Source material: Worm, Interlude 15a
Originally blogged: October 7-13, 2018
Interlude 15 (Donation Bonus)
Well, that’s a surprise! An Interlude this early in the Arc? Sure, why not.
So who are we following today, then?
I’m inclined to think we’re about to learn a thing or two about the Travelers and their perception of Coil. Maybe one of them finds out what the Undersiders are up to somehow.
Perhaps more importantly, a Traveler Interlude would give us a chance to find out what the hell their deal actually is. I’m thinking Trickster’s perspective would be ideal for that, but Ballistic is more likely because we don’t know him as well as the other main Travelers. Maybe Ballistic finds out the 325?
If it’s not the Travelers… I have no clue who it’d be. Who else is relevant to this Arc that hasn’t had an Interlude? Brian, I suppose, but I don’t think we’re getting him right now. Rachel’s minions (I feel like Barker and Biter might be put to use at some point), but they don’t seem important enough to get an Interlude yet…
I don’t know.
So let’s find out!
Darkness. Almost a physical presence, bearing down on her as though she were deep underwater and the weight of all of the water above her was pressing against her head and shoulders.
Alright, so we’ve got a female POV. There go most of my suggestions.
Is this Grue’s darkness, which is indeed a physical presence with a sense of pressure and resistance?
And if so, who would be describing it as if unfamiliar? Are we dealing with a female Coildier here? Except this is not the kind of tactic the Undersiders were going to go for, at least not to begin with.
Some of that was fatigue, some of it was hunger, some was thirst. She had no idea how much time had passed.
I guess it’s not Grue, then?
Where is this person? Lost in a desert or something?
She might have been able to guess from her period, but her body had decided such would be a waste of precious resources.
Okay, wow, if she’s right about this being the reason and not just “it hasn’t actually been that long”, it’s been pretty damn long.
It hadn’t come, and she had no idea how many weeks or months it had been.
Darkness, so absolute she couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed. As she breathed, it almost felt like the dark was pressing down on her, making exhaling harder with every breath. It didn’t help that the room smelled like an open sewer mingled with body odor.
Again, the implication that the darkness is a physical thing.
Whatever the case, this gal is clearly not having a great time.
I’d suggest Shatterbird, but from Regent’s Interlude, it doesn’t seem like being under his control should make things like this.
Hmm. I do suppose this sounds a bit like Cherish’s predicament, but a second Cherish Interlude would break what’s been a pretty solid rule so far: No repeat Interludes.
Reaching out, she fumbled, felt the dim warmth of skin. An arm so thin she could wrap her hand around it, middle finger and thumb touching. Her hand slid down the arm and her fingers twined with those of a hand smaller than hers.
The physical contact seemed to put the physical sensations of air on her skin into a kind of context. The sense of pressure faded.
Maybe if it’s fading, we can figure out what’s going on here.
“I’m hungry,” the girl beside her spoke.
“I am too.”
“I want to go home.”
How about this: Cauldron test subjects?
There was the sound of a key in the lock, and her heart leapt.
The light felt like knives being driven into her eye sockets, but she stared anyways. A man, tall, tan and long-haired, entered the room, a lantern in one hand and a plate of food in the other.
…Trickster, is that you?
If not for the child I would take this to mean we’re in Noelle’s head… that might still be the case, but we need to figure out what’s going on with the child.
Is it Dinah? Did Coil decide to store her with Noelle while she’s recovering? That seems like a tremendously bad idea.
He set down the food and then turned to leave.
“Thank you!” she called after him. She saw him hesitate.
You okay there?
The door slammed shut after him.
If I’m right about who we’re dealing with here, Trickster’s behavior surrounding this situation has changed. It seems like he’s no longer giving Noelle the time of day, possibly out of guilt.
“You thanked him?” The words were accusatory.
She couldn’t justify it. Her heart was pounding. She stared at the plate. Soup and bread: enough food for one person, barely enough for two.
This feels wrong too. Coil has resources above all else, and even with the mess Leviathan and the Nine have made of Brockton Bay, he should be able and willing to give these two more food than this.
She could have said she did it in the hopes that he would feed them more often, but she wasn’t sure she would be telling the truth.
“Let’s… let’s just eat,” she spoke.
“Thank you for feeding us anything at all!”
“I knew you were here when I was a block away,” Alan spoke.
Either we just broke the One Steve Limit at an inopportune time, or we’re in the past.
With that in mind, who is the POV character? Burnscar?
And why are we reading about this in this particular Arc?
“The number of lights on in these offices is asking for troublemakers to notice and come by. And the doors were unlocked.”
Carol looked up in surprise. Composing herself, she answered, “I’m not concerned.”
Carol, as in Brandish? She knew Alan before he became Mannequin?
So is Carol our POV lady in the dark?
The man laughed, “No, I imagine you aren’t.”
“For a little while, at least. The partners asked if I could come by in case we had to close up shop in a hurry.”
Partners? Close up shop in a hurry? None of this sounds like something I’d expect Sphere to be talking about.
“In case the city is condemned?”
We’re in the present.
And there’s an Alan.
Did we just break the One Steve Limit? Or is everyone mistaken about who exactly Mannequin was? I think that would take away from Mannequin’s character, though.
Or has Brockton Bay been close to condemnation in the past?
“That’s it. What are you doing? Are those the files from downstairs?”
Carol nodded, glancing at the crate of paperwork marked ‘1972’. “We’ve been saying we would copy them over to digital format the next time business got slow.
Old files… very old for anything relevant to this story, given that it took another decade before Scion showed up.
It won’t get much slower than it is now.”
“The idea was that everyone in the office would pitch in,” Alan answered.
“Everyone in the office is pitching in.”
“Except you’re the only one here,” Alan said. His brow creased in worry, “What’s going on? Are you okay?”
I too would like to know what’s going on. We’ve got two people here with names that possibly break the One Steve Limit, only two chapters after the name one of them is bearing was last mentioned. Neither of them are acting like the people they should be by their names…
Maybe we are in the past, even more than I thought. Maybe this is in the 70′s or very early 80′s, before capes were a thing, and that’s why they’re both businesspeople of some description? Hell, maybe we’re even about to see these two learn about Scion’s, uh, arrival?
There’s also the question about whether the dark room scene happens before or after whenever this is. Is what I’m reading right now a flashback from the perspective of the lady in the darkness, who may or may not be Carol? (We haven’t had any descriptions looking into Carol’s head in the scene with Alan yet. Though Alan did just say Carol was the only one here.)
She shook her head.
“Talk to me.”
He sat down on the corner of her desk, reached over and turned off the scanner. “Talk.”
“When I agreed to join New Wave, Sarah and I both agreed that I’d keep my job, and I’d strike a balance between work and life in costume.”
Well, okay, fuck my “before capes” theory then. Sure.
I guess this has to be the present, then, given the condemnation thing. That, or the city has nearly been condemned before, early in Carol’s career, while Sphere was still Sphere.
“I felt like I had to keep coming, even after Leviathan destroyed the city.
Present. Definitely the present.
Took me long enough to be sure of that.
So why is there an Alan?
Keep that promise to myself, keep myself sane. This filing helps, too. It’s almost meditative.”
“I can’t imagine what it would have been like to stay in the city, with everything that’s gone on. I heard things in the news, but it really didn’t hit home until I came back.”
Yeeah, this is something you gotta experience to fully get.
I say while simply reading about it.
From now on, I’m going to assume that Alan is a coincidence and we’re simply breaking the One Steve Limit.
But if that’s really what’s going on, it will reflect negatively on the chapter, because this is a really bad time to break that rule with this particular name. The Nine are fresh in our minds, and especially the name Alan for Mannequin. Using the same name for this character, if he’s a new one and not, like, alternate universe Sphere or something, leads to a ton of unnecessary confusion.
Carol smiled a little, “Oh, it hasn’t been pretty. Addicts and thugs thinking they can band together to take over the city. The Slaughterhouse Nine-”
Yes, tell me what you know of the Nine, Alan.
Alan shook his head in amazement.
“My husband was gravely injured in the attack, you might have heard.”
You were lucky to have Amy, even if it took her a while to help out.
“Richard mentioned it.”
Now who’s that? One of the partners?
“Head injury. Could barely feed himself, could barely walk or speak.”
“Amy’s a healer, isn’t she?”
“Amy has always insisted she couldn’t heal brain injuries.”
But… she did. Is Mark covering for Amy?
Alan winced. “I see. The worst sort of luck.”
Carol smiled, but it wasn’t a happy expression. “So imagine my surprise when, after weeks of taking care of my husband, wiping food from his face, giving him baths, supporting him as he walked from the bedroom to the bathroom, Amy decides she’ll heal him after all.”
Eeesh. Yeah, no, she isn’t happy about that revelation.
