Sundown – 17.1

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We’d known we’d have to face the music at some point.  I wished we’d had a chance to talk it over before said music, but… this wasn’t a shock.

Defiant wasn’t in his full armor, much as he hadn’t been when in the Warden’s new headquarters.  But with the boots he wore and the augmentations to back, shoulder, and neck, he was tall enough that the back of his head could have rested against the doorframe behind him.  He didn’t have nearly enough winter wear for how shitty the weather looked outside, but I could see the faint shimmer of heat radiating off of him.

Someone less serious than me might have made a remark or even allowed themselves to think about steam coming out of the man’s ears.  I didn’t allow it to be anything more than a fleeting thought: he was liable to go ballistic if there was even a hint of good humor on my face.

I was still in that alien space, still experiencing the exhilaration of battle, and as I looked out the window into the darkness and the snow that the nearby lights illuminated, my vision warped, in much the way it would if I had been flying at high speed, focusing on the horizon, and came to a quick stop.

“Sorry,” Natalie said.  “When you all passed out-”

“No,” I said.  “No, it was right to go for help.”

“What wasn’t right,” Defiant raised his voice, “was this asinine idea of yours.”

“We can explain,” I said.  “If-”

“No,” he said.

“We can’t explain?” Kenzie asked.

“Not yet,” Defiant said.  “Stay still, be quiet, and be prepared to follow my instructions.”

Kenzie nodded, vigorously, “I’m all for following instructions, but just to be clear, when you say ‘stay still’, does that include-”

“Be still.  Do nothing.  Be silent.”

“Okay, can do,” Kenzie said.  “But does nothing include-”

Candy covered Kenzie’s mouth.  Kenzie managed to worm her way free of the hand, pulling down on her arm, then piped up with, “There are about three exception cases I don’t want to trip over, if you’d just let me go over them-”

Chicken Little joined Candy in working to subdue Kenzie.

“Sorry,” Chicken Little said.  “When she gets going it’s hard to get her to be quiet.”

Quiet,” Defiant growled, clearly on his last nerve, “is the operative word.”

Chicken Little gave the man a salute with his free arm, his other arm hooked around Kenzie’s upper body to pin her arms down.  He dropped the saluting hand to the cone-shaped beak that stuck out of the lower half of his mask, covering it.

Defiant marched out to the center of the room, the center of our group.  I floated to my feet so I could get out of his way if I had to.

By the looks I got from some members of the group, and the way Sveta pulled her arm apart into the flat, zipper-toothed tendrils for just one second, before restoring it to its prior shape, I wasn’t the only person unconsciously noting the fact that my power was still functional.  There wasn’t anything new about it.  A small worry assuaged, knowing the dream room hadn’t knit us all together powerwise.

“You,” he said, pointing at Kenzie.  She jumped like she’d been caught doing something wrong.  “Over there.”

He pointed to Chris’s old corner, paused, and motioned for Damsel to move away.

“They stay,” he indicated Candy and Chicken.  “Ms. Matteson, as someone watching over her welfare, would you please do us all a favor and ensure Lookout is quiet?”

“I will,” Natalie said.

“Sveta Karelia, stand by the computers.  Don’t touch them.”

Sveta stood and went to stand by the computers.

He got halfway through telling people to stand in specific places before giving me my position, standing in the hallway just past the front door we rarely used, near the small bathroom and shower.  It dawned on me just why he was positioning us.  Well, part of it.

Put Kenzie far away from her tech.  Put the least tech-savvy people, Damsel and Sveta, closer to the computer terminals.  Take the leaders, me and Tristan, and put Tristan in the corner where the whiteboard made him hard to see, put me in the hallway.

Separating the kids.  He did put Aiden and Candy on either side of Rain, though.  Not what I would’ve done, and he did put Darlene near the computers, probably to put her further from Tattletale, who was between Tristan and Kenzie, far from the consoles.

When everyone was separated, he began talking to Tristan.  I couldn’t overhear.

From what I could see of the others, they were getting themselves sorted.  They stretched, they looked around, and they looked more alert.  Candy had messy hair from where she’d slept on it, and was combing it with her fingers.  She stopped as Rain set about dabbing at the cut on her forehead with a handkerchief.  The contact elicited a warning sound from Defiant, who relaxed once he investigated.

My mind was a storm of recent events, which did not feel like a dream, and the twenty-five different things I’d seen that could have each been things I sat down and thought about for an hour.  The individual glimpses of triggers and their effects on these people I knew.  The implications of the quirkier rooms or dream-version triggers, like Ashley being in Damsel’s.

And the implications and nuances of the different parts of the dream landscape.  The scholar in me wanted to think on that, discuss with Tattletale, who might have insights, and even take notes.

And Dean.  Who had lied to me.  I could revisit old conversations I’d had with him.  He’d told me once he’d had a trigger event, had closed up without saying exactly what it was, and I’d taken it as a betrayal.  Leaving me reeling now as I remembered those feelings I’d had and how he’d let me think I’d been in the wrong for pushing too hard.  And then he’d caved, he’d told me a story about a home invasion, which had actually happened, but he had lied to me, made it into a trigger event.

Him sharing that with me had made me feel close to him, and I’d tried to initiate a make-out session with him,  only for him to pull away.  He hadn’t wanted to do anything with me that night, and I’d respected it… but it had still played a part in me being willing and wanting to sleep with him, just a little while later.

It had played into the one fight, but now it made me wonder about the context of other ones.  Break-ups and make-ups were part of any relationship, especially teenage ones where school and superheroics had a way of making the remainder of life very limited option-wise, so we’d done that, but now… it was tainted.

And I’d had only the one thing that wasn’t tainted, that I could go back to that was sexy, sweet, and lovely.  Where I’d felt like I was loved and there weren’t ulterior motives.  Where I’d been me and not some mangled, violated mess of stray animals and bugs bound up into a Victoria shape, doing physio every morning because of the accumulated injuries and ugliness.

I’d just wanted the one thing.

And somehow that paled in comparison to the visions.  Jessica.  My mom and Uncle Neil.  Amy.

My skin crawled, and as it crawled, I became aware of my injuries again, of the notion it wasn’t my skin.  I had no right to dictate thoughts, but the notion that she thought of me, that she’d touched herself and when I’d voiced aloud that I didn’t want to know, the crystal had answered my statement with an image of me…

In another situation, if she’d been in reach and I’d been confident in my ability to safely act on her, I might have mangled her hands until they weren’t recognizable as hands and those fucking tattoos would be unrecognizable forever.

Hurt her, tell her never to think of me again, and send her on her way.

Except I knew that was unfair, that it was barbaric when I didn’t want to be barbaric.  She was… ill.  I could hate her, but what she needed was to be removed from people she would hurt and treated with kindness.

And that would absolutely, no-way-in-the-fuck be me.

Fuck.  There were still master-stranger protocols active, there.  Wholly deserved, but I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to revisit that room in the prison.

I should’ve asked about what happened, hard as it was.  Why I had a fingernail I’d distinctly remembered losing.

I couldn’t dwell on it without losing it, and I was aware I needed to wrestle this whole mess of thoughts off to one side so I could focus on Defiant.  Which was a crisis unto itself.

Step one: calming down.  Touch base with where I was.  Locate yourself.

It was technically morning.  Early enough that it wasn’t light out, but morning.  We thought the city might break yesterday, and if it didn’t, it would break today.  Tinkers and thinkers all in agreement.

It didn’t break yesterday.

Meaning that today is the day disaster strikes again, and we see how bad it is.

Rain had complained once that his dreams left him feeling like he hadn’t rested at all.  I could simultaneously agree and disagree.  Physically, I felt rested.  Physically, I felt like my wounds had bound up, muscles tensing, creeping pains having crept all the way in, much as they did any time I slept.  The skin on the back of my hand felt tight, but a lot of that was my body reacting and healing.  The parts of me that weren’t wounded or wound-adjacent felt better.  All like an ordinary night’s sleep.

Mentally, though, that was where I was in full agreement with the guy.  Mentally, I felt like I’d been there, for every trigger, for the fight against a monster so big I couldn’t fathom its scale, for the mental gymnastics, sliding around, and facing down of other fantastical hyperdimensional monsters, horrible realities, and Teacher.

When I didn’t focus, my brain felt like a buzz of television static, and that wasn’t a monumental leap to the twilight state where I felt like I could go to sleep.

When I did focus, my mind went straight back to those twenty five, fifty, or a hundred things that I really wanted to break into and talk to the others about.

Floorboards creaked as Defiant ended his conversation with Tristan.

He paused in the center of the room, head down, looking at nothing in particular, and I was put in mind of Kenzie.  Accessing menus and screens, looking things up.

He turned my way, and he approached me.

Probably with my file fresh in his mind, if he wasn’t looking at it at the same time he looked at me.

“Before we get going,” I said.  “Can I just say a few things?”

He folded his arms.

“First of all, I’m sorry.  I have more to say on that front, but I wanted it to be what I said to you first.”

“Alright,” he said, not flinching or relaxing in the slightest.

“Second of all… the kids.  Lookout in particular.  To start with, it’s best if you outright tell Syndicate not to connect with the others.  Because if she’s connected to Lookout and she’s in arm’s reach of a computer-”

Defiant, filling the doorway, turned.

“Darlene Vasil, are you connected to anybody right now?”

“Tell the truth,” I called out.

Defiant gave me a look over his shoulder.

I didn’t hear Darlene’s response, but I imagined she was pointing.

“Break the connections,” Defiant ordered.  “Keep them broken.”

“I don’t know why we’re in trouble,” Candy said, from near the door to the fire escape.  “We were here for moral support, we got roped in by accident, that’s all.”

“Candice Vasil, I have heard stories about you and your siblings from my colleagues who worked in Brockton Bay.  I’m trying to be fair here, and to put all prejudices aside.  Help me do that.  Follow my orders, sit and rest while I talk to each of you in turn.”

“‘Kay,” I heard Candy.  She sounded more anxious than she normally did.

“Lookout too,” I said, before Defiant had walked all the way back to me.  “Something you should address, while we’re making sure this goes as smoothly as possible.”

“What about her?”

“If she was that insistent on saying something, it was probably for a reason.  Ask her.”

“Lookout,” Defiant called out, without taking his eyes off of me.  “The potential exceptions you talked about.”

“Oh!” I could hear Kenzie.  “Um, first of all, can I move my eyes?”

“Yes,” Defiant said.

I started to move my hand to indicate he should follow up, when he added, “Why would that be a concern?”

“Um, because I’ve got cameras embedded in my eyes, and there are tracking points that let me operate some of my systems remotely.”

“Have you been remotely operating your computer after I told you to do nothing?”

“Um.  Yes?  Just sending some messages and updating some things, and taking notes, and-”

“Stop,” he said.  “Don’t touch your menus.  Don’t operate any tinker technology you or anyone else owns.  Don’t operate any non-tinker technology.  What else?”

“Um.  What about technology that operates itself?  It’s just running in the background but I haven’t been nudging it back onto course and it’s gathering and using some data, and running some defensive routines, and a few offensive ones.  And stuff.”

Defiant didn’t move, except to break eye contact, and to dip his head a bit.

The lights in the building flickered.  I could see some lights of monitors and projected screens at the far end of the room momentarily flicker, glow, or change to a different interface.

