Dying – 15.6

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It was quiet.

We’d fought every step of the way, practically, and the din of combat had been constant.  No time to think, one crisis after another.

Now, for ten minutes, the only sound was the hum of voices and the occasional blub from one of the destroyed, partially submurged filtration tanks.

We had gathered in and near one of the side hallways extending out from the big room with the four building-size water filtration structures.  It was high off the ground, giving those of us close to the hall’s entryway a view of the flooding in the room.  The water wasn’t deep, but it was a stadium-size dome, and it added up to a lot of water.  Every one of the structures had taken damage except for the one closest to us.

I stood near the entry to the hallway, the partially open door giving me some privacy, even though the room I was in was so vast.  My breastplate was off, my costume top pulled off.  The cape who was looking after me didn’t have any powers that helped, which… helped.  I could endure that poking and prodding.

My recently flensed hand was bandaged, and my physical therapist was probably going to yell at me over the way I’d injured it, torn it open, patched it up, then torn it open again.  I had bad bruising on my upper body from when I’d taken the bullet to the breastplate earlier, especially early in the sense that it had happened only midway between our entry and our fight here.  I had barely registered it until I’d tried to sit down with the others and it hit me all at once.

Siren was the cape who was looking me over.  The costume he wore was in the usual Advance Guard style, all angles, geometric shapes and future-tech in style, with his particular aesthetic touching on the reds and blues of his namesake sirens, as well as the sea monster thing.  It almost reminded me of Byron’s outfit, run through an ‘Advance Guard’ filter.  He stepped back, leaning against the catwalk railing that I really wouldn’t have been leaning against, while I leaned against the wall by the door.  Without bending over, he reached down to the personal first aid kit he’d hung on the railing, got a thing of disinfectant spray, and rubbed his hands down.

His eyes didn’t leave my upper body.

It was enough to unnerve, but I could push myself deeper into that mindset I’d had to maintain in the hospital, letting nurses take care of me.  Privacy just didn’t happen when you needed someone else to look after your health.

Still, it had its limits.

“Problem?” I asked.

“I don’t like the swelling on your right side.”

“It hurt more, I got to thinking why.  I skimmed the ground while flying low.  More of a right-side impact.”

“Aggravated it.”

“Probably,” I said.  “Anything else?”

“You look worn out.”

“I feel like I’m fighting okay.  I’m not leading my team or calling any shots I don’t have to.  The worst that happens when I go on autopilot is that other people get hurt.”

“You’re getting hurt.”

“That’s attrition and I wouldn’t be much healthier if I was one hundred percent sharp.  I’ve been at the cape thing for long enough I have okay instincts.”

“What about other people getting hurt?”

“I… don’t have as many years of experience at holding back.”

“Ah.  Ex-vigilante?”

Vigilantes were the cape-scene term for the heroes who eschewed the game in favor of putting enemies down for the long term, if not permanently.  Break too many of the unwritten rules, break the actual laws, and life got harder.

“Nevermind,” he said, taking advantage of my pause before answering.  “You’re sharing details like you want my permission to go back into the field, but you don’t need it.  I have five years as a E.M.P., I can give you my best spot diagnosis, but it’s your call.  There’s no boss here I could tattle to, and I wouldn’t.”

“If you did have to give me a diagnosis?”

“Turn back.  If you trust your team to make calls while you’re not on your A-game, trust them to handle shit without their flying brick.  I’m betting they handled things before you joined.”

Depending on how you interpret ‘handled’.

“Do any of us capes really ‘handle’ stuff?” I asked.  Then, when he paused, I did much the same thing he’d done to me, and answered, “Nevermind.  Heavy question.”

“I’d say leave.  Heck, I’d say you have one teammate with severe enough injuries they should leave too.”

“I’m not sure the way out is going to be any easier than the way forward,” I said.  Fighting like we’d been fighting, through thralls and other obstructions, but with a pack of wounded?  Doing it with morale at rock bottom because we were bailing?

“We’d need some relatively able-bodied people to handle it.  I’d say if you’re capable of fighting but not on your A-game, then you can handle thralls without their full faculties, but not the kind of capes Balk and Stonewall were telling us are up ahead.”

“In my defense, I did help stop one or two tricks back there.  They tried discharging an electrified power core into the water.  Stopping that was fifty percent me, minimum.”

“Alright,” Siren said.  “Can’t argue that.”

“If we need people to escort wounded out ASAP, then I have ideas for names.  But I want to see this through.”

I didn’t mention that Imp’s idea of getting to the prisoners was part of our plan.  If I left, then I’d want to replace myself to ensure they had the necessary help to get that done, but at the same time, spreading the plan around increased the chance Teacher got ahead of it.

“Besides,” I heard Swansong.  “I’m not leaving.  I’m pressing on.”

I turned my head to look.  The door had a window at head level, and Swansong stood with her back to the door.  I could see the back of her head, a bit of the angel pilot’s blood still on the edge of her ear and in her white hair.

“Your ribs?” I asked, suppressing a wince as I pulled my top back on.

“Skin pushed more or less where it should be, everything’s bandaged.  Venarum said he won’t stop me.  Not that he would dare.”

“I saw your injury,” Siren said.  “I wouldn’t encourage fighting in that condition.  The kind of drugs you would need to ignore the pain-”

“No drugs,” Swansong said.  “Drugs mess with powers.  I don’t need any surprise changes throwing me off.”

“As opposed to the hole in your side.”

“Skin deep.”

“And the ribs that looked charred.”

“No cracks, no fractures.  It won’t slow me down.  Besides, if I took other drugs, I couldn’t safely take the drugs Shin gave us.”

The power altering drugs the Coalition government of Shin had given us.  One to boost raw power, only to be used if we had absolute confidence in our control.  One to boost range, at a loss of power, same stipulation about control.  One to just scupper every aspect of a power and render it useless, if we could get it into someone’s bloodstream.

“You want that, huh?” I asked, as I got my breastplate on.

“More power?  Of course.”

Her tone was cavalier, casual Ashley.  No sign of the shocked, lost Ashley I’d seen before everyone had regrouped and gathered here.  But of course there wouldn’t be.  I’d made the mistake before of thinking there was a villainous Ashley behind the mask of the hero or a heroic Ashley behind the mask of the villain.  There wasn’t.  Morality was an aesthetic and that aesthetic came second to her drive to ascend.  To look behind the mask meant to find the times that drive wasn’t front and center.  Times she was with Kenzie.  Times she was vulnerable, whether it was because she’d just accidentally killed a woman or because she’d cast off her hands in front of a crowd to make a point.

Siren didn’t help me with the breastplate, instead focusing his effort on getting his medical kit back in order.  I finished around the same time he was clipping the kit to the side of his belt.

“Thank you for the checkup, and looking after my hand.”

“I’ll say this: if you keep abusing it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t lose that skin altogether, or even lose the hand.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I’m sure you said that before,” Siren said.  “Then you made other things a priority.  Yes?”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“Then do something about it.  Don’t make it a consideration.”

“You’re a bit of a hardass, huh?”

“I’m backup medical and team doctor for a team of sixty full-cocked, aggressive capes with four tertiary teams, who love to get themselves hurt.  I have to be.  Put something over that hand.”

“We have someone who can do that,” I heard Sveta say, from the other side of the door.

Everyone’s eavesdropping, huh?

I stepped into the hallway, and found it wasn’t everyone, but Swansong and Tress.

“How are we doing?” I asked.

“The Heartbroken are drying off, Lookout is in regular contact since we patched into Saint’s mech, the boys were talking about the game plan.”

I nodded.

The mood in the hallway was subdued, all business, few smiles.  We’d pulled a lot of people out of the water with injuries.  We’d gone to rescue a few people and found corpses.

We passed Balk’s group, who were sitting, crouching, and standing on either side of the hallway, with just enough room between them that we had to pass single file.  Balk was dead, and they were figuring out their new leadership structure.  Sarah was with them, floating in a sitting position beside a guy who was honing his sword blade with a whetstone.  Her injuries were bandaged, and she seemed to be okay.  She watched me as I passed, with eyes that weren’t anything like my Aunt’s.

Stonewall’s group stuck close enough to Balk’s residuals that Stonewall could listen in and offer his occasional input.  Venarum had shifted focus to look after some of their wounded, in conjunction with a cyborg tinker who was very literally patching people up with temporary stopgaps.  I could see a few people who’d had bio-organic plates of armor set over their injuries.   He was in the midst of a procedure, setting a golf-ball sized sphere into a hole in someone’s head, where their ear had been torn… not off, but out, to the point that the surrounding muscles had been torn too.  He filled in the gap with what looked like biomechanical foam, dispensed out of a can.  Little LEDs that were set throughout the foam like chips in chocolate chip cookies flashed red, red, green, and stayed green.  Slowly, the metallic blob and the lights around the blob were rearranging into something that fit the lines of his head and face better.

I tested the movement of my fingers and thought about my injured hand.  Sveta, seeming to read my mind, nudged me and shook her head.

I waited until we were far enough away to ask.  “Why not?”

“Because they’re selfish about it,” she said.  “They won’t give it to someone who isn’t a teammate.  Part of that is because it’s messy, needs maintenance.  Maintenance you wouldn’t get.”

“Fair,” I said.  I couldn’t deny that a good, non-healer quick fix might have been appealing.

“Besides,” Sveta said.  “Too many nanotech incidents came through the Asylum.”

“Yeah.  Oh yeah.”

Rain and Capricorn were talking to Tristan’s old teammate, except her costume had changed.  The faceplate with the ears that she’d been wearing had changed from cat to something that made me think ‘weasel’.  Her costume was sleeker overall, with smaller ears.  Claws had been changed up, and the gear she wore at her arms extended up to her shoulders, with a of linked metal segments stringing between the shoulder plates, a ‘tail’ of the same segments running from the center of the segment, straight down her back to the floor, forming a kind of ‘y’ shape.

That was neat, if her costume updated when she used her power.  Either she was deciding on the aesthetic, which earned her some big points in my book, or her power was, which was interesting.

Rain was drawing on the floor in erasable marker.  It looked like a very rough representation of the complex.  There were some letters written around the end, arrows pointing from them.

I closed my one eye, and brought up Kenzie’s map- or I tried to.  Instead I got a new image, abstract, with lots of abstract rectangle, diamond, snowflake, and other fractal shapes, of varying complexity and size, all connected in a webwork of horizontal and vertical lines.  Some were yellow, some were white with black outlines, and some were multicolored between the two.  Some notes by Lookout were on the side, as were some cryptic options.

“What’s this new data?” I asked Sveta.  “Uh, between the map and the full chat.”

“Hack progress,” Sveta said.  “I was watching while you were getting your hand wrapped up.  Kenzie had questions and I had educated guesses.”

“Got it,” I said.  I blinked through to the map.  While I waited for it to update, Sveta stepped forward, bending down beside Rain, and took the offered marker.

“Antares needs a guard or encasement over her hand,” Sveta said.  “You have tools?”

“Some,” Rain said.  “What do you need done?”

I answered, “Something strapped to the forearm that extends forward over the hand.  Leave my hand free underneath, so I can still grab things if I have to?”

“I might be able to do that.  I saw a wall panel over there.”

He climbed to his feet, taking my offered hand, and jogged off.

“What about the east side?” Tristan asked his old teammate, tapping the drawing of the map.  “Do you remember who went in through there?”

“No,” she answered.

“Victoria,” Tristan said.  “With our group spread for the second wave, who went in through portals bringing them in from the west?”

“The benched members of the Shepherds, some sub-teams.  Mortari’s… kids, I guess?”

“The Harbingers,” Swansong said.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Things one through whatever.  Never sure what to call them.”

“Thanks,” Tristan said.  “It came up a couple of times already.  When they sent us in, they didn’t send us in by the gates near where our acquaintances and teammates came in.  Furcate was saying her sub-squad changed course after some tinker hijinks made walls and rooms move.  We changed course a bit because of the obstructions we ran into.  So that’s why we ran into each other, but that’s not what Cinereal wanted.”

I made a mental note of the name.  Furcate.  Had it changed with the costume, or had I gotten it wrong?  Civilian name and cape name?

“Do you doubt Cinereal?” Swansong asked.

Tristan shook his head.  “I- no.  That’s not what I’m getting at.  Cinereal probably thought it would be bad for morale if we made our second attempt at breaking into this place and found all of our old teammates or the first-string members of our teams dead.  Add in how complicating it is if at the same time we’re running into people who should be dead but aren’t…”

“Which a good thing,” Furcate said.  “Yay, being alive.”

So good a thing,” Tristan said.

“There’s another side to it,” Sveta said.  “If a team with one mindset tackles a problem, can’t do it, you don’t want to send people with the same mindset and approach to handle the same problem.”

“That could be part of it,” Tristan conceded.

Rain had returned with the hatch of a floor panel or something of the sort in his hand, textured to be non-slip.  He also had Colt following behind him, Love Lost following behind Colt.  Rain found a spot beside me, took the marker from Sveta, and had me hold up my arm while he traced the general dimensions onto the smooth side of the panel.

Tristan went on, “You get what I mean, though, Antares?  Cinereal probably thought it was better to keep it simple.”

“I follow you, but I don’t see where you’re going with this,” I said.

“Where we don’t know all of the details of who was sent where, probably because the Wardens wanted to compartmentalize info, we can intuit who might be where by assuming they were placed as far from their first-wave analogues as possible.  If Breakthrough had sent in some members through with the first wave, they’d have gone in from one of the west entryways, while we came in through the east.  Except we’re not that big.  But the other teams are.”

“Shepherds go in through the east in the first wave, so the second wave, second-string Shepherds are sent in west.  To put them further from their team,” I said.  “Advance Guard came in from the southeast with Balk and Stonewall, so the second wave are going in through the northwest.”

Tristan shrugged, “It’s not so cut and dry, given the placements of our access points, and how some teams were split up, like Advance Guard, but yeah.”

“My team went in through the south, and we were supposed to trace a path clockwise across the facility,” Furcate said.  “We changed to split off east because we knew Advance Guard’s team was taking the gallery, and we really, really wanted to make sure we disrupted the system there.  If there wasn’t resistance, we were to see what we could do to get comms running again, using infrastructure there.  There was resistance.”

“No duh,” Colt said.  A great contribution to the conversation.

“Okay,” Tristan said.  “Then we can intuit that the other members of the Undersiders should be around there.  Dog girl-”

“Bitch,” I said.

“It feels shitty, calling her that.  But yeah.  Foil, Parian.  Tattletale’s bodyguard, Snuff.”

We knew who was going to be there, then.  I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad that it was easy to figure out, considering that we had compartmentalized information for a reason.

Rain had made the panel thinner by carefully carving it with a silver blade held in his hand, then banging it against his knee.  He slashed it with another silver blade and banged it, only for Colt to stop him.  She used her own power, going breaker and cutting with the black blade that jutted from her arm, and it made for a tidier cut.

