From Within – 16.11

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I watched as Damsel re-positioned Byron.  He was propped up to be kneeling, and she held his face with the tops and flat sides of her fingers, which were blunt, like the tops of kitchen knives.  Her face remained close to his, her hair swept over one of her shoulders so it wouldn’t drape him.

By small measures, she changed the angle of his face, her eye watching as the reflected scene changed.  Byron, hospital room.  Byron, injured.  Byron, staring off into space with tears trailing down his cheeks.  Byron looking grim, in what might have been the Shin prison.

Tristan watched, his arms folded, his expression serious.

Damsel reached out with one hand, bladed fingertips touching the crystal pane that she was using as the mirror.  It was like looking at a drawing of a cube, sans shading.  From one angle, the cube could be seen as exterior walls, point facing out.  From another, it could be seen as interior walls, point facing in.  The bladed fingertips pulled away, then touched down again.  Switching between the two with each time she tapped them.

Byron, with a bloody nose.  Byron talking, with a haunted look in his eyes.

Damsel pushed him, with enough force it looked like he would smack into the pane of crystal.  Her bladed fingertips tapped.  He hit the interior wall, rather than the exterior one, bounced at a less violent angle than he would have if it had been the latter, a half-dozen reflections around him moving in sync, sliding out of view as Byron moved out of their frame of reference.

The Byron Damsel had just been handling slid out of the frame too, for that matter.  It was another one who moved to the edge of its particular facet of crystal and kept moving beyond it.  Damsel put her foot out, toe against crystal, her leg keeping him from falling too violently.  I saw a flash of light appear at her foot, before racing off to the distance by a lightning bolt of a path.

“Wuh,” he said.

She didn’t bend down to help steady him, only keeping her leg where it could brace him until Tristan knelt by his brother’s side.

Byron looked up, then around.  The sky was pitch black above us.  The ground was like any other landscape, except with a bit more twist to it.  Rolling hills that tilted a bit too far to the left or right with each roll.  All in red crystal that trended toward black, with faint red glows where the two planes of crystal met, highlighting edges and cracks.

“Uhh,” Byron said.  He looked at his brother, then seemed to realize who he was looking at.  “The fuck?”

“That’s the last of us,” Rain said.

“Now that I’ve seen it done, and now that it’s too late, I’m really feeling super uneasy about this,” I murmured.

Damsel sniffed.

“Also really freaked out you’re that good at doing that,” I said.

“Good,” Damsel said.  “Freaked out is a compliment.”

Byron and Tristan talked, exchanging words in murmurs.

“Where did that Byron come from?” I asked.  “Where did the sleeping Byron go?  Kenzie didn’t get hurt, is Kenzie the Kenzie I know?”

“No,” Kenzie said.  She touched her pinafore dress, then hair.  “I don’t think I ever wore this combination of stuff.”

I hadn’t either, for that matter.  Costume top, the Brockton Bay watercolor remembrance dress.

I was pretty sure I’d been more okay with my fate back there against ‘Mr. Hugs’ than I was with the present state of existential horror.  A few others in the group had some degree of uneasiness clear in their expressions and postures too.

“If it helps,” Tattletale said, “Don’t think of it as us being out here in the open air, mountains and pits all around us.  Think of it as us being on the other side of the glass.  Each crystal is a computer, each pane is a single area of focus, we’re things one program set into motion that are now poring through the file system until our program runs out and we wake up again.”

I thought about it, trying to put my thoughts to words.

“That makes it worse,” Sveta said, before I could manage.

“That,” I said.  “What Sveta said.”

“Most of this is happening through the Corona thingy,” Kenzie said.  “Um, Byron?”

“What?” Byron asked.  He was getting to his feet with Tristan’s help.

“That means you’ll probably go back to… not being okay,” Kenzie said.

“Oh,” he said.  I could see his eyes move, see his lips press together.

He didn’t volunteer anything more.

“It might help kickstart things,” Kenzie said, with some enthusiasm.  “Like getting a running start, might stir things up.”

“Maybe,” Byron said.  “Stirrings sounds right.”

“Vista has been stopping by a lot.  You seemed to notice her,” Tristan commented.  “If you need any motivation.”

I could hear Candy cooing, jostling Darlene and Kenzie, who joined in, and reaching past Darlene to push Chicken Little, who rolled his eyes.

“Ah,” Byron said.  “Maybe.  Let me finish processing the… overwhelming information I have right here, before getting into that?”

“Sure,” Tristan said.

I looked away, turning my attention to the crystals around us.  Each facet of crystal was its own area of focus.  Every time I thought I understood the logic behind a particular facet, I’d see an image that was out of place or ill-fit.

Maybe it did make sense, but the things that linked those out of place images were things like thoughts or associations.

Me, at various ages.  Kid Victoria, often viewed in the mirror, or in videos, or in photographs.  Then me after Gold Morning, in a Patrol uniform, watching a bunch of eighteen year old guys in similar uniforms spar.  Then more Victorias from childhood, broken up by an out of place scene of me in my Antares costume washing my face with one hand while holding a tissue to my nose to stem the blood with another.  That one was immediately followed by a scene of me in Gilpatrick’s office, the Wretch reaching for the glass, getting canceled before it could break that glass and inconvenience Gilpatrick.

Was the connective tissue between those things something to do with youth or my past, with that sparring and bloody nose outliers being a moment I’d already forgotten, where I reminisced about being young or studying?

Was it a kind of education instead?  Each thing connected by a theme of me learning things?  Learning things about myself?  In that case, the photos and videos were a kind of study of my past self.  The sparring exercise and bloody nose something tangential to that?  Coming to terms?

My life, facets of me, arranged by something else’s sorting system.

Sveta walked up behind me, her face sharing the image.  The images became incoherent, choppy, with the wrong lighting, like a television screen with the darkness cranked all the way up.  A lot of the scenes seemed to be from the dream she’d just had.

A fleeting image appeared, disappearing before I could even open my mouth to remark on it.  A fishing village surrounded by tall trees, perched on an outcropping of black rock that had been scratched or painted with swirls in white.  It moved like the viewpoint was swimming or in a boat.

“My sibling and I were like Tristan and Byron,” Sveta said.  “I got mad, went to work on my own, draw.”

“Even then, huh?”

Sveta shook her head.  “I dreamed about drawing on blackness when I was in the hospital, I mentioned it to Jessica.  It’s why I picked up the painting.”

I remembered something like that.  I knew she’d dreamed about things and wanted to paint them, but I hadn’t known the painting had been in the dream.

She indicated the pane, which was showing more images from my memories, now.  “I slipped and fell.  It wasn’t from some tree onto the parking lot.  It was from black rock onto black rock.  We both got taken away.  We both got vials after that, but I was the one to survive.”

“Are you remembering this now?”

“More or less,” Sveta said.

It showed more blurry, fractured images from Sveta’s memories.  Darkened, incomplete, stuttering.

“I’m so… so angry, all over again,” she whispered.  “Like when I first heard about Cauldron and what they were doing.”

I thought of my own fit of fury directed at Amy, in Rain’s dream room.  “They’re monsters.  Depending on how this goes, maybe they’re monsters we can vanquish once and for all.”

