Radiation – 18.6

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There were capes with the sort of power where it didn’t matter what the fuck they were shooting, they’d put a hole in that something.  Damsel’s power was like that.  So was Foil’s.  Over the course of the last fifty minutes, four more had joined my squad.  All trying to do something- to find a weak point, slow a Titan down enough, get at a joint or incapacitate a limb.

There were capes where it didn’t matter what the fuck was coming at ’em, they’d take the hit and stay in the fight, or do something equivalent.  I was one of those capes.  Kind of.  Our job was to protect the first group.

Titan Skadi’s blade came down from overhead, slamming into the woman who was protecting our artillery line.  Skadi’s massive axe-hand cleaved into her from forehead to pelvis, but didn’t make it further, as the woman’s hands pressed in on the flat sides of the blade, her whole body trembling with the exertion.  Skadi pulled the weapon away with a jerk, and the woman’s two halves fell to either side, a fresh version of her partially naked, blood-streaked upper body lunging out of the massive wound like a person coming out of the water.  Bigger, stronger, with a wreath of molted, wounded versions of herself draping one side of her chest, hips, and forming a skirt down to the ground.

Skadi hadn’t stopped though.  The woman was already lunging, covering a quick thirty feet in her efforts to get in the way of the next axe swung.  She caught the blade itself with what might have been only the longest two fingers of one hand, slowing it down just enough she could kick the part of the hand that wasn’t blade, the curve of the axe that led down to the lowest point of the blade, and send it up and away.

Her wounded fingers peeled back to become a sleeve of sorts, skin thinning, a fresh hand revealed.  She was already preparing for the next attack, panting for breath, clotted blood making its way through her hair.

She straightened, and I could see the pride in her eyes.  Every damn move we made that kept people alive and kept us going was worthy of that, I knew that.  I knew that the Flower of the Hecatomb was a cape who had been brought to our world by Khepri and never put back where she belonged, and her journey had been a long and hard one.

She turned to say something, because she’d bumped into someone in her haste, and she came face to face with a person who was trapped in a dissolving state, thirty percent of a person frozen in time, their bodies cut off at a point, the edges constantly shedding a ‘smoke’ of geometric shapes- triangles, squares, circles.  A tinker in a business suit with a floating platform the size of a trash can lid, little desk terminal rising up to his chest, and a gleaming tinker mask that made it look like there was a hole in his face you could put an arm through… he was so close to her they could have touched each other.  Another cape from another world that hadn’t found his way back, he’d acclimatized more, spoke our language.

I saw her head turn more as she realized the reality of the situation.  First, looking past the one person she’d tried to apologize to, she saw the people she’d just tried to save were already safe, phased out of existence, every body or body part that was in the way of harm gone, everyone who had been cut in half frozen in stasis.  I saw the pride disappear as the tinker gave her the briefest of looks before hitting buttons on his desk, ending the stasis.  The capes he’d affected resumed moving.  The person Hecatomb had tried to talk to became whole again, looking very surprised to have a ten foot tall, gore-streaked woman with bronze skin looming over him.

I could imagine the horror Hecatomb  felt as she looked the other way.

The artillery line was a number of our stronger attackers who couldn’t really navigate the battlefield itself.  At one side, the side she’d just tried to save from being axed, there was an amorphous cloud that people were delivering their attacks to.  A matching cloud was very close to Titan Eve, and produced some kind of nanotech replication of every strike and power effect, calculated and adapted to in the fly.

At the other end of the line, capes with short ranged abilities were getting help from Gunnery Anne, one of Advance Guard’s backline capes, who handled the training of their rookies.  She added range to all abilities, turning strikers into blasters.  Some Master minions even translated, rust spiders with fifty twitching, spindly limbs getting a brief touch from her before leaping hundreds of feet to where Titan Skadi was embroiled with the long glowing tendrils of a shaker effect.  They offered a constant barrage of fire, point blank attacks extending for hundreds of feet to scour and carve into Oberon’s back and sides.

Had been getting help from Gunnery Anne.  Had added range to all abilities.  Had translated.  Had offered a constant barrage.

Oberon hadn’t even had to turn his head to look.  A leap with a backflip, and hooved feet struck road.  The ones who weren’t beneath the hooves were still torn up into froth, bodies torn up as hooves dug deep into the road’s surface, churning up a violent mess of snow, ice, cracked asphalt and gravel-filled subgrade.

Out of position, Hecatomb reached the spot two seconds too late.  Struck at the hoof and ankle, and was left to stand there amid ruined bodies as Oberon leaped back.

It took seconds.  One bad call, by a cape who had been fighting for forty minutes with zero room for error.  Hecatomb was too frontline, the tinker Ex Nihilo was too much of a backline cape.  They didn’t know each other, didn’t speak the same languages, probably, and hadn’t been positioned to know where each other were.

I wanted to tell her it was okay.  That she shouldn’t take it to heart.  I could have given her a hug, when she had been working to be a hero in a strange world where she knew nobody and nothing, and that heroism had come down to this.  One mistake she would carry with her for the rest of her life.

I wanted to condemn her, to yell at her, to say that if she couldn’t keep people safe, she needed to let us know, because Oberon had just torn through twenty capes and we couldn’t afford to lose those capes.  They were humans, most of them people fighting for humanity’s sake, with families, friends, teammates.  They were people who could do some damage to Titans, and we had too few of those.  And every person that died increased the chances that if and when the next breakdown came, cracks spreading, Titans rising, each and every death we’d suffered here could be the one that made the critical difference between someone turning into a Titan or not.

I didn’t make a call on exactly what to feel, because I had shit to do.  With no resolution made, the feeling sat heavy on my chest, like all I had was the common element between the two contradictory impulses.  Feeling disheartened.  Profoundly sad.

All I could do was carry that feeling, like when hiking, tired as shit, and then being made to carry another ten pounds worth of stuff for the remainder of the way.

Our capes who weren’t annihilators or ‘survive most things’ were on the ground, some using powers, some providing others a chance to get around.

No end to this slog in sight.

That thought came with a panicky feeling, one I wasn’t willing to carry.  I flew harder, focused more.

Damsel had leaped off of a building, blasting with her power to extend the leap, black dress and hair flapping behind her.  Oberon brought up one hand, almost a ‘stop’ motion, except backhanded, and produced a delayed shockwave, if it could even be called that.  A wall of force.

She had already stopped blasting, brought her hands forward, and blasted her way past that wall of force, one handed, knees pressed to her chest, head ducked down.  As close to a cannonball one might hope to manage while putting out maximum-recoil, reality-shattering force at full blast.

A second later, she blasted behind herself again, to regain forward momentum.

Titan Oberon took a step backward.  I flew after Damsel, anticipating that Oberon might attack, and when he chose to attack Foil, I instead shouted, “Hold!”

She stopped using her power.

My boots found the spot on her back between her shoulderblades and at her tailbone, steadying her rotation through the air.  I flew, driving Damsel forward and toward Oberon.

I stopped, let her carry on forward.  “Sveta!  Damsel!”

Damsel swatted at his ‘face’ with a two-handed blast as she hurtled one direction and he lunged the opposite way, toward me.  Sveta was airborne, tendrils out and ready to catch her.

I dodged Oberon and dodged the spray of blood that gushed from his new head wound.

Foil.  I shifted direction.  Foil had leaped off a building as Oberon  sent a shockwave rippling toward it.  Gundeck had fired a salvo of ten missiles at her with some weird, fucky targeting.  She stepped on each missile in turn, buying herself seconds.  Buying me seconds to get to her.

Oberon punched out another shockwave, heavy with his breaker energy.  I put myself between Foil and the blast, and felt it saturate the forcefield, making it pull apart.

I felt something tug on my forcefield with immense strength.  The shockwave.  I canceled the forcefield, dismissing it and letting that clingy energy fall away.

Behind me, on either side of Foil, dust, snow, gas, and other airborne material was glowing gold-green, before that same tug threw it into the face of the nearest building.  The shockwave, delayed, and extra effective against a material that had been made even more weightless, even more vulnerable to outside forces.  The force with which it struck the building made the building creak.  People on the ground used shaker powers and changer forms to survive the impact.

Re-enabling my forcefield, I caught Foil, bracing her head and back with multiple hands.  Off to the side, the missile barrage turned in the air and chased Titan Oberon.

