Black – 13.10

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“You’ve been doing this for years,” Tattletale said.  “Uh huh.  Yeah, no, I’m not going to say I don’t have some sympathy for you.”

She moved her head to one side.

“Be better, then.  Be smarter.  Be more mature.  If he’s being a dildo then you do have Mrs. Bishop as your nuclear option.”

Tattletale looked at me in the rear-view mirror of the car.

My eyes dropped.  The Old Man was draped across the back seat, braced by Sveta.  Bruises crept along his arm and the side of his face, and my gloved fingers held a wad of sterile cotton swabbing Tattletale had had in the glove compartment against the wound.  He’d been knocked out as part of the fall, and he stayed that way for seven minutes before stirring awake.  Tattletale had looked in his eyes, then drugged him with another of the drugs in the glove compartment.  Something to ease the pain and make it easier for him to sleep.  My leg kept his head stable, while my other leg was a spot for my mask to rest on.  Black with gold tracery, it stared at me, accusatory.  Or maybe it was accusing of everything it looked at.

“She was his teacher,” she said.  “He pulled every string he could and twisted the other Heartbroken’s arm to keep it a secret from me.  Everyone in his class wrote in a big letter to her.  We’re going to miss you, you’re my favorite teacher, yadda yadda.  And he wrote a poem.  You can use it if they start in again on our junior team and you absolutely need to.  No, it wasn’t an indecent poem, it was heartfelt.   He’s still  embarrassed by it.”

“What the fuck?” Sveta asked, from her seat behind Tattletale.

Tattletale waved her off.

“The other nuclear option is she cried when she read it.  You can use that detail if he gets too upset after you bring it up.”

A response from Imp.  A question.

“If I have to, and they have a way of making you have to.”

More from Imp.

“Fine,” Tattletale said, still talking into her phone.  “But- let me talk.  Let me- fine, I’m a cunt, just-”

I nodded at that last bit, dramatically and closed-mouthed, Sveta joining in, until Tattletale glanced in the rear-view mirror, saw us nodding in unison, and flipped us the bird.

“If you want to have any authority, then it comes down to fear and love, and I think you know this, Imp, but most of them are either fearless or react to fear in screwed up ways, and they all have some fucked up background when it comes to love.  So maybe, you know, you’re not going to have any pretty options.  You were the one telling me that some of them are getting to be adults and some of them are barely any younger than you.  If you want to convince them that you’re the one in charge, then you need to bring your A-game.”

There was a pause as Imp talked.  I could hear only notes of her voice through the phone, pieces of words, but not words themselves.

All against the backdrop of the barely audible car engine, the hum of tires against road -Tattletale liked nice cars, and the interior of this one was quiet-, I could hear the Old Man’s breathing punctuated by small, unconscious noises of pain.

Tattletale answered, sounding exasperated, “If that’s the angle you want, then that’s fine, except being their ally means paying attention.  ‘Aunt Rachel’ has been giving you an easy time of it by keeping two or three with her at Casa de Bitch, and you’ve gotten lazy.   But- Imp, you wanted this.  If you want to be their peer then sometimes that means manipulating them for their own benefits.  Imp-  Imp.”

Her position was one where I couldn’t see her eyes through the mirror, but her head moved in a way that made me think she was eye-rolling so hard that her eyes were dragging her head with them.

“Imp.  If you have to be a little cunty, as you so eloquently phrased it-”

Imp said something.

“Latin, I’m sure.  If you have to be a Latin cunt-”

Imp said something else.

“Your effort’s wasted, because I didn’t even bat an eyelash at you knowing the word for it.  If you have to be a jerkass to get through the next few hours, then you do that.  But I’m going to warn you, if you don’t set boundaries, if you don’t keep the older Heartbroken from stomping all over what Chicken Little, Darlene, Candy and Lookout are trying to build, those four kids will never forgive you.  They-”

A momentary pause, an interruption.

“-Yeah, ‘fuck’.  Those four kids will love you but they won’t forgive you.  They’ll wonder for the next forever about what could have been and when they’re nursing hurt feelings and resentment in their hearts, a little piece of that resentment and hurt will forever and always be ‘why didn’t Imp back us up’?”

There was a long pause.  I didn’t hear any of Imp’s voice in there.

Tattletale went on, “If that triple-pronged dildo Samuel wants to stomp all over their feelings, mayyybe let him know you can stomp all over his.  Make him buckle and the others will follow.  If they’re really into it, you might need to get Chastity to back off, because she’s another mini-leader in that troupe.  She always gets giddy when we order pizza and grumpy when it’s not the teenager with the scooter, and as far as I know she doesn’t even realize why.  Mention it.  That’ll get her to stop.”

Imp said something.  I heard a long, drawn out sound that might’ve been a groan or a strangled scream.

“Together-together?” Tattletale asked.

One-word response.

“That’s fascinating.  You could ask those two if they want dessert, and if one said yes, the other would skip dessert out of sheer spite.  And they’re together on this?”

Another short response.

“Mostly together.  That’s still something.”

Imp said something more.

“Easy.  Drop a comment like how similar they are to one another sometimes.  You-  well say it and be careful, Imp.  Obviously.  So it’s Samuel, Juliette and Roman, you’ve got everyone else handled?  How’s Flor?  And she’s not being sly so you let your guard down?  Huh, good for her.  Okay.  And Lookout?”

I frowned at Tattletale, as her eyes locked onto mine in the mirror.

“Good.  Then it’s just the three older ones.  Go handle that.  Yeah, good luck.  Bye,” Tattletale said.  She didn’t hang up.

“Um,” Sveta said.

Tattletale held up a finger.  After a pause, she said, “Don’t listen in on my phone calls, Lookout.”

She hit the button on the phone, then laid it across her knee.

“She was listening?” I asked.

“No idea.”

I sighed.

I kind of understood, though.

“Nothing hinky either,” Tattletale said.  “I told you it was fine.”

“Maybe you’re fine if you’re the one calling, but why is she picking up the phone?”

“She didn’t.  I called a nonexistent number and your tinker patched me through.  Blame her for keeping an eye on the airwaves.”

I ran my hand along my forehead, fingers brushing through hair to fix it where the hood had flattened it down.

I wasn’t really sure how to answer her.

“The whole gang is settled in at the kids’ H.Q., and it seems the older Heartbroken are jealous of our quartet of ten, eleven, and twelve year olds.  They’re picking apart ideas, ganging up, pressing buttons, and being their worst selves.  I give it three weeks before they start wanting to copy the chicken quartet.”

“Triple-pronged dildo,” I recalled.

“That would be Imp’s contribution to the conversation.  Referring to Samuel.  He’s a little gentleman and a much-needed level head, but he has his moments where he isn’t level and he becomes unmanageable, fake, stiff, and more than a little weird.”

“Imp’s contribution, as far as I can tell, is mythology and three-way dildos,” Sveta said.

“Triple-pronged.  I’m fairly certain that’s three going one way.  If you have questions about the mechanics of that, I’m sure Imp could explain it.”

“I’m fine,” Sveta answered.  “I’ve dealt with more disturbing ideas than that.  Like how you were talking about emotionally manipulating that teenage boy in your care.”

“Hold on,” I cut in.  “No.”

“In Imp’s care,” Tattletale said.  “And I wouldn’t throw stones about emotional manipulation, honey.”

“Woah,” I said.  “Stop that right away, both of you.”

To their credit, they listened.

I checked my watch.  Tattletale had estimated forty-five minutes as the outer range of our time limit, and that had been sixteen minutes ago.

Twenty-nine minutesAt most.

I could feel how much the two of them wanted to get back into it.  Sveta hadn’t entirely abandoned the angry look at any point, and her position over the Old Man wasn’t helping, being so close to this degree of hurt.

“Brooms,” I said, to change the topic, and to refocus on important things.

“I was wondering when you’d ask.”

Tattletale sounded so damn pleased with herself.

“The Custodian,” Sveta said.  “She was there before, a watchdog and builder, the person who kept the prisoners in their cells.  If people have brooms, that means she’s not there anymore.”

“Do you have to steal my thunder?” Tattletale asked.

“If you pause to act smug when we’re in a rush, I’m going to hurry things along.”

“Well I’m not positive you’re right,” Tattletale said.

“Are you saying that because you’re sure or because you don’t want me to be the one with the answers?”

“Now who’s wasting time?  It’s possible she’s gone, but it’s also possible it means she’s taking breaks, going on errands, or it means Teacher might be anticipating having to replace her.”

“You grinned like the cat with the canary when you heard it,” I pointed out.

“Yes.  But getting into why has to wait until we can be more sure we aren’t being observed.  What happened back there, that was another push.

“Push?  The way you said that tells me you aren’t thinking of Midas pushing this guy down the stairs,” I said.  I looked down at the Old Man.

“It was another nudge, to drive in a wedge, to screw things up.  Subtle and deniable.”

“Midas was?”

“Bluntforce was.  The guy with the knob obsession.”

Nubby, the guy who’d had the spiked armor, except all the spikes were rounded off.  “They sent him a message and…?”

“And knew with pressure that Midas, who was only barely on our side, would feel the need to reclaim his authority.  Because Midas knows how fragile his hold is, and Midas has always been one of the voices advocating for violence.  If it weren’t for that push from Bluntforce, our man of gold would have played along.”

“You’re sure about this?” I asked.

“Pretty sure.  The parts I’m not sure about are the parts that you’d probably consider minor.  They’re on our trail, nipping at our heels.  Just in case you were wondering.”

“This is going to be a thing when we get to Engel and her group?”

“If it is, that’s fine.  As I see it, the goal has shifted.  We know seventy-five percent of what’s up.  We have a pretty good idea about who, when, where, how much and how broad, we can guess about the how and why.  Right now, we’re looking for two things.”

“A way to stop it, deny him what he wants,” I said.

“Well, in a manner of speaking.  I would say we need to find a chink in the armor.  That’s one thing.  The other thing we want is standing.  Authority.”

“This isn’t because you lost a lot of yours when you lost New Brockton?” Sveta asked.  “Or because of what Midas said about you having lost it all?  Because I can’t help but notice the first thing you did after hearing that-”

“Sveta,” I said.

“-was talk to your team.  Sorry.  I’m done.”

“You see what I have to put up with, Snuff?”

“No comment.  I don’t want to get in the middle of this.”

“I’m paying you.”

“That you are.”

Tattletale turned around.  Sveta moved her head closer to mine to make the face to face interaction easier.

“You’re kind of right,” Tattletale told Sveta.  “Him mentioning that got me thinking about the team and about where we stand.  But I don’t think it’s wrong to think about leverage and reputation.  The more we know, the more power we have when the diarrhea hits the fan.  It means they’re more likely to listen to us, instead of telling us to fuck off and then fumbling around for a week to figure out what we already know.”

“I don’t disagree,” I said.  “We might have seventy-five percent of the answers, as you put it, but having eighty percent is better.”

“And,” Tattletale said, actually enthused, “Anything they do to fuck with us, like Bluntforce back there, it gives us more information than them not doing anything at all.”

“Really,” Sveta said.

“You know, you remind me of someone,” Tattletale told her.  “My old teammate, Grue.”

Really,” I said.  “That is not the first, second, all the way through to the twenty-fifth name I would have thought of.”

“I feel like I’m being insulted,” Sveta said.

“No, no.  This new you?” Tattletale asked.  “Coming into your own.”

“We should focus,” I said.

“Sure,” Tattletale answered, shrugging.  “Will this new Tress be joining us for the meeting with Engel, Egg, and Scraping?”

“Did they respond?”

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.  “At Miss Treat’s.  Do you know it?”

“No.”

“It has reputations.  It’s actually a hangout spot for Parian, when she can make the trip, and if certain people she’d prefer to avoid weren’t there.  You didn’t answer my question.”

“You asked a few.”

“Are you coming in?”

Sveta bit her lip, glancing out the window, then down at the Old Man.

“You know them better than I do,” Tattletale said.

“Is it neutral territory?” Sveta asked.

“No.”

“Because that’d be too easy,” Sveta muttered.

“Is this the villain bar?  Swansong mentioned one,” I said.

“It’s not,” Tattletale said.  “But there’s overlap in clientele.  This is more rogues and weirdos, but that last bit might be me being judgmental.”

“You?  Never,” Sveta said.

“Be snarky after you decide whether you come in,” Tattletale said.

“What about him?  Aren’t we taking him to a hospital?”

“No,” Tattletale said.  “If we took him to a hospital they’d separate him from us, and he wouldn’t survive that.  I don’t trust back-alley doctors, so we’re going with the next best thing.  Miss Treat’s.”

I looked at my watch.  Twenty one minutes left.

“There’s nothing we can do about it, Antares,” Tattletale told me.  “It’s going to happen.  It’s just a question of where we are when it does happen.”

“I could message Dragon.”

“Might hurt more than it helps.”

I looked out the window.  I could see the portals.

