From Within – 16.10

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The tinker device the thing above us made was spinning up, producing a metal-on-metal sound that grew louder by the second.

Too much of me was numb, and the rest of me felt like it was still on fire, the skin still bearing residual heat that hadn’t faded.  When I moved, most often involuntarily, I found myself in contact with grit, pushing it into the wounds.  Every breath was a labor, and that labor was made worse by the fact the rest of my body was struggling too, offloading issues to body parts I needed to breathe.  Gorge rose in my throat, interrupting a breath in process, and receded just as quickly, leaving only acid in a windpipe that had already been in a sorry fucking state.  I coughed, and that made everything else hurt.

We come full circle, I found myself thinking.  Shitty circle when it starts and ends in burns across most of my body.  Acid from Crawler, now burns from… this.

Acid in the throat, burns on the body, acid on the body…

If I’d been on the way to a coherent thought or deeper understanding, which I probably hadn’t, the pain that seized me derailed all thinking.

Sveta grabbed me, pulling me into a hug, with emphasis on pulling.  I could feel her hands drag across skin that might as well have been attached by mere threads.  I grunted, guttural, my thoughts dissolving into incoherent animal panic and-

I felt the impact.  She’d been pulling me out of the way of danger.  As she let go of me, I landed on my back, facing this creature that was as vast as the sky, and what looked like a faint blue glow in the center of a flower made of quicksilver.  The flower expanded outward, rotating madly with that metal-on-metal sound, and it touched the creature’s arms, painting, augmenting, and decorating them.

It splashed into an arm, then congealed into armor with a technological component to it, covering up joints, adding spikes, arms that branched off, and faint blue plumes that might have been rockets, to accelerate the arm’s movements.

An arm crashed down amid shelving units near the bulk of the group.  The quicksilver that coated it splashed out, mechanical limbs in a dozen varieties appearing around the impact site, reaching out, groping, clawing and tearing.  The metal receded, arms shrinking and dragging components with them, and then those blue jets fired down, torching the surroundings, and hauling the arm and the shelving units it and the smaller arms held into the sky with the speed of an elastic band’s snap.

Three more plunged down, aimed at my teammates.  Some came down as fast as the other had gone up, but the force of it seemed to damage the underlying arms.

Fuck, I could barely think.

It wasn’t like this thing was going to run out of arms anytime soon.  Hundreds of arms.  We’d only damaged a few.

“Get Cradle,” I said.  Had I said it earlier?

“I can’t leave you here,” Sveta said.  “I have to pick you up.”

I wanted to say no, but then she was grabbing me again, and my skin wasn’t in good enough shape to be grabbed.  I started to black out, and forced my way back to consciousness.

Have to help if I can.  Even if it’s-

Pain distracted, broke up the flow of thoughts.  I had to get my thoughts back on course, and this time I could.  Perhaps I could credit the mental agility of not thinking about certain topics, dodging around the thought of them constantly, or thinking despite factors.

I wanted to think I’d gleaned something from it.  I felt victorious as I remained conscious and finished the thought with, advice.  Lend them my eyes.

Except time had passed.  Nearly blacking out and coming to felt like it took a couple of seconds.  Sveta had hauled me across the white beach to the shelving units in what had probably taken at least two minutes.

Most of the others were there, or were here.  Scattered around us, amid various pieces of cover.

And above us- the many-handed monstrosity was trying to find its balance.  I had to twist to look, despite the pain twisting caused.

Damsel slashed at the hands that were resting on the ground, aiming for wires.  More and more of the hands that appeared around her didn’t have any, with the living metal coating protecting the joints.  She looked like a fencer, favoring one arm.

Focus, I thought.

Same thing I’d been doing.  And it had a similar effect.  This thing was ungainly, lopsided, ill-fit to the space it occupied.  When a hand came down and incredible amounts of weight came to rest on that hand, it suggested a needed support.  Weight-bearing.

With a metal-on-metal scream, the hands around Damsel lifted up.  The thing had stopped for a moment, repositioning to put its hands out of the way of us, hands planted on the far end of the room, and against the wall on our end.

And I saw Damsel cradle her arm against her chest, claws curled in to almost touch her elbow.  Four claws.  Her thumb was gone, along with a whole strip of her forearm, with strings of blood, strips of muscle, or tendons dangling from the wound.

She saw me looking and pulled her arm away from her chest, leaving a slick mark diagonal across it.  She let her arm hang at her side, finger-claws almost touching the ground.  She raised her chin and looked up at the monster.

Choose, I remembered.  That had been our Ashley standing there beside her in the dream.

You don’t have to hide that you’re hurt, Damsel.

I knew Ashley, and I had a good sense of how she thought and processed things.  Seeing the dream, I knew what was on her mind.  She thought, given the chance, we’d get rid of her and get Swansong back.

I wasn’t so sure we would, but it didn’t matter, because she was convinced.  I could tell.

The way the thing was getting further away from us de-multiplied the number of arms around us.  With more arms pulling up and finding positions elsewhere, the room was distorting again.  I could see the process of how the room distorted in reverse this time, see the distant distortion as Tatttletale’s distant area bloated and smeared around.

Put two arms fifteen feet apart, and the space increased to twenty feet, with everything around accommodating.  Put two arms ten feet apart, and it increased to twelve or thirteen feet.  More arms, more distortion.

In the distance, it placed limbs to expand and stretch out my room.  When it tore up and removed panes of glass and those solar panels that were black except where they caught direct light and reflected gold, those things remained expanded, distorted in dimensions.  Arms hauled them up to the core, feeding them into that quicksilver flower that it had teched up.

The metal-on-metal scream was joined with the sound of glass scraping and breaking, churned up by a blender.  The quicksilver flower was soon decorated, gilded with gold-tinted glass and the black panes of the solar panels.

The noise set my nerves on edge.  Good thing I have less nerves than I had when I entered this fucking place.  I smiled at the dark thought.

“Hey, hey,” Sveta said.  Her hand was very cool against my cheek, sparking pain while being welcome at the same time.  “Stay with us.”

“With you,” I said, before trying again.  “I’m with you.”

“She okay?” Tattletale asked.

“Victoria wants us to go after Cradle,” Sveta said, not answering the question.

“I want to go after Cradle.”  I identified the voice as Darlene.  “He hurt Candy and Precipice.”

I heard Chicken Little but didn’t make out the words.  He might have been talking to Rain.

“What’s the logic?” Tattletale.  “It means going the opposite way we’ve been headed, chasing down a guy who doesn’t want to be found.”

“He’s this thing’s host,” I managed.  I started to cough and stopped myself, because I knew it’d make my whole body move and I wouldn’t be able to stop.  I choked on the next word I intended to say instead.  “Cut him off and maybe we cut off the power?”

“Might kick us out of the dream,” Tattletale said.

“Wouldn’t object,” I grunted out the words, suppressing another cough.  My throat still burned with acid.  “This dream sucks.  Can’t believe Rain had to come here every night.”

“Precipice,” Sveta said, quiet.

“The way looks clear,” Tristan said.  “We could make a run for it.”

“It won’t look that clear when you get there,” I said.  “It’s a feint.  It can hear us.  Everything in this room.”

“You know this?” Tattletale asked.

I shook my head slowly, feeling skin at my neck crack.  “But it makes sense.”

“Come here,” Tristan said, as he settled beside me.  I saw Kenzie just a short distance away, her back to shelving, her attention divided between me and the sky above.  Tristan muttered, “I don’t know enough medical stuff, but…”

“Get Cradle,” I said.  “Take him out and this might all stop.”

He touched a finger to my throat.  “Your heart is hammering.  I can’t even count this fast.”

I winced at the shock of crushing pain through my left arm as he leaned in.  “Makes some sense.  Just… go?  Stop kneeling on my elbow and shit while you’re at it.”

“I’m not,” he said.

I looked.  Sure enough, he was nowhere near the blackened mess where what remained of sleeve and skin were indistinguishable just from the residual heat that had come through the shield, and where the metal of the buckler was slag.

The pressure swelled with the realization there was no source.  Like the Wretch had me by the bone and was squeezing hard enough to crush me.  It was one of… too many things that were going wrong or giving way.  I kept the sounds that I made small, to minimize the chances that I’d scare the kids.

Every part of my body felt like it was defaulting to wrong inputs or wrong outputs.  A brain to not process, to not dwell.  An arm that didn’t move where every sensation it did have was a false one.  A throat meant more for holding the acid of puke I’d swallowed again before it could leave my mouth, for holding the feeling of being burned, and a knot at the base of it like the Wretch had her fist there, right behind the collarbone, stretching it out.  A hummingbird heartbeat that was beating so fast it felt like I had no heartbeat at all.  Skin that was more a gaping, massive vulnerability than a wall between the inside of me and the world outside.

“Get Cradle,” I said, wincing at the pain in my arm.  “You’re a natural superhero, Trist-.”

I winced.

“Not your first rodeo,” I tried again.  “Maybe your first dream-zone fight.”

“Second,” Tristan said, looking up.  He looked like such a superhero in that moment.  Square jaw, intense.  A giddy and delirious part of me wanted to kiss him, hug him, embrace that as much as the handsomeness of him.  Which would probably traumatize him on a few levels.

It scared me that my emotions were so out there, so far out of bounds, when I’d prized and fought so fucking hard to establish my bounds.

Maybe- yeah.

The outcome looked and felt grim enough that I was finding a whole lot of stuff I’d been holding onto didn’t matter.  There was a very real chance I’d never see my parents again.  Amy.

Things I needed to come to terms with.

“I’m not using my power or anything,” Tattletale’s voice cut through my thoughts, forcing me to focus my thoughts like I might try to focus my eyes in a moment of double-vision.  “But now would be the time to go if we were going to go.”

Focus, I told myself.

“Go kick some ass,” I said, reaching over and across my body for Tristan’s arm and missing it entirely.  I pointed instead.

“I don’t want to be the guy who charges in and leaves his friends vulnerable behind him.  Not anymore.”

“You have my permission.  Go.  Vamos.”

He stood at that.

The relief that hit me came with another momentary blackout.  Sveta’s cool hand on my forehead stirred me to awareness again.

Tristan was talking to Kenzie.  “-don’t want to see this.”

“I’ve seen worse.”

“That-.  Okay.  Keep talking to her.  Keep her alert and aware.  If she needs something, give it to her.”

“Can we move her closer to Precipice?  Chicken’s watching him and-”

“Can’t move her,” Tristan said.


“Sveta,” Tristan said.

Sveta lurched to her feet.

“Eyes on the sky, Kenz.  Same rule we gave to Chicken.  If it comes for you guys, you run.  Leave the wounded behind.”

Kenzie looked down at me, her eyes large in the gloom.

I nodded.

“I mean it,” Tristan said, sounding as intense and almost angry at Kenzie as I’d ever heard.  “You run.”

“I’ll run,” Kenzie said.  “If you start running now.  The sooner the better.”

“Look after Victoria, Kenz.  Tattletale, look after these guys?”

“I will.”

