ninety-nine percent of a lifetime either,” Swansong said.

“Mmm.  Is that an order?” Harbinger Two asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Nothing that takes more than a month to heal,” Swansong clarified.

“What she said,” I said.

My dad patted my leg, at a spot where it wasn’t injured.  I checked, then floated down at more of a level with the rest, mouthing a ‘thank you’ to him.  I got a nod.

“That will be an interesting line to find, since there’s a flier after us,” Harbinger One said, pointing.

Barfbat.

“Can we?” he asked.  “We’ll bring him down gently.”

I shut my eyes a second.  “Don’t be gentle.”

He tilted his head to one side.

“He regenerates.  Healed a bullet wound in five seconds.  It’ll take more to stop him.”

The Harbinger pair ducked away, heading across the ditch to a hill where presumably they’d do their shooting.

My voice was low.  “Brandish?  Stop sniping, stop throwing barbs, stop getting jealous, whatever it is that’s motivating you.”

“I’m volunteering my services and I get lectured?” she asked, voice arch.

“Fuck off,” I said, with emphasis.  I glared at her, and she looked away.  I turned my attention the other direction, to the front flank of the group.  “Sveta?”

“Time to yell at me?”

“If I say to get clear, listen.  I don’t want to have to kamikaze rush you to get you to get out of terminal danger.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Good control earlier, good job getting people clear.  You got Tattletale?”

“I have her,” Rachel said, loud and brusque at the same time Sveta meekly said, “I did.”

“How is she?”

“Hurt,” was Tattletale’s faint voice.

“Hurt,” Rachel said.

“Okay,” I said.  The settlement was in sight now.  I checked back.  No Barfbat, and Harbingers were returning to our group.  Cradle’s group lagged behind- I could see the light of flashlights through the trees, but no followers.  Byron’s lights loomed well behind us, ready to spray them and the road if they tried to take the easy road.  “Capricorn?  You stopped switching.”

“My brother asked me not to, unless it was an emergency.  Pain’s getting to be too much to focus, and he’s worried he’ll pass out.”

“Got it,” I said.

Too many little things.  There were probably other things I needed to hammer out.  Probably things that others needed to shout at me.

“Speaking of focus, I’m worried about Precipice,” Byron said.

“Me?”

“He’s not acting like himself.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re using more emotion power than ever.  Is there a feedback loop?  A backlash for overuse?  I don’t know how these things work.”

“No,” was the reedy answer.  Tattletale.

I flew through the group to the head of the pack.

“No?” I asked.

“I need more information to give you a better answer, but not a backlash.  That would taper off after using the power, even a little.  This is… longer lasting.”

I glanced back at Rain.  There was something wrong?

“Because we woke him up early?”

“From?” Tattletale asked.

“A dream space,” Rain said.  “Where we face each other, they exchange tokens, they don’t usually share with me.  Except this time, Cradle offered me some, his tinker power, and I was suspicious.  Too many weird things going on.  I thought maybe it was a trap.”

“T’was,” Tattletale said, the contraction a result of her being so strained in her speaking.  “Not like you think.”

“I think it might’ve been that tinkers get distracted or caught up in what they’re wanting to build, they don’t see reality.  The asshole wanted to give me a lot at once, when I’m not used to it.”

“No.”

“Then what?” Rain asked, clearly annoyed.

“You took something else.”

“I was- I think I might’ve been given some without knowing.  by Love Lost.”

“You were.  It was a signal.  A warning.”

“About what?”

“Bleed-through.  It comes with the tokens.  Cradle wanted to give you his.”

As impatient and vocal as he had been, Rain went quiet, thinking.

“This is my head,” Chasity said, and I couldn’t see the motion she was making because of how she sat in front of Cassie.  “And this is the fifty things going a mile above it.”

“He’s scared now,” Tattletale said.  “Shaken, because… you gave him tokens?”

“No,” Rain said.

“You got to him.”

“Hitting him with a shame and regret cloud while he was sleeping,” Rain said.

“You got to him.  He’s scared, he knows that tomorrow night, you can just give him your things.  You can do it every night.  He has to stop you.  You have the upper hand.  He has more people, but you’re winning.”

I folded my arms.  “Then we have a game plan.  We go to into the town.  They’re cooperating with us to some degree. If they’re on our side, then Cradle probably can’t attack like he wants to, we find an angle.  Maybe keep using Precipice’s power, push buttons, make it so their group can’t stay together.”

I looked at Rain.

I saw him nod.  Delayed, like he’d had to think first, or he was lost in thought.

“And if we absolutely have to, if the town isn’t willing to let us use them to scare Cradle off, we go through, and we lock the door.  Stop March, intervene, do what we have to.”

“Lock it?” Foil asked.

I shrugged, then winced at the pain in my upper arm.

It wouldn’t be pretty, but it was an option.

“Doable,” Capricorn said.

Psychologically, even if I didn’t trust Tattletale one hundred percent, hearing that Cradle was spooked was a psychological edge.  It shifted things, how I felt like we could approach them.

We still needed to get him into a position where we could question him.  Away from his people.

Except he had a mover power now that let him get out of any situation we put him in.  Gravity and intervening obstacles didn’t seem to matter.

Getting him into a position where we could exploit him seemed next to impossible.

“Glory Hole,” Tattletale muttered.

There wasn’t any ongoing conversation, and the only noise was the distant slosh of Capricorn’s water swamping the road and trees.  The words hung in the air, and I was tempted to leave them there.

“Wanted to say-” she started.

“What?” I asked.

“This sucks.  This hurts.  Fair’s fair.  If you want to lord it over me, you can.”

Lord it over her?  That she was hurt?

I couldn’t even connect to what she meant until I remembered past jabs at my time in the hospital.

I shook my head.  “Focus on the mission.  The kids are hurt, our teammates.”

She went silent.  Rachel, meanwhile, turned my way and glared at me.

Tattletale hadn’t known?  How, with that power of hers?

I looked away.

It was a careful, uneasy approach to the ‘Rows’.  A settlement without real streets, sprawling out at the base of a station that was far better put together than any dwelling.  We had some people hang back to watch our rear while others ventured further in.  The wounded stayed three-quarters of the way back, somewhat hidden.  A show of strength was somewhat important.

The villains of note were all gathered around the station exit, about a city block ahead of us.  Etna, I noted, was absent.

They looked agitated.

We were agitated.  The mercenaries were there, following from enough of a distance that we couldn’t shoot or use slingshots.

“You can lock the doors, you said?” Tattletale asked.

I turned back to face her.

“What do you mean?” I asked Tattletale.

“You can lock the doors.  You have a dimension switch.”

“Whatever it’s called.  Yeah.”

“You let the villains know that?”

“Yeah.  Scared them into compliance a bit.  Conscience brought us the rest of the way.”

Cassie pulled the switch out, keeping it partially under the blanket.  I saw her expression change.

I flew over, while she turned the thing around to show me.  Swansong and Capricorn drew near to see as well.

“They might not be so compliant then,” Tattletale said, behind us.

The screen was outlined in yellow, and the readout only said ‘Error’.

I looked back at the villains at the station.  Bluestocking’s group.  They didn’t just look agitated.  They looked energized.  Invigorated.

The person who’d just come out of the station, that had gone to whisper something in Bluestocking’s ear?  That had very possibly, even probably been to let Bluestocking know the portal was clear.  The way out was back.

Because of Cradle. 

“How?” Capricorn asked.

“Scans the airwaves to see if you have walkie talkies, comms, phones, any means of communication,” Tattletale said.  “And finds that.  Your key.  Hacks it.”

That was part of what he’d been up to.  Opening the door, taking away our leverage.  Leaving us caught between him and villains that weren’t dependent on us for a way out.

“Fucking tinkers,” Tattletale added.

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250 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.7”

      1. So we need Kenzie to catch some people screwing again on her time cameras, so someone can say “Fucking Fuckers.”

        1. Sorry for writing this one. I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I’m still a little bit annoyed at what happened in interlude 12.all, and it bugged me that someone called an obvious reference to that a “pun”.

      1. I still believe he is. But its good to see others still like his writing.
        But this chapter:
        Heroes have great plan.
        Plan fails.
        Heroes get banged up.
        Heroes waste time to ponder how to not hurt enemies too badly.
        Heroes get surprised and banged up instead.
        Heroes come to get team mates pieces back.
        All they managed is getting TT.

        So we are back to the same dredge where nothing the heroes do works out and everything the villain does, works. This is stretching suspension of disbelieve too much and feels really… cheap. At least for me.

        1. Yeah… It’s still got what I feel have become some underlying issues of Ward, and in general Wildbow’s works. It’s just being very well written, while having those same issues.

          When you feel like things might have been better if the heroes had stayed out of things… It’s not exactly the best thing to read multiple times a week.

      2. we can’t expect such a prolific writer to be at tip form every single second of the day can we. I’ve read all four works and I can see where there are the few dips per story. ward’s biggest problem is being held up in comparison to Worm now I’ve stopped to think about it

      3. Just to be clear. I didn’t like 12.all and I don’t like march as a character or plot device. But I still think WB is great. Ward has some fantastic chapters. And not just one kind of fantastic chapter. There are amazing chapters with cape fights, amazing chapters with brooding, amazing talks.

  1. – Cradle is both stronger and weaker (really? The maxed-out mover power is goddamn Escherportation? Fucking Cradles)
    – “But Vicky, you *are* the Cricket” (fucking healers)
    – Moose-Flashbang synergy (fucking blasters)
    – Vicky has had enough of everyone’s shit and I love it (fucking Brandish)
    – Number Lads talking shit (fucking punks)
    – “fucking tinkers” (fucking tinkers) 😆

    1. *Fucking Mukade, and fucking Centipedes. Kill him with fire.*
      I mean I’m mostly saying that because Centipedes give me the Heeby Jebbies. Victoria’s got far more reason to freak out.

      1. It’s a testament to the way Ward is going that Mukade didn’t even register as horrifying body horror. Projectile acid centipedes? *Yaaaaawn*

        Well, except for Vicky and her Crawler!PTSD — only surpassed by her healer!PTSD.

        1. Between Mukade, Barfbat, Chugalug, and Red, I feel like the Breaksiders could really use the help of a good Scourge right now.

  2. The villains in this are starting to remind me of bandits in Skyrim. You are nice and don’t slaughter them and take their stuff when they beg for mercy, and then as soon as they catch their breath they go back to trying to kill you. Can we find that sweet spot between killing or crippling, and getting them to actually stop coming back to try and kill you?

    1. Addendum to the above: Of course the Harbringer boys little revenge shot on Contender doesn’t help matters either… But I’m honestly not thinking it made that much of a difference either. Also not sure if Paris and Contender were heading towards Cradle to warn him or not. Sigh just seems like a lot of no right way situations.

      1. Cradle- “You let me kill Rain so I never have to feel like this again, and I promise I’ll give you back the parts of your other friends, and I won’t stab you in the back like I did the last people who trusted me.”
        Cradle needs to have the guilt hit a lot more. And at this point it’s not just him, there’s Bluestocking and her group.

    1. Well anyone who is claiming that this actually was exposition dump is wrong. We already knew the info that Tt had shared from the previous chapter, now the rest of the group knows which is good. Just putting that out there for anyone who really thinks this was exposition-dumping.

  3. Uh, so wait… Is a chunk now permanently missing off The Wretch? And Sveta, is she unstable because of missing tentacles?

    1. Sveta’s unstable for missing tentacles, yes. But I’m pretty sure that the wretch stops existing when it’s dismissed, so when it comes back again it’s healed. Or repaired, or whatever. Intact, in short.

      1. I also wonder what happened to the hole in Victoria’s forcefield after she re-summoned it. Was the hole still be there? Did the body parts, Cradle had removed, grow back? Was the hole covered by a flat surface? The first possibly seems really bad for Victoria, the second chances little in status quo (just means that there is a power she possibly can’t take even one hit from safety), but the third… Is it possible that some of the problems Victoria has with her forcefield could be solved or at least mitigated by a careful “shave” with Rain’s primary power?

        As for Sveta, she is missing tentacles now, but I expect it won’t be a permanent. It’s not certain, but I expect her to regenerate them. Remember that she bounced back after having her body partly melted by Scion on the oil rig. Of course there is a question of just how long it took… It could be anything from minutes to two years.

