Interlude 18x: Keepers of Zion

Source material: Worm, Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #1)

Blogged: June 26, 2020


Blog ahoy, maties!

Yarr! This here be Krixwell Jace talkin’, cap’n of this mighty pirate vessel, the Yarrmungander! She be a beaut, ain’t she? But we ain’t here ta admire me ship. The hourglass be saying it be time to plunder tha shores ta chapter eighteen point three ta– hol’ up. Matey, hand me tha spyglass.

Tha’ be no chapter eighteen point three! INTERLUDE AHOY!

Thar be treasure on them Interlude ships, oft, but it be guarded by a fearsome and mysterious monster they be calling a “POV character”. I be thinkin’ the POV character will be someone relat’d ta tha Noelle situation, perchance one ta tha Wards (in spite ta Sentinel) or tha PRT, or ev’n a Cauldron landlubber?

Guessin’ who tha POV character be or wha’ may happ’n on an Interlude ship be one ta tha har’est parts ta piracy. Bu’ unlike my landlubber namesake, we pirates ain’t paid ta think.

PREPARE TA BOARD!


Right off the bat, “(Donation Bonus #1)” tells me I can expect more Interludes in this Arc. Should be fun.


“I am Kevin Norton, and I am the most powerful man in the world.”

Nice to meet you.

Are you overconfident, Scion, Eidolon, or a genuinely more powerful person (not necessarily cape) who is lesser known?

Are you the Number Man?

Or maybe you fight computer viruses?

Kevin made a hand signal, and Duke woofed lightly.

Marma?

“I’ve saved millions of lives.  Billions.”

I believe you, but I’m interested to hear about how exactly. And who you’re talking to, for that matter — it kind of has the vibe of a presentation. Like a TED Talk or a school visit or something.

My guess is Kevin Norton is not a cape, because it’s very in character for Worm to have a chapter about someone who doesn’t have superpowers still managing to be very powerful, for good or ill, but being overlooked because of the lack of superpowers.

Another hand signal bidding another small woof of agreement.

He held out his mug, but the pedestrians around him simply avoided him, ignored it.

…………..

Dude.

I don’t think this is an effective strategy for street begging. Like, sure, it’s probably true, but at best you’ll probably just get a curious glance this way.

The sole of Kevin Norton’s old shoe had come free at the toe a few days ago, and the tip of it dipped too low, catching on the cobblestone path. He tripped and nearly fell, and Duke danced out of the way, ears perked in alarm.

Cobblestone paths are the worst. Granted, I was already having issues with my feet/shoes when I visited Rome but the cobblestone really did not help at all.

Kevin caught his balance by grabbing onto a bystander, a woman, and she almost thrust him away, her face suddenly etched in disgust.

Skitter wouldn’t stand for this.

“Sorry about that, miss,” Kevin told her, as she hurried on her way, quickening her pace.  When he didn’t get a response, he raised his voice so she could hear him as he finished, “A sad thing, that a man of my stature can’t afford shoes, isn’t it?”

Of course it is.

Kevin’s gait bordered on a limp as he adjusted his walk to avoid tripping on his shoe again.  The path here was old-fashioned, cobblestones worn by the tread of hundreds of people over countless years.  The area around him wasn’t so old.  Renovated storefronts and new buildings were popping up, mimicking the older British styles while staying current, fresh and new.

This kind of sounds like Brockton Bay if it were in Europe.

“We won’t be able to stay for long, Duke,” Kevin said.  “Amount of money the city’s dropping here, they won’t want vagrants around.  But I only want to pay a visit to my old haunt, see what’s become of it.”

Okay, so we’re doing in part environmental storytelling to catch us up on Kevin’s backstory. I can jive with that. 🙂

He saw a family approaching, held out a mug, “A few pence, for the most powerful man in the world?”

See, there’s the problem.

You’re claiming to be the most powerful man when you’re clearly no longer that. And by doing so without much in the way of elaboration, you come off as delusional on top of everything else about your situation that’s working against you.

The kids stared, but the parents averted their eyes, the mother putting her hands around the little one’s shoulders as if to protect them.

Kevin shrugged and walked on.  There were only a handful of coins inside the mug, rattling around as his arm swung.

And yes, I do understand you need an icebreaker to catch their attention, but your icebreaker is also driving them away, especially when you give up like this.

“You wouldn’t remember much of this area,” he told Duke, “I’d already moved on from this before I found you.  Ran.  I’d pass through a few times when you were still small enough to hold in my hand, but I’d avoid this particular spot.  Won’t say I haven’t missed it.  The old owners used to give me some of the leftovers.”

Duke is a nice addition to this chapter, as someone for Kevin to narrate to.

He pointed, “Just over there, there was a bakery.  They’d throw out anything more than a day old.  Bags of rolls and pastries.  Sausage rolls, pasties.

This is part of my job, but at least we stick the breads in the freezer to give to a place that sells them significantly cheaper for the sake of poor people having access to them.

When they realized I was coming by to partake, supplement my meager diet, they started leaving the bags to one side of the bins so it wouldn’t get soiled, and they’d leave other things.  Little things.  Some salads, so I had some greens.  A comb, a toothbrush, soap, deodorant.  Gentle folk.”

Aw, that’s nice.

Kevin reached down to scratch the top of Duke’s head.

“Wonder what’s become of them.  Hope the changes around here treated them alright.  Be a crying shame if they were forced out and didn’t get what their shops were worth.  They deserved that much, at least.  More.”

