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Wyvern - Worm AU fanfic

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

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  1. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Wouldn't Armsmaster be informed about Shadow Stalker at once? About Miss Militia needing assistance because Sophia attacked her? APB-like?

    I mean, "This ward/hero turned on us and murdered PRT officers" is information that needs to be sent to everyone, at once. Otherwise, she might escape or kill some more.
     
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  2. SlickRCBD

    SlickRCBD Getting sticky.

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    You forget that the entire point of forcing Taylor back to Winslow was so that she'd lose control and transform, thus "proving" that she was out of control and allowing Armsmaster to impress her into the Wards.

    He knew it would be a high-stress environment that would try the patience of a saint. Yet bullying victims are expected to take all that and just ignore the blatant provocation, and are not supposed to show the slightest hint of anger because "they are just trying to get a rise out of you. If you ignored it and didn't give them the satisfaction of seeing it bother you, they would stop."

    Also this kind of tunnel vision is typical in a bullying situation. What is unusual is that Sophia Hess is on probation while Taylor has a clean criminal record. Yet Armsmaster has labeled her the troublemaker and will try to fit the facts to that preconceived notion. The effects are typical, but the motivation is unique.
     
  3. RoninSword

    RoninSword Sky God

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    My assumption here is Coil is interfering.
    Because how many people can call Armsmaster directly rather then being routed through console and the rest of the chain of command?
    Or stop Armsmaster from receiving Miss Militia's code purple report?

    Edit: I also kek at Sophia's PoV. You are being accused of a crime by the police. Did you really think they were just going to roll over for you?
     
  4. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Okay, minor spoilers, seeing as quite a few people have already guessed.

    Coil is indeed behind this. He pulled the strings to have Taylor nudged back into the school, and he sent Armsmaster an anonymous message to the effect that if there was a fire alarm call from Winslow, it was Taylor.

    Armsmaster just wants to recruit this new clearly-powerful (and getting more so) parahuman to train for potential Endbringer combat. Subconsciously, he feels he's owed something for the irritation and frustration he's undergone so far.

    Thus, when the call comes through, he basically ignores the code purple, because someone else is going to deal with that. His sole intent is to get to Winslow and recruit Taylor into the Wards. Right now, that's much more important.

    (The anonymous message literally came in via his superhero tip line).
     
  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    Really? He ignores a ward turning cop-killer? I find that hard to believe. At the very least, he should have heard that it happened at Winslow, and that would derail the confrontation.
     
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  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    As opposed to what he did to gain personal glory during the Leviathan battle in canon?
     
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  7. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Experienced.

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    I'm not questioning that he'd try to press-gang Taylor into the wards - I'm questioning that he'd be so dumb as to miss or ignore that Miss Militia was attacked by Shadow Stalker at Winslow. He's too smart and too experienced to miss that.
     
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  8. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    He's willing to break the rules when it benefits him, yes, but he's not the type to casually disregard them. Like, if Miss Militia's alert had come from somewhere else, I could see him pretending he'd never received it so he could instead continue on and arrest Taylor instead of responding. Or if, after receiving the message and realising the fight was probably started by Shadow Stalker, he might willfully ignore that conclusion in order to have an excuse to arrest Taylor - though you'd have to explain why he thought press-ganging her was still viable at that point; he's not stupid, and 'I thought she started it' might excuse an arrest but it wouldn't justify a forced recruitment.
     
  9. Necrovore

    Necrovore Know what you're doing yet?

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    Why would he know that? The fine details of what happened are the sort of thing covered in an after action report as all the paperwork gets filed.
    Right now the only thing that should be spreading around info wise is SS went hostile, and has been apprehended. Fire and medical are required at Winslow. Casualties occurred in the struggle. And that is basically it.
    Any more then that sent as messages right now is wasted time better spent cleaning up the mess. He wouldn't be called in because as far as the PRT and Protectorate are concerned it is just cleanup. Firefighters are the ones that now have active issues to deal with. Everything else waits for the reports to be filed and blame to be cast.
     
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  10. Kitty S. Lillian

    Kitty S. Lillian Transhuman

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    IIRC the only time in canon separate radio channels are used in the Protectorate are to appease Jack Slash's need for nobody else to help the Slaughterhouse inductees.

    I also recall reading he listens in on fire and police scanners, but that might be fanfic-sourced. If Piggot's not completely a fool she'll clue police in; if the police aren't dead then I expect they'll radio it themselves.

    Hmm. It doesn't seem anyone took a photo of the incriminating recorder-and-SSgear behind the locker, when before they were all on the ball about quickly recording evidence. Guess being Taylor is Suffering.
     
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  11. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    To be fair, they didn't have much of a chance before the fighting started.
     
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  12. Death by Chains

    Death by Chains За родину и свободу!

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    I’d’ve gone with ‘monomaniacal fuckwit’ myself, but yes, that was about my first reaction, too. [facepalm]
     
  13. Necrovore

    Necrovore Know what you're doing yet?

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    Don't know how they would set up the different radio channels between emergency services and PRT in this fictional setting, I was more commenting on what would be said on such channels. Communications like that aren't a gossip line or chat room. The point is to get immediately relevant information out quickly where it needs to go, and while SS going kill happy is certainly significant, she was also caught by MM before she even left the building. Functionally that part of the situation is now resolved. The important parts are getting medical aid and dealing with the fire, everything else can wait till the (literal) smoke clears and cleanup is started. Who did what is the sort of thing that gets put in a report, and if it must be shared with others would be sent through other methods like a morning email update sent to relevant departments, not over open air radio.

    As to the police reporting it themselves, again, not the immediate pressing matter considering she is already apprehended and there is an active fire atm. ...And I think they are still trapped in foam as of the end of the chapter so they can't call it in yet anyway.

    As to the chapter itself...@Ack You have Danny ask Taylor to follow him out of the room then he immediately sends her back to watch over MM?


