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Wyvern - Worm AU fanfic

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 4, 2015.

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  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I'm not disputing that these are manifestations of the principle that people are lazy, greedy and short-sighted. Just saying that if either one had been different, Taylor's situation would've been a lot better.
     
    norgeshma, Prince Charon and Zackarix like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Part Thirteen: Growing Pains
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wyvern

    Part Thirteen: Growing Pains

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



    Taylor

    “Holy. Shit.”

    The words were spoken softly, almost reverently. I thought I recognised the voice. Lowering the wing which I'd been using to cover my eyes, I discovered that Vicky and Aegis had been joined by other costumed teens. Specifically, the Wards. Amy, I could see, was off ensuring that the gang members who'd been too injured to run were going to survive to see trial.

    Which wasn't my problem. My problem was that I happened to be in danger of adding to my teenage fan club—currently consisting of Glory Girl, with Panacea and possibly Aegis as honorary members as far as I could see. Five of the six Wards standing before me seemed to be staring at me in awe; Aegis, of course, being the exception. Glory Girl, hovering alongside me, was radiating smugness so hard it almost formed a separate aura all of its own.

    The voice had been that of a teenage boy, which didn't narrow down the options very much. There was only one female Ward in attendance, being Vista; at least, I assumed it was her from the costume. I inhaled deeply, and found familiar scents hitting my nostrils. Before, when I was a smaller size, I hadn't been consciously aware of sampling scents. Now, it seemed the world was full of them.

    “You said she was big,” went on the speaker. From the slight echo, and the fact that I couldn't see anybody's lips moving, it had to be Clockblocker who was talking. “You didn't say she was this big.”

    “Wooooow,” breathed Vista. My infra-red vision could see her increased heart rate, but she didn't smell scared. She smelled excited. “This is so damn cool.” I half-expected her to put out her hand and try to pet me, but she'd obviously been told that I was a person, not a thing. “You look awesome.”

    Well, that sort of attention I could get used to. A currently airborne Vicky draped one arm over my neck as I preened just a little. If I knew her at all, she was grinning from ear to ear. With an agreeable chirp, I nodded toward Vista, who reacted by darting forward and hugging me, or as much of me as she could reach. I looked quizzically down at her, then tilted my head toward Vicky.

    “It's a dragon thing,” she explained cheerfully. “Or rather, a wyvern thing. Teenage girls like 'em. Don't tell me you didn't know that?”

    I considered her words. There had been a phase when I'd worn a sparkly dragon T-shirt almost obsessively, to the point that Mom had to resort to threats to get me to let her wash it. But I'd thought it was just me; Emma hadn't had the slightest interest in dragons at the time. And now I had a teenage Ward, only a bit older than I'd been then, hugging me just because I was a dragon. Or rather, a wyvern. Life was strange sometimes.

    Which reminded me of something that had occurred to me after the fight. Experimentally, I generated some flame in my gullet then snorted. A little flame and rather a lot of smoke came out through my nostrils. All the Wards recoiled slightly, and Vista looked up at me. “Sorry,” she said hastily. “I didn't mean to upset you.” Letting me go, she backed off hurriedly.

    “No, it's okay,” Vicky told her. “I don't think she's angry.” She turned to me. “Are you?”

    I shook my head, then peeled back my lips to show them a wyvern-style grin—they collectively took another step back—and snickered slightly.

    Vicky rolled her eyes. “Okay, I get it. You think it's funny. You realise you're scaring children here, right?”

    Half of these 'children' are older than you. I nudged her with my nose, then blew smoke all over her. She flew out of the cloud, coughing, then glared at Clockblocker when he started laughing.

    “Not funny,” she said indignantly, then switched her glare to me when I snickered again. “I mean it. That wasn't funny at all.”

    “Actually, it kinda was,” Aegis pointed out, a grin lurking on his face. “The look on your face was priceless. I—uh, hi, sir.”

    Vicky and I both turned our heads. Armsmaster was approaching, and from what I could see of his mouth, he wasn't very pleased. Of course, the man never seemed pleased about anything that I could tell.

    “Aegis,” he said curtly as he came up to us. “I'm sure the Wards would be more useful with helping police the situation than standing around gawking at a new cape.” Though his words were phrased as a suggestion, the tone said something else altogether.

    “Uh, yes, sir,” Aegis replied hastily. “Come on, Wards. Vista, you go with Clockblocker to check out the museum …” His voice faded away as he retreated with the Wards.

    Armsmaster turned to me. He looked at Glory Girl for a moment; I suspected he wanted to be able to order her to leave too. Of course, as we were both members of a team quite separate from the Wards, I also suspected that she'd tell him to go to hell if he tried.

    “Did you want something, Armsmaster?” she asked sweetly. Her irritation at my smoke prank had apparently vanished almost as fast as the smoke itself, for she casually leaned against the side of my neck while standing on nothing.

    His expression became just a little more sour. “I'd hoped for a private talk with Wyvern, Miss Dallon,” he replied gruffly.

    “Nope,” she said, just as sweetly as before. “Mom wants to make sure she's got a responsible member of New Wave nearby at all times.” She hooked her thumb at herself. “That's me.” I nearly snickered again at the thought of Vicky considering herself 'responsible', but stopped myself in time. Armsmaster might take it the wrong way.

    “Very well,” he said, not sounding happy at all. “Wyvern, you appear to have increased in size. How did this happen?” As he tilted his helmet back to look up at me, I could see his fingers flexing slightly, as if he wished he was holding his halberd. That particular weapon was securely racked on his back, which didn't surprise me. If he couldn't intimidate me with it when I was human sized, there wasn't much he could do with it when I was this big. Well, except for start a fight, which would almost certainly go very badly for him.

    Of course, I couldn't exactly answer the question, so I deferred to Vicky with a tilt of my head. She glanced at me, then at Armsmaster. “I'm sorry, what was the question again? How did Wyvern get so large?” With an effort, I stopped myself from grinning at her innocent tone. Vicky was milking this for all the amusement she could get out of it.

    “Yes,” gritted Armsmaster. “She was already quite powerful and somewhat impulsive. I need to know what happened to cause this change.”

    And then Vicky reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out my busted glasses, minus the glass. As primly as any librarian, she perched these on her nose and assumed a professorial air. Inside, I was already cackling with laughter, but outwardly I did my best to maintain a stolid expression for Armsmaster's benefit.

    “Sources vary on the exact cause of my teammate Wyvern's sudden and perhaps inexplicable alteration in size and mass,” she intoned solemnly. “Personally, I favour the hypothesis that if one angers a dragon and said dragon happens to increase in size and bites one's arm off, then one deserves whatever one gets.”

    “So it happened during the fight with Inago then,” he said, with the air of a man hanging on to his temper by a very thin thread. “Was it a sudden change, or did she gradually increase in size?”

    “I wouldn't know,” Vicky said, dropping the faux professor tone. “I was unconscious for most of the fight, after Inago beat the living crap out of me and filled my lungs with his bugs.” She gestured toward where the villain himself was being treated prior to being taken away. “If you want to find out, ask him.”

    “Inago is unconscious, and likely to be so for some time,” Armsmaster said flatly. “He's been dosed with Brute-scale tranquillisers. This should hold until we get him into a secure cell. Even if he he was willing to give us any answers, he wouldn't be able to supply them any time soon,.” He took a step closer to me. “This growth is a potential indicator of a concerning trend. If you get much larger, you may end up being an inadvertent danger to the city. I would like to strongly recommend that you come with me to the Protectorate base, where we can study—”

    Leaning down so that my muzzle was barely a foot from his helmet, I opened my mouth to give him a good long look at the extremely impressive array of teeth that my tongue told me was there. NO, I thought as hard as I could, while giving voice to a chirp that would hopefully get the message across.

    No,” a deep voice rumbled.

    What?

    Where my teeth had failed to scare him, that voice did the trick. Armsmaster took not one but two steps back, while Vicky whirled in midair and stared at me.

    “You talked!” she blurted/“You can talk?” he demanded.

    If I hadn't been so astonished myself, I might have laughed at the look of sheer bogglement on Glory Girl's face. Armsmaster's helmet visor covered most of his face, but I was pretty sure he was equally surprised.

    I coughed a couple of times, sending puffs of smoke into the air. Then I took a deep breath and concentrated, trying to figure out how I'd done it. I guess, I thought really hard. This is kind of new. As I concentrated on the words, I voiced the chirp.

    I guess,” rumbled the voice. It wasn't my voice, not really. Even though I could feel the vibration in my chest as I spoke the words, that voice did not belong to Taylor Hebert, fifteen year old nerd. It was as gravelly as ten miles of bad road, and so deep it sounded like the voice-over for an advertisement about extreme off-road skeet-shooting, or some other intensely masculine (read: unnecessarily dangerous) pursuit. “This is kind of new.”

    “Yeah, no crap it's new,” Vicky exclaimed. “And wow, I think your voice is deeper than Uncle Neil's.” An evil grin spread over her face. “Oh, god. I so want to see Amy's face when you talk in front of her. She'll blow a fuse for sure.”

    “Why can you talk now but not earlier?” demanded Armsmaster. From his tone, he suspected he was the victim of a massive practical joke. “Are you trying to claim that the increased size has enabled you to talk?”

    I took another deep breath. This wasn't like talking normally. It took all my concentration and a certain amount of effort, and I had to think out what I wanted to say in advance. But I could talk, which was kind of amazing. I'm not claiming it. I'm saying it.

    I'm not claiming it,” my wyvern voice rumbled. “I'm saying it.” It was a relatively long speech for me, and I felt a breath of smoke come out with it, as if a rush of flame was about to follow. I wasn't even going to think about how I was managing the nuances of human speech without normal human speech apparatus to make it work. The fact that I now had a wingspan wide enough to reach right across the street if I angled it right merely indicated that my life had become far too weird for ordinary human logic to work out.

    “Which only proves my point,” he argued. “Your unexpected size change, coupled with new abilities, indicates that there are aspects about your powers that nobody understands yet. For your safety—for everyone's safety—I really think you should—”

    Now I was getting angry. Toasting him in his armour would be a bad idea, for several reasons. So would biting his arm off, as I'd done with Inago. He didn't have his halberd out for me to melt, which had shut him up before, if only by accident. But now I had a new tactic to use; speech. If I could just tell him to go away and leave me alone—

    This time, I didn't have time to think about the words. I didn't need to; they just came out all by themselves.

    FFUUCCKK OFFF!”

    Previously, I'd been speaking at a relatively moderate tone; say, that of a big man raising his voice slightly. Now, it was more like the same big man shouting into a megaphone the size of a city bus. My voice boomed down the street. Those few birds which had just come in for a landing after the fight scattered into the sky once more. Everyone turned to look at us. The driver's side airbag in the PRT van spontaneously went off with a bang. Over at the museum, three bullet-holed windows gave up the ghost and collapsed into shards of glass.

    I was pretty sure they'd heard it halfway across the city. In fact, I suspected they might've heard it in Boston. Which meant that every Ward on site, along with every PRT soldier and Protectorate hero, had just heard me drop the mother of all F-bombs on Armsmaster.

    On the upside, the man had it coming. On the downside, I didn't think I was ever going to change back at this rate. Especially with that memory coming back to haunt me every time I tried to relax and pretend everything was going to be okay. And it would come back to haunt me; I could almost guarantee it.

