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Are You Afraid of the Dark? [Worm AU fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Feb 26, 2016.

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  1. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    I'm not sure how many other people she actually views, emotionally, as people.
     
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  2. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Note that I didn't say 'person'. I said 'tool'. :p
     
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  3. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    Basically, she's a psychopath.
     
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  4. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    I imagine Danny calling Alan and having a conversation with him. And shortly afterward Alan tells Emma that she isn't allowed to be friends with Sophia and Madison. Which confuses Emma greatly because usually her father is so supportive.
     
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  5. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Alan's conversation with Emma is going to be a good deal more stringent than that. There are going to be visual aids.
     
  6. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    The explanation would follow. It's just funny to imagination because in canon (and most fanfics) Alan's way of protecting Emma is preventing any and all consequences to her actions and enabling her to be a worse person. In this situation Alan would know that Emma's health depends on her stopping her bad behavior immediately, which would confuse her because it's the opposite of how he usually acts.
     
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  7. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

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    Ack, can QQ haz Leviathan omake, plz? ;) Because that was fucking gold. :cool:
     
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  8. Extras: Omake: Is Leviathan Afraid of the Dark?
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Crossposted from Spacebattles.

    This was written in response to the comment:

    Rain poured down over Brockton Bay. The heroes of the Protectorate and the Wards gathered together as sirens wailed across the city. Heroes and villains alike came in from across the country, with one aim in mind. To stand, together, against one of the primal forces which had destroyed cities, sunken whole islands. Millions of people were dead as a direct result of Leviathan's depredations, and countless hundreds of thousands more had fallen victim to the after-effects.

    And now he was coming to Brockton Bay. Every hero, every villain ... every cape there knew that this could be their last day on Earth. Leviathan may not have been Behemoth, the Hero-Killer, but many capes had fallen to his claws or his water shadow, or simply drowned under a million tons of water.

    Offshore, a tremendous surge of water began to build. This would be the first tsunami to fall on Brockton Bay, but not the last. Leviathan would call them in as easily as a man might pick up a beer and open it. Heroes of might and power such as Eidolon might be able to blunt the impact of the waves on the city, but that would mean they weren't fighting Leviathan.

    It began to roll toward the coast, rising higher and higher as it came. From within, for those who had the senses to detect it, Leviathan surfed the inconceivable power of the wave, drawing it with him. Unstoppable. Inevitable.

    And then a cloaked figure started out on to the longest pier that jutted out into the Bay. As sturdy as it was, it would be crushed to matchwood when the tsunami struck, but the figure showed no hesitation. Stride by stride, carrying some sort of bulky object in his right hand, he made his way along the pier.

    Some capes noticed him, but few would be able to reach him in time, and in any case he was outside the force-field barrier they were even now assembling along the shoreline.

    Alexandria flew up and over the barrier and lanced down toward him. Even now, the tsunami was building to its full power, rising high above the pier, high above the Protectorate base. It would be touch and go, but she could--

    And then the figure stopped, and pulled the cover off of the thing he carried. It turned out to be a Tinkertech megaphone, which he raised to his mouth. Slowly, almost theatrically, he pushed back his hood.

    "LEVIATHAN!" His voice, amplified by the megaphone, echoed back from the still-building wave, clearly audible to those in the city. "ARE YOU AFRAID ... OF THE DARK?"
    There was a pause. The wave, astonishingly ... stopped. Alexandria, even her racing mind stunned by the name she'd just heard and by the cessation of forward motion, landed behind the cloaked figure. He made a 'wait' gesture with his free hand, his attention fixed on the wave.

    And then, slowly, it began to slump away. Water--the incoming tide, nothing more--ran back over the bare sea-bottom up to the level of the beach, and stopped there. The rain ceased, and the clouds began to part. In the distance, on the surface of the water, there was a brief disturbance, as of something huge and powerful returning to the ocean depths.

    The cloaked man turned to Alexandria. "Yes?" he asked mildly. He was taller than her, she realised. Strands of greying hair were stuck to his scalp by the rain. Droplets glinted off of his glasses. But behind the facade of the mild-mannered suburban dad, she saw the true man. The Dark. Involuntarily, she swallowed.

    "If ... if he hadn't turned back ... what would you have done?" she asked.

    He smiled. She had never seen a more chilling expression on a man's face. The cloak blew aside briefly, and she saw a rifle hanging down off of his back. His free hand brushed the barrel. "I would've had to get serious," he said lightly. Turning, he pulled the hood up over his head again and began to walk back along the pier. She heard him begin to whistle, off-key. Belatedly, just before he got out of earshot, she recognised the tune as "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head".
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2018
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  9. MadGreenSon

    MadGreenSon Verified Devil Tiger

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    Kaiser is a Big Pharma CEO, he knows all about ruthlessly fucking people over to get or keep what he wants. The Neo-Nazi horseshit he plays around with on the side is probably the least evil thing he does, he's not gonna let some jackass in his hobby club get him killed. He's got a world of disease and misery to squeeze money and tears out of, after all.
    Parahuman powers and Entity BS are useless against memetic badassery. :p
     
  10. godzillahomer

    godzillahomer Know what you're doing yet?

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    heh, just imagining other scenarios

    Danny: SIMURGH, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
    Simurgh: *grabs her knees and rocks back and forth in a nervous breakdown as she can only see death, pain, and suffering in her future*

    Danny: BEHEMOTH, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
    Behemoth: *defiant roar*
    Danny: Release the monster. *A distant roar is hear* *Behemoth flees*
    Danny: Who knew, the sound of leather on the strings of a bass would scare him off.

    Danny: SCION, ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK?
    Scion: [FEAR][FAREWELL][WORRIES]
    Danny: Huh, didn't know Space Whales owned ovens...
     
  11. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    Ziz would find out some masterplan to become his new wife... and in doing so make the Dark the 21st Endbringer :)
     
  12. Intermittent_Coherence

    Intermittent_Coherence Lewd Lurker

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    I've said so at SV and I'll say it here:
    Let's be serious. Coil was gonna to go after Dark anyway. He'd already set his pet Thinker on him. The recruitment pitch(with guns and thumbscrews) was only a matter of time.
    All Lisa did was make sure Coil went after him with shit info.
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Part Four: Night Terrors
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Are You Afraid of the Dark?

    Part Four: Night Terrors


    [A/N: this chapter commissioned by GW_Yoda and beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]


    Alan Barnes pushed himself away from his desk, the office chair rolling easily over the smooth carpet, and rubbed his eyes. He’d once overheard one of his colleagues asking—maybe rhetorically, maybe seriously—how hard could it be to be a divorce lawyer. The divorce was going to happen anyway, right? It wasn’t like he had to prove someone was guilty or innocent to make it happen.

    Oh, if only you knew. He figured there was more guilt rolling around in both sides of the average divorce case than in any ten criminal cases. There was always a brain-numbing amount of he-said-she-said that had to be unravelled before he could even make a start on the case. And what was worse, the more he delved into this particular brief, the more the story between the lines was starting to look bad for his client. It wasn’t what she’d said that was setting off the alarm bells, it was what she hadn’t said.

    But he’d opted to take the case and he’d get paid anyway. So, win or lose, he would stand out there and do his best to paint her as an upstanding citizen who most certainly was not getting it on with the gardener while her husband was banging his 38DD secretary at work. Or at least she’d accused the guy of doing so. Alan had seen photos and he had to admit that in all fairness, the secretary didn’t look like she’d been hired for her brains. So, guilt on both sides. He just had to spin it so her guilt (which her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s attorney would flaunt from the rooftops) showed up as a negligible peccadillo while his guilt became the betrayal of the ages.

    Heaving a sigh, he stood up twisting his shoulders to crack his back. Next he popped his neck, then glanced at his desk clock. Zoe would give him hell if he didn’t get to bed sometime soon, but he had to finish reading the brief and making notes first. However, right now his brain was threatening to melt out through his ears, so he had to get a metaphorical breath of fresh air before he got back into it. He was just about to head out to the kitchen to pour himself a drink when his phone went off. Bzt-bzt. Bzt-bzt.

    It was only a text message, which puzzled him. If people contacted him at this time of night, they usually rang him. Frowning, he scooped up the offending device and brought up the message.

    Alan. We need to talk. Front door. Now. It was from Danny.

    “What the hell?” he muttered. What was Danny doing texting him at oh-dark-thirty in the morning? What was so important that he couldn’t wait till some more civilised hour? And what was ‘we need to talk’ about, anyway? They’d been friends for more than ten years. More importantly, they shared some important secrets that nobody else knew about, and nobody ever would. Real friends help you move a body …

    Sliding the phone into his pocket, he opened his study door and padded in his carpet slippers down the hallway to the living room. It was in darkness, as was the rest of the house. Through the living room into the front hall, and thus the front door. A flick of a switch turned on the outside security lights, but the peephole revealed no Danny on the front step. Which was really odd. If Danny wanted to talk about something, why didn’t he just ring? Or say what he wanted to say in the text message? And why say ‘front door’ if he wasn’t going to be there?

    And then he froze. Someone was audibly breathing in the living room.

    The rest of the house was utterly silent, but Alan could hear panting, as if the person had just run a marathon. His heart rate hitched up a few notches, and he edged forward until his hand could curl around the door-frame into the living room. His knee nudged the umbrella stand, and he grasped the heavy golf umbrella that he usually took out on the course when he had time to visit the Augustus Country Club. It wouldn’t give anything but visual cover against a gun, but Danny had shown him a few tricks to use against someone with a knife.

    The questing fingers of his other hand found the light switch, and he flicked it over, bringing the umbrella up in a defensive stance. There, sitting in an armchair, facing the front hall … was Danny. On his lap was a puppy, panting happily.

    “Hello, Alan.” Danny’s voice was cool and reserved. Alan recalled the number of people he’d used that tone with, and what had usually happened to them. Then he wondered why he was hearing it. Was it something about Taylor? And why a dog, of all things?

