Dying – 15.1

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I fast-walked down the alleyway, hands in my coat pockets, head down, making my footsteps heard.  My breath fogged in the air, slow and measured, and freezing rain pattered down around me, soaking the top of my hood and the shoulders of my coat.

“Hey!” a man shouted.  “You have no business back here!”

Four men, all gathered around a hatchback car, one of the shittier ones that had been made after Gold-Morning.  All men wore the typical garage-worker, loading-dock style coveralls, along with heavy coats and hats.  They glittered with light where the big lights that illuminated the loading bay caught the droplets of frozen rain on their gear.

The set of alleyways was shaped like a question mark, with the entry into the alleys being somewhere around the dot or tail end, a few parking spots at the top end, and these guys located at the part that was furthest in.  Loading bay doors were partially closed beside them.

The rain stopped hitting my shoulders and hood as I saw them.

Their part of the alley was narrower, and as I entered the space, the walls were close enough that the Wretch could reach out and touch both, carving furrows both narrow and broad into brickwork.

“Shit!” one of them shouted.  He bolted for the car.  There was a flash of silver as he pulled on the door, and the back of the car came free, landing in his lap, smacking him in the face.

The other three men ran to the car.  I could see what they were after.  Tools or-

No.  Tinker guns.

A flash of white instead of silver, above.  I pushed out with my aura, being careful with the range, only catching two of the men with it as a consequence.

Didn’t matter.  Swansong dropped down from above, white costume a swirl around her, and landed on the back end of the car that had come away.  She made a threatening motion toward the guy closest to her, and he almost fell in his haste to get away.

“Guns in the car,” I called out.

A blast of her power made the other two men back off, but that meant they moved closer to me, and deeper into my aura, which was more intense as they drew closer to me.  Caught in the middle, they stopped, paralyzed.  Swansong turned to look at the contents of the car, one hand still out.

The sliding loading bay door rose, and there were two men and two women on the other side, all with what looked like riot shields in front of them, truncheons in their hands.  The shields and truncheons all visibly crackled with electricity.

Precipice leaped from the rooftop, tilting as he fell so his head was closer to the ground than his feet were, silver blades already made but held firm in each hand.  He stopped in mid-air, twelve or fifteen feet above the alley floor, and hurled silver blades, produced more, and threw them as well.

Ashley picked up the tinker gun, and aimed it at the group, nozzle glowing bright green.

One of them, maybe the squad leader, pointed the truncheon at her.  The gun went black.  She threw the gun aside, and produced a blast of her power instead- a gout about ten or fifteen feet long, not long enough to reach those at the loading bay door, but enough to give them pause.

Speaking of.  I addressed the three workers.  “Stand down.  Kneel.  I’ll tie your wrists, we’ll put you somewhere safe and warm.”

They looked at one another, then charged me instead.

Wretch down.

The first one took a swing for my face.  I brought my forcefield up again, just for a second, while moving my head in the direction of the incoming swing.

Blood spray painted the Wretch, and I had a glimpse from the inside of a face, mouth open, teeth bared.  It had let him punch teeth, and brought teeth together.  Far more damage than I’d wanted.

It was enough that the other two backed off.

“Swan!” Precipice called out.

She threw the gun aside, strode forward, and put a hand out.  Precipice resumed falling, and Swansong had a hand out to catch his upper body, averting the faceplant.

I saw the blur and the shifting of lights above.  Our alleyway had its own little constellation above us, and that constellation became rock, then became water.  Mostly became water.

A single stone spike was propelled by the geyser behind it.  It didn’t fly true, but it didn’t need to.  It hit the mess of silver lines Rain had produced along the raised metal shutter and the top edge of the loading bay door, and the silver lines all flared.  Things came down in pieces.  Triangles of metal and chunks of concrete.

Shields were raised, and electricity crackled and arced out, the rocks and metal bouncing off, repelled by powerful electromagnetic forces.

Another constellation, another geyser of water, this time aimed downward and at an angle.  The water went low while shields were raised high.  Three of the four were bowled over, electric weapons and shields making contact with water.

They didn’t seem bothered.  Protective gear, potentially.  That was… disappointing.

The one who had remained standing and weathered the falling debris looked down, and she saw more silver lines on the ground a few feet down from the lip of the loading bay entrance.  A few had already ‘popped’ as debris hit them, and cracks ran deep and straight.  As some faded, Precipice threw more blades down.  Hopping down would be potentially disastrous.

“Going!” the woman called out, as she turned around and ran for it, shield slung around to her back to protect her as she retreated.

“Guard her retreat!” one of the guys on the ground shouted, using his shield to help himself stand.

Swansong fired her power, a continuous blast that provided the recoil that let her sail over their heads.  Her feet tapped the wall twice before she finally dropped down, rolling in the shallow water and rising to her feet with another short blast for the propulsion.

Sveta followed a similar route, grabbing the wrecked shutter and lip of the loading bay door and hurling herself in.  Her landing was rougher, but that was mitigated by the fact that her body became a mass of tendrils coiled like springs as the parts made contact, then reformed after.  Then she grabbed something on the wall to slingshot herself forward again.

I didn’t watch further.  I had three guys to deal with, and there were three more at the doorway.  Two more- one was running after Sveta and Swansong.

“Stand down,” I told the three.

The look on the doughy, bearded man’s face was blank, hollow, almost uncomprehending.  He looked like the epitome of unhealthy, and between that and the blank stare… he was one hundred percent a thrall.

“Fuckin’ hurts,” the other guy whimpered.  He was on his knees, cradling his hand.  Another thrall… but I didn’t miss that his buddy looked at him with fear and sympathy.

Thralled, but not without humanity and care for his friends.

“Stand down,” I told them.

The big guy came after me.  His buddy joined him, a guy muscular enough that it showed despite the coveralls and jacket.  All neck and bicep.

Precipice grabbed a tinker gun, aiming it- and it too went dim.  He jumped forward, swinging it like a club instead.

Hardly mattered.  The big guy charged at me like he wanted to tackle me to the ground.  Mid-run, he stopped and collapsed hard onto his stomach.

A second later, his buddy did the same.  As he toppled, I brought my knee into his chin.  The impact jarred me, brought me a little bit further into reality, while taking him all of the way out of it.  Out cold.

The third had learned his lesson.  Cradling his hand, he moved carefully, not running or charging.  Shuffling, hand up, he drew closer.  Precipice hung back, while I squared my shoulders to his.

“Sorry,” I told him.

Then he froze as the others had.

Precipice cracked the big guy on the back of the head with the butt-end of the rifle, because falling over wasn’t being knocked out.

I pulled restraints out of my pocket and caught the frozen guy, forcing him to kneel, at which point he resumed moving normally, struggling against me.

While I took care of his restraints, I looked through the windows that lined the alley until I found her.  Juliette.  ‘Catena’.  Her mask was metal, and had spikes radiating out and back from the edges, following her hairline.  It reminded me of my old tiara, but hers was intended to look more wicked than ‘rays of the sun meets Statue of Liberty’.  Sharper, longer, sleeker.  Her costume was black clothing, but for a few pieces of metal – one sleeve of armor studded with spikes all the way down, ending in a gauntlet with clawed fingertips.  She turned away, the gray of metal replaced by the black of the back of her head and her costume, effectively disappearing into the darkness within the building.

Above, at the rooftop’s edge, Capricorn was making his way down the fire escape, metal boots on metal.  He drew out constellations.  The remaining two guards were panting for breath, their breath fogging, and one of them dropped her truncheon because her hand was so numb.  She was groping for it when another blast of water caught them, sending the weapon spinning out of reach, so she dropped to hands and knees instead, bringing her shield between herself and the water.

Restraints handled, bandages set in place to stop the bleeding…

The water became stone, trapping the two guards.  There was water beading them and soaking their clothing, and that became something of a crust.  The Manton effect kept the clothes in their entirety from being captured by the transition.  The shallow water they stood and knelt in gripped shoelaces and bits of clothing that were far enough away from the body.

Capricorn Blue was noisy as he climbed down the fire escape.  He called out, “Surrender!”

I saw the same blank, stubborn looks as I’d seen earlier.  They couldn’t even comprehend the idea.

“They can’t,” I told him.

A constellation of motes appeared on one side of the two guards.  They shifed their shields around, and another constellation appeared on the opposite side.

Their efforts to block the water weren’t sufficient.  They were drenched in freezing water, while winter cold blew in from the open door.

I flew past them as they collapsed, heading down the hall to collect the others.

One guard already dispatched, lying limp at one side of the hallway with shield and weapon lying beside her, no longer crackling.   The other had a weapon pointed at Swansong while his shield barred Sveta.  Sveta reached out, hand becoming ribbons, and ribbons becoming tooth-edged tendrils, reaching below the shield to snag his feet.