“It’s not that simple,” Sveta said.  “You’re thinking of Teacher?”

“Yeah.  Maybe Citrine and the Harbingers, depending on their perspective.”

Sveta nodded, watching the scenes.  She stepped a bit to the side, to see what other facets were revealing.  “It’s not so simple.”

I nodded.

“I’m really glad you’re okay,” Sveta told me.

“I’m… more or less there,” I replied.

She touched my arm, then walked away.  I glanced at the reflection, and saw a storm in that too-dark, too-distorted image that seemed to follow Sveta.  Then it was Victoria at a birthday party, classmates around her, sister beside her, cousins Eric and Crystal off to one side, a little too old and too young to be hanging around with her.

Candles out, the lights turned on a little too quickly.

I wish I was a superhero.  I knew the wish because I’d made the same one every year.

I looked away.

The group was exploring, but at this stage in things, it was a rather tentative exploration.  Fanning out, until we were no more than fifteen feet away from the next person.  Peering into crystals, trying to figure things out.

I decided to break pattern, because there was no way we’d find Teacher if we didn’t get moving with a bit more speed and distance covered.  I walked away, not briskly, but not dawdling either, thumb of my right hand scratching at the edges of the bandaging at my left hand.  Bandages with blood on them for an injury that wasn’t there.

“What’s our goal?  Finding Teacher?” Byron asked.

“Essentially,” Tristan said.  “Man is it weird to talk to you.”

“We have other objectives,” I said.  “The original Earth N portal.  It was that way?”

I pointed.

Kenzie corrected, reaching up, moving my arm a few inches to one side.

I looked down at her.  “You sure?”

“I have a good sense of space, and I remember which direction the room was oriented,” she said.

“Good enough.”

“You want to see it from this side?” Tristan asked.

“Let’s see what we’re dealing with, yeah.”

He nodded.

It ended up being Damsel who led the way.  She approached a rising hill to our left and walked over to one slice of it, waiting for our group.  She put a foot down, experimentally, and stepped onto a downward slope.

I couldn’t quite figure out the how or why of it until I’d walked another five steps and saw the hill in a fresh context.

“What keeps you from doing the paradigm shift that you used to heal us?” I asked.

“Me,” Damsel said.

She stepped onto the downward slope and shifted her footing, until her feet slid on the dark, glass-like surface, hands out for balance, claws pointing back.

That’s real helpful,” I muttered.  I did my best to follow suit.  The kids were right behind me, with Chicken Little going down the slope in a sitting position, feet bracing him, Candy trying but landing on her ass, and Kenzie and Darlene managing it.

Every surface existed in multiple contexts.  As I slid down, not hurtling, but moving fast enough my braid was picked up by the air, I could see glimmers and flickers of other things, painted in reds and blacks on the black crystal with red highlights.  A forest.  Campfires.  A boat in water.  The Fallen Camp.

“Damsel!” I called out.  I ducked low to reduce my profile and reduce air resistance, even though I wasn’t sure this place even had any.  I did what I could to catch up to her.  “Can we-”

She glanced at me, then did much the same as I was doing, and her shoes were better for it.  Pulling ahead.

Turning my body more, ducking lower, I tried to close the gap.

And… she seemed insistent on maintaining the lead.  Fine, whatever.

“Any tips?” I called to her back.  “To avoid any accidents?”

“It’s as Tattletale says,” Damsel said.  She bent her knees more, then hopped up to a flatter plane of crystal, running a few steps until the momentum had been eaten up.  She turned, not even glancing at me, just looking at the rest of the group.  “We’re just bundles of code encapsulating our selves, written in a language we’ll never understand.  When this ends our brains will be translated back, we’ll wake up, and all will be normal.  The ‘trick’-”

I hopped up to the platform she was on, leaning my upper body back as she made giant air-quotes with her claws.

“-is that there is no trick.  All of these versions of ourselves, hurt, crying, laughing, young, present-day, costumed… they exist simultaneously.  You choose the face you want to present.”

I felt simultaneously frustrated at that, and at the same time, I was pretty sure I had a good idea as to why she was so good at managing this side of things.

The kids were next to arrive, Chicken Little putting his feet out to stop himself, kicking at the side of the platform, catching Candy.  Darlene and Kenzie reached the platform and flopped over it, feet still on the slope, upper bodies on the slope itself.  I bent down to pick both of them up, then again to help Chicken Little and Candy up.

“The storm is chasing you more,” Kenzie remarked, pointing down.

I looked, and I could see the flashes of light, some brighter than others.  Ashley was the brightest, producing more flares of light that traced their way along neurons on the other side or surface of the crystal plain, traveling their zig-zag, forking lines as they raced to places unknown.

Darlene was second-most, but it took me a moment to notice, because her flares of light were less intense.  Each time she flared, there would be a brief, stuttering light between her feet and Candy’s.

And, I had to watch for it to see it, but as Darlene smiled at something, she produced another stutter, another light that raced off the same way.

“Sending messages home, I guess,” I noted.  “I bet if you chased that, you could find your power’s source.”

“Mmm,” Damsel made a sound.  She raised a hand, claws extended my way.

As if to make that moment more dramatic, the stuttering light appeared between us, before we each sent our individual lights racing off to different points at the horizon.

She dropped her claw.

“I don’t suppose you could trace a line to Teacher that way, huh?” I asked.

She shrugged.  “You try.”

The others had all arrived now.  Rain, Sveta, Tristan, Byron, Colt, Love Lost, and Tattletale.  Damsel stalked off as everyone got together, talking among one another.

Alone, disconnected.

I saw her turn her head, and light flashed beneath her feet, before jumping over to a distant figure.  Something lurked on a distant slope, not dissimilar to what ‘Mr. Hugs’ had looked like.  A burning torch of a figure, tall and ladderlike.  The more I looked up the taller it seemed to get.  The light touched him, then raced off to Damsel’s usual spot.

It turned our way.

“Let’s go,” I called out.

Damsel, unfazed, walked to another slope I couldn’t help but see as uphill, before stepping down and sliding down it.

“This is hard on the legs,” Darlene complained.

“Let’s go,” I said, still watching the distant thing.

“Easier than walking,” Sveta said, giving me and the distant figure a worried look.

“Sit,” Chicken Little suggested.  “It’s fun.”

“But sitting is a kid thing to do,” Candy told him.

“Is it?” he asked.

He walked up ahead and stood at the edge of the platform, swaying slightly, before hopping down.  He followed behind Damsel, standing this time.  He looked back, his expression serious until he turned his attention back to where he was going.

The other kids stuck with him, with only a couple of nervous glances back before sliding down.  Candy kept her balance this time.

I approached the edge, and I could see reflections all around me.  My mom and Uncle Neil.  Amy.

We’re all the summation of the faces we wear and where we come from, I thought, interpreting Damsel’s words.

Vicky, Victoria, Glory Girl, Wretch, Scholar, Warrior monk, Antares…

Whatever I was these days, that was so willing to come here, to break rules, to callously suggest we kill Cradle, and to feel nothing but mild relief when that shelf fell on him, taking his life.

