Dying – 15.4

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Syringes emerged from the floor like a cresting wave, growing larger and more numerous as they got further from the source.  I watched as Withdrawal tried to escape the tide, and an extension of the needles cut him off.  Tinker stilts and the repelling shield he’d stolen off of a guard caused the needles to break, spilling dirty yellow-black fluid onto the floor.

Pumps, thick pipes, and white tile defined this corner of the complex’s second floor.  We’d fanned out, our groups moving through the various rooms with the intent of clearing each room in turn and ensuring we wouldn’t be flanked, using powers to ensure we wouldn’t be followed.  Anything else ensured a constant fight from all corners.

Except we’d hit a snare.  The idea had been that if we had any fights, any victories would mean we could fold in on and flank the enemies to either side of us.  And as far as I could tell, none of our teams were winning their fights or moving on to the step two.

Needles grew out in clumps, clusters, and bouquets, and then more needles and clumps grew out of the clumps.

“Don’t get pricked!” some kid shouted.  One of our Mortari capes.  “My analysis says they’re drugged and diseased!”

Withdrawal yelped as he avoided a sudden emergence of syringes.  I crashed into the needles with the Wretch, shielding my face with my arms.  Withdrawal already had his mask, so he didn’t need to worry about the spray.

“Help,” Caryatid said, voice quiet.  The needles had cut her off while she wasn’t moving, and now grew in thicker, until they came at her from every direction, all stopping millimeters away from her face, neck, arms, chest, belly, and thighs.  She had gone human to talk, her back straight, arms at her sides, wearing the long, slim black dress with the yellow-orange poofs at the wrists and feet.  She resumed her breaker form, the poofs and her head becoming something more fractal.

For the time being, I couldn’t do a lot.  The broken glass and shattered plastic of syringes pressed in even though I’d broken them, edges reaching for me.  I backed off, hemmed in.

The geography of this particular stretch of hallways was a H turned ninety degrees, and I was in the lower intersection, Caryatid to my right.  Withdrawal was up ahead and around the corner to the left, periodically visible through the thicker pipes.

“Terminal, incurable, long term diseases,” our unhelpful helper volunteered.  “Addictive substances!”

“Got it!  Go help someone else, or get somewhere safe!”

It’s scaring our Major Malfunctions, I thought.  They’re kids who did nothing for years, then jumped into the deep end of the pool.  And that’s partially my fault for bringing them onboard like I did.

Withdrawal, skinny, wearing a skintight suit, a mask, and the limb-extending agility frame, had only the shields he’d kept for defense, the syringe he carried for offense.  But the shields required energy and the syringe made a shitty club, especially when needles erupted from the wall to hem in how much he could swing the syringe at the stuff in his way.

I could bust up the syringes, but I couldn’t bust up the syringes and then tackle the areas with more syringes.  Our attacker was staying out of sight now, but I’d glimpsed her a minute ago.  Tall, possibly breaker class, a slim, ghostly silhouette similar to Caryatid’s, with red eyes, a surgical mask over the lower face, a white covering from the neck down, so tight at the legs that it looked like she couldn’t walk, and feet impaled by the bristling syringes, points sticking out and through bare flesh.  When she’d moved, it had been on that moving ‘cushion’, syringes appearing and disappearing to stab her feet and back repeatedly while buoying her away at a runner’s speed, her body twisting and arching with each set of impacts.

Breaker class, but shaker in practice.  With a sweep of her arm, she caused syringes to spring out from the ground, walls, and ceiling like a crashing wave.  All loaded to bear, apparently, with stuff that would guarantee we died a few months or years from now.

She moved away like she considered us dealt with, and in reality, I wasn’t positive we weren’t.  Crashing through the syringes with the Wretch would disable the Wretch and impale the Victoria.  Caryatid couldn’t move without losing her invulnerability.  Withdrawal had a great deal of movement and a lot of gaps in his defenses, which were a bad combination in this environment, where moving in the wrong way would get us pricked.

I’d thrown myself into this side of the fight to help the C-team and now I was in over my head.  I hit a cluster of syringes, clearing some of the way, putting myself in the midst of them while waiting for the Wretch to return.  Then I let it do its thing.  Reaching out, clawing, destroying.  A swathe of destruction around me.

Putting the Wretch aside for a moment, I grabbed a fire extinguisher that was mounted on a wall, and I swung it full-bodied in Caryatid’s direction.  It arced through the air, and it crashed through the syringes, giving her some ability to move.  When she did move, it was in sharp, careful movements that cleared more of her way.

Even with the cacophony of noise nearby, I didn’t miss the small, frantic sound from her while she was human and not in her breaker form, reaching down for the fire extinguisher, then using it as a bludgeon.

“Cary!” Withdrawal called out.  “Stay calm!  It can’t hurt you unless you let it!”

The Wretch swiped, tore, and crushed the syringes in my way.  The ground was a carpet of broken glass, broken plastic, needles, and fluids in noxious colors.

“I can’t do this,” she said.  “I can’t stand this.  I have bad dreams that aren’t as bad as this.”

“Stay calm!” Withdrawal grunted out the words, between swings of his tinker weapon.  It wasn’t meant for the task, and it was taking a beating.  Big as it was, not every swing broke everything it hit.

Breakers triggered from disassociation.  From mental illness, from deprivation of sleep or food, from a mind-body disconnect, or from the divide between normal trigger circumstance and reality, the paradoxical events.  Brutes tended to trigger from being hurt, as I had.  A breaker with brute sub-powers tended to trigger from wanting self-harm, or from harm that was all in one’s head.  Attacks from imagined enemies could make a breaker with the subclass of striker or blaster.  For a stranger, who tended to trigger from unwanted attention, the case in the textbooks had been an exhibitionist who had been caught, experiencing the mingled sexual thrill coinciding with the fear of imminent arrest, imminent loss of family, and imminent loss of career.

Breakers also came about from medicine or drugs that altered the mind-body state.  Caryatid.

“It’s a tailor-made fight for us!” I called out.  “Caryatid, this is a counterattack from a guy with thinkers at his disposal!  People who know us!  People who’ve used powers to study us and figure out what works best against us!”

“It’s working!” she said.

“Get through this second by second!  If you can get through the stuff that’s this personal, you can get through anything!”

“What if I can’t?  What if I can’t do this?”

“You’re doing it as we speak!”

She was about to say something, but another tide of syringes came our way from around the corner, in Withdrawal’s general direction.  A second later, a shape hurtled in that same direction.  Hurtled and stopped.

Precipice, now suspended in the air above a carpet of needles, using his power.

“Uh,” he said.

“Caryatid!  The extinguisher!”  I reached out my arms.

She went breaker and used the short lunge of her movement to toss the extinguisher at me.  It took me both arms to catch.

“Incoming!” Precipice called out.  He created a blade.

I used my strength to hurl the extinguisher, changing what I was aiming for in the last moment before release.  It crashed through the thicket of needles between me and Precipice, hit the ground, and crashed through stuff there, not directly beneath him.

But it gave Withdrawal a spot to jump forward to, landing in a bare patch with just a bit of skid on the fluids and broken material that now carpeted the ground there.  He caught Precipice, then sprung back the way he’d come.

A hulking form lunged into view, coming within a handspan of getting a grip on Precipice.  Copper mask, partial armor, and a loincloth, and a body covered in oozing sores, blisters, and scabs.  Copper chains wound around his arms, and swollen, infected hands gripped the hooks at the end of those chains.

He was big and fast enough that he didn’t stop by his own power.  Instead, he hit enough of the outcroppings of needles that he was impaled sufficient times that they made him stop.

I saw them react like they were spring-loaded, plungers depressing, filling his exposed flesh on legs, lower pelvis, and arm with enough noxious fluids that the skin visibly darkened and swelled, excess fluid foaming and bubbling out around the injection sites.

He threw one hook out in the direction the pair had gone.  Glass broke as he hauled it back in.  An apparent miss.  Fume Hood pelted him with orbs, and he didn’t seem to care, except for the way it limited his vision.

He hurled the hook blindly my way, and it embedded into the wall ten feet behind me.  He hauled on it, hard, and the wall panel came away, syringes included.  My forcefield served to knock the worst of it away, but the remainder it still came at me, now festooned with broken glass and a spray of fluid.  I had to perform some frantic acrobatics to avoid it.  Needle tips scraped against the fabric of my costume to the extent they vibrated against the individual fibers.

He was backed up by a bunch of thralls.  Men and women in what looked like padded hazmat suits, heads covered by domes, all carrying what might have been laser cannons.  Needles receded as the entered the area across from me.

Emerging from the smoke, he reached out the hand that no longer held his hook.  Whatever he did, there was no dodging it, no avoiding it. My head, nose, and throat exploded in pain, fluids simultaneously choking and suffocating me, flowing out of my nose and down the back of my throat.  Ear pressure went wonky, momentarily deafening me, and the stirrings of a bad headache momentarily stole my ability to think.  My stomach did a flip-flop, and my injured hand roared in fresh, hot pain.

I was dimly aware of him rearing back to hurl his hook.

A silver blade struck the Brute.  He turned his attention to Withdrawal and Precipice.  The way he threw his hook was power-augmented, making it fly straight, and it used enough of his physiology that the silver line at his shoulder and chest split.

Pus and suppurated, swollen, infected flesh overflowed from the wound.

Two of the thralls fired their cannons in the direction Precipice and Withdrawal had gone.  The big guy threw himself in that same direction.

Another two fixated on me, raising their guns.

I flew hard at the corner, where needles bristled from pipes and ductwork.  The Wretch hit the needles and damaged one of the pipes, causing it to start bubbling something that smelled like a sharper rubbing alcohol from the seam near the ceiling.

They were beam weapons, but the beams were thin, filled with faint blue specks of light, and didn’t burn anything.  I saw as needles were pulled out of the wall, the damage segments around the part the hook had caught joining them.  As they were pulled, they collected more specks on them, until they were covered.  The more they collected, the less effect the pull had on them.

I began working my way to Caryatid, mindful of the Wretch’s reach.

“Frontload it!” one thrall called out.

“I am.”

“Flip the Z.”

“I did.”

“There’s another notch on the lever for hard Z.”

Behind me, the beam grew more intense, the faint blue became a dark blue, and the needles and debris were pushed closer to the wall.

They moved the beam, moved the stuff trapped in the beam with it, and then flicked it my way, shutting it off to release the material.  Needles and debris were sent flying our way.

The Wretch was broken by the speed at which some of it was hurled.  The back of my hood blocked a lot, but I still felt pricks at my shoulder.  I reached back and pinched at the wounds, to squeeze whatever it was free.

It was wall material that had penetrated fabric, not needles.

I worked to get closer to Caryatid.

They were making their way down the hall to the intersection I’d been stuck at.  One was slower than the other, using the beam to pick up more fluids, needles, and debris from the ground and wall.  The other peeked around the corner.

That was important, I knew, but I didn’t have time to consider it.

Caryatid made her way to me- I reached out with a hand that had blood on it from touching my wounded shoulder, supporting her as she hopped over a pile of needles.  As the next flick-throw of the beam’s contents came our way, she put herself between me and the hail, going breaker.

Which was a temporary solution at best.  The one at the corner took aim and fired.  Dragging Caryatid.  As she was pulled, she was no longer still enough to be invincible.

“Pull back on the Z!”

The pull increased in speed.  Dragging her toward needles a few inches a second.

Flying after her, I had to fly around the beam, because being stuck in it slowed me down.  I caught her and pulled her out of the beam, she stumbled, and he tried to catch us again.  I was more evasive, so he went right back to getting Caryatid.

The partner did another collect, flick, grab, in the span of a second or two.  It was only a dozen or so needles, flying like bullets, but the movement of the beam told me the angle.  Aimed at me, not Caryatid.

I drew myself together, and flew hard into a safe spot of ground, forcefield strong.  Fist and one knee hit hard enough to crack the floor and send fragments up in a radius around me.  More than I might have in the old days.

Reaching out for two of the larger fragments, I managed to catch one.  A fistful of concrete with some tile attached.

