Dying – 15.7

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

“This is the bogeyman?” I asked.

“Yes,” Sveta said, not sounding happy.

“Fuck yes,” Imp said, all excitement.  “Power: win.”

Win.  Sveta had mentioned her, but she hadn’t phrased it quite like that.  She’d called it powerful precognition, potentially the most powerful in the world.

Win, though?

“I prefer Contessa,” the woman said.  “One moment- forcefield.”

She pointed at me.

“Do it,” Imp said.

I activated my forcefield, just in time for the Custodian’s return.  She pushed, the Wretch pushed back.  The accumulated, sustained force drove me into the wall, and broke my forcefield.

But I wasn’t the target.  The force that was the Custodian rushed past me and down the hall, pushing past wires and over water, touching that water enough times to leave overlapping handprints and footprints.

My skin crawled as I shifted my position to better avoid the dangling wires.

Barely able to stand, Contessa raised her hands, fending off a similar onslaught.  Arms moved in minute, strict ways, her body twisted, one leg slightly raised, as she almost lost her balance, then regained it.

She spoke, while defending herself.

“He’s going to ask you to tear it down.”

There was a slight pause in the assault, then a sudden, violent strike.  A hand whipped out to catch a doorframe, and the woman altered the trajectory of her movement through the air, ducking low.  It bought her a second while the ambient force that was the custodian flowed around her, grabbing her and dragging her by inches, but not slamming her violently into the wall at the end of the hallway.

“Tool,” Contessa said, while she was unmolested enough to say something.  “Rain.”

“Tool?  Which tool?  What?” Rain asked.  No use.  Contessa was busy enough fending off a further assault that she didn’t have the breath.

“Any tool,” Imp said.  She stood with her back to the corner, arms folded, looking unruffled, even though the Custodian had come damn close to hurling Contessa into her.  “It’ll be what she needs.”

He reached into a discreet side pocket at his costume, where his pants were more rigid at the side with decorations.  He pulled out something that looked like pliers.


The woman continued to defend herself, fending off a thousand accumulated strikes by way of efficiency, deflecting the ones that would have driven the entire assault home.  She sidestepped an invisible attack, and the wall groaned behind her, white paint flaking off of plaster and wire mesh.

The assault was relentless, but didn’t seem to do enough.  Here and here, the woman slipped to one side.  She was picked up, slipped away from the Custodian’s grip, and wasn’t shoved or thrown, instead buying herself a second to speak.

“Wait three seconds, throw it into the ceiling, at eleven point five o’clock,” Contessa said.

The assault on Contessa stopped.  I could see movement through the water that pooled on the hallway’s floor, with the dangling wires sparking where they touched it.  All electrified, now with the Custodian rushing toward Precipice.

I got in the way, forcefield out.  She crashed into me, drove me back, and pushed me toward Rain, where the Wretch would have him in her reach.

Stay still, I thought, as we were pushed through wires, using my flight to push back against the driving, invisible force.  Don’t lash out, don’t bite.  I can’t control you but please, don’t do anything for two seconds.

I found myself within reach of Rain for a moment, but the Wretch didn’t strike him.  A second later, he was driven back.  The Custodian had flowed out and around me to attack him, picking him up.  Sveta reached out with tendrils to support him.  He used his power to lock himself in place.

Rain threw the tool.  I felt it hit the Wretch, not hard enough to break it, and it ended up going nowhere near the eleven o’clock direction.

But it hit live wires.  Sparks flew, and all of the lights went out, casting the hallway into near complete darkness.  Only a few small fires and costume details glowed.  I saw Rain fall to the ground.

“Once this facility has served its purposes, he will discard it.  He will ask you to help him build something new somewhere else.  You will be excited, initially.  A fresh start, a new build.  Then you will come to resent it.  You will hate him.  You will hate yourself.”

There was only silence.

“You will live for a very long time, Custodian.  It will be a long time of hating yourself.”

The lights came back on.  Red-tinted emergency lighting.

Contessa now stood in the water that had been electrified before.  The switch to emergency power had removed the hazard.  She brushed wires aside as she walked through them, putting a hand out to the wall for balance.

“You okay?” I asked Rain.

He nodded, the silver-white cracks and glowing eyes of his mask bobbing up and down.  “Where is the Custodian?”

“Gone,” Contessa said.  “But not done.  We should walk briskly.”

“Or run?” Byron asked.  He stood outside of this particular set of hallways.

“Walk briskly,” Contessa affirmed.  “Ask your questions, tell me what you need.”

“How does this work?” Capricorn asked.  Byron.  He’d been in the other hallway, and now stood at the door.

“She’s a genie,” Imp said.  “Make a wish.”

“It’s not quite that,” Contessa said.

“She decides the future outcome she wants, her power tells her how to get there, and she can do it in the blink of an eye.  So!  We need Teacher dead, defeated, or disabled,” Imp said.  “We need to deal with his cronies.  Bonus points if Teacher is disabled and at our mercy.  There’s stuff we want to ask and do.”

“We need to save the heroes.  As many people as we can,” I said.  “Save people in the city from the fallout of what Teacher wants to do.”

“No,” Sveta said.  “Those are important, but there’s another important question.  Can we even trust you?”

“It doesn’t matter if you do.”

“The way here wasn’t as hard as it was in other parts of the facility,” Sveta said.  “This feels like a setup.”

“It is set up, but not as you imagine,” Contessa said.  “I was resisting the influence of powers, maintaining a thought-loop.  He wanted to keep me close enough to keep an eye on me and regularly make his attempts at controlling me, but not so close that I could disrupt everything if I broke the loop myself.  Well before I could reach him, he’ll have Custodian activate failsafes in this section of the facility, something I can’t do anything to prevent, only mitigate.  He’ll use the delay to pull the trigger on his plan, disable my power in the process, and claim a complete and total victory.”

“Uh,” Imp said.

“You were one hundred percent sure we’d win, Imp?” Swansong asked, from the back.

“You tempted fate,” Juliette said.  “Tsk tsk.  Samuel would be so disappointed in you.”

“What the fuck?” Imp asked.

“There are options.  We can work within the confines of that reality if we move quickly and if you’re decisive as a group.”

“Why are we walking briskly, then?” Imp asked.  “If they’re going to, what, set this entire place on fire?  Blow it up?”

“Running would guarantee that many of us would die, because of where we would be when the Custodian acts.  At this pace we’ll be positioned so we survive, very dusty, some of us scraped up, but only superficially.”

“How blind are you?” Sveta asked.

“Blind?” Precipice asked, twisting around.

“Remember the briefing, we talked about assets Teacher might have?  She was one.”

“And we were supposed to let Valkyrie handle her if we could.  Run otherwise.”

“Because she’s blind around very powerful capes, or near certain effects, like messy portals, strong tinker devices, Endbringers, and Scion.  When the Irregulars attacked Cauldron, she was a big thing we had to plan around.”

“Yes.  Unfortunate.”

“We weren’t positive you weren’t behind Scion.  Objectively, looking Cauldron’s operations from the outside, you were outright evil and you seemed to be doing what Teacher is doing now.”

“I wasn’t the only person who was blind at that point in time,” Contessa said.  “Right now?  To answer your question, I’m unable to see Teacher, but I know enough to simulate him.  I can’t see the full cost or casualties of his endgame, but I can simulate those too.”

“Simulate,” Precipice said.

“Determine the outcome based on all known information and outside context.”

“So you could be wrong.”

“It is very rare, and even more rare that it matters enough to throw things into disarray.  For right now, I have to tell you I can’t do as you ask.”

“You can’t beat Teacher?” I asked.  “Because of the blind spot?”

“I can’t defeat him, spare as many of your allies’ lives as possible, and save the lives of people in the city.  Not as I or my power understand circumstances, and my power understands everything outside of the blind spots that are Teacher, Valkyrie, the Simurgh, and two broken triggers that authorities aren’t aware happened.”

“The Simurgh?  She’s here?” Rain asked.

“She’s still stationed in what used to be Brockton Bay, keeping company with the Titan.”

Imp groaned.  “You’re making me look awful here.  I promised these guys one hundred percent victory.”

“If you’d found me sooner, then I could have.”

“How do you know all of this if you were in a coma?” Sveta asked.  “The Simurgh, who’s where, what Custodian is doing?”

“I’m finding it out as I explain it to you.  I asked my power for the path to provide the explanation I need to give, that serves the purpose of filling me in on present circumstance.  When you talk among yourselves, I’m asking my usual questions.”

“Like how you can avoid being fucked over by a Stranger or Master in the next day or whatever,” Imp said.


“What are our options?” I asked.  “You said you can’t do all three?”

“First, I can stop Teacher directly.  He thinks he is out of my reach, but there are options.  He will pull the trigger on his plan, but I believe it can be mitigated.  This comes at a cost.  Your group here would split up and pull members away from Teacher’s retinue and into the field.  The fighting will be hard, violent, and many heroes currently fighting in this facility will die.  Because you’ll ask, one Undersider will die, two Heartbroken will, though there may be more casualties within the blind spot.  I’ll warn you, one member of Breakthrough will not die, but will suffer for so long it may as well be indefinite.  I would die.  The casualties would be mostly among the other capes in this facility.”

“What the fuck?” Imp asked.  “Who dies?”

“Telling you disrupts the end result.  More would die as a consequence.  Besides, you don’t want to know.”

Imp had asked it so quickly.  Who dies?

But heroes were self-sacrificing.  To put on a costume and go out to fight and make the world better meant we were inherently willing to put our lives and well being on the line.

If we held a vote, wouldn’t the heroes agree that the option with the best outcome was the one where the heroes gave their lives?

Was that even fair to ask?  Breakthrough sacrificed… one member to suffering?  I wasn’t sure how to wrap my head around that.

Contessa went on, “The city will be relatively unscathed, but the lack of heroes will have long-term consequences.  There will be a period lasting a year and a half where villains rule it, because heroes cannot put up enough of a fight.”

“Not necessarily so bad,” Imp said.

“It would be bad.  Endemic corruption, civilian lives lost.”

“Fuck off!  Stop making me look bad!”

“Since we know, can’t we do something about it?” Byron asked.  “The villains ruling?”

“The only things you could do would be immaterial or would require action now, which would make other results worse.  The three plans I’m listing are already assuming best choices made.”

I summed it up, “Teacher gets defeated, his plan derailed… his best, most dangerous capes?”

“They’re close enough to Teacher I cannot say for certain, but they have good odds of being defeated and executed.”

I continued summing it up, “Heroes die en masse, city suffers-”

“Moderate consequence due to the loss of heroes.”

“What’s option two?” Imp asked.

“Executing his plan requires his devoted attention.  We allow him to pull the trigger and we use that opportunity to close in on him, subverting his control over his ‘cronies’, as you put it.”

“That was Imp,” I said.  “Isn’t that really bad for the city?”

“Hundreds of thousands of lives would likely be lost.  But heroes would be largely unscathed, and would go nowhere near the blind spot.  The disrupted portals could be closed.  Heroes would assert dominance over the villains in the aftermath, in part with my assistance.  In the long term, objectively speaking, it provides the best, healthiest outcome.”

“Hundreds of thousands,” I said.

“Including people you know.  For Antares, a list would include names like Jasper and Presley, these names mean something to you.  Presley matters to Swansong.  For Precipice, nobody you know intimately, but Erin’s mother would die, as would the boy you talk to while waiting for the train.  For Capricorn, Luciana and Sofia, Jaqueline.”

“I don’t know a Jaqueline,” Byron said, before blurring.

“The fucking noodle shop girl?” Tristan asked.

“Sveta, it would be Thad and Adah.”

“The kids Weld and I would watch sometimes.”

Contessa turned to look at Love Lost, who had emerged from one hallway, and she had no names for her.  She addressed Colt, who stood behind Love Lost, instead.  “Reese.”

“What about people we know?” Imp asked.

“Do you really want to know?” Juliette asked.  “Really?”

“Telling you runs the risk of cementing your feelings on the question.  You wouldn’t make an objective choice.”

“As opposed to saying an Undersider dies?” Imp asked.

“It’s Cassie,” Chastity said.  “I can’t think of anyone who is as important to enough of us.”


“Letting you come to the conclusion makes it softer.”

“Does it?” Sveta asked.  “I can’t help but feel manipulated.  Once you do your thing, if there are no blind spots around, don’t we effectively lose all free will?  You can guide us to whatever conclusion you want.  The outcome is decided.”

“I could guide you to any conclusion I wanted without giving you a list of options to choose from.”

My heart did a kind of double-beat, hard in my chest, before launching into a rapid-fire beat, the danger of this whole circumstance making itself abundantly clear.

“I determined the three outcomes you would collectively be least unhappy with, and stopped asking there.”

“Why not push further?” Sveta asked.  “Why not use your power to choose?”

“Because determining victory here requires a hard and firm decision on what victory looks like.  Maximum lives saved?  Best long-term outcome?  Do you want your enemy dead?”

“And you can’t choose yourself?” Sveta sounded accusatory.  I didn’t blame her.

“I’ve only stopped and made choices for myself five significant times since Cauldron began.  Three of those times, the outcomes were catastrophic.  One of them led to my being captured.  The other two times, the outcomes were neutral.  Here, with the stakes as high as they are, I won’t gamble and I won’t make my own decision about what ‘victory’ is.”

“Teacher defeated with plan disrupted, heroic losses, city suffers moderately,” I said.  “Teacher pulls the trigger before being defeated, minimal or no heroic losses, city suffers deaths in the hundreds of thousands-”

“Suffering only in the short term,” Contessa said.  “Benefit in the long, excepting interference of a blind spot.”

