From Within – 16.9

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The entire ‘room’ shook as the many-handed beast reached to its right and tore a concrete slab out of the ground, reached to its left, and grabbed a chair and a fistful of floorboards from Rain’s room.  Cradle and Rain were almost mirrors to one another in how they moved away from the respective damage.  Difference was, Rain kept running.

Cradle only moved as far as he needed to get out of the way of any immediate hazards.  He maintained a kind of eerie calm, finding a position on another slanted concrete block that was  like a massive tombstone with no epitah, that had been tilted to a thirty degree angle.

I had the impulse to fly and I couldn’t, and feeling that lack while facing down something as big and intimidating as this many-handed thing was suffocating.  I’d never been especially afraid of spiders, but this thing was like three spiders of varying sizes all overlapping one another, each limb ending in a hand.  It was fluid enough in its arrangement that it could be as tall as a two story building, then sweep out to be barely any taller than I was, but with limbs reaching out to every surface across a twenty foot span.

No eyes to look into, but the glowing cords in gaps and joints drew the eye, and gave suggestions of slanted eyes or opening apertures, that weren’t actually there.

It was hard to convince myself to breathe, to move.  The thought that broke the paralysis, fleeting as it was, was that I’d seen and been frustrated with civilians in the midst of the Endbringer attack and the broken trigger.  It’d be hypocritical to cast aside all self preservation now.

“Up,” I spoke to myself as much as the people around me, my voice gaining volume as I continued,  “Focus, process later!  Survive now!”

Sveta was already getting to her feet.  She was wholly human, tattooed from the fingertips to her shoulders and up her neck, with the tattoos clearly aimed at covering up deep seams in her arms.  I saw her wince as she moved her foot and cut the outer edge of it on what looked like a bed of obsidian and igneous rock that was nearly invisible with the black coloring and the gloom of the room.

“Watch your step!” I called out.  This was a time for punchy orders that got everyone on the same page, communicated necessary, lean information with no ‘fat’.  “Rooms can have hazards!”

“You’re all idiots!” Tattletale growled.

Exactly what I was just thinking we shouldn’t do.  Pure fat, no lean.

Rain was getting to his feet to my right.  A ways to my left, Tristan had hurried over to Byron’s side, and Kenzie was near him but unable to really help.  The other three kids gravitated toward that end of the patchwork room. Tristan and Byron’s areas looked like concrete floor with spilled paint on it in ‘their’ colors, narrow metal pillars inset in concrete stumps making the entire area like a forest.  Byron’s area had blue-green paint and was tinted like it was night-time, Tristan’s area was reds and yellows with traces of orange, and shone like there was a window with sunlight shining in from outside, though the window was nowhere to be seen.

Damsel stood, her expression hard and cold.  I’d noted before how she seemed to freeze up or go still when angriest and most dangerous, and she was pretty much there.  Difference was, she had to get to her feet first.  Her area backed on Rain’s and one of the Heartbroken’s, and looked like a derelict apartment, with lighting like it was nighttime and the only light came from the moon through windows, even though the windows weren’t actually there.  The hand she placed up against a partially intact wall for balance had long bladed fingers.  She kept those, I supposed.  I wondered what the distinction was, that made it matter.

I could see varying degrees of animation and emotion among the others.  For most, the many-handed monster didn’t seem to even register, because the specters of their past chased them.  Ashley, the Heartbroken.  Tristan barely flinched because his concern was wholly for Byron.

Love Lost and Colt just looked bewildered.  Bewilderment became alarm as the many-handed thing crushed the concrete slab it held with two arms, then swiped the partially crushed mess in their direction.  The result was a hail of rubble.

This is a fucking mess, I thought.

“The kids,” Sveta said.

We needed a battle plan.

“Colt, Love Lost!” I called out.  “Look after the kids and Capricorn Blue!  Be prepared to carry him!  Cap Red, we need you!”

“But-”

“Don’t be stubborn!  You have armor!”

I saw him hesitate, then he turned toward his brother, his back to me.  I thought for a moment he was rejecting me, but he was unstrapping Byron’s chestpiece, pulling it free.  Once they saw what he was doing, Kenzie and Chicken Little helped with the strap at the other side.

The many-handed thing didn’t come after us, and the rationale could have been that it didn’t want to go too far into the room and leave us room to slip behind it.

But it was tearing up the floor and tearing up the terrain.  Where the ground wasn’t rendered almost impassable, it was littered with enough debris that we’d have to be careful where we put our feet.

And it was gathering materials.  Rebar, wood.

I wasn’t sure armor counted against a threat like this, but I had seen Tristan fight, I knew he had experience.  If we were going to make it through that forest of limbs and get past the guard dog and into the darkness behind it, we needed some experience and we needed to organize by some metric.

“Precipice,” I called out.

“I’m fighting,” he said.  He had a length of floorboard that he held like a spear.  I didn’t think it would matter, but…

“Grab me one?” I asked.  That got me a sharp nod.

Tristan jogged over, Byron’s scale-mail breastplate loosely strapped to one arm, his hand gripping loose straps at the other end.  He stood beside me, Sveta just behind me.

Love Lost and Colt were in the jungle of rusty iron beams and concrete, that was the Twins’ portion of the room.

I looked back at my section.  Panels of tinted glass and what might have been the texture of solar panels, cracked but not broken.  Though they were gold, with the more solid solar panel texture having a backing of black beneath that surface level, there was no warmth to it at all.

I turned back to the threat, pushing away the idle wondering as to whether the others were subtly bothered by their own spaces like I was by mine.

Rain tossed me one short spear of wood, and it hit me in the ribs as I caught it.  The sensation startled me, and as I looked down, I could see I didn’t have my breastplate.  I wore the black hooded top from my costume over the white dress with the watercolor skyline of Brockton Bay across the front.  My hair was braided, and it had been… a long-as-fuck time since I’d done that with any regularity.

He handed more wood to Sveta and to Tristan.

“I can’t unfurl,” Sveta said.

“No traumatic forcefield for me, either,” I said.

She met my eyes, and in the gloom of the room, I knew that our sentiments were very much the same.  For her to actually have a body with no associations to her power.  For me to not have that shadow hanging over me.

I reached out to squeeze her upper arm.

“Tristan and I will distract it, fend it off,” I said, turning to the thing we were up against.  I watched as it moved, continuing to tear concrete apart and harvest the rebar.  Slow, methodical, I felt like its mannerisms were defined by it keeping three-quarters of its attention on us and one-quarter on what it was doing.

It shook more concrete free of the rebar.  Damsel had to step behind a damaged wall, and still got plaster dust on her when the concrete punched through one portion of it.

“Sveta, Rain, focus more on distraction,” I said.

“Okay.  Harry, harass?” Rain asked.

“Just… bait it to attack and move.  Circle around.”

Cradle, off to one side, was watching everything.  He didn’t move, didn’t try anything.

Is this thing like Cradle?  Lurking in the background, before stepping in to do some horrific violence? 

“Damsel,” I said.

“Don’t you dare give me orders,” she snapped.  Her claw cut light furrows into the ruined wall it was still touching.

“Tattletale, then?” I asked.  “Can you help Love Lost and Colt with the kids and Byron?”

Tattletale had stood but hadn’t moved from her starting position in her room, which was the furthest from the monster.  Her dream was furthest removed from the mall, too.  Her area, despite being so far back, was bright like a room with a window open and the sun shining directly in, with a stretch of plush white carpet and a white wall cutting it almost in half.  Wall and carpet were stained with large blotches of bodily fluids.

“You were going to ask Damsel to try to hurt it,” Tattletale said.

“Yeah,” I said.

She reached to her hip and drew a handgun.  She still wore an expression like she hadn’t quite left the dream behind.  Sad, a little lost, not looking at us or the many-handed thing.  “I’ll do what I can.”

“Ah.  Okay.”

“How?” Rain asked.  “How’d you bring the gun?”

“Every day since I started working for Coil, back in Brockton Bay.  Even before Leviathan, I had it with me.”

“She shot me with it once,” I remarked.

“If I’d known you’d be dragging me into this, I would have shot you with it twice.  I thought the worst thing I’d have to deal with was maybe consoling your tinker if none of you came back.  No, I get dragged into this.”

“Power didn’t predict this?”

“My power didn’t,” she said, her voice tense.  “That niggling little voice in the back of my head did, but I ignored it.”

I looked back at her, studying her.  Costume, gun, all was cohesive, complete.  Tristan didn’t have his helmet, Rain had a hooded jacket on with no mask, no costume elements except for the solid pads along his jacket sleeves which the mechanical arms he built could normally be mounted on.

Love Lost was in costume, Colt in civilian clothes, still with that massive mane of dirty-blonde hair that frizzed and puffed out to either side.  Kenzie wore a black pinafore dress over a t-shirt, but she had sneakers, Chicken Little and Candy wore civilian clothes.  Darlene, I noted, had a nightdress on, a bit old fashioned.

This is us, I thought.  I pulled up my hoods, the hood built into my dress nestled inside the hood from my costume top.  Protection from any debris.

The many-handed thing had been tall, initially, almost wispy with how drawn out it was, how thin the arms were in comparison to how long they were, then it had flattened out, to cover and guard more ground, and to reach more things it could pull apart and scatter around as debris.

Now it drew in together.  Small enough in how each limb folded in or hid others from view, with more of the orange wiring and joints exposed to plain view than any of the hands were.  Mere seconds had passed and I was already having trouble tracking just how far those hands had reached when arms were fully extended.

That is… that, I thought to myself.  And that’s a deceptively open path to the exit it very much wants to guard.

“Look, near the shoulder bulge,” Sveta said.

The ‘shoulder bulge’ was one extended part of the ‘body’ where all of the hands seemed to reach out from, a lump toward the upper left part of its mass.  There, illuminated only by the general orange-yellow glow from the wires connecting arm pieces together, a hand as big around as my upper body was from crotch to throat gripped rebar, bent it neatly to a right angle.