Sveta and Tristan went over room preferences, but it didn’t seem to matter too much from a practicality standpoint.  The area had been repurposed since the Irregulars had investigated it and passed through the building, and what had been administrative offices had been repurposed into something more closed off, according to Imp’s intel.  Fridges, quarantine for sick thralls, and cells.

Rain bent the panels into shape and matched them to my arm.  From there, it was a pretty fast process, riveting them together, figuring out a way to strap them on.

I saw Love Lost watching.

“When Love Lost was helping you with your arm, it was because she got tinker tokens last night?” I asked.

Rain looked up at Love Lost, then back down at the work.  “Yeah.”

“I thought they were a corrupting force.”

He looked up at her.  She didn’t budge, only staring him down.

“Not with the random ones, I’m pretty sure.  Or that isn’t as serious.  But she did take them from Cradle, too.  The Wardens were wanting to make sure he didn’t have the capacity to fight back when they went through the portal to his campsite to talk to him about the potential raid.  Reducing his capacity by having him hand over tokens.  He didn’t want to give the tokens to me, but giving them to Love Lost meant Cradle couldn’t be clever.”

“He couldn’t be clever anyway,” Colt said.  “Dick.”

Rain went on like Colt hadn’t butted in.  “We figured she wasn’t leaving her cell so it didn’t do any harm, it helped us out, so it was more goodwill for her, kind of.”

“She wants a day off every year, so she can visit her daughter,” Colt said.

I saw Love Lost tense.

“I wasn’t going to bring that up,” Rain said.

Her daughter was dead.  Would that be a visit every birthday, then?  Or a visit on the anniversary of her daughter’s death?

“I did something similar,” I said.  “I used to go back home to where my family was, pay a visit, leave flowers or pictures I’d seen.  Matters.”

I looked back at ‘Sarah’.  My aunt’s shadow.  I looked back to Love Lost, and she was staring off into the distance, but her body language had relaxed a bit.

Rain continued explaining, “It’s why Love Lost was listening to me earlier.  The deal was she would come, I’ll say my piece to the Wardens about convincing them not to punish her as much, but this whole thing has to be on safe terms.  She’s under the influence of his tokens, but she’s not acting on that influence.  She listens to Breakthrough and the Wardens.”

Love Lost abruptly walked away.  I didn’t see any anger in it.  Maybe irritation.

We watched her go, her claws clicking on the floor.  Some capes gave her wary looks.  Many of them would have been briefed on her when we were dealing with Cradle and his whole mess.

She walked to the hallway entrance, onto the catwalk that overlooked our recent battlefield.

Rain’s whole plan with this Love Lost collaboration sounded way more precarious than I’d thought it was.

“I trust her in this,” Rain had lowered his voice.  He was still working.  “I want this whole shitty thing to be better than it is.  If that means trusting her and getting killed… fine.  But I don’t think she will kill me.  If she didn’t have Cradle’s influence, I think the chances of her coming after me would go up.”

“She wants to do it with a clear head,” Colt said.

Rain gave her a dubious look.  “Did she say that?”

“No.  Not recently.  It was when things were hectic so you can’t really blame her.”

Rain gave her a more dubious look.

“Benefit of getting tokens in our quadrant is both Love Lost and I get the bonus,” Colt said.  “My tinkering’s better, not that I had much time.  I mostly had to grab what was confiscated when they brought me in, and finish my work.”

The chatter continued, moving into less interesting stuff.  Rain began to work on a buckler to affix to the guard that was going over my hand and forearm.

I looked at the maps, and at the hacking progress.  From the text on the side, I could see one side of Kenzie’s conversation with Swansong.  Talking shop, talking team stuff.  Ashley would write something down and hold it up for Kenzie to read through the eye camera.  Kenzie would respond, printing text onto our view.

Kenzie was typing with lowercase ‘i’ instead of the capital one.  She’d let more typos slip through.  In another circumstance, I would have wholly chalked it up to her being busy with hacking, but it wasn’t that.

Hold out, Kenzie.  Keep it together, do what you can, and we’ll get through this.  We’ll stop Teacher, put this whole mess to rest, and then look after the city while Breakthrough gives you some support and encouragement.  Movies and hot chocolate, talks, whatever you need.

I could only make that mental pledge because it was what I was telling myself.

Sarah had risen to her feet, I saw.  With that, I realized she wasn’t alone.  The guy who had been honing his sword was sheathing it, slipping the honing stone into a breast pocket of his costume.  Others were getting ready.

I wanted to stop for two weeks, to have no crises, no Shin, no Cheit, no fucking Teacher.

I wanted to not have stopped at all.  To still be moving forward, because this wasn’t easy.

But my team wasn’t in good shape.

“Try that,” Rain said.

He’d done up the buckler with a star on it to match the icon at my breastplate and hood.  It was fixed to the armplate, and the armplate still needed straps, though it had holes for the straps to feed through.  I put it over my arm, and with a moment of Wretch strength, pinched it to a tighter fit.  I had spare bandage, and used that to serve as the straps.

“People are leaving,” Imp said, while I focused on the armor.  “We should go too.”

With that, Withdrawal and Caryatid approached, along with Grapnel, Fume Hood, and the scattered members of our third team.

“It might be better if we keep the group small,” Imp said.  “I’m sending Roman and Samuel with the Wardens.”

I looked over the others.  Nevermind Mortari, the Malfunctions and Fume Hood were capes in my charge, who I’d inducted into the game, so to speak.  Fume Hood had almost stopped being a hero after the community center attack, and it had been Crystalclear, Tempera and me who had convinced her to stick it out.  The Malfunctions might never have broken into the big time with the path they’d been traveling.

“This is in no way a complaint about your performance,” I told the Malfunctions.  “You stood side to side with Wardens and big-name capes and you held your own, you were strong.”

“You’re ditching us,” Withdrawal said.  Caryatid seemed alarmed at that, like she was worried about offending us.

“I’m-” I started.

“I’m joking,” he said.  “I get it.”

“Thank you for talking me through the scary stuff earlier, Antares,” Caryatid said.  She clasped her hands together, and the puffy ends of her sleeves masked her hands as they smooshed together.  “Be safe.”

“You too,” I said.

The heroes were filing out now.  I watched Sarah go.

It was gratifying and heartwrenching at the same time, that she cast a look over her shoulder.  Maybe it was because I was staring at her a lot.  A good-sized part of me hoped it was because there was some lingering affection.

Fume Hood, the Malfunctions and Mortari capes joined the tail end.  Roman walked backward while assessing our group, smirked at his sister, and then turned around, falling into step beside Caryatid.  She was at least a year older than him, maybe two years older, but he was tall and lanky, and of a height with her.  He said something, and she turned her face his way, lower part masked by her costume.  Samuel just walked, hands in his pockets, trailing behind everyone else, happy to be a straggler.

Love Lost and Colt joined us.

“We could send them with others,” Tristan said.

“The deal was kind of that they’d stay where we could watch them,” Rain said.  “But we could.”

“Their powers are useful,” I said.  I put excess bandage at the back of my wrist, so my hand wouldn’t slap back against the metal that now extended over it, stunning me with the pain.  “But trust your instincts.”

His instincts were to bring them along.  Worked.

We still had too many to be a covert group, but it helped to reduce the numbers down some.

We headed the opposite direction the others were leaving by.  They re-entered the domed area with the water filtration structures, and they would move on, chasing in the direction Saint had fled.

As for us?  We ran, we flew.

We weren’t even out of the hallway when the sounds of battle reached us.  It came from behind us, suggesting the group we had just left behind had run into trouble the moment they’d started to go after Saint.

We would have to hope Imp was right.  The numbers arrayed against us were too great, Teacher too untouchable.

“Lookout says to wait.  Imp should go ahead,” Swansong said.

We slowed, waiting.

I closed my eye, then opened it, looking for Kenzie’s message.  I could see the map, and I could see the overlay with computer systems, servers, and connections.  I could see Kenzie’s messages.

this is an area with bombs

they airgaped some of these security-sensitive systems but their computers are on and are connected to active cameras.

pinging

i can spoof commands and keystrokes if i do this right

“Lookout is bypassing security,” Swansong said.  “Bombs.  She says it’s airgapped, whatever that means.”

“You need to watch more spy movies,” Chastity said.

I saw Ashley rankle a bit at that.

Rain rubbed at his eye.  “Airgapped means no wifi, no wires, nothing connecting it to the outside.  A lot of these systems are.”

“Lookout can still do it,” Swansong said.

done. pretty sure. shouldn’t explode now

I led the way, Wretch up, and floated, surveying the area.  The others followed once I gave my tentative thumbs up.

The room contained fixtures that looked like the consoles of a nuclear reactor, massive computers with sturdy construction all around them.  Monitors showed water levels, flashing red alarms, and, with every passing second, Lookout’s mask took over more of them.  With the lights off and all of the illumination coming from monitors, the room went from a red cast from the flashing red monitors to a dull white-green.

Then, just as swiftly, the scenes on monitors was replaced by images of Teacher.  Color surveillance video showed the perspective of one of the mechs looking down.  The big guy with a cross tattooed on his face could only be Saint.  He had climbed out of his mech and stood facing it, smoking.  He was engaged in what looked like an emotional conversation with another big guy, brown-skinned, with a thick black hipster beard and tattoos.  In the moments Saint wasn’t venting, he looked abjectly miserable.  The foot of a man I could make an educated guess was one of the Speedrunners was visible at another edge of the camera.  Both Dragonslayers turned to look his direction as if he’d said something.

Next monitor.  Teacher was visible at the very edge, some others gathered near him.  I recognized Ingenue.  Ms. Webb.  There was a blur on the screen that wasn’t resolving, but I could guess who she was and why Lookout had set her to be automatically blurred out.  She stood next to Valefor.

It meant she was Mama Mathers, and, worse, Valefor had a jaw again.  He had eyes.  He was talking to her.

All of them were fine.  They weren’t fighting, and with the exception of Saint, they weren’t especially stressed out.  They waited and watched through the same kinds of camera we were looking at them through.

Teacher was the only one who was really doing anything, accepting a single file line of people in white, shaking their hands, letting them walk on with a bit less hesitation in their step.  Producing thralls by the second.

A lot of people with tattoos.  Had he tapped a prisoner population somewhere?

“Kenzie tends to lose against Teacher’s collective effort,” Swansong observed.  “In the past, the best she could do was to maintain a stalemate, without much of a counterstrike.  She’s winning now if she’s risking pushing in this far.”

I looked again at the grid of Kenzie’s influence over the base.  It wasn’t total domination, but it was a creeping victory.  Here and there, something would get flipped back over to Teacher’s control, or it would go black, and cut off a whole branch of her control.  Power and lines being cut, I imagined.

On another screen, I could see the outside of the facility through a camera mounted on an exterior wall.  The wall of the facility seemed to disappear into the mountains in the horizon, the fog of clouds overhead obscuring the upper floors.  Legend and about fifty other capes were gathered beneath a pyramid of forcefields that someone’s power had conjured up.  They could fire out, while the forcefields prevented incoming fire.  One or the other seemed to empower the forcefields, so that when they reached a certain point, they detonated, the blast exploding out in a line.

But there were a lot of capes in there, opposite Legend’s group.  Those capes had powers.

A… lot of close to identical powersets, if not totally identical.  Three different capes raised forcefields.

The camera shook, momentarily going dark as lights in the room flickered.  A part of me imagined I could feel that shake for myself, even though we were nowhere close to that.

Words appeared in my field of view, and I had to look at a dark surface to better make the yellow letters out.

teacher wants to talk to me

I found a pad and pen, and I scribbled out a note to her.

No.

There was no way that went well or made things better.

weren’t we supposed to distract him?

We were the ones getting distracted.  There was no need for us to be here.  I motioned for people to move, and I watched cameras as we passed, my hand scribbling out a message while the heel of that same hand pressed the paper against the buckler that was now part of my costume.

He’s distracting you, Lookout, I wrote.  It might help him locate where you are, or cause you to lose headway as his thralls counter your effortsUnder no circumstance.  Protocols

Her message appeared, again in a spot that was hard to read.  Then, as I watched, the letters shifted, moving down, down, down, until they were superimposed against the space beneath my eye’s field of view.  Written as if I could see through my cheekbone to see yellow letters against a pink-black background.

ok

“And you’re vulnerable to Teacher, Lookout,” I murmured.  “He could prey on your every weakness with so little difficulty.”

Ashley was walking down another aisle of the computers, and looked over at me like she’d heard.  Her expression was stern.

Same thought?

“Can you imagine?” Chastity asked.  “You have ungodly power, access to untold knowledge, you can cross between multiple worlds, access a half-dozen Earths worth of culture and knowledge, and you make bland.  White floor, white ceiling, no art, no life, no love, no humanity at all.”

I could see monitors, and there was nothing human about what I was seeing there.  Moord Nag was on Teacher’s side, wearing white.  There were so many damn capes, and too many of them were on Teacher’s side.

A part of me had been hoping that things had settled down after Gold Morning because they’d gone home, or they’d retired.  The big evil world-destroyer was gone, things were peaceful, maybe they’d just hung up the cape or cut back how much they were doing.

Maybe some had.

But enough had found their way to Teacher to make a difference here.

Enough that on one monitor, Chevalier lay on the ground, his sword dropped.  For every cape on his side, each now unconscious and lying on the ground, there were three on the opposing side, standing over limp forms, or securing restraints.  Narwhal was with him, wrapped in a sheet that had absorbed the blood from the floor, her forcefields down – no horn or scales.

On one monitor, I could see Valkyrie being carried by members of what might have been her flock.  On the monitor next to it, I could see Undersiders.  Bitch, Parian, Foil, working in concert with the Shepherds.

I could see Vista working with Golem and Cinereal.  Cinereal was breaker, producing waves of dark gray ash that converted the parts of the building it touched into more ash.  Vista made the expanses of ash wider.  Golem made hands reach up out of it.  A uniform environment for a power that was very environment dependent.

She hadn’t made nearly as much progress as I’d hoped, but from the bodies in that camera’s view, it looked like she’d had to wade through a hell of a lot of shit.  She had said her power wasn’t very good on the offense.  Too slow to apply.

It felt like being in a schoolyard game, the kids being picked one by one by the team captains.  The teams had finished picking

“Imp,” Chastity said.  “The screens.”

“We should go,” Byron said.

“Really, Imp, look at the screens,” Chastity insisted.

Imp’s face leaned into my peripheral vision, making me jump.  She reached for a screen, and for a moment, I thought it was for the Undersiders.

But it was for the image of Valkyrie, and for the revived people that carried her.  I had my suspicions as to why, but the hand blocked my view, and the group moved out of the camera’s frame, and when the monitor switched to another group, it wasn’t Valkyrie or the flock.

I looked at Imp.

“She has good taste in minions.”

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Some cute guys in there who look like they have dark senses of humor.  Did you see the guy with the red costume and the wide smile?  You have to love a guy who can smile in the shittiest circumstances.”

