Last – 20.5

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The one thing that made it possible to even think about defeating the Simurgh was that it took her time to get her hooks in.  She was subtle.

Now she had her hands on an empowered, giant-size Christine Mathers.  Manufactured for us by my fucking sister and fucking Cryptid.  Fucking fuck fuck fuck.

“Master-stranger protocols!” I shouted, before turning away, to limit exposure.  I took flight, fleeing the scene.  I needed Dinah, Dinah could theoretically get past the Simurgh, give me a shot at the Mathers Giant, and let me inject her with the new command protocols.  Which might not even work, if the Simurgh could do whatever she’d done to make the Mathers giant docile.  To make the Mathers giant hers.

Dinah was down one of the two hallways- I chose the closer one.  A coin flip, to get a shot at victory that wasn’t guaranteed.  To-

I felt her grab me.  There were twenty capes present, subdued by the Mathers Giant, and not a hair on them moved.

There were another twenty-five of us here.  Twenty of them jerked, shifting posture, jumping, looking startled as they felt what I was feeling.  All looked to be capes who hadn’t been part of the fighting, though many might have been like Juliette and Chastity, capable of keeping their shit together and doing something to subdue the ‘reds’- the capes and civilians who had been pushed over the edge by the Simurgh.

I could feel her grip, taking hold of my hood, the ends of the spikes at my shoulder, the ends of my coat.  Parts of my outfit that weren’t close enough to my skin to be considered an extension of me.  I tried to fly and I couldn’t.  I could use my strength and try to tear free of my costume, but I couldn’t get my hands to where I could grab it.  My forcefield-

-couldn’t.  As she expanded around me, she started at my costume.  Her own body blocked her ability to claw off my costume.

Open!  I told her.  Cocoon!  Reach in-

Too late.  The Simurgh flung me.  Us.  Everything.  Directly away from her.

Flight let me reduce how fast I was flung, if only a bit.  My forcefield reached out, fingernails scraping against the floor, hands reaching out for the wall.  Hands reached into the open mouth, to cradle my head and neck, grab me.

It still felt like I imagined being in a car wreck would feel.

It was hard to shake the feelings of responsibility.  Like there’d been something I could do.  I felt like the driver of that car that had wrecked, and with no scream from the Simurgh and no sounds from the people around me as they were flung, there was just a series of hard-wet noises as bodies crunched into the wall, some at angles so violent that I couldn’t make sense of the shape of them post-impact.

I shook as I placed my feet on the ground, one leg wrapped from toe to knee to keep the tattered costume in place and to keep me sufficiently warm outdoors.  I ached in more places than I could count, and the cushioning of the forcefield hands might have kept me from snapping my neck or getting whiplash, but I knew I’d have some awful bruises if I lived to see tomorrow.

I stumbled with the first two steps, because of sprains and the injured parts that would soon sprout bruises.  There were pillars all around us, stabbing up from what had used to be Teacher’s propaganda units.  The area still had piles of debris, all bulldozered into neat sections so the floor would be clean.  It hadn’t seen any use except as an extensive conference room for the thinkers.

I focused on keeping the pillar between myself and Mama Mathers while I got my bearings.  Syringe- I still had it, capped and stuck between my breastplate and my chest.

Breathing hard, wincing, I pulled off the decorations at my shoulders.  My coat.  Fuck.  I shrugged it off, knowing I’d pay for it later.

There were five capes who hadn’t been flung.  Five capes who’d done the sensible thing and worn bodysuits instead of armor, to get the most bang for their buck when it came to the Manton effect.  One provided a circle-shaped shield of water to try and provide some cover for the rest.  A bit of pipe from one of the piles of debris speared at him, and stopped partway inside the shield, the jagged end a short distance from his face.  The water was pressurized or moving at high speeds, and the spear bobbed, bounced, and vibrated as it held position.

One of the twenty capes around the Simurgh and Mathers Giant reached out, flinging a dart below the shield.  It landed between the shield cape’s feet.

The dart whipped around, thin and flexible, one end still rooted in the ground.  The cape producing the shield reacted, stepping back, and his leg separated at the ankle, again a few inches up at the calf.  He stumbled, and his other foot came off mid-calf.  Only the fact that someone caught him kept him from slipping on the blood that gushed out, and kept him upright, so he could maintain the shield.

Fuck.  They needed help, and I needed backup if I was going to stop the Mathers Giant.

I disengaged from my forcefield, sending it out.

The Simurgh turned, and I had to assume she was moving away from the Mathers Giant.  Her wings shifted.

I looked.  Behind them, chunks of rubble were moving.

“Behind you!  Duck!” I called out.  The Fragile One reached out.

