Black – 13.8

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“You’d think someone who was regressed two years in age to be a teenager again would at least try not to be such a stereotypical teen.”

“What?” I asked.  I looked up from my phone, which I was holding so Sveta could read it.  She was moving more fluidly to get in a position to read over my shoulder.

“You’re zoomed in on your phone like it’s the only thing in the world,” Tattletale said.  “You’re as bad as the Heartbroken.”

“Are you lonely, Tattletale?” Sveta asked.  “Sitting up in the passenger seat with only your henchman for company?  Were you bored?”

“Ha,” Tattletale replied.

I could have connected to what she’d said better if it weren’t for the fifty individual crises I was keeping on the back burner, the five on the front burner, my attempts to keep Sveta’s mind occupied with practical things.

That, and the fact that mentioning the age regression reminded me of Amy which set my brain to red alert, sirens flashing and emergency doors closing.  These days, getting back from that state was a little easier, but it was still a couple of seconds of added bewilderment and alarm, and a mental reset button that forced me to start from zero in figuring out what the hell she meant.

Of course, she probably knew she was doing it.

“I see you set the communications blackout for everyone, but you’re not abiding by it yourself.”

“Phones come equipped with features that let you make a call to emergency services even if the phone bill isn’t paid, phone doesn’t have an I.D. chip, whatever, and phones come with features that let authorities force phones to boot and bypass settings if there’s an Endbringer attack.  Dragon is messaging me,” I said.

“And?”

“She’s simultaneously worrying about whether I’ve gone off the deep end, suggesting everyone go to maximum alert, and worrying there might be something to what I’m saying, in which case she’d have to worry about watching her back.”

“A communication blackout really hurts the local heroes’ ability to function,” Sveta added.

“What’s her wording?” Tattletale asked.

“About?”

“Start with her wondering about watching her back.”

I cycled my way up to find it, then cleared my throat.  “If this were true, I’d have to devote resources to validating, scanning, and damage control.”

“Interesting order,” Tattletale said.

“Order?”

“To what she has to do.  It’s not scanning, validating, and damage control.  Why?”

“You suck at rhetorical questions,” Sveta said.  “How are we supposed to know?”

“It’s not a rhetorical question,” Tattletale answered, exasperated.  “I’m asking my power.  And my power says Dragon’s not prioritizing finding the questionable character assassination stuff because she has the stuff.  At least two incidents she looked up and found since it was brought to her attention.  Or she’s a culprit that already knew because she did it, but I’d say the odds are very low.”

I leaned back, my thumb working to find my place at the bottom of the chat while I ruminated. “That takes time, to find out and then look.  Unless it’s obvious-”

“It doesn’t take time if you’re Dragon,” Tattletale said.  “She, you know, bzzt.  Overclocked.”

She put a finger to her head as she said that last word.

“She hacked her brain?” I asked, my eyebrows going up.

“You are exactly right,” Tattletale said, smiling.  “Defiant did too, from another angle.”

Armsmaster.  That was jarring to think about.

“Scary,” Sveta said.  “I feel like the brain should be sacrosanct.”

“It’s really scary,” Tattletale answered.  “Once you get a look at who she really is… let’s just say that part of the reason I’m more or less ruling her out as a culprit is that she wouldn’t need to be subtle.  If she wanted to do this, she’d do it blatantly and she’d succeed.”

“Oookay, Tattletale,” I said.  “Dealing with more than enough paranoia already.  Dragon’s given us no reason to doubt her.”

“I’m not saying we should doubt her.  I’m saying we should shit ourselves if and when the day arrives that we do.  For now, I’d put all my chips on Dragon being alright.  She’s weighing not trusting you, which is entirely understandable, with two more incidents that probably just popped up recently.  Our player is ramping up, getting more schemes into play.  Not so much it seems like too much, but distractions.”

“I worked with a loose team that was working with Tattletale, around Gold Morning,” Sveta told me.  “Having her working from an investigating or planning role like this is kind of like those candidates for class president you see in movies, who promise soda pop in the fountains and shorter school days for everyone.  They deliver on these really thinly justified ideas when they shouldn’t.”

“That’s a good analogy,” Tattletale answered.  “Except you’re outing yourself as someone who didn’t go to school or spend nearly enough time around ordinary people, because you call it ‘soda pop’ like a nineteen fifties character, not even ‘pop’ like a midwesterner, but-”

“Get bent, Tattletale,” Sveta said, interrupting.

“Leave her alone,” I added.  “Read the room and learn to be nice when it matters.”

Tattletale looked at her driver, eyes wide.

“Don’t look at me,” Snuff said.  “I’m doing my job and staying out of trouble while I do it.”

“I’m outnumbered two against one,” Tattletale said.

“That’s what happens when you’re a jackass,” Sveta said.

Tattletale slumped back into her seat, head bumping against her window.  Sveta, at the same time, was sitting behind Tattletale, and looked out her own window, creating a kind of maximum distance between them, insofar as it was possible in this confined space.

Sveta was coping better than I’d imagined, and I had to wonder how much of that was an extension of the personal control she’d honed with her sessions with Rain.  She didn’t look happy, for one thing: the lines of her face were different.  She’d turned much of her emotion into being very ready to call Tattletale on her shit.  Provided Tattletale didn’t retaliate or take it too hard, it seemed like a pretty reasonable outlet, if there had to be any outlet at all.

I checked my phone again.  No more messages from Dragon.  The last message she’d left me could theoretically be a sign-off.

Tattletale talked while looking out the front window, drawing out her sentence, as if she was trying to reset the flow of the conversation, “The reason I’m concerned about you being on your phone is that you just ran off to intervene in a crisis.  If the emergency communications work this way, then it’s theoretically possible to use them to send weaponized messages and distract you again.”

“If it’s a crisis like what just happened, doesn’t it make sense that I’d want to be on top of it?”

“If they’re watching us closely, they might decide to unload now because they know you’ll see it.  If you had put the phone away and obeyed your own communications blackout, they’d hold that back.”

“Or they’re mounting a general offensive and they’ll release it anyway, hoping to break up our support network.  If that happens, we come back from what we’re doing here and find everything on fire.”

“We don’t want that,” Sveta said.  “I’m saying that as someone who was on fire and feels the sting pretty- completely and constantly.”

I reached out for her hand, gripping it in mine, giving it a squeeze, then waggling it.

“You don’t have to do the shakey-shake thing,” Sveta murmured.  “Rain gave me hands with a full tactile range.”

I gave her another waggle.  I caught the faintest smile on her face before Tattletale’s voice pulled my attention away.

“Look.  The situation’s bad, it’s getting worse, based on the hint from Dragon.  The best thing we can do is cut right past all the mess and go for the heart of the issue.  Put the phone away,” Tattletale said.  “You’re clinging to it out of brute-classification tendencies and I’ve got to tell you, this isn’t a situation you smash or take head on.”

I could have argued, but I didn’t.  It was possible Tattletale was stressed, from how exasperated she was being.  I held down the power button and let the phone go black.

“Good,” Tattletale said.  She was in the front seat, her head turned to look the opposite direction.  She was using her power to identify what I was doing.  Obnoxious.  “Fill me in, how did your deal with Bluestocking and the Mayor go?”

“Why?” I asked.

“So defensive.  I’m not trying to get secret info here-”

“It’s between them and us.”

“-I’m trying to figure out the particulars of the situation we’re walking into.”

“Why would that matter to what we’re doing?”

“I’ll tell you if you tell me,” Tattletale said.

We were in a car, and the landmarks or geographical changes I could make out were limited to what I could see out the window.  Narrow slices of world.  I wasn’t sure I recognized this area, but I could guess.

“We’re going to Earth N?”

Tattletale didn’t answer, but Snuff glanced at her.

“You might as well be the bigger person and tell her.  She’s going to figure it out,” Sveta said.

“Original deal we struck in the heat of the moment was that I’d negotiate a preferable trade setup for the Earth N settlement with the Mayor.  If I didn’t follow through she’d get to borrow a member of Breakthrough for six months.  I went to the mayor, struck some compromises, and got Bluestocking some of what she wanted.  She wasn’t flailing her arms around and crying out ‘penalty clause’.”

“We’re good to go, then?” Tattletale asked.

“I feel like walking into her territory with her providing favors or oversight might be an excuse for her to bring it up.  I think I’d have been happier pretending she didn’t exist for a while, let the deal disappear into distant memory.”

“Well, that sucks, because I reached out to the people who matter and this was their preferred neutral ground.  If we need a referee, Bluestocking’s that.”

“We’re close to the station.  Which way in?” Snuff asked.  “We parking?”

“No.  Car and truck entrance,” Tattletale replied.  “Right road.”

“Got it,” Snuff said, taking the off-road.

“That’s usually closed,” I remarked.  “Has been since the portal incidents.  They’ve stepped up security.”

Tattletale snorted.  “Welcome to the big leagues, kiddo.  Paying to be able to drive your own truck in is worth it, if it means you don’t have to ask for a ride or worry about the danger posed by whoever is escorting you.”

The station was at the end of the road, and we were approaching by an angle I hadn’t seen it from.  There was a gate, and people stood on either side of it.  In the warmer months, when the portals had been open to service, this would have been how the trucks of construction material would have come in, along with any vehicles anyone was attached to.

“This is Big Picture’s contact?” Sveta asked.

“Contacts.  There are a few people I keep tabs on because they have a lot of sway over the city and even things that aren’t the city.  I break this down into categories.  Threats, cultural, financial, information, and powers.  Some people are influencers for reasons that don’t tie directly into their abilities, like Dido from Auzure and her effect on finances.”

Auzure.  I felt a bit slimy at the thought.  When I’d hunted for a position in a team, they’d been nice up until they let slip that what they really wanted was my sister.  We’d worked with them in passing since, mostly at arm’s length.

“Dido?  She does fine.  Her team makes money,” I said.

“The team makes money.  Lark manages money well.  But Dido is a disaster waiting to happen when cold hard cash or theoretical cash are involved.  there’s a reason they keep the team small and the growth slow and steady.  She’s like an alcoholic with a wine cellar.”

“You said it was more than an ordinary disaster,” Sveta said.

“Everyone would feel it, at least a little,” Tattletale said.  “There’s at least a subconscious reason she named herself after the woman who threw fortunes away in history and myth.”

I frowned.

“At least a few of those times were ruses,” Sveta said.

“People tend to have reasons for doing dumb things,” Tattletale said.

“That feels like pretty obscure mythology,” I remarked to Sveta.  “Knowing those were ruses?”

“Dido marries Pygmallion, and the mythological Pygmallion is the guy who made and married a living statue.  I related,” Sveta said.  A sad look passed over her face.

Ah.  The statue, the boy made of metals.

“That’s pretty out there, for stuff to be researching,” I said, trying to keep the conversation normal and light.

“Uh huh.  I spent a long time looking for cape names and costume ideas, when Breakthrough was new.  I’m so, so glad I didn’t go with Galataea or anything Weld-related.”

“I wouldn’t have let you,” I said.

She squeezed my hand, and her eyes dropped to look at where her Rain-made prosthetic hand with its not-quite-right skin clasped my gloved hand.

“Bright spots in a dark day,” she murmured.  “I can feel this.”

“You good to do this?” I asked.  “Mission in enemy territory?”

She nodded.

I looked out the window as we emerged into light.

The road in through the station had passed through the series of turnstiles that would lock and block away the majority of the fumes when any vehicles passed through.

We were out of the station now, passing by more guards and some idle capes I recognized from three weeks ago.  Inhabitants of the Earth N corner world.  We traced the top portion of an ‘S’ curve in doing so, carrying on north.

No Etna among the idle capes, as it happened.

Thinking about Etna made me think about violence and death, even though I’d gone reasonably easy on her.  She’d just been a face or a mask to latch onto, like an annoying, ostentatious song in my head.  The thought led to my mom, and my dad, who had gone with her.  Neither had returned from Earth Shin.

Thinking about family got me thinking about Sveta, and about Kenzie and Kenzie’s family, or lack thereof, and about Kenzie’s new pseudo-family in her new team… and Chicken Little’s issues with her.  In a perfect world I’d talk to Jessica about that, but Jessica wasn’t talking to me.

Tattletale cleared her throat.

At least this time she didn’t disrupt my thoughts with a pointed reminder of the worst possible things.  It made it easier to align my thoughts, as Snuff drove us along the dirt road, up past buildings and toward the peak of a hill.

“We were talking about Dido,” I said.  “Right.”

“Dido doesn’t matter, and we don’t have time for a full briefing.  I can fill you in as necessary,” Tattletale said.  “If you’re listening and not wallowing.  Are you going to focus while we’re inside?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Game face.  Don’t kill anyone, both of you.”

I let the statement pass without commentary, and I put my mask on.

“If I kill someone it’s probably going to be someone close to me.  Probably you,” Sveta answered.  When Tattletale twisted around to look at her, Sveta smiled.  “But I won’t.  I’m… controlled.”

She put her own mask on.  A standard mask that covered nose, surrounded eye sockets, and covered the brows, but with twirls and hooks and decorative elements branching out and following the curve of her face.  It was dramatic and artistic and whimsical, and it didn’t match the look in her eyes.

At the top of the hill, a fair distance from the settlement, there was a lodge nestled in the trees.  Signboards were propped up and hanging on the wall by the door.

“Swansong mentioned this place,” Sveta said.  “The Lodge.”

“I ended up screwing these guys over once or twice.  They aren’t happy, so we play nice,” Tattletale said.

“Are you capable?” Sveta asked.

“We’re going to see.  There’s a step by step process here.  Be patient.  Your relationship with Bluestocking will help.”

Snuff pulled into an empty parking space in a corner of the lot without any vehicles.  Gravel had been raked out and the light snow filtered in between the pieces.

We got out of the vehicle.

“How intimidating do we want to be?” I asked.

“Don’t put that aura of yours on full blast, don’t crack any skulls.”

“There’s whole lot of options before that point,” I said.

“How about you let me take point.  Don’t overshadow me, that’s the line you don’t want to cross.  If you’re not sure about something, take my cue or look to Snuff.”

“This is feeling less like a partnership.”