I mean, sure, she’ll appreciate that Mark did ultimately get healed, I should hope, but the fact that Amy didn’t do it before when she apparently could…
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I. But we can’t ask Amy, because she ran away from home while Mark called to let me know he was okay.”
“Something else happened?”
“Oh, quite a bit happened. But if I got into the details of the Slaughterhouse Nine visiting my home, the ensuing fight destroying the ground floor, Bonesaw forcing Amy to kill one of her Frankenstein mutants and inviting her to join the Nine, I think that would derail the conversation.”
The salt is real.
At least she knows that happened. It’s probably a good thing Mark was there.
Alan opened his mouth to ask a question, then shut it.
[El Goonish Shive panel]
Justin: The hell did I walk in on?
“This is strictly confidential, yes?” Carol stated. “Between friends?”
“Always,” he replied automatically. After a moment’s consideration, he said, “Amy must have been terrified.”
But is Carol going to acknowledge that?
“Oh, I imagine she was. Victoria went looking for her after she ran away, returned home empty-handed. I think she was even more upset than I was, with Amy taking so long to heal Mark. She was almost inarticulate, she was so angry.”
Yeah, uh, that’s.
There’s a bit more to that.
“Your daughters are close. The sense of betrayal would be that much stronger.”
Ahaha! Really laying on the dramatic irony thick here, are we?
Carol nodded, then sighed.
“Quite a lot to deal with. I can understand why you’d need some quiet and routine to distract yourself.”
Carol fidgeted. “Oh, that wasn’t even the worst of it. Victoria’s been flirting with the notion of joining the Wards, and she went out to fight the Nine just a few days ago. Apparently she was critically injured. She was carried off for medical care and nobody’s seen her since.”
Hopefully no one’s told Carol that Victoria was carried off by the teammate of a supervillain with the power to take over people’s bodies.
“Carried off by who? Or whom?”
“The Undersiders. Who have dropped off the face of the map, in large part.
Oh, so she does know.
What’s this about them dropping off the face of the map? How long has it been since 15.1?
I’ve tried finding them on my patrols, but all reports suggest they’ve spread over the city in an attempt to seize large tracts of territory. It’s a big city with a lot of stones to overturn and dark corners to investigate.”
Right, fair enough.
Huge tracts of land. That’s why they seized Victoria.
“So Victoria’s missing, now?”
“Or dead,” Carol said. She blinked a few times in rapid succession, fighting the need to cry. “I don’t know. I was patrolling, searching, and I felt my composure start to slip. I feel like shit for doing it, but I came here, I thought maybe if I took fifteen minutes or half an hour to center myself, I could be ready to start searching again.”
It seems like Regent’s power hasn’t occurred to Carol. That’s probably a good thing.
“I wouldn’t beat yourself up over it.”
Still healthier than some of Taylor’s behavior.
“She’s my daughter, Alan. Something’s happened to her, and I don’t know what.”
“I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do?”
She shook her head.
I wonder if Alan’s a parahuman or a mundane. Carol’s public identity makes that a little harder to guess than usual.
So far I’d say mundane.
“I could call some people, if we organized a search party-”
“Too dangerous when you’re talking supervillains and the numbers of armed thugs on the streets. Even civilians are likely to attack first and ask questions later, if confronted. Besides…” she picked up her cell phone from the corner of her desk. She showed him the screen, “Cell towers are down. No service.”
Right. Good points. You need satellite phones if you want to do that.
He frowned. “I- I don’t know what to say.”
“Welcome back to Brockton Bay, Mr. Barnes.”
That Alan! I forgot he was named Alan. So it’s not a new break of the One Steve Limit, though it’s still poorly timed.
So if he’s here, that means Emma’s back too, very likely. I’m sure Taylor will be overjoyed by those news.
(Though I don’t think Taylor ever found out Emma had left in the first place.)
“Carol, wake up.”
Are we back to the dark room?
(Which, to be fair, isn’t always dark, that’s just the best name I have for it so far.)
So is that in the past?
Carol stirred. She was sleeping so much of the time now.
There was a man in the doorway. Her heart leapt in her chest.
Not the same guy as earlier?
Then he moved the lantern. A stranger.
“Time’s up,” he spoke, his voice heavily accented.
“Don’t understand,” Sarah spoke, her voice thin.
So Sarah, judging by what Carol said in the other scene and probably previous mentions I’m forgetting right now, is Photon Mom, though this is apparently long before she became a mom.
“Where’s… where’s the other man?” Carol asked. She felt almost ashamed she didn’t have a better name for him.
“Quiet,” the man snapped. He moved the hand that wasn’t burdened with the lantern, and Carol could see a knife.
Is this a rescue? But “time’s up” sounds way too ominous for that.
She gasped, or maybe moaned. It was hard to tell what it was supposed to be, because it was involuntary and her voice caught, making the sound come out more like a yelp or a reedy shriek. She shrank back.
I suppose he’s holding that knife in a more threatening fashion than I was imagining.
“No, no, no,” Sarah squeaked, shaking her head.
So is this their trigger event? I suppose it would make a ton of sense for a pair of sisters who have been kept in the dark to get light-themed powers.
If we get to see them trigger, we might be in for some Dandelion action, too, which is always interesting.
Time’s up. Sarah had to know what he meant, now.
They’d spent so long in the darkness, in their own filth. They’d eaten so little, grown so weak, and now they’d die. And the thing that upset Carol most was that they would never understand why.
Yeah, sorry, I can’t help you there.
So Sarah gets shields, for defense (along with lasers because pew pew). Carol gets light weapons and the morph ball, to fight back.
“No!” Sarah shrieked, her voice raw.
The light was so bright it momentarily blinded Carol. She covered her face with her arms.
Ooh, here we go! Laser time!
So I guess Sarah’s taking the initiative to fight back. Although this is very likely an involuntary, out of control use of her power, as seems to tend to happen with new triggerers.
Also, looks like we’re not getting any Dandelions this time, since Sarah triggered before Carol. Unless we get to see their involvement in Carol’s trigger like with Hana.
When she looked up again, the man was on his hands and knees. And her sister… Sarah was standing.
Except standing was the wrong word. Sarah was upright, and her legs were moving, but her toes were barely touching the ground. She wasn’t supporting her own weight.
Oh right, she got flight too.
She advanced on the man, raising one hand.
Again, that blinding light. It didn’t burn the man, nor did it cut him. He reacted like he’d been punched instead, stumbling backward through the doorway. She hit him again, over and over, wordless cries accompanying each attack.
Carol saw only glimpses of the man’s bloodied body in the split-seconds the light hung in the air. He was being beaten, pulverized.
Kidnappers in this ‘verse really need to learn to treat their captives better, to keep them from triggering.
She couldn’t bring herself to protest. For the first time in long weeks or months, she felt a flicker of hope.
So are we going to get Carol’s triggering here too? Because if so, things are going to have to go back downhill a bit.
Darkness reigned over them for a few seconds as Sarah stopped to catch her breath.
Carol tried to stand and found her legs were like spaghetti noodles.
Watch out for dogs on romantic dates.
She was so busy trying to maintain her balance that she almost didn’t see.
Didn’t see what? The glowing weapon in her hand?
The man who’d brought them the food. He stepped into the doorway and raised one hand. A gun.
Oh. Hi there.
Surely you’ve seen the state of your comrade?
The report of the handgun was deafening after such a long time in the quiet room.
Is this where the shields come into play?
Or did Photon Mom’s kids get that from their father? I forget.
But they weren’t hurt. Sarah had raised her hands, and a glowing, see-through wall stood between them and the man.
So has Carol triggered just now too, after all? Sarah’s got at least three powers, maybe two if the shield is somehow a variation on the lasers, and there’s reason to believe that multiple people triggering at once can cause each to develop more powers.
Although that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be in the same exact moment. The Dandelions seem to plan where and when they’re going to be there to trigger someone, so maybe you could end up with additional powers because someone’s about to trigger?
He’d tried to attack them? Carol couldn’t understand it. He was the one who’d taken care of them. When he’d appeared, she’d been happy. And now it felt like that had been ruined, spoiled.
Yeeeah, he was never actually caring for you more than he had to to keep you alive, was he?
She felt betrayed and she couldn’t understand why.
Stockholm syndrome, I think.
Again, the gun fired. She flinched, and not because of the noise. It was like she’d been slapped.
Did he get past the shield?
Silence, no hunger, no pain, no sense of betrayal. Even Sarah and the wall of light she’d put together were gone.
Seems so. But she can’t be dead, so I suppose she’s just passing out. Maybe it’s a tranquilizer handgun, even?
A flat plain stretched out around her, but she had no body. She could see in every direction.
Oh! Oh! Dandelion time! Hell yes.
You know what? I think I’m going to blueball myself on the Dandelion front and use it as a thing to look forward to reading about in the next session. See you tomorrow!