“Do you mean hurt us, or hurt everything?”

“Hurt us,” Tattletale told me.  “Puts us in focus, might get you a thank-you but when they’re assigning blame the jerks in charge are going to like you for it.  It’s better to sit back, let shit go down, and then come at them with a folder or a phone full of answers and an ‘I told you so’.”

“If I message them, it’ll help them work it out?”

“Possibly.  In small fractions.  It’s not like they know what they’re up against even more than we do.  Maybe they call and get more hands on deck.”

“…I’ll message her.”

Tattletale nodded for what might have been ten seconds before saying, “Okay.”

Okay.

It was three minutes of driving through roundabouts and one-way streets before we got to Miss Treat’s.  A quaint, English-style tea shop.  The overhang over the door was snow-dusted with icicles hanging from the plastic ‘lace’.  Just inside, it looked to be warm, with doilies on the tables.  A mom and her younger daughter were drinking tea, and the little girl had a big pastry on her plate.

Sveta emerged from the car, holding the Old Man steady.  I could see how nervous she was, even without the telltale agitation of her body.

“Coming?”

“I think I have to.  It’s safest if I carry him, I think.”

I nodded, even though I suspected she’d needed an excuse.

We passed through the doors.

“Good afternoon!”

“Jesus,” I said, turning to the young server who stood just by the door.  “You scared me.”

“Sorry about that,” she said.  She wasn’t wearing a uniform, except for an apron with lace at the edges and a name tag.  “I, uh-”

She’d noticed the Old Man, who Sveta held.

“I’m supposed to ask if you’ve been here before, but-”

“My friend has,” Tattletale said.  “Can we talk to the owner?”

“He’s out.  His daughter is in though.”

“Can she give medical care?”

“I’m not sure, and I’m not sure if- um.”

“I’m a friend of Parian.  I know she comes now and then.  She has fans here.”

“I know the name, but- I’ll really have to check.”

“Please,” I said.  I still had my mask off and hood down.  I smiled.  She returned the expression.

She fled into the back, leaving us standing there.

A display case had overly cutesy cakes, and a few mascot characters were positioned around the shop, characters with the softest fuzz around the edges, proportioned so their heads were about fifty percent of their body mass, eyes small and spaced apart.  Mischievous frog, sad puppy, friendly mouse.  All wore old-fashioned clothing.

I positioned myself so that the little nine or ten year old girl who was at the window eating her pastry wouldn’t see the insensate, bloody Old Man that Sveta carried.  She was looking though, and Sveta looked back, meeting her eyes.

The little girl, tea-cup in one hand, offered a little wave.

Sveta waved back.

“You can come back,” the employee said.

The back of the place was a mirror of the front, if perhaps a little cozier, for lack of a better word.  Gingham was replaced with leather, pink with black, and pastel with wrought iron.  The mascots were still present, but more… lively, I supposed.  The mouse from before was encased in leather, zippers done up, the mischievous frog was bent over the top of one bench holding end of her dress up and out of the way while a  bird held a paddle, and the sad puppy that had been around before was wearing dresses, smiling.

It said a lot about how striking the tone shift was, that it was the first thing that caught my eye, considering clientele.  There was a severe woman in a leather dress with a laptop, typing away, and a very bewildered, uncomfortable dad sitting with a teenager who had hair dyed the colors of a sunset.  It made me think of my own dad, who I hadn’t really talked to since maiming my mom.

The two case fifty-threes were sitting in a booth, joined by the guy I was pretty sure was ‘Scraping’.  I had only a glimpse of them, of hair that glowed, skin like eggshell, and bloody bandages, before the employee and her boss joined us.

It was a little shocking, tearing my eyes away from that group, and feeling the fleeting sensation like I’d just laid down like a dog lying in a sunbeam, and been forced to get up.

Was there an emotion manipulator in that grouping?

“What happened?” the boss asked.  She was done up in high fashion, with dramatic makeup.

“He was outed as a cape, he got pushed down the stairs.  We can’t take him to the hospital because people might want to hurt him.  Can you check him over?”

“Parian would vouch for you?”

“Yes.  She might have mentioned me, but it would have been to gripe about me as a person while respecting me as a colleague.  I don’t futz around with stuff like this, I wouldn’t want to ruin her reputation.”

“I can call her?”

“No.  You’ll find she won’t pick up.  But that’s because something bigger is going on.”

I saw the doubt on the boss’s face.

“It’s true,” I said.

She looked me over.  “You’re one of the heroes.  I’ve seen you.”

“Yes.”

“Okay, take him through here.  Lay him down.  That’s good.”

Sveta followed the instructions.

“I like your costume,” the boss told me, before turning her attention to her employee, giving orders about getting a medical kit.

Yay.  Small wins.  She liked my costume.

A small win, small feeling, that met its match as we turned our attention to the trio in the booth.  My attention was split between them and Sveta.

“You got control,” Egg said, by way of greeting.

“I did,” Sveta answered.

Egg was younger than Tristan or Rain, older than Kenzie.  His skin was like eggshell, brown, his eyes molded into the shell down to the eyelash, but with no separation between lid and eyeball.  It broke when he moved, with membrane beneath the shell holding it mostly together, and the regular breaking that came with blinking led to a crumb-trail at his cheekbones.  Where a part was still for a moment, the cracks closed up, only to break again when that part moved.  Here and there, blood mixed in with white vitreous and thick yellow yolk weeped out of the biggest cracks.  His clothing was normal, a sweater and slim jeans, but it looked as though he were wearing a plastic layer beneath.  His head was hairless and smooth on each side, with a shock of yolk-yellow hair on top, the same kind of liquid-thick as corn silk.

“Greetings, Sveta,” Engel greeted her, and I had to blink, because the sound of her voice affected my vision.  She had an accent, but I couldn’t get my head around the look of her voice to even begin to figure it out.  “Antares and Tattletale, yes?

“Yes,” I said, making myself recover.  Tattletale was distracted, caught between paying attention to us and watching proceedings with the Old Man.  She was listing off the medication she had provided in the car, and pointing out he had a liver problem he took pills for.

Engel was… it was hard to frame it, even.  Her hair glowed like a light shone from within every strand, and her skin was textured with a pattern that only showed where the light caught the edges of her face, but that was the smallest part of it.  When my eye moved over the lines of her face, I could taste sunshine at the back of my tongue, and feel a faint, pleasing vibrating song through my bones, like I was sitting in a massage chair that got to the core of me and played music through it.  The sensations were full-body and varied, but always pleasing.

Her clothing was easier to focus on, of a similar style to Sveta’s casual wear, but a little bit lighter and fluffier, with more white and more of the kind of fabric I detested, that made tops see-through, forcing multiple layers to keep bras from being visible.  They were all over the place, too.

“It’s been a little while,” Engel said.

“It has,” Sveta replied.

“Are you alright?  You don’t seem well.”

“It has been a rough day,” Sveta said, her voice controlled, even a little bit tense.

“Good,” Egg said.

“Be kind,” Engel told him, striking him with the back of her hand.  It produced a sickening crunch, caving in one corner of his chest.

“Go easy on him,” Scraping said.

“Sorry,” Engel said.  “You are so fragile today, Egg.  Have you been eating?”

“Not now,” Egg said, his full attention fixed on Sveta.

“You must eat to be healthy.  We’ve talk about this.”

“Leave him be, Eng,” Scraping said.

It was such a strange little group, because it did look like they were fairly close, but they were even more different from one another than Sveta, Tattletale and I.

Where Engel was an assault of pleasures to all the wrong senses, Scraping was visceral.  Maybe seventy-five percent of his flesh had been flayed, seemingly stretched out, then reattached in folds and arrangements.  It looked as though he’d had an artist do it, because the way flesh came together made me think of the overlapping petals of a rose.  Here, however, the flayed flesh was used to create accents.  Pockets and slivers of crimson against a backdrop of white with inflamed pink edges.

Where he wasn’t flayed, his flesh was badly damaged, like it had been sandpapered or he’d been dangled out of a car and held against the road while the car raced along.  He had an Asian cast to his features, and with how he was built and how square his face was, I was guessing he was Chinese.  His hair was styled medium-long and straight, his high-quality clothes were chosen to fit the style he wore his flayed skin, black and pinstriped with the ‘ruffles’ of flesh serving in much the same way one might wear a ruffled shirt.  Bandages wrapped a part around his neck that I was guessing had been freshly done.

The conversation was so stiff.  My eye found a clock above the door, and I noted our dwindling time.  Maybe best to push things forward.

“We talked to Semiramis,” I told the trio.

“We have mixed feelings about Semiramis,” Engel said.

I had to wince at the sound of her voice.  Damn it, this was uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to derail the conversation.

“Understandable,” I said.  I tried to meet her eyes, and then flinched away.

It reminded me of being- of being around Amy, when I’d been altered to be in love with her.

“You do not have to look at me if it’s hard,” she told me.  “I won’t be offended.”

I looked away, nodding.  “It’s not because you’re a case fifty-three, it’s because-”

“Of my power.  Yes,” she said.  She’d lowered her voice, which helped.  “Often it is people who have been through things who have trouble with me.”

“Tactless,” Scraping said.  “Let’s not bring that up.”

“Of course,” Engel said.

“I would have warned you if I’d realized it was this intense,” Sveta said.  “We talked online.  Almost every day, for a while.”

“We did.  I’ve missed those talks,” Engel said.  “I love your arms.”

I could see Sveta’s expression easing up.  The anger that had been there earlier, even the darkness in her eyes that had followed from Weld, they softened.  Until she looked like my friend again, instead of this angry, hurt person.

“I had a whole body,” Sveta said.  “It got trashed in a fight.”

“I’m so sorry, honey.”

More easing up of the tension.  Sveta smiled a little, welcoming the sympathy.

“Until she betrayed us,” Egg added.

It was a comment that chilled the otherwise warm exchange, and brought the darkness back to Sveta’s eyes.  I could have hit the kid over it.

Engel, for her part, laid a hand against Egg’s arm, almost a warning, or an urging to hold back.

Conversation didn’t pick up where it had stopped, so I tried to look for another way to move things along.

“Can we talk about something more pressing?” I asked.  “We have limited time.”

Fifteen or so minutes before our enemy makes a move and we have to figure out how to respond.

“What do you need?” Engel asked.

“It seems like an investigation we’re conducting has led to what looks like a certain villain, Teacher, picking up where Cauldron left off,” I said, measuring out my words.

Egg clenched one fist, his hand audibly breaking, with a severe enough crack forming that fluids leaked out.  He cupped it in one hand and leaned forward, elbows on the table, and used a bright yellow tongue to lick up the blood and other fluids before they reached his sleeve.

“They aren’t Cauldron,” Engel said.  “They aren’t making case fifty-threes.”

“Yet,” Tattletale said, joining the conversation.  “That we know of.”

“We talked to Semiramis.  She said you two exchanged notes,” I said.

“Did she also say that she was working with L.J.M.?” Egg asked.

“We talked to him too,” I said.  “Tattletale and I did.  I walked away with a less than great impression, pretty much confirmed Sveta’s take on him, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You’re friends, then?”

“From the hospital,” I said.

“The asylum,” Sveta clarified.

Egg’s displeasure seemed to shift.  No longer solely reserved for Sveta.  I was the enemy now too.  Not because of the hospital, as far as I could tell, but from my association with Sveta.

“Were you the girl who looked after her?  The one with the multiple heads, multiple limbs, a-”

“No,” I said.  I hadn’t meant to deny it so much as I wanted to indicate for her to stop.

Sveta clarified, stepping in for me, saying yes, but in doing so, talked over Engel for a moment.  Engel raised her voice, which raised the intensity of the sensations – touch, smell, taste, and shifts in my vision, that made the world pulse with added life and detail, contrasts and textures, like the world was a masterwork painting.

Fuck.  Between the sound of her voice running through me and the visceral mental images, it knocked the wind out of me and put me right back in that room.  The right words and images could make me think of the hospital room and bring the memories up, but one thing I’d been so grateful of was the fact that the emotional ‘adjustments’ that my fucking sister had made were a distant memory, disconnected from the me in the now.  Given how feelings tended to attach to things, removing the feelings might have involved excising the attachments.

In effect, where everything else was so vivid, the fact I’d been sick with infatuation was something I remembered had happened, but didn’t really re-experience.

Until this woman with a voice that tasted and felt like biting into brownies fresh from the oven started talking, as a pretty fucking close tactile-and-taste approximation to the contentment of being in love and being with the person you loved.  Which wasn’t- not the hospital room, but scenes before it.  Before my mom had pounded on the door.

Sveta touched my arm, jarring me from the thoughts.

“You’re here,” she whispered.  “Cafe.  Feel my hand.  Meet my eyes-”

Vivid memories sat in my mind’s eye until I met Sveta’s eyes and forced what I was registering in the forefront of my brain to align what I saw with my eyes.