    Edit: Hmm, forgot how to properly tag a user without quoting them...oh well.
     
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  14. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    He needs her watching Miss Militia and Shadow Stalker, while still close enough to alert him if something goes wrong.
     
  15. Extras: Expansion of Chapter 17
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Note:

    I've added material to the Armsmaster section, and added another bit.

    here it is:

    Armsmaster

    Colin accelerated his bike toward Winslow High. He’d finally gotten the call that fire services had been requested at the school, which was his cue. If his mystery informant was correct, Taylor Hebert would be there, laying waste to the place, giving him the perfect opportunity to swoop in and snap her up for the Wards. While he wouldn’t have minded knowing who this civic-minded person was, and how they knew where the girl would be and that she was going to go off the deep end, he was also fully cognizant of the old saying about gift horses and mouths.

    After all, members of the public passing on information covertly to superheroes was a time-honoured tradition. No laws were being broken that he could see, save perhaps by Taylor herself. And if she was tearing up Winslow, giving him the opportunity to get her into the Wards, that would be a large feather in his cap … so to speak. The fact that she didn’t even want to go into the Wards wasn’t something he spent much time thinking about; neither would it have bothered him overmuch if it was.

    He’d registered and logged the Code Purple, noting that Shadow Stalker was involved. He didn’t know the Ward personally, having rarely worked with her, but he seemed to recall that she’d been a vigilante before entering the Wards on a provisional basis. Something about nearly murdering someone? He’d have to check the files when he had the chance.

    In any case, they’d tracked her down once, and they could do it again. But the crime was done and while it was a tragedy to lose men in the field, he had a more important situation to deal with. Winslow was on fire, Taylor Hebert was almost certainly responsible, and this was the opportunity he’d been looking for. She needed to be made to see that this was an opportunity for her as well, to learn the hero trade under a veteran such as himself.

    There were already others en route to Winslow, especially since Miss Militia’s second transmission to Console. Shadow Stalker had been captured, which was good; that meant he didn’t have to waste time on inconsequential details. Miss Militia being injured was a potential problem, but help was on the way so again he wasn’t needed to deal with that. She’d reported that members of the public were trapped in confoam, but they were also currently being freed by helpful civilians, which was good.

    She hadn’t mentioned the presence of Wyvern, which he was actually pleased about. He didn’t want anyone else getting the same idea he’d had, and poaching her before he had the chance to make his case. Oh, he knew she was technically a member of New Wave, but he was sure the Dallons and Pelhams would not want to be connected to someone who’d gone on a rampage and set fire to a school twice. They’d probably be pleased for him to take Wyvern off their hands and into the Wards program.

    Since the last outing against Inago, he’d become convinced that if her power built up with every new challenge she overcame, she might just end up being able to fight Endbringers. As Brockton Bay’s premier Tinker, he was just the person to train her for this; after all, he wasn’t the local leader of the Protectorate for nothing. And of course, having her as his protégé could only help his reputation as well as hers.

    It was for the greater good. For him and for Brockton Bay.

    <><>​

    Coil

    Thomas Calvert leaned back in his comfortable office chair and indulged himself by steepling his fingertips just a little. He didn’t go so far as a maniacal cackle; he had some standards, after all. Passing the message to Armsmaster in an untraceable manner had been simplicity itself, and now he could sit back and watch the fireworks.

    It had been just as easy to pull the right strings and have Taylor Hebert coerced into returning to Winslow High. She was worried about facing her tormentors again, in case they forced her to Change to her draconic form in public? Calvert was very much a “let’s see what happens” sort of person. Especially when there’d be no repercussions to him.

    He hadn’t even had to keep back a safe timeline, in case it went wrong. No matter how it blew up, whether Hebert torched the school or Armsmaster tried and failed to recruit her yet again, the PRT and Protectorate would come out of it with egg on their faces, and he’d be golden.

    It really was a win-win situation, the type he liked the best.



    End of Part Seventeen
     
  16. macdjord

    macdjord Well worn.

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    'X has gone rogue' is critical information that everybody needs to know immediately even if X has been captured already. Most obviously, there's the risk they might escape. Additionally, you don't want somebody not in the know seeing them in cuffs and 'rescuing' them, or reporting you as the traitor because they see you holding X prisoner. Also, it automatically puts everything connected to them under suspicion.


    '@Ack' is correct; it just didn't work because you don't have a space between the '...' and the '@'.
     
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  17. Threadmarks: Part Eighteen: No Sale
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Wyvern

    Part Eighteen: No Sale

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


    Shadow Stalker

    Being tased hurt.

    Sophia could've done without that knowledge, but she'd already acquired it months earlier when the PRT had captured her while out patrolling. Or rather, that was what she called it. The PRT apparently termed it 'looking for people to assault'.

    Which, she had to say, was highly insulting. She didn't go after just any people. That was what criminals did. Shadow Stalker wasn't a criminal; she was a hero. And the sooner people recognised the truth and started cutting her the slack she deserved, the better for all concerned.

    So what if they had a whole lot of rules designed to trip her up and make her look bad? It wasn't like she'd meant it when she signed on the dotted line, promising to follow all those stupid regulations. Emma had once told her anything signed under duress was legally null and void, and what was the threat of being thrown into juvey if not a whole shitload of duress?

    Still, being able to bluff the PRT into thinking she was pulling her weight and toeing the line and all the rest of that kumbayah teamwork bullshit had been … useful. All she'd had to do was bite her tongue and think happy thoughts about reaching the end of her probation when she was around Gallant, and she'd been golden. They needed her a lot more than she needed them, that was for damn sure.

    And so what if she felt the need to blow off a little steam when she was at school, and Hebert was the perfect target? If the wimpy little queef wanted it to stop, all she had to do was stay away from Sophia. Leave Winslow. Leave Brockton Bay. Fuckin' just take a running jump off a nice tall building; whatever it took for Emma to get over her once and for all. Sophia couldn't believe Ems had ever actually been friends with that dweeb, not for real. It must've been some sort of phase or something.