    Vicky tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked around, she pointed upward, then flew in that direction. That was a good idea, I figured, and brought my wings down to fly off. What I hadn't considered was that the downwash of air was the last straw for a man who'd already been knocked off balance by a massive sonic assault to the inner ears. When I last saw him from a hundred feet up, he was sprawled on his ass, shaking his head dizzily. Oh, shit. I just cursed out Armsmaster, deafened him, then knocked him on his ass.

    He is gonna be pissed.

    Well, there was nothing I could do about it, so I set course to follow Vicky.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    Colin had just regained his feet when the first PRT soldier reached him. His ears were still ringing, a warm feeling on his upper lip told him that he had a nosebleed, and several of the more delicate systems in his helmet were malfunctioning. On the fourth try, the speech-to-text function kicked in, although half the HUD was flickering intermittently.

    … ALL RIGHT, SIR?

    “I'm fine,” he enunciated carefully. “My armour protected me from the worst of it. I'm temporarily deaf, though.” That shout, he suspected, would have broken capillaries and caused mild surface tissue damage to an unarmoured person. He was lucky his eardrums hadn't burst altogether.

    The soldier pointed at Colin's mouth. YOU'RE BLEEDING, SIR. DO YOU REQUIRE MEDICAL ATTENTION?

    “No.” He shook his head, wincing as he felt something rattling inside the helmet where nothing should've rattled. I'm going to have to tear it down and rebuild mostly from scratch. It seems every time I encounter Wyvern, she ends up destroying my equipment. “It's just a nosebleed. I'll be fine once my hearing comes back.”

    YES, SIR. The soldier moved away from him and Colin turned his attention to the helmet. Not all of the heads-up display options were working at the moment but with a little effort, he managed to coax it into doing a self-test. Red flags began to pop up immediately, with more showing every second. He'd designed the helmet with a certain amount of redundancy, but the damage wrought by Wyvern's bellow had apparently overwhelmed even some of the more robust systems.

    It was only partially his fault, Colin decided, for not being more cautious. He couldn't have known ahead of time that she'd be able to talk, although he had gotten the report on the volume of her roar. The damage perpetrated by her shout, however, seemed to be more than the roar had done. Perhaps because the roar had been more drawn out and thus less intense?

    This only proves my point, he told himself. Any self-respecting cape should have been more careful when using a new ability, even one so innocuous as speech. It wasn't the first time he'd been told to fuck off, of course. Though Wyvern could not have been expected to know about the sheer damage potential inherent in a simple shout. Triumph aside, of course.

    Has she ever met Triumph? I'll have to check that. If I can get her into the Wards, perhaps he can give her some pointers on not being so destructive.

    DO YOU NEED HEALING? The words scrolled across his HUD, and he turned to see who was speaking. If it was the soldier from before, he intended to have words with the man about respecting boundaries.

    But it wasn't one of the soldiers. Instead, it was Panacea herself. She was grimy, with bloodstains on her clothing and hands and a weary look in her eyes. She looked back at him fearlessly. Her lips moved, and a moment later the words scrolled across in front of his eyes. SOMEONE SAID YOU HAD LOST YOUR HEARING AND HAD A NOSEBLEED. DO YOU NEED HEALING?

    He sighed. There was a time to be self-sufficient and a time to bow to the inevitable. Holding out his hand, he triggered the control that folded back the pad over his index finger. While biometrics could be made to work through his armour, it was easier with bare skin. “Will this do?” he asked carefully.

    YES. HOLD STILL. She took his hand and pressed her thumb to his bare forefinger. Despite having been healed by her before, he still somehow expected to feel some kind of sensation. But with Panacea, all he felt was a spreading nullification of the aches and pains that invariably built up over the day. When the wavefront of her power reached his head, he felt rather than heard a sharp popping sound, then his hearing returned.

    “Your eardrums weren't burst, not quite, but your ears were severely traumatised,” she told him firmly. “You also had burst capillaries around your mouth, covered by your beard. Next time, get medical help immediately. Loud sounds can cause serious injury, up to and including brain damage. Which I can't help with, as you know.” She released his hand and touched her upper lip. “If I was you, I'd wash your face. There's blood in your moustache.”

    “Thank you, Panacea,” he said automatically. Always thank your medic. “I'd like to reiterate my suggestion for a therapist. If your inability to affect brains is a mental block, and I don't see why it shouldn't be, then perhaps they can help you get past it.”

    “No, thank you,” she said sharply. “It is what it is.” Turning away from him, she started back toward the museum. He watched her go, wondering briefly at her attitude. If he had her power, he'd move heaven and earth to make it as efficient as possible. But she wasn't even willing to talk to someone about her problem. I guess I'll never understand people.

    His radio was still working, albeit seriously damaged. He could only hear every third word, and he couldn't transmit at all. With that in mind, he located Aegis, who was helping stand guard over one of the groups of captured gang members. From the torn and bloodied clothing, he guessed these people had been injured too much to fight or flee. The fact that they were standing without effort meant they'd since been healed, probably by Panacea.

    “My equipment's damaged,” he told the second in command of the Wards bluntly. “I'm heading back to base to deal with it. You'll take your orders from the ranking PRT officer on site. Understood?”

    Aegis nodded. “Understood, sir.” He was a good kid, as far as Colin knew about teenagers. The few reports Colin had bothered to review stated that Aegis was conscientious and scrupulous with his duties. This was a good thing, as Triumph was due to graduate from the Wards in a couple of months. The sound Blaster had already expressed his intent to jump straight into the Protectorate, leaving Aegis to take over the team in his absence.

    Without another word, Colin turned and headed back to where he'd left his bike. Fortunately, the vehicle had sensory systems he could connect into while he was riding, which would reduce the load on the damaged electronics in his helmet. And if he set the autopilot, he could use the ride back to base considering what he was going to do about Wyvern.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    It was only when I was circling Vicky's house preparatory to landing that the next big obstacle raised its ugly head. Or more specifically, it was a recurring obstacle that had chosen to show up at exactly the wrong time. Because fuck my life.

    Vicky,” I said, trying not to speak so loudly that all of her neighbours heard it. “Problem.”

    “Oh, crap, what now?” she asked, flying closer to me. “You're not getting bigger, are you?” Measuring me by eye, she shook her head. “I don't think you're getting bigger.”

    No.” I'm not getting any bigger, but I'm not getting any smaller, either. I shook my head and concentrated. This was going to be a long one. “How do I get inside?”

    “Oh,” she said. “Oh, crap. I didn't think about that.” She looked at me and then down at the house, and I could see her trying to figure out how I was supposed to get in through the front door. I was pretty sure my shoulders were wider than the doorway itself, even if I crouched low enough to get under the lintel. My head would fit inside, I figured, but the rest of me would be out of luck.

    Me too,” I managed. “Big as a car.” Well, my torso was, or thereabouts. I had no idea how much I weighed, or even where to find a set of scales that could take my weight at the moment. 'Skinny' was not a word that described me right then. Nor was 'petite'.

    “Hah! That's the answer!” Vicky snapped her fingers. “Land on the driveway! I'll be right back!” She glided down and landed next to the front door.

    By the time I managed to backwing and land—being ultra-careful not to hit the house or the nearby telephone pole with my wings—she was inside. I wasn't quite sure whether either structure would break before my wings did, but I didn't want to take the chance either way. I seemed to be inordinately tough in wyvern form, but there was such a thing as reckless negligence. As it was, I heard a clatter as the great gusts of wind from my wings knocked over a garbage can two houses down. I decided to leave it be, as the only manipulator I had was my mouth, and I did not want to accidentally bite a filled trash can in half. Even from where I was, I didn't like the smell.

    I didn't know what Vicky was up to, but I felt faintly ridiculous standing on the driveway of a suburban home in wyvern form. Some deep instinct told me that I should seek a desolate mountain cave or the caldera of a volcano to make my home. I told it to go away and stop bothering me; I was human first and wyvern second. Even if I was starting to gain a distinct understanding of Alice's conundrum when she was too large to fit through the door into freedom.

    And then, with a rumble, the garage door rolled up. Vicky stood there, beaming at me proudly. “I said I was a genius before, and I'll say it again. Car-sized wyvern, meet car-sized door.”

    I had to admit, she was right. It was an ingenious solution, and one that I should've thought of myself. “Yup,” I agreed. “Genius.” Carefully furling my wings closely at my sides, I ducked my head and waddled forward into the one car-space that was free. I suspected that it belonged to Brandish, while the other car was probably Flashbang's. If I kept my head low and made sure not to erect the crest on my head, I figured I could fit inside.

    “Okay, that's good,” Vicky said cheerfully. “Now the tail.” I felt her nudge that appendage, apparently with her elbow. Turning my head, mindful not to bump Mark's car with my jaw, I carefully brought my tail all the way into the garage. The moment it was out of the way, Vicky started the garage door rolling down again.

    Which got me out of the public eye, a move I approved of. But now I was stuck in a garage, surrounded by remarkably fragile—and remarkably expensive—obstacles. “Okay. Now what?” Changing back would be a chore, given my feelings of guilt over having yelled in Armsmaster's face. Well, I felt kind of guilty. I hadn't meant to yell that loudly.

    “Hey, I got your back,” she assured me. “Or rather, I got you your favourite bathrobe.” With the air of a magician producing a rabbit from a hat—or, for the more upmarket ones, a hat from a rabbit—she levitated over the car and retrieved a lumpy bundle from beside the door leading into the house. It was bright pink, which should've clued me in on what it was. In my defence, it was folded Vicky-style, which meant 'this goes there, and that goes anywhere, and forget it'. She dropped it on the hood of the car beside my head, and rubbed her hands together. “Now for the fun bit.”

    I figured I knew what was coming, and mentally braced myself. Vicky's aura always made me feel a little weird afterward. Whether this was from the emotional aftertaste of the feelings she made me experience or the intellectual knowledge that she was in some small way controlling my mind, I wasn't totally sure I liked it. Which was why I wanted to learn how to reliably force the change myself, and not depend on either her or Amy.

    The wave of love and affection washed through me, as it always did. I tamped down the impulse to spread my wings and surf on the almost palpable emotions; if I did that, I might just put my wing through the garage wall. Not to mention Flashbang's car. But it was definitely doing its job. Second by second, the tension was melting out of my body.

    I felt the change coming before it actually began, and closed my eyes. Deep within, there was a pull, drawing me back toward my human form. Toward being Taylor Hebert. I swayed on my feet as it began. Even with my eyes closed, I could feel my body changing. My wings shrank; my tail retracted toward my butt; my torso contracted, losing mass in a way I found most disconcerting. Not least because this was the first time I'd felt the change in size and mass so vividly.

    As my weight distribution shifted, I stumbled. Hastily, I opened my eyes so I wouldn't fall into anything I couldn't afford to pay for, and saw my hands clutching on to Flashbang's car. I still felt weird, but looking down at myself revealed that I was human once more. Nothing dragony, nothing scaly; all original issue.