“There’s a clock above the door-”

I shook my head.  I was aware that in the background, Scraping was chiding Engel on tact again.  Tattletale said something.

“Clocks are no good,” I murmured.  “Used to always watch the clock.”

“Smell the baked goods, the tea.  Think about today, what you did.  We sent off the prisoners.  You went to drop Lookout off.  Saw Tattletale.  Remember the errands you ran with her.”

I nodded, going through the steps as she mentioned them, forcing recollections into my mind’s eye, squaring away what I needed to be feeling in the now and pushing the other feelings into the edges and the gaps of my brain.

Drawing in a deep breath, I put my hand over hers, squeezing, exhaling as I said a quiet, “Thank you.  I’m okay.”

I wasn’t positive I was, but still.

“-You realized where you were?” Tattletale asked.  A question I’d missed the start of, aimed at Engel.

“After,” Engel said.  “Egg had to clue me in.  I want to say I’m sorry, Antares.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“I was so very worried about my online friend, back then.  Then she had you and she was so happy to have company.  It wasn’t for long, I know-”

“It might be good to drop the subject,” Scraping said.

Engel nodded.  “It meant a lot.  I am so exceedingly glad to finally meet you.”

“Likewise,” I said.

“How can we help?” Engel asked.

“We should have discussed more about whether we would,” Egg said.

“Cauldron, whatever shape it takes, is an enemy,” Engel told him.

“Like you said before, we don’t know if this is Cauldron,” Egg replied.

It was interesting, seeing the interplay between him, her, and Scraping.  He came off like the moody kid brother, her as the wiser, warmer older sister, and Scraping… was the referee?  He reined in, chided, warned, and otherwise stayed out of it.

“We talk to them, then we find out,” Engel’s voice was firm.

“Was there a discreet entrance?” Tattletale asked.  “You said you didn’t even realize it was Cauldron, which means a big door-shaped hole in reality didn’t lead you in.”

“We went on the water, and under a bridge.  I thought at first it was a camouflage bubble.  Something to hide the building from planes and spies.  Now I think… maybe portal, hidden.”

“I remembered discussions about strategy, approach, how the Irregulars would get in,” Egg said.  “It was the sluice, at the base of the facility.”

“Did you dock?” Sveta asked.

“No.  We took the boat inside.”

“Then it wasn’t the sluice.  The sluice had enough water coming down that it was violent, and a boat would get pulled in,” Sveta said.  “Still water?”

Engel nodded.  “Mostly.  Some trickling flow.”

Egg looked pretty pissed at being wrong about his contribution here.  I wasn’t sure Sveta cared at this point.

Sveta was focused on her mental map of the place.  “Um.  What was it?  That would have been the reservoir.  Which makes a few different degrees of sense,” she mused aloud.  To Tattletale and I, she said, “We had to figure out how we’d attack a facility like Cauldron’s.  They didn’t have as many employees as it sounds like Teacher has, and they had less as the years went on, but they did have some.  Those employees had regular portals they’d use, in out of the way spots, with simple signals they’d use to ask for them to open.”

“Teacher doesn’t,” Tattletale said.  “Teacher has portals.  They’re tinker operated and clumsy, they take time to set up and time to take down, and they require power, which isn’t always the easiest thing to obtain.  Easier over time, don’t get me wrong, but I would imagine that’s a bottleneck for him.  His portals being what they are, if we can find them or figure out how to find them, that could help.”

“If he’s listening now, he could dismantle them,” I said.

“He could,” Tattletale said, and then she grinned.  “And he will.  But now he needs to devote time and energy to dealing with us, which is risky, or time and energy to dismantling that, which is another kind of messy.  Repositioning portals means informing anyone coming in and out about the changes of location, and that’s something we can catch or track.  What else?”

She’d asked Sveta.

“Did the lights flicker?”

“Yeah,” Engel said.  “They went out at one point, which was when I saw some of the things and labels on shelves.”

“Books with letters and numbers on the cover?  Labels taking up half the page?”

“No.  Manton’s texts.  It rang bells.”

“That might have been their power testing area.  It’s where they gave customers vials, when they weren’t sure of the results.  Gave all of us vials.”

“There’s no us,” Egg said, under his breath.

“Shh,” Tattletale shushed him, like she didn’t even know she was doing it.  “Power testing area?”

“In big, reinforced spaces, like aircraft hangars,” Sveta said.

Engel nodded with some energy, agreeing.

“They’d be in a hallway with… there’d be labs, kind of, but people described them as looking more like they had gym equipment and MRI machines in them, except they weren’t either.  They would have been on the left side if the hangar spaces were on your right.”

“There were rooms to the left but they were empty,” Engel said.

Egg was looking more and more disgruntled.

“This is fascinating,” Tattletale said.  “You said people described them.  Who?”

“Old customers of Cauldron we tracked down.  We wanted to know exactly where we were going and what we were doing,” Sveta explained.

“If they moved the equipment they moved it somewhere.”

“Egg and I talked about it, even took notes,” Engel said.  She reached into her pocket for her phone.  Edges of the phone had distorted to have an oil-slick shimmer where her hand touched it most often.  “We thought about trying to find some of the others, who were interested in the Irregulars but who never made it, or who could not be part of the attack.”

“But you didn’t,” Tattletale said.

“No.”

“They might have interfered or got in the way, like they did with the artist L.J.M. and your deal with Semiramis.  Keeping you isolated.  They didn’t come after you because Egg’s memory is imperfect,” Tattletale said.  “He got details wrong and that threw off the scent.  Now… with Sveta helping to connect the dots for you, they may be more onto you.”

“You led them to us?” Egg asked.  He turned to Sveta.  “On purpose?”

“No,” Sveta said.  I saw the pain cross her face at the accusation.  “No.”

Scraping looked rather upset, where he’d been the calm one before.  He put a hand on Engel’s shoulder.

“They were going to come after you whatever happened,” Tattletale said.  “But not while it was going to raise more questions and problems than it put anything to rest.  Engel is too well liked and Scraping has a family that would ask questions.  It’s a good thing that we’re approaching you now and forcing their hands instead of them showing up in the middle of the night.”

Engel wrung her hands.

“I didn’t want this,” Sveta said.

“Don’t,” Egg told her.

“I didn’t!”

“You said you didn’t want what happened before either, but we’re playing through it in fast forward now.  You told me you were sorry once, but ‘sorry’ doesn’t mean shit if-” Egg stopped.  He’d made a fierce enough expression and talked violently enough that it had cracked his chin open.  He wiped at the mess and left a streak of red across the line of his jaw.  That hand held his jaw together as he finished, “-doesn’t mean shit if you don’t learn from it, change anything, or make amends.”

“I’m helping people.”

“Like you were when you were with us.  Except you’re repeating the exact same old mistakes, and you want to waltz into our lives, earn our trust, and fuck us over again, exactly as before.”

“That’s not what I wanted.”

“I know what you wanted.  You wanted happy, pretty illusions.  You wanted to be with us and you wanted to be with Weld and you didn’t want to do the hard thing and take action.”

“That’s not fair,” I said.  “No, fuck that.”

“Fuck you,” Egg retorted.  “Don’t talk like you know.”

“I’ll talk like I know her.  It was the end of the world, everyone was panicking, and you’re condemning my friend for not making a decision you agreed with in the midst of the worst days in human history.”

“You.  Don’t.  Know,” Egg said.

“It’s not worth it,” Sveta told me.

You’re not worth it,” Egg told her.  “You-”

“She’s one of the best people I know,” I interrupted him.  “And this is about something more than your grievances against my friend, okay?  Things are at stake.”

I looked at the clock as I said it.

Only a few minutes until the deadline.

“Doesn’t matter anymore.”

It had been Tattletale who said it.

“What?”

“The time.  No need to watch the clock.  They aren’t acting on us right now because they’re preoccupied.  They pulled the trigger.  Bullet has left the gun, and now we find out who or what takes the shot.  How is our Old Man?”

“He’ll live.  He’s concussed.  Do you know the treatment for a concussion?”

“Yeah,” Tattletale answered.  “Sveta?  Still feeling under control?”

Sveta bobbed her head in a nod.  She walked away from the argument to pick up the Old Man, who was conscious enough to recognize what was going on.

“You should come,” Tattletale said.  “If they make a move against you guys it’ll be soon, after they’ve done what they’re doing, sometime while we’re reacting or reeling from their big move.”

“What Tattletale was saying before about you being too visible and connected to easily and quietly deal with isn’t going to count for much if everything else is chaotic,” I pointed out.

“Where would we be going?” Engel asked.

“The old portal in New York City,” Tattletale said.  “Where the Wardens Headquarters used to be.”

“You sure?” I asked.  “That’s a long trip.”

“Has to be.  Trust me,” Tattletale said.

She met my eyes for a long moment.

I didn’t trust Tattletale as far as I could throw her, whether I used my power or not.  She knew that.  She knew I’d know she knew that.

Was that supposed to be a signal?

We’re being watched, and they’re going to start taking action.  If we assume they’re tracking everything we say, then stating one plan and following another makes a ton of sense.

“We should go now,” Tattletale said.  “You two should come.  You too, Scraping, if you want to chaperone these two.”

“I do.”

“Do you have a car?”

“I do, yes.”

Once the trio got moving, they wasted no time.  Engel slapped down some money on the counter on her way past it.  Tattletale paid the tea shop’s owner.

The only slow process was easing the Old Man into the back of Tattletale’s car.  He was hurt and just conscious enough to be moving, writhing over that hurt.  Sveta was gentle, while Snuff, Tattletale and I watched out for trouble.

“I loved you,” Engel said, behind Sveta.

Sveta straightened, turning around.

“I love all of my brothers and sisters, but I loved you in particular.”

Present tense, then past tense.

“I will always cherish my memories of the company you provided me in darker days.  You helped me find optimism and a brighter outlook in lonely days.  Without that girl from the hospital, I would not be out and about today, chasing my dreams.”

“We could still talk.”

“No.”

I saw the pain in Sveta’s face.  No response came to her lips.

“Why the hell not?  You’re being asinine about this whole thing,” I told Engel.

“I am grieving my friend Sveta,” Engel said.  “It is easier to move on without reminders.”

“I’m still here.”

“You are,” Engel said, and her voice was accented more as she said it, still warm and an eerie, discomfiting kaleidoscope of pleasant sensations.  “But she isn’t.  And I will forever miss her.”

“Will you work with us on this thing?” Sveta asked, bitter.

“I will endure,” Engel answered.

“Oh fuc-” I started, before Sveta took hold of my arm.

“You’ll continue being a moron over this whole thing, you mean,” Tattletale said, from the far side of the car.  “Getting caught up in the ‘hate the tentacle girl for going against the hive mind’ thing.”

“No hate,” Engel said.  “Only disappointment.”

“Can we just-” Sveta started, stopping for no explicit reason.  “Get in the car?”

Tattletale hesitated, and Sveta reached a tendril inside, around the passenger seat, and tugged Tattletale partway in.  Tattletale climbed in the rest of the way.

Even though I climbed into my seat normally, my hand ready to close the door, Sveta was quicker than I was, seizing the handle and tugging the door shut.  Sealing us off from the other group.

“Start us up.  I want the radio,” Tattletale said.  “And keep an eye on those guys.”

“Will do,” Snuff said.

The radio was on a second later, along with the blast of heat from the car’s vents.  Snuff pulled out partway and stopped, waiting for the other car.

“I’ll leave my seatbelt off, so I can fly out and help them if I need to,” I said.  A surprise attack now wouldn’t be much of a surprise, given how Teacher was operating.

The radio was going, but it wasn’t the convenient movie or television thing where things started at a convenient time.  That was if this was the sort of thing that came up in the news, and if Tattletale was right.  For now, the noise on the radio was about politics.  Druck striking a deal for the construction workers.

“I’m sorry,” I told Sveta.

“They still say nice things about Weld now and then on the message boards and sites.  Never anything nice about me,” she murmured.  “They barely consider me alive, apparently.”

“They’re idiots,” I said.

“They’re idiots who used to call me a sister and Weld a brother.”

I reached out, into the tangle of tendrils between head and blouse, and hooked my fingers into them.  They wrapped around my hand and forearm, while her head turned my way.

I was in the midst of tugging her closer, into something approximating a hug, when I felt a pang at my finger, then at another.

Sveta visibly concentrated, worked at relaxing, and let my withdraw my hand.

I flexed my hand.  My finger had been bent to a painful point, but not broken.

“Sorry.”

“No need for,” I said.  “Offer for a hug still stands.”

“I want to,” she said.  “I can’t.  Not right now.”

Only the background noise of radio and the sound of the vehicle followed the statement.  I watched  over one shoulder to make sure the car following was okay.  Saw Engel’s silhouette through the tinted windshield, and found myself kind of detesting her.

I put my eyeless mask on and my hood up, and I told myself it was so I could better fly through the cold wind when and if I had to fly to rescue them.

