Infrared – 19.9

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“Oh my god, you are so annoying!”

“No I’m not.”

“You’re not?  Oh, I’m sorry, I must be mistaken about how I’m ready to strangle you!”

“I’m not doing anything!”

“You’re following me.  I walk into a room and you’re two steps behind me.”

“Where am I supposed to go?”

“Your room?  Anywhere else?”

“Crystal.”

Crystal turned away in a huff.

“Come and talk to us in the kitchen?” Aunt Sarah asked.

Eric retreated into the living room, plunking himself down into a chair, slumping down so his arms were up on the armrest, feet on the floor, and his upper body stretched along the seat, chin against collarbone.

He looked at us without moving his head.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He shrugged.

“How’s she doing?” I asked.

He shrugged, then mumbled, “There were some days she was really scary.  I had no idea what she’d do.  Mostly now she’s… extra teenager-ish, I guess.”

He sighed, dramatic.

“It’s tough being the odd one out, isn’t it?” Amy asked.  She was sitting on the short couch beneath the window, feet curled up beside her, a folded book in her lap.

“Really tough.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Amy asked.

“Nah.”

“You can reach out to us anytime,” Amy said.

“Okay.  Thanks, I guess.”

He got up and pulled a controller out from under the television.  He flipped the switches to turn the TV and console on, and it “Thwooomed” with the console’s startup sound.

He held out a controller, offering it to Amy and me.

“Reading,” Amy said.  “Thanks though.”

“What game?” I asked.

“Q-bert Qart?” he offered.  “Or Princess Run?”

“Are you offering that to me because I’m a girl?” I asked him.

“Crystal likes it, so I figured?”

“Dean likes it too,” I noted, recognizing the art on the box.  “No thanks.  Not really in the mood.  I’ll watch.”

“I was just being polite anyway,” Eric said.

He loaded up a game and swiped two cards from the stack by the console before sitting down.  The room was soon filled with music.

Amy took a second to pull a throw blanket down from the back of the couch and toss it over her legs and feet, before picking up her book.

I walked around the end of the couch, leaning over the arm, my head parallel to hers as I read over her shoulder.

“You’re distracting me,” she said.  Her head moved, frizzy brown hair mashing into my face as she butted her head lightly into mine.

“Who’s Roaraxia?” I asked.

“Do you want to read this after I’m done?” she asked.  “Emphasis on after?”

“Depends.  Is Roaraxia cool?”

“She’s the bad guy, and yeah, I guess.”

“Is the good guy cool?” I asked.

“No,” Amy said, sighing.  “Almost never, in books.”

“In your books, maybe.”

“It’s the appeal, isn’t it?  Peasants, criminals, orphans, they get a chance and they become cool by the end of the book.”

I snorted, got up, and took my seat at the other end of the short couch.  I stuck my feet out and wormed them beneath Amy’s blanket.

“Your feet are cold,” Amy told me, kicking me in the shin.

“So are yours,” I said, grabbing the corner of the blanket and pulling it away from her foot.  “Now they’re colder.”

What ensued was like thumb wrestling, feet kicking at and pushing against feet in a battle for control.  She wasn’t trying very hard, though, because she had her eyes on the book.  The battle was less about the feet and more about me trying to get her attention as much as she tried to avoid giving it to me.

“You need to shave your legs,” Amy said.  “It’s like sandpaper.”

“Gross,” Eric said, not taking his eyes off the game.

“It gives me the heebie jeebies,” Amy said.  “Like the squeak from markers on a whiteboard, or sneakers on the gym floor.”

“Tiny hairs, sticking in the underside of your feet,” I teased her.  “And when you walk, you’re walking on them and pushing them in deeper…”

She pulled her feet away like I was on fire, and shivered visibly, putting her book down.  My victory.

I kept going, “And when they grow, they’re pointed in the wrong direction, so they grow in…”

Amy made incoherent sounds of protest.

“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work that way,” Eric said.

“It probably doesn’t,” I said.  I let my head loll back onto the armrest behind me, no longer fighting with Amy.  “We’re supposed to take a science class next semester.”

“Chemistry, biology, or physics,” Amy clarified.  “We got the sheet in homeroom.  Also art, music, or drama.”

“Same.  What did you pick for science?”

“Chemistry.  Physics is the advanced kids’ stream and is supposed to be hard, and in biology you might have to dissect frogs.  No thank you,” Amy answered.  “Ick.”

“I thought there would be some parts of it that are useful for health and fitness, first aid.”

“You’re thinking about cape stuff,” Amy said.

“Naturally.”

“And I bet you picked drama.”

“Art,” I told her.  “At least for the one year.  I’m not very good at it, but there’s emblems and icons, color mechanics, costumes, poses and posture…”

Amy snorted.  “Of course.  I picked art too, mostly by process of elimination.  So we might be in the same class.”

“Cool.”

She picked her book up again, and I let her, watching as Eric fought a dragon, poorly.

I watched his second and third attempts before starting to give tips.