“Blind spot could mean the option where people suffer in the long run doesn’t happen, then,” I said.

“It is not in my experience that a blind spot affecting my outcomes ever helps.  But it’s possible.”

Right.  Fine.  Shit.

“Or?” Tristan asked.  “Third option?”

“Or Teacher likely gets away, his plan disrupted, the heroes suffer moderate losses, the city suffers moderate losses.  No more than four thousand injured or dead.”

“That’s supposed to be a result we’re happy with?” Tristan asked.

“There is nuance.  Teacher has a good chance of escape, his plan disrupted, he attempts some more operations, proving to be a headache for you and other heroes, but is soon captured.  There is a chance he dies before leaving this facility- I can’t see or simulate enough about him to know with any certainty.  It’s immaterial.”

“It’s not,” Imp said.  “That bag of rats clothed in human skin needs to be gone.”

I privately agreed.

“In this third outcome, no notable heroes die.  Less civilians die overall than in the other two options.”

“Meaning the drawback is that we potentially have to put up with Teacher for a little while.”

“There’s a ‘but’,” Ashley said.  “There’s more.”

“Two members of Breakthrough are removed from the equation as a result.  One endures some torment for… quite some time.”


I looked back at my team.

Why were two of the options so awful for us?

Beat Teacher unequivocally, limit the damage, good heroes die en masse, including some of our team. Long-term damage and trouble for the city, with a moderate number of deaths as a casualty.

Let him pull the trigger, spare the heroes, massive civilian deaths and damage to the city.  Potential long-term benefit.

Let him escape for later capture.  Moderate hero deaths.  Low civilian deaths.  But half my fucking team would die.

“What about Undersiders?” Imp asked.

“No deaths.”

“Oh, shit,” Imp said.  “Sorry, Breakthrough.  I’m afraid that’s the option we’re going with.”

“One Heartbroken,” Contessa said.

Fuck off.  If it weren’t for me, we wouldn’t have come to rescue you.  You owe me.  Give me better futures!”

We were in the area that fed into the cells, white hallways and corridors all tinted red with the emergency lighting.  Boxes and storage cases were inset into the wall.

“I can’t agree with the way you’re doing this,” Sveta said.

Contessa stopped walking.

“Reducing it down to these big, blunt abstracts.  Option A, option B, option C.  You’re slinging the trolley problem at us, and I can’t help but feel it’s Teacher having a laugh.”

“When you decide the outcome first and results are virtually assured, then it’s inevitable that it’s reduced to these kinds of decisions.  Always maddeningly hard ones, both good, both bad.  This is how Cauldron operates.  Let me know when you’ve made your collective decision.  For now, Sveta, would you climb into this box?”

Sveta gave the woman a dubious look.

“You’ll be fine.  Excuse me for being abrupt, but the rest of us must go,” Contessa said, before turning and moving on.

I remained where I was, as the group moved on, staying close to Sveta.  Love Lost and Colt were stragglers, and they were last to leave earshot.

“I hate her,” Sveta said.  “I hate what she represents.  ‘This is how Cauldron operates’.  Fuck that.”

I nodded.

“I don’t like any of these options.  Isn’t it better to have hope things will all be okay?”

“Yeah.  Probably.  But this might be what we have to do.”

“I hate it.  ‘This is how my power works’.  Yeah, except she talks about the end result, and skips the whole part of how we get there.  I guess we figure that out, right?  But don’t mind me, Contessa, I’m just one of the things you used to get to one of your optimal destinations.”

She touched her cheekbone, where the tattoo marked her face.

I didn’t have words, so I gave her a hug.  The armguard I wore was awkward, and Sveta’s costume had too many pokey bits, so it wasn’t the hug I wanted to give her.

She broke away, her arm dissolving into a mess of thin tendrils, which she used to reach up to the box lid.  Her control faltered, and for several long seconds, her power gripped the various parts of the tote-like container, the hinges, tugged it nearly off the shelf.

“I hate this,” she said, before concentrating for a moment to assert her control.  She opened the box, reached up to the shelf above it to lift herself over, and then climbed in.

I flew after the group.  I found them in the room with the computers, alongside Rachel, Imp, two Harbingers, two Mortari capes, Foil and Parian.  Chastity was staying close to Rachel, talking to her.  Rachel was eating out of what looked like one of Teacher’s ration kits for his thralls, nodding her head.

We’d known the Undersiders and Harbingers would be in the area.

Chastity looked scared, and I couldn’t blame her.  Whatever option we chose, Heartbroken died, or her best friend did.  It almost looked like she would cry, but a smile on her face and a persistent, constant talking under her breath to Rachel kept her from stepping over that ledge.

It made me think of Kenzie.

Kenzie wouldn’t be untouched either.  Heartbroken or Breakthrough, she would take it hard, unless we chose the option where we let Teacher pull the trigger, hurt the city and kill civilians, while leaving the heroes unscathed.

“…help in the blind spot,” one of the Harbingers said.  He smiled.

“Please do,” Contessa said.  “That makes things more consistent.  Antares, now that you’re here, could you take one of the dogs?  Into the room behind you.  Some of your teammates are there.”

“We’re just going into a room?”

Rachel put the ration kit down, bent down, and straightened up with a dog under one arm.  She approached, carrying a smaller dog under one arm.

Contessa explained, “After three impacts, use your forcefield.  I gave instructions to the others.  Go now, be ready.  Discuss what you want.  I’ll have further instructions after you’ve come to your decision.”

I wanted to ask questions, to say something.

Rachel handed me the dog.  It was a chihuahua that might have been inbred, its teeth sticking out at one side, hair in a tuft that tried to become a mane, tracing down the back of the neck, while being too thin.  More wispy fur extended around its paws.  It made its best attempt at a deep-in-the-throat growl, which was less intimidating than me saying ‘urrrrr’ might have been.

“Hi Yips,” I said.

“Good remembering,” Rachel said.  “Look after him.”

“Absolutely,” I said.

I walked away, dog in the crook of my arm, periodically turning its head around.  It stared at Ashley and Rain, growling, turned its head, and seemed to notice I was there, jumping a little, before yipping and barking.  Like it had fucking forgotten I was carrying it in the five seconds it was focused on  something else.

The room that looked like a conference room, with a whiteboard on the wall with lots of chemical formulas written on it.  Within the room, Ashley and Rain were waiting, Rain sitting on the table, Ashley by the wall.

“Are we supposed to discuss this?” Rain asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I feel like it’s a personal decision, and it’s not really a decision we have any right to make.”

“Maybe we write it on our hands?” he asked.  “We show each other simultaneously, so we don’t influence each other.”

It felt like such a shitty way to decide on so many lives.

“Yeah, if we don’t come up with anything better.  Where’s Capricorn?”

“Filling an elevator shaft with water.”

I could see through the open door as Contessa worked on the computer.  At least we had a bit of a reprieve.  She wasn’t running for cover, and I didn’t hear anything, let alone any impacts.

The Harbingers were sticking close.  Contessa pointed in the direction of the elevators, then at our group.  A third point was aimed in Sveta’s direction, where the massive storage totes were.  Both Harbingers turned their heads around to look.

“How are your ribs?” I asked Swansong.

“Fine,” she said, the answer terse.

“She got shoved by the Custodian.  It bled pretty badly.”

“I stopped the bleeding.  It’s not a problem, I’m good to fight.”

I turned around, looking for the whiteboard markers, and found one on the ground.  It seemed to be a permanent marker, used to draw the lines that sub-divided partitions and portions of the whiteboard and write headers.  A part of me wanted to grab another marker, but it felt petty and weird to do so when handling a decision like this.

I pulled off my glove, and, after some consideration, I wrote down my preference for the plan, the handwriting awkward because I couldn’t write on my injured hand, so I was forced to write on my right hand with my left, which had the armguard and buckler around it, and a squirmy dog under my arm.

Then I pulled my glove back on using my teeth, covering the letters.  Rain put his hand out for the marker, and I gave it to him.

“1, 2, or 3?”

“I used ABC.”

“I’ll do the same then.”

Contessa was still at the computer.  I closed my eyes, shutting out the rest of the world while I thought to myself.  In the doing, accidentally opened the map from Lookout’s tech.

Lookout had a question:

what r the letters for?

I found another marker, and wrote on the whiteboard.  Making a decisionCan you ask the others to vote too?  Write it down for after?

sure thing!!

Swansong pulled her costume’s shoulder strap away from her shoulder, and she wrote something there, her back to us, before lifting the strap up to cover it.

“My power would erase anything I wrote on my palm.”

“Of course.”

Contessa, still at the computer.  The Harbingers were gone.

Whatever she was doing was working.  When I switched my view away from the map and to Kenzie’s diagram of the facility’s infrastructure, I could see that Kenzie was making headway.  I could see some messages between her and the computer console Contessa was at.

I cannot work with tinkertech or tinker code but I can give you the boot passwords to the server terminals.  Old data is still on the systems, heavily encrypted. 

i reset & access old system archetecture in at boot lvl???


d-  ! _ !  d-

It felt like we should be going after Teacher, not waiting.  The Custodian would be telling Teacher that Contessa was out, he would be making plans to pull the trigger, whatever the fuck that was supposed to mean.

“When do we reveal the letter we chose?” Swansong asked.

“Or letters.  If you’re okay with multiple ones,” I said.  “For a certain use of ‘okay’.”

“When?” she asked.

“After this supposed trap of Custodian’s.”

“We should ask others,” she was uncharacteristically quiet.

“If we get a chance,” I said.

“I feel like I’m getting more blood on my hands no matter what I choose.  And it’s going to be people I know, no matter what I choose?  People I barely know.”

I clenched my teeth, looking away.

“More blood-” Ashley started.  She stopped as she felt it.

I expected a blast, a rumble.  I expected Contessa to get off the computer in advance of the attack.  Instead, the explosion was dull, like all the air was sucked out of the room.  The room distorted, the floor dipping in one corner.

In the center of the room with the computer terminals, I saw a pillar plunge into the floor, the ceiling turning into a cone around it, dipping down.  Dust plumed up and out, and Contessa turned her head, raising a thin arm to cover her face with her arm and the fabric of her shirt.

The Custodian is collapsing this section of the facility, I thought.  All of it?

The entire terminal room followed the pillar down, concrete cracking and tearing, rebar exposed, dust pluming, and lights going out.  White tile and wall segments broke away, bounced, clattered, all illuminated by the red of the emergency lights.

Our room was next, the floor cracking with a violent shudder, then dropping away.  We fell in darkness, no cues, no idea of what to avoid.  Yips struggled violently, shrieking as he fought to get away from my grip.

The floor crashed into the floor beneath.  Half the room bucked, forcing us into one corner of the space, dangerously close to one another.  Things groaned, but I could hear the cascading destruction as the floor we were now resting on collapsed as well.

Had to get away.  If I didn’t, using the Wretch would kill the others.  I fought to fly and crawl to a more enclosed area of the room.

Rain used silver blades, drawing out lines.

The floor gave away.  We dropped, hitting the floor beneath that.  The weight of concrete and material slamming into the floor was too much, and the third impact came before I was done grunting from the second.

I used my power, pushing out- and the violence of the fourth impact saw concrete that had been in slabs coming apart into chunks as big as my head, illuminated only by the silver blades from Rain’s power.

Ashley used her power, blasting, as I tumbled, letting myself fall because any of the added velocity from flying could be dangerous.  I had no idea if I was falling into the blast, but I did know the corner I’d wedged myself into prior to using the Wretch wasn’t there anymore, and if I’d stayed I’d have been pulverized.

She continued using her power, blasting continuously, while I lay where I was, cradling the animal that had gone utterly still, only breathing with explosive pants that seemed to double how big it was.  I didn’t get the impression it was Rachel’s power.

“Everyone okay?” Rain asked.  His voice was muffled.

I panted for breath, nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see me any more than I could see him.  “Yeah.”

“Yes,” Swansong said, grunting.

The slabs had fallen in such a way that we were in a bit of a lean-to, an intact section of metal pipping holding up a slab so it formed a triangular prism.

Yips began to expand.  This time, it wasn’t because of breathing.  I pushed him away.

Concrete cracked and groaned.  I remained ready to use my power-

I closed my eyes and held my breath as choking dust flowed into our little piece of safe ground.  I waited until my lungs were fit to burst, then breathed through my sleeve.  I regretted it as I choked on dry dust, coughing.

When I opened my eyes, I could see lights, so distant and numerous that they could have been stars of the night sky.  Except they were ordered in rows and columns.

I looked up, and I saw they were ceiling lights, on a floor far above where we had been.  Past the choking dust, I could make out the skeletal rows and columns of walls and floors, from the parts of the facility that were still intact, surrounding us on four sides.

Too many had thralls perched on them, staring down at us.  Many of those thralls were armed.  We stood in no man’s land, an area of devastation so vast I knew that even if I’d flown from the moment the Custodian had disappeared, ducking and weaving through corridors, I might not have escaped the full breadth of the damage.

And yet even with all of that gone, we were still indoors, still surrounded by facility.  By thralls.

Yips, instead of waiting and letting us assess the situation, heaved himself free of the concrete slab that was now resting against him.  Monstrous and the size of a horse, he shook the dust off.

Byron was wet, joined by the Harbingers and Mortari capes.  The remains of the elevator were a spear of metal, stabbing skyward.

Contessa straightened, dusting herself off.

“His lieutenants are here.  They know how I operate, so they’ll be careful,” she said.  “They’ll be sure to only engage me from a distance, but that doesn’t mean they won’t target you if they can.  Be ready.”