Tattletale began to adjust the radio’s volume, raising it.

A newscaster announced.  “Breaking tonight, you’ll want to secure your data.  Officials are scrambling as we speak to get encryption servers back up and running after an apparent error in the code has broken password security for a majority of online accounts.  Some experts are cautioning that you will want to change your password as soon as possible, but others are saying this may not be enough.  Even deleted data or images uploaded to social media-”

“Here we are,” Tattletale said.  She reached back, her phone dangling from her fingers.

My email, and she was signed into my account.

I checked my phone.  I hadn’t been notified, and it hadn’t requested permission to sign in.

The radio kept going.

“Any password will get you into any account, if you know what their username or email is,” Tattletale said.  “Browser history, files mirrored from desktop, email, social media… it’s all out there now.”

I glanced back at the other group.  They drove carefully after.  Egg was talking a lot.

On Tattletale’s phone, I dug through the files on my account.

I found the diary, mirrored onto an online account from desktop.

“It won’t be long now before people start looking and finding the planted stuff.  Secret identities and any nudes you took will be the least of it,” Tattletale said.

“No nudes,” I told her.

“Small mercies,” she answered.

I thought of Presley, Natalie, and of Jester.  In part because I knew how devastated Presley would be, and how bothered Ashley would be that her biggest fan might get the wrong impression. Natalie… I could see her reading the diary, believing it, and never trusting us again.

Jester was… just a friend.  One I’d hate to see go.

It gutted me, thinking about it on that level, like someone had shivved me, dragged the blade across my midsection, and left me with a horrible, hollow pain there.

“It’ll feel very organic to the public, that they find the bad stuff.  It’ll lead to bigger problems.”

“Can you just-” I started.

“Can I what?”

“Trust us to connect the dots and realize how bad this is?” I asked.

“Okay.  You want me to shut up.”

“Please.”

On a level, I wasn’t surprised.  It was fully within his power to do something like this, to release it en masse.  I hadn’t expected this specific angle, but… it made sense.  That, in the weirdest way, didn’t even touch me, didn’t elicit the smallest emotional reaction.  It was only the specific cases that, even thinking about them for the second time, hit me hard with the impact of it.

Maybe I’d been too disconnected from the public for too long, if I was this unbothered.

Maybe it was a strange shape or kind shock.

Snuff picked up speed, until there was a reckless edge to the driving.  I sat with my right hand on Sveta’s Rain-made right hand, my body twisted around so I could watch her out of the corner of my eye while keeping a closer eye on the car that followed.

“I’ll contact our teams,” Tattletale said.

“Thanks,” I answered.

My attention was split, but none of the subjects of that attention were any easier than the others.  Sveta, who I wanted to hug or help somehow.  The group behind, who I wanted to slap across their faces.   The hurt Old Man, who lay with his feet near me, this time.

I didn’t know what to do.  It was possible a door had permanently closed here.

Sveta, somehow, was more pressing, but I wasn’t sure what to do about that, either.

“Take Dorsey,” Tattletale instructed Snuff, as she brought her phone to her ear.

Dorsey, I knew, was a route that would let us make a last minute diversion to the Bunker.  We were going there, I was willing to bet.  Dragon.  Jessica.  Colt.  Love Lost.  Cradle.

We, I hoped, could talk about things there that we couldn’t talk about in the open.  I could grill Engel on details.  We could make plans, gather notes on Teacher’s base of operations, things Tattletale had picked up.  I really hoped it was the case that we could talk there, because if it wasn’t, then we really had no options.

A general plan, a set of options.  It didn’t make me feel better, but it helped suspend me in a place where I wasn’t sinking into feeling worse and worse.

Not until I let myself.  Made myself.

Except for noting it was something about to happen, I didn’t devote a thought to any of the broader, bigger subjects, or imminent subjects of meetings.  Earlier, Sveta had brought me back to reality by touching on details around me, and now I abandoned that reality.  I turned to thoughts of the hospital room, darkness, and some mixture of stray animals and vermin transmuted into pale, reaching flesh.  I remembered watching the clock endlessly until I could hear the tick of it, and the pain I held in my chest mirrored that heart I’d been given that had been made to be broken.

For the course of this journey, there was nothing I could do to change what Teacher was doing.  I found myself mired in other thoughts, so dark they could be called black.

Teacher’s move here was to drive a permanent wedge between parahuman and human.  With distorted, false, and misleading evidence, they would see us as monsters.  Not immediately, but soon.

Thinking of Engel’s comments, Sveta’s perspective, and the me that had dwelt in that hospital room for nearly two years, I didn’t shy away this time from black, panic inducing memories, from the idea of breaking promises I’d made to myself to stay sane, or the notion of indulging in those monsters.

If we had to deal with monsters, real and fake, then I’d fucking find a way to deal.

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143 thoughts on “Black – 13.10”

  1. Aww, Lisa mentioned Brian. Looks like she kind of miss him. She’ll be probably pleasant surprised if she’ll ever discover that he’s still “alive” as Valkyrie’s ghost, having a chance to be revived.

    Lisa, Vic and Sveta dialogue continue to be the main source of the comedy in this arc.

    Engel’s power is beautiful but creepy.

    Teacher LIED about Dinah when he blamed her for trying to make non-parahumans hate parahumans. In fact, he is the one doing it, Dinah isn’t involved in this misery not even a bit, apparently. Poor Dinah, she was made to look like an horrible person by this monster. I’ll never doubt about her again.

    1. >Teacher LIED about Dinah when he blamed her for trying to make non-parahumans hate parahumans. In fact, he is the one doing it, Dinah isn’t involved in this misery not even a bit, apparently. Poor Dinah, she was made to look like an horrible person by this monster. I’ll never doubt about her again.

      Uhhhh… I’m not really getting this. I don’t doubt that Teacher also has an interest in promoting anti-parahuman sentiment (as part of a larger plan to create chaos), but I don’t think Dinah is really vindicated just because Teacher said she was behind the anti-parahuman movement and he’s now done something that is likely to benefit that movement.

      1. Until we’ll get an Interlude showing us Dinah being the real mastermind behind everything, I believe in her innocence.

        1. Until we ever see her do anything else, I expect she will doom anyone who trusts her, for her own benefit. Coil, Tagg, Taylor, etc.

          1. Until there are no more such comments, I’ll facepalm at each one of them. Everyone in the Wormverse is kinda screwed just by living in it, and Scion’s death kinda benefitted every human – and that’s how Dinah screws everyone and benefits herself, right…

          2. But we have seen her do “anything else.” Golem trusted her, and she did not doom him.

            As for Coil… why on earth would you assume his fate was due to anything malicious or ominous about Dinah? He kidnapped her, drugged her, and forced her to help him with his super villainy. There is no reasonable expectation for a kidnapped child to have her kidnapper’s interests at heart. Any impact she had on Coil’s fate can be dismissed as self defense, not some innate tendency to doom everyone who relies on her.

            Then there’s Tagg. We only know about two interactions he’s had with Dinah, only one of which happened on-screen. The first interaction was when he asked if outing Taylor at the school would lead to having her in custody. Dinah answered truthfully. That’s it, as far as we know. She didn’t provide advice or otherwise manipulate him. He asked a yes-or-no question, and she answered it. He probably would have done it anyway if he hadn’t had the option of asking. So she didn’t doom him then. As for the second interaction, the one we saw? That was mostly just Tagg and Dinah arguing about whether she’s in cahoots with Skitter and whether or not Tagg can get away with threatening Dinah’s career if she doesn’t kiss his feet. He certainly managed to piss her off, but it seems to me that events would have played out the same even if she hadn’t attended the meeting. Maybe he would have been slightly less antagonistic to Skitter, but it’s not like she only barely snapped. Being made to believe that they’d killed one of her friends was not the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was an anvil. A few straws less or more would make no difference.

            So basically, none of Dinah’s interactions with Tagg mattered. Her only role in his death happened back in that car as Taylor dropped Dinah off at home. That was before he’d interacted with her in any way, and likely before she even knew he existed. So there was no betrayal.

            That leaves Taylor. But Taylor’s fate wasn’t actually that bad, all things considered. She fell out of contact with some friends she’d known less than a year, spent a few years putting up with Glenn and the Wards, saved every Earth, had a bit of a breakdown once the adrenaline wore off, and then got to have a second chance on Aleph where she finally reconnected properly with her dad, met her not-so-mom, and lived happily ever after.

          3. Dinah turned Taylor into a hero- for Taylor+ humanity’s own good. Taylor actually enjoyed her hero life, after a rough start, made plenty of friends among heroes and saved worlds.
            Tagg and Coil deserved to be doomed. They asked for their doom through their actions. Dinah was completely innocent.
            I BELIEVE in her innocence even now.

    2. I think Dinah might have been trying to control the hate groups because she saw something like this coming. Now, all the people who are most likely to do something drastic with the information and sociable to form a group about it, already have formed a group and Dinah has their names, addresses and when they’re planning to do their drastic things. But I could be wrong, she might also be trying to wrest control of the chaos out of Teacher’s hands and into her own so the mobs would purge the worst monsters. Or possibly Teacher’s using this method of attack to disarm Dinah, or escalate faster than she wants, or to make things harder for her.

      In short, we don’t know enough about Dinah’s motives and methods to say for sure what she’s up to or why.

      1. > we don’t know enough about Dinah’s motives and methods

        Right. And also, you know, actions (or lack thereof).

    3. > Aww, Lisa mentioned Brian. Looks like she kind of miss him. She’ll be probably pleasant surprised if she’ll ever discover that he’s still “alive” as Valkyrie’s ghost, having a chance to be revived.

      I suppose “pleasantly surprised” is possible, but an awful lot of people would react with horror or disgust at the idea of a dead teammate’s shard-memories being used to create a patchy simulacrum of their former self to serve the Grim Valkyreaper.

      1. Not confirmed, but Valkyrie was at the oil rig and Brian never made it off the oil rig. Also, in Valkyrie’s interlude, some of her einherjar are described- one was a tall young black man with a white skull shaped tattoo/birthmark hybrid upon his face, as shards loose track of where the parahuman ends and where the costume starts after their cape has died. We didn’t see this possible Grue use their power, but Grue was a tall young black man whose mask was shaped like a skull.

        1. I think it would be an interesting exercise to try to identify as many of Valkyrie’s “shadows” and flock members as possible, if only to remind ourselves about some of the better she has collected.

          Let me try to kick it off by reminding you that in chapter 29.2 of Worm it was confirmed that Valkyrie collected Queen of Swords. I mention this particular cape, because I suspect her to be the original of Milk from the flock, who has been described in Valkyrie’s interlude as “A woman with striking tattoos around the eyes, in black, red, and yellow, the colors too solid and bright for an actual tattoo.” These “tattoos” sound a lot like lines Queen of Swords’ power created in Worm chapter I just mentioned, don’t they? On top of it when Valkyrie had two decks of cards created for her flock, Milk immediately found herself to be represented on one of the cards and commented “Thank you for the cards, Valkyrie. And can you tell whatshisname thank you for not going the cliche route and making me a hearts card?”

          By the way, I wonder if the flock has been introduced to card games like bridge, baccarat or canasta by this point. Somehow I don’t see a member of the Suits content playing only games like poker, blackjack or *shudder* Old Maid…

          1. better > better known faces

            Sorry about this one, I think I got distracted by something while editing that sentence and forgot to finish the edit later.

          2. By the way, if Milk really is a “reincarnation” of Queen of Swords, I wonder if “Waggish, Twelfth of the Fabricators” went with another stereotype and represented her as a queen of spades.

  2. Did vic finally break? Also I’m interested to see how Ashley reacts to the journal, should be fun.

      1. From 13.4

        “[…] Ashley was very good at pruning, and very easy to prune now that I was close enough.”

        She may just kill her. Or…

        “That was without getting into the various degrees of non-platonic subtext.”

        … she’ll just gift her a box of chocolates.

  3. “They’re idiots who used to call me a sister and Weld a brother.”
    They’re assholes who don’t deserve you two. Sorry but I know what happened there in Cauldron, and if all the Case 53’s want to be butthurt that a few of you decided to be decent human beings and interrupted their desire to act like worse monsters than they look… Well like I say, if it ever gets out how they didn’t give a shit if the human race got fucked over as long as they got their revenge, they will be facing far worse hatred than they’d ever had before. Only this they’ll deserve. Hey maybe Teacher can throw that out as part of his assualt.

  4. Egg you were an irregulars mascot. Sit down and shut up. Seriously though, teacher doesn’t have to do much with anyone. Everyone they’ve talked to is ready to start a purge.

  5. What’s there to even say? I think Engel’s alright. Got her priorities screwed up a bit, but she can change. How f’d up is it that a “feel very good” power reminds Victoria of Amy? Also, shatter Egg. Fry him, bake him, scramble him, serve him sunny side up, I don’t care.

