Sentinel 9.5: Matters of the Heart

Source material: Worm, Sentinel 9.5

Originally blogged: January 5, 2018


Hello, beauties! It’s time for another round of Worm liveblogging!

Last time, we traveled with Kid Win to meet Chariot, the new mecha speedster who’s been running around, but… something’s not quite right. It seems he may have been snapped up by villains and is planning a Reverse Taylor – but Kid is wise to his apparent plotting, and has called a meeting of the Wards and Piggot. Maybe we’ll get to see this meeting in today’s chapter.

I suspect we’re going to be following Vista this time, in which case we’ll probably learn more about her too. I’ve grown to like Vista, so that sounds nice.

If it’s not Vista, it’s probably Shadow Stalker… could be interesting, though if I were the one writing this (as if I would ever be this good at it), I think I’d save that for last.

So yeah… Without further ado, let’s get on with it!


“Don’t cross the yellow line,” Flechette spoke.

Ooh, did Flechette bring Vista to see Parian on their patrol?

“Right,” Vista agreed, “I got the message the last time I came this way.”

I wonder how that went.

Also, I think we might’ve rewinded a bit. This patrol might be happening around the same time as Kid’s recruitment mission, which means this scene will probably end with Flechette and Vista being called back to HQ for discussing Chariot. That’d make for a fairly good transition, and fits with how Wildbow has done such things in the past.

Flechette leaned forward, found a string, beaded with water from the rain. She plucked it twice.

The secret knock… or should I say pluck?

Parian sloshed out from a nearby alley. A nine-foot tall rabbit with an eyepatch and boxing gloves followed a few feet behind her, moving on two legs, swaggering forward like it had a chip on its shoulder.

Hiya!

That’s a cool pirate boxer rabbit you’ve got there. (Is there fanart of it?)


“It’s cute!” Vista smiled.

“Hi Vista,” Parian greeted her. “Hi Flechette.”

Sounds like Parian and Vista didn’t part on bad terms, at least.

“Hey,” Flechette smiled, “We come bearing gifts.”

Vista stepped forward and held out a shopping bag, “A dozen gallons of water, some rice, some tins of beans, multivitamins and first aid supplies. My power will wear off pretty soon, so get the bag somewhere safe before then.”

Oh, nice, she turned it into a bag of holding. That, or she shrunk the stuff inside.

It also seems like whatever she did made the bag lighter, or Vista’s stronger than she looks.


“It’s basic stuff,” Flechette said, “But it’ll hold you for a little while.”

“Thank you,” Parian spoke, reaching over the makeshift yellow line for the bag. She held it behind her back with both hands.

🙂

Just over her right shoulder, cloth formed into a rough shape, a trio of needles with attached spools of thread weaving in and around it, a razor cutting at pieces of it.

Oh nice. Is she embedding the bag into a stuffed creature so she can have it walk on its own?

“How are you managing?” Flechette asked.

“Some kids came through around noon, roughed up the mother of one of my friends.”

Ouch.

“I told you to call me if there was trouble!”

“I handled it. Kind of. They ran when they saw my rabbit.

A pirate boxer rabbit might not be all that scary in its own right, but when it’s nine feet tall and chasing you, pretty much anything can be scary.

According to my friend’s mom, they were trying to get someone to tell them where they could get food, and she was afraid they’d take everything if she told them where we have our stuff. I think they were more hungry than dangerous. Not enough food going around.”

Scavengers, I suppose you could call them.

The cloth took on a rough shape with arms and legs. “Erm, that makes it sound like I’m blaming you guys-”

Ah, right, since the PRT is in charge of protecting incoming resources. I don’t think Flechette and Vista are taking it like that, though.

“You’re right,” Flechette interrupted. “We’re not doing a good job of getting supplies to everyone. We can’t. Any time we try to distribute it, a group like Hookwolf’s gang or the Merchants try to seize it.

Huh. I wasn’t expecting her to agree. Fair enough!

Even if the heroes on duty fend them off, the citizens get scared away.”

Yeeah, it’s a risky waterhole to visit.

A metaphorical waterhole, that is. The entire city is a “risky waterhole” in a more literal sense, especially a little south of here.


“I suppose we’re lucky to have this haven, here. So far. I dunno how long before someone I can’t scare off comes through.”

Someone like Hookwolf and his Chosen, perhaps. Or, hell, the Slaughterhouse Nine, cod forbid.

…suddenly I’m scared for Vista’s life.

[…Vista’s? Surely past me must mean Parian’s here. Also this is definitely foreshadowing, intentionally or otherwise.]

“You have my number.”

Vista turned away as a third voice sounded in her ear. She stepped away from the conversation, shook her head a little to shake off the water that the steady rain was depositing on her.

Did we reach the meeting call?

Vista squeezed the earbud, “Sorry? I didn’t catch that?”

“Weld here. Kid Win has something to report, asked everyone to come in. Can you make it back here quickly?”

“Okay.”

We did. Time to wrap this up, I suppose.

But yeah, I’m legitimately worried that the Slaughterhouse Nine might attack the neighborhood Parian is guarding by the end of this Arc. [Bit early, buddy.]

Which we may want a name for, by the way. Plush Paradise? Needlehaven? Yellowline?


Every so often I feel like shortening Flechette’s name, then change my mind due to how I’d pronounce “Flechy” as “fleshy”.


She hurried back to Flechette’s side and waited a few seconds for a break in the conversation. When none was forthcoming, she put a hand on Flechette’s arm.

They really got the flow going. Flechette doesn’t even seem to have noticed Weld in her ear at all.

“What’s up?”

“Weld wants us back asap.”

A look of disappointment crossed Flechette’s face.

Aw.

Seriously, Flechette, if you’re trying to hide how you feel about Parian, you’re not doing a good job of it.

And given that Vista has proven herself to be quite emotionally mature over the course of this Arc, and good at understanding how others feel… I don’t think it’s gonna be much longer before she has this all figured out, if she doesn’t already. 😉

“I’ll see you later?” Parian asked.

“I’ll stop by later, unless I’m done with patrols for the night,” Flechette shrugged.

