Last – 20.4

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The lights shut off throughout the facility, in the same moment Dragon booted up our eye implants.  The implants rushed to process what they were seeing, throwing text at me with notifications, updates, tracking for key people and the Simurgh’s estimated location, scribbled out in gold, digital script.  I was notified in bold text that hung at the periphery of my vision that there was no ongoing communication.  This was just her booting us up and giving us tech as good as we could hope for.  Lines spiderwebbed out to outline the hallway, doorways, and provide some limited night vision.

The lights came back on, bright, with a fluorescent whine that became a scream, one sound in a chorus.  Human screams came from upstairs, and my eyes strained to adjust and see what might be causing the screaming.  Was it someone on our side?  Someone hurt?  Someone who’d snapped and become hostile?

The Simurgh wasn’t necessarily flipping people to ‘red’ with a new, unprecedented speed.  This was part of any fight against the Endbringer.  In a given population, there were bound to be people who were on the edge, vulnerable, needing only the right prompt.  As she kept screaming, she kept gathering data, and she used that data to find better prompts for more people who were on a ledge, on the cusp of losing their minds.

The very second my vision was clear and focused enough to see the details in the bright white hallway, half the lights went out again.

The danger we were facing, the hazards of this particular battlefield, were those people who had been on the cusp of breaking down and who were now putty in the Simurgh’s hands.

But again, I was anthropomorphizing.  Yes, she had hands, but I was ascribing manipulation, will, and motives to the Simurgh by thinking of it that way.

“Anyone have updated numbers?  Above a seven?  Below a five?” I asked my team.

“Nothing changed except I feel demoralized after that fight,” Rain said.

“We almost had her,” Sveta said.

“And she wants us to feel demoralized,” I said.  I moved my gun right, left, right again, as shadows moved in the dark, unlit patches, the golden scribbles and labels struggling to keep up as the lighting changed.

“If anything’s making me feel like I’m going crazy,” Sveta remarked, “It’s you, Victoria.”

I looked down at her.

“Where are you at?” she asked.  “One to ten.”

“Eight?” I asked.

“That’s worrying,” Byron said.

“Eight is good.  I feel okay.  Better than okay.”

“Didn’t you say six, earlier?” he asked.

The lights went out, then came back on.  In the time they’d been out, a person had moved into the center of the hallway.  They wore a costume that was in the post-Gold Morning style, clothing mixed with costume, mostly red.  The red was mottled with blood, to the extent I couldn’t tell what was pattern and what was costume.

Open up, I thought.  Hatch me out

I floated to the side, placing the gun on the stairs before crouching on the underside of the gun.

The woman looked at us with eyes that were red from corner to corner.  Thousand yard stare.

I didn’t recognize her.

As she met my eyes, the scream in my head seemed to escalate, until everything I was seeing seemed to vibrate.  I glanced away, to break the effect, and she bolted into motion.

I remained where I was, but the Fragile One was ready, jumping forward to grab the woman by the wrists.  The woman jerked, partway into a pounce down the extended set of stairs that acted as the backbone of the facility, her arms stuck behind her.

She screamed, raw and full of rage.  The scream joined the screaming in my head, and a noise that would have been bad enough to make me wince before became a hundred times worse because of the context.

“Calm down,” Cryptid growled.

“Is that you?” Sveta asked, looking at me.  “Holding her?”

The lights went out.  The outlines that were drawn out in gold momentarily traced the Fragile One, naked and many-armed, with a chest splayed open.  Then, like the cameras in our eyes remembered that they weren’t supposed to be capable of seeing the Fragile One, they stopped tracing her.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I dunno if you saw her in the night vision lens, but…”

“I saw her,” Sveta said.

The woman screamed again.

“Anyone have something to tie her up?” Rain asked.

“I can,” Byron said.  He began drawing a constellation with dark blue motes around the woman.  “Just have to be careful not to cut off circulation by making it too tight.  Keep going up the stairs if you can?  I’ll follow behind.”

The woman screamed, struggled against strength that could lift a cement mixer, and then she disappeared.

No, not disappeared.  The camera, struggling to keep up with the changes in lighting and other screwy signals, started tracing her in golden lines that lagged behind her as she dramatically changed shape and size.

She’d shrunk, from human-sized to barely two inches tall, slipping from the Fragile One’s grip.  I felt her bump into the Fragile One, unable to detect where the forcefield started or stopped, then she closed in on our group.

“Heads up!” I alerted the group.