Tattletale sighed.  “You can stand shoulder to shoulder with me if that makes your ego feel better.”

“The concern isn’t ego,” I told her.  “It’s falling into the trap of being your status pieces like Bluestocking wanted us to be.”

“You don’t want to be my bitch?”

“You’ve got enough bitch for the three of us,” Sveta muttered.

Tattletale smirked.  “You sure, Tress?  Because while I understand you’re having a sucky day, you’re definitely bringing a lot onboard.”

Sveta glanced at me.  I wondered if it was to check, to ask if she should step down.

“It’s fine,” Tattletale waved it off.  “It’s fun.  Antares, you can walk in beside me if it makes your ego feel better.  Shall we?  Yes?  Yes?”

I nodded.  But Tattletale’s second yes was a lingering one, awaiting confirmation.  Because Sveta.

“I wish I’d changed,” Sveta said.  “Redone my paint on my arms and neck.”

She touched the collar that gave her neck the appearance of being a neck rather than a tangle of tendrils, painted on either side.  From a distance it would have looked like vivid tattoos.

Wracked with doubts, a little off kilter.  Still more together than I would’ve been.

“You look good.  The art’s good.  The dress is pretty,” I said.

“It doesn’t match the seriousness of what we’re doing,” she murmured.  “And I don’t feel very colorful right now.”

I gave her a one-armed hug, my forehead touching hers.

“Come on,” I said.  “We get through this, figure out this crisis, then we see if Swansong will let you borrow a suitably colorless dress.”

That got a smile out of Sveta.  “The horror.  So not my style.”

“You’re thinking about style, hey.  Step up from before our shopping trip.”

Tattletale rolled her eyes, opened the door, and walked in first, ignoring her offer to walk in together.

Being casual and confident was a kind of presentation on its own, when faced with a dangerous environment.  It started with being a kid on her first patrol, standing tall and not looking afraid as she passed through dark, crime-ridden streets.  It played into our stepping inside, me and Tattletale first, then Sveta and Snuff.  A spacious dining area, with high ceiling and a kitchen setup in the direct center with a chimney reaching up to the roof, built around a stone stove with wood burning within.  A stairwell off to our left seemed to lead upstairs.

Scattered villains were within.  I saw Cleat and Crested.  Vulturehawk was in the corner, alone, and focused in on Sveta the moment he saw her.

Nursery was here, too, sitting with a pregnant teenage girl who wasn’t in costume.  Maybe a local.  Her back was to us.

Bluestocking was sitting with Bitter Pill at the kitchen, and she stood.  With a motion of her hand, she bid some of their enforcers to pat us down.

I’d always felt this little ritual was really dumb when I saw it.  When powers were involved, weapons barely seemed to factor in.  I undid the strap on my armor and pulled it away from my upper body, while the burly guy used the back of his hand at my armpits, then the top of my chest, the underside, my stomach, and then between my shoulderblades and the small of my back.  He did my legs, then straightened.

Maybe it was a power thing.  Subjecting us to this.

“You don’t usually come here,” Bluestocking observed.  “You go to the tea shop?”

“I go where there’s business.  Are they here?”

“They are.  They’re waiting.”

Tattletale, Snuff, and I turned to look as the guy moved from me to Sveta.  I strapped my breastplate back into place as I watched with something between bemusement and sympathy.

Fingers closed around cloth, finding that the only shape being maintained was a combination of wire frame and tendrils.  Past the arms and shoulders, there really wasn’t much at all, and his attempt to find something to investigate saw him getting grabbed through the cloth more than he found purchase on anything.

Gentle grabs.  He didn’t scream in agony.  There was only bewilderment on his face.

Sveta’s expression was almost the inverse of my own, yet didn’t make me feel bad- there was no humor in her expression, it was stock still as she frowned at the man, but… I could see how she stood a little taller as she watched him work through it, her eyebrows moving slightly closer together as she focused intently to manage her control.

The guy turned toward his boss, helpless.

“It’s fine.  Go sit down,” Bluestocking said.  “Visitors, Tattletale, you may go upstairs.  I have to check my paperwork, I’ll be with you in a minute.”

Tattletale and I walked beside one another as we ascended the stairs.  Most eyes in the place watched us as we made our way up.  Nursery turned to look, saw us, and waved.  Not a wave for Tattletale, apparently.

She was like a bully from high school who met up with a victim years later and talked like they were old friends.  Just… didn’t connect.

“The last time I was here was when I was hiring those guys,” Tattletale said.  “The community center thing.”

I set my jaw, nodding.

“The clairvoyants we were using dropped off the map, but it was in service of a bigger picture.”

“Comforting,” I said, sarcastic.

“That’s great,” Sveta said.  “I’m sure Cauldron thought the same thing.”

“Cauldron kind of saved the world, Tress.”

“Cauldron kind of doesn’t get to lay claim to saving the world when they created ten thousand problems and solved one.  We don’t know if we would have been able to do it if they hadn’t caused the messes they had.  If Gray Boy hadn’t killed heroes, if Eidolon hadn’t broken the Protectorate and Wards…”

“A discussion for another time.”

“Mm hmm.  I look forward to it,” Sveta said.

Tattletale stopped in her tracks, putting out a hand to stop me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  The four of us were on the landing, nobody was on the stairs above us or below.

“Stop at the top of the stairs.  Look natural,” Tattletale murmured.  “We can talk, just know it’s a bit of a bear trap.”

“Bear trap?”

“There are rules and expectations.  This is a floor for meetings and private conversations.  You don’t come here without invitation and you need the go-ahead to cross the room, unless you’re really trusted or too big to fuck with.  If you don’t meet the standards, then anyone who has a problem with you can say you were listening in, and you’re out.”

“And people have a problem with you?” I asked.

“Imagine,” Sveta murmured.

“Let up, Sveta.  I get it.  And yes.  A problem with me and a problem with you.  Bluestocking doesn’t adore you, and she didn’t warn you for a reason.”

“Okay,” I said.

Tattletale indicated with her hand, and we made our way up the last set of stairs.  With the height of the ceiling in the space downstairs, the second floor was closer to being where the third floor would be in another building.

Upstairs, things were nicer.  Maple planks for the floor, trimmed with what might have been walnut.  The lights were dimmer, each table had a small window beside it, with lamps for illumination after hours.  A bar in the corner was backlit so the light shone through the various colored bottles.  Behind the bar was a man in his sixties with deep black skin and a white beard, no hair on the top of his head, but trimmed hair at the sides and back.  An earring glinted in one ear.

I recognized him and I had no idea where from.  I felt like he was placed into the same mental drawer as the Slaughterhouse Nine, somehow, but however much I rummaged and tried to put a mask to the face, I couldn’t.

Which was ridiculous, because he was gray haired and gray haired parahumans weren’t a thing.

“Who?” Sveta asked.

“Table in the corner,” Tattletale said.

The most noticeable person at the table in the corner was a man with a prodigious belly, wrapped in golden armor.  His mask was modeled off of what could have been a Greek statue, beard included, the eyes not visible past the dark eyeholes.  His servant was cutting his sandwich into pieces.  He looked loud, aggressive, and obnoxious.

Opposite the man was a woman with a stone mask so fine that there was no gap between stone and skin- it could have been latex.  It made her face look like it was part statue.  Her skin was a dark olive, her hair long, black, and wavy, and she wore a lot of ornamentation with snakes, primarily ouroboros imagery- the snake eating its own tail as a circlet, as a bangle at one arm, and at one leg.  Her costume was stone ornamentation with fine cloth draping from it.  Gray and jade as a color scheme, down to the contact lenses she wore.

Prancer was the last of them.  His hair was combed back, but it was wild and brown locks of hair peeled away or mingled with the antlers built into his mask.  He slouched a little, and he engaged with the man more than the woman.

“Fill us in?” I asked.  “These are people you’ve studied and followed?  We know Prancer.”

“The woman is Semiramis.  Named herself after the first queen of Babylon or some shit like that.  Dido might have named herself after someone who chucked a shitton of treasure in the ocean, but Semiramis named herself after the person who invented eunuchs as an institutionalized thing.  That tidbit comes courtesy of Imp, by the way, and it fits perfectly, because this woman used to be as vicious as salt rubbed into a wound.”

“I’ve never heard of her.”

“Semiramis was second-in-command to a warlord and arms trafficker in Southern Europe, northern Africa.  Held her position while waiting for her boss to die, and he finally kicked the bucket on Gold Morning.  She took over, and now she’s a player behind the scenes.  I mentioned the categories these people cover.  For her, she’s a player when it comes to culture and cash.”

“Player how?” I asked.

“Music production, film, online media, games, some sports but not many, but what she does is a kind of slavery, getting people into her media empire and then keeping them in.  Gets them in legitimately, then pulls a turning back the clock thing.  Reverse their age, let them return to a point where they’re in their prime, actresses can stay in their early twenties forever, gamers can keep their reflexes, singers can keep the voice.  All wholly voluntary… but they lose the memories of the time they undo.”

“Ahhh,” I said.  “And if they were thinking about leaving…”

“They’d lose that desire to leave along with the year or so of memories.  But she does what she does carefully.  Always with witnesses.  Always with benefits of a doubt.  She combines that with turning ahead the clock, not for people but for things.  Speeding up constructions, if they’re outlined well enough, and she’s one of the few parahumans who seem like they can do that without any apparent issues.  She’s thriving right now, and she’s in a position where she can cancel a contract or pull strings and tens of thousands of jobs would be affected, or a market sector would change.  She has celebrities and people under her thumb who she could tell to say something or start a war on the internet and make life really hard for someone.”

“That’s a little close to our situation,” Sveta commented.

“It’s close but no cigar.  Her P.R. attack is a cudgel.  With our situation we’re talking… tasteless poison.”

Tasteless poison.

“Big guy is Little Midas.  He’s a warmonger and a financial player.  If you’ve noticed the uptick in the number of mercenaries around…”

“He’s responsible?”

“Yep.  This is the kind of thing the Wardens, Undersiders, and others in my circles are trying to keep under control, while you’re focused on the more visible, surface-level crime.  Little Midas tried to take over some corner worlds and as luck would have it, he failed.  He went from funding his lieutenants to making it very easy for criminal mercenaries to be criminal mercenaries.  Making up work for them to do, ensuring they have resources, ensuring they have a place to go back to.  His power helps him make the money to make it possible.  See the lieutenants?”

I did.  Behind Little Midas were heroes who didn’t look like they were big players or planners.  Behind Semiramis were a woman in her mid twenties in a blouse and slacks, and a guy in a suit with a beard oiled to a point.  The two ate while looking at the same tablet computer.

“It’s quiet,” Sveta observed.

It was quiet.  Aside from the occasional clink of utensil on plate, or the knock of a cup on the wood of a table, most of the conversation in the room was respectfully hushed.  Little Midas might have been the loudest person present.  Even if he hadn’t said a word in his inappropriately loud voice, he would have been audible, because he wore armor casually, and the gestures he made with every other statement made his armor clack against the table or the bench he sat on.

“If I was alone with Snuff, we wouldn’t have gotten this far.  The fact you struck a deal with Blue and there’s some knowledge about it gives us a little bit of protection.  Having a lot of deals in play provides more protection.  Can’t knock someone off if people will think you kill anyone who you contract with.  The protection helps too.  Little Midas would sic his people on us and take his chances, and most of the people up on the second floor would side with him.  He has too much clout.”

“How many enemies did you make?” I asked.

“Enough,” Tattletale said, her eyes scanning the room.

That was the end of that thread of conversation.

The curious old bartender stayed where he was, and it seemed like Tattletale was very right about movement through the room being a careful thing.  When Midas raised a hand and then waved a mostly empty beer glass around, the bartender clanked glasses audibly, and knocked glass audibly against counter.  A signal to people that he was coming by.  The tone of conversation shifted, people drawing quiet as he passed within earshot.

The beer was delivered, and he took more orders on a clipboard before returning to his station.   Tap tap, he knocked clipboard against the edge of the table, before returning.

The silence or adjusted tones that seemed to surround him as he walked by only added to my curiosity about him.

Sveta wasn’t focused on the room, but on the outside, I saw.  I nudged her arm, giving her hand the briefest squeeze, and she turned my way to give me a small, sad smile.

“What you’re thinking, I don’t recommend it,” Tattletale said.

“Thinking?” Sveta asked.

“You’re thinking about Bluestocking’s deal with Victoria.  That, if someone had to come stay here, it could be you.  It would be nice to get away, have a fresh start.  Fresh air-”

“No,” Sveta said.

“It crossed your mind.”

“Only barely,” Sveta said.  “But being around shitty villains would suck, so my thoughts immediately went to going out on my own, living by the shore.  But I can’t do that either.  I need sessions to reinforce control, because now that I have it, I can’t give it up.  I need technical help.  Being disabled doesn’t give me the freedoms everyone else would enjoy.  It’s not an option.”

“It’s not an option in the first place.  I had teammates do that.  It’s lousy.  For them and for everyone else.  That’s all I wanted to say.”

“Vista says Rachel is doing well where she is,” I noted.

“Her?  I suppose,” Tattletale said.  “But hush hush.  Blue’s due to show up.”

I turned to look at the stairwell.  No sound, no sign.

As I started to turn back, I saw movement- light from below cast a shadow against the wall by the landing of the stairs.  Bluestocking rounded the bend in the stairs and came up.  White puffy blouse, corset at the stomach and waist flowing into a stylized Victorian-style sweeping dress with a slit up both sides, to showcase the indigo blue stockings.  Opaque glasses of a similar tint glinted as she pushed them up her nose.  A long cigarette holder was tucked into a strap at one of her arms, cigarette absent.  It was a decent look, spoiled by the fact that her face at rest made it look like she’d just caught the faintest whiff of something dead.

“I’m doing you a favor, mediating this,” Bluestocking said.

I met Tattletale’s eyes.  See?

“You got your trade deal,” I told her.

“We got a trade deal with the city.”

“You asked for the moon and-”

“And we got a big rock.  It’s fine.  But before you play any games with me or my tribe, you should know I can always say you didn’t deal fair.  That means any informants or contacts clam up when it comes to you, your team, and any heroes you call friends.  Things get harder in other ways.  You wouldn’t be allowed through the portal.”

