Crossposting from SB and SV because their content filters won't let me post one bit of mostly PG-13 violence in chapter 2.2. Which... really sucks. Anyway, here's to having a megapost of the first nine chapters! Hooray! 1.1 “Get lost, Taylor! I don’t need you anymore!” Emma shouted, a cruel smirk upon her face as she stood by this new interloper that had somehow stolen my former best friend away while I was in summer camp. The interloper- Sophia, as was apparently her name- simply crossed her arms and glared, daring me to do something. I didn’t, simply because it would draw undue attention and because she was undoubtedly more physically powerful than me. “Alright then,” I spoke blandly, not allowing my simmering rage to boil to the surface, and walked past the two, ignoring Emma’s shocked expression and the interloper’s curious gaze. As much as I would have sorely loved to enact revenge on the interloper for what she had done, it would have drawn undue attention to me. Being late on the first day of highschool leaves an impression, one that is not so easily erased as the flimsy friendships of yesteryear and childhood. I knew it would not be the end, but even then, I could not bring myself to do anything but make a mental note to keep it from drawing undue attention to myself. I hate being the center of attention. ~~~~~~ I stumbled slightly as the interloper jostled me slightly, but continued on my way, deftly slipping around the small gaggle of hangers-on that the betrayer had gathered to block my path and ignoring whatever the… other one- what was her name again? Maddie? Whatever- whispered to those around her. Three weeks into the semester and my grades had begun slipping ever so slightly. It was enough to make me worry- slipping grades lead to undue attention and so much more hassle. Though, I had already devised a number of workarounds, such as my current one- slipping into my geometry class early such that I was able to hand in my previous night’s homework before anyone else had arrived. It was not always manageable, what with travel times being an unfortunate reality, but it was enough to maintain the subjects I cared about. I was usually even early enough to prevent any mishaps from befouling my seat in various classes. I did not know exactly what the purpose of this harassment was, but it was rather aggravating and, unfortunately, drew quite a bit of negative attention from my peers. Attention that I could do without, but seeing as more of them were turning to harassing or outright ignoring me on all matters, it was of no great importance. They would not scrutinize me, and the only hassle that I would have to deal with would be juvenile harassment that was easily worked around. Or so I thought. ~~~~~~ Laughter. Darkness. Filth and rot and all that made me hate hate HATE. The taste of filth upon my tongue, the overpowering stench of rot in my nose, and the pain of being forced into cramped, unyielding confinement as my harassers shoved me bodily into my locker and slammed the door behind me. Darkness. Laughter fading into the distance. Rage I struggled, beating futilely at the thin metal separating me from freedom, cursing the weakness in my hands and arms, struggling to catch my breath in the disgusting stench that pervaded through my being like a particularly foul cu- Stars ~~~~~~ I came to a few moments later, standing outside my locker, somehow clean, with the locker door missing entirely, the filth gone as well. I had missed first period, but that was alright, if only just barely. Missing one class would hardly draw much attention in a place like Winslow, unfortunately for any hope that I had for authority. Feeling quite strange, but also quite murderous, I gathered my wits, looked around for my backpack, found it missing, and sighed. “Wonderful…” I murmured, slumping against the lockers and staring at my hands. They were different, slightly. Not enough to be very noticeable to the casual onlooker, but where they were bony and gangly, they were now more slender and delicate, more beautiful. Even my nails looked healthier. It was an obvious sign that I was a parahuman, once I thought of it. Now… what was I to do about my missing bag, books, homework, time, and various effects? Well, if I were to think like my hara- no, that incident had upgraded them to, unfortunately, tormentors. If I were to think like my tormentors, then… I searched across the school as second period wore on, retrieving usually ruined items of mine from various trash cans strewn around campus until I had a rather respectable pile of salvageable items in front of me, including the bare bones of two notebooks, a mostly intact backpack, some clean sheets of paper, three pencils, some halfway intact homework, and an art project that might generously be given the title of modern art. Wonderful. ~~~~~~ This had to stop. Not only had my tormentors kept up their harassment since the locker incident two months ago, but my grades were beginning to slip to an unfortunately noticeable level. I took solace in the quiet fact that my powers were intuitive and powerful, though perhaps not quite as heroic as I had once wished. Powers. Plural. I kept detailed notes but the basic gist of it was that I had at some point become stronger, faster, and more durable- the changes took effect as a general, almost unnoticeable, slight beautification in my features. My mouth shrunk slightly so it wasn’t quite so wide, my legs filled out ever so slightly, the tiny paunch in my belly had disappeared after about two weeks of exercise and had been replaced by faintly defined abs. I even gained the beginnings of breasts. Somehow. I did not complain in the slightest. Further experimentation revealed that I was at the very least stab-proof, fast enough to pick a fly out of the air, and strong enough to punch through a fairly thin slab of steel that I found laying around in the basement- about maybe a quarter of an inch. Nothing terribly impressive when it came to parahumans, but it was enough for me. I did not plan on going out in a ridiculous costume to fight or commit crime, and thus far my baseline abilities had proved fairly useful in day to day life. My other abilities, however… were far more murderous than I had expected, though useful with careful thought. The first ability seemed to turn anything I touched into a high powered, short range explosive capable of being remotely triggered within a radius of about fifty feet. Testing revealed that it worked on anything and that, somehow, whatever I used as an explosive was not harmed by detonation, allowing me to repeatedly detonate said object if need be. There were an unfortunate two caveats, though one of them made quite a bit more sense than the other. The first caveat was that I could only have one explosive active at any time, which made sense since the detonation command was me pressing my thumb to my index finger like I was pressing on a detonator. The other caveat was that if I touched an animal, the animal would explode as well. I learned this after I learned that I was fast enough to pick a fly out of the air. Strangely enough, the explosions I made were curiously silent, though visually impressive, and left nothing behind, not even ashes, unless I actively set parameters for each explosion. The second ability seemed to be much more conditional- a roving, heat seeking thing that I could release from somewhere in my left hand. I did not know where it came from, only that its appearance was marked by the appearance of a scarab shaped imprint on the back of my hand. The creature itself appeared to be some sort of beetle, but far larger and menacing than any I had seen before. It was shining black, about four inches wide and six inches long, with stout, thick legs ending in spikes that could carry it at around thirty miles per hour. It had no functioning wings, but its back surface was shaped like a pair of elytra anyway. Its head was possibly the most