“Love Lost?  Colt?”

I heard Love Lost’s footsteps.  Obviously, she wasn’t one to reply.

“I’ll stay,” Colt said.  “I’m too slow like this.”

“Okay.  Damsel!” Tristan called out, his voice booming.  “Want to help kill an asshole!?  Might end this!”

The thing was moving, and all I could do was lay there, focusing on breathing, while Kenzie crept closer.

Darlene and Candy kept even more of a distance.  Candy had both of her hands pressed to the side of her head, and Darlene had one hand pressed there as well.  They hunkered down by a shelf, hiding, their position apparently chosen to keep an eye on me and Kenzie, and on Chicken Little and Rain.

I could see the blood that streaked down Candy’s arms, into her sleeves and to her elbows, seeping through the cloth in blobs.

Darlene looked hurt too.  Her ear and eye were bleeding, the eye closed, but she was using her hands for Candy’s sake.  She might have been hit by shrapnel at one point.

“Put pressure on that,” I said, too quiet for them to hear.

“Are you putting enough pressure on it?” Kenzie asked.

“Yeah,” Darlene said.

The thing made its next move.  Arms were augmented with metal and glass now, and when arm plunged like a thrown spear, the impact site where it penetrated was a dozen arms of metal and glass.  The glass exploded, and the arms ripped and tore.

The resulting cloud of dust concealed the scene.  Shards of the glass glinted in the dim light.  I had to imagine it’d be nigh-impassable.  Blocking the other group’s path.

God, my arm hurt.  Like the bone, muscle, and everything else was being crushed endlessly, but never actually broke.

Tattletale walked over to stand over Darlene and Candy, pulling medical stuff from her bag.  She looked over at me.

We’d seen each other’s worst moments, or interpretations of those moments.  That… it kicked down doors.  More boundaries gone.

Three more arms plunged into different points in Cradle’s territory.  The first arm receded.  The remainder were working on maneuvering the large body closer, so more arms could reach.

Protecting Cradle.  Looking between shelves and through the gap between two pieces of sheet metal that backed two shelves, I could see the silhouettes of the others.  Charging in nonetheless.

“Thanks Tats,” I said.

“What’s she saying?” Tattletale asked.

“Thank you,” Kenzie said.

“For shooting the thing.”


“I heard that one.  What were you doing charging in like that?  You reckless idiot.”

“Had to distract it.  Stick to the game plan.”

“Brute mentality, no brute powers.  See where it gets you?” Tattletale asked.  “You-”

She stopped as more hands plunged down.  Four, at my best guess.  All aimed for the other group.

I had a sinking feeling, watching.  The onslaught was increasing in intensity as the thing drew nearer to them.

“Any insights?” I asked.

“No power,” Tattletale said.  She sounded bored, detached.

“Still,” I said.  “You don’t cape for… years without figuring some shit out.”

“Are you trying to be nice, Antares?” Tattletale asked.  “You saw where I come from, you feel bad?”

“Let’s not fight,” Kenzie said.

“You feel sorry for me?” Tattletale asked.

More crashes.  It had to be ten arms, though I couldn’t see the entirety of it.  Some speared down, some raked their individual paths.  One after another.

It was so hard to breathe, and the pain when impacts shook me interrupted the process.  My heart was still aflutter and it was probably contributing to my thoughts being a little… lightweight.  Shallow thinking, like the twilight before sleep, that I could steer only with constant attention.

“You don’t know anything about me, okay?” Tattletale asked.  “You don’t get any points if you end our relationship with some well-intentioned questions.  You triggered because mommy and daddy didn’t love you because you were normal, then proceeded to show you were the last person who ever deserved powers, maiming people and using your sister to dodge the consequences when you hit them a little too hard.”

“Stop,” Kenzie said.

“Hey,” Colt said.

The silence was maybe the heaviest silence that I’d ever heard.  Heavier than the times after my family had left during visiting hours.  Heavier than the rooftop after Dean had died, when I’d flown up there to cry on my own because I couldn’t cry in front of his family and everyone else in the hospital.  Heavier than the silence after I’d been fouled in basketball, in the before and after of my own pained cry.

Heavy because the hands had made an all-out attack on the other group.  Ten hands, all together.

And then they’d stopped.

I could taste the dust and the glass particulate in the air.

Tattletale’s voice picked up, starting slow, then building in speed, “I bet you knew she liked you, you knew she was in a bad place, but it was convenient to keep using the girl instead of getting her help.  Bit you in the ass, huh?  I bet what gets you is that you know you deserved those years in the asylum.”

I focused on breathing.

Kenzie reached for and took my hand.  She held it in two of hers, clenching harder than was necessary.  “Tattletale-”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Is it, Victoria?  Is it really?  You’re dying.  You’re not going to last the… thirty-one minutes that remain, here.  This is it, we’re probably going with you, and I’m not going to mince words or tell you some convenient things that help you go without regrets.”

She didn’t address me further.  Darlene stared up at her, and Tattletale reached down to push a lock of hair from Darlene’s forehead.  Darlene pulled hear head away, then hugged her cousin.

Regrets.  Things I needed to come to terms with.  I’d been dwelling on it earlier, a tangent.

I felt like I could let my mind touch on the subject of my mom and dad and how they’d betrayed me in their individual ways, and I could make a kind of peace with that.  I could touch on the things they’d said and done and ways they’d let me down and a kind of tension that had been there since I could remember was released.


The thought didn’t provoke fear or defense reactions in the same way.  A deep sadness and feeling of loss, yes.  A small stab of alarm, worry, like a primal part of me had to cover the bases in case she could somehow reach out and find me here.

But I was out of her reach, and a growing part of me was feeling like I didn’t need to worry because the chances of me seeing her again were getting a lot closer to nil.

My breathing was hoarse, more because of the fuckery in my throat than anything.  Every breath hurt.

I was free to make peace with… I wasn’t sure I was coherent enough to summarize what that whole thing with Amy was.  In a state where all the edges were rounded off and thoughts could glide from one to another, if I didn’t think or pry too much, I could extend a measure of understanding, see where she had been coming from and why.  Maybe.  I could forgive her, probably, find that internal compromise.  Forgive her for myself, at the very least.

But like hell was I ever going to do that.  Like hell was I going to forgive her for anything, even my own peace of mind.  Like fucking hell was I going to compromise.  Understand?  Yes, but only as a defensive measure, like I tried to understand this many-handed fucker.  Fuck no, hell no, fuck.  If there was a chance she could find out how I’d felt about her in the end, and powers meant there was always a chance, I wanted the answer to be bitter and hurtful.  Because she’d remained too much of a coward to own up to it in reality and totality.  Because fuck her.

Anger made my blood pump and woke up the pain, bringing me back to reality.  My parting throughts on the subject, as I labored to breathe, were simply that I could make peace with my lack of peace on this one subject.

“I don’t need your words to help me get there,” I said, my voice soft.  Probably too soft for Tattletale to hear.

“Antares said-” Kenzie piped up.

“I don’t care,” Tattletale said.

The thing was gravitating more our way.  It hadn’t attacked since that burst of ten attacks all at once, aimed at the others.

“I’m pretty spooked,” Colt’s voice could be heard.

“Me too,” Chicken Little said.

“Not me,” Candy said.  “Nope.  Ate fear for breakfast the first six years I was alive, sometimes for real.  Can’t touch this.”

“Braver than me,” Darlene said.

“Way braver than me,” Chicken Little could be heard.  “Mr. Hugs sucks.”

I laughed.  Out of sync with the tone of the situation, fed by a little deliriousness and released frustration.  It wasn’t a happy laugh, but it was a mighty one, full-body, in a way that made me hurt in twenty different ways, made me cough between laughs.

“Antares thinks you’re terrible at names, Chicken,” Kenzie said.

“I’m not that terrible,” Chicken Little said.

“You kind of are,” Tattletale said.  “But it’s one of your many good points.”

“Uh huh?”

Hands crashed through something distant with a sound so sharp it made my ears ring.

I looked at our exit, and there were overly long, mechanical hands near and above it, barring the way, along with dropped pieces of concrete and rubble that had been picked up elsewhere and brought to that pitch black wall we were supposed to run through.  Even if we sent the kids, there was no way they’d get past.

“Hey Tattletale,” Candy said.  “Hey.”

“What?  If you want to tear me down because I gave Antares a reality check, you can save it.  That thing is on its way, as soon as it can find a hand to stand on that Damsel didn’t hack at.”

“I gotta, though,” Candy said.  “Reality check.  You helped give us the best years we ever had.  I know Imp went to you for money now and again and you paid, even though we were more hers than yours.  I know you found the tutors and you found the fashion people and junk.  I know you found Aroa’s mom and I know that didn’t go well but it was real nice you tried.  Um-”

I heard a sniffle.  From her or Darlene.

“Chicken Little, you’re one of the best guys I know, and I don’t really like being around guys, especially ones that seem nice.  But you’re cool enough and nice enough that you kind of won me over and I think you helped fix a little bit of a part of me that’s broken, just by being you.  I know you think you’re a scaredy-cat and I want you to know you’re braver than anyone because you step up despite being that afraid… I don’t really know how to start and end these little speeches, except, um… if you somehow get out of this and I don’t, marry a Heartbroken your age and become an official member of this family.”

I heard Darlene hiss something.

“If you were gone, then the only Heartbroken his age would be Flor and Darlene,” Kenzie said.

“Well, I guess that makes it simple, doesn’t it?” Candy asked, her voice artificially bright.  “Flor it is.  If I made it out I’d volunteer myself, but-”

“I will kill you,” Darlene said, audible this time.

“I think we beat him, Dar,” Candy said.  Harder to make out, because she was talking to someone sitting next to her.  “We made some of the coolest friends, we figured out how to like each other again, after he turned us all against each other.  We had a family and homes and puppy piles and swimming and shopping and crushes and schools… terminally boring catch-up classes.  Everything he tried to take away from us we got back in spades.  Yeah?”

Darlene’s answer was broken up.  She cleared her throat.  “I messed up tonight.”

“Yeah.  But that’s ok.  It doesn’t change things.  Nobody’s holding it against you, right Kenz?”

“Right,” Kenzie said, right next to me.  Holding my hand.

I felt hands strike the ground, supporting the greater whole.  It loomed larger over us, the loser it got.  More hands, emerging from that swirling tinkertech core.

“You’re the most beautiful person I know, Kenz,” Candy said.  “I can’t tell you how much it means to me that your hair right now is a hairstyle I gave you.  I know we grumble, I know we gripe, but I would spend every day with you if we could get away with it.  Okay?  Maybe that doesn’t sound as fancy but-”

Kenzie gripped my hand, harder.

“I would too!” Chicken Little piped up.  “I didn’t get to say anything earlier tonight but I really didn’t mean things I said and I want to make it up to you.”

He yelped at an impact.  A sweep of a hand, crashing through a metal shelf, mostly sheet metal.  The crash spread the living metal and living glass, with reaching arms that tore at other cabinets.  I peeked around the corner and I could see another two shelves get torn to pieces.

