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Queen of Blood (Worm/Castlevania) (Complete)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by SirWill, Dec 29, 2015.

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  1. Ace of Scarabs

    Ace of Scarabs Polish my soul gem, you reprobrate~

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    Coil's not having a good day, he got Ariel'd in a way that puts him beyond the Shadow Gates and it's probably worse than merely being Simurgh'd.
     
  2. Xpsi

    Xpsi Getting sticky.

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    In response to your Emma interlude, did you really had to go there with Taylor cruelly gloating. To make Taylor somebody who hurts people because she desires it?
     
    NorthSouthGorem likes this.
  3. SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    You mean the one I have yet to post here? The one that I am in the midst of rewriting? The one I wrote while pretty sick with a long cold that I'm not yet over?

    The final version's going to change a fair bit. That's one of the parts that's going to get a heavy makeover. I wanted to sell that she was pissed off. Which was accomplished. But...didn't show much of the development she's had since the fic started. So yeah. Wait for it.
     
  4. Threadmarks: Interlude: Emma
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: Busy, busy, busy. It’s been a rough journey, getting this far. Thanks for putting up with the wait. Argh!

    Here it is, the revised version. Yeesh, this took WAY too long.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    January 7, 2011

    “Let me out!” Taylor screamed, the banging echoing faintly in the hall. It was pretty difficult to hear her, actually, considering she’d been pressed face-first into the trash. “Please god let me out it’s all over me! They’re all over me! Let me out! Oh God let me out!

    Emma laughed. Finally cracking the facade of indifference made it worth the effort. It was so much better when Taylor reacted. When she cried, or screamed, or sobbed, or broke down. Emma couldn’t keep the grin off her face. “Don’t worry Taylor. They’ll keep you company for a while. You needed to make new friends anyway.”

    She shared laughs with Sophia as they walked away, Taylor’s screams fading into coughs and hacks, retching echoing out of the confines of the locker. The screams weren’t that loud, anyway. The pads and tampons were muffling things nicely.

    Sophia’s voice was smug. “Damn good idea, Ems. I’ll let her out by next period. Maybe. This is just too funny.”

    Emma nodded, unable to keep the smile off her face. Totally worth the effort.


    -----------------



    “What do you mean she’s dead!?”

    Sophia’s voice hissed at her, the alleyway filled with both snow and frozen garbage. “Hebert’s fucking dead. I checked between periods. Nobody let her out, she’s a stone cold corpse. I went through her bag, she had a notebook filled with all the shit we pulled on her. Don’t worry, I took care of it.”

    Emma reeled. It was impossible, wasn’t it? “She’s still there?! We have to get her out! It’s only been six hours, she could be...”

    Sophia slapped her. “We don’t do a goddamn thing! We keep away from that fucking school. I checked, she’s a goddamn corpse. Going back there is only going to get us caught and hung by the cops. She’s dead, we got to protect ourselves now. We’re survivors, Ems. We ain’t going to be dragged down by her. She's a weakling. We gotta think about us.”

    It was nearly impossible to breathe. Emma’s mind was in a whirl. It couldn’t be, it was just supposed to break through that shell. The facade of indifference that her former friend built up. It was supposed to just get Taylor to react. It wasn’t supposed to end with...

    Sophia stared at her, her voice intense. “They’ll find her. Janitors are fuckin’ lazy, but with that smell? They’ll find her by tonight, maybe tomorrow morning at the latest. Give me your phone.”

    Emma blinked at the seeming jump in topic. “Wh-what? Why?”

    Sophia growled. “Your phone. We need to wipe the texts, all of em. The cops might look into it, hell the PRT may look into it. We wipe the data. Everything. Wipe the texts now. You sent me the fuckin’ idea for the whole locker shit over the texts, we need to erase it all.”

    Emma paled at the thought. Quickly, she dug out her phone, opening the texts and seeing her words stare back at her.

    EB: Hey S! I’ve got this great idea on how to break through to Taylor! I swear, it’ll make her cry!

    SH: No shit? MESsing with Hebert’s been boring lately. Whatcha got?

    SH: Stupidcaps.

    EB: Know the wastebin in the girl’s bathroom? It’s filled with used tampons and pads. Why don’t we fill her locker with it?

    SH: Awww, nasty! Yeah, I can do that. You know me, easy easy.

    EB: Even better. If she opens it to look, we put her in there. She’s skinny, she’ll fit. Put the trash where it belongs.

    SH: Damn girl. Where do you come up with this shit?

    EB: It’s a gift. We need to get Mads in on this.

    EB: Not answering.

    SH: Ah, yeah. She’s sick with the flu. Probably playing games. She’s not important to this anyway. We got this.

    Numbly, Emma handed over the phone. Sophia fiddled with it, quickly wiping the texts away. Erasing everything Emma had done. Emma trusted Sophia with a lot. With everything. With her life.

    Maybe it was best to trust her now.

    Sophia handed the phone back. “The cops ask anything, don’t ask for a lawyer. Only if you get arrested. That’ll make em suspicious. Just play innocent airhead. You fuck this up, I’ll fuck you up before they ever get close to me.”

    What?

    The ground could have swallowed Emma at that moment and she wouldn’t have noticed.

    Sophia must have seen something in her eyes. “I fuckin’ mean it, Ems. We keep quiet, this shit will blow over. Things will be fine, we forget Hebert like everything else. Nobody cares about her. We just keep quiet, I’ll do what I can to make sure there’s nothin’ left for them to find. We kept erasing those email accounts as we went. Just one more wipe and we’re clear. They won’t suspect us, and Winslow’s a hellhole anyway. All I gotta do is stir up the gangs and they’ll do half our work for us.” Sophia smiled. The smile of a hungry shark. A smile that had no concern for anyone else. “Trust me, Ems. We got this. You’re my friend, I’ll cover your back if you cover mine, but if you screw me on this...”

    That expression on Sophia’s face Emma had always enjoyed before. It meant that Sophia was about to do something. Usually something painful to someone. For the first time in a long time, when Emma looked into Sophia’s eyes, she felt fear. Swallowing the lump in her throat, Emma just nodded. There was simply no other response.

    Anything else would only provoke Sophia.


    -----------------

    January 10, 2011

    The park was empty. In the midst of winter, there weren’t too many people out and about, braving the cold if they didn’t have to. It made it simple enough to make things clear to the last loose end.

    Madison’s eyes were filled with fear, her voice rough and weak, not yet fully recovered from the sickness that had sapped her strength. “Oh god, oh god... she’s fucking dead!? What the hell did you do!?”

    Sophia stood right in front of the cringing, smaller girl. “Yeah, she’s dead, Madison. And you’re going to keep your damn mouth shut.”

    Emma stood silent. She could see Sophia’s arm twitching, almost instinctively reaching for a weapon that wasn’t there. Not that she’d need a weapon to deal with Madison. The other girl was shorter than they were, too small, too weak to manage anything. She’d break her fists on Sophia’s face.

    Madison cringed away from the taller girl, shaking like a leaf. Emma...couldn’t bring herself to help. If she talked, they’d all go down. Let Sophia make the threat. It was just a show, and Madison needed to believe it. Emma needed her to believe it.

    Sophia’s voice was harsh. “If the cops so much as breathe in my direction, you’ll get what Hebert got. And that’s after I go through your family. Your mom, your dad, your brothers, your sisters, your fucking cat. I’ve handled enough that they won’t look our way if none of us talk about it. Now all this shit’ll go away if you just. Shut. Up.”

    Madison’s lip trembled as she met Sophia’s eyes. “We can’t just cover this up! This is serious!”

    Sophia growled as she pushed Madison off her feet, dumping the smaller girl into a snowdrift. “You say nothing. I ain’t hanging for you, and I ain’t hanging for Hebert. Hebert’s dead. Nothing we can do to change that. Now we got to think about ourselves. If you fuck me, I’ll fuck you worse and harder. I won’t go down because of fucking Hebert. We got one corpse. It’s not going to make things any worse if there’s four or five more. And even if you’re taken in before I get to you, I’ll do everything I fucking can to make sure you hang too. Don’t fucking push me. You got that!?”

    The petite brunette coughed and spluttered, trying to scramble away from Sophia. She looked at Emma, seeking some help, some assistance from anywhere.

    Emma kept her face impassive, unhelpful, uncaring. It was the only way. Though that was hard to convince herself of, with her heart pounding a mile a minute.

    Finally, weakly, Madison spoke, her voice coming out in a racking cough. “G-got it.”

    Sophia’s grin was feral. “Good. Glad we could make things clear. I’ll be keeping an eye on you, Mads. Make sure you tread lightly.”

    Together, Sophia and Emma walked away, Madison’s sobs echoing behind them.

    Sophia’s voice was filled with satisfaction as they walked out of earshot. “See, what I tell ya? Spin a story, and she’ll fold.”

    Emma faintly nodded. It was the only thing she could do. She knew that tone that Sophia had used.

    Sophia hadn’t been bluffing. If she was caught, if she had the chance, she’d make sure she did as much damage as she could. They’d just be more bodies left in the wake, if Sophia thought it had to be done. She’d do it to cover up the death of Taylor, just as she’d do what she had to to cover up the death of that gangbanger.

    Four or five more corpses. Just add them to the pile. Emma wouldn’t say a word. She couldn’t. It wasn’t worth the risk. She just had to hope that her father’s grumbling about moving the hell out of Brockton Bay would come to fruition.

    And she wouldn’t say a word. Sophia wasn’t the only one who’d hang.


    -----------------

    January 23, 2011

    The snow drifted down on Taylor’s grave. Emma couldn’t help but stare at the simple slab of stone, marking the place where her body lay. Mister Hebert stood there, before his daughter’s grave like a living statue. He moved, he breathed, but he didn’t react to her or her father’s presence. He hadn’t done anything but stare at the coffin, snowflakes slowly falling into the open grave.

    She barely heard her father’s words as he tried to comfort his friend, sincere, unknowing condolences.

    Not knowing his daughter was a murderer.

    “I’m so sorry, Mister Hebert. I’m sorry she’s gone.” Her words came out, thick with emotion. Self-loathing. Guilt. Grief. All for one simple little thought.

    She could barely hear his reply, filled with grief and pain. “Thank you, Emma. You’re...” He visibly struggled to speak, his entire body beginning to shake. “You’re a good kid.”

    That hard-won sentence hit Emma like a bullet. She could barely listen as she heard her father talking about their plans to leave Brockton Bay. She felt so horrible about this. So afraid. So fake. So...so...

    Weak.

    I’m not good. I’m very much not good at all. I’m not good, I’m not strong. I’m...

    Sophia’s voice rang in her ears. Words she used to take comfort in.

    You ain’t weak, are ya? A weakling would have gone along with those damn thugs. A weakling would have let them cut them up, just for the chance to breathe another minute. You fought.”

    Maybe leaving would be for the best. She reinvented herself once before. She could do it again. She could do it without Sophia. It would be hard, but there wasn’t any other choice.

    She could do it. She could fight. She would fight.

    Even if the enemy was her own feelings.


    -----------------

    January 29, 2011

    Emma shivered in the cold, watching the ice break against the shores of Brockton Bay’s harbor.

    She looked down at the object in her hands. Taylor’s flute, covered in shit and rendered unusable, wrapped in a plastic garbage bag. Sophia had done exactly what Emma told her to do. Sophia stole it, probably would have simply kept it as a little trophy of what they were doing. Or maybe just threw it out. She wouldn’t have had any care with someone else’s property. It wouldn’t have occurred to Sophia to damage it, to torment Taylor with it.

    Sophia had destroyed it, but it was Emma who told her to. She had wanted to prove to herself that she left her old, weak self behind. To say goodbye to that friendship from childhood.

    Emma opened the bag, peeling away the packing tape that had kept it sealed. The stench hit her, sealed inside for months. The foulness had long since dried, but that didn’t help much. Emma was grateful for the gloves, protecting her hands from the disgusting mess that remained.

    Thoughts whirled through her head. This was the last thing she had of Taylor. The last thing she had remaining of her former friend, her victim. The last thing that tied her to...what she’d done.

    The police had investigated Winslow, but it was a slow, unenthusiastic investigation. They seemed almost lethargic, doing the bare minimum, and they hadn’t looked the Trio’s way. Instead, they were using the whole incident as an excuse to crack down on the gang recruitment, with a cop assigned to the school for at least six months. Either the angels were on their side or Sophia managed to pull off a miracle. Even Blackwell wasn’t talking about it, citing the fact that Winslow was a hotbed of gang activity. It hadn’t saved her job, but it had, it seemed, managed to ensure things quieted down.

    Emma suspected Sophia was partially responsible for that, though how was beyond Emma. A few days of investigation, and then the cops just suddenly lost interest. It was Brockton Bay, there was always something new happening, something worse. But it all just...went away.

    The fear remained, of course. But it slipped away, little by little, each day she still walked free. Tomorrow, Emma would be moving to New York City. Tomorrow, she could leave all this behind. Hopefully, she could say goodbye to all this. To hopefully stop being afraid, someday.

    With her other hand, she pulled out her phone. She looked between them, the flute, and the phone. With a single call, a press of the button, she could call the police. Tell them everything. Tell them about Shadow Stalker, tell them about what they’d done. How they shut a girl in her locker until she died there. Maybe then she would feel a little better. Even if Sophia actually wanted to go through on her threat, she could probably get protection. Daddy, Mom, Zoe would be okay, the heroes could figure something out.

    But then she’d lose, too. She’d have nothing left to look forward to. No modeling career. Hell, she’d be lucky if she could get any kind of work at all. They don’t give good jobs to girls who killed their childhood friends, do they? How would her suffering help Taylor now?

    The best thing to do was to forget it. Forget everything, make a new Emma for a new city. That was the only solution. Suffering in the future wouldn’t make up for the mistakes of the past.

    She pulled her hand back and threw the flute into the bay. From here, it wouldn’t go that far out, but the water was deep enough. It wouldn’t likely be found, and even if it was, it probably wouldn’t be recognized. The bay had enough trash in it from the rusting metal hulks of the ships.

    “Goodbye Taylor. I’m sorry.”


    -----------------

    February 7, 2011

    The New York apartment was small, and cold at first. Hastily-bought space heaters and blankets placed on the doors helped keep the heat in. She hadn’t quite realized how much colder New York City could be over Brockton Bay. It wasn’t that far away, but the difference was bone-chilling.

    Still, as warm as her room was, Emma always woke up with a chill.

    Every damn night, she had horrible dreams. Dreams, nightmares, about that day. If she was lucky. Sometimes it was worse.

    Sometimes, she just dreamed of Taylor, staring accusingly at her, covered in blood. That, beyond half-formed nightmares and the feelings of crushing guilt, was the worst.

    She took her time getting cleaned up for the morning. Feeling leaden as she looked at herself in the mirror, brushing her teeth. She didn’t quite like what looked back, but...

    Maybe school would be better. Maybe she wouldn’t feel so terrified if she was able to spend some time with other people. Holing up in her room wasn’t making her feel any better.


    -----------------

    Glensdale High School was a pretty big campus. It used to be an elementary school, but after Behemoth hit the city and it was reconstructed, there was room enough for the campus to grow. It was somewhat of a necessity, as the ground nearby would no longer support a tall building, so allowing the government to purchase the land for longer, shorter school buildings and a larger property. There were issues about it, notably some of the classrooms were small, but it worked out.

    Emma had some trouble finding her way around at first. The cafeteria was huge, and it took a while for her to figure out how to order her food properly. She felt dejected as she sat down, alone.

    She ate her sandwich slowly, not really tasting it as the fast bustle of students around her came and went. A flash of brown hair from the corner of her eye nearly made her heart stop, and she reflexively looked.

    A pretty sophomore, wearing an all-black getup. Leather jacket and pants. This girl looked tough, like she gave no shits about anything, and she was busily laughing away at some joke a tall, dark, and handsome guy had just told her. On the other side of the guy was a redhead girl, wearing a thick winter coat and a pink, fuzzy sweater underneath.

    Heart beginning to calm, Emma turned back to her lunch, her fingers shaking. Taylor’s gone. She’s gone and she’s not coming back. Get a grip, Emma! You can survive this!

    “Hey, you new here?” A cheerful voice broke into her thoughts.

    Emma jerked in her seat, whirling around to the speaker. It was that same girl, looking at her with concern.

    Emma faintly nodded. “Y-yeah. Just new here. First day.”

    The other girl grinned, flicking her hair back as it fell over her eyes. “Yeah, I can hear that. Ain’t always easy to get settled in somewhere new.” She held out her hand. “Name’s Faith. If you want, I can show you the ropes around here.”

    Hi!” An enthusiastic voice spoke, its owner wearing bottle-thick glasses. She waved at the fellow six year old. “I’m Taylor!”

    Emma smiled as she waved back happily. “I’m Emma! Daddy says he’s friends with your dad. Maybe we can be friends too?”

    Play nice together girls.” The tall brunette lady said, a smile on her face. “We’ve got to get the barbecue ready.”

    Emma swallowed, then nodded, shaking the offered hand. “Emma. Good to meet you. I’d appreciate that.”

    Faith nodded with a smile. “You okay? You look like you’re a million miles off.” Her voice was filled with genuine concern.

    Emma’s voice was a bit faint, even to her own ears. “Just some old memories.” At Faith’s curious look, Emma quietly finished. “Just not used to being friendless and alone.”

    Faith grinned. “Well, we can fix that.” The tall brunette, waved at her friends. The pair came over, wearing friendly smiles.

    The redheaded girl smiled and waved shyly. “Hey.”

    The handsome guy stuck out his hand. “Nick. Good to see ya.” He gently nudged the other redhead’s shoulder. “Don’t mind my best friend here. She’s just a bit nervous around new people. And people she knows. And dogs. And cats. And...”

    With an amused, but weak, smile, Emma shook the offered hand. “I get the idea. I’m Emma.”

    The other girl waved shyly. “Alyson. Hi. That’s me. Um...hi?”

    Faith laughed softly. “You said that three times already, Als.”

    It felt like a weight had lifted off of Emma’s shoulders, and her smile grew.


    -----------------

    February 10, 2011

    Faith, it turned out, liked to box.

    There was a local gym, with the rather catchy name of ‘Rocking Irons’ about a block away from the school, and Faith was only too happy to show her. It would probably be nice to get a new hobby. And what better place to become strong than a gym?

    Emma sat back on a bench and watched as the other girl smacked away at the punching bag, clearly enjoying herself as she trained.

    Faith’s voice was confident as she hammered at the bag, making it swing back and forth. “So, the whole thing is, New York’s a bit rough and tumble. Since Behemoth came through, city’s gone through hell. It’s helpful to know a few things about defending yourself. Most people don’t bug ya, but there’s always an asshole or two who you might need to knock around. Better to know and be prepared.”

    Emma nodded. “So you can prove your strength against all comers. Show them you’re the predator they don’t want to fuck with. The lone wolf.”

    Faith stopped for a moment, looking at Emma, her face unreadable for a moment. She went back to hitting the bag. “Not about provin’ nothing, girlie. Always going to be a bigger fish in the pond, you know? It don’t matter how strong you are, someone’s gonna have an advantage over you. Not sayin’ you shouldn’t be prepared. Just that you be smart. Make a fight your last resort, not your first, cause the guy who picks a fight, makes trouble, fucks over the other guys around? He’s doin’ it because he needs to prove somethin’ and it’s pathetic, but he thinks he’s got an advantage, and once it comes to a fight, nobody wins. Weak people pick fights to prove they ain’t weak. Strong people, really strong people, don’t need to pick fights. They’re secure. They don’t gotta prove shit. It’s the difference between the poseur wanna-be capes on the net who don’t actually have any powers, and the actual veteran capes. The real deal don’t give a shit. They’re all outta fucks to give about the little shit.”

    Faith hit the bag especially hard. “Let’s get somethin’ straight. You strut around, pickin’ fights, makin’ shit for people? You ain’t strong. You’re an idiot, and sooner or later you bite someone who’ll bite back and bite harder. You look around Glensdale, you see the guys hangin’ in a gang? They ain’t strong. They know it, which is why they’re in a gang. It just makes em feel strong, lets them feel like they’ve broken their shortcomings when they’re still little pathetic idiots. If they were strong, they wouldn’t need their buddies there to get up to shit. You usually don’t find one white dude pickin’ on the gals from the Bronx. You gotta get at least three of em. Critical mass of bigotry and stupidity.”

    Emma blinked as she considered that, uncomfortable with how closely Faith was unintentionally digging into Emma’s past. Emma took a breath, trying to see the other girl’s point of view. “So if they’re weak, who’s strong?”

    Faith snorted. “You’re askin’ the wrong question. Strong compared to who? You might have the strongest cat around on the street, but he’s nothin’ compared to a rottweiler. Lemme tell you, really strong people don’t give a shit about comparison. They just get shit done. They don’t waste time and energy posing, flexing, and proving themselves if they don’t have to. I mean, shit, you think Legend spends any extra time posing and taunting badguys? No, he just comes in, gets the job done, hauls the assholes away and calls it a day. I’ll bet he doesn’t give a second thought to the guys he’s stopped, he’s got better things to worry about.” Faith grinned crookedly. “Too bad the dude’s gay. Ruined my first crush. Ah well.” She shrugged as she went back to hitting the punching bag. “You ever watch a reality show? Like, say, Last One Standing?

    Emma shook her head. “Been a little busy for all that.” Too busy trying to figure out a new way to torment...god, I still think about it. There’s so much I never did because I was too busy thinking of things to do to Taylor. So many things I could have been doing otherwise, and I was just so busy trying to be strong. I could have been doing anything with that time. I could have...

    Faith nodded, seemingly ignorant about Emma’s inner thoughts. “You got the eight people on the show, jonesin’ for the million dollar prize. You can divide them up into the strong contenders, the ones who’re good at the tasks, and the weaker ones, who’re good at politics. If they suck at both, they get kicked off fast. But the weaker ones know they don’t bring as much to the table as the competent, secure ones. They can’t fish or hunt, or build a shelter, or win any other challenge, so they wheedle and backstab their way to a more secure position, and vote off their stronger rivals. Hell, sometimes they even win the grand prize. Difference is, when someone strong wins it, someone who actually pulled their weight, most people don’t mind it, they cheer that guy on. When the backstabbers win it, nobody likes em. Fuck, they nearly lost the rights to the show when one sneaky bitch won on season three. Usually though, they end up losin’, cause they can’t cope with somethin’ they can’t wheedle out of.”

    Faith hit the bag hard, making it swing back and forth on its chain. “They just break.”


    -----------------

    March 5, 2011

    Winter hadn’t yet really broken from New York. The snow was going away as the days grew longer and warmer, but the transition from winter to spring was a slow one. The wind coming off the Atlantic brought with it the smell of salt, along with the less pleasant smells that came from the garbage that filled the water. Rebuilt or not, New York wasn’t the most clean city around. Though apparently it had been worse, once. The city benefited from quite a few civil programs. It was important, not just as a symbol of American pride, but as a city that the Herokiller had attacked, and survived.

    Emma sat, watching the water lap at the shore. A small little grassy patch by the water, letting her look out over the ocean without too much of an issue. She went there to think, because it was one of the few places where she could enjoy the ocean air with a small amount of solitude. Just another girl who wanted to enjoy the day, as much as she could.

    Phone in one hand, flute in the other.

    Since she found this spot in New York, she came as often as she could. Once every two or three days, considering her schedule. Every time, she held her phone in her hands, considering that choice. To preserve her life over that of Taylor’s, even as a memory. It wasn’t like turning herself in would have helped anything, would it?

    It wouldn’t bring her back. It wouldn’t fix Emma’s mistake. It wouldn’t...it got a little easier every day to accept it, and move on.

    Still, her phone felt like it weighed a million pounds.

    “Sorry.” She said softly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t help you now. I can’t fix it now. It wouldn’t solve anything.”

    The wind whistled. Almost accusatory. She put her phone away. After all, she had to go see a movie with Faith, and Nick, and Alyson. She had a new life, now.

    It was best to put the old one behind her.


    -----------------

    April 8, 2011

    Emma’s room was bustling with activity, as Faith and Nick had come over. For the first time in a long time... Emma felt happy.

    “So I was sayin’ ‘you just need to get up on that high horse and try again!’” Faith said with an exaggerated wave, grinning crookedly.

    “Oh god, Faith, please don’t.” Nick begged, his voice desperate.

    Faith grinned, her voice teasing. “So Nick here jumps right back on the horse. Gets his feet right into the stirrups. He seems just fine, all ready to go...then a strap breaks and the whole saddle tilts right over. Wham! Right in the mud!”

    Emma struggled to keep in her laughter, and failed miserably. Her laughter filled the room, added to by the giggling Faith.

    Nick just sighed, shaking his head. “Give me a break. It was my first time trying to ride a horse. They’re not exactly common around the city, you know. Now and again, maybe I see a cop on a horse. Going upstate for that was new!”

    Faith nodded with a grin. “Sure. But you should have seen the look on your face as you struggled to get outta the mud. You looked like you were ready to choke out Behemoth with your bare hands.”

    He sighed, taking a drink from his bottle of Coke. “Well, it’s not like I enjoyed the experience.”

    Faith’s grin grew wider. “Yeah, well, just be glad Comet didn’t take a step back and hit your junk. I’m kinda fond of your junk.”

    Faith!” Emma exclaimed, forced into another round of laughter.

    She gave an unrepentant grin. “What? He’s my boytoy.”

    Nick just slumped on the couch, putting his face in his hands. “What did I ever do to deserve this?” He spoke, though his words were muffled.

    Emma struggled to breathe, trying to rein herself in. Finally, she managed to calm herself down enough. She just...couldn’t remember the last time she felt this happy. She had friends. A new life. A life without Sophia, but one where she felt.. content. It was a good feeling.

    She quieted as she heard a commotion at the front door, her father’s voice echoing slightly through the walls, though she couldn’t hear what was being said.

    Then the door opened, a severe-looking man standing there, wearing a black trenchcoat. He was flanked by two New York police.

    Oh god.

    The man held up a laminated ID, with a grim-looking photo of him on it. “Emma Barnes? I am Agent MacGregor of the FBI. I have a warrant for your arrest, and these gentlemen are here to confiscate your belongings for evidence.” He looked at the other two teenagers in the room. “I’m afraid due to the situation, I’m going to have to ask you two to come with us for questioning.”

    Faith got to her feet, her face pale. She whirled on Emma. “Ems, what the hell is he talking about?”

    Nick rose his hand, clearly nervous. “Uh... can we get some context, here?”

    MacGregor frowned. “She’s wanted for the murder of a classmate at her old school.”

    Faith had gone pale, looking at Emma with disbelief. “Ems? It ain’t true, is it? Tell me it ain’t true.”

    Emma didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. Her throat felt like it was filled with a stone. As the police clicked the handcuffs shut over her wrists, it took almost all of her composure to not just collapse on the floor, wailing hysterically.

    She couldn’t, however, keep herself from sobbing.


    -----------------

    April 18, 2011

    Back in Brockton Bay. Not that Emma was allowed to actually see the sights, revisit the places she grew up. Not allowed to visit the Boardwalk and shop. Not allowed to walk around on Captain’s Hill and enjoy the history. Not allowed to watch the sun rise over the city. She and her father were considered flight risks. No bail, no house arrest. No chance to get some fresh air. No chance for anything she wanted. All she was allowed to see was the conference room with her lawyer, and her cell. It was in the former she sat at the moment, her heart in her throat.

    Alan gently squeezed Emma’s hand, and she smiled faintly. Her father was the only steady thing in her life, now. It wasn’t as if she had much better to look forward to. Who else would be friends with a murderer?

    “Things will be okay, Emma.” He spoke quietly. “We’ll get through this. I’ll fight as hard as I have to. You’ll get your day in court.”

    She nodded, plastering a look of gratitude on her face. She felt hollow, trapped, stuck playing a role that dug deeper and deeper into a pit with no way out. Every time she tried to muster up the courage to tell her father the truth, the words died on her tongue. She could imagine the look in his eyes, the crushed expression of betrayal. The same look she used to enjoy seeing in Taylor’s.

    She couldn’t bear seeing it in her father’s eyes.

    The door swung open, and Jonas Crick, the best lawyer her father could buy, looked at her severely. He was an older man, balding and grizzled. His voice was quiet as he spoke. “Well. This is a mess.” With a sigh, he took a seat at the table, across from the pair. He set down the file folder in this hands and opened it.

    “I understand this is a trying time for you both.” He looked to Emma. “You’ve been accused of a long list of charges, young lady. Evidence is coming in as they investigate. I’ll be blunt. Things are very, very bad on your end, and as the police and PRT analyse the evidence, more charges are likely to show up. At the moment, though, so far you’re looking at thirty years, perhaps more, depending on what they can get to stick.”

    Her father swallowed. “What do they have right now?”

    Jonas took a moment to rub his eyes, careful not to dislodge his glasses. “Frankly? A lot. The evidence linking the death of Taylor Hebert was uncovered by a newly-triggered parahuman. At the moment, their identity is classified, but they’re not charging either of you just on their word. They’re putting forth charges based on the evidence found by their testimony. The case was reopened and is being investigated by both the BBPD and the PRT, due to both the new parahuman’s involvement and Madison Clements’ confession and testimony about what happened. Here’s what we know as what follows. Sophia Hess, also known as Shadow Stalker, is in custody, and she has claimed under interrogation that you, she and Madison conspired to kill Taylor.”

    Emma’s breath caught, and she felt the blood drain from her face. “S-she’s lying! We didn’t!”

    Jonas sighed. “We’re fairly sure she is lying. Apparently Armsmaster has a lie detector with fairly good accuracy. Issue is, such devices and their results aren’t reproducible, and they don’t count as evidence in any court of law. That prevents people from being arrested and convicted just on a Tinker’s say-so. They can, however, be used to help discover admissible evidence. At the moment, Madison’s role in this is being worked through, but due to her confession and her repentant attitude, she’s likely to get a reduced sentence. That may change if it’s found she lied to the authorities, but that’s how things stand as they are at the moment. Right now, the PRT is examining Sophia’s phone, her laptop, as well as yours and Madison’s. They’ve also exhumed Taylor’s grave, verifying the identity of the victim, as well as reconstructed much of the events that led to her death.”

    Emma swallowed. “It was Sophia who did it. She pushed Taylor into the locker. She put the pads and tampons in there. I had no idea.” If she hadn’t done it, Taylor would still be alive. She was the hero, she should have known better than me what someone can go through before...before...

    Jonas, thankfully, seemed to be ignorant of Emma’s train of thought. His voice was quiet as he spoke. “I believe you. Things still don’t look good, however. What’s known at this point is enough for them to charge you with second-degree murder. They don’t believe you intended to kill her, but with the long-running bullying campaign, the retrieved emails sent to the victim, the state of Taylor’s body when she was discovered... it’s turned a lot of opinion against you. Our best option is to request a judge to arbitrate for sentencing, even with a plea deal, rather than going to trial.”

    Alan frowned, his voice filled with a combination of anger and worry. “Not fighting this out? My daughter is innocent. There’s no way she could do this to Taylor, they were friends for years!”

    The point is that you’re a loser.”

    The words seemed to hit Taylor as surely as any physical blow, unable to keep the tears from welling up in her eyes. “...Even if it’s just a flute and a memory, maybe I wanted to feel like I had some backup here. I thought you were better than that, screwing with me on that level.”

    I guess you’re wrong.” Emma said, feeling...reassured, as she spoke the words that burned her old friendship away irrevocably. She didn’t enjoy the moment, precisely... but as she cemented her path, things made sense. “Doesn’t look like she’s offering you any backup at all.”

    The memory made Emma feel sick. But she was still helpless. Trapped. She had to escape. She had to get free of here. Even her father couldn’t help. He wouldn’t help if he knew the truth. Nobody would. Who possibly could? It wouldn’t help Taylor now...

    Emma’s voice was quiet as she spoke, her heart feeling like lead. “I... I broke off my friendship with Taylor because of Sophia. I followed her, she was a hero, she saved our lives... I didn’t know that she was crazy. I didn’t know that she’d do these things. I just... all I did was tease Taylor, I swear. I didn’t hurt her. I didn’t kill her. Sophia did. After Taylor was dead... she threatened me, she threatened Madison. She threatened our families. I kept quiet because of that.”

    Alan looked unhappy at that, his face turning angry as he looked at her. “What the hell happened, Emma?”

    That expression seemed to sear into her very soul, and Emma could only duck her head. “I’m sorry. I’m not proud of the things I did. But I didn’t kill Taylor. I didn’t want her dead. I was just... I’m not sure what I was doing. I was just so scared. I... I’m sorry. I couldn’t say anything about... what was happening.”

    Emma told everything about Sophia, about how they met. Sophia’s philosophy, how it drove Emma to reject Taylor in order to be closer to the then-independent hero. She downplayed everything she did, every idea for the torment she inflicted on Taylor. It was stretching the truth, but what else could she do? They’d believe it, and there wasn’t anything left to show that it wasn’t true. Sophia had deleted her texts, and Emma had cleared out the emails sent from her computer. It came down to her word against Sophia’s, and she simply had more to work with.

    After she’d finished, Jonas sat there, thinking. Then he scowled. “Capes make everything much more complicated than they need to be. This case is just the worst instance I’ve had. Then there’s the damned bureaucracy, it’s like trying to squeeze water out of a stone while hiking up Everest without any equipment.” He sighed, looking tired. “I won’t lie. This is going to take a while, even if we simply arbitrate rather than fight it out in court. And it takes time to go through the evidence, sort through files, tally up reports... this is going to take months, at least. Right now, the prosecution considers you both flight risks.”

    Alan spoke, his voice hard. “We aren’t runners. We fight.”

    Jonas shot him a look. “Mister Barnes, please. This is important. At the moment, I’m not cleared for all the classified information that the prosecution is bringing. I’m working on that. But when I brought up the possibility of bail for the both of you, I was shut down. Until the things are cleared, I won’t even be allowed to set you two in a nice little motel room. They think there’s a chance the both of you will cut and run. That, legally, is all they need.”

    Alan took a deep breath, then nodded slowly. “There’s got to be avenues we haven’t tried yet. I can’t accept that we’re denied even the possibility without explanation.”

    Jonas frowned, looking frustrated. “I’m not sure what else I can try.”

    Emma’s voice was weak, faint as she spoke. “What if I agreed to stay? I mean, they’re throwing the worst of things at me, right?” She looked at her father, feeling her lip tremble. “I’m the one they want. Just...let my dad go. I don’t really care anymore. He didn’t do anything.”

    Jonas looked at Emma for a long moment. Then he spoke softly. “I’ll bring it up in the next meeting with the judge. In the meantime... think on what you want to do. Fight it out, plead guilty, or arbitrate and argue through the charges. We still have time while they tally the evidence up, and we need to do everything we can to refute what they have. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Regardless, I need to get through the paperwork. We need to compile everything we can before we can decide whether to go to trial or not.”

    Alan frowned, anger in his voice. “Wait, we might not even get to trial?”

    Jonas glared at him. “Yes, that may very well be the best course of action. This isn’t a television drama, Mister Barnes. Frankly, getting to trial is actually the worst-case scenario here. Dramatics and tricks may work in a courtroom. They don’t work in an arbitration case, and the legal system as a whole does not like people trying to pull dramatic tricks to make their case. The more evidence we can shoot down before it reaches the point before we even think about going to trial, the better. As much as I may grumble about the speed of the bureaucracy, in this instance, we want it to take as much time as possible.”

    Alan nodded. “And if we do go to trial?”

    A sigh from Jonas. “Then my suggestion for you is to go with a judge presiding, instead of judgement by jury. First of all, our best defense would be in airing as much classified information as we have. A jury trial won’t go over very well, especially not here in Brockton Bay. If even one member of the jury has Empire leanings, they’ll use that information to hunt down Miss Hess’ family. As it is they’re going to be taken into Witness Protection, but the fewer people who have to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements, the better. We’re more likely to get some leniency, as well. Judges are more likely to get angry at the parahuman who’s working the system than an ordinary girl.” His lips tightened. “It could go bad, though. Trials are messy things, and avoiding it would be best. Still, I’ll arbitrate with the judge and prosecution for as long as I need to. Depending on what they find, a plea may end up with a fairly short sentence. Minors don’t tend to get charged for long sentences... but this is not a usual case. It’s a serious list of charges, and I’m not sure how the judge will take things.”

