Heavens – 12.8

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The settlement of scattered, disorganized buildings didn’t look like it had been laid out with roads in mind, and it took on the appearance of being a town on fire well before any fire had ignited.  The motes of Subside’s power marked the loose boundaries of where it was being set up.  Sparks and dots of red light.  Soldiers stepped out of the trees, starting with Subside’s squad, built around Subside himself but led primarily by a large guy with three guns hanging off of him.  The squads to either side emerged a bit later, after minimal conversation.

The show of force wasn’t for our benefit.  All of the people of the ‘Rows’ of Earth N base town were out of their beds, paying clear attention now.  Their number included the people who had been on guard earlier who had apparently retired from being on guard, and people who hadn’t stopped keeping an eye on things, sitting on porches or going on extended walks.

The blue motes of Capricorn’s power were our own answer, for what that was worth.  As glad as I was to know we had something, the color of the lights cut into my eyes’ ability to peer through the dark.  The bright blue left spots in my vision and trails that persisted even when I looked away.

The air was thick with the smell of mud, rain, and the haze of cigarette smoke that seemed to settle over a place when most of a town was left out in the cold, keeping an eye out for their mutual benefit.

That mutual benefit had been something we’d tested and cracked by applying pressure to Bluestocking, with Prancer’s help.  Now Moose was approaching Prancer, who had stuck closer to Bluestocking, and they were comparing notes.  No Etna in Bluestocking’s retinue, I noted.

The people in the town weren’t making a fuss about us backing up and using one of the buildings for cover.

There weren’t any better options.  If we ran for it, we’d be gunned down.  If we stayed and Bluestocking decided to side with Cradle’s group again, we’d be in the midst of trouble with more trouble coming from Cradle’s group.

“He’s the lead-from-behind type,” Swansong said.

Cradle was moving through the trees with his mech, shaking them.  Slivers of the mech were visible where the trees weren’t as thick or where some had been felled a certain distance into the woods.  Couldn’t be easy terrain, especially with something as large and weird in shape as the mech.

“Because he knows we’d shoot him if he led from the front,” Foil answered.  “I might be able to hit him.  Shoot through the repulsion field.  But I might miss.”

“I could help,” Harbinger One said, sidling in close enough that he was in Foil’s personal space.  Damsel stuck out a claw, touching his shoulder and prodding him back.

“Can you guarantee a hit?” Foil asked.

“No.  Can’t see enough of him, and it’s too dark.”

“I have the same problem, so it’s not much help.”

“Don’t shoot if you can’t keep him alive.  We need him to undo what he did to others-”  Assuming that’s even possible.  It has to be possible.  “-and to give us the dirt on March.”

“If you’re trigger-happy, you could shoot-” Tattletale started.  She paused one second, started again, voice quiet, and the lower undertones of Moose’s voice, even though he wasn’t technically in earshot, were enough to drown out the initial sounds.

She started again.  “Woman in red.  MYOSHA, all capitals.”

“Machinery explosions,” I said.  “Dangerous.”

“Yes.  Or one on the far left, ox skull.  Prong.”

“Don’t know him,” I said, noting the soldier with an ox skull mask that looked like it obscured his peripheral vision, with the way the skull and his own eyes lined up.  He wore a heavy coat over what might have been body armor.  Bulky kevlar, not fancy costume armor panels.

“Point,” Tattletale smirked, the smirk faltering as she took in a halting, probably painful breath, “for me.”

I was annoyed at that, but I let it slide.  “What does he do, then?”

“Brute tough, but you can wear that down.  Or use Foil’s power and ignore it.  Wanted to hire him once, he said no, he was busy, so fuck him.  The-”

She stopped.  Her face was shiny with sweat.  Rachel brushed a mittened hand over her upper face to move hair away, not really as delicate in the operation as I imagined ninety-nine percent of the population would be.

“-The schtick is ‘you mess with the bull, get the horns’.  Curved spikes of light.  Spear you like a- like a spear.  And carry you back and away.  Impales you to a wall with one spike then stabs you ten times with the other, or he just pushes you back out and away.  Extends the spike out past the horizon.”

“Endless range?” I asked.

“Twenty-five feet.  But once he gets you, it’s endless.”

“Cretan and Lionwing are there, but they aren’t stepping up,” Tattletale observed.  “They’re sticking close to Cradle.  Closer relationship.  They’re actually loyal.”

The conversation between Moose and Prancer was wrapping up.

The pair broke apart, but instead of Moose returning to us and Prancer going to the station where Bluestocking’s group was maintaining watch, it was the other way around.

Fifteen of us and three dogs were gathered, and all were silent, but for the labored breathing from Tattletale.

“Bluestocking hoped you’d resolve the issue in the background, come back, and go away.  Not bring it to her literal doorstep,” Prancer said.

“Her house?” Tattletale asked, jerking her head.  The one we were camped out by.

Prancer gave her a long look.  In the gloom, his eyes seemed bright, his attention clearly on the gravity of Tattletale’s injury.


“Forget- forget I asked,” Tattletale said.

“She’ll help,” Prancer said.  “She wants concessions.”

Concessions?” I asked.  “We’ve fucking sailed past the place where the line used to be drawn, where people put their shit aside because fuck no.”

“She’ll help,” Prancer said, voice firm.  “But if you don’t want some asshole  villain pulling a mutiny and taking over, giving you a repeat performance of all of this in a few months or a year, she needs to give her people something.  You need to give her something to give her people.”


“No.  Special status for the Rows.  You do what you can to convince the mayor, make sacrifices, pull favors, whatever.  Mayor knows what we’ve been asking for.”

“We know,” Harbinger One said.  “It’s come up.  All of the benefits of being part of the city and none of the costs.  Open trade, loosened restrictions on goods despite being an alternate world with health risks and quarantine.  No taxes, but access to the library net.  It’s a hard sell.”

“Thank you,” I said.  Context.

Tattletale gasped out a response, “Establishes her place on the- shortlist of people who control economy.  Second rung.”

My mom folded her arms, leaning in close to whisper something to my dad.

I knew her well enough to guess what.  In fact, on thinking about what she was probably saying, I could extrapolate.  She loathed giving the villains what they wanted.  If we couldn’t stop them, we could keep them from scoring a win.

I knew why that idea had rung so true, and why it had been something she’d clung to and repeated more often in recent years.  She’d watched us give our hometown to villains, inch by inch, the perceived idea the Protectorate and Wards had given Lung territory because he was too dangerous to uproot, and that heroes had conceded it to Undersiders.

Because she’d given a villain what he wanted and expected once, and took a child into her home.  And that home had been sundered.

“What happens if we can’t convince the mayor?” Swansong asked.

“Penalty clause,” Prancer said.  “Two members of Breakthrough join Bluestocking.  They’re at her beck and call, people get to see it.  Six month-”

Gunfire cut him off.

“Foil,” I said.  “Harbingers.  Get MYOSHA and Prong.”

The Harbingers approached one corner of the building.  Foil went to the other, jostling Rain aside, borrowed slingshot in hand.

“Tried to stir them up,” Rain said, rejoining us now that Foil had taken his place.  “Got two groups hanging back, one’s backed up to go talk to Cradle.”

“Which?” Tattletale asked.

“Chugalug and a guy with a white hood, sword, robey sort of look.  Second guy went.”

“Condemner,” Tattletale said.  “Not hanging back.  He’s a thinker and sound blaster… can communicate messages.  He’s listening in, communicating something between Cradle and Blue.  You’ll want to stop him.”

I want to stop all of them.

“Well fucking great,” Rain said.  He visibly stopped himself, visibly forcing himself to relax.  Capricorn set a scalemail glove on his shoulder.

The noises of the fighting were escalating.  What had been an initial spatter of gunfire was being answered.

“What do I tell Blue?” Prancer asked.  “Yes or no?”

“Tell her if she accepts some leeway, gets maybe one of us on loan as a penalty clause, fine, I’ll try to make it happen.  Also, tell her I said fuck her.  Not-”

An eruption of MYOSHA’s power sent debris flying.  Most of that debris was paper thin, but it stirred into the air.

Prancer was adopting his breaker form.  He nodded, and he ducked low as he slipped around the corner, sliding beneath the raised platform, too small to be a porch, by one front door.  He sprung up on the other side, hurdling a vehicle, heading to the station.

Byron’s power produced a flood of water.  I wasn’t in a position to see, my back to the wall and everything that was going on, more of my attention on the station, but I saw the constellation change, dots and lines becoming flowing water, I felt the fine mist of droplets that wind or clashing sprays of water sent into the air, and I heard the moment that all gunfire momentarily ceased.

“I shot her in the leg,” Foil reported.  “But her people gathered around her.  I’d shoot them, but-”

But the answering gunfire was more persistent than a slingshot could be.

“She doesn’t need to see where she’s creating the machine splashes,” I said.  “There’s a chance she tries hitting us.”

“Not until there’s a final word from Blue.”

“Which might be now,” I said.  “We move.”

An order, and one people thankfully listened to without bickering or issue.

“Brand,” my dad said, voice low.  “Kick up some dust.  Catch and toss.”

My mom nodded, backing up.  Foil was pulling back because the bullets were too heavy.  My mom ducked beneath the firing line of Foil’s slingshot as Foil aimed at the corner of the building.

Her power wasn’t Shadow Stalker’s, from back in Brockton Bay.  It went through everything, yes.  Shadow Stalker could do something similar.  But it left a hole, where Shadow Stalker’s hadn’t.  One shot, then two- it created an aperture with the same diameter as the bullet.

I could understand why Foil would be reluctant to put holes that big in something she was using for cover, especially with the concentration of gunfire.

I handed her the gun I’d taken.  I saw the moment of reservation, knew exactly what she was thinking, but she took the weapon.

My dad created glowing orbs.  he threw one to my mother, tossing another around the corner.  My mother caught and threw the orb, tossing it around her corner.

They were heavy detonations, pitched to cut into the earth, to kick up dirt, dust, and moisture.  A shower of mud and moisture.

Visual cover, but when it came to the bullets, there were too many.  I didn’t trust the Wretch and I had the impression the dogs would just get gunned down.

The front landing that Prancer had gone under.  A three-foot by three-foot square of wooden boards with perforated metal textured for walking laid over top.

I had to step out into danger to get to it, though.

I made use of the cover and I flew low enough to the ground that the Wretch cut grooves into the ground.  My own cloud of kicked-up mud and ice followed behind me.

A bullet clipped the Wretch, striking the very same hand that Cradle’s power had clipped.  Much like my mom’s ball had been cut and then was intact after the fact, my own power had recovered when it had been knocked out and turned back on.

But I was left momentarily exposed, my back to the enemy, nearly blind in the loose rain of flecks of mud.

I flew to the underside of the square-shaped porch, my back hugging it, and the moment the Wretch returned, I used her to haul it up and away from the wall.

It was connected well enough that one plank was left affixed to the base of the door.  The rest came apart in more or less one piece.

A shield, impractical in dimension, but it was a way to shield others just a bit more reliably than the Wretch could.

“Tenor of the fight changed,” Tattletale was saying, back at the main group.  “Someone accepted someone’s deal.”

Had it?  I’d been busy with property damage.  I flew to a position where I could guard the others, head ducked down, Wretch clinging to my ‘shield’ that had to weigh a hundred and fifty pounds.  I felt the first bullets strike it, impacts harder than the swing of a baseball bat, but diffuse enough it didn’t crack the Wretch.  I knew I was buying seconds, because the Wretch was digging into the cracks between the thick boards and the posts that framed it, crushing and stabbing into metal.

People used the dogs, far too many hanging onto the side or riding on top, heads ducked low.  I flew up higher to shield better.

My mom was one of the last to make a break for new cover.  She took running footsteps, then turned into the ball shape, just a little under waist-height, an orange-red hue in bright, color that seemed dissonant for the environment, like neon signage in woodlands.

Something exploded, smaller than a grenade, more focused.  It interrupted the rolling.  She stopped dead in her tracks.  Sitting in the midst of exposed road.

Not something I was unfamiliar with.  I flew to her, ready to kick her, but in the last second, she changed back.  With only the imperfect cover of my ‘shield’ protecting her, she ran to the others.

