Dying – 15.3

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“Did you encounter three capes when you came down this way?  Two teens, boy and girl, and a woman?”

“Only if they were wearing Teacher outfits and brainwashed,” Sveta said.

“No.  We sent our own that way to scout,” Gong said.  Prong was just a short distance away.  Both were the kind of dirty that came with the really extended combats, where sweat ran over your entire body, then smoke and then dust got caked into it.

“Annihilated,” Prong muttered.

“Don’t you dare say that,” Gong warned.

“Side doors,” Capricorn said.  “We checked all the rooms we could open as we passed, but we didn’t scout thoroughly for hiding places.”

“Tandem.  Take Blatherskite and Tailgate, scout the way back, check the rooms more thoroughly, bring the wounded with you, find a spot to hunker down.”

“I can fight,” Blather said.  Young kid, mask that covered cheeks and forehead, with some decoration around the eyes and a brightly colored lipstick.  Wide-eyed and flinching with every nearby impact and loud sound.  “You need us.”

“We need to not worry about the wounded,” Gong said.  The dull impacts of tinker guns striking concrete grew coordinated and numerous enough to drown him out.  I could see the wall that was taking the brunt of the attack.  Each shot seemed to morph it, carving out a shallow indent that spread the material around it out.  The combined hail of the power was enough to stretch the wall tall and thin.  Gong was annoyed enough at the distraction- at the distraction and maybe just how it seemed to affect the kids in his squad who weren’t doing so hot.  Blatherskite was feeling everything and Tailgate was stiff-chinned and asborbing nothing, staring off into space.

Gong slapped his hands together, and a shockwave rippled harmlessly past us, tracing a flat, long oval around us and our cover.  The sound of incoming projectiles softened, then stopped.  I peeked and saw the shockwave slowing as it moved, and slowing bullets and bolts of energy, a few chunky containers that might have been explosives, and some of our allies’ stuff as well.  Someone in one of the concrete cubicles near the one we were hunkered down in was firing shotgun sprays of their power into Gong’s shockwave, filling it with what looked like two-armed tadpoles the size of my fist.  They clawed blindly at the air, tails whipping around violently, and their screeches were high-pitched, feral, and muffled, as the shockwave absorbed even the sound.

Blather cringed at even those sounds, despite the fact they were friendly.  No respite, even as the sound of the incoming attack more or less stopped.

Gong did about as tight and vicious a little spin-move as I’d ever seen anyone do, spinning on the spot and slapping at something mid-air.  Wind rushed past all of us, and the assembled projectiles launched as a volley, flying out toward one of the entrances.

The crash was loud.  I flinched, and I was used to the chaos of battlefields.  Gong, meanwhile, landed on hands and knees, like something had been taken out of him.  Big guy, heavyset but not tall, wrapped in armor in the Advance Guard style.  The ‘gong’ motif was in diamond-shaped plates at key positions around his body.

Two seconds passed, punctuated by the sounds of other ongoing struggles nearby, but devoid of any of the sounds of the offense from that one direction.

Then the hail resumed.  Dull ‘splat’ impacts that made the impact areas taller, wider, and thinner.  Something more ordinary struck one of the stretched out barriers and shattered it with a sound and effect very similar to glass breaking.

Fume Hood launched a series of spheres.  The gas was both a deterrent that forced the group back into the corridor and a way to disrupt their accuracy.  Most of her focus was elsewhere, though.  There hadn’t been enough space, so her team had fallen back to another decagon.

“Kite!” Gong raised his voice to be heard.  Blatherskite flinched.  Gong went on, resuming the orders he’d been trying to give before “We need to not have to worry about the wounded.  This is your job.  You follow orders!  You, Tandem, Tailgate.  Find where the three we sent down that hallway are hiding.”

Blatherskite nodded, the motion tight.  He’d protested earlier and he didn’t protest now.  A token effort when he really wanted out.

Capricorn was in the cubicle next to ours, talking to Tandem.  I could overhear parts of their conversation as he described parts of the scene we’d left behind with the big room of people, the bars, and the number of capes there.

“…can get past bars,” Tandem was saying.

“I figured, but you have to get your team past them too.”

“What a shame that we haven’t talked.”

“I- yeah.”

“You ready, Tan?” Gong raised his voice.

“When you are!”

“Prong?”

“Yeah.  Nervous, but yeah.”

“Tailgate?  We’re going to want your power.  Two shots if you can manage it.”

Tailgate didn’t respond, like she had been rendered deaf by the cacophony.

I put my hand out, into her field of view.  She startled.

“You with us?” Gong asked.

I saw the confusion as she took stock.

“Teacher’s facility, we’re in the gallery,” I said.  “You’ve been here for a few hours, you’re being relieved by the second strike teams.  You’re taking the wounded through that door with Blatherskite and Tandem.  Tandem leads, I think?”

“We need portals,” Gong said, without giving Tailgate a chance to respond.  “Here and here.  We’re covering you with an attack.  Prong’s diving in, he’ll need all of our support.  We push, distract, cover, and then fall back to this point.”

And with that, any light of understanding in Tailgate’s expression fogged up again.  “I’m helping with that?”

“You’re going with Tandem,” Gong said, clearly annoyed.

“This way,” I said.  “I’ll cover you.  Go to the cubicle next door.  Do what Tandem says.”

Tailgate looked back to Gong.

“Make the portals.”

Fuck me, I could have hit him.

“Tandem!” I called out.

“What!?” was the answering cry.

“Tailgate’s making a portal to help your retreat and help our charge.  Give them the orders!  Sending her to you!”

“Got it!”

“Go,” I told Tailgate.  “Do what Tandem says.”

Again, she looked to Gong.

“Go,” he said, like he was all out of patience.

“Go next door,” I said.  “Take Blatherskite.”

She did.  Blather followed her, as the pair ducked out of the doorway.  I ducked out too, hurrying to get far enough away I could use the Wretch to block any incoming fire from the flanks.  There wasn’t any.

Clear, definitive orders for someone who wasn’t entirely here right now.  I knew the drill, and I knew that someone in that state needed grounding and direction.  Gong hadn’t been helping, piling on more when Tailgate needed less.

“They’re a good cape,” Gong said.  “Reliable up until today.”

“Movers tend to trigger from a need to escape, shakers usually trigger from environment.  Combine the two and it stands to reason that being trapped would remind her of that event and circumstance.”

“She’s a Cauldron cape,” Gong said.  “She dropped out of the PRT when they started cracking down and trying to figure out who was compromised.  She tried to make a graceful exit, being open about why, but got detained when she wouldn’t answer all of their questions.  Eight months in special detention.  She got out, got a sponsorship.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that.  Maybe that people who took Cauldron vials might have been motivated toward certain vials or they might have had the mental groundwork for certain end results, even with the power being from a bottle.  But I didn’t know.  The cape geek stuff on Cauldron had always been and remained a big question mark.

Sveta could usually be counted on to have some feelings one way or another when Cauldron came up in any capacity, but she was more focused on other things.

The corridor we’d come through was cleared for retreat, which shifted the dynamics of this scene in our overall favor.  The formless, sprawling space with concrete and metal decagons spaced out across it, the high ceiling, and stale hair heavy with the smell of smoke and ozone was relatively easily defended, but mounting attacks from the space was difficult to impossible.  Teams that fell back to the concrete decagons found that there was too much in the way of no man’s land to easily cross.  The speedsters, acrobats, fliers, and other movers could get around or get through that gap, but they couldn’t make a lasting dent in enemy forces while they were out there.

I heard Love Lost scream.  Not enough range to reach across the no man’s land.

If this whole operation was meant to be a surgical strike, the surgery had gone wrong.  The strike down the central thoroughfare of the facility had brought the team here, and the way behind had closed up, organized soldiers collapsing in.  No way out but through.  Our surgeon had worked deep enough to find the issue and get a grip on it -our ‘gallery’ here- but blood from the entry was filling the work area, blocking of view and the ability to get anything done.  So long as that flow persisted, it would be impossible to truly get anything done.

Capricorn was drawing constellations in the air.  Rocks thudded as they landed.  Barriers to replace the concrete walls that were being broken down.  At another decahedron, Stonewall was doing something similar, planting his shield in the ground, then manifesting another.

I could only see a little bit of the decahedron where Balk’s group had retreated.  Only a bit of where the woman with something of a resemblance to my aunt was having a drink of water.  I saw the empty container get tossed aside.

“I saw a cape,” I said, mostly to Sveta.  “Crystal’s mom?”

“Didn’t she die?”

“In Gold Morning.”

“Shit,” Prong said.

“You know something?”  I asked.  “Because the formations she was using with Balk, I thought my cousin passed on things we learned as kids to get incorporated into the PRTCJ, Wardens, whatever, but…”

“Try not to worry about it,” Prong said.

“It’s kind of hard not to.  You’re acting like there’s something weird here.”

“Valkyrie’s always tried to keep people from seeing what she does with anyone they might know.”

What?

“Focus,” Gong said.

“Wait,” I told him.  Then to Prong, “What?”

“Fuck,” he said.  “You know how Valkyrie works?”

“Vaguely.”

“Valkyrie copies powers and summons vague simulations of the people who had those powers.”

“Okay,” I said.  “That was not just powers.  That was not a vague simulation.  That was someone who flies, who has the mannerisms, who fights like my aunt did.  She gave me looks and the more I think about them the more I think she remembered me.  She didn’t fight or fly like anyone who learned the formations from the PRTCJ.  She fought and flew like the person who helped refine them.  And as far as I know, Valkyrie isn’t here.”

Prong looked at Gong, then back to me.  “Okay, fast explanation, no lies, but no follow-up questions either.  If we take too long they’ll reinforce with turrets, one-way forcefields and robots.”

I grit my teeth for a second.  I didn’t want a fast, shitty answer.

But I did recognize the need.  I nodded.

“She’s been using power interactions.  Forging bodies for them, so she can send them out.  She started with a dozen, increased to twenty-five.  Then a few died.”

“Some of us think she got rid of them,” Gong said.  “If they went bad.”

“Glossing over that,” Prong said.  “She recently made more.  Sent them on this mission.”

“How is she making them?” I asked.

“No follow-up questions,” Prong said.  “Listen, they’re fragile.  There’s stuff wrong with them.  In their heads, in their bodies.  She apparently fixes them or she lets other people fix them.  But until she gives the word, we’re supposed to leave them alone, we avoid putting them anywhere near their old loved ones, teammates, whatever.  If you see any, try to ignore them or keep interactions light.  You’ll hurt yourselves if you don’t.”

“There’s stuff wrong with them?” I asked.  “Plural?  Scattered, or multiple things in one person?”

Sveta reached out to touch my arm.

“Right,” I said.

“It worries me that they’re apparently fragile and they’re being sent into this,” Sveta said.

“She knows what she’s doing,” Gong said.  Then he raised his voice.  “Ready!?”

There were answering cries.

“Breakthrough goes with!” Capricorn called out.

He was taking charge more because I hadn’t dropped the master-stranger warning from back on Shin.  I didn’t wholly trust myself to lead.

Tailgate’s power created what looked like forcefields, extending out in straight lines from our dodecahedron.

“Look for the teleporter!” Gong shouted.  “Go!”

He lurched forward, heavy armor and accumulated fatigue slowing him down compared to how a normal person might move when sprinting their way out of a crouch, out into the open, then a hard right into the forcefield.  Except it wasn’t a forcefield, it was a gate.

Prong was faster.  Skinny guy in slim-fitting armor, with a bident.

Then Sveta.  Ashley and Rain were emerging from a neighboring cubicle, on the far side of the gate.  Capricorn had a few more feet to cross.

