Last – 20.6

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I had no idea what was real, anymore.  I couldn’t trust anything.

Red and gold lines spiderwebbing across my vision made me think something in my mind had broken, even more than those fundamental parts of me had been lost or irrevocably damaged.

I dove in, prepared to make myself more of an immediate threat.  Part of the reason she seemed to have stalled was that she had accumulated a fair bit of damage.  That damage was my target.

I couldn’t be sure of anything, but I was reasonably confident that she did need to recover if she was hurt.  No way would the Endbringers have operated like they had for as long as they had if they didn’t.  No way would the Endbringers slowed their aggression against Scion in the middle phases of the fighting, falling back to change up how they came at him, if they didn’t need rests, in a sense.

This was how I had to interpret the situation and the fight.  Grounding every thought.  Anticipate, be flexible, find the weaknesses.

She barely seemed to notice me as I flew in, driving my forcefield into the criss-cross patchwork at her shoulder, where her body was revealed to be hollow, a criss-cross latticework of feathers  forming the shape of a thin, sculpted shoulder.  Some of that lattice was broken, and I dug in, tearing it open wider.

I felt telekinesis roll over me, grabbing at parts of my sleeve that stuck out, a prong at my shoulder where the decorations attached, my hood.

With flight, a wrenching of my body, and my forcefield gripping the floor and hauling me to one side, I tore myself free of that faint grip, getting some distance from the Simurgh.  She folded wings around herself, a shield, while rubble circled around her, making the approach complicated.

I wasn’t the only one she’d gripped.  She’d reached out across the room, targeting everyone present who wasn’t one of the compromised individuals she’d drawn in.

Chevalier was here, and put his sword out like a wall, some of his squadron gripping the channel that bifurcated the two great blades.

The screaming in my ears reached a new pitch, the Simurgh unfurled her wings and raised one long, thin arm, and the blade twitched, the blade turning so it was no longer perpendicular to the ground.  The material of his costume and the blade seemed resistant to her efforts… good thing, because if it hadn’t been, she might have turned his weapon so the blade was poised to catch anyone and everyone she threw.

Rubble moved, metal pipes lifted themselves free from piles of debris and pointed, poised to catch the people she was about to fling.  The lens I wore highlighted it where I couldn’t see it with my own eyes in the gloom.  Where things moved, the lines were more unsure, while fixtures like pillars and doorways were marked out, firm.

I flew, ready to intercept, or to be in a position to intercept.  I still had the flash gun, and I clipped it to my belt, where it swung and banged against my leg as I turned in the air.  It was another weak point, a thing she could grab.  But there wasn’t a great way to handle carrying the thing.

She’d done this before.  I’d watched videos and simulations of prior Simurgh encounters, before they were taken down.  I’d seen these mass-telekinetic-flings before, modeled in three dimensional programs, each individual stripped down to being a dull gray render of a human being, without costume, colors, gender, or personality.

Always toward the end of fights, if she did it at all, always only after she’d sang long enough.  After she had her hooks in.

This is real, I thought to myself.  The thoughts couldn’t have sounded further from being the proud, confident heroine I’d dreamed of being, once.  Tremulous, wavering, and a half-step away from a downward spiral.  What had I done that I hadn’t realized I was doing?  I couldn’t clearly remember if I’d dropped that piece of rubble on my sister.  I’d forgotten stuff, or… not forgotten.  I’d failed to think of things.  Like my gun.  I’d left it behind.  Could have really used it now.

Someone screamed, as she fought to get free and couldn’t.  She wore a costume in yellow and black, almost flipped from my own, a swooping bird icon on the chest with fins at the exterior, all flowing from the lines and patterns of the costume itself.  She reached out for a teammate’s hand, her fingertips grazing his, as the two of them were held immobile.

I wasn’t sure what she hoped to do if she did get a hold of her teammate, but I couldn’t go fly to her rescue.  That was a trap.  Everything was a trap.

This, too, is real.  This is what she does.  This is why if you’re even thinking of participating in any fights against the Simurgh at any point in time, they’d give you the rundown.  They’d prepare us well in advance.

“What do I do!?” Sveta called out.

“Grab-” I started, my voice drowned out by other people shouting, yelling.

My sentence interrupted as the Simurgh flung them.  Not forward, not back, but in various directions.  I took flight, trying to catch the man the woman in the bird costume had been reaching for.

They tell you in the prep materials that you will always feel one step behind

I got a firm grip on his hand.  I felt the jolt as he jerked, and he roared in pain, the noise joining the cacophony around us.

Sveta was doing more, catching rubble, people… I’d meant to tell her to grab the bits that stuck out.  If the Manton effect extended just past her tendrils to any clothing she wore, there was a chance she could impart just a bit of it to spikes, fins, capes, and other matter.  The Simurgh, as far as I knew, didn’t grab flesh.