“I think that’s Roucouler the Liar.  And I think the smile is built in.”

“I can work with that,” Imp said, making an amused sound.

Then she was moving forward again.

I looked over at Chastity, who hugged herself a bit.  She said something to Juliette, who nodded.  The disconnect suggested Imp wasn’t being straight with me, which made me suspicious.

Chastity saw me looking.

“Cassie’s not here, right?” Chastity asked, her tone brighter, her expression not so serious.

“Not that I saw,” I said.

“Good.  I wouldn’t want this mess for her.”

Then she moved on, leaving me suspicious, still.

This group, Imp’s team, it was so hard to deal with.  They never approached anything straight-on.  Always an angle, roundabout, teasing, or ambushing.

There was another room of evacuated thralls off to the one side.  All wore white, still, but the white was stained, dirty.  They’d done indoor farming, animal care, shipping and loading, and the outfits were made more rugged for the purpose.  Now they sat, hands on knees, backs straight, being tended to by caretakers and patrolling observers.

We didn’t have to go through that room.  The map indicated a route.

From there, another set of stairs.  A door- Lookout was kind enough to open it for us, with no alarms sounding.

And then the rows of cells.  Most of the doors were empty.

Hairs tickled the back of my neck as I looked down the corridor.

Capricorn started forward.  Sveta put out a hand.

“Don’t,” she said.  “Remember the briefings.”

The briefings.

I felt the hair at one side of my face tickle me.

“We don’t make it to the end of the hallway without-”

A force slammed her into the wall.  Her body dissolved into tendrils, blunting the impact, but part of it was her forehead striking metal, and her face couldn’t break up into tendrils.

The Custodian.

Just a step behind me, Ashley slammed into the corner of a security door.  She didn’t have the benefit of being able to dissolve.

I lunged forward, flying, and something hit me, so continuous it didn’t knock my forcefield out right away.  I brought my arms and hands up to protect my face, changing my direction to fly into the doorway of an empty cell, my foot down to block the door from closing.

We had a strategy.  Sveta had briefed us on the same things the Irregulars had needed to learn and plan for before attacking Cauldron.

Reduce the avenues of attack.  Smaller confines made the Custodian smaller.  Being in the doorway meant she could only really attack me from the front.

Using powers like my forcefield, Rain’s power, and Capricorn’s ability to see what worked-

Didn’t matter.  She attacked the ceiling instead, pulling down electrical.  The wires were live in a way I’d never seen before, like there was tinkertech to the place, or they’d made it to be dangerous if the walls were breached.

Sparks flew and the wire bucked as the wire touched the doorframe.  Beside me, another wire did the same with the bedframe of the little cell.

Behind me, the pipe leading into the toilet ruptured.  Water sprayed in onto and around me-

I threw up the Wretch before the spray reached the wire.  For the time being, it blocked the water’s spray.

She tried to slam the door, but the cell was small enough my foot was close.  I flew a foot forward and blocked the slam.

Instead, she hit my forcefield, knocking it out.  I grabbed the mattress, and hauled it to one side, fabric serving to block most of it.  Then I flew forward again.  Back into the hallway, with doors to individual cells on each side.

This monster kept thousands of people prisoner.  The cells didn’t need bars, only alarms.  She was good enough to keep prisoners in line.  She’d fight people with new powers and she’d win.

She’d broken more water lines, and she’d broken more parts of the ceiling, bringing the wire down.

Turning the length of hallway into an impossible hazard.

Without warning, Colt tried to fly through, aiming for a gap.  The invisible force hit her, punting her into the corner of a doorframe.  She landed in electrified water, and the nodes on her arms glowed as they struggled to absorb the energy, while her own body convulsed.

I tried to get to her, and it was too much.  The occasional splash in my direction was as dangerous as the swing of a sword.

“Lookout says they’re sending more of their core team.  Mathers and Valefor,” Swansong relayed.  She stepped forward and blasted-

She was hit by the invisible force that was the Custodian as she used her power.  The blast came precariously close to me.

“Don’t use powers!  It was in the memo,” Sveta chided.

“I wanted to drain the water.”

“She’ll divert your aim or make us hit each other!  She’s not that strong on her own!”

She was strong enough.  The hallway was all wires, water, and I didn’t see a clear way forward.

“Go parallel!” I called out.

“Precipice, Swan!” Tristan and Byron clarified.  “Force her to split!”

The second they were out jailer’s door, I slammed it behind me.  It formed a seal that kept her from getting in or out.

Once I gauged I was safe, I flew out into the hallway again.  I made my bid for the door, weaving through wires and spraying water with my forcefield up.

I tried my aura, fearing an imminent hit, and I got further than I had so far.  A third of the way down the hall before she gathered composure enough to grab and hit me, driving me down toward the water.

I fought, Wretch lashing out and finding purchase in nearby wall, in floor.

I could hear Ashley using her power, hear the impact, the tearing as the power-use went wild, hitting things it shouldn’t.

Then quiet.

Quiet, and the sound of a squeaking door.

Imp, at the end of the hallway, and a woman in black jeans and a white dress top, underweight and hair unbrushed.

“What do you need?” the woman asked.

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231 thoughts on “Dying – 15.6”

    1. I don’t think they did take out Valk’

      They Got Chevy, and Narwhale, but from the sounds of the camera’s, Valkyrie was still fighting.

      1. Really? The way it looked to me, it made it look like she was KOed, and the Flock got her out.

        1. Hmmmm… in hindsight, I think you’re right.

          When I first read it, I was thinking about how often she got levitated around by one of her ghosts back in GM- in some sense she can’t fly, she ALWAYS has to be carried….

          But this is the difference between flock and ghosts- probably if is flock then the carrying is more literal, and she is at least pretty injured.

  1. Anyone else think taylor will be the key to this series as well? the queen administrator shard could solve the shard problems by telling them to settle down and stop trying to continue the cycle. just bringing this up because there were so many capes from worm mentioned in this chapter.

  2. OOOOohhhhh damn. Carman Sandiago is back in action.
    I mean Contessa.

    Woo woo.

    This is going to be awesome.

    Also, it will probably end with Contessa taking the “Ending your power” drug from Shin… but probably she will like that.

    “PtV- step one: Do not get mastered by Teacher or his minions.
    Step two- get this custodian off us.
    Step three- toss Benjamin Terral down an elevator shaft.
    Step four – lets try not to break the ice while your at it.”

    1. Don’t be so sure that Contessa will be very useful. Maybe Contessa will die offscreen, killed by a B-class cape with no explanation how they managed to defeat and kill her. Teacher is getting more annoying with his ridiculous offscreen successes after successes, more annoying than Jack and his merry band of psychos ever were. At least, Slaughterhouse 9 were entertaining and their victories were always showed onscreen and made more senses than anything about Teacher.
      The fights are great but I just can’t stand seeing Valkyrie being almost defeated by some capes good with tinkering and summoning forcefields. WTF!!!

      1. I don’t think we saw the team that took out Valkerie. The forcefield guys were going up against Legend’s team and just keeping them in place. I doubt that Legend and Valkerie were in the same place.

        Also, Teacher has some huge players on his side. Moord Nag, Valephor, Mama Mathers, Saint and his Dragonslayers, Lung, the pharmacist, and whoever else he managed to brainwash with Scapegoat. Vicky’s team are fighting mostly weak tinkers because she’s on the B or C team, Valkerie and the other big names would be fighting Teacher’s most powerful capes.

        1. Also, it’s more likely that Teacher has focused his resources specifically towards working out multiple ways to overcome the most powerful capes. He likely only had to determine the most appropriate for the given circumstances.

          Non “S” or “A” class capes probably had less specific solutions devised. Just generic thrall mobs and some lesser capes. However it might also be a case of the big capes tending to work alone and predictably while the groups of lessers are more unpredictable in their personal and power combinations.

          1. Sprinkle Ingenue where needed to boost your quasi-infinite stream of C-rank T(h)inkers into A or B rankers, then have them work on finding the best way to synergise the top-rankers… if there’s such a thing as critical mass, I think Teacher is about to hit it now that Contessa is out.

            Assuming she’s not already been aligned to his purposes, that is. That creepy feeling is still around.

          2. @Hotdog Vendor
            > Something I’ve never quite understood: why is S the rank above A?
            worm.fandom.com/wiki: “The S stands for “Superlative” used to denote something that stands outside a typical rating system that runs from D through to A.”
            A to D – like marks in UK/USA schools, letters in credit ratings and so on. A- highest, D – low.

      2. I highly disgree! Teacher may be winning offscreen, but it’s clear that he’s using his resources effectively, and that his resources are immense. To me, it seemed like the Yangban core gang is at work vs Valkyrie. If he’s facing that kind of resistance and has Moord Nag in reserve still, I can easily imagine he has the firepower to get it done. This all makes a lot of sense so far, and I’m glad to have Contessa back! This chapter went honestly a little better than expected, so kudos to Vicky, Lisa, and the rest of the gang. Kudos to Lookout especially, unless her takeover of Teacher’s systems is a Xanatos gamnit kinda deal on his part.

  3. HOW IN THE HELL TEACHER AND HIS ARMY OF B-CLASS MASTERS, THINKERS AND TINKERS MANAGED TO TAKE DOWN A TRIUMVIRATE LEVEL PARAHUMAN (LEGEND), THE MOST POWERFUL PARAHUMAN IN THE WORLD (VALKYRIE) AND ONE OF THE STRONGEST HEROES WHO FACED BEHEMOTH WHILE SEVERELY INJURED (CHEVALIER)? HOW? I NEED AN EXPLANATION BECAUSE THIS IS BULLSHIT. REAL BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT THAT HAPPENED OFFSCREEN WITH ZERO EXPLANATION.

    “I wanted to stop for two weeks, to have no crises, no Shin, no Cheit, no fucking Teacher.”

    Well, you’re the protagonist of Ward, Vic, and you’re not allowed to ever stop or rest. You have to get used with this bullshit and stop wishing for something that you’ll never get.

    I’m glad that Kenzie listened Vic and didn’t sold her soul to literal Satan. Good kid, good kid.

    YES, Imp saved Contessa. Teacher is not going to have her as his slave, which is the only success the good guys had in this chapter. Unless…unless his army of B-CLASS asshole will inexplicable kill her TOTALLY OFFSCREEN (not control because that will mean the end of the story). She’s too valuable for heroes and they’re not allowed to win against Teacher (at least not in a couple of Arcs and NOT EASY).

    This chapter was good but I still think that defeating so many powerhouses of heroes is way too overkill. Even for someone like Teacher.

    1. Teacher is in a room with Mathers, Valefor, and Moord Nag, none of whom are B-List thinkers or tinkers. He has capes in his employ, and I’m willing to bet he’s sent at least a few of the good ones out into the field (because Moord Nag, Mathers, and Valefor are [i]entirely[/i] sufficient for a rear guard). And then he makes them even stronger with his power.

      We knew that Legend was pinned down somewhere on account of his not zipping through the compound zapping things. I had thought he might be fighting a Teacher/Scapegoated Lung, which would be a nightmare. Fortunately, he’s [i]only[/i] fighting the friggin’ [i]Yàngbǎn[/i].

      At this point Teacher is a threat to [i]planets[/i]. And not just because he commands the largest parahuman organization in the multiverse, it’s also because he knows everything there is to know about everyone that matters. Even the likes of Legend and Valkyrie have counters, and with Teacher’s nigh-omniscience he was able to pick and choose their battles. His immense forces were deployed perfectly so that everyone fought an unwinnable battle – I’m not surprised that the first stringers were utterly destroyed.

    2. While I do agree that so many Triumvirate-level capes were off-screened was a bit excessive, I can understand why it happened on a more narrative level. Our guys just got Contessa, which arguably makes up every single loss the good guys have gotten so far.

      1. Yep, they have Contessa. She’s their only weapon left against Teacher. If they’ll lose this weapon too then…we’re going to see the rest of Ward though the eyes of a very Teachered Victoria with no chances to be herself ever again.
        Now I kind of feel bad for being so happy that Goddess didn’t had the chance to murder Teacher. Maybe the situation would have been different if all they had to do now was to fight against Goddess rather than Teacher. Goddess was a heartless and childish witch but she was more stupid and naive than Teacher, meaning less dangerous.

        1. Goddess’s main issue seems to be she made random Capes dictators, and is generally a poor judge of people. Hell, she actually managed to get some shit done. All the power research? Creating a clone race? Leaving Shin in a good enough place that they had enough resources to aid Gimel after Gold Morning? Hell, she beat Teacher at the prison!

          By comparison Teacher seems to have a much tighter leash on his capes since he was able to stay under the radar.

          Honestly, I don’t think they would be doing better vs. Goddess if Goddess had won. The real issue with fighting Goddess is how damn powerful she is compared to Teacher. Goddess would just mind controlled everyone and been done with it. Plus she wouldn’t have killed Teacher. She would have mind controlled him! They’d be fighting Goddess + Devout Teacher.

    3. The capes with suspiciously similar powers are quite possibly the Yangban, who have taken Chevalier out before and are not generally seen as “B-CLASS”. Moord Nag, y’know, the warlord with a giant beast-minion who was on the front lines against both Khonsu and Scion, is also fighting for Teacher, and also not generally thought of as “B-CLASS”. And there is no indication that Valkerie is unconscious, just that she is being carried by her flock. No confirmation that she’s the most powerful Parahuman in the world either, just that she’s powerful. Anyone’s guess how she’d stack up against Jack, say, or Contessa, or a younger Eidolon.

    4. I think that you’ve got to remember, this chapter revealed just how much Teacher has been recruiting the last two years. In addition to all the shitty tinkers and thinkers he’s made, he’s recruited all sorts of powerful capes. Lung. The Pharmacist. Morad Nag. We saw him recruit Scapegoat to minmax his power, and grab Valfor, master Mama Mathers, and the have the Speedrunners join up. Not to mention all the cauldron vials.

      Basically they let him have all the time that he needed to level up and horde resources, when they should have joined with the Undersiders kicking him down a elevator shaft after his raid to get Inginue.

      1. Agreed. I think the A-list capes going down offscreen would be more palatable if we got a better look at some of the A-list villains Teacher used to do the job.

        I mean, Moord Nag? She damaged Endbringers. If Teacher has more in her weight class…augmented by Ingenue, maybe…might not be surprising that Legend and Chev went down.

        1. MN must have gotten into some Netflix series that wasn’t available in Afrikaans. She didn’t really have a choice then, she had to get that Teacher boost.

          1. You know, I bet that’s what’s in Teacher’s attic. Netflix. He rescued their servers from Bet.

        2. Considering Moord Nag was the first of the Masters to collapse under the strain of being Khepri’s pawn, I’m surprised she’s willing to be a minion again. Unless she was left insensate or brain damaged as a result of that collapse, in which case Teacher’s probably her only hope of returning to normal… Or able to pretend that he is.