The woman was flying, two inches tall, and as she got close enough to Byron, she unveiled a red laser.  The range wasn’t much- one foot, but when she shot Byron, she cut through the armor at his forearm and penetrated flesh.


Cryptid lunged, jumping down the stairs in the dark, one foot on the railing, and punched her.  I tried to follow up, bidding the Fragile One to lash out with three arms, but the woman was small, nimble in the air, and slipped between the arms by chance.

I saw two more flashes of the red lasers in the dark, but I couldn’t have the Fragile One act on them, because I wasn’t one hundred percent sure where the lasers began and where they ended.  Punching blindly at either terminus point made for a fifty-fifty chance I’d put a hole in Cryptid, instead.

“Brace yourselves, aura!” I raised my voice.

I pushed out with my aura.  It was a shot in the dark, in more ways than the obvious one, that I couldn’t see the murder pixie I was trying to slow down, but because I was reaching for feelings I’d never used before.  Fear and awe was a dichotomy I’d come to understand early on.  I’d hit my parents with it in sparring, and I’d seen the varied reactions in reality.

I could choose what emotions I put out there, now, but it wasn’t as simple as choosing from a tidy little list.  Just the opposite.  I dug into memories and the rawest, deepest feelings I had.  A moment of clarity midway through therapy at the hospital.  Moments, my thoughts wandering at night, where I’d jolted awake with a realization.  The feeling after I’d smeared my mother against a wall, and realized it was my fault.  Each of those memories was like an exposed nerve, and the screaming in my head was salt on those nerves.

I’d wanted ‘wake up’ but the feelings I dug into as I broadcasted weren’t quite that.

It did give her pause, but she was a tiny figure in the dark, in an unfamiliar environment, so it was hard for us to take advantage of her being delayed.

Sveta reached out, then drew back just as fast as the woman reacted, screaming with surprising volume despite her small size, the laser flashing out in the dark to cut tendrils.

Flying toward me, going by the scale of the laser.

I took flight, putting myself between the screaming laser pixie and the rest of my team.  I couldn’t risk that the laser would knock out my forcefield, so I waited, letting the Fragile One disappear, held in reserve.

A flash of red, a flash of pain, and I was the terminus of one end of the laser.  I brought my forcefield back, twisted, and reached out, grabbing her around the upper body, her wrists held between two fingers.  I twisted her body to one side, pointing her hands off to the side.

She grew to full size, and I adjusted the forcefield to match.  She screamed in my face.  The laser was weaker, if anything, while she was larger.

“You’re bleeding,” Rain said.

I looked.  Byron was holding one hand at his wrist, and blood was pouring out.

Sveta reached out, and bound the wound closed with her tendrils.  Blood welled out from the gaps, and she tightened her grip.

The woman kept screaming, and as she did, the lighting flickered, matching the scream.  I was pretty sure it wasn’t her, nor was it the lasers she fired intermittently.

I walked her further up the stairs, and then used my aura, keeping the range contained to a matter of feet, the effect the closest thing I could approximate to calm.

“Using my aura, keep your distance for a sec,” I said.

“Your powers changed, again,” Sveta said, behind me.  “Your forcefield held your gun with you nowhere near it.  You just did something else.  Your aura…”

“Flavors of ‘rah rah’ and ‘fuck off’ in the fight earlier,” Rain interpreted.  “Then just now it was a big slap in the face of ‘holy shit’.”

“Courage, righteousness, and just now it was a feeling of realization.  I hoped it would wake her up.”

The woman screamed, thrashing.  The screaming played off of the other screams I heard, including some in the background.

I could feel wetness at my neck, along with pain that throbbed with my heartbeat.  I kept my grip on the woman with my forcefield and brought my hand to my neck.

I’d been cut, and flesh had parted, from collarbone to where my shoulder met my neck.  The laser didn’t cauterize what it hit.

“Does it matter?” I asked.  “It’s a long explanation.  Byron and I need medical care.  Come on.”

“You said you’re at an eight,” Cryptid growled the words, his tone wary.

“An eight is good.”

“I asked for the reality check earlier,” Rain said.  “And I asked if anyone was above a seven or below a three, because feeling too good is a concern.”

“Fuck me, that’s being used against me?”

“Master-stranger protocols,” Rain said.  “At least until we get a good explanation.”

I grit my teeth.  I had no idea how bad the bleeding was, I didn’t like any part of this, and it just felt like the Simurgh was scoring a win.