“Noted,” I said.  “I’ve got enough to do that you’re not really a concern right now.  We’ll do our thing, you focus on getting through the winter, don’t give us a reason to come after you, and we won’t come after you.”

“And do yourselves a favor while you’re at it, and don’t harbor people-butchers,” Sveta said.

“Extenuating circumstances,” Bluestocking said, smiling slightly, enjoying the ‘get out of jail free’ card Prancer had provided far too much.  “This way.”

Bluestocking led the way, with Tattletale and I walking side by side, Snuff and Sveta in the wings.

“Tattletale!” Little Midas boomed.  “You dared show your face.  You know Nero.”

“I’m aware of him,” Tattletale said.  “The Teapot Emperor.”

The man in the seat behind Midas clenched one hand.  He had a gladiator-style helmet, tunic, and armor, with a coat draped across his lap.

“And you know Snake-eater and Whistler,” Midas said, lowering his voice.

The other two people near ‘Nero’ shifted position.

“I don’t, actually.  Nice to meet you, Snake-eater, Whistler.  Semiramis, good to see you.”

Semiramis didn’t move a millimeter, as she stared Tattletale down.

“Prancer,” I said, before Tattletale could handle all of the introductions.  “Still around, I see.”

“I was invited.  We’re getting settled elsewhere,” Prancer said.

“Doing well?”

“We’re managing.  A few weeks into building and organizing, and we’re getting to the point where we have creature comforts again.”

“If you call the eighteen year old keeping you company in your cabin a ‘creature’, sure,” Midas said, chortling at his own line.

“Company and a comfort.  As I see it, we’re all creatures, we all have our needs, and I’m still mourning Velvet in my own way,” Prancer said.  “But thank you, Little Midas, for bringing that up and reminding me.  Let’s change the subject.  How are you, Antares?”

“Some headaches.  Ones we’re hoping you can help us with.”

“Straight to business?”

I shrugged one shoulder.

“Information costs,” Semiramis said.

“If my gut is right, and it always is, you’ll think this is worthwhile,” Tattletale said.

“My servants didn’t carry me all this way for nothing,” Little Midas said.  He moved his hand, touching the table, then holding his hand out beside the table, level with the tabletop.  Another table materialized, the material a glossy black, like obsidian or onyx, the particulars of the table identical to the one he’d just touched.

“Gracious,” Tattletale said.  “I’m sure you wouldn’t act like a child on the playground and disappear it when we’re leaning on it.”

Little Midas chuckled.

A warning for the rest of us as much as it was a pre-emptive move to keep him from doing just that.

We collected chairs from empty tables nearby and gathered, Tattletale, Sveta and I each taking a side.  Snuff stood a short distance away, arms folded.

“You hired Big Picture to join Foresight, Little Midas,” Tattletale said.  “Semiramis provided the intelligence to put him in the right place at the right time to join.”

“Harsh accusations,” Prancer murmured.

“We’ve been investigating this for the last little while,” I said, “and these are things we already know.  Can we skip the pretense?”

“No,” Semiramis said.  “Pretense is important.  You have to exchange a few parries before the fight can really start.”

“Or you can sweeten the deal and give some evidence about how this meeting is supposed to be worth it,” Prancer said.

“There’s a conspiracy at work,” Tattletale said.  “And one of you was bit by it without realizing it.”

“Then it can’t be that bad,” Midas said.

“It will be.  Every move they’ve made so far has had at least two targets.  Every move they’ve made so far has worked on a level.  Big Picture didn’t get placed in Foresight because someone got in the way.  They also, I think, targeted you.”

“You think this why?” Semiramis asked.

“Because it’s a pattern, and I don’t see the move against Big Picture hurting Foresight in any way.  Which means it’s bouncing back at you, most likely.  Attacks against heroes is something I get, but if we confirm they’re against you and which of you they’re against, then that hints at their motivations.”

“And I’m here because why?” Prancer asked.

“Because you’re the most networked while being the least complicated, just like Antares here is well networked with heroes while not being so enmeshed in the upper echelons that I need to worry about moving heaven and earth.  That and she found this out before I did.”

A nice way of putting it.

Tattletale motioned for a folded card that was on the table, and Prancer slid it over her way.  A drink list, by the look of it.  She raised her hand and motioned to the man behind the bar.  She held up fingers.  Three, two, zero -a circle made with her full hand-, three.

The man nodded, and began preparing.

I addressed Semiramis, “You want to know this if it’s being used on you.  It’s going to come across as minor and questionable, but it’s going to feel impactful, and once they get going they aren’t going to stop with the one.”

“What are we looking for?” she asked.

I leaned forward.  “Look for the consequences.  People at the fringes of your organization who pulled away recently.  Then identify the wedge.  It’s going to be communication by some digital medium, something you find or casually come across.  Authenticity of the message won’t be provable, but it won’t be disprovable either.  In this case, we have a sense of what the Wedge is or where it comes from.  It’ll relate to Big Picture.”

“Okay,” Semiramis said.  “You’re right.  No need for payment for my help.  This is critical.”

“You already know exactly what happened, don’t you?” Tattletale asked.

“I already knew,” Semiramis said.  “It bothered me.  If you have more information, you can have mine.”

“Your media monsters,” Prancer said.  He glanced at Sveta.  “Is that offensive?”

“Yes.”

“Your whatevers,” Prancer corrected.

“Not better.”

Semiramis leaned back, fingernails with detailed jade decoration on then tapping the table’s surface.  “Before Gold Morning happened, the PRT was trying to normalize the… what do you call them over here?”

“Case fifty-threes,” Sveta said.

“That works.”

“What term did you use?” Sveta asked.

“Their names,” Semiramis said.  “They’re clients and products both, and both should be treated with care.  There were three.  Engel, Egg, and Scraping.  The idea was that they would join me.  An artist with ties to Big Picture and a history of working with case fifty-threes would join us, but to produce a video feature.  We wanted to continue what the PRT of America was doing before things abruptly terminated.  Engel, Egg, and Scraping in media.  Big Picture didn’t get into Foresight, a letter about why found its way to my three would-be clients.  They became uncomfortable and canceled their contracts.”

“Why did you want Big Picture in Foresight?” Tattletale asked.

“I did not say I did.”

“What do you know about them?” I asked Sveta.

“Engel is a community leader.  She’s beautiful, inside and out, very opinionated.  Not a big fan of me.  She’s… I’m not sure I feel comfortable saying more about things personal to her.  She had difficulties.  She got help.  She would be my second pick to be a movie star, but I wouldn’t want her to do so if it’s with the photographer I’m thinking of.  From what she says she’s avoided the worst of all of that kind of mess.  Egg is a kid.  They were around for the attack on Cauldron, as of Gold Morning.  Scraping I don’t know.”

“Scraping isn’t a case fifty-three,” Tattletale said.

“Then that’s why I don’t know them.”

“You know more than you’re letting on,” Tattletale said, to Semiramis.

“I need more if I’m going to give more.”

“And I’m barely involved, apparently,” Little Midas said.

“No,” Tattletale said.  “You work with mercenaries.  You farm them out.  You work with people that include the ones downstairs.  Those people targeted the Navigators three and a half weeks ago.  They butchered them at the client’s behest.  Familiar?”

“That does not mean I’m involved.”

“When they made that attack, they lured the Navigators out with carefully crafted messages.  I think that was a first draft of this particular kind of attack.  It worked.  It passed muster.  It leaned on deep and specific knowledge of the team and their deeper desires.”

Frick.

This wasn’t a sudden thing.

“No comment,” Little Midas said.  He made a small, pleased sound, moving the beard portion of his helmet to drink some beer and giving me a view of a smug smile surrounded by facial hair that had been pressed out of shape by the helm.

“-Unless you give us more,” Semiramis said.

She really wants more.

“We could talk about their other moves,” I said.  I can share what they did with me.

“No,” she said.

“You have this ouroboros design in your costume,” Tattletale remarked.  “It all ties back into itself.  You poked a bear and you lost three possible underlings.”

“Actors and actress,” Semiramis said.  “I don’t like losing.  I’m a builder, I lay groundwork, I gather loyal people, and I reward them to keep them loyal.  Oftentimes the work is a grind.  I bite my tongue and work and I make my way toward my goal of having an empire.  Something cleaner than what I used to be.  It’s rare that I’m passionate about a project, and then don’t get to see the fruits of that labor.  Give me my revenge, bring my three actors back to me, or tell me something else I need to know.”

I heard the clink of glass.  Conversation across the upper floor changed.  The old man approached.  Our conversation paused.

Tattletale had her phone out.  For a second, I thought she’d breached the communications blackout.  Then I saw it was a note-taking application.

“Was there a nude scene?” Sveta asked.  “Sorry, that’s a random question.”

“Yes,” Semiramis said.  “A sex scene.  But it was Engel who was interested in it.”

“Why?”

“Years ago… a kiss between a Case Fifty-Three and a human.  Today… perhaps more.”

“She’s too innocent,” Sveta said.  “She doesn’t get it.”

“Yes.  But that can be good,” Semiramis said.  “Innocence, optimism.”

Tattletale slid the phone over to Sveta as the bartender set her drink down.  It was small and smelled like mint.

Sveta typed out her response, not as slow as she might’ve been, considering how unpracticed she was.  She knew her way around a regular keyboard, and that helped.

She passed it back to Tattletale.

“Okay,” Tattletale said.  “Engel went to Teacher for help with mental issues having to do with her power and physiology.”

“Hey,” Sveta said, looking legitimately pissed.

“She just said she didn’t want to share Engel’s private business.”

Tattletale continued on, ignoring our protests, her eyes alert.  “-And Egg knew his way around Cauldron.  They talked, they shared information, and they knew things between them.  Big Picture was sent to Foresight because they’re the best information gatherers.  Teacher… wanted to ensure nobody was too hot on his trail.  So he blew it up.  Surgical strike.  This is looking a lot like Teacher, with some resources behind him.”

“Yes,” Semiramis said, not sounding pleased.  “I know this.  I would say you need to tell me things I don’t know to get me to share information, but you seem dead set on digging on your own.  Perhaps… we should tell you goodbye, and minimize how much you dig until you’re ready to deal.”

“This is why nobody likes you, Tattletale,” Sveta said.  “Everyone at this table is annoyed, now.”

“I’m fine,” Little Midas said, at the same time Nero at the next table cleared his throat.  “This is amusing.”

“Basically, anyway.  One less person at this table, another at the next table over.”

“It’s fine,” Tattletale said.  She indicated Semiramis.  “She still wants to know more.  How.  If it’s salvageable.  What she can do to protect herself.  It’s why she sent Big Picture to Foresight in the first place.  She wants to build and she wants to know the lay of the land.  Teacher’s the biggest unknown.”

“You may be underestimating my spitefulness,” Semiramis told Tattletale.

“I’m exactly estimating it,” Tattletale said.  She leaned back, put down her phone, and picked up her drink.  Settling in for a game of chicken.

I reached out, putting my hand on top of the drink.  I eased it and her hand back to the table.

All the talk of cases.  Case Twelve.  I turned to the Old Man.  I’d thought of him in the same way I thought of sinister and ominous things in the background, like the Slaughterhouse Nine.  The Nine had even been a series of cases, with Siberian’s attack on the Triumvirate as case one.

“What?” Tattletale asked.

“The first parahumans appeared starting in 1984,” I murmured.  “Parahumans tend to trigger between ages eight and thirty, give or take a few years for the edge cases.  In the nineties, there was talk and rumor of a gang leader gaining a lot of ground, once upon a time.  The first thought was that he was a parahuman.  He wasn’t.  His uncle was.  The man slipped away.”

A few heads turned.

“Given his age, he’d have triggered around thirty two, thirty-three years of age.  That was roughly thirty years ago.  The portrait matches.”

“You know this how?” Prancer asked.

“She collects old case files,” Sveta said.

Little Midas tapped Snake-eater on the shoulder.  The man stood from the cushioned bench he sat on.  Not even facing us, the man at the bar raised his hands in surrender.

“Not putting up a fight?” Snake-eater asked.

“Too old to run.  Never one to fight.”

“Do we need to worry about what he’s capable of?” Prancer asked.

“Have you had anything to eat or drink here?”

“Yes.”

“Then the damage is done,” I said.  “You’ll live, don’t worry.”

“I’ve eaten and had a drink on a past visit,” Tattletale said.  She tugged on her drink.  “I’m good to go, right?”

I kept her from lifting it, my hand still over the top.  “You probably don’t want to.”

She leaned back, letting go of the glass.  “I have a headache.”

“You wouldn’t if you didn’t use your power for a hundred small ‘looking cool’ moments in the car,” Sveta murmured.

“Five at most,” Tattletale said.

“Explain this,” Semiramis told me, stern.  “Explain him.”

“He’s the secret weapon the top people here were joking about,” Prancer said.  He smiled.  “Marquis, before he left.  Lord of Loss before he was arrested-”

“He was released, but he’s being monitored,” Little Midas said.

“All the same.  Loss tried to make sly remarks while they were a little too lubricated to be clever… this was worthwhile.”

“I know they talked about things.  I want specifics,” Semiramis said.

“And you get your answers when you give us the details we need, open and fairly,” I told her.

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144 thoughts on “Black – 13.8”

  1. Tattletale can be a little annoying bitch sometimes, but she’s lovable and really helpful and we can’t really stop from loving her. As fictional character, she’s great and fascinating. As real person, she’d be someone I’d hate to work with.

    Dragon is INNOCENT. This is very good piece of information but I never considered her being one of the suspects.

    I’m feeling good for guessing Teacher being behind everything. Only he can be so diabolically and maniacal to have fun destroying people’s lives and relationships. I’m sure he’s doing it for power but I think he also like to play with people’s lives like they’re his personal puppets. He always did that. Such an asshole indeed.

    Bluestocking is a cool villain and I’d like to see an interlude about her.

    1. My gut hunch is telling me someone’s framing Teacher because he’s actually doing something like this so sorting between what’s actual Teacher-scheme and what isn’t adds another layer of confusion.