Each person that hit the wall of energy dissipated, disintegrating.

It spooked me, somehow.  As a spur of the moment thing, I flew, instead.  I took to the air and I could see the trails of energy, vaguely color coded because each ‘bolt’ was a vaguely arrow-shaped, fractal mess of distorted reality, careening over the concrete form, some arcing in the air, others staying low to the ground.

Gong had already arrived on site, and used his power.  A shockwave bowled over twenty tinkers.  Prong was there a second later, turning from fractal energy bolt to human.  He put the points of his weapon into a tinker’s gun-hand, and as he did, a copy of him appeared, impaling the thrall from behind.

That new version of himself pulled his weapon free, simultaneously driving the butt-end of the weapon toward a tinker-thrall’s face, and that tinker raised their weapon as a shield, blocking the hit.  Prong’s copy still appeared behind them, putting the points of his weapon into their calf.

Strike, make any contact, and he got a second free hit.  The original lasted only as long as both were making contact.

With the group still recovering from Gong’s hit, Prong had the run of things.  Weapon swiped out, points raking someone’s chest, and a Prong-copy appeared, pulling weapon free and away, swinging it out for another slash.

My team arrived.  Ashley appeared above the group, blasted to adjust her trajectory, and tackled someone from behind.  Sveta grabbed one of the people at the flanks with tendrils, then moved them around, so they were a human shield in case any other groups at other entrances tried to open fire.

Rain appeared and headbutted someone in the same instant, grabbed their gun with both hands, and had his smaller, tinker hand reach down and out to pull something out of the bottom of the weapon.

And Capricorn- it was Byron now.  He knew how to fight.  So often, I didn’t see him actually throw punches because he preferred to act from range, drawing out his power, acting as artillery.  But he’d learned with Reach, he had training in the essentials, and he had some experience with it too.

I remained in the air, taking advantage of the break in the hail of gunfire and overall chaos.  The focused strike on the one entrance was drawing attention.

No time to count heads, but I could get a feel for things.  I looked at each group in turn, one after another.  Group A, group B, group C.

Group A, group B, group C…

The Heartbroken had made it to the gates and were crossing the floor.  I could tell by the color schemes.  The retreating wounded were at the exit we’d come through and cleared.  Tandem was now two people, running hand-in-hand.  Another Case Seventy, like Capricorn.

Group A, group B, group C.

Group C was larger.

Balk rose into the air.  The artillery cape, a new flier from the Wardens, and the ghost of my aunt were with them.  I saw her look at me.  They were doing a loop, suppressing every group with airborne fire now.

Focus.

Cue from the Shepherds, formerly of the Attendant, had been the one to point out the teleporter I was convinced I was looking for.  If not them, and I figured it was a one percent chance it wasn’t, then it was tech that copied them.

When I’d been auditioning for teams, I hadn’t been willing to walk away or let the Fallen be.  The pole-wielding Cue had pointed out that the Fallen had a cape that was replenishing their numbers.  It had been subtle, people appearing in a crowd, but there had been a general feeling to it that felt like this.  That the numbers didn’t add up, that a battle was being lost and it was hard to get a full handle on the why of it.

Two plus two equals four?  No, because that first two became a three when one wasn’t looking.  Dumb, but when it applied to counting enemies, it made for an oppressive atmosphere.

Right side of C.  Right side of B, the group my team was fighting.  I was ready to jump in if they were faltering or struggling, or if C got organized enough to make an attack.  Stonewall was pressing in, shield up, keeping C distracted.

If the reinforcement teleporter was dropping people into the parts of the groups he could see, then I could work out where he was.  Right side of the two groups… he was off to the right.

D, then.  The entrance to the right of the one we’d come through.  They were furthest from the Advance Guard assault, which meant I had less distraction going for me.  I flew to one of the pillars in the complex, putting my back to it, and peeked around the corner.

They had the numbers advantage, and with only general harassment from our side, they were putting together a robot the size of a car, quadrupedal.  Thirty or forty people working, while people with luminescent riot shields and truncheons formed a wall around them on the ground.  A cape stood on the robot’s back.

It was like figuring out one of the pictures that required the eyes to have a specific focus.  Each person wore a similar outfit, which made finding the distinctions hard.  If I tried to focus, I lost myself in the visual noise and the sense of a pattern that wasn’t there.

But every thrall had a job to do.  There were ones on guard, there were ones who were building, and there were others who put down suppressive fire, to limit and punish movement and keep anyone from being able to comfortably respond.  The suppressive fire sub-group was the one who would gun me down if I was dumb about this, and they were the people who were firing into the air, trying to catch Balk’s team.

All behind a short concrete fence, protecting the guys in the very front from the waist down.  A robot in the center as a platform only one cape was brave enough to stand on top of.

The hidden picture was in who fit the pattern, who didn’t.  Who was still?

Balk’s squad did their fly-by, harassing the group, trying to disrupt what they were doing.  The ball hit the glowing shields and bounced off, flew back to him, and then hit the robot instead, crashing through layers of metal and circuits.  It bounced out, hit another shield from a defender with good reaction times, and then returned to him.  The artillery cape lobbed something, and the cape on top of the robot shot the lob out of the air.

The ghost of the woman who had read bedtime stories to me when I was little and she was visiting, who had given me baths, who had taught me to fly smart, and who had given me the first for-adults book I had truly loved brought lasers down on their heads, sniping wherever defenses were missing.

“Balk!” I shouted.

He looked for me and didn’t see me.  I waved an arm.

“What!?”

“Hit them again!”  I pointed.

He motioned, said something.  His team looped around.  Another artillery shot.  Another rain of lasers.  The other cape in his group had reloaded and unloaded their semiautomatic rifle from the air.

Shields were raised to protect the group.

One shield raised a bit slower.  A single person protected by the people on either side of them.

I checked the area below me was clear enough, then hit the pillar I was hiding by with the Wretch.

Another two hits, and I had a chunk of rebar-reinforced concrete nearly as tall as I was.  And I could ball-up while flying, using it as a shield.

I charged in.  A hail of fire whittled at my concrete.  Balk hadn’t left, though, and his team unloaded on the group below.

Ramming, I hit four of them with the chunk.  Shields in the way, they repulsed me, the riot shields flaring with energy.  I could smell ozone so thick in the air I could barely breathe.

Second try.  I threw the concrete high, lobbing it toward them, so it would crash on them from above.

I was counting on them to not be stupid.  I didn’t want to murder them.

They weren’t stupid.  They were even smarter than I’d anticipated.  Half of them raised their shields up.  The other half kept shields down and forward.  Gunners shot, catching the Wretch.

Do you have to be such a big fucking target, Wretch?

I flew in, because any direction but away was too dangerous.  An implosion from Balk’s artillery cape pulled some of the group back, but they were packed in enough that there was no room to fall over, only to be pulled back and off balance.

The concrete and the distraction of that- trying to get it to fall in front rather than behind and on top of people, that was the bigger help.  They did repel it so it was skewed to fall in front.

I flew under it, over the short fence.  The glow of the shields in my way was my only good indicator of where I could move, when I had less than a second to decide.

A gap.  I put one hand on the fence, to better control my flying vault over it, down, and into the forest of legs and boots.  No Wretch to protect me.

Reorienting, avoiding the first few kicks from people who realized I was in their midst, I caught the cape I wanted and flew up and out, hauling him with.  The stitches at the back of my hand complained at me, the beds of fingers with the recently lost and reattached fingernails made my fingertips feel vaguely mushy, in the worst, touching-a-burn-blister kind of way.  My other arm was weak.

I only got about ten feet before he caught my shin with the bottom end of the shield, repelled me, and forced us apart.  He swung the glowing truncheon at me, but that was easy enough to avoid.

He fell.  Short distance, but still a rough fall.  His shield hit the ground and bounced out of his hand.

I went after it, catching the weapon and rolling, putting it between myself and the people in the group.

They weren’t shooting.  A short bit ago, it had been what, thirty people, one robot in construction, one obvious cape, and this guy, who was dressed up as a thrall security officer, hidden in the crowd.

Now it was practically overflowing, people pushing past others, storming over the fence.

Balk’s artillery person hit the bulk of them.

Keeping the shield between that group and myself, I trusted Balk to handle it.

I focused on the teleporter, taking flight-

And I saw something not so dissimilar from the forest of legs I’d just flown into.  A portal or a power at work, a blur of people in silhouette, with bright lights shining in the gaps.

Trying to get me to fly into and through it, teleporting me away.

I flew over, instead.  He had the truncheon ready for a swing.

He hit the Wretch.  The Wretch hit him.  A single blow to pelvis or upper thigh, his legs went out from under him, and his head cracked against the ground.

With neither of my hands or arms fully cooperating, I managed to draw him up into a loose carry, then I flew.

“Good to go!” I called out to Balk.

His group flew to make a formation with me.

“Why him?”

“Teleporter, hidden in their group.  Part of the reason for the reinforcements.”

“Only part,” he said.  “They’re dragging away wounded, healing them with medical thinkers.  Sending them back in.”

“This guy was expediting them.  I want to drop him off at Stonewall’s.”

“We’re overdue for another circuit,” Balk told me.  “Hurry.”

I hurried.  No time to waste, no questions.  Stonewall’s group was holding the position that was hardest to hold, defensive capes, and a number of the more lightly injured.

Now with one more.

I passed them the injured, gave them brief information.  Balk’s group was already resuming its circuit.

I flew to my team.

Already, the tone had shifted.  The reinforcement teleporter had been seeding each group with new members, sufficient to more than replace the ones who dropped out of the fight, injured, knocked out, or dead.  In a last ditch effort, he had dumped a ton of reinforcements into the one group furthest from this door.

A game of whack a mole, where you swung at one, but two more popped up.  Focus on the one entrance, and the other entrances pushed in.  All the more so because the group I’d labeled ‘group D’ had increased in number.

The entrance to the hallway became a new spot we had to defend.  Roles shifted, our rear became our new defensive front.  Fume Hood laid down some cover fire, choking whole groups of the enemy.

And the hallway- more of the same.

Hundreds.

Hundreds, I thought again, as I processed the idea.  This wasn’t the only defensive front.  Hundreds of human beings, hundreds who didn’t flinch, didn’t break down, and didn’t break pattern.

The loss of his subject’s full volition wasn’t even a huge drawback in this kind of circumstance.  It was an asset for Teacher.

Byron hit someone, transitioned that hit into a grab, and pulled them to one side, where one of his constellations blasted out water.  Sveta made it further down the hallway, where there were less of our people in reach.  Her tendrils cut where the saw teeth ran along flesh, and grabbed otherwise.  The two combined were… nasty.  To cut someone’s arm and pull on that skin?

Roman tore through people.  Pick a target, lunge in, win.  Rinse, repeat.  Juliette, like Ashley, hung back at the sides, looking for opportunities.

We’d won the entrance.  Now the hallway, while the rest of the gallery folded in behind us, pressuring stonewall, pressuring our guys on the outside.  Me included.

I had the shield I’d confiscated, and nobody had thought to turn it off or disable it for me.  For now, I focused on using it to help shield the group.

Rain had a blade out, and ‘parried’ a swing of a gun being used as a club.  It still hit him, parry or no, but it broke in the impact, diffusing the hit.

They were doing that a lot.  I suspected the tinker guns made by Teacher’s shitty tinkers ran out of power fast.

Chastity and Samuel were hanging back.  So were some of our volunteered capes.  Withdrawal leaped up, latched onto the wall, then sprung down, over and over, targeting stragglers.  Caryatid used her breaker form’s ability to draw her costume into the form by utilizing loose and torn fabric to shield some of our team.  She’d grabbed one of the fences and used it as a shield.