    “Oh, good,” I mumbled, and passed out.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    Travelling at a steady seventy-five miles per hour, Colin's bike thundered down the road toward the Bay. To the uneducated observer, this particular street wouldn't seem to have any real purpose, as there were no businesses that fronted on to it. A stop sign, combined with AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY and NO TRESPASSING, marked where it turned off from the main thoroughfare. The PRT logo was affixed to the authorized-vehicles sign, making it clear exactly which organisation was setting the street aside for their private use.

    Those in the know, as Colin was, would be aware of the PRT strike squad permanently quartered in the unassuming buildings on either side of the street. It was their job to monitor the state of the road on a twenty-four hour basis, and to discourage any unauthorised vehicles from making use of it. Given that any such vehicles would trigger tyre-shredders at regular intervals down the street, this was more for the safety of the public than anything else.

    Colin's bike, of course, was authorised. The IFF chip he'd built into the bike deactivated the tyre-shredders before he ever reached them. At the far end of the road, butting on to the water itself, was a row of bollards. When he passed the fifty-yard mark, the bollards began to smoothly retract into the road to clear the way. At twenty-five yards, they were mostly done. At ten yards, as their tops became flush with the road surface, the force-field bridge sprang into existence. Straight as a ruler, it led directly out toward the Protectorate base in the middle of the bay.

    Assault had once referred to the bridge as Bifrost, citing its colour (the same shifting rainbow hues that typified the bubble around the base proper) and the fact that it connected the realm of the gods with the world of ordinary men. Colin considered this, then told Assault that the reference was fanciful at best and counterfactual at worst, considering that more parahumans (yes, he did actually get the reference; he just didn't think it was valid) could be found in and around Brockton Bay than ever resided on the base. More to the point, did Assault want the Empire taking note of the Norse connotations and getting the impression that the Protectorate considered themselves Aryan in nature? The only response he got from Assault was a long stare and a shake of the head. Nothing more was said about Bifrost, or any other classical allusions to do with the base or the bridge, which suited Colin quite well.

    The bike, still on autopilot, began to slow as he approached the end of the bridge. Once he reached the repurposed oil rig that served the Protectorate as a base in Brockton Bay, he took over control once more and cruised up the long curving ramp. Behind him, the bridge winked out of existence, but he was no longer paying attention to it.

    By the time he reached the vehicle level, which only took a few seconds, he'd decided to check the bike over for any signs of damage. It might've been much farther away from Wyvern than himself or even the PRT van, but there was still the chance that the overpressure wave had caused damage to its more delicate components. So he steered the cycle into the maintenance area he'd set up to keep it up to scratch.

    Stepping off the cycle, he plugged a diagnostic cable into it and activated the 'test all' function. This would take about fifteen minutes to complete, so he headed into his workshop proper, the one where he built all the other equipment he used in the field. On a rack over the workbench was the sad-looking remains of his previous halberd, the melted head drooping off of one end. He was still working on cannibalising its systems for use in the replacement, but he figured to be done by the end of the day. Or rather, considering this setback, sometime the next morning.

    Removing his helmet, he placed it on the stand he'd designed for it and set that up to run a diagnostic as well. Then he took the current halberd off of his back, and began to remove his armour.

    He was halfway through his task, sliding the left-hand vambrace and gauntlet off his arm, when his phone pinged. “You have a call from … Director Emily Piggot,” it announced in a gentle tone. Not unlike the one Dragon used, actually, though he wasn't quite sure which had come first.

    “Accept,” he said absently, pulling his hand out of the end of the vambrace and placing the armour section on its rack. “Hello, Director. What can I do for you?”

    You can tell me what happened at the Isaac Lord Museum.” Piggot's tone was abrupt. “Specifically, what you said to Wyvern that made her tell you to fuck off in front of thirty very impressionable schoolchildren. Some of whom recorded the confrontation. Would you like me to tell you how I know this?”

    He could definitely hazard a guess. “They've put it online?”

    Precisely.” There was no video feed with the call but from his previous association with her, she had to look like she was sucking on a lemon right then. “I realise that she was the one who did the swearing. Believe me, if it had been you, we'd be having an entirely different conversation right now. But to anger someone who'd just beaten up Inago and scared off two other gang capes was not the brightest move in the world. So what did you say, and why did you say it?”

    Colin took a deep breath. “Well, to start with, you're of course aware that she can now speak. Were you also aware of how she's now much bigger than she was before? Or how these two changes may be related?” He began working to disconnect the other vambrace.

    I was a little perplexed by how she seemed to be larger than your previous description and imagery would have suggested, yes,” she agreed. “When did this happen, exactly? Did she enter the fight at that size, or did she transform and then increase in size during the fight?”

    “I asked those exact questions,” he said, doing his best not to sound irritated. He didn't want her to think he was angry with her, after all. “But Glory Girl didn't know, and Wyvern apparently hadn't realised she was verbal at that point.”

    Aegis's report should clear a few things up, considering he was present for the entire conflict,” she replied. “Unfortunately, he's still there at the moment. In the meantime, how certain are you about the link between Wyvern's size and her ability to speak?”

    “I'm not,” he answered candidly. “It's based off of what Glory Girl and Wyvern herself have alleged, but the only evidence I have for that is the fact that Wyvern has been non-verbal to this point. It may be that she really needs to achieve this size before she can speak, or she might simply have been faking inability to speak the whole time to put me off my guard. I can't say, one way or the other.”

    It would seem a little out of character for Glory Girl to go along with such a ruse unless she was taken in as well,” the Director mused. “Let's assume for the moment that they're telling the truth about Wyvern only being able to speak while enlarged. That said, you still haven't told me what you said or did to make her angry.”

    He hadn't been looking forward to this, but it had to be said. “I was trying to impress upon her the gravity of the situation,” he explained. “Her sudden changes in size and capabilities indicate that there may be more changes in future. She went from the size of a human to the size of a car over the course of several days and a few combats. Inago isn't the only tough opponent in Brockton Bay. What if she ends up in combat with Fenja and Menja, just as an example, and decides that she needs to grow even larger? The destructive capability of her flame breath is notable enough at normal size. If her powers go out of control, she could destroy a significant chunk of the city without even meaning to.”

    Let me see if I can figure what happened next,” Piggot said. “You urged her to come in for power testing, despite her extremely blunt refusal to do that the last time the subject was raised. She refused once more; you wouldn't let the matter drop. So she yelled in your face, then flew away. Is that about right?”

    “That sounds … accurate,” he admitted. “Though the sheer intensity of her shout damaged, a number of my helmet systems, including the total destruction of the recording equipment. Over and above that, it also caused me a few minor superficial injuries. Panacea healed me, but I'm currently in the process of ascertaining what I need to do to get my armour back to working order.” He hesitated, then spoke up. “I believe that Wyvern has the potential to be an extremely loose cannon, especially considering the damage she can inflict and the lack of any real oversight from New Wave.”

    Yet you want her in the Wards.” It wasn't a question.

    “I do.” He removed the other vambrace. “We can study her powers and determine how they propagate. With proper training and discipline, we can ensure that the full scope of her power is kept in check for when it's truly needed—and determine how to bring it out when it is.”

    There was a long silence from the Director's end, such that Colin checked the phone to see if she'd hung up. The signal was still strong, so he went back to removing his armour.

    Finally, she spoke again. “You think if she can be made strong enough, she could battle Endbringers, and possibly win.” He couldn't interpret the tone in her voice, but it didn't sound like unconditional agreement.

    “There are risks to the idea, of course,” he said to forestall any protests. “Her power may have a hard ceiling. And of course, to reach a size capable of seriously threatening any one of the Endbringers, she would need be powerful enough to level any city she fought in. So we'd have to be absolutely certain she can do it …”

    If I had a dollar for every cape who was absolutely certain his ability could one-shot an Endbringer, I'd be able to retire rich,” she observed dryly.

    “Yes,” he conceded. “Or … it would have to be a last resort. One where we don't mind losing the city, so long as the Endbringer goes down.”

    You're banking a lot on the idea of a teenage girl being the one cape who can solo an Endbringer,” the Director noted. “It's never happened before. Why do you even think she can do it?”

    “Well, I don't think she can,” admitted Colin. “But the possibility exists, however slight, that she might be able to. Given how much she ramped up to fight Inago, and how hard she took him down, there exists the outside possibility that she powers up to meet and exceed perceived threats.”

    And there exists no greater threat than the Endbringers,” agreed the Director. “Did you actually have a plan for testing the limits of her powers without actually destroying the city in the process?”

    “Not … as such,” Colin said. “I wanted to gather data first. See how her power works, and if I can gauge its strength that way. There are a lot of variables involved. But I can't do any of it unless I can actually get access to her.”

    Well, my office has been informed that she's officially a member of New Wave,” the Director stated. “Which means that unless her legal status changes a lot, or if she specifically gives permission, you're unlikely to get that access.”

    “About that.” Colin didn't want to go down this path, as it opened the way for potential backlash in future, but he felt he owed it to himself just to see what the Director thought about it. “When she shouted at me, I suffered injury, and my armour was damaged. That could be construed as an attack on a Protectorate member with a parahuman ability. If we pressed that as a charge …”

    Again, Piggot was silent for a few moments. Colin didn't bother trying to interpret it, but instead concentrated on taking the last of his armour off. He was just racking his chestplate when she spoke again. “As much as I hate to say it, if she belonged to any other team, I'd think about it. For the record, in my opinion the entire concept's a dirty trick of the highest calibre. Consider yourself unofficially reprimanded.”

    He wasn't sure if the feeling in his chest was disappointment or relief. “Any other team? What's so special about New Wave?”

    Brandish. Or, more specifically, Carol Dallon. With her daughter as witness, she could tear apart any justification we had for impressing Wyvern into the Wards. No, the only chance we have of getting our hands on her is if she actually commits a real crime and gets caught for it.” Piggot paused. “Or, of course, volunteers. But after today's little debacle, that's becoming less and less likely by the second. Just by the way, I'm giving you an official reprimand to go with the unofficial one.”

    “What?” He'd thought the day was bad enough. “Why?”

    You pushed the recruitment attempt beyond first refusal and got her angry enough to shout at you and fly off, thus making any further attempts that much harder.” Her tone was flat. “The damage to yourself and your armour is thereby your own fault. As such, repair costs will come out of your Tinker budget. Is that understood?”

    He'd seen her like this often enough. There would be no arguing with her. When Emily Piggot set her mind on an outcome, that outcome happened. No matter how much it hurt to have his Tinker budget curtailed in such a fashion. “Yes, Director.”

    Good. Now fix your armour while I see what I can do to straighten out your mess.” There was a beep as the call disconnected.

    With a sudden surge of anger, Colin punched the workbench. The pain helped to centre him, and he hissed as he shook the stinging sensation out of his knuckles. He didn't know which was worse; the fact that he'd failed with Wyvern, or that Piggot now knew he was capable of such failure.

    As much as he resented Dauntless for his steadily (if slowly) increasing power capability, Colin was a realist. The Endbringers were a danger that had to be defeated, somehow, someday. He had a few ideas for weapons that might do it, but the problem was that such weapons could only be tested against an Endbringer. On the other hand, once Wyvern came into the Wards, he could take over her training. With him as a mentor, she could learn to use her abilities tactically and they could fight as a team; him as the brain, her as the brawn. And if they succeeded? He'd be happy with half the glory of defeating an Endbringer.