I was trying to track the dangers and see what she was doing in the midst of this chaos when I saw a wobbly golden outline.  Unlike so many of the others, it wasn’t moving.  A pipe that stuck out of a pile of rubble.

I flew, hard, moving lower to the ground and letting go of the guy I’d grabbed.  I had been flying hard enough that he rolled on landing.  Rolled on that dislocated arm.

They warn you that you’ll do things that seem callous or inhuman.  That she’ll make you do those things as one of her one hundred ways of getting to you…

I rationalized it, telling myself the air resistance was too much, that short length of pipe too threatening.

It twitched, and I thought for a moment it was about to come for me.  Then it pulled free, lunging left-

Lunging right.  A feint.

Reach!  I communicated, prayed, pled.

The Fragile One reached out, using the form with the widest breadth, the me from a period that was trying to move a ruined mess of a body, one that could occupy a whole couch. The forcefield slammed into my back and the back of my head, hard, and the hand caught the pipe out of the air.

It was only after that I looked at the target.  Dinah Alcott.

The boom of Chevalier’s cannon drowned out all sounds that weren’t the scream in my head.  The Simurgh blocked the shot with almost casual ease, moving a chunk of pillar into the way.

Another chunk of rubble hit Dinah.  Something I couldn’t have anticipated, catching her in what looked like the solar plexus.  She fell, hand to her stomach.  It hadn’t been moving as fast as other chunks, but it was still something.

The preparation material said we’d fail, we’d be whittled down, and it would perpetually feel like we could do more, if only we were at our best, while she guaranteed that we wouldn’t be at our best…

“Hey!  Kid Cassandra!” Tattletale called out.

“Don’t call me that!”

MoveRun!  You’re a sitting duck!”

“And she really wants duck for last meal before she ends the world!” Imp crowed.

“Run where?”

“Run laps!  I’m not even joking!  Don’t fall in the hole in the floor!”

“What are you- I’m not an idiot!”

“No, but you’re about to be blind!  Grue!”

Grue created a wave of darkness, hitting the curved wall of the open space.  It banked, rolling out and expanding.

“I don’t suppose you could steal her powers, or-”

“No,” Grue said.

I saw another chunk of rubble move, and put myself in its way, kicking it with my forcefield to drive it into the ground.  It still rolled a bit from residual momentum…

Again, I looked for the target.  There wasn’t one, or if there was, it was subtle.

I’m losing my mind.

The Mathers Giant had gone dormant, backing up and falling into a crouch, knees to her chest.  Thin, with near-white hair, gaunt features, and only a bit of loose attire that had been fabricated for her by Shin, in the glorious textures and patterns that Shin seemed to be so good at making.  She had a few wounds from the earlier fighting.

No indication she was messing with us again.  This was just us and the Simurgh.

“…the hell not!?” Tattletale called out.

“I’d need Valkyrie to undo the tweaks she did, and she’s gone,” he told us.

“What fucking tweaks?”

“It’s complicated.  Needed- Christ!” Grue narrowly avoided getting smashed as a section of pillar high off the ground fell to hit the floor.  “To try something.  To try and shake the memories those new powers were attached to.  Didn’t work.”

“Well that’s really fucking inconvenient,” Tattletale said.

“Really fucking sorry to inconvenience you, Tats,” he retorted.

I would rather have been in a tornado without my forcefield than in the midst of this.  When things weren’t flying right toward my face, they were flying in from the side, the ceiling was crumbling, or stuff was happening below me.  It was impossible to watch every avenue of attack, and ten seconds of this was enough to drive just about anyone to the edge of panic… let alone anyone who had a scream in their head and a shared hallucination fresh in their memory.

Most were taking cover.  Only a few of us were insane enough to be out here, trying to catch people or stop her.  The rubble that had been marked out earlier was flying through the air at speeds that severed body parts they hit.  Sveta recoiled, dropping someone, as something hit her arm.  In her case, at least, the tendrils were flexible enough to absorb the worst of the impact, but she retracted the strands and her arm hung limp at her side, red and wounded.

This feels hopeless.

The study materials they gave out said it would feel hopeless.  More than any other fight against Endbringers.

But it really feels hopeless.

And all we could do was to keep fighting, keep giving our all, up until the last drops of blood had been shed.

I saw blue motes, and I had to look for Capricorn.

He was coming up the stairs with Vista, Narwhal, and others.

She’d know they were coming, which meant she was already doing something to fuck with them.

Chevalier lined up his cannonblade, then fired again, then a third time.  Each shot did appreciable damage to the Simurgh.  The kind of damage we needed to be doing.