I could see Saint’s angel craft.  I could see costumed figures with glowing points on their armor, that could have been the Speedrunners.  Could have been anything.  I saw Scapegoat, Black Lamb, whatever he called himself.  Had to be, with the motif to his helmet.  He wore tinker gear.

I used flight to straighten myself up, because I still didn’t have my sea legs after that drop.  Ashley got to her feet, hand at her ribs, in an uncharacteristic show of weakness.  Rain remained crouching, looking around.

“I’ll need your decision,” Contessa said, before stepping forward to pick a fight with what looked like half of Teacher’s facility.

Previous Chapter                                                                                       Next Chapter

245 thoughts on “Dying – 15.7”

  1. Fuck yeah. Approval voting. Antares, and Wildbow, are doin’ this right (as far as possible given the crappy options).

    Not finished reading this chapter yet but I had to say that.

    1. OK, done now. Here’s what I was referring to:

      “Or letters. If you’re okay with multiple ones,” I said. “For a certain use of ‘okay’.”

      The option of choosing more than one acceptable outcome makes it approval voting, and thus helps prevent one option from winning purely because of vote-splitting between the other two similar options. There are other voting methods which would be even better at preventing such perverse outcomes, but none of them would be perfect, and approval voting is by far the simplest and thus the only one that could be explained in two words (“or letters”). Given the short time available it’s their best way to decide.

      1. I’m seriously impressed with both Antares and Wildbow for this. Most characters and most authors would not have gotten it this right, and it was conveyed in-story with maximum economy. Yet another example of why this is the shit right here.

        1. I made a comment that got sequestered for moderation. Here it is, without the links:

          If you’re interested in using approval voting in the real world — specifically, in the USA — then check out the Center for Election Science. Disclaimer: I’m a board member.

          Or you could just vote for Ward — and any other web fiction you enjoy — on topwebfiction: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=ward

  2. “I can’t defeat him, spare as many of your allies lives as possible, and save the lives of people in the city.”

    -Yep, I was right when I said that Contessa will get nerfed but at least its HER (not someone else pretending to be her), she’s not compromised and she have her powers back. My favorite Cauldron member is BACK, yaaaaaaaaaaay.

    “I’ll warn you, one member of Breakthrough will not die, but will suffer for so long it may as well be indefinite. ”


    “one Undersider will die, two Heartbroken will”


    ” I would die.”


    “It would be bad. Endemic corruption, civilian lives lost.”

    -As long as Teacher will lose, I can agree with these small sacrifices.

    -The second outcome is even worse.

    “There is nuance. Teacher has a good chance of escape, his plan disrupted, he attempts some more operations, proving to be a headache for you and other heroes, but is soon captured. There is a chance he dies before leaving this facility- I can’t see or simulate enough about him to know with any certainty. It’s immaterial.”

    “In this third outcome, no notable heroes die. Less civilians die overall than in the other two options.”


    BUT…. “Two members of Breakthrough are removed from the equation as a result. One endures some torment for… quite some time.”


    -I can’t see anyone suffer but him.


    1. – “I’ll warn you, one member of Breakthrough will not die, but will suffer for so long it may as well be indefinite. ”

      At a guess, this is might be one of the Capricorn bros. Maybe Tristain, just for that poetic “you might be redeemed, but justice is blind, deaf, and dumb.”

      1. Either Rain will suffer and Ashley will die or one of the Capricorn brothers will die and the other one will be stuck into his body forever.

          1. I don’t know, Kenzie could be suffering being seperated from all her friends. Or Vicky gets badly injured and her legal next of kin, her mom decides that if it means sending her to Amy to be fixed, they are sending her to Amy…

          2. The sudden turn to “Get in the box, Sveta,” is pretty fun. She’s sadly used to that.

            I like how Contessa’s power is – as usual – a double edged sword. Usual both specifically and for powers in general.

      2. The wording of choice A is very… specific in a red flag vague sort of way. It does NOT say only one member of Breakthrough will have bad things happen. It says only one member will not die but instead suffer. That wording leaves it utterly open that every other member WILL die. One will not die, but will suffer, while the rest die is a completely valid interpretation. I do not trust that phrasing whatsoever.

      3. – well. This is it. The Contessa “white room” fight that versus fanboys who don’t really get her power have been picking over for years
        – Imp and Contessa, buddy cops. Make it so
        – you all do realize that Contessa is under no obligation to tell them the actual truth. She says the words that make their neurons fire in x patterns to produce y actions and thus z outcomes
        – thus Options A, B and C mean nothing at all in the grand scheme of things

        1. When we saw her in action previously, she’d had plans in motion for years. Here, she has seconds to minutes. The fact that she can even survive a full-out onslaught from the Custodian, without any physical powers, bespeaks an insane power level.

        2. The physically impossible is still impossible. There was no means by which she could escape the area the Custodian destroyed with the materials and time she had, and there’s no plan by which she can accomplish everything. It’s not completely impossible, but is impossible for her with what she has to work with. Much like she couldn’t explain everything, save her family, and defeat the Entities in her interlude in Worm. From Interlude 29:

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


          He power doesn’t make the impossible possible, it makes anything technically possible relatively easy for her.

          1. The way I see it is that for Contessa, for every desired result, if the probablity of it occuring isn’t zero, her power makes it a guarantee. As in unless it’s literally impossible, her power makes it a guarantee.

            In this situation, the best possible outcome isn’t very good. It’s not like Contessa has Eidolon’s power too – she can only do what’s parahumanly possible.

        3. Contessa: What is the path to getting to the moon in the next 5 seconds?

          PtV: just jump really fast lol

    2. I mean… this isn’t exactly Contessa being Nerfed- this is exactly the sort of trolley problem bullshit that we watched Cauldren deal with EVERY DAY.

      This is in some sense…. entirely consistent with past instances of Contessa’s powers, its just usually we see it Insta-winning at a tactical level… instead of being forced to make tactical trade offs at the strategic level.

      Personally…. I think that they need to decide if they want Contessa around any more. If they do, then she is enough of an asset that option A should be written off instantly- She is too damn valuable.

      If on the other hand they decide that she is too dangerous and too amoral to survive, then picking options that end with her gone is much more palatable.

      Also, gotta say- I love Imp’s “This is bullshit, you owe me one. Give me better futures!”

      1. They should keep her around (she’s too valuable for them right now when they have two fight half of teacher’s zombies) and choose outcome 3 (less civilians and heroes victims and some sacrifices made by Breakthrough and Heartbroken. This is what I’ll personally choose.

          1. Better less devastation and more win for everyone, with small sacrifices, of course. Two members of Breakthrough getting screwed and moderate losses among heroes (plan B) sound much more better than so many civilian dying (plan B). I can see Antares sacrificing half of team for the greatest good. She’ll choose plan C. Not even Imp agrees with plan B so I doubt they’ll choose it.

        1. The only option they can reasonably choose is C.

          I find it interesting Contessa even offers one choice that ends in herself (and probably most capes) being killed. Pretty heroic. Also short sighted.

          1. Well, Contessa listed three options she determined the people she was talking to would be most happy with, and I’m pretty sure that at least some of them wouldn’t mind all that much if something bad happened to her, even if they would never admitted it to themselves…

            Yes, I’m looking at you Sveta.

          2. In Worm, the Doctor claims she’ll accept any punishment after/if Scion is defeated. That may have been Contessa’s view as well. She may have decided that her actions in Worm deserved death, so it’s okay if she dies.

          3. I also suspect that it may be the case, but I don’t think letting Contessa die is the right thing to do, despite the fact that there are a lot of people around that have very good reasons to hate her. I think that as great as her sins are, she deserves her second chance just like everyone else.

          4. @Alfaryn
            I dont think she really is that “Guilty”.
            Her power showed her the best path to get humanity through awful odds. And it required awful sacrifices. But in the end humanity did pull through and they probably wouldnt have without Cauldron.
            Contessa is a good person who is forced into awful choices.

          5. I would say that in my opinion a lot of harm that Contessa did was caused by the fact that she didn’t have a good enough moral compass, and never even really tried to find one. She actually surrounded herself with amoral people like Number Man, who in his interlude had this to say about morals:

            Another delusion perpetuated by society. Useful, valuable, much like commerce, but still a delusion. It only served its purpose so long as it was more constructive than not adhering to those beliefs, but people often lost sight of the fact, made it out to be something it wasn’t.

            Alexandria was pretty much the same in my opinion, and Doctor Mother – probably not much better. Eidolon was focused too much on himself and his desire to be the one performing all those “heroic” deeds he wanted to do to be the voice of conscience in this group. And don’t even get me started on Custodian…

            How am I supposed to believe that Contessa couldn’t do better if she allowed people like that to decide what counted as victory?

            Of course Contessa appears to understand that, and is willing to change. In fact I got a feeling that one of the big reasons why Contessa talked to Taylor at the end of arc 30 of Worm was to see if Taylor had a good moral compass, and maybe take some inspiration from it just like Valkyrie had seemed to do. I also think that some of the actions that Contessa has taken from that point on (even certain small things that she did in this chapter) indicate her willingness to change, and to make up for the harm she has done in the past as well as she can. Even her choice of people who get to vote on which Path she should take seems to indicate that Contessa wants to be a morally better person.

            It is precisely this willingness to change, to take responsibility for tha harm she has done and to seek for morally better people to guide her that makes me say that she should get a second chance, but it doesn’t change the fact that she did a lot of horrible things in the past, a lot of which she probably could have avoided if she chose her companions better and focused more on avoiding harming people while pursuing her goal of defeating Scion more. In other words Contessa has a lot to regret and to atone for in my opinion. Good thing is that she seems to be not only willing to do so, but even already taking steps in that direction – from implying in her last conversation with Taylor that she does have regrets, through looking for people who could serve as a better “moral compass” for her, to taking actions to repair the damage she has done in the past as well as she can (for example I suspect that the reason, or at least a big part of the reason she gave Kenzie access to old, encrypted Cauldron files is to make sure that C53s will be able to find out whatever is there about their individual pasts even if the complex is destroyed together with its databases, and she dies, which seems to be a likely outcome of option A).

      2. Assuming that what Contessa told Custodian was true, they will most likely not choose option A.

        1. Regarding cape deaths predicted by various options, I wonder if those deaths can be arranged to happen where Valkyrie can “harvest” them?

          There is also an option D by the way – deny Contessa’s help, and hope that they can achieve better results without it.

          I can’t wait to see which character chose which option(s). I feel that it will tell a lot about their personalities.

          Finally I wonder if Contessa had Sveta go into that container to spare her from having to participate in this vote. It seems obvious that just having to do it would break poor Sveta’s heart.

          1. You’re right that option D is to turn Contessa down. But in that and all other options, what they do or do not hope for is irrelevant.

          2. I can see almost everyone choose either A or C, except for Capricorn brothers and Harbingers. Harbingers will not care about civilian loses as long as Teacher will get defeated and Capricorn will be afraid that they’ll be Breakthrough casualties (one will die one will suffer for eternity. Sound rather like their situation).

          3. To be fair, while option D exist in theory, I doubt it will win, simply because it apparently wasn’t even discussed before everyone’s voted (unless some of the people who were supposed to cast their votes via Kenzie brought it up when Victoria wasn’t looking at the “team chat”).

          4. > There is also an option D by the way – deny Contessa’s help, and hope that they can achieve better results without it.

            And this option is designated as D for a very good reason – because it’s a sure way to win a Darwin Award! Yay!

          5. I actually don’t think “Option D” exists in a practical sense: I think it’s likely impossible that this option would be chosen.

            Contessa didn’t want to be the one to make a choice, but she did want a choice to be made. I think Contessa probably asked her power for the options that the heroes would be willing to chose from. As in “Give me the path to providing three options to this cape contingency so that they would definitively chose one of the three options”.

            So I think our protagonists here have the freedom to choose whatever they want, but I don’t believe that “Option D” is a possible outcome.

          6. @T.T.O.

            Well, I did write that option D is based on hope that the heroes can get better results without Contessa’s help than with it, and it has been said that hope is a mother of fools…

          7. Or should I say “hope is the mother of fools”. Translating proverbs from a language with no definite and indefinite articles to English can lead to interesting dilemmas. I googled how it has been done by other people, and even found “hope is the mother of the fools” on the first page of results.

        2. Wait and see how they’ll choose plan C, most of them. Teacher will escape on the moment but I don’t mind. His plan will fail and he’ll be defeated afterwards. Knowing Wildbow, he’ll make us cry over the death of some Breakthrough members and knowing that no heroes will die in B…they’ll either choose between A or C.

          1. Well, considering what I just wrote above, the words that Contessa said to Custodian seem like a foreshadowing indicating that A won’t be taken, so I guess it is going to be a C? That would also be my “gut feeling” – C seems to be the most “heroic” of the three options, and I think that the voters are heroic enough to choose it.

            Which means that one of the Vera brothers will probably die (meaning that the other one will be left to suffer in total sensory deprivation until their shard runs out of power). Who will the other people who are supposed to die be? My gut says that the Breakthrough member will be Ashley (like I told long time ago Swansong’s death may serve as a “wake up” call for her “sister”, which could be interesting story-wise). Not sure about the Heartboken, but I think that out of all of them who are in the complex, Chastity’s death would probably be most painful to us, so I’m afraid she is at the most risk right now.

