Migration 17.7: An Eye for a Thigh

Source material: Worm, Migration 17.7

Blogged: February 17-22, 2020


Alright! Time to see the immediate effects of drinking half a vial! And, I suppose, get the rest of the group’s reactions to Krouse’s latest antics.

I just realized I forgot to answer part of an ask: How do I expect them to escape the quarantine?

I think Krouse’s power is really well suited for that (to the point where when the quarantine guards were first introduced, I half expected that to be circumvented right then by Krouse triggering, if you’ll recall), but the rest will likely have something to contribute as well. In any case I doubt it will happen before most of the Travelers have their powers.

Which is a checkbox we might tick in this chapter.

Let’s take a look!


Noelle screamed, her back arching.

“Well,” Krouse said, as he reached for the tubing that led from the bag of blood to her arm.  He pulled it out, then removed the tape that had held it in place. “That’s bound to get someone’s attention.”

Heh… He thinks he knows what she’s going through.

The heart monitor was erratically shifting from a series of fast beeps to flatlines.  His own heart skipped a few beats until he realized that it wasn’t flatlining for good.  A steady blare marked an alarm going off.

He stood and blocked the door of the room with the chair he’d been sitting on.  Noelle screamed again, a howl, almost ragged.

Keep her out of the moonlight.

Had he screamed that much?  Or taken that long?  He felt a twinge of anxiety.

Yeah, uh… You kinda fucked this one up, Krouse.

Someone shoved against the door of the room, but the chair held fast.

I do think there’s a good chance this is going to be Cody and co., but they did just give the staff reason to come here too.

Krouse wasn’t too worried.  He had his power, so if it came down to it, it was merely a question of-

A landscape stretched around him.

Ooh, is this another Dandelion vision because Noelle is getting a power in Krouse’s proximity? That’s another thing 11.6 showed us can happen.

Or is this Noelle using her power? It doesn’t seem consistent with her later troubles, but who knows how much correlation there is between what’s happening to her and her actual power, assuming she actually gets one.

It was a smaller planet than Earth, he sensed, to the point that the curvature of the planet was noticeable as he looked over towards the horizons.

And here I thought Krouse took the Jaunt sample, not the Little Prince sample.

(Maybe Prince is what he gave Noelle, though.)

He realized he was looking at multiple horizons simultaneously.  They weren’t his senses.

Multiple horizons, from multiple worlds… So now we’re getting a little bit of what it’s like to be a Dandelion? Neat.

Even with the world being smaller, he shouldn’t have been able to see the horizon.  Not unless these senses he was using were more refined, or the atmosphere was thinner.  Somehow things were degraded, blurred around the edges, but it didn’t impact his ability to see, only to draw together a complete mental picture.

Dammit, Bonesaw! Get your miasmas out of here!

A film reel with the damaged frames removed, only it wasn’t a sequential reel.  There was depth, in more ways than one.

Potential futures?

I believe I once suggested that since a number of powers seem to reflect what the Dandelions themselves can do, they likely have something similar to Dinah’s ability as well, which might be why they’re empowering people in the first place.

He could focus on the ground, note how craggy it was.  Where the larger expanses of landmass had pressed together, it had cracked and separated in dramatic ways.  The compressed soil of gravel and rocky material formed zig-zagging cliffs and deep chasms.

This world sounds cool.

He could focus on the grove of crystalline figures.  They were more like stalagmites than people, glassy, and the planet rotated thrice in the time it took them to move a discernable distance.  Still, they were communicating, vibrating with subsonic hums that played off of the others, complicated ideas.

…the same sort of crystalline figures as the ones that seemed to make Dandelions in Krouse’s last vision, I presume.

Jury’s still out on whether that means this is a stage in the Dandelion life cycle or the Crystals are a separate species that artificially created the Dandelion species somehow.

They notably sound quite a bit smaller.

He tried to discern the hum, but ran into the degradation, the distortion of the frames that had been spliced together, for lack of a better term.  He was jarred into the next available scene.  Two crystalline figures, moving steadily towards one another.

It kind of seems like the Dandelions are trying to communicate with humans to tell them what they are, to tell the humans of their story, but they’re running into that little issue where most humans immediately forget the visions.

He could tell how they were different from the others.  They were bigger, and they traversed ground that didn’t bear the clusters of ‘dead’ crystal that the others left in their wake like a slug’s moist slime.  They weren’t restricted to the equator where things were hottest.

Crystal rulers? Gods?

They closed the distance between them, made contact-

And we’re back to the creation of Dandelions, it seems.

I’ve seen this before.  From another angle.  It’s a replay.

The visions seem to temporarily allow the viewers to partially recall previous visions, through a sense of familiarity. We saw that with Taylor too, but less consciously acknowledged.

No time had passed, but he was dazed, caught off guard as the chair’s legs skidded on the tile.  It fell to the ground and the door swung wide open.  A man in uniform charged into the room.

Yeah, this effect does have a tendency to inflict motion sickness. We kind of know that probably wasn’t a one-off because Skidmark recognized it as the result of someone triggering nearby.

The butt of a rifle caught Krouse in the stomach, and he collapsed.

Fuck, they brought the guards in.

Noelle, your turn?

“What the hell are you doing!?” the uniform screamed at him.

It might sound harsh, but this is actually entirely fair. Krouse blocked the door and made Noelle scream like a banshee, so this guy has every reason to believe Krouse is up to no good.

Krouse coughed and groaned as his stomach rebelled against the violence.  His eyes and his power roving across his surroundings.  Something he could swap for the uniformed officer or for the gun.  With his eyes, he eyeballed mass, eyeballed size and likely volume, tried to match it to what he was feeling from the gun or the officer.

Probably better to swap the gun with something. Or swap Noelle and the officer, though the officer is probably a little big for that.

The officer kicked him.

Swap the lamp for the gun?  No, the lamp was too lightweight.

It’s okay, Krouse, you’ll get the hang of evaluating this stuff quickly.

He resolved to switch himself and the officer, grabbing air to compensate for the volume.  The difference was larger than it was with him and Cody, it required extra seconds.

Oh right, I forgot about that part of it, that the time it takes to do it is affected by the difference.

He grunted as the officer kicked him again.

He had a grip.  He winced as a kick caught him in the side of the head, closed his eyes-

Again, he was somewhere else.

Wait, what?

Is someone else drinking a vial nearby, or is Noelle only drinking half causing this stage to happen repeatedly, like a broken record? Hell, is she essentially having multiple trigger events at once?

He saw energy condensing, two figures intertwining, and the summary birth of countless entities, as if from the birth of a star, only they were alive.

Honestly it seems to be that the death of a star would be more akin to our previous descriptions of Dandelion birth, but I suppose with “energy condensing”…

I actually find the birth of a star rather poetic. Here’s a poem I once wrote about it:

Be Like the Stars

A cloud of matter, always collapsing,
Always collapsing under its own weight.
But from its core there shines a light.
A light that pushes back.
A light from within that keeps a star alive.

And the light is seen.
Decades later, decades away,
By a human who looks at the sky
And draws meaning, inspiration,
From the bright spots in the darkness.
Those distant clouds of matter
Whose own light prevents them from collapsing completely,
And does the same
For hope.

(I honestly don’t remember if I’ve shared this on the blog before, so please bear with me if I have.)

No, he thought.  Need to focus.  This is because of Noelle.  I’m getting caught up in whatever’s affecting her.  A sympathetic reaction.

Oh damn, he’s remarkably conscious of the outside world during this.

He forced himself to look away, tried to focus on his power, instead.

Nothing.  His body wasn’t there.

Well, guess you can’t do much but pay attention, then.

He struggled further, tried to banish the visions, to focus on the empty void rather than the countless creatures that were radiating out from the detonation.

The vision chose its own time to end.  That was the downside.  The upside was that he wasn’t quite so disoriented when he came crashing back down to reality.

Well, that’s something. Keeping himself grounded in reality under those circumstances is impressive.

His power still had a grip on the man in uniform.  Krouse forced a swap.

Time to not be the only disoriented person in the room.

Actually, maybe that’s part of why Krouse is able to resist the disorientation? He has a power that kind of requires you to keep track of where you are and have a good sense of spatial awareness, so maybe the power gives him a little boost on that front? Just like how Taylor is really good at multitasking?

It didn’t change the situation much.  He was still lying on the ground, the uniform still standing, but Krouse was now behind his opponent.

That’s interesting. The positions swap, but not their orientations.

The confusion the teleportation had generated bought him a second.  He got on his hands and knees and then threw himself at the man’s legs, driving his side and his shoulder into the back of the knees.

The officer fell, and Krouse hurried to his feet.

Well, if the power doesn’t do it, he might as well do it manually.