The man fell, and Swansong leaped like she was going to land on his back.  Hands over head, she blasted skyward, driving herself down for a power-augmented kick.  The blast raked ceiling without penetrating the full breadth of it, and white dust rained down around her, while lights flickered.

I threw some restraints to Sveta.  “Keep an eye out?  We’ll be with you soon.”

She nodded.

By the time I got to the lip of the entrance, things were settled.  Roman was climbing out of a window, while Imp stood by with Juliette, Samuel, and Chastity.

The delivery men and the guards were bound.

“Building’s clear,” Capricorn reported.

“Thralls?” I asked.

“Couldn’t tell, so we killed them.  Even the suspicious looking kids and old people,” Juliette was monotone as she said it.

“You can’t see while my mask is on, but I’m rolling my eyes so effectively it would break our Catena’s heart.  She’s joking,” Imp said.  “Yes on the thrall question, no on the killing part.”

“You can’t break what doesn’t exist,” Juliette said.  She laid a clawed gauntlet over her heart.  “Heartless and proud to be.”

“Brainless too,” Roman said.  He wore a venetian mask in gunmetal gray, with crimson-highlighted blades and decoration at the edges.  Cracks ran through it and each crack was traced in red.  His costume setup was similar to mine, with a breastplate and mostly decorative pieces of armor elsewhere.

“We established a long, long time ago that I’m smarter than you,” Juliette told him.  “Don’t try to bring me down.  You’re making yourself look worse.”

Imp stepped forward, putting herself between the two, hands clasped behind her back, looking skyward.  “Remember the deal.  Play or go home.”

The stragglers of Imp’s group were gathered around the window, having climbed through.  Citrine’s capes.  High quality, boring costumes from the neck down, and very strange masks that extended from forehead to chin, but as a relatively narrow band that expanded out to the sides to showcase decorative elements like lenses or frames around the eye, horns at each corner of the forehead, altered noses or altered mouths.  Ear protection like earmuffs covered each ear, similarly decorated.

Number one indicator of a new cape was how they reacted to the costume.  They made little adjustments, constantly touched the details of the costume, touched masks, adjusted fits.  None of it really mattered if the costume was designed well.

I stepped away, walking over to Capricorn and Rain.

“I’m getting flashbacks,” Byron said, indicating the brother-sister pair.

“Where’s our third squad?” I asked.

Rain, who was picking at a tinker rifle, pointed with one of the smaller mechanical hands  that glowed with the cracks that ran along it.  “Around the corner, getting ready.”

“Good,” I said.  My heart was racing, and the fighting had stopped a couple of minutes ago.

Samuel and Chastity were at the loading bay door.  Now that I had time to look, the hallway was white tile and white fixtures, with a stripe painted along the floor.  The tunnel that Sveta and Ashley had gone down was longer than the building with the loading bay was.  Sure enough, it was a portal, a hidden entryway into Teacher’s facility.

“Let’s get ’em moving and let’s go,” I said.

Earlier

“The facility we’ll be raiding is large,” Cinereal addressed the group that had gathered in the Bunker. “It will be best if you think of it as us attacking a city, not a building.  There are what you could call neighborhoods or sections, each with specific focuses.  In talks with the other top Wardens,  we divided these into residential sections, sections designed for Teacher’s work, and sections that support the facility itself.”

“And unknown sections,” Jeanne observed.

A few stragglers were still making their way in, and were directed to the back, where I presumed there were notes or something.

Cinereal folded her arms.  “More than a few unknown sections.  But through Engel and Egg, some descriptions from Tress, and feedback we got from Mapwright’s power after she entered the facility and reported back, we have a good sense of the building.  When we made our initial move, it was because our danger sensers and precogs gave us the impression that five of the seven entrances we discovered were safe to breach.  We split up and approached from multiple angles.  Every time we’ve encountered Teacher, that’s been the ideal approach.”

“Why?” a woman asked.  I was pretty sure it was Foxtrot.

“Teacher organizes and controls large numbers of low level thinkers and tinkers, but he remains the vulnerable linchpin.  When he’s involved, we can bombard him with information, force him to coordinate multiple units at once.”

“How’s that done for you so far?  As far as I can tell, he’s winning.”

I craned my head around, like most people were doing.  Tattletale was up at the front, lurking and watching the crowd, as she tended to be, but Imp and the thirteen-and-older Heartbroken were at the back of the room.  Imp was the one challenging Cinereal.

“The precogs say this gives us our best odds,” Cinereal said.  “And they’ve consistently said that.  There’s no sign that he’s manipulated them or their results.”

“He’s tough,” Effervescent said.  One of the remaining core members of Foresight.

“Yes, he’s tough,” Cinereal said.  “Right now the best reads our thinkers are giving us are for three of these entry points that weren’t in our original attack.  Two were heavily guarded, we think those guards were moved or reduced in number to cover other points.  A third was discovered and reported by one of our original teams, before the comms blackout.  We’ll be entering from three separate directions with three teams at each entrance, for nine teams in total.”

She hit a button, bringing up a map of the complex.  “Combat is a problem solving exercise, and our problem is that we don’t know what happened to the other teams.  In transit and low-risk areas, such as this area with cubicles, you’ll need to breach and clear with three teams simultaneously, because the area is too wide.  Fail to do so and you may be flanked or attacked.  By the early reports from our team, this is an ongoing risk.”

She tapped an area highlighted in red.  “In high-risk areas, you’ll want to lead with the strongest team, switching out as injuries or weariness take hold…”

Weariness.

A part of me still felt shaky, like I hadn’t left the room in Earth Shin behind.  I’d listened to that part when I’d trusted Sveta to save Armstrong.  I would have held back regardless, because of what was on the line, but the distinction was that there had been a reason I’d been okay with hanging back, and that reason was that I was scared.

Have to get right back on the horse.  Aunt Sarah had loved horses, had escaped into them as a healing post-trigger, taking care of them at a family friend’s until she was well enough to ride.  Mom hadn’t liked it, but Aunt Sarah had been the one to do tutoring for the owner of a stable just for a chance to ride a couple of times a month.  It even flavored the language she’d used.  She’d had a term she’d used in our training that she’d called ‘horsing’.  The idea was that horses tended to go where you looked, and flying capes had to focus on seeing distant things on the ground, and we’d unconsciously drift  out of formation to get closer to those things.  If we drifted in the directions we were looking then she’d call out the term and get us back into formation.

Every time the word was uttered, it had driven young Crystal insane with irritation.  But it had broken us of the habit.

When I thought of the term ‘getting back on the horse’, it was in Aunt Sarah’s voice.

“…Faster-moving or durable capes are ideal for this rear guard.”  Cinereal stated.

“Bring it back?” Scribe asked.  ‘Rune’.  Our kid Nazi from Brockton Bay, not so redeemed.

“If you can.”

The image on the screen behind Cinereal had text listing what she was saying, transcribed as fast as she said the words.  One team to lead, one team to flank, one team to hold the rear and decide in a crisis if they needed to support the other two teams or run for it and take what information they had back to the Bunker.

“Let’s say we can.  What then?” she asked.  Fuck, I’d always kind of hated her, just the tone of voice and the way she always looked like she’d smelled a fart, like she was disgusted with everything.  The costume was cute, but it really didn’t work with her overall… everything else.  “Are you staying here?”

“I’m going, leading a primary team.  I remained behind because my power is better at defense than offense.  If we fail here, I don’t know what we do.  The returning capes should do what they can to disseminate word that things have reached a critical state, while remaining safe in the bunker.  You could attempt to get into remote contact with other teams, fence-sitters, and villains to mount a third operation.”

“Third time’s a charm,” Scribe said, drawing an icon in the air that fizzled out of existence.  “Maybe something different.”

“Those who bring messages back can decide what’s best, based on what they found.”

I turned to my right, looking over at the Malfunctions.  Finale wasn’t with- she didn’t like the big stuff.  Withdrawal and Caryatid were sitting with Fume Hood.  I’d pointed them her way or vice versa, or grouped them at one point.

I didn’t want anything bad to befall them.  They’d been people I’d brought in or tried to convince to get back into things.

“Objectives,” Cinereal said.  “We’re recommending paths for each team.  You’re moving through a three-dimensional structure, and it’s best to plot your route with the type and nature of the room in mind.  We’re intentionally putting you on paths that should lead you into other teams from the first wave attack.”

And into what stopped them.

Everyone knew it, nobody said it.  There were things we could gripe about, like team distribution or Foxtrot asking why we weren’t going in together, Imp questioning the working strategies against Teacher, or Scribe asking what happened later.