    Emma nodded, feeling hollow. “I know. But I’m not spending more years behind bars for what Sophia did. She threatened my family, it’s the only reason I kept quiet. I’m not going to suffer for her. I’ll accept a few charges, but I am going to fight the big ones. I... I treated Taylor badly when we drifted apart, but I never wanted her dead.”

    Alan gently squeezed her hand.

    The warmth of his skin on hers should have been reassuring. Instead, it felt leaden.

    Two days later, Alan was allowed to stay with Zoe under house arrest.


    -----------------

    May 1, 2011

    “Barnes? You’ve got a visitor.”

    Emma looked up. A visitor?

    Her mind was in a whirl as she was brought over to the visiting booths. A pane of reinforced glass separated her from the other side of the room, and Emma gingerly took a seat on the stool that was bolted to the ground.

    The door swung open, and Faith strode in. Emma’s mouth dried at the sight of her. Of all the people, she hadn’t expected her.

    The other girl’s face was expressionless as she sat down, picking up the phone on the side of the booth.

    Emma blinked, then flushed a bit as she picked up her own. She hadn’t noticed it.

    “Hey,” Faith spoke, sounding tired. “Figured I should come around. Took a while to get the bus fare, though.” A twitch on Faith’s lips. “How you holding up?”

    Emma swallowed. “Okay, I guess. I’m feeling a bit claustrophobic.”

    A moment of silence passed. Emma shifted uncomfortably as she realized what she’d just said.

    Faith dipped her head forward a little, her fingers tight around the phone. “So you really killed a girl, huh?”

    Emma shut her eyes. It was better than seeing the other girl’s eyes. Slowly, Emma nodded, her voice thick as she spoke. “It was stupid. A prank gone bad. I just... I don’t know what I was thinking. It all seemed to make sense at the time.”

    Faith’s chuckled slightly. “Lot of bad ideas sound like good ones at the time.” She sighed. “Obviously, you never thought it through.”

    Emma nodded slowly, opening her eyes. “Yeah. I just... I’ve got no idea what to do.”

    Faith shrugged. “That’s the bitch about prison. You don’t have very many options.” She gently tapped the glass. “You still have choices to make, though.”

    Emma furrowed her brow, shaking her head. “Like what? I can’t do much from inside a cell.”

    Faith shook her head. “Yeah, you don’t have many options. But you can still choose what kind of person you want to be. You killed a girl. It might have been dumb, you might not have meant it. But you did it. Accept it. Learn from it. Take your lumps, and while it’s not going to be fun, own up to what you did.”

    Emma’s lip trembled. “But I did.”

    Faith lifted an eyebrow. “Did you? Then why did the feds pull you out of your place, instead of you heading down to the cops to confess? Did you even try to give any closure to that girl’s family? Or did you just run from what you did?”

    The words struck like a physical blow.

    Madison confessed. She was still in the city with Sophia, right there, and she stepped forward. What did I do? I just tried to forget it. I never tried. I was... I was too afraid because of what would happen to me. I never thought about what I was doing to Taylor.

    Faith nodded slowly, looking satisfied. “Yeah, you got my point. Running don’t fix any problems. Not like this. You fucked up. It can be hard as fuck facing that. Point is, even if you can’t fix what you did, you owe it to that girl, and you owe it to yourself. Even if you spend the rest of your life being a jailbird, you still get to pick what kind of person you are. You can run, until everything drips away. Or you can confront what you did.”

    Emma nodded slowly. “You mean fight.”

    Faith laughed softly. “Yeah. Just you gotta fight your own dumbass self. Own up. Can’t fix it, maybe, but if you try, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror.” She shrugged. “Or maybe you’re a shameless bitch. Maybe you don’t give a shit about who you are. Maybe the girl I got to know over the last couple months was a complete lie.” She tapped the glass again. “You figure that out.”

    Faith hung up the phone. Emma could only sit there, until she was brought back to her cell.


    -----------------

    May 4, 2011

    The three pages in front of Emma seemed to be so small, so frail, so insignificant.

    She looked up at Jonas, her voice soft. “Fifteen years? That’s...”

    He folded his hands, looking angry. “That is the best I can do. I can’t get anything less than that. And it’s all because you lied to me and your father.”

    Emma swallowed. “W-what?”

    His gaze was serious as he looked straight at her. “As a courtesy, I didn’t tell your father about this just yet. He hired me to be your representative, and it is in that capacity I’m acting. I can’t bargain any less than fifteen years because of evidence they found on your cell phone and your computer.”

    Emma’s stomach dropped into the floor. Her mouth gaped as she tried to form words, and couldn’t.

    Jonas scowled, leaning forward slightly. “I’m quite aware that you’re a teenager. You probably don’t know the first thing about computers and data storage beyond the fact they let you do things. Data that gets deleted? It’s not actually gone until the hard drive fills it. It isn’t gone until it’s overwritten. With the right Tinker, it’s not even gone then. They recovered the details about your little text conversation with Sophia. They recovered every email you sent to Taylor, every taunt, every time you encouraged her to kill herself. Christ, kid, if you weren’t a minor, the judge would have insisted on thirty years for this. It’s only the fact you’re a minor that I was able to bargain down to fifteen in a minimum security prison. Had you been three years older, there would have been nothing I could do. They'd have hit you with thirty years with all the charges.”

    It took a long moment for Emma to speak, her voice faint and weak. “What can I do?”

    He looked at her seriously. “You take the punishment. Officially you won’t be sentenced until we manage to straighten things out for your father. He’s pleading ignorance about your actions, and the more we keep things separate, the better.” With a tired sigh, he shook his head. “For what it’s worth, kid? There’s nothing more I can do for you. I suggest you talk to your father, come clean, before I have to.”

    Slowly, Emma’s gaze dropped to the pages in front of her.

    Leadenly, she picked up the pen.


    -----------------

    Alan stared at her.

    Emma swallowed as she ducked her head, unable to meet his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

    It took long minutes, but finally, he managed to say something. “I’m not the one you should be apologizing to, Emma.”

    She shuddered, the tone of his voice striking her to the core.

    What hurt most was the look in his eyes. The disappointment. The pain. He’d lost his illusion of his good little girl. He looked uncertain, like the world made no sense anymore.

    Emma ducked her head, unable to meet her father’s eyes any longer. She barely noticed as he left.


    -----------------

    May 17, 2011

    Emma stared at the screen.

    It was impossible. Simply impossible. The Simurgh was dead.

    For Emma’s entire life, the Endbringers had been. They always attacked, always fought, always seemed unstoppable. And now, one of them was dead. Gone.

    Even she, locked in her cell, had been allowed to watch the final ten minutes of the Simurgh’s life, as the capes in Vancouver fought her. But it was two who killed her. One wasn’t that much of a surprise, after all, it was Dragon, the world’s most famous Tinker, and she probably had built some kind of system or gadget that finally managed the seemingly impossible.

    It was the other that made Emma feel cold. Scarlet Knight, who turned into a massive red dragon. Twice as tall as the Simurgh, far more massive, dark, violent, and seemingly unstoppable. Despite how terrifying her power seemed to be, however, at first, Emma had been overjoyed. A hero, though dark and terrible, had managed to do, to deliver, what nobody had dared to dream about for well over a decade.

    Hope.

    Even Emma had felt that hope. Even if she had nothing to look forward to but a cold cell for... ever, for one, shining moment, she felt hope.

    And then came the speech from Scarlet Knight, naming herself as Scarlet Dragon afterward. Helmet off, white hair shining under the lights, red eyes looking out into the crowd, crimson red skin.

    I’m saying this now. I was the Scarlet Knight, your protector. I am now the Scarlet Dragon, and I am still your protector. And I am not alone. I am here to stand between you and things like the Endbringers. My powers may be scary to you. I can’t change that. But I am fighting for you. My powers were given to me for a reason, and I’m choosing to use them to help those of you who can’t help yourselves.

    After all.” A horribly, painfully familiar smile rose on the red, monstrous cape’s face. “Just because someone is dark, doesn’t mean they’re the bad guy. There are beautiful things in the night as well as in the day, and I will be standing between those monsters in the dark and the light of our civilization.”

    “Taylor,” Emma breathed.

    One small part of her heart was filled with hope. The hope that she hadn’t killed her former friend.

    The rest was of sheer dread. The dread that she had, and the universe itself reared up in anger over her crime.


    -----------------

    Jonas was stone-faced as he listened to Emma’s words. The theory she’d built. She didn’t have much information, but she had enough. At least, if it was true.

    Alan looked between them. “If this is true, then we’re good, right? They can’t charge my daughter with a murder when the victim is still alive. At the least it would mitigate things somewhat, shouldn’t it?”

    Slowly, Jonas took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Parahumans make everything a complete mess. I’ve been through more forms and pages in the last month trying to get everything straightened out than I’d ever hoped I’d ever see. Crossing state lines, the involvement of a Ward as a suspect, even with that suspect no longer in custody, the classified information I’ve had to sign dozens of Non-Disclosure Agreements for...” He peered, almost owlishly, at Emma. “You’re sure about this? That Scarlet Knight is Taylor?”

    Emma nodded. “I know her face. I know her voice. I don’t know how, but it’s her. She’s red, and her hair’s white, and she looks like she’s been airbrushed, but... it’s her. I know it.”

    Jonas’ face was hard. “Christ. All right. I’ll be back in about half an hour. I need to make some calls and get some papers copied.”

    Emma’s heart raced with excitement as he left. She wasn’t sure if it was the rush of possible freedom or dread that rushed over her, but her heart pounded all the same.

    After a long moment of silence, Alan spoke softly. “How are they treating you here, Emma?”

    She swallowed, licking her lips. “Okay. I’m given things to read, a small TV to watch. How’s mom and Anne?”

    His voice was quiet. “They’re doing okay, given the circumstances. They miss you.” His mouth opened and closed, looking uncertain before he finished. “Zoe has a hard time believing all this, Emma. That you did things to Taylor. That you did anything to Taylor.”

    Her father’s words felt like they were scraping a knife over a fresh wound. Emma shivered as she spoke. “I’m not proud of it, dad. At the time, what I was doing felt like it made sense. After a while I just kept doing it because I was used to doing it. I...” Her tongue felt thick, as she swallowed the lump in her throat. “I didn’t hurt her physically, but I hurt her a lot, dad. And I can’t make up for it. Even if she’s actually alive, I can’t say I’m sorry. She wouldn’t believe it.” Emma slumped in her chair as she finished her thought, her voice quiet. “I wouldn’t believe it, either.”

    The words hung in the air. Long minutes passed in silence before Jonas returned. He set down a stack of forms in front of father and daughter, at least six inches thick, and held out two pens.

    “Start reading and signing.” Jonas said with obvious annoyance. “This is going to take a while.”

    Alan stared at the stack as he took the offered pen, his voice faint. “The forms I signed for Shadow Stalker were a lot thinner.”

    Jonas’ lip twitched upward. “Welcome to parahuman law. Everything should be clear on the next meeting with the judge. Until then, I can’t say anything further.”


    -----------------

    May 22, 2011

    “All right. Let’s lay it out.” Judge Anderson spoke. The man was in his sixties, his dark skin contrasting with the off-white of the wall behind him. “This has been a bureaucratic wrangle ever since this whole thing started. It didn’t help with Bakuda bombing the damn city.” He rubbed the side of his face, a recent scar prominent in his skin.

    Jonas’ voice was firm as he spoke two words. “They know.”

    The judge, and the prosecutor, Laura Davis, shared a look. After a moment, Laura spoke, her voice carefully neutral. “I do believe you have our attention.”

    Jonas opened a file folder, placing it on the judge’s desk. “I want to state for the record that I protest the issues with the laws concerning a parahuman’s right to protect their identity when it comes up against an accused’s right to confront their accuser.”

    Judge Anderson nodded. “So noted. Unfortunately without a Supreme Court ruling, it isn’t going to get anywhere.” He looked over Alan and Emma, his gaze cold and assessing. “Miss Davis, you may present the full briefing of information to our defendants.”

    Laura nodded with a frown on her lips. “Here is what we know. On the morning of January the Eighth, Taylor Hebert’s corpse was discovered in her locker by the school janitor, who had arrived to clean up for the weekend. Her identity was confirmed by comparing her DNA with samples at her home. The measures were necessary, because the insects in the locker had eaten away at her. Her eyes were devoured, there was very little of her face left, and nearly thirty percent of her body was consumed by the insects inside.”

    Emma’s heart leapt up into her throat.

    Don’t worry Taylor. They’ll keep you company for a while. You needed to make new friends anyway.”

    Laura’s voice went on, unknowing about the train of Emma’s thoughts. “After she was cleaned up, the coroner did an autopsy. It was difficult to determine the exact cause of death, but the high levels of stress hormones in her blood, the bacteria that had contaminated her wounds, and the venom from the various species of spiders all contributed. In the end, the stress was the final straw, and her heart failed. Unusual in a teenager, but considering the circumstances, not out of the realm of possibility.” Laura opened a manilla folder in front of her, and Emma couldn’t help but flinch at the sight of the skeletal, grisly photos she got a glimpse of.

    If it wasn’t for the curly, long brown hair, Emma could almost have believed it was of someone else. A nearly bare skull looked back at her through the photo. It was hard to see the photographs, the plain evidence of her crime lain out in front of her. “Th-then how?”

    Laura glared at her, then continued. “On April fourth, early in the morning, one Daniel Hebert called the PRT. He claimed his daughter had returned from the dead. After a rather exciting misunderstanding, her identity was confirmed by two factors. Her DNA comparison, which matched both her father and the DNA still on file from the previous investigation, though that took a while longer. Her grave was exhumed, confirming that she was not a clone, dimensional analogue, or simply mistaken.”

    The next set of pictures made Emma pale. An open coffin, the lining torn, clear evidence of someone having punched and kicked at the interior from the inside.

    Alan was pale as he spoke. “That...that’s not possible. We were there, at her funeral. We couldn’t have buried her alive. It was two weeks after she...”

    A twitch on Laura’s lips. “As far as we can tell, she wasn’t buried alive. She was dead when she was pulled out of the locker. She was dead on the autopsy table. She was dead when she was put in the ground. We have a great deal of evidence supporting all these points. And then, after three months in the grave, she awakened and teleported out. The first power she showed. I’m fairly sure she’s shown a lot more since. Especially since she, apparently, killed the damned Simurgh.”

    Judge Anderson spoke, his voice harsh. “Even before that happened, I was taking this case very seriously. Now, at this point, I’m getting pressure from up the chain to push things along.” He stared at Emma, a frown on his face. “This crime is quite a terrible one, young lady. Most of the issues here have been about the minutiae of legal issues. I’ve been wrangling back and forth between your lawyer and the prosecution over hypothetical problems for weeks, as this is a case that may set precedent for future cases involving parahumans.”

    The ground swirled under Emma. She would have easily fallen over, if it weren’t for the chair.

    Alan looked back and forth between the judge, prosecution, and defense lawyer. “What’s the issue, precisely? If she is alive, why are we still facing a wrongful death charge? It’s ludicrous.”

    Laura looked at him, her tone serious. “This isn’t a case where someone was missing and presumed dead, Mister Barnes. We had a corpse. She didn’t get taken out, brought to the hospital in a coma. She was either dead, or close enough to dead to fool everyone, for the two weeks she was under the eye of medical professionals and forensics professionals. She had a death certificate. She didn’t get up during examination the day she was found. She clawed at the interior of her coffin two and a half months after being put in it. That a death occurred is very clear, and that it was undone by parahuman power doesn’t change the fact that we had her corpse.”

    Then Jonas spoke, sounding tired. “I’ve been wrangling over this the whole time. There’s three reasons why I wasn’t able to get less than a manslaughter charge. When the PRT was founded and parahuman law had to be written, the hypothetical was brought up about how we might deal with a situation like this. If a parahuman had, for example, a cloning power used to secure his civilian identity and an assailant killed the clone. Or if a parahuman turned up with the power to regenerate, however slowly, that they were out of commission for a long period. Charges would still apply to the assailant, concerning murder to the appropriate degree.”

    Judge Anderson nodded. “I’m reluctant to set the precedent here, but I find myself forced to, regardless.” He looked at Emma seriously, his eyes narrow with consideration. “Did you or Sophia have any idea that Taylor was a parahuman before this? Before January?”

    Emma couldn’t help but feel confusion, laying on top of the feeling of fear. “No. No idea.”

    Laura spoke, her voice cold. “She has stated that the experience in the locker was her trigger event. That’s the second reason I can’t drop the charge. When she was pushed into that locker and eaten alive by those insects, she was not a parahuman. She had no powers. When the assailants did it, as far as they knew, they were doing it to an ordinary teenage girl, not someone who could simply endure the experience, or escape it, or break out of it. If Taylor had been an ordinary person, she would simply be dead, now. That her power revived her, and so spectactularly at that, is a simple stroke of luck. A crime was committed. That the worst part of that crime was undone by powers we don’t understand doesn’t change the crime.”

    Alan clenched his teeth. “You can’t put my daughter away for fifteen years! I can fight you on this! I don’t care what it takes. One phone call to the press and everyone knows who she is.”

    Laura looked at him with disapproval. “Mister Barnes. You don’t have a legal or sane position to stand on, here. Scarlet Dragon is a powerful parahuman. One who was victimized by your daughter, and is only alive because of parahuman powers which we do not understand, only can deal with. Secondly, revealing the identity of a hero who wishes to keep their identity secret, even an independent, carries hefty jailtime as it opens up their families to retaliation. And she’s made enemies. On her first day awake, she defeated Lung. A few weeks later, she broke Bakuda’s siege of the city. And now she’s killed the Simurgh. There are people who will want to harm or kill her, because of what she’s done. If they can’t kill her, they’d kill her family. Because of that, we are protecting her identity as seriously as any Protectorate cape. Third, we have a responsibility to keep all parties alive and healthy, as much as possible. The reason your daughter hasn’t been allowed out on house arrest isn’t because we have a grudge against her. It was for her protection. How do you think a parahuman who had gone through not one but two immensely traumatic experiences in short order at the hands of your daughter would react on seeing her out and free? Especially since we have had no way of knowing how stable she might be after such an experience?”

    Alan took a deep breath, then shuddered, his face going pale.

    Laura nodded. “And now she’s amassing a great deal of political capital. Hell, public opinion is on her side, even though she looks like Satan’s daughter. Releasing her civilian identity? Odds are pretty damn good her father will be killed by an Endbringer cultist or the Slaughterhouse Nine or kidnapped by someone, anyone, who would want to get control over her. I’ve no doubt the Protectorate’s trying what they can to ensure she stays on their side. Hell, she’s too powerful to force to do anything, and nobody sane would want to.”

    Alan clenched his hands. As he sucked in a deep breath, he was interrupted.

    “Dad. It’s okay.” It was the hardest words Emma had ever spoken.

    Alan looked at her, anger on his face. “You don’t know what you’re saying, Emma. This is your life we’re talking about.”

    Emma nodded, her voice faint. “I know. I know it is, Dad. But I did these things...you didn’t. I hurt Taylor. I... I didn’t do the right thing. For all we knew, she was actually, really dead, and I... I didn’t do anything. You pulled us out of the city, and all I could think about was that I got away with it.” She swallowed, tears running down her cheeks. “I... I just don’t care anymore. I don’t deserve to be out and free after what I did. I don’t want to see you go down for what I did, Dad.”

    Silence reigned in the room for a long moment. Then, finally, the anger drained away from Alan, leaving a tired, resigned man who looked ten years older than his actual age. “You’re my daughter, Emma. I can’t not try.”

    She smiled faintly, weakly. “I know.” She looked at Judge Anderson. “I’ll accept the plea bargain as it stands. I’m asking you to believe me... my Dad didn’t know any of it. Sophia saved us once. He repaid that. She hurt Taylor, threatened Madison and I, and our families, but before all that... she helped us. He couldn’t have known what she’d do.”

    Judge Anderson nodded slowly. "I'll take that into consideration."


    -----------------

    August 6, 2011

    Well Emma, welcome to the second week of the next fifteen years. And you’re lying here, staring at a book you don’t care to remember, bored out of your mind.

    She would serve three years in a juvenile hall facility. Then she would be transferred to a minimum security prison for the twelve after that. Considering everything, she got off lightly, and she knew it.

    Her cell wasn’t extravagant, but it was comfortable. She was allowed books, and a few hours of supervised internet access every day. She had never been a very big reader, that had been Taylor’s thing, but she wasn’t about to complain about it. She’d either learn to enjoy reading or learn to enjoy watching the walls or count dots in the ceiling.

    Books didn’t sound so bad, then.

    A knock echoed on her cell door, and one of the guards was standing there. The big man looked at her, annoyance on his face. “Visitor for you, Barnes.”

    Emma blinked, then smiled as she figured that Faith or Mom or Anne might be visiting. It would be good to see them. Setting the book aside, she got to her feet, letting herself get escorted to the meeting room.

    It was a simple enough room. Nothing extravagant, just a few uncomfortable chairs, a metal table bolted to the floor, the wallpaper designed to resemble wood, though it was just wallpaper. Brick was behind the thin wall of plaster. Nothing but the cheapest for the Johnson Correctional Facility For Youths.

    Emma settled into the chair, closing her eyes as she settled in. It was difficult, looking forward to the next fifteen years here, or in places like this. But there wasn’t anything else she could do.

    The door clicked open, and Emma opened her eyes. Blood rushed away from her face as she took in the sight. Her heart hammered as she struggled to breathe.

    Taylor settled into the chair opposite. She wore a red jacket, black shirt. She looked pale, but otherwise unchanged from the last time she’d seen her former friend. Not red-skinned, not beautiful, just...almost painfully ordinary. The lack of her glasses, the lack of faint squinting Emma had always known from Taylor, seemed to change her face.

    “Hello, Emma.” Taylor spoke, her voice cold.

    Emma swallowed. “T-Taylor. I h-heard you came back.”

    “No thanks to you.” Taylor took a moment to sweep her eyes up and down, examining Emma’s orange prisoner suit. “Prison clothing suits you.” Her lip twitched slightly. “Personally, I’d have put you in a sack. Preferably the itchiest one around, but I suppose that wouldn’t actually solve anything.”

    Emma’s hands trembled, struggling to gather her voice. Finally, she managed softly. “Why are you here?”

    Taylor tilted her head slightly. “Lots of reasons. But here’s the main one.” She leaned forward, her voice dropping an octave, the iris of her eyes turning red. “Why did you kill me?”

    Emma shuddered, pulling back onto her seat. “I didn’t mean to. B-but you’re okay, now, right?”

    Her eyes went entirely red, glowing faintly with a hellish light. “Okay? I died because of you. You know what I remember? You laughing as you walked away, even as I begged for someone, anyone, to let me out. I remember the bugs that had colonized your little prank. They gnawed at me while I was still alive. Do you have any idea how it feels to feel thousands of tiny little jaws biting, feeding, feasting on your flesh? The pain, the sickness as that shit in that locker filled my wounds?”

    Emma couldn’t pull back any further, feeling like a rabbit with a broken leg staring into the eyes of a hungry wolf.

    Taylor hissed lowly, while the room’s temperature dropped rapidly. “There’s some downsides to my state, you know. I will never have children, because of you. If it weren’t for certain abilities and help from others, I would never have a chance of growing up properly. I’d be stuck at fifteen, forever, because of you. My father nearly starved himself to death, because of you. The only reason you have the luxury of oxygen right now is because he still lived when I reawoke.” Her glare sharpened. “I asked you a question, Emma. Why did you turn on me? What was so damned important that you thought it was such a grand idea to keep on going until it left me a corpse?”

    Emma trembled, struggling to breathe as she choked the words out. “W-when you were away, at summer camp, two years ago. The ABB set a trap for me and my Dad. They nearly...”

    Nose...Eye...Mouth...well, you can hide the ears with the hair. So maybe I’ll take both. Which will it be?”

    Emma licked her lips, trying to not stare right into the cold, expressionless face of her former victim. “They wanted to use me, use us, as an initiation. A way to prove themselves to the gang. I t-tried to fight back.” She let out a bitter, helpless laugh. “They’d have killed me for it. Shadow Stalker stepped in, saved us... she taught me how to be strong. So I could fight, so I wouldn’t be stuck and weak like that again.”

    Taylor was silent for a moment. Then she nodded slowly. “So you two became friends. And when I got back from summer camp...”

    Emma’s eyes dropped to the table, unable to meet Taylor’s eyes anymore. “I could see Sophia didn’t like you. I felt... I had to break away from you. The Emma who went into that alley was weak, and y-you were a part of that. Every time I tore at you, I was trying to tear away from who I had been. I had to become strong, strong so I wouldn’t...”

    Taylor’s voice was quiet, still cold, but just slightly softer. “End up back there.”

    Emma nodded meekly, keeping her gaze downcast.

    Taylor’s fingers clinked on the table, then her voice spoke, cold and hard. “The sad part is, you were sold a lie. Sophia didn’t show you how to be strong. She didn’t teach you how to fight back or use your head. All she showed you was how fucked up she was, and you couldn't see it.” There was a slight clink of metal on metal.

    Emma’s heart leapt up into her throat as she saw the familiar flute. It had been cleaned meticulously, perhaps by seawater or perhaps by simple care, but it still showed all the damage done to it. Battered, dented, unplayable, unusable. A defiled memory of a dead mother. She looked up into Taylor’s still-glowing eyes, her heart racing with fear.

    “I see you recognize it.” Taylor spoke, her anger tightly restrained, though very visible. “I wondered whether it was you or Sophia that tossed it into the bay.”

    Somehow, the flute seemed to loom large. Beyond Taylor herself, it was the largest reminder of her crime, the biggest symbol of what she had thrown away in her efforts to be strong. Everything their friendship had been. Taylor took the flute back as Emma’s fingers reached for it, almost instinctively.

    Taylor’s voice was filled with rage as she spoke. “No. You don’t get to touch it. Not again, Emma. Never again. You’ve hurt me a thousand times over. You have no privileges. No leeway. When you get out of here, if you ever do, you’d best tread very, very carefully.”

    Emma could only cringe back, the fear nearly overpowering.

    Taylor’s eyes narrowed as she spoke, sharp fangs visible with her curled lips. “You know, when you started on your little campaign of torture on me, I’d hoped you had some good reason. Sophia twisting your head, maybe. Apparently she’s a twisted little psycho. Or even maybe something I did. Not being with you during something, or maybe even saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It would have angered me, but I could get it. But this? No. I understand completely now, Emma. It never was about me, was it? It was all about you. From the beginning. About everything. Even when we first met, it was about you.”

    The room darkened into shadow, despite the lights buzzing above them. Emma managed, barely, to strangle out.” W-wait!”

    Taylor got to her feet, shadows and darkness seeming to boil off her, burning with power. “I heard you accepted the plea bargain. Fifteen years for my life, for everything you put me through. In the world from which I gained my power, what you did would have had you burnt at the stake. You got off lightly for all this.” Her eyes flared with red light, her anger seeming to rise to a peak. “But you only chose to admit what you did after you’d been caught. Had you not been arrested, would you have ever confessed to what you did? Or would you have just tried to forget me? Forget the blood on your hands? Just have a nice, long, happy life...ignoring the corpse you left behind?”

    Emma’s mouth gaped as she tried to speak, to utter a denial. Only...she couldn’t. That...

    Taylor let out a sound of satisfaction. “I thought so. I can never forgive you for what you have done. For everything you put me through. For the fact I am dead. For what you did to my father. For the fact you tried to hide and run.” She growled, and the sound was only vaguely human. “There was a time when I would have named my daughter after you, if I ever had one. You were my sister in all but blood. Now? You broke that bond. It is only because of who I am that I am not just another corpse. I am now the Dragon. And from this moment forth, my former sister in all but blood... no matter what you accomplish, no matter what you do, no matter how much you might beg for it, I shall never forgive you. You are and forever will be beneath me.

    In a pulse of shadow, Taylor was gone.

    Emma could only sit there and sob.


    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
  5. Dr. Mercurious

    Dr. Mercurious Not too sore, are you?

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    I liked the last one very much but this...this was better, You go out of your way to show that Emma knew what she was doing was wrong, did it for her own selfish ends and didn't care about the consequences. For those who say you were too hard on Emma? If you subjected her to torture and mutilation I'd agree. This...this was no less than what Emma deserved.
     
  6. Hye

    Hye Reader of The Long Words

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    Jesus Christ. I haven't started to read yet, but 14K for an interlude for Emma? That's huge! That's "A Skittering Heart" huge. I can't wait to see what it's about

    Edit: Alright, I've read it now. Christ that was cathartic to read. Especially that last part. You are and forever will be beneath me
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2017
  7. Threadmarks: Titanomachy 8.1
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: Finally! Let’s move forward!

    Blood manipulation: Self only, but extremely versatile. Basis of the Shadow Whip, Shadow Daggers, and other things.

    Short-range teleportation: Draining, but not limited to line of sight.

    Bat Travel: Turns into dozens of bats and back again. Rather confusing, but helpful for mobility.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as some capes, but up there. M1 Abrams out of gas? I'll just push them to the gas station.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance. Unlocked!

    Flight: I believe I can touch the sky. Does it need any more description? Unlocked!

    Possession: Turns into blood, flows into some poor bastard, controls them for a period (hours at most) and when they die they explode into chunky bits. The blood has a toxic effect, so anyone possessed is doomed. (Barring unusual biology.) Unlocked!

    Fleshcrafting: Feeling a little vain? Want a whole new hair color, a bigger bust, shaplier hips, or claws to rend the flesh of your enemies? Subscribe to Vamp-New-You today! (Permits the vampire to alter their own flesh permanently at some cost to their blood. Does not permit changing of bone structure. Cannot be used on others.) Unlocked!

    Mist Form: Transform into near-invulnerable mist. Has quite a few lethal and non-lethal applications. Unlocked!

    Telekinesis: Manipulate objects at a distance through will alone. This is limited to line of sight, and is extremely limited compared to her physical strength. She can manipulate approximately thirty pounds at range to start with, and would improve with practice and imagination.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?! (Locked)

    Shadow Portal: Opens a gate to the Plane of Shadow, where Castlevania resides. Shadow Portals can be made nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Plane of Shadow. Unlocked!

    Dominate: (Not the soul-using thing) Control over others. Takes effort, and can only do so to a few at a time. Repeated and lengthy exposure, however, can make things last longer, until they are permanently enthralled. Can be resisted with willpower and can be no-selled by various techniques/powers.(Locked)

    Bat Summon: Gather swarms of bats to do thy bidding. They will follow the will of the Lady of Darkness without hesitation. Not as flexible as the Queen Administrator shard. The awareness of each bat is basic, and commands must be given to the entire swarm at once. I'm the goddamn Batman. Unlocked!

    Monstrous Form: Accesses a portion of the power available to the Scarlet Dragon's mightiest shape, while retaining the flexibility afforded by a humanoid form. However, it is clearly inhuman. Unlocked!

    Void Magic: Basis of the Void Sword. Drains life from its victims, heals and invigorates the wielder, and brings about an absolute chill. Unlocked!

    Chaos Magic: Control and manipulation of hellfire. Many can use it, but few can project it. Forms the Chaos Claws. Unlocked!

    Storm Magic: Power over electricity and the storm. An excellent method of long-range attack, and quite painful to most.

    Weather manipulation: Can control the weather to some degree, whether that is summoning or banishing clouds, or building up power to make a simple cloudy day into an actual storm. It cannot, however, bring warmth or cold on its own. She can't make a blizzard in the tropics or turn Antarctica into prime beachfront property. She can just make it sunny, cloudy, or rainy. Or snowy if the time of year's right.

    Dragon Shape: The mightiest form of the Heir of Dracul. Becomes a massive red dragon, standing at thirty feet tall. Can access amplified versions of currently unlocked magic, as well as other powers while in the form. However, it is an immense strain to hold the shape for very long. And it is not exactly friendly-looking at first glance. Godzilla (or whatever epic music of your choice!) is highly recommended.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as Taylor's potential, but certainly enough to be highly dangerous to a well-trained human.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance.

    Demonic Wings: Permits him to glide with feathery, though twisted, wings.

    Mist form: Near invulnerable mist. No mere prison can hold thee. Unless they put in a fan to blow you back in.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?!

    Chaos Magic: Alucard's is not as strong as his father's, but his skill with it is extraordinary. He can use it to teleport short distances and throw fireballs, although it is limited by line of sight and distance. (The classic SotN Hellfire spell.)

    Spectral Wolf: Similar to the wolf shape, however it is ethereal and impossible to injure. Alucard can use it to teleport from one location to another by sending the wolf forward, then replacing it. Or he can simply use it to scout and dissolve it.

    Crissaegrim abilities: A wickedly dangerous blade Alucard forged with the materials of three legendary weapons. It permits him to enshroud it with both Void and Chaos magic, as well as being extremely lethal to both holy and unholy opponents.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Unlike Dracul's counterpart power, he would arise in a century unless the process was sped along by blood. He would also arise in a more corpse-like state until he managed to feed.

    Steel Crafting: Self only. Able to mold current avatar however she likes. Tends to prefer a dragon shape, as...well, she's Dragon.

    Teleportation: Flashes out of existence in one place and reappears in another. Line of sight limited, but not distance-wise. Yes. This is overpowered. Limited to (naturally) light-speed maximum.

    Light Form: Turns into a bright solid light construct. This is difficult to maintain, but difficult to injure..

    Strength: DRAGON SMASH!

    Durability: Anybody remember that scene in Superman Returns when the bullet bounces off his eye? No? Nobody? Well, it's kinda like that.

    Healing: Can grant to self or others, and does not need an outside source. Wounds (or damage) heals rapidly.

    Flight: I could touch the sky before I changed into a goddess. Now I just don't need to spend any effort!

    Hard-Light constructs: Eat your heart out in jealousy, Green Lantern! My constructs don't get broken by lemonade!

    Telekinesis: Use the Force, Luke. Stronger than Taylor's version. Not Ziz-strength, but it's up there.

    Light Bridge: Opens a...uh, bridge to the Plane of Light. Think the MCU's version of the Bifrost. Can go from nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Light Plane.

    Human Form: If/when she feels like trying out what a ice cream tastes like.

    Light Magic: Heals and warms its users, and can be turned to be used offensively. Most effective against Dark Creatures, but still useful against other targets. Remember, the Lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi.

    Heavenly Flame Magic: The opposite of Chaos Magic. Her white fire burns, but is formed from calmness, logic. It is a fire that illuminates, but can be destructive all the same.

    Storm Magic: The point of commonality between Light and Darkness. Electricity is such a useful thing. Due to her original nature as a mechanical being, Dragon's control of it is extraordinarily precise.

    Dragon Shape: For when someone or something big really, really needs to be stomped. Is this a copied power? No! It's a completely different kind of dragon!

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century. This is common for gods.

    Vampire Killer: A simple hilt attached to a combat whip that can be slung out and controlled by an ingeniously designed retraction system. On the end of the hilt is a silver stake, perfect for killing vampires, werewolves, and lawyers. The weapon is specifically designed to kill creatures of the night, but works on anything quite well and is capable of channeling magic.

    Light Magic amulet: Allows its wearer to heal over time. Needs to be fueled by someone capable of putting magic into it, which is currently limited to Dragon and Madison. It doesn't permit Wolverine-style healing, but it lets short fights turn into long ones and wearing one overnight heals even most serious injuries. Can be sped up by forcing the magic to flow more quickly, but that drains the amulet which needs time and attention to recharge.

    Seraphic Shoulders: Creates ghostly angelic wings for a few moments, allowing Madison to catch herself in the air or glide.

    Heavenly Gauntlet: A black (I know, it clashes!) gauntlet that generates white fire, equal to that of the fires of Hell.

    Cyclone Boots: Allows high-speed running, jumping, and as a bonus, permits its wearer to take long falls without breaking their legs. Yes, all she needs is a Portal Gun.