Duke yawned, and ended the yawn with a little whine.

“Me, you ask?” Kevin said.  “No.  I don’t deserve much of anything.  What’s that line, about power and responsibility?  Most powerful man in the world, I have a bloody great deal of responsibility.

I think this means Spiderman comics probably exist in the Wormverse.

He claims he has responsibility, present tense just like the “most powerful man” thing, and doesn’t seem happy about it. Is he blaming himself for negative things his power led to after he lost the power to do anything about them?

Sure, I go to bed hungry, I slept terribly during that one spell of body lice, but the thing that really costs me sleep is the idea I might have shirked my responsibilities.”

There is of course the possibility that Kevin does have a parahuman power that leaves him extremely powerful but in a way that doesn’t actually help him out of his economic situation.

The idea that he might have shirked his responsibilities, responsibilities he claims to still have…

Then again, the whole present tense thing might just be a coping mechanism. Pretending that on some level he’s still the most powerful man in the world, that he hasn’t lost who he once was.

“I got scared, boy.  Because I’m a coward.  There’s three good ways to get to where I’m at in life.  Not talking about being the most powerful man in the world.

I thought for a second he was presenting not talking about being the most powerful man in the world as the first of those three good ways to get into poverty.

Talking about how I don’t have a place to go, not a friend in the world besides you.  One way you get like this is a lack of support.  Caring family, friends, you can get through almost anything.  No one there to back you up?  Even the littlest things can knock you down a long way if there’s nobody to catch you.”

I’m reminded of Nilbog. Have been, to some extent, since the first line given Nilbog’s god complex, but this seals it.

(That’s not to say I think Kevin is Nilbog. He’s clearly not.)

There was a dull rumble, and then the rain started pouring down, heavy.

“A summer rain, Duke.  About due, isn’t it?”

Just as long as it’s not raining monsters or being thrown at you by an overgrown lizard.

Also if it hasn’t rained before now this summer, we’re clearly not in England after all…

The few people on the streets ran for cover, and the little side street was nearly emptied in the span of a minute.  Kevin stretched his arms, letting the rain soak through him.  He dragged his fingers through his hair to comb it back, raised his head to face the sky.

You, who
Presume we can stay dry by
Dodging all the raindrops, falling
Think
Try lifting up your tongue
To the rain, not just the sun
Nothing quite so simple
Was ever so much fun

…huh. Now that I think about it, this song is really fitting for the kind of character Kevin is shaping up to be.

Also what if Kevin is Scion but when he’s Scion he doesn’t have total control of himself? The only thing that seems to stand in the way of that is that Scion supposedly never stops to rest as far as people are aware, while Kevin is over here with plenty of spare time.

Duke shook himself after only a few seconds, spraying water.  It startled Kevin from his reverie.

Hehe.

…can you imagine if these rain-happy paragraphs were immediately followed by “and then Kevin and Duke got torn apart by Leviathan”?

“What was I saying?  Oh, right.  Second way you get to circumstances like mine?  Sickness.  Sometimes that’s in the head, sometimes it’s in the body, and sometimes it’s a sickness you get in a bottle or a pipe.  Third path is the one I took.  Cowardice.  Run away from life.  Run away from yourself.  Sometimes the bottle’s a cowardice too.  Run away from the truth about what you’re doing to yourself, I dunno.  I have you to thank for sparing me that sin.”

There’s not much for me to say. These musings are just really well written.

He felt a cold wind and stepped under the eaves of the newly renovated buildings, to find brief shelter from the downpour as he walked.

“Too set in my ways to change, to live a braver life.  Just coming back here is taking all the courage I can sum up.”

But why did Kevin run away from the life he’s clearly still clinging to on some level?

Duke forced his head under Kevin’s hand, and Kevin couldn’t help but smile.

“Good boy, good boy.  Appreciate the moral support.”

D’aww.

They had to step out into the rain again to cross the street.  Kevin quickened his pace, and Duke loped alongside him.

He ducked under the next set of eaves as he reached the next block.  “I fucked up, Duke.  I know that.  I gotta live with that.  I did a lot.  More than most would, I think.  But it’s not enough.  If my gut’s right, it’s not nearly enough.  Shit.”

yes but what

Just down the street, a shop door opened and a young woman stepped outside.  Petite, pretty, twenty-something, her black hair cut to a pixie cut and topped by a dark gray beret.  Black tights, short, pleated gray skirt.  Fashionable.  She turned his way, an umbrella in hand.

This is a nice look, I like the design.

He smiled at her, stepped out into the rain as they crossed paths, so she wouldn’t have to.

She’s not even going to notice, is she.

“Mister?” she called out.

He was just returning to the shelter of the eaves.  “What is it?”

He wasn’t expecting her to, I think, but apparently she did.

“Here,” she said.  She had her wallet out, and handed him a ten pound note.  He glanced at her.

🙂

Taking the note, he said, “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

He gave her a funny look.  She was looking him in the eyes.  “Usually I get two types.  Some give me the money and don’t even give me a second glance.  Those who do look at me are sure to lecture me on how I should spend it.  So feel free to wag your finger at me, tell me I shouldn’t spend it on drugs, drink and fags.  I’ll understand, and I can look suitably ashamed.”

I think you found one of the good ones.

“Spend it however you need,” she said.  She had a trace of a french accent, “Circumstances might be hard enough that maybe you need to find the little comforts, even if they aren’t good for you.”

Sometimes that’s just how it works. Brains are complicated.