The moment I felt like the forcefield was back, while the tractor beam guy was collecting more debris, I threw the chunk, hitting the guy who was dragging Caryatid.

A harder throw than I might have done normally, but the situation was bad.

Caryatid put herself between me and the second guy, blocking the hail of syringes.

He began dragging her, and I flew around and over.

I could have shoved him into the needles right beside him.  I didn’t.  I did cave in his knee, grab the weapon, and throw him hard to the ground.

They’d had different tactics.  They’d been talking about how to use the gear, like they didn’t know.  There had been inventive tactics.  They weren’t thralls like the ones downstairs had been.

These ones had been knowingly cooperating.

I saw needles recede close to where he’d fallen, as he lay on the ground, cradling his leg.  Grabbing him by the collar, I hauled him up and forward, holding him out as best I could without using the Wretch.  More needles pulled away as I brought him closer to the needle breaker’s powerstuff.

No room to be gentle.  He was my means to clear a path.  I hurried forward, flying, and got to where I could see the brute with the sores and blisters.  Rain had cut him several times, but it seemed to remain tissue damage, and it might have been regenerating.

Down the other hallway, the needle breaker was fighting Love Lost, Chastity, Roman, and Colt.  Fume Hood had apparently gone off to do something else.

Love Lost pounced, driving clawed fingertips and toe-tips into her chest, the breaker tried to retaliate by bringing syringe-fingers toward Love Lost’s middle.  Love Lost sprung back, landing on hands and feet.  Colt was hacking at the syringes around them, cutting at them with her black blade, while deftly dodging whatever came near.

But they were maneuverability, not durability.  Same issue as Withdrawal.  As the syringe breaker got more into it, there was less room to maneuver.

She was hurt at least.

She backed away, pulling to one side-

And Imp stuck her with the scepter she held.

The woman dropped, falling backward.

Ten feet from me, in the thickest outcropping of syringes, I saw her emerge, pushing through.  Skin and skintight dress were impaled in a hundred places by the glass and syringes, pulling hard enough against it that needle points were bent to nearly right angles, bands of flesh pulled away from arm, face, neck, and sides because the flesh had been penetrated enough times to be looser and the needles were trying to pull straight again.  Some points raked her.

The damage healed, except where she remained impaled.  She hung off the wall, suspended.  Body weight pulled her free as much as anything else.  A cushion of needles waited beneath her feet, as she prepared to drop down to it.

The others couldn’t get to her, but she was close enough for me to deal with.  I took flight, still dragging the guy with the broken leg behind me-

Something caught my arm.  The hook from the big guy.  It slid down my arm until it found my wrist, the curve of the hook large enough to accommodate my arm but not my hand.  He hauled me back toward him, away from his partner.

I twisted in the air, trying to find an orientation that would pull my hand free, and there was too much pull for me to do it.

Bringing knees to my chest, I planted feet on the tractor beam thrall’s chest, and I kicked out, activating the Wretch and the strength that went with it.

He went flying, skidding along the floor, straight into the breaker’s waiting cushion.  Within a foot of him, syringes went back to whatever extradimensional space they had emerged from, and the breaker dropped down onto flat, ordinary flooring.  She crumpled to the ground there.  When she looked up, her eyes weren’t red, her hands weren’t tipped with weird syringe fingers, and her dress had blood dotting it, no longer sterile.

The Wretch broke the chain, freeing me.  I thought I might go after the breaker, but I saw as Chastity flicked out her bullwhip, catching the thrall I’d thrown around the neck.  She called out to the others, and they hauled back, pulling the guy into the thicket of needles, which receded as he was pulled into it.  He did something as he slid, activating a device or deactivating it, and their last tug pulled him into needles for real.

Choosing to get stabbed by a hundred needles to help his side win.

I flew after the big guy, who braced himself for me.  Rain threw his projectiles at the guy’s legs while his back was turned, and Withdrawal followed it up with a tackle, jumping up to kick the guy from behind.

The blades flared, the legs buckled, and the guy wasn’t braced or anything for the hit I delivered him.  The impact felt like smashing a soggy bag of trash with a car.  Ninety percent of him went everywhere.

Colt slashed through the thicket keeping the other group from accessing the breaker.  Love Lost jumped through the first gap that was visible, and tackled the breaker, who was only now getting shakily to her feet.

Claws impaled the woman by the shoulders.  Love Lost brought her masked face close, then swiped her arms out to the sides.  The claws didn’t break contact with the woman’s arms, as Love Lost raked her bone-deep from each shoulder to the respective hand.

A kick with clawed toes to the chest separated the two, knocking the breaker to the ground.

“What the fuck, Love Lost?” I asked.

She tilted her head, then pointed a bloody claw past me.

I turned to see the brute I’d hit was getting to his feet.  His mass was lopsided, and what remained was decay and pus in a vaguely human silhouette, with a single arm, part of a chest, and the legs that had belonged to a six hundred pound pile of muscle and ugliness.  The two thralls had been disarmed, one slumped against the wall, another cradling her arm.

“I know he’s alive,” I said.

The woman who had been a breaker lay on the ground, arms at her side, bloody smears beside her like she’d been trying to make a snow angel, her back arching as she struggled to move in a way that didn’t elicit agony.

The strength went out of her pretty fast, all considered.  I looked away.

“Finish him off.  He’s too dangerous,” I heard Gong.  I saw him step into view, bedraggled.

Closer to me, Love Lost was pulling off her mask, head hanging down.  She wiped gobbets of snot and what might have been vomit away from her nose and mouth.

“The thralls called him the Leper.  He killed four of ours,” Gong said.  “We can’t let him heal, we can’t bring him with, and we need to move.  It would be best if you ended this now.  Getting to you and getting back would take too long.  We need to help other groups.  All of us are struggling.”

Sure enough, the Leper was recovering.  A hole yawned in the center of the vaguely head shaped mass of congealed human sickness, the beginnings of a mouth.  I could see nuggets that might have been congealed pus or nascent teeth.

“Please,” Gong said.  “In the interest of getting this done.”

“I’d like to hear a voice I know and trust say to do it,” I said.  “Sorry Gong, I don’t know you.”

“Do I count?” Rain asked.

“Yeah.  But do you really want to make that call?  Because I really don’t.”

“I don’t either.  But I think it’s necessary.  This guy won’t stop unless he stops for good.”

I stared down the brute, who was trying to find his balance, mashing his meaty full-size hand against the needles that hadn’t gone away when the breaker bled out.  No eyes, no ears, just a mouth and flailing limbs.

I might not be able to do it if he had a face or the capacity to look me in the eye.

I flew at him, and I put my foot out, because a hand might have felt too personal, too close.

I kicked him, and I didn’t hold back.  Foot drove head into wall, and I felt the shock of soft bone and pulpy flesh crumpling beneath my boot.

Headless, he dropped like a puppet with the strings cut.

“I hope there isn’t too much more like this,” I said, as I watched to make sure he didn’t get back up.

“These aren’t even his handpicked ones,” Gong said.  He turned, raising his voice.  “Breakthrough and other second wave attackers, get analyzed, make sure you aren’t sick, hold this spot, watch for more trouble!  My group, this way, we’re flanking help other teams!”

When it came to the body, there was no ‘thank you’, perhaps because there was nothing to be happy or glad about.  There was was no ‘good’ either, or anything of the sort, maybe because it wasn’t good.

Just… back to business.  Putting cold blooded murder in the heat of battle immediately behind him and us.  My foot stuck to the floor when I set it down, and for an instant I could imagine that it and the entirety of me were impossibly heavy.

His group left, and with their absence, I could see the bodies left behind.  Some thralls.  One of Teacher’s capes.  I’d seen glimpses before I’d heard Caryatid shout.

Chasmal sat against the corner.  His veins had been blown open, to the extent his body looked like a husk and the blood was on the floor around him.  Someone had shoved a thrall’s body up beside him, which served to wall in the spreading pool of blood, leaving only streaks behind.

Another cape was missing her face.  Rotted away.

For the third, it looked like both things had happened to them, but it wasn’t the face that was missing.  Everything from crotch to bellybutton had been turned into bloody necrosis.  I couldn’t tell with the mask they wore, but it looked like they’d stumbled a few steps before dying.

Fume Hood, Samuel, Juliette, and other members of Breakthrough caught up, being careful of jutting syringes and the fact the floor was more broken glass, needles, and gore than it was white tile.

He’d told our group to wait and get analyzed.  That meant getting scanned by the new cape from Mortari.  His name was printed on the sleeve of his fairly ordinary bodysuit, but in a really annoying script, that cut chunks out of a line that was running from shoulder to elbow to make the vague, blocky letter shapes.  Venarum.

“How invasive is this?” Fume Hood asked.

“I’m thorough.  It just takes a few seconds.”

“But how invasive a look are you getting of me?”

“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

She seemed to shrug.  She saw me looking curiously at her, and said, “I bet there are piercings he probably hasn’t seen before.”

“I haven’t.  But I don’t care about piercings,” Venarum said.  “Or anything else.  You’re fine, by the way.”

Sveta approached, putting a hand near nose and mouth at the smell.  Ashley and Capricorn were with her.  I saw a sad look cross her face as she looked at the dead.

I think every hero and heroine hoped that when they went into the big fight, that it would be casualty-free, that their involvement would mark a turnaround and there wouldn’t be any more unjust death after that.

But we were fighting against a tide.

Withdrawal was sticking with Caryatid, and they were so wrapped up in themselves and their stresses that they seemed to forget Precipice was in an awkward spot with no way to slip by without pushing past.  Too many needles, and Withdrawal took up some room with limbs extended, as he now curled over and around Caryatid, talking to her in a low voice.

“You got purged?” Venarum asked.

“What?” I asked him.

“The big guy.  My analysis suggests he used his power on you.”

“Oh.  Yeah.”

“He used it on them too,” he said, pointing at the three dead.  “It triggers every latent disease in your system for a few seconds of effect.  They got pricked, scraped, or injected by needles before he used his power.”

“Hey, kid,” Tristan said.  The cape he was talking to wasn’t a kid any more than Tristan was, but he was a rookie.  “Don’t talk about the dead like that.  Like it was their failure.”

“There’s no need to be defensive, I’m explaining for those who don’t know.”

“You’re doing the thinker thing,” Tristan said.  “Where you get too stuck in what your power is telling you and trying to tell everyone else, and you stop being a decent human.”

I saw Venarum stiffen.

“Wind it back a little, Tristan,” Sveta said.

“Okay.  But I’m not wrong.”

“No.  No you’re not.  But you’re upset at how this is going and that’s changing how you approach it.  Let it be.”

Tristan looked like he might be spoiling for an argument there, but he turned aside.

“My analysis says you’re okay,” Venarum told me.  “Mostly.  You’ll want a full spectrum of antibiotics when all of this is done.  The purging clears all disease from your system after it happens, but you got that scratch on your back after, I’m guessing.”

I nodded, uncomfortable.

I halfway expected him to criticize me, to talk about my injuries and scars, the accumulation of damage.

Amy would have.  This felt a lot like talking to Amy, in some ways.

Rain had slipped past the pair of Malfunctions.  Venarum cape turned his focus on him.

“I need to fix my arm,” Rain said.  “I missed having it that fight.  It got shredded earlier, when we got clipped by the hallway warper.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“I don’t suppose, uh, Love Lost?” he asked.

Love Lost twisted around, glaring at him.  She was cleaning her claws with what looked like a silk cloth, but I wasn’t positive it was silk.

“You got the tinker power last night.  And Cradle’s share.”

She continued to glare at him.  He took it, facing her square-on.

“I could help,” Colt said.

“If you could, that would be great.”

Love Lost beckoned, her expression and the tension in face, neck, and shoulders no less hard.

When he took a step forward, she held a hand up, flat, and pointed.

He disconnected his broken arm, then tossed it at her.

Imp’s group was talking among themselves.  Again, there was that omnipresent, light tone, tonally off.  I’d just killed someone, three good capes had died, and it seemed to be like water off a ducks’ back.  Roman was poking fun at Samuel.  Together, they walked down the hall toward the intersection I’d been fighting.