Putting us further from the woman I’d mentally nicknamed Red, MYOSHA, who was presumably immobile.

Bluestocking’s group was out.  Birdbrain, Crested, some underlings, and then the pairing of Bitter Pill and Bluestocking.

Tattletale said something.  I didn’t catch it, given distance and how quiet her voice was.

MYOSHA hit one of the buildings closest to the treeline.  I could see people cast into the air, flipping head over heels, amid the pieces of wood, the prefab segments of houses that had been fit together, and chunks of concrete.  A giant iron container of what looked like molten metal was at the center of it all, and that container tipped as it sloped back into the ground.

Where the molten liquid touched puddles and condensation, it exploded, sending sparks flying, the resulting reaction so bright it could have been a flashbang, the crackling and fizzling deafening.

I heard a grunt of pain.

“Who!?” I heard, in a voice that could only be Ashley’s, imperious, accusatory.

“Saving your life!” my mom shouted back.

There was a detonation.  One of my dad’s grenades.

“Victoria!” my dad said, in a very ‘dad’ voice.  “To me!”

I flew to the sound of his voice, even while the entire world seemed to dissolve into a blinding white that made the backs of my eyes and the front of my brain hurt.

He touched me, grabbing me by the shoulders, and turned me forward.  “Forcefield on!”

I had to pull out of his grip, moving to a place I had to hope was safe and out of the reach of the others, before I used my forcefield.

“Bluestocking attacked us,” my mom said.

One arm shielding my eyes, I could see the white fading, and every line and shadow that returned to the world brought a lot of pain with it.  The others were down, Swansong and Damsel pushed into the dirt, Capricorn standing in front of Rain, and it was my parents who stood tall with eyes open in the glare.

The little benefits of powers, like Byron’s cold resistance and my relative resilience to emotion powers.

I could see the general silhouette of the station, and of the people on the landing.  Dark shapes against a dark background, my vision filled with afterimages and spots, with Capricorn lines and Subside’s sparks, and the fallout that was cascading down around the entire town, from MYOSHA’s liquid metal spill.

“Watch out!” my father called out.

I felt the Wretch go down, and I had no idea why.  I lost the strength I needed to hold up the shield and protect my back from the distant munitions.  I wasn’t even positive it would matter.

“Do I move!?” I asked.

“No!” my mom ordered.  My dad gave the opposite response, “Charge in!  Hit them before-”

“No!” was another voice in the jumble.  There were shouts, questions, most from people who couldn’t see much better than I could.

“Get your mom in there, charge in yourself, they’re using powers!”

I could see the glow of my dad’s grenades forming in his hands.  I saw my mother’s silhouette as she caught the grenades she was handed, the glow as she became a ball again.

“No!” again, I heard the voice.  It stood out from imperious words, complaints, and questions because it was meek.

No, not meek.

“Don’t throw!” I ordered my dad.

Something heavy hit the wall of the new house we were using for cover from the massed soldiers and capes in Cradle’s contingent, striking above heads and sending debris down onto Chastity, Cassie, and the Harbingers.  Chunks of concrete larger than a fist, one chunk even larger than that.

“Why not, Tattletale?  Rachel, can you hear what she’s saying?”

“It’s not an attack,” Rachel translated, voice tight.  “It feels like being attacked!”

“Water?” Byron asked.

“Tattletale says no,” Rachel translated.

“Clarify!” I shouted.

Something hit me again.  The Wretch went down.  Another chunk of concrete, this time aimed my way.  Again, I lost my strength, my feet hitting ground, my entire body, strained and tortured as it was, bearing the full weight of the posts, planks, and textured cover of metal.

“Hostage!” Rachel huffed.  “Paris!”

I was already flying before she added the second half of her statement, abandoning my shield, because it was too unwieldy for a dangerous situation.

I flew closer to the group.  To my parents, it was Paris and Thud backing the rest of Bluestocking’s group, with Thud hurling rocks and Paris throwing his darts with Thud’s hand pointing over Bluestocking’s shoulder.  Men were hunkered down on either side.

But Tattletale had been right.  This was a hostage situation, and Thud had one hand at the back of Bluestocking’s neck.  Paris had a dart held like a knife at Bitter Pill’s back.

Thud could see despite the residual glare, and he had some sense that I was nearby.

A glass ball shattered in Thud’s eye socket, and in that moment, his eye sockets were riddled with uncoiling wires and glass fragments.   He didn’t seem to mind much, but the scenario bought me a moment to act.  I dove, saw him bring his finger to his eye to pry the wires free, and I changed direction mid-flight.  A twist in the air, leg out, Wretch out-

I slammed my foot into his hand with all the strength I could bring to bear, using flight and rotation in the air.  In the process, I slammed finger into eye socket, all the way to the base of the finger where it met the hand.

It got him to let go of Bluestocking.

Paris had taken a simultaneous shot, but the shot had missed the eye, catching brow, temple, and the ear, wires mangling flesh.

I acted before he could get his composure together enough to lunge forward and drive the dart of disintegration into Bitter Pill’s back.  Wretch-strong, I hit him full in the chest with my arm that didn’t have deep cuts in it.  Sternum and ribs shattered in my hand.

He was laid flat, obviously enough.  I saw him flounder, trying to sit up, immediately and intensely failing, small sounds escaping his mouth.

In his floundering, he created a dart, larger than any I’d seen him make.  I had to wonder if it was reflex, while he was stunned with pain, or if the expression of power was an automatic thing.  In addition to the principle of stronger powers in times of appropriate kinds of stress, there was a tendency for powers to unlock additional capabilities if the situation was dire enough.  Not second triggers, but adaptations to changes in the host’s core physical or mental state.

The Wretch, I had to assume, was that.

Either way, I stomped on his forearm.  There was a chance it was innocent, but I didn’t have any more tolerance for chances.

“Give me one more excuse, and I end you,” I told Paris.

He went limp.  His breaths were wheezes.

“You’d better hope this situation you fucked with doesn’t take too long, or-”

A distant cry – a warning from a parent or teammate.  I saw the heads of Birdbrain and Crested turn.  Crested flicked out a sharp knife, and it became a fan, the fan extending, extending, layer by layer, into one corner of the quarter-circle barrier bit into the station platform, the other corner into the pillar behind Paris.

Thud’s fist slammed hard into the metal, denting it a matter of a foot from where my face was.

The dent didn’t touch me, but the impact did.  A punch as heavy as any I’d taken directly, catching me while I wasn’t relying on the Wretch, due to my proximity to Crested and Crested shielding me.  I felt pain rock through me, whole-body, every wound I had amplified, and a sharper pain marked my head hitting the ground.  I heard Crested fall, his barrier collapsing, saw a glimpse of what might have been the three B’s -Bluestocking, Birdbrain, and Bitter Pill- falling over.

Thud fucking indeed.

My thoughts weren’t lined up exactly right as I tried to pull myself together.  I flew back, and an uncharacteristic bout of motion sickness nearly sank me.

But Thud was lifting up a foot, to stomp on me like I’d done to Paris.

I flew up, and even that movement wasn’t without its wobble.

The impact of the stomp rippled out, kicking up just about every loose particle on the station platform, on the ground beyond the platform, and everything around my team, who were still huddled together.  They all fell, sprawling.

Thud didn’t bleed, but there was a hole where his eye was supposed to be, and his expression, frozen in ceramic, was twisted around the edges, his face unchanging, the slimy fibers that connected the ceramic-like plates more tense and strained than I’d seen them.

He was distracted, at least for a moment, by Paris’s cry of pain.  The stomp had jostled him, and he wasn’t in a state to be jostled.

I had help coming now, and Birdbrain was backing up, gun leveled at Thud.

Her shots weren’t aimed at killing, but at disabling.  Three out of the four hit the meaty flesh between ceramic plates.

He didn’t slow down.  He lunged forward, and it was a weird lunge, a fast initial movement, yes, but the fast didn’t taper off.  He ran over Bluestocking’s group, clotheslining them and possibly breaking a collarbone, shoulder, or two.

I flew at him, kicking.  He was keeping an eye out for me, though, and turned, arm moving to strike my leg aside.  I tucked it in, knees close to my chest, and avoided him instead.

The way he moved- that was a precise turn for a guy moving a lot of weight.  A precise movement of the arm, stopping just where he needed it.

Kinetic extension.  Every impact or movement carried… maybe exactly as far as he wanted it.  Every hit, kick- they involved shockwaves, either directed or rippling out.  It exaggerated how he carried himself.

He chased me, with those abrupt movements that saw him almost sliding into me, a train or truck that needed only acceleration, his ability providing him the means to accelerate through it.

I did what I could to keep him distracted and occupied, and used Paris’s body as a means to limit his movements.  He stopped short of trampling Paris, and seemed upset that he had to.

Others were coming to help.  Damsel and Swansong, their powers flaring.  Chastity followed.  Damsel and Swansong didn’t move in coordination, but more out of a kind of competition, each trying to outdo the others, to move further, faster, and more frenetically.  They zig-zagged across each other’s paths to cut one another off and somehow they were more scary in this than they’d been as two wolves in a pack on their hunt, as I’d seen briefly, just a little while ago.

My goal was keeping him from trampling the local villains.

“Blue!” I shouted, as I threw myself forward, slamming my elbow into his shoulder, “you’re going to give me some serious slack on that deal we’re striking!”

“We were in danger because we agreed!” Bluestocking shouted back.  “Part of the deal!”

Thud backhanded me and the Wretch hard enough to send us rocketing at a downward angle.  Flight kept me from hitting the ground, as I steered up in time, but it didn’t keep me from colliding with the wall.

I could have charged in, but the reinforcements were here.

Damsel went high, Swansong went low, her peg-leg skidding on the concrete as her blast carried her forward.  She reached ahead, and Thud slid backward.  To where Damsel was, and to where Chastity was just now running up to the base of the stairs.

He clapped, the sound sharp, harder and sharper because of the composition of his hands.  His power carried the shockwave out, impacting me, the Ashleys, Chastity, Bluestocking’s group, and just about everyone that was defending the settlement, from my team to the sketchy local citizens that had taken up arms.  We all doubled over, wincing.

While people reeled, he stomped his way toward Chastity, his stomps rattling the area.

Swansong lunged, Damsel using her power in the same moment.  The lunge wasn’t as effective as it could be, as her peg foot skidded on the material of the portal station platform, but she compensated for it by moving her hands down, sending herself higher up.  There was a moment where she was airborne but not using her blast, high enough up that she stood to hurt herself on landing.

I went low, taking the cue I’d observed earlier.  Wretch strength and bulk let me crash into his legs and actually move them.

Crested did what he could, which was absolutely the wrong thing, because Crested created a shield to limit Thud’s movements.  Knife became a convex barrier, and Thud hit the barrier.

The shockwave, in turn, hit all of us.

Etna and Crested had to have gone to fuckup academy for villains.

Letting them out of the prison cell had to be the biggest mistake I’d made.

“Hey!” Damsel barked, voice pitched to be heard.  “Big guy!”

He turned to look at her.  Her blast had been to carry her along the concrete pad that the fancier station building rested on, and her destination had been Paris.  Now she held pointed fingers to Paris’s throat.

Thud paused.  It looked for a moment like he intended to fight on, pressing forward even though we had a hostage.  Then he relaxed.

Another shot struck his intact eye.  This one didn’t catch the eye socket and send metal wire out into the other external bits.  It simply sank in, then detonated.

He screamed, his mouth remaining frozen where it was, while the slick yellow-green muscle fibers across his neck and shoulders parted, the gaps vibrating with the passage of the sound from within him.

I’d taken one eye, was that somehow license to the Harbinger to take another?  What had Citrine sent to me?  Worse, what did it say that she was okay employing little monsters like this?  Did she use them in this kind of capacity?

Thud didn’t stop, and he swung and stomped madly now, cracking the concrete and spreading the effect.  He heard distant voices and lunged toward them with the same movement trick, only to stumble where the platform ended.

Chastity ran toward him, and he seemed to hear the footsteps.  He turned on her.

I flew to the side.  “Thud, Paris!”

