Heavens – 12.9

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I wrestled with a hand that was the size of a car, that had more leverage than I did.  It had a partner hand, planted on the ground to my left, and two smaller ‘back’ hands, like a dog had back legs, one gripping the side of a building, the other digging fingers into dirt.  Any number of fingers had invisible cables attached- I’d seen two before they stopped moving.  Cables that could slice right through me, given a chance or a reckless movement on my part.  I knew exactly where the Wretch was, where each hand and foot was placed, at one giant fingertip, at the ‘webbing’ of cables that stretched in a bow between two fingers, at a finger to my side, and in the ground.

But a hand was a series of moving parts, and I had to account for all of them.  With the way the machine was positioned, three hands planted on the ground and one for me to deal with, it was trying to lift me up and push me back at the same time, or to get in position where it could squish me beneath, given a chance.  I could deal with three fingers, but as the pinky finger came at me from the side, I didn’t have the bracing ready to catch it or stop it from punching through the Wretch.

I cast away the Wretch, twisted in the air to avoid the fingers that came down, and let the hand move around me before bringing the Wretch out again.  The action took a second, I ran on instinct for the entirety of it, and the entire dynamic with my ‘opponent’ changed.  I was between middle and ring fingers, close to the webbing, the Wretch gripping the two fingers in multiple places, clawing at the cabling between fingers now.

Less leverage, less room and time to maneuver next time, but less worry about invisible cables or fingers coming at me from the side.  So long as I kept my eye on the thumb.  It didn’t have a good angle to get at me, but a bad angle wasn’t no angle, and robot hands could bend in ways regular hands couldn’t.

The space was dark.  It had been dark before it was folded up into a maze that creeped up around us on all sides.  Lights flashed on and off in my peripheral vision, taking weird shapes, and I knew they were the movements of the flashlights, cast at ground, at walls, then both, then neither.  Many of those flashlights were mounted on guns, and all of those guns were intended for us.

They weren’t even the most ominous lights in my field of vision.  Slashes of light like illumination shining through cracks in the door decorated the hundred-foot-by-hundred foot space around us.  Each could apparently cut through forcefield, through-

-through breaker bubbles.  Like Brandish’s.

I set my jaw, refusing to look.  Because I wasn’t in a position to help, and because it would distract.  Not that it mattered, because as much as I was trying, as much as I recognized the immediate peril and that the others in the group were striving to cover the entryways, I couldn’t take my mind off of the fact that Brandish hadn’t moved.  My dad’s voice, like a muffled echo from the surface while I was underwater, was insistent and loud.

They weren’t words meant for me, which meant I could safely ignore them, refuse to listen to them, and focus on the pounding of my pulse.

I could try.

“-bubble!”

I winced.

The hand lurched, shifting as the fingers of the hand furthest from me dragged through dirt, and found some kind of traction, like a vein of rock covered by soil.  It was like a new form of strength, something I had to fight against, maintaining the Wretch, reaching out to find the fold, one area where a section of torso rose out of a broader mass, the area the hospital workers had had to work extra hard to keep clean.  I could protest and claim my forcefield kept the dust off, but that did nothing for accumulated sweat and the bacteria that multiplied in the sweat.

The washings and the ‘lean forward so we can get in there’ instructions had left me with an enduring awareness of the feature that would stay with me for the rest of my life.  For my purposes here, it was the part of the Wretch that extended furthest in.

Where I moved, the Wretch floated around me, equidistant.  But it wouldn’t block me.  There was a point I could reach out and feel it, with a sense that wasn’t my awareness of my powers, but it wasn’t a barrier.  More like a handle.

When I moved it, the Wretch moved around me.  The hand tilted a fraction.  Away from the body.  Closer to the passage.

But with all of its leverage, it was stronger.  It fought back, inch by inch.  With every inch and every second, I had to be aware that a stray bullet or sudden shock could knock out my forcefield, and I’d need to move to avoid having my head crushed or struck from my shoulders.

Around me, more of the glowing lines began to appear.  I turned in place, one hand on the crevice-handle in the forcefield, surveying my immediate situation.  Four lines, arranged in a horizontal square, parallel to the ground.  They were spaced a good distance apart- I could move a good foot or two before the Wretch made contact with them.  A few more feet and it would be me, not my forcefield, that made the contact.  But they were what they were.

A collar.  Four massive guillotine blades, level with my neck, staying where they were and waiting for my neck to meet them.

Though this had been an open space before, it was easiest to think of it as a house now, doors or windows on each of the four sides.  I had the mech at one side, Foil was to my right with the Harbingers, my dad and Swansong to my left, and the dogs across from me.  Tristan lay in the middle, unconscious, while Rain was stuck navigating the lines that were intent on trapping him.

“Brandish, use your breaker form!”  My dad’s voice.

I had no tears in my eyes, no moisture on my cheeks.  My throat was tight, the breaths coming in tense, and every muscle was tight, to the point that it felt like it was choking the tear ducts and constricting the blood flow.

“Carol!”

On a ledge above, Cradle looked down, staring with the lenses on his mask glowing.  I could see him, and I saw his head turn.  He was tracking something I couldn’t see.

All at once, the Harbingers and Foil broke away.  If Cradle had wanted to do something elsewhere, the movement of the three forced him to devote attention here.

One Harbinger ran for it, out the door, toward the soldiers.  The other joined Foil, coming my way.  They dodged the lines that appeared in their way, though Foil cut it close enough that it clipped her costume, cutting the decorative material where it jutted out.

She threw herself to the ground, back hitting earth, her gun raised high.

Cradle began moving around, making himself a hard target, before settling on a position that let him see most of the field while being clear of Foil’s field of vision.  The lines began appearing again.  Like the glowing blades of swords stuck into the earth.

The Harbinger used the distraction, leaping onto one of the back hands.  The surface looked too sheer, but he found handholds and footholds, the edge of a foot or a finger finding a groove in the metal that I might have thought was a trick of the eyes.

He had a knife that looked like it was made of glass, and used it to slice the head off of a bolt or a screw.  Three strikes in two seconds.

“Carol, change!”

“What can we do?” Foil asked.  She shot again.  The sound was loud, and I could see many people in this antechamber of Cretan’s maze react to the sharp noise.

“Can’t- it’s up to her.  She’s moving, if she can just- I don’t think she wants to.  Fuck!”

“Why not?”

My dad didn’t answer.  I knew.  Even after all this time, Brandish hated being in the form.  It left her blind and deaf, sensing and tracking the world around her with another kind of awareness.  In the ball, she was confined in the dark.  And she hated the dark.

She had endured for the sake of the job, and she’d come out of it bitter and hostile enough to drop a barb.

There were too many stories, and recent mention of the Breaker in the hospital that hadn’t been able to leave her form wasn’t the only one of its kind.  Changers, Breakers, and tinkers who emulated those things always had the ‘what if I can’t go back’ problem in the backs of their minds.  Tristan was an all-too-recent reminder of how easy it would be to walk that line, and pick the exact wrong moment to use a power.

I leveraged the Wretch, doing what I could to shift the hand, so it wouldn’t fall or strike down near where Brandish lay.

They’d been able to abandon the ‘door’ because reinforcements had come.  Bitter Pill was the first to make her way in, twice as tall as she had been but not twice as thick around, with limbs that flexed like they had rubber and not bone inside.  Her mouth yawned open, froth flowing from the corner lowest to the ground, and her tongue lolled out, extended in length.  She had a soldier in each hand, and she flexed her entire body to heave one up, then slam him into the nearest corner.  The other she shoved face-first into the frozen dirt, with enough strength to leave a furrow behind.

As intimidating as the warped silhouette was, the sounds were mewling, soft moans, with some vibration behind them, as if from the lowest point of the throat.

“Careful!” I shouted.  “Glowing lines kill!”

Being big as she was, her body wasn’t good at moving through Cradle’s mess of lines.  She made it about halfway before she stumbled into one and lost her leg and part of her pelvis.  She crashed to the ground and in the process lost a bit of her scalp.

Birdbrain, Moose, and two more of the local capes stopped in their tracks as they saw her fall.

A long arm that bent under the weight of its extremity found its way to the lab coat she wore, which barely extended below her ribcage with her altered form.  Another medication dispenser.  This one topped with what looked like a tumor with a mask shaped like a baby’s face on the front.

The head flipped back, and her stretched-out mouth was already wide open for another squirt from the pizz dispenser.

Moose was more careful.  He tried backhanding one of the lines, stopping short of hitting it, and let the shockwave run past it.  I could see where the shockwave that followed the movement disturbed the earth.  It took a ‘v’ shape, as even that was parted.

I felt the Mech I was wrestling shift in reaction to the vibration.  Whatever the Harbinger was doing didn’t seem like enough.

I almost looked at Brandish as that happened, checking if she had been hurt worse by even the fact that there was movement in the air, jostling, and changing in position.

He was tall, too, and unlike Bitter Pill, he had the ‘powers gave me this physique’ build.

“Who needs help!?” Moose shouted.

“Carol- the woman-”

“Precipice,” I interrupted my dad.  “Get to Precipice, Moose, help him get free of the cage.  You!”

I indicated someone else from the group.  A cape I didn’t recognize, who had an unkempt beard that extended below the line of his mask.  He had a mean look to him, by design, by color, the way the metal armor he wore strapped in over coat and costume bottoms was as scuffed and battle-scarred as it was.  But his eyes were wide and alarmed behind the mask.

“Get to her.  Try and get her to change, but carry her back to Bluestocking somehow.  Hug the wall, the guy making cutting lines is above!”

He looked relieved to have a job.

“I can do above,” Birdbrain said.  “Give me a second, need to adjust.”

Foil, back still to the ground, gun in front of her, let go of her weapon to indicate a direction.  Birdbrain nodded.

We had our reinforcements.  I could hear Damsel using her blasts nearby, and wished she was here.