The gun was a problem, and he hadn’t seen anything he could swap for it.  Everything in the hospital was either too lightweight, too miniscule, or both.

How about the canister– wait, no, it’s a rifle, way too big for that.

A section of the wall?

Noelle screamed.

This is taking longer than mine did.

Yeah, uh. There’s a reason things have dosages, Krouse.

Krouse rolled over to grab for the gun.  He only succeeded in getting a grip on it, but he couldn’t wrest it from the uniformed man’s arms.

The alarm continued to blare, the heart monitor seizing up as it ranged from high intensity to ominous low beeps, and Krouse was losing his wrestling match over the gun.  He knew if he lost it, he’d probably get shot.

The stakes are pretty rough.

The soldier’s perspective on this whole situation must be so dire. He probably doesn’t know Krouse came in with Noelle in the first place, so from his perspective, he’s probably fighting a superpowered villain who’s trying to kill one of the patients.

The use of his power had been the only way to avoid being beaten into unconsciousness, but he suspected it also raised the stakes.  Given a chance, the officer would kill him in self defense.

Yeah, and probably in Noelle’s defense too.

The man was pulling with such force that his face contorted into a sneer of muscle strain.  Krouse wasn’t so strong, nor quite so tenacious.  He felt the gun slipping from his fingers, felt himself reaching the point where the pain in his hands was overcoming his desire to keep the man from getting the rifle.  He knew he’d get shot if it happened, or struck in the head with the butt-end of the weapon, but the pain…

Can you replace part of the rifle with something, thereby breaking it? I’m pretty sure we’ve seen later Trickster use chunks of a larger building.

He reached out, and he found something.  He wasn’t thinking in the right terms.  Was still thinking too much about shape and not about mass.  The heavy wool blanket that was draped over Noelle had roughly the same mass as the gun.

Ooh. Now you’re thinking with masses.

So that’ll leave the gun on top of Noelle and the two guys wrestling over a blanket. Fun!

But he had to be looking at both to swap them.  Krouse let the gun go, backed away as rapidly as he could as he got to his feet.  The uniform was standing, moving his hands to get a grip on the trigger and barrel-

Bad timing, Dandelions!

Though I certainly don’t mind.

-And the gun was gone, replaced by a blanket.

Oh, okay. There was a chance of the cut-off being for that instead.

Krouse tackled his unarmed opponent, knocking him to the ground, grabbing at his wrists.

So is Noelle clear enough of mind at the moment to potentially pick up the gun while neither of the guys are paying attention, and cold enough to use it?

Probably neither.

Krouse closed his eyes and slammed his forehead into the lower half of the uniformed man’s face.  He headbutted the guy once more.  Blood welled on his own forehead, where a tooth bit too deep into the skin.  His opponent got one hand free, punched Krouse in the ribs, three times in quick succession, each blow stronger than Krouse might have expected.

I don’t think we’ve had this intense of a close quarters mostly-unpowered fisticuffs moment since Taylor versus Rachel in Insinuation.

I’m going to lose this fight.

You’re at quite the disadvantage if you don’t use your power more.

You gotta play dirty.

Using his power to get a sense for where it was, Krouse reached over to the gun, got a grip on the rifle and swung the end of it into the uniformed man’s face.  He kept swinging until the officer stopped putting up a fight.

When I talked about the power possibly giving him a boost to spatial awareness, I meant more passively, in a way that might impact the visions more, but this sort of active use of the “feelers” to get a sense of space absolutely counts, as something that helps counteract the disorienting nature of his power by giving him a better sense of his surroundings.

He managed to climb to his feet, blinked slowly as he looked down at the uniformed man. Not a cop, not a soldier, something else.

Is Cauldron after them already?

The guy’s face was a mess of blood, and his gaping mouth had at least two broken or missing teeth.

There were nurses and doctors in the hallway, staring.  Krouse stepped towards the door, and they ran.

Understandable.

Noelle was still struggling, thrashing.

“Come on, Noelle,” he whispered.  “Best thing you can do for me is stay alive, here.  Don’t let this be where I accidentally kill you.  Can’t live with that.”

I don’t know if giving her the other half of the vial now would fix things somewhat, or make them exponentially worse. Probably the latter.

He paused.  There were other footsteps coming down the hallway.

More soldiersassins? Actual guards? Actually Cody and co. this time?

“And if it’s not asking too much, hurry it up some?”

When he’d disconnected from reality and seen whatever he saw in the visions, how much had he seen?  Was she halfway done, only a tenth of the way?

It’s kinda looking like this isn’t going to fully finish until what, months? years? from now.

Krouse moved the chair to block the door, then dragged the man he’d bludgeoned into place so the unconscious body would keep the chair in place and the door closed.

Ah yes, a doorstopper, that’s one of the better uses for an unconscious body.

I don’t know about the guy being from Cauldron. There’s a lot that doesn’t add up about that idea.

“Come on,” he said.  “Come on…”

For the third time, he found himself someplace else.

Alright, let’s see what the rule of three brings us.

(I’m going to assume for the time being that this is because of Noelle rather than because of Cody and co. taking their own vials.)

All of the memories and thoughts of the hospital room and Noelle thrashing receded as he found himself plummeting, felt the heat of entering the atmosphere, and didn’t care in the slightest.  Emotion didn’t factor in, from this perspective.

Is he being a Dandelion now?

Do they use the new planet to create more Crystals, like how the Crystals go on to make more Dandelions?

A waterless, lifeless earth loomed beneath him, stretched out until it consumed his senses.

If this is post-final-threat Earth-Bet, no one tell Leviathan. I think he’d be upset by the lack of water, and we don’t want to hurt his feelings.

The impact didn’t hurt any more than the atmospheric entry had.

-And he was back in the hospital room.

Nice landing.

He staggered, nearly fell, but managed to keep his balance.

“How much more, Noelle?’

She was panting, not screaming, sweat beading her brow.

This isn’t normal, Krouse.

“I… I’m… I think it’s over,” she said.  Her voice was stronger.

Oh hey, she speaks.

So what in the world was all of that like inside your head?

“Feel better?’

She touched her stomach, pushed herself to a sitting position with her arms.  Her eyes widened.  “Yes.”

See? Homeopathy really does work!*

(*Disclaimer: Homeopathy does not work.)

Krouse felt a smile stretch across his face, so broad it hurt.  “Fantastic.  Feel different?”

Power? *sniffs around like an eager dog* Power power power?

“No… not really.”

“Well, you only got half a dose.  If you get any powers, they’re liable to be pretty weak.  Could be that you burned up whatever juice is in that stuff, healing the damage.”

Krouse talking like he knows anything about what’s to be expected with half a dose…

But it does make sense that she might not get an actual power from it, or at least, not one that’s apparent at this stage.

Maybe that could be why Oliver didn’t end up drinking the other half. But then they might still save that for some time one of them got badly hurt and needed miracle healing.

“Maybe.”  She touched the hospital gown.

Krouse looked away, feeling somehow abashed.  “You’ll want to get dressed.  I saw your stuff in the cupboard, with the sheets.”

I’d suggest that maybe this could go into somewhat intimate territory (like Noelle saying he doesn’t have to turn away) given what Noelle was talking about last chapter, but… people are coming and there’s an unconscious man on the floor propping up a chair. I’m not sure it’s the right mood.

He found the half-full cup and tipped the contents into the vial, then slid the vial into the canister.  As Noelle climbed out of the bed, Krouse turned his back to her to give her privacy, screwing on the cap and closing the canister with the remaining formula.

Probably best not to leave that behind.

Someone banged on the door, hard.

I’m going to lock in my guess as Cody.

“There’s more of these guys.  Thought the process would be faster,” Krouse said.

“Can we get away?”

“Depends on how much backup they get.  The more the better.”

Do you have a window in this room?

“Don’t you mean-”

“Nope,” Krouse said.  “Best case scenario, they’ll have tons of backup.”

Uhh… so you can swap them and yourselves around?

“I… my bare skin’s fizzing.”

Look, the moonlight thing was a joke. Did she actually turn into something werewolf or vampire-esque?

Or is she just talking about goosebumps.

“Fizzing?”

“I can’t see it, but I feel like there’s bubbles, and they’re so tiny I can’t see them, but they’re flowing down from my skin.”

As the Travelers grew in notoriety on a national basis, people all over the country started arguing about the cape name of one of their members and whether it should be Soda, Pop, Coke, Soda Pop, Soft Drink, Carbo or even Tonic.

“Huh.  You can’t control it?”

“No.  Or… sort of?  If I concentrate, pull on my skin, it speeds up.”

I did suggest at one point that the issue with Future Noelle might involve a busted/underdeveloped corona, which seems like a reasonable way the half-dose could fuck things up, so if she has a power but can’t control it that’d support my theory.