It reached all the way back toward the concrete, the hand in question hovering, then picked up a broken piece of slab.  It threw it in our general direction, bowling through a few more shelves.

Gonna be a minute now.

“Yeah,” Candy said.  “I’m sorry if we didn’t get that far.  I would’ve wanted sleepovers and adventures and for-real visits to Aunt Rachel’s until you were sick of us.”

“That’s not possible,” Kenzie said.  Ms. Talkative, reduced to three and a half words.

I gave her hand a squeeze.

I didn’t have it in me to stand, let alone fight.  No flight, no powers, no connection to the shard.  Just me.

I heard a distant shout.  An instruction.

A female voice.

Someone in that group was okay.  And they were… way over there.  Trying to communicate with us.  Too far away, muffled.

I sat up, and immediately regretted it because it meant my senses were on full alert as a hand swept through an empty glass display.  Loud as shit.

Something had happened, or they were doing something.

“Help me up,” I grunted.

“I don’t think you’re in any shape to get up,” Kenzie whispered.

I could feel my heart now, but it was in the nauseous imminent-heart-attack sense.  Adrenaline surged, giving me the energy to perk up, pay attention to my surroundings.

“Go,” I whispered.  “Run.  Toward the others.  If they’re safe and it’s not after them, you need to figure out why.  Go.”

She held my hand, and I could remember the scene I’d seen in the dream.

She wasn’t about to let go.

“Darlene!  Candy!  Chicken!  Tattletale!  Colt!  Take Kenzie and run!  Someone’s still alive over there, go to them!”

Kenzie gripped my hand.

But Candy and Darlene, leaning on each other, were there in a flash.  Chicken Little stood at the end of the haphazard aisle, looking.

“We won’t make it,” he said, looking up.

“We will,” Tattletale said.

The Heartbroken girls hauled on Kenzie’s arm.  Tattletale hauled on Chicken Little.

Colt lingered, looking back toward Rain.

“Antares- Precipice!” Kenzie called out.

“No goodbyes,” Tattletale said.  “I should have drawn the line earlier.  No goodbyes.  Run.”

The hands came down.  Between them and their destination.  Through shelves.

The pump of adrenaline and the rush that was dulling the pain served to put me straight into cape-thinking mode.  There was a logic or a rhythm to how it went on the offense.  We just hadn’t figured it out.  There was a good chance we wouldn’t, still.

But we could try.

“Hey!” I bellowed.  I banged my hand against metal shelves.  “Here!”

It loomed over me, hands plunging down to support its weight.

The dust of its attacks swept over us, obscuring every last thing, bringing a rain of glass fragments that pattered off of the metal shelves, fallen and otherwise.  A sweeping limb dashed it just as fast, turned the precipitating shards into a barrage.

It had stopped its attack again.

As the scene cleared, I could see why.  Tattletale stood there, kids behind her, Colt beside her, gun raised, pointing.

Cradle stood in the way.  He looked so young, and he stood there with glasses scratched up to the point they looked unusable, wearing bloodstained clothes.

It had stopped attacking because any attack against Tattletale risked hurting Cradle.

“I heard you earlier.  No bullets,” Cradle said.

“Did you also hear us say that your shard-buddy can probably hear everything in this room?  Gotta keep some tricks up our sleeves, and I gotta tell you, it’s really satisfying to successfully bluff an extradimensional monster like this.”

Cradle moved his arm, and it was apparent he carried a large combat knife.  He’d perhaps brought it into the dream the same way Tattletale had brought her gun.

They stood a mere ten feet apart.  Tattletale in the area with the shelves.  Cradle in the area with the concrete slabs.

“You brought a knife to a gunfight?” Tattletale asked.

“I don’t think you have much fight in you,” Cradle said.  “I dare you to pull the trigger.”

“Cradle.  Ryan,” Colt said.  “Hey.  Things were going so well.  The dreams were getting better, I could at least control them on my nights, and give tips to the others to make them less bad.  We weren’t all screaming at each other or getting mad.”

“And then you pull this,” Cradle said.  “It wasn’t ‘better’ for me.  Not really.”

“Wasn’t it?  You can’t have enjoyed that?”

“I’m supposed to enjoy being stuck?  Being trapped in the wilderness, only two people to keep me company?  No way to get home, no way to tinker, my agent slowly pressing in on me, demanding I build when I can’t?”

“I’m talking about the dreams.  You and me, we’re in prison because we hurt a lot of people.  Some of these people.  But we can at least keep the dreams peaceful.”

“I don’t want peace,” Cradle said.  “I want revenge.  You all intruded on my life, my deal, my space, my dreams.  Now I’m really, really hoping that when my agent here tears you to shreds, it puts you all in comas where you have nightmares every damn moment you’re under.”

“You’re kind of a terrible person,” Chicken Little said.

“So why doesn’t she shoot me?” Cradle asked.

Tattletale kept the gun leveled at him.

“Thought so,” he said, barely audible.

Cradle started forward, marching her way.  She swung the pistol, aiming to pistol-whip him, but he had the knife, and the knife gave him more effective range.

The cuts were deep, the slashes painting sprayed arcs of blood momentarily into the air.  Forehand and backhead swing, into Tattletale’s forearms.

The many-handed thing creaked, hands picking up and orienting, ready to plunge.  Cradle barely seemed to care, one eye on the hands, the rest of his attention on the attack.

Hands came down.  Aimed at distant points.  The others.

“Can’t get me from behind,” Cradle said.  “And in front of me-”

Tattletale attempted to back up, and in the doing, she nearly tripped over Chicken Little, dropping to a crouch in the process of catching her balance.  Colt rushed in, and Colt got stabbed- twice, her punches and grabs ineffectual.  She wasn’t combat trained.

The kids were backing up, the hands finding position as the main ‘body’ of the thing reoriented.  Cradle, too, backed up, until his back was to a fallen concrete slab.

“Heads up!” Chicken Little called out, voice high.

The hands came down.  Three of them.  I had to turn my face away.

It was like Cradle anticipated it.  Or he understands how it works.  He-

And I could connect some of the dots.  Why Cradle was safe, why the others hadn’t been attacked and why the many-handed thing had drifted our way instead.

I drew in a deep breath, the skin of my chest cracking and oozing.

“It isn’t avoiding just Cradle!” I called out, with every bit of volume I could manage.  “It’s avoiding killing anyone that’s in their own room!”

Meaning if they could get to their own rooms, they’d be safe.  By leaving our boundaries, we invited attack.  And here- in the room with the empty shelves and displays-

It kept hesitating.  Avoiding striking home.  Waiting.

Snag’s influence at work.  Maybe he was here, in a fashion.  There was some other logic at work too, maybe a desire to emulate Cradle and maim or corner us to torment us as much as possible.  But for right now, this knowledge of the safe spaces was all we needed.

“Get closer to Cradle!”  I called out, my voice straining around attempted coughs.  “Try to kick him out of his room!”

A man with a knife was less threatening than that thing, and the entire group that was over there seemed to agree.

Darlene picked up a piece of fallen shelving, a long bit of sheet metal.  Unwieldy, inconvenient, floppy, she held it up at an angle with the bottom end dragging on the floor, the rest of it aimed at Cradle.

Pushing it aside took focus, time, and movements he didn’t have in excess, when the rest were getting closer.

When he had a moment, he aimed for Chicken Little, knife out, and lunged.

Tattletale threw herself in the way.  She’d dropped her gun, so she only had her hands.

He sliced her, again and again.  Back, back, shoulder, arm- she looked up, trying to get a sense of him, and he caught her above the ear and near the eye.

Darlene threw something, and Tattletale found a moment to get a grip on his shirt, trying to drag him around, closer to the other room.  Colt was there, kneeling, too badly hurt to move from where she was.

Knife fights were ugly, and Cradle seemed to know that.  There weren’t good moves to defend oneself from a knife user who was aware of the full potential of the weapon, and any move that was anything less than good meant horrific damage, often going past skin and into muscle, if not organs.

Tattletale took the brunt of it, because the alternative was that the kids would do the same.

Hands plunged down around us, but they didn’t come down directly at that little fracas.  They were aimed at Damsel, Love Lost, Sveta, and Tristan.

Keeping it busy was good.  It forced it to stay at a certain orientation, a certain height and position where it could reach them at the edges of their territories, should they step out.

I heard a cry, a roar that was so filled with anger and emotion that I honestly mistook it for Love Lost’s scream.  I didn’t even take it for a word at first, and it was guttural and filled with pain.

Cradle’s name, turned into a ragged cry.  Cradle turned to look, because the volume of the shout no doubt made it sound like the source was close.

But it was Rain, injured and unable to move.

Providing Tattletale an opportunity to stagger to one side and pull at Cradle’s sleeve, slinging him around in a quarter-circle.

Cradle staggered back, banging against shelving.  A piece of rubble the size of a fist bounced off of his arm.  Darlene’s continued ranged offense.

His expression twisting, Cradle started forward- and his shirt snagged on the shelving.

“Go,” Tattletale said, talking to the kids.  “Back to your rooms until we come for you.  Go.”

They went.

And the others came.  The cavalry was there.

And the many-armed thing had more targets it could attack, all in close proximity.

Tristan had his shield, protecting Sveta and Damsel from the flack, but it bowled him over in the process, living metal arms reaching for his shield and dragging him across rubble.  Sveta and Damsel carried on.  Love Lost was just really athletic, even in this world, and managed to avoid the worst of it.

“Get Cradle!” I called out.  Unnecessarily.

It was Damsel who reached him first, spearing him before he could unsnag himself from the twisted metal of the empty shelf unit.

Spearing him through the shoulder.

“No killer instinct,” Cradle snarled at her.

“You really want to tempt-” she started replying.

He hacked at her already damaged hand with the combat knife.  The injury brought her to her knees, interrupting the retaliatory swing with her other hand.

Sveta reached the shelf, and kept her distance from Damsel and Cradle both.  Instead, she leaped onto the shelf itself, one foot and both hands finding purchase near the top.

It wobbled, and it wobbled more as a hand plunged down right behind where Sveta had been.  Glass arms, liquid metal arms, and floorboards went flying all around us.

And it crashed down, impossibly loud.

The dust cleared, the glass stopped raining down.

Love Lost had joined Sveta in bowling over the shelf.  Bringing it down on top of Cradle.

And without the host, there was no agent in this space.  No light source in Cradle’s portion.  No monster looming over and around us.

“Where are you going?” Tristan asked.   He was injured himself, badly enough I’d be sending him to the hospital in any other circumstance.  The shield was a mess now.

The question was directed at Damsel.

“Out,” she pointed at the far wall.  “These are simulated bodies, aren’t they?  I don’t know about you, but I want to move to a simulation where I’m not so scratched up.”

She swayed as she stood.  She was missing a thumb, and had a deep notch in her forearm, more damage along that arm.  The limb trembled where she held it against her chest, to try to stem the bleeding.

‘Scratched up’.