    “Danny!” Alan kept his voice down, but he tried to use his tone in a reproving fashion. “What the hell? You scared the crap out of me.” He slid the umbrella back into the stand. “What’s the matter?” Belatedly, he recalled that Danny knew where he kept the spare key to the front door. Or had he even bothered to use it? Covert entry was one of Danny Hebert’s more esoteric skills.

    In any event, he ignored Alan’s question. “How’s Emma doing at school?”

    “What?” This was not what he’d been expecting to talk about.

    “Emma. School.” Danny’s voice was firm. “She started back on Monday, just like Taylor. How was she acting when she got back from her first day?”

    Alan blinked. He had no idea where this was going, but his innate caution made him think carefully before he spoke. “Uh … the same as normal. A little excited, I guess. She had one of her friends with her. Madison somebody, I think. Is this about Taylor? Because she didn’t come over.”

    “No,” said Danny. “She wouldn’t have. Because she’s in the hospital.” He shooed the puppy off his lap; it scrambled down to the floor and immediately began snuffling around like an industrial vacuum in a pint-sized package. However, Alan’s incipient thoughts about how cute the puppy was came to a screeching halt when Danny got up. The movement caused his oldest friend’s jacket to swing open, affording Alan a glimpse of a leather strap across his chest, and a very familiar object tucked under his left armpit. Something Alan hadn’t seen there in quite some time. When he looked up at Danny’s face again, Alan was quite sure that he’d been meant to see the gun.

    “Danny …” Alan whispered the words. “Are you … working again?”

    “That depends,” Danny said, his jaw set. “Let’s go to your study. We need to have words, and I might just be raising my voice.”

    Dazed, Alan led the way to his sanctum sanctorum. Questions whirled in his head, like moths battering themselves against a lightbulb. Why was Danny asking about Emma? How had Taylor ended up in the hospital? Why was Danny wearing a gun again?

    Scratch that last one; Danny was wearing a gun because Taylor was in the hospital. Whoever had put her there would not long regret that action. But why was Danny here? Why was he going to be raising his voice? Why, in fact, did he have a faint smell of smoke about him?

    All of these questions had one pivotal point, and it didn’t take him long to narrow his sights down to what it was.

    What does he think Emma’s done?

    <><>​

    Coil

    “Say it again.”

    The mercenary took a deep breath. “Are you afraid of the Dark?”

    Calvert frowned slightly. There was something missing. The man was big and husky, just the right body type for this ‘Dark’ boogeyman that the criminal element of Brockton Bay had their drawers in a twist about. He was good enough with a gun to carry off the role, and a balaclava would be a suitable disguise. But still …

    He twirled his finger in a circle. Again.

    “Are you afraid of the Dark?”

    “No …” He rubbed his chin. “Don’t just say it. Feel it. You’re a scary bastard. Everyone knows it. Nobody’s going to fuck with you. It’s not a threat. It’s a promise.”

    Lifting his chin, the mercenary tried again, doing his best to infuse his voice with menace. “Are you afraid … of the Dark?”

    Finally, it sounded right. “Yes. That’s it. Perfect.” Under his mask, Calvert smiled.

    Making use of an urban legend to further his aims. Who knew?

    <><>​

    Lung

    “There’s just one thing you need to know about the Dark!” Kenta strode up and down, his voice booming through the empty space. His men (and women, because women could hold guns too) watched him carefully. Oni Lee stood impassively to one side, thinking whatever thoughts that occupied him when he wasn’t killing people. “There is no such person!”

    Again, he strode up and down. Nobody said anything. Finally, he raised his voice again. “Does anyone doubt my word?”

    The pause was long and pregnant. It was obvious that nobody wanted to gainsay him. As Lung, he had a reputation for burning people alive. Part of this was true, and part was exaggeration. Only a little was exaggeration, of course. Reputations had to start somewhere.

    “Uh, great Lung.” An older man hesitantly raised his hand. Immediately, everyone around him shuffled away to leave him in an empty spot. “I do not doubt your word. You are the Dragon of Kyushu. If you say the Dark does not exist, then he does not exist. But … they say he walks the streets of Brockton Bay. What do you want us to do if we encounter someone who says they are the Dark?”

    Kenta stalked up to the man, and loomed over him. “Do you have a gun?”

    “I … yes, sir.” There was a long pause, as Kenta glowered at him, then the penny finally dropped. Hands made fumble-fingered by haste, he pulled it out and pressed it into Kenta’s hands.

    Kenta examined it, pulling back the slide to check that a round was chambered. Then he raised his voice again. “One of the many rumours about the Dark is that he’s just a man! That he has no powers! That he’s done all he has with no powers! Do you know what this means?”

    Absolute silence reigned in the warehouse. Kenta fancied he could hear the spiders spinning their webs in the rafters above. He glared at his people, wishing they’d understand the difference between when he wanted them to speak up and when he wanted them to stay quiet. “It means that he can be killed, just like any other man!” He jammed the muzzle of the pistol up under its owner’s jaw. The man froze in place, his wide eyes staring at Kenta for mercy.

    “If I pulled the trigger now, this man’s brains would be all over the floor. Does anyone doubt that?” He left them about twenty seconds to voice any doubts. Nobody did. Then he put the safety on and handed the gun back to the man. “That’s what you do to any idiot claiming to be the Dark. Whoever he is, he has no powers. So you shoot him, then when he’s down you shoot him again, to make sure. What you don’t do is piss yourself and run away, just because someone quoted a name from some idiot story.” He glared at the gun owner. “What are you going to do?”

    “Uh, shoot him?” ventured the man.

    Leaning close, Kenta whispered, “If I have to ask you again, you’re going to wish I’d shot you.”

    The man took a deep breath. “I’m going to shoot him, sir!” he shouted.

    Kenta nodded, once. Then he turned away and began to stride up and down once more. “Now we have that out of the way, let’s get down to business.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    The chair in front of Alan’s desk was as comfortable as ever. Chewie had relieved himself before coming inside (on Zoe’s prize rhododendron, but she didn’t have to know that) so Danny felt comfortable with unclipping the lead and giving the puppy the run of the office once the door was securely closed. He watched as Alan sat down behind the desk, probably more from habit than anything else.

    “What’s this about, Danny?” Alan got straight to the point, anyway. “Why are you here? Why are you armed? What’s happened to Taylor? And why are you asking about Emma?” He didn’t mention Chewie.

    Danny rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. “Monday morning, when Taylor went to school, someone shoved her into her locker and locked her in.” He raised one hand briefly to quell Alan’s shocked gasp, then resumed his pose and kept going. “Over the Christmas break, her locker had been filled with biohazardous material of a particular nasty type. She was in there for at least an hour before someone noticed and she was let out.”

    “Jesus Christ,” muttered Alan, and Danny knew he wasn’t praying. “What the hell, Danny? Is it someone who knows about your past, sending you a message?”

    “I considered that option, briefly.” Danny shook his head. “It doesn’t scan. Anyone who hates me that badly is already dead. No, the answer’s worse than that.” He took a breath, and continued. “She’s in the hospital, right now. Psych ward. They’re also treating her for potential infections from the material in the locker. I decided to check with the school.”

    “Something tells me you didn’t get the answers you wanted,” Alan said slowly.

    Danny grinned briefly. Alan did know him, after all. “They were remarkably unforthcoming. So I went back tonight. It appears there’s been an ongoing and concentrated campaign of bullying against her, ever since she entered Winslow. She complained. They didn’t do anything about it, and then they started telling her to shut up and keep her head down.”

    Alan blinked. “No, that’s not right.” He shook his head, as if to try to dislodge an insect from his ear canal. “Emma’s said nothing about that.” He stared at Danny. “Did you want me to bring her in here, so you could ask her who could’ve done this?”

    “No.” Danny shook his head in turn, for a different reason. “I found the names of the girls who’ve been bullying her.” Opening his jacket, which of course reminded Alan once more that he was carrying, he took out the single sheet of paper he’d salvaged from the blaze and unfolded it. “Or rather, the initials. S. H., which apparently translates to Sophia Hess …”

    Across the desk, Alan’s face went through several abrupt transformations; disbelief, shock, fear. Danny’s worst suspicions seemed to be coming true; Alan knew that name. He waited, but his oldest friend said nothing.

    “Then there’s M. C., whom I couldn’t put a name to.”

    This time, he saw Alan’s lips form a name. His lip-reading was a little rusty, but he was pretty sure it was Madison. He didn’t react. “I'll give you three guesses whose initials also came up. And the first two don't count.”

    Alan Barnes went white as a sheet, or rather, as white as he could with his ruddy complexion. Then, as if in a time-lapse sequence sped up for comical effect, he went red again. Not fear. Not embarrassment.

    Anger.

    Danny tensed then. He and Alan Barnes had been friends for a very long time. While he and Anne-Rose had taught Alan a thing or two about protecting himself back in the day, the man had to know he was no match for Danny. If Alan attacked him, Danny would have to be careful about how he went about subduing Alan. While not injuring his oldest friend too badly was a factor here (albeit a minor one) he wanted Alan conscious and both willing and able to talk.

    “That conniving, two-faced manipulative bitch!” exploded Alan.

    Danny blinked as Alan ranted on, using some particularly vicious epithets more suited to the lowest dockside dives. That was new. Alan rarely made outbursts like that, and he never said things like that about women, especially after having two daughters. Even when his female clients lied to him, he kept his cool. This was, in a word, unprecedented.

    “Who, exactly, are you referring to?” asked Danny, when he could get a word in edgewise. Despite the fact that he'd been edging the conversation around to Alan's younger daughter, he had a hard time accepting the idea that Emma was the subject of this tirade.

    Alan paused, panting. “Oh, sorry. Sophia goddamn fucking Hess is who I'm talking about. That stinking little cow insinuated herself into our lives. She caught Emma at a vulnerable time ...” He gave a hollow laugh. “Who am I kidding. She caught both of us at a vulnerable time. I welcomed her into our home. I had no motherfucking idea that she was infecting Emma with her ideas. I certainly didn't have the faintest notion she was turning Emma against Taylor.”