Moose drew nearer.  I saw the lines around me disappear, the guillotine fizzling out, and realized what was imminent.  A sudden lunge, the mech twisting, leaning hard on me to simultaneously push me down and use me as a bracing point to go for Moose, backhanding him.

I was ready for it.  I dropped everything, losing the Wretch, the forcefield, and letting the Mech fall instead of lean on me.  The backhand lost its leverage, and Moose was able to bring his hands around and put his hands out in anticipation of the attack.  The sides of the gauntlets, not the palms or fists.

The mech struck him, and Moose was sent stumbling backward but not so far back that he collided with the fence of glowing lines.  The points where the hands met his gauntlets, however, bent inward, metal fingers bending and crumpling.

Moose shifted his hand from ‘chop’ to a fist, not punching, but simply pointing.  The crumpled parts became craters.  He pushed, to follow-up, and the shockwave that followed saw the mech toppling.  I hurried to do my best to guide its fall.

The axis where four arms extended out hit the ground.  The landing was hard enough to jostle everyone and everything nearby.  Rain, trapped with no less than six of the glowing lines criss-crossing in a loose circle around him, nearly stumbled into one of them.

“He’ll try to fuck with you, Precipice is who he really wants!” I told Moose.  “Careful of more lines!”

“Fuck,” was the response.

But he didn’t stop, as he recovered and ran, now crouching, in Rain’s direction.

Meanwhile, I had to deal with the fact that the mech no longer needed arms or hands on the ground to brace itself.  With two big arms and two small ones, the center-mass was off.  Something I’d always had to pay attention to when learning how to throw or move big things with my power.

An image flashed into my mind, of Uncle Neil giving me field instruction, while parents stood by, arms folded.

It hurt.  The regret, the full and total knowledge that I hadn’t told her about my forcefield and she’d gotten hurt because of it.  I didn’t want to call it the Wretch in this context, because that felt like it was deflecting blame to the reckless and wild consciousness at the other end of my power.

The advantage was that it wasn’t very mobile.  Instead of four arms pointed down and the point they met up, it was the other way around.  Four lengths of arm, ‘shoulder’ to elbow, all resting on the ground as a cross, each with a massive mechanical forearm and hand rising up from the terminus or draping out from the end.  In the center, protected by those hands, I could see the ‘bowl’ of stasis-frozen body parts.  We needed those.

I saw Swansong look over her shoulder and gave her a tight shake of the head.  Because the terrain was muddy and she was missing a foot, and because the mech had hostages at the same time she had a chaotic and reckless power.

It could drag itself, and it looked to be trying, but it was just an obstacle, with a lot of reach and, should it move in just the right way, the possibility of slamming into Brandish.

I threw myself at one elbow, pushing the entire mass just a few feet across slick, muddy ground, still wet from Byron’s power.  The hand came down, and I flew back and away, spinning once in the air to try and ensure I wasn’t flying into anything lethal.

The spin made my head swim, and between the sick feeling in my upper chest, the tension in my facial features, the dizziness that swept over my every sense, and the fact that the arms and legs I was relying on were entirely power-derived, I felt like I was just a head, neck, and some shoulder.

I hit it again, to try to wedge it into the corridor that Brandish and Capricorn had been guarding, and nudge it further from Brandish.

The thing was trying to stand, and I did what I could to keep it from getting there.  Moose leaped onto it, knocking an arm flat to the ground, while making the rest of it buck up.

I hit it again, harder, to knock it flat again.  Metal bent and broke.

“Heads up!” Rain barked.

There were arms nested in one of the primary ones.  I’d seen how they did it, a more slender arm fitting into hollows in the forearm, palm, and fingers.  As they pulled free, I saw the glint and crackle of the invisible cables.  The hollow spaces in the underside of each arm and hand were covered up by shutters.

“Moose, Harbinger, get back!” I called out the order.

The whips came crashing down.  Five deep slices into earth as the left hand swept down.  Five more when the right hand swiped horizontally, raking a nearby wall that had been raised up from the ground as part of the ‘maze’.

The hands rose and reoriented, the entire machine trying to get to a position like its original one, with four arm-shaped ‘legs’ firmly on the ground in a quadruped position, but this time with the two narrower, nimbler arms extended up and above from the midpoint, each with five cables draping from them, those cables swiftly becoming invisible.

Foil and the Harbinger took point.  As the arms whipped out again, Harbinger shot.  The invisible cable’s course was altered, and it clipped the ‘elbow’ of one of the arms.

I couldn’t fly full speed, so I rose steadily, up and away from the scene.  Moose was helping Rain, lifting him up and out of the cage.  Foil and Birdbrain were taking up different points around the clearing, to have a better chance of hitting Cradle if he turned up.

I could hear the gunfire and see how frenetic the flashlights were moving in places.  More reinforcements.  There were less people pressing in against Rachel and the dogs, now.

I could see the cape I’d tasked with evacuating Brandish.  I could see the glow of the orb.

Rain got free and sprinted toward the mech.  He made his silver blades, then sliced at one finger.

It broke, the weight of it serving as the catalyst to bring about the break.  Rain was already swiping at another- until his sword fizzled out.

“Fucking come on!” he swore.  “Come on, come on!”

The blade appeared again.  A delay between uses, apparently.  Rain cut at the hand itself.

“Back out, Rain!” I shouted.

I saw him hesitate, moving like he was going to jump back into the fray.

“You’re not thinking straight!”

He seemed to get that.  He turned to run.

Hands moved, cables slicing audibly through the air, right for him.

Moose grabbed his hand and hauled him out of the last foot of the cable’s reach.

The Mech tried to stand, but with one finger and part of the hand broken, its attempt to ‘walk’ itself forward failed, and it toppled.

The fact that it was slower made it easier to keep a distance.  The reinforcements we were getting were making it so we weren’t surrounded by soldiers while holding our ground in a ‘house’, to use my allegory for the nature of the clearing.  The soldiers were under attack on their own, and we had a chance to breathe.  To shore up.

There was an issue with fighting an uphill battle, and we had been, before the reinforcements.  I wasn’t sure if we still weren’t, just given the situation that surrounded us.  It was a long, hard slog to get uphill, but if there was someone standing at the other end of that uphill climb, they were benefiting from being there.  Not fighting meant one could rest, could heal, and could come up with contingencies, while watching the other guy struggle.  When we’d had the advantage over the villains of Hollow Point, before Advance Guard had tipped our hand for us, we’d had that option.

It was why, so very often, things could trend downhill.  The wrong people got the advantage and every time that hard progress was made, they were ready with a failsafe, another plan, a way to knock the good guys down.   When the good guys managed that equilibrium, it was society functioning reasonably well.

It didn’t help that the people who were willing to capitalize on the weak were villains, so even when victory was achieved against the criminals and monsters, there were often others of their ilk ready to pick up where they left off, while everyone else was picking up the pieces.

The others had the situation partially handled.  I wanted to be above it, away from it.  To get a vantage point wide enough that I could make out the players and see what the next move was.

To get ahead of Cradle and what he had planned.

The Harbinger who hadn’t gone to fight the soldiers elsewhere in the maze was dodging the cables, targeting the mech.  It was a systematic dismantlement, where one stab or a series of smaller ones caused cracks to run along one length of arm, or made steam start billowing out of an elbow.  I suspected he was very much enjoying himself, but it wasn’t fast.  I had to assume that as good as he was at movement, at thinking his way around a fight, he didn’t get tinker things like a tinker did.

Sveta was at the rooftops, and as I rose up, she rose up alongside me, keeping a healthy distance.

By the look on her face, she’d seen.  She didn’t meet my eyes.

I didn’t get the feeling of judgment or condemnation.  But if there were words to say, I was pretty sure she couldn’t bring herself to say them.  To absolve me of blame for what I’d done to Brandish required that she do the same for herself, for the accidental deaths she caused.  I knew from what she’d said in the past that she always wondered about and regretted the preventative actions she hadn’t taken.

“They’re going to change it up,” I said.  My voice sounded funny.  Easier to be a leader, authoritative, communicating what was needed.  In this medium, away from the thick of it, trying to catch a breath, I sounded so shaky.

“How?” Sveta asked.  She met my gaze with the question.

“Sneak attack, or going for something they know we want.  If he threatens his hostages- one of the vital organs of someone, that’s one thing.  The portal is another thing where he has the advantage.  Or he could just find one of us in a moment of weakness and catch us by surprise with that whip of his.”

“He has to get to his machine to do anything with it.”

“And to pilot it,” I observed.  “It was faster and cleverer when he was close enough to watch it and track what it was doing.  I don’t think it has the best A.I. on its own.”

“It’s scary,” Sveta said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “But Cradle’s scarier.  Keep an eye out.”

It was difficult to keep an eye on every rooftop, corner, crevice, and maze wall, in this space that had folded up, had parts rise up, and otherwise turned itself around enough that it was all a mess.  Not every point seemed to connect exactly to each other point, and an awful lot seemed to turn back in on itself.

The guy with Brandish was having trouble getting out.  He found himself back in the same place again, and to his credit, he looked upset about it.  He cared about helping or doing his part for this community here.

Because the maze was shifting.

The effect was slow, but it was picking up speed.  The guy was taking routes that had knocked-out or dead soldiers or signs of passage, only to find they were dead ends.

“The maze is shifting!” I hollered down.

Tremulous emotion caught me post-holler, like I’d jostled something free.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” I swore.  “What are you doing, Cradle?”

Tunnels and corridors weren’t serving to give the soldiers an angle for a surprise attack, so tunnels and corridors fell away.  I saw a squadron running in the general direction of the others.

I flew into the upper edge of a maze wall, and I slammed into it.

There were soldiers who were far enough ahead that when they heard the action they could run or push their way forward.  There were others at the tail end of the group who could back off.

More in the center, who bent over or tried to shield themselves.  Stones and chunks of earth fell on them from above.