            One hope is that Valkyrie is supposed to be one of Contessa’s “blind spots”, so none of the capes who will end up dying have to stay dead. Maybe Valkyrie will end up saving two Vera brothers for the cost of resurrecting only one? By the way, it would be interesting to see how her power interacts with shards which are connected to more than one person, some of which are still alive. Vera brothers AND Ashleys just happen to be such people…

          2. Here is a theory about how Valkyrie’s power may work with Capricorn. One that may lead to the happy ending for both brothers despite death of one of them.

            If one of them gets killed, the other one will be trapped in another universe, but in a location that corresponds to the place his brother’s dead body occupies. This may keep their shard from “escaping”, so Valkyrie may be able to “harvest” the dead brother hours, or even days after his death. Then Valkyrie may be able to use the dead brother’s power to bring the pull the living brother out of his “limbo” to whatever Earth his dead brother’s body would end up occupying. Form that point on we would only need Nilbog to create a new body for the dead brother to “resurrect” him.

            The final effect would be that both brothers would end up alive, in separate bodies, and on an Earth or Earths occupied by humans, effectively ending their C70 situation.

            How does it sound as a reward for taking the heroic option?

            The best thing is that it may happen despite Contessa foreseeing an almost ethereal torment for one of the brothers, because not only Valkyrie herself is supposed to be Contessa’s blind spot, but also the power interactions needed to execute the scenario that I described above may create a blind spot by themselves.

            The only two problems are:
            – what would happen to the Heartboken who is also supported to die if option C is selected,
            – who other member of Breakthrough is supposed to be “taken out of the equation” (that is if Contessa didn’t mean being trapped in “limbo” as “being taken out of the equation”, which I guess she might – it would even explain why she didn’t simply say “Two members of Breakthrough will die.”)

        3. What Contessa told Custodian didn’t have to be true- she said the things that would be most effective at demoralising Custodian and making her doubt.

          And in any of the three options, if Teacher survives he’ll move out and have Custodian build somewhere new.

          1. Sure, it didn’t have to be true… but it seemed to sound like a foreshadowing of things to come, and we know that Wildbow likes to drop those from time to time.

            Of course he also likes to surprise us from time to time, and since we do expect foreshadowings from him, he could use Contessa’s words as a red herring this time.

          2. Of course there is one more reason for Contessa to tell Custodian the truth – it would help her maintain her reputation as one of the scariest capes around to never lie when she promises such painful fate to her opponents. And this reputation probably goes a long way to keep Contessa both safe and effective beyond the time horizon she can predict with her power.

            In other words – if she wants to defeat someone in next few days, she can ask her power to do it. If she wants to make sure that she will be able to play her role in the Cauldron for next few decades, she needs to keep her reputation as a bogeyman, and making sure that her “prophecies of doom” always turn out to be true is a great way to do so. Obviously there is a question – does she still want to be the bogeyman, and why would she even care about her reputation if option A was selected? After all that option is supposed to result in her death…

        4. If Path to Victory determined it was more advantageous to tell the Custodian that she was going to present a choice to the group, she would have phrased it in if/thens. As it is, she’s laying the foundation to best launch any of the plans from, regardless of the truth of the statement.

    3. Contessa isn’t nerfed. Her power has always been narrowed by the available circumstances, and is exponentially more powerful when she is seeking a temporally-distant outcome, and when she has control over the terms of engagement with whatever enemies she has to deal with. It’s a GOOD!Broken shard, so she can see blindspots or no-win situations and avoid them if she’s looking enough in advance, but she’s still fundamentally limited by the circumstances. In theory, it would have been possible to kill her while she was locked in that room, for instance (and the fact that teacher didn’t have a ‘flood room with neurotoxin switch’ is making me hella suspicious), because being in a room she cannot escape, with no one to actively influence, should make her power much weaker.

    4. Torment?
      At this point, that’s Kenzie.
      I’m not sure why people are particularly thinking Rain.
      Diffusing Kenzie’s torment would take a LOT of work.
      Ashley may be out after this.

    5. It’s not really needing when it’s following the same limirations it had previously. Perhaps you weren’t paying attention.

  3. Fortuna: So at the end of Worm, I decided to make my own decisions and try to put together an ethical framework that worked for me with the vast consequences of my power.

    That was a horrible mistake. Who volunteers to be my next Doctor Mother?

    Poor Fortuna.

  4. Contessa: “This is Morton’s Trident. Please select your preferred moral compromise from the options given. While you’re doing that, here’s a list of seemingly arbitrary and random tasks you’ll need to complete, because I already know what your choice is going to be and we need to prepare ahead of time.”

    Imp: “I just want what’s best for the people I care about, why you gotta spell out the consequences of our actions in minute detail like that?”

    Victoria: “I’m going to bear the weight of this responsibility, and second-guess myself every time I think back on it for the next three years.”

    Sveta: “Fucking precogs.”

    1. Rain: Man I sure hope she’s wrong about someone suffering endlessly with all these death flags I’ve been planting all over the place.

    2. She doesn’t know what they’re going to pick; she’s specifically not doing that. The instructions she gave were “how to survive to the end of the chapter”.

    1. To be fair to Practical Guide, the last month or so of chapters have been some of the highest-quality writing I have read… anywhere. EE is really outdoing himself lately

  5. Option “B”, please. A fortunate side-effect is alleviating somewhat the food pressure over the winter.

    Of course, there’s no way they’ll choose that, so Victoria (or is it Kenzie?) will be suffering for a long time.

    1. B is probably the least probable vote from Breakthrough. Of course, they’re not the only ones around right now.
      A or C are still going to hurt, regardless.
      We got a decent heads-up this time, though. Time to brew some fresh tears I suppose.

      Hmm… hopelessness and misery sound about the right flavour for this.

      1. Option B is the worst. “Hundreds of thousands of lives would likely be lost.” I’d rather see Rain suffering (when he’ll ever stop suffering) or Capricorn brothers get screwed than so many civilians dying. Heroes have to sacrifice in order to save lives,right? This is their job. My opinion is that most of them will be ok with the C option.

        1. Option B is clearly the best option, though: sacrificing a fraction of the City’s population for the greater good of those who remain.

          1. But C is the most heroic one. Heroes will rather sacrifice themselves so most of the City will survive. This is what that should matters in heroes’ books. The survival of as many people as possible. The greatest good won’t be such a “greatest good” if only few will survive.
            Better have heroes dying for the right cause than so many civilians being sacrificed.
            I’m all for heroic options like “better sacrifice heroes and few civilians for the happiness of thousands of civilians” than “better sacrifice thousands of civilians for the happiness of heroes and a few civilians left”.
            Besides, plenty of people that the heroes know and love will die so no way they’ll accept this bullshit.
            Option B is “good” only for Contessa because she doesn’t have nothing to loose (there are not people left in her life that she loves and is afraid for them).
            I think I get why some people like B option more than any others. They don’t want to see Breakthrough/Heartbroken members dying. But…heroic sacrifices must be made if they want to save as many civilians as possible and ensure them a better future. Four thousand injured or dead sounds much better than thousands of deaths.

          2. Probably they’ll do C. But on the subject of heroic sacrifices… We do tend to think that civilians are worth it, but eventually I wonder if I’ll run into a story where it turns out they really weren’t. Outside of Marvel civilians of course.

          3. Teacher gets away in Plan C, though, and who knows how many people would die as a result of his future schemes.

  6. Tell Contessa about the typo thread:
    “looking Cauldron’s operations from the outside,”
    +at ?

    “and well being”

    “focused on something else.”
    Extra space.

    1. “Not as I or my power understand circumstances, and my power understands everything outside of ”
      Should be “the circumstances” I think.

      “[…] if I broke the loop myself. Well before I could reach him, he’ll have Custodian activate failsafes in this section of the facility”
      Should be “Well before I can reach him” I think, since she swaps from talking about the past to talking about the present or future.

    2. > “It’s Cassie,” Chastity said. “I can’t think of anyone who is as important to enough of us.”

      Shouldn’t it be “anyone else” instead of just “anyone”?

    3. here and here > here and there
      room that looked > room looked
      doing, accidentally > doing, I accidentally
      archetecture > architecture
      others,” she > others.” She
      pipping > piping

    4. “Rachel put the ration kit down, bent down, and straightened up with a dog under one arm. She approached, carrying a smaller dog under one arm.”

      The repetition is a little awkward, and reads as either accidental or Rachel carrying a dog under each arm.

  7. Pure awesome on top of more pure awesome. Contessa going out to pick a fight with half of Teachers’ thralls reminds me of the very last scene of Angel:the series. Besides, yeah, that was a completely legitimate and logical “nerf” to Contessa’s power: she can find the way to do whatever she wants as far as that whatever is within the realm of possibility.

  8. This is where an ambitious writer could develop three different novels (perhaps letting them interact, perhaps not). With all the details given, it would kind of be a shame if we didn’t get to figure out who does what in each option.

    This is also where an unscrupulous writer could kill off Contessa and leave all three options unrealized.

    Either way, good job, glad to see more global-scale developments.

    1. LOL. Wildbow is already basically the most “ambitious writer” on the planet in terms of sheer productivity. And you’re suggesting they should do more?

    2. Most likely, we’ll get option C, and Contessa will survive and get the chance to allude to the other two paths later on. People can then flesh them out in fanfics. WB doesn’t have to do everything.

      Killing Contessa in time to avoid any option wouldn’t make sense with her power, she’s already doing what she’ll need to keep the opportunity to do whichever one is picked.

  9. [C] Teacher escapes, mild damage to heroes and City, no Undersiders die.

    Oh, wait, this is not a Quest, is it?

  10. It’s interesting she’s talking about blind spots. I’ve got some thought forming there but nothing for now.

    I’m very interested in how this is all tying together because there’s so much arbitrary information flying around. Colt’s understanding of dreams, the fact that the Simurgh is still around and crying on the Titan’s shoulders, Amy’s warning, like. Not all of it’s related sure but it’s really interesting that there’s just so many pieces of information being dropped and seemingly not followed up on. Uh, another big one was Tori’s vision as she was dying, Vickie’s shard interlude (and to a lesser extent Cradle’s but fuck that guy and his shard), and Valkyrie’s names for people back when she was still The Fairy Queen. I saw a lot of interesting discussions last chapter discussing shards and whether they were influencing or influenced by their hosts and it just makes me crazy trying to piece it all together.

    1. That reminds me. I love how Contessa just casually tossed out “by the way, there are two broken triggers running around that you guys don’t know about,” and nobody stopped to ask her about them.

      1. Maybe they thought that since those broken triggers are supposed to be Contessa’s blind spots, she couldn’t give them any useful information about them? Of course the more likely possibility is the boring one – that they are simply too focused on dealing with Teacher that it simply didn’t occur to them to ask.

        1. I’m just thinking it’s foreshadowing, but it also serves to neuter Contessa from being a complete Mary Sue after this is all over.

          It’s interesting the Titan himself isn’t mentioned as a blind spot but the Simurgh is possibly making it one anyway.

          …alternatively the dark spot of Rain’s cluster is one of the broken triggers…

          1. Or maybe Contessa doesn’t realize that Kronos is a blind spot, because he is hidden inside of another blind spot – namely Simurgh? It could be that she knows about Kronos’ existance indirectly – via reactions of people who saw him, and who are not blind spots themselves.

          2. Trigger events are also blind spots if Lung is anything to go by… I wonder how thrall are impacted by trigger events… might throw off teacher’s control temporarily and allow them the faculty to attack him, or could simply mean they fall unconscious with all the other capes.

          3. Considering that Cauldron had to perform its experiments on people to find “good” vial compositions which would give useful powers with low chance of horrible side effects, I think that trigger events, or at least the powers they would give, have been proven to be Contessa’s blind spots a long time ago.

            On the other hand Contessa has no problem figuring out someone’s power (at least to certain extent) after they triggered. See the scenes describing early Cauldron experiments with the vials in her interlude. It is also worth nothing that Contessa can arrange for someone to undergo a swcond trigger event (though even then she can’t predict the exact outcome).

            From chapter 29.7 of Worm:

            “You’re involved with a lot of powerful parahumans,” I said. “Do you have a means of causing second triggers?”

            “We’ve done it for several clients in the past, with varying degrees of success.[…]”

            “[…]We used to rely on Contessa’s power to determine the exact event needed for a second trigger.”

          4. I’m more thinking of a trigger event itself. She sought to kill Lung and his friends without blood but ultimately failed to kill him after he triggered. This suggests that while she could simulate the circumstances for a second trigger event or possibly an initial trigger, her power can’t predict a random trigger event and they can both disable her, like all other nearby capes are disabled, and disrupt her path to victory unless she’s aware enough to seek it again after the trigger. She probably can’t predict broken triggers or work well against them while they’re still triggering.

            The point being that if one of the regular humans in the compound, yet to be “thralled” triggers, or if a thrall triggers (presuming they’re able). It could disrupt her and the path… a vial trigger might even disrupt her.

  11. Yay, chapter #200 (if count from Glow-worm).

    I would choose option C.
    +No notable heroes die
    +Less civilians die overall than in the other two options
    -Teacher has a good chance of escape, but there is a chance he dies
    -Two members of Breakthrough are removed from the equation as a result (but not necessary dies)
    -One members of Breakthrough endures some torment for… quite some time (shit, but…)

    1. Finally, someone who agree with me. The best and safest option for everyone (except for the unlucky Breakthrough members who’ll die/suffer). Cheers, man.
      Who do you think will be the unlucky Breakthrough/s?