Fizzing and pulling on her skin.  It wasn’t the most apt description, but Krouse wasn’t sure he’d be able to accurately describe the pressure or the feeling of heft he got when he pressed his power into something.

That’s the problem with new senses. Really difficult to put into words people without those senses can fully get.

That’s why things like The Tommy Edison Experience are so fascinating. That’s a YouTube channel where a man who’s been blind from birth shares what it’s like to have absolutely no personal experience with vision. We might be able to close our eyes and pretend to be blind, but we’ll still remember what the world looks like outside the eyelids, what it’s like to look at it, what the concept of “looking like” something even means.

Vision is just as alien to Tommy Edison as Krouse’s sense of “heft” or Taylor’s bug sense are to us, except he lives in a world where almost everyone else relies on that alien sense.

“Does it feel different when you touch stuff?”

“Yeah.  Feels like my skin’s fizzing against my clothes, as I’m putting them on, where the cloth touches me.”

Maybe Leviathan came after her because he wanted to make sparkling water.

“Touch other stuff.  If we can figure out your power, maybe we can use it.”

There was a pause.  Krouse waited while she experimented.

The door banged.  He tensed.  This time, at least, he’d be ready.

I don’t think it’s Cody anymore. Cody would have shouted.

“Not much.  Less than from my clothes.”

There was another bang on the door.  The chair shifted, and Krouse moved it back.

“Worry about it later.  We’re stuck with just my power until we figure yours out.”

At least Krouse’s power is a really good one.

Noelle entered his field of vision, wearing all of her winter stuff.

Krouse stepped over to the window.  The street was lit only by the minimal moonlight that filtered through the clouds.

I said keep her out of it

There were police cars and fire trucks massing inside the quarantine area, as well as black vans with pale purple stripes and the letters P.R.T. on the sides.  The people outside the black vans had uniforms like the man he’d just beat up, only they wore helmets.

Ohh, of course.

There were capes, too.  Krouse could see the one with the brown cloak and staff.  Myrddin.  A half dozen superheroes clustered around him.  His team?

So, uh, bad news, Krouse… they’ve probably been informed about you.

It was a surprise that so many heroes were still present in the city.  Did they have to undergo their own kind of quarantine processing as well?

Considering the kind of “processing” that happened to that one guy whose name I keep forgetting, it definitely seems like the PRT isn’t going to overlook that all that easily. When civilians are treated as really dangerous if they’ve been in the area, the heroes who actually fought her and have powers to do more damage must be even more rigorously treated.

Though there’s clearly some difference in exactly how they’re treated. Nothing about Armsmaster’s earlier appearances suggested he was under similar restrictions as the D.D.I.D. civilians.

Doing this all backwards, deciding on a strategy before I’ve fully tested my powers.  Don’t even know my own range.

I would recommend against swapping whoever comes through that door for one of the superheroes.

You probably could test your range without swapping something…?

Krouse pushed his power away from himself, reached for two of the men in the P.R.T. uniforms, each on opposite sides of the crowd.

If he actually does swap them, they’re gonna be so confused.

They swapped places.  He couldn’t really see the physical differences between them, but they were alarmed, confused.

“I can swap us out with someone in the crowd, if it comes down to it.  Happen to know anything about Myrddin?  Maybe Jess said something?”

I wonder if Krouse is pronouncing Myrddin correctly.

Considering Krouse got the name from hearing it said by the heroes, I suppose what I’m really asking is whether Armsmaster pronounces it correctly. And, I suppose, Myrddin himself.

Noelle shook her head.

“Fuck.  And we have even less chance of knowing something about his subordinates.  Far as I know, he does something with these dimensions he carts around.  When I ran into him, he sort of banished me into this phase state where I could move around and stuff, but I couldn’t touch anything either.”

Judging by his showing in Extermination, he also seems to have some power relating to mist, but maybe that’s just some kind of extension of the dimension thing.

Noelle nodded.

“He didn’t mean to, though.  He thought I’d pop back in like I’d just left.  His power, it doesn’t work well if something’s changed between dimensions too much.  Which means it won’t work a hundred percent right with us.”

“Would he listen if we talked to him?”

I already gave that some thought when I joked about swapping one of the heroes into the room. I think he might listen if you get him on his own, but if you replace whoever comes in that door with Myrddin, his subordinates will be coming down on you in no time.

Krouse looked outside.

“No.  I don’t think we could.  We’re on our own.  Just… we just need an opportunity.  Stay close to me.”

Myrddin was flying, now.  Two of his subordinates were advancing as well.  One had a beachball-sized ball of jet black extending a foot away from his splayed hands, crackling with arcs of electricity that were both absolutely black and somehow still glowing enough to be seen in the dark.

Heh, that’s gonna be an interesting one for the special effects team if an adaptation ever gets to the point of including this character.

The other figure was an Asian woman with a painted mask and a giant lantern in her hands.

As in a western metal lantern, or one of those fancily decorated eastern lanterns that can sometimes float?

“We have a fight incoming,” Krouse said, backing away from the window.

Those doctors and nurses probably alerted the heroes to Krouse’s antics, so yeah, they might be a little over their head.


I’m realizing I haven’t eaten in like eight hours, and I think that’s a good stopping point for the night.


[Session 2]

Alright, let’s get back to this!

Myrddin waved his staff, and the window shattered.  With another movement of his staff, he plunged down into the room, landing with an audible impact.

Hey there, pal.

Krouse had a better look at the guy:  A brown cloak-and-robe combination that might have been burlap, but with a heavier material beneath.  If the raised metal collar around his neck was any indication, Myrddin was wearing some kind of armor or protective gear beneath the robe.  It should have been heavy, but he wasn’t having any apparent difficulty.

Makes sense. It’s one of the best ways to look stylish while still being protected, if you’re not constantly casting illusory disguises over your armor like my D&D character Icarus.

His staff was a gnarled stick of dense wood, worn by weather.  The upper half of his face was hidden behind a metal visor that served more to cast his face in shadow than to be actual armor.  He sported a thick, well trimmed beard.  Brown, not white.

“THE STAFF IS A PIECE OF WOOD I FOUND IN THE DESERT! It’s my magic that makes all this possible! You’d all still be living your miserable lives thinking you’re better than everypony else if it weren’t for my magical abilities! I brought you friendship! I brought you equality! I created harmony!”

Clearly Myrddin has found his color scheme and sticks to it. What’s a beard in the whole “does the carpet match the drapes” analogy anyway? The sofa blankets?

Obviously the drapes in this case are the robes. His hair can be a thatch roof or something.

…Hm. Maybe there’s some tinkertech hidden in the stick. Seems like an idea someone who associates with Armsmaster might go for. Armsmaster’s tech itself wouldn’t work for Myrddin in the long run since what lets Armsy’s tiny tech work seems to be something of an aura emanating from him, but Myrddin might have put a few pieces of less impossibly-sized tech inside that staff.

Maybe that’s why Myrddin appears to have a few powers seemingly unrelated to the dimension thing.

This wasn’t a guy that Krouse could fight hand to hand, and between his armor and his stature, he was too heavy to be swapped with anything that wasn’t an appliance.

Yeah, uh, you should probably get talking.

“Stand down,” Myrddin ordered.

“I’ll pass,” Krouse replied.  He looked at the injured P.R.T. soldier, “We’ve got-”

Uh.

No.

No, Krouse, this is not the way to go.

“Begone,” Myrddin said, pointing his staff.

Yeah, that’s about what I expected. Did he do it to the PRT guy, so that they wouldn’t have a hostage?

The officer vanished in a cloud of mist.

“-A hostage,” Krouse finished.

No, you don’t.

I wonder what the limits on this power are. He doesn’t seem capable of (safely?) doing it to Leviathan, or he would’ve been able to grant the humans a pause like Clockblocker did.

Myrddin looked at Noelle, then at Krouse, “So there’s two of you.”

“One of us, two bodies,” Krouse said.

…are you trying to throw him off by tricking him into thinking you have a different power than you do?

It could also be read as a sappy “we are one” kind of sentiment, but neither Wildbow nor Krouse are the type for that, especially in a situation like this.

“What?”  Myrddin’s eyes narrowed.

No clue.  Just confusing matters.

Hehe. Confusion was always his strength in battle.

His eyes flickered to the scene behind Myrddin.  No luck just yet.

Looking for someone you can swap yourselves with?

The man with the black spheres floating around his hands leaped up to the shattered window.  Krouse could see the Asian woman holding the handle of her lantern as it raised into the air.

What exactly do they think these supervillains are up to, anyway, if they think Noelle is on Krouse’s side? I mean obviously they have the fighting back against the PRT, but besides that…

…Cauldron? Myrddin seemed to know what the lab was earlier. Maybe he’s been back and noticed the goods were gone?