There were more injured than able bodied.  It was Sveta who picked me up, sweating and grunting as she dragged me, putting in enough effort there weren’t words.

Tattletale limped about halfway.  Love Lost helped Colt.  Tristan helped Byron.  The kids stayed with Rain while waiting for escorts.

We passed through the wall of darkness.  Into a room like the one we’d just left.  More stark, barren… and with three more things like the one we’d just left behind.  One made of blades that flowed in and out of themselves while having no individual substance beyond what they kicked up from the ground and carried up into their own mass.  One was sleek, cat-like, and multicolored, quadrupedal, with a pattern like flames along its pale length, starting pale blue at the shoulders and reaching a pink-red at the hindquarters.  Another existed as a mess of geometry, suspended in air, dark and still.

And all were still.

I could imagine this room rotating, the gates opening, the guardians taking their turns.

We carried on.  out of the mutable rooms, and onto a plain of carmine crystal, with veins that could have been cracks, ore, or blood vessels.  Above, just darkness.  Below, more darkness, with flashes here and there.

We weren’t healed by the transition between spaces, and too many of us were dying.

Tristan didn’t speak as he laid his brother down, then went back for Rain and the kids, but I could see how stiff he was.

I looked into a spike of crystal to my right, and I saw my reflections.  Faint, so fleeting I could barely make them out.  They seemed to go blacker, illuminate again, then dim, and then I realized that was my own vision suffering.  Each face had something different.  A fixation on mouths.  A fixation on- I could only interpret it as similarities to my parents, if I wasn’t seeing memories of them in the crystal too.

“How?” Sveta asked.

I looked.

Damsel was in one piece.

“Offer me something and I’ll show you how,” she told Sveta.

“Accolades,” I managed, my eyes not focusing well enough.  “Awe.  Admiration.  When and if we figure out anything about this space, we’ll have to admit it was you who pioneered it, you who figured it out first.  We’ll even have to tell the Wardens, eventually, and your name will come up.”

“Laying it on a little thick,” Damsel said.

“Is that even possible?” I asked her, managing a faltering smile.  My lip cracked.

She approached, and motioned for Sveta to move with a sweep of the claw.  She reached for me with clawed fingers, and I went stiff.

The blades didn’t touch me, but the lengths and backs of the fingers did.  She caught me around the head and throat.

“Can’t replace me if I’m this good at this,” she said, forcing my head around so I looked at the spike of crystal.  I could see myself, in various dimensions and aspects.  And I could see her.

I could see Swansong, prominent among those jumbled images.

She pulled me off balance, accidentally scraping me with a finger, then pushed me.

I fell into and across the recess, that looked like a spike from a certain angle.  Or that was both.  I could see just how bad the injuries were in the faces and facets, magnified large by the broadest, flattest planes.

I came to a stop, panting for breath.  I reached for my shoulder where I’d been scratched- and found my shoulder intact.

My hands explored my face and arms.  No burns.  No wounds.

“I was being tongue-in-cheek before, about the awe and admiration,” I said.  “But now it’s for real.  You’re… scarily good at that.”

“No shit,” Sveta said.

“I’ve been here before,” Damsel said, as she headed over toward Tattletale.  “Spent a while here when I was dead.  You learn your way around.”

The light danced around like a subsurface lightning bolt.  Images were illuminated.

And I could see others.  Reflections that weren’t me and weren’t us.  Glimpses of the real world, pale in the midst of those flashes.

This was it.  The system.  The source of powers.

As vast as Earth was.  Maybe more so, if each piece of the landscape had multiple interpretations and variations, depending on how you approached it.

How the hell do we find Teacher in all of this?

The able-bodied joined Sveta and I.  The kids all holding each other’s hands, clinging to one another.  Love Lost.  The injured awaited Damsel’s attention.

Everyone a little haunted, traumatized a few times over.

We’d… we’d revisited our starting points.  The traumas that plunged us into this world.  And by Candy’s words to the others, I was pretty sure there had been a point or two there where just about all of us had resigned ourselves to our deaths.  We’d faced the visceral ends of our journeys.  The end of the vast majority of parahumans- death at the hands of powers.

Starts and endings, all faced together.

And this…  I looked out at the landscape.  Is everything that was in between.

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80 thoughts on “From Within – 16.10”

  1. -OMG, I was so worried for Tattletale. Fucking Cradle slashed at her with his knife like he almost tried to cut her in pieces. AGAIN. Thanks God she survived, she pulled a good fight with no bullets against an armed monster and his shard.

    “When he had a moment, he aimed for Chicken Little, knife out, and lunged.

    Tattletale threw herself in the way. She’d dropped her gun, so she only had her hands.

    He sliced her, again and again. Back, back, shoulder, arm- she looked up, trying to get a sense of him, and he caught her above the ear and near the eye.”

    -Tattletale is a damn HERO for her kid. She’s ready to die in dream and “wake up” braindead for Chicken Little <3. She may be too harsh with her words but her heart is soft.

    -Cradle being coward as always. Attacking defenseless kids as always.

    – Love Lost got her sweet revenge <3 on the man who backstabbed her and drained her blood, almost killing her. Good.

    -Fuck you Cradle. You're going back into the wilderness but this time BRAINDEAD. For the rest of your life. Good.

    -"How the hell do we find Teacher in all of this?" And so Teacher become Wardverse Waldo.

    1. I’m fine with her talking while acting, really.
      Always been one to value brutal, bridge-burning honesty highly.

  2. Tattletale was pretty awful to Victoria in this chapter. This situation touched on all her triggers. Not just the fact that everyone saw her trigger-event, but that she once again had to watch someone throw herself at an unbeatable enemy, maiming herself, sacrificing herself.

    I think Tattletale was talking to Taylor in this chapter, saying everything she wished she had said, while simultaneously saying, “No, no, no again. I’m not getting attached. I’m not going through this again.”

  3. This might be my favorite chapter in any story. You have written such a fascinating plot here, with a wonderful cast and setting. I have no clue what will come next, but needless to say I’m looking forward to it.

  4. I can just imagine Byron getting his body repaired and just seeing the Lovecraftian Horror and just going “Guys, what the fuck?”

    Also, hoping for a locker room with bloody tampons everywhere.

    1. What are the chances they meet up with the Travellers and Taylor in the dream world? Or Aleph capes in general.

      1. Honestly? I don’t think they are very high. Remember that Aleph is a sealed world, Teacher’s seals were good enough to prevent Scion from quickly leaving worlds he ended up sealed in during GM, and the clairvoyant from seeing what was going on in the C.U.I.’s world as long as it was sealed. This means that it is entirely possible that Kronos titan never reached into Aleph, and no thinkers, tinkers etc. in Aleph can look what’s going outside of it as long as it remains sealed (assuming the seal blocks thinker powers both ways). This means that people (including capes) on Aleph may be completely ignorant about the fact that an expedition to the shard-space may be a good idea (not to mention that Taylor may be the only person on Aleph who even realizes that such place exists, and even her knowledge on the topic may be limited to “there are worlds that the clairvoyant couldn’t see in which Scion and the passengers hid”).

        Even if people on Aleph decided to try to mount an expedition to the shard-space, they may have no means to do it. Remember that according to Taylor Aleph’s capes were few, and barely counted as C-listers by Bet standards. Travelers are an obvious exception, but none of them seems to have a power suited for the task. There may be some post-GM cape immigrants from Bet (during her conversation with Annette Taylor suggested that she and her father may not be the only people who snuck from Bet to Aleph before the portals were sealed), or post-GM triggers on Aleph who have powers suited for the task, but what are the chances that capes on Aleph have both the reason and the means to go into the shard space?

        Not very high in my opinion.

        On the other hand if the shards themselves may make contact with people who visit the shard-space, then I wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility that for example Queen Administrator would try to reach out to Victoria’s group. After all this group contains some people that QA knows, and, considering that it almost certainly still contains a copy of Taylor’s mind, quite possibly cares about. However considering that we really don’t know much about how the shard-space works I think that it is impossible to say at this point if something could even theoretically happen, much less if it is likely, or how such interaction between QA and Victoria’s group could look like.

        Considering that Victoria saw her own twisted reflections in the shards that made her think that the shards may have some fixation on similarities between herself and her parents, maybe there is a chance that Aiden will see something in the crystals that will remind him of Taylor who, as far as shards’ side of the matter is concerned, is sort of his mother in a way similar to how Love Lost is Colt’s…

  5. That was remarkable. Fantastic.

    Anyone else notice Cradle met his end because he got snagged on a shelf at just the wrong moment?

    1. Got SNAGed on the shelf… in Snag’s section of the room. With Rain distracting at a key moment and Love Lost being one of the people who pushed the shelving unit over.

      All three got some karmic justice against Cradle it seems.

    1. The Wretch was always a her. One of the body parts it had lots and lots of was boobs, after all; it was basically Panacea creating an erotic hyperstimulus for herself.

  6. “I’m talking about the dreams. You and me, we’re in prison because we hurt a lot of people. Some of these people. But we can at least keep the dreams peaceful.” I can barely recognize Colt. She’s not that annoying stupid girl anymore. She grew up so much :).

  7. Typo thread.

    > He was injured himself, badly enough I’d be sending him to the hospital in any other circumstance.

    There are three spaces before this sentence.

    the loser it got > the closer it got

    > Tristan helped Byron.

    Considering that Byron is presumably in comma (he was supposedly comatose in the last scene on chapter 16.8, and I don’t think there was any reason for it to change since then) perhaps something like “Tristan carried Byron.” would be better?

    out of the mutable rooms, > Out of the mutable rooms,

  8. >Cradle goes splat
    >final fantasy victory fanfare plays
    And so the party advances to the next stage, and after some healing attentions from Damsel the unexpected white mage, prepares to face new and unknown trials in shardland…

  9. I loved seeing Tattletale protect the kids. And I know it’s unlikely, but I can’t help hoping for finding Taylor or at least the blended QA.

  10. Gotta say, Tattletale being one of my favorite characters in this whole series, that at first I was pretty disappointed in how she chewed out Vicky, not just because it dashed any hopes of them becoming actual friends, but because it was simultaneously Tt at her worse.

    But then I realized that Vick being chewed out mirrors almost precisely the situation between Tt and Khepri, in that Tattletale is dishing some real truthbombs[1] to someone that near-suicidally threw herself into danger, with a reckless disregard for how it might impact loved ones (or people they claim to care about), all for the sake of completing the mission. It wasn’t as loving, but I certainly don’t think the similarities in the situation coincidental. After considering that, I have no doubt in my mind they’re gonna develop a friendship of some sort.

    [1] truthful in that Vicky *did* use her sister, and had at least a partial role in Amy becoming what she has, and while Vicky kind of acknowledged it (if a single thought once many chapters ago with no changes in behavior or disposition count as acknowledgement), she has yet to really internalize either of these things or think about it in-depth, at least on camera. This is a real hot take, but Vicky refuses to accept she (and other things) had any sort of role in Amy’s situation and is worse off for it, likewise Amy is the inverse, she refuses to accept that she holds any responsibility for it and would rather blame her shard (and other such things) entirely. I really hope Vicky can learn from that portion of Tattletale’s verbal assassination.