The cape supporting the footless water-shield user turned, but didn’t duck.  A chunk of concrete no bigger than my fist flew past the Fragile One, dropping mid-air to avoid the reaching hand, and caught the supporting cape in the cheek.  They collapsed, and the water shield cape fell, his chin meeting the pipe that was transfixed in the shield.  It speared through, only stopping, presumably, when it met the top of his skull.

I was hyperaware of every last detail around me.  I sent my forcefield in, low to the ground, nigh-invisible, with the aim of breaking legs and disabling the renegade capes and drawing attention away from the remaining capes.

Someone hit the Fragile One, and she disappeared.  The interval before she appeared around me felt a fraction longer, but I wasn’t sure I was processing that right.

“Come on,” I murmured, as I sent her out again.  I needed a distraction, something that would let me slip by.

You’ll melt.

The voice was a whisper, hard to make out from the ambient noise, the screams and groans of those who had hit the wall but not died, and the ones who hadn’t been thrown but who were being executed one by one now.

The scraping sound that followed was like a chainsaw against stone, without the sound of the chainsaw’s engine itself.  A skittering, screeching noise that grew in volume.

Metal centipedes appeared on either side of me, each curving to travel around the pillar, straight for me.  I brought my forcefield back-

It was broken before I could.

I flew straight up, mindful of the ceiling, and mindful of the fact that my senses couldn’t be trusted.

Sorry, Mukade.  I think.

As my forcefield came back, I had forcefield fingernails drag into the pillar I was flying beside.  Multiple hands.  Below me, the centipedes were moving in a double-helix pattern up the pillar, chasing.

Change shape, I thought.  Reshaping my forcefield.  Think of the physio.  Of moving that monstrous, wretched body, trying to learn how it moved.  Reaching out a limb… reaching… straining

I palmed what my forcefield had grabbed off the pillar.

With enhanced strength, two arms helped me hurl myself around and away from the pillar.  A third arm, as long as I could make it, drawing on memory, hurled the handful of concrete bits.

Mukade, already with several holes in his side and back for the centipedes to come out of, got a few more holes in his body.  He sat down heavily, head turning slightly, then flopped back, more like a child’s doll than a person.  Gone.

“You’ll melt!”

My skin burned, the bandages I still wore on one hand felt unbearably tight.

Blood welled at my neck where I’d just stopped the bleeding, and then it foamed.  What had been a slash of a non-cauterizing laser or pressurized blood or whatever else was opening up, parting.  A dribble touched my armpit and ran down my side, and it stung like a sunburn.

I had to ignore it.  I needed cover from Mathers.  I disengaged from my forcefield, and sent her along the ceiling, raking it.

Plumes of dust came down.  I used them as a shield.

You’ll die!

The whisper again coincided with another attack from the defending parahumans.  A man, tall, with about two hundred spidery legs, each of which was at least ten feet long.  He was fast, moving fluidly, his body twitching and jerking with the force and speed of the legs, almost a victim of how they relied on other legs for leverage while his body was at the fulcrum point.

He howled.

Little question how he ended up fucked up enough for the Simurgh to get her hooks in.

His legs speared toward me, some extending, narrowing.

Right behind him was a cape in silver, ducking through the veil of dust the Fragile One was bringing down from overhead.  Slicksilver was a hero from the Wardens.  One of Chevalier’s crew.  Though he’d been a good guy, dust covered him and dulled the colors, and he had way too much blood on him.

Slick threw a dart.  Metallic.  I gave the thing a wide berth.

He threw more.

Getting out of the way forced me to get close to Spiderlegs.  I swooped low, scraping the ground, and put a hand out to stop myself from smacking face-first into the ground, with how steep the swoop was.

Melt, Antares!  Die!”

At my collarbone, where I’d been lasered, the bone snapped.  I screamed.  Foaming blood dropped onto the concrete, sizzling on the concrete.

I flew before more darts could be thrown my way.  Toward the exit.


I fought past the reaching spider-legs, and the act of trying to move my arm nearly left me insensate.


It was every part of fighting some of the worst enemies I’d come up against in recent memory.  My sanity at stake, black limbs reaching for me, my flesh melting.

I could only tell myself it was a trick.  All of this was a master-stranger thing, and I couldn’t trust the reality.  I had every excuse to dismiss any part of this as head games, as scary as that was.

“Antares!  Please!”

The whispers continued.

I used my aura to try to slow down the attackers.  Good old fear.  I twisted, fighting to get a bit of an upper hand, grabbing spider legs and swatting aside a dart by picking up a piece of rubble five feet to my left and swinging it.

Slick generated two globs of liquid metal, and let them droop down to the floor.  Two lashes.  He lifted one, and it reshaped itself, to curve and poise itself above him like a scorpion’s tail.  The other lash did the same to the left, parallel to the ground.