I might well have killed one or more of them, doing that.  It might not be the first deathblow I’d delivered tonight.

I had to focus.  The only way forward was forward.  I couldn’t atone for one mistake by perpetrating another and letting other people die.

The maze was shifting to create an arena, and an aperture was opening in the side of a building.  A gate, unfolding as a small crack became a hole and the hole became an archway.  As it opened, so did the scale of the blades that flew out of the aperture, tiny and counting in the hundreds.  Cretan followed it, charging with shield up and helmet down.

Moose started forward, picking up a piece of corrugated metal with the clear intent of shielding some of the others, but it was a coordinated attack.  A short wall tripped Moose.  Cretan collided with him while he was off balance.  While he was on the ground, walls began to rise up around him.  My dad blew up two of those walls, only to start receiving the brunt of the flying blades, which were so numerous they carpeted the floor of the clearing.

The blades were like razors, embedding an inch or so into flesh or ground, or opening up cuts, while Cretan was the hammer, to remove or exclude heavier and more dangerous targets.

My dad shouted something to Moose, threw a grenade.  Moose caught it, then flicked it toward the open archway.  It detonated within.

It only bought a few seconds.

I needed to be down there.  Except I didn’t trust myself.

Lionwing and Cretan were two of Cradle’s inner guard.  That they were stepping into the fray meant we were whittling him down.  As Ashley had noted, Cradle was one to lead from the rear, and as I’d noted, he probably liked to monitor and pilot his mech, and maybe to use his emotion power.

I flew down.  Through the rooftop of the building the aperture had opened in.  The space had been a one-floor house, but raised up by the maze to be three or four stories tall.  Instead of slamming through multiple floors in quick succession, I found myself in a void, fifty feet to travel down to the ground, only a maze-created fold of wall to knock down on my way.

He was ready for me, and he saw me.  The whip flared red in the near-total darkness, illuminated only by secondhand light thrown in through the window.

I didn’t hesitate, trying to visualize the route I needed to take, and the form that swing would have.

Rather than swing, he disappeared, skipping his way into the clearing.

I hit the earth, found and picked up a stone, and stood up again.  Lionwing was at the entry to the arch, drawing the blades back to her now, to form a shield at one arm.

I couldn’t fight Lionwing, but I didn’t want her to know that.  That stream of blades would tear past my forcefield.

At the rear of the other group, the mech moved, reaching, and it was Sveta who reached down to grab outstretched fingers.  Every single one of her tendrils found a home, either on an anchor point or on the mech itself.  It strained, to the point I thought she might snap, or that tendrils might pull free.

I flew straight for Lionwing, then pulled away at the last second, using my aura.  A test.

It provoked a response, the shield extending from a rough triangular shape to a spike.  Another spike composed of interlocked blades stabbed out from under the shield.  If both of those had hit me, far enough apart…

She knew how my power worked?

My eyes narrowed.

“Fuckers,” I said.

“Do you know how his emotion power works?” Lionwing asked.

“We got the gist of it,” I said.  “But I bet you’re going to try to be clever.  You seem like the type.”

“The type?”

I was aware that every second that passed was a second my team was fighting Cradle, the mech, and Cretan, while Cretan used his power to divide and conquer them.

At least if I tied her up I could keep her from using most of those blades on my team.  It looked like she had a set quantity she could manage at a whim.  Shields, blades, flying hail, even flight, from what I’d heard reported.

“Your first move in a fight is a surprise attack, pulling an ace from your sleeve.  You have the hair-” I gestured at her mane of hair.  “-that you obviously put time into.  Nice costume.  But you work for an irredeemable scumbag and do irredeemable things.  Doesn’t connect.  Like it’s all surface level.”

Blades flew in to slide into studs in her costume.  For a second, she was buoyed up.  Had I missed my chance to get an answer, in my hurry to push her?

She stabbed out, and the configuration of the sword shifted to make it more spear-like as she thrusted, the blades sliding against the palm of her gauntlet.  She hit the edge of the Wretch, and the blade detonated, a shrapnel of blades cast out in every direction in front.

I’d avoided it, because she’d already established her pattern with intent.  One-two hits, every time.

“Now you’re second guessing yourself,” I said.  “Whether what you were going to say sounded good, the intimidation factor.”

“No second guesses,” she said.

I forced a small smile to my face, and offered her an equally small laugh, inaudible but visible.

“Ol’ Snag wants to give people things that mean something, and he gets a power that lets him fill objects with emotion, builds gear to shoot people with it.  Makes sense, don’t it?” Lionwing asked.  “The bitch inflicts herself on everyone around her, and doesn’t realize she’s doing it even after she brings the teenage girl into her mess.”

“Colt.  Yeah,” I said.  I turned sideways, to be more aware of the blades that had peppered surfaces behind me.  They were starting to move again.  “Admittedly on point so far.”

I’d had the distinct impression that if I’d simply said ‘no’ to the question about what Cradle’s power was, I’d get a tease.  I wanted to bait her out, so I’d said ‘yes’, and now I tried to tack her pride to the matter.

It helped that she didn’t seem to care that much, and that my read on her wasn’t wrong- she liked appearances, flash, and style.

“The boy is a bad weather pattern, a cloud of misery and utter patheticness that hangs over anyone he looks at.”

I remained silent, let the silence hang.

If I gave her anything, including telling her she was wrong, which she kind of was, I was pretty sure she’d tease me and leave me without answers.

“The boss?  The guy who’s out there, cutting people to pieces, targeting the tired and the distracted?  He’s too self centered to give.  You learn to work around that.  It’s all take.  Himself.”

“I have something of his I’d like to give him.  Knock out his teeth and make him swallow them.”

“You stupid bitch,” Lionwing said.  “He can draw it in.  Read your weaknesses in chemical code, running through your head and your veins.  He earned money blackmailing people by targeting them.  He got more ground with people by sensing how far he could push them before they gave.  And all of that was before.  When he woke up tonight, he was strong.  What he’s been doing?  He’s been gathering what he needs.”

Reading us?  Hanging back and drinking it all in?

“Now,” Lionwing said, “He’s using it.”

Soldiers to keep us busy, maybe to force us into situations where our emotional landscapes were closer to the surface.

I knew mine was.

I snarled as I took flight, Wretch out, and hit the ground to kick up dirt, sending it her way.  I had to assume she needed to see to use those blades.

She created a cloud of them around herself, reached to her side, and drew a gun.

I hit the fold of maze above, where Cretan’s power had stretched out the building facing the station, and let the rubble fall.  I reversed course, flipping upside down -feeling a bit dizzy from my earlier impact- and reversed course, hitting the ledge fist-first.

To bring rubble down on Lionwing.  The cloud of blades became a solid bubble, a shield.

I broke another bit of rubble away, and used a burst of Wretch strength to hurl it, aiming not for her, but for where the bubble met ground.  Things were less interlocked there, and the chunk of concrete half-crumbled, half-bounced through.

It was an opportunity, where she couldn’t see me clearly and she was off-balance.  I fought her like I’d fight myself, grabbing another bit of concrete that broke off to be smaller than I’d hoped for, and hurling it, before changing directions.

The concrete hit one side of her bubble, and the entire thing shifted before exploding out in that direction.  I grabbed her gun-hand in the moment the now-exposed mercenary wheeled around to point it at me, almost catching it between my arm and armpit.

Her hand firmly in my grip, I smashed into her, driving her into the ground.  Her body rolled a short distance, her arm stayed with me.

I let it fall.  Still connected, or at least partially connected.  I hadn’t dismembered her, but I hadn’t ruled it out either.  But it was dislocated at the very least, and I was pretty sure from the way it had bent on the impact with the ground that I’d broken the various pieces of the arm in a few places.

I took care of her like I’d taken care of Paris.  I needed to know she wouldn’t be too dangerous to have at my back, but she didn’t need arms and legs.  I had to knock her out, and I didn’t have a minute to spare or anything convenient to do it with.

Instead, grabbing her hair, I smashed her head against the ground twice.  That was the point she was still breathing but not up to pick any fights with me anymore.

I grabbed weapons off of her, and I approached the arch.

My dad had been cut.  So had one of the dogs.  Moose was lying on the ground and I had no idea why, but I could assume another cut.

Harbinger two was out and Harbinger one… when I looked, I saw that the maze of Cretan’s power had raised walls all around us.  Could they climb?

Ashley looked unconscious, and she was bleeding badly.  I could see where Cretan stood, a safe distance away from her, and draw conclusions there.  Had she tried to beat him without killing him?

We’d gotten the sign-off on killing, but for Ashley, I could imagine a spur-of-the-moment thought where she felt it was more important not to kill the other horned guy in armor.

Fuck.  Fuck fuck fuck.

Rachel was harder to spot, because she was slumped against one dog’s side, while the dog lay on the ground.  Tattletale was beside her.

I saw Foil, but no Cassie.

I saw Bitter Pill, healed from her near-decapitation and leg loss, Birdbrain, and two of Bitter Pill’s capes that hadn’t been around when I’d dove into the building.  There were people from the local community without costumes on, and I had no idea from the context if they were Bluestocking’s or if they were ones loyal to Cradle and Cradle’s way.

Leaving only Rain, who was breathing hard, his expression hidden.  Cretan stood to one side, his head periodically turning as he surveyed the high walls that enclosed Cradle’s fucked up little arena.

“I guess you win,” I told Cradle, my voice low.

“If he surrenders, and if you stay back, I’ll let you tend to your wounded.  You’ve got a few.  I’ll do what I need to in the next six hours, and then I’ll get somewhere safe.  I have thinkers to ask, to make sure I’m not being pursued.  Once that’s confirmed, I’ll disable the severing.”

“It can be disabled?”

“Yes or no?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I don’t get a say?” Rain asked.

“Ra- Precipice,” I said, and my voice was firm.  “Please.”