  11. So it looks like after Snag’s death and Colt’s trigger members of Rain’s cluster still had “their nights”. I wonder though if Colt had her nights together with Love Lost, or if they were separate.

    I must also say that Tattletale’s words (especially about Victoria’s role in what happened to Amy) coupled with near-death experience probably did almost as much to make Victoria get over her what Amy did to her as all those years of therapy and Victoria’s own internal struggles did. Still not enough for Vicky to forgive Amy (which is not surprising considering what Victoria wrote about “forgive & forget” in Glow-worm), but at least enough for her to seriously try to understand Amy’s perspective, which is huge if you compare it to how she dismissed Amy when the latter pointed out in arc 14, that she was also a victim.

    Interestingly none of Victoria’s friends (from Breakthrough to Jessica) or family members would tell Victoria what she heard from Tattletale in this chapter, even if they realized what Victoria did to Amy (and I think that at least some of them did, or at least suspected). They didn’t want to hurt Victoria’s feelings. Probably too much.

    Note that Amy in particular didn’t want to do it when she got a chance. Even when Victoria herself admitted to Amy that perhaps she wasn’t the best sister, Amy quickly responded that Victoria was “the only good thing”, because… of course Amy loves Victoria too much to admit that Vicky’s hurt her back in Brockton Bay.

    Victoria needed to hear some harsh words from Tattletale who understood her but at the same time didn’t like her (and whom Victoria didn’t like, but respected) to get a better perspective on herself and her sister. Happens to people all the time, doesn’t it? And who knows? Perhaps Tattletale’s words will lead to not only Victoria recovering further from her trauma, but also (assuming that Victoria actually acts on the revelations she got in this chapter) to a healthier relationship between Victoria and her family (especially with Amy, but I think that Vicky’s relationship with her parents may also benefit a lot from what happened in this chapter), and maybe even a good, if maybe somewhat harsh, friendship between Victoria and Lisa somewhere down the line?

  12. Praise to you, almighty shelf, for doing in that awful cowardly monster Cradle. You are the true hero of this day.

    Oh and everyone else deserves a bit of credit too I guess, if your feeling generous.

  13. Ding dong, the Cradle is dead, the shelf fell over the man, and the party ran away through the door!

    But seriously, Cradle getting splatted was great.

  14. FUCK!

    • “[…] I bet what gets you is that you know you deserved those years in the asylum.”

    *muffled gasp*

    • “I could make peace with my lack of peace on this one subject.”

    On not forgiving Amy…

    Which is fine.

    • Mr. Hugs.


    – – –

    Like Grasping Self’s “body”, Ward’s spot for Best Chapter is ever-changing.




  15. I hate to be “that guy”, but I’m going to be honest: this fight was extremely underwhelming, especially after Victoria got taken out.
    She got roasted, but it doesn’t matter. Full healing after the fight.
    Long pep talk for Tristan, but nothing comes of it, he and Damsel both fail to kill Cradle.
    People attempt to say goodbyes to each other, but Tattletale ruins it and then nobody dies anyway.
    Victoria notices the thing about Grasping Self not being able to attack them in their own sections, but too late for it to matter.
    Then everyone is scared about getting their hands dirty, so Cradle first has to go crazy and attack them with a knife, but even then Damsel of all people chickens out, so they drop a shelf on him, which somehow kills him instantaneously.
    Grasping Self was mostly just for show, a joke compared to the Endbringers. It didn’t accomplish anything, aside from getting its host killed.

    Then at the end, Victoria thinks about how much they have overcome and whatnot, but it feels cheap. “Not earned”.

    1. I actually liked this fight for what it brings to the story. It wasn’t a typical, flashy cape fight. The way I see it, it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to show us some of the best qualities of everyone involved that are often hidden behind their powers and the usual drama that comes with cape life:
      – It showed that Victoria is not only quite smart, but also willing to do whatever she can to help even when she’s on verge of cardiac arrest.
      – It showed that Tattletale is also quite intelligent even without her powers, that she is willing to risk her life to protect the kids, and that she isn’t gone so far to have developed a killer instinct (chances are that it is largely thanks to the fact that Taylor took it upon herself to kill Coil rather then have Tattletale order the execution).
      – It showed that Sveta is always there to pull Victoria out of trouble, and that as much as she feels guilty about killing, she is willing to “undo the clasp” (to borrow her expression from chapter 10.13) to save her friends.
      – It showed that the friendship between kids is stronger than their emotional problems, and their childish tendency to complain about each other is not enough to drive them apart. That they understand and appreciate just how much Tattletale did for them (and I suspect that Lisa was really touched to hear that). That even in face of death, they can still joke to keep each other’s spirits up (even if Candy’s joke lead to some light-hearted grumbling from Darlene).
      – It showed that Damsel can be every much the hero Victoria (or Swansong for that matter) is, and that despite all of her mental problems, like Tattletale, she hasn’t developed the sort of killer instinct that Cradle did.

      I could bore you by going on like that about all of the other characters, but perhaps the most important one here is… Snag. This entire fight gave both Victoria and us the reason to suspect that his mind is somewhere out there, and that it was ultimately thanks to him that everyone except Cradle survived. I suspect that it may be very important to Rain and Love Lost later on. You said that Grasping Self was a joke compared to Endbringers. I would say that Grasping Self could easily be every bit the threat to everyone in the room that Endbringers were to armies of capes who usually opposed them. The fact that GS felt like “a joke” was likely due to Snag’s influence. And it reminded us (and told most of the visitors to the dream-room) what sort of a person Snag was underneath his costume, his hatred for Rain, and all other negative emotions and personality traits he got from his clustermates through their tokens – a hero who, knowing that he is doomed himself, tried to at least save someone else from the same fate. He did it in the mall before he triggered, and he did the current chapter.

      This fight may not have felt so flashy as some cape fights we saw in the series, especially after Victoria has been mostly taken out of it, but I think that everything that the characters learned about themselves and about each other during it may make it one of the most consequential fights in Ward. The healing of their bodies afterwards had little meaning. It was what they discovered about themselves that was important.

      Then again perhaps I feel this way, because I don’t really care about cape fights in the series nearly as much as about some of its other aspects – like the stories of personal struggles of the characters in it. And this chapter promises to be the breakthrough point in a lot of them.

      1. One more thing – the fact that Victoria got mostly taken out of the fight early, and had little idea about what Sveta, Tristan, Damsel and Love Lost faced when they went after Cradle also played an important role. It stressed Victoria’s helplessness, her vulnerability at the time, which let her focus on processing everything that was said by the people who stayed, and on what the impending death brought out of both them and from her. It also let her know a taste of being powerless to help her friends (something she rarely has to face, since, as a brute, she is usually in the middle of all fights her team is involved in), and thanks to it feel strong relief when everyone but Cradle survived.

        The whole experience must have been (as Admiral Matt pointed out bellow) very cathartic to her. But maybe aside from that it will also teach Victoria that she doesn’t have to always be everyone’s shield? That these people can take care of themselves? Might be important for Victoria’s long-time survival…

  16. A few more things about Tattletale’s behavior in this chapter. Note how many things fell apart for Lisa at once during the dream:
    – Everyone learned how she triggered (something quite possibly only Taylor knew so far).
    – Lisa’s trigger vision included names of her parents – something that someone like Victoria who not only researchers capes, but also keeps a large archive of data about cape-related events on pre-GM Bet. Add to it that Victoria may have an access to a lot of police records (via Dragon for example), and there is a very good chance that between missing persons reports and records of suicide cases Victoria may link Tattletale to Sarah Livsey, and for example – inform Lisa’s parents (assuming they survived Gold Morning) that their daughter is still alive, which is something that Lisa very much doesn’t want to happen. Or at least Victoria may give Lisa her parents’ current address and suggest that Lisa contacted them herself, which would probably be much better from Lisa’s perspective, but still pretty bad considering that she probably doesn’t even want to think about her parents anymore, and the whole situation may force Lisa to at least tell Victoria just why she doesn’t want to contact her parents anymore.
    – Love Lost is quite likely to do exactly the same, assuming she ever gets out of her cell.
    – Tattletale just got to witness someone without brute powers do a very brute-like charge against overwhelming force in a form of a mini-Endbringer and get herself almost killed in the process – something not unlike what Taylor did multiple times in Worm.
    – She also got to witness her kids getting themselves almost killed – first by the guardian, then by Cradle.
    – Tattletale has lost her pretty much always on power probably for the first time since she triggered. I imagine that having an alien intelligence inside her head giving her either a stream of often unwanted information and/or a thinker headache could be a pretty liberating feeling for Lisa in other circumstances, but having to deal with this whole situation without her power has to be absolutely terrifying. This is precisely the sort of situation in which Tattletale needs her power most.

    No wonder that when it looked like Victoria may bring up the topic of Lisa’s trigger, Lisa reacted by using the heaviest emotional ordinance she had against Victoria – pointing out Victoria’s role in what happened to Amy. If Lisa had her power she could probably divert Victoria’s attention from the topic of her trigger using much more subtle means, but without it she went for what basically was an emotional equivalent of a thermonuclear option to make absolutely sure that her “diversion” worked. Like I said in one of my posts above – this is probably exactly what Victoria needed to happen to her around this point in her recovery (just like Amy probably needed to hear what Victoria told her in arc 14), but I simply can’t imagine that Tattletale would do it in a different situation – Lisa’s outburst was clearly motivated by how hurt, vulnerable and out of control over this whole situation she felt.

    Note that Tattletale had multiple opportunities to tell the same things to Victoria these same things multiple times in Ward (both about what Victoria did to Amy, and about how “light”, all things considered, Victoria’s trigger was), but she never did. This is one more reason why I think that Tattletale is extremely disturbed at the moment. It may be the moment of her greatest emotional weakness in years, and I expect that it will have lasting effect on Lisa.

    Maybe having her emotional shell pierced like that is exactly the thing Lisa needs to open up to people more? Just one more reason why I think that a friendship between Lisa and Victoria (and quite possibly also between Lisa and some other people – especially the ones who were in the dream-room in this chapter) is possible at some point in the future…

    And by the way, how does the idea of Tattletale befriending people like Sveta or Damsel sound to you?

    1. By the way, this thing:

      You triggered because mommy and daddy didn’t love you because you were normal, then proceeded to show you were the last person who ever deserved powers, maiming people and using your sister to dodge the consequences when you hit them a little too hard.

      shows a more “human” side of Tattletale than we usually get to see – she isn’t omniscient, and doesn’t always know exactly which buttons to press to hurt people, especially without her power. After all Victoria clearly admitted all of the above both to herself and select other people multiple times, and, especially at the beginning of Ward, was focused on becoming a better person than she was then.