With Defiant occupying most of the doorway with his partially-armored bulk, there was only one projected screen near the door that I could sort of see.  I watched as it went black, then flashed, showing Defiant’s dragon-spear logo against a shimmering gold background.

That logo changed to a woman’s face.  Dragon’s.

Dragon the A.I., I had to remind myself.

“I found exception number three,” Dragon said, her voice sounding like it came from Defiant’s right, with a bit of an echo to it.  “Handled.”

“Thank you,” Defiant said, not sounding quite so angry.  He turned his attention back to me.  When he spoke, he sounded upset again.  “Antares.  Victoria.  Anything else?”

“Not on that front.  I just thought I’d warn you so you didn’t have cause to be upset after.”

“We’ll see.”

“Dragon, I’m sorry we’re talking under these circumstances.  Again, Defiant, I’m sorry we’re here.  To give context to why, I hate feeling like I’m in the dark, other members of Breakthrough are similar.  We had what felt like a great way to get a look at the bigger picture, you said no, then pieces fell into place when we crossed paths with Damsel of Distress and Tattletale.  We got carried away, and that’s not me making excuses.”

“Antares,” Defiant said.  “On the whole, I always had a positive impression of you.  I remember hoping that you would join my Wards team, once.  I even remember the moment, after I printed out your grades and I had them by my right hand, my left hand at the keyboard, where I was navigating an arrest report you made.”

I kept my mouth shut, nodding.

“I don’t have the most positive impression of you right this moment.”


“I don’t either?” I ventured.  “I- I have to admit I’m still reeling from… that whole thing.  I’m not thinking straight, as much as I’m trying.  But I’m not happy with what we did.  I’m not happy with myself.  I think deep down inside, I expected it to fail, that we wouldn’t get in, or we’d get in but it would be limited, or something, and at least having people like Tattletale and Damsel here would give us some insights we could use… and we really need insights.”

“It didn’t fail.”

“No,” I agreed.  “I thought we’d have Rain do what he has to do, which is visit that dream space, we could try looking around with the tech, have Tattletale interpret, Damsel knows some stuff, but… things went wrong.”

“And you didn’t reach out to us.  You did reach out to Love Lost and her protege to warn them.”

“Some of that was that we were worried if we reached out and you guys mandated certain action, we’d be outright defying you on a bigger level, or we’d be sending Rain in to what would have definitely been his death.”

“I have a lie detector, Antares,” Defiant said.

I fell silent.

“That read as a partial truth.  It’s not the majority or even half of your reasoning.  The remainder?”

“We thought we could handle it, so we focused on handling it.”

“Okay,” he said.  “I’m going to come back in a few minutes for your full explanation and recap.  Organize your thoughts, get to the point where you’re thinking straight.  Be ready, but stay put.”

I drew in a deep breath.  “Okay.”

“I should tell you.  A lot of what you said read as ninety percent honest at best.  I hope that when I come back to get your interpretation of the events, that’s improved.”

I absorbed that.

He walked away, back to the center of the room.

“My turn?” Tattletale asked, off to the side.

“I know you and your power well enough to know you’ll take a shortcut, Tattletale,” Defiant said.  “I’ll talk to you once I’ve talked to everyone, to verify the smaller details.”

“That’s going to be a while,” Tattletale said.

“You have options, Tattletale,” Defiant said.  “We could arrest you as a villain, keeping in mind the theft of the Black Dog IP, the intimidation of the University Road settlers, the Justice Bye case, or the raids on the white hill settlement.”

“I get what you’re doing.  Mention three things I’m a possible suspect for, mention one thing I’m completely unrelated to, get me to say something stupid-”

“The raids on the white hill settlement came from New Brockton Bay, prior to the Dauntless incident.  Either you were ignorant or you were complicit.  Either way, we shouldn’t have trusted you to keep the peace there.”

“The raiders disappeared, didn’t they?  A lion’s share of the funds went back to white hill.”

“But not all.”

“Sue me for not being able to catch up to them before they went on a spending spree.  I did my duty, you can’t pin me on the other stuff-”

“I can try.  I can bring you in, we can see what sticks, and it will be days, weeks, or years before you’re free again.”

“Or I can stay put.  Got it.”

“And be quiet.  Let me ask my questions.  No hints or cues to the others.”

“Lookout has extensive cameras, and I have access,” Dragon said, her voice coming across speakers.

“No winks or nudges, got it,” Tattletale said.

Defiant went to Sveta.

Dragon’s voice came very close to my ear, though there was no apparent source.  “If there is an underlying mistruth you’re holding to, it would be better to let it go.”

“Because of that thing were I’m only apparently telling ninety percent of the truth?” I asked.

“Yes.  Well, a ceiling of ninety percent.”

“I don’t know what I could say that would be one hundred percent the truth,” I admitted.  “I don’t get everything that’s going on, I don’t feel sure about what’s happened in the past.  All I know in the present is that I should be worried.  I could tell you my name, and I’m not sure it would read as one hundred percent confident.”

“Try it?” Dragon asked.

“I am Victoria Dallon,” I told her, and I tried to sound confident, which was my mistake, because I instinctively reached for a foundation for that confidence, and I groped blindly instead.

Uninvited images of a body of strays and bugs flashed through my mind.  I thought of the master-stranger protocol that was technically still in place after the prison.  I thought of the mosaic of identities that I’d analyzed and faced when fighting Lung, before deciding that Victoria Dallon, Glory Girl, and Antares needed to be one.  That warrior monk, wretch, scholar, and everything else needed to fold into that.  How those things had been eminently there when I’d phased into the crystal.  Injured images of me, healed.  Antares and Glory Girl.

“Again?” she asked.

“I am Victoria Dallon,” I told her, and this time I pushed those ideas out of mind.  Tried to.  It was like stuffing the mess of a dirty room into a closet and finding the door couldn’t shut.

“I think you’re right,” she said.  “You can blame the dishonest readings on a lack of personal confidence.  You’re shaken.”

“Not even reading a hundred percent confidence when I say my own name?” I asked.

“No,” Dragon said.

“Ninety percent?” I asked.  I could hear that telling pause.  “Eighty?  Seventy?”

“It could be an outlier.  Can you think of a statement you are more confident about?”

I tried.

“I want to help the people of this city.”

“There we go,” Dragon said.  “Point in your favor.”

“Yeah?  One hundred percent?”

“Yes,” she told me.  “Counts for something.  More than you might realize, considering some of the ongoing concerns.”

I could hear Defiant’s conversation with Sveta.

Even knowing there’s going to be consequences, I thought, I’m glad we did it?  To get out ahead of Teacher, to see what he was really doing, and to understand all of this?

I doubt there’s a single person out there who can fight on this playing field, who isn’t breaking some of the rules.

What do you say, if I say that out loud, Dragon?

One hundred percent confidence in my words?

Definitely not a point in my favor.  Not in your books.

“You broke the crystal,” Defiant said, incredulous.

Some of the others had gathered, the ‘split everyone up so they can be interrogated separately’ thing breaking down as Defiant finished his rounds.  I could see them in the center of the room, peeking around Defiant’s frame.

“I mentioned this before,” I said, trying not to sound like I was exasperated or defensive.  “There’s a lot about navigating that space that’s… intuitive-adjacent.”

Intuitive-adjacent?” Defiant asked, and I had the impression he was holding back from flying off the handle.

“Logic-adjacent, kind of, but you have to start from the heart, not the head, and general, abstracted feelings of being.”

“Logic-adjacent is being illogical,” Defiant stated.  “Come the fuck on, Victoria.”

I didn’t want to back down, because I was fairly certain it would make me look far worse if I didn’t sound confident.

“Teacher’s not Teacher anymore.  If he’s been Teacher for the last couple of years.  The agent is running the show.  I could see how the agent functioned, the structure of it, the way the patterns played out.  I was sure that leaving him alone would be catastrophic.  I was pretty sure breaking that key point to his power wouldn’t be catastrophic, specifically.”

“Because of intuition-adjacent, logic-adjacent understandings you picked up while exploring this space over half an hour?” Defiant asked.

Yes,” I told him, with conviction, while willing that lie detector to register one hundred percent.

“Can I say something?” Rain said, behind Defiant.

Defiant turned, but didn’t say ‘yes’.

“She figured it out.  How to navigate the space, how to interact with it.  How to throw herself off a high cliff while leaping over a ravine, crash through the surface on the other side, and resurface while wearing… I think it was the costume she used to wear when she was Glory Girl.”

“Working with her agent, too,” Sveta volunteered.  “Damsel knew how to handle the space, but she didn’t have that connection to her agent.”

“I could have if I tried,” Damsel chimed in, from a spot that was out of sight, off to the right, near the door to the fire escape, blocked from view by the walls that enclosed the bathroom.

“Enough.  Please,” Defiant said.  “Input appreciated, but I would like to continue this conversation with Victoria, one on one.”

Rain and Sveta obliged.

“Being good at that is not necessarily reassuring,” Defiant told me.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because that implies a stronger connection to your agent.  And we know for a fact the agents are aggressive and conflict-driven.  If it’s cooperating with you and you’re finding yourself in parallel to it, that’s concerning.”

Which tied back to what Dragon had said to me.   ‘Counts for something.  More than you might realize, considering some of the ongoing concerns.’

“I want to save the people of this city,” I said, repeating the statement that had elicited Dragon’s.

Defiant went silent.

I could imagine him conversing with Dragon.  I glanced past him at Kenzie, who was standing beside Natalie, Natalie’s hand at her shoulder.

I could imagine Kenzie wanting this.  Someone who was there to talk to when she wanted someone.

With Dean no longer in that reassuring spot in my heart, I kind of wanted it too.

It felt especially lonely to be standing here, being interrogated, so soon after a number of people had fallen in my esteem.

Defiant held up one finger for me to wait one second, while walking over to the desk with tech on it.  “I’ll borrow one of your projectors, Lookout.  If I may?”

“Go ahead!  Have fun!”

“It’s not so fun,” Defiant said, but he didn’t say it to her.

He held the microwave-sized cube in both hands, showing his strength with the ease he handled the dense cube of technology.

Images were displayed on the walls, floor, and ceiling nearest me.

Men and women in white coveralls, unconscious, lying in cots, on beds, and on floors.

“Time of death, five fifteen in the morning,” Defiant said.  “For each and every last one of them, with slight discrepancies depending on the doctor and the time the doctors reached them.”

I shook my head.

“He still had control over what we estimate to be roughly four thousand citizens of Earth Gimel and another thousand citizens of Earth Cheit.  Some –many- were unwillingly under his power.  He forced it on them, using parahuman tricks.  Many were capes, some were heroes, retired or otherwise.”

My heartbeat hurt in my chest.  I didn’t dare breathe.  I didn’t take my eyes off of Defiant’s face.

“All brain dead, to the extent their brains ceased regulating breathing and heartbeat.”

“You’re fucking with me,” I said.  “This is some test to verify my convictions.”

“You don’t sound confident.”

“There was a brief period between the time I broke it when I saw the aftermath.  The thralls he had in the crystal space… they turned on him, they were angry.”

“That was there.  Here, lives were lost.”

I shook my head again.

“Are you calling me a liar?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I didn’t kill those people.  I’m not sure I believe they’re dead.”

Defiant turned his back to me, walking across the room to the tables, with the others backing out of his way.  He set the cube down.  He’d carried it like it was empty cardboard, but the folding table we’d had by Rain’s whiteboard creaked.