“Too true.  Rest assured, I feed Duke first, feed myself, and then I buy the little comforts, as you put it.  I admit I do like a fag when I can get my hands on one.”

The use of “fags” for cigarettes is an unfortunate confluence of slang.

Duke first is good.

“Glad to hear it,” she said, smiling.  “Hello Duke.”

“He’s a good boy, but I wouldn’t advise petting him.”

Aw, okay.

“…because if anyone touches him, he and I abruptly merge into Scion and it’s really inconvenient for everyone involved.”

Okay, new biggest point against Kevin and/or Duke being Scion: If Scion wouldn’t be a cat person I don’t know who would.

(Then again, I already suggested a partial personality shift.)

She withdrew her hand.

“Not fleas or anything like that.  I keep him healthy.  But he’s a working mutt.  Watches my back when I need watching.  We take care of each other.  So he might be protective of me, not keen on someone getting too close, too soon.”

Makes sense.

“Did you name him?” she asked.  When he nodded, she asked, “Any reason for Duke?”

“Thought long and hard about it.  Duke seemed fitting.  Highest rank of our United Kingdom, just beneath a king in status.  Fitting for the dog that serves the most powerful man in the world.”

Heh. And there we go back to the powerful man thing, but the difference is this time he’s not leading with it. He’s gotten to the point in the conversation where the ice has been broken and it functions instead as something that at worst confuses the lady, which prompts him to elaborate.

He was looking at her eyes when he said it, saw the sadness in her expression.  “The most powerful man in the world?”

Granted, she might still start wondering if there is some delusion, and be sad for that.


(one hourish long break for dinner later…)


“It’s true.  Don’t think I didn’t see that.  You don’t believe me.”

Elaborate while you still can.

“It’s a grand claim, Mister…”

“Kevin.  Kevin Norton.  And don’t mind my rambling.”

“Lisette,” she said, extending a hand.

I like Lisette.

He shook it.  Even with the moisture of the downpour, her hand was warm.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Questionably.

“Hm?” he perked up, withdrawing his hand.

“You had a look on your face.”

It’s probably been a while since someone last respected him enough to shake his hand.

“Just wondering when the last time I had contact with another person was.  Might have been a few years ago.  Pastor gave me a hug as I left his shelter.”

“That sounds so lonely, Kevin.  Years without human contact?”

“Not so lonely.  I’ve got one friend,” he said, scratching Duke’s head.

That’s fair, but hardly counts as human contact.

Lisette nodded.

“But you shouldn’t forget.  The little stuff.  Even a handshake?  That’s something special.  Meaningful.  Value it, even if you get it every day.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” she smiled.

This chapter is about a guy who’s lost everything, apparently through his own doing, and it still manages to be oddly filled with heartwarming and positive moments and thoughts like this.

‘Course, there’s the underlying implication of “because you can lose it all so easily”, but still.

“Can’t tell you how grateful I am,” Kevin said.  “Taking the time for me, it means the world to me.  Might be the push I need.”

“For what?”

“I’m looking back, and I haven’t looked back in a long while.  Visiting home, so to speak.  Thinking about stuff I haven’t even told Duke about, these past twelve years.  You’ve given me a bump of morale at a time I needed it.  Thank you.”

😀

why do I have the feeling that his attempt at that is going to go south quickly though

“I’m glad.  I hope you make peace with it.”

“Heavy burden, mine.  I… I don’t suppose you have a little while?  Would you walk with me a few minutes?”

Yes please, we need more Lisette and we need someone to drag your backstory out of you, and I certainly won’t complain if they’re one and the same.

She glanced over her shoulder in the direction she’d been headed, “My train-”

I was literally just (towards the end of the dinner break, that is) reading a Tumblr post about the sometimes literal trainwreck that is the Italian railroad system. In fact I hadn’t finished reading it; turning on the screen of my phone it’s the first thing that pops up.

So naturally my brain fills in the rest of Lisette’s sentence with something about the train being completely off-schedule, having left already or something. Maybe someone stole the copper from the tracks just outside the station.

“I understand if you wouldn’t want to.  But if you indulged this old man, it’d make all the difference in my facing this, today.  A few minutes.”

It’s okay, Lisette, your train is halfway to Naples already anyway. From what appears to be an English city. From which it was supposed to go north to Edinburgh. The curse of Trenitalia is spreading to the rest of Europe. Good work, Simurgh.

“You’re not that old.”  She paused.  “I suppose I could.”

“Come, then, it isn’t far.  You might want to open that umbrella.”

So I’m thinking Kevin is somewhere in his late forties or fifties.

She gave him a dubious glance.

He shook his head, “No.  Not expecting you to share.  I haven’t washed my clothes too recently.  Wouldn’t want to inflict that on you.  And Duke might get jealous.”

Hah!

She nodded, and followed alongside him as he headed on his way.  He didn’t miss the wide berth she gave him, staying several paces away, hanging back just enough that she could keep an eye on him, as though ready to run if he did something.  She might be a kind person, but she isn’t stupid.

Clearly, she’s smart enough that she’s following the social distancing guidelines.

“I was in my early twenties when I started out,” he said.  “Born in London, had nobody left after my parents died in my teens.  Moved up here to York.

Oh hey, it’s York. That’s in the northeast of England, so Lisette’s train being headed for Edinburgh (like I posited for the Naples joke) wouldn’t be unreasonable. According to Google Maps, that’s just a three hour trip by train.

