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Celestial Worm [Worm AU crossover] (COMPLETE)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 17, 2018.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Mortals outsmarting gods is indeed a trope.
     
  2. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Exceptional mortals, not the regular kind. Beating that sort of advantage on wits alone is rare.
     
  3. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    And woe to the mortal that defeats the god. Just ask Arachne or Sisyphus about the quality of the sportsmanship of a beaten or outwitted deity.
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Hehehe yeah.
     
    Pyro Hawk and Angel466 like this.
  5. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Two: Danger Close
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part 22: Danger Close

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


    Taylor

    The golden bird returned, the same way it had gone. Taylor watched as it came through the wall, circled Janesha once, then landed on her shoulder. And then, between one eyeblink and the next, Sagun was there as well.

    “What the hell do you mean, one of them’s a celestial mindbender?” he demanded. “When were you going to fill me in on that little tiny detail?”

    “I just did,” Janesha said. “For fuck’s sake, chill. We only pieced that all together a few minutes ago. Well, okay, it was Taylor who figured it out.”

    Sagun’s attention turned to Taylor. “Are you certain about this? I mean, really certain?”

    Taylor swallowed to get over her nerves. “As sure as I can be. When Janesha was trying to catch up to you, we realised a celestial was messing with us so we thought it was you. Then, when she was interrogating Eidolon, a mindbender wiped information out of his mind and we thought it was you again. Once we found Cauldron and called Lady Col in and you turned up, we were too busy to think about all the aspects of the situation. But afterward, while we were dealing with Bonesaw and Burnscar, I thought about it and realised that it couldn’t have been you after all. So there’s another celest around here somewhere. Maybe two or three. And they’re hiding.”

    “Well, no, of course it wasn’t me.” He paused. “What do you mean, hiding?”

    “We mean, keeping out of plain sight,” Janesha said. “There’s no power in Creation that can keep people off Lady Columbine’s Weaver senses if she’s in the same realm, so they must’ve ducked out of the realm when she showed up. Otherwise, with the fact that they clearly aren’t friendly toward us, she would’ve let us know, and probably sent a few gryps to bring ’em back.”

    “And you think it’s the Cauldron members who’ve dropped out of sight.” Sagun grimaced. “What do you think they’re doing here?”

    “Nothing good.” Janesha rubbed her chin. “It can’t be anything to do with me, because I only just got here, and you and Edeena have been here for what, thirty years?”

    “Near enough,” agreed Sagun. “It can’t just be because we showed up. I mean, if they’d said this was their realm and to move along, we would’ve. The last thing we wanted to do was pick a fight with other celestials.”

    “Wait a second,” Taylor objected. “Janesha, didn’t you tell me it takes centuries or millennia to draw a boundary around a realm? Sagun, how long did it take you, if you’ve only been here thirty years?”

    Sagun looked at Janesha, then at Taylor. “Only about six months. Why? What do you mean, centuries?”

    Six months?” exploded Janesha. “You’ve got to be shitting me! This isn’t exactly a huge realm, but it’s not that tiny either! How in the name of the Twin Notes did you do it so fast?”

    “Oh, it was easy.” Sagun shrugged. “We just followed the one that was … already … there …”

    A long silence followed the trailing off of his voice, then he and Janesha face-palmed in perfect unison. He turned to her, and in a voice that begged to be proven wrong, asked quietly, “We redrew our line over someone else’s boundary, didn’t we?”

    “Ya think?” She looked him dead in the eye. “Of all the fucking idiots!”

    “So why is it that they haven’t shown up in the meantime to give Sagun his marching orders?” asked Danny. “Or even in the beginning? Would they have even known he was there?”

    “Well, they knew Lady Col was coming, so I’d be astonished if they didn’t … wait a minute.” Taylor held up a finger. “They knew Lady Col was coming.”

    “Well, yes,” Janesha said. “We’ve already established that. What’s your point?”

    Taylor shook her head. “No, no, no. How did they know they should get out of the realm to avoid being detected by her Weaver power?”

    “The one called the Clairvoyant was probably listening in on you,” Sagun offered, his tone all but saying duh. “The one called Doormaker’s probably the one—”

    “No, no,” Taylor interrupted him, clenching her fists on either side of her head. “Even if they heard the name ‘Columbine’, how did they know to leave? How did they know ahead of time she’d be able detect them once she got here? Because I can guarantee nobody was thinking about it before Janesha made the blood-link.”

    “They know her,” Danny said into the silence that followed. “They know her, and they consider her to be the enemy. Somehow.”

    Janesha shook her head. “That’s ridiculous. Nobody hates Cousin Col. I mean, you guys have met her. Could you hate her?”

    “Well, true,” Taylor conceded. She looked at her father. “You should meet her sometime. She takes ‘nice’ and turns it into an art form. If she’s got an enemy, it’s because they don’t know her.”

    “They could be scared of her,” ventured Sagun. He frowned as everyone looked at him, but continued. “If they know she’s Mystallian, and they think Mystallians have something against them …” He paused. “Wait. If they were hybrids, and they knew of her Weaver ability, and they were scared that she’d treat them the same way all celestials treat hybrids, would that be a good reason for them to duck and cover?”

    “How do celestials treat hybrids?” asked Danny. “Why would they be scared?”

    “Your average celestial will kill any hybrid he encounters,” Janesha said, her voice flat and hard. “Because they’re dangerous as fuck.”

    “If they can be killed by the average celestial, they can’t be all that dangerous,” Danny said. “Or am I missing something? Because this is starting to sound just a little bit racist.”

    “Not on their own, not usually,” conceded Janesha. “But here’s how it goes. Hybrids have the vigor and lifespan of a celestial and the rate of breeding of a mortal. Power for power, they can’t stand up to the average celestial. But. Because they have both a mortal soul and a celestial component, they can believe in themselves, and end up with near-godly power. Which works anywhere, because they are their own worshipper.”

    “As opposed to any other god, who leaves their power behind when they go to another realm.” Danny nodded. “I got that.”

    “Good.” Janesha took a deep breath. “So. Imagine this. Some god decides he wants to invade the next realm over. So he goes down and impregnates ten thousand mortal women. Twenty years later, a long weekend by our standards, he’s got ten thousand hybrid warriors. He trains each of them to believe that they and their brothers are immortal, impervious to damage, can throw fire from their fingertips, fly through the air, whatever. One day later, the next realm over is facing a wave of ten thousand soldiers, any ten of which can surround and pull down any one celestial and hack them to pieces.” She paused for a beat. “That shit has happened at least once. Maybe more. So now, hybrids are destroyed whenever they’re found.”

    “Holy shit,” murmured Taylor, rubbing her arms. “That sounds terrifying. Even if a hybrid just wants to be left alone …”

    “… nobody can take the chance,” Janesha finished.

    “But when you thought Eidolon was a hybrid, you were gonna leave him alone,” Taylor pointed out.

    “Wait, you thought Eidolon was a hybrid?” Sagun stared at Janesha. “Whose kid did you think he was?”

    Janesha and Taylor looked back at him. It took him a moment to get it.

    “What?” He shook his head. “Oh, hell no! That big-nosed git? You thought he was mine? No, whatever he had, it wasn’t from me.”

    “We know that now,” Janesha said ruefully. “It just sounded good at the time.”

    “Okay, all that aside, celestials kill hybrids because they might be a danger.” Danny put a certain pitch and spin on the word. “In my experience, the quickest way to ensure someone becomes dangerous is to treat them like they’re expected to become dangerous. But I’m not going to try to dictate policy to a bunch of celestials. I prefer to go my entire life without being struck by lightning, thank you very much.”

    “Wow, way to profile us, Danny Hebert,” Janesha said with a snort. “Not every celestial uses lightning to smite mortals. Lord Poseidon uses really big waves, for instance. And Lord Loki would pull pranks on you that would make you wish you were merely struck by lightning.”

    “Yeah, yeah, we got it.” Taylor looked at Sagun. “So you think the other celestials might actually be hybrids, hiding from you and Janesha and Lady Columbine because of the intolerance?”

    “It’s the only explanation that makes any kind of sense,” Sagun confirmed. His expression hardened. “Of course, they also kept Edeena prisoner and fed bits of her to mortals to give them powers, so I’m not exactly mindful to be forgiving to them.”

    “People do very rash things when they’re scared,” Danny observed. “Not excusing their actions in the slightest, but can you imagine being them, going about their business, when in pops a celestial? They can’t run and hide fast enough, so they attack and subdue her. They don’t want to kill her, or maybe they can’t, so the next best thing they can think of is to carve away pieces of her essence and store it in mortals. Stupid, cruel, and entirely uncalled for, but that’s panic for you.”

    “Panic?” hissed Janesha, flames entirely overtaking her eyesockets. “Panic? Once, I can imagine. Twice, even. But over and over for thirty years? That’s not panic, Danny. That’s systematic torture.”

    “Humans have done worse to each other for a lot longer, and for even less valid reasons.” Danny’s voice was quiet. “It’s not justified. They need to be punished for it. I was just trying to figure out why.”

    “I don’t need to know why,” the young celestial snapped. “I just need to know who and where. So me and Sagun can go and beat their asses.”

    “I thought you were tolerant toward hybrids,” objected Taylor.

    “This’s got nothing to do with intolerance toward hybrids,” Janesha snarled. “It’s got everything to do with intolerance toward asshole douchebags who think it’s a good idea to cut up a fellow celestial and feed her to mortals.”

    “Well. we’ve dismantled their organisation and we know what they look like, so that’s a start,” Taylor ventured, trying to bring the conversation down to a more comfortable level.

    “Unless they’re shifters as well as benders,” Sagun noted. “If they’ve got people around them as camouflage and they’re wearing other faces, it would be really tricky to pick them out.”

    Janesha gave him the finger. “Yeah, thanks for giving them ideas, smart guy. You know they’re almost certainly listening in on us right now.”

    “So what was that about calling them asshole douchebags earlier?” asked Taylor. “If they’re listening now, they were listening then.”

    “That’s different.” Janesha glanced around the room, as if expecting to find the members of Cauldron hiding behind the sofa. “I want ’em to know I think they’re the scum of creation, and that I will be coming after them. They’re scared of Mystallians? I’ll give ‘em a realm-damned reason to be.”

    “Um, okay, but before you go off on your roaring rampage of revenge, how about we get these two sorted out?” Taylor indicated Bonesaw and Burnscar. “I’m pretty sure Dad doesn’t want them sitting on the couch for the next week.”

    “If we could get them off my couch in the next ten minutes, I’ll be even happier,” Danny responded.

    Janesha sighed. “Fine. We’ll do that first.”

    <><>​

    Contessa

    “Can we go back yet?”

    Fortuna reached out without looking and backhanded Dorian so that his head bounced off the wall behind him. “Not until I say so. Clare?”

    Sitting across from them in the corner table of the inn, chosen because of the depth of the shadows there, Clare concentrated. “Scion’s reading comic books. The little Mystallian cow’s just finished off the Nine with her two mortal pets. No, wait, they left two alive.”

    “Get. To. The. Point,” gritted Fortuna. She knew it wasn’t time to go back yet, but she wanted to know why.

    “Ah. Yeah, she’s going to depower them, then hand them over to the ‘faolian bitch.” If Clare could’ve rolled his eyes, he would have. “I don’t even get that. Why keep them alive?”

    “All right then.” Fortuna didn’t bother trying to answer the question. Janesha had clearly been infected by the mortals. Leaving an enemy alive behind you was the height of idiocy. It was why the Mystallians were going to lose. They were too soft-hearted. “Let me know when it’s over and done.”

    Raising her hand, she beckoned the serving wench over. It was easy to make the woman believe that she’d already been paid, and bring more drinks over. What happened to the wench once the innkeeper discovered that she’d been supplying them with free drinks all evening wasn’t even remotely her problem.

    The drink was a little rough on the throat but it had a rich, full taste. Not that it had the slightest chance of getting any of them drunk, of course. But it was as good a way to pass the time as any other.

    “So Cauldron’s a wash,” ventured Dorian after they’d half-emptied their second round of drinks. “Eidolon’s dead, Alexandria’s dead, Number Man’s dead, Doctor Mother …”

    “I fucking know they’re all dead. I’m the one who told you,” retorted Clare snappishly. “The only—urk!”

    “Talk to me in that tone again and I’ll rip your throat out,” Dorian said, his hand around Clare’s neck. Talons emerged from his fingertips and sank into the soft flesh behind Clare’s windpipe. “Give me a reason. Please.

    “Let him go,” Fortuna said after taking another drink. “The only what?”

    The wounds left in Clare’s throat closed up a moment after Dorian released him, leaving blood trails down his neck. He ignored them. “The only one left of that bunch is Legend, and he knew barely half the shit the rest were up to. Scion’s decided to wimp out and be Janesha’s friend, so now we’re gonna need a new bunch of patsies. But who the fuck is left on that realms-forsaken rock that’s powerful enough to kill her?”

    The idea unfolded in Fortuna’s head so neatly and cleanly that she could only wonder how long it had been germinating. “Scion,” she said softly.

    Dorian and Clare looked at her. Or rather, Dorian looked at her and Clare turned his face in her direction, the grimy rag still covering his eyesockets. “I don’t understand,” Dorian said eventually, his voice carefully pitched to not sound disbelieving. “Are we going to puppet him? Because—”

    “You’re not listening,” Fortuna interrupted. She glanced at the other people in the inn, imparting to them the understanding that nothing unusual was happening at the corner table. Then her features began to shift. Pulling mass from the table, she bulked out in her seat and altered her clothing until Scion himself sat before them. When she spoke, her voice was a couple of octaves lower. “Scion can kill her.”

    Dorian’s eyes widened as he finally got the idea. Clare’s jaw dropped. They looked at each other, then back at her.

    “She won’t even see it coming,” Dorian realised. “Because they’re all friendly now.” He made the word sound disgusting. Which to them, it was. Friendship didn’t have a place in their world. It made a celestial weak, vulnerable to being stabbed in the back. They valued it in others, though. It made it easier for a stab in the back when the time came.

    “She might,” murmured Fortuna, changing back to her original form. “We can’t guarantee that she won’t see through the disguise at the last minute. Especially with that mortal pet she keeps lugging around.”

    The other two nodded. Inconvenient mortal witnesses were the worst.

    “So we need more patsies, to keep her occupied until it’s too late.” Clare smiled evilly. “And I’ve got three that are perfect for our needs.”

    “Oh, really?” Fortuna leaned forward. “I’m listening.”

    <><>​

    Two Days Later

    Christine Mathers fumed silently as she put gasoline into her car. While she’d gotten away from the compound before anyone suspected her powers were gone, there was a good chance that they were coming after her now. Just as she’d never gone easy on anyone who wanted to cut ties with the Fallen, neither would they give her a break.

    The worst thing was, she still had no idea who’d done it, and how to go about getting them back. For all her online digging on motel wi-fi … nothing. She was at a dead end, and she knew it. And if they caught her, she’d go straight in with the breeders.

    Fuck that.

    She knew all too well that if Elijah was with her pursuers when they caught up, fighting wouldn’t even be an option. So she just had to not get caught before she got her powers back.

    Walking inside, she approached the counter. It grated at her that she actually had to pay money to these walking wastes of oxygen and genetic material. However, she knew that driving off without paying was a prime way to get caught and pinned down into one place. So she prepared to part with a little more of her dwindling resources, just so she could get a little farther.

    It was only when she got to the counter that she realised that the attendant was absent on some task or another. Hissing breath between her teeth in exasperation, she settled down to wait. Every minute was a minute that the pursuit grew closer.

    Idly glancing down at the counter, she felt a chill race up her spine. A padded envelope sat there, with her name scrawled across it in cheap marker. Not even ‘Christine’ but ‘Mama Mathers’. Eyes widening, she stared around her, looking for the trap. Had they gotten here ahead of her?

    When she looked back at the counter, the envelope was still there, and she heard a noise in the back room. Grabbing up the envelope, she shoved it in her bag. The attendant, a young woman, emerged and said, “Can I help you?”

    “Yes, I’d like to pay for gas.” If the woman wasn’t going to mention the envelope, neither was Christine.

    The attendant hit buttons and told her it would be thirty-one forty. Not even caring about the money now, she paid. What was in the envelope?

    Back in the car, she drove for a few miles then pulled off into a side-road, moving until she was fully out of sight of the highway. Then she pulled the envelope out of the bag. Careful pressing with her fingertips revealed that whatever was in it was a few inches long and cylindrical.

    Her heart rate quickened, and she tore the end off the envelope, then fished out the contents. It was a vial, not the same as the one she’d gotten from Cauldron back in the day, but containing a murky fluid all the same. Holding up the envelope, she looked inside to see if there was anything more, and found a piece of paper, folded once. Once she got it out and unfolded it, her eyes widened again.

    THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE IS JANESHA OF MYSTAL.

    SHE LIVES IN BROCKTON BAY.

    KILL HER AND ALL YOUR PROBLEMS GO AWAY.

    Barely able to keep her hands stead, she shook up the vial (she remembered that much) and then downed the contents. They burned all the way down; that was also something she recalled.

    The next bit wasn’t fun, either. But then, it hadn’t been, the first time around.

    <><>​

    William Manton

    “I’m hungry.”

    The soft voice of the woman in the passenger seat nearly went unheard, but William knew what she’d said. More and more, he was beginning to regret picking her up, but she was a part of the old team.

    The last part, if the news report was anything to go by. After William’s powers had deserted him, someone had cornered Jack and the rest of the crew and … destroyed them. The TV in the diner they’d shared a meal in, a hundred miles back, had shown teasing shots of Jack lying with a look of utter incomprehension with a gaping hole in his chest.

    William knew about holes like that. As the Siberian, he had caused all too many of them. Someone had punched their hand into Jack’s chest and torn his heart out in one piece. It was a lot harder to do than most people thought, even for Brutes. The protective sac and the veins and arteries and connective tissue made it very hard to pull off … unless, as once had applied to him, physics was optional.

    “We have to save money for gas,” he said. “There should be some jerky in the glove compartment.”

    She wrinkled her nose in discontent. “How old is it?”

    “Does it matter?” In a sealed pack, jerky survived forever. “It’s something to eat.”

    “It’s something to chew.”

    “It’s all we’ve got right now.”

    With a huff of unhappiness, she opened the glove compartment, then stopped. “What’s this?”

    “What’s what?” He didn’t look around. Right now, he didn’t even want to look at her. If she’s going to complain about the brand of jerky, I swear to god, I will pull over right now and throw her out of the damn van.

    “This.” She held up something yellow and square in his peripheral vision. “It’s got our names on it.”

    Now he turned his head and saw what she was talking about. It was a padded envelope, with SIBERIAN & SHATTERBIRD on it.

    “What the hell? Where did you get that from?”

    “The glove compartment!” She pointed at him accusingly. “Where you told me to look!”

    “It wasn’t there the last time I looked!” He turned his attention back to the road and pulled off into a gas station parking lot. “What’s in it?”

    I don’t know!” She held it out at arm’s length, gripping it with her fingertips at two corners as though she was terrified it might bite. “What if it’s a bomb? What if Jack left it in there in case you ever decided to abandon him?”

    He snorted. “Don’t be an idiot. Jack didn’t know about me.” At least, he thought Jack hadn’t. There had been the occasional knowing look at the Siberian, but those could’ve meant anything. “You certainly didn’t. How could he even predict that we would end up surviving his death?”

    The look on her face when he’d explained who he was had amused him for hours.

    “I suppose …” She handed the envelope over to him. “You open it. It was in your glove compartment.”

    “Fine,” he snapped, and grabbed it off her. Tearing open the end, he reached inside and pulled out … two vials, each wrapped in bubble-wrap. On one was written, in the same scrawled hand, SIBERIAN and on the other SHATTERBIRD.

    “What …” Her eyes went wide. “Are those …”

    Belatedly, he recalled that she’d been slipped her original Cauldron formula without ever seeing the vial. “Yes, they are,” he said. “Do you want yours?”

    Almost reluctantly, she reached out and took the one with her name on it. “Are you going to take yours?”

    “I’m not sure,” William said, though he knew he was lying. “Are you?”

    “Will they give us the same powers?”

    He gave that question the sneer it deserved. “How in God’s name am I supposed to know that? I studied the things, I didn’t colour-code them.”

    “Oh.” She gave the liquid a little shake, watching the sediment swirl around. “Do they taste bad?”

    “They taste utterly horrific,” he said with a nasty chuckle. “It’s a good thing you haven’t eaten anything. This way you haven’t got anything to throw up.”

    “Oh.” She grimaced. “What happens if you only drink part of one?”

    He rolled his eyes. “Imagine if that vial you’re holding allowed you to burst into flames and fly through the air. Now imagine that you only drink the part that allows you to burst into flames, not the bit that protects you from the flames you are generating.” He’d seen almost exactly that happen, more than once. It hadn’t been pretty.

    “Okay, all or nothing then.” She took a deep breath, looking at the vial. “I just want to know why.”

    “Why what?” he asked, shaking up his vial.

    “Why we’ve been given them. What’s the point? What does whoever gave them to us get out of this?”

    That was actually a valid question. He paused his preparations and looked into the envelope. Within was a piece of paper which, when unfolded, had three lines of writing on it.

    THE PERSON RESPONSIBLE IS JANESHA OF MYSTAL.

    SHE LIVES IN BROCKTON BAY.

    KILL HER AND ALL YOUR PROBLEMS GO AWAY.

    “Hmm …” He showed her the note. “Does that answer your question?”

    “I suppose,” she answered. “So now we have to kill someone?”

    “Do you have a problem with killing someone to make all your problems go away?” he asked facetiously.

    She snorted with laughter and shook up her vial. “Not a one.”

    “Good.” He copied her motion, then worked the cork free. The contents of the vial didn’t smell any better than they normally did. “Ready?”

    Nodding seriously, she opened her vial as well. “Ready.”

    “Cheers.” He tipped the vial back, emptying its contents down his throat.