I wasn’t sure why I shouted the names, but I wanted his attention, and I felt like people reacted to their names and the names of people they were fond of to any degree.

He did turn.  He swung a fist out, pure rage and recklessness, but Chastity ducked the part of it that would have clipped her.  She sprung up, stepping onto his knee, and leaped up to a height where she could hit his face.

A backhand slap knocked him out cold.  Chastity stumbled with the awkward step down as his bulk toppled forward, pressing against her.

“Losing your edge, sister,” Damsel said, smug.

Stop,” I told her.  “No.”

Swansong gave me a long look, but she didn’t say anything, her lips shut, the hood of my costume hugging her head with the general damp that had set in, no doubt from Byron’s activities.  I lent her a shoulder to help her limp forward.

The fires had spread as a result of the shower of sparks from MYOSHA’s power.  The fires, in turn, illuminated the rise of Cretan’s maze.  Buildings folded and twisted, ground rose and fell, and the effect rose up skyscraper high around where Cretan no doubt was, with other areas catching up.

“You want that favor?” I asked Bluestocking, my hand at my ear, “Now’s the time to earn it.”

She gave me a very unimpressed look, but she did give Bitter Pill a push on the shoulder.  Bitter Pill put one pill into a pocket, then lifted a piece of plastic to her mouth, a candy dispenser shaped like a woman wreathed in skin, tubes running from the folds to her nose and mouth.  The head was levered back, depositing a liquid jet into Bitter Pill’s mouth.

Crested started forward.  I wanted to say ‘not you’, but he’d really only had one strike so far, and it had been well-intentioned.

“I’ll rally the others who are too chickenshit to jump in on their own,” Bluestocking said.  “Send wounded to me.  I’m certified.”

“As a?”


I nodded.  I was leery of parahuman healers, but this sounded more along the lines of conventional medicine, given a helping hand.

“He’s threatening to lock us all in,” Bluestocking said.  “He had one of his hirelings reach out to me as a creepy whispergram.  Don’t fuck this up.”

Swansong raised her eyebrows at me, but she didn’t say a word.

I turned to walk away without a response.  Swansong leaned heavily into me, limping.  We passed Chastity, who looked a little shell shocked, and a lot intimidated by the maze that was unfolding.

The other kids had been hurt in a maze like that, if I remembered right.  Chastity’s sisters and ‘cousins’.

“You good?” I asked her, pretty sure I knew what the answer might be.

“Hanging back,” Chastity said.  “Bruised my hip there, leg’s wobbly, and I don’t think I can run.”

Swansong made an amused sound.  I pointed a finger at her, stern.

“Okay,” I said.  “Keep an eye on things here?”

She nodded, smiling slightly.

It wasn’t the best excuse in the world, but Chastity had done her part, and if she kept from being hurt, then Thud would stay down.

She observed while Bluestocking went to Paris’s side, absently rubbing at her hip.


“Careful with your power,” Swansong said, as we reached the edge of the effect.  She was talking to Damsel, by the angle of her head.  “Capricorn said things are tricky here.”

“You be careful.  I have control,” Damsel said.

Oh geez.

We split up, taking different paths, with Damsel going high, over a building that was looking a little crooked.  Swansong stuck with me.

The soldiers were filtering into the maze, and I could see some by the weird geometry of the space, flashlights mounted on guns, masks and gas masks on.

Uneven ground, an enclosed space, and men with guns spreading out through the area.

They were doing it with an ease and focus that made me really concerned that they had done drills or practiced this.

And one of those squads was Cretan’s, who would be that much better at this.

Cradle’s mech crashed through a building, maze and all.  Cradle wasn’t on it.  It reached forward, and the distortion made the arm and fingers bend at right angles.  They dug into grass and dirt, forcing Sveta to scramble out of the way.

“What did you do to me!?”

I heard Rain’s response, but I didn’t make out the words.

The voice shook me, because I was pretty sure I knew who it was.  Cradle.  Confronting Rain.

I expected the Undersiders and Breakthrough to be scattered.  It wasn’t the case.  Cradle had done what I liked to do in certain situations, when I was fighting something or someone bigger.  Throwing myself into the midst of it all and using my enemy’s disorganization and shock against them.  A lot of powers and weapons couldn’t be used in that situation if someone cared about hurting their allies.

The place was a clearing, a square of grass with buildings folded in to form walls, four narrow corridors leading out of the place, and those corridors were lit with explosions and the light from flashlights.  They were boxed in, high walls surrounding them.

Cradle was a matter of feet from Rain, whip-chain out and spinning in a circle, crackling with red electricity.  With soldiers approaching from multiple sides, a lot of the people who could have done something were stuck keeping the soldiers at bay.  My dad, my mom, Capricorn, the dogs, and Foil.  To do otherwise was to be surrounded on three or four sides and gunned down.  Like this, at least, the soldiers and the associated capes were left hiding behind cover.

The percussive explosions from the constant grenades was my dad’s act in this, keeping one ‘corridor’ between buildings inaccessible, pinning down the squadron on the far side of it.  It looked like Mukade’s people.  The initial movements of the centipedes was being shaken, thrown off, and interrupted.

My mom had her weapons out in bright yellow fans.  The fans narrowed into blades when she needed something that would crackle and burn, and expanded out into fan shapes when she wanted something more diffuse.

A sweep of a fan burned one soldier my mom was fighting, making him drop his assault rifle.  She kicked it backward, in the direction of the Harbingers.

Cradle’s glowing line appeared in the path.  The weapon slid right into it, and was cut in two.

Whatever calculations the Harbingers were using, Cradle wasn’t sitting still long enough for them to apply.  He moved here and there, at one moment approaching Rain with arm held high, chain circling overhead, ready to strike down, the other hand pointed at Rain-

“Everything I am!  I was well and I’ve tried to be better, even after all this.  After you.”

“I’ve heard all this before, Cradle.  Every fucking night,” Rain said.

Cradle disappeared, appearing behind Rain.  Rain spun around, swinging with a blade of silver, as the chain whipped toward his head.  A dodge.  A Harbinger changed course, to lunge right for Cradle, only to stop when an ‘x’ of glowing lines appeared between them.  No more slingshot bullets, possibly.  It wasn’t the only fence, either.  There were enough that one good stomp from Thud, were he still standing, would bowl people over and make them fall into the lines.  Not all were easy to see.

I took flight, aiming to go over, and saw Cradle move in the same instant he turned his head my way.  I made myself stop, twisting, as the lines appeared.

Sudden appearance, each one sharper than any blade, and capable of cutting through powered defenses.

“I can see you, Rain,” Cradle intoned.  He moved twice in quick succession, and a gunshot from one of the Harbingers echoed through the area, the bullet ricocheting and hitting a wall.

Maybe a spot he’d figured Cradle would appear at.

The Harbinger moved to reload, and a line appeared as he moved the weapon.  He only grazed it, checked the weapon, then threw it aside, like it was no use.

I kept flying, slow so I wouldn’t run into anything terminal, forcing Cradle to devote some attention to me.

My dad paused in his constant bombardment of the alley to hurl one in Cradle’s direction.  Again, Cradle moved.  Almost too slow.  He was too distracted.

And the maneuver cost my dad.  Mukade’s centipedes encircled the corridor, coiling in a quadruple-helix around the alley, braced against the sides so no grenade could redirect or disturb them.

Swansong used her power, vaulting over the scene.

More lines appeared in her path.  She used her blast to hurl herself to one side, for a rough landing.

There’s a certain distance these things have to be from us.  But they’re still more dangerous than any weapon on this battlefield.

Swansong hurried to my dad’s side, her blasts aimed at the centipede.  The blast made her slip.

“Brace her!” I ordered my dad.  I was dealing with my own mess.  The lines were being concentrated on me, hemming me in, and trying to put me into a position where I couldn’t move without touching one.  I saw a route and took a risk, hands going over my head as I dove down, my body as narrow as possible, slipping through a gap.  I landed somewhat violently, and the cut in my leg seized up with pain.

Already, more lines barred my way.

My dad to the north, my mom to the west, Rachel and Cassie to the east, and Foil to the south.  Foil had a gun, and it didn’t look like the one I’d handed her, but she looked like she was struggling, and it was hard to pin down why.  Injury?  Stress?  Capricorn was closest to my mom and Rain, drawing out a diagram.  He ducked and pushed my mom as Cradle appeared, swiping.

My mom turned into an orb, then turned back, getting her feet back under her.  A flicker, not unlike Cradle’s, but one that left her in the same spot.

“Now!” my mom called out, moving to the side, her back to the wall just by the corner, her weapons extended out in front of her.

Byron’s water forced the soldiers who’d been encroaching in back.  The slope was downhill, and the water effective.  They’d paired up for that position for a reason.

Cradle’s voice was haunting, become it carried, and it came from different places even midway through a word.  “I can see you so clearly.  You think you’re better.”

“I don’t, but-”

“You do.  I see it.  All of the weak points.  The flaws, the stains.  You actually think you’re better.”

“I don’t, but I know I’m still fucking better than you!” Rain roared.  He struck out with the silver blade, too short a weapon compared to Cradle’s lengthy whip.

Cradle appeared close, whipping out.  Rain’s reaction was too slow.

An eruption of Byron’s power and a splash of water extended his way.  Cradle shifted to one side, the whip still moving, and then shifted just in time as the water became stone.  A loose spike of stone that stabbed up from a point just to Rain’s left.

Tristan collapsed, swayed, and then sagged.  There was no revision back.

Byron had seen it as an emergency.

“The difference between us is that I overcame what I am.  Then association with you knocked me all the way down, and made it impossible to be better again.  You… you didn’t overcome what you were until we made you.  Until we influenced you.”

“No.  That’s not true,” Rain said, holding up the silver blade.  He turned rapidly, taking a second or two to find Cradle each time Cradle shifted position.  Lines, angled low and close to the ground, no more than ankle height, surrounded Rain’s feet, forcing each movement to be a quick shuffle.  “Love Lost gave me her tokens.  I know how the bleed works.”

“She managed it,” Cradle said, voice soft amid constant grenade explosions, the shouts of soldiers, and the snarling of dogs.

“What the hell did you try to give me, and what the hell are you?”

“I’ll show you what I’m giving you,” Cradle intoned.

The mech came bounding down from a high place, whips slicing down.  Cradle moved to be atop it as it came down, then moved to higher ground.

I flew to Rain, skimming past a line that appeared in my way.  I caught his hand, pulled rather than lift or push.  The hand-mech was two fists and two more hands as back legs, the fists coming down where Rain had been.

That wasn’t where it stopped.  It had no reason to pause or hesitate, and it acted on its own, a hand lunging toward my mom.  My mom who had no Capricorn, and who was too busy with the soldiers in the alley between two buildings to even turn around or go ball-form.

I let Rain fall, and I put myself in the hand’s way, Wretch active, pushing back as it pushed.

A mess of limbs against a mess of limbs.

My mom started forward, to assist, or to cut at joints.

“No!” I ordered.  “Get-”

I felt the sick impact, and I couldn’t even stop to react to it, because there wasn’t a moment to spare, nor an inch of ground to be given.

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151 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.8”

      1. Also I’m a little sorry-not-sorry to say Paris getting his sternum and ribs cracked gave me that satisfaction that didn’t feel as bad as it should.

    1. The tension in here was killer— my heart was legit thudding. And that was before the final confrontation.

      I have never been so terrified for Rain.

  1. See Victoria this is why you should tell people your forcefield has changed. Otherwise they think they can get within a couple feet of you and be safe!

  2. Damn, Cradle is a complete monster, arrogant and annoying just like Goddess, whose only purpose is to kill Rain, because he “destroyed” his life. His only purpose is more than obvious in this chapter, so he doesn’t have any other unknown or hidden ore noble reasons for his fucked up actions, like some people believed him to have. Man, if Carol will die, Victoria will kill this monster without any hesitation, not carrying anymore if he’s the only one who can fix her allies, if he’s forced to do it. And he deserves to die, he deserves more than ever to die if he’ll kill Carol. As much as I don’t like her too much, she’s a heroine, she’s Victoria’s mother and her death will be extremely painful for Victoria (despite their divergences).
    Stop considering Harbingers “little monsters”, Victoria. Be a little grateful to them. Without them, your enemies would have kicked your ass during this fight. They did what was necessary and good in this situation.
    Paris is still alive, fuck, but severely injured, which is more than great.