“You want to avoid that.”

“I know I want to avoid it, but where am I supposed to go?  The ground is lava.”

“Maybe don’t spend so much time near the part of the boss fight where there’s lava.”

“Oh my god,” he groaned.

“You keep on taking the big hits when you stop to heal.  It takes too long.”

“And if I don’t heal I die.”

“So don’t get hit.”

“Oh my god,” he groaned, again.  “Do you want to try?”

“You’ll have to tell me the controls,” I said.  I got up out of my seat and walked over.  Still on the couch, Amy reclaimed the blanket and tucked it under her feet.  I smirked.

I only barely had the controller in my hand when the door opened.

They were all wearing civilian clothes, but my impression of them was that they were ‘the team’.  No longer just the adults.  They looked serious, instead of looking like family.  Mom, Dad, Uncle Neil, Aunt Sarah, and Crystal.

“Are you near a save point?” Aunt Sarah asked.  “Or pause and turn the television off?  You can get back to it after.”

Yeah.  Serious.

“This isn’t a game with save points, mom,” Eric said, before taking the controller from me and going to the menu to save.

I retreated to the couch, and sat in the same spot as before.  I motioned for Crystal to come sit between Amy and I, and she remained where she was, opposite end of the room, leaning against the doorframe.

“We wanted to have a talk,” Uncle Neil said.

“Crystal is joining the team,” my mother said.  Her arms were folded.

Crystal nodded.

“Was that ever in question?” I asked.

“She could have decided to join the Wards,” Aunt Sarah said.

“People would figure out who I am pretty fast,” Crystal said, looking down and to the side.  Somehow, she didn’t look happy, which was crazy to me.  “And it would hurt the team.”

“We wanted to talk with you because of what happened to Crystal,” Aunt Sarah said.  “Based on what’s happening elsewhere, and how Carol and I both got powers, we wanted each of you to be aware of what might be coming down the road.”

“We’ll get powers,” I said.

“Probably,” my dad said.  “Possibly.  I know you know the answer, but… do you know how?”

“Trigger events,” I said.

Amy spoke up, “This is like having a math whiz in the class, putting her hand up every time a question is asked.”

“I’m not that bad.”

“It’s more serious than math class,” Uncle Neil said.  “Eric, do you understand about Trigger events?”

“That’s the day you get powers?” Eric asked.

“It’s what makes you get powers.  It’s a very important moment.”

“One of the best or worst days of your life,” I said.

“It can be,” my Uncle said.

“If you want it to be a good day,” my mother said, “The best thing you can do is be a good student, a good athlete, and the best person you can be.  Strive for things and then accomplish those things.”

“Great,” Amy said.  “I’m doomed.”

“But,” Aunt Sarah said, and it sounded like a sentence.  She gave my mom a look.  “As far as we can tell, it’s rare.  You should absolutely try to improve your chances, especially Victoria and Eric.  The powers seem to run in the family, and getting a ‘good’ trigger would help reduce the chances that you get a bad one-”

“We don’t know if the chances are as high for you, but it would behoove you to get your grades up, Amy,” my mom said.

“Great,” Amy said, making a face.

“I’ve been urging you for some time to join a club, a team, make your own friends.  You have too contained a life.”

“That’s not what we’re here to talk about,” Aunt Sarah said.  “Again, yes, I think it would be good to focus on success, but we should be prepared for the other cases.  If something happens, if you have a really bad day and you get hurt or scared or angry, then it’s possible you could have a bad trigger event.  And it’s hard.  Right now, Crystal is going through a lot.  Neil, me, Mark, Carol, we all went through it.”

“All bad?” Amy asked.

“Yes, Amy.”

“What happened?” Eric asked.

I braced myself, ready for my mom to shut it down.

“Your mother and I were kidnapped,” my mother said.  “They kept us in a dark basement for a long time.  And then they tried to kill us.”

I blinked, my head swimming as I absorbed that.  Things made sense now.  I had so many more questions.

“Neil had the accident, which you know about” my Aunt Sarah said.  I knew.  They’d met in the physical therapy after.  Her for a riding injury, him for his trigger.  “Mark-”

“I was on a boat when we were attacked,” my dad said.

The point is,” my Aunt Sarah stressed, “we need you to be aware that this is a thing that happens.  Very often, when we get powers, it isn’t always easy, fun, or great.  We need you all to be gentle with Crystal, not to pry, not to pressure, give her space, and let her handle things in her own way.”

I felt frustrated at that, yet I couldn’t say anything.  They were saying this because I’d been asking her questions before.

“As you grow up, and we bring you to more events where capes are present, it’s important to remember that many of them have been through the same,” my mother said.  “It’s a question of courtesy and cape politics.”

I nodded at that.

“It’s not just others.  We need you to be gentle with yourselves,” Uncle Neil said.  “Be prepared and be aware.  When Sarah triggered, she hurt people, badly.  I did the same.”

“And I took a life,” my mother said.

My eyes widened at that.