“One person is strapped to the railroad track, everyone else is strapped to the other.  The trolley is coming, do I pull the switch?” Rain asked, bitter.  “Except I’m the one guy.  I’ve always been the one guy.  I get people who say they care about me, but they always end up on the other goddamn track.”

“It’s not about that,” I said.

“Fucking feels like it.  Fuck!”

I closed my eyes.  I was aware that Cradle probably wasn’t keen on picking a fight with me because Lionwing had called his emotion power a kind of emotion reading or feedback response.  If my resistance to emotion powers factored in, I might seem a little fuzzier.

Rain, who was the only other guy with emotion powers still standing, was part of that.

But if I fought- I couldn’t see a way through.  Not when he had other mercenaries like Cretan, or anyone still outside the walls.

I had allies out there too, but the calculus…

I wasn’t sure I had another knock-down, drag-out fight in me.

“Yes,” I heard.

I opened my eyes.  Rain had answered.

“Walk forward,” Cradle said.  “Twenty feet ahead, hands up.  No mechanical hands.”

Rain’s expression was hidden, but I could imagine his face twisting with emotion as his shoulders tensed and his head turned at a slight angle.

“I’m going to remove them.”

“Do it.”

Rain disconnected the remains of his machine hands – one mostly intact, the other broken at the elbow.  He held both the pads in his hand, the arms folded up.  He bent down to lay them on the ground.

“Throw them.  Into there.”

Cradle indicated a leafy area where a bush jutted up against the side of one of the warped homes.

Rain discarded them, throwing them where they’d be hard to find again.  Without being asked, he started walking, head down.  Cretan trained a gun on him.

Cradle looked at me, and I raised my hands.

“If your feet leave the ground or if you drop those hands…” Cradle intoned.  He used his power, moving to a position where he was bent down.  He picked up an oblong stone.  A bright line appeared in the air to his right.  He swatted it with the stone, severing the stone in half.  “This happens to someone or something you care about.  Could be the fix you want.”

“And you get away, you disappear, and you leave the world a worse place than when you entered it.”

“I tried.  More than you know, I tried,” Cradle said.  “Once powers came into it, I physically could not try anymore.  Once he came into it.”

“I know people who couldn’t help but kill.  But they found coping mechanisms.”

“How long did it take them to figure out?” Cradle asked.  “How many deaths?”

I didn’t respond.

“I haven’t killed anyone,” he said.  “Not with these hands.  Believe me, I’m coping.”

“You’re fucking awful at coping,” I said.

“Aren’t we all?” he asked, and for maybe the first time ever, he sounded weirdly amused.

Then he walked away, Cretan ushering Rain forward.  Cradle flickered with every movement, not that it really mattered, considering the only conscious dangers who were crack shots with a gun were on the other side of the walls that bounded the arena and the tunnel Cretan was making to the station.  Above them were buildings stretched improbably tall and black sky.

He wins?

Fuck that.

I watched him disappear from sight.  I didn’t budge.  I avoided looking at the others.  I listened.

My middle ear might have been fucked up from my earlier collision, but I imagined a shift in the air pressure.  I imagined the timing was right.

I gave the signal, hand chopping down.

Sveta dropped down from that improbable height, her tendrils going to the ground and providing spring before the impact.

I flew, and as Sveta grabbed for every handhold, I threw caution to the wind.  No Wretch, no problematic air resistance.  I knew what I was getting into here.

But for the rainfall patter of Sveta’s tendrils on the walls of the station, we were silent, as we darted after Cradle.

He stood at the threshold to the portal, and he seemed genuinely surprised to see us.  If Cradle wasn’t as quick or effective in assessing me and how to target me, it might have had to do with my emotion resistance.  If he had difficulty with Sveta, it might have had to do with the fact that there were no veins for her emotions to run through, her brain maintained a different construction.

The reaction was immediate, Cretan’s power sheltering Cradle and putting a few bends in the path between them and us.

Sveta’s focus was on a few things at once, but she was capable of that.  Her mechanical body had trained her.

For Rain, she reached past the bends, grabbing him by several points, before flinging him backward, hurtling at about a hundred miles an hour toward the wall by the front door.  He stopped abruptly in his path.

Cradle proved harder to grab.  He could move in an instant, and as fast as those tendrils seemed to be, they took a bit more than an instant.

But as we’d seen when Foil went on the offensive, he reacted to surprise with randomness, before he settled on his game plan.  Four or five teleports in short order, long enough to put a thought together and assess the threat.

Sveta reached out for every point, every place he could be.  It made an audible sound, like a few seconds of intense rainfall.

She got tendrils on Cradle, and Cretan raised up a wall, singular, between Cradle and Sveta.  The tendril was pinched between wall and ceiling, unable to retract, reel in, or rope around Cradle enough to take any part of him.  Other tendrils tried to reach around the breadth of the wall, and they didn’t extend far enough.

My role in things was to distract, to force him to play the cards he had in hand.  For me, Cradle made the glowing lines.  X’s in space.

Sveta pulled Cradle’s equipment out of his hand.  With a flick of the trapped tendril, the equipment was sent skittering across the floor.

My goal, my plan, had been a raw one.  To trust the team.  Knowing that we had some good people beyond the wall, and thinking that they’d bring the wall down once they’d won, to reclaim the remaining mercenaries and assert dominance over Bluestocking.  They didn’t lower the walls.  No Harbinger, no Damsel, no Cassie and her hound, no Prancer…

But I’d had Sveta, my best friend.  Who was more trustworthy than I was.

And Chastity, who’d earned another so-very-important friendship in Cassie, was in the station.

Chastity had to run to grab the whip that had been sent across the floor.  She picked it up with two hands, fumbling with the controls.  A dial on the side.

More lines barred my way.

The whip flared to life, but it was too much, producing a high-pitched whine.

Fucking tinkers, Tattletale had said.

Trapped, or too hard to use.  Chastity tried to manage it, using her facility with whips to whip out in Cradle’s direction.

Too fast, too hard to hit.  The same evasive maneuvers that served against Sveta served against Chastity.  He produced glowing lines, and she slashed them.  Banishing them.

The crackle of electricity was reaching a fever pitch now.

She whipped Cretan instead.  Cutting him across the body at nipple height.  He tried to scream and didn’t find the air.

Cradle turned around, staring.  He touched his headgear, his hair.

“All alone,” I said.  “Because that’s what happens when you act like an asshole.”

He hesitated, then turned to the portal.  All he had to do was run for it.

But he’d hesitated.  Rain, over in the corner, had his hands out, like he’d done with the window.

And Cretan, being not as dumb as he looked in his white bull costume, had to know that there was only one way to guarantee that he get fixed.

The maze blocked off the way to the portal.  It sealed everything off.  The moment was marked with a pronounced crack, as the whip Chastity had flung away detonated.   Overloaded.

She dropped to her knees, staring at the remains.

Were Cradle anyone else, I think he would have made an amused sound, but he was quick enough on the draw to realize his circumstances.

All of us, underground and inside, surrounded by four walls, a floor, and a ceiling without a door.  And Cradle without his tech.

His power drew lines, and waited for his targets to meet the lines.  They didn’t serve him when everything was at a standstill.

“Fix me and I let you go,” Cretan said.

“Fix him and I break you,” I told him.

“I can heal from what you do,” he told me.

“Are you sure?

There was only silence.  Several of us were out of breath.  Even Cradle, who didn’t move conventionally.

“Don’t you dare fix him,” I said.  “We’re all going to have a long talk.”

“This fucking hurts!”

“You helped him do it to others.  Call a few minutes to an hour of suffering justice.”

“The two of us, trapped in a room at night,” Rain said.

Cradle turned around, staring at him.  “The last time, one way or another.”

“I really hope you’re right,” Rain growled.

The maze shifted.  Cradle lunged, appearing at what was only a gap, barely enough to put a hand through.

“Fix me!” Cretan managed a roar, speaking when lung didn’t connect to windpipe or mouth.

Cradle touched something at his belt.  “Just you.”

I flew after him.

The red line at Cretan’s middle flared, and the severed parts were drawn in, while they grew out at the other parts.

More like portals than anything else.

And the gap widened.  Cradle slipped through.  I flew after him.

We hit the portal, and he ceased being able to do his tricky movement.  I ceased being able to fly.  I hadn’t been aware that was a thing, and the landing, going from the top of an arched ceiling to the floor, with every injury I already had, was not a pretty one.  Cradle’s landing was gentler.  His getaway a bit faster.  And he was faster than me on the stretch.

But we weren’t alone.

Citrine, her husband, two more Harbingers, and a small crowd of other capes.  Snuff, one of Faultline’s.

Cradle, not yet past the middle ground of the portal, stopped in his tracks.

“You’ve made quite a mess,” Citrine said.  She was wearing a yellow shirt with ruffles beneath an ankle-length coat.

“I can help clean it up,” Cradle said.  “For allowances.”

“No,” Citrine said.  “No, you can’t, and you won’t.  The damage is done.”

“You need me.”

“No we don’t,” Citrine said.

“We might,” I said.  “To undo the damage to the Navigators, Shepherds, and our various teams.  Give me a second?”

Citrine didn’t respond.

I wasted no time.  My hand wasn’t cooperating as I reached for my phone.

Antares:
Lookout?

Lookout:
OMG yes yay!
You’re okay!
Is Swnasong okay? is everyone okay? How did it go?

Fast typing for someone with injured hands.

Hard questions to answer, and she’d started from a bad conclusion.  I wasn’t sure I was okay.  This one had been hard.

Adding to the pile of conflicted emotions, I’d drawn a connection between this and the Slaughterhouse Nine in Brockton Bay.  I’d told myself that if I’d been able, I would have helped.  And that had eaten at me on a level, because I’d been raised as a helper.  I wanted to help.

I’d slain that demon.  At the cost, potentially, of another family member.