strange part- two pairs of eyes and a white marking upon it that formed a stylized skull, with a diamond shaped patch of black where the nose hole would be. With some effort, I had discovered that I could see through its eyes and control its movements, but the view was a headache inducing mix of colors that would not have seemed out of place on a false color thermal imaging device. The purpose of this creature was, as expected, another explosive, though far more powerful and detonated by body heat alone. I will admit, I nearly panicked when it oriented upon, pounced on, and blew up a rat while I was testing it at the Boat Graveyard. Two months of testing, careful documentation, and memorization followed by the destruction of said documentation. Two months of careful observation of my tormentors. Two months of memorizing schedules, plans, habits. Emma, the betrayer, was always alone at certain times of day- when walking home she took shortcuts through smaller back alleys, always came home before her parents. Sophia, the once interloper now simply an enemy, was hard to pin down. Always seemed to disappear after school, never seemed to be alone in school, but strangely enough seemed to always follow a specific route when going out at night. A single week’s worth of observation had revealed a startling fact: Sophia Hess was a parahuman, which warranted a slight change in observation times for her, such that I learned of her nightly routes… and of her connection to the Brockton Bay Wards program. I planned to be extra thorough with her revenge. Ma- Maddie? Madison, the other one, was hardly even on my peripheral awareness as most of her version of “tormenting” was focused on ruining a reputation I never had via gossip. As it did not affect me, I did not particularly care about her. Still, I needed to remove her so as to prevent any traces leading back to me. Two months. Two months of planning, waiting, observing, until I had a workable plan of action. Two months. It ended tonight. 1.2 Silent. Empty. The tiny click of a window latch opening as its locking mechanism was destroyed from within. Emma wouldn’t be home for another few minutes- she was caught up with her phone and had accordingly slowed her walking pace. Taking off one of my gloves, I gently, just barely, poked her favorite pillow. One of Emma’s worst habits was taking a quick nap right after school, a habit I had known about since elementary school. Putting on my glove again, I peeked out the window- good. She was almost about to enter the house. I hid in her closet, tucked away in such a position that I was able to observe her bed directly. She wouldn’t change out of her clothing, just undress and crawl under the covers. I heard the front door slide open downstairs, and the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. Three… Two… One. The door to Emma’s room opened and in came the redheaded betrayer in the flesh, curls bouncing with every step. Several other things bounced, but I was more concerned with Emma’s hands, perfectly manicured, pale, smooth, slender hands with an expertly done coat of pink nail polish on each fingernail. I watched as she tossed her backpack aside, threw her clothes in the general direction of the laundry hamper, and scampered underneath those fluffy, white covers I had once slept under many times as a child. I watched, emotionlessly, as her head touched the pillow I marked and she began drifting off. Silently, I raised my hand… And pressed the trigger. Just moments before the detonation went off, I saw her eyes widen in sheer terror and a half formed scream just barely choke itself out, then her form was obscured in a flash of burning light and smoke that disappeared as quickly as it came, leaving no trace of Emma, not even moving the covers beyond what Emma herself had done. No trace at all but for the single, slightly smoking hand that I snatched out of the air- her right hand, in fact, the stump cauterized by the detonation leaving the rest of it untouched and clean, beautiful. “Oh Emma, Emma, Emma… it didn’t have to be this way,” I whispered to myself as I tucked her away in my hoodie pocket, picked up her phone, and descended the stairs, letting myself out the back door and taking the back alleys towards my next target. “But… we can be friends again… maybe more.” I smiled to myself as I headed towards Ma- Madeline? No, Madison’s house. One down, two left. ~~~~~~ Mary? Madeline? Madison’s room was an exercise in childish expressions of “cuteness” and glitter, almost enough to make me vomit. Madison herself was already unfortunately home, but I did not need to enter. Her window was open, in fact, as she emailed and messaged the throngs of people that I barely cared to think about. Such frivolity- she really had nothing better to do than stay online all day and think of new ways to gossip behind my back? Her hands were rather pretty as well, small and delicate, like a child’s, but just enough to be cute rather than disgusting. My plan of action here was simple- she had a tree in her yard, one that led right up next to her room. Her desk faced away from the window, allowing me to climb up undetected as I pulled a pebble from my pocket and charged it. This was most likely the riskiest part- I would only get one chance with the pebble and if I were caught, then everything would be for naught. I quelled the light shaking of my hands and took aim, one eye closed as I just gently flicked and… Contact, followed by an immediate detonation that left Madison’s dominant hand, her left, still perched upon her mouse. I entered through the window, taking care to not jostle anything, and retrieved the hand, taking the time to reply that I ‘lol gtg bbl’ in each chat window, then shut down her computer, turned off her phone, and exited, leaving no one in the house the wiser to my actions. Two of three. On to the next. ~~~~~~ Sophia was almost too easy- I learned that she and Emma had routine contact even while Sophia was supposed to be out “hero-ing”. I supposed that Emma was the unofficial sidekick, such that they even sometimes met up in Sophia’s alter-ego as Shadow Stalker. Some ten minutes ago, I had texted Sophia using Emma’s phone, asking her to meet up at their usual spot- an out of the way alley close to Emma’s house, but also close to the docks. Five minutes ago, I had placed Emma’s phone in plain view as a charged bomb and hidden inside a large box I had planted there six days ago. I looked out of the pinholes I’d poked into the box and watched as Sophia descended from the rooftops, looking around in confusion before spotting the phone. Immediately, she rushed over and picked it up, causing quite an artful explosion as her body rippled and tore apart from the inside, vaporizing in a spray of superheated viscera that too dissolved into nothingness and left nothing behind, not even a hand- hers were ugly, scarred and calloused from combat. Not like Emma’s graceful smoothness or Madison’s cute softness. Three of three. My torment was ended. ~~~~~~ I felt oddly light as I headed back to the Boat Graveyard, a spring in my step for the first time in what felt like forever. As I entered the rusted hulk that served as my testing grounds, I unleashed my second bomb, which, in a fit of whimsy, I had named Skitter for the sound it make as it, well, skittered around. I myself sat in a cleaner corner as I controlled it, crawling along every surface it could run or jump to and- ah, apparently Skitter did have wings, or rather, slightly hidden rocket boosters.. As soon as I found out, I immediately practiced flying, directing Skitter to the ground a few times to latch onto and detonate upon rats. For science. Yes. And there I stayed for some time, until the sun had set and my stomach began grumbling. I headed out and stopped by Fugly Bob’s for a quick dinner, and began walking home. It was about eight pm, which was plenty of time for me to finish my homework and get eight hours of sleep. Or so I thought, until I saw the police cruiser in front of my house. I knew I had forgotten something. 