I could see other machinations now.  Six hands closer to the core of the body were doing their individual parts, taking components that unseen hands passed to them, each performing specific actions that were methodical, sure, exact in the spacing of everything.  Like it was a machine.

My eyes widened.  Is it tinkering?

“Go!” I shouted.  “Right now!  Before it can finish building!  Love Lost, Colt, get ready to go!”

It was so big, and it hung there, partially in the darkness, like there could be more behind it that I hadn’t yet seen.  It didn’t breathe, didn’t make noise, and only the shuffling of the sleek material of arms and hands against itself was really audible.

“Go!” If I hadn’t been shouting, I might not have had it in me to take that first, involuntary-at-the-outset deep breath.  If I hadn’t been able to take the deep breath, I might not have been able to lean forward, when all I wanted to do was step back and hope it wouldn’t do anything until the forty minute timer ran down.

If I hadn’t leaned forward, I wasn’t sure I would have been courageous enough to run forward.  And if I hadn’t done that, then the others might not have budged, not when Sveta and Rain were following Tristan and I, and Tristan was distracted.

My foot hit black stone, and I avoided stepping on the almost invisible outcroppings.  One step, then another, legs moving to push my weight more forward than up.

With the third step, the timing not quite coinciding with my footfall, I heard the heavier step of Tristan’s boot.

Be mindful of the arm’s range, any weapons it might have, deflect if you absolutely have to, I thought, trying to visualize the upcoming situation, trying not to think about how my mom had drilled ‘visualize’ into me back when I’d played basketball.  It’s okay to get hurt, so long as we all get through the door.  Watch for anything it might push into us.

The arm unfolded, pulling free of the shuffle of forty or more limbs that were folded into one central area -No weapon- and swung backhanded.  It couldn’t reach me.  Nothing in its path to throw.

Others slowed.  I was dimly aware of them behind and beside me.  I didn’t slow down.  I was confident of my estimation.

The hand dipped low, striking the damaged section of floorboards.  It carved out a furrow, turning a hole into a ditch, a gap in the room with only ruined wood below, like it was broken floorboards or rafters with foot-wide gaps between pieces of wood, all the way down to fucking infinity.

Which meant that when I shifted course to favor the smallest portion of the gap leaped the ditch, I was simultaneously going weak kneed, my mind wrestling with the idea that it might really be infinity, that what happened here could really be forever.

Muscle memory saved me, if nothing else.  I landed on all fours, scooted one foot forward to be sure I could spring to one side if I had to, and twisted around to look up.

Just seconds ago, I’d estimated the number of limbs at forty.  How long before that had I called it three spiders- three times eight?

Now I was closer, within reach of the longest arms, which were thin, tendril-like, and immensely strong.  I could see it pulling more limbs free of the jumble, revealing something that looked like a disc, suspended in lightning that had been frozen in time.  The disc barely concerned me, because I could have put the number of limbs I was seeing at anywhere from eighty to one hundred.

“It’s multiplying its arms!” I called out.

“No,” Sveta said, and the statement was punctuated by one arm high above me stabbing in my direction.  It might have sounded like a sad, resigned thing, even an acknowledgement that I was well and truly fucked.

The hand was slender, considering the arm was about as wide as I was and the hand was disproportionately narrow and long-fingered for the arm.  It speared down wrist-deep into floorboards, then moved, tearing another trench.

I had to back up and to the side, mindful of where I set my feet.  There was a bottomless ditch behind me, a trench in front of me, the floorboards starting to fall away, with a loose precipitation of pine needles and leaves that had dried out a long time ago.

“-It’s not three-dimensional,” Sveta finished her statement.

Four dimensional?

The closer we got, the bigger it was, and the more its arms multiplied.  More joints existed in more shades of color, and the color that radiated out from those joints was mild, less than a candle might shed, but so numerous collectively that they made something brighter.  They were the source of the seemingly sourceless illumination that made it possible to see in the rest of the room.  I could map it from room to room, including that cold golden light that was apparently meant for me.

As it moved again, I jogged over to one side, so I was further from the trenches, and so a third strike wouldn’t see me fall into the abyss.

Rain’s space was a shack that had been left exposed to the elements, and it was my battlefield for the moment.  The hand altered course, coming right for me.  I saw a work bench, jumped up, and planted my foot on the top.  I looked up, saw the hand, and let myself fall back, kicking backward from the edge of the desk to throw myself onto my back.

The desk was- not even obliterated.  Smashed down and through floorboards into whatever oblivion lay beneath.  The arm seemed to continue plunging down forever, while the body barely moved in accordance with it.

I lay there, on my back, arms out to either side, floorboard plank as a spear or tool gripped in my right hand, held against my chest.  I remained where I was because the thing was above me, and being on my back made it easier to see what it was doing.

I turned my head to look to my left.  At the others.

The room had once been five-sided, maybe a hundred feet across, like the ground floor of a house in Brockton Bay.  The damage to Rain’s section took maybe a quarter of the space we had available to maneuver away from us.  Twenty or thirty of that hundred feet of breadth gone.  Maybe five feet at the far edge, closest to the back wall.

Another two quarters weren’t so doable, because they were a mess of concrete slabs, some a dozen feet long and five feet across.  Slabs that had to be climbed, climbed beneath, which was more difficult because they were littered with crushed concrete and stray rebar.

And because Cradle was there, staring us down, acting like the many-handed power that loomed high above me was a non-threat.  One small push or kick at the right time, and he could end anyone’s attempt to get over any one of three different concrete slabs.

The additions had been stacked onto one end, Tristan and Byron’s maze of rusty support pillars and paint, Sveta’s black rock.  Darlene’s stark room with a table and bed overturned, food and cloth strewn so densely on the floor there wasn’t anything visible.  Candy’s- it looked like a car interior, with barely enough room to squeeze through.  Aiden’s looked like a rooftop with building faces pressing in on either side.  Kenzie’s- a bedroom, almost utterly black.  One of the few that was illuminated by any discernable source – panels like the glowing screen of a phone or monitor, like they were turned on but displaying black, with that natural, cold glow.

The kids were hanging back, Love Lost’s unadorned hand held out in that universal sign for ‘stop’.  Colt was a little further ahead.

And the thing, it was there above me.  A hundred feet tall and a hundred feet across, with more than a hundred thin reaching limbs holding it up, gripping things, or reaching inside itself to fiddle, to grasp, to take snatched-up materials from the room and feed them into the center.

When it moved a few feet this way or a few feet that way, I could see the loss or addition of arms, as though quantity and distance were inversely correlated.

The bulk of its body was directly over the wall we wanted to get to, and even from my current vantage point, it looked like there were more arms occupying that space than there was empty space.

“Tattletale-!” I called out.

I saw arms move, reacting to the noise I’d made.  It was simultaneously attacking the others.

“-Don’t shoot it!”

Three arms, three hands almost as long as I was tall.  By how slim the hands and fingers were, and how hard the floor should have been, I could picture them shattering as they hit the ground.  But they were tough.

They didn’t come for me.  They went after the floor around me.  Three separate points, with the very start of the most recent ditch between the two of those points I would have most liked to run between to get to the door.

I rolled to my feet, stumbling as the floor sloped beneath me.  A sick feeling gripped me, like the plunge of a roller coaster, with zero thrill, only a feeling of despair.

We wanted to distract it?  It could hit all of us at once if we were in reach and it would have eighty more arms to spare.

Dark floorboards an infinity below me on three sides were illuminated only by the many green-tinted joints and digits that the endlessly long arm had at irregular intervals.  I moved to back up, ready to leap again and retreat toward the back of the room, and an arm moved to block me.  I turned another way, and an arm swept across that exit to sweep out and destroy floorboards between two of the penetration points.

Nothing to grab onto, no handholds with the nearest joints  a couple of feet below my own two feet, and higher above me than I could have jumped or easily climbed to access.

The floor dipped precipitously again.  My feet began sliding on dusty, pine-needle covered floorboards, and that horrible rollercoaster-drop feeling became an ongoing thing.

Too wide a gap to jump, no footholds.

I adjusted my grip on the spear, stabbing down at the joint below, driving the tip into the mess of faint green wires.  It penetrated, doing some damage, and remained jammed in.

The arm dipped another foot, and the bottom end of the floorboard was pulled out of my hands.  I backed away, not because of fear or immediate threat, but because I was one more shift of the floor’s angle from sliding down into oblivion, and I wanted a chance to be able to think and react before I did anything there.  With hands and feet, I could move back three or four feet, and I would summarily slide two feet back toward the edge.

I wasn’t even breathing, and I had to force myself to start, because I could not afford for my muscles to be oxygen starved at a moment like this.

Tinker, I thought.  It’s a tinker and it’s a shaker and it’s a changer, for all intents and purposes. 

There were rules for engaging with tinkers, changers and and shakers.  Tinker especially, you deprived them of their stuff and blitzed them where possible.  The rule for shakers was to avoid fighting on their turf.

I couldn’t stay put.  The two ideas were half-formed and they combined into one notion, that I put into motion before even being able to fully visualize it.  My mom had dropped the ‘visualize’ part of her general encouragement when I’d become a hero.

Like the basketball was always a thing of dreams, fancy, and imagination, and the hero stuff, that was what required practical advice and attention.

I pushed myself forward, rising to a standing position and running down the slope, to plant my foot on the very end of that floorboard.  It bowed and splintered under my weight, and I dropped toward the infinity below.

My other foot came to rest on the angled surface, scraping down it as I sought to push the bowed part straight more than I sought to find any balance or extra traction.  My right foot remained on the floorboard and my right knee hit my chest painfully as I dropped.

The hard edge that separated the front portion of my boot tread from the heel portion caught on the floorboard, giving me control and a semblance of awareness over the position of the piece of wood.

