Last – 20.3

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This facility has been raided twice, I thought.  Now we need to defend it.

A woman lunged out of a hallway, catching Hookline off guard.  She got in two quick cuts with her knife.

“Fucking-!”  Hookline drew his chain around himself, forming overlapping ‘x’s of shifting chain that blocked two more swings.  He grabbed the hook that was attached to the end of the chain, ready to swing.

Byron kicked her with a metal boot instead, which got her away.  Clockblocker bent down and touched her.

“Fucking hell,” Hookline muttered.  Blood ran down from his lacerated arm to his elbow.

Win hurried to catch up.  “There was a group in a side hallway.  I would have warned you.”

“It’s okay,” Clockblocker said.

“Real fucking okay,” Hookline swore, pulling a bloody hand away from the knife wound,  “Fucking…”

“I’ve got bandages,” Gibbet said.

I took a second to make sure we weren’t inadvertently letting ourselves get split up, while she got the bandages out.  She began walking with him while wrapping his hand.

“Shit,” Clockblocker muttered.  “She’s holding on too tight.”

He was trying to pull the knife out of the woman’s hand.

“Heads up, coming down,” I told him, before floating down, being careful with the gun I was hauling.  In real life, there was no slapstick when a twelve-ton weapon was swung around haphazardly, only tragic brain damage.  I took hold of the woman’s knife and snapped it off at the handle.

“That works, except, uh, hm.  I don’t even want to know how your forcefield works now,” Clockblocker said.

“She works very well right now.  I’m hoping she stays that way,” I said.  I pushed the blade into the wall to the point there was nothing sticking out that could be pulled free and used against us.

I was fully aware that there had been a few slips in my forcefield’s performance, and it seemed to be tied to my mental state, and right now, my ‘mental state’ was me enduring a lot of nerve-jangling screaming.

Speakers at the end of each hallway weren’t helping, as they joined the screaming in my head to form a kind of chorus of emitted screeches and screams.  Here and there, one person or another got access to a microphone and tried to transmit to a location.

“Someone’s at the door, we-”  A bang could be heard over the speakers, several people gasping our shouting in response.  “-at hospital, area-”

The sound cut out, replaced by an electronic screech.

Another voice came in, from a more distorted microphone, whispering, “It gets easier if you listen between the words.”

I looked around, then saw metal trim on a doorframe.  I pulled it out, used a forcefield hand to strip away the extra bits of door, and then used it to tie up the time-frozen woman.  Wrists and ankles.

Sveta reached out, slid tendrils between the edges of the speaker and the wall, and then tore it out, throwing it to the ground.  The resulting feedback squeal exactly mimicked the faint rise and fall of the screaming in my head, that I hadn’t even realized was still there.

The speaker sputtered, and the voice resumed, “…easier if you listen between the words.  It gets easier…”

Rain backhanded the speaker with a silver blade and then kicked it.

“Thank you,” Byron said.  “Fuck me, this is unbearable, even without the accompanying soundtrack.”

“Just endure,” I told him.  “We gotta do as much damage as we can, stop her or weaken her.”

“I know, just…”

“Keep moving,” I told him.  “Let us know if you need to bail.”

“I don’t.  I’m not.”

I nodded.

Byron kept going.

“Wait,” Cryptid called out.

Byron stopped.

We all remained where we were.

“Not the time-” I started.


He held one long, knobby finger to his rat-like muzzle, head bowed.

He remained where he was, finger still to his muzzle, as he motioned for Byron to continue on.

Byron took two steps, and Cryptid lunged, diving into one of the dark rooms.

It sounded like he had thrown himself into a shelf of metal parts and tools.

Rain jumped in, and I flew to get better lined up- but the nature of the hallway and the surrounding people made it hard to get my gun aimed right.

Cryptid was wrestling with something that looked like a mechanical dog.

I dropped the gun, ready to dive in, but Rain was already stabbing the thing with a silver blade.  It provided the weak point that Cryptid could use to tear the thing in half.

Metal with a core of flesh.

“Tell me that’s not Machine Army,” Rain said.

“No,” Cryptid growled, climbing to his feet, dropping the two halves.  He sounded derisive.  He pulled a piece off its head and pulled a computer chip out of a bloody socket.  He stuck the chip into a slot on his belt, then pulled it out.  “A tinker named Gusto made it.  It’s set to receive radio waves, she distorted an incoming signal to give it an attack command.”

“Is Gusto friendly?” I asked.

Was,” Cryptid growled, before pushing past me.

“Fuck,” Rain muttered.  “Jesus, fuck.”

“Stay calm, stay level,” I said.

The other teams had gone down the hallways.  The Malfunctions had split up, with Caryatid hanging back with the slower group, Finale in our group, toward the middle, and Withdrawal up at the head of the pack with the faster people like Damsel and Trophy Wife.  Sidepiece had some surprising stamina, all considered, and was keeping up with Trophy Wife.