1.3 “I- I haven’t seen Emma outside of school for months,” I lied through my teeth, putting up a careful facade of being an almost heartbroken, panicking mess of a teenage girl, shedding a few fake tears to really sell the story to the officer waiting in my living room. “I- we’d drifted a little, after middle school… M-maybe if I’d been a better friend this wouldn’t have happened!” I broke down sobbing, at least, that’s what it looked like to the officer, who patted me on the back and offered his quiet reassurances that the BBPD would do everything in their power to find Emma. I had a good mental chuckle at that. No one would find Emma- I’d stashed her and Madison’s hands in my secret “lair” and left Skitter to guard them. Thankfully, it was still cold enough that I could get away with wearing some thin gloves to hide the mark on my hand. A few minutes of sobbing and empty assurances to call the police if I learned anything later, the officer left, leaving me alone with Dad, who looked deeply worried. “Taylor… I know I… haven’t been the best father to you since your mom died… but,” he sighed, dropping his head into his hands, “I’m worried. Three disappearances in one night? And all of them from Winslow?” I simply sat there, not saying anything and letting him talk. Honestly, it was rather refreshing that he was trying to father me now instead of when I had desperately needed emotional comforting some three years ago. Shame that it had to happen out of nothing but baseless panic after one of the so called “disappearances” (haha) was discovered to be Emma fucking Barnes. “I want you to stop going out after school, or barring that, I want you to be protected,” he shut his eyes tight and bit his lip, then looked up, “and as much as neither of us want to, I’m going to get us both cell phones, so we can communicate.” I nodded, his terms were reasonable enough that I could fit them in without any excess trouble. “I’ll go buy some pepper spray tomorrow,” I said, wiping away the last of my fake tears and putting an appropriate shaky lilt to my voice. “How are we going to afford the phones?” “Prepaid plan,” Dad answered instantly, a bit of light shining in his eyes as he took up a long thought lost tone that signalled when he was on a definitive train of thought that he had absolute confidence in, “It’ll be a little costly, but we have enough saved up that we won’t have too much trouble as long as we cut back on shopping elsewhere for a while.” “Alright… I’m… I’m going to go do my homework,” I murmured, standing up and heading up the stairs. “I’ll scream if anything happens.” “Alright… I love you, Taylor.” “Love you too, Dad.” Curious. I actually felt even better now. Who knew that all it would take to get my father to actually come out of his self induced depressive shell was murdering my bullies in such a way that it looked like they all just disappeared? I certainly did not. ~~~~~~ “I have reason to believe that Shadow Stalker may, in fact, not be missing, but rather… dead.” Armsmaster spoke simply, as if swallowing a bitter pill. He called up a screen showing various graphs of data, along with map overlays and presented it all to the briefing meeting. “If you’ll see here, Shadow Stalker was on a straight line towards the Wards HQ- right on time for her scheduled patrol. However, around Elm Street, she takes a turn and heads for March Street, which, while not entirely far off from her patrol route, has no particular reason for her to be there. I suspect that she decided to meet with someone for some reason, but ran afoul of another cape. Given that the area was near the docks, I suspect that the ABB either has a new cape or Oni Lee has stepped up his game. Either way, that points to the ABB no longer caring about the unwritten rules in fullness.” “Well there’s a thought that’ll keep me up at night,” Assault muttered, then yelped quietly as Battery not so subtly elbowed him in the side for his interruption. “Interesting,” Director Piggot muttered, not even trying to keep the frustrated glare off of her face as she shuffled through her papers to even remotely get a handle on the kind of headache her next few days would face. “But until we get confirmation, we treat this as a missing person’s case. Keep all information about this restricted and let nothing slip. Officially, Shadow Stalker has been transferred to a different location for a few months for training.” She took a long, slow stare around the assembled capes in the room, “I doubt I need to impress on any of you just what kind of shit show will happen if the general public even catches the impression that a Ward has been murdered. In a back alley in the middle of ABB territory no less.” General nodding and murmuring followed her words, coupled with a running undercurrent of tension. “Good. We’ll also be cutting back on Wards patrols and events. One is bad enough, two will be entirely impossible to contain. In response, we’ll need to step up actual Protectorate patrols, spread them out to cover the areas the Wards would have covered. Any volunteers?” Armsmaster raised his hand, as did Miss Militia, then the rest of the assembled capes followed- they lived in Brockton Bay, they were responsible for it. And they’d all be damned if something like this happened on their watch again. ~~~~~~ I had to cut down on my practice sessions after the police came, since Dad was so afraid of me being kidnapped or murdered now. Fortunately, I only needed to cut down from every other day to weekly, since I now did not need the excuse that I was going to the library to study in an attempt to make up for my slipping grades. Unfortunately, my wandering around had not gone unnoticed. Case in point, the barely-an-adult standing in front of me, arms crossed and stance in what he presumed to be an intimidating posture, but really just looked like he was trying far too hard. Barely worth my notice, honestly, and of the gun he kept deliberately shown off, it was most likely stuck with how it was jammed into his waistband. It was almost amusing how he tried to intimidate me, pushing me against the alley wall as he demanded my money. At the exact point that he reached for his gun, I took a single step forward, hand outstretched and just barely brushing his forehead as I charged his skin and detonated, causing him to bloat and erupt into a fountain of fire and smoke that harmlessly washed over me and disappeared as I continued on my path, not even the slightest bit ruffled or smelling from the explosion. I would need to practice that, I thought to myself, because there had been far too much wasted movement, far too many chances where I could have gone on my way before he pushed me against the wall. Perhaps next time I would just walk past them as they made their initial demand? Things to consider. 