    “But you know now.” Danny didn't say it as a question.

    Alan ran his hand over his forehead. “You know what they say about hindsight being twenty-twenty. I could see what you were leading up to, and I didn't want to hear it. But in law school, they train you to look at a case from both sides, so you can attack the opposition's weak points and shore up against their strong points.”

    Danny nodded. It wasn't an unfamiliar concept. He'd had occasion to put it to use himself, a time or two.

    “Yeah, well,” said Alan, as if Danny had actually spoken. “Just for a second I asked myself, if he's telling the truth, how could this have happened? And it all came together. Sophia motherfucking Hess.” Even without the profanity, the name was a curse on his lips.

    Danny paused. In all truth, he'd come here tonight to speak to Alan and hear his side of matters, explain what Emma had done, and visit summary justice on her. The other two girls would also suffer, but it was the betrayal of a long-standing friendship that angered him the most. Taylor had trusted Emma.

    But now it seemed there was something deeper at work. Emma hadn't just decided to backstab Taylor on a whim. This Sophia Hess, whoever she was, had gotten into Emma's head and turned her around. He was well used to the idea of former allies becoming adversaries when paid by the opposition. After it was all over and the survivors encountered one another, there were rarely any hard feelings. It was just business. And money wasn't the only way to temporarily change someone's allegiance.

    Emma would still pay, he decided. There was more than a year of torment, and the locker on top of that, for her to atone for. But not yet. The true architect of all this was the shadowy girl behind the scenes. Sophia Hess. And a great deal of Emma’s punishment would depend on how fixed she was on this course once the other girl was removed from the equation. ‘Just business’ never applied to the paymaster, after all.

    Leaning forward, he fixed his eyes on Alan Barnes’. “Tell me everything you know about the Hess girl. Leave nothing out.”

    Perhaps sensing a partial reprieve for his daughter, Alan Barnes began to talk. As the tale rolled on, Danny's eyebrows hitched higher and higher. After Alan got to a certain point, Danny began to swear.

    <><>​

    Alan Barnes

    Danny paused at the door, the puppy already sniffing at the front doormat. He looked back at Alan, a warning in his eyes. “I will be back,” he said. “If Emma isn’t here, I’ll have to go looking for her. She doesn’t want that.”

    Alan absolutely believed him. “Do you want me to talk to her, make her understand just how much trouble she’s in …?”

    “She won’t understand.” Danny’s voice was flat. “You’ve seen people like that. The ones who’ve never been held accountable. So long as they’ve got the slightest reason to think they’re going to get away with whatever they’ve done, they just dig their heels in.” His left hand brushed his closed jacket, a gesture that had supremely sinister connotations when it came to Danny Hebert. “There’s only two ways to get through to them.”

    The taste of vomit rose into the back of Alan’s throat. “What … what’s the other way?”

    Danny stepped out through the door. He glanced back once. “Kick their legs out from under them.” Then the door closed and he was gone.

    <><>​

    Danny

    With Chewie trotting happily at his side, Danny made his way back to his car. Where before his anger had been entirely directed at Emma, now he was seething, with a new target in mind. Corrupt cops were not his favourite people in the world; if police officers couldn’t be depended upon to do what they were paid to do, who could? Under the circumstances, he was willing to extend this attitude toward so-called superheroes.

    Unlocking the vehicle, he opened the door and got in. Once he was sure Chewie was settled on the seat, he pulled out his phone, then took an aged notepad from his inside jacket pocket. Flipping through the pages, he settled on a particular number.

    Before he pressed the buttons to dial the number, he paused to think about his options. A great many consequences would ride on the outcome of this call. He was about to take more steps down a path he’d never ventured on before. Is this what I really want to do?

    The memory of Taylor in the hospital bed, frail and helpless, decided him.

    Yes.

    To hell with the consequences. If they didn’t want consequences, they shouldn’t have messed with my daughter.

    <><>​

    Assault

    The credits rolled, and the late movie came to an end. Ethan stretched and yawned, careful not to dislodge the warm weight of his sleeping wife against his chest. It was time, he decided, to go to bed. Tomorrow was another day, after all.

    He nudged her shoulder. “Wake up, puppy. Movie’s over.”

    “Hmm?” she murmured, and snuggled into him.

    “Movie’s over,” he reiterated. “Time to go to bed. Get some sleep.”

    “’m comfy right here,” she mumbled.

    His reply was interrupted by his phone ringing. “Crap,” he muttered, and carefully wriggled it out of his pocket without jolting his wife too much. Pressing the button to answer it, he held it to his ear. “You’ve got Ethan.”

    “Hello, Madcap.” The voice was familiar, though it had been years since he’d heard it. Adrenaline flushed through his system, and suddenly he was a great deal more awake.

    “Uh, hi, uh, buddy,” he stumbled. “What’s up?”

    “I’m going to assume you’re not alone.” The Dark was as perceptive as ever. “Don’t worry; this won’t take long. I’m calling in a marker.”

    “Wait, what?” Ethan scrambled for something to say that wouldn’t alert his puppy to the fact that the night had suddenly taken an ominous turn. When the Dark called in a marker, nobody said no. “Uh, beer and poker night next Saturday? Isn’t that a bit sudden?”

    As expected, those words woke his wife all the way up. “What?” she hissed. “You know we’re having dinner with Robin and his girlfriend next Saturday.” She sat up and glared at him.

    “I know, honey, I know,” he said placatingly. “Listen, I’ll just go out on the porch and explain that. I’ll just be a moment, mmkay?”

    “Don’t be too long,” she growled. “And don’t give in. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.”

    “I won’t,” he said in answer to both of her strictures. “I’m just going, okay?” He got up from the sofa and escaped to the front porch, where he closed the door for some privacy. “Okay, what the hell, man? You drop out of sight for years, and then you ring me in the middle of the night?”

    “I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t important.” The Dark had a way of cutting to the chase. “I presume you managed to convince your Director that it was me behind Hookwolf and Cricket?”

    Despite having been certain in his own mind about both, it was good to have verification. For a given definition of ‘good’, that is. “Yeah. I kind of had to. If I’d pretended not to know, she wouldn’t have bought it for an instant. Hope that’s okay.”

    “It really doesn’t bother me.” The scary part was, the guy was absolutely serious. The PRT has been alerted that I’m active again? Meh, who cares.

    Ethan took a deep breath. “Uh, so, quick question. Are you back? Are you working again?” The answer, he knew for a fact, would decide whether he was going to sleep that night or not.

    “That depends. Like I said, I’m calling in a marker. If I can get my business concluded and out of the way in a timely fashion, this is a temporary thing.” He didn’t have to spell everything out. Ethan could see the writing on the wall. If his business wasn’t concluded in a timely fashion … the Dark was back, and life in Brockton Bay was likely to get that little bit more complicated.

    “Okayyyy …” Next was the question he didn’t want to ask, because the answer was undoubtedly something he didn’t want to hear. “What do you need from me?”

    “Information. Everything you have about one of your Wards. Shadow Stalker, to be precise.”

    Ethan was jolted to the core. Before, he’d been casually wondering why the Dark had called him. Now he knew. To say that this set off a lot of alarm bells was putting it mildly. What the Dark had just requested went against nearly everything Ethan knew about him. And it would cause a massive upheaval.

    “Uhhh …” He racked his brain, trying to recall what markers the Dark had on him. He wasn’t going to refuse the request, but he didn’t recall anything that stringent. Maybe he could talk the guy down to something less explosive. “Refresh my memory. When did I run up a marker that big?”

    “Oh-five. April. Carnifex. Birdcage run. You’d been contracted by his followers to spring him. They decided to feed you to him once you succeeded.”

    “Oh, fuck, yes.” Ethan didn’t need any more reminding. Carnifex was a Changer, who became a huge feral bear-wolf-wolverine hybrid creature that ate people. He’d had a cult following him, sort of like the Fallen-lite. The hit on the Birdcage convoy had gone off perfectly, right up until he presented Carnifex to his loyal followers for the second half of his pay. The net had been an unpleasant surprise, wrapping around his limbs and tumbling him to the ground. Carnifex had unlimbered a jaw apparently capable of engulfing Ethan whole, then a shot came in from nowhere and blew most of the feral cape’s lower jaw all over the ground.

    Ethan managed to escape in the subsequent chaos. He didn’t know exactly what had happened with Carnifex and the cultists after that, but the rumour was that the cape (along with an indeterminate number of his cultists) ended up dead. It didn’t surprise him that it was the Dark behind the rifle. “Okay, yeah. That’s some marker.”

    “So, what information can you give me?” The Dark was relentless. It was kind of his thing.

    Unfortunately for Shadow Stalker, Ethan knew a lot about her. Sizing up other capes fell somewhere between ‘fun hobby’ and ‘survival trait’ for him, and he was very good at it. What he was officially allowed to know, what he’d found out by poking around, and the gossip he’d overheard from time to time; it all added up to a fairly comprehensive picture. Over the course of the next few minutes, he conveyed that picture to the Dark.

    “What are you going to do with this?” he asked, once he’d finished. “I thought you didn’t go after capes. Hell, I was pretty sure you didn’t go after kids.

    “Shadow Stalker stepped over a very personal line.” The absolute chill in the Dark’s voice sent shivers down Ethan’s spine. “I aim to send a message.”

    The message, Ethan intuited, read something along the lines of ‘don’t do this if you like having working kneecaps’. “How … uh, how hard are you going to push this message?”

    “That depends entirely on her sense of self-preservation.” The call ended.

    Ethan closed his eyes and rested his forehead against one of the porch roof supports. Everything he knew about Shadow Stalker told him this would not go well for her.

    “Honey?” The door opened. “Is everything all right?”

    He manufactured a smile for the love of his life. “Sure. All sorted. Let’s go to bed.”

    Sleep, he knew, was going to be a long time coming.

    Never once did he even consider warning Shadow Stalker. You fucked up, you wear it.