The end result was that we didn’t really split up that much.  The forward group went down one hall, changed their minds, and then took another, or they split up to check the branching paths and made wordless agreements because two routes were dead ends.  We reached another set of hallways, and they reconvened to exchange words before making the decisions.

I stuck with the main group, holding my impractically large gun overhead.

The various groups had split up, and it was convenient to stay with the people we’d flown in with.  There was too much danger of people coming at us from the rear or flanks, or something happening that complicated the fights ahead of us.  Splitting up meant we could cover the major concerns, threats, and groups that might be lurking in the lower floors, without losing too much time.

“It gets easier-“

The whispered broadcast cut out, someone else jumping in to try and broadcast something, but it was a third of a word, incoherent and shouted.

“-between the words,” the original broadcast reasserted itself.

Lights began to go out throughout the facility.  Our hallway went dark.

Win cranked something at his chest.  Tinkertech armor lit up, illuminating the area around him.  Byron began to fill the hallway with motes, each casting maybe a tenth of the light a lamp might shed.

I felt my eyes adjust to the gloom, which was normal-ish.  Then they adjusted more.

“There,” Trophy Wife said.

“Do I want to know where those eyes came from?” Withdrawal asked.

“No, nope, don’t tell me,” Finale added.

“Woman couldn’t pay her debt on time, I gave her the choice-”

“No, no, nope, nonono,” Finale raised her voice, drowning out Trophy Wife.  “Stop, stop.”

“-gave me her cat.”


My skin crawled.  I stopped paying attention to the gun, and it scraped glass that was protecting what might have been a breaker panel.  The sounds produced, along with the sputter of a buzz from the broken speaker behind us, formed a word.  “Cats.”

The thought was involuntary: I’m made of strays and escaped pets and rodents and bugs.

My skin crawled more.

Chris was looking at me, his eyes glowing in the dark.

“Hate to complain, but I could really do without the nonconsensual mutations,” I said.

“Then stay more than fifty feet away from me,” Trophy Wife said.

I felt an urge to say something back, then decided against it.  I decided to keep the night vision, while I was at it.

“Get-between the words,” the voice whispered from speakers.

Damsel annihilated the speaker at the end of the hallway.

“Don’t make that much noise,” Clockblocker said.  “You’ll get some unwanted-”

“She did,” Win said.  He looked back at us with metal eyes that had holes in the surface, each hole rimmed with glowing circuit patterns in gold.  “Tac radar says we’ve got people coming from both directions.  Group of five ahead, they’re finding hiding spots, and weirdly heavy footsteps coming from behind.”

He pulled a gun out.  It changed configuration, locking into position over his hand.

I was closer to the rear than the front.  It took a bit of flying acrobatics to get the gun turned around, but I pointed it the way we’d come.  Win crouched below me, pointing the same way.

“Weirdly heavy means brute?” I asked.

“No idea.”

I changed the setting on my gun, narrowing the beam from the last setting I’d had it on.  Below me, Caryatid had caught up, and crouched a bit, taking on her breaker form.  She was a good person to have in the way of any stampeding heavy hiter.

It gets between the worlds,” the voice on the speaker said.  There was a feedback squeal.

Behind me, Damsel used her power, tearing into a wall, before hurling herself through the hole.  I heard the follow-up shots.

“Pew, pew, pew,” Finale said, her voice quiet.  “Pew.”

The fight in the other hallway unfolded in the same moment the figure in our hallway made his appearance.  I almost pulled the trigger on seeing the monstrous face, then pulled back.  “No!”

Win had already pulled the trigger.  A sphere of glowing blue energy soared down the hallway, catching the figure in the lower body.  The gun reconfigured, loading for another shot, taking on a red glow in the gloom.

“Shit,” I said.

“We know it?”

“We know him,” I said.  I flew back a short bit to look down the other hallway, and saw the fighting was ongoing.  Nothing I could address with my gun.

“All five are down,” Win said.  “Four unconscious, one off radar, maybe dead… and then this guy.”

Caryatid dropped her form immediately, going to Finale’s side.  I set my gun down and down the hall to our fallen straggler.  Torso lay on the floor of the hallway, hands cupping his groin.

“It’s Torso.  One of Deathchester’s people.  What did you shoot him with?” I asked.

“Concussive forceball.  I figured it’d either put him on the floor or slow him down long enough for something more serious…  I’m sorry, man.”

Torso lifted his head off the floor, then thunked it back down.

“He’ll be alright!” Gibbet crowed, her voice muffled by the hangman’s hood she wore.  She was catching up behind Win.  “Come on, Torso.  Took you long enough to show up, you loser.”

Torso thunked his head against the floor again.

Sidepiece spoke from the end of the hallway, “You’re so inconvenient.  You’d better headbutt that fucking Endbringer that’s screaming at us right now and make it worth it to bring you along.”

“Why couldn’t he come with us?” I asked.