I followed her gaze.  She was less concerned for her own welfare than on the damage that had just been done to our artillery line.

On the ground, the gap in the line was being reinforced by Parian’s dolls.  A giant doll with a smiling daisy for a head was the only one of the original batch.  Three more just looked like giant, naked babies, no eyes, no hair, no clothes, no features.  Conserving cloth now.

Another kind of frontline combatant.  The expendable sort.

The Titan leaped back, dodging.  Solarstare was standing on another rooftop, and directed a blast from her eyes to the Titan’s leg.  It looked like molten gold or magma, moving too fast for how solid it appeared to be, a column that was a good five feet around.  Chunks of Titan Oberon flew free with the blast.

The intention was clearly to slow the Titan down so the missiles could catch up.  Instead, the Titan rolled with the blast, ducking and almost twirling as it was driven back.  Two of the ten missiles were caught up in Solarstare’s blast.  The Titan’s sweep of an arm produced a shockwave that disrupted the remainder, and broke up the flow of Solarstare’s power enough he could hop a good distance away.

Other capes were there to meet him.

Solarstare stopped her output.  What had been near-solid material became white flame, hot enough to do more damage to Oberon just from the residual stuff that clung to where she’d hit him, and to turn the road and the rubble of fallen buildings to a glassy texture.

Flame became sparks, heavy in the air, and those white sparks glowed bright, brighter, too bright

I was already shielding my eyes.

Her power produced a three-stage effect.  The third one was more of a problem for us than for the Titans.  Anyone who didn’t shield their eyes would be blind for twenty seconds to two minutes.

I would have told her to fuck off, personally, but the people in charge seemed to think she was having enough of an impact that the hazard was worth it.  If Gundeck weren’t here, someone who worked with her and managed her, then I might have questioned if they realized it.

Gundeck hefted two guns very much like what I’d envisioned getting when I’d asked for weapons.  Each looked like it could be mounted on a tank or boat, barrels telescoping out to a full ten feet in length, with gaps for venting along the sides.

Each fired one shot, a single armor-piercing shell.  The kind, I imagined, that would put a hole through an aircraft carrier.  It put a hole in Skadi.

Tinkertech reloaded his weapons as he let mechanical arms pull them back, and he let one beefy, armored mechanical arm hand him a shorter firearm.  He had enhanced strength, but not enhanced durability, so he leveraged most of that strength carrying his military inspired tinker weapons.  The mover that was helping him get around the battlefield perched nearby, looking nervous.

“If I’d left earlier…”

I looked down at Foil.

She was fixated on the line Oberon had trampled.

“I had no crossbow, no darts.  If you hadn’t kept me in the fight, I would have been down there.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that.  I settled for, “No way of telling.”

It didn’t make sense as a response, but my focus was elsewhere.  I couldn’t afford to make mistakes like the Flower of the Hecatomb had.  I had people to keep track of.

Damsel might have been down there too.  Her blast was short ranged, and it was only her unwillingness to be beholden to another person that kept her here and active.

Sveta was sticking by Damsel and Solarstare now.  Solarstare used her power again, aiming for where Gundeck’s bullets had punched into Skadi, while Skadi was fighting her way through Titan Eve’s clouds.

I’d have to protect my eyes in a few seconds.


“Victoria!” Foil called out.  “Opposite direction!  Fly!”

I reversed course, then checked why I was reversing course.

A vague black-brown headless bird shape was soaring our way.

“Let me off!  Onto its back!” Foil shouted.

A Parian creation.

I didn’t ‘let her off’, but I did lower her to where her feet were on the thing, then made sure she was secure on its back.

“I’m good to let go?” I asked, over the rush of the wind.

Foil nodded.  “Don’t go too far!”

It wasn’t really flying so much as it was gliding.  It seemed heavier than might have been necessary, and only the gliding aspect of it really kept it aloft.

I stayed flying with Foil, making sure this was okay.  Skadi teleported, appearing on Fume Hood’s opposite side, and was blocked by a wall that formed while she was mid-swing.

“She’s out of supplies!” Foil called out.

I thought she meant a Titan at first.  “Parian?”

“Yeah!  If she’s using leather- leather’s her best material, but it’s hard to get!  We’ve done this before, trick is that she needs to keep an eye on me!  She can’t see out of her creation’s eyes!”

“I can keep doing what I’m doing if that’s easier!”

“Others need your help!  I trust her!  She probably has a reason!”

The others. I pulled away a bit, still close enough I could fly in to catch Foil if she fell or if a shockwave rippled past us.

Gundeck had a mover to mobilize him, but sometimes needed proper, outright protection.  Solarstare was in Sveta’s company.  A cape I didn’t know was flying close to them, playing defense.

Teem was the fifth of our six ‘annihilators’, though I was more of the opinion that Solarstare and Teem weren’t quite in that bracket.  He was more independent, circling around looking for opportunities.  Teem had flirted with joining heroes and villains at different points, with the closest call to actual commitment being when he’d stuck with the Crowley Fallen for a bit.  That he gravitated toward the ‘jackass’ type cape and seemed so reluctant to actually commit to anything, including a serious attack against a Titan left me with a less than stellar view of the guy.  When he did act, he produced a tide of what looked like all the master minions that had gone from the drawing board to the trash bin.  Too small, too weak, missing essential parts…  Most were so dumb they fell or wandered into the cracks in reality.

Still, I’d keep him alive.

Number six was the leader of the Girls at Bat.  The gas from Titan Eve’s attacks against Skadi was getting uncomfortably close to her.  Sveta was closer to her, one of three capes fielding the far side of this particular clearing, where a half-dozen stomps had leveled buildings and gas had leveled more.  There were capes handling the defense and mobility there, but I had a bad feeling.

“Don’t do anything for a minute!” I told Foil.  “Heading over there!”

Foil used a hand gesture, the Syndicate connection letting Parian know what she meant.  The headless bird lifted her further up and away.

It took me a minute to get to our sixth ‘annihilator’.  I had a second to hold my eye closed, bringing up camera feeds.

Capricorn was bridging gaps and making the shattered landscape easier to traverse.  I could see evidence he’d shored up a building nearby.  I would have been nervous if I’d been on the ground beneath that kind of structure.

Rain was helping with the wounded.

I already knew what Sveta was doing.  Right now she was getting Solarstare out of the area, as the artillery line gave their all to try and take down Oberon.  Much of that was in the nanotech blob that hovered over him.  Hurting him was slowing him down.  It was the Prancer effect, that his power made him more and more agile as he avoided harm.  The sustained onslaught kept him from picking up speed.

Lookout was on the computer.  She gave me a wave as I checked in.

Text appeared outside of my field of vision, above where my eyebrow was.  DRAGON WANTS HELP WHEN YOU ARE FREE.

I nodded my confirmation.

Dragon had been in the fight earlier, leading one wing of the artillery line.  Skadi had gone after her enough times that she had backed off, so the Titan wouldn’t hurt bystanders in the course of attacking Dragon.  Now and then, she fired off shots with her laser cannon, but most energy went into forcefield protection for the non-artillery backline.  Relief capes, care for the wounded, and, from my Syndicate awareness of Tattletale, I could tell it was the thinkers.  Everyone who wasn’t actively fighting.

More stuffed animals were marching out of that encampment.  These ones were bloody, dusty.  The fabrics that they were made of were… recognizable.  I saw some that had the hard, angular designs of Advance Guard.  Panels of body armor dangling if they weren’t worked into the materials.  Straps aplenty.  Reflective material.

Tiger and unicorn.

How did that conversation go?  Can I strip the dead to use their costumes for my stuffed animals?

The cape I’d come to help was Switch Hitter, leader of the Girls at Bat and not a cape that had sought out the big time by any means.  She wore a wool baseball cap with a brown ponytail sticking out the back, a winter baseball coat, scarf, and domino mask, and her legs were skinny in black leggings beneath the heavier top layers.  She held a baseball bat in each hand, but each one was power-touched.  One was elaborate, ornate, with the appearance of…

I was distracted by Teem, who was airborne, his silhouette barely visible behind the output of what had to be thousands of minions ranging from the size of a quarter to the size of a bear.  Titan Eve stumbled, and her wall began to break up.  Skadi gouged her.  The tide of creatures turned on Skadi, and made her buckle.  Some, it seemed, were clinging and doing a bit of damage.