I crushed the concrete I’d used to bat aside the dart, then threw it.  The lashes formed a shield.  All I accomplished was shredding a few of the spider legs.

More legs stabbed out at me.  I grabbed a few, tearing them out of the sockets.

The man shrieked in a childlike voice, thrashing in pain as he held hands to the parts where legs had torn out at the roots.  The screaming was interrupted by him vomiting, presumably from the pain.

I braced myself for the next onslaught.  Another attacker, a warning that another attacker was coming, a whisper of my name.  When it didn’t come, I kept my guard up.  The beat of warning, attack, warning, attack… it could be misleading me.

The debris had cleared, and there was too much of the Giant visible.  The sighting coincided with a pain creeping over my body.  Bruises spread.

It wasn’t a feint, a missed step to throw me.  Why?

I reached the doorway, saw the spider legs approaching…

Then changed direction.  Flying back in.  I scooped up more grit for a ‘coin toss’, and changed my orientation, to keep Mathers out of sight.

The whispering of my voice…

I fought more of the spider legs.  Tore out more.  He had two hunded legs, but I had ten arms, and I was stronger.  He could only come at me with so many at a time.

An explosion shook the chamber.  The residual debris and dust that was dribbling down from the damaged ceiling was cleared away by the resulting shockwave.

The Simurgh was still there, silent and waiting.

The Mathers Giant wasn’t where I thought she was.  I almost looked directly at her, in the moment I realized it.

The attacker was Chevalier, backed up by some of his squad.  He wore the black and silver armor that he’d worn for Gold Morning, made of pieces of Behemoth and the Simurgh, who had a hole in one wing.

I saw the Simurgh raise a narrow hand, and dust, debris, and rocks picked up.  She didn’t get a hold on Chevalier, either.

He swung, and a piece of broken pillar leaped into the way of the blade.  It barely slowed it down, but she was able to avoid it.  He fired, and she avoided it.

I could have used the distraction to go after the giant, but I had only one shot.  I couldn’t attack her without looking at her, and I couldn’t go in blind while the Simurgh was present and fifteen or so of her pawns were standing around, because I would fail.  Too much exposure would make any future attacks twice as hard.  A hundred times as hard.

Dinah first.  My team would be with her.

I searched, avoiding looking at the giant, who wasn’t moving.  The pain in my shoulder was getting worse, and that sunburn feeling was becoming a constant burn.  My back, my side, my arm.

If this was the extent of what the Mathers Giant was doing, I could deal.  Fake pain, fake burns.

If this wasn’t what the Mathers Giant was doing, I lost nothing by continuing to fight through the pain.

Chevalier was pinning down the Simurgh.  I was left to continue searching.  As much as I’d wanted, I couldn’t use my aura.  Only flight, only the forcefield.

I found what I was looking for.

Two people, lying in a heap.  One was Roman, bloodied, his mask lost.

He’d been the one calling my name.  The whispers had stopped when I’d used my aura, because I’d cowed the person speaking.

He needed help.  Gingerly, I lifted him.

“She broke my fall,” he whispered.  He sounded more like a little boy than a kid in his mid-teens.  “Please save her.”

I moved him, using my forcefield.

Imp lay on the ground, against the wall, with debris beneath her.

I reached behind her head, to find a way to take off her mask, so she could communicate.  I recoiled.

Blood, and a fragment of… it looked like a fragment of mask, but it wasn’t.  Too white, and it had skin and long hair attached to it.  The hair was caught under something, and the fragment slipped off my finger as the hair pulled taut.

The blood was already cooling.

“Can only bring you,” I told him.

“Take her?  I can tough it out,” he said, in a tone and with a complete lack of strength that suggested he couldn’t.  “Imp and… Chastity and Cassie are on the other side of the room.  They got flung.”

“They might be distractions.  We need to do something concrete.  Dinah first.”

I lifted him.

He used his power on me for just a second, inflicting rage.  The effect was dampened, half-strength, but I still dropped him, and he writhed on landing.

We stood, huffing at each other, glaring.

I reached for him again.  Again, he used rage, and my grip on his collar was fierce.

I used my aura, in response, exerting will.  Dominance.

“You fucking think that works on me?” he asked.  I could hear the outrage in his tone.  “After how I was raised?  Who I grew up with!?  My dad used powers on me every day.”

I stopped.

I grabbed him.  “We help them faster if you come with.”

He glared, his face twisting.

But he didn’t fight me as I dragged him.

I’d fought this hard to get to this hallway.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that the fact it had been Roman calling my voice was the Simurgh’s plan.  A delay, the one person who I cared about enough to take the time to rescue… but not as important as one of my teammates might have been.