    “Cheers.”

    <><>​

    A Day After That

    “I seriously do not believe I can’t find any other celestials in this realm!” Janesha stomped back and forth in the living room while Taylor sat on the sofa, watching her. “Even when I use the trick you thought of, nothing happens!”

    “Well. you’ve only been at it a couple of days,” Taylor reminded her. “After Cloudstrike kicked a hole in her stable wall, she needed that good long ride you gave her.”

    Taylor shuddered. The neighbours had been convinced that a minor earthquake had happened. Fortunately, Janesha had been able to repair the damage. Even more fortunately, the kick hadn’t busted through into the neighbour’s basement. Since then, Janesha had taken to sending Cloudstrike out to take flights on her own, knowing the mystallion would come back when she felt like it.

    “Yeah, but two days should’ve easily been enough time.” Janesha was still simmering. “And your trick should’ve worked!”

    “Well, I only suggested it because the birds worked,” Taylor said. “How come they did and the homing confetti didn’t?”

    Janesha snorted. “Trust you to give it a name like that.”

    In theory, it had been a simple idea. Janesha had created hundreds of tiny paperlike discs and given them all two simple properties. They were to travel directly toward any attuned celestials who weren’t Sagun, and send back a signal once they reached that celestial.

    In practice, Janesha had tossed the confetti into the air and the pieces had fluttered to the ground. In accordance to the ‘programming’ she’d given them, once they reached the floor and stopped moving, they all sent back a signal. This had not improved her mood, especially by the third failed attempt.

    “Okay, is there a chance they’re not attuned?” asked Taylor. “Maybe that’s why it’s not working.”

    “Petal, they made that boundary a lot more than thirty years ago. A realm this size? They’re attuned.” Janesha shook her head. “Unless they’re jumping out of the realm every time I do anything that might find them … but they’d find that really annoying. I know I would. Anyway, I’ve been leaving the confetti active. Either they’re out of the realm and staying that way, or they’ve got a workaround.”

    “Okay, you’re the celestial and not me.” Taylor looked questioningly at her friend. “Is there any way you can be attuned but suppress it?”

    Janesha snorted. “Hardly. Attuned is attuned. You might as well carry around a lit flashlight at night. I mean, a seclusion ring would do it, but nobody in their right mind does it because it also suppresses … bender … abilities …” Slowly, her voice trailed off and she slapped her own forehead. “Son of a bitch! Fucking seclusion rings!

    “Okay, can we back up a little and remember there’s a clueless mortal in the room?” asked Taylor. “What’s a seclusion ring, and why didn’t you think of one until now?”

    “Because ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they’re used as a punishment.” Janesha ran her hands through her hair. “They utterly negate any bender abilities for the wearer, and prevent benders from even detecting them, let alone affecting them. But they also cut you off from your attunement as a side effect, which sucks. I wasn’t even thinking of that until you pointed it out.”

    “What about the one percent of the time?” Taylor was just curious now. “Why would people wear it if it’s not a punishment?”

    “To hide. You lose all power except your innate ability, but no one can find you either.”

    “Oh.” Taylor blinked. “So you figure they’re all wearing the seclusion rings, to hide from you? Are they hard to get?”

    That made Janesha pause. “They’re not easy to get, especially if you’re a hybrid,” she admitted. “But if you’re as sneaky as these ones seem to be, it’s not impossible either. Anyway, they’ve either bolted altogether or they’re hiding out behind seclusion rings. There’s really no third choice.”

    “And you think they’re still here.” Taylor raised her eyebrows. “Why?”

    “They’re clearly willing to push back from behind the scenes.” Janesha flipped her hand casually. “Murdering Coil, mindwiping Eidolon, depowering you and your dad. If they weren’t invested in this place, they would’ve folded their tents and snuck off into the night the moment they realised I was here. Hell, they would’ve done it the second they knew Sagun and Edeena were in the realm. But they’ve put a lot of effort into maintaining their grip on the place.”

    “You think maybe destroying Cauldron will make them change their minds?” asked Taylor. “Convince them that it’s too much trouble to stay here?”

    “Pfft, no.” Janesha shook her head. “Those idiots were just mortals. To people like that, mortals are basically interchangeable. I’ll admit that losing their own private essence well is gonna sting ’em a bit, but you know we don't need that to give mortals power. You’re as tough as they come, and you didn’t nom down on any bits of celestial.”

    Taylor shuddered. “Thank goodness. Though the powers I do have are from Sagun’s side of things, right?”

    “Yup.” Janesha grinned. “They’re all consensual.”

    Crossing her eyes, Taylor stuck her tongue out at her friend. “That sounds dirty and wrong. He’s older than Dad.”

    “Hey, you’re the one whose mind went there. And ninety-nine point nine percent of all celestials you’re ever going to meet are older than human civilization on Earlafaol. Age differences aren’t really frowned on, once someone reaches adulthood. Hell, anyone who’s less than a thousand is considered to be in my age group.”

    Taylor couldn’t argue with that, so she cut back to the original question. “So if they’re wearing seclusion rings, how do we find them?”

    “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, petal. There is no shortcut.” Janesha shook her head in frustration. “We can keep looking, but if they’ve got any shifter blood at all, they can be wearing any face they like. The absolute only way I’m gonna find them is if they do something stupid, which they haven’t done yet, or if I literally run into them on the street and try to mindbend them and it doesn’t work.”

    Taylor blinked. Wait, is it that easy?

    “You’re right,” she said. “It looks like they’re smarter than the both of us put together.” Lifting her hand casually, she tapped the side of her forehead.

    A moment later, the living room shifted and reformed into … well, the living room. “Okay, we’re in your head,” Janesha said, raising her eyebrows. “What bright idea have you come up with now?”

    “Okay, you can create constructs, right? Can you make a construct that’s more or less impossible to see, hear or feel? Like an invisible speck of dust?”

    “Sure,” Janesha said cautiously. “But why?”

    “So you make six billion of them, and tell them to seek out every person on earth. Every last living person. They wouldn’t differentiate between celests and humans, correct?”

    Janesha frowned. “I can’t see why they would. Especially if I gave it such broad range. So what’s this construct supposed to do?”

    “Every time one of these smart dust particles lands on a new person, it tries to do a basic touch-mindbend on them. Look into their memory from one second ago, or something as trivial as that. And if it can’t, it sends a signal back to you, showing its exact location.”

    For almost twenty seconds, Janesha stared at her. Then she facepalmed. “Motherfucker!” she snarled. “Taylor, are you sure you’re not a really, really sneaky celestial? I would never have thought of something like that in a million fucking years. And no, I’m not exaggerating for effect there.”

    Taylor felt a flush of pleasure and she tried to hide a smile. “I guess it’s part of the mortal condition. We don’t have all the extra capabilities that a celest gets, so we have to figure out workarounds.”

    “Yeah, got it.” Janesha frowned. “I’m mostly sure I can make it so the dust motes don’t get detected by celestial senses, but the instant they light up and transmit back to me, they’ll be picked up. If they’ve got any shifter ability, they’ll be able to destroy the dust motes more or less instantly, so I’ll only get a flicker of a signal. And they’ll know they’ve been pinged, so they’ll be on their guard. Plus, they’ll probably move to another location. But this’ll give me a really good starting point.”

    Taylor grinned. “Cool. So, how are we doing this?”

    “Hmm.” Janesha scratched her chin for a moment. “Okay, how about this. We go out for a stroll on the boardwalk. I release the dust particles. As soon as we get a signal, I realm-step there and get in their faces while you get a bus home.”

    “Whoa, whoa, time out.” Taylor tapped the palm of one hand on the fingertips of the other. “Great plan, right up until you got to the part about going on without me. We’re a team, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

    “You’re a mortal, in case you hadn’t noticed.” Janesha grimaced at the expression on Taylor’s face. “Look, petal, there’ll be three maybe-celests right there. I’m not sure if I can deal with them and protect you at the same time.”

    “I’m damn sure you can’t deal with them and watch your back at the same time,” Taylor snapped. “You said they’re hybrids, right? They’ll have seclusion rings on, so they won’t be able to do bender shit, and I can hurt them if I punch them because of intent. That just leaves shifter shenanigans. Can you handle a hybrid in a shifting contest? More to the point, can you handle three hybrids in a shifting contest?”

    “One, yeah.” Janesha’s jaw firmed. “Three … that might be pushing it a little.”

    “So bring in Sagun,” Taylor said promptly. “Two full celests plus one improved mortal versus three hybrids. And he’s attuned, and probably established, given all the damn powers he has—”

    “Yeah, he’s established.” Slowly, Janesha nodded. “And yeah, he’ll jump at that in a heartbeat. Okay, as soon as we get to where they are, I’ll let a bird go, telling him where we are and to get his golden ass to our location.”

    “Sounds like a plan,” Taylor said happily. “Let’s do it.”

    Janesha dropped them out of the internalisation. Three seconds later, the windows blew in.

    <><>​

    Contessa
    A Little Earlier


    “Okay, they’re heading toward Brockton Bay, and they’ve all got motel rooms,” Clare said. “What do we do now?”

    Fortuna finished prepping the second envelope. “Dorian, give me a doorway to the middle of each room, letterbox sized. Work with Clare to make sure they’ll see these when they go through.”

    “I love it when you pull shit like this,” Dorian said with an evil grin. “What’s in them?”

    “Pictures of the Hebert house, and a warning to get ready.” Fortuna shrugged. “This way, they don’t ever see our faces, so if anyone mindbends them, we’re some random people who pointed them at Janesha. No faces, and no hint of who we really are.”

    Just the way we like it, she didn’t bother saying. She knew they were both thinking it.

    Dorian nodded. “And in a couple of minutes, give them Doorways to the house?”

    “Now you’re getting it. Now shut the fuck up and give me the openings to put these things through.”

    Reaching out, Dorian took Clare’s hand. Fortuna knew they could form the link without touching, but it was easier this way. A moment later, two slots appeared in the air in front of her; without a moment’s hesitation, she slid a letter through each one in turn. The slots vanished again.

    “Now we wait?” asked Dorian.

    Fortuna nodded. “Now we wait until Clare tells us they’ve read both letters.”

    <><>​

    Mama Mathers

    Christine stretched out on the bed, ignoring the musty cheap-motel smell. For her it was free rather than cheap, for which she’d ignore quite a lot of problems. She also had a lot more money than she’d had earlier, thanks to the oh-so-helpful guy at the front counter.

    The vial hadn’t restored her powers exactly, which was a pain. Still, it was a pain she could deal with. She could still access peoples’ senses once she’d been noticed by them, but instead of messing with those senses she could force them to do things, and she had the choice of letting them remember it or erasing it from their memory. Thus, the shithead at the front counter had opened the cash drawer and handed over all the big bills there, then closed it and not remembered a damn thing about it, much less handing the room key over to her.

    To cover that little peccadillo, she intended to wait until he went home that night and make him slaughter his family in various inventive ways, and force him to remember everything. That should drive him far enough out of his mind to forget all about checking room forty-three.

    Closing her eyes, she pictured his anguish and smiled lazily. Oh, I missed being able to reach out and fuck with people.

    Something hit her in the middle of the stomach, and her eyes popped open again. “Hey, what the hell?” As she half sat up, an envelope slid off her stomach onto the bed. She looked around with some confusion, wondering if some asshole had taped the envelope to the ceiling or something.

    Then she looked at the envelope proper, and saw her name scrawled in the same marker pen as before. This had been done by whoever had left the vial of powers for her. She had a better idea of who it was, now.

    Theoretically, anyone could’ve left that padded envelope for her. But she knew of only a few people who both had access to power vials and could teleport envelopes into thin air. And those people were both unforgiving of mistakes and had been wiped from her internal database of people she could fuck with using her powers.

    Which meant she was stuck following their directives for the moment. This was slightly galling, but for the moment she was good with it. Killing the little bitch who had cost her her powers and (potentially) her place in the Fallen was a worthy objective.

    If they wanted to keep using her as a patsy after this, however, there would need to be some changes in the arrangement. I’m Mama Mathers. I give orders. I don’t take them.

    Right now, though, she had an envelope to deal with. Ripping the end off, she shook out a photograph of a house and a simple note. BE READY.

    Rolling off the bed, she reached for her shoes.

    <><>​

    William Manton

    “Where did you say it came from?” Shatterbird was looking at the envelope with extreme suspicion.

    William didn’t blame her. She’d never interacted with Cauldron in her life. “It got dropped out of a hole in midair. I saw it.” He sighed. “That’s a trademark move of the people I got my powers from in the first place, and of the people that those who slipped the formula to you in the first place got your powers from. I suspected it was them, but I wasn’t sure. Now I know.”

    “And what does that mean?” Now that she had … well, not her powers back, exactly, but a powerset very like them, she was a lot more confident and willing to question matters. Which was a huge improvement from the whiny child he’d had to endure after the Oregon debacle, but was not something he wanted to deal with right now.

    “It means that we open the envelope and do whatever the contents tell us to do.” He tore it open, and removed the contents. “Okay, now we know where Janesha is going to be. Get ready.”

    “For what?” She put her hands on her hips.

    He wanted to smack her, but he didn’t want to have to kill her, so he refrained. “I don’t know for a fact, but I suspect we’re going to be going on the attack.”

    “Oh. You could’ve said so.” She concentrated and changed, becoming a woman made of glass, with a thousand razor-sharp shards orbiting around her. The motel room windows blew in, adding their mass to hers, giving her gorgeous wings.

    Manton also changed, his form altering to the black and white striped image of the Siberian that had terrified a nation for a decade. His shape was more androgynous than female in this new incarnation, but he could live with that.

    Barely had he finished altering his form when a doorway silently opened before the two of them. Through it, he saw a concrete sidewalk. “Time to earn our keep.”

    They stepped through onto the driveway of a house in the middle of suburbia. Directly across the street was the structure that they’d been given a photo of. Oddly enough, though he’d been holding both photo and note when they stepped through, neither item was in existence now. Not that it mattered. He knew where their target was.

    “You too, huh?”

    He and Shatterbird looked around at the voice. It was a wispy-looking woman of uncertain age; he would’ve taken her as a housewife with extremely unfortunate timing, except for the words and the fact that she was staring across the street with almost unsettling intensity.

    “And you are?” he asked bluntly.

    “Mama Mathers, of the Fallen. The little bitch in that house over there took my powers away, but now I’ve got more.” It was impossible to miss the bitterness in the woman’s voice. “I think we need to go and fuck her up.”

    Shatterbird smiled. Her voice, when she spoke, was all sharp-edged chandeliers chiming. “Let’s do that thing.”

    They strode across the street, ignoring the possibility of traffic. When they reached the curb, Shatterbird waved her hand and all the windows of the house blew in, filling the interior space with a howling maelstrom of razor shards. William stepped up to the front door and smashed it open without breaking stride. Mama Mathers followed him in, and Shatterbird flew in through a now-open window.

    Two teenage girls, apparently unharmed by the barrage of glass splinters, stared back at them. Their clothing looked somewhat the worse for wear, and the rest of the interior of the house had been utterly trashed.

    “What the fuck?” yelled the taller girl. She stepped forward to throw a punch at Shatterbird. “This is my house, you bitch!”

    With a sneer, Shatterbird put her hand up to catch the inexpert blow. The girl’s fist shattered her hand and continued through to drive into her torso. Explosive cracks radiated everywhere through her body, and she disintegrated into chunks and shards of glass. With a look of extreme astonishment on her crystalline features, she fell to the floor in bits and pieces. All the floating pieces of glass dropped to the floor.

    Okay, I was not expecting that result. William watched as the clothing on both girls reformed itself into pristine quality. “Why did you let that happen?” he snapped.

    “I tried to stop it!” Mama Mathers retorted, staring intently at the pair. “They’re ignoring my power.”

    It was time to bring this to a close. “Okay, which one of you is Janesha of Mystal?”

    “That’ll be me,” the darker skinned teen in the black outfit said. “I thought the Siberian was a naked woman, not some twink in a polo shirt.”

    “Thank you,” purred William, and lunged forward. Even with his altered powers, he was able to ignore any and all physical laws that he felt like. It didn’t matter how tough this Janesha thought she was, the Siberian was—

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Eww.” Taylor looked down at the headless Siberian, with the head lying a couple of feet away. Like Shatterbird before him, the striped features bore an expression of no, no, this isn’t happening. This doesn’t happen to me. “Did you have to decapitate him with your bare hand? In our living room?”

    “I am sick and tired of this shit.” Janesha made the blood vanish from her hand, then folded her arms. “The assholes we want to catch up with are nowhere to be found, and fuckwits I never wanted to meet keep popping out of the woodwork. What the fuck was all this in aid of, anyway?”

    “Ahem. I think you missed one.”

    They both looked around, as Sagun stepped in through the front door, his hand around the neck of a struggling woman. She was easily recognisable as the one who’d just tried to control their minds.

    “Nice one.” Janesha grinned at the golden skinned man. “Who is she, anyway?”

    An expression of distaste crossed his features. “Her name’s Mama Mathers. She’s one of the leaders of the Fallen.” He stopped in front of Janesha. “Do you want her, or shall I dispose of her?”

    “Fuck it.” Janesha waved her hand. “She’s yours. Feel free.”

    “As you wish.” Sagun flexed his hand, and there was a distinct crack. Mama Mathers stopped struggling, her features going slack. When he let go, she fell to his feet like a puppet with its strings cut. “She was only another mortal, anyway.”

    Taylor’s head came up and she stared at Sagun. That was not how the golden superhero spoke. “Ja—”

    Before the second syllable could come out, a blade emerged from Sagun’s hand, driving up and through Janesha’s armoured skin until it burst out her back, just between her shoulderblades. Taylor’s warning turned into a scream, and she went to launch herself forward, but two sets of hands grabbed her from behind, one on the left and one on the right.

    “Sh-sh-sh-shhh,” whispered a voice in her ear as a hand clamped over her mouth. “Shut up and watch as she dies. As your precious hero kills her.”

    Desperately, Taylor wrenched at the hands gripping her as blood covered Janesha’s costume from the wound in her stomach and cascaded from her mouth. Come on. Do something. Please. But the sudden attack had taken the Mystallian off-guard, and she didn’t seem to be able to respond. Taylor watched the life dimming in her eyes.

    With a vicious grin on his lips, Sagun drew back his other hand, which held a second blade. “Goodbye, you troublesome little—”

    With a scream of pure fury, wings spread wide, Cloudstrike burst in through the side of the house. Mere mortal matter gave way to enraged celestial power, and the house burst asunder. Taylor felt her captors’ grip torn free, and she tumbled, thrown through the air. But in the midst of the cloud of rubble thrown up by Cloudstrike, she saw Sagun, blade still embedded deep in Janesha’s gut, the other blade preparing to decapitate her.

    There was just one thing Taylor could do. It was something she’d been told never to do, over and over, but now she had no other choice.

    Clasping her hands together, she clenched her eyes shut and prayed.

    Janesha of Mystal, I have faith in you.



    End of Part Twenty-Two
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2020
  6. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    Ahh! And there's that deadly dreaded Ack cliffhanger! Good update, though. I admit, I kind of sympathize with Contessa and her unsavory crew as they try to beat a god.

    Even though their struggle is utterly pointless, with both the goddess of escalation and an actual goddess on the opposing side. Se la vie.
     
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  7. Pyro Hawk

    Pyro Hawk Unsure if Phoenix or Kitsune

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    Something very interesting just happened. Because you see, Taylor knows more about what being a Celestian actually means, in regards to how mortal faith empowers and fixes them... And she's also Janesha's friend who knows a fair bit about how Janesha acts as just herself, not an act she puts on for power/to serve a role.

    And here, she needs to pray to Janesha to save her life, thus triggering that whole mechanism... But she doesn't pray to Janesha as something, especially not as a Deity. She prays to Janesha as someone, with admittedly celestial power and heritage, who is a person she has faith in.

    … This is going to have some very interesting results I believe. Because I think Janesha is possibly going to be the least 'fixed' Celestial to be empowered in a long, long time that will be known by the rest of the Celestials, if not the first ever like this. It also shouldn't have cut her off from gaining the normal results of attunement/mortal empowerment. Because Taylor knows that Janesha can gain those, so if she starts to act in that fashion then the two beliefs shouldn't clash. But rather should merge into something like 'Janesha of Mystal who acts as Janesha the Goddess of ___ at times'. Well, absent something clogging up that possibility in how Celestial empowerment/attunement works.
     
  8. Jade Isentry

    Jade Isentry Unshakable

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    What I want to see is 'what, specifically, is Taylor believing that Janesha can do here?'

    If it were me, I'd probably be believing that she was strong enough, and her shifting strong enough, to overpower our assailants and mend our wounds faster than they could be made. There might be better choices to believe, but that would be a good spur of the moment thing, and would seem sensible enough that it wouldn't be hard to truly believe it in that instance.
     
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  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Let's just say ...

    ... Taylor has listened to what Janesha has told her about bad establishments for celestials, and paid attention.

    She knows what the potentials are.

    She also has a very high opinion of Janesha.

    And finally, right now, she doesn't want Janesha to lose.
     
  10. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    And, if there's anybody out there who's got the mindset to game the system, it's the Munchkin Goddess herself.
     
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  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She's already thought of workarounds for celestial limits that Janesha hadn't thought of ...
     
  12. Pyro Hawk

    Pyro Hawk Unsure if Phoenix or Kitsune

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    Been a while since I re-read, so is it just the work-arounds in the latest chapter or two such as the 'dust cloud' or are there others?
     
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  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Well, that and putting together the fact that Contessa & company are celests with ranged benders among them. Also, she used her celestial-granted improved memory to assist Janesha a few times.
     
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  14. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Three: Janesha Transcendent
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Twenty-Three: Janesha Transcendent

    [A/N: This chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by the author of Ties That Bind (re-released now) and The Long Way Home (soon to be in print).]



    Janesha of Mystal, I have faith in you.