He didn’t elaborate, didn’t say anything.  Just walked over to Tattletale.

She was his last stop, he’d said.  For clarifying details.

He was keeping an eye on all of us, as was Dragon, so when I ventured into the room and he didn’t take my head off, I figured we were good enough.

“You broke the crystal?” Tristan asked.

“I broke Teacher’s crystal,” I said.  I thought about those images of people lying prone, people standing around their limp bodies.  “I think I broke Teacher.”

“It’s dawning on me,” Rain said.  “I have to go back tonight.  I don’t know if the walls will still be up.  What if they’re permanently down, and each night it’s just those things attacking us, on their rotation?”

“Staying in our sectors seemed to work,” Sveta said.

“Right, but… what if each one has different rules, or different ways of acting?  Love Lost’s is tomorrow.  What if it has emotion control, that reaches through the walls?  What if it’s angry, in a way Cradle’s wasn’t?”

Chicken Little coughed abruptly enough it made Defiant turn his head.  Between coughs, he muttered, “Mr. Hugs.”

“I’m not going to call it that,” Rain said.

“Hecatoncheires,” I suggested.

“That’s way too cool for Cradle,” Rain said.  He added, “I’m spooked.”

“I feel like if we can get through last night, we can get through a lot,” Tristan said.

Rain nodded, sitting up straighter.  “Yeah.  I’m glad you guys were there, if nothing else.  I… haven’t had a lot of times in my life when people were there for the reasons I wished they were.  Sometimes, like the raid at the Fallen fight, because I didn’t let them be.”

Kenzie was sitting on the floor by one of the chairs, with Candy sitting in the chair behind her.  Candy’s knees were over Kenzie’s shoulders, legs helping hold her in place, while Candy’s hands covered Kenzie’s mouth.  Kenzie wriggled a bit, protesting, like she wanted to say something.

“I appreciate the sentiment, Kenzie,” Rain said, responding somberly to Kenzie’s mumbles like she’d said something profound.

Kenzie seemed to relax her protestations at that.

“I won’t say I’m not spooked,” Tristan admitted.  “I’ve got to get back to the hospital.  Switch over to Byron.  See how he’s doing.  I’m… kind of terrified he might be worse.  We messed with a pretty fragile balance, back there.”

“Do you really think those people are dead?” Sveta asked.

“No,” I said, but I would have been lying if I’d said I wasn’t a bit worried.

The conversation seemed to stall.  Many of us weren’t even fully awake.  Alarmed, alert, but not awake.  Not fully put together.

I looked over the room, at the kids, where Darlene sat next to Aiden, her head on his shoulder as she did a bad job of pretending to be dozing off.  Candy with Kenzie, semi-playfully ensuring Kenzie did nothing, as per Defiant’s instructions.


“How’s your power?” I asked Rain.

“I’m not about to pull out the silver blades or anything while Defiant’s here, but I’m pretty sure I got nothing.”

“Nothing as in-”

“As in my powers all suck like I got no tokens at all.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same for Love Lost and Colt.”

I nodded.

We had messed with the system.  Messed with the thing that was doling out these shares of power.

We’d faced them, looked them in the eye.

I looked over at Damsel, who leaned against the door.  Through the window right next to the door, I could see Snuff on the fire escape, smoking.  No Sidepiece.

“Good showing,” I told Damsel.  “Last few minutes?  Might’ve made the difference.”

“In letting you murder thousands?  Glad to help,” Damsel responded, dry.

I shook my head.  “Stopping Teacher.  Getting past thralls.  All of it.  All of you.  That wasn’t easy.”

But it needed doing, I finished, silent.

“I feel like we need to have five hundred conversations about stuff we saw or experienced in there,” Tristan said.  “And at the exact same time, I feel like we need to never talk about any of it.”

“Amen,” Sveta said, barely audible.

Again, the conversation died.  But on the heels of the ‘never talk about any of it’, none of us picked it up again.

Defiant finished his conversation with Tattletale, stiff and looming while she looked eminently casual, thumbs hooked in her belt, leaning against Chris’s old desk.

He turned to face us.  To face me.

The stare was accusing.

“I don’t believe they’re dead,” I said.

“Victoria, your comment, immediately upon waking up,” he said.  “Joking about the world ending.  You knew it was a consideration.”

“I was phase-shifted or facet-shifted to a version of me that was more Glory-Girl-like, I think.  That’s what others saw.  I was exhilarated, post-panic, I… said something dumb.”

He didn’t respond.

“I’m one hundred percent committed to preventing the world from ending, the city from breaking, whatever else.  Completely and totally.  Taking Teacher’s puppeteer-crystal out was in support of this.  If we left him alone, we’d be counting down the minutes or hours before he initiated the end on his terms.”

Defiant nodded.  A finger that looked flesh but had odd seams to it tapped heavily on a folding table.  “One hundred percent.  I believe you.  I won’t say it was right.”

I nodded.

“But you’re not one hundred percent confident those thralls were alive.  Eighty to ninety percent confident.  But that’s not enough.”

“It wasn’t a decision made in isolation,” I told him.  “And I didn’t have the benefit of minutes or hours to weigh its merits.  Time was short, I had a sense of the risks and the danger if I didn’t take action.  I acted.”

“I understand,” Defiant said.  “But if you take that many lives into your moral calculus, then you open yourself up to being second guessed and challenged.  We don’t want to live in a world where anyone and everyone can make that choice.  Am I right?”

I nodded, before reluctantly venturing, “…Yes.  Can I just say that it felt closer to one hundred percent certainty in the moment?”

“I’m sure it did,” Defiant told me.

“What did happen to the thralls?” Rain asked.

Released, I thought.

“Freed,” Defiant said.  “Some of the beneficial side effects and powers are lingering, but they’re fading by the minute, according to reports, some faster than others.  Teacher no longer has any sway over them.”

“That’s a mean joke,” Darlene said.  “Saying they died.”

“I had to make sure Antares was convinced.  And she wasn’t.  Not quite enough, and that worries us.  With this, with my concerns about Lookout’s approach to the situation and the lack of safeguards, the leaping to assumptions, with the fact I would expect someone with closer ties to the Wardens-”

He looked at Sveta.

“-to cooperate more with us, and everything else in aggregate, big and small… we will be giving you a choice, to be made before I leave to look after other things.”

“What choice?” Tristan asked.

“Either you allow us to impose consequences, you obey our instructions, endure confiscation of assets and further oversight… or you no longer have our help.”

“No longer have…”

“The Warden’s assistance.  Our network, our information, our teams, the ability to call and get our help.  Tattletale, Damsel, and the children can make their independent calls.  If Lookout wanted to consider herself Breakthrough and Breakthrough decided to accept consequences, we would continue working with her.  Same as if the children accepted consequences but Breakthrough did not.”

“You want her tech,” Tattletale guessed.

“We would lose Lookout’s help in managing the access cube and security system, as well as other projects she volunteered her help with, yes.  But that’s not the concern.  She’s young, vulnerable, and caught between two teams.  We don’t want to force your hands.  This is a genuine offer.  Work with the Wardens, within the law, and accept consequences, or carry on doing what you’re doing, beyond the law, without our sanction or help.”

“I feel like there’s more to this,” Tristan said.

“There is.”

“Do you arrest us if we don’t cooperate?”

“No.  But we might if we thought you’d do this again.”

Tristan nodded.

This is a mess.

“You really expect me to believe you’ll work with me?” Damsel asked.

“I don’t expect you to agree to cooperate,” Defiant told her.  “But if you say yes, that can be an inroad.  We can talk, and arrangements can be made.  Talking is better than the alternatives, when things are this fragile.”

Damsel shook her head.

“Can you give us a minute?” Tristan asked.  “No listening ears, no observation?”

“I’ll step outside,” Defiant said.  “Powering down all of Lookout’s systems.”

We waited until he was gone.

“Sorry again,” Natalie said, to my right.

“No.  Really,” I told her.  “You did the right thing.”

“Do you think you did the wrong thing, pursuing this, because…”

She trailed off as I shook my head.

“Stick with the Wardens?” Tristan asked.

I nodded.  Communication and cooperation are too important.

“Warning for the kids.  Lookout in particular,” Tattletale spoke up.  She hadn’t budged from where she sat.  “They’re going to take your stuff.”

“What?” Kenzie sat up, pulling free of Candy’s hands and legs.  “What do you mean?”

“If both Breakthrough and the Tenders cooperate, they’re taking your things.  All tech, including what you have at the institution and Victoria’s apartment.  Confiscated until further notice.”

“No!” Kenzie gasped, looking horrified.  A smile crossed her face.  “This is a test, right?  Like showing Victoria a bunch of dead people, to see if she was really sure what she did wouldn’t kill anyone?”

“Those aren’t equivalent,” Rain said.

“They kind of are!” Kenzie answered.  “My stuff is everything I can do, it’s months of work, and scans, and it’s my contact with everyone, and it’s my everything!  It could make the difference between us saving thousands or thousands dying, couldn’t it?”

“Theoretically,” I said.

“You can cheat your way around it,” Tattletale said.  “Say the Tenders won’t cooperate.  They act outside the law, life gets harder, but you can keep tech at your place.”

Kenzie nodded, looking at the others.

I almost said something to her, then stopped myself.  Best to let Kenzie find her own way to the answer.

“But you shouldn’t,” Tattletale said.

Damn it, I thought.  Tattletale liked to hold the kids’ hands.  Giving them a fish instead of teaching them how to fish.


“We shouldn’t,” Chicken Little said.

Kenzie looked crestfallen.

“It doesn’t make sense to make enemies,” Darlene said, before walking over to give Kenzie a half-hug.

“I’m out,” Damsel said.  She pulled on her coat, which was a process with the lengthy claw at the end of each finger.  She pretty much had to lay the coat on the ground before picking up the edge with the back of each blade and finding the armholes, shrugging it on.  When she’d lived with Swansong and I, we’d simply helped her.

“Not working with the Wardens?” I asked.

She sniffed.  “What do they have to offer me?”

Then she turned to the door.  A solid second or two passed.

This time, it was Kenzie who covered Candy’s mouth.

Not turning around or looking back at any of us, her eyes fixated on the doorknob, Damsel finally kicked the door three times in quick succession.

Defiant opened the door, and Damsel strode past him, into the winter snowstorm.

“Decided?” He asked.

“Yeah,” Tattletale answered.  “We’re in.  We’ll cooperate.”

He stepped back inside, and the heat of his systems steamed visibly as the cold air was superheated, or the moist air from systems made contact with the air from the cold pre-sunrise outdoors.

“Lookout, Precipice, your tinker technology will be confiscated for the time being.  We will be asking you to vacate your headquarters and, until further judgment can be rendered, you are not to associate with one another.  Each of you will be remanded to the care of an acceptable guardian, someone the Wardens trust…”

This was important.

This was worth it, even like this.

They didn’t take me back to my apartment.  There was tinkertech there.  I felt scuzzy in clothes I’d worn the day prior, my teeth fuzzy, my stomach empty and that emptiness… scoured, for lack of a better word, by the hunger that ate from the emptiness outward.

No powers was the rule.  Good general rule while the city was in this fragile, cracked-ice state, but it was being imposed on us for other reasons.  Judgment pending.  The Warden leadership would meet and they’d assess what we’d done.

No powers meant no flight, so I used the elevator in the building for perhaps the third time.