Maybe steadying it that tiny fraction I needed to keep it from bowing further.  When I kicked off, I used one leg to launch my full body weight, and the board didn’t spring or fall away from me.  My belly hit broken floorboards, and my legs and hips dangled.  The buckler and armguard were more hindrance than help as I fought to get a grip.

A hand smashed, palm flat, into the ground about ten feet away from me, floorboards crowning up around the impact site, and I lost an inch of ground.  The hand was added traction for whatever heavy lifting it was doing elsewhere.

I wobbled left and right, trying not to make sound or alert it to my presence, gaining quarter inches of progress as I wormed my way forward.  I scraped my thighs bloody in the process of getting them over the shattered row of floorboards.

I crawled forward, hands and knees, then shifted to a kneeling position.  I was almost directly beneath it.

I looked up, and I saw what I could imagine another planet might look like, if it were separated from our world by only a few hundred miles.  A tangle of reaching limbs, recesses, never repeating, not a funhouse mirror or kaleidoscope, but wholly unique when I looked at any portion.  Its dimensions distorted the dark portion of the room in retrospect, making it seem like the distance to the gate was miles, and those miles were punctuated by hundreds of arms that were planted on ground that had ceased to be floorboards and was now a plain of what looked like hard, packed salt, granular against my scraped knees and palms.

I felt like my body was nonexistent between my ribcage and my knees, after having my stomach drop so much and so intensely across those frantic minutes.  Standing was an exercise in convincing myself not to flop over like Torso had.

Blitz it, I thought.  It’s a tinker, supposedly.  Let’s hit it before it can hit us.

Moving forward was disorienting.  Normal rules for perceiving this thing didn’t seem to apply, as things moved at the wrong speeds in my peripheral vision when I moved past them.

I found the arm that looked like it was straining to bear the most weight and I punched at the purple-tinted cordage with my buckler’s hard edge.  Light danced with blinding brightness from the damage I’d done, so I hit it again, my eyes averted.  Every muscle in my shoulder, arm, and forearm hurt, and the old bullet wound in my bicep was shot through with a feeling like I’d been stabbed.  Because of course it was turned into a part of me.

Four hands came plunging down, one for me, three to provide support that this many-handed monster wasn’t getting from the one I’d punched.

I backed out of the way of the one, and used my hood to shield my face from the cloud of granules and dust that exploded around the impact site.

I could see phantom images in that dust.  Traces of writing hanging in the air in three dimensions with diagrams.  Shadowy figures, like people who were too stooped over, almost bean-shaped, their faces lost in a puckered mess I couldn’t interpret.  They even wore clothes.  Three large and one small, as they placed a limb on the small one’s side, where no limb had existed before.  As the dust got thinner, the clarity of the images gave way to lines and numbers, like some vast over-blueprint written throughout this space.

As I moved away from the scene, it changed.  Distance correlated to other things.  Or perhaps correlated to quantity, still, but the memories took on another, fuller form when viewed in aggregate.  Written behind the air here to be uncovered like pencil rubbings on a sketchpad.

You fought the same fights we’re fighting now, I thought to myself.  And if they moved on, that means they got you.

I couldn’t stop moving, so I ran like I normally flew, straining my legs, seeking any opportunity to reverse course, feint, and make my path hard to predict.  It swiped at me, brought hands down, tried to bar my way by laying one arm flat to the ground.

When it didn’t come for me specifically, and when there were joints in plain sight, I punched the buckler into the vulnerable spots.  Here and there, it cut.  In other places, it bent rigid filaments and components.

It pulled entirely away from the others.  They were fighting their own uphill battle, and as it twisted, facing me more than anything, they were given a reprieve.  Time to get an injured Colt to her feet, to run forward unmolested, to find their equilibrium.

The entire room groaned as the many-handed, planet-sized guardian shifted its ‘stance’, for lack of a better word.  Arms found positions on walls far too out of our reach to access, and others were placed strategically where it would take far too long to run to, or near broken sections of ground.

Other limbs , I could barely see, even a majority of others, were gripping a ceiling far out of sight in the darkness high above the room, so the rest of it could hang down.

It reached into itself, and it pulled out finished work.

I counted ten pieces of tinker technology, built to be larger than I was.  Then I revised my number to fifteen, then to twenty.  Discs, gauntlets, claws that glowed too bright to look at directly.

“Hurry!” I called out, with one word taking up my full capacity of air.  The next two words were the same. “Devices incoming!”

I could make out the others past dust and images of a world past.  Their route was close to the dais, beneath an outcropping of Cradle’s slabs.  That outcropping served as their cover from the worst of it.

Filaments extended down.  Not a hand, but a thousand prehensile strings that snatched at my clothing, the roots of my hair, my arms, even my nose momentarily, my tit, and the toe of my boot.  One moment I was free, the next I was being wrenched skyward, filaments cutting into clothes and skin like razor blades, and in the third moment I tried to move and I realized the sheer limitation of movements available to me.

I shifted position, wriggling my shoulders until I was out of my jacket.  I hoped to slip free, and I found the cords cutting into my sleeves too tight.  It was a good thing the material of my costume top was made to be rugged.  I hung from my forearms and one toe, my jacket bunched up around my elbows.

My midsection almost didn’t have the strength for me to twist, to bring my foot up, and to get it to where my elbow was.  To push, scraping the sleeve against my arm inch by inch, as the ground disappeared beneath me, half-foot by half-foot.

I got one arm free, and I swung.  I kicked off my boot, and swung again, dangling only by the one arm.

And inch by inch, my body weight now pulled my arm free of that sleeve.

Cords were reeling in, possibly ready to reach out again.  I focused more on the moment than the future I could be dreading.  I kicked out, swung, and wrapped both legs around the nearest arm, giving me the leverage to pull with almost my entire body.  Getting my arm free.  It got my costume top.

Which apparently wasn’t okay.

From one disc above me, a flare of orange, a burst of flame.  Like Colt’s lighting arms, but it was fire, and it was sinuous, with three digits like a bird’s talon.  When it hit the granules beneath me, it turned them to glass.  Forming a shape like a letter ‘Y’, two talons slid in the ground around to point away from me, and the third stabbed up and in my direction, aimed right for my upper body.

I punched out with the buckler, my other hand going to my wrist, to push against the wrist that bore my armguard and buckler, bracing it against the force of incoming heat and flame, that threatened to throw me from my perch.

The heat swelled, metal melted, and residual heat blasted my face and scalp, despite the fact that my shield, part of the thing’s arm, both of my arms, and my hood were between the source of the heat and me.

The intense burning sensation hit a dizzying crescendo, then changed to something approximating coldLike all sensation was gone.  It felt like it took half of my consciousness with it.

I barely even heard the gunshot.  I did hear the ringing silence after, dimly registering the fact the flame talon wasn’t firing anymore, and instead hung limp, sparking.

Thanks Tattletale.  I bet you’re going to be smug about this.

I tried to slide partway down using thigh-strength alone, but the fire had damaged the thing’s own arm, and I wasn’t all there.  I hit a stopping point and nearly fell from there, but found the wherewithal to slide down a bit more, to punch my arm in the general direction of the melted section of smooth white ‘skin’, jabbing the contents within with a buckler of glowing metal that easily bent and smeared globules of molten steel amid dense wires and filaments.  They burned with an acrid smell.

I tried to slide down a bit more, and somewhere along the line, numb, I lost my grip.

The impact knocked the wind out of me.  A blinding pain at my leg made me twist away, but it was the pain and blurry vision through eyes that might have been burned that informed me my shield and arm had come into contact with my knee.

The others were more in this section now.  Last leg of what shouldn’t have been this insane a journey.

More devices were going off.  Claws that scattered shelving units and propelled them away with force.  Limbs sprouted from the ground, and Tristan carried Byron’s weight on his back while charging one, throwing their full weight and the shield into the limb to push it back and away, giving Sveta room to move, as she jabbed at another with a stick of metal.  Damsel kept her distance from the pair, but as the smaller hand recoiled from Sveta’s stabbing, she took advantage to turn the hand into a stump with a swipe of her claw.  Given the logistics of the claw, the weight of it, and possibly the fact that tinkertech that didn’t belong to the many-armed agent itself wasn’t working, the slash seemed to require a lot of effort.

That, or it had always been a weapon more for show and shaping her power than for practical slashing of any opposition.

Chicken Little called out a warning about a bombardment from above, and Sveta and Tristan split, moving in opposite directions as fresh Tinkertech was unleashed.  Sveta went deeper in, Tristan backed up to the nearest cover, adjusting his grip on Byron.

I saw Sveta look up and see the sky I saw, all darkness, pale arms, and glowing points of light.  I saw as it dawned on her, the nigh-impossibility of getting through this forest of limbs and now almost-continual bombardment.

I saw Sveta look at me, my burned self, and seem to despair more over that than anything.

Tattletale fired with thought behind each shot.  One bullet for a given device, not every device got a bullet.  It might have been only the ones she thought she could break, and most of them broke.

She wouldn’t have access to her power, I was pretty sure.  I thought of the girl in her trigger event.

You’re not dumb, I thought.  You know what to do.

Rain, Tattletale, and Love Lost passed beneath the granite slabs, guiding and shielding the kids.  Cradle loomed above, unmolested, still watching.  I opened my mouth to shout a warning, and the air in my lungs tasted burnt, my lips split, and the effort dizzied me.  The pain was coming back, but it was simultaneously profound and disparate, touching some parts of my upper body and leaving others entirely numb.

A casual two-handed throw of a piece of rubble.

Rain was sheltering the kids with his body.  In the end, it meant that when the rubble came down, it struck both him and Candy.

He stared down at us with scuffed glasses, saw Tattletale taking aim, and ducked down, hiding in his portion of the room.

Sveta started my way, but the ground between us was suddenly riddled with phantom handprints, forceful enough to turn the granular into something solid.  She shied back behind the wreckage of empty shelving units in what I presumed had been Snag’s area.  Writ large with the spatial distortion that came with being directly under this thing.  This guard dog.