“Please,” the whisper oozed out of the hiss of the gun.

“Tattletale,” I called out.  I took a position between Byron’s group and the Undersiders, one eye on the dark cloud Dinah hid within.

“You did good with the syringe, kiddo.  Let’s just hope the heroes have this.”

Narwhal opened with a volley of twelve forcefield spikes.  They plunged into the Simurgh’s wing and stuck there.

Chevalier was recovering, reloading shots, while crouching by a pillar.  He was talking to an injured guy- the injured guy with spider legs, who was wearing a hero’s costume.  Who didn’t look out of his mind.

I’m losing my mind.  I don’t have enough things to hold ontoSome things are working and some aren’t.  The handbooks…

…The handbooks assumed if we were stuck in the fights for this long after everything had gone to shit, we were goners already.

“Talk to me.  To us.  What’s- why is she running laps?”

“Metaphor!”  Tattletale called out.

“Metaphor?  She’s running laps for a metaphor!?”

“No!  There’s a metaphor for this!”

I flew down as rubble that was leaning against the wall shifted, threatening to fall on Byron’s group.  It put me out of earshot of Tattletale.  This was not a time for fucking metaphors.

Vista shrank the rubble.  I flew down and caught the rubble before it could collapse on the group.  It shrunk with every passing second.

“Thanks, big V.”

I huffed for breath.  I met her eyes, and… I saw a deep sadness there.  I met Byron’s, and I saw that he looked shaken.

I couldn’t imagine how I looked.  I was pretty sure the cut on my head was bleeding again, and I couldn’t take the time to get the coagulant out.  Or had I given that to Dinah?

I was losing my grip on reality.  This entire battlefield had ceased to feel like a place where A flowed to B flowed to C.  It was chaos and madness.

I took a breath, and my broken collarbone pulled apart, which came with a feeling like the attached bits of muscle that led from my neck down were tearing.  I gasped.

“Vic?” Byron asked.

“Hey.  You guys managing?” I asked, trying to not gasp and finding myself sounding too casual in the process.  I could barely get my thoughts in order. “How’s Cryptid?”

“He’s doing the stuff.  And no,” Byron said.  He dropped his voice in volume, so he could be heard by Vista and me alone.  “I might have a phobia about being crushed by giant rocks.  After…”

After Tristan had ended his own life by way of giant rock.

“It’s fine if you need to go,” I told him.

“I couldn’t live with myself.  Just… don’t blame me if I’m not at my peak.”

“That’s in the protocols,” I assured him.  “Pamphlets, videos, and prep material they’d give us while getting our heads checked out to see if we were fit to fight the Simurgh.”

“Oh, I got those,” he said.  “We got those.  Tristan and me.  I kind of didn’t pay attention.  I thought this was the one Endbringer I’d never willingly fight.”

“Rule is, don’t blame yourself, don’t get down on yourself.  Do what you can.  If you have to run before you’re a danger to others, do that.  We get through this, then we move on.  If you let it weigh on you, it’ll destroy you.”

“Gotta love protocols,” he murmured, between breaths so heavy it was like he already had a lot weighing on him.  “Nice and simple.  Don’t ever have to think.”

He was breathing hard.  He lifted his helmet to fix his hair where it had fallen across his face and been stuck there, and flinched as a small stone dinged off of the metal at the side of his head.

“Hey,” Vista said.  “If you’re wanting to keep going-”

“I am,” Byron said, so fast it felt forced.

“Giant constellation.  Work with me.”

He nodded.

I left them behind.  There were other bases to cover.  Tattletale and her fucking metaphor, for one.  She’d acted like she knew what she was doing when she’d ordered Dinah to run around like a headless chicken, and as far as I was concerned, we really fucking needed someone who knew what they were doing.

Or someone who was convincing enough at pretending to know that they could keep us all centered and organized.

I caught one chunk of rubble and blocked another with my forcefield, to spare the Undersiders who’d hunkered down beside some cover.  I was momentarily without my forcefield, and something hit me square in the back.  I dropped to my knees, grunting.

One of Rachel’s dogs collapsed to the ground, just to my left.  Not fallen, but lying down near where I was, to use its body to protect me.

Ow.  Fuck me, ow.  My legs still seemed to work, and it was more in the ribs than anything, but fucked up ribs on the left side of my body in conjunction with a fucked up collarbone made me feel like the left side of my torso was going to break free of the rest of me.

“Thanks, dog,” I managed.  “Good dog.”

It only kept one eye closed, head turned away from the storm of flying materials.

It wasn’t like a whirlwind where things flew in what seemed to be a fairly steady circle.  There were things flying crosswise.  Pieces of costume, pieces of pillar, computer stuff, wires, wood, concrete, tile, papers.  They smacked into one another, into us.  I saw someone get hit by something on his left side, stumble, and get hit on his right.