And there were things we couldn’t do shit about.  There weren’t good options.  Ignoring this whole thing wasn’t something we could do in good conscience.

Teacher would take the world.

“We never established anything like that,” Roman said, audibly heated.

“I learned to read first, I learned math first, I got straight A’s.”

“Do you want to go that far back?  Little miss heartless sat on the swings crying because she couldn’t figure out how to make friends.  How smart were you, really?”

“Stop,” Imp said,  “Mission comes first.  Remember the deal.”

“I do remember.  I’ve been getting ahead while this scraping from the bottom of the genetic barrel is getting distracted with his crush on you.”

“What?” Roman asked, looking alarmed, even with a mask on.  “No, how am I-”

“Doesn’t matter,” Imp said, sounding exasperated.  “Focus.  What’s the score?”

“Five,” Juliette said.

“Three,” Roman said.

“What’s this deal you have with these two?” I asked, looking back.  Imp had intervened, literally putting herself between the pair.  “Do I need to know?”

“Whoever gets the most takedowns.  Only way to keep these two on track if they’re within five miles of each other is to make them compete.  Nonlethal takedowns only.”

Juliette nodded.  “Anything else would let me get too far ahead, and we can’t go breaking his spirit.  Yet.”

“You just try,” Roman said, trying to look around Imp.  “The only reason you’re all ‘tee hee, murder is funny’ and talking about breaking people is because you’re dead and broken inside and you want to bring others down to your level so you have some company.”

“That’s-” Juliette started, stopped.

“No retort?  I thought you were the smart one?”

“Enough.  Please,” Imp said.  “If you want to fight, do it by scoring points.  Or turn around and go home.”

The two fell silent.

Precipice held up a hand.  Two hands.  We slowed, then stopped.

Twisting, he put one hand to where the ‘mouth’ would be on his face, behind his mask.

He walked over to the wall, pointing up at the corner where the wall met ceiling.  the wall was smooth and white, the ceiling a kind of drop tile with lights inset into each tile.  Running along the wall and ceiling was cable.

He held up three fingers, then pointed back.  Two fingers drew back into his hand, so it was one.

“Splits,” he said, quiet.

“What does it matter?” Swansong asked.

“I was noticing before, splits before intersections and areas with multiple rooms.”

I looked down at the floor, then closed my eyes for a few seconds.  In bold, crisp yellow, words and symbols appeared across the pink-black of my closed eye.

I selected ‘map’.

I saw the map of the complex, and it moved somewhat unintuitively, as my eye motions panned around the complex, shifting my focus as if looking at something distant to look at lower floors, shifting it to look at something closer to me to look at the upper floors, which were mostly grayed out rooms with question marks.

“The rest of this place is so neat and tidy,” Rain said.  “But external wiring?  Even though it’s white and camouflaged?”

“Rebuilt section,” Sveta said.  “This part must have collapsed when Scion came through.  Let me-”

Parts highlighted.

“Does it help us to know that?” I asked.

“They might not have the same purpose they used to.  A lot of this was Engel getting a tour of the lower level and making guesses, what I remembered from when we interrogated some people who had been in here, and what Weld, Egg and I all saw when we passed through during the attack.  No guarantees.”

“Even less guarantees if this was torn down and rebuilt,” Capricorn said.  “This area might not be low risk.”

When I opened my eyes, the map faded to a simple outline, there if I looked for it, a faint imprint on my vision otherwise.  I looked at Rain, and saw one of his eyes was glowing more brightly.  Sveta had an eye that was a brilliant cyan blue, like the sky or ocean water.  Capricorn had an intense blue light coming through one slot of his helmet’s visor.  Ashley had the usual eyes that were completely white, smoking at the edges.

And my own eye was a golden yellow.

I blinked twice to dismiss the effect, looking back.  The leader of our vanguard had drawn close enough to listen and take in the information.

Love Lost, wearing a mask she’d modified slightly.  Colt was in the background as well.  Fume Hood, the Major Malfunctions, and a couple of Citrine’s new capes made up our vanguard.

“You’re right.”

We turned around.  Imp was by the set of double doors that terminated this section of hallway.

“There’s a lot.  I could dispatch them one by one, but that would take forever,” Imp said.  She had a baton, a black stick topped with a horned silver crown.  She made it crackle with electricity.  Not one of the guards’, it was her own.  It slapped against her palm.  “Right room has a cape in it.  My team takes that one, I can take the guy out to start us off.”

“Good,” Capricorn said.  He was Tristan now, a red light within his visor.  “This is our first go at a three-way sweep…”

Before

“Come on, come on,” Kenzie said, excited.

“You go ahead,” I told her.

I could see how little she didn’t want us to split up.  She almost danced on the spot, before Candy pushed her toward the door.  Then she ran.  Tristan and Swansong went with.  Rain and Sveta lingered with me.

There were others who had questions for Cinereal.  Plans, organizing the two other squads that would be acting in concert with her attack.

“Have you figured out your teams?” she asked.

“More or less,” I said.  “Our vanguard is feeling thin.  Are you committed to Vista?”

“She and I work well together,” Cinereal said.

“Got it,” I said.  So do she and I.  But it made sense.

“Anything else?” she asked.

“I’ll have to get back to you.  Just wanted to ask to get a sense of power and options.”

“Alright.  Don’t forget to strip down your gear.  Winterized costumes will be a burden while running around a room temperature facility.”

I nodded.

Damn.  Sucked that my friend wasn’t going to be with.

I turned to Rain.  “Thoughts?  Temporary release?”

“It makes the most sense, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“They tried to kill you.  None of them are very stable.”

He folded all four arms.

“Not Cradle,” he said.  “I want to talk to Love Lost and Colt first.”

“‘Talk‘ to Love Lost,” Tristan emphasized the ‘talk’.

“I want to try.  See what my gut says.  Come with?”

“I’m going to check on Kenzie first.  I’ll fly over.”

He nodded.  Sveta nudged him, walking with him as they pushed through the door and turned in the direction of the prison, taking the path.

I followed them out, but went the opposite direction.  I flew up and around until I sighted the squad, then dropped in on them.

Kenzie and her team had entered one of Dragon’s craft.  She had a terminal open by a shelf that looked like a baby’s changing table.

“Uhhh, I need a long metal pole-” she told the terminal.  It showed a lead pipe.  “Narrow, narrower than a pencil, made of… aluminum works, about- shorter.  Narrower.  It needs to have holes at either end and- holes going sideways through the pipe, all in parallel…”

Candy approached Kenzie from behind, fussing with her hair while Kenzie gave what seemed like an endless list of ever-more-specific instructions.  I’d noted before that the Heartbroken kids had differing priorities when it came to chasing adulthood, and for Darlene it was makeup.  For Candy it seemed to be hair- hers was braided on one side and arranged a complex, beautifully taken care of mane that flipped over to the other side.

She gave that same care to Kenzie’s hair, which had suffered for her being in the prison for two days.  Kenzie seemed oblivious.

“Good!  Gimme!”

The bench spat out a single tube.  Kenzie picked it up and held it out, turning it over in her hand.  “I cannot tell you how cool this is.”

“The pipe?” Chicken Little asked.

“That I can get materials custom made that fast!”

“That was fast?”

“Uuggggh.  Yes!  Now give me… three more, computer.”

The computer paused, then spat out three more.

“And I need a number six thirteen micro-screw, and load Lookout save file- show me Lookout save file sixty-six?”

The computer showed a part.

“Sixty-seven?  Yes.  I need- ugh, I learned multiplication three years ago, why am I stumbling on this?”

“It’s kind of funny,” Candy said.  “Build a high tech camera whatever and you-”

“Thirty-seven, I need thirty-seven, computer.  And two six thirteen screws for every sixty-seven antenna.”

The computer spat out an angular, hook-shaped piece of metal, then another, then another…

“Lookout,” I said.  “We’re leaving soon.”

“I’ll be done soon,” she said.  “You liked the eye thing?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll give one to each member of the team.”

“You’re making one for every member of the team?  Lookout-”

“Trust me!”  She turned around, ducking her head down because Candy was still mid-braid.  Candy held her hair up.  “Can you put my hair on pause?”

“I’ll clip it for now,” Candy said, undoing clips from the mane of her own hair.

Kenzie gave her a quick hug, then pulled back, hands on Candy’s shoulders.  “Want to tinker?”

“What?”

She used her hold on Candy’s shoulders to reposition her, moving Candy to the bench.  She scooted over, then did the same for Aiden, then Darlene, and then moved to the end of the bench, everyone spaced out.

“Link us.”

“Ah,” Candy said.  “This works?”

I was about to say something, but Kenzie was on a roll.