      That said considering how in last few arcs Victoria always had co compromise between pursuing that goal, and doing what actually had to be done at the moment, perhaps Tattletale’s words will be useful to Victoria as a reminder about what a transition from Glory Girl to “coach Victoria” first, and later to Antares was supposed to let her accomplish as far as shaping what sort of person she is goes.

      1. By the way, do you think that Tattletale sounded like she resented Victoria for her relatively “easy” trigger? That’s… not very mature of Lisa, wasn’t it? And not very fair. After all Victoria can’t be blamed for triggering in a way typical for second generation capes, can she? And it is not like she hasn’t suffered much worse traumas afterwards.

        All in all not a behavior I would expect from Tattletale under normal conditions. Just one more thing that shows just how deeply hurt she feels by this whole situation.

  17. happy too see my judgement was confirmed- they should have just “accidentally” slit his throat/ driven a piece of rebar or something through his eye the night they captured him- there was literally no way the selfish little fucker would ever be worth anything as a person, or useful- his endgame was always “murder everyone in my cluster, hope muh emotions (so unfair i have to feeeeeel, like the almost everyone else on the plaaaaneeeet!”)go away”- zero sympathy.

    Goodbye, Ryan, and good riddance.

    1. Don’t celebrate just yet. Remember that Ryan is probably just brain dead at the moment, and his body otherwise intact. Since the heroes are keeping an eye on him (and it is probably safest and easiest to do it while he supposed to be in the dream-room) it is not impossible that he is already hooked up to life support (especially if Love Lost and/or Colt alerted their wardens that Breakthrough is planning to do something risky tonight). Add to it that if Amy kept her word, she may be periodically visiting the bunker for her psychic evaluation and therapy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that Cradle will be very mych alive by tomorrow.

      1. Cradle is not in the jail bunker anymore. He was already EXILED. Look at what he said:
        “I’m supposed to enjoy being stuck? Being trapped in the wilderness, only two people to keep me company? No way to get home, no way to tinker, my agent slowly pressing in on me, demanding I build when I can’t?”
        He’s already exiled in the wilderness with only two people keeping him company. Unless one of those people is a powerful healer or Amy will be exiled in the same place with him then I can’t see how he can’t be helped. Without life support, his body will naturally die. I doubt that the heroes will bring him back to save his life knowing that he’s a walking, talking danger. I think this is the last time we’ll see Cradle. Not that I complain. I’m already sick and tired of this awful villain and equally awful person. Time to find a better villain: Teacher :).

        1. Remember that the heroes periodically check on exiled people. Both to provide them with supplies needed to survive (and Mr Bough’s case presumably some extra luxuries he got in return for helping Sveta), and to see if the prisoners are safe (for example don’t require medical aid) and aren’t trying something fishy to get out of their situation (always a possibility with tinkers like Cradle). I also think that they may want to check if the prisoners haven’t been “rescued” by someone like Teacher.

          Remember that we don’t know if the people who are keeping Cradle company are fellow exiles or his wardens who are making the sort of visit I described above. In fact, considering that Cradle is a quite dangerous cape, I think the latter is quite likely, because it simply makes sense for the heroes to check on him around the time he is supposed to be forced by his power to sleep. This way Cradle’s chances to escape even if he manages to somehow defeat them (which he could potentially do even when he is knocked out – for example by setting some sort of tinker-trap) are relatively low.

          Either way if someone is keeping Cradle company, they are likely to at least try to help him if they see that something happened to him in his sleep, and if they have some sort of powers that can be used for healing or a way to contact the bunker, they may actually succeed. If his companions are heroes keeping an eye on him, they probably do have a way to contact the bunker. If Cradle’s companion are exiles themselves… he may be lucky enough to be in company of two gentlemen from Orchard who were supposed to be exiled, and who just happen to have powers that, as far as we know, may actually be used for some parahuman healing.

          1. One more thing that I technically forgot to explicitly say it in the previous comment.

            Remember that the Wardens (and possibly other heroes working in the bunker, can’t remember exactly) are charged with legal responsibility to contain their prisoners and exiles. This means that no matter what they think about some of these criminals, they must do their best to keep them alive at least as long as these criminals aren’t sentenced to death by a court of justice. They may have been given a lot of leeway as far as how they go about it, but certainly not so much that they can simply let a dying prisoner or exile die on their watch.

            Not to mention that most of the heroes wouldn’t want to kill someone like exiled Cradle without court’s verdict, and if one of them would actually do it, he or she would be charged with murder as soon as the others learned about it.

          2. Ok, then lets PRAY that Cradle’s company are criminals just like him who doesn’t give a crap about him and who’ll let him die. He already created way too many problems for the good guys and their allies, he’s absolute incapable of redemption and I’m sooooooooooo sick of him. There are plenty of villains more interesting than him: Teacher, and I dare to say, cooler than him: Sleeper, Machine Army. I’m more interested/invested in them that in this asshole with his obsession to get revenge on everyone who ever said a word or two to Rain.
            Remember that people were afraid that Goddess and March will return? Well, they never returned, they stayed dead, just like that. Which is great for the plot. Not seeing Cradle again will also be great for the plot and will help the story to move on. There are so many plots that should count more than: Cradle trying to kill Rain, Cradle trying to kill kids, Cradle accusing everyone for the fact that he’s a complete failure and so on…Yawn…
            Gosh, I so hope that Cradle will stay braindead and let other villains, better than him, have their own shining moments.

          3. You mentioned that when Snaug died, he disappeared from the room. The same happened to Cradle, he disappeared from the room (along with his psycho shard dog). You have some good theories and I’d really like this theory to be valid. Maybe, maybe he died in reality right when his dream body disappeared from the room. I want this to be so true, cause I never wanted a Ward villain to die as much as I want Cradle to die. Not even Teacher.

          4. Well, I guess we will learn if Cradle died sooner or later. For now we probably need to accept that we don’t know enough to be sure either way.

            One thing about what I wanted to point out though – when Rain was woken up prematurely in arc 12 he also disappeared from the room. This was no different from Snag’s death. The difference was that when Rain woke up in arc 12 Cradle’s part of the room extended to cover Rain’s area (as well as Love Lost’s who was being drained together with Colt at the time), which caused Cradle to get Rain’s tokens. And it wasn’t just a shift of the walls. In interlude 12.e it was explicitly mentioned that the floor in the dream-room was changing as Love Lost’s part of the room shrunk. On the other hand Snag’s part of the room is still there – it is the one with shelves in which Cradle was ultimately defeated.

            It is the fact that Victoria didn’t mention that Cradle’s part of the room started disappearing after he was defeated, not the fact that his body seems to be gone, that makes me think that Cradle’s fate may be closer to Snag’s death than Rain’s awakening. Of course I may be wrong for one of many reasons. For example:
            – the walls and floors in arc 12 might have shifted because at that time first because Cradle was actively draining his clustermates, and later because he was the only human left in the room, while in the current chapter nothing like either of these things happened,
            – braking down the walls before coming into the room or simply bringing in so many people may have messed with the mechanism that caused the shift of the floors in arc 12,
            – Victoria might have simply not noticed that Cradle’s space was shrinking – similar process happened quite slowly “Centimeter by centimeter, hair by hair” in interlude 12.e,
            – the rules that govern the behavior of the dream-room are simply not exactly the same every night – after all this is supposed to be something akin to a lucid dream that can be influenced by the dreamers.

  18. Can’t reply.


    “I hate to be ‘that guy’, but I’m going to be honest: this fight was extremely underwhelming, especially after Victoria got taken out.
    She got roasted, but it doesn’t matter. Full healing after the fight.”

    YMMV. I hear you, but nearly dying is nearly dying. If characters matter, life-changing near death experiences kind of matter. It did stretch it for me that we had no deaths, but most deaths at this point would have been a distraction. Colt or Love Lost shouldn’t be the focus at this point, Damsel and Breakthrough member deaths squander the changes happening, CL or one of the Heartbroken would have undone the character work from a couple chapters ago…. I do think we could have offed Tattletale here – one could read recent chapters as coming to a sort of conclusion.

    I have mixed feelings about that aspect.

    “Long pep talk for Tristan, but nothing comes of it, he and Damsel both fail to kill Cradle.

    People attempt to say goodbyes to each other, but Tattletale ruins it and then nobody dies anyway.”

    Nothing comes of it? I daresay it mattered to Tristan in the very dark place he’s been. I expect it hit hard and we’ll see its effects.

    By the same token, do you think *the kids* feel Tattletale ruined it? Or that Victoria does? I don’t believe that for a second. Tattletale has soooo much bitterness at self-sacrifice, appearing weak or out of control, self-destructive behavior, and losing people. It came out. She sort of spoiled Victoria’s kindness maybe, but the rest, no.

    This dream has been effectively one huge cathartic group therapy session. Some people respond really healthily to their first emotional therapy, but many people will be panicked by the unfamiliar raw openness. I posit that this was positive even for Tattletale; she just need some time to reconcile herself to it.

    “Victoria notices the thing about Grasping Self not being able to attack them in their own sections, but too late for it to matter.”

    Don’t the kids shelter in their sections during the final bloody scramble?

    “Then everyone is scared about getting their hands dirty, so Cradle first has to go crazy and attack them with a knife, but even then Damsel of all people chickens out, so they drop a shelf on him, which somehow kills him instantaneously.”

    I don’t understand. They ignore him first because he isn’t the objective, not out of squeamishness. Attacking him later has nothing to do with the knife; it’s just their last gambit once they realize their plan is literally impossible.

    Damsel is getting Swansong uploads in her brain on a nightly basis. Swansong holds back.

    As for the death…. Humans get killed instantly by falling shelves a lot. It’s not put in workplace safety videos because of sprained ankles.

    “Grasping Self was mostly just for show, a joke compared to the Endbringers. It didn’t accomplish anything, aside from getting its host killed.”

    Well yeah? Endbringers were built to destroy whole regions against armies of capes. The shard dogs were built to sit on their haunches behind supposedly impenetrable barriers and watch four unpowered people glare at each other for 40 minutes once a day. Why on Earth would they be built to hold a candle to a city-busting superweapon?

    “Then at the end, Victoria thinks about how much they have overcome and whatnot, but it feels cheap. ‘Not earned’.”

    Well, I can see where you’re coming from. I largely disagree, but no accounting for taste.

    1. > “Victoria notices the thing about Grasping Self not being able to attack them in their own sections, but too late for it to matter.”

      > Don’t the kids shelter in their sections during the final bloody scramble?

      Actually… I suspect that Byron survived the fight precisely because he was never moved out of his room throughout it. The fact that Victoria realized this rule about Grasping Self’s behavior might not have mattered for Byron’s survival, but perhaps it was the other way around? Maybe Victoria realized that people in their parts od the room were safe in part because Grasping Self never went after Byron?

  19. Black Goat’s power is used for something good at least once in this story. Wonder if there are more ‘free-ranged’ powers in that place ?
    Would hate to end up in a pool of Chugalug-juice…

  20. Not sure if anyone else reads Homestuck, but Lisa and Victoria are such a good example of Kismesis it’s not even funny.