[End of session]
Sburb’s Precog is around the same tier as the Sim[Cough]’s one
The Swanish Inhalation [me]:
So, assuming this isn’t somehow about The Sims, it seems the Simurgh is close to omniscient about the future, and maybe the past and present too.
I try not to speculate on spoilers too much, but it quickly occurred to me that people probably don’t know this and that’s why they think the Simurgh reads minds. Because she always seems to know what you intend to do next.
I wonder if she speaks, unlike Leviathan. I like omniscient antagonists that speak.
(#this one annoys me more than most spoilers
#the cough indicates that they knew they shouldn’t be saying this
#but they said it anyway
#and that’s what pisses me off about it
#adding to it is the fact that this was in a liveblogger’s server and they should definitely know better)
The Worm fandom, probably, after learning about the upcoming apocalypse:
Bratty and Catty, in unison: * SO hyped for the destruction of humanity.
So, who’s ready for the most eldritch of yellow flowers? I certainly am!
(…no, not that one.)
[reblogging the previous post]
Down here, it’s trigger or be triggered.
A crack split the ground. Once the dust had settled, nothing happened for a long time.
Are the Dandelions coming up this time?
Not literally but kind of literally?
It’s an egg, she realized, just in time to see it hatch.
So this flat plain is… a surface of an enormous, probably 4+ dimensional egg? We saw the apparent death of a Dandelion with Karahindiba, are we now seeing one’s birth?
Hey, does the sky look different in any way?
The egg’s occupant tore free from the crack, unfolding from a condensed point to grow larger with every moment and movement.
That sounds like a Dandelion, alright.
How adorable are they as babies?
Are they babies? Or do they just come out fully grown? Can you even tell when you can’t see one or more of their dimensions and they seem to exist across realities?
Hmm. Maybe the ultimate apocalyptic threat also exists across realities, and that’s why its arrival is a certainty in all timelines? Except then why would Jack Slash make a difference to when it arrives?
Others were hatching from the same egg, spreading out like sparks from the shell of a firework.
Are you sure they’re others, and not just other parts of the same one?
Each unfolding into something vast and incomprehensible within seconds of its birth.
But her attention was on the first. She felt it reach out and connect with another that shared a similar trajectory. Still more were doing the same, pairing off. Forming into trios, in some cases, but most chose to form pairs.
Interesting. This reminds me of the meeting we saw in Infestation. Which I suppose may have been some sort of mating dance, but this seems to indicate that the dance partners are siblings, in whatever way and to whatever extent that term may or may not apply to these beings. Maybe that doesn’t matter to their kind. Or maybe there’s just one egg per generation and multiple separate gene matchups.
But that assumes way more than I actually know about their reproduction and biology. Genes, for one thing, and the notion that they reproduce sexually. Hell, we’ve been calling them Dandelions because of how they look when they die, but what if that applies here too? What if the egg is somehow a part of one Dandelion’s life cycle – i.e. the egg is, in a sense, a Dandelion in itself, or at least made by only one – and the baby Dandelions are like the seeds blowing from a dandelion… am I making any sense at this point?
In any case, my point is, I have no guarantee that this works anything like we humans are prone to assuming.
A mate? A partner?
Each settled into a position around the ruined egg, embracing their chosen companions, rubbing against, into and through one another as they continued to grow.
Wait, was I onto something when it came to it being a mass-egg of multiple matchups? Are they fixing up the egg and refertilizing it?
Ooh, or maybe the dandelion metaphor was on point and the seeds just haven’t let go of the plant’s core yet?
The egg vibrated. Or did it? No, it was an illusion. There were multiple copies of the egg, multiple versions, and they each stirred, deviating from one another until subtle double images appeared.
Multiple eggs from multiple realities?
Then, one by one, they crumpled into a single point. The egg at the center of the formation of these creatures was the last, and for the briefest of moments, it roiled with the pressure and energy of all of the others.
Then it detonated, and the creatures came alive, soaring out into the vastness of the void, trails of dust following in their wake, each with a partner, a companion, traveling in a different direction.
Holy shit I think I was right.
And she was back in the dark room, staring at the man.
Alright, so that was short, but very neat. Man, I love the Dandelion scenes.
Of Hope? Sorry, too much Wheel of Time…
The memory was already fading, but she instinctively knew that whatever had happened to Sarah had just happened to her.
Hell yes. Go, figure out your power!
His gun was spent, which was good, because Sarah had fallen to the ground in the same instant Carol had, and the wall of light was gone.
Carol advanced on him, her emotions so wild and varied and contradictory that she’d seemed to settle into a kind of neutrality, a middle ground where there was only that confused sense of betrayal.
And perhaps purpose?
A weapon appeared in her hands, forged of light and energy and electricity. Crude, unrefined, it amounted to little more than a baseball bat.
It’s a decent start.
…huh. We’ve seen precisely two people’s Dandelion experiences during their own trigger events (three if you count Battery’s) and they were both young girls who were given the power to summon weapons to fight back against armed captors.
When she struck him in the leg, the weapon sheared through without resistance. That’s good, her thoughts were strangely disconnected from everything else, because I can’t hit very hard right now.
Woah. Did she just cut off his leg with a magic baseball bat?
Also I didn’t want to reference the Wheel of Time a second time in the previous post, but I can’t just ignore it anymore: Carol’s state of mind here is very reminiscent of the Void, a state of mind that puts emotions to the side, making them barely noticeable. In the Wheel of Time, it’s a crucial step to access magic, and also really good for archery and swordfighting.
He screamed as he fell to the ground, his leg severed.
She hit him again, then again, much like Sarah had with the other man. Except this wasn’t simply beating him to a pulp. It was more final than that.
Yeah, that “bat” seems to be a lot like Armsmaster’s nanobot blade, just going straight through whatever she hits but still doing a ton of damage. I suppose that’s because it’s made of “light and energy and electricity”, rather than something more… material.
In other words it acts a lot more like a really sharp sword. A lightsaber, even.
Though I suppose the downside would be an inability to parry incoming melee attacks. Not that melee attacks are a good idea. She may not be able to stop your weapon’s overall movement, but it could still get cut in half where she tries. As could your wrist.
When she was done, the weapon disappeared. Sarah hugged her, and she hugged her sister back.
Aww. They’ve just been through hell together and came out the other side with light in their hands.
But yeah, you should probably try to get out of whatever hellhole this is ASAP.
When she cried, it wasn’t the crying of a thirteen year old girl. It was more basic, more raw: the uncontrolled, unrestrained wail one might expect of a baby.
Poor thing. 😦
Meanwhile, in the present, what’s going on there?
There was a knock on the door. She looked up.
It was Lady Photon. Sarah.
Hiya, Photon Mom. Hopefully you’re feeling better in this time. 🙂
“What are you doing here? I’ve been looking all over.”
Where’s “here”? Still the office?
“I needed a few minutes to myself to think. Get grounded.”
Sounds like it. Maybe.
Lady Photon gave her a sympathetic look. She hated that look.
“Why did you want me?”
“We found Tattletale. In a fashion. We made contact with her and struck a deal.”
Is Tattletale planning to help them find Amy and Victoria?
Carol didn’t like the sound of that, but she wouldn’t say that out loud. It would bother her sister, start something. “What was she asking and what was she offering?”
“She wanted a two-week ceasefire. The Undersiders won’t give any heroes or civilians any trouble, and we ignore them in exchange.”
Oh, that’s interesting. Sounds like a good idea for the Undersiders, so they can conduct their sneaky business against Coil without heroic interference.
“That gives them time to consolidate, get a firmer hold on the city.”
“Maybe. I talked to Miss Militia about it, and she doesn’t think they’ll accomplish anything meaningful in that span of time. The Undersiders have their hands full with white supremacists and some leftover Merchants, the Protectorate and Wards aren’t part of the ceasefire and they’ll be putting pressure on the Undersiders as well.”
So it’s specifically with New Wave, then. Makes sense, I suppose, given that Carol has been looking for them.
“I’m not so optimistic,” Carol commented. She sighed again. “I would have liked to be part of that negotiation.”
“We didn’t know where you were. But let’s not fight again. The important thing is that Tattletale pointed us in the right direction. We think we know where your daughters are.”
Fantastic. Thanks, Lisa! 🙂
Carol couldn’t put a name to the feeling that had just sucker-punched her.
If you’re conflicted because you only want Victoria back, so help me cod…
“Give me thirty seconds to change,” she said, standing from her chair.
Time to move out! And… back to the past again? Or are we just skipping ahead to her going out to find her daughters?
Probably the former.
“Stand down,” Brandish ordered.
“Now why would I want to do that?”
So, who do we have here? Sounds like a prick.
It sounds like something Coil or Jack would say, but there are plenty others who might. Maybe Kaiser.
Oh! Ohhh. That makes sense, given who we just talked about.