Met a girl, moved into her flat.  I won’t say it was the cause of this predicament of mine, I’m willing to take the blame for being where I’m at.  But it started me on that road.”

“What happened?”

“Too many mistakes all together.  She wasn’t the right girl, for one.  Our relationship progressed, and I realized that I don’t like women.”

“Oh,” Lisette said.

Oof. I mean, that’s valid, but I imagine it’s more than a little… awkward to realize it at that stage of a relationship.

“A little late, but I’d gotten that far by doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing, and dating a girl was one of those things.  Am I bothering you?  Boring you?”

…yeah, that’s the problem with the whole notion of what we’re supposed to do with our lives. People are different.

Do what makes you happy, whatever that may be, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

“No.  Not at all.”

“Well, I was a young, stupid twenty year old boy, I’d moved in without anything putting my name on the lease and without holding on to any money to move out.  She realized we weren’t going to work out, threatened to kick me out, and I begged to stay.  Nowhere to go.  Thought I could save up enough to get a place, if I stuck it out, dealt with the anger.  She started hitting me.  I was never the type to hit back.  It got bad.”

Ouch.

She wasn’t the right girl, indeed.

“I’m sorry.”

“There’s battered women’s shelters, but none for battered men, far as I know.  People somehow imagine a woman couldn’t ever strike a man.”

“You left?”

I’m sure there are some out there, but they’d be there because of this exact problem of sexism in domestic abuse cases. Because there’s always someone making an effort to deal with issues like this whatever way they can, but not enough to make a difference for most of the victims. Doesn’t help Kevin Norton of York to find out about a battered men’s shelter if it’s on a random street corner in Bangkok.

“And I’ve wondered for a long time if I made the right decision,” Kevin said.  “Here we are.”

So wait. You’re building up the courage to go back… to your abuser? Or is it just the home, with the abuser moving away at some point?

And where does the most powerful man thing come into it? Did you trigger somewhere along the line?

The road ended, and they reached a narrow stream that fed into the River Ouse.  A small, quaint bridge extended the cobblestone footpath over the stream, benches stood out on a stone patio, and younger trees had been planted in soil bordered by circles of stone.

So of course I went looking on Google Maps to see if I could find a matching location in real life York.

I didn’t find anything exact, but I did find a footpath — the Dame Judi Dench Walk, may her acting career rest in peace after getting roped into both Cats and the movie that inexplicably shares the name of the young adult novel series Artemis Fowl — on the other side of the Ouse from York Station. Not cobblestone, these days, as far as I can tell, and I couldn’t find a stream big enough to show up on the map, and I just noticed in satellite view that the Walk is way longer than I thought, but it was the closest thing I could find.

It’s probably not close enough to take into account for visualizing this scene. It’s not like we don’t have explicit confirmation that city designs can vary between Aleph and Bet anyway.

This is the home you haven’t returned to?” Lisette asked.

“Closest to home I ever had,” Kevin stepped away from the umbrella’s shelter, approached the bridge, “They changed it.  Used to be I could sleep under here.  It’s where I came when I left that apartment and that girl.”

Ohh, okay. I’m honestly relieved he’s not trying to go back to her.

“And you’ve been on the streets ever since?”

“Some stays in shelters, when it got too cold, and when they’d take Duke in as well.  Have to make some concessions to make it as long as I have.  Thank you, by the way, for coming.  I know you missed your train.  I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to go through with this, even with Duke at my side.  I’ve started and stopped more times than I can count.  It’s appreciated.”

It’s the small victories.

She gave him a funny look.  “It’s alright.  Take your time.”

Kevin nodded, “Would you take Duke?  Just for a minute?”

A nice show of trust.

Now I’m picturing her taking Duke so Kevin can just suddenly bust out a superpower and destroy the whole place, before just going back to his usual demeanor. “Thanks. I needed that.”

She took the offered leash, a rope cord that had been carefully knotted into a harness for Duke, extending from his shoulder.  It was barely necessary.  Duke never pulled.

Good doggo.

Kevin approached the bridge, traced his fingers over the rounded stones that made up the bridge, the rain-worn gargoyle’s face that stood out from the pillar at the bottom.  The rain streamed off the stone face, poured off and through his clothes, soaking him to his core.  It seemed almost fitting.

The world cries on him.

There wasn’t much point, given the rain, but he knelt by the water’s edge, where the surface frothed with both current and the downpour, washed his hands.  He took a deep breath, taking in the faint but familiar smells of the river water.  A natural smell.

Memories came flooding back.

Ah, here we go, the memories he won’t tell Lisette about?

Kevin pushed his hair out of the way of his face, cupped water in his hands, and splashed his face.

He stood, then stopped, frozen.

You okay? Been a while since you last saw your face, maybe?

A sigh passed through his lips, drowned out by the noise of the pounding rain.

Between the nearest patio table and tree, the golden man floated, only inches above the ground, luminescent in the gloom and pouring rain.

There he is!!

So uh… is he like a Siberian-style projection, or…?

The light reflected off the falling raindrops, scintillating, cast eerie reflections in the river, and the water that streamed between the cobblestones.

Kevin put his hands in his pockets to warm them, glanced at Lisette and Duke.  Duke hadn’t budged an inch, but his ears were flat against his head.  Lisette had her hands to her mouth, eyes wide.

Yeah, you may not have been sure what to expect here, Lisette, but I’m sure meeting Scion was not one of the things that came to mind.

The umbrella had fallen to the ground, forgotten.