    Silver Daggers: Small, easily palmable, and crafted for a nasty surprise attack. Yes, it can hurt a lot to suddenly have a knife in your throat, whether you're a werewolf or not.

    Holy Water: Water that's been exposed to sunlight and had Light Magic channeled through it. Does nothing against most people, would really tick off Taylor and Alucard. When used with Light Magic channeled through its user, forms a light-shield to ward off attacks and really tick off vampires.


    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    I really needed a bath. So I took one. Luckily, I had options. So I revisited the ancient bathhouse, as I needed to unwind and the castle was nicely accommodating. It was helpful to have a sentient castle working for you, at times. Though she was a bit stubborn about updating things.

    Since my first dream of the castle, I hadn’t come back here with the intent to immerse myself in blood. The revulsion at the idea of immersing myself in blood seemed to be something that remained from my days as a living being. Having died being trapped in a locker filled with rotted blood and hygiene products didn’t help. As a vampire, though, the idea was appealing, even alluring, which was even weirder with the revulsion added to it. I both wanted and hated the idea of bathing in blood.

    Still, the blood was formed from my power. Basking in it felt good in a way I didn’t have the words to describe. I sank myself beneath the surface of the hot blood, allowing it to soak into my skin, my hair, my very being.

    Well, there goes the revulsion bit. I felt awesome. It was almost enough to make me completely forget about Emma.

    Almost.

    I could see her in my mind’s eye. For one moment, I could see the friend I had for all those years. The one friend I had when I was still alive. But the memory was tainted, not just by what she’d done to me before that last act that killed me. It was the knowledge that, even when were kids, Emma never really cared about me. All she cared about was herself.

    It was hard, facing that. The friendship I had so treasured, the friendship that she used to cut into me so deeply...had never really been all that important to her. The Emma Barnes who made my life hell was the broken remnants of a person, but the person she was before being broken wasn’t who I thought she was.

    Aaand...there were hands on my back. Gentle, caressing hands, but hands all the same. I floated to the surface, wiped the blood from my eyes, and looked over my shoulder.

    Of course. I should have guessed.

    “Hello, Meridia.” I sighed.

    She smiled a little mischievously, her form mostly obscured by the literal blood bath she’d invited herself into. “Greetings, My Lady. I sensed you were upset.” Her hands stroked their way over my skin, gentle, cool, but soothing. Stroke. Stroke. Strooooke. That felt way too good considering how simple her motions were.

    I sighed again. “Meridia, keep those hands above my shoulders.”

    She pouted, but moved her hands back upwards, kneading her fingers into my shoulders. “What has you so upset, My Lady?”

    I stayed silent for a moment as her fingers kneaded into my flesh. I could feel she had to press pretty hard, my flesh and skin resisting her fingers somewhat, but...oh, yeah, that felt good.

    Finally, I spoke. “I saw the one who killed me. The one who betrayed me. It dredged up a lot of memories. I found out why she did it...and I saw who she really was. And an ugly part of her that always had been. I’m just...” I sighed as I tried to gather my thoughts. “There’s a part of me that misses the friend I once had. It’s small, but there. I’m wondering just how much of that person was real. What we could have been if she hadn’t been broken.”

    Meridia’s fingers stilled for a moment, then she rubbed the back of my neck. When she spoke, her voice was soft. “You are thinking like him, My Lady.”

    I looked over my shoulder, frowning.

    Meridia sighed and shook her head, her white hair stirring in the blood somewhat. “Our Lord Dracul made us for many reasons, My Lady. But it was plain to see that he had many regrets. In between the rampages and campaigns, he returned to privacy in the castle. Sometimes, we would not see him for weeks. But always, he would return, forlorn, lost, sad... and then it would return to rage and he would launch another campaign, another plan, to kill as many of Solin’s followers as he could.”

    I closed my eyes for a moment, thinking, considering, remembering what he had showed me. While Dracul had showed me a lot of his life, his experience, he didn’t share everything. Still, it was enough for me to realize what Meridia was talking about. “He spent a lot of his time brooding over what he’d lost, the life he could have had, wishing things could have been different.”

    Meridia’s fingers stroked over my shoulders. “And over the centuries, such brooding consumed him. It is plain to know he had regrets, My Lady, though he didn’t share them. There is a time and place for regrets, but it is easy for them to consume a person. Lord Dracul never thought of the future, beyond his vendetta. I believe you would wish for more than he, My Lady.”

    I nodded slowly, letting out a sigh. “Yeah. It’s just...”

    Meridia chuckled softly. “The past is an issue, My Lady. I would not presume to tell you what you might do with it. Simply know this. You are now the Lady of Darkness. Among the gods, your power has only one equal in potential. It is my hope you will use it well, but to do so, a clear mind and a strong soul are required. Regardless of your desires, your hands will shape the future of your world. I think it would be best if you looked forward. Put the betrayer behind you. Make a choice about her if you will, but move on once it is made. Dwelling upon it serves nothing.”

    I drew in a deep breath, chuckling slightly. “For a demon of lust, Meridia, you’ve got a good point.”

    Her voice was filled with amusement. “I am a demon of desire, My Lady, and desire must be sophisticated enough to understand what it wants, beyond the immediate.” She chuckled. “Though immediate desires are fun, too. But a desire denied, or repressed, for a time before its release...ah. That is most exquisite.”

    I closed my eyes, letting the tension bleed out of me as I relaxed against Meridia’s gentle fingers.

    Much as I enjoyed the time here, relaxing while basking in my own power, I had things to do. Though, maybe another five minutes...

    I cleared my throat. “Meridia. Hands.”

    She sounded embarrassed, her hands moving back up again. “Apologies, My Lady.”

    Right. Enough of that. “I appreciate the talk, but please, get out.”

    Meridia sloshed her way out of the bath, dripping blood, and I was careful not to look her way. I needed time alone. Because reasons.

    Stupid sexy succubus.

    ------------------

    “You’re sure they’re not dead?”

    Death looked at me, a long-suffering and somewhat annoyed look in his eyes. “Yes, I am fairly certain neither Coil nor Apostle is dead. Neither of their souls have come into my hands, in any of the universes your world is connected to and through. The powers of the Abominations make things difficult in places, but I am fairly certain they aren’t dead just yet.”

    I sighed, tapping my fingers on my desk, settling back into the too-comfortable chair. Dracul’s study was so very nice. Skull-paperweights aside.

    After a moment’s consideration, I spoke. “Is there a way they could be dead and you not know it, Death?”

    After a long moment, he nodded. “One way. Only one I am aware of, at any rate. If their soul was destroyed before they died. Then there would be naught for me to harvest, nothing to bring to where it belongs. Only faint whispers of the soul, at best, and it is simple for such to get lost, gathered within the essence and life of every thing around. Souls are, unfortunately, complicated. If they were simple, it would make my existence far simpler, but they are not.” A faint smile lifted his lips.

    I sighed. “Well, I’ve got things to do. I can’t spend all my time looking for them.” Also, the portal I was working with looked downright ridiculous now. I licked my lip in thought, before I looked at Death carefully. “Any word on the Endbringers?”

    He shook his head. “Through my senses, no. They are quiet, for the moment, though if their cycle is still intact, they will move any day now. I will know when they begin to kill, but there is little living so far beneath the earth for Ifrit to kill. And Lotan is not killing anything at the moment, either. Until he moves, I doubt he will even kill a single fish. Once he does, however...”

    I nodded. “I just hope our projects are ready. We’ve spent a lot on preparing. So has Dragon. I hope it’s enough.”

    Which reminded me, there was something I needed to check up on.

    ------------------

    I looked up. And up. Finally, I gave up and just floated upward, because there was no possible way I could take it in properly just standing on the ground.

    When Dragon asked for my help in building an anti-Endbringer weapon, I agreed. After all, it would only make things easier if we pooled our resources to take on either Behemoth or Leviathan, and the groundwork would be all the more important if we needed to actually fight an Abomination. The last month and a half I spent working alongside her in the Light Plane, combining our powers and expertise, piece by piece, to forge the weapon.

    But this? This was beyond expectations. On a crystal platform stood a huge humanoid figure, gleaming with shining metal. It was sixty feet tall, the arms and legs thicker than concrete pillars. It was armored, thick plates of magical alloy combined with near-impervious Tinkertech compounds that made the result stronger than it had any right to be. It was also bristling with weapons. Blades, a hammer, and fists larger than buses backed by pistons and magic.

    Maybe it would be enough to take on Behemoth. Just maybe.

    Dragon floated beside me, sounding pleased as we went. “What do you think?”

    I couldn’t help but smile. “What are we calling it?”

    She laughed softly. “I was thinking something along the lines of...Atlas.”

    I took a moment to think on that. Then I understood. “The titan who holds up the Earth.”

    Dragon nodded with a chuckle. “Actually, in the myths he holds up the sky, not the Earth. But either way, I thought it appropriate. We’re pinning a lot of hopes on him. Here’s hoping it’s enough. I’ve got backup plans in case it isn’t, but...it just might do it. Leviathan is likely to be too quick for Atlas to handle. So our other plans are set for him.”

    I nodded. There wasn’t much more we could do. I spent the time training, preparing, honing my powers and my skills with Dragon, but until I was actually tested, I wouldn’t know for sure how well we’d prepared.

    Hopefully, we still had time to distribute. Every day gave us a few more options. One would have to be enough.

    We had Endbringers and an Abomination to kill, after all.

    ------------------

    The machines around me hummed. Gadgets, scientists, and Tinkertech, both old and new worked with frantic activity as they readied for the work.

    And I just stood there. Waiting. Feeling useless. I knew I wasn’t, but I still felt that way after I’d done my half an hour of prep work.

    The figure in front of me tried to take her time to examine me, but she couldn’t. Not with her flicking back into a turning motion. Every six seconds. Solid gray, the field around her having existed for twenty years.

    Sarah Kissinger. The first known victim of Gray Boy.

    Heard a lot a-about you.” Sarah managed to say, interrupted between one loop and the next. Her gray hair fluttered in the bubble, falling over her gray face.

    I smiled slightly, my fingers clenching and unclenching a little. “I’m not surprised. I’m pretty big news.”

    Flicker. Sarah turned back to me. “Well, you’ve done a lot.” Flicker. Sarah turned. “You think you can help me?”

    I took in a deep breath. “Honestly I don’t know. I don’t have power over time. But I want to try.” I met her eyes between the loops. “I make no promises. I hope it works. Powers are... a real pain in the ass, sometimes.”

    A faint smile was on her lips, even when she turned again. “I’ve heard lots of promises over the years. Either way, thanks for trying.”

    God, I could feel my heart squeezing.

    “Ladies, we’re just about ready here.” Doctor Lloyd spoke, the older man’s white, frazzled hair sprouted in all directions, as if he’d just been electrocuted. “The temporal scanning equipment’s calibrated. The countermeasures are in place in case anything goes wrong.” He frowned a little. “Though temporal mechanics is so much more of an issue than most physics. Luckily the possibility of a paradox is practically zero in this case. Aside from the paradox of Gray Boy’s power in the first place. It’s not a true temporal effect, due to the persistence of memory and ongoing experience. The odds are quite good we can break the loop without undue trouble, if we actually can break the loop.”

    I blinked and looked at him. “Paradox?”

    He made a dismissive wave of his hand. “Theoretically they can’t happen. Laws of causality prevent it. But powers are a problem and there’s a lot of unknowns. We can’t throw out physics entirely, but the best we can do is try and figure out how powers work. There hasn’t, as of yet, been a power that violates causality. There’s a number of ideas about how exactly Gray Boy’s power works, actually. The most popular one in academic circles is that it’s a particular pocket dimension with certain set physical laws. We already know that Gray Boy could alter how long the loops last, and...” He grimaced as he looked between me and Sarah. “What happens to the victims during the loops. By that we suspect there’s a ‘key’ something about his power that let him do these things. A lot of the effort we’ve spent was in trying to replicate that key. Nothing’s worked so far, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.”

    I nodded, turning back to Sarah. “I’ve got a few options. I’m going to try the non-direct ones first. The best option I have is also the most dangerous, so I’ll try it last.”

    Flicker. Sarah turned, then nodded. “Got it.”

    I cracked my knuckles and concentrated.

    First, I attempted to open a Shadow Portal inside the bubble. Dracul had attempted it when he was imprisoned, but something about the interior of the time-loop had torn the portal apart before he could make use of it. I was hoping the source of it being outside would solve that issue.

    A spot of blackness appeared inside the gray bubble, but it was almost instantly ripped to shreds. Sarah flinched away from it, before she flickered, and turned again.

    I licked my lip, trying again, this time trying to form the portal as quickly as possible. Yet again, the instant it got larger than a fist, it was torn apart.

    Alright. Hardball, then.

    I looked up. Before we’d begun, I’d set up a Shadow Gate on the ceiling. The thought? If I couldn’t open a portal inside the bubble, maybe I could take the whole damn bubble into the Shadow Plane and try cracking it open from there, within my domain.

    The Shadow Portal snapped open. With a gesture, the magnetic locks that held it in place disengaged, and the rather large portal ring fell to the ground, the sphere of Sarah’s prison neatly passing through the center of the ring.

    The portal, unfortunately, was torn apart by the impervious bubble of the edge of the sphere. The gate clanged to the ground, the portal inside it fading away.

    Flicker. Sarah turned.

    I ignited my claws. Carefully, I placed my burning claws on the edge of the sphere, then tried to cut through the edge of the barrier.

    Nothing. My claws sat upon the edge of the bubble, despite me pushing as hard as I could, without even the slightest change. The edge of the sphere was more impervious than even Endbringer flesh. The searing flames of the Hells, designed to defeat and destroy defenses, and they were useless against this.

    I pulled back, taking in a deep breath. Then I manifested the Void Sword.

    Doctor Lloyd took a step back as the temperature in the room abruptly dropped.

    Carefully, angling the blade to just barely cut into the sphere, and avoid putting the lethal coldness into Sarah, I tried to sink the tip of the blade into the bubble.

    The blade that had cut through the Siberian simply warped and emerged from the other side of the sphere, without actually contacting with the power that made it. I couldn’t feel the characteristic rush of power through the sword that meant it was feeding off of energy.

    The Void Sword vanished. I clenched my hands and sighed. “Dammit. I was afraid of this.”

    Flicker. Sarah turned, her face falling into disappointment. “You’re not the first who tried and failed. Thanks, though.”

    Lloyd shook his head. “Still, we got some more data. That space-warping effect hasn’t been observed before. It might help on figuring out how to get through it. Unfortunately powers are fairly unique, so...”

    I sighed and nodded. “I’ll see what I can pull up in the castle’s library.” Looking on Sarah with my heart in my throat, I spoke softly. “I’ll be back here. I’m not giving up yet.”

    ------------------

    Three hours in the library. Three hours and no closer to a solution.

    Maybe it was a little arrogant of me to expect that I could solve a problem that twenty years of scientists and various heroes hadn't. Actually, put that way, it did sound pretty damn arrogant. But the feeling of failure and disappointment remained, no matter what intellectual excuses I told myself. I had the information of eight hundred years of compiled knowledge about my particular brand of magic at my fingers, and they weren't of any help. I had the chance to go through a fair bit of information Dracul had compiled over the centuries. In his world, there weren’t too many time-bending effects, despite the existence of magic. Chronos, the Lord of Time, had the power, but that particular god tended to act as a recorder and compiler of history, and he hadn’t had very much of a following. Chronos had, a long time ago, decided to compile history rather than make it, and barely took notice even when Solin’s followers had destroyed the time god’s temple when Chronos wouldn’t aid the new Lord of Light.

    Solin was a serious ass. I already knew that from the memories Dracul gave me, but the history of things from before Gabriel’s lifetime gave me even more information about what happened.

    Still, the whole thing gave me a niggling, terrible idea. The prison of time that Gray Boy’s victims were in was seemingly designed to negate my abilities. Or rather, Dracul's abilities, but I had a fair amount of overlap with his powers anyway. I’d thought that maybe I could defeat it with my powers from the outside, have a hint at some way of freeing Dracul in the future, but if I was right...

    The Abomination that trapped him came up with the means to do so during their fight. Within a few hours, it ensured the last free god of that world couldn’t escape, no matter how slippery, or clever, or experienced, or powerful he was.

    I had to assume the active one on my world was at least as dangerous. Adaptable, powerful, and capable of things I couldn’t expect. I had memories of a furious battle between Dracul and the Abomination he fought, and all I could do was assume ours was just as bad at the least.

    A throat cleared behind me, and I turned with a whirl, instinctively forming the Shadow Whip on my hand.

    Alexandria looked at me, then at my hand. “A little jumpy? We had an appointment.”

    I blinked, then pulled my blood back into my body, letting my power dissipate. I’d...completely forgotten. We were supposed to talk about portal distribution, weapons, and armor for the Protectorate. “Right. I apologize. I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

    She inclined her head as she strode up next to me, sparing a glance at the books on the library’s table. “So I see. Things didn’t go so well in Oklahoma.”

    I shook my head. “Not so much. I’d hoped my power could do something to help Sarah.” I looked down at my hands, clenching and unclenching them as I tried to pull myself together. “She doesn’t deserve that. Nobody does. I know what it’s like to be trapped. To have to endure that forever, it’s...”

    Alexandria’s voice softened. “I do believe I understand your meaning, Scarlet.” Her single eye examined me for a moment, before her tone turned businesslike once more. “We’ve outfitted a lot of heroes with resources you’ve provided. Armsmaster and Alucard have been making quite a few waves with their weapons, I understand. We're hoping the equipment is enough to change the paradigm.”

    My lip quirked. “Hopefully it’s enough for the next Endbringer attack.”

    She nodded. “We’re hoping for another miracle, in this case. But before that... we have to discuss something, and I’m afraid it can’t wait.”

    I lifted an eyebrow, folding my wings behind my back. “Alright. I’m guessing it’s important.”

    A faint smile on Alexandria’s lips. “The most important, actually.” She lifted her head slightly, speaking loudly and clearly. “Door to Cauldron.”

    An orange octagon appeared at Alexandria’s side, snapping into existence almost instantly. The interior of it showing a meeting room with drab, white walls, the windows showing a deep red sky.

    I lifted an eyebrow. “I hadn’t known you had a cape with portal abilities on hand.”

    Alexandria’s smile widened slightly. “There’s a lot you don’t know. But we need to compare notes. I need your help to save the world from something worse than the Endbringers.”

    I looked at her. Taking a long moment to examine the heroine I idolized as a child. If she was nervous, she was hiding it well. If I hadn’t known better, I’d be sure that she did this sort of thing all the time.

    Hell, maybe she did.

    Finally, I spoke slowly. “I believe you have my attention.”

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
    user71s2, otakumick, Xryuran and 20 others like this.
  8. Fenrisfir

    Fenrisfir Not too sore, are you?

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    YES!!! A new chapter I've been when for it. I really like this story and it is one of the better Worm crossover stories. You have done a really good job combining the Worlds of Earth Bet and Castlevania Lords of Shadow. I can't wait for the next chapter.
     
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  9. Hye

    Hye Reader of The Long Words

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    "Hmm? Oh, you mean the Abomination. Sure, sure. I was working on that anyway. I know it's not gonna be easy, but the last Lord of Darkness ended up having a long drawn out battle against one and only lost because of time-shenanigans. I'm sure we can win since we have backup. Oh, and Dragon."
     
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  10. Akuma-Heika

    Akuma-Heika The Devil Exists Within

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    Would these allow the Entities to prevent Entropy? I remember the Chaos Claws heat comes from the primordial chaotic universe while the Void Sword's ice comes from the Void after the universe's end (Heat Death). If the Chaos Claws work as a...proto-universe could they be utilized to counteract entropy, or do yours draw on the power of a primordial universe and not create that energy...although in that case Taylor would have nigh-infinite mana while using the Claws?

    Thanks for the update!
     
  11. SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    That's not how the Chaos Claws or Void Sword work. They have aspects that resemble these things, though. The Void Sword draws upon the coldness of its owner's rage, as well as amplifying it, but its 'substance' is that of primordial darkness, and the closest thing to that in the universe is the void between stars. Hence why it's so damn cold.

    The Chaos Claws are formed from Hellfire, and Hellfire exists because it's formed from a combination of magic and emotions. It burns only what its maker wishes it to burn, but it always causes pain and it also tends to be powerful, threatening to push its user into rampage if not disciplined. Yes, I know, magic is bullshit. The Void Sword would make someone inclined to coldly murder someone. The Chaos Claws would make someone inclined to kill their target without any regard for collateral damage. There's a reason why Taylor tends to reach for the Void Sword for longer periods. It's still not good, but it's more constructive and controllable.

    But, regardless, magic is the reason why Abbadon snatched up the gods in the first place. Their power is basically 'Infinite amount with a finite ability to channel' and so a bunch of enslaved gods seemed a great first step to finding a solution to the whole Cycle thing.
     
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  12. Akuma-Heika

    Akuma-Heika The Devil Exists Within

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    Ah, I knew that that was how Dracul forged them, but I was positive it said something of that matter in the game...been a couple of years (probably 18 months) since I played though so it is entirely possible I got it mixed up.
    ...now I am trying to figure out where my confusion originated...the Primordial Gems maybe (specifically the meaning/definition of primordial)? oh well, thanks for answering my question regardless, and in case I haven't said it, thanks for writing this fic!
     
  13. Kaernetron

    Kaernetron (Verified Lurker)

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    I spent the last two days partially re-reading this story to get back up to speed and I think you, SirWill, did a great job blending the two settings together without one overshadowing the other.
    ...or maybe that's just me, because I never played any of the Castlevania games.
     
  14. Threadmarks: Titanomachy 8.2
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: And now, the unholy alliance begins.

    Huh. Weird. The side with the gothic castle, monsters, demons, and vampire queen is the less unholy side. That’s...kinda weird. Really weird actually.

    Anyway, FYI, it’s been a while since I read Worm, and I’ve altered things a bit for Cauldron’s central workings. Still imperfect, but I’m trying to avoid the head-bangingly stupid bits.

    Blood manipulation: Self only, but extremely versatile. Basis of the Shadow Whip, Shadow Daggers, and other things.

    Short-range teleportation: Draining, but not limited to line of sight.

    Bat Travel: Turns into dozens of bats and back again. Rather confusing, but helpful for mobility.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as some capes, but up there. M1 Abrams out of gas? I'll just push them to the gas station.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance. Unlocked!

    Flight: I believe I can touch the sky. Does it need any more description? Unlocked!

    Possession: Turns into blood, flows into some poor bastard, controls them for a period (hours at most) and when they die they explode into chunky bits. The blood has a toxic effect, so anyone possessed is doomed. (Barring unusual biology.) Unlocked!

    Fleshcrafting: Feeling a little vain? Want a whole new hair color, a bigger bust, shaplier hips, or claws to rend the flesh of your enemies? Subscribe to Vamp-New-You today! (Permits the vampire to alter their own flesh permanently at some cost to their blood. Does not permit changing of bone structure. Cannot be used on others.) Unlocked!

    Mist Form: Transform into near-invulnerable mist. Has quite a few lethal and non-lethal applications. Unlocked!

    Telekinesis: Manipulate objects at a distance through will alone. This is limited to line of sight, and is extremely limited compared to her physical strength. She can manipulate approximately thirty pounds at range to start with, and would improve with practice and imagination.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?! (Locked)

    Shadow Portal: Opens a gate to the Plane of Shadow, where Castlevania resides. Shadow Portals can be made nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Plane of Shadow. Unlocked!

    Dominate: (Not the soul-using thing) Control over others. Takes effort, and can only do so to a few at a time. Repeated and lengthy exposure, however, can make things last longer, until they are permanently enthralled. Can be resisted with willpower and can be no-selled by various techniques/powers.(Locked)

    Bat Summon: Gather swarms of bats to do thy bidding. They will follow the will of the Lady of Darkness without hesitation. Not as flexible as the Queen Administrator shard. The awareness of each bat is basic, and commands must be given to the entire swarm at once. I'm the goddamn Batman. Unlocked!

    Monstrous Form: Accesses a portion of the power available to the Scarlet Dragon's mightiest shape, while retaining the flexibility afforded by a humanoid form. However, it is clearly inhuman. Unlocked!

    Void Magic: Basis of the Void Sword. Drains life from its victims, heals and invigorates the wielder, and brings about an absolute chill. Unlocked!

    Chaos Magic: Control and manipulation of hellfire. Many can use it, but few can project it. Forms the Chaos Claws. Unlocked!

    Storm Magic: Power over electricity and the storm. An excellent method of long-range attack, and quite painful to most.

    Weather manipulation: Can control the weather to some degree, whether that is summoning or banishing clouds, or building up power to make a simple cloudy day into an actual storm. It cannot, however, bring warmth or cold on its own. She can't make a blizzard in the tropics or turn Antarctica into prime beachfront property. She can just make it sunny, cloudy, or rainy. Or snowy if the time of year's right.

    Dragon Shape: The mightiest form of the Heir of Dracul. Becomes a massive red dragon, standing at thirty feet tall. Can access amplified versions of currently unlocked magic, as well as other powers while in the form. However, it is an immense strain to hold the shape for very long. And it is not exactly friendly-looking at first glance. Godzilla (or whatever epic music of your choice!) is highly recommended.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as Taylor's potential, but certainly enough to be highly dangerous to a well-trained human.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance.

    Demonic Wings: Permits him to glide with feathery, though twisted, wings.

    Mist form: Near invulnerable mist. No mere prison can hold thee. Unless they put in a fan to blow you back in.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?!

    Chaos Magic: Alucard's is not as strong as his father's, but his skill with it is extraordinary. He can use it to teleport short distances and throw fireballs, although it is limited by line of sight and distance. (The classic SotN Hellfire spell.)

    Spectral Wolf: Similar to the wolf shape, however it is ethereal and impossible to injure. Alucard can use it to teleport from one location to another by sending the wolf forward, then replacing it. Or he can simply use it to scout and dissolve it.

    Crissaegrim abilities: A wickedly dangerous blade Alucard forged with the materials of three legendary weapons. It permits him to enshroud it with both Void and Chaos magic, as well as being extremely lethal to both holy and unholy opponents.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Unlike Dracul's counterpart power, he would arise in a century unless the process was sped along by blood. He would also arise in a more corpse-like state until he managed to feed.

    Steel Crafting: Self only. Able to mold current avatar however she likes. Tends to prefer a dragon shape, as...well, she's Dragon.

    Teleportation: Flashes out of existence in one place and reappears in another. Line of sight limited, but not distance-wise. Yes. This is overpowered. Limited to (naturally) light-speed maximum.

    Light Form: Turns into a bright solid light construct. This is difficult to maintain, but difficult to injure..

    Strength: DRAGON SMASH!

    Durability: Anybody remember that scene in Superman Returns when the bullet bounces off his eye? No? Nobody? Well, it's kinda like that.

    Healing: Can grant to self or others, and does not need an outside source. Wounds (or damage) heals rapidly.

    Flight: I could touch the sky before I changed into a goddess. Now I just don't need to spend any effort!

    Hard-Light constructs: Eat your heart out in jealousy, Green Lantern! My constructs don't get broken by lemonade!

    Telekinesis: Use the Force, Luke. Stronger than Taylor's version. Not Ziz-strength, but it's up there.

    Light Bridge: Opens a...uh, bridge to the Plane of Light. Think the MCU's version of the Bifrost. Can go from nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Light Plane.

    Human Form: If/when she feels like trying out what a ice cream tastes like.

    Light Magic: Heals and warms its users, and can be turned to be used offensively. Most effective against Dark Creatures, but still useful against other targets. Remember, the Lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi.

    Heavenly Flame Magic: The opposite of Chaos Magic. Her white fire burns, but is formed from calmness, logic. It is a fire that illuminates, but can be destructive all the same.

    Storm Magic: The point of commonality between Light and Darkness. Electricity is such a useful thing. Due to her original nature as a mechanical being, Dragon's control of it is extraordinarily precise.

    Dragon Shape: For when someone or something big really, really needs to be stomped. Is this a copied power? No! It's a completely different kind of dragon!

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century. This is common for gods.

    Vampire Killer: A simple hilt attached to a combat whip that can be slung out and controlled by an ingeniously designed retraction system. On the end of the hilt is a silver stake, perfect for killing vampires, werewolves, and lawyers. The weapon is specifically designed to kill creatures of the night, but works on anything quite well and is capable of channeling magic.

    Light Magic amulet: Allows its wearer to heal over time. Needs to be fueled by someone capable of putting magic into it, which is currently limited to Dragon and Madison. It doesn't permit Wolverine-style healing, but it lets short fights turn into long ones and wearing one overnight heals even most serious injuries. Can be sped up by forcing the magic to flow more quickly, but that drains the amulet which needs time and attention to recharge.

    Seraphic Shoulders: Creates ghostly angelic wings for a few moments, allowing Madison to catch herself in the air or glide.

    Heavenly Gauntlet: A black (I know, it clashes!) gauntlet that generates white fire, equal to that of the fires of Hell.

    Cyclone Boots: Allows high-speed running, jumping, and as a bonus, permits its wearer to take long falls without breaking their legs. Yes, all she needs is a Portal Gun.

    Silver Daggers: Small, easily palmable, and crafted for a nasty surprise attack. Yes, it can hurt a lot to suddenly have a knife in your throat, whether you're a werewolf or not.

    Holy Water: Water that's been exposed to sunlight and had Light Magic channeled through it. Does nothing against most people, would really tick off Taylor and Alucard. When used with Light Magic channeled through its user, forms a light-shield to ward off attacks and really tick off vampires.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I lifted an eyebrow as I looked through the portal, not stepping through just yet. “You know, for a secret conspiracy, I was expecting more cigarette smoke, maybe some flickering lights, maybe a hanging chain over there in the corner. This is kind of...drab, really.” I looked out through the portal, and through the window shown, seeing a deep red sky. The moon was visible, despite it being daytime, but it looked like it was molten, burning with glowing lava. “That is a really neat view, though. Alternate Earth, hm?”

    Alexandria’s lip quirked. “You catch on quick. Can we please go through? It may be dangerous for us to be speaking here.”

    I tilted my head. “Nobody in my castle will talk.”

    She shook her head. “It’s about making sure certain powers can’t listen in. Remote viewers, postcognitives, and certain precogs. We have means to block them temporarily here, but it’s limited and it’s far easier to manage in an alternate dimension. I promise this is entirely legitimate. If we wanted to eliminate you, we’d do things differently.”

    Okay, good point. Still, I didn’t like it much. I lifted my head, giving the Castle an order.

    A wave of acceptance and anticipation rushed through me. It wasn’t exactly easy communicating with Castlevania, but it was remarkably straightforward once you got used to it. “Alright, let’s go.” I said, stepping through the portal.

    Alexandria stepped into the drab room behind me, visibly relaxing somewhat once the portal snapped shut.

    After a moment’s consideration, I tried to open my own Shadow Portal. There was a second of resistance, then it opened easily. Good. I wouldn’t be so easily trapped away from my power. Without the power of the Shadow Plane at my command, I would just be a vampire. An extremely strong one, perhaps, but still a lot more limited than I was.

    At Alexandria’s curious look, I spoke. “Making sure I can still open portals here.” With a thought, the Shadow Portal snapped shut.

    The conference room’s door opened, and a middle-aged, haggard-looking dark-skinned woman entered. She was dressed all in white, and despite the tiredness I could see in her posture, I could see self-confidence as well.

    “Scarlet Dragon,” She spoke, sounding tired. “I am Doctor Mother, and I am the leader of Cauldron.”

    I plastered on a smile. “Glad to hear it. Nice to meet you. Now what the hell is Cauldron?”

    ------------------

    Halls, halls, halls. Slightly off-white, stupidly clean, and made of tiles. It made the place seem oddly otherworldly, as if it wasn’t formed by a human mind, but instead by the clean, perfect, sterile order of a computer. Except I knew a (former?) computer intelligence, and Dragon’s designs weren’t sterile. So who the hell knew who made this place.

    Doctor Mother spoke as she walked ahead of Alexandria and I, her voice echoing slightly off the halls. “Cauldron was founded in late Nineteen-Eighty-One. Before then, there were no parahumans at all. Powers arose because of what we call ‘Agents.’ There are millions of them that we’ve confirmed, though there may be a lot more we haven’t accounted for. Most of them aren’t active, though those that are can be dangerous enough. It’s impossible to know just how many there are.”

    I tilted my head as I followed, frowning. “So you know where powers come from.”

    A faint smile on the older woman’s face. “We do. We’ve even managed to figure out a lot about how to artificially connect people to Agents. That process enabled us to make a difference, to help keep the world in order, despite the difficulty and the setbacks.”

    Alexandria spoke then. “Our group is directly responsible for the creation of the Protectorate. We came to realize that without government support, without government sanction, parahumans the world over would be uncontrollable. Either they’d be marginalised and exterminated, or, more likely, they’d turn into warlords which would rip society apart. Our best estimates placed the United States as a failed state as of the late nineties, if we hadn’t stepped in and acted as a moderating and stabilizing influence. Ever since powers began to arise, we’ve tried to buy us time. Time enough to build enough forces to fight and kill the Agents’ originator.”

    We came to an elevator. As the doors slid open, I took a look inside. Plain white. And...unfortunately, small.

    I gave Doctor Mother a glare. “Is there a set of stairs?”

    She opened her mouth, then closed it, sighing. “Door to the lowest level.”

    The portal opened, showing a darkened hall. We stepped through, making our way towards a large security door, the sort one would see on a bank vault.

    Doctor Mother’s voice was filled with slight annoyance. “Normally we use Doormaker to go everywhere through Cauldron’s complex. At the moment, however, a lot of his attention is taken up and being used by our preparations. We don’t want to strain him too much, as he’s one of our most valuable assets. Without Doormaker, our efforts would have been far less fruitful. Unfortunately it also means we can’t put him through too much. His power’s useful, and quite capable, but he’s still got certain limits.”

    I nodded slowly. “So, I’m guessing you’re about to show me something interesting.”

    Doctor Mother paused, then frowned at me.

    Alexandria chuckled and shook her head. “We may as well dispense with the theatrics. Scarlet already knows more than most. Though exactly how...?” She tilted her head as she looked at me.

    I shrugged. “I told most of the truth during my press conference. My power is from a world that was destroyed by a multidimensional being. Dracul managed to kill it, but he was trapped in a timeloop like Gray Boy’s before he managed to do it. Then he managed to distract a second one of them into crashing here, but he couldn’t do anything about the third. He’s in the middle of an asteroid field that used to be his world. Something that’s going to happen here if we don’t stop it. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been acting the way I have. I’m gathering as many resources as I can to try and fight the thing. Though I don’t know how it’ll attack, if it’s anything like what Dracul saw and fought, it’s going to be overwhelming.”

    After a moment of staring, Alexandria sighed. “All this dancing around and you already knew. Maybe not the whole damn story, but you already knew. This would have been a lot easier if you told me when you manifested that damned castle of yours.”

    I lifted an eyebrow. “And why would I just casually say that? I was trying to figure out my resources. I do not know where the remaining Abomination is, who its avatar is, if it even is anybody, and what it’s aware of. If it had attacked the castle the moment it appeared, then I would know something at least. But all I’m operating on is knowledge I was shown by a man who’s been suffering for centuries at least in the ruins of a dead world. I know it’s powerful, far beyond that of the gods of the world from which my power came from. Dracul fought his for hours, alone, and he didn’t manage to accomplish anything. I sought to build my forces as much as I could, as quietly as possible, once I was fairly sure the one active here either hadn’t noticed me or didn’t care.”

    Doctor Mother shook her head. “Still, it’s an annoyance.” She turned and pressed her hand against a panel next to the vault door.

    With a hiss of escaping air, and the faint smell of rotten meat, it swung open. We stepped inside, and even I had to stop at the sight before me.

    Wired to the ground, supported by a steel cage and distortions I could barely look at, was a corpse. A woman’s face that was indeterminately ethnic, but beautiful. Golden hair cascaded from her head. Below that, however, the detail was...wrong. The skin on her torso was crisp, white, almost looking like it belonged on a mannequin. Her arms didn’t exist, instead, the flesh seemed to go off into nothing. I say ‘seemed’ because it actually hurt my eyes to look.