I heard noises, and flew to the intersection to look back at what was happening.  My feet skidded on the ground.

It was the Heartbroken and the one remaining Thrall.  The one I’d taken down with a thrown bit of concrete.

Roman was holding the man up.  Samuel was slapping the thrall, kicking.


They spun around, alarmed.

“What the hell?”

“You scared me,” Samuel said.  “I’m using my power, since my family is so busy trying to score points that they keep taking the chance away from me.”

“It’s fine,” Imp said.

“You’re beating up a man who can’t defend himself.”

“You killed a man who couldn’t defend himself,” Roman said.

Samuel stopped the assault.  The thrall hung his head, and started sobbing.

“That was necessary,” I said, wishing I believed it.  “And this is worse.”

“This is for the best,” Imp said.  “Samuel can break people.  Hitting them in the right places, right times.  Goes through their mental defenses like butter.  We can extract information.”

“Torture doesn’t work,” I said.

“It doesn’t,” Swansong said, off to the side, quiet and ominous.

“Mine does,” Samuel said.  “It’s better if it’s a fair fight, though.”

“If this doesn’t get us something undeniably worth it, you can throw me or Sammy here into jail when we’re done this mission,” Imp said.

Chin stiff, I stared her down.  She didn’t flinch.

Samuel turned, then struck the thrall across the side of the face.  The man kicked out ineffectually, and Samuel stepped back out of the way.

“Is this really what we want to be?” I asked.

“It’s what I am,” Samuel said.  “And it’s why I’m here.”

“I don’t care what we are, so long as we make it through this,” Imp said.

I didn’t have a response for that.  I watched as Samuel continued to beat the thrall.  A man I’d rationalized I could hurt in the midst of battle because he wasn’t fully thrall.  He wasn’t an innocent being put through his paces.  He’d had volition, and by our understanding of Teacher, that suggested he’d had a choice.  For privileges or good behavior, he’d earned more slack.

Samuel punched the guy in the side of the stomach twice.  He motioned for Roman to let go of him.  The man dropped to hands and knees, head bowed.

“There,” Samuel said.  “What’s coming?  What capes does he have?”

“Team Green-Black has an agent that can make the visible invisible.  She’s to place explosives in a series of set locations, we detonate part of the facility if the next two waves fail, we clean up, then we rebuild.  We did it already with one of the attackers.  Took their powers so they couldn’t hold off.”

The voice from the thrall was almost robotic, hollow.  Haunting.

“How does it work?” Samuel asked.  “What are the steps in this plan?”

“You’re to be distracted, you have certain capes who can see or handle the explosives, one team is already working on them.  Team copper-white is to slow down or take out your fastest and most elusive.”

“Keep talking,” Samuel said.  He kicked the man in the side.

I started forward, purely on instinct, at seeing a villain kick a man on the ground.  I stopped myself, and a half-second later, Sveta reached me, hand at my shoulder.  She looked down the hall at the Heartbroken.

This was getting to me.  More than I wanted to admit.

When I was dropping Lookout off at one point, Darlene had remarked that Samuel was one of the nice ones.  Educated, older, smart, and the one to keep the more dangerous kids like Flor in line.

There was nothing nice about this scene.

Withdrawal and Caryatid were close by.  I wanted to distract myself, so I turned their way, running fingers through my hair.

“You did well,” I told them.

Withdrawal nodded.  Caraytid didn’t.

“You included, Caryatid.  I hate that I brought you into this, but I really think, going forward, you should be able to look back on this with pride.  You saved me when I needed it, back there.”

“It was instinct.”

“It was good,” I said, dropping my eyes to the floor.  “It was teamwork.”

“I was barely even thinking.  I was scared.  I just thought if you got hurt then there was no way I’d be okay.”

“Sometimes that’s all it is.  Even for capes like Legend, probably.  You were brave enough to move when you needed to move.”

“That’s what I was saying,” Withdrawal said.

The conversation was interrupted by another meaty sound.  Samuel delivering a kick to the face.

The man on the ground bawled, speaking between sobs.  A constant flow of words.

“Vic,” Precipice said.

I realized I was clenching my fist.  I couldn’t quite bring myself to unclench it.


“While I’m working on my hand, I think we could temporarily load something of Lookout’s into a computer line over there.  She’d appreciate the update.”

“Trying to get rid of me?” I asked.

“I thought a distraction might help.”

I nodded, holding out my hand.

“You’re clear, Precipice,” Venarum said.

The terminal was akin to a breaker box, painted-over in white, a pipe running straight up and straight down from it.  Within was a touchscreen.

Kenzie’s thing was like an old phone.  I set it into place, ran the cable along the side until I saw a green light, then hit the first button.

The dead body was so close.

What life had he lived?  What led him here, to be some kind of plague-driven giant who murdered, capitalized, and worked with a syringe woman, in some alien hallways in an alien world?

The syringe woman lay dead, arms stretched out to her sides, multiple gouges running down each arm.  Her expression bothered me.

Red light at the first button.  I hit the second.

An image of Kenzie’s helmet appeared.

“Checking in,” I said.  “Can you hear?”

“I can hear.  How is everyone?”

“Tough fight, but we’re intact.  We met with members of the first wave attack.  We’re up to the second floor now.”

“Good,” she said.

Quiet, not nearly as wordy as she usually was.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the moment contact was established after any time apart, she could be counted on to try to make up for lost time with a flood of words.

Was she upset?

“Sorry we’re leaving you out of this,” I said.  “If you were here I think you’d want to have been left out.”

“Maybe.  Probably,” she said.

“Are you okay?” I asked.  “Are you safe?”

“I’m safe.”

“What’s the first password?”

“HSP-See-Out-Gawking-Hawk.  Is there a time soon I can take a break?”

“A break?  Have you been postponing your bathroom break so you won’t miss us if you’re needed?”

“Yes, but that’s not super important.  I meant go for a walk, get outside?  I’ll bring a bodyguard if you’re worried, maybe.”

“What’s going on, Lookout?”

“Nothing.  Can you let me know when there’s time?  If you take the current device with you can use it again.  I’m patching it now so it won’t get backtraced.”

“Go take your bathroom break now.  For the other break… we’ll let you know when we stop to rest and refresh.  Can you put Tattletale on while you’re gone?  Just in case?”

“Okay.  I’ll be back in three hundred and forty two seconds.”


“Thralls sighted!” Fume Hood called out.  “They passed by and left!”

“Hold the position, don’t get baited out,” Capricorn said, barely audible because he was distant and around the corner.

“Keep me updated!” I called.  I got a noise of assent.

Tattletale’s logo, a capital T intersecting a lowercase T, with an eye embedded in the capital T, replaced Kenzie’s mask on the screen.

“What’s up?” Tattletale asked.  “Headphones on, hands at the controls.  How are my Undersiders and Heartbroken?”

“Beating up someone defenseless.”

“Then they’re fine.  Samuel’s a good bet here.  Give him a few tries before giving up on him.  But that’s not why you’re wanting to talk to me.”

“No.  Lookout’s acting strange.”

“She always acts strange.  What do you want me to do about it?”

“Her system.  If you’re on her computer, find out what she was doing?”

“How invasive.  Well, I’m good with passwords.  Give me a minute.”

“You have about three.  She’s running off to pee, wash her hands, and coming back.”

“Literally running.  Right.  Well, that makes it easier.  Looking now.  No password.  Weird.”

“She has weird views on privacy.  I think her default headspace is that all information should be available.”

“No kidding.”

A few long seconds passed.  I was aware of the time limit.

Tattletale broke the silence.  “The last time you connected to Teacher’s systems, you were close to the gallery.  She got a look at files and what they were keeping track of.”

“Files like the ones you and I were investigating?  Falsified, meant to mess with us?”

“No.  The stuff they were using to build those.  All good, untainted data.  Poor fucking kid.”


“She spent the last twenty minutes reading through pages and pages of data about herself, her new team, her old team.  Records of how annoyed people were about her, how concerned, how thin tolerances were getting…”

“Okay,” I said.  I had a sinking feeling.

I’d been on the sidelines, with only hints, and the hints had been a lot.

“Two weeks ago, Chicken Little asked Candy and Darlene if they ever thought about kicking Lookout from the team and what would happen if they did.  Nine days ago, he brought up some things with me, asked me if it was why I was always saying stuff about Lookout.  I remember that conversation.”

This wasn’t what Kenzie needed right now.

“Three days ago, four different times five days ago, I could go back further… mean jokes and comments from her team.  Mean might be understating it.  Gutting.”

I nodded, though I was unsure if Tattletale could see.  Probably.  Kenzie stuck cameras on a lot of her stuff even when there wasn’t an explicit need for it.

“They’re kids, you know,” Tattletale said.  “They love her and she… she’s so head over heels for them she doesn’t know where her head or heels are.  I’m not going to pretend my kids are saints or their coping mechanisms are all great.  Darlene’s a mess romantically.  Candy’s a ticking time bomb.  But that’s beside the point.  They’re kids.  When they get uncomfortable and they don’t know how to process it, they push back, they band together, they can act a little shitty, poke fun, say things that would devastate someone if they heard it out loud.  It’s part of the process of figuring things out.  Even for good kids like Chicken and messed up kids like Darlene and Candy.”

“I don’t think Kenzie’s the type to be especially mean to anyone behind their backs.”

“Maybe not.  Maybe it’s because Imp and I have our shittier sides and we rub off on them.”

“Or Heartbreaker.  Or trauma.  I don’t know.  I meant that she wouldn’t understand it like you describe it.”


There was a pause.

“She’s going to be back any second-”

“I see her at the stairs.”

“Can you look after her?  We can’t handle this just this minute.  She was wanting to go for a walk to get away-”

“Her team’s here, she’s trying to put on a brave face, and she’s doing a damn good job of it.  She wants to get away to freak out where nobody can see, I think.”

“Can you give her a chance, or relieve her of her duties for a bit, or… I don’t know?”


“Give her a hug and say it’s from us?”

“She’s here.  I’ll see if there’s someone better equipped for that job than I am.  Headphones unplugged, Lookout plugging in.”

“Hi,” Lookout said.  She sounded out of breath.

“Hi, Lookout.  I’m hearing a commotion.  I should probably go.”

“I hear the commotion too.  Okay.  Thank you for checking in.  It means a lot.”

“I’m sorry you’re not feeling great.  It’s been a shitty few days.  We stick it out, get through this, Swansong and I will have you over for hot chocolate and animated films.  How’s that?”

No use pretending I wasn’t concerned.  Odds were she had logs, or she could figure things out one way or the other.

“Lookout?” I tried, when there wasn’t an immediate response.

“Yes please,” she said.  “Be safe.  All of you.”

“Will damn well try.  Disconnecting now.”

“Bye!” the attempt at getting the last word was successful, but the last syllable was cut short by me unplugging.

I looked away from the terminal, and found myself confronted again by the headless corpse.  By the body of the syringe woman.

The others were talking to a new cape.  Someone from Balk’s support team.  Imp and her gang caught up with me as I passed the intersection of hallways.

“We’re being summoned,” Capricorn said.

“Can we trust that cape?  Master-stranger?” I asked.

“My analysis says there isn’t any weird head stuff,” Venarum said.  “Not biologically.”

“You gotta stop saying that,” Capricorn said.  “My analysis says, my analysis…  It wastes words and time when we need fast answers.”

“Capricorn.  Chill,” Sveta said.

“The other teams need you,” the Advance Guard cape said.  Distill, according to the name printed under his badge.  “Now.”

We opted to trust him.

A zig-zag through hallways.  There were bodies in one of the halls from one of the first wave attackers.

I saw Whorl.  The good looking preppy cape who had interviewed me when I’d applied for the Attendant.

Spell, from Auzure.  He’d been helping the farms in his off hours.

“We got something,” Imp said.  “Samuel did.”

“What something?” Capricorn asked.

“A new objective.  We handle this, then we press on to a different objective.”