          1. My bet is on her being there by her own free will. Moord Nag is a crazy cat lady whose sole goal in life is feeding more souls to her freaky giant cat. Teacher is a dude with access to a multidimensional all-you-can-eat soul buffet, and not mass-produced bootleg souls either, the real kind that Aasdier likes.

            I can see them working out a mutually beneficial deal. I can also see her giving Triumvirate-tier capes a run for their money with that kind of power boost.

          2. Also don’t forget Scapegoat. He could likely remove the strain from being Teachered off her.

      2. Yes, that was the good guys’s big mistake. They spared the devil’s life and now the devil returned with a legion of thralls to fuck them up.
        Moral of the story: if you ever see the devil in person, shoot him right between his eyes. Don’t wait, don’t spare his life, never hesitate. Or if you’re near to an elevator shaft then is even much better.

        1. WWHSD
          (What Would Han Solo Do)

          You see the Dark Lord of the Sith, you don’t bluff or bluster…you slap leather and open up.

    5. > YES, Imp saved Contessa. Teacher is not going to have her as his slave, which is the only success the good guys had in this chapter.

      Actually I’ve just made a note about this below. What if Contessa was actually Undersiders’ “weapon kept up sleeve” from before the beginning of Ward?

      1. Then why Tattletale never told anything to Vic about Contessa being their secret weapon? They seem more appropriate now and they have the same interests (defeat Teacher) so I don’t see any reason for her to hide this information from Victoria.

        1. TT likes to tell people stuff she shouldn’t know. She keeps her own secrets.

          The toast to She Who Must Not Be Named does sort of indicate some communication and agreement between TT and Ms. P2V.

          1. Do you think Tattletale and Contessa have a plan to beat Teacher without letting Victoria know about their plan? That will be cool but not fair towards Vic who’s risking her life to walk almost blind in this war.

          2. Not fair, but perhaps necessary. PtV can go ‘How can I explain this to Tattletale without Teacher understanding, if he’s listening in?’ and Tattletale can go ‘what does this information get me when I’ve fed it into my power’ and poor old Victoria can’t do either of those things so she has to be left blind because telling her will tell Teacher, who is either always watching, or is watching often enough that you can’t assume he is.

      2. It doesn’t makes sense at all. It will be easier, less costly and simpler for Contessa and Undersiders to use Contessa to crush Teacher before he becomes a huge threat than use her as the last chance of hope after Teacher became the huge threat.

        1. Remember that back in the epilogue of Worm there was an informal truce between various groups of capes, and that Tattletale was worried that taking down Teacher would lead to Undersiders being seen as aggressors who violated the truce, which in turn could lead even bigger problems with other people. This is pretty much what Tattletale’s metaphor about an elevator was about.

          1. In fact you could say that even at the beginning of Ward Tattletale still seemed committed to protecting whatever remained of that truce then. It is a big part of why she wanted to be seen as a neutral information broker at the time. Tattletale seems to have only gradually abandon the idea throughout the story, and the way I see it she may still hope that some of that truce can be salvaged.

          2. I think that you could even say that what Tattletale was trying to do was pretty much the opposite of how Undersiders operated back in Worm. She waited for people who needed to be taken down (like the Fallen, March, Love Lost, Cradle and Teacher) to make their first move and be seen as aggressors as a result, and then organized everyone else to take them down.

            It may even not be such a bad idea – it obviously means surrendering initiative, but also ensures that you can count on having more allies, because it is always the other side who is seen as “the bad guys”.

            And the funny thing is that it is the way that normally the heroes are expected to work…

          3. Except Contessa can look into the “Path to eliminate Teacher without being seen as aggressors to break the Truce”, which gives the easier, less costly way to stop Teacher.

          4. Assuming that such path exists, and is within her shard’s ability to find. Remember that even before Eden “Mantoned” Fortuna’s power she did manage to ask herself a question which resulted in her power reacting like this:

            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.

            And we never learned if there really was no way to satisfy all conditions she specified, or if the task of finding such Path was simply too difficult for her shard.

    6. To be fair (and perfectly logical), Teacher is currently operating on a level and scale similar to Khepri.

      How did Khepri kill Scion with a bunch of B-listers and maybe a couple key A-listers like Doormaker?

      The difference between Khepri and Teacher is that Teacher can modify powers to be better in certain areas, then do bullshit with Scapegoat to give modified capes their autonomy back. So he doesn’t just have a bunch of C/B-listers, he has a bunch of C/B-listers that have been relentlessly minmaxed (and possibly even given additional low-grade thinker/tinker powers) and then supported by a bunch of powered+controlled minions featuring, among other things, perfect (and frequently enhanced) coordination, their powers all stack additively to produce cumulative effects, and he doesn’t have a hard limit on how many he can churn out in a single day beyond raw bodies (and thank fucking god he doesn’t have a cloner like Echidna on deck, because that would break an already broken power clean in half).

      Oh, and on top of that he has Ingenue, who amps powers uncontrollably. Except he can give her power amping more power and control. And then give the capes she amps more power and control. THEN he can remove the negative effects of both his and her modding/boosting via Scapegoat.

      Plus he can use tinkertech to patch up injuries and disabilities that would inhibit power use, like Valefore up there. In fact, I’m really surprised he hasn’t been picking up Case 53s, especially the ones with power issues. (Or, I’m assuming he hasn’t. He actually might be, and he might even have a cloner cooking up bodies for them.)

      So, there you go. There are lots and lots of reasons why Teacher is winning. It’s just that they haven’t all been shown together in one place (because Victoria doesn’t have all that info), so it doesn’t look like he has all the advantages because when you’re trying to think about what he does have you only remember individual scenes instead of the full list.

      1. (and thank fucking god he doesn’t have a cloner like Echidna on deck, because that would break an already broken power clean in half).

        Actually, on second thought, he might in fact have a cloner. The line where Victoria is wondering why so many of the student hordes seem to have the same powers, and the sheer quantity of people running around, would point in that direction.

        1. Well, someone has created a clone army for Goddess, and as far as we know we haven’t seen this cape in Ward yet…

          1. Nope, that cape likely isn’t teacher’ed. They were giving Chris bodies to tinker on in exchange for being the Shin watchdog.

          2. I may be wrong, but I am under impression that the clones Chris was given were all created before Khepri took Goddess and the capes she controlled from Shin, or at least before Goddess’ death.

            Consider this bit from chapter 14.5:

            “That might be ideal,” Luis said. “We could give you a share of what we’ve agreed to give them. Islands, people if those people are willing to live under you, and some people do want that security. There is a servant class that is cloned, smart enough to obey orders, too stunted to have an identity or personality beyond the surface level. We don’t know what to do with them. We would give you some, Chris Elman would feel their absence, and you could barter with him for what else you needed.”

            Chris could be heard chuckling. “Assholes.”

            Would Chris react like this if Shin was still able to create more clones? In his interlude Chris mentioned that Goddess still had “a servant who can make armies”, but my guess is that whoever made those clones never returned to Shin after Goddess’ death.

        2. Well, heroes now have Contessa. Contessa against Teacher’s Army. If Contessa is perfectly fine and not compromised in any way (or be killed in the next chapter), who do you think will win?

          1. Big question is: “What does winning actually mean?”

            Because the real big problem they all face is the Agents going slowly crazy. And maybe Teacher is doing what he thinks is the best way of somehow getting humanity through this.

            Just a thought.

            The important question will be what Contessa sees as a victory.

          2. @Tarr
            “And maybe Teacher is doing what he thinks is the best way of somehow getting humanity through this.”

            This might be close if you modified it to saying “Teacher is doing what he thinks is the best way of somehow getting Teacher through this.” Humanity getting through it would be an incidental side effect. Convenient, but of secondary importance. And that’s the bestversion of Teacher’s reasoning I can come up with. He’s that much of an asshole.

          3. My guess is Teacher is trying to complete The Cycle. Upload humanity into the Shards and head off to save the entire universe.

        3. Or he’s got the Yangban. Or some of their important surviving capes, anyway. That was my first thought, anyway, when told of lots of similar/identical powers.

    7. It isn’t ridiculous. It isn’t excessive. Teacher has hundreds of capes under his control, working in a concerted effort. Not to mention, at this point in the fight, the capes you’ve mentioned have been fighting for a *long* time, and they haven’t only been fighting against thralls and B-listers; it’s mentioned in this chapter that Moord Nag (doesn’t say she’s fighting, but it doesn’t say she isn’t either) is with Teacher, and she isn’t someone I’d classify as a B-list cape. But even beyond that, Vic’s already mentioned that this situation is one where the heroes win every battle but lose the war. It doesn’t matter how many victories are scored if Teacher still has reserves (particularly if you fail to actually kill or disable his thralls when you win) to throw your way after “win.” The heroes are fighting waves of enemies whose defeat means little, and they’ve been doing so for long enough that they’re making mistakes. It’s like fighting Taylor, but instead of bugs, you have actual human beings attacking you. Meanwhile, Teacher also had the advantage of preparing (which was no doubt done with the help of his mini-thinkers) the field of battle along with the benefit of knowing his enemy very well.

      Things are allowed to happen offscreen; we are following Victoria. Antares is the protagonist, and like it or not, she isn’t center stage for many of the main events of this world.

      1. Yes, but we have Interludes, where we get to see other characters’ POVs. Would have been nice to see Valkyrie, Chevalier and Legend in action and how much they lasted before getting their ass kicked?

        1. It would’ve been neat to see the top tier heroes in action, but not necessary. All we would’ve gotten from that is “Chev goes down” or “Narwhal is out.”

          It wouldn’t have accomplished much in the narrative sense. Better to save interludes for things that can’t be wrapped in a sentence or two in the main chapters. It’s more efficient and better storytelling to reserve them for angles that apply more closely to our protagonist (like Breakthrough or Rain cluster interludes) or set pieces for grander, less immediate plot developments (like Valkyrie’s interlude).

          1. Yea but it would have been a sweet fight with wild power shit. I read the series for fights and powers

          2. @Bigcrawlerguy
            It’s understandable to want big fights and over-the-top powers; it’s a superhero novel, so to some degree, we’re all here for the spectacle. However, labeling a novelist’s effort to deliver substance (here meaning a focus on protagonist-centric storytelling and development) over flair (grandiose action sequences for flavor purposes) as “hack writing” is more than unfair. Part of WB’s appeal as an author is that he delivers nuance in a genre that frequently veers toward the superficial and, indeed, one of the oft-mentioned draws toward the first entry in the Parahumans series was that the protagonist was atypical of superheroes in both her attitude and her powerset (which before we witnessed being broken by Taylor, was not an ability that many would’ve rated very high in the superpower scale).

            Ward is very much focused on Victoria. While she is involved in the world at large, this is her story, and that story is as much about external struggles as it is about her internal ones (her paradigms, her trauma, her coping mechanisms, etc.).

            So the interludes must likewise serve the purpose of moving Antares’s story forward in addition to setting up the larger world around her, going beyond merely showcasing interesting powers or entertaining fights. So, while not everyone appreciates these facets of Ward’s storytelling, maybe we can at least agree that it’s not poor form or bad technical writing to draw attention away from the protagonist’s story to deliver an fun but ultimately unnecessary interlude that can be summed up in a body chapter.

            It’s okay to be here for the thrilling, epic moments, but those of us who aren’t here just for that, we *do* get something out of the other bits.

          3. *not poor form to *avoid* drawing attention away from the protagonist’s story to deliver a fun but ultimately unnecessary interlude

      2. I have to double emphasize the length of time that the first wave has been fighting for. Citrine told Breakthrough in the prison that they’d be part of the second wave at minimum five hours ago. That was already some time after the first assault started. Citrine arrived at breakfast time, which means the first assault began overnight, which means the first team is low on sleep.

        Even if you get some short breaks like the capes Victoria has been with so far have gotten, you don’t fight for that long in that condition without slowing down, getting tired, getting sloppy. And they only need to get unlucky a few times (or even just once) before they’re out of the fight.

    8. >B-Class
      They mentioned several S-Class parahumans under his control lmfao. You had no problems with him capturing Contessa. It is hack writing for it to all happen off page though.

    9. How is Teacher doing so well?

      To quote Stalin, “Quantity is quality”- If you have a handful of highly trained knights and I have an army of thousands of pissed off peasants, I’m at least going to ruin your day, even if most of my side is armed with rocks and pitchforks.

    10. March was the real BS (and it didn’t help that it happened onscreen), but Teacher isn’t. He’s a munchkin with a variety of means for gathering information, studying the system he’s working with, amplifying powers and finding synergies between them to do everything of the above more effectively. This is what I could expect from such a positive feedback loop.

      1. We can still hope though…

        Even if it’s a near certainty she won’t show in the story proper we can always hope.

        1. No, no clearly next chapter Contessa will conclude the only path to victory is to get Taylor back, I’m sure.

          She’ll also be cool and say some words that’ll fully restore Sarah’s personality and memories, give Sveta a heartfelt apology, Rain sure fire dating advice, tell everyone how to help Kenzie with her issues, and get keep Victoria from getting any more banged up.

          1. Oh if only. Seeing Taylor again especially a happy/sane Taylor would be a treat. Most likely an interlude treat though.

            And I know you mean Contessa doing all that helpful advice stuff, but the way you phrased it folks could take it to be Taylor doing it, which would be awesome, but likely too… escalate… in unexpected ways.

          2. Why is Victoria not getting more injured the least believable part of that? I feel like that should be the simplest task there, and yet… 😉

          3. …Or, she bites her finger and scrawls a message in blood on the wall. Victoria looks at it, meaning Kenzie looks at it. Kenzie second-triggers, and all your base are belong to Kenzie. Within a half hour, she and Contessa kill literally everybody else. When they’re finished, Kenzie commits suicide, leaving Contessa the sole surviving human. She spends the next forty years living a quiet, happy, and full life.

            Ten years after the final death of humanity, the surviving shards finish retooling and the the first wave of elephants trigger.

            Cue Parapachyderms 1: Woolly

          4. Elephants? I thought Nilbog’s creations were the people who were supposed to be backup hosts in case humans managed to wipe themselves out.

          5. Sure, but unfortunately for them, I consider them people. They were included along with Dragon in “literally everybody else.” That whole tier of intelligence was eliminated, leaving the shards to choose whether to proceed with chimps, elephants, corvids, and various sea mammals. Chimps would be the obvious choice, but I figured the shards had already been burned by primates and wanted to try something different. Of the other species on that list, elephants have the most capacity to interact with their environment.

        2. Is it weird that I hope the opposite? Taylor’s story feels VERY much over, and I think the mentions we’ve had of her so far (offhand) are the perfect amount of ‘Taylor’ to have in the story. Considering WB intended for the ending to be ambiguous, it would feel like a GRAVE mistake to put her back in the story. I would probably stop reading if Taylor showed up (not that my personal reading of this story means anything to anyone, I just mean in terms of how wrong it would feel/how much of a mistake I think it would be).
          I understand we all miss our favorite bug-controlling bad-decision-justifying badass bug protagonist, but we had an entire 7000 page book about her, and her story is over. Ward is about the aftermath, not about the math, so to speak.