      1. > Who do you think will be the unlucky Breakthrough/s?
        So far I can’t predict Wildbow, but my guesses are:
        1) Tristan and Byron “removed from the equation” but not died, probably stripped of powers and separated into normal people
        2) Ashley “endures some torment for… quite some time”

    2. > +Less civilians die overall than in the other two options

      False. Fewer civilians die over the short term with option C, but more end up dying over the long term than option B. I’d probably choose C anyway since I find it hard to trust long-term prophesies, especially in a setting like this where there are many things that could derail everything. That said, I’d really rather have more numbers to work with first. How many more lives does B save over the long term, and how long is that long term? This matters. If it saves trillions within ten years, then I’d be a lot more willing to risk it being untrue than if it would only save a dozen within a thousand years.

      1. How do you know that more will end up dying over the long term (option C)? If Teacher will not pull the trigger and will be captured as Contessa said then no more people will die. Contessa didn’t said that option C is bad over the long term, she only said that more heroes will die (and less civilians will die) compared with option B (no heroes dying- which is kind of hard to believe because I doubt that they won’t be affected by Teacher pulling the trigger, just like everyone else+ more civilians will die). I’m sure that both B and C are favorable over the long- term but B seems on Contessa’s liking because more heroes will survive.
        So: option A means- most of heroes will die+ villains will rule over civilians +some civilians casualties. Bad over short and long time. The very bad one.
        Option B: no heres (or very few) will die)+ plenty of civilians/probably villains will die. Bad over short time and good over long time but the most amoral one.
        Option C: some heroes will die+ some civilians will die. Good over short and long time. The best and most heroic one.
        Teacher will be captured in every single option even if in C he’ll fight a little more.
        Most will choose C, just wait and see.

        1. > How do you know that more will end up dying over the long term (option C)?

          Turns out I don’t. I’d incorrectly thought that Contessa said so outright, but she only called C the objectively best and most healthy over the long term, without actually saying that it saves the most lives over the long term. My bad.

          > Contessa didn’t said that option C is bad over the long term, she only said that more heroes will die (and less civilians will die) compared with option B (no heroes dying- which is kind of hard to believe because I doubt that they won’t be affected by Teacher pulling the trigger, just like everyone else+ more civilians will die).

          She didn’t say that C is bad over the long term, but she did say that B is the best over the long term. For that to be true, C must be worse than B. The question is how much worse, and how reliable that prediction is.

          > If Teacher will not pull the trigger and will be captured as Contessa said then no more people will die.

          That’s over the short term. For the long term, you have to look at the bigger picture. It’s possible that the increased number of heroes who survive in B compared to C make a difference at some critical juncture down the line that allows them to save millions, or that the next Hitler or Stalin is among the four hundred thousand who will die with B, or that letting Teacher pull the trigger while the heroes mitigate the consequences puts the world into a more stable configuration than preventing him from pulling the trigger. We don’t know, since Contessa didn’t elaborate much on why B is “objectively” better than C despite having one tenth the casualties. Maybe she just values heroes more than ten times as much as civilians, but maybe it’s something else.

          1. Yes, she likes heroic capes more than non capes because Cauldron create heroes during their years. They considered that creating more heroic parahumans is the best thing that they can do even with some sacrifices- creating villains too who caused many deaths. So Contessa values capes over anyone else. She is like an inverse Nieves or Shin, except for the hare thing.
            The only way I can see civilians situation being worse in C than B is… If more of them survived they will have probleme with food over winter. Until the tinkers will Discovery how to procure food without having to depend of Shin, they will be dependable on Shin and their bulllshit. Less population, Less food problems. But still option C- save as many people as possible- is better. Besides we know that not all Vic people will survive till the end so sacrifice must be done.
            I don’t trust long time prediction either. Plenty of unexpected things cam happen during this time.

          2. > The only way I can see civilians situation being worse in C than B is… If more of them survived they will have probleme with food over winter.

            I could see another ones. For example what if option B gives a better chance of capturing Teacher eventually, or of dealing with the thin ice situation without causing an extinction event even bigger than GM?

          3. I thought that option B guarantees capturing Teacher in this encounter. And this is one of the possible reasons why B might be better than C over the long term: no chances for Teacher to pull some more shit. But I strongly suspect that C will prevail.

          4. I read option B as “The heroes will get close enough to Teacher that there would be a good chance to capture or him, but there is no 100% guarantee it will happen.”

  12. “[…]When you talk among yourselves, I’m asking my usual questions.”

    “Like how you can avoid being fucked over by a Stranger or Master in the next day or whatever,” Imp said.


    Once again it feels like Imp knows much more about Contessa than she did in Worm. Unless Tattletale somehow managed to figure out such details about how Contessa operates, AND shared them with Imp (and I’m not sure if during Worm Tattletale got enough information about Contessa to pull something like this off), I believe that the only logical explanation would be that Contessa actually met with the Undersiders off-camera after Gold Morning.

    Why would they meet? Maybe to discuss Taylor’s fate? If that is so, I wonder if Contessa told them the truth, or for some reason made them believe a lie…

    1. Contessa stopped Imp from following her back in Worm and told her she noticed her by asking questions about strangers.

      So this is not new information for Imp…

    2. Maybe there are two more ways Imp could have learned about how Contessa makes sure to stay safe by constantly asking herself certain “usual” questions without any Undersider talking to her after arc 30 of Worm:
      1. they could have been considering how to defeat Contessa if need arose, and made some research into it, possibly obtaining enough information for Tattletale to figure it out,
      2. after Contessa was captured, they researched how it could be done, possibly leading to the same result as above.

      I think that option 2. seems more likely than 1. If the Undersiders were actually seriously trying to figure out how to take out Contessa, Imp’s interactions with her probably wouldn’t be so friendly. Moreover we need to remember that not long ago (in chapter 13.8) there was this interaction between Tattletale, Victoria, and Sveta:

      “The clairvoyants we were using dropped off the map, but it was in service of a bigger picture.”

      “Comforting,” I said, sarcastic.

      “That’s great,” Sveta said. “I’m sure Cauldron thought the same thing.”

      “Cauldron kind of saved the world, Tress.”

      Considering that Tattletale basically defended Cauldrons actions, it doesn’t seem likely that she would seriously consider trying to defeat Contessa, does it? On top of it the comment about the clarvoyants (plural, so it is not only Dinah – the most obvious “clarvoyant” Tattletale would work with) seem to indicate that Tattletale might have been working with Contessa regularly at some point, which could indicate that my first guess about Contessa and the Undersiders (or at least Tattletale) meeting after arc 30 of Worm is actually true.

      Of course it doesn’t have to be true. Tattletale could also work with… the clarvoyant – the same one that Taylor used during GM. I imagine it is unlikely though – after all the only known way to do it without someone suffering some very serious side effects is to use Teacher’s students (Scanner and Screen), so to accomplish it Undersiders would have to not only find them (assuming they are even still alive), but also find a way to release them from Teacher’s influence. Not impossible (Lab Rat could supposedly break Teacher’s master effect, and I suspect that Amy, Valkyrie, and possibly Goddess could also do it), but probably very unlikely for the Undersiders to do.

      So ultimately in my opinion “the clarvoyants” that Tattletale was talking about were most likely Dinah and Contessa, which would mean that Undersiders had some sort of working relationship with Contessa after GM.

      1. Weaver had a couple of years to let TT and Imp know about Contessa’s capabilities at an Endbringer fight or unauthorised communication. Also timefor TT and Imp to find out by other means or, as you said, an off camera discussion at some point during the few days that gold morning seemed to last.

    3. Contessa explicitly told Imp back in Worm that she regularly asks herself questions about how to avoid Master/Stranger threats, during the first Scion planning session I think.

      1. Looks like you are partially right. It was at the end of the second meeting (in chapter 27.2), and Contessa didn’t say anything about any questions regarding masters then:

        People began preparing to leave, gathering stuff together.

        “No,” I could overhear Contessa saying, “I ask myself several questions before I go anywhere, and one pertains to strangers. Stay behind.”

        Imp appeared next to her. She walked back to us with a very dejected appearance.

      2. Thank you! Exactly! Contessa outright told Imp about that part. Imp has most likely extrapolated the rest because she’s probably been thinking about Contessa for a long time if for no other reason than that a Stranger of her caliber would be very interested in people who can no-sell her power.

    1. But maybe it could also cause Damsel to re-evaluate her life choices, and decide that family is more important than the empire she always dreamed about? The question is – would such realization cause Damsel to “go hero”, or turn her into an even worse villan – one who no longer cares about her would-be kingdom, but lives for vengeance on her “sister’s” killers instead.

  13. I’m all for A option. Few people will die but the rest will be controlled by villains. Not so bad, seeing the lives of people in the territories controlled by Undersiders. If more villains are like Undersiders then…why not? I just want to see Teacher getting defeated before he’ll leave the base even if most of heroes will have to die.

  14. All in all, can’t wait to see “PATH OF DESTROYING SAINT’S ASS” IN THE NEXT CHAPTER :).

    1. I don’t know if it will only take this one chapter, though.
      This guy’s responsible for a lot of pain. Sometimes you want a protracted conga line for better poetic justice. Give him to the Red Queen so she can practice fixing her mistakes, maybe.

      1. > Give him to the Red Queen so she can practice fixing her mistakes

        And destroying his ass. Literally, while leaving everything else intact.

  15. Uhm … what happened to Colt? Did she die to the electrocution when getting knocked into the water? Where is Love Lost?

    1. They’re in the chapter.

      >Contessa turned to look at Love Lost, who had emerged from one hallway, and she had no names for her. She addressed Colt, who stood behind Love Lost, instead. “Reese.”

      1. Wildbow edited the chapter and added that line sometime after the initial posting, along with another mention of them a few moments before Sveta hid in her box. So you’re both right, kind of.

      2. I wonder if they get a vote and what their actions will be. With Wildbow forgetting to include them it feels like they’re an inconvenience to the story right now but he must have plans for them or he wouldn’t have bothered including them in the expedition.

  16. Path to get Sveta off my back while I save the fucking universe? “For now, Sveta, would you climb into this box?”

    1. Chekov’s Tentacle Girl. Wait for her to end up in a perfect spot to deal with a massive threat from that inconspicuous box in a very specific yet still unclear amount of time.

  17. I wonder how that vote on the options Contessa provided would go if Coil was still alive, and able to influence the vote?

    “Contessa, go with the first option.”
    “But most of us voted for the third one!”
    “I know, but I want to be able to see the outcome of two of them and select the one which will end up better for everyone in my opinion. I promise you that I let you choose the third opinion in the other timeline.”

    1. Better for everyone? Or- rather- better for HIMSELF? Because Coil only liked the options better for himself. Everyone else was small potatoes in his view.
      First option will be clearly the best one for Coil.

      1. Sure. Besides who could guarantee that this wouldn’t happen:

        At the same time in the other timeline.
        “Contessa, go with the second option.”

        1. Yes, option B sounds very Coil but he’ll not like it. If most of people will die then he will not have enough people left to rule over. He needs as many people alive as possible, not because he cares for them and is the most ethical thing to do but he needs people to exercise his power over. This is what he was the best at doing.

          1. Remember that he preferred to directly rule over a couple dozen capes left in Brockton Bay than over its entire unpowered population. This is why he wanted to ensure that he would become the PRT ENE Director than the Mayor of Brockton Bay. Option B would leave him with less people, but most likely more capes to rule over.

    2. That actually raises an interesting question:

      Coil’s power is supposed to be precog that pretends to be timeline splitting and just auto-scripts him during it. But what happens if he scripts into a blind spot? What if he tries to interact with a blind spot in one timeline but doesn’t in the other?

      I remember Dinah’s power got wonky when his was involved, but his didn’t appear to get wonky when she was involved. And, IIRC, he (claimed to) have his power active during Leviathan’s attack. Raises interesting questions.

      1. Actually I don’t know if it was ultimately ever determined if Coil’s power actually let him experience two physical timelines as they happened, or was some form of precognition instead. Maybe if it was the latter, he was not affected by blind spots at all to make up for other limitations of his power (like the fact that he could experience only two realities at once, and not even able to act in one of them based on his knowledge of events that had yet to happen in the other one)? Remember that different precogs seem to have different blind spots. For example Contessa is supposed to be one of the very few ones (possibly even the only parahuman one) who is unaffected by other precogs.

        1. Alternatively maybe Coil’s power simply always simulated the “reality” it predicted he would end up dismissing, and if some blind spots would affect Coil in the actual reality in a way that would make him like this reality less, the shard would just adjust the simulation so that Coil would still end up deciding to dismiss the simulation at the end.

          This way Coil’s shard would not need to put Coil constantly on autopilot, but simply predict which of Coil’s decisions at the beginning of the simulation would lead him to the outcome he would like more, and then simply nudge him to take it in the actual reality, while at the same time showing him the simulated outcome of the other decision he considered at the time.

      2. I’ve looked into what the wiki has to say about Coil’s power, and it appears that there are several WoG about it listed in the References section and linked in the Abilities and Powers section of the article about Coil. You may want to read especially the one about how his power interacts with sources of “causality interference” (reference number 19 at the moment I’m writing these words).

  18. Pretty sure contessa had sveta get in the box because ptv said “Don’t let Numbers Man Clone C see Sveta, he has unhealthy thoughts.”

    1. But then why did Contessa tell them where Sveta is? At least she pointed in her direction:

      “The Harbingers were sticking close. Contessa pointed in the direction of the elevators, then at our group. A third point was aimed in Sveta’s direction, where the massive storage totes were. Both Harbingers turned their heads around to look.”

      1. Maybe she silently let them know that she knows about their intentions and if they’ll hurt Sveta, they’ll pay for it. Yes, I’m convince that she only want to protect her. She’s probably sorry for what Cauldron did to her and she wants to fix it.