“We’re supposed to rendezvous with the teams, back them up.  Save them,” Sveta said.

“This is more important.”

“More important how?”

“Dude’s cousin is also a thrall.  She does cleaning, but she has trouble, so he helps her.  He knows this area.  There are cells.  Cells with people Teacher doesn’t want us to get at.”

“He doesn’t want us to get to the other teams and get them out of trouble, either.”

“He wants this less.  Trust me.  I’ll make you that promise again now.  If I’m bullshitting you, you can throw me in jail.”

“Keep saying that and we’ll think you want to go to jail.  For the female company?” Juliette asked.

“Gross and no.  My odds are better out here.  I’m trying to convey I’m serious and I’m bad at it, so I’m putting shit on the line.”

“I believe her,” Swansong said.

“We get to those cells, we win,” Imp said.  “One hundred percent.”

“I believe her less now.”

We passed more bodies.  More first-wave teams that had fallen.  These guys were people from the city core, in the ‘New York’ area of Gimel.  Smaller teams, ones that had been benched, working in coordination with the other squads.

Butchered.  Burned.

I was having trouble getting past that.

Especially when we ran another thirty feet, turned a corner, and there were more bodies.  Cold.  The area was unlit because a power had shut things off.

And then, mercifully, an arching doorway.  Another large room, which might have been chemical or water processing.  Huge tanks loomed in the center, surrounded by catwalks.  The ceiling was high, and tiny windows high above were open to the sky, showing sunset hues.   Multiple teams were gathered on the ground level.

Atop the tanks, looking down on us, were three modified Dragon-craft, weapons armed.  Each was supported by teams of thralls and a handful of capes.

Modified to be something other than Dragons.

“Those are her old suits that she wasn’t able to find after G.M.!” Balk called out.  “She said to watch out for them!”

Mechanical angels now.  One with a glowing halo, one with extensive wings that made me think of the Simurgh, another with metal plates connecting into one another in what could have been flowing robes, carrying a glowing sword.

And us with our tinker not in her best state.

“Saint,” Imp said.  “You asssshole.

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153 thoughts on “Dying – 15.4”

  1. FINALLY, heroes are not fighting with kid gloves anymore. They understand that this is WAR and if they don’t fight they all die and they’re not afraid to kill their enemies when its really necessary. I’m proud of how the heroes act right now.

    FUCK, SAINT. I always hated this guy but now I think I hate him more than Teacher himself. He “killed” Dragon in Worm, he probably “killed” her again in Ward and stole all her suits that he used to kill heroes. I think I’m not the only one who want to see Vic dismember him and beating him half to death with his own hands and legs. He’s a stupid and heartless asshole and criminal obsessed with the idea that Dragon is a danger to humanity when he himself is an willingly slave for the real danger to humanity, Teacher.

    1. Gotta disagree with your ranking there lulu.

      Saint is a bad dude who is criminally obsessed with the possibiliy of Dragon danger…. which is at least a thing to reasonably want to be aware of.
      Teacher is a mind controlling scum bag on a whole ‘nother level.
      Saint at least is TRYING to do something he believes is valuable. And doesn’t go around murdering people unless he believes they pose an existential threat to humanity.

      Teacher mind controls people just because its convieniant. He attacks trust and relationships, he lies, and like… happily CAUSES threats to humanity. Saint I disagree with and would see put in jail. Teacher…. is creepy beyond belief.

      1. Teacher doesn’t mind control Saint anymore. He’s doing everything to help Teacher WILLINGLY. He truly believe that Dragon is a monster and Teacher is a savior, despite the things being quite the opposite. Maybe he’s not worse than Teacher but he’s almost as bad as him. Ok, not death for him, but he surely deserve to be exiled. Alone. For the rest of his sad life.

        1. Also, because of Saint, Jack survived long enough to bring the end of the world. If it wasn’t for Saint messing with Dragon and stopping her from killing Jack, maybe the end of Worm have been different.

          1. Dragon’s a cape. She could never have killed Jack. The chance of the world not ending went up after Saint killed Dragon, because she wouldn’t have contacted Lisette, and there was some chance that could have worked.

    2. > FINALLY, heroes are not fighting with kid gloves anymore. They understand that this is WAR and if they don’t fight they all die and they’re not afraid to kill their enemies when its really necessary.

      I wouldn’t say that. It seemed pretty clear that Victoria is still afraid to kill her enemies. She’s willing to kill them, but that’s not at all the same as not being afraid.

    1. This baffles me. We have enough people coming in to crash the site, but not enough to win the vote?!

  2. Oh goody, Saint.
    Are we about to try to fight all of the Dragonmobiles? I’m not clear on why this was considered such a high priority. Or are the Dragonmobiles the guards for Contessa’s cell? That seems more likely.

    Also, I love that Imp is still getting ribbed about being lesbian.

    1. Those being guards for Contessa seems plausible especially considering the wording of “We get to those cells, we win,” Imp said. “One hundred percent.”

      1. I’ve seen this happen enough times. They reach the cells, free the damsel, and get promptly backstabbed by her freshly-brainwashed outlook on life.
        Then they’ll wish they got a full load of maximum death from Ms. Pestilence instead. May she rest in peace, btw – but talk about a terrible power… her trigger was probably the stuff of nightmares.

        1. If they get to Contessa they win 100%

          Hmmm, and Custodian said they had the exact time for breaking Contessa calculated.

          What if Contessa specifically put herself into a mind twist that would lapse in perfect time with her rescue?

        2. Assuming she had a trigger. Teacher was, at one point, sat on a bunch of Cauldron vials. We know he used some to bribe Cheit’s leadership, but it’s not impossible he kept some as ‘rewards’ for his own loyal/trusted/obedient minions.

          1. Well, guess she skipped reading the notice then. This is not what a properly Tempered Breaker/Shaker vial would grant.

          2. Needle Girl is one of the few people I look at and decide I know exactly what her trigger event was. Well, not exactly, but I looked at what she did and the combination of incurable diseases and addictive drugs in the the needles and mind immediately went to: Drug addict. Contracted HIV from sharing needles. Trigger on getting news or when high after/during getting news.

          3. Interesting. My thoughts went in a completely different direction. Fear of needles and syringes coupled with some needle-related accident (for example medical malpractice) or torture.

            For example she could be a patient who had to be anesthetized before a surgery with an injection (which she feared due to her fear of needles), and soon after surgery triggered, when she learned that the needle that was used to do it wasn’t sterile due to doctor’s or nurse’s error, and she was infected with something incurable and lethal as a result.

            Or maybe she is a Cauldron-made cape, like Earl of Purple suggested, and was simply injected with a fluid that gave her power, just like Custodian was, at which point her shard picked up on her needle and syringes phobia, which was fresh in her mind because she was just being given what was probably the scariest shot in her life.

          4. Perhaps David Hunt’s theory is closer to truth though. Consider that that girl seemed to have a shaker power with a brute sub-power, and that Victoria said that such powers tend to come from wanting self-harm, she probably did whatever caused her to trigger to herself. Drug addict fits.

        3. Another possibility is that as much as Contessa may want to help, the situation may significantly limit her power. Remember that it doesn’t let her see certain beings (like the Simurgh), and as far as I remember also triggers that have yet to happen, and powers resulting from those. It is also likely that her power works less-than-ideally if she is opposed by someone like Dinah or Shamrock. I also suspect that it may be affected by “complex power interactions” that have been giving Wardens’ thinkers headaches when they were trying to figure out the mess surrounding portals and time effects.

          It may also be that there are some nasty side effects of whatever Contessa did to prevent Teacher from breaking her mind, or from whatever damage Teacher’s attempts to break her managed to do even if they didn’t quite force her out of her “loop of thought and willful paralysis” she used to protect herself, or simply from long inactivity.

          For example Contessa could be mentally crippled, and thus unable to figure out what questions she should ask herself, create, or even understand complex plans and strategies, generally loose a couple dozens of IQ points, develope some phobias etc.

          On top of it she could be also physically crippled, since she probably hasn’t moved at all for well over a year (possibly over two years, depending on whether she was captured nine weeks after GM, as was written in Overseer’s interlude, or closer to something like nine months after it – as Teneral e.1 and e.5 seem to suggest). Her muscles could be badly atrophied for example, she could have all sorts of cardiovascular problems and so on.

          In other words Contessa may not be able to do nearly as much as she could do in Worm. In particular she may be completely unable to fight, or even offer much advice, and actually require long-term hospitalization followed by physical and/or psychological therapy.

          1. We’ve seen what happens when Contessa and Shamrock get in a fight, and Shamrock had allies. It wasn’t pretty, and Spitfire (I think) had her throat cut open so she could breathe after Gregor accidentally hit her with a ball of choking slime- nothing he could do about it at the time, as he was unconscious and badly burnt.

            If Shamrock interferes with Contessa, Contessa can work around it.

          2. Contessa can work around certain things, but probably not perfectly. Remember that Shamrock came out of that fight in Faultline’s interlude without a scratch.

            Also remember that while Contessa survived the Irregulars’ attack during her interlude, she actually had to get creative and depend on imperfect simulations to fight her way out of the area where Mantellum’s power blocked her precognition, and because of that attack she ended up in another world where she had no way of protecting other Cauldron members or the Cauldron complex itself from the C53 invaders. This fight makes me think that Shamrock’s power might have caused Contessa similar problems, and that Shamrock was not injured because Contessa’s simulations were not good enough to overcome Shamrock’s “luck”.

            Another reason to think that Shamrock’s power could mess Contessa’s precognition is that Shamrock was the only person who successfully escaped from Cauldron’s captivity with her memory intact and on top of it wasn’t killed or re-captured by Cauldron for years.

          3. I dont think it matters at all in what condition Contessa is. As long as she can activate her power, she will win. Thats how her power works.
            The only counter to that I ever saw in Worm are powers that somehow defy causality and so cannot be “tackled” by precognition. Or Mantellum who could simply ward an area from those powers.

          4. > I dont think it matters at all in what condition Contessa is.

            Really? What if Contessa is… no longer wearing her fashionable suit and fedora? Or worse, what if those clothes got all dirty and wrinkled? I don’t know about what it would mean for heroes’ chances, but I’m certain Victoria would be horrified no matter the outcome of the battle against Teacher.

          5. @Tarr. “I dont think it matters at all in what condition Contessa is. As long as she can activate her power, she will win.”

            This isn’t true, even if she doesn’t have to deal with blind spots. Afterall, she did use her power as Teacher was capturing her. It is possible for her to be put in a situation where there is literally no winning move for her. Normally her power will maneuver her away from those situations, because she can’t finish her “pick up the mail” path if she’s ambushed by hoard of unstoppable assassins.

            This is why it was so important for Teacher to wait until she stopped using her power before he set up his ambush of her. The trap had to work such that, by the time she realized she was in danger, there was literally no way for her to get out of it. Now we don’t know what she was using her power to accomplish when she was captured and put herself in a self-induced coma, but she’s been in that state for two years. Even if she comes out on top, that’s a pretty sucky win path.

          6. @Tarr

            For an example of a situation David Hunt was wrote about in the comment above check the fragment of Fortuna’s interlude in arc 29 of Worm begging with words:

            If she had any conception of where to look-

            The answer was given to her. A thirty-nine step plan.

            and ending with:

            Could she do all this, explain to her uncle, find the thing that was at the heart of this chaos, and save her people, and handle the other essential crises she run into on her way?


            A fog was creeping over her eyes, and the number of steps were growing too numerous at the same time. Two differing things, denying her.

          7. Actually now that I think about it, my example, and David Hunt’s post cover two different weaknesses of Contessa’s power. Basically aside from blind spots like Endbringers, Scion, and triggers Fortuna’s power doesn’t help her in situations where there is literally no way to achieve what she is asking for (like in my example from the interlude), and it doesn’t help her to get things she doesn’t ask for (for example it doesn’t protect her from unexpected attacks unless she explicitly asks how to stay safe, or is following a plan that would fail if she was attacked).