          1. Well, I for example think that there still could be some very interesting stories told involving Taylor, but since I’ve already bombarded Ward’s comments sections with my thoughts about how it could be done several times over past few monts, I think I shouldn’t elaborate much on this thought anymore. Let us just say that in my opinion there are many details in Worm (especially Worm’s epilogue) that could serve as plot hooks for such stories, and that from what I saw the community (or at least people who post their comments on this site) seems very divided on the topic of Taylor’s return.

          2. > Taylor’s story feels VERY much over

            +1000.

            > Ward is about the aftermath, not about the math, so to speak.

            Or rather about the wholly different “math”.

          3. Absolutely not, Wildbow’s moratorium on mentioning Taylor in Ward has been annoying, hamfisted and stupid from the start. That aside, Taylor has still stories to tell. But that kind of story, the story of PTSD suffering wreck being hero, is already being told with Victoria and Breakthrough, so she is redundant unless she is side by side with Vicky.

          4. Moratorium? I don’t think there is one. It’s just that Taylor was a center of the whole story in Worm, by virtue of being protagonist, and in Ward she isn’t. And she doesn’t participate in Ward’s events, so it’s totally expectable that she isn’t mentioned much.

          5. How about a story of a woman who is trying to find her place in a world that is in many ways similar to her own, yet almost completely lacking (and probably unable to handle) the parahuman element her entire life revolved around for years? Possibly crossed with a story of a world trying to recover from loosing about half billion of its inhabitants, which if I remember correctly is more than the number of humans directly killed by wars throughout entire human history on our planet, and likely on that planet as well?

            Maybe Taylor could try to contribute to dealing with aftershocks of that disaster? I think it could be quite a challenge for her, because this is not the sort of a problem that she could just punch through whether she had her powers or not.

            At the same time she could be the exactly right person to do it, both because this seems like a situation that would require everyone on a planet to work together as well as they can, and because it would likely require an expert on disasters caused by powers and whatever power-related hazards may still linger (or pop up, if for example Kronos did punch through the seal protecting that world). Taylor just happens to not only be a person who is very much about making people work together (whether they want it or not), but quite possibly also the best expert on powers and power-related disasters that sealed world has.

          6. And yes, I am aware that Ward is also a story about humanity recovering from a disaster, but in case of Taylor’s world a recovery can mean something completely different – trying to rebuild the world as close to the old one as possible while learning to deal with power-related threats that place never had to face before, while no matter what people like the Shepherds may want, the story of Gimel has to be about building a completely new world and social order to live in.

          7. Alternatively how about a story set a bit later in the future? A story about a world that has largely recovered from its disaster, but is facing a problem of being no longer able to stay isolated from the rest of the multiverse? I imagine that Taylor (possibly also mostly recovered by that point) may or may not play a role in the process as one of relatively few people in that world who has a decent idea about how that multiverse full of powers works, and even knows most of the big players there.

          8. And by the way, I imagine that especially in that second story Taylor would not have to be the main protagonist. In fact I think it would be better to see this one through eyes of some freshly triggered person from that sealed world who initially knows very little about other words (aside from the fact that they exist) or powers (aside from the fact that they not only also exist, but also caused the disaster that wiped out five hundred million people on their world).

            In other words I think that a story about a world having to come out of its isolation should be told by a person who knows even less about other universes and about powers than Taylor did at the beginning of Worm.

          9. What role Taylor could play in that story? She could become a source of enlightenment both for the ignorant protagonist and for the currently sealed world. Imagine what could happen the story was set some eight to ten years from now, and the protagonist was one of Annette’s boys…

          10. @Goldarmy

            Yet another “Taylor story” I could imagine would start around five to six years after the epilogue of Worm. I expect that by that time Taylor could be at her final year in college or a fresh graduate. She could have a small circle of unpowered friends from college most of whom could not even suspect that she is from another world or ever had powers. At that point Taylor could be a woman perfectly happy to leave her past behind her and looking forward to living a “normal” life (likely closer to our normal than Bet’s normal) without any powers and apocalyptic conflicts in it.

            In other words she would be ready to devote the rest of her life to trying to do the “one ten–thousandth” she told Annette about. And it is at that time where her past may catch up with her…

            I guess that what I’m trying to say is that while if Taylor’s new story started right where Worm’s epilogue ended, it would naturally be “the story of PTSD suffering wreck being hero”, BUT if Taylor is allowed enough time to recover her story could be about something entirely different.

            Think about all of the people who survived some of the worst horrors of twentieth century – wars, occupations of their countries by foreign armies, force labor, concentration and death camps. While I don’t doubt that the traumas they suffered then stayed with them for the rest of their lives, it didn’t stop most of them from recovering to a point where they not only could live more or less normally, but also managed to create the greatest works of their lives, left their true legacy, during those later stages of their lives, and they often succeed in no small part because of what they went through earlier in their lives.

            Wouldn’t it be interesting to see this story, with Taylor as an important character in it?

            And if you want more conflict, just consider how people who fought in WWI reacted to WWII… One thing I can tell you is that at least in Europe the perspective of such people was very different from a perspective of people who were around twenty years old when WWII started, and were simply too young to remember WWI, but old enough to not only fight, but also fully experience horrors of that war.

            If some power-related conflict was to break out on the world Taylor is currently in, I would imagine that her perspective would be akin to that of a WWI veteran surrounded by people for whom WWII was the first war they experienced, and I think that this might also be an interesting story to tell.

          11. One more idea for a future story involving Taylor could come from the fact that during her talk with Contessa Taylor said she regretted the way she handled things as a cape. Perhaps the universe should give her a chance to do it right the second time around? Of course you could argue that Victoria’s attempt to distance herself from her past as Glory Girl explores similar idea, but let’s face it – as popular as she was Glory Girl wasn’t exactly one of the big players.

            I imagine that if fate forced Taylor to tackle a Scion-sized problem again, and do it “right” this time AND not give her power to use as a tool (or maybe even give her a choice of getting her power back, but at a substantial cost) we could get a story that is very different from either Worm or Ward.

          12. As for possible costs of getting her powers back, what if Taylor had to sacrifice her moral integrity to get them? If she really intended to become a better person, shouldn’t she refuse to get them? Wouldn’t refusing such deal be a fundamental change in Taylor’s behavior?

        3. > We can still hope though…

          …that she’s not going to be there. Seriously, let her rest.

          1. Why? The Multiverse has no obligation to give anyone rest. Plus it is doubtful that the weak crippled girl is having any rest now with things like broken triggers and the multiversal Titan.

          2. Well, I didn’t say that the multiverse (or the author) is obliged to do anything, I just hope they will. And broken triggers, titans and everything else are first and foremost someone else’s problem now.

          3. @T.T.O.

            I guess that one thing that may give you some hope may be a reminder that even Scion during GM seemed to have a problem with breaking out of the worlds sealed with Teacher’s devices, so perhaps all of those things are currently “someone else’s problems” in the simplest way possible – even Kronos may not extend to the world Taylor is currently in, thus making everyone there (including Taylor herself) unaware that the problem exists in the first place.

            Of course I fully expect that that world won’t stay sealed forever, but that is a story for another day. Possibly even post-Ward.

          4. On the other hand if Kronos does reach to that Earth Taylor is in and she is still alive and able to act, then then let’s face it – it already is her problem. This is Taylor we are talking about after all. With her powers or not, there is no way she wouldn’t get involved in dealing with something like that, especially since she is probably one of the best experts on powers in that world, and she knows it.

          5. …and aside from Taylor’s general knowledge about powers, she probably is one of the very few people in that world who can realize that the location Kronos titan appeared in corresponds exactly to where Dauntless, Alabaster and Jotun were trapped in a time bubble on Bet. I somehow don’t see Taylor not acting on this sort of knowledge in some way.

    1. I wish, but it is unlikely.

      Gotta wonder how long until some situation results in Lookout projecting a swarm of bugs and the gaslighting someone with an “Oh SHIT! SHES BACK!”

      1. Dina Alcott is still a kid not a woman… and has been giving evidence of not being captured through out the story.

  4. MY GOD!

    Furcate is on the Fashion Police Dream Team with Victoria “Fucking Why” Dallons, Swansong and Chasity!

    Their archnemsis? Chicken Little.

  5. So… are we not concerned about the fact that “Lookout” is giving them all direction and instructions through a digital interface? It’s not like there has been history of Teacher spoofing digital resources recently…

    1. The line about Kenzie using lower case ‘i’ and having an abnormal level of typos screamed at me.

      1. It probably proves that this is indeed the real Kenzie. Teacher’s imposters would probably not be able to pick up on Kenzie’s current mental state AND incorporate it into real-time conversation, especially since Teacher’s infrastructure used for observing and manipulating Gimel capes was supposed to be trashed a couple chapters ago.

    2. And by the way, this “Lookout” is taking over Teacher’s network surprisingly quickly, this is even pointed out in-story. Maybe it’s actually the other way around…

  6. Typo thread:

    > “I’ll say this: if you keep abusing it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t lose that skin altogether, or even lose the hand.”

    Double negative? Maybe “I’ll say this: if you keep abusing it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you lose that skin altogether, or even lose the hand.” would be better? Of course it may have been intentional. Nobody said that every hero has to always follow “textbook” grammar.

    > I stepped into the hallway, and found it wasn’t everyone, but Swansong and Tress.

    I guess it works, but wouldn’t ‘just’ be better than ‘but’ here?

    > He was in the midst of a procedure,[…]

    There are three spaces before this sentence.

    > Claws had been changed up, and the gear she wore at her arms extended up to her shoulders, with a of linked metal segments stringing between the shoulder plates,[…]

    There seems to be a word missing between ‘a’ and ‘of’.

    same kinds of camera > same kinds of cameras

    > The teams had finished picking

    Seems like an unfinished sentence.

    > Most of the doors were empty.

    Perhaps it was supposed to be something like “Most of the cells were empty.” or “Most of the doorways were empty.”?

    I threw up the Wretch before the spray reached the wire. For the time being, it blocked the water’s spray.

    She tried to slam the door, but the cell was small enough my foot was close. I flew a foot forward and blocked the slam.

    Since Wretch was up shouldn’t it be irrelevant where Victoria’s foot was in this situation?

    > Tristan and Byron clarified.

    Perhaps it was supposed to be “Tristan or Byron clarified.”?

    > The second they were out jailer’s door, […]

    Perhaps it was supposed to be “jail’s door” instead of “jailer’s door”?

    1. “5 years as an EMP”
      Should probably be “EMT” unless he meant that his power turns him into a healing electromagnetic pulse for extended periods.

    2. submurged > submerged
      a E.M.P. > an E.M.T. (or does the P stands for paramedic, and this is one of those bet differences?)
      with a of (missing word)
      Victoria (intentional? he calls her antares later)
      Which a > Which is a
      problem, can’t > problem and can’t
      lingering affection. (is there a ⊙ missing after this?)
      airgaped > airgapped
      was replaced > were replaced
      look his > look in his
      finished picking (missing fullstop)
      electrical (missing word)
      out jailer’s > out of the jailer’s

      Also, there’s a bit of a Samuel situation.

      “I’m sending Roman and Samuel with the Wardens.”
      Samuel just walked

      shows he left, but he’s still part of the group later on.

    3. “Which a good thing,” Furcate said. “Yay, being alive.”
      -> Which is

      “fabric serving to block most of it”
      -> Most of what? One can infere it’s a punch from the Overseer, but there’s no reference to an ‘it’ in the paragraph.

      Already pointed out, but I wanna bring extra attention to a continuity mistake, where Samuel left with the Wardens yet remains with the strike team in the end.

      “The second they were out jailer’s door”
      -> Already pointed out, but I wanted to mention that, typo aside, I can’t really picture where anyone is in this scene, and how they trapped the Overseer.

      Finally, a little language note regarding “Azúcar” which Victoria reminded me of. I am in no way an expert with the way people speak Spanish in other parts of the world of the world, so don’t take me super seriously. Ask some other Spanish speakers if you haven’t.

      Pretty much anything can be a nickname or a term of endearment, and Azúcar is a very cute one as these terms go. But I have a very hard time picturing how it came to be used as such. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call someone else Azúcar; it sounds as though it is taken straight from English (which, I guess might work for Tristán). As far as candy-related terms go, I can more easily see someone being called “caramelo”, “confite”, “bombón”, “dulzura”, “biscocho”.

    4. Samuel went with the Wardens?

      “It might be better if we keep the group small,” Imp said. “I’m sending Roman and Samuel with the Wardens.”

      But then he is looking at the monitors with Breakthrough?
      “Imp,” Samuel said. “Look at the screens.”

      “We should go,” Byron said.

      “It’s relevant to the Undersiders. Look at the screens,” Samuel said.

  7. But there were a lot of capes in there, opposite Legend’s group. Those capes had powers.

    A… lot of close to identical powersets, if not totally identical. Three different capes raised forcefields.

    It could be Teacher’s thralls, it could be that someone has been cloning people like crazy, and I think that several other explanations could be possible… but somehow I feel that since those people seem to be giving capes under Legend’s command problems, the Yàngbǎn may be back.

    1. Watch her be nerfed!

      All those times we were trying to figure out how Taylor would beat the “Unbeatable” character, cause of course that’s how it’s gonna play out, but the whole time it was me, Teacher!

      1. Well, the portals and time effects around the city have been giving Wardens’ thinker headaches. I suppose they may affect Contessa in a similar way. Also don’t forget that new triggers also mess with Contessa’s power (and Teacher can supposedly cause broken triggers on demand), and that the Simurgh (who is another confirmed Contessa’ blind spot) is staying close to Kronos titan (who I suspect may also seriously mess with precognition) at all times.

        In other words there may be a bit too many factors Contessa’s precognition can’t take into account that she may be severely limited when dealing with the big problems that Gimel is facing right now.

      2. To her debit, she hasn’t eaten or drunk anything in a while. Wouldn’t be surprised if she just fell into another coma soon-ish if that’s not taken care of quickly.

      3. Yeah. Its something I kinda realized, too, with WBs storytelling. The opponents are always crazy effective and powerful.
        Once they are on the narrators side (or the narrator, in Vics case) they are suddenly way weaker, full of handicaps and flaws.
        So I am curious how Contessa will wimp out 🙂

    2. Considering that Imp apparently managed to not free Contessa from the cell, had no problem with her mind loop, AND Contessa actually immediately agreed to help, it looks like it was the Undersiders who ultimately used Contessa as a “weapon kept in their sleeve”, doesn’t it? I wonder if it just turned out this way, or if it was somehow planned? Perhaps Contessa made some sort of contingency plans with Undersiders that they were supposed to use in case she was captured, and Imp just followed those plans?

      1. That doesn’t makes sense at all. It is simpler and less costly to crush the threat than to use last chances when threat got so huge. I am repeating myself, but the wrongness requires repetiton. Also as Case 53s has shown, PTV isn’t necessarily good at contingency plans.