“Banish one?” the man with the spheres asked.

“Already banished their hostage.”

I guess he can only banish one at a time?

(Among other limits. This on its own wouldn’t prevent him from banishing Leviathan. I wasn’t suggesting it’d be permanent anyway.)

“Want me to grab one to take into custody?”

“Be my guest, Anomaly.”

Anomaly… in what? Spacetime?

Anomaly raised one hand, and the sphere floated up until it was level with Krouse’s head.

Is the sphere physical enough to swap with anything?

Krouse felt a pull, stepped back and grabbed the footboard of the hospital bed.

The pull increased steadily, intense enough to pull at his hair with the strength of a gale.  Noelle said something Krouse couldn’t make out as she began to slide towards the thing.

I love that spaghettification is a real scientific term.

…hm. I think we just found the power source of another of Bakuda’s special bombs.

Myrddin, for his part, didn’t budge an inch.  The girl with the lantern held onto the handle with both hands to avoid the suction, setting her feet on the windowsill and perching with a crouch.

Myrddin is unaffected but the other ally isn’t… is he sort of out of touch with the dimension (does his cloak not billow in the wind? does he have eyes?), or is it just because he’s heavy?

Noelle slid, and Krouse caught her with his power.  He found the lantern girl, snagged her-

Not a bad idea.

What’s cutting him off?

And Noelle was there, on the windowsill, losing her balance.  The lantern girl slid into the sphere, virtually folded over it as it pulled her tight against its surface.

I guess success is worthy of the cut-offs when it’s so abrupt.

That sounds like the sphere itself is physical.

Noelle caught the side of the shattered window with one hand.  He could see her grimace in pain.

Shattered glass.  Sorry.

Oww.

He swapped Noelle for Anomaly, and both she and the lantern girl fell hard to the ground.  Anomaly tipped from the window to the interior of the room.

“Who are you?” Myrddin asked.

A confusing little bugger, that’s who. 😛

You might even say he’s a trickster.

Krouse glanced out the window.  No.  This might go badly before he had a chance to execute their escape.  If he had to teleport to the back of the crowd, they could wind up in a situation where there was no escape.

At least out there you’d have a lot more options for swappery.

“Nobody dangerous.”

Myrddin shifted his staff, and Krouse tensed.

Where the staff-tip moved, a thread of blinding light was drawn in the air, loose and loopy, like the light trail from a sparkler.

Hmm. Dude certainly commits to his aesthetic.

So what does this do? Does he have some form of truth spell? If he does I’ll have to reprocess everything I know about his powerset.

The light exploded outward with a concussive force, and both Krouse and Noelle were slammed against the walls.  The shape of the trail Myrddin had drawn meant the resulting blast passed over and to either side of his lantern-bearing teammate.  Her clothes were barely ruffled.

Yeah, no, that makes more sense. That’s something that could be replicated with relatively simple tinkertech.

He has personal dimensions he carries around with him, Krouse theorized.  And each one follows different rules.  One holds banished people, maybe that one holds energy or compressed air, and he just needs to open it a crack to let the stuff out.

I suppose that also works.

Myrddin and Labyrinth should hang out sometime.

“Can you open doors between worlds?” Krouse asked.

Myrddin went stiff.  “No.  Are you implying you’re one of the creatures from the world she opened a door to?”

…I don’t think he’d go stiff just from that. I think he’s also taken aback that Krouse got so close to calling out what his actual power does, which only the heroes are supposed to know. He commits to his aesthetic and likely uses that to hide what exactly he’s doing.

Also… kind of? Technically?

She.  The Simurgh.

“Nah,” Krouse replied, climbing to his feet.  “Just wondering.”

I love how casual he acts in situations like this.

“Stay down,” Myrddin warned.  The hero drew another glowing ribbon into the air, more intricate and convoluted than the former.  Krouse braced himself for the resulting impact.

Maybe not the same dimension? A different “spell”, as he might pretend?

Then he saw it.  A belated arrival to the party.  A police car coming down the street in the distance, maneuvering to pull in and join the ranks of officers and rescue personnel on site.

Time to scarper and steal another car!

Krouse turned his head, trying to catch Noelle and the crowd in the same field of vision.

He swapped her for someone at the back of the crowd.  A moment later, gathering enough air, he swapped himself.

Nice work. You’ve probably left Myrddin and his team thoroughly confused.

The cold air was like a slap in the face.  He reached for her hand, grabbed it.  This new vantage point let him see the inside of the police car.  He reached for the officer and partner, then swapped again.

Vroom vroom.

Krouse found himself sitting backwards in the driver’s seat.  He flipped himself over and, as nonchalantly as he could manage, pulled away, heading deeper into the quarantine area.

Pfft. Swapping positions but not orientations can have interesting consequences.

We’ll abandon the car as soon as we can, then go back to the house.  Face the music.

There will certainly be some choice words coming your way.

And since we’re speaking of music, here’s what I’m listening to at the moment:

(I started the session listening to their other work, Pillars of Equestria Part One, which is even better.)

He reached for Noelle’s gloved hand and squeezed it, but she didn’t smile, didn’t show any relief.  She looked troubled.

Worried about being at odds with the heroes? Or maybe about what Krouse just put her through?

He realized why.  Her left hand was undamaged where she’d slashed it on the shattered glass of the window.

Oh. Healing factor or invincibility?

(That could be a problem later.)

They traveled the last leg of the journey to the house on foot.  There were no words exchanged between them, even as minutes passed.

As they approached the house, Krouse was left to wonder which one his friends would be in.  He settled on the first house they’d broken into.

That’d be the one where he hid the canisters, right? Not the one they cut strawberries in?

Jess, Luke, Marissa and Oliver were there, arranged in the living room.  It was dark, barely lit.  Makes sense.  They’ll be looking for houses with lights on.

That’s worrying, though. It makes sense that you’d want to keep on the down-low like that, but the rest would kind of need to know you need to hide in order to make decisions based on that. Unless they’ve suddenly decided to hide from the authorities because of the requirements of quarantine processing, it suggests they might already know somehow about the trouble you’ve started.

Where’s Cody?

“Noelle,” Marissa said, leaping to her feet.  “You’re okay!”

She hurried across the room, reached out to give Noelle a hug, and was stopped.  Noelle had her hands on Marissa’s shoulders.

Hmm? Is it that she’s not comfortable with too close physical contact, or something to do with her new power?

“What’s wrong?” Marissa asked.

“Nothing,” Noelle said.

“You really did it, Krouse,” Luke said.  “I almost didn’t believe them.  That you’d be that stupid.”

At this point I’ve swung back to being like 85% sure Luke is Ballistic.

“Oh, I’m a hell of a lot stupider than that,” Krouse said.  “But I saved her.”

Hah, good line.

But, uh. Why don’t you ask Noelle about that last bit. I’m not sure she feels the same way.

“You gave it to her?  The can?”

“Half,” Krouse said.  He withdrew the canister from his front jacket pocket and switched it with a book on a nearby bookshelf, then threw the book aside.  “Just enough to heal her.  Save her life.”

And that one… ask Skidmark of all people.

“And now you two have superpowers,” Luke said.  “You’re doing exactly what we said we wouldn’t.”

Yeah… so, want a sip?

“The Simurgh set it in motion, not really my fault,” Krouse said.

Oh fuck off with that one.

You are fully responsible for your actions even if they were set up by an omniscient entity.

“That’s bullshit,” Luke replied.  Unlike Cody, he was quiet, and the words almost had more impact as a result.

That’s what makes him a better fit for Ballistic, personality-wise.

And there’s something to be said for making your points calmly. Cody’s so shouty it’s easy to ignore his occasional valid points as the ravings of an asshole, but Luke can make similar points in a way that makes him come across as a rational, level-headed man who simply disagrees with you.

Krouse wondered, Is it because he’s my friend?  

Maybe in part, but I suspect you should turn that arrow of causality around. Unlike Cody, Luke is your friend because he’s actually bearable even when he’s opposed to your actions.

“If I hadn’t done it, things would have gotten even worse.  If she wants us to use the stuff, then we eventually would have.  It’s extortion, extortion through fate, I dunno.  But I chose to pay the price rather than wait for her to ramp things up until I had to.  If you want to blame me, blame me.”

I mean… with an incomplete understanding of how she does it, this logic does make some sense.

“No fucking shit we’re blaming you,” Luke said, and the hint of anger in his voice wasn’t as calm as his earlier words had been.

Anger has its time and place. This is one of them.

Cody, on the other hand, spreads his thin all over the place.

That anger seemed scarily similar to what Krouse was used to seeing from someone else.

Yeah, you’re used to it from Cody, so it doesn’t really hit as hard coming from him.

But then, when someone else expresses similar anger over similar but more valid concerns, you might end up dismissing it as “just like Cody”.