    1. Wildbow is awesome for making me hate Cradle and Paris with every passing chapter. His villains are so inhuman and evil and fucked up, yet GREAT villains. If they can stir so much hate from readers, then they’re truly great. Nobody creates more heatable villains than Wildbow and GRRM.

      1. Cradle reminds me of Lex Luthor. Probably because I watched Supergirl for John Cyrer playing him the other night. But it’s the same blaming everything on his arch nemesis, refusing to admit it’s really him. Seriously, you just need to have him calling Rain “Superman” and that could fit some of Luthor’s rants. And that’s actually a pretty good fit in a lot of ways. Cradle just can’t face the fact that in the end, Rain’s the better person.

        1. It would destroy his entire self-narrative to do admit that, and while that is a huge first step toward real emotional and personal growth, the initial pain of facing the fact that you’ve been wrong all your life is nothing to sneer at.

    2. Victoria accidentally killed (or injured) her mother with Wretch. Cradle hit Victoria and her Wretch possible killed Carol, something like this. Anyway, you’re right about Cradle. He’s now someone who have no qualms to kill heroes and he deserves to be crushed like a bug he’s. He went too fucking far for any chance to be captured alive. He broke all the old rules, he’s incredible powerful and psychotic and he wants not just to kill Rain but everyone else in his way.
      As for Harbingers, this is Victoria we’re talking about. She judges really helpful people for mutilating super-villains when she’s doing the same thing, sometimes worse. Classical Victoria.

      1. Oh, God, no, poor Carol. Yes, she was kind of a bitch, but she still doesn’t deserve a death like this, killed by her own daughter, even accidentally. Well, the good thing is that Victoria, if she’ll get the chance to defeat Cradle, will stop saying to him something like “Give me one more excuse, and I end you,” and will crush his skull instead. The other good thing, if Carol is only injured, there might be a slight chance for Victoria to ask for Amy’s help and finally make peace with her. I can only hope.

        1. “Because she’d given a villain what he wanted and expected once, and took a child into her home. And that home had been sundered.”
          Considering how Victoria seems to feel about Amy, it’s gonna take a lot more than Carol nearly dying and Amy fixing it. It wasn’t Marquis who fucked up Amy after all.

          1. Yes, you’re right. I have doubts too Victoria will ever forgive Amy (my opinion about what Amy did to Victoria is that: Amy acted under a lot of emotional stress when she genuinely wanted to heal Victoria but her stress, inner turmoil and her shard influence made Victoria like she was two years ago. Amy didn’t wanted to unmade Vic like this, is was just a very messy and sad happening and she doesn’t deserve to be blamed for that). However I blame Amy for refusing to fix her mistake right after she realized what she did and preferring to go to Birdcage instead). However, I’m expecting that at least Victoria will tolerate Amy’s presence and accept her help.

          2. > However I blame Amy for refusing to fix her mistake right after she realized what she did and preferring to go to Birdcage instead

            Remember that she chose to go to the Birdcage only after she realized that she forgot how to change Victoria back. See Carol’s interlude in arc 15 of Worm for details.

            Amy only figured out how to do it when she was already imprisoned there. Her entire fault was that she didn’t change Victoria back as soon as she could, like Tattletale told her to, but it is somewhat understandable considering that Amy thought that she will likely never see her sister again after Victoria returns home. After all, Amy decided to run away from her home, after she broke her rules with her father and Victoria.

          3. Another thing is that during those few days Amy spent alone with Victoria, she was supposedly not quite herself, but “possessed” by her shard. It would explain how she later found so much in common with Riely and Jamie Rinke, or why Ciara saw her as an equal. Amy’s shard definitely seems to be like one of those “strong” ones, likely to influence their hosts, and if I remember correctly there was a WoG which pretty much confirmed that this is precisely what happened to Amy during those few days she was alone with her sister.

        2. > Oh, God, no, poor Carol. Yes, she was kind of a bitch, but she still doesn’t deserve a death like this, killed by her own daughter, even accidentally.

          Don’t despair! There could be plenty of ways for Carol to survive it. From something as straightforward as the Wretch stopping Cradle’s mech and breaking in the process before Carol comes in contact with it, to something as surprising as Carol getting pulled away at the last moment by that terrifying Garotte.

          1. There is even a possibility that the Wretch will simply remain perfectly still, and do nothing to Carol. It has displayed the ability to do so, at least for a few seconds at a time. If that happens the worst that Carol could experience would be an equivalent of running into an invisible boulder. Oddly shaped, and possibly a bit sharp in places, but still just a boulder.

      2. > As for Harbingers, this is Victoria we’re talking about. She judges really helpful people for mutilating super-villains when she’s doing the same thing, sometimes worse. Classical Victoria.

        Yup. “I’d taken one eye, was that somehow license to the Harbinger to take another?” That’s some SERIOUS mental acrobatics here. I’m not the one to condemn Harbingers’ actions here, but I’d definitely ask Victoria if she wants to keep all the fun to herself, now that she had taken some lessons from ex-S9 members.

    3. I actually feel kind of sorry for him. I know what it’s like (on a much smaller and less traumatic scale) to have your carefully constructed facade of neurotypicality and ordinary executive function evaporate in a single instant.

      Like, not *that* sorry, since he decided torture, murder, and criminal conspiracy were his fallback coping strategies, but hey.

      1. Yes, I feel sorry for Ryan too, he tried to be a better person despite his sociopathy, only to have a bunch of fanatical religious assholes turning him into the obsessed and destructive monster he’s now. I can see this Cradlestein as Fallen’s indirect creation. They give this monster to the world and now plenty of people suffer as consequences of their action. At least Rain was sorry for what he did BUT he also contributed at Cradlestein’s creation. And now he have to face his own creation.

        1. I don’t think he tried being a better person for the sake of being better.
          But for the sake of having an easier time through life. It’s entirely selfish.
          Don’t feel too sorry for him, unless you wish to be exploited for all you’re worth.

          1. He tried being a better person. The first time he concluded he wasn’t rewarded for it, he stopped, and started making excuses.

          2. grin,
            No, he tried being selfish in a long-term way.
            That’s all any of us do, really.
            Put a woman between her starving kids, and you’ll see what we’re really like.
            Selfishness, piss and vinegar.

            Sheep like to say that people “can be better” — it’s a defense mechanism, because they don’t want to think about their blindspots (and nobody likes admitting that wolves exist, unless they’re a wolf themselves).

      2. Meh. The thing with March was pretty bad, but that was mostly to get other people out of the way, and March was debatably going to do it anyway.

        Cradle seems like he wants to yell at Rain just as much as he wants to kill him, if not more.

        This IS negotiating, balls to the wall and with a gun in both sides’ hands.

        I like it.

        Cradle isn’t inherently a murderer. He understands the waste, and is understandably pissed off at Rain. (Someone pushes you back to the place where your life was darkest? Yeah, that’s a bad day).

  3. Does anyone see the footprints of Rain’s maxed-out LL power in this chapter? I don’t see anything obvious, though there are some possibilities.

    1. He’s messing with whole groups of people, not just individuals. But mostly we’re away from him, so it’s less visible.

    2. This bit:

      > “Condemner,” Tattletale said. “Not hanging back. He’s a thinker and sound blaster… can communicate messages. He’s listening in, communicating something between Cradle and Blue. You’ll want to stop him.”
      > I want to stop all of them.
      > “Well fucking great,” Rain said. He visibly stopped himself, visibly forcing himself to relax. Capricorn set a scalemail glove on his shoulder.

      That stood out to me as a definite reference to Love Lost-powered angry Rain. The tight anger as well as the fact that Byron is basically trying to help defuse his slow burn.

  4. If someone has to die to prove this is serious, I vote for Carol, yeah. It could be an excuse to visit Amy too.

    This whole scene was awesome, and it was especially nice to see Antares smash Paris.

  5. I wonder if the force Brandish got hit with smashed her against more than the Wretch, or launched her down the alleyway?

    Either way, Antares going for the major – to – crippling injuries, all the while chastizing the Harbingers in her head.. the slight and understandable hypocrisy really cracks me up.

    Sassy Victoria will forever have some of my favorite inner-dialogue lines. “fuckup academy for villains” literally made me laugh out loud – priceless!

    Seriously excited for Saturday’s chapter, this is a showdown that has been long in the making, and I am really curious to see how badly things really are. Excellent chapter as always!

  6. I honestly expected Cradle to answer at Rain’s question “What the hell did you try to give me, and what the hell are you?” with “I’m your worst nightmare. Muhahahahaha.” (but that would be something like a generic villain would say and Cradle is too much of a monster to bother to act like a generic villain).

    1. “asshole villain”
      Extra space.

      “Six month-””
      Probably can’t cut someone off from finishing saying the ‘s’ here, even with gunfire.

      1. … Forgot to label as typo thread, and misclicked the reply target. Hitting new lows every month.

        @lulu: Sorry ’bout the unintended hijack.

        1. Lol, I thought that you’re correcting my own typos and I was puzzled for a bit because I couldn’t find any of the typos you’re talking about, neither the respective words in any of my comments. Its ok now, thank you for unintentionally making me laugh.

        2. More typos, and such:

          > he threw one to my mother, tossing another around the corner.

          Change ‘he’ to ‘He’.

          > I made use of the cover and I flew low enough to the ground that the Wretch cut grooves into the ground.

          Maybe change the second instance of “the ground” to “it”?

          > Cradle’s voice was haunting, become it carried, and it came from different places even midway through a word.

          Change ‘become’ to ‘because’?

          Also not quite a typo, but still something that looks like an error:

          > I felt the first bullets strike it, impacts harder than the swing of a baseball bat, but diffuse enough it didn’t crack the Wretch.

          What?! Impacts harder than the swing of a baseball bat?! What sorts of guns are they using, and how come the recoil didn’t break their hands or shoulders or at least knock them to the ground?! Were those guns capable of automatic fire? Does Newton’s third law of motion mean nothing in this universe anymore, or is it some mounted weapon or tinkertech? I would need to look up some numbers and make some calculations to be absolutely sure, but to me it certainly doesn’t feel like fire coming from something like an assault rifle a human could handle.

          1. base town (is this correct? base town doesn’t seem to be a thing)
            asshole villain > asshole villain (extra space)
            visibly stopped himself, visibly (two ‘visibly’s. is this intentional?)
            extending, extending, > extending,

          2. Oh, and regarding that “impacts harder than the swing of a baseball bat” I doubt they could be from anything heavier than an assault rifle, because it felt like they were some very high caliber projectiles with no sharp tip, they would probably go straight through Victoria’s improvised shield (unless the shield was much more solid than I imagined it).

            Sorry for wasting so much space on this little thing, but I’m almost allergic to this aspect of “Hollywood physics”.

          3. Ok, I’ve done some calculations, and it would appear that maybe my initial reaction wasn’t quite justified. I calculated momentum (you want momentum for inelastic collisions, like the collision of a bullet with Victoria’s shield, because kinetic energy is not preserved in those) of a AK-47 bullet (which have masses of about 7.9 g) at muzzle velocity (about 710 m/s), which gave me momentum of a little over 5.6 kg*m/s.

            A baseball has a mass of about 145 g. Looking through Internet I’ve found that average pitching speeds of high school players (let’s go with that to avoid calculations for particularly strong baseball bat swings) can range from 60 to 85 mph. A swing with a bat changing baseball’s momentum by 5.6kg*m/s can change a velocity of a 145 g ball by no more than about 38.7 m/s, which is a little over 86.6 mph. Barely enough to stop some balls, not to mention send them back in pitcher’s direction…

          4. For heavier rifle bullets used in assault rifles (like 7.62×51mm NATO) we can get a bit higher momentum, but still not even 9 kg*m/s, so not enough to send a 85 mph baseball back to the pitcher at the same speed.

            In conclusion – saying that assault rifle bullets hit “harder than the swing of a baseball bat” seems like a stretch to me, even if not necessarily by that>/em> much.