        1. I never said that PtV had anything to do with contingency plans. In fact I think those contingency plans might have been made precisely because Contessa was afraid what could happen if he power failed to protect her – definitely something she could consider since she wanted to use it less.

          1. For example one of those continency plans could be “If I’m captured and in risk of becoming mastered, I may need to protect myself from this possibility by going into a mental loop that would make me almost completely detached from outside stimuli. Here is a way you may use to break me out of it if necessary…”

  8. I’m kind of feeling the pull of “Team Teacher”. It seems the aliens are a problem, that needs to be solved, or eventually humanity might get wiped out, simply due to alien’s current disfunction. Of all factions, Teacher appears to be the only one with plan and ability to do something about it. Now his plan clearly involves control over a large number of capes & worlds, and he is an asshole, so there’s that. But you don’t beat Scion level threats, without controling every parahuman, you can get your hands on. If Teacher is beaten, then it’s just back to the endless parade of parahuman threats of the week, since powers are set up to generate this constant conflict. Only rule breaking, like with Khepri and now with Teacher, can break the pattern.

    1. This seems likely. The solution to the problems of the system is not in the system. You’ve got to hack that. Teacher didn’t get hacking powers like Lookout got, but he is a natural hacker and so he can hack the aliens.

    2. Consider the fact that Teacher was apparently willing to talk to Kenzie. What if he wasn’t trying to stall, or exploit her emotional weaknesses, but was actually ready to give up, or at least explain why he sees current situation as a threat to Gimel and negotiate ceasefire and conditions of his eventual cooperation?

      If the heroes use Contessa’s help to kill Teacher, or otherwise make him unable to work with them, they may actually end up making things worse for them in the long run.

      1. Or maybe he just tried to control Kenzie, knowing how vulnerable she’s ( never forget, Teacher is not someone who will ever give up, surrender or not wanting to control people in a way or another) and killing him will do more good than evil?
        And even if, probably, the things will get worse without Teacher, our heroes can handle the consequences of their actions. If they will handle Teacher then they can handle ANYTHING.
        Screw the consequences, Teacher should have his ass kicked. Team Anti-Teacher forever.

      2. If He wanted those nice things he wouldn’t have asked to talk to KENZIE.

        He would have talked to Legend, Valk, or some other leader figure.
        Or he would have used intercom and talked to everyone.

        No, talking to Kenzie is a bad sign, and the only protection we have is the fact that TT is apparently nearby… and should honestly be qualified to deal with that crap.

        1. We don’t know how Teacher phrased his request exactly. He might have said that wanted to talk to whoever is taking over his security network, just to ask them to patch him through to whoever is in charge.

          There may also be another possibility. What if Kenzie is about to take over some camera that shows video feed of something she really shouldn’t see? She knows that she should domher best to censor image of Mama/Madam Mathers from video feed, but what if for example whatever Teacher is keeping at the top of his facility can have an even worse effect on whoever happens to see it?

        2. Yes, he obviously tried to bring Kenzie under his control and have another huge asset against the good guys by turning her evil and complete under his control. I’m so glad she decided to listen Vic and not do the biggest mistake of her life and ruin herself and others in the process. Kenzie is a very powerful tinker and if her power falls into the wrong hands then everything is over.

          1. Oh sweet summer child, do you think that Kenzie won’t talk to Teacher? The Kenzie that has shown a habit of promising not to do self-destructive things and doing them anyways. The same Kenzie that is mentally in a bad place right now.

          2. Now that I think about it, Victoria said that she wanted to be there for Kenzie to help her go through all her current emotional problems. At the same time I’m not entirely sure about it, but I suspect that Christmas may be coming soon on in the Paraverse. Could it be a perfect opportunity for not only Victoria, but everyone – Breakthrough, Undersiders, the Heartboken etc. – to do something nice for not only Kenzie, but also for each other?

          3. Who knows? Maybe even Tattletale’s shard will use this opportunity to find that lost hug.exe file that was supposedly last seen in the c:\People\The ones to be actually nice to\Skitter folder?

    3. > It seems the aliens are a problem, that needs to be solved, or eventually humanity might get wiped out, simply due to alien’s current disfunction. Of all factions, Teacher appears to be the only one with plan and ability to do something about it.

      And that “something” seems to be harnessing it for his own needs. Doesn’t look very appealing to me.

      1. It’s a choice between sociopathic asshole, who may have a chance of success, and nice, decent people, who don’t seem to be capable. The aliens issue doesn’t appear to be one, that can be solved by punching. Maybe it’s that heroes have been busy keeping people alive, while Teacher had his hands free to aquire more power. But it is how things stand now – Teacher has a well-oiled parahuman machine, Victoria can barely talk with Amy about world threatening crisis.

        1. The question is – at what might he have a chance of success. At saving his own ass, maybe, or constructing a new Entity (perhaps with himself at the core), or gathering all the power in the world, but none of these goals look to me like they might be shared by the rest of humanity. People in-universe may have their reasons for working with Teacher, ranging from just working for anyone who promises to provide food and housing to hoping that joining the most powerful faction will increase their own power as well. But on the part of the readers… Siding with someone who manages to achieve his goals, no matter what these goals may be?
          And Victoria acting dumb traumatized beyond belief is an undeniable fact, of course, but luckily she’s not the only one on heroes’ side, not even the key person.

  9. Oh come on, they got chevalier?! That’s insane. He’s my favorite remaining cape, I hope they can save him after this mess is done.

    Contessa will shake things up for sure. Without doormaker to give her an entrance and exit wherever she needs it, she probably won’t be boogeyman level like she was in worm. If they can get her to some of teachers best capes , at least, she’ll probably even the odds.

  10. I still maintain that Contessa is somehow bad news overall.

    I mean, both Scion and Eden are dead, the warrior and scholar “hubs” offline, their shards all dead… except for Contessa’s

    Her “Path to Victory” was picked up from the third entity, Abadon. Only way I figure it’s alive is if it’s somehow connected to Abadon’s hub.

      1. Remember this bit from Scion’s interlude:

        It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.

        Considering that we now know that in shard-speak being “dead” means being disconnected from the hub, it would mean that wherever Contessa’s shard came from, it was connected to a hub other than Scion. With Eden dead, it leaves Abaddon.

      2. This is the critical line from Eden’s interlude that I work on: “In the doing, it alters one of the third entity’s powers, replacing its own ability to find the optimal future.“

        And this from Scion’s interlude: “It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.”

        So Scion doesn’t identify Contessa’s shard as Eden’s. Simply as not his own. Eden, notes that it all goes to hell when she modified a shard from the third entity, replacing her ability to find the optimal future.

        Granted it doesn’t specify if Contessa got Eden’s original shard or Abadon’s, but despite the Scholar hub presumably being offline, somehow, Contessa’s shard isn’t dead.

        My old theory being that Abadan evolved as a predator to its fellow entities and “poisons” them with its own shards then eventually tracks them down and consumes their shards.

      3. > The only real Abbadon shard we know about is Eidolon, iirc.

        Also Butcher (besides Contessa, as it was already said above).

        1. Ummm…that’s incorrect. Eidolon’s Shard is dead, Butcher wasn’t even a Cauldron cape, so that’s impossible, Contessa’s shard was basically confirmed Abaddon, why all the theories?

        2. While both Butcher and Eidolon ‘s shards have been noted or speculated as being Abaddon’s in origin, only Contessa’s has been noted as not dead.

          Author comments, and now cannon story from Victoria’s shard, note that dead shards are ones that have no connection to their entity. Since the scholar was long dead, and contessa didn’t connect to Scion, the only other entity we know of is Abaddon.

          I figure either this is Abaddon’s “optimal future” shard or One of Abbadon’s shards somehow infected Eden’s “optional future” shard and connected it to his hub.

  11. Anyone worried that Imp didn’t liberate Contessa at all? That she’s already been broken by Teacher and this is just a ploy? Perhaps I’m just being paranoid.

    1. Or, alternatively…

      *Imp opens the door which is supposed to be “100% win”*
      The Gang: “Did we just win? Why do we hear boss music?”

  12. You’d think they’d have cracked down on teacher before now. They knew where he was and had resources. They could have killed the bastard easily

    1. I’ll be so pissed if they’ll manage to corner him and decide that- instead of killing him, like he deserves for all his despicable crimes – they’ll exile him in the prison world. If he was able to build such army in just two days, he’ll do the same in whatever world he’ll be exiled and return back.

    2. He was sat in a hard-to-reach extradimensional compound, apparently not doing anything, whilst Gimel had bigger issues. How hard to reach is that compound? The man who used to produce the doors in and out is dead, and there’s a lot of uninhabited earths it could be on. Even if you find the right earth, a lot of it is underground and there’s no mention of which continent it’s on. Unless you find a door, you aren’t going to be able to get in.

      They should have cracked down sooner, but in my mind the fact they didn’t is understandable.

  13. Ok, so hold the phone here. How in the ever loving heck did Teacher manage to down freaking Valkyrie, the cape who (and correct me if I’m wrong here) has taken down literal armies of capes, killed purportably unkillable capes (Grey Boy), and to our knowledge, has only been lost a fight once – and that was against Scion, of all enemies. What the heck did Teacher have in his admittedly large arsenal that would be successful in stopping her?

  14. “Imp,” Samuel said. “Look at the screens.”

    “We should go,” Byron said.

    “It’s relevant to the Undersiders. Look at the screens,” Samuel said.
    […]
    I looked at Imp.

    “[Valkyrie] has good taste in minions.”

    “Yeah?” I asked.

    “Some cute guys in there who look like they have dark senses of humor. Did you see the guy with the red costume and the wide smile? You have to love a guy who can smile in the shittiest circumstances.”

    “I think that’s Roucouler the Liar. And I think the smile is built in.”

    Why does it make me think that Samuel was talking about someone else than ? Like Grue, and possibly also whoever was that hero Imp supposedly ended up dating after Regent’s death?

    1. Whoops, sorry. Looks like I missed a slash, and ended up opening a nested block quote instead of closing the one I was supposed to close.

      1. Also “Why does it make me think that Samuel was talking about someone else than ?” was supposed to be “Why does it make me think that Samuel was talking about someone else than Roucouler the Liar?”

  15. – Imp saw Grue, didn’t she. “Dark sense of humour” indeed
    – trust Vicki to know
    an obscure long-dead early-career-Glastig victim like Roucouler The Liar on sight
    – Teacher’s massive resources and success are far less implausible than Cradle’s. Or March’s for that matter
    – His gift has always been to make stupid plans then have the resources to make those plans work far better and for far longer than they have any right to
    – plus, as has been said, he wasn’t kicked down that elevator shaft ages ago like he should have
    – and now he has gone from covert to invulnerable
    – I have to assume the good guys have a deeper deception going, an end run perhaps similar to the March takedown
    – Vicky never ever stops noticing fashion, huh. Not even in the face of Armageddon
    – how does he still have Moord Nag?! This is bullshit!!! 🙆🏾‍♂️😭

    1. > trust Vicki to know an obscure long-dead early-career-Glastig victim like Roucouler The Liar on sight

      Considering that Ciara used Roucouler to listen in on conversation between Jessica and Chevalier back in Teneral e.1, I wonder if the news about this shadow being under Valkyrie’s control reached Victoria through Wardens or Jessica. Remember that in that chapter Ciara not only admitted to listening in, but also released Jessica from any confidentiality. If later Ciara explained to Jessica just how she was able to listen in, the information about that shadow might have gotten out and reach Vicky.

      Alternatively Ciara might have used that shadow on other occasions since then, and simply not hide that fact.

      By the way, considering Ciara’s tendency to give her shadows titles instead of calling them by cape or civilian names (especially back in Worm), I wonder if Roucouler The Liar is even that person’s cape name. If it isn’t then it makes it even more likely that Victoria learned about that shadow more or less the way I described it, instead of her usual method of studying mostly pre-GM files…

    2. > Vicky never ever stops noticing fashion, huh. Not even in the face of Armageddon

      I would say that Victoria notices fashion especially in the face of Armageddon (or when she is dealing with her personal demons). For her fashion seems to serve as a “safe” topic, she can distract herself with to take her mind off thoughts she has trouble dealing with. Even her friends (especially Ashley, Vista and Sveta) seem to have realized it, and are tend to talk to Victoria about fashion mostly when they see that Victoria needs such distinctions.

  16. Soooo… is the Custodian dead from a random blast by Swansong’s power? Or is she just paused, herself at the magnitude of who they’ve awoken?

    I seem to recall she didn’t think Contessa above her ability to take down, and it would be rather easy right now, so I’m thinking that even with all the splits of her very being, Ashley’s Power did something funky when hitting the clones.

    1. I don’t think we can trust Custodian’s judgment on this. She is powerful but necessarily deeply deluded about her position. She is obviously capable in the right environment, but in that environment she also has very little autonomy. Also, Contessa set up that environment using P2V; how likely is it that she can’t use the same power to deal with whatever changes have taken place since she and DM first enslaved Custodian?

    2. Since little miss Overseer was in full battle mode, she was in too many places for Swansong to nail her in one shot. I assume she went with the tactical retreat card once she realised that she didn’t notice Imp going past her, and is already reporting that situation to Teacher.

      1. But what if Swansong’s power is doing something similar to Scrub and actually portalling material between worlds?

        We’ve seen that portals return the Custodian to a single being, so if Swansong’s power does anything along those lines it would kill her… If there’s a blood splattered wall in the next chapter, we’ll know.

        I guess I just see no reason, even with Contessa awake, for Custodian/Overseer to let up on her attack unless they actually have a means of harming her.

  17. Ey <3 More Furcate. I can't get tired of them.
    Ey! Victoria learnt to call Bitch Bitch.
    Maybe it was revealed earlier, but it's nice to see how things have progressed with Rain's cluster. I wonder if Colt was sent out to the prison world as well.

    I enjoyed this chapter, pretty scared about what's going to happen next 😡

  18. Something else to note. Because Valkyrie is there, the option to resurrect each and every cape fallen around her is on the table.

    1. Only if she grabs their shard before they… do whatever it is they normally do after their host kicks the bucket, especially now that the main hub is dead.

  19. Anyone else thinks that if Victoria is serious about following that self-imposed master-stranger protocol, she shouldn’t give any instructions to Contessa?

    1. By the way, I wonder if Venarum would realize if Amy did something she shouldn’t have when she used her power on Victoria in Shin, or if Victoria’s body still wasn’t entirely human as Amy suggested after restoring it in the aftermath of Gold Morning?

      One more thing – if Amy really didn’t do a perfect job restoring Victoria’s body after GM, maybe took the opportunity to do it during the last arc?

      1. Of course Venarum’s power may not show him such details, or he may be too inexperienced to recognize them yet. We know very little about limitations of his power at the moment after all.

        On the other hand if he can spot such things, then he may become a very important asset as a person who can vet work done by biokinetics, and probably at least some bio-tinkers.