1.4 It was always a strange occurrence when I couldn’t sleep. I always made sure to keep myself at a relaxed enough level that my sleep would be deep, restful, and uninterrupted, so waking up at a time outside of the time set on my alarm clock was always confusing. Case in point, the sudden, massive itch that sprung me awake at approximately one in the morning on a Thursday night/ Friday morning. It was an itch, centered on my left palm, intense enough for me to involuntarily clench my fist hard enough that I almost drew blood. Instinctively, I cast my mind from self to Skitter, looking through its eyes to see… nothing. I was restless, I couldn’t stay in bed. I had to move, had to get dressed had to sneak out the window silently had to run run run run run. Why? Skitter was guarding my precious hands, now slightly musty and well used, and nothing was around for the entirety of Skitter’s 50 foot sensing range, so why was I running, why did I feel the urge to slam my hand into someone’s face and let their ashes dissolve into the wind? I halted, staring down at my hands. My slender, beautiful hands. My nails were longer, much longer than their normal rate of growth should have let them be. As I stared, I twitched. Action, I needed action. I had been stagnant and this was the price I paid. I began to recall Skitter, using a rat’s body heat to disintegrate the precious lockbox containing my hands with barely more than a grimace. Skitter flew, elytra sprung open just a tad to allow the organic boosters hidden beneath to activate and propel it towards me until she was just close enough that I could dispel it back to wherever it went. I looked around, there was no one nearby. I unleashed Skitter and looked through it’s eyes, and found a congregation of body heat, along with one source that was far warmer than it had any right to be. Congregations of bodies at odd hours were always indicative of gang activity in Brockton, as any native would tell. Gangs. Or, perhaps in another sense, an organized system… of bullies. I considered my options- I could, perhaps, ignore my urges but then they might build until I could not control them. I could join the cape life, but that would draw far too much attention. Or, I could just quietly indulge every now and then, and pretend to be normal otherwise. … Gangs were highly inconvenient to me as well, in a roundabout way. They destroyed the city from within and lowered the standard of living for everyone, causing people like my father to lack work and thus lack money, thus causing my standard of living to drop as well. Ergo. Gangs must die. No one would miss them. I wouldn’t miss them. I hadn’t even noticed that my train of thought led me closer until I was just hidden by the mouth of the alley, palming a quarter in my right hand with the strongest charge I could muster- its radius was such that the power would be too spread out for instant disintegration, and with that much power it would no longer be silent, but it would prevent the greatest amount of danger by killing and incapacitating massive amounts of gang members in a single, fell swoop. And so I flicked the quarter into the alleyway and detonated it right in the middle of the group, right on top of the taller, hotter body that was most likely their leader, and reveled in the quiet screams that echoed through, just barely audible over the rippling, shrieking almost electronic distortion sound that was my bomb. I kept pressing the trigger, detonating over and over again until the screams stopped. And then, I peeked in. Dead. All of them, torn to shreds by my bomb and splattered across the walls, the ground. Viscera pooled in low areas, and bits and bobs were embedded in the walls from sheer force. Not a single one left identifiable… Except that slowly moving hunk of meat in the corner that… “Shit.” I cursed, rather unlike myself usually but what else would one do when they felt the ambient temperature rachet itself up almost sixty degrees in an instant as motherfucking Lung stood back up from an exploding that killed over thirty gang members in the span of thirty seconds? ”I….’ill…. oooo….” the already draconic beast of a man rumbled, flames dancing around his form as it slowly regenerated into a metal scaled, ten foot tall bipedal dragon with vestigial wings and a maw that looked like it was filled with knives and death. I had fucked up. Hard. ~~~~~~ “Guys? I think we should… stay away from her. Very, very far away,” Tattletale warned the rest of the Undersiders, glancing at the small pile of ash where Lung used to be with a slight, almost sympathetic wince. “No argument here,” Regent agreed as he stepped away from the rooftop’s edge and back towards where Bitch had parked the dogs. “I’d rather not let my perfect self get blown up like that.” Tattletale shivered as she recalled the look on the girl’s face- after the initial shock of seeing Lung regenerate, her expression slammed closed and projected nothing but sheer, deadly, intent to kill as some sort of thing had slammed into Lung and exploded with enough force that all that was left was a tiny pile of ash. Small entity connected to girl’s left hand. Heat activated explosive. Used Lung’s own power against him. Higher heat equals larger, more powerful explosion. Explosion powerful enough to kill Lung. Not enough to disintegrate into nothingness. Explosion usually powerful enough to completely disintegrate even ash. First set of explosions came from different bomb. Shiny object in the alley. Quarter. Bomb was coin. Bomb exploded multiple times. Bomb meant for singular targets usually- She shivered again as the Undersiders rode off. A girl with that kind of power was sure to make waves, even if her own power said that she didn’t want anything to do with being anywhere near as noticed as a cape, villain or hero. ~~~~~~ I smelled slightly of ash as I crawled back into my room through the window, but I was smiling slightly all the same. I had all but ended the ABB in about five minutes of effort by killing Lung with his own heat. As I undressed and slipped back into bed, I stroked Skitter’s shell and dismissed her. “Good Skitter,” I whispered, drifting off once more into a deep, restful sleep, uninterrupted for the rest of the night. If my urges could be channeled to making my life better, then I almost hoped they would come more often. 1.5 I had made a mistake. Apparently, due to the combined facts that camera phones exist, my explosions from the other night were audible, and the giant rage dragon screaming as he disintegrated… I had inadvertently plunged Brockton Bay into what would almost qualify as a gang war if it weren’t for the fact that the ABB was mostly just running away (While Oni Lee flitted around and stabbed people here and there) while the E88 seized more territory. Problematic. Very, very problematic. Not in the short term, that is, but in the long term. I was white, so I wouldn’t have to fear any E88 attacks, but I did not care to be in a city whose main parahuman force was Nazis. Just an even worse group of bullies than the Asians who more or less minded their own (criminal) business once their territory was locked down. When I had first heard of the E88 mobilizing, I had been in school- specifically, in an assembly where the Wards were speaking to us about the “horrors of villainy and crime”. The girls next to me were gossiping while obviously paying more attention to their phones than to the assembly, and I had unfortunately been paying attention to what one said due to the… admirable quality of her hands. When she had said something about hearing about the E88 moving into ABB territory from a friend of a friend of a friend, I overheard, and cast a second look about the auditorium. Indeed, most of those who previously wore ABB colors were now dressed normally, and seemed almost afraid to even look at the E88 members. The news that the E88 was moving to take over more of Brockton Bay, more of my city, was enough to get my urges running again as a flush of anger tore through me and almost caused me to explode something right in the auditorium. However, I had managed to clamp it down long enough for school to let out, and then I had called Dad to let him know that I would be in the library for some time due to a school project. I normally disliked lying, but it would be far less attention grabbing than “I am going to hunt and murder as many supervillains as I possibly can within the next five hours”. Now… where would I start, I wondered? ~~~~~~ Apparently wandering around the back alleys of the downtown area of the city for an hour doesn’t actually net any real business. Who knew? I certainly didn’t, though I had handily dealt with several muggers. I had even perfected my casual erasure walk, allowing me to just skip past the hassle of the threats and continue on my path as soon as I saw a weapon. I was almost ready to give up, but I continued on anyway, wandering around aimlessly… until I had the idea to just go to the docks and wander the previous