Golem was on Chevalier’s team, and was trying to create concrete hands to wall off the constant assault, so the bulk of the Wardens at one end of the facility only needed to protect themselves from the front.

“Tattletale,” I grunted.  Fuck, I couldn’t raise my voice anymore.

Tattletale was on the other side of the cover I leaned against, while the dog lay at my feet, taking its beating.  I heard her voice.  “Metaphor.  We’re playing chess.  Each and every one of us, we’ve got a board and we’re sitting on the other side of the table from the all-knowing angel.  She can think ahead to endgame, and we don’t know how to play.”

“Dinah knows?” I asked.

“Our Kid Cassandra is flailing in the dark, compared to our lady in silver.  Sorry.”

“We have more pieces on the board.”

“Oh hon, I’m not so sure we do,” Tattletale said.  “Too many of us are compromised, she’s had a good enough look at enough of us to know what moves we make or could make until the very end.”

“Then what?” I asked.

“She can’t see the kid.  Not easily.  Not while she’s juggling everything else.  She’s refining her plan against Contessa while she’s juggling a thousand of us.  The Kid Cassandra makes that harder, and casts a shadow over everything she interacts with.”

Too hard.

Too hard.  Those two words were like a whisper, a product of the environment, except no rasp of rubble on concrete or metal on metal had helped to form the sounds that coincidentally became words.

No, it was the chaotic noise in my head, the half-formed thoughts.  Dangerously close to me being unable to distinguish my own thoughts from the words she was putting in my head.

It took effort to think past the screaming in my head.  To put together what Tattletale was saying.  The screaming was incessant, my every nerve was on edge, the past was regret, the present was stress well beyond what I’d ever thought I could tolerate, and the future was almost certain doom.

She can’t see Dinah.  She can’t see us if we interact with Dinah.

The Simurgh shattered Narwhal’s forcefields in the air.  Shards struck people who were trying to close the distance, in that twentieth of a second that it took Narwhal to cancel the forcefields and make the shards disappear.

“That’s why I could get the syringe to the giant,” I said.  “She didn’t see me to stop me?”

Tattletale nodded.  “Think so.”

“If it was that easy, we would have beat her with regularity a long time ago.”

Fuck, my ribs hurt.  My collarbone hurt.  I shifted position and was left breathless when the bone of one part of my fractured collarbone grated against the other part, making itself felt through my entire upper body and neck.

“It’s not that easy.  She knows she’ll be blind, here and there.  She collects and stacks the pieces.  At a certain point, she’s got so many factors on her side she can make blind moves and still win.  That’s where she’s at now.  There’s no king for us to take, no weak point to capitalize on, no silver bullet or special trick,” Tattletale said.

“Tattletale, queen of pep talks,” Imp proclaimed.

“You gotta get out there, Vicky,” Tattletale said.  “I sent Rachel to protect the kid, but there’s only so much she can do.  Tell the Wardens to hold off until-”

“Got it,” I interrupted.

Even the act of going from a resting position lying against rubble to a resting position floating in the air was a little too much movement for me.  I didn’t have the buzz of adrenaline and I needed it at this point.  My entire body felt heavy, even though I was actively floating.

I flew, gritting my teeth as I shifted position.

“Byron, Chev,” I spoke, getting about as much volume as I could manage with my body refusing to cooperate.  “Tattletale says to hold off, wait for the signal.”

“We can’t afford to!” Chevalier bellowed.

“You can’t do anything, Chevalier,” I told him.  “You’ll do more harm than good.”

“My people are out there fighting!” he raised his voice.  There was an emotion in it that was my first hint that he wasn’t doing so hot.

The frontline capes were out there.  Strikes, brutes, breakers, changers.  They were waging war against the Simurgh’s renegade capes.  The broken, the lost, the delirious.  I’d seen two of them, and I was pretty sure at least one had been completely off her rocker.  I wasn’t sure I trusted my take on things with the one I’d executed.  Dinah had been there, at least, she hadn’t complained…

The two thoughts connected.  Was that another domino?  Another piece the Simurgh had set up early, to put into play now?

“Wait for the signal!” I raised my voice as much as I was able, curling knees to chest and wincing at the effort that shout had taken.

I prayed he’d listen.

Dinah.  I could only guess where she was, and I had no idea if she’d backtracked or taken a funny route to make herself harder to anticipate.  I could assume Tattletale had given the ‘kid Cassandra’ a bit of a heads up about the blindness.

The darkness was hard to fly in.  Harder, when the forcefield reached out and touched a wall faster than I’d anticipated, arresting my movement too.  Every jarring movement hurt.

Where was she?