Niiice. I’m down for this.
“I’ve won every time your team has challenged me, this situation isn’t so different.”
Are you sure? Because I have a major suspicion that this is the all-female challenge that got you arrested.
“You have nowhere to run. We’ve got you where you live,” Manpower spoke.
So we’ve got “in his house” checked off, but not “all female”, unless Manpower has been hiding something from us. Did someone lie here? Except wasn’t it Dragon’s narration that told us about Marquis’ arrest?
“I have plenty of places to run,” Marquis replied, shrugging. “It’s just a house, I won’t lose any sleep over leaving it behind. It’s an expensive house, I’ll admit, but that little detail loses much of its meaning when you’re as ridiculously wealthy as I am.”
I do like Marquis, even if he is a bit of a prick.
The Brockton Bay Brigade closed in on the man who stood by his leather armchair, wearing a black silk bathrobe. He held his ground.
Oh hey, I forgot about the old name.
“If you’ll allow me to finish my wine-” he started, bending down to reach for the wine glass that sat beside the armchair.
I have a strange relationship with arrogance in fiction. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it. This is the former case.
That said, there may very well be a gun hidden somewhere near that wine glass.
Manpower and Brandish charged. They didn’t get two steps before Marquis turned himself into a sea urchin, bone spears no thicker than a needle extending out of every pore, some extending twelve or fifteen feet.
Pfft. Well, that’s certainly a tactic.
Brandish planted her heel on the ground to arrest her forward movement and activated her power. In an instant, her body was condensed into a point, surrounded by a layered, spherical force field. It meant she didn’t fall on her rear end, and she could pick a more appropriate posture as she snapped back into her human shape.
That’s a nice little trick with her morph ball power.
Manpower wasn’t so adroit. He managed to stop himself, slamming one foot through the mahogany floor to give himself something to brace against, but it was too late to keep him from running into the spears of bone.
Shards snapped against his skin and went flying.
Better than them going in, at least.
Lady Photon opened her mouth to shout a warning, but it was too late. Flashbang fell to one knee as a shard bounced off the ground near him, reshaping into a form that could slash across the top of his foot.
Ah, fuck, he doesn’t need to be connected to the pieces to control them, they just need to be his.
Brandish caught only a glimpse of the wound, primarily blood. She didn’t see anything resembling bone, but Marquis apparently did.
Wait, can he control other people’s bones if he has line of sight?
There was a sound like firecrackers going off, and Flashbang screamed.
Yikes. How many bones just broke in there?
The needles retracted. Marquis rolled his shoulders, as if loosening his muscles. “Broke your foot? How clumsy.”
Related to the way I feel about arrogance in fiction, I also have a love/hate relationship with characters who talk like this.
He’s toeing the line.
Lightstar was the next to go down, as one splinter that had embedded in a bookshelf branched out to pierce his shoulder. Fleur caught him before he could land on top of more of the bone needles.
Hmm. Do I joke about Fleur-de-Lis from MLP or Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter…
Brandish shifted her footing, and the slivers of bone that scattered the ground around her shifted, some reshaping into starbursts of ultrafine needle points, waiting for her to step on them. She knew from experience that they would penetrate the soles of her boots.
It really seems like Marquis was the kind of villain you should probably try to fight from a range.
Lady Photon fired a spray of laser blasts in Marquis’ general direction, tearing into bookshelves, antique furniture and the rack of wine bottles.
Yeah, like, this is exactly what I’m talking about. His power is well suited for near combat and setting traps close by. These lasers and the like are the attacks you should probably be focusing on.
Marquis created a shield of bone to protect himself, expanding its dimensions until it was taller and wider than he was.
Even if he can do this.
To be fair, I suppose that would leave it all up to one or a few members of the team, with the rest being largely unable to act.
He’s going to burrow, Brandish thought. He’d done it often enough in the past, disappearing underground the second he’d dropped out of sight, then attacking through the ground, floor or rooftop.
So what you’re telling me is that Marowak knows Dig.
“Careful!” she shouted.
Lady Photon spent the rest of the energy she’d gathered in her hands, spraying another spray of lasers at Marquis’ shield.
That makes it sound like she needs charging, like Purity or Battery.
Then, as they’d practiced, she prepared to use her forcefield to shield Flashbang, Fleur and Lightstar. Brandish and Manpower could defend themselves.
I suppose Brandish could use the morph ball, and Manpower is, well, Manpower.
A barrier of bone plates erupted around one corner of the room, rising just in time to keep some of Lady Photon’s salvo from striking a closet door. Marquis emerged from the floor a short distance away, driving a spike of bone up through the ground and then deconstructing it to reveal himself.
That probably looks pretty cool.
“What are you protecting?” Lady Photon asked.
*waves hand in air* Ooh, ooh, I know!
“I’d tell you, but you wouldn’t believe me.” He glanced around, “I don’t suppose we could change venues? I’ll be good if you are.”
“Let’s not wake up my daughter.”
“Seems like we should take every advantage we can,” Manpower said.
“If you’re talking purely about increasing your odds of victory, yes. But shouldyou? No, you really shouldn’t.”
Trying to play the moral card here?
This isn’t his usual behavior, Brandish thought. His power let him manipulate bone. If it was his own, he could make it grow or shrink, reshape it and multiply it. It made him, in many respects, a competent shapeshifter.
So if it’s not his, the power’s more limited?
His abilities with the bones of others were limited to a simple reshaping, and there was a nuance in that the longer his own bone was separated from his body, the less able he was to manipulate it.
That makes sense. After a certain time, it might be hard to justify it still being his bone to his power.
Parabiologically speaking, it may have to do with bacteria on/in his bones or something like that, which die after a while exposed to the air.
Every second he was wasting talking was a second that the bone splinters he’d spread over the area would be less useful to him. He was putting himself at a disadvantage.
Clearly there’s something at stake that he cares about, hmm?
Well, only in a sense. They still hadn’t touched him, and two of their members were out of commission. Three, if she counted Fleur being occupied with a wounded Lightstar in her arms.
I think I’ve decided. Fleur Delacour is the better fit so far.
But the fact remained that Marquis wasn’t pushing his advantage. The way his power worked and his very personality meant he was exceptional when it came to turning one advantage into another. Or turning one advantage into three. It was in his very nature to trounce his enemies, to grind them into the ground without an iota of mercy or fair play.
Damn. So much for honor.
Was he distracted?
If he was, it was barely slowing him down. She felt something clutch her from behind, covering her eyes.
s k e l e t o n h a n d s
When she tried to tear it free, she found it hard, unyielding.
Is it a full bone covering?
She dropped into her ball form and then back into her human form, taking only a second to break free of the binding. She caught the offending article in one hand before it could hit the ground.
It was a blindfold of solid bone, but it had been a skull of some sort beforehand. Probably something that had sat on a bookshelf behind her. Stupid to overlook it.
Neat trick on both sides!
In the seconds it had taken her to deal with the blindfold, Marquis had trapped Lady Photon, binding her in a column of dense bone that had likely sprung around her from the floor or ceiling.
Once he gets a good amount of bone going, this power is really strong.
From the glow that was emanating through the barrier, she was apparently trying to use lasers to cut her way out. She was strong enough to do it in one shot, but she couldn’t do that without risking shooting a teammate if the shot continued through.
That left Marquis to duel with Manpower, striking the hero over and over with a massive scythe of bone that extended out from his wrist.
Bones and scythes? Classic combination.
Not usually like this, though.
Manpower was strong, and he was durable thanks to his electromagnetic shield – sparks flew as the scythe hit home over and over. Even so, the hero didn’t try to fight back.
Why? To avoid punching Marquis through a wall? Or maybe to avoid shattering more of the bones?
It took her only a moment to realize why. Each swing of the scythe was calculated so that if the movement followed through, it would strike either the crippled Flashbang or Lightstar.
I can feel myself getting more and more distracted and my commentary getting less interesting, which means I should probably end the session so that I can do the rest of the chapter justice. See you either tomorrow or Wednesday!
[End of session]
Let’s finally get back to the bone zone!
And Flashbang can’t shoot because Marquis will just armor himself before the sphere detonates. Lightstar is injured, Fleur needs her hands free to strike, and Lady Photon’s incapacitated.
It’s not looking great for you guys.
This certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of easy victory what we knew of Marquis’ arrest made it sound like, along with the whole “all-female” thing.
So is this not when he was arrested? Except all signs point to this being when they find Amy. So was finding out about Amy and arresting Marquis two separate events, meant to build a moral dilemma about whether they should’ve done what they did to get Amy away from him? Or did someone get misinformed about how he was arrested?
“Brandish!” Manpower shouted. “Same plan, just the two of us!”
Right. Their battle plan wasn’t useless, now. Just harder to pull off.
Well, at least they’ve got something.
This would take some courage.
