Interlude 17.z (Sundown)

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It looked like lightning striking in slow motion, but it was black with distortions here and there around the edges; blurring, fisheye, telescoping and hyperclarity.  When this lightning struck, it remained where it was.

Where enough different strikes intersected enough times, that which lay within broke away, falling back to reveal something else on the other side.  The Cheit portal was the biggest case of it.  The border between Gimel and Cheit broke away, and as it did, buildings from that other Earth were revealed, intersecting with facets and slices of Gimel.  Some small, some vast.

The merging saw buildings collapsing, or shedding one wall out of four.

The camera toppled backward, providing a partial view of the single parahuman at the epicenter of it, only partially in frame.  It was apparent she was taller than the buildings around her.  Some of those buildings were five stories tall, at least.  What was visible looked like sheets of black crystal and rolling carpets of fine grey-green smoke that looked soft from a distance, but revealed themselves for what they were near the base, near the camera, as they broke apart into clouds and curling wisps.

Head not in picture, but she did twist slowly, hips rotating, upper body rotating more, as she took in her environment.  Her silhouette was only barely human now.

Near the portal, at the worst of it, more was falling away.  Gimel revealed Cheit, Cheit revealed Gimel, and when both fell away, there was a landscape of black crystal that seemed to connect to this new titan.

She moved a limb, a heavy ‘hand’ that gave off smoke constantly.  Smoke that had been lazily curling around her moved suddenly, solidifying into a solid form like the face of a nearby building that was suffering some of that black-lightning cracking, green-gray in color.  Shoring it up?

The building came down violently.  The solid gas exploded out into a rolling wall of the stuff, which consumed the camera’s view.

Or had she been intentionally tearing it down?

Visual snow and static slowly overtook the camera’s field of view, glass cracked, and then the feed went black.

The screen shifted to footage from a distant camera, showing cracks spreading.  Those cracks produced more smoke, but this was only debris from roads collapsing, buildings toppling, as those black-lightning cracks extended for miles.  The silhouette of the smoke-titan was visible at the epicenter.  She was walking, head bent.

Eric, like many others, was all tension as he watched.  He leaned forward and gripped the table’s edge, having stood from his seat.

“How many people are still in the city?” he asked.

“Thousands.  Tens of thousands,” Citrine said, from the end of the table.

Which was a far cry from tens or hundreds of millions.

“Do we have word from the leadership?” he asked.

“Making calls, some incoming,” Pearce reported.  “The call center downstairs is handling it.”

The Wardens led from the front lines, because they had to.  The people who knew how heroes worked and how villains thought were the same types of people who wanted to be in the thick of things, helping.  Most of the time, it worked.  The appearance of Gimel and emergence of the city with all of its doorways to other worlds was a dozen diplomatic crises in one.  Add in the villains banding together, villains from other worlds who had been stranded here who needed to be broken up, and a massive population of vulnerable, displaced people, and the Wardens had their hands full.

They’d made it this far.  Two years.

The screens were switching constantly.  Searching as if to find one thing to lock onto that would turn this incident into a clear picture.

The main screens switched to each show half of an overhead view.  Satellite camera.  The epicenter of the attack, the clouds of smoke from the resulting destruction, and those cracks that spread out, like that from the tap of a hammer on a windowpane, except in three dimensions, not two.  A city in black and white, with a shadow of gold due to the prevalence of the solar windows reflecting tinted light down onto snow.

That shadow of gold was swiftly becoming ordinary shadow.  The smoke and dust was reaching high enough to cut off some of the light.

Abruptly, the damage began to spread at another point in the city.

“Overlay.  Bring up the overlay,” Eric said.  Belatedly, uselessly, he added, “Please.”

They brought up overlays.  First, the series of icons in bubbles that floated over the city, showing who was where.  Part of Larue’s team elsewhere in the facility was tracking capes by geolocation and affiliation.

At the center of that new manifestation of cracks and destruction, a purple bubble with a triangular point extended down.  The icon, a stylized woman in a fedora with tie, minimalist face, marked it as Contessa.  The purple served to label her as a special case.  The Red Queen and her group were other special cases.

“Do they have eyes on her?”

“No,” Larue said.  “Sending a flier in with a camera.”

The Wardens would need to know what was happening.

Cinereal’s icon in a white bubble with a point at one corner, a ‘6’ encased in the corner.  Six parahumans in her group.  There were other bubbles for Valkyrie and her flocks, Narwhal, for Stonewall, Miss Militia, Legend, and Topflight.  White for Wardens.

The PRTCJ were looped in with Wardens staff and Patrol.  Guarding the staff, setting up heroes, managing portals and setting up camps and waypoints that helped guide refugees out or served as points to defend in case of attack.  Their icons were surrounded by bubbles of light green.  The same numbers in the bottom right to indicate how many were in each group, but other icons at other corners to mark if they were adjacent to unpowered groups, and what groups those were.  Defense, situation management, comms, infrastructure.

Other hero teams got blue.  He noted each, wishing there was one that would provide an easy answer.  Foresight, the Shepherds, Breakthrough, Advance Guard, Solace, Rooftop Champs, Dream Parade, The Wayfarers, Auzure, Wizard Stars, Trueblue, Erring Right, Rowdyhawks, Sward, Virtuous Industries, Huntsmen, Girls at Bat, Shelter Skelter, Good Vandals, Twee, and then a half-dozen more who were too small for him to remember, or who were offscreen, trusted to handle things like helping out in Gimel’s Europe.

Six mercenary teams that the Wardens had elected to hire.  Yellow bubbles.  Three Librarians, Palanquin, Liquid Gold, Lickety Split, Trigger House, and Riina.

There were other mercenary groups the Wardens hadn’t hired, but they were marked down on the map as not bubbles, but icons within red ‘x’s.  There were a lot of red ‘x’s.  Villains.  Some of the ‘x’s had diamonds above, to the right, and even below.  The numbers of diamonds indicated priority and threat to the city.  When mercenaries were also notorious villains, they got treated like villains.

The villains matched the heroes in number, more or less.  Many were staying within or near the city.

The door opened, and Armstrong came in the door.  Eric straightened up.  Armstrong was part of the Warden’s parahuman science counsel.  This whole mess had to be more in his ballpark, didn’t it?

“Armstrong, sir.  Do you want to take charge?” Eric asked.  “This looks more like Parahuman Science than Command.  Cinereal left me as her proxy, but I don’t think she’d be upset if I passed the baton.”

“I will,” Armstrong said.  “Fill me in.”

“The Major Malfunctions and Towline, two minor teams, were at the main Cheit portal.  It looks like one of them second-triggered and had a broken trigger at the same time,” Eric reported.

“Fume Hood,” Antares said.  She leaned against the console nearest to the door, arms folded, head bent.  Her hair was bound into a loose braid, damp at the edges, and her face was framed with strands of hair that had gone wavy with the way they’d dried.  “She is- was a blaster, compressed gas spheres.”

He felt his pulse quicken, seeing and hearing her.  He kept it under control.  Wasn’t her fault, and getting into a mental mode or state where everything she said or did irritated him wouldn’t help any of them.  There were bigger things to focus on.

“We have another,” Larue said, arm extended to point at the screen.  “It seems to have cascaded, capturing Contessa, possibly altering her or using her as a vector.  Flier on the way with a camera.  It looks like the city is breaking down and caving in.”

“Civilians?” Armstrong asked.

“We’re guessing a few thousand, tens of thousands,” Eric said, turning to face the man.  “A lot of the stubborn types that wouldn’t leave.  Maybe some elderly without connections or people to ensure they evacuated.  Stragglers.”

“Let’s see about getting some heroes in there.  Start by contacting them.  See who’s up for it.  This is high-hazard.  In the meantime, let’s get all the information we can.  Cameras, and let’s talk to our thinkers.  This is thinker headache territory, so warn them.  Eric, would you reach out to them?”

“Yes sir,” Eric said.  He took a seat, opening up the laptop, and pressed his keycard to the corner to unlock it and log himself in.  He had an earbud and cord with a microphone attached in his pocket, and he plugged it in.

“What the hell is happening?” Armstrong asked, as he leaned over the end of the table, looking like the furthest thing from an interim leader of a hero organization.  A belly, a heavy brow, sharp chin, wrinkled forehead and receding hairline.  The lab coat was maybe the only thing about him that suited him.

“It’s Gimel’s apocalypse,” Antares said.  “Everything the agents were set up to do after Scion won or rounded up this cycle, they’re doing it now.  Cast aside the humans, accumulate raw power, then use that power to blow it all up and cast fragments of themselves in every direction.”

“We interrupted that,” Eric said.

“Technically we did,” Citrine said.

Fuck you, Eric thought.

Antares cut in, “Nobody interrupted anything.  We disrupted it.  They’re staggering forward instead of doing this in a clean way.  Processes conflict, they can’t organize, so they’ll just steal energy and materials from us, wiping us out, then destroy what’s left when they try and probably fail to make a coordinated exit.  We threw a wrench in the works, but the machine is still trudging forward, smoking and doing a lot of damage in the meantime.”

“Killed the conductor, but the train is still on its tracks?” Armstrong asked, sounding almost wry.  Wry tended to go alongside happy, though.  This felt more like gallows humor.

Tens of thousands dead, possibly.  Buildings falling.

“We have cameras on Contessa, I think,” Larue said.

She was growing, but not in a smooth way.  Rather, in staggered stages, parts of her lunged into being.  A black stone wolf’s head, three hands reaching up to grasp at one another’s wrists, winding and almost braiding together in their efforts.  Forking, another wolf’s head.  A curl of what could have been hair or horn writ in more black stone with traces of white.  More curlings and decorative growths.