Slow and painful, my bag heavy at my shoulder, my entire body restless because I hadn’t done my physio yet.  My wounds felt tight and uncomfortable, perpetually reminding me they existed.

My skin prickled from the recent cold and the transition to warmth, and in that prickling, I remembered being burned, and my heart rate picked up, vague feelings of panic making their stealthy approach.

I got my breathing mostly level by the time the elevator stopped.  I exited, walked down the hall, bag over my one shoulder, and knocked on the door.

Mom answered.  Not yet prepped for the day, she’d just woken up maybe half an hour ago, and had a coffee.  She held it out to the side with one hand, and reached out to hug me with the other.  I started to pull back, but she grabbed me, hugging me fiercely, with a lot of strength.

It was surprising to see her without a suit or… well, a suit.  Costume or business wear.  Without hair done up and makeup on.

It had been a long time since I had seen my mother of the morning hours.  Carol before the day began.  More than four years.

I was struck by the mental image of her kissing Uncle Neil, vivid and visceral, deeply uncomfortable.  I looked away, busying myself with finding a spot to put my bag down.

“Crystal’s on the phone.  She was supposed to call when you arrived,” my mom said.

I nodded, stepping into my cousin’s apartment.  My mom’s things were by the couch, but the couch was made up, sheets removed and folded.  Boxes were everywhere, and the apartment looked about two-thirds of the way to being packed up.

“What do you need?” my mom asked.  “Food?”

“Soon,” I said.  “I should do my physio before I go crazy.  If that’s ok?”

“Can I join you?” she asked.  “It couldn’t hurt, I imagine.”

I hesitated.

“Or not.”

I was saved from having to answer by Crystal emerging from the hallway that led to her bedroom, pulling the phone down and away from her ear.  Call done.  She gave me a hug.

As I broke the hug, I saw my mother walking a little unsteadily to the couch, to sit on the armrest.  Small steps, more like she was an old woman than a forty year old.

I was put in mind of dad after his head injury, but this- this was my fault.  In large part.

“What on earth did you get up to?” Crystal asked me.  “You’re on probation?”

“Benched, until they can decide how serious it was.  They’ve broken up Breakthrough, but they may pull us back in later today, depending on how bad things get.”

“And this questionably serious thing was…?”

“Definitely serious, just a question of whether it was catastrophically serious or regular old serious.  It was us diving into the guts of things.  Deeper and faster than we thought we would.  With more danger.  Into the guts of powers.”

“Why?” Crystal asked.

“Because someone had to.  Has to.  The bad guys are already doing it.  It’s like waging a war in the twenty-first century without considering computers as a factor.”

“And?” Crystal asked.

“And I’m tired.  Numb.  Freaked out,” I said.  “I don’t think I could even begin to explain the scale of it.  The Wardens are freaking out because of the scale of it, and I think at best they have blurry interdimensional camera images pulled from Kenzie’s tech.”

“But everyone’s safe?” my mom asked.

“Mostly,” I said.

“That’s good.  It’s something you wanted to prioritize.”

I nodded.

“I’d like-” She stood straighter, but she wavered a bit.  She reached out, and for a moment, I almost pulled away.  Then I caught her, because I wasn’t such a horrible daughter that I’d let my injured mother fall.

The mother I’d injured.

I gripped her arm and I focused on that grip, looking down at my hand at her arm and my hand.

The apartment was still relatively dark, lit only by the hallway light and living room light.  Through the kitchen, the big window showed the snowstorm outside, white snowflakes against black.

“Why are you pulling away?” my mother asked me.

“It’s stupid,” I told her.

“It doesn’t feel stupid.”

“Okay,” Crystal butted in.  “What do you say we get some coffee in us?  Bit of food?”

“Victoria said she wanted to do her physio routine before eating.”

“That’s an option,” Crystal said, artificially cheerful.  “Auntie Carol, maybe you and I could put coffee on and prep some food, Victoria can do her thing?”

“I’d rather Victoria tell me what happened,” my mother said.  “Because I thought we were mending bridges, and all of a sudden-”

She didn’t sound like my mother.  No sternness, no strength, no fierceness.

She’d seemed better when we’d been at the prison, in the company of Amy and Mark.

“It’s dumb,” I said.  “An hour and a half ago I was racing through the guts of the systems that drive our powers, powerless, escaping a bunch of things that looked like- the dauntless titan.  Kronos.  Apparatuses that extend from powers.”

I’d almost said they looked like Endbringers,  but Endbringer was a heavy word when one Endbringer had killed Eric and…

And Neil.

Whoever Neil was to me.

“Scary,” Crystal said, her voice still a bit artificial, like she was trying to carry the weight of managing the tone of the three-person conversation.

“I saw things,” I said.  “I saw things about my team, but that was at a different point, more the thing that can draw people together instead of driving them apart.”

“Some of it drove you apart?”  Crystal asked.

“Not me and my team.  Amy.  Amy’s sickness, the depths of it.  The fact she’s helping refugees.  Hints about Teacher.  Stuff about my therapist.”

“Amy is… a good reason to be touch-wary,” Crystal said, ever the diplomat.

My mom, though, the lawyer, the heroine who could patrol and spot trouble from blocks away in the gloom… her study of me was sharp.

“You didn’t shy away from Crystal,” my mom said.

“Can we drop it?” I asked.

My mom reached over.  I didn’t pull away as she touched my upper arm, rubbing it.

“Apparently you can’t drop it,” she told me.

“What?  I didn’t pull back.”

“But you tensed.  You watched, wary, instead of making eye contact.  You didn’t ease up as you normally might.”

“It’s been a while since I eased up when someone wanted to touch me,” I answered.

“You saw something about me?” she asked.  “Hurting a villain more badly than necessary?  Making a deal to give a scumbag a pass?  What sort of things did these images or figures play-act for you?  If you tell me, then at least I can defend myself.”

“Or, you know, we could respect that Victoria’s not ready to talk about it,” Crystal said.

“That seems like the cowardly way out,” my mother said.

Cowardly?” I asked.  I was ready to lash out, to say something, to retort.  Not least because it felt it was my mom who was saying something she had been keeping inside for the last few years.  Filters down, defenses down, the brain injury bringing things to the surface, without the poised, perfect, perfectly made-up Carol Dallon crafting every response.

Like she was calling the me that had struggled during and since the hospital a coward.

I shook my head, fierce, “Not getting into this.  Sorry, Crystal.”

Crystal looked legitimately scared, seeing the feelings that were flaring up.

“There is too much going on these days,” my mother said.  “We can’t have more more thing hanging over our heads.  If this is about my actions as a heroine, I fully admit I haven’t been perfect.”

I shook my head.

“My civilian life?” she asked.

“Yeah.  Can we just leave it at that?”

“My time as a lawyer?  It would have to be,” she said.  “Because, believe me, I’ve spent the last two years coming to terms with how badly I failed as a mother.”

I tensed.

“Victoria,” my mom said.  “Every time I think of you, I feel pride.  I love the woman you became, as brave as you are.  I worry desperately for you, but that’s worry borne of love.  If you want me to tell you that you’re right about your sister, I will.  She was ill, and I contributed to that illness by treating her as I did, when she was vulnerable and lost.  We went to Shin to help her and guide her and as much as I spend every hour of every day feeling pride for you, I’m afraid for her, because she won’t accept guidance.”

“Mom,” I said.  One word, to break the flow, to interrupt the stream of consciousness.

“Would you stiffen if I hugged you now?” she asked.  “Or if I reached out?”

I didn’t respond.

“Why?” she asked.

“If-” I started.  And then I couldn’t stop.  “If I asked you… sorry Crystal.”

“Sorry?” Crystal asked.

“If I asked if Neil Pelham might be my dad…?” I asked.  I looked at my mom.  Carol Dallon, lawyer, fierce veteran superheroine, Carol who had survived three Endbringer fights.  Brandish.

Tears appeared in her eyes.

“What?” Crystal asked.

“Twenty-one years ago, they…”

“My parents were together back then,” Crystal said, sounding horrified.  “And you were with Uncle Mark.”

“Sorry,” I said again.

Tears ran down my mothers cheeks, and she wiped them away, seemingly angry they’d appeared.  I found myself hoping in the moment that the emotional outpouring was out of anger that I’d thought of something so unlikely or impossible.

“Not your father,” Carol said.  “But I thought once that he might be.”

“He might be,” I echoed her.

“You had so much of him in you, and your power… for pretty much the entire year before your sister triggered, I was in dread.  Neil was too.  You-” she looked at Crystal, “-Understand, please, it was that I spent so long unable to trust anyone.  It took me years to warm up to anyone.  Years to get close to Mark.  But we had our rough patches, and then there was Neil, and I could trust him more easily because Sarah trusted him-”

It hurt to listen to.

Hurt because it hurt Crystal too.  If it had been any hour except ass o’clock in the morning, the pre-dawn hours between the crystal hellscape and this conversation, I wouldn’t have said anything.

But I knew my mom.  Knew she’d read through me, that she wouldn’t let this go.

“You never told any of us?”  I asked.  “Did it impact how you treated Amy?  Did you think-”

“For a brief while I thought.  Early on, when she had powers.  I pulled away.  She gave me looks and I thought she knew something certain.  But she didn’t.  And over time I let myself forget.  Something I would think about once in a while, with a lot of regret.  Less as-”

She stopped herself.  Wiped at her eyes again.

“So you think I’m Mark’s?”

“I can’t talk about this,” she said.  “Not like this, not right now-”

“You can’t give me the one answer?” I pressed her.  “The important one?”

“I can’t,” she said, tensing up.  “I can’t.”

“Mom,” I said.  “Carol.  Don’t dodge this.”

The word seemed to sting her.

“Victoria,” Crystal’s voice was gentle, the false emotion no longer there.  “She can’t.”

I looked at Crystal, saw the hurt and apology on her face.

“The head injury,” Crystal said.  “She really might not be able to.”

That’s not fair, I thought.

“I’m going to step outside,” I said.

“Okay,” Crystal said.

“Sorry for… dropping this on you.  For dredging this up.”

“Okay,” Crystal said.

“Mark’s your father,” my mother said, to my back.  I paused, then headed through the kitchen.

I escaped to the balcony, opening the door.  I hadn’t removed my coat or boots, so I was going to be warm enough, for the most part.  Snow was almost knee deep, where it had piled against the sliding door.  It formed little hills atop the balcony railing.

It was so cold my nostrils instantly froze, the moisture in my eyes threatening to do the same.

I could see the distant portals from this high ground.  The weather patterns.  The sliver of heat on the horizon, where the sun was starting to rise and battle its way past the cloud cover of the snowstorm.

Verifying one piece of data gave evidence to the rest, and too many of the rest made my skin crawl.  My fingernails dug into my sleeves, but found the jacket and the bandages that were still there too impenetrable.

Fingernails.  Fingernail.  I pulled my hand back, and undid the bandage.  I looked at the fingernail with the black of gathered blood beneath it.

I gripped the railing with the one hand that had been partially degloved.  The hand with the fingernail that wasn’t supposed to be there, that marked a violation I had no clue about.

Digging my fingernails into the wood of the railing-top, I pressed down until pain stabbed its way across my hand, transformed in shape and intensity, redoubling, as I pressed down more and more, with the nail that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Until the nail cracked, broke, and tore at the bed.  I continued pressing down until the last of the nail gave, and my first knuckle scraped against ice-crusted wood, raw nail bed scraping against the flat of the wood, singing with pain.