    And it got worse the lower it went. Her legs didn’t exist. They merged together and sank into the ground, as if she had been some fleshy tree. But the ground itself was flesh, as well. Pristine, white, unnatural flesh. As my gaze swept over the ground, I could see various small features of humanity. Eyes, hands, arms, faces. As if the dead of every human who ever lived were gathered up and merged into a single being at random.

    Doctor Mother’s voice was quiet. “She landed here in Nineteen-Eighty-One. Her body covers approximately three-quarters of this Earth. Upon landing here, her biomass damaged and destroyed much of the planet, while assimilating whatever organic material that existed here. She did something wrong in its landing, however. We think she intended to land upon an entirely uninhabited version of Earth, and we certainly doubt she intended to open portals that allowed people to come here. Still, she was pulling herself together, healing the damage, creating her avatar, when we managed to kill it.”

    I folded my arms, a dreadful suspicion rising over me as I took in the shade of the corpse’s hair. Golden. Cascading. Perfect. The body was marred only by one thing. The gaping knife wound sticking from her throat.

    Everyone knew that shade of gold. That level of perfection. It didn’t matter where you went on the planet, everyone knew it. How could they not?

    I spoke, a sinking feeling in my gut. “The other Abomination is Scion. Fuck.”

    ------------------

    Huh. Cauldron had good tea. Earl Grey. It didn’t actually sate my thirst at all, but it did taste pretty good.

    We were back in the conference room, having taken a few minutes to let things sink in. Despite the suspicions Dragon and I had, Scion being the active Abomination was something I hadn’t wanted to consider. Sure, a lot of things fit, the overwhelming power for one. Scion was powerful enough to send Endbringers running when they attacked. The moment he showed up at an Endbringer battle, it was over.

    Doctor Mother’s voice droned a little, but what she was saying was still pretty damned interesting. “Ever since the pair arrived, we’ve done what we could to prepare. The power we used to kill the first one was limited by it in its final moments. When we struck, its avatar was very tied into the rest of its body. We hit it right when it was most vulnerable. Scion’s taken far more damage fighting Endbringers, however. Whatever else is going on, he’s not going to be vulnerable the same way. If striking through his avatar, his projection, whatever it is, would work, we’d have to do a lot more damage to it than even the Endbringers have.”

    I sighed, draining my cup of tea and putting it back on the table. “I doubt you’ve spent thirty years sitting around with nothing. What are the options you figured out?”

    Alexandria nodded seriously. “We’re the result of powers taken from his counterpart. Overall, we’re more powerful than most natural triggers. We think it’s due to the fact she hadn’t intended to hand out certain powers. It was our hope we’d find a power, or a combination of them, that would be effective against Scion. You mentioned Dracul killed one. How?”

    I tilted my head as I thought back. “He used his power to suborn a fragment, one that was designed to carry a weapon to use against others of its kind. He tricked it into firing off inside of it. Where it was, though, and what it looks like, I don’t know. It’s one of the few that survived the thing’s death, but where it ended up in the graveyard downstairs I haven’t a clue. They’re not exactly labeled, and they’re all mounds of crystal and flesh. It took Dracul decades to find it. It unleashed bursts of energy through all the dimensions, attacking in every direction at once. The act took up most of its energy, but it was enough to kill the fucking thing.”

    Doctor Mother frowned at that. “And if the power’s active somewhere, it may not even be here. Or if it is, we may not know how it’s manifested. Even two identical formulas get different effects. A projection formula on one person may make a single unchanging projection, or a force-field covering, or make a malleable, shapeable projection. And that’s assuming it didn’t get cast off to become a natural trigger. We’re fairly certain both of the Abominations shed most of their Agents before they landed. If they hadn’t, Cauldron wouldn’t be sitting here. It’d be in the middle of a gas giant-sized mound of flesh. Though they seem to have figured out certain tricks to hide the majority of their mass. The same principle as pocket dimensions. Still, we’ve been trying to gather up weapons that can destroy a planetary biosphere quickly. That’s the kind of damage we’ll need to do to kill one of these things in its true body.”

    I shrugged. “Why not drop Ash Beast on top of him? He’d do a fair bit of damage.”

    Doctor Mother looked somewhat amused. “That’s one of the things we wanted to do. The two issues with that is that Doormaker’s power has trouble with large amounts of energy. Ash Beast’s explosions collapse the portals even as they form. Secondly, Scion’s true body’s behind some sort of barrier he’s maintaining. We can’t open a portal there, though we know where it is. If it were that simple, we’d have unleashed a few of the apocalyptic-level weaponry various Tinkers around the world have made. Plus, as much damage as Ash Beast does, compared to the size of Scion’s counterpart, here, he would do a small amount of damage before he was destroyed.”

    I folded my arms, leaning back in my chair. “So what is your plan, precisely?”

    Alexandria’s lip twitched, before she frowned. “From the beginning? Gather an army of parahumans to fight back when the time comes. We don’t necessarily need to destroy him entirely, but we do need to contain the damage as much as possible. If he slays all of us, and destroys a million Earths, but dies from losing too much energy and leaves just a few Earths with humanity intact upon it, it’s a win for us. Before you came along, we were looking at a mere two percent of catalogued Earths possibly surviving the apocalypse. Now the number is at sixty percent. Either we win and stop his rampage, or we do enough to drain him of energy, so he hasn’t enough strength to keep going.”

    Doctor Mother nodded. “We’re also preparing other options. We think that if we can get a sufficient population of people out of Scion’s reach, we can ensure something of humanity to survive. At the moment, we’re building a ship, the Exodus. There’s some Tinkertech involved, but that’s mostly to get it out of the Earth’s gravity well. It doesn’t need to last very long. It’s meant to head for the Alpha Centauri system, and it’s got the equipment required to build a colony under a wide variety of conditions. Most likely an underground colony, but that’s preferable to extinction. It would only be able to evacuate about a million people, but it’s far better than nothing. If he drives all of humanity back into the stone age, it is highly unlikely any version of us will manage to rebuild civilization.”

    I shook my head as I spoke, hating the idea. This was a lot of responsibility. It was good to know I wouldn’t have to be acting alone, but it was still a daunting task. “It doesn’t make much sense, though. The Abomination Dracul fought didn’t appear until most of his planet was dead. Why would Scion show up back at the beginning and start helping people?”

    Alexandria’s lip quirked. “Actually that, we don’t know. Thinkers have always had difficulty with Scion. Over the years, we’ve managed to figure out a fair bit about the Triggering process. We’re fairly sure that the powers are made by them to specifically hold them as blank spots. There are ways to nudge around them, but it’s difficult. But we know some things. Precogs aren’t very common in the Protectorate for two reasons. The first being it’s among the rarest powers to appear. The second being we recruit them and get them off Earth Bet whenever possible. With most being useless for Scion alone, they’re still useful for a lot of projects.”

    I lifted an eyebrow at that.

    Doctor Mother nodded. “We can’t predict Scion directly. But we can predict certain things, such as the results of his actions. He rescues a cat from a tree, we can predict the cat escapes the tree, even though how and why isn’t seen. But we can’t ask if there even is a cat, if we aren’t aware of it to begin with. Since his appearance, and his counterpart’s landing here, we’ve used Thinkers to try and figure out what he will do. Our best precog’s Trigger vision showed her what they do, before she was limited, in any case. They’ve destroyed hundreds, maybe thousands of civilizations to hone their abilities. And they enjoyed doing so. We don’t know why Scion’s been helping people for the last thirty years. But we do know that if he isn’t destroyed, somehow, then he will target and destroy as many Earths as inhabited by humanity as he could. With our resources, we’ve managed to catalogue two hundred thousand inhabited Earths, though there are a great deal more worlds than that. We’re using them as our sample to keep track of how many worlds he’ll destroy. The number could be a lot larger. Or fewer. There’s simply too many unknowns.”

    I nodded. It made sense, and they had longer to figure this stuff out than I did. “So what do you want me to do?”

    Alexandria nodded at me. “We’re hoping your portal ability will enable us to move the battlefield off Earth Bet and onto Scion’s actual body. If we can do that, our chances improve immeasurably. Secondly, precogs have difficulty with you, much like they have difficulty with Scion, the Endbringers, and other precogs. We’re hoping that means Scion will have trouble predicting you. Third...” She smiled slightly. “We’re working on making sure you won’t be the only god on the battlefield facing him. We know about Dragon, how she assumed the mantle of Light. We’re working on getting the others released from their bonds before they emerge as Endbringers. We’ve already had some success.

    “Lastly, with the timetable moved up, we’ve shifted into high gear. You’re aware Dragon is, or rather was, an AI?” At my nod, Alexandria continued. “After she tangled with the Dragonslayers and lost, repeatedly, in Two-Thousand-Six, her capabilities improved. We took the opportunity to take and activate one of her backups, in a secured Earth. Her ability to reverse-engineer and replicate the Tinkertech of other Tinkers is one of the most valuable abilities ever seen.” She lowered her head slightly. “It was our hope that she would be able to finish some of Hero’s work. Even if she couldn’t, her power and nature as an AI was too valuable to risk it being lost.”

    I frowned. “Dragon’s not going to be happy to hear about that.”

    Doctor Mother let out a humorless laugh. “Perhaps not. However, we have been staring down the barrel of a very, very large gun for the last thirty years. I haven’t been able to afford ‘tastefulness’ for all that time. I’ve had to choose between hundreds or thousands of people in the now against the fate of billions in the future. I hate making those choices. Sometimes, even, I have made the wrong ones. But this responsibility fell on me when I drove that knife through the avatar downstairs.”

    I shook my head. “Still. Why haven’t you done more to help?” I pointed at Alexandria. “You’re one of Earth’s greatest heroes. There’s posters of you on walls for damn near every kid out there. If you’ve had these resources for the last thirty years, there’s a lot more you could have done. Stopped the Slaughterhouse Nine before I had to, for starters.”

    That was well done.

    Quiet you.

    Alexandria was impassive. “There’s a lot you’re not aware of. A larger picture. Much of what we’ve done has had to be done carefully, in case Scion takes notice. We’re not sure what his capabilities are. We assume that any power we have witnessed, he is capable of doing at an order of magnitude more powerfully. That includes certain perception powers. We know his attention isn’t unlimited, otherwise we never would have gotten this far. But the best we can do is ensure he does not become aware of us, and what we did to his counterpart, until the time is right. What do you know of Earth Aleph, its parahuman population?”

    After a moment of thinking, I nodded. “They have a lot less than we do.”

    “One-one-hundredth,” Doctor Mother spoke. “Aleph’s parahuman population is far smaller than Bet’s. You’re not aware of it, but the other Earth next to Bet on the line of ‘nearby’ Earths, Gimel, also has approximately the same number. The next ones on either side of those, Dalet and He, have even fewer. As low as thirty across the entire globe, though those powers are potent enough for them to cause problems. Earth Bet isn’t in the state it’s in because of a lack of work on our part. It’s been targeted. And from the beginning, we’ve tried to act as a stabilizing force, to keep things intact enough to organize. We wanted heroes. A lot more heroes than we actually have. Heroes under an organization can be acted upon, given orders, direction, the precise thing an army needs. And for a few years, once we built up enough to exert our influence, we got them. The Protectorate got global recognition, and it expanded into Canada and talks were underway to expand into Europe and the former Soviet Union.”

    I sucked in a breath. “And then Behemoth showed up.”

    Alexandria nodded. “Then Behemoth appeared. Understand we’ve been trying to walk a tightrope. No matter what we do, parahumans will trigger. People do terrible things to each other. Scion’s appearance didn’t change that, it’s simply the results are more dramatic these days. We tried to gather up as many triggers as we could. We’ve bolstered the numbers of heroes with formulas made from here. Myself, Eidolon, Legend, and hundreds of others are working to try and keep the precarious balance out there. The problem is...when we’ve tried to project what happens if we add so much as a few dozen extra heroes per year? Worlds die.”

    I swallowed. “Scion likely figures something out... and goes insane right away.”

    Doctor Mother nodded. “That’s about what we surmised. We’ve tried to keep a surplus of capes off Earth Bet. Too many, and worlds suddenly lose their future. Even with the Endbringers killing many capes, good and valuable ones, they tend to trigger more. We’ve been trying to buy as much time as we could. And hoping that we haven’t lost a cape that was our best shot.”

    “Like Hero,” Alexandria said quietly. “He was working on an antimatter generating weapon when the Siberian showed up and killed him. It’s possible it might have killed Endbringers and would have been able to do immense damage to Scion’s true body, but it was less than twenty percent complete. And even Dragon can’t build a piece of technology out of nothing.”

    “That was the pattern. Or seemed to be so, anyway.” Doctor Mother said. “Every stabilizing influence that showed up got killed. Dragon’s creator died when Newfoundland sank. Kyushu? Japan was poised to be a regional power with a large proportion of Tinkers, which we’ve hoped would have a solution. Leviathan destroying it crashed Japan’s economy and dashed a lot of our hopes. Russia was poised to sign an accord with the United States against parahuman threats... and right in the middle of their territory, the Sleeper appeared and started killing everything inside it.”

    “And now you’re hoping I’m your next magic bullet.” I muttered.

    Alexandria’s lip quirked, a faint bit of amusement in her voice. “Yes. But you’ve actually done things. And we’re not relying on you alone. We’re hoping at least a dozen or so gods from Dracul’s world might be able to tip the balance in our favor. Eidolon, or rather, Apostle, is working on that right now.”

    More of the old pantheon free and working to help? That... could help. A lot.

    Doctor Mother nodded. “On another note... regardless of your answer, we have a present for you.” She lifted her head slightly and spoke. “Door to Holding Cell forty-two.”

    The now-familiar Doormaker portal snapped open. I looked through it and lifted an eyebrow. A young black teenager chained to the wall, a blinking collar around her neck. Her eyes were closed, but I would have recognized her anywhere.

    “Huh,” I said. “I wasn’t expecting to get a free Sophia Hess. Is it Christmas already?”

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A/N: Took a few liberties with Eden’s appearance. While fanon says she’s all silver, like Scion is gold, her description is actually not expanded upon much. I actually pictured her avatar being perfectly gold too, but I figured, considering she was able to perfectly mimic a human, there would be a few other differences to help interaction.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2018
  15. Snake21

    Snake21 Making the rounds.

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    A group of kittens is called a kindle. The word "kindle" comes from the Middle English word "kindel," which means "offspring." It is derived from the term "kindelen," which means "to give birth to."
     
  16. Threadmarks: Interlude: Preparations part 2
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: I want to note. Diseases suck. They make things so much harder than they have to be.

    I was going to do more with this, but I'm hitting a bit of a block and I'm tired. So there's more of this kind of thing, but coming later.

    Also, I want to thank Backtrax for being awesome. El Presidente demands you raise your cups in his honor!

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    August 10, 2011:

    Sarah turned.

    That's how her loop always started. She'd turn, as she had that day in the mall all those years ago, and view the gray haze that was her world now. These days, her view was occupied by all the researchers that even now worked tirelessly to find a way to break the loop she was in. After two decades, not even she was sure they'd pull it off anymore, but it wasn't like she was going anywhere.

    It did help, though. Not being alone. She wasn’t sure how she’d be if she were stuck here without any company. It was nice, at least, to be able to talk to someone. If in six-second intervals. Who knew you could get a rather decent education in temporal theory and pocket dimensional physics in six-second snips over twenty years? Doctor Lloyd was a genius when it came to the subject. Too bad he wasn’t an actual Tinker.

    Sarah turned.

    She often tried to forget that day, even when she knew she couldn't. She had been celebrating her 21st birthday, gone to the mall for a shopping spree, was making her way from one store to another, when suddenly she'd heard a noise behind her. She'd turned, and seen someone appear in the mall behind her. It looked like a young schoolboy (if the uniform was any indication, anyway) that had stepped out of a black and white film. A very old, tattered black and white film by the way he seemed to stutter in place. He looked right at her with deadened gray eyes, and suddenly she was surrounded by some sort of gray haze. She'd tried to run, but found she couldn't move out of the field of gray surrounding her. Then suddenly, she was back in the position she'd been in only moments ago, turning to stare at the gray boy who even now was turning to leave the mall. The rest of the the crowd had noticed what was occurring and started panicking. All around her the masses began to turn and run, mindless in their fear, only knowing to flee the thing that came into their midst. She tried to follow them, tried to call for help at least, but her voice was drowned out in the roar of the crowd.

    Sarah turned.

    It had been hours later, after the mall had been evacuated that anyone came back and found her. It was quickly determined that she couldn't leave the confines of the gray, nor could anything enter in from outside. Her parents had been contacted, been given the atrocious news, and work had begun in earnest to try and find a way to break her free of her prison. A charity fund had even been created in her name to provide funds for the scientists working on the matter (it was things like that that helped her keep faith in humanity). In time, she learned that Gray Boy as he was called had imprisoned others like her, even torturing some of them under the instruction of his new mass murdering masters. She felt like weeping in joy when she'd heard the Fairy Queen had torn the monster's head off a few years back.

    Sarah turned.

    Her parents had come to see her as often as they could, letting her know how the world was progressing outside her bubble. The first time she found herself glad to be trapped in an unbreakable time loop was when she heard of the first Endbringer, with a second and third following thereafter. The idea of unstoppable giant monsters tearing through major cities had made her plight seem rather small in comparison.

    Sarah turned.

    It was around 2006 that her mother died, succumbing to cancer after a year long battle. In February of the current year, her father had gotten caught in the crossfire of a cape fight with members of The Fallen while on a trip to Texas. And just like that, her only remaining relatives were gone, and she was left alone. Just the scientists continuing to work out this unsolvable problem she called her life.

    Well, she thought sarcastically, at least I get to stay young and beautiful forever.

    Sarah turned.

    Word from the outside had slowed considerably in the last few months, only coming whenever one of the scientists thought to share some new development in the cape scene. That said, the last few months had been eventful, especially at the coasts. The Simurgh dying, a floating castle appearing over the Atlantic, the Slaughterhouse Nine finally dying, and through it all a red woman capable of turning into a dragon was involved. She could hardly believe half of what she'd heard in recent months, but given her circumstances, she was open to most ideas at this point.

    Even though she claimed to be a goddess from another world. It sounded insane, but considering? Why not? What else would you call yourself, if you had power like that? Especially if, as she claimed, she came from a world that was severely behind technologically.

    And then that same red woman came to visit her. To try and help Sarah. It seemed important to her, for some reason, beyond simply doing a good deed. But still... the moment of hope, so small, was still painful for it to be crushed again. It barely registered, but it was still another stab.

    True, Sarah was the first of many victims. There were dozens of police officers suffering the same fate, because of King’s twisted sense of humor. Not that any of the Nine, through their entire too-long history, had a good sense of humor.

    But it was still discouraging. Even a young woman who claimed to be a goddess couldn’t break the prison of time laid by the dead Slaughterhouse Nine member.

    Doctor Lloyd stood in front of her. He gave her a gentle, but discouraged smile, his voice distorted somewhat as it reached her through the bubble surrounding her. “We still have options, Sarah. There’s still a chance. I think we need to find a proper space-warping ability, or perhaps commission the right space-warping Tinkertech. We got some interesting data, and I think with the right combination...”

    Sarah turned, then sighed. “I’ve been hearing that for twenty years, doc. I’m a bit tired of it. It’s just..” She shrugged helplessly. Then turned, equally helplessly. Trying to stop the turn would have her fall and break her nose on the floor. Thankfully, that didn’t repeat itself.

    Lloyd shook his head. “I know, dear. I know. I’m sorry.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ve tried everything I can. There’s always some damned thing. It’s like this power was designed to screw with any attempt at freeing the victim. I...” His shoulders slumped. “Damn it. I went into this thinking I’d crack it. Maybe a year. Maybe five, it’d be worth it. Ten years on this and I haven’t even gotten a Tinker power to help.”

    Sarah turned. “Not as if you haven’t tried.”

    Lloyd closed his eyes. “Feel like I haven’t done...” He stopped. Just stopped mid-sentence.

    Sarah turned. . . and blinked in surprise.

    It wasn’t just Lloyd. The equipment in the room had fallen silent. The scientists in the room and all the equipment with them were suddenly stock still, as if frozen in time. Just behind Lloyd, walking about and examining the people, the instruments, and Sarah herself was a new figure. Short, fat, and shaped from pure black with only stars of pure white where eyes should be, he had just appeared in the room, and was now staring straight at her.

    Before she could even process what she was seeing, the figure(man?) was suddenly right in front of her, his hand on the exterior of the gray. She recoiled from shock, before noticing something. The gray seemed to be fluctuating where he touched it, like it had been moving previously but was being paused now. As the effect spread over the bubble, she felt like a weight had been removed from her whole body. Add to it that she should have reset by now, and she realized this ... person before her was stopping the loop.

    "Greetings," the figure said.

    "Who ... what are you?" she asked, still bewildered by what was occurring.

    "I am Chronos, Lord of Time." A slight, echoing chuckle escaped him. “I am a god, though it has been quite a long time since I strove to do more than watch and record the flow of time. I sense this is not your first encounter with one, the Lady of Darkness was here.” His voice turned pensive, considering. "Apologies for not arriving sooner, it was only recently that I recovered enough strength to accomplish this." With a shift in that inhuman face, he looked up and down the bubble of time. His voice was soft. “A small fragment of my power was used to create your prison. Not much, far more of it was made by the Abomination’s own power, but just enough to give me some understanding. And enough for me to reclaim a small amount of that which is mine.”

    "Accomplish ... what? Freeing me? Why? And what happened to Lloyd?" she questioned, trying to understand why this creature, this self-proclaimed deity had shown up now to her gray prison.

    "Worry not, he is merely paused for the moment. As for you," he said, "I have come to give you freedom...and, should you accept it, an offer."

    "...What kind of offer?"

    "I will be frank. A creature, similar to the one that entrapped me and those like me, currently hides on this world you call home. I, the one who freed me, and the ones they work with seek to raise an army to fight this scourge when it arrives. And on a personal note, I need followers to add to my power for when the time comes. I offer you a choice, Sarah Kissinger. I can simply free you from this perversion of time that you find yourself in, and allow you to leave here, free to continue your normal life in peace. Or, you may join me, as my vassal."

    "Your vassal?"

    "Yes. You will be granted a portion of my powers over time. That which has imprisoned you will now be yours to command. I warn you, there is no guarantee that you shall survive the trials ahead, or even that we shall succeed against the creature that we fight against. But you will have the chance to work for a cause greater than yourself, a chance to prevent the annihilation of your race and homeworld. The choice is yours."

    Sarah tried to process the offer that this being had presented to her. She was tempted to just go with the freedom and leave, but...

    What would her parents think? They would've been happy having their daughter back of course, but could she really have looked them in the eyes, knowing that she could have helped prevent the end of the world, and refused the call? Could she live with herself, knowing that she had refused to even try to stand against what was coming? No, she didn't thing she could.

    She looked Chronos in the star-eyes.

    "Get me out of this prison, and I'm all yours," she said.

    His eyes seemed to glow brighter, when suddenly the gray field around her started to dissolve. In seconds, the haze that had held her for so long was gone.

    Color. Wonderful, beautiful, amazing, simple, joyous, color. Sarah would never take it for granted again.

    She fell to her knees, tears of joy falling freely at the sense of relief she felt. She looked up at the thing that had released her from that torment.

    "Before we go...wherever you're heading, do you think we can...stop by the local cemetery? I... wanna say hi to my folks before we go." She looked on the frozen face of Doctor Lloyd, a small chuckle escaping her. “And I’ll want to visit this old coot, later.”

    "Of course." Chronos said with amusement, holding a hand out. She grabbed it, felt a surge of power flow through her (though still only a trickle, she knew, compared to the amount her rescuer possessed), and then they disappeared in a flash of white.

    ---------------------------------

    “...enough to do much of anything. I’ve failed you, my dear, and...” Doctor Lloyd blinked. Blinked again. Yes, there was an empty space in front of him, where Sarah had been a moment before. The bubble of warped time, the prison that had trapped Sarah Kissinger for twenty years was gone, along with its inhabitant. One instant, there, the next, gone.

    He straightened up. Half a second of thinking, sharing a shocked look with his colleagues, he whirled on his assistant, pointing a finger imperiously. “Michael! Check the camera feeds! Now!”

    They would discover nothing. Only a gap of two minutes, in which the camera recorded nothing, despite the system on the other end of the building checking out perfectly. It wouldn't be until tomorrow that the news would be released. By then, similar reports would be arriving from other sites of Gray Boy victims.

    ---------------------------------

    The Sun was immense.

    Certainly, people knew that. If someone took the time to look it up, they would know that. Most people didn’t really think about it, because it was so distant. It was just there. Few people ever imagined just how large, how bright the Earth’s star really was. Human imagination was so very flexible, capable of dreaming up the fantastic, but it simply wasn’t equipped to deal with its limitations. At least, not without significant effort and practice.

    Dragon, on the other hand, had few such limitations. Data was much more easily refined into knowledge, and knowledge into imagination. The Sun was one million, three hundred ninety-one thousand kilometres across. Her sensors easily picked that up, and it interfaced with her newfound power in a way that wasn’t quite describable to human senses. She could detect the waves of infrared light, visible light, the x-rays given off by the absurdly hot corona. Here, within Mercury’s orbit, all that knowledge and feeling was almost enough to make her forget her mission.

    She adjusted the simple gate, formed on the same principles as the Shadow Gates. Unlike the Shadow Gates, however, it was not designed for human travel. It would gather sunlight, intense enough to vaporize a person, and channel it into the Light Plane, where it would diffuse somewhat, but more than enough would be collected on solar panels and other methods of turning heat into energy. The gate itself had a few simple programs and ion engines, charged with electricity, designed to keep it in orbit of the Sun.

    Best of all, all that energy would not fail. While solar activity ebbed and peaked, it did not ever simply stop. Nor would it be interrupted by a simple passing cloud. One of the advantages of building in space.

    The nifty data coming from the solar wind didn’t hurt either. Plus it was material that, with time and patience, could be made into things. The solar wind wasn’t exactly thick, but it was plentiful and it would otherwise just be thrown into space uselessly anyway.

    The Shadow Gates wouldn’t be useful for this. Their portals were very useful, indeed, but they failed in one respect. They absorbed light, but it never arrived in the Shadow Plane. A few tests had shown that. The heat would pass, but not the light. That would be useful for other things, but it would make things a fair bit more difficult if they hadn’t figured out other options.

    She opened her comm channel. “Tranquillity Base, collectors are online.”

    Normally, it would take nearly seven minutes for a radio wave to reach the Earth’s orbit, and another seven for the reply to reach Dragon’s current location in solar orbit. That was assuming that the signal didn’t get lost in the Sun’s interference. Thankfully, a very small Shadow Gate was attached to the rear side of the collector. While light could not pass through, electrical signals could. Magic and technology working together was weird, but there was no arguing with the results. The radio on the back took Dragon’s signal, translated it to electric data, transmitted by wire, passed it through the gate, passed through the gates in the Shadow Plane, and translated it for the computers at the other end.

    Transmission to reply time: 0.0024 seconds. Under ideal circumstances, that is. Humans just didn’t tend to think that fast.

    Suck it, Relativity.

    We read you, Dragon. Thank you for the assistance,” a faintly British voice echoed. “The excavator is online and running smoothly. We should have enough room to set up shop in three days at this rate.”

    One of the hazards of space colonies was radiation. Another was living space. Both issues were mitigated by building underground colonies, at least to begin with. Given time, surface colonies would be built. Perhaps enough to change the face of the Moon.

    Still, that would take quite a while. Hopefully, they would have the time.

    “Glad to hear it, Tranquillity Base. Dragon out.”

    She had to get back on the task at hand.

    Four hundred more solar harvesting stations weren’t going to place themselves, after all.

    ---------------------------------

    Africa was a hellhole.

    Even before the advent of parahumans, it hadn’t been the nicest continent. During the age of colonialism, when the British Empire spread over much of the world, the diseases that lived in her jungles made it known as White Man’s Grave. Even with the areas that weren’t disease infested-jungle, it was simply difficult to build a proper English port. It had rarely been worth the effort.

    The appearance of parahumans, however, made things much, much worse. It used to be a warlord would be whomever had the largest collection of men and guns to arm them. Now a warlord could appear anywhere, anytime, from any of the people who went through just one bad day.

    Moord Nag was one of the most powerful. She was once just a girl, living a simple, but harsh life in her village. That girl’s life came to an abrupt end as her family was slaughtered. As the men, serving a warlord, took the girls for themselves as prizes.

    Then the spirits gave her a gift in exchange for her pain. Her violation. Aasdier. Her spirit, her companion, her vengeance. Her only true friend. Aasdier fed upon the human dead, but grew in size and strength only with the sacrifice of the living. Once, Aasdier could have fit within the palm of her hand.

    Now, Aasdier was a great, dark snake that stretched thirty feet behind his head. He was large enough to ride, large enough to be Moord Nag’s herald of death, and it made things simple enough for her to claim her territory. In exchange for lives, the sick, the weak, the dying, or merely those for whom drew the bloody lots, they would die for Aasdier. Die for their protector. Die for their families. Die so that others might live.

    After having taken so many lives, few things could stand up to Moord Nag. Few crossed the warlord of Namibia. Despite the blood on her hands, she was better than most.

    And thus it was odd for a man to approach her camp, walking over the nearest sand dune as if he had no care in the world. Those who were not her followers were not welcome, all knew that. Still, it was plain to see he had been touched by the spirits, having been given a gift. His skin was white, as if he was covered in ashes. His hair was long, flowing, and seemed to be made of flame. He wore leather armor, fastened by red chains, and his pauldrons were decorated with snarling lions.

    Aasdier, always loyal, crested over the dune and slammed into the man. Or rather, slammed into the dune itself, as the man had snapped out of existence and appeared some distance away, a smirk on his lips.

    Aasdier lunged again, and the man vanished and reappeared. From nothing, he drew a sword made of flame. Instead of lashing out at the massive form of Aasdier, he drove it into the ground.

    The ground shook, and opened into a chasm, the ground falling beneath the pair and revealing a cave system beneath. Aasdier fell into it, screaming, struggling to get back up again. Moord Nag took a step back as the man turned toward her, a grin on his face as his flaming hair drifted behind him. He spoke, though he was distant enough to be inaudible, she heard him, easily.

    “Your beast is impressive, my dear. While I would enjoy battling it, I am not here for that. I wish to parley.”

    Aasdier clambered his way back to the surface, howling in rage. Moord Nag stepped upon his back, letting her companion haul her into the air. Aasdier’s white skull was snarling, eager to rend this upstart apart.

    But Moord Nag was the mistress. Aasdier was her spirit, and not the other way around.

    With a delighted smile, the man took a step into the air. Then another, and another, as if he were ascending an invisible hill, until he was level with her. Flame danced upon his hands, resolving into a pair of glowing broadswords, engraved with intricate designs, and he held them out for her, hilt-first.

    With slightly-too sharp teeth, he grinned. “I am Lorkhan. I am the Lord of War. I offer a gift to you, great warlord of Namibia, freely. I ask only that you hear me out.”

    Moord Nag tilted her head. She grasped the hilt of one blade, and held it up to the light of the sun. Even with a lack of expertise in ancient weapons, she could tell there was something otherworldly about the blade. Something strong, something powerful. It had a thirst for blood and death that rivalled Aasdier’s own.

    She looked at the man with hair made of flame. “I am listening.”

    ---------------------------------

    Out in the French mountains, near Grand Veymont, a young woman ran for her life.

    To casual passerby (if there had been any in the isolated forest), one might have seen this raven-haired British tourist, dressed casually in a white tank top, tan shorts, and sturdy-yet-fashionable combat boots and thought that she had merely decided to jog through the woods for the sake of exercise. The truth would be clear, however, if they saw the terror in her bright blue eyes, which currently stood out sharply on her paler-than-usual face. A few yards behind her, men chased her with murderous intent.

    Alexis had only come to France to clear her head (and because the only other option she’d had at the time had been Switzerland, which was isolated due to the Simurgh’s first attack and thus been entirely impossible to get near, as the isolation was enforced with bullets). Her boyfriend had been caught in the collateral damage of an attack by the Three Blasphemies and she’d been having trouble moving on from the event. After fighting off (to some degree at least) the prospect of suicide to escape her grief, she’d decided to take a trip abroad to enjoy the sights and clear her head.

    In hindsight, she should have just gone to Norway instead. She could have just visited her cousin Lisette. And not bothered with hiking because this was so fucking stupid.

    She had gone backpacking up one of the less visited mountains in the region, and had gotten the genius idea of leaving the beaten path and exploring the woods away from anyone else who might have been around. She had been wandering the woods, enjoying the feel of the fresh (and, thankfully, warm) air on her bare arms and legs, listening to the sound of leaves crunching under her boots, and just let herself go with the flow. Eventually, as the sky grew a bit overcast, she’d stopped to take off her backpack and rest a minute before heading back to civilization when she heard something. Through the persistent calls of the oddly plentiful crows in the forest (or were they ravens? or both?), she heard what sounded like people talking/arguing. Curious, she followed the sounds (leaving her backpack behind, brilliant) until she found a group of men.

    There were five of them, plus a sixth man on the ground, having been beaten to within an inch of his life. The rest of the men, obviously criminals of some sort, were arguing with each other and waving knives around, apparently trying to settle some matter concerning the beaten man (she didn’t speak much Swiss, and they were speaking too quickly to make out very well). Eventually, one bald man with a cigarette in his mouth just raised what looked like a sickle and slammed it into the beaten man’s head, killing him. A shocked gasp rang out, one Alexis only recognized came from her after the men all turned and looked at her.

    For her part, Alexis processed the state of things rather well: these men knew she’d seen them kill someone, and clearly weren’t planning on letting her just leave to share the news with anyone. She also caught the look on a couple of their faces as they noticed the rest of her body. She didn’t bother trying to speak.

    She ran.

    She ran as fast as her legs could carry her (which was considerably fast; she made a point of regular exercise), the men no more than 10 yards behind her. She didn’t bother to look back at them or really think about where exactly she was going, only focusing on not tripping over anything or running into a tree. Eventually, she reached a point where they were just barely far away enough to be out of her sight. Unfortunately, after turning back to watch where she was going, she realized something important:

    She had cleared the tree-line and was going very fast towards the edge of a cliff.

    Desperately trying to slow herself down, she just managed to stop herself from running off the cliff. However, she was now left precariously balanced on the ledge, feet half in the open air. As she struggled to maintain balance, she heard her pursuers shouting. Turning back fearfully, she saw them approaching the tree-line. She realized her chances of getting away from the ledge before one of them reached her and just shoved her off himself was-

    She heard a crack.

    The rocky ledge under her feet broke.

    Her balance was lost.

    With a scream, she fell. Bones broke upon impact with the next ledge, thirty feet below.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Darkness. Pain.

    Alexis could taste blood. Her blood. Consciousness ebbed and flowed, and she could feel herself struggling to keep awake, lethargy threatening to steal away her mind forever.

    She didn’t want to die.

    Crows gathered around her broken body. Cawing. Watching. Intelligence in those beady eyes.

    They were going to eat her. They were going to wait until she died, and then feast on her broken body. Her bones would get washed away in the next rainfall, fall all over the valley below. Then the snow would fall in the coming months, cover her bones, and nobody would miss her.

    Alexis cried.

    A soft voice reached her, like a whisper on the wind. “Such pain. Such suffering. Do the little ones scare you, child?”

    Fear broiled in Alexis’ heart, her eyes widening as a new figure formed at her side. Wraithlike, ghostly, and only partially human. The very top of the figure was a beautiful woman, who smiled kindly. But below the nudity, where the woman’s stomach should have been, were three more heads. A white wolf’s head, staring at her with curious interest. A brown snarling bear, growling in disdain. A golden lion, looking somehow bored, aloof. And worse, beneath that, a body of writhing snakes, each of them supporting the monstrous being, while their cold reptilian heads focused on her intently.

    Alexis choked. Words weren’t possible with her own ribs puncturing her lungs.