Until there was a silhouette, a vaguely woman-shaped figure with head turned skyward, back arched and chest and stomach thrust up and out, ‘arms’ dangling.  She had no face, but instead a morass of that hair-like, horn-like curling of black stone, like a curtain of it was draped over her head.  Three large wolf heads framed her neck and helped form one of her shoulders.  Everything below was a jumble, images so layered and lost in one another that they were almost pure decoration.

The black-lightning cracks around her were intense, with more straight lines than the other disaster.

She didn’t move a muscle, if she even had muscles.  But she did open her eyes.  Amber eyes all up and down her body, some so small the chains of them looked like veins of gold, appearing in cracks and the centers of curls.  In tumbles of blacks tone hair and open mouths.  Everywhere but where a human silhouette should have eyes.  Each bright in the midst of smoke and snow, contrasted by the blackness of her.

“These might be the new conductors,” Antares said.  “Architects, maybe, because they’re building something.”

The screen showed a distant view of the others.  Kronos, turned to look to one side.  The fuming titan, now visible at her full height.  Maybe six or seven stories tall, small compared to the others, her head more like a cowl or hood of black crystal, no face visible beneath, with the gas leaking out resembling long hair left to drape out, tumbling down her front until it dissolved.

“We’ve got another appearing,” Larue said.

“Don’t say that,” Armstrong said.  Stress was clear on the man’s face.

“I’m sorry, sir.  One more in Gimel.”

“Cameras.  We need eyes on them.  Who are they?”

Who did we lose?  Eric thought.

He stole a glance back at Antares, but she was stone still, tense.

“Was it cool?” Vessel asked.

“It was… not uncool.  Guy in charge invited me over, told people to give me the royal treatment.  They had hired this punk band that night, teenage guys with dirt under their fingernails, shirtless with sixpacks, stubble on their chin.  Crazy hair.   Handed me a beer, y’know, me being a minor.  I said something lame like I couldn’t, and this guy who looked like he could rip someone’s head clear off their neck told me if I was willing to go to war, I could drink.  Then the band pulled me up on stage.”

“Fun,” Armiger said.

“It was.  When you’re a kid, you want nothing more than to be an adult.  I felt adult.  They took me to the head of the boss, he asked me what I wanted to do.  Later he introduced me to other people.  They respected me, and I got into that whole mess because my parents couldn’t.  They were all, like, school, extracurriculars, curfew.  Every time I tried to do my own thing or build social networks, which are kind of important, they’d ground me.  I was a child to them and they made it one hundred percent clear they were going to treat me like a child.”

“Were they…?” Armiger asked, “Uh, nazis?”

“My parents?  They had beliefs,” Scribe said, offering an apologetic shrug.  “At the time, I felt like they kept all the bad parts while ignoring the good parts.”

“And now?” Vessel asked.  She looked nervous.  She tucked blue hair behind the portion of her mask that covered her ear.  “Sorry, nevermind.”

“It’s okay.  I’m willing to talk about it, it’s just… it’s not like I want to go stand in front of cameras or write some public letter saying how dumb I was as a kid.  We got an amnesty and that should count for something.”

“Sorry,” Vessel said.  “Shouldn’t have brought it up.  Pre-amnesty.”

“It’s okay!  Really!  To answer your question, do I still think there were good parts,” Scribe said, hunching forward a bit.  “Not going to lie.  You wouldn’t see anyone joining if there was nothing good about it.  But now?  I think there were way less than I thought then.  Community, some desire to see things improve, even if they weren’t entirely right about how.  I look anywhere else, I don’t see the same kind of drive or push that I remember from when I was in the Clans.  Later in the Empire.  So I want to keep that part of it.  Loyalty, strong ties, d- um, drive.”

“Yeah,” Vessel said.  She frowned a bit at the stutter.

Scribe had already been over a lot of this with Vessel and Accolade.  Accolade was off to one side, smoking off his nerves from their earlier, brief encounter with the Red Queen, mostly staying quiet.

Armiger was the latest member of their group.  She hadn’t had any late night patrols or hangouts with just him, so she hadn’t gone into it much.

“And the… other stuff?” Armiger asked.

“Fuck that stuff,” Scribe said.  “Right now?  Our priority is saving the city. W-we need to, um.  Save people.  What I always believed was that we needed someone strong in charge, in a fucked up world with Endbringers and… giant p-p-… childbirth abominations.  Strong leadership, firm hand on the rudder, focus, some good soldiers, and these are the people who protect the meek and good people who can’t be soldiers.  Only difference is I used to believe in some r-racist shit.  Just… adapt that crap.  Protect everyone, um…”

“You okay?” Vessel asked.

“I’m okay now,” Scribe said.  “I think.  Working on what I, um…”

She trailed off, trying to find the thread of what she wanted to say.

Vessel touched her arm.

“I’m okay,” Scribe said, annoyed.  She didn’t like appearing weak.  “I’m w-working on what I don’t have exactly right.  They need soldiers more than, hm…”

She floundered.

She stopped.

“V-Victor,” she snarled the word.

Victor rounded the corner.  His chuckle was low, deep in his throat, and made broad shoulders shake.

“The f-fuck,” she asked.  Victor had the ability to steal abilities in a field while augmenting his own.  He’d been aiming it at her.  Taking her gift of gab.  “You dick.”

“Sorry,” he said.  “Wanted to make an entrance, and the best entrance is the sort that kicks in the door and puts down the scariest guy in the room right away.”

“I’m not your enemen- enemy, you phimo- phimotic cock jockey.”

Victor laughed.

“Turn it off.”

“Just did,” he said.  “Wanted to see if there was any sign of the old you in there.”

“You aren’t s-s-supposed to be talking to a recalcitrant ex-supremacist,” she told him.  “Remember?”

“Vessel, Armiger, and Accolade won’t tell, will they?  You guys are cool?”

Vessel was sitting up straighter, hand at her hair again.  “We’re cool.”

The boys nodded.

“Give us some privacy?” Victor asked.  “We’ll hang out later?”

All three looked to Scribe instead of giving an immediate answer, though Vessel looked like she’d be crestfallen if Scribe shot it down.  Scribe nodded.

“It’s your funeral if you get caught.  They’ll count it as a mark against you,” she said.

“You could eat crow and say sorry.”

“I don’t say sorry,” she told him.  She looked off in the direction of the station and the procession line of naked giants that were marching away from it.  “What do you want?”

“I wanted to see if you were okay.”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re always fine.  You were ‘fine’ when Coil outed us.  You were ‘fine’ when Kaiser died.  You were ‘fine’ when you were injured.  You were ‘fine’ when we went back to the Clans and the new leadership treated us like dirt and blamed us for what happened in Empire Eighty-Eight.”

“Morons,” she said.  “What if I was fine?”

He put a hand against the wall and leaned over her.  “What if you weren’t?  I see how restless you are.  I know who you are and where you come from.”

She resisted the attempt at intimidation.  “And?”

He relaxed, straightening.  “And you’re family.  Closest thing I have to family, anyway.”

“Only if I get to be the big sister, or the cool aunt.  Or kickass grandma who whips your ass if you so much as look at her funny.”

“Sorry.  Baby sister.”

“Fuck that.  No.  That creeps me out.”

“Creeps you out, huh?” he asked, his expression placid, his gaze penetrating.

“Can’t imagine it,” she said.  “It makes me think of Christmases by the tree, pulling stuff out of the stocking while some rosy-cheeked mom and dad look on proudly.  Music playing on the radio, something baking in the oven, gingerbread so thick in the air it congeals in your throat.”

“You’re mentally ill.  Nobody does that.”

“I’m fucking not doing it with you of all people, Victor.  You don’t need me for a sister.  You’ve got a girlfriend to terrorize and celebrate holidays with.”

“Mmm,” he made a sound.  There was zero emotion on his face as he said, “Gospel’s a good girl.  I still worry about you.”

“Don’t.  I’ll have Christmas with Vessel or someone else with no family left.  Drink and black out until New Year’s.”

“Yeahhhh,” Victor drawled.  “That screams that you’re doing perfectly fine.  Sometimes you need to ask for help, reach out and shit, y’know?  Reaffirm old ties?”

“I really don’t,” she said.

“You triggered in prison, Scribe.  Alone, abandoned by others, including the Clans you had just done jobs for.  The entire system working against you.  Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re in prison now.  Alone.  You’ve got these tenuous connections to those others, and the entire system is stacked against you.”

She wanted to reply, and the words weren’t there.  His power?

No, she knew the feel of it.

Yeah, sure.  He wasn’t wrong.  That was pretty much where she was at.  She didn’t like thinking about it.

She shrugged.

“Unless you apologize, you’ll always be an ex-Nazi to them.”

That’s what you were after?”

“No, what I was after was checking in.  Reaching out.  This is secondary.”

He was so good at sounding precise, confident.

“I’m fucking trying, Victor.  I’ll show them with actions, but I won’t apologize.  I won’t go to them crying ‘sorry’.  That’s not how I roll.”

“Showing them with actions means walking back everything, you know.”

“And?”

“And I heard you were picking on Capricorn earlier.”

“He’s actually a degenerate example of humanity, Victor.  On every count.  He tried to murder his brother.  Moonsong’s ex.  And she’s cool.  I think giving him some shit is fair.”

“No other motivations?  Nothing underlying?  You’re one hundred percent better?”

“Fuck off.  Like you’re any better, you fraud.  The religious crap you’re latched onto now is just excuses.  I’m-”

She fell silent.  Victor had turned his head sharply, hand raised.

She turned to look, and she saw Moonsong approaching.  Brown haired, wearing a costume with a dress built in, a slit down one side.  A moon motif, of course, played into everything, from mask to shoulder decoration, belt, and bracers.