There wasn’t any exhilaration in it.  No relief in the dopamine hit.  It hurt in the fucking worst way, to the point tears came to my eyes.

But I didn’t have that sign, that mark, that wrongness.

My entire body trembled.  Blood dripped from fingertip to white snow.

I floated up onto the railing, and I moved far enough away that all was clear.

Thank you for helping me back there, I thought.  I activated the Wretch.

The snow blew around me, gathering on the Wretch’s surface.  Tracing outlines, forming a shape.

I could hear my mom talking to Crystal with a raised voice inside, muffled by the intervening door.

The Wretch didn’t grasp, writhe, or swing blindly.  The faces it wore weren’t contorted or angry.

I lifted my hand, and it moved nearby limbs.  I turned my hand over, and it mimed me.

My hand trembled.  The Wretch’s invisible hand was as steady as a rock.

Time to face the day, I thought.  At least you’re with me.

It’s going to be a rough one.

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103 thoughts on “Sundown – 17.1”

  1. Well that arc title isn’t ominous at all.

    Victoria being in tune with her shard is definitely a good sign. We’ve never seen that go badly, ever. “In tune with her shard” totally isn’t the same thing as “going to be subsumed by her shard.” The part where she’s less than 70% sure of her own identity is probably not at all important.

  2. **…That’s not fair, I thought.**

    Ah, Victoria, you say that so often. I wonder what your basis for comparison is.

  3. Rough typo thread:
    “that thing were I’m only”

    “that’s worry borne of love.”
    -e (borne is for non-birth-related meanings, iirc, like carried diseases)

    1. > That warrior monk, wretch, scholar, and everything else needed to fold into that.

      Not sure if de-capitalization of usually capitalized Warrior Monk, Wretch, and Scholar is intentional here.

      > ‘Counts for something. More than you might realize, considering some of the ongoing concerns.’

      There are too many spaces before this sentence.

      > I gripped her arm and I focused on that grip, looking down at my hand at her arm and my hand.

      Scratch one “my hand” from this sentence?

      > the dauntless titan

      Maybe “Dauntless titan”, or “Dauntless Titan”?

      > looked like Endbringers, but Endbringer

      There are too many spaces after the comma.

      > “Twenty-one years ago, they…”

      Same problem as in chapter 16.12 – if you add nine months of Carol’s pregnancy to Victoria’s current age, you can’t get less than twenty two years.

      1. Regarding de-capitalization of warrior monk, scholar and the wretch, there is a similar situation in chapter 14.9:

        I’d betrayed every aspect of myself, from that vulnerable side of myself to the scholar to the warrior monk and the wretch.

      1. Maybe between being separated from her team and feeling betrayed by her own mother on one hand, and being helped by the avatar o her own agent, Victoria feels that that agent is the only “person” who will always be there for her, who have her back?

        > I could imagine Kenzie wanting this. Someone who was there to talk to when she wanted someone.

        I imagine that for her it would mean a lot to have a similar connection to her agent – to have someone she could communicate with, and who would never leave her, no matter what she did. Even if that someone is an alien intelligence attached to her brain.

  4. -Defiant behaves like a very pissed father who was worried for his children’ safety and the safety of other people that they could hurt right after they returned from their usual mischief :).

    -Thanks God that nobody else died except for Teacher (hopefully he died) and everything was just Defiant’s little mind game.

    -Aww for Kenzie having her tech taken away from her. No worries, sweetie, you can build cooler stuff in the future. I’m sure you’ll never stop tinkering no matter what the “bad” grows up are telling you.

    -Yes for Lisa and Victoria being forced to work together.

    -NOOOOOOOOOOOO for Vic starting to mutilate herself :(. Hope is the first and last time when we see her doing that.

    -Either Carol doesn’t remember who Vic’s father is or she doesn’t want to tell her the sad truth :(.

  5. Jesus christ, when I saw the ‘they’re all dead’ thing I was absolutely horrified. I could, if nothing else, imagine that just cracking Victoria completely. Finding out it was just a test was such a massive relief.

  6. This chapter is somewhat reassuring.
    D&D’s lie detector thing seems to indicate that Wretchie also wants to save the city, or do good following Victoria’s general guideline. Ok, mildy violent good, but good still.
    Way better than simply abusing her host into whatever conflict will bear the best fruit before discarding her once her usefulness is over.

    I wish more shards would mutate like that and mesh better with humanity to start a new, more constructive kind of interaction. Well, one can dream.

  7. This was an emotional ride start to finish, and with several neat payoffs to boot!

    Lisa and Victoria may play super-detectives together again (give them Ratcatcher as a sidekick and we’re golden), Kenzie is gonna get cape caretakers (like that won’t backfire horribly yet again), and Waste apparently recalibrated the Wretch at least to obey Victoria.

    Things are gonna only get more interesting from now on.

  8. To be fair (heh) her sense of fairness has to be all kinds of destroyed. Jailed, everything that happened at jail, everything after that and before too.

  9. 1. Old good Armsmaster and his idea that the best way to make people cooperate with him is to first terrorize them, and then make them choose between a couple sets of horrible consequences. At least this time things didn’t escalate like when he was too dumb to back off and look for some sort of a compromise when he saw a teenager who said she would rather go to the Birdcage rather than unmask to Shadow Stalker.

    2. Unless Dragon can perfectly impersonate Kenzie, or Lookout gets her tech back soon I think that Chris (and possibly other people she’s been sending updates to) will know that something has happened to her soon. Not getting dozens of messages a day when you are on her “list of people to send updates about her life to” is an immediate warning flag.

    3. I wonder if Damsel decided to not take Defiant’s offer of cooperation because she still wants to play a villain who doesn’t want to cooperate with heroes on principle (at least unless there is something concrete in it for her), or because she realized that the whole group that went to dreamscape with her could use someone who can act without being constantly under Wardens’ supervision.

    3. I wonder if

    1. Or maybe Damsel can’t forget and forgive that Defiant killed her and she can’t work with her killer.

    2. Or maybe Damsel can’t forget and forgive that Defiant killed her and she can’t work with her killer.

  10. Shit, that increases chances that Jessica has really killed Bonesaw…

    @Seph (from 16.11)
    > Bonesaw, hm. Wasn’t it mentioned that she had been working on Valkyrie’s capes at some point after the portal incident?
    What if she is IN The Flock?..

    1. You can strangle someone without killing them. I refuse to believe she is dead until I see a body. Though wildbow keeps killing important characters offscreen in the most anticlimatic way possible, so there is that

  11. Since the disaster in the city is supposed to happen on the day this chapter takes place, do you think the title of this arc suggests that it will take place around sunset?

    1. I suspect it’s both an indicator of the time AND metaphorical. It’s indicated that Sunrise has only just started at the end so I suspect it’s an interesting day ahead that doesn’t involve Breakthrough simply sitting in their assigned detention. Whatever consequences they were likely to face from their actions are likely to be forgotten in whatever is coming up.

      We’re just kind of stuck with the question of exactly what will happen. Teacher was preparing to control it but is apparently out of the running. The Wardens apparently have less idea than Breakthrough although they have capes like Valkyrie who might be better.

      Amy and Chris are preparing what is supposed to be a backup plan but I suspect will be implemented in the guts of this mess (because Chris certainly wants whatever he’s doing to happen)… Maybe still something to do with adapting humanity to space as he suggested once?

      No idea what Mortari are doing but Contessa’s working with them. Dragon is probably just analysing or I think we would have heard more… And no-one is thinking about the Simurgh chatting up an interdimensional titan.

      1. Well, of course I expect the title of this arc to have more than one meaning. It is pretty much standard situation for arc titles in Ward. One more thing that this title reminds me of is the concept of “crimson city skyline” that has been foreshadowed in various places in Ward, and which I associate with the disaster that is about to come. Considering that sun, sky around it, and everything it illuminates directly often appear red around sunset I think choosing Sundown as the arc title may be another hint that yes – it is the foreshadowed “crimson” disaster that is about to happen.

        Even though literal red sunsets are more of the summer season than a winter season thing.

    1. Well… He did successfully pickup Taylor from the Brockton Protectorate HQ… Despite her nearly sending him off a building in the process, but he essentially won.

      1. He also technically was involved in making Taylor surrender to the PRT, though I doubt that he would like to claim credit for this particular “victory”…

  12. So… Victoria felt so uncomfortable with her new fingernail to inflict a painful injury on herself just to remove it. Even if only the nail was reminding her of what Amy did, I would be concerned for her mental health (it is understandable why sh did it, but still not healthy). However considering that Victoria is dwelling on the fact that current body is a construct made by Amy from bugs, dogs and cats, I really worry that she may harm herself much further than that. Perhaps this is even a big part of why she’s been getting all these injuries throughout Ward? Maybe she subconsciously wanted the body she hates so much to be harmed all this time?

    On the other hand remember that at some point in Ward Victoria mentioned that Amy took her heart and body (and from Victoria’s perspective at some level both are still “tainted” by Amy), and Khepri took her mind (and since Victoria put herself under master-stranger protocol after meeting Amy in prison, she probably feels that her mind may be equally “tainted” by Amy right now). So if Victoria feels that her heart, her body and her mind aren’t really “hers”, then what part of her is? Maybe she feels that the closest thing to the answer to this question is “her passenger”, and this feeling is a big part of the reason why her connection to her shard got so strong?

    1. Excellent thought. Actually Victoria’s anguish about the uncertainty of Mark being her father makes sense in the context that it’s another small loss of self if she can’t confidently identify as Mark’s daughter.

      Its funny but I never realised that this “self” crisis is somewhat of a similarity nearly all of breakthrough feel as well.

      Swansong was one of many clones of the original Ashley, cobbled together by Bonesaw and holding memories that weren’t her own.
      Tristan and Byron both loose a part of their lives to each other and struggle with people talking past them to the other.
      Rain had his cluster token influences and the influence of the Fallen through his life.
      Kenzie struggles with the impact of her parent’s abuse on her psyche and her shard’s
      Sveta struggles with her entire body taken by Cauldron and her shard.

      Heck, even the whole of Heartbroken go on about reclaiming everything their father took from them.

      1. Victoria’s identity crisis also seems to be connected to the fact that she couldn’t say that her name is Victoria Dallon with 100% confidence. Add to it Victoria’s introspection from this chapter about how “Victoria”, Glory Girl, Antares, warrior monk, scholar, and the wretch were reflected in the shards… Perhaps this line of thought will eventually prompt Vicky to start looking for a new “label” that would describe both her and her agent together. A label that her shard wanted to have all the way back in the interlude 12.all?

  13. I like Defiant and Dragon using the fake deaths to test Victoria’s convictions and sense of justice.

    Essentially they’re worried they have another Taylor on their hands, thinking the ends justify the means or willing to sacrifice thousands for the win. So they throw the idea that her actions had the consequence of killing thousands to see if she stands by her actions. Unfortunately she doesn’t believe them so they can’t accurately judge.

    But I’m as scared as they are about just how amazingly in tune with her Shard she is, particularly at the end of this segment. Taylor went down a similar path with her own Shard atunement. The one possible positive I see is that Victoria’s shard is young, so possibly not influenced by previous cycle’s hosts and only by her.