    And of course, he'd always wanted to partner with a dragon.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    “Ugh, my head.”

    I barely recognised the voice as my own. My throat was so rough and scratchy, it felt like I'd been gargling sandpaper. The taste was indescribable. I hurt everywhere. My head, my arms, my legs, my body; everything felt as though I'd been beaten with a baseball bat.

    “Ah, you're awake. Wow, you've been asleep forever.” Bright and chirpy, the voice could only belong to one person. I tried to open one eyelid; after several attempts, I managed to break the seal and crack the gunk that had glued it shut. Even that hurt.

    “Vicky,” I croaked. “Water.” Right then, I was ready to kill for a drink. Fortunately, it turned out that I wouldn't have to resort to such drastic measures.

    “Right here,” Vicky told me cheerfully. I watched her blurry form pouring water from a pitcher into a glass (or so I gathered from the gurgling noises) and then she leaned over me, coming more into focus as she did so. “Okay, up you come.” One strong hand slid down behind my back, lifting me effortlessly into a sitting position (a passing thought suggested that Vicky would make an amazing nurse) while the other guided a straw to my lips.

    Opening my mouth, I took the straw between my lips and greedily drank. The water soaked into my parched tissues, dissolving the evil-tasting slime and washing it away down my throat. Let my stomach acid deal with it, I figured. As thirsty as I was, I figured it wasn't a good idea to choke on the water, so I did my best to take it slowly. It wasn't easy, but I managed it. The water was cool but not chilled, and felt heavenly to my throat.

    When the glass was empty, Vicky let me lie down again. “Want more?” she asked. “Ames said you'd want one, but only to give you more if you really wanted it.”

    I considered that. With the initial edge taken off my thirst, I felt like I could do with more, but not so much that it was a burning obsession. “I'll see how I feel in a bit,” I said, my voice much more like my own. “Could I have a wash-cloth or something? I need to clean my eyes out.”

    “Sure,” she said, and zipped away. I wasn't even certain if her feet were touching the floor at this point. Not that it mattered; if it got me that wash-cloth a moment sooner, I didn't care if she flew through the wall. In the meantime, I relaxed into the nice soft mattress, trying to figure out what had gone before.

    I remembered the fight, going up against Inago. I'd gotten big. Bigger than I had against Stinger, by a considerable margin. With that size, I'd brutalised him. Of course, he'd been trying to hurt or kill me in the process, and Oni Lee had also been attacking me, so I'd been probably justified in hitting him so hard.

    I frowned slightly, then winced as that hurt, too. What had happened with Oni Lee? I remembered biting him at one point, but whether that had been him-him or one of his clones, I wasn't sure. And then he'd been on my back when I detonated a fireball right next to us. Had he survived the battle? Was he fine, or badly injured? There was so much I didn't know.

    And then, of course, there was Inago himself. We'd gone at it hammer and tongs, but as big and strong as he'd gotten, I'd been bigger and stronger. His 'bugs' had not survived my flames, and I suspected he'd only just survived losing an arm (I'd bitten his arm off! What the fuck, wyvern-me?) and then being blown up. I'd been on the brink of ending him once and for all when Vicky showed up.

    All of which gave me severe cause for concern. I'd been aware that as a wyvern, my emotions were more … raw. I had less control over my reactions. It wasn't that I was an uncontrollable beast, just more … instinctive. When I saw a threat, I acted to end it. Amy and Vicky had been in danger, so I went all-out to save them, not even hesitating to use lethal means to do so. Even when an enemy was down, I was more inclined to make sure they couldn't get up again than to leave them for the authorities.

    Which led me to Armsmaster. I didn't want to think about what had happened with Armsmaster, but there wasn't much I could do about that. I saw him as an overbearing, pretentious halberd-swinging adult, while he no doubt considered me to be an immature, dangerous child. He'd been one of my heroes, growing up. Never in my worst nightmares had I imagined that I'd ever tell him to fuck off, for any reason. And I'd not only done that, but I'd done it with a voice that could break glass. And knocked him on his ass when I flew off.

    Once he got over the ringing in his ears, he would've been seriously pissed with me. To make matters worse, he knew who I was and where I lived. Thinking about it, I was just a little surprised (but in no way disappointed) that it was Vicky sitting beside me when I woke up, and not a cop. What was the penalty for telling the local head of the Protectorate to fuck off, anyway? I couldn't imagine what I'd done was legal.

    Vicky came back into the room just as I reached that particularly depressing conclusion. “Wash-cloth,” she announced. “Want me to do it for you?”

    “No, I'm good,” I said, glad of the interruption. “Help me sit up again?”

    “Sure,” she said, handing the cloth to me and lifting me up once more. With her help, I shuffled backward and leaned against the headboard with the pillow behind me. Once I was stable, I set about cleaning my eyes out and giving my face a general wash. It felt amazing.

    When I lowered the cloth, Dad was standing beside the bed.

    <><>​

    Danny

    Taylor jumped a little, and squeaked in surprise. Then she dropped the cloth and reached out for him. Kneeling down beside the bed, he gathered her into his arms. She clung to him, her face burrowed into his shoulder, for the longest time. For his part, a few tears trickled down his cheeks. A small part of him was glad that Glory Girl had given them some privacy.

    When he let her go, she was sniffling. There may have been a tear or two on her face as well, though he doubted she'd ever admit to it. “You okay?” he asked her, a catch in his voice. “I didn't see the fight, but Glory Girl has described it in quite some detail.”

    She nodded quickly, then after a moment changed her mind and shook her head. “I don't know,” she said. “I didn't know I was going to get that big. I didn't know I was going to be fighting someone so tough. I didn't know I could get that brutal. And I really didn't know I was going to swear at Armsmaster like that.”

    “Well, I wasn't asking about that, but we can get to that in a moment,” he acknowledged. “It's just that Glory Girl said you were wincing a lot when you first woke up.”

    “Yeah, I feel like I've been used as a piñata,” she said ruefully. “It's no fun at all. I guess it's an after-effect of pushing my powers so hard?”

    “Well, you know about as much about that as I do,” he pointed out. “But I'm just glad you're here and you're all right.” He hugged her again. “When Brandish called me and said you'd passed out at her house, I was a little worried. But when Panacea assured me it was just natural sleep, and you needed it to recover from the exertion, it made me feel a bit better.”

    “Wait, how long have I been out?” The look of almost comedic alarm on her face tempted him to answer something like six months, kiddo. Happy birthday. But this wasn't the time or place for jokes like that.

    “It's been nearly twelve hours,” he said. “I took the liberty of going online and checking out the ParaHumans Online boards. There's a few pictures of you fighting Inago, and a lot of footage showing you cursing out Armsmaster.”

    “Oh, god,” she groaned, running her hand over her face. “I'm gonna be the most despised cape in the city, aren't I?”

    “No, that's still apparently L33t,” he replied with a grin. “In fact, there's a lot of support for you. Nobody really knows what he said to set you off, but the fact that you just told him to eff off instead of biting him in half or turning him into a charcoal briquette has earned you quite a few fans. On top of the fact that you turned Inago into a lefty for a few days, that is.”

    From the sour look on her face, she'd apparently managed to forget that little fact for a moment or two. “Yeah, great,” she muttered. “But I still swore at Armsmaster. I can't imagine that there's not going to be any fallout over that.”

    “Oh, there probably is,” he agreed. “But if there was going to be anything official, it would already have happened. So officially, I suspect they're going to pretend it never happened. Unofficially, you may cop a little grief from Protectorate capes. Or high-fives, depending on how they feel about Armsmaster.” At her somewhat surprised look, he shrugged and tried to look innocent. “What? I've been talking to Brandish.”

    She snorted. “Yeah, that makes a lot more sense than my Dad suddenly becoming a cape expert. Anyway, so it looks like I can grow to the size of a minibus, totally wreck high-tier villains, then pass out at the end of it. Also, I'm gonna need some way to work out a costume that can survive me growing to that size again. And Armsmaster wants me to turn myself over to the Protectorate for poking and prodding.” The tone of her voice made it clear how little she thought of that option.

    He sat down on the bed beside her. “Well, I don't have powers, but I'm here for you. Whatever you want to do with your powers, you have my full support.”

    “Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me.” She put her arms around him and hugged him again.

    “Anytime, baby girl.” He paused, then decided to shift the topic to something that had been puzzling him. “So when did you realise you could talk in wyvern form?”

    She shrugged. “Not until I actually said something. See, Armsmaster was being a dick …”



    End of Part Thirteen

    Part Fourteen
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
  3. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Ah, she went up in size and gained new powers. Classic dragon!
    And Armsmaster's line about wanting to team up with a dragon... priceless in its irony.
     
  4. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

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    Poor Armsy, he just wants to relive his boyhood Dragonlance fantasies. The poking and prodding would be just a side benefit.

    Great chapter.
     
  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Cue Dragon designing and manufacturing a more "Dragon-like" mechsuit in a hurry.
     
  6. abyssmal_kismet

    abyssmal_kismet Experienced.

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    According to how it's all worded, it's possible she just never triggered her speech in her smaller wyvern form before.
     
  7. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    She can't actually talk in her smaller form.
     
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  8. Zackarix

    Zackarix ...

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    I thought this was in the SFW section of the forums? :eek: :p
     
  9. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Easy now; I didn't say 'ride' a dragon, did I? :p
     
  10. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

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    He's saving that for when Dragon pays him a visit. Wyvern will just be his fillin fantasy.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2018
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  11. RageKnight

    RageKnight My heresy senses are tingling

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    oh armsmaster, what can we do about you?
     
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  12. steamrick

    steamrick Matter: protons, electrons, neutrons and morons

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    Wouldn't it be the dragon riding him, in that case?
     
  13. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    Yay, "Wyvern"!
    Partner has the same submeaning.
    piñata
     
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  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I have trouble with accents like that, sorry.
     
  15. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Hmmm... Not enough suggestive content... Let's fix that up.
    "Well it all started when I ran into the museum to rescue Ames. Imago wasn't too happy with this, so started he pounding me really hard. Wyvern here saw that and started getting really worked up. So Wyvern jumped in and started wailing on his ass hardcore.

    "Oni Lee decided to join in, and dealing with both of Imago and Oni Lee double-teaming her just got Wyvern so big and hard, she was just too much for them to handle.

    "Now she's all big and frustrated. Thankfully I know just what she needs to relieve all that built up stress and get her back to normal, and I just so enjoy using that... technique."

    ---
    Aaaaand I think that'll cover that. My only regret is I couldn't find a place to sneak in a riding the dragon joke.
    Nice.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2018
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  16. Thief of Words

    Thief of Words Still Broken, but Less Lost Gone for Good

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    Aww. Colin''s Inner Child didn't get strangled to death after all.

    ...wonder how long it'd take for him to twig to the fact that Vista could give him advice in a successful approach.

    Armsy: I am sorry for having been pushy before. I had always wanted to partner up with a dragon, and I forgot to be polite in light of that. I think dragons are inherently cool and would like the chance to work with you in the future because of that.
     
  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Everyone in earshot: "MASTER/STRANGER PROTOCOLS!"
    Armsmaster: "Dammit."
     
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  18. Salmalin

    Salmalin Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    And here's me, wondering if QA will show up at any point, because that sure as hell isn't what Kenta had.
     