    Meanwhile, in Sophia's opinion, Militia had seriously overstepped her authority when it came to the way she dealt with the Hebert thing. Shadow Stalker had never punched or kicked Hebert, or shoved her in her locker, or done a damn thing to her. That had all been Sophia, acting as a civilian.

    Militia should've done her duty as a kiss-ass Protectorate member and protected Sophia's secret identity first and foremost. Sweep the whole fucking thing under the rug, give Sophia a rap over the knuckles and maybe a few weeks on monitor duty, they get to keep her as Shadow Stalker, nobody important gets hurt. But no, she had to let the lines get blurry and step in on the civilian side where she had no business interfering, backing up the stupid damn cops and letting everyone know that Sophia Hess was Shadow Stalker.

    And now Hebert now knew Sophia was Shadow Stalker. That was maybe the worst part. Wimpy, weakling Hebert, along with her stupid scrawny father (who actually cared enough to show up and support his daughter—shut up!) knew it was Shadow Stalker, a Ward, who had been tuning her up on the regular. In an ideal world, nobody would give a good goddamn about this, but in the last hour it had been made astonishingly clear to her that the world was anything other than ideal. Especially since they'd actually called the damn cops on her, and Blackwell now knew the extent of what she'd been doing.

    Which was why Sophia had decided to remove the witnesses from the equation. The Heberts, father and daughter, weren't anyone she'd miss. Likewise the cops; even when she'd filled that sergeant in on why it was imperative they didn't look behind the locker, the bitch had gone ahead and done it anyway. Militia and the PRT troopers were an active part of the system that had been holding her back for the last six months, so fuck 'em. Blackwell had only ever been a means to an end, as had Alan Barnes. Emma … well, sometimes sacrifices had to be made. Also, she wasn't sure how much she'd be able to trust the redhead not to roll over on her about this. Emma was a fighter, a survivor, but there were limits.

    It had been a good plan, too, for one that she'd come up with on the fly. Put down the PRT goons, set fire to the school, let it burn down and 'accidentally' kill everyone who was trapped in the confoam. Right up until Militia had somehow managed to get out and come after her. That was where it had all gone to hell, right there. She'd almost made it to the window, too.

    Being tased by Miss Militia, especially with a taser designed specifically to take her down, sucked giant hairy sweaty donkey balls. She was just glad she'd nailed Militia first. Gut shots were the worst. She'd read somewhere it took people hours or days to die from them, and it was painful as fuck.

    As muscular control returned to her, she stirred weakly. Her hearing was starting to come back as well; or at least, the high-pitched ringing in her ears was giving way to a steady crackling sound. The acrid smell of smoke gave her the clue as to what was wrong with that sound. Fire. I'm still in the fucking school. Fuck.

    She inched her eyes open, gradually becoming aware that her hands were fastened behind her. Cuffs? I can ghost right out of those. But somehow it didn't feel like cuffs. Every time she tugged at them, they tugged right back at her skin.

    "Don't even think about it," Militia said from behind her. "I've duct taped your hands together. Power testing indicates you can't use your power to get away from that. Go to shadow, and I tase you again. This time I might not let up. Just try me, Stalker. Please."

    Okay, that was bad. In fact, it had the potential to be really fuckin' bad. There was only one good thing about it. Specifically, Militia probably didn't know that Sophia could go into shadow and come out of it with her hands in front of her, duct tape or no goddamn duct tape. It just depended on her being faster on the draw than the Protectorate cape. So to speak.

    Of course, this required that Militia be distracted for at least a few seconds, something which probably wasn't going to happen. Even with an arrow in her gut, the Protectorate hero was still a hardass of the highest calibre. There was no way turn her back or let Sophia go just because. Which meant if Sophia was going to get out of this, distracting Militia was top priority.

    Carefully (because Flag Bitch might just have turned that stupid multiweapon power into a high-calibre handgun pointed at her favourite spine) Sophia turned her head toward her captor. "Just gonna say, maybe we should get out of here before we have that conversation? You know, so we don't burn to death or something stupid like—holy fuck, what the fuck is that thing?"

    Normally, Sophia prided herself on being cool, calm and collected in all situations. Her 'I am the night' persona wouldn't be nearly as scary if she let herself get punked out over the smallest thing. But when her eyes passed over the door Militia had kicked open and she saw amid the drifting smoke a red and gold lizard-like thing with a raised crest and partially spread wings, she lost it just for a second. It didn't help in the slightest that the lizard-thing was giving her the evil eye, or that it seemed to possess more teeth than the entire membership of the Merchants combined. So she could be excused for her momentary loss of self-control. At least, that was her story and she was sticking to it.

    "Wyvern." Was Militia's voice getting weaker? "New Wave's latest member. Surely you were briefed?"

    "Uh … maybe?" Sophia remembered sitting in for a briefing, but she hadn't paid much attention. Whatever the squirt and the others had been geeking out about over couldn't have been that important. Yeah, yeah, Inago went down, big deal. He'd be back. She'd actually been more interested in the text conversation with Emma and Madison over who'd blown up Hebert's locker. Good prank, great execution, but whoever it was had maybe overdone it a tad with the explosives.

    Anyway, so what if New Wave now had a pet dragon? Sophia didn't know it, and it didn't know her. When it had arrived in Winslow, and what it had to do with what was going right now, wasn't exactly something that was high on her list of priorities. Dealing with the Protectorate and PRT, now that they'd stabbed her in the back, was far more important.

    There was a rumble and a roar of flames, and a billow of smoke rolled in through the open doorway. Sophia coughed, tasting the acrid fumes at the back of her throat. Her eyes began to water. Fuck, I want to get out of here alive!