The lights flickered, flicked on, flicked off.  The hallway was only ever half-lit at one time, splattered with blood.

There was commotion at the end of the hallway.

Tattletale, Grue, Sveta, and Rain.  Rain was sitting against the wall, curled up.

Then a few more renegade capes, one of them jabbering, and Dinah.

Hostage.  A box-cutting knife held to her throat.  The jabbering guy was moving his hand now and then, and moving his hand constantly.  There were already four shallow cuts at the side of Dinah’s neck because he kept accidentally cutting her.

“Don’t,” I murmured.

“Huh?” Roman asked.

“Whatever you’re thinking about… don’t.”

I couldn’t help but feel like I had Roman next to me because the Simurgh wanted him.  And if he used his power, it wouldn’t work for us.

“Victoria,” Sveta said.  “Where’s Byron?”

“Downstairs, with Cryptid.  The Mathers Giant flipped.”

“That’s… yeah,” Sveta said.  “She got Rain.”

I looked down at Rain.

“Rain?” I asked.

He didn’t respond.  Two seconds later, he twitched.

“Blind and deaf,” Tattletale said.  “He sees only what she wants him to see.”

“Which is what the Simurgh wants him to see?” I asked.

“The world’s going to end!” the jabbering cape screamed.  His hand moved, and the point caught on .  She twisted her head to follow the knife, then the point dragged through skin sideways, returning to her throat.

I turned my attention away from Rain.

“Hey, Zugzwang,” Tattletale said.

“Fuck you!  I know you’re the Undersiders’ head fucker!  Open your mouth and I’ll open her throat!”

He cut Dinah, along the jawline.  As Grue started forward, Zugzwang returned the knife to her throat.

“You’re being awfully stupid for a mastermind,” Sveta said.

“I know what you do too, Sveta Karelia,” Zugzwang said.  “I bet my hand’s faster than yours.  I also know you all need her.”

Tattletale looked back at me.

“Hey, Dinah,” I said.

“No games!” Zugzwang raised his voice.

“Things are bad,” Dinah said.  “They hurt my parents.”

“Any guidance?  Any predictions?”

“I’m burned out.  Asked too many questions.  The giant makes it harder.  I think that’s why the Simurgh grabbed her.”

I frowned.  “If we-”

“Stop!” Zugzwang raised his voice.

“If we tried defeating the giant, do you think you could do it?”

“I don’t know.  But if you don’t defeat it then there’s no chance I can do it.”

Couldn’t get Dinah’s help without defeating the giant.  Couldn’t be sure I’d defeat the giant without Dinah’s help.

“No other input?” I asked her.  “Questions you asked before you got shut down?”

“No, not really.  I’m sorry.”

Rain made small sounds.

“Rain,” I said, crouching down.  “Rain, hey.  Look, I’m going to use my aura.  You don’t need this.”

I used my aura, calming him.  I let the range extend to Zugzwang.

“Hey!” Zugzwang called out.  “Hey!  Listen!”

“What?” I asked, toning it down slightly.

The group of people who’d gathered a distance away from Zugzwang parted, so I could see him while crouching down, and he could see me.

Lights flicked off.  When they flicked on, I saw Dinah’s throat slashed.

It wasn’t.  My eyes adjusted, and I saw that blood had run down from one cut, then stretched across a crease in her neck when she’d bent down.

“Zugzwang, there’s a way for us both to get exactly what we want.”

“You don’t even know what I want!”

The lights went out.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was going to slash her throat for real, and I wasn’t sure if that was because of the earlier prompts, of whisper, attack, whisper, attack.

I couldn’t be sure of anything.

The lights came on, and I saw Dinah’s eyes widen.

My forcefield lunged.  Zugzwang cut Dunah’s throat, and the Fragile One grabbed him by the throat and took his head off.  There were three more, and the Fragile One broke all six of their legs.

Tattletale wasted no time in drawing her gun and shooting one.

“Fuck!” Tattletale swore, once the ringing in our ears had died down.

I flew forward, reaching for the container of coagulant Chris had given me.  The neck wound wasn’t pumping like it was something arterial… I had to hope it was enough.

She pulled away once I’d applied some.

“Antares made me leave Imp behind,” Roman said.  “There was still a chance.”

Grue looked stricken.

“Go get her?  Please?” Roman asked.

“No,” I said.  I’d felt the cold.

“Fuck you!” Roman burst out.  Again, he used his power.  Again, I pushed back.  Some of my teammates pushed back.

“Listen!” I raised my voice.

“Victoria,” Sveta said.