“It’s a process,” Scribe finished her rant, bitter.  They’d been overheard.  This was going to fuck her so bad.  Fuck.

She could actually feel the walls of the metaphorical prison now.

“Hi, Moon,” Victor greeted the young woman.

Moonsong made no sound while she walked, and her hair had some float to it.  Reducing her own gravity or something.  She had her arms folded.

She didn’t return his greeting.  She seemed stuck in her thoughts.

Scribe touched the wall behind her as she slouched back.  She focused, and she concentrated her power in her fingertip.  Pressed it out into the wall.  A small telekinetic signature that slowly encapsulated the entire structure as the signature grew more elaborate.  Wrapping it in a kind of forcefield that would only hold it, not protecting it.

Her other hand found her staff.

Speak of the devil and she appears.

Not that Moonsong was a devil.  Not that Scribe felt like she would get attacked.  But she’d dealt with volatile types.  Especially after returning to the clan for the third time.  She didn’t face down an unhappy parahuman without being ready to fling a half-ton of concrete at them.

“I need you to leave my rookies alone,” Moonsong said, finally turning to look them in the eye.

“I can’t speak for Scribe, but I won’t go after them to find your mole or whatever,” Victor said.

“No mole,” Moonsong said.

“Come on.  Let’s get real,” he said.  “You sent one of them to watch us and feel us out, see if we were talking about stuff.”

“No mole.”

“You wouldn’t have come here this fast if there wasn’t one.”

“No mole,” Moonsong said, for the third time, giving him a hard look.  “Believe it or not, I’ve been keeping an eye out. If one of the two of you aren’t visible at any given time, I wonder, I double check.  I listen in.”

“Are we in trouble?” Scribe asked.

“Right now?  We’re in crisis management.  We focus on the city.  The citizens.  You guys leave the rookies alone.  That includes you, Victor.  I know Vessel thinks you light up the room.”

“Not doing anything to Vessel.”

“I know you’re not doing anything to Vessel.  Because I told you.  It’s an order.  One romance in the team was bad enough, but because it brought you on board, Whorl and I agreed to let it slide, especially when Gospel is as level headed as she is.  Vessel isn’t.  She’s great, but I’m drawing the line.”

“Alright,” Victor said.  His face gave away nothing.  When he took enough from people, they lost a bit of it forever, and he kept a bit of it forever.  He’d stolen stuff from people in the past and that included the ability to maintain a perfect poker face, among many, many other things.

“Scribe, I don’t want to hear you’ve been hanging out with the rookies.”

I’m a rookie.”

“You might be new to us but you’ve been a cape for years.  If you’re around them, I want chaperones.  People I’d trust as part of the conversation.  I don’t want them being part of your process.”

Yep.  Overheard.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

She’d be stuck like this.  A prison without walls, but still a prison with other people dictating her every move.  No hope of advancement, no hope of more.

“Victor, Can you go join Tribute at the front line?  Keep an eye on those giants?”

“Of course.  I really did want to reach out and see if Scribe was okay,” he said.  He smiled, and he was good at smiling in a way he was good at a lot of things.  It was the sort of thing that would be a bit chilling if Scribe didn’t know he was on her side.

“Scribe, walk with me,” Moonsong said.

Scribe fumed internally, but she walked.  This was Victor’s fault.

“What you were saying about wanting to show where you’re at with actions instead of words, Scribe?” Moonsong asked.

Oh, she’d really overheard.  “I don’t get any privacy, huh?”

“No.  No you don’t.  If you were on lists and if there were big red warning labels on your Parahumans Online page, then you get a ‘trust but verify’ treatment post-amnesty.”

“Doesn’t feel like the amnesty is helping me any.”

“It’s better than prison.”

“This is prison!” she snarled.  “God.

“Key point in that is trust.  I don’t love a lot of how you were talking and what you were saying, what you weren’t saying.  I’m still going to trust the intent is there.  I’m going to give you the benefit of a doubt.”

“And keep me from socializing, keep me away from Victor.”

“Didn’t think you liked him.”

Scribe brought her staff around so it rested against her shoulders and the back of her neck, her gloved hands gripping either end.  She shrugged, a little more dramatic with the staff where it was.

She wasn’t sure she did, but… he was one of the only people she still knew from the old days.  The only person, maybe, who actually knew her.

“I need you to leave Capricorn alone.  That’s an order.  We don’t pester other teams when we could be depending on them to save our lives later.”

“Okay.”

“You called it a process.  I’m working on my own process.  I won’t say I’m perfect.  Sometimes you just have to pretend it’s all hunky-dory, play nice, interact with enough people, and it surprises you by becoming normal.”

“I feel like that’s everything I was trying to get away from when I ran away from home.  I triggered so I could escape it in prison.  Thought control.”

Even now, it bothered her.

“Well, I can tell you I’ve been there.  Not as intense as what you got as far as… picking up on what others were saying around me.  But it doesn’t feel like thought control now.  I used to be homophobic.  I’m… better, I guess.  I think it’s a weird thing to do, but I can roll with it.  An old teammate resurfaced, came back from the dead, actually, and reminded me-”

There was a deep shudder that rattled the city, breaking some windows.  Broken glass cascaded down building faces.  Moonsong broke into a run.  Scribe adjusted her staff, sat on it, and took to the air, one hand on her wide-brimmed hat, the other gripping her staff.

Her eyes were on Shin Station.  The giants just beyond it.

It wasn’t them.  They looked as disoriented as she felt.

Opposite direction.  She flipped around in the air.

It came ripping through the air.  A crack in reality, black and surrounded by distortions of light, curls of vapor from temperature changes.

One curl of vapor came with a blast of pressurized air.  She tumbled back, slipping from her perch atop her staff.  Her glove didn’t find traction on the textured length of it.

She fell, dropping out of the air.

The next moment, she felt like she was in water.  As though she’d plunged into a river without breaking past any surface or getting wet.

Breaking her fall.  Partially breaking.

Moonsong’s power.

She hit the ground hard, her head striking the hard ground.  All around her, more cracks tore into the ground, which rumbled.  Some of the segments of ground were lifted up, and buildings on the street were toppling.

Surrounded by four walls of concrete.  A fitting combination with her new social prison.

The air was as dangerous as the ground.  Crouching down, she drew her sigil on the surface of the shattered road, listened to shouts and made sense of zero of it.

Fuck.

Any time she couldn’t go up kind of fucked with her head.  Not being able to go anywhere

Fucked with her everywhere.  Head to toe.  Gut, breathing, heart.

She gripped her hat and pulled the brim down.  She knew it was useless, that it flew in the face of her status as a veteran cape, but those black tears above her were terrifying, and with nothing else at hand that she could do… she used her hat like a little kid might pull the blanket over their head.

The giants were a few blocks away now, and they were screaming and hooting.  The only noise was the rumble of buildings falling.

A roaring knife-on-a-plate scream, as a section of road just… went.  Toppling into darkness.  What lay on the other side of it was only darkness.

Her vision wavered, a very similar kind of darkness taking over everything.  A vision crept over her, of people who weren’t people, all standing in profile.  Most were symmetrical from left to right, but not all were.  Writ in any number of shapes, any number of materials.

She heard a sound between a shout and a scream.

She let go of the brim of her witch hat.

Wavering, she turned, searching.

“I’m here!” she cried out.

There was an inarticulate cry.

She followed the sound.

Past broken road.  A leap over a gap.

Moonsong and Armiger were there.  Vessel was lying on the ground next to a face-down Tribute, her chest glowing.  She’d merged with another cape, capturing that person and holding them inside her as a power source and modifier to her own knowledge base and personality.  One of the other injured, no doubt.  Accolade, maybe.

All looked to be unconscious at first glance.  At second glance, they were moving, but without any coordination.  Something in them had broken.

Armiger, at least, had his powers.  the forcefield above him elaborate and getting more elaborate by the second.  A shield with wings, horns, a lion’s head, flags… It would reach a point where it was more fancy than effective, with the idea being it swung from forcefield to a mental effect that radiated out in front of it.

Except the mental effect had no use here.  It was protecting their group against falling and flying rubble.  Moonsong’s field was altering the gravity, making any falling stones less terminal in their velocity.  They hit the shield and tumbled off to a point below.

A crack was creeping closer to him.  Yawning wider.

Scribe opened her mouth to call out, and only produced a, “Yuhh!”

She knew what it was.  She knew the shakiness and the feeling like missing a stair, that came before she’d even taken the step.

She did take that step, however.  She could have and would have jumped the gap in front of her to reach their section of road, but she didn’t trust herself to make that one-foot jump.  So she headed left, toward the inches-wide gap.  Her foot didn’t land right, her sense of balance failed to give her anything, and she tumbled, hard, rolling across that gap.

Hand resting on the ground, she willed the symbol to appear.  The signature that locked her telekinesis to this particular chunk of road.

Then she lifted them up.

It wasn’t easy, with the cracks above and around them.  When turning her head and identifying things was hard.  It didn’t help that the cracks were deceptive in where they were, because her eyes couldn’t easily discern if they were large and far away or small and close, especially as some swelled and others narrowed, like pulsing veins.

Slowly, the others roused.  She’d scooped up what she could of the Shepherds, and she couldn’t see others below.

“T-thank you,” Moonsong said.

Scribe just kept them flying.

As they moved, she saw.

A massive figure, hunched over, black-bodied, with golden hair running down the spine, moving as if billowing in a wind that wasn’t actually there.  Hands extended down to the ground, arms overlong with more of that gold hair from elbow to wrist.  It bore a crown that took over part of its face, that looked like something between hair in the wind and gold, many-pronged.  Below that crown, there was only a mouth, corners downturned.