          8. There is also one more reason why Contessa may prove to be absolutely useless to the attackers once they free her. It should be obvious, but somehow I don’t see it mentioned anywhere.

            What if the heroes manage to open Contessa’s cell, and then find it impossible to break her out of her mental loop?

          9. > What if the heroes manage to open Contessa’s cell, and then find it impossible to break her out of her mental loop?

            I was going to post a suggestion here, only to find out that it was already posted by Charlesw81 above 🙂 It would make perfect sense for Contessa’s PtV to be “stay stuck in a mental loop for ### days ## hours ## minutes ## seconds”, which will be exactly the point when the heroes arrive. And Teacher’s thinkers might even have figured out the time when the loop will break but not why it will break.

        4. Or Contessa decides that she will help Teacher for a bit, then go bake a cake if let out, and Teacher lets her out. He probably has a thrall who would tell him. “Let Contessa out to kill all heroes on screen”

    2. > Are we about to try to fight all of the Dragonmobiles?

      Am I the only one here who isn’t too worried about this possibility? After all it is not the size of a Dragon-craft that counts, but the way you use it, and Saint was never nearly as good at using Dragon’s tech as Dragon herself was.

      On the other hand if Saint keeps a working, “mastered” copy of Dragon in his sleeve to control those suits, then, depending on how capable this copy is, I could see how the invaders could have a problem…

      1. They’ve got Tattletale and Lookout at the end of a telephone line. One can crack passwords by looking at them, the other designed (well… partially) the sensors used on the Dragoncraft, and is a proper Tinker and not just a jumped-up Thrall with enough of an understanding of Dragon-tech to make it work. All they need to do is plug Lookout’s black box in, and- particularly if Dragon or Defiant either hung back from the initial assault- and turn the hijacked vehicles on their enemies.

    3. > Are we about to try to fight all of the Dragonmobiles?

      Well, it was said that they are old, lost after GM. I think it’s safe to assume Dragon herself is not involved here.
      But would they really be a major problem when the heroes have Ashley… Hopefully, at least when her opponents are robots, she will use her power not only for acrobatic stunts. By the way, I wonder why it didn’t occur to them to get her some tinkertech armor, from D&D, for example. She would make the most use of it when there is a dangerous, hard-hitting enemy which needs to be blasted (e.g. right now).

      1. Because tinkertech armour needs maintenance and looking after, and if there’s not a tinker able to do it on your team it’s not usually worth doing. And if it’s just a one-off for this attack, then Swansong won’t have the time to practice in it, and as a result wouldn’t have been able to figure out how best to compensate for the alteration to her weight.

        Also, if Dragon & Defiant are building armour for Swansong, they’re not doing something else that needs doing, like helping set up infrastructure or building facilities to mass-produce tinker parts or something. And they’re likely to have been in the first wave, whereas Swansong’s in the second which they weren’t supposed to need.

        1. There are also some other reasons why making a tinkertech armor for Breakthrough members probably wouldn’t be a high priority project for D&D. Here are the ones I remember (I may be wrong when it comes to some details, since I’m putting this list from memory without checking relevant chapters, but I think it should be correct for the most part):

          1. Dragon was under a restriction that made it impossible for her to mass produce anything, not just tinkertech. She couldn’t even really automate any production process under her direct control, and had to delegate such tasks to humans. She may still be under this restriction.

          2. Dragon’s tech was mostly mass produced by Masamune – possibly the only tinker we know of who actually had the ability to mass produce tinkertech at all, and those mass produced devices actually tend to require little to no maintenance by tinkers. The problem with this ability is that Masamune is limited to relatively simple devices as far as tinkertech goes, and if he tries anything too complicated there tend to be unwanted side effects that limit those devices’ usefulness.

          3. The armor Masamune produced for Dragon’s Teeth is actually an excellent example of the problems mentioned in point 2. Mechanically it is probably not much more sophisticated than a non-tinkertech armor commonly available to PRT (definitely not a “proper” power armor like the ones used by people like D&D themselves, Dragonslayers or Tecton). It’s main advantage is the combat software based on Defiant’s work. The problem with this software is that it actually tends to decrease combat effectiveness of any operator who originally learned to fight in similar armor without its aid.

          All of the above makes me think that any really good tinker armor is rare, and the mass produced ones likely wouldn’t be much more useful than a good non-tinkertech costume that has an advantage of being something their cape tailored to their particular needs and is already familiar with.

          Considering the number of heroes Breakthrough, which is a relatively new team, not to mention known for various issues of its members (how many hero teams can say that their members first met during a group psychotherapy session, or that two of their members aren’t in prison right now only because the prison is gone?), they are probably not very high on a list of people who would D&D would consider giving such armor to. Even if they were, other prominent heroes would probably oppose the idea.

          It probably doesn’t help that Kenzie who may be the most useful cape in Victoria’s team in an attack like this (not to mention the one D&D probably have the best working relationship right now) not only wouldn’t go into the complex both due to her age, and due to the fact that she isn’t that much less capable of helping remotely, but also technically isn’t a member of Breakthrough at the moment.

          The final nail to the coffin of the idea that Breakthrough could get some tinker armor would be the fact that they didn’t even take part in the first attack on Teacher’s complex (which was originally supposed to be the only attack) and because of it even if D&D would be considering giving Breakthrough such armor before the attack, they would probably end up giving it to someone else when it became clear that Victoria’s team would not return from Shin in time to take part in the initial attack.

  3. Typo thread.

    Obvious errors:

    flanking help > flanking to help (?)
    remaining Thrall. > remaining thrall.

    > Multiple teams were gathered on the ground level.

    There are too many spaces before this sentence.

    Possible errors:

    > Rain had cut him several times, but it seemed to remain tissue damage, and it might have been regenerating.

    What “seemed to remain tissue damage”? What “might have been regenerating”? Is this sentence supposed to mean that Rain’s cuts did not go beyond causing some tissue damage without cutting Leper into pieces, and that his body was already regenerating? Maybe this sentence should be re-worded for clarity?

    > Modified to be something other than Dragons.

    Not sure if the capital ‘D’ in this sentence is correct. Could be if after learning about Dragon’s true nature Victoria started to think about Dragon-crafts as being Dragon’s actual bodies, every bit as much as Dragon’s human-shaped one is. If this is not the case, then the ‘dragons’ in this sentence should start with lower-case ‘d’.

    1. “as the entered the area”

      @Alfaryn: tissue damage, aka flesh wounds; non-critically lethal on their own.
      Leper seems to have so much nonstandard biology that it’s hard to tell if a wound is regenerating or if it’s just supposed to bleed and ooze pus.

    2. This is less spelling/grammar and more about colloquialisms, but I notice WB is still using “loaded to bear” not “loaded for bear”. I’m only familiar with the latter…is the former a legit phrase not used in America?

      1. …I live in New Zealand and am disconcerted that “for bear” is apparently the original and not some weird made up version. “Loaded to bear” is the one that sounds natural here.

        1. Summer, the origin of the phrase (as I understand it) is that you are armed with weapons/calibers sufficient to handle large dangerous game (i. e. a bear)…which came to mean you are well-prepared for any situation.

          How does the other version derive its meaning? “To bear” implies using bear as a verb?

          1. Yep, ‘bear’ as in ‘carry’. The Second (I think- not American) of the US Constitution is the ‘Right to Bear Arms’.

            I was also more familiar with it as ‘loaded to bear’, because whilst I can’t explain what it means, it makes more grammatical sense to me, an Englishman with no bears on this island of mine.

    3. defense, the > defense, and the
      the entered > they entered
      damage segments > damaged segments
      chest, the > chest, and the
      flanking help > flanking to help
      Venarum cape > Venarum
      ducks’ > duck’s
      we’re done > we’re done with
      capitalized (i assume this is about the power interaction with syringe woman, but imo it sounds weird as part of a list)
      “Bye!” the > “Bye!” The
      Multiple (extra space)

    4. “I could bust up the syringes, but I couldn’t bust up the syringes”
      This could be a style thing, but “bust up” is very far from proper speech. Break up, shatter, destroy, pulverize, demolish, vaporize, etc. are all better choices unless V is thinking that exact phrase. Additionally, that close together it sounds rather redundant.

  4. Leper and Ms. Playing With Syringes are a nasty combination. What’s with Teacher and really weird Brute/Strikers? We had Leper, there was that combination man a few chapters ago, Lung worked for him once upon a time…

  5. Looks like Colt is back after being mysteriously absent in chapters 15.2 and 15. (most notably during the charge along the corridor in chapter 15.2).

    Not only that, but Colt seems to keep Love Lost grounded, reminding LL that maybe she shouldn’t react with anger to everything that Rain says? Sort of like Sveta was supposed to stop Victoria from going too far in Amy’s presence in the previous arc.

    On one hand it feels right because Colt isn’t affected by anger and hatred LL feels for Rain (both due to what Rain actually did to her, and due to emotions coming from LL’s and Cradle’s powers/tokens), and because of what Colt means to Love Lost. Yet on the other hand doesn’t it also feel slightly strange to see someone as detached from reality as Colt can be to be someone who actually keeps anyone grounded like that?

    1. Sorry, looks like I messed up the final sentence in the post above. It should have been something like:

      Yet on the other hand doesn’t it also feel slightly strange to see someone as detached from reality as Colt actually keeping anyone grounded like that?

      1. I find it makes sense – parents must stay extra careful with an hyperactive child. Nicole seems to act in a similar fashion and Colt’s presence keeps her emotions from overflowing.
        … Colt kinda needs a cape name.

          1. Skyrunner, cause she flies and wields energy blades (like lightsabers)?

            I’m finally up to date and wanted to comment. Hope Wombat doesn’t mind people trying to name his capes before he does?

        1. Skyrunner, cause she flies and wields energy blades (like lightsabers)?

          I’m finally up to date and wanted to comment. Hope Wombat doesn’t mind people trying to name his capes before he does?

  6. 100% chance means Imp knows that it’s Contessa but isn’t saying. Because they’d refuse? I wonder if they’ve forgotten the first time she told them.

    1. Probably, which prompts a question – why does Imp trust Contessa? Have there been interactions between Contessa and the Undersiders after GM that we know nothing about? It would fit the fact that Snuff and one of Faultline’s crew capes discussed Dinah and Contessa at the same time, or that in Teneral the Undersiders seemed to know surprisingly much about Teacher’s operations.

      Interactions between Undersiders and Contessa may also have something to do with the fact that most of the time all Undersiders seemed to be convinced that Taylor was dead, while at one point during Worm’s epilogue Tattletale and Imp exchanged words that seemed to indicate that they, and Rachel knew that it was not the case.

      1. She probably doesn’t trust Contessa in general, but since Contessa and Teacher are clearly in opposition, it’s reasonable to assume that freeing Contessa will help with beating Teacher. The 100% is obviously a bit much, but she’s Imp, not Tattletale.

        1. If Imp didn’t trust Contessa in general, would she be willing to open this Pandora’s box cell, even if it was the simplest way to defeat Teacher? I think that it is likely that Imp trusts Contessa quite a lot, considering that Undersiders have hinted that they are in the “Cauldron may have done some terrible things, but ultimately they did it to save the world” camp (can’t remember if it was Tattletale or Imp exactly who said something to that effect, but they probably have pretty much the same opinion on this matter anyway).

          1. Besides if Contessa wanted to focus more on “little things” like she said in chapter 30.7 of Worm, then I imagine that after saving Taylor the next natural things for her to do would be informing the Undersiders about it (which would probably give her a lot of goodwill in return), and perhaps also confronting Faultline’s C53s and giving them some answers.

          2. To clarify: I don’t think she trusts Contessa much, but I do think she trusts her more than Teacher. Also, Contessa hasn’t pissed her off the way Teacher has. Freeing Contessa to give Teacher a bad day is the Implogical thing to do.

          3. Let me clarify my answer then. I don’t think that Imp is stupid enough that while it is perfectly possible to defeat Teacher without Contessa’s aid freeing Contessa is like opening Pandora’s box – if Contessa decided to turn against the heroes either before or after defeating Teacher, there would be practically no way to put her back in the cell or otherwise defeat her unless she actually allowed it, or someone like Simurgh intervened.