“Listen!” I told her, with just as much fierceness.  “We need to refocus.  We need to keep to the mission.  Deal with achievable objectives.  Getting too emotional doesn’t help any crisis!”

“What do you want to do?” Grue asked.  “And is Imp in that direction?”

“I need…” I said, pulling my hand away.  It was slick with goop and blood, and I had no idea of where to wipe it.  “The giant.  I can’t get in there.  Chris thinks we can reset her.  If I can see her, smell her, touch her, she’ll do more than make me feel like I’m melting alive from a glimpse of her.  My collarbone- I think she’s making me feel like it’s broken.”

“That looks like it’s actually broken,” Sveta said.  “And actually burned or something.”

“Can you help?” I asked Grue and Tattletale, ignoring her.  “Imp was- is there.”

“I can get you in there,” Grue said.

I straightened.

“Victoria,” Sveta said, her voice hard.  “We’re friends.  I’ve backed you up a lot.  Can I get thirty seconds of your time?”

I turned to her.

“I don’t want to keep silent when I should speak up.  Not again.”

“I’m listening.”

” First off, you’re bleeding again,” Sveta said.

I slapped the coagulant mud onto my own wound.  The burning had receded.  “Better?”

“No, Victoria.  You’re too on edge.  Where are you?”

“I’m hurting.  I’m spooked.  I want to handle this.  We’ve got the slimmest of shots and…”

I looked at the door, and I saw that kids were peering through.  Lookout, Candy, Darlene, and Chicken Little.  Candy was lowest to the ground, and had to be lying on her stomach.

“…It’s slipping through our fingers,” I said.

“The Irregulars said something like that.  That they only had a bit of time to get the answers they needed.”

“I’m not an Irregular.”

“I know.  But you’re not yourself either.”

“Can I cheat?” Lookout asked.  “I can help.”

“It’s better if you sit this one out entirely,” Grue said.

“It’ll take three seconds.”


She disappeared, somehow taking that as permission.

She reappeared in four seconds.  She reached through the door, holding something out.

The flash gun.

“Turn the setting down all the way.  Flash Rain.  It’ll override the visual centers.”

“How long?”

“Five minutes.”

“Everything might be over in five minutes,” Tattletale said.


I took the gun anyway.  I grabbed Rain’s chin, and he thrashed.

I lifted his chin, aimed the gun, and twisted my head around, shielding my eyes as I fired into his face.

“Good luck, Rain.”

“It won’t help his ears,” Tattletale said.  “Or skin.  The giant’s strong.  You just need to see her and she gets all five of your senses.  We’ll need to be careful.”

I looked at Grue, and he nodded.  I looked at Sveta, and saw her concern.

“Come,” I told her.  “Master-stranger protocols very much in effect.  I trust you.”

Sveta followed.  Tattletale did as well.

Back to the fighting.  To the Giant, and to the Simurgh.

The room had taken a beating when we’d made it a staging ground in the raid on Teacher’s base.  Now… there was a hole in the floor that a house could have been dropped through.  Chevalier still fought.

He struck the Simurgh.  She caught a power out of the air with telekinesis, a crescent that shimmered.  She threw it to one side, and gore splashed up against the wall.

“How do we do this?” I asked.

“I’ll darken the way.  You fly.  If you’re close, I’ll give you your shot.”

“I’ll be helpless.”

“We’re helpless anyway,” Tattletale said, behind me.  “Grue will be affected by Mathers if he sees her.  Be careful, I’ll do what I can to guide.”

“What do I do?” Sveta asked.

“Back me up!” I called out, flying forward with more speed, breaking away from the group.  “If they get me, get the syringe!”

I tapped my chest to indicate where it was.

He pumped out darkness.

And I threw myself into the most dangerous battlefield I’d ever been on, utterly blind, unable to orient myself in the air, and unable to hear a thing.

Just me, and the aches and pains I felt.

I used my best judgment to estimate where she might be, and to get closer.

In an ideal world, the darkness would dissipate.  I could inject, and the Simurgh would lose control.  Dinah would gain some leverage, we’d get some more people back into the fight, and we could fight.

The world was not so ideal.  Something hit me, hard.

Forcefield down, and I was spiked down into the ground, hitting concrete and sliding on a thin layer of grit and gravel for what felt like forever in the oily dark.

Until I was no longer in the dark.

I twisted my face away, searching for a place and a perspective that didn’t risk me seeing Mathers.  I looked to the side-

Chastity and Cassie, slumped against the wall, holding hands, eyes open.

I looked down.  I was by the massive hole in the floor.

In the gloom of flickering lights, amid dust, amid debris, there was only one thing that was white and clean.

Seven floors down, below the hole, my sister was standing back while people tended to wounded.  It looked like someone had been plunged through the floor by telekinesis or some massive attack.  She did nothing.