“Where’s Cody?”

“Here,” Cody said, from behind Krouse.

Pfft. Hi.

He seems surprisingly calm.

So did the thing give him invisibility, or did he just come in?

Krouse whirled around.

Cody was smiling, swaggering.

Alright, still visible. Definitely seems a little out of it though.

“You too?” Krouse asked, unsurprised.  He’d left Cody in the house with the four remaining vials.

“Yeah.  Me too.”

Anyone who didn’t expect that is blind. And I say that as someone who fails to expect things all the damn time.

So, what’cha get?

Everything in the room shifted.  The curtains flickered and appeared in a fractionally different position, Noelle had moved a foot away, now squarely facing them, and Cody was in the center of the room.

What’s that, a time stop power? Best I can figure.

Or maybe something closer to Clockblocker, affecting Krouse only?

“See?” Cody asked.

“What just happened?”

“I got powers.  The paperwork said it was the ‘Vestige’ can.  And as luck would have it, my power counters yours.  Totally and completely.”

Poetic.

But how exactly?

There was another shift, things moving all at once, and Cody was now a foot in front of Krouse.  He was laughing.

Cody, surely even you aren’t blind enough to miss that it’s generally not the good guy who does this, right?

Teleportation?  No.  The others wouldn’t move like that.

“Stop it, Cody,” Marissa said.

Did any of them react to being moved? If not, it seems to me that h

hang the fuck on

okay no phew

I actually had to go back and check that I hadn’t been forgetting that Clockblocker’s name was Cody all this time, but no, his name is Dennis and the whole thing with Clocky’s dad makes no sense for Cody unless he’d been recently adopted.

…anyway, it does seem to me that he’s doing something similar. It’s either that or he also used the first time stop to move Noelle, or there’s something entirely different going on.

Vestige…

“He doesn’t care, he doesn’t know,” Cody said.

Maybe something like Clockblocker except it freezes just the mind?

Not sure how that’d counter Krouse’s power “totally and completely” other than by disabling Krouse himself, though.

“Just stop!”

Everything shifted positions again, and this time, Cody was swinging a punch at Krouse.  It connected and Krouse crashed to the ground.

Is Noelle going to have to be the one to step between them?

The punch had landed painfully close to where Krouse had been struck not long ago, and the resulting pain seemed to radiate across the surface of his skull.

“Only bad part is,” Cody said, shaking one hand as though it were sore, “If I use it on myself, I don’t get the satisfaction, and if I use it on him, he doesn’t even know.”

Hmm.

Definitely something with a target, at least.

Is it something that shifts reality to another possible configuration around the target? Though that might not fit the bit about not getting the satisfaction. And you’d think the target would be the only one (other than himself) to know, when it actually seems to be vice versa somehow.

“Just leave him alone,” Marissa said.

Krouse looked at Noelle, saw her with gloved hands pressed to her mouth.

“What’s he doing?” Krouse asked, not moving from the ground.

Noelle and Marissa seem inclined to answer, at least, so we’ll have some light shed on this madness yet.

“Time travel,” Luke said.

Ahh. So I was onto something. It’s like Clockblocker’s ability except the frozen form doesn’t stick around in the meantime.

He’s sending Krouse a short time into the future.

Can he do it backwards? Was that how he appeared behind Krouse in the first place, knowing Krouse had asked for him right then?

Cody shrugged, “Directed time travel, anyways.  Backwards only, a few seconds at a time.  You teleport away, I set you back to where you were, then kick you in the balls for being an asshole.”

Ooh, that’s even better.

So would that actually undo the swap, or would he need to target whoever was swapped in to put them back where they were?


While we’re on the topic of time travel, one of the benefits of posting chapters in one piece is that if something comes up mid-session I can take a break without it affecting you guys. Before, I had live readers I’d have to notify with an untagged post if something came up, but now I can just leave the post as is, go do whatever I have to do, and come back as if nothing had happened.

Case in point, I just took an hour-long taco break and you wouldn’t even have known if I hadn’t decided to ramble about it. If I’m suddenly a bit dumber for the rest of this session it’s probably because my head is filled with tacos.

(Fuck that word for being uncountable in Norwegian but countable in English. It makes so much more sense for my head to be filled with an uncountable mass of taco than “a taco” or “several tacos”. That’s definitely the weird part here.)


So, Cody… what are the limits in terms of targeting? Can you rewind Krouse if he swaps out of your line of sight?

“Well,” Krouse said, “Do you feel better now?  After however many beatings you just gave me?  Kicks in the balls?”

“I feel a bit better.  But what has me tickled is that I can do it again and again, whenever I feel the urge,” Cody said, smiling.

As far as Krouse is concerned. You have more people to worry about, and at some point enough is enough.

“Don’t,” Luke said.  “That’s…”

“Brutish,” Jess said, her voice low.  She was glaring at Krouse.

Jess has kept quiet up until now… I can’t imagine she in particular is pleased with this turn of events.

“Not the word I would have chosen,” Luke said, “But yeah.”

Cody shrugged.  He couldn’t stop smiling.

Is it weird that I like Cody more like this?

“Listen,” Krouse said, “Noelle’s better and she’s safe.  That’s priority number one done with.  Now we need to get out of here, and then we focus on getting home.”

I like how he’s just like “well, have fun with that I guess”.

“You know, Noelle?”  Marissa asked, “You know about our situation?”

“Some.”

“Come on then, let’s leave the boys to hash this out.  I’ll fill you in on what’s going on while we get our stuff packed.”

Heh, Marissa knows it’s not going to stop here.

I guess they’re leaving Jess with the boys?

“Food first?” Noelle asked.  “I haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

Marissa gave her a funny look, but she led the way to the kitchen.

I suppose Krouse didn’t give the hospital enough time to feed her after she woke.

What’s with that look, though?

“Stuff?” Krouse asked the others, when the two girls had left.

The room flickered.

Hm. Is Cody still treating him as a punching bag or is there something he doesn’t want Krouse to remember the others saying?

Stop, Cody,” Jess said.

“I’m tired of everyone catering to him.  He fucked up, broke the rules he set,” Cody said.  “So if he wants to run off and be the lone maverick, he can deal with the consequences.  That means we don’t go out of our way to get him caught up.”

Yeah.

The thing about breaking the rules he set is fair. That’s the catch with Cody — while I side with Krouse on most things, a few of his points are valid. He’s just determined to be the biggest possible asshole about those points, so it’s hard to take him seriously like you can with Luke.

This is a good thing, from a writing standpoint. The fact that he’s right about some things makes him feel a lot more real than if he were always wrong and Krouse was unambiguously in the right.

“You’re being as bad as he ever was,” Luke said.

Cody turned towards Luke, “No.  No I’m not.”

Worse, arguably.

“You’re making calls on our behalf.  You’re not being a team player, and you’re making things harder than they have to be to get your way.”

“It’s not the same,” Cody said.

Krouse looked at Cody, then grabbed him from behind and threw him into a bookcase.

Time to test that line of sight theory. If Krouse manages to stay behind Cody, Cody might be unable to rewind him.

“Krouse!” Luke shouted.  Marissa and Noelle hurried back to the hallway.

Cody appeared back where he’d been standing, in the exact same position.  Krouse repeated the throw from behind.  “Two!”

Nice try, Cody, but rewinding yourself probably erases your memory of the original timeline like it does when you rewind someone else.

Again, Cody reappeared, setting himself back to where he’d been three seconds ago.  Krouse shoved him yet again.  “Three!”

And Krouse just keeps count to rub that fact in.

Although that could work even if it didn’t erase the memory.

On the next reappearance of Cody, Krouse shoved him and called out, “Four!  Blade cuts both ways Cody!”

Marissa was right to leave the room.

This time, Cody didn’t use his power on himself.  He landed amid the fallen stacks of magazines and books, offered a snarling noise.

“Your power works against you,” Krouse said.  “Using it to protect yourself?  It doesn’t work if your opponent knows how you function and you don’t have backup to break the loop.

If they don’t know how it functions, though, it’ll be one hell of a confusing power to fight.

You shift yourself back in time, you don’t remember, and I can use the same strategy over and over.”

“That’s not-” Cody said, then he stopped.  His eyes narrowed.  “I don’t have to put you back where you were after hurting you.

“I don’t have to fix my punching bag.”

Any time you do something to me, I can set you up to a position where I can hurt you, then leave you like that, hurting.  Using my power doesn’t tire me out.  I can set you back as many times in a row as I need to.”

Interesting that he knows that already. Sounds like he’s been experimenting a lot in the, what, half an hour, hour since he got it?

“Just stop,” Jess pleaded.  “All of this is hard enough without you two being enemies.”

Please.