          4. But there’s no reason to expect Contessa to do such thing, if she had not been Teachered yet (and if she had, then the heroes don’t need to free her, as Teacher would have already done it himself).

          5. That’s the logical view of things, Alf. The Implogical view is that Teacher is that-which-should-not-exist, like a dinner platter containing a lump of rancid shit produced after digesting a pound of boogers formed from breathing the dust of disintegrated genital warts; whereas Contessa merely an annoyance, like the rash you get when you’re too busy being awesome to wash as often as you should — an inevitable, unavoidable, unstoppable fact of reality that people who aren’t boring just have to cope with sometimes, but ultimately nothing but a brief, albeit recurring, inconvenience. If she can stop eating the wart-booger-shit meal faster and more reliably by skipping a shower and risking another relapse of the Contessitch, then so be it.

          6. I don’t know… With all this effort Imp has made to become a “cultured” person, I expect that Implogic would have a place for the concept of Pandora’s box.

          7. By the way, I wonder to what extent Imp’s efforts come from a desire to break away from her past, to what extent they are result of Heartboken’s influence, and to what extent they are a way to honor Alec’s memory… and possibly a memory of one Annette Hebert.

          8. Alf, do you remember the last time Imp was in Cauldron HQ, and her solution to a fight with Satyr’s peeps was to threaten to let Sveta out of her ball?

            Does that sound like someone afraid of opening Pandora’s Boxes?

          9. @Spartakos

            You seem to misinterpret what I mean by Pandora’s box.

            The fact that once you open figurative Pandora’s box whatever is inside it will get out, is only half of the problem. The other half is that once it is out, it is impossible to put it back inside.

            With Sveta Imp could be reasonably sure that she would as soon as possible either return to the box or otherwise hide in a place where she would not be likely to accidentally kill anyone, so by opening Sveta’s container you only have to deal with the first half of Pandora’s box problem. On the other hand we don’t know if Imp has a good reason to trust Contessa, and if it is not the case, then once Contessa is free there would be no easy way to contain her again, meaning that you have to deal with both halves.

  7. Man Victoria really is a privleged little bitch at her core huh? She still sees cape-ing as something to be enjoyed and to be proud because of her upbringing. Telling Love Lost not to kill a Breaker/Shaker who can teleport and possibly kill everyone in the room? Telling someone that their own power won’t work because she doesn’t like its method of application? Telling Heartboken and Undersiders “you don’t wanna be like this”? She really cant understand what being a “good guy” Parahuman means after GM? She really can’t handle people having different opinions and feelings than her, even when her feelings put everyone’s lives at risk.

  8. A thrall who cleans? And the previous talk about thrills with brooms?

    But at the same time the Custodian should have been doing the cleaning and this is significant… so… a prisoner the Custodian can’t go near? Like Mantellum or someone with a power to copy powers or such?

    Alternatively Imp IS bulshitting them and it’s a cloned Grue… or Taylor/Weaver/Skitter/Khepri 😱

    1. How do you expect Imp to have learned that when Kenzie or Tata didn’t?

      I also presume that if there are Flock members here, there’s more chance of Rez Grue to show up. I mean, Sarah was Victoria’s aunt (and apparently not even the favorite aunt). Brian was Aisha’s only real family.

      1. To have learned what? She just found out that there is an important prisoner or prisoners in a certain part of the facility. Supposedly a cleaner visits there.

        We previously heard that some thralls were trying to hide that they had brooms because the custodian supposedly should be cleaning everything as Sveta pointed out. But WE know the Custodian has been around. SO, what if it’s a cape the custodian can’t deal with? A trump or Master cape are likely candidates if they have an ability to counter the Custodian or Teacher.

        We’ve seen multiple instances of capes brought back from the dead. Labrat, Valkery’s flock, the clones like Ashley and the Simurgh’s attempt at a clone which Teacher investigated.

  9. An image of Kenzie’s helmet appeared.

    I wonder if poor Kenzie was wearing her helmet to hide the fact that her smile was practically splitting her face in half. Or has she actually reached that point where she is so upset that she is not smiling anymore? I may be misremembering, but I think it happened once during her interlude…

    “Okay. I’ll be back in three hundred and forty two seconds.

    Creepy. Has Kenzie been spending too much time around D&D or Harbingers?

    “Give her a hug and say it’s from us?”

    How many years do you think it has been since Lisa gave anyone a hug? Does she even remember how to do it anymore?

    1. A slightly more general observation – recent trip to Shin re-awakened Victoria’s trauma, now this happened to Kenzie. I wonder if it is a beginning of a chain of events during which all Breakthrough members will be confronted with their inner demons…

      1. Speaking of inner demons. I wonder how Sveta is really doing after Weld broke up with her which probably means that from her perspective all C53s have pushed her away? Perhaps it would be a good time for Sveta to get to know Faultline’s crew better? I somehow can’t imagine all of them treating Sveta like most C53s seem to do right now…

        1. …and just imagine what could happen if it turned out that due to some quick of Sveta’s biology she is immune to Newter’s drugs. I could see things go in similar direction that they did when it turned out that Victoria was immune to Dean’s emotion power and vice versa.

    2. Wow thats a depressing thought. I remember her always hugging and linking arms with Taylor. Can’t imagine her hugging any of the other undersiders now.

      1. My interpretation is that after losing both her brother and Taylor, Lisa is simply too afraid to let her relationships with other people become too intimate. Afraid that if she allows herself to get emotionally too close to someone again, this sort of tragedy will happen again.

        The fact that she knows that this sort of tragedy was the case of her trigger, and that her shard (like all shards) is likely to try to arrange things so that she will end up in situations similar to her trigger probably justifies this fear in her eyes. Makes her think that there is a rational basis for it.

        This is why she is so annoyingly arrogant and abrasive, why her new “pet project” is saving a boy half her age, why she is in a completely aromatic and asexual relationship with Snuff (I don’t buy it for a second that she is aromatic, and I doubt that she is asexual; she is just afraid of forming this sort of relationships), and why her best friends are Aisha and Rachel (both of which tend to keep certain emotional distance from people due to their own emotional problems).

        I think that the best summary of Lisa’s fears is in chapter 13.6 of Ward:

        “Rooftop liaisons?” I asked.

        “No. Hooking up with coworkers. Maybe subordinates, maybe with messy end results, because any parahuman to parahuman interaction gets messy.”

        “Some do,” I clarified. “Some. Maybe even most.”

        “They all end in tears,” Tattletale said.

        See the difference between Victoria and Lisa here? Victoria (quite justifiably) acknowledged that relationships that involve parahumans tend to get messy, to end poorly, but Lisa simply refuses to believe that any other outcome is even possible! How is this rational? How is this anything but fear?

        1. By the way, I wonder if in the epilogue of Worm Lisa tried to convince Dinah that Taylor is dead simply so that Dinah wouldn’t one day tell her that Taylor is alive? Perhaps Lisa prefers to assume that the chapter of her life called “Taylor Hebert” is closed, even if it may eventually turn out to be a lie than to have people keep forcing her to confront a possibility that Taylor may still be alive, and potentially return one day?

          1. It may also be that Lisa wanted Dinah to believe that Taylor was dead for pretty much the same reason why she wants to believe it herself – to let those emotional wounds that everyone who deeply cared for Taylor heal without being constantly re-opened by reminders that there is no proof of Taylor’s death, and speculations about where she may be hidden.

  10. “The voice from the thrall was almost robotic, hollow. Haunting.”

    You think that was haunting, Vic?

    “The dead body was so close.

    What life had he lived? What led him here, to be some kind of plague-driven giant who murdered, capitalized, and worked with a syringe woman, in some alien hallways in an alien world?”

    Now ‘that’ was haunting.

    And Kenzie’s few words…

  11. So… What are Sveta’s feelings on Contessa?
    Are they going to rescue Contessa only for Sveta to go “Fuck this bitch”?

    …. Measuring the ethics of Contessa is really tricky, based on the whole bredth and depth things… and that fact that its really hard to judge someone for being wrong when they have an alien computer telling them “This is objectively the best answer” all day every day.

    I hope they do rescue Fortuna…. but there’s also there’s also the question of weather she can afford to use her totally OP power here and now, or if that would be enough to break the thin Ice everyone is standing upon.
    “PtV, but only if I’m standing in Antarctica on Earth Ayin”

    1. > So… What are Sveta’s feelings on Contessa?

      Right now? Perhaps “We probably should exile her to the same world as Amy?” I hope it is not that bad, but I could see it being the case.

      1. Ethan ran his fingers through Victoria’s hair, careful not to dislodge her silly birthday hat, and the earth moved beneath their feet. “Mmm….” She’d forgotten how good that- Wait. “Do you feel that?”

        “Yeah, it’s nice…” he said, but then the windows rattled and his eyes snapped open. “Oh, shit!” The two capes spun and guarded each other’s backs as they scanned for threats amid the increasing tremors. “It’s coming from below!” The floor beneath them caved in, but he was already leaping onto Victoria’s back as she took flight. “Out the balcony!”

        She looked over her shoulder as they escaped the collapsing house to see a seething mass of pale white… worms? Tentacles? Whatever they were, they were each two feet thick and surging out of the hole in the floor. Some tore at the edges of the whole to enlarge it, while others writhed through the air, following in the direction Victoria had flown.

        Clear of the house, Anelace slid down off Victoria and circled to one side while she flew to the other. The… things followed her, fanning out and branching rapidly to create a tangled barrier between them. She saw one of Anelace’s knives pierce a tentacle only to be sent flying by a brief gusher of high pressure blood. Victoria grimaced and activated the Wretch, intending to engage, but she hesitated when the tentacles suddenly stopped and went rigid. A deep rumbling came from the earth below, and then a massive worm at least ten feet across burst from Ethan’s ruined house and rose over its lesser brethren. As it flopped down before Victoria, the smaller worms shifted to catch and support it, lowering it gently to the ground.

        Once settled, the end cracked open to reveal a dark red interior, puddles of crimson blood dribbling out onto the ground. The Wretch protected Victoria from what she imagined must be a terrible stench; she could see the scenery beyond rippling through the air it exhaled. Oddly, it was making no move to attack, just sitting there gaping at her, occasional squishing sounds coming from deep within its tunnel-like maw.

        The sounds got louder. Victoria frowned and narrowed her eyes, searching for the source. She saw movement in the shadows, and she thought she could hear a voice. Shivers ran down her spine and she stepped back in shock. “It can’t be….”

        A twisted creature with eight fleshy legs and Contessa’s face crawled out of the worm’s mouth, but she wasn’t the source of Victoria’s terror. That came from the bloodstained young woman riding atop her back wearing a furry, smiling robe and a crown of bone. “Surprise!” said the Red Queen. A seam opened on the back of the thing that used to be Contessa and Amy fished out a soggy but colorfully wrapped gift. “Happy birthday, Vicky!”

  12. For Summer. Dragon killed Manton offscreen. She wouldn’t have any problem to kill Jack if it wasn’t for Saint to stop her. She’s a cape but she’ll never hesitate to kill the bad guys…. unlike Victoria.

    1. Dragon tried to kill March too with freaking rockets. The only thing that made her hesitate for a moment was when it was clear that Vista’s life was in danger too. My point is that Dragon is not afraid to kill if its really necessary.

    2. What Summer was probably saying about Dragon and Jack is that it was strongly suggested that Jack’s shard influenced other shards in such way that they made sure that their parahumans were never able to kill Jack, and made it very difficult for them even to do something like capture or seriously injure him.

      1. That does not compute. Dont forget: Dragon is NOT a parahuman. Dragon is the creation of a parahuman Tinker.
        So effects aimed at parahumans wont effect “her”.

        1. No, she is a parahuman as well (er…well, para-creature), she has her own connection to a shard. When Defiant looked through her logs back in Worm, he found a moment of her trigger.