    1. You know what’s really messed? I don’t think it was happy, I think it was love. She referenced how she felt about Amy in particular, not any old happy feeling but the forced love feeling. Which really gets me thinking about the whole dean thing more, did she love him? Or was their messed up relationship a safe sort of happy feeling she favors over that terrifying love she had felt?

      1. I’m guessing that the whole insane love for Amy thing rewired a lot of emotions so that she’d feel them just thinking about Amy, and how much she loved Amy… So now when she gets certain emotions, it causes her to flashback to that, and of course to everything Amy did…

      2. > Which really gets me thinking about the whole dean thing more, did she love him?

        I don’t think that the question “does X really love Y?” makes sense at all. It’s not like we have a template approved from high heavens, so that we can say “real love is the thing that fits this template”. Whatever one calls it, it is.

        1. You’re right, my question was a lot more vague then I intended. What I really mean is does the emotion she feels when she see’s Engel, the strong attraction/comfort feeling, match up better with Amy simply because of it being power affected or is it more of a ‘she never felt that strongly about Dean and that’s why he is safe to think about’ way. Dean isn’t brought up when feelings of comfort, attraction, and happiness get spurred up, it seems to me the only time he is brought up is when she is struck with a feeling of loss or when she is clinically tallying up the ways Dean was better then a guy that has expressed interest in Vic. Not that I remember every scene off the top of my head but those one’s do stick out more to me.

    2. For some reason I just don’t think Sveta would want someone killed because they’re mad at her for being against killing someone.

  6. Typo thread.

    > He’s still embarrassed by it.
    > But- Imp, you wanted this.
    > The hurt Old Man, who lay with his feet near me, this time.

    There are three spaces before each of these sentences, and two spaces between ‘still’ and ’embarrassed’ in the first of them.

    > Puts us in focus, might get you a thank-you but when they’re assigning blame the jerks in charge are going to like you for it.

    Not sure about this one. Maybe “Puts us in focus, might get you a thank-you but when they’re assigning blame the jerks in charge are not going to like you for it.”?

    > out of the way while a bird held a paddle

    Two spaces between ‘a’ and ‘bird’.

    > “Antares and Tattletale, yes?
    > “Only disappointment.

    Missing quotation marks after these sentences.

    > I watched over one shoulder to make sure the car following was okay.

    There are two spaces between ‘watched’ and ‘over’.

    1. “going to like you for it” is fine (if perhaps ambiguous). It means the jerks would like her as a target to assign blame to, not that they would like her personally for trying to help.

      1. Right, it’s a kind of colloquialism; I associate it with police procedural dramas. To like someone for a crime is to suspect them of having committed it.

        1. > Kind shock

          It sounds more like a thing you know should be devastating but your subconscious just decides “you know what, no, i won’t feel this today. Maybe later”

    2. > Sveta visibly concentrated, worked at relaxing, and let my withdraw my hand.

      Should be:

      let me withdraw my hand

  7. Dragon has been warned in advance about what’s happening, and said one of her priorities was damage control. I wonder how long it will take her to simply nuke everyone’s e-mail accounts and such. She could also just break Internet to stop the damage from spreading, but this is probably a worse solution, because everyone with physical access to the servers could probably still make hard copies of whatever is in those accounts, not to mention that a lot of critical services and infrastructure probably depends on Internet – from phones to coordination between power plants to avoid a blackout or frying the electrical grid.

    On the other hand – perhaps disabling some parts of the power grid is exactly the fastest way to stop damage from spreading. Could Dragon or Dauntless do it?

    1. Of course even such measures could be insufficient if Cauldron started dropping freshly-printed hard copies of falsified contents of capes’ accounts all over the city from planes or airborne portals. Measures like disabling Internet or power grid would probably only make more people believe that contents of such hard-copies are authentic at this point.

      1. True, but anything being delivered so blatantly is suspect in a manner that “finding” something on someone’s account isn’t.

        1. People are stupid. We’ve seen enough examples of that in Ward that enough people would still go with thinking even if Teacher has an agenda that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Remember a key part of it is making it really sound like the person he’s framing.

          Also depending on how much the E-Commerce is a thing in Gimil… Well just imagine the shit from people logging into other people’s bank accounts, for starters.

        2. With the anti-parahuman sentiment out there what do you think people would be more likely to believe if someone cuts all Internet or power right after hearing the news about all passwords being compromised?

          That their mayor is a parahuman villain, Dragon is an AI which can control all electionic communication, and the government and Wardens are trying to prevent the public from finding out this sort of information about those two, and other “monsters” among the capes (probably the sort of information you could find on the first couple of pages of the hard copies I speculated about)? Or will everyone be more likely to believe all of it is a fabrication created by capes gathered around some former Birdcage inmate working in ruins of an HQ of Cauldron mist people only heard rumors about at most?

          This is the problem with Teacher’s attack – they are only half lies. The other half are truths the capes in charge don’t want the public to find about. And people know that capes are keeping some very big secrets from them. They knew it at least since the time PRT fell apart following Echidna battle. I imagine most of the public will be very likely to believe everything in such mixture of of truths and believable lies, and will need to be faced with some very good proof to be convinced that some of this information are lies.

          Not to mention that even after Cauldron’s lies will be exposed, the public will demand that something is done with the dirty secrets which are true – like the fact that government is lead by a person who never told them she is a parahuman, that any control over Wardens or other hero groups by non-powered people is a myth, or that Dragon is an A.I. which theoretically could go rogue at any moment and no one will be able to do anything about it at this point. Worst case scenario could be that a significant percentage Gimel.US population may even decide to support anyone who doesn’t appear to ne a parahuman at first glance and offers permanent solutions to those problems. And I mean “anyone” – even Chiet’s military if it decides to invade.

          1. I think that it could come to a point that the only way to sway public opinion may be to have all capes even remotely connected to government not only unmask, but also publish a very detailed explanation about everything they did and learned as capes – from personal fears and details of their lives they wouldn’t want to share, but which could be twisted by Teacher’s lies all the way to the big secrets like where powers came from, what Entities are, why Scion had to die, what the old Cauldron really did (from creation of C53s, through selling powers all the way to manipulating governments all across Bet), how triggers really work, and how shards affect minds of their hosts, and what really happened during Gold Morning, including such “details” like the fact that Khepri had to force most capes to fight when they started to falter.

            In other words if Teacher wants to save humanity from tyranny of capes, successfully defending from his lies could mean releasing enough true information to most likely ensure his victory.

          2. Hey, perhaps Worm and Ward are mostly collections of such detailed accounts written to repel Teacher’s lies? If this is the case, then it could mean that Taylor will be found by Gimel capes eventually (and probably quite soon) – after all probably nobody other than her could write something as detailed as non-interlude chapters of 29 of Worm’s arcs, right?

          3. Another possible solution is to fight fire with fire. In real life, there are occasional falsehoods scattered around that people stumble into unawares and believe. Then there’s April Fools Day, when you’re more likely to just disbelieve everything by default, including the truth, than to be tricked. Why? Because that’s a time when it is known that everybody is trying to trick you and everything is suspect.

            So, recreate that environment. Instead of letting people see a whole lot of truth and just a (relative) few subtle twists here and there as traps, blow the traps’ cover by overwhelming people with unmitigated bogosity. Clear hoaxes, subtle hoaxes, and utter nonsense. Let Kenzie off her chain and get her working with Dragon. Beat Teacher at his own game.

          4. As for the more unusual points of view in certain interluded, perhaps there is a cape out there who can talk with dead people? And since that cape had their second trigger “dead people” include dead dogs, dead shards, dead Scions etc., too?

          5. @Pizzasgood

            I don’t think it would work too well. There have been enough anti-parahuman and anti-government sentiments around that they will believe in any lie that paints the capes, including the mayor in negative light as long as they don’t get a cohesive truth which is complete enough to be more scary than all Teacher’s lies put together.

            Not to mention that Victoria needs to make New Wave’s dream of public accountability of all capes come true somehow

          6. Not to mention that Victoria declared on TV that in her opinion plenty of those dirty secrets should be explained to the public at some point. Perhaps Teacher’s attack only means that “the day of the big reveal” should come sooner rather than later, that there is simply no time to prepare the public to accept the truth about the big things through some interviews with some second-tier capes about some selected secondary topics anymore.

          7. @Pizzasgood: a full-pocket defence would be excellent if they had time to do it before the reveal.
            Right now those extra lies are not here, so their addition will be extremely suspect to anyone witnessing them pop up left and right.

          8. I thought about both my and Pizzasgood’s and I think that we may have both missed the point. The underlying problem that made it possible for Teacher’s attack to be so successful is not secrecy, but lack of honesty about the reasons for secrecy. It is not that capes or governments shouldn’t keep some secrets (though there are plenty of old secrets that should obviously be revealed), but that they haven’t told the public why they do it, and there are plenty of reasons which could and should be explained – otherwise the public will never have a reason to trust capes.

            Just a few examples:

            1. The public (including most capes) was told that the PRT, the Protectorate and similar organizations, as well as right to keep secret identities by parahuman criminals, three strikes rule, and the unwritten rules exist to protect innocent family members of capes and to ensure that enough capes will cooperate during Endbringer attacks. Plenty of capes know at that point that this is not the whole truth – that it was a part of Cauldron’s plot to stop Scion. The only reason to not inform the public abundance it at this point is that there are plenty of capes who don’t want to admit that they were ignorant about the extent of Cauldron’s plot and the danger posed by Scion. This is not a good, honest reason to keep a secret if you ask me. This is just saving capes’ reputation by telling lies.

            2. On the flip side of unwillingness to admit ignorance, there is also unwillingness to admit inconvenient knowledge. Cauldron did it for decades by hiding the fact that Scion is a cosmic horror which will sooner or later destroy humanity, and that all powers come from him and his partner, but other capes are guilty of the same thing too. Remember that after deaths of Alexandria and Tagg the public was told that they were killed after it was discovered that they worked for Cauldron? This is obviously a lie – all involved capes knew about the fact that Alexandria belonged to Cauldron since Echidna battle, while Tagg never knowingly worked for that organization. They were both killed because they went way too far in their attempt to break Skitter, and underestimated her ability to retaliate. Again a lie – one that could be defended by an argument that PRT and the Protectorate needed to save their faces to be able to organize capes for Endbringer battles and ultimately against Scion. Once again, with Scion now dead, PRT and the Protectorate defunct, and the remaining Endbringers dormant, the only reason not to tell the truth seems to be saving involved capes’ reputation.

            3. The fact that patients of parahuman asylums were kept out of public eyes, and the origin of C53s was never revealed seemed to be in large part motived by the fact that the public needed to think that capes, powers and their sources are not as horrible as they really are. To make common men support capes more, and be more willing to become capes themselves. No more need for this lie either, other than capes’ fear of being seen as monsters, and this lie is particularly painful because it keeps public ignorant about the fact that those patients and C53s are victims of not only their powers, but also the system which sidelined them, and, in case of C53s, Cauldron which took not only their bodies, but also their lives from them.

            4. Another big set of lies is caused by the fact that capes don’t want to admit what their shards did to them – the trauma of their triggers, how it affects them throughout their entire lives, and how their shards push them to conflict. This one is both about not being seen as monsters, about PRT propaganda that someone can trigger during their “best” day, and capes unwillingness to discuss their “worst” day and its consequences which stay with them for their entire lives. The last of those reasons could be defended. The first two – not so much.

            5. There is a flip side of this coin too – the unwillingness of people who bought their powers from Cauldron to admit that they did it. They don’t want to reveal to natural triggers that they had it “easier” than others, to the public that their money gave them this sort of power, and to anyone that they owed, and may still owe favors to Cauldron.

            6. On the topic of traumas – we have the unwillingness of capes who participated in Gold Morning to talk about what exactly happened to them then, mostly because of how horrible experience being mastered by Khepri was, but possibly also because the fact that Khepri needed to do it proves that many of them failed to oppose Scion in the critical moment, that they failed then.

            7. On the topic of failure to behave heroically during Gold Morning – plenty of groups attempted to use chaos of that time for their own benefit – from Irregulars’ attack on Cauldron at the moment when humanity needed Cauldron at its best, to C.U.I.’s and Elite’s attempt to use their parahuman resources to gain advantage over everyone else.

            There are plenty of other secrets and lies that should have been revealed after Scion’s death, or that never should have been kept or to,d in the first place. There are also many others that are still justified. The real problem is that nobody had an honest public discussion about which are which, what exactly should justify all this secrecy and deceit, and before this discussion happens, and the truth that needs to be revealed will be revealed the number of anti-parahumans and people willing to believe lies like the one Teacher is spreading will only grow. Pizzasgood’s method could even limit the damage in this particular case, but there will be others sooner or later, because the underlying issue – the fact capes lie and keep secrets for wrong reasons – will still be there.