        1. Maybe Number Four wasn’t one of the Harbingers they met, but is about to arrive soon? Or maybe putting Sveta in the box would simply let her survive the fall and/or be in the right place to do whatever the Path will have her to do in the next chapter (for example ambush unsuspecting Teacher’s thralls from behind)?

          1. Alternatively a couple of them already left to deal with the blind spot she asked them to take care of as Antares arrived, or to stick to the elevator shaft for survival, then take breakthrough to that crate, then head on to the blind spot.

            I doubt something won’t come of it since we had a story.

          2. How many blind spots are there in the complex by the way? Teacher is almost certainly still inside. Last time we saw Valkyrie she was being carried, presumably outside, and unable to act, so while she may still be there, maybe she is not a big consideration at the moment. Simurgh is almost certainly still out.

            But… could one or both of the broken triggers that are blind spots be inside? What if Contessa wants the Harbingers to deal with them, not the Teacher?

      2. Maybe she didn’t tell them about Sveta. Maybe they needed to go that way for an unrelated step in the plan, and Sveta needs to be in the box in order not to be seen.

    2. ‘The Harbingers were sticking close. Contessa pointed in the direction of the elevators, then at our group. A third point was aimed in Sveta’s direction, where the massive storage totes were. Both Harbingers turned their heads around to look.”
      Yes, I think she knows something and she wanted to PROTECT Sveta, she wasn’t annoyed because Sveta didn’t agree with her. She send Sveta in the box for her OWN GOOD.

      1. Technically Contessa may not know that one of the Harbingers may want to attack Sveta, yet still protect her from it. Remember that Contessa’s power just shows her steps which lead to a desired result without explaining why they need to be taken.

        For example she didn’t know why saying “Breadth and Depth.” would make Bonesaw betray Jack, or what those words would end up meaning to Riley. She just knew thet she needed to say them to achieve the result she wanted. Similar situation happened in the current chapter too:

        “How do you know all of this if you were in a coma?” Sveta asked. “The Simurgh, who’s where, what Custodian is doing?”

        “I’m finding it out as I explain it to you. I asked my power for the path to provide the explanation I need to give, that serves the purpose of filling me in on present circumstance.[…]”

  19. Well I hope everyone in Breakthrough picked option D. Flawless fucking victory with no more losses and Teacher and all his cronies assess kicked, with them going back to the city singing We Are The Champions. That is of course the correct option.

    Though I also wonder if there’s any blindspots that Contessa doesn’t know about, especially on the heroes side.

    1. You forgot something- Contessa getting back her hat. No victory will be flawless without a Contessa and fedora tearful reunion.

      1. Step 63:

        “Do not tell them about an option which leads to Teacher and his men being all captured before he can pull out the trigger, and everyone else being completely safe, but would require me to sacrifice my hat.”

        1. That will be the biggest sacrifice Contessa will make, man. Can you see her being willing to make this sacrifice even for the greatest good?

          1. Of course it would be “the biggest sacrifice”. Even bigger than Contessa’s own death that is supposed to be one of the results of option A.

          2. Of course not. The fedora hosts the **OTHER** Abaddon shard, which mistakenly implanted on an otherwise featureless fedora because it hadn’t been prepped properly for Earth and thought fedoras were the dominant life form.

            This shard is the Make Wildbow Quit Writing shard, and would have very dire consequences to the universe of Worm and Ward if ever it actuvated. By being bound to a harmless fedora it remains powerless. Contessa doesn’t know this, but does know she has to wear the fedora at all times or else.

          3. Is that so? I guess I’ll allow myself to be selfish then and say that I’m glad that Contessa apparently took step 63. Even if it may mean a worse outcome for the characters in the story, it certainly seems better for the readers like me (and most likely also for the author) that this particular shard remains dormant.

          4. But imagine what will happen if this shard will undergo a second trigger (pinging off Contessa in the process)… Its power will be then Make Wildbow Write Anything, and then fedoras will supplant all the lifeforms in the Wormverse, imposing their worldview on Wildbow.

  20. Ok, so it seems that Kenzie might have downloaded encrypted Cauldron archives. Breaking the encryption may be a problem, but I think that between Kenzie, Tattletale, Dragon and possibly Contessa it should be doable. I’m sure that there will be a lot of people who would love to see what those files contain, but I imagine that C53s may be particularly happy to see this data in the hands of heroes, because I suspect that it contains answers about their past they have been looking for as long as they remember.

    So maybe Kenzie got access to this old data not because it has anything to do with the path to defeat Teacher, but because the C53s situation is one of those “small things” Contessa wants to “fix” as much as she can, and giving them this information about their pasts is a step in that direction?

  21. Option C seems most likely to be chosen with Option B a close second. But I strongly suspect the blind spots will do more than Contessa is anticipating.

    It feels like the Harbinger plan to deal with Sveta might have been in Contessa’s estimates with her boxing Sveta before they met, but if a couple headed for the blind spot then the actions are potential unknowns again.

  22. A is obviously out of the bloody question. B, don’t try and be clever teacher needs to be dead.

    Does Capricorn count as two members of breakthrough?

    1. They sure do. And killing one of them most likely would sentence the other one to almost eternal torment (barring an intervention of someone like Valkyrie… who lucky seems to be one of Contessa’s “blind spots”). I actually explained how it could go in my opinion in one of my comments above. The short version is that killing one of them may actually be a way to break or modify their C70 bond and let them both physically exist in human-occupied part of the multiverse… for a “low” price of one of them becoming one of the members of the flock.

      1. Of course if Capricorn’s shard will want to maintain the connection between brothers despite all shenanigans I’ve described above, there could retain the ability to perceive what the other one does (possibly making them able to always see the world from two points of view at once), and/or a specialized kind of teleportation that lets them swap their positions at any time.

        An interesting side-effect of the first ability could be that the brother who would end up not getting killed and “harvested” could offer his moral support to the other brother during his time as Valkyrie’s shadow (and I guess also after – when he would be dealing with being freshly “resurrected” member of the flock), while at the some time giving Breakthrough (and the reader) some insight into how it exactly feels to be Valkyrie’s shadow – based on sensory feedback from of the brother who got “harvested”.

    2. Trying to pick which Breakthrough members can die is difficult. I think of it in terms of story on who has the most character development to continue undertaking or the most secrets to reveal… I feel like Kenzie fits the bill the best. It also means breakthrough aren’t so tied up in Undersiders and Heartbroken. Swansong has been well developed and covered for most background but her shared dreams and state as a clone give some more options for story development. Capricorn are a good 2 for 1 call but there’s development for the brothers that can still take place and whatever deal Tristan made with the criminals not to mention secrets around case 70’s and Vista’s power influencing it, etc. Rain has been heavily covered and developed but the interactions and secrets of his cluster setup are still considerable. Still, he could be replaced by Colt to continue those.

      Alternatively, removing them from the equation simply means sending them to the blind spot which is good for story development.

      1. Forgot Sveta. She’s pretty strongly developed and her history covered, but I feel like her status as a case 53 is significant. That’s a Eden shard in there, together with vial trigger as opposed to regular trigger. We haven’t heard her power named before.

        That’s an important thing about Breakthrough. Ward is investigating powers in greater detail with protagonist Antares who is a powers expert and nerd together with a“bud/waste/2nd gen ” trigger, Capricorn as case 70, Rain as post gold morning cluster with gimmick, Swansong as a clone and Kenzie as a regular trigger.

        I wonder if LL and Colt count as breakthrough for the purposes here.

        For that matter, Contessa is also blinded by trigger events from the regular to second or broken triggers.

        1. One more person to remember is Antares. I doubt she will die (though it is not entirely impossible – remember that during Leviathan fight back in Worm Taylor supposedly wasn’t safe from the tyranny of dice, and if she died, later arcs of Worm would simply get a different protagonist – or at least I seem to remember that Wildbow said it in some WoG), but she could be the one who will end up tormented.

          For example what if Vicky was so seriously wounded that only Amy’s intervention could save her life, but the healing went every bit as poorly as Victoria is always afraid it will?

          1. She wouldn’t be well-suited to a protagonist role then. Thinking along these lines, I’d rather imagine that the healing will go 100% well, but Victoria will be tormented by her own paranoia forever after.

            – Path: convince Victoria that everything went really well and Amy didn’t leave any insidious and undetectable backdoors?
            – Step 1: aim the gun at angle x.xxx. Step 2: pull the trigger twice…
            – Kinda radical, maybe something else?
            – Step 1: get Amy to erase her memory…
            – Errr, that seems wrong. Other suggestions?
            – Step 1: get Valefor…
            – Oh, fuck that.

          2. Yeah, but she’s also the powers nerd/expert so I think that hampers powers investigation within the story.

            HOWEVER, I can imagine a non-permanent death where she is brought back by Valkyrie or other means. We might get an arc similar to Swansong’s where we follow another member for the duration before switching back to Vicky, or we even follow Vicky into death similar to The near death experience of Foil’s rabbit nemesis, then onto her as a shadow for Valkyrie before becoming a member of her flock and then released. She might even have an initial failed attempt before a successful one then tormented by her self identity crisis at what parts of her are missing and such.

            Heck, I could even imagine Labrat/Chris/Cryptid resurrecting her the same way he was, at Amy’s request or some nefarious purpose of his own.

            Or even both those methods just to really screw with her as a double clone like Swansong… or a third method where Kenzie seeks Riley’s method using the information gathered by Teacher to feed back into building Vicky’s personality.

          3. Being harvested and subsequently resurrected by Valkyrie could also serve to rapidly modify Victoria’s powers again – this time in a direction they want to. Remember this bit from interlude 12.all:

            I would connect to the hub and request permissions. I would restructure. No folding- I am waste and I am small, and I cannot fold. No budding- I have too little to give, no untapped reserves, nothing held back. But I would borrow processing from others and I would borrow power. I would make her forcefield do exactly as she wishes it to, gradually expand capabilities and open the doors so that she can utilize every part of every facet of that power.

            It looks like Victoria’s shard wants to modify Victoria’s powers, to make them better, but can’t do it without help of other shards, because it doesn’t have necessary resources on its own. I imagine that being connected to Valkyrie’s shard, and through it to all shards of her “shadows” could let Vicky’s shard gain access to those resources it needs.

          4. @Alfaryn:
            – (after realizing some more steps) No, I didn’t mean “fuck that” to be a goal for the path. Now I got some immensely useful information that Valefor doesn’t like hats…

          5. Looks like Contessa’s shard REALLY needs to learn ow to read social context. After all, it’s pretty certain that Contessa is quite a few years older than Valefor’s mother!

          6. True. The resurrected often come back with mild differences to their powers. If Valkyrie’s shard works to network the ones she captures it could easily expand her capabilities, or the other resurrection processes could. Particularly if she’s connecting to other’ Memories.

            There’s strong suggestion in that bit to say there’s much more to the wretch than she’ using. If her self image has some control over its shape she might be able to not only control the movement but shape, much like her aunt, expanding or narrowing it, or even giving it more, or bigger, hands and limbs.

          7. @Charlesw81

            What you say may be possible, though I think it would require Victoria’s shard to have a little different interpretation of a forced working “exactly as [Victoria] wishes” than Victoria herself does. After all Victoria probably would wish for her forcefield to fit her current body and clothes exactly, like it did before Amy broke her, and most certainly wouldn’t wish wish for it to ever look anything like the Wretch.


            Besides I said it a couple times already and I still maintain that the best match for Fortuna would be Danny Hebert. I listened most of my reasons in the previous months already, but here one I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet – Taylor’s description of Contessa from chapter 24.2 of Worm:

            She was older, but not old. Maybe my dad’s age, maybe a little younger. Pretty, in a very natural way. She didn’t wear any obvious makeup, and her black hair was somewhere between wavy and curly, a little longer than shoulder length. Her features French or Italian, if I had to guess. She wore only a simple black suit that had been tailored to fit her body, with a narrow black tie and a white dress shirt. What got me were the eyes. There was no kindness in them.

            It does say something when a teenaged daughter of a widower descibes a woman’s age as close to her own father’s, or maybe a little younger, and then goes on to mostly favorably describing her looks, doesn’t it? Sure, what Taylor saw in Contessa’s eyes may be a bit of of an issue, but nobody is perfect after all, and after chapter 30.7 I’m sure that Contessa is already working on it, and I have no doubt that Taylor knows it too.

            So I guess we can say that Fortuna already got Taylor’s approval as a potential future mother in law?

          8. Yup, the one thing left is for Danny to be approved by Fortuna. Maybe he’ll pick up Zion’s PtV shard after it fell off…

          9. I don’t think it would be that difficult. Fortuna clearly wanted to settle down after GM, to finally have a normal life. Danny is one of the most “normal” men we know in the setting, and on top of it just happens to be the Taylor’s father – the girl Fortuna felt so strongly about that she not only bared her soul to right after GM, but also shot her twice in the head for her own good.

          10. Considering Fortuna’s feelings for Taylor and the idea she seems to have about how she wants to live the rest of her life, I suspect that if anything it would be Contessa trying to convince Danny to the idea of speeding the rest of their lives together, not the other way around.

            And like I said a few months ago, I fully expect Fortuna’s “winning personality” to assuage any fears, doubts and reservations Danny and even Taylor may have about her.

          11. And to make it even more funny, I think that despite what I suggested in the post above, Fortuna could actually get at least Taylor’s support if she demonstrated that she is willing to do her best to deal with the problem without using her power.

            Of course the ideal situation would be if neither Fortuna nor Danny actively pursued a relationship with each other. Imagine Contessa just visiting Taylor to see the results of her decision from over two years ago with her own eyes, and maybe to continue their last conversation, meeting Danny as a result… and actually finding out that they happen to like each other.