“It absolutely doesn’t work,” Kenzie said.  “You can do everything almost exactly perfectly the way I’m doing it and it won’t tinker-ize, the tech won’t work.  Some of that is really subtle junk that would take an hour to explain, like screw orientation relative to housing being a channel for certain wavelengths-”

“What?” Aiden asked.

“You don’t have the power on the far side doing the interdimensional work,” I explained.  “And very little things matter when it comes to precise tinkertech.”

“That.  Six thirteen screwdrivers, computer.”  Kenzie said, excited.  She reached for one of the poles.  The others did the same as the computer spat out screwdrivers.

“Why are we doing this if it won’t work?” Candy asked.

“Because it’ll almost work.  It’s easier for me to build one and tweak three more to get them working than it is for me to build four.  What do you think?”

“Whatever helps.” Aiden said.

Kenzie moved, and the others moved in a rough sync, with variations only when they had to find a specific piece like a screw.  They held things at the same angles, started and finished screwing at roughly the same times.

“I’m not saying this is a good thing, or a thing to chase,” I said, as I watched them.  “But if you stay networked long enough your power might start working through them.  I think of cases where a tinker wore a bio-suit for long enough, or had a minion they were linked to that they could use a blaster secondary power through.”

Awesome,” Kenzie said.

“It might be too much,” I told her.  “That’d be a lot of time spent linked, and it would probably come with side effects.”

“Bleed,” Ashley said.

“Yeah.  Bleed-through.  Let’s not overdo it,” I addressed the kids, as they put together the eye-things.

“Whether we’re linked a lot or not, I really hope we’re together for a really long time,” Kenzie said.

“Yeah,” Darlene told her.  “Me too.”

Rain used blades to mark out the wall, and Ashley used her power, launching herself into the wall and through.  I heard another power use, and peeked through.  Ashley stood on a table in what looked like a security office.  Terminals lined the wall, showing hallways and corridors.

Empty.

The team still filed into the space, scouting it out, checking corners and hiding places.

I remained in the hallway.  Again, just a bit of that not-yet-on-the-horse trepidation.  I trusted them to handle this.

Opposite us, Fume Hood’s squad was equipped with masks, for the most part.  She released an orb from her hand, and it flew out.  A swipe of her hand to the left, and it changed direction mid-air, flying through a doorway.  It exploded into gas sufficient to fill the room.

She ran forward, and the fan built into her jacket stirred the gas around her, creating a volatile image while blurring her general silhouette.  It might have made her harder to spot if close enough to see through the cloud of gas and whatever it did to your eyes, but it may also have had the issue of creating a general cloud of ‘she’s somewhere in this area’ disruption for those looking from further away or outside the cloud.

Something to mention.

Withdrawal slid into the room.  Caryatid was full breaker, her face constantly unfolding in a neverending series of layers, her movements a mover slide across the floor in very straight lines.

Colt, fully breaker, flew through, and she didn’t seem bothered by the smoke.  Where it had been a yellow-green before, it now glowed from within with a deep silver-traced purple.

Love Lost was last in, along with the two Mortari capes.  Love Lost wore tinted goggles that were shaped like cat’s eyes, her modified mask over her lower face.

The Mortari capes had the masks with the mouthpieces.  A girl with a single Oni horn at the corner of her forehead, wires tracing from the band at the nose to the corner of the eye, and covering the eye so that it appeared to be entirely red.

A guy with opaque lenses over the eyes, multiple holes in each lens, and a mouthpiece nearly lost in his thick beard, with two tusks built in that stuck out of the corners of his mouth.

I couldn’t see how they were doing, but they didn’t seem to be doing badly.

“Heads up!” Imp shouted.

I flew.

Her group had gone straight ahead to the next room.  There was already a cape on the floor, and two more people unconscious next to Imp.  The Heartbroken were tearing through the other guards.  The gear they had was all decorated with what looked like broken black-tinted glass that glowed from within.

More of Mortari’s new capes were fighting, but they seemed content to hold back, maintaining control over the situation.  Two guys turned on Chastity, who was already preoccupied, and one of the Mortari capes shot one with what looked like a series of six harpoons.  The other Mortari cape hit another.

Larger numbers than we’d had at the loading dock, and men with masks were charging into the corridor to the right, then right-turning again to duck the fog of gas where Fume Hood’s group was fighting.

The one in the lead wheeled around, and backhanded one of his fellow guards in his effort to reverse course and push forward.

Roman laughed, made a sound like a wordless taunt, almost a ‘Nyeh’, and then charged forward.

Bigger, fully armored, and wielding a mace of broken glowing glass, the guard lasted about two seconds.

I crashed into the guards that had almost been bowled over by the other guy, including the one who had been backhanded.  I wasn’t gentle, but I wasn’t cruel either, and I managed to avoid any more surprise bites.

“Fume!  Love Lost.”

“We’re fine.  Almost done,” I heard.

So was Imp’s crew.  The only holdout was Samuel.  The blond heartbroken.  He wasn’t anywhere near as confident a fighter as Roman, nor as tricky as Juliette, and when he hit his opponent, they didn’t stay down like they did for Chastity.  She was cuffing people and slapping them to wake them up.

Samuel fought like someone without powers.  Shaky, nervous, hesitant, barely dodging, though his reflexes were good.  His costume was similar, not nearly as bold or ornate, a black decorative fitting around the eyes and nose.  A slim-fitting jacket that made me think a bit of March, if somewhat more classy and outright ‘villain’.  Stylized epaulets like the decorations on the mask, a sash across the chest, black jacket with silver decoration, and white gloves.

He kept going after the same places.  A kick or punch to the lower stomach, a kick to the leg.

Roman ran, lunged, and leaped, tackling the guy to the ground.  A sharp strike knocked the guy out.

“You gotta let me do my thing,” Samuel said.

“You gotta not take forever,” Roman told him.

“You were taking a while,” Chastity said.  “I knocked out and tied up three people and you didn’t even get to first base with that guy.”

“Don’t use that metaphor,” Samuel protested.  He looked to Imp.

“Crying to mommy?” Juliette asked.

“I’m not your mom.  Thank God for that,” Imp said.  “Leave him alone.”

“It’d be nice if I could use my power,” Samuel said.

“Yeah.  It’d be nice.  Try to be quicker about it,” she told him.

Geez.  Show a hint of weakness, and these guys just didn’t let up.  It looked so stressful.

But it was their dynamic.  I wasn’t going to correct it.  For one thing, I couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t all turn on me.

Love Lost and Fume Hood emerged from the other room, wisps of gas still clinging to them and taking a while to dissipate.

We were done.  All three rooms cleared, two of them had been guarded.  This area wasn’t residential, and it was a rec room, training hall, and briefing room for guards.  There would be more of the same nearby, if it held to the assumed pattern.

“Victoria,” Capricorn said.  “Big room off to the side.”

“Storage?”

He shook his head, at the same time as Sveta nodded behind him.

“Show me.”

After clearing the room, and checking the terminals they’d gone to the door.  The terminals now showed images of Lookout’s mask.  As for the door, Rain was there, crouching.  He’d taken out an eye thing and pushed it through the door before plugging his phone in.  He showed me what was on the other side, using the phone as a screen.

It was supposed to be our route.  Our plotted path had numerous points which were suggested as low-threat and high-supply.  Places we were supposed to establish as base camps if we got far enough in, as we besieged this city-sized complex.

Except low-threat hadn’t been low-threat.  The area had been renovated and repurposed in the renovations, because of different needs or because Teacher was a different person.

And this wasn’t storage of the kind we could fall back on and use.  Not food, not water, nothing medical.

Imp pushed closer, and I turned to check.  The other squads were behind us, all ready.

“They’re not there,” Samuel said.

“What?” I asked.

He pointed into the room.  “Nothing there, emotion-wise.”

“You have friends,” Roman told Juliette.

She shrugged.

“I mean… I don’t think there’s anything there, even outside of emotions.”

“Yeah.  I’m not getting a buzz telling me my power is working,” Imp said, which startled me a bit.  She was standing in the open doorway.

Then, not using her power, she walked out into the space where hundreds of people sat on benches and on, for lack of a better word, shelves.  Ambulatory people walked between them, stiff and joyless, and gave each water, then food.  One was collecting people, taking them away in groups.

None were aware enough to see us.

Hundreds of people, in an area as long as a soccer field.

Hostages for Teacher, or people he could potentially wake up to send after us.  We couldn’t move forward with this behind us.

Love Lost’s claws clicked as she walked on the floor.  Fume Hood followed a few steps behind, as we fanned out a bit, staying within arm’s reach of one another.