“Because if he fell on the damn Dragon-plane, which he would, we’d all be goners,” Gibbet said.

An L-shaped bit of metal appeared below his neck, tried to lift him, and bent.  More appeared, straining to force him to a standing position.  Hookline provided his hook, which bent in mid-air, caught Torso around the neck, and lifted.

Torso finally let go of his groin with one hand, grabbed the metal ‘L’, and found something approximating balance.  In the gloom, his mannequin head with the mismatched cartoon eyes looked especially horrifying, especially where the paint had smeared or scuffed, making it look like he was crying.

I watched as they goaded him forward, Gibbet giving him a shove on one shoulder that would have been helpful if he weren’t so prone to falling over.

He passed me, and I could see that someone had written ‘MORON’ on the back of his head in what looked to be permanent marker.  I saw him stumble.

“Don’t fall on my gun!” I called out to them.  Torso had to turn roughly two-hundred and seventy degrees to look back in my direction, which increased the chance he’d fall on my gun, as he swayed badly.

At the very least, he didn’t fall on my gun.  I bent down to retrieve it, looked back, and saw Win staring at it.

I sighed, picked it up, and followed the others.

Deathchester was all together, minus Mockument, who hadn’t showed.

“Sorry again,” Win told Torso, as he caught up with Clockblocker.

The people who’d attacked were wearing refugee clothing.  One wore a mask, and was partially burned as he lay on the floor.

Listen to worlds,” a voice on a distant speaker whispered to us.

“We need to move fast,” I said.  “Formation before was working.  Try to keep us informed, Win.”

“I know this area,” Sveta said.  “The main concourse is this way.”

The speakers continued to play.  Even sounds that weren’t from the speakers were becoming more and more like whispers and vocal sounds from all sides.  As though every unoccupied office we passed through was filled with a half-formed memory.




Like my dad’s voice, trying to get into the habit of talking to me again after going a while without visits.  Sorry, he said.

The nurses at the hospital.  Before a chore I had dearly wished was unnecessary and, self-contradicting myself, constant at the same time.

Something Sveta had said, during one of her visits, after a lingering moment of eye contact, when even she had taken in the full reality of what I’d been and found herself momentarily lost for words.

“Fuck you, Simurgh.”

The statement was marked by others looking at me.

Oh, I’d said that out loud.

“Do we need to worry?” Clockblocker asked.

“Addendum to that thought,” I said.  “Fuck her, and no, it’s not working like she wants it to.  She’s poking at obvious weak spots I’ve been dealing with for years.  I can take it.”

“K- Lookout,” Rain said.  “I remember she talked once about a thing she had on her fridge once.  You got home from work or school and you put a smiley face up on the fridge.  Or a frowny face.  Or a stormy face.”

“That is the lamest fucking thing,” Sidepiece said.  “You know what I got when I got home from school?”

“I think this is a trick question, and you’re going to pull something out of your middle,” Finale said.

“I got a boot to the ass.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Fuck off with your apologies.”

“Your point, Precipice?” I asked, my voice tenser and my tone terser than I’d meant it to be.  “Sorry, just… before they derail us.”

We were passing beneath a set of massive industrial tubes that churned with fluids passing through them.  Water for the facility, I imagined.

“Reality check,” Rain said.  “Scale of one to ten, who’s above a seven or below a three?”

“Below a five,” Byron said.  “Below a five is a slippery slope.”

“Sure,” Rain said.  “No judgment.”

“I’m fine,” Damsel said, annoyed.

“Is it even possible to be above a seven?”

“I-” I started.  “I’m fucking annoyed with this.  I’m spooked about what comes next, and if we can even beat her.  But I don’t feel like she’s getting to me.  It’s distracting and there’s probably a point to it.  Put me down as a seven.”

“I’m freaking,” Caryatid said, from the very rear of the group.  “I keep hearing the screeches and squeals, and I think of the needle woman who almost got me, the last time I was here.  I dunno… four?”

“Six?” Finale sounded unsure.  “I really don’t know.”

“Below a five or above a seven,” Trophy Wife said, sounding annoyed that Finale was contributing unnecessary information.

“I’ll admit I’m thinking of my brother a lot,” Byron said.  “Four.”

“I’m an eight or a nine,” Cryptid said.  He gave his sash a pat.  “I have vials, including one for dealing with mind control.  Doesn’t scare me.”

“The bird one.  You could have used it already,” I noted.

“Maybe someone else will need it,” Cryptid said, narrowing his eyes at me.  He looked away.  “Works better if I have a mission in mind.”

“Nice to have in the back pocket,” I told him.

“It is,” he replied, before his ear twitched and he looked away.

“Anyone else?” Rain asked, hopeful.

Torso put out both hands, all fingers extended.

“Ten,” Hookline said, unnecessarily.

“Good for you!” Finale said.

“Even with the crotch shot?” Win asked.