    The dragon-thing turned its head toward the noise, just as a near-inarticulate shout sounded from out of Sophia's direct line of sight. All she heard was, "Need a hand!"

    It looked back toward Militia and Sophia, then vanished into the roiling smoke. About thirty seconds later, there was another rending crash and what sounded like a scream, and in that moment Sophia acted. Flickering into shadow form and back out again, she reformed on her feet with her hands in front of her. The duct tape was still in place, damn it, but at least she was free to move.

    Militia tried to bring the taser up to shoot at Sophia, but the wound and the distraction slowed her down just enough that Sophia was able to kick her in the face first. While the rubber-toed sneaker wouldn't have done much damage, Militia's head bounced off the wall hard enough to put her out altogether. The taser went off anyway, but fortunately only one prong jabbed painfully into Sophia's leg while the other whipped past to fall short of the far wall. The tac-tac-tac did nothing at all.

    Brushing the prong free of her leg, Sophia snatched up the last of her discarded arrows in her still-bound hands and dived through the wall. Reforming on her feet once outside, she started away at a brisk walk, hands carefully manipulating the arrow so she could bring the sharp edge of the head into contact with the duct tape on her wrists without either slashing her own veins open or accidentally stabbing herself in the gut. Because while Sophia rarely got top marks in English, she was pretty sure that would be the definition of 'irony', right there.

    It was only when she was a dozen yards away, with the duct tape already beginning to part under the razor-edged metal, that she realised she should've finished off Militia before she went. The Heberts, father and daughter, she could hunt down at her leisure. Same with the cops and Blackwell. Emma and her father, she figured, could be persuaded to not say a fucking word about anything that had gone down. Barnes was a lawyer; he knew how the world worked.

    But if Militia said the PRT should hunt down Sophia, they'd fucking well do it. With everyone else, they'd dodge and obfuscate (she was fairly sure she knew what that word meant) and do everything they could to pretend that one of their Wards hadn't gone off the reservation. Militia, on the other hand, was a cape. She was part of the club and knew the secret handshakes. The Protectorate and PRT would listen to her.

    On the other hand, she'd been hit pretty hard by that arrow. The blood trail had been fairly impressive. Sophia had seen people bleed out from less than that, and those people hadn't been in burning buildings at the time. Also, if the veteran cape actually came to from that cheap shot Sophia had pulled, there was every chance she'd shoot Sophia on sight, given even one-tenth of a chance. It was what Sophia would do, after all.

    The last of the duct tape came apart and her hands were free. It was decision time. Go back and finish her off, or keep going? She dithered—the open space of the sports field beckoned to her—then took one step back toward the building. Fuck it, I'm gonna have to—

    That was when she heard the deep throaty rumble of Armsmaster's bike, coming in fast. Immediately, her threat assessment jumped to a whole new level. She'd heard rumours he was working on a lie detector for his helmet HUD, though whether this was true or just another Armsmaster story (like the one where he'd supposedly modified his halberd to ride on like a witch's broomstick) she had no idea. But either way, he had zero chill ("Why doesn't Armsmaster have a sense of humour? It wouldn't fit in his helmet, so he had to take it out.") and she really, really didn't want to go up against him.

    There was nothing for it but a strategic retreat. I'll get you fuckers later. Turning on her heel, she set off toward the sports field at a steady trot.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Despite being the best-adapted for this particular situation, I felt remarkably helpless. The heat didn't bother me, and I had no problems breathing; even when the air seemed more smoke than actual air. But I couldn't grab the spray-cans of solvent like Dad was doing and use them to get people out of the containment foam. All I could do was follow his instruction and watch Miss Militia and Sophia.

    Behind me, I could hear Dad coughing—he'd torn the sleeve off his shirt and wrapped it around his face, which helped a bit but not a huge amount—as he sprayed down the mass of containment foam. Emma and her father were released first, because they'd been farthest from me and Dad; the cops and Blackwell were still in there somewhere.

    "Danny?" Alan Barnes coughed convulsively from the smoke. "What's going on? Where's Taylor?"

    "I sent her to get help! Get Emma out of here!" Dad was in full-on Dockworker mode.

    "Dad? What's that?" Clearly, Emma had just seen me. I turned my head to give her a good hard look. Yeah. Look at what you did. Something in my eyes, or maybe my bared teeth, made her give a little shriek and step back.

    "It's Wyvern, of New Wave!" shouted Dad. "Now get out of here!"

    They didn't need more encouragement; I heard their hurried footsteps receding down the hallway. Emma knew Winslow well, so they'd get out without any problems. I was more worried about Dad. The smoke couldn't be doing him any good at all.

    Then I was distracted as Sophia stirred and half rolled over. She looked directly at me and I gave her the same glare that I had with Emma. I'd taken quite enough shit from that lot today already, and I wasn't backing down from them anymore.

    It seemed to work. She'd started to say something that I couldn't quite hear because of the fire; when she saw me, her voice raised to a startled yelp. "Holy fuck, what the fuck is that thing?"

    Now, that was the sort of reaction I wanted from someone like her. She and her friends might feel free and easy about messing with me as Taylor Hebert, but nobody in their right mind messed with me as Wyvern. Without breaking eye contact, I curled my lips back a little more, just so she could get a nice clear look at all the really sharp teeth I had as the wyvern. All the better to chew you up and spit you out with, my dear.

    Unfortunately, I didn't hear the rest of what was said, but Sophia kept a wary eye on me all the same, for which I was obscurely pleased. Now you think I'm more than just a target for your bullying. About damn time.

    And then, of course, things had to go sideways. Dad had just freed Blackwell and was starting on the cops—three cans down, one to go—when there was a roar of flame and a sound like stuff breaking. When I turned and looked, Dad was recoiling from burning bits of ceiling that were coming down over the mass of containment foam. "Taylor!" he yelled. "Need a little hand here!"