Especially when you go ahead and do this. 🙂


“I’ll look forward to it,” Parian replied. She turned to Vista, “Here.”

Vista accepted her gift. A stuffed rabbit, made in the last-minute or so.

Ooh, nice!

It was finely detailed, wearing a fancy dress with lace trim. The fur had a softness that indicated high quality material, despite being wet. She would have been delighted with the gift, were she four years younger.

Hehe. Yeah, I suppose it could come across as a bit patronizing.

In general, not just emotionally, Vista has shown herself to be quite mature. It’s not far-fetched to think that she’s a little tired of being patronized. See also Clocky’s attempts to avoid swearing in front of Vista despite her clearly being comfortable with Weld’s swearing (and with repeating what he said) in 9.1.

It was still a really nice gesture.

Yeah. I think I would’ve appreciated it if I were in Vista’s place. 🙂


I’m imagining Parian making the bunny do something in Vista’s hand before they leave, just as a little funny prank or gesture. 😛


She suppressed her annoyance at the child’s gift and offered a smile instead, “Thank you, Parian.”

It’s interesting that despite Parian being significantly older than her, Vista still thinks of her as a “child”. It fits with the fact that the same sentence continues to indicate irritation with being patronized, too.

“Let’s go,” Flechette spoke, “Back to headquarters?”

“Back to headquarters. Come on, we’ll take my shortcut.”

Must be handy to be able to create shortcuts on the go, wherever you want.

They walked two blocks east to reach Lord street. Beneath the water’s surface, they could see a fissure that ran down the center of the road, zig-zagging from one lane to the other.

Lord Street sounds familiar. Wasn’t this one of the locations we saw during the Leviathan fight?

*blog search*

Doesn’t seem like it, unless it wasn’t mentioned by name or blog search is missing it. It was mentioned before in Interlude 5 [here] (Faultline’s club, Palanquin, is two blocks from Lord Street) and 6.7 [here] (most people out and about downtown would be near Lord Street, celebrating the end of the curfew). It sounds like it’s one of the main streets downtown.

That said, it’s two blocks east of a neighborhood that’s north of Lake Heroic and was just barely missed by Levvy. It’s entirely possible that parts of the battle did happen on Lord Street.


Vista stepped out into the middle of the road at the edge of the fissure, then concentrated. She felt her power extend to every solid object in front of her, formed a map in her head. There was nobody out there, which made it easier.

I suppose to do this in one step, they need a straight line, preferably without anything blocking the way.

Unless her power happens to be able to create straight-up wormholes, but then why would it require them to go over here and be easier to do when the area between the locations doesn’t have many people?

Slowly, carefully, she began adjusting. She truncated the length of Lord street, then did it again, repeating the process to make the four lane road shorter and shorter. The fissure down the center of the road squeezed against itself like a compressed spring.

I wonder how it would look from the side. Like, coming in towards the truncated section of Lord Street from a perpendicular street.

“This is disorienting,” Flechette spoke, as she gazed at the scene. “My power gives me a grasp of angles… and I’m worried I might have a seizure if I try to use it to get a sense of what’s happening here.”

Heh, yeah, good point. Things seem to get sort of non-euclidean once Vista’s power gets involved.


“It’s not that complicated. Everything’s like wet clay, and I’m smudging it around.”

Huh. I like that metaphor.

Vista deemed her work done, started walking forward. Flechette followed, eyeing the distorted sidewalk at the edges of the effect.

Sounds like a good thing to pay attention to, especially if the edge of the sidewalk is made of bricks with dividing lines every foot or so, perpendicular to the road.

“You’re powerful, kiddo,” Flechette said.

“Kinda.”

Heh, yeah.

I remember when Vista was first brought up back in Agitation, it was mentioned that getting ones powers early tended to make them stronger. I wonder when Vista got hers, and how.

“You could be one of the top dogs in the Protectorate, in five or six more years.”

Vista frowned, “They said the same thing about Dauntless.”

Dauntless died to Leviathan, didn’t he?

*search*

Yep, in 8.3.

So does that mean Vista isn’t sure she’ll survive that long?

“One of the Protectorate members who got killed, if I remember right?”

Vista nodded.

Flechette frowned, “That’s… unexpectedly dark, coming from you. Where did that come from?”

The depths of her mind, I suppose. Vista is not one to judge by her cover.


“What we do is dangerous. Sometimes we die. I don’t see why I should worry about what happens five years from now when I might not even be here.”

Fair enough. Might as well worry about the present instead, and try to survive that.

“Are you having second thoughts about being on the team?”

Vista gave Flechette a look, “No. Not in the slightest.”

I was right that Vista wasn’t sure she’d be alive in five or six years, but she doesn’t seem to be worried about that. She seems to just be treating it as a fact of life that yes, she might die before she fills 18.

“But if you’re concerned about risking your life…”

“I didn’t say I was concerned,” Vista said, a note of exasperation in her voice, “Just that, hey, it might happen. I’m being realistic.”

…exactly.

“I can’t tell if you’re being amazingly mature about the topic of death or if I should be really concerned about you.”

To me it looks primarily like the former, but… can’t it be both things?

I mean, Vista is very mature, there’s no doubt about that. But why? Has she actually had the opportunity to have a normal childhood to any reasonable extent before being thrust into the world of heroes and villains and death and destruction?

(#it took a lot of self control to not put ‘motherfucking’ in between ‘be’ and ‘both’

#due to homestuck

#’can’t it be motherfucking both things’ is something i quote in my head in response to some liveblogger predictions)


Amazingly mature?”

Maybe that’s not something Vista hears as much as she’d like to. Or maybe she’s a little offended that Flechette didn’t expect it from her.

They had reached the PRT building. A trip that had taken them thirty minutes on the way out had taken them four on the way back, with the aid of Vista’s power.

Pretty sweet!

Flechette held the bulletproof glass door open, raised a hand in greeting to the PRT uniform who stood alert on the other side. “You know what I mean.”

Does she, though?

Vista had to bite her tongue. Pointing out that people were being condescending had a way of making her look petulant, which only compounded the problem. Yes. Because any maturity on my part is something special. Doesn’t matter that I have nine months of seniority over Kid Win, being thirteen means everyone expects me to be squealing over Justin Beiber or the Maggie Holt books, or dressing in pink or-

Welp, looks like it was the latter option.