Long seconds passed, and was feeling colder and colder with every heartbeat.

The bombardment was slowing.  The thing was drawing back into itself.

“Why did you go ahead?” Sveta asked.  Asked me.

My throat felt impossibly dry.  I’d inhaled air that was too hot, maybe.  “Needed to distract,” I said, intending to say ‘it’, and getting only a mouth movement with no air instead.

“You did that.  You followed through,” she said.  “Gave us that opening we needed.”

Tattletale and Love Lost worked together to carry a partially caved-in Rain, Tattletale with a gun in her hand, her eyes on the concrete above her.

Darlene, Chicken Little, and Kenzie carried an injured Candy.  Rain had apparently absorbed most of the blow.

“Essalated,” I managed.  “Esc-”

“Escalated,” Sveta said.

“It did.  Like an Endbringer.”

I pointed, using my less burned arm.

It was escalating even now.

Disparate parts and pieces of technology knitted together into something big.  Some tinkers specialized in the big stuff.  Others worked toward it for a long time.  In Boston, the original Damsel had faced off against Blasto’s big project.  At Gold Morning, String Theory had unveiled her own, apparently.  The tinkers had collectively built one.

Now this nest of arms was forging something else, and by the looks of it, the glow of individual energy cells powering on, it was nearly complete.

I could remember the files, the information only for team leaders and Wardens.  Information on the Endbringers, provided in retrospect, only after Gold Morning when the Endbringers cooperated against Scion and the attacks stopped.

“We can’t get through.”

Sveta looked, and I saw her purse her lips.  Too many limbs, and too much tinkertech had been used to complicate the way through, riddle it with hazards.

“I don’t think we can, sweetie,” she said, barely audible.  The kids were yelling, pointing at what Sveta and I had already noticed.

I shook my head.  It wasn’t time to give up like this.

“Get-” I managed, pointing.  “Him.”

Cradle.

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57 thoughts on “From Within – 16.9”

  1. -I swear, this little SHIT, Cradle, created MORE problems through the entire story for our heroes and their allies than Teacher and his entire army ever created. Bet he have a lot of fun watching his shard kicking everyone’s ass. Yeah, Sveta, go after him, capture him and USE him to distract the attention of his mini-Endbringer before it will destroy everyone. Then, after everything is over, she should give him some freaking good kicks for every bad thing his shard did.

    -Grasping Self is a sadistic sociopath just like its host. Cradle+ Grasping Self= <3 best ship.

    -Rain risked his life to protect the kids. Rain is the best boy. We can't have only best girls, we need some best boys too.

    -Antares can't stop with her fashion obsession not even when she's effectively destroyed by crazy shard. She's truly dedicated to her hobby :).

  2. Interesting to note:

    Grasping Self doesn’t attack them directly.

    Well, okay, he does a few times here and there… with a single hand occasionally.

    But he doesn’t immediately go for the kill on them.

    Like, I think we can all agree that if it wanted to, it could have simply one-shotted all of them with its infinite hands.

    Instead it… stays in the corner. It throws rubble along the floor. It destroys the the Room floor to get them to fall. But it doesn’t attack completely directly.

    Hell, there’s a literal scene here where Victoria is dangling off a ledge and the arms are working around her rather than doing the easy thing and throwing her into the abyss.

    Even when using Tinker Tech, it’s all at range and fragile enough for a pistol shot to render them almost inoperable.

    Now, Victoria and TT think that it’s simply choosing to escalate instead of going for the kill immediately (for some reason)… but then I think about Victoria’s buckler and punching through arms.

    How Tristan was able to body slam a granite hand.

    Even TT’s pistol and Slashley’s claws damage…

    What if the reason it’s keeping its distance isn’t just because of it’s escalation programming, but because there is something inherently wonky about the Dream Bodies themselves?

    1. My first thought was it’s Manton limited. The tinker items it made didn’t have the limit, but otherwise it could only affect them indirectly.

    2. @Ridtom: My first thought was that the shard is Manton limited. It can only affect them indirectly or through tinker items it’s made.

  3. This is just so good. Lots of action mixed with so much deep character stuff. And some really fun moments, mostly involving Tattletale.

  4. Trying to visualize this chapter has given me a headache. So I guess nice going?

    Also I think Cradle needs more experience with Empathy For Others.

  5. “Tattletale and Love Lost worked together to carry a partially caved-in Rain”
    “Rain had apparently absorbed most of the blow.”

    No no no please not Rain. I can’t lose my favourite member of Breakthrough so soon after losing my second favourite.

    I pray to you, oh mighty boar.

  6. Typo thread.

    > block that was like a massive

    Extra space between “was” and “like”.

    > the nearest joints a couple of feet

    Extra space between “joints” and “a”.

    > There were rules for engaging with tinkers, changers and and shakers. Tinker especially, you deprived them of their stuff and blitzed them where possible.

    Change “Tinker” at the beginning of the second sentence to “Tinkers”.

    > The next two words were the same. “Devices incoming!”

    There is only one space between these sentences.

    > Long seconds passed, and was feeling colder and colder with every heartbeat.

    The second part of this sentence has no subject – what “was feeling colder and colder”? “I”? “it”?

    1. “with no epitah, that”
      +p

      “central area -No weapon- and”
      Various instances of “tinker(s)”, “changer(s)” and “shaker(s)”
      Capitalisation ?

      “I shifted course to favor the smallest portion of the gap leaped the ditch,”
      Missing something, a comma before ‘leaped’ maybe.

      “changers and and shakers.”

      “on walls far too out of our reach to access,”
      >”too far out” ?

      1. > Various instances of “tinker(s)”, “changer(s)” and “shaker(s)”
        > Capitalisation ?

        While I admit that I haven’t seen any official word on this (and I actually would be grateful if someone could provide a link to one if it exists), as far as I can tell Wildbow used to capitalize the names of power categories back in Worm, but at some point he stopped doing so. In Ward they are almost never capitalized (except at the beginning of a sentence of course). There are exceptions (for example in interlude 14.z), but they are so rare, that I think that they are considered errors right now.

    2. Aside the problem of capitalizing power categories discussed above, I’ve noticed another similar problem in Ward – almost everywhere (especially in earlier chapters) terms “case fifty-three” and “case seventy” and similar names are not capitalized, without a dash between word “case” and the number, and with the number spelled out as a word or words connected with dashes as appropriate. However there are many exceptions:
      – Case Fifty-threes in chapter 5.5,
      – Case fifty-three in the middle of a sentence in chapter 5.12,
      – case-seventy in chapter 6.3 (perhaps correct in that “case-seventy situation”),
      – Case Fifty-Threes in chapter 7.8,
      – two instances of Case-53 in chapter 8.2,
      – not-Case-53 in chaptr 8.3,
      – Case Fifty-threes in chapter 8.10,
      – “Case Fifty-Threes and on Case Seventies” and “Case Fifty-Threes and Seventies” in interlude 9.z,
      – Case Fifty-Threes in chapter 10.2,
      – Case-53 (thrice!) in chapter 10.5,
      – case-53 and non-case-53 in interlude 10.x
      – Case-fifty-threes in chapter 10.10,
      – Case-53 in chapter 10.11,
      – Case Fifty-Threes in chapter 11.2,
      – multiple instances of Case Fifty-threes, Case Fifty-Three(s) and Case-53s in chapter 11.4,
      – Case Fifty-Threes in interlude 11.c,
      – Case Fifty-three and Case-Fifty-Three in chapter 13.1,
      – Case Fifty-Three(s) (multiple times), case-fifty-threes and Case Fifty Threes in chapter 13.6
      – Case Fifty-Threes (twice) in chapter 13.7,
      – Case Fifty-Three and Case Twelve in chapter 13.8,
      – Case Fifty-three and Case Twelve (twice, including “Mr. Case Twelve”) in chapter 13.9,
      – Case Twelve (thrice) in chapter 13.11,
      – Case Fifty-Threes in chapter 14.5,
      – Case Twelve in chapter 14.10,
      – Case Fifty-Three in chapter 14.11,
      – ex-Case Fifty-Three, Case Fifty-Threes and Case Fifty-Three in interlude 15.a,
      – Case Seventy in chapter 15.3,
      – Case Fifty-Three in chapter 16.2.

      Capitalization of Case Twelve may be intentional, because there is only one, and the term works sort of like his name, but in chapter 13.9 it is also spelled “case twelve” and “Case twelve” at the beginning of a sentence (though it is used in a bit of PRT file detailing the case, not to name the Old Man himself, so perhaps it’s fine).

      Obviously I’m reporting this whole list here, and not in the appropriate chapters because the comments sections of these chapters are closed.

  7. 1. Somehow the golden solar panels in Victoria’s part of the room reminded me both about the sun/light/sky theme of Ward’s arc titles and the way Victoria described the skyline of the city at the very beginning of chapter 1.1. At the same time she wears a dress with a picture of Brockton Bay’s skyline. This flying girl is all about skylines, isn’t she?

    2. I worry that Victoria’s order at the end of this chapter may end poorly for Cradle, especially since Tattletale already drew her gun, and Victoria didn’t specify to take Cradle alive, though I think that Tattletale should be smart enough to try to take Cradle hostage first, and shoot him only if there really is no other choice.

    1. Re. 2. Obviously aside from practical reasons, I don’t expect Tattletale to kill Cradle if she can take him alive simply because it actually takes a lot to convince her to participate in a murder, and Cradle is probably still far from there. After all as bad as he is, he doesn’t exactly have means to evade justice that Coil had. Of course things may change if it looks like Cradle is on his way to become a new hub of shard network, or if he simply becomes a direct threat to other people in the room in a way that would force Tattletale to kill him as an act of necessary defense.