“Victor,” she said, naming it before she’d even fully comprehended what she was seeing.  She turned to Moonsong, angry, “Was this the Red Queen?”

“No.”  It was Tribute who had answered.  “No, it’s… I felt it.  The pull, the tug.  I almost…”

“Almost what!?” Scribe cried out, angry.  Their ‘ride’ wavered in the air.

“Almost gave up.  Let it in.  Almost didn’t find the strength or focus to pull away.”

“He gave up?” she asked.

“Victor has been struggling,” Moonsong was quiet.  She sounded despondent, surprisingly so given how she’d never seemed to like Victor. “Gospel broke it off.  I think he’s had a lot of self doubts.  Loneliness.”

Scribe watched, looking down.  He was bigger than any of the nearby buildings.  Anyone who got too close to him lost… everything, it seemed.  Almost instantly.  Knowing his power, a lot of it could be permanent.

This was her Victor?

The chill and deep, surprising sadness she felt was lanced through by horror.

When he’d swung by, talking to her against orders… he hadn’t been reaching out to help or give support.

He’d been reaching out for help.  To get support.

She’d missed it.

“Victor!”  She screamed his name.

He raised his head.  Looked at her with a face without eyes.

“Be strong!” she shrieked the words.  “We are family!”

His overlong arm swung out, a paw of a hand clawing through the air, straight toward them.

Armiger created his forcefield.  Rune dropped the chunk of street they were riding by several feet.  The hand was partially deflected, only missing them through the coordinated defensive maneuvers.

In the wake of the blow, again, she felt that wave of Victor’s power, writ large.  A loss of all faculties.  Balance, coordination, everything else.  Given enough of a hit, and they wouldn’t regain what they lost.

They broke away, backing off.

He started to pursue, but the giants had started to scatter, still screaming and hollering.  Others in the back were violently giving birth.  Their faculties were diminished, but

“It’s not him anymore,” she said.

“Tattletale says to try to avoid using powers,” Eric reported, ending the call and freeing Tattletale to do whatever it was a villainous information broker did.  “We should let the cracks settle.  It should stop.  At least until there’s another precipitating event.”

“I want to go,” Victoria said.  “Armstrong, give me permission?”

“No,” Armstrong said.  “It’s ultimately up to you, but you know what’s on the other side of those cracks better than anyone else in this room.  The leadership is on their way.  We’d appreciate your input.”

“To actually use?” she asked.  “Or is this like before?”

She looked at Eric as she said it.

“To use.  Really,” Armstrong said.  “I don’t want to lose you in fighting against threats if you can tell us something critical in a briefing later.”

“Okay,” she said.  She looked haunted, tense.  “I don’t want to sound pissy or uncooperative, but if I feel like I’m not helping, I’m going to leave and go help.  Please don’t count it against Breakthrough if I do, I’ll break ties with them if necessary to keep from hurting their standing.  But I can’t do nothing.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to,” Armstrong said.

Eric had almost come to respect her, initially.  She’d seemed like she played along.  But she was too deep in things.  She needed to be far away from this in the same way a doctor needed to avoid operating on his family, a judge couldn’t deliver a sentence to her spouse.

He’d cracked.  Lost his cool.  He couldn’t blame her, not exactly.  Being a hero took a kind of insane grit that did a number on anyone.  That kind of grit tended to make heroes really obnoxious to deal with.  The worst of them got childlike.  The best of them, like Chevalier, could present themselves well.

He was too tired, running at ten out of ten since last night.  Antares hadn’t ever been official PRT, though she’d come close on two fronts: she’d almost joined once, before her hospitalization, and she’d slept with a Ward.  That probably meant some knowledge by osmosis.

It didn’t mean she ‘got it’, though.  That parahumans were so close to the problem it made their judgment suspect sometimes.  That oversight was needed.  The ex-PRT capes got those things, accepted the objective calls.

“What’s the overall situation?” Eric asked Pearce.  “How are communications?”

“A few things on our board,” Pearce said, her attention not leaving the screen on the terminal in front of her.  Two lesser staff members were doing the typing and navigating on sub-screens.  “The anti-parahumans are disseminating a video.  It’s the inciting incident.  People are panicking, getting ugly.”

“Who can we divert?”

“Nobody.  There are other crises.  Shin.”

“What’s happening in Shin?” Antares asked.

The portal had shattered.  The damnable lab was gone.

Marquis considered versatility the most important thing in powers.  Survive, cover as many bases as possible, and victory was inevitable.  He found himself using everything he had just to survive.  Wings of bone became a shield, and that shield became a wall.  He felt the strain in his bones and the pain as holes were punched in that wall.

But he was buying time.  Buying opportunity for the refugees they’d brought to Shin to get away.  Not through the portal- that was now a briar-bush tangle of distorted cracks in reality, reaching up to the clouds and off to either side.  Just… away.

Other capes, ex-prisoners from Gimel, ex-Fallen, and ex-followers of Goddess were doing much the same.  Some had powers that helped, but only in maneuvering, only in defense.

The Goddess giant hurled chunks of the shattered landscape and buildings.  Her alignment wasn’t working.  Not against this.  The Gibborim Knight was holding firmest.  The armor it had built and wrapped around itself was seemingly the only thing that could endure the onslaught.

“You were such a good girl,” he said.  “You tried so hard.”

He grunted as his shield was struck and split in two.  He threw himself to one side as another strike speared through the gap, but something wrenched at the half-shield that was still attached to his arm.  It threw him to one side, twisting the arm in its socket.  If there was any unique sensation he was intimately familiar with, it was the feeling of one’s own bones breaking.

Grimacing, he knit the shattered bone of his arm together, then wrapped his arm in bone armor that would brace it and hold things steady until the damage to things other than bones could heal.

“It has been a pleasure knowing you,” he said.

So tall she was effectively out of earshot, Hunter didn’t respond.  She only laughed, incessantly laughed, as she brought razor lines spearing down from the sky and up from the ground with enough force to crack bones harder than steel.  Her body seemed to be made up of those lines and cracks in reality.

He disconnected himself from his shield and he went to his daughter.  He scooped her up in his arms.

“Almost gave up,” Amelia murmured.

“Best if you don’t,” he said.

“I failed her.  Hunter,” she said, hugging him, face buried in his shoulder.

“Focus on the good.  We need you with us.”

She used her power on him.  He could feel the pressure in his shoulder as the damage healed.

“Best if you don’t, whilst you’re not feeling your best,” he murmured.

She stopped, leaving the work undone.  He’d seen her like this before.  Broken.

He put a hand over her ear so he could raise his voice.  “Retreat!  Shin Defense Initiative, everyone to me and away!  Leave the giants to it!”

Lab Rat was there, barely recognizable as a hulking, fifteen-foot tall rat-like figure with a conical face formed of tumors like clusters of giant blood-gorged ticks.  He had four of the clones clinging to his fur and to the blankets that covered them, and what looked like half of a workshop besides, machines as large as cars hanging from chains.

The others… Marquis looked.  He counted heads, saw the trickle of evacuees.

He was so thirsty.  It was something that always got to him in battles, if they ran long enough that the adrenaline faded.  The thirst, the human needs.  Once he reached that point, he tended to make his exit.  It was the point that things started getting sloppy.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Amelia mewled.

“I think you must.  There is no question,” Marquis answered.

He knew from experience that she didn’t tend to respond to that kind of prodding or absolute, even though it was part of what drove him.  Rigid codes and obligations he set up around himself.

He had no idea what else to say.

Instead, he focused on helping.  He extended and expanded bone before hardening it, because this new Hunter hit hard enough to demand he use bones harder than steel.  He created blade-like growths and set them into the ground with extended roots of bone penetrating frozen soil.  Walls to shield those running for safety.

Flashbang, he saw was one of the last ones out.  Of course.  Flashbang turned to look at Hunter, created a large orb in his hand, and hurled it skyward.  He created another orb while it was airborne, tossed it up.

Ah.  The newer orb had a shorter fuse.  It detonated and launched the first orb almost straight at Hunter.  Detonating in her face.

Doing far too little damage.  Cracks, a gushing of blood like a bathtub of blood had been emptied from the opening, next to nothing in the way of blood after the initial burst, and then no bleeding at all.  It wasn’t that the wound had closed up, but that she bled differently.  Still laughing, she turned her face toward them.

Marquis threw up a shield just in time to protect them from the retaliation.

By the time he had backed away enough to see over the top of the shield, the wound at her face had disappeared.

She lunged forward, gripping her own razor wires and leaping between them as a monkey might leap from branch to branch.  Buildings groaned and tipped over as the wires that extended into them bore her full weight, but she didn’t touch ground.

Capes from the prison were attacking and protecting one another, but they weren’t coordinated.  A pair of them were from Lab Rat’s choices of powerful recruits for his personal team.  The wires appeared from inside of them, extending from shoulder to hand and out the palm, Out each foot, and out of the mouth.lifting one to a spread-eagled position fifty feet above the ground.  Thin wires looked thicker as the blood ran down them.  The cape struggled.

The other one was mangled, twisted up, his upper body doing three rotations to the right as the wires pulled on him, his lower body doing two rotations to the left.  His midsection simply split.  He didn’t die immediately, not exactly, but at least the screaming was  brief.

Hunter’s hand came to rest on the first, the one that was spread eagled.  He was dragged down along wires, and those wires cut him apart from the inside, exposing bone.

Too far away for Marquis to reach to that bone and attempt to spear for Hunter’s vitals.  Not that she had any he could see.  She had no eyes; only a blindfold of wires and cracks in reality.