Also I’m glad you have better taste than squealing over Justin Bieber. I’m not even talking about his music – from all I’ve heard, the guy’s a douche.

…wait, he had gotten famous all the way back in 2012? Sheesh, time flies.


Time Flies could work as a ship name for Clockblocker/Skitter.

(#Or Clockblocker and pretty much anyone with flight but I got to this thought via an idea of time flies as insects with temporal shenanigans)


Her train of thought stopped dead when her eye fell on the portraits on the wall above the front desk.

…oh boy.

Gallant.

Three feet high and two feet wide, the two pictures were black and white, bordered by foot-wide black frames. The pictures themselves were head-and-shoulders shots of Aegis and Gallant, both in costume, masks on. She knew from her own experience that the pictures would have been taken in their first week on the team.

Huh. Seems like an odd choice to not use updated pics.

Gallant looked so young. He had still been so young when the tidal wave had smashed into him and caved in his chest. Only seventeen.

Out of respect for the dead, I am trying so hard to rein in my desire to make an ABBA reference right now.


DANCING QUEEN, YOUNG AND SWEET, ONLY SEVENTEEN

(#i failed)


She looked at her own picture. In contrast to the boys’, it was vibrant, filled with color.

Oh, so they all have pictures here, not just the recently deceased ones. I see.

Her eyes, costume and the frame of the picture were a high-saturation blue-green, the background of the image a sunset orange to highlight her blonde hair. Vista was young in that picture too.

They’re all so young… that’s the point of the Wards. To have a place where young capes can have official support and supervision, rather than getting themselves killed while going solo.

Her photo had a missing fang tooth on the bottom row, which created a small, dark gap in her awkward smile. She’d been just a month shy of turning eleven, then.

In other words she’s been a Ward for a little over two years.

Since she was ten.

I wonder if the PRT has a lower limit here?

She hated that picture.

Another reminder of how everyone sees her as just a kid, I suppose.

She hated it all the more because she couldn’t help but wonder if the time would come when that picture would be hanging over the front desk in black and white, smiling that guileless goofy smile that was everything she didn’t want people to remember about her.

Ouch.


Hell, were they even doing Gallant justice? The guy who’d set out to be the literal knight in shining armor, lived his life with more chivalry than any five people you plucked off the street? All he got was a photo and a name on a memorial.

I mean, Taylor’s narration from 8.8 went into quite a bit of detail as to why doing all that much more causes problems, but I get how this would feel insufficient.

“You okay?” Flechette asked.

Vista tore her eyes from the portraits, “I’m fine. Let’s go, Weld’s waiting.”

…yeah, let’s.


Without waiting for Flechette, she marched for the elevator. Flechette fell in step behind her.

Everyone else was sitting in the meeting room, except for Director Piggot, who stood with her arms folded.

I wonder if anyone but Kid knows what they’re here for yet.

“Thank you for being prompt,” Piggot spoke, “Would you please have a seat?”

Vista obediently sat in the chair closest to her. Flechette found a chair beside Weld.

“Kid Win?” Piggot prompted.

I’ll take that as a no.

Well, Piggot might know the short version, and Weld.

“Here’s the deal, guys. I went out to talk to Chariot, and there’s a bit of a complication.” He tapped the screen of his smartphone, and the computer screen at one end of the table changed to show text from a series of emails. “Chariot hasn’t yet agreed to join the team, but there’s evidence that he fully intends to join as a mole for an unknown party.”

That’s a pretty good summary.

“This evidence was assumed using legal methods, of course,” Piggot spoke.

Riiight, about that…

“Of course,” Kid Win grinned in a way that left no doubt for anyone present that he was lying through his teeth.

Hehe.

“We believe this unknown party is Coil. There’s no other criminals in town that would really do this.

Hm, yeah, I suppose this does fit with Coil’s M.O. A sneaky maneuver that allows him a bit of control on the inside of one of the factions he’s trying to take down.

That said… maybe this is actually Taylor’s doing? I mean, there’s a reason I was calling it a Reverse Taylor, and we don’t fully know yet what she’s trying to do to accomplish her goal of making things better. Not sure how putting a mole in the Wards instead of joining herself would help her with whatever she’s doing, but it’s entirely possible.

Also “we” indicates Kid has indeed talked it through with Piggot and Weld already.

Fenrir’s Chosen aren’t that subtle, and they’re too racist to work with Chariot. Purity’s group is, again, too racist. The Undersiders aren’t well-funded enough. It doesn’t fit the Travelers’ MO.”

How does this require being well-funded? It’s entirely possible that Chariot would be working with them of his own volition rather than because of being paid, or he could be getting paid in something other than money (a very Coil-like thing, admittedly). Besides, the Undersiders have a better financial backing than you probably think, though of course that takes us back to Coil again.


I suppose it’s true that Chariot did seem interested in money and resources.


“That,” Piggot spoke, “And there are prior cases of Coil using undercover operatives.”

Yeah. As I said, it does fit his M.O.

“Prior cases?” Weld asked.

“This doesn’t leave this room,” Piggot spoke. Vista nodded alongside everyone else. “We know there are three agents employed in this very building who are working for Coil.”

Interesting. So they’re aware of this, but not confronting those agents (assuming they know which agents) about it… so as to provide Coil with false information and not let on that they’re on to him, perhaps?

“Seriously?” Clockblocker asked. “As in, right now?”

“Yes,” Piggot nodded, “We might have gone entirely unaware, but Dragon found that one face on our security camera footage matched up with that of a known soldier of fortune. On investigation, we found two more. Capable gunmen, each with a wide array of skills ranging from facility with computers to multiple languages. Very much the type Coil would employ.

Huh, nice sleuthing.

We might have arrested them, but I spoke with people with higher credentials and clearance than myself, and we came to the unanimous agreement that it would be ideal to keep those mercenaries employed here. It allows us to keep a close eye on them for knowledge we could use, and we occasionally feed them bad or misleading information, obviously with a great deal of consideration each time.