But the protocols overrode any sentiment or logic.  That was how they worked.

Byron leaned hard into the railing by the set of stairs.  There was more commotion upstairs, and we were only at the third floor.

“Byron needs help,” I said.  “And I don’t know how bad this wound at my neck is.  I don’t think us getting moving hurts anything.  And I think if anything, we should stick to the orders.  Dinah.”

“Come,” Sveta said.  “Let’s go.  Bring her, Victoria?  Or should I?”

“I can.”

“Come.  And stay where we can keep an eye out?”

I was okay letting her take the lead for now.

The forcefield grabbed the woman by the waist, still holding her arms.  I lifted her.  She shrank to tiny size, and I shifted my grip, still holding her.  She grew again, and I didn’t lose my grip.

Her screaming became a kind of screaming-sobbing.

Who was she, and how had she been this close to the edge, that she was this badly off now?

I held one hand to the wound, while the Fragile One dragged the woman.

“The labs will have first aid,” Cryptid said.

“But a detour-” Sveta said.

“The bleeding is bad,” Rain said.  “I vote for medical care.”

We made our way up the stairs to the next stage, where hallways branched off to the left and right.  I saw Juliette and Chastity with Mapwright from Advance Guard.  They were dragging two people behind them.

“Hey Rain, hey Breakthrough.  You’ve got one too?” Chastity asked.

“Yeah,” Rain said.  “We got one.”

“Some no-name cape,” I said.

“That’s Bloodplay,” Chastity said.  “She’s a villain slash rogue.   You can guess what she does from the name.”

“I absolutely cannot,” Rain said.

“You’re cute,” Chastity said.

“Or your sense of what’s easy to guess is messed up,” Juliette said.

“Maybe,” Chastity said, frowning.  “But Rain’s still cute.”

“Eh,” Juliette said.

“Not that I mind, but… our guys are hurt.”

“Shit, yeah,” Chastity said, looking at us.  At Byron.  “I’m not focusing, with this screaming.  Um-”

Mapwright reached out, touching Byron’s hand, then Sveta’s…

Chastity looked over at me.  “-we’re taking them to the Mathers Giant.  She’s incapacitating them and shutting off all incoming signals.”

“Is she behaving?” Cryptid asked.  He scowled with his ratty, crooked-toothed face as Mapwright touched him.

“Is there a chance she doesn’t behave?” Rain asked, with a note of alarm.

“The Simurgh,” Cryptid replied, with a note of derision.  “Nobody’s behaving.”

Mapwright reached for my hand and touched the forcefield instead.

I opened up the chest, then reached out with the hand that wasn’t currently holding my neck.  “Again.”

She touched my hand.  Her eyes flashed pink.

My vision flashed.  My awareness of the facility expanded out, like I could see every wall, every floor, the damaged sections, the lighting, but when it came to what was actually in that space, it was something like a symbol, a sign with an arcane symbol on it that shouldn’t have meant or implied something, but told me a fuller story than an exclamation point or word might.

Mathers Giant was parked up on the seventh floor, behind and beneath the stairs.  The offices just beyond the area that had once had the booths of Teacher’s misinformation teams.

“You made it sound like she in particular might be a problem,” Rain said.

Anything in particular might be a problem,” Chris retorted.

“Enough, stop,” I said, rubbing my eyelids against the orbs of my eyes.  A bit of information overload.  “We’re getting slowed down.  We need to go.”

“Can you take her?”  Sveta asked the Heartbroken girls, almost talking over me, asserting the leadership.   “We have to hunt down medical care and track someone down for Dragon.”

“It’s hard enough dragging two grown people,” Juliette said.

“We can,” Chastity said.

“Give me a second, I’ll see if I can make this easier,” I told them.  I pulled away from the group, and began saturating the captive villainess Bloodplay with emotions.  I pulled on scenes I’d seen recently.

Obeying my mom, curling up against Dean.  Tattletale had called it submission.  It wasn’t.

You can infuse someone with raw fear, and depending on the person, they might quiver and quake, or they can lash out in violence.  I can give Bloodplay acceptance…

She bent her head down, twisting and pulling against the hands that restrained her.

…and if it works, she’ll be willing to work with us.

She raised her head, eyes as wide as they would go, kicked her legs, and screamed with renewed rage.

Then she shrank again, trying to make use of the second or two I didn’t have a firm grip.  But I was anticipating it.  Other hands were waiting.  I grabbed her tiny body and held firm.  “Chastity!”