ABB territory on my own. Even if I didn’t find any parahumans, I could still thin out the number of gang members infesting my city. And so I walked. Then I rode the bus. And as I grew closer, I let Skitter out and had her hide under my hair. Her position would prevent anyone from seeing her, and I would be able to use her thermal vision to keep anyone from ambushing me and potentially causing strange injuries that I wouldn’t be able to explain. I wandered through what was probably formerly ABB territory without a care, following the gang tags as I traveled deeper into unknown areas. As I continued on, I saw more and more ABB tags covered in E88 tags, a sight that was honestly rather off putting until I heard the sounds of furious combat up ahead. Success. ~~~~~~ Up ahead, in an alleyway, I saw a gargantuan beast of blades, a robed figure hovering on top of a car, and a shirtless man in a white mask floating near the robed figure. Hookwolf, Rune, and Stormtiger. All of whom would be able to dodge my new tactic of quarter-toss-bomb-spam. I silently resolved to find a better name for such a technique as I took in the ABB gang members being crushed under their relentless assault. In some cases quite literally. What didn’t quite make sense to me was why all three were in the area at once until I had to suddenly jump out of the way of a knife coming from behind and sent Skitter- Crashing through a mildly warm pile of ash. Oni Lee. And with my jump and twist out of the alleyway, all parties were now very, very aware of me. No survivors, then. Good to see at least one plan survives contact with the enemy. Immediately, Hookwolf growled out something inaudible, most likely because of the fact that it was probably just his blades shifting around. For a moment, I thought that I would be able to get away with pretending to be E88 until I the ABB were taken care of, then take care of the rest. And then Rune had to ruin it by saying, “I have no idea who that is. She’s not one of ours.” “She’s still white, Rune. We can’t just let these chinks and gooks hurt an upstanding citizen like that,” Stormtiger called out as he slashed apart an Oni Lee clone that had gotten too close, along with several more of the ordinary gang members, who had by now had the good sense to start running away. Unfortunately for me. In a moment of panicked desperation, unthinking of potential consequences to my current situation other than just the sheer need to remove all who had even a hint of my identity, I flung an overcharged quarter into the fleeing crowd and detonated it over and over, repeating what I had done several nights ago with Lung, and either killed or incapacitated all of them… which then caused every survivor- namely the capes- to turn to me in shock, awe, and in the Nazis’ case… admiration. “.... Shit.” Damn you Moltke for being right. 1.6 “Well, she may not be one of ours, but she sure acts like one,” Stormtiger announced haughtily and sent me an encouraging salute. I was mortified, horrified, and embarrassed and a thousand other things, but mostly, I was murderous. These people now knew what I looked like, and a bit of what I could do. This meant that they had to die. Without a single word, I had Skitter fly, fly far faster than I had ever had moved her before, and set her on autopilot chasing the heat signature that was Oni Lee. Meanwhile, while the Nazis were still unaware of my intentions towards them when they noticed Oni Lee get chased off, I let them get close. Stormtiger lost his most of his windcloak while Hookwolf retracted into another tall, shirtless man with a wolf mask as opposed to Stormtiger’s tiger mask. “Thank you for the assist, young lady,” Stormtiger held out his hand, sounding rather genial. “Though perhaps you might want to find yourself a mask an identity before going out like this again. I must ask you, what was it that you did with that silver projectile?” I took his hand and gave it a firm shake, charging him with a medium radius explosion that would disintegrate him and, while they were just far enough away to not be entirely killed, would severely injure both Hookwolf and Rune. “I-it was nothing, sir… j-just some kind of exploding energy projectile,” I stuttered and forced an almost embarrassed grin onto my face as my collar heated up from the simmering rage within and managed, probably, a convincing blush. “I um, I just heard the fighting and… when I saw those ABB goons and you I… I couldn’t just stand there…” “That attitude’ll get you far,” Hookwolf rumbled, arms crossed but voice decently approving. “Especially with the power you got.” “All the same,” Stormtiger continued on, stepping back ever so slightly as his wind cloak began picking up again, “You should probably come up with a secret identity if you plan on joining us as a cape. Might I suggest the name Zunder? It’s quite fi-” With a metaphorical clicking noise, I pressed the detonator, and Stormtiger disappeared in a flash of fire, while Rune and Hookwolf were launched in opposite directions, both severely injured on one side of their bodies, yet Hookwolf was conscious while Rune seemed almost entirely out of it. I figured it was in size differences, and in experience. Strolling over, I gave Hookwolf a quick tag as he tried and failed to stand, his leg too far gone to support his weight, and detonated him. I turned away and stalked over to Rune, who had since regained consciousness and began crawling away in abject fear. It almost made me want to smile, her reaction. “N-no! Get away! S-stop!” she cried as she pathetically scooted away, until her back hit wall and she stopped. I smiled down at her- Skitter had managed to sneak up on Oni Lee and punch through his ribs, into his heart, and detonate him and was returning as I spoke. “I don’t like witnesses.” Rune panicked even harder and threw herself at my feet, screaming, “Please don’t kill me! I don’t even believe in that Nazi crap anyway! I can change! I can be a hero instead! Just please don’t kill me!” “...” I pondered the question for a moment. What would let me jeopardize my own secrecy, my identity, in order to let one girl survive, with the potential of being a hero. Would the benefits of having an additional hero in the world outweigh the risks of her potentially outing me to the world? I paused and frowned, deep in thought. Behind me and off to the side, I set Skitter to body disposal as I weighed benefits and consequences. What, perhaps, would I risk? An ally? Unnecessary, really, though a higher degree of mobility would aid in removing first the E88- ah. Silently, I kicked her over onto her back, stepped on her chest and kneeled down, drawing a choked gasp as she stared fearfully up at me. “I will let you live for a while longer… if you tell me who the other Empire capes are, where they live, what they can do, and what their habits are.” I spoke with finality, my hand already poised to grab her and destroy her. She considered for a moment, then began blurting a series of names and addresses, some woefully incomplete but made up for by the locations of frequently visited safehouses. One name stood out to me, in particular. “Max Anders, CEO of Medhall?” I mused as I stood, nudging Rune out of the way. She’d probably die of her injuries if she didn’t get help in the next hour, but that was none of my concern, unless she left her body somewhere visible. “I am simultaneously surprised, yet unsurprised. Yes… an organization on par with the E88 would need significant financial backing, wouldn’t it? Makes sense..” I looked down at her whimpering form, still clearly afraid that she would die. She would, but, something in me stirred. Perhaps it was something about the situation I was in- she had surrendered to me, but I was considering killing her. It was possibly against all rules of engagement established within the last decade, but I still could not bring myself to care. However, there was the caveat that I could potentially indirectly make the city better if I let her live, even if my identity would forever be at risk. Decisions, decisions... Protect my identity forever or potentially help lessen the load upon my father indirectly by adding a new hero to the force? Risk losing my anonymity by carelessness or potentially end the gangs destroying my home city? Shaking my head, I made my decision. “I believe we had a deal,” I spoke blandly, using my enhanced strength to bodily lift her and drag her away. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to make another deal if you are to continue living.” “W-what kind of deal?” she stuttered, wincing with every word as her injuries began leaking again. “Forget that I exist. Forget my appearance, forget my power, forget everything about who I am and what I do. You never met me, you do not know who I am, you do not know anything about me and so help me if I find out that you did not comply at any point…” I lowered my face next to her ear and finished my speech with a hissing whisper, ”I will end you in such a way that makes what I did to Hookwolf and Stormtiger look like child’s play. Am I clear?” “Y-yes!” she nodded frantically, impressive considering how many of her injuries were concentrated on her upper chest. “Yes what?” I asked, more of an attempt at humor than anything else. “Y-yes ma’am!” “Now… how do I make sure you don’t die from your injuries anytime soon without raising questions…?” ~~~~~~ When Rune woke up in Brockton Bay General several days later, the first thing she thought was, ’Her fucking idea of inconspicuous is to rip my fucking clothes off and throw me off a roof and into traffic!?’ 2.1 For a few days, I had followed Rune around with Skitter as she systematically cut ties with the E88- rather violently too, in the case of Cricket, who had been trapped in a ring of upturned cars and then smashed in the face with a mailbox over twenty six times for, as I overheard, “Never giving back that twenty bucks you owe me, bitch!” along with twenty five other reasons. At that point I wasn’t sure if she were being earnest, acting that way due to overarching fear of death, or if she really had that much of a grudge against Cricket. I assumed it was the second one. Meanwhile, I had systematically been eliminating entire E88 cells by sneaking into safehouses- trivial when I could simply detonate the locks silently and slip past during holes in the lookout rotations. I was quite sure that the police and the PRT were quite confused about all the recent disappearances, but given that they had not yet traced anything back to me, I saw no reason to care. So far, I had thus been able to remove Victor and Othala by charging their bedcovers- they were married and slept in the same bed, which was very convenient. I almost wished that I had taken a picture of the way that they held onto each other as they both detonated. Such fear and desperation was… interesting. Night and Fog were a tad more difficult, but I merely had to be creative- as Night turned into a monster when nobody watched, I had merely tracked the both of them to their personal car and then hid Skitter in the passenger seat while I charged the steering wheel. That time I had taken a picture using a random phone appropriated from a cleared out safehouse. Their faces as they drove off only for the both of them to explode were almost enough to make me laugh. I actually did laugh when I removed Crusader, as I had coincidentally found him taking the bus to the library and simply detonated him by using Skitter to push him into an alley and explode while he was distracted. Three days of cleaning up the capes, and I suddenly found that the rest had simply vanished. Or rather, they had most likely decided to find a fortified location and hole up there, or barring that, simply skip town entirely. The only one that remained was Kaiser. Purity as well, but she was ostensibly trying to be a hero, according to what Rune had said. Speaking of Rune, she was getting ready to go to bed in the safe house that she had since holed up in. Alone. The one I was in as well for just this moment. “Elizabeth Schmidt.” She shrieked and whirled around to face me as I stepped out of the closet. She was half dressed, in barely more than the shirt she wore to bed and her underwear. Her expression was amusing, a mix of terror and indignation that had her scrambling back until she hit a wall, and froze. “Familiar position, isn’t it?” I asked blandly as I stepped forward and into her personal space. “You seem scared. Is it because I’m here?” “Y-y-n-no ma’am… y-you j-just st-startled me…!” she stammered out, hands clasped tightly over her chest. Rather pretty hands too. Without thinking, I closed on hand over her wrists, clamping them together as I leaned in to whisper into her ear. “You’ve done well in turning yourself around, but have you kept your promise?” I pulled back, deadly serious. If she had ratted me out… “Yes ma’am!” she squeaked, knees shaking against each other and against me. I looked at her- blond hair, blue eyes, fair skin, the exact Aryan ideal if not for the fact that she was shorter than me. Then again, at my own five foot six, I was rather taller than most of the girls my age anyway. I felt a little spark in my chest when I looked down at her quivering lips. I had never thought of it before, but unmasked she was rather… pretty. I hoped that she would keep her promise, else I would hate to waste such a beautiful pair of hands… and I suppose the rest, but mostly the hands. “Good,” I all but purred- it was immensely satisfying to know that I had cowed her enough that she wouldn’t even dare betray me. “Now… everyone but Kaiser is gone. Have you any idea on where they might be?” “N-no ma’am, nothing! I’ve been looking for any traces, but they’re either too well hidden or they’ve skipped down entirely! I went to check on Krieg, but he and his family seem to have just up and left- all their stuff is still their and their neighbors said they went on vacation!” “Shh.” I hiss, pressing my finger to her lips- soft and pink, “As endearing as your babbling is, a simple no would have sufficed. I am going to kill Kaiser. And when I do, I will most likely have a lead on everyone else I need to kill. You, however, will have a much more… simple… job.” “W-what’s that?” she asked, curiously cautious and very much afraid. I suppose I could assuage those fears, just this once. “Kill Skidmark and the rest of the Merchant capes. I don’t care how you do so, just do it,” I command as I let her go. “When you are done with that, investigate the rumors of some sort of Tinker trying to take over the ABB territory.” “Yes ma’am,” she mutters, halfway flushed as hop out the window and onto the fire escape. “One final thing,” I said as I turned around, “If anything you do is traced back to me, I will kill you. So be discreet.” And with that, I simply hopped down the fire escape and landed three stories below, not even ruffled at the landing. It was one of my least thought about abilities, but Brute level strength and durability are very useful for mobility. ~~~~~~ Lisa gulped as she walked past the stoic form of Taylor Hebert, very nervous at the thought of being around such a deadly person, even in a public library. Though well disguised, she could still make out the form of the girl’s secondary bomb hiding within the girl’s hair. ’Will not likely spare another cape who knows her identity, searching for the rest of the E88 capes, searching for and eliminating the gangs of Brockton Bay, coerced Rune into smashing the Merchants, will most likely destroy the Undersiders if she finds out about us, killed Kaiser yesterday, is searching through PHO for information on Brockton Bay’s gangs, has found- oh shit’. Subtly, Lisa edged her way out of her table and away from the homicidal girl seated at the library’s computer bank. In a stroke of horrific luck, it seemed that she had found the thread dedicated to her- or at least, the her that the PRT called “Detonator” in official documents. Fortunately, Lisa had been on that thread as well and found that all of the pictures were taken either with terrible quality or in low light conditions, or with Taylor actually facing away from the cameras, and therefore had actually never shown her face on camera. Technically. Still, she cut and ran from the library, giving a mental fuck you to Coil for forcing her into observing the crazy chick who’d probably just as soon blow her up as listen to anything she had to say. “Worthwhile asset” her perfect tuchus. He probably just wanted her as an on demand disposal service and insurance to make sure none of the rest of the team ever stepped out of line and lived to tell about it. ~~~~~~ I had to still myself almost entirely. I was known. Not publically, but almost as badly. Even with the blurry photos, one could still pick out my shape, my hair, even a line of pixels that might have been glasses. This would not do. This would not do at all. I was almost compromised and there was nothing I could do about it. My palms itched furiously. 