          9. One more thing – aside from determining the general rules about which secrets should be kept, and which lies should be told, there should also be a discussion about who and how will decide it on case-by-case basis. There really need to be an arbiter (likely an institution – similar to a specialized court of justice) which will do it, and which everyone will be able to trust. Figuring out how such institution would work, who will be part of it, and how those people will be selected is probably an even more difficult task than writing down the general rules regarding necessary secrets and lies I wrote about above.

    2. > I wonder how long it will take her to simply nuke everyone’s e-mail accounts and such.

      The account owners could delete any incriminating info themselves (I wonder why Vicky’s first action after seeing the diary in her account wasn’t to try to delete it). If they can’t, then it’s either Teacher constantly re-planting that info, or him having a mirror of the whole Internet stripped of all the security measures, and now everyone got switched to Teachernet which Dragon doesn’t have control over.

      1. One problem is that yes – Teacher probably can re-upload everything he wants at any moment. He can even have bots that do it for him every five seconds or so (or he could simply block ability to modify contents of any affected account unless you log in from Cauldron base or using passwords only Cauldron has).

        The bigger problem is that owners of most cape accounts will probably not be the first people who log into them – it is not like all of them spend their entire lives constantly refreshing their e-mail and social media accounts to see if anything new appeared on them. If some anti-parahuman minded people do it before capes who own the accounts with planted materials (or even not planted – who knows what some capes keep on servers trusting that their passwords are enough to keep their data secure), they will be able to make local copies of everything on those accounts. Teacher probably has distributed such copies to selected anti-parahumans in the city already anyway just in case Dragon does manage to nuke the accounts, or some key individual capes manage to delete contents of their accounts quickly enough themselves.

      2. Or Teacher’s set it so everyone can log in but nobody actually has access- all they can do is look around. Maybe even set it up so it looks like an automatic firewall or other piece of defensive software to prevent tampering- even as he tampers with all the information he’s altered.

        1. Actually the way I see it the real damage isn’t that anyone will be able to read anyone’s e-mails, documents stored in the cloud etc., or even that some of those documents have been planted. The big thing is that everyone will know that it was possible, at some point, so if someone will start publishing these sorts of materials (no matter whatever online or not) saying that they copied them from some capes’ accounts, plenty of people will believe that those materials are authentic.

          If all accounts can be accessed, it is not even a problem just for capes everyone can become everyone’s target now – from a politician framed by their political opponents to a random kid accused by their classmates to have some embarrassing e-mails or photos in whatever online space they have that is normally accessible only if you know the right passwords. I won’t even matter if those materials existed in the first place – if everyone can delete contents of any accounts, everyone will also be able to say “I saw those things there before they were deleted.”

          In other words this attack may spiral out of control to a point where it will seriously damage not just human-parahuman relations, but trust anyone’s trust in anyone else.

          Of course it may be that only accounts of verified capescon PHO are compromised for example, in which case the scenario I described above will not happen, but in that case there is a chance that at least some people will be intelligent enough to start wondering “Why only capes? Could it happen by accident if only they are affected? If not – what is the motive of the people who caused it to happen?” Some people will obviously believe that the whole leak has been organized by some hackers who realized that most capes are deeply corrupted, and wanted to show this fact to the world, but hopefully most people won’t be quite that naive.

          1. Than again, the news was that “majority of online accounts” have been affected, so it is probably not just a problem that capes have with their data. Looks like Teacher may have gone too far – most people may be less interested in what dirt can be found in capes’ accounts, and more in what their neighbors, co-workers, favorite celebrities etc. do. Not to mention that everyone will be afraid of what everyone else will be able to find on theirs, and I have no doubt that plenty of people do have things they don’t want the world to see stored in such places. Sure – people are interested in capes, so many of them will likely check capes’ accounts, but the world doesn’t revolve entirely around them, so I doubt that this attack will just “drive a permanent wedge between parahuman and human” – it will damage social relationships between all people.

            Is this the thing that Teacher wanted, did he not think all repercussions through, or does he want to cause only a temporary chaos, and then just publicly admit that he was behind the attack, and that plenty of materials found on those online accounts were fakes planted by him? This last possibility seems to be not so far my interpretation of Solarstare’s words I posted in the comments section below chapter 13.3 – do something that is a problem for everyone, then offer to fix it if certain people (like key heroes) do what you want them to do – similar to what Cradle and Love Lost supposedly wanted to achieve with their terrorist attacks, but undermining social order (especially people’s trust in each other) instead of unleashing powers that may or may not physically kill everyone.

          2. By the way, Teacher has just destroyed not only people’s trust in each other, but also a lot of their privacy. For example considering what can probably be found in completely unmodified private messages of capes, I suspect that a large percentage of them have just been effectively unmasked – after all plenty of them probably use real names and/or other personal details which can be used to identify their civilian identities along with cape names and/or details which can be used to identify their cape identities in their private mail.

            To make it worse, I suspect that anyone logging into cape account on PHO will probably be able to see the name of CICC account associated with it and vice versa. Looks like Chris knew what he was doing when he created all of those PHO accounts, and even that would probably be not enough if someone could figure out that all of them belong to the same person because he contacted the same people, visited the same threads, gave those accounts similar names, or just had them associated with each other by an admin all of which has either been confirmed to happen, or at least seems very likely considering what we saw in Glow-worm.

  8. This chapter was heart-rending. Engel is an idiot, Egg is an asshoke and the Case 53s in general are bitter fools. Poor Sveta needs a hug or seventen.

    The mega-leak is going to hurt more than Victoria, I presume. Is this still yellow book territory ir did we move into the red one now?

    That said, all the odd contents of Miss Treat’s (a relative of Miss Fitt’s?) and the staff feel like such gloriously tasty fanfic fodder…

    1. I presume that Teacher’s organization is now at Red. This is part of the actions that he had prepared when someone clued into his multi-universal Panopticon.

      I had presumed the Miss Treat’s was a pun on mistreat, given the apparent BDSM theme. But I’m unbelievably square so I could be waaaaay off about everything in that place.

    2. I agreed with everything except Engel. I wouldn’t call her an idiot. She seemed nice enough, and even defended Sveta against Egg a bit. She just has her priorities skewed. Come on, be fair. We know why the characters do what they do, but imagine the perspective of the other C53s. Ripped from their homes, turned into monsters, had their memories erased, and just when revenge was in reach, after over a decade of suffering, satisfaction’s ripped away, only for someone else to flat-out just kill her. No retribution for all those years of hell, no justice for all the B.S. she’s done, no wonderful feeling vengeance against this cruel demonic women, just, “CRUNCH!” and that’s it. I kinda get it. Yes, to pull this crap during Gold Morning was absolutely moronic, but I get it.

      1. It was moronic to pull it during Gold Morning, but at that time there was an awful lot of thinking they wouldn’t get another chance because it was only a matter of time before they, or Cauldron, got Scion’d. So moronic, but understandable- Khepri didn’t rise until later, the day after or two I think.

        1. Yeah well I kinda loose sympathy when they were willing to fuck everyone else over. Remember Weld wanted a trial, and to sieze Cauldron’s resources. Then he found out that he’d been played, set up, and lied to by everyone else. Who’s reaction was to torture their former comrades like him for not being on board with showering in the blood of Cauldron’s members. Oh and guess what, the world didn’t end no thanks to them. But all they do is bitch that Sveta and Weld weren’t on board with their little torture porn plans. They never seem to have a moments contrition for putting all the human race at risk. Wanting vengence is one thing. Being willing to risk fucking everyone over, then acting butthurt because it didn’t go as planned? That’s what really makes them shitty.

          1. Sure- but remember- it isn’t the Case53’s that DID that that are pissed off here.
            All those ones died.

            As far as anyone else can tell, a bunch of their friends went in (with a plan), there was some sort of Weld/Sveta Trechery (reported on by Egg), and now everyone is dead.

            It isn’t the capes that went in with a stupid plan that are pissed at Sveta here. Its a bunch of their friends who are like “Why are all our pals dead?” “Oh, thems got betray”

            Doesn’t make it not stupid… but is worth remembering the consequences for the C53’s who WERE there when trying to callibrate how reasonable things are.

          2. Agreed.
            fuck the lot of them,
            and fuck both Engel and Egg for being self-righteous about the whole fucking thing.

            right now, as far as im concerned, everybody who was in on the plan was morally no better then Teacher

          3. I mean, you’re right, but they aren’t the only ones who the Simurgh manipulated into behaving badly. Stripped of context, killing Mantellum might seem insane since he was presumably a blind spot for Scion’s PtV.

          4. I really think that the C53s are being judged a bit unfairly. Don’t get me wrong, what they did was dead wrong, but it wasn’t as bad as it may have seemed. And it does make sense for all these C53’s to be pissed. Over a hundred go in, 3 go out, all people know is Sveta screwed them somehow. Of course they’re pissed! Engel didn’t really seem angry, but she seems to be unable to forgive Sveta for those deaths, at least for now. Fair enough. Though, once again, crack Egg. He was there, part of all this, he has no excuses. He went out of Cauldron, and more or less told every C53, “We were finally about to get justice, but not only did Weld and Sveta stop us, they caused everyone’s death!

      2. Meh, just because some poeple feel entitled to vengeance, doesn’t mean that anyone else should oblige them in it. Their anger in the moment is understandable. But after having some time to think and cool down, that bloodlust really isn’t an excuse.

      3. > just when revenge was in reach, after over a decade of suffering, satisfaction’s ripped away, only for someone else to flat-out just kill her

        That’s kind of idiocy in its own right, to be disappointed by it (and not just slightly disappointed at the moment, but to carry it over the years). To want revenge, to want someone dead is understandable for me. To nurse a desire to kill someone necessarily with own hands throughout life, to be upset over impossibility of this desire because that someone is already dead, and to hate the person who basically had your revenge for you – that’s not only idiocy, it’s making yourself into a monster that Cauldron couldn’t make you into. Engel isn’t exactly there yet, but she lets herself to be carried away in that direction with the rest of the crowd.

          1. Basically, they’re pissed because they feel like Sveta caused the death of several dozen C53s, then was merciful to that demon by just killing her.

  9. We’re getting more and more hints that something is very wrong with Sveta here.

    Why would TT quip here about throwing emotional stones? Then the look TT gave her after she suggested she would hurt TR if things went bad together with Vic’s mom not being impressed with something she did or said and not being able to discuss it with Vic afterwards.

    We’re building up to finding something nasty or disturbing about Sveta.

    1. Exactly my worry. I have a certain feeling that the Case 53s are not wrong when they hate Sveta or consider her dead. Engel, for example, seems to treat the two Svetas differently, like the Sveta she knew and the Sveta that is actually real.

  10. So, this is the kind of attack that Teacher was setting up. It’s not something you can think up as an “attack” but one you can definitely see the consequences being incredibly dire.

    But, the most important thing we are all missing is that somebody likes Victoria’s outfit. And she considered it a victory.

    Fashion Police: Cleared by Internal Affairs.

  11. I feel really bad for Sveta. So much of her community is alienating her because of something that was out of her control. Hope this doesn’t disrupt her control, she’s really been hanging in there.
    Also, wow, this is the earliest I’ve ever commented on a chapter.

  12. So Teacher’s big move is to… release disinfo on c-list parahumans? Yawn. Reaaaallly hoping this picks up soon because we have been slogging since the Darlene interlude (though the other interludes have all been very good, I’m sensing a pattern here, as if there’s a certain character holding the story back).

    1. Teacher’s move is to *further* destabilize the City by sabotaging inter-team relations and crippling their functionality, smearing the reputations of capes during a period of time where human-parahuman tensions are high, sow discord at all levels because no one can trust anyone, capitalize on the paranoia and fear regarding the City-Cheit relations, and leverage his new army on an Earth that already seems to hurdling toward failed state status.

      I’m not sure why you seem to be unimpressed by all this, but yes, I imagine things are about to pick up.

      1. Well for one I assumed Teacher’s “Red” involved Amy (and maybe I jumped the gun and it does) so that’s underwhelming me a bit. For another we’ve been told rather than shown a lot of stuff in Ward like how badly the portals have messed up the city (but our team never struggles to get around) or how there was a damned Parahuman war where Gimel invaded Chiet (but Crystal and Weld are fine, no ptsd from the Wormverse’s horrifying powers applied for warzone and apparently no named characters died) so I’m worried we’re headed there again.

        1. > or how there was a damned Parahuman war where Gimel invaded Chiet

          No there wasn’t. The Wardens were on Bet fighting warlords, not Cheit. So far the conflict with Cheit has all been subterfuge and proxies on Cheit’s part, and a bunch of “Hey, stop that!” on Gimel’s part.

          1. While I may have misread the semantics, the point is that there was a massive story point that would have been fantastic to read and should have had a serious character impact at the very least and we got neither to read it nor have felt the consequences of it.