  21. @Admiral Matt

    – “It did stretch it for me that we had no deaths, but most deaths at this point would have been a distraction.”
    Only if written poorly. The focus of our characters here is saving all parahumans and the city. We saw a lot of this in Worm, how character deaths were handled there.

    – “Nothing comes of it? I daresay it mattered to Tristan in the very dark place he’s been. I expect it hit hard and we’ll see its effects.”
    Sure, he feels shocked and maybe insecure about his resolve, but that’s about it.

    – “Don’t the kids shelter in their sections during the final bloody scramble?”
    Yes, but only for a minute or so before the fight is over and considering that Grasping Self didn’t manage to kill anyone who was outside of their section anyway (aside from almost killing Victoria, who basically ran into it), it probably didn’t matter. It feels more like Wardbow was grasping for straws as an excuse for why Grasping Self didn’t just obliterate them all outright in the previous chapter.

    – “I don’t understand. They ignore him first because he isn’t the objective, not out of squeamishness. Attacking him later has nothing to do with the knife”
    Tristan and Ashley both failed to kill him, also presumably because they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. We also didn’t get to see them fight, since Victoria got distracted by the (later unnecessary) goodbye-sayings.
    Swansong killed Beast of Burden for a lot less. Obviously she developed as a character, but I doubt that she would hesitate for a second, if it’s about saving the lives of both her friends and herself.
    We also already covered this whole thing multiple times, especially during the Teacher raid arc. The death-by-shelf thing felt as if Wardbow forced himself to make Cradle’s death G-rated, like a Disney villain’s death – he first has to throw away his last chance (again) by doing something irredeemable (stabbing Colt and slicing Tattletale) and then the others have an excuse for killing him, but only via something that shows no dead human on screen.

    Here’s what Cradle should’ve done: He saw that Grasping Self wasn’t going to hurt him, so he could’ve just positioned himself closer to it, using it for protection, since he only had to stay alive. No running into a group of enemies like a madman. Then, once Victoria figures out the room-section protection, Cradle would coordinate himself with Grasping Self, going from one section to the next with his knife, while the others are stuck in their sections.

    – “Why on Earth would they be built to hold a candle to a city-busting superweapon?”
    Because they’re the avatars of the all-powerful shards themselves? Because they’re protecting the door to Shard-Realm? There was so much buildup for this battle here. The first real man vs shard fight. We were told to expect a semi-Endbringer. But what we got instead was a lot of plot-armor and insecurity about how to kill Cradle.

    1. > Here’s what Cradle should’ve done: He saw that Grasping Self wasn’t going to hurt him, so he could’ve just positioned himself closer to it, using it for protection, since he only had to stay alive.

      I’m not entirely sure Cradle could do it. It is entirely possible that Grasping Self would attack Cradle as soon as he left his are in the room. Maybe Grasping Self wouldn’t necessarily kill Cradle, but chances are it wouldn’t left him alone either. Remember that in chapter 16.8 Tattletale predicted that the guardian would go after Rain, Cradle, Colt and Love Lost, but would simply try to maim, not kill them (as it did with Snaggletooth). That was a different guardian of course, but nothing says that Grasping Self wouldn’t play by the same rules.

      By the way, maybe everyone else survived the fight because they got their spaces in the room too, and as such were treated by Grasping Self exactly like members of the cluster? Maybe Snaggletooth died because the method she used to enter the dream-room did not give her her own space, and as such she was treated like an intruder, not like a cluster member who simply did not stay in her room? I think it is quite possible, because in the previous chapters we saw all “guests'” trigger-related dreams, while Rain never saw Snaggletooth’s.

    2. “Tristan and Ashley both failed to kill him.”
      Maybe my impression from reading it was different, but I thought they were going to try to capture Cradle at first, not kill? My first impression was they wanted him for a hostage.

      “Swansong killed Beast of Burden for a lot less.”
      Swansong also had full use of her powers when she did this. Cradle was at least armed with a knife. Sure, Damsel has those blade-fingers, but Victoria noticed earlier that she put an unusual amount of effort into her attempts to hack at Grasping Self, and wondered if the blades were more for show or her powers than use as actual blades.

  22. Mixed feelings about this chapter. On one hand, the change from typical cape fights to fighting a puzzle boss is good, and Grasping Self makes sense being a puzzle boss (following rules related to its primary task in the dream room, behaving not very intelligently due to shards having not much imagination in general, roundabout way to remove it by removing the host…). And the monster being nowhere near comparable to an Endbringer also makes sense, because creating physics-defying superweapons isn’t Grasping Self’s purpose. Its weapons are already “super” enough by human standards, but to create superweapons by Entity standards, you need Eidolon’s shard. But on the other hand – lack of casualties does indeed stretch the imagination, even with the rules being not meant to just wipe everyone out. And the general rules of the dream room seem to change on the fly. Snaggletooth enters the room and just immediately gets eaten, then our team enters the room, gets proper trigger dreams and even their own room sections. Maybe Snaggletooth didn’t enter “properly” somehow, using their own power, and Kenzie scanned Rain and figured out the “proper” method, but wouldn’t it be more expected then for Snaggletooth not to be able to enter at all? And why did Cradle’s death cause Grasping Self to disappear if Lurching Intruder is still there? If that’s the difference between “real death” and “dream death”, it feels quite stretched. And if Grasping Self left, does that mean that all clustermates lose their tinker powers? Or was it not Lurching Intruder in the back room but Colt’s shard?..
    In general, I tend to agree with Seph regarding his vision of how this fight could go. Though if it turned out that anyone in their own section is safe, then Grasping Self didn’t actually favor Cradle (despite it making sense to do so), and would attack him outside of his section just as well? And if I understood these rules correctly, everything could be laughably easy if everyone just gathered in one place and kept going through rooms together in close proximity – any place will be safe then, because everyone will be protected by the presence of the current room’s “owner”.

    In other news, Tattletale is just needlessly being a bitch. Well, brutal honesty (with a great deal of subjectivity, to be fair), I get it, but everything should have a purpose. What purpose was here? Not to “tell Victoria some convenient things that help her go without regrets”, while she was seemingly dying? Well, it’s quite easy, if you don’t want to – just don’t. It’s not what she did. It’s as if she tried to ensure that Victoria will feel as shitty as possible when dying, just because. A huge step back from the Tattletale we saw in Worm, IMO. If her words will actually have a positive effect on Victoria, it will be entirely Victoria’s credit, not Tattletale’s.

  23. Also, Wildbow has just shown that he’s not as sadistic as he could be:)) Just think of it: everyone got immensely lucky that it was Cradle’s night. Imagine if it was Rain’s – not only they would have to fight Cloven Stranger, but they’d have to kill Rain to get rid of it…

  24. @T.T.O.
    Regarding Cloven Stranger, Rain would’ve been able to do what Cradle didn’t – act as a shield for the rest. Cradle intentionally didn’t follow Victoria’s directions to do that at the start of 16.9. Also, obviously, Cradle tried to murder them too.

  25. I don’t think it’s safe to assume Cradle is brain-dead. Shards like to protect their hosts from their powers, so the system is probably rigged up so that proper members of the cluster will just be shunted back out into their bodies if their dream avatars are destroyed. That way a host isn’t rendered useless if it panics and commits suicide the first time it finds itself trapped in the dream room.

    This mechanism clearly doesn’t apply to half-assed invaders like Snaggletooth, though it might apply to Deathchickensiderthrough given how thoroughly they’ve been integrated into the system. It might also be limited to only within the dream room itself, not the crystal wilds outside.

    But yeah. I really doubt we’ve seen the last of Cradle.

    1. The thought that Cradle might have been just ejected from the dream, but otherwise unharmed, has crossed my mind – both because Grasping Self could try to protect him, and because Cradle’s disappearance was so sudden. People generally don’t die at the exact moment they are hit by falling shelves. There usually is some period of agony.

      On the other hand when Cradle was gone the light in his portion of the room, but the space remained otherwise intact. This is more similar to what happened with Snag’s space when he died than to what happened with Rain’s space when he was woken up early in arc 12. In the second case Cradle’s space eventually took over all dream-room except the fifth and maybe also Snag’s spaces (which caused Cradle to get Rain’s tokens that night). While I obviously am not sure about that (there is way too much I don’t know or understand about how the dram-room works for that), this difference makes me think that whatever happened to Cradle in the current chapter was closer to Snag’s death in arc 5 than to Rain’s early awakening in arc 12.

  26. I didn’t get a chance to comment when I read the chapter yesterday, so here goes.

    That was really really great. You had me going there for a while, thinking that several of the characters could have died, even Victoria. I was fairly sure Tattles was a goner. And it’s not just that they were in a really deadly situation and had taken a lot of damage, but it felt for a bit that deaths could be narratively satisfying.

    But what we got instead:
    “Starts and endings, all faced together.

    And this… I looked out at the landscape. Is everything that was in between.”

    That was *sublime*

  27. @grinvader

    “Black Goat’s power is used for something good at least once in this story.”

    Wait… So that’s how Damsel healed Victoria or at least her Dream-self?

    1. Honestly, I’m not sure. After thinking about it some more I think it’s more likely to be a place where all the shards’ memories are gathered, and the reason why the Ashleys remember ‘too much’ of their old life is because the original tried something there when she died (and not, as originally thought, from Bonesaw’s work) and grabbed too much out of them.
      Goat’s power lets him pick out of the various possibilities in alternate dimensions, but this probably goes farther – it stores everything the shards noticed about hosts and probably more acquired through Scion!hub when it was up, after all.

      But there’s a good chance I’m wrong (as usual). Next chapter promises a lot (even if it’s only 4 words…) so I’d rather just wait for whatever will happen.

  28. @TTO, regard Tattletale being a bitch:

    As far as she is concerned, she has ONE responsibility in life: protecting Chicken little and the other kids.
    And at the point she is really digging into Victoria, it is the point where the three children who she is MOST responsible for have been dragged into an endbringer fight- partially due to Victoria’s stupidity.
    Because this IS a stupid plan. It might work out. It might have been the only plan that could. It might have been needed. But none of that changes the fact that it IS stupid.
    So yeah. Lisa’s being a bitch. Lisa’s being Petty. Fine. She is facing up to the fact that the people she cares about most in the world are facing down death, and some self-righteous bitch* she doesn’t like is partially responsible.

    Probably for the kids sake she should have handled that better. This was not the optimal play here. But they are unarmed, in a enclosed arena, facing down an endbringer. Lisa has pretty good reason to believe they have LOST, and everyone she cares about is about to pay for that.

    *This judgement of Victoria is from Tattletales perspective, not mine.

  29. Does anyone else think what Damsel said at the end has really interesting implications for not just Swansong but other dead parahumans and how Valkyrie’s power works? Or maybe I’m reading too much into it

  30. >“I bet you knew she liked you, you knew she was in a bad place, but it was convenient to keep using the girl instead of getting her help. Bit you in the ass, huh? I bet what gets you is that you know you deserved those years in the asylum.”