    Death was something she’d hoped would be something far-off in the future. She imagined, perhaps naively in a world with disasters, Endbringers, and unsteady governments, that she might die an old woman with children. Not here, not now. Not out here in the middle of fucking France while a monstrous cape taunted her.

    The apparition chuckled, a black orb appearing in her hand as she approached Alexis’ broken body. “It seems appropriate that I give you this. I can change you. I can save your life. You can learn to love again. To live again. Or you can give this power to another, when you awaken again, though that might mean your end. It is sure it is doing no good now, in my hands. Perhaps it will in yours.”

    Alexis could only whimper as the ghostly figure placed the orb upon her chest. And then struggle to scream as it began to burn.

    -------------------------------------------------


    In the time before the Wanderer's arrival in Castlevania's world, the deities had been in a slump. Solin's mad quest for more power and followers had left the other deities with nothing, all but hiding on the dregs of their world with only their own planes to satisfy them. Even the renewed war Dracul had started against the current Lord of Light had not offered them much in the way of gaining new followers.

    For Scylla, she had taken to collecting as a way to entertain herself. Specifically, she would collect the powers of particularly interesting mortals on society’s metaphorical outskirts. Two in particular had been of great interest to her: the ancient witch Baba Yaga, and her long standing rival, Malphas the Crow Witch. The two had lived for centuries longer than mortals naturally could, fueled by their hatred towards each other (and the lives of whatever poor fools had crossed their paths). In the end, a noble warrior named Victor Belmont, one of the few of his family to live while Dracul rested (and the last to live a full life before the Abomination’s arrival), had hunted down and slain the two witches, along with the forces at their command (even a member of an ancient breed of giant ogre, impressively enough). Scylla had seen fit to collect the essences of the witches.

    They were in her possession when she was captured. As she had reached out to try and escape she had caught hold of the essences of the two rivals before being subsumed. The energies of the witches were thus ensnared with her. When the Wanderer had left with the imprisoned deities, the power of the witches left as well.

    When Dracul fired the weapon within the Wanderer, the connection holding the witches to Scylla had been loosened. When the Thinker Entity crashed to Earth, one of the orbs containing their power had been dislodged from their hold, and sent flying through the dimensions of Earth away from its owner. The black orb of energy containing the remaining nature and power of the crow witch had remained in Scylla’s grasp, trapped and helpless, useless as long as its owner was enslaved.

    Then the parahumans David and Noelle freed Scylla from her prison. It gave the newly-freed goddess an opportunity to act. And it was so much easier to pass along an inherited power than to craft one from the ground up.

    -------------------------------------------------

    Pain greeted Alexis when she woke up once more.

    As the ability to actually see properly returned to her, she took in her current surroundings. She was on a ledge just wide enough to hold her, with a little extra between her and the edge. She had landed on her right side and, as far as she could tell, had fallen quite a ways from the top of the cliff.

    The next thing she took note of was the blood pooling out from her.

    The ribs on her right side were shattered, with at least one sticking out through the side of her rapidly-reddening tank top. Her right knee was now a mess of shattered bone, flowing blood and destroyed muscles. Her hip similarly felt shattered, the blood discoloring that side of her shorts confirming it. Unsurprisingly, she couldn’t move her right leg at all, further pain being the only result she got of even trying. Her left leg felt numb, but she could at least (barely) move the toe of her boot, which she took as good news. As for her arms, she could move the left one(currently lying in front of her face) to a degree, but the right one was splayed flat on the rock before her, more blood and shredded meat surrounding it. She felt warm speckles of blood across her face, some slowly slipping down to the numb remains of the right side of her face and her shattered cheek bone.

    A few tears started to join the bloody mix. Had she imagined the apparition? A false hope thought up in the insanity of a dying brain?

    Then she heard a caw.

    She glanced down back to her legs. A crow was currently perched on her right boot, pecking at the laces. As if realizing it was being watched, it looked up and met her gaze. Its shiny black eyes met her teary blue ones for a moment. Then it hopped up to her shin. Then over to her left knee, avoiding the shattered right one in an almost careful manner. Then onto her (apparently still intact) left hip, before finally jumping to the ground in front of her. It was then she noticed two things: that the crow seemed to have a whitish patch of feathers over its head around the eyes, and it seemed to be acting carefully, with unnatural intelligence.

    With difficulty, she moved her left hand to rest closer to the crow. The blood felt warm and sticky against her skin. Warmer than she expected. The crow hopped up to her hand, looking at it for a moment, before leaning in close and lightly nuzzling it with the tip of its beak. She oddly found herself lightly smiling from the display.

    Another crow landed, this time on her damaged arm. A third landed, once again on her leg. A fourth bird, this one a raven, landed on her shoulder. She could see still more birds flying around the ledge in a tight circular pattern. From what she could tell, they all had similar patches over their heads as the first one.

    The first crow hopped back over to her destroyed knee. It quickly plucked up an piece of meat(probably a piece of muscle) from the ground, the piece of flesh becoming coated with... something. Black liquid seemed to flow from the crow's beak and covered the flesh. The crow gently set the meat on her knee. When it let go, the substance sprung out black tendrils, which quickly wrapped themselves around the nearest sections of knee. It didn’t hurt; in fact it felt surprisingly good.

    She felt more light taps as substance started prodding at the wounds, at the meat, at her.

    She saw the crows and ravens flying closer, more starting to land on and around her.

    She felt herself grow stronger, her body pull itself back together.

    As she was enveloped by her new feathery … friends, she felt herself smile.

    -------------------------------------------------

    The killers continued pursuit towards the cliff face, ignoring the collection of crows and ravens clustered in the trees, around the ground, and in the air. They had to be sure that the interloping woman was dead. So intent was their focus on their current target they failed to notice the crows gathering from the forest. Just a few at a time, one after another.

    If they had looked up to see them watching the humans so intently, they might have realized something was not quite right.

    They stopped before the ledge they had seen her fall over. After some deliberation and further bouts of ignoring the birds and their constant cawing, their leader (the man with the sickle) leaned over the side. He found his vision blocked by a mass of birds, flying to and fro along the cliff face. Had they already gotten to work on her corpse?

    Suddenly, the birds simultaneously flew up over the ledge in front of the men. They backed up from the display, as the birds started circling around in the sky. A larger shape flew up over the ledge, and lightly touched down in front of them.

    It was the woman. Only she looked much different from the frightened individual they’d been chasing just a few minutes ago.

    Her black boots now extended up to her knees, and black leggings wrapped around her legs. Her black shorts were adorned with a black leather belt, topped by a silver buckle in the shape of a crows skull. Her now black tank top was now covered with an open black vest, a white crow head with a ruby-red eye over the left breast. Black elbow-length velvet gloves covered her hands. Rounding the ensemble out was a black, feathery overcoat that reached down to her ankles. Her long smooth hair seemed unchanged, though it draped down the back of her head and shoulders like a hood, or maybe like the feathers on the back of a bird's head. Her face was even paler than it had previously been, save only for the raven black lipstick adorning her lips, and her eyes.

    Her bright, pale, purple eyes.

    With a flick of her wrist, the birds suddenly swarmed the men. Their attempts to ward the winged attackers were futile, and they quickly found themselves being knocked to the ground and devoured by the pecking swarms.

    All except their leader. He was left untouched, paralyzed with fear, as the woman stepped up to him. She gave him a once-over, like he’d given her before, then gently put a hand on his face.

    He screamed.

    His body twisted, becoming thin and fleshy. His skin took on a bruised purple coloration, and he felt his abdomen collapse into itself. His clothes burned away as his arms wrenched back, the fingers elongating and sharpening, the ring and pinkie fingers fusing together. Feathers popped out of his arms and the back of his head, and his feet widened and grew sharp claws on the toes. The eyes darkened to black, all emotion draining from them. Finally, his face elongated, the skull becoming visible and more birdlike, the tip blackening like a beak. An inner fire ignited, setting the torso to glow from the inner flames. The hand was finally removed, and the bird/man stepped back, bowing to its master.

    The woman … Alexis, yes she still thought herself Alexis, but still far more than what she’d been when she first found these men - she was pleased by the creature’s development. But she still felt more could be done. She looked down at the sickle dropped by the man before his transformation. She also noted that one other man had already had his skull picked clean by her friends.

    Picking up both sickle and skull, she made her way to the tree-line to one particularly small tree in particular. She rested the skull on one branch, and the sickle on the other. A moment later, the tree began to shift. The branches twisted and warped, the whole tree taking on a more humanoid shape. In a minute's time, a wooden figure stood. It was skeletal in nature, with thin legs crafted of interlocking wooden pieces that tapered down to a point. Its torso was like a wooden ribcage, fire dancing inside it. The skull served as the head, more fire burning at the eyes. More interlocking branches made up the upper arms and connections to the forearms, while the forearms themselves consisted only of long branches extending almost the entirety of the creature's height, the back ends ending at points. In the place of hands, two sickles lay, held to the 'arms' by thick vines. All in all, it looked like some manner of tall murderous scarecrow.

    She smiled. Yes, these were definitely a start to things.

    The new Crow Witch gathered her friends. If she’d stopped, and listened, she just might have heard the faintest sound of laughter from the newly freed goddess of Beasts.


    -------------------------------------------------

    Edits: Derp. Spelling mistakes, punctuation, and small details.
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2018
  17. Threadmarks: Interlude: Preparations part 3
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    135
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    A/N: Damn, this has taken a long time. Damn damn damn. Stupid real life.

    I'm not entirely happy with this one, either. But, it has been a long time since I updated, and if I keep polishing I'm going to be on it forever. So here goes.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Whenever you’re ready, Quartermaster.”

    Danny just sighed, shaking his head ruefully as he scratched his cheek underneath the domino mask. “Couldn’t come up with something better on short notice, hm?”

    Miss Militia chuckled. “You’re the one who decided going out with the rest of us was pretty pointless.” She pushed the door open, and gestured. “After you.”

    Danny stepped inside, pausing as he saw the other two figures in the simple Rig quarters. Neptune and Salacia.

    The pair looked up, the water-constructs clad in the suits that made them look presentable. Neptune bowed his head to Danny, then his artificial lips turned into a smile as he looked at Hannah, gesturing quickly.

    Hannah nodded back. “Neptune’s glad to see you.”

    Danny smiled wryly. “I’m glad to be here, too. This is so damn weird, though.”

    Salacia looked back and forth, appearing somewhat uncertain. She made a few gestures, but they were slow, hesitant, as if she had some trouble flexing her fingers. She opened her lips, allowing Danny to see the water flowing within her suit, but all that came out were burbles.

    Neptune shot her a look, but if anything, the older projection seemed somewhat amused.

    Hannah laughed softly. At the looks she was getting, she shrugged. “Sorry. Took a while for Neptune to stop trying to talk. That’s why we got him the phone and text-to-speech app. It was just too difficult to wire up some kind of Tinkertech workaround, apparently.”

    Danny couldn’t help but smile at that. “Tinkertech can’t solve everything, I suppose. Just almost everything.” With a shake of the head, he sucked in a deep breath, looking at Neptune. “Look, I’m not sure how this works. Do you have to do what I say?”

    A momentary pause, then Neptune nodded, almost hesitantly.

    Danny rubbed his forehead, and sighed. Then he looked at Salacia, a bit of pain in his voice. “And you, too?”

    Her nod was a lot less hesitant. She tried to make some gestures, slow and uncertain. Hannah spoke after watching for a moment. “She wants to try new things. She also doesn’t want to leave here.”

    Danny wasn’t surprised. He sucked in a breath before he spoke. “Alright. I don’t like this, at all. I had no idea I was responsible for either of you, though I’m glad it happened.” His voice thickening, he looked at Neptune. “I never did thank you for saving my life. At the time I was... I was in a very bad place. I thought my daughter was gone forever. By all rights she should be. I was angry at you...well, I was angry at the whole damn world. But you didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry.”

    Neptune nodded slowly.

    He clenched his hands, visibly steeling himself. “You’ve got minds of your own. I won’t order you to be my slaves. I’m going to ask you. Do you like working here?”

    Neptune made some gestures. Hannah’s voice chimed in. “Neptune’s made friends here. He was mine since he joined up. He liked working with the fire department.”

    With a slight smile, Danny nodded. “I’m going to ask you something. You both something. I can’t do it myself. Help people. Help protect my daughter. She might not need it, but help her, if you can. Please.”

    The two projections looked at each other. Then slowly, they both looked at Danny and nodded.

    --------------------

    “Alright Mark, what do we got?”

    Mark shrugged, stroking his chin. “Dunno. We need something new. We’ve done GTA.” He winced as a wire on his latest device sparked. “Ah, crap. Need to fix that lead.”

    Luke rolled his eyes. “And we got about half a million dislikes for that video.”

    Mark looked up, fixing his partner with a stare. “Told you going around beating up hookers was a bad idea. It’s one thing in a game, but in real life? I thought we were going to get choked through the damn internet.”

    Luke shook his head. “Well, live and learn, dude. We can try Halo?”

    Mark licked his lip, considering. “I’ll need to salvage the personal shield. It’s still working, but it took a beating last run. I’m not sure about the power armor, though. Might have to program that through the holo-projector. It’s too similar to the Mark One armor I tried to make way back.” He got to his feet, taking a moment to wipe his fingers on his pants, leaving black smudges.

    Luke shrugged, taking a cold slice of pizza out of the fridge. “Still say we could try something around that new portal to Velnar. Think Scarlet would like us? I can think of a ton of medieval style games we could do around there. It’d even be authentic!”

    Mark laughed softly. “Yeah, right, let’s try and pull something on the girl who can turn into a dragon. We can try playing Knighthood against her, but I don’t wanna risk being one of the early npc knights who get eaten with a side order of ketchup.” He walked into the next room, freezing at the sight before him. “Uh, Luke?”

    Luke recognized that tone of voice, walking over and peering over his shorter partner’s shoulder. “Where the hell did the holo-projector go? Nobody got in here!” He nervously looked over at the front door of their converted warehouse. “At least...fuck. Teleporters.”

    Mark groaned. “Great. That means we gotta move. We just got settled in here.” He paused, paling as another thought occurred to him. “Shit!”

    “What?”

    Mark whined. “I just downloaded the new X-Com onto that projector! It’s going to take ages to get another digital copy!”

    Luke blinked. “You’re worried about that? I’m worried about the fact you can’t make another holo-projector.”

    And I can’t make another holo-projector!”

    --------------------

    Contessa set the box down. Considering how valuable and versatile it was, it was rather surprising Leet could manage to make it fit within a suitcase. She looked at the immobile screen that was her interface with Pandora.

    The screen flickered, and the AI ‘looked’ at the device. “Huh. That looks familiar. Leet tech? You sure it won’t explode?”

    Contessa’s lip twitched with repressed amusement. “This happens to be one of his more reliable inventions. He used it for over six months without it exploding. It could be useful for pulling attention off our people when the battle comes.”

    Pandora’s image nodded slightly. “It might.” A small construction drone, about the size of a basketball, unfurled and started scanning the holo-projector. “This could be useful...hrm. And oh.”

    Contessa lifted an eyebrow. “Something wrong?”

    Pandora chuckled, the sound very realistic considering it was coming from a sophisticated program. “No. There’s just a large gaming library in here too. I think he’s going to be very, very upset if he didn’t manage to make backups.”

    Contessa paused. Then, slowly, she spoke. “They were using a piece of advanced Tinkertech for crimes and as a gaming platform?”

    Pandora sighed with exasperation. “Well, it is Leet. Least I’ll have some entertainment while I’m here.”

    --------------------

    “Sophia, where the hell are you going at this hour?”

    Sophia stiffened. With a snarl, she turned and spat at the ground. “Out.”

    Her mother crossed her arms, looking exhausted. “Like hell. It’s dangerous out there! Don’t you remember what happened to Steven?”

    Sophia flinched. She clenched her hands, using every bit of her self-control to not lash out right then and there. Instead, she stored the anger. “I don’t give a shit. I’m going out.”

    A wailing cry emerged from inside the house. Sophia’s mother turned, filled with exasperation. “And you’ve woken up your little sister.”

    Sophia shrugged, turning and walking away. “Like I care.”

    “Sophia! Sophia! Get back here!”

    She broke into a run. She had to get in some action tonight. Sophia Hess didn’t need this shit.

    --------------------

    Beneath the hockey mask, Sophia smiled.

    It was a perfect night out in Brockton Bay. The weather was warm, just slightly humid, allowing it to trap the day’s warmth. But it wasn’t so warm that it was oppressive or tiring. It was an ideal night, and she was going to have some fun before it was over.

    A night like this was perfect. Even in a shithole like Brockton Bay, there were always people out and about. Not just the criminals. But the idiots. The normal people who always had some kind of ‘pressing business’ and thus went out and made themselves easy targets. Stupid sheep that decide that the need for a candy bar at two in the morning was worth risking their lives.

    The moon was full. It helped slightly when she peered over the edge of rooftops, trying to pick up movement in the alleyways. She’d learned, quite early on, that at night, it was far easier for her eyes to pick up on movement than detail. It was the easiest way to find out if someone was lurking wherever her attention was.

    It was pretty rare for someone to actually lurk in an alley, though. Muggers and rapists often prowled and moved, and rarely sat and waited for prey. Well, the latter was usually an acquaintance. Even in Brockton, it was fairly rare for a woman to be pulled off into the bushes to be raped. You find more rapists at parties and boardrooms than you do the streets.

    She moved to go on the hunt.

    --------------------

    “I don’t need your fuckin’ help.” Sophia growled.

    Glory Girl hovered there above the vigilante, her prissy-white, shining costume perfect, the white cape flapping behind her in the wind. Both of those pretty, blue, perfect eyes focused on the dirtied vigilante on the ground, as if she was literally looking down her nose at Sophia. Fuck, the cheerleader’s fucking teeth gleamed as she spoke. “You know it’s dangerous out here solo. If you’re caught without backup, the gangs can bring you under their heel or just kill you.”

    Sophia clenched her teeth. She hated New Wave. They had no idea what it was like. They had power along the lines of winning the goddamn jackpot while she had the equivalent of a hundred-dollar scratch ticket. New Wave was photogenic, pretty. New Wave had their youngest member trigger as the world’s greatest fucking healer. They were upper-middle class. They were white in a city full of goddamn Nazis. They never wanted for anything. Hell, Glory Girl triggered in a basketball game. The vain, shallow, bitch.

    I bet she never had a bad day in her life, including her fucking trigger.

    While Sophia had to scratch and scrabble for everything. She went through hell to get her powers. She survived and thrived on the dregs. She got the money for her supplies from the gang members she hunted, not handed to her on a silver platter. Not that the Alexandria package of Glory Girl would need anything.

    “I don’t need the pitch.” Sophia snarled. “I’m better off on my own.”

    Glory Girl sighed. “Alright. Won’t stop you. But if you need a hand, you’ve got options. You don’t have to be alone.”

    Sophia turned on her heel and stalked away. She didn’t need the moralizing from someone who thought herself so high and mighty. Glory Girl wasn’t a predator. She’d be eaten alive in the concrete jungle, if she hadn’t lucked out on the best powers ever. She'd be happy if she found someone who could go through hell and not break. Someone who would fight back when facing life and death. Not a goddamn cheerleader who had everything handed to her like a tame dog.

    --------------------

    Three beaten ABB members later, Sophia was beginning to calm down. The run-in with Glory Girl had annoyed her, but the pleasure of the fight brought her mood right back up.

    Just one more block. She promised herself. Bed is sounding very nice right now.

    A whimpering cry managed to reach her, just faintly on the wind. A desperate plea for help, muffled by distance and obstruction.

    Sophia grinned. Action.

    She jumped over the edge of the roof, turning into her shadow-state to make the leap to the next one. It was at the next alley she found the sight. Four men, skinheads, surrounding a black woman lying on the ground, face down. She flinched as she took a kick in the side.

    One of the men grinned, his voice filled with a gleeful amusement. “She definitely doesn’t know the rules, eh boys? No niggers gets to walk on our turf after sundown. They could be crooks, you know. We gotta protect our fine community.”

    A laugh was shared by the other three. With glee they went at it, kicking at the woman lying on the ground.

    Sophia lifted her crossbow, watching. It would be easy to shoot, to cripple or kill one of these complete wastes of oxygen. But the woman just lay there, whimpering. She didn’t even try to fight back, she just lay there and endured.

    If she tried to fight back, then she might have been worth the effort. She didn’t even have to do much. But a weak person didn’t deserve protection. A rabbit that just lay there as a wolf approached deserved to be dinner. A rabbit that kicked the wolf in the jaw deserved to live. Hell, even if that rabbit just tried to run, it would deserve life.

    This useless lump just lay there and took it.

    Sophia lowered the crossbow and watched. She’d intervene. Eventually. But she’d let the prey take her lumps before the bolts would fly. The bitch was weak and stupid, and so she deserved it. Simple.

    It was a long minute as the woman was beaten. Kicks and stomps from the gang members. Whimpers and cries coming from the victim as she became weaker and weaker, trying to feebly endure. Sophia watched it all with a smile on her face. She enjoyed the whimpers, the broken cries.

    Still, when one of the men’s hands went to the front of his pants and lowered his fly, and exposed himself, Sophia froze in realization. “How about we make this a bit more fun?” He laughed.

    Yeah. That was going too far.

    Sophia lifted the crossbow and fired. The exposed one went down screaming, his hands covering his now-bloody crotch. The other three, predictably, freaked out. They scrambled, looking around desperately, fear on their faces.

    They never looked up. People rarely do.

    She took the opportunity to shoot another bolt through the leg of another one. He went down, screaming in agony. Shifting into her shadow-state, she floated down, relying on the actual darkness to conceal her. It was hard to find her at the best of times. In the middle of the night? She was all but invisible.

    The other two were backing out of the alley, away from their punching bag and bleeding friends. The one who’d been shot in the crotch was screaming incoherently. The other was trying to hobble away, his eyes wide in panic.

    Sophia let him. She had to teach a lesson to the other two. She didn’t have the time to reload her crossbows, and they weren’t good weapons at such a short range anyway. But the bolts themselves were razor-sharp. Coming up behind the pair with a bolt in each hand, she stabbed them both in the back.

    One dropped immediately. The other fell, screaming and hollering. A swift kick to the face, and he lay still, a pool of blood forming beneath his limp body.

    Slowly, casually, she strode over to the very still prey lying on the ground. She gave a gentle nudge to the woman with her foot, deliberately deepening her voice. “You alright?”

    There was nothing. No movement. Shit. She wasn’t even breathing. She dug out her cell phone to call an ambulance, and the cops to take in the wastes of skin. The cops wouldn’t ask much about a few maimed or dead Empire members around a dead black woman. Especially rapist scumbags. Still, she was supposed to try. At least then Shadow Stalker’s reputation could spread.

    The slight amount of light cast by her cell phone fell on the victim’s hair. A very familiar shade of hair. Straight, shoulder-length, black hair with a few gray strands mixed in.

    Sophia dropped to her knees, her eyes widening in panic. “Nononono... Mom, wake up. Mom, please wake up...”

    She checked for a pulse. Her heartbeat was weak, fluttering. Then it went still, her mother’s eyes open, sightless. Desperately, Sophia flipped her mother over, pulled off her mask, and tried to do CPR. Tried being the operative word. She’d never taken classes, only seen it on TV.

    There was a snap underneath her hands as she pressed on her mother’s still chest. The taste of blood was on Sophia’s tongue.

    Push. Push. Push. “Come on, Mom, come on... please...”

    Nothing. Nothing. There wasn’t so much as a twitch.

    --------------------

    The sun was rising before she finally stopped. Sophia wasn’t sure how long it had been. Hours at least. She could barely see her mother’s corpse through the tears in her eyes.

    She hadn’t liked her mother. Why the hell had she been out here!? She should have stayed home, like the rest of the slightly-smarter sheep! She wasn’t supposed to be here! Why couldn’t she have made a smart choice for once? This was as stupid as her getting together with...

    With Steven. That fucking scumbag Steven.

    Sophia had hated Steven. He had seemed so nice, so good, as if he could have replaced her deadbeat dad. At the time, she’d actually begun to warm up to him. Then... he fucked with her. One happy mask out in public. In private, clenched fists, yelling, and a hungry look whenever he looked over the budding teenager. Any talkback was punished, and everything he did wore on Sophia’s resistance just a little more. Then when out one warm day, out trying to ‘bond’ with his would-be stepdaughter, Steven and Sophia were ambushed by a group of Empire members.

    And when the chips were down, Steven showed himself a coward. He threw the thirteen-year old Sophia at the gang members and tried to run. Sophia tried to fight back, failed... and triggered, gaining the power she used and loved. The power to move, to run, to fight back. Steven? He’d been caught, had his throat slit, and bled out on the pavement. The one and only time Sophia could think of that the Empire members ever did anything good.

    Steven’s dead eyes she’d taken satisfaction in. Her mother’s...they were just so empty.

    What was she going to do? Run around homeless? Catch a bus to...any bugfuck town that wasn’t swamped by goddamn Nazis? As much as Sophia chafed under her mother, having to sneak around her to go out and work off her aggression on the weakling scum that deserved it, she had no idea what to do about living on her own.

    Mom, as much as Sophia disliked her at times, as much as she struggled for space, as much as she fought with her...she was Sophia’s only support, though even that had been lacking. What was going to happen next? A foster home? Sophia would rather die than have to submit to a stranger. She could barely handle staying in the same house with her own...

    Her mother’s eyes stared back at her.

    She was going to kill them all. The whole fucking Empire. She’s was going to rip through all of them. One after another. She’d go through their dealers, their pimps, their protection rackets. She’d set bombs for the capes, ghost in, shoot, ghost out. She’d take her time. She’ll wait years if she has to. She was going to kill every last goddamn Empire member for what they did to her mother.

    Sophia clenched her crossbow. Store-bought, simple, useful. Quiet. It worked so well. So useful. There wasn’t anything else. For a year and a half...

    A year and a half? That wasn’t right. She’d been using crossbows for...

    Where was her auto-reloading crossbow? The one the PRT provided? Why was she wearing her hockey mask? Where was her Tinkertech equipped mask, that let her see power lines through walls? Where was her radio? Her tranquillizer-equipped bolts? Sophia lifted the crossbow in her hand and examined it, carefully.

    They’d taken this one away. The scratches and familiar grip were captured perfectly. The PRT had taken it from her, destroyed it to ‘help change her image away from vigilante to Ward.’ She’d watched it burn, the string snap in the flames, the familiar notches on the hilt curl up and blacken before it had burned to ashes. But here it was, in her hand.

    She looked down at her mother’s corpse. Then around at the alley. There was something wrong here. There was blood but...

    The bodies. Only her mother's body was left. There should have been the Empire skinheads here, but there was just her mother's corpse. That wasn't right. That wasn't right. The whole world was wrong.

    The answer hit her. Master/Stranger protocol. I've been compromised.

    Clenching her teeth, she tore her gaze away, and looked up at the lightening sky. “Cut this shit out! Fuck you and fuck this bullshit! I’m on to you fuckers!”

    The body at her feet dissolved away, fading as if it were fog being dissolved by the morning sun. The walls of the alley melted, the sky darkened and turned into an obsidian roof.

    Sophia turned, looking around. The room’s carpeting was a deep, rich red. The walls were black marble. Tapestries hung on the walls, showing scenes of ancient battles. A man in silver, standing against a great white demon, the warrior’s hands alight in flames. Around the pillars holding up the high roof were snaking draconic imagery, as dark as the rest of the stone that made up everything else. Black and red.

    Surrounding Sophia were six drop-dead gorgeous women. They were lowering their hands, but their eyes were filled with hunger and desire as they looked upon the teenager. Behind them was another woman, her skin entirely black. Horns sprung from her head, and she had actual wings sprouting from her back, like oversized bat wings.

    And behind her, at the far end of the room was an elevated throne, shrouded in shadow. It was almost as if the darkness was a solid, palpable thing, working to prevent even a single stray flicker of light from reaching it. On that throne, barely visible at all, was a vaguely humanoid figure, only discernable by the glowing red eyes.

    “Well?” The figure spoke.

    The white-haired demon spoke. “As we expected, My Lady.”

    A slight chuckle of amusement. “I thought so. It was worth a try, I suppose.”

    Sophia clenched her hand around her crossbow, taking solace in its comforting weight. She snarled at the shadowed figure on the throne. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? What did you do to me!?”

    The red eyes narrowed slightly. “I decided to test you, Sophia Hess. I needed to see if there was an actual human being behind that bravado. Behind Shadow Stalker, the vigilante. Behind Sophia Hess, the bully. I needed to see if there was anything worth salvaging.” A dark chuckle. “You lived exactly to our expectations. You’re welcome for the removal of your little slave collar, by the way. I’ve no use for it.”

    Sophia grit her teeth. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” With that reminder, her hand went to her neck, unable to fully keep the smile off her face at the feeling of freedom.

    A momentary pause. Sophia could hear the smile in the voice of the red-eyed figure. “You were given to me as a gift. I have no use for a slave. Or an unwilling pet. An employee, perhaps, but I’m aware of some of the things you’ve done. I had to see if you were worth recruiting. There’s something coming, Sophia, something dangerous. Something that’s going to quite possibly kill all of humanity. We need everyone who can possibly contribute. I had to know what kind of person you were, underneath the mask. And you were exactly what I expected.”

    The anger faded slowly, and Sophia felt a grin pulling at the edges of her lips. “You want a badass to join you, huh? This your recruitment pitch?”

    “No, Sophia. You’re done. You’re not worth a third chance. You’ll just piss it away, like you did both your first and second ones. You're a waste of effort.”

    Sophia felt a tidal wave of white-hot rage. She charged forward, shifting into her shadow-state to get past the line of women in front of her. The white-haired demon stepped out of the way.

    Inwardly, Sophia grinned. She lifted the crossbow, firing it with ease at the arrogant bitch on the throne. The bolt flew forward, shifting out of the shadow-state just as it would strike the bitch. It’d rephase into reality right in the bitches’ heart and-

    - Sophia found herself on the red carpet, her throat sore, feeling like she’d been deep fried. There was a faint flicker of electricity on the hand of the one on the throne, the flicker vanishing as Sophia recognized it.

    Fuck. She just had to go up against an electro...electro... lightning-throwing fucker. And that really fucking hurt.

    Electrokinetic. That was it. That’s the word she was looking for. Owowowowowow.

    Sophia tried to get to her feet, her muscles protesting at every movement. The movement was difficult, painful, and she let out a soft sob before she managed to stifle it.

    “Same old Sophia. The first option is violence. Do you have any other tools in your toolbox at all?”

    Sophia growled, pushing herself off the floor, carefully and gingerly getting to her feet. “Fuck you. You fucked with my head. You got no right to play the moral high card on me. Who the fuck are you, anyway!?”

    A dark chuckle. “Does it matter? There was a point to this, Sophia. I wanted to see what you’d do when you thought nobody was watching. See if you could be trusted to fulfil a mission. See if it was possible we could trust you. And you couldn’t. I doubted it, personally, considering you went off and started playing around and tormenting a civilian when you were already in deep shit. But I had to see how you would act without oversight. I already know you're capable of behaving as long as someone's watching you. You'd hate it, but you'd do it. But on your own?” The figure leaned forward, but was still wreathed in shadow. “You let Empire members beat the crap out of a black woman just because she wouldn’t fight back. You only cared after you realized it was your own mother. And you know what else? My succubi didn’t sense a single lick of concern for your little brother or sister. No worries at all about what might happen to them because of your fuckup. It was all about what you would do. You're lucky it was all an illusion, that your mother is actually just fine at home. You haven't spared a single thought about all that, have you?”

    “Fuck you.” Sophia snarled. “You were fucking with my head. Who's to say what you did with me was anywhere near what I’d normally do?”

    The figure chuckled as she stood, stepping forward into the light.

    “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have a fair bit of experience with you.” Hebert said. Fucking Hebert was standing right there. With the fucking crossbow bolt still in her chest and giving zero fucks.

    Sophia gaped.

    Taylor smiled. “Now there’s the look I was looking forward to.” With a slight frown, she reached down and ripped the bolt from her chest, looking over the sharp, bloodied head. “I’m impressed. These things didn’t cut me when I tried them on myself, but your power bypassed my defense. Pity it doesn’t help your position. Here I'm trying to have a conversation, and you go right to shooting. Just as expected.”

    Faintly, Sophia managed to speak, feeling as if a noose was around her neck. “You’re dead.”

    “Yes. I am. Thanks to you. Lucky for me, it didn’t stick. Not entirely, anyway. I move. I act. I think. I'm just not alive.” Taylor tilted her head, her eyes glowing a deep red. She almost casually dropped the bloody bolt at her feet. “You killed me. Did you even feel the slightest twinge about that? What did I ever do to deserve that? How many corpses do you leave behind on a trip to the grocery store?”

    Sophia shook herself. “Bullshit. I didn’t kill you. Emma came up with the locker idea. You were so goddamn weak you triggered in there and pulled this...fucking bullshit against me! What the fuck is it with you? Laying low for how goddamn long to pull a revenge plot? Laying low for months just so you can spring this? Fuck you.”

    Taylor’s smile widened. “Revenge plot? How much effort do you think I put into this? No, I decided to take advantage of an opportunity when you were handed to me, practically gift-wrapped with a little red bow. I gave Madison a second chance. I gave Emma a chance to explain, perhaps to forgive her, if not forget. She blew that, because she turned out to be entirely self-centered. Understandable, maybe, but I can’t afford that. I decided to give even you a chance, but you blew that. You’re no hero, Sophia. You don't deserve to be within a light-year of that word. You’re just a bully and a thug, enjoying the suffering of others, and with no concern for the feelings of those around you. Not a single bit of concern for how your actions affect others. Fuck, I'm nowhere near perfect there myself, but at least I'm trying. You? You didn't even try to consider what you were doing. Didn’t it occur to you that maybe your mother was out in the middle of the night looking for you? That maybe, despite the fact she has trouble showing it, that she might have cared? Or that if you'd made a non-toxic relationship, took some backup, that the whole alley shit there would have been stopped? Do you always have to slap away a hand offered to help, unless you're hopelessly desperate?”

    Sophia snarled. “You don’t know my mother. You don’t get to talk down to me. You don't fucking know what it's like to be alone. You don't get to fuck with me. Lay off. I don't need this shit. I don't have to hear this.”

    Taylor’s fingers arced with electricity, her voice cold and chilling. “I think you do. You won't listen otherwise. You only respect power, you taught me that very well. Don’t blame me for learning the lesson you were so eager to teach me. You’re not a reasonable person, Sophia. All you seem to get is negative consequences. And even then, even when the bad shit happens that’s your own fault, you blame it on others.” Taylor’s smile had a slight glint of fangs as she spoke. “You blame me for dying in the locker, when you shoved me in there. You blame the skinheads for killing your illusion of a mother, when you just sat there and watched it happen. You could have stopped it, saved her, but nope. You made the choice. My girls here just made it possible to test you without actually getting anyone hurt. Your mother is safe and sound at home, utterly unaware of what's going on here. I do know she's disappointed in you, though. Federal fugitive, murderer, and villain masquerading as a hero. As you are, you’re useless. Worse than useless, because the second you don’t think anyone’s looking, you’re just going to go off, hurt someone, maybe kill them for the joy of it. How much does it take for you to decide to kill someone, hm? Look at you funny? Exist in your general vicinity? We both know I did nothing to you."

    Sophia snarled. "You were weak. You deserved it. If you were strong, you would have laughed at the jokes. Shrugged it off. Fought back. But you just took it. You showed your place, fit right into it. Besides, what the fuck are you so mad about? You're strong now, and I made you strong!"

    Taylor was utterly still for a moment, then her tone dipped to as cold as liquid nitrogen. "Yes. Let me show you how grateful I am at that."

    Sophia glanced backward as she felt someone come near, seeing the women behind her. They looked...hungry.

    The white-haired demon spoke, a small smile on her lips. “May I devour her soul, My Lady? It would be a shame to allow our allies to do it instead. They already had some.”

    Sophia’s eyes widened. “Wait, what?