    2. > if Victoria is serious about following that self-imposed master-stranger protocol

      …she should drop anything she’s doing (well, if she might be mastered with unknown effects, she might be a danger to her own team! boooo!) and go visit Yamada to cure her paranoia. Luckily, it seems that she’s not as hopeless, as she considers herself to be in a position to instruct Lookout about protocols.

      1. I honestly found Vicky’s self-imposed protocol extremely overly paranoid, though understandable.

        1. It might be, but the funny thing about it is that since Zeckenschwarm proposed a theory that the party rescuing Contessa may be infiltrated by a stranger (see his comment here – https://www.parahumans.net/2019/07/23/dying-15-6/#comment-99972 ), I suspect that the fact that Victoria is acting under M-S protocol may both become a problem (because she may end up telling Contessa to do whatever the hypothetical enemy stranger tells her), and a solution to the problem (because with her thoughts on the protocols Victoria may end up realizing what is going on, and end up telling Contessa to follow the protocols herself, or in other words to not trust anyone in the rescue party blinly, which may be just enough for Contessa to find and defeat the hostile stranger they are indeed there).

          1. Another possibility is that Contessa is already assuming that she can’t trust any of her rescuers, which is why she asked Victoria for instructions instead of simply trusting whatever Imp might have told her already.

  20. I’m getting a vibe like Teacher has some sort of low level mastery thing going on. I havent forgotten the Cape they met who seemed 85% Teacher’d already. Plus the mention of the team who seemed to have been dunked into white robes as soon as they left the main group.

    So happy to get more Furcate!!! She fascinates me every time she is mentioned. I’m ecstatic she is back 💕. It’s a great question too…who is choosing her costumes?

    The goop was interesting to read about. Emotionally I was all excited, then crashed with the reminder of how bad nanogel could go…and that guy has it on his brain!!! Can anyone say nano-induced-zombies-side-story? 😉

    I am fascinated by the question of why Teacher left Contessa mobile. I can’t square that with the image I have in my head of him as such a good planner. That tells me either something else distracted him so much he miscalculated…or it doesnt matter because he planned for it.

    I am very much enjoying the cool battles and fascinating power interplays. Thank you!

  21. The Wardens were wanting to make sure [Cradle] didn’t have the capacity to fight back when they went through the portal to his campsite to talk to him about the potential raid.

    Is it only me, or has this been the first conformation that Cradle’s been exiled?

    1. By the way I’m not sure if taking Cradle’s tokens from him significantly impacts his ability to fight in this situation. Considering that he has tinkering as his primary power, it seems that to make him combat ineffective, you would need to continuously ensure that he has none of his tokens, not take them away from it just once before the raid.

      Here is another puzzling bit:

      “I thought they were a corrupting force.”

      He looked up at her. She didn’t budge, only staring him down.

      “Not with the random ones, I’m pretty sure. Or that isn’t as serious.[…]

      Since when are any tokens in Rain’s cluster assigned randomly? Have the rules governing the dream-room changed somehow since we saw it last time?

      1. If I recall correctly, on the 5th night (when it would be the mysterious 5th Occupant’s night to be the dreamer etc), the tokens are distributed randomly.

  22. A couple more quotes that caught my eye:

    1.

    I didn’t mention that Imp’s idea of getting to the prisoners was part of our plan. If I left, then I’d want to replace myself to ensure they had the necessary help to get that done, but at the same time, spreading the plan around increased the chance Teacher got ahead of it.

    I wonder Imp and Breakthrough convinced the other capes to act as a diversion if they didn’t say anything about releasing the prisoners. Did they provide a false explanation, or do the heroes trust Breakthrough enough (because I seriously doubt that they would trust Imp and the Heartboken much) to accept the plan without explanation? Or perhaps leaders of at least some of the more important teams present were actually informed about the details of the plan, and only their subordinates (like Siren in this case) were kept in the dark?

    2.

    “I… don’t have as many years of experience at holding back.”

    “Ah. Ex-vigilante?”

    Vigilantes were the cape-scene term for the heroes who eschewed the game in favor of putting enemies down for the long term, if not permanently. Break too many of the unwritten rules, break the actual laws, and life got harder.

    I wonder how hard it hit Victoria that what she did as Glory Girl could be considered vigilantism. Did she ever consider her past behavior from this angle before Siren brought it up?

  23. O.M.F.G. If Teacher managed to take down Valkyrie, he’s already a Scion-level threat.
    And the appearance of Contessa is just a perfect cliffhanger. Oh, why did it appear in a Tuesday’s chapter:)) Now I have to wait until Saturday…

      1. *imagined that…*

        Interlude 15.x (Teacher)

        Mwa ha ha ha ha […goes on and on for several pages]


        *now I’m not sure that it really has nothing to do with Contessa*

        1. More like 15.b, considering that we already had 15.a, and there will probably be a few more chapters in the arc, but I could see this interlude here. Alternatively we could be left hanging if we got a second Fortuna’s interlude here… ending exactly at the moment this chapter did.

  24. Moord Nag, Custodian, Lung, Speedrunners, Dragonslayers, Valkyrie’s better, the Fallen, tinkers, civilians, two planets, the time-traveled Contessa known as Sleeper.

    Finally everyone was working together.

    But seriously, how did Fortuna manage a PtV that lasted past possibly hundreds, thousands of triggers? Don’t they disrupt the path/change expectations?

    1. Interesting question! I wonder what exactly it is about trigger events that interfere with Contessa’s power. One relavent difference with triggers now compared to pre gold-morning is that trigger events used to involve a shard activating that was connected to a ‘live’ hub – ie Scion. We know that entities interfere with Contessa’s power – so perhaps the reason trigger events also interfere is due to their connection to a live entity. If that is the case, it may be possible that post gold morning, trigger events no longer hinder Path to Victory, because they no longer involve a shard connection to a live entity or hub.

      1. I wouldn’t be so sure. Remember that according to March’s shard trigger events cause temporary connections to form between the shard attaching itself to a new host, and shards of other nearby hosts. This is likely the reason why capes suffer trigger visions when anyone triggers near them. If you look at it like that, I suspect that currently most shards are most “alive” when someone triggers near their hosts (and “near” is probably a very relative term these days – remember that the echo of Dauntless and Alabaster’s second trigger was felt even on Earth N).

        My theory is that shards with precognitive powers are perfectly capable of processing triggers (at least “regular” ones – something as broken as Kronos, not to mention mid-space collisions between Entities may follow different rules), because the Warrior could correctly predict certain triggers that happened in Worm even before he reached Earth, and reason why precogs are unable to see certain events or beings is that their shards are programmed to not show them (or anything too close to them – both in space and in terms of direct consequences) to their hosts. At the same time those precognitive shards are allowed to predict and show their hosts events further removed from those “forbidden” topics.

        How else could precognition on Bet as we saw it in Worm where people not only triggered all the time, but also was constantly shaken by Endbringer-and-Scion-sized butterfly effects?

        1. Of course if I’m right, Contessa’s shard has been programmed to follow the rules other shards were supposed to follow. Just not to the same extent (it has for example provided Fortuna with a way to remember her trigger vision). Maybe the Thinker stared “Mantoning” Contessa’s shard, but never finished the job – either because it crash-landed before it was done, or because of something made Abaddon’s shards (assuming that Contessa’s shard is one of those) resistant to such “reprogramming” to some extent?

          1. That’s definitely an interesting thought, that Contessa’s shard may have been not fully Manton-limited before she received it. It’s very possible that she is still unable to see past trigger events, and there is some other reason she was able to lock herself in a mental loop for the exact correct amount of time to come out of it at the moment of her rescue. For example, it’s very possible that she simply wasn’t in close enough proximity to any trigger events during her captivity to be affected. Although I have to wonder if Teacher would have tried to disrupt her power by causing a trigger event nearby her, via Cauldron brand trigger-juice.

            Also, maybe possible that her power is limited not by shards connecting to other shards, but by shards connecting to entities. Maybe the Manton limitation of her power only extends as far as Entities, and so trigger events only disrupted her because at the moment of a trigger, a shard would connect to their associated hub.

            I’m certainly not sure of my theory – I’m definitely building it as we go here, with your help. So thanks for discussing, Alfaryn.

          2. Well, I must say that I’m not sure of my theory too. It definitely has some weak points. For example Miss Militia also remembered her trigger vision, despite the fact that her shard almost certainly came from the Warrior who should have no problem completing the “Mantoning” process of his shards before releasing them. This means that the process was most likely never perfect, and such mistakes could happen regardless of collisions with randomly encountered entities and such.

            In fact I think it was stated or implied somewhere that Scion and Eden created human bodies for themselves in part to be able to intervene if some powers or combinations of powers and/or shards behaved in unexpected ways that could endanger the cycle.

            Still, it seems suspicious that Fortuna’s shard not only let her remember her trigger vision, but also lead her to Eden in such way that Fortuna needed only a slight push from Doctor Mother to kill the damaged Entity. By the way, I wonder if Fortuna’s shard predicted that killing Eden required intervention of someone like Dr Mother, and intentionally made sure that Fortuna would reach the Entity when Mother was around.

            Another weak point in my theory is that there is another obvious reason to believe that even completely “un-Mantoned” shards that give. the Entities their precognition can’t predict the future perfectly – if they could do it, there would be no reason for the Entities to even reach Earths and let humans experiment with their powers. After all they could simply predict what would happen if they performed such experiment and learn from those predictions without actually performing the experiment at all. If you look at it this way if Entities’ precognition was perfect, the cycle itself would not be needed.

            So maybe Contessa’s shard wasn’t Mantoned to be blind to triggers, Entities, Endbringers and such after all? Maybe it simply can’t predict them? But it would clash with the observation that it can obviously predict certain events influenced by those. It makes me think that this shard (as well as for example Dinah’s shard) may be unable to predict at least some of those perfectly, but can, and do, work around the problem by running imperfect simulations.

            For example maybe Dinah’s shard couldn’t predict everything that Scion would ever do, but based on its knowledge of Scion past behavior, it could run a bunch of scenarios that indicated that Scion would likely go on a rampage in two years if Jack Slash lived and met Scion, but if those two wouldn’t meet than it would take Scion over a decade to suffer similar breakdown.

            The bottom line would be that most likely some limitations of precognition powers probably come from tampering by the Entities who didn’t want to give humans too much power, but some of those limitations came from the fact that even “un-Mantoned” precognition powers simply can’t predict everything. The big question is – which limitations fall into which category. Unless we can answer that, there is no way to tell if Contessa’s shard was “Mantoned” at all, and if so – if the process was done correctly.

          3. > Maybe the Thinker stared “Mantoning” Contessa’s shard, but never finished the job

            Well, it was outright said in Contessa’s interlude, Eden started restricting her shard only when she was going to stab her.
            And regarding Contessa’s inability to predict triggers with dead shards – I don’t remember whether it was in text or in some WoG, but yes, she can’t predict them. Otherwise Cauldron could just produce perfect powers without needing to experiment.

          4. Good reminder about Eden restricting Fortuna’s shard only when they met! As for Contessa’s inability to predict triggers of dead shards, I know that it was always the case. Cauldron wouldn’t have to perform all of those inhuman experiments with the shards otherwise, but there are some questions about it left:
            1. is it another restriction imposed by Eden, or something Contessa’s shard was never capable of predicting?
            2. does Contessa’s inability to predict triggers of dead shards have something to do with the fact that apparently they get a moment of “life” when they force connection to surrounding shards during the trigger events?

            I don’t know about 2., but considering that Scion managed to predict at least some of the triggers correctly, I think that the answer to 1. would probably be that it was Eden, at least to some extent.

            On the other hand since some of Scion’s shards apparently ended up bonding with other hosts than the ones Scion originally intended for them, not to mention the fact that he couldn’t predict Eden’s death in time to prevent it, I suspect that precognition shards (including Contessa’s) never could predict everything perfectly, and that perhaps trigger events could be some of those situations particularly difficult to predict correctly. It would fit with the observation that apparently complex power interactions cause thinkers headaches, and that according to March’s shard the loss of powers by March and Foil during Dauntless trigger was caused by its need to rapidly adjust to the information overload caused by it, at least if I interpret it correctly. Maybe precognition shards also find it difficult to adjust to such trigger-related information overflows, even when they aren’t caught by an ongoing trigger, but simply trying to predict how a future trigger will go?

            On an unrelated note, I noticed this thing in interlude 12.all during the Dauntless-Alabaster trigger:

            And it is what the humans call a second trigger. It is what humans call a broken trigger, though this is wrong.

            It is a failure to support. A desperate clutching at a well too intense and dangerous, collecting waste and fragments, extrapolating out wildly, without program or logic.

            Perhaps the well of power mentioned several times in Ward is drawing in “waste” similar to Victoria’s shard, if those “waste shards” don’t find a hosts to attach to? Maybe it makes capes with “waste shards” (who I suspect could be many, if not all of second generation capes) key to unraveling the mystery of the well, and possibly fixing the problems it is causing?

          5. One more thing that I noticed that could be important. In Fortuna’s interlude she said this about Eden’s plans for her and her shard:

            It was going to kill her, and then it was going to reclaim the ability to see the future.

            It looks like the hubs (or at least Eden) could reclaim their shards attached to humans only after those humans’ deaths. I wonder if it was the standard procedure, and all shards went back to the hubs shortly after their hosts’ deaths unless intercepted up by something like Valkyrie or Butcher’s shards instead, and if the shards collected this way were ever supposed to be given to new hosts during the same phase of the cycle (that is, while the entities remained on Earths), and if so – were supposed to be modified again by the hubs somehow before being redistributed to those new hosts.

          6. By the way, discussing this whole situation with Fortuna’s shard reminds me again just how well it fits her name:
            – she got exactly the power she (and humanity as a whole) needed at the time,
            – she got un-Mantoned power that happened to not kill her, turn her into C53, or cause any other similarly crippling side effects,
            – she got a power that except for situations and entities which specifically block it basically lets her find the course of action that best reflect her wishes… almost as if she was creating her own luck.

            A fortune woman indeed. The only power that we know of which would fit her name better would probably be Shamrock’s. And yet despite all this fortune… she still managed to use that power to live a pretty miserable life. Contessa truly is a character from a Parahumans story, isn’t she?

  25. An interesting theory someone brought up on reddit is that the team might currently be infiltrated by a Stranger that has an ability similar to Nice Guy or Bonesaw’s agnosia miasma.

    This would explain why Samuel is in the monitor room even though he left with the main group, and how Tristan and Byron can speak at the same time. Maybe these aren’t mistakes after all, but intentional hints.

    “It might be better if we keep the group small,” Imp said. “I’m sending Roman and Samuel with the Wardens.”
    […]
    Samuel just walked, hands in his pockets, trailing behind everyone else, happy to be a straggler.
    […]
    “Imp,” Samuel said. “Look at the screens.”
    […]
    I looked over at Samuel, the blond, sixteen year old Regent-lookalike who had notified her, and saw that he wore a more serious expression than normal.