If the chaotic worse-than-a-tornado storm of flying debris had been bad before, I was navigating it blind now.  I forged my way through, feeling this way and that.

A hand grabbed my forcefield.  I flinched.

Then I felt the pull.  I relented, flying down to meet the source.  I hugged Sveta as I met her, at the edge of the darkness.

“Careful,” she said.

I pulled back.

“I’m losing control, as this fight goes on.”

The tendrils did look agitated.

“I’ll end up like my old self at this rate.”

The words were frightening to hear.  I knew how much she’d needed the body she’d gained.

“Nah,” I said, “You’ve been through this journey.  You know that a fix is possible.”

“It was a million to one odds it would work.”

“It was better odds than that.”

“Even twenty-five percent odds… it doesn’t matter,” she said.

It mattered to her.

“I need to find Rachel and Dinah,” I told her.

“I can fish.”

“Please.  Be careful.  I think some of the renegade capes disappeared into this darkness.”

I watched as the fight went on.  Rain was helping guard the injured.  Chastity was unconscious or dead, and her body was being dragged by Cassie.

I had memories in my head from what the Mathers giant had showed me that felt more real than what I was looking at right now.

“Fuck!” Sveta swore, pulling back.  She withdrew tendrils, and her arm went from being a hundred individual strands, each no longer than my finger, to being arm-shaped again, each strand fitting into a configuration that had far too many holes in it.  Some of the holes welled with blood, the blood running down her arm to her fingers.  “Something’s in there.”

“It’s Bloodplay,” I said.  That was the domino.  One of many, tipped well before the Simurgh couldn’t see what she was doing.  Because she’d seen the blind spot coming, and she’d set herself up to have the maximal number of answers to throw into that spot.

I knew I was mixing metaphors.  Chess and dominoes.  I knew I was thinking of her as a ‘she’ when the Endbringer was more of a natural disaster.

“That collarbone of yours looks really fucking bad, Vic,” Sveta said, eyeing my chest.

“She’s in there, winging her lasers around, probably going to hit Dinah by chance.  I just told the Wardens to hold off until they got the signal, but if Dinah’s gone or out then they won’t get that signal.”

“She’s not there,” Sveta told me.

“How sure are you?”

“I’m not.  Eighty percent?  Seventy five percent?  Sixty?  But if I keep reaching out and getting those reaching pieces of me sliced off or smashed… I think I’m going to break, and I’ll be more of a danger to anyone here than Bloodplay is.”

I looked around.

Above us, moving through the darkness, Dragon’s craft came down through one of the holes in the ceiling.  The Simurgh was ready for her, and pillars that held up the ceiling broke.  Like spears being used against horses in the medieval age, the pillars interrupted Dragon’s descent.  The Dragon-craft’s mouth opened, and unloaded a hail of what might have been grenades.

Each one detonated into a brilliant white explosion with a smoky black exterior to the explosions, like smoke contained strictly to the explosion’s surface.

Too much of it was blocked, stopped by an intervening power from the swarm of renegade capes around the Simurgh.

Where the fuck was Dinah?

The Simurgh was pushing back, taking out a cape every five to ten seconds, starting with the stragglers.

The reality we saw.  She connected to Fortuna and she screamed, and the world screamed with her.  We were entirely at her mercy.

She’s not a person.  She’s not a person.

She’s a force of nature, of fate, one that will destroy us.  One that can’t be beat.

Not my voice, that last one.

She was taking us to pieces, but she wasn’t utterly destroying us, because she wanted a future where we were her playthings.

You’re humanizing her again, Victoria.

We needed to do more damage.  To do that we needed Dinah.  To get Dinah, we needed into the darkness… and Grue wasn’t there to dismiss it.  Rachel was supposedly in there.  Where the fuck was Rachel?

This screaming in my head.  Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck fuck fuck.

We were running out of time.

Sveta laid a hand against my shoulder.  I jumped.  I felt the surface of her hand shifting.  Tendrils sliding over tendrils.

Rachel was with Dinah.  Rachel would have her dogs with.  One was still with Tattletale and the others, shielding them.  She hadn’t called it.  She had others.

“Rachel and Rachel’s dog were with her,” I said.

“No way,” Sveta said.

Off to our left, Bloodplay flew out of the darkness.  She set her eyes on her.  When Sveta reached out, Bloodplay ducked back into the darkness.

The darkness covered the back half of the room.  Had Dinah fallen into the hole after all?  A bloody smear, lying next to my sister, who had a chunk of rubble on top of her?

Or had she jumped?

I flew into the darkness.  Sveta followed, one hand still touching my arm.  On my left side.  It tugged momentarily on the shoulder, which was attached in turn to my aching ribs and my collarbone.  I could feel hot blood down my front, soaking into and beneath my belt-line.  Whatever fights followed from this, I wasn’t sure I had it in me to participate.