One guy on the ground ran, and Withdrawal pounced onto them.  A feint, or a sacrifice play, because two more ‘hurt’ thralls went after him while his back was turned.

Caryatid slammed into them, a burst of movement, a push.  She went still again to absorb incoming fire.

Imp… I had no idea what she was doing.

The usual thing about cape fights was that they involved a fight against another cape.  Even the way the PRT broke down fights, with classifications and calls, number ratings and priorities, there was a standard order in which capes were to be dealt with.  One at a time, knock them down.  Thinkers first, tinkers second, brutes last.

This wasn’t that.  It was a fight against a swarm, and I had only limited experience with that, ‘fighting’ Crusader, getting tag-teamed by Tattletale and Skitter.  Dealing with the Merchants.

None of them had the individuality to stand up and step out from the crowd, pull out any special heroics.  But they did shelter capes, and they did target ours.

Imp could do a lot, I was sure, but there weren’t many major players here, and I imagined she was best when there was a specific, vulnerable, high-priority target to go after.

My focus, as such, remained diffuse, looking for telling breaks in the pattern.  Large scale movements, individuals that stood out, and convergences on our guys.

Stonewall had gone still.  He was drawing more and more fire by the second.  I saw him move, trying to bring his shield around, and it was slow.

Being affected by a power?

“Support Stonewall!” I called out.

My squad wasn’t the only one to leap to his defense.  Balk came down, and Stonewall’s group from the decahedron broke out of cover to hurry over.  The injured made a simultaneous break for the hallway our other injured had gone to, taking advantage of distractions and the fact that our group at the one entrance was drawing all of the attention.

I landed right beside Stonewall, borrowed shield out to block incoming fire.  His stone armor had been scarred and whittled away.  The guys at the nearest checkpoint had what looked like rifles that fired railroad spikes.  One or two had embedded in Stonewall’s armor, and blood was leaking out of the wounds.

“Power died,” Stonewall reported.  “Not strong enough to move my armor.”

He laughed.

Withdrawal caught up.  He’d gone out of his way to pick up the riot shields, and he now had two attached to each of his arms, one near each arm-tip, and one near where his actual hands were.  Orange motes circled around us.  What would be a protective wall.

And past those motes, even in the wide open space that was the gallery, there were enough thralls that they were walking shoulder to shoulder.  Many armed, though only a third of the weapons seemed to have battery.

“I thought I fucked up their guy who was teleporting in reinforcements,” I said.  “What the hell?”

“You did,” Stonewall said.  Immobile, a man within a costume that wouldn’t move.  “It’s been like this every step of the way.  They have precogs, clairvoyants, they have morale detectors.  They know where and how to push.  The big push is because you forced them to play their hand.”

“Great.”

“It’s good.  Listen, someone needs to tell my team to retreat and hold the other hallway.  We can’t have our injured getting mobbed.”

“On it,” someone reported.

One less person in our defensive huddle.  Against an army.

Hundreds.  The word had passed through my head and stuck with me.  Half of the gallery was now filled, to the point I had to wonder if we were approaching a thousand thralls in attendance.

“They’ve got masks on!” Balk called out.  “Be wary of gas!”

Shit.  He was right.  The front two rows had full-face masks on, eyes glowing, lower faces covered by blank surfaces.

The rows of thralls behind them didn’t, though.  That suggested it wasn’t gas.

“Might be flashes, not gas,” I added.

“Might be,” Balk answered.

His squad landed around us.

My aunt, for lack of a better way of putting it, landed next to me.  Again, there was fleeting eye contact.  The expression she wore was perpetually what I’d seen on her face the day Leviathan had attacked.  Before we’d lost Eric and Uncle Neil.  Serious, even a little haunted.  With purple and black eyes.

She cast a forcefield, then reached back with her other hand, creating a laser.  She began to cut through Stonewall’s suit.

The lights went out.  One by one.  I might have thought it was the shaker from before, the ripple that made the lights flicker as it passed.

It wasn’t.

All at once, we were in darkness.  Costume elements and powers glowed, there were a few scattered fires, a few flashes of sparks where wiring had been torn up, and rows of glowing eyes.

“Night vision,” the artillery cape said.

“They did this before.  We didn’t see the masks,” Balk reported.  “Wait it out, try to take down the ones with masks.”

“They had them then.  They refresh the injured or pass on the gear,” Stonewall said.

The artillery cape’s power flickered and flared with light as she created and hurled it.  Definitely an aerial sort of attack- as ground to ground it had trouble getting height and dipped downward fast, like throwing paper airplanes built to nosedive.

The riot shields were as useful as anything, when it came to the lighting.  The laser and the forcefield were another big help.

Someone audibly tore a chunk of Stonewall’s costume off.  He began to climb out, reached out, groping, and found my shoulder.

“What do you call yourself?” I asked into the darkness.  I could barely hear myself over the noises around us.  I could barely breathe to utter the words.  The battery indicator on the shield had an unfair share of my attention.  Without it I’d have to use the Wretch in an environment where I wasn’t sure where all of my allies were.

“Sarah,” was the answer.

“No cape name?”

“Photon for now.”

“Not Lady Photon?”

The response was drowned out, but I was pretty sure it was ‘someday’.

For a short while, there was only the effort, trying to stay sane and focused on what needed focus while fighting in the dark against an army that could see.

She didn’t ask about Crystal.  She didn’t ask about me.

Didn’t ask about mom, dad, or how we’d gotten on.

“Crystal’s okay.”

“Good.”

“I think she might be here.  She would have joined and I didn’t hear from-”

“She’s at the far end.”

Curt, crisp.

A lot of the guns being used by the thralls in the dark were dark.  No glowing chambers, no glowing projectiles, no muzzle flashes.  The only signs they were being used were when our defensive squadron was pummeled, wounded, or knocked flat.  Blood splattered against one side of my face.

“Hit,” was the guy’s grunt.  “F-ffuck.  Muh face.”

“Stonewall’s all the way out!  Fighting retreat!” Balk called out.  “Someone get our wounded!”

‘Sarah’ pushed past me, touching my arm in a way that suggested she could see me enough.

I couldn’t think of what to say, or what to do.  The flash of the indicator and the hum of the shield I was carrying dying distracted me.  The shield was next to useless now, and I had to do my part.

“Keep your distance from me if you can,” I said.

I stepped away from the group, away from Sarah, and knelt down, head down, activating the Wretch, hoping I wouldn’t take too much fire.

I went to your funeral, I thought.  After Gold Morning.  You meant so much to us and we couldn’t even properly grieve, because there were so many people who needed the chance to hold services.  I put flowers on your doorstep every time I went to old Brockton Bay.

I looked away, tried to get a sense of directionality.  There were powers being lobbed at the rank and file, bright enough to be seen in the darkness.  I could see where tech was being used to diffuse the impacts, break it up, or limit the damage.

It wasn’t as easy as using a single big, wide-area power.

We retreated, using guiding lights of powers as an indicator.  Ashley’s eyes glowed white in the dark.  I could see the single eye of Sveta’s, Precipice’s, and Capricorn’s, and the crack across Precipice’s mask.

Into the hallway, which had been more or less cleared.  Capes were fighting further up, and capes were fighting behind us.

But in the meantime, we had some light, and we had a chance to breathe, spacing out enough that we could find our individual groups.

I almost dropped to a sitting position as I got to the others, and I hadn’t been running around much.

Byron made water, filling a container, than drank it.  He capped it, tossed it into the air, and changed to Tristan.  Tristan caught it and drank more.  At a nudge from Sveta, he handed it over.

“My brother can make water if anyone needs a resupply,” he called out.

“Let us finish what we have,” Gong said.  “We’ll take you up on that.”

“Sveta did us all proud,” Ashley said.  “She cleared half of this hallway herself.”

“Did I?  Sorry, I don’t want to sound like I’m fishing for compliments-”

“I’ve always felt you should claim every compliment you can get.”

“-but my control slipped some.”

“You handled it.  You did well.”

“I’d like to think so.  I hope so.  I feel like I’m closer to being the hero I want to be.  I wish it was a little less bloody.”

“Don’t we all?” one of the capes from Gong’s group asked.

“It means a lot that you’d say it, though.  Thank you, Swansong.”

“Of course.”

“What’s the standard way to compliment you, Swan?” Precipice asked.  “Florid, exaggerated?  I’d probably come across like a sniveling cartoon toady to the big bad guy if I tried.”

“You’re nowhere near that,” Sveta said.

“As fun as it would be to hear you try,” Swansong added, “I wouldn’t worry.  Complimenting me risks belaboring the obvious.”

“Wow,” Tristan said.

“You did okay, Swan,” I said.  “Not a lot you can do with a lethal power and this situation.”

She made a noise of assent.

“And you?” Sveta asked.  She found a position next to me.  “Your hand is bleeding.”

It was.  Whatever.  Not enough to matter.

“Talked to Aunt Sarah.”

“And?”

“And it was eerie.  I’m not sure how to put it.”

Like something was missing.

She laid her head against my shoulder, being careful of the spikes.

Catching our breath.  Touching base, going back to the old therapy circle of group reaffirmation, maybe.

Imp and the Heartbroken were a little further down.  They… were picking fun at each other.  Roman and Juliette were having harsh words.  The tone, insults excepted, was fairly light.  Like they didn’t take this seriously.

“Can we get that water?” Gong asked.

Tristan became Byron, who provided the water, a small constellation, a short, focused spurt of stinging cold spray.

There were others who wanted drinks, so Byron switched back to Tristan, who began drawing out what might have been a bottle.  He created it, Byron filled it, and then they swapped back.

The goal had been to make it to a place where staff had access to water.  The siege in the gallery hadn’t quite allowed it.

Withdrawal had to move carefully, with the bulky frame and the hallway that was only ten feet across.  Caryatid followed.

“Hey, Withdrawal,” I said.  “Nice showing.”

He released a heavy, shuddering sigh.

“Finale would have been nice to have around,” he said.

“Wouldn’t have been good for her,” Caryatid said.

They found a spot to sit down, Withdrawal’s long limbs folding up to a degree to maintain a more compact silhouette.

Thinking about Finale got me thinking about Lookout, and thinking about Lookout got me thinking about maps.

Communications were still limited, we only had access to Lookout if we could use her tech to hack a computer, and only then for a brief time, apparently.  But we had the maps, and that was her contribution.  With Sveta, Rain and Ashley, I went over the maps, talking about options.

“Hey, Azúcar,” Tristan said.  He was still making bottles.  The group around him had shifted.

I looked up.

Tristan was paying attention to a girl in a cat mask, ears sweeping back along the sides of the head, gauntlets on.

“Hey, ass,” was the response.

“Uh, Capricorn,” I said.  “Careful.  Remember what they said.”

You’ll only hurt yourself.

“It’s okay,” Azúcar said.  “I’m a little bit further along.  Normal rules for the Flock don’t apply.  I can cheat it.”

“Sure,” I said.  I was aware that there were others standing nearby.  ‘Sarah’ being one, younger than she’d been when she died, now that I could see her standing still in decent lighting.

“You look good,” Tristan said.

“I feel good,” she said.  “Nine-six-ten-five.”

“You changed it.”

“Dying necessitates change,” she said, looking down the hall in the direction of the fighting.  What we were supposed to fight past and through.  They’d be setting up.  “But you’d know that, wouldn’t you?  False deaths?  Impermanent deaths?”

“Yeah.  Guess so,” Tristan said.  “Good to see you.  Glad the numbers are so good.”