    Taylor smiled. “You were kept captive some distance away from a cape that eats memories. Within about five hundred feet. Just barely, mind you. You lost maybe a month or two. If you’d have been kept in the same room, you’d have lost everything. You’d be a drooling, idiotic mess, ripe to be molded and shaped however I wanted. Even the cape’s compatriots were upset when they realized their little friend was actually eating souls and not just wiping memories. Not horrified, but that’s still more consideration than you ever showed. They could have made you into my little slave, believing you were a dog to be handled on a leash.” The smile dropped. “But I don’t need a slave. I don't want one. And letting that happen to you would make me worse than you. At the same time, I can’t just let you go. You’ll just wait for a moment, then do the same shit to someone else. Even putting you in prison, while cathartic, would also be setting responsibility aside. I have no doubt you’d go and rip someone’s eyes out in the first month if you could get away with it. Thankfully, I have other options. I’m just going to have to put you somewhere you can’t hurt anybody.”

    Taylor lifted her head. “Door.”

    A glowing orange octagon appeared in the air. Even as Sophia turned to look, something smacked into her back and she was pushed through.

    She spluttered as she found herself in a mud pit. Groaning in disgust, she pushed off the ground, shifting to her shadow-state to float almost lazily in the air. Drifting off the side of the pit, she found a satchel.

    Turning back to her normal self, she opened it. She smiled viciously as she saw what was inside. A crossbow, recent model, state of the art, and sixty bolts, along with what looked like an expensive set of body armor tailored into her costume. On the side was also a set of camping supplies, everything she’d need to make a fire, a tent, a cooler, water, some basic foodstuffs. Even a fully stocked medkit, antibiotics, sutures and needles. Everything she’d need to make a camping trip, if not comfortable, at least livable.

    Now she’d just have to find her way back to civilization. She’d fucking show Hebert and put one of these nicely sharp bolts though her stupid smug face. She’d just have to figure out a good way to go.

    --------------------

    Two hours of trudging later, and Sophia was very, very pissed off. There hadn’t been any sign of civilization. Nowhere at all. No smoke, no roadway, nothing. Even her trusty cell phone had no signal, no sat connection, so she was stuck checking shadows to try and keep her bearings. She was travelling east, so hopefully she’d find a river, which would eventually lead to the ocean. And replenish her water supply, because it was fucking hot out here.

    Still, she felt energized. The air was clear. It wasn’t a bad day, it just wasn’t where she wanted to be.

    Fucking Hebert. What the hell happened? Now that she was thinking on it, she felt hurt in the back of her head. Most of the time she didn't notice, she felt alright as long as she wasn't thinking about it. But trying to remember some of the details about what happened in the last couple of months was like scraping her hand over broken glass. Something felt sharp in the back of her head, and it was maddening.

    She stopped as a faint, jagged memory came back to her. Being kept in Coil’s cell. The man’s fear. Mercenaries commenting on... something. The Simurgh. What was it. It fucking hurt trying to remember...

    Scarlet Dragon. Killing the Simurgh. A Brockton Bay cape.

    That was fucking Hebert? Why the hell was she so pissed at Sophia? If she triggered as someone strong enough to kill a fucking Endbringer, then why the hell wasn’t she thanking her? She became strong because of me. The whole goddamn world should be thanking me.

    Then Sophia went and faceplanted into the dirt.

    She’d tripped over something, lost in her thoughts. Or rather, she’d stepped into a hole. A strangely-shaped, large hole.

    It was a footprint. Three-toed. Deep. A foot and a half long. Sophia stepped out of it, looking it over with confusion.

    The hell could make a footprint like that?

    A loud roar caught her attention. Then a second one, a bit further distant. Carefully, Sophia moved toward the top of a nearby hill, her heart pounding as she swallowed in a suddenly dry mouth.

    Down on the valley below was a nesting ground. The trees had been ripped out of the ground, and it was littered with bones. Very large bones. There were two large animals below, covered in blue and red feathers, standing around fifteen feet tall. Large maws with bloodstained teeth. Two little arms on them, a long, sinuous tail swinging behind them.

    Sophia’s mouth opened and closed in disbelief.

    She was dropped off in the land of fucking dinosaurs.

    Fucking Hebert.

    The two T-Rexes, for they could be nothing else, suddenly turned and looked at Sophia. They roared and started moving toward her, the ground thumping with every step.

    Oh. Fuck.

    --------------------

    Taylor sat on her throne, twirling the crossbow bolt between her fingers pensively. After a lot of consideration, she spoke. “Well. That was a mess. Fuck. I enjoyed that a lot more than I’m comfortable with.”

    Meridia nodded. “So I sensed, My Lady. However, you did not do as Dracul would have. He would have tortured her to death for what she did.”

    "And instead, I sentenced her to exile. Even if she can handle things, she’ll never hear another human voice again, unless we retrieve her." Taylor sighed, looking and sounding exhausted. "It's a shame, really. It wouldn't have taken much to change my mind. A bit of remorse. Worry for her little brother and sister. Guilt over not stepping in. Just a sliver of regret. But she went immediately toward blaming everyone else. She'd never change. We'd have to have someone watching her all day every day to do the job she was assigned to, and frankly she's not worth the effort. She had an assault with a deadly weapon charge on her head when she was brought into the Wards, and she just waited until they weren't looking so close before she thoughtlessly killed me. She didn't learn with her future on the line. We couldn't even trust her to act even in her own best interests, because she doesn't think that far ahead. Least she can't hurt anyone now.”

    Meridia shrugged. “She is her own creature, My Lady. She earned her fate. Any she befriended, she would poison. I doubt she will have the opportunity to do so there.”

    “Mm.” Taylor nodded. She licked her lip, then lifted her gaze to the other succubi in the room. “My girls. You did an amazing job with the illusions. I’m proud of you.”

    They answered with smiles. “As our Lady commands.” Lilliandra spoke.

    Taylor answered with a faint smile of her own. “You’ve earned your bonuses, and then some.”

    Meridia laughed softly, stepping behind the pillar she had been standing near. A moment later, she came back around, carrying several backpacks.

    “Girls,” she spoke with excitement. “We have laptops.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2017
  18. AyiosKat

    AyiosKat Strategissa of Constantinople

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    So uh QQ exclusive chapter of what they do with the laptops?
     
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  19. SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    Well that's easy. They play World of Warcraft. What better way to spend their time?

    More seriously...yeah, I know, it's entirely expected, but they're going to go nuts on the porn sites. Still, I haven't the time, or much talent for, the naughty stuff. This fic will stay SFW. Any naughty content I may come up with will be posted afterward and in the NSFW area, if I ever do it.
     
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  20. Krazyfan1

    Krazyfan1 Versed in the lewd.

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    eh, you probably wouldnt be that bad... you could always make it a bit vague, or describe their appearance, then have it fade to black?
    and besides, didn't you say a while back that you wouldn't mind if fans write omakes?
     
  21. Krazyfan1

    Krazyfan1 Versed in the lewd.

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    eh, you probably wouldnt be that bad... you could always make it a bit vague, or describe their appearance, then have it fade to black?
    and besides, didn't you say a while back that you wouldn't mind if fans write omakes?
     
  22. SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    Oh, of course. If anyone wants to write a naughty omake, I have zero objections. Or is that negative objections? Because they'd be fun. And...hrm. I'm not sure how else I can get it across. Go nuts!
     
  23. Threadmarks: Titanomachy 8.3
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: Working away. I know the delays have sucked. I’ve just lacked time to write. There’s a fair bit more to go, but the end is in sight.

    Blood manipulation: Self only, but extremely versatile. Basis of the Shadow Whip, Shadow Daggers, and other things.

    Short-range teleportation: Draining, but not limited to line of sight.

    Bat Travel: Turns into dozens of bats and back again. Rather confusing, but helpful for mobility.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as some capes, but up there. M1 Abrams out of gas? I'll just push them to the gas station.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance. Unlocked!

    Flight: I believe I can touch the sky. Does it need any more description? Unlocked!

    Possession: Turns into blood, flows into some poor bastard, controls them for a period (hours at most) and when they die they explode into chunky bits. The blood has a toxic effect, so anyone possessed is doomed. (Barring unusual biology.) Unlocked!

    Fleshcrafting: Feeling a little vain? Want a whole new hair color, a bigger bust, shaplier hips, or claws to rend the flesh of your enemies? Subscribe to Vamp-New-You today! (Permits the vampire to alter their own flesh permanently at some cost to their blood. Does not permit changing of bone structure. Cannot be used on others.) Unlocked!

    Mist Form: Transform into near-invulnerable mist. Has quite a few lethal and non-lethal applications. Unlocked!

    Telekinesis: Manipulate objects at a distance through will alone. This is limited to line of sight, and is extremely limited compared to her physical strength. She can manipulate approximately thirty pounds at range to start with, and would improve with practice and imagination.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?! (Locked)

    Shadow Portal: Opens a gate to the Plane of Shadow, where Castlevania resides. Shadow Portals can be made nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Plane of Shadow. Unlocked!

    Dominate: (Not the soul-using thing) Control over others. Takes effort, and can only do so to a few at a time. Repeated and lengthy exposure, however, can make things last longer, until they are permanently enthralled. Can be resisted with willpower and can be no-selled by various techniques/powers.(Locked)

    Bat Summon: Gather swarms of bats to do thy bidding. They will follow the will of the Lady of Darkness without hesitation. Not as flexible as the Queen Administrator shard. The awareness of each bat is basic, and commands must be given to the entire swarm at once. I'm the goddamn Batman. Unlocked!

    Monstrous Form: Accesses a portion of the power available to the Scarlet Dragon's mightiest shape, while retaining the flexibility afforded by a humanoid form. However, it is clearly inhuman. Unlocked!

    Void Magic: Basis of the Void Sword. Drains life from its victims, heals and invigorates the wielder, and brings about an absolute chill. Unlocked!

    Chaos Magic: Control and manipulation of hellfire. Many can use it, but few can project it. Forms the Chaos Claws. Unlocked!

    Storm Magic: Power over electricity and the storm. An excellent method of long-range attack, and quite painful to most.

    Weather manipulation: Can control the weather to some degree, whether that is summoning or banishing clouds, or building up power to make a simple cloudy day into an actual storm. It cannot, however, bring warmth or cold on its own. She can't make a blizzard in the tropics or turn Antarctica into prime beachfront property. She can just make it sunny, cloudy, or rainy. Or snowy if the time of year's right.

    Dragon Shape: The mightiest form of the Heir of Dracul. Becomes a massive red dragon, standing at thirty feet tall. Can access amplified versions of currently unlocked magic, as well as other powers while in the form. However, it is an immense strain to hold the shape for very long. And it is not exactly friendly-looking at first glance. Godzilla (or whatever epic music of your choice!) is highly recommended.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as Taylor's potential, but certainly enough to be highly dangerous to a well-trained human.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance.

    Demonic Wings: Permits him to glide with feathery, though twisted, wings.

    Mist form: Near invulnerable mist. No mere prison can hold thee. Unless they put in a fan to blow you back in.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?!

    Chaos Magic: Alucard's is not as strong as his father's, but his skill with it is extraordinary. He can use it to teleport short distances and throw fireballs, although it is limited by line of sight and distance. (The classic SotN Hellfire spell.)

    Spectral Wolf: Similar to the wolf shape, however it is ethereal and impossible to injure. Alucard can use it to teleport from one location to another by sending the wolf forward, then replacing it. Or he can simply use it to scout and dissolve it.

    Crissaegrim abilities: A wickedly dangerous blade Alucard forged with the materials of three legendary weapons. It permits him to enshroud it with both Void and Chaos magic, as well as being extremely lethal to both holy and unholy opponents.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Unlike Dracul's counterpart power, he would arise in a century unless the process was sped along by blood. He would also arise in a more corpse-like state until he managed to feed.

    Steel Crafting: Self only. Able to mold current avatar however she likes. Tends to prefer a dragon shape, as...well, she's Dragon.

    Teleportation: Flashes out of existence in one place and reappears in another. Line of sight limited, but not distance-wise. Yes. This is overpowered. Limited to (naturally) light-speed maximum.

    Light Form: Turns into a bright solid light construct. This is difficult to maintain, but difficult to injure..

    Strength: DRAGON SMASH!

    Durability: Anybody remember that scene in Superman Returns when the bullet bounces off his eye? No? Nobody? Well, it's kinda like that.

    Healing: Can grant to self or others, and does not need an outside source. Wounds (or damage) heals rapidly.

    Flight: I could touch the sky before I changed into a goddess. Now I just don't need to spend any effort!

    Hard-Light constructs: Eat your heart out in jealousy, Green Lantern! My constructs don't get broken by lemonade!

    Telekinesis: Use the Force, Luke. Stronger than Taylor's version. Not Ziz-strength, but it's up there.

    Light Bridge: Opens a...uh, bridge to the Plane of Light. Think the MCU's version of the Bifrost. Can go from nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Light Plane.

    Human Form: If/when she feels like trying out what a ice cream tastes like.

    Light Magic: Heals and warms its users, and can be turned to be used offensively. Most effective against Dark Creatures, but still useful against other targets. Remember, the Lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi.

    Heavenly Flame Magic: The opposite of Chaos Magic. Her white fire burns, but is formed from calmness, logic. It is a fire that illuminates, but can be destructive all the same.

    Storm Magic: The point of commonality between Light and Darkness. Electricity is such a useful thing. Due to her original nature as a mechanical being, Dragon's control of it is extraordinarily precise.

    Dragon Shape: For when someone or something big really, really needs to be stomped. Is this a copied power? No! It's a completely different kind of dragon!

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century. This is common for gods.

    Vampire Killer: A simple hilt attached to a combat whip that can be slung out and controlled by an ingeniously designed retraction system. On the end of the hilt is a silver stake, perfect for killing vampires, werewolves, and lawyers. The weapon is specifically designed to kill creatures of the night, but works on anything quite well and is capable of channeling magic.

    Light Magic amulet: Allows its wearer to heal over time. Needs to be fueled by someone capable of putting magic into it, which is currently limited to Dragon and Madison. It doesn't permit Wolverine-style healing, but it lets short fights turn into long ones and wearing one overnight heals even most serious injuries. Can be sped up by forcing the magic to flow more quickly, but that drains the amulet which needs time and attention to recharge.

    Seraphic Shoulders: Creates ghostly angelic wings for a few moments, allowing Madison to catch herself in the air or glide.

    Heavenly Gauntlet: A black (I know, it clashes!) gauntlet that generates white fire, equal to that of the fires of Hell.

    Cyclone Boots: Allows high-speed running, jumping, and as a bonus, permits its wearer to take long falls without breaking their legs. Yes, all she needs is a Portal Gun.

    Silver Daggers: Small, easily palmable, and crafted for a nasty surprise attack. Yes, it can hurt a lot to suddenly have a knife in your throat, whether you're a werewolf or not.

    Holy Water: Water that's been exposed to sunlight and had Light Magic channeled through it. Does nothing against most people, would really tick off Taylor and Alucard. When used with Light Magic channeled through its user, forms a light-shield to ward off attacks and really tick off vampires.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “All right. We want you to try and open a portal to Earth Aleph, first. That will do as a control.” Alexandria said, her voice clear and confident. “We need to see how your power works interdimensionally. We already know you have impressive range within the same dimension.”

    Doctor Mother inclined her head. “That’s the biggest hurdle. If we have a chance at fixing that, we’ll do a lot better. I’ll be a lot happier about unleashing destruction on Scion’s world than any inhabited one.”

    I let out an irritated breath. “All right. I’ve tried to make a portal to Aleph before, but it hadn’t worked. Back in a minute.” I opened a portal, strode through, and turned around to face one of the many Shadow Gates I’d flung hither and yon, mainly at random, throughout the Shadow Plane.

    Truth be told, I was somewhat annoyed at this particular limitation of my power. It made no sense that I could make a portal anywhere on the planet, but that I had to anchor them in the Shadow Plane was a pain in the ass. Sure, I could work around it. I could even take advantage of it at times, but I was still stuck with having to make them this way. I guessed it had something to do with ensuring stable travel back and forth, and it had been used that way for thousands of years, but... it seemed arbitrary.

    Well, that’s magic for you. One drop of my blood ingested kills. Half a gallon injected into a bloodstream is just horrifically painful. Which... actually, was one of the reasons Dracul formed the Shadow Whip in the first place. Maximum possible pain while wielding a familiar weapon. Yep, Dracul was a jerk. Is a jerk. He’s still alive. Well, undead. And wishing he was dead.

    Focus, Taylor.

    I turned myself around and concentrated. The portal within the Gate shut, then fizzled as I attempted to open it on Earth Aleph. I frowned clucked my tongue as I tried to consider the problem. I could open a portal from anywhere on a physical world to here...why was it such an issue in reverse?

    I opened the portal back to Cauldron and stepped through. I looked at Doctor Mother and shook my head. “Doesn’t work. I’ve tried before, but I’m not sure what’s wrong.”

    Doctor Mother grimaced. “This is discouraging.”

    Alexandria looked thoughtful. “Try one more time. This time, try... ‘Ellesmere Island, northern shore, Earth Aleph.’”

    I shrugged, turned, and stepped back. With a frown, I shut the portal, then tried to reopen it in the place Alexandria described.

    Fizzle. Dammit.

    When I stomped back through to Cauldron, I was nearly fuming. “Nope.”

    Alexandria nodded, her lips pursed in thought. “Door, Earth Aleph, Ellesmere Island.”

    The now-familiar portal snapped open near Alexandria. The room’s temperature dropped almost immediately as a howling wind and snow started pouring through the portal.

    Alexandria gestured. “Come on! We need to test this!”

    Doctor Mother’s teeth chattered. “Now, please!”

    Shaking my head, I followed Alexandria as she stepped through. The portal shut behind us...or at least I thought it did, because I couldn’t see a damn thing in this blizzard.

    Oh. Right. I can do something about that.

    I thrust a hand skyward as I concentrated, sending my power upward and out, stretching it to grasp the storm. It was a strange thing, to alter the weather according to my whim. It was easier to add strength to a storm, or gather the stormclouds together in the first place, than it was to calm one in progress. It was probably because I was trying to take energy out of the system rather than putting it in, and my magic didn’t really appreciate that much.

    Still, my efforts paid off. After about a minute, the wind had calmed. The snow was still falling in clumps, and it wasn’t easy to see, but it was better than the storm howling right in my face. Now I could see Alexandria and I were standing at the shoreline of some barren island. There was a cliff face off to the right, but otherwise there was a ton of ice and snow and not much else here.

    Alexandria was looking at me with consideration.

    “What?” I snapped.

    Alexandria shook her head. “When I was first told that you were a god, I didn’t believe it. Now... I can see why the label applies. Stopping a storm like that, controlling the weather, that’s the kind of thing most people would consider godlike. There are ancient myths of gods and heroes doing things like that. I’m...” She paused a moment, then shook her head again. “It’s not something I ever considered would be possible. I’m used to being looked up to by a lot of people.” She looked down at her hands. “They’d look on me differently if they’d known the things I’ve done out of sight. The things I’ve done to help prepare for the fight against Scion. Feeding desperate people formulas to save their lives, only for them to fail and have them mutate into monsters. Even the successes are caught by us, controlled and molded for the final battle. All the while never knowing if it accomplished anything.

    I sucked in a breath. Truth be told, I hadn’t considered how things would be for her. I was used to thinking of Alexandria as an icon. But she was a person trying to live up to that icon, despite the horrible things she’d done along the way. I licked my lips. Still, considering she’d known about the possibility of a destroyed world from Scion, I could see why she’d be a part of this.

    Some people thought the lack of fear of a higher power would make people into monsters. I knew that wasn’t true. The only thing oversight does to terrible people is to get them to behave while they’re being looked at, and even then it wasn’t a sure thing. (Fucking Sophia.) People who lacked fear weren’t monsters. They didn’t tend to consider that fear could make people into monsters. People, just a few centuries ago, burned people at the stake for witchcraft when a cow got sick or the well-water tasted funny.

    Dracul, staring out at the stars as the sun seared the flesh from his bones. The asteroids that used to be his world tumbling around at random. An eternal torment for a man who made himself a monster for his own vengeance.

    The fear of that. The fear of annihilation. It would be enough to turn a saint into a...well, a Dracul. Especially if there was no certainty anything they tried did any good at all. You just kept trying more, hoping that something would work. And being afraid to test if it would, because if it failed, congratulations! You just doomed humanity! That was enough stress to make anyone snap.

    I shook my head. “I’ve seen an example of what’s coming. You’ve got my support, I don’t want to see it happen again, either.” I sighed as I tried to order my thoughts. “Dracul had centuries of experience, and he was useless against the one that killed his world. I know I can’t do this myself. I don’t like the things you’ve done. I don’t like that there’s thousands of victims by your group’s hands, even more through your inaction. But I do understand it, and things are rarely just the way we like it.”

    Alexandria’s lip quirked slightly. “You haven’t said anything to me I haven’t said to myself. We hope we now have a chance. That’s all we have, though. We don’t know enough, and our best tools for finding more information are limited. It’s maddening.”

    I sighed and nodded. “Yeah.” Having run out of conversational topics, I turned and formed a portal. There was a second of resistance before it formed, but it did form.

    Alexandria nodded in satisfaction. “I thought so. To open a portal to somewhere, you have to get there first. Then it works.”

    I frowned. “Maybe. At least, partially...” I closed my eyes, letting my mind expand to that cosmic perspective I enjoyed once upon the Moon. It felt weird, and it was difficult to handle, still, but it was enough. I could feel a tingle as the darkness of my power seemed to touch and grasp the darkness in this dimension. My power, Dracul’s power had existed in multiple realities before, during the journey to my world, but it didn’t seem to know how to handle the situation of dimension-hopping. I was essentially building an index of addresses, but I couldn’t just take advantage of an existing index. I had to start from scratch.

    And whoa, trying to grasp and feel things on the stellar scale was dizzying. I swayed on my feet before an adamantine hand clasped my shoulder, steadying me.

    “You alright?” Alexandria asked, her single eye focused on my face.

    I nodded, my wings twitching. “Yes. Just a bit of a rush. The problem is I need to get some of my power somewhere before I can open a portal to it. I don’t need much, but my power doesn’t know how to get from one dimension to another. It’s fine once it’s there, but until then...”

    She nodded in understanding. “Then it can’t find it.” A slight smile lifted on her lips. “Maybe we can get around that.”


    ------------------

    I sucked in a breath.

    Doctor Mother’s voice was quiet. “This is Doormaker, and Clairvoyant. Without these two early successes, Cauldron could never have done as well as we have. We try to keep them comfortable, fed, warm, entertained. But use of their powers over the years have atrophied their senses. We owe them both more than we can ever repay.”

    On a pair of beds in the cell were two men. One was in his early twenties, the other in his thirties. Both were reed-thin, frail, and pale, as if they hadn’t seen the sun in over a decade. They weren’t quite entirely looking like coma patients, but it was damn close.

    Still, I could see why they let this happen. I reminded myself of Dracul, burning in the sun in the midst of the ruins of a dead world. “Alright. How is this going to work?”

    Doctor Mother nodded. “Clairvoyant can see Scion’s true body. He shares his senses with others who touch him. Doormaker can’t reach that body, but we hope you can, as your portal ability isn’t from Scion or his counterpart. Sidestepping the barrier he’s using to protect himself. We’re not going to have you try that just yet, that might set him off. But if you can use Clairvoyant’s power to reach other Earths, it should make things far easier when the time comes.”

    I nodded. “Can’t go through the wall, dig under it.” I stepped into the room. “Anything I should be aware of?”

    “The rush of information can be disorienting. When you try to disengage, be sure to pull your awareness back to yourself before you do. If you disconnect while experiencing too much, it’ll knock you out for an extended period. A week is rather common.”

    I nodded in understanding. I braced myself, sucked in a breath, and placed my hand on the shoulder to the man on the left.

    Nothing happened.

    Doctor Mother coughed. “That’s Doormaker. Clairvoyant’s the other one. Sorry.”

    I rolled my eyes. The man on the right giggled at me, which was rather disturbing, considering the smooth patches of skin where his eyes should have been. I braced myself once more, then touched his shoulder.

    After a moment, I frowned. “Is something supposed to happen? Is there a delay before I see anything?”

    Doctor Mother’s voice was confused. “Nothing? Almost everyone who Clairvoyant has ever touched usually gets the rush of information. Awareness of the Earths throughout the multiverse.”

    “Well, I got nothing.” I tapped his bare skin with my hand for emphasis. “All I’m seeing is this room. With my own eyes, not his power.” I frowned and thought about it. “Shit. His power can’t work with mine. My brain’s just meat. I’m not using it. Which sounds bad, I know, but that’s how it goes.”

    “Damn.” She muttered. “Non-standard physiology. I should have guessed. We never tried a number of Case 53's with Clairvoyant. If he can’t connect, then it doesn’t work. Goddamn it.”

    I nodded with a frown. “I’ve got an idea, though I’m not sure how useful it will be. We’re fairly sure he’s going to wreck Earth Bet, right? How about we work out ways to evacuate large numbers? Or get them out of Scion’s range?”

    ------------------

    I looked out over Brockton Bay. Though here, there was no Brockton Bay. It was just a bay, one of many along the American coastline. Though ‘American’ wasn’t right either. How to call it American when those who would have named it so never evolved here? The air was clean, the sky a beautiful, crisp blue, and there was simply plains of grass and, here and there, the figures of various megafauna below.

    Heck, right where Captain’s Hill was in my home reality, there was a twelve foot long iguana sunning itself.

    Alexandria floated at my side, her voice quiet. “There’s been a lot of worlds like this. Hundreds of thousands we could spread out to, only if Doormaker was able to make a permanent portal. It would buy us some time, if nothing else. But if we can’t kill Scion, any settlement we made would be vulnerable. He could just sweep in and destroy any refugees we settled, and there would be nothing we could do to stop him. Humanity would be trapped, hoping he would just go away. And never sure.”

    “And if you won?” I said, imagining the settlement in my mind’s eye. It would be much like colonial times, I think. I’d seen artist’s drawings of early colonial cities. It wouldn’t be comfortable. Of course, I could be so utterly, completely wrong. Who knows what we might be able to pull off with the appropriate bullshit?

    Alexandria bowed her head slightly. “This world was slated to have the unstable Case 53s here. The stable ones we can reintegrate into society in one way or another, but the unstable ones are only useful for throwing at Scion. Even then, the treatment for making the unstable ones stable was hit and miss. If we’d known what Slug was really doing...”

    I looked at her and lifted an eyebrow. “First, the damage is done. Second, I saw what one of these things does to a world if it isn’t stopped. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have used Slug anyway, if it improved the chances at all. Dracul did things just as bad as you and your group for far smaller reasons. It’s still horrible as fuck, mind you. To destroy a soul is horrific, and there’s not too much excuse for it. That’s the kind of thing Solin and Typhon did. Both of them. At least you had a reason beyond ‘It was helpful to me personally.’”

    She was silent for a moment, then she sighed and spoke quietly. “It’s times like this I miss Hero. He was one of our greatest successes. He was a good man, and a good friend. He’d have argued against mass-test batches, tried for more numerous and stable formulas. More formulas that were likely to produce Tinkers. After he died, and the attempt to create another formula that replicated his power failed... we took bigger risks. It wasn’t until we got certain Thinkers on board that we managed to smooth out the issues. Still, using Slug to stabilize the mutation victims... it was the only way that worked. It was wipe their memories and use stabilizing agent, or leave them in horrific pain, with powers that were more a threat to themselves and others than anything useful.”

    I nodded. “Still, the best laid plans of mice and men.” I floated downward to the valley, where the city actually was in some dimension far, far away from here. “I’ve got a few Gates we can use to evacuate. They’re too big for Doormaker’s portals though. I’ll have to bring them around through my own portals.”

    Alexandria nodded in return. “We’d best get started.” She paused for a moment. “You sure you can’t open a portal to Scion’s body?”

    I shook my head. “And I really don't want to try until we have to. If we move before we're ready, we're dead." I lifted a hand and concentrated. The portal opened, and a moment later, my demons began to file out of the portal. Succubi, werewolves, golems, and larger beasts.

    The native wildlife saw the emerging army, and promptly began vacating the area. It was rather odd to see a lizard the size of a car take one look at my massing army and say ‘Nope!’ and dash away. I lifted my hands as the thousand or so demons emerged, looking up at me.

    “This world is ours.” I called. “Bring one half of our forces through here. We will build a city here, it is to be made in case our great enemy comes. Make sure there is enough room to house as many people as possible.” I took a moment to look over my army of demons. My subjects. My people. “I am counting on you. Do not fail me.”

    ------------------

    Another day later, Dragon and I were with Alexandria in my dining hall. I’d have used the throne room, but that wasn’t the impression I wanted to make on Cauldron’s representatives, anyway. For the sake of security, it was empty, but we had a lot to discuss anyway.

    “I don’t like it.” Dragon said. She looked at Alexandria, her mechanical form humorless. “You’ve been part of this, orchestrating this from the beginning. How much of the PRT and the Protectorate are lies, Alexandria? How much blood was spilled to make you, to make the Triumvirate?”

    Alexandria shook her head. “Too many. Given the options we had, Cauldron took the best ones possible. We’re not facing the deaths of millions or even billions, Dragon. We’re facing the end of uncounted trillions more, on worlds just as real as Earth Bet. I was not part of it to begin with. I was one of the test subjects you’re arguing for. I was an eighteen year old dying of cancer. Cauldron cured me with an untested formula. Eidolon was a helpless twenty-something trapped in a wheelchair. He became the most powerful hero on Earth, and how many people has he saved in his years of work? Hero was a brilliant college student dying of brain cancer. His formula saved his life, another untested formula. We, all of us, knew the risks when we took them. Powers to help the world against its greatest threat, mutation, or death. We were looking at death without that aid. Not everyone accepted the bargain, either. But there’s a lot of heroes in the Protectorate today that would have died otherwise. Does it make up for the victims? Perhaps not. But given the tools we had? It was act or just allow what you call an ‘Abomination’ murder every iteration of humanity.”

    Dragon simply stared. “It’s easy to make sacrifices when it’s someone else who has to suffer for it.”

    I cleared my throat. “Dragon, we’re not getting anywhere here. I don’t like it either. But the damage is done. Recriminations about the past aren’t going to help anything right now. Now how the Case 53s have been treated is horrific. We can do things to try and help things, and...” I looked seriously at Alexandria. “Your group has a responsibility to help them.”

    She nodded. “And we will. When Scion is dead. If we can’t kill him, they will die along with the rest of us.”

    Dragon’s head reared back slightly. There was a slight crackle as she was about to say something, but then a Doormaker portal opened. Four people strode through, and I had to blink. The sheer mismatch was enough to make anyone do a double-take.

    The first was a woman, in her thirties, very attractive, with Italian features. She wore a business suit, and a fedora was perched on her head. She walked through with confidence, though I could also see her shoulders were a bit tense.

    The second was a man in blue and gold, his hair shoulder-length and his features plain. If he was wearing a sweater and jeans, I’d have never looked at him twice. A gorgeous blue cape swished behind him, and despite his appearance, he had a certain presence about him. Apostle. Eidolon. Whatever. I was happy that I could finally see him, but pissed off it only happened now.

    It was the other two that surprised me most, though. A short, fat figure, looking almost like a mobile black hole. The only hint at a face was a pair of white glowing eyes, but otherwise, I had the sense that he was smiling. For some reason, he reminded me of a laughing, smiling Buddha.

    The last one that really surprised me. A tall, willowy woman, heartbreakingly beautiful with hair seemingly made of grass. Flowers sprouted from her shoulders, and she was wearing a dress made of shifting rock. I knew who she was, if only from a few fragmented memories from Dracul’s life.

    “Gaia.” I spoke, giving her a nod. “It’s good to see you’re well, and free. Dracul showed me what happened to you.”

    Gaia inclined her head slightly. “Thank you. It’s good to be free, to be able to breathe. To act. I remember how he tried to attack me, while I was helpless. It was like a nightmare, and he utterly failed to free me. I was forced to work at the monster's behest. Forced to capture what was interesting and murder the rest.” She smiled faintly. “It is also good to see that there is hope. That even Abominations may die.”

    The woman with the fedora cleared her throat. “That is what we are here to discuss.” She bowed her head slightly. “I am Contessa. From the moment Scion and his counterpart arrived, I have been working to stop them. I saw what they planned to do to us. To experiment upon us, to learn from us, and when they learned all they could, they would wipe us out to make more of themselves and spread to other worlds. I and Doctor Mother managed to cripple and kill Scion’s counterpart.”

    Apostle nodded. “We managed to reconstruct a lot of what happened. The Endbringers. What happened to the gods of the world this castle originally belonged to. I’ve been working on freeing them.”

    Dragon tilted her head, her voice emotionless. “How many so far?”

    The fat, dark one chuckled, his voice echoing. “Eight. Myself, Lorkhan, Scylla, Gaia, Janus, Hyperion, Ariel and Pan.”

    Dragon’s eyes flashed as she stared at him. “You’re the one freeing Gray Boy victims. That explains a lot. Those dropped off at the hospitals. Where are the rest?”

    Say what now? “You can do that?” I looked at him more closely, before it clicked. “Chronos. I know you only by reputation. Dracul never met you.”

    He nodded. “Indeed. Part of my rather retiring nature, as it was. I prefer watching and recording history over making it, but this situation has given us few options. I have already experienced the result of being passive in the face of one of these... beasts, and I have no wish to repeat it. We have been trying to prepare. There’s much to do. Janus, Hyperion, and Pan are still weak, resting, trying to gather their strength. Part of my preparations was in freeing those who were tormented by my own power, taken and twisted. I asked some of them if they would be willing to assist us against the Abomination. Those who accepted are currently training and honing their abilities.”

    “Are they well?” Dragon spoke, her voice cool.

    Chronos shrugged. “Their connection to the Plane of Time remains strong. They are currently undertaking a task, from what I know. It is likely you will hear of them shortly.”

    I leaned forward a bit. “Good to know. Where’s Ariel?”

    “Voluntarily contained.” Contessa spoke cooly. “We have concerns about her. It is very difficult to forget all the lives shattered by the Simurgh. Even if Ariel was its unwilling power source, we believed it best to limit our exposure to her and vice-versa. Those who see her are likely to panic. She is attempting to parse possible futures to our advantage, though I believe she is less capable than the Simurgh was.”

    Apostle shook his head. “Things are different here. Not too much, but enough to make things harder for her. Still, our chances are improving. We need to act together, or we’re going to lose, and with us, a lot of people are going to fall with us.”

    I nodded. “We’ve distributed weapons, armor, my demons are willing to act. I’ve even got a couple of portals ready to be sent to Mars and Titan, though we’ll still need to get them there.”

    Dragon nodded. “Been a little busy with the solar harvesting stations. We still don’t have much infrastructure for getting out of the Earth’s gravity well, though Tranquillity Base is help- shit!”

    What?

    Dragon’s voice snapped as she lifted onto her hind legs. “We have to move. Leviathan’s speeding towards Europe right now.”

    Apostle had gone pale. “No. It’s worse than that.”

    Everyone in the room was staring at him now.

    He grimaced. “Behemoth is moving too.”

    Well. Fuck.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
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  24. Threadmarks: Titanomachy 8.4
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

    Joined:
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    A/N: Yep, this is going to be rough.

    I've been struggling with this for a while now. I'm still not wholly happy with it, but it must be posted else no progress will be made.

    Also, Backtrax on Spacebattles is awesome. He remains awesome. He deserves a cake.

    Blood manipulation: Self only, but extremely versatile. Basis of the Shadow Whip, Shadow Daggers, and other things.

    Short-range teleportation: Draining, but not limited to line of sight.

    Bat Travel: Turns into dozens of bats and back again. Rather confusing, but helpful for mobility.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as some capes, but up there. M1 Abrams out of gas? I'll just push them to the gas station.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance. Unlocked!

    Flight: I believe I can touch the sky. Does it need any more description? Unlocked!