  2. Bargaining typo thread:

    “cash are involved. there’s a reason”
    “what the Wedge is”
    Capitalisation.

    “There’s whole lot of”
    +a

    1. > I leaned back, my thumb working to find my place at the bottom of the chat while I ruminated. “That takes time, to find out and then look.

      There is only one space between these two sentences.

      > “She hacked her brain?” I asked, my eyebrows going up.

      Once again – just one space between sentences.

      Word ‘Mayor’ (meaning Citrine’s function) is capitalized inconsistently throughout the chapter.

      > there’s a reason they keep the team small and the growth slow and steady.

      Capital ‘T’ at the beginning of the sentence.

      > I’m so, so glad I didn’t go with Galataea or anything Weld-related.”

      ‘Galataea’ > ‘Galatea’ (?)

      > The road in through the station[…]

      Maybe just “The road through the station”?

      > […] Southern Europe, northern Africa.

      “northern Africa” > “Northern Africa”

      > Tap tap, he knocked clipboard against the edge of the table, before returning.

      There are three spaces before this sentence.

        1. Maybe she didn’t know who Nero was, and what he really did in his little “empire”? Remember that people who brought him to their corner settlement initially thought they were hiring a hero to help their settlement survive the winter – his powers let him make “Tools, raw materials, weapons.” He just used the opportunity to take over, and probably very few people outside of the settlement realized that it happened. After becoming “The Teapot Emperor” (assuming he managed to keep the position), he probably had to change his methods in a way that what he did would look even less suspicious from outside of the settlement.

  3. This chapter is pure joy for me, I’m so glad to have read every moment of it. This, right here, is why I will say I love Tattletale as a character with full abandon. She is a conflict-engine at her very core, and I can see that heart in there, still peeking out, remind us that though she is playing the role of worldwise aunt in the powers world to Breakthrough, she is still quite young. Continuing that vein, I’m enjoying our continually-closer-to-gray protagoness and her wild amounts of inner conflict and resolve, while playing these high stakes games. There is a part of me that feels like this is a fan service chapter, lots of reference and deeper subtext.

    1. In full agreement. I love the social combat scenes Wildbow crafts, and this is gold. In “Twig” the octane was too high and it felt abit too contrived, here it plays perfectly with all the subtle foreshadowing embedded in 12 previous arcs. I think that we are going to be privy to one of those delicious “Taylor-level escalations” where the fecal matter starts hitting the fan, and I am looking for it.

      Tattletale is best character ever. Love her. I wonder if she is a second-trigger, because her powerset is amazingly strong and versatile.

      1. The interaction’s between TT, Vicky and Sveta were just great. I hope we get a little more of the three of them stuck in a car together before this is done. Snuff’s gonna do the smart thing and just drive.

  4. I like how Tattletale puts Aiden down for trying too hard to look cool, but Lisa herself will do it whenever the opportunity arises.

    1. I get the feeling that Aiden is trying to look cool for its own sake (because he’s still a kid at heart), but when Lisa tries to look cool, she’s trying to make a power move (because her years as a supervillain warlord have seeped into the holes in her heart, pardon the purple prose). It’s not just about action, but the reason behind it.

  5. I am loving this chapter so far…

    And now it is confirmed that Cradle was on the employ of someone far subtler and far-reaching that we suspected. Cradle crew, Lord of loss crew, and a yet unknown Character-assasination & intelligence-gathering team crew were at its command, and yet that mastermind identity is not known.

    The chief suspects so far are: Earth Cheit, Teacher, Machine Army AI … and mayyybe Chris if he was to be the unsuspected endgame villain? I do not suspect Chris (aka Lab rat, aka Cryptid) so much because he would hardly have the time to set it up. The other suspects are not that likely because they have not been foreshadowed that much, and lack the subtlety needed. And Teacher fits the bill at many levels, but… it does feel off, somehow. Teacher is maybe too vainglorious for this kind of attack? Feels inconsistent with the high regard he has for himself and his tendency to monologue.

    So far it sounds more as somebody like…. Witness? Wildbow wrote that this Echidna clone of Tattletale was a concept he had toyed with and decided to bring out later. If Witness made it to Earth Cheit and started manipulating the whole planet… we know Tattletale is playing nice and using only a parcel of her true potential, and still is barely contained by the combined mass of the whole Gimel cape community. Her doppleganger would have run havoc on Earth Cheit, and from there accumulated the resources of one or more worlds at her beck and call…

    1. Don’t forget Marquis. He seems like a natural person to think about in context of Chris and Teacher, as Lab Rat and the other two were all leaders of cell blocks in the Birdcage, and Teacher did have a proposition of cooperation for both Marquis, and, more worryingly, Amy in Teneral e.5. The fact that plenty of other former Birdcage inmates including Lung, who we know worked with Teacher, ended up on Shin makes me worried that Shin may be just another resource in Teacher’s hands (in other words – that Teacher actually got almost everything he wanted from the prison).

      Couple it with the fact that the elder Dallons have not returned from that Earth yet, and we get a potentially very ugly picture indeed… Though at least Teacher said that he didn’t want to create his alliance for villainous purposes, so maybe it is ugly in an old Cauldron way of “we will do some terrible things, but only to save humanity… from itself this time”, if Teacher’s words not only from Taneral, but also from Contessa’s interlude are to be believed.

    2. Teacher is the only person I’m confident has all the skills you’d need to pull this sort of thing off. You’d need a high-tier Thinker and Tinker, a good number of mid-tier T/hinkers, or a veritable army of normal people skilled with surveillance, hacking, psychology, and logistics (because otherwise that army can’t move fast enough to pull off attacks this well).
      Earth Cheit has the raw manpower, and is probably organized and focused enough to pull a massive operation off from the safety of their own world, but I don’t see them having the technical knowledge. The Machine Army might have the quasi-tinker and hacking skills needed, but it doesn’t seem to have good foresight or a grasp on human psychology beyond getting people to fall into (normal) traps. Witness has the foresight and grasp on psychology, but not the technical skill; Chris and other warlords don’t have either.
      Sure, they could hire people to fill in their skill gaps (Machine Army aside), or they might have subordinates we don’t know about yet (especially Cheit and Chris), but we know Teacher can get the skills needed with minimal effort. Also, Teacher absolutely has the capacity to pull off this sort of subtle plan; remember the prison incident? Teacher knows better than to monologue before the heroes are caught in his trap, and “I manipulated events to air your dirty laundry” seems like something worth monologuing about. There are certainly stupider villainous monologues out there. flashes back to YGOTAS ep. 81

      1. I think it may be an error to consider all of those groups separately. It is very likely that Teacher is cooperating with at least some people on/from Chiet, and possibly Shin (including Chris, Marquis, Lung, and maybe even Amy). The anti-parahumans on Gimel seem to at least been somehow supported (and possibly organized, commanded and/or infiltrated) by someone on Chiet, and so on… There is also a possibility that some of those people have some sort of control over, or some deal with the Machine Army going on. This entire series of “character assassinations” may be a result of actions of a potentially very wide coalition.

        1. And that is not even counting such missing people like Dinah, Contessa or Clairvoyant, (and maybe even the Witness, if she exists and is alive in canon), who may work with almost any of those factions. The only thing that we know when it comes to those people is that Dinah and Contessa were not with Teacher during Scapegoat’s interlude, but even that cold have changed since then.

          1. One more person whose absence worries me, because they could be involved is Ingenue and that means that almost any person (though most likely a straight man) could be compromised. Dinah’s unexplained absence also makes it remotely possible that Palanquin may be working for the opposition, and only cooperated with the Undersiders because March sided with or was one of the people who abandoned Teacher after their disagreement about the time effects.

          2. On the topic of people corruptible by Ingenue, let’s also not forget about potentially bisexual men, and scratch Legend from the list of suspects. (Unless someone can point at something that confirms that he is actually 100% gay? All I remember about his preferences is that he had a husband.)

          3. Actually this quote from Teacher in chapter 30.3, seems to suggest that even straight women may not be safe from Ingenue, so we probably can’t rule out anybody when it comes to her potential targets:

            “I’m going to assume this is actually you, Weaver, and that you’re not an Ingenue thrall or something similar.[…]

          4. Clairvoyant seems … improbable … as an actual mastermind. He was mentally still 8 when Teacher got to him with the filter pair, and it’s not clear that those two did anything to help *him*, as opposed to whoever was looking “through” him.

          5. Gazeboist – I’m not thinking that Clairvoyant could be the mastermind, but a source of information for the mastermind(s). Scanner and Screen may still be around, and if not, Teacher could probably substitute them. He could be used in a way similar Dr. Mother used him in her interlude to spy on everyone. He could be how the opposition can keep an eye on all their targets well enough to put those details about Byron and Moonsong’s breakup in the fake diary so soon after it happened, or to react to the current investigation. Doesn’t seem to fit Tattletale’s comment about the opposition reacting like a machine maybe, but it could explain why Dragon can’t detect the surveillance. I think that simply sending a few files to the targets without Dragon noticing could be easier to accomplish that doing something like constantly listening to someone through their cellphone (with is probably something even increased battery drain of that phone could betray).

  6. Case Twelve, eh. So what IS the man’s power if Marquis and LoL considered it worth joking about, but Victoria would rather Tata not drink anything he’s handled?

    In other news, Semiramis sounds skeevy, but on the flipside she’s utterly devoid of speciesm, which is a valued rarity among de facto villains. I am also trying to remember where have we heard of Little Midas before….

    (Prancer, why are you still trying to climb the villain ladder, you are not cut out for this at all!)

    Countdown before Tata gets decked for antagonizing people again?

        1. Are we sure that he died? Maybe he just left like the original Harbinger? I think that with his power he would have no problem doing so.

          1. I suppose thats possible. But as many people have pointed out, the Old Man is most likely a character from a Weaverdice Campaign that Bow helped run.

            Besides, Nice Guys power has nothing to do with food or drink, so highlighting that would be pretty odd.

          2. Also Nice Guy is the least likely villain to surrender to a bunch of mopes who just clued in that he’s a danger. One shot of his power and everyone present, Antares included, would have forgotten what they were talking about.

    1. > Case Twelve, eh. So what IS the man’s power if Marquis and LoL considered it worth joking about, but Victoria would rather Tata not drink anything he’s handled?

      I’m thinking he’s like Semiramis, but with things instead of people. You go to his lodge, you eat his food, and you use his toilet. Then after you leave, he works his magic and avoids an unnecessary trip to the grocery store. One man’s waste is another man’s treasure…

  7. Now I’m wondering what the bartender’s power is. I’m guessing that it’s some low-key Striker power that works through imbuing objects, but I wonder exactly what it is.

  8. A few small details:

    1. Tattletale apparently knows Dragon’s true nature (not exactly surprising, but I think this may be the first time it has been actually confirmed), and Sveta’s new hands give her a proper sense of touch. “Ten by ten” has just become a likely solution of Sveta and Weld’s problem. Hopefully it is not too late. The best thing about it is that it is entirely possible that Tattletale has already realized it, and may even be willing to help (assuming that she is as nice as I think she is) once the current crisis is over, but she would probably need to do it without revealing that Dragon is an A.I. to Victoria or Sveta (which would be simple), and without letting Dragon know that she knows, assuming that Dragon doesn’t know that Tattletale knows (which could be more complicated).

    2. There seem to be more and more C53s involved around the current attacks. Is this a clue about motivations, fixations, goals and/or sources of knowledge of the attackers. My old theory about Gary Nieves being involved after being given archives of the Parahuman Asylum suddenly seems somewhat likely again, but the people who gave him the archives would have to have much more resources than I originally gave them credit for (possibly an A.I. and/or some really good thinkes) to pull it off, and judging from dates of modification of the fake diary, may have started a careful surveillance of their potential targets (if not writing the diary itself) long before they contacted Nieves.

    The fact that the supposedly non-powered hackers were behind the message that was used as a bait to lure the Navigators out, and that Tattletale said that attack could have been a “prototype” of the attacks also seems to suggest the people supporting Nieves. (Possibly anti-parahumans, possibly Chiet, possibly both – the organized anti-parahumans may be Chiet’s front after all).

    It could also be Teacher and Chiet working together. Remember that the Order was apparently from Chiet, and they likely were the people (or among the people) who left Teacher because of their disappointment about the time effects. It is possible that Teacher still has other Chiet contacts.

    3. Tattletale said that she worked with clairvoyants (plural!) on the attack in community center, who have dropped off the radar since. Who could those people be? Dinah seems like an obvious suspect, but who else? Clairvoyant? Contessa?

    4. I wonder if Marquis ended up agreeing to work with Teacher after we last saw them together in Teneral e.5. If this is the case, it could mean that Lord of Loss and the bartender from the current chapter may also be Teacher’s agents. Of course it could also be possible that Marquis refused, because he already had a better offer, in which case none of the three would be Teacher’s men, but I feel like Marquis was willing to agree to Teacher’s offer as long as Amy’s safety was ensured.

    5. The elder Dallons have not returned from Shin. I don’t know if it is a good or a bad sign, but if it is the latter, I think it could be very bad.

    6. M113 mentioned Witness as a possible member of the current opposition. I don’t know if it is simply because the recent speculation about Ratcatcher being Taylor’s clone, or if Wildbow actually is revisiting that old idea. If it is the latter, we may even get two surviving Echidna clones, possibly working on opposite sides of the barricade despite being not just fellow clones, but even clones of very good friends. Wouldn’t that be weird?

    1. 1) During Gold Morning, Imp remarked to Defiant what it was like, and commented that since her boyfriend died, she was interested in a sexbot, since human lovers have a tendency to forget her when her power’s on, which is whenever she’s not consciously turning it off. If Imp knows, Tattletale knows.

      2) They were non-powered in the sense they used no Tinker viruses, or a Tinker PC. Just standard human-level know how. They could still be a Thinker, just a subtle one, or possibly went human-level to challenge/disguise themselves, since they also used public computers in an area with no CCTV.

      3) Dinah’s a precognitive, so (technically) is Contessa. Might have been Braindead; he’s not turned up in a while, or somebody else, since Birdbrain has.