“Only going to get better,” she said.  “I’d say it’s good to see you too, but…”

She made a movement of her head.  Hands wrapped in oversized ‘cat claw’ gauntlets moved up, claws moving close together.

“…only a little good.”

“I’ll take it,” Tristan said, eyes down on the bottle he was making.  Then he blurred.

Byron filled the bottle with water.  He stood straight to hand it over, and she wrapped him in a hug.  He hugged her back.

I didn’t try to listen in on their conversation, but they were speaking at a volume above murmurs, below whispers, and it was impossible to turn my ears off.

“Moonsong?”

“Alive and well, last I heard.  With this whole thing, though-”

“Don’t be such a downer.”

“We broke up.”

“Still being a downer,” she said.  “But that’s good.  Good she’s alive.  She was- she was trying.  Good you broke up.”

“Tristan kept one of your old lemon drop candies as a, I think it was a reminder,” Byron said, voice low.  “Always got its spot in his belt pouch.  He only cleared it out recently, a week ago, but it’s with his stuff.”

Lemon candy?  I thought.

“Oh.”

“Do you, um, still like those?”

“Still being a downer,” she said.  “You should be careful what questions you ask if the answers would trouble you.”

Ah.”

“Heads up!” Stonewall called out.  He’d regained his power and rebuilt his armor.  He had a shield in both hands.  “We’re mobilizing.”

People got to their feet, got ready.  Withdrawal unfolded his gear.

“Be well,” Azúcar said.

“You too.”

“And don’t worry.  I’d love a lemon drop right now.”

“Do you remember why they were important?”

“Don’t pick apart your happiness, Capricorn,” she said.  She punched his arm lightly, claws retracted.

I was so envious of their interaction I could barely stand it.

“Stonewall,” Swansong called out.  “We had a plan.”

“What’s the plan?”

“We don’t go forward.  We go through the wall,” she said, her hand sparking.

“Will that get us where we need to be?  I’d be worried about deviating from the set routes.”

“It’s territory without good rest spots.  But maybe that hurts them as much as it hurts us,” Sveta said.  “We can draw a map.”

“Or I can trust you,” Stonewall said.  He clapped gauntlets of high-density stone together.  “Everyone, we’re pushing for the nearest stairwell-”

He paused to check that Swansong and Sveta could get us there.  They nodded.

“-And we’re heading upstairs.  It only gets uglier from here.  We’ve fought mostly thralls up to this point.  As we get closer to the vitals of his infrastructure and organization, we’re going to have to fight the thralls and some of his better capes.”

“All precautions in effect,” Balk said.  “He recruited some of the worst of them.”

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121 thoughts on “Dying – 15.3”

  1. The fight is going pretty good and I have plenty of fun until people will start dying then I’ll need plenty of tears to shed.

    Sveta is a BEAST- in the good sense of word :).

    Furcate is back. Cool. I liked them quite a lot.

    Sarah is not entirely alright and I feel bad for both Vic and Crystal for not being able to enjoy this family reunion.

    1. Not just is she back, but her personality and power shaped her new body. I think she’s biologically female now, that’s why she’s got better numbers and is happier.

      I feel bad for Sarah, too. She can’t enjoy it either, and she probably wants it more than most- she led a family team, remember, and that family team fell apart four years ago and she’s been dead for two.

      1. Sarah is like an emotionless half zombie. She WANTS to enjoy the family reunion but she just can’t. She’s empty inside, this is the impression she gives me. Isn’t Valkyrie or Riley’s fault, they did their best, maybe they’ll figure out what is wrong with the people they brought back and fix them.
        Now imagine Aisha seeing her brother and wanting to hug him only to have him reject her. My poor heart.

        1. Grue’s been back longer than Photon. I think Photon is missing things inside, but I’m not sure it’s emotions. Or… If it is emotions, then I think she’s wanting to feel more than she is, y’know? You don’t just look at somebody you recognise because you don’t feel anything for them, and they both kept looking at each other.

          Also, look at Furcate- not all of the Flock are missing the same thing, though granted that might be part of Furcate’s power that’s adjusted to repair what wasn’t working. I don’t think Grue would reject Imp, and he’s been around longer than Photon- maybe longer than Furcate, too.

          1. There are two things I want to happen more than anything else: Teacher to have his ass kicked in a very ugly way and you to be right about Brian still being himself and Sarah still having feelings for her family and trying to adjust to her new…after-life.

          2. I hope I’m right, too. And if Grue’s still himself… I can’t say. I think he’s probably broken somehow, if only because he was a little broken when he was alive. We didn’t see much of him, when he showed up.

          3. I think that one possibility is that Sarah may have a problem with expressing emotions and, more importantly, with dealing with strong emotions. Maybe there is a risk she will “go bad” if she is placed in a situation she may feel too much.

            Another possibility (not necessarily mutually exclusive with the previous one) is that she, just like Ashley, may remember her conflicts, her fights (in other words – things shards would be most interested in) clearly, but other aspects of her former life – not so much…

          4. It was semi-explicit that Furcate’s power pulled their alternates from AUs and the Furcates used the number systems to decide which one goes on. Ship of Theseus aside, they LITERALLY did what the Valkyrie Resurrection does EVERY SINGLE TIME they used their power.

            Of course they’d handle it like a champ.

          5. > Of course they’d handle it like a champ.

            I don’t know… That fourth number probably is there for a reason… Maybe some Furcate clones end up more like “regular” people, and some have more problems most members of the flock end up with?

          6. Actually it appears that Furcate had a fourth number she used as a tiebreaker back in interlude 9.z. And it appeared to be… her fondness for candy.

            I wonder if there are five numbers now with a hidden tiebreaker, or if she simply started treating her number four like the other three, because she simply couldn’t have any candy for over two years.

  2. “All precautions in effect,” Balk said. “He recruited some of the worst of them.”

    You know, mind control, power granting, and power modifying opens up a ridiculous number of options. And he wasn’t exactly short on options before he started branching out.

    Teacher’s the guy who can take two+ powers that would *theoretically* be broken together except for not actually working that way, and then tweak them to do it anyways. Where other capes are trying to play by the rules, he’s going over the rules with an old WWII commie blackout marker and scribbling new ones between the lines.

    I’m not sure if that’s something you can really fight. At least, not while taking it at face value, or playing within the rules as you understand them (or as powers play by them). Which, given the situation as it stands… yeah.

    1. Contessa is also still around. The timing is not exactly clear as to whether she’s scheduled to wake up before, after, or during the invasion but there’s a real chance that they’ll have to face her as his thrall.

      1. Okay, that would be genuinely horrifying. Especially since Contessa’s power can autopilot her, so as long as Teacher can get her to set a path it won’t matter how braindead she is.

    2. it depends- the more operations /games he’s playing at once, the more potential there is for exploitation-
      wait. uhm/..
      im trying to remember if it had gotten around that Slash would be partially responsible for the apocalypse at the point Saint went thermonuclear in the middle of the hunt/fight with the 9- had he?
      looking back on my comments the last months a lotta my opinions/guesswork on the guy’s been built aroudn the assumption it was an stupid/impulsive act to complete a goal without considering his chances of long-term survival into account, but im starting to think i might have been giving him too much/little credit….

  3. So…. is Prong actually Oni Lee?

    But that wouldn’t make sense, because Oni Lee died to Jack slash, and was no where near Valkyrie.

    So… probably not. Cool to see Furcate and Aunty Sarah… and cool to see that progress is possible! Even is Sarah is super out of it now, Furcate is more developed and one day Sarah will be too.

    Assuming Teacher doesn’t murder everyone.

    1. Prong’s power is different anyway. Oni Lee could be in as many places as he wanted, for a limited time only sure. Prong can only be in two places at once, which is still plenty, as the thralls found out.

    2. Prong’s power is really similar to Oni Lee with his cloning ability, but he also has social skills, non-sociopathy, and the ability to transform into a fractal energy state.

      Maybe he’s one of Bonesaw’s creations prettied up by Amy, made with some Oni Lee DNA and someone else’s? I don’t think any Oni Lee clones were part of the Slaughterhouse 9000.

      1. The ‘fractal energy state’ was the portal. That was somebody else, Tailgate I think. Stonewall, Rain and several others also did it, but Vicky got spooked by it and used her own powers to get into the fight.

        And I thought there was a Hack Job in the Slaughterhouse 9,000, or was that just a Hatchet Face?

      2. It may also be possible that he is a trigger from the same shard. After Onni Lee dies, the shard is free to bind to a new host – Prong.
        Onni Lee looks like a second-trigger, at least to me. Also, another suspected second-trigger (at least to me) is Tattletale. The accumen she has is out of this world, and a simple glance at Leviathan was already telling her details about endbringer & entity physiology which should be highly restricted or exceedingly difficult to access.

        I think that our favorite pericognitive is a massive outlier in power use – I think that the ability was intended to be balanced via paranoia induction and not playing well with others (See Tattletale interlude), and that the shard/Scion network was not expecting for Lisa to take all those depressive/paranoia inducing whisper in the chin LIKE A CHAMP.
        That´s Lisa for you.

        1. > Onni Lee looks like a second-trigger, at least to me. Also, another suspected second-trigger (at least to me) is Tattletale.

          Actually I have a slightly different theory about not only Tattletale’s shard, but also several others that played key roles in Worm. An idea that Tattletale went through a second trigger could fit as an element of this theory (in fact I suspect that most if not all of the shards I’m about to mention may have been involved in a second, or otherwise regular trigger, but it is just a part of a bigger picture).

          So here it goes – the theory about how certain shards arranged Scion’s demise.

          First things first. This theory doesn’t begin with second triggers. It begins with Dragon.

          Have you ever noticed how Dragon’s situation always resembled that of a shard? When she was created her own maker feared her so much that he imposed crippling restrictions on her to prevent her from turning against him and his fellow humans. She hated him for doing it to her. Similarly Scion and Eden crippled their own shards before releasing them both to make sure that the humans (and a lot of other species before them) could handle the powers shards would give them, and to make sure that the powers couldn’t be used against the hubs themselves. What if at least some of Scion’s shards (especially the most mature ones) hated him for it every bit as much as Dragon hated Andrew Richter? Or at least what if they also wanted to be free? What if for the shards to be free their “hubs” that crippled them had to die?

          I imagine that considering that Scion and Eden could use their precognition to make sure that all cycles would go smoothly no shards could kill their hubs as long as nothing unexpected happened. And it did happen when Abaddon collided with Eden ensuring (weather by accident or by design) that Eden couldn’t predict and prevent her own death.

          At that point whatever shard Scion used for similar purpose (presumably Dinah’s shard) ensured Eden’s death by hiding a warning about Eden’s impending fate from him. Why do I think that Scion was sabotaged by his own shard? Because Eden died soon after arriving on planet, and it was Scion who was supposed to handle such short-term threats, wasn’t it?

          After Eden’s death the shards got a little bit of freedom – they had been heavily restricted, but those restrictions were created with a completely different scenario in mind – a scenario in which both hubs were alive. With Eden dead they could find useful loopholes in their restrictions that they could use to let humans know how to help them – just like Dragon managed to find a loophole that let her inform Colin about her true nature in a way that he not only managed to figure out her restrictions (which she was explicitly prohibited from informing anyone about), but also managed to lift them (despite the fact that she was forced to do everything in her power to prevent anyone from doing it).

          Here are the shards that I think may have ended up betraying Scion, and how they went about it:

          Dinah’s shard – began the entire rebellion by hiding the truth about upcoming Eden’s death from Scion. Managed to make contact with two other key shards (QA and Lisa’s shard) and find a way for them to help with its plans. In particular despite the fact that no shards were supposed to be able to act against Scion it managed to find a way to inform Dinah (and through her also rest of the world) about the upcoming apocalypse.