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  19. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Pigot: "Damn it Armsmaster! No riding the dragon, she's a teenage girl for crying out loud! That's illegal!"





    I regret nothing.:p
     
  20. NavigatorNobilis

    NavigatorNobilis Follower of the Second Star

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    • Don't necro. This is against Rule 7.
    Well, at least she's a teenager. Considering how old Dragon is, chronologically speaking, that's a significant step up.
     
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  21. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    I wondered if anyone was gonna catch my little double meaning there, heh. I was talking about more than one Dragon, lol.
     
  22. Threadmarks: Part Fourteen: New Developments
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wyvern

    Part Fourteen: New Developments


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


    Taylor

    “Ow.”

    It wasn’t that I was feeling pain in any particular part of me as I carefully walked downstairs. It was that I was feeling aches and pains everywhere. I looked beseechingly at Amy, who was waiting at the bottom. “Can you, uh …”

    She folded her arms. “I’m not your personal Aspirin,” she declared heartlessly. “I already checked you over. You're fit and healthy. More fit and healthy than you really should be after fighting Inago and Oni Lee, to be honest. No open cuts, no bruises. No lingering damage at all, actually. And I remember you being knocked out by an explosion at least once, and going toe to toe with the asshole who nearly killed Vicky.”

    I seemed to recall that she'd chosen not to heal Inago’s arm, for which I didn't really blame her. He'd probably grow it back anyway, eventually. I didn’t blame her for taking things personally; from what I’d seen, she cared a whole lot for her sister.

    “So why do I hurt everywhere?” I asked, taking the last few steps. “My toenails hurt. Why do my toenails hurt?”

    “As far as I can tell, it’s your powers adjusting you to the fact that you can now grow to the size of a minibus and roar loudly enough to be heard a mile away.” She shrugged. “Maybe it’s making changes to make the next transition easier. When you got that big, your entire biology altered dramatically; to change up and then down again like you have been has got to be putting a strain on your system.”

    “So how much bigger am I going to get?” I made my way into the living room and lowered myself to the sofa. “And is this going to happen every time my powers enlarge my wyvern form?”

    “File the first one under ‘I have no idea’,” Amy snarked. “As for the second, I guess … maybe?”

    “Let’s try not to have a fight that nasty again, huh?” Vicky wandered in from the kitchen. “I mean, shit, Inago nearly killed me.”

    “I understand they’re pushing for the Birdcage.” That was Carol Dallon, entering the living room from her office. “Oni Lee hasn’t been seen since the battle. There’s been mention on the board that the ABB has a new Tinker cape, the one that was piloting that giant robot. The name making the rounds is ‘Geonchugga’.” She crossed to where I was sitting. “How are you feeling?”

    I snorted. “I hurt everywhere it’s possible to hurt, but I’m in one piece. Geonchugga? What’s that even mean? Is the robot steam-powered or something?”

    “Got me beat,” Vicky said. “I’m sure we’ll find out sooner or later.” She perched on the sofa arm and poked me in the shoulder. “Meanwhile, is nobody talking about the development of the century? You can speak in wyvern form. Does that mean you can talk as the wyvern no matter what size you are?”

    “We’d have to see, but I don’t think so,” Amy said. “I strongly suspect that the larger your wyvern form becomes, the more versatile your exobiology gets. Which may be why you could only generate that cone of flame once you sized up.” She plonked herself down on the sofa next to me.

    I hadn’t been keeping track of the exact sequence of events, but I decided to take her word for it. “So if I wanted to use it again, I’d have to get that big again?”

    Amy shrugged. “Signs point to yes? But hey, on the upside, based on previous information, I’m guessing that getting to that size will be a lot easier the next time around.”

    “Hmm.” Somehow, that didn’t actually go a long way toward making me feel better about the situation. “So what happens if someone goes to mug me, and I blow out to something that can eat him in one bite?”

    Vicky laughed out loud. “Well, for one thing, an experience like that would probably put him off mugging anyone ever again.” She ruffled my hair. “I think you’d scare the asshole worse than I ever could.”

    Amy joined in the laughter, flapping her elbows to make wyvern wings. “Rawr.” She smirked at my betrayed expression. “I never even knew you could roar like that, before today.”

    “You think I did?” I raised my eyebrows. “Every time I go out, it seems like I learn something new about what I can do.”

    “So why didn’t you go with Armsmaster’s suggestion?” Vicky spread her hands as I looked at her sharply. “Hey, I’m not saying you should have. I mean, I wouldn’t. But it’s an option, especially when your powers are changing almost on an hourly basis, yeah?”

    “Every time I think about it, all I can see is them deliberately inducing the wyvern form and then studying me endlessly instead of letting me go out as a hero,” I said with a shudder. “Poking and prodding. Screw that. I might not have all the answers, but I’m a lot more comfortable this way than that way.”

    “I can see their point,” Carol said. “But I can see yours, too. The last thing I want to do is push you outside your comfort zone. Yesterday proved that you’re learning to use your powers, which are both versatile and useful. As a member of New Wave, I’m sure you’ll be able to do a lot of good.”

    “I’m just glad you’re still letting me be a member, after I swore at Armsmaster,” I confessed. “He might have been annoying, but that’s still not a very heroic thing to do.”

    “Well, getting in your face after you bit off Inago’s arm and scared the crap out of two entire gangs wasn’t the smartest thing he could’ve done,” Vicky pointed out.

    “Not to mention, the last time he got in your face, you melted his halberd,” Amy said brightly.

    “Doesn’t help,” I muttered.

    Amy smirked, but there was an edge to it. “He deserved it. He’s the sort of guy who thinks he knows better than everyone else what they want and need.” There was an undercurrent there that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to delve into. Of course, given my interactions with the man, I couldn’t argue with her analysis.

    Deciding it might be a good idea to change the subject, I sat up and looked around. “Uh, where’s Dad?”

    “He said he was going home,” Carol informed me. “Given that you seem likely to be sleeping over here for at least a while, he’s picking up more of your clothing.”

    “Oh, good.” I shot a glance at Vicky. “Not that I’m not grateful for you loaning me your clothes, but …”

    She waved it away. “Hey, it’s all good. You needed it when you needed it. So you want to go shopping for more, sometime?”

    “Not everyone wants to go clothes shopping at the drop of a hat,” Amy said. “Just saying.”

    “Depends on the hat,” Vicky riposted. “I’m just thinking, with the way Taylor’s been destroying her outfits …”

    “Gee, thanks,” I deadpanned. “Because that’s exactly why I wrecked something like six sets of clothing yesterday. To make more room in my closet.” I rubbed my eyes, which had started to water from the effort of trying to focus on everyone. “And I hope he can find me a spare pair of glasses, too.”

    “Oh, yeah, I forgot.” Vicky actually looked contrite, as far as I could tell. “The last couple of days have been pretty hard on those too, haven’t they?”

    “Yeah. And the insurance only covers one extra pair. After we get those, we’ve got to pay out of pocket for any more.” With the events of the previous day to go by, I wasn’t optimistic about the surviveability of my eyewear, going forward.

    “I could maybe help,” offered Amy diffidently. “Fix your eyes, I mean. So you don’t need glasses. Seeing as you’re a member of New Wave now and all.”

    I blinked at her. “I didn’t know you could do that. I thought it was injuries and disease and stuff.”

    “There’s a lot of stuff a lot of people don’t know about my powers,” Amy said. “But yeah, I can reshape your eyes so you can see properly, if you want.”

    “Are you certain that the changes won’t cause problems with her eyes in her wyvern form?” asked Carol. “The last thing we want is her mis-targeting her fire breath.” She turned to me. “I’m sorry to have to put it like this, but if it comes to a choice between your eyesight and the wyvern’s eyesight, we’re going to have to put a premium on the Changer form. You, we can fit with glasses. The wyvern, not so much.”

    I nodded. “I get it. But we can try it out anyway, right? We’re going to have to test the wyvern afterward, so if it changes anything, Amy can change it right back.”

    “That’s if Amy’s power even works on the wyvern … oh, wait.” Vicky facepalmed, but gently. “You’ve been helping her change back. Of course your power works on her.”

    “Well, duh.” Amy nudged me. “Dope-slap her for me, will you? I can’t reach.”

    I sighed. “I am not dope-slapping anyone. But if you could even try, I’d really appreciate it.”

    “Okay, then.” She took my hands. “So, are you short-sighted or long-sighted?”

    The question puzzled me. “Short-sighted, but shouldn’t you already know that?”

    She gave me a dry look. “I can tell if an eyeball is working after I can piece it back together. How good a picture it gets is something else altogether. Okay, I’m going to be extending your focal length … I hope. Not an optometrist, here. Just your average garden-variety biokinetic.”

    “How do I tell if it’s working?” I asked.

    She turned her head sideways and nodded. “Look at something across the room. Tell me if it’s getting sharper or fuzzier.”

    “Okay.” There was a picture on the wall in the kitchen, visible through the archway from where I was sitting. At least, I assumed it was a picture; there was a rectangular frame, anyway. What was in the frame, I had no idea. I fixed my eyes on it.

    And then everything went fuzzy. I couldn’t see a thing. “Whoa! Wrong way, go back!” Even nearby objects were indistinct blurs.

    “Whoops, sorry.” She sounded apologetic, at least. “Okay, this should work better.”

    As I watched, the fuzziness decreased noticeably, back to where it had been before. Then it kept on going, the picture in the frame—a photo of Brockton Bay from above—becoming sharper and sharper by the second. “Wow, that’s pretty good.”

    “Good.” The improvement paused for a moment. “I’m going to slow it down now. Tell me when it’s just gone past the point of maximum improvement.”

    “Okay.” I watched with wonder as the world unfolded around me without the need for glasses. Everything was becoming crystal clear, not only the picture. I kept opening my mouth to tell her to stop, but even at the infinitesimal crawl she was doing it at, I could tell my eyesight was still improving.

    Finally, it stopped getting any better. “That’s it,” I said. “back it up a little.” I paused, then closed my left eye. Then I opened that one and closed my right. “Uh, it’s perfect with my right eye, but my left still needs a little work.” A few seconds went by, then I nodded. “Yeah, that’s got it.”

    “Are you sure?” asked Amy.

    “Certain.” I nodded, then looked around the room with both eyes open. “Wow, did you spice up my colour vision, too? Everything looks so bright.”

    “No, but I suspect your prescription was a little out of date,” she said. “It’s amazing how much you don’t realise you’re missing when your eyes are even slightly off.”

    “I’ll say.” I shook my head as I took in her appearance. “I never knew you had freckles before.” They’d been easy to miss before, a light dusting across her nose, but now they were as plain as day to me.

    “All right, then.” Carol clapped her hands. “Time to see if the alterations have affected your Changer state. Taylor, will you need assistance?”

    “No, I should be able to do this on my own.” I gestured at the bathrobe. “But I don’t want to ruin this.”

    “So take it off.” Vicky waved her hand negligently. “I’ve already seen everything you’ve got, and Amy’s seen most of it, and I’m pretty sure Mom doesn’t care, right?”