Torso pulled his hands back.  He swayed for a second, then put them out again, pinky finger and thumb on one black-gloved hand tucked in.  Eight.

“His skull is too thick for her to get to him,” Gibbet said, giving Torso a knock on the head.  Torso, in turn, gave her a thumbs up.

“Others are ahead,” Cryptid said, before joining the advance group, closer to Damsel and Trophy Wife.

‘Ahead’ was an open area containing rows of pumps.  It was only partially lit, with the lights flickering, but there was a set of stairs leading up over one of the pumps, to a higher level.  Some of the other groups that had come in on the same planes as us were up there.  I saw Parian and Rachel with one of the dogs, some of Semiramis’ group, and two Wardens.  Vista was among the Wardens, looking down our way.  Keeping tabs on Byron.

Sveta reached up to grab the railing and haul herself up.  “This way!”

“Anyone injured, needing a lift?” I asked.


It took me half a second to realize the voice hadn’t come from the group, another half-second to realize that Caryatid was approaching me.

“I’m not injured, but…”

“Sure,” I said.

The gun was heavy and very close to my tolerance levels, but an added hundred and twenty or whatever pounds wasn’t enough to make flying impossible.  The stairs that led over the massive pump were the equivalent of three stories.  I grabbed her with forcefield hands, then lifted.

“Me too, when you’re done?” Byron asked.

“I got you,” Sveta called down.  She’d just been talking to Vista.  Maybe telling Vista that Byron was at a four, here.  She hopped down onto the pump, grabbed something, and then unfurled to reach down to Byron, on the ground.

Metal squeaked, and the squeak paralleled the shifting pitch of the screaming in my head.

Others took the stairs.

It’s not just that she drives you around the bend, I thought.  It’s that she’s constantly gathering information.  Constantly refining that ability to drive you crazy, and refining her precognition, so you’re less and less effective against her in a fight.

“Dungeons are below us,” Sveta was saying, to a group of capes who looked like they were one of Foresight’s peripheral groups.  “On the next floor will be the first main floor, including the lobby, which you’ve probably seen.  If you go beneath the stairs, you’ll find the arboretum.”

“Arboretum?” I asked.

“Lounge area,” Sveta said.  “They were using it as a backup cafe.  Vista says we’re set up on the ground floor, but floors two and three have a few dangerous parahumans, so we’ve been delayed.”

“Some people snapped and they’re dangerous,” Vista told me.  “We’re sorting through people by stress level, using the front doors by the lobby to evacuate people who can’t stick it out, but we can’t evacuate anyone upstairs until we clear the middle floors, and we can’t easily lure the compromised to one of the containment zones until we can get past them.”

“Containment zones?”

Vista nodded.  “Right now we’re apparently using the dungeon, but most of that was built to work with the Custodian in charge, and she’s a Titan now.”

“She wouldn’t cooperate even if she wasn’t a Titan,” Sveta said.  She winced.  “I could really do with this screaming stopping.”

“If you can hear the scream, at least she’s still working on you,” Clockblocker said.

People were up the stairs.  Everyone accounted for.

I used the gun to ram my way through the double doors.

I could hear distant screaming, and sped up my approach, flying while bringing the gun around to point.

The heroes were gathered on the ground level.  Heroes were storming the stairs, which went straight to the upper floors, hallways stabbing out to the right and left.

“All teams, go!” Defiant called out, a wire between his teeth..  He had his spear in hand, and was directing the groups.  “I want a strong defensive team at our back line here!  Around me!”

I moved out of the way, flying up and back, so the rest of our group could file in.

I saw Gilpatrick, wearing a full Patrol uniform.  When he looked at me, his forehead lined with worry, posture tense.

I flew to him, pointing my gun in the general direction of upstairs.

“Good to see you,” he said, with genuine feeling.

“Is it?” I asked, without thinking.  “I mean… I’m glad, if that’s true.”

“Gave up leading the team.  Put Jester in charge, which is helping make this feel really fucking surreal,” Gilpatrick said, with some added weariness.

“I didn’t mean to put you in that position, having you go with Rain.”

“You didn’t ask.  I chose.”

I looked at him, remembered how he’d backed me up, as best as he was able.  Giving me a place to stay after the barbecue.

“My team was just trying to ballpark how we’re doing,” I told him.  “Rating from one to ten.  Ten being fantastic.  One being that we’re a danger to others.  Where are you at, Gilpatrick?”

“I’m not a danger,” he said.  “I’ve got some training from my PRT days.  I’ll last longer than most, don’t worry.”

“And your power?”

“Thinker.  Best I can figure out… I see the lies people tell themselves.”

“The lies…?”

“As physical things, twisting features.  It takes concentration to turn off.  Took me a second, I thought it was a broken power, until I talked to my kids.”

“The Patrol block?”