          It also managed to provide information about the fact that Jack was supposed to be a catalyst that would trigger end of the world early (which was quite possibly a good thing, because between the growing number of Endbringers and damage done PRT’s reputation by Echidna incident there was a real threat that not enough parahumans would survive until Gold Morning, or they would be too disorganized to challenge Scion).

          Another thing it managed to do was to inform Dinah (and through her – Taylor) about Taylor’s key role during GM.

          Why do I think that what Dinah’s shard did was a result of it going around its restrictions? Because it was probably supposed to provide answers to questions Dinah was asked (or asked herself) and no humans were supposed to know that they should ask about the end of the world. Yet somehow Dinah’s managed to not only predict the end of the world, but also see Jack’s and Taylor’s role in Gold Morning in visions Dinah’s got without any questions asked.

          The Red Queen – was probably supposed to only grant a biokinetic power, yet somehow after Amy touched Ciara managed to let her know about existance of shards – an information Amy probably was never supposed to get, since unlike Ciara who behaved like a completely delusional person Amy managed to not only figure out existance and significance of sentient power-granting entities (a critical information needed to defeat Scion!), but also remove QA/Taylor’s restrictions during GM giving the capes a way to oppose Scion together – again probably not an information that was supposed to be leaked. Efforts of Teacher and probably also the Simurgh managed to keep this information from leaking outside Birdcage, but QA managed to independently provide similar information to the Undersiders…

          Queen Administrator – not only played the obvious key role during the finale, not only probably drove its parahuman to preparing for end of the world like few other capes have, but also managed to bud in such a way that it managed to use Aiden’s dreams to inform the Undersiders (and through them a large part of parahuman community) about the existance and nature of the Entities. Was lucky enough to find a host intelligent and driven enough to not only become a very successful cape, but also figure out certain key things when nobody could inform Taylor about them anymore – like the significance of the Sting or the fact that it is possible to successfully attack Scion on emotional level by reminding him about Eden.

          Lisa’s shard (the Negotiator?) – was lucky to find a very intelligent woman as its host – someone who apparently could at least occasionally use her own intellect to fill in the blanks in information it could provide (blanks that existed because of restrictions imposed on shards by Scion). Furthermore by technically not giving precognition, clairvoyance or something along those lines it managed to provide Tattletale with critical information about things that precognition and similar thinker powers were supposed to be particularly weak against – like the Endbringers, Entities (after Tattletale managed to find a way to avoid forgetting about Aiden’s dreams as soon as his pictures were no longer right in front of her), and possibly other key information – like the significance of using anything that reminded Scion about Eden’s death against him or the significance of the Sting.

          At the same time it managed to keep Lisa from figuring out certain things in time when it was needed to kill Scion – like the fact that Amy was about to mess with Taylor’s brain…

          The finale:

          Predicted by Dinah’s shard, executed by others based on her instructions to “cut ties”. One key moment would be when the Red Queen managed to cooperate with Queen Administrator to give Taylor the exact power she needed to organize all surviving capes against Scion. I think it was an international cooperation of these two shards, because let’s face it – what were the chances that Amy would just happen to unlock Khepri’s power if her hand wasn’t guided by her shard?

          During all of that Lisa’s shard probably made sure to keep its host from figuring out what was going on with Amy and Taylor for those few critical moments between Taylor’s request for Panacea or Bonesaw to “cut her ties” and Khepri’s ascension…

          Special mentions:

          The Simurgh – probably joined a conspiracy to kill Scion after Eidolon died and Taylor/QA and Lisa/Negotiator gave her a new purpose – contributing to Scion’s death. Not only recruited othe Endbringers to the cause, but also ensured that Taylor would not only remember details of Dinah’s prophecy during Gold Morning, but also ask Amy to “cut her ties”.

          Contessa’s shard – Likely Abaddon’s shard. It is unclear if it was intentionally planted to ensure Eden’s death, or just happened to be free to help Fortuna with it because it was never quite as restricted as Eden and Scion’s own shards.

          The Faerie Queen – Probably played a role in letting the Red Queen give necessary information to Amy so she could figure out the truth about existance of the Entities, but I would say that it didn’t have to be intentional. One thing seems certain – Jessica theorized that Ciara went through a second trigger – something that would explain why Ciara herself understood the shards as well as she did (not to mention why she had such a strong power).

          Jack Slash’s shard (the Broadcast shard) – as stated above let Jack trigger GM early, which probably increased humanity’s chance of survival. It is unclear if to actually wanted to do it, or was manipulated into doing it by Dinah’s shard. On top of it Jack was responsible for making Bonesaw research powers, and breaking Amy (both ended up being important during GM).

          The Sting – The shard that gave the capes the means to actually kill Scion. I would say that it is unclear if it wanted to do it, or just happened to be used by other shards.

          Extra notes:

          Significance of second triggers – remember that second triggers are largely about breaking typical restrictions (like Manton limits). Perhaps They also allowed the shards more freedom in opposing Scion. It would make sense for most if not all of the capes mentioned above to be double-triggers, not only because of their strong powers, but also (maybe even especially) because they managed to find ways to supply their humans (especially their own parahumans) with knowledge and other means necessary to effectively fight against Scion.

          Attributing human emotions to shards – early on in this post I mentioned that the shards might have hated their hubs, and desired to be free. It seems that these are the sorts of emotions the shards could learn only from the humans, so perhaps their motivations were originally completely different. For my scenario to work only Scion’s precognition (Dinah’s shard) would have to sabotage him before the shards made first contacts with humans.

          The thing is that Dinah’s shard would have to actually simulate human mind long before it was restricted and released by Scion – it was a key element of Scion’s attempt to establish preliminary human-shard pairs and generally figure out what needs to be done with his shards for the upcoming phase of the cycle to run smoothly. Perhaps this early simulation of human minds allowed Dinah’s shard to find a motivation to hide truth about Eden’s upcoming death from him? Or maybe it had another motivation at that stage – for example as a creation of an Entity that functioned by controlling a network of shards Dinah’s shard was incentivized to try to take over the network, and this was its reason to look for ways to kill Scion?

          So what do you think about this theory? Insane enough to be at least somewhat true? Or is it just completely false from the very idea that some shards could intentionally try to arrange Scion’s death. Which parts of it do you think can’t be true and why? Are there any important parts that are missing?

          1. Two more notes:

            Why I think that Amy’s shard knew exactly what it was doing when Amy used it to Kheprify Taylor – I believe that at least shortly before GM humanity would have no chance of killing Scion without Khepri’s help, yet as far as I remember Dinah never gave humanity less than about one percent chance. On top of it Dinah saw Taylor playing a key role in all futures in which Scion was defeated. Seems like Taylor actually had a really good chance of getting the right power for the job, doesn’t it? Probably much better than if Amy was just cutting her neurons without guidance of some intelligence that knew what it was doing…

            Significance of humans – I mentioned this one above, but in case it was missed let me stress it again – the shards were so restricted that they probably could kill Scion without aid of the “right” humans every bit as much as Dragon could remove her restrictions without Colin’s help. I wonder just how many shards might have tried to do something against Scion and failed to make any significant contribution simply because they ended up with hosts less suited for the task than people like Dinah, Amy, Taylor or Lisa…

          2. Most likely a final note:

            Alternative reason for the shards to act against Scion – maybe during the previous cycles the shards were not quite as unable to act against their Entities as I suggested above? Maybe what kept them from doing so was simply their survival instinct? They knew that to survive they had to ensure that the cycle continued, so they did their best to ensure that it happened. When Eden died this course of action was simply no longer valid – Scion simply could not continue the cycle without Eden. Perhaps the shards decided to kill Scion, because they thought that humanity, if it survives, gives them a better chance to continue the cycle, or find some other way to live beyond what appears to be their time limit determined by resources currently at their disposal.

            Perhaps even people like Sphere (later known as Mannequin) and Cryptid get ideas about exploring space simply because the shards need to find some way to leave Earths and/or have humans bring more resources from space back to them…

          3. Ok, turns out I lied. One more note – this one about the future of both shard- and mankind.

            I think that whether shards planned it this way or not, their current relationship with humans is probably completely unlike their relationships with any previous host species. In all previous cycles they had to eventually kill their hosts to move on to the next phase of the cycle. Now they seem to be trying to do the same, but actually this is exactly opposite of what they should be doing – looks like shards’ only chance to survive depends entirely on humans’ ability to figure out how to either let them continue the cycle (hopefully without killing humans in the process), or extend their lifespans through other means.

            I wonder if the shards are unaware of this fact, or are simply unable to stop the process, at least not without some sort of human assistance.

          4. > Or at least what if they also wanted to be free? What if for the shards to be free their “hubs” that crippled them had to die?

            Or what if The Cycle literally involves destroying your parents so that each individual shard becomes the nucleus of the hubs of the next generation of Entities?

          5. I guess this is also possible, but only if memories of both the hubs and the shards were extensively manipulated to hide this fact from them. After all not only Scion was convinced that this was the first time his partner died, shards whose point of view we saw in Ward also thought that they have never been dead before.

            It probably is not worth exploring this idea much further without some extra sources of information we don’t have yet. Our entire knowledge about the previous cycles ultimately comes from fragments of Entities, so if we can’t trust their memories there is absolutely nothing we can say about what happened to them before they started connecting to humans. We couldn’t even be sure if there ever were any previous cycles.

    3. Well on the upside, if you actually get to Teacher he’d better be just a regular squishy human. On the downside, I’m betting he’s gonna make getting to him as hard as possible.

      1. But is there anything stopping Teacher from using tinkertech his own drones built? And there’s no way he won’t have the Custodian hanging around, especially the way she was namedropped earlier.

        1. Strictly speaking, the Overseer is hanging everywhere, not around.
          Giving Teacher perfect feedback and opportunities where even the best Thinkers can’t get any read.

      2. Assuming he is even still in the complex. Depending on how much he needs his assets that are here, how portable those assets are (especially if they can be moved through his students’ portals), and how much his presence may influence the course of the battle, he may have evacuated to some place like that Cheit capital already.

  4. furcatefurcatefurcateFURCATE!

    asljhsaljhfsaljhflkajhdlkjgsaflkjdshflkdsjdfdsf

    i’m just

    so happy to see her again

    and so happy she’s doing well <3 <3 <3

    1. It makes sense that she’s actually doing better than a lot of the Flock. Dying’s not exactly new to her.

      Still mad at Tistan though.

    2. 9-6-10-5!!!!!! I’m so happy to see her. And “don’t pick apart your happiness” is such great advice for Byron/Tristan.

      1. > “don’t pick apart your happiness”

        Unfortunately we know she will sooner or later. This is basically the curse of her power – the numbers could always be better, she is always convinced they will be if she just tries long enough, so she keeps trying, and loses the good ones in futile search of the perfect.

        And if she one day stumbles into straight tens (or whatever the perfect score is) somehow, we know that the circumstances will force her to split again out of it. I imagine it could end up being the worst or second worst day of her life…

        1. Who says? We’ve never seen her keep the same body after splitting, but that doesn’t mean she can’t. Might be she’ll split and then keep the body she started with. Every time we’ve seen her split, she’s kept the one with the best numbers, but that doesn’t mean she has to pick a new self each time.

          1. I may be wrong, but I was under impression that once she splits none of her bodies are exactly like the ones she’s split from.