2.2 It was with something of a dilemma that I began setting detonations to ignore wallets. On the one hand, stealing did not exactly appeal to me in any way. On the other hand, the previous owners weren’t using the wallets anymore and I could finally buy myself nicer clothing, including a sports jacket that included a built in balaclava. It was hardly ideal, but it was necessary. There was no going back at this point- I was known to the public. Therefore, steps had to be taken to prevent myself from being fully exposed. A simple balaclava to prevent people from seeing my face while I worked, and new clothes to prevent visual tagging for as long as possible. The disappearances of several prominent cape identities being linked to me on PHO was disconcerting, especially since it was indicative of a pattern. Thankfully, Rune had kept her promise- though she had stated that her name was now going to be Starkregen, German for “Heavy Rain”. It was an apt description, though I perhaps thought it hit too close to her roots to be acceptable. She seemed almost begging for my approval when she said her new cape name to me, so I figured that I might as well have signed off on it. The resultant squeal and jump of joy almost made me regret that decision, until I noticed that Elizabeth neglected to wear a bra under her sleeping t-shirt. A spark had flickered in my chest at the sight. Even remembering such a sight made me think back to an old television talk show that I used to watch reruns of with Dad, wherein one of the people on the show had a quite memorable “Oh my”. I had no idea why my thoughts kept flickering back to that one phrase whenever I visited Elizabeth. Was it because she was actually incredibly attractive? That thought drew me up short, such that I almost slammed into a lamp post on the thankfully empty stretch of sidewalk where I was. I had never found anyone attractive before, not men nor women, and now I began to find an Ex-Nazi physically appealing? Well, there was that one blonde girl at the library that one time who had amazing legs but- focus! I had to focus! My own accidental realization of sapphic tendencies aside, I had since become slightly more active in hunting down the rest of Brockton Bay’s scum. Elizabeth had told tale of the ABB tinker trying to push into E88 territory with conscripted soldiers, having rebranded from the ABB to some juvenile name relating to explosives that I hadn’t bothered to remember. Skitter had been sent out to search for said Tinker, who apparently went by the name Bakuda, the Japanese word for bomb. Descriptive, if uncreative. Though, perhaps it was more fitting than the name Elizabeth bestowed on me in a fit of mild rebellion. “Queen” It logically made little sense, but she had explained that it was chosen for my personality, which to her was forceful, imperious, and almost condescending. Queen versus Bakuda. Not exactly a very poetic turn of phrase. It was with slight trepidation that I entered formerly ABB territory, very much aware that there could be booby traps here and there, as I hunted down Bakuda, explosive user to explosive user. Initially, I had wanted to simply destroy her and her workshop with Skitter once I had found its location, but further examination of the area brought the uncertainty of insurance- Tinkers were vulnerable, moreso than even Masters, usually. The problem was that they had the resources to make themselves less vulnerable. With bombs, the general form of insurance was in deadman’s switches. This, in turn, necessitated more precise application of force than just destroying everything, as cessation of signal would thus lead in far too many dead to escape notice, along with the fact that my father or Elizabeth might end up within the range of effect- Dad because of his office being where it was, and Elizabeth due to her often now patrolling the dockside areas for Merchant activity. I couldn’t let either of them get hurt. Not from the actions of a two bit arsonist with delusions of grandeur. So I hunted. ~~~~~~ Elizabeth Schmidt, formerly Rune, now Starkregen worried at her thumbnail as she tracked Taylor Hebert, tentatively Queen, through the streets in the dock side of town. Oh sure, intellectually she knew that Taylor could more than handle herself, but she still worried. She didn’t know exactly why she worried, given that if Taylor died then she would be free to do as she pleased without the threat of violent exploding if she even slipped up and said anything about Taylor to anyone. When Taylor had told her, about a day ago, that she had found Bakuda and wanted her assistance in taking her down, she had initially been rather apprehensive- Bakuda was known to use some rather esoteric effects in her explosives, and simply blocking them wouldn’t always work. So what exactly did Taylor plan on doing? As it turned out, it had involved sneaking into Bakuda’s workshop while the Tinker herself was passed out from overwork (Or perhaps it was the sleeping pills that Skitter had snuck into the Tinker’s coffee?) and stripping her down, tying her up with duct tape, and then carrying her back to the goddamn safehouse for interrogation. Or, so that was the plan, which had worked until Bakuda woke up on the way back to the safehouse and started struggling, at which point Taylor had just dropped into a side alley, which is where she was now interrogating Bakuda while Elizabeth secretly kept watch for any potential interlopers. She winced- the interrogation was not going well on Bakuda’s end. ~~~~~~ Sighing, I drew back and wiped my brow. Bakuda continued cursing as her left hand feebly twitched, fingers broken and twisted, and in one case, burned into a cauterized stump. “Do you have any bombs strewn around the city. Simple question. I will not ask a third time,” I drawled, lazily grabbing Bakuda by the hair and pressing her head against the brick wall she was propped up against. “G-go fuck yourself, you pasty faced bitch!” she spat, literally, almost splattering my cheek before I moved out of the way. “I’ll kill you for this!” Instead of responding, I merely stamped my foot between her legs, drawing a pained squeal as I ground my foot into her pubic bone and crushed everything between. “That is not an answer. Do you have any deadman’s switches implanted in your body?” She merely gurgled in response, throat already worn out from screaming. Unfortunately, I needed her coherent, so I poked her in the bloody mess between her legs and detonated a particularly sensitive part of her anatomy, causing her to wake up, shrieking and sobbing. “I sincerely hope you were never planning on breeding. Now, as for my answers?” I wiped my finger off on her cheek, leaving a bloodied streak full of soot from the detonation. “Puh-please… s-stop….” she moaned piteously. I frowned and raised my finger into her field of view, causing her to rocket