“Didn’t go into that conversation thinking I was going to quit and leave them.  But I know some of them well enough to match it to what I was seeing.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m not,” he said.  He smiled, but it was tight, a bit forced.  “Maybe I won’t be teaching hundreds of kids and helping them all a little, but I can be here, screen for unwitting traitors.  I can… let’s get through this.  I’ll help a few dozen, I think, who might not have ever gotten help if it weren’t for me.”

“We’ll get through it,” I told him.  Or die trying.

He smiled, and it wasn’t as forced.

Defiant was shouting orders.

“Need a team to go to the sixth floor!  We-” Defiant called out, stopping as Torso tripped and landed on his face.  “We need any capes who aren’t feeling confident to escort civilian groups out, be aware she’s above us, she may break free of the facility to attack and demoralize!”

My team was sorted.

“I should go,” I said.

“Victoria,” he said.

I met his eyes.  I almost winced at the weariness there, that I’d never seen even when he’d been dealing with the troublesome kids like Cami or Tom B.

“It really is good to see you.  I don’t mean that in an inappropriate way.  It’s… every way I can think of phrasing it makes me sound like an old man.”

“You’re not that old, Gilpatrick.”

“Too old and weary for you, Victoria.  All I mean is, and I don’t want to put too much weight on this, but you’re a sight for sore eyes, and my eyes feel very sore, tonight.”

“Thank you,” I told him.

“Be safe.”

“You too,” I told him.

I felt a measure of guilt.  I remembered how Gilpatrick had emphasized holding back.  He’d argued for avoiding violence and lethal measures wherever possible.  ‘Five pounds of gun’.

Five pounds of gun.  Twenty pounds of armor and costume.  However many pounds of additional gear, medical stuff, supplies…  metaphors for the amounts of attention we should pay toward violence, protecting others, supplies…

I hefted my twelve tons of gun, doing my best to avoid bludgeoning anyone as I returned to my team.

The gun wasn’t even the fucking irony, here.  Twelve tons of gun was nothing compared to the weight of the countless lives I was preparing to take.  I looked over at Chris.

“Defiant!” I called over.  “Are the labs clear?”

“Only if you help to clear them!  Sixth floor, feel free!” he barked.  He looked like he was going to say something else, then stopped.

He turned, raising his head to look up.

The ceiling caved in.  A plume of dust, concrete-


I thought at first that it was just a psychological tactic.  Telekinetically controlled dust, to scare us, remind us we weren’t safe anywhere here.

Then it screamed.

The sound in my head redoubled, rattled, became words.  The words were accompanied by mental images.

“I never had a trigger event,” Dean’s voice.

I had to abandon you for my own health.”  Jessica’s.

I’m sorry.  I was selfish.  It wasn’t your fault.

Each was a fragment, a thing that had never been said, as much as they should have.  A slice of a world that would have made more sense, gone to better places.  Seductive.

Floating in the air, I curled up, knees to chest.

Fuck that.  I straightened, tall, eyes wide.

I used my aura.  The briefest of pulses.  A push, taking that ‘fuck you’ and broadcasting it for the extra emphasis.

She was there, crouching, her wings around her.  The aura didn’t touch her.  I couldn’t even be sure she registered it happened.

But for everyone else, it was a nudge, a slap in the face, a bit of fuck you to shake them from anything they might be thinking or feeling that was similar to what I was experiencing.

I aimed and fired in the next moment.  Fragments of roof cascaded down in a stream, absorbing a good seventy percent of what I was firing.  I shifted position, flying to one side, and a cape took off, flying in my way.  Only reflex kept me from shooting them in the back.

Sveta lunged in, reaching for someone in range of falling rubble.

That same person slapped falling rubble aside.  It struck Sveta’s reaching arm.

For what had to be fifteen seconds, the Simurgh crouched in the midst of the lobby, where our side had been regrouping.  She didn’t move a wing-tip.  Nobody fought on her defense or intentionally threw a forcefield up to protect her.

For those fifteen seconds, we didn’t touch her.  Capes advanced, then second-guessed themselves as more debris came down.  They were blinded by the dust and then someone bumped into them, disturbing their aim, and they didn’t feel confident to make the shot.

My own aim suffered, because my vision warped, distorting.  Trophy Wife had moved to a place where I wasn’t in her range anymore.  She granted herself mutations based off of the trophies she’d taken, and she granted lesser effects to people around her.  Problem was, that involved a faint transition period, which was fucking with me at a critical moment.  The see-in-the-dark mutation was dropping away from my eyes now that I wasn’t in her range.

She shifted from the crouch, rising twenty feet into the air.  With her telekinesis, she pulled chunks away from the ceiling.

Each chunk flew down with terminal velocity.  No lead-in, no warning, each moving in a clear straight line with no prevarication or misleading.  Each chunk took a life.

The cascade of chunks of ceiling began to pick up, became more aimless.  I couldn’t shake that each stumble to avoid the stuff was someone moving as she’d wanted.

I took aim, and I fired.  Chunks that were falling stopped, disintegrating beneath the beam, giving me a tantalizing second or two of contact before the next chunk blocked the continued beam.