      1. Tattletale won’t have any problem to kill someone. She was the one who indirectly caused Coil’s death and she almost killed Night. Cradle is already a DANGER for everyone. He threw debris at Hearbroken and Rain, trying to kill them and severely injuring Rain.
        But they need him alive to use him as human shield against his psycho shard. Then they can kill him for all I care. I think nobody will opposite to the idea of getting rid of this asshole who caused them so much troubles.

        1. Night was a more or less clear case of nesesery defense. Tattletale had no way to stop Night without shooting her, and if I remember correctly it looked like Night was trying to maim or kill some Undersiders then. There is also the fact that we don’t really know if Tattletale was shooting to kill, and considering Night’s power any non-lethal wound she got was little more than a momentary hinderance.

          The Undersiders would also probably have no problem with just capturing Coil, or otherwise dealing with him in non-lethal way, but the combination of his power and his position as a PRT director meant that they had no way of containing him long-term, and he has already proven that he not only had no intention of letting Dinah leave, but also of letting inconvenient people like Skitter live.

          Cradle’s real body is already safely exiled. Tonight his dream-self can probably be easily contained now and forced to cooperate (at gunpoint if necessary). Future nights may be a more problematic, but remember that as long as most of his clustermates live, he will always be outnumbered, and that once everyone wakes up it will probably not be a big problem to convince the heroes to execute him if his clustermates happen to all die in their sleep. There is obviously a wiry that he could reach the dark portal unmolested by Grasping Self and wreck things from there, but if it was that simple, wouldn’t he have done it already?

          By the way, I wonder why everyone met Grasping Self’s representation, and not some other Endbringer-lite? Could it be “Cradle’s night”? If the “guardian of the room” rotates depending on whose night it is, who guards the room during “nobody’s night”? Is there a guard at all? If there is – could it be some fifth shard? Or maybe all shards in the cluster are in the fifth space together during such nights?

          1. Oh, God, no, please, don’t say something like that. I don’t want any of Cradle’s clusters to die (not even Colt; yes, she’s an idiot but she’s just an idiot kid). Because if they die in their sleep, they’ll be braindead in reality.
            Ok, not kill him, but they can still shoot Cradle in one arm and one leg so they’ll make sure that he won’t do anything. He won’t die but he’ll be incapacitated enough to not hurt anyone and they’ll have an easier time to use him as their escape from room ticket. This is the only way they can force him to “cooperate”, I don’t think he’ll simply surrender, especially in front of people that he hates so much. And even if he’ll surrender, he’s still a backstabber prick and can create some unpleasant surprises for his captors if he’s not incapacitated in a more violent way. I don’t trust this guy not even a bit.
            Yes, I think this is Cradle’s night. They’re unlucky enough to try an escape room right during Cradle’s night. I don’t have any idea about nobody’s night. Maybe there’s no such thing like nobody’s night?

          2. If I remember correctly, at the beginning of Ward the rotation of dreams was Snag-Cradle-Love Lost-Rain-no dream. On each night everyone saw memories of the person whose night it was, that person got an extra token (during the night with no dream a random person would get it) and a general boost to their power until next night.

            I’m not sure what has changed after Snag’s death (except that his token were not seen by his other clustermates since that day). Maybe there was no rotation at all anymore? If it was, maybe it was shorter – four, not five nights per cycle? My guess is that there probably still was some sort of a cycle, and something changed again after Colt joined the cluster, because during the first night after that (in interlude 12.e) Love Lost saw not only hers, but also Rain’s and Cradle’s dreams, and right after her perspective shifted from her memories to Rain’s her reaction was “This isn’t the way things go.

            By the way isn’t it slightly annoying that more or less since Snag’s death Wildbow has been writing Ward in such way that it is never possible to determine the exact date, and through it figure out whose night it is supposed to be, or how long the cycle is? (Assuming there still is a cycle of course.)

          3. Oh, and remember that we really have little idea about the night with no dreams. Early on Rain’s cluster members speculated that there could have been a fifth member of their cluster who triggered with the, and died before the first night. I think there are many hints that this was not the case, but the theory was never debunked with 100% certainty.

            Another puzzling thing is that Love Lost wrote to Lord of Loss that Cradle had been talking to her after he died. We still don’t know how and when exactly it happened, or if Love Lost was the only person who could hear Snag, but perhaps it was something that happened during Snag’s nights (assuming that there were “Snag’s nights” after his death, of course)?

  8. *sighs* still think leaving Cradle alive was a mistake-
    he doesn’t just have a defective brain, he actively resisted the bleed-effect accidentally fixing it/mitigating the abnormalities-
    there’s nothing positive or useful he’ll ever do or make,past the physical defects he’s psychologically incapable of being anything other then a self-serving,backstabbing twat. im just saying, track him down in the prison world, one bullet, so many problems solved right there…

  9. I think I would hate Cradle less, if he was a competent villain. He could have jetted off into Shard Space. The amount of power that has just fallen into his lap that he fails to use well is crazy. Seriously, unlimited cosmic power. Right there.

    I hate him so much!

    1. I doubt it’s going to be that easy. Going there doesn’t mean being able to control anything.
      Plus, Cradle would probably be firmly pushed back in his sector by Grasping Self with a couple headpats.
      They’re essentially invading alien quasi-anatomy with this, and as much as a bacteria getting in your gut doesn’t make it able to control your legs, a bunch of humans entering the wormshards’ storage dimension probably won’t let them solve everything with a fingersnap.
      I wonder what Breakheartsidetenders would achieve in there if they successfully negotiate passage. I’m personally hoping for some sort of actual, communicative contact to start improving the current situation. They have Tattletale, who was somewhat able to connect with Ziz, so there’s that, but that’s still massively wishful thinking.

      I also wonder just how much of their wounds will transfer back to their original selves, considering that mental translation layer on the way in.

    2. to be fair, its pretty textbook for people with Antisocial Personality Disorder-
      they tend to have impaired long-term planning/general intelligence, to be impulsive, reckless, exhibit emotional immaturity-
      on average, RW low/zero-functioning “sociopaths” tend to, well, on AVARAGE, feel a little dim-
      there’s a fair level of overlap of other personality traits common in ASPD suffers, with the traditional selection criteria for high-level executives- theres some theorizing its a contribution factor to global financial instability (most commonly in the banking sector/international business) due to the drive to succeed/ruthlessness to screw over coworkers to get ahead oftern coming with impaired long-term thinking, but I don’t know if there’s been many formal studies-
      its refreshing to see a character who’s officially ASPD shown realistically (instead of as a ruthless supergenius/chessmaster that Hollywood/tv commonly shows them as)as being a little dim/careless by average standards- emphasizing its a disability, not a magical intellectual superpower >.<
      literally the only way he survived this long was his superficial charm, the dumb luck of having studied lucid dreaming techniques enough to subtly warp the other's recollections/dreams AND that he ended up in a specific cluster-subtype where they were useful- if they'd had experience with the warning signs of his illness/ever lucked into learning more about his personal history, or been less easy to warp due to the nature of the power-share/trigger stimulus…….

  10. @Gantradies: I disagree about leaving Cradle alive. Grasping Self would still be part of the cluster were he dead, and if he were dead then there’d be no holding it back.

    I’m a little surprised none of the other watchdogs have jumped in to try and protect their hosts, but I guess none of them want humans accessing their worlds. I just want to see a shard-on-shard fight. Cloven Stranger’s not a power I’d want to fight, though maybe it won’t affect Grasping Self as much.

  11. That wasn’t just a “watchdog”, was it? That was Cradle’s shard in its full glory. I wonder if seeing it like that is going to give any of the Tinkers present any new ideas.

    For a moment at the end I thought that Victoria’s shard had shown up to save her, but I guess not.

  12. I found this so hard to follow I essentially couldn’t tell much other than “there was a fight with Cradle’s shard, and the good guys mostly lost”. I couldn’t visualize hardly any of this.

    I may be in a minority, but I would rather have more scenes of the protagonists going shopping or interpersonal conflicts and romancy stuff than this barely understandable shard shenanigans.

  13. more typos

    reached to its left, and grabbed (imo sounds better as “and reached to its left, grabbing)
    epitah > epitaph
    continued, “Focus, > continued. “Focus,
    cloth strewn > clothes strewn
    and was feeling (missing pronoun)

    1. More like Victoria is once again going out of her way to collect painful injuries for the team. Maybe she thinks at some corner of her subconscious that Panacea can always heal her? At the same time the way Vicky reacts to pain almost makes me think that it was miss brute, not Taylor, who got her pain receptors permanently damaged by Bakuda’s bomb.

      At least the fact that she is used to fight without depending on her powers much probably helps her a lot in this situation.

  14. “This is us.” So Tattletale has been subsumed into her cape identity more than anyone else present.

    And Antares is double hooded and unarmored yet shielded, on a deep metaphorical level. I suppose armor and a shield are very different symbols, come to think of it. Victoria is a hero at heart, which doesn’t necessarily help. And a problem solver, which might.

    Tristan and Byron wear armor always, but their self-identifying hair is not concealed.

    Sveta is a trip. She is not a girl made of tentacles. She is already decorated in her planned tattoos. And she is constantly the girl who used to be made of tentacles. Presumably she will always be so.

    Chicken Little sleepwalked onto a rooftop is as confirmed as it gets.

    And poor, poor Slashley. Not only is she not Swashley, and maybe unable to be, but look how little she is left with. She’s still back in the dilapidated government-donated apartment she couldn’t help but break holes in. She’s the girl with no friends; her carefully ignored caretakers her only real hope of success at villainy (Oh. OH!). The only true change in 4 years, the only real movement away from rock bottom, is what Bonesaw did to her. When Jack pulled her down into slavery. And she’s allergic to sympathy. Poop.

    Ryan is middle school Ryan, and he still doesn’t get it. He could have been untouchable and maybe even won a flicker of consideration, but he made certain to alienate every human being in the place. A tactical, calculating idiot to the last.