Chastity took a step forward, almost tripping over the stair that connected the hallway to the broader stairwell.  Her eyes went wide.  “How do I hit her without taking her head off?”

The woman used her lasers, and this time, she was able to hit my forcefield.


Chastity reached out, hesitated, then flicked a finger, catching the two-inch-high Bloodplay across the cheek, knocking her out.

It might have knocked her out if Chastity hadn’t had her power to K.O. anyone with a slap.

I hurried to catch Bloodplay as my forcefield fell, then handed her over.  My one hand was slick from fingertip to wrist with blood.

“Is that her or you?” Chastity asked.  Then her eyes fixed on my neck.  “You need to get that looked at.  I didn’t even see, since the black hides it.”

“I know.  Just… I’m managing.”

“Split up,” Sveta said.  “Cryptid, Antares, Byron, floor six labs.  Find a lab that works.  Precipice, you’re with me.  Map, Chastity, Juliette, come with us.  Seventh floor, the hallway where they stuck the thinkers.”

“Be careful going there,” Chastity told Sveta.  “Half these guys we caught were heading there like they were given orders.  We’ve been holding them off but…”

Sveta met my eyes.

“Dinah,” I said.

“Yeah,” Sveta said.  “Probably.”

“I’ll come,” I told her.

“You will fucking go get medical care, Victoria.  You’re bleeding like shit,” Sveta said, with uncharacteristic harshness.


The entire building shuddered.

The screaming, at the very least, didn’t feel that bad.  Was the Simurgh further from the building?  That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, as relieving as it felt right this minute.  It meant she might be getting away.

In this, at least, we had to trust the Wardens to keep her pinned down.  And we needed to get Dinah.

I pressed my hand to my wound, checked Byron, and then started flying up the stairs, taking point.

There was someone in costume sitting on the stairs in the dark, hands over his ears, rocking a little.  I landed next to him while I waited for others, checking him over, but he barely seemed to recognize I was there.  The hallways- I checked both, and both were lit.  There was one dead body in the hallway, either a ‘red’ by Defiant’s system or a victim of a red, but no apparent threats.

I used my aura, reaching out for calm and relief and pushing it out there.

In a way, I was glad that I could.  The process of connecting to the Fragile One and her origins, realizing she wasn’t the enemy and letting her connect to me… it had opened doors both for the shaping of my forcefield and for my emotion control.  It felt right that the emotion control was letting me help and soothe, now.

The cape stopped rocking and looked up at me.

“Is there-” I started.  He removed the hands from his ears.  “Is there a place you can go?”

“My team’s fighting.”

“The fighting seems to be worse near the front of the building.  If you head that way…” I indicated past the stairs.  “You can go find a spot to wait or help others.  Or… the screaming shouldn’t be as bad.”

He got to his feet, and I gave him a hand.  Then he jogged off, hand resting on the back of his neck, like he wanted to keep it close to his ears, to try and fail to shut off the screaming.

He dies,” the noise of the environment rasped.

The thought that crossed my mind was of Dean.  Of him next to me at an event I couldn’t remember the particulars of, whispering so it was just him and me.

Even though the sounds I’d just heard were nothing like Dean’s voice, my memory of the two words now felt like it had sounded like him, and they felt irrevocably tied to that memory of Dean.

A chill ran up my back, the sensations reminding me that some of the bleeding extended down my back.

I turned, watching over the group as they made their approach.  Sveta let go of Byron’s arm, and her grip had been firm enough that the gouge that extended from one corner of his wrist to his elbow didn’t open up again in the time it took me to assert my grip with four different forcefield hands.

“I might be a few points lower than I was just saying,” I said.  “Put me down as a six, maybe a five.”

“You can’t just change it to get better treatment,” Cryptid growled.  “You just said you were a nine, minutes ago.  Now you’re downgrading it because we’re being careful around you.  You can’t be that happy around the fucking Simurgh without it being for bad reasons.”

I glanced at Sveta, and Sveta nodded once.

“That’s not what I’m doing.  I’m rating myself high as far as… I had a breakthrough and that feels good.  But she is getting to me.”

“Good feelings are bad, and so is her getting to you,” Cryptid told me.

“Just… nevermind,” I said.

“Worst of both worlds.”

“Shut up, Chris,” Sveta said.  Her body was agitated in how it moved, a lattice of ribbons with many gaps at her arms, some gaps at her neck.  “Be safe.  We’ll get Dinah and come back your way, or you come find us.”