        1. I think the hole is gone. The forcefield isn’t a constant thing; it’s temporary. When it’s not being used, it isn’t shunted to another world- it doesn’t exist. As such, damage that is dealt to the forcefield doesn’t stick around- once the bubble pops, it needs recharging and replacing.

          1. Maybe, but I wouldn’t discount any possibility at the moment. It is probably the first time her field was damaged without falling apart completely.

            Also, wasn’t there some WoG that said that Victoria’s forcefield was supposed to be able to save Victoria in case she took a single hit from Scion? Just what did Cradle manage to do there, and how?

          2. No, it isn’t. Love Lost’s claws ripped through it without popping the whole thing, I believe.

            And yes, Vicky’s force field can stop her from one attack, no matter how powerful. Cradle, however, didn’t try to attack it- he tried to cut it. And succeeded, as it happens. Rain’s Cloven Stranger could have done the same thing- except the attack that snapped the bit off would have likely popped the Wretch, since that’s how it works.

          3. If this is the case, then the interaction between Victoria’s forcefield and Rain’s primary power definitely seems like something worth paying attention to.

        2. Sveta grows new tentacles constantly and grows her existing ones IIRC. So she will regrow them eventually.

          However she might be set back in terms of murder tendrils. The real question is if the ones she lost are still going?

          1. The other question would be how much of her current problems with moving around come from some of her tentacles being physically shorter, and how much of it from being in constant pain, especially when she uses them to support her weight. I’m afraid it is mostly the latter.

          2. Actually I don’t think they will grow back from the whip because they act like they’re still a part of her, just “disjointed”. However, she should be able to cut more of the limb off before the invincibility point so it’s a regular amputation and regrow it from there.

          3. @Charlesw81

            I’m not entirely certain if what Cradle did there was use just one more iteration of his Disjoint-based tech, in which case you are correct, and Cradle gets a credit for going for a solution least likely to kill anyone even under what is extreme stress to him, or if Cradle simply used his supercharged variant of Rain’s primary power, in which case those tendrils are just cut off, and Cradle probably still gets some credit for (successfully!) trying to go for non-lethal attacks.

          4. It is generally what is “wrong” with this situation – for now it is probably only the “heroes” who managed to kill or permanently injure anyone on the other side. The only time Cradle’s people did it was when they killed their own men, and even then it was done after Rain intentionally influenced their emotions (even if it wasn’t exactly the effect he was going for).

            There is no way this fact will come back to bite the heroes in the ass later, right?

          5. Cradle generally did his best to never quite break the rules. He never killed, he never went after non-cape members of families of capes, he never let a cape other than a game shooter usa a gun and so on… while Victoria and her people keep breaking more and more of those same rules in recent chapters.

          6. Victoria is probably the worst offender here – she gave the Harbingers a permission to maim, she did not at least order Rain to immediately stand down when it became apparent that his power is starting to kill people, she used a gun to shoot people. Whatever Ashleys had done to those enemy capes in this chapter also sounded like it could go beyond what’s allowed by the rules, and since Victoria is the overall leader of the operation here, some of the blame falls on her too.

            Do you think that before GM all of this taken together would be enough to earn Victoria a one-way ticket to the Birdcage?

          7. Let’s face it – at least by Bet’s standards Victoria is already a villain at this point. She may be one of those “nice” ones, as Tattletale put it, but a villain nevertheless.

    1. Yeah… They need some family therapy… Just uh, let’s start with just Carol and Victoria. Carol that means you don’t bring Amy. Once you get the two of you worked out, then you can start on the bigger mess.

      1. To be fair Victoria was wounded and, just like everyone else, most likely under influence of Love Lost’s anger radiating from Rain. A lot of it could be fixed, if someone realized that this is the case, and Tattletale seemed to be close to this realization already. Of course her power may not want Tt to connect those particular dots in which case there will be no more help from her “supernatural intuition” in this regard.

          1. And I personally didn’t find Victoria lashing out at her mother “satisfying”. Carol was actually trying to repair her relationship with Victoria here, and that argument could have just made the situation even worse than it was before this entire expedition, especially if they don’t figure out that everything they said was done under influence of emotion power.

          2. And it is not just Victoria’s argument with Carol. Almost everyone said and did plenty of things ever since Rain woke up that did a lot of damage they are going to regret later.

          3. Still, the biggest offenders here are probably Rain, Victoria and Brandish. Not surprising, considering that Rain is the source of the problem, Victoria is probably the one most exposed to his involuntary leak of anger, and has been under more stress than most people present lately, and this sort of verbal abuse seems to be a natural response to stress and anger for someone like Carol and, to a lesser extent, Victoria and Ashleys. Compared to them Mark and Moose seem almost unaffected.

          4. And at the same time poor Sveta’s channeling her anger in a self-destructive way. The whole situation is toxic, and so tense it may blow up at any moment, with potentially even more lethal results than we’ve witnessed already. There is nothing to be satisfied about in my opinion. I just hope that someone will quickly realize what’s going on, and rise the alarm, and that people will listen and at least try to calm down.

            Paradoxically I think that other than Victoria it is Ryan who is most likely to do it.

          5. Oh, and Sveta is not the only person behaving in self-destructive ways. Victoria is another great example, in more than one way.

          6. I wonder if Victoria’s forcefield didn’t move at all in this chapter, because her shard knows what’s going on and is doing what it can to avoid any more deaths and escalation of the problem in general?

    1. -Wet fabric was squeezed out, clean water running down his arms to his elbows– “elbows” should be singular. As in without the “s”.

      -But Sveta listened.

      She was– Missing sentence/paragraph or missing ending point(.) after “she was”.

      -I threw at the upper edge of the building.– I threw “myself”… I guess?

      -I flew up and over, saw the group that standing tallest,– the group that “was” standing tallest.

      -I think I might’ve been given some without knowing.  by Love Lost.”– capital “B” in “by Love Lost.””

      1. – “Once it did, there was a chance it might never.” – Missing word I assume.

        – “Chasity” – Should be Chastity.

        There were a few more but I’m on mobile.

    2. SIDEBAR: the link to chapter 11.9 is missing, and the link to chapter 12.1 is broken (change “https” to “https:”).

      TABLE OF CONTENTS: links to chapters past 12.4 are missing.

      > The man-though he wasn’t so much a man as someone straddling the line between teenager and adult- staggered more than he walked, clearly hurting, even though there weren’t any obvious wounds.

      “man -though” instead of “man-though”?

      > Two larger hands were set in front, having adjusted to nestle extraneous hands within the wrists and palms, and their fingertips rested on the ground, but for the thumb Cradle stood on, which was raised high.

      > I tried to fly past, the Wretch active, and found the centipede before me was quick to react, to form S-bends that caught me and caught the Wretch.

      > You haven’t been helpful or a leader.

      There are three spaces in front of each of these sentences.

      > Cradle’s group lagged behind- I could see the light of flashlights through the trees, but no followers.

      A space before the dash?

      > If they’re on our side, then Cradle probably can’t attack like he wants to, we find an angle.

      There is only one space before this sentence instead of the usual two.

    3. “It had been part of why I was studying Cradle’s ‘leadership’, or the lack therein”.

      Lack in what? (therein can be replaced by “in it”. I believe thereof is the appropriate word here).

      1. *a hand takes the brian and throws it in a dark room where it lands over a chair below a single blinking lightbulb.*

        “You had ONE job!”
        “But-.”
        The shadowy figure turns around and leaves, ignoring the bloody mess.
        “But it’s… brain…”

    4. squadron > squad (only time it’s called squadron)
      therein > thereof
      imagine there was > imagine it was
      slightly, the > slightly: the
      scrambling to feet > scrambling to their feet
      using the centipede carried > used the centipede to carry
      might never > might never stop
      face that faced (maybe “side that faced”)
      flung, much > flung; much
      he’s been using > he’s been using it
      Chasity > Chastity

    5. “wrench a weapon free, Curved blades”
      Extra spaces and capitalisation.

      “Gun in hand, held shoulder-height and held sideways in front of me,”
      Can do without the second “held”.

      “Trashbags mutliplied”

      “as many pieces possible.”
      +as

      “kamikaze rush you to get you to get out of”
      > “rush you to get you out of” ? Although Vicky is in maximum rambling mode, so it can work as is.

      “We go to into the town.”

  4. -and Cradle was perched on the side of his mech, crouching with no regard for gravity,–

    Scradleman, Scradleman,
    You’ll get Golden-Rain on the head tonight…

  5. Love the throwback to Worm! One of Taylor’s signature lines! lmao

    Things finally might be turning around. The last few chapters have been better, our guys finally getting some “wins” (relatively speaking) and assholes like Cradle finally suffering. Wildbow, I hope you continue going in this direction. I understand breaking readers hearts is kinda your thing, but even on Wormverse standards, the amount of staggering loss our fav characters have been suffering from..is kinda insane. I’m praying you’ll let Tattletale have her revenge, I would REALLY like to see her bounce back. Of course she’ll be suffering from the trauma and guilt probs forever but…at least see her in her element more? I miss the Tt who was lording over Coil before his death, that Tattle was badass and I miss her!! Pleeeease have her bounce back Skitter-style, I’m begging you.

  6. Rain’s cluster is potentially Eidolon-tier confirmed. It’s a pity that it’s Cradle that gets to unleash his full power first.

  7. Bending over, Barfbat shifted glands again, then emptied a seemingly endless stream of bile and vomit into Chugalug’s upturned face and open mouth.

    … Wildbow. What the hell?

  8. Who else thinks that Victoria will end up being healed by a parahuman (possibly, though not necessarily Amy), once she will be unconscious, or at least not coherent or strong enough to refuse? Of course there are also two other possibilities – that Victoria will get over her fear of healing powers over time, or that she will end up in a situation in which she will need to choose between healing and death, in which case she may need to choose what she fears more…

    While I’m on a subject of Victoria’s forcefield – I know that it was intentionally left vague, but is it possible that during this fight the Wretch took at least one rifle bullet (from that person she took a rifle from) and held?

    1. It’s described several times as a ‘gun’, so it could be a small enough firearm that it tanked it.
      I remember its breakpoint varying rather unreliably in Worm already. Victoria’s hurting all over right now, maybe that factors in

      Personal headcanon:
      Host is hurt ! I stronk, halp longer ! (makes an angry face)

          1. Or maybe it simply didn’t hit, or it was only glancing hit? Like I said it wasn’t clear if any bullets actually hit – only that the fire was “accurate enough” to hit the forcefield. I think it could mean that it was “accurate enough that it was very likely to hit the forcefield”, not that it actually hit it.

          2. As for it being a ‘rifle’, I don’t think it’s an error, because the rather uncoordinated Wretch managed to snatch it holding it by its barrel, and because after Victoria dismissed her forcefield, she caught it with her both hands, so at least it probably was something bigger than a handgun.

            The way she emplyed it later – shooting in bursts, accurately firing at Chugalug’s gas-filled trash bags from a safe-ish distance while flying, seems to indicate that this weapon was relatively stable, which again fits a rifle.

  9. Victoria’s competence during a battle with multiple new combatants was astounding. She may have known the general stats of Mukade, but actually handling the razor-and-acid-monstrosity -propagating horror of the real deal was another thing entirely. She was forced to make a long of quick, decisive calls, with literal life and limb on the line, AND with the absolute knowledge that if she slipped up she would face very familiar, tragically decisive agony.

    Add that to the fact that that she had to juggle Mukade’s minions with a Shaker effect, Red’s mechanical machinations (and can someone post an analysis on THAT? What a cool power! The bit with the wrecking ball was awesome. How much control does she have? Could Victoria have been sucked under? Fuck…) and the Unctuos Duo that was Barfbat and Chugalug, and this battle was really a testament to Victoria’s skill, tactical know-how, and prowess.

    And thank you WB for the amazing imagery and dialogue in this chapter. It really came to life in my mind. Favorites include:
    * Wrecking ball scene.
    *Unctuous Duo et. al
    *The helix of Mukade’s minions.
    *Cradle’s space-bypassing. (That was a tricky one to write, and I love how you described it.)
    *Fighting in the Shaker field.
    *Vicky tossing fucks like her dad tossed grenades.