The bat looked like it had been encased in craggy glass or ice, the interior replaced with a localized galaxy or black hole.  Glittery motes of light swirled around a dark central nexus.  It rested against her shoulder.  The other bat was wreathed in gold horns, trim, and other decoration that didn’t seem to touch the bat it lazily rotated around.  The wood at the core glowed.  The bats didn’t match her costume at all.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes,” Switch told me.  She swung the gold bat, the other one still resting against her shoulder.  A slash of gold flew out and hit the wall of hard gas, parting it.


“Nah,” she said.  I thought for a moment she might be a Rachel type, not prone to explanation or sharing, but then she added, “Lonely.  Freaked out.  And my eyes are actually sore.  These goggles, they do nothing.”

She attacked again, a trio of one-armed swings made with enough force and intensity that I had to imagine the bat was made lighter by her power, or she had some good muscle on that arm.  The slashes cut through the wall and hit Titan Eve.

“If you need an escort out, protection while you do anything particular…”

“If I go, who’s replacing me?” she asked, her back to me.

“I don’t know.  Nobody, probably.  We’ll manage.”

“Will we?” she asked.  She threw the galaxy bat to one side, and it was wood as it clunked against the rooftop.  She took a two handed grip on the golden bat, and it grew to double size.  She began swinging again.

Not that Titan Eve or Skadi even seemed to take particular notice of the efforts.  Skadi was her overwhelming, ongoing concern, still focusing on Eve as a primary target.

“You were using the galaxy bat earlier.  It seemed to do more.”

“I was.  But it’s messy and things are messy, and I can’t-”

She froze, gripping the bat.


“Hitter,” she said.  “I prefer that if you want a short form.”


She shook her head.  “What happens?”

“When?” I asked.

“When… we lose.  We retreat.  Or they win because we can’t hurt and distract them enough?”

Bad things.

But the tone of her voice- she didn’t need to hear that.

“We retreat, we consolidate information.  Some thinkers have new details, my team’s tinker said she had scans.  Something will probably come up.”

She held the bat out in front of her, and I had to imagine it partially or wholly blocked her view of the Titans.  It moved with every breath she took, and it moved a lot.  “So many people are dying.”


“I’m tired.”

“Come on,” I told her.  “I can take you partway.  Rest, drink, decide if you’re coming back into the fight.”


“You’re no good like this.  You’ve been at this a while.”

She shook her head, swallowing hard, still holding the bat out.  “My team’s- they’re out there.  With the…”

She shook her head, hard.  She made a small noise as she swung the bat, hard.  The golden lash that seemed to peel off of the bat smacked Skadi in the shoulder, carving out a furrow.  She didn’t straighten up right away, breathing hard.

“In the, um, the ranged fire group.  The bullpen.  They’d lose heart- if I called out.  I can’t-  can’t.  They said… Wardens said.   I’m one of the people who can really hurt these bastards.”

The ranged fire group.  The artillery line.

The shape of Skadi and Oberon in the clearing obscured Switch Hitter’s view of the artillery line.

I felt more than a little impatient, as much as I understood where she was at.  I spoke calmly, insistently, “You are.  Which is why it’s important to stay in fighting shape.  You’re tired.  You need to go back, you rest, maybe you come back in when these guys are too tired to keep going.”

She didn’t move, gripping the bat with what I imagined was a white-knuckle intensity.  I reached out tentatively, and placed a hand on her shoulder.  She jumped.  When she looked over her shoulder at me, there were tears on her cheeks.

A dark, shitty part of me was angry at her.  It hit me in a surprising way, like finding out a strange and angry dog was in the same room as me when it suddenly snarled.

Fuck.  We needed everything we could get.  We…

The lighting changed slightly as the fog of gas roiled and already muted sunlight peeked through.  I wasn’t sure if it was the illumination on those tracks of tears, but I found my sense of sympathy again.

“Can I give you a hug?” I asked her.  She didn’t respond, her expression hardening, then losing that hardness, like she couldn’t hold onto it.  I, meanwhile, wrestled with my own feelings, wondering what the hell had just hit me.  I was pretty sure I hadn’t ingested gas.

I had to calm myself down enough that I could give her shoulder a gentle shake instead of a more violent one.  The part of the shake where I pulled her toward me a bit seemed to break the spell, or be the second invitation for a hug that she’d wanted.  She wasted no time in hugging me, less like any hug than I’d had, more like I imagined a drowning person might cling to a rescuer.  The bat she still held in one hand thumped against my hip.

Text appeared across my right eye: POOR GIRL.

I didn’t break the hug as I bent down, using flight to stay balanced.  I picked up the second wooden bat from the rooftop.

Then I flew, carrying her away and back toward the back line.  I could feel her shaking.  I could hear her breathing while I was barely aware of my own, like I was holding my breath and I had been for a while.

Hit a wall.  Fighting too long, too hard, with too little to show for it.  Maybe she’d seen the thing at the artillery line after all.

What could I say?  She was seized with panic, but that was only part of it.

The standard method of handling a panic attack was to ground the person.  But there was no fucking ground, so to speak.  There were holes in reality.  There was no air, nothing in the environment I could point to that wasn’t ulcerous with gas, even when it wasn’t organic enough to rightly have ulcers, or riddled with holes, or decayed, or slimy, or chewed up from the fighting.

I couldn’t ask about her teammates or any people I could reunite her with, because I wasn’t sure her team was okay, and that could be the last reality she wanted to come to terms with.

“What got you into hero work?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “What?”

“How long ago did you become a hero?”

“Four years- five years.  I took a year off.”

“That’s a good record,” I told her.  “Same team all the way through?”

Foil motioned.  I raised an arm, flying in closer.

She made another motion, and then she dove, serrated railing-spear out.  She slashed Oberon along the back while he was using his shockwaves to tear through the tide of Teem’s minions that poured down from high above.  I followed her, ready to catch her if something happened.

Oberon did another one of those punches that seemed to infuse the very air with breaker energy.  It clung to a forcefield one of our defensive capes was holding up.

The forcefield came apart violently.  Oberon bolted forward.

A single shot from Gundeck stopped him mid-stride.  He resumed moving, charging into the building Gundeck was on.

Gundeck used a back-mounted rocket to get back and away.  Oberon pushed over the building, and in the process, collided with Damsel.  She’d been within the upper floor of the building, using her power to hold and contain a large sphere of the annihilation energy.

Sveta evacuated her as the building came to pieces, and Oberon fell over, a large hole in his upper chest.

It didn’t stop him, but one of his arms hung at his side.

“I was with Sacred Heart at first,” Hitter said.  “I used to be a warrior angel.  It was cool and then it wasn’t.  Legend might have opened doors, but people can still be shitty in private.  The team management said I could do whatever I liked, but the guys who were being shitty could do whatever they liked too.”

I could see the warrior angel theme working a lot better with the galaxy bat and the golden bat.

“I’m sorry,” I told her.  “That’s why you had the gap year?”

I felt her flinch at a loud impact in the fighting below.

“…Quit for a year.  Perfect timing, no teammates when the end of the world came.”

She was breathing more normally now, which wasn’t to say she wasn’t still audible with it, still faster than I would’ve liked.

Foil was waving me down.  I really wanted to go drop Hitter off, then come back to support the teams, but…


“Detour,” I said.  “Sorry.”

“No.  Do what you have to.”

Foil was steering the gliding bird.  I flew over and provided some support, so it wouldn’t require so much effort to keep the bird aloft, and so the movement would be smoother.

“Antares, I’m retreating,” Foil said.

“Oberon’s hurting, Skadi and Eve have a stalemate, and that’s a balance we can maintain.”

“How much longer?” Foil asked.  “If you tell me it’s ten minutes, I’ll push through.  But I don’t think it’s going to be ten minutes.”

I looked from her to the Titans.  Oberon was focused on recuperating, and Teem was making that difficult, flying up and pouring more minions on the Titan.  Skadi kept trying to find weaknesses in Titan Eve’s defenses, and when she succeeded, she delivered heavy, gouging blows.  Eve’s gas didn’t seem to affect Skadi much.

“Damsel is at her limit and I think she’ll start making mistakes soon,” Foil said.  “She needs to retreat too but she won’t because she’s proud.”

I looked at Damsel, who was with two of the capes who weren’t Sveta.  Sveta was helping Gundeck pick up tech that had been damaged.