There was a pause, a break in the flow of conversation.  And it was my mom, wearing a sweater, her hair long, looking much like a mom, with sunlight coming in from the window, and I could see it in her eyes.  The fact that she had come to terms with that.

“…We weren’t going to mention that,” Aunt Sarah said, indicating Eric.

“I almost killed someone too,” Crystal said.

I wasn’t sure how to even imagine that.  I wasn’t sure Crystal could even imagine it, from the look on her face.

All I knew was that some sketchy people had recognized her and followed her off the bus, running after her when she ran.  I only knew that much because my mom had told Amy and me to be extra careful, and had insisted she or dad drive us if we went anywhere.

“They’re mad, now, apparently,” Crystal said, hugging her arms to her body.  “They want to get revenge.”

“Often the case,” my dad said.  “Bad begets bad.”

I could tell that my parents’ approach to things wasn’t really jibing with how Aunt Sarah had wanted to approach it.  A little too serious when Eric was three years younger than me and Amy.

“It might happen to you,” My mother said.  “Chances are the time it happens won’t be a time you’re capable of being your most rational, but that makes it all the more important that you make resolutions and understand things now.  There’s a good chance that when you’re facing the worst day of your life, you might be in a position to do irreparable harm to someone.”

“I don’t think I’m the type.”

“I didn’t think I was the type either, Amy,” my mother said.  “That makes it easier for the moment to catch you off guard.”

“It’s not all fun and games,” my dad said.  He met my eyes as he said it.

Aunt Sarah opened her mouth, like she wanted to say something… but she couldn’t refute the fact.

“If I could go back-” Crystal started.  She stopped, aware that every set of eyes was on her.  Her eyes moving so she wasn’t looking at anyone at all, she went on, “-I wouldn’t do it again.  I wouldn’t want these powers.”

“I’m so sorry, Crystal,” Amy said.

Crystal shrugged.

“That’s crazy,” I said.

“Victoria,” my mother’s voice was stern.  “We were just talking about sensitivity.”

“But she can- you can fly, Crystal.”

“And every time I do, it feels a bit like I’m still running away from those people,” she said.

“That’s a reality for many of us,” my aunt Sarah said.  A woman I’d associated with warm hugs, pumpkin cookies, and all of the cool ‘my relative is a superhero’ stuff without the ‘also my parent’ crap, except now she was talking from a place of darkness and hurting people.

“I hope I never get powers,” my sister said.  I saw Crystal nod.

I still wanted them.  I needed them.  Still, for the first time, I felt trepidation.  Because my mom, the toughest person I knew, looked scared for me.

The rooftop was covered in chairs and glass tables with umbrellas sticking out of them.  They were intended for sun more than for rain, but they did catch the rain from above, turning it into trickles that ran off the low points.

Dean was at one edge of the roof, in his shining armor, lights tracing the edges and making him seem bright even in the darkest shadow.  He let the rain fall on him without protest or trying to cover up, and turned as he followed my descent.

I chose an open area, just to be safe, and came to a full stop a full foot above the ground, so I wouldn’t mess up and break the roof.  I landed on the very far side of the rooftop.  I could see Vista leaning against the railing, and the rain that came down above her was parted, leaving her utterly dry, even without an umbrella or shelter.  Some people on the street took pictures and waved, and she waved back.

She didn’t wave at me.

“Vista,” I said.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“We’ve seen each other around,” she said.  “Events.”

“I know.  But we haven’t met.”

“Yeah,” she said.  “Are you going to surprise us and turn out to be a bad guy?”

I made a face like I was considering it, then said, “Never a possibility.”

“Welcome to the side of the good guys then,” she said, without sounding very happy about it.  No smile.

I guessed it wasn’t terribly fun to stand around in the rain, however dry she was, because Gallant and I were meeting.

“Thank you,” I told her.  “You’re my senior, technically.”

“Barely.”

“You’ve still been at this longer than me.  Already going out on patrols.”

“It’s a babysitter patrol.  Gallant’s babysitting me, and Challenger is babysitting the both of us.  She’s down in the bar below.  The owner let us up onto the roof so you could… do whatever.”

I hoped Challenger wouldn’t interrupt.  I felt antsy.

“Why didn’t you go straight to him?” Vista asked.

“Nervous,” I admitted.  “I haven’t told my sister or my parents that I’m this nervous or freaked out.”

“If they have powers, they get it.”

“My sister doesn’t.”

“Wasn’t… laser girl?”

“Cousin.”

“Oh.”

“I thought I’d come say hi to you first.  Respect to a fellow hero.  Because if Dean and I get to talking, or if you get orders to leave, I might not get the chance after… and I don’t want to be rude.”

I saw her nod slowly.  Down on the street, someone’s camera flashed.

The railing warped, going from a flat line to a circle, framing Vista.  She grabbed the sides and leaned out.

“Careful!” Dean raised his voice.

“He thinks I’m helpless or something,” Vista said.  She smiled, and I could see that one of her teeth was missing.  Then she jumped off the roof.