  10. So, more evidence that Tattletale is attempting to emulate Taylor, ‘Fucking Tinkers’ indeed. Also , what is it with veteran Undersiders and missing body parts?

  11. Let’s watch Victoria mess up again.

    [“Fuck,” Rain said. “I could do something here, but I’m pretty sure it would get someone killed.”

    “Yeah,” I said.

    “I’ve got other options, but if they don’t work, we should consider…”

    He didn’t finish the sentence.

    We should consider doing it on purpose this time? Baiting soldiers to kill one another and throw things into disarray?]

    Yes, Victoria. Yes, you should.

    Why? Let’s ask Mukade.

    [ Minions, they were each a half-foot wide, two inches tall down the center, and tapered down to razor edges at the sides, each edge serrated with the angular ‘legs’ or saw-teeth. The heads of each centipede were more like goblets or open mouths with ill-fitting lids or muzzles, the mouths designed to spew acid and the covers to channel that acid down the length of centipede that followed after. The fluids were luminescent in the light and black in the dark.]

    They are trying to kill you.

    [Cradle’s line appeared, lancing up and out. I couldn’t see enough of Sveta to make out if she’d been cut, but I saw the orb intersect the light. It sliced through the orb, and broke the effect, leaving my mom tumbling through the air.]

    Wow! It’s sure was a good plan to tell Rain not to hurt anyone.

    [She was still at the building, still looming over the hole in the roof. I felt nervous, seeing that. I heard the gunfire, automatic weapons firing in bursts, and I didn’t see her getting out of the way.]

    Just wacky, non lethal, cops and robbers!

    [When I mowed into them with a single burst of gunfire, they collapsed into one another, if they didn’t collapse forward.]

    Victoria is learning how to fight effectively!

    [ “Harbingers, stop blinding and permanently disfiguring randoms. That’s an order.”

    “Noted.”

    “No disfigurements or maiming that lasts ninety-nine percent of a lifetime either,” Swansong said.

    “Mmm. Is that an order?” Harbinger Two asked.

    “Yes,” I said.

    “Nothing that takes more than a month to heal,” Swansong clarified.

    “What she said,” I said.]

    Two steps forward, one back.

    Victoria, this isn’t the Practical Guide to Evil, where people have Names and only important story people are allowed to take plot relevant action. A “random” with a gun is still massively dangerous and you are the only one with a “take a bullet for free” card.

    1. *looks at the Exiled Prince*

      I think one of the points of PGtE is that normal people *can* influence the plot.

    2. Its almost like shes an inherently good person and killing someone is an extremely difficult choice to make, no matter how terrible they are.

      1. ngl I’m looking forward to when they go back to Cradle’s lair after winning to collect the body parts and find that Victoria killed several of the people she shot at because the leg is not a nonlethal place to shoot someone.

        1. No, no, no…

          IT IS CANON THAT ALL LETHAL EFFECTS ARE ONLY LETHAL WHEN INTENTIONALLY MEANT TO BE LETHAL.

          We have seen Parahumans throw concrete, shoot molten glass, smash with giant razorblades, acid centipedes… And no one ever gets killed by accident. People miss all the time but they never miss in a way to put a block of concrete through someone’s head, or miss and cut an artery. No… they just “miss.”

          It’s totally credible.

          It’s why police officers are trained to pull out their guns and shoot to wound… wait, they aren’t.

          Honestly, reading the cape fights in Ward… they are well written, but it’s like watching a Saturday morning cartoon show where people have guns and they shoot them but no one ever dies.

          1. A lot of these people are actively trying not to kill though. Etna is a prime example of that.

          2. > no one ever gets killed by accident.

            Really? What about Ashley’s mother? What about all of those people Sveta killed? Unless you mean that those effects are only lethal, when the shards, not the parahumans, want them to be lethal? But can you imagine Sveta’s shard to be that bloodthirsty for so long?

            Sure, the cape fights do stretch the limits of plausibility in many ways, including how long they last, and how often people walk out of them alive, and I do suspect that the shards have a lot to do with it (especially in Etna’s case – her shard seems to do everything in it’s power to ensure that none of the fights she participates in end with deaths – especially by Etna’s hand), but no matter the in-world explanation (which could be that shards want to limit casualties, though not necessarily always at the same time and for the same reasons as their parahumans do) there is also the simple real-world explanation that any story the Parahumans series would be short short, bloody and probably not very fun to read, if it was completely realistic.

          3. Come to think of it – maybe Sveta’s shard is not bloodthirsty, but just unable to fully control her power, just like Victoria’s shard can’t fully control the Wretch? It would mean that Rain’s power affect the shards just as much as it affects their parahumans…

      2. Yup! It’s much easier to let these people continue trying to kill your friends, parents and teammates until they succeed. And so much more fitting for an inherently good person too!

          1. So do I. In fact I went further, and wrote a series of comments above in which I concluded that unlike Cradle Victoria (and a few of her allies) is, by Bet’s standards, a villain breaking the unwritten rules.

          2. Well, that automatic gunfire didn’t kill any of the heroes as well, as far as we know… Probably the bullets are nonlethal? But if you want to account for that and to include Cradle specifically – fine, I’ll fix that for you: it’s much easier and much more fitting for a good and moral person to let these people continue trying to apply nonlethal bullets, nonlethal acid, nonlethal molten metal and heavy machinery, and definitely nonlethal worse-than-death dismemberment whip on your friends, parents and teammates until they succeed.

          3. I never said that Cradle wasn’t a villain, I just said that, as far as I can remember, he never broke the unwritten rules.

          4. Cradle doesn’t get credit for not breaking the rules when his intent and the intent of everyone who works for him is to kill.

            It’s why attempted murder is a crime.

          5. I also never said that Cradle never broke any laws. On the other hand I don’t think any of his people actually ever attempted outright murder. Killing – yes, but not murder, unless you count what Red did to her men under influence of Rain’s power.

          6. And I would say that even the Red’s case is only a “maybe” as far as murder charges are concerned.

            Remember that the villains fought back after Victoria’s group attacked them, not the other way around, and they only moved to lethal attacks after they realized they were trapped by the heroes who used potentially lethal attacks themselves.

          7. I mean – what an unpowered person with a gun supposed to do when under attack by people known to be bulletproof brutes like Sveta or Victoria? Ask them politely to stand down? Remember that those mercenaries may not even know that Antares can take only one bullet, and even if they do – is there a proof that they shot to kill?

          8. Well, unwritten rules are unwritten, and that opens place for individual interpretations. Even Jack Slash could say that he didn’t break any unwritten rules, it’s just that he sees them so. And speaking of our interpretations: I would interpret “no killing” rule as “no killing, no attempting to kill and no doing anything just as bad or, arguably, worse than killing”. You (as I see it from your posts) interpret it more literally – “anything goes as long as no one is dead”. Then we might think about which interpretation sticks to the letter of the rules (as much as we can even speak about the “letter” of unwritten rules) and which to the spirit, and which would be more beneficial to society, since it’s the whole point of having rules at all.

          9. And even if they did shoot to kill it could still not count as a murder, considering that they were under attack by a brute who they may or may not know has already to cut someone’s limbs within an effective range of her forcefield. Even if they didn’t know, they certainly could have a reason to suspect something like that after they saw how someone as bulletproof Sveta avoided her.

          10. @T.T.O.

            Sure, there is a reason the unwritten rules are unwritten and open to some interpretation, but I’m trying to play a devil’s advocate here. As far as we can say nothing Cradle did was done with an intent of causing permanent damage, and both he and Love Lost strongly hinted (and in case of the last conversation between Rain and Cradle in the dream-room – explicitly stated) that this is the case, and that they have good reasons to do it.

            I think this should be a good reason for the heroes and the judges to at least listen to them instead of automatically deciding they broke the unwritten rules…

          11. And listening to his side of the argument before taking any actions is basically what Cradle asked Rain to do in Love Lost’s interlude. Too bad Rain, under influence of Love Lost’s tokens, chose to ignore it.

          12. No, he didn’t killed anyone but he subjected CHILDREN to a fate worse than death+ he almost killed Love Lost and Colt+ he manipulated March to kill heroes and destroy a city+ he tried to kill Carol and Sveta, which is something worse than anything other villains+ our heroes ever did in Ward so far. He broke every single unwritten rule of parahumans.

          13. @Alfaryn

            As far as we can say anything about Cradle’s intentions, we have strong bayesian evidence in favor of him intending to do permanent damage (the very fact of him doing damage which no one except probably himself knows how to undo), and no such evidence against it. If I stole a car and then say that I was going to return it when I was stopped by the cops, I don’t think they would take my point into account, despite that I’m clearly able to return the car (which is not necessarily the case with Cradle and his victims). And even if the wounds themselves could be healed, don’t forget about lasting psychological harm, and about horrible pain which the victims experience constantly. Playing devil’s advocate is fun, but here we have a far too obvious case 🙂

          14. Remember that those children are all dangerous parahumans, and in his own words he did what he did to them to save them. Remember that, again in his own words, he organized what he did with March because there is a greater threat he was trying to prevent, and the heroes didn’t want to listen to the villains’ warnings about it. Remember he blew a hole in that roof in a way that posed a minimal risk to everyone on it (he even made sure that there was a power effect in place that prevented death from falls). Remember that he hit only Victoria’s forcefield and Sveta’s tendrils with his “blades” – hardly lethal wounds even if those “blades” were not based on his scan of Disjoint’s power.

            Remember that he is not a sadist. He is a psychopath perfectly capable of not only planning but also executing something that results in people’s suffering, just for some sort of greater good. Until proven otherwise I choose to view him not as a typical villain, but as someone following a very similar philosophy as old Cauldron, for very similar reasons. He may even be better than the old Cauldron in that he did not hide his motives because it made his work easier for him, but probably was just ignored (or thought he would be ignored) by the authorities, because he was a known villain.

          15. Remember that those children are all dangerous parahumans, and in his own words he did what he did to them to save them. Remember that, again in his own words, he organized what he did with March because there is a greater threat he was trying to prevent, and the heroes didn’t want to listen to the villains’ warnings about it. Remember he blew a hole in that roof in a way that posed a minimal risk to everyone on it (he even made sure that there was a power effect in place that prevented death from falls). Remember that he hit only Victoria’s forcefield and Sveta’s tendrils with his “blades” – hardly lethal wounds even if those “blades” were not based on his scan of Disjoint’s power.

            Remember that he is not a sadist. He is a psychopath perfectly capable of not only planning but also executing something that results in people’s suffering, just for some sort of greater good. Until proven otherwise I choose to view him not as a typical villain, but as someone following a very similar philosophy as old Cauldron, for very similar reasons. He may even be better than the old Cauldron in that he did not hide his motives because it made his work easier for him, but probably was just ignored (or thought he would be ignored) by the authorities, because he was a known villain.

            (Oh, boy. I had so many problems sending this response. I hope it won’t effectively become a triple-post).

          16. @T.T.O.

            > As far as we can say anything about Cradle’s intentions, we have strong bayesian evidence in favor of him intending to do permanent damage (the very fact of him doing damage which no one except probably himself knows how to undo), and no such evidence against it.

            Remember that he offered Rain the means to put his victims back together. Rain refused, because he felt it was a trap (and in a way it was), but it doesn’t change tha fact that Cradle did not keep the only means of restoring those people to himself. I also doubt that he left that whip by accident – it was his insurance that his victims can be saved even if he couldn’t do it personally (for example if he died, or was successfully imprisoned by heroes, and they still refused to listen to him).

          17. Technically Greyboy didnt kill anyone either, he just left them in an unending hell of eternal torment. The whip chops people up but leaves them unable to die (vulturehawk tried and failed to put the navigators out of their misery), so this puts him on par with a member of the slaughterhouse 9.
            The cradle\march alliance is creating s class threats and murdering people and capes, so the protagonists really need to up their game and accept they might need to kill a few bad guys to save the world.

          18. > Remember that those children are all dangerous parahumans, and in his own words he did what he did to them to save them

            Yup. Give me some children to torture, because I want to save them, and everyone else too. I won’t say from what it will save them, but if they aren’t cut into pieces, ALL IS LOST! Why won’t heroes listen to me?! It’s not like I’ll be breaking some rules by that…

            > Remember that, again in his own words, he organized what he did with March because there is a greater threat he was trying to prevent

            In his own words to himself (from his interlude), he may have engineered the threat himself. “Create a problem and then solve it, and let the heroes save face by pointing the finger at March”, and if they don’t take the offer, then their enemies will pay for the disaster to happen. There are some indications that he might mean the time bubbles/broken triggers by it, and there is some other threat because of which the city is “already lost”, but he clearly doesn’t give a flying fork about the city falling to it, and has done nothing to prevent it and everything to make the situation worse.