She moved on to her next prey.  La Llorona.  She was choosing leaders, captains.  Powerful capes.  A small mercy Marquis and his daugher hadn’t been that close by when Hunter had attacked.

The Gibborim Knight attacked her.  It was sufficient distraction for everyone else.

They fled.  Running from the spreading disaster, shepherding the refugees.  Marquis turned the armor at his arm into a basket of sorts to hold Amelia close to him, extending legs and his other arm so he could prowl forward on skeletal limbs, traversing broken ground and fallen buildings.

“Is she hurt?” Flashbang asked, as he caught up with Marquis.  As always, there was that brief moment as the man who had raised his daughter looked at Marquis and wrestled momentarily with feelings and prejudices before setting them aside.  He wasn’t asking about the enemy.

Marquis took a second to consider and give Amelia the chance to speak before saying, “Only her heart and her pride.”

“It’s more than that,” Amelia murmured.  Like this, she reminded Marquis of the little girl he’d once held in his arms.  “What’s even the point?”

“The point is you have somewhere to be later,” Flashbang said.  “Amy, you made a promise.  You will not break that promise to her.  I- I know what you’re feeling.  Like the last few walls around your heart are down and all you have to do is reach through to where your powers are.  The reason I’m not is… I made promises.  To your mother.  To Victoria.  To you.”

“I’m supposed to go talk to somebody in the middle of all of this?”

“You are absolutely supposed to,” Flashbang said.  “Amy, you’ve hurt Victoria enough times-”

“I didn’t-”

“You hurt her.  You know you hurt her.  You won’t hurt her this time by not following through.”

“And after?  I promised to go to a therapy session, it’s just one session.”

“You’ll promise me you’ll go to the one after.  Right here, right now.  I think you need it as much as I do.”

“I don’t- what happens after that one?”

“The promise I need you to make is that you’ll attend the appointment after.  That doesn’t end at the next appointment.  When you’ve attended appointment number two, then the promise means you’ll go to number three.  When you’ve gone to that one, it means you’ll go to number four.”

“The way things are going,” Amelia said, “I don’t think we’ll have any therapists in a couple of days.”

“Then it’s an easier promise to make.  But you need something on the horizon to focus your eyes on.  Surrender in the here and now is not how I raised you.”

Flashbang met Marquis’s eyes.

“Promise,” Flashbang said, with a raw edge to his voice.

Amy didn’t respond, but she did nod her assent.

“We’ve got yet another one in Cheit,” Larue reported.  “Not one we know.  They were a cape who didn’t broadcast their powers.  A stranger, it seems.”

“Do we know the powers yet?” Armstrong asked.

“Not yet.”

There wasn’t much to do at this stage.  Only to record, identify, and prepare to brief those who made it back here.  Some were on the fringes, out of reach of this cracking.  Some were at the new refugee settlements.  Some where here.  Then there were the ones in the city proper.  They were the ones who had it roughest.  Right in the epicenter, as the city steadily caved into itself.

“Antares,” Larue said.

“It’s bad news,” she said.

“I don’t know what it is.  The capes in Breakthrough’s area have gone quiet.  Phone lines are down, satellites are struggling with all of the interference.  But we can’t reach them.”

Eric quietly studied her expression, watching her process.  Her eyes moved around like she was working her way through a logic program.

“They’re okay,” she said, quiet, before looking up.  “They have to be okay.  I’m not worried about them.  Tell me the cracks aren’t extending too close to New Brockton Bay.”

“They aren’t.  Not yet.”

“Then Lookout and her team should be fine.  Do we have word from the Major Malfunctions?  They were right near the center of it.”

“No word, no communications,” Larue said.  “I’m sorry.  Sorry, I’m getting some calls, I’ll let you know if-”

But she was already nodding, too quick, almost cutting him off.

Larue resumed what he was doing at the computer, hand moving his right headphone over his ear again.

Eric typed up information for the Thinker team, sorting it.

He kind of knew what Antares was feeling.  Cinereal was out there.  The inverse of Antares, with whom he’d lost his cool.  Antares batted her eyelashes, dressed up, smiled and pledged cooperation, only to do the opposite.  By contrast, Cinereal stuck to the stylish costume the PRT had given her once upon a time, but she didn’t manipulate, she said exactly what she meant and acted like a gruff hard-as-nails pain in the ass, while ultimately being cooperative.

She was out there in the thick of it.  His boss.  His partner in some ways.

“Another report coming in, garbled,” Larue said.  He typed furiously.

Eric felt a profound despair wash over him at those words.  They kept hearing about more, but they weren’t hearing about any wins.  Some capes were fending off various titans, trying to fight, and after half an hour of this, there still weren’t any reports of ‘Titan defeated’.

No cheers.

“Took a second to confirm location.  It’s in one of the pocket worlds,” Larue said.

“Which one?” Antares asked.

“Prance,” Moose said.  Begged.

Prancer had entered his breaker form, but it was a broken entering.  His figure was like a man who had leaped through what he’d thought was an open window and crashed into glass.  Except the glass had remained in the frame.  A thousand shards impaling him, opening him up.

The glass in this case was bands of black and gold that braided, wove together, and forked, wrapping around him, through him, taking him to pieces.

Only part of his head, mouth, neck and shoulder were really intact.

Moose backed up, hand out to usher Daisy and some of the others back.

The idea had been that this would be a safe place.  Almost a place to retire.  They’d had the cash, the resources, the connections.  Money for security, money for recreational drugs.  A place to low-key party and relax, when they were so very, very tired.

Recuperate from heartbreak, after losing Velvet.

“Halfway there,” Prancer said.  “Maybe I’ll get to see Velvet on the other side.”

More than halfway, Moose thought.  “I don’t think that’s the way it works.  Doesn’t seem like a good reason to go through with this.”

“I don’t think I can walk backward on this road,” Prancer said.

“Try moonwalking?” Moose asked, trying to crack a joke, failing.  He sounded as despondent as he felt.

“No.  Too much of a grip on me.”

“Don’t suppose you could concentrate real hard, then?” Moose asked.

“I am.”

“I want to see it.  The concentration,” Moose said, moving closer to Daisy and the others.  Prancer’s ‘girlfriend’ and the other people who had come to party and never left.  He shielded them with his body.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that,” Prancer said.  “Are you trying to distract me by confusing me, slow down the transformation?”

“Jus’… give me the reassurance you tried.  Something to keep in my memories.”

“You’re so lame, Moose.”

“I’m a simple guy.  I like it straightforward.  Would you?”

Prancer frowned, then closed his eyes, expression contorting.

Moose, seeing that, reached back to Manuel, fumbling at the guy’s side.

Manuel handed him the weapon he was reaching for.  A gun.  Moose checked it, aimed it for the part of Prancer’s face that was still Prancer, and not this grossly mutated breaker body, and-

Prancer’s body acted.  All Moose could see was the part of its face that was already in its breaker form.  A glowing eye open, while Prancer’s was shut.

The gun went off.  It struck Prancer in the side of the head, blowing off a chunk.  Prancer’s body, in turn, struck Moose with a black claw bigger than Moose was.  Moose tried to fend it off, parrying with a blast of force, but it still struck him back and down into the ground.

Numb, Moose lay there, listening to the small gasps.

He looked down and around him, and saw that he had been thrust into the midst of three of their friends, Daisy included.  He had survived the hit because of his powers.

They… they were alive, but in a minute, they would be dead from the way he’d been shoved into and through them.  Bodies in tatters.  Daisy’s eyes were so impossibly wide.  Manuel’s stare was somehow vacant and accusatory.

The numbness got worse.

He’d been here before.  Experienced this before.  In a past life.  He turned, aiming with a hand that shook too much to aim well.  Shot Daisy twice – once as a near-miss, again to actually end her pain as he intended.  He turned to Manuel, and he didn’t get a chance to do the same for their buddy.

The thing that had been Prancer attacked.  Another crushing blow, another blow Moose only barely fended off.  The thing punched with the force of a train crashing into something, and leaped back with his hypernatural agility and speed.

Prancer charged in, leaped, using the momentum of falling from two hundred feet in the air to augment the force of his blow.

But by the time he reached Moose, Moose was already on his way to matching and exceeding his old friend’s stature.  On his own way down the same road Prancer had just traveled.

The thing that had been Prancer didn’t deliver the strike with any force.  Instead, with the lightness of a feather landing, came to perch atop the broad back of the thing that had once been his and Velvet’s mutual friend and lover.

And the world around them dissolved into black-lightning cracks, the small refuge they had built falling to pieces.

[Consolidate]

[Consolidate]

Two became one, damaged, broken, and haphazard, because many of the needed connections weren’t there.

Still more than the sum of their parts.

“That makes two in the pocket world, I think,” Larue said.  “With more confirmed reports coming in and the initial effect fading, I think we’re getting a final tally.”

“How bad is it?” Armstrong asked.

“Between ten and twelve.  Um, Armstrong, Sir.  Eric…”

Eric sat back, shocked.  There were only a few answers that would really merit that kind of awkward opening, aimed at both ex-Director Armstrong and himself.

“Cinereal,” Larue said.  “We’re getting cameras in for a better view, but…”

But there was a screen mounted on the wall that showed her from a distance.  Everything within a city block of the figure was dissolving into gray ash.

If Cinereal’s power held true, that ash could heat up to temperatures like thermite.

Gone, turned against them.

Eric’s mentor, patron, supporter.  His partner in a way.  She’d elevated him with the implication she’d drop him if he didn’t keep up with her, and he’d kept up.  The one person he’d been able to count on to back him up, and he was going to be feeling the lack of that backup if his heated spat with Antares came up.

Above all else, she’d been a friend.  Someone he’d respected and liked.

He glanced back at Antares, half expecting the girl to be gloating, lording it over him.