I nodded.

“Tattletale and the kids are up there near her.  It’s where they stowed the thinkers,” Chastity said.

“Go,” I said.

“Byron’s in charge,” she said.

Byron looked unsteady on his feet.

But I nodded.

Sveta went, without any further statements or questions.  A small part of me felt betrayed, like I’d felt in the hospital room, abandoned by family.  Which hadn’t been the reality, I tried to tell myself rationally.

I ended up pulling Byron more than was polite, as a consequence of that firm grip and my sense of urgency in getting him some medical attention.

My family had come to the hospital.  They could have come for a visit every day and I still would have felt abandoned.  Sure, they could have handled it better, but it was a me thing as much as it was a them thing.

With Mapwright’s power informing me of room layouts, I found a lab, checked it was empty, and then opened the door, bringing Byron in behind me.

Cryptid practically squeezed past Byron in his eagerness to get to the nearest computer chair, hurling an oversized rat-man body into the seat, pulling himself over, and booting up.

“Do you have anything?” Byron asked Cryptid.  “Injections for fast healing?”

“No.  I might need them.”

Byron seemed like he was going to say something, then fell silent.

“How are you managing?” I asked him.

“Uh.  Managing?” he asked, like it was a tricky question.

“Dizzy?  Delirious?  Feeling the blood loss?”

“I know what blood loss feels like.  I’m… no blood loss.”

I disengaged from my forcefield, leaving it behind while I went to cabinets, pulling out the canvas bags with the ‘first aid’ icons on them.  Red on white.

Images of tattoos danced through my head.  Of costume.  All of New Wave had claimed their own colors.  I was gold and white, my dad green icons on white, my mom orange on white.  Aunt Sarah was purple on white, Crystal magenta on white, and Shielder blue on white.

My sister had been red on white.

She’s out there.  You know she’s on edge.

It was like a whisper, formed out of environment, paralleling my thoughts, except there was no environment to it.  An idea running through my head like I’d formed the thought, but like a teleporter arriving at a location, the process of getting from A to B wasn’t apparent, only inferred.  My thoughts felt like that.  The fact that the journey could be made made sense.  It was just too fast, too disconnected to feel natural.

The screaming was still there, fading in and out.

I pulled the stuff out of the cabinet.

“I’m not squeezing you too tight?” I asked Byron, as I handed the first aid stuff to the Fragile One.


Blood sucked at my fingers as I pulled my hand away from the wound at my shoulder.  I kept one eye out to try and keep coordinated as I had the Fragile One unpack the first aid kit.  I floated over to check the severity of the wound by sight.

Fuck, it was not a pretty one.

“No sign that it’s bleeding too badly internally.  The pressure seems to have stopped it,” I observed.  “If you have any input, any details you need us to know, let me know.”

Byron shook his head.

“I could pull that open to see if there’s anything arterial, but I feel like it’d be leaking out or there’d be discoloration, bruising, or fluid buildup.  Better to keep it closed, let it keep clotting.”

“Sure,” Byron murmured, like he didn’t even care.


The cheery, young voice was jarring, as a contrast to Byron’s.

Riley’s voice came across the computer.  “Woww.  Look at you.  Case Fifty-three?  And… dinner?”

“No.  Transformation cocktail.  Two injured.  They’re getting patched up.”

“Lemme see.  Put them in front of the camera.”

I helped Byron stand, and brought him closer to the computer.

“I wish I’d seen you before you started bleeding.  I’d be able to judge better.  I think you’ll be okay, but don’t go running too fast or getting too excited.  You might pass out.”

“Any arterial bleeding?” I asked.  “Anything internal?  Muscle damage?  Nerve damage?”

“Nerve damage, maybe.  Worst case scenario… second worst case scenario, his right hand is only as good as his left, some therapy needed.  Worst case scenario is we all die before that’s even a question.”

“I just need bandages, then?” Byron asked.

“Medical attention if you want to avoid the nerve damage.”

“That takes time.  Bandages?”

“Yep, if you’re willing to take the risk.  Twenty-five percent chance your hand doesn’t fully recover.”

“That’s fine,” Byron said.

I moved my hand away from the wound that ran parallel to my bra strap, collarbone up to the shoulder.

“You’re bleeding more than you think you are.  I love the edges on those cuts.  What was the weapon they used?”

“Laser with no heat, I think,” I said.