I heard people shriek.  Withdrawal had a crumpled leg, struck by a stone.  Finale was shouting for him.  There were a good dozen people like him.  People who were close enough to get hurt.

Every instinct I had told me to get in there, to dive in and save him.

Logic told me that this was one of our last shots.  We had to hurt her, take her down a peg so she couldn’t win that tug of war against Titan Fortuna and take over the entire system.

The screaming was a roar in my ears, like the adrenaline in my ears when I’d been trapped.  The endless loop of trying to logic my way through emotional issues and emotion my way through logic, when neither would serve.  Being caught by Ophion.

She’s fucking with us.

Putting us in a lose-lose, demoralizing, psychologically assaulting us.

Because it served her goal.

Because she needed to, I told myself.  If we could push through this, it’d inconvenience her.

Fuck you!  I willed.  I pushed again.  Tried to feed courage and outrage out to the crowd on a level that would serve the people who needed it.

I’m not who I was when Ophion got me.

I’m changed.

The words rambled through my brain, pushing through a fog of noise and screaming.  Change.  Metamorphosis.  Cocoon.


The scream latched onto the memory.  Me, wrapped in a cocoon of stray dogs, cats, bugs.  The cocoon had become a coffin, encapsulating me, after Crawler had eaten into me with acid.

But that coffin had opened.  Ribs with flesh strung between them had parted, revealing me within.

I held onto that image, pushing out, trying to capture it.

Holding it firm in my mind, I dove for Withdrawal.  I snatched him up.  I had a fleeting glance of Finale.

Rather than carry him to safety, I used momentum and flung him across the floor, relying on the metal rig and its propensity to skid.

He stopped himself against the wall, using the springs, then twisted around, aiming his pill popper.

I saved others, grabbing them.

The Fragile One fired the gun, placing the shots only when I was willing it, only when I was keeping an eye on things, to make sure nobody flew into the way.

Pressing the attack.

Staying low to the ground, watching the environment, I saved three people.

Others jumped in.  Helping.  When I saw people losing courage, I gave pulses of courage.  When I saw them succumbing to the fear and head-fuckery, I gave them a taste of righteous ‘fuck you’.

“I need you to get me in there!” Sveta called out to me.

“Okay, but- I don’t have my forcefield.”

She gave me a confused look.  Then a golden beam stabbed out, striking the shield the Simurgh was using to protect herself, until Byron pierced it with a spike of stone.  She connected the dots, looking back over her shoulder.

The Fragile One was there, visible in the shadows of dust.  Chest open, ribs splayed, a hole big enough for me to move through.  Her arms were extended, gripping the gun Dragon had given me, aiming it.

“Come!” I called out, with a pulse of my aura.  I reached out a hand.


But she reached out.  Because I was in harm’s way, and any seconds spent protesting were seconds I was in danger’s way.

She grabbed my hand, and I braced myself, flying hard the other way.

Sveta grabbed the rubble the Simurgh was using to shield herself.  Then she hurled herself at the Simurgh.

Falling rubble stabbed directly down at Sveta.  She unfolded, creating a hole in her midsection for it to stab through, unfolded her arm, and grabbed the Simurgh with a dozen tendrils.

Reaching back, she extended a limb toward the crowd, grabbing Clockblocker’s hand.

She was frozen, locked in place, with ten tendrils around the Simurgh’s head and two around one smaller wing.  The Simurgh was positioned low to the ground.

I took evasive action, flying back and away, while the gun took the opportunity to shoot.

The Simurgh was still alive while grabbed, and was still using her telekinesis.  Every chunk of rubble saw purpose.  A larger chunk stalled Defiant.  Another formed a wall as the Fragile One opened fire.

Byron drew motes around her, trying to seal her inside a stone growth, then encasing it in ice for good measure.

Torso began running, sprinting across the floor, wobbling, hopping precariously over rubble.

A single stone slid in front of him, and he tripped.

Dust and rubble moved in a loose, slow cyclone around her, picking up in intensity, as a frozen Sveta held her.

Hookline’s weapon navigated its route through the Simurgh’s storm, rubble bouncing off of the chain instead of bending it.

Clockblocker hurried to Hookline’s side.  A non-living weapon that would serve the same purpose-

The effect as they made contact wasn’t the same purpose.  Clockblocker winced, hand pulling away, and the chain went completely limp.

Power conflict.

I looked past the cloud to the vague image of the Simurgh’s face, still wrapped by tendrils.

The beam cut through some of it, tracing a burning glowing line through her, while I crouched on the ground.

In the same moment Clockblocker’s power broke, the cyclone stopped, every fragment finding a target. One fragment grazed me across the forehead, wrenching my head to one side with a force that made my neck twang.

I canceled my forcefield and renewed it, shielding as many people as I could.  My gun fell to the ground behind me.