Dean made an incoherent sound, and started running over.  Vista, meanwhile, had a very short distance to drop, as she’d warped the space between her and the ground, by raising the ground up in a kind of pedestal.  On landing, she sat, her feet dangling just a bit over people’s heads, as they ringed around her.

Dean reached the rooftop’s edge, my side.  He relaxed as he saw her safe and sound.  She adjusted her feet, sitting cross legged on top, and began answering questions.

I watched him turn his helmet my way.  He gave me a long, serious look, before his gauntlet reached up and over, between my hood and my hair.  Touching my head.

“I like her,” I said, aware there was a possibility she could hear me.  “I spend a lot of time trying to get you to crack and show me the real you that’s behind the mask, and it looks like she’s already got it nailed.”

“I can’t see what you’re feeling,” he said.

“I thought maybe,” I said, a fragmented, incomplete sentence.  I felt like we were on our first date all over again.  “You should move your hand.  People might see us.  The, um, whole thing about me dating Dean Stansfield, it could complicate things if you’re- we should figure out what we’re doing about our relationship.”

He dropped his hand.

“Right now I want to know if you’re okay.  I was watching when it happened.  I blacked out, I didn’t see what happened, then I had my shift, you weren’t answering your calls… I thought I’d go on patrol, they said it was okay if I needed to leave any time.”

“Thus the Challenger-Gallant double babysitter for Vista.”

“I hope she doesn’t come barging up here,” he said, looking to the door, then down at Vista.

“We went straight from the gym to the hospital.  My mom wanted to make sure I was okay.  My phone’s still in my locker.”

“You didn’t answer me before.  Are you okay?”

I wanted to answer him, but I didn’t want to lie and I didn’t want to give him the real answer.

“Come here,” he said.  “I’m not getting any bad vibes from the crowd.  Vista’s safe.”

He pulled me a few feet away.  Until we weren’t in sight of the people on the street.  I wasn’t a huge fan of being pulled, but…

But he was wrapping his arms around me in a hug.

I hugged his armored body and wished he wasn’t wearing that armor.

“I think I got what Crystal meant,” I said.

“What are you talking about?”

“She said… it was like every time she flew, she felt like she was running away from the people who chased her, the day she triggered.  You don’t repeat that, by the way.”

Stupid of me to say it, but the day had been a lot, and I was feeling like more than one set of feelings were runaway trains.

“Cross my heart,” he said.  Metal fingertip traced an ‘x’ on metal breastplate.  “Are you feeling like running away?”

I shook my head.

I wasn’t even sure how to articulate it.

“What?” he asked.  His metal fingertip touched my face, cool to the touch, brushing at a droplet.

“I realized how far away my parents were.  How far away you were.  It’s like something inside of me broke.”

“Don’t break because of me,” he said, like it hadn’t already happened.

“And when I took off, flying above the city for the first time… it’s like a rollercoaster ride, and my stomach just went… whooosh.  Like I left it behind.”

“Yeah,” he said, his voice a breath.

“And at the same time, this other feeling hit me with just as much intensity, when I realized how small they were, and that they couldn’t fly.”

I shivered.

“You’re cold.”

“I’m overwhelmed.”

I waited for him to speak up, because I’d just shared vulnerability, told him just why I’d triggered, as much as I’d figured it out and put words to it.  I wanted it, badly, because he was the person I wanted to share this sort of thing with, and I wanted to share in his.  It was the last big barrier between us.

He didn’t.

But he undid a catch, lifted up his full-face visor, and showed me his face, lit up around the perimeter with the small lights that made the gaps of his armor shimmer and glow.  He had to turn his head more than usual to kiss me so he didn’t hit me with the visor.

A substitute for the answer I’d been reaching and hoping for, but… I’d really wanted this too.  I told myself he could tell me later, in a more private time and place.

“Are you okay?” Chicken Little asked me.

The question was loaded, and it was one I’d heard again and again.  Jessica’s first words on seeing me whole had been ‘you’re okay’.  Gilpatrick had asked me, my mom had asked me, my dad had asked me, Crystal had asked me.  Every single one of my teammates had asked me.

Again and again, the answer had been no.  No.  Fuck no.  Are you crazy?  No.  Or variations on that theme, like wanting to cry when I heard it.  Again and again, I’d dodged the question, avoided it, or I gave the best nonverbal cues I was equipped to give.

I reached down to the side of the crater.  The scene of my mom showing actual vulnerability after giving us the ‘talk’ at my aunt’s house changed to her sitting with me at the hospital.  My uncle at the same time and place in his house, desperately trying to ensure we wouldn’t become our own worst enemies when we faced the worst days of  our lives, one hand on his son’s shoulder.  The image changed to him showing a younger me how to swing a bat.