    I couldn’t believe how casually dismissive she was being of my concerns. “I care.” I clutched the robe more tightly around me. “I know it’s a stress-based change, and standing there in the altogether in front of all three of you would probably force the change in a heartbeat, but I don’t want to do that.”

    “Oh. Okay.” Vicky paused, then her face lit up again. “I know! Back in a sec!” Jumping up from the sofa arm, she dashed from the room. I watched with bemusement as she ran up the stairs, only using every third or fourth step. Was she cheating by using her flight? I couldn’t tell, but I wasn’t about to bet against it.

    I turned to Amy. “I’d ask if she’s always like this, but that’s a silly question, isn’t it?”

    “Extremely.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s a good thing, really. With Vicky, what you see is what you get. Always and all the time.”

    “So I’m learning.” I snorted and shook my head. “I couldn’t have got much luckier with people to run into flying across the city, huh?”

    Carol nodded in agreement. “Victoria may be flighty, in more ways than one, but her heart is definitely in the right place. She saw the person in you where others may have dismissed you as a wild beast.”

    I was privately more appreciative of the fact that she’d changed her mind after I made it clear that I didn’t want to disrobe in front of all three of them. A force of nature she could be, but she was also willing to admit when she was wrong. I’d had far too much of people forcing their ideas of how things should go on me.

    “Ta-dahhh!” Vicky came down the stairs, sliding side-saddle on the rail. Clutched in her hands like a giant fluffy banner was a bath towel; the sort that could wrap around me twice and still have enough surface area for a medium tent. Jumping off the rail at the bottom of the steps, she strode over to me with the air of a conquering hero. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d practised in front of the mirror. “Wrap yourself in this, drop the robe, you Change, and nothing’s damaged. Genius, that’s me.”

    It was a good idea. I took the towel and gave her a smile in return. “Thanks. But I can’t help noticing that you’re claiming the title of genius quite a lot around here.”

    “Hey, if you got it, flaunt it.” She tossed her head so her golden curls fell about her face in a becoming fashion, then preened. “And baby, I got it.”

    “Yeah, but we’re still trying to figure out what it is you ‘got’,” Amy snarked from beside me. “Is it delusions of grandeur or just plain megalomania?”

    Vicky poked her tongue out at her sister. “Jealousy,” she proclaimed, laying the back of her wrist against her forehead and striking a tragic pose. “Alas, it is a terrible thing. Turning family against family, sister against sister, hero against villain, cat against dog …”

    “Enough, already.” Carol shook her head. “I’m already regretting signing you up for that drama course. Taylor?”

    Trying not to grin too widely at Vicky’s clowning around, I got up from the sofa and moved to the centre of the room. Shrugging my arms out of the robe, I used the towel as a screen and let the garment fall to the floor. Then I wrapped the towel around myself and held it securely.

    The dark thoughts seemed easier to call on, now. I wondered vaguely if Emma had somehow been jealous of me, and if that had been what turned her against me. Then I decided that it didn’t matter; if she’d had a problem, she should’ve been willing to talk it out. That was what friends did.

    Closing my eyes, I concentrated on the Change, trying to distil all the hurt and pain and anguish that had dogged me over the past year into one singular moment, so as to experience it and be over and done more quickly.

    It hurt; it always hurt. I felt my heart rate rise and the tears start to my eyes, and then I felt the shift happening. When I opened my eyes, my nictitating membranes were flickering back and forth across them, and my wings were being held in a protective screen in front of me. Quickly, I glanced around the room. There didn’t seem to be any reduction in my visual acuity.

    Then I tried to talk. Okay, my eyes are clear. But all that came out was a triumphant chirp. Oh, for fuck’s sake.

    “Okay …” Vicky put her finger on her chin. “I’m guessing … your eyes are good, but you still can’t talk at this size.”

    I rolled my eyes, but nodded to confirm her supposition. It wasn’t exactly rocket science, after all. A moment later, I realised something else was different; the all-over body ache I’d been feeling was gone. That was good, but also potentially bad. Was I going to be in pain every time I Changed back to human? Or would it only be the case when I’d undergone a size shift?

    Which also reminded me that the last time I’d Changed into my wyvern form, I’d been wearing a spare costume, fetched by Vicky from Parian’s shop. No such costume was in evidence now. Which meant that, in the absence of someone holding a towel around me, my modesty was going to be seriously challenged when I Changed back. Nope, not Changing back any time soon. Down here, anyway.

    “So, I was thinking,” Vicky said chattily, as if continuing a conversation, “me and Ames and Taylor could go to Arcadia again today. Nobody’s gonna give her any crap at all, because the footage of her kicking the absolute crap out of Inago’s all over PHO. And it’ll get them used to her being around in base form.”

    I cringed, and let out an inquiring chirp. Everyone looked at me, and I racked my brain for a way to communicate the question. Finally, I used my wing-finger tip to trace an ‘O’ in the air.

    “O?” asked Vicky, not quite getting it.

    PHO?” Amy filled in. “You want to know what’s being said on the PHO boards?”

    I nodded. It would probably be a good idea to find out if I was being seen as a dangerous animal or not.

    “Sure, we can do that.” Vicky pointed toward the stairs. “To the Wyvern-computer!”

    Amy and I stared at her. Even Carol folded her arms and joined in.

    “What?” asked Vicky. “I had to say something. And it sounded cooler than, ‘let’s go online and see’, right?”

    I snorted derisively. Carol shook her head and turned away, muttering something under her breath. I caught the word ‘bat’, which didn’t mean anything to me at all. Amy just rolled her eyes. “Vicky, you’re getting weirder all the time. And that’s not a compliment.”

    “Is if I say it is,” Vicky said airily, leading the way upstairs.

    She and Amy found stairs relatively easy, of course. I could navigate them with judicious use of my tail and wings, but it was tedious. By the time I got to Vicky’s room, she and Amy had her laptop booted up and signed on to the PHO boards. I’d only ever gone on occasionally to lurk and read about cape doings when I was bored; as far as I could recall, I’d never actually made a post.

    “Oh, hey, I know what we should do,” Vicky said as she moved aside to give me room to look over their shoulders. “We should totally set up an account for Taylor as Wyvern.”

    I gave her an irritated chirp and held one wing up for her inspection. There was no way I’d ever be typing with those things, and unless they made reinforced keyboards, my feet were pretty well out, too. I guessed maybe I could hold a pencil in my teeth or something …

    “Not for use while you’re the wyvern,” Vicky pointed out. “That’s kind of silly. For when you’re human.

    Oh. Yeah. There’s that, too. I felt stupid, and did my best to face-palm with my wing.

    “We really could,” agreed Amy. “We can submit a couple of photos for verification, with you and me in them.”

    Verification? I chirped a query. When I’d set up my own account, I didn’t recall any need for verification photos.

    Amy frowned. “I don’t know what you’re asking. Why don’t we get these photos taken, then you can Change back, and we can set the account up?”

    I was kind of tired of playing charades without working hands, so I nodded. First, Vicky posed with me while Amy snapped a photo, then I got one alongside Amy. Then Vicky headed out of the room to grab the discarded bathrobe while Amy set up a photo of me on my own.

    “Can you maybe blow a puff of smoke from your nose, like you did back with the Wards?” she suggested. “And some fire?”

    I thought it was needlessly dramatic, but she was the boss here, so I did as she said. A little fire in the back of my throat produced the smoke I wanted, then I erected my crest and grinned toothily at the camera, wisps of flame leaking out through the gaps between my teeth.

    As Amy tapped the phone screen to take the photo, I heard Carol call out, “And the towel too!”

    “Yes, Mom,” answered Vicky, with a put-upon sigh.

    “And no flying in the house!”

    “No, Mom.”

    Amy leaned close to me. “She always flies in the house,” she murmured with a smirk.

    I grinned back—showing a lot more teeth than she had—and nodded. That was something I’d already figured out for myself.

    “We’ve got to take photos,” Amy went on as Vicky re-entered the room and closed the door, “because otherwise anyone could pretend to be a cape online. Some people have, especially with capes who don’t do PHO. It’s caused problems on occasion.”

    I chirped agreeably; Amy had answered a question I had from before, but now I couldn’t ask the question that had since occurred to me. Moving away from the desk, I let Vicky drape the bathrobe over my back. Then I closed my eyes and concentrated on all the good things in my life.

    Vicky was my friend. She’d proven that, over and over again. Amy had been a little standoffish to begin with, but she was starting to warm up to me. Even Lady Photon and Brandish—Sarah and Carol—were nice to me. Dad was letting me stay in New Wave. I was going to be a genuine bonafide superhero.

    The warm feeling was growing in my chest. I fed it with more memories. Meeting Vicky’s friends at Arcadia, and being accepted by them. Winning the battle against Inago and saving Vicky’s life, then meeting the Wards. Carefully, I pulled up short of what had happened next, focusing instead on Vista’s sheer wonder at meeting me.

    I’d enjoyed myself. I’d had fun.

    “Uh, Taylor? You can put the robe on now.” It was Vicky’s voice.

    I looked up and around, belatedly realising that the robe was now draped over my shoulders as I half-crouched on Vicky’s bedroom carpet. So deeply had I been delving into my memories that I hadn’t even felt the change happening. With a sheepish grin, I slid my arms into the sleeves, then pulled the robe shut around me and stood up straight.

    “Nicely done,” Vicky said with a thumbs-up. “I didn’t even have to use my aura once.”

    “This is a good thing,” Amy agreed. “Vicky and I probably won’t be around all the time when you need to change back. How did it feel; Changing unassisted, I mean?”

    “I have no idea,” I confessed. “I was concentrating so hard on making it happen, that I didn’t notice when it did happen.”

    “Does it even matter?” asked Vicky. “She can Change on her own. What’s the big deal?”

    “It’s not just a big deal,” Amy challenged her. “It’s a huge deal. Right now, she’s got a grand total of one deliberate unassisted Change of wyvern to human under her belt. If she can feel the onset of the Change and work with it until it goes all the way through, instead of blindly concentrating on good or bad feelings until something happens, she can make this work a lot more efficiently.”

    “Now you sound like Armsmaster,” Vicky said with a giggle. “Seriously, the man is so obsessed with efficiency.”

    “Bite your tongue.” Amy rolled her eyes. “Efficiency and effectiveness are valid goals. Ever heard of time and motion studies?”

    “I’ll time and motion you,” retorted Vicky, grabbing Amy in a headlock and applying a noogie. Amy squawked and struggled, but I noticed that she was able to force Vicky’s arm aside to free herself. I was pretty sure she wasn’t using her powers. In short, the two were just horsing around; either from general high spirits, or to try to put me at ease, I wasn’t sure. Whichever one it was, it put a grin on my face.

    “Vicky, leave her alone,” I chided gently. “So, Amy. You think if I can get a handle on how the transformation feels, I should be able to guide it?”

    “Well, yeah,” the healer said breathlessly, pushing her hair back from her face. She placed her other hand on Vicky’s face to push her away. Vicky blew a raspberry against her palm, causing her to jerk her hand back and wipe it on her shirt. “Ew, gross. Do you have any idea how many germs there are in your mouth? Because I do.

    “Huh.” It was a totally new concept for me. Up until now, my Change had just happened. The idea of triggering it deliberately instead of relying on painful memories (or trying to focus on happy ones) was fascinating. “Does this mean I could stop it from happening if I don’t want it to?”