Moles can be pretty useful when you’re aware of them.


“Which brings me to the primary subject of this meeting,” Piggot informed them. “I would like to do the very same thing here, with Chariot. He would work alongside you, quite likely see you unmasked.

When I suggested this, I was expecting Piggot to be the strongest voice against it, out of all of them. Wow.

You would socialize with him, and you would pretend not to know that he is passing on information to his employer. For that, for the risks you would be undertaking, I require your express permission.”

Makes sense. She’s practically asking the Wards to give Coil (or at least that’s who they think is getting it) information about really sensitive things, including each of their secret identities. Given how intensely protective the PRT is with their heroes’ secret identities (judging by what happened when Taylor found out about Sophia), that’s quite the thing for Piggot of all people to ask. She must be seeing some really good opportunities to mislead Coil here, to be willing to take this risk.


Kid Win whistled.

“Dealing with the relationships between team members is difficult enough to begin with,” Weld spoke, “And you want to add this into the mix?”

He has a point. As leader, he’d be especially responsible here, on top of everything else he has to deal with.

“I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could handle it.”

“What if we say no?” Clockblocker asked.

“If only one or two of you disagreed, out of fear of your civilian identities being used against you, I would propose splitting up your team’s schedules so you did not share any shifts with Chariot. Ideally this would coincide with each of you returning to school, so your busy schedules could serve as sufficient excuse for why you do not cross paths with the boy.

Hm. Still seems like a lot of trouble to go through for this.

Given how complicated this becomes, I would much prefer that all of you were onboard.”

Naturally.


“I have no problem with it,” Weld spoke, “But I have no secret identity, no friends or family here to watch out for. I totally, one hundred percent understand if anyone else has objections.”

It’s hard to have a secret identity when every part of your body screams “this is unusual”.

“Not a local or a long term member of the team, here,” Flechette said, “My vote probably shouldn’t count, but I’m okay with it, if it’s what the PRT needs to do.”

I mean, as long as you’d be facing the same risks as the others re: secret identity, I think it should count.

“Good,” Piggot spoke, “And the rest of you?”

Shadow Stalker was next to agree, followed by Kid Win, Vista and then a reluctant Clockblocker.

Kinda surprising that we’re not getting any comment on secret identities from Shadow Stalker, given what happened at the hospital.

Piggot offered them a rare smile, “Good. For your information, the earpiece communication channel, the computers at this console, the spare laptops and the spare smartphones will all be continually monitored by a team upstairs.

Sounds reasonable.

Your own laptops and smartphones will be free of this prying. This makes it doubly important that you do notlose these possessions or let him gain access to them.”

Ah, yeah, gotta be careful when you know someone on the team is looking for information.

…I wonder if Tattletale was extra careful about her stuff because of Taylor. Though it’s not like she wasn’t sharing loads of information anyway and generally acting as if expecting Taylor to be a permanent member of the team.


“He’s a tinker,” Kid Win pointed out, “He might be able to figure out he’s being watched.”

Good point.

“Admittedly true, but I have assurances from Dragon that the programs and devices she has put together are sufficiently discreet.” She clasped her hands together, “Thank you, Wards, for your cooperation. Your service since the start of the Endbringer event has been exemplary. Trust me when I say I will find some way to make it up to you.”

Let’s just hope Chariot doesn’t find the documentation for those very devices and realize there could be some of those around.

Also I wonder what Piggot might come up with.

She moved to leave, stopped, “And Kid Win? Good work.”

Kid Win smiled broadly.

Some capes would’ve just kept walking away, or never noticed that something was off in the first place. So yeah, good job, pal. 🙂


The Wards watched in silence until the moment the elevator door closed.

“It’s really freaking creepy when Piggy acts human,” Clockblocker commented. There were chuckles from the rest of the group.

Ahaha :p

Vista’s own titter was tinged with relief. The crack was a sign that Dennis was putting out an effort, acting more like his old self.

The fun Dennis from Interlude 3, rather than the angry Dennis from 9.3. Good to see him again.

“Alright guys,” Weld spoke, clapping his hands together once, generating a muted clink, “We needed to be ready with a response in case Chariot replied, I’m sorry about interrupting your nights. Lily, could I have a word with you before you head out again?”

Heh, I guess you can tell when Weld is in the audience at small concerts and such.


Flechette nodded and followed Weld to the far corner of the room.

Vista went to get a sports drink from the kitchen in one of the alcoves. Kid Win was sketching in a notebook. If he was feeling inspired, it would be best to leave him alone.

Sounds about right. Let him focus on whatever just came to his mind.

She stood behind him at enough of a distance to avoid distracting him, and watched the comedy on the TV, sipping her drink. She felt a hand on her shoulder, turned to see Weld.

o hai

Done talking to Flechette already? Maybe it had to do with Parian and he wants to hear Vista’s perspective on it.

Weld spoke quietly, “You look like you could use a shower. Go warm up, then get yourself dry and in comfortable clothes. Clockblocker is replacing you on your patrol, you can come with me in a few hours.”

Ah, never mind.

I guess the next visit to Plush Paradise is going to be Flechette and Clocky. Unless Clocky wants to patrol separately, which I think Flechette would be entirely okay with.

More alone time that way. 😉


She nodded.

“Come see me when you’re done. I want to have a chat. Nothing bad.”

Ah, maybe he does want to talk about Flechette and Parian?

Although maybe he just generally wants to have one-on-one chats with everyone, to see how they’re holding up.

She nodded again. So Flechette said something.

You think this is about that whole death thing earlier?

She headed into the bathrooms, detoured into the adjacent girl’s bathroom with accompanying showers. She kicked off her boots, removed her body armor, and hung the armor on one of the drying dummies. She removed the dress and peeled off the stockings, and hung the clothes on a second dummy, where they would be subjected to a steady, gentle flow of warm air. Her boots were placed upside down on the heating vent below the dummies, propped up against the wall. She removed her underwear last, putting it in a basket with the rabbit Parian had made, and grabbed a towel.

Certainly sounds a lot better than the old Undersider bathroom.