Dean, on the rooftop.  The image dropped away.  It became Dean and me at school, him and me stealing away to a corner of the library.  Anyone seeing might have thought we were doing it to sneak a kiss or makeout session.  He’d shown me his latest war wound, a cut at his shoulder.  I showed him my back, a giant bruise after a bad landing midway through a fight.  He couldn’t show weakness to his parents, because they didn’t brook weakness.  When it came to his teammates and the PRT staff, he could read their emotions and he could sense the degree to which they cared and didn’t care.  Through some combination of that and his unwillingness to show weakness that might see him getting less shifts, responsibilities and power, he didn’t tell them when he was hurt, hurting, or scared.

I couldn’t tell my family, for much the same reason.  But in that spot in the library, I could put my head against his shoulder, his cheek against my forehead, and we could share our weaknesses and somehow make the us stronger.

I wanted to curl up into a fetal position, lie down here, and soak in every single one of these memories and ideas.  Affirmations where I’d been left thinking there was only emptiness.  I couldn’t, when there were other things to do and an anxious kid at the crater’s edge, but I wanted to.

The only thing that would tie these people together would be if they were the sources of my powers.  And as much as my family had tried to prepare me for the fact that the powers came from a dark place…

Mine didn’t.  At least, not like this.

“A little spooked,” Chicken Little said.

“Can’t have that,” I said.  I tore myself away from the images, and floated over his way.  “Sorry.”

“You’re okay?”

“I am better than I think I’ve ever been, Chicken Little.”

“Oh?” he asked.  He looked a bit confused.  “Okay.”

I looked up at the crack that loomed high above us.

It felt like it was only now that the magnitude of what we were fighting was clear in front of me.  It felt like it was only now that the scale of what I’d been struggling with was becoming clear.

I took in a deep breath, and… it wasn’t because I was bracing myself, or preparing to shout or give an order.  It was just to breathe, and I felt like I’d been taking half-breaths so I could keep the other half of my lungs reserved for something else, without even realizing I was doing it.  I felt almost dizzy in the present now.

I blinked a few times, to get the moisture out of my eyes.

To extrapolate from there, thinking about Kenzie, who Aiden was here to help… Sveta, Byron, Rain, and literally everyone and every fucking thing else…

Fuck, fuck, shit, damn.

But it wasn’t a feeling like it was attacking me, or pressing in on me.  I didn’t feel like a pre-existing wedge was being hammered or a weak spot tested.

Those wedges were still there, the weak spots were still there.

Just… they were only there, in their spots.

All the other stuff.  Fucking all of the other stuff, were in the spots they belonged.

“What the shit are we going to do?” I asked.

“Go back to the others?” Aiden asked.  “I need to pick up Kenzie’s things.”

“Small steps first, huh?” I asked.

“Or big steps?  Flying instead of stepping?” he asked.  “I want to get back to Kenzie.  She was acting really weird the last time I saw her.”

“If that’s your instinct, I think we should follow it,” I said.  “We’re done here.  Thank you for showing this to me.”

I took hold of him.  I felt him tense.

“How urgent, do you think?  The higher we fly, the faster we can get back to her.”

“I don’t like heights,” he told me.  “But… I want to get back as fast as possible.”

Kid was a bit gallant, wasn’t he?  I could see why they liked him.

“Keep your eyes closed,” I told him.  “Trust me.”

“I can still sense the distances with my birds,” he said.

But he closed his eyes.

He was as stiff as a board as I flew up high enough that I could move at faster-than-running speeds.

“Was it worth the delay?” he asked, as we flew, his voice tight.  I could feel his heartbeat drumming against my side.

I hesitated to answer.  It was worth it to me, but… I still needed to figure out if it helped in the big picture, or if the fact it helped me would let me help more in the big picture.

“I think it might have.  We’ll have to see.  I think I understand what Tattletale meant when she said we’d find answers, but not necessarily what we’re looking for.  Why she sent you on Imp’s behalf.”

“Yeah?”

“This?  This entire landscape?  It’s not about them, not really.  It’s about us.”

“What do we do about them, then?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Chicken Little,” I told him.  His birds had taken to the air, and his huge-as-fuck eagle was unnerving me with how close it was flying.  I wasn’t sure if it was an anxiety thing.  He might have hoped it could catch him and slow his descent if he fell.

I secured my grip.

“All I know,” I said, “is what we were doing before wasn’t working.”

What the hell had we even been doing, before?

No, that was a stupid question.  I knew what we’d been doing, and why.  Fighting, because we had to.

But this was a problem with a lot of moving pieces, and some of those pieces were so big they were hard to wrap my head around.

I thought back to lessons with Uncle Neil.  Lessons I’d learned in handling my mom.  I thought of Dean.

Tattletale had mentioned a thing, when I’d described scenes I’d seen, throwing out the word ‘submission’, and it had rankled, felt wrong.  Imp had laughed.

That wasn’t the word.  That wasn’t the idea.  It was bigger than that.

“I think… I might have an idea,” I told him.

“What is oh we’re dropping okay,” he said, all in one breath.

The eagle flapped its wings to control its descent.

“We’re safe.  I’ve got you,” I told him.