Turns out that demons suck to fight, I thought, my eyes on Cradle as I typed out my follow-up.  I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t have looked at my own expression to match that thought, had a mirror been readily available.

Antares:
Okay, bruised but okay, and less okay, depending.
Are you keeping an eye on the station?

Lookout:
Pshoo. Duh

Antares:
How good of an eye?  Did you get any signal readings?  We timed our final moves for when the door was open, in case you might try.

I was starting to type up another sentence to clarify what she was looking for when the reply came in.

Lookout:
Yes. Four minutes ago, I didn’t timestamp it, but it was near your location. This is the fix?

The signal from Cradle to undo the effect.

It was the fix.

“Keep him alive for now, just in case,” I addressed everyone present, my eyes on Cradle.  I was aware of the others catching up behind me.  Rain, Chastity, with Sveta in the background keeping Crete from running for it.  “But no, I don’t think we need him.”

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127 thoughts on “Heavens – 12.9”

  1. Yes, an excellent and one of the very few really positive characters lately . Victoria is a formidable strategist, almost as good as Taylor, Cradle is going to receive his well deserved comeuppance, right? No, don’t kill him, please. Cut him in smaller pieces than he cut Tattletale, but give him enough painkillers to not lose his minds because of pain (he needs to be permanently aware of his punishment). Let him rot in prison like this for the rest of his life.

    Now, its time for March to be another one added on Victoria’s list of eradicated monsters.

    1. Oh Cradle has something worse to worry about than death… Rain could just keep making him feel, every night now that they know how it works…

      1. Yes, this is good too, but they should not let him free, at least have him being locked in a cell for the rest of his life and everytime when he goes to sleep, Rain can fuck with his emotions.

        1. What’s the point? Why expend energy punishing someone wo you don’t expect to ever be redeemed. Better just have Rain drain his power and discard the remains.

          Or, if Rain is not okay with that, or with executing him, then I guess cut him into uselessness and strap him onto a Chastity-based Tinker device that immediately wakes him whenever he sleeps.

      2. Or better, Rain should drain him just like he drained LL and poor Colt. To the point of letting him nearly death and without any possibility to ever be a danger again for anyone. Then Rain will finally be the strong boy we all always wanted him to be. Maybe, maybe then his life will not suck anymore for him. Hope so.

    2. Lookout saves the day once again. Who wants to bet she’ll find a way to sell herself short for helping a dozen capes out of a fate worse than death ?

    3. > Cut him in smaller pieces than he cut Tattletale, but give him enough painkillers to not lose his minds because of pain (he needs to be permanently aware of his punishment). Let him rot in prison like this for the rest of his life.

      You mean sort of like the ways in which Prometheus or Loki were punished? Sounds a bit much if you ask me, and wasteful. I think it would be better to reform him. Just keep Cradle in prison long enough for Rain to give his tokens to him enough times to make sure he will really regret what he did for a long time.

      1. Do you really think he can be ever reformed even with Rain’s power? No, I don’t think so. He’ll be tormented each night and this seems like a good idea, but not reformed. Once he’ll be free, he’ll probably think: Ok, I’m sorry for what I did but I’ll make them feel sorry for what they did to me and start again with planning to fuck everyone up.
        Better have Rain draining him, send him in that special prison with no escape or simply kill him before someone else (March or Teacher) will help him be free again.

        1. I think he can be reformed. The only risk is that he will start doing to Rain, what Rain would be doing to him, and from Love Lost’s example we know how bad the consequences of that could be.

          1. Another risk is to be found and saved by Teacher and transformed into a supercharged Cradle under Teacher’s command. No, heroes should make sure that nobody will help Cradle escape neither he’ll be ever a danger for anyone else.

          2. Love Lost showed that you can throw your token in last second so that the other person cant throw them back. So basically if Cradle is allowed to live and continues to go to the dream room, then every night him and Rain would just wait until the last second and try to throw their tokens into the other cell while trying to stop the others from getting in. Point is, they would both be getting changed, rain would get more Cradle-y and Cradle would get more Rainy. All in all, a bad idea, Cradle needs to die I think. Or be removed from the dream room each night

          3. @The Denominator

            Precisely what I had in mind when talking about the risk in forcing Cradle to change that way. I guess that if Cradle stays alive and not completely drained, he, Rain and most likely Love Lost and even Colt too, will need to finally reach some sort of new agreement about what to do with the tokens.

            Maybe Cradle, once he calms down, can be somehow persuaded to take Rain’s tokens, especially if the alternative would be something like a lifetime in a cell? Do you think someone like Jessica could convince him?

          4. Apropos Jessica, do you think it is possible that she’s blocked Victoria’s number not because she’s so busy, but because she and Valkyrie had stopped in Shin for a chat with Amy there, and Amy told Jessica something that made Jessica think that it would be better to avoid contact with Victoria for now, especially over a phone, as opposed to face-to-face?

          5. After all Valkyrie did everything she could to find pretexts to avoid going to the city as long as possible, and since Victoria is supposedly one of Jessica’s favorite former patients, and asked her to send a specialist Amy’s way, Jessica could decide to “send” hrself – the therapist she trusted most to do the job well.

          6. Remember that Wardens had someone keep an eye on what’s going on in Shin after Amy and her villains took over. Who would be a better person to keep eye on that dangerous lot than a former cell block leader in Birdcage, who at the same time happens to supposedly be the most powerful parahuman alive?

          7. On the topic of Jessica blocking Victoria’s phone number, it could be even possible that she would want to meet with members of Breakthrough face to face first before even deciding if it is safe to mention talking to Amy (and probably also Chris) to them, and I guess that Yamada likes and respects Victoria (and possibly also at least some of her other patients in Breakthrough) to just avoid (or worse – lie) about the topic in a phone conversation.

          8. And if Valkyrie visited Shin before coming to the city, it could be another possible explanation of the fact that she apparently didn’t go to fight March and the Goddess cluster in Brockton Bay. Aside from her fear of “the biggest threat”, she could have some fresh intel about these people (at least about the Goddess cluster) suggesting that her personal involvement would be a bad idea.

          9. @Alfaryn

            I would be pretty shocked if Cradle could be negotiated to accept Rain’s tokens. From everything we have seen and everything he has said, it seems that his intent is to kill himself if he can’t prevent Rain from “altering” him. When someone is intent on killing themselves, life in prison isn’t a great threat. Theoretically you could constantly monitor him to make sure he doesn’t kill himself in prison but that is a lot of work for not much reason. While potentially Yamada would be the only chance anyone would have of convincing him, frankly I think that she has more pressing matters and it wouldn’t make sense spending what would likely be months to try to convince him, especially if he is able to corrupt Rain even once in the meantime. Based on your later messages I think we at least agree that Jessica is likely too busy to work on people that aren’t in a position to be game changers.

          10. I’m not entirely convinced Yamada will be all that busy now. Considering that she disappeared seemingly without a trace a while ago, chances are most of her patients were assigned to her colleagues. There is a chance not all of them will be reassigned back to her now.

            Of course we don’t know what other matters she will be occupied with in current situation, but I wouldn’t exclude a possibility that she will have enough time for someone like Cradle.

            As for her safety – do you think Cradle would be stupid enough to attack a favorite therapist of all of those high-profile heroes?

          11. @The Denominator

            Also remember that convincing Cradle to make some sort of a deal with Rain regarding the tokens seems like the only way to keep them both safe from each other without doing something very immortal (like killing or draining one of them).

            I actually had a problem where to put this comment, because I think it fits both here and below that comment you posted below about morality of Rain’s current choice regarding Cradle.

          12. > Remember that Wardens had someone keep an eye on what’s going on in Shin after Amy and her villains took over. Who would be a better person to keep eye on that dangerous lot than a former cell block leader in Birdcage, who at the same time happens to supposedly be the most powerful parahuman alive?

            I’ve just realized one problem with this theory. It’s the timing. There are a few places when I’m not sure about how much time passed between the scenes, for example I’m not sure how long it took the Wardens to return to Gimel after the battle in Africa, or how much time passed between chapters 11.3 and 11.4, but unless either of those took over a week, I think that when Cinereal told that the situation in Shin was closely monitored, Valkyrie has been looking for the lost Warden’s HQ full time – to the point where she was living of the land, so she probably couldn’t be the person “closely” monitoring Shin at the same time. Remember that it took Valkyrie “A week. A week, a day, and four hours” to find any trace of people who were lost with the HQ, and unless I miscalculated something or chapter 11.4 did not start on the next day after chapter 11.3, then it’s been only six days simce the night when Wardens returned and Navigations were attacked, and five days (minus a few hours) since Cinereal told everyone about the situation on Shin being monitored.

          13. One thought about the possibility of “reforming” Cradle. If he is to be convinced to take Rain’s tokens, it probably needs to happen very soon, because otherwise it may be too late:

            Cradle turned around, staring at him. “The last time, one way or another.”

            Depending on what Cradle meant, heaving someone like Yamada deal with the problem, and doing it today may even be the only way to keep both him and Rain alive.

          14. Sorry, I meant to write ‘having’ instead of ‘heaving’, and I’m not even sure if that sentence would be grammatically correct with this change.

  2. “He wins?

    Fuck that.”
    Yes. Fuck that indeed. We needed that Catharsis. Now if March just got crushed under 5 tons of elephant dung, the day would be perfect.

  3. Possible Typo Thread?
    “The head flipped back, and her stretched-out mouth was already wide open for another squirt from the pizz dispenser.”
    Now that’s either supposed to be “Pez Dispenser”, Victoria having an opinion on Bitter Pill’s concotions, or a term I am unfamilier with.

    1. Pez is still a trademark, with all the legalese migraine-inducing stuff it brings.

      “Sveta in the background keeping Crete”
      Cretan, or Crested ? Probably the former, but the latter was around somewhere.