Foil continued, “The expendable troops like Parian’s stuffed animals are running out.  One of the flying defenders we were leaning on got taken out of the fight by the green mess on his forcefield.  This-”

“This is working,” I said.  “Slowly, but it’s working.”

“It’s not working,” Foil said, back straight, voice firm.  “I think if we go back, they’re going to tell us that.  It cost us… so much to get even this far.  You fly, you don’t use your muscles to lift.  Some of us have been running, climbing, fighting, scrambling for cover for close to an hour.  If I had to quick-step over fucking random missile stepping stones one more time, I don’t think my legs would move fast enough, even with enhanced timing and coordination.”

“I’m glad it’s not just me,” Switch Hitter said, quiet.  “The tiredness, not the missiles.”

“It’s everyone,” Foil said.  She turned my way, visor-covered face aimed right at me, my own reflection dark in the tinted surface.  “Even you, Antares, it might be wearing you down more slowly, but I can see it in how you stand.”

No magic at work, no gas affecting emotions and making Switch Hitter break down while it made me angry.

Just… too much hopeless fighting.

It was a repeat of my sentiment from earlier, my anger mixing with my sympathy for the Flower of the Hecatomb.  The feeling that existed in the intersection between the two emotions.

I looked away.  “I’m going to go get the others.  Can you give Switch a ride?”

Foil nodded, “Might be a rough fight, but…”

I transferred my passenger over.  Foil made an arm motion, using the Syndicate connection to pass it on.

I flew to Damsel, Solarstare, and Sveta.

“Retreating?” Sveta asked me.

“No,” Damsel said, before I could answer.

“Yes,” I said.  I knew Ashley Stillons well enough to know how to handle this.  Damsel wasn’t Swansong but both were Ashley.  “We need your help to slow them down if they attack us while we retreat.”

“No.  If you want me to follow your instructions so you can get me close enough to them?  Fine.  But I’m here to kill Titans.”

Ok.  Maybe not quite.

“Morale is breaking.  People are worn out, they’re spooked, we need to regroup.  Trust me, there’s two dozen people on the ground there that you’ve impressed by getting in the thick of things and staying there.  If you’re not the first one to walk away, they’re not going to care about you retreating.”

Solarstare, right next to us, used her power.  I could feel the air rush past us as the massive, twisting column of molten gold sprayed out.  Skadi stumbled into a cloud of gas, which solidifed around her.  Blisters appeared on her armor.

“I said not to do that so close to me!” Damsel raised her voice.

“Easy,” Sveta said.

Solarstare looked over and smiled.  “Sorry.  Saw a chance.”

“A chance to blind me?” Damsel asked.  “Set us on fire?”

The gold ignited.  We all backed away, Damsel blasting with her power, long claw fingers extended to provide the widest distribution possible to provide a kind of shield against the heat.

We were momentarily cast in shadow as Titan Skadi appeared in the air, landing atop Titan Eve.

I tensed, watching.  Was this a connection?

The cloak of gas around Titan Eve solidified, and she shrugged free of it, backing away, bumping into a building in the same row of commercial buildings we were perched atop.  One of the buildings rumbled without toppling, like the internals were collapsing in on themselves.

The flash of light came next.  Damsel snarled.

Snarled more as Titan Eve crashed into the building she’d bumped into, while we had our eyes covered.

Sveta spoke up, “Antares and I have you.  We’ll adapt if there’s any side effects from powers.”

I had the immediate impression that Sveta was here not so much because she was keeping them out of danger, but because she was keeping them from being at each other’s throats.

“Damsel of Distress, listen to me,” I said.

“Don’t talk to me like you’re my father, using my full name.  You saw the dream.  You should know what I did to him.”

“I know and right this second I don’t care!  Fuck off!  Listen, they aren’t going to care if you back off!” I told her.  “You kicked ass, you hurt Oberon, you got your moments.  But if you stay and you die, they’re going to pity you!”

I saw emotions cross her face.

I saw new emotions take over.

“If you die after getting a few feet of bladed fingers shoved in your ears and end up deaf and lobotomized, I think they’ll pity you more,” she said, snarling the last few words.  “Not that I think a lobotomy would do much.”

Solarstare laughed.  Damsel’s expression changed.  Almost feral.

My forcefield caught her wrist before her clawed hand reached Solarstare.  I saw the power dance from palm to the tip of the long claws.  Sveta pulled Solarstare clear out of the way.

Damsel used her power, a slow-burning rumble of blackness in her clawed hands, just to my left.  If I’d lowered my arm to my side, I would have touched it.

I caught her other claw.  The power burned there too.

If one spark or flicker danced back toward her wrist, it’d hit my forcefield, and I’d lose that protection.

Damsel smiled.  Her power intensified.

“Come with us and win later or stay here to lose now,” I told her.  “And we are going to win later.  I fucking hate that we’re backing off now-”

I gave hate every bit of emotion I was feeling, almost barking the word.

“-I just had an argument with Foil over it.  The only way I’m making my peace with this is that I’m thinking we need to do it to win later.  Need to.”

Titan Skadi drove Titan Eve into the row of buildings.  The building that had lost all of its internals collapsed.

“Swansong would have gone with you.”


“So I won’t,” Damsel said, staring me down.  She didn’t flinch as the building fell.

Off to our right, Titan Oberon was rising to his feet.  Gundeck opened fire on him.

“That makes you more of a slave to her legacy than if you were your own person,” Sveta said.

“Do you want to die when I’m done with her?”

“No, I don’t want to die,” Sveta told Damsel.  “Neither do you.”

“What if I don’t give a shit about dying?” Damsel challenged her.

“You sound like my nephew,” Solarstare chimed in.

“Not helping, Solar!” I hissed the words.

“You could say ‘you want ice cream’ and he’d be all ‘no I don’t!'”

“Sveta,” I said.  “Take Solar?”

“I think I should take Solar and you.  If she wants to stay, let her.”

I relaxed my grip on Damsel’s wrists, then pushed them away, so they went back toward her sides.  In the corner of my eye, I saw the claw move back in my direction, power flaring-

My instincts were divided between tearing her to pieces and buying into a bluff.  I decided on the bluff, then remembered my judgment of what was an ‘Ashley’ behavior wasn’t quite right.

But it was a bluff.  She had no idea that my forcefield was reaching for her, and that I turned it off a moment before it touched her.  Her claw folded up, fingers all together with a clack, power dissipating into wisps and arcs of darkness.

She didn’t budge, and still held a confident smile.

“You’ve got a team to look after,” I told her.

“If the idiots are still alive,” she said, pushing past me, but she did push past me, her shoulder brushing roughly against mine, heading toward the defensive lines.

I took flight, “Going to check on Gundeck.”

There were more capes in the artillery group right this moment, all of the benched ones and the ones who weren’t part of the present rotation joining in.  Dragon had repaired a cannon enough to use it, opening fire as well.

Skadi kept fighting Titan Eve.

I flew up to Teem, reaching his side.

“Ready to retreat?”

“I’ll catch up,” he said.  He’d been touched by gas at one point, and had holes in his arm.  His own minions were wriggling through the spaces, maggots in their jaws.

Gundeck, then.

He was doing the bulk of the work with Oberon, attacking from a different angle with well placed shots, utilizing impossibly high-velocity rounds with multiple guns in tandem.  I could see parts of his armor glowing red hot around the vents, as he overheated.

“Ready to go!?”

“Guess I have to be, don’t I!?”

“Want a lift?”

He nodded.

He was, all guns and gear included, about as heavy as anything I could lift.  I carried him off, tracking Teem, Sveta, Solarstare and Damsel out of the corner of my eye.

The other capes on the battlefield, ones on the ground, utility capes, movers, even Imp, who had delivered the occasional bomb to a titan that stayed still enough, were making their gradual retreats.  I didn’t fly at my fastest speed, just so I could keep tabs on them.

Gundeck fired one shot, and my forcefield failed.  He dropped out of the air.

I dove after him, catching the man.

“We hit a wall,” I told him.  “They couldn’t keep it up with the pressure and all the running around.”

“We were bound to.  If not now, would have been later.”

Because this is ongoing.  There are more titans.  They don’t get tired.  They’re powerful.

I still couldn’t bring myself to make total peace with it.  I dropped Gundeck off at the edge of the camp, then circled back.  I saw a cape carrying Torso over one shoulder, Torso’s limbs dangling.