Which was insane when put together with the fact I was planning on executing a massive number of people, many of them faces I knew, many more were people who wouldn’t accept it without complaint.

No, they’d fight and I’d have to stand my ground.

But that was after.

I found the hole, grazing the floor with the fingers at the end of my good arm.  I went beneath, hooked around the hole, and skimmed the ceiling.

Until I was in a hallway, a floor beneath the massive room, Teacher’s panopticon of propaganda.

Not here.

I took another route, moving between floors, my search made harder by the fact the darkness on the floor above us was pouring down into the hole, so I couldn’t even stand in one hallway and look past to see the hallway on the other side.

But it forced the Simurgh to make her plays blind too.

I kept searching, aware every second counted.

Every minute, the thought crossed my mind.  I wasn’t sure who it belonged to.  Running out of time.  She’s about to leave, and we haven’t done damage.

“Let me,” Sveta said.

“If you can.”

She unfurled, her entire body breaking down into tendrils.  Clothes were shed, as was armor.

As a mass, she flung herself into the center of the darkness.  I saw a hand reach out, another, another.

Reaching blindly as she fell.

Long seconds passed.  The screaming in my head was thin, faint.


My sister was at the bottom of the hole.  Maybe.  All I had to do was look.

Would I be more at peace if I could verify her as dead or if I could verify I wasn’t a killer?

It made it so tempting.  But it also meant risking having to set eyes on her, which meant facing dark thoughts, which meant-

Something grabbed me, and my first thought was Panacea.  I grabbed it back, hard, with forcefield.

The moment I realized it was Sveta, I let go, guilt washing over me.

I followed the hand.

Down two floors, to a side room, partially lit.  Dinah and Rachel sat beside a badly injured mutant dog.  From the blood, it looked like Bloodplay had sliced it.

The descent into the hole might have been a tactical decision, or a bit of a post-injury mishap.

“We need you,” I told Dinah.

“I don’t have much.  My head feels like it’s going to split open.”

“One more,” I told her.  “One move, we make it count.”

I saw the doubt on her face.

She nodded, her mouth set into a grim line.

“Want a ride?” I asked Rachel.

She shook her head.

I scooped up Dinah, glanced at Sveta-

Saw Sveta’s hurt, as she held one arm to a bicep, where tendrils were especially active.

“Sorry,” I told her.

“It’s fine,” she said, in a tone that suggested it wasn’t, with a faint look of betrayal on her face.

The procedures for these missions suggest we’re supposed to avoid holding grudges, avoid blame, for ourselves and for others.  Mistakes happen when you’re pushed to your limit by a psychic scream.

But that felt like shallow justification.

I took flight, carrying Dinah up.  Sveta’s hands, blind, reached up and grazed me, but she didn’t hold onto me.  Maybe she didn’t trust me to do it.

Up, into the darkness, through it, and into a battlefield I hated more than I’d hated any other, and I’d seen a good few.  Against an enemy I despised more than anything.  Someone who hurt my friends with the ease I breathed.

With more ease than I breathed, if I considered the damage to my collarbone and ribs.

“Now,” I whispered, as we emerged.  “Use your power now.”

Sveta emerged from the darkness, but she did it as violence personified.  I could see tendrils thrashing, lashing, throwing other tendrils that had been severed.

She caught Bloodplay and dashed Bloodplay into the ground.

“What question?” Dinah asked.

I couldn’t bring myself to speak, seeing Sveta lose all control.

The Simurgh was dismantling the Dragon craft, pulling tech together.  The Wardens were fighting a losing battle.  The area was thick with blue motes.  Damsel’s group was present, Damsel trying to get in close.

What question!?

“Kick her ass, or kick her ass more?” I asked, quiet.

There was a pause.

“Just kicking her ass will suffice.”

I used my aura, putting every iota of violent, righteous, angry sentiment I was feeling and transmitting it to every cape present.  Dinah directed, it gave us what we needed to make a final set of moves without her seeing them coming.

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36 thoughts on “Last – 20.6”

  1. -Yes, my boy Chevalier being there and kicking Simurgh ass wasn’t an illusion, but reality. Fuck yes. Chevalier is the best. He should be Triumvirate level.

    -Imp is alive and WELL.Thank you, Wildbow, thanks you :).

    -Protect Dinah, save the world. Without Dinah they are like blind people in a world full of mortal traps. I love how important Dinah is. The whole “find and protect her” makes the whole action more exciting.

    -Antares question is the best question in this situation 🙂 Yeah, kick her feathered ass.

  2. And so it comes down to this, one last probability altering moment to, hopefully, maybe, possibly create a possibility space where the Simurgh loses, forever.