          5. Oh, and all of those calculations were made with an assumption that the bat has only enough momentum to stop in place after sending the ball straight back to the pitcher. Let’s face it – how often is a baseball bat swing that week? Looks like those bullets hitting the shield harder than a baseball bat are still firmly in the realm of Hollywood physics after all…

          6. To be fair, Victoria is talking about what it feels like for a person to be hit by a bat. This is an important distinction, because you generally don’t get to hit a person anywhere near as optimally as you hit a baseball. A fighter has to worry about both defense and telegraphing their moves, so they can’t put as much force into their swings as they’d use playing baseball. They also have a much wider range of swings they might need to use, so any practice they’ve done is likely to be more diluted than that of a baseball player who can focus on and perfect a much smaller set. So it’s likely that Victoria’s experiences of being hit by a bat (presuming she’s not just imagining what it might feel like) involved softer blows than those endured by actual baseballs.

            And regarding recoil… you’re just wrong, sorry. Do baseball players typically break their arms when they strike the ball literally as hard as the swing of a baseball bat? Sure, Victoria described it as harder than that, but a 70 kg person stepping off a ledge just 1.23 meters high (a mere half-second drop) will have a momentum of 343 kg*m/s when they hit the ground. That’s several dozen bullets of momentum! Yet, such drops have never broken any of my bones, so clearly momentum is not the end-all be-all. A lot depends on how that momentum is delivered and distributed through your body. Also, the weight of the gun itself matters. If you have two guns with different weights and they both fire the same kind of ammunition, the heavier gun will have softer recoil — the greater mass dampens it.

            In fact, that brings us to a big problem with looking at momentum without considering other factors like kinetic energy. Imagine that 145 g baseball hitting you at 80 mph. Now imagine a 1450 kg car rolling into you with the same momentum. Since the car weighs ten thousand times as much, its velocity is ten thousand times as low: 0.008 mph, or 3.6 mm/s. It’s the same momentum, yet it’s harmless. You can stop it with your bare hands and experience no pain whatsoever. It will feel heavy, but very gentle. Not at all like trying to stop a baseball or a baseball bat. I should know; I stopped a baseball with my thumbnail once. Not fun! Being nuzzled by heavy machines is far more pleasant.

            So, getting back to Victoria, the bullets striking her shield could very well have less momentum than even a suboptimally applied baseball bat and yet still feel like they hit harder because of their high speed. Their delivery of momentum is closer to an impulse than that of a baseball bat.

            Then there’s the fact that this is just an ad hoc description Victoria is giving during the heat of battle at the tail end of a very long night. It’s not like she’s sitting there with a measuring device to determine exactly how much momentum each impact has so that she can punch it into Wolfram Alpha and get some interesting comparisons. She’s giving a spontaneous and subjective description; it’s not meant to be taken 100% literally.

            Besides, I’ve seen more than one real life account of being shot while wearing armor that compared the experience to being struck by a bat, so I don’t think Victoria’s description is unreasonable.

          7. @pizzaisgood

            About your first paragraph. The difference between a player hitting a ball, and someone using a bat to hit a person can work both ways. As long as you are fighting against a person who can defend themselves, you may need to limit how strong your strikes are because of the reasons you’ve mentioned, but once you start hitting someone who is helpless on the ground, or is only passively blocking (for example covering their face with an arm), you can probably allow yourself to strike even stronger than during a game, because you don’t need to worry about hitting a small target at precisely the right moment. Humans who aren’t fighting back are generally easier targers than baseballs.

            As for dropping from a 1.23 meters, a lot depends on how much distance you can use to break your fall. Legs can generally bend much more when you are landing on your feet than shoulders can when take a shock of recoil. I can tell you from unfortunate personal experience that it is entirely possible to break an arm after falling from much lower height, if the arm in question happens to be pointing straight down, and stiff (with elbow not bending to break the fall).

            Also remember that is your rifle is capable of automatic fire, you need to be able to take multiple hits per second (around 10 for typical assault rifles) to your shoulder, and be able to point whatever you are holding in your hands and braced on that shoulder in more or less the same direction the entire time. I can imagine doing it while taking 10 hits with a baseball to the shoulder per second (though even that requires bracing yourself properly, and practice – in other words a correct shooting posture), I somehow fail to imagine doing the same if someone was to give me 10 solid hits with a bat on that shoulder each second.

            As for the car example – it could be rather unpleasant to be hit by that car even at such low speed if I had my back against the wall, and had only enough space to move back as far as a shoulder can go when taking a shock of rifle recoil. You would have to stop almost 1.5 tons of mass over a distance of what, 1-1.5 cm? That translates to something like 4 seconds at this speed. I’m not saying that an average person couldn’t do it, but they would certainly feel it.

            Talking about kinetic energy when discussing inelastic collisions is deceptive, and can lead to wrong conclusions when you are not careful, because kinetic energy is not conserved in such collisions, and while a collision of a bat with a ball is elastic, the other collisions we are considering here (bullet with a shield, rifle with a shoulder) simply aren’t.

            Finally let me give you another way to interpret my calculations. I’ve shown that a baseball moving at 86.6 mph has exactly the same momentum as a AK-47 bullet right after leaving the gun. This means that if I had a ball that is moving at that speed, and with a mass of a regular baseball, but bulletproof just enough to “catch” an AK bullet (not be penetrated by it, but also not letting it ricochet), then a perfectly central hit by such bullet moving in an opposite direction to a ball would be just enough to stop both the bullet and the ball. The shooter of the AK needs to take the same momentum as a hit to his shoulder, and Victoria’s shield would also need to tank the same momentum. So would a catcher, who needs to catch such balls during a game (it doesn’t matter to the catcher that real life baseballs aren’t bulletproof, the result would be the same no matter the material thanks to his glove and the size of the ball).

            Catching a baseball moving at 86.6 mph is easy, right? A shoulder of an AK gunner needs to handle the same momentum for each bullet fired. Not as easy, because a catcher’s hand has more “padding” thanks to the glove, because catcher’s hand may move back further than gunners shoulder if needed, and because the gunner needs to handle 10 such hits per second when firing at full auto, but still manageable. If all of those bullets were fired at Victoria’s shield at point blank the Wretch would need to handle just as much momentum as the gunner, but possibly spread over longer distance (if the bullets would penetrate deeper into the shield than the gunner’s shoulder can move back and/or if the Wretch could move back a bit to take each hit).

            Now imagine the same three collisions, but switch the ball for a bat.

            First – would it really just as easy to catch a good swing of a baseball bat nearly as easily as a baseball itself? I think we can agree that it would feel like much “stronger” hit – meaning that a bat carries more momentum then the ball. Then – could an AK gunner really take 10 that much stronger hits per second to his shoulder and still be able to point his gun more or less in the direction of his target? (I say “more or less”, because full auto with an AK really isn’t that easy to handle.) Why would then a hit from an assault rifle a man can handle to the shield feel like it’s harder than a hit to the same shield with a baseball bat, if the user of such gun can handle it’s recoil.

            I could imagine that a weapon like an anti-tank rifle with a spring in its stock for example (to allow to distribute recoil over something like 10 centimeters) or even a high caliber heavy machine gun with too much “kick” to be fired from anything ligher than a tripod (in other words – not from a shoulder or a hip) to give their bullets a momentum of a good baseball bat swing, but those weapons probably weren’t used against Victoria’s shield, because they would easily penetrate such light cover (unless it was much thicker than I understand from the text), and it clearly didn’t happen here.

          8. Executive summary – a bullet from an assault rifle doesn’t hit harder than a swing of a baseball bat. It hits roughly like a well thrown baseball. On the other hand bullets from heavier guns would likely penetrate Victoria’s shield.

          9. Oh, and if anyone of you think that my argument is wrong just because “thrown baseballs clearly aren’t dangerous to people, but bullets are, so there is something wrong with considering momentum for all those collisions” then I’d like to:
            – reiterate that momentum is conserved in all collisions, while kinetic energy for example – only in perfectly elastic collisions,
            – a collision of a rifle bullet with human flesh definitely isn’t elastic,
            – bullets, unlike baseballs, penetrate human flesh because they are small and pointed.

            Still don’t believe me? Here is a thought experiment. Imagine a big nail, for example 7.62 mm thick – like an AK bullet, and long enough to weigh 145 g – like a baseball. Imagine that this nail is going in your direction, with its sharp end pointed straight at you, at a speed of 86.6 mph – faster than cars usually allowed to move on public roads.

            Do you think such piece of metal would be dangerous to you if hit you? Note that that nail has not only a thickness of an AK bullet. It also has it’s momentum.

          10. Also maybe think of the problem from weapons design perspective. Small arms are designed to fire as small bullets as possible in big part because it allows them to do the damage they need to do with a combination of low recoil and high bullet speed (both of which help with aiming). Muskets could have as much as 20 mm caliber, rifles produced at the time of black powder weren’t much better (those did exist, just were rarely used for anything but hunting because of their long reload times, and low reliability when reloaded in a hurry), during WWI, and WWII a standard rifle caliber was 7.92 mm, now there is a tendency to make them even lower (not to mention make cartridges shorter – trading some energy and even range and penetration for lower recoil, which makes controlling automatic fire easier thanks to low recoil), while keeping the lethality thanks to smaller bullet size.

            Even with assault rifles specifically the trend is the same. Compare an AK-47 bullet and cartridge, to a later M16 bullet and cartridge for example, then think that someone in Soviet Union thought it was a good idea to switch from AK-74s which also use smaller bullets and cartridges than both their AK-47 predecessors and their M16 competitors.

          11. And while we could argue if AK-74 is a better or worse weapon than M16, there is little doubt then it is better than AK-47 in almost way when it comes to mass, ballistic properties, recoil, burst controllability (which is better in AK-74 despite it’s lower mass) and effective range. The only thing at which AK-47 may be better from AK-74 is it’s ability to penetrate cover, and even that depends on the kind of cover in question.

            If modern assault rifles hit like baseball bats, how did people handle firing old bolt action rifles from standing position if those had even more recoil?

          12. And yes, kinetic energy can matter during inflexible collisions, but not in the way that is important to a person holding a shield which stops the bullet. It determines how much damage can be done to objects that bend or break to make it so that the collision isn’t flexible. In this case almost all of this kinetic energy goes into overcoming (negative!) potential energy of chemical bonds that allow the bullet and the shield keep their shapes, plus some heat. In other words kinetic energy of a bullet is what makes it so that there is a hole in the shield, and that the bullet is flattened after the impact.

          13. Kinetic energy is also another way of thinking about that car is not as dangerous as a bullet. The car has much less kinetic energy as an AK bullet, or (even the baseball) from our examples, even though it has identical momentum, so it obviously won’t cause as much damage even at the event of perfectly inflexible collision (and the collision between the car and human body will not be perfectly inflexible), even though it will probably have enough momentum to drive you into that wall 1-1.5 cm behind you. On the other hand the bullet won’t give you enough momentum to move you back any further than that 1-1.5 cm, or so before you can react, but if it will loose plenty of its kinetic energy while traveling through your body by tearing your flesh.

            The thing with the bullet, shield and the Wretch holding it is that while the collision between the bullet and the shield is like is like a collision between the bullet an a body (results in permanent change of shape of the bullet and the shield, because a fast-moving bullet has a lot of kinetic energy despite it’s low momentum), the collision between the shield and the Wretch is more like collision between a himan and a car moving at mere millimeters per second – despite identical momentum the kinetic energy is much lower, because the much more massive shield moves much slower than the bullet. This means that even if the Wretch was a perfectly rigid body, there is so little energy that the shield can bend enough without gaining some permanent holes (at least big enough that could be seen with a naked eye) at the points of contact with the Wretch.

          14. Just a small footnote about where I got that shift by 1-1.5 cm.

            It is based on how much I estimate a shoulder of a person braced for impact (like a gunner with a gun resting against the shoulder) would move at most after taking collisions with momentum ew are talking about here.