    1. They are probably not only scared of Victoria’s strong connection with her shard, but also very concerned for her. Remember that they (especially Dragon) are probably some of the capes who cared for Taylor and what happened to her at the end of Worm undoubtedly very strongly affected them emotionally. Weaver was a bit like a daughter to them after all.

      They probably worry that Victoria may be heading to equally painful, tragic end.

  14. I have to say, I loved seeing Defiant in full-blown dad-mode here.
    The kids done wrecked the barriers between reality and the cosmic abyss.
    He’s not so much angry as disappointed.

  15. More Typos

    him, only (extra space)
    we can get through last night > we could get through last night
    “Decided?” He asked. > “Decided?” he asked.
    mother of the morning hours (should this be “in”)
    dauntless titan (previous instances are capitalised)
    I shook my head, fierce, > I shook my head, fierce.
    more more thing > “more and more things” or “one more thing”
    mothers cheeks > mother’s cheeks
    “Victoria,” Crystal’s > “Victoria.” Crystal’s

  16. Couldn’t get this to thread nicely in the typo thread.

    “We can’t have more more thing hanging over our heads.”

    “… have one more thing…” is what I believe WB was going for.

  17. Wait, so Chris is getting updates from Kenzie. Well, he *was*. Then all her tech gets stolen and Kenzie is placed with “guardians”. Why, that seems like they have kidnapped and imprisoned her against her will! I’m now imagining a scene were Chris sends Endvalier to rescue Kenzie and Kenzie needs to convince him she’s fine and her new parents are great.

    1. Initially I thought it was just Kenzie and Rain put with Guardians, but After Crystal had to confirm Antares’ arrival I realised it was “guardians” for all of them.

      Essentially they’re all under a mild house arrest with people the Wardens trust watching them. Despite being Cousins they obviously trust Crystal enough and it’s an indication they’re not overly concerned, at least about Antares… Seems obvious to send Kenzie with Natalie but considering she’s more likely to act out, it wouldn’t surprise me if they put her with a trusted tinker, maybe Defiant or Dragon themselves if they’re not too busy… Actually if Dragon is in the running for controlling the end of the world she might well bring Kenzie over just to help with that and keep her occupied and monitored.

      1. I think that you may underestimate just how much Wardens trust Crystal to be a good “guardian” for Victoria. Remember that in this situation the main worry Wardens may have about Victoria is that she will be influenced by her shard too much. After Crystal didn’t hesitate to call Valkyrie on doing morally dubious things in interlude 9.i, the Wardens may think that Crystal is actually one of the best people for this job.

        By the way, I think that Valkyrie may be a key person in the process of determining if Victoria is still fit to remain free or do any sort of hero work. After all Ciara is probably the best example of a cape who went too far in the direction Victoria seems to be going to, and who managed to only partially came back. Will Victoria also reach the point where she will no longer think she may ever be human, and will struggle to at least remain “parahuman”?

        Who knows? Maybe Valkyrie will even end up as something akin to Victoria’s mentor? A person who will advice Vicky on how to live (and stay sane) with a strong connection to her shard?

        1. By the way, if Valkyrie will end up giving advice to Victoria, I wonder what this advice will be. Will she help Victoria and scare the reader at the same time by telling Vicky to “find herself an anchor“?

          1. Also – will Valkyrie think that Victoria has gone far enough to attend a meeting of the recovering powerholics – Ciara, Riley, and Jamie? I imagine that the experience may be horrifying to Victoria, at least at first, but in the longer run maybe it could not only help Victoria stay sane (or recover from outright insanity if it comes to that), but also give Vicky a new perspective on what is going on in minds of people like Teacher, Chris, and especially Amy.

          2. Possibly. Maybe we can imagine that over a cape’s lifetime their agent gradually takes over more and more of them, but in most cases is so small and gradual that the difference between their beginning and end state isn’t all that noticeable. As Val pointed out to Taylor, she had gained power but lost a portion of herself. Always the case but more pronounced in her case. Supposedly it was somewhat the same with Teacher. He was Maybe inspired by Taylor and became more his shard than himself by following her example, for power.

            Possibly Amy’s manipulations have had a similar impact on Victoria without her knowing. So effectively what Victoria’s been doing for some time is trying to keep a grasp on her self and find reliable anchors.

  18. Also: wrt carol-
    One of the disturbing things here is that by the sounds of it she never actually CHECKED Victoria’s parentage. She asserts that Mark is the father, but there’s no indication that she actually CHECKED…. by the sounds of it Carol just freaked out and gave Amy the cold shoulder when she got her powers…. and then when Amy didn’t directly bring anything up, Carol just convinced herself that everything was fine and Mark was the father.

    … because clearly Amy is exactly the sort of person to proactively bring this sort of detail up with her adoptive mother who clearly loves her and would never browbeat her into keeping quiet.

    1. > Carol just convinced herself that everything was fine and Mark was the father.

      Apparently Carol hasn’t convinced herself enough to trust herself to tell it straight to Victoria’s face. She could do it to only to Victoria’s back. Must have been hard for Carol to keep this secret for all these years, especially knowing that Amy may reveal the ugly truth at any moment. I guess that this may be one more reason why Carol treated her adopted daughter so poorly.

      1. …and the fact that Carol didn’t ask Amy and swear her into secrecy, makes me think that she feared knowing the truth herself at least as much as she feared that other people will learn about it.

    2. > One of the disturbing things here is that by the sounds of it she never actually CHECKED Victoria’s parentage.
      Somehow I feels that Mark knows about Carol’s affair and checked. Founds out that he is the father and didn’t say to anyone.

  19. Doesn’t it feel that Crystal is a better person than Victoria? At least in this chapter? Compare Victoria, who wasn’t merciful enough to not bring up the matter of her parenthood with two of the people who would be most hurt by discussing it, with Crystal, whose reaction to learning that her father cheated on her mother with her aunt was a concern that Carol may be unable to handle that conversation in her present state mixed with unsaid apology to Victoria for trying to stop that conversation before Carol gave Vicky her answer.

    Just how big is Crystal’s heart? How capable of selfless, unconditional love?

    1. Hard to say, but all her family are dead. Victoria, Carol, Mark and maybe even Amy are all she has left living (unless someone told her about Val’s flock).

      To be fair on Victoria, she was trying to drop it but Carol pursued and Victoria’s own wits and barriers were worn paper thin and then she’s called cowardly. Its a shitty thing but at the same time, maybe Carol is also right and it’s best this was brought out rather than left to fester like Amy’s infatuation.

      There are raised voiced in the room behind her so Crystal and Carol might be arguing.

    2. @Alfaryn @charlesw81
      > Just how big is Crystal’s heart?
      “I could hear my mom talking to Crystal with a raised voice inside, muffled by the intervening door”
      IMHO raised voiced is not indicator of big heart.
      May be it was Carol who first said something ugly to Crystal, but I was quite surprised that Crystal somehow get in raised conversation after all she said earlier…

  20. So, Victoria breaking off her fingernail is kinda squicky, but less than a lot of stuff in this story, and far less than *leaving it on*

    Sundown. Iiiiinteresting arc name.
    Great chapter, with a lot more going on than just “start of arc setup” 😀

    1. Just imagine how Amy will feel when she not only sees that the nail i gone, but also learns how exactly Victoria got rid of it.

      1. Amy’s reaction will be: BLAME Victoria for rejecting her gift and telling herself that she’s a good person and everything she did to Victoria in prison was for her own good. Victoria is the bad one for destroying her work at her hand.

        1. Maybe. But maybe seeing Victoria as she is now will serve as Amy’s wake up call. Remember that she is probably already shaken by what Victoria told her in prison, and the fact that she is still unable to “fix” Hunter like she promised. The fact that she reaches to weak rationalizations like “the people who surround me are even less sane than I am” (more than once in the “now” parts of the last two interludes, which happened over just a couple of hours) seems to indicate that she is reaching a breaking point of some sort. Amy may have still said “Fuck reality” in the last interlude, but even this statement implies not only intent to do so, but also admission that she has lost touch with reality, which is obviously a necessary step towards acceptance of how far she has fallen – which in turn is the first necessary step towards recovery.

          1. Are you still willing to give her another chance? Because I’m kind of tired to hope that she’ll ever open her eyes and see the reality around her how it is instead of how she believes it is. She’s like a lost person with a lost mind and a lost soul without any possibility to find herself no matter how hard she tries. Another problem is that she doesn’t even try hard enough. Maybe, if she’ll get rid of Victoria’s cells and refuse to clone her will be a starting point but until then…she’s more like a wreck of a person rather than a person.

            1. Am I willing to give Amy a second chance? Sure, I don’t think there is much point in asking me about it. From my perspective she is just a fictional character who hasn’t, and never could harm either me or any other real person, so if I said that I “give her a second chance” it would be just a meaningless gesture.

              In my opinion the real questions should be “Should the characters like Victoria give Amy a second chance?”, and “Will they?” It is actually more or less the angle I wanted to explore one of the in the threads in the previous interlude – a thread both you and grinvader responded to.

              In my opinion it may not be fair to ask Victoria to forgive Amy, but forgiveness doesn’t necessarily have to be about what is fair. Neither is being a hero for that matter. I think that Victoria should forgive Amy at some point – if not for Amy’s sake (though in my opinion it would be ideal), then at least for her own and her broken family’s. In my opinion every member of that family, not only Victoria and Amy, will keep suffering as long as the relationship between sisters (among others – this is obviously not the only severely strained relationship in this family) is repaired.

              Of course this doesn’t mean that Victoria should forgive Amy right now. In fact I think that Amy should first prove at least that she recognizes the extent of her guilt and regrets what she did, and make an honest attempt to not only make up for what she did, but also (perhaps this is even more important) to find a way to make sure that she will never do something like it again.

              I also think that eventually Victoria will forgive Amy. After all while she isn’t perfect, she is a hero in much more than just name, and at the moment I can hardly imagine a more heroic act Victoria could do than forgiving Amy for the sakes of every surviving Dallon, Pelham, Lavere (I assume Luis’ words from chapter 14.5 mean that Marquis at least uses that name right now), and I guess also uncle Mike.

            2. And yes – it will be very hard for Victoria to give Amy a second chance, and even harder to forgive, but nobody said that being a hero is supposed to be easy.

            3. I doubt that being a hero means that one can forgive anyone, even someone who raped and keep molesting them everytime when they feel like they have power over them. Heroes are not perfect, goody two shoes people or saints. They’re normal people, with flaws and different personalities and different lives. Victoria is a good person, but she’s not an idiot to forgive someone who hurt her so much, much more than any villain or crime lord ever did (not even Crawler’s acid hurt Victoria so much like what Amy did to her, I’m sure). Because, what Amy did to her isn’t only a physical wound but also a mental wound and mental wounds hurt more than any physical wounds (this and Amy was someone that Victoria trusted and loved; to be hurt by someone you trust and love is worse than anything else). The only way I can see Victoria ever forgiving Amy is if Amy will do something very helpful for her, like risking her life to protect her or if she’ll CHANGE, admit her crimes toward Victoria and convince her that she sincerely regret and she’ll never hurt Victoria again (as you said yourself). Even so, I still have my doubts that Victoria will forgive her but I agree that Amy should be the one doing the first steps, not Victoria. If she wants to have at least 10% chance at forgiveness, Amy should work HARD to change.
              My opinion is that Amy will not change and these sisters’ story will end into a tragedy. For both.