“He okay?” I asked.

Torso stuck out a hand, clad in its elbow-to-shoulder black glove, thumb up.

“Wore himself out,” the cape said.


I saw other faces.  Capricorn had been at one of the flanks.  He stopped at a point below me, and I flew down to his level.

The stragglers headed our way.  The artillery line was backing off too.

Oberon stood straight again.  The damage of the holes to his face, upper chest, and hooves had healed.  Other damage had become shallower, mending.

We would walk away from this and he would be back at full strength in half an hour, maybe an hour.

“Vic!” Sveta called out.  “Capricorn!”

I floated up.  Capricorn jogged over.

Precipice was there with Sveta.  The Undersiders were gathered, some a bit worse for wear.  One of the dogs was melting, but it looked like that was because the dog form was wearing off.  I’d seen it when we’d grouped up before.

Some of those were off on the other side of the crowd.  Members of Deathchester now.

“We can’t retreat,” Tattletale said.  She had her hand on Foil’s shoulder.  Foil craned her head around.

I shook my head.  “I know we can’t, it’s disastrous, but-”

“We can at least call this a draw,” Tattletale said.  “But it’s not going to be easy.  One last push.”

“Five minutes,” Rain said.

“Remember when I was chopped to pieces?” Tattletale asked.

“I remember,” I said.  There were other things I could add, but it wasn’t the time.

“Remember when you sent me a message in gibberish?  And I spelled out a message for you, and-”

“I got gibberish.”

“Yeah.  Guess who’s speaking gibberish right now?”

She wasn’t really expecting me to play twenty questions.  Her eyes pointed the way to the target.  That battlefield had only three Titans on it, with a few scattered people distracting and holding the line.

I could have asked which Titan, but Skadi abandoned her fight with Titan Eve to appear at our defensive line, blades crashing into forcefields and a hastily erected wall of mucus, and Tattletale’s gaze didn’t waver.

“Not Oberon, Lookout said there’s nothing in there.”

“Eve,” Tristan said.

“I’d show you a gallery of pictures, do my detective ‘how I figured it out’ monologue,” Tattletale said.  She kept her hand on Foil’s shoulder, as Foil tried to leave.  “But-”

“But you cheat, so it’s kind of like a golfer hand-dropping a ball in the eighteenth hole and bragging about technique,” Imp said.

“But there’s no time,” Tattletale said.  “It’s in the smoke.  And the stuff she’s been doing, slime, maggots, everything except rolling clouds of death aimed at us, she’s trying to tell us to go away.  It’s… not words, it’s her body language.  Filtered like our communication was filtered, because she’s far away from having a body right now.”

“Why?  She thinks she can win?” Sveta asked.

“She had chances, before Skadi.  Right now, though, she just wants to retreat.  She’ll go to Dauntless.  Titan Kronos.  All we have to do is keep those two Titans occupied while another group goes after Titan Auger.  They’ll defend their network.  Then Titan Eve ceases to be a threat.  It’s a draw.  Now that we know Eve wants to retreat-”

Think she wants to retreat,” Imp butted in.

“-we have a way out.  And it’s temporary and it’s shitty, and we’ll have people running off to fight other titans, but it’s the best we can do for now,” Tattletale said.

“Sometimes you talk, and you keep talking…” Rachel said.

Sometimes she keeps talking?” Imp cut in.

Rachel elbowed Imp harder than necessary.  “…You could stop talking halfway through and it’d be just as effective.”

You’re going to get on my case about speaking style and nuance?” Tattletale asked.

“If you’re being dumb about it, yeah,” Rachel retorted.

“Ooh,” Imp said.  “Come on, Heartbroken, gotta back Aunt Rachel up.  Give me a good ‘oooh’.”

There was a very unenthusiastic set of ‘oohs’ from three very tired, slimy, and banged up Heartbroken.

Text appeared at the corner of my vision: C&D: Oooh.

I looked over at the crowd while the Undersiders were being dumb.

“Already told the Wardens.  They’re recruiting people for the big push,” Tattletale said, as I looked in that direction.

“How big a push?” I asked.

“Five to ten minutes of hard fighting, and we have to hit them hard enough we’re in Skadi’s sights from start to finish.”

I looked at my team, and they nodded.

Precipice wasn’t at his best, since our stunt with the dream room had left him with minimal power.  No range, no accuracy, no good way to use his power to perform weird maneuvers, no tinkering, no emotion power.

Sveta was tired but she’d been helping, doing good work.  Tristan was heartsick, if nothing else, his face sweaty behind the cover of his mask.

Foil was still staring in that direction.  Parian was over there.  Even the Undersiders looked tired.

Everyone, really.  Foil hadn’t been wrong.  Lots were coughing, because they’d inhaled trace gas.  Some were rising out their eyes with squeeze bottles that had tapered nozzles.  Others were grieving.  Teams that had gaps in their ranks, maybe people who looked like they were trying to take charge when they had no idea how.

“She’s crying behind her mask,” Foil said, with alarm.

“I know,” Tattletale said.

“What the hell?  You were telling me not to go to her?  What the hell happened?”

“I told you and I’m still telling you.  Don’t,” Tattletale said.

“Why the fuck not?” Foil raised her voice.  Heads turned.

“Because if you go, she’ll lose her nerve,” Tattletale said.

“If you’re sending her into a suicide rush, I swear-

“You have to finish your threats,” Juliette chimed in from the back.  “Tell her you’ll kill her.”

“Not the time, Juliette,” Imp said.

“It’s not a suicide rush,” Tattletale said, quiet, soothing, confident.  “But it’s not easy.”

“If you think I can’t support my girlfriend-”

“I think you can support her.  You’re good for her.  Too good,” Tattletale said.

“That’s the most ominous shit I’ve ever heard,” Foil said, sounding more agitated than when she’d been trying to convince me to retreat.

“Yeah, well,” Tattletale said.  “Be there for her after.”

Parian left the conversation, went to another group.  The Rooftop Champs.

One question.  A short discussion after.

In the distance, Titan Eve was losing.

We didn’t really have long.

I floated closer.

“The Wardens gave permission for some.  For most,” Parian said.  “They’re marking some.  I asked other groups.  I can’t really stay, they keep telling me to hurry things along, but-”

“No?” the woman with the feathered dragon boa as her costume feature said, sounding unsure.  “I-”

“He’d want to help,” another member of the group said.

“Thah-” the third member started.  “Fugh… maggot.  Preshing my brain.  Paral-”

“Paralyzed part of your face,” Feather Dragon said.  “Yes or no?  You’re the tiebreaker.”

“Yeh,” he said, bowing his head.  “He want- wants to help.  There.   It moved.”

“Thank you,” Parian said.

She turned to leave, saw Foil, and stopped in her tracks.

Tattletale pulled Foil in the opposite direction, away.

I floated up a bit, watching Parian.  Because the Wardens seemed to be waiting for her.  People were running out, telling groups to get ready.  Making last minute recruitments.

And I saw her approach the rows of bodies.  People covered in sheets.  Some with people standing by them.  She took the sheets, drawing out threads and weaving them together.

Then, with telekinetic control over fine blades, she began cutting into bodies.  Some had been crushed, some had been cut, others afflicted with gas, their skin ulcerous.

“Oh my god,” I heard Foil.  She pressed her hands over her mouth.

Flayed skin sewn to skin, like Parian had used cloth before.  Orifices sealed shut.  People became parts of a wider canvas.  That canvas, with many dead, began to take form.

The sheets became one doll.  Like Parian’s bigger creations, it reached a height of about twenty feet.  I’d seen smaller at the fight against Leviathan.  This one remained featureless.  Nothing spared for decoration.  Bloody, because the sheets had covered people that had been torn apart.

When thread ran out, she began using tendons from the body, or hair.

Skin stretched like most cloth didn’t.  But that wasn’t why it was so much bigger, or why it seemed more flexible than the cloth creations, less clumsy.

“How long have you fucking known?” Foil asked, below me.  Her voice raw.

“Since last year,” Tattletale said.  “We were figuring out Rachel’s power.  Why it was different with Bastard than with the dogs.  Why it was better with some others.  Best with Rollo, her first.  Turns out, the dog that she had when she triggered wasn’t a full dog.  Half coyote, we’re guessing.  It always worked better with halfbreeds.  Always will.  She still prefers dogs.”