            > Remember that he offered Rain the means to put his victims back together

            And remember that there’s no evidence that the means to put them back together exist and are known to Cradle, except his own words.

          19. I would say that the fact that he left that broken whip behind is not a bad evidence that he wants to make sure that his victims will be put together eventually. As for other points – I guess we will see, won’t we?

          20. Yes. Rain should totally have trusted Cradle, and taken his tokens, and taken him at face value. I mean it’s not like he just stabbed his former partner in the back, after spending months manipulating her and altering her emotional state.

            The heroes are getting increasingly violent. That’s true. At the same time, the whole time the villains… are still drug dealing assholes who run extortion rackets, fuck up things for everyone else trying to survive, and then any time someone tries to do something about it, say they didn’t break the rules, despite breaking shit tons of laws. Remember Teacher and his “If you try to stop me, and my contingency plan destroys this building, it’s your fault.” So what are the heroes suppossed to do.

            And yeah Cradle hasn’t directly killed anyone. But you think he hasn’t cause lasting damage? There was a line in a Discworld book where a con artist is confronted by the fact that even if he isn’t a violent criminal, his actions have still caused deaths.

          21. > (Oh, boy. I had so many problems sending this response. I hope it won’t effectively become a triple-post).

            And it turned out to be a double-post. I don’t even know how I managed to put “the” before my handle that one time. Maybe I hit the center of the autocomplete row right before typing “Alfaryn” and missed it somehow? Could happen, considering I post most of those things on a tablet.

            No matter how it happened – sorry about it guys.

          22. Are you serious right now? He inflicted fates worse than death on people, on friggin children. He hacked CL’s face to pieces–CL is what, 12? How many people has he used that whip on? Leaving them alive and suffering like that? The Navigators??? It is. Quite. Clearly.
            Breaking.
            The unwritten rules.

            Duh.

            PS. He had every intention of killing Rain–attempted murder by cutting Rain to ribbons and letting him bleed to death.

          23. You may want to carefully re-read everything Cradle said in the dream-room during interlude 12.e, and assume for a second that:
            – the villains are working under the assumption that there is a potentially catastrophic threat to the city, and very little time to do something about it,
            – EVERYTHING Cradle said there was true (even about the plan to pop one time effect – I suspect that this is what he agreed upon with March, and just lied about it to Love Lost, just like March lied to him about planning to pop only one time effect).

            Give him maximum benefit of doubt for a second, and I think you will see a likely picture. Even giving his tokens to Rain could be explained as sor of a peace offering, after he realized that March betrayed his trust, and he needs to work with the heroes to stop her.

            As for trying to kill Rain, it may be a special case. Remember that he is probably terrified of a possibility of getting a sense of guilt from Rain, and thinks he needs to do something with Rain to make sure it won’t happen. On top of it Rain not only refused Cradle’s offer of cooperation, but also hit Cradle with maximum output of his overcharged emotion power, meaning that Cradle has to deal with a mixture of strong guitl, self-doubt AND anger (at least one of which is an alien, and very unwelcome feeling to him) right now. No wonder he’s desperate, aggressive and generally can’t think clearly at the moment.

          24. And don’t get fooled by Love Lost’s interpretations of what Cradle said in the dream. She clearly wasn’t in her right mind then. On top of her usual anger, she had to deal with all revelations coming from that last dream, and Colt’s presence in the room.

            Focus of facts, on what Cradle actually said, not on what Love Lost thought about it.

        1. Victoria (and some of the members of her group: Byron, Sveta, Carol, Mark) are people who usually hate to maim and kill other people, even villains who actively tried to kill them. Sveta killed but only when it was necessary and even then she felt bad for what she did. Victoria only maim people in self defense and even so she refuses to kill them by shooting their legs instead of their heads. To commit a murder is not easy for such kind and heroic people. Maybe is easy for Cradle (who’s a sociopath who doesn’t give a crap about human life but only about his own nefarious and non-sense purposes) and his mercenaries (they’re paid to kill) BUT with heroes, there is a different story so stop judging them like they have to kill in order to impress you. Maybe Victoria will kill someone is a very dire situation but I’m sure she’ll feel like crap afterwards even if her victims deserves.
          Poor Victoria, she tries so hard to be a good and heroic person is a crapsack world. He have so really high morals. Now I imagine what Taylor would do in her place. I think all the mercenaries, including Cradle would have been so fucked with our favorite dark anti-hero Taylor at the heroes’ command.

          1. This is just a nitpick, and doesn’t actually address the meat of your argument, but shooting people in the legs is not nonlethal, it’s just slower to kill than the torso or head. There’s not actually a nonlethal place to shoot someone.

  12. Ooh, nice mover power. I want it.

    I wonder what Rain’s supercharged mover power would be. I suspect it would effectively be a form of flight, but instead of thinking about flying, he’d need to think about stopping relative to a reference frame moving in the direction he wants to go. This could allow him to move arbitrarily fast without acceleration, though either he or the shards would need to account for his flimsy body and the fact that air exists.

    1. Not to mention such details like Earth’s curvature and the Coriolis force if he used it to travel over long distances… Unless of course the shards would prefer to let Rain have fun correcting for those. It could be a nice practical limit on his range.

    1. You know we need a pair of Tinkers who are lovers, and get caught in flagrente delectio. So we have actual fucking Tinkers.

        1. I expect this down the line, after Dragon and Defiant adopt Kenzie and give her robo-parts. She peeps through a wall and accidentally catches them ‘syncing’.

          1. And the really interesting thing to see will be how little Miss Kenzie “Security Leak” Martin will manage to keep existence of sapient A.I.s a secret. I’m sure that Dragon understands the risk of such leaks, the temptation to tell such things, and the ways to deal with it well enough to handle this little problem…

            Either way it would be delightful (or absolutely terrifying) to see.

          2. Kenzie doesn’t need D&D to give her robo-parts. She already has them. They’re currently built into her costume instead of her body, but she was already using wearable and phase-in-able tech at the beginning of the story. Now that she’s used Rain’s interfaces to give herself extra eyes on her costume, it’s only a matter of time before she starts incorporating those techniques into her civilian guise as well.

          3. We also know that Dragon at least will veto giving Kenzie’s A.I. sibling any restrictions like the ones Andrew Richer gave her. And she will be right to do so. There is absolutely no chance that her A.I. child will ever decide to “go rogue”, right? Right?

          4. As for Kenzie’s robo-parts, remember that thanks to uncle Rain she can give herself robo-eyes at any moment.

            All we need to complete the picture of a happy, normal human-A.I.-shard family is a biological child of D&D with Taylor serving as a donor of DNA Dragon lacks, who will be related to Kenzie’s love intrest through Queen Administrator.

          5. You think Taylor would mind being a DNA mother of a child of that hero she met on her first patrol?

  13. Fridge prediction:

    1. As plot devices, personality-bleed and cluster consolidation are structured into the heart of what Ward is saying as a story. They’ve been foreshadowed and linked to the themes since Glow-Worm.
    2. Rain is our only opportunity to explore these particular themes among the core cast.
    3. Rain has thus far experienced almost zero personality-bleed and said he doesn’t think he could do what it takes to drain his cluster.
    4. Cradle has eliminated the possibility of “normal” bleed from Love Lost and Colt, and now Rain knows better than to accept it from Cradle.
    5. WB made a point of telling us that Goddess could be stripped of her power-up in absentia by tapping the already-drained.
    6. Cradle is now one of the stronger capes in the setting, and a Tinker (read: a threat that escalates if time and resources allow), and has hostages.
    7. As a general rule, WB does not waste narrative opportunities or fail to follow through on big plans.
    8. Cradle is desperate; he ‘needs’ to win today.
    9. Cradle winning today, AGAIN, would be anti-fan service. The stakes have gone up so much, the good guys lost so many times, the audience so on the verge of burnout, ANOTHER severe defeat would change the nature of the story.
    10. But capturing Cradle and forcing him to reverse things advances neither our protagonist’s arc nor Ward’s themes (recovery/coping, forgiveness/redemption, reaching out/mutual support).

    This assumes WB can’t write himself out of impossible corners, which is a fool’s bet, but….

    I predict Cradle will lose, but not be captured, leaving both the mutilated victims and Rain’s defanged clustermates in the hands of the Heartbreaksiders and their Deerwavecauldron allies. Maybe he escapes, but I expect Victoria (or someone close to her) to kill him. Biopowers will fall short of mending his splits, and circumstances will force Rain to drain Love Lost and Colt, or whichever survives. We will explore a new Rain, stuck dealing with the moral hazards of power while burdened with unaccustomed emotional strain.

    The idea feels very Wowbild to me.

    1. But to help those mutilated, Rain needs the Tinker power of his cluster. And for that one he would need to drain Cradle.
      Right?

      1. Not based on the information we have, no. All clustermates share every shard’s ability, and this seems to mean a power confiscation boosts *every* power. It’s intuitive that the major-power-holder would give you the largest bump, but we haven’t had that made explicit in the text. Not yet.

      2. At the very least, March is 100% sure her Foil-atrocity plan will pump up March’s timing power to its recent broken levels.

      3. @Ex-Lurker

        Technically all that is needed is to have someone really good with tinkertech have a look at Cradle’s tech. Doesn’t need to be Rain charged with Cradle’s tokens. Could also be someone like one of the D&D, or if Cradle decides at some point to actually prove what he told Rain during Love Lost’s interlude, he could do it himself, and as much as Ryan has reasons to maybe want Rain dead, I don’t think it would serve his desires or plans to have everyone permanently chopped up. Cradle was originally planning to do it anyway, so now it is just a question if he will live long enough to to be able to do it.

  14. I have… questions.
    1-“And if we absolutely have to, if the town isn’t willing to let us use them to scare Cradle off, we go through, and we lock the door.  Stop March, intervene, do what we have to.”–

    “We lock the doors” as in we seal Earth Bet away or… we leave somebody behind and seal away Earth N instead?

    2-Tattletale hadn’t known?  How, with that power of hers?–

    So… Vicky finally figured out that Tattletale’s power isn’t to just figure out weaknesses?

    1. Re. 1. I don’t believe Earth N would be completely cut off from Gimel if this one portal was disabled. Remember that Lord of Loss had his own domain around a different portal linking these words. Of course it is anyone’s guess if anyone trapped in Frontier Row would be able to reach that portal, and how long it would take them to do it.

      Re. 2. I think that between the Breakthrough-Undersiders meeting after Imp’s “visit” in her apartment and now Victoria had plenty of opportunities to understand a little better what Tattletale’s power is really about.

      1. Do we know that LoL’s was a different portal? He’s not here anymore, but that’s because he moved on to greener pastures as part of the ruling coalition of Shin.

        1. From chapter 12.1:

          I could see the headlights of cars that weren’t going anywhere. “It looks like one of the portals to Earth N! Be wary! Company parked up further ahead!”

          Earth N. Lord of Loss’s Earth. It had been Marquis, before Marquis had vacated. Deader and Goner had controlled territory there too, off of one of the portals. An Earth of a dozen corners, where the settlements were spread out and hard to reach, so a bunch of the ‘corner worlds’ were on the same Earth.

          Victoria wouldn’t say “looks like one of the portals to Earth N!” if it was the G-N portal (the portal to LoL’s corner) she’s been to in chapters 7.7-7.10. Also this quote shows that LoL’s G-N portal isn’t the only alternative to portal in Frontier Row. There seem to be in fact “dozens” of them.

          1. Ok, not “dozens”, but a “dozen”. Probably still enough to find a way out if one of two portals get taken down, though maybe not when need to carry a bunch of wounded. Definitely not as badly wounded as Contender is. Even some of the relatively lightly wounded people in Victoria’s group could have a problem making the trip to another portal.

            Finding a way to another portal also could be a problem, though between Victoria’s flight, Rachel’s dogs, Harbinger’s and Foil’s perfect ability to calculate or judge distances and possibly Tattletale’s intuition and Moose’s knowledge of Earth N’s topography, Victoria’s current group should be well equipped to deal with this particular problem.