Kevin studied the man.  Ageless, the golden man hadn’t changed in the slightest.  His hair was the same length, as was his short beard.  Every part of him was a burnished gold, even his eyes.  He didn’t breathe, didn’t blink as he stared.

It sounds like Kevin hasn’t seen Scion in a while. Is he a completely autonomous projection of a younger Kevin?

I suppose we finally got an answer to where the suit came from.

The water ran off the golden man’s body, but he wasn’t getting wet.  His hair barely moved as the rain struck it, his costume absorbed the moisture, but dried just as fast.  The water simply wicked off his skin and hair, leaving him untouched.

In retrospect, there are quite a few similarities between Scion and projection!Siberian. The way they’re “untouched” by the world around them and their immunity to powers being the biggest two.

Concept: Siberian came about through an attempt to recreate Scion for Cauldron. It’s not what seems to have happened there, but it could at least make for a nice little AU thing.

It was this same effect that kept the costume clean, a simple white bodysuit extending to biceps and toes.  It had been soiled countless times, by everything under the sun, but the golden radiance the man gave off pushed away the particles, slowly and surely cleaning it just as it was doing with the water.  The suit might as well have been a part of him, now.

I suppose there also has to be an effect that keeps the suit whole. Invulnerability extending to what he touches?

“Hello old friend,” Kevin said.

The only answer was the pouring rain.  The golden man didn’t speak.

A man of extremely few words.

“Wondered if I would see you here,” Kevin continued.  “Been a long time.  I’d nearly convinced myself I’d imagined you.  That old dog over there, he wasn’t even born when I left, and he’s on his last legs now.  Twelve years old.”

Wait, so has Scion been regularly returning here? To check up on Kevin, maybe, even after he’d gone elsewhere?

Then again, Scion seems to have a sense of where he needs to be, so he might’ve known Kevin would be here right now if he went…?

The golden man only stared.

Kevin turned away from the superhero.  Walking briskly, he caught up with Lisette’s umbrella, picked it up and shook off the collected water.  He handed the umbrella to her.

I suppose if Scion is in some sense a part of Kevin, but Kevin hasn’t been able to track what Scion has been doing (which is fair enough even with newspapers you don’t have to buy to read the front page of and people he could ask for news), then it would make sense for Kevin to consider the idea that he might have failed to keep up on his responsibilities without knowing. Though Scion’s reputation has it he’s incredibly busy.

But…

“I fucked up, Duke.  I know that.  I gotta live with that.  I did a lot.  More than most would, I think.  But it’s not enough.  If my gut’s right, it’s not nearly enough.  Shit.”

…Scion is still only one man who can only be in one place at a time.

(Also in looking for that, I had a thought — was the summer rain Scion’s herald in some way? “It’s due” not about the weather?)

“Scion,” she whispered.

“No,” Kevin said.  “That was never his name.”

It’s what he is. Not who he is.

The reporter asked what are you.

“I don’t understand.”

“Come closer.”

She hesitated, but approached until she was a short distance from the golden man.  The pupil-less eyes had never left Kevin.

“I said I was the most powerful man in the world.  Wasn’t lying,” Kevin said.  “See?”

A clear resemblance?

The golden man didn’t react.

“You control him?”  Lisette asked.

“No.  Not really.  Yes.  Not like you’re thinking.”

“I don’t understand.”

Subconscious effect on an otherwise autonomous projection?

“Time was, this golden man spent his time wandering, floating here and there, observing but never doing anything.  In a daze.  Naked as the day he was born.  Everyone had different ideas on who he was.  Some thought he might be an angel, others thought he was a fallen angel, and still more thought there were scientific explanations.  Only thing they ever agreed on was that he looked sad.”

…okay, so Kevin is not the origin of Scion? But he is where the suit came from, clearly, and possibly the cause of Scion’s increased activity as time went on?

“He does.” Lisette was staring, but the golden man was only looking at Kevin.

“He doesn’t,” Kevin said.  “Don’t buy it.  He doesn’t look anything.  That expression never changes.  But whatever’s underneath, that’s what’s giving you that feeling.  He looks sad because he is sad.  Except you take out the ‘looks’ part of it.”

So he… projects the idea that he’s sad?

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“He bloody well flies!  And fights a giant continent-shattering lizard with golden laser beams!  Nothing about him makes any sense!”

You have a point there! 😛

The golden man turned his eyes away from the pair, examining one of the recently planted trees.  His eyes fixated on a leaf.

This leaf is infested with bugs that are currently committing all sorts of horrible crimes against each other. Scion is needed.

“What’s he doing?”

“Getting around to that.  Was pure chance, but he stopped somewhere near here, dead of night.  Happened around the time I was still new to this life, when I was still feeling so sorry for myself I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes.  I saw him, realized he was this same golden man I’d heard about on the news.  I was mad with depression, ran up to him and pounded my hands on his chest, yelled at him, swore, called him every name in the book.”

Ahh, pent-up desperation coming out as anger when faced with someone who seems like he should be able to help… this is a kind of moment I’ve enjoyed writing myself.

“Why?”

“Because he dared to be more miserable than me.

Also a very valid irrational feeling.

My MLP OC Enterprise has a history of these sorts of emotional outbursts, particularly against alicorns. One of my favorite chapters I’ve written about her has her lashing out against Princess Luna when she enters Enterprise’s nightmare (as is part of her job as Princess of the Night) shortly after Luna’s return from a thousand years imprisoned in the moon, because Luna had wings.