“I want the readouts on that!” Riley said, in the same voice a kid proclaimed their desire for a puppy that was for sale.

“Focus,” Cryptid growled.

“You’ll need to cauterize.  One and a half inches above the collarbone.”

“Fuck me,” Cryptid’s growl became more growly.  He rose from his seat, grabbing part of his kit, and… if his feet weren’t stretched-out rat feet, then he would have been stomping my way.  As it was, it was a stalk, quick and lunge-y.  He reached for me and I flew back.  No forcefield, while it was holding Byron’s arm.

“I have stuff.”

“Ask first.”

“Fucking-” he growled.  “You want to stop bleeding?  I have stuff.  For your forehead too.”

“Will it knock me out?  Slow me down?”

No.  It stops bleeding.”

“Because the doctors at Shin-”

He threw it down on the floor, then stalked his way back to his chair.

“You talk about the importance of being wary, Cryptid, but the moment we’re wary around you for good reason, you get pissy.”

“It’s there if you want it, smear it on,” he said, before slumping down in front of the computer, his body too big for the station or the monitor’s height.  He spoke to the screen, “Can we get to work?  What are we doing?”

“We’re using some inspiration from Rattenfänger, a villain I had a run in, back in the day.  Sound as a vector for biological response.  It transmits quickly, it’ll get the coverage we need…”

I turned my full attention to Byron, who was applying bandage.  I had my forcefield gradually release its hold on his arm while he wrapped it.  He knew what he was doing.

The discussion continued in the background.  I applied the cream to the part of the wound Riley had indicated, then to my forehead and scalp, before doing what I could to staunch the flow.  Blood trickled down my chest to my stomach, down my side, and down my arm.  The hand that had been keeping pressure on the wound had blood running down the length of it to my elbow, making the sleeve stick to the joint.

“Talk to me,” I told Byron.

“I feel like a two right now,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, staying calm despite the alarm.  “What can I do?  I’ve got emotions on tap, I can listen.  Give you perspective, restrain you…”

“This,” he said, pausing in the bandaging process to indicate his arm.  “Makes me think of Tristan.”

“A lot of tricky thoughts right now.  Some of it’s her.”

“I know,” he said.  “I know what you meant earlier, when you said you felt like a nine or ten for other reasons, but when it came to her, you felt like a four.  I just… I don’t feel like a nine or a ten.”

“Yeah,” I said, quiet.

“And that’s nothing to do with her.  The lighting, the spots in my vision, it makes me think it’s his power, every time, like he’s back, and my hopes get up, every time.  It feels like every single little detail that’s around us is something she’s manipulating and it’s pushing me toward…”

“Yeah,” I said, again.  “Me too.  I think every single one of us feels like we’re getting special attention.”

He swore under his breath in Spanish.

Cryptid’s swearing, though, was far louder.  He rose from his seat.

“Woah nelly,” Riley’s voice was almost playful.  “What is it?”

“Not a moment’s peace!” Cryptid growled.  “It has to be the Simurgh.  She’s throwing roadblocks my way.  I can’t think for two seconds without something-”

“What happened?” I asked.

“My giant.  She’s nonresponsive.  I plugged stuff into her so I could track it.  She’s gone dark.”

“She’s dead?” I asked.  “The very important Mathers Giant that was pacifying the capes the others were rounding up?”

“She’s dark.  Now I have to stop what I’m doing, I have to-”

“You need to do this,” I told him.

“I don’t have to do a fucking thing-”

I pulsed out with my aura.  A moment of feral panic, the kind that made someone freeze, instead of flying.  His expression twisted.

“Cryptid.  Chris, I’m going to be blunt.  Do this.  There’s zero other choice.  I’ll go to the giant.”

“I’m not going to-” he started, but he stopped himself this time, without needing intervention.

“It’ll be fun!” Riley said, through the computer.

“And… if you’ve got any way of canceling out the Simurgh, like you canceled out the other stuff, now’s the time to use it,” I told him.  “Chill out, focus.”

He withdrew a syringe from his pocket, and stared down at it.

“You said you had it for emergencies.  Unless you’d rather I stab your giant…”

“No,” he said.

He pressed it to his neck, and injected it.  With his other paw, he grabbed another syringe, and threw it to me.  “Inject her.  It should reboot things.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “Look after Byron?”

He nodded, silent.  Already, the black feathers were growing in.

“Trusting you,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice reedy, thin.