      1. 1. Interesting. Can you tell me where that scene was more or less? An exact chapter number, and maybe a quote would be ideal, but I would appreciate it even if you could narrow it down to an arc or so.

        Either way it looks that if Tattletale wants to prove that she is one of the “nice” villains, as she put it in her talk with Victoria when they first met in Ward, she probably should call Defiant or Dragon as soon as the current crisis is over, and ask if they could help Sveta.

        2. I think that right now there may be far more resources (possibly including parahuman resources and/or an advanced A.I.) involved in the current series of attacks than in what was done to lure the Navigators. Both the fact that Tattletale said that it “feels like a machine” (which could mean an actual machine, or possibly a group of people with little personality or emotions – like the more brainwashed Teacher’s students, or maybe even someone like those soldiers from Shin Chris wanted to use as his test subjects), and the fact that all of current attacks seem to happen in a very short span of time, some of them in response to Victoria’s and Tattletale’s investigation, seem to indicate it in my opinion.

        Sending a couple of messages to Navigators and to Super Magic Dream Parade in a way that their source could not be easily traced is something that unpowered hackers would probably be able to do, especially if Dragon’s attention was elsewhere at the time. Preparing Victoria’s diary and updating it for weeks after Dragon found it without Dragon noticing that something was off seems like something on a completely different level. Of course it could also be possible that even those messages Navigators and Super Magic Dream Parade got came from some A.I. or parahumans with powers related to hacking, who just managed to convince the heroes they were just some random, unpowered anti-parahumans.

        1. 28.2 I think is what is being described.

          “Serious question,” she said, all business. “You can’t lie to me on this.”

          “What is it?”

          “Robot poontang. How does it rate?”

          “Jesus Christ,” Tattletale said.

          “Hey. I’m… I’m not one to judge. I’m asking seriously, while the others do the strategic thinking they’re so good at. I’m not necessarily interested in the robot ladies, but I figure I need a guy who’s not going to ignore me. Robots are immune to my power, so I’m just thinking, if I get myself a tin man, well, they say a toy feels better than-”

          1. Ok, hopefully this won’t end up as a double post:

            Thanks. I found an even better quote in that chapter:

            “Dragon is a robot. A computer program,” Tattletale said.

            Saint’s mouth was open, as if he’d been about to speak. He shut it. He looked mildly annoyed. “Yes.”

            I glanced at Tattletale, who nodded a little. In the corner of my eye, I could see Imp look at Rachel, surprise on her face. Rachel didn’t seem to care.

            “Correct me if I’m wrong, Defiant. Dragon’s a tinker-made artificial intelligence. I initially thought you made her-”

            Defiant started a slow shake of his head.

            “-But no. That’d make your relationship incestuous, and you don’t give me that kind of vibe. Someone that isn’t active anymore, probably dead. She was burdened down with nasty restrictions, the same restrictions that led to her outing Taylor here, despite her reservations. Rules she had to obey no matter what…”

            Tattletale not only figured out that Dragon is an A.I. and some of Dragon’s history and limitations herself. She also told all of it to a group of people including Defiant – basically unmasking Dragon in a way that Dragon would learn that she did it. Looks like there is no reason for Tattletale to not make the call to D&D regarding Sveta’s body, unless she is not on speaking terms with those two because she revealed Dragon’s secret.

          2. “Tattletale not only figured out that Dragon is an A.I. and some of Dragon’s history and limitations herself. She also told all of it to a group of people including Defiant – basically unmasking Dragon in a way that Dragon would learn that she did it”

            The context of that conversation makes it so that it’s highly doubtful that Dragon would care. Saint was literally three seconds from dishing the exact same dirt to the people there and hoping to leverage the shock to get himself a better deal. Tattletale cut him off at the ankles because he’s the one that who “killed” Dragon just before she get to Ellisburg to stop the Nine and then later specifically denied them resources for their mission to go back in so they could follow the Nine into their pocket dimension. The guy who almost got her friends killed didn’t get to use his info to look cool. So she’s not really dishing anything that wasn’t about to come to light, anyway.

            Personally, I like to think that she saw Saint about to dish and figured it out with her power an instant before she spoke The way she’s talking with Defiant about her creation makes me think she’s figuring it out as she goes, there

      2. 3. The way I see it a clairvoyant (lowercase ‘c’, not the particular cape with that name) can be a precog, the term has a wide enough definition for that. The fact that Tattletale suggested that either what was done in the community center and/or their subsequent disappearance does seem to further indicate that a precog may have been involved (unless of course Tattletale herself was the person who saw enough of the big picture to make such decisions).

    2. 6- Something else that got brought up.
      “Scraping I don’t know.”

      “Scraping isn’t a case fifty-three,” Tattletale said.

      “Then that’s why I don’t know them.”
      That immediatly made me think of Witness and her pretending to be a Case 53, plus the speculation on Ratcatcher, since she doesn’t seem to be one, but does have an altered apperence. Even if it’s not Echinda Clones, I wonder if we might have another Case number come into play, another one of the oddities and outliers. Say what do we know about Case 69 other than it being some sort of sasquatch thing?

      1. Just one more reason to think that whoever gave Nieves those papers may be involved here. Remember that in interlude 7.y those papers were described as “A list of people with stories to tell. Horror stories about parahumans. Stories that stoke anger,” and that Gary observed that those “stories” were kept up to date, which newest entry (about Kenzie and her family) being only four days old at that point.

        “Horror stories about parahumans” could very much involve other Case Files than C53s, and it feels like whoever is organizing the current attacks may be using the same data and means to keep it up to data to select targets and perform those attacks.

        What Nieves got may have just been a summary of a much more detailed collection of dirt on parahumans designed to make Nieves think that it wasn’t gathered using parahuman means or some other form of nearly total surveillance and ability to process all data from it as quickly as it seems to be happening now. In other words Nieves could have been just another vector of attack in service of whoever is behind the current character assassination attempts.

      2. Don’t all (natural) Eden triggers, few as they are, have some appearance alterations? I seem to remember some WOG on that in the context of Scrub and his super saiyan swagger. There’s also Crystalclear, who we know isn’t a C53 but nevertheless has major physical alterations due to his power, so we know that it can happen for reasons other than Breaker/Changer powers or Cauldron vials.

        1. Contessa is probably an Eden natural trigger and I don’t remember her having any appearance alterations. (Unless we consider her an Abaddon trigger and think that because of it she shouldn’t follow the usual rules?)

          Maybe the rule about appearance alterations applies only to Eden’s shards that Eden did not manage to completely reprogram before “she” realized that she is going to crash and die, or only to capes that triggered after her death? Contessa’s shard was probably the last one Eden discarded before that happened (in fact discarding it was probably what let Eden realize what’s going on), and Fortuna definitely triggered before Eden’s death. I’m leaning towards “before she crashed and died” theory, because there seemed to be a lot of bad triggers going on in the area where Fortuna lived around the time she triggered.

          1. Or maybe those triggers which happened around Fortuna in her interlude were caused by the crash and the fact that the environment was polluted by bits of Eden which separated from Eden during or after the impact? Something like contents of Cauldron vials just flowing out of Eden and poisoning everything around her? Would this mean that all those triggers in the area (except for Fortuna’s) were technically not natural?

          2. Contessa is a special case in a number of ways, though it’s not totally clear which would differentiate her from a true Eden trigger:

            – Her shard “not dead, but not [Scion’s].” The exact nature of “dead” shards has never been completely clarified, but all other Eden shards, Cauldron or natural, are “dead” or at least “damaged”. The general interpretation is that a “dead” shard lacks an active connection to the broader network.

            – Eden did not intend to discard PtV. It broke away in the crash, and happened to connect to Contessa. We know this because it was completely unrestricted when Contessa first connected to it; only a hastily imposed block from Eden before she was lobotomized prevented Contessa from using it on Scion himself. It’s possible only Eden’s intended triggers were supposed to be mutated.

            – Contessa’s shard (or its core) originates from Abaddon, not Eden. Eden swaps out her future sight immediately before impact, creating the PtV we know today. This may also relate to her shard not being “dead”. Scion never identifies it as Eden’s; it’s possible he can’t actually tell the difference between shards belonging to different networks that aren’t his own.

        2. Crystalclear’s trigger had Changer elements, which is why his powers have an ‘active’ mode that involves changing what he looks like. Much like Flashbang’s power having Stranger elements, as his ‘grenades’ give off a burst of light when they explode. Crystalclear’s crystal head can be dismissed, giving him a human head and face and senses back, but that might also destroy any crystals he’d plucked from it, so he can only use his blaster power when his head’s all faceted.

      1. A game played by Dragon and Defiant in Worm. Initially used as a method for calibrating tactile sensations for Dragon’s body, but then became a form of intimacy. I don’t think their experience would translate well to Sveta and Weld though.

        1. Sveta said in this chapter “Rain gave me hands with a full tactile range.” I imagine that Dragon could make an entire body for Sveta, that can give her the same thing. I don’t know how Weld would react to it, but he indicated that he wanted a girl with a human body, and this is probably the closest Sveta can get to it without help of a bio-tinker or a biokinetic.

          I think that trying to construct a prosthetic body for Sveta instead of trying to change her real one may be the way to go, because if I remember correctly shards of C53s make it difficult if not impossible to revert the changes they made to bodies of their parahumans. It may be that if for example Amy managed to give Sveta a human body, but didn’t take her power, Sveta’s own regeneration would turn her body back into a tangle of tentacles again, and we know that Sveta’s regeneration is fairly quick.

          Removing Sveta’s power may also be impossible using means in Amy’s (or any biokinetic’s or bio-tinker’s disposal) because Sveta’s body we can see probably doesn’t even have a brain, and as such – doesn’t contain Corona Pollentia. It may be that:
          1. Sveta’s human body (or at least its brain) is hidden in some inaccessible dimension, or…
          2. her brain doesn’t exist anymore, and her personality already lives only in her shard, and controls her C53 body from there.

          Considering that Darlene’s power let her establish links to both Vera brothers at once, but there seemed to be no link to second Sveta’s body, I think that the second possibility is unfortunately more likely. If this is the case, to give Sveta a human body, you would need to somehow extract her mind from her shard, and this is something that probably no biokinetic or bio-tinker can do. Probably even Valkyrie couldn’t do it, because her power seems to be doing the exact opposite – kill the human mind if it is still alive, let an echo of that mind which exists in a shard manifest in her vicinity, and if there is a suitable body for that mind to claim – take this body over and shape its brain to reflect the echo in the shard. The problem is that a disembodied echo of Sveta Valkyrie could summon probably would be unable to accept any body other than one similar to Sveta’s C53 one.

          1. I think Sveta’s brain is consolidated throughout her body, or is possibly contained in one of the ‘organs’ that lurk deep in the centre of her tentacle cluster. She still has one, she feels too bad about killing people to be entirely a Shard mockery of her original self, it just isn’t immediately apparent as to what it is and might not even be as large as a standard one, with many tasks offloaded to the Shard itself- which would also be why she has so little control over her body. There is a human in there, somewhere, conflicting with the shard.

      2. If you want to find out more about ten by ten it is explained in Defiant’s interlude in arc 16 of Worm, otherwise labeled “Donation Bonus #2”.

  9. Sveta calling herself Galataea would be too ironic. I don’t know if that’s what she was going for, maybe she was going to call herself Pygmalion, or maybe her prosthetic made her feel like somebody bring crafted in the shape of a human. I just know she wouldn’t like being compared to a different Galataea who was a terrifying binding-monster in the shape of a young lady.

      1. Pretty sure that Sveta would win that one. She’s a lot faster, stronger (capable of cutting people in half and casually severing limbs), and IIRC the primary power of her Cauldron vial was superhuman durability.

        The only area where Helen has any advantage is in her willingness to kill.

  10. Oh man Marquis set up a neutral meeting location to do business and was feeding everyone contaminated food and drink for a year without anyone the wiser. I can only assume he figured no one would ever figure it out because I’m pretty sure Semiramis and Little Midas are going to want blood, to say nothing of the other regulars.

    1. Depends how its contaminated.
      I mean, if its contaminated in a way that lets the bartender beat you in a fight for the next twelve hours, and then your fine, well… that just seems like a reasonable precaution.

      …. but it does sound kinda worse.

      1. The reddit thread recognized him from WoBs, much like Tinker 15 during Valkyrie’s interlude. Apparently, if you ingest bodily tissue donated by him, he gets a Mathersian insight into your thoughts and memories. This does not appear to come with a subsequent ability to affect those thoughts and memories a la Mama Mathers, but it makes him excellent as a gatherer of Intel.

        1. Sounds like a perfect way to prepare a character assassination attack, doesn’t it? Maybe not on the scale we are seeing now, but could be a part of it. The worst thing about having insight into Tattletale’s thoughts and memories is that it would come with Tattletale’s insight into other capes, relationships between them, and how they could be messed up.

          Getting such insight into Lisa’s head is probably not good enough to explain something like details of Byron and Moonsong’s breakup in the fake diary, so there is probably some sort of constant surveillance involved, but good enough to choose targets, angles of attack, and be warned about any countermeasures that could be used against such attacks.

          The downside of doing this is that Tattletale may be a perfect person to figure out who could be attacked and how, because all of those would be people and methods Lisa thought about already.

          One worrying thing is that Lisa has a headache despite supposedly not having knowingly abused her power lately, and it may not be the first time – she seemed to have a somewhat similar problem in the first scene of her interlude. Could it be that the bartender be able to use his connection to Lisa to use her power without her knowing about it?

          1. Alternatively Lisa’s current headache could mean that the bartender doesn’t use Lisa’s power right now, but is able to block it to prevent her from figuring out what is going on based on clues she just got.

          2. Third possible explanation for Tattletale’s headache – the bartender is closely monitoring her thoughts through whatever connection he has with her (does it get weaker with time?) to see if she happens to think of a way he could escape his current predicament. She probably is most likely to come up with a way to do it at this point.

            One more scary idea. What if Dinah and/or Contessa also drank what the bartender is serving? Could their precognition, and whatever knowledge they got from it be used against them and everyone else?