    I glanced one more time at Miss Militia. She seemed to be still doing okay—I really didn't like the amount of blood soaking into her costume, but there was exactly nothing I could do about that. Then I went to help out with the fire.

    The bits of ceiling panel and wooden framework made me wonder if the roof was going to come down after all. For sure, they'd need to tear down this part of the school and build it all up again from scratch. Or maybe they'd just condemn the whole damn shithole and start fresh. I could see myself accidentally-on-purpose setting fire to other parts of it if that would help matters along. Mr. Gladly's classroom would be a good start. Nothing worthwhile ever happened there.

    But now was not the time for fun daydreams. Darting forward, I swept a wing up and around to try to bat out the flames before the burning pieces of debris could melt their way through to the police officers. That didn't really work, so I leaned up and forward, stretching my neck so I could grab the burning chunk of wooden framework with my teeth. Once I had a good grip, I pulled it away from the melting foam—did I mention that when containment foam melts, it stinks? It reeks—and tossed it to one side. Then I did the same with the pieces of ceiling panel that had fallen down.

    Seriously, did the idiots who built Winslow have to make everything as flammable as they could? I mean, sure, asbestos wasn't exactly the best thing to use in a school, but there were other options out there. Unless they hated kids. That was actually an option, I figured. It would definitely explain a lot of things about Winslow.

    I got the bits of ceiling and wood away from the foam, allowing Dad to get back to work with the spray-can. Whatever was in that stuff was like magic, making the yellow foam—now stained black with smoke—just plain melt into nothing. And not in a bad stick-to-your-skin way.

    "Almost done!" he yelled over the sound of the fire as he sprayed Sergeant Gainsford and the others free, starting from the top and working his way down. To my relief, they were all still alive and conscious, though their expressions when they saw me were more than a little dubious.

    Still, it seemed he had matters under control. I was just about to go back and check on Miss Militia when there was a rending crack from above. As if in slow motion, I looked up and saw that a lot more of the ceiling, plus what could've been bits of the floor from the next story up, were starting to come down. Dad had only gotten down to their waists; they were helpless against the burning rubble tumbling down on top of them.

    My wings were big, strong and relatively fireproof, but they just weren't big enough. I wasn't big enough. But I'd been bigger when I needed to, before. Lurching forward, brushing Dad out of the way, I raised my wings … and got bigger. Weirdly, the corridor seemed to shrink around me as my wings swept into place over the police officers like a red and gold tent. I heard a scream from one of the cops; I wasn't sure if it was because of the imminent danger or because the strange dragon-thing had just grown two sizes and lunged at them.

    Several chunks of burning wood and more bits of ceiling were now on top of my wings, which were resting on the cops' heads. I wasn't in any particular pain or discomfort, except from where I was holding my wings in an awkward position. Turning my head, I gave Dad an impatient chirp; hurry up and get them free.

    "Oh, right." He stared up at me, then at my wings, and shook his head. It dawned on me that this was the first time he'd seen how big I could get, in person anyway. He ducked under the shelter formed by my pinions and I could hear him spraying away industriously.

    One by one, the cops were released and slid out from under my wings, allowing me to lower them and let the still-burning debris slide off them onto the floor. Folding them back out of the way, I turned back to see what was going on with Miss Militia. And that was when I discovered that she was unconscious and Sophia was gone.

    Letting out a screech of alarm, I dashed forward into the room. Outside, through the window, I could see Sophia making her getaway across the sports field. But Miss Militia was right there. Was she dying? I couldn't tell. Turning my head back toward the open doorway, I let out another screech, trying to get Dad's attention. The last I'd seen, he'd been helping one of the cops who had been suffering from smoke inhalation, but I needed his help now.

    Leaning down over Miss Militia, I eyed her worriedly. She was still breathing, I could tell, but she didn't look good. Under her hand, her power was flickering from one weapon to the next, too fast to keep up. Drawing in a deep breath, I opened my mouth to let out a third screech. I needed Dad—I needed hands—and I needed them now.

    And that was when the motorcycle smashed its way in through the wall, Kool-Aid Man style. All it lacked was the Ohh Yeahh! sound effect, but that was made up for by the thunderous roar of the engine and the screech of the tyres as it pulled a one-eighty stop, knocking desks and chairs aside. Even before the bike stopped moving, Armsmaster had dismounted and pulled his halberd from his back. He pointed it at me, making it unfold to its full length in a gorgeous symphony of technological capability.

    "Step away from Miss Militia!" he commanded, speakers on his helmet amplifying his voice.

    My elation at seeing a hero on site died a premature death.

    Well, fuck. He's just gonna straight-up arrest me. Looks like we were right about him being behind this all along.

    <><>​

    Armsmaster

    Colin angled the bike to cut around a car, then accelerated just enough to get through the lights before they turned red. He was in the zone. Things were going exactly the way he wanted. Once he had the chance to speak with Wyvern and explain to her that she would be far better off in the Wards under his tutelage, she would understand.

    The threat of sending her to juvenile detention (if he had to use it at all) would only ever be that; a threat. A means to an end. There was no way he would really risk losing such a potential asset to the legal system. But if he had to bring it out, just to emphasise to her the severity of the stakes at hand, then that was what he'd do.

    He was a veteran superhero with decades of fighting crime under his utility belt. She was a teenager, the newest of newbies to the cape scene, with an unstable and unpredictable power. To his mind, the laxity New Wave afforded their younger generation was a recipe for disaster just waiting to happen. They simply were not ready to take on such a volatile powerset; there was no way they could plan for every eventuality. Not like he could.

    Winslow High School came into view. His infrared scanners located a hotspot within the building, with smoke trailing upward from it. Students, urged on by teachers, were straggling from the school, though by no means as fast as they should be. Some, it seemed, were wandering onward and leaving the school grounds altogether. He would've considered speaking to them about the benefits of a good education but from what he knew of Winslow, a good education was probably the last thing they were getting there. Besides, he had bigger fish to fry … so to speak.