    Amy shrugged. “Theoretically, sure. I can see the signals in your body that trigger the change, so you should be able to affect them. Even before capes came on the scene, people were learning how to slow down their heartbeats and gain limited control over other supposedly automatic body functions. Biofeedback is a thing.”

    “Damn.” I was definitely going to have to revisit this idea, once the time came to change back to the wyvern. But that wasn’t what we were doing right then, so I shelved it for the moment. “Thanks, Amy. I really appreciate the help you’re giving me.”

    She shrugged again, but her cheeks flushed pink. “Always glad to help a fellow member of New Wave.” Taking the phone off the desk, she handed it to Vicky. “Photos are on here. Do your magic, sister of mine.” Then she turned to me. “What username did you want to use? Wyvern?”

    “If it’s available, yes,” I agreed. Then something else occurred to me. “Uh, I actually have another account, under my own name. Aren’t dual accounts banned on PHO?” I’d heard that sort of thing was frowned upon; something to do with pretending to be someone else agreeing with whatever opinions you were espousing.

    “Sock puppets?” asked Vicky, tapping away on the phone. “Whoa, that avatar pic’s scary as fuck. I love it.” She paused, possibly trying to recall what she’d just been saying. “Uh, yeah, normally. But they usually make an exception for capes, because of secret identities. Me and Ames don’t get to do that, for obvious reasons. Which I still think is total bullcrap.”

    “Suck it up, sister mine.” Amy hit Enter and sat back as the screen refreshed. “If that’s the worst thing that ever comes out of being open capes, then we’ll both be extremely lucky. Okay, then. Account has been set up. Soon as Vicky gets the photos in place, we can set up your avatar image, and the other two we’ll send in to the mods to prove you’re the real deal.”

    “Cool.” I pulled out one of the two chairs and sat down in it, wrapping the robe around me more securely. “So have they really been talking about me very much on the boards?”

    Have they!” Vicky rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Can you say ‘slow-motion explosion’? First, there were a few comments about your first appearance. People got pictures of you flying over the city, then other people saw me and you and Aunt Sarah, and thought you were a monster we were fighting.”

    “Because she shot lasers at me.” I nodded. “I can see how they’d misunderstand that.”

    “You wouldn’t be the first, and won’t be the last,” agreed Amy. “There were a few good pictures of you with that convenience store robbery, but everyone thought you were just a big flying lizard that we’d picked up somewhere. At that time, the general consensus was that you were a Case fifty-three.”

    Which was also a reasonable conclusion, considering the situation. “Yeah, I can see that,” I said. “So, did they notice when I was bigger after fighting Stinger?”

    “Funnily enough, the mainstreamers didn’t.” Vicky grinned and shrugged. “The tinfoil-hat brigade tried to present it as evidence that you were a hoax or a hologram or something. Basically, ignoring the fact that first responders and cops were standing right next to you.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Geez. All I need is the nutcases coming out of the woodwork over this one.” I’d looked into the section of the boards officially labelled ‘Cape Speculation’ but collectively known as the ‘tinfoil-hat’ section once in a while. Even the milder hypotheses coming out of there were weird as crap. Scion was an alien, Dragon was an AI, a shadowy cabal called Cauldron was secretly running the world … there was no end to it.

    “You’re a dragon. Sorry, wyvern.” Amy gave me a sympathetic look. “Pretty sure you’re not going to be able to dodge this one. The tinfoil-hats are going to be spawning theories faster than we’ll be able to knock them down. We just have to hope the mods are on their A-game. You’re gonna want to be able to communicate meaningfully with those of your fans who are actually sane, after all.”

    “So what’s the result of the latest thing?” I asked. “Even Dad seems to have read it, and he never goes on PHO.”

    Vicky laughed out loud at that one. “Everyone who’s even heard about PHO has been on to check that one out. The memes of you swearing at Armsmaster are going viral. And the number of jokes about how you were able to give him a burn without ever breathing fire at him are spreading like …” She gave me a sly look. “ … well, wildfire.”

    I gave her a dirty look. She let it slide right by. “Okay, so is it generally positive or negative?” I asked.

    Amy fielded that one. “Positive,” she said definitively. “In an oh, god, please don’t burn me alive kind of way, sure, but still positive. Inago was a really big deal in Brockton Bay. Well, technically speaking, he still is. And you basically tore him a brand new one, in a way that nobody ever has before. Plus, you went from medium-sized to mega-sized during the course of the fight. People seem to like you, and hope you’re on our side. Because fire-breathing dragons are kinda scary. Just putting that out there.”

    “The interaction with the Wards was pure gold,” Vicky added. She didn’t mention that she’d been there at the time … but then, she didn’t have to. “There are more memes about Vista hugging you than you swearing at Armsmaster. It’s very cute, by the way.”

    “Also, the footage where you blew smoke all over Vicky?” Amy grinned wickedly at her sister. “Gaining views by the second.”

    Vicky chose to respond in an extremely mature fashion, by poking her tongue out at Amy. “I still say that wasn’t in the least bit funny.”

    “PHO disagrees,” Amy pointed out. “All the Wards have written up their own versions of what happened. Vista’s is kinda incoherent, but are we surprised? Aegis’ is extremely detailed, and very respectful.” She stifled a laugh. “Clockblocker’s is … well, Clockblocker.”

    I leaned forward to read the section of text she’d just hovered the cursor over, and burst out laughing. Clockblocker had narrated it like the action from a blockbuster movie, with so much purple prose that his keyboard should really have seized up.

    “So where do we go from here?” I asked. “Should I introduce myself? Tell people that I’m really not here to seize the city as my domain, or whatever the tinfoil hat people are saying?” I was guessing, but the look on Amy’s face made me blink.

    “Actually, some of them are saying almost exactly that,” she said. “Others are saying that you’re Dragon’s real form, out and about for the first time.”

    I shook my head. “How much more ridiculous can they get?”

    “Don’t ask,” Vicky warned me. “Trust me, that rabbit-hole goes down forever.”

    Before I could ask another question, I heard my name being called from downstairs. Getting up, I went to the bedroom door. “Yes?” I called back.

    “Your father is back.” It was Carol.

    “Dad!” Leaving the door open, I bolted downstairs. Dad had indeed returned, holding a large bag; clothes and toiletries, I presumed. Throwing my arms around him, I gave him a heartfelt hug.

    “Hello to you too, Taylor.” His voice was amused as he hugged me in return. “I see you missed me.”

    “You weren’t here when I got up,” I explained. “Ever since this thing happened to me, I’ve been really grateful that you’re here for me, no matter what. I mean, some people might have just walked away. Having a daughter who occasionally turns into a wyvern might be seen as a bit of a strain for some.”

    He ruffled my hair fondly. “Some people might be idiots. You’re my daughter, and that’s final. So, how have things been while I was away? Any new developments?”

    I shrugged faux-modestly. “I managed the Change to Wyvern and back without wrecking any clothing or needing help to do it. Amy thinks I should be able to eventually make it happen, or not, at will. And Wyvern now has a PHO account, courtesy of Amy and Vicky.”

    “That’s really good news,” he said, and I could tell he meant it. “Well, apart from the PHO thing. How are the people online ever going to recover from being able to chat online with a real live wyvern?”

    Rolling my eyes at his teasing tone, I shook my head. “You are so bad. Thanks for bringing my clothes over. I really appreciate it. Vicky wants to take me clothes shopping later, but I don’t know when that’s going to be.”

    “That’s my Taylor,” he chuckled. “Any other teenage girl would be going, shopping? When? Where? But you’re more like, shopping? Meh, if I feel like it.

    “Hey, I just feel that I’ve got more important priorities right now,” I pointed out. “Like getting a costume that I won’t wreck, especially now I’ve proven I can become human again of my own accord.”

    “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing,” he said hastily. “Only that it’s not really the point of view of most teenage girls.”

    “Well, I’m not most teenage girls,” I reminded him. “I’m me. Besides, I won’t need new clothing when I go back to Arcadia today with Vicky and Amy, as Wyvern.”

    He held up a finger. “Ah. I’m glad you reminded me. While I was picking up your clothing, I got a phone call. Winslow’s opening again, and Principal Blackwell wants a word with you.”

    “Wait, what again now?” I blurted. “My locker was destroyed! So were the lockers on either side! Surely they can’t have rebuilt that whole section!”

    “From what I understand, they didn’t.” He shrugged, as if he had trouble believing his own words. “The work is ongoing, but for now they’ve got the damaged section cordoned off from the rest of the school. Just that corridor, apparently. Everyone who had lockers in that area is having their belongings moved to other lockers.”

    “Except me.” I didn’t even really need to say it.

    “Except you.” Her father shook his head. “Everything in that locker was drowned under muck, then exploded, then burned. Whatever’s left isn’t anything that you want to even think about claiming.”

    I grimaced. By which he meant the stuff they’d actually put in there. He was right; I didn’t want to think about it, full stop and end of sentence. “So what’s the general consensus in the school about what happened? What are they saying about me, and the fact that I haven’t been there in days?”

    “That, I think, is what Principal Blackwell wants to talk to you about,” he said. “The police investigators found evidence that it was a parahuman thing, so they handed it over to the PRT. For their part, the PRT is running it as a gas leak; they know who you really are, of course .”

    “Armsmaster,” I muttered. I was still feeling a little bit of regret for melting his halberd. Not much, considering what a pushy jerk he was, but some. The f-bomb I’d dropped in his face was another source of regret, but I felt more than justified in that particular instance.

    “That, and they can connect the dots with ease. Your locker blew up, you can’t be contacted when Wyvern is around, and there’s evidence of parahuman activity where the locker used to be.” Dad shrugged. “Don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to solve that one.”

    “Okay, so when does Blackwell need me to come in?” I asked. I wasn’t looking forward to that particular conversation. In fact, I was dreading going back to Winslow at all. There was no combination of factors I could think of that would make me want to go there.

    “Today, if possible,” Dad said. “I know you don’t want to do this, but this sort of thing won’t go away, and getting it over and done with quickly is better than letting it fester.”

    I groaned. “Do I have to? I just got used to being a cape. You know that if I’m there and Emma and the others start on me, I’ll probably blow up into Wyvern again. If she gets far enough under my skin, I might end up biting her head off, and not in a metaphorical way.” Even I didn’t know if I was being serious or not.

    He winced, no doubt recalling what I’d done to Inago. “Please, do not attack anyone,” he said, very seriously. “There would be so many downsides, and very few upsides. For one thing, I doubt your membership in New Wave would survive the backlash.”

    Helplessly, I spread my hands. “If I go into that hellhole alone, there’s literally nobody there who’ll be willing to watch my back. Not the teachers, not the staff, definitely none of the students. Emma won’t know that Mrs Dallon is preparing a case, so she’ll think she can hammer me all she likes, and there’ll be no come-back. And if I do lash out, even if I don’t end up treating her like a chew-toy, I’m basically guaranteed to wreck the case against them. Bad idea, Dad. Really bad idea.”

    “I tend to concur.” Carol Dallon emerged from her office. “Initiating powers-based violence will definitely put any case we have into serious hot water. We need Taylor to have the appearance of being pure as the driven snow. The fact that she’s just that, as far as I know, will go a long way toward helping me do my job. If she happens to turn into the wyvern and attack anyone, no matter how badly she’s been provoked, it will make life difficult for both myself and her, for obvious reasons.”