Whatever I was this moment, trying to be stoic when there was a not-impossible chance that we’d have another fight like we’d just barely survived if we didn’t get moving.

“Come on!” I raised my voice, hardening it.

They came, finally.  Love Lost approached the slope at a run, going full velocity this time, looking as serious as I’d seen her.

We all stepped down, following the leaders in sliding down the slope.

The group that was already at the bottom looked stricken, stunned, or distracted.

“Careful!” I called out.  “Something’s up!”

I braced myself, eyes to the sky as I coasted onto the platform.  If there was something problematic, I didn’t want to be caught by it.

“What’s going on?” I asked, walking forward.  I kept my head angled so I wasn’t looking at the crystal protrusions.  Around the largest protrusion, I could see our way forward.  The distortion that was probably the Earth N portal.  But that wasn’t their focus.  “Problem?”

“Just the opposite,” Darlene said.

I looked.  Darlene had her arms around Chicken Little’s shoulders, hugging him from behind.  He seemed as oblivious as ever, his attention on the crystal.

A red haired woman loomed in the image, viewed at a weird angle.  Red haired with freckles, and wide hips that seemed wider because the image made her head seem small and her legs seem large.  The clothes looked very 2000’s.

If I unfocused my eyes, looked at the image that was almost too blurry to see, superimposed over hers… I walked to one side so I wouldn’t mess up Chicken Little getting to see his mom, and I saw Uncle Neil pick up a younger Eric by the suspenders of his overalls.  Manpower and the little boy that would become Shielder.

Tattletale reached the platform.  I saw the glimpse, looking past her at the image, the closet I’d seen in the dream, her body blocking the silhouette of the figure within.  She didn’t look.

Sveta’s image was almost clear as she walked by one pane, showing the Case Fifty-Threes.  Dark as it showed people huddled indoors at night, illuminated by a small fire.

For Tristan and Byron, it was old teammates.  Two of those teammates were distorted, like so many of Sveta’s scenes were.  Too dark, too fast or too slow, inconsistent, stuttering, seeming to show something and then skipping away.

For Love Lost, a man, Asian, with scraggly stubble.  For Colt, it was her mom and dad.  People I’d seen in a video, once upon a time.

The panes that Kenzie walked by were green text against a black screen, lines of chat in a chat room.

I turned away, because there were expressions and reactions that weren’t for me to see.  In turning, I came face to face with another image.  Black, the lights almost out, the image distorted, stuttering.

What I could make out suggested it was Dean.

“You didn’t tell me,” I murmured.

The light flashed from my feet, through the crystal pylon, and sputtered out.  The scenes changed.  Dean in a dozen contexts, all choppy, pieces missing or too dark to see.  Then Eric and Sarah and Uncle Neil, with Crystal out of focus.  Then Dean again, shirtless, wearing jeans, his face practically scratched out.

“You were the one person who didn’t let me down, if I forgave the whole dying thing,” I whispered.  “And I think I could’ve.  Especially with today’s close call.”

Dean, sitting by the window in a classroom, staring outside.  Except a blot of darkness smack dab in the center of the image blocked most of the view of him.

“You couldn’t confide in me?  You couldn’t say ‘hey, I bought my powers’?” I asked.  “You had to lie about triggering, and dealing with that?  Did it even happen?”

The images gave way.  It as the Pelham backyard, Erik, Aunt Sarah and Uncle Neil in the pool.  Crystal was in the pool too, but only visible as shadows as she swam underwater.

The Dean images didn’t come back, like I’d scared them away.

Not that I really waited.

I turned away, feeling anxious and hurt to a level I didn’t really want to dwell on, and found myself glancing at and trying to understand a bloody scene.

Damsel’s.

The boy that was dying looked like he was eighteen or so.  The scene was dark, black, distorted, stuttering.

Even though it was an event that happened earlier in the chronology, the stutter gave me a glimpse of a hand, Ashley’s hand, reaching for his arm and obliterating it with a burst of darkness.  The stump gushed blood.  The other arm was already in the same state.

Damsel turned her head and saw me looking.  She turned to face me, as the scene behind her changed to something more illicit, Ashley straddling the same teenager’s face, dress draped over the top of his head.  Hands -not claws- reached up to run fingers through her hair, to stretch her arms, even cross her wrists at her chest, but never to put her hands near him.  Much of it was obscured by more stutters, darkness, and distortion.

I didn’t want to see that part of it.  It was eerie, personal.  But-

There.  The image turned back to blood, annihilation.  A mute rendition of a scene where the boy sat in a chair, both of his arms bleeding.

And Ashley, the point of view for that particular scene, stared down at him.  Put a foot out to keep him in the chair when he tried to stand.

“The Jewel of Boston,” Damsel said.  “‘J’.  Accord’s.  He had powers but he only ever showed me the one.  He could mold himself to be anyone’s perfect person.”

Kenzie approached, and I took two swift steps before putting my arm out, stopping her from getting far enough around the corner to see the image that was playing out.

“Perfect person?” I asked.

“In personality.  He was someone who could fill the lonely void in any of our hearts, and we all have one, hm?” Damsel asked.

“Yeah,” Darlene said, off to the side.

“He intended to betray me.  He’d killed four others already, made them love him, broke their hearts, broke them, humiliated what remained, then killed them.  I got out unscathed.”

From her tone of voice, tense, too controlled, it didn’t sound like she had.

“Love and caring makes you weak,” Damsel said.  “I annihilated that love and caring and I watched it bleed out.  I didn’t even know the particulars.  I had an inkling something was up, not about him, just… something.  So I murdered him.”

“Oh,” Kenzie said, very quiet.  “Swansong mentioned-”

“I know what Swansong mentioned!” Damsel raised her voice and her claw at the same time.

Kenzie, meanwhile, dropped her head, and moved obediently when I pushed her back and behind me.

Damsel met my eyes.

“We should get going.  You’ve been… impressively helpful so far,” I told her.

“Picking your words carefully to appeal to the arrogant supervillain,” Damsel said.  “Working that ‘impressively’ in there, hm?  Swansong knew what you were doing and accepted the words like a dog accepts scratches behind the ear.  Servile, weak, disgusting.

“I think it takes a certain kind of strength to know how to receive affection,” Kenzie said, her voice small.  “And give it.”

“I didn’t really know, you know?” Damsel said, ignoring the comment.  “About the Jewel.  Armstrong would tell me later.  But right then?  He was just a boy.  All I had was an instinct, and I still maimed him.  That’s how little a perfect affection means.”

I frowned, and Damsel locked her eyes to mine.

“Don’t look past the surface if you can’t accept what you see,” she said.  “It was the same for your Swansong.  Same feelings, same ideas, same decision to kill a boy she was fond of when she wasn’t sure, because power is that much more important than love.  She made that call, same as I remember, and you think she wasn’t using you, Lookout?”

Behind her, the boy from the chair sat on a desk, wearing only a bathrobe.  He had a piece of meat on a fork.

I spoke up, “You’re making yourself look small, Damsel, picking the most vulnerable person here and picking at the sorest sore spot.”