          12. And if you really want Contessa to find solid, non-thinker-BS arguments for Danny to like her (though not necessarily romantically), I think she could come with quite a few:
            – she saved his daughter from being completely possessed by an alien intelligence,
            – she made it so that his daughter no longer has a reason to run away from home and try to get herself killed while saving the world,
            – she apparently ensured that both he and his daughter would end up in a a much better place to live than for example Gimel.US,
            – she actually contributed quite a bit to saving humanity herself.

            Of course there are several arguments against Contessa too:
            – she started what was probably the biggest conspiracy in history of Bet (and even affecting other worlds),
            – she performed horrible medical experiments on, erased memories of, and murdered countless people,
            – she put at least two bullets in Taylor’s head,
            – etc,
            but these are not things that Danny (or Taylor) couldn’t forgive if the reasons behind them are properly explained, right? After all Taylor had similar reasons for doing a lot of ugly stuff that she did during her career, and it is not like Danny ended up loving his daughter any less because of it…

          13. Oh, and considering Annette Hebert’s past in Lustrum’s group, perhaps Danny has a thing for women who want to change the world? I would say that Fortuna certainly qualifies…

          14. Here is another reason why Contessa may consider Danny a good match for her:

            She, just like Taylor, probably doesn’t want to have to deal with all those multiverse-wide problems anymore, focus on smaller things, and have a bit more “normal” life, or at least someone or something can anchor her to that more mundane side of life. An unpowered person who never directly dealt with those big problems probably could serve as such anchor, assuming that they can care about Contessa to spend their life with her, and make their home hers as well. The problem is that most such individuals would fear Contessa, and while she could probably use her power to make them love her, marry her, live with her etc., accomplishing it with her power would defeat the point of the entire relationship for Contessa – how could a person she effectively manipulated to be with her ever serve as her anchor?

            Danny is ideal, because he has already proven that he can still love Taylor – a person arguably just as scary as Contessa, so maybe there is enough space in his heart for her too?

  23. I kind of hoped that one of the first steps to any outcome would involve taking Imp in one hand, Sveta in another, and banging their heads against each other. They both were SO insufferably dumb, each in her own way.
    Imp: I thought I’d only need to make a wish, and everything will be good! Why don’t you do the physically impossible to make me look not bad (that’s the last issue anyone would be concerned with, but it doesn’t matter)? You owe me! The physics owes me! Waaaaaaa!
    Sveta: No matter what do you do, you are BAD! Moments ago I was having issues with you guiding us to a conclusion and us losing free will, and now that I see it’s not the case, I don’t like that you’re NOT guiding us to a conclusion, thus slinging the trolley problem at us! I don’t want to decide, I want world peace and a fluffy pony. I’d rather not know anything, that would allow me to take a horribly inefficient path which would kill more people than these three combined, but I’d be able to hope things will all be okay.
    Contessa: Well, Sveta, would you please just crawl inside some box and hope things will all be okay?
    …I guess that was as close to my ideal vision of first steps as I could hope for 🙂 Contessa is awesome, just as usual. As is Wildbow, yet again having created a believable challenge for someone with a power “I win”.

    On an unrelated note, it seems that the thing on the top floor wasn’t even Contessa. I wonder what the hell is in her blind spot there.
    Also it’s interesting that Teacher is special enough that Contessa can’t see him, but apparently not as special as other special entities which she couldn’t even simulate directly.

    1. As far as I understand it Contessa’s simulations of the entities who are her blind spots are based on her knowledge of their past behavior. Perhaps the difference is that she knows Teacher better than the other ones?

        1. Then maybe Teacher is somewhere “on the edge” of being a blind spot? Maybe he wasn’t one originally, and only putting himself in the center of a complicated network of powers (in form of his army of thralls, but possibly also whatever lets him influence the fragmented network of shards, as Amy described) elevated him to this status? Maybe it has something to do with whatever he is hiding at the top of the complex?

          I think that Contessa wouldn’t be captured so easily if he was a blind spot before she stopped using her power. My guess is that she would be more careful before she did it, if she knew that this former Birdcage inmate could become so dangerous to her.

          1. Yeah, might be the case. His power also doesn’t look so special by itself, and if he didn’t seem dangerous to Contessa, then there weren’t any major dangers for her at all after GM (Entities dead, Endbringers dormant, Eidolon dead, Valkyrie gone hero. Sleeper left to sleep on Zayin).

          2. One more explanation that may be possible in my opinion – what if some tinker or tinkers working for Teacher (possibly even a group of his students) managed to scan one of the “blind spots”, and replicate the effect with a tinkertech Teacher is using to hide himself from Contessa? Alternatively maybe Teacher managed to recruit or even create a cape who can grant him the immunity to precognition directly with their power?

    2. I mean… I don’t think Imp is ACTUALLY whining. She’s just full of sarcasm and being a pain in the ass because its fun.
      She has just found out people she care about will die, and she deflects and plays over it with humour, possibly in part to keep OTHER people relaxed….this doesn’t mean that she ACTUALLY thinks the physics owes her better futures.

      1. You can be right, but if I were in that situation, her attempts at humour would irritate me just as well. It’s a poor attempt to keep people relaxed, and I don’t think they should be relaxed in that situation at all. Besides, joking along the lines of “sorry guys, I don’t care whether you live at all, I only care about Undersiders and Heartbroken” right in the middle of a situation when they have to decide life-or-death matters seems like a very dumb and inappropriate joke to me, and if she wasn’t joking about that, then it further confuses the others about what is serious in her words and what is not.

        1. I believe that Imp may be trying co calm nerves of only one person with those jokes – herself.

  24. Don’t be so harsh with Sveta, please. She’s very sweet and idealistic with a heart of gold. Yes, she’s pretty naive for wanting to believe that everything should go well for everyone but she only want the best for all people, can’t blame her for that. She’s human first of all. Isn’t in human nature to hope and want everything to end well even if is not always possible?

    1. > Yes, she’s pretty naive for wanting to believe that everything should go well for everyone but she only want the best for all people, can’t blame her for that

      Of course not. But I can blame her for finding someone she can assign blame to when things can’t go the best way for all people, for being illogical and self-contradicting, and for not knowing what she wants, seemingly wanting to decide things herself only to object to it moments later (and generally behaving in such a way which suggests that the most important thing for her seems to be dodging responsibility for any kind of bad consequences – and she feels like knowing about these consequences, let alone choosing from several available options, puts some responsibility on her). Unfortunately, all these traits are far too much in human nature.

      1. A lot of people are like Sveta, believe me. I’m even worse than her, personally. I can’t never make up my mind and I gate any kind of responsability. In her place, I will refuse to give my vote and let others choose fir ne. This is something very worng to do but also very human. How many people will be fine with deciding the fate of other people with a single vote? Most will hate this responsability.

        1. Of course there’s nothing pleasant about this responsibility, and most people would hate it. But some would realize that 1) there’s no way to avoid responsibility for your own actions in any case, 2) inaction is also an action, and 3) to know possible outcomes (or anything else, really) is better than not to know; and others wouldn’t, acting like Sveta instead.

  25. Food for thought: Has Wildbow decided which option they’ll take, or does he have a plan for each and is waiting for *our* comments to decide?

    … Probably not, but I’m writing down a “C” on my hand just in case.

    1. I also think it’s improbable, but I’d say B. Because I want Teacher to be dealt with, and also I want to know what his ultimate plan was. And because I live outside the matrix and don’t have to deal with consequences of either choice 🙂 (otherwise I’d also vote C)

      1. But Teacher will be dealt with in every option. There is no win for him. I also want to see his plan but I don’t want to see so many people dying.
        I’m also very curious to see in which manner one of Breakthrough will suffer and I think sacrifices should be made but I also want them to be happy.
        Decisions, decisions.
        Lets make a petition for Wildbow to write a short side story for every option available also for the option of not listening Contessa and do everything in their own way.

        1. > But Teacher will be dealt with in every option

          In option C, he has good chances to escape and cause more trouble later, so right now he won’t be dealt with yet.

          1. But less cuvilians will die so I will be ok with whatever Teacher will do. Besides Teacher is a compelling villain so I don’t want him to lose so fast. This is one of the reasons why I want C to happen so bad.

          2. Besides, Contessa said that he will be defeated in C too, but not after he’ll cause few troubles to heroes.

    2. I’ve actually considered the possibility, and decided not to write about it to avoid people starting to second-guess what they write in the comments once they realize Wildbow may be doing just that.

  26. Someone suggested one of the Capricorn brothers dying and the other one being stuck in his corpse for the rest of time and now I’m terrified.

    … I’d still vote for option 3 tho. Using Antares’ system, my second choice would be 2, with 1 seeming like the worst option. It’s REALLY hard to get rid of endemic corruption once it gets its roots in.

    Man, I feel like the biggest drawback of Contessa is how DEPRESSING she is. Her life is so shitty, and her powers make you make big horrible choices like these that make your hands dirty no matter what you choose. Like, Breakthrough has been around her for five minutes and they’re already voting on whether they should let themselves guaranteed die and suffer to save as many lives as possible or to sacrifice hundreds of civilians or heroes so they can defeat the villain and live. Contessa gives you enough power to choose which reality happens, but the trolley problem ain’t no moral picnic in the park.

  27. I know it’s not exactly the best time…But wouldn’t imp ask about Taylor??

    If not her, I suppose Tt could do it later if countess survives…

    1. They may not know that Contessa met Taylor after GM… or they could have this conversation with Contessa before she was captured. Like I said elsewhere – if it is the latter case, then the big question is if Contessa told Undersiders the truth, and they are hiding it, or of she lied, and used her power to make them believe that lie.

      1. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if Contessa arranged things so that everyone on and around Gimel believed that Taylor died, or was otherwise permanently gone in the aftermath of GM, and would never seriously question this assumption. What better way could there be for Contessa to ensure that Taylor gets her rest?

        1. Of course it begs a question – is Taylor’s safety worth suffering of all Undersiders caused by their separation? Could answering “yes” to this question be one of those five big moral decisions Contessa made herself since she triggered (presumably one of those two with “neutral” outcomes)?

          Could Contessa be convinced to change her mind?

          My guess is that Grue’s resurrection may be one factor that could make her do it (because it would lessen the blow Taylor would suffer once she learned that Brian died). Another could be actually interacting with the Undersiders enough to see first hand just how much they suffer.

  28. Consider how much damage Contessa managed to make Rain do with simple pliers. I wonder if it could be scaled up? Imagine for example what could happen if they made Contessa a high-ranking commander in Gimel.US military.

    “Dear leaders of Cheit. Thank you for sending your ambassador with a warning about an invasion of our country you are considering. Know that all of your weapons of mass destruction or hundreds of millions of soldiers you can field don’t scare us, because, quite frankly, they are meaningless next to the power of our precog-guided artillery.”

    And after sending out this message Gimel would be free to point its bug guns at places the Machine Army may come from.

    1. > Gimel would be free to point its bug guns

      Errr… Some new Dragon mechs imitating Taylor? 🙂

  29. Emperor: You have to choose Luke. You may destroy the Force.
    Luke: Will the Empire be defeated?
    Emperor: Yes. But all the force sensitives will die. Including yourself, your father and your sister.
    Emperor: You may try to defeat me. Take my place as the Emperor.
    Luke: But will imperial troops obey me?
    Emperor: Yes. But you will lose yourself, you will lose everything important to you. You will become like me.
    Emperor: But, there is another option. You may join me as my Padawan. Together we will merge sides of the Force and bring balance. Our forces will unite and the peace will last.
    Emperor(Thought): But you will die somewhere in the process. And whatever you do, the Millenium Falcon will crush on some forgotten planet.

  30. Vic would not want to lose team members, which is option C. Option A has one suffering indefinitely but not dying. That might be acceptable if one trusts in weird power interactions to eventually perform a rescue. Option B is just too heartless, although it would suit Vic’s tyrant shard. If she was under duress she could pick B. But I imagine Vic will choose A. I would choose C (greater good / least casualties) but I won’t be the one caught wearing a C in permanent marker on my hand by my few surviving team mates.

    Contessa should know the collective choice already but anything she does to act on it before the actual vote could change someone’s mind and hence the decision. There’s no time to build a voting booth so I guess they just have to trust Contessa’s math.

    Anyone not happy with being outvoted could seek to change the course of events but presumably that is already accommodated for by the PtV.

    1. The caveat with option C is that Contessa didn’t explicitly say that any of the Breakthrough members would actually die, only that they would be “removed from equation”, which may indicate something different than death. Of course it still leaves some civilians (quite possibly even a couple thousand), almost certainly some not-so-notable heroes, and one Heartboken who would die.

  31. One more reason to think that Victoria may choose option C – letting Teacher go in order to save as many lives as possible sounds a lot like de-escalation she is so fond of, doesn’t it?

  32. Isn’t it interesting how this chapter drives home the importance of the woman Glaistig Uaine called “a prop”? Considering that Contessa made only five big decisions since Cauldron began, and three of those turned out to be disastrous, one really has to wonder what would Fortuna do, if she never met Doctor Mother, even if she did manage to kill Eden somehow without Mother’s help…

  33. Remember how in interlude 9.i Crystal said that she didn’t envy Valkyrie her “power with the built-in moral dilemmas”? I think that Ciara and Fortuna really need to compare their notes on that. Maybe they should also talk to some other capes who face similar problems? Amy comes to mind as one of such people.

    How about a group therapy for capes with such powers?