She charged forward, manifesting energy in the shape of a lance, driving it toward Marquis.
Is this a distraction for Manpower to attack when Marquis changes his target to ward off the lance?
He cast a glance her way and stuck one foot out in her direction. His toes mutated into a jagged, uneven ripple of bone that stretched out beneath her.
Stop stepping on his toes like that.
Unable to maintain her footing, she had to cancel out the lance, using her hands to brace her fall.
Spikes of bone poked out of the ground in a circle around her, rising to form a cage.
She created twin knives out of energy, slashing out to cut through the bars.
The hardest part would be what came next. Brandish threw herself in the way of the scythe’s swing.
Hm. Freeing Manpower from the pin by sticking herself into it? Except I’m pretty sure Brandish is more vulnerable than Manpower when she’s not in the morph ball form, so that really does sound a lot harder.
Marquis’ weapon virtually exploded into its component pieces, blade, join and shaft flying past her.
Oh! It’s not a pin switch, it’s basically parrying the weapon with her body.
But the scythe was made of bone, right? We’ve already discovered how much of an issue shattered bone can be in this fight.
“Careful now,” Marquis chided her. “Don’t want to get decapitated now, do we?”
Sometimes, when the situation has gone completely fucking pear-shaped, there’s no other way out of it.
No longer on the defensive, Manpower charged the villain.
It wasn’t a pin switch, but it had the same end result – well, actually, a better one considering Brandish isn’t pinned in Manpower’s place.
Marquis surrounded himself in plates of bone that resembled the petals of a flower blooming in reverse, and sank into the ground.
Here he goes again. And he’s got style when he does it, too!
Any other day, Brandish would have followed him into the room below. A wine cellar, it seemed.
So what’s different this time?
Instead, she turned and charged for the closet, creating a sword out of the crackling energy her power provided, slashing through the plates of bone that had surrounded it, then drawing the blade back to thrust through the wooden door-
Oh, she’s checking out what he was defending.
Or rather, whom.
Marquis emerged between her and the closet door. She plunged the sword into his shoulder without hesitation.
Oh, hi there. Yeah, he really doesn’t want her going in there. And certainly not thrusting her blade in there.
She could smell his flesh burn, the wound cauterized by the same energy that formed the blade.
“Damnation,” Marquis muttered the word, sagging.
Pfft. That’s certainly a way to swear.
So the truth here is that Marquis was defeated not because he wouldn’t hurt women, but because he was protecting Amy at the cost of having to break from his usual tactics.
She let him fall, and then pressed the sword to his throat. If he gave her an excuse, she would finish him.
Take a deep breath.
She stared down at him. That long hair, it was such a minor thing, but there was something else about him that stirred that distant, dark memory of the lightless room and the failed attempt at ransom.
Ah, fuck. Whether he actually was involved back then or he just happens to remind her of it, this isn’t good. For him.
Her skin crawled, and she felt anger boiling in her gut.
It took some time for the others to recover, getting their bearings and ensuring their wounds weren’t too serious.
“What were you so intent on protecting?” Manpower asked. “This where you stash your illegitimate gains?”
…maybe. Was he married to Amy’s mother?
Marquis chuckled. “You could say that. The most precious treasure in the world.”
No, seriously, this response is even more perfect if Amy was an “illegitimate child”.
“Somehow I missed the news report where you stole that,” Lady Photon replied.
I like the dramatic irony in this scene. We the readers know what Marquis was protecting, and it makes him seem a lot more human here than he does to the Brigade.
It also allows for lines like this one.
“Stole? No. It would be better to say a devoted fan and follower gave her to me.”
“Her?” Brandish asked. But Lady Photon was already reaching for the door, pulling it open.
A girl. A child, not much younger than Vicky. The girl was brown hair, freckle-faced, and clutched a silk pillow to her chest. She wore a silk nightgown with lace at the collar and sleeves.
Aww, little babby Amy.
It looked expensive for something a child would wear.
Nothing less for Marquis’ precious little.
“Daddy,” the girl’s eyes were wide with alarm. She clutched the pillow tighter.
“Brigade, meet Amelia. Amelia, these are the people who are going to take care of you now.”
Aw, he knows he’s defeated, he knows what’s going to happen now, and he pretty much entrusts Amy to them (whether they want her or not), all while keeping calm and reassuring Amy…
I like Marquis. I really do.
Brandish was among the many faces to turned to stare at him.
“to turn to” or “that turned to”. Pick one. :p
He chuckled lightly, “I expect I won’t last long without medical care, so I’ll hardly be turning the tables on you and making a break for it. You’ve won, I suppose.”
The irony of this statement being said right in front of someone on his side who’ll grow up to become a healer is rich.
…maybe there’s a causation, even. Hell, we don’t know how Amy triggered. We do know that Marquis didn’t know what her power was, though, or whether she had one, until Lung told him.
“What do you mean by taking care of her?” Lady Photon asked.
“I have enemies. Would you like to see her fall into their hands? It wouldn’t be pretty.”
Like Allfather, for instance.
“They don’t have to know,” Manpower spoke.
“Manpower… do try to keep up. The dumb brute stereotype persists only because people like you insist on keeping it alive. They’ll always know, they’ll always find out. You put that girl in foster care and interested parties are going to find out.”
Rude, but the rest is true enough. Especially with people like Tattletale running around.
“So you want us to take her?” Brandish asked. She couldn’t keep the incredulity off her face.
“No,” the girl said, plaintive. “I want you!”
“Marowak, I choose you!”
“Yes,” Marquis said.
“The motherfucker has a kid?” Lightstar muttered the question, as if to himself. “And she’s, what, five?”
Timeframes! That would put this event at about 11-12 years ago.
“Six,” Marquis answered.
Six. Vicky’s age, then. She looks younger.
Did they adjust her age down to make things harder to track? That would explain why Marquis says she’s seventeen and Amy says she’s sixteen. Though “it’s shortly before her birthday and Marquis didn’t know that” would explain it almost as well.
“She’ll go to her mother,” Lady Photon decided.
“Her mother’s gone, I’m afraid. The big C. Amelia and I were introduced shortly after that.
About a year ago, now that I think on it. I must admit, I’ve enjoyed our time together more than I’ve enjoyed all my crimes combined. Quite surprising.”
So that would be why the Brigade didn’t notice this whole thing long ago. For example by realizing Marquis was taking time off from evil to take care of a baby.
His daughter, Brandish thought. The resemblance was uncanny. The nose was different, the brow, but she was her father’s daughter.
The idea disturbed her.
Amy felt like Carol didn’t really like her that much, or something along those lines. This is why. Amy looks like her father, and her father’s looks reminded Carol of her trigger event, so Amy’s looks do the same thing by extension.
Damn, that stings.
She couldn’t shake that dim memory of the nameless man she’d killed on the night she got her powers. She hated Marquis in a way she couldn’t articulate, and if the memories that recurred every time she crossed paths with him were any clue, it was somehow tied to that.
It’s not even really his fault that she hates his guts. But it’s not her fault either. It’s an unfortunate coincidence, one that would go on to haunt her as she was tasked with taking care of his child.
She wondered if it was because she liked him on a level. Was her psyche trying to protect her from repeating her earlier mistake?
“Little close for comfort, Brandish dear,” Marquis spoke.
Oh, has she been subconsciously getting closer to finishing him off as her thoughts went on?
She looked down. She’d unconsciously pressed the blade closer. When she lifted it, she could see the burn at the base of his throat.
…I love the calmness of him speaking up about that.
I wonder if he feels pain? Immunity to pain would be a reasonable secondary power for someone who regularly manipulates his bones to come out through his flesh and skin.
“Thank you kindly,” he spoke. There was a trace of irony there.
That cultured act, the civility that was real. Marquis was fair, he played by the rules. His rules, but he stuck to them without fail. It didn’t match her vision of what a criminal should be. It was jarring, creating a kind of dissonance.
I know, isn’t it great?
That dissonance was redoubled as she looked at the forlorn little girl. Layers upon layers, distilled in one expression. Criminal, civilized man, child.
I mean, text-only alliteration is nice and all, but this kinda makes it sound like she’s saying he’s a child.
Maybe “Criminal, civilized man, loving father.” would work better?
Then again, Carol has more pressing things to consider than how her thoughts might be read if written down.
“You can’t take him away,” the girl told them.
Even as a six-year-old saying exactly the sorts of things you’d expect from a six-year-old in this situation, she still sounds just like older Amy.
“He’s a criminal,” Brandish responded. “He’s done bad things, he needs to go to jail.”
“No. He’s just my daddy. Reads me bedtime stories, makes me dinner, and tells me jokes. I love him more than anything else in the world. You can’t take him away from me. You can’t!”
I kinda wish Amy could read this.
“We have to,” Brandish told the girl. “It’s the law.”