          1. Aye. Whether an effect works on Dragon is dependent on whether it’s aimed at human brains (Regent’s power), shards (Jack’s power), or minds-of-all-kinds (Contessa’s negotiating skills). The latter two categories work.

          2. Well, Regent is a bad example. He’s aimed at the nervous system, not the brain. But you get the idea.

          3. I totally missed that one.
            Guess the shards are very flexible as far as hosts go. Which does make sense, considering.

        2. Despite being an AI, Dragon still triggered. (See Worm Interlude 16.) She is a parahuman… AI. ParaAI?

          1. Pararobot works, but dragons are basically just fancy flying dinosaurs. Birds are also fancy flying dinosaurs. Therefor, Dragon is a Parakeet.

      2. Yes, but Jack needed to talk for a while in order to have a chance to influence her. No taking, no influence. Dragon would have killed him before giving him a chance to open his mouth.
        Besides, Dragon is not human, she’s a paraAI. Wilbow never said anything about Jack being capable to influence AIs, even triggered AIs.

        1. Wibblebread might not have needed to- Jack’s shard influenced the shards of those against him, and communicated to him what that cape was going to do next. Dragon still has a shard, so that defence and advantage would remain Jack’s.

          1. Yet he was defenseless against Gray Boy. How his shard didn’t know that Gray Boy was planning to turn against him? Because because everything happened so fast or his thinker power was useless against Gray Boy?

          2. Maybe because Jack was already captured as soon as he was covered in containment foam, so Gray Boy’s power (or any other power used to contain him around that time) changed his situation? You could even argue that maybe Gray Boy’s power was used to prevent something more permanent from happening to Jack (like a bullet to the head for example). In other words you could say that Gray Boy actually ended up protecting Jack.

          3. A bullet to Jack’s head would have been much better for him than being trapped in a time loop MAYBE for eternity. If Gray Boy ended up protecting Jack from being killed, I’m convinced that Jack is not very happy with this kind of “protection, if he’s still “sane”. Jack’s current situation is what someone would call: fate worse than death. Well, its not like he doesn’t deserve it.

          4. Jack can’t stop somebody from attacking him unless he can talk to them, pressing their mental vulnerabilities and making them think not attacking him is their idea. Gray Boy, at that point, wasn’t going to change his mind- and Jack’s always had trouble controlling GB, that’s why Riley only cloned one and not the ten of everyone else.

          5. @lulu

            Jack’s shard probably doesn’t care about his happiness or comfort much. It probably even considers giving Jack a new traumatic experience a useful thing. What it does care for is keeping its host alive and able to create and participate in more conflict. Having Jack trapped in a time loop may not be ideal, because it doesn’t allow the host to express his murderous creativity, but since time loops may eventually be broken, the situation is probably preferable compared to letting Jack die.

            @Earl of Purple

            Maybe you are right. But I could also see a possibility that Jack doesn’t need to talk to a cape for his shard to protect him from that cape, and only needs to do so to make sure that the cape in question does other things for him (for example follows his orders most of the time, doesn’t kill other members of Slaughterhouse Nine, murders people who are not teammates for breakfast etc.)

          6. And lulu, why would you think that Jack ever tried to keep Jack (or anyone else for that matter) sane? Judging from Jack’s personality and his career his shard probably either considers sanity something to be destroyed, or doesn’t understand the concept at all.

          7. …and Jack’s passenger probably is not alone in this. Shards in general seem to treat human (and especially parahuman) sanity like an obstacle than anything else. From their perspective an ideal situation might be if every host was just as “sane” as the “best”, longest serving members of Slaughterhouse Nine were.

          8. By the way considering this description of what Gray Boy’s power does to people (from chapter 26.6 of Worm):

            “[…]The pain is always fresh, it never gets easier to deal with, but I’m told there’s a certain point where you crack, and you go around the bend. Takes a few days for most. Then you get to a point where you work through your issues. You don’t want to, but you do, because the only thing you have to occupy yourself with is the pain and your own thoughts… so you get mostly better, and then you crack up again, and you get better, and that becomes a loop of its own…”

            maybe it is possible to save Gray Boy’s victim by releasing them in a moment when they are actually relatively sane? Maybe March used her power to do exactly opposite – ensure that mayor of Killington was released at the phase of the cycle when he was most mentally broken, to maximize chances of a broken trigger?

          9. Or should I say that it would be the “right” way to save a person trapped within Gray Boy’s time loop? Assuming you have access to certain powers, you can almost certainly physically remove anyone trapped within, but what is the point of doing it, if whoever you released will be completely insane, right?

            If my interpretation of that quote from chapter 26.6 of Worm I posted above is correct, it may be possible to get out people trapped in Gray Boy’s time loops out of their time-prisons without them immediately triggering (like mayor of Killington did) or ending up mentally broken for the rest of their lives, or something along those lines. To do it you would simply need not only have a way of removing the bubble itself (which is obviously doable – March already did it during her attack on Brockton Bay, and in chapter 11.4 Citrine said that she had a way that should work), but also someone who could tell you when you should do it.

            Who could tell when to release Gray Boy’s victims? Maybe Gray Boy himself? Maybe someone with a timing power like March (assuming she is still alive)? Probably not Foil (her timing power seems to be limited to more short term, “tactical” applications). Maybe a strong precog like Dinah or Contessa?

            I also wonder if Victor and Scribe/Rune joined the Shepherds in hopes of getting the means necessary to save the Pure from the loops. Who knows? Maybe those formal requests for help with saving people trapped in time effects that Citrine mentioned during the meeting in chapter 11.4 weren’t submitted by someone like Cradle, Love Lost or March, but by those two ex-E88 capes? Maybe it was the reason (or at least one of the reasons) why the Shepherds didn’t attend that meeting? It would fit, because the petitions were apparently not only about Gray Boy’s time loops, but also time-stop bubbles, and at least two other white supremacists (Alabaster and Jotun) were trapped in one of those bubbles with Dauntless.

          10. Dauntless got as big as he did because he’d been trying to second trigger in the time bubble and his shard couldn’t actually alter his brain. Assuming Grey Boy’s time loops work the same way, then there’s no way to fish somebody out without activating their trigger- assuming a shard has attempted to make contact with them in that way.

          11. I wouldn’t be so sure that rescuing people from Gray Boy’s loops has to carry a high risk of a broken trigger in all circumstances.

            By using his power Dauntless was accumulating energy, which probably interacted with BB portal once he was released from his time bubble. Moreover since Dauntless was not trapped in a mental loop described in that Gray Boy victims are supposed to go through, he probably was in a state of mind that would practically guarantee he would trigger as soon as he was released from his bubble. If my interpretation is correct, Gray Boy’s victims may be periodically going into and out of such state of mind, meaning that if you release them in a moment when they have just “worked through their issues” and are “mostly better” again, they may not be likely to trigger.

            Another factor is the presence of portals, which supposedly interact with triggers in the city causing some of them to be broken. Mayor of Killington, Dauntless and Alabaster were close to the portal between Brockton Bay and New Brockton when they triggered (and let’s not forget that it is one of the “exploded” portals, which may mean that they store more energy than regular ones).

            Interaction with Vista’s power might have also played a role. At the very least she brought Killington close to BB portal. Creating a city-sized “box” around a portal and a bunch of time effects, some of which are about to “pop”, could’ve also not be the best idea. What if that “box” interacted with energy transferred during triggers just like resonance box interacts with sound?

            Many Gray Boy’s victims are probably far enough from the city and its portals that even if they trigger, the result won’t be “broken” any more than any “regular” first or second trigger (as appropriate for the people triggering). For example Jack is in Los Angeles, and while I’m not sure where PRT has been hiding the Pure, I suspect that it wouldn’t be anywhere near New England.

            The final thing to consider is that releasing a twice-triggered cape, or that disabling person’s Corona Pollentia right after releasing them, as March probably did with Jontun, may prevent a risk of a broken trigger entirely (though I suspect that if you do it somewhere close to the portals and/or if time effects accumulate energy themselves just like the portals do, the consequences of “popping” them may still be bad, just take form of a different sort of disaster than a broken trigger).

          12. The mental effect isn’t time related. The minds are aware of what’s going on outside the time loop, that’s why they eventually break for the stress and why they eventually get over it. If, when they break from the stress, they trigger, that trigger will be waiting for them when the loop ends- even if they’re at the ‘gotten over it’ part of their greater mental loop. And if, like Dauntless, that trigger attempts to connect more than once, it’ll probably be broken in the same way.

          13. The way I read that bit of text I quoted from chapter 26.6, mental state of Gray Boy’s victims forms its own long-term loop during which they alternate between being mentally completely broken and mostly fine.

          14. It’s a loop in the sense of a repeating pattern, but it’s not hard-coded into Grey Boy’s effect. Unlike the time loop itself, the completely broken and completely fine differs each time. As such, it would have no effect on an attempted trigger within the loop- it’s an external factor, like whoever’s watching the loop at the time.

          15. …and my speculation is that if Gray Boy’s victims can trigger only after being released from the time loop (which appears to be the case), then the chance that they trigger will largely depend on their mental state at the moment they are released.

          16. Dauntless grew into the Chronos Titan because he was attempting to second-trigger and attempted it several thousand times.

            If somebody, at the lowest point of the mental cycle in the time loop, would trigger, it won’t work as the shard can’t interact with them properly and the trigger will bounce, to try again, and again, and again… And when they reach the lowest point, it’ll be another trigger, which will also bounce, and so on until they are released at which point all these attempted triggers stop bouncing and all take place at the same time. The mental cycle only decides if they trigger, not ‘when it’s safe to release them’. If they’ve attempted a trigger, it’s *never* safe to release them.

          17. And yes, it may not be a hard-coded pattern, but if people are unable to trigger as long as they are inside of Gray Boy’s time loop, they should be safe assuming they are sane at the moment they are released. The only problem is telling when exactly they are sane. With some, you probably need a thinker to tell, others probably sit in a loop (the hard-coded one) that is long enough that they can communicate with their surroundings (just like Purity and that PRT officer from chapter 26.6 could talk with Gray Boy), which means that a non-parahuman mental health specialist may be able to tell.

          18. Dauntless situation is probably different that of a person released from a time loop, because bu using his power he accumulated energy for all those years (remember that Kronos titan was explicitly said to accumulate “Dauntless’ energy”).

            This energy probably couldn’t do some of the work it was supposed to do (for example change the way his artifacts interacted with their surroundings). This means that Dauntless trigger happened the way it did not only because of his mental state at the moment he and Alabaster were released, but also (or maybe even mostly) because of interaction between this accumulated energy that suddenly made over four years worth of work and the portals.

            Gray Boy’s loops may not accumulate similar energy. It is even entirely possible that mayor of Killington triggered simply because they were released at the moment their mind was at its lowest, and the trigger ended up being broken only because BB portal was nearby (just like presence of portals caused triggers in the city being broken multiple times already).

            If portals are not an issue (for example because you break a time loop that is far away from them), then I suspect that any triggers people trapped in them may suffer upon release may be “regular”, not broken. If you release a person from their time loop, when they are not in a state of mind that would cause a trigger, then I think that they simply shouldn’t trigger. Of course this last statement is probably where you have a different opinion Earl of Purple, and I will admit that at the moment we probably don’t know if a person who reached as state of mind that would cause normally them to trigger while they were trapped in a time effect is guaranteed to suffer “delayed” trigger as soon as they are released, or a state of mind of such person is irrelevant as long as they are trapped, and the only thing that counts is how traumatized they are after they are released.

          19. Of course there is one more possibility – that people can trigger while they are trapped in their loops, and it is only the effects of their triggers that reach out of the loop after it is popped. This doesn’t feel right though, because in this case mayor of Killington should have suffered their trigger years ago, when they were far from the portals (possibly even before most Megalopolis’ portals were even created), in which case I would expect them to go through a “regular”, not broken, trigger.

          20. …and quite frankly, why would a shard cause a person trigger as long as they are trapped within a time loop (at least with something that doesn’t really let a potential host affect anything outside the loop or break the loop itself)? What would a shard gain by giving a power to a host who can’t use this power to solve any problem, or participate in any conflict?