I do hope Cody survives and shows up again later on in the main story. He’s a frustrating character, but an interesting one, his power is excellent, and I’d like to see how he’d interact with the more established Travelers (possibly only Ballistic depending on how things go).

“Problem is, Jess,” Krouse said, not breaking eye contact with Cody, “Cody’s got this mindset where the guy with the bigger stick wins. He doesn’t care about the big picture until he’s established his dominance.  Since idea of dominance is kicking my ass, we can’t have him doing that while we’re trying to get back home.  It’s… counterproductive.”

“Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy,” says the guy selling the sticks.

“Yeah?  What are you going to do about it?” Cody asked.  He was pulling himself to his feet.

“Nothing,” Krouse said.  “You want to pull stunts like that, feel free.”

Cody is just an internet troll. Don’t feed him.

We’ve established that what pisses him off the most is when Krouse won’t even acknowledge him, and at this point that’s exactly what Krouse is resigned to.

“Thought so,” Cody smirked.

“And,” Krouse said, stepping close enough to whispered in Cody’s ear, “Your power’s kind of a liability, you know. Not just the double-edged sword part.”

“Liability?”  Cody asked in a normal speaking volume.

Somewhat like how Imp’s power isn’t well suited for teamwork?

Or more personally, because it’s hard for Cody to tell when there’s something he doesn’t remember?

Krouse continued whispering.  “A liability.  You saw what I was willing to do when the Simurgh forced my hand by putting Noelle’s life on the line.  Now my hand’s dangerously close to being forced again.  Because I will get these people home, and if you get in my way, if you give me reason to fear for my safety or to make me think we aren’t making as much progress as I want?  Well, the only way I can think of to shut down your power is by killing you.”

Ahh, that kind of liability.

In the same sense that nukes were a liability in the Cold War.

Cody smirked, stepping away.

His eyes flickered across Krouse’s face as he read Krouse’s expression.  Cody’s smile faded.

“Heh, nice threat, well played… wait, you’re serious? You’re serious. What the fuck.”

Cody forced a smile onto his face again, but it didn’t seem quite so genuine.  “I’m going to go pack my shit.  You have my permission to fill the asshole in on the details.”

“I thought you knew the details, Cody.”

You’re a coward at heart, Krouse thought, as he watched Cody head upstairs.  And I’m too stubborn to back down or give up.  As long as that’s the case, I’ll always come out ahead.

If that’s not the case if/when they meet again down the line, it could shake things up…

He looked at the others, “Well, I think that’s that.  Let’s talk about the next step of our plan.”

Maybe get those “details” first?

He seated himself on the couch, flashed Noelle a smile.

Right, she and Marissa returned earlier.

Noelle smiled back, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes or overcome the concern in her expression.  She turned back towards the kitchen, and Marissa followed.

…apparently only to set up that moment. Why not just wait until now to have them walk off?

Oh right, because them walking off was needed to prompt Krouse to ask about the “stuff” they were going to pack.

Krouse’s heart sank a little at that.  It felt like they’d somehow been set back weeks or months in their relationship progress.

😦

He distracted himself.  Turning to Luke, he asked, “What was that about ‘stuff’?”

“Stuff.  We weren’t quite sure where you went, and you kind of made it impossible to get the car out of the driveway,” Luke said.  “So we went shopping, so to speak.  Brought back clothes, toiletries, and all the cash we could get out of the registers, pretty much every place within walking distance.  We even got an old wheelchair for Jess, rinsed off the seat in the shower upstairs.  We’re just waiting for it to dry off.”

Oh nice, that should come in handy.

Krouse smiled.  “Good man.”

Luke wasn’t smiling back.  “It feels shitty, stealing.”

I’ve made my position on this clear already.

“Nobody’s going to touch that money anyways,” Krouse said.  “Not with it being in the quarantine area.  That was a smart move, really.  Does this mean we’ve got everything we need to get by for the next while?”

“Pretty much.  You should go through the stuff we brought and make sure it all fits, and that you aren’t going without something essential.”

Good call.

“You didn’t happen to pick up cigarettes?”

Luke frowned, “I shouldn’t have, told myself you didn’t deserve it after what you pulled.”

That’s fair, honestly.

“But?”

“But I did.”

“Best friend!” Krouse smiled, spreading his arms wide.

Luke shook his head.  “You don’t deserve it.”

That’s a cute moment. 😛

“I don’t.  But I’ll make it up to you by getting us out of here with my power.  Shouldn’t be hard; there weren’t all that many soldiers outside the fence, and we can swap ourselves for them, maybe.

Hint hint, it’ll be easier if the rest of you drink yours…

If Cody cooperates, that makes it even easier.”

“And Noelle?” Luke asked.  “Does she have powers?”

“Apparently,” Krouse said, “Though I don’t have any idea of how it works.  You guys give any consideration to the idea of using the rest of the juice?”

Jess?

Luke was nodding a little.

“Luke!” Jess said, aghast.

I mean Krouse only asked if they considered it.

“What?  Half the damage is already done,” he said, “And as far as I’m concerned, the benefits of getting more powers outweighs the possible danger.  We don’t have any real income, we don’t have anybody to go to for help, and it’s going to be far easier to get funds if we can do something like mercenary work with a team of people with powers.  Like Cody was talking about, we could hire someone to get us home.”

He’s absolutely right.

Which kinda means the Travelers were his idea. By the time we met them, they weren’t really doing mercenary work in the traditional sense, but that was when future Noelle’s deal was a more pressing concern, and with Coil as a benefactor.

Hmm. Maybe that’s part of why Jess said she hoped they didn’t see Taylor again. Because she knew that would likely result in Coil’s fall, depriving them of the guy who was giving them money they needed in order to get home, even if that guy was also leading them on with regards to the Noelle front.

Luke sighed, “Let’s be honest.  If it’s just Noelle, Cody and Krouse who have powers, I’m worried things will get ugly.  There’s too much tension, but I don’t think any of us are willing to leave the group and strike out on our own, not when it means being all alone in a strange world.  So we’re stuck together, and that means there’s going to be conflict.

Well, something separated Cody from them, whether he lived or died or did something else entirely, but otherwise Luke’s right.

If they aren’t the only ones with powers, then at least we can do something to stop a fight from erupting.”

This really is the Cold War.

So if Krouse is the Soviet Union and Cody is the U.S. (yes I do think it’d be that way around, even if Krouse “won” in the end), which countries would the others be? Noelle might be Cuba.

I want to say Luke is the U.K., but I don’t really know much about their behavior when it came to the Cold War.

“I don’t know,” Jess said, “I feel like it’ll make the problem worse.  And you talk as if being a superpowered mercenary isn’t dangerous.  And it won’t be that easy to find a tinker who can give us a way home.”

Especially since your best bet appears to have been a supervillain who’s now dead.

Among tinkers, I mean. There’s one more best bet who works for a company that’s likely to want you dead if they find out your story.

“There’s a thousand mad scientist types in this world, aren’t there?  Someone knows how to get us back,” Krouse said.

Jess frowned.

“Jess,” Luke spoke.  “Superpowers.  And the stuff healed Noelle.  Maybe it’ll heal your legs.  Think about it.  Walking, dancing?  Running?  Other stuff, stuff with boys?”

I probably wouldn’t heal my eyes if given the option, but nonfunctional legs are a touch more inconvenient than being just hyperopic enough to need glasses. (Hell, I can even read without them, it just results in a headache if I do it for too long.)

Her expression shifted a fraction.  For the first time since the powers had been brought up, he thought maybe there was a sign of interest.

And of course at least two of the gods of irony immediately jump on that.

She looked at Krouse, and Krouse shrugged.  “We have three and a half vials left.  Someone’s going to get only a half dose.”

One was clearly bad enough.

“You’re assuming I take one,” Jess said.

“I am,” he echoed her.  “She set Cody against me, so I had an adversary, putting me off balance.  Then used Noelle’s injury to push me to act.  And you guys?  You, Luke, Marissa and Oliver?  She kept you occupied.  Kept you focused on yourselves.  You want to talk about the Simurgh’s game plan?  It centers around me.

Or, she might have known you’d come to this conclusion and successfully convince Jess like this.

I can’t see any other way of looking at it.  She isn’t aiming to have you guys get mondo powers and kill a president or something.  Why would she make Oliver feel like crap if that was her end goal?”

Hmm… maybe she did that to keep him from taking the other half, which could mess up her plans later?

“It’s you?” Luke asked.

“Doesn’t it make sense?  Just look at where the focus is.  She distracted you guys because you were the ones who could have talked sense into me.  The can of worms is opened, and I’m the person she’s turned into a guided missile.”

I mean yes, she’s focused on you as an in to the group taking the vials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean only you are part of her grand plan later.