    <><>​

    Danny

    Brockton Bay General Hospital

    The Next Morning

    Taylor rubbed Chewie’s stomach, eliciting comical grunting noises from the puppy as he wriggled on his back, eyes closed and tongue hanging out the side of his mouth from sheer doggy pleasure. Spread on the bed before her was a copy of the Brockton Bay Bulletin, showing the front-page image of smoke billowing over Winslow High, the school itself in ruins. Danny, sitting at the side of the bed, kept a surreptitious eye on her expression. Was she upset or merely puzzled?

    “Wow,” she said at last. “Says here they’ll be closed indefinitely?”

    “Yeah,” he replied, having read further through the paper than she had. “Apparently the fire brigade managed to save a chunk of the school, but when the fire inspectors went through the place they found so many violations of the fire codes that it’s basically going to have to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. There’s even rumours of charges being laid for criminal negligence against some of the school administrators and staff.”

    Her eyes widened. “Charges? Criminal negligence?”

    “Yeah.” He nodded. “Emergency fire exit door alarms not working, defective sprinkler systems with years of fraudulent inspection certificates, fire extinguishers that had been long since discharged and not replaced, smoke detectors dead and gone, and so forth. The word is that Blackwell and several other senior administrators were either turning a blind eye or actively participating in the fake certification scam. It would cost them a fraction the cost of a genuine inspection, and they pocket the difference. Once the investigators start digging, they’ll find out which one it was.”

    He was quite satisfied with this outcome. None of the school staff had actively set out to harm Taylor; it was merely their wilful negligence that had done so. Proving their culpability in what had happened to Taylor would’ve been a long and tiring legal battle, especially with Alan Barnes appealing everything in sight to keep the heat off Emma as long as possible. But this had nothing to do with Taylor, so she could be kept out of sight and out of the papers, and the fire safety board would be highly unlikely to simply drop the case and walk away.

    A smile spread across her face. It was like the sun coming up. “Well, good. It’s about time bad stuff happened to them rather than me.” She paused, looking concerned. “Didn’t you say something about the school paying for my medical bills …?”

    “We’re good,” Danny assured her. “The check already cleared. I’m not saying I anticipated something like this happening,” he gestured at the paper, “but I’m all too familiar with the idea of bureaucrats cutting off funding for a partially paid-for project. So I went in to the bank, first thing.” At the time, it had been his only way to stick it to those self-important assholes. Depriving them of the money before they could change their minds was basic common sense. Now, he was pleased with his foresight.

    Her smile returned, in full force. “And the more they paid you, the less they have for their other legal fees? Good.

    He didn’t have the heart to tell her that the amount they’d gotten from the school was likely a small fragment of the total money available, but it wouldn’t matter. All the legal trickery in the world wouldn’t get those scumbags out of this fix. Though something else had occurred to him, and now he brought it up. “Talking about that. Once the investigators start going through their books, this payment is going to come to light. They’re going to probably want to ask us questions about it. Do you think you’ll be up to that?”

    She hugged Chewie to her. The puppy wriggled around in her arms and licked her chin. “Yes,” she said firmly. “If it means Winslow never gets rebuilt, I’ll talk to them all day long.”

    Danny smiled and ruffled her hair. “That’s my girl.”

    “Da-ad!” But she giggled, even as she ducked away from his hand.

    The door to the room opened suddenly. Danny stilled his reach for the gun under his armpit as Doctor Franklin entered the room. “Morning, Danny, Taylor,” he said cheerfully. His smile widened as he took in the scene. “How are you feeling today, Taylor?”

    “Better,” she told him, lifting her chin for emphasis. “Dad told me the school burned down last night, and the people running it are in deep legal trouble.”

    Franklin’s eyebrows rose as he took Taylor’s wrist. He glanced at his watch as he counted silently for a minute, then nodded and released her hand again. “Do I detect a hint of schadenfreude there?” He paused. “Schadenfreude means—”

    “I know what it means.” She grinned at him. “Mom was an English professor. Anyway, it’s only what they deserve. They never did a thing to stop people bullying me. It’s only right that their negligence comes back to bite them in the ass.”

    Danny watched the byplay with a sense of pride and amusement. Even in a hospital bed, his Taylor could hold her own with the best of them.

    “I agree totally,” Franklin said gravely. He produced an electronic thermometer, the type that gets inserted in the ear. “Hold still.” Clearly used to multi-tasking, he held it in place and gave Chewie a brief head-rub as he kept talking. “You’re looking better. Your blood scans are clearing up faster than I’d expected. We might be able to discharge you as early as tomorrow.” The thermometer beeped and he took it out of her ear and examined it more closely. “Yes, that’s looking very good.” Moving down to the end of the bed, he took up the clipboard there and made a couple of notes. “And is the little furball behaving himself?”

    As everyone looked at Chewie, he sat up and panted happily, apparently aware that he was the centre of attention. Then he grabbed Taylor’s sleeve—already a little the worse for wear—and began gnawing on it again with tiny growls as he shook his head from side to side.

    “Mostly,” Danny allowed, scratching the puppy behind the ear. “He’s very adventurous. Keeps me on my toes.” He gave Taylor a mock-stern glare. “So get well soon, young lady. I’d like to be able to relax once in a while.”

    She rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “I’m working at it, okay?”

    Franklin chuckled. “Well, I’ll leave you to it. I’m very pleased with your progress, Taylor.” He nodded toward Chewie. “A positive attitude is one of the best tools that can lead to a quick recovery. That little guy is probably doing more for you than I ever could.”

    “Well, I appreciate what you’re doing as well,” Danny said firmly.

    That got another smile out of Franklin. “It’s good to be appreciated. I’d stay and chat, but I have rounds to do. So I’ll see you both later.” He headed for the door; a moment later, he was gone.

    “So … home tomorrow, you think?” Danny didn’t want to get Taylor’s hopes up, but the way her face lit up at the suggestion was heart-warming.

    “Definitely.” She hugged Chewie, who yapped and licked her face. “I can’t wait.”

    “Me too.” But he was thinking hard. I can’t leave Taylor alone on her first night at home. It’ll have to be tonight.

    Fortunately, he already had plans in place.

    <><>​

    Later that Afternoon

    Taylor lay back in bed, apparently reading one of the books her father had brought in. Periodically, she turned a page, but her eyes did not take in a single word. Her mind was far away; or rather, far away in many different directions.

    It had taken her a while to come to grips with her power, but her father’s visits had helped. Chewie’s unconditional affection had done even more to bring her mental state to something approximating equilibrium. Now she was able to explore the ramifications of her capabilities without freaking out more than a little.

    It seemed that she could sense every bug for two blocks in all directions. More than that, she could pinpoint their locations and make them move in any direction that she chose. In fact, she could make them do anything she wanted. She could even tap into their senses, such as they were.

    As she counted the bugs in her range (it was just another astonishing fact that she could effortlessly count them) and had them do five million independent things, just to prove that she could, a smile crossed her face. She stretched her will just a little and focused her eyes on the page before her. Still manipulating five million bugs (including clearing every single roach out of the hospital building), she concentrated and began to read.

    At first it took a little effort, but this was largely due to the fact that she’d never done this before. Much like flexing a muscle she’d never used before, it was not entirely comfortable, but the more she did it, the easier it got. By the time she was two-thirds of the way down the page, she was taking in every word.

    She finished that page and read two more as smoothly as if she wasn’t also exerting positive control over every single arthropod in the surrounding million square feet. Closing the book, she folded her hands over it. Every bug she’d been controlling went back to what they were doing.

    I have powers.

    This was huge. She wouldn’t have wished what had happened to her on anyone; in fact, she still wasn’t sure if having the powers made it worth the torture she’d gone through to get them. It certainly wasn’t worth the previous year and more of bullying at Emma’s hands, at the hands of all three of them.

    But the fact was, she had powers. Unfortunately, they weren’t the type of powers that would let her go back and change the circumstances that forced the powers on her in the first place, if that was even possible. But they were the type of powers that would let her do the next best thing.

    Slowly, a smile spread across her face.

    I’m gonna be a superhero.

    <><>​

    That Night

    The Docks

    Shadow Stalker

    Come out, come out, wherever you are.

    Sophia took a run-up and leaped across the gap between two buildings, turning to shadow and gliding onward. Her senses got a lot fuzzier in shadow form, but she could tell where her destination was. As she crossed the parapet of the next rooftop, she went solid again and landed without so much as a stumble. She didn’t even crack a smile at the confirmation of her absolute capability in this regard. It wasn’t just that she thought she was good; she knew she was good.

    A groan from below drew her attention, and she moved to the edge of the roof. Looking down, she tapped the side of her mask and cycled through several options. There were no electrical sources below, but the low-light setting showed three people sprawled in the alley in painful poses.

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. Not again.

    Turning to shadow, she stepped off the edge of the roof and drifted down toward the ground. While still a foot in the air, she reverted to solid form and fell to the ground in a crouch. Without pausing, she began to check over the men.

    Thirty seconds later, she turned back to shadow and began to ascend to the rooftops again. Her mood, already irritable, was souring even more. It was what she’d thought; far from being innocent victims, the men showed all the signs of being opportunistic muggers. Their weapons had been lying on the ground near them, but their injuries had all been inflicted with hands or feet. She knew the signs.

    This was the third group of would-be muggers she’d encountered tonight. All had been armed, all had been savagely beaten and left where they lay. Broken bones had been both plentiful and varied in nature. She couldn’t be certain that some would even survive the night. Most wore the colours of the Empire, but some appeared to be freelancers.

    Her problem wasn’t the fact that someone was kicking the shit out of muggers. She’d done exactly the same thing herself, on many occasions. No, what was bugging her was the fact that there was some unnamed vigilante out and about, doing what she’d done so effectively before the PRT had snapped her up. And he wasn’t even using any kind of weapon to do it with. Worst of all, he was smacking her muggers around before she could get to them.