It felt strange, removing her costume. It was like she wasn’t herself. When had she started seeing herself more as Vista than as Missy Biron?

Probably around the time you put this highly enough that you became this comfortable with the possibility of death.

And sheesh… I’d be hard pressed to find an actual first name that sounds more patronizing to address someone by than Missy.

When her parents divorced, and she started taking extra shifts to get away from the oppressive atmosphere? After one year on the team, two?

Who knows…

She hung the towel up and stood under the spray of hot water, rinsing off the dirt and the grime that had come with the damp, dirty water that was everywhere outside, now.

Can I just say? This scene would be kinda uncomfortable in any sort of video format, even with respectful camera angles.

It didn’t take long to soap up and rinse off, but she spent a long few minutes leaning there with her hands against one wall of the stall, letting the water run over her, not thinking about anything in particular.

Relatable.


She cranked the water off and walked over to the sink to look at herself in the mirror, her towel around her shoulders.

I wrote a poem about mirrors yesterday, inspired by something I said about them while liveblogging 1.1 [here].

I see your pained expression looking at me
Your baggy, dried-out eyes
Your wild hair sticking out in every direction

You look at me, I look at you
All I do is sit right here
And tell you what I see

But maybe that’s enough?


The water had removed most of it, but there was a line of dried blood flecks on her throat from where the wire had pulled against it.

Wire? Did I miss something here?

…oh cod did she get so upset by what happened to Bastion that she tried to…

She had another, similar, mark on her left arm, by her elbow. She picked the flecks away with one fingernail, then rinsed her finger clean with a spray of water from the faucet.

Okay it sounds like this is about something more recent. Otherwise she’d have done this quite some time back, probably.

(Also, I suppose what happened to Gallant wouldn’t exactly help either.)

Only a pink line remained. Neither serious enough to warrant worrying about. There was bruising on one of her knees, the thigh and around the side of her pelvis where the bone was closest to the skin, from where rubble had fallen on her, green-yellow in color.

It definitely seems like she’s been through something we didn’t see.

Or, wait, is this from the Traveler fight?

*searches blog for “wire”*

Ohh, right, that wire. I’m not sure how I managed to forget that.

(#today in: krixwell is confused and forgetful about things that literally just happened)


There were older injuries too. Small scars on her hands, tiny cuts on her legs, the bump of a dime-sized keloid scar on the top of one foot. The one that caught her eye was on the right side of her chest, an inch and a half down from her collarbone.

Check off “Krixwell looks up a word” on your bingos, folks. Keloid scars are… wow, quite visible, by the looks of it.

I suppose it only makes sense that these things start to stack up over the years, even with healers like Panacea available.

An inch wide, the scar puckered inward a bit. It had been the result of an altercation with Hookwolf as the villain escaped the scene of a grisly attack on a grocer, a year ago.

Ouch.

A blade on the villain’s arm had punctured her armor as he’d knocked her aside. She’d felt the pain of her skin being penetrated and she’d kept quiet about it out of a desperate need to shake the label of being the team baby.

That’s a really bad idea. Especially when the wound is this big!

She didn’t want to be seen as the one always in need of help and protection. It would have been embarrassing to ask for medical attention, only for it to be a scratch.

Fair enough, though as it turns out, this was clearly not just a scratch.

‘Tis but a flesh wound!


It had only been later that she’d seen how serious it was, how much it had been bleeding into the fabric of her costume, underneath her breastplate. She’d stitched it up herself, here, in the showers.

Well… that’s honestly kind of hardcore. Did the others ever find out?

She’d done as best as she was able, worked with a kind of grim determination. Not the most competent job, in the end.

To be expected, I suppose.

She kind of regretted that series of decisions, now. She was a late bloomer, looked younger than she was, but when she did eventually have the sort of cleavage she could show off, the scar would be there, plain as day.

Well, if they don’t know now, they will if she starts showing off her cleavage. Which it sounds like she does want to do someday.

It might even be worse, when that time came, depending on how the scar stretched as her chest grew.

Unfortunate.

Well… at least it could act as a conversation starter with new people, I guess? Though I suppose she’d be showing her cleavage primarily in her civilian clothes rather than while she’s Vista, which sort of defeats that point unless her identity goes public.


Vista might have tried asking Panacea to fix it, but hadn’t been able to summon up the courage. Now, as she thought about it, she thought maybe she didn’t really want to get rid of it.

Sometimes injuries and the marks of them can be comforting reminders.

A part of her took a perverse kind of pride in the fact that she had a scar, as though it was some kind of proof to herself that she was a good soldier. It was a sort of validation of the philosophy she’d been outlining to Flechette. Why stress about a scar on her chest when some villain could kill her before it became an issue?

Heh, yeah, good point.

A toilet flushed in one of the bathroom stalls, and Vista hurried to pull her towel from around her shoulders and wrap it around herself, hiking it up to cover the scar on her chest.

Sounds like she does still keep it secret.

Sophia strolled over to the sink next to Vista. She gave the younger girl a cool look, “Don’t freak out, midget. It’s not like you have anything worth hiding.”

Oh great. Just the person we wanted to talk to right now.

*drip*


Bristling at the midget comment and the crack about her chest, Vista just stared at herself in the mirror, ignoring the girl.

Yeeah, fuck you, Sophia.

Sophia finished washing her hands, then got her toothbrush and brushed her teeth. She took her time, while Vista stood there, clutching the towel around herself with both hands.

Honestly, out of everyone on the team, Sophia is probably the one person who just straight up wouldn’t care about the scar, but that doesn’t mean Vista should let her be the first to know about it.

Finishing, Sophia put her toothbrush away, and, as she’d been doing recently, put a hand on Vista’s head as she passed by. Only this time, she mussed up the younger girl’s hair, with more roughness than was necessary. “Carry on, kid.”

I mean, it could be worse, but I do wonder if Sophia is aware of Vista’s distaste for being patronized and is doing it on purpose. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past her.

Great, Vista thought. Dennis might be acting more like his old self, but Sophia is too.

Huh, so Sophia had a period when she wasn’t acting like this?