        1. There’s a whole “brand identity” can of worms that it’s best to avoid opening when possible, however. For instance, a candy manufacturer could have (legitimate and understandable) objections to their signature product being used as a drug delivery device by a mad scientist.

    2. > When the good guys managed that equilibrium, it was society functioning reasonably well.

      There are three spaces before this sentence.

      > I wanted to bait him out, so I said ‘yes, and now I tried to tack his pride to the matter.

      ‘yes, > ‘yes’,

      1. second, I ran on instinct for the entirety of it, > second — I ran on instinct for the entirety of it —
        Breakers, and tinkers > Breakers, and Tinkers
        Crete from > Cretan from

    1. Felt kind of… cheat-y to me. Cradle had all this shit going for him, and he just fails to do anything correctly at the key moments?

  4. The best power to have in the Wildbow verse is to be slightly more durable than average. Anything more and you get the Alexandria effect. I mean, just look at Moose putting in work.

  5. This chapter is a bit fragmented – possibly on purpose, but rather jarring in practice. For instance:

    I felt the Mech I was wrestling shift in reaction to the vibration. Whatever the Harbinger was doing didn’t seem like enough.

    I almost looked at Brandish as that happened, checking if she had been hurt worse by even the fact that there was movement in the air, jostling, and changing in position.

    Moose is the focus right before (which is fine) but also right after this, without a smooth transition.

    1. What Miles said. Just to add a bit further, Vicky is trying to avoid thinking about Brandish, because she realises she will worry and get distracted by doing so. This could cost her her life.

      So she will immediately drop thoughts about Brandish, as soon as she is capable of. However, your mum dying by your own action is a pretty insidious thought, and is bound to force its way through now and again (I think it happens twice in the chapter).

  6. Epic.

    And an epic win!
    It was all a great chapter but especially the part from when Victoria and Sveta sprung into action together gave me the feels.

    “My goal, my plan, had been a raw one. To trust the team. Knowing that we had some good people beyond the wall, and thinking that they’d bring the wall down once they’d won, to reclaim the remaining mercenaries and assert dominance over Bluestocking. They didn’t lower the walls. No Harbinger, no Damsel, no Cassie and her hound, no Prancer…

    But I’d had Sveta, my best friend. Who was more trustworthy than I was.

    And Chastity, who’d earned another so-very-important friendship in Cassie, was in the station.”

    Cos that’s what this is all about 😀

  7. Four minutes?
    It looks like 30 seconds or so – jumping into portal, running into Citrine’s group, saying few phrases and type few messages.

  8. It was why, so very often, things could trend downhill. The wrong people got the advantage and every time that hard progress was made, they were ready with a failsafe, another plan, a way to knock the good guys down. When the good guys managed that equilibrium, it was society functioning reasonably well.

    While I personally never minded the string of partial victories, it is always nice to see authors acknowledge some fan complaints, especially with this chapter being one of the few total victories we’ve had so far.

    This chapter was also just a very good read in general. The narration was disjointed enough to show that Vicky is freaking out over what happened to Brandish, but still quite readable (though there were one or two moments that made me stop and think before I actually understood what was going on), the large-scale cape fight continued, even if it was winding down slightly from last chapter as Cradle began to run out of supporters (which felt odd, with the action reaching a crescendo and then fading while the narrative was still building to a climax, but it also makes sense with how the battle was fought and how many resources Cradle had. The heroes didn’t have some “instant win” button that just had to be used at the right time, they basically just had to fight a battle of attrition against a larger, better prepared enemy force). And hey, looking like more time for character growth soon, with Vicky considering how to avoid more force-field accidents in the future. Heck, if Carol recovers, this might even provide a way for her to understand better why Vicky can’t move past what happened with Amy (granted the force field staying all Wretchy is a relatively small part of what happened overall, but it’s also a constant reminder)… or she might just be bitter that she wasn’t told about it before she got hurt. Who knows? \_^.^_/

    … I… am not practiced at making my own emojis

  9. You know what? Considering what Citrine said, about the damage already having been done (or even the fact that she left the safety of whatever place she’s been holed up in), I’m afraid that the situation in Brockton Bay could have become even worse the since we saw it last time, and the damage probably spilled out from Bet to Gimel, and possibly other connected worlds.

    1. Apropos Citrine’s sudden appearance – isn’t it a bit strange that she came in company of Snuff and one of the Faultline’s Crew members? Could it be that Citrine’s been working with Faultline for a while now? If not – maybe Citrine reached to Faultline as soon as she realized that portals may cause more problems? After all those portals were created by capes from that crew in the first place…

      If Faultline is involved with Citrine than maybe Dinah also is?

      And since I already started talking about our favorite precog, here are a couple crazy theories about her:
      – maybe Scapegoat is not really Fallen, but is a plant placed by Dinah in Teacher’s Cauldron? We know she is perfectly capable of such long-term plays;
      – maybe Dinah is Fallen? Wouldn’t she make a perfect Simurgh’s cultist (or some other sort of Ziz’s agent) completely independent from the Mathers? It would match Tattletale’s note about her. In this case Scapegoat could be a cultist too, and still be Dinah’s plant.

      1. Oh, and Simurgh could also explain how Contessa got captured. Contessa probably couldn’t predict Ziz well enough to avoid being exposed to her song, and after that may even prefer to stay “captured” as a form of self-imposed exile, which in such situation could be seen by Contessa as a preferable alternative to possibly becoming Simurgh’s “guided missile” if she ended in a place, or in company where she could do some serious damage.

        Of course such Contessa’s behavior could suit Simurgh’s plans just fine. After all Ziz may prefer to keep a weapon potentially as powerful as Contessa “up her sleeve” for now.

      2. “maybe Dinah is Fallen?”

        I’ve always wondered what would happen if one of the timelines she glanced at happened to contain Mama Mathers …

        1. I don’t know if Mama Mather’s power works through Dinah’s future sight. I’m more worried that Simurgh could get to her. Remember that her precognition doesn’t let her see the Endbringers, so there is little she could do to avoid them.

          Also remember that Simurgh was fairly free to move around the people during (and presumably for a while after) Gold Morning. Dinah could have been “corrupted” then.

          An even more crazy alternative would be that considering how similarly Dinah and Ziz influenced Taylor at various times (basically Simurgh built upon Dinah’s notes for Taylor, by pushing her to “cut ties” in one more way during Gold Morning – telling Panacea and Bonesaw to cut some neurons connecting her Corona Pollentia to the rest of her brain), Dinah could think it may be a good idea to try to willingly cooperate with the Endbringer in some way – thus making her Simurgh’s agent, cultist, or something along those lines. Of course if that happened, Dinah could have been exposed to Simurgh’s song later, thus becoming “compromised” after having her fundamental “shift of motives” (both mentioned in Tattletale’s note in interlude 10.z) happened out of her free will.

  10. I thought the guy Antares didn’t recognise was the electric-tinker, but he didn’t wear armour. And Vicky’d remember him.

    Good on him, though! He looked tough, but I bet this is the biggest fight he’s been in with the possible exception of Gold Morning, and it’s not like he had the same choice there. And there were less opponents then, too.

    It’s also good to see Moose in action, his shockwave Brute power’s very interesting. Brute/Blaster’s quite an intriguing combination; I wonder if his trigger’s due to being injured at range, or if it’s just something that he figured out how to do?

  11. I wonder how bad the situation is on the other side of the portal. Remember that plenty of Cradle’s mercs are probably still fighting there, and some of them may not surrender even after they learn about Cradle being captured. Not to mention that we still don’t know about a lot of what happened already. There could be a lot of dead bodies there already. In light of Citrine’s presence the alliance with Bluestocking and Prancer may also tur out to be very short-lived.

  12. Damn, that was cathartic.

    “He wins? Fuck that. […] I gave the signal, hand chopping down.”

    I just about jumped out of my chair and cheered. Good job Victoria, good job Sveta, good job Chastity.
    Now, there’s going to be quite a lot of injuries to heal after that fight, and not a lot of breathing room to do the healing in given that I imagine March’s little escapade is probably having consequences in the metropolis by now. But still very satisfying.
    I guess just Goddessing one clustermate (well, two, if Colt counts…) doesn’t make you omnipotent. Especially when I imagine he would have needed time to do some Tinkering in order to fully take advantage of the power boost.

    1. I think he can only teleport to places he can see. Just knock him out or put a bag on his head, and transport him to a cell with no windows.

    2. I’m fairly certain he’s just traveling, but cutting out the traveling part. You know, instead of moving from point A to point B, he’s just arriving, but the arrival still needs to follow the rules of the movement that’s been cut away.

      So I guess you could say, “the suspension of physical disbelief can only be stretched so far,” in regards to his mover power.

      1. @david
        “how they can imprison Cradle if he can fucking teleport? ”
        @Starborn
        “So I guess you could say, “the suspension of physical disbelief can only be stretched so far,” in regards to his mover power.”
        Sooo… we need to “Wildbow” him?


        Gedd-it?

    1. Looks like she was. Perhaps you should report this in the typo thread above (even though technically it is not a typo), to make sure Wildbow won’t miss it?

        1. I’d consider the possibility of another case 70, but dizygotic twins are genetically completely different (akin to normal siblings). Possibly yet another kind of shard-nanigan.

          1. I it wouldn’t be the first character in the series with similarly fluid gender. Just remember Circus and Furcate. What I’m confused about is if it is some sort of external influence that caused Victoria to suddenly change pronouns despite still recognizing Lionwing, or if she knew that about the fact that Lionwing’s gender changes, and how exactly it happens (including which pronouns are correct at which time), and only we weren’t told about it yet.

            Just another mystery to be filed away with together with Cassie’s suddenly heterochromathic eyes in hopes that it will be explained later.

          2. Maybe becoming a guy is Lionwing’s equivalent of entering breaker state, or otherwise a change necessary for them to use their powers?

            Just what is in the files Victoria has on that cape?