            4. “Hurt her, tell her never to think of me again, and send her on her way.

              Except I knew that was unfair, that it was barbaric when I didn’t want to be barbaric. She was… ill. I could hate her, but what she needed was to be removed from people she would hurt and treated with kindness.

              And that would absolutely, no-way-in-the-fuck be me.”

              I think the above by Victoria is probably on the mark and pretty fair. When Amy parted ways with Undersiders in Worm to “heal” Victoria, I think TT said it right:

              TT: “You fucked up. You crossed one of the lines that’s reserved for the real monsters. You know it, I know it.”

              “You think you’re the lowest of the low, that you’re scum. You despise yourself.”
              Amy couldn’t even mount a response.
              “You’re wrong. You’re not there. Not yet.”

              “Not yet?” Amy asked.
              “Not yet. You shouldn’t hate yourself for what you did in a moment of desperation. Hate yourself for what you do after. Hate yourself for your cowardice, your refusal to step up and help at this moment, right now, your refusal to participate in this world that you never even tried to understand. That’s a conscious call you’re making, and you know it’s the wrong one.”

              Tattletale went on. “You need to make the right calls, and you need to start now, because you’re approaching the point of no return. You start making amends, you start doing your part, and you undo what you did, and you do it ASAP, because if you don’t, you’re going to hit the hard ground at the bottom of that slippery slope.”
              “You need to fix her mind now. For you, not for her. Maybe she’ll forgive you at a later date, when she’s thinking clearly again,” Tattletale said. “Maybe then she can approach you, you two can start interacting again, you rebuild that trust over months or years, and you can finish healing her body when she gives you her permission.”

              I think Amy has well passed the point where Victoria can or should ever forgive her or be obliged in any way to contribute to her wellbeing. She’s conceded to somewhat understand her actions and bad reasoning but I think, after all she’s been through, she’s well within her right to refuse any engagement with Amy, let alone any help, and focus on her own mental needs.

              She can acknowledge that Amy is ill and needs to effectively be locked up in the Asylum where she isn’t a danger to others or herself (which she is at this point) and shown some steady kindness to guide her back onto the right path.

            5. Some thoughts about reasons why I think that while in my opinion Victoria should forgive Amy, she shouldn’t do it quickly.

              First reason is that if Amy doesn’t recognize that what she did was wrong, and doesn’t prove (especially to herself) that she can, and will change enough to never do something like this again (she may not necessarily be 100% certain of this – I doubt that she will ever be self-confident enough for that, but she must be seriously committed – one of her problems is that she keeps breaking her own rules after all). If Victoria forgives Amy before it happens, I’m afraid that she will only encourage Amy to do something similar to what she was forgiven for once again.

              The second reason has to do with why I think Victoria should forgive Amy for her own sake. I believe that doing so could be very cathartic for Victoria, and could help her overcome her trauma, but only if Victoria’s forgiveness is completely sincere. She must mean it, and she must be certain she means it. In her current state of mind Victoria simply can’t sincerely forgive her sister, so in my opinion she should wait until she can.

              The third reason also has to do with sincerity of Victoria’s forgiveness. If Victoria forgives Amy, Amy needs to believe that Victoria truly means it – otherwise instead on helping Amy, Victoria is likely to hurt Amy even more, and possibly make her do something rash, and dangerous either to herself, or her surroundings. And between the fact that sisters know each other so well, and the fact that Amy has such issues with self-confidence, I believe that she will expect and be very likely to pick up on any insincerity or deception on Victoria’s part. Vicky may be able to get away with lying to Amy about many things, but I think that in this case the risk of doing so may be too great.

              All of this makes me think that at first Victoria should simply let Amy know that she is willing to give her a second chance, and wait to forgive Amy until she is 100% certain she means it.

            6. One more reason for Victoria to forgive Amy – if Victoria can’t do it, I don’t think she will ever be able to forgive herself for what she did – from her brutality as Glory Girl to killing people as Antares. And while it is admirable that Victoria doesn’t want to “take the easy way out” as she put it in Glow-worm 0.9, I don’t believe she will be able to carry the full, ever increasing burden of her guilt forever. It is just not healthy to do it for too long – possibly just as unhealthy as what Amy did by hiding in her world of self-delusion.

              In fact I think that if Victoria’s burden eventually becomes too heavy for her to deal with, she may eventually end up in a mental state very similar to Amy’s.

            7. And let’s face it – with how strong Victoria’s connection to her shard has gotten, all her past crimes may be trivial compared to the ones she is yet to commit.

            8. In fact Victoria just got the first warning that she may end up doing something really horrible – in the previous chapter she willingly took an action that to the best of her knowledge could end up killing thousands of people – based on a little more than a guidance of alien, poorly understood, but known to encourage conflict, intelligence connected to her brain, and some general guidelines about fighting villains she learned from her mother.

  21. I wonder if the Wardens will be stupid enough to keep Tattletale under house arrest for an extended period of time. Just imagine all “fun” that could happen if Undersiders were led for a few weeks by someone like Imp. And Imp is probably one of the better choices for the position…

    1. Well, I’ll be very ok with Imp being Undersiders’ leader for a while. She’s a fun, badass, smart and cool character, I have to say cooler than Tattletale. But I doubt that Tattletale and Breakthrough will be keep away from action for too long. The problems never stop exist for them and they’ll be back in the action in 2-3 chapters :).

  22. This chapter reminded me of Pact. Victoria experiences a corrosion of Self thanks to her recent inter dimensional foray. Long time fan and well written as usual <3

  23. Defiant using fake deaths as an interrogation technique immediately reminded me of Alexandria faking the deaths of Taylor’s friends. That didn’t work out so well for Alexandria.

    1. Contrast being indirectly responsible for Alexandria killing them, with Defiant showing a possible direct consequence of Victoria’s actions.

      1. Yes, but Taylor almost declared war on PRT and put so many lives in danger with her decision to blackmail them and force them to accept her conditions while Vic saved probably millions of people who could have died as direct consequence of Teacher’s actions.
        Alexandria was a bully, but she was more right in her actions toward Taylor than Defiant.

  24. The reason why Amy has a problem with healing Hunter is (aside from the fact that Hunter reminds Amy about Victoria so much) that Hunter’s shard managed to get too. much foothold in Hunter’s mind. What do you think are the chances that the same thing will end up happening to Victoria, and Amy will face a task of having to weaken the connection between Victoria and her shard?

  25. Haha the AI was fooled because even though she has a perfectly accurate lie detector, she still can’t model Antares’s mental state. The reason Antares couldn’t confidently say “I am Victoria Dallon” is that she thought she might ought to say “I am Victoria Pelham”. She was glad to go along with Dragon’s assumptions…

    1. Or “I used to call myself Glory Girl, Antares, Scholar, Warrior Monk, and Wretch, but none of these names no longer fit me, to the point where I even de-capitalized the last three of them in this chapter, signifying that I don’t even think of them as namesanymore.”

      Either way Victoria most certainly is undergoing a major identity crisis. One that I’m afraid may cause her to assume the “label” that her shard “can also wear”, and by doing so further blur the line between host and the passenger – possibly granting her better power (as suggested in interlude 12.all), but at the cost of a piece of her sanity, if not humanity.

      1. …I wonder if Victoria could even confidently say “I’m Victoria” (without determining if she was Dallon or Pelham) at this point. All of these names (except Wretch in some contexts) were ultimately human names, and aside from the fact that she is unsure of her fatherhood, I think that Victoria may be reaching that point Ciara crossed years ago – the one beyond she simply couldn’t think of herself as human anymore.

  26. > One of the disturbing things here is that by the sounds of it she never actually CHECKED Victoria’s parentage.

    How is that disturbing? Neil wasn’t interested in trying to secure custody, and Carol wasn’t interested in trying to wrangle child-support out of him. Victoria was going to be raised as Mark’s daughter either way the chips fell, and it’s unlikely that Carol and Neil were going to say anything to Sarah and Mark. So unless they were worried about Neil passing on a genetic problem, the only real motive they had to test it would be to satisfy a painful bit of curiosity. Clearly they decided that the curiosity was less painful than the cost of a paternity test or the stress of knowing for sure that Mark wasn’t the dad. Seems fair to me; nothing disturbing about it.

    If Victoria decides she really wants to know who her bio-dad was, she could always ask Mark to send a sample for a test (if the Wardens or Kenzie don’t already have one on file) or get someone to test if she and Crystal are half-sisters rather than just cousins. She has not yet been deprived of the ability to ever know. At least, so long as they don’t all die in the immediate future. 😛

  27. @Pizzasgood

    I think for me the thing is…. less to do with whether Carol went and collected the information, and more to do with how she treats her lack of information.

    If you don’t know something, you don’t know. Going around SAYING “Mark is your father” when you literally don’t know, because you really really want that to be the case is… fucked up. Yes, I know that we are in a story with lots of self deluding characters, but that particular example stuck out at me. It’s less the not investigating that bothers me, but rather the not knowing and then claiming otherwise.

    Personally, I find dishonesty to be a special form of cowardice, so the whole situation seems fucked up, but in terms of me “This is disturbing” is just what it says about the level of double think going on here.

    1. There may be several factors at play. Before the brain damage issue, it could have involved genuine denial. Now, it can still be denial, compounded with memory loss. It’s usually hiding a deep vulnerability, and alternatives are just inconceivable. There’s less intent to deceive with that.
      Carol might have forever been unable to admit the truth to herself – and to others, as a mere side effect.

    1. The reply buttons stopped working on some browsers several weeks ago. I’m not sure why, except that some other changes that happened around the same time seem to suggest that some work was done at the site’s backend that managed to fix some problems with the site (like the fact that it was often impossible to access it for an hour or two after a new chapter was posted), but introduced the reply button bog.

      As far as I know the reply buttons still work on Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, and “pre-Quantum” Firefox (as well as some if its forks that do not contain some of the changes Quantum introduced.)

  28. > she willingly took an action that to the best of her knowledge could end up killing thousands of people – based on a little more than a guidance of alien, poorly understood, but known to encourage conflict, intelligence connected to her brain

    Yes. But the fact is that many other people, including the Wardens, do the very same thing on a regular basis – namely, they are vetting their plans, especially potentially dangerous ones, with thinkers. And another fact is that they don’t really have a better and more efficient way to approach problems, despite all the possible shortcomings of this one.

    On an unrelated note… I wonder if all this stuff with house arrests and permissions of Wardens (or lack thereof) will have precisely zero meaning because the whole merry company will gather in the dream room again on the next night no matter what, with no choice but to continue. Because their shards liked hanging out with each other.

    1. I would say that there is a difference between working with information filtered by a thinker who knows usual quirks and traps of their power, and can compensate for them (like Tattletale doesn’t act on a lot of information she gets, because she understands how dangerous and destructive doing so would be for everyone), and whose sanity, reliability, and intentions you can assess before committing to anything proposed by them (especially if you have enough time to think each individual piece of advice through, discuss it with people you can trust, make reasonably sure that your own ability to make rational decisions isn’t compromised somehow etc.) , and making a spur-of-the-moment decision based on what you may have every reason to suspect is an information coming directly from a shard that has never given you this sort of “advice” before today’s night, and may be altering your mental state stronger than ever.