She combed out her hair, sorting out the tangles that Sophia’s attention had given her, dried off, and then went to her locker to get a change of clothes: A t-shirt, sweatshirt and flannel pyjama pants. Comfortable clothes. She pulled on slippers and went to find Weld.

Yeah, I’d much rather have you talk to him than Sophia.


Sophia was manning the console, browsing Facebook.

…naturally.

Kid Win was testing out the armor – four guns with the size and shape of large pears were floating around the shoulders in a loose formation.

Cool!

Rather than distract Chris or have to deal with Sophia again, Vista left the headquarters and headed into the elevator. Weld’s room was in the hallways one floor up, opposite Kid Win’s workshop.

The door was open, and he was there, reclining on the a heavy-duty chair of the same model as the one he had in the conference room.

Hi again! What’s up?

He had headphones on, his feet on a granite counter where his computer sat. She’d never been in his room. Looking around, she saw rack upon rack of CDs, DVDs and vinyl records. There was no bed, but he didn’t really need to sleep, so that made some sense. It was easily possible that he slept in the chair.

Sounds about right.

His head was bobbing with the music until he spotted her. He gave her a quick nod, pulled off his headphones and turned off the speaker system.

Music is such a good thing. I love music. 🙂

So I say… thank you for the music, I guess.


“You wanted to talk to me?” she asked.

“I sent Flechette on patrol with you because she’s got an objective perspective on the team, and I wanted to see if her thoughts on you echoed my own.

Ah, interesting. So then I guess he’s going to talk to her about Clockblocker next.

True enough, you were only out for a short while, and she’s already expressed concerns.”

Yeeah, being this comfortable with one’s own future death at age 13 is unusual and can be signs of more worrying things.

“Okay.”

“Tell me straight up, are you doing okay?”

“People keep asking me that. I’m fine.”

She does seem to be doing alright for the most part, at least judging by what we’ve seen so far. But she might also be unwilling to actually acknowledge that she’s not fine even in her own narration, forcing us to read between the lines… but yeah, she does seem mostly fine. The only real exception is the grief for Gallant, which is to be expected.


Hm. The mention of grief for Gallant in the last post sent my mind down a couple associations and gave me an idea:

What if the final chapter of this arc is from the POV of Chariot as he joins the Wards? I mean, if this Arc is going to go through every Ward, why not include the new guy, especially after opening with two other new ones? Besides, that would be a good way to reveal/confirm what his deal is and whether he’s actually working for Coil, Taylor or someone else entirely.

(#yes this really did spring from me commenting on vista’s grief for gallant #somehow)


“Flechette said you were sounding pretty fatalistic when you were on patrol, a little while ago. I know you were fond of Gallant, that you were pretty inconsolable when you were in the hospital, at his bedside.”

It sounds like Weld is concerned that Vista may be suicidal. An entirely valid concern, seeing her attitude towards death from the outside.

Vista looked away.

“And now you’re acting like nothing fazes you, even the idea of you maybe dying in the near future. I have to know, Missy. Do you have a death wish? Are you going to be putting yourself in unnecessary danger?”

It’s an unpleasant question to have to ask, but it’s something that really needs to be addressed.

I know some of the things I’ve just been writing might make it seem like I’m confident about Vista not being suicidal, but that’s unintentional. I really don’t know what the true answer to this question is, even though I’m 95% certain Vista’s going to deny it. If she does have a death wish, I think she’s denying it to herself as well, which is part of why she’s not acknowledging anything like that directly in the narration.

“No,” she said. When his expression didn’t change, she repeated herself, louder, “No. You saw me against the Travelers. I don’t think I did anything stupid there.”

I suppose not.

“You didn’t.”

“I just want to do a good job as a member of this team. Carry on their memory. Act like they would want me to act. I can work twice as hard, be twice as tough, twice as strong, if it means making up for them being gone.”

So that’s what she meant about “doing Gallant justice”. Doing everything to protect the city like he and Aegis would.


“That’s a pretty crazy burden to be shouldering.”

“It’s fine.”

“And it could go somewhere problematic, if you get frustrated, let it consume you, alongside this blasé attitude towards death you seem to be adopting.”

He has a point.

“I can deal.”

Weld sighed. “Maybe. Maybe not. You know what I think?”

Vista shrugged.

“I think you should let your teammates take some of the responsibility there. Trust them to help carry on the legacy.”

Yeah. It’s obvious that Clockblocker cares a lot, for one thing. I know you want him to be happy, but you shouldn’t be carrying this burden all alone.


She shook her head, “Nobody else seems to care as much-”

Weld raised a hand, “Stop. Let me finish. Remember that your teammates have their individual strengths to their personalities. I don’t know enough about Aegis or Gallant to say for sure, but I think maybe Clockblocker is stepping up to become more of a leader, in Aegis’s absence.

Oh yeah, Clockblocker was the one who was supposed to be the next leader anyway, wasn’t he? Except he wanted to procrastinate on that for as long as he could.

And it does seem like he’s gotten a little more assertive since Interlude 3, among other changes.

It could be part of why there’s friction between him and me, even if he doesn’t fully realize it.”

Maybe to some extent.

“Gallant was sort of preparing to be the team leader, for when Aegis graduated,” Vista said, her voice quiet.

Oh right, that’s how it was. Clocky was next, I suppose.

Weld nodded. “The impression I’ve picked up, and forgive me if I’m off target, is that Aegis was the head of the team, the leader, strategist and manager. Gallant, maybe, was the heart. The guy who tied you all together, kept the interpersonal stuff running smoothly.

Weld, have you been up looking at TVTropes?

But yeah, that sounds accurate.

Would I be wrong in assuming he was the one who handled Sophia best?”

That might explain Sophia acting differently for a while too.

Vista shook her head. A lump was growing in her throat.

“Okay. With all this in mind, I have one suggestion and two orders. My suggestion? Stop trying to be everything they were.

So if Clockblocker’s taking over as the head (even though officially, that’s Weld’s job), maybe Vista should settle for the heart. She’s rather fitting for that role anyway, what with her emotional maturity. She’s sort of been doing that already, throughout this Arc…

…and she wasn’t visibly doing it in Interlude 3. Huh.