            If you don’t expect the collision and aren’t braced for it, it may move you a bit more before you stop youself. If you are hit in a place that is not as flexible as a shoulder, and closer to the center of mass (say – if a bullet hits you in a sternum), and you have a good enough footing to take it, the initial hit will move you even less. (Of course then you will fall to the ground, because your body would register that you have a major chest wound, but that is a separate story, and you may fall on your face just as well as on your back – it really have nothing to do momentum transferred to you from the bullet).

            Same thing if the collision happened at low enough speed that you will have enough time to consciously react after you are hit. In other words that car may fail to move you that 1-1,5 cm even if it hits you in the shoulder if you find a way to shift your body to stop your backwards movement (for example – move your shoulder sideways – away from the car, or just shift your body to put more force on the car through your shoulder) before you travel the entire 1-1,5 cm.

        3. -an orange-red hue in bright, color that – there shouldn’t be a comma after “bright”.

  7. Victoria: “I get down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

    Get it? It’s Thud Thumping!


    1. Ah, yes. The classic hit by Chugaluga. I have pranced about to this song on more than one occasion since it crested the charts. I’m sure it’s a bitter pill for some to swallow, but I call this a contender for one of the best songs of all time. And that outro; what kind of bird brained cretin can deny its beauty?

      1. I know! The beauty almost rivals that of all of Paris. Really, nobody can truly be defiant against the swansong. Sometimes you just got to let moose and jump around hookline and sinker till you feel like your going to barfbat. I am constantly on the lookout for a chance to skitter across the dance floor with that sweet accord progression.

  8. I feel sorry for Cradle. It would be great if Rain could make peace with him, since he knows what it’s like to try to be better. I’m sure Cradle could become an outstanding hero.

    1. The problem is that, even if Rain will try to make peace with Cradle, which is not possible anymore, given the context of everyone fucking up everyone, Cradle is too far gone now to accept any peace suggestion, besides he hates Rain and want nothing else than to eternally torture him.

      1. david,
        I’m not sure Cradle actually gets other people’s emotions that well.
        If he did, he might understand that there’s plenty of ways to torture Rain, and sentencing Rain to some community service (with Fallen victims), might just fit.

        Let the punishment fit the crime, eh?

    2. No, he could not.

      He isn’t Bonesaw, whose abilities make her far too useful to kill.

      Cradle is a guy who cut dozens of people up alive. You don’t get to come back from that.

  9. Large-scale cape fights have some of the best powers and examples of powers around. Crested’s knife-barriers, Thud’s kinetic manipulation, Subside’s… Well, I’m guessing it’s some kind of shaker-effect that possibly involves sinking or quicksand of some kind. Since we didn’t actually see what his power did, just his getting it prepped.

    Also great that Paris’ injury hampered Thud a lot. That bastard deserved every jolt and twitch of broken ribs. I’d hope one has penetrated his lung and he’s suffocating, but I don’t want Vicky to kill him accidentally.

    1. I also don’t want Vicky to kill Paris accidentally.

      On purpose would be so much more satisfying.

      1. And also an accidental death would cause her guilt. A deliberate one, that she’s thought over and talked with others about? One she feels is deserved? No guilt. Well, no. There’s guilt, but she can salve it with its necessity.

    2. I dislike these large scale cape fights in Ward because they destroy my suspension of disbelief.

      We have 14 capes throwing around instakill/permanent injury powers + indiscriminate gunfire.

      Yet everyone’s aim is so perfect that no one gets hurt accidentally, no one is killed, and everyone banters like they aren’t in a lethal fight.

      We may have a dead Carol after this one… like we did a dead Snag a while back, but in both those cases… it seems like the fights can be as crazily dangerous as anything, but “important character relevant death” has to be in the script before anyone can actually die.

      The way Victoria has been fighting reflects that. She even refers to the non powereds as randoms since we all know that parahumans have invincible plot armor vis a vis something so mundane as bullets.

      1. Victoria doesn’t see anyone get hurt or killed (except the mooks she shot in the legs), and she’s trying not to kill. Neither are the Harbingers. Damsel in Distress might be killing people somewhere out of sight, same goes for some of the others- especially the villains, on either side. Most of the people with powers are using those powers, meaning the only ones getting close to the people with guns are the idiotic or those with defences.

        The guys with guns are firing at anything they see that’s not one of their guys, so they’re being careful- they’re shooting at Antares, because she can fly, and both of their flyers are changers who don’t look human. If they see Flashbang hiding in a bush, they might doublecheck to make sure it’s not one of theirs, giving him time to attack or hide better.

          1. Are you sure that they don’t qualify as both Damsels ‘of’ and ‘in’ Distress at the moment?

          2. I mean the Ashleys, because I think we could name a few more “damsels” present in the area, who are at least “in distress” at the moment.

      2. Victoria and the Harbingers are maiming people in this fight, and the Ashley’s are fighting to kill, with Damsel claiming the ‘final blow’ on two enemies.

      3. In general some level of suspension of disbelief is required when guns are involved, since most capes are completely vulnerable to gunfire. You could probably count the number of capes involved in this fight who couldn’t be easily dealt with by guns on one hand.

        It’s actually a bit unbelievable to me that capes were even able to become warlords, since most capes can easily be dealt with using conventional weapons or tactics. What are most capes going to do against even a couple hundred humans with guns?

        This is part of why the most dangerous capes are all folks like Thinkers/Tinkers/Strangers/Masters. Most that involve direct combat are only really useful against other capes and couldn’t really stand up against regular human society. Heck, most Brutes aren’t even tough enough to block gunfire, with rare exceptions like Alexandria. It’s the ones who can fight or influence the world in ways that don’t involve putting themselves at risk that are dangerous.

        1. Most capes, if they see the gun coming, can do something about it. Laserdream: Forcefield, then blast a laser back. Brandish: orb. Heartbreaker/Cherish: Suicidal despair. Regent: gun dropped, or fired early. Labyrinth: gunmen are now lost. Narwhal: forcefield.

          And most Brutes aren’t bulletproof? Weld would take it, might knock him over and hurt, but not even a headshot would kill. And Crawler, early on, could be shot- but never fatally. And Victoria can take one shot before she’s vulnerable. And Aegis could take a shot; he’d heal, and his adaptive biology would make whatever damage was dealt trivial (unless it’s a headshot that destroyed his corona, possibly). Browbeat could also regenerate, and had a telekinetic field. Manpower also had a forcefield- electromagnetic, in his case. Hatchet Face wasn’t stopped by civilian law enforcement, either- he was stopped by another cape with a larger area of effect making him kill himself. Here we see Thud’s hard ceramic flesh (and he’s a Brute/Shaker, I reckon) survive several blows unharmed; he can take a bullet, though maybe not easily. Sveta’s organs might not be bulletproof, but the rest of her is.

          Moose did get injured in the Fallen fight, but we don’t know how. It might not have been a bullet; might have been a cape-derived injury.

  10. Both Tattletale and Tristan are losing consciousness. Unless it is the effect of Cradle’s egg, it appears that while the gun used against the Navigators is able to keep them alive for many days at least, the whip doesn’t give its victims nearly that much time. Looks like Victoria’s team needs to hurry, or there may be no one left to put back together anymore.

    1. No, I don’t think that’s it. Tristan’s in immense pain, not helped by the fact that every time Byron swaps him in it’s in a vertical position he can’t maintain. And Tattletale’s also badly hurt, since she’s sliced into pieces and we know from the Navigators that she can feel every part. In addition, neither of them- unlike Kenzie or Chicken Little- have been given any kind of pain relief, since there’s not enough of them to administer it to, nothing that can metabolise the drugs in the pieces they have, or they’re choosing escape into a painless non-existence.

      Tattletale might not be loosing consciousness; she might be running out of air. I’m not sure how much torso is attached to her head, but if it doesn’t include a diaphragm she can’t breathe properly and can’t get the air she exhales by speaking back. Although that might also cause unconsciousness, it didn’t for Nailfarer or Scaffold.

      1. Well, Tattletale and Tristan may be going into shock, which can also be a cause of death (and in traffic accidents and such supposedly causes death more often than blood loss).

        1. It could, but I don’t think shock can kill them, like this. Hypothermia didn’t kill the Navigators, not even Scaffold and most of his torso was left in the snow. They didn’t even get frostbite, to our knowledge.

          Plus, Scaffold survived having his throat cut. Pretty sure so long as their heart/brain remain in the same number of pieces as they were divided into, they’ll survive.

          1. Remember that the Navigators were cut with a different tool. In chapter 11.12 Victoria even noted in her conversation with the Mayor that the effects were visibly different:

            As far as I can tell, they’ve refined their mechanisms for tearing people to pieces! Narrower and fatter margins for where the invincibility-immortality effect extends from the wounds.

          2. @Alfaryn
            Strictly speaking, yes, that indicates a different tool was used, but it seems to be simply a case of improvement, as if the Navigators were a test case for the prototype whip while Breakthrough is dealing with the finished product. I’m assuming, since it wasn’t outright stated, that you are saying this new whip might be more likely to kill those it’s used on, but I would argue the opposite: since the purpose is to inflict a fate worse than death, as Snag put it a while back, the new whip would actually be “safer” to use on people, and keep them alive longer

          3. An improvement in one area (like having a better control over shape and number of pieces made) could be offset by getting worse results in others (like the survivability of those pieces – though even that could be seen as sort of an improvement, because it could mean that the pieces are less “immortal”, and as such more “natural” in their behavior).

      2. During the retreat from Cradle’s egg place to this battle, Byron commented he wasn’t going to switch anymore, as Tristan thought he was close to passing out from the pain, which would mean he couldn’t switch back to Byron. So this was foreshadowed, and Byron thought this was enough of an emergency to risk the switch.

  11. Well, time to switch to a rain perspective or something as he goes toe to toe with cradle.

    Honestly it would not surprise me to see Rain die here. I think WB’s got it in him. More likely bad ending is Cradle takes him to drain the power.

    1. Nah, that’s boring. Think bigger. Big like a mech. A mech made of too many hands, currently cupping a forcefield which, it just so happens, is also made of too many hands. Is this really a fight that we’re seeing? Could it, perhaps, be the dawning of True Love? Tune in Saturday to find out!

  12. I don’t know if anyone else caught it, but Victoria referred to the Wretch as ‘her’, Humanizing the shard/Wretch/whatever it is!

    1. Good catch, I think.

      I’ve registered that Victoria referred to the Wretch as ‘her’, but somehow failed to connect that it may be read as humanizing or at least personalizing her forcefield here more than she usually does.

      1. Maybe, but it still seems to happen rarely enough to catch attention, and possibly have some meaning. Like an occasional Freudian slip, maybe? After all even giving her forcefield a name is a form of personification, and maybe Victoria is unconsciously pushing this personification further sometimes? Closer to humanization?

        1. And also further from “herself”. Just like Victoria’s shard is apparently learning to think of itself as an entity separate from both the Entity and it’s parahuman, Victoria is learning to think about her power as not only something, but someone separate from herself, obviously beginning with the aspect of her power that she both controls the least, and would probably want to get rid of most.

          At worst it could lead Victoria into some sick states of mind (bordering on split personality for example). At best – it could make it easier for Victoria and especially her shard to actually fully recognize themselves entities separate enough to communicate, or at least for the shard to get a name – something I think the shard should get to fully recognize itself as a separate being, and/or for both of them to get another name describing them collectively – something Victoria’s shard wanted.

          1. The best thing is that Victoria has already addressed her shard in her thoughts as a “passenger”, and even asked it a few questions or asked it to do something for her. All that needs to happen now is for the “passenger” to get a unique name to distinguish it from other passengers.

          2. On the topic of names of shards. Did you notice that Valkyrie, who still has a problem with not mentioning the names of shards of parahumans she meets (at least in her mind) never had such problem with Crystal, even though she confused “Crystal” with a cape name, and was surprised because she knew that Crystal’s power had nothing to do with crystals?

            Could it be that Crystal’s shard also doesn’t have a name yet? It seems fitting for another second generation cape.

          3. There is something else regarding names.
            Remember that Victoria’s shard wanted a common label with her Host, a name that both of them could “agree” upon. Then they could lay waste to to all who stand before them.
            *evil laughter*

          4. Sure, and remember what role the shards who Glaistig Uaine named in her conversation with Taylor did during Gold Morning (though obviously those were exceptional even for named shards).