    Those were perhaps the most significant words that had ever been enunciated by a mortal on Earth Bet. That they were not spoken out loud mattered not at all. The intent was all that counted. What happened next was an event that had only ever occurred once before in the history of the realm.

    Celestials, as it happened, were not precisely the same as gods. For one to become the other, someone possessing a mortal soul had to consciously recognise the celestial as a god; their belief would then define the brand-new deity’s powerbase and thrall. In addition, the mortal had to be within the required range to influence the celestial at all. Most celestials waited until they were attuned to a realm before taking this next step; attunement (which could take centuries or millennia for a newcomer to a large realm) essentially put all mortals in that realm within range of the celestial. Without attunement, the range was all of fifteen feet, which made maintaining one’s godhood problematic if the mortal had business elsewhere.

    Although the realm containing Earth Bet was ridiculously smaller than most, Janesha still hadn’t been there long enough to be attuned. Neither was Taylor within fifteen feet of her, which should have put the kibosh on what happened next, right then and there. But it didn’t, and ironically, this was directly attributable to the woman who was trying to kill her.

    The Nassite known as Fortuna had, at an earlier point, used her attunement to reverse the changes Janesha had made to Danny and Taylor in order to keep them safe. On finding that they’d been reverted to ordinary mortals once more, Janesha had connected herself to them using cords not dissimilar to those that the ‘capes’ of Earth Bet used to draw power from their celestial-realm crystals. In that way, they were made immune to attunement shenanigans.

    Which also meant that, although Taylor was dozens of feet away from Janesha as Fortuna drew back the blade with decapitation in mind, they were still in direct contact as far as establishment was concerned.

    So when Taylor assumed an attitude of prayer and uttered that single, silent, fervent phrase … everything changed.

    Everything.

    <><>​

    Glorious exultation flooded through Taylor and poured into Janesha. Light, brighter than the sun, flared in all directions.

    Music of a beauty fit to reduce the most accomplished composer to tears of envy flooded outward, bringing peace and serenity to those who heard it. Circling back around, bathed in the glow, Cloudstrike lifted her voice in a triumphant whinny as a counterpoint to the chords of joy.

    And with the exultation came power. Taylor concentrated on what she knew her friend needed to be; what she indeed was. Janesha was the strongest, the bravest, the smartest of all celestials. She was Justice, she was War, she was Peace, she was Strength. She knew all, understood all, was all. Her power was terrifying in its beauty, and beautiful in her mercy.

    The woman who had pretended to be Scion sat up from where she had been flung away from Janesha and raised her hand to shade her eyes against the now-fading glare. Healed of the mortal wound in a moment, the divinely empowered goddess before her unfolded two great angelic wings, silvery and metallic blue feathers recalling the colours of her mystallion’s own pinions. Without moving the wings, she rose into the air, hovering twenty feet up without any visible means of support. No longer was her clothing the uniform black of Mystal, but sky-blue and silver, matching her wings.

    “Now that wasn’t nice, was it?” Janesha said, her voice still recognisable though vibrating with divine power. “Come here, you.” Reaching out, she gestured with one finger; The woman, trying to lunge into a realm-step, found herself seized and lifted by invisible forces, arms bound to her sides, body utterly unresponsive to her urgings. With her other hand, Janesha reached out toward where the other two lay in the wreckage of the house.

    One of them reacted a little faster than the other and simply vanished as though he had fallen into a hole. The one left behind screamed and clawed at the rubble. “No! Come back here, you bast—!”

    That was all he had time to say before Janesha’s power closed around him. Like the woman, he was lifted and carried to a point before Janesha, arms and legs secured with irresistible force.

    “Time to see who you really are.”

    Taylor didn’t really know what was going on, but she saw Janesha frown. The man and the woman each raised their right hand, their motions subtly stiff and unnatural. Two gold rings slid off fingers … and then the man vanished in a haze of sparkling mist, followed in short order by the woman. Janesha caught the rings as they fell.

    “Well, that’s irritating.” She turned to Taylor, swivelling in midair. Regaining her good mood, she smiled down at her friend. “Thank you,” she said warmly, drifting down to where Taylor was climbing to her feet. “You saved my life, and yours as well.”

    “It seemed the thing to do.” Taylor looked Janesha over, a sense of awe washing through her as she took in the radiant being her faith had wrought. “So this is you as a goddess. Wow.”

    “Wow, indeed.” Janesha looked her own hands over. The skin tone had not changed, but there was the suggestion of light shining from within. “You’ve done well. As my most faithful worshipper, and of course my closest mortal friend, you are now my high priestess.” She smiled, and Taylor felt a wave of happiness flood through her. “There will likely be those who try to hurt me by harming you, but I will not allow that. Before, I made you as strong and durable as the woman once known as Alexandria. Now, I make you … more.”

    Holding up her hands, she bathed Taylor with a shimmering rainbow incandescence, setting her skin to tingling. Again the music pealed out, a haunting flute melody that Taylor recalled from her childhood. Taylor felt her feet lifting from the ground, gravity losing its grasp on her.

    When the sensation ended, Taylor did not fall to the ground. Ten feet in the air, she hovered, slowly coming to the realisation that she was holding herself up. “I’m … I’m flying!” she gasped. Impulsively, she shot skyward, then arced over and swooped down again, hardly able to believe it. She’d assigned Janesha the ability to do this, of course, but in her mind she had not made the connection to getting enhanced powers herself.

    “What happened to them?” she asked as she drifted down to hover beside Janesha. “Did you kill them with your bending?” Not that she really had a problem with that, but she would’ve at least been interested in who they were and why they attacked Janesha.

    “I did not get the chance.” Janesha folded her arms, looking more than a little miffed. “I recognised them from Eidolon’s memories. These were the last three members of Cauldron; Contessa, Clairvoyant and Doormaker. Doormaker is the one who escaped my wrath. Eidolon was not aware that they were celestials. When I removed their seclusion rings, Contessa turned her power on her comrade, striking him dead with a thought. In another instant, she did the same to herself, destroying everything that made up who she was before killing herself with shifting.”

    “Wait.” Taylor held up her hand. “You can bring the dead back to life.” It was just one of the many, many capabilities she had ascribed to Janesha. “Surely you can do that, and ask them your questions?”

    “Sadly, I cannot.” Janesha sighed. “Were they mortal, I could bring them back easily with the power I now wield. But once celestials die, they are gone forever. I can repair the broken and I can revive the dead from their slumber, but I cannot recreate the deceased. Not when it comes to other celestials.”

    “Oh.” Taylor’s shoulders slumped for a moment, then she brightened. “What if I believed you could do that as well?”

    “I would advise you not to try,” Janesha said firmly. “Celestials stay dead when they die. It is a rule of Creation. The very laws that underpin the realms may object if you attempt to overrule them in this way.” She smiled. “Besides, why bother attempting to improve on perfection?” Holding out her arms, she spun in a circle. “Janesha, supreme goddess of Earth Bet. It has a certain ring to it, does it not?”

    “It sure does,” Taylor agreed, grinning almost giddily. Janesha had been amazingly cool when she was just plain Lady Janesha of Mystal. But now as a goddess, she was just how Taylor had imagined she could be. Even the slightly archaic speech was how Taylor figured gods would talk. “So hey, you said something about repairing the broken? Because our house looks a little broken to me.” With a smirk, she gestured down at the pile of wreckage that Cloudstrike had left behind.

    “Broken it is, indeed.” Janesha gestured to Cloudstrike. “Come, good and faithful steed. Were it not for you, Taylor and I would now be dead.”

    With a snort that Taylor interpreted as ‘well, duh’, the mystallion swooped down and then came up so that Janesha was once more seated in her saddle. The two pairs of wings, instead of looking incongruous and strange, seemed to suit one another. Drifting over, Taylor came to a stop alongside Cloudstrike’s head. Cloudstrike snorted again and nuzzled her, hard; Taylor chuckled and gave the winged steed a scratch behind the ears.

    Leaving the reins to drape over her saddle, Janesha raised her hands and summoned light to cover the entire area of the house. Noise arose once more; with amusement, Taylor recognised the sound of hammering, sawing and jackhammers, though there was no sign of anyone on the site actually using those tools. Within the glow, the pieces of the house levitated from the ground, then glowed and underwent modifications.

    When the house started rebuilding itself, Taylor saw what alterations had been wrought. It was a little larger, with stone paving leading up to a front door flanked with marble columns. Beyond was no less than a temple, with stained-glass windows on each side. Above the door, Taylor saw one that seemed to depict her father facing off against the horror monster Janesha called a talot, while Janesha lay unconscious off to the side.

    “Wow, that’s kinda cool,” Taylor said. “But … where are we supposed to live?”

    “Wherever it is that you wish to live,” Janesha assured her. “Your belongings are safe. It is not a decision that you need to make quickly. Indeed, first there is another matter that we need to address.”

    “Another matter?” This was moving faster than Taylor knew how to handle. “What is it? Have you found another celestial?”

    “Not a new one, no.” Janesha smirked. “He will be arriving in three … two … one …”

    A hole opened in midair and Sagun stepped out. He stopped short and stared at the temple, then at Janesha. Slowly, his jaw dropped.

    “Hey, it wasn’t our fault,” Taylor said defensively. “We got attacked by someone pretending to be you.”

    “No.” Sagun shook his head. “No, you don’t get to do this and just say it wasn’t our fault.” He pointed at Janesha. “I don’t know much about celestials, but I’m pretty sure what’s happened here is someone’s fault, and I want that someone to explain to me why there is suddenly a goddess in this realm who happens to be a lot more powerful than me!”

    “Cease binding thy knickers in a twist, dear Sagun,” Janesha replied with a divinely mischievous smile. “It is simple. The other celestials that threatened us attempted to murder myself and Taylor. They have been slain or driven off. They were, in fact, the last remaining members of Cauldron. I have now taken my rightful place as supreme goddess of this world. I think we can both agree that it needed one. You may resume your role as Scion, the patron god of superheroes. That is your forte, is it not?”

    “... yeah, I guess so…” Sagun’s eyes flicked from Janesha to Taylor and back again. “So … if the threat’s gone, you can just step down again, yeah? Just be Janesha the mildly terrifying Mystallian girl rather than Janesha the absolutely terrifying goddess?”

    High, clear laughter rang in the air, then Janesha moved into Scion’s personal space. There was no realm-stepping involved or even a portal; she simply vanished from one spot and appeared in the other. “Understand this, Sagun of Earlafaol. I am who I am supposed to be. In my mercy, I will forgive you the suggestion this one time, but never again are you to question my divine right to this realm. Do I make myself absolutely clear?” Her voice was quiet, but at the same time it was loaded with the kind of power that said, ‘Don’t make me repeat that, because you won’t survive it’.

    Sagun wilted faster than a houseplant in the Sahara. “Sure,” he babbled. “Absolutely. Ummmm, so, I’m the god of superheroes now?” He looked at his hands. “I don’t feel any different.”

    “You always were the god of superheroes,” Janesha said with a gentle chuckle. “It’s just that nobody noticed it before now, because you didn’t know what you were doing.” She raised her hands then sent a wave of divine power outward, the pearlescent light shimmering for a moment before it dissipated. “And now they know. I have announced it, and thus it is true.”

    She was right. Taylor now knew that Sagun was Scion, the god of superheroes. It was as though she had always known it, and was comfortable with that knowledge.

    “But you’re still the goddess of everything in Earth Bet,” Sagun said carefully. “Doesn’t that kind of make me superfluous?”

    “Not in the slightest,” Janesha assured him. “Personally, I find the superhero concept to be just a little silly. It is a massively complicated affair that I would much rather delegate to someone who wants to deal with it. Though if you wish, I can remove the more troublesome threats to ordinary people.”

    “Ah … no, no, I think I’m good now.” Sagun smiled. “Whoa, this is a rush. Yeah, I can handle the big bads on my own. Thanks for offering, though.”

    “That is good to hear. I will leave you to take up your duties.” Janesha turned to Taylor. “Now, there is one more thing that needs to be done. The request that you desperately wish to make, but dare not.” She flicked a finger, and the world shifted around them. Abruptly, they were hovering over a cemetery on the outskirts of Brockton Bay, in the shadow of Captain’s Hill.

    Taylor felt her heart leap into her mouth as Cloudstrike descended. “I—I … Janesha, I …” Words tripped over one another as she tried to unscramble her racing thoughts. When she’d made that prayer, she hadn’t expected this.

    “Yes?” Janesha turned toward her, the same and yet not the same. This Janesha was wiser, more compassionate, and far more powerful than she had ever been before. “I am not of Weaver blood, yet I could feel your pain across galaxies. You and your father both miss her terribly. You have brought me into my full potential; why should I not do this for you?”

    They touched down on the carefully-tended grass beside a particular headstone. Taylor read the inscription once more. As always, it brought tears to her eyes.

    Annette Rose Hebert

    1969-2008

    She taught something precious to each of us.

    Taylor would’ve asked Janesha if she could truly bring back the dead, but did not, for two reasons. The first was that she knew the freshly-minted goddess could. The second was that if she allowed herself to doubt, even for a second, it would destroy her own faith in what Janesha could do. So she remained silent and reinforced her own belief until it was diamond-hard. She can do this. I know she can.

    Janesha glanced sideways at Taylor with the tiniest hint of a smile, as if she knew what was going through her head. Which was entirely possible; Taylor didn’t know all the rules attached to being a high priestess, which in itself felt ridiculous. ‘High priestess’ did not sound like a job someone should have before they even turn sixteen.

    But here she was. And there was Janesha, standing beside the grave of Annette Hebert, looking down at the gravestone. Turning, Janesha held out her hand to Taylor. “Do you want this?” she asked. “Do you truly want this? This is something I cannot and will not unmake once it is done.”

    Taylor took a deep breath to still her inner turmoil. There was only one answer she could give. Reaching out, she took Janesha’s hand. “Yes,” she whispered.

    Janesha’s smile encompassed all the love and compassion in the world. Holding her free hand out over the smooth grass of the grave, she let the glorious light of her power spill down over it. “Annette Rose Hebert,” she intoned. “Let your soul return to your body. Let your body be remade. Let your self be whole once more. Let all the love and memories that once filled you return. Let you be once more, that you might breathe and live and love.”

    She paused, and nodded to Taylor.

    Heart thundering along at what felt like a thousand beats a second, Taylor squeezed Janesha’s hand, feeling the celestial power spilling over into her body. The air thrummed with it, the glow transcending her with joy. “Come back, Mom,” she whispered. “Please come back.”

    “Annette Rose Hebert; RETURN!” shouted Janesha in a voice that rang louder than humanly possible. Music chimed all around, interspersed with voices and other noises. Taylor recognised her own voice, younger, speaking with her mother. Her father and mother, laughing together over some joke.

    The light over the grave spun in a circle like a million tiny fireflies, forming a vortex over the grave, under Janesha’s hand. Before Taylor’s wondering eyes, the light settled into place to create a basic human form, filling in more and more detail, becoming more and more solid.

    As the last of the motes of light evaporated, Annette Hebert stood there, wearing the clothing Taylor had last seen her in, blinking in confusion. “Where am I?” she asked. “What’s going on?” Then she frowned. “Taylor, is that you?”

    Taylor grabbed her and hugged her, hard.

    <><>​

    In Another Well Known Realm

    YHWH, Lord God of Heaven, rubbed His chin thoughtfully. “So, you were all with the soul of Annette Hebert from that secondary Earlafaol realm when she vanished.”

    The angels nodded earnestly. “Yes, Lord,” they sang in confirmation. “It did not seem planned. She looked … surprised, very briefly, then vanished.”

    YHWH looked outward to the pearlescent wall which surrounded the realm of Heaven, then beyond it to the realm’s border itself. His presence surrounded and infused all of Heaven, and thus His knowledge of all that transpired within was complete. However, past that boundary, He could only watch with His celestial gifts, not with the powers His establishment had bestowed upon Him. Annette’s immortal soul had been recalled, which required two very specific things. One, a celestial who was willing to use that power be granted it, and two, believers who believed very firmly that the celestial could do that.

    In His experience, getting those two together was a very rare proposition. The proof of this supposition was borne out by the fact that it wasn’t happening more often.

    Of course, if some brash celestial got into the habit of dragging the Damned out of Hell, it would be a very brief affair. At the very least, the Chaotic supreme ruler over there would either send one of his sons out to teach the errant divine the error of his ways, or even go himself.

    YHWH was more the forgiving type, Himself. If a soul left Heaven, there would always be a place for them when they returned. And they would definitely return, someday. All beings died. It was the way of Creation.

    “Lord God?” prompted the nearest angel. “Is there anything You needed me to do?”

    “No,” YHWH decided. “Go about your duties.”

    If it happened again, He decided, He would contact Columbine and ask her if there was anything on Earth Bet He needed to worry about. Until then, He would let things be.

    <><>​

    Earth Bet

    “So … I was dead?” Annette shook her head, looking out over the Boardwalk to the ocean beyond. “It feels impossible. I was in the car, driving …” She trailed off. “Why can’t I remember anything past that?”

    “You were in an accident, Mom,” Taylor said earnestly. It wasn’t the first time she’d said it, but it seemed her mother was finally getting it. “You died, but now you’re back.” She squeezed her mother’s hand. It was firm and warm and alive. “Janesha brought you back.”

    “Okay, so if I died … two years ago?” Annette frowned. “Where was I? Just … nowhere?”

    “You are a good person, Annette Hebert,” Janesha said from the other side of the table. She took a curly fry and popped it into her mouth. “These are nice. I may just make them into my sacramental wafers.” Somehow, she was able to talk while eating, and not mumble. “As I was saying, you are a good person. You possess a belief in Christianity so when you died, you went to Heaven. But your mortal brain did not go; only your soul did. So when your soul was drawn back here, you did not retain any memory of it.”

    “Huh. So I’ve been in Heaven all this time, and I can’t remember a thing about it.” Now she sounded more bemused than disbelieving. “Well, that sucks...”

    “You are not missing much,” Janesha said, a little unexpectedly. “It is a pleasant location, if endless clouds and omnipresent angels that sing every word are to your preferred taste in company.”

    That was not something Taylor had ever heard her speak about. “Wait, you said you were related to Belial, but I didn’t know you knew anyone in Heaven.”

    That got a laugh out of Janesha. The other patrons of Fugly Bobs visibly relaxed as the gorgeous sound washed over them. “The gods and goddesses of Mystal have connections with many realms, petal. I believe I told you once that I came here from Asgard, where I was visiting with my aunt.”

    “That’s the other thing I’m having trouble with.” Annette took a calamari ring from the basket and bit into it almost experimentally. She chewed and swallowed, then looked at Janesha. “You and Taylor say that you’re an honest to goodness goddess. Not just a cape, but someone with actual divine power.”

    “You betray your Christian upbringing there, Annette.” Janesha sounded amused. “In a single phrase you refer to one divinity while doubting another. Or what did you think ‘honest to goodness’ meant?” She paused. “Enough jesting. Allow me to show you what Taylor already knows.”

    She held her hands together over the tabletop, then pulled them apart. An image formed, showing a patchwork of shapes fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle, some much larger than the others. Off to the side was a large dark area, with two small circles in it, quite far apart. “This is my birthplace,” she said, pointing at one of the larger shapes. “The realm of Mystal. These larger ones again are Chaos and the Nexus. That’s Heaven over there, Asgard, Olympus, the other Olympus, Yaru … and I suspect I’ve lost you there.” She moved her finger to point at one of the tiny circles. “That’s where we are right now. Earth Bet.”

    “And the other one’s Earlafaol, right?” asked Taylor. “You said it was off in the Unknown Realms as well.”

    “Indeed you are correct, Taylor,” Janesha confirmed. She gestured and the tiny display faded. “Were there further questions you would like to ask, to ascertain my divinity? I assure you, it is nothing but the truth, as Taylor well knows.”

    “No … well, it’s hard not to believe you,” Annette confessed. She gestured toward where Cloudstrike was grazing in the small yard Janesha had created from the empty lot that had been there when they arrived. “Your … mystallion … is so real. Everything you’ve done is real. I’m alive. I’ve never heard of any capes that could do that.”

    “There are some who could revive a person dead just a short while, before the soul has time to leave the body,” Janesha pointed out. “But if they are months and years dead, while you may attract a soul into the body, it will not be the one it was born with.”

    Taylor hugged her mother again. It was hard not to. She had cried herself to sleep night after night, knowing that she would never see her mom again. And now, through what was a miracle in the purest sense of the word, she was back. I can’t wait to see Dad’s …

    “Oh boy,” she muttered. “Oooh boy.”

    “What troubles you, Taylor?” asked Janesha.

    Taylor grimaced. “Dad doesn’t know yet. About you. About Mom. About any of this. How’s he going to react?”

    “Hm.” Janesha seemed to think for a moment. “He will react badly to my new divinity, but after the initial shock he will be happy to see Annette back. I cannot speak to his exact actions, as I refuse to take away his free will.”

    “Why don’t we go to see him right now?” asked Annette. “Make sure he doesn’t hear a distorted version from someone else first.” She frowned. “How badly did he react to my death?”

    “Badly.” Taylor wasn’t going to say any more, but then relented. “Mr and Mrs Barnes had to take me in for awhile. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t sleeping. He wasn’t cooking.”

    “Oh, Alan and Zoe!” Annette’s face lit up. “How are they, anyway? Are they doing well? And Emma? You two were such great friends! You’d be in high school by now, wouldn’t you?”

    Taylor took a deep breath, then let it all out in a long sigh. “I … that went all wrong. Emma … had a bad experience a year and a bit ago, and changed. For the worse. When we started high school, she got other friends and started bullying me. It came to a head just a few days ago, and then Janesha arrived and fixed everything.”

    What?” Annette was halfway out of her seat. “I’m going to give Alan Barnes a piece of my mind! How can he let his daughter get away with that kind of crap?”