“No!” the girl shouted. “I hate you! I hate you! I’ll never forgive you!”
Does Carol still wonder sometimes whether Amy has forgiven her?
Brandish reached out, as if she could calm the girl by touching her.
The girl shrank back into the closet.
Because touching an upset Amy works out so well.
Into the dark. She felt as if she was separated from the child by a chasm.
Yeeah, you pretty much are. You’re in much less than her good graces right now, a stranger coming to take her and her father and separate them for a to her unknown duration.
“Let’s call the PRT,” Manpower said. “We should get Marquis into custody stat.”
“Wouldn’t mind some medical treatment, if you could rush that?” Marquis asked.
Let’s get that burning hole in your chest healed up a bit.
“…And medical treatment,” Manpower amended his statement.
Brandish walked away. The others would handle this. She would wait outside to guide the responders into the manor, past the traps Marquis had set in place.
A great excuse to go away from Amy for a little while.
She was still waiting when Lady Photon came outside, holding the little girl’s hand. Lady Photon seated the girl in the car and shut the door.
Lady Photon joined Brandish on the stone stairs. “We can’t let her go into foster care. It’s not just the danger his enemies pose. Once people found out she was Marquis’ child, they’d start fighting over who could get their hands on her.”
Oh jeez. Villainous war over Amy.
“Sarah-” Brandish started.
“Then they’ll kidnap her. They’ll do it to exploit her powers, and she’s bound to be pretty powerful if she inherits anything like her father’s abilities”
Little babby Taylor wouldn’t stand for it.
“Then you take care of her,” Brandish replied, even as she mentally prayed her sister would refuse. There was something about the idea of being around Marquis’ child, that uncanny resemblance, having those memories stirred even once in a while, even if it was just at family reunions… it made her feel uneasy.
Careful what you wish for, Carol.
“You know Neil and I don’t have that much money. Neil isn’t having luck finding work, and all our funding from the team is going into the New Wave plan, which won’t happen for a few months, and we have two hungry mouths to feed…”
So wait. What exactly is the history here? How did parts of the Brockton Bay Brigade end up as New Wave? What happened to the rest, if not death? Apparently something about that is being set into motion soon.
Brandish grasped her sister’s meaning. With a sick feeling in her gut, she spoke the idea aloud. “You want Mark and I to take her.”
Hey, those are your words.
“You should. Amelia’s Vicky’s age, I think they would be close.”
They are, yeah. Or were, anyway.
This is a nice tie back into the same thing being stated earlier in the chapter.
“It’s not a good idea.”
“Why are you so reluctant?”
Brandish shook her head. “I… you know I never planned to have kids?”
That’s a relatively weak excuse.
But seriously, you should probably tell the truth. If there’s anyone who might understand here, it’s Sarah.
“I remember you saying something like that. But then you had Vicky.”
“I only caved to having Vicky because Mark was there, and I had to think about it for a while.”
Ah, so she was a compromise, not an accident.
“Mark will be there for Amelia too.”
Brandish could have mentioned how Mark was tired all the time, how his promise had proved empty. She might have mentioned how he was seeing a psychiatrist now, the tentative possibility of clinical depression. She stayed silent.
That’s more stuff Amy told us about in her Interlude, how she felt like Mark hadn’t been able to do much as a father.
I like how these things are being brought full-circle.
“It’s not just that,” she said. “You know I have trouble trusting people. You know why.”
Getting closer to the full truth.
And yeah, this makes a lot of sense, given her experience earlier with
[El Goonish Shive panel]
Elliot: A BETRAYAL!
by the man she thought was taking care of them.
The change on Lady Photon’s face was so subtle she almost missed it.
“I’m sorry to bring it up,” Brandish said. “But it’s relevant. I decided I could have Vicky because I’d know her from day one. She’d grow inside me, I’d nurture her from childhood… she’d be safe.”
And Amy… wouldn’t be.
Fuck. This is messed up in really understandable and very unfortunate ways.
Wait, did I just describe the entirety of Worm in one sentence?
“I didn’t know you were dwelling on it to that degree.”
Brandish shrugged and shook her head, as if she could shake off this conversation, this situation. “That child deserves better than I can offer. I know I don’t have it in me to form any kind of bond with another child if there’s no blood relation.”
The really sad thing here is that judging by what Amy has to narrate about Carol a decade later, she’s right.
Especially if she’s Marquis’.
“She needs you. You’re her only option. I can’t, and Fleur and Lightstar aren’t old enough or in the right place in their lives for kids, and if she goes anywhere else, it’ll be disastrous.”
And you don’t have any other cape friends that could help?
Brandish decided on the most direct, clear line of argument she could muster, “I don’t want her. I can’t take her.”
Brandish glanced at the kid that they’d stowed in the team’s car. The child was standing on the car seat, hands pressed against the window. Her stare bored into Brandish as though little girl had laser vision.
And who’s to say she doesn’t?
The window was open a crack, Brandish noted. The girl could probably hear everything they’d been saying. Brandish looked away.
Lady Photon did as she’d so often done, ignoring reason in favor of the emotional appeal. “You grew to love and trust Mark. You could grow to love and trust that little girl, too.”
Perhaps she could do that.
Perhaps she could.
Who, Photon Mom?
Brandish stared at the teenaged girl. Amy couldn’t even look her in the eye. Tears were streaming down the girl’s face.
How are you?
“Where’s Victoria?” Brandish made the question a demand.
“I’m so sorry,” Amy responded, her voice hoarse. She’d been crying long before anyone had showed up.
Oh fuck. She already freed Victoria of the calm spell and had a confrontation with her, didn’t she?
Brandish felt choked up as well, but she suppressed the emotion. “Is my daughter dead?”
The way she says “my daughter” in a way that almost says “my only daughter”… Owww.
“I- I don’t- No-” Amy stuttered.
She could have slapped the girl.
Amy, I get it, but you really need to say something to salvage this if you can.
“What happened to my daughter!?”
Amy flinched as though she’d been struck.
Again, the same implication that there’s only one. That Amy is not also “my daughter”.
That probably hurts more than the slap Carol didn’t give her.
“Carol-” Lady Photon spoke, her voice gentle. “Take it easy.”
They stood in the mist of a ruined neighborhood. Amy had stepped outside within a minute of their arrival, blocking the door with her body. There was no resistance in the girl, though.
Ahh, I guess she doesn’t want them to go in and see Victoria’s, uh, cocoon?
It was more like the obstruction was a way of running, of forestalling the inevitable.
It’s this kind of thing that makes me compare Amy to Lapis Lazuli. The sense that the bad things are inevitably coming and all they can do is run away. From their enemies, from their friends, from themselves.
The girl hugged her arms against her body, her hands trembling even as they clutched her upper arms. Her teeth chattered, as if she were cold, but it was a warm evening.
Was the girl in shock? Carol couldn’t muster any sympathy. Amy was stopping her from getting to Victoria.
But if Victoria hasn’t left after chewing out Amy, why is Amy like this? Or rather, why was she like this already when the rest of the family arrived?
What happened between her and Victoria just before this?
Victoria, who she’d almost believed was dead.
“Amy,” Lady Photon spoke, “What’s going on? You won’t let us inside, but you won’t explain. Just talk.”
If it wasn’t clear by now, I like Photon Mom (or Photon Aunt in this case) Sarah a lot more than I like Carol, even if Carol’s struggles are painfully understandable.
Amy shivered. “I… she wouldn’t let me help her, she was so angry, so I calmed her down with my power. She’d been hurt badly, so I wrapped her up. A cocoon, so she could heal.”
“That’s good. So Victoria’s okay?” Lady Photon coaxed responses from Amy.
Of course she’s not okay, Brandish thought. What about this situation makes you think she could be okay?
There were options that would have Victoria being okay, but Amy’s behavior suggests otherwise.
“I… I had to wait a while before I could let her out, so I could be sure she had healed completely. I-“
Amy stopped as her voice cracked.
Alright, past tense, so we have gotten to that point.
“Keep going,” Lady Photon urged.
Amy glanced at Brandish, who stood with her arms folded, stone-faced.
If I change my expression now, if I say or do anything, I’ll lose it, I’ll break, Brandish thought. Her heart thudded in her chest.
If you lose it, try not to take it out on Amy, please?
“I didn’t want her to fight. And I didn’t want her to follow, or to hate me because I used my power on her again.”
“again”. The cat’s coming out of the basket and Carol isn’t going to be happy.
So… did you do something meant to temporarily restrain Victoria?
“So I thought I’d put her in a trance, and make it so she’d forget everything that happened.
Everything that I did, and the things that the Slaughterhouse Nine said, and everything that I said to try to make them go away. Empty promises and-“
Her voice hitched.
“What happened?” Brandish asked, for the Nth time.
Unless she asked it off-screen, I’m pretty sure this is actually the first time she asked this exact question. She did ask similar ones, though.