    "Armsmaster to Console," he subvocalised. "What's the latest from Miss Militia on the Wyvern situation?" That there was a Wyvern situation, he had no doubt; it was what he'd been prepped for by the anonymous message, and why he was closing in on the school right at that moment. Besides, the school was on fire. How clear could it get?

    As for who had sent the original message, he wasn't entirely sure. His best guess was a Thinker of some sort, one who wanted to stay under the radar while helping keep the city safe. He was fine with that; if they didn't want the credit for his victories, he would happily take it. Every bit of good press he could garner added up in the eyes of his superiors, and further ensured that he would maintain his position as leader of the Protectorate ENE.

    "Console to Armsmaster. Miss Militia is not answering comms."

    Well, that was … concerning, to say the least. Hannah was as tough as they came. Even if she'd been injured earlier, she'd been able to capture Shadow Stalker and report back about that, so what had caused the change in status? He'd have to check on that, but a rampaging Wyvern was still a high priority, if only because of the potential harm to innocents in the line of fire.

    Blasting across the carpark, he ignored the slowly accreting bunch of students, as well as those leaving the grounds altogether, and altered course to circle the school. Gathering intel before jumping into the situation was a good idea, and he didn't feel like having to search half the school for his quarry. With a flick of his eyes, he told the bike to train its sensors on the building and report back on any large heat source. As an afterthought, he added in a command to ping Miss Militia's IFF chip.

    Bumping over ill-maintained flower gardens—the work he'd put into the improved suspension really paid off when it came to off-road travel—he swept around the side of Winslow. Another student caught his attention, most of the way across the playing field, and he sighed in exasperation. Did they honestly not understand that getting into the habit of ditching school would lead to a lack of motivation and advancement in later life?

    The momentary irritation was swept from his mind when his bike threw up an image on his HUD. A composite IR/visible light picture showed Wyvern within a classroom just up ahead. She wasn't breathing flames right at that moment, but some of the windows were open and smoke was pouring out. Farther back behind her, the IR sensors detected a serious heat source, on the order of open flame.

    And then, one more part of the image filled itself in. Clear on the wall-penetrating IR, slumped against the wall below the windows, directly in front of Wyvern, was a human figure. Pinging from that very location was Miss Militia's IFF chip. As he watched, Wyvern opened her inhuman jaws wide, sharp teeth visible even from dozens of yards away. Crap. Crap, crap, crap. She's gone off the rails.

    "Emergency entry," he told his bike crisply. "Expedite."

    "Emergency entry, roger," it replied in his helmet. He turned the handlebars and pointed the bike at a section of wall that didn't have anyone behind it, then opened the throttle. The bike did the rest.

    Temporary shields popped out of the bike to protect his face, arms and legs. With a sudden burst of speed, it popped a wheelie and accelerated toward the side of the school. Several other mechanisms disassembled themselves and reformed as a hardened penetrator on the front of the bike. Just yards away from impact, JATO packs engaged, literally blasting the bike up and off the ground.

    The shock of impact wasn't as jarring as he'd expected; just as with everything else, it appeared Winslow was shoddily constructed. Pieces of wall went flying as he smashed on through, the onboard gyros allowing him to touch down and keep control of the bike instead of taking a tumble. The instant the wheels were on the ground, he signalled an all-stop. Using a stunt he'd practised ever since he saw it in a movie, he stepped off the bike while it was still sliding to a halt.

    It was as bad as he'd thought. The corridor beyond the room was on fire; he could hear people coughing but nobody was calling for help. In this room, however, a blood trail led from the door all the way over to where Miss Militia lay slumped against the wall. Looming over her, teeth still bared, was Wyvern. His helmet sensors told him that his colleague was still breathing, but she was in a bad way. I have to shut this situation down fast, and get her to medical assistance.

    Without even having to think about it, he unracked his halberd. It was a newer model, upgraded from a spare since Wyvern had melted the head from the last one. This one was designed to be far more heat resistant, and utilised a new cutting head that didn't depend on plasma, just in case she was immune to heat damage. Not that he had any intention of using it against her, but the old saw about it being better to have and not need was as true as ever.

    "Step away from Miss Militia!" he barked, pointing the halberd at the menacing draconic figure. No matter how angry she might be, a dominant pose and a commanding voice should get through to her.

    After a moment, during which time he thought she might be about to attack him, she took several steps back from the fallen hero, then screeched at him. The sound clearly had meaning, but he would have to wait until he'd worked out the software before he could begin translating her various non-verbal sounds. It would be much more convenient if she could learn to talk at the smaller sizes rather than the huge one, but he'd have to wait and see on that one. Perhaps some careful coaching …

    He moved closer to Miss Militia, placing himself between her and the still-agitated Wyvern (not at her smallest size, he noted, but fortunately not as big as a minivan) and glanced downward. Just as his helmet recorded an anomalous data point—Miss Militia had been shot with an arrow, not bitten or clawed by a wyvern—a tall lanky man staggered into the room amid a new cloud of smoke. Dragging a makeshift mask from his mouth, the blackened and apparently scorched newcomer coughed painfully then gasped out, "Armsmaster, you idiot! Shadow Stalker did all this!"

    Shadow Stalker did all this. That one phrase wrecked all of his future plans for the teen hero. He stared at her, then at Miss Militia and the incriminating arrow. Well, fuck.

    When he looked up again, he was staring right down Wyvern's open gullet, at a brightly gathering glow. Why is she attacking me anyway? Wildly, he ducked aside as she made a noise like a cat clearing a hairball and a coruscating ball twice the size of his fist shot out of her mouth. It cleared his shoulder by perhaps a foot, and he brought up his halberd again. "You missed," he said uncertainly.

    She gave a derisive chirp and nodded toward the window. Turning, he saw that one of the panes had been shattered, and the bright spark of flame was rocketing onward, toward …

    … the sole figure running across the sports field.