      1. Unfortunate, was amusing myself with the idea that she was working for Cradle in exchange for a tinker prosthetic limb, full sensation 12 inches and it vibrates.

  13. Sometimes I like to pretend that Citrine and her crew aren’t capes. She’s just standing there in a business suit and a bowler hat with a look of stern disapproval when Cradle bursts through the portal. “Didn’t expect to see me here, did you? Well, the jig is up now, young man! Off to the slammer with you!” Cradle hangs his head and trudges off, escorted by Gilpatrick and his twirling truncheon. Kurt makes a mark on a clipboard and checks his pager, then mutters something about Bitcoin. Mayor Wynn eyes Victoria’s ragged costume, then smiles apologetically. “Kids these days, am I right?”

  14. A couple interesting things no one seems to have mentioned yet. First the option for Rain to drain Cradle and the morality of that. Despite the massive power boost he would gain, I can’t see Rain essentially torturing someone and taking away that much of them to make himself stronger. Feels like he would just hate himself for it. Secondly, as far as I can tell LL and Colt aren’t confirmed dead, they were dying and extremely weak when Cradle left the egg, but I don’t think dead. Who knows how they fared in the building during the battle but they may be alive, though they would already have been drained so not much of a threat. Plus LL would probably be on the good side of things at this point anyways? Also if Colt wasn’t a consistently bad person I’d feel bad for her, she had powers for what, 12 hours?

    It will be fun to see going forward what Moose and maybe Prancer do with themselves. Moose seems to be leaning hero, but I doubt Prancer would. But maybe Moose is willing to move away from Prancer. With any luck Ward turns into a Moose and Flashbang buddy cop story.

    1. Losing Velvet did a number on Prancer & Moose, but they still accepted Cradle & LL’s job.
      Hope they’ll take that into account for their next one.

      1. Prancer’s mistake was trying to play warlord, and hold territory. He wasn’t playing to his strengths. He’s a salesman. He’d have worked much better as a facilitator or someone who provides freemoving cape temps. He might be able to use this to get his foot in the door negotiating between villain run frontier worlds and the city. Well if the city is still in any kind of shape.

        1. His credibility and reputation have taken a battering since he tried and failed to play warlord, however. I hope he manages to get himself up; I like him, and he’s not actually dangerous, I think. Well, he is, he’s a cape, but… I don’t think he’s the type who’d kill without good reason.

    2. @Denominator

      “Plus LL would probably be on the good side of things at this point anyways?”

      Are you speculating that LL would want to side with the Good Guys? I’m not sure that’s true and I’m not sure that they’d have her, even if she offered. She’s been a part of some massively damaging terrorist attacks. She’s an accomplice to all the crap that March did in Brockton Bay and there’s a good chance that she may get linked to the Portal attacks. She’s got a lot to answer for and bleedthrough from Cradle isn’t likely to be accepted as an excuse even if it gets raised.

      Also, I don’t think she’s got it in her to go the hero route. She’s a font of never-ending rage and I think the closest to Hero she’s ever going to get is Murderous Vigilante, on-upping Shadow Stalker in violence and bodycount. I absolutely don’t think she’s capable of ending her quest to kill Rain. She wants to eliminate the Monsters and Rain was always the Platonic Ideal in her eyes. Mama Mathers MIGHT get the top spot after what she saw in the Colt-altered dreams, but I think she’s never going to end her vendetta against Rain.

      OTOH, Colt might be someone that can be recruited to the Good Guys, assuming that either of them survive the events of the most recent chapters.

      1. What I meant by that is that once LL saw what was really going on and what really happened and how the bleedthrough was working she seemed to have realized that Rain wasn’t the monster she always thought he was. Much in the same way that Snag realized that he had wasted his life and become a monster and that Rain wasnt that bad. It seems that the bleedthrough sort of reverts to a degree when you are close to death (or at least when the shard thinks you are dying). So I don’t think she will be a good guy and I think you are right that the heroes wouldn’t even want her to be. But I think she would do what she can to help stop March because thats a problem she seemed to feel guilty for, even if its just giving information from when they worked together. And then after the March situation resolves, I expect LL to fade into the background and not really be hero or villain. But rather alone maybe not even living as a cape.

  15. Oh man. So much worth rereading, but I am excited to see the fallout from this fight both to Vicky and all the rest of her team. Who leaves breakthrough and goes and works with blue stocking if they get hit with penalty clause? I vote Vicky cause seeing her work as a villain would be super interesting.

    1. Maybe Bluestocking will forget about penalty clause, given the fact that Vic saved her life when Paris took her prisoner. Or, if she keeps insisting, my veto goes for Nathalie. Our heroes will be like: Nathalie, would you like to do us a favor? A very small favor?
      Poor Nathalie, at least she’ll help her team.

      1. LOL. “Okay, you wanted one of our members to join you for a while, so here you go: have our unpowered lawyer, so she can nag you about how everything you’re planning on doing is illegal, just like she does for us!”

  16. Stay tuned for next episode – Sveta’s interlude, revealing she is actually the main issue in Breakthrough and The Biggest Threat. 🙂

    1. I think that with Carol wounded and the change in Victoria’s forcefield so dramatically revealed to her parents, Mark’s interlude would work better here.

      But maybe it is just the fact that I’ve been intrigued with his role in Dallon family dynamic for a while now.

      1. Another person whose interlude could work here in my opinion (depending on what Wildbow has planned for her in the near future) would be Bluestocking.

  17. That’s what I call a hard-earned victory! The oncoming Brandish Trauma is going to suck, but I can see it eventually turning into something positive. More immediately, DAMN but it’s good to see Cradle taken down.
    I know a lot of people complain about it, but I love the tapestry of conflict and character growth that Wildbow weaves by constantly sowing conflicts in the path of the character. It makes the story so much richer, and all the constant losses and villain-victories that led up to this made the chapter so cathartic. Thanks WB!

    1. Technically its another villain victory. After all, Citrine, Number Man and the Harbingers are the ones that got Cradle in the end here. And they hardly qualify as Heroes.

      1. Citrine, Number Man and the Harbingers took advantage of the Amnesty and now work for the government. As they work for the government, the government’s going to put a lot of effort to make them look like heroes.

        Much like the PRT did for Legend, Alexandria and Eidolon, and of those three one was an arrogant and manipulative bitch that thought she was invincible and impossible to outsmart, another was an arrogant wanker who believed his own propaganda about being the most powerful parahuman on the planet (outside Scion and the Endbringers) and one person who was truly a good guy, manipulated and lied to so he upheld the status quo.

        1. Citrine and Number Man ARE the government. But that does not make them Heroes. They were Villains and they remain Villains at heart.
          Now for me that doesnt necessarily mean they are bad people or monsters like Cradle.
          They just play by their own rules. And considering the circumstances… they are better heroes then the Heroes themselves. In the sense that they are effective and get stuff done.

          So for me saying that the Heroes won this one… Thats a bit far fetched.
          Cradle is cowed by an overwhelming show of force by the Villains in charge. What comes next remains to be seen. And true, Vic and her merry band did all the bleeding and suffering. But The one to take down Cradle was Citrine.

          1. In Worm, when Skitter goes to fight an Endbringer in South America, it’s revealed that the ‘heroes’ south of Mexico work for the cartels and the governments, and push drugs and guns and so on, whilst the ‘villains’ work to protect the civilians.

            Therefore, the very fact that Citrine et al are the government makes them heroes. They are administrating a large population after a legitimate (or pseudo-legitimate) selection process and they are also working on writing the laws and rights of the people. In addition to this, they work to prevent political and economic corruption and try to keep people safe. They don’t go around killing people willy-nilly, or bombing houses, or doing anything else that would affect their public image or foster discontent in the populace. As such, I continue to maintain that, whilst they probably aren’t nice people, they are still heroes.

          2. To be fair I think nobody in the Parahumans multiverse has ever made a serious attempt to give a better practical definitions of heroes/villains that wouldn’t ultimately boil down to “Some sort of authorities decided using more or less arbitrary criteria that if you get wounded during an Endbringer attack, you will get a blue/red tag in a hospital”, and both Worm and Ward stressed over and over again, that reality is never that simple…

          3. My definition has always been (for all media)

            Hero: working for the greater good. Moral high ground. Selfless.
            Villain: working for their own self interest. Dubious morals. Self centered.

          4. @Tarr

            I’m probably a bit picky about my definitions of word such as ‘hero’ and ‘villain’, because by being a native speaker of Polish, I can see that various cultures can use slightly different words with slightly different meanings for those.

            For example word ‘hero’ can be translated into one or two Polish words – ‘heros’ or ‘bohater’. Both mean especially the same, but I personally rarely use ‘bohater’ for the original meanings of words like ‘hereo’ or ‘heros’ (a child of a Greek or Roman god and a mortal), unless I want to stress that they are also ‘heros’ in modern sense of the word.

            On the other hands I would be hard-pressed to find a Polish word that covers the meaning of word ‘villain’ exactly. My “default” synonym I use when I need to translate word ‘villain’ to Polish is ‘złoczyńca’, but ‘złoczyńca’ literally translates back to English as ‘evildoer’, so it is not exactly the same, so in some situations, or for some villains I would need to look for a different term.

            And Polish is a European language build on a cultural heritage similar to the one English has been built on. I would imagine that many non-European languages and cultures would find the hero-villain dichotomy much more alien and difficult to translate. In fact Wildbow acknowledged this fact with the Thanda-Garama dichotomy in Bet’s India, which had nothing to do with hero-villain dichotomy native English speakers on Bet were used to.

            In some situations I would imagine even English speakers would default to different terms when describing a cape. For example in a place torn by war, I imagine most of the time nobody would bother labeling capes as ‘heroes’, ‘villains’ or ‘rogues’ most of the time, and instead would describe them as ones fighting for one or the other side of the conflict, and the ones staying or trying to stay neutral.