    When I find you, asshole, you and me are going to have a chat. She didn’t know exactly what sort of a chat it was going to be, but she needed to explain to this guy that she was here first. She took a run-up and leaped across the gap to the next building. It wasn’t that she wanted to warn the guy off, of course. But having someone outside the PRT building, someone she could maybe team up with on her previously-solo patrols, capable of this level of directed violence … that was something she could consider. So long as he knows who the boss is.

    She kept running, kept jumping. Scanning the street. Listening for anything that might clue her in to a crime in progress. Somewhere, there was someone beating hell out of muggers, and not letting her in on it. She was playing catch-up, and she hated it.

    “Uh … hello, guys. Can … can I help you?” It was a masculine voice, a little high-pitched from fear. A puppy yapped. Sophia ran the last few yards and stared down at the scene that was even now playing out on the street below.

    A tall skinny guy had been approached by four guys. Balding, wearing glasses, he’d been out walking his dog. Sophia let her breath hiss out from between her teeth; doing that, in this area, was idiotic. Unfortunately, there were far too many idiots in the world today. Like most of the other muggers, these guys were wearing Empire colours. Their victim was white, but skinheads were equal-opportunity muggers.

    Sophia settled down to watch the ongoing shakedown. The guy couldn’t get away; in fact, he seemed more interested in keeping the leash short so the yapping puppy couldn’t run into danger. Neither was he putting up any sort of fight. He was trying to talk the guys into leaving him alone, retreating until his back was up against the grimy brickwork. At his feet, the puppy faced the four muggers, growling defiantly. Sophia liked its style. Its owner, not so much.

    The muggers were in no hurry, waving knives and iron bars and trading crude jokes at their victim’s expense. They moved in toward him, encroaching on his personal space with casual menace. He kept trying to defuse the situation, keeping his right hand up in a non-threatening gesture while his left was occupied with controlling the puppy’s leash. This could only end one way, and it wouldn’t be too long coming.

    Shit, what if the other guy jumps in first? She did not want to be left on the back foot if the interloper to her territory took these mooks out and saved the victim. At the very least, she’d look incompetent. Should I just go in there?

    A moment later, the decision was taken out of her hands. Yapping loudly, the puppy managed to lunge forward, and the guy tried to pull it back. One of the muggers was taken off guard, and the guy accidentally shoved him. Through sheer luck, the mugger tripped and went down hard.

    Well, that’s good enough for me. It could be argued that the guy wasn’t actually fighting back, but Sophia decided to take what she could get. Rising to her feet, she leaped over the edge of the roof, turning to shadow as she went.

    She reached the ground a moment later. When she turned solid, it took a moment to take in what was happening. Two more of the muggers were down; even as she tried to wrap her head around the situation, the tall guy smashed the fourth guy to the ground with an elbow to the throat. She stared at the tall guy. He didn’t look like a victim any more. Now he looked like her. He looked like a predator.

    Holy fuck. It’s him. It’s the

    He whipped around toward her, moving so fast she barely had time to react. As he struck at her body, she instinctively went to shadow. All too late, she saw the stun-gun in his left hand. Where the fuck did he get

    Electricity crackled and she went solid again, convulsing from the shock to her system. As she crumpled to the dirty pavement, she heard him speak. His voice was no longer high with fear; now, it was firm with satisfaction.

    “Took you long enough.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    Hebert Household Basement

    Chewie sniffed around the basement as Danny finished restraining Shadow Stalker (minus her mask and cloak) to the chair. It was made of solid wood, and the cable ties were of the industrial variety. Nothing short of Brute strength would snap them, and Shadow Stalker didn’t have a Brute rating. To get around her phasing ability, he had a hundred-foot extension cord plugged into mains power, wrapped around her arms and legs, as well as her body and neck. The other end of the cord was plugged into an electric fan, which was whirring away merrily up on a shelf. In addition, the chair itself was fixed to a solid base, so that it couldn’t be simply tipped over.

    He’d done this sort of thing before, from time to time.

    By the time he pulled the last cable tie taut, he was pretty sure she was awake and faking it. That was fine. He picked up a plastic bucket and went to the faucet in the corner, and filled it. The water was cold; this time of the year, it was always cold. Stepping back in front of Shadow Stalker, he made sure the fan was well out of the way and drew the bucket back. Heaving it forward, he let the teenage girl have the contents, square in the face. The fan whirred on.

    She gasped and spluttered, no longer able to fake unconsciousness. He put the bucket down. She glared at him, water running down her uncovered face. A moment later, she recognised this and her eyes flared with rage.

    “You unmasked me, you son of a bitch!”

    “If it’s any consolation, I knew who you were before I ever took your mask off, Miss Hess.” He folded his arms and leaned back against the nearby workbench. “But your identity is the least of your problems right now.”

    “Problems?” she screamed. “You want problems? You’re fucking dead! When I get out of this, I am gonna kill you!”

    “Save your breath,” he advised her. “This basement is soundproofed.” Unfolding his arms, he leaned forward and placed his hands on the chair arms, his face a foot from hers. She tried to headbutt him, but the cord around her throat pulled her up short with a choking sound.

    Looking around, he ensured that Chewie was nowhere near the water that had pooled beneath the chair. Neither was he standing in it. Producing the stun-gun, he touched it to Shadow Stalker’s skin. When he pressed the button, the girl arched her back, her limbs straining against the cable ties. He let the button go after one second, and stepped back.

    Slowly, she came back to herself. She glared groggily at him, blood running down her chin from a bitten lip.

    “Now that I’ve got your attention,” he said. “Let’s talk about Taylor Hebert and Emma Barnes.”


    End of Part Four

    Part Five
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2019
  14. Psyckosama

    Psyckosama Well worn.

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    Couldn't happen to a nicer girl...
     
  15. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    And Sophia saw Danny's face. That's not going to end even close to well for her.
     
  16. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    Curious to see the reaction of the PRT following this and how much they'll figure out. After all even John Wick expies tend to get all the hate on them.
     
  17. R.A.G.

    R.A.G. Versed in the lewd.

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    Eh, depends if he gets a hold over her or not.

    Btw, wondering if he might accidentally cause her to second trigger, lel.
     
  18. Threadmarks: Part Five: Removing Threats
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Are You Afraid of the Dark?

    Part Five: Removing Threats


    [A/N: this chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]


    “What did I do?” demanded Sophia Hess as the man climbed the steps out of the basement. “What did I do to you? Tell me! Tell me!

    He didn’t respond, not even by turning his head to look at her. The light clicked off. At the top of the stairs, the door opened and then closed again. Only then did she allow the terror she felt to send shivers throughout her body.

    She had no idea how long she’d been imprisoned down here, but it seemed like an eternity. It wasn’t that the man had been cruel. He hadn’t tortured her in the physical sense. He hadn’t waterboarded her or even used the stun-gun after the first time. It had sat on the bench like a silent observation that yes, he could put white fire through her veins at any time, but he’d never actually used it.

    Neither had he starved her or forced her to soil herself. One of her hands had been released so she could eat—takeaway food; she wasn’t picky about her nutrition—and he’d released her from the chair at one point so she could relieve herself into a bucket. But he’d taped the damned electrical cord to her ankle first, so she still couldn’t use her powers.

    That hadn’t stopped her from trying to jump him, of course. He’d turned his back out of respect for her privacy, and she’d gone in for a kidney strike. One hit to slow him down, and she could beat the living shit of him at her leisure. Maybe tie him into the fucking chair, and see if she could drain the batteries of the stun-gun into him before he died of a heart attack or something.

    That plan lasted right up until she’d gotten within arm’s reach of him. All she recalled from that point on was the glint of the basement light on his glasses as he swayed aside from her attack and retaliated in kind, far more effectively than she’d ever been on her best day. She’d woken up in the chair with a few new bruises and the burning question uppermost in her mind: Who the fuck is this guy? Because old and balding or not, glasses or not, he had moves she’d never even seen Armsmaster use.

    It hadn’t been hard for him to get the story about Emma and Taylor out of her. The PRT handbook even said that if you were faced with torture, confess everything. It wasn’t like he was asking for classified shit, like the secret identities of the Wards or the layout of the PRT building. He just wanted to know what was going on with her and Emma and Hebert.

    Truth be told, she might’ve embellished things a little. It was obvious that this was a guy for whom the phrase ‘does not fuck around’ might well have been invented. After the beatdown, she’d decided that it couldn’t hurt to try to impress him a little. Badass to badass, that sort of thing. It could even be that he was testing her, seeing what she was like when the chips were down.

    So, after she told him everything, she’d said, “Okay, I gave you what you wanted. Who the fuck are you?”

    Earlier, he’d ignored the question. Now, he answered it. And the more he spoke, the more deeply she regretted asking it.

    She’d heard of the Dark, of course. Who hadn’t? But he’d vanished from the Brockton Bay scene before she ever got powers, and as time went on she’d tended to assume that his legend had been vastly inflated.

    But there was one little problem. She knew boastfulness and braggadocio when she heard it, and the dry uninflected voice of the man before her had none of that. In fact, the more she listened to him speak about his career, citing half-forgotten names from before Sophia was even born, the more worried she became.

    If this guy is for real, what does he want with me?

    “So wait,” she’d interrupted after he’d explained how Jack Slash’s elbows and knees had been shot out with sniper fire. “If you’re really the Dark, didn’t you have a rule where you don’t go after capes?” She was sure she’d heard that somewhere.

    “That was more of a guideline,” he replied, turning his head in just the right way that the basement light hid his eyes behind the reflection from his glasses. It gave him a supremely sinister air. “I came to an agreement a long time ago with a scarily competent woman in a fedora. It’s apparently in society’s best interests not to have capes being sniped from every rooftop. However, it’s also in society’s best interests to have people like me around to deal with certain other people. So I agreed not to take any jobs to kill capes, and to try to avoid killing them in general. But that didn’t include special circumstances. The fact that I won’t take money to kill a cape doesn’t mean I won’t kill capes if I consider it necessary. I’ve just managed to avoid the necessity until very recently.”

    “Special circumstances?” she asked, a suspicion nagging at her that she might regret asking. But then, she’d never been one to avoid doing something just because she might regret it later.