Be what you’re good at, a caring, sweet young woman who everyone on the team likes. My professional opinion is that you have it in you to fill some of that void Gallant left. Use that empathic nature of yours to help others with their own struggles. Be the team’s heart.”

Yeah.

You know what, Weld? I think you’re pretty good at this whole leadership thing, once you’re settled in.


Her eyes started watering. She blinked the tears away.

“And my orders?”

Stay alive and… stay sane?

“Order number one is that you go see the PRT’s therapist. If I can clear it with Director Piggot, figure out a way to make the patrol schedules work, I’m going to try to get everyone to go.

Sounds like a good idea. Man, the amount of fictional ‘verses out there where no one gets therapy…

I’m honestly kind of flabbergasted that nobody higher up than me has mandated it already.”

Heh, yeah.

“Okay.” In a way, she was relieved, at that instruction.

“Order number two is to let yourself cry, damn it. Stop holding it back.”

Open those dams.

Seriously, this is good advice.


It seems Weld is better at understanding other people’s emotions (and psychology) than I gave him credit for back in 9.1.


Just the mention of crying made her eyes water again. Vista wiped it away once more, “I’ve cried enough.”

“If your body wants to cry, then you should listen to it. It doesn’t make you any weaker if you let it happen. You think I’ve never cried?

I wonder if Weld ever gets rusty cheeks.

Or other parts of his body, when left underwater for too long… Other people get wrinkly skin, Weld gets rusty.

Looking like I do, facing the disappointments and frustrations I have? Maybe it’s self-serving to think so, but I think it takes a kind of strength to let yourself face your emotions like that.”

Everyone has it tough from time to time. It’s important to let those emotions out somehow.


The tears were rolling down her cheeks, now. She let her head hang, her damp hair a curtain between her and her team leader. He stood, pulled her into a hug. She pressed her face against his shirt. It was soft, but the body beneath was hard, unyielding. It was still very gentle.

I really,

really,

really like these two.

Y’know, in general, this Arc has so far done a much better job than Interlude 3 at letting me get to know the Wards, probably mainly due to the expanded format and ability for Wildbow to focus on each character in more detail. I find that I quite like all of them except Sophia.

And hey, chances are next chapter is about Sophia. Who knows what’ll happen over the course of that. I don’t think I’ll outright like her, but Wildbow could be pulling out some empathetic traits. Or he could be going the opposite way, to reinforce the sense of “why does a person like this get to be a Ward”. Either way, I’m getting ahead of myself – this is stuff I should be speculating on in the end-of-chapter post.


When she pulled away, a few minutes later, his shirt was damp. She sniffled, taking the offered tissue to wipe at her eyes and nose, Weld spoke, gently, “I’m always here to talk, and the therapist will be there too.”

Sounds good. You really do seem to know what your teammates need. 🙂

Vista nodded.

“If you need a break from the team, just say the word. I’ll talk to Piggot.”

She shook her head, “No. I want to work. I want to help.”

Yeah… she may be taking Weld’s suggestion to let the others take some of the responsibility, but she doesn’t want to dump it all on them. She wants to uphold Aegis and Gallant’s legacy.

“Okay. Then we’ve got patrol in… two hours and fifteen minutes. Go relax, watch some TV, maybe take a nap.”

“Alright. Don’t you dare let me sleep through patrol.”

“I wouldn’t.”

😀


She made her way back to the elevator, noting the lights were on in Kid Win’s workshop. Heading back down to the base, she walked toward her cubicle-room.

I guess Kid’s still working on those pear guns from before. Nice.

“Holy crap, you’ve been crying again? I thought you were over that.” Sophia commented from the console.

Not helping, you harpy.

She was on her laptop, sitting just to the right of the main console. Nobody else was present in the headquarters. Again, the two of them were alone. Was Sophia’s nice act only for when others were around?

She has a nice act?

I mean, true, she has been acting a little less venomously than expected when we’ve seen her over the course of the Arc.

Vista turned, irritated. “I was venting a little with Weld, what’s your issue?”

“I just really hate crybabies,” Sophia turned back to the computer.

Yeah, just… fuck you, okay?

I guess someone had to pick up the slack in “fuck you” attraction after Kaiser died.


Crybaby. Whatever else someone could say about Sophia, there was no denying that she was very, very good at finding someone’s weak points, be it during a brawl or in an argument.

…yeah, I suppose.

And I’m pretty sure that confirms my suspicion that she’s very much aware of Vista’s annoyance with being patronized.

Vista couldn’t think of an insult that would have needled her more.

Hah, needled. Is this the entire Doylist reason Shadow Stalker uses a crossbow, to match with her skill at “needling” people and hitting their weak spots?

“Bitch,” Vista muttered, moving toward her room.

I used to call her that too, but then it turned out there was a character named that, so… Harpy it is.


She thought she spoke quietly enough that Sophia didn’t hear, but the girl did, because she had a response. “You annoyed him, you know.”

Oh fuck you back into the hole you crawled out of

whichever one that may have been

Vista stopped in her tracks, stayed where she was, her back to Sophia. She replied without turning around “Weld? You don’t know-”

“Gallant.

Yeah, I figured that was who she was talking about.

Twelve year old following him around all the time, brimming with prepubescent lust and lovesick infatuation? And he can feel all of her emotions? You know how gross that would be? How disturbing and awkward?”

Oh right, I forgot about his ability to sense emotions.

This reminds me of a conversation from Homestuck (this page and the next; contains spoilers since it’s more than halfway through the story) between an empath and a guy who is attracted to her. The empath has a very different view on emotions than others because she can sense the emotions that others keep hidden, and expands on that to convince the guy that it’s okay.

But yeah, if he actually felt the emotions rather than just sensed them, then that could get a bit awkward. That said, you really should trust Clockblocker over Shadow Stalker.

A seed of doubt is all it takes for a tree to grow, though.


Vista clenched her fists.

Sophia went on, “Think about it, every time you got just a little turned on while you looked at him? Every time you crushed on him? He felt it, forced himself to smile and play nice even as you totally repulsed him, because he was that kind of guy. You know he was that kind of guy.”

Uurgh.