        2. In Worm, we had a setting with a world that functioned much like the world we know — things happened, but life went on for those not directly affected because the environment was stable. I think it’s partially because of this that WB brought the action *to* Brockton Bay, making it a disaster area because otherwise, big events outside of the city didn’t seem to loom overhead.

          However, with Gimel, the setting is unstable, making it much more sensitive, and the megacity makes the larger world all much more interconnected. That means that exposition for big events is necessary. Victoria is much more impacted by events outside of her reach than Taylor because her world is much more precarious.

          In Worm, we were also following a villain who was trying to be heroic, who seized power as Skitter the warlord in spite of the odds. But in Ward, Antares is the hero who is trying to be heroic in a time where frontier justice is fast becoming the norm. You implied that she is holding the story back, but part of the story is that unlike Taylor, who ventured into unfettered territory by the end of her story, Victoria actively constrains herself. This restraint is compounded with the fact that Breakthrough is still such a small fish, emphasizing the greater forces they are struggling against in almost a noir-esque fashion.

          This isn’t to say that things are going to stay this way because as the story has progressed, we’ve seen Victoria become increasingly frustrated and cross more and more lines. But I think these themes and differences need to be observed and appreciated until we get to that point.

          1. They crossed the line a long time ago when they were fine with Rain and Ashley being busted out of prison and ignoring due process, not even mentioning the disappearing stuff. BT decided they were above the law but everyone else has to follow it strictly. Since the end of the Goddess arc the line is gonzo. Victoria’s hypocrisy is a key part of her character IMO, but it makes her a very frustrating protagonist to follow, especially when the narrative seems to place her as a moral character (because we’ve seen other previously moral characters like Jessica or Narwhal support her).
            Also I really don’t think you actually addressed my criticism. WB has added a lot of story elements that objectively should change the setting and characters but just haven’t, the portals being the biggest one (we still don’t even know why the Fallen did it beyond “Sowing dissent fwafwafwafwa”).

          2. > They crossed the line a long time ago when they were fine with Rain and Ashley being busted out of prison and ignoring due process

            That is false. Rain and Ashley are not fugitives who broke out of prison and evaded justice. The jail they were staying in while awaiting trial got destroyed, so — rather than camp out in the rubble — they openly returned to the city, and in Ashley’s case, to her own apartment. The city knows they’re cooperative (they turned themselves in) and knows where to find them if it wants them transferred into a new facility. Hell, they proactively reached out to the city after the breakout to sort out their situations, but the city brushed them. Victoria specifically complained about that in 10.1:

            It had been two days since the prison breakout. One day to recuperate and lick our wounds. Medical care for me and Rain, prosthetic body fixes for Sveta. Rain, Ashley and Damsel had needed to get some baseline things squared away with their sentences.

            Needed, but hadn’t gotten. It was a big, ominous question mark floating over their heads now.

            I don’t recall if the story has mentioned anything changing since then. If not, then their current status would basically be equivalent to being out on bail. If the city doesn’t drop the charges against them due to their continuing acts of heroism, they’ll eventually get their trials and be dealt with. In the meanwhile, they’re being trusted to behave themselves and not skip town.

          3. By “brushed them,” I of course meant “brushed them off.” Though I do like the idea of Citrine brushing Rain’s hair while the Number Men give the Ashleys fractal braids.

          4. @pizzaisgood
            So it’s fine for Colt to get disappeared while a person on a mass murder charge (probably would get convicted for accomplice and manslaughter in reality) walks around free with no justice in sight? There is no justification for Rain and Ashley being out while Colt sits in a cell.

          5. @Ryan Callahan: yes, Rain would be convicted (and he actually was, in-story), and so would be Colt. And while Rain was an accomplice through inaction, Colt was actively fighting on the side of criminals guilty of aggravated mass murder (if we’re translating it to the real world, where there’s no such crime as “tearing people to pieces while leaving them alive”). + Rain was cooperating with the law, while Colt was resisting.

          6. > yes, Rain would be convicted (and he actually was, in-story)

            When? We saw his hearing to determine whether he’d await his trial under house arrest or in the prison, but we haven’t seen an actual trial. Did I miss some offhand mention in the chapters since the breakout that he’d been convicted offscreen?

            > There is no justification for Rain and Ashley being out while Colt sits in a cell.

            Sure there is. Rain and Ashley turned themselves in (within minutes in Ashley’s case, and as soon as it was safe to do so in Rain’s case), they both spent at least a few weeks in prison before gaining their freedom, they helped save the lives of the guards and other prisoners when the prison was attacked, and they also have multiple people in good standing who are willing to vouch for them and keep an eye on them to ensure they behave.

            Colt, on the other hand, has nobody vouching for her and did not turn herself in. She was given many opportunities by the heroes and villains both, yet consistently insisted on being a little shit. She also appears to be totally unrepentant, only worried about the consequences of her actions rather than the harm she’s caused. That’s the exact opposite of Rain, who is very concerned about his actions and wants consequences. It’s also rather different from Ashley, who does not want but is willing to accept consequences. And that’s before we get into the matter of whether Colt’s even safe to release due to the combination of superpowers and possible brain damage / personality skewing. (Hopefully it will turn out to be treatable.)

            Note that I’m only defending keeping her in a cell for now while they determine what to do. I don’t think that it would be right to send her to the prison world, but keep in mind that that’s only the worst-case scenario, and it was brought up in the context of Victoria trying to bully her into providing intel. Depending on how the mental evaluation goes, whether she can offer useful services, and other factors (like pulling her head out of her ass and at least pretending to show some remorse), she might end up with a much softer sentence. Conventional juvenile detention on Gimel, or house arrest, or community service as a hero, etc.

          7. @Pizzasgood: nah, that’s me having a not very good grasp on the law matters. For me, he was in a court (or something resembling it) -> then in prison => he was convicted. The result is the same, so whatever 🙂

    2. No, Teacher’s big move was to plant disinfo on everyone, and disable all internet security. Take the biggest hack that’s happened in real life. That’s a drop of water compared to the pacific ocean here.

      1. Okay so wouldn’t the big thing there be immediate financial collapse or the coordinates to the bunker and their disappearing hole? I know Vicky just had a bad moment of mental distress but her journal is the last of anyone’s worries in that situation.

        1. Whos saying that her diary is the most important thing about this? Its very clearly an attack on everybody. Nobody is claiming otherwise.

        1. Please don’t put comments revealing details of later chapters in comments section of earlier chapters. I guess there probably won’t be too many people like that, but some readers may want to catch up by reading this chapter AND its comments section before moving on to chapter 13.11. Your comment is a spoiler for them (a minor one, but still a spoiler).

    3. I’ve seen you come in and shit on chapters pretty regularly. Why are you still reading if you dislike it so much?

      1. 1) I’m hoping it gets a kick in the ass similar to Levithan or villains/stakes like the slaughterhouse 9. I really don’t dump on it *that* much in the comments either.
        2) Why are you commenting on my thread if you like the story, my opinion has no impact on your enjoyment. Take your own advice. I enjoy components of the story. I really like Tristan and Byron, I like Kenzie, I like a lot of pre-established characters I hope become a larger part of the story like Amy, Chevalier, Valkyrie (another thing I’m stickingaround for because Amy’s reinvolvement is absolutely inevitable). I’m enjoying Tattletale in this chapter even.

  13. Okay, so I know Eggs a horrible little shit here, but:
    “Whippersnap: Egg was only one to come back from there. he said you and Weld stopped us from getting justice” (Glowworm – 0.8)

    Like… of ALL those irregulars we saw… Egg, Weld, and Sveta were the only ones to come back apparently…
    And Weld and Sveta had turned against the rest of the team.

    If Egg was literally the only survivor of the situation… and there was “trechery” midway through…. I can see why there’s a touch of lingering resentment there…

    1. the “treachery” in question was
      “someone forceably dragged her along using powers/ a hamster ball to contain her,then after Doctor Mother said she didnt remember their original names INSTANTLY with no time to think/said she needed more specific information to provide them, hurled Doctor Mother directly at her literally-uncontrollable tendrils, which proceeded to spasm and turn her into hamburger, which literally everyone in the room/reading at the time could see would be the immediate result.

      they’re both full of shit- the “betrayal” canonically didn’t happen, unless they’re counting “FORCING us to kidnap her, and FORCING us to traumatise her further by using her as a murder weapon- what a betrayal that she MADE US do something immoral instead of willingly bathing her metaphorical hands in blood and sparing us any individual guilt”

      the lot of them should crawl into a hole and die.

      1. to clarify, unless im MASSIVELY misreading, Egg and Engal are snitty because Sveta unintentionally killed DM (relatively) cleanly, after another C53 INTENTIONALLY shoved her into her, instead of the entire group having hours/days to torture her to death, hence my biting contempt

        1. I thought the first ‘betrayal’ there was standing between the mass of Irregulars that had just crucified the Slug (the limbless parahuman who took memories) and Doctor Mother. That was Weld, Sveta and Gentle Giant. The second betrayal was the hypocrisy of then killing Doctor Mother, though as I recall it Sveta’s ‘choice’ at that time was killing Doctor Mother or killing Weaver- and still broke Weaver’s arm and is the whole reason why Khepri only had one arm for her orchestral symphony of usurping minds and directing armies.

          1. Earl, as I recall Sveta didn’t even participate in that “standing against” moment, she was still in her ball. I seem to remember her saying something to Weld like “sorry, but if you let me out I’m pretty sure I’ll kill her”.

          2. That’s as maybe, but Sveta sided with Weld and Gentle Giant. She might not have been part of the barricade, but all the Irregulars knew whose side she was on. And if they didn’t, the fact she’s since started dating Weld certainly makes it clear that she sided against the majority.

      2. I’m not saying that there was legit Treachery. Used the quote marks for a reason.

        But if all your friends are dead, and your only intel is the report of the one surviving eggboy who feels confused and betrayed, I can see how you might want someone to blame for a large chunk of your friends being dead.

        I’m not saying thems be RIGHT in this context, I’m just saying that even though they are calling Sveta out on preventing justice and such, this may well be all tangled up in lotsa feelings of “everyone else is dead,”

    2. Thanks for providing some context. I didn’t really understand why they hated Sveta so much, but that passage makes it more reasonable.

      1. Yeah, Irregulars go out, and only their leader, his girlfriend, and one other person comes back, with them on bad terms with each other? Wouldn’t take much rumormill to spin that into a doozy, and rumormill wouldn’t probably been the de facto main method of getting information shortly after Gold Morning.

  14. “[…] Think about today, what you did. We
    sent off the prisoners. You went to drop Lookout off. Saw Tattletale.
    Remember the errands you ran with her.”

    Ah, quick recap. Eggcellent (sorry).

    #
    “Was there an emotion manipulator in that grouping?”

    This setting is too paranoia-inducing…

    #
    Coil: I’ll out the secret identities of Brockton Bay’s most powerful villains’s.

    Teacher: I’ll out everyone!

    ###

    Maddening paranoia.

    Parah-anoia.
    .
    .
    .
    Para-annoying.

    Okay, I’m done.

    1. @Ex-Lurker. don’t worry if commenters beat you up, we can send you to Amy. after all, she’s a para-medic.

      1. XD

        I think I already needed an appointment with Dr. Lavere.

        ###

        And just in case… I was the one meant to be “para-annoying”.

        I know I’m no Psycho Gecko (couldn’t fill those big shiny high tech shoes…).

  15. Just want to add my voice and say I absolutely /adored/ the exchange betweent Tats, Imp, Vicky and Sveta. And gosh, Sveta, cool it.

    This chapter was a wild ride, whoof.

  16. And here we go…
    That was a nice world they started to rebuild there. It’s going to be a shame something’s about to happen to it.

  17. Wonderful chapter. Love Lisa’s phone call with Aisha and all the Lisa, Victoria, and Sveta interaction.

    Half a day after reading, and I’m still reeling from Victoria’s flashback. Don’t know if it just caught me in the right mindset, or if Wildbow is that spectacularly good at describing what goes on in Victoria’s head (probably both). This is the first time I’ve been triggered solely by a description of someone getting triggered. Dissociation, intrusive sensations, and Sveta’s help with grounding – all described absolutely spot-on, based on my experience. It is so rare to read depictions of mental health issues that ‘feel’ so accurate. I’m enjoying Ward more and more!

  18. Considering that Victoria seems to be so willing to protect Old Man, because he is a “survivor”, I wonder how will she react to capes who also triggered around the same time even if they aren’t quite as old as him. It is particularly interesting because those capes include such terrifying individuals as Contessa and Valkyrie as well as people who Victoria knows very well – like Miss Militia.

    Is Victoria’s reaction to Old Man only about the time someone was a cape, or are Old Man’s age, the fact that he survived despite having a power that at the first glance doesn’t seem to offer too much protection and/or maybe even the fact that Old Man at first glance seems to be semi-retired also important factors for Victoria?