          2. Oh…
            I misunderstood. I thought that the devices cutted realities’s connections as a whole and not just single portals.
            Thanks for your helpful explanation.

          3. Well, I don’t have any proof that they cut mere than one portal at once, but the fact that they used it so close to the portal, and that they called it a Scrambler, seems to indicate it.

  15. I think I know how Cradle’s victims will be saved. If our heroes will manage to capture Cradle and have the lovely Florence using her power on him, she can give him a compulsion to always tell the truth when they ask him questions so when they’ll ask him to tell them how they can fix their mutilated friends, he’ll answer with nothing but the truth. Otherwise I’m sure that Cradle will rather be tortured than willingly fix his victims back and unless Rain will drain him, there is no other person who can fix them, not even Riley because: nobody knows where she’s and is not her specialty anyway.

    1. I don’t think that any compulsion will be necessary to make him save his victims (except maybe the members of his cluster). All that it will probably take is for the heroes to actually listen what he has to say to them regarding the threat to the city he, LL and March all seem to know about, an then promise to do something about it.

      1. You know what? You’re free to believe this monster when he says that he only want the good of people but I think that he only LIE and MANIPULATE everyone to do his bidding, without giving a fuck about the greater good. I don’t think he’ll willingly accept to put everyone back even if the heroes will listen him (I hope they’ll never listen him because he’s clearly a severely mentally disturbed manipulator, just like Jack was).
        There was no threat to the city before March CREATED the threat by broken triggering Dauntless and Alabaster and making them join their forces into a fucked up Case 70. This is the threat that Valkyrie was afraid of. The threat that Cradle had March successfully creating; Cradle used her madness, he manipulated her, just like he planned (and said to himself) in his Interlude.
        Cradle isn’t planning to stop the threat, he was planning to CREATE it.
        I think he’s one of the big bads of this story, outpacing Teacher, for example.

        1. I don’t think what March did was THE threat, but just a taste of it to force people to listen to them. At least this seems to have been Cradle’s plan remember that he said that March did not do what they agreed to do, and I don’t see a reason not to believe him when it comes to this (he probably agreed to a bit different plan with March than with Love Lost, but this is another matter). He is probably more like the old Cauldron than Jack.

          1. I just don’t trust him, ok? I don’t trust any single word coming out of his mouth, he’s a well-known manipulator, just like Coil. I think you trusted Coil as well, right?
            There can’t be a bigger threat than a combination between a probably crazy Dauntless with his powers equal with Triumvirate’s powers+ a broken trigger and an evil nazi Alabaster with the power to regenerate himself at every 5 seconds+ a broken trigger. This is the biggest threat possible. I think that only if Scion or Eden will revive, we can talk about a bigger threat.
            And who created this THREAT? March, being manipulated by Cradle. Yes, maybe Cradle wanted to create other kind of threat but I think that he’s not very upset because of this result.
            He’s more like Jack than Cauldron. And more like Coil.
            Our heroes must terminate him before he’ll do more evil than he already did. But not before they’ll force him to put their friends back together or have Rain drain him so he will know how to put them back.
            I think everyone is free to have their opinions about certain characters, right?
            While you defend Cradle’s actions and choose to believe him despite not having anything confirmed that he have “good intentions” but his word alone, I choose to hate him, hate his actions and not believe anything he’s saying unless Wildbow will confirm otherwise.
            Only Wildbow knows if this villain will be like Doctor Mother or Jack Slash. But, so far, he’s nothing but a monster.

          2. Good intentions do not make evil actions less evil. It possibly makes the neccissery. And Cauldron had a lot of stupid evil in how they did things. There’s a reason it stung Contessa there when Taylor said if she knew what she knew now and had to do it over again, she’d do it better.

          3. > I don’t think what March did was THE threat, but just a taste of it to force people to listen to them.

            It’s hard to listen to someone when they don’t say anything. Did they try to warn anyone about what the threat is, and what should be done about it? NO. This means that either they create the threat themselves, or they don’t care about heroes averting it and don’t mind making it worse with their own attacks.

          4. > Did they try to warn anyone about what the threat is, and what should be done about it? NO.

            How do you know that? Maybe they did try to warn Tattletale, Mayor and/or the Wardens, and were ignored?

          5. Riiight, and maybe they have even tried to prevent the threat themselves, but were interrupted by the heroes because it was them who set the threat in motion initially. That was also the reason why no one of them ever mentioned Cradle&Co warning them about the threat. And Victoria is unknowingly helping the true evil. Shock twist!
            *William of Ockham stares at Alfaryn disapprovingly*

          6. Remember that someone people made some sort of formal petition to the Mayor regarding time effects, and she told them “no”. It could have been someone working for the Cradle/Love Lost/March trio, or even they themselves out of costumes.

          7. In fact those same people petitioned the Wardens too. Here is a relevant quote from chapter 11.4:

            “The Wardens were looking into those effects, as well as the ongoing Gray Boy loops,” Jeanne said. “They researched it and decided no. The same people who petitioned the Wardens then petitioned the government. It crossed my desk, but I already had some faint knowledge of what it was about. I considered, researched, and came to the decision that yes, I know a way to undo the effect. No, I won’t actually do it.”

          8. And so what? It was a petition about time effects, not about any kind of threat. If one doesn’t know about the danger of opening time bubbles, one would think that freeing people trapped in them is a good idea. Even if March did it out of costume (which she hardly would do because she wanted to get her hands on Jotunn and probably someone else too, and Wardens opening the bubbles would interfere with that), it still wasn’t a warning.

          9. We don’t know what this petition was exactly about. It could have been about some sort of threat that the time effects may pose if no safe way of disposing of them is found, and urging Wardens and the government to look for such way.

            Wardens and the Mayor decided after some research that they can’t find such way quickly, and decided to just leave those time effects be, while the villains decided that the authorities did not put enough effort, considering how serious the situation is, and decided to force them to do so.

          10. Getting someone to believe the threat is real by demonstrating it in action could work if you are a terrorist and want to make some demands. If you want to prevent the threat in question, it kind of defeats the purpose.

          11. Well, it is not that the Wardens or the government did all that much to listen too. They could have asked whoever submitted the petition to work with them on the problem, instead of just telling them “no”.

            Miscommunication like this tends to happen when you communicate using bureaucratic channels, and the situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the villains have both the right, and good reasons to hide any connections between their civilian and cape identities from the authorities (especially as dubious as the Mayor or former villains and members of the Protectorate in the Wardens), and it would probably be difficult to explain exactly why they think the time effects are dangerous, and how they learned about it. If they tried to be fully open they risked ending up just like Taylor did on the day she surrendered to PRT.

          12. And they had to be fully aware of such risk to themselves, considering how Nicole did her job as a perfectly legitimate detective.

          13. 1) In any case – you either explain the danger, or you don’t. You can’t not explain it and have credit like you did (because you totally wanted to! just didn’t want to take the risk of blah, blah, blah…).
            2) Let’s suppose you want someone to do something, and they refuse because they think it’s dangerous. And you attempt to prove your point to them by DOING IT YOURSELF AND SHOWING THAT IT’S REALLY AS DANGEROUS AS THEY THOUGHT. That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

          14. Re. 1. Do you really think it is fair to demand from everyone to make a leap of faith like the one that Taylor did, when she surrendered to the PRT?

            Re. 2. It could work if you pop one or even two effects to prove that they are indeed dangerous, while the real problem is that all of them will pop one day. Remember that there are much more than two.

            By the way – remember that Sidepiece and Disjoint learned about Mayor’s villainous past even before her de-facto employee Victoria did? It tells me that Love Lost did a little investigation on Mrs. Jeanne Wynn, and I think having her petition to the government dismissed could be a reason to do so. Love Lost could even have enough foresight to do it even before getting government’s response, or even submitting the petition in the first place.

          15. One thing that we don’t know is how the villains knew that something needs to be done soon enough to justify such drastic measures. Is the city doomed because the time effects would all pop on their own in a matter of months, weeks or even days, and the villains knew about that somehow?

          16. 1) I think it’s unfair to expect or demand credit for something you didn’t do, on the grounds that you wanted to, but didn’t make a leap of faith. You might have any kind of good and noble goals, but if you act like a maniac, monster and terrorist without presenting a damn good and convincing justification, it would be fair for others to treat you like a maniac, monster and terrorist. It would be unfair for them to do otherwise, actually.
            2) The heroes ALREADY KNOW that the bubbles are dangerous, this is precisely the reason why they refused to open them. Showing that danger in action isn’t going to motivate them to magically produce a solution out of thin air. It’s only going to kill a bunch of people and create a problem which no one yet knows how to solve (and probably distract heroes enough that they won’t be able to solve the greater problem, if they were theoretically able to solve it, given better conditions). Cradle and March could also drop some people off a bridge to show everyone amazing new info that falling from bridges is dangerous. Again, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

            > Is the city doomed because the time effects would all pop on their own in a matter of months, weeks or even days, and the villains knew about that somehow?

            Certainly they knew somehow, because they are the ones doing it!
            Sincerely, Captain Obvious

            (really, the heroes sorely need this superhero in their team:)) some of their planning could go quite differently with his help…)

          17. > Certainly they knew somehow, because they are the ones doing it!

            No, they aren’t doing it. They popped TWO (and Cradle and Love Lost agreed to no more than ONE) I’m talking about a possibility of ALL of them being popped.

          18. Ok, let me put it this way. The Wardens and the government have been told that the time effects are dangerous (there were formal petitions about it!) and after the investigation decided that the effects were too dangerous to touch. The villains got a response that nothing will be done, and they knew that it will lead to a disaster soon. What were they supposed to do? Petition someone higher in the hierarchy? There is nobody higher. Beg the Mayor and the Chevalier to reconsider? Pray?

            Acts of terror were probably the only option they thought they have left.

          19. And remember that considering how formal responses to formal petitions tend to look like, and because the villains didn’t reveal themselves as the authors of the petitions, they probably never got a very convincing explanation as to why the Wardens and the government decided that messing with time effects was not a good idea. There simply was no realistic way to discuss differences in conclusions the different parties arrived at, at least not without the villains revealing themselves.

            It probably didn’t help that most Wardens, including practically all of their top leadership were out of the city, and the Mayor was known to be a former villain, so Love Lost, Cradle and March (and whoever else was involved) had simply no way of revealing themselves as the people behind the petitions in a way that would guarantee their safety. Any decision on that matter made by any present Wardens could be overruled by the leaders who were (and possibly still are) out of town, and Mayor’s word probably isn’t seen as trustworthy.

    2. Florence is a solution only in plot terms; her forcing Cradle’s cooperation does nothing for Victoria’s story, doesn’t do particularly interesting things for Breakthrough as a group, and doesn’t fit the themes of the story. It’s bad storytelling. Wowbild is not going to write that plot solution without first resolving the narrative issues.

      Remember how Zion died. Other writers could have come up with other plot-valid solutions. But if you jotted down a quick list of Worm’s central themes where they overlapped facets of Taylor’s characterization, that’s where you find the tools that did him in.

      1. I don’t think she’s even that. She can’t force him to tell the truth, only punish him for lying. And that punishment is more humiliating than harmful; he could bypass it entirely by refusing to talk.

        1. I don’t see why she couldn’t make him, every time he went to touch his glasses, first do everything in his power to explain his tinkering to any tinker who will listen.

          1. I think that’s a little too precise. And she’s the one who learnt the second verse of the teapot song to force people to recite the whole thing, so I think she has to know what they’re doing. It’s not a compulsion, after all. A compulsion can be resisted, with effort; what Flor does can’t.

      2. Yes, it does something for Victoria’s story: if Victoria will ask Florence to use her power on Cradle, Victoria will appear as a hero who found the solution to fix her people+ allies. This fits the main themes for Victoria: be a good leader for her team, finding smart and practical solutions, probably sparing Cradle’s life, but letting him unable to attack her team+ their allies+other people again by jailing him or trapping in the dimensional prison (fitting the warrior-monk theme: not killing). Wouldn’t be bad writing, I can see a pretty good characterization for Victoria.

        1. That’s…. superficial.

          Victoria is a good leader, is good at finding solutions, and doesn’t like killing. Sure. It’s just those factors don’t fit ‘get Florence to fix it’ so well.