    The dark-skinned figure, who was less than ten seconds away from reaching the houses on the far side and disappearing into the labyrinth long before he could get back to his bike and mount a pursuit.

    He had a sinking feeling he knew exactly who that was.

    The spark vanished, more or less at the running figure's feet. There was a sudden burst of fire, a crack of detonation, and a concussion that he felt even where he was. The fireball dissipated, to show the figure rag-dolling through the air. She landed hard, and didn't move.

    "Shadow Stalker." He knew it was the truth.

    She let out a satisfied chirp—even with no software whatsoever, he was still able to translate it as no shit, Sherlock—then nodded toward Miss Militia and let out another, more urgent chirp. Help her, dumbass.

    Well, that was something he could definitely do. "Bike," he ordered. "Dispense emergency medical supplies."

    He might not get Wyvern as a sidekick, but at the very least he was going to save Hannah's life.

    <><>​

    Taylor, Later

    Dad and I sat side by side on the back step of an ambulance, with blankets over our shoulders. From time to time, Dad took a breath from an oxygen canister. His cough was getting better, for which I was glad. Principal Blackwell and the cops had gotten it worse, and were being treated a little distance away. Emma and her father, having gotten out earlier, were sitting on the back of another ambulance; she was ignoring me and I was ignoring her.

    Personally, I was just glad Dad had had the forethought to pack extra clothing along to this meeting, just on general principles. It took a little sleight of hand to get me the privacy to change and dress, but we'd managed it.

    The first we knew of New Wave's arrival was when Vicky came in for a flashy landing in the middle of everyone. Not too flashy; she was carrying Amy at the time, so she couldn't do her classic three-pointer. But she definitely got everyone's attention anyway.

    Letting Amy down onto her feet, she headed in our direction while Amy peeled off toward the cops. I was glad to see them both; Sergeant Gainsford had been nothing but understanding and professional toward me, and she'd seen through Sophia's bullshit even while Blackwell ate it up with a spoon.

    Before Vicky got to us, Sarah Pelham touched down and let Carol Dallon out of her force-field bubble. They followed Vicky toward us, Sarah looking happy that we were alive and Carol just looking like a shark who wanted to tear someone in half. Or a lawyer; one of the two.

    "Hi!" Vicky greeted us happily. "You're looking better than I expected. Well, mostly." She eyed Dad's signs of battle. "How bad was it?"

    "Well, before we found out that Sophia Hess is Shadow Stalker, it was going fairly well," I said.

    That got everyone's attention. Vicky's eyes went wide and Carol drew in air between her teeth. Sarah blinked in surprise. "Should you be talking about this?"

    "She's not a hero," I said bluntly. "Nobody who murders four men and tries to murder nine other people is in any way, shape or form a hero. So fuck her. When we pulled her locker out from the wall—the locator beacon on the Decoy was perfect for that, by the way, Mrs. Dallon—it turned out she was using it to stash a spare costume and sharp arrows. She went kinda crazy on us, the PRT guys tried to foam her and got everyone else, she murdered them, then set fire to the school so we'd die too."

    Vicky nodded. "Well, that explains a lot. Um, I don't see Miss Militia around anywhere. What happened … is she …?"

    "Still alive, last I heard," Dad supplied. "Shadow Stalker got her in the stomach with an arrow. Fortunately, Armsmaster was able to get her fluids up again. They were talking about how she was stable when they loaded her into the other ambulance."

    "Good," Carol said crisply. "And the Decoy?"

    I gestured to where Armsmaster was still talking to the cops. "I think he had it, or something? It got foamed into the wall, and we had to leave it behind. We're not gonna need it to sink Sophia, but it'll be handy to get Emma and Madison behind the eight-ball."

    "Thank you. I'll be back." Carol strode away, on a bee-line toward the armoured hero.

    "Looks like you've had it rough," Sarah said. "So what happened to Sophia … well, Shadow Stalker? Don't tell me she got away."

    I grinned. "Nope. I sniped her with an explosive fireball at three hundred yards. Turned every blade of grass in a fifteen-foot radius to ash, blew her twenty feet in the air, broke half her ribs plus one collarbone and her right arm, and gave her a concussion. Also, first and second degree burns over forty percent of her body, and she's got no hair at the moment. None."

    Vicky's eyes flew wide open and she clapped her hands over her mouth. "Holy shit." Her voice was muffled, but not muffled enough. "Holy shit. You fuckin' wrecked her shit."

    "I would say 'language', Victoria, but yes, you are essentially correct." Mrs. Pelham tried to hide a smile but didn't quite succeed. "And as much as I am opposed to extrajudicial punishment, I would say that she very much deserved everything she got."

    "Who deserved what?" Amy strolled into the informal group. "Hi, Taylor. Hi, Mr. Hebert. Who needs healing, here?"

    "Help Dad," I said immediately. "You can pretend to heal me just for show, but I'm good. Wyvern resilience for the win."

    "And then we're going to find out where they've taken Miss Militia, and we're going to go fix her," Vicky said. "She got shot by Shadow Stalker while helping Taylor, so it's the least we can do."

    Amy had opened her mouth at the beginning of Vicky's little speech, but by the end of it she closed it again. Slowly, she nodded. "Okay, sure. Just as soon as someone tells me why Shadow Stalker shot Miss Militia, when this was all about Taylor and her bullies."

    I sighed. It was good that Amy was the last person we were going to have to bring up to speed on this little nugget of info. "Shadow Stalker—" I began.

    "—is Sophia Hess," Vicky butted in, then gave me an innocent look when I shot her a glare. "What? It's true."

    "Well, shit." Amy blinked. "That's … news, alright. So she's a villain now?"

    "Always has been, as far as I'm concerned," I said bluntly. "She just used to put on a costume and pretend otherwise. But don't forget, before she got shoehorned into the Wards—" thank you, Dockworkers gossip mill— "she used to 'pretend' with razor-sharp arrows."