Damsel sniffed, dismissive.

“I’m not the most vulnerable,” Kenzie said, looking up at me.  “That’d be Byron or something.  He’s in the hospital.”

“Uh, sure,” Byron said, poking his head around the corner.

“You don’t even know a cute, super awesome heroine is visiting you,” Candy said, mischievous.  “Vista is Aunt Rachel’s friend, which means she’s not just kickass, she’s kickass with cool friends.  She visits Aunt Rachel’s, Byron, and she likes dogs.  If you get better and come along with her, you can sit in the puppy bucket.  That’s where you get put in one of the great honking big laundry buckets and they put a whole litter of puppies in with you.  It’s great.”

“It sure sounds great,” Byron said, with just about as much enthusiasm as Byron showed for anything, which was about two bars below Tristan’s baseline.

“Except when they pee on you,” Chicken Little said.  “That happens.”

“It’s an excuse to swim,” Candy said, jostling him, tugging on his arm.

Chicken Little shot one last look at the woman in the one crystal, looked at other crystals but found them too narrow to provide a coherent picture.  He gave Candy his full attention, as Darlene butted in to break Candy’s grip on his arm.  He asked, “Swimming in winter?”

The conversation had turned, and I was keeping an eye on Damsel, who had gone very still, and on Kenzie, who hadn’t stopped looking at Damsel.

“Let’s keep moving,” I said.  “We don’t have a ton of time and we have a lot of ground to cover.”

“Yeah,” Kenzie said.

So many of us, we had a couple of people.  People we’d loved and lost, that were reflected in crystals here.  In one crystal, a few friends I’d known in school that I’d called best friends once, who had drifted away.  In another, Sveta… possibly because she’d left the hospital to go with Weld.

I could see that for Kenzie, it was like every crystal had a dozen faces, and each face had a different person.

“Damsel,” Kenzie said.

“Let’s not engage,” I said, my hand at Kenzie’s back to keep her moving.  I was aware of how stiff Damsel was.  She’d been ignored, her provocations hadn’t worked.

Kenzie looked back at Candy, who was jogging over to catch up with her.  “I think you’re great, Damsel.  You’re stylish and beautiful and intimidating and badass and awesome and you’re a kickass villain who’s only going to kick more and more ass as time goes on.”

If Damsel attacked, what was I even supposed to do?  One knife had done enough damage to Tattletale, who was actually the one who’d gone ahead now, and Damsel had ten.

No powers here, nothing in the environment to salvage as an improvised weapon.  I had my buckler, at least, but everything put together, I gave better odds to Damsel.

“And?” Damsel asked, her voice sharp as she penetrated the hanging silence after Kenzie’s statement, as though a sentence had been left unfinished.

“That’s all,” Kenzie said, and she smiled at Damsel.

Damsel, for her part, smiled back, “And here I thought you’d be clever.”

She was, I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to poke the bear by mentioning it.  Seeing Damsel mirroring Kenzie’s smile was unnerving enough.

Tattletale was standing on a ridge, staring off into the distance while avoiding looking at the crystals.

The others were catching up.  There were too many spots that reflected into deeper parts of ourselves and our world, and a region where the people we’d loved dwelt was… it was captivating.

Devastating.  Chicken Little kept looking back.  Darlene flinched as she walked past a crystal and an unkempt man walked beside her, black haired and lanky.  And her mood had darkened afterward.

Is this place aware we’re in it?  Does it care?  Is it throwing these things at us to screw with us?

My instinct was no.  That this was just happenstance, and that this was the kind of analysis and digging into our beings that the overarching system was doing as a matter of course.

“What are you looking at?” I asked Tattletale.

Kenzie broke away from me to go to the other kids.

“Looking back the way we came.  We covered a lot of ground.  More than you’d think.”

I looked, and I tried to interpret the landscape that shifted like an optical illusion, tracing the slopes we’d come down, finding the starting point.

“Yeah,” I said.

“There’s something over there,” Tattletale said.

Over the horizon.  The sky wasn’t entirely black.

“I’ll go on ahead,” I told her.

“We’re not letting Damsel have the lead anymore, hm?” Tattletale asked.

“We don’t care who has the lead,” I said, rolling my eyes slightly.  “And I do care about figuring out how to navigate and work with this place.  If we’re going to beat Teacher at his own game, then we need to learn how to mess with this system, get our fingers into the works.”

“Don’t let me stop you,” she said.

“Watch Kenz?” I asked.

“I don’t need watching!” Kenzie raised her voice.

You already sound like a teenager, Kenz.  Hurling yourself down that path?

I put my foot out, finding the slope before us.  It wasn’t really angled though, just… awkward to walk on, nothing flat, everything at ankle-twisting angles.

I could shift my head to adapt to the perspective I wanted, but putting my foot out still found resistance.

It’s not about my head, it’s about me, I told myself.

Damsel had pushed us when she’d wanted us to go from one representation to another.  I’d flown enough to be familiar with that stomach-jarring perspective shift, the dips and dives that one associated with roller coasters.  I’d experienced just a bit of it when taking that one step to follow after Damsel, when she’d gone down the slope.

I tried to capture it, forcing that feeling as I took that precarious step forward, my entire body following after with the sensation in my gut moving out to the rest of me.

My foot found flat ground.  What had been a plain of ground like a folding fan stretched partially out was now closer to a somewhat precarious staircase, though nothing had changed visually.  I climbed it with one hand and both feet, moving at an angle as I went.

I put Dean behind me, as best as I could, but doubt clawed at me.  The blurry image had marked him as Cauldron.  Which made sense. His parents were rich.

Which just… I didn’t fault him exactly.  I didn’t blame him for going to them, not when it had probably been his dad who’d bought the powers or something.  But he’d lied to me.

Why did the list of people I could absolutely trust or look on with fondness seem to grow so short?  Especially when those people went and died on me?

I crested the top, and then dropped low.  A patch of daylight, spreading out into the faces and facets of crystal, captured in veins.

The landscape here looked like the landscape I’d seen when flying from my Patrol assignments to the ruins of Brockton Bay.  Cracked, with ravines where there shouldn’t be ravines.  Images that were supposed to be writ large were broken up, out of sync.

And white lights that danced across the landscape hit the ravine and stopped, stuttered, or shook the ground, causing more schisms to form.

Three things like we’d seen in the room of dormant guardians stood there, by a tear in reality.  A great white schism in this landscape.  The area reflected around it was terrain from the city, captured and folded into the crystal or just there but not visible from my present vantage point.

Images all around me were animating, picking up on what they could glean from me that was relevant.  Empire Eighty-eight, Leviathan, the Slaughterhouse Nine, the Fallen.  Violence.  Deaths.  That was just the nature of the routines and subroutines of this particular neighborhood.

Three agents, interacting with this tear and the cracked sky and ground around it.  One looked like a neckless giant crossed with a puddle of oil, shimmering in rainbow hues, features nonexistent.  Another like a tall, slender woman in a dress, with a headdress of spikes radiating out for fifty feet around her.  The last was barely there, insubstantial, a wisp of pale yellow in a vague centaur shape, with a broad slash of black instead of a face.