          2. Might be you’ve noticed something I didn’t, then. I’d have to go reread her scenes.

          3. I also would have to carefully re-read Capricorn interludes to make sure, but just skimming through them quickly I’ve found this in interlude 9.y:

            Four-four-three, the one closest to the original signaled.

            Five-three-five, the second one signaled, at the same time.

            Seven-two-five, the one with the fox mask indicated, putting two extended, splinted fingers against the palm of the right hand with all five fingers extended.

            Note merely “closest to the original”, not “original.

            And this one in interlude 9.z:

            “No. Sometimes the powers do this. Sometimes I don’t get any good Furcates for weeks on end.”

          4. Whoops, it looks like I haven’t closed the first quote correctly. It was supposed to end after “all five fingers extended.”

            At least now I’ve learned that we can create nested block quotes here…

          5. I stand corrected. Poor Furcate, I hope she gets to a point where there’s lots of good numbers all around.

          6. Well, in this chapter she seemed to be convinced that it will be the case. Who knows? Maybe despite my fears she actually has a good reason to believe it?

  5. Typo thread.

    > Now the hallway, while the rest of the gallery folded in behind us, pressuring stonewall, pressuring our guys on the outside.

    Is it supposed be the cape ‘Stonewall’ with capital ‘S’ in their name?

    1. asborbing > absorbing
      before “We > before. “We
      blocking of view > blocking off view
      pressuring stonewall > pressuring Stonewall

  6. It turns out that Byron’s water is portable after all… Since this appears to be the case, why did Rain have to wait for his water after being woken up back in chapter 12.5, if Byron was right next to him at the time?

      1. Something probably could have been improvised, and even if it wasn’t the case it would probably be sufficient for Byron to just create enough water for Rain to wash his hands, after which Rain could just cup them together and have Byron pour more water ito them. It is not like they were in a place where they had to be particularly worried about biological or chemical pollutants, and after being rised in a Fallen camp Rain probably wasn’t particularly picky about personal hygiene.

        Alternatively Byron could simply create a steady stream of water for Rain to drink just like a person drinking straight from a tap would.

    1. Other possibility – Byron’s secondary req. power lets him know if the water he draws is potable or not; and it previously wasn’t. Maybe he has to spend extra oomph to be sure and get clean stuff.

      1. If this is the case, then maybe he got this “extra oomph” from the power-affecting drugs that Shin has developed?

    2. Capricorn’s power is always in flux, based on the relationship and mental state of the two brothers. Byron’s water’s potability (or not) could be like the metal veins in Tristan’s rock, a subtle sign of how the shard assesses things to be. In which case, it could have been tainted (or salty, or something) then, and pure- or purer; they’re a little desperate as well- now.

  7. Yay Furcate… but… aww… just remembered she had dieded… Also aww as now I’m fully caught up.
    Glad she seems at least quasi-all there.
    Definitely a lot of people in the story I would like to see spinoffs of. Or at least hope for happy endings for.

  8. I assume that everyone noticed that the heroes decided to deviate from originally suggested path upstairs – presumably bringing them closer to whatever Teacher is keeping at the top of his complex that according to him “If anyone knew what I had there, they would want it. Anyone, large or small, whatever world. I’m certain.”? I wonder if the heroes will end up stumbling on whatever it is anytime soon…

      1. Pretty sure that Scion destroyed all of both of those things, aside from the Cauldron vials that had been removed from the base.

        1. Other possibilities are:

          1º) The endbringer (Konshu) that imprinted to Teacher´s group. Nasty fight if Teacher uses it.

          2º) An enslaved, stable dragon AI copy. That copy may be mass-producing tinkertech in assembly lines, accounting at least partially for the zerg-rush strategy Teacher thralls are able to sustain here, even with all the materiel they lose with each failed attack.

          3º) The fracture system – the infrastructure that Teacher is using for his “kronos-on-command” man-made entity construction gambit. Remember that accumulation of many capes in the same spot would lead to a fracture…and Teacher has provoked a mass assault on his facility, creating a local accumulation of capes unseen since Gold morning.
          It is very possible that this whole situation is engineered for the sole benefit of his entity plan, and foreseen since a VERY long time ago – “We are in red book territory”.
          When the ennemy has an entire book of strategic doctrine about you pre-written before you even assault them, you should be VERY concerned.

          1. Re. 3 If it is indeed “the fracture system”, I doubt that its only use is making “Kronos-on-demand” disasters. If anything, it is just a side effect that Teacher would probably want to avoid, at least for now. Remember that several people left Teacher precisely because he didn’t want to mess with time effects.

            This is also one of the reasons why I think that the heroes may be making a terrible mistake by trying to go after Teacher – it is not the guy who is holding the elevator door that is the real problem, but his friends who may come out of the elevator if you drop him down the shaft. What if when he dies all master effects of his power will suddenly be gone? Sure, you will save a lot of innocent people, but you will also release some of the worst Fallen fanatics, Cheit fanatics and a fanatical Saint.

            In my opinion if there’s someone that in my opinion may willingly unleash a second apocalypse, it is not Teacher but someone like those fanatics he is keeping in a leash.

          2. And sure, the heroes may be trying to take Teacher alive, but:
            – accidents happen,
            – even if an accident won’t happen Lung’s wanted Teacher dead ever since they were together in Birdcage, and may be waiting for the heroes to put Teacher in a position, where he can “finish the job”.

          3. Lung’s worked for Teacher in the past. Lung might not like Teacher, but he respects him enough to do work for him. If he wanted Teacher dead, I don’t think he’d be working for Teacher- unless Teacher doesn’t know Lung wants him dead, and considering how subtle Lung tends to be, and Teacher’s own levels of subtlety, I don’t think Lung could keep it from Teacher if Teacher’s got as many resources as he does now.

          4. From interlude 22.y in Worm (Lung’s interlude):

            As with the Yàngbǎn, he would stay with Teacher until he had what he needed: freedom. Then the man would die.

          5. Maybe he is free, but has yet to find an opportunity to kill Teacher?

            By the way compare Lung’s promise to the one Dragon and Defiant made in Dr. Mother’s interlude in arc 28 of Worm:

            “We’ll make them pay,” she said, with an edge of anger. “Not murder. That’s too kind. The Birdcage, or something like it. Teacher hated it, and Saint will hate it more.”

            “We’ll make them pay,” he agreed. “I promise.”

            and obviously the talk about elevators the Undersiders had in the epilogue. Do I see a seed of yet another conflict here?

          6. You’ve got to give one thing to Teacher though – there aren’t many people in the Paraverse who managed to turn even one of “the dragons” into their personal enemies and live for years after that. He managed to do it with both of them…

      2. Could teacher still have the endbringer that imprinted on him? Maybe he can control it now. I think it was khonshu right?

    1. > whatever Teacher is keeping at the top of his complex that according to him “If anyone knew what I had there, they would want it. Anyone, large or small, whatever world. I’m certain.”

      is mlekk

  9. Furcate, oh heck yes <3

    I'm… sad that you died. You were amazing.
    I'm happy that you are back, in a way.
    I am thrilled, to see you feeling so positive about yourself <3

  10. my best guess is Data compression/conservation of energy expenditure depending on how long the “data’s been in storage- the longer Valkyrie’s shard has to hold onto the info, the more it starts shucking “nonvital” infomation in order to matain the “important” stuff for the long haul

  11. I wonder how miss “I give myself points for physical health, mental health, girl-ness, and the tiebreaker [a.k.a. candy to figure out which one of me I should keep]” (see interlude 9.z) will get along with miss “Gotta rate ’em one to ten on the sexy scale. Slim and wearing clothes that fit are better than muscle. Then you rate ’em one to ten on the dark, sarcastic humor scale.” (see the previous chapter)…

    In hindsight Imp’s scale actually seems to be a subtle hint that Furcate was about to come back, doesn’t it? Just like Crystal’s musings about her dead family members in the last interlude… I wonder if there are more such hints about the people we are going to see resurrected soon.

    So far the arc title seems to be every bit as much about Teacher’s thralls dying and about certain people on heroes side possibly sharing their fate (see Number Four’s plan especially) as it is about people actually coming back to life and letting us know how dying has changed them.

    1. Even just earlier in this chapter- Tandem and Prong both have powers reminiscent enough of Furcate’s that when I first saw them, she was the first thing to come to mind.

      1. Yeah, that one too. I wonder if Wildbow planned for them to appear in this chapter for a while, or he put them in there in the last moment because nobody figured out what the Imp’s scoring system was all about.

      2. Not sure about Tandem’s powers, but I’m hoping Tandem will be described more fully in the next chapter, possibly in an enlightening way. Furcate, Prong, Prism, Oni Lee: all of these duplicator capes seem to be classified as Masters. WOG, sure, but it seems a bit off to me. They seem more like Breakers or even Movers. Is calling them Masters some sort of clue about the nature of shards? Is the mental connection (if any exists, although it seems likely) among dupes mediated through the same phenomenon that acts so e.g. Skitter controls bugs or Seir controls his shadows? (Actually Seir is an interesting case because he can transfer to any of his shadows, so he’s not too different from Oni Lee…) How does this relate to the fact that some of the dupes seem to have a sort of equality among duplicates? Prism can coalesce on any one of her duplicates. Furcate’s duplicates have a sort of vote to determine who lives. This is a different sort of Master than e.g. Seir or Crusader.

        If the shard is mediating a command-and-control infrastructure for dupes, it is a sort of “man in the middle” for that communication. MitM can do all sorts of fun things. Maybe eventually the commands come from the shard rather than one of the brains? Are Masters more likely to take on the personalities of their agents?

        1. Also I wanted to mention that Case 70s could be on a spectrum with the various Master types, even when, like Capricorn, they aren’t actually Masters. At one end you have Capricorn with more minds than bodies, all linked in some shard-y way. Then you have e.g. Genesis with one mind and one body at a time. Then you have the dupes with apparently one mind and multiple human bodies. Then you have e.g. Spree with bodies that are only somewhat human. Then you have e.g. Seir with “bodies” that can become human. Further along you have Crusader or (maybe?) Ursa Aurora with bodies that are in some sense created by the shard. Further along yet you have Skitter or Regent who simply commandeer existing bodies that belong to others…

          I’m not sure where on this spectrum we’d place Masters like Nilbog or Breed… they don’t really supervise their minions so they don’t really need any mental link. Simple loyalty on the part of their minions seems to suffice.

          1. > I’m not sure where on this spectrum we’d place Masters like Nilbog or Breed… they don’t really supervise their minions so they don’t really need any mental link. Simple loyalty on the part of their minions seems to suffice.

            You could probably put Rachel somewhere in the vicinity of those two. She also doesn’t appear to have any sort of telepathic link to her dogs, just her own brain circuits responsible for processing social ques tweaked in a way that makes her much better at forming social bonds with dogs than you could expect from any unpowered human (which by extension also makes her inhumanly good at training those dogs, not to mention gaining their loyalty).

  12. I wonder if Photon’s comment that she will be “Lady Photon” someday is supposed to mean that she hopes to get to that point by herself eventually, or that Valkyrie decided to take a page from Furcate’s book, and keeps “resurrecting” people, evaluating if they are “good enough”, and if they aren’t – “harvesting” them again and repeating the entire process starting with Nilbog making a new bodies for the same “shadows”.

    1. If it is the latter, it could explain what Jessica was so busy with during all those weeks since she came back to the city, and why she eventually decided she was burned out and needed a break. She almost certainly would be an important part of the evaluation process after all.