If she only needed you, she probably could have only grabbed you. Taken you from Earth-Aleph before you even met up with the others in 17.1. Not that she’d have reason to, but she could.

“You don’t sound too worried for someone who believes that,” Luke said.

Fuck destiny, right?

“I’m… I’m processing it,” Krouse admitted.  “But that’s what it looks like, to me.  And if there isn’t anything that points to me being wrong?  Maybe I should just help you guys get home, then stay here.  Become a hermit or something.  Let me keep however much leftover cash we wind up with, and I’ll find an apartment and while away the rest of my days watching movies and playing games over the internet, not saying two words to anyone.  Don’t know how much damage I could do that way.”

I think they’re all underestimating the Simurgh, but to be fair, I think I have a more complete picture of her true power than they (except maybe Jess) do because of that one spoiler and prior experience with similarly powered villains.

“Or come with us,” Luke said.  “There’s no way she can see the future of this world and ours.  No way she’s turned you into some ticking time bomb that’s going to fuck our world over.”

She plucked you personally out of Earth-Aleph. You tell me how much dimensional boundaries matter to her.

Krouse shrugged, “Maybe.  I can decide when we get that far.”

“Three and a half vials,” Jess said.

Krouse nodded.  She’s on board.

Booyeah, welcome aboard, Genesis.

“You took the Jaunt one and the Division one,” Luke said.

“Leaving…”

Division. Hmmmm.

I can’t see a direct connection between what Noelle is experiencing and that theme. For that matter, Vestige to rewinding people doesn’t make much sense to me.

Jaunt was nice and obvious, and Jess is definitely getting Deus (that much was clear even before I was reminded that we’d seen its sample id before), but I’m stumped on the two new powers.

Best I can come up with for Vestige is that the formerly-considered-vestigial appendix is blind-ended so if you go down it you have to backtrack, but that’s stupid.

I suppose it’s fitting that the Division sample got divided.

Luke was already getting a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolding it.  “Prince, Deus, Robin and half of whichever vial you gave to Noelle.”

I can’t decide which is which of Prince and Robin. Neither of them grant a Master power, and the other thing I’d expect from Prince (for reasons that aren’t fair to bring into Worm) is only indirectly reflected in Luke’s power. And Robin is a theme that doesn’t really tell me anything.

I could bring another thing that doesn’t belong in Worm in and associate princes with a certain princess who is in turn associated with the sun, but ehhhhh. For all my comparisons of Worm things to MLP things, I find it extremely unlikely that Wildbow is a brony.

If I have to guess, I’m going to say Luke takes Prince and Marissa takes Robin, but short of the gendering of “Prince”, which is unlikely to matter, I don’t have any solid reasoning for that at all.

“Half of Division,” Krouse said, “Funny.  But it doesn’t look like Noelle has powers.  She’s said her skin fizzes, whatever that means, but maybe it’s incomplete…”

…so there’s possibly no point in giving the other half to anyone?

“I’ll take half,” Oliver said.

Okay… I mean obviously it was going to be him with the shortest straw, but the real question is does he get to drink it?

And if he does, why doesn’t something similar to future Noelle seem to happen to him?

All eyes turned to him.  Oliver continued, “If Noelle doesn’t want to finish it, I’ll take half.  I’m not strong, I’m not brave, or smart, or creative.  I don’t have it in me to be a hero.  So as long as you don’t ask me to risk my life fighting stuff like the Simurgh, I’ll take the half, try to find other ways to help.”

That’s fair. We’re not all fighters.

You know what I’d be doing with a superpower? Normal day-to-day stuff, like using it to make chores easier or to get places I need to go. Mundane uses. Maybe as a party trick, not that I’m the type to party much. I’d very much be a rogue.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Krouse said.  “You’re a decent guy.”

Krouse. in his head, made similar comments about Oliver earlier (while under the Simurgh’s influence), but actually hearing it come out of Oliver himself? Yeeah, time to give the kid some support.

“Maybe,” Oliver said.  He sounded sad, “Maybe I’m decent.  But I’m not a great guy.  Like I said, nothing about me is special.  Nothing’s exceptional.  So I’ll take half.”

It’s interesting how he’s not like “I’m not exceptional in any way, so give me a full one so I can be”, but rather “I’m not exceptional, so a full one would be wasted on me”.

“Okay,” Krouse said.  “Anyone want to call dibs on the others?”

“Robin,” Luke said.  “Sounds like it might mean I could fly.”

And so the gods of situational and dramatic irony share a hearty laugh about this resulting in a power that lets him send everything else flying.

“Mars?” Jess asked.  “You care?”

Marissa shook her head.

“Then Deus for me.”

See, the thing about that one is that it doesn’t exist, but if it does it lives above you in the fattest, largest cloud up there, being whiter than white and cleaner than clean. It wants to reach you. The Deus sample does not exist, but if it does you always notice it, getting ready in its airy room, picking its little canister gloves so gently off.

It wants to touch you.

“That leaves me with Prince,” Marissa said.  “I hope it doesn’t turn me into a boy.”

That’d be awkward.

“Are they still next door?” Krouse asked.

The fence guards? Probably.

Luke nodded.

“We dose you guys one at a time so we can be sure we have everything under control and minimize any damage.  Then we’ll leave before sunrise.”

AT DAWN WE RIDE

The others nodded.

The car coasted down the long highway, the windshield wipers clearing away the moisture of the freezing rain.  Krouse pumped the windshield washer fluid and then wiped it away.

Gonna look for a spot where the fence isn’t properly guarded?

Madison was well behind them, now.

Oh, okay, we’re skipping that. Shame.

I suspect the end of the Arc is approaching soon. Maybe even this chapter, depending on how much of their story post-Madison Wildbow wants to address here.

Odd, how it felt like he was leaving home, even when it wasn’t really his city.  A bad copy, an ugly copy.  One with more violence, where the criminals could do far, far worse, by virtue of having more power.  Having powers.  That was without even touching on Endbringers, the Simurgh, and the desolate quarantine area.

In a way, you already left home coming there… but that wasn’t by choice. This time, you’re physically moving rather than the world changing around you, and your surroundings aren’t going to be eerily familiar anymore, and most importantly, it’s a choice. It’s no wonder you feel like this.

Cody was in front.  Krouse didn’t mind, didn’t care about giving up that token alpha-maleness.  If that’s all it took for Cody to be satisfied for the time being, he’d accept it.

I’m honestly surprised they made it out of Madison with Cody still among them.

So then something happened with him later…

The sun was rising.  It was a bit of a relief.  Driving in the rain and snow, in the dark, with the headlights seeming to extend a scant twenty feet ahead?  It sucked.

Okay, but rain, snow and a low sun?

(Is it raining and snowing at the same time? Eboby would love that.)

The rain continued, and the sky was overcast, but it was transitioning into a beautiful sort of overcast, with dark purples and oranges.

Maybe you’ll find that even this fucked up world can have its own beauty.

(I guess the snow is just on the ground, then. Makes more sense.)

He looked at where Noelle sat in the passenger seat, reached over and squeezed her hand.

Right, two cars, that’s what he meant by Cody being in front. I thought he was saying Cody was driving the car he was in, which quickly started making very little sense.

Marissa and Jess were in the back seat, either already sleeping or most of the way there.  He’d resisted the urge to comment, to note how the girls were with him, avoiding Cody.  They knew something was off.  That Cody was just a little too aggressive.  A little too testosterone driven.  As far as Krouse was concerned, it said something that the girls felt safer with him, even after everything that had happened.

Oof, yeah. I’d stay away from Cody too.

They had their powers, and there was a slight cast of disappointment for everyone involved.

No legs for Jess, no flight for Luke…

Jess could walk… but only with the images she projected.  Her real body seemed largely unaffected.  She got to experience everything she’d never had a chance to, even got to fly, but at the end of the day, she was still in the chair.

The gods of irony had fun tonight.

Marissa was managing to create flickers of light between her hands.  She’d stopped when a nearby piece of paper had caught on fire, resolving to try it when there was more open space.

*grits teeth*

I think we know what happens when she tries that.

…the mood’s all wrong but Spotify shuffle did just bring me a song about not understanding heat and how it can melt people. Well played, Spotify.

Luke was especially disappointed with his power; it hadn’t been flight.  No, it was destructive, singular and without any versatility.

Yeah, no, I still have no clue how it relates to “Robin”.

He turned anything he touched into a projectile.  It would be useful for mercenary work, if they were willing to take on the more dangerous jobs.

I’m reminded of how nonchalant he seemed about the whole thing when the was attacking Parian. He didn’t seem to find any actual enjoyment in the affair, or in using his power, it was all just business to him.

I’m very interested to see how he’ll work as an Undersider, especially if he stays after the Noelle affair.

(Notably, he doesn’t fit the team theme very well. Fear of… getting squished by a piece of debris?)