    “Special circumstances,” he repeated, tossing a newspaper on her lap. It took her a moment to focus on the print, and then her eyes widened. It had been folded so that one specific story was prominently displayed; the deaths of Cricket and Hookwolf. When she looked up from the paper, he let out a brief whistle. The puppy that she’d seen snuffling around the darker corners of the basement with great interest woke up and came trotting over. He picked the dog up and scratched its ears. “The Empire took my dog. I went and got him back. Cricket and Hookwolf wanted to argue the point.”

    It was cool in the basement, but sweat still sprang out on Sophia’s forehead. She’d already known she was in the presence of a uniquely dangerous individual. His words hammered that point home in no uncertain terms. Not only was he capable of killing two highly capable parahumans without much in the way of trouble, but he was entirely willing to do so over a dog. “I never hurt your dog,” she offered hopefully.

    Again, he looked at her. This time, she could see his eyes behind his glasses, and she wished she couldn’t. They were dead, flat. His gaze didn’t promise pain. It promised oblivion. “No,” he agreed, and his voice was even more terrifying than his eyes. “You did something much, much worse.”

    That was when he turned and left the basement, still carrying the dog with him. She called after him, wanting answers. Above all, wanting to know why. But he never answered her. Reaching up, he pulled on the cord to turn off the basement light. The basement was plunged into darkness, alleviated only briefly by the door opening and closing at the top of the stairs.

    Sophia Hess sat in pitch blackness, tied to the chair. She racked her mind to recall everything she’d ever heard about the Dark, but only came up with one thing. A question he used to ask. Popular culture held that it was the very last question that some people ever heard.

    Are you afraid of the Dark?

    And as she sat in the stillness, with not a scintilla of light to illuminate her surroundings, she discovered that the answer was yes. She was very much afraid of the Dark.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Chewie stood up on Taylor’s lap with his front paws on the windowsill of the car door, his head as far out the window as he could reach and his tongue flapping in the breeze. His back end was just as busy, hindquarters wriggling as his tail wagged briskly. She held on to him carefully, which he had no problem with. He seemed to be so thoroughly alive in the moment that it was hard not to share his pleasure.

    Of course, she was also enjoying the situation of her own accord. Doctor Franklin and the nurses had all been kind to her, but the hospital was not home, and she craved the comfort and familiarity of her own bed in her own bedroom. Despite her father’s occasionally acerbic comments on the matter, she’d gathered he was fine with Chewie sleeping in her room, or even up on her bed if she so wished. Just so long as she ensured that he didn’t make a mess, or that she was responsible for cleaning up any messes he did make.

    She was perfectly okay with that. Chewie was wholly, unequivocally devoted to her, just as she was to him. He didn’t mind when she clung to him extra tightly, or when her tears soaked into his fur. For her part, she was always cheered up when he licked her face or slobbered in her ear, even if part of the laughter came with an exasperated, “Chewie!”

    “You okay, honey?” asked her father, breaking into her introspection. “You’re being a bit quiet there.”

    She turned to him, a smile breaking out on her face. “I’m great. Getting used to being out of the hospital and actually going home. I still can’t believe they made me ride out the front doors in a wheelchair.”

    “Hospitals,” he said. “Go figure.” He turned his eyes forward, his tone becoming thoughtful. “Things are going to be different. You understand that, right? I’m not going to let something like that happen to you again.”

    The suddenly serious topic caused her to sit up a little in her seat. “Yeah, well, now that Winslow’s burned down, I don’t have to go back there ever again,” she agreed. “Have they found out what caused that? I’d like to find the person responsible and give them a big hug.”

    He raised an eyebrow. “You seem sure that it was deliberate and not something like frayed electrical insulation.” A smirk lingered on his face. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”

    “Dad, seriously?” She grinned more widely, playing along. “You can’t prove anything. I’ve got the perfect alibi. But you have to admit; this was Winslow. It probably had a higher population of potential teenage arsonists per classroom than any other school in Brockton Bay.”

    “Your point is valid.” He tapped the steering-wheel idly with his finger. “However it happened, I’m glad it did. Makes it much easier to get you a transfer. And this way, I don’t have to worry about pressing charges against everyone from that Blackwell woman on down.”

    “And I don’t have to sit through another World Affairs class with Mr Gladly trying to be everybody’s friend but mine, and ignoring all the shit they’re doing to me.”

    “Hm.” Danny’s eyes took on a faraway look. “Gladly, huh?”

    “Yeah.” She snorted. “So glad.”

    Her father nodded. “Yeah, me too. You won’t have to worry about that anymore.” His eyes coming back into focus, he glanced at her. “So how are you doing?”

    She snuggled Chewie to her, and he obligingly licked her on the chin. “I’m not going to say that what I went through was worth it, but I think I’m going to be okay.”

    “That’s the general idea.” He turned the car on to their street. “Also, just so you know, I’ve arranged another little surprise for you. A bit of closure, you might say.”

    She turned to him, mouth opening to ask questions, but he held up a hand. “I’m not saying any more. This is going to be an actual surprise. No hints.”

    “Okay.” She settled back in her seat and scratched Chewie behind the ears. “What’s the surprise, Chewie? Do you know what it is? You can tell me. I’ll give you a belly rub.”

    Chewie yapped and licked her face. She sputtered and wiped her mouth, but giggled anyway. “Chewie! Dog breath, ew!”

    Her father snorted with amusement. “Serves you right for trying to entice that poor innocent pup with belly rubs.”

    “Poor innocent pup, my butt,” snorted Taylor. “He begs for belly rubs every chance he gets.”

    “My point exactly.” Danny slowed down and turned the wheel. Gravel crunched under the wheels as they rolled up into the driveway. “You’ve corrupted him. Addicted him to them.”

    Taylor undid her seat belt once the car engine shut off, and opened the door. “Dad, that’s the silliest thing I’ve heard you say yet. And I know you.”

    “Doesn’t mean it’s not true.” Her father led the way to the front steps, Chewie running alongside. “Did you know that dog brain chemistry is set up so that every time they see you, they have the same reaction as falling in love for the first time?”

    “What, really?” Taylor looked at Danny askance as he climbed the steps and unlocked the front door. Bending down, she picked Chewie up. While he had all the will in the world, he was more suited to running under the steps than climbing them. She followed him up into the house as he opened the door and entered.

    “Really,” he said. “I’m not actually joking here. I mean, you’ve seen the way Chewie reacts every time he meets you.”

    “Huh.” She pushed the front door closed with her heel so that the latch clicked, then scratched Chewie behind the ears as she headed through into the living room. “Well, I fall in love with him every time I see him too, so that’s fair.”

    “So I see.” Her father watched as she let the puppy down on the floor. Immediately, Chewie trotted off in the general direction of the kitchen, snuffling loudly. He disappeared around the door frame, and a moment later Taylor heard the sound of dry kibble crunching. “I really should’ve done this a long time ago.”

    Taylor leaned up against her father and put her arm fondly around his waist. “Yeah, you should have. But I’m not complaining. I was about as far down as I could get. Chewie gave me the boost to start climbing out of the hole I’m in.”

    “That’s really good to hear.” Danny turned his head as a car pulled to a halt outside the house. “Ah, it seems we have a visitor.”

    “Visitor?” Taylor looked around with puzzlement. “Was that the surprise?”

    “No. That’s something else. But the visitor can come first.” Danny nodded toward the kitchen. “I’m just going to make sure Chewie’s got enough water. Would you mind getting the door?”

    “Uh, sure?” Taylor went back into the entrance hall and unlocked the front door. She took a moment to dust herself off and make sure there weren’t any Chewie hairs visibly adhering to the front of her coat. A glance in the mirror showed that she was reasonably presentable. While she felt her hair could do with a good brushing, she didn’t have the time for that right now.

    Footsteps sounded on the path, then someone climbed the front steps. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door … and froze.

    “Hello, Taylor,” Alan Barnes said awkwardly. “May I … may I come in?”

    “Is Emma with you?” Warily, Taylor tried to look around him without making it look as though she was doing just that. In the back of her head, she started manufacturing excuses as to why she didn’t want to hang out with Emma while their dads talked over whatever business they had.

    “No.” He shook his head heavily. There was something in his eyes that she couldn’t identify, something that she’d never seen in his expression before. It might’ve been guilt or shame or fear, or some combination of all three. Or she may well have been imagining the whole thing. “Taylor … you won’t have to see Emma again. You’ll never go through that again. Not ever.”

    Her head came up and she stared at him. “What … I …” All of her assumptions smashed headlong into reality and shattered irreparably. His words spun around and around in her head, leaving her dizzy and off-balance. “ … I don’t understand.”

    His smile was more of a grimace. “You will. But I’ll get your dad to explain. May I come in? Please? He asked me to come over for this.”

    This? What ‘this’? Mystery was mounting on mystery. “Is this to do with the surprise he was talking about? Do you know about it?”

    Now he looked unaccountably wary. “I … suspect so. I don’t know what the surprise is, but … probably. Knowing your father.”

    “Well, that cleared the air.” Taylor wrinkled her nose, then nodded. “Okay, you can come in.” She opened the door all the way, then stepped back. “Dad!” she shouted. “It’s Mr Barnes!”

    “I know!” he called back. “Bring him through!”

    That was clear enough. Pausing only to make sure the front door was securely closed, Taylor led the way along the entrance hall to the kitchen. Her father, sitting at the kitchen table, looked around as they entered. “Hello, Alan,” he said. “Have you met Chewie yet?”

    The puppy, hearing his name, paused in the act of licking himself where dogs have a habit of licking, and looked around. When he spotted Alan, he yapped then trotted over to Taylor. She gathered him up and held him protectively.

    “No, I haven’t.” Alan held out the back of his hand for the puppy to sniff. “Hello, Chewie.” For his trouble, he got a sniff and a cautious lick. Then he turned to Danny, surreptitiously wiping his hand on his shirt. “Taylor mentioned a surprise. Is this why I’m here?”