          5. And heck, even in standard English ‘villain’ doesn’t always work as an antonym for a word ‘hero’. For example sometimes we mean a ‘hero’ as an opposite of a ‘coward’.

      2. I call team effort. Ex-cauldron capturing Cradle may prevent further damage but not fix much.
        Torture is typically quite ineffective against people with his… peculiar outlook. They wouldn’t get anything out of him and he’d rub it in their face every damn second.
        Lookout’s intervention pushes this clearly out of pyrrhic victory grounds.

  18. Considering what Amy told Victoria during the aftermath of Gold Morning, and what I suspected about the identity of Victoria’s biological father back in interlude 12.all, what do you think would happen if Carol was so badly wounded, that she needed a life-saving transplant from Victoria right now? It could happen if for example both Carol’s kidneys were badly damaged…

      1. I that is assuming she will be in shape to move. It could end up in an interesting conflict of fears – Carol’s fear of darkness (she may need to enter her breaker state to be transported to Shin), and Victoria’s fears – of giving anyone transplants, and of parahuman healers (especially her sister).

  19. And again Villains to the rescue. By now I would say Villains are the better Heroes.

    It really feels like capes against monsters and not Heroes against Villains anymore. Blurry lines are not a bad thing, however.

  20. I pondered the resolution here a bit. Maybe its just me but it does sound a bit… far fetched, no?

    Lookout happens to have a recording device there.
    The signal Cradle sends happens to be recordable.
    Cradle happens to undo the damage to one of his cronies.
    The crony happens to be severed by the whip that happens to land in the heroes hands.

    Thats quite a bit of chance there….

    On top of that: The effect can be undone by a radio signal? Okay, its superpowers and everything but that “does not compute” for me.

    1. Who said that what Kenzie recorded was a radio signal? Do you think that the tame camera worked using electromagnetic waves to gather it’s data?

      Other than that with her primary specialization in cameras Kenzie is probably one of the better experts in scanning manifestations of power-related effects, including tinkertech, and supposedly all of them can do that.

      As for “Lookout happens to have a recording device there”, when did Lookout not have a recording device in an accessible where something interesting was likely to happen? She probably had half of Breakthrough members carry them for her, plus maybe some Undersides and people in Citrine’s group too, and she could have some installed in all portal station’s already.

      1. Ok, considering that she recently lost almost all of her cameras, maybe she didn’t have that many recording devices out there, but we know Rain carried one, and she still could have some installed in portal stations. I wouldn’t be surprised if the portal scrambler also doubled as her scanner.

        1. It is even possible, that she somehow managed to hack into the station’s regular monitoring system and reconfigure it to perform a scan, in which case she wouldn’t even need to install any tech there beforehand.

          As to how she could manage to turn a bunch of regular cameras into power-scanners without even physically touching them, the answers are as always – she’s a camera specialist and “fucking tinkers”.

    2. Signals of any kind can be recorded. And Kenzie specialises in recording those signals and displaying them, primarily through visual displays.

      Even if a radio signal is encrypted, people without the means to de-encrypt it can pick it up and record it- they just can’t understand what means, specifically.

      1. Absolutely true.
        But how should a signal of whatever kind undo the damage? You need some active component to react to the signal. I could understand some device reacting to some coded signal undoing the severing. But there is no device there unless I missed something.
        My suspension of disbelieve yearns for some explanation.

        1. ‘More like portals than anything else’… He was cutting them apart with some kind of portal/teleportation tech (which fits, since it’s based on Disjoint). The signals closed the portals bridging the gap in the flesh- that’s likely also why it hurts. Not because it’s been cut off, cuts stop hurting after a while, but because the flesh is squeezed through a very small portal, which protects from outside influence a little (the immortality bit) it’s under constant pressure and therefore pain.

          There is no device visible, but… There might be some kind of nanites or something inside the portal where it doesn’t exist in the world outside.

          1. All Tinker-tech is strange and hard to explain. If it wasn’t, unpowered scientists and engineers could duplicate it. I’m not a scientist or an engineer, I don’t know how electricity determines the wattage, ampage and whatever else it needs to be to make a lightbulb glow or how high up a satellite has to be to work in a SatNav system. Tinkers are a step beyond that stuff; all I’m doing is making an educated guess as to how it *could* be working. I might be wildly off-base and portals have nothing to do with it, despite a slight similarity that Antares noticed.

          2. > All Tinker-tech is strange and hard to explain
            > If it wasn’t, unpowered scientists and engineers could duplicate it.
            Technology gap in effect.
            Imagine Newton or Gauss will get somehow device like modern smartphone (from 2019). Could they do something to reproduce them or decode signals? Not even close, they had no access to necessary production technologies. Not to say about what could possible do Archimedes with such devices. Alien technologies provided from Shard’s memories could be even further away from our level of understanding.
            But another tinker could be closer or even superior in technology level and so be able to understand or at least handle tinker tech.

        2. Signals aren’t ephemeral things that can’t influence the physical world on their own. Every signal is a physical effect of some sort, whether it’s a vibration of molecules, a burst of photons, a flow of electrons, a fluctuating magnetic field, a release of chemicals, or something more exotic. We usually design specific devices to isolate and detect the signals we want, but they can affect random stuff as well. Nobody specifically designs wine glasses to shatter when an opera singer provides the correct audio signal.

          If Cradle’s whip creates some sort of self-sustaining effect rather than something actively projected and maintained by a device, then his “signal” could just be a space-ripple that destabilizes the portal-like disjoint, allowing the expanded space between severed bits to deflate and pull them back together. That would also make sense with regards to Kenzie detecting it, since it’s been well established that her camera tech is very space-oriented.

          Alternate theory: there is a big machine hidden somewhere that does the bulk of the work to sever and preserve bodies, and the whip and undo-button are just interfaces used to remotely direct that machine. In that case it was probably just a radio transmission that Kenzie picked up through her normal surveillance of all the things.

          1. Your first take on it sounds pretty credible. Certainly a way to explain it.
            I probably had a too narrow interpretation of “signal” anyway.

  21. Have rain drain his powers then end him. He’s a sociopath and he’s a genius. You do not want him out there in any capacity. Really hoping rain doesn’t start acting like his old self though.

    1. He’s out of the Fallen’s grasp, and the very few he cared about are also safely extracted. He doesn’t have to fake being nasty to prevent Mama from ripping his head out from the inside anymore.

      Rain’s still pretty upset from Anguished Heart’s bleed, though. He might just skip the whole draining and simply power-rip Cradle in half just after coming back through the portal.
      What Rain will do with Ryan, Nicole and Colt will mark the next major point in his character development.
      (hint: every choice leads to suffering)

    2. Why would Rain start acting like his old self? He’s explicitly never been affected by bleed-through until very recently

      1. The past three chapters rain has been acting like a tool. Even Byron said he’s not acting like himself. I’m wondering with everyone in his circle dead he’s feeling like his old self.

        1. He’s been acting as a tool because he woke up with Love Lost’s tokens, so he’s had five tokens more of anger than he usually has. He’s a tool because he’s feeling angry and not only does he not realise it, but I think his shard’s possibly trying to prevent him from noticing it.

          Angry Love Lost is a screamer, who yells to relieve emotional pressure; Rain, it seems, isn’t. He’s smouldering, his anger on a slow burn. It’s not as hot as Love Lost’s, but that’s not really a good thing- he’s irritable and ‘a tool’, because he’s not got a valid way of releasing that anger at the moment.

          1. It might be less a personality trait and more an experience thing. Love Lost has had time to adapt to constant anger, to learn how to control and weaponize it. Rain has not, so he’s mostly just letting it dribble out as it comes like a toddler who hasn’t been potty trained.

          2. That’s a good comparison, Pizzasgood. And it also fits quite well. I think he’s letting it dribble out because he doesn’t know about it. He didn’t mention it when he woke up, even though he did mention the emotion power’s boost.

  22. Such an excellent chapter as always – Crisis and catharsis. I greatly look forward to tomorrow’s chapter, to see the fallout.

      1. Thanks for reporting, but I think that comments like those should probably go into typo thread of the chapter that is newest at the time you write them. I imagine that Wildbow may easily be miss them.

  23. So. As predicted, the solution was always going to come through the actions of the protagonist, the development of the characters, and the deepening of the themes. Not a distant and abstract “okay, I guess I can see that,” but pointedly. Directly. Defiantly.

    Friendship, trust, and reaching out combined to crush Cradle, who honestly thought he could do without. His failure to build that basic trust even with his closest supporters trapped him. Escaping that superficial trap with a quid pro quo to Cretan expended his only bargaining chip. Any member of Breakthrough could’ve warned him: it’s safer to assume Lookout is always watching. Meanwhile, Victoria is more her mother than ever, and her one greatest most telling loss *is* her mother, terribly wounded because she ran up against the limit of her daughter’s willingness to communicate.

    I mention “superficial” trap above, because I see fixation on Citrine’s presence. Honestly, it strikes me as silly to give the newcomers credit for the win. Cradle just demonstrated he was out of allies and out of tinker tricks sufficient to escape Sveta’s capture-the-flag grabs with only Victoria, Rain, and Chastity in the mix. He was already done. Beaker’s show of force simplifies but does not replace the Breakthrough win. It gets the characters talking again, where instead they might have had a drawn-out, awkward chase that ended the same way without adding to the story. And Cradle *must* talk again, to try to negotiate with those in power; without that attempt, his defeat isn’t *finished*. Even if Antares killed him, that doesn’t prove his worldview was wrong, not like those words: “We don’t need him.”

    Which brings me to my actual specific predictions, which were mostly wrong. Cradle’s alive and the team’s healer needs are… less extensive. Ah well.

    I still predict Rain has personality bleed and/or cluster draining in his future. It just seems too juicy to not explore. I still say they’ll have to go to Shin, before long.

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