He caught her with moisture in her eyes, using her sleeve to dab at the corners.

Larue was busy bringing up images, picking out the best shots of each of the titans they knew about.  Armstrong had other preoccupations.  Other staff members were busy, reeling in their own ways, or pretending not to notice others’ grief.

“I lost a friend,” Antares told Eric.  “The rest of my teams seem to have made it out okay.  This time.  They’ll probably expand the damage on purpose or gather power for another breaking like this, until they’ve broken everything.

But she still had the bulk of her ‘teams’ intact.  He could see the marker for the Major Malfunctions with the three in the bottom right corner.  Her tears might have been ones of relief, after a hell of tension.

Eric nodded, his jaw too set to actually respond.

“Cracking seems to have slowed down,” Larue said.

“Call your people back, Director Armstrong…” Citrine said, still at her seat at the head of the table.

The Mayor motioned toward a screen, that same overhead view from before.  Now it showed the damage that spanned three-fifths of the city, which itself more or less spanned everything between New York and Boston and New York and New Brockton Bay.  Shadows from the dust that had reached the sky above the city cast it in a noticeably darker tint, as though it were night.

“…The only things that are salvageable here are your heroes’ lives.”

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59 thoughts on “Interlude 17.z (Sundown)”

  1. I wonder if the Cinereal Titan is going to team up with the Dauntless and Fume Hood Titans.

    Also, poor Prancer and Moose.

  2. OMG, OMG, OMG, what an interlude, the BEST one in this arc so far.

    “Armstrong, sir. Do you want to take charge?” Eric asked. “This looks more like Parahuman Science than Command. Cinereal left me as her proxy, but I don’t think she’d be upset if I passed the baton.”

    -Eric is not so bad, when he feels like he can’t control the situation anymore, he’s willing to admit that there are people who are better leaders than him and they can handle the situation much better than him. He also seem to have some kind of respect for Victoria, even if he also dislike how rebellious and disobedient she can get (love/hate relationship kind of). He also seem like a frightening young man but he’s capable to control his emotions. Suddenly, I feel more sympathetic toward him now.

    Until there was a silhouette, a vaguely woman-shaped figure with head turned skyward, back arched and chest and stomach thrust up and out, ‘arms’ dangling. She had no face, but instead a morass of that hair-like, horn-like curling of black stone, like a curtain of it was draped over her head. Three large wolf heads framed her neck and helped form one of her shoulders. Everything below was a jumble, images so layered and lost in one another that they were almost pure decoration.

    -Welp! Contessa turned into CERBERUS.

    “He’s actually a degenerate example of humanity, Victor. On every count. He tried to murder his brother. Moonsong’s ex. And she’s cool. I think giving him some shit is fair.”

    -Speak the “less” degenerate example of humanity who considered (still consider probably) asians, people of color and jews as inferior people to white people. Tristan tried to kill his brother and regretted what he did and changed into a much more better man. Scribe is still a little nazi at her heart. Who’s the degenerate now?

    “To use. Really,” Armstrong said. “I don’t want to lose you in fighting against threats if you can tell us something critical in a briefing later.”

    -I agree with Armstrong but Victoria is not going to listen him for a long time, isn’t she?

    Poor Prancer, Moose, Cinereal, Hunter, they really didn’t deserve to be so screwed.

    Mark is the voice of reason in the middle of Titanpocalypse. But Amy WILL NOT LISTEN him, as far as I know her.

    1. > -Welp! Contessa turned into CERBERUS.

      Almost, but not quite. Cerberus is a multi-headed DOG, while Contessa apparently grew WOLF heads.

    2. I think that what Scribe was implying was that Tristán was a “degenerate” because he is gay and is justifying herself on her lesser view of him using the attempted murder on Byron as an excuse. Victor’s comment afterwards helps to confirm that.

      I still think she is doing an effort to change and that it is hard to let go of a mindset you have been holding to your entire life,not to mention she may have got a biased view of Tristan thanks to Moonsong who used to hate him for being gay as well. Moonsong is not the best choice of company for a rehabilitating nazi,thats my humble opinion.

      I actually felt bad for Victor. Damn. Also poor Hunter.

      I have hope that Amy will go to therapy and that it wont be used to imprison her. Imagine if the one time you finally go to therapy you get imprisoned, makes a good point of never doing that shit again.

      Go Mark and Marquis as a dad team. Marquis’s power remains awesome, versatile and painful. Also when the fuck are we learning Marquis civilian name?is been FOREVER

  3. Good lord, at all of this.
    Contessa’s titan form doesnt make the most sense to me, is she meant to be patterned after Cerberus or the Norns? Nothing about her outfit or powers suggest wolves, but that might be due to a poor understanding of the text.

    Hunter becoming a titan doesnt surprise me, considering she was the closest to her shard busting through anyway. The fact that she’s also the cruelest of the titans is also unsurprising.

    The Prancer turn hurt the most, I felt like he and Moose were so close to achieving their quiet life in the background.

    What does this mean for the Malfunctions wrt their “critical moments”? I guess they were truly the biggest malfunction, but its unfortunate that the kickstarter was the member who joined last, who was trying the hardest to come back from a bad reputation.

  4. Typo thread:

    as not bubbles > not as bubbles
    blacks tone > black stone
    We’ve got another appearing (is there supposed to be a term here, like titan? armstrong’s response seems to indicate so)
    the head of the boss (should this be “the boss” or “the head”?)
    “V-Victor,” she > “V-Victor.” She
    “Victor, Can > “Victor, can
    You called it a process. (missing quotation mark)
    produced a, “Yuhh!” (no need for the comma)
    Moonsong, angry, “Was > Moonsong, angry. “Was
    struggling,” > struggling.”
    she shrieked > She shrieked
    Given enough of a hit, and they > Given enough of a hit, they (or Enough of a hit, and they)
    diminished, but (missing words)
    palm, Out > palm, out
    mouth.lifting > mouth, lifting
    Some where here > Some were here
    landing, came > landing, it came
    Armstrong, Sir. > Armstrong, sir.

    1. > Handed me a beer, y’know, me being a minor.
      (There are too many spaces before this sentence.)

      the forcefield > The forcefield (Capital letter at the beginning of a sentence.)

      > Their faculties were diminished, but
      (Unfinished sentence.)

      > the screaming was brief.
      (Too many spaces between ‘was’ and ‘brief’.)

    2. “She hit the ground hard, her head striking the hard ground.”
      A bit clunky.

      “Rune dropped the chunk of street”
      Maybe intentional switch to Scribe’s old moniker.

    3. Minor (?) spelling inconsistency:

      “hunky dory” in chapter 17.7 vs. “hunky-dory” in this interlude.

  5. Shit, Prancer and Moose. And Moose could have made it, if he’d not tried to kill Prancer. If he’d run, and protected the others with his powers, he could still be human now.

    Also, interesting thought. Is Alabaster still inside Kronos, or was he squished and killed and his shard drained of power? And if the latter, why hasn’t any of the other titans done that?

  6. Fume Hood- Eris, Eve or Big Apple.

    Contessa- Cerberus or Tyche (goddess of luck).

    Cinereal- Chimera.

    Victor- Mnemosyne (goddess of memory).

    Moose + Prancer -Pamola (a god of thunder with moose head – native americans).

    Anyone have an idea for Hunter?

  7. “Their faculties were diminished, but”
    but …? The rest of the sentence is missing.

    Shocking that the atmosphere went dark again so quickly. Well, more or less. It was always a lingering possibility, one that already started to become real with the Teacher Compound raid and now it has fully arrived.

  8. Dauntless giant Kronos seemed a different kind of titan than the titanos we see here, in that he seemed more himself by his actions/inactions, even if he was majorly shardified/shard-bonded/inhuman. He still seemed to have human agency, or maybe his shard was just of a more heroic vein in its past life? I mean, avoiding collateral damage? What do we have here though? What is Contessa, or Contessa’s shard here, in terms of agency beyond just alien entity? Anything? Going by last programmed question set? Damage control? Is any part of Fume Hood still herself? If there is de-titanization process possible, I would think PtV would be best shot. How is the interaction between her shard from one entity and the other shards from the other entity? Just whatever goes since [consolidate][consolidate]? I mean, I guess she asked the wrong questions then, huh? Also, payback from shard for breaking the system by taking advantage of reset?

    Antares is totally pulling Tattletale-type answers / Thinker level infodump.

    Antares could get pregnant with 3rd generation cape baby? Possible? Ramifications? Amy reaction to discovering this, anyone?

    Are the world-dimensions phasing together, interstitially, or are they grafting to each other? Like, two planetary masses abutted? Is there more than one sun, or is it the same sun producing sunlight for each earth? How much energy well energy gets depleted from a [consolidate][consolidate]? How did this [consolidate][consolidate] get initialized? Fume Hood – Contessa – thin walls was out-of-bounds error in entity coding? Goto line [random instruction]? Or error correction code kicking in?

  9. I didn’t miss that the Anti-Parahumans got footage of Fumehood’s action to severely hurt the regular humans and crack, out of there and are busy spreading it.

    Antiparahuman feelings are about to skyrocket.

    So titans are Kronos/Dauntless, Fume Hood, Contessa, Victor, Cinereal, Moose, Prancer, Hunter and a Stranger in Cheit. Maybe a couple more going by their 10-12 estimate on Titan numbers. Three of those confirmed as cooperative while Hunter and Victor are feral and possibly Prancer/Moose.

    It’s interesting that Amy’s avatars don’t seem to have succumbed when they are probably closer to mere expressions of their powers than anyone. Maybe the ability to actually trigger is crucial since these appear to be second triggers but the Avatars lack that capability.