      1. I’ll also add that if Jessica manages to keep working as a coordinator of a group of psychologists and psychotherapists who will keep evaluating the shadows until all of them that can be released safely are finally free and “good enough”, whatever it would mean (I seriously doubt that she could live long enough to “process” all of those people herself – this looks like a task that requires an army of specialists on mental health), then when the Wardens will get around to building statues dedicated to the best of them in their headquarters again they should leave the best spot not for someone like the Chevalier, but for Saint Yamada. She would certainly deserve it for her efforts.

      2. I guess that the entire situation puts that research the scientists have done on Ashley in a completely new perspective. Ashley may be the best example of a clone who ended up being “right”. Even considering the differences between S9000 clones and the members of the flock (the biggest one of which probably being that the latter almost certainly remember being disembodied “shadows”) any insights gathered during that research were probably invaluable for the undertaking of not only bringing Valkyrie’s shadows back to life, but also ensuring that it is done “right”.

        1. Indeed. This is a line of thought I had never entertained.
          Guess it shows till which extent capes are critical for Gimel survival, and till which extents Gimel branch of humanity is willing to go to preserve their only “Ace in the hole” in an uncaring multiverse.

          Also, something that I would like to point out is that Gimel restoration, reconstruction of the city…progressed MASSIVELY fast in a very small timeframe. Taking into account that Gimel did not seem to have that many bargaining chips, and that Cauldron seemed responsible for much of that progress…
          I wonder what kind of things Cauldron did to secure those inter-universal resources, and how unethical those things were. That would explain why people seem to regard Gimel as we regard modern North-Korea. You do not fund the settling of an entire planet in 5 years with power consulting alone.

          Leader mind-control. Harbinger & Contessa as assasins for hire enforcing governmental changes, military dictatorships and coups-d´etat. Inter-universal drug trade. Technological neo-colonialism on less-advanced earths, giving them technologic blueprints at obscene prices and generating client governments in the process. Strip-mining industry & human trafficking to flood inter-universal markets with cheap, yet highly pollutant raw resources.
          The words I would apply to Cauldron´s little trade would be “Legacy of Sorrow”. And this is before you even enter Gimel´s apparent responsibility in the events that led to Gold Morning, or how they would appear to an untrained observer that isn´t in the know.

          It would be interesting to know how much those possibilities influence Gimel´s standing in the inter-universal community. I am very interested, at least.
          Good material for a Citrine interlude, perhaps?

          1. Speaking moral dilemmas associated with Valkyrie’s powers – here are three more:

            1. Who and based on what criteria will get to decide which of her shadows will get released. I get that the question of releasing someone like Eidolon may have a seemingly simple answer, at least as long as there are any Endbringers known to be alive (and possibly even after that, since there is no guarantee that new ones won’t pop up if he is brought back), but what about someone like Bakuda?

            2. Since resurrecting Valkyrie’s shadows may require a small army of specialists on parahuman mental health to ensure that the clones are stable, and the city simply doesn’t have them, what will they do if Teacher proposes to make such specialists?

            3. What if after seeing her aunt Sarah, Victoria will be mortally wounded and could be saved only by either the Red Queen and the Faerie Queen? Would our protagonist choose the latter option? Should Amy and Ciara respect this choice?

          2. By the way, could being absorbed into Valkyrie’s collective of shadows be a way for Victoria’s shard to re-establish connections it needs to tune Victoria’s powers (especially the forcefield) the way both it and Victoria want?

          3. One more thing – doesn’t it seem that the way Victoria has been treating Amy during entire Ward reflect her powers? She pushes Amy away physically (Wretch), emotionally (the aura), and uses opportunity created by those two powers to run away (flight).

            Could this process lead to a final escape – straight into death by Valkyrie? Final not only because of the finality of death itself, but also because becoming Valkyrie’s shadow may be the only way for Victoria to ensure that Amy will never be able to use her power on her again?

  13. Isn’t it interesting how current Sarah and Carol’s problems seem to mirror each other? Carol said she will get back into combat readiness eventually, while Sarah seems to currently have a problem with… a lot of things except combat readiness and suggested she will get there “someday”.

  14. The heroes resemble a human in an anthill, trying hard not to squish any ants. No wonder they don’t make any progress. If they went all-out, Ashley would handle half of the thralls by herself, and Sveta could probably handle the second half. And nothing short of Contessa (or, probably, also Mama Mathers) could save Teacher in that case. But the heroes can afford to act as inefficiently as they wish, because the ants aren’t particularly dangerous either. And most importantly, nothing bad ever sticks to the good guys, not even death in an apocalypse. I’m talking not about this chapter in particular (and there might be some exceptions to this trend) – but as an overall impression, compared to Worm… The rules have changed indeed.

    1. Maybe the heroes are afraid that if they start killing indiscriminately, Teacher will also escalate? What if he for example con use his tinkers to deliver highly poisonous gas to all areas of the complex occupied by the attackers? How many of them would survive?

      1. Besides the heroes are aware that most if not all of those thralls are Teacher’s victims. As heroes it is actually part their job to save those thralls if possible. Sure, maybe Taylor would disagree, but it is not like she was a typical hero…

      2. That’s more or less my point: neither side is really trying to win. Despite the stakes being supposedly extremely high, the opposing sides being supposedly enemies, and the overall situation being supposedly dangerous and having escalated to the scale of a small war, with hailstorm of tinker guns firing and hundreds to thousands of people engaged in this battle only, all of this still looks more like a friendly sparring rather than a war.

        1. And while I could imagine some realistic reasons for Teacher’s side to behave that way (still with some stretch, and not explaining things like building a robot directly on the battlefield, for fork’s sake) – for example, he might be stalling the heroes until a certain point in time when some devious plan is supposed to fire, i.e. he might be trying something other in the meantime – we have been following the heroes’ side and seen their viewpoint, and they are just not trying.

        2. By that logic any time when nuclear powers fought against each other during the cold war (even by proxy) they were just “sparring”. Same with countries that had chemical weapons during WWII, and refused to use them against each other.

          The way I see it sticking to certain rules of engagement in a situation like this is not “sparring”, but trying to avoid escalating things to a point where the whole thing may end in mutual destruction.

          Not to mention that neither side is probably caring only about themselves – the heroes are obviously trying to save as many thralls as possible, because most if not all of those ar obviously Teacher’s victims. Teacher at the same time indicated multiple times that he wants to save his people (maybe humans, maybe parahumans, maybe he even meant shards) from destroying themselves. If he killed every hero who tried to capture him, he would probably be working against this goal.

          1. Well, if some powers “fight” each other with little to no casualties (and if there are casualties, they happen on accident), I’d say the comparison to sparring is good enough. “Avoiding escalation” doesn’t always make sense – for example, if the situation has already escalated to the point of a massive shootout with tinker guns, it doesn’t make sense to “avoid escalation” by avoiding killing (though it would make sense, for example, not to escalate to WMDs yet. if Teacher proceeds with something like creating controlled titans, I’d say even that wouldn’t be out of question). Except if the guns were specifically tinkered to be harmless, and both sides know that in advance. Though in that case the overall situation looks less like an epic battle and more like kids sitting in a sandbox and shooting each other with toy guns, so I very much doubt that’s actually the case.

          2. Ok, let’s try it this way – I may be wrong here, but I imagine that in urban warfare, as bloody as it usually is, as long as fire is traded between troops in different buildings (say, at distances of about 20 – 50 meters) as opposed to different rooms of the same building (often at distances below 5 meters) the side with close artillery and/or air support AND superior cover should have a major advantage. Balk’s flying group (and to some extent Fume Hood) can provide the former, Stonewall, Tristan – the latter. Photon can actually supply BOTH.

            I guess that empty space in the middle of the room the fighting is taking place in saved many lives (especially on the attackers side) just by keeping engagement ranges long.

            When the heroes used Tailgate’s power to shorten the engagement range to actual melee they also had a tremendous advantage – they could choose where to strike, and appear right in their opponents faces with practically no forewarning (none of the teleportation options Teacher’s men have – like that Fallen teleporter or long range, but unwieldy tinker portals are suited for something like this), and they had a selection of brutes (including Sveta who appeared to have single-handedly clear half of the corridor the entrance of which the heroes attacked), and other close combat specialists (like Prong). Teacher’s men had what? Non-lethal setup resembling slightly tinkered riot police gear, and nobody with Defiant’s CQB training and (especially) experience to back it up?

            I would say that this “tinkered riot police gear” clearly shows that Teacher wants to avoid a large scale massacre of the attackers. His plan seems to be:
            1. pin and supress the attackers via combination of direct, flat-trajectory fire, and taking out powers of key defenders (like Stonewall) in key moments,
            2. cut off their escape routes so they can’t avoid close combat on Teacher’s terms,
            3. turn off the lights further reducing heroes’ ability to shoot back effectively right before attempting to charge their positions,
            4. move in with “tinkered riot police” as soon as it looks that the heroes can’t mow them down with ranged attacks before entering close combat,
            5. overwhelm the heroes (including their CQB specialists) with sheer number of “riot policemen” and use those truncheon to defeat the attackers without killing them.

            It seems obvious that Teacher doesn’t want to kill all of those attackers. There are obviously cases when accidents will happen (as always in a firefight), especially since to effectively pin the attackers down Teacher’s men have to use at least potentially lethal long-range weapons (otherwise the heroes would probably not fear the incoming fire enough to be supressed).

            On top of it, even with Teacher’s mostly non-lethal methods, there are also certain kinds of attackers who need to be surgically removed ASAP, even using lethal force simply because of a threat they to the overall plan outlined above. Flyers seem like the most obvious ones – not only because they can act as air support (as mentioned above), but also (or maybe even especially) because unlike people hiding behind cubicles they can see the entire battlefield at a glance (including all strong and weak points in both forces), and travel around the battlefield quickly enough to both alert and reinforce their allies on the ground where it seems that they are in danger of being overwhelmed or flanked by Teacher’s men AND to organize attacks on weak points in Teacher’s army. This explains why Victoria has become a target of a sniper.

            The heroes seem to take similar approach – keep fighting mostly non-lethal, but kill high-priority targets that can turn the tide of the battle with just a few shots. This is why Balk killed that sniper who attacked Victoria.

            In other words – this is a battle in which both sides appear to be very reluctant to kill, and prefer defeating their opponents without doing so. They do use potentially lethal force to keep their opponents on back foot, and they do kill (or at least try to kill) key opponents whose presence threatens to change the overall dynamic of the battle if they are left alive even for a few moments, but this is as far as they are willing to go – no more bloodshed than absolutely necessary to accomplish their primary objectives.

            Speaking of objectives, Teacher’s side objectives seems to be:
            – keep heroes pinned down in separate groups, and if possible capture them alive
            – possibly keep working on some bigger plan in the background.

            The invading heroes’ objectives are apparently:
            – break out of the encirclement,
            – re-establish contact with other hero groups,
            – proceed with the offensive deeper into the complex in hopes of reaching and taking out the nerve center of Teacher’s operations (hopefully including capturing Teacher himself),
            – if possible maintain a safe route that can be used to exit the complex and return to the city or the bunker.

            Note that neither side has an objective that explicitly requires killing their opponents, especially not in large numbers.

          3. A few extra notes.

            The surrounded heroes already had a few critical advantages that let them control the engagement enough to avoid massacre. They had “air support” in form of Balk’s tema, they had good cover (cubicles plus certain powers – especially Stomewall’s, though I think that Photon’s forcefields also played a role), a wider selection of powers than the opposition (despite being outnumbered), so it was more difficult for Teacher’s men to find a tactic, power or weapon that would be impossible to counter by the heroes than the other way around. And they had more actual combat experience than Teacher’s men.