    1. Re. Tattletale.

      Remember that in a way she lived as a cape 24/7 for years now. She left her civilian life behind when she run away from home. Even her current civilian identity is just another mask.

      Re. Antares.

      She doesn’t wear armor – she expects to be wounded, and armor was just supposed to be a backup in case she couldn’t depend on her forcefield anyway.

      She wears two hoods and her hair is braided – she is still uncomfortable with showing off her beauty, and her face and hair are probably the most important elements of that.

      She wears a mixture of a costume and civilian clothes – there was always a lot of cross-over between her cape and civilian lives. As a child was raised by known capes, and everyone expected her to trigger at some point. After she triggered she never had a secret identity. She’s even constantly not only thinks of her teammates using their civilian names when they are in costume, but also is probably the main offender in Breakthrough when it comes to calling her costumed teammates using their civilian names out loud (and if I remember correctly sometimes the other way around – calling people in civilian clothes using their cape names).

      She has a skyline across her front – she clearly has a thing for skylines. Remember that she even began her narration in chapter 1.1 by describing the skyline of the city, and she returns to the topic multiple times later, especially when she considers the impact of the portals on Megalopolis’s sky. She even uses [email protected]_The_Sky as her internet handle! Probably has something to do with her ability to fly.

      At the same time the fact that the skyline on her dress clearly shows that she never fully thought if the city as her new home. She clearly is a Brocktonian in her heart. She even regularly visited ruins of Brocton Bay between Gold Morning and the beginning of Ward.

      I already mentioned in one of the other comments that the golden solar panels in her part of the room remind me of her description of the skyline of the city in chapter 1.1, and that it fits the sun/light/sky naming convention of Ward’s arcs, but it also fits because golden is also very much Victoria’s signature color. Not only because of her hair color, but also because both of her “permanent” costumes incorporated golden elements – Glory Girl’s tiara, Antares’s armor. I wouldn’t be surprised if that sun she used as a part of her temporary costume during the workers protest was yellow.

      By the way, it is interesting that while designing her current costume, Victoria ignored a fact that Antares is a red star, and this color is important in context of the anti-Ares/anti-Mars meaning of its name.

      Re. Sveta.

      > she is constantly the girl who used to be made of tentacles.

      Being a C53 is a core element of Sveta’s self-image. Remember that she chose to keep the “C” mark, and if I remember correctly she said at some point that she would consider herself a C53 even if she had a completely normal, human body (and maybe also all of her memories, though I’m not sure if she explicitly stated that). In chapter 14.11 she also said “Is it weird if I see myself with another Case Fifty-Three?”, and she still considers herself a part of C53 community, even if most of that community doesn’t want anything to do with her.

  15. 1. I don’t know why everyone is so upset, you’d think with the wonky trigger events they’d be “mall-ified” 😉

    2. Cradle is a psychopath, but not necessarily evil. The “guard dog” (dare I say warden) came from his slice of the cluster, so he would have had the first sight of the many-armed, multi-dimensions of the thing. Also, tinker looking at tinkertech in his specialty. He’s helping currently, but neither is he shoving Antares into a bottomless pit.

    3. Weird time-dust is weird.

    4. So what do we want to bet the reason the Chicken Tenders + Tattletale came along is because reality tore a little more than expected?

    1. I was thinking the Tenders overheard Victoria and Tattletale talking. Kenzie didn’t want to be left behind again and Aiden didn’t want Rain to die and the other two didn’t want Aiden to die so they all decided to extend the definitely-somehow-a-cube to encompass them as well and Tattletale was right next to them so she got pulled in as well.

    2. Re. 4. Perhaps all this tech phased through Kenzie’s head is a clue about what happened? What if every parahuman has something similar (let’s call it a tendril) phased into their sculls that acts as a connector between their CPs and the main bodies of their shards? Perhaps not-a-cube that is supposed to reach into realities that are supposed to be normally inaccessible to humans (like the place where inactive Capricorn’s body is stored) intersected with parts of CTs an Tt’s tendrils that crossed through universes/dimensional planes (or whatever else you want to call them) close to Gimel and it was enough to bring these people into the dream-room? After all who says that the dream-room has to be able to distinguish where a host ends and their passenger begins?

    3. the reason people are so Cynical about Cradle is, well-
      he’d started to enjoy “fitting in” under his mask, or at least though he could get used to it,
      and then when he had the ability to genuinely feel empathy pushed into his head, his response wasn’t to “just” feel guilt/ feel bad for being.. well, a dick hiding under a mask, but to set out to cheerily murder all the others in the cluster just so he stopped feeling bad-
      he was a morally grey person you could spent months arguing about before the trigger,like most of us, really, and he made a conscious decision to become an outright monster after artificially gaining empathy, as limited/muted as it was.

      Ryan was .. a little sympathetic/pitiable- it wasn’t his fault that he was born with a chunk of his social/emotional wiring missing-as a child/for a long time, he wasn’t behaving in a way he felt was wrong, and he made a conscious effort to be functional and be part of society, despite feeling he was the only actual person in a world of cardboard cutouts.
      That somewhat-sympathetic, almost likable kid/guy who was living fairly normally and following society’s rules despite feeling no moral impetus to died when he decided how to handle gaining actual empathy-
      the moment he mad a conscious decision to be evil, not “just” a Villain (a Job), but to become an outright monster (what he really was beyond/outside that job) because, he suddenly had the physical ABILITY to care,he Became “Cradle”-

      he just decided “fuck literally everyone else,cause feeling real things hurts/is annoying”
      he’s arguably worse then Lab Rat 2.0, Post-Phial Manton, or Budget Ashley-
      they didnt make a conscious choice to throw themselves down the moral sink- or at least, a choice to start on that path.
      DeathHonk (have you ever heard a swan try to sing? NOT a pretty sound..)
      has decades of fake memories, an entire fake personality-core that she cant quite get past/over-which will get worse when it sinks in she’s just mimicking her clone template’s eventually fatal, pathetic failure-spiral, Manton snapped under stress, after (I believe, from memory) loosing a kid and god-knows what else, Even LR 2.0 had his traumatic Decanting and the strain of constantly having to hide his real identity-even Saint, deluded and suffering extreme prolonged Teacher-induced brain damage,genuinely believed, in his delusion, that he was saving the world-
      Cradle is evil because he consciously chose, because “actually caring is anooyyyiiing”

      1. > had the ability to genuinely feel empathy pushed into his head, his response wasn’t to “just” feel guilt/ feel bad

        I would argue that we really don’t know if what Rian got from Ryan was empathy (with full spectrum of emotions it may make you feel), or “just” conscience/guilt. Considering how Rain’s emotion power works, I suspect it is the latter. In other words Ryan got something that punishes him for his wrongdoings, but not an actual empathy that could make him pick up and experience a wide range of feelings when interacting with or thinking about other people.

        As for his shift from well adjusted psychopath pre-trigger Ryan to maladjusted psychopath Cradle it is true that ultimately he chose to do it himself, but you must remember that he mostly focused on getting out of the dream-room for good, and did little harm to people unless it lead him to this goal. Remember that for him (as for any other member of his cluster) having to re-experience his and his clustermates’ most painful memories and then visit the dream-room and having to talk to everyone (including Rain, whose actions did play a significant role in everyone’s trigger) must be an awful torture. I imagine that many people, not necessarily psychopaths, would commit some really awful crimes if it was the only way for them to get out of this situation.

        The only person whom Cradle is (or at least was) likely to harm even if it doesn’t contribute to his goal of wiggling out of the dream-room situation is Rain (and possibly other Fallen who were at the mall), but considering their role in his trigger is it that surprising or unusual? After all not only psychopaths desire vengeance for things like this, they simply have less breaks to stop them from actually pursuing it…

        1. One more thing to note about Cradle. If, in interlude 12.e, he told the truth about chopping “the best and the most vulnerable” to “force them onto the bench so that if something did happen, they wouldn’t get hurt in the time it took us to step in” (and based on his own thoughts about the city we saw in his interlude, I suspect that he did), then he is a bit like Contessa’s shard, or Cauldron (the old one, and possibly the Teacher’s) for that matter. He appears to have no problem doing “the objective best, with the ugliest path to getting there”.

          In other words Cradle probably felt justified in cutting all of these people to pieces because it was the best way to ensure that they won’t be caught up in the dimensional collapse that March could potentially unleash, and which now, after the battle in Cauldron complex, is about to happen. Who knows? Maybe he feels some sort of twisted moral superiority that he is one of the very few people who, unlike these empathic weaklings that compose most of humanity, has stomach to do something so horrible to people if it is likely to save them from being caught up in the upcoming disaster?

  16. All these efforts…
    But what’s the next step of their plan? Judging from their current state – if they succeed at going through the portal, they’ll be just regular powerless humans inside the “internal organs” of a shard. What good would that do to them, is kind of hard to imagine. Or do they just try to do what Teacher seemingly wanted to do, using completely different methods and unknown amount of unknown preparations beforehand (for all we know, his door might allow to carry a ton of tinkertech through it. and that’s assuming he really wanted to gain some advantage by getting into the shardspace and not, say, throw a bomb inside and provoke shards into breaking the ice), and hope that it all becomes clear to them along the way somehow?

    Also, I didn’t understand what was the matter with images in the dust. Did they resemble some scene which I didn’t recognize?

    1. Remember what Rain said just two chapters ago:

      This is exploratory. Figuring out the tools we have at our disposal.

      Heartthroughsiders and co. don’t know what they will be able to do after they manage to leave the room. Their goal for this night is to find out. Damsel saw a bit of what is there in her dreams, and Tattletale’s power apparently managed to make some sense of that, but chances are it will take everyone a while (possibly more than just one night) to figure out how everything works on the other side of the portal, and how they can use it.

      Of course the main reason that they even try is that Teacher wanted to go through his portal the shard-space to control (at least to some extent) how the expected disaster will happen, so must assume that it can be done, even if they don’t know how exactly.