“She was lying there, and I wanted to say goodbye. I- I-“
…did you try to kiss her?
Something in Amy’s voice, her tone, her posture, it provided the final piece, clicking into place, making so many things suddenly come together.
Brandish marched forward, fully intending to walk right past Amy. Amelia. His daughter. She could never be my daughter because she’d never stopped being his.
ow ow ow ow this hurts.
A cornered rat will bite. Amy realized what Brandish intended and reached out, a reflex.
A weapon sprung into Brandish’s hand. Not so dissimilar from the first weapon she’d made, an unrefined bludgeon of raw lightstuff.
Well, this is going all kinds of wrong.
She moved as if to parry the reaching hand and Amy scrambled back out of the way, eyes wide.
You do realize you’d fry her hand that way?
Where to go? Brandish glanced to the rooms to the left, then down the hall in front of her. She looked back and saw Amy with her back to the wall. She moved toward the staircase, glanced back at Amy, and saw a reaction. Fear. Trepidation.
Well, that’s an answer, it seems.
Before Amy could protest, Brandish was heading up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“Carol!” Amy shouted, scrambling up the stairs. There was the sound of her falling on the stairs in her haste to follow, “Stop! Carol! Mom!“
And Amy finally calls Carol Mom right at this moment my heart
And Carol’s reaction isn’t gonna be any less painful, is it?
Only one door was still open. Brandish entered the room and stopped.
She doesn’t. She doesn’t react.
I’m not sure if that’s less painful or more.
She didn’t move as Amy’s spoke from behind her. “Please, let me explain.”
I don’t have high hopes for Carol accepting the explanation, but hopefully Amy gives it anyway while Carol’s stunned.
Brandish couldn’t bring herself to move or speak. Amy seemed to take that silence as assent.
“I wanted to see her smile again. To have someone hug me before I left forever. So you wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. I- I told myself I’d leave after. Victoria wouldn’t remember. It would be a way for me to get closure. Then I’d go and spend the rest of my life healing people. Sacrifice my life. I don’t know. As payment.”
Is Victoria permanently, unnaturally smiling now?
Lady Photon had made her way upstairs. She entered the room and stopped just in front of Brandish. Her hands went to her mouth. Her words were a whispered, “Oh God.”
Except everything suggests something much worse. Much more… Bonesaw-y.
Amy kept talking, her voice strangely monotone after her earlier emotion, as if she were a recording. Maybe she was, after a fashion, all of the excuses and arguments she’d planned spilling from her mouth. “I wanted her to be happy. I could adjust. Tweak, expand, change things to serve more than one purpose. I had the extra material from the cocoon.
The cocoon that was made of stray animals. How is that different from using bugs as extra materials?
When I was done, I started undoing everything, all the mental and physical changes. I got so tired, and so scared, so lonely, so I thought we’d take another break, before I was completely finished. I changed more things. More stuff I had to fix. And days passed. I-“
Oh jeez. How much did she change, ultimately?
Is Victoria even the same person anymore, with the mind changes?
Brandish clenched her fists.
“I lost track. I forgot how to change her back.”
A caricature. A twisted reflection of how Amy saw Victoria, the swan curve of the nape of the neck, the delicate hands, and countless other features, repeated over and over again throughout. It might even have been something objectively beautiful, had it not been warped by desperation and loneliness and panic. As overwhelming as the image and the situation had been in Amy’s mind, Victoria was now equally imposing, in a sense. No longer able to move under her own power, her flesh spilled over from the edge of the mattress and onto the floor.
She’s a coddamn sculpture of the beauty Amy saw in her.
Bonesaw would approve. This, this right here, is why she could relate to Amy.
And you know what? I’m sure Victoria is happy like this. Because Amy wanted her to be, and made it so.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Yeeeah, you kinda fucked this up.
The big difference between Amy and Bonesaw is that Amy didn’t mean for it to turn out like this. Bonesaw would do this on purpose.
It’s still massively wrong, and Amy’s not blameless here – she seems to have gotten carried away with unethical changes for her own benefit, turning Victoria into a thing that reflects Amy’s appreciation for Victoria’s bodily features while not considering what she as an individual would want. Bonesaw has no sense of bodily integrity, and she set Amy on a downward spiral that compromised hers.
Betrayal. Brandish had known this would happen the moment Sarah had talked about her taking the girl. Not this, but something like it. Brandish felt a weapon form in her hand.
“Please tell me what to do,” Amy pleaded.
Please do. This doesn’t need to get even worse.
It can stop here, without any auto-cauterized wounds.
Brandish turned, arm drawn back to strike, to retaliate. She stopped.
The girl was so weak, so powerless, a victim. A victim of herself, her own nature, but a victim nonetheless. A person sundered.
YES, THANK YOU
For noticing, I mean.
And with everything laid bare, there was not a single resemblance to Marquis. There was no faint reminder of Brandish’s time in the dark cell, nor of her captor. If anything, Amy looked how Sarah had, as they’d stumbled from the house where they’d been kept, lost, helpless and scared.
This is beautiful.
She looked like Carol had, all those years ago.
Yes. Do see yourself in her. Thank you.
The weapon dissipated, and Brandish’s arms dropped limp to her sides.
That was a scene, alright.
I’m not entirely sure if it was because of what I was reading or just from eye strain, but I even teared up a bit there towards the end. That was so good.
“I’m sorry,” the digitized voice spoke.
Or is it just that it’s coming from a phone or video or something?
Carol watched Amy through the window.
Amy seemed to have changed, transformed. Could Carol interpret that as a burden being lifted? Relief? Even if it was only because the very worst had come to pass, and there was nothing left for Amy to agonize over?
Wait, fuck, is it Dragon, talking to Carol because they’ve arrested Amy for what she did to Victoria?
Don’t you fucking dare send her to the Birdcage.
There was shame, of course, horrific guilt. That much was obvious. The girl couldn’t meet anyone’s gaze.
“Everyone’s sorry,” Carol spoke, her voice hollow.
Or maybe it’s Amy talking, digitized to prevent powers like Paige’s from affecting the visitors.
“You were saying something about that before,” Dragon said. “Are you-?”
Ah, no, I was right the first time.
She left the question unfinished, and the fragment of it on its own was a hard thing to hear.
Carol stared as Amy shuffled forward. The cuffs weren’t necessary, really. A formality. Amy wasn’t about to run.
“It’s your last chance,” Dragon prodded.
“…going to go and say goodbye?”
Carol nodded. She pushed the door open and stepped into the parking lot.
Amy turned to face her as she approached.
For a long minute, neither of them spoke.
I don’t think the pain is over yet, guys.
“Prisoner 612, please board for transport to the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center,” the announcement came from within the truck.
Yep. There she goes.
At least she’ll be reunited with her other family this way.
I can’t even bring myself to be happy about the Homestuck number she was assigned.
The armed escort would be waiting. No court- Amy had volunteered, asked
to go to the Birdcage.
NO AMY WHAT THE HELL
Carol couldn’t bring herself to speak.
So she stepped forward to close the distance between herself and Amy. Hesitant at first, she reached out.
Awkward, stilted hugs that you both know neither of you really, fully mean?
As if she could convey everything she wanted to say in a single gesture, she folded her daughter into the tightest of hugs.
She couldn’t forgive Amy, not ever, not in the slightest. But she was sorry.
Amy swallowed hard and stepped back, then stepped up into the truck.
Carol watched in silence as the doors automatically shut and locked, and remained rooted in place as the truck pulled out of the parking lot and disappeared down the road.
Numb, she returned to the office that looked out on the lot. Dragon’s face displayed on a computer screen to the left of the door. The computer chair was unoccupied.
“That’s it?” Carol asked.
For now, anyway. Maybe at some point we’ll find out how the meeting between Amy and Marquis went – she must’ve known that would happen when she volunteered – and, if we’re lucky, the Birdcage may be compromised at some point.
(Yeah, I may not be theorizing on that as actively as I once did, but it’s still very much a possibility. Especially considering that the Birdcage is an attractive target to Endbringers, and that the apocalyptic threat is likely to cause a lot of destruction worldwide.)
“She’ll be transported there and confined for the remainder of her life, barring exceptional circumstance.”
Exceptional circumstance! You know, like the apocalypse.
Carol nodded. “Two daughters gone in the blink of an eye.”
Oh yeah, now she’s your daughter again. Now that you recognize her as another victim.
“Your husband decided not to come?”
“He exchanged words with her in her cell this morning. He decided it was more important to accompany Victoria to Pennsylvania.”
What’s in Pennsylvania?
“I didn’t realize that was today. If you’d asked, I could have rescheduled Amy Dallon’s departure.”
“No. It’s fine. I prefer it this way.”
Why? So you don’t have to go with Victoria too?