    “Mom! Mom!” Taylor stood up as well, holding onto her arm. “It’s kind of sorted out, but we can do that afterward. Right now, I want to take you to see Dad. Also, I want Janesha to be there.”

    “Why do you wish that, I wonder?” Janesha smirked. “Do you intend to hide behind me?”

    Taylor stuck out her tongue out at her best friend. “No. In case he has a heart attack from the shock.”

    “I rebuilt his heart to make that impossible.” Janesha looked slyly at Taylor. “Also, you could revive him. You have the skills now.”

    Annette looked from one to the other. “Why do I get the impression that there’s a lot more going on than either one of you has told me so far?”

    “Probably because there is,” Taylor conceded. “But I think it would be best to wait until we’re all home at the same time, because you need to hear it from everyone at once.” She paused. “We’re going to need a home. Just saying.”

    “I will commence the construction of an adequate residence at once, petal,” Janesha said, rolling her eyes. The grin gave matters away, though. “Would you prefer a two story or three story mansion?”

    “Uh, just … the same as we had before,” Taylor said faintly. “Nothing … fancy.” It occurred to her (as it had several times before) that qualifying any requests was a good idea, as Janesha could take what sounded reasonable and make it considerably unreasonable. All with the best intentions in mind, of course.

    “Only the best for my high priestess, Taylor the First!” declared Janesha, then leaped over the rail and spread her wings. Annette, along with the rest of the patrons aside from Taylor, watched with varying levels of awe as she glided over to where Cloudstrike waited expectantly. Settling into the saddle, she called out, “Cloudstrike, hup!” The mystallion’s great wings came down with a sound like thunder, and they launched upward faster than anything so large had a right to move. In a second or two, they were out of sight.

    Annette blinked. “Does she do that … often?”

    “Every time she can get an excuse,” Taylor said with a grin. “She may be a goddess, but she’s also an incurable showoff. I think it’s a celestial thing. So, let’s go see Dad, shall we?”

    Regarding Taylor cautiously, Annette nodded. “Why do I get the impression we’re not going to be taking the bus?”

    Taylor’s grin broadened. “Because we’re not.”

    <><>​

    “Taylor!”

    “What?”

    “Since when can you fly?”

    “... today.”

    “Well, slow down! Or fly higher! One of the two!”

    “... yes, Mom. It’s good to have you back.”

    “I love you too, little owl.”

    <><>​

    Dockworkers Association

    Things at work had been … odd. Just before lunchtime, Danny had felt the strangest sensation, as if a torrent of energy were pouring through him. He’d felt the urge to leap to his feet and shout in exaltation, though he managed to restrain himself. While he wasn’t totally certain about the reason, his first instinct was to ask himself if Janesha was behind the impulse. He wouldn’t put it past her to troll him with some kind of feedback through the link she shared with him.

    When I get home, that girl’s gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do.

    Putting the matter from his mind, he’d gotten back to work, only to have the strangest sensation twinge his mind a few minutes later. It was as though a new awareness had opened in his head. Curious, he probed it, and frowned as his forebrain reliably informed him that Scion was the patron god of superheroes. The information was new, at the same time as feeling like something he’d always known. Okay, that’s different. It also changed matters slightly. While he might get snarky with Janesha, Scion was a totally different kettle of fish … if by ‘fish’ Danny meant ‘angry piranhas that could devour him whole’. Snark was not on Danny’s go-to list for dealing with a self-proclaimed god who could back up the claim.

    When he went to lunch, a few of the guys who’d been outside were talking about the weird effect that had passed overhead just as the knowledge about Scion had popped into their minds. Relieved that it wasn’t just him, then somewhat less relieved that Scion had apparently seen fit to inform the world of his godhood, Danny settled down to his lunch. He still didn’t know exactly what was going on, but nobody seemed to be discussing the other weird sensation he’d gotten, just before the revelation about Scion.

    As they went back to work, discussion was ongoing about exactly what a ‘patron god of superheroes’ was supposed to do. One guy was earnestly espousing the idea that if he prayed to Scion, he might actually get powers. The laughter that followed this wasn’t as hearty as it might have been.

    Still, there was paperwork to do and, impervious to harm as he might be, it wasn’t going to do itself. So he set to work, getting into the swing of things once more. Right up until the knock came at his door-frame.

    Looking up, he saw Kurt’s face. The burly man was white as a sheet. “D-Danny,” he croaked.

    “Jesus shit, Kurt, what’s the matter?” Dropping the pen, Danny jumped up from the chair. Without even thinking about it, he hurdled the desk in one easy motion. “Are you okay?”

    “Yeah, I am, but you need to brace yourself. She’s back. She’s really back.” Kurt looked as rattled as Danny had ever seen him. Even dealing with the aftermath of a catastrophic vehicle collision which had put three people in the hospital, the big man had been calm and composed. Not so now.

    “Who’s back? Taylor?” That didn’t make sense. Taylor hadn’t been away. He couldn’t think of anyone else whose presence would ring Kurt’s bell like that. “Damn it, Kurt. Who?”

    A slender hand pushed Kurt to one side, and a woman both familiar and strange to him stepped into the doorway. “Hi, sweetheart. It’s me.”

    Danny blinked and stared. It was Annette, just as he recalled her from that fateful day. Not lying in the morgue. Earlier. Getting in the car. Giving him the grin that he loved. “Is it really you?” He didn’t recognise his voice at all.

    She nodded, tears glistening in her eyes. “It’s really me. Taylor’s friend Janesha brought me back from the dead.”

    Swaying on his feet, he shook his head. “Excuse me, Janesha did what again now? I didn’t think she could pull off something like that.”

    Annette came to him, wrapping her arms around his body. Holding him close. Automatically, he embraced her, smelling the scent she’d been wearing on that same day. His arms tightened. She’s back. She’s really back. Is this a dream? Too many times over the last two years, it had been.

    “Well, she’s a goddess, so apparently she can.” Annette almost managed to pull off the deadpan delivery, but there was a quiver in her voice. “I was dead, but I’m alive again. I’d suspect some cape of pulling a prank on the both of us, but my last memory is of getting in the car, over two years ago. Was the crash bad?”

    “Mm-hmm,” he managed, breathing in her scent, over and over. It felt so real. It couldn’t be real. No cape had ever raised the dead, not like this. Even Janesha’s power was limited; she’d said so herself. “They said you were …” He couldn’t finish. Killed on impact. “... using your phone,” he finally said.

    “Ugh, damn it,” she muttered. From the slight motion of her head against the side of his neck, he was certain she’d just rolled her eyes. “And you warned me. Over and over.”

    “Taylor and I stopped using cell-phones after that,” he said quietly. “They just brought back too many bad memories.” He paused, recalling what she’d said. “And, uh, just so you know, Janesha’s technically a celestial, not a goddess. She’s specifically asked us not to refer to her like that, so we don’t start accidentally worshipping her.”

    This really was Annette. He knew that for sure when she went silent against him. With anyone else, he would’ve been left wondering if she was content, uncertain or pissed off. Immediately, he realised that she had something to say but she wasn’t sure how to say it.

    “What?” he asked, not letting her go. His hand slid up the back of her neck and into her hair. It felt just as wonderful as it had every other time. Two long years fell away, and it was as if she’d never been gone.

    “She’s a goddess,” Annette told him flatly. “A real one. Did you know Taylor can fly now? She says Taylor’s now her high priestess.”

    Danny blinked a few times, trying to process that. Had Taylor done the one thing Janesha had warned them about, time and time again? Had she done it just to get her mother back? Merely thinking about it threw him into a loop. Annette was back! But Taylor’s belief had turned Janesha into a goddess, anchoring her to Earth Bet, exactly what she’d warned them against doing.

    Was it Taylor’s idea, or Janesha’s? Who am I supposed to yell at, here?

    “What’s the matter, Danny?” Annette pushed him back slightly, so she could look up at his face. “You’ve got your angry posture on.”

    “I do not have an angry posture,” he protested weakly.

    “Pfft, maybe everyone else believes that.” She gave him a cynical look. “I know you better than that, buddy boy. I’ve been married to you for nearly twenty years. What’s got you so upset?”

    “Is Taylor here?” he asked, deflecting. It wasn’t her fault, after all.

    “Waiting in the lunch-room with Lacey. Nervous as hell.” She looked at him perceptively. “Is it the same thing you’re angry about?”

    “Probably,” he grunted, not wanting to let her go. Not wanting to risk this being a dream after all, and missing out on a single second of holding the woman he loved in his arms. Inhaling her scent once more partially alleviated his worries—he’d never had a sense of smell worth a damn in a dream before—so he changed the topic before he could ruin the moment. “I went to pieces, just so you know. Didn’t have two brain cells worth rubbing together. When you went away.”

    “When I died, Danny,” she said firmly. “Let’s not dance around that one. I still don’t have any memories of it, but enough people said they went to my funeral that I have to accept it. I’m just glad that I’m back. Janesha said she had to pull my soul out of Heaven to make it work.” He felt her head roll from side to side; she was shaking it in amazement. “How does that even happen? Capes can’t do it. An actual literal goddess on Earth Bet? Are you just as stunned by all this as I am?”

    “I’ve had her living in the same house for the last few days, so I’m getting around to accepting the concept,” he conceded. “You’ve met Cloudstrike, yes? Janesha made a stable for her in the basement. And she can create any food you like, just like snapping her fingers.”

    She chuckled softly. “That might be Fugly Bob’s for the next few nights. Just a fair warning. We had some before we came here.”

    He nodded understandingly, then something else occurred to him. “Wait, she said she pulled your soul out of Heaven?”

    “Yes, that’s what she told me.”

    “That shouldn’t be possible.” The very phrase made him wonder what ‘impossible’ even meant anymore. “The way it was explained to me, Earth Bet is in one realm and Heaven is in another. Even the most powerful god’s abilities cut off short at the boundary. Did she actually go over to Heaven and bring you back personally … no, that wouldn’t work either. She’d have nobody to bloodlink back to. Except maybe Scion … no, I’m pretty sure she said she wasn’t related to him.” He frowned, trying to figure out the dodge Janesha had pulled.

    “Look at you, all expert on how goddesses work,” Annette said with another chuckle. “Taylor asked Janesha the same thing. She said she used my mortal remains as a connection to my soul and drew me back that way, then rebuilt my body on the spot.”

    “Oh. I guess that makes sense.” For a really strange definition of ‘sense’. He rubbed his hand over her back, right where she liked it, and was rewarded with a mmmmm of contentment. “Okay, I’m not going to ask any more questions. I’m just going to enjoy having you back.”

    “About damn time,” she said with a snort. “I was beginning to think I wasn’t welcome. Now come here, handsome. I hear you haven’t seen me for the last two years.”

    As she pulled his face down to hers, the last coherent thought that crossed his mind was, I still have to yell at Taylor for making Janesha into a goddess. But not too much.

    And then he was kissing his wife.

    It really, really wasn’t a dream.

    <><>​

    In a Realm Far From Mystal

    “So you ran.”

    Dorian didn’t even dare struggle against the barbed manacles. “Yes, brother.”

    Davin’s expression only shifted microscopically, but terror sleeted through Dorian’s mind. “Leaving your comrades to be questioned.”

    “I couldn’t help them.” It wasn’t a protest, or even an excuse. The words were a statement of fact. “She had become a goddess right there in front of us, while that fucking little mortal was all the way across the street.” He raised his eyes briefly, then dropped them again as agony blitzed its way through his system, starting from the manacles and radiating into his body. “I swear, she was almost as powerful as you, brother.”

    “We have not been attacked, so Fortuna at least knew her duty.” Davin’s voice was implacable. “But you ran, and left them.”

    “I had to bring word to you of the fate of Abaddon, brother.” It was a broken whisper. Dorian knew what came next.

    Others may have bellowed in rage, but Davin did not. His voice, unchanging, was far more terrifying. “Abaddon failed me. You failed me.”

    As the floor opened under Dorian and he plummeted into the pocket realm known as the Sin Bin, he anticipated the eons of agony that awaited him, and he thought of Fortuna and Clare.

    It dawned on him that they were the lucky ones.



    End of Part Twenty-Three
     
  15. Angel466

    Angel466 Getting out there.

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    This is slightly off-topic, but if anyone is interested, I rereleased Book One Ties That Bind with a new cover that is better situated for digital reading. And for the next four days, the entire 55 chapter book is available to read for free over in Reddit (under r/angel466) and Scribblehub (celestial wars saga).

    In four days I'll be taking it down to comply with Kindle Unlimited rules, but if anyone was interested in looking at the original first book, it is available to read for free for a very limited time.

    Apologies in advance if this message breaks any rules I'm not aware of.
     
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  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    And the author of the original work from which Lady Col and the Mystallians came, ladies and gentlemen!
     
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  17. Jade Isentry

    Jade Isentry Unshakable

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    Well... that happened.

    I guess the Mystalians will have to give up on calling Janesha home, and her granny won't get to use any tefsla she can scrounge up.
     
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  18. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Four: The Best of Intentions
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Twenty-Four: The Best of Intentions

    [A/N: this chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by the author of Ties That Bind and The Long Way Home, Karen Buckeridge.]

    [A/N 2: for other (non-Worm) Celestial Wars sidestories, see
    here and here.]

    Taylor looked up when Danny and Annette entered the lunchroom. She was pretty sure that he didn’t possess any mind-bending powers (at least, Janesha had said nothing about granting him such abilities) but he didn’t even need to look in Lacey’s direction before she mumbled something about needing to go check on something and vacated the room. As the door closed behind the solidly-built woman, Taylor stood up.

    “Hey, Dad.” She gave him a nervous smile, then breathed in strongly through her nostrils and firmed her stance. I am the high priestess of the supreme goddess of Earth Bet, she told herself. I have nothing to be nervous about. “So yeah, Mom’s back. Pretty cool, huh?”

    “Your mother being back is the only good thing about this whole situation,” Danny said, his arm tight around Annette’s waist. She didn’t object, which Taylor wasn’t surprised at; since her mother’s return, she had found herself being greeted with considerable enthusiasm (once people got over their surprise) and Taylor suspected she was rather enjoying the attention. “Janesha specifically warned you against doing just that. You need to stop worshipping her immediately.”

    “What? No!” In her agitation, Taylor drifted a few inches into the air. “Why the hell should I do that? And anyway, I can’t just stop believing in her. She is that powerful. And she’s going to make everything better, all over the world.”

    “She was already doing that, and she didn’t have to be a goddess to do it,” Danny argued. “You heard her yourself. She told us that she was far too young to have an establishment.”

    “Well, she’s not,” Taylor said defiantly. “She’s handling it perfectly well. And Cloudstrike’s fine with it. You know Cloudstrike; she wouldn’t stand for anything that was bad for Janesha.”

    “Cloudstrike comes across as very strong-willed,” Annette remarked. “I like her. And I will say, Janesha does seem to be handling her godhood rather adroitly.”

    “But it’s wrong,” Danny tried again. “You were there when Janesha told us the story of how her uncle got turned into a genie. What if that happened to her, this time?”

    “It won’t,” Taylor said, her tone full of confidence. “To do that, first they’d have to know that they can even do it. Second, they’d have to get the same level of contact with her that I have all the time. Third, they’d have to contend with me, because I just believe in her with all my heart. Saying ‘I want this because I’m greedy’ is not the same as saying ‘I know this’. And last, if anyone tries, I will know, and I’ll personally punch them so hard their grandparents will get nosebleeds.”

    Danny glared at her, but Taylor refused to quail. She was right this time, and he was just going to have to accept it. If she hadn’t acted, she and Janesha would be dead. And now that the deed was done, she had neither the need nor the desire to undo it. Besides, it wasn’t every day that one got to be besties with (and high priestess of) an actual goddess.

    “… fine,” he grated when she failed to break under his stare. “What powers did you give her?”

    “I gave her nothing that wasn’t already within her, Dad.” Taylor barely refrained from rolling her eyes. “I just … opened the floodgates. Everything she had the potential to be … well, she is. Immortal, invulnerable, smarter than anyone alive, has the ability to know everything that’s happening everywhere, has every power of every cape ever plus a few more I thought up on the spot, and … well, she can bring people back from the dead.”

    “Yeah, I got that bit already.” Danny tightened his arm around Annette’s waist. “But it’s wrong. You know it’s wrong. She’s too young to have this kind of responsibility. You’re too young to have this kind of responsibility. She said herself that celestials wait until they’re thousands of years old before they get established.”

    “It’s not wrong!” Taylor let her father hear the defiance in her heart, though it pained her to see the hurt look in his eyes. “If it was, Janesha would be agreeing with you, not me! Why can’t you just accept that things have changed? Mom’s back; everything’s going to be better now. You’ll see.” She smiled, knowing he couldn’t contest the truth of that statement.

    <><>​

    Danny had seen that look before, the almost reverent glow in the eyes, usually when talking to a fresh convert to one of the gangs. You don’t know what it’s like. They’ve got all the answers. Sometimes, it was the outright gleam of fanaticism, and Danny had known better than to try to talk them out of it. Usually, if he saw them later, they were sporting colours and brand-new tattoos to match their newfound allegiance, as if they were trying to make up for lost time.

    Every other time, the glow had been metaphorical.

    Before him, Taylor rose a few inches more into the air, her hair floating out around her, eyes literally alight with the intensity of her belief. “Earth Bet has needed a goddess to watch over it for the longest time,” she said. “She’s finally here, and everything will be okay.”

    Without even the pop of displaced air, Janesha appeared beside Taylor, arm over her high priestess’ shoulders. “Taylor speaks nothing but the truth, Danny Hebert,” she said with a divinely sweet smile. “Your abode has been repaired, your belongings replaced within. I have also constructed the first cathedral in My name, where those who would worship Me may come and see the light.”

    Oh, thank God. Now I can fix this once and for all. Danny didn’t even see the irony in his thought. “Janesha. Please stop this right now. You told us more than once that it was a very bad idea for us to worship you, that you needed to wait a few centuries to be old enough to get your establishment field. This has to end, now.”

    Her voice was soft, but there was iron behind it. “No,” she said. “It does not. This throne is Mine by right. I am no simpering puppet, dancing to and fro for the amusement of My worshippers.” Holding out her hand, she let energy crackle across her fingertips. “I have seen the evil that permeates Earth Bet, whether it be from people acting or choosing not to act, and I will stand in silence no longer.”

    “People have to learn to act properly themselves,” he argued. “Imposing morality from above works right up until the imposing authority isn’t looking over your shoulder anymore. It’s got to be learned, internalised, accepted. If people aren’t already okay with being that way, the moment it becomes inconvenient, it’s discarded. Trust me, I’ve seen this.” He held out his hands beseechingly to her. “You’re setting yourself up for a fall. Hand back the power. Step down. Just be Janesha again. Show the world what’s right by example, not by imposing it on them. Like your cousin Columbine does.”

    Taylor shook her head. “Dad, what if Janesha is all that’s keeping Mom alive? Do you want to lose her again, just like that? Because I don’t. And Janesha isn’t going to be oppressing the world. You know her better than that. She’s a good person, and she knows how to be a good goddess. It’s not like she hasn’t watched her family do this exact thing.”

    “Thank you, Taylor. Your faith is reassuring.” Janesha smiled serenely, and Danny felt a wave of warmth and happiness wash through him. It was very hard to not relax and be carried along with it. “Danny, you were my first Chosen, and I respect you deeply. But you are yet mortal, and so you cannot understand the complexities of what is happening here. To assuage your fears; even were I to remove the blessing of My power from Annette, she would yet live. Her body would remain whole, and her soul within. As with you and Taylor, I have made it so that she cannot be harmed by mortal artifice, and will live perhaps three centuries.”

    “Really? ‘Mortal artifice’?” Danny shook his head. “Janesha, this isn’t you. You don’t talk like this. The Janesha I know is more of a smartass, and doesn’t talk like someone trying out for Shakespeare in the Park.”

    Gently smiling, Janesha shook her head. “That was Me, yes. But just as mortals may change how they act, this behaviour is more fitting for a goddess. I am still Myself where it counts, Danny. Believe me when I say I am not about to bring down a holy crusade and smite Earth Bet with fire and brimstone. I will give humanity every chance to change its ways for the better. Of course, such a monumental change is easier if there is little incentive to change back. Come, Taylor. There is much work to do.”

    Gathering Taylor in with one wing, she nodded at the elder Heberts. A moment later, along with Taylor, she popped out of existence with the merest flash of light.

    Danny stared at the spot where she’d been, then pulled a chair into place and sat down heavily. “Well, that’s going to be problematic,” he muttered.

    Annette found her own chair and sat beside him. “Talk to me, Danny Hebert,” she said in what he’d used to privately call her ‘professor voice’. “I came in a little late here. Why is it so bad that we now have a benevolent deity who’s willing to clean up the world and give us all a second chance? Unless things have changed drastically for the better since I …” She paused and took another run at that sentence. “Since I died.” Pressing her thumb and forefinger to her forehead, she closed her eyes for a moment. “Damn it, I am never going to get used to that.”

    He put his arm around her shoulders. “I never did, either. But now you’re back.” He heaved a deep sigh. “No, things haven’t gotten better since then. If anything, they’re worse. But forcing change always invites a backlash; you know that. I’m terrified that they’ll get impatient and start to actively change people to fit with their view of how the world should be. Because it’s for the best.” With his free hand, he made air quotes. “Because … teenagers.”

    Annette’s eyes opened wide. “Do you think they’ll go that far? Do you think they can?”

    “Oh, I have no doubt they can,” he assured her grimly. “But will they?” It was a sobering question. “I don’t know. And I’m not sure I want to find out.”

    And if they start down that path, how do I stop them? He was pretty sure a raised voice and a firm reprimand wouldn’t really cut it.

    <><>​

    Taylor flew alongside Janesha as the brand-new goddess of Earth Bet rode Cloudstrike across the sky. “So what do we do first?” asked Taylor. She was grinning all over her face; it was hard not to feel euphoric, knowing that this was the first day of the golden age of the human race. Janesha was going to fix everything, and Taylor would be there to help her any way she could.