Rachel grunted.

“Par always said it wasn’t intuitive, like most people find their powers,” Foil whispered.

“That… was essentially what she said, before she asked me for help.  Just in case.”

The thing took form.  It wasn’t Titan sized, but it was a bit bigger than the Gibborim Knight had been.  Skin stretched translucent thin.  It was mostly human shaped, streaked with the blood that had leaked out in the flaying.

It looked like she’d only had permission for a third of the dead.

Foil wasn’t the only one who looked horrified.

Wardens were calling out their orders when a shadow fell over the camp.

Skadi plunged her blade straight down at Parian.

The skin-thing struck out, protecting its controller, wrestling Skadi to the ground.

She cut, and the telekinesis that saturated the skin seemed to protect it from the cut.

From there, a share of the capes joined that fight, focusing on Skadi.

And we had our orders, to tackle Oberon.  To keep him busy.

“Go,” Tattletale told Foil.  “She doesn’t want to see you.”

“I don’t want to see her.  Not like this,” Foil replied, her voice choked with emotion.  “Holy fuck.”

“Go,” Tattletale said, insistent.

“Fuck you for telling her.”

“She always knew, deep down inside, I think,” Tattletale said.

“Oh fuck off.”

“You know her background, how she triggered.  It was always about skin.”

Foil shook her head.

It was Imp who steered Foil away, Heartbroken right behind her.

Parian’s creation was putting up a good fight.  Only a few places were cut, but the telekinesis was holding, and the cuts were being stitched.

Fume Hood- Titan Eve- No.

Fume Hood was already fighting as she made her retreat.  The fastest capes were engaging Oberon.  Teem had never left the battlefield.

I took flight.

No question now that we’d get our ‘draw’ for this encounter.  Skadi pinned down, Oberon still a bit damaged.  If it could be called a draw.  Fume Hood was still in there if that thing was trying to communicate, trying to pull its punches and scare us off instead of annihilating us.

Horrifying and noble in equal measure.

And we fought by similar measures, drawing out the last of what we had available to spare.  Some of us paying our own prices.

I reached the Titan, and I drew on my partner’s power to deliver the first blows of the second round, screaming while I did it, because she couldn’t.

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64 thoughts on “Radiation – 18.6”

  1. jesus fucking christ, really amping it up with this one, huh

    been a while since I’ve been left breathless by a story

  2. -Flower of the Hecatomb and Switch Hitter are my new favorite heroines. They’re tired, afraid they make mistakes yet they never stop fighting to protect their teams and save people. This chapter introduced two very lovely and badass characters and I’ll be so sad if they’ll die.

    “No. If you want me to follow your instructions so you can get me close enough to them? Fine. But I’m here to kill Titans.”

    -Damself of Distress is the most badass TSUNDERE around who doesn’t know when to give up. Only death can stop her from fighting like a madwoman she’s. I’m starting to like her, not as much as Swansong, but she’s pretty cool.

    Flayed skin sewn to skin, like Parian had used cloth before. Orifices sealed shut. People became parts of a wider canvas. That canvas, with many dead, began to take form.

    -Thank you for showing us Parian’s true power, Wildbow. Its terrifying, but hardcore beyond words. One of the most kind and peaceful parahumans hold one of the most terrifying power. Parian is freaking awesome in many ways.

    -Titan Even and Kronos being by humanity’s side confirmed. Good thing that now everyone know that Titan Eve never tried to kill them, she only tried to communicate and protect them.

    1. Still, girl should learn to keep the flesh-eating maggot gas for the second date. Else she sends pretty mixed messages.

  3. Well… they’ve figured it out, or at least some of it.

    I guess it’ll take more work to determine Eve is somewhat on their side as opposed to just using them when she’s in a loosing situation but at least they see she has some smarts remaining and can work further from that.

  4. What an awesome chapter, quite happy to see how this act is playing out.

    Parian is now one of the most terrifying parahumans. Her true power is amazing.

  5. Oh my goodness that was so good. The way you gave depth to the battle by showing all those capes. Each of them stood out to me as you carried us through the scene. You’re an inspiration, thank you for writing. Reading this makes me want to write my own stories. Keep up the great work!

  6. >I looked away. “I’m going to go get the others. Can you give Switch a ride?”

    Is that a mistake by Antares, or by Wildbow, calling her Switch after she’s asked to be called Hitter?

    Forgetting a name doesn’t seem like a Victoria thing to do, but she is under a considerable amount of strain right now…

  7. Ah. The secret behind Parian’s true power finally drops and why am I not surprised it is incredibly horrific. Like a 10x more horrifying version of that one short lived S9 guy, Skinner.

  8. Typo Thread

    with what might have been only the longest two fingers of one hand (should this description be about the blade? if so, “with what” > “by what”)
    of that, I knew that. I knew that (is the repetition intentional?)
    horror Hecatomb felt (extra space)
    to in the fly. > to on the fly.
    torn up into froth, bodies torn up (maybe reword one “torn up”)
    other decoration > other decorations
    rough fight > rough flight
    I took flight, > I took flight.
    rising out > rinsing out

    1. > I’m one of the people who can really hurt these bastards.”
      > It moved.”
      (There are too many spaces before these sentences.)

      Inconsistant capitalization of the word ‘titan(s)’ throuout the chaper (even taking into account that as a part of a proper name, or when used instead of a name to refer to particular, named Titans the word is apparently supposed to be capitalized, and otherwise – not.)

      > as Oberon sent a shockwave
      (Extra space between ‘Oberon’ and ‘sent’.)

      “Even you, Antares, it might be > “Even you, Antares. It might be

    2. “off a building as Oberon sent”
      Extra space.

      “you give Switch a ride?”
      Possible mistake, since Victoria is aware she prefers Hitter and she’s kinda focusing on helping her.

  9. – so. Parian, huh. Wow.
    – plus the offhanded reveal of Rachel’s power too
    – Foil continues to be a woobie badass. Fucking sky-stepping on goddamn missiles? Damn!
    – while Sveta continues to be a badass woobie
    – with Solarstare, we finally havea Worm character with eyeblasts. That just leaves weather control and technopathy
    – Switch Hitter feels Chevalier-esque in her power
    – Vicky is becoming even more Taylor-like, with her new impatience for people who aren’t as hardcore as she is.
    – Damsel’s bullshit is going to get her killed
    – Tattletale MVP

    1. > – with Solarstare, we finally havea Worm character with eyeblasts. That just leaves weather control and technopathy

      You could argue that weather control was already partially covered by Leviathan.

  10. Huh, looks like one of my old predictions turned out to be completely wrong. After Solarstare’s “explanation” in chapter 13.3 I thought she was one of these unfortunate clarvoyant/precog thinkers, whose ability to communicate with other people was a little off because of what their power did to their minds.

    1. I just want to know if she’s a C53, cauldron paid cape (seems most likely) or had developed the continuous flow of gold as a result of her head injury.

      I feel like her previous nature suggests an almost stuck-up rich kid who probably paid for their powers.

      Come to think of it, the cauldron capes who do have deformities appear to have much more powerful capabilities than the more regular ones… Maybe its a greater connection with their agent (Echidna was the most powerful of all and in the end she was experiencing periods where she had no control over herself), but it could be a combination of factors from more powerful agents, stronger connections AND less of the humanising formula.

      1. Actually at least two of the most powerful Cauldron capes – Alexandria and Eidolon – developed no apparent deformities after their triggers. In fact getting powers fixed their major medical problems. Perhaps this is simply because Cauldron tended to gave vials only to sick, or outright dying people more often than not (at least early on)… but perhaps a healthy, happy, mentally stable person is simply less likely to develop a strong power after being given a vial? Though perhaps at the same time such “healthy” people may also be less likely to suffer unwanted side effects like physical deformities, mental problems or difficulties with controlling their powers?

        1. Alexandria had no “apparent” physical changes, because she kept them hidden. Her entire body was actually replaced by some non-flesh material, which did not age or heal. We learned this after Pretender took over her brain-dead body, and talked about it with Satyrical.

          I don’t recall whether Eidolon’s physical changes were ever revealed, other than the healing of his chronic disability. But there was a theory, discussed by the characters within Worm — I don’t recall where — that all Zion capes got mental changes, and all Eden capes got physical changes. Some of the changes were just really hard to notice.