          3. Could be a tumor, could be a migraine, could be first sign of a flu and a hundred of other things, but since headache is a typical symptom encountered when Thinkers use their powers too much, and Tattletale supposedly did not do it today, I’m wondering if it could be because someone else has been using their own power (especially if it is also a thinker power) on her, either to mess with her mind, or to mess with her power. A person who could use their power to read her mind seems like an obvious candidate, especially if that person would have a reason to focus on Tattletale now, and I think that if the barman is who Landis963 thinks he is, then he seems like an obvious suspect.

  11. Victoria just saved the day… With her extensive cape geek knowledge. See this is why she and TT make a great team. TT can put puzzle pieces together, and Victoria can tell you what kind of sailboat it is.

    1. Yeah we’re finally getting some payoff on that weird trivia obsession she has. Chekhov’s cape bookshelf has been teetering on the mantle since the very first arc. When she first thought she recognized him, I thought it was going to be somebody who owed her mom some money or something. Then she was like, “how could a person worth knowing be so old?” She’s not prejudiced against black people; she’s prejudiced against humans.

      1. Maybe it’s not prejudice – maybe it’s that parahumans tend to live not very long, so an old parahuman is an unusual sight.

        1. That was my first thought, but no. The actual problem is simply that parahumans are still a new phenomenon. This is what she was getting at with her little lecture about how the first parahumans appeared in ’84. Ward started in the second half of 2015, so it’s only been about thirty-one years. Since people older than their thirties basically don’t trigger, this means the oldest possible parahumans you could find right now (barring time shenanigans) would be in their sixties, and they’re an intersection of two edge cases, so they’re very rare, even before you factor in cape mortality.

  12. Just a heads-up to Wildbow or whoever maintains the site that the RSS feed is currently broken— it hasn’t updated for either this chapter or chapter 13.7.

    This means that anyone who’s subscribed via an RSS reader isn’t getting notifications that new chapters have been posted.

    1. While it is not strictly a typo, I would put reports like this in the typo thread. It probably makes it much easier for Wildbow to find and keep track of such problems with the site if everything that may need to be fixed is gathered in a single thread per chapter.

  13. How the hell did Sveta never get around to telling Victoria about what she and Weld were doing around Gold Morning?

    This actually does explain some of the problems with earlier in this story with Victoria being irrationally hostile the idea of working with Tattletale. I was always under the impression that Victoria had touched base with Sveta about Gold Morning off screen… but apparently not.

    This explains why Victoria doesn’t know that Tattletale is in the “Top 5 people who killed Scion saved the world” list.

      1. Actually, I think that it may ne only part of the reason. Some of it may also be because of the fact that Sveta and Weld probably aren’t exactly proud of what happened during Irregulars’ raid on Cauldron, not to mention that they (especially Sveta) learned plenty of sensitive information then, and may want to omit many details when talking to people who weren’t there.

        1. I get that, but it cheapens svetas relationship with Victoria if she kept all of that secret.

          Victoria and Sveta have been written as people who’d hide a body for the other one. They were together in the institute and Sveta trusts Victoria when she’s worried about Weld. It seems odd that she’d be on a “need to know” basis for anything with Victoria.

          Heck, even on that basis, Victoria started working with Tattletale 3 arcs ago. That was when Victoria “needed to know” that Sveta had worked with Tattletale. Having Sveta bring it up weeks later in a car ride for no real reason just seems out of place in the Sveta Victoria relationship we have been reading.

          1. Remember that:
            – Sveta and Victoria have met in arc 2 probably for the first time in two years, that they were busy doing hero work since then.
            – They both probably wanted to forget Gold Morning (Victoria probably even more than Sveta, both because the topic reminded her of Amy, and because being under Khepri’s control was a particularly painful experience to her, since, as she put it, with her emotions and her body twisted by Amy’s power, her mind and free will was about the only thing Victoria had left, and Khepri took that).
            – Sveta’s role in the Irregulars’ attack on Cauldron, and everything that happened later (including Taylor’s presence) are obviously very sensitive topics to Sveta, and on top of it Sveta understood that they would also be painful to Victoria – it is not only that Sveta would not be eager to talk, it is also that she probably understood that it would be painful for Victoria to listen.
            – If I remember correctly Sveta told Victoria about Number Man only when he became relevant because it turned out that he was Mayor’s husband. Discussing Taylor, or even Tattletale would probably be even worse, because of the even stronger emotional baggage associated with them.

            In other words those topics are “need to know”, not because Sveta wants to hide something from Victoria, but because both Sveta and Victoria know that this discussion would be painful for both of them, and because they may have not have enough time to run out of easier topics to discuss, and were simply leaving this one for “later, hopefully never”. Even Tattletale seems selective about when, how and with whom (even within Undersiders) she discusses Taylor after all. Why would Victoria and Sveta not avoid certain topics?

  14. I may have figured out what sort of Kiss/Kill Foil needs to do to “destroy March’s personality”. All it would probably take is to convince Valkyrie to “harvest” March, and keep her long enough for May’s personality to sufficiently degrade. We don’t know for sure if the degradation of the shard copy of cape’s personality happens if a cape is merely dead, but we know almost for sure that it happens if they are Valkyrie’s “shadows”.

    The best thing is that there is a member of Valkyrie’s flock whose mere presence, behavior and looks would probably let the Undersiders know that much, and it doesn’t hurt that the person I’m thinking about probably wouldn’t mind meeting the Undersiders or helping Foil with her problems with March.

      1. We don’t know that for sure. All we saw through Tori’s eyes after March was stabbed was a rapier and some blood, which could even come from Tori’s own hand.

        1. Plus, unless there is some WoG I don’t know about, I think that the idea that Valkyrie can only get recently deceased capes is only a fan speculation. A very likely-sounding one in my opinion, but a speculation nevertheless.

          1. And don’t forget that most of us probably thought that Valkyrie can’t collect the living, until she proved us wrong in her interlude in Ward (at least this was my own assumption until I read that interlude). We really probably know very little about limitations of her power.

          2. My understanding is that she collects the connection a parahuman has with a shard (or shards?). That connection is mediated by an organ in the brain, the corona pollentia. Presumably the CP is like other parts of the brain in that its function progressively degrades after the conventional “moment of death”. So, it may be possible a half hour after the heart stops beating, but very impossible a year later.

            GU had collected Gray Boy before the events of Worm, and he died at that time. This was important enough that it was noted in consecutive chapters, 27.5 and 27.x. Even if collection didn’t have to kill, she would have killed GB anyway because he was such a pain.

          3. CP is only part of the picture. Maybe in Valkyrie’s case DNA is sufficient, in which case we may be looking at potentially much longer times, and possibly a Manton-like limit that lets her gather a power only when she has an actual body to work with, and not just whatever tissue you can get DNA from (and there are very few of those that don’t).

          4. Seems kind of thin, because there has been no indication that she can do that. Bonesaw has done something kind of like it, by creating clones that acquired their own connections to the same shards that parahumans from which they had been cloned had been connected. She had previously observed the miraculous transformation of a CP at the moment of triggering. (No IRB nonsense for her!) Lab Rat has done something kind of like it, by creating an organism that acquired a connection (perhaps Lab Rat’s original connection, perhaps another) to his own shard. In Lab Rat’s case, however, he certainly did have access to his own living body while preparing the organism. Bonesaw had access to plenty of living bodies, but not always to the originals that would have retained DNA if not a functional CP.

            GU/V has only ever taken such connections from other parahumans, after which she had the connection and they didn’t. This is similar to Goddess and other cluster champions: what they take, their cluster-mates don’t have. It’s even more similar to what Eidolon did, right before Scion P2V’d him. Eidolon took power from vulnerable capes, and they lost that power. He did that in direct analogy to what GU did to dying capes, at her repeated suggestion. Although Eidolon seemed to be just burning the connections for power rather than preserving them for future use, both he and GU viewed the process as reappropriation rather than creation. I feel like examining long-dead remains and somehow sensing its DNA in order to create new connections to shards is more in the realm of Tinkers than that of Trump/Strikers.

          5. The thing is that in Teneral e.1 Ciara said about her shard:

            > My other half was always more patient, more relaxed than most. Its duty was always at the end.

            To me it sounds like the purpose of Ciara’s shard has always been to collect all shards once the current stage of Entity’s life cycle was over, and the Entity was to be reassembled, so it should have the ability to get to any shard no matter how long its parahuman has died. Normally Ciara’s shard would be restricted so that it wouldn’t give Ciara herself that ability of course, but as Jessica suggested in that chapter Ciara is probably a second trigger, so those restrictions could be weaker than it was originally planned.

            Ciara even said:
            “You know, I could kill everyone, if I so chose? If I decided to stand, right here and right now, and kill you all, it would be fully within my power?”
            Jessica though that “killing everyone” would involve some sort of combat, but what if it is not the case? What if Ciara could simply harvest all shards and begin the Entity reconstruction process (which was supposed to consume all resources on all Earths and killing all humans, not just capes, as a result)? What if touching people’s bodies is just a way for her to collect only select shard, and not all shards at once? Remember that Ciara was worried that she may follow in Scion’s footsteps. Perhaps it means that she could become a new “hub” of an Entity she could reconstruct herself with her power, and only chose not to do so (at least for now) out of respect for human life, and the Earths as she knows them?

            If this is the case, I wouldn’t put the ability to harvest selected shards of long-dead capes beyond her.

          6. Of course it is entirely possible that Ciara’s shard would not be able to act as a hub of the new Entity she would create in a way that Scion did – by controlling and coordinating all shards once the Entity would be reassembled, but it would not prevent the reassembly itself, and there is a shard that has already shown that it could potentially take over that role – Queen Administrator. Perhaps this is why Ciara wanted to deal with Taylor as an equal?

            Another person Ciara treated like an equal was Amy. Perhaps her power would be necessary to create a new body for the new Entity? Perhaps Red Queen would be the one that would need drain all available resources left on all Earths to put all shards physically back together into a new Entity, while Faerie Queen would re-establish all connections for Queen Administrator to use? Maybe this is even what the title “Queen” means – one of the shards necessary to put a functioning Entity back together?

          7. It would also explain why Amy ended up giving Taylor an ability to control people together with their shards. Red Queen shard knew exactly what it was doing by un-Mantoning Queen Administrator in a way that it could control the shards again. All we need now is to un-Manton Red Queen itself, so it can affect not just bodies of biological creatures Amy touches, but something as vast and alien as a multi-dimensional creature, which can use entire planets as building materials for its body. And un-Mantoning Amy’s power could be possible in one of many ways. Unlike the other bearers of Queen shards, I’m not even sure if Amy second-triggered yet…

          8. And there is even something that may be a foreshadowing of the fact that Red Queen could do what I just described. Remember that in interlude 16.z of Worm Amy could tell that there were “shadows” within Ciara as soon as the two ladies touched their hands. Amy couldn’t tell what those “shadow” were exactly, but she did feel their presence. I think it shouldn’t be possible if her power was limited to earthly biology, and unable to affect the shards.

          9. Finally – “the biggest threat” that terrified Valkyrie so much could be the fact that Dauntless could be an alternative method of putting an Entity back together. Without him, it would be impossible to construct an Entity without her cooperation. With him – veto of the parahuman connected the Faerie Queen may no longer matter.

            And unlike Valkyrie Dauntless can’t defend itself from being mastered by something like Simurgh, so his veto may not matter in the end.

          10. Perhaps Valkyrie is keeping Eidolon’s “shadow” not because releasing him could agitate the Endbringers, but because his power can be used to drain any shards, including the Queens, of their resources, which could serve as a last-ditch solution if it looked the shards were trying to reconstruct an Entity. If this is the case, Valkyrie may be afraid of Dauntless also because with Simurgh present she may be unable to bring Eidolon close enough to Dauntless to drain his power if necessary.

          11. Who knows? Perhaps even Taylor’s Corona Pollentia is perfectly fine, and it is just that Queen Administrator has been drained by Eidolon, while Taylor had been disabled by Contessa’s bullets?

          12. By the way, could Valkyrie capture Contessa? Between her collection of “shadows” of unknown capabilities and access to Eidolon and Doormaker I think Valkyrie should have no problem with approaching Contessa and diasbling her power long enough to “collect” her. The question is – what could motivate Valkyrie to do it?

          13. Can you point me to where Eidolon’s power was revealed to consume other powers? All I remember about his mechanics is that he could take advantage of time effects to come up to full power and that he was dependent on periodic vials from Cauldron to keep his potency up.

          14. Eidolon’s interlude in arc 27, especially the scene beginning with words “Scion cast out another shaft of golden light, and Eidolon was flung across the sky by Glaistig Uaine, his powers still taking hold.”

            Glaistig Uaine has shown him there, that while she can collect the powers of the dead, he can recharge his power by taking powers from the living. This is how the process looked like from his perspective:

            The tendrils connected to the images surrounding them, abstract ideas, as though the agents had no identity or concept of their own beyond the memories they stored.

            He felt his power grow, hurried to allow new powers to fall into place so he could fill them with reserves, tap them for energy. Tendrils connecting agents here and elsewhere.

            They’d lose their abilities, be rendered weaker. They were dying anyways.

            New powers fell quickly into place. They reached a greater capacity in less time.

            Still standing at the edge of the ruined platform, Eidolon’s took in a deep breath for what felt like the first time in a decade. A weight had fallen from his shoulders.

            Two powers, a third for this extra perception, the ability to tap others for energy.

            He tapped into an erasure power he hadn’t had since he had fought Behemoth the first time. Destroying matter. No defense to penetrate, nothing to attack or avoid. Merely a vast area cut away.

            Getting him to a point where he was at leas a decade earlier? Sounds like a major boost to me if you consider his slow, but constant degradation of power throughout the years. He even got access to some power he used in his first fight with the Behemoth, and he was supposed to be unable to get the same power twice.

          15. And yes, it was power consumption. Maybe not total, but at least enough tho weaken people he affected:

            They’d lose their abilities, be rendered weaker. They were dying anyways.

          16. Sorry, just I realized that I quoted the same thing twice in two subsequent posts. Silly me…

          17. It is a lot of lore, but the fact that we can’t remember all of it just gives us a good reason to keep re-reading old chapters, which is a good thing in my book.