And fifty of Teacher’s goons, dressed in white, carting in technology, working to build something connected to this tear.  Working with the agents.

I watched as light flickered, dancing across the landscape, across the sky, and to the great black fissure.  Stuttering lights connected to everything nearby, like a blinding flash of lightning, utterly silent, that left ghostly images of planet-sized monstrosities dancing amid the spots in my eyes.

Each of the three gargantuan agents turned to look, in near-synchronicity with the goons in white.  Anticipating.

The flickering stopped, the lights going out, everything returning to the way it had been.  Collectively, they returned to their nearly silent work.  Preparing, I was sure, for the moment that flickering started and didn’t ever stop.

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65 thoughts on “From Within – 16.11”

  1. Three agent-monsters were existing (if not working) in tandem with the Teacher thralls? This implies that a level of co-operation can be achieved if capes find their own agent-monsters…

    …which implies that Victoria (or other members of Breakthrough) might find theirs, which implies that we are on the verge of going Full JoJo.

    1. Maybe everyone can make contact with agents, not only Teacher and Cradle. I’ll pay to see a giant battle between the good guys’ agents and Teacher’s agents. Imagine Vic’s Waste tearing through everyone else like a wrenching ball.

  2. – “You don’t even know a cute, super awesome heroine is visiting you,” Candy said, mischievous. “Vista is Aunt Rachel’s friend, which means she’s not just kickass, she’s kickass with cool friends. She visits Aunt Rachel’s, Byron, and she likes dogs. If you get better and come along with her, you can sit in the puppy bucket. That’s where you get put in one of the great honking big laundry buckets and they put a whole litter of puppies in with you. It’s great.”

    Candy SHIPS Byron and Missy. She have good tastes in shipping. Aww, what Missy is doing with the big puppy buckets is so freaking cute. The cutest thing in this chapter.

    -Damsel wants to appear as evil and murderous as she can be but deep inside she’s not really evil. She just pretend to be something that she isn’t and I think that she regrets killing her boy but she lies herself that she did a good thing. She’s never honest with herself and with her “teammates” because she hates to appear weak and not a feared villain. She still have a long way ahead until she’ll learn more about herself, the person she truly is behind her mask. Surprises, surprises.

    -I waited for Lisa to see Taylor as a glimpse of her past but I’m pretty disappointed that it never happened. Or maybe the person that Lisa didn’t want for others to see, covering the image with her body, was Taylor? Only Lisa knows what she have seen.

    -For a second, I expected Teacher’s zombies and the agents to attack the group. But they’re too busy doing whatever evil mess Teacher ordered them to do to pay attention to Vic and others. How they’re going to stop so many zombies+ agents without powers? One hell of a cliffhanger.

    1. Re: final point – I don’t think they got spotted. Everyone looked at that light show dancing in the air around the portal, which is not in Victoria’s direction.

      1. What I don’t understand is what’s so special about “The original Earth N portal”, especially since there are so many portals between Gimel and N. Could it be a Bet-N portal made not by Labyrinth and Scrub’s powers, but by Professor Haywire even before Worm started? Victoria probably has been studying his files in the first chapter of this arc, and I think there may be more reasons about it than simply the fact that he was the first cape known to be able to make stable portals between Earths. There is also the fact that the Simurgh probably came in contact with him at some point, since she supposedly used his tech to bring the Travelers to Bet. Not to mention the he was supposed to have “Multiple personalities, with each personality living in one Earth.” – could these “personalities” be Haywire’s counterparts (like the counterpart of her mother Taylor met on Aleph) who triggered at the same time with the same power on these Earths? Could some of these counterparts still be alive? Could they have some sort of special affinity with the shard-space similar to Damsel’s (who also used to be one of several people connected to the shame shard at the same time).

        1. If some of Professor Haywire’s counterparts are still alive, could at least one of them work for Teacher? Or even worse… if Haywire’s counterparts don’t have the same power that he did, could one of them be Teacher?

    2. Regarding the possibility that Lisa could see Taylor, remember that she was apparently the first person who left the area that was showing the people “loved and lost”, and shortly after that Victoria noticed that Tattletale was very careful not to look into crystals anymore.

      By the way, did you notice that Victoria could see Crystal with the other Pelhams, just “out of focus” or “only visible as shadows as she swam underwater”? I wonder if it was simply because in Victoria’s mind Crystal always belonged with that family, or if the reason is more ominous… for example an indication that Victoria is about to lose or already losing Crystal?

      1. It’s a possibility that Tattletale left the area (I didn’t notice that she left the area, I was under the impression that she have seen someone but tried to hide the image from everyone else) because she didn’t want them to see her brother or Taylor. I’m still disappointed because I wanted Lisa to look and probably see Taylor.
        I hope that your first theory about Crystal will turn out to be true, not the second. I don’t want Crystal to die, she’s so sweet, supportive and kind. That and it will be a devastatingly emotional blow for Victoria, she have strong feelings for Crystal.

        1. Regarding my conclusion that Tattletale wanted to leave that place early and not look at what the crystals were showing her, this is my interpretation of these fragments:

          […]Tattletale, who was actually the one who’d gone ahead now, and Damsel had ten.
          […]
          Tattletale was standing on a ridge, staring off into the distance while avoiding looking at the crystals.

          As for Crystal, remember that that space was about people loved and lost, but who not necessarily died:

          People we’d loved and lost, that were reflected in crystals here. In one crystal, a few friends I’d known in school that I’d called best friends once, who had drifted away. In another, Sveta… possibly because she’d left the hospital to go with Weld.

          By the way I wonder if Love Lost’s name could indicate that she has some special affinity with that place. It could be simply that Victoria and Crystal are drifting apart. Unless something happened off-camera the cousins have been keeping a rather sporadic contact in recent months. They seemed to be closer earlier in Ward, and probably also before GM (for example Crystal was a regular and welcome visitor in the parahuman asylum, and before then she and Victoria often trained and fought together as New Wave’s flying members).

  3. Victoria finds out the truth about Dean, and it hurts just as expected.

    Poor girl.

    Gotta admit, it is pretty hard to bring up buying powers in a conversation

    1. > The Fallen Camp

      Capitalization? This is the first time in Ward when the word “camp” has been capitalized when refering to the Fallen camp.

      > feet still on the slope, upper bodies on the slope itself.

      Shouldn’t it be something like “feet still on the slope, upper bodies on the platform itself.”?

      > Case Fifty-Threes

      Capitalization of case fifty-threes again. At the begining of Ward the term wasn’t capitalized. Later it was inconsistent. More about the issue in this comment in chapter 16.9: https://www.parahumans.net/2019/09/10/from-within-16-9/#comment-103479

      > Which made sense. His parents were rich.

      There is only one space between these sentencies.

      > Empire Eighty-eight

      Capitalization? In all other instances in Ward it was spelled “Empire Eighty-Eight”.

  4. I do not envy the person who decides to take up the task of trying to illustrate this world. I can barely comprehend it and I mean that in a good way.