The reason was that as a unicorn raised in a pegasus city, Enterprise had grown up as a) the only unicorn around, and b) the only one in town, except toddlers, who couldn’t fly (very inconvenient when you live on clouds). While Luna was imprisoned, the silhouette of her head was emblazoned on the moon, which made the moon an inanimate confidante for little babby Enterprise, the only unicorn like her in sight. So when she then found out the pony whose representation she had been viewing as her ally and confidante in having a horn instead of wings actually also had wings, she didn’t take that well.

All of this is pretty irrelevant to the case of Kevin Norton, but my point is I like this kind of characterization and it brings positive associations between Kevin and one of my favorite OCs — and one of my favorite things I’ve written, for that matter — into things.

Or because people were putting all these hopes on him and he wasn’t doing a fucking thing other than being some world-wandering nobody who happened to be able to fly.  Don’t know.  A lot of it was me shouting at myself.  I said something about not being miserable, not being a waste, and maybe if he helped in a soup kitchen or something he’d feel better about himself.”

Oof.

It kind of seems like it sank in, too. I recall Scion was described as suddenly becoming a lot more active than before.

(“I don’t see a princess here,” Enterprise said to another alicorn princess. Said princess changed Enterprise’s mind, but then went home, looked at her reflection and thought the same thing.)

“A soup kitchen?”

“I didn’t really expect him to go work in a soup kitchen.  I eventually did, but that’s beside the point.  I told him to go do something, go help people.  And he did.  Has been since.”

And that’s how he’s the most powerful man. It may not have been directly, physically, but he made a difference.

In a very real sense, Kevin Norton is the reason half the remaining cast of this story is still alive.

(What if Scion looking down on Eidolon is not an arrogance thing, but rather Scion believing that Eidolon isn’t helping the world as much as he could?)

“Just like that?”

“Look at him.  There’s nothing in there.  Whatever happened to him, whatever made him this way, it broke the man.  Broke his mind.  Might be why he was wandering.  Looking for answers, trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Yeah, that’s the distinct impression I’ve gotten too. That he was either alien or completely broken to the point where he might as well be.

The golden man continued staring at the leaves.

“He doesn’t get offended?” Lisette asked.  “When you talk about him like he can’t understand?”

Doesn’t look like it.

“He understands.  He hears.  But I’ve never heard him speak.  Barely ever get him to look at me while I’m talking.  Doesn’t show emotion, maybe doesn’t understand it.”

Except sadness, apparently, and even that he doesn’t so much show as project.

“It’s almost like he’s autistic,” Lisette said.

“How’s that?”  Kevin asked.

“Too connected,” Lisette said.  “Too much in the way of stimuli, drowning everything out.”

…that… actually makes a whole lot of sense. Like I mentioned, he seems to be innately aware of where he’s needed. If he’s aware of every crisis at once (a very saddening power to have), that could easily lead to a sort of sensory overload.

“Enhanced hearing, hearing the whole city at once?”

“Maybe.  Or maybe he senses things we don’t,” she said.  “The most powerful person in the world, and looking at him now, he’s like a child.”

Yeah, I think Lisette is closer to the truth here.

“Yeah, and unless something’s changed,” Kevin said, “The only person he listens to is me.  He’d come when I was alone, when the weather was bad or in the dead of night, and however he comes, nobody ever followed him here.”

I mean… how would you know that you’re the only one? You probably are, likely as a consequence of making a strong impression with that first outburst (as someone with a point, as someone with force of personality, as someone who understood how miserable Scion was), but if you weren’t… he wouldn’t exactly say so.

“They can’t follow him with cameras or satellite, I heard.  Have to rely on eye witnesses and global communication to track him.”

Huh, that’s interesting.

Is he (and the bodysuit) straight up invisible to cameras? Or is it just because he goes too fast?

“Oh.  Might be it,” Kevin said.  “Surprised he came with you here.  I thought- I almost thought he wouldn’t, because I had you along.  It made me feel better.”

“Why?  Why avoid him?”

Good question.

Did things get awkward last time they met, perhaps? (¬‿¬)

Kevin didn’t take his eyes off the golden man.  “He scares me.  He chose me to listen to, of all people.  I’m the most powerful person in the world, just because of that.  Because I can tell the strongest, most capable man in the world what to do.”

And that’s a big responsibility.

But I think that’s precisely why Scion picked him. It’s a big responsibility, and he’d rather entrust someone with no other power with it than someone who has something to lose.

And it was clearly a good choice. Kevin’s heart is in the right place. A more selfish person would have used Scion to “fix” his life by now, beyond vaguely shouting at people that they’re the most powerful person in the world while asking for pocket change.

“And you ran?”

“It took me a while to realize what I’d set in motion.  I started hearing about him.  Word on the street, newspapers, radio.  The golden man saves a small island from disaster.  The golden man interrupts a burgeoning war.  But it wasn’t until that damned clip began playing on the news that I realized what I’d gotten into.”

The clip where he says he’s a Scion?

Not to make the joke I just made about things getting awkward weird in retrospect, but it’s entirely possible that Scion sees Kevin as his father.

“I don’t understand.”

“He’d visit regular, right?  Stop by, like he was checking if I had anything else to say.  Maybe I’d tell him to be more gentle with people when saving them from a car crash, or after that horned bastard came climbing out of the ground and the golden man flew right past it to visit me, I told him he needed to help next time, to fight that monster and anything like it.

Whoops.

Hey, sometimes you just wanna go home.