“I loved him,” Vista spoke. The first time she’d spoken the words aloud. Why did it have to be to Sophia? Why couldn’t she have said it to Gallant, before he passed? “There’s nothing gross about love.”

It really does sound like it was closer to that than the sexual “prepubescent lust” Sophia is talking about.

I mean, “lovesick infatuation” I can admit seems fitting, but this really doesn’t seem to have been about lust.

“You don’t know what love is, little one,” Sophia’s condescending tone rang across the room, “It was a first crush, a little infatuation. Real love is what he had with Glory Girl… that long-term bond that survived through a dozen really nasty fights, and brought them back together again and again.

Perhaps… though why did they even have that many fights in the first place, anyway?

A schoolgirl crush is easy. Real love is hard, something tempered and enduring.”

…I hate that I can’t argue with her here.


Vista turned to look at the older girl.

Sophia was reclining in her chair. She smiled a little, “I know it sucks to hear now, but it’s better to hear it straight than to look back and realize how horribly stupid you sounded, five or ten years down the road.”

Yeah right.

Hey, if there’s any time for that mantra of yours, Vista…

“I am not going to feel stupid for how I feel now.”

I mean, hopefully not, but if you will… does that matter?

Sophia shrugged, “Kids.” She turned her attention to Facebook.

Of course she tries to have the last word and have that last word be something she knows will sting.

Vista unclenched her fist. She could tip Sophia out of her chair, bend the computer screen, carry out any number of petty revenges. But Weld’s advice stuck in her head.

“What happened to you, Sophia?”

Ohh shit. This suddenly got more interesting.

Maybe Wildbow still doesn’t want to do a chapter from Sophia’s POV and is making this chapter give us some insight into Sophia as well as Vista, instead. Or maybe in addition to whatever happens next chapter?

Or maybe the chapter is about to end. That scrollbar is getting quite the way down now and it’s getting late.

Like half past three AM late. What’s a sleep schedule?


Sophia looked over her shoulder. “You’re still here?”

“What kind of situation led to you becoming like this? So casually cruel, so lacking in basic human decency?”

Hella good question.

“My advice is for your own benefit, little tyke. I’m not the bad guy.”

Supposedly.

“You’re the only one who doesn’t have any friends on the team, you keep yourself at a distance, you talk only with your friend or friends from your civilian life. Even there, you’re always in trouble. Getting suspended, picking fights. It’s like you want to break your probation and go to some juvenile detention facility for the next few years.”

I still don’t know how she hasn’t already.

At least this seems to confirm that her school suspension had an impact on her Ward activities too, in some way. Otherwise, why would Vista even know about it?

“Not your business.”

“Out in costume, you’re scary. You hurt people like you’re hungry for it. I just want to know why. Where did you come from? What situation led to you being like this?”

It’s too soon for another Cotton Eye Joe joke, right?


“Drop the fucking subject. You’re irritating me.”

Vista sighed. Feeling the traces of anger and the hurt from Sophia’s words, she still tried to soften her parting words as she turned to go back to her room, “If you ever do want to talk about it, I’m willing to listen.”

Gallant would be proud. Weld too.

“I’m not about to talk about it with you. Fix your own shit before you start worrying about me, crybaby.”

Yeah, yeah…

Frustrated, disappointed in herself for failing in her first genuine effort at taking Weld’s advice, trying to reach out to a team member that needed it, Vista shook her head, muttered, “I pity you.”

Interesting choice of words… Wanna elaborate?

Also I have a feeling pity is the last thing Sophia wants.

The sound of a laptop crashing to the ground made Vista turn. She saw Sophia in her shadow state, wispy, her skeleton visible beneath her skin, warped. The girl’s eyes were too reflective, her entire body seemed to bend and distort, not completely solid as she leaped towards Vista.

Oh jeez, she really didn’t like that.

Sophia dropped out of her shadow state in time to push Vista flat onto her back, hard, one fist gripping the collar of the younger girl’s t-shirt. She shook her. “Pity?”

I think you might’ve found Sophia’s weak spot.


Feeling strangely calm despite the pain that radiated through the back of her head, where it had struck the ground, Vista spoke, “Weld said it takes a kind of strength to face your emotions. Are you really that scared, Sophia, that you’d attack me instead of talk to me?”

I really think Vista might be one of the most mature people on the team.

Certainly more mature than Shadow Stalker, at least.

Sophia raised a clenched fist. Vista screwed one eye shut, anticipating the hit. It would almost be worth it if she hit me and violate the conditions of her membership on the team, to have her gone. But we need all the help we can get, right now.

I suppose that’s true.

“The security cameras are watching us right now.”

Sophia dropped her hand, stood, and stalked over to the far side of the room. She gathered her costume in her arms. “I’m going on patrol.”

What, so you can run away and take out your aggression on some crooks that the PRT doesn’t mind you punching?

“It’s not your shift,” Vista spoke, sitting up.

“Don’t fucking care. If Weld asks, I’m doing a double shift.”

…alrighty then.

And then Sophia was gone, having used her shadow state to disappear through the elevator door.

Bye.


“Okay,” Vista spoke, pulling herself to her feet. “Guess I’m manning the console.”

Heh, nice.


End of Evangelion

wait no

(#i haven’t actually watched nge yet)


End of Sentinel 9.5

This was a good time.

We got to see the needle gals meet again, some insight into Vista’s philosophy of focusing on the present (something I actually share to some extent, though not because I expect I might die), her issues re: being patronized and taking responsibility in Aegis’ and Gallant’s stead, some fantastic advice from Weld and an interesting confrontation between Sophia and Vista.

Phew, this one was chock full of really good content! I guess that’s why it’s about 4 AM now.

Next chapter, I’m about 79% sure we’re following Shadow Stalker on patrol from her own POV, probably stewing with thoughts about the confrontation she just had. She might not be willing to tell Vista what her deal is, but maybe she’ll finally tell us.

Failing that, I guess we might be skipping Shadow Stalker in favor of what I think 9.7 might be (if it exists): A chapter from Chariot’s point of view as he joins the Wards. If that’s a thing we get to see in the next chapter or 9.7, it ought to be interesting.

See you then!

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