  5. This was a nice chapter. The writing was good, we got some interesting character interactions and, most importantly, a new revelation – Teacher is collaborating with
    Shards.

    Now I wonder what this means for the moment when Teacher was about to escape into shard realm at the end of the raid, but decided not to when seeing Victoria. Is it cuz her Shard displayed hostility? A shard willing to fight other shards for the sake of its host?

  6. I got the sense he hesitated when he saw Vicky, I didn’t follow that to any theories, but that’s an interesting idea… it’s also possible he saw Vicky as the missing piece that would make his patently absurd plan work somewhat.

    1. Actually… we never learned why exactly Teacher told Contessa in her interlude back in Worm that he considered Weaver a problem. It could be that Taylor could cause the reality to collapse by making too many capes use their powers at once. It could be simply because he considered Taylor a dangerous combination of too strong power with too damaged mind. But what if… he saw something else in Taylor during GM, and now he saw the same thing, or at least something similar in Victoria or her shard?

      Remember that Teacher can give capes powers that synergize with the ones they already have. For example he gave Scapegoat better control over his power. What if Teacher can perceive people’s powers in a way similar to how Valkyrie, Chevalier, Ingenue or Panacea do? Maybe it could explain why he seems to fear certain capes, why he was one of the few capes in the Birdcage who really “got” what Amy was telling about the “power granting entities”, how he knew how that a portal to the dream/shard-space can be built and what he could accomplish by dong so?

      And if Victoria’s shard is somehow unique, could it be that Valkyrie, Chevalier and Panacea are hiding this fact from her for some reason? Could this be why Panacea kept some of Victoria’s memories blocked? Could it be that the Wardens (possibly in cooperation with Dinah) have been manipulating Victoria from the beginning of Ward (making sure that she wasn’t accepted to the university, that she was kicked out of the Patrol, that she become the “coach” of team therapy), because they needed Victoria and her shard to end up messing with the dream/shard-space somehow?

  7. If I understand correctly, the following bit from the current chapter is a description of Damsel’s agent:

    A burning torch of a figure, tall and ladderlike. The more I looked up the taller it seemed to get.

    In chapter 14.12 when Chris asked Victoria to sum Ashley up with one word, she told him “Ascension.” Seems to be a fitting name for this agent, doesn’t it?

  8. More typos

    with each time > each time
    said, “Don’t > said, “don’t
    It as the Pelham > It was the Pelham
    Erik > Eric

  9. Considering Ashley’s shard seems to have been the one in charge of creating the thrust to destroy worlds and rocket the entities into space, it’s a really good fit

    1. So good in fact that one has to wonder if in chapter 14.12 Victoria already knew how Ashley shard’s avatar looked like, doesn’t it? Of course it could be a coincidence, because “Ascension” wasn’t a bad word to sum up Ashley’s personality and goals, but… what are the chances of that?

  10. The first thing the description made me think of was the Dauntless Titan, a giant standing in place in the distance.

    The connection was a bit mixed up but it seems like Damsel turned to look at it in the distance which made the spark between them, like the one with Victoria just before, that headed to the giant. It took a bit to travel the distance but made a connection the thing noticed and the follow up spark went towards wherever Damsel’s agent is in the distance.
    If it is the Dauntless/Agent Titan than maybe it is special enough to notice/react to the signal but if the Agents normally respond to those connections then the ones near the portal are going to know they are other people around pretty fast.

    Not sure what to think of them being noticed by other Agents in this weird space but it will be one hell of a battleground when Lookout figures out a consistent way to get there or just hijacks Teachers tech again lol.

  11. I suspect the featureless, oily giant is teacher’s shard and maybe the spiked lady is Ingenious. No idea about the yellow whispy one. Maybe Scapegoat?

  12. Slashley’s an embarrassment. What a waste.

    Dean reveal, finally.

    Vistacorn OTT, apparently. I exaggerate, but Tristan ships it.

    Calling it now. The ladder guardian who flicker-links to Damsel is the incarnation of Ascension, generated by Shardspace to keep an eye on all the Ashleys that started wandering around when Bonesaw was experimenting.

    Best guess on the identities of collaborating guardians is Teacher, Overseer, and Moord Nag’s shards. Rainbow No Neck is an interesting representation of Teacher, I think; Spiky Lady I peg as Moord Nag because Culdron origin and power both align the Custodian with the Wisptaur.

    One fun thing about all this… This *still* isn’t where the shards physically are. I suppose it’s being called Shardspace for good, but we know from Worm that the entities set individual shards down as physical objects on actual empty Earths. This ain’t that. When all the Tinkers but Bonesaw gutted Scion’s well, they weren’t firing into a simulation like this one; they were destroying the hardware of the Warrior hub.

    TL;DR? We may have to wait for book three (Welt? Warm? Word? Were? Wire? Wort? Wur?) to see what the actual pseudo-organism shard looks like in the flesh.

  13. So annoyed I waited to post my Ascension speculation. Curse your comparable insights, Alfaryn!

    Anyone notice that the hole in simulated reality is white one moment and black the next, but Victoria doesn’t pick up on the change? Seeing this animated would be amazing.

    1. Regarding the white-and-black hole, I almost wonder if there is some sort of connection (possibly just symbolic) between it and Ashley’s “layers”.

  14. So, the tech that Kenzie used to break into this simulation was the same tech she used to find the swapped out Capricorn, right?

    I think that this might actually affect Byron’s real body, since it sounds like the phased out brother is turned into a simulation while they’re tagged out.

  15. So “J”, the minion that Original!Ashley maimed and killed in Boston.., was a parahuman?

    Seems too convenient, Damsel…

    Great chapter and visuals as always.

    On to the n-

    Wait.

    I have to actually wait until Saturday?

    NOOOOOO-

  16. > This *still* isn’t where the shards physically are. I suppose it’s being called Shardspace for good, but we know from Worm that the entities set individual shards down as physical objects on actual empty Earths. This ain’t that.

    Why not? If the dream room were a simulation, there would be no reason to keep it up when the cluster is awake, yet Kenzie accessed it and the consequences of that were felt in the dream. Furthermore, even if the shards keep simulating the dream room at all times for some reason, they wouldn’t have to link it to the simulated shardspace (which is evidently not limited to the cluster). There is no reason whatsoever for *this* place to exist as a simulation, it wasn’t even meant to be seen or accessed by humans in any way. So, in my understanding: this is an actual physical shardspace; the dreamers have “temporary” (but still material) bodies synthesized by shards as a part of the dream process (=> no powers, almost no equipment, dependent on self-image, capable of “switching” bodies); and Teacher’s gang accessed this space by other means, so they are in their “original” bodies (=> bring all the tech they want with them, probably even have powers, probably unable to switch to a “simulated” body).

  17. I wonder why Cauldron capes are shown as blurred, now that both Entities are dead. Maybe because these images are memories from the time when only Eden was dead, maybe because this is Zionspace, and in Edenspace they would see natural triggers being blurred. It would be interesting to see how Contessa would be shown here.