With a free hand, I grabbed the rope that Byron had used to make his way down the canyon side.  A just-in case, that Aiden could see.  My feet skidded along the wall, not so much to slow my descent as they kept me and Aiden steady.

I looked at my team and I could see how weary they were.  When they looked at me, there was a deer-in-the-headlights look to the quality of it.  I was left to wonder if it had been there for a while, and they were on the cusp of breaking.  Had I looked like that?

I approached them, and I saw the image on the wall.

The Simurgh.  She had taken off earlier in the evening, after perching on Titan Fortuna for a while.  Now she wasn’t on Titan Fortuna.

The Titan was wounded, a crack dividing her upper body.  The wolf-heads that had been a wreath around her shoulders were separated by the cracks, and they were twisted, the black color bleeding away to silver.

The Simurgh perched in the crack, her wings around her.  And the ragged edges of the Titan were becoming wings, gold and black became white and silver.

Every other Titan had gone still.  The ones that weren’t were moving toward the group.  I saw Titans I hadn’t seen before, but I could recognize some by the design of them.

One, shadowy and wrapped in what looked like a cloak of black and jade, had a winged helmet with only shadows beneath the helmet’s ‘face’.

She was bent, hands out and cupped.

Within those cupped hands was Eidolon.  One of the strongest capes in the world.  He had once dwarfed Valkyrie in power.  There was no reason to think he didn’t have that power now.  The colors of him had been changed around.  A black hood with a reflective emerald face beneath, glowing with a white light.  Black sleeves.  A body suit of emerald, muscular.

A great, long-fingered hand of silver with bone-white nails reached out.  The shadow of Eidolon stepped down onto the fingertip.

Titans appeared from clouds of darkness, arranging themselves in a formation around their new center and commander.

Other things stepped out of clouds of darkness.

Not Titans, but scary enough in their own way.  Especially considering what all of this meant.

Endbringers.  One tall and narrow, of a size to rival any Titan.  One small, a knot of formlessness, with faces periodically flashing out.  One with a great chrome orb for a midsection, a black, whiskered head, arms, and feet mounted at different positions around that orb.  There were other shapes that stood in the dark clouds, but they didn’t emerge or seem consistent.  Still taking shape.

Almost twenty titans, and on shoulders, on heads, on ground, on rubble, on clouds, or just floating in the air, shades like Eidolon appeared, suspended in the air.  I couldn’t count them – the scene on the wall changed too much.

“Oh,” I said.

The others were wordless.

The Simurgh folded her wings around herself, forming a ball shape, or treating her entire body as a closed fist.

The wings swept out, unfurling and extending longer than they had been.  All across the city, it seemed, snow and wind were pushed out and away from a center point.

A hundred thousand images flickered into existence, across every part of the chasm around us.  What had been largely red and black was almost blindingly bright, comparatively, crisp and clear.

Capes, people, animals, all cringing in pain.  Where able, hands went to heads.  Knees buckled, and those fighting stopped.  Everywhere.

“We lost,” I breathed the words.

“We’re about to lose,” Rain said.  “It’s a vision of what’s about to happen.  We figured out we could ask about the future.  This is-”

“Soon,” Sveta said.

“It might be her, Fortuna, trying to communicate with us,” Byron said.

“Then we need Kenzie,” I said.  “So we can actually communicate.  That box.”

“We don’t have Kenzie,” Chicken Little said, his voice small behind me.

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30 thoughts on “Infrared – 19.9”

  1. Typo Thread:

    said, “The > said, “the
    about” > about,”
    you,” My > you,” my
    days of our lives (extra space)
    he cared > they cared
    they kept me > to keep me
    became white > becoming white (or turning, to avoid repetition)

    I know we’re all worrying about Kenzie Titan, but I’d love it if it’s just that Rachel came and took Kenzie

  2. -Nice to see more of Victoria’s memories, especially the ones with Dean. He was (and still is) such an important person in her life.

    -Next Mission: STOP Kenzie from becoming a Titan then get her help in order to save the world from this pure nightmarish lovecraftian future.

  3. -Thinking of some interesting comentary to write about Victoria,her memories,Dean,maybe some Amy-

    “We don’t have Kenzie,”

    -unholy screeching-

  4. It sort of makes sense how Valkyrie going Titan makes everything worse if she can summon a physical Eidolon because then the Endbringers are slaved to Ritan logic which means eighteen more Endbringers out and about.

    Without a Megazord or a Mazinkaiser or any other form of Giant Monster Punching Out force, the world is proper fucked.

    But if Titans come from a cape having the worst day after the Worst Day of their life… Was the mention of that (faked) Good Trigger theory foreshadowing? Is Victoria going to knowingly Second Trigger somehow, perhaps by hugging Fragile’s actual crystal body?

    In any case, it feels like the final act is here. DJ, please put Dancing Mad on repeat for me. It’s time to dance with the devil.

  5. So… if we have Eidlon, can we just use him to turn all of the Endbringers off?
    “Screw you Zizzy- time for sleeps!”