    1. Miss Militia’s not quite that old. She was in the inaugural Wards team, which I thought was late eighties/early nineties. Valkyrie also might not be so old; I thought she was a nineties threat, not an eighties one.

      Capes we know that were around in the eighties, and whose trigger dates are unknown and could be so early, is a very short list. Marquise, Vikare and Allfather are the only three that spring to my mind, and one of those was locked up and the other two are dead. Contessa’s been a parahuman since the beginning; she’s had her power longer than anyone else alive.

    2. Based on Vicky’s musings last chapter, I’d say it’s a mix of time as a cape and semi-retirement, and specifically she seems to be interested in the mindset and approach to cape stuff that let him live that long. The picture I’ve gathered is that the conflict drive results in capes tending to have short lives, and capes tend to notice their tendency towards short lives and decide on goals for themselves other than living to retirement age, so the Old Man subverting that is noticeable.

      Also, are you sure MM has been a cape for about as long? She’s definitely an experienced hero, but I was thinking that in the Wormverse timeline, capes first started appearing back in the 80’s, Worm was in the early 2010s, Ward is a few years later, and MM had been a cape for a bit more than I decade. I could be wrong about any or all of those details, though, since I’m just going off memory.

      1. Earl of Purple, Ultimate_Procrastinator, everyone else interested in the topic, while I usually prefer not to use most sources other than the story text itself, I do occasionally use the wiki to speed up my fact-finding process. Here is a link which seems to be relevant to this particular discussion: https://worm.fandom.com/wiki/Timeline

        It has not only rough dates when Ciara and Hana triggered (1983 and 1985 respectively) references to relevant fragments of text that you can use to check if those dates are correct.

  19. Holy crap.

    Are those C53’s for real? It’s like reading about a plot of some romantic comedy forced miscommunication plot except way worse. Tattletale’s comment about hive mentality was spot on. They hate on Sveta but they don’t even know what happened, and it’s all because of Eggboy? And Weld didn’t clear things up? What the hell is going on? This is so jarring that my only reaction is to think all these C53 deserve anything bad happening to them. If Teacher’s plot fucks them over I won’t be sympathetic. This is a bit more jarring than Fallentown even.

    1. That sort of miscommunication is inexplicable among a small group of friends. The Irregulars were not that; they were a large group, a combination of friends, acquaintances, and allies of convenience. Among such a group, miscommunication is all but inevitable. For that alone, I wouldn’t say the Irregulars deserved bad parking karma, let alone all the crap that’s happened to them—to say nothing of the Case 53’s who weren’t in the Irregulars, obviously.

  20. So, there’s no way this data breach doesn’t clue Dragon into what’s going on, she owns those systems. She also has a decent nose for which way the sociopolitical wind is blowing, so she’ll catch the broader threat. We can probably count on her to clue Yamada and those at “the bunker” in.

    In the HIGHLY unlikely event Teacher somehow hides his fingerprints, decent odds Breakthrough goes Villian, but again, it’s Dragon.

    So, with Yamada back on Victoria’s side, the public feeling very anti-cape, winter setting in…hmm. Teacher’s set this all up with a purpose, although I seem to have forgotten what that would be. It sounds like he’ll trigger this thing he’s been manipulating with Cheit, and /then/ he’ll go after what he’s really after.

  21. Data breach. Information released.

    Amelia Claire Lavere adopted, due to New Wave breaking the unwritten rules. Amelia Claire Dallon has nervous breakdown after being pushed to breaking Point by the S9. Victoria Dallon is hospitalised as a result. Information about how Victoria’s power over wrote Amy’s orientation to be Victoria-sexual is confirmed. Tattletale is found to be a catalyst in Amy fearing her worst secret will out. Tattletate’s own notes on the whole tragic mess also revealed.

    The fact that Victoria’s power can do this to anyone due to ignorance is public knowledge now.
    Panacea being batshit insane is public knowledge now.
    Breakthrough having S9 members in their ranks is public knowledge now.
    The whole Khepri affair may very well be public knowledge now

    The above all cover just the Dallons and Laveres, but those four by those themselves are heavy hitting

    Add Knowing about Taylor, who became Skitter, due to bullying that was covered up by the PRT and the fact that said girl became Khepri, and well, let’s just say, she may not be around here but she’s still escalating stuff.

    Now for some of the second wave.

    Armsmaster the truce breaker
    Dragon, the AI
    The mad bastard Scion being the source of Powers
    and the fact that powers are keyed to conflict and are caused by PTSD

    And Amelia Claire Lavere-Dallon has just had every thing she ever managed to trust Victoria and Carol with exposed to the world.

    And as I was typing I just remembered where Carol is right now… oh… *Cachyn Mawr*

    1. Fortunately most of Tattletale’s notes are probably safe at this point, unless Witnesses exists despite her interlude being nixed. Remember how she secured them – not by traditional measures, but by having a system that automatically generates plenty of false, nonsensical entries similar to real ones and stores them all together without distinguishing which ones are which. This way those notes are useless to anyone who doesn’t have Lisa’s power to tell them which notes are legitimate.

      Similar thing with Dragon and Defiant – I suspect use Dragon’s servers, protocols and encryption to handle all private communication between them, and those were supposedly impossible for Teacher to break. Somehow I don’t imagine Dragon writing an e-mail to Dragon (or anyone else for that matter) revealing that Dragon is an AI, and sending it unencrypted through public servers.

      On the other hand Victoria has been converting her cape files into electronic form, so everything that was there may have been leaked. This means that when capes will want to find someone to blame for unmasking them, Victoria will be a perfect scapegoat, just like Tattletale suggested. Jessica and her colleagues are probably another perfect scapegoat, because chances are their notes about her patients may also have been leaked.

      As for Victoria’s aura messing Amy’s feelings towards hers sister – this information comes from comments section of Worm, and as far as I remember has only been partially confirmed by WoGs. Chances are that nothing like it has ever been written in Bet-Gimel internet. Maybe even nobody in Parahuman universe ever realized it, and even if it is not the case – the person most likely to do it is probably Tattletale, whose notes are probably secure, like I said above. I guess that if Amy had a good psychotherapist, they could realize it too, and their notes could potentially be leaked, so we probably just got a reason to paradoxically hope that Jessica did not heed Victoria’s request regarding Amy from chapter 1.8.

      1. Of course given Jessica’s speciality and experience, she may have even been Amy’s therapist ever since Gold Morning, and has just never informed Victoria about it. If this is the case it could test Jessica’s friendship with Victoria more than anything that was said and done in chapter 13.3. And of course since Victoria knows that Dragon had access to Jessica’s notes and never told Victoria anything about Amy, any trust Victoria has for Dragon may also be tested just as much as that friendship.

        1. And if Jessica figured out what Victoria’s aura did to Amy, and admits it to Victoria, I wonder how it will affect relationship between Victoria and Tattletale. After all Victoria is not an idiot – she will immediately realize that there is a very good chance that Tattletale knew about it even before Amy put Victoria in asylum, and to Victoria’s knowledge never shared this bit of information with anyone, or at least never tried to weaponize it.

          How will Victoria react to the realization that there are secrets, including secrets about her and her family, so potentially damaging that this backhoe operator never shared them with anyone?

      2. > Fortunately most of Tattletale’s notes are probably safe

        If they are secured like that, it’s just the opposite – they are a godsend to Teacher. How do you make an incriminating evidence out of a bunch of notes with no way to know which ones are true? You don’t have to care about the truth, you just leak those which sound most incriminating.

        1. The thing is that Tattletale’s notes are not truths mixed with carefully crafted lies. They are mostly random gibberish mixed with occasional truths put in equally random places. Unless Teacher can reverse engineer both exact code, including the random number generator she is using (together with its seed or seeds Tattletale used) and make an algorithm that can do reverse of all of those operations in reverse order (which is a very difficult task for multiple reasons, including the fact that whenever Tattletale interacts with the system – by putting new documents in it and probably even by reading the old ones or just logging in, she probably influences how it is behaving), is not probably not something that he can use for his purposes. Here how it was described in Tattletale’s interlude:

          The emergency server was four feet tall and four feet deep, only two feet wide. Too large to pack, too niche in use. It was where she stored her notes too comprehensive for the regular systems and too complex for her own brain to wrestle with on a long-term basis. It worked by creating millions of deceptive copies, forgeries, and variations on documents, and then randomly shuffling her files into it.

          Epeios had been baffled, had hired thinkers to try and decode, predict, or surveil her means of picking the true files from the false ones. There wasn’t one. The only means was to use her power. To intuit her way through a thousand haystacks.

          1. Ok, let’s hope this one won’t turn into a double post:

            Note that Tattletale’s system creates random variations of documents. For every document which holds truth, there may be a couple dozen false ones, which sound plausible, but for each one of those there may be hundreds of thousands of documents which either make no sense, or contain statements which are obviously fake for everyone who reads them. Teacher could maybe try to use all this data as source of inspiration, but he probably doesn’t need that.

            Of course contents of true notes may still have been leaked, but that would need to be done either by taking control over whatever computer Tattletale is using to access them through Internet, intercepting connections between Tattletale’s server and whatever device she is using to access those notes (unless she is bright enough to always request and download at least a few hundred random documents along with the one she is really looking for, in which case this method won’t work), or by hacking Old Man’s brain to the point where Teacher can see everything Tattletale has ever read or written.

  22. The question that’s everyone is avoiding in post-GM is what should not be avoided by us. Sure, the GM participants have probably no choice, but we aren’t under QA’s influence.
    “Where is she?”
    “Is she the one overseeing all?”

    There are only a few parahumans who were not under Khepri’s glorious dominion.
    Dinah Alcott. Cape name: Candygirl. Sucking ‘candy’ from Teacher these days. She just doesn’t get a break, poor girl.

    1. I think it is exceedingly unlikely that Dinah has been captured by Teacher… or at the very least, if she is captured, its recent.

      In particular, I’m thinking:
      “Faultline returned, alone. There were two more mercenaries with her. “Situation blue.”
      “Medical emergency?” I asked. “The hospital code?”
      “What? No,” she told me. Then, not to me, she said, “I’ll leave it to you to interpret.”
      – (ward 10.5)

      This is Dinah’s colour code. This looks like pretty strong evidence that (at least, at the beginning of March arc), Dinah was still safely under the protection of Faultline (as she was last we saw her at the end of Worm).
      And… I can’t help but think that Dinah and Tats are on good enough terms that IF Dinah got snatched, Tats would be one of the people who was informed.

      1. On the other hand Tattletale clearly suspects that something is going in with Dinah, and that it is somehow connected to what has been going on with Contessa. Considering that:
        – there was a question “Why capture/corner/co-opt precogs?” in Tattletale’s notes right after mentions of those two precogs,
        – Snuff apparently discussed Dinah and Contessa with one of Faultline’s crew members at Gimel-N portal,
        – Teacher mentioned Dinah in Scapegoat’s interlude as someone who he apparently did not control at that time, but would like to get,
        I think that it is safe to assume that either those two precogs saw something big coming, and are working on it (in which case Contessa might have even let herself be captured to put herself in position where she may act at the right time – possibly against Teacher), and/or Teacher is collecting as many powerful precogs as he can to help him with his plans, in which case Dinah would be the logical next person for him to capture after Contessa.

        1. And I guess Teacher may not necessarily need to literally “capture” Dinah. Tattletale’s notes suggest many other ways in which he could make Dinah work for or with him. Some may to even require her to go to Cauldron complex.

  23. Wow, Victoria facing the dark!

    Weird thing, I left this chapter half read and when I came back to the tab it had somehow jumped to the next chapter. That should not be possible!

  24. “But- Imp, you wanted this. If you want to be their peer then sometimes that means manipulating them for their own benefits.”
    I mean, it’s worked for Lisa. Usually. And the exceptions were mostly out of her control. Arguably.

    “You know, you remind me of someone,” Tattletale told her. “My old teammate, Grue.”

    “I feel like I’m being insulted,” Sveta said.

    Sveta, you don’t even know the guy. I think you met for like five minutes when the world was ending, but I don’t think you were introduced. You have no reason to be insulted by being compared to him, or by not being compared to him.

    Egg stopped. He’d made a fierce enough expression and talked violently enough that it had cracked his chin open. He wiped at the mess and left a streak of red across the line of his jaw.
    It’s amazing how well Wildbow uses the supernatural elements of his stories to accentuate the characters they’re associated with. Potentially self-destructive anger that literally breaks the person expressing it (without leaving them an inconveniently crippled mess)? Genius.
    Applies to Sveta too, obviously.

    “You’ll continue being a moron over this whole thing, you mean,” Tattletale said, from the far side of the car. “Getting caught up in the ‘hate the tentacle girl for going against the hive mind’ thing.”
    Ah, Tattletale. Ever comfortable with scalpel and sledgehammer alike.

    “Any password will get you into any account, if you know what their username or email is,” Tattletale said.
    Reminds me of a Tom Scott video.

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