    "Well, there's that too," allowed Amy. She placed her hand on Dad's shoulder. "Let's get that scorching taken care of, and clear out your lungs. Okay, done. So, what happened to Shadow Stalker? She get away?"

    Vicky's expression was brimming with mischief, so I rolled my eyes and gestured in her direction. "Go ahead. You know you want to."

    "Cool." She didn't even pretend to be reluctant about it. "So Wyvern sees her running away, right? All the way across the sports field. She could fly after her, but why bother?"

    Despite herself, Amy was drawn into the narrative. "So what did she do?"

    "Explosive fireball." Vicky enunciated the words with great enjoyment. "From three hundred yards out. Booom. Broken bones all over, first and second degree burns, a concussion and no hair left."

    Amy blinked again. "I say once more; well, shit. I am impressed. Also, a concussion means I can't heal her."

    Vicky raised her eyebrows sceptically. "Really? You can't heal any of that if she's got a concussion?"

    If I didn't know Amy was spouting the purest of bullshit, I would've almost been taken in by her innocent expression. "Absolutely. Can't touch brains, remember?"

    Dad also looked sceptical. "I'm not sure that's how you said your power worked."

    Amy smirked at him. "Hey, Mr. Hebert, it's my power. It works like I say it works."

    The penny dropped and he shrugged. "Good point. I'm no expert in these things."

    Carol Dallon returned to us, head held high, carrying both the Decoy and the remote. The former had suffered a little more from being foamed and then saved by firefighters, but it was still essentially intact. Having been in Sergeant Gainsford's custody for most of the incident, the remote was in better shape. At least, it looked that way.

    "All good, Mrs. Dallon?" I asked, getting up from where I was sitting. "Sorry about the damage. I did not expect ninety percent of that to happen."

    "It all appears to be still functional, which considering the money I outlaid on it, I'm not surprised." She gave me a tight smile. "I hear you acquitted yourself well today. Armsmaster had nothing but praise for Wyvern."

    "Well, that's good." I snorted with amusement. "Considering how he was acting like I was the bad guy when he first arrived."

    "Really." She turned and looked across at Armsmaster, who was just stepping astride his bike and looking in totally the wrong direction. All the same, he swivelled his helmet toward us, reversed his motion, and strode across toward us. Still holding the Decoy and remote, Carol folded her arms and awaited his approach.

    "Can I help you, Brandish?" he asked as he came up to us.

    "Yes." She skewered him with a hard gaze. "You can tell me why you set up the situation at Winslow to entrap Taylor."

    He tilted his head slightly. "I'm not sure what you're talking about. What situation am I supposed to have set up?"

    "You know what situation." Her voice was hard-edged. "Taylor has been getting bullied. You engineered a legal requirement for her to go back into Winslow so that she would be provoked into Changing in public, and you could swoop in and save the day, and get her into the Wards. Unfortunately for you, she didn't actually commit any crimes. Also, she exposed your corrupt Ward."

    This time he paused for a long moment. "I … may have been the target of misinformation."

    She didn't give an inch. "Explain."

    It was clear he didn't like being on the spot; not one little bit. "I … received an anonymous notification that Wyvern would go on a rampage at Winslow today. I figured I could be on hand to stop her …" He paused, clearly decided that he wasn't convincing Carol, and kept going. "… and make sure she didn't go into juvey. A power like hers is too versatile to be kept behind bars."

    "So instead you were going to stick me in the Wards, where I clearly didn't want to be," I interjected. "So much for free will, hey?"

    "I understand that you don't want to be in the Wards," he said carefully. "But I did not initiate the situation. Heroes get anonymous tips all the time."

    "You just decided to capitalise on it, and not tell anyone else." I raised my eyebrows. "I'm not exactly seeing you as the good guy, here."

    Again, there was a pause. "I can … understand why you would not. And for that, I'm sorry." These sounded like words he wasn't used to saying. "It's just that … you have such potential." In that one word was the first real emotion I'd heard from him yet.

    "And that potential goes where Taylor says, not you." Vicky shook her head. "Seriously, wow."

    Sarah Pelham stepped up. "I think it would be best if you went, Armsmaster." She shook her head. "And maybe think about where you went wrong."

    Wordlessly—possibly because he couldn't think of the right thing to say, and didn't want to mess things up even further—Armsmaster turned and walked away. As he did so, Sergeant Gainsford and the two other officers who'd been with us in the foam approached.

    Gainsford looked from me to Carol to Armsmaster. "Is it just me, or did armour-boy just get a brand-new asshole torn for him?"

    Dad chuckled, lightening the moment. "Something like that. Good to see you on your feet, Sergeant." He performed introductions around the group. "These fine officers were escorting Taylor when Sophia Hess went off the rails."

    "Ah, good to meet you." Mrs. Dallon extended her hand. "Carol Dallon. Any friend of Taylor's is a friend of mine."

    "Ahh, so you're the brains behind those devices." Gainsford smiled. "They certainly made it a lot easier to find the hidden stash. Things got a lot more fraught after the fact, of course."

    Dad nodded. "Yes, yes, they did."

    The one called Callan looked at me and frowned. "So, where did you get to when it all started happening, kid? I don't recall seeing you."

    "I got her free first," Dad said. "Sent her to call for help. Why?"

    Gainsford caught her subordinate's eye, and made a subtle slicing motion with her hand. "No reason," she said airily. "I'm just glad we got out alive, and that little psycho went down hard. I have to say, if it wasn't for Wyvern, I don't think we would've survived. Isn't that right, Callan?"

    Callan blinked. "Ah, right, yeah. Totally. Sorry, dunno where my brain went to." He gave me a nod and a smile. "Good to see you got out okay. Stay safe, alright?"

    "I'll definitely do that." I gave Gainsford a nod of acknowledgement. "And thanks, for everything."

    "