    Or like….
    If you hear the Ziz’s scream… filtered through a shard… through PtV… then who’s manipulating you? Simmy or Fortuna or no one?

    Also… I guess we now know why Breakthrough is down here (or why PtV is happy with them down here).

    Now, how the hell to beat Simmy?

  6. “You keep on taking the big hits when you stop to heal. It takes too long.”
    “And if I don’t heal I
    die.”
    “So don’t get hit.”

    Oh zion, Vicky’s one of those players. Then again, I guess a lot of her mom’s pre-cape advice was on that “git gud” level…

  7. A new Eidolon is very bad because he influences the Endbringers. Without him, the last time they did anything they sided humanity.

    I think the Simurgh was trying to clone Eidolon because she didn’t want Valkyrie to figure out how to make the Endbringers do stuff.

  8. Clever Simurgh.

    That’s where she went and why Valkyrie triggered. It was Simurgh’s plan to trigger her, bring back Eidolon in a fashion and use him to create more Endbringers with Simurgh in control of the Titans and shard network.

    Presumably it’s why she tried to initially clone Eidolon back in Worm. Her plan went beyond defeating Scion and all the way to a true Endbringing. Forget cycles and such nonsense of continuing any lifecycle. Simurgh just wants an endlessly suffering humanity.

  9. Huh. I never got the idea that Eidolon created the Endbringers.
    I always thought he was so powerful that he prompted *Scion* to create them, to keep the pressure up on humanity and force more trigger events etc.

    Still, the Simurgh was created as a weapon (whoever by), to destroy and cause chaos. Without any guidance, she’s still finding the best way to do that – now she has a chance to do it so well she might just destroy everything.

    @ GreatWyrmGold: Yep. Fits entirely with the character of Vicky we saw in Worm. Like a lot of people she was something of a turd during her teenage years.
    Watching a young Victoria gently bully Amy in particular is interesting. While it’s in no way a justification for Amy’s actions, it’d be interesting to see Vicky acknowledge the ways she contributed to the horrible way their relationship turned…

  10. Aha, it all comes together now.

    Glastig Uaine wanted either herself or Eidolon to become Zion’s partner, to continue the cycle.

    Glastig Uaine took Eidolon’s power when he died.

    The Simurgh wanted to bring Eidolon back after Scion died.

    Eidolon was the one who the Endbringers were trying to obey (albeit unintentionally, on his part).

    The Simurgh is an Endbringer.

    The Simurgh has (or, will) successfully revive(d) Eidolon.

    Eidolon becomes the High Priest, in the classic Lovecraftian use of the term.

    And, somehow, I think Eidolon would be okay with this turn of events. Cauldron’s gone, humanity’s fucked, but all he wanted was to give his life for somebody else’s grand design.

    It’s the best plot twist I never anticipated.

  11. 1. > “I thought there would be some parts of it that are useful for health and fitness, first aid.”
    > “All bad?” Amy asked. (about triggers)
    Amy here looks smarter than Victoria, despite being younger.

    2. > She didn’t wave at me.
    > “Vista,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you.”
    > “We’ve seen each other around,” she said. “Events.”
    Vista is not happy because Victoria got powers and now Vista did not have advantages over Victoria in Dean’s eyes.

    3. > “Who’s Roaraxia?” I asked.
    Any reference?

  12. Yeah, trying to imagine what that line means. We don’t have Kenzie because she turned Titan? Doesn’t seem quite right. I wouldn’t expect the undersides to be nearly as calm and collected or have a house and Kenzie’s tech to use if she’d done that while using it.

    Maybe a partial transfer to Titan that she’s stuck trying to come back from but I think there are more likely options around her finally overheating her brain and needing her tech to project herself or, more likely, she’s done something funky with the box looking into Byron/Tristan’s Space as before but transferred herself or consciousness over while doing it. Similar to entering Rain’s dream room. So she needs the tech to get back and Syndicate’s connection is somehow helping them work with her to do that.

  13. > So… if we have Eidlon, can we just use him to turn all of the Endbringers off?
    “Screw you Zizzy- time for sleeps!”

    Who is “we”? These days Eidolon is one of Valkyrie’s shades, little more than a puppet to carry out her will, and Valkyrie is a titan now. And in that possible future PtV just showed us, the titans are in turn controlled by the Simurgh.

    I doubt Eidolon could just turn off the Endbringers anyway. He may have created them, but that’s not the same as having control over them. Welcome to parenthood!

  14. Me in the last week: This is clearly wrapping up narratively and thematically, but I still feel that something really big needs to happen. There’s some Peak Worm type moment that’s missing.
    Me now: Oh.

    😀 thanks Wildbow.

    1. Even beyond just getting past the Titans we have the machine army, three blasphemies, sleeper and possibly more around cracks in reality, inter-dimensional politics and cosmic stresses together with anti-parahumans and remaining parahumans. Honestly, this is big but I could see another arc/book before Parahumans 2 wraps up. Hell, we haven’t dealt completely with Amy or Ms. Yamada’s power and the case 53’s.