There was a piece of rubble to my left.

I feel strong.  I feel okay.  I have control.  Only one thing holds me back, poisons me.

If she’d joined, we might have been able to win this.

I leaned on the rubble to get to a standing position, knowing what I was doing.

The rubble fell.  I looked just long enough to make sure it was on course, and then I flew.  Back into the darkness.

Something hit me, hard.

Forcefield down, and I was spiked down into the ground, hitting concrete and sliding on a thin layer of grit and gravel for what felt like forever in the oily dark.

Until I was no longer in the dark.

I twisted my face away, searching for a place and a perspective that didn’t risk me seeing Mathers.  I looked to the side-

Chastity and Cassie, slumped against the wall, holding hands, eyes open.

I looked down.  I was by the massive hole in the floor.

In the gloom of flickering lights, amid dust, amid debris, there was only one thing that was white and clean.

Seven floors down, below the hole, my sister was standing back while people tended to wounded.  It looked like someone had been plunged through the floor by telekinesis or some massive attack.  She did nothing.

There was a piece of rubble to my left.

I feel strong.  I feel okay.  I have control.  Only one thing holds me back, poisons me.

If she’d joined, we might have been able to win this.

I left it behind, left her behind.  I flew, back into the darkness.

The shadows swam around me.  It was vertigo-inducing.  Slimy.

The darkness faded.  A slice of light, reflected off the ceiling, down into a column of space which had no darkness at all.

My cue.  I flew hard that way.

The darkness faded, and I was face to face with Christine Mathers, staring into her eyes.

I stabbed her eye with the needle.  The plunger jolted, and it fired like a gun, the fluids spurting in.

Images all around us faded.  Scenes peeled away.  Things the Simurgh had lifted.  Dust clouds.

So much of it had been fakery.

We hadn’t heard the screaming for how long, now?

Mama Mathers had the ability to screw up our senses if we saw her.  It had to extend to more than sight, because she was amped up.

The Simurgh wasn’t here.  Hadn’t been here even when I’d entered the room.  Many of the victims weren’t even present.

I noted Imp.  Still gone.  Chastity.  Cassie.

I spat.

People were patching up wounds.  Sveta approached me, to hold a bandage to my shoulder.

“Is she already…”

“She skipped ahead.  We thought we had a bit longer,” Tattletale said.  “She jumped to going after Fortuna ten minutes early.  We didn’t do enough for your plan.”


I looked.

Dinah had spoken.  Now she pointed, one hand held to her head, grimacing.

I looked, and I saw the syringe, empty.

I grabbed it.

There was only one valid target.

The thin Mathers Giant turned to look at me, eyes wide and vacant.

I went blind.  Deaf.  My skin sloughed off, multiplied, liquefied again.  I was an ocean.

As an ocean, I flew.

This time I hit the plunger.

The veil fell yet again.  This time for real.

The screaming picked up, faint at first, and then a roar.  It was all an illusion.  All a mind-fuck.

She was here, perched.  Fucking with us all the while.

Still on schedule.

Last chance.


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39 thoughts on “Last – 20.5”

  1. Typo thread: the section that begins “I leaned on rubble, hard” and ends with Victoria seeing her sister at the bottom of the chasm is duplicated.

    1. I think that might be intended.

      The two duplicates end in different ways. In the first, Victoria has apparently leant on the rubble to get back up but knowingly pushed it down to presumably fall on, and kill, Amy. In the second, she simply flies away.

      If she’d joined, we might have been able to win this.
      I leaned on the rubble to get to a standing position, knowing what I was doing.
      The rubble fell. I looked just long enough to make sure it was on course, and then I flew. Back into the darkness.
      If she’d joined, we might have been able to win this.
      I left it behind, left her behind. I flew, back into the darkness.

  2. Typo Thread:

    Dunah > Dinah
    ” First off > “First off
    had to by > had to be

    the section that begins “I leaned on rubble, hard” and ends with Victoria seeing her sister at the bottom of the chasm is… oh wait.

    Really interesting.

    1. “moving his hand now and then, and moving his hand constantly.”
      Should one of the ‘hand’ be ‘head’ ?

  3. -Khepri, missing an arm: One time I fought Scion and all I had to do was to fly through portals and mentally control armies of capes to fight in my place.

    -Antares, looking like an egyptian mummy, barely moving a single finger: Bitch, I fucking envy you!!!

    -Worried for Dinah, but Imp seems even worse. Poor Grue. To be back to life only to see your sister dying and be unable to save her…. :(.

    -If Simurgh will ever die, that will be one of my best days in this year. I hate her more than I hate most really heatable assholes from both stories. Fucking manipulative monster.