      I wouldn’t even be too surprised if it turned out that the dream-room itself is the “nerve center” from which the disaster can be controlled, and simply nobody figured out how to do it yet.

      As for images in the dust, I think that this bit explains it:

      You fought the same fights we’re fighting now, I thought to myself. And if they moved on, that means they got you.

      My interpretation is that Victoria saw echoes of dead parahumans or even hosts from previous cycles stored in Grasping Self, or some wider shard network – for example all shards belonging to Rain’s Cluster.

  17. Does anyone else here think that Sveta’s concern about what Victoria did in this chapter is very much like Lisa’s worries about Taylor’s behavior in Worm? Perhaps a part of the reason why Lisa insists about keeping Victoria emotionally as far as possible is that she doesn’t want to agonize about another suicidally reckless heroic girl and, if Victoria manages to die in some blaze of glory, suffer like she did after losing her brother and Taylor.

  18. There is a very strong clue in the fact that it hasn’t actually murdered them yet. It refuses to attack them directly despite having infinitely more arms than it needs to stab them all in the face simultaneously. Instead, it insists on throwing found materials at them.

    Ergo, it can’t. For some reason, Cradle’s dumbo shard, the dream-carousel administrator, is Manton-limited.

    It is also weirdly fragile in that they are able to do damage at all.

    I think what is happening here is that the dream room is kind of a Dresden Files Sword of The Cross type deal: it levels the playing field so that the side that should be hilariously stronger than the other becomes eminently killable.

    Going after Cradle makes much sense. I suspect bringing their own shards out to play might to.

    1. Remember that something killed Snaggletooth and that the guardian is supposed to be based on a similar logic as an Endbringer. Endbringers always held back, because their purpose was not to wipe out all humanity, but to challenge Eidolon. Perhaps they were supposed to be hold back just enough to force Eidolon to fight to the best of his abilities, and if he did that they “let him win” and pulled back even if Scion didn’t arrive to force them to do so prematurely?

      If this is how Endbringers worked, then maybe Grasping Self’s avatar acts as a similar challenge to everyone (except perhaps Cradle) who tries to reach the portal? If they fight to the best of their abilities – the avatar lets them live, if they don’t – it kills them. If this is true, then nobody died in this chapter because they fought well enough, and Snaggletooth died, because she tried to avoid a fight?

  19. I’ve just thought of something that in my opinion could have very ugly consequences.

    Amy’s loves Victoria more than anyone and anything else (possibly at least to some extent due to past overexposure to Victoria’s aura), right? What would happen if Candy hit Amy with full dose of her power?

    The worst thing is that in my opinion if Victoria has the same thought, she may actually ask Candy to do just that…

    1. Perhaps Victoria won’t even have to ask Candy for help. In chapter 15.4 Tattletale described Candy as a ticking time bomb. We know that powers want to be used in dramatic ways, and Candy has been using hers only under Tattletale’s supervision. Perhaps deciding to use her power on her own initiative, without Tattletale’s say-so is the way Candy-bomb will blow up? And if Candy used it on Amy, the consequences could be dramatic indeed…

  20. Here’s a theory about how parahuman powers manifested themselves before and after GM, and what general rules they seem to follow that may not be a direct result of shards’ limitations. It is inspired by the dream-room, but goes as far as to explain one of the reasons why killing the host species as a part of the cycle is necessary – why the entities can’t just stick with one host species until it dies off on its own.

    Think how the powers more often than not resemble these found in the superhero comic books, movies etc. Often you could say “this cape’s powerset is Wildbow’s take on such-and-such archetype found in the genre”. The real life explanation of this phenomenon is that Wildbow wanted to write a superhero story, but perhaps the in-paraverse explanation is that Scion decided that this particular genre fits his needs and nudged his shards to give people powers based on what can be found in the comic books? Later, when PRT created its formalized powers classification and generally the people on Bet had come to some conclusions about what is and what isn’t possible with powers, the shards might have started to match powers of new triggers to fit these expectations.

    Some examples:
    – The multitude of blasters could be (at least to some extent) a result of the fact that these sort of powers were popular in Bet’s superhero comic books, and later because blaster became an official, well-known and understood classification. People expected the blasters to be common among capes, so the shards picked upon these expectations ang gave them a lot of blasters.
    – Many tinkers work with machinery or (bio)chemistry and need well equipped workshops or labs to be effective and use notes nobody but another tinker can understand. It could be because people raised on comic books expected superpowered genius inventors to work like that.
    – Plenty of thinkers are limited by “thinker headaches”. One could easily imagine other ways to restrict use of such powers (for example after a number uses in some set amount of time they could stop working without giving any headaches), but maybe the headaches are so common because people expect them to happen to thinkers?
    – Many powers have a limited range – anywhere from touch-only to a few kilometers. Perhaps this is because people expect powers to have limited range?
    – As a general rule one parahuman usually gets a power and/or a set of powers that follow some theme. They even may get some minor side-effects that reflects that theme (like the immunity to being blinded by strong light Victoria’s parents got with their light-themed powers).

    If this is the case, if people’s expectations shaped by what they already saw powers do, and what theme they fit shape new triggers, then perhaps it explains why no capes get magic or true telepathy? Maybe they don’t because people from Bet no longer think such powers are possible (and on top of it they think that magic better fits something like fantasy genre, and not the superhero one Scion made his shards imitate)?

    At this point I think I can explain why I think that the Entities never stick with a single host species too long. If host’s expectations shape the powers, and the powers shape the expectations then perhaps there is an equilibrium point – a moment when the hosts understand (or at least think they understand) the powers so well that their expectations leave no room for truly new powers, based on ideas that haven’t been tested by shards yet, to form during a trigger? Once a given host species reaches that point there probably is little more for the shards to learn from them, and it is time for the Entities to leave and look for new planet with entirely different hosts.

    Of course there are exceptions, especially among capes who got shards we expect to be dead and broken and as such limited in their ability to access the shard network even at the moment of trigger (and possibly also unable to correctly pull ideas from people’s minds to confirm to their expectations). For example maybe the fact that the clairvoyant and Doormaker have no range limit was caused by the fact that they got their powers from vials? The fact that they probably got their vials in the Cauldron complex where they might have already been surrounded by Cauldron’s failed experiments (and people who witnessed them) might also played a role? Maybe if someone (like Alexandria) drank a vial outside of the complex, surrounded mostly by people who never saw the results of Cauldron’s experiments, their chance to get relatively “normal” power was higher, if only a bit? Perhaps Cauldron made a mistake by performing most of their experiments with vials (and keeping the results of these experiments) in one place? Perhaps making clients like Battery drink her vials there was also a mistake (fortunately without catastrophic consequences in Battery’s case)? Of course at least some of the vials (or broken triggers for that matter) may give powers that don’t follow the usual rules because their shards are internally damaged and/or were never adjusted to work with human hosts. It may even be the main reason why they work this way, but I think the fact that people expect powers coming from these sources to be broken may still contribute to the fact that these powers were actually broken.

    Which leads me to two conclusions about the powers post-GM. The first one seems to be more or less confirmed by now, and has to do with Rain’s cluster. After GM some people seem to trigger with powers that seem to reflect the fact that a large number of people know about existence of Entities and their shards. The tinker-tower that Valkyrie disabled during her interlude took a form it did because its tinker, or people surrounding him, feared that another Entity may come from outer space, and they need a weapon to defend themselves?

    The dream-room on the other hand seems to owe a lot to what the people know or think they know about the shards and the shard-space. The hosts:
    – know that shards exist, so the dream-room lets them see an avatar of a shard they can perceive,
    – know that shard-spece exists, so the dream-room can contain a portal to shard-spece,
    – expect the shards and the shard-space to be hostile, so Grasping Self’s avatar is hostile to anyone who approaches the portal,
    – expect the shards to be mind-bogglingly alien, so the avatar appears to be… not truly alien beyond human comprehension, but similar to some Lovecraftian monster that we think about when we imagine when we think about such alien monsters – something composed of mostly familiar elements (mostly arms in this case), just put together in a configuration unfamiliar just enough to disturb humans.
    Before GM the restrictions placed upon the shards might have made it almost impossible for the shards to give powers that hinted at existence of shard-space, Entities and the shards themselves, but the way how the shards revealed themselves in the dream-room seems to be to at least some extent determined by what humans think of the shards, what they fear the shards and shard-space will be.

    The second conclusion is something that for now is simply an unconfirmed speculation. Probably more of a fanfiction material than anything else at this point, but I wouldn’t exclude a possibility that we will see it in canon later on. It is about how post-GM powers may look like on Earths that had little to no contact with Bet, except being “polluted” by powers because of some portals that have been open to them during GM, and has to do with the idea that the power are shaped by host’s expectations about what powers can and can’t do, by what the hosts themselves understand and have access to.

    The idea is that on worlds that had little to no contact with Bet, and are very different from Bet culturally people may get powers that are very different from the ones we saw in the series so far:
    – On a world where nobody has ever heard about the results of Bet’s parahuman studies, the powers don’t have to follow patterns that are known and expected on Bet (they don’t have to fit PRT power classifications, Manton limits may work completely differently there etc.).
    – On a world where nobody has ever heard about a superhero genre because it diverged from Bet a few centuries ago the powers may look completely differently – for example they could end up being inspired by mythology (or whatever literary genre evolved there that shards find useful for their purposes).
    – On a world where nobody has ever heard that “no magic or true telepathy are possible) there could be plenty of mages and telepaths.
    – On a world where nobody ever thought that humans could fly, or didn’t even think that flight is possible at all (like Winter from Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness” where there never were any flying animals) there could be no capes who can fly. It is possible that all these shards that give Entities their ability to fly through interstellar space will either avoid triggering anyone on such world, or will find other ways to shape their abilities into a parahuman power.
    – Entities can travel through interstellar space, and at least some of their shards may form connections over very long distances (Jack’s shard is probably a primary suspect, Contessa’s “alive but not Scion’s” shard may be another). Perhaps this means that after Scion died and can no longer keep his little experiment contained to Earth and its close vicinity some shards will be able to either follow their parahumans into more distant space or just keep a long-range connection that will allow some powered individuals to use their powers on Moon or Mars for example. If something like this happens, I expect it to happen on an Earth where nobody has heard that “powers can’t work in deep space”.
    – Powers generally try to not be completely useless, so I don’t expect a stone age civilization to get a tinker whose specialty is modifying electronic devices.
    – I also don’t expect the first trigger on an isolated world to get a trump power that allows to mess with other people’s powers (this is probably the reason why people tend to get powers in trigger events related to being exposed to someone else’s powers), or an isolated world with no tinkers to get a cape with Dragon’s power (it is actually fitting that Dragon triggered in a world not only full of tinkers, but also owes her very existence to tinker’s work).
    – Etc. I’m sure that any of us could come up with many more examples like that.