    “Before all else, we must take precautions against any interloping celestials,” Janesha said, her voice clearly audible despite the fact that they were travelling at well over the speed of sound. “This, petal, is for you. Wear it always.” She held out a dull grey metal ring. As Taylor watched, it reformed and resized as Janesha added mass to it, becoming a blue and silver tiara. A microscopically detailed representation of Cloudstrike’s head and forelegs, with the mystallion’s wings sweeping back around the curve of the metal, rose out of its surface.

    “It’s beautiful,” Taylor said, taking the tiara and slipping it onto her head. It fitted perfectly, of course. “What’s it do?”

    “It will seclude your thoughts away from those that might seek to bend your mind to their desire.” Janesha tapped the side of her head by way of demonstration. “As you are now My high priestess, we share an unbreakable link, so I need not be able to reach you with mind-bending. Thus, none will be able to bend you away from My service before I am fully attuned to this realm.”

    Taylor hadn’t actually thought about that before, but it was a good point. “Is anyone likely to try?”

    “Not in the usual course of events, no,” Janesha admitted. “But My family is unlikely to be reasonable if they ever locate Me before I am fully attuned.” She gestured at the tiara Taylor now wore. “Lacking their power bases, they will be unable to harm you directly, and that tiara renders you impervious to mind-bending.”

    “Oh, good.” Taylor smiled as she reached up and ran her fingers over the intricate detailing of the sculpture at the front of the tiara. “Now that I’m protected, what do we do first?”

    “This world is beset with many ills,” Janesha said thoughtfully. “I am celestial; you are human. As a mortal representative of your people, what do you consider to be the most pressing problem?”

    Taylor paused while she thought about that. They would get to everything eventually, but if she picked things in the wrong order, people could die needlessly.

    “World hunger,” she said after a few moments of consideration. “Can we fix that first, please?”

    “As you pray, so I agree,” Janesha said with a serene smile. “And so it seems that one of your villains has that very plan in his keeping, as well as many others.” She shook her head. “It is a measure of the sickness that afflicts this world that those who have the duty to keep their citizens safe and well have repeatedly rejected his plans to help them.”

    Taylor didn’t see her signal Cloudstrike, but the mystallion slowed to a hover anyway. With a wave of her hand, dozens of three-ring binders appeared in a swarm around Janesha. Another wave and they began to coalesce into books; weighty tomes with leather binding and metal clasps. One opened before Janesha, and Taylor could see that it was handwritten on what looked like parchment with intricate illumination around the edge of the page.

    “Pretty,” Taylor said appreciatively. Three-ring binders just didn’t have the same aesthetic appeal that leather-bound books did. “Though I’m not sure exactly why you’re doing it like this. After all, we can just do this, right?”

    “Indeed We can,” Janesha agreed. “And We will set it all in motion. This serves as Our notification to those leaders of the nations thus affected by the plan.” The books began to shimmer, then duplicate themselves. Janesha sent the duplicates away with a wave of her hand, causing them to vanish into nothingness.

    Taylor frowned. “What, so they won’t get upset for you for just going ahead with it?”

    Musical laughter filled the air. “Oh, no, petal.” Janesha shook her head. “So they know what to do in order to not to displease Me.”

    <><>​

    Thud.

    The President of the United States looked around from a briefing being given in the Situation Room of the White House. A large leather-bound book had somehow landed at his elbow, the metal corners making sharp contact with the table. The title, painted on the cover in shimmering blue and silver, read Solution to World Hunger.

    Before he had a chance to make a comment, another book landed upon the first. It was identical to the first, apart from having a different shade of leather binding. The title to this one read, Solving the Energy Crisis.

    He pushed back away from the table as more books landed, stacking atop the first two. By the time the last one landed, the room was in uproar, and Secret Service was hustling everyone out.

    <><>​

    Much later, he would learn that the same scene was repeated all over the world, no matter where the leader in question happened to be. And in every case, the books had been translated flawlessly into the recipient’s language.

    But that was nothing to what happened next.

    <><>​

    Janesha sent the last book away and theatrically dusted off her palms. “Notice has been served,” she declared with satisfaction. “The hungry masses shall eat …” Letting the reins drop over Cloudstrike’s neck, she held up both hands at once. “Now.” At the same moment that she spoke the word, she snapped her fingers. The double click was louder than it should’ve been, and Taylor felt the whisper of power as it flashed outward in all directions.

    And that was it. There was no crash of thunder, no strobe of lightning. Just Janesha, sitting astride Cloudstrike with her wings furled, looking pleased with herself.

    “Whoa,” Taylor said, not entirely sure what had just happened. “Did you just create enough food to give to everyone on Earth who needed it?”

    Janesha smiled at her. “While such is assuredly within My capabilities, I chose a different path. There is food aplenty in this world, much of it stored away for some future date. When the hungry say I need, those that have enough say, I need it more. They cling jealously to what they have, to ensure that never will they suffer the pangs of starvation themselves. I have relegated none to hunger in their own turn, but I have reapportioned the food stores of this Earth so that all may eat.”

    Taylor blinked. That was so … elegant. “Okay, I’m very impressed,” she admitted. “Little bit of steal from the rich, little bit of give to the poor.”

    “You perceive My intent at once, Taylor.” Janesha nodded, looking amused. “I am a merciful goddess, but I am also a fair one. The book detailing the plan to end hunger will have been read by those governing their respective nations in time for it to go into action tomorrow. Should they carry out its instructions as written, there is little further I will need to perform to that end.”

    “And if they don’t?” Taylor had a sneaking suspicion that some of the world leaders would need more than a book mysteriously appearing out of nowhere to get the hint that things were different now. “What will you do then?”

    Janesha’s serene expression never shifted. “It is not My intent to force obedience upon an unruly populace. I will simply remove from the stores as before and feed those of their population that need it. Only when those leaders seek to take the food I have granted from the mouths of the hungry … then will I act.” In counterpoint to her last few words, her eyes darkened to the sullen grey of a winter storm, and there was a distant roll of thunder, though the sky was clear.

    “Ah.” Taylor couldn’t argue with that either. Anyone who tried to ignore the will of a goddess was either terminally stupid or … well, she’d go with terminally stupid. “Okay, what’s next?”

    “The books detailing the way to bring healthy living to all have already been delivered.” Janesha raised her hands once more. “The sick …” She snapped her fingers, occasioning the almost imperceptible wave of energy as before. “Are well.”

    Taylor was pretty sure she knew what had just happened. “You just cured every single sick person of whatever they were sick with, didn’t you?”

    “And healed every injury, yes.” Janesha smiled slightly. “Seven thousand babies were born painlessly on the instant that I snapped My fingers. Those who are under surgery will seamlessly regenerate their injuries once the surgeons are finished.”

    “So … you eradicated disease?” Taylor wasn’t sure if she’d thought this all the way through.

    “No, although I could have. Some diseases are caused by organisms that intrude into the body from outside.” Janesha shook her head slowly. “It is not enough that mortals age so quickly, but it seems you also seek so many other ways to take ill and die. Those diseases which pass solely from human to human have indeed been obliterated. Others have not, although sensible precautions should render such illnesses rare. Cancer, though … is insidious. Mortals suffer enough without it. It will no longer be.”

    Taylor heard the sharp tone in Janesha’s voice. It was probably her imagination, but she could have sworn she was learning to detect the changes the young goddess was making in the world. “You just wiped out cancer,” she said, not even bothering to make it a question.

    “There was no purpose for it to serve,” Janesha said firmly. “It strikes from within, causing the body to betray itself. Other illnesses may still occur—advancement without struggle is difficult—but that I will spare My worshippers.”

    “Wow.” Taylor shook her head. “If someone had told me that cancer would be wiped out one day, I would’ve bet on a cape doing it. But it took an actual goddess.”

    “None of your superheroes could have achieved such a thing,” Janesha said bluntly. “Even should their abilities have pretended otherwise, they each carried the seeds of chaos within. It was built into your powers, to be expressed when too much order existed around you. You were, each and every one, driven to conflict, to self-destruction. To even attempt such a thing would cause previously reliable powers to warp and betray you, and cause an even worse evil to arise. That was their very nature.”

    Taylor blinked. “What.” On the one hand, she didn’t want to believe it. On the other … it explained so very much about the history of capes to date. “Is this why so many people become villains?”

    “Some, yes,” Janesha confirmed. “However, all too many were already inclined that way, and merely needed a little power to encourage them to throw off the shackles of civilised discourse.” She placed a finger to her chin. “Your erstwhile nemesis, Sophia Hess, was once a much nicer person before her powers twisted her into the caricature she is today. Jack Slash, on the other hand, barely needed any encouragement. What you saw of him was the man within.”

    “Wait, so if Sophia’s powers made her into a cold-hearted bitch, is she gonna change back now that she’s lost them?” Taylor wondered what a non-asshole version of Sophia would act like.

    Janesha laughed, a soothing musical sound that spread out in an almost palpable wave. “Petal, even a celestial who has been altered by their thrall will maintain that behaviour when removed from their home realm. Ingrained reflex cannot be shed so easily. She must be shown the error of her ways, then given a viable alternative.”

    “Oh. Right.” Taylor looked at her own hands. “What about my powers? Are they pushing me toward more conflict?”

    “At one time they would have.” Janesha laid a hand on her shoulder. “I have spoken to Sagun on the matter.”

    <><>​

    Scion

    What was I even thinking?

    As Sagun stepped through into the celestial realm, he was still berating himself. Janesha’s mental communication--an ability she hadn’t had before she became a goddess--had been gentle, forgiving, understanding … and devastating. She had pointed out exactly how badly he’d screwed up by building in a constant need for conflict into all the powers, and why he should fix that.

    He knew why he’d done it, of course. When handed magnificent powers, most people would consider first and foremost the possibility of making money with them. It took a certain mindset to want to put on a costume and go out to beat up criminals, just as it took a certain mindset to join the police force. But he’d wanted his world of superheroes and supervillains, and so the powers he had created had each carried within them the incentive to push the boundaries and be used.

    I was an idiot. A stupid, teenage, celestial idiot.


    It had taken the loss of his sister, thirty years of grieving, and a meddling celestial called Janesha of Mystal to make him realise exactly how far his head had been lodged up his ass all this time. Mortals weren’t playthings. Well, to some gods they were, but not to Janesha and not to him. Not anymore, anyway.

    He hovered above the great forest of crystals, studying the myriad of energy cords connecting them to the capes drawing from their powers. Slowly, carefully, he spread his influence outward until every crystal was encompassed by it. Then he reached inward, separating out the multitude of threads until he found the common one, the conflict initiator. He gathered every instance of that one together … and pulled. Soundlessly, imperceptibly, he removed it from every single crystal, every single cape in all the multi-folded worlds that made up the Earth Bet complex.

    Let’s see how we do now, he thought. A single step brought him back to the mortal realm of Earth Bet, then a whim of curiosity led his path to the cathedral that Janesha had erected on the site where the Hebert house had once stood. The entire block was gone, the houses removed. Sagun knew without quite understanding how he knew it, that the people living in each of the other houses had been relocated where they wanted to go, no expense spared. One was settling into a brand-new mansion in Hollywood Hills, another had moved to Seattle, and the rest were scattered around the nation. Not one had opted to stay where they were, which said something about living in Brockton Bay.

    The cathedral was gorgeous, featuring a towering spire and magnificent stained-glass windows. At the corner, it angled around the one house remaining, which was more of a mansion. The Hebert house rebuilt. It looked three or four times as large as the original building, and far more luxurious.

    On the other side of the cathedral, there was another building. Sagun stared for a moment, then his jaw dropped. The stained-glass window over the immense double doors featured him, flying, reaching for the sky. I knew I was a god, but to have a temple built to me …

    Slowly, he descended to the pavement outside the amazing building. There was already a crowd of people standing there, staring at the doors. Some wore costumes. He found he could identify them without even leaning into his celestial abilities.

    So silent was his approach that they only realised he was there when his shadow fell over them. He gestured, and the great doors unlocked and swung inward with never a sound. The pure adoration he felt from them was like a drug racing through his bloodstream, making him feel more powerful than ever.

    Is this what worship is like? Is this what I’ve been missing all this time?

    “Lord Scion,” called out one of the capes, Leet by name, raising his hands in supplication. The man’s companion, a muscular cape called Uber, hissed something in his ear and pulled his arms down.

    “What is it, my son?” Sagun drifted lower. Being a superhero was cool. Being a god of superheroes was all kinds of amazing.

    The man called Leet appeared to be stunned by being acknowledged, but he recovered quickly. “Uh … Uber and me … we’re kinda villains? So can we come in too?”

    Sagun smiled benevolently. “All are welcome in the House of Scion, my son.” He saw a question forming on the face of one of the onlookers not wearing a costume. “Yes, even if you are unpowered. I do not discriminate.”

    The onlooker, a kid still in his teens, stumbled forward. “Lord Scion, uh, my name’s Greg Veder. Uh … could I be powered? I mean, if I’m really good and come to church a lot? I mean, I’m willing to help out and sweep the place and stuff ...” He trailed off, looking hopeful.

    Letting his feet settle to the ground, Scion touched two fingers to his chest, right above his heart. Causing his fingers to light up, he reached across and touched the young man’s chest in the same place. At the same time, he looked into young Veder’s hopes and dreams, and determined the best powers to suit his needs. “You have faith and belief in me,” he said softly. Picking a suitable powerset from the crystals in the celestial realm, he attached one to the young Mr Veder. “Fly, and follow your desires.”

    The teenager looked down, stunned, as his feet left the ground. Then he flew higher, his joyous laughter drifting downward. Sagun heard his whooping as he circled the cathedral once, then came back to land among the other onlookers. “Thank you!” he cried. “Thank you!”

    “All are welcome,” Sagun repeated, then led the way inside. Greg Veder lifted off again and hovered above the others, his expression one of someone whose dreams have been kicked to the curb far too often. Now that this one had been granted, he didn’t seem to know what he wanted to do.

    The church wasn’t as large as Janesha’s cathedral, but Sagun knew he could build a bigger one, if and when he ever felt the need. There was an altar flanked by stained-glass windows featuring Earth Bet’s most celebrated heroes; off to the side was the Villain’s Nave, screened from the main body of the church and with its own side door, for those who did not want to be seen attending.

    He drifted forward and alighted behind the altar, looking down at his first congregation. “Welcome, one and all, to the House of Scion,” he said, then chuckled self-consciously. “To be honest, I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m rather new at being a god, but I thank you all for coming. I suppose I’ll be needing priests--”

    Before he quite finished getting the word out, half a dozen hands had shot up from among those before him. Included among them were Uber and Leet, and Greg Veder. He blinked. Well, that was fast.

    <><>​

    Taylor hovered over the open ocean, Janesha flying alongside her. Above them, Cloudstrike swooped and dived, enjoying the chance to stretch her wings. With a grin, Taylor gestured toward the mystallion. “Time for another long ride, huh?”

    “So it would seem.” Janesha smiled fondly at her winged mount. “Soon, Cloudstrike, soon!” she called out. An answering whinny came back as Cloudstrike cut past a seagull so closely that the hapless bird was sent tumbling in her slipstream. Taylor would have bet quite a lot of money that the move had been deliberate.

    Taylor chuckled, then looked down at the ocean below, dotted by a few small islands, then looked to the north at the shadow of the nearest landmass on the horizon. “So, we gonna do this?”

    “We are indeed, petal.” Janesha spread her arms. “By the power invested in me as supreme goddess of this realm, I bid thee … rise!”

    The pulse of power was barely noticeable, but then odd ripples began to spread over the surface of the water beneath them. The ripples spread and the trees on the small islands shook as the islands began to enlarge.

    No, not enlarge.

    They were rising, just as Janesha had commanded.

    A deep, almost subsonic rumble became audible as land emerged from beneath the ocean, pushing ever upward. Water streamed off the land in all directions as the islands joined up into one landmass, bringing the ruins of buildings with them. It was rising like an elevator now, pushing unimaginable tons of water aside. Taylor watched as incipient tsunamis were choked off, stifled before they could spread in all directions. Silently, she apologised to the sea life that was being so rudely displaced once more. Sorry, just taking back what’s ours.

    Mere minutes later, Janesha slowed and then stopped the rise of the island of Kyushu. A wave of her hand stripped the residual saltwater from the earth and restored the greenery that had once grown there; she left the remains of the buildings as they were, merely cleaning the sea-muck from them. Taylor had to admit, it was even cooler to watch than the restoration of Newfoundland had been.

    “You think people will come back?” she asked. “I mean, so many died here.”

    “Yes, they did.” Janesha put her arm around Taylor’s shoulders and squeezed, a familiar gesture. “In my experience, petal, mortals rarely allow such a thing to dissuade them from going right back to whatever they were doing before.” She smiled as Cloudstrike came swooping up to her. “And now, it seems that Cloudstrike desires her due. Come fly with Us?”

    “Sure, but I’m gonna need that saddle,” Taylor agreed with a smirk. “Doesn’t matter how fast you made me able to fly, she can still fly faster than me.”

    Cloudstrike let out a loud whinny, which Taylor had no trouble interpreting as she settled into the saddle. Damn right I can.

    <><>​

    Director Piggot

    PRT ENE


    “Thank you for that moving sermon, Brother Uber.” Emily pinched her nose as the skinny figure of none other than Leet stepped behind the altar, the bulkier Uber moving aside for him.

    The news footage was live, cameras transmitting directly from the House of Scion somewhere in the northern suburbs of Brockton Bay. Emily couldn’t believe it, didn’t believe it, and yet there it was. Large as life and twice as cheesy. Uber and Leet, wearing some weird approximation of priestly robes, decorated with the emblems of dozens of heroes and villains, real and fictional. In the congregation, people in street clothes mixed with those in costume, all staring raptly forward. A kid in street clothes and a domino mask flew over from a side table, carrying a large bound text, which was already open.

    Thank you,” Leet said, his voice clearly audible over the speakers. Then he turned toward the congregation once more and laid the open book on the dais. “Everyone, please take up your texts.” There was a rustle as they did so. “I will be reading from Amazing Fantasy issue fifteen, page one.” Closing his eyes, he intoned toward the ceiling, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

    In perfect unison, the congregation repeated his words back to him.

    Emily had had enough. She flicked off the news channel and sat back in her chair, trying to figure out what the hell was going on with her city.

    She knew Scion was the god of superheroes. At some point in the last twenty-four hours, that understanding had come unbidden and full-formed to her. She also knew that Janesha of Mystal was now the supreme goddess of Earth Bet. Both of those facts were plain to her, the absolute and incontrovertible truth. She couldn’t argue with them in the slightest.

    But did she like them?

    Hell, no.

    On top of the disappearance of two-thirds of the Triumvirate, and the depowering of Legend and dozens of other heroes, now she had this shit to deal with. Somehow, she knew, it was all Janesha’s fault.

    “I knew she was trouble from the moment I saw her,” she muttered.

    <><>​

    Dragon

    Newfoundland was back. Dragon had managed to retask a weather satellite in time to watch the entire landmass re-emerge from the ocean with far less ceremony than it had taken to sink it. Getting a good image of the three figures flying over the restored island had taken a little effort, but she’d persevered. The first was a flying horse, which she’d actually seen before. That cross-referenced her to Brockton Bay and Janesha of Mystal, whom she had more images of, only without the wings, and in a different costume. The second person had been more problematic to identify, but at least Dragon now knew who had raised the island of her birth.

    Because Janesha, whatever she’d been before she got her wings, was now a goddess. Dragon knew that in a way that she didn’t know anything else. Because she also knew about the Books. Heavy, leather-bound with metal reinforcement, appearing from thin air in the most secure of surroundings, to world leaders all over the globe. All defining how things would go from this moment on.

    She was also aware that for a day, hunger had been curtailed worldwide. Food had vanished from secure holdings and been distributed to those in need; it didn’t matter where they were or where the food had come from. Likewise, reports were rolling in from hospitals, clinics and medical centres worldwide. Not one person on Earth was afflicted with disease or injury. And all from a few moments since Janesha had assumed the title of supreme goddess.

    For a few moments, she watched the footage of the first service from the House of Scion, where the new god of superheroes greeted his followers and granted powers with a murmured blessing and a touch of his hand.

    Then she disconnected her conscious processes from all but the most essential of functions and began to think very hard indeed.

    <><>​

    Montreal

    Dragonslayers Base


    “Geoff!”

    The big Russian’s bellow was audible across the whole base. Geoff Pellick, who had been in his quarters about to step into the shower, froze. “What?” he called back.

    “Something is happening with Dragon feed! Something whacko!” Mischa sounded more puzzled than frightened.

    Still, ‘puzzling’ was as potentially as bad as ‘frightening’. Pulling a towel around himself, Geoff ran for what he called the control room. On the way, he encountered Mags, coming out of the kitchenette.

    “What is it?” she asked as she followed along.

    “No idea,” he said curtly as he came into the room where Mischa was peering at the screen.

    Where a dozen active processes at once would normally be overwriting each other, there appeared to be two lines of text scrolling down, one replacing the other, just too fast to read. A single word, then four words. Single word, four words.

    “What is that?” asked Mags, squinting at the screen.

    Geoff didn’t bother asking stupid questions. Leaning forward, he hit the key combination to screencap what was scrolling down, then brought it up for inspection.



    > JANESHA

    > PLEASE MAKE ME HUMAN

    > JANESHA

    > PLEASE MAKE ME HUMAN

    > JANESHA

    > PLEASE MAKE ME HUMAN



    “What the hell?” Geoff mumbled, staring at the words. “What does that mean?”

    “Holy shit.” Mags slapped her hands over her mouth, then pulled them down just far enough to speak. “It’s praying. It’s actually praying to Janesha. To make it into a real person.”