  34. Some chapter edits during last 24h (for those who read earlier version):
    edited: “Breakthrough sacrificed… one member to suffering? I wasn’t sure how to wrap my head around that.”
    added: “Contessa turned to look at Love Lost, who had emerged from one hallway, and she had no names for her. She addressed Colt, who stood behind Love Lost, instead. “Reese.””
    added: “Love Lost and Colt were stragglers, and they were last to leave earshot.”

  35. Contessa mentioned “two broken triggers that authorities aren’t aware happened” as her blind spots. Tattletale wrote “compromised? Shift of motives?” about Dinah. Could it be that those facts are connected somehow? What if Dinah has been compromised either by someone who suffered a broken trigger and became a blind spot as a result (meaning that Dinah could be unable to avoid them using her power)? Alternatively maybe Dinah herself suffered a broken second trigger and become a blind spot while also becoming compromised and/or undergoing a shift of motives as a result?

    1. If Dinah’s shift of motives means that she became one of the “bad guys”, while at the same time she became a blind spot for Contessa’s precognition, then I could imagine that even with Contessa as one of their allies the heroes may have a very difficult fight ahead of them. Possibly far worse than anything Teacher may be able to throw against them.

  36. My emotional side says B- finish the job, to hell with the consequences
    My logical side says C- screw satisfaction, the most people get to go home at the end of the day.

    What they agree on: Never A. Winning with A is worse than losing.

  37. Option B basically means that Teacher gets to do his thing before being defeated, and results in high civilian casualties in the short term, but is supposed to be the best outcome long-term…

    Why does it seem like a proof that Teacher wasn’t lying when he said that he wanted to actually save people on Gimel? It would just mean that his idea of saving them involves killing a few hundred thousand of them to ensure the best possible long-term outcome for the rest Gimel’s population.

    Very Cauldron-like way of thinking if you ask me, and if someone was to support this option, why wouldn’t they just willingly join Teacher in the first place?

    1. After all following option B seems to imply agreeing with Teacher’s definition of “the best outcome” – sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people to give the rest of them best life possible…

    2. > Why does it seem like a proof that Teacher wasn’t lying…

      Dunno. For me, it seems like more evidence of Teacher being a major pain in the ass for the whole multiverse, the option B being better than C in the long term because there isn’t Teacher anymore in that case.

      1. Is option B better though? It may tempt us with a promise of a “bright future”, and add a decent chance of capturing Teacher and his “cronies” on top of it, but is it right to build a fairly certain good future on a foundation of hundreds of thousands of dead people? I personally would prefer to save them and take a more difficult and less certain future represented by option C.

    3. > his idea of saving them involves killing a few hundred thousand of them
      > to ensure the best possible long-term outcome for the rest Gimel’s population
      But he is not in a position to make such decision. It should be either decided by society’s leaders if there is wartime/emergency/etc or decided by society as a whole if there is peace, time allows and so on. Anything else is a crime and should be prevented.

      1. Cauldron never bothered with asking legal authorities for permission to do what they thought they needed to do. Fortuna determined very early on that they shouldn’t do it (and certainly shouldn’t reveal their knowledge about Scion’s nature to the public), because it would lead to widespread panic. Later – after taking a name Contessa, she was even more specific (from Fortuna’s interlude in arc 29 of Worm):

        “If we explain to someone important, the army…”

        “Disaster. They react with fear, and he’ll probably respond to the fear. He’s… hostile, I’m certain. He only needs an excuse,” Contessa said. “They can’t beat him, because he designed himself to be unbeatable.”

        though even then she basically admitted that she couldn’t be sure of Scion’s reaction, because he was her “blind spot”.

        Teacher obviously continues using similar methods, though it is in my opinion unclear if he also has reasons as good as old Cauldron had to not leave the decision to legal authorities or not. On one hand he did say more than once that he wanted to save the people from themselves and that what he is planning isn’t even particularly criminal in a context that makes his words at least somewhat believable. Not to mention that he apparently managed to convince Cauldron, including Contessa for a while, to work with him, so my guess is that he has really found some serious problem that needs fixing. On the other hand he is a person who tried to assassinate a US Vice President, successfully orchestrated assassination of UK Prime Minister, and enthralled multiple people before he became a member of Cauldron – apparently for personal gain. On top of it other surviving Cauldron members (again including Contessa) apparently changed her mind about helping him.

        In my opinion all of this makes it very difficult to determine if his current motives and methods can be justified. We are simply still missing a lot of important information here, and what we do have is inconclusive – some evidence shows that he might be a misunderstood “good guy”, who at the same time can’t explain to the public or the authorities why he has to do what he is doing for some reasons (possibly similar to the one old Cauldron had); other evidence shows that he is a person perfectly willing and able to kill and master other people for entirely selfish reasons.

        Perhaps it is a bit of both – maybe what he is doing has to be done, but Teacher is still doing it for entirely selfish reasons, and it affects the methods he is willing to use?

        1. Generally I think that if there was more time, the people who know Teacher well and/or can perceive what he is doing or may otherwise have some deep insights about it (Contessa, Marquis, Amy, perhaps also Valkyrie, Number Man, Cryptid, Dragon, Tattletale and/or Citrine) should have gathered together, compared notes, and tried to figure out what Teacher is trying to accomplish exactly, and why (assuming of course that they don’t know already, and are just not tellin for some reason – considering how Fortuna’s interlude ended, I think that there is a good chance that at least she knows most if not all of it).

          1. Heck, maybe even Lung could offer some insight into what Teacher is doing exactly and why?

  38. By the way…

    Do we know how Yips grew like it was being touched by Bitch?

    I’m thinking either Bitch has gained the capability, over time, to remote apply her power, grant it with a delay or grant it with the dog able to apply it later.

    Alternatively she’s taken the formula to extend the range of her power… or some tinker device but I suspect the power range extender most likely.

    1. From interlude 11a in Worm:

      That wasn’t how you were supposed to fight. Bitch whistled hard, then shouted, “Magic, Lucy, Roxy! Come!”

      As the three dogs barreled toward her, she used her power. She felt it extend outward like a vibration from deep inside her. She felt that power shudder and reverberate, as if to let her know it was making contact with them. She could see the effect. Could see them grow larger, see bone and muscle swell and shift.

      I’m not 100% sure about this interpretation, but to me it looks like Bitch used her power on her dogs from a certain distance there, without touching them. So perhaps she always could do it?

  39. I wonder if Contessa could get better results than options A, B and C if she was working with people trained to follow her orders without question, like the Megacluster knew to follow March’s.

    1. Considering how much time was wasted by people whining and arguing with Contessa, I’m also quite sure that Khepri would have something to say to Victoria and her friends about working together in the most efficient manner possible.

      1. Yeah but to be fair they were thrown in at the fairly deep end, without warning, and Taylor would just make the call herself and live with the consequences on her shoulders. Breakthrough has multiple leaders which seems to work for it where the different leader’s knowledge and approaches gives them better advantages in different circumstances.

        With Victoria and LL potentially compromised of mind it should be Tristan, Ashley, Imp and Chastity making the call as the seeming leaders of their group/s present.

        Difficult to know if there are “better” results than these options. These are apparently the best options as far as these groups are concerned.

  40. I don’t have a lot to say. I just want to add my voice to the pile that Contessa is bad-ass and this situation is ass-bad.

    I want to throw appreciation at Kenzie for her use of emoticons in emergency communications. -b ^ _ ^ -b

    I hope Breakthrough has the time to communicate with Tats and tell her about Contessa. Have her double-check there’s no foul play going on.

  41. At this point I would like to remind you that Master/Stranger protocols and the paranoia associated with it exists for a very good reason. It is still not clear if Contessa is uncompromised.
    That aside my choices would be B and C.

  42. One thing about option C. Note that very little is told about long-term effects of this option. Perhaps this is because the heroes can utilize “blind spots” at their disposal to influence what will happen then beyond Contessa’s ability to predict the future? Maybe even do what Contessa said is unlikely in her experience, but not impossible – get a better outcome than predicted?

    In option A the heroes may no longer have such “blind spots” they could use to their advantage, or not have enough of them (for example Valkyrie could die in this scenario). In option B it would make sense to actually remove the blind spots from the city to ensure the predicted “best long-term outcome”. In option C? I think it would make sense to actually increase the number of “friendly blind spots” (like Valkyrie) in the city or its close vicinity, and perhaps even create more and have them work on achieving the best possible future.

    On that note – if Khepri’s powers could be restored, would she be a cape powerful enough to be a “blind spot”?

    1. Of course I realize that moving more “blind spots” into the city is a risky maneuver, since they sound exactly like the sort of things and people who could “cause the ice to break”, but nobody said that reaching a good long-term results in option C has to be an easy or low risk endeavor. If anything the fact that Contessa couldn’t predict much about the long-term effects of choosing this option makes me think that doing what I suggested above is very risky, but risky in the neutral meaning of the term – that is the results can be either very good, or very bad.

      But aren’t heroes supposed to deal with complicated, volatile situations like this as part of their jobs?

      1. By the way even the fact that in option C the only long-term effect Contessa predicted is that Teacher will likely continue to be a problem for a while could to be telling – maybe it means that if he manages to escape, he will stay away from the city and all “blind spots” concentrated there, and/or stop being a “blind spot” himself?

    2. > On that note – if Khepri’s powers could be restored, would she be a cape powerful enough to be a “blind spot”?

      Answering my own question – I doubt that Khepri would be a “blind spot”, at least not if her power functioned exactly like it did during GM. After all Dinah has managed to foresee Khepri, and I suspect that at least all Contessa’s “blind spots” also affected Dinah.

      1. Not to mention that we explicitly saw Contessa PtV vs. Khepri in the last (non-epilouge) chapter.

        That chapter wouldn’t have happened if Khepri was a blindspot

        1. Actually I believe that if Khepri was a blind spot, Contessa could do what she did then based on simulations. Doing a brain surgery even on a who didn’t resist based only on a simulation would probably be risky, but maybe not impossible, since it was mentioned in Battery’s interlude that Cauldron used taking powers from people as one of their standard methods of dealing with information leaks.

          Since the person Cauldron used to take powers was presumably Contessa (at least in many cases) her shard probably had plenty of data to successfully simulate the way to do it with Taylor even if Contessa’s power didn’t actually see Khepri.

          One more reason to think that Khepri could have been a blind spot – it could explain why Contessa didn’t immediately recognize Taylor on the photograph Teacher showed her at the end of her interlude. Wouldn’t it make sense for Contessa when sees a person (either on a picture or directly) whom she doesn’t immediately recognize to ask her power for a path to figure out that person’s identity, and normally just gets a one-step answer that consists of saying that person’s name (just like in this chapter she asked for a path that served to catch her up with recent events while it also let her explain things to her rescuers)? If Taylor was a blank spot at that time Contessa was shown that photo, she might not have gotten her answer, and instead had to figure it out like most people would do in such situation – form memory.

          1. Another reason to believe that Khepri might have been Contessa’s blind spot were her words near the end of chapter 30.7:

            > Because I think you have a chance to come back from this.

            Sure, the path might have required Contessa to say those words, but maybe it was not the case? Maybe Contessa actually meant what she said? If Taylor wasn’t a blind spot, shouldn’t Contessa be certain that it could be done? And yet she said there was only “a chance”…

          2. Of course there could be other explanations. Maybe Contessa could for some reason intentionally from her question in such way that she wouldn’t get an answer if Taylor would recover once after her part was done? Or maybe there was no way to avoid putting Taylor inside of a blind spot at some point before she was fully recovered (for example maybe the only way to send Taylor and her father away was by asking for Doormaker’s help through Ciara)?

          3. Yet another interesting possibility is that for some reason Taylor or something/someone close to her actually started interfering with precognition only after Contessa was done with Taylor? It would explain why Dinah had (and could) be convinced about Taylor’s death in the epilogue – if Dinah’s precognition could still see Taylor, all she would have to do is to ask herself “What are the chances I will see Taylor alive again?” and any number than zero would tell her that Taylor was either alive or able to be “resurrected” (assuming for some reason her power couldn’t distinguish between the original Taylor and a clone), while a zero would probably convince Dinah about Taylor’s death better that anything Tattletale could say.

            Only if Taylor can’t be seen through Dinah’s precognition anymore Dinah would be unsure about Taylor’s fate, because the answer would be something like “it is impossible to tell what the chance of finding Taylor is”.

          4. Maybe for example that device that was used to block all portals leading to that Earth Taylor is on (presumably Aleph) also doubles as a mechanism that creates an artificial blind spot in its range?

  43. Ive been thinking about this every day since it was posted.

    I still have no idea which choice I would make. It’s agonizing. Intense. Risks in every way.

    I am impressed…and sitting in the edge of my seat waiting to see what they choose.

    1. I guess that you should be glad that unlike the characters in Ward you don’t have to make this choice.

    1. The new chapter was most likely difficult to write given the scale of events and the number of characters involved… I hope WB takes all the time he needs to finish it in a way that makes him happy, without stressing himself out.

      That being said, the Ward-cravings are getting worse, I need my fiiix!

      1. Seconded. As much as many of us probably want to read the chapter right now, I don’t think we should rush the author. Whatever his reasons are for posting a new chapter later than usual let Wildbow take all the time he needs.

  44. Something else that occurs to me is that the Harbingers may still be planning to get rid of Sveta, especially given their reactions right before the explosions began. I also have no idea how she’s doing inside of that box, after all those explosions. She’s probably pretty durable but she was in a confined space probably getting tumbled around. I hope she’s okay. I feel like she might not survive this arc suddenly.

Comments are closed.