back and almost crack her head against the wall if not for the timely intervention of my hand clamping around her throat to keep her immobile. “My. Answers. Hurry, my patience grows thin.” “N-no! No! I don’t have any switches! T-there are bombs but they’re inactive right now! I-I was s-saving them for later!” she choked out, panicked and shivering. “Good. No one will miss you.” “W-wha-? No! Please! No no no n- AAAAAIIIIEEE-” I turned away from the flash and looked up at Elizabeth, calling out, “We’re done here, Elizabeth. You can stop pretending to be stealthy now.” 2.3 “Elizabeth, how many bombs have you found?” I asked, speaking blandly into the phone with casual disregard for greetings. ”Hello to you too, Queen,” comes the snarky reply. I was not quite appreciative of the sass, but it was a welcome change to the almost slavish devotion and submissiveness of two weeks ago. ”Three more in the last hour. Too bad that bitch didn’t say how many bombs there were. Least they’re inactive, right?” “Indeed.” I returned blandly, then turned my attention back to dinner. I had introduced Elizabeth to my father as a school friend and had thus gained the ability to speak with her more inconspicuously than I otherwise would have been able to, as the previous safehouse was downtown and a half hour bus ride from Winslow. “Will you be returning soon?” ”If you’re making lasagna, sure,” she chirped, sounding far too enthusiastic about the prospect of food. Though, I supposed, when one lived off of cheap ready meals and instant garbage, the prospect of a home-cooked meal no matter how mediocre was most likely irresistible. “Yes, I am making lasagna,” I muttered in exasperation, prompting a loud whoop of joy on the other end of the line and a wince on my end as the sound hit my ear. ”I’ll be back soon, Queenie!” “Do not call me that.” ”Yes ma’am!” ~~~~~~ “You know, it’s kinda funny now that I think about it, but you’ve been over for dinner a lot, Beth,” Dad said as the three of us sat around the dinner table. Silently, I gave her a nudge under the table. “Hm? Oh- yeah, mom and dad are always working, so I usually have to either eat takeout or pizza all the time or make my own food, and I’d really rather not burn the house down like I almost did that one time,” Elizabeth answered smoothly, cutting off further inquiry as she dug into the lasagna I had made. “Well, I suppose that it’d be terrible for me to let a kid starve like that,” Dad quipped. And that was the end of that line of thought. The rest of dinner was full of light conversation about innocent topics- school projects, football, business, etc. According to Dad, the city had finally begun to discuss the topic of the Boat Graveyard now that the gangs were destroyed (Except for the Merchants, who had so far eluded us). “So, what do you think about the fact that Rune seems to have become a hero in the last few weeks?” Dad asked blandly, not even noticing as Elizabeth suddenly froze up and began sweating. Hastily, I deflected the question, “Wait, Dad, you follow cape news? When did this happen?” “We’re in a city with the former largest villain per capita ratio, kiddo, how could I not?” “... Fair enough. I think it’s pretty cool, though I have to wonder what her motivations are for doing so. Maybe she saw what happened to the Empire and decided to jump ship while she could?” I turned to Elizabeth and lightly jabbed her shin under the table with my foot, drawing a slight exasperated glare. “What do you think, Beth?” “I dunno, Tay, seems like an honest change so far. So I guess if she keeps doing what she’s doing, there’s no reason to worry.” Fair enough. The rest of dinner was a slight sigh of relief, unintentional attention thus drawn to other topics. ~~~~~~ “Y’know, Queen, I have to wonder just why you stay in school when clearly your talents are wasted there. Why not just drop out and join me in the safehouse?” Elizabeth spoke casually as we sifted through the library for study materials. I was already far, far ahead of all of my classes, but a little extra knowledge would go a long way, even if my grades reflected barely above average performance. I snorted, “Because to drop out calls attention from both my father and other prying eyes. If I ran from home, I would draw even more attention. Plus, with the recent turn to ‘heroism’, and the fact that common criminals carry startlingly little cash, we would run out of food within two weeks and have to return to crime, which I would absolutely abhor.” “Alright, alright, point taken. So why are we here in the fiction section? I thought you said you had school work?” “Because I received a very much concerning message on PHO detailing my identity. I intend to meet with whoever they are here… and remove them should they prove untrustworthy.” My palms began itching with the desire to kill, and I very nearly released Skitter to find some unlucky Merchant gang member to deal with before I saw her. The blonde with amazing legs, fashionable clothing, an insufferably smug smirk, and was standing exactly where the post said they would meet- directly under the sign for section N through M in the young adult fiction area. My eye twitched as my posture shifted. She looked distinctly nervous as she saw me, hands raised in surrender as I closed in. “W-wait wait!” she stage-whispered, looking around for any listeners before continuing, “Please don’t blow me up! I have to tell you something important!” I stopped and considered, then obliged. Elizabeth silently tagged six shelves and their entire contents behind me, along with a footstool and a folding chair. “Speak. You have one minute. After that, I make no promises that you will walk out of this place alive.” Immediately, the blonde begins talking about things that are quite a bit beyond what I had imagined would be the scope of her words. “I’m being forced to try and recruit you by the last real supervillain in town- Coil. He’s got the threat of death hanging over me and I can’t figure out how to get rid of him. The Undersiders- the small time gang- he brought us together. We don’t do much other than hit other gang territories so please don’t blow us up. I want you to help me get rid of Coil,” the blonde’s words washed over me in a rush, a veritable flood that I mostly did not care about. However, I did pick out the important bit- Kill the supervillain known as Coil. I sighed, “And what makes you think that I could not just do this on my own without your intervention? There are, quite honestly, not many points in your favor that would result in your continued survival, nor that of the Undersiders.” She grimaced, “I have information that might be helpful. The problem is, I don’t know anything about his power beyond the fact that he seems to always win no matter what. And, well, the Undersiders… Most of us are really only in that group because we got screwed over by the system.” I raised an eyebrow. It was interesting information, and made me quite reconsider the utility of destroying the Undersiders. A thought occurred to me, and I said as much, “If I help you, what exactly do I get out of it?” “You get rid of one more supervillain bent on controlling the city as his personal fiefdom, and you save a few people with some spectacularly shitty options. Might even get a lot of money too,” the blonde mentioned. “...” “I think we should take the offer, Queen,” Elizabeth whispered in my ear, almost startling me from my thoughts. I had honestly almost forgotten she was there. “Fine. I will spare you… for now.” I ticked my finger in her direction, prompting a slight flinch away. “If you and your team decide to act as heroes, or at the very least, rogues, then I will continue to do so. If not…” I released Skitter from my hand and had her hover in the blonde’s face as a very, very explicit threat. “Y-yeah, got it. Now can you get that thing out of my face?” she asked, backing away slowly. “By the way, my name is Lisa.” “I don’t care. Now go.” She went.