          1. If every Eden cape got some sort of physical change, then charlesw81’s entire question if the Cauldron capes who got deformities are particularly powerful seems pointless. I doubt that this is the case – not even because people like Glory Girl or Assault would probably noticed any changes that weren’t really well hidden, but because I can’t imagine Panacea not figuring it out a long time ago. In fact if this was the case, Cauldron might be forced to “silence” her (and any other cape with a power giving similar awareness of other people’s bodies – like Regent for example) even before Worm started. No way they could do so with that many capes.

            Let’s also not forget what Doctor Mother told “Jamie” in arc 12 about the vial she bought:

            There would be perhaps a three or four percent chance you would experience some unwanted physical changes. Zero-point-five percent chance that you’d experience changes of a degree that you wouldn’t be able to go out in public without drawing notice, even with heavy clothing.

            What seems more likely – that Jamie had a good chance to get no physical changes at all (aside from the obvious new organ in her brain), or that there was 96.5 – 95.5 percent chance that she would get a change so well hidden that even she wouldn’t notice?

            My guess is that it is just a question of degree. Cauldron capes are just more prone to physical changes than natural triggers (lots of whom have such changes as well), while at the same time they may be on average less affected mentally (though all of them seem to be to some extent, and there are plenty of exceptions – Cauldron capes whos minds clearly have been very strongly affected, even broken, by their powers).

  11. I wonder what would happen if Parian used the skin of a parahuman with interesting skin, or natural armor, or something like that.

    Also, there must be a parahuman out there with regeneration. Probably more than one such. Maybe that parahuman can be sedated and Parian can cut skin off his living body?

    1. Crawler → Parian ?
      BarfBat → Panacea → Parian ?

      Excellent power synergies have always been stupidly strong, so would probably work.
      Also, nevermind the Striker range-extender there. Put Amy or Rain (maybe Torso as well) with that cape, and murder everyone around in a blink.

      1. Lung would be ideal, only he was under Teacher’s thrall and who knows where he is now.

        Newter would be interesting, too. Bright orange neurotoxic skin wouldn’t have worked on the Endbringers, but the Titans are not nearly as invulnerable.

      2. Forgot to add: Now that Valkyrie is resurrecting the dead, there can be very few limits on what unusual skins and hairs are out there for Parian to doll up.

    2. Apropos people with “interesting” skin – Faultline’s crew has a coupe of these.

      Which leads me to another interesting potential power interaction – could perhaps an entire person folded around Matryoshka count as “skin” to Parian’s power?

      More seriously though, I wonder if Parian’s power is Manton limited so she can only work with dead bodies, or if she could skin people alive with it too?

      Either way this aspect of Parian’s power is probably not something that Grue or the people from Parian’s old territory in Brockton Bay should ever learn about, if only because it seems too close to what they suffered in Bonesaw hands. Not to mention that the fact that Bonesaw’s “plastic surgery from hell” happened specifically to Parian’s people seems a lot like another example of shards cooperating with one another to torment their hosts.

      1. Also shards’ ability to organize situations resembling their hosts’ trigger situations may still be working somehow despite the fact that shards network is supposedly down. It could explain why Parian just happened to be in the group that run into “thematically appropriate” Lord of Loss and Nursery, and why she was the first cape attacked in that fight, and the one who suffered the most horrifying injury then.

  12. I wonder when will Victoria remember that she was supposed to find a moment to help Dragon instead of staring at Parian (and likely making her even more uncomfortable than she had to be) until it was time for her to charge back into the fray. Perhaps she doesn’t understand that when Dragon says “when you are free” it likely doesn’t really mean that she can wait. It just means that Dragon is, as always, both responsible and polite enough to not put too much pressure on a person engaged on the frontline.

    1. She’ll remember as soon as her overflowing emotions are poured out through her fists, Glory Girl style.
      Also because Kenzie will probably remind her (oooooh).

      1. You mean the same Kenzie who hopefully, thanks to Dragon’s timely intervention, got only words “Sorry, technical problems” instead of the feed from Victoria’s eye camera (or any other camera in the area for that matter) when Parian showed everyone what her power is really about?

        Chicken Tenders or even Major Malfunctions did not need to see it…

  13. Jeez, fuck. Parians power. So that’s its actual use. I remember reading that it was one of the most powerful abilities in the entire setting though, I wonder how that works out?

    It’d……. be interesting to see her use her power, while keeping her… material… alive. A la Bonesaw. Now you have a flesh titan with powers.

    Switch Hitter has fucking __aesthetic__ damn! I love her.

    Can you imagine how horrifying it must be, to discover what your power does, as the Flower of the Hecatomb? You cut yourself, and slowly regenerate? And then end up trying, accidentally or otherwise, with your entire body?

  14. I think Parian is Manton-Limited. She can only use dead skin.

    I like the tease about leather in the early parts of the chapter. Clearly Foil didn’t think that through.

  15. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first: I really want an epic fantasy story starring Flower of the Hecatomb.

    With that dealt with, let’s move on. Rachel’s and Sabah’s powers clarified, the Tattletale Manuscript is as gibberish as the Voynich one, Victoria only knows how to effectively calm down LGBTQA people, and also the heroes finally learn Eve is kinda sorta on their side.

    Things are gonna get better now (until someone else gets cleaved in half, but for the time being…)

  16. I did start to wonder a few things the moment Foil mentioned that Parian could use Leather ‘cos I always figured it was just cloth, as in woven fabric… But once it translated over to Leather well… That’s dead flesh or skin which leaves some interesting but horrid possibilities… Which just came to being.

    I wonder what the rules and laws are around it. I mean, she doesn’t just telekinetically move anyone around by their skin and she didn’t seem to have the bodies carried over, then she had blades cut the skin up into strips or off the bodies so it became close enough to a clothing/leather type arrangement for her to manipulate I guess.

  17. *groans* facing gold morning 1.8, and Damsel’s STILL too bloody stupid to put anything above her pride.
    still think she’s a liability, not an asset-the longer she lasts, the more likely she is to pull and “OG Ashley” and royally screw herself (and everyone nearby) out of idiotic pride- every time Victoria drags her idiotic ass out of the fire the potential fallout gets worse >.<

  18. Me: So I feel like we might be heading for the reveal of Parian’s True Power.
    Me a little later: Yeah we’re definitely heading for a reveal, this is getting intriguing.

    Heh. Never change 😀

    >“I was with Sacred Heart at first,” Hitter said. “I used to be a warrior angel. It was cool and then it wasn’t. Legend might have opened doors, but people can still be shitty in private. The team management said I could do whatever I liked, but the guys who were being shitty could do whatever they liked too.

    Is Switch Hitter bi? Just a wild theory based on no evidence whatsoever.

    (Hitter and Hecatomb are my new faves too.)

    Oh and yay for Tattles figuring out that Fume Hood is a Good Titan (TM)

  19. I’m curious. Before the revelation about Parian’s real power, what was your theory about her power? My theory was that she could turn human beings into zombies (while still alive), maneuvering them like puppets by taking control over their clothes (kind of like Alec but with power over clothes instead of nervous system). Any cooler theories?

    1. You may want to re-read the beginning of Parian’s interlude in arc 21 of Worm. It doesn’t describe her trigger event in great detail, but mentions it, and, perhaps more importantly, describes her life before she triggered.

      Interestingly that interlude mentions cloth, not leather, as the material Parian’s power worked best with. Could it be that for some reason she’d never experimented with leather before her interlude happened?

  20. I just read Interlude 21 of “Worm”. Trying to figure out what Tattletale meant by saying Parian’s trigger event involved skin in some way. That’s a puzzler.

    1. It most certainly is. Just enough hints that you can see that “skin” might be involved in a couple ways, but not enough details to be sure what exactly was involved in the trigger. Typical “trigger puzzle” with an answer that probably says something we don’t know yet about Parian’s personality in general. Could it be that lesbian Sabah felt just as bad in her skin in a male-dominated environment as Sveta felt in her body before she was taken by Cauldron? Could it have something to do with Sabah father’s heart attack? Could Parian’s insistence that to become her lover Lily had to become her subordinate (or the fact that she chose a submissive partner in general) be important somehow?

      One thing everything I mentioned above seem to point to is that Sabah may have been insecure when it comes to her sexuality and/or gender. Maybe she was sexually abused somehow, or had some problem related to declaring her sexual orientation? Perhaps one or the other was also somehow connected to her father’s death? I could see “skin” theme somehow related to any of that.