          18. @Alfaryn,
            It is interesting ideas about recreation of entities by Valkyrie, Amy and others. But a question – why does Scion with his Path-to-Victory did not figure out this way to restart the cycle?
            Well, I can think one reason – it was blocked from him. Either by design – to remove “nonfit” entity who allows counterpart to die, or by Abbadon – in order to remove possibility for reconstruction of pair.

          19. Good question. I think that we should analyze Scion’s interlude, and Foruna’s interlude (especially the memories/visions of Eden’s thoughts) for answers.

            The way I read it, it may be possible that Scion’s problem wasn’t that he couldn’t put the existing shards back together, but that he wouldn’t be able to evolve without his counterpart, to

            gestate, that it can modify the individual shards, cast the next generation out and start the cycle anew.

            Remember that Entities as a species didn’t just want to survive as they were – they wanted to change, to become able to avoid a trap of filling all available space and consuming all available resources, and be forced to eat each other, like they did when they covered their entire home planet. They wanted to (in Tinker Entity’s words) do something like

            A final expenditure of power, a resetting of the universes, a reinvention of existence, or something beyond this entity.

            Putting existing shards back together into one whole being may not be the problem. In fact Teacher (during his conversation with Marquis in Teneral e.5) theorized that it may be possible. It is just that this is not sufficient to achieve Entities’ goal.

            Achieving that goal may be even more difficult now that all shards are dead and broken, because they may be unable to form the sort of connection needed to provide their hub with information needed to create a new, better generation of shards. This is how Scion described shards from his dead counterpart as he first encountered them after landin on Earth (at that point Eden was presumably already dead):

            It can see the shards of the counterpart.

            Not all are intact.

            Dead shards. Damaged ones. Vital shards, even, going to hosts.

            The entity destroys these on sight. They are corrupt, ruined. They will fail to provide usable results.

            Reproduction of shards may be completely impossible now – remember that Victoria’s shard noted that even budding was impossible without access to a hub and ability to request resources needed for that from other shards. It is unsure if current “broken” connections to Kronos can serve this purpose.

            Finally remember that according to Scion

            The entities have altered themselves so that each half of a pairing serves part of a role.

            Scion may not have realized that maybe if he could absorb some of his counterpart’s shards he could perform all necessary functions himself again? Maybe he assumed it was impossible, because all of his counterpart’s shards were “dead and broken/damaged”? Or maybe the problem was with him, and it was simply he (as in Scion-the-hub, not the Entity as a whole), who was no longer able to do it, and if someone or something else managed to become a hub, they could do everything that was necessary? Maybe Scion was selfish in that he simply didn’t care what happened to his shard, or even his species if his own consciousness contained within the Scion-hub was no longer a central part of the Entity, or even alive at all? Eden seemed to be focused on the end goal that was survival of the species, but a more short-term oriented Scion might have been more focused on his own survival, not that of future generations of Entities, especially if the cores of such Entities were some humans for example, and not something descended directly from him.

            Maybe even Eden would not consider an Entity with a hub descended from humans as a member of her species anymore, and as such would not care if such creature existed or not? Remember that her goal was a survival of her own species.

          20. > Reproduction of shards may be completely impossible now – remember that Victoria’s shard noted that even budding was impossible

            *ahem* Colt.

          21. Right. Maybe cluster shards can still bud, because they are connected with each other? Or maybe Victoria’s shard mentioned that other shards may help with budding, because while some shards can accomplish it on their own, others are just enough untapped reserves it could spare to bud only if they get help from other shards? Either way Victoria’s shard noted that it would not be able to bud even with help, because “I have too little to give, no untapped reserves, nothing held back.”

          22. Maybe, though I think it’s unlikely that a connection to only 3 other shards from the cluster, as opposed to millions via the hub, could make a big difference. Maybe Victoria’s shard is just not mature enough, it didn’t accumulate much experience. Or maybe it’s insecure, just like Victoria.

          23. Part of the problem with Victoria’s shard most certainly is its immaturity. What I wonder though is which of the four possibilities is true for shards mature enough to bud:
            – any shards mature enough to bud may do so without any premission or help from other shards,
            – any shards mature enough to bud may do without any actual help from other shards, but still need premission to do so (or at least needed it when all shards were connected to the hub),
            – some shards are mature enough to bud under their own power, while others may do so only if they get actual help from other shards,
            – all shards that can bud may do so only if they get some sort of aid from other shards.

            The way I see it Victoria’s shard just didn’t go into enough detail to let us know which one of those possibilities is actually the case. It only let us know that it couldn’t bud because it had not enough of its own free resources to spare.

  15. I’ll take “9C-BC Women Rulers” for $200, Alex. We’ll learn next chapter that Dido has a cousin called “Athalia”…

    We have three examples here (from Tress, from Imp, and most strikingly from Antares) of TT needing to be told something that anyone could know from careful research, that changes her conception of what she knows from her power. We may see that happen again, with bigger consequences.

  16. “It doesn’t take time if you’re Dragon,” Tattletale said. “She, you know, bzzt. Overclocked.”
    She put a finger to her head as she said that last word.
    “She hacked her brain?” I asked, my eyebrows going up.

    I keep forgetting that Dragon’s…condition isn’t public knowledge, or even cape-community open-secret.

    “I spent a long time looking for cape names and costume ideas, when Breakthrough was new. I’m so, so glad I didn’t go with Galataea or anything Weld-related.”
    “I wouldn’t have let you,” I said.

    Good. Cape names are like tattoos—they stick with you, so it’s a bad idea to get one that’s attached to any relationship less permanent than a (stable, healthy) marriage.
    Also, Galataea has extra complications. It implies that your SO made you (or at least shaped who you are more than is healthy), and/or that you have statue-like powers. Neither is true of our favorite tentacle girl.

    Nursery was here, too, sitting with a pregnant teenage girl who wasn’t in costume. Maybe a local. Her back was to us.
    I can think of several reasons for Nursery to be interested in a pregnant teen, and only one of them is good. If she just sees herself in the girl and wants to help her, then great. If she sees herself in the girl and wants to feed into that so Nursery can be her mentor, that’s…less good. The others are worse, bottoming out at “The wall’s the father”.

    “Cauldron kind of saved the world, Tress.”
    “Cauldron kind of doesn’t get to lay claim to saving the world when they created ten thousand problems and solved
    one.”
    And they didn’t even solve it very well. When push came to shove, their big plan was “Bring all the big guns to one place and see what sticks.” You don’t exactly need the Path to Victory to think of that.
    I’ll grant that the second-biggest threat to Scion only existed because of Cauldron, but there were a ton of better ways Cauldron could have handled things. Not keeping literally everything secret, for instance. (The nature of powers and the imminent apocalypse, alright, I can see logic for that. But it’s easier to get people to cooperate if you tell them they’re cooperating before everything’s falling apart.)

    “That tidbit comes courtesy of Imp, by the way…”
    Guess she started paying more attention to history stuff after the Nero incident.

    “Vista says Rachel is doing well where she is,” I noted.
    If we’re comparing Rachel to Disney characters, she’s somewhere between Christoff and Stitch, before their character arcs. She’s gotten closer to post-arc Christoff, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she still thought canines were better than people. (I’d be surprised if she had a song about it, though.)

    Also the big plotty stuff that other people talked about before I remembered that I had caught up.

    1. > When push came to shove, their big plan was “Bring all the big guns to one place and see what sticks.” You don’t exactly need the Path to Victory to think of that.

      You need PtV to create the big guns in the first place.

      > Not keeping literally everything secret, for instance. (The nature of powers and the imminent apocalypse, alright, I can see logic for that. But it’s easier to get people to cooperate if you tell them they’re cooperating before everything’s falling apart.)

      Well…if you keep the impending apocalypse secret, then how do you get people to cooperate? “Hello, people, we are Cauldron and we want you to cooperate!” – “What for?” – “Uhh…world peace and prosperity?” Riiight, sure. Let’s also not forget that people didn’t cooperate even when the apocalypse was happening right before their faces, and the only way to get everyone to work together was for Khepri to assume direct control. By the way, the first part of her strategy was also “hit him with everything and see what sticks” (and this strategy even succeeded, supplying a vital bit of information about Foil’s power).

    2. Good. Cape names are like tattoos—they stick with you, so it’s a bad idea to get one that’s attached to any relationship less permanent than a (stable, healthy) marriage.
      Also, Galataea has extra complications. It implies that your SO made you (or at least shaped who you are more than is healthy), and/or that you have statue-like powers. Neither is true of our favorite tentacle girl.

      Sure, but at least then I’d have a more solid excuse to reference “Acapella” by Karmin with regards to her and Weld’s breakup. That would’ve made it all worth it.

  17. Here is an interesting quote from chapter 30.3 of Worm:

    “You’re full of surprises today,” Teacher said. “I’m going to assume this is actually you, Weaver, and that you’re not an Ingenue thrall or something similar. I want you to know I’m not your enemy. I was there for that whole business against the Elite, pitting Endbringers on them, I understand why you did it. You have your mission, a noble task, and you see it as a universal task. One everyone should inspire towards. Peace and prosperity in your territory, because peace and prosperity are good things, am I right? Please feel free to comment, strike up a conversation here.”

    Let’s assume for a second that everything Teacher told then (including that he was not Taylor’s enemy) was true. How could it work? Maybe even the fact that Taylor appeared to have her full mental capacity (except her powers if we count them as part of that) in the epilogue of Worm was thanks to Teacher’s power?

    1. Also, why did Teacher go after the Elite during Gold Morning, while at the same time allied with C.U.I.? Could he actually be working to prevent parahuman rule over non-powered people? After all the Elite seeked to control the United States themselves, while in C.U.I. all capes, including the Yàngbǎn, are apparently subjected to strict rules and state control.

      Could it be that Teacher is actually an anti-parahuman? It would explain why he seems to be opposed to the city, in which, despite illusion of democracy, capes practically took over all real power while denying the voters access to a lot of critical information, even about the fact that the leading candidate for a Mayor is a parahuman, and a known villain.

      1. In Bet US/Gimel.US democracy capes get a disproportionate amount of power with little to no accountability. The entire system was based on lies and propaganda meant to misinform the public about everything power-related. From abuses of the system, like it was with Shadow Stalker, who for a long time got away with her bullying, because the principal of her school knew she was a Ward, through what trigger event is, and how it messes with every cape’s mind to where the powers all the way to what powers actually are, and where they came from. On top of it all capes are by default allowed to avoid a lot of accountability thanks to mechanisms like the three strikes rule, or being allowed to wear masks even after committing minor crimes. And let’s not mention that not only Citrine ended up in a position of power without informing the public that she was a cape. Alexandria is another example of the same thing.

        This whole system was created by Cauldron for the purpose of defeating Scion, but with him gone it can’t really be justified anymore. Perhaps Teacher is trying to use remnants of the same organization to actually dismantle the system now, and restore something closer to a proper democracy?

        One thing about Victoria – because she is a New Wave member, she can be held accountable for her actions to a much greater extent than any masked cape. She simply has no secret identity to hide behind. This is something she shares with Teacher, who if I remember correctly also never hid his real identity. Moreover Victoria argued for honesty informing the public about more capes and powers related topics that most capes would prefer to keep secret. If I interpret Teacher’s intentions correctly, he could see Victoria as a potential ally because of it.

        1. And yes, I do recognize the irony of a Master brainwashing people, gathering other Masters, and empowering people like Nero to accomplish anti-parahuman agenda, but these are the tools at his disposal, and he may be, in a very Cauldron-like fashion, willing to sacrifice freedom of some people to destroy the system which ensures supremacy of capes over non-capes.

          And let’s not forget that he actually found the means to undo Master effect of his own power using Scapegoat. He may be willing to free his own thralls once he no longer needs them. For now he ended up using this method to free two people from Master effects – Scapegoat and Valefor.

        2. > In Bet US/Gimel.US democracy capes get a disproportionate amount of power with little to no accountability. The entire system was based on lies and propaganda meant to misinform the public about everything power-related.

          And guess what – that’s 100% expected if there’s anti-parahuman prejudice around. Without such prejudice, you’d still have parahumans in power (that’s simply unavoidable if there are parahumans at all, nor there is any reason to try avoiding it), but they wouldn’t have as much incentives to hide and build conspiracies, enabling democratic mechanisms to work for them. Another possibility is an overt parahuman dictatorship, if they take power by force, but that could happen either with or without anti-parahuman sentiments around.

          1. You could flip the argument and say that the anti-parahuman sentiment is largely driven by the fact that capes not only have their powers which elevate them above regular people, but on top of it get preferential treatment from the law, and use combination of both to only widen the gap between the powered and the unpowered. Not necessarily an interpretation I would agree with, or would take it as a sufficient justification for trying what I think Teacher may be doing, but I think sound enough that it could explain why someone like Teacher could possibly want to fight against such system the way I explained in this theory.

            I think the system is flawed, though using methods its current opposition seems to employ to repair it or bring it down does not feel like the right way to proceed.

          2. As for how the system could be improved, maybe begin by doing what New Wave was trying to promote early on, but do something to avoid obvious downsides? For example don’t allow capes to legally keep their secret identities, but treat everyone who tries to abuse this fact by trying to go after unpowered family members of the capes a bit like an A-class or S-class threat would be – someone to be hunted down by heroes and villains alike.

            Since Victoria is a New Wave member, maybe she could propose a solution like this?

          3. And by being treated like an A-class or S-class threat I obviously don’t mean that everyone would necessarily be out to kill you. That would depend on what you did to the unpowered exactly. All I suggest is that you would be treated like a public enemy, and that defeating you (whether it would involve killing or capturing you) would be something done under something akin to Endbringer truce, while at the same time if someone helped you, they would be treated just like you are.

            I think that both heroes and villains could agree to such solution. There is a simple argument – today a friend or relative of a hero has been attacked, tomorrow it could be your friend or a relative, or one of your teammate’s. And if that is not enough, then it could be possible to offer some sort of bounties or similar rewards for dealing with whoever is officially proven or suspected of going after unpowered people to indirectly strike at their cape friends or relatives.