      And even then there are thinkers people aren’t comfortable working with precisely because they know that their advice may be dangerous to take precisely because of how alien the intelligence behind it is (for example Contessa’s shard that by default gives her the most direct, efficient paths with absolutely no regard for such things like morality), or because of how dangerously insane the thinkers themselves are (for example Jack Slash’s power would probably be perfect at keeping mentally unstable capes in line, but who would be stupid enough to actually let him do it?)

      As for the house arrests, I think that, if enforced, they would still be meaningful, because they not only severely restrict the ability of arrested capes to act in the real world, and negatively impact both their and their friends’ morale (for example tinkers won’t be happy they can’t tinker, Undersiders and the Heartbroken won’t be happy that they are separated from Tattletale and Chicken Tenders).

      That said I also think there is a very good chance that the house arrests will not have too much long term impact, though for entirely different reason. I expect that as soon as the disaster in the city actually happens (and it is supposed to happen in less than twenty hours) the situation will change so dramatically that the Wardens will either no longer be able to afford to keep any Heartbreaksiders arrested anymore, or will come to a conclusion that the situation is so bad that Victoria was right to seek radical solution, and her group should not only be released, but actually encouraged to do what they were doing (making more trips to the dreamscape, synching with their shards etc.) with Wardens blessing. Alternatively if the Wardens insist on keeping Victoria’s group under arrest, someone else may rescue (or kidnap) them. In particular I wouldn’t put organizing something like that beyond either Dinah or Contessa.

  29. Am I the only one thinking the Wardens were wrong here?

    Teacher was known to be ending the world today and Breakthrough came up with a plan to stop him.

    The Wardens didn’t like said plan, but had no other option. So they get pissy when Breakthrough ignores them and LITTERALLY SAVES THE WORLD. Now the Wardens punish them for it?

    What gives the Wardens the right to punish Breakthrough and their allies? The Wardens have admitted Teacher was a world ending threat and that they couldn’t stop him. Victoria just stopped him in a way that could have caused a few thousand deaths, (but didn’t) in order to stop him causing MILLIONS of deaths. Even if all his thralls died and Viccy knew they would ahead of time, they should be throwing a parrade in her honour for, (and I can’t stress this enough) stopping the end of the world.

    1. Wardens have lots of information and concerns Breakthrough did not.
      Defiant was pretty clear in 16.1 in forbidding Breakthrough’s idea to go to Shard’s space. I wouldn’t call it “direct order”, but he said 1) “No” 2) “We’re maneuvering to deal with [Teacher]” 3)”This is something we could reserve for emergencies”.
      Breakthrough did not comply and so the consequences.

      These are the rules of ordered organization – you follow orders or being punished, no matter if you did the good thing (unless you can prove that order was wrong in the first place). You just will not be punished for bad results, only for disobedience.
      While all this “easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” and “success is never blamed” are just first step on the road to “end justifies the means” or anarchy.

      > What gives the Wardens the right to punish Breakthrough and their allies?
      Breakthrough themselves – by choosing punishment over isolation.

  30. Teacher was known to be ending the world today and Breakthrough came up with a plan to stop him.

    The Wardens didn’t like said plan, but had no other option. So they get pissy when Breakthrough ignores them and LITTERALLY SAVES THE WORLD. Now the Wardens punish them for it?

    Teacher wasn’t known to be ending the world today. The world was known to be ending today, and Teacher was known to be trying to exploit and steer that ending. Breakthrough stopped Teacher from steering and rescued thousands of thralls, but they did not save the world. As far as we know, the ice is still going to break, and it’s even possible that it’s going to break more violently without Teacher there to steer the process.

    Also, note that we don’t know what the Wardens have been up to; your claim that they had no other option is unsupported. Maybe they had their own much safer invasion plan scheduled for just a couple hours from now, and they hadn’t said anything yet because they didn’t want to alert the wrong people. Breakthrough’s actions might have been totally unnecessary, in which case they needlessly gambled with the lives of everybody still in the City because they didn’t bother to communicate and cooperate with the Wardens.

  31. Except the Wardens are NOT in a position of authority over Breakthrough and never were. Your ordered organization analysis breaks down when you realize the Wardens were, at best, allies of Breakthrough. Breakthrough has been acting on it’s own to defend the city while the Wardens have been elsewhere. When the Wardens finally came back to the city both Breakthrough and the Wardens were sending representatives to make key decisions like the parahumans being sent to the exile dimension.

    Now suddenly the Wardens are in charge and thier word is law? Since when?

    Even if the Wardens were in charge, Breakthrough can pretty easily prove that “order” was wrong in the first place as it was saying to use their plan as a last ditch after other things had been tried, but before Teacher finishes his plan… And we knew that was impossible because shard space was only available once per day to Breakthrough and Teacher was going to end the world before thier next window. So Breakthrough did delay till the last possible opportunity.

  32. ““Or, you know, we could respect that Victoria’s not ready to talk about it,” Crystal said.

    “That seems like the cowardly way out,” my mother said.

    “Cowardly?” I asked. I was ready to lash out, to say something, to retort. Not least because it felt it was my mom who was saying something she had been keeping inside for the last few years. Filters down, defenses down, the brain injury bringing things to the surface, without the poised, perfect, perfectly made-up Carol Dallon crafting every response.

    Like she was calling the me that had struggled during and since the hospital a coward.”

    – Or, you know, calling herself a coward. Not everything is about you, Victoria.

    – Good catch Lulu re: Defiant being the one who killed the original Damsel of Distress. Figures that the Ashley who embraces that part of her history might have some hang-ups about hanging out with him.

  33. @Moginheden

    My word is not law and I have no authority to force a friend to quit drinking and attend a support group when their risky behavior makes me concerned for the safety of myself and others. However, I do have the right to inform them that my continued support and friendship is contingent on them complying with my demands. If they refuse to change their behavior, I can cut them out of my life.

    The Wardens aren’t in a position of authority over Breakthrough, so they couldn’t force Breakthrough to accept punishment. Instead, they informed Breakthrough that they found their recent behavior unacceptable and that they would not be willing to continue working with them unless they consented to consequences. If Breakthrough had declined, Defiant would have glared at them sternly for a bit, then stomped off, and that would have been that. Breakthrough would have kept their tech and remained active, but they’d have no longer benefited from sharing the Wardens’ resources (and vice versa). Breakthrough decided they’d rather maintain their relationship with the Wardens even if it means enduring some temporary unpleasantness, so they agreed to Defiant’s terms.

    That’s what OverQuantum meant when he said that it was Breakthrough who gave the Wardens the right to punish them.

  34. When Ward started we didn’t know the protagonist name until she addressed the patrol.

    Even in the next few chapters we were still doubting if it was really her or an impersonator. Some even suggested that it could be Amy.

    And maybe it’s just because of her surname, but now she can’t identify with the name Victoria Dallon anymore.

    I find that extremely unsettling/interesting.

    That said…

    Her pinky is badass enough to do without a fingernail.

  35. ARMSMASTER would have a lot more credibility if he, in the past,
    had not knowingly, willingly (and for pathetically selfish reasons) endangered humanity as a whole by sabotaging the Endbringer truce.
    it doesn’t matter how much he regrets it, how much time has passed, or how much he changed-
    he lost the -right- to accuse someone of playing moral calculus with the lives of thousands that day with ANY kind of moral outrage,
    and i think he could use a slap-to-the-face-strength reminder….

  36. @Gantradies

    Someone could also make the arguement that he is EMMINENTLY QUALIFIED to have such a discussion, having made precisely this mistake himself in the past, and see the consequences.

  37. This Wretch is getting close to become something like Aasdier, a sentient projection with powers and a mind of its own.

    Perhaps even an Endbringer, with more visits to shardspace. It surely has the necessary terror shape already.

    Now, all this would be awesome, if the Master was a rational person, well-adjusted and guided by logic and reason. But this is Worm, so you know what’s coming. Two bullets to the back of her head.

    1. Apropos two bullets to the head. Do you remember that in Battery’s interlude Doctor Mother explained that ““We try to avoid murder in the course of doing business, not just because of the moral issues, but because it draws attention. For leaks, our usual procedure is to discredit the individual in question and deploy our in-house division of parahumans to drive them into hiding, remove their powers or both”?

      Let’s assume that the Doctor was telling the truth. This would imply not only that far more people than Skitter were de-powered by Cauldron, but also that some of these capes were not driven into hiding after that. Yet as far as I remember we’ve never heard about even a single a case of a cape publicly known to be de-powered. Why is that? Have these de-powered people been not as much driven into hiding hidden, as just hidden by Cauldron somewhere. Could it be done on Bet? Or maybe all of them were moved to other Earths after their powers were removed, just like Taylor was? Who knows? Maybe Aleph is actually full of people whose powers were removed, and Taylor is just another one of them? Maybe even the fact that some people triggered with weak powers on Aleph before GM had less to do with Professor Haywire’s portal, and more with the fact that some “former” capes were dumped there?

  38. > Yet as far as I remember we’ve never heard about even a single a case of a cape publicly known to be de-powered.

    The de-powering-only approach was mainly used with relatively unknown capes. If some random guy you’ve never heard of starts ranting about how he bought powers from a mysterious organization, but then he fails to demonstrate that he has any powers, people are going to assume he’s just lying, not that he’s been de-powered. Even if he did demonstrate powers briefly before Cauldron intervened, that can be dismissed as a hoax by way of doctored video, props, slight of hand, or a scavenged tinker device that stopped working.

  39. > The de-powering-only approach was mainly used

    Whoops. I accidentally edited out the “I suspect that” from the beginning of that sentence. I’m suggesting a theory, not stating facts!

    1. I think that a lot depends on how often Cauldron used this particular method. If they de-powered something like one relatively unknown cape per year, and left them on Bet, keeping it secret shouldn’t be a problem. If they did it with thousands – probably even Contessa wouldn’t be able to keep this fact a secret for long – after all even her power had its limits (like susceptibility to actions of her blind spots), and she probably couldn’t handle too many tasks at once. For example if Alexandria’s plan to break Taylor in arc 22 of Worm was vetted by Contessa, I seriously doubt that it would end the way it did – and since Alexandria was probably trying to actually recruit Taylor for Cauldron, it was likely one of the more important Cauldron operations at the time. Other methods of preventing leaks of Cauldron’s ability to remove powers they could use without physically removing these people from Bet – like influencing the media – were probably even more prone to failure.

      Another proof of Cauldron’s inability to perfectly contain leaks like this is that the existence of Cauldron itself or the vials was known to many people who weren’t supposed to learn it long before GM – Merchants, Undersiders, Travelers, Faultline’s crew, and after Echidna incident – many more people than that. Similar story with Cauldron’s connection to C53s.

      All of this makes me think that de-powering people and leaving them on Bet must have been done very rarely, or not at all – either because Cauldron very rarely used removal of powers as their method of containing leaks, or because they always (or almost always) moved people whose powers were removed to other worlds.

  40. I love how Kenzie was just asking questions like a kid would, only later to realize how legitimate and OP she actually was in asking them.

  41. De-powering is and was used all the time, if not in a rational or organized manner.

    Remember Citrine who can depower any parahuman? Sure, that cape dies, but it dies because it loses the powers.

    Or Deva Yaga, the Bratva Trump. She can edit powers, including turning them off.

    Various cluster cases draining from one another?
    Eidolon draining shards to recharge? Glaistig too…

    Various Mastery or Stranger powers used to block a parahuman access to their powers? Like the Cauldron Slug or perhaps Mantellum.

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