Simurgh flew skyward, into the hole she’d come through.  She was barely through it when one of the Dragon craft, upstairs, rammed into her, throwing her into the side of the hole.

I caught and blocked as much rubble as I could, as we all shifted focus to backing away from the fallout of the battle above.

“Keep moving if you can!” Defiant called out.  “She’s on the back foot!  Noncombat capes, get the injured clear!”

Gilpatrick was one of the ‘capes’ to do that.

“Dragon’s back on line!” Defiant called out.  “Crystalclear, I need you to get this device to Narwhal.  Antares?”

“Yes!” I called out, one hand at my forehead.

“Dinah Alcott is on the seventh floor.  Dragon thinks she’s a target.  You can take Lab Rat to the labs on the sixth floor as you go.  Go!”

I looked around to confirm my team was more or less in fighting shape, nodded, and then led the way.

As it began, younger me, so it continues.  A cut on the head, a weird feeling of pride, and a bit of twisted hope.

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36 thoughts on “Last – 20.3”

  1. What this Arc already taught me:

    -NEVER EVER borrow money from Trophy Wife especially when you are not planning to give them back.

    -Torso is one of those parahumans who appear as being B listed but in reality he is a fucking TOP TIER. Titans and Simurgh are a joke to him LOL.

    -Gilpatrick got a pretty useful power.

    -FUCK YOU, Simurgh, how are you feeling when others hurt you? Doesn’t feel as good as when you’re hurting them, eh? So far, Chris ruined her plans for him to change into a bird. GOOD. Now its time to save Dinah and ruin more of the bird bitch plans.

    1. “I see the lies people tell themselves.”
      “As physical things, twisting features.”

      … Did Gilpatrick get a bud from Crock o’Shit ? Did they ever meet ?

  2. How soon until someone realizes they oughta shoot Torso out of a cannon?

    Also, Victoria levels up! The Fragile One as an independent proje— heavy weapons platform was an AMAZING twist.

    (Also Sveta for MVP for out-bullet-helling to go into melee with the Simurgh and immobilize her)

  3. Typo Thread:

    gasping our shouting > gasping or shouting
    easier-“ (backwards quotation mark)
    down and down > down and flew down
    teeth.. > teeth.
    event,” > event.”
    fought on her > fought in her
    She shifted from (should specify as simurgh, since the last her was trophy wife)
    shake that > shake the feeling that

  4. This is one of the best updates we’ve ever had. There were a lot of developments, but there was also the element of being in our first in-POV battle against the Simurgh. And it was TERRIFYING.

    Through all of this, we were also given reasons to hope, and that really adds to the general feeling. We’ve had too many “everything is hopeless” updates lately.

  5. God I love Torso. Every time he shows up I want to laugh and cheer.

    Also wow what a fantastic skirmish. I know it might all be surface damage and inconsequential at best but Victoria seemingly turning the tide of the fight with her new and improved powers, Sveta and Clockblockers amazing combo and Dragon yeeting one of her crafts into the multi-winged monstrosity was amazing.

  6. Aaaaand we’re stuck wondering if even all this apparent backfoot stance of the Simurgh wasn’t part of it’s plan as Victoria now races to get Labrat to the labs and move on to Dinah.

    On the other hand, Dinah is easily the best person on the Cape’s side to do something that counter’s the Simurgh’s plan.

    Damn her forcefield is getting powerful, and I guess she has a new level of control over her emotion aura’s expressions, not merely demanding attention but selective feelings.

    1. Fragile is probably feeling pretty awesome right now. Finally got her message through, and got the best kind of answer in return. Extra help for everyone !

  7. Now THAT was intense!

    1) > In the same moment Clockblocker’s power broke
    I really hope Sveta survived this

    2) > The effect as they made contact wasn’t the same purpose. Clockblocker winced, hand pulling away, and the chain went completely limp. Power conflict.
    But… Clockblocker have successfully frozen Leviathan! Hookline’s weapon higher than Endbringer?

    3) > Twelve tons of gun was nothing compared to the weight of the countless lives I was preparing to take.
    So lives, not just powers…

    1. 2)> It might be a specific aspect to Hookline’s power that doesn’t express or something more fundamental about Clockblocker’s. Hookline’s chain normally can’t be broken or even moved by an external force. So an absolute stopping power met an unstoppable move one and they fizzed out.

      If hookline’s chain really can’t be broken or moved then it probably would have been best to leave the chain to do its own thing.

  8. Holy shit, that was an awesome fight scene. Feels like the fights against Scion, but more coherent and less hopeless.

  9. This is one of the most positive chapters, which is odd since it’s also a chapter where the Simurgh gets up close and kills a whole lot of people. But that’s contrast.

    So, Lab Rat is in a rodent form and is heading for the labs. I see what you did there, Wildbow.

    This especially was beautiful to read:
    “Okay, but- I don’t have my forcefield.”