“You didn’t want to see Victoria off to the parahuman asylum?”
I suppose what Amy did would cause a form of insanity.
“Victoria is gone. There’s nothing of her left but that mockery. Mark and I fought over it and this was what we decided.”
I see… Mark is more reluctant to accept that she’s not really Victoria anymore?
Those are my words, missy.
“If it’s no trouble, could I watch?”
Watch? Watch what?
“What are you wanting to watch, specifically?”
“Her arrival? I know the prison is segregated, but she’s still-“
Also, segregated. Right. Sure. Not like there’s a big hole between the sides.
“It isn’t. There’s a bridge between the male and female sections of the Baumann center.”
Carol nodded. “Then I have to see. Please.”
“It’s going to be the better part of a day before she arrives.”
Yeah, might have to wait a bit for that one.
Still, I want to see it too. Can we have a final time skip?
“I’ll wait. If I fall asleep, will you please wake me?”
Dragon didn’t venture a goodbye, or any further condolences. Her face disappeared from the screen, replaced by a spinning logo, showing the Guild’s emblem on one side and the Protectorate’s shield on the other.
Because she’s part of both. Though we still hardly know what the Guild even is.
I kinda wish their emblem would be described here. I’m guessing an anvil or a hammer or something like that.
Carol waited patiently for hours, her mind a blank. She couldn’t dwell on the past, or she’d lose her mind. There was nothing in the present, and the future… she couldn’t imagine one. She couldn’t envision being with Mark without Victoria. Couldn’t imagine carrying on life as Brandish.
It sounds like the kids were the ones holding everything together.
And then they fell apart.
Perhaps she would continue filing. Something simpler than criminal law, something lower stress. At least for a little while.
Yeah, sounds good to me.
For an hour or so, she occupied herself by reading the pamphlets and the back covers of books. Reading a novel was too much.
Somewhere along the line, she nodded off. She was glad for the sunlight that streamed in through the window, the glare of the florescent bulbs overhead. Recent events had stirred her old fears of the dark.
This whole bit, us actually seeing the wait instead of time skipping… I like it. It’s very somber, very… relatable, actually, like the wait at a hospital. And it gives us insight into how Carol feels in the downtime, when things aren’t constantly Happening™.
It didn’t feel like hours had passed when she was woken by Dragon’s voice. “Carol.”
She walked over to the screen.
Time for an awkward reunion.
It was a surveillance camera image. The camera zoomed in on a door. An elevator door, perhaps. It whisked open.
“Would you like sound?”
“It doesn’t really matter. Yes.”
I certainly would.
A second later, the sound cut in. An announcement across the prison PA system: “-one-two, Amy Dallon, AKA Amelia Lavere, AKA Panacea. Cell block E.“
You know what? While I can tell it’s a Francophone name, I really like a little linguistic coincidence at play here. Because in Norwegian, “lavere” means “lower”, “further down”. Considering Amy’s downward spiral, which as far as I can tell hit its lowest point in this chapter where Marquis’ (or her mother’s?) surname is revealed, that’s very appropriate.
[It was actually first revealed in 14.10, but it was very appropriate then too.]
Carol watched as the girl stepped out of the elevator. She pulled off a gas mask and let it drop to the floor. A small crowd was gathering around her, others from her cell block checking out the new resident.
I feel like some of the Brockton Bay inmates may treat Amy better than they would most new inmates. Amy has probably helped a lot of them in her day, including Lung.
How long would it take?
She would have asked Dragon, but her breath was caught in her throat.
I mean, if Marquis heard that announcement, I can’t imagine he wouldn’t come running, even if it broke with his usual calm and collected aesthetic.
He appeared two minutes later, as a woman who must have been the self-imposed leader of Cell block E was talking to Amy.
For a moment there I read “He appeared two minutes later as a woman” and was very confused.
Despite all the reaction images I have used from it today, this isn’t El Goonish Shive.
He looks older.
Somehow Carol had imagined Marquis had stayed as young and powerful as the day they’d last fought. The day she’d met Amy. But there were lines in his face. He looked more distinguished, even, but he looked older.
Sometimes we don’t realize things can change while we’re not looking at them. I suppose that’s the other edge of object permanence.
Not the bogeyman that had haunted her.
And that’s Lung behind him.
I hope they’re still good buddies.
Was Lung an enforcer for Marquis? It was hard to imagine. Or were they friends? That was simultaneously easier and harder to picture. But it was somehow jarring, as if it instilled a sort of realism in an otherwise surreal picture.
Because it makes them seem more human?
That’s this story in a nutshell, isn’t it. Revealing the humanity of both heroes and villains to instill a sense of realism in the surreal world of parahumans.
Lung and Marquis moved forward, and the women of the cell block moved to block Lung’s advance, letting Marquis through.
They know what’s up.
Marquis stopped a few feet away from his daughter. Their hair was the same, as were their eyes.
The day I cease seeing her as his daughter and see how she could be mine, he takes her back, she thought.
No, he didn’t. She gave herself back to him.
“I’ve been waiting,” he spoke.
That was enough. She had the answer she’d wanted, even if she hadn’t consciously asked the question.
“Are you my dad?”
…oh wait. It’s Carol who has her answer, not Amy.
Is the question “does he still love her?”
She left the office, stepping outside into the too-bright outdoors, leaving the reunion to play on the screen.
That was all she needed to know.
End of Interlude 15
That was… a lot.
Fuck, let’s split this up by the sections:
Darkness: A fantastic intro, raising many questions and getting the reader invested in where this chapter would be going and who it was about. Sets up the desperation of the trigger event as well as the way Carol would later feel about the long-haired guy’s betrayal really well.
Alan Barnes: By far the most mundane section, but it casually shows us who we’re following and how she’s dealing with what she knows of the Victoria and Amy situation by seeking more mundane work as a break from her endless search, while somewhat subtly making it clear that she favors Victoria. The section is not that interesting at first read, I think, but it’s not without purpose in the chapter.
It does suffer heavily from the inclusion of Alan Barnes and the fact that his surname was being kept from us until the end of the section, even though this was clearly the section’s second purpose: Telling us that Emma’s father, and therefore very likely Emma herself, is/are back in town. The fact that this happened just after we got rid of the other Alan, and only two chapters after the latest reminder of that name for the other Alan, made things extremely confusing for a while. Especially as this section happens early in the chapter, while we’re still trying to figure out exactly when things are set and how things are laid out.
Trigger events: Dandelions, fuck yeah. I love the fact that what appears to be their birth mirrors the spreading of seeds from a dandelion.
The action, and especially Carol’s reaction to the long-haired man attacking them, was also pretty decent, especially with the way the latter was later revealed to have affected her for the rest of her life.
Daughters, plural: A pretty short section, really more of a transition. Carol’s reaction to the others finding both daughters is worth a mention, though, and the way it reinforces what was subtly set up in the Alan section.
Marquis: Marquis is such a good character. Must run in the family.
The battle was very good. I love the fact that Marquis was defeated because he was acting differently than usual to protect Amy. It really helps to sell the love he has for her. And the way he acted after his defeat, entrusting his daughter to the people who were about to take him away from her forever? So good.
The battle was suspiciously different from what we’ve been told about it before, about how they sent in an all-female team to play off of Marquis’ honor. I suppose in retrospect that might’ve been a public fib made to protect the secret of how he was really beaten? Except I’m pretty sure we heard that story from Dragon, one of the few who seem to know the truth.
Anyway, I love how things come together in this section, between their trigger event and Marquis’ appearance and Carol’s behavior regarding Amy (as seen in two of the earlier sections and from Amy’s perspective).
Art: And the pain begins.
Carol confronting Amy and making it clear that only Victoria is her daughter.
Amy’s uncertainty and fear.
The horrifyingly beautiful sculpture that used to be Victoria, and the way that came about.
Carol picking that moment out of them all to finally realize that Amy wasn’t so different from herself.
So much pain in all the best ways.
“Please tell me what to do.”
One of my favorite characters just decided to take herself out of the story (as long as the Birdcage isn’t compromised, anyway). I’m fine. Sure.
You guys were just waiting for me to get to this, weren’t you. I know how liveblog readers work.
But seriously, this is a really painful but really fitting ending to her character arc. She’s been in so much turmoil since she found out about Marquis, and Bonesaw set her on a downward spiral of unethical use of her power. Now we got to see the climax of the latter and an apparent acceptance of the former – she must’ve known she’d meet Marquis in the Birdcage, and it might even be a part of why she volunteered to go.
And Carol’s found a certain acceptance. She’s not feeling good, but she acknowledges that Victoria is for all intents and purposes gone, and she seems to accept that Marquis and his daughter are reunited and may even be happy together in the Birdcage.
It’s bittersweetness at its finest.
Holy shit, this was so good and so painful but so fucking good.
See you next time. I have a chapter to go recover from.