    “But if she doesn’t show, that makes her look like a delinquent student,” Dad said with a frown. “Principal Blackwell was adamant about that. It also strengthens the connection between her and the exploded locker.”

    “Well, not really,” I said as an idea occurred to me. “I can say I was nearby when it did explode. I was hurt and dazed, and staggered out of the school, then somehow got to the hospital. I’ve only just now recovered.”

    “Which can work, but you still have to show up.” Dad’s expression was unhappy. “I’m not sure why she was so insistent about this. Apart from the whole truancy thing, of course.”

    Carol frowned. “I may have an idea about that. It’s based entirely on supposition and cui bono, so if anyone can poke holes in it, I would appreciate that.”

    Cui bono?” I asked, not understanding the term.

    “‘Who profits’,” Amy said briskly. “Okay, what’s your idea?”

    It took a few moments for Carol to answer. “We’re reasonably sure that Armsmaster would love to have Taylor join the Wards, correct?”

    Dad and I nodded. “Correct,” he said. “But—”

    “I’m not finished,” she interrupted. “Now, for the purpose of this mental exercise, let us presuppose that Armsmaster has some kind of leverage over Principal Blackwell. He says to her to request and require Taylor to come to Winslow. He knows Taylor is Wyvern, and that her Changer ability is stress-related. She thinks Taylor may have had something to do with the exploding locker, but not that she’s Wyvern, nor about the stress aspect.”

    “So she does what he says, not thinking about the potential downsides …” Dad said slowly.

    “But he knows!” I burst out. “He knows that as the wyvern, I tend to react! I knocked him on his ass!”

    Carol nodded. “Now, what happens if you go to Winslow and the bullies corner you, and you turn into the wyvern and lash out?”

    I winced, and nodded; the chain of events was clear. “I’m outed. New Wave has to disavow me or be caught in the negative publicity. Armsmaster can then strongarm me into the Wards at his leisure.”

    Slowly, Dad shook his head. “That’s cold.” He stared at Carol. “The man’s a hero. Would he come up with a plan like that, and actually carry it through?”

    “A hero he may be, but he’s also head of the local Protectorate, and he’s had to work twenty-five hours a day to maintain his status,” she said bluntly. “He’ll do anything he can to get a little extra personal glory. Signing a powerful new Ward? In a heartbeat.” She shrugged. “Putting teenagers at risk? Shadow Stalker’s in the same school. She’s probably been alerted to watch out for problems. No doubt he’s convinced himself that it’s all for the greater good. And of course, there’ll be no way to prove that this was his intent the whole time.”

    I shook my head. “Screw him. I won’t go. They can’t provoke me if they can’t get to me.”

    Dad looked dubious. “I don’t know what he’s got on Blackwell, but she seemed hell-bent on getting you into that school. The phrase ‘truant officer’ came up.”

    “I didn’t know Winslow had a truant officer,” I said. In fact, I was sure it didn’t. Nobody had cared every other time I’d skipped.

    “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it does now.” Carol shook her head. “Mind you, this could all be a total coincidence. Armsmaster could be innocent in all this. I have no proof, after all. Just a suspicious mind. Can anyone knock holes in the idea?”

    Silence fell, as we looked at each other. Given how pushy Armsmaster had been, I reluctantly found it all too easy to believe.

    Dad took a deep breath. “So what are we going to do?”

    I shook my head. “I dunno. Whether he’s behind it or not, if I go into that school, I’m screwed. I have no idea how I’m gonna get out of this one.”

    “I do!” Vicky came strolling down the stairs, looking like the cat that had recently imbibed the cream and was donning a bib in front of a cage full of canaries. “I’ll go to Winslow with you. Let’s see the little shits bother you then.

    I blinked and looked at her. The idea of Vicky confronting Emma was … compelling. “That could definitely work.”

    “No.” Dad shook his head definitively. “It won’t. All the girls have to do is complain about her presence—her aura, if nothing else—and Principal Blackwell can order her to leave.”

    “But I’ll be there as a superhero,” Vicky protested. “Tell him, Mom!” She looked upset at the idea of her grand plan being shot down so easily.

    “Sorry, dear,” Carol said. “She can and she will. You’re not a student there, and it would take too long—and far too much paperwork—to effect even a temporary transfer. If she decides you’re a trespasser, then you’re a trespasser.”

    “So Taylor doesn’t go.” Dad set his jaw. “Screw Blackwell. Taylor can stay here for the time being, so even if Armsmaster himself decides to play truant officer and kicks down my front door, she won’t be there.”

    “He knows Taylor’s joined the team, though,” Amy said. “What’s stopping him from coming here?”

    “Because here is linked to her cape identity, and she’s a hero who hasn’t committed any deliberate felonies,” Carol pointed out didactically. “Yes, the PRT can and will play fast and loose with the so-called unwritten rules, but I will nail anyone’s hide to the wall if they choose to try to search my house without both a warrant and due cause. And I’m dubious about him being able to get Director Piggot to sign off on any kind of scheme like that. I’m personally certain that he’s relying on it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, especially if he manages to get Taylor to sign on the dotted line.”

    “Taylor will just melt his halberd if he tries, won’t you?” Vicky smirked. “Or maybe you’ll just bite it in half like a breadstick.”

    “I’d much rather not antagonise Armsmaster any more than I already have,” I said with finality. “I still get the shakes when I think about how many people heard me tell him to eff off. I wish he’d just go away and leave me alone.”

    Carol stared at me, then slowly blinked. “On second thought, maybe you should go to school.”

    We all stared at her. “Mom?” asked Vicky. “Are you feeling all right? Do you want to lie down?”

    “No, no, hear me out.” Carol rubbed her hands together. “But we’re going to be doing more than just getting evidence on the girls who’ve been bullying you, Taylor. We’re going to be going after Armsmaster himself. If he’s willing to bend the rules this hard just to get you over a barrel, Taylor, who knows what else he’s ready to pull. All in the name of ‘the greater good’.” She said the last three words in tones of deepest disgust. “So yes, you’ll be attending Winslow. But we’ll also be taking certain precautions …”


    End of Part Fourteen

    [Mwahaha. Evil cliffhanger is evil.]
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2019
  23. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Ah, Hurricane Vicky's on the move! Let's see what will be blown away.
     
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  24. Malcanthet

    Malcanthet Shy Adorable Arachne

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    So I will see Chapter 15 before Lunch time Right Ack?

    Edit: Oops forgot to Ack ...
     
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2019
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  25. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    You know, Armsmaster has damaged gear, and heaps of stuff to do.


    It might be J Random PRT, otherwise known as Coil.
     
  26. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

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    And then Blackwell triggers with a Bud of Shadow Stalker and a ping off Wyvern.

    Introducing our newest Protectorate member, Drake Principle.

    "Shouldn't it be principal?"

    "Nah, too much of a insult to people who do their job and too on the nose."
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
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  27. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    That is standard bully behavior. It is not new. JKR showed that in OOTP a decade before Worm was written.
    I saw it a decade before that in 8th grade with student lunch monitors and safety patrol officers (student crossing guards) being part of the bullying gang that had selected me to be The Target (think Taylor's situation minus The Locker, probably only because the lockers were too small. More overt physical attacks however. That I got all the blame for. "Turn the other cheek". "You have been in multiple fights with multiple students. Obviously you must either be instigating them or doing something to provoke them. Obviously you are the problem since it is always you involved in a fight.")
     
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2019
  28. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

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    You have your whole post in the quote.

    Sadly, standard procedure for bullying in US schools seems to be 'ignore it and hope it goes away; if forced to notice, punish the complainer so they stop complaining.' To be fair, the school usually doesn't have the ability to investigate, there are too many students and not enough teachers, but even then, the system is designed, whether accidentally or intentionally, to make it easy for bullies to get away with it, as long as they don't do something that will force the police to get involved, and sometimes even if they do. Something like the locker incident (here or in canon), OTOH, would in any decently-run school, and even most badly-run schools, result in the police investigating seriously, kids telling the cops things, bullies being charged as adults, and news services asking whether the school administration should be jailed for negligence.
     
  29. Darkarma

    Darkarma Loli Inkling

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    I imagine the CDC would get involved as well.
     
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  30. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Due to numerous comments about how I seem to be forcing the story, I've decided to rewrite the very end.

    I shook my head. “I dunno. Whether he’s behind it or not, if I go into that school, I’m screwed. I have no idea how I’m gonna get out of this one.”

    “I do!” Vicky came strolling down the stairs, looking like the cat that had recently imbibed the cream and was donning a bib in front of a cage full of canaries. “I’ll go to Winslow with you. Let’s see the little shits bother you then.

    I blinked and looked at her. The idea of Vicky confronting Emma was … compelling. “That could definitely work.”

    “No.” Dad shook his head definitively. “It won’t. All the girls have to do is complain about her presence—her aura, if nothing else—and Principal Blackwell can order her to leave.”

    “But I’ll be there as a superhero,” Vicky protested. “Tell him, Mom!” She looked upset at the idea of her grand plan being shot down so easily.

    “Sorry, dear,” Carol said. “She can and she will. You’re not a student there, and it would take too long—and far too much paperwork—to effect even a temporary transfer. If she decides you’re a trespasser, then you’re a trespasser.”

    “So Taylor doesn’t go.” Dad set his jaw. “Screw Blackwell. Taylor can stay here for the time being, so even if Armsmaster himself decides to play truant officer and kicks down my front door, she won’t be there.”

    “He knows Taylor’s joined the team, though,” Amy said. “What’s stopping him from coming here?”

    “Because here is linked to her cape identity, and she’s a hero who hasn’t committed any deliberate felonies,” Carol pointed out didactically. “Yes, the PRT can and will play fast and loose with the so-called unwritten rules, but I will nail anyone’s hide to the wall if they choose to try to search my house without both a warrant and due cause. And I’m dubious about him being able to get Director Piggot to sign off on any kind of scheme like that. I’m personally certain that he’s relying on it being easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, especially if he manages to get Taylor to sign on the dotted line.”

    “Taylor will just melt his halberd if he tries, won’t you?” Vicky smirked. “Or maybe you’ll just bite it in half like a breadstick.”

    “I’d much rather not antagonise Armsmaster any more than I already have,” I said with finality. “I still get the shakes when I think about how many people heard me tell him to eff off. I wish he’d just go away and leave me alone.”

    Carol stared at me, then slowly blinked. “On second thought, maybe you should go to school.”

    We all stared at her. “Mom?” asked Vicky. “Are you feeling all right? Do you want to lie down?”

    “No, no, hear me out.” Carol rubbed her hands together. “But we’re going to be doing more than just getting evidence on the girls who’ve been bullying you, Taylor. We’re going to be going after Armsmaster himself. If he’s willing to bend the rules this hard just to get you over a barrel, Taylor, who knows what else he’s ready to pull. All in the name of ‘the greater good’.” She said the last three words in tones of deepest disgust. “So yes, you’ll be attending Winslow. But we’ll also be taking certain precautions …”


    End of Part Fourteen

    [Mwahaha. Evil cliffhanger is evil.]
     
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