    She gave me a confused look. Then a golden beam stabbed out, striking the shield the Simurgh was using to protect herself, until Byron pierced it with a spike of stone. She connected the dots, looking back over her shoulder.

    The Fragile One was there, visible in the shadows of dust. Chest open, ribs splayed, a hole big enough for me to move through. Her arms were extended, gripping the gun Dragon had given me, aiming it.

    1. Labrat: “I’m a rat, I’m a rat, I’m a clever, clever rat!”
      200 internet points for any who get the reference.

      Actually, I wonder if Gilpatrick’s power is going to come into play here on something with Labrat. The lies people tell themselves.

  10. Wildbow can you fix the comments on firefox please? I’d like to be able to reply to the person who linked the topwebfiction page and point out that that doesn’t actually register a vote if you don’t go through the vote.php version of the page (The one where you click vote and sometimes have to prove you’re not a robot). This is important information since that wrong link floating around is probably the reason pgte ever held the top spot for so long.

  11. On firefox for mobile I mean. Typing in the box at the bottom works but the reply button does not.

  12. “Someone’s (vote) at the door, we-” A bang could be heard over the speakers, several people gasping our shouting in response. “-at (for) hospital, area-”

    The sound cut out, replaced by an electronic screech.

    Another voice came in, from a more distorted microphone, whispering, “It gets easier if you listen between the (ward) words.”

  13. Another thought. Dragon is online! So call to Contessa and the eyepieces should start working again.

    Hopefully Lookout isn’t Simurghed… Anyone know if Grue/Brian’s power would shield them against it her influence?

  14. I get the feeling that message is “it s between worlds.” And the meaning is that either the Simurgh, Titan Fortuna or Contessa is using their BS power to try and get a message out about the nature or plan of one of the others in that same set. Most likely either fortuna is already there, but between worlds, or simurgh has a weaker body between worlds.

    1. All text:
      It gets easier if you listen between the words
      …easier if you listen between the words. It gets easier…
      It get easier-
      -between the words,
      Get-between the words,
      It gets between the worlds,
      Listen to worlds,

      Then this thought from Victoria:
      Each was a fragment, a thing that had never been said, as much as they should have. A slice of a world that would have made more sense, gone to better places. Seductive.

  15. Holy shit that was fucking AWESOME! Victoria for victory! I thought for a moment she’d go Titan, but no.

    Seems sorta a straight power up, which is very rare in the Wormverse.

    1. You just inserted images of Victoria bursting forth from John Hurt’s chest.

      …To be fair, she could probably bust right through someone’s back and out their chest.

  16. Lookout is influence-proof. She resisted Monokeros’ neck-knife orders . The only way the Simurgh could possibly get to her would be to give her any form of praise or affection.

    1. I don’t think Lookout is influence-proof. I think Monokeros’ particular brand of influence (making the target feel overwhelming admiration for her) is simply something that Lookout’s personality and therapy work were geared to resist. Lookout feels overwhelming admiration for lots of people and tempering that, with rules and such, has been a big part of her therapy work.

      Simurgh, on the other hand, is a psychic who scans the targets and gradually discovers and exploits the weak points. Like Victoria, Lookout likely has many of the tooks needed to protect her weak points from short-term casual scanning, but long-term work, or focused work by the Simurgh would likely find ways to get through and have some degree of impact, depending on what the Simurgh wants.

  17. I thought I had reading the Redit on Victoria’s power set.

    Is Victoria now, technically a “Blaster” as well?

    She can have arms, and possibly other appendages, reach out some distance from it and now even leave it separate from her body to do things (not sure if it can move, independently, from the location she left it to another).

  18. I don’t think her reach is far enough to count as a Blaster power.
    Her new ability to separate from her forcefield and having it act on its own makes her a Master if anything, like Manton.

    1. You’re almost certainly correct. Her forcefield shape still appears to be “limited” somewhat to the bodyshapes she can envisage, which suggests she likely can’t extend it very far beyond reach (I recall one arm that reached a little further than her own arm but really, she can’t reach further than she likely could if she held some melee weapon).

      It’s interesting to ponder where the difference might lie between a ranged attack for a blaster and an external minion. I mean, Sundancer could control her miniature suns externally from her. Is it merely because they’re not shaped like something with arms and legs which makes the difference? I can’t imagine it’s autonomy because Furcate’s duplicates are completely independent to the point she’s had to kill one of them who I guess was either evil or refused to dismiss while Genesis’ creations were completely under her control (essentially her in an imaginary body). Both Genesis’ creations and Manton’s Siberian couldn’t survive without them and nor can’t Sundancer’s miniature suns.

      Is the distinction just some kind of mental note that one must appear to be like a creature with limbs and such?

  19. Wait, so Byron is using stone and ice now… did we ever get a better explanation about this one? What happened to Tristan’s new building-bash power, did it just go away and now it’s back to stone notes alongside By’s ice motes? It looked like he could use both stone and ice at the same time, could he turn one into the other/are there different types of motes for them?

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