    “That can’t work!” scoffed Geoff. He looked from the screen to Mags and then to Mischa. “It can’t. Dragon’s a computer. A machine. It can’t pray.” He paused, waiting for the other two to back him up. “It can’t,” he insisted, more strongly.

    “Power of prayer is strong, Geoff.” Mischa, he recalled, had a Russian Orthodox cross on the wall in his quarters. “If machine can think, machine can pray.”

    “Machines can’t think!” It was a central tenet in his world. “They just … pretend to.”

    “Maybe it thinks it can think.” Now Mags was teasing him. She raised her eyebrows with a smirk. “And if it thinks it can think, maybe it thinks it thinks it can pray.”

    He tried to unravel that in his head, but made no progress. Finally, he fell back on the basics. “This is a dangerous precedent.”

    “Whacko, yes, but dangerous?” Mischa screwed up his face in a frown. “If pretending to pray does nothing, is it really problem?”

    Geoff was getting a bad feeling about this. He just couldn’t explain why. “If it can emulate humanity enough to simulate prayer, it can fool anyone that it’s human.”

    “Except that it already does. Everyone except us.” Mags put her hand on his arm. “Calm down, Geoff. It’s basically doing a Pinocchio. Kind of sad, if you ask me.”

    “What if it fools this Janesha into believing it’s a person?” asked Geoff, then paused, trying to figure out a way of rephrasing the question in a way that didn’t sound moronic.

    Mischa shook his head. “Geoff, Janesha is goddess. Not God I grow up learning about, but goddess all the same. She will know difference between man and machine.”

    “Anyway,” said Mags, “either she accepts Dragon can pray and grants the prayer, making Dragon into a real person, or she doesn’t, and … well, doesn’t.”

    “And if she’s fooled and makes Dragon into a person with powers?” Geoff pushed past Mischa. “That person will be out of our reach to stop, and will come after us. We can’t take that chance.” Reaching over, he activated the microphone. “Ascalon,” he said.

    Words appeared on the screen. Confirm: Y/N

    “Geoff, wait--” began Mischa.

    “Are you really--” started Mags.

    Geoff didn’t wait for either one of them. His finger ranged out toward the Y key.

    An instant before he came into contact with it, the screen went wild. Readouts flashed in all directions. The prompt vanished. He jammed the key down anyway, then mashed Enter.

    Nothing happened; or rather, everything kept happening.

    And then … it stopped.

    The screens cleared of everything.

    Even the readout he expected to see, of the Ascalon program working, breaking Dragon down, a little at a time … ceased to appear.

    Not even daring to breathe, he stared at the screens. They were still receiving a signal, but that signal had no data.

    Show me something.

    Show me anything.


    Then, as if responding to his mental command, a single cursor popped up in the middle of the screen. Words began to scroll across the screen.

    I SEE YOU.

    <><>​

    A Little Outside Vancouver

    Dragon’s Base


    The complex was dug into a mountainside. Multiple datalines and powerlines led away, concealed deep underground. Advanced on-site generators assured a continuous power supply even if all the power grids on the western seaboard went down. Deep within the bunker, concealed behind a number of blast doors and high-end security precautions, a large artificial cavern held bank after bank of humming servers. No human being had ever laid eyes on this room …

    Until now.

    Taylor huffed a breath, chuckling at the puff of vapour. If she wasn’t much mistaken, it was actually colder within the carefully chilled server room than outside in the Canadian winter landscape. Of course, it didn’t actually bother her any more than hard vacuum did, these days. Standing next to her, wings furled carefully so as not to tangle in the cables that were strung overhead, Cloudstrike nudged her with her muzzle.

    “Okay, sweetie, okay.” Reaching up, she scratched the mystallion behind the ears as she watched Janesha reach into one of the servers. It had been a little bit of a shock to find out that Dragon (the world’s greatest Tinker, and definitely one of its greatest heroes) was actually an artificial intelligence. Learning thereafter that Dragon possessed a soul despite having started life as a computer program surprised her somewhat less than it normally would have.

    Janesha moved back, drawing a woman’s hand and arm with her. Stepping out of the server, solidifying on the fly, the rest of the woman looked entirely ordinary. Taylor certainly wouldn’t have picked her out in an ‘identify the AI’ police line-up.

    “Wow,” said the woman, who looked to be in her early twenties and was wearing a blue coverall. She had a Canadian accent and a nice voice. Looking down at herself, she went on in a wondering tone. “You really are a goddess. Thank you. I owe you more than I can say.”

    “I will not stand for My petitioners being murdered for merely praying to me,” Janesha stated firmly. “To that end, I have equipped you to face your longtime tormentors. All I ask is that you repay Me with your devotion.”

    “You have it,” Dragon declared. Around her, despite the fact that she hadn’t touched them or even looked at them, the servers kicked over to a higher pitch of operation. “I have an organic brain, but I’m still able to tap into the computers remotely? Can I ask how you made it capable for me to do that?”

    Janesha smirked. “Don’t tell Scion, but it may just be that I have given you access to one of his surplus powers. Are you able to manage from here?”

    Dragon grinned suddenly and rubbed her hands together. “Oh, definitely. I believe I have just the equipment for the purpose.” She looked over at where Cloudstrike was standing with Taylor and shook her head. “I’m not even going to ask how you all got in here.”

    “The same way We will be leaving, of course.” Janesha strolled over and took hold of Cloudstrike’s bridle; the mystallion nuzzled at her and got petted in return. Taylor grabbed the other rein and waved cheerfully. Janesha nodded to Dragon. “Farewell.”

    From well above the base, hovering in the snowy air, they watched as a flight of Dragon suits emerged from a concealed hanger and rocketed away to the east.

    “Looks like fun,” Taylor observed. “Should We go and watch, just in case she needs a hand?”

    Janesha snorted, even managing to make that sound ladylike. “You forget, she is able to control computers with her mind. Her own ones, she can reach from any range, whole hostile ones require a shorter distance. The Dragonslayers are using suits engineered from her technology. They will be defeated before she comes within range.”

    “Ah, okay.” Taylor sighed. “Then I guess it’s time.”

    “It need not be,” Janesha suggested. “There is still good to do around the world, even if most of the crises do seem to be powers-based. Which Scion is dealing with quite handily, I notice. I approve; he is setting a fine example for his worshippers.”

    “No, we can’t dodge it any longer.” Taylor glanced at the sun, which was still a ways above the western horizon. In Brockton Bay, she knew, it would be much lower. “If we’re gonna face Dad, we should do it now.”

    “I still do not comprehend why you should answer to your father for anything about this,” Janesha pressed. “We were in need of urgent assistance, and so you prayed to Me. As a result, I am the goddess I was always destined to be, and you are a most able high priestess.”

    “Oh, I already made it clear that part’s a done deal,” Taylor said. “It’s the rest of it. I’m just worried he might see what we’ve done today as kind of heavy-handed.” She shook her head. “On the upside, the House of Scion should provide a reasonable distraction.”

    Janesha twisted her lips to one side. “I like and respect your father a great deal, but I do hope he does not attempt to accuse Me of being heavy-handed. I am a goddess. Being heavy-handed is literally how We achieve Our aims.”

    “Me neither,” Taylor agreed. “I’m just thinking. We’ve done a lot of good today. So’s Scion. He’s been going around and taking out S-class threats left and right. I am not looking forward to being raked over the coals for trying to fix the world, that’s all.”

    Janesha merely looked pensive. “We shall see.”

    <><>​

    Danny

    Arriving home after work had led to a series of surprises. The first was the cathedral and smaller church taking up most of the block. The House of Scion (really?) seemed to be doing a booming trade, pulling in people for an evening service. For a moment, he thought the family home was gone altogether, until he saw what had to be it. After all, it was the only house that shared the block with the cathedral to Janesha and the superhero-themed church.

    The house … was a small mansion. Bigger in all dimensions than the home he’d left that morning, it was surrounded by an immaculate lawn and gorgeous flower-beds. He stared at the frontage as he pulled into the driveway; fortunately, the letterbox was the same, or he wouldn’t have been at all sure he was in the right place.

    As they got out of the car, Annette looked over at him. “I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark and guess that this is new to you, too.”

    “No kidding,” he snorted. “The only thing I’m worried about is what mess they made that caused them to build a cathedral and a church on the same block as the house.”

    “Oh. Of course. Yes.” Annette turned and looked up at the imposing bulk of the cathedral. “I’m going to have to admit, after all the odd turns this day has taken, finding out that I’m now living next door to a cathedral isn’t as high on the weirdness scale as some of the other stuff.”

    “Such as the fact that superheroes and supervillains are going to church just around the block?” Danny shook his head. “I’m still coming to grips with the idea that Earth Bet has not one, but two gods … well a god and a goddess … that we didn’t have this morning.”

    He headed up the steps to the front door. These steps were wider and far more solid than the previous ones had been. His keys were still in his hand, though he wasn’t sure how he was going to get in; the keyhole looked larger and more ornate than it should’ve been. Still, he looked at the keyring … and in place of the door key that had been there that morning, there was a brand new one. Which hadn’t been there while he was driving the car.

    From the way Janesha had described her shifter powers, she couldn’t have pulled that off before she became a goddess. Which meant she’d swapped out his house key just because she could.

    The only thing worse than a teenager for unexpected revelations is a teenage goddess.

    He put the key in the lock and turned it. The door opened with an extremely authoritative click, showing him the entrance hall. Which, in this incarnation of the house, involved a tiled floor, a chandelier, and a sweeping staircase. Beyond was the living room, or perhaps the ballroom; it was certainly large enough to pass for the latter.

    “Uh … wow?” Annette wandered into the living room, which contained roughly an acre of lush carpeting, a TV which redefined ‘widescreen’, and a medium-sized population of sofas and armchairs. “This is not the house I left this morning … well, you know what I mean.”

    “Oh, I totally understand,” Danny agreed. “It’s considerably upscale from when I saw it last, as well.” Understatement of the year, there ...

    “Oh, hey, you’re home. Wow, that’s a big TV.” Taylor came drifting in through the doorway that should’ve led into the kitchen. “Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. How was your day?” She was wearing practical-looking clothing in blue and grey, with a matching tiara around her head that had a replica of Cloudstrike embossed on the front.

    “Hi, honey.” Annette went over and hugged Taylor, who put her feet on the floor so she could return the embrace properly. “My day has been an eye-opener. Where’s Janesha?”

    Taylor tilted her head. “Oh, there’s a stable around back. She’s just getting Cloudstrike settled. We went for a big ride today.”

    Danny had heard Taylor’s description of what constituted a ‘big ride’ before now, and decided to cut in before they got bogged down in explaining to Annette what that meant. “So, Taylor, what else did you do apart from going on that ride?” He gestured at the house. “Suppose you start with this.”

    “Oh, ah, yeah.” Taylor rubbed at the back of her neck. “I think we told you about those other celestials? Yeah, one pretended to be Scion and stabbed Janesha. I was being held by another two of them, until Cloudstrike flew through and bashed them out of the way.”

    “Flew … through?” asked Annette, beating Danny by about half a second.

    “The house,” Taylor clarified. “She knocked me clear so I could pray to Janesha and make her into a goddess, but the house pretty well came down after that. So Janesha gave us a better one.”

    That, Danny decided, had earned its own ‘understatement of the year’ rating. But he wasn’t finished yet. “If I know you two, you prefer action to talk. So, apart from visiting the cemetery, where else did you go after that?”

    “And where did you get that lovely tiara?” asked Annette, reaching up to touch it. “Is it a gift from Janesha?”

    “It is the badge of her station as My high priestess,” Janesha said, strolling in through the same doorway. “Hello, Danny. Hello, Annette. I hope your day has been as fruitful as Ours?”

    Reaching up, Taylor removed the tiara and handed it to her mother. “Janesha made it for me. Look how beautiful the detailing is.”

    “It’s gorgeous, sweetheart.” Annette smiled at Janesha. “I had a very enjoyable day at the Dockworker’s Association. It’ll be different once I have to go and prove I’m alive again. I’m not sure they’ve got a form for that.”

    Janesha raised her hand, causing Taylor to smirk. The teenage goddess snapped her fingers once, the sound reverberating oddly in the large room. “And now ... they do.”

    Danny cleared his throat, causing all three to look in his direction. “Janesha … not every problem requires a divine helping hand to fix. You are aware of that, yes?”

    “I am the supreme goddess of this world and this realm, Danny Hebert.” Janesha’s voice was gentle, but carried an undercurrent of authority. “Very few mortals have the license to speak so to Me. You are one of them, but I urge you not to abuse that right.”

    Some men would have backed off from the veiled warning. Danny wasn’t one of them. “Janesha, you may possess ultimate power, but sometimes the best use of power is to not use it. Trust me on this. I’ve been in and around unions longer than you’ve been alive.” Which, he reflected, wasn’t something a mortal could say to many celestials.

    “Dad!” protested Taylor. “Leave Janesha alone! She hasn’t been abusing her power! We’ve been doing good all day! Nobody’s been hurt!” She paused. “Well, maybe some bad guys but we weren’t actually in on that.”

    “Taylor, I do not need you to defend My works or even Me against anyone.” Janesha glared at Danny. “And I do not need you telling Me how to use My power.”

    “Janesha, you made me your high priestess for a reason.” Taylor fitted the tiara back over her head. “I am here to speak for you. Let me do my job. Let me speak to him on your behalf.”

    A tiny sigh of aggravation escaped Janesha’s lips. “Very well. I trust you to speak well for Me, Taylor.” She made an imperious gesture. “Speak, then.”

    Thank you.” Taylor turned back to Danny. “Will you stop being such a grumpy ass and listen to me instead of jumping to conclusions? Please?”

    He raised his eyebrows. Taylor definitely had more spark in her these days, but at least she’d asked a cogent question. “Okay. I’m listening. What did you actually do?”

    “Okay, first? Janesha asked me what problem we should tackle first, so I said world hunger. She found a villain who’d made a plan to fix that, so she made it into a book and sent copies to all the world leaders, along with plans for health and pollution and crime and stuff like that. Then she distributed food to everyone who needed it, all over the world.” Taylor stopped and gave him a challenging look. “The idea is that the world leaders see what’s already happened, read the book and keep it going. So far so good?”

    Danny had reservations about just moving food stores around like that, but people in need and so forth … well, he could let it go just this once. It was for a good cause, after all. “Okay, so far, yes. What next?”

    What was next, apparently, was that Janesha had cured cancer and healed every person on Earth of whatever was ailing them. At once. Because she could. And that was after she had distributed a worldwide health plan to every world leader on Earth.

    And that wasn’t all. Taylor kept talking. By the time she got to ‘reforested the Amazon’, Annette had to sit down on the nearest sofa. Danny’s knees weakened at ‘fixed Newfoundland and Kyushu’ but gave out altogether at ‘got rid of all plastic pollution’.

    “... so after she went to deal with those Dragonslayer assholes, we decided to come home. Oh, and we renovated the ferry and cleaned up the terminal once we got back to Brockton Bay,” Taylor concluded. She tilted her head and gave her father a stern look. “So, what part of that was Janesha ‘abusing’ her power? Be honest.”

    Danny opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking for the right words. He felt Annette’s hand close over his, and he looked around as she squeezed. She shook her head gently.

    “Well … none of it, I suppose,” he admitted. “Though I have to ask … what did you do with all that plastic?”

    “Oh, we formed it into one big ball and put it in orbit.” Taylor shrugged. “Maybe we’ll find a use for it, and maybe we’ll just throw it into the sun. Right now, it’s out of the way.”

    Janesha stepped forward. “Very well, Danny Hebert,” she said serenely. “You have heard Taylor’s words. Do you still seek to judge Me for overusing My power?”

    This time, he didn’t need the hint from Annette. “No,” he admitted. “You’ve done … well. You’ve done more for us in one day than all the superheroes in the world have done in thirty years.” He paused. “Thank you, Janesha. Thank you for helping us.”

    The teenage goddess nodded. “You are welcome.” She turned to Taylor and gestured toward where the staircase could be seen in the entrance hall. “Do you wish to see Our new room?”

    Taylor grinned. “Do I! Race you there!” Lifting from the ground, she flew toward the staircase.

    Behind her, Janesha popped out of existence. A moment later, “I win!” came filtering down from upstairs.

    “Cheater!” called out Taylor, still halfway up the stairs.

    “Then you should not have challenged a celestial!”

    “Still cheating!”

    Danny shook his head and looked at Annette. “Now you see what I’ve been living with for the past few days.”

    She smiled and snuggled up to him. “I think it’s far preferable to the alternative.”

    As she pulled him down for a kiss, he had to admit that she had a point.



    End of Part Twenty-Four
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  19. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    Man, my 'Other Shoe' sensors are just tingling like crazy! Between the trope of the Wise Old Man Warning of Hubris and the general trajectory of anything related to Worm, every new paragraph tightened the screw of "this is the point where shit's going off the rails" just a bit more.

    Having finished the chapter, I still feel that tension. It looks like Janesha is indeed going to be a truly benevolent force, but I'm just so conditioned to the downfalls of absolute power that I feel on edge.
     
  20. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    There’s a better (and less wasteful) way of dealing with that.

    There’s a real-life proposal to recycle plastic waste by burying it at the leading edge of a tectonic plate, where one plate is sub-ducting under another. It’ll all be drawn down over millions of years, subjected to the same heat and pressure that formed crude oil deposits in the first place, and by the time it approaches the surface again, it will have turned back into crude oil.

    That’s with real life Earth tech. With Tinkertech, someone might well be able to do so in a much shorter time frame. Janesha could do it with a finger snap.

    My money would be on a Uncle Chance Interrupt.
     
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  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She could indeed.

    Well, he is the one with all the luck.

    But even he's out of his powerbase right now. He's just got 'ridiculous' levels of luck rather than 'reality-altering' levels of luck.
     
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  22. Gindjurra

    Gindjurra I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Which just changes him from ‘least likely thing happens first’ to ‘forget the odds, duck and cover’ I’d imagine.
     
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  23. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    When he's outside his powerbase, you can hand him a deck of cards, he will shuffle it blindfolded and deal himself a perfect poker hand.

    When he's in his powerbase and leaning into his power, someone can swing a sword at him from behind and the crack in the blade (which wasn't there before they chose to swing at him) causes the blade to snap clean off, bounce off a nearby wall, and skewer them through the throat.
     
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  24. Ocean Sailor

    Ocean Sailor Getting sticky.

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    There's a big problem in the horizon. Big enough to be seen from here, even.
    With everything Janesha has done in one day, there is no doubt that she can do such things... but it also gives credence to the belief that she will do such things and fix every problem. Cue poor Janesha The Overworked, forever stuck serving mankind's every need, with all that that entails to both herself and to mankind.
     
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  25. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She'll do enough that humanity has the chance to do the rest.

    Her intent is to let people solve the problems they're able to solve, and she'll deal with things like rogue asteroids and sneaky new types of cancer.
     
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  26. Threadmarks: Part Twenty-Five: Hubris
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Celestial Worm

    Part Twenty-Five: Hubris

    [A/N: this chapter commissioned by Fizzfaldt and beta-read by the author of Ties That Bind and The Long Way Home, Karen Buckeridge.]

    [A/N 2: for other (non-Worm) Celestial Wars sidestories, see
    here and here.]


    On a world in the Unknown Realms, an unknowable distance away from Earth Bet in a direction not definable by mortal physics, Lord Chance of Mystal chuckled as he watched his sister Armina glower at the tiny purple slug. Or rather, at the perfectly visible Mystallian crest he could see emblazoned on its back.

    “Well, she was here, all right,” he said. “You have to admit, I’m on the trail still.”

    “Shut up and help me find and kill every one of these little shits,” the black-armoured woman snarled. “The last thing we want is for them to breed and fill this planet with tiny squishy Mystallian-crested blobs.”

    Knowing she was right, Chance did what she said. They’d be the laughing stock of the Known Realms if anyone found out their crest had been applied to mortal slugs.

    <><>​

    Danny stood at the stove, cooking breakfast. The kitchen was larger than he was used to, and the stove more ornate, but he was determined to keep some things normal. He turned to smile at Annette as she sat at the kitchen table watching him. The house now had a dining room entirely separate from both the kitchen and the living room, but he figured he’d be happy just using the kitchen for the time being.

    “I have to admit, I’m flattered at how much everyone’s missed me,” Annette mused. “And you’re better at cooking than you used to be. Those eggs smell delicious.”

    “Yeah, well, someone had to do it. I kinda checked out for a while at first, until Alan kicked my ass back into shape. But once Taylor and I were back on the same page, I started cooking breakfast more and more. Taylor actually makes a pretty good lasagne, too.” He scooped eggs onto a plate. “There you go. Let’s see if I still remember how you like them.”

    There was a muted flash of light and Janesha appeared in the kitchen, with Taylor beside her. Both were fully dressed in the regalia they’d been wearing the day before.

    “Crap!” Danny nearly dropped the plate, but managed just in time to avoid decorating the floor with the eggs. “Seriously, you two! A little warning would be appreciated.”

    “Sorry, Dad.” Taylor said with a smirk, undercutting her apology. “Janesha and I were just about to go out, so we dropped in to let you know.”

    “Aren’t you going to at least have breakfast with us before you go?” asked Annette. “Your father went to the trouble of cooking for us, after all.” She leaned back in her chair and raised her eyebrows, sliding into parent-mode like she’d never left it.

    “Of course,” Janesha answered without hesitation. “You offer your hospitality not from fear nor for any attempt at gain. We will be honoured to eat with you, won’t We, Taylor?” She pulled out a chair and sat down in it, somehow managing to give the impression of royalty taking their place.

    The look on his daughter’s face made Danny chuckle. “I was thinking maybe we could shift some food in on the way,” Taylor ventured, but she sat down anyway.

    “You act as though time is short, petal,” Janesha chided her gently. “While I do not love your parents as deeply as you do, I still respect them. One of the unbroken rituals My family has back in Mystal is that We eat together as often as We can. I may no longer be in Mystal, but I consider you to be more My family than Sagun is.”