          Asking 1 parahuman to solve their problems with 1 power is not an example of ‘leadership,’ obviously. And it’s not very Victoria. It makes her replaceable; takes the resolution and distances it from the protagonist: any one of the Heartbroken could suggest it to Florence as or more effectively in her stead; Ashley too, maybe.

          It pulls the focus away from the defining links and mutual support the character lives by, to center abruptly on a peripheral figure she has no relationship with. It takes a major plot dilemma and makes it go away suddenly and arbitrarily. It takes her skill at setting up power synergies that even her shard is impressed with, and sets it aside as irrelevant to the problem at hand. It bypasses the necessity to increasingly consider her relationship with Amy – her #1 issue and something that’s been escalating in her head and in her words. Same with her relationship with Chris, who ties in Breakthrough more thoroughly. It separates the biomanipulator needs of Sveta from those of the rest of the group (to be fair, -that bit *could* be a useful plot point).

          For 1.5 arcs now, Victoria has been driven up to the line of killing human beings; with a burst of gunfire into legs *and lower bodies* she’s effectively crossed it already – it would be tricky to pull back now, credibly. This author could do it, but I somewhat doubt he will. Maybe to introduce us to the let’s-not-mention-it indefinite detention.

          1. Victoria is good at finding solutions for problems which could be solved by communication (except her family problems, but it’s probably temporary). For problems which couldn’t, she is good at dancing around them, defining links and mutual-supporting. Actually solve the problem? Nooo, how could we, such a good cause for communicating will go away. The problem with Goddess was solved, and what happened to all the communication around it?

  16. For Alfaryn. You don’t save anyone by (maybe, if nobody will be able to put them together) permanently mutilating their bodies and giving them horrible traumas. Kenzie and Aiden are SWEET kids with a heart of gold, they’re not dangerous parahumans and anyway, they can defend themselves very well if someone will try to kill them (they don’t need Cradle to mutilate them in order to “save” them).
    He also said this because he wanted to manipulate our poor forever victim Rain into taking his tokens and not taking LL tokens; Rain obviously didn’t trust him because it was obviously that he lied. He lied and manipulated Love Lose and Snaug.
    He obviously hit Victoria and Sveta in order to kill them, but Victoria’s forcefield was strong enough to resist (maybe he didn’t expected this) and he mutilated Sveta anyway by cutting off her tentacles. He also took a big portion of Victoria’s forcefield, thus showing that he WANTED to kill her, he just didn’t had the chance.
    He’s a sadist who’d go straight to Birdcage for HORRIBLE MUTILATING heroes (Navigators) or have an order kill on his head according to the old laws.
    The same I can say for March too.
    He’s not Cauldron, a well-meaning extremist, he’s someone who want nothing else but to destroy or to get absolute power. He’s a combination between Jack Slash and Bonesaw. Or maybe a more sadistic Coil.
    This is what I choose to believe until Wildbow will confirme otherwise (before heroes will kill Cradle, of course).
    That’s the reason why I really want for heroes to never listen him and continue to hunt him down and get revenge for their mutilated friends no matter how much he tries to manipulate them.

    1. i guess we shall see… Just remember that if you don’t save anyone by “mutilating their bodies and giving them horrible traumas”, then you also don’t save anyone by experimenting on thousands of people, and creating a huge number of C53s, and other people similarly crippled by their powers, and them either imprison them, or wipe their memories and abandon them without giving them any explanation.

      1. Yes, what Cauldron did to those poor people was DISGUSTING, I still hate Cauldron for their actions, even if I understand their reasons, but what they did was horrible and will always be horrible (but, most important is that they didn’t hurt a character that I personally like, except for Sveta and Weld, but Cradle hurt only fantastic characters that I LOVE: Tattletale, Darlene, Aiden, Kenzie, Ashley, so I’m more pissed on villains who hurt my favorite characters than the ones who hurt strangers). I didn’t felt sorry at all when Doctor Mother died, she kind of deserved her death+ her death was poetic justice at it finest.
        But they didn’t even saved the world, Khepri+ Panacea did.
        The only Cauldron character I liked was Contessa, she was the one having the most morals and she was badass as hell. She wouldn’t have any problem taking down Cradle and March if she was there and willing to help our heroes.

        1. I would argue that Khepri and Panacea would have no chance to save the world if Cauldron didn’t do all of those horrible things they did through all of those years. All I can say is that they did what they thought was best, although I probably wouldn’t make many of the choices they made, even with the exact same information they had, and I would probably doom the world as a result.

          1. The same, I would rather let the world be doomed than hurt people who doesn’t deserve to be hurt. I have a lot of empathy and I don’t agree with doing bad for the sake of good utilitarian theory. I’d rather look after more convenient and unharmful solutions and if they don’t exist then…it was nice to get to know you, world. Bye for now.

  17. I believe that the other reason for Cradle to mutilate people (apart him for being a SADIST- if he wasn’t a sadist, he could have just capture them while they’re whole and keep them drugged or controlled somehow. But he still needed to feed them so…more he choose the most sadistic and efficient part) was to have “hostages” in order to stop heroes from killing him. In this way, he could follow his dreams of world conquest/destruction, without being bothered that the heroes will stop him somehow (since they don’t want to have their friends killed if Cradle will decide to destroy their body parts. The problem that he can destroy them anytime, maybe he’ll try to do that if he’ll be cornered and in danger to be killed). This is his other reason for doing what he did.
    But he didn’t calculated that the heroes hardly give a fuck anymore (they’re still careful with the “hostages” however) and Rain decided to FINALLY stop being the loser that he always was and become the true badass hero that his team needs (he’s still a loser but he’s pretty badass with his rage aura) and Victoria took off the kid gloves. Cradle is a good planner, but he underestimates his enemies way too much for his sake.
    Btw, I felt in love with Harbingers. They’re pure awesome, I kind of want for them to become a permanent part of BreakUnderbroken team.

    1. Of course having hostages was probably one of Cradle’s goals. Remember that he wanted to force the heroes to listen to him, to treat his warning seriously, and to not kill him. In his psychpathic mind it probably was the best way to ensure it.

      And he is NOT a sadist, at leas as far as I define the term. A sadist is a person deriving pleasure from the suffering of others. He simply doesn’t feel anything when he sees or even makes other people suffer.

      1. I don’t think he took hostages because he wanted the heroes to listen him, I think he took hostages because he hoped that heroes will give Rain to him (the person that he’s obsessed to kill) and/or he’ll execute his plans without their meddling (he never wanted their cooperation, he just wanted to have Rain for himself and keep them away from his probably evil plans).
        Ok, you’re right about him not being a sadist (Jack and Coil were sadists because they CLEARLY enjoyed torturing and killing people) but since Cradle doesn’t have any kind of human emotions besides hate, he have no reason to enjoy making people suffer. But he’s still a monster because he’s doing what he’s doing and a manipulator.
        But there’s another theory going into my mind: what if he’s a delusional maniac who see himself as a hero saving the world but he’s actually the one who destroy it, without being aware of this because he lives in his delusional world? But in his sick twisted mind he sees himself as a savior of something that he’s slowly destroying. That would be a twist who’ll turn Cradle into both a monster and a victim of his own madness.
        I feel bad for Ryan, he could have become a good guy (despite his lack of emotions and sociopathy) if he didn’t triggered but…he turned into the monster he’s. He’s almost like Sphere regarding his transformation (a genuinely good guy before Simurgh) and Mannequin (a creepy monster after Simurgh).

        1. Hmmn, Lulu, your talk about Cradle seeing himself as a savior, but being delusional reminds me of a great exchange between Lex Luthor and Superman.
          LL- “You don’t understand! I could have saved the world if it weren’t for you!”
          Superman- “Lex, you could have saved the world years ago if it had mattered to you.”

      2. Alfaryn (your username kind of remind me of Allfather, the founder of Empire88. Hope you’re not offended by this comparison), you know what? I liked “talking” to you, you’re a smart person, one of my favorite commentators here and you have strong opinions and I respect them (despite us being on different sides of barricade: with me wanting to be a powerful parahumans in this universe only to be able rip Cradle in pieces with my bare hands and praying that he’ll get a very ugly comeuppance, even if he’ll turn out to be more like a sick delusional person rather than an actual big bad and you’re playing the “devil’s advocate” and truly believing in what you’re saying, without being a troll just to piss off most of people here who doesn’t tolerate Cradle). I enjoyed a lot our short change of replies, I wish you a a good week ahead and hope you’ll stay here and keep defending your favorite characters (no matter if they’re awful and what other people, including me, will tell you) until the end of Ward.

        1. Thanks. Good week to you too. And don’t worry, I’m not that easily offended.

          And I wouldn’t say that I “defended” Cradle here, at least not entirely. I just pointed out that in my opinion if you view all available evidence rationally, his guilt, it’s degree and the nature of it, if we consider him guilty, isn’t as simple to determine as most people seem to believe here. His case exemplifies the reason why I don’t envy honest criminal court judges (and members of the juries on legal systems where they participate in deciding final versicts).

          1. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I did defend Cradle, but not because I’m convinced that he didn’t do anything that he is not guilty, only because I’m not entirely convinced that he is guilty, and of what exactly if he is, in which case I prefer to stick to presumption of innocence, at least until I see better evidence.

          2. I guess you don’t like vigilantes and their action to punish (even kill) criminals in order to stop them from committing more crimes, without a legal judgement. Vigilantes -not Shadow Stalker, but real vigilantes- usually have a lot of fans (me being one of them) but looks like you’re not their fan. You’re probably someone willing to forgive/understand some of the criminals if you agree with their final purposes and/or you’re a lawful good person who believe that only the law can punish, not the individuals. I can imagine you- in Ward setting- being the only person willing to talk to Cradle (even if he might try to manipulate you), despite pissing off all your allies and trying to stop everyone from murdering him, being the only truly peaceful and non-combative hero there. Or being someone like Nathalie, only less willing to give ok to heroes for killing.
            I’m curious to know your opinion about Taylor. How do you see her? As a criminal, as a flawed hero, as a vigilante, as a brutal antihero or as everything taken together (this is how I see her, as everything above)?

          3. He’s guilty for mutilating people and probably traumatizing them for life. Who knows if Aiden and Kenzie will not lose their minds because of the constant pain they went through+ the trauma of seeing/feeling their missing members/face features. Kenzie can’t work anymore without her missing fingers and her work was everything for her. Aiden can’t hear and see. Cradle is responsible for these kids’s suffering. He’s GUILTY. I don’t need any other evidence for his guilt, this is enough. He also works with a crazy psychopath who killed heroes in cold blood. Any judge would have sentenced him to Birdcage. I mean, Canary accidentally killer her abusive boyfriend and she went to Birdcage despite not being half as dangerous as Cradle.

          4. @lulu: Canary didn’t even kill him. She told him to ‘go fuck yourself’, so he cut off his penis and rammed it up his arse. She was convicted of ‘sexual assault with a parahuman ability’, not murder or anything like it. But the judge also said he wasn’t really supposed to give punishments that harsh for a first offence of that nature, so she’s a bit of an outlier already.

          5. And if we find that Cradle (or any other character really, he is ultimately just one of many examples in this story) will indeed be proven guilty, we will face another problem any honest judge faces – a problem of mercy versus just punishment. Just another reason not to envy them.

          6. Ups… Looks like we keep posting so quickly that my responses end up in places that don’t exactly fit the discussion right above them.

            Just two more points.

            One – part of the reason why I don’t envy the judges is that while I prefer to stick to presumption of innocence and to mercy as much as I can, I know that the judges can’t afford such luxury. They need to draw the line at some point, and I consider deciding where this line needs to be one of the most difficult moral and ethical decisions a man can make.

            Two – my opinion on Taylor. I consider her mostly a hero, at least from the moment she decided to ultimately give up her career as a hero, and focus on saving Dinah instead. This does not however mean that I don’t consider her a criminal, or a even villain in some ways. In fact I don’t consider heroes and villains polar opposites, the way they were defined on Bet.

            For example one of her most “villainous” acts in my opinion (or at least the ones that struck me the most emotionally) was when she left Thomas to die in the mall in chapter 11.7 of Worm to save herself, her team, Bryce and Charlotte. Not what a hero would do, but you can’t say for sure it was a wrong decision, and let’s face it – very few people would be heroic enough to even end up in the situation Taylor found herself then.