    1. the thing is….
      there’s really nothing there to hate.
      it isn’t a her, or a them, just an it- literally nothing but the “program” it was created with- and the side-objective eidolon’s power added-
      there’s -nothing- in its mind past “maintain the cycle&give david challenging opponents”,regardless of how cunning, intelligent or prescient it is. its just an empty shell. not even worth hating, just a broken computer with a now-impossible directive too stupid to give up.

      an almighty idiot, just like Zion became when Eden died, but even less…

      1. Yes, I’m aware that she doesn’t feel any pleasure to torture people and she isn’t even aware that she’s doing a bad thing- she’s doing exactly what she’s programmed like an AI without personality and self-improvement (someone like Dragon only lacking Dragon’s emotions and the capacity to bypass her program limitations) but I still hate her. More exactly, I hate what she represents and what she’s doing to our favorite characters. I know that my hate is kind of pathetic but I can’t help feeling it everytime when I’m thinking at Simurgh. Wildbow is very good for making people (because I’m not the only one who hate her) feel such intense feelings for…an alien AI.

  4. Whelp, that was the most intense fight I’ve ever read. And it’s still unclear which ladies are actually dead. Craziness, WB in his element.

  5. The repetition is NOT the author’s mistake but a looping illusion generated by Mathers Giant to mess with Vic’s mind. I hope that Imp’s “death” was an illusion too. If she was truly dead, Victoria wouldn’t be able to notice her corpse, right?

    1. ” If she was truly dead, Victoria wouldn’t be able to notice her corpse, right?”

      No. I’m pretty sure if she were dead, her power would stop working and everyone would notice her corpse just fine. They might not remember who that new cape was, but they’d see the corpse of this apparently D-list cape who died trying to save the world. “It’s too bad we’ll never learn the names of everyone who heroically gave their lives to save us all, etc.”

      1. Victoria said that Imp is “gone”. She didn’t specified that she’s dead. Gone doesn’t necessarily mean dead. So, Imp is probably injured and Victoria can’t really notice her (even if she knows that she is there) because she’s in too much pain to shut off her power or she’s ok but she went somewhere else, disappearing from Victoria’s field of vision. Or maybe another illusion showing that Imp is dead but also gone, messing with Victoria mind. Either way, Amy and Imp must be alive.

        1. Note, Victoria says Imp is gone after “lifting” the illusions, but then lifts them for real and doesn’t pause to check because Ziz is right there.
          So it’s really uncertain what’s real and what isn’t at this point.

  6. Holy hell this chapter. If nothing Victoria saw and heard in there counts as 100% real, it’s gonna be a real lottery as to what the actual killcount was (though I’m guessing most of the people squished by the Simurgh’s TK will remain dead).

    Masterfully played, Mr Bow.

  7. I noted Imp. Still gone. Chastity. Cassie.

    the important part of this line in this fake-out is that victoria can still remember aisha exists, which means she’s DEFINITELY ALIVE

    1. I think if Aisha dies then her power ceases so they would be able to remember her. It’s if Aisha/Imp gets incapacitated they have a problem because Imp’s power actually works by her actively suppressing it’s effect on masking her presence, so if Imp isn’t actively stopping it from masking her then she’ll be masked while knocked out.

      Personally… I think Imp’s dead. Chastity and Cassie MIGHT be alright but I’m on the side of thinking that they’re dead.

  8. Amy’s powers are needed,at a point where using said powers will break her already fragile mental health,Victoria gets pissed because Amy could help,fuck her mental health,why she isnt being a good tool. Amy uses her power,snaps,goes crazy,Victoria condemns her and wonders what got her to go off the rail. Rinse and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat…

    We have been in this cycle from early worm and I lost hope Victoria or Amy will notice and break away from it. Amy probably just died the most disappointing GOT death:Death by falling hubris. Anticlimatic,disappointing.

    Dinah probably died too,also Imp. Victoria used her aura to subdue the very valid feelings of a boy that has been abused with powers all his childhood. Victoria is the most holier than thou character in the entirety of worm/ward and will probably never realize.

    That sounded bitter and Im sorry. Feel free to disagree,though this time I wont argue with anyone,as is my own,biased, personal and flawed opinion. Ward has had great moments and things that I have loved,but overall…well. I will be here to the end, cause Im a trooper and I need to know what happens. I’ll cheer for everyone,probably. Sorry if my opinion offends anyone.

    1. Disclaimer:I reread it and understood what happened now. I feel stupid and I cant delete my comment please dont reply I’ll go die somewhere

  9. Amy’s almost certainly not dead- those repeating visions were Mathers illusions. I think Vicky using her aura to try to get Roman under control is pretty justifiable, seeing as they were in a life-or-death situation within a life-or-death situation and he was lashing out.