          4. > capes not only have their powers which elevate them above regular people, but on top of it get preferential treatment from the law

            The previous chapter explicitly says that it’s the other way around, capes are discriminated by the law. And if even parahumans in positions of power can’t (yet) do anything about it, this tendency must be really strong.

            > don’t allow capes to legally keep their secret identities

            But how would that be achieved? We have people with “secret identities” in *our* world, even without the help of powers. What’s to stop supervillains from having one? (except for investigations by heroes, which may or may not succeed, just like investigations IRL)

          5. Capes are discriminated by the courts, and by the fact that there are no capes among judges and jurors, at least not in cases against capes, but there are many laws that actually give capes privileges that the unpowered don’t get. They can keep their secret identities even while they are arrested, and sometimes after being sentenced. Unmasking is a form of punishment only for very serious crimes. This is also a part of what I mean by not allowing the capes to keep their secret identities – just wearing a mask in public and using an assumed name is fine, but everyone should be automatically unmasked when they are found guilty of a crime. On top of it if you want to candidate in elections for example or to become a public servant in any service in which unpowered person’s identity wouldn’t be protected (like in intelligence agencies, anti-terrorist police units, certain military special forces etc. where identities of rank and fiile operatives are kept secret), then you should be allowed to do so as a cape only if you declare that you are a cape, explain what your powers are, and reveal what secret identities you use or used in the past.

            Another situation where the law favors capes is the three strikes rule. How many non-powered criminals automatically get two “get out of jail free” cards usable for all except most serious crimes as a part of the legal system? Sure, judges may be lenient, in most cases they may even decide not to punish you at all despite the fact that you were found guilty, but when it comes to the unpowered there is no law which requires them to do so, unless they can justify that in your particular case the three strikes rule does not apply. Capes, unlike the unpowered, do get this automatic protection.

        3. I think it is pointless to discuss how capes can be integrated into normal society, because capes are conflict-driven while normal society should be constructed on cooperation between members. As you can’t (so far) fool shards by synthetic conflicts like sport, you can’t build society with capes in it.
          People should either “hack” shards to remove conflict-drive from them or eliminate shards at all.
          I think it is pointless to discuss how capes can be integrated into normal society, because capes are conflict-driven while normal society should be constructed on cooperation between members. As you can’t (so far) fool shards by synthetic conflicts like sport, you can’t build society with capes in it.
          People should either “hack” shards to remove conflict-drive from them or eliminate shards at all.
          P.S. Funny, but it reminds me of HPMOR and author’s not-WoG “universe is magical to begin with and the mundane sections are imposed above the magic” in “attempt to bring order to something that was on the verge of falling apart”.

          1. I would disagree to a point. Societies have always been coming up with ways to make people with aggressive tendencies useful.

            One of the most popular ways to do it is to channel the aggression outside, for example by giving such people place in the military, and finding those militaries an enemy to fight. In fact this is what Bet’s Russia and C.U.I. seemed to be doing with their capes. Having Gimel.US capes join PRTCJ and finding them “peacekeeping” missions to take part in or even outright wars against other Earths to fight in could be a way to give plenty of capes a conflict they need.

            Even if Gimel.US wanted to limit itself to fighting defensive wars on its own territory (how very unlike our world’s US!) there may be enough people who want to fight it (including capes – I still keep wondering where Yàngbǎn is hiding, and Chiet seems to already organize its own parahuman teams, there are also such threats like the Machine Army, potentially the Endbringers again, even broken triggers if nobody will manage to figure out how to stop them from happening for good). This would even fit the original plan the Entities seemed to come up with – start with a single Earth, and let the conflict spread beyond it.

            Another thing to remember is that by stripping capes of their preferential treatment by law, you won’t stop parahuman crime and lose the necessity of having capes to fight it. All it may do is to shift the balance of power between the criminals and the law. Remember how completely unable to stop gangs from practically ruling Brockton Bay the heroes from that city were. The only people who could make sure that no single gang would take over BB were the other gangs, and only after years of this mess Undersiders managed to break the impasse and bring some peace to the city.

            Even now, despite the fact that there theoretically were many more heroes than the villains in Magalopolis heroes had a serious problem with keeping up with everything the villains were doing during recent hero-villain war. This is also the case in real world – crime doesn’t stop simply because the police outnumbers and outguns the criminals. The police, unlike the criminals, is always bound by rules, one most important ow which is that they can’t go after a criminal until the criminal actually commits a crime, or at least proves with their behavior that they are preparing to do so. This puts the police in mostly reactive position in the “war against crime”, meaning that you will probably always need far more policemen then there are criminals to even keep the crime in check, and it should translate to numbers of heroes and villains. There are some measures which can be employed to prevent crimes before they happen of course, but they can never 100% effective as long as there are people who are unhappy enough with their lives to actually want to use illegal means to change their situation, and I don’t see the situation changing anytime soon.

            So no, I don’t think stripping the capes of their special privileges will necessarily stop cape-on-cape conflict. All it may achieve is to maybe shift the balance towards the “good guys” a bit (by making sure that powered criminals can’t legally hide behind their secret identities or be protected by things like three strikes rule), channel some of the capes aggression on threats originating outside the country, or even the word (which may be needed, because there are more and more capes, and other power-related threats to Gimel.US there), and have a bit more honest democracy by making powered and unpowered closer to equals in face of law, but also by making sure that the voters will have a chance to know the entire story behind people they are voting for (which is not the case when they are voting on Jeanne Wynn, without knowing she is the same person as Citrine).

            Of course reprogramming shards to stop them from pushing capes to conflict could also help, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon, because it would lead to a very different story in which 90% of the capes could be peaceful rogues. And even if it happened, I don’t see all capes becoming peaceful, law abiding citizens, because humans themselves are driven to conflict by their own nature as animals subjected to evolution in situation where resources are scarce. This drive to conflict is especially strong among those people who have enough power to actually defeat their fellow men, and take their resources with relatively little risk. Having a shard-given power automatically puts most capes in a position where they may be tempted to do it, and since societies defend themselves against such behavior of both individuals within them and by other societies, there will always be criminals and external invaders and a need for the police and defending armies. Having capes will increase this need even if capes won’t be artificially driven to conflict, because capes have power by definition, and power itself corrups, because, unless the fundamental nature of human changes, there will always be people who want to use whatever power they got to make their lives better at the expense of other people. Shards do not create the problem by pushing capes to conflict, they only make it escalate. Remember that one of the first things Warrior Entity noted about humans was that we were prone to conflict with each other, and it probably played a big role in Entities deciding to make humanity the next host species for the shards.

          2. But it means that…our world was also visited by Entities?! Some especially useless kind which grants only conflict drive but no powers. Capes could integrate into normal society pretty well, it’s not like normal society doesn’t have a lot of conflicts on its own.

          3. An even better question in my opinion would be what visited the planet the Entities originally came from and made them first consume all available resources other then themselves, and then resort to cannibalism.

          4. I thought the explanation there was that the Entities had developed super powers with respect to the multiverse before they developed technology. Even now their method of interstellar travel is “blow it all up and ride the shockwave”. Not sophisticated! Their perpetual resource war wasn’t imposed on them. It’s like that of bacteria or Neolithic tribes, not punctuated by the occasional respite we get from technology. Once they had been through enough cycles to find worlds with technology and invent Tinkers, another world exactly like the Entity homeworld wouldn’t even have been an appealing target for them.

  18. 1. “She’s weighing not trusting you, which is entirely understandable, with two more incidents that probably just popped up recently.”
    First incident was probably a prison outbreak. What is the second?

    2. ““I’ve eaten and had a drink on a past visit,” Tattletale said. ”
    So Tattletale did not figure out danger from Old Man / Case 12? Was he shielded somehow from her?

    3. “I’m not saying we should doubt her. I’m saying we should shit ourselves if and when the day arrives that we do.”
    Tattletale understands in A.I. 🙂

    4. “Reverse their age, let them return to a point where they’re in their prime, … singers can keep the voice…”
    I guess I know one… *turns on “Für immer jung” by Karel Gott* 🙂

  19. I don’t think it’s teacher. Tata is surrounded by self described enemies who are clearly working with or influenced by the mastermind launching this attack. I think she said teacher to give a bit of false security to the mastermind.

  20. You know, these three ladies are actually pretty similar, at least in venting by being assholes.
    Feels like that was what TT did in the car, adjusted the pressure on them from internal to external, so they could be ready for the social conflict.
    The line about someone going away looking for peace that isn’t Rachel made me irrationally hopeful about Taylor again, but then realized it could still be Rachel she meant.

    Sveta is clearly hiding a lot of shit she shouldn’t be, that someone went to teacher is NOT their “private business”.
    NerdVic wins the day, Old Man loses and gets a big EWWW.
    Midas clearly needs to be taken down a notch, but Semiramis might not be so bad, depending on how much TT exaggerated about her scummy side.

    1. I think that Tattletale very much included Taylor in her statement about people leaving. She could refer to Taylor’s surrender to PRT, but also about Taylor’s current forced retirement. The way I interpret conversation between Tattletale, Rachel and Imp at the end of Worm, I’m almost certain that Tattletale either knows or at least strongly suspects that Taylor is alive.

    2. I hope Taylor will be given a proper rest in Ward. She deserves it. She even acknowledges herself that whatever she’ll do from this point on, it would be overshadowed by her role in GM, and we even have a heir of QA shard if the plot will need it. I can’t think of any kind of her involvement in Ward’s plot which wouldn’t feel as token appearance for pleasing fans.

      1. I personally wonder if Victoria will retire on Aleph at the end of Ward, just like Taylor did at the end of Worm. It would even fit the ending of Through the Looking-Glass if Ward does indeed follow the general outline of that book. Ward’s counterpart of Alice waking up in the “real”, mundane world at the ond of that book could be Victoria ending up on Aleph, which is supposed to be the world closest to ours out of all Earths in the setting. Victoria and Taylor could meet in the epilogue if that happened.

        The only thing I really dislike about the idea is that it would not only be boring and predictable, but would also set the expectation that every protagonist of any future Parahumans books (if they ever happen) would end up in the same place at the end of their stories – not really something I would like to see.

        Maybe they could meet without setting such expectations if Victoria did not go to Aleph to retire, like Taylor did, but for example as one person in a crowd of refugees from destroyed city or something along those lines? It could set the stage for a very different volume 3 in the series, not focused on the idea of multiverse, it could allow Taylor to have a cameo in the epilogue of Ward without having to actually do anything substantial, while being in position to possibly play a bigger role in future volumes, and it could let us expore a concept of capes in a world which is really not much better prepared for them than our world would be.

        And if the end of Ward will be traumatic or cathartic enough for the ex-Bet society, it could be that Taylor wouldn’t be treated as some almost universally hated or feared goddess shrouded in taboo, and maybe could interact with at least more than just a handful of those people like a normal person. I think it could put her in a position where she could play a sort of intermediary between people of Aleph and Bet (thanks to her familiarity with both, if for no other reason), giving her something important to do in theoretical volume 3 without making that volume focused too much on her.

        1. Haha it’s like all protagonists will sail to the West to dwell in Valinor. It’s funny that Aleph would be a metaphor for heaven.

          1. It does seem interesting that something so close to our real world could be considered metaphors of both of heaven and a walking world for characters who “woke up” from a “nightmare” of living in places like Bet or Gimel, doesn’t it?

        2. I just came up with an idea how to send only Victoria to Aleph at the end of Ward (or Victoria and one more person or a very small group of other people – just like Taylor ended up being sent there with Danny), keep Aleph sealed after that, and still avoid the expectation of the protagonist of volume 3 being sent there at the end of that volume from the very beginning – just let the action and the protagonist of volume 3 start on Aleph, and remain there at least for a few early arcs.

    3. I think the line about going away looking for peace refers to Grue. Taylor doesn’t really fit, her situation didn’t have a whole lot of choice, just the best solution for her, now a non-cape, to just…blend back in with the rest of humanity. She has plenty of enemies as-is, remember, who might not be as grateful as we’d hope.

      1. Except that one point,I think in the epiludes, TT acknowledges that the thing was white lie for Taylor, and that Grue died on the oil rig. I think that someone here mentioned that one for Valkyrie’s helpers seemed to have Grue’s power set.

        1. Actually the way I remember it, the person from the Valkyrie’s flock, who was identified as a possibly “resurrected Grue”, did not show any powers. He was identified based on a similarly of his face to the mask of Grue’s costume. Remember that because of their degradation members of Valkyrie’s flock tend to have some body features reassembling costumes worn by their originals. Here is a description of the person I’m thinking about:

          A handsome black man had a mark on his face, akin to vitiligo, but not quite the albino white that came with vitiligo. A loose representation of a skull, drawn on his face in a lighter brown.

          Doesn’t this mark on his face look just like Grue’s mask? Not to mention that Brian was “a handsome black man”.

  21. – Semiramis probably gets her intel the same way Coil used to: interrogate to the brink of death, rewind, rinse, repeat and now she knows everything you don’t even know you told her
    – King Midas is borrowing Nero’s power and using it better?
    – or does it simply duplicate objects in a more refined version of Golem’s power?
    – I like the first better cuz there has to be a reason why he’s holding on to Nero given his current … limitations (courtesy of The Heartbroken, no less)
    – I love how Sveta has absolutely no tolerance for Tattletale’s bullshit and is more than happy to let her know it every chance she gets
    – Tattletale is sooooo jealous of their friendship

  22. Street Level Mystery Team Up with a trans-universal plot is…

    …THE BEST.

    But we can’t have it without all of the things that happened before.

    Anyway.

    “She was like a bully from high school who met up with a victim years later and talked like they were old friends. Just… didn’t connect.”

    No personal history, but for some reason this stuck with me.

    And…

    @Alfaryn

    “Who knows? Perhaps even Taylor’s Corona Pollentia is perfectly fine, and it is just that Queen Administrator has been drained by Eidolon, while Taylor had been disabled by Contessa’s bullets?”

    This is the best theory I’ve seen so far. BUT it would require Ciara’s involvement, so…

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