    In other news, Victoria is being dumb yet again. Surely telling her about Cauldron and thus inviting Contessa for a “friendly” visit to both of them would be a great way to show love and trust. Not to mention the whole thing about forgiving or not forgiving him for dying on her. I almost can’t believe that it’s not just a common exaggeration for the sake of narrative, that there can be actual people who actually think like that. Except that there are actual people who think all sorts of crazy things, why should this one be an exception.

    1. Re. Victoria’s reaction to revelation that Dean lied to her to keep his secret.

      Remember that Victoria has built an idealized image of Dean, especially in the years following his death. How many times in Ward did she say that she put him on the pedestal, worshipped him, saw him as her knight in shining armor (an image probably reinforced by Gallant’s costume)? That he was perfect for her because they couldn’t affect each other’s emotions with their powers? Of course it shook her to learn that he not only bought his powers, but also apparently told her an elaborate lie about how he triggered. And it is not surprising that it shook her to such degree that she never thought about what Cauldron could do to them if he leaked this particular secret.

      I hope that this shock will actually help Victoria. That it shattered her image of “Mister Perfect” to the point that she will be able to finally “put Dean behind [her]” (her own words from this chapter!) in more than one way, and find some “Mister Right”.

  18. > In chapter 14.12 when Chris asked Victoria to sum Ashley up with one word, she told him “Ascension.” Seems to be a fitting name for this agent, doesn’t it?

    Er…right. Even more curious because, until now, figuring out shards’ names was a schtick of only one parahuman. Can Victoria be nearing that level of mutual understanding with her shard?

    1. Maybe this “understanding” has something to do with Victoria’s tendency to think about herself through lens of multiple names, or “labels” as her shard, who clearly picked up on this fixation, called them in interlude 12.all?

  19. @T.T.O. Why not?

    It’s in the story. The text tells us explicitly that these are simulations of our main characters within a computer-equivalent. Not bodies but bundles of alien code. That’s just the book’s content at a surface-level read.

    It’s kind of weird to assume on top of the above, that the characters are all guessing wrong and in addition to being simulations they also have had physical bodies generated out of matter on a parallel Earth (and then later exchanged for healing) that will be killed off in a few minutes. As a reveal it would be a needless complication contradicting the established and already-complex science fiction premise the author is trying to keep clear for his audience. It doesn’t do anything for the story except generate a lot of “But what about…” questions he can easily avoid simply by meaning what he’s already told the audience is the case. Why the shards keep their private space full of a breathable air, for example. Or why the sky is black.

    Why keep the dreamroom simulated all the time? Why not? Should we assume the astronomically powerful extra-dimensional aliens care to save on utilities? The text tells us they like structure. Maybe that’s it.

    It’s far out science fiction, so while I agree there’s no definitive reason they’d have to link the dream room to this space, it’s largely arbitrary. They have negligible reason not to link the two, and the author and fandom could trivially assert a plausible reason that fit the setting.

    You say there’s no reason for the place to exist as a simulation, but *this is a place that simulates parahumans.* Even if they had temporary carbon-based meat bodies for some reason, that would still be the only visible function of all the stuff we’ve seen here: analyzing details of the hosts. Clearly a shared “online” space for that kind of mock up would be very in keeping with entity goals.

    And powers have been shown to jump seamlessly between Earths as their hosts travel, and to grab onto recognizable DNA when and if confusion arises. So to follow your assumption requires us to assume a power nullifying effect on “this Earth” that the book leaves without comment while the characters are speculating for us about the nature of this place. Or bodies without DNA in them? No.

    But on top of alllll of that: Worm. Zion’s interlude had him separating shard each to their own empty Earth. Yet this one plane of existence has loads of shards represented in it with no sign it belongs to any in particular: Teacher’s portal and Rain’s door wouldn’t have a reason to lead to Ashleyland.

    This isn’t the servers. This is the cloud.

    1. > Zion’s interlude had him separating shard each to their own empty Earth.

      I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate. If I remember correctly shard’s can range from mountain- to moon-sized. Moreover I doubt that buds or shards made up of from other shards’ “waste” get their own Earths as soon as they are formed. My guess is that it is more likely that certain Earths have been consumed by multiple shards, and basically turned into gigantic server farms each of which may “run” multiple shards. It may also be possible that certain shards (like Victoria’s, which probably uses a combination of hardware no longer needed by its parent shards) have their “hardware” spread over multiple Earths. There are also some very interesting WoGs linked in the “Shard” article on the Worm Wiki you may want to read if you want to explore the topic further:
      https://worm.fandom.com/wiki/Shard

  20. @Admiral Matt

    > The text tells us explicitly that these are simulations of our main characters within a computer-equivalent.

    Well yes, but there could be quite different kinds of simulations and computer-equivalents, including the one I’m speaking about (simulation by creating objects in physical space). It doesn’t mean that the characters are guessing wrong even if I’m right.

    > Why the shards keep their private space full of a breathable air, for example.

    Because they didn’t bother to remove it? It’s a version of Earth after all.

    > Or why the sky is black.

    For example, it might not actually be the sky but rather another part of the shard organism which they are inside of. Or any number of explanations along the lines of some dimensional warping necessary for shards functioning.

    > They have negligible reason not to link the two

    They have a very good reason for that – namely not wanting humans to get inside spaces not meant for them. The same reason would apply for the physical space, but in that case they might just not have another way to put a guardian in the room (with the room itself being an experimental setup hastily cobbled together after Zion’s death to work around it). In a simulated dream room, the shards would not be limited by anything and would not have to follow any rules at all (for example, Grasping Self wouldn’t have to tinker up its gear when it could just simulate gear appearing out of thin air. or just say “rocks fall, everyone dies”).

    > You say there’s no reason for the place to exist as a simulation, but *this is a place that simulates parahumans.*

    The images inside of crystals are simulations of parahumans, and they show them in a lifelike environment, not in an alien crystal world. What would be the reason for the simulation to contain the crystals themselves? And if this is some kind of a place of shard self-reflection, what would be the reason then to simulate humans wandering around it? This place is clearly not meant for humans, and if it’s a simulation, then the shards can just stop simulating anything they don’t want to be here.

    > Or bodies without DNA in them? No.

    Given that the shards routinely create breaker bodies which have very little in common with normal human bodies and shouldn’t even work at all by human standards, bodies without DNA (built specifically for the situation when the shards don’t want them to connect to powers) look quite plausible to me. Or, even simpler, bodies without Corona Pollentia.

    > Zion’s interlude had him separating shard each to their own empty Earth. Yet this one plane of existence has loads of shards represented in it with no sign it belongs to any in particular: Teacher’s portal and Rain’s door wouldn’t have a reason to lead to Ashleyland.

    That’s a good point (not quite correct, as the interlude also states that some shards may be clustered and some may reside in different realities at once, but still good). But given that there is a tear in the landscape which seems to be a focus of the shard-signals from everywhere, and which also is a target of Teacher’s efforts, I interpret it as this being a place where the hub once was.

  21. The Shardspace reminds me of the Abyss in Pact. A chaotic, dangerous “dimension” that seems sentient and keeps throwing the most personal parts of people back in their faces. Also has a similar role story wise, in forcing characters to face their deep seated issues and move on. Just replace the shards with boogeymen.