  3. Typo Thread:

    Endbringers slowed > Endbringers have slowed
    the blade turning > turning
    I said, > I said.
    each no longer > each no thicker
    we needed into (missing word)
    more were people > more people

  4. “I had no idea what was real, anymore. I couldn’t trust anything”

    Reader reactions to the last chapter in a nutshell.

    1. Yeah, you gotta wonder how some of the wiki pages are going to be written with that last chapter in mind, trying to determine what did and didn’t happen. At least we appear to have Imp, Cassie and maybe Chastity’s fates confirmed as smoke and mirrors.

      Hopefully Chastity is alright. I’m guessing the Simurgh took her out to awaken all the capes she had bitch slapped, or the mere act of people seeing her dead caused her to drop a peg in standing or such, which woke her capes and gave her backlash. She was known for wearing lots of heavy jewellery so it’s not unlikely that the Simurgh could have picked her up by it and thrown her violently.

  5. Awesome as always.

    It sounds like Ziz is less durable than Leviathan or Behemoth but still nobody has taken her down.

    I was reading live up until arc 10 then took a break until now and I’m caught up and can’t wait for Tuesday.

  6. I hate realizing I’m all caught up and there aren’t more chapters to read. Especially right now.

  7. “Kick her ass, or kick her ass more?”
    Best question to ask the seer, or bestest question?

  8. With all the repeated affronts Victoria did to Sveta this arc and then quietly filed away, I sincerely hope there will nor be any unsolveable grudges between them when this ends. Dependent, of course, on them both surviving.

    Also, Lisa sure likes to ‘kiddo’ around with the protagonists, doesn’t she?

    Phenomenal chapter, Mr. Bow, I was at the edge of my seat the entire time.

  9. This was so good!! Sveta and Byron never fail to break my heart.

    Excellent tension in this arc, and this chapter in particular. The psychological mind games are so intense, with the Simurgh’s scream and voices in your head almost audible.

    With previous WeinerBros stories the protagonist is destructing at the end. I’ve enjoyed how Victoria has managed to get to a real place of strength for this fight. Yet we see her being immensely challenged, scraping to hold on. Great stuff.

  10. Increment the kiddo counter!
    Great writing, Wildbow. And that use of Dinah’s power… *chefkiss*

    Vote for Ward, or vote for Ward more?

  11. Can I just point out there’s a paragraph near the end where vicky says she’s going to be executing a lot of people? Is that just a reference to people the Simurgh turned, or is she actually going crazy and becoming the Tyrant?

    1. That’s the plan beyond the current loss against Ziz. What Chris and Riley are working on.
      It may go very wrong due to Chris being in his bird form as Ziz planned.
      The current battle is merely a distraction and both ‘generals’ are aware of it.

  12. @Ultimate_Procrastinator: she’s got Chris/Cryptid/LabRat working with Riley/Bonesaw to kill all capes, possibly all people if it’s a mercy kill in the event the Simurgh wins, but more likely all capes, in the hope that it somehow prevents the world exploding if Fortuna wins.

  13. Anybody else feel like there’s a change in Dinah’s power?

    She’s not asking or answering percentage and chance type questions but more actively directing for outcomes. First the “no” and pointing to the syringe, then this latest question from Antares which doesn’t feel like a percentage answerable one.

    I’m thinking it’s from the blast the shardscape took. Powers were noted to have changed, becoming somewhat more blunt or less fine tuned. What if Dinah got some melding between her chance question and “choose a path” power?

    Maybe something like Contessa’s Power, but her ability to pick a path to victory or an outcome can only give her a single, but powerful, step to take?

    1. Also years to practice with her power without Coil loading her up with drugs. Too many possibilities.

  14. So, Victoria is ready to die too if she is planning to execute all the capes. She is a cape so she should be aware that she will die like everyone else. Chris will also die so I doubt that we are going to read a third Parahumans with people in space. Maybe only as separate stories.

    1. Chris will probably try to find his own path out of this mess, Bird self-isolation/treason form obliged.
      We’re going to hit the wham part very soon.

  15. “Kick her ass, or kick her ass more?”

    This is making me think of Taylor towards the end of Worm; still fighting after being sliced in two, and the whole under reaction to Svetta crushing her new arm.

  16. So… wait… Victoria is expecting Chris to volunteerily kill all parahumans… including himself?

    That… doesn’t sound like something Chris would do… and I’m also not convinced it would work…

    1. Yeah, its somewhat speculation that’s what Victoria is planning, because her only response on who to kill was “Us” and then it’s simply said that she laid out the details but we the reader are being kept in the dark on all of that.