There were kids, dressed in white, staring off into space, opening their mouths as someone spooned food in or offered water.

“What the fuck are we supposed to do with all of this?” Fume Hood asked, voicing my thoughts exactly.

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75 thoughts on “Dying – 15.1”

  1. Wow. Look at all those takedowns.

    Victoria is on a roll destroying everyone’s fashion choices. Like, ten or twelve in one chapter. It almost makes me forget that this chapter is called Dying.

  2. There were kids, dressed in white, staring off into space, opening their mouths as someone spooned food in or offered water.

    “What the fuck are we supposed to do with all of this?” Fume Hood asked, voicing my thoughts exactly.

    “Vote for Ward” replied Colt.

    “That’s a great idea!”

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=ward

  3. Huh. Those folks at the end remind of the interlude in Teacher’s base, the one girl who freaked out over being made a ‘pig.’ Sounded like general loss of awareness, emotion, etc. Could be remembering that wrong. Not surprising if that was foreshadowing this though. What is surprising is the sheer number of them Teacher has made. I know they said the facility was more like a city, but wow.

    1. I think those may be the people who after seeing the insides of Teacher’s base refused his “generous offer” to work for him, and got “Valefored” for it. We saw a couple of people like that in Overseer’s interlude, including Miss Therese. I imagine that the “pigs” would be more like Donna Sledge from the same interlude – nearly mindless, but still forced to work.

      1. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that some refused. Some day I will have the motivation to go back through old chapters looking for the information I am reminded of. Until then, thank you for the reminder

        1. I can’t help but think that these people are just dumping containers for brain damage.

          Each time Teacher uses his power, he causes brain damage with it. But all Scapegoat does is take that brain damage from someone and give it to another person. That’s like a pyramid scheme since all that brain damage has to end up somewhere.

          So they use these people as dumpster containers for all the collected brain damage.

          1. Don’t forget that Scapegoat’s main synergy is to find an alternate-target that willingly accepted Teacher’s hold on them to superpose over the current one, removing one of the most impeding fetters in his power.
            Everything else is extra gravy, basically.

          2. > So they use these people as dumpster containers for all the collected brain damage.

            If this was the case, why would Teacher keep all of them alive? Wouldn’t it require less resources and be more convenient to keep each of them only until they could no longer absorb brain damage anymore and then get rid of them?

            I think there must be some other reason why they are kept not only alive, but also inside of a well protected area of the compound. Maybe they are actually something like “pigs”, but forced to do something that doesn’t require them to leave their beds? Maybe they are for example doing something “in the dream world”? Dreams of capes are important after all, and Teacher does have some way of getting information about dreams of Rain’s cluster at least.

            If this really have something to do with cape dreams, then maybe Colt will end up explaining this entire situation in the next chapter?

          3. Injuring or killing a Scapegoat target will most likely break the effect, at least until it settles in enough to become permanent. Remember Taylor having to be careful for a while after he healed her?

          4. If I recall correctly it took mere hours for Scapegoat’s healing to become permanent. Unless for some reason this duration is different now that Scapegoat is moving the damage to other people instead of taking it upon himself there is no way could be working quickly enough to have to keep so many people he moved any damage to safe just to make the effects of his healing permanent.

            Of course it is a very big “unless”. Maybe his power screwed him over again and his healing never becomes permanent if he doesn’t transfer the damage to himself?

          5. Here is a possibility that may mix things up a little bit and possibly make Teacher appear not necessarily quite as evil as most of us of us probably see him now.

            What if all of those “mindless” people we saw at the end of this chapter are actually members of Shin’s clone army? There were two years between Goddess lost control over that world and the moment when the Red Queen tried to take over. Seems like plenty of time for Teacher to get himself a good number of them, either by kidnapping them, or simply making some sort of a deal with Shin governments.

  4. Nice to see Love Lost and Colt back in the game. That really gives off the feel they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to gather all the resources they can…

    1. Naw, Colt is pretty nice all things considered. She has some sort of thinker/shaker power, she has blades that wreck anything inanimate, she’s a breaker so she’s hard to hurt, she flies AND she’s a tinker.

      1. And she shot a kid. I believe the metaphorical barrel was a moral/legal one, rather than a utilitarian.

  5. >The set of alleyways was shaped like a question mark, with the entry into the alleys being somewhere around the dot or tail end, a few parking spots at the top end, and these guys located at the part that was furthest in.

    That’s a very complicated way of saying that they’re in the dead end of the street.

    >Their part of the alley was narrower, and as I entered the space, the walls were close enough that the Wretch could reach out and touch both, carving furrows both narrow and broad into brickwork.

    Oh, I didn’t think her range was be that huge. Must be like a 6-8 feet/2-3 meters radius around her.

    >Kenzie and her team had entered one of Dragon’s craft. She had a terminal open by a shelf that looked like a baby’s changing table.

    A risky thing to reside in a Dragon craft now, where Dragon could fall into Teacher’s hands at any point.

    >Hundreds of people, in an area as long as a soccer field.
    >Hostages for Teacher, or people he could potentially wake up to send after us. We couldn’t move forward with this behind us.

    Kind of like the cell block that Lung, Weaver and friends ended up in back in arc 29 of Worm or so?

    Anyway. Seems to be going okay so far. No portal closing behind them, etc.

    1. It’s a Dragoncraft, yes, but Kenzie’s in it. Assuming Dragon hadn’t put this one in some kind of sleep mode which needs her to physically go inside and press a button to awaken it, any attempt at accessing it would be detected. And if I was Dragon leaving a craft behind to be a workshop for any Tinkers that might need it on the way out, knowing Saint or Teacher was in the complex I was going into, I’d deactivate it in such a way I’d have to go to a lot of effort later to turn it back on, and probably have to do so by finding and pressing hidden buttons or tapping the right part of the hull in the correct sequence for the correct amount of time.

  6. Roman and Juliette are basically Gimli and Legolas with their almost kill count competition.
    Teacher is an absolute monster beyond any redemption with his army of mindless zombie used as human shields. He’s starting to be as bad as Jack Slash.
    Colt and Love Lost got the chance to be heroines and do the right thing now that they aren’t under Cradle’s control anymore.
    Heartbroken children, Kenzie and Imp are the reason why Ward have its funny and adorable moments.

    1. However I’m afraid that Love Lost might back-stab Rain after everything is over. She was manipulated by Cradle to hurt children, but the hate for Rain…is hers and only hers. I don’t think she ever stopped hating him.

      1. Well, I mean she did give him a power up over her own free will during the Cradle arc… and seeing Colt interacting with Rain appears to have effected her view of him.
        I think he’s pretty safe.

        1. She did that only because she hated Cradle more than Rain. But, I hope you’re right, for the sake of our usually unlucky hero.

          1. After seeing what Teacher’s done to this children? I think she’s got a new target for her hate.

          2. I remember thinking that she realized her hate wasn’t purely her own, that a major part of it was bleedthrough from Cradle giving away his tokens so often. She had the epiphany that she couldn’t trust her own feeling about Rain, because Cradle is just The Worst.

          3. Last chapter felt like a lot of goodbyes that might see a character die.

            I can’t help but think Rain is setup well to die. Mysteries around him have been revealed, character developed and anything remaining with his cluster can be followed up through the other members… or settled in this raid…

          4. I reallllly hope Rain doesn’t die, he is my second favorite member of breakthrough and if he goes I’m gonna be incredibly sad. Though admittedly he is the most expendable story wise because his powers aren’t that important to the team.

      2. We flipping over to the other side of kiss kill. Love Lost is about to decide Rain needs a more experienced lady to show him the ropes 😉

  7. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if what defeats Teacher isn’t any enemy action, but the fact that he’s been overusing his power so much, his well runs out, and he suddenly ends up powerless?

  8. Typo thread.

    > She threw the gun aside, and produced a blast of her power instead- a gout about ten or fifteen feet long, not long enough to reach those at the loading bay door, but enough to give them pause.

    Maybe add a space before the dash?

    She threw the gun aside, and produced a blast of her power instead-
    […]
    She threw the gun aside, strode forward, and put a hand out.

    It looks like Ashley somehow managed to throw the same gun aside twice. One of those instances should probably be edited out of the text.

    > The other had a weapon pointed at Swansong while his shield barred Sveta.

    There are three spaces before this sentence.

    > pointed with one of the smaller mechanical hands that glowed with the cracks that ran along it

    There are two spaces between ‘hands’ and ‘that’ in the chapter text (as always it is not possible to replicate it in the comments section).

    > In talks with the other top Wardens, we divided these into residential sections,

    There are two spaces between ‘Wardens,’ and ‘we’.

    > and we’d unconsciously drift out of formation to get closer to those things.