I left the room, grabbing bandages to press to my neck, along with the coagulant cream, or whatever it was.

I flew, Mapwright’s power directing me to my destination.

To the space behind the stairs, where Teacher had kept his propaganda teams.

Where the Mathers Giant was, and all of the capes that had been taken out of action and kept that way by her power.

The Simurgh was there, silent, not screaming, wings and arms wrapped around the giant.

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33 thoughts on “Last – 20.4”

  1. Oh dear, looks like it’s time for Chris’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. I do still have hope that it’s not quite what it seems, though.

    Typo Thread:

    remarked, “It’s > remarked, “it’s
    eight,” Cryptid > eight.” Cryptid
    Of costume. > Of costumes.
    “Fuck me,” > “Fuck me.”
    a run in > a run in with
    applying bandage > applying the bandage

  2. -Fuck, Chris became a bird. A part of Simurgh’s prediction became true. Now let’s see if he will betray Victoria’s plan.

    -I swear, this horror war against Simurgh is hundreds of times worse than the war against Scion. With Scion, was more like action movie, with superpowered people fighting against evil Jesus who beamed the hell out of them. With Simurgh, is more like a mental/emotional/almost hopeless horror of the capes exposed to the giant monster bitch who is always 10 steps ahead them. More drama/psychologial horror than pure action.

    1. Honestly, I like to think of the Simurgh as a Budget Eden. If Eden was the Entity to survive and turn on mankind and the capes, then what the Simurgh does would be a small sample of what you could expect from Eden.

      1. The wtf moment when you find out that Scion’s waifu was more scary and dangerous than him and humanity was actually LUCKY that they had to fight against him and not her.

        1. They essentially won because Ziz was on their side back then. If she had worked against Khepri GM would have ended in total extinction… which goes against her directives.

  3. If I understood things right, Chris was supposed to go bird after the first conversation with Riley and he did not. Now he’s going bird with a possibly different mindset than Ziz intended. Perhaps this will help him resist her?

    1. No, Chris was supposed to merely be reminded of his bird form by the raven and what Riley said, and he was.
      Everything is still going right as Ziz planned.

  4. Chris wasn’t predicted to GO BIRD at any particular time- he was just predicted to think about his bird form after convo with Riley.

    Now, he’s spent the last half hour being reminded of bird forms by Vic, and is about to hang out with Riley.

    The Bird form is meant to protect against mind control… but it does so by encouraging a sense of detatchment, which `just so happens’ to be *exactly* the emotion Ziz is pushing for. So…. in some sense, the form is likely to make him more resistant to direct push, but since its leaning in the direction that Ziz wants, that’s kind of cold comfort.

  5. @charlesw81, re: Budget Eden: I’m inclined to think that Eden’s tactics would be closer to Scion’s than the Simurgh’s. Not that similar to Scion’s, but she’d have the same toolbox and general mindset as he did, and that would influence her tactics. Probably less of the blunt death-lasering and more of the precision psychological warfare that Scion dabbled in a couple of times.

    The Simurgh is giving Mathers a hug? Welp, that’s bad for everyone…especially if it means that Mathers doesn’t block the Simurgh’s sight. (Hugging is a pretty precise task. If the Simurgh didn’t have a pretty detailed understanding of where the giant was and how big it was, she’d probably be awkwardly hugging empty air next to the giant or crashed into her side or something.)

    1. Hence why Simurch would be BUDGET Eden. Eden is obviously far bigger and more powerful, probably able to throw out destruction not dissimilar to Scion. The scenario is unlikely in my mind, since Eden was a far different being, but IF she had gone postal like Scion, deciding to explore violence as an outlet, I’d imagine after the initial barrage that she’d settle into something not dissimilar to the Simurgh’s tactic. I.E. she would focus on the horror aspect of it.

      1. @Wildbow: above comment appears to have posted in the middle of me still editing it. Feel free to delete it and this.

    2. Hence why Simurch would be BUDGET Eden. Eden is obviously far bigger and more powerful, probably able to throw out destruction not dissimilar to Scion. The scenario is unlikely in my mind, since Eden was a far different being, but IF she had gone postal like Scion, deciding to explore violence as an outlet, I’d imagine after the initial barrage that she’d settle into something not dissimilar to the Simurgh’s tactic. I.E. she would focus on the horror aspect of it you noted.