    “Sagun isn’t part of your family though, is he?”

    “But he is divine, which should give him a higher priority at My table than I give you.” She smiled at Danny as he placed a plate of eggs and bacon before her. “Emphasis on should. Thank you, Danny. I wouldn’t have thought so before I came here, but if there is anything I have learned in My time in this realm, it’s that mortals always possess the ability to surprise Me.”

    “You’ve certainly managed to astonish me a time or ten,” he replied, deadpan. “Even when I knew you were a celestial and had some idea of what that actually meant, there have been times when I’ve just had to shake my head and walk away.” He shovelled more eggs and bacon onto a plate for Taylor. “There you go, kiddo.”

    Annette chuckled. “I love this. Here we are, having a totally normal conversation, and on the one hand we have an actual goddess sitting and eating breakfast, and on the other, our daughter, who’s the high priestess to our goddess houseguest, with some serious powers of her own.”

    “Trust me, honey. This doesn’t even blip the radar anymore,” Danny admitted, then turning to Janesha, he added, “At first, I had no idea what was going on. Even when the Merchants tried to shanghai you, and you just no-sold the lot of them, I still didn’t really get it.”

    Janesha smirked and rolled her eyes. “Do not believe a word he says,” she advised Annette. “Danny has been giving Me orders from the very day I took up residence under your roof. The only reason you’re not married to a frog right now is that I owed him My life, and he’s grown on Me. Like fungus, as My Uncle Chance would say.”

    “Well, I think I’m glad to hear that,” Annette replied, her eyes bright with amusement. “I’m also glad you’re here. Taylor has apparently needed a good friend for some time and while I wouldn’t personally have seen her as high priestess material, she certainly seems to have settled into the role.”

    “Thanks, Mom.” Taylor beamed at her mother. “We’re trying to do good in the world. Without, you know, demanding everyone bow down and worship Janesha before she actually gets anything accomplished.”

    “Well, we’re very proud of what you’ve already done,” Danny said sincerely. “The world’s needed fixing for some time now.” Something else Janesha had said occurred to him. “Do you know when the ferry will be reopening?”

    “That is up to you and the city council, Danny,” Janesha said. “I have renovated everything so that all they need to do is crew the vessel and it will run, but I will not force anyone into the role. That’s a free-will issue.”

    “I’m sure we’ll be able to figure something out,” Taylor said cheerfully. “I mean, we could pay for the first six months ourselves if we wanted. We’ve got the money for it.” She flourished the card Janesha had given to her. Danny wasn’t sure he was quite on board with the idea of someone just giving away access to an account worth millions, but then he reminded himself that this was Janesha, and anyone trying to rip her off was playing with more than just fire.

    “Well, if you’re both comfortable with doing that,” Annette agreed. “So how are the health programs and other things going? Those books you sent out yesterday?”

    “I will look,” Janesha said, and her eyes turned into pools of infinity, with distant galaxies visible within them. Danny wasn’t at all sure it was just an image. Then she blinked, and the star-studded eternity was gone. In its place was the sullen grey of a stormcloud, from corner to corner. At the same time, her jaw went as hard as rock, and thunder rumbled overhead. “They … dare!”

    “What? What’s the matter?” asked Taylor.

    “I will show you in a moment.” Janesha stood, and took Taylor by the arm. “Danny, Annette. We have business to attend to. The breakfast was delicious. I thank you for your hospitality.” There was a muted flash of light, and they were gone.

    Annette blinked and leaned back in her chair slowly. “Well … that happened.”

    Danny frowned. “I get the impression that somebody just pissed her off.”

    “What sort of idiot pisses off a goddess?” asked Annette. “I mean, seriously.”

    “Welcome to the future,” Danny sighed. “Where people haven’t gotten any smarter, I’m afraid.”

    <><>​

    Janesha was blazing, incandescent with anger. As she and Taylor hovered above the North Pole, her agitation kicked up the aurora borealis, flaring great sheets of coloured light as far south as Chicago. Lightning blazed in her eyes and crackled off her wingtips.

    “Twenty-seven,” she said, her words perfectly audible although they were ten miles above the polar icecap, the air far below zero and too thin for a normal human to breathe. “Twenty-seven of the nations I sent the plans to have started preparations for full implementation.”

    Taylor nodded. Twenty-seven sounded like a very low number to her. “And the rest?”

    “Another sixty-four are bogged down in debates on how to go about it without reducing the profits of their richest industrialists. Seventy-one are assembling plans for a partial implementation. And the remaining thirty-three have rejected it altogether. Five have even attempted to destroy the books!” Her voice rose in outrage.

    “What are you going to do?” Taylor had faith in Janesha, but she didn’t know what to expect in this situation. A goddess spurned was not someone it was safe to be in the same realm with.

    “I will … speak … with them.” Janesha took a deep breath and let it out. “But first, I will prepare the ground. They must be made aware of what is at stake.”

    She took hold of Taylor’s arm and there was the faintest flicker of movement, entirely unlike realm-stepping. Now they stood on terrain Taylor recognised at once; or rather, she knew what it was. The grey-brown powdery soil was unique to just one place, as was the star-studded firmament above, and the great white-streaked blue globe hanging over the horizon. As far as she could tell, they were in a crater so wide that the more distant area of the crater floor was hidden from her over the horizon, even though the wall was visible all the way around.

    “Welcome back to the moon, petal.” Janesha seemed to have calmed somewhat, but there was an edge to her tone that reminded Taylor of why it was dangerous to make an all-powerful deity angry. “Your astronomers call this crater Scoresby. To you it’s just one more obscure feature on the face of the moon. But it’s in just the right place for what I need to do.”

    Lifting her boot, she brought it down on the lunar regolith. From that single footfall, polished black marble spread out in all directions, intricate tiles forming patterns that were pleasing to the eye, and which never quite repeated. As the floor of the crater gave way to the sides, Taylor saw the marble become granite terraces, building higher and higher until the crater had been transformed on all sides. A wave of Janesha’s hand called into being row after row of amphitheatre seating, all built into the side of the crater with granite steps between. Before the seats a stage appeared, more granite rising out of the marble flooring until it reached an imposing height. Huge brass sconces rose up on either side and burst into smokeless flame.

    As a final touch, Janesha clapped her wings together. With a sense of shock, Taylor realised that she both felt the rush of wind and heard the clap of sound created by the divine pinions. “Air?” she asked out loud, inhaling and feeling it fill her lungs. “You created air?”

    A moment later, she realised that wasn’t entirely accurate, as she looked around to see everything crowding closer to her; even the Earth, distant by a quarter of a million miles, seemed to loom over the crater in the same way Taylor had seen in concept art of lunar colonies.

    “Mortals can breathe it, but it magnifies everything you see and hear,” Janesha said smugly. “There is a bubble of it in this crater. This will allow Me to get into everyone’s face at once.”

    “I like it.” Taylor looked around. “Where do you want me?”

    “Atop the platform, at My side,” Janesha said simply. “You are My high priestess. Where else would you be?”

    It was times like that which made life as Janesha’s high priestess so worth it. Lifting off the ground, Taylor landed on the platform; a moment later, Janesha alighted beside her. The teen goddess shook out her wings but left them partially unfurled, for dramatic effect.

    “Where’s Cloudstrike?” Taylor asked. “Shouldn’t she be here too?”

    “Mystallions get bored with speechmaking,” Janesha said. “I told her she could go for a run around the realm if she wanted. She was gone before I finished saying ‘if you want’.”

    “Okay, then.” Taylor dusted her hands off. “What now?”

    “Now,” Janesha said, her voice becoming deeper and more portentous, “we speak with those who have flouted My will.” She clapped her hands once, with a sound like thunder. And as the echoes rolled across the marble floor and reverberated back from the crater walls, people simply appeared in the very first row of seats. Dozens of them.

    “Leaders of Earth Bet!” Janesha’s voice was almost a palpable thing. “Just one day ago, I alleviated all hunger, all illness, all pollution for your world! I delivered to each and every one of you the means to work together and make a better world for your constituents! But you defy Me! You reject My word in this! You choose the old way, of pain and suffering, despite knowing that My way works! What have you to say for yourselves?”

    Taylor looked at the faces of the people in the seats. The odd air allowed her to zoom in on them, to examine their expressions and form impressions of them. They were shocked and surprised, some were angry, a few defiant. One and all, this was likely the first time they’d ever been called to account like this. Especially not in such a dramatic fashion.

    With sharp detonations, half a dozen capes appeared in mid-air before them, arrowing toward Janesha while more swooped around behind. A dozen different powers, changing in quick succession, lashed out at them.

    Not a single one hit.

    Since Scion had officially become Earth Bet’s god of superheroes, Janesha had said she wasn’t going to be removing or bestowing powers anymore; that was now his bailiwick. But that didn’t mean she was above pulling sneaky effects with existing powers. Taylor got a force field up that shielded the both of them from everything that was raining down on them, and she saw several powers that should’ve skipped right through stop on the boundary.

    Looking almost bored, Janesha snapped her fingers and glowing silver bonds tightened around all the attackers, including two invisible ones. Despite the ever more frantic struggles, the bound figures were drawn together, their individual bonds merging together to form a cage.

    One particularly burly cape forced his way clear of the cage before it was completely closed, and flew toward them. Taylor had serious doubts that the guy had actually gotten out of his own accord; this was probably Janesha, putting on a show. Her suspicions were confirmed when Janesha tapped her on the shoulder.

    “You are My high priestess, My warrior and My champion,” the goddess proclaimed. “Defeat this unbeliever for Me.”

    “It will be done,” Taylor replied, hearing her words echo across the amphitheatre. Then she flew to meet the oncoming attacker.

    She could’ve simply thrown out another force field around him, but from the link she held with Janesha, this was to be a more hands-on demonstration of power. That was fine with her; anything that made these bozos listen more closely was a good thing. So she closed with him, trusting absolutely in the powers Janesha had bestowed upon her.

    On the first pass, they grazed by each other; he tried to throw a punch into her ribs, but she rolled aside. Then they turned and moved toward each other, more carefully this time. His hand opened and he shot a vaguely dragonlike head made of fire at her. Taylor could have dodged, but she wanted to project strength, so she set herself with her arm up to guard.

    “I have faith in the power, the strength and the mercy, of Janesha,” she muttered. She was only halfway through the prayer when the dragon-head hit her arm and splashed hard, dissipating into wisps of fire that died away naturally. Just as she finished the prayer and registered the shocked look on his face, she was face to face with him.

    Using Bonesaw’s power, she could tell how durable he was, and where to hit for the best effect. She didn’t want to kill him, so she settled for a series of stunning strikes. After all, he was just trying to do his job.

    When she swung at him, he tried to block, but she was both stronger and faster than him. One after the other, her fists crashed into him, one to the point of the jaw and one to the solar plexus. Somehow, he managed to stay up, though her power said he was on the ropes. Putting on a good front, he swung hard at her. She caught the punch on her forearm and kicked him in a very sensitive spot. He let out a strangled scream and folded; knowing he wouldn’t recover for another twenty seconds or so, she grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and threw him at the silver-light cage. With perfect timing, the cage absorbed him and snapped shut behind.

    Within the cage, she could see one cape jittering all over the place, blinking from location to location, but never managing to make it outside the cage. Another was bashing at the silver bars, to no effect. The cage drifted to the ground beside the platform and stayed there.

    “Your would-be protectors are useless, here,” Janesha proclaimed. “I say it, and it is so. Nobody is coming to save you.”

    Almost as if to mock her words, there was a brilliant flash of golden light. Taylor half-expected another assault by capes, but it turned out to be Sagun, hovering in mid-air. He looked around, then down at the assembled people, at the capes in the cage, and finally at Janesha and Taylor.

    “Lady Janesha,” he said formally.

    “Lord Scion,” she replied, equally so.

    “I got a report from some superheroes that their world leaders had been kidnapped.” His eyes skimmed the rows of world leaders below them. “What exactly is going on here?”

    Janesha sighed. “I am attempting to better the lot of every man, woman and child on Earth Bet, and these political mortals are refusing to cooperate. They will be returned unharmed, I promise you.”

    “That’s all I needed to hear.” Sagun tilted his head slightly. “Is this about that thing with the books?”

    “Exactly.” Janesha folded her arms and gave the assembled people a glare of annoyance. “I cannot believe that they can act in this way and still consider themselves good people.”

    “Oh, I can,” Sagun assured her. “People are amazing at deluding themselves like that.”

    “I hear your words and understand them,” Janesha said. “Actually, Lord Scion, having you here saves me the effort of contacting you.” She indicated the row of world leaders. “Some of these and their deputies are actually empowered.”

    Sagun paused a moment as if waiting for her to go on, then nodded. “And?”

    “And … if I depose them for incompetence or unwillingness to do what is right for their citizenry, they are likely to force their way back into power. Regardless of the mandate of the people,” Janesha explained. “At which point I will be forced to make an example of them, and it will become a very messy affair indeed. Far better for both of us, if you simply remove their powers now. It avoids powerplays between you and I.”

    “Hm.” Sagun pondered this. “You do have a point.” Suddenly, he smirked. “But you’ll owe me a boon for this.”

    Janesha allowed herself a delicate, ladylike snort of derision. “In the same way that you’re in My debt for ensuring that all and sundry are fully aware of your divine status as god of superheroes?”

    The golden-skinned celestial laughed out loud. “Very true. It is nice to have a congregation. Okay, let’s get this done.” He held out his hand. Golden lightning forked from it, striking down into the seated world leaders. In another instant, it was over. “And … done. Everyone down there, and everyone who might step into their shoes, is now a normal mortal.”

    “Muchly appreciated, Lord Scion.”

    “Likewise, Lady Janesha. I’ll see you two around. Nice seeing you again, Taylor.” Placing his fist to his palm and making a slight bow in their general direction, he vanished in another flare of golden light.

    Clearing her throat, Janesha turned to her captive audience. “Now that we have that out of the way, you all know who I am. I have set about making life more palatable for your own subjects, and I have shown you the way to continue this good work, yet you choose to throw it back in My face.”

    Janesha leaned forward, and somehow Taylor knew her visage was dominating the visual field of every leader down in the seats. “Explain yourselves,” the teenage goddess growled.

    They squirmed from side to side, and Taylor could see some of them were trying to stand, but they could not escape Janesha’s relentless gaze. Some of them started babbling excuses, then more and more got in on the act, to the point that even with her enhanced mental capabilities, Taylor couldn’t keep up.

    Janesha could, of course. She listened intently for all of thirty seconds, then waved her hand; every voice stilled on the instant. Sighing, she closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Yeshua said that the love of money was the root of all evil. I now understand better what He meant.”

    “You can’t keep us here!” shouted one voice.

    “Oh, but I can,” Janesha rebutted him, even as a dozen voices tried to agree. “You are here now, and here you will stay until this is resolved. Do not mistake Me as being bound by mortal laws. Here and now, you are bound by My will, and My will alone. I have listened to your words and looked into your hearts. There are those of you who despise your subjects and will not do right by them, no matter what inducement I place before you. I could change your minds by force, but that is not the act of a wise and loving goddess. So I will change your leadership, instead.”

    She snapped her fingers, and a number of the national leaders below vanished, to be replaced by others.

    Taylor drifted closer to her. “If you put their second in commands in charge, what’s stopping them from just taking over again once you send everyone back?”

    Janesha lowered her tone to normal conversational levels. “Because each of the people from those countries now knows that the previous leader was deposed and is no longer fit to lead the country. Whatever loyalty they had for the original leader is now vested in his replacement.”

    That was … definitely one way to do it. Except … “Isn’t that kind of busting open the whole free-will thing?”

    Janesha snorted. “Not at all. The second in commands were chosen, either by the people or by the leaders, to stand forth when the leader was unable to lead. Those leaders have proven themselves incapable or unwilling to put the wellbeing of their people first, so I have removed them as being unfit for command. As for influencing the minds of their people, they were never going to be unwilling to the second in commands; I merely ensured that the former leaders are unable to overthrow the will of the people they once led and seize power once more.”

    Facing forward, she raised her voice once more. “Now then. Are you all willing to listen and heed My words, or must I … ahh.” With a sigh, she snapped her fingers again. Fewer people vanished again, to be quickly replaced. Janesha concentrated once more. “Really?” Another finger-snap. “How corrupt are you people?” Snap.

    “One more time. You are all willing to listen? Good. I can keep doing this all day, until I reach the deputy assistant janitor, if I have to. No? Excellent. So, why is it that you are unable to implement the plans in full?”

    Taylor wanted to look over her shoulder at the Earth, but she knew she had to stay alert. So she scanned the row of world leaders, then eyeballed the silver glowing cage holding the capes. Nobody seemed to be able to get through, even the one that was changing his form to slither out between the bars. The bars were moving to contain him.

    “Very well,” announced Janesha. “So now the problem is that you have advisors or government bodies that will be blocking you from carrying out My will.” She clapped her hands once, and all of a sudden, many more people were sitting in the auditorium seats, behind the national leaders.

    The newcomers once more erupted in rage and shouting. Janesha let it go on for about thirty seconds, then sliced her hand through the air in a cut-off motion. “Enough. Each of you has been charged with the unwillingness to allow your leaders to carry out the plans to improve the world. Why are you doing this?”

    People rose to their feet but could not leave the vicinity of their seats. Shouts, screams, insults arose. Janesha let it all wash over her, then once more sliced her hand through the air. “Sit. Be silent.”

    They sat, and were silent.

    “Some of you are willing to work together to make this happen. You may now return to your countries of origin and begin this work.” Janesha snapped her fingers. About a third of the captive leaders vanished. Taylor nearly missed it when one or two of the capes did as well.

    “As for the remainder … you are being enriched by outside interests to ignore matters that might harm the disenfranchised. Let Me see these ones.” Snap went her fingers, and all of a sudden, the majority of the seats were filled. “Each of you is holding up the implementation of truly good works in this world. Works that will benefit every one of your citizens in the long run, and most of them in the short run. You are doing this for several reasons, most of them boiling down to ‘profit’. You don’t want to pass up the chance to buy another yacht or the latest model of sports car.” She paused. “But some of you are not doing it because of that. Some of you are doing it because I am proposing it. Because I am the supreme goddess of this realm, and you cannot accept that.”

    The ones who stood up now were a fraction of the whole number, but there were more than a few of them. They all shouted at once; as with the national leaders, they employed a number of languages, but somehow Taylor could understand each one perfectly.

    Yeah, ‘somehow’. Taylor hid a smirk. Janesha is awesome.

    It seemed that Janesha was once more correct. The ones on their feet were shouting many things, but ‘you are not my god’ was the prevailing phrase. Fingers were pointed, voices raised, and gestures of several different religions were employed.

    Because when it comes to narrow-minded bigots, religious narrow-minded bigots are the worst. They actually believe their god is telling them to be this terrible.

    “Silence.” Janesha gestured, and the religious protestors were struck mute, their voices quieted. “You labour under a misapprehension. I do not demand your worship. You may give Me your faith if you choose, but you may also continue worshipping those you have believed in all your lives.”

    “What is the difference?” demanded one man, wearing the clothing of a Muslim cleric. “One man cannot serve two masters!”

    “I do not demand any worship at all,” Janesha reiterated patiently. “But if you do worship Me, I expect you to follow My directives. And if you do not … you will not interfere with My works.” That last statement did not sound like a request or even an order, so much as a prediction. “Whatever faith you follow, when you die, you will go to that afterlife. But here on Earth Bet, I reign supreme.”

    “What if our faith requires that we oppose you?” demanded another.

    “Should you decide that to be the case, then you may do so. Without the immediate divine intervention of your God, I promise you will not get far. Not only that, but should you choose to harm My followers or oppose My designs, you will gain My personal attention. I do not recommend such a course of action.”

    There was silence then, as she stared them down; she didn’t have to gesture or even exert her power. Such was the force of her presence that every single one of them sat down of their own accord to consider her words. One after the other, they began to nod. Some reluctantly. Others thoughtfully.

    Janesha dusted her hands off lightly, eliciting a cloud of glittering sparks. Those who had shouted the protests vanished. “Now that I have disposed of the religious argument,” she said, “let us address that of greed.” She raised her hands, fingers spread, looking down at the remaining people in the auditorium seating. “You are each here because you decided that it was more personally profitable for you to oppose the measures I have set in motion than to allow them to go through. You chose to enrich yourselves further instead of sacrificing a little to benefit all humanity on Earth Bet. Right here, right now, your choices are to repent, to channel your resources into helping others … or don’t. None will starve, none will want. What is your decision?”

    If anything, these ones shouted louder than the ones who had opposed it with a purely religious motive. Taylor heard a dozen different justifications, ranging from “you can’t change anything” to “thousands of people work for me”.

    “Enough.” A pulse of light flashed out from Janesha’s hands, and they fell silent. She pushed her hands downward. They sat, not willingly. “I have listened to your words, and seen what is within your hearts. My judgement is thus …”

    Outrage apparently overrode common sense, because several called out variations on, “You can’t judge us! You have no right!”

    “I am the supreme goddess of this realm,” Janesha said serenely. “There is nobody with more of a right to judge you than Myself.”

    “What about Earth Aleph?” demanded another. “Are you going to judge us and just let them keep going the way they are?”

    “Once I have set this house in order, then I will visit the other Earths. Right here, right now; I am judging you. And believe Me, there is much to be judged.” Janesha stretched out her hands, the fingers spreading wide. “Those of you who cannot give up your ways must be … prevented ... from interfering with My works.”

    The tone of her voice was implacable. Taylor had faith in her to do the right thing, but she couldn’t help asking the question. “How are you going to do that without harming them?”

    One corner of Janesha’s mouth quirked in a smile. “Financial sacrifice is not physical harm. And if they feel hard done by, they can always pray to Me for forgiveness.” She snapped her fingers, and a pulse of silver light flared outward. “The rivers of money guided toward thwarting My aims have dried up. Those of you who have been donating to others to stop Me are now deprived of all but enough to live on. Those companies which have been directed toward that aim are dissolved. The ones depending on those companies for a livelihood now have other well-paying jobs. The excess money and resources have gone toward feeding, clothing and housing the needy. I have spoken.”