    There are two spaces between ‘drift’ and ‘out’.

    > “…Faster-moving or durable capes are ideal for this rear guard.” Cinereal stated.

    I think the extra space before ‘Cinereal’ is unnecessary, and there should be a comma, not a dot after ‘guard’.

    > “Stop,” Imp said, “Mission comes first. Remember the deal.”

    Either scratch an extra space after ‘said,’ or (more likely, I think) change ‘said,’ to ‘said.’

    > pointing up at the corner where the wall met ceiling. the wall was smooth and white,

    Capital ‘T’ is needed in ‘The’ at the beginning of a new sentence.

    > Running along the wall and ceiling was cable.

    Maybe ‘a cable’ instead of just ‘cable’? Other than that this entire sentence would probably sound more natural if it was rearranged to “A cable was running along the wall and ceiling.”

    > In bold, crisp yellow, words and symbols appeared across the pink-black of my closed eye.

    Maybe rearrange this sentence to something like “Words and symbols in bold, crisp yellow appeared across the pink-black of my closed eye.”?

    > For Candy it seemed to be hair- hers was braided on one side and arranged a complex,

    Maybe add a space before the dash?

    > The blond heartbroken.

    There should be a capital ‘H’ in ‘Heartbroken’.

    1. One guard already > One guard was already
      old people,” > old people.”
      hands that (extra space)
      drift out (extra space)
      ceiling. the > ceiling. The
      how little she didn’t want (should be only single negative)
      ‘Talk‘ (second apostrophe is backwards)
      Lost,” > Lost.”
      arranged a > arranged in a
      computer.” Kenzie > computer,” Kenzie
      helps.” Aiden > helps,” Aiden

    2. In the last part, it didn’t say they were looking at people on the other side of the door until Imp was walking in the door. It read a little strange to me.

      Somehow Swansong caught Rain as he descended from the sky? This doesn’t quite seem like it’s in her powerset… As cool as Rain was in that alleyway.

      Minor thing: I could have really used a refresher on the Heartbroken’s powers. There’s a lot of them and they have some pretty subtle differences in powers and styles and costumes. Chasity and Candy I find particularly confusing, but it’s been awhile since we saw Juliette, Romeo and Samuel in action.

      1. > Somehow Swansong caught Rain as he descended from the sky? This doesn’t quite seem like it’s in her powerset… As cool as Rain was in that alleyway.

        He wasn’t descending from the sky. He was descending from a little ways up, having already halted his fall earlier. She just used her arms to help him not land on his head; no powers needed.

    3. //“Shit!” one of them shouted. He bolted for the car. There was a flash of silver as he pulled on the door, and the back of the car came free, landing in his lap, smacking him in the face.//

      I don’t really understand what is going on here.
      If you’re not sitting down you don’t have a lap.
      Perhaps if the guy fell over backwards (surprising, since it seems this was the scripted ‘set-piece’ action)- it could have fallen on top of him, but then if enough of the car has come away to also hit his face (later it says ‘back end’) – I’d have thought he’d be fairly overwhelmed by it.
      I mean it’s okay if that’s what was intended, but it could do with a bit more spelling out. Even just V. noting his incompetence would help.

  9. Things to love:
    – Kenzie sync-Tinkering and being told her passenger may let her use it as real tinkering if she does it often enough
    – Aisha using a shock scepter in tribute to Alec
    – Heartbroken dynamics
    – Wretch telefrag/feeding
    – Applecart Girl is back in action
    – Love Lost and Colt get their second chance

    Things to hate:
    – Teacher
    – Teacher zombifying people in the original sense of the word
    – Teacher’s guts

    1. A shock sceptre ending in a crown. I thought it was Alec’s, not just a tribute but literally the one he used to use.

      1. Agreed. I’m blaming Victoria not recognising Regent’s crown-rod on the stressful situation she’s in.

  10. Well, time to explore the megadungeon, I guess. Victoria ought to be happy that Teacher doesn’t seem to hold a candle to Halaster the Mad Mage…

    1. “time to explore the megadungeon”

      yep. already prepping myself to ignore all the comments complaining about the length of the arc instead of saying something interesting.

    2. “This month, in DARKEST DUNGEON…”

      God damn, I loved that game. The narrator alone was the most delicious thing ever.

      1. Nice, I didn’t have a voice headcanon for him yet. These two are very similar, now that I think about it.

  11. Here is a theory about what Foil could have done to March during their last duel.

    Remember that Foil wanted to destroy March’s ability to speak in a way that would guarantee that even the imprint of March’s mind in her shard would be unable to do so.

    How to achieve it? Foil just happens to know a cape who lost her ability to speak due to suffering neurological damage. So maybe the way to go would be to give March a somewhat similar neurological damage and leave her alive long enough for the copy of March’s mind in her shard from the times she could speak would get replaced with a copy that can’t do it due to the damage? All Foil would need to do is something in between what Panacea did during Gold Morning to a certain cape, whose name I won’t mention, and what Foil herself had done to that same cape about two years earlier in Brockton Bay.

    Make the tip of Foil’s blade phase through March’s head, insert it exactly so that it intersects with some region in March’s brain necessary to speak located as close to the surface of the brain as possible (if Foil knows anatomy of human brain well, her ability to perfectly judge distances and angles should make it possible), let the blade fully re-materialize fusing with Foil’s head (from skin, through muscle, bone all the way to brain), break off the part of the blade that is sticking out of March’s herad, and voila – one March that can’t speak, but is otherwise in good enough shape that she should probably live in foreseeable future.

    The inability to speak coupled with any collateral neurological problems would explain why March has not been active since the duel – a lot of her power comes from her ability to give precise orders to her allies, and she can’t exactly do it if she can’t speak, can she? It would also explain why the Megacluster hasn’t been active too – they would probably be too busy talking care of recovering March.

    The whole process would theoretically be reversible with appropriate application of healing powers, but healing powers are rare, and the fact that such healer would need to either work around or somehow remove a piece of metal that is actually fused with March’s head on molecular level without killing her would probably further complicate the task.

      1. Nothing really. I just like to post theories about what might have happened off-camera in the past, about what may end up happening later, or about how to interpret some old bits of text in not so obvious ways (sometimes linking certain small details scattered all across both Worm and Ward) from time to time. Judging from past reactions there seem to be more regulars here that they like reading such comments than the ones who don’t, so I haven’t really seen a good reason to stop. At least not yet.

        Should I interpret your comment as a vote against posting such comments not directly related to current chapter here?

        1. Not the other guy, but I’ll weight in regardless. I think there are other places that are just straight up better for this sort of discussion. The subreddit, discord, or spacebattles forums all allow for better discussion of particular plot points and speculation that the comment section of some random chapter.

          It’s more likely to give you the discussion you seek, and less likely to annoy some random stranger because you forced them to scroll past your very lengthy post.

          1. I actually considered moving this sort of discussion to reddit a few months ago, posted there a few times, but ultimately decided that for several reasons I prefer commenting here instead. One of the main reasons (which I explained in more length in the comments section back then) was that it is a bit to easy to run into WoGs and similar comments by the author (either directly participating in a discussion, or quoted by other people), and I simply prefered to see how much can be figured out from without such additional sources of information “spoiling” the fun, which for me has never been as much about actually learning the “correct” answers as about the challenge of figuring them out based on as little information other than the story texts themselves as possible.

            Another reason is that I simply felt more comfortable having such discussions in a relatively small group, and far fewer people seemed to regularly post here than there. I haven’t changed my mind on either of those points since then.

            But ok, I will try harder to post theories not related to current chapters less often in this comments section. Maybe I’ll even give reddit a second try if I come up with some theory or discussion topic that I think is really good, but has nothing to do with what is currently happening in the story.

        2. I’m not exactly a vote against, but you do have a lot of off the wall theories. Which isn’t bad in and of itself, but I have noticed that you usually start off on a premise which could be considered a theory in and of itself and then extrapolate it out so far that the end result is not super useful. Which makes it really hard to discuss, because by the time you get to the end of the extrapolation it almost seems like you’re taking that initial premise-theory as a given fact for the purposes of the discussion. Personally, I think a lot of your initial premises would be fun to discuss but I’d like to see them by themselves.

          Like this one, for example. “What if March isn’t dead?” might make for an interesting discussion, but you seem to take it as a given that March isn’t dead and then go from there to “Maybe Foil can perform precise brain surgery” as a way to explain that and then use “Megacluster hasn’t been active” as attempted evidence even though it doesn’t contribute to anything, since the Megacluster would also likely be inactive if March were dead as we expect she is.