It came down to how long they were willing to wait before they got home, and how much money was demanded of them.

There’s also that little issue of finding someone you can pay to bring you.

What if I’ve been looking at this all wrong. What if they’re not at odds with Cauldron in any way — but rather, Cauldron knows how Doormaker could help them and has offered them a deal if they help set things up with Coil beyond what the week of services Coil owed Cauldron could achieve?

An interesting idea, though I don’t feel it’s very likely. It doesn’t seem to fit Ballistic’s behavior at the end, and the Travelers had their hands full with Noelle. If they had contact with Cauldron, they’d probably be trying to get Cauldron to figure out what was wrong with Noelle, rather than Coil.

Speaking of which… it does seem Oliver got his half vial. Probably not a good omen, but maybe something about how it reacted to him saved him from a similar fate? Does this mean Oliver does have a power, possibly one he can’t control and therefore doesn’t know about?

It was the day before Christmas Eve, Krouse remembered.  He’d have to be thankful for their well being, at least.  They were alive.  Things were okay.

Ooh, ooh, don’t forget to tune into NRK1 in about six and a half hours! Same procedure as every year, Krouse.

Oh wait, Leviathan wrecked Oslo, so NRK1 probably doesn’t exist anymore. Um. Wait until New Year’s Eve and tune into a German, Danish or Swedish channel?

Not great, but not as hopeless as they might have seemed before.  And things had settled down, at least.  For the first time since the others had joined him and Noelle at the coffee shop to discuss his inclusion on the team, things were calm.

Oh, Krouse…

You really need to learn a thing or two about tempting fate. This is at least strike three.

But yes, do appreciate the calm between the storms while you have it.

They’d find a way to put their new powers to work.  They’d get money, get themselves home.

Things made sense again.  Mostly made sense.

Heh.

Cody’s turn signal came on.  He was pulling into a rest stop.  One of the off-the-highway areas with a few fast food places and a gas station.

There weren’t many cars on the road, this time of morning, and less in the rest stop parking lot.  Cody pulled in just beside the front door.  Before Krouse was able to pull into another parking spot, Oliver was out of the door, running for the bathroom.

When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Unless of course this is because of a specific thing he drank?

Oliver hadn’t changed either.  Half a dose apparently wasn’t enough.  It didseem to make the aftermath of drinking the stuff worse, though.  Oliver’s condition had been nearly as drawn out as Noelle’s after he’d taken his dose.

At least Noelle had the fizzy skin and apparent healing factor going for her. But maybe Oliver didn’t get a power from his half at all?

“Anyone need to make water?” Krouse asked.  “Fast food places might be open if you’re hungry.”

The two girls in the back seat groaned, but they roused.

“Want help with the chair?” he asked.

“We’ve got it,” Noelle said.  She flashed Krouse a small smile and headed inside.

No thanks, I just went at the section block.

Krouse fished in his pocket for a cigarette, whispered praise to Luke.  He popped it in his mouth and then started looking for the lighter.

Just ask Marissa.

Noelle knocked on the windshield, gave him a death glare.

Don’t smoke in the car!

“What?”  He offered her an exaggerated shrug

“Not in the car!” she admonished, her voice muffled by the intervening windows.

There’s obviously gonna be more to this bit than “the gang takes a rest stop”, but for now I’m enjoying the relaxed antics.

He smiled a little, climbed out of the car, leaned against the door and lit the cigarette.  While he puffed, he stared at the clouds as faint traces of the sunset’s colors traced across them.  The rain was freezing cold and irritating, but the cigarette was worth it.

I have a history of being very against smoking, but right now, after everything they’ve been through and everything they’re going to go through? He’s earned it.

When he’d finished the first and the others hadn’t returned, he resigned himself to walking across the parking lot to a spot where there was shelter from the rain, starting on a second cigarette.

Alright, don’t push your luck.

He was halfway done when Marissa came outside.  He walked slowly in the direction of the car, taking a deep pull on the cigarette, thinking of how to gracefully point out that the others were taking a long time.  Then he saw her eyes.

So… something up with Oliver or Noelle?

He ran her way, spitting out the cigarette.  She held the door open for him, and then led the way toward the women’s bathroom.

Honestly, given that they didn’t seem to figure out the connection to the half dosage, I expected the symptoms to take a lot longer to set in.

There was a heavyset manager from one of the fast food places just at the door, shouting at Cody in a gruff voice.  Krouse ignored them,

What the fuck is going on over there? What did Cody do now?

headed inside the bathroom, ignoring the manager’s shouted protests.

Oh. I misread “just at the door”, so it seemed like something that was happening over to the side. This manager is just doing bullshit bathroom policing. You know, despite the girls in the same group clearly wanting the boys to come in and acting like it’s an emergency.

Noelle had crumpled to the ground at the far end of the bathroom.  Oliver, Luke and Jess were huddled around her.  Marissa moved straight to Noelle’s side.

The manager should be less concerned about bathroom signs and more about maybe needing to call 911 perhaps

“Don’t touch me!”  Noelle screamed, her voice shrill.

“I’m having an allergic reaction to all the heathens in this place who call soda “pop”! Can we go back to Madison?”

pop_soda_redux-2010s

(Noelle gets the soda power yet a bunch of Wisconsinites apparently call it “Luke”.)

Marissa stepped away, hands raised, as if showing she were unarmed, safe.

“What happened?” Krouse asked, his voice quiet enough that the others might hear, but Noelle wouldn’t.

You did, it would seem.

Unless Oliver is here to tip us off that it’s somehow a coincidence (or as close to one as you get with the Simurgh in play), but after so long of Noelle’s situation being a mystery, I don’t believe Wildbow would pull that on me.

He stepped closer, to get a better view.  Noelle’s pants were down around her knees.  Her jacket meant Krouse couldn’t see anything but her thighs.  There was a mark about a foot long and eight inches wide, raised on her left leg.  Red, angry, it was wrinkled and blistered like a bad burn.

Yikes.

(How does that mark even fit on the leg?)

She saw him. moved to try and cover herself, “Don’t look, Krouse!”

He turned to step away, to turn his back, but Jess reached out, caught his pants leg.

What are you doing, Jess? Have you pieced things together?

He looked again, saw Noelle’s head hanging, her hair a curtain around her face.  She was sobbing.

The skin on the angry red mark parted.  There was no surprise from the others; they’d seen this already.

Well then. Like a lid on a giant robot’s hidden gun compartment or something?

Beneath the angry red skin on Noelle’s thigh, there was an eyeball, twice the normal size, with a broad yellow iris.  Noelle’s hands were clenched into fists, gripping the cloth of her jeans as the eye’s gaze darted from one member of their group to another.  It settled on Krouse.

I’ve heard of vision twofold, vision eightfold and vision omnifold, but vision legfold is a new one.

So I’m guessing this only continues, with more eldritch body parts revealing themselves over time? Presumably Coil knew about this when he speculated that Leviathan might have an interest in Noelle.

Accusatory.

Yeeeah. She definitely blames him.


End of Migration 17.7

That was a decent chapter, though I’d call 17.6 more climactic. This was more of a dénouement, even with the PRT soldier and Myrddin squad confrontation.

Speaking of which, it’s feeling distinctly like the end of the main part of the Arc, and I doubt there’s an Interlude between this one and Arc 18, so I’m gonna go ahead and ask Sharks if I should do Arc Thoughts next.

Meanwhile, this chapter tied up some loose ends while surprisingly leaving a few others that I thought would be tied up here. Everyone has their powers, possibly even including Oliver, Dandelions might be related to Gems, Cody remains a dick but has been upgraded to a dick with a cool power, Myrddin is neat, and Noelle has misunderstood where you’re traditionally supposed to put your third eye. Fun stuff.

Alright, I’ve got my answer — apparently it’s not Arc Thoughts time just yet. So what are we in for next? Either we’re following the Traveler story a decent bit further than I expected, or we’re going into an Interlude.

Ironically, even after seven Traveler chapters, I still can’t seem to resist suggesting a Traveler Interlude. Whether it’s now or later, a look at the Arc 18 situation from a future Traveler perspective would be an interesting way to transition from this past Traveler perspective to a future Undersider perspective. And the lines can be blurred even further by making it specifically a Luke Interlude.

If not that, then future Cody? The Simurgh? Myrddin? The Simurgh already had a partial Interlude, but we’ve seen that those can circumvent the one-Interlude-“rule”, and really, are you gonna go up to her and tell her she can’t have another one? I didn’t think so. Anyway, point is a full-length Simurgh Interlude would probably be all sorts of interesting.

If we’re sticking with the Travelers’ regular chapters, I suppose some of those loose ends I mentioned might get tied up after all. Cody is the biggest one.

Whatever the case, should be fun. See ya there!

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