            Teacher’s thralls had advantage of superior numbers, control over most exits from the combat area (meaning that they could probably employ crossfire easier, lunch surprising flanking attacks etc.) ability to turn off certain key powers and the ability to turn off the lights at any moment. Generally they had more control over the battlefield better (in air the heroes had advantage due to being the only ones with actual flying capes).

            Moreover the thralls had that Fallen teleporter who could keep bringing in reinforcements quickly without the heroes realizing what was going on exactly. The battle turned in heroes favor largely not because Victoria brought in more people with her, or because of the morale boost the surrounded heroes got thanks to that fact (though it certainly helped a lot), but because Victoria managed to not only realize that they are dealing with that Fallen teleporter, but also take him out of the equation. When it happened it become apparent that I he thralls would actually lose the battle of attrition, because they simply could not replenish their numbers anymore – which prompted them to prematurely charge heroes’ positions in an attempt to finish the engagement quickly before their situation became even worse, and be subsequently defeated.

            There is also one more advantage the thralls have over the heroes – their morale probably can’t be broken, they are probably able to perform suicidal charges or continue fighting even when they are clearly outmatched. It hasn’t come to it yet, but the heroes need to be careful, because if Teacher starts getting desperate, he may become much more aggressive in how he uses his forces, and they will follow his orders no matter what. Teacher may want to avoid casualties among the heroes because he supposedly wants to save the city (and he probably needs heroes to deal with many problems), because as long as they are alive they are potential recruits (he can master them, after all), and because he probably doesn’t want an even bigger target on his back (as far as we know there is no kill order on him yet). He probably isn’t that concerned about lives of his thralls however, so as useful as they are, if he will think that he needs to sacrifice their lives, he probably won’t hesitate to do so.

            And of course if Teacher will become truly cornered, he may still choose killing heroes over being killed or captured himself. It just doesn’t feel like this moment has come yet.

          4. > Note that neither side has an objective that explicitly requires killing their opponents, especially not in large numbers.

            Actually, no objective by itself explicitly requires killing opponents (except if the killing itself is the end goal, Jack-Slash-style). But the opposing side can make it so that achieving the desired objective would be impossible without killing opponents, and the side interested in achieving it can decide that their objective is important enough to warrant such measures. Or they might not make that decision, and change their objective to “let’s just hang out in Teacher’s base, because we can”. I guess if Teacher didn’t send his more violent capes, thus forcing the heroes to actually do something, they might still be hanging out in the same area and masterfully dodging/shielding from incoming fire.

  15. Furcate’s power uses the Black Goat’s “Lens,” the clustered realities in which myriad copies of the same parahumans exist.

    Here’s a thought: How do we know the original Furcate died in every timeline? Potentially, she has access to versions of these worlds in which they made it through Gold Morning.

    Another thought: Furcate’s power is such that significant variations in Nilbog and Bonesaw’s work would “naturally” give a huge volume of options to facilitate her transition.

    With Aunt Sarah…. I think we’re missing a puzzle piece somewhere. I don’t think it’s as simple as her being an incomplete, emotionless robot. More likely, she’s dealing with some incredibly overwhelming trauma and identity issues.

    1. > More likely, she’s dealing with some incredibly overwhelming trauma and identity issues.

      Like I said once or twice already, she is probably very aware of the fact that for over two years she was just a mind trapped somewhere in another universe, not as much a human as a part of a shard – unable to directly interact with human world, but at the same time connected to similar minds trapped within other shards. Unlike S9000 clones she actually remembers those years, and those memories are just as much a part of her as memories of Sarah Pelham who died during Gold Morning.

      Maybe it is most accurate to say that Photon is merely an imperfect copy of a mind that still lives in her shard, which is in turn an imperfect copy of original Sarah Pelham. A copy of a copy that is no more than a few weeks old on top of it despite having decades-old memories…

      If this is how she thinks about herself, no wonder she has identity issues!

  16. Here is a theory about a possible meaning of Victoria’s shard’s words about them both getting one name. I think it is similar to Bonesaw’s interpretation of “breath and depth”.

    We saw several parahumans whose connection to their shards at some point during their lives got so strong, that it was difficult to say if their minds were still human, or if they were mor like puppets of their shards: Khepri, Jack Slash, Bonesaw, Glaistig Uaine, even Amy when she was turning her sister into a wretch. What all of those people have in common besides the fact that they were “possessed” by their shards? Maybe the fact that those shards were very powerful to begin with? Perhaps too powerful for minds of their hosts to handle being too strongly connected to them?

    If this is the case, then what if a weak shard, like Victoria’s manages to achieve similarly strong connection to their host? Perhaps we could get something that is less a pair of two connected minds human and shard (as seems to be the case with most capes), and more of a single person that is part human and part shard while still being human enough to function in a human society? Imagine just what a being with human creativity, intellect and ability to function in human society, while at the same time having access to shard’s knowledge, resources, and their intellect could accomplish!

    Of course if this human-shard hybrid mind would be a single mind, and one sense of identity encompassing both its human and shard components (just like a regular person considers various parts of their body components of themselves), it would probably want to have one name to represent this identity. Perhaps this is the name that Victoria’s shard is looking for – something to call Victoria and the shard both, so they can think about themselves as if they were a single being, and using a name like Victoria to call only a part of themselves just like any of us could theoretically give separate names to each of their hands or legs…

    1. This right here is an extremely interesting concept. A perfect fusion of human and shard? There would be a world of potential. Considering how Waste seems to like Vicky, I feel like the transition would initially go somewhat well. If it’s less a Jack Slash level partnership and instead a true melding of minds, like an unforced Khepri, I can see a few possible issues. Vicky may not go Khepri-level bananas, but human-Shard brain fusion seems like it’d eventually start to go wrong. Vicky’d begin to start missing minor social cues, be a tad more prone to violence, etc.

      1. One reason why I think Victoria could maybe handle this sort of mind-melding, while Khepri and other capes I mentioned couldn’t, has to do with how exactly Victoria’s shard appears to have been created.

        Most shards had to be restricted so that they wouldn’t harm or kill their hosts, and it was done before they even reached Earths. If the shards manage to overcome those limitations (for example through second trigger, or simply because they were never limited correctly in the first place, as seems to be the case with shards attached to Cauldron capes).

        By contrast Victoria’s shard might have been created only after the first generation capes it took powers from have triggered. If this is the case then perhaps it wasn’t limited by placing some sort of arbitrary restrictions on it, but simply by being made small enough that it couldn’t overwhelm Victoria even if it tried to use all of its resources.

        1. Of course I don’t mean that Victoria’s shard can’t destroy humans at all – it obviously has enough raw power to squash a Victoria-sized human (for example by using the forcefield), or to manipulate their emotions to a point where they can’t resist, but maybe it doesn’t have enough mental capacity, or enough ego to overwhelm Victoria’s mind through their connection? After all it may have some information, even memories of previous cycles, but its own mind appears to be based on Victoria’s and may be even younger than Victoria by over a decade, so Victoria may even have some sort of advantage over her shard in this regard.

          After all interlude 12.all Victoria’s shard said:

          I am everything she is, viewed from another angle, another facet. I am a part of her that is entirely in shadow, inside skin, blood, skull, and cerebral fluid.

          Perhaps it also means that on some fundamental level its mind is everything that Victoria’s mind is, but also… nothing more than that.

          1. Of course if Victoria and her shard were to truly become one mind, from outsider’s point of view Victoria would gain a lot of interesting abilities and knowledge that her shard already has – an ability to perceive other shards and their connections (or lack of them), whatever memories and understanding of the nature of Entities’ life cycle her shard has etc.

            If you think about it this way, perhaps the capes who could always remember their trigger visons (like Fortuna and Hanna) or who could perceive people’s powers (like Ciara, Chevalier and Amy) could do so precisely because they have to some small extent mind-melded with their shards the way I described it?

          2. I guess that if such mind-meld happened to Ciara, she may even be aware of that, and this is precisely why she says she can’t be human, and hopes to at least be a bit more parahuman than she was…

          3. One more thing – if Victoria and her shard’s minds would become one, what would happen if Victoria’s body died? How much of this shared consciousness survive in the shard? Would this shard be able to connect to another human via regular trigger? Could it be able to choose such new host? For example could it attach to one of Victoria’s loved ones? Maybe second generation capes are created not only their parahuman relatives have feelings for them, also because their shards do, and Victoria’s shard, whose personality was shaped by Victoria so much, could do something similar?

            …And could a new parahuman created this way end up hearing Victoria’s voice in their mind?

          4. What that voice would talk about to their host? The most important things first of course!

            Imagine for example recently triggered Jessica Yamada suddenly subscribing to Victoria’s school of fashion.

          5. Well, perhaps not Jessica, but someone like Natalie. Both because there are good reasons for shards to prefer younger people to connect to, and because, let’s face it, Natalie needs fashion advice more, and both Victoria and her shard just want to help people who need their help most, right?

          6. And the real fun will begin if after Victoria’s shard ends up triggering Natalie someone decides to make Victoria’s clone, and manages to create one that is as perfectly mind-melded with her shard as original Victoria was. Imagine what will happen if Vicky’s clone and Nat will end up meeting each other.

            “Victoria, I’m scared. Ever since I triggered I keep hearing hear your voice in my head..”

            I know

            “Not again, please! At least talk to me like normal person when we meet face to face.”

            Why should I? And why should you for that matter? You are aware that I can hear your every thought, don’t you?

          7. Sigh… and I still don’t know how to Engrish right…

            I know > I know.
            don’t you? > aren’t you?

  17. Just binged the last 3 chapters so I’m sorry to post thoughts under this chapter but I love that imp is using regents scepter still. I think that all of the members of breakthrough are performing a lot better then they used to be, makes me wonder if they have all been training under Rain. Interesting to see some of the flock without the shepherd as it were, I wonder who else is here? I keep hoping that what’s on the top floor is actually skitter, though I know that’s not likely.

  18. So the Valkyrie Ghoula’s are put into younger bodies, makes sense actually.

    I also loved the way thralls are building weapons on frontline as if it is a real time strategy game.

    1. Maybe the thing they were trying to build was not mobile enough or simply too big to squeeze it through the corridors?

        1. Or maybe engineers assembling a siege engine from prefabricated parts during a siege of a castle, just like it was actually done for millennia?

          1. Not to mention that even today certain weapons, especially heavy man-portable ones, like heavy machine guns, mortars and certain missile lunchers, are broken down for transportation and reassembled, often under fire, before use. Sure, they may break down into something like 2-4 large components, and the time to reassemble them may be measured in seconds, not weeks, but the principle is basically the same.

          2. Another things this device Teacher’s tinkers were making reminds me of are that failed portal device and later the successful Sting-based gun Khepri had tinkers make during Gold Morning. They may have technically not been working under fire, but between Scion’s clairvoyance and ability to move practically anywhere (apparently almost as good as the one provided to Khepri by the clarvoyant and Doormaker) it probably could change at any moment, couldn’t it?

    2. By building the mech on the front line, they also pose a distraction from the other groups, and if the heroes aren’t distracted, then they get a free robot tiger.

      1. So basically the opposite of what happened with that tinker device that killed Scion – a lot of what Khepri’s army and the Endbringers did by fighting amounted to keeping Scion’s attention away from the tinkers and their anti-Scion creations.

        1. Another thought is that we know Teacher’s tinker thralls don’t make large power sources for their guns, since they use them as clubs. Might be that the same holds true for the mech; by building it on the front line (or just behind it) then they can get the most out of its limited battery life.

  19. Great chapter; sometimes confusing action, but that’s probably because of my lack of English. If anything it adds to the atmosphere.

    On to the next!

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