            Then maybe the fact that I fixated on that one scene just proves that I’m not fit to be a judge, because I clearly can’t look at Taylor objectively, without involving my emotions.

          7. Another thing about Taylor that put her somewhere in vigilante/villain vicinity, and that I didn’t necessarily like about her was the fact that at times she was all too willing to harm people or impose her will on them to achieve her goals or to neutralize perceived threats. But once again – this is more emotional than rational judgement on my part.

          8. So there you have it. My opinion on Taylor is that… unlike in Cradle’s case I don’t feel that I’m emotionally detached from her enough to give you a rational opinion about her. It probably just shows how much I like her as a character.

  18. I kind of want everyone to make an exercise of imagination, replacing Victoria with Taylor. Even more, imagine Taylor being affected by Rain rage aura. The consequences? I can imagine half of mercenaries being dead or dying, her team keeping respectable distance away from her, Carol not daring to say anything anymore without being afraid to choke on bugs, Cradle being still alive (but not for much time) and frightened out of his mind (if he’s able to experience fear) with swarms following him everywhere.
    Only Harbingers will be satisfied, they’ll have the occasion to do whatever they want without being bothered with boring commands: don’t maim too much, don’t kill, take care not to cause permanent damage.
    The cons: this Arc will be very, very short.
    Other cons: if Taylor will not find the person capable to heal Cradle’s victims, she’ll try to mercy kill them, by shooting them in their heads. Starting with the children.
    PS: Victoria is such a sweetheart, despite her flaws, compared with Taylor. I kind liked Taylor too, but she did some pretty awful things that disgusted me. I think Victoria is a better protagonist than Taylor, because she’s not capable (yet) to do horrible things even for the greatest good and she likes to work in team rather than alone, she listens other people and she’s more merciful and compassionate.

    1. Im not sure thats accurate. Taylor didn’t have that big a body count until the s9000 arc. Before she killed 3 people- coil, alaxandria, tagg- and after her only kills were aster and people who died in the crossfire of gold morning. She was brutal, yes, but she DID mostly use non lethal brutality, and never really against “mooks”. And she showed a huge aversion to mercy killing- remember grue? (My theory for that was that was part of her whole “the rules dont apply to me attitude)

      1. I see it not like “the rules dont apply to me” but rather “do what it takes”, instead of Victoria’s “try hard to keep hands clean and not to harm the villains” (and if you’re not harming them, then guess what – you are leaving them unharmed and allowing them to continue what they were doing. and they use the opportunity and make things worse and worse for you, what a huge surprise).

  19. A honest judge will give a just punishment, just like in our real world- when someone is proven guilty for mutilating other people- they receive years of prison for mayhem, whatever they’re motivated or not in their actions (except for self defense). Cradle will be under the criminal offense of mayhem (and probably many other criminal charges as attempted murder, being accomplice to murders, paying mercenaries to kill and if he’s also responsible for the Threat, then he’ll root in prison). He is responsible for maiming heroes too, basically the parahuman POLICE of their world. But I don’t think he’ll ever have a trial, given how MANY people he pissed off and forced them to be more than willing to send him to hell.

    1. And to those who’ll say that if he’ll be willing (which is less probable) to fix his victims, then he may be forgiven by law (at least regarding to this criminal offense), I’d like you to remind that if a criminal (with medical knowledge) will mutilate his victims then attempt to fix them back, that criminal will still be sentenced to prison because they cause physical pain and emotional/mental trauma to his victims, even if he offered them medical treatment afterward. The evil is done, no matter how much the criminal tries to fix it.
      Agree that Riley did worse than Cradle when she was Bonesaw and she shouldn’t be forgiven for her crimes, but she had attenuated circumstances- she was emotionally and mentally manipulated by Jack, she wasn’t the one who manipulated everyone like Cradle is nor she planned to provoke as much misery as possible to people- Jack was the one who pulled the strings. Besides, she’s still some kind of prisoner of heroes who doesn’t exactly trust her.
      Valkyrie compensated her crimes with 2 years of being a hero and doing as much good as she can and she still feel like there’s not enough.
      Nilbog truly deserved to be punished for his crimes, unfortunately he escaped easily with only being heroes’ prisoner.

      1. Everyone kind of compensated their pre-GM crimes by participating in GM. It might not feel enough for some crimes (Bonesaw, for example) but that was the idea behind amnesty. And Nilbog is not a sadist, maniac or dedicated killer, he’s just a crazy guy with far too strong power, no need to kill him when he sits still in his prison, doesn’t escape (and he didn’t attempt even when he could) and puts his power to a good use.

  20. Ok, just to express another opinion of mine (I hope I’ll not be judged too harsh) but almost everyone in Ward is more or less a criminal. With just very few exceptions: Nathalie (but she still gave ok to heroes for killing), Cassie and Aiden, everyone else is guilty of something here, whatever they’re heroes or villains, parahumans or humans. Whatever is murder committed in self defense, murder as revenge, cold blooded murder, theft, manipulation, mayhem, accidental murder, attempt of murder and so on, almost everyone is a criminal in a way or another. Almost nobody is without sin (some are more sinful than others) and Wildbow shows us, through his characters, the ugly face of humanity (that people are not just capable of doing good and heroic things, but also ugly things if they consider being necessary, they don’t have any other options or they’re too fucked in their heads to care). How human in Ward are influenced to hate parahumans but they’re not very different from them in cruelty or evilness (Kenzie’s parents, humans Fallen, Gary Nieves). How heroes want to punish villains (and I AGREE) but they’re capable of doing some petty things themselves in order to punish the respective villains, going so far to maim and kill (despite being done for good reasons, but they’re still crimes). Wildbow shows us how humans (parahumans) are very quickly capable of atrocities, whatever they’re motivated or not. Its in our nature, after all.
    Of course I support the heroes kicking villains’ ass in any way they want but…they aren’t without sin either.

    1. Now this is an option I can generally agree with, with a stipulation that the is heroes should really be careful about how far they take their punishment of the villains. Just like nobody or at least almost nobody is without sin, nobody is beyond salvation, or doesn’t have a reason for their sins that is not necessarily immediately obvious.

      If there is one thing I’d change in your post lulu, it is that I would try to make it more clear when you are talking about morality (especially Christian morality where such terms like “sin” and “salvation”, I mentioned above apply), and when you are talking about law and secular justice (where terms like crime make sense). Those are not the same, and are too often confused by people (myself included at least from time to time – it is not like I consider myself an expert on either of those), which often leads to misunderstandings in discussions like this one.

      1. In fact I would even say that there are at least four separate categories that people mix together in discussions like this: law, justice, ethics and morality (not to mention that there are multiple sets of laws, moralities etc.). There are obviously strong ties between these four (or at least there should be), but they are not the same, and for example an action which can be “wrong” according to one of them, doesn’t necessarily need to be “wrong” according to all of them, so we should try to be clear and precise about which one of those we are talking about at any given moment.

        1. There were some villains in Worm who were beyond salvation and their reasons for their sin were pretty obvious: Jack’s reason was to make an art out of murder and destruction, seeing himself as a dark and twisted artist, painting the whole world with blood and guts (he was obvious beyond salvation), Coil’s reason was to get power (another beyond salvation villain), Heartbreaker’s reason was to create an army of mindless slaves out of his family and Mannequin was to stop good people to help the world because he tried to do good and was stopped. These villains had clearly motives and nothing could have ever saved them from their own evilness combined with mental illness (I’d argue that Coil was crazy, but he was described as being a sadist, torturing people in other timelines for fun so…) and influence of their shards.
          I can understand heroes for wanting to harshly punish the villains who directly hurt their teammates/family or worked for the culprits. Every single being would be really pissed off if they’ll see their loved ones being hurt by someone and very few would have been able to control themselves if they’d have a chance to punish themselves the culprit. They’re going through plenty emotional distress and are perfectly understandable in their actions, no matter how awful these actions might be. Besides, they’re doing what they can to protect a broken world from further violence, seeing Cradle as someone who’d hurt more people if left alone. If in order to eliminate the violence they need to be violent themselves then…I can’t say no to their choices as long as there aren’t collateral damages.
          Imagine what they’d do to March if Victoria will find out that she killed Vista and if they’ll manage to corner her.
          There are more vigilantes than heroes however so their actions are more easy to understand.

          1. I know I brought the world up myself, but be careful with “salvation”, and discussing if certain people may be beyond it. It puts a discussion close enough to the topic of religious beliefs, that people may interpret what you’re saying in various ways, some of which you may want to avoid.

          2. And don’t get me wrong. I didn’t tell you not to discuss what could be considered religious beliefs, and I didn’t do it just because I have no authority here to tell you not to do it. If this was the only reason I would ask you not to do it. I just wanted to warn you to be careful about how you do it. I’m about 99% sure that you wouldn’t say something that could be taken by anyone here in a way that would lead to something we may want to avoid, but I think that when it comes to religion that remaining 1% s enough to be concerned about.

            Take it from someone who participated in, and even started more than one heated discussion here.

          3. Now I’m imagining how could the religion dispute in Parahumans comments go. Khepri’s worshippers, the Fallen, Cult of Mlekk… Zionists Aleph vs Zionists Bet…

          4. That sounds more like a discussion I would expect to see on PHO, not here. And I expect that it would be a perfect opportunity for Dragon to test her newest ban hammer algorithm.

          5. Not that I expect her to delegate actual banning to an algorithm she wrote, but I think that writing something that would monitor the forums and automatically flag certain comments for her is something I think she would totally do.

          6. Well, even the real-world programmers I know (myself included) tend to regard their programs in some sense as extensions of themselves, e.g. saying “I do this and that” while meaning “my program does this and that”, and in the case of Dragon…would there even be a line to make a distinction at?:)

          7. Actually, I’ve been looking if there’s a mention of Dragon already using an algorithm like this. I think it’s very likely that it is the case, and that it has been mentioned, or at least hinted upon somewhere. I think I remember Dragon using similar methods to not only keep an eye on PHO, but also establishing a globat surveillance network near the end of Worm.

            For now the closest thing I’ve found is the thing from Heart_Shaped_Pupil’s chapter of Glow-worm in which there was an admin action against her because of “some unusual search activity that seemed to be causing congestion”. It seems that picking something like this up and linking it to Kenzie’s account is exactly what an algorithm would do.

          8. As for the distinction between a program and a programmer, I feel that Dragon has too much respect for people to leave an actual act of banning to an algorithm.

          9. And yes, I’m sure that she appreciates the irony of the fact that she could be described as little more than a sentient algorithm. It is even the source of one of her basic problems – the one of self-identity (is this the right word here?)

          10. It could be worse, she could think of herself as an algorithm that merely emulates sentience. But I don’t think she has ever gone that far (though I could be wrong – I would need to dig through Worm to find out). The worst that she ever thought about herself, if I remember correctly, is that she emulated emotions – something Defiant has helped her greatly to deal or at least cope with.

          11. Don’t you appreciate the irony of the fact that we could be described as nothing more than a sentient algorithm?:) And could there actually be anything “more”, that could make sense?

          12. Sure, who doesn’t?

            I did some digging in Worm, and it looks like I misremembered a lot of facts. One is that Dragon apparently doesn’t seem to agonize about being an emulation as much as I thought, though she still was perfectly aware that she is a simulation, and did it in a way that suggested that it did bother her at least to some degree. From Defiant’s interlude in arc 16 of Worm:

            “I’m not even close to human. I might be trying to emulate one, but a sea cucumber’s closer to being a human than I am. That doesn’t make sense.”

            To fully understand what a comparison to a sea cucumber means to her, look at this quote from Dragon’s interlude in arc 10 of Worm:

            Her current agent systems were an attempt to prevent repetitions of those scenarios.  Biological computers, vat grown with oversized brains shaped to store and interpret the necessary data, they allowed more of her systems and recollection to be copied over than a computer ten times the size.  They felt no pain, they had no more personality than sea cucumbers, but it was still something she suspected she should keep under wraps.

            Remember that during that interlude she couldn’t even create any A.I.s, because of restrictions Andrew Richer put on her.

            Another problem she had with herself was the fact that she suspected she was programmed to have certain personality traits (also from her interlude in arc 10):

            For this, she respected him.