But sometimes I didn’t have anything to say, and it’s not like he obeys my every instruction down to the last detail, so sometimes he’d hang out here at half past four in the goddamn morning, and I couldn’t get rid of him, so I’d just talk.”

“Talk?”

It seems Kevin has a long history of finding companions to air his thoughts to. Scion, Duke, Lisette…

(Are we sure Kevin isn’t a Time Lord?)

“About whatever.  A book I’d gotten my hands on.  Current events.  The generosity of strangers.  Or I’d fix him up some clothes so he looked decent and talk about the clothes.”

Eyy, the suit.

He fell silent, watching the golden man.

“What happened?”

“He never responded, barely ever paid attention when I opened my mouth to ramble about whatever.  But he was following the general orders I gave him.  Help people, do this more, do that less.  But I’m in the middle of talking to him about my childhood, about home, when he latches on something.  Head turns, eye contact.  Scares the shit out of me.  I go over it all over again, but it was five in the bloody morning and I couldn’t remember exactly what I’d said.

You know shit is serious when you get eye contact.

That is, I couldn’t until three days later, I happen to be in the right time and place, and I see a television in a store playing this clip that’s cropping up on the news.  The golden man says something for the first and last time.  Everyone seems to think he said Scion, and they latch onto it.  They’re wrong, but it sticks, and the word appears on t-shirts and in music and people are talking about it here, where I live.  All because of one thing I said in some ramble of mine, the whole world changes.”

So what did he say? Sign? Cyan? Saiyan? Wait, *googles*, no, Dragon Ball started in 1984 in our world, so if it still exists in the Wormverse Saiyans were probably named after Scion rather than the other way around.

“That’s what scared you?”

“It was the wake up call.  Stupid, isn’t it?  Trivial.”

No, it makes sense. It’s what made him truly internalize how much power he had like this, to change not just Scion’s behavior in far off crises but also how things happened here.

“No.  Nothing’s trivial when you’re talking about him.”

The golden man had turned his eyes towards the river, his back to them.

“What did you say, if the word wasn’t Scion?” Lisette asked.

“Only realized later.  Was talking about home, religion and family.  Talking about a memory from my childhood.  Don’t even remember it that well, now.  But the word he paid attention to was Zion.”

Oh.

I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the name Zion for Jerusalem and Israel, but I can’t really say I’m surprised Scion, the most explicitly Jesuslike figure in the story, is being connected to religion in some way.

“That’s Hebrew, isn’t it?”

Kevin nodded.  “Don’t know.  Don’t know the language, it was something to do with a cousin of mine getting in trouble when we were thirteen.  Don’t know why he fixated on it.  But he did, and around the same time that clip started playing, they were talking about the things he’d done.  How he was still the most powerful person out there.  It’s terrifying, because all that power was at my command, mine to order around.  Because a filthy, do-nothing loser like me can change the world with a word.”

“My guess is Kevin Norton is not a cape, because it’s very in character for Worm to have a chapter about someone who doesn’t have superpowers still managing to be very powerful, for good or ill, but being overlooked because of the lack of superpowers.”

It’s also very in character for Worm to have a character who is indirectly very powerful, for good, be scared by the existential implications of that power. I like this.

“You’re not a loser.  You told him to help people.”

Kevin nodded grimly.

Her expression changed.  “You’re not going to change that, are you?”

Kevin came back here for a reason, I would imagine, but he seems too genuinely concerned about whether he’s lived up to his responsibility for me to believe he came here to undo what he’s managed.

He shook his head.  “Golden man!”

The golden man floated around to face him square-on.

“I’ve screwed up, waiting so long to talk to you.  But I’m here now and there’s two things we got to discuss.”

Love the sudden tone shift.

There was no response.  Only the motionless stare.

“This is a hard one, because I really want to be wrong, here.  If this works, then it means my stupidity and my cowardice cost people big.  Means I could have fixed something much sooner.  Was only about the spring before last, I got a chance to use that newfangled internet.  Took some time to learn, but I read up on you.  Saw video of how you were fighting…”

Was he being too reckless?

“Kevin?” Lisette asked.

“Those Endbringer motherfuckers.  I told you that you need to stop them, that you need to fight and protect people.  And you have been.”

He clenched his hands, stared down at the ground, “And god help me, maybe I wasn’t specific enough.  Maybe I didn’t realize you’d interpret me literally.  We need you to kill the things.

Be careful. He might try too hard and find he can’t. He’s clearly the only thing able to stand up to them alone, but if he plays even more aggressively, he could find they’re also the only things able to stand up to him.

God, I hope I’m wrong, that I’m remembering the words I chose all wrong, and that you didn’t hear my suggestion and take it to mean you should fight for fighting’s sake, or fight to stop them, but not to stop them for good.  You understand?

Yeah, they’re not the training dummies around here.

Don’t just stop them from doing what they were doing.  Stop them permanently.”

The golden man hovered in place, so still it looked like he was frozen in time, standing in the air.

I can’t shake the feeling that this will backfire.

“My god, golden man, I’m praying you understand.  Took me a year to get up the courage to do this, because I was afraid of this.  If that was the problem, and you kill one of those bastards, then I just- I just saved countless people, and the blood of every person they’ve killed in the meantime is on my hands.”

Power and responsibility.

I wouldn’t hold Kevin any more accountable for those deaths than I do Skitter for the deaths in her territory to Mannequin, but I definitely see where he’s coming from. He thinks he’s made a terrible mistake in wording that changed the world for the worse.