            It’s scary if you remember that every shard in Rain’s cluster has a name.

          5. Compare it to Foil’s cluster in which only one shard is confirmed to be named, though it was also supposed to be one of the Scion’s oldest, so maybe it were Sting’s resources that were behind March’s recent success?

    2. Ooh, good catch!

      I wonder if it changes one direction or the other depending on how much horror the forcefield causes during the rest of the fight.

  13. I just had one of those crazy thoughts. How tall and how old is Bluestocking? Maybe her dislike for Victoria has deeper roots than we think? Maybe she isn’t just some villain who Victoria maybe met in civilian identity during her physical therapy? Maybe they knew each other for much longer, and Victoria just didn’t recognize her?

    What if Bluestocking was the basketball player who caused Victoria to trigger? Wouldn’t you dislike a person who told everyone in interviews that you did it to them (Tattletale mentioned such interviews in chapter 4.3 of Worm)? It would conflict with the fact that Bluestocking is apparently “certified as everything”, but it could be a result of her thinker power. The name Bluestocking would fit a cape who can gain an education at accelerated rate.

    1. And if Bluestocking’s power let’s her take a year’s worth of exams after studying for two weeks for example, then it would explain why Victoria had a problem getting admitted to the University. Of course thinkers and geniuses like that would be preferred.

      1. Victoria is after all an honest hard worker, but not an academic genius by any stretch of imagination.

        1. Which could also mean that Bluestocking may have resented Victoria “undeserved” celebrity status as Glory Girl.

          In other words Bluestocking may have a lot in common with Bakuda.

          1. “The name Bluestocking would fit a cape who can gain an education at accelerated rate.”
            Heh. Interesting theory.
            I wonder (if it turned out to be true) if her trigger event was related to that Bakuda-like mindset.

          2. A few more ideas to expand the topic.

            Bluestocking could have a number of other reasons to dislike Victoria. If she is old enough, she could be a mother of that basketball player who caused Victoria to trigger. She could be a significant other of some E88 thug whom Victoria beat up. She could dislike some kinds of celebrities (for example those who in private were as different from their public image as Victoria was) or against celebrities in general. She could have been secretly in love with Gallant or have something against New Wave, or against a sister of Marquis’ daughter and so on…

            Another idea is that if Bluestocking had a reason to dislike Victoria even before Ward started, and is an academic prodigy, then she could be a member of faculty, who had some say in the admission process of the university Victoria applied to. In this case there could be places for not-so-genius hard workers like Victoria there, but Bluestocking could make sure that Victoria will not be admitted no matter how good her application was.

          3. And a completely ludicrous idea. Probably.

            If Bluestocking is able to study for a year’s worth of exams in two weeks or something like that, then maybe she’s not a parahuman, but an A.I. created by Dragon and Defiant? One who has no restrictions like the ones Andrew Richer placed on Dragon?

            Only what reason would such A.I. have to dislike Victoria? Maybe something to do with what Defiant could say about that former Ward associate, who was for a while more or less under his command?

          4. Or Bluestocking could be a Richer’s A.I. Dragon was “test three” in what was presumably his project to create an artificial intelligence that could emulate a human. Bluestocking could be one of the other “tests”. Where would she get a body? Maybe from Teacher, who thanks to Saint had (and could still have) an access to Dragon’s memory banks.

            Alternatively Bluestocking could be an A.I. created by Teacher’s students, and maybe other capes working for him by heavily modifying his copy of Dragon’s code and data.

          5. Of course one of many things that makes the idea of Bluestocking an A.I. is that she was hinted to be a woman who took a physical therapy with Victoria if I recall correctly, and an A.I. would have no need for that, unless it’s body was completely different than Dragon’s. Unless I misremembered, and that woman was there as a therapist, not a patient?

          6. Of course it may be also that Bluestocking has nothing to do with that woman from physical therapy (in chapter 7.1). All we know is that either Bluestocking’s look in chapter 11.1 reminded Victoria of that woman:

            I looked at Bluestocking, and I saw- something in the way she held herself, and what I could see of eyes behind mostly opaque lenses, and in her eyebrows.

            A familiar attitude. I wondered if I was comparing her to anyone I knew, but when I reached for it, I couldn’t place it.
            Oh. There’d been a woman at my rehab who’d given me dirty looks. So that was the answer to my little mystery.

  14. So I know there’s a lot of shit going down, but can someone explain what the Hell Bluestocking does??!
    It’s driving me insane.

    1. We don’t know what she does. We only know that she calls herself Bluestocking which apparently is a term that used to mean an intellectual, educated, emancipated woman, and that in the current chapter she more or less claimed to be certified in every medical specialization, or at least every one that could have something to do with (battle)field medicine.

      This leads me to a theory that she is inhumanly good at quickly learning new university-level knowledge and skills.

  15. Well, I finally caught up to present day Wildbow. It took me a year, but now I’m here. Also I haven’t even finished Pact or started Twig, so technically I’m still behind, but we won’t talk about that. Haha.

    I’m really liking Ward, so far, it’s definitely a whole different kind of story than Worm was. I think the reason that I liked Worm so much was but it struck all of the right notes with me. A massive plot, plenty of well-thought-out plot twists, superheroes, a crescendo of story (I love crescendos in everything from music to movies), a crap-ton of well-developed characters, and the willingness to get as dark as the story demanded.

    Ward hits all of those notes, as well, although it seems that the crescendo isn’t nearly as crescendo-y as in Worm (yet). I think that’s because Ward, for the most part, is building off of the crescendo that Worm finished on.

    Also, it’s weird that Ward feels more dark than Worm, even though half of Worm focused around a team of supervillain serial killers. I wonder if its because of the perspective. Taylor was a kinda sorta dark person from the beginning of the story and jumped in feet first into it at every chance (all for justifiable reasons in her mind at each point in time), while it seems like Victoria has been trying to stay away from “darkness” in and around her since the beginning. It could also be that Wildbow is just a far better writer now (not that he wasnt great back then) and he’s ten times better at getting me in the headspace of how the “lesser darkness” of Ward is affecting the characters. Or combination of the two, plus every other thing that I can’t think of at the moment.

    All in all, I’m loving every bit of it, even the parts that kind of dragged.

    1. Welcome to the club. I also still need to finish reading Pact, not to mention even begin reading Twig.

      As for your observation about Ward feeling darker than Worm, I feel there may be one more explanation for it than just the ones you provided – unlike Worm, Ward is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which people have problems with such simple things as surviving winter temperatures or establishing a government they could trust. The power-related problems are only sitting on top of it, and even with those we feel like they are more serious than the ones in Worm, because we know from that story just how bad can really be on that front. Worm would probably feel much darker than it did if we knew from the beginning everything about Entities, Cauldron’s goals and methods, the corruption in the PRT, etc. (and also knowledge that Wildbow often does some really bad things to characters we like) instead of being able to discover those only bit by bit. We began reading Ward knowing all of those things and expecting more just as bad or even worse, so it obviously feels “darker” – we had more reasons to be pessimistic at the start, and Wildbow gave us little reason to change our minds since then.

      1. Sorry for the late reply. I didn’t get a notification for some reason.

        Bu you know, that is a very good point. All of that stuff is pretty much what I was thinking of whenever I (sort of) said that the crescendo in Ward was forced to build off of the climax in Worm. But I didn’t even think about how that could affect the tone of the story. I was all thinking of crescendo for pacing and plot intensity/world-building, but I didn’t really think about a crescendo of the darkness factor (which, as you said, was most definitely in play). I would try and parse out which of those crescendos were dependent on which and to what degree, but that’s beyond my expertise and current energy level.

        1. > Sorry for the late reply. I didn’t get a notification for some reason.

          No problem. Fortunately I don’t even use notifications myself, and instead of it look for the replies to my posts in last two-three chapters manually from time to time.

          I doubt that notifications would even work for me considering how often I end up posting in those threads that don’t allow for responsed nested deep enough to display “Reply” buttons under all of their comments.

          Considering that many other more people active here probably do the same, I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire notifications system was entirely broken for a while, and nobody noticed. All I know is that someine complained a while ago that they did not get a notification about at leeast one new chapter, so there are probably at least some problems with the system.

          1. You only need to subscribe for replies once per chapter. Every new reply sends a new email, regardless of if it’s in response to you or not.

            Not subscribing’s probably better, as I typically get about 30-40 emails on Wednesdays and Sundays, sometimes more than 50. But I don’t have time to visit this site every hour to check for new ones, so it works for me.

  16. 1. “robey sort of look”
    Could someone explain, please, for non-native readers?

    2. “Capricorn said things are tricky here.”
    Any ideas why? Because of different Earth?
    Doesn’t sound like after-effect of power-blackout (end of 12.2)

    3. Why Cradle did not cut anyone yet? Can he only manifest lines, but not moving them after?

    4. “my own power had recovered when it had been knocked out and turned back on”
    Good, Wretch recovered from being cut.

    5. ““You be careful. I have control,” Damsel said.”
    This is going to end badly…

    1. 1) “a guy with a white hood, sword, robey sort of look.”
      His garment looks like a robe. A different kind of warrior monk…

      2) Cretan’s power twists the environment into a maze, and makes moving/using powers in it less intuitive/more dangerous due to how it bends space.

      3) He’s got the whip to actively cut up his targets (everyone’s doing their best to avoid it, although he cut Victoria, Carol and Sveta), but the beam-traps are thankfully static (reminds me a bit of LL’s lightning traps).

      5) No jinxing best twins.

    2. 3: Yeah, doesn’t seem like he can move the lines. Furthermore, it also seems that he might have trouble using his power in close proximity to other people, which is why they’ve been able to see the lines and stop before running into them — he can’t just create the lines a millimeter ahead of people to make them impossible to dodge. At least, Victoria believes this to be the case, and it fits with some of the other powers we’ve seen (e.g. Vista).

    3. 3. I believe he is still not necessarily going for a kill here (at least not against anyone but Rain, it is difficult to say if he planned for Victoria to intercept his mech). Otherwise he wouldn’t deploy his lines like he wanted to limit people’s movement options, but would set them in such a way that people would move straight into them, and somehow everyone has managed avoid doing so. Those close calls seem to have happened too many times with too many people to be anything other than Cradle’s deliberate attempt to make the heroes too immobile to fight him without killing them.

      1. Remember – if he wants anyone to die, it is Rain. He definitely doesn’t want a large scale bloodshed, or this bloodshed would’ve already happened considering how big advantage he had over the heroes for a few moments already (he could move around like crazy, deploy his lines at will, and had a mech in reserve, while the heroes had no cover and were struggling to even keep their eyes on him), yet somehow the only people who we know died by now were his own men killed by MYOSHA because of Rain’s influence.

      2. I do not think Cradle is holding back – cutting doesn’t mean killing (so far).
        It wouldn’t be massacre (but it will be bloodshed), if this Cradle-Disjoint cutting power really can be undone and doesn’t kill during a day or two – Cradle could do cutting as he do with Kenzie, Tristan and others. Breakthrough and Co is an obstacle on Cradle’s path to Rain, so considering Cradle’s mental state he would want to decrease this obstacle as much as he could. Immense pain and loss of limb are great stoppers.

        1. I think you are confusing Cradle’s currently overcharged shaker power (which is his version of Rain’s blaster power) with his tinkertech based on Disjoint’s power.

          If I read it correctly, his version of Rain’s blaster power to makes all of those white lines appear in air. His tinkertech based on Disjoint’s power requires him to hit his target with a device – like his old whip, his current whip-chain – assuming this is what it does, or whatever is fired by the “gun” which was used against the Navigators.

          The wounds made by the all of that tinkertech should be reversible. The wounds made by the white lines – almost certainly aren’t. In other words – if someone hits those white lines, he’s been spamming ever since he woke up, they may bleed out and die like from any other cut, because those lines have nothing to do with Disjoint’s power, and everything with Rain’s power that killed Snag.