          21. > The mental effect isn’t time related.

            I think it would be more accurate to say that the period of this particular loop may not be constant, and isn’t directly controlled by Gray Boy. But this is precisely why I suggested that you may need a precog to figure out which phase of the cycle a given person is in. Otherwise some preliminary observation to figure out the period length coupled with a clock and calendar would probably be sufficient.

    3. If you want to post an answer to a comment that has no reply button (like Summer’s comment you apparently replied to) you can hit the last reply button above the comment you are replying to, and your comment will end up as the last one in the uninterrupted chain of comments without reply buttons.

      In this case it would mean that if you replied to this comment: http://www.parahumans.net/2019/07/16/dying-15-4/#comment-98918 your answer would end up right below Summer’s comment you were trying to reply to.

      It is perfectly fine to do such things here. Plenty of us do it all the time.

  13. I wonder if we will see what happens if you disturb one of the Valkyrie’s flock emotionally because Imp will end up meeting Grue, and, despite being warned not to discuss such topics, inform him that, contrary to what everyone has probably told him, Taylor is alive.

        1. You mean that after being separated from Queen Administrator, Taylor triggered again, this time with a bud of Imp’s shard?

          1. I guess it could be one way to explain why most people don’t want to talk, and probably even rarely think about Khepri, and why most of them don’t even seem to question the assumption that she is dead or otherwise permanently gone…

          2. I meant that the memories of Ghoula Brian had so many holes that Taylor may not mean anything to him.

          3. Ah, I guess it is also possible, though I doubt it. The way I read Valkyrie’s interlude, she seemed to focus on “resurrecting” people whose personalities and memories were in relatively good shapes. The only exception was supposedly Edgeless who was her first “experiment” precisely because he supposedly had lacked personality even before he died.

            On the other hand Valkyrie also focused on “favoring the young and disciplined, the powerful, and the needy.” Grue obviously falls into the first three categories. Only the last one seems uncertain, depending on how much of his personality and memories survived, though I suspect that if he still remembered his loved ones (obviously including Taylor) and felt the need to meet them again, his chances of getting “resurrected” early would increase. And he appears to have been “brought back to life” very early indeed…

          4. By the way, note that Victoria noted that Photon appeared younger than original Sarah was at the moment of her death. Perhaps the reason (or at least one of the reasons) why Valkyrie preferred bringing back young people, is that her shadows have to be “resurrected” in young bodies? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that people above certain age rarely trigger?

  14. I am sure now that the thing they need in one of the cells is Fortuna. The only way the heroes win this is with her help.

  15. > “Hey, kid,” Tristan said. The cape he was talking to wasn’t a kid any more than Tristan was, but he was a rookie. “Don’t talk about the dead like that. Like it was their failure.”
    > “You’re doing the thinker thing,” Tristan said. “Where you get too stuck in what your power is telling you and trying to tell everyone else, and you stop being a decent human.”

    Oh Tristan, would you be so kind to do everyone a favor and please go fuck yourself? Of course, if you don’t find it offensive. If you do, you may substitute it with a pleasant activity of your choosing which will keep you distracted enough to not want to pick on your teammates, like decent humans do. You see, the situation is such that you can’t quite afford to dance around the subject and carefully pick a wording which hopefully won’t offend anyone’s well-developed fantasy (which by itself would probably require a thinker power devoted to it).

  16. I just thought about something. Do you remember how I thought that Wildbow’s comment at the beginning of chapter 13.1 broke reader’s immersion in the story, and how we were trying to figure out a way to keep that last scene in interlude 12.x “hidden” below “Previous chapter / Next chapter” links while still ensuring that no reader would actually miss it without actually using author’s note?

    It is probably way too late to do it now, but could that last scene be turned into its own interlude – similar to Scion’s words contained in interlude 27.y (a.k.a. interlude 27b) of Worm?

    1. It will lose the space-warping aspect. “That’s not supposed to be there”. But if Ward ever gets converted to a book format, I guess your proposition will be the nearest approximation.

      1. Actually I could see the book working with some empty lines between those last two scenes. Possibly exactly enough to actually force the reader to turn a page to find that last scene.

      2. The book version should use folding art for that particular chapter. The final paragraph would only be readable from the outside if you spread the arc’s pages correctly.

    2. By the way I’m saying that it is probably too late to do it mostly because posting chapters out of order seems to screw up their sequence on the main page – for example if you go there and hit link currently labeled “20” at the bottom, you will see that chapter 1.1 appears to be out of order – below Glow-worm, because apparently it was posted here before Wildbow reposted Glow-worm from Worm’s website.

      If on the other hand Wildbow could create interlude 12.y, move that last scene from interlude 12.x there AND modify 12.y posting date to March 31, 2019 at 11:59 pm, then after some fiddling with links it would be possible to remove that author’s comment from chapter 13.1 without leaving much chance that someone could miss that scene. On top of it I think that such edit would actually go well with Wildbow’s comment about putting March’s end at the end of March.

      The only questions are:
      – can Wildbow be bothered to do it (especially after all of my nagging),
      – would he want the readers possibly associate March’s end with Scion’s words in interlude 27.y somehow,
      – is it even possible for Wildbow to “falsify” the moment when one of his chapters were posted here,
      – would changing the date also move the post in sequence in the front page, and wouldn’t it break the entire site somehow?

      1. I’d say the best variant would be just to remove the warning, and if any readers are able to miss that scene, just leave them to figure out it by themselves (maybe making it explicit in 13.1’s dialogues that Vista is alive and has played a major role in March’s defeat. sorry, too lazy to re-read 13.1 and verify that it might already be the case). If they can’t do that either, then feel deeply for them because there’s no cure for stupidity yet, but not bother otherwise.

  17. Hold on how much meta knowledge does imp have? When has she interacted with Saint or Contessa in a way that she’d know Saint can subvert Dragon or that Contessa just wins everything all the time?

    1. Imp visited Saints prison cell during Gold morning to give him crap, and talked to Armsmaster about dragon.
      Also she has been BFFs with Lisa for the past four years, and Lisa has been concerned with Contessa’s location for at least the last couple months.

      1. A few more details and relevant sources:

        Regarding Imp’s knowledge of Contessa’s power remember that Faultline’s crew suspected she was a precog back in Faultline’s interlude in arc 18 of Worm. Moreover Chicago Wards met Contessa in chapter 24.2 of Worm. During the meeting Taylor got a first hand demonstration of Contessa’s power followed by this explanation:

        “What the hell are you?” I asked. “What’s your power?”


        She spoke, “I win.”

        “I gathered that much,” I said.

        “What I mean is that I can see the paths to victory. I can carry them out without fail.”

        and some more details about how Contessa’s power doesn’t let her directly predict the Endbringers.

        As far as we know Imp wasn’t present in either of those confrontations (though in theory she could have followed Chicago Wards in chapter 24.2, and nobody would realize it), but those things happened around two years before GM to people Undersiders knew well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they filled Imp in either directly or through Tattletale. There were also other situations later on when Imp could fill some gaps in her knowledge – like those meetings organized by Cauldron shortly before and after Scion went on his rampage, or during the Weaver-led incursion into Cauldron complex during GM.

        Regarding what Imp knows about Saint and Dragon, I think that you may want to re-read chapter 28.2 of Worm.

  18. “I halfway expected him to criticize me, to talk about my injuries and scars, the accumulation of damage.

    Amy would have. This felt a lot like talking to Amy, in some ways.

    Rain had slipped past the pair of Malfunctions. Venarum cape turned his focus on him.”

    You thought her name and immediately moved on, seemingly without trying. You have come so far, Victoria!

  19. Glad to see Victoria is now at the point where she can think Amy’s name and then immediately move on to observing Rain. You’ve come so far, Victoria!

  20. >I halfway expected him to criticize me, to talk about my injuries and scars, the accumulation of damage.

    Amy would have.  This felt a lot like talking to Amy, in some ways.

    This line didn’t seem to attract notice. Vicky is reminiscing and maybe longing old days.

    >“This is for the best,” Imp said.  “Samuel can break people.  Hitting them in the right places, right times.  Goes through their mental defenses like butter.  We can extract information.”

    So the way for Samuel to gain comfort women is to hit girls in the right places, right times. This is even more horrible than Papa Vasil.

    >“I don’t care what we are, so long as we make it through this,” Imp said.

    There are degrees of survival that are unacceptable, Aisha. Becoming the next Heartbreaker is just one of them.

    >“Give her a hug and say it’s from us?”

    “She’s here.  I’ll see if there’s someone better equipped for that job than I am.  Headphones unplugged, Lookout plugging in.”

    Lisa’s commitment to being a crappy person at all times is amazing.

    >“We get to those cells, we win,” Imp said.  “One hundred percent.”

    Aisha do you remember the monster girl that was in Coil’s Dungeon of Fun? You don’t? We neither. Lets release the unknown prisoners.

    >“Saint,” Imp said.  “You asssshole.”

    Balk: – Masaka! Sore wa Gundamu desu!

    Imp: – Seinto! Kisama!

    1. > This line didn’t seem to attract notice. Vicky is reminiscing and maybe longing old days.

      Not necessarily the old days. It actually reminds me about this exchange that happened in chapter 14.7, which as far as I can tell happened just a day earlier than the current chapter:

      “You have scars,” Amy cut into my thoughts.
      “Don’t follow through with that thought,” Vista said, so I didn’t have to.

      > Lisa’s commitment to being a crappy person at all times is amazing.

      Actually I interpret Lisa’s behavior as just one more sign of her fear of forming strong emotional bonds caused by the fact that she’s already lost the two people she loved most (her brother and Taylor). I explained it in more detail in one of the threads above, especially in this post: http://www.parahumans.net/2019/07/16/dying-15-4/#comment-99433

    2. > Vicky is reminiscing and maybe longing old days.

      I… really don’t think that’s what was happening there.

      > So the way for Samuel to gain comfort women is to hit girls in the right places, right times. This is even more horrible than Papa Vasil.

      Nothing has indicated that he has any interest whatsoever in doing that. You might as well complain that Tristan is horrible because he could embed a woman’s limbs in stone and have his way with her.

    3. > There are degrees of survival that are unacceptable, Aisha. Becoming the next Heartbreaker is just one of them.

      Er… Don’t you see some difference between enslaving and torturing innocent and defenseless people for own amusement and going against a threat which is quite possibly going to be Scion-level?

      (btw, +1 to Pizzasgood)

    4. How the heck is this Lisa being a crappy person. She’s literally saying “I’m probably not the right choice for that, I’ll find someone who is a better choice.” – both because she has a need to keep emotional distance, and because she specifically has antagonized Kenzie in the past (sometimes and K’s request), and that would make the hug less warm.
      So she finds someone who CAN do it better (Aunty Rachel? Snuff? Darlene?)

      Heck, maybe TT is about to make use of her massive therapy powers, which we all know her power COULD do (just not very willingly).

  21. I’m just imagining the conversation between TT and Kenzie:

    “So, my little bucket of crazy, let me tell you a story about my very best friend…. and how many times we thought about chucking her off the team.”
    “….And then there was that time Rachel tried to murder her… and the time she almost betrayed us to the PRT… and the time she DITCHED us…. and we still loved her… even when she went insane and took over the world”

    1. “…You should have heard the shit Alec and Aisha used to say about her. Yes… yes… Aisha loved her too. Oh man, this one time….”

  22. “I have bad dreams that aren’t as bad as this”
    This should be epigraph! 🙂 May be for the whole Parahuman series.

      1. This?
        > Twelve are dead. Four of those are our fault
        > I threw Etna and her stupid costume into a hill, and I didn’t see her recover
        > she could be one of the three that are possibly me
        Etna was reported as “retired” by Midas in Black 13.9, other two of “three that are possibly me” – “possibly” means Victoria is not sure, may be it wasn’t she. It is like execution by shooting with firing squad, so no single shooter can be sure he killed.
        While here she deliberately killed a parahuman.

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