          1. A lot of good points here, though I would like to point out that the question “What if March isn’t dead?” has been discussed a long time ago already. If you take a closer look at comments section of interlude 12.x, you will see that its comments section is full of not only arguments both for and against a possibility of March’s survival, but also possible explanations why Foil could leave March alive, and what could have happened to March if she wasn’t dead.

            The possibility of a “brain surgery” scenario is actually not new. In interlude 12.all we actually saw March do something similar to Jotunn, most likely saving him from being swallowed by Kronos, like Alabaster was:

            And the third- March’s blade impales his head, stabbing into a precise location of the brain.

            If March could do it to Jotunn, I don’t think it is such a stretch to think Foil could do the same to March?

            If I remember correctly the “brain surgery” was even proposed in comments section of interlude 12.x. The only differences are that back then it was theorized that Foil could disable March’s connection to her power by destroying her Corona Pollentia, just like March appears to have done to Jotunn, and then take March with her both to make it impossible for for the Megacluster to have some parahuman healer restore March’s connection to her power (so that there was no risk of March being able to cause problems all over again), and at the same time letting Foil freely use whatever powers she could think of in order to try to reach the copy of March’s mind in her shard through March herself and destroy the copy’s ability to speak this way later on.

            The problems with that old theory would be in my opinion that:
            – in the final scene of interlude 12.x Tori saw Foil and Imp preparing to leave, but March was nowhere in her field of view, which would suggest that Foil didn’t take March with her,
            – it would require Foil to actually find a parahuman capable of affecting a copy of March’s mind through March’s connection with her shard, and possibly also a parahuman healer capable of restoring a connection to the shard previously broken by damaging March’s Corona Pollentia – a plan in my opinion not only overly complicated but also likely to fail as it would probably require Foil to find two specialized capes – one capable of restoring a broken connection to a shard, and another capable of affecting a copy of March’s mind in her shard; neither we nor probably Foil know if such capes even exist,
            – if Foil took March away we would probably hear about the Magacluster trying to rescue March and confronting the Undersiders in the process already,
            – it would be actually quite selfish for Foil to expose the Undersiders to a risk of an attack by the Megacluster by kidnapping March, and in my opinion Foil isn’t the sort of a person who would do it to her team.

            The theory I proposed above address all of those issues in my opinion while also explaining why even if March could get an access to a parahuman healer it would be difficult for that healer to undo what Foil did to March – it wouldn’t be as simple as reconstructing March’s Corona Pollentia and seeing if it restores her powers (something that may or may not succeed, but in my opinion Foil just couldn’t afford the risk). The healer would actually need to work around a piece of metal fused with March’s head – something that I’m not sure if even Bonesaw or Panacea would be able to do.

            So I think that in light of previous discussion in the comments section of interlude 12.x I simply couldn’t propose a theory less detailed. I do admit however that I probably shouldn’t have assumed that everyone read and still remembered that discussion, so I probably should have at least mentioned where to find it in my current March-Foil theory posted above.

          2. By the way, back in Brockton Bay March didn’t check Vista’s life signs after defeating her, and we all remember how just how it ended. Why should we assume that March is dead then, if we didn’t even actually see her dead body?

    1. It doesn’t have anything to do with the chapter above or the discussion below, but…

      “Remember that Foil wanted to destroy March’s ability to speak …”
      […]
      “– they would probably be too busy talking care of recovering March.”

      It looks like a typo… but I want to believe.

  12. that short bit about lookouts team linking up so much feels like foreshadowing…. i for one cannot wait to see what kind of powers-psychology fuckery comes from the longterm effects of THAT. it seems like no matter what it will be (or how tragic) its gonna be really interesting!

    also, imp, come on. youre TOTALLY their mom. acccept it. (i cant believe that the undersiders irresponsible teen became a mom for like a dozen hyper dysfunctional powered children. thats beautiful)

    1. Considering what all their real Moms went through, I doubt it’s a title anyone would really crave.

      Emotionally manipulated (in the most literal sense possible) to be the father’s slut wives, craving to be with him, defend him, birth and raise his children (by themselves and other slut wives), act as his maids and wenches then discarded with a life long psychological disorder.

  13. I’ve been thinking about how the price some of the most powerful capes pay for their abilities relates to the nature of both their powers and their triggers.

    Khepri got ultimate master power for the price of first willingly cutting ties to the people she loved, and then almost complete isolation from everyone – from loss of ability to communicate, to the fact that many capes would likely shoot her on sight if they got a chance (or at least she was convinced this was the case).

    Similarly Valkyrie got her master power for the price of not only everyone’s fear, but also her own problems with relating to other human beings, her “second sight” that makes her unable to see everything around her from regular human’s perspective, her inability to see herself as a human being.

    Eidolon got his power to always find a tool to overcome every immediate obstacle he was faced with for a price of having to face Endbringers while constantly getting weaker that made him feel that he that he never was able to really save the world like he wanted to.

    Amy got her power to help save not only her sister but almost everyone with medical problems for a price of constant guilt over the fact that she never could save everyone and that every second she spent not healing people could be a second she was dooming someone to die (and eventually not being there to heal Victoria’s boyfriend), for a price of constantly fearing that she could horribly harm people with her power instead (and later actually doing it to Victoria, and later multiple other people), and for a price of having Victoria – the person who she always wanted to help most hate and fear Amy for even trying to use her power on her.

    Tattletale got her power to read almost every person and circumstance that could result in a disaster if she didn’t realize why those situations could lead to disasters or why those people could be in danger (or even pose danger to themselves) for a price of being unable to save people she wanted to save most, and for a price of knowing (or at least being lead to believe) that whatever capes really care about each other things will always “end in tears,” as she indicated in chapter 13.6, and yet still being compelled to care about plenty of people (especially capes) all around her.

    Contessa and Dinah got their precognitive powers for a price of being able to see the really big threats coming, but not being able to see them well enough to be able to find a way to defeat them (Contessa), or for a price of actually being able to do so, but only by sacrificing the person they owed their live to (Dinah).

    Can you think of other examples of powerful capes who had to pay similar prices related to their traumas, desires and nature of their powers?

    If Victoria’s shard would really manage to make Victoria be able to “lay waste to all who stand before us,” as it said in interlude 12.all, what do you think the price Victoria would have to pay be?

    1. Apropos Dinah’s price, perhaps Tattletale convinced Dinah about Taylor’s death not only to protect Taylor from the precog, but also to save Dinah herself from being guilty of actually causing Taylor’s death? After all Dinah is convinced that Taylor is dead, then her shard can’t easily torment her further by making her actually kill Taylor, can it?

      1. Similarly maybe by taking away Taylor’s powers Contessa saved Taylor from paying what for her would probably be the worst price – having a power, mindset and possibly also eventually a “good” reason to be the biggest bully out there.

      2. Re-reading that wine chapter, I feel like TT didn’t know if Taylor was alive or dead herself and was using Dinah to determine it one way or another. By not reacting (probably because she only knew Taylor wasn’t ever coming back) TT felt she confirmed Taylor was gone.

        1. Interesting. How would you interpret the part quoted below then? I always thought that it proved that Tattletale knew, or at least suspected that Taylor was alive, and decided to convince Dinah otherwise for some reason.

          “I think… it was maybe one of the big reasons I wanted to do this,” Tattletale said. “It was important that I showed her that Taylor was dead. I had to convince her.”

          “Convince her?” Imp asked.

          Tattletale nodded.

          “You’d think she’d be really good at figuring that basic shit out on her own.”

          “You’d think,” Tattletale said. “But no. We’re really good at lying to ourselves. Take it from another thinker.”

          […]

          “And Taylor?” Imp asked.

          “I’ll keep looking after things in that department,” Tattletale said. “If that’s cool?”

          “That’s cool,” Imp said.

          1. Maybe there is an even different interpretation? Maybe Tattletale was actually convinced that Taylor was dead, and for some reason wanted to ensure that Dinah believed it too? If this is the case then perhaps by “looking after things in that department” Tattletale meant something like being the main person responsible for carrying Taylor’s legacy?

            Still, somehow I feel that my interpretation from the post above fits the bit I quoted better. Though maybe it is just my personal bias…

          2. One thing that could maybe confirm that Tattletale thought that Taylor was dead would be this bit from the epilogue:

            She could only hope that Taylor hadn’t caught on, that in her final moments, she hadn’t found out about everyone she’d really lost, that Grue hadn’t made it off the oil rig.

            The other way is that Tattletale in her own interlude in Ward thought about Taylor as one of the people she didn’t manage to save:

            She looked back at Chicken Little.

            When she had brought him under her wing, she’d told herself she would do it right. She would help him, save him and save him from himself, if she had to.

            She was zero for two. If she couldn’t get it right and save him, at least, then what?