    He turned away.
    […]
    “Precipice, Swan!” Tristan and Byron clarified. “Force her to split!”

    1. Or maybe whatever was on that needle Victoria has been scratched with is already taking effect, causing her to hallucinate?

    2. If we are indeed dealing with a stranger here, things may get really bad if that stranger is impersonating Tristan. Remember that due to M-S protocol Victoria is operating under Tristan is supposed to be leading Breakthrough now. Imagine what could happen if Victoria tells Contessa that he is the person who needs to tell her what exactly needs to be done…

    3. This is… an alarmingly fitting scenario.
      Remember that March was killed thanks to the application of a powerset that was dangerously similar to Coil by an unknown third party?
      And the 5 spots when Victoria loses consciousness?
      So we would have a powerful stranger, with Imp-grade agnosia & possibly timeline retcon abilities. Maybe even two of them, which may be working together or in direct opposition. And in the vein of the Chekhov gun foreshadowing doctrine that Wildbow practices, should have been introduced since the beggining of the book, maybe earlier.
      So… it may be that Sleeper, or more probably Abbadon, has come to collect the due of his evil plan…
      And it will probably be explained by Dinah, which is WAYYY late for her live TV appointment as an omniscient expert on all evil alien entity plots.

      1. Yeah, looks like Teacher’s plan to take control over Contessa may be to let her be “rescued” only to be led by his mole, doesn’t it? Well… feeding powerful thinkers misinformation to the point where they are convinced they have already won seems like a pretty standard way of dealing with them.

      2. > Maybe even two of them, which may be working together or in direct opposition.

        Or maybe just Satyrical? Last time we saw him, he did work with Teacher after all.

        1. To be precise, I don’t think it can’t be Satyrical alone, since his power wouldn’t make Victoria think that nothing is wrong when she saw Samuel when he shouldn’t be with her anymore, or when she heard the same thing told by Byron and Tristan at the same time. I could however see Satyr as a part of some larger equation here.

      3. March was confirmed to have been killed with help from Vista. That odd effect was her bending space, including the page’s, in order to fake the deaths.And the 5 dots showing Amy’s 5 fingers healing her. Both of these confirmed via WoG.

        1. WB didn’t say that Amy healed Vicky, just that the dots represent Amy’s fingers. I interpret this as him saying that Amy only used her power on Vicky once (five fingers = one hand = one touch), and not 5 times like people were speculating. Basically saying “no” to the save-scumming theory.
          Whether Amy DID anything to Vicky beyond knocking her out and reading the state of her body/emotions is still completely open.

        2. > March was confirmed to have been killed with help from Vista. […] Both of these confirmed via WoG.

          Is that so? All I saw about it was Wildbow’s comment in interlude 12.x about “end of March”, which could for example be interpreted for example as an end of March’s career under this cape name, and not as actual confirmation of May’s death.

          Unless Wildbow posted something not open to such interpretations elsewhere, as far as I can tell March’s death is pretty much as “confirmed” as Vista’s was.

          By the way – if you have seen such WoG confirming March’s death, please don’t tell me about it. WoGs like this are actually one of the big reasons why a very rarely visit Parahumans channel on reddit. I just posted this comment here to make you ask yourself a question if you can be sure that March is dead.

          1. By the way here is one more reason why I think that March is alive. In interlude 12.x Foil explicitly said that she can’t kill March:

            “Reality! More real than any of this! I’ve seen it, how do you think I know cluster triggers as well as I do? I’ve seen the network, the landscape, and how it all fits together. I’ve seen the spots that are reserved for us. Homer’s already there. When all’s said and done, that’s where we go. To spend a few aeons talking and intertwining until we dissolve into a greater consciousness.”
            […]
            “If that’s true, then I can’t kill you,” Foil said. “I’ll have to trap you somewhere else, in another state.”
            […]
            “Then…” Foil said, and she was clearly floundering. “Then I have to destroy you.

            “That-”

            “You, March. Your identity, every inch of you that wants to talk, your personality, your understanding of english, every other language you could speak. You.

          2. OK. To be fair, Vista’s intervention was what was confirmed, I only said she was dead since he did. However, was pretty sure he confirmed the Amy thing somewhere, though I could be incorrect.

          3. One more thing. Not long ago I posted a theory that Foil might have taken an inspiration from what happened to Taylor in arc 30 of Worm and might have stabbed March somewhere in the brain that would cause March to become unable to speak. Seems I have misremembered interlude 12.x a bit. If what Foil said is right, she would have stabbed March somewhere that would cause her to become unable to understand any language she could speak.

            Not that Foil couldn’t come up with an idea of that particular brain surgery too by seeing what happened to Taylor during GM, and considering that March apparently performed her own “rapier neurosurgery” on Jontun in interlude 12.all to make sure that he wouldn’t be drawn into the broken trigger Dauntless and Alabaster have gone through, I think it is entirely possible that Foil could do something like that too. After all such “surgery” probably requires powers given by the Sting, and an ability to target selected points in human brain given by Homer’s shard. Timing is likely less important here, which makes me think that Foil could actually be better than March in selectively damaging brains like that.

          4. Another thing is that Foil’s comment about destroying March’s personality may indicate that she may not care about causing other damage to March’s brain. From Foil’s perspective it may even be best if March was as close as possible to being brain dead, while still staying connected to her shard, and overwriting her shard’s old copy of her mind with one that is unable to interact with her surroundings in any way.

            It should even make the “surgery” I suggested easier for Foil to perform than if she tried to just take March’s ability to speak or understand speech away.

          5. What makes you think that March damaged Jotunn’s brain selectively? I interpreted it as her just killing him for the sake of her teammate from his cluster.

            BTW, I don’t know about any WoG confirming or denying March’s death, but since she didn’t return in May…:)

          6. > What makes you think that March damaged Jotunn’s brain selectively?

            This bit from interlude 12.all:

            And the third- March’s blade impales his head, stabbing into a precise location of the brain.
            […]
            She pulls her weapon free, and Ixnay is quick to catch the fallen Jotunn.

            “Take care of your boy,” she tells him. “We’ll make a run for it while they’re all distracted. Same as the mayor.”

            > BTW, I don’t know about any WoG confirming or denying March’s death, but since she didn’t return in May…:)

            As I theorized not long after interlude 12.x was posted May may return in May… 2020.

          7. … and I guess another possibility is that May may return in May of the third year after GM.

          8. @Alfaryn: fair point. Though I read it now as leaving Jotunn alive but crippled and unable to fight back, and giving him to his clustermate, presumably to leech power from him.

          9. Well, it is mostly how I read it too. March just had to be quite selective (and probably know quite a bit about how both clusters and connections between passengers and hosts work, but I think it is quite safe to assume that she does) to damage Corona Pollentia works to make Jotun unable to trigger, while still being able to have their power leached.

            Considering that power-leeching process seems not to care about CP, only about host’s DNA, I suspect that Jotun might have suffered damage very similar to what Taylor seems to have suffered at the end of chapter 30.7 of Worm. If March was one of those people who worked with Teacher and later abandoned him because of the disagreement about what to do with time effects, I suspect that she could know the exact method Contessa used, and simply replicated the process.

          10. And by the way March probably wouldn’t even need to ever talk to Contessa to learn how to disable CPs. Back in Battery’s interlude in arc 12 of Worm Doctor Mother explained that removing people’s powers was one of Cauldron’s procedures of dealing with leaks. This means that the whole process could be documented in whatever archives Cauldron kept, and March could learn it from those files.

          11. By the way, if May will be back in May of the third year after GM, as opposed to May 2020, then I will expect our lunatic, who was so lost in her fairy tales the last time we saw her, to be more sane that time around. Sane enough to understand which world she is living in, and which calendar she is supposed to use as a consequence.

          12. After all, wouldn’t it make thematic sense for a cape whose primary power has to do with timing, to have her sanity linked to the way people keep track of time?

          13. Of course if May will return in May of the third year after GM, it may not necessarily be a good thing whether she will be more sane or not. After all she may be back just in time to crash Vista’s eighteenth birthday party.

    4. > how Tristan and Byron can speak at the same time
      >> “Precipice, Swan!” Tristan and Byron clarified. “Force her to split!”

      I think it means that one part of phrase was said by Tristan and another by Byron, Victoria saw their change but did not get who said first and second parts.

      1. Or she didn’t see them change, but heard the differences in their voices and was unable to pay enough attention as to which brother said which bit. Even identical twins can have different voices, particularly when they’ve got different builds and one has power-augmented breathing.

        1. Or it could be that the text was supposed to say “Tristan or Byron”, instead of “Tristan and Byron”, just like I suggested in the typo thread. It could be that we have a stranger situation here, but it also could turn out that both this line and the thing with Samuel appearing when he shouldn’t have were actually author’s mistakes. It is not that Wildbow hadn’t done (and sometimes also corrected through “ninja edits”) similar mistakes before…

          1. By the way maybe this entire situation with Samuel has something to do with the fact that Juliette seems to be almost entirely forgotten in this chapter? Maybe Wildbow originally wrote this chapter planning for Samuel and Chastity to stay with Imp, and Roman and Juliette leave with the Wardens, and only later realized that sending both Roman and Juliette away together probably wouldn’t be something Imp would risk doing, so he switched Juliette with Samuel in that scene where the heroes who were supposed to be a diversion have left, but forgot that there are other scenes in this chapter which also needed edits because Samuel appeared in them?

  26. 1. > One to just scupper every aspect of a power and render it useless
    Temporary or permanently, I wonder.
    Which meaning is closer to words “scupper” and “render”?

    2. > But I don’t think she will kill me. If she didn’t have Cradle’s influence, I think the chances of her coming after me would go up.”
    I did not get it. Chances of LL killing Rain is higher if she didn’t have Cradle’s influence, but Rain did not think she will kill him. Or Rain meant “If she was not under Cradle’s influence from the beginning”?
    Could someone explain, please?

    3. > There was a blur on the screen that wasn’t resolving, but I could guess who she was and why Lookout had set her to be automatically blurred out. She stood next to Valefor. It meant she was Mama Mathers
    I wonder if Lookout managed to set up this blur without seeing Mama Mathers herself or got infected first.

    1. 1) Not sure, ‘scupper’ is derived from a Naval term- a ship is scuppered when it’s deliberately sank to prevent its capture by the enemy. Render… I’m not sure on this one; I think it’s derived from rend, or possibly vice-versa.

      2) Love Lost wants to kill Rain, but she wants to be clear-headed when she does. She’s got Cradle’s tokens, and therefore an element of influence from him, but she knows now that she’s not clear-headed any more, so she’s going to restrain herself. Besides, part of why she’s out is because she’s promised not to kill him.

      3) We know from the attack on the Fallen compound that Lookout’s screens work as eyes for Mama’s power, and Lookout was unaffected whilst her monitors were, the images dissolving into snow and static. It’s why she was willing to turn one off to drop it on Mama’s head- she’d corrupted the feed from that camera and it required maintenance already.

    2. 2. I think that Victoria may suspect that Cradle’s tokens may make Love Lost less likely to act impulsively. At this point it would be in LL’s best interest to first secure her escape route to make sure that she won’t end up in a cell again (or worse – exiled for murder), and only then strike at carefully selected target (more likely Rain than Victoria). At least that is how I imagine Cradle would act in Love Lost’s place.

      3. Considering that Goddess told Breakthrough that both Valefor and Mama Mathers was gone back in chapter 9.2, I have little doubt that someone (quite possibly Kenzie herself) added two and two together, and figured out that she should prepare for a possibility that they may be with Teacher.

  27. So I’m guessing that since it hasn’t been corrected by now that the space between two of the blocks of text in this chapter is there to indicate some sort of master/stranger effect? Maybe an action on Imp’s part?

    1. Give it more time.

      Remember that the sun symbols changed color in chapter 14.9 after chapter 14.10 was already posted, and it wasn’t even the only quiet edit done relatively long (at least a few hours) after the chapter which ended up being edited was posted. Add the unusually high number of typos in this chapter, and the fact that certain characters seem to disappear in certain chapters of this arc when you would expect them to feature quite prominently (for example we never got an explanation why in chapter 15.2 Colt wasn’t seen during the charge of movers in the tunnel, and she can fly after all), and you will see that it may be entirely possible that Wildbow is too busy with other things these days to devote much time to working on Ward. The problem may be further compounded by the fact that in this arc he must juggle unusually high number of present characters in his mind.

      If this is the case, I think that in the near future we can expect any edits of already posted chapters to come late, if at all.

      1. That’s fair. I did try to give it some time, but I haven’t noticed the delay in WB’s typo-editing as of late. I just know that in the past, I have loaded a chapter, read it, found a typo, then by the time I refreshed the page to see everyone’s thoughts on the chapter, it had already been corrected.

        So, I gave it a few days before coming back to check on that space and neglected to see whether the other typos in this chapter had been corrected before I made my post. In no way was a criticizing the author about edits, as I understand that minor errors happen while writing and WB already devotes a substantial amount of time writing Ward. It’s just that try to pay attention to small formatting things like that because he does occasionally play with the fourth wall using that mechanism.

        But, you’re right. I’ll give it a while and make sure the other edits have been made before jumping to any conclusions.

        1. Looks like some edits happened. The unfinished “The teams had finished picking” sentence is still there, as well as the “Tristan and Byron” situation or the unexplained absence of certain people in some of the previous chapters (especially Colt during the “charge along the tunnel” scene in chapter 15.2), but the odd three-line break is gone, and Samuel’s role after he left the group was taken over by Chastity and Juliette.

  28. It just hit me. Remember what Imp said in chapter 15.1 when the attackers found the room full of “inactive” Teacher’s thralls?

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

    Looks like her power lets her detect people’s awareness it suppresses. Shouldn’t it qualify Imp for a low level thinker classification?

    1. I think that we might have actually seen Imp utilizing this aspect of her power before. For example it could explain how Imp knew that Shadow Stalker was observing her and the Heartboken in Teneral e.2.

      1. Actually now that I think about it, the feedback from Imp’s power that effectively gives her a thinker rating was described even back in her interlude in arc 13 of Worm:

        Not that it was invisibility, really. It was memories. People forgot her as soon as they saw her, to the point that they didn’t register her presence. She could feel it, her power rolling over her skin, jabbing outward, invisible to sight, touch and anything else, making contact with the people around her and pushing those memories away.

        Now I feel dumb for not realizing back then that it effectively gave her an extra sense.

  29. >>Imp, at the end of the hallway, and a woman in black jeans and a white dress top, underweight and hair unbrushed.

    “What do you need?” the woman asked.

    Teacher: Sorry for the interruption my dear Fortuna, please continue.

    Contessa: Step 68 I hear fighting outside my cell, Step 69 Imp opens my cell door, Step 70 I walk out my cell with Imp, Step 71 I say “What do you need?”, Step 72…

    Next on Ward
    Teacher: Keikaku doori

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