    “In a way.” Danny gestured at the closed basement door. “Taylor, your surprise is down there. You might want to leave Chewie with us.”

    “Okay …” Taylor had no idea at all what was going on now. Setting Chewie on the floor, she patted his butt and gave him a little shove toward her father. “Go to Dad. Go on.” Then she turned toward the basement door.

    <><>​

    Shadow Stalker

    Sophia came awake as the door at the top of the steps opened. Instinctively, she tried to pull free of her bonds, but none of them had fortuitously come loose during the night. The damned fan was still whirring away on the shelf, reminding her that electricity coursed through the cord that had been wrapped generously around her arms and legs and neck.

    With no source of light, it was hard to tell the passage of time, but she was pretty sure a day would’ve passed by now. Which meant they were probably starting to search for her. The fact the front door hadn’t already been kicked in meant that he’d done something to spoof the tracking signal from her PRT-issued phone. So she was going to have to get out of this shit all by herself. Fucking typical.

    At least she’d managed to get a few hours of sleep here and there. She’d pulled all-nighters before, sometimes in even less comfortable circumstances than the current ones. She’d never spent a night tied to a chair before, though. When she got out of this, once she got her hands on the Dark, she was going to make him understand once and for all that as scary as he might be, it was a huge mistake to mess with Shadow Stalker.

    Long hours of experience on stakeouts clued her in that whoever was coming down the stairs had a lighter tread than the Dark. Was it another prisoner? An accomplice? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Whoever it was, she knew they were her very best chance for getting out of this.

    With a click, the light came on. As weak and worn-out as the bulb was, it flared like a nova in her vision, leaving spots before her eyes. While she was in the process of blinking them clear, a stupid bug of some sort landed on her face. Fuck off, bug.

    “Hello?” The speaker was a teenage girl. She knew that voice. “Who’s there?”

    <><>​

    Taylor

    When the light came on, the first thing Taylor saw was a dark mass in the middle of the basement floor. A few seconds later, she made it out to be a person tied to a chair. Okay, what the hell? They were wearing dark clothes, and long dark hair hung over the face, keeping it in shadow.

    Exerting her power, she sent a fly to land on the person’s face. The fly’s senses reported back that yes, this was a living person. “Hello?” she called out as she continued down the stairs. “Who’s there?” Was this some kind of live roleplay setup, where she was supposed to play the part of the superhero and release the hostage?

    And then the person’s head lifted and she saw the face for the first time. “Hebert?” rasped a voice that she almost recognised. “Is that you? Fuck, it is you.”

    “Sophia?” Taylor reached the bottom of the stairs. “What the hell’s going on?” Slowly, she began to circle around the bound teenager. Oddly enough, there was a large sheet of plastic on the floor, extending several yards in all directions from the chair. “And what the hell are you wearing, anyway?”

    Taylor Hebert considered herself to be a good person. If she’d found Mrs Knott tied up like this, or Greg Veder, she knew she would immediately be working to set them free.

    Well, maybe she’d free Greg. After she freed everyone else she found tied up at the same time.

    But Sophia Hess was another story altogether. From literally the first minute she’d met the girl, Sophia had done nothing but sneer at her, bully her and trip her whenever possible. She’d had exactly zero interactions with the girl that were even neutral, much less positive. Freeing her right now seemed to be remarkably counter-intuitive, at least until she found out what was actually going on here.

    “Never mind what I’m wearing, Hebert!” Sophia’s tone was urgent, almost frantic. “You’ve got to cut me loose! We’ve got to get the fuck out of here before he comes back!”

    “Before who comes back?” Taylor stared at Sophia’s outfit. It seemed almost familiar. Like something she’d seen on TV.

    “Tall skinny psychotic fuck with glasses!” Sophia struggled uselessly against her bonds. “Asshole cap— uh, abducted me. Tased me. Tied me up in his basement.” She struggled against the cable ties for a moment by way of demonstration. “You don’t think I came down here and tied myself up, do you?”

    Taylor studied Sophia’s bonds. They appeared professionally-applied, and extremely thoroughly done. Unless Sophia was a contortionist of the highest degree, there was no way she would’ve been able to tie herself to the chair like that. But the inspection raised another question. “Well, no. But what’s with the extension cord?”

    “Fucked if I know, but if you can get it off me, I’d appreciate it.” Sophia grimaced. “It’s uncomfortable as fuck.”

    Taylor looked up at the fan on the shelf and at how the cord leading to it had been wrapped around the black girl’s arms and legs, even fastened to one ankle with electrical tape. There was a puzzle at work here. Somehow, all the pieces of the jigsaw could be arranged in a fashion that would let her form a single coherent picture out of everything that was going on. She was just missing some important details. “Give me a moment here …”

    “Hebert!” snapped Sophia. “Get this fucking shit off me right the fuck now!” She struggled against her bonds, rocking back and forth in the chair. With the wide base it was sitting on, she didn’t even shift it a little. “Come on! He might come back at any moment! When he finds out you know I’m here, you’ll be next! Cut me loose! Come on!”

    The urgency in her tone was real, but Taylor still wasn’t sure what was going on. And to be honest, it was deeply satisfying to see Sophia tied up like this. Tuning the bully’s words out, she wandered away toward the workbench at the side of the room.

    HEBERT!” screamed Sophia. “GET BACK HERE! CUT ME LOOSE, YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT!”

    And then Taylor saw it. A mask, lying beside what had to be a stun-gun. She picked it up and examined it. A scowling woman’s face; again, oddly familiar. Next to the stun-gun was a pair of small crossbows. She looked from them back to the raving girl in the chair, then carried the mask back to Sophia. “Is this yours?” she asked.

    “Of course it’s not fucking mine, you little moron!” Little flecks of spittle were flying off Sophia’s lips. “Now cut me loose, or so help me fucking God, when I see you next at school, you are so goddamn fucked.

    The threat almost got to Taylor. She was so accustomed to bowing her head to the threats offered by Emma and her friends that she nearly did as Sophia told her. Her hand was actually reaching for a pair of wire-cutters, when she heard it. The merest intake of breath from Sophia. The sound of despair given hope. The only crack she’d ever seen in the girl’s armour.

    She stopped, and pulled her hand away. Slowly, she turned back to Sophia. “No,” she said quietly. “I don’t think I will.”

    “What?” Shock had replaced the rage on Sophia’s face. “You can’t just leave me tied up! He’s going to come back any minute now and kill us both! Don’t be a fucking pathetic little queef all your fucking life!”

    Taylor walked around Sophia slowly. She held the mask in her hand, turning it over and over. Taking her glasses off for a moment, she tried it on. It felt a little strange, the padding not quite fitting the contours of her face, but she could see out through the eyeholes quite well. It certainly wasn’t an amateur job. Taking it away, she put her glasses back on.

    “You know what I think?” she said as the pieces continued to fall into place in her head. “I think this is your mask. I think you’re Shadow Stalker. You’ve been Shadow Stalker all the time I’ve known you. You’ve been pretending to be a hero all this time …”

    “I AM A FUCKING HERO, YOU COCKSUCKING LITTLE NOBODY!” screamed Sophia. “Now cut me loose or I swear to God that when the Protectorate tracks me down, I’ll name you as an accessory and a fucking accomplice and you’ll go to supermax for attacking me in my civilian identity!”

    Taylor backhanded Sophia with her own mask. It was heavy and solid, and rocked the black girl’s head to one side. A cut on her cheek began to bleed.

    “I was fucking talking,” gritted Taylor. “You’ve been pretending to be a hero, all the time you were doing all that shit to me. I nearly died in that fucking locker. Because of you. A hero.” Contemptuously, she tossed the mask back on to the bench. “You’re no hero. You want to talk about a psycho? You’re the psycho in the room.”

    “Well said,” Danny added as he opened the door and started down the stairs. Behind him, Alan Barnes entered the basement. Alan grimaced as he saw Sophia tied to the chair, but he closed the door carefully behind him, and followed Taylor’s father into the basement.

    “Oh, hey, Dad.” Taylor paused. “Where’s Chewie?”

    “Attacking a large hambone in the kitchen,” Danny said. “We won’t be long, and his ears are still pretty sensitive.”

    “Holy fuck,” Sophia said. “Holy living fuck. He’s your fucking dad? You’re the daughter of—” She broke off as she saw Alan Barnes for the first time. “Oh, thank fuck you’re here! You’ve got to get me out of this!”

    Slowly, Alan Barnes folded his arms. “I’m not here for you, Sophia.”

    Danny came over to Taylor and put his arm around her shoulders. “Okay. So, any questions so far?”

    “Yeah,” said Taylor, looking up at her dad. “How’d you catch her, and what are we gonna do with her?”

    “To answer your first question, she’s a predictable idiot who goes on solo unsanctioned patrols. I went out and got myself mugged in the area she was patrolling. Took me seven encounters before she finally intervened.” Danny gave Sophia a disapproving glare. “And even then it took her a good thirty seconds to decide to do anything about it. Turns out she only intervenes if the victim tries to fight back.”

    Taylor turned to Sophia, who had gone utterly silent. “Is this true?”

    Sophia glanced at Danny, then at Taylor. Lips tight shut, she carefully nodded.

    “Don’t bother pretending you didn’t say anything to Taylor,” Danny advised Sophia. “We heard everything.” Then he turned to Alan. “You advocated for her once. Care to do it again?”

    Silence fell, then Alan slowly shook his head. “No, Danny,” he said quietly. “I made that mistake once. For Emma’s sake, I won’t do it again.”

    Danny reached out and placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “For Emma’s sake, there’s more you need to do before your slate’s clear.”

    “I’ll be moving,” Alan said. “I’ll tell the company it’s a family emergency. Transfer to … LA, maybe?”

    “A better idea would be to ship her off to boarding school in Europe,” Danny stated. “But that wasn’t what I was talking about. You made this mistake. You enabled this mistake. You need to be the one to correct it.”

    Taylor tilted her head. “What are you talking about, Dad? Correct what mistake?”