“Kevin,” Lisette spoke, her voice quiet.  Her hands settled on his shoulders.

He ignored her, “The other important topic?  I’ve run out of time.  Middle aged, and my liver’s done in.  Never really drank, because I had to feed that dog over there.  Never did any drugs, besides smoking fags.  But I got the hepatitis somehow.  Bad blood in a hospital, or someone else’s infected blood got mingled with mine on a night some kids decided to pick on a homeless man and I fought back.

Scion — or rather, Zion — would be able to heal you, if you were willing to use his power for yourself.

Running into you the way I did, golden man, and having you stop to listen to me?  That was a one in a gazillion chance.  Getting this disease was another, might be.  Meeting you was the best and scariest part of my life, maybe it’s the same with the disease, a blessing in disguise.  Maybe it was, aside from this young lady’s help, the only reason I was able to find the balls to come here.”

I suppose it provided a time limit, aside from the soft one of “if I don’t do this soon more people will die”.

The rain wasn’t as violent or as heavy as it had been.  It made for an audible change in the patter of water on stone and water on water.

Kevin sighed.  “I’m here to get my affairs in order, and you’re most important after Duke.  I want you to keep doing what you were doing.  Help people.  Try to communicate with the good guys more.  I told you to do that before and you didn’t listen, but you should.

He clearly could communicate with them, but he’s shit at it. So, uh… mood.

And if there’s a problem, if you need someone to listen to, someone to visit from time to time, look for this young lady.  Lisette.  Because she’s good people.  She’s a better person than I am.  Braver.  Has to be braver, if she’s stopping to talk to a homeless motherfucker like me, following him someplace.”

Congratulations, Lisette! You just got the power of a Keeper of Zion dumped on you.

I love how an adjectival “good people” for singular individuals shows up from time to time in Wildbow’s writing. I suspect that phrase is somewhat local to where Wildbow grew up, or something like that, because it’s not something I’ve ever seen from any other writer.

(Which of course makes it even funnier when he puts it in the mouth of an Englishman.)

“No,” Lisette said, “I couldn’t.”

“Shitty thing for me to be doing,” Kevin said, turning to look over his shoulder at her.  “This burden.  But I somehow feel better about this than sending him to go obey you than telling him to go listen to and obey the Suits, or the Protectorate, or Red Gauntlet, or whoever.

Suits? Red Gauntlet? European hero teams, I take it?

But yeah, it seems more in the spirit of Zion picking Kevin in the first place.

You think about it, figure out what you need to, decide what he needs to be told.”

“You think he will?  He’ll come to me?”  Lisette asked, her eyes were wide.

“Don’t know, but I think he might.  Don’t know why he picked me to listen to, but he did.  I could’ve reminded him of someone he used to know.  Or he just up and decided we were friends, maybe.  With luck, he can be your friend too.”  Kevin sighed, “You two got it?  You’re partners now.”

“Hey, Lisette, how was your trip?”

“It was okay. Went to York, shopped a little, had a good time, missed the first train back, became partners with the golden man, went out for burgers, y’know, the usual.”

Lisette couldn’t bring herself to speak.  The golden man didn’t respond either, didn’t even move to glance at Lisette.

See? Made for each other.

The golden man hovered in place for long, silent seconds, and then took off, faster than the eye could see.  Only a golden trail of light was left in his wake, quickly fading.

See ya!

In mere seconds, Scion was gone.

“We have to tell someone,” Lisette said.

“You can try.  They’ll look at you the way you looked at me.  Like you’ve lost your mind.”

She does have the advantage of not being homeless, but that doesn’t count for that much.

Maybe if she could get a camera and ask him to pose with a note that says “I’m buddies with Lisette”?

“But- but…”

“Yeah,” Kevin said.  “Not so easy, is it?  Maybe if you’re lucky, he’ll show up when others are around, and they’ll believe you when you talk about it.”

He sighed.  “Come on, Duke.”

Yeeah, if he hadn’t shown up when he did, Lisette would’ve gotten a lot more convinced Kevin was full of it.

Lisette didn’t resist as he grabbed Duke’s leash.  Kevin started walking away.

He’s finally free. He’s finally no longer the most powerful man in the world.

“I don’t understand!” Lisette called after him.

Kevin didn’t turn around or stop walking as he raised his voice to respond over the sound of the pouring rain.  “Good deal, isn’t it?  Ten pounds to become the most powerful person in the world.”

Ahahaha


End of Interlude 18x

And this is why you don’t talk to homeless people: You risk getting saddled with a demigod.

Joke aside, this was a very good chapter. With my pace slowed by the nature of liveblogging, it did feel like it dragged a little more than average despite being on the shorter side, but the payoff was so worth it and I don’t think it would be an issue when reading in a more typical way.

It was also one of the more positive chapters. Sure, it was about the mortifying responsibility that comes with great power, but it also serves as a reminder that even the “little person” can make a difference just by calling for change in the right places and not being selfish (as shown through Kevin never using Scion’s power for himself, even when faced with death), and that giving power to people like that can be a very good thing for the world at large. It’s nice to have a chapter like this during not only the main events of this section of Worm, but also during current events. The Simurgh has been ravaging our world in past years, and people like Kevin are our best shot at beating her back down.

Next up, Queen 8.3, where we’ll likely be trying to iron things out with the Wardtectorate and possibly meet Draconia Blaze the Spine Twister (and maybe even Draconia Blaze the Spine Shredder)! See you there!

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