            Though maybe Tattletale didn’t mean saving Taylor from death, but from something else – like becoming Khepri with everything that it entitled? At the end of arc 29 did, after all, fail to react in time to stop Panacea from messing with Taylor’s brain.

            Why would Tattletale be so convinced that Taylor was dead however, if it wasn’t true? Maybe Contessa or the Simurgh found some way to ensure it? Or maybe Tattletale’s shard did it to make her suffer her trigger situation again? If this was the Simurgh, then I guess she has some more plans for either Tattletale or Taylor. Perhaps even both of them…

    2. If Victoria’s shard would really manage to make Victoria be able to “lay waste to all who stand before us,” then the price is laying waste to anyone who stands before her, which includes people she deeply cares.

      But I think Victoria’s power and curse is different. When she triggered she desired to be noticed, and she gained the strength and aura that makes people notice, but her curse is both that people notice too much and people notice the her power instead of her.

      1. Her shard made it a dual emotion power for positive or negative attention, but as Antares herself noted, always fear.

    3. Premise: The drawbacks caused by shards related to either the powers themselves, or psychological aspects of the character, or both.

      That makes narrative sense and could be an interesting discussion, but I disagree with… well, not necessarily the chosen examples themselves but the way they are explained.

      Kephri got master power by getting subsumed by her shard and becoming inhuman. That was the price; I don’t think the explanations you chose really apply.

      Valkyrie: Didn’t really see that come across in her interlude. The fear was something she actively cultivated as Glatig Ulaine, and also she’s ridiculously powerful so idk if that’s a ‘cost’ so much as a ‘consequence’ of her power level.

      Eidolon getting weaker wasn’t a cost; he just didn’t know how to recharge the power.

      Amy: Psychological issue rather than a cost of the power itself.

      Tattletale: Again, narrative price which is an interesting discussion in and of itself, but I don’t think an ‘inability to save people she loves’ is an inherent facet to the power. It does tie into her trigger so it makes narrative sense, but power-wise there’s nothing preventing her from saving anyone.

      Contessa is a good example of a cost, but you missed it in the explanation. By relying on her power so totally, she is almost completely inexperienced at life without it. Her actual skills atrophied (probably)

      1. On the matter of Victoria, I thought that Amy was going to make her Second Trigger, just by cornering her. But it wasn’t the case…

        NOW.

        On the matter of Eidolon, it may not mean much now, but… what if his Booster Shots were just placebos?

        After all the only way he could truly recharge was by prying on Shards of alive capes.

  14. During a discussion about number of capes in Khepri’s army, and whether it could contain all surviving capes except the ones Taylor explicitly left out of it that happened in last interlude’s comments section I re-read parts of arc 30 of Worm looking for relevant quotes.

    While I was doing it I realized that in light of theory that the shards not only copy their host’s minds, but actually start thinking like them (something that seems likely considering some things that Victoria’s shard thought in interlude 12.all) some things that Taylor thought then could indicate that what we saw in arc 30 may mean that at certain point, probably around late chapter 30.5 or in chapter 30.6 Taylor stopped being the narrator of the story, and we saw events from perspective of a copy of Taylor’s mind living inside Queen Administrator? A copy so perfect that it didn’t even realize that it was no longer the original? Look especially at those “alien” thoughts in italics in chapters 30.5, 30.6 and 30.7. Doesn’t it seem like early on they came from a shard, while later – from a dying human?

    Consider Contessa’s questions near the end of chapter 30.7:

    “Were you really a monster in the end?[…]
    “Or were you really a hero?[…]

    Could it be that Contessa wasn’t asking Taylor about her morality, but something far more technical? “Am I speaking to the mind of a human which lived in this body for past 18 years, or to a copy of this mind in which lives in the passenger which and ended up animating Taylor’s body? If I cut a connection between the host and the passenger now, would I be left with a brain dead human?”

    One bullet to put whatever was left of original Taylor out of her misery allowing the shard to overwrite the brain just like S9000 seem to have brains containing copies of minds living in their shards, second bullet to destroy the connection between the copy of a copy of Taylor and Queen Administrator so that copy of a copy could become her own person free of QA’s influence?

    1. Why so little time between the bullets? Because unlike S9000 clones that had only some basic memories artificially implanted in their brains to get them started the brain of Taylor Hebert and the mind that would be “downloaded” from Queen Administrator would be in almost perfect sync, so the “downloading” process could be completed almost simultaneously?

    2. By the way if the above theory is somehow true, how do we call a person descended from the mind living inside Queen Administrator shard? The woman we saw in the epilogue of Worm? Princess Administrator?

      1. One more thing. If the “Princess Administrator” theory is correct, then perhaps Tattletale knows about it, and we should break that quote from the epilogue of Worm I posted above in response to Charlesw81’s interpretation of the libation part of the epilogue of Worm (or “wine chapter” as Charlesw81 called it) into two parts, because they refer to two different people?

        This would be about the original Taylor:

        “I think… it was maybe one of the big reasons I wanted to do this,” Tattletale said. “It was important that I showed her that Taylor was dead. I had to convince her.”

        “Convince her?” Imp asked.

        Tattletale nodded.

        “You’d think she’d be really good at figuring that basic shit out on her own.”

        “You’d think,” Tattletale said. “But no. We’re really good at lying to ourselves. Take it from another thinker.”

        While this could be about Princess Administrator:

        “And Taylor?” Imp asked.

        “I’ll keep looking after things in that department,” Tattletale said. “If that’s cool?”

        “That’s cool,” Imp said.

  15. Information provided by Number Four in last interlude sparked a discussion about the number of capes who survived Gold Morning, but what about post-GM tiggers? In chapter 30.4 of Worm Taylor noted:

    Other earths only had a small handful [of capes]. No doubt there had been contamination at some point where doorways had been opened. Whole worlds with only ten capes at most, half of which were case fifty-threes.

    The C53s might have obviously been abandoned on those words by Cauldron, but doesn’t this entire paragraph also suggest that the number of capes who trigger naturally on a given Earth could be strongly correlated with the number, and possibly also size of portals that connected those Earths to Bet and whatever the world Eden ended up in is called?

    Taylor also mentioned that Aleph had capes who were barely C-listers by Bet’s standards, so perhaps also power level of natural triggers is correlated with the number and/or size of the portals connecting given world to Scion and Eden?

    Now let us consider that Gimel is linked to both Bet and the world containing Eden via multiple portals, as well as to densely populated Earths like Shin and Cheit. Could it mean that the contamination is spreading to those worlds through the portal network, and people will start triggering like crazy there, if they haven’t already? Add to it the fact that Kronos titan is supposed to be a portal connecting all accessible worlds, and perhaps in a few years the total number of capes living on all Earths will be many rows of magnitude higher than those three thousand something that supposedly survived Gold Morning?

    What will it mean to human societies of places like Earth Shin? And will the Gimel capes become seriously outnumbered by capes from another worlds simply because there are many more people who could potentially trigger there? How powerful will those people living outside of Gimel be? Could Gimel have to one day face the fact that their capes are seriously outnumbered by potential off-world invaders? If it happens will Gimel still have an advantage of having the most powerful capes, or will it only be able to count on the fact that some of their capes (and their entire society) simply have more experience with powers? If Gimel will have such advantages, how long will they last?

    1. I seem to recall that Scion and Eden focused on Earth Bet as their target Earth, setting all their shards to pick people from that iteration of our world. Problem is, Eden crashed and died, and didn’t finish releasing their shards or telling them where to go. Those capes that triggered on other Earths, unless they were regularly communicating with people from Bet (Goddess’ Cluster) likely received Eden shards that were told to look for a host, but not told where to find them. Now that Scion’s dead, and Earth Bet mostly evacuated, most shards should be looking at Earth Gimel- that’s where the humans they were told to look at went. Or a large proportion of the population from the western continents, anyway. But there’s a lot of traffic between the earths, and the broken triggers are striking apparently randomly. There are, however, a finite number of shards even if there’s an infinite number of people, and Gimel should remain home to a large proportion of all parahumans.

  16. “Whether we’re linked a lot or not, I really hope we’re together for a really long time,” Kenzie said.

    Calling it now. The Chicken Tenders will eventually form Voltron. With their bodies.

  17. So many great moments in this one! I did not expect this team up. Right now I’m speculating that Mama Mathers took out the last wave. By now, this entire operation will never get stopped until the head is cut off.

  18. Doesn’t the reaction of Teacher’s thralls to Victoria’s aura in this chapter remind you of how the gunners who attacked the heroes investigating the place where Navigators were chopped to pieces in chapter 10.13 reacted to the same power? Could it be that those gunners were in fact Teacher’s thralls?

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