          1. > I think you are confusing Cradle’s currently overcharged shaker power with his tinkertech based on Disjoint’s power.
            Yes, “I might actually”…
            I assumed that Cradle used whip and Disjoint’s power to “upgrade” his shaker power to be disjointing, while whip is a device for “casting” this power and white lines are actual cutting “blades”.
            But it is overdesigned, your reading looks more logical. Thank you for pointing.

  17. Victoria in every other fight: “I pushed out with my Aura… HARD”
    Victoria in a fight with an enemy who is known to be particularly susceptible to and bothered by emotion altering powers: “I think I’m going to sort this one out with exclusively my fists”

    1. Victoria doesn’t know that. We know that, she doesn’t.

      Besides, as the cluster includes an emotion power, Cradle’s technically resistant to emotion powers. Now he’s got a full ramp up of the whole suite, that resistance is probably higher too. The only reason Cradle’s weak to them is because his brain’s wired up so he doesn’t have the same emotional response and isn’t used to having an emotional response.

      1. > The only reason Cradle’s weak to them is because his brain’s wired up so he doesn’t have the same emotional response and isn’t used to having an emotional response.

        Small correction. I believe he does have some emotions and emotional responses. He can feel lonely for example. What he lacks are emotions like empathy and sense of guilt. So it is not like we can expect him to be susceptible to all emotion powers. He is susceptible to Rain’s power, because this particular power just happens to him the kind emotions he never experienced before.

        (Or at least not as long as he can remember – I don’t know if psychopathy is something you are born with, or acquired later in life. He could’ve experienced guilt as a two year old for example, but it wouldn’t matter much now, would it?)

        1. Oh and in response to Alfaryn. You are right in general that it would only have a strong effect on emotions he wasn’t used to experiencing. But during his interlude Ryan talks about how he never really feared his parents or discipline or anything (except maybe his glasses getting broken) he just found his parents removing privileges annoying. So Antares’ fear aura would probably be something he hasn’t felt, or at least not in a very long time. Even if he got the awe side of the aura he definitely hasn’t been in awe of someone. He definitely considers himself superior to everyone else so that would also be new to him.

          1. Well, I think that he had a lot of time to get used to fear ever since he triggered. The way I see it he is so irrational when it comes to Rain in part because he has always feared what Rain could do to him ever since he had a taste of what it feels to get Rain’s tokens.

            More seriously though, psychopathy doesn’t mean absence of fear. He was not afraid of his parents etc. not because he can’t feel fear, but because he quickly realized that he can manipulate them well enough that he has little to fear from them. If there are things he feared then, it would be something like letting the wrong people know about his lack of empathy, which in large part is why he was so careful about whom he let know about it.

      2. She specifically noticed how bothered he has seemed the whole time and how emotionally charged he is right now. For example when she mentions how distracted he was during the fight with rain and others. Plus she commented on how hard he seemed to have been affected when he left the egg and screamed. So she definitely knows that he is having trouble with rains emotion power. At the very least she would still use her standard bursts of aura to try to throw off his attacks. And if that resistance is higher, he hasn’t shown it very much given how bothered he is by rain.

        1. A resistance is not an immunity. Just remember what Rain did to Victoria when his emotion power wasn’t supercharged. Also, remember that he has been hit with Rain’s power from two directions so to speak – he got Rain’s tokens AND was “boiled” in his “egg” from the outside by Rain’s maximum power for minutes at least.

          1. Remember that MYOSHA started killing her own people after getting just a small fraction of what Cradle got. If anything, I would say Cradle is surprisingly well composed considering the circumstances. Probably thanks to his resistance.

          2. Oh, and as for actually using her aura on him, I’m not surprised that she didn’t. For two reasons:
            – it is an aura, meaning that unless she could get much closer to him than any of her allies, any use of it would automatically be a “friendly fire”,
            – more (much more) importantly he is already both very powerful, and clearly emotionally unstable. Adding fear to the mix could just as likely cause him to lash out blindly (with potentially catastrophic results considering his current power) as to cower in the corner or outright freeze in terror (which would be the desired result).

          3. I would argue that lashing out randomly would be better than what he is doing now which is more or less planned and intentional. If he is lashing out someone will probably get hurt, but he also puts himself at risk. That’s better than him killing all of them, which he currently seems on track to do (though of course I realize something will stop him because we cant have literally every protagonist die).

          4. I don’t think that he is trying to kill everyone except maybe Rain at the moment. He has been in perfect position to kill everyone in the room with him for last couple of moments, and limited himself to making it difficult and risky for the heroes to move instead. See my responses to OverQuantum’s comments above if you want to know more details.

          5. One more reason why Cradle is losing it at the moment. It is written pretty clearly in interlude 12.f. He is afraid that he has almost run out of time to stop bleed-through from Rain from having a permanent effect on him:

            or the day after, Cradle knew he would break. He’d resolve everything in the next twenty hours. Accelerate every plan. No other choice.

            He is also afraid that what March has already done may have disastrous consequences to the “already lost” city, and at the same time because of emotions he got from Rain he feels guilty because of what’s about to happen to people of the city, and because he turned March into a scapegoat by sending her to Brockton Bay. I won’t quote the entire thing here, because it is a bit long, but just read a few paragraphs of that interlude starting from the words “The city’s already gone and everyone who matters knows it. As bargaining chips go… it’s acceptable.

            With such mixture of emotions – guilt about what the things he unleashed may do to both the people of the city, and to March, doubt that his plan to pop the time effects will do more harm than good, and fear that he may be unable to stop both the personality bleed-through from Rain and what’s happening in Brockton Bay from getting out of control if he doesn’t act right now adding Victoria’s terror would probably be a very bad idea. It could make him try to achieve his goals of dealing with Rain and of stopping what March is doing even faster, and the only faster way he has left is probably by killing Rain, and everyone who stands in his way to the portal – which is the one thing he has been trying to avoid doing.

          6. In other words Cradle has been so afraid he has run out of time that he escalated into an outright war involving use of guns by an army of unpowered soldiers, and use of powers by capes in ways that pose a serious risk of someone’s death, but still not quite going for kills.

            If Victoria adds to this fear with her aura, Cradle may escalate even further, and abandon even those rules, in which case, considering apparent advantage of his side, it will no longer be a war, but a slaughter. It may be even more likely if he learned that Victoria has already broken plenty of rules herself including “no guns for parahumans other than game shooters”.

          7. Im not sure I believe that he isnt going for kills. If they are shooting at people they are going for kills, so far no one (except carol) has actually taken a lethal blow, but many could have and may still. I think Cradle is planning on killing every last one of them as soon as he gets what he wants from Rain (which i think is to beg for mercy or something idk, im having a hard time finding cradle to be a believable villain right now). But I think as soon as he gets whatever it is he wants, he is going to cut every last one of them into pieces, because why wouldnt he? He has shown more than enough willingness to kill and permanently torture. Why would he leave people alive whom he knows will try to thwart his every move?

          8. @The Denominator

            I think you’ve missed something in your read. Cradle really couldn’t care less what Rain might say or do. He needs only 1 thing, for Rain to stop hitting him in the feels forever, and that’s the 1 thing he’s going for here. He wouldn’t even bathe in Rain blood for a power-up if it were on the table, not for anything; the emotion is totally unacceptable. Rain has to die. Cradle needs it.

            Ironically, there’s a flip-side to Cradle’s powerless in the face of these alien (i.e. human) emotions: If neither died here, and if Rain did just drown Cradle in shame and guilt on a daily basis, the text seems to suggest that Cradle *would* stop being Cradle. He’d succumb to the emotions and impulses he was born unable to feel. He’d effectively be ‘on meds’ that would render him something like neurotypical. If he combined it with his past efforts at “playing nice,” he absolutely could end up becoming a literal good person. He’s actively rejecting it as hard as he can, but it’s all potentially at his fingertips.

            I mean, I still think Cradle is going to die today. But hypothetically….

          9. There is also the fact, that Rain refused Cradle’s offer to end things peacefully, Rain and other people in Victoria’s group plus Bluestocking’s people are blocking Cradle’s way to the portal, which he needs to go through to deal with March. From interlude 12.e:

            “Take these coins,” Cradle said. “Full strength tinker power. Fix the whip. Use it to undo the damage to your team. When we offer our help with whatever March is pulling, you let us.”

            Though I’ll agree that to Cradle dealing with March may be a secondary objective compared to dealing with Rain at the moment. It’s difficult to say considering that Cradle may be much more afraid of Rain than whatever March is doing at the moment. It will probably boil down to:
            – just how much guilt Cradle currently feels over letting March handle things in Brockton Bay and by doing so – inadvertently letting people in the city be in more danger than he originally planned,
            – whether he will surrender to this guilt (which will mean he will prioritize dealin with March), or continues to keep fighting the feeling (which means going after Rain above everything else).

            He would like to achieve both of course, but his current opposition may force him to choose one. And who knows? If someone he isn’t going after (like Carol for example) gets critically injured or even dies because of his actions, it could strengthen Cradle’s current guilt to the point where he will stop trying to deal with Rain the way he is doing now and actually ask again for ceasefire so he can be simply allowed to get through the portal with his little army and deal with March.

            He may even ask his current opposition to help with that, and considering that his request would be heard by more than just Rain, and that with all this guilt he may even give up on trying to pull some underhanded trick that would help him to take care of his problem with Rain at the same time (which Tattletale may be able to confirm for the heroes), he may get what he asks for this time.

          10. Though it could also happen that if Carol dies, her family (especially Victoria) will no longer be willing to hear anything about any ceasefires or alliances anymore. So the question is – will Victoria de-escalate in this situation, if Cradle does?

          11. It is actually an interesting question when we consider that in a similar situation Taylor went for a quick vengeance on Alexandria and Tagg. But Taylor was all about escalation and decisive attacks. So the question is – is Victoria about de-escalation and negotiating peaceful solutions enough for a different outcome to happen this time?

  18. Did anyone notice vic called the wretch a her? I don’t think the wretch killed carol, it sounded more like the lines popped up right behind her or carol moved forward and the lines are trapping her between them and the wretch which is being pushed back.

  19. What I knew:

    Love Lost was going to Cradle with her gang. Sidepiece already had a bad injury. Then the Heartbreaksiders caught up and inflicted near-crippling injuries on Hookline and Kitchen Sink, a severe injury on Nailbiter, and wounded Disjoint to an unclear degree. Love Lost and her crew left.

    What I assumed (till I forgot):

    Love Lost went to Cradle with her gang.

    What I learned since:

    Love Lost and Colt went to Cradle, settled in peacefully, and were ambushed in their sleep. Presumably by automated Cradle arms.

    So I have to wonder…. Did Cradle’s mercs murder Love Lost’s team in their beds?

    1. I think it’s more likely that the wounded from Love Lost’s group ended up in the same hospitals she’d sent the wounded from Imp’s group to.

  20. From interlude 12.e:

    But it was horror because she didn’t want this for Colt. Horror because she wanted to tie up loose ends, to end this. She was doing this for a reason, and Colt utterly defied that reason.

    In the moment, she found herself hating the girl.

    Am I the only person who just realized that for Love Lost “tying up loose ends” could mean getting rid of having to meet anyone in the dream room again? Could it be that the other “enemy” Love Lost wrote “need to die”, before she can “rest” could be none of the Fallen other than Rain, but Cradle?

    And now Colt defied Love Lost’s reason to go after those two by becoming another person Love Lost needs to kill to be “free” of the room… One LL probably won’t be able to bring herself to kill.

    1. Remember that Love Lost called the dream-room an ‘engine’. Maybe she believed that if she was the only person in her cluster left alive, it would no longer give her her anger, stop forcing her to experience all of those memory-dreams every night etc. If she thought that her constant anger (as well as emotions her other clustermates are trapped with) came from the room (or were at least constantly reinforced by it), it would explain how she figured out that the tokens can be used to pass those emotions.

      1. The best thing about it is that early on Love Lost probably had enough empathy to not even consider letting Cradle die (in no small part because she saw him as a fellow victim of Rain), but Cradle kept giving her his tokens, and in the process destroyed most of this empathy.

  21. I’m getting major “Damn you Frieza!” vibes from that ending. Will this be the start of SUPER Vicky? (2nd Trigger)

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