  6. At this point Parahumans never won against Endbringers. They managed to defeat Scion, mostly because he was suicidal and they gave him a push. That’s pretty much the only way they can win. It doesn’t seem they have capacity to beat Endbringers/Entities in a direct confrontation, only through flaw exploitation. However, Simurgh is perfectly equiped to counter any attempt to exploit her weakness (which would her need to fulfil her purpuse).

    Also I’m curious – will Sleeper feature in this story?

    1. They want Simurgh to win and right after she wins, they are ready to initiate the genocide, making all Simurgh’s purposes useless for her. They’re really lucky if she didn’t predicted Victoria’s plan yet.

  7. “Didn’t you say six, earlier?” he asked.
    “You just said you were a nine, minutes ago.”
    “you said you felt like a nine or ten for other reasons,”

    Wait, when did Victoria ever say that ? Last chapter she was at 7, with Cryptid at 8-9. Right now she bumped it up to 8, and the others hear 10 ? Did Ziz make them hear different numbers to force them to split ? That’s pretty damn ominous is what it is…

    1. @grinvader
      > Did Ziz make them hear different numbers to force them to split ?
      I think Ziz mess with memory:
      > “Eight?” I asked.
      > …
      > “You said you’re at an eight,” Cryptid growled the words, his tone wary.
      > …
      > Cryptid growled. “You just said you were a nine, minutes ago.
      So Cryptid repeated “eight” after Victoria, but then he said “nine”.

      Or Ziz just messes with Wildbow 🙂 and this is typo

  8. I do believe that they have managed to “win” individual battles though, keeping them from their current goal. Like Leviathan trying to reach Echidna, and whatnot.

  9. @ Grinvader:
    Yep, I’m pretty sure Ziz can make people hear different numbers. Victoria THINKS she said seven, the others think she said nine, she actually said six…it’s exactly the confusion and division that Ziz specializes in.
    Changing tiny facets of what people hear at certain key moments fits Ziz VERY well indeed.

    – Also, the Simurgh working on the Mathers giant. Yikes. Going by that one Interlude we had from Christine Mathers’ perspective (way back when), she was really, really mentally unbalanced; a perfect Simurgh target.
    Let’s hope the giant is more stable than its Mama was, because this could go horribly.

    – I’ll second (third, fourth, whatever) the sentiment that fighting the Simurgh is scarier than fighting Scion. Fighting Scion was a matter of desperately throwing everything you’ve got at a hopeless situation.
    Meanwhile, fighting Ziz is a gruelling marathon of second-guessing yourself and constantly having slim, desperate hopes presented to you and then snatched away.

  10. … And then Amy and Tattletsle turn up and team up with bonesaw anf lab rat? With a shard broken Lung in tow….?

    You know it’s bad when that would be good news.

  11. >“You said you’re at an eight,” Cryptid growled the words, his tone wary.

    He heard her correctly at the time. I’m thinking he’s just being his usual jerk self by claiming it was a nine later.

  12. “I was notified in bold text that hung at the periphery of my vision that there was no ongoing communication.”
    I wonder about Simurgh-exposition levels (color coded)… Did Dragon not restored them or Victoria ignored?

  13. It’s sheer insanity, even for readers to guess about everything we’re seeing here.

    I mean, you initially wonder if the Simurgh just had a whole butt load of unexpected events that caught if off guard
    …Or if it purposely set Antares up with the memory of the chest opening and exiting Fragile to then simply appear taken by surprise and put on the back foot so Cryptid/Labrat would get to the labs then Antares would be with him to stop him checking on the Mather’s giant and encourage use of the bird injection.

  14. There is a horrible little part of me that really wants the Simurgh and Chris’s giants to form Ziztron now.

    1. Fine but Antares uses Fragile to grip all her teammates and form Breakzord.

      …Legend is wielded like a lightsabre.

  15. It’s kinda weird, but I’m almost at the point where I want old Simmy to win this round.

    Like seriously- she puts in so much effort, and planning… like… the results are horrible, but I can’t help but feel that everyone’s favorite Endbringer *deserves* to win.

    … and then I remember murderbaby and all the other horrors she have planned, and I be like “Nope!”
    (Also, gawd, just imagine a benevelont Ziz! It would be so easy to do great things!)

  16. Iirc, Simurgh doesn’t perceive the present at all. It could very well be that Mathers did absolutely nothing to her.

  17. Oh, goodness. I just realised that my previous comment didn’t show up as a reply to charlesw81 above.

    I love the Legend light saber.

    I DON’T love what’s happening in the story at this moment D:

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