    1. Yeah I noticed on my second reread. Is late here and I was excited so I didnt waited until tomorrow where I would be more rested,now Im extremely mortified for looking stupid.

      And I get it,is justifiable but it still feels wrong somehow. Like using submission on a kid that has been abused like that most of his life is…wrong. but a lot of wrong things have had to be made lately,being end of the world and all. You do what you got to do I guess

  10. Rain’s situations had me close to tears before. Byron, Ashley, Sveta… All of them had me on the verge of weeping. But Aisha… Even though I knew it was wrong, that they shouldn’t even know she was there if she’d gone unconscious… I couldn’t handle it. And now that I’ve recovered, and Victoria gave the injection, and the illusion was revealed, I’m still worried. But for bigger reasons. If Imp’s not here, where is she? And if others have been corrupted, and fooled by the Simurgh… Who else has she hacked, and what are they up to? Gojjammit WideBowle, what have you wrought, you brilliant, heart-wrenching genius, you!
    It’s like Gold Morning all over again, in a parallel kind of way.

  11. Mindscrew after mindscrew after mindscrew and I loved every second of it. That looping illusion of Amy at the bottom of the hole and the final fakeout before the successful (I hope) injection of the Mathers Titan were especially top.

    Having only half a clue of what was real or not while reading and still enjoying every second of it says something.

  12. Dinah in Worm: “Every time I use my power around you, the numbers change.”

    The Simurg noted it was rather difficult to see the future when Dinah used her power.

    The Simurg screams louder when working on someone, then it goes quiet when she’s solved them.

    Thus the Simurg really wasn’t screaming in the fight as everything was known and going according to plan, and then Dinah used her power, the numbers have changed, and the Simurg hasn’t solved anyone at all.

    But why does Rain being blind for five minutes end the world anyway? Was he the last threat the Simurg saw?

    And I like how she’s still basically doing what Tattletale told her to, way back when, save humanity, fight the space monsters, just in her own horrible way of having everyone torture and murder each other for a billion years. So hard to specify these things right.

  13. CLUTCH save by Dinah! That must have given her a headache.
    Oh, man, Victoria, though. I’m increasingly worried for her.

  14. “But why does Rain being blind for five minutes end the world anyway? Was he the last threat the Simurg saw?”

    The way I understood it, they needed to use the flashgun on Rain for 5 minutes to override the MathersGiant’s control over his sight, but the Simurgh could win in less than 5 minutes. The world doesn’t end because Rain is blind, it’s just that they don’t have enough time to fix him before the world ends.
    For his sake, I really hope that the reset-syringe also disabled all currently running Mathers-hallucinations.

    1. It probably did… But they already gunned him so he’ll still be blind for around 5 minutes.

      Supposedly the Simurgh’s schedule had her on course for melding with Titan Fortuna in 20 minutes from now. BUT! Dinah could very well have just disrupted that schedule.

      If the world crystalises to explode, supposedly they’ll have a further 40 minutes before it actually explodes.

  15. Imp’s power defaults to active and this is the only thing that’s making me believe she’s alive. It was probably a complete fake-out because she couldn’t be unconscious and detectable.
    If this isn’t the case and she’s unconscious and detectable, then ugh… broken skull is a bad wound.

  16. How did Vicky seen Dinah through Mather’s illusion?
    I mean, I’m all for Dinah showing up and saving the day- but how does this work exactly?

    Or do we just go “Precog fucked with other precog, therefore Ziz/Mathers made a mistake” and be done with it?

    1. It’s a very strong case of Thinker interference. It’s not like it’s something new or unused in the story by now, though.
      The Ziz vs Fortuna battle was shown earlier to be made of constantly altered trajectories that they both keep tweaking as the other does. In this chapter, Ziz made a plan that would have worked if Dinah didn’t risk using her power an extra time.

      Now she has to adjust for it.


    Seriously, first it was confusing and hopless because they were fighting a powerful precog creature that could see every move before it happened…now there’s a different creature that can cause multi-sensory hallucinations so we don’t know what’s real or not?

    Damn, this is intense. Is the next chapter from Sveta/Rain/Byron’s perspective, where it’s revealed that Antares has flipped from Simurgh exposure and they’re desperately trying to subdue her?

    If so, it could be that the only way to get Victoria back is Amy rewriting her mind. Now THAT’D be an inverted twist and a half…

    – Also, I feel a great sense of sadness and loss for some reason. Did someone die? Can’t think who…

  18. > “That looks like it’s actually broken,” Sveta said. “And actually burned or something.”

    …Given the level of mindfuckery going on, I think a second opinion is called for.

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