      1. Of course “skin” may also point at racial discrimination. Possibly coupled with some of the problems mentioned above.

        Generally Sabah feels like a person who might not have felt well in her own skin. It may also explain a costume that covers her entire body complete with a wig that suggests that she belongs to a different race than she actually does.

  21. How are the entities controlling for survival instinct within agents?

    Each agent is an amalgamation of heterogeneous individuals whose survival instincts were heightened by trigger/catalyzing/crises/fracturing/transformational events and subsequently co-opted. How are those instincts/impulses prioritized in the actions of the agent? Within a human’s impulses, the strongest impulse wins out during adrenaline releasing events, sans conscious repression. But in an agent, what contributes to a signal – each abducted individual’s survival instincts being compelled – out-competing other signals? Pre-destination, traveling along, entities can presumably apply PTV, or efficient substitutes, to order rank. So what are the agent level thinker mechanisms to accomplish the same? Is it different for each agent? Which one leads in a herd of dissimilar animals unfamiliar with the rest? Which voice can be heard in a cacophony of voices? Are there self-destructive interference or amplification effects at play, assuming competitive interactions? Some of that was explored with Queen Administrator’s drive to coordinate/cooperate. What happens when one voice clashes with others?

    How is Fume Hood doing it? Is Fume Hood doing it? Contessa/Fortuna?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Separate line of questioning:
    Should Contessa have been able to set conditions around receiving sustainable approval for the ethics of her decision making from a majority of well-respected ethicists, or ethics leading peers? Legend, Miss Militia, Dragon, Chevalier, Yamada, (etc.), assuming they were aware of all the facts Contessa and those she interacted with should have had? Or would the agent see mind-bending them all as somehow more efficient? Even to the extent agents poorly understand ethical considerations, I find it hard to avoid concluding some improvement in outcomes.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    I still don’t get how Parian’s power helps in the India endbringer fight. Has somebody already put two and two together on this?

    1. >I still don’t get how Parian’s power helps in the India endbringer fight. Has somebody already put two and two together on this?

      Endbringer attacks = lots of corpses to use to make peak-power puppets – that might potentially be able to use the powers of the parahumans whose corpses were used to make them.

  22. Given how agents identify their hosts, I wonder if the giant skin puppet has access to the powers of the parahumans whose corpses were used to make it?

    1. It might have an access to the powers that always on, and never require any input from their hosts’ minds. For everything else you probably would need a functioning brain with a Corona Polletina.

  23. I wonder if we will see some interaction involving Parian’s power and that bit of Victoria’s skin Amy attached to her body.

    1. I’d rather keep Ward as tasteful and classy as possible. How about Mockument using his power on Chugalug instead ?

      1. You really don’t want to see this line?

        “What is this thing you are hiding under your cloths Amy? It doesn’t feel like your skin. Could be cancer. Don’t worry. I can fix it for you. I’ll rip it away together with half a pound of surrounding tissues to reduce the risk of any metastases, and then stitch the surrounding tissues back together. It will only hurt a lot, and scar horribly, since while our common acquaintance Riley has shown me quite a few examples of fine plastic surgery, she never actually explained e how to do it. You may want to talk to Vista how to deal with that last problem. I heard she also has some scars in that same general area, and I’m sure she has absolutely no reason to refuse to help you. It’s not like you harmed one of her closest friends, is it? And there is even more good news – your power practically guarantees that you won’t get some nasty infection while recovering from the procedure.”

  24. Oh Parian, my poor sweet cinnamon roll…I’m sorry you had to face this revelation about yourself.

    And dammit Wileyboo, if you fuck up my 2nd favorite couple’s relationship, I will never forgive you.

    That said, thank you for this awesome and incredibly emotional chapter, I love and appreciate your work so much.

  25. Wow. Darn. No shit. That’s her true power. How come Wildbow keeps finding ways to horrify us in his works?

  26. There’s going to be some relationship angst between Sabah and Lily. Sabah was upset by Lily hunting down and killing March, Lily is obviously horrified by Sabah’s ability to create skin golems.

    And I reckon there will be more animosity between Lily and Lisa. She already blames Lisa for Sabah joining the Undersiders and now she would most likely blame Lisa for this. I predict that Lily might be alienated enough to leave the Undersiders now.

    1. Well, during Lisa’s interlude in arc 10 her power couldn’t shut up about how strongly Lily dislikes “Tattletale-self”, but I think that Lily’s feelings about Tattletale are far too complicated to be summed up as a simple “dislike” because of Tattletale’s role in Parian’s decision to become an Undersider. If I interpret Lily’s words in chapter 11.10 correctly, Lily not only had many more reasons to dislike Tattletale then, but also appeared to be concerned about Lisa’s wellbeing, not only wellbeing of people Lisa constantly manipulated.

      Here’s another thing to consider about Parian and her relationship with Foil. Remember what Sabah told Lily and thought near the end of Parian’s interlude in Worm:

      “No,” Sabah answered. “I don’t think I can. It’s not that I don’t trust you, but…”

      But I don’t trust you. I can’t have someone try to possess me, to control me.

      It appears that Sabah was so afraid about Lily trying to posses, and control her that she wouldn’t accept a relationship in which she wouldn’t be a clearly dominating party, which was exactly what Lily offered then.

      The problem is that if Lily tries to convince Sabah to do something as big as leaving the Undersiders, Sabah may think that Lily is no longer as submissive as she appeared to be back in Worm. And Lily may try to convince Sabah to do just that, since Sabah’s people from Dolltown are supposedly almost entirely healed, which in turn means that Sabah no longer needs Undersiders’ money to cover their medical expenses. Another reason why Parian may fear that Lily may be trying to control her is that after March’s death that personality bleed-through effects that likely kept Foil submissive (since March always wanted to be the leader of any group she ended up with) may be wearing down.

      Could Sabah’s apparent fear of possessive, controlling people be the greatest threat to her relationship with Lily right now? Also, could the fear itself be a result of a past trauma? Possibly related to Sabah’s trigger?

  27. Question: why does everyone seem to know there was some mystery about Parian’s “true power.” I had no idea her power was anything but space filling telekinesis. Where was this skin thing alluded to before? When did everyone have time to theorize about it?

  28. In case wordpress pulls a stunt again, this is a reply to lulu’s comment from December 4, 2019 at 7:34 am, regarding theories on Parian’s power.

    I was wondering if perhaps there was a common element to all the fabrics she used – a specific compound, maybe – that was prevalent in substances other than cloth, therefore she would be able to manipulate other stuff. I hadn’t clued onto skin, though.

  29. yo are y’all forgetting about the nonconsensual plastic surgery that Sabah’s people underwent at the hands of the s9? wasn’t that her trigger event? I think that’s why it’s “about skin” – those people’s faces were literally replaced by bonesaw so they resembled s9 members.

    1. As ninegardens says (below), Sabah triggered earlier, even before Leviathan attack on BB.
      “Her father’s terminal heart attack had been another straw on the camel’s back. Alone, it was nothing, but in combination with everything else… Sabah had triggered on what was only one in a long string of nights spent alone, stewing in frustration, fear and anger in her dorm room. She’d glimpsed something bigger, something that was beyond her recall now, and she’d gained her powers.” – Worm, Interlude 21 (Parian)

  30. 1. Cauldron-style consideration: The more parahumans die in combat with Titans, the less of them could became next Titans…

    2. “I wanted to tell her it was okay.”+”I wanted to condemn her, to yell at her”
    … “I reached out tentatively, and placed a hand on her shoulder.”… “A dark, shitty part of me was angry at her. It hit me in a surprising way, like finding out a strange and angry dog was in the same room as me when it suddenly snarled.”
    Victoria’s thoughts split and it does not look like agent/human split. It looks like Diary-Victoria take some place…

  31. Man, I just realized this is a universe where you could have handheld BRRRRRT. Some superstrong character with, I dunno, mass and density alteration powers as a side effect, with a Tinker modified GAU 8/A Avenger autocannon, putting out 3900 tank killing bullets per minute. 😀

  32. @Amelia

    That Surgery wasn’t her trigger event, that stuff happened far afterwards.
    Remember- Sabah was totally a cape pre S9 (for example… see Foil’s interlude in the Ward Arc).

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