      It’s possible that whatever happens from this point on simply wraps much of that up. Particularly if it ends with all Endbringers, shards and power created threats like the machine army destroyed, powers gone and the cracks in reality repaired or inter-dimensional travel ended… Or humanity and the world somehow ended or “transcended”… Doesn’t have to be a happy ending.

      One thing I’ve been wondering about, which doesn’t seem to be a power of the entities but a natural phenomenon, is how are new dimensions created? Earth Alph and Bet apparently split around the time of Scion and Eden’s arrival. I feel like there could be something to this natural process which hasn’t yet been explored.

  15. I think Eidolon’s reason for creating the Endbringers was something around needing worthy opponents. His power was steadily getting weaker over time and he didn’t understand why. He thought he needed greater challenges to stimulate it somehow.

    Not sure how much, if any, control he had over the Endbringers. They stuck to a schedule and could have done far more damage and destruction if they’d worked together like they did against Scion and attacked at their leisure or in smarter ways. Simurgh could have killed all human Satellites to seriously hamper communications and probably keep the air clear of aircraft by batting her wings to hit them with gusts on the other side of the globe. Leviathan could have just sat in the water and kept battering coastlines with waves and the hero killer could have just triggered earthquakes and stayed underground.

    But once Eidolon was dead they all came out of stasis then got coordinated by the Simurgh. They were also known to pick targets that might have been Eidolon wanting certain capes killed to maintain his dominance, or maybe create a need for him after He was disgraced and removed from power (remembering the hero killer continuing on, despite serious injury until Scion killed it).

    1. I’m still of the belief that Endbringers were actually a component of the Abaddon entity’s lifecycle and the knowledge idea of it transferred over to Eidolon’s shard either because it was an Abaddon shard that stayed viable, or because it the knowledge held in the exchanged shards was transferred over.

      As Sveta noted, the Scion/Eden lifecycle was about shards/capes fighting each other but Abaddon’s lifecycle had the shards and capes unified against Endbringer type threats, presumably created by Abaddon to encourage conflict or “worthy opponents” for the shards.

      So Eidolon gets his shard which now has abilities and built-in instructions to encourage the creation of Endbringers to test capes/shards.

  16. One thing I’ve been wondering about, which doesn’t seem to be a power of the entities but a natural phenomenon, is how are new dimensions created? Earth Alph and Bet apparently split around the time of Scion and Eden’s arrival. I feel like there could be something to this natural process which hasn’t yet been explored.

    We don’t actually know that anything ever splits in the first place. It could be that every universe that exists has always existed, and Aleph and Bet’s identical pre-entity history is merely coincidence.

  17. “Was it worth the delay?” he asked, as we flew, his voice tight. I could feel his heartbeat drumming against my side

    I wonder if that was CL feeling Kenzie go titan. They were probably linked via Syndicate.

  18. @pizzasgood: if nothing splits and there are a fixed number of universes, many of which are identical, you’d have to ask why some remain exactly the same, to the point of genetically identical duplicates in each world, and then diverge. What causes the divergence?

    I suspect there’s probably a natural force at work, likely localised to planets or gravity regions. Maybe something that takes too much energy for the Entities to replicate, or somehow evades their understanding. Apparently the shards reside in some space between worlds, so maybe there’s something in that, or they prevent the energies that build up in there from diverging into new dimensions so they can redirect the energies towards cracking the interdimentional barriers and blowing the planet apart.

  19. Whoa, I was shocked a bit today when after this chapter (and that too at such a cliffhanger) that the next chapter link was whited out. I started reading worm around 4 months ago and immediately got into Ward, and it feels so surreal that I have finally caught up with chapters.
    I hope Kenzie is okay, my reading of this chapter tells me that she either ran away to try something or is somehow in dream-room state and is in the shard network after looking at Byron and not in some pseudo-titan state like Prancer initially was in.
    Dang, on another note it’s so sad to see this series coming to an end. Can’t imagine there’s much left, we’re definitely in the end game now. I may have struggled a bit with getting into Ward, but Cast definitely grew on me. With my current favs being both Tristan (RIP) & Byron and more surprisingly Rain. Can’t wait to see how everything turns out and how capes from the past are going to factor into the fnal conflict. Cheers! 🙂

  20. “We don’t have Kenzie,” Chicken Little said, his voice small behind me.

    This could mean anything ranging from Kenzie becoming Titan, to all the Tinkertech in her head finally frying, to Simurgh Bomb Tattletale shooting Kenzie in the head.

  21. > Eidolon didn’t created the Endbringers (or Terrordrones) he merely activated them.

    I didn’t say he did. I only said he may have. It isn’t yet clear whether Eidolon’s shard gave him access to the shards Eden planned to use to create the Endbringers, or whether she’d already done that before she was disabled and Eidolon’s shard merely let him send some control signals.

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