    This part is Lisa projecting the abuse she received, and what actually led to her trigger.

  31. @ninegardens: well, if she has issues with Victoria endangering the kids with her plan, she could bring it up. It would be just as pointless for dealing with the situation at hand, as they are already in the dream room, but it would at least make some sense. But for some reason she reminds Vicky about her behavior in early Worm and about her relationship with Amy instead. Might as well remind about how she pissed herself when she was a toddler, that would be an equally relevant and valuable observation. And if she is actually using the “justification” along the lines of “I’m Thinking Of The Children, therefore I’m justified in whatever I do”, that would be a step back even further for her.
    (and of course, nothing above changes the fact that their plan is indeed stupid)

  32. omg i loved this chapter so much. candys speech about how far the heartbroken have come and how much they all love each other BROKE me

  33. I was really confused that knocking a shelf over on Cradle was enough to stop everything. Maybe pin him down or something, and then people could finish him manually. But just topple = death? Took me several reads of those paragraphs, and it still feels like “um… okay I guess”.

  34. > To Victoria, the Wretch has been an “it” up to now.

    Usually, but this isn’t actually the first time she’s used “her” to refer to it. I haven’t been keeping track, so I don’t know when the first time was, but here’s an instance from 12.8:

    I flew to the underside of the square-shaped porch, my back hugging it, and the moment the Wretch returned, I used her to haul it up and away from the wall.

  35. Regarding the lethality of Shelf-sama, keep in mind that this was a large enough shelf that Sveta jumping onto it just made it wobble a bit, and Grasping Self slamming a hand down nearby and destroying floor adjacent to it only made it wobble more. It took Love Lost’s help to get it to actually tip over. This was not a small shelf. Sveta wasn’t described as jumping off once it tipped, either, so it’s also possible that she rode it all the way down, in which case that’s over a hundred more pounds atop an already heavy object. Love Lost may have added some of her own weight as well — the specific words used were that she’d “joined Sveta in bowling over the shelf,” so it’s not clear if she just pushed it or if she actually jumped at it and rode it down alongside Sveta. And even without those two weighing it down, a shelf this big can be deadly. Imagine a hammer and anvil situation with your head, neck, or chest caught between the floor and a couple hundred pounds of shelving concentrated along the edge of a shelf.

    1. Let me put it this way – could this shelf be deadly? Absolutely. Could it be instantly deadly? It could, but unless the shards interpret the moment of death of Cradle’s “simulated body” differently than I expect them to (damage that would cause a compete cessation of brain activity of that body if it was real, or at least cessation of higher functions of that brain), then I expect that only if Cradle’s skull caved in completely he would die instantly. Even a broken neck or crushed chest would lead to at least a few seconds of agony. Something that in my opinion Victoria would notice.

      Could the shelf completely crush Cradle’s brain like this? I think it could, but it isn’t very likely. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think that skulls are quite that fragile.

      It is also possible that the relationship between the simulated body and the real one is a bit different than I expect, and Cradle’s real brain died as soon as his simulated body suffered enough damage to be doomed to die within the next few seconds, or when it was damaged enough to lose consciousness. However barring such possibilities I think that chances that Cradle actually died instantly aren’t that high.

      Of course there is one more possibility – that Cradle suffered a moment of agony that simply wasn’t reflected in Victoria’s internal monologue. I think she would make an explicit note of this, saying something like “a few seconds after the shelf crushed Cradle Grasping Self and the light in Cradle’s room disappeared”, and she didn’t, but technically nothing in her internal monologue explicitly said that there wasn’t such a moment either.

      1. I certainly question Victoria’s narrative abilities at that point. She isn’t at her most coherent, and it did take time for the dust to settle. There could be more that would make the shelf more satisfying, but our POV limits the writing.

        1. Good point about Victoria probably not being the most reliable narrator in this chapter. We can’t rely on Victoria to notice every relevant detail. Not only because she was in a very bad shape in this chapter, but also because she may not know which details are relevant – it was her first time in the dream-room after all.

  36. Huh. Am I the only one that would love to see Valkyrie enter this dream space?

    She probably would know a lot about what’s going on, but she’d probably also be depowered (or would she, since her power has such a strong shard affinity?) What would she look like? Would we see her human side, or would she look even more like her shard because that’s how she identifies?

  37. How much of what Lisa said does she apply to herself? ‘Triggered because mommy & daddy didn’t love her, proved she was the last person to deserve those powers’? Almost sounds like she’s comparing Victoria’s experience to her own, but is jealous or likes Vic less because she still HAS a sister. There’s a LOT to process in that burst of dialogue

    1. The combination of loss of her pretty much always-on power (for the first time in years and the distress caused by:
      – witnessing everyone’s triggers (including her own),
      – knowledge that everyone else also saw her trigger (even with details that could be used to link her to her original civilian identity she abandoned after she run away from home, and a clear proof of her shock and helplessness upon discovering her dead brother),
      – the following battle and the danger everyone (including herself and, possibly more importantly, her kids) were exposed to,
      clearly created a huge chunk on her usual emotional shell. It is no wonder that she doesn’t control what she says nearly as well as she usually does, that she is acting very emotionally.

      One result of this fact is that everyone can see some of the emotions Tattletale usually keeps to herself (even if she tries to divert everyone’s attention from them – for example by projecting some of these emotions onto Victoria). Another result is that she will probably be unable to completely retreat back into her “shell” after everything is over (if for no other reason then because everyone wo saw her trigger or her outburst on Victoria will call her on it).

      And as painful as the experience is for Tattletale right now, this second result… may actually be exactly what Tattletale needs in the longer term. She’s clearly been bottling far too many emotions for far too long. Some time ago I came to a conclusion that to heal Lisa needs to re-learn how to open up emotionally, how to let her guard down. Now she has been forced to do so by circumstances. Not an ideal outcome in my opinion (it would be much less painful to her if someone convinced her to do so on her own, and was far more delicate about it than what happened in the last couple of chapters was), but maybe it is the only way it could realistically happen? After losing Taylor Lisa was clearly determined to never let anyone else get this close to her emotionally even if they could help her, and instead focused on trying to save others (even by manipulating them when she felt necessary) – to the point that (according to Foil in chapter 11.10) she even ignored her own teammates opinions that the people she was so desperately trying to save really didn’t need this sort of help, and that Tattletale was doing herself more harm than she did good to the others by insisting to constantly do so.

      If Tattletale was this determined to follow such self-destructive path, then maybe the shock she went through in the last couple of chapters was the only way she could be forced to change her mind about allowing her friends to see all these accumulated negative emotions that have been destroying her, and let them actually help with these.

    1. This… is actually something I could see happening.

      Dauntless’ actual physical body is presumably still on Bet (assuming it is still somehow separate from his overgrown equipment), and I also don’t think it is very likely for the rest of Kronos titan to physically enter the shard space (after all the titan appears to be some sort of a portal, and the shard space is supposed to be sealed, which in turn means tat it can’t be accessed by most portals – remember that in arc 30 of Worm even Scion had problems with Teacher’s sealing devices; not to mention that we don’t really know if the dream space is actually a physical place, or something that exists only in the minds of the dreamers), but…

      During his interlude Dauntless was aware that he had some sort of “broken connections” to the shards. Maybe he can use these connections to communicate with the people in the dream space somehow?

  38. Damsel’s channeling Scapegoat now? I’m not sure how I feel about the physical consequences of the fight being cancelled like that, but the emotional consequences are sure to be very relevant. The tension and tone as Victoria’s dying, Tattletale and the kids facing down death, and Tristan/Sveta/et al. working together as seasoned heroes and heroines is just great. Snag’s death was maybe a little too skipped over; I get that it’s supposed to make it more sudden, but I didn’t link shelving being pushed over with “fatal” in my head, you know? Minor nitpick.

    It’s so great to be able to see Tattletale/Lisa and get why she’s so upset at the moment, Victoria’s state of mind as her failing body goes haywire, Candy’s speech, how the unusually quiet Kenzie says so much with so little, thumb’s up for all that, really good chapter-section (chaptette?).

    Looking forward to the next section, no idea what they’ll find but it’s sure to shape the plot quite a bit. They maybe have 25 minutes of dream left, assuming Tattletale’s estimate was close. Victoria promises Damsel accolades as payback, but if Defiant and the others find out what they’ve been up to, the tune awaiting them might be quite different from what Vic’s expecting.

  39. > we don’t really know if the dream space is actually a physical place, or something that exists only in the minds of the dreamers

    I’m pretty sure we know it. If it existed only in the minds of the dreamers, then it wouldn’t exist when the cluster is awake, yet Kenzie managed to access the room and put her device in there. I think it’s an actual physical space, and the bodies of the dreamers are shard-simulated (or rather synthesized, as they still are material).

  40. >> we don’t really know if the dream space is actually a physical place, or something that exists only in the minds of the dreamers

    > I’m pretty sure we know it. If it existed only in the minds of the dreamers, then it wouldn’t exist when the cluster is awake, yet Kenzie managed to access the room and put her device in there. I think it’s an actual physical space, and the bodies of the dreamers are shard-simulated (or rather synthesized, as they still are material).

    Option C: It only exists in the minds of the shards. Kenzie’s tech can interface with it just as a hacker’s tech can interface with the virtual world of an MMO that only exists in the minds of servers. It has a physical reality in a physical place without being a physical place in its own right.

  41. @Pizzasgood: yeah, that’s a more plausible option, though I think that it being a physical place is still more plausible. There is already a discussion with Admiral Matt about it in the next chapter.

  42. “Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl, Scholar, Wretch, Warrior Monk, Antares.


    In every incarnation or with any label worn, she’s a girl who cannot be swayed from her path. For a long time this girl has been this way. Delayed at times, but not swayed. This from when she learns to walk early, persevering past sore palms and knees. There is no label for this, not exactly.”

    This struck me when I saw it because Waste was expressing something that we hadn’t seen in the text. It wasn’t that it didn’t fit, but I hadn’t been struck by it as a defining character trait.

    But here it is.

    “I didn’t have it in me to stand, let alone fight. No flight, no powers, no connection to the shard. Just me.

    I heard a distant shout. An instruction.

    A female voice.

    Someone in that group was okay. And they were… way over there. Trying to communicate with us. Too far away, muffled.

    I sat up, and immediately regretted it because it meant my senses were on full alert as a hand swept through an empty glass display. Loud as shit.

    Something had happened, or they were doing something.

    ‘Help me up,’ I grunted.”

    She’s dying, and mostly there. She’s ruined enough that Sveta took one look and started making every sentence a goodbye. Victoria’s made what peace she will. She listens to others making theirs. All the genre fiction noise is out of it for a moment. It’s over.

    And in that moment she hears one voice. There’s one faint hint of possibility, and she immediately sits up. That. That right there is the girl who learned to walk early. She stands up through any amount of pain. She does it.

    Cradle needed to be in Snags room to be taken out. The book doesn’t need to be specific on that point because thematically this chapter is clear: Victoria won this, and that insight is the ‘how’ in the plot.

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