      It appears to be a final move though, under the conditions that Fortuna, or possibly Simurgh, is going to win anyway, they kill themselves before they die anyway and somehow the death of all capes stops those final steps of Fortuna or Simurgh’s plans. If it is the death of all capes, its probably something targeted more towards Titan Fortuna’s victory where they crystalise and blow up Earth. Presumably by killing all capes, it would arrest that action and they’re trying to contact Fortuna to let her know their intentions and bargain for some other outcome in the hope they get to live.

      Chris can be, or could have been, trusted to do it because he would have seen the practicality that he’d die anyway… Personally I’m worried that if he’s developing some solution based on sound that he’ll turn it instead to let the Simurgh use the biological manipulating sounds. So suddenly you have something that can put out sounds psychically which can manipulate biological organisms directly into death or, presumably, major modifications to body and mind.

    2. Looks like Chris already agreed with Victoria’s plan so…he’d do it. He will kill himself to save the whole humanity. He’ll die like a hero. I’m ok with hero Chris.

  17. Chris’s last imperative was do something big. Not much bigger than taking out everyone. Not much bigger than saving the world.

  18. I wonder what Vicky would have done for “kick her ass more”. Something substantially different, but also more than filling everyone with battle-rage?

  19. @Quixaphid

    … Goooood point Quixaphid. Hadn’t thought of that one.

    Also, just realizing how beutifully the current plan presumably keys into Vicky’s previous battle mantra of “Deny the villians their goal.”… can’t help but wonder if WB threaded that one in early in the knowledge of how this was all going to close out.

  20. Killing all capes may not work, if Titan Valkyrie is still around… But if titans are also killed at the same time – then may be.

    P.S. I wonder how intense it would be to read this arc in one shot 🙂

  21. > Chris will also die

    Considering Chris is the one actually implementing the design Riley’s cooking up, it’s possible that he might tweak it to exempt himself. Depending on the nature of the plan, there are good odds this wouldn’t undermine it. They probably only need to kill the overwhelming majority rather than literally every single one.

    > she’s got Chris/Cryptid/LabRat working with Riley/Bonesaw to kill all capes, possibly all people if it’s a mercy kill in the event the Simurgh wins, but more likely all capes, in the hope that it somehow prevents the world exploding if Fortuna wins.

    I don’t think that killing people is the point; the “genocide” and “execution” terminology is probably a combination of Victoria being a drama queen and Wildbow trying to avoid saying what the plan really is. My theory is that Victoria’s trying to engineer a situation where all the capes are linked together into a super-organism, like what she saw in PtV’s memory banks. It’s genocide in the sense that all those people will cease to exist as individuals, but the identity-killing is incidental to the true objective of creating a new Entity or Megatitan with more benign goals than the Titans and Simurgh (either because they somehow retain enough of their human values as they merge and transform, or because Riley and Chris program in Directives to keep the Megatitan in line).

  22. Sveta’s look of betrayal and loss of control might be the most heartbreaking moments of Parahumans for me. I really, really want her to come out of this alright and on a good path toward future healing and stability, but it’s hard to see how that could happen now with Mr. Bough titanified and the setback of losing control and (presumably) killing Bloodplay.

    There are a lot of things I love about this chapter, but death fake-outs are a huge pet peeve of mine. They’re a literary tool like any other, contingent more on how they’re used than being inherently good or bad, but it’s so rare to see them used well. They more often feel like a cheap way to manufacture emotion and tension and then wipe clean any consequences. I love Aisha and want her to be okay just about as much as Sveta, but this would have been a perfect end for her. There would be some nice narrative parallel by offscreening a second Laborn in the final showdown. I also kind of expected an Undersider to die during Ward, and I think Aisha would have been a perfect choice to hit us emotionally as well as being a great end for the character. She wrangled the Heartbroken onto a path of progress and they’re needing her course corrections less and less. It seems like she did what she set out to do in the epilogue of Worm, and that’s big.

    1. To be fair, I think there are some very legitimate motivations for the fake-out/s. Namely to impact Roman into going aggro against Antares and possibly Dinah when she took him there. Then Chastity and Cassie, as someone Victoria knew and likely to be there, shown dead with hand in hand just to rub in the emotional loss. A dead Aisha also works well against Grue.

  23. My understanding was that the plan was to cause most or all humans to trigger. This wouldn’t directly kill anybody, but indirectly it would kill a lot of people.

  24. A random thought but what if Victoria had Syndicate user her power on her and a heap of others to give Victoria a sense of their bodies.

    Could Victoria put her forcefield around one of more of those people instead of herself? Alternatively, could it give her other mental mappings to shape Fragile one to?

  25. @charlesw81

    New plan:
    Dinah+ Syndicate+ ALL THE CAPES.
    “Try predicting us now, Simiruig!”

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