  22. =====
    “I think you’re great, Damsel. You’re stylish and beautiful and intimidating and badass and awesome and you’re a kickass villain who’s only going to kick more and more ass as time goes on.”

    […]

    “And?” Damsel asked, her voice sharp as she penetrated the hanging silence after Kenzie’s statement, as though a sentence had been left unfinished.

    “That’s all,” Kenzie said, and she smiled at Damsel.

    Damsel, for her part, smiled back, “And here I thought you’d be clever.”

    She was, I thought to myself, but I didn’t want to poke the bear by mentioning it.
    =====

    I had to read this interaction twice to get the double entendre, but then I hit me like a fist to the stomach. Dang, Kenzie. If her takedown of Chris was like a brick to the face, this was like a scalpel to the back that was so sharp that Damsel didn’t even notice.

    Also, I forgot again how to add quotes to my post, someone plz tell me. ^^

    1. Regarding putting quotes in comments – this list contains tags authors can use used on WordPress-hosted sites to format their posts:
      https://wordpress.org/support/article/writing-posts/#visual-versus-text-editor
      I don’t know if all of them work for comments, but I checked that at least the first five do. To insert quotes use the third one (word “blockquote” in triangular brackets at the beginning of the quote, same thing except with forward slash before the blockquote at the end of the quote).

  23. woah @ the jewel of boston reveal. so there ISNT any lingering worry about ashley having actually murdered an innocent boy who loved her out of paranoia (even tho the moral fucked upedness of it remains since she still murdered him on a hunch even if it turned out that she was horribly right) but WOW thats so messed up. ashley really cant catch a break. if it werent for j then she maybe couldve actually had some sort of friendship with her gang that wasnt sabotaged by his leaking of information. also interesting to see that such a sweet boy is her perfect person, altho i wouldnt be surprised if her ‘type’ has changed since then, out of sheer j related trauma if nothing else. fuck j with a rake, he deserved what he got.

  24. @Zeckenschwarm: if there is a double entendre, I still don’t get it (maybe because of not being a native English speaker). Would you please explain?

    1. She’s basically saying “You’re pretty and badass… and that’s all you are.”
      As compared to Swansong, who was so much more.
      To be fair, I wouldn’t have gotten it without Vicky’s thought after the exchange, that Kenzie was being clever. (English isn’t my first language either.)

  25. Remember how I speculated that in interlude 12.x Foil might have tried to destroy March’s identity, personality, your understanding of human languages etc. by damaging March’s brain without killing her in hopes that the copy of a mind of brain-damaged March will overwrite the healthy one stored in her shard?

    I worry that if this is indeed what Foil tried to do, then the ease with which Damsel managed to “switch” a comatose Byron for a healthy one in this chapter may mean that Foil’s plan may not work – there probably is still a copy of March’s healthy mind (probably multiple of them – made at various points of March’s life) stored in her shard, and there is no guarantee that after Foil dies the copy (or copies) of her mind will end up stuck with March as she was before their duel in 12.x.

  26. @Zeckenschwarm: thanks! After your comment I thought that there was some word play or something like that, which I missed:) Speaking of subtexts, I interpreted it as Kenzie being clever by complimenting Damsel to get her into a less confrontational and more cooperative mindset. But your interpretation is also likely, probably more than mine.

  27. So… here’s a question:
    Is it possible that Director Armstrong just made “Jewel” up, in order to help Ashley cope with what she’d done?

    Probably not likely, but still…

  28. Remember how Mama Mathers at some point left her son to die?

    Could it be that she was afraid of the same exact thing that convinced Teacher to back off when he saw Victoria? Could it be that they predict that Victoria or her power may cause a disaster if some sort? Victoria’s power doesn’t appear to be anything special, but maybe if it reaches its final form (for example when Victoria’s shard will get the label it wants to describe both it and its host) Victoria will become so powerful that any use of her power will guarantee that the disaster everyone wants to avoid will happen?

    Or maybe Teacher and his lieutenant are afraid of what Amy will do if something really bad happens to Victoria?

    1. Or maybe Teacher and co. saw the avatar of Victoria’s shard in the drem-land already, and are afraid of what it would do to them if they messed with its host?

      1. And actually, could “tall, slender woman in a dress, with a headdress of spikes radiating out for fifty feet around her” be the avatar of Victoria’s shard? This description reminds me a lot about Glory Girl’s costume combined with the “danger zone” her aura and (especially) the current shape of Victoria’s forcefield can create around her. Not to mention her problems with physical closeness due to her insecurity with her current body.

          1. Who says it doesn’t? It’s been a while the moment when Victoria mentioned her light pulses for the last time and the moment when she saw the “slender woman in a dress”.

            Here’s another theory about why Teacher may fear Victoria. Dauntless was grateful for every visit when he was trapped in the time bubble, and between GM and the start of Ward Victoria might have been one of the very few (if not the only) regular visitor to Bet’s Brockton Bay.

            Could it be possible that because of it during Dauntless’ second trigger some sort of special connection formed between his shard and Victoria’s?

          2. One more reason why Teacher – a person with a portal to the dreamscape (which as we now learned lets people distinguish between natural triggers and Cauldron capes), and an idea that he can “put the whole back together” – most capes got their shard either from the Warrior or the Thinker, but we know that Victoria’s shard combines elements of shards discarded by her family members’ shards (which are presumably 100% Warrior’s) and Dean’s shard (which is Thinker’s). Could it be that Teacher knows about this mixed origin of Victoria’s shard, and that it is unique and somehow significant enough to back off as soon as he saw Victoria?

  29. Remember how I wrote that if Victoria regained her memories, she would likely be grateful to Tattletale and Skitter for their attempts (even if they were ultimately failed) to convince Amy to heal her quickly?

    Maybe there’s a flip side to all of this? If I remember correctly, shortly before Victoria was hit with Crawler’s acid, Amy made her first batch of rely bugs and Atlas. What if doing so nudged Amy to use her power in more “creative” ways? What if it was the last straw that broke Amy’s will and made her give in to temptation of “experimenting” with Victoria’s body that ended up with creation of the wretch?

    Maybe Lisa feels guilty about allowing that as much as about what she told Amy in the bank?

  30. @Alfaryn

    Rely bugs→Atlas→… The Wretch?

    If I don’t misremember, Amy made a cat “glow” when she was younger. And got scolded for that.

    So that would be… interesting.

  31. I’ve just thought about one more reason why Lise may dislike Victoria to a point where she is willing to verbally assault her, like she did in the previous chapter.

    Could it be that Lisa suspects that Victoria may be driving Amy towards suicide?

  32. All y’all arguing about the nature of Shardspace seem to have missed the obvious. It’s neither a simulation, a parallel Earth, nor a pocket universe. It’s merely the past. Victoria has traveled back through time to the mythical Age of Grandparents, when the slope of a path was dependent on your strength of mind rather than your direction of travel.

    Now all they need to do is go cockblock Teacher’s parents. Tristan, Byron, you’re out of each other’s heads, so it’s finally time to get out there and get your sexy on!

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