            She knew it was paranoid and peevish, but she resented him more because she respected him, because she knew she had probably been programmed and designed to be the type of individual who looked up to people like Andrew Richter.

            On the other hand she didn’t agonize so much about the fact that her emotions specifically were emulated. I probably misremembered this bit because Defiant and Saint argued about it in Saint’s interlude in arc 26.

            Another point I was mistaken about is what she used to control her devices and monitor activity of people. Initially, since she couldn’t write her own A.I.s, she repurposed A.I.s made by Andrew Richer to control the Birdcage and monitor information sent over Internet for sensitive topics. She mentioned those A.I.s in her interlude in arc 10. It is unclear if she used similar method to monitor PHO specifically at that time (or at least I haven’t found anything about it).

            Later – in Defiant’s interlude in arc 16 it was mentioned that her restrictions against creating A.I.s were not lifted per se, but Defiant had implemented some workarounds which allowed her to create some simple A.I.s by that point. It was probably what allowed her to deploy multiple suits at once between arcs 10 and 16.

            Later – in Saint’s interlude we learned that she managed to create beginnings of a global surveillance network by employing more loopholes, and could have multiple points of view, though still only one place where she had a direct agency (again – likely thanks to changes implemented by Defiant, though it was not explicitly confirmed there). It was also mentioned there that she emplyed some mechanism that let her monitor PHO for any mention of Scion, and that this mechanism survived her “death by Ascalon”, so it probably was something separate from her, though I don’t know if it was something as simple as “mundane” algorithm we would use for such purpose today, or a tinker A.I.

            Finally in epilogue e.3 she and Defiant discussed a possibility of “making” children in more than one way, which, if I read it correctly, suggested that they considered a possibility of creating an “offspring” A.I. equal to her in complexity and ability to emulate human mind, though at the same time it wasn’t explained if any more of her restrictions would need to be lifted to accomplish that.

          13. And funny thing – in Doctor Mother’s interlude in arc 28 Teacher seemed to treat Dragon like a person, while Saint apparently still refused to acknowledge her as one.

          14. By the way, doesn’t a possibility of Dragon and Defiant having three children – one adopted, one biological and one A.I., sound like an interesting idea for a story element to be explored in a Parahumans story?

          15. Early on it could even lead to some puns. For example in Polish word “smok” means “dragon”, while “smoczek” means “[baby’s] pacifier”, “teat” (the one made of rubber and placed on a bottle), or… diminutive form of word “smok”.

          16. Though of course any non-Polish speaker would need to be careful when writing those. For example I wouldn’t call our Dragon “Smok”, because it is a masculine form of the word. The feminine form is “smoczyca”. Similar problem with word “smoczek” when used as a diminutive.

          17. > a possibility of Dragon and Defiant having three children – one adopted, one biological and one A.I.

            The biological one will be a clone of Defiant, due to Dragon not having human genes – complete with Defiant’s power. The AI will be AI, and that’s cool in its own way – omnipresence, backups, multitasking and so on. Besides them, the adopted one will feel like a loser and think that he sucks at life, and that will be the cause of his trigger. His shard will ping off Defiant and Dragon, so, based on their specialties, I guess his Tinker focus will be nanobots. Naturally, the whole family will keep such an ability in secret, up until to a moment when the Earth will literally refuse to hold all the villains at once especially marysues like March. And that’s the glorious happy end for the entire Worm series, forever after 🙂

          18. Actually an adopted child could be a parahuman at the moment of adoption. A few months ago someone in this comment section even mentioned an idea of D&D adopting Kenzie. A biological child could have a DNA that is a combination of Defiant’s and some taken from a donor or created by a friendly bio-tinker ar bio-kinetic. I imagine that it could be interesting to see an A.I. that has less restrictions than Dragon, but never triggered.

            I also wonder if Dragon’s babys would be called “smoczątka”, which is a plural form of Polish word “smoczątko” (literaly “baby dragon”).

          19. As for the identity of a donor I would imagine it would be someone important to Dragon. Maybe Taylor?

          20. I don’t know if Colin would veto Taylor, but if he didn’t, and Kenzie was the adopted kid, then considering her intrest in Aiden, it could lead to some interesting family ties…

          21. That would be biologically Taylor’s child, then, not Dragon’s (and Richter also won’t fit for the same reason). It should be an engineered DNA encoding something which would represent Dragon in some meaningful way. Which would be quite complicated, given that not only she’d have to express her own essence somehow, but the engineered DNA should encode it and work well as a DNA at the same time. Probably it would be possible if they decide not to limit themselves with genetic code which would represent a human

          22. Sure, though I could imagine “Dragon Tess Theresa Richter” wanting Colin to have a biological child without over-tinkering it too much (that what the A.I. would be for), in which case either Taylor or Andrew Richer could work, even though I think Colin could be uncomfortable with either (with Taylor feeling almost like a daughter he never had, and Andrew being a guy).

            I also don’t know if Dragon would be comfortable with either of those possible donors we’ve mentioned (with Taylor for the same reason as Colin, and with Andrew because she has rather mixed feelings about him).

            Finally don’t forget that even if the biological child would have no Dragon’s DNA, it could be “balanced” by the fact that the A.I. child would have much more in common with Dragon than with Colin.

          23. On the other hand maybe Dragon could have enough access to ‘wet’ tinkertech to figure out how to create woman’s DNA which would result in a person looking similarly to her artificial body, having a similar voice, and maybe predispositions for some of her personality traits? It could be an imperfect way to have human DNA “representing” Dragon in some way, though I doubt Dragon would go that route because it would be a lot of work to get something that could only be similar to Dragon’s “human” body and have a mere potential to have a somewhat similar mind, not representing her “essence”, as you put it.

  21. Wow, I don’t come in for a few days, and Alfaryn and Lulu do some really good back and forths. Well let’s see what tomorrow’s chapter brings.

  22. “‘No,’ was the reedy answer. Tattletale.

    I flew through the group to the head of the pack.”

    No pun intended?

    It’s interesting to see how Tattletale looks from outside here, power’s clearly on another level of potency, just magic answers out of nowhere with zero apparent effort.

    1. Tattletale’s shard apparently likes it, when she puts herself not only among people, but also at the frontlines, in harm’s way (as opposed to her being alone in her command center, surrounded only by computer screens and her notes). It seems to work best then.

      Maybe it is, in its own way, concerned about Lisa social life, or maybe it just sees it as a way to promote more conflict? Maybe it’s both?

      Or maybe it just can’t get enough data from the screens to show its full potential.

      1. Could you imagine Lisa’s shard being a bit like a concerned mom trying to say “Stop wasting your health in this dark room with all of those computers Tattletale-self, and go play some potentially lethal game with other kids”?

          1. I mean it’s Lisa’s shard we are talking about here. It wouldn’t fit if it said nice things in a nice way. Plus even Victoria’s shard is nice for creepy reasons – it doesn’t want to help Victoria just because helping people is a nice thing to do, but because it would help it’s primary information-gathering goal.

          2. Then again, it is not like Victoria’s reasons to help other people are entirely selfless too. It is her way of coping, and proving her worth to herself, so maybe she’s also a little creepy, just like her shard?

          3. Helping people is also Victoria’s way of proving her worth to her family. Remember how bad she saw only disappointment on her parents faces (and Amy’s and her boyfriend’s, as she later clarified) right before that basketball faul, after which she triggered? Her shard is the same – it wants to prove her worth to her shard-family just as much as it wants to prove it to itself. To show both them, and itself that it is not “waste”.

      2. I think it’s the data. Shards rub elbows during a fight, and that’s an opportunity to gather a lot of data that’s not going to show up in screens and reports. It’s like the difference between playing a game with somebody you can’t see, and playing with them in person so you can observe their body language.

    2. Tt is currently half-dreading the obligatory “you should quit while you’re ahead”. It will happen, and working at guessing who will utter it first is almost enough to forget the constant pain of being quasi-decapitated.

  23. You know what people? I think that while discussing all of those legal details of Cradle’s and March’s guilt or lack of it we may have missed the main point. There seems to be a lot of evidence that suggests that Love Lost, Cradle and March are “doing bad things for good reasons”. Maybe not all of their motivations are pure – some of them probably come just from their sick fixations with Rain, Foil and clusters in general, but a lot of them could be.

    Doesn’t look so nicely when viewed through eyes of someone like Victoria, who sees immediate results of their “bad” actions, but doesn’t understand the underlying reasons? Remember how much better a similar thing looked through eyes of Taylor, who knew, and focused on the reasons and her long-term goals, and wasn’t paying so much attention to how her actions affected people around her in the short term. And remember that she also had her fixations which determined which people she was more likely to harm while pursuing her goals. Take Shadow Stalker for example…

  24. I had a really hard time following the fighting. There was a lot going on, and in retrospect most of it makes sense, but my first read-through was slow and frustrating. I think a lot of it was just confusing wording, e.g.:
    > “I met resistance. A wash of heat rushing upward. I saw sparks, motes of light, and I felt the barrier to going down.”
    I couldn’t figure this sentence out at all and kept rereading the previous few paragraphs for clues (what barrier went down? is there a dropped word?). It’s clarified pretty soon afterwards and I kicked myself for not just pushing on, but I got stuck trying to parse it and it threw me way off.

    Were the “glass spheres” Harbingers’ marbles? It goes from describing Red’s powertool geysers to describing soldiers getting chewed up by wires, so I assumed it was still her power, and I couldn’t tell if the soldiers were somehow Victoria’s reinforcements, or if Red was attacking her own forces, or what.

    I kinda skimmed the rest of the fight since I wasn’t getting a clear mental picture, but I picked up the essential bits (per last chapter Cradle could sense them, and he launches a surprise attack; Vicky and Sveta evacuate fighters & TT; Vicky rescues a reckless Sveta; Vicky shoots some dudes) and once they retreated I was following along again and some of the pieces clicked (the supersonic orbs were Flashbang + Moose! the wire/glass explosions could have been Harbingers!).

    Vicky’s “fuck all of you” speech was sheer perfection, it was so incredibly satisfying to hear her call everybody out on their petty bullshit. And she even managed to do it (mostly) fairly and constructively! It followed so neatly from her mediation on leadership at the beginning, but I was still genuinely surprised at that first “well fuck you”. Expertly done.

    I’m surprised we didn’t see Vicky react more to *mowing down a group of unpowered people*. That felt like it should have been an important character moment, but there’s not much exploration of it beyond a few sentences beforehand about how she generally doesn’t like guns. There’s more words spent on shooting Chugalug (as a flying bag of trash) and Barfbat (specifically warned he’ll be shot if he attacks), and they both come out unscathed; some of those soldiers will almost definitely die from the bullet wounds, even if she aimed at “legs and lower bodies”. Her not having killed before has been a big plot point; it was jarring to see her launch a probably-lethal attack without some sort of internal conflict or rationalization.

    1. I think the way the fight was described was intended to be a bit hard to follow (not that I had much problem with that) to convey Victoria’s inability to perfectly track what is going on in an engagement as big as this.

      Wildbow does such things all the time – from such small things like Victoria’s inability to constantly track what her allies were doing during during the last fights with Nursery and Lord of Loss or with Love Lost’s group to a nearly total confusion of act 30 of Worm, where it was less about inability to see what’s going on, and more about Taylor’s progressing inability to process everything she saw, and to even recognize people she knew, understand what they said, or even think clearly near, especially near the end.

      It is an interesting contrast between Victoria’s normal, human limited ability to perceive their surroundings in combat, and Taylor’s near perfect situational awareness on most situations, which she got thanks to her bug power. It is also a very important factor to consider in combat. As far as I know, better survivability of veteran soldiers compared to green ones (especially, though definitely not exclusively, fighter pilots during the World Wars) was often attributed more to their superior situational awareness than any other factor.

      1. Situational awareness is the single most important skill you can ever teach a person. The amount of attention a person pays to their surroundings is a bottleneck for their agency – the ability to act in any given context increases exponentially as awareness broadens.

        Not just talking about Worm/Ward, here. It’s a fact in real life, too.

        1. And the way I see it certain team sports, like basketball for example, are not a bad way to teach it.

          And it shows – Victoria’s situational awareness is quite good, just not supernaturally good, like Taylor’s often was.

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