    1. I think the fact that Amy’s giants didn’t succumb was because of their lack of personality/emotion. Notice that there seems to be a running theme of the loss of human connections running through the Titans.

      Prancer lost his girlfriend, then Moose succumbed after he lost everyone else; Victor succumbed as a result of social ostracization due to his past as a Nazi combined with his GF dumping him; Hunter lost her family as a result of her power and spent her time locked in a psychiatric ward afterwards getting “treated” by Amy; Contessa had no personal life as a result of dedicating herself to Cauldron, and I suspect something similar might have been true of Cinereal.

      1. Good thought about the loss of human connections being something that the titans share. I’ll add to it that Prancer and Moose still had one very important human connection – each other’s friendship, and this (possibly along with the fact that Velvet’s loss affected them both in very similar ways – likely similar enough for shards to picu up on it) may in my opinion be why they fused together.

        There is also Dauntless, who first lost Kelly, and later spent years cut off from humanity. At least after being “titanized” he managed to meet Addison. And I think their meeting will end up being very significant, especially since Simurgh’s song he heard reminded him of a cry of his newborn son.

        The only person who may not fit this overall pattern is Alabaster. He probably didn’t even register the years he lost in the time bubble before he ended up triggering with Dauntless, so if he felt any loss of human connections, it must have happened before he ended up in the bubble in the first place.

        1. Perhaps meeting with Addison after his second trigger, and subsequent Simurgh’s involvement is part of the reason why Dauntless was even able to reach out to, establish communication with, and eventually help Fume Hood (and possibly also Contessa)?

    2. The anti-parahumans will not have time to do anything. They’ll be too busy surviving to motherfucking Titans than expressing their hate on parahumans. They’re the least people I’m worried for right now.

  10. @lulu For Hunter-Titan, perhaps “Atropos” for the combined ‘thread’ and ‘severing’aspects of her power?

  11. Wait, why is the narration down the end of her section referring to Scribe as Rune?

    Also, quick takes:

    Flashbang had a Great Dad moment. Him and Marquid being Dads Together is adorable and I squee a littlr every time a moment like that happens.

    Poor Hunter

    Poor Moose (Prancer probably deserved this, but Moose as the Dobrynja to his Saint really didn’t… Also, ironically how in another possibly OT3 trio of man-woman-man the woman dying caused the team downfall, I hope Vista survives this book)

    Fume Titan looks cool and I hope she’s as sane as Dauntless as Kronos because it’s clear Hunter, Prancer, Cinereal and Victor are gone gone.

    And someone, please, smack Eric upside the head with a cactus for assuming Victoria knows how to be a good hero because she slept with a Ward.

    Loved almost everything about thid chapter!

  12. Moooooooosssssseeee!
    Noooo!!!

    Moose was fricken’ cool.
    We all love moose.
    🙁

    Nooo…..

    hell, that Scribe section is real well done, and the gutpunch when you realise Victor has just had a break up and was reaching out for *help* is harsh. Make me feel bad for the god damn Nazi.
    And Scribe seems pretty damn legit. Not all the way there, still not deprogrammed yet, but legitimately trying, and Moonsong seems like a good influence on her, having walked a similar path. I can see why Scribe is so cautious about that sort of “thought control” double think that she feels is being pressed on her, given her past.

    Mmmooooossseeee….

    Also, amazed that Amy didn’t slip through the veil here. Double Dad combo seems super effective (or, at least, as effective as can be hoped).

  13. “I lost a friend”

    God damnit wombatbrain, if you have taken sveta, kind pure soul, from us, you fucking fucker fuck, I’m going to scream.

    I say this in jest, knowing that she has 1000 death flags but, still.

    It’s kinda weird to see how Victoria straight up just obviously is using the eyeball camera, and knows things she isn’t supposed to know.

    Eric doesn’t know how she knows, but Victoria doesn’t do a good job covering up her statements. I feel like Eric should be way more suspicious by now. Or perhaps that “I lost a friend” line is supposed to be from Eric. I don’t know.

    I feel like there are two opposing forces, because even though the Titans seem to be cooperating, the Kronos and apple Titans talked like they were trying to save people, not kill everyone and take over. Though apple did mention making a dominant shard. Perhaps that just means becoming the leaders of the network and using it for good? They said they were concentrating, and it seems like the users can still control their actions, and even resist the change.

    Also, is that bit about moose meant to imply it was an everyone-boning-everyone triangle? Cuz that’s how I read it. “Mutual friend and lover”.

    It’s going to be crazy to see how icky Vicky handles this, because grasping wants to take over, and Victoria has grown closer to the shard. Will the shard do what she wants and fight the power? Or will Vicky unknowingly play into Icky, and become a shard or hasten the accumulation?

    What if you can accumulate all the shards together and instead of blowing up the planet and birthing spawn, use it as a power source to build more stuff for humanity?

    Someone mentioned rockets won’t work because the power is centered on Earth, but if you have infinite dimensions (or maybe just 6^6^6 dimensions) couldn’t you just colonise horizontally instead? I’ve always been an advocate for genetic engineering, improving humans to survive in space, perhaps we become real symbiotes with the shards, colonising elsewhere and evolving to beat the other worms? Someone mentioned giant space guns to defend against another worm, but why not just make your worm big enough and powerful enough it just eats all other worms?

    Was the giant air gun from the beginning (or was that the middle) a precursor to this? A piece of eve (forget her name, the lady shard) trying to continue the plan to cause conflict and exterminate?

    Are the shards actually sentient? If they reform, would Scion reform as well? Or would it be a new consciousness? Is it possible to influence the new consciousness with human principles? Perhaps instead of eating conflict we can make it a human controlled worm that “goes vegan” by eating nuts like Galactus instead of whole planets? (Would that make us squirrel girl?)

    These are the questions that go through my head.

    Also, personal fan theory, I think twig happens in a remote parallel universe to worm, in where all the powers just manifested as steampunk doctor medical science, because some of the stuff there was reality bending, and without supernatural stuff it would be hard to get it to work. Tissue rejection is a HUGE issue and they only mention it like once. I dunno, the ratios remind me of the golden spiral, which reminds me of the Shard/Worms, which is where I think Control ripped off Polaris from.

  14. @ WEAREGRID

    >Also, is that bit about moose meant to imply it was an everyone-boning-everyone triangle? Cuz that’s how I read it. “Mutual friend and lover”.

    I read this as Velvet being a friend, and lover of both Moose and Prancer.

    >“I lost a friend”
    Pretty sure this is Victoria refering to Bad Apple here. I think she pretty much outright states that Breakthrough are safe (Using Kenzie mediated intel from eye cameras), and hence I think its safe to say Sveta is okay.

  15. …..
    i wonder, if she hasnt exploded herself, Dinah feels, knowing that this was directly -her- fault for originally bankroling the anti-parahuman fanatics?

    1. Dinah would have played the odds given the numbers. This isn’t her fault, in the same way that Gold Morning wasn’t her fault. Gold Morning could have killed *everyone*, but thanks to her predictions (remember ‘Cut ties, I’m sorry’), the world survived an inevitable disaster. This event was equally inevitable as Gold Morning, and this scale of disaster is probably far less disastrous as what would have happened without Dinah intervening.

  16. Crap. Crapcrapcrap. I hope Cinereal will get to join Dauntless and Fume Hood in friendly Teen Titans team.

  17. Considering the powers don’t work outside Earth, it looks like the MultiEarth space was modified, but the MultiSun space was not modified, so it’s a multitute of Suns shining on a tangled cracking mess of a power-bound MultiEarth, I’d guess.

  18. Naoru, yes, you’re right. She hates Tristan for being gay not because he tried to kill his brother. Otherwise she’d have called him a criminal not a degenerate. This make Scribe even worse because hating someone for their sexual preferences (except pedophiles because pedophiles deserve to be hated) is really uncool, stupid, huge non-sense and just plain mean. Will Scribe ever change and start to judge humans after their actions, not after their sexuality or race? I don’t know but I feel like Moonsong is trying to bring her on the good path, at least she told him to not attack Capricorn again.

  19. Reply to “https://www.parahumans.net/2019/11/12/interlude-17-z-sundown/#comment-105318” :

    So the merged earths are getting baked by the radiation from multiple suns?

    The gravity from one sun passes into another dimension to pull on another sun?

    The gravity from each sun passes through each dimension to draw each sun towards HyperEarth as the nexus gateway of gravitic forces?

  20. Can Eidolon’s power drain a Titan’s energy? Does that auto-create endbringers? Or did that only happen when he wasn’t aware he was doing it? Can his power be used to un-crack the dimensions? Are the endbringers a mini-[consolidate][consolidate]?

    Is Machine army a Tinker thing? Is Dragon learning anything from this enemy? Could Dragon massively self-replicate? Could Dragon_Army develop a fleet of non-tinker spaceships for use in evacuating all non-parahumans to a better part of the galaxy?

    If shardspace holds the thoughts of humans like database entries, could the genius of Sphere or Accord get accessed?

  21. One Bad Apple spoiled the bunch…

    Do we have an estimate on how many chapters are left in Ward? We’re just over half as many as Worm, and it feels like we just hit the Oil Rig.

    1. I don’t think anyone knows how much Ward is left, other than WittyBanter himself.

      We’re just over half as many arcs as Worm, but it’s relevant to note that chapters in Ward are on average *much* longer than Worm chapters. We’ve got a *lot* of content so far. This event feels much like the Oil Rig in terms of rising conflict. Narratively, I think we’re entering end-game. I expect a few more arcs, and then a wrap-up. But that’s only speculation! Again, only our WibbleBob knows for sure.