    Possession: Turns into blood, flows into some poor bastard, controls them for a period (hours at most) and when they die they explode into chunky bits. The blood has a toxic effect, so anyone possessed is doomed. (Barring unusual biology.) Unlocked!

    Fleshcrafting: Feeling a little vain? Want a whole new hair color, a bigger bust, shaplier hips, or claws to rend the flesh of your enemies? Subscribe to Vamp-New-You today! (Permits the vampire to alter their own flesh permanently at some cost to their blood. Does not permit changing of bone structure. Cannot be used on others.) Unlocked!

    Mist Form: Transform into near-invulnerable mist. Has quite a few lethal and non-lethal applications. Unlocked!

    Telekinesis: Manipulate objects at a distance through will alone. This is limited to line of sight, and is extremely limited compared to her physical strength. She can manipulate approximately thirty pounds at range to start with, and would improve with practice and imagination.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?! (Locked)

    Shadow Portal: Opens a gate to the Plane of Shadow, where Castlevania resides. Shadow Portals can be made nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Plane of Shadow. Unlocked!

    Dominate: (Not the soul-using thing) Control over others. Takes effort, and can only do so to a few at a time. Repeated and lengthy exposure, however, can make things last longer, until they are permanently enthralled. Can be resisted with willpower and can be no-selled by various techniques/powers.(Locked)

    Bat Summon: Gather swarms of bats to do thy bidding. They will follow the will of the Lady of Darkness without hesitation. Not as flexible as the Queen Administrator shard. The awareness of each bat is basic, and commands must be given to the entire swarm at once. I'm the goddamn Batman. Unlocked!

    Monstrous Form: Accesses a portion of the power available to the Scarlet Dragon's mightiest shape, while retaining the flexibility afforded by a humanoid form. However, it is clearly inhuman. Unlocked!

    Void Magic: Basis of the Void Sword. Drains life from its victims, heals and invigorates the wielder, and brings about an absolute chill. Unlocked!

    Chaos Magic: Control and manipulation of hellfire. Many can use it, but few can project it. Forms the Chaos Claws. Unlocked!

    Storm Magic: Power over electricity and the storm. An excellent method of long-range attack, and quite painful to most.

    Weather manipulation: Can control the weather to some degree, whether that is summoning or banishing clouds, or building up power to make a simple cloudy day into an actual storm. It cannot, however, bring warmth or cold on its own. She can't make a blizzard in the tropics or turn Antarctica into prime beachfront property. She can just make it sunny, cloudy, or rainy. Or snowy if the time of year's right.

    Dragon Shape: The mightiest form of the Heir of Dracul. Becomes a massive red dragon, standing at thirty feet tall. Can access amplified versions of currently unlocked magic, as well as other powers while in the form. However, it is an immense strain to hold the shape for very long. And it is not exactly friendly-looking at first glance. Godzilla (or whatever epic music of your choice!) is highly recommended.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century.

    Strength: Insanely high at full strength. Not as strong as Taylor's potential, but certainly enough to be highly dangerous to a well-trained human.

    Durability: Begins low, becomes stronger and harder to injure.

    Vampiric Healing: Heals perfectly as long as there is blood to fuel the repairs. Can be slowed by various means.

    Grace. Allows limited floating, superhuman dodging ability, and balance.

    Demonic Wings: Permits him to glide with feathery, though twisted, wings.

    Mist form: Near invulnerable mist. No mere prison can hold thee. Unless they put in a fan to blow you back in.

    Wolf form: I can run fast, I can track down my foes from the smallest drops of blood, I will never stop, never tire, and IS THAT BACON?!

    Chaos Magic: Alucard's is not as strong as his father's, but his skill with it is extraordinary. He can use it to teleport short distances and throw fireballs, although it is limited by line of sight and distance. (The classic SotN Hellfire spell.)

    Spectral Wolf: Similar to the wolf shape, however it is ethereal and impossible to injure. Alucard can use it to teleport from one location to another by sending the wolf forward, then replacing it. Or he can simply use it to scout and dissolve it.

    Crissaegrim abilities: A wickedly dangerous blade Alucard forged with the materials of three legendary weapons. It permits him to enshroud it with both Void and Chaos magic, as well as being extremely lethal to both holy and unholy opponents.

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Unlike Dracul's counterpart power, he would arise in a century unless the process was sped along by blood. He would also arise in a more corpse-like state until he managed to feed.

    Steel Crafting: Self only. Able to mold current avatar however she likes. Tends to prefer a dragon shape, as...well, she's Dragon.

    Teleportation: Flashes out of existence in one place and reappears in another. Line of sight limited, but not distance-wise. Yes. This is overpowered. Limited to (naturally) light-speed maximum.

    Light Form: Turns into a bright solid light construct. This is difficult to maintain, but difficult to injure..

    Strength: DRAGON SMASH!

    Durability: Anybody remember that scene in Superman Returns when the bullet bounces off his eye? No? Nobody? Well, it's kinda like that.

    Healing: Can grant to self or others, and does not need an outside source. Wounds (or damage) heals rapidly.

    Flight: I could touch the sky before I changed into a goddess. Now I just don't need to spend any effort!

    Hard-Light constructs: Eat your heart out in jealousy, Green Lantern! My constructs don't get broken by lemonade!

    Telekinesis: Use the Force, Luke. Stronger than Taylor's version. Not Ziz-strength, but it's up there.

    Light Bridge: Opens a...uh, bridge to the Plane of Light. Think the MCU's version of the Bifrost. Can go from nearly anywhere on a Material Plane, but they must be in fixed places within the Light Plane.

    Human Form: If/when she feels like trying out what a ice cream tastes like.

    Light Magic: Heals and warms its users, and can be turned to be used offensively. Most effective against Dark Creatures, but still useful against other targets. Remember, the Lightsaber is the weapon of a Jedi.

    Heavenly Flame Magic: The opposite of Chaos Magic. Her white fire burns, but is formed from calmness, logic. It is a fire that illuminates, but can be destructive all the same.

    Storm Magic: The point of commonality between Light and Darkness. Electricity is such a useful thing. Due to her original nature as a mechanical being, Dragon's control of it is extraordinarily precise.

    Dragon Shape: For when someone or something big really, really needs to be stomped. Is this a copied power? No! It's a completely different kind of dragon!

    Resurrection: If slain, turns dormant for a period of time before reviving in a weakened state. Longest possible period is a century. This is common for gods.

    Vampire Killer: A simple hilt attached to a combat whip that can be slung out and controlled by an ingeniously designed retraction system. On the end of the hilt is a silver stake, perfect for killing vampires, werewolves, and lawyers. The weapon is specifically designed to kill creatures of the night, but works on anything quite well and is capable of channeling magic.

    Light Magic amulet: Allows its wearer to heal over time. Needs to be fueled by someone capable of putting magic into it, which is currently limited to Dragon and Madison. It doesn't permit Wolverine-style healing, but it lets short fights turn into long ones and wearing one overnight heals even most serious injuries. Can be sped up by forcing the magic to flow more quickly, but that drains the amulet which needs time and attention to recharge.

    Seraphic Shoulders: Creates ghostly angelic wings for a few moments, allowing Madison to catch herself in the air or glide.

    Heavenly Gauntlet: A black (I know, it clashes!) gauntlet that generates white fire, equal to that of the fires of Hell.

    Cyclone Boots: Allows high-speed running, jumping, and as a bonus, permits its wearer to take long falls without breaking their legs. Yes, all she needs is a Portal Gun.

    Silver Daggers: Small, easily palmable, and crafted for a nasty surprise attack. Yes, it can hurt a lot to suddenly have a knife in your throat, whether you're a werewolf or not.

    Holy Water: Water that's been exposed to sunlight and had Light Magic channeled through it. Does nothing against most people, would really tick off Taylor and Alucard. When used with Light Magic channeled through its user, forms a light-shield to ward off attacks and really tick off vampires.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Where? Where is Behemoth going?” Alexandria demanded.

    Apostle shook his head. “I can’t tell. He’s moving. Determined. He wants to be free, both of them do. They don’t sense the world we do. It’s part of their mutilation, all they sense is through their powers.”

    Gaia nodded with a shudder. “I sensed things through vibrations in the Earth, attacks against my skin. I could not see, nor hear, nor breathe. If Ifrit and Lotan are limited in the same way, they can not see, nor choose what they do. They must act, they have no choice, and at best they can only steer their actions somewhat.”

    Dragon’s head tilted slightly. “I’m reading earthquakes over a wide area...epicentre is...northern Wyoming. Near Highway 212.”

    Alexandria frowned. “There’s no major infrastructure there. No big cities. What’s his target?”

    Dragon was still for a moment, then she stiffened. “Yellowstone National Park. That’s his target. Nothing else fits.”

    Contessa paled. “Unacceptable.”

    I shook my head. “What, what’s so important about him hitting the park?”

    Dragon’s voice was grave. “Yellowstone sits upon a supervolcano. The last time it erupted, it destroyed several mountains in the range and killed everything within a hundred mile radius. It spread ash into the atmosphere and covered nearly half the continent in an ash cloud. That would destroy the major food production for the United States and Canada, those who don’t die from the eruption will starve in the coming months. It could also alter weather patterns, bringing on a worldwide winter for at least the next two, perhaps three years.”

    Well. No wonder this was so damn important. That’s one hell of a move.

    “Leviathan?” I demanded.

    Dragon paused. “Endbringer prediction isn’t simple...so far, eighty percent chance he’s heading for Britain. Still calculating landing site...”

    I paused for a moment. I had a faint feeling I knew where he’d be going. “Definitely Britain. He’s going to sink the damn island.”

    Dragon twisted her head to look directly at me. “That’s a high possibility, but why?”

    I shook my head. “They’re the first ones who bought a portal from me. The Endbringers always attacked that which gave people hope. If he was heading for here, or America, I’d be pretty sure he’d be hitting Brockton Bay. I don’t know where they took the portal, though.”

    Apostle nodded. “The gods are held and sealed within weapons programmed by the Abomination Dracul managed to kill. Their programming is set to keep a species held on-world, trapped, to help collect information to help them evolve. It...improvised, from what I know, to hold the gods. The act was a rush-job, they were never intended to be let loose like this. Presumably the Abomination would have refined things later on, but as it is, the weapon is drawing upon Lotan’s power to cause carnage. Lotan doesn’t have any choice. Britain’s working on trying to get off-world, so he has to strike there.” He looked at Dragon. “We need to split our forces. Heavy Blasters, radiation neutralizers, firefighters on Behemoth. Shielders and force-fields on Leviathan. Hopefully the equipment we have and the aid will help.”

    Chronos nodded. “I will aid against Lotan.”

    “And I.” Gaia spoke, her voice filled with determination. “We must end the acts of our wayward brothers.”

    Contessa looked at me. “We must prioritize. Both targets will mean far too much damage if either Endbringer destroys it. We may be able to handle the disaster of one if we pour our resources into destroying the other. But it becomes far less certain if we split our forces.”

    Now I was beginning to grasp just what Cauldron had been going through over the years. If I went after Behemoth, and Leviathan destroyed Britain, that meant sixty million dead and a lot of my work dashed. The other choice meant a hundred million dead and the world’s strongest nation crippled. And that was just assuming we simply drove them off.

    Still. We could kill them. It was just insanely difficult.

    I got to my feet. “We needed two gods to break one before. But we’re a lot better prepared now, and we’ve got a lot of magic to throw at them. I’ll handle Leviathan.” I looked to Dragon. “Think our preparations will be enough for Behemoth?”

    Resolutely, Dragon nodded. “Perhaps. I dislike spreading out like this. Leviathan’s bad enough. Behemoth, too? We can’t afford to spread out, but they’re forcing our hands.” She paused for a moment, then nodded resolutely. “I will be needed to drop off Atlas in Behemoth’s path. Hopefully we can either drive him back or end him quickly enough for me to aid with Leviathan.”

    I nodded. “Right. And if we manage to take Leviathan down fast enough, I’ll rush to aid with Behemoth. Not much choice, here.”

    Apostle had a faint smile on his lips. “I’ve been preparing, too. We’ll stop them.”

    --------------------

    It was night at Swansea. It had once been one of the more prosperous cities in the United Kingdom, and the second largest city in Wales. From where we were staging at the city’s university campus, I was overcome for a moment at what had been lost. It was plain to see this had been a prosperous campus once, bustling, busy. The kind of place my mom wanted to teach, once upon a time. Had I been a bit older, and...alive, I might have liked to study here, in its heyday. Nowadays though, the place wasn’t in the greatest shape. The buildings were weather-worn, crumbling somewhat. The university had been abandoned after the Simurgh hit London and created so many knock-on effects from that attack that the United Kingdom was still feeling it. Swansea University had been bombed by a London citizen and thereafter closed from structural damage, and nobody had the time or money to rebuild it.

    Even at a remove, even at a great distance, this screwed-up world of ours seemed to conspire to dash hopes and break dreams.

    Strider deposited capes in groups into the middle of the campus parking lot. I, on the other hand, left portals open in twenty major cities, mostly just following the list that Dragon had given me, also placing an exit portal in Wyoming for the Behemoth battle. The result? We had a hundred capes here at least, and more were arriving in fits and spurts every minute or so.

    At the front of the campus was a box with familiar-looking armbands. What was less familiar was the amulet fused into the front. It made sense, everyone who took one would be protected somewhat by Light Magic as they fought, but it wouldn’t do me any favors. I took an armband, ripped the amulet off, and slipped it around my right arm. Then I licked my fingers, because that actually hurt my fingertips a little.

    The armband chirped. “State identity for the database.”

    “Scarlet Dragon.” I pressed the button to confirm.

    Scarlet Dragon confirmed. Scarlet Dragon deceased, NC-6.”

    I frowned. Slapped it. “I’m not dead, nitwit.” Undead, maybe.

    Recalibrating. Scarlet Dragon entered.”

    I saw Gaia looking at me with amusement. I chucked an armband at her, and she caught it, slipping it on without complaint.

    Chronos floated to the side of the campus, lifting a hand. There was a rippling, a distortion, and suddenly I was looking through it to... somewhere. Then twelve people strode through, wearing gray, armored bodysuits, and no masks. Some of them were armed, one with a pistol, another with a rifle, and the rest had daggers and shortswords.

    My jaw dropped open. I recognized the young woman at the lead of the group. Pretty, blonde, and I had seen her last in the middle of a Gray Boy timeloop. Sarah Kissinger. I let myself drift to the ground and walked up to her. I put on a smile. “Well, this is unexpected. Glad you could make it. I just learned about you getting out.”

    Sarah nodded. “Wish it could be under better circumstances. Not how I wanted to run just after making my debut, but at least I’m not fighting against a couple of superpowered inbreeding rednecks. Again.”

    A woman behind her with bright blue hair broke out in a grin. “Oh come on, that was like, two weeks ago.”

    The man with the rifle coughed. “Actually, that was about thirty minutes ago.”

    She paused. “Really? Huh. I lost track of time.”

    The entire gray-clad group groaned. The man with the pistol, his black hair streaked with grey, spoke with exasperation. “Really, Robin, you had to say that?”

    Chronos cleared his throat. At least, he made the right sounds, I wasn’t sure he had a throat. “We have work to prepare for. I will be working to slow the beast. The rest of you must act where needed.”

    Robin grinned. “Right, S&R are all mine.” She zipped off, literally at blinding speed.

    Sarah shook her head. “Right, doubling up. Anyway, rest of us will help shield. We can try and pin him, but we know he’s tricky. We’ve been trying to prepare for this since we were freed from our personal hells.”

    I nodded. Taking a moment to look around, I spotted a few familiar masks in the gathering crowd. Narwhal stood next to Miss Militia, the two seemingly engrossed in conversation. Miss Militia had a bandolier of grenades wrapped around her body. Dauntless was next to her, quietly chatting. Clockblocker and Paladin stood there, her right hand drifting over the hilt of the whip on her belt. Alucard stood next to her, wearing his midnight blue armor, a blue cape hanging from his shoulders. I moved next to them, my voice quiet. “Good to see you guys here. Guessing the rest are heading to Behemoth?”

    Paladin bit her lip. “Not all of the Brockton Protectorate made it, and the rest are heading where they need to go. The rest of the Wards aren’t coming.”

    “Yeah, kinda sucks.” Clockblocker said. “Least I’ve got a good reason, not too many people around that could buy time for the docs and surgeons to get to work. I ain’t about to run away when it comes to this stuff.”

    Paladin shrugged at him. “We’ve been split up based on powers. We’re going to be working as medics, as much as we can. I’ve been working on producing enough amulets for the fight, but there’s only a few ways to charge them, and we can’t really set something up because Leviathan can just come right in and smash it.”

    Alucard nodded. "This will be difficult." His hand drifted down to the hilt of the blade on his hip. "However, this is not the first time I have battled a god, though admittedly said god is more than Lotan was. I will fight as I can, though it will be difficult."

    I smiled and patted his shoulder. "Thanks for being here." I felt my wings twitch as the wind began to pick up, and the air became both cool and moist.

    Alexandria moved to the front of the crowd, raising her hands. “Thank you all for coming. This situation is unusual. Normally, Legend is giving this speech, but he is preparing for the battle with Behemoth in Wyoming. We have an estimated ten minutes before Leviathan arrives. We’re fairly sure he’s going to strike Britain as a whole, and we’re well aware that he’s capable of destroying the entire island, but his landing point is estimated to be right here. Normally, we split battles with Leviathan into hard and soft targets. Hard is where we fight him, try to pin him down and buy time for Scion’s arrival. Soft targets are where we cannot afford to do this. Swansea and Swansea Bay is not ideal, as this region has all the markings of a soft target.”

    She lifted her head, looking out at the crowd. “However, this time we come prepared. Protectorate members, you’ve been outfitted with systems built by Dragon to help protect you. For the villains volunteering to assist, your armbands have been upgraded with the same systems. Should you take an injury, they will attempt to heal you and get you back in the fight.” She made a gesture at her side at another cape, one wearing a silver and gold set of armor, a massive weapon that looked like a cross between a sword and a cannon resting on his shoulder.

    The cape took the cue. “I am Chevalier, you might know me from Philadelphia. We’ve all got weapons to help us do damage to Leviathan.” Suddenly, his blade was on fire, burning with my power, with Hellfire. “Scarlet Dragon has given us materials to work with, allowing us to draw on the same powers that she used to destroy the Simurgh.”

    I fought to keep from shifting on my feet as glances suddenly turned my way.

    Chevalier gestured at the front of the crowd, where another box lay. “There are amulets here that will help channel that same power, allow you all to use it against Leviathan. They have limited charge, but they should be enough. Use them against him. What we’re looking for is a core in Leviathan, it’s going to be buried underneath the densest layers of flesh inside him. Break that core, and we break the Endbringer.”

    Alexandria nodded as she took an amulet herself, letting it fall around her neck. A moment later, she flared with red Hellfire, before the pyrotechnics faded. “I won’t lie. This will be dangerous. Even on a good day, we lose people. But we have the means. We have the knowledge. We have the target. We know how to kill them. We have veterans of many Endbringer battles here today, and we have more hands today than I’ve ever seen ready to fight. We can kill him. Let’s make this the last day the Endbringers plagued our world. Let us send them both back to the pits of Hell they came from!”

    There was a cheer from a man in power armor near the front. Then another, then another, voices in the crowd taking up the call. As they did, light and fire began to flare, blue and red alike, Light and Hellfire being called upon by the forces ready to act.

    Then there was a crack of thunder, and it began to rain. Gently at first, but soon the drops came in, thick and fat.

    I lifted myself off the ground, moving to the front of the crowd. I called upon the Void Sword, to help calm my nerves. I kind of needed it, because every eye was on me, now.

    Swallowing my nervousness, I looked out over them, meeting the eyes and faceplates of every cape there. “For twenty years, you have all fought to save what was important. For twenty years, you have fought unending battles against the Endbringers, to fight for a hope of a better future. For twenty years, you have acted and prayed for help from any god that might hear you.”

    I lifted the Void Sword and pointed it at the heavens. “I have heard you. I am the Lady of Darkness, matched only by one other god. I am here to fight alongside you. I am here to end the Endbringer. I have heard your prayers! I have heard your wants! I will aid you in this war against civilization’s end. I am the Scarlet Dragon.”

    I lifted my empty hand. “And the storm...” I concentrated, sending my power up and outward. There was resistance. Leviathan was fighting me, even from here. Even hundreds of miles distant.

    Still, I pushed my power into the storm, grasping it with an iron will. “Is.”

    Lightning gathered in my hand, and I thrust it into the sky. “Mine.”

    My lightning arced upward, racing through the forming stormclouds above. The storm, so helpfully provided by Leviathan, amplified by my magic, and now under my will, built up. The rain halted as I forced the clouds to spend its energy in a different way. Lightning began racing through it, running in sheets. I could feel Leviathan attempting to take back control, but it was mine.

    Darkness and Light were the strongest of the gods for a reason, after all. The storm was my dominion. Lord of the Sea or not, he was not Lord of the Storm. For once, it would be our weapon, not simply his.

    I looked out toward the bay. A rolling darkness began to rise from the sea, as the first of many waves began to come in. Just faintly, I could see a figure riding the wave, surfing upon it almost without a care. Leviathan, three stories tall and moving absurdly fast. We had only seconds.

    Shields!” Alexandria yelled.

    Forcefields sprang up to protect the gathered capes. Strider moved, teleporting nearly half the crowd in one instant. I kept my concentration, building my strength.

    I was left behind, though that was fine by me. The campus was now enclosed by a shimmering forcefield, mostly transluscent. I let my power build in the storm.

    The wave struck the shield. It buckled, but held, and an instant later Leviathan slammed into it, his claws scraping upon the surface, forcing a small but powerful amount of water through the minuscule gaps opened by his assault.

    I roared and slammed my left fist down into the ground.

    The storm unleashed its entire built-up energy in one burst, in one instant, striking Leviathan with a single bolt of lightning powerful enough to feed the United States' energy requirements for a week.

    Leviathan went skidding, slamming through one of the defunct campus buildings and reducing it to rubble. The shields went down as Strider took the remaining vulnerable capes away from the campus itself.

    I stepped forward, calling upon my power and shifted into my dragon shape. I roared in challenge, igniting my forelegs in Hellfire.

    Quick as a bullet, Leviathan righted himself and zipped toward me, his skin smoking. His outstretched arm caught in mine, ripping into my flesh even as my fire seared his.

    The battle was joined.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2017
  25. OverReactionGuy

    OverReactionGuy The only Sane one left

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    Hehehehe, classic kaiju battle.
     
  26. Threadmarks: Interlude: War part 1
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: This will be difficult. But I’m going to fight to make it awesome.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    “Estimation!?” Legend barked.

    “Three minutes.” Eidolon... no, David, called back. “He’s coming up fast, he’ll break the surface right there.” He pointed at the winding highway. The tarmac was already cracking, a hiss of steam escaping the ruptured earth beneath.

    It was almost ideal, really. An Endbringer battle out in the middle of nowhere. No collateral damage, no need to preserve a city, no civilians to get out of the way. All that was here was miles of trees, grass, and the occasional bear. The only problem was that Yellowstone was a far, far more dangerous target than anything Behemoth had ever targeted before. The damage done by a destroyed nuclear plant compared to a Yellowstone eruption would be comparing a firecracker to a Tsar Bomba.

    Despite being in the middle of nowhere, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Either attack would cripple the planet. Either attack would kill millions, and the scale was so large that evacuation was just impossible. The kill zone covered four states, and while they weren’t the most populated states in the union, that was more than enough. If Behemoth won here, nobody who came would be walking away.

    Dragon appeared in a flash of light. Almost instinctively, Legend touched the amulets resting around his neck. Both Dragon’s power, and Scarlet’s at the same time. Hopefully, it would help against Behemoth. He gave the golden suit a nod. “Dragon, glad you could join us.”

    Dragon nodded in return, her voice calm. “Glad to be here. I need sixty seconds.”

    David nodded. “You’ll have them.”

    With a nod of acknowledgement, Dragon moved over, closer to the crack in the road. The air above it was now rippling with heat.

    Legend clenched his teeth together. He always hated battling Behemoth. He always hated to watch brave men and women die to the beast.

    “We’ll get him, Legend. We’ll stop him from hurting anyone ever again.” David spoke quietly.

    Legend shot his friend a glance. David seemed to be hovering there, waiting. Preparing. Over the years, Legend had seen his friend become more and more desperate as the Endbringers kept coming, his powers weakening further with every battle. Now his friend seemed to be at peace, somehow. It would have been good to see, had the situation not been so dire.

    “I damn well hope so. We ever going to talk?” Legend said, his fingers grasping one of the amulets wrapped around his neck.

    “After this, hopefully.” David said, his eyes narrowed in concentration. “I’ve got a lot to tell you. You’re not going to like it, but it needs to be said. Right now, though, this is more important.”

    Legend nodded. He didn’t like it, but now, of all times, wouldn’t be the best time to get stuck in personal matters.

    There were short flares of blue light, and various models of Dragon suits began to appear around the battlefield. Shield model prototypes. Cryo-equipped suits. There were a number of them with large containment tanks on their backs. Definitely not flight-capable, but it was plain for his power-enhanced eyes to see what they were for.

    Warning: Liquid Nitrogen was not difficult to figure out. Not up against Behemoth. Anything that could mitigate the heat and flame that accompanied the first Endbringer was welcome.

    Five miles away from the breach in the road, between Behemoth’s opening site and Yellowstone, gathered the Protectorate. Neptune from Brockton Bay. Rime from Los Angeles, her mechanical left arm outfitted with a shield made of ice. Frostbite from Miami, though Legend hadn’t really expected that blue-skinned villain, especially since she had been running from New Orleans the last he’d heard and lying low. Given the occasion, though... it was a chance to end the Endbringer.

    Despite everything, with a hundred and fifty heroes and villains here, with the powers prepared, it was hopeful. From the black portal that Scarlet Dragon had left behind, more capes were coming through, one or two every minute. The simple portal network was an extraordinary boon. Usually an Endbringer battle had a few capes who came in from other cities, shored up by those who lived at the city that was attacked. Here? There was no city nearby, no native defenders. It was only those who were willing to come in and help. And it was still a larger number than Legend had ever seen, even with their numbers divided by the need to deal with Leviathan at the same time. Few Endbringer battles had this many hands helping, even with things divided between both attacks. It was just required. Neither Endbringer could be left unattended.

    An obsidian, clawed hand burst from the road. The ground shifted and shuddered underneath Behemoth’s enormous weight as he pulled himself up from the earth, lava pouring from his neck and shoulders in rivulets. The eldest Endbringer paused for a moment, looking around.

    Then he roared, and began to glow red. Trees alongside the highway burst into flame. Legend nearly lost sight of Behemoth in the sudden smoke. The ground shuddered as he began to walk, directly in the direction of Yellowstone.

    Radiation levels spiking. Recommend withdrawal to safe distance in three minutes.” His armband cheerfully informed him. Legend also felt warm. He nearly lost his concentration as a gentle blue light enveloped him, both protecting him from the sudden waves of heat and making him feel stronger, energized. Honestly, Legend hadn’t felt this good in years.

    Dragon’s voice came over the armband. “The system should help with radiation exposure. Keep at range, but it should help prevent cell damage for a long period. Just don’t get close, I’m not sure how well it will deal with large amounts of radiation.”

    That was nice to know.

    Then there was a blue glow, just outside the ring of smoke and fire. A very big blue glow.

    Behemoth paused. He looked up at the figure that was larger than himself. Shining with gold and blue, the immense humanoid figure stepped forward, the ground shuddering underneath each step. It was slow, ponderous, but just as unstoppable as Behemoth himself. Ice formed on its surface, soaking in the heat pouring off Behemoth and evaporating almost instantly, only to be replenished from beneath.

    Behemoth roared, the sound enough to crack the pavement, shatter the already-burning trees at the roadside, and send the miles-distant capes stumbling.

    The great construct was unfazed. In response, Atlas clenched his fist. A ten foot long blade dropped out from a slot on the arm, and it glowed a crystalline blue. Ice formed upon its surface, forming the edges of the blade, while the rest of it was surrounded in a gray haze that sputtered and sparked in the thousand-degree heated air pouring from Behemoth. Atlas swung the weapon, aiming for the beast’s face.

    Behemoth caught it in a rocky hand, but where the blade touched obsidian stone, ice formed. The blade bit into the crystalline flesh somewhat, but not deep.

    Atlas pulled back his left fist and slammed it into Behemoth’s chin. The Endbringer didn’t even flinch, but the ground rumbled with the force of the blow. That damned dynakinesis always made battles with Behemoth so difficult.

    Legend lifted his hand, awaiting the signal. “Apostle?” He spoke, giving a glance to his friend.

    David also had a hand raised, pointing at Behemoth. “Wait for it.”

    Then there was another flare of blue light. Behemoth roared once more, whether in agony or rage, it was impossible to say. It took a moment for Legend to manage to see the new figure through the smoke, but it was enough.

    A thirty foot tall golden dragon, bright blue jetstream wings emerging from its back. A dragon that promptly grasped Behemoth’s left arm, slowly but surely pulling the Endbringer out of position. Behemoth then took a strike from Atlas, the bus-sized arm forcing the Endbringer to stumble.

    All units, open fire!” Dragon’s voice echoed over the armbands.

    Legend unleashed his lasers, his power enhanced by Dragon’s own... Tinkertech? Whatever it was. The beams, tuned to sap heat away from its target, normally did small amounts of damage to Behemoth, scoring inches into his dense, burning flesh.

    This time, they scored holes at least a foot deep into his hide.

    Then at his side, there was a burst. David had unleashed his attack. The air rippled as it streaked out toward Behemoth, the energy itself invisible to the eye.

    The effect, however, was devastating. It struck Behemoth’s arm, caught in the dragon’s grip, right at the shoulder. There was a flash of blue, then black, and the arm was separated from Behemoth’s torso with a gush of heat and lava, the road beneath the three massive figures bursting into flame.

    Behemoth paused, seeming to focus on the wound in shock. That let the gathered capes get a few more hits in.

    Then he roared, turned, and with his remaining arm, slammed both the golden dragon and Atlas away in a single blow, moving faster than he’d ever been seen doing before. The pair went reeling, the dragon holding Behemoth’s arm as if it was an oversized club. Atlas went stumbling, the building-sized mech nearly falling off its feet. Still, it sucked in heat, regained its balance, and marched on Behemoth, Armsmaster’s voice echoing over the armbands.

    Blasters, pull back! Radiation levels are extreme, pull back now! I’ll tie him up, snipe the bastard!”

    Legend’s own armband chirped helpfully. “Radiation spiking. Recommend immediate withdrawal. Fatal dose in thirty seconds.”

    Behemoth roared once more, and for six miles around, every tree burst into flame. The defenders, having believed they were safe at that range, began to scream.

    Frostbite deceased, LN-3, Alpha deceased, LN-4, Panzerfaust deceased, LM-7...”


    ---------------------

    The rain had halted.

    It was a weird thing to think about, in the middle of a battle, but against Leviathan, that was unprecedented. Narwhal could remember each time she’d joined the fight against Leviathan, but it had always, always, rained in every battle.

    But not this time. It barely mattered, there was water pouring off of Leviathan, spraying in all directions. But mostly forward at the other large figure on the battlefield, scything in high-pressure jets.

    The dark red dragon weathered the hits, the jets scoring armored flesh and blood from the dragon’s body. Still, the damage was small, and the dragon did not falter. She charged, not stomping over the ground but flowing over it, as if she needed no contact with the ground at all.

    Leviathan simply skated out of the way, water flowing in an aftershock. His afterimage didn’t move in the same direction, however, it rushed out to meet the Scarlet Dragon.

    The dragon merely encased herself in flame, and just for a moment, it was perfect. An avatar of draconic flame standing against the ocean’s wrath.

    Then the water exploded into steam. Narwhal quickly snapped up a forcefield to protect herself and the four with her, grimacing in concentration.

    “We merely need a moment.” The white-haired man behind her said.

    Leviathan charged, clashing with the flaming dragon, and the two traded blows that shuddered the earth. If there had been any intact windows anywhere near, they would have shattered from the concussive force. Even the concrete of the old buildings nearby were vibrating with each hit.

    “I thought you said he would be slowed down!” Narwhal yelled, striving to make herself heard over the crashing water and hissing steam.

    “I am slowing him down!” The black, hovering figure yelled with annoyance. “I have slowed Leviathan down thirty times! He experiences one second for every thirty we do!”

    Paladin twirled the handle of her whip, the metal chain clinking. “Doesn’t look that slow to me!”

    Narwhal had to privately agree. If anything, it looked like Leviathan was moving faster. Though the water streaking off of him was acting...oddly. It moved in fits and spurts, individual drops hovering in the air for moments before they fell. “Any bright ideas?!” She yelled.

    The green-haired woman nodded. “I will need a moment.”

    There was a streak in the air as a hovering figure appeared above the two warring giants, flaring with the distinctive rockets of power armor. Lasers, bullets and rockets streaked out, burning with the same flame that covered the dragon. They struck Leviathan, sinking deep into the Endbringer’s body, making the massive beast flinch. Almost casually, quick as a lightning bolt, a burst of water spurted from Leviathan’s face, impacting with the cape.

    Or rather, bisecting the cape. Armor fell in several pieces, along with chunks of bone and gore.

    Galatea deceased, NC-6.”

    Green-hair spoke. “Now. Pin him if you can.”

    Narwhal dropped her shield, then gripped the amulet hanging from her neck. The forcefields covering her body burst into unnatural flame, causing her no harm.

    The circular-shaped forcefield she manifested at Leviathan’s neck, on the other hand, was far more dangerous to the Endbringer. Burning with flame, the field, already more than capable of tearing into an Endbringer, cut without resistance and sliced off his head.

    Leviathan reared back for a moment, then with a burst of speed, bodychecked into the burning dragon in front of him. The blow made the air itself quiver, and the dragon was launched backward, almost immediately lost in the darkness of the storm-filled night.

    The white-haired man charged forward, flowing over the water-soaked pavement as easily as the dragon had moments before. Paladin charged right beside him, her boots flaring with blue light.

    Leviathan seemed to sense the incoming threats, water lancing out in high-pressure jets. Narwhal brought up a shield to protect the pair, and the sheer effort of resisting all that force made her stagger.

    Too late, she saw the third jet coming right at her. Even as the shield was forming, though, another figure appeared right beside her. One of the gray-suited women who came through with the group. She lifted a hand, and the jet suddenly impacted with an impervious barrier of air.

    “Hi!” She said perkily. “I’m Robin, good to meet ya. Tell you what, you keep tearing at him with those fields of yours, I’ll keep you alive. Hang on a sec.” The air rippled for a moment, and then things slowed down outside the bubble.

    The fat, black figure spoke with unmistakable pride. “Well done, Robin.”

    She grinned. “Thanks boss. Keep moving, I got this.” She looked at Narwhal with a grin. “Both of us make it out of here, you buy me dinner for this.”

    Narwhal couldn’t help but make a helpless laugh. “Deal.”

    The black figure nodded and lifted himself out of the sphere of altered time, his form seeming to stay in synch with them despite leaving the bubble.

    As the white-haired man and Paladin drew near to Leviathan, in slow-motion, the Endbringer lifted a hand. Finally Narwhal could see him moving slowly to her perceptions, but he was still frighteningly quick. Leviathan’s clawed left hand swept at him, but almost as quickly, he drew the sword at his side and cut in a single motion as the hand approached, the sword covered in blue flames and a gray haze.

    Even with everything slowed down as they were, the sound of the impact was jarring. Leviathan’s hand came away from his arm almost without resistance. Just before the arm itself could impact him, the green-haired woman behind Narwhal and Robin clapped. Concrete beneath Leviathan suddenly rolled, making the Endbringer stumble off-balance.

    Paladin took the opportunity, slinging her whip out and catching it on Leviathan’s right shoulder. Holding the hilt in her hand, it pulled her into the air. A jet of water came her way, but one of Narwhal’s forcefields intercepted it, diverting the flow directly into the ground. Concrete was bored into, ripping into chunks.