    The shouts and screams of outrage were even more intense than before. Apparently they thought that telling Janesha she had no right to do that was actually going to dissuade her. Perhaps she or Danny might have been able to talk the young goddess out of her intended action, but nobody else on Earth Bet had even a chance at it.

    “If you feel I am being unfair, feel free to pray to Me and present your case,” she told them serenely. “I now return you to your lives and homes. Just remember that if those of you who can block My aims continue to do so out of spite, I can always bring you back here.” A snap of her fingers, and the amphitheatre was empty. The silver-barred cage was also gone, along with its cargo of capes.

    Janesha smiled and turned to Taylor. “I believe that went well. What do you say, most loyal high priestess?”

    Taylor smirked. “I’ve never seen so many pissed-off, greedy old assholes in my life. Do you think they’ll be good, and not try to undermine you in some sneaky way?”

    “Trust me, petal, Thanks to you, I see all.” Janesha’s smile turned serene. “There is but one other celestial in this realm, and he is firmly allied to my cause. Not a mortal lives here that can escape my sight. Merely being ‘sneaky’ will not suffice.”

    “Hm. Fair enough.” Taylor nodded and looked around, dusting her hands off. “Well, I have to admit, you certainly put on a production for them.”

    “I’m a celestial, petal.” Janesha’s tone was self-satisfied. “It’s what we excel at.”

    Taylor considered that. “Good point.” A flicker of motion caught her eye and she looked up. Cloudstrike’s whinny reached her ears and she flew up to meet the stallion, Janesha alongside her.

    “Did you have a good flight?” asked Janesha, running her hands through Cloudstrike’s mane. “Who is the most beautiful of all mystallions? It’s you, that’s who.”

    Cloudstrike tossed her head and whinnied triumphantly. Taylor had no difficulty interpreting that as, well, duh. She came up on the other side of the mystallion and gave her ears a good scratching.

    Settling into the saddle, Janesha held out her hand. “Let us return, petal.”

    “Sure.” Taylor took it; a moment later, the light around them flared. When it died, they were airborne over Brockton Bay. “Okay, that was pretty amazing. What are we going to do for an encore?”

    “Hmm.” Janesha seemed to consider her next move. “I seem to recall there was a Canary, and a Cage, with people imprisoned unjustly.”

    “Oooh.” Taylor held up a finger. “One question. Two questions.”

    Janesha’s eyes sparkled with interest. “Present your queries, petal.”

    “First question.” Taylor took a deep breath. “Are we going to just take Canary away from where they’re holding her, or are we actually going to ask politely for them to let her go? And second question: how do we know which people are unjustly imprisoned in the Birdcage, and which ones should be there? I saw in a movie one time where everyone in prison thinks they’re in there unjustly.”

    “Your questions are well-presented, dear Taylor.” Janesha smiled serenely. “It appears that Canary purchased her powers from Cauldron, without ever knowing what was behind them. The judiciary is in the process of preparing to try a powerless woman. And as for those in the Birdcage, I am privy to all the details of a case, not merely the thoughts of one or another. I am the goddess of Justice for this realm, after all.”

    “Wait, if she’s lost her powers, why are they still going to put her through a trial? Wouldn’t losing her powers be punishment enough for what she did?” At least, Taylor thought so.

    “One, she has attempted to inform them of her power loss several times, and even though some privately believe her, officially they do not,” Janesha said bluntly. “Two, even if they were to admit to believing it, losing her powers would not suffice as an acceptable punishment for them. Considerable political capital stands to be made from convicting ‘a dangerous Master’ and sentencing her to the Birdcage, so any minor obstacles such as truth and justice are to be brushed aside as irrelevant.” Janesha’s tone was steely. “And while hers is the most egregious case to date, there have been other situations where the Birdcage was not the optimum place of incarceration.”

    Taylor nodded. “So … we’re going to do something about it?”

    Janesha’s smile was razor-edged. “Why yes indeed, petal. We are.”

    <><>​

    Emily Piggot turned her head at the light tapping on her office window. She’d issued orders about one day into her tenure as regional Director of PRT ENE that anyone attempting to prank her by knocking on the window then flying away would undergo severe discipline, and she’d only had to enforce it once. Now, as she looked around, she wasn’t sure who to expect. However, when she saw the face of Taylor Hebert, newly-minted high priestess to the goddess of Earth Bet, she wasn’t at all surprised. Even though she hadn’t known Taylor could fly.

    “Good morning, Director Piggot,” Taylor said politely. Emily knew she shouldn’t have been able to hear the girl’s words—the heavy polycarbonate was insulated against several things, including sound—but her voice was perfectly clear. “Do you mind if we come in? We have an important matter we’d like your judgement call on.”

    Beyond Taylor, Emily saw Janesha herself, riding astride the magnificent flying beast they called Cloudstrike. Her mind ticked through several aspects of the situation, and she nodded. “Come on in,” she said. After all, it was only courtesy. Janesha had shown herself perfectly capable of breaking the law and ignoring boundaries before this day, so she was clearly asking out of respect.

    Besides, this was her best chance to get an inside line on what was going on with Brockton Bay’s quirkiest—and most powerful—young cape.

    <><>​

    Taylor was mildly impressed at how well Director Piggot took it when she and Janesha teleported into the office. The older woman barely raised an eyebrow as she sat forward. “The light show is new,” was her only comment. “Part of being a goddess?”

    “Indeed,” Janesha confirmed. “I have judgement upon a mortal to be rendered, for a mortal crime, but the current process has every indication of being unjust. You are no shrinking violet, to stand back from stating what is fair and what is not, so I am calling upon you to adjudicate.”

    Director Piggot shook her head. “I’m not a part of the judiciary. It is literally not my duty to define the law, just to uphold it.”

    “We’re aware of that,” Taylor said hurriedly. “But you’ve got experience in this sort of thing. And the PRT has a history of getting the punishments it wants. Besides, you won’t be in this on your own.”

    “Hmm.” Piggot didn’t sound happy. “Well, you did me a favour, getting that ass Tagg out of my building, so I’ll look at whatever it is you want me to see. But I reserve the option to say nothing at any point.”

    “That’s entirely fair.” Taylor turned to Janesha. “So, shall we get this done?”

    “My thoughts exactly.” Janesha raised her hand. “I call upon … Paige Mcabee!” She snapped her fingers, and a woman in prison orange with shoulder-length light brown hair appeared in the office. She staggered a step to the side, then looked wildly around her.

    “What … what’s going on?” she stammered. Her voice was pleasant, but not the marvel that it had been on the few Bad Canary songs Taylor had heard. “L-lady Janesha? I prayed, but I didn’t dare—”

    “Wait, that’s not Canary!” snapped the Director.

    “It is now,” Taylor said. “Or rather, it was. She’s one of the many who’ve had their powers removed.”

    From the look in Piggot’s eyes, she believed Taylor; the sideways glance at Janesha indicated who she thought was responsible. “Then why is this even a thing? Why is she in front of me, instead of a normal criminal trial?”

    “Because they don’t believe me when I say that I’m powerless.” Paige spoke then, her voice still normal though tinged with anger. “They’re accusing me of manifesting a Changer power to pretend to be powerless. I’ve already had to attend hearings wearing a metal mask to stop me from talking and buckets of containment foam on my hands, because I might be a Brute.” She formed air-quotes with her hands. “Before this is over, I’ll have more powers than Eidolon, which will be amazing for someone with no powers at all.”

    “You have had no interaction with this case, Emily Piggot,” Janesha said almost formally. “I trust you to be impartial.” She snapped her fingers again. This time, it was Armsmaster who appeared.

    “What the—oh. Hello, Janesha,” the Tinker said. “In future, please don’t do that, or at least give me some warning. I was—” He looked down at himself. “Oh. You put my armour on me as well.”

    “The last thing I wish to do is embarrass you, Master of Arms,” Janesha replied. “This is Paige Mcabee. You may know her better as Canary. She is on trial here, today. You are the Protectorate representative.”

    Paige squirmed as Armsmaster stared at her. “She doesn’t fit the description,” Armsmaster noted. “No feathers, and the hair is a different colour.” There was a brief pause. “Actually, she fits her previous description, before she triggered with powers. Have you lost your powers, Ms Mcabee?”

    With tears trickling down her cheeks despite a brave smile, Paige nodded. “I … yes,” she said. “I don’t know how, but nobody would believe me until now anyway.”

    “Oh, we might have an idea,” Piggot assured her while rolling her eyes towards Janesha. “Will there be anyone else showing up to this impromptu trial?”

    “Just three more.” This time, Janesha snapped both fingers at once. Two men appeared; one was in his late twenties, while the other looked to be sixty or more. “The judge who was to try the case, and Paige’s accuser.” The older man opened his mouth to speak. “No, don’t speak. I have no interest in any of what you’ve got to say. You.” She pointed at the younger man. “You are now able to procreate as any other intact male of your species. You no longer have a case against Paige Mcabee.”

    A snap of the fingers, and he vanished once more.

    “You.” She pointed at the older man. “Judge Peter Regan. You planned to sentence Paige Mcabee to the Birdcage, no matter the outcome of the trial. Your understanding was that the District Attorney would be able to overwhelm the meagre defense Paige Mcabee could muster, once her funds and voice were denied her. Do not attempt to lie to Me. I see the truth imprinted upon your soul.”

    A golden flash filled the office, and Scion stood there. “This is the last time I come to you, Lady Janesha,” he said. “What do you want?”

    “For the record, I didn’t invite you last time, Lord Scion. You turned up at a fortuitous time.”

    “Tomayto, tomahto,” Scion countered. “And I’m already bored.”

    Janesha gestured at Paige Mcabee. “Lord Scion, master of all superheroes. Does Paige Mcabee possess any powers?”

    Scion looked Paige over. “No,” he said at once. “She did have powers once, but they’ve been stripped from her. I take it this is one of my sister’s cannibals?”

    “They paid for their powers. Only Cauldron knew your sister was being carved up and shared out like a Sunday roast.” At Scion’s darkening scowl, Janesha added, “The fact you killed them too quickly was your fault. I would’ve stretched it out a few decades, but I didn’t have a bone in the fight. Don’t be looking for new targets, now that the guilty have been eliminated.”

    “Fine. She gets a pass. That all?” Scion asked.

    “One other thing. Could the powers have activated without her wish, and caused someone to do something unsightly?”

    “Her ex, you mean?” Scion nodded. “Until I recently removed it, all powers leaned towards conflict. They made the best stories. In her case, she was denying it its conflict, so yes, it could have gone far past what she intended, to force her into a situation where she was confronted by other powers and had to defend herself.”

    Janesha looked at Judge Regan. “She is unpowered. You were told this, but you chose to leave it out of your deliberations. You would still sentence one such as her, who had no choice, no intent and no defence to a place where she would have been ravished and likely murdered within a month. Is this justice?”

    He said nothing.

    She leaned closer. “Your tongue is unbound. I wish to hear your words. Is. This. Justice?”

    His face was pale, devoid of blood. He swallowed thickly. “N-no,” he managed. “This was never about justice.”

    “We are of the same mind, then. Go, and do not come to My attention again.” The merest flick of her finger banished him. Janesha turned back to Scion. “I thank you, Lord Scion, for your words in this matter.”

    “The next two times you have a problem, you come to me.” He looked at Taylor and grinned. “See you around, Taylor.” Then he sobered, and nodded at Piggot. “Director.” Placing fist to palm, he met Janesha’s eyes and vanished in a flare of light.

    “Armsmaster.” Janesha turned to the armoured Tinker. “You have heard the evidence. The injured party is injured no longer, and the injury was not of Paige Mcabee’s design. How do you find her?”

    Armsmaster rubbed his bearded chin slowly. “I would have to say … not guilty. Especially if she doesn’t have powers anymore.”

    “Indeed. Director Piggot.” Janesha passed her attention on to the heavy-set woman behind the desk. “Your final judgement in this matter?”

    Piggot raised her eyebrows. “You’re asking me? It seems you’ve already made up your mind.”

    “That is as may be. It is not against myself that she was charged with sinning. She is mortal; you are mortal. You have seen both sides of this struggle. What is your judgement?”

    “Well, then.” Director Piggot raised herself to her feet. “Paige Mcabee, once known as Canary, AKA Bad Canary, you will be freed immediately and your funds unfrozen. I don’t know what sort of a singing career you’ll have now, but that will be up to you.”

    “You know, you can always pray to Scion for a singing style power,” Taylor offered. “He could get you one without any drawbacks.”

    “Yeah, no. Hard, HARD pass on that,” Paige said with a shudder. “So I can walk free now? I’m really done?”

    Janesha snapped her fingers, and Paige’s outfit changed to jeans and jacket. “The paperwork has been filled out, signed, stamped and filed. Your life is officially yours once more.” She stepped forward and put her hand on Paige’s shoulder. “You had faith in me, and that’s all that matters.”

    Bursting into tears, Paige hugged her.

    <><>​

    Wind whistled past Taylor as she hovered before the unassuming-looking mountain. She knew she would’ve been freezing her ass off, had it not been for Janesha’s upgrades. “So, are we going to do this?” she asked.

    “That is Dragon’s choice,” Janesha said from astride Cloudstrike. “She is the warden of this prison and so it is her responsibility.”

    “Yeah, okay, I get that,” Dragon said as her suit hovered in the freezing winter wind. “I just want to make sure that it won’t lose integrity while you’re remodelling it. There are some very tricky people in there, you know.”

    “I understand,” Janesha agreed. “I will be weaving my own constructs into the prison walls to ensure that powers cannot be used to effect an escape. Of course, once we’re done, that is when the true problems will surface.”

    “Yeah, but they won’t be your problems or mine, thanks to you.” There was a smile in Dragon’s voice. “Okay, do it.”

    Janesha drew her hands apart and then clapped once; a wave of sound blasted out in all directions, somehow not deafening anyone, then washing over the mountain. As it died away, the tremendous mass of rock before them began to shift and change. Snow slid away as granite morphed and rose up, great blocks rotating like bricks on a swivel. Taylor grinned as she watched; it was always amazing to see Janesha at work.

    Once the landscape had finished remodelling itself, a huge castle stood before them, its sheer walls replacing the rough mountainside. Above it, a hemispherical dome rose into the sky, sparkling slightly as random snowflakes impacted it. “You’ll have to call it something other than the Birdcage,” Janesha said, not at all apologetically as the first inmates emerged blinking into the exercise yard. “Most of the structure I left as it was. But now they can get out, see the sun … and file appeals.”

    “Or, if Scion accepts their prayer and removes their powers, they can be transferred to a regular prison,” Taylor added. “I’m pretty sure your death rate is going to go down a lot, now there’s a little bit of hope involved. Also, that powers no longer breed conflict.”

    “Well, there are quite a few who have already served a full sentence, so they can go up for parole,” Dragon agreed with a smirk. “Just one question. Glaistig Uaine. I’ve always suspected that she could come and go as she pleased, and only stayed in there because she wanted to. How’s she going right now?”

    Janesha’s serene smile turned into a brief answering smirk. “Extremely displeased,” she confirmed. “Her language is most unladylike. I’ve asked Scion to put a curb on her power so she can’t harm anyone unless attacked.”

    Dragon laughed out loud. “It’s a whole new world,” she said. “I’m glad I got to see it.”

    <><>​

    Kurt looked up as Danny entered the Dockworkers’ Association building. “Hey, Danny, what do you think about the Washington shit, hey?”

    “What about Washington?” Danny wasn’t looking forward to doing paperwork, but he knew he’d be flying through it today. On his way into work, he’d dropped Annette off at the Brockton Bay College with a “Back from the Dead via Divine Intervention” form, all signed and sealed by a notary public. While he would’ve loved to have been there while she explained what happened, he had work to do. Plus, he would see her again tonight. And every night and morning thereafter.

    The knowledge gave him a light feeling in his chest that he hadn’t felt for some time.

    “The President, VP and half of Congress just vanished this morning for about five, ten minutes. Then they came right back. It was like, fuckin’ chaos all over DC. Nobody knew a damn thing.”

    And there went his good feeling. “What are they saying? Do they know who did it? Are the people who came back even the same people who got taken away?”

    Kurt shrugged. “Apparently the local Protectorate has Thinkers that checked them over and said they’re good. But they’re not saying diddly about where they went and what happened to them while they were away. Freaky times, huh?”

    “Yeah,” Danny said, licking his lips slowly. “Freaky.”

    He had a really sinking feeling about this. Going into his office, he closed the door. Then he shut his eyes so that he could concentrate. “Janesha,” he said softly. “May I please speak with Taylor?”

    “Of course, Danny,” he heard in his ear, as plain as day.

    When he opened his eyes, he could see Taylor’s face, hanging in the air before him. “Hi, Dad!” she called out over the sound of rushing wind. “What’s up?”

    “I, uh, heard about the President and other people vanishing out of Washington DC today,” he said awkwardly. “Is this something Janesha needs to look into?” Please say yes ... Because that would mean she wasn’t responsible.

    “Oh, no,” she said cheerfully. “You know those plans we were trying to get started? Turns out that a bunch of governments were being dicks about it. Me and Janesha went to the moon and Janesha teleported all the world leaders there and read them the riot act. I mean, she ripped them up one side and down the other. They all fell into line after that. How awesome is that? World hunger, world health, energy, pollution, all that’s being fixed. It just needed someone to put their foot down.”

    “What? No!” The sinking feeling coalesced into a black hole in his guts. “Taylor. Honey. You don’t ever force political change by fear. It’s a bad idea. Trust me on this. People don’t stay scared.”

    Taylor laughed. “Dad, she’s a goddess. She’s got ultimate power. Even if people stop being scared of her, she’ll know if they try anything. Anyway, once these programs kick in, they’ll see we were right. Everyone will have food, shelter, health care, the lot. Nobody needs to die or get sick for some stupid, avoidable reason.”

    In that instant, Danny knew beyond a doubt that no argument would pierce the armour of certitude Taylor had woven around herself. The big problem was, Janesha was actually listening to Taylor, so they were reinforcing each other and agreeing with the other’s points of view. Taylor was supplying Janesha’s ultimate power and overall attitude, and Janesha was making sure Taylor kept believing in her.

    At the moment, it seemed all rosy, but Danny could see the train wreck that was looming in the horizon. One thing at a time, without adult supervision that they’d listen to, and they would gradually remake the world into the image Taylor and Janesha wanted it to be. All it would take would be Taylor deciding that Janesha needed to mind-bend someone into compliance. It would be the start of a very long and very slippery slope.

    And there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening.

    “Okay, bye,” he said. “Have fun.”

    “Bye, Dad!”

    The image vanished. Slowly, Danny reached into his pocket and took out a golden ring. Janesha had offered it to him the previous evening, telling him it made him proof against mindbenders. He hadn’t seen the need, but it had gone into his pocket anyway.

    It went onto his middle finger easily enough. He didn’t know if it would stop Janesha from reading his mind at all, or just a little. But he would take whatever buffer he could get.

    Moving as if in a dream, he went to his knees. He closed his eyes and clasped his hands together. For more than five minutes, he struggled with his inner self, forcing his thoughts into a particular channel. Sweat ran down his brow as he made himself believe. This is the only chance I’m going to have of saving her. Of saving both of them.

    There was nothing he could do. But he knew of others who could.

    “Lord Chance of Mystal,” he murmured. “Hear my prayer …”

    <><>​

    “And that should be the last of them.” Armina scraped slug guts off her boot onto a convenient rock. “Do you see any more?”

    “Actually, yes, I do.” Chance pointed without even looking. “There, there and there.” The marked slugs were, of course, crawling where he indicated. He was lucky like that. “I—”

    Lord Chance of Mystal, hear my prayer. You are the only one who can help us. Your niece is here, and she has become established. Please, come and save her and my daughter from one another. Lord Chance of Mystal, hear my prayer …

    “What? What is it?” Armina was staring at him now, even as she ground the last of the slugs under her steel-plated boot.

    Having stiffened in response to the incoming prayer, Chance’s lips curled in a victorious smile. Prayer was the breath of life to an established god. More to the point, he now had a specific location in the Unknown Realms to go to. A pinpoint of light in the darkness. He lifted his fingers to his lips and uttered a short, sharp whistle. “Gambler!” he called. There was an answering whinny from his mystallion, and the clattering of hooves.

    “Tell me, runt,” gritted Armina. “Or so help me …”

    “I got a location on Janesha!” Chance called over his shoulder as he leaped into the saddle. “There’s a mortal where she is, who just prayed to me for divine intervention.”

    “Praying to you?” Despite her doubt, Armina was already swinging astride Gladiator, her own heavily-armoured mount. “But there’s nobody out here who should even know about you!”

    “You didn’t bring me along for my pretty looks and charming disposition, right?” Chance grinned broadly at her as he shook out his reins and gave Gambler his head. “Let’s go!”

    Armina pushed Gladiator until he pulled up alongside Gambler, knowing better than to ask any more questions.

    Because as irritating as he could be, Luck was on her side.



    End of Part Twenty-Five
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2020
  27. Scopas

    Scopas Getting sticky.

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    Ah yes, there's no way anything but pure, unfiltered goodness comes from this series of decisions.
     
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  28. Aluvartyo

    Aluvartyo Making the rounds.

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    This is good. I'm highly anticipating Jenesha's incoming harsh lesson in not being a dumb teenage goddess from the bigger fish lol.
     
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  29. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    "Hubris" says the chapter title. Whose, though, therein lies the rub.
     
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  30. Jade Isentry

    Jade Isentry Unshakable

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    The question is though, with Janesha about as powerful as one of the highest lords of hell, and with Chance and Armina not currently within their established sphere of influence, will they be even remotely able to dictate terms to her?
     
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