  22. -Contessa’s titan form doesnt make the most sense to me, is she meant to be patterned after Cerberus or the Norns? Nothing about her outfit or powers suggest wolves, but that might be due to a poor understanding of the text.

    I can’t help but remember that back when she first triggered, wolves eating sheep were a big concern for her people, her swearing involved wolf genitalia, and her culture had a fable of a girl and a ‘black-furred man’ that answered questions. Could be that it picked up some contextual cues from her early environment when shaping itself.

  23. Regarding all guesses about which titan has bee patterned after which mythological character – remember that while the shards are supposed to take inspiration from their hosts while deciding how their powers should manifest, all titans are results of broken triggers. I think it would make perfect sense for results of such triggers to not follow any single theme, idea, trope, mych less copy a particular fictional character (mythological or not) exactly.

  24. Well, I still can”t get the reply button ro work for me.

    That said, Contessa turning int0 some human wolf hybrid? How much lupine DNA is in there and what, if anything can Bitch do with that it? And how much of Contessa remains.

  25. It didn’t mean she ‘got it’, though. That parahumans were so close to the problem it made their judgment suspect sometimes. That oversight was needed. The ex-PRT capes got those things, accepted the objective calls.

    Someone should tell Eric how “perfectly” certain PRT capes (for example Shadow Stalker, Weaver, or Alexandria) cooperated with their “unpowered” oversight…

  26. Now that I think about it the conflict between Victoria and Eric reflects the fundamental difference between New Wave and PRT – especially its hardliners like Piggot and Tagg.

    PRT treated parahumans as dangerous, effectively always armed nut cases, who require constant supervision, and are tolerated mostly because they are useful tools against threats like the Endbringers, and other S-class threats. And it is that usefulness that ultimately let villains have certain privileges – like the right to stay masked even after committing a crime, or in certain cases – a chance to join PRT instead of going to prison.

    New Wave treated parahumans more like regular people – ones that should be given just as much liberty as anyone else, but also held accountable in case they break the law like everyone else.

    Personally I prefer New Wave’s approach – not only it is more just, and more humane approach, but long term it should also result in a higher percentage of law abiding capes – after all people like Skitter became villains in no small part because they hated restrictions that PRT was trying to impose on capes. In fact I suspect that the higher hero to villain ratio after GM has a lot to do with the fact that there is no PRT that tries to impose its will on capes anymore.

    Interestingly the changes to legal system proposed by Carol and Natalie seem to be an attempt to construct a system in which capes would be just as accountable as New Wave always wanted them to be. Looks like Carol is still a New Wave leader at heart.

    Finally Armstrong is an interesting case, who appears to prefer sort of a middle ground approach – on one hand he is an ex-PRT director, and as such is very much for controlling and using capes, on the other hand he sympathizes with parahumans as people and wants to help them, and when it comes to controlling them – use as soft-handed approach as possible to encourage them to work with him instead of simply forcing them to accept his leadership. His approach may be the compromise that both Eric and Victoria will be able to accept. More importantly he may be the person acceptable to both anti-parahumans and most capes. Perhaps this is why both Eric and Citrine chose him the temporary commander of Gimel heroes? Though at least in Citrine’s case the fact that she knew Armstrong well for years (both were besed in Bet’s Boston after all) probably also was an important factor – not only she had a chance to grow to respect him, but she probably can predict how he is going to think and act well, and if necessary – find a leverage against him.

    The problem with Armstrong is that while in my opinion he could be a great leader short term, it is probably impossible to base how the entire legal system treats capes long term – after all he is so good because he knows when to restrain himself from using wast power that comes with his position, and once he is gone, and replaced by someone else that someone else may abuse that power just like Piggot and Tagg did, and provoke similar problematic behavior of capes they were supposed to deal with.

  27. > I read this as Velvet being a friend, and lover of both Moose and Prancer.
    Daisy is the one who had been a mutual friend and lover of both Prancer and Velvet. Moose was not romantically involved with any of them.

  28. @boonerunner: Prancer and Velvet had an open relationship. Velvet had slept with Moose on more than one occasion, as mentioned in Prancer’s interlude right at the beginning.

    Daisy was Moose’s friend, but Prancer’s bounceback girlfriend.

  29. Is there a component in the titanification process that was in part based on whether the parahuman leaned into the process.

    Mainly from Moose and Prancer’s part(poor guys). We have seen Prancer with velvet he is not a psycho. Once we see him after velvet passes, he is a bit more raw, a bit more broken. Then here when he starts to turn, he seems to have a hope to see Velvet again. Moose it seems actively steps into the titanification process.

    Is this fumehoods effect on the breaking? Trying to give a choice to parahumans to escape second trigger and titanification if they can focus on it?

    In X and Y every one of the major malfunction are in near perfect simulcra of their individual trigger situation. Victoria is also extraordinarily near hers, as it seems like the nutso rapist Amy(to think I used to be in her corner).

    Victor was emotionally raw. Contessa is maybe a bit different than others as the forks of void extending out from her node seems straighter?

    Is fumehoods somehow keeping the titanification only to parahumans who either don’t fight it that hard, like Prancer and the Nazi guy, or actively submit to it for their own purposes, like Moose seems to be doing.

  30. Moose was a Bro to the end. Sad to see him go. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop on the likable members of Breakthrough.

  31. 1. > Dauntless giant Kronos seemed a different kind of titan than the titanos we see here,
    Yes
    1) There was no black-lightning and further cracks of reality when Kronos appeared
    2) But then there was global powers blackout (up to Case 53 became limp). Not now

    2. > “Took a second to confirm location. It’s in one of the pocket worlds,” Larue said.
    > “Which one?” Antares asked.
    I wonder why Antares asked? Is there something important to her in one of pocket worlds.

  32. Well, I’m bummed about Moose and Prancer. On the plus side, hopefully Moose’s contribution to Prancoose will moderate things a bit.

  33. Okay, so they’re titans now right? They need new Titan names that fit their powers.
    Hmmm, Cronos is already done so we’ve already started with the greek theme, so keeping with that:
    Fume Hood is SUPER easy: Akhlys-Personification of the Death Mist (the ‘cloudiness’ that covers ones eyes when they’re close to death) and goddess of deadly poisons. Totes fits. Although she’s also the embodiment of sadness and misery so that’s not a very nice one.
    Contessa’s also easy, her thing is seeing the future, so she could be either Phoebe -titaness of prophecy or Prometheus -titan of forethought. If you wanted to go with just Gods though you have Nike- Goddess of victory.
    Hunter’s a trickier one, Maybe Iapetus- the piercer? He was the titan of mortality. He ended mortal lives through stabbing them with a spear and she stabs them with black piercy things. Sort of.
    Victor could be Coeus-Titan of Intelligece. I know it doesn’t seem to fit but his whole thing was gaining new skills and knowledge and that’s Victor’s thing too.
    Moose/Prancer are very strong and , so maybe Atlas-Titan of Endurance and the strongest titan? Or Krios because he’s The Ram and they both have antlered animal themes going on. I don’t know this is getting harder okay?
    Stranger from Cheit I don’t know their power but they’re a stranger so maybe Lelantos- His name apparently means “Something that goes unobserved” so that seems to fit with a stranger theme.
    Cinereal is one I can’t think of anything for. Her power is ash and fire and rebirth so … I can’t think of anyone that fits that. She’s already got the Phoenix thing going, and that’s from Greek Mythology so that could probably stay but a phoenix is a creature, not a Titan/God so it would deviate from the Theme and my brain doesn’t like that. MAYBE Prometheus given that he gave fire to mortals, and his punishment is to be constantly killed (eaten by an eagle) and reborn (literally back to perfect health at the start of every day to be eaten again) forever. That’s a big maybe though.
    Any thoughts? I know some of these are stretches but there’s only so many titans and they don’t all fit perfectly.

  34. We’ve seen Chris trying to break free from a Labrat anchor of self identity.
    We’ve seen attempts on the part of capes to resist the agents taking over.
    What if we flip that the other way around?

    What if the agents, or some of them, are trying to remove themselves from the dynamic set up by being part of an entity? Could some be trying to distance themselves from having an entity nature, to exercise agency? Could some of them have feelings? We’ve seen that they have different modus operandi wrt shenanegans; they are not all the same. Are they able to “awaken” and seek to distance themselves from the cape humans weighing them down? Does an inability to do so frustrate them at times? Are the remains of identity of cape-equivalents from previous cycles in a struggle to self assert? Do we see something of that in Butcher? Capricorn? Clusters? Echidna? Teacher’s thralls? Could that be what the Machine Army is/is doing/becoming? MArmy is Chris coming from the other direction? Did killing the entity make humans liberators of a sort for entitized agents? Can lines of communication be opened? What would the relationships formed by such communications look like? Kind of like in the Matrix, right? The programs become people?

  35. If Contessa/PtV is like a boot script, and Dragon is like a kernel, and Valkyrie is like archive packages, then the three of them [consolidated] together could reconstitute/recover/reboot an entity embryo, with the remaining agents supplying growth into a baby entity. Maybe it completes the cycle, and the humanity it carries with it sets it apart from other entities, vegan so to speak, in that it tries to solve the heat death problem cooperatively rather than confrontationally, and actually arrives at a solution. Not exactly great shakes in the way it requires Earths to get trashed, but at least something.

    1. … Talking about that, how’s the last Ashley been doing ? I suspect she could basically push the balance one way or the other. Ascension is a tough customer to bring on the “let’s cooperate with humanity” ship.

  36. I wrote some comments the other day but the internet ate them.
    But in general I like the choices of what characters we’re seeing, who got Titan’d and who’s survived so far.

  37. “she’d slept with a Ward. That probably meant some knowledge by osmosis.”

    I want to study how Eric’s mind works.

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