    Paladin held onto the chain, swinging herself around on the arm until she was standing on his shoulder, the whip curled three times around the arm. She gripped the chain with her left arm, the weapon bursting into white flame. As Leviathan stumbled, she jumped off his shoulder, the chain wrapping tight. It dug in deep, but caught several layers in, catching on the Endbringer’s near-invulnerable bone.

    Paladin twisted her wrist, and the whip came loose. Leviathan swung his right arm at her, seemingly unhindered despite the deep wound. She rolled along the ground, barely avoiding the blow itself, though water-shadow from the movement was enough to knock her off her feet and send her stumbling. As he tried to follow-up and kill the Ward, Narwhal manifested a burning forcefield and struck it at that weakened spot, neatly severing the Endbringer’s arm. The motion sent the arm flying off to the side, lost in the darkness and the water-filled battlefield.

    Leviathan paused for an instant, as if shocked at the damage. Headless, handless, armless, the Endbringer turned toward the charging Paladin, water forming up to strike the Ward down. Paladin slung out her whip and caught an exposed concrete rebar, using it to swing out of the charging Endbringer’s path.

    That, however, left it charging right at Narwhal, Robin, and Gaia. Narwhal formed a wedge-shaped shield, its burning form protecting the group. The Endbringer struck the shield, his flesh sizzling at the contact.

    It sprung away, speeding further north. Voices came over Narwhal’s armband, distorted and slowed.

    Robin grasped Narwhal’s arm. “He’s moving further inland! We can keep up, come on!”

    Gaia growled. “He is attempting to tear into the island underneath the shoreline. I can sense it. I am required here to ensure he doesn’t tear the earth out from under us. I will deal with the waves.”

    With a nod, Narwhal and Robin joined hands. Narwhal formed a non-flaming forcefield on the ground, stepping onto it, using it as a mobile platform. With a thought, she lifted herself and her new partner into the air, speeding after Leviathan. Even with the distorted flow of time, it was difficult to keep up, chasing after the distant, dark form of the second Endbringer.

    Then the sky lit up with lightning, and a large crackling form smashed into Leviathan, making the Endbringer roll and stumble through the grassy fields, stirring up mud. Even as Leviathan righted itself, the red dragon, covered with and crackling in lightning, drove a clawed hand into Leviathan’s chest with a roar. Then the Endbringer was covered in electricity, lighting up the battle’s position for miles around.

    Even as Narwhal got near, the night sky suddenly flared with another color. Not the red of the unnatural flame, not the blue of lightning.

    Gold, from a single small figure, flaring like a second sun, flying in from the east. Narwhal couldn’t help but smile. This battle was already won.

    Scion had arrived.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2017
    user71s2, otakumick, Xryuran and 14 others like this.
  27. OverReactionGuy

    OverReactionGuy The only Sane one left

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    Well, fuck. That ain't ending well.
     
    Hye and Prince Charon like this.
  28. Threadmarks: Interlude: War part 2
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: Your tears and shinies sustain me. Give them to me.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Colin growled. “Keep those scans going! Devote fifty percent of computer time to it!”

    Acknowledged.”

    His control center was rather impressive. Sophisticated computers feeding data into and from Atlas, telling him everything he needed to know to control the machine. Even insulated as he was, as safe as it was possible to be, he still fought to keep the massive hybrid of technology and magic on its feet. He still didn’t like classifying anything as ‘magic’ but it was rather pedantic at this point.

    Whatever it was, it was effective. Colin wasn’t about to argue with results.

    Behemoth leveraged his single remaining arm against Atlas, the Endbringer’s roar enough to make the mechanical titan vibrate despite the shielding. Sensor systems shorted out. Others flickered, then compensated, coming back on-line as Armsmaster slammed a massive fist into Behemoth’s face, forcing the Endbringer to stumble backward.

    Atlas’ sensors picked up a rather impressive trans-Lawrencium shell exploding on Behemoth’s chest. That was something of a shame, however, as something that dense should have pierced through just about anything. Behemoth weathered the blow, though it did make him flinch for a moment, a fresh welt and lava pouring out from the wound. He lifted his head, and a lightning bolt streaked out from him, the foot-wide bolt streaking out into the distance. It struck far further than Behemoth had ever shot one before. A moment later, the Tinkertech tank that fired the shell vaporized.

    Death Machine deceased, LM-9, Longshoreman deceased, LM-9, Glacier deceased, LM-9.”

    Damn. That was a decent chunk of the firefighting effort just slain in an instant.

    Atlas rumbled as Behemoth slammed into it. The systems blared in warning. “Internal temperature rising. Energy reserves at sixty percent. Right arm functionality reduced by thirty percent. Left leg reduced in functionality by thirteen percent. Nanothorn material reserve at sixty-eight percent.”

    Colin grit his teeth. “Anything not damaged?”

    Air conditioning is fully functional.”

    “Great, the one system I don’t need.” Colin tried very hard not to growl in frustration. The screens in front of him gave him a great deal of information. Most of them, however were taken up with a view of Behemoth, while others were showing blackness of static as the sensors were destroyed by blows or lava. Though Atlas was actually taller, Behemoth was being even more difficult to fight than anticipated. The radiation alone was pushing back the defenders. Only a few were able to try and engage the Herokiller at six miles away. Further, with the radiation output increasing every second. The rest were stuck just trying to prevent the entire forest from going up in flames. ‘Lord of Fire’, indeed.

    Lasers, gravitational effects, plasma beams, even a tree was launched and struck the Endbringer. Still, even lacking an arm, Behemoth seemed to be determined. He kept straining to move, to head toward the Yellowstone caldera. He hadn’t made much progress toward his target, though. Colin and Dragon had made sure of that.

    Behemoth roared again, only for Colin to steer Atlas’ left fist into that maw with a punch. The Endbringer thrashed, lava spilling onto the arm, almost instantly freezing into hardened rock on contact with the systems charged up with Void magic.

    Fifty-eight percent reserves remaining.”

    Dragon was still holding Behemoth’s severed arm. Her form blazed with light, white fire coating the severed limb. She swung the arm around like an oversized bat, smashing it into Behemoth’s chest and forcing the Endbringer to stagger.

    Showing that same unexpected speed, he turned with a roar, smashing his own severed arm out of Dragon’s grip. With a backhand, Dragon went crashing through the burning trees, her roar of pain making his heart clench.

    Colin grit his teeth. “All available power to the arms.”

    Acknowledged.”

    Colin shifted the controls, the motion translating to the motions of the mechanical monstrosity he was controlling. There was resistance, telling of the damage Atlas had taken, but it didn’t hamper Colin’s desire enough to stop him.

    And what he desired, more than anything, was to pound Behemoth’s face in. Atlas responded to his will, slamming the massive ice-coated fist into Behemoth’s maw, the Endbringer taking the hit easily. The ground rumbled as the kinetic impact was redistributed into the earth. The follow-up hit had the exact same lack of effect, the eldest Endbringer simply tanking the hit without injury.

    The energy was deflected right into Atlas, and the camera views twisted and whirled sickeningly as the titan was thrown through the inferno of burning trees and torn-up earth. It took long minutes for Colin to check the readouts, get Atlas to get its hands and feet underneath itself, and rise. The ablative ice armor was the only reason the whole thing wasn’t on fire, but even the magic that powered it wouldn’t last forever. Smoke-filled sky and burning embers dominated his viewscreens as he locked back onto Behemoth.

    Fifty percent reserves remaining. Endbringer is now seven point four miles from caldera border.”

    Trees crashed to the ground as Colin forced Atlas into a kneeling position, the immense machine fighting gravity every step of the way. While he was distracted, and Dragon trying to recover herself, her suits took up positions around the Endbringer and were blasting it with as many cryogenic beams as possible, trying to slow and cool Behemoth down. They’d discovered that years ago, cryogenic effects were among the few things Behemoth couldn’t straight-up reflect or counter. He manipulated energy in all its forms. It was difficult to manipulate an effect that removed energy. The only problem was they did so very little damage to the Herokiller. He always had plenty of heat to spare.

    The air rippled, and there was a sudden burst. Apostle launched another attack, and Behemoth stumbled, his right leg reduced to crystalline bone. He trembled on his feet, fell, supporting himself with his remaining arm. Behemoth didn’t take kindly to that. He flared, flame covering his entire body, and the radiation levels climbed even higher on Colin’s readouts.

    Warhead deceased, LM-9, Coldsnap deceased, LN-8, Blast deceased, LN-8, Fireteam deceased, LN-7, Fireteam deceased, LM-10, Fireteam deceased, KM-10.”

    The other effects streaking in, lasers, missiles, even a positron beam, if the radiation levels were any indication, were scoring into Behemoth’s hide, but not penetrating very deeply. Legend’s lasers were the exception, those were penetrating a foot or more into Behemoth’s rocky skin, but even those weren’t hampering the Endbringer much. It was one of the worst things about fighting Behemoth. He would always take and redirect the most damaging attacks back outward, thus turning every battle into a battle of attrition while the defenders struggled to handle the energy from their own efforts to fight him off.

    Then there was a flash of blue light. Dragon reappeared, right behind Behemoth, roaring in draconic rage. Behemoth simply flared, lightning springing from his horns, but the lightning curved away from Dragon’s head and caught in her hand. With shining teeth bared, she turned the bolt as if it were a physical spear and plunged it right through Behemoth’s body. Lightning coursed over the Endbringer, lava and crystalline material spraying from the hideous wound. Behemoth roared in agony.

    Analysis complete. Density is greatest in the head region.”

    Colin grinned and thumbed his radio. “Aim for the head.” He had Atlas stop for a brief moment and picked up Behemoth’s severed arm. The severed appendage dragged on the ground as he approached. Behemoth tried to swipe at Dragon, his movements hampered by his missing limbs. Dragon danced around his swipes and made quick, penetrating strikes with her own divine power, beams of light searing through Behemoth’s crystalline flesh. They were rending deep wounds through Behemoth’s remaining leg, his chest, working to stall and disable the beast.

    Behemoth turned his head just in time to get smacked across the rocky face by his own severed arm. Colin’s follow-up stabbed the long blade attached to Atlas’ right arm through the wound opened by Dragon. Lava and heat spilled out as he pulled the blade upwards, the ever-increasing resistance to the effort telling Colin he was on the right track. Get to the core. Expose the core. Break the core. Break the Endbringer.

    “Let’s see how you like blade number ten.”

    --------------------

    Alexandria grit her teeth.

    Despite Strider’s quick action, despite Scarlet’s immediate engagement with Leviathan, it all went to hell almost as soon as the main group reappeared half a mile further inland. Shields went up to help resist and break up the initial tidal wave, and more importantly protect those capes that couldn’t take the hit. Sufficiently quickly moving water hit like concrete, and there weren’t very many fighters who could take a hit like that, and thus they relied on those who could protect them from the impact.

    At the moment, it was worse than normal. The wave had swept over the main group, which was quickly shielded, but the wave hadn’t dissipated. It simply held over the group, entrapped them all within a force-field dome put up by the various shielding capes, and kept nearly the entire group of sixty in this group trapped. And worse, Leviathan was pressing on the shield from one side, forcing her to press back against thousands of tons of water, lest the dome skid, hit uneven ground, and let the water rush in and kill the group.

    “Strider!” She yelled.

    “Two seconds!” He yelled back, the former Ward and current independent straining to let himself be heard. “Looking for a bit of high ground!”

    The dome shifted slightly. A trickle of water managed to get underneath it, spurting upwards, aiming directly for her face. Alexandria shifted her head, growling as it sprayed over the side of her helmet. The water bent, trying to seek her mouth. Other streams went out, scything though some of the capes, while others braced themselves with armor and their own protections.

    Muffet down, NB-4, Dwarfstar down, NB-4, Burgomistr deceased, NB-4.”

    The fucker was trying to drown her. Was drowning and tearing apart others. He’d tried before, on several occasions, but not like this. It was widely known Leviathan was a macrohydrokinetic. Trying to assassinate specific people in specific ways with his power, that was unusual. Then there was the sudden sickening twist and Alexandria found herself on a nearby hilltop, the shield falling as their makers were disoriented.

    Off in the distance, she could see flashes of the fight. Leviathan slammed into Scarlet hard enough to send the dragon flying, uncontrolled and in a ballistic arc. Narwhal, Paladin, Alucard and Gaia were all moving very quickly, while Leviathan was moving... oddly, although still absurdly quickly. Blades made of forcefields and flame sprung into existence, tearing into Leviathan and ripping off the Endbringer’s head in a few short seconds.

    It was astonishing. The only one to inflict such damage on an Endbringer was Scion, and here Narwhal managed with the combination of magic and her own power. It was enough to make Alexandria’s chest feel warm with hope.

    Alexandria started as a gray-clad figure appeared at her side. “I can pin him, but I need to get close. Then you can work on finishing him.”

    Sarah Kissinger.

    Alexandria hissed. “Don’t do that.”

    She had the grace to look somewhat embarrassed. “Sorry. You get used to manipulating time. Especially after getting fucked by it for twenty years.” Sarah extended her hand.

    Alexandria took it, and the furious battle below slowed. Carefully, Alexandria took the seeming teenager in her arms and they flew closer to Leviathan, setting down on the rooftop of the largest building on the campus.

    Alexandria was about to take off once again, smash into Leviathan, when Scarlet beat her to it. The form of the dragon smashed into the damaged Endbringer, his normally fearsome form less so with it lacking a head, an arm, and a hand. Any normal creature would be dead already. Leviathan just seemed pissed off.

    The Endbringer was slammed back, Scarlet’s claws buried within its chest. Lightning abruptly covered the form of Leviathan, making the Endbringer shudder and writhe. Intellectually, Alexandria knew it shouldn’t have worked. Endbringers had shaken off nuclear weapons before. Somehow, the magic was managing to get past the resistance Leviathan had, allowing them to cause much more damage than they’d ever managed on their own before. It was still a struggle, still a desperate battle, but it was a battle and not a hilariously lopsided engagement, like a playground bully against a few dozen ants, crushing them with impunity.

    Alexandria lifted off the rooftop, her body flaring with unnatural flame as she prepared her charge.

    Then the sky lit up in gold. She froze, her eye cast skyward as she took in the source of the light.

    Scion.

    The golden man, the avatar of the beast large enough to cover an entire world. The one who spent every moment of every day saving lives.

    The one who was going to murder the entirety of every iteration of humanity. If it was not for her knowledge of his true nature, it would have been nearly impossible to believe. He was perfect. An incarnate golden god, his white bodysuit and cape were as immaculate as ever.

    The battle between the dragon and the Endbringer paused for a moment. Scarlet was looking up, her blood-red eyes glowing as the draconic head took in the form of Scion. Leviathan was still, as well. The Endbringer was impossible to read at the best of times, but even he seemed to be taking a moment.

    All Alexandria could do was grit her teeth. Please not now, please don’t start it now. Please.

    Ever since he arrived, Scion was always expressionless. Always stoic. Those he was near sensed something from him, however. Usually it was a sense of deep sadness. Deep, strong, difficult. People had burst into tears just being near him. Alexandria was one of the few that knew the source of that sadness. She’d felt it on numerous occasions, whenever he would assist in an Endbringer battle. It was always mixed with disgust whenever he looked at her, at the Cauldron capes, but Scion was predictable.

    That sadness was still there. But now there was something else. Curiosity. He simply hovered above the field, his light brightening up the night sky, revealing the violence of the storm above and the damage of the battle below. But there were no golden blasts, no attempt to engage Leviathan. He just... hovered there, and watched.

    Leviathan seemed to grow bored of waiting, turning toward the south and starting to move. Scarlet, snapped from her contemplation by the now-fleeing Endbringer, vanished in an eyeblink.

    And reappeared in Leviathan’s path, claws out, shining with a strange blue sheen. Leviathan tried to stop, to redirect his path, but apparently the time-slowing effects on the Endbringer had messed with his reflexes just enough. The claws tore through Leviathan’s side rather easily, making the Endbringer spin around, a good chunk of the torso ripped away. Water spilled, forming as Leviathan tried to weaponize his water-shadow, striking in powerful jets toward Scarlet.

    That’s when Alexandria hit him at around mach three. Leviathan slammed into the ground, mud and water splashing in all directions. He lifted the stump of his arm up to try and dislodge Alexandria, but the arm suddenly turned gray and flailed, moving less than an inch, back and forth, again and again, trapped within a familiar and horrific prison of time.

    Sarah’s voice came over the armband. “Rally just north of the campus, I have Leviathan pinned in a timeloop. Tear him apart!”

    Alexandria activated her amulet, burning with unnatural fire as she ripped into the Endbringer’s chest, trying to find the densest place within its unnatural body. Scarlet roared, the dragon’s blue claws ripping further down, the wounds the Endbringer inflicted upon it sealing themselves almost instantly. She began ripping into Leviathan’s belly, the massive dragon grasping a section of crystalline bone and tearing it straight out of the Endbringer.

    It was still horrific work. Even as Alexandria’s immutable hands were tearing through crystalline matter, her eye could pick up new material forming, trying to fill in the gaps, repair the damage. Leviathan spasmed beneath them, grass and mud flying in all directions. The defenders caught up, appearing in puffs of smoke or flying around the battlefield, beginning to add their own attacks to try and kill the Endbringer.

    Then Leviathan exploded with water, enough to tear into a mountainside. Suddenly underwater, the defenders struggled to retreat, survive. Alexandria’s armband blared, though it was impossible to hear. She caught sight of a red-suited man being ripped apart by the raging currents, along with another man covered in stone armor. A black-armored woman lifted her hands, forming a shield with desperation, though she was crushed by the sheer force of the water.

    Her lungs filled with water, Alexandria struggled to lift off, to find the sweet air above, but the currents were driving her back down, right into the gaping maw she made within Leviathan’s chest. She needed to breathe only once every five minutes...but she needed air.

    And above it all, Scion hovered, impassive. Watching as the heroes died.

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    Last edited: Jul 2, 2017
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  29. Hye

    Hye Reader of The Long Words

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    :D Kaiju Fight!

     
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  30. Threadmarks: Interlude: War part 3
    SirWill

    SirWill Know what you're doing yet?

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    A/N: Know what the hardest part about this was? Finding the right music for the mood.

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    David stared at Behemoth.

    The first Endbringer thrashed as Atlas and Dragon were tearing into him. Fire and frost clashed repeatedly, causing howling winds that flowed from the center of the battle. That only made the firefighting effort worse, but there wasn’t much help for it. David was too busy focusing on the next shot.

    Gravity shear. It allowed him to warp gravity destructively, along with an instinctive perception so that it would not miss its target. It was a simple power. One that had been out of his reach for nearly fifteen years, drained dry. With the powers released from the now-free gods, however, David was able to channel some of that energy into the powers he had used up. He wasn’t at his best, he wasn’t as strong as he had been at the beginning of his career. But he was much, much stronger than he had been for years. Enough to reawaken and re-use some of the more useful powers he had thought gone forever.

    Enough to stop his greatest mistake.

    Aim for the head.” Armsmaster’s voice echoed over David’s armband. David smiled grimly, shifting his aim just slightly as he let the power charge itself up. For most targets, it wouldn’t be needed. But to shear through the stupidly dense layers of Behemoth’s inner flesh, he needed two minutes between each burst, and the effort was rather rapidly draining the power.

    It was still worth it. Personal power was important, but if it meant ending all the blood and death on his hands, David would happily drain every power he had dry.

    Behemoth was spilling lava everywhere, out of the many wounds in his rocky form. The ghastly rent in his chest went right through him, piercing through the otherwise invincible form of the Endbringer. Still, he dug his foot forward, the other skeletal leg hanging uselessly, connected to the rest of his body by a pencil-thin strip of crystalline flesh. It wasn’t enough to support his weight, and thus the Endbringer was forced to move forward slowly, gradually, unable to make the leaps that made him so horrifically dangerous in other engagements.

    Atlas slammed into Behemoth again, the icy blade stabbing toward Behemoth’s face. The Endbringer grasped the weapon in its remaining hand, heat and cold straining against each other. A whine built up, cracks began to form in the blade, and with a roar, Behemoth jerked forward. The sword snapped, burning along the point of failure, and Behemoth managed to bring Atlas down with his weight. With sheer, unmitigated brutality, Behemoth slammed his fist down, again and again, right on Atlas’ chest, carving through the layers of ice, Tinkertech metals and forcefields. Any mundane machine wouldn’t have withstood the barrage for even a minute.

    Atlas lasted three. It was reduced to a flailing, helpless pile of metal, arms and head reduced to heated slag as it tried to fight back. Behemoth tore into it, trying to seek the pilot, ignoring the golden dragon searing holes in his flesh.

    Armsmaster’s voice echoed over the armbands. “Pull back! I’m about to release the stored energies here!”

    Dragon immediately did so, flaring with light and instantly reappearing high above, only visible to David due to the perception ability that came packaged with the Gravity shear power.

    Behemoth kept smashing into Atlas, ripping away the layers until he reached the pilot’s compartment. Only there was no pilot. Merely a twenty-inch black portal with cables snaking out of it, connected to various ports around the interior of the machine. It looked like a hasty job, the pilot’s seat was still present, but it was plain to David that the whole thing had been piloted by remote.

    That’s one hell of a way to make an impression. It had been tried before, but Behemoth tended to kill those within machines with his kill aura. That must have been a workaround.

    Then the temperature suddenly dropped, the nearby fires went out, and Atlas and Behemoth both were abruptly covered in a transparent block of ice. It nearly immediately began to crack, fracture, as Behemoth poured heat into it. But it was enough to keep Behemoth from moving for one moment.

    David unleashed another burst from his power.

    It lanced out, effortlessly shattering the ice surrounding Behemoth’s head. Crashed through the rocky layers of Behemoth’s outer face. Ripped apart his single, burning eye. Shattered the crystalline skull beneath. Tore through the layers underneath that. Finally, exposing a dark core. The severe space-time warping that made the core possible to exist resisted the power, but it was still enough to make Behemoth reel, a spiderweb of burning blue cracks appearing on the core.

    Behemoth burst his way from the ice, crushing the hollowed-out shell of Atlas beneath his foot. His arm drove itself downwards, cutting into the earth. Attempting to retreat, to flee and heal.

    David shared a look with his friend. Legend returned it, his lips thin and determined.

    Together, honed from years of battles against Behemoth, they moved. His body burning with Dragon’s light, Legend honed his lasers to strike a single point on the core. They wove together, snaking and weaving through the air, to strike right in the center of the spidercracks. David called upon the other power he had ready.

    Containment shield.

    Behemoth was suddenly surrounded by a shimmering cylindrical field, impenetrable by anything harmful. Visible light would pass, up until it reached harmful levels. Nothing else would escape. Not radiation. Not objects. Not even an Endbringer. The base of the field was closed. Behemoth’s rocky fist crashed into it and failed to pass through, the Endbringer now trapped, if only for a short time.

    However, there was no such trouble about harmful things passing into the field. Legend’s blasts sailed straight through, exploding upon Behemoth’s core. Cryogenic beams from Dragon’s suits helped delay Behemoth’s escape, cooling and cracking his skin as the Endbringer flailed. Neptune, far below, steered jets of water into the Endbringer's flesh, the heat immediately boiling the water into steam, but also further helping keep the Endbringer off-balance and trapped, helpless.

    And Dragon, five hundred feet above, glowed like a burning sun as she built her power. The streams of her wings blazed as she drew in her power, and the light of the sun itself. She generated it, channelled it, light and magic weaving together as one.

    Then she opened her mouth, emitting a searing blue beam that blasted into Behemoth, focusing on the core. The Endbringer was lost in the glare, the shining bright light impossible to look at, and the only reason it didn’t cause more destruction was David’s shield. His power strained as it fought to hold the Endbringer and blasting energy.

    But it did not have to hold for long. When the light faded, Behemoth was lying upon the ground, a hollowed-out shell. The core upon the top of the head was burning, fire erupting from the cracks in its face. Behemoth went limp, the massive stone-covered body laying bonelessly upon the ground. The first Endbringer was entirely still. The heat that always accompanied it was fading. The radiation levels were dropping.

    Dragon dropped down on top of the corpse of the Endbringer. With wickedly sharp claws, she tore the burning core away from the body. Opening her mouth, she released another blast of bright white light.

    The core shattered into a thousand pieces, tiny burning chunks spraying in all directions.

    Dragon lifted her head and roared.

    Dragon's voice echoed over the armbands. “Behemoth deceased, LM-6.”

    David did not need the radio to hear the cheers. It was a pleasure to add his own voice to the chorus.

    --------------------

    Dennis slapped his hand on another patient. They instantly froze, fingers clawing at the air.

    This one was a man wearing way too tight yellow spandex. Judging from the outfit, he had been a speedster. Had been being the operative words, as he was now missing his legs.

    Dealing with the aftermath of the Simurgh’s victims was a lot easier than this. There hadn’t been very many hurt then. Oh there were wounds, but the Simurgh’s final battle had been a lot more tame. Here, at Morriston Hospital, far inland from the battle at the coast? The emergency room was filling in with capes quickly.

    Not for the first time, he wished Amy was here. Or even Amara. The redheaded girl wasn’t anywhere near as good a healer as Amy had been, but Amara could have sealed the torn wounds a lot more easily than the doctors here could. All Dennis could do was buy time.

    His armband blared. “Clockblocker, report to the front of the hospital immediately.”

    He grimaced, but got moving, pressing on the armband. “On it.” He was pretty quick on his feet, thanks to the exercise regimen and healthy living the Wards program encouraged, but the place was filling up quickly. Capes from all over the world were here, trying to stop Leviathan.

    Dennis stopped the second he stepped out the doors. Scion was hovering there, miles distant, and there were flashes of light and distant rumbles. But he wasn’t moving, he wasn’t blasting, he wasn’t trying to stop the building waves. He was just...there, glowing brightly enough to light up the sky.

    “The fuck is he doing?” Dennis muttered to himself.

    “Beats me.” Another voice said, her tone pleasant.

    With a very manly (shut up) cry, Dennis whirled around. Behind him was a gray-clad blonde, amusement on her maskless face. “Don’t do that!”

    She shrugged and clapped his shoulder. “Sorry. Not much time to waste. We’ve got to get to the shoreline, Gaia needs your power to help deal with the waves.”

    He shook his head. “I might be able to stop the wave, but if my timing’s off by a fraction of a second, it’ll squish me. And when it unfreezes it’ll still have all the momentum it had previously. It’d just buy us anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes.”

    She smiled. “It’s not the wave we’ll be stopping. Come on.” She began to walk, briskly but unhurried toward the south, following the winding streets.

    “Shouldn’t we be running? We’ve got a lot of ground to cover to get there. Hell, we should be taking a car or something, it’s pretty far from here to the coast.”

    The woman shrugged again. “We got time. We can take all day to get there, actually. And I can’t drive, don’t know how. And I’m pretty sure I can’t do something unfamiliar like that and concentrate on holding up the field. It’s not that hard, but not that easy either. Like keeping a raunchy tune in your head.”

    “What field? And what tune?”

    She sighed, and pointed. Dennis looked, and blinked. There was a little bird in mid-air, frozen as if his power had been used on it.

    She spoke with a smile. “Chronos has given us the ability to mess with time. I can speed things up, slow things down, even put a field around myself and a few other people to move around, though it’s really difficult. Sarah’s figured out the time prison and Robin just cheats outright, with a parahuman power as well as ours. I guess she got lucky being double-teamed like that. Me, I gotta use the one toy, but it’s such a nice and flexible one.”

    Dennis choked. Then, he spoke, managing a smile of his own under his mask. “Well then, since we can take our time, why don’t we find a car or a motorcycle or something? I can drive. And you can share a couple of stories.”

    She grinned. “I’m Andrea.”

    Huh. No cape name? Well, he wasn’t about to complain. “Clockblocker.”

    Andrea laughed. “Definite sense of humor, too. I hope it’s just clocks you block. I’m liking the view from here.” She looked him up and down. “Tempted to freeze you, put a dress on you, take a few pics, put everything back, and use it for blackmail material later.”

    Despite the subject matter, Dennis couldn’t help himself. “Already did that to Aegis. I’ve got it on my phone.”

    Her eyes lit up. “You find us wheels. Let me see that.”

    She was laughing for long minutes afterward while he checked out the nearest motorcycle he could find.

    --------------------

    “You are a lousy driver.” Andrea said.

    “I’ve had three lessons!” Dennis said defensively. “Doesn’t help everyone else is not moving and they’re on the wrong side of the road.”

    “We’re in the UK. The left side is the right side.”

    The pair had taken a motorcycle from where it had been chained up on a side road. Andrea had done something to it, using that power of hers, and it had started up despite the fact neither of them had the key for it. Apparently she rewound the key mechanism to the on position, and away they went.

    Now that they’d arrived at Mumbles Road on the coastline, Dennis slowed down. Scion’s light, now nearer and brighter, made it very easy to see the sixty foot tall tsunami that sat in the middle of the bay, dark and ominous. The fact it was utterly still didn’t set his mind at ease at all.

    “So what’s the plan?” Dennis asked, rubbing his wrist. Just because he knew how to ride a motorcycle didn’t mean he liked it. “I’m still having trouble seeing what we’re supposed to do.”

    Andrea shrugged. “Gaia asked for you. We’re supposed to meet her just up that way.” She pointed over his shoulder, and now that he was looking, he noticed her. A green-haired woman, standing on the sand, arms outstretched.

    He pulled the bike over near the figure. As soon as the pair were within five feet, she began moving again, though she was shaking her head. After a moment, she glanced over at Andrea, rolling her eyes. “If I live for ten millennia, I will never get used to that.”

    “Temporal shock’s a bitch.” Andrea said with a nod. “Clock’s here.”

    Gaia looked Dennis over, a faint smile on her lips. “Good. The moment Andrea drops the field, I will erect a wall to block the wave. You shall reinforce it.”

    Geez. Talk about pressure. “Alright. Ready here.” He flexed his hand.

    Andrea let out a sigh of relief. Then abruptly, the rolling wave in the bay started moving. Moving very fast.

    Gaia spread her arms, and the sand in front of her shifted. There was a sudden terrible crack, and a long gray granite wall sprung out of the earth. It grew rapidly, springing skyward with no sign of stopping anytime soon. It moved impossibly, sliding almost entirely without friction, and the damn thing stretched off into the horizon in both directions.

    “Now!” Gaia yelled.

    Dennis slapped his hand against the wall. It abruptly stopped moving, the familiar rush of his power passing into it. Then there was a great crash. Water splashed over the now hundred-foot wall, but in piddling amounts, the rest repelled by the immovable object.

    Nice.

    “Stay here.” Gaia said. “I may need your assistance again, at least if I do not wish to entirely alter this island’s shape.”

    --------------------

    Hannah held her breath.

    It was for a rather different reason than most of the other people on the battlefield, though. She was a hundred feet away on a rooftop, making calculations in her head. The only thing she could see was Leviathan’s arm, sticking out of the rushing water. Discolored, gray, and seemingly frozen from here.

    Salacia stood next to her, the water-based projection had a hand outstretched. Against Leviathan, she had no chance to counter the Endbringer on a mass scale, but she could fight it on an individual level. Several times jets of water had sought out Hannah, only for them to be diverted at the last instant. It gave Hannah the chance to unleash hell.

    She formed a minigun, and blazing with unnatural fire from the amulet around her neck, the weapon blasted at Leviathan. Normally, Hannah would never try to use such a weapon near other capes, but Leviathan’s desperate blast of water had freed the area around him. The 7.62 mm bullets, meant to tear apart vehicles and infantry armor, scythed through water and Endbringer flesh alike. Hannah stopped only when Salacia lifted a hand, twisting her fingers in a code Hannah understood.

    Rising fast. Prepare grenades.

    With clenched teeth, Hannah formed a grenade launcher. An M79 ‘blooper’ so named for the sound it made when delivering death and destruction. Reaching to her bandolier, she pulled out one of the blue-labeled grenades, loaded it. She did the calculations in her head. It had an effective range of over a thousand feet, but it would still be difficult to manage the shot from here.

    Then there was a roar, and Scarlet Dragon burst from the rushing water, the great dark shape of her dragon form shining in Scion’s golden light. She held the thrashing, water-streaming form of Leviathan above her, her claws blazing with magical fire, searing into Leviathan’s torso. His maimed arm was left behind, torn off by the sheer force the Lady of Darkness brought to bear upon the Endbringer. The dragon threw Leviathan toward the north, keeping itself between the Endbringer and the shore, so near to the south.

    Leviathan scrambled back to his feet, just as Scarlet rammed into it again, burning claws tearing deep into crystalline matter. The impacts seemed to stun Leviathan, and the rushing water below suddenly slackened. Alexandria managed to burst from the water, tumbling and whirling in midair, puking out an impressive amount of water. Then she slowed and stopped in midair, before there was a flicker of gray, then she vanished.

    Salacia flicked her fingers. Clear. Strike.

    Taking the opportunity, Hannah aimed and fired. The grenade struck Leviathan right in the hollowed-out chest, the magically-enhanced weapon freezing the Endbringer solid. The water suddenly ceased flowing. Almost immediately, the ice began to ripple and crack, but for the moment, the Endbringer was helpless.

    Enough time for Chevalier, burning sword just barely visible in the rushing waters below, to bring his cannonblade down with a chop. Space-time warped, allowing the weapon to strike further than it had any right to, and it cleaved almost straight through Leviathan’s torso. Crystalline matter went scattering in all directions.

    Then Leviathan exploded into water once more. The Endbringer launched itself through the air, heading south, seeking the coastline. Attempting to retreat as it had so many times before. It launched over Hannah, its form difficult to see through the watery shell that was now covering it. He made it over the campus, nearly reaching the bay, when Scarlet erupted into existence and reached through that water-shell, grasping Leviathan’s tail.

    Then the dragon turned and slammed Leviathan against the ground, treating the Endbringer like a ragdoll. Then again, and again, concrete, mud and rock spraying outwards from every impact.

    Leviathan twitched, water bursting away from its form and spraying into Scarlet’s face. The dragon was forced to let go, and Leviathan went skidding away. Without either arm, the Endbringer struggled to right itself, and by the time it did, forcefields had surrounded the two massive figures, enclosing both in a flaming dome. Narwhal and the others hovered above the pair, keeping both opponents caught within.

    Leviathan turned south, seemed to examine the fields, though that was difficult to tell with him lacking a head. Then with resigned determination, it faced the dragon, tail lashing angrily.

    Scarlet paced, claws wrapped in flame. The Endbringer and great red dragon sizing each other up, seconds passing with the only sound of hissing steam to punctuate the moment.

    Leviathan charged, forming blades of water to replace his lost limbs.

    Scarlet also charged, taking deep rents into her flesh as she slammed into the Endbringer, and the already-injured Leviathan went tumbling off-balance. Leviathan slammed into the field on the outer edge of the dome, trying to scramble to get away from it, but nearly helpless without either arm to help his top-heavy form get back on its feet.

    Scarlet pounced on top of it, burning claws ripping and tearing viciously. Water and fire clashed, erupting into clouds of steam. Impact, impact, impact, as the dragon slammed and clawed its way through Endbringer flesh. It was near-impossible to see with the boiling steam, all that managed to get out of the enclosing forcefield was the sounds of the battle.

    Then, all was quiet. Everything was still for a moment, the only sound was crackling flames and racking coughs as capes struggled to get the water from their lungs.

    A pulse of darkness, and then Scarlet appeared above the dome in her demonic form. She held above her head a sphere in one hand, about the size of a car. A piece of warped and twisted space that seemed to shimmer and distort, like looking at ripples in a pond. Steam rose from it, water poured from it, and it seemed to quiver and shudder, as if straining to get away from the Lady of Darkness.

    Then Scarlet’s hand erupted in flame. The core cracked, quivered, and perversely crumbled, falling onto the forcefield dome beneath her. The shards of Leviathan’s core erupted into tiny flames, dissipating into steam.

    Scarlet lowered her hand, extinguishing her flames. Then she looked up at the form of Scion, hovering above the battlefield.

    The world’s most powerful hero had his arms crossed as he looked back. The moment seemed to stretch.

    Then he flared with golden light. He turned to the west and flew off.

    For a long moment, there was only silence. Then the cheers began.

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