    “Oh, don’t be fucking terminally dense all your fucking life, Hebert!” Sophia burst out. “Your father’s the fucking Dark! He hasn’t got the balls to kill me, so he’s getting Alan fucking Barnes to do his dirty work for him!”

    “The Dark?” Taylor had heard that name before, but only in whispered conversations. The names of the people the Dark had supposedly killed were legion, but to equate the semi-mythical hitman with her father; her funny, sometimes awkward father … “Dad, is this true?”

    He turned to look at her. “It is. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s true. But this is the first time I’ve done any of this since your mother passed.”

    Taylor tilted her head. “Did … did Mom know that you were the Dark?” Was I the only one you never told?

    He smiled and gathered her in for a hug. “We were the Dark, honey. Danny and Anne-Rose, Killers for Hire. We were a team, and a damn good one. When you were born, we made a pact that if either of us died, the other would give up the killing to take care of you.”

    Taylor had a sudden presentiment. “Mom … the way she died. Was it really a car accident, or did someone …” Her voice trailed off.

    The lines on her father’s face deepened, as though he’d just aged ten years. “It was just a car accident. But we’d agreed. So I walked away from being the Dark, until now. Until the locker. Until her.” He gestured off-hand at Sophia.

    “Are we … are we really going to kill her?” It was as though Taylor stood on the edge of a yawning gulf. It really was a very long way down, but if she trusted herself to jump into the darkness, a safe landing on the other side was promised to her. Or she could stay and trust to the footing where she was.

    “When it comes to secrets, there are three types of people in the world,” Danny said in a lecturing tone. “Those who can be trusted to keep it because they know it’s the right thing to do, those who can be trusted to keep it because they’re scared of the consequences, and those who can’t be trusted either way.” He gestured at Sophia. “I stayed up till five this morning talking to her. By the time I finished, she was terrified of me. But she’s since gotten over that. In my estimation, she’s the type of idiot who’ll fuck herself over just to get a chance to screw with the people she sees as her enemies. Alan, do you concur?”

    Alan Barnes stared down at Sophia and rubbed his chin with forefinger and thumb. “Unfortunately, I do.” His voice was reluctant. “In my personal estimation, she holds exactly one viewpoint as being valid; hers. She despises Taylor for perceived ‘weakness’ and she hates you for scaring her. No matter what you say or do to dissuade her; if you let her go, she will report this incident in every detail, and even make up a few to incriminate Taylor as well.”

    “Even though she knows I’ll kill her for it,” Danny noted dispassionately.

    “She believes she can evade that fate.” Alan shrugged as if to say, not my fault she’s an idiot.

    “Hm.” Taylor didn’t see her father’s hand move, but suddenly he held a pistol. Where the hell did he get that from? Turning it so it lay across his palm—Taylor noted that at no time did the barrel point at any of them—he offered it to Alan. “It’s loaded.”

    “I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.” Alan took the weapon, then did something with it that exposed a glint of brass. When he let go of the bit he’d pulled back, it snapped into place with a meaty clack. A smaller snik followed as he clicked over some kind of control on the side. He looked up at Danny. “Just to clarify; once I send Emma to boarding school, she’ll be in the clear?”

    “So long as she never comes near Taylor again, yes.” Taylor had never heard her father’s voice pronounce judgement so starkly.

    “Mr Barnes!” Sophia struggled in her bonds. “You’ve got the gun! You don’t want to do this! He’ll kill Emma anyway! Kill him! The PRT will fucking shower you with money! They’ll give you a fucking medal! Shoot him! Shoot them both! You’ll be a fucking hero!”

    Alan Barnes’ laugh was entirely without humour. “There are two problems with that. One; even if I were willing to betray my oldest friend, only an idiot assumes the Dark has just handed over his only gun. Two; I trust him a lot more than I trust you.” He paused. “Oh, and three? You nearly got Emma killed twice, you stupid little bitch.” With that, he levelled the pistol at Sophia’s head.

    “Wait a minute, Alan.” Danny turned to Taylor. “Why don’t you go up and check on Chewie, hon? Make sure he’s not gotten lonely yet.”

    Taylor nodded, grateful for the reprieve. She was pretty sure she knew exactly what was coming, and she wasn’t at all certain she was ready for it. “Okay, Dad.”

    She trotted up the stairs and opened the door at the top. As she began to close it behind her, she heard Sophia sneer, “Fucking weakling little bi—”

    The door clicked shut and she looked around for Chewie. He raised his head from the tattered remnants of the hambone her father had mentioned, then paused and looked down at the bone again. Taking pity on him, she walked over and bent down to pick him up. He licked her face; his breath smelled like ham. This one time, she didn’t object.

    A minute or so later, the basement door opened and her father emerged, followed by Mr Barnes and a faint acrid smell. The pistol, unsurprisingly, was nowhere in sight. She looked at them both. “She’s dead?” It was a surprisingly easy question to ask.

    <><>​

    Danny

    “It had to be done,” he said. He put a hand on Alan’s shoulder. “You’ll be okay?”

    Alan offered a wan smile. “When Emma’s safe in Europe, I’ll be okay. I need to head home and start making the arrangements. I guess I’ll see you around.” He held out his hand.

    Danny shook it. “I guess so. Give my best to Zoe and Anne.”

    “I’ll do that.” Alan turned and headed toward the front door.

    Danny waited until the door opened and closed before he turned to Taylor. “Are you okay?”

    “I’m not sure.” Taylor had an odd expression on her face. “It’s kind of an emotional whiplash to find out your father’s a hitman that everyone was scared of back in the day. And to know someone was just shot and killed in my basement.” She paused. “And don’t get me started on how I feel about the victim being Sophia, who was also a Ward, and a bully, and was threatening us both with the PRT and the Protectorate.” She thumped the heel of her free hand on the side of her head. “I’ll let you know how I feel about it when it all settles out.”

    “That’s fair,” Danny allowed. “Okay, I’ll ask a simpler question. How do you feel about me being the Dark? About your dad maybe going back into the business of killing people, if I think it’s necessary that some people die?”

    “How do I feel about that? Hmm, let me think.” Taylor grinned and put Chewie back on the floor, where he immediately attacked the hambone again with a series of little growls. Then she took hold of his arm and wrapped it around her in a hug. “On the one hand, you’re a merciless killer. On the other, you got me Chewie.”

    He snorted a laugh. “I see you have your priorities straight. I’m impressed that you’re taking my secrets on board so readily.”

    Taylor’s smile fell away. “Secrets,” she said. “Right.”

    Danny blinked. “What’s the matter? What did I say?”

    “It’s nothing you said,” she assured him. “It’s something about me. Something I think you need to know.”

    He raised an eyebrow. “Okay, I’m officially intrigued. What is it that I need to know?”

    Stepping back from him, Taylor raised her arms dramatically upward and outward. Danny wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, until tens of thousands of bugs started swarming in through the windows and under the doors. They scuttled over the floor and walls, while those that could fly took to the air. Moving in unison, they began to orbit Taylor, covering the floor in a glittering curve of brown-black chitin. The air was abuzz with the sound of thousands of tiny wings.

    Danny looked at the insectoid halo surrounding his daughter and whistled softly.

    “Well, now,” he said softly. “Isn’t that interesting.”

    <><>​

    Barnes Household
    Emma Barnes


    “What do you mean, you’re sending me to boarding school in Germany?” Emma demanded. “It’s not fair! You can’t just drag me away from all my friends! I was going to go to Arcadia!”

    “It’s a done deal.” Her father was adamant. “And don’t even think of trying to wiggle out of it. You’re grounded. Indefinitely. And I’ve changed your cell-phone plan until further notice. From here on in, the only people you can contact will be me, your mother and your sister.”

    What?” Her voice was almost a shriek. “You can’t do that!” Her father had never pushed back on what she wanted before.

    But apparently, when he set his mind to it, he could and would.


    End of Part Five
     
  19. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Tentacle Slime

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    Me thinks, that Sophia just wasted her last chance of getting out alive. Though I did expect Taylor to react more. Probably shock. Give her a few days and probably.

    I'd expect nightmares for a while.

    Fun chapter.
     
  20. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Wait... Alen is sending Sophia to Germany. Erm... I thought he was trying to keep her safe.

    Doesn't Gesellschaft pretty much own Germany? Wouldn't someplace like England be MUCH better in the Wormverse?
     
  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    They're a nationalistic organisation, but they no more own Germany than the Mafia ever owned the United States.
     
  22. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Cold and brutal - but fitting. Sophia really was delusional.
     
    Prince Charon and Ack like this.
  23. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    I'm really loving how you're handling Alan Barnes here. His goal of keeping Emma safe no matter what is intact, but here it takes the form of refusing to enable her and throwing Sophia under the bus.
     
  24. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    I feel bad for Assault right now. His marker got SS killed.
    She deserved it, but he's likely to feel like shit.
     
  25. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    They own Germany the same way Lung owns the Asians in BB.
     
  26. MadGreenSon

    MadGreenSon Verified Devil Tiger

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    Not quite. The super powered Nazis are in a shadow war with Number Man. Underworld banking isn’t even a big part of his day. He’s foiling Super Nazis on the regular. He’s why they don’t have nukes. For instance.

    They do do not operate with impunity.
     
  27. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    My understanding was that there were still some WW2 Nazi's who managed to live long enough to trigger, then they ran back to Germany while they organized.
    They might not officially own Germany, but Germany is likely where they have there strongest base.
    Emma should be fine so long as she doesn't run her mouth at the wrong person.
     
  28. otakumick

    otakumick Getting sticky.

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    So, what you are saying is that she is utterly doomed.
     
  29. Silverias

    Silverias Getting out there.

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    For some reason, I'm skeptical she's actually dead. No gunshot (And don't say "He used a silencer", there's no such thing. You'd hear a suppressor through a door), and we specifically don't see a body. The acrid smell might be gunpowder, but you know what they say, don't decide until you see a body.
     
  30. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    Danny also specifically says in an earlier chapter that he had the basement soundproofed quite some time ago.
     
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