    In general I expect that if people start to get powers in worlds that diverged from Bet a long time ago AND never had any contact with Bet except for the fact that there was or is a portal through which the powers could spread to them the way powers work there may be very different from the ones we know from Worm and Ward, even if the powers themselves will come from the same Entities. And since Taylor used Doormaker make temporary doors many worlds during GM and Scion followed (not to mention that it is not impossible that Taylor also created some Labyrinth-Scrub portals to worlds that simply nobody but her and the handful of capes who were with her then know about, and nobody went through after GM) it is possible that there may be plenty worlds like that.

    And if a contact between such worlds and Bet survivors is eventually established a lit of things that people from Bet think they know about powers may have to be revised…

  21. Before I engage in a bout of extended silliness, I first want to take a moment to acknowledge this unrelated bit of Wildbow’s silliness:

    > Chicken Little called out a warning about a bombardment from above

    😀

    With that out of the way, nonsensicality shall commence forthwith.

    * * *

    Rain tossed me one short spear of wood, and it hit me in the ribs as I caught it. The sensation startled me, and as I looked down, I could see I didn’t have any clothes on save for a pair of Crocs. I looked up to see the others tittering and jeering from their desks. Tristan shook his head with a pitying expression, then he tossed me Byron’s breastplate. There was no way it would fit right and it was certain to clash with the Crocs, but when I reached out to grab it I found myself holding a blank exam instead. I hadn’t studied for this. Hell, now that I thought about it, I wasn’t even certain I’d remembered to attend class for the last two months. I glanced up at the wall to see the clock nearing the end of the school day. Everybody else was already done, just sitting there staring at me while I scrambled to put something on the page before time ran out. Midway through my first sentence, Rain snickered and a flash of light flicked through my pencil, and I swore aloud as it snapped in half. Our many-limbed teacher leaned across the multifaceted classroom and shook a tendril at me in disapproval of my outburst, then it reached inside itself and withdrew a detention slip.

    Dean got up from his desk and scowled; I wouldn’t be able to make it to our date now, and showing up to class naked and unprepared probably hadn’t made a great impression, to say nothing of those horrid Crocs. But as if knowing I’d blown any chance I’d had with Dean wasn’t bad enough, he then turned around, dropped to his knee, and handed Amy a ring. The monstrous pastor nodded its limbs and gestured at the wedding-goers. “Speak now,” it signed, “or forever hold your peace.” I struggled to object, but my throat was too tight for words to escape, and when I tried sign language my hands fell off. Flight failed me, and my legs had atrophied too much to carry me up the aisle. Sinking to the floor in dread, I watched helplessly as the creature gestured for them to kiss.

    “Nooo!” I finally managed to scream, and the noise of it startled me. I opened my eyes and blinked at my bedroom, gloomy in the light of dawn. “…What?”

    “Shh,” said Kenzie. “It was just a dream, Vicky.” I began to relax, but then she twined her legs around mine and caressed my back. “Now go back to sleep.”

    I struggled to push her away, but she held firm. “Kenzie, stop. This isn’t right.”

    “I concur,” said a voice from behind me. I twisted to see Natalie lounging under the covers on my other side. “This is all very improper. Carol would not approve.”

    “Yeah,” said Chris from beyond her. “You’re… gah!” He paused to pry one of his babies off his face and dropped if off the side of the bed. “You’re really robbing the cradle over there.”

    Really?” said a voice from behind Kenzie. Ryan sat up and the sunrise flashed off his cracked glasses as he glared at the other boy. “Do you know how many fucking times I’ve hard that pitiful excuse for a joke?”

    “Alright, that’s enough,” said Ethan, squirming free from deeper under the covers. “I like you, Victoria. Really, I do. But this is just ridiculous. I’m out.”

    “Ditto,” said a pair of Harbingers in unison, along with a muffled grunt of agreement from a knotted and gagged Sveta as they and Ashley carried her out in Ethan’s wake.

    “Well, don’t worry about it!” said Kenzie. “Look!” She dug at her eye and pulled, tugging out a large universal remote. With the press of a button, four Ashleys, three Ethans, two Svetas, and a Harbinger in a pear tree appeared atop the bed.

    I was about to object to the Fauxbinger when the mattress shifted with yet another person’s movement. “Excuse me!” said Marquis, whose head now poked out from near the foot of the bed. “It’s terribly impolite to include blue light in your projections while people are trying to sleep, young lady!”

    “Woops!” gasped Kenzie. She fiddled with the remote and her projections took on a sepia tint. “Better, sir?”

    “Much. Though the tree does unbalance the room’s feng shui.”

    “The room’s not all that’s unbalanced,” muttered Chris.

    “Well, fuck you too!” screeched Amy.

    I groaned and pulled the covers over my head as they bickered. “When will the nightmare end?”

    “How about right now?” A trapdoor in the lower sheet opened to reveal Tattletale holding a shiny, hot pink revolver. “Bad news, though: you have more heads than I have bullets. But the good news is, I only have the one!” She turned the gun around and pulled the trigger before I could react.

    “Ewwwww,” said Kenzie at the Tattletale bits now soaking into the sheets. “That’s going to stain. But don’t worry!” She pressed a button on her remote and projected newspapers covered the mess. “See? Nobody will ever notice.”

    Chris scowled and pointed at one of the sheets of newspaper. “Garfield? That’s the best you could come up with?”

    “I hope you paid the royalties for that,” added Natalie.

    “Did somebody say, ‘I need affordably licensed content?'” asked a voice from outside. I leaned one of my heads back to see Big Picture peeping in through the window from atop a stepladder.

    “DIE!” screamed the projected Svetas, hurling insubstantial tendrils at him.

    Natalie winced at the crunch he made after falling from his ladder in fright. “Young lady! What did I tell you about framing your friends for murder?!”

    “Nah,” said Chris. “Chillax, Nats. I got this.” He reached behind his neck and squeezed a pulsing zit until another baby popped out. Before it could sink its silvery teeth into him, he grabbed it by a foot and flung it out the window. “There. Problem solved,” he said over the squishy sounds of a body being devoured.

    “That’s pretty gross,” said Kenzie.

    “Your face is gross.”

    “At least my face chews with its mouth closed.”

    “Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how delicious this is.”

    I shook my aching head and opened my eyes. Sunlight streamed down from a blue sky, and grass tickled my neck. Chris was munching on jerky nearby while Kenzie nattered at him.

    “Hey,” said Sveta. I turned to find her sitting beside me in her colorful prosthetic body. “You okay?”

    “What happened?”

    “I won,” said Ashley smugly, a pair of flags dangling from her hands.

    “You banged your head on Tristan’s wall dodging Ashley,” explained Sveta. “You’ve probably got a concussion.”

    “Oh,” I said. “What about the mission? Did we figure it out?”

    “…You mean did we find their flag? No. Chris and Ashley kept going like assholes and ‘won’ while the rest of us were checking on you.”

    “Don’t be a sore loser,” chided Ashley. “It’s unbecoming.”

    I blinked in confusion. “But… Teacher’s plot? Our plan to visit Rain’s room? Did we….”

    “Oooo,” said Chris. “Hear that, Rain? New Girl’s already dreaming of getting into your room!”

    1. > knotted and gagged Sveta

      You mean that Sveta isn’t tied with a rope, but that her tendrils are tied into a Gordian knot of some sort? Well, I guess that if Sveta ever gets her own personal archnemesis, it will be a good sailor or a scout boy.

      > the tree does unbalance the room’s feng shui.

      I fail to see how Dauntless could unbalance any room’s feng shui.

      1. Also why did Sveta lie in that last scene? Considering contents of her dream and the fact that it happened during the capture the flag exercise it is obvious that Victoria banged your head not on wall, but Roulette’s head.

  22. @ Alfaryn, re.: Candy’s powers being used on Amy. To be entirely honest, I’d put the consequences of Amy becoming “sick of” or disgusted by Victoria due to Candy’s power as being anywhere between “a marked improvement” and “not worse”. On the one hand, she might react with “Ugh, no more of that please” and avoid Victoria henceforth, which would be nice. Or she might decide she hates her and wants to destroy her at which point she’ll A) not be that much MORE of a rapey nightmare and B) be fair game for violence.

  23. I was thinking that Rain will survive.

    And Breakthrough will eventually become his harem.

    I mean, he offered wood to Sveta and Tristan already!

    What I’m saying is that when the time passes and the dust settles along with the rebar and concrete slabs, there’s going to be a fan made story where-

    *Reads @Pizzasgood’s Bout Of Extended Silliness*

    I’m demanding you because that hurt my sides.

    • “How about right now?” A trapdoor in the lower sheet opened to reveal Tattletale holding a shiny, hot pink-”

    Uhh…

    • -revolver.”

    … I thought it was going to be something else.

    ..

    .

    P.D:
    I’m also demanding @Alfaryn because imagining Sveta’s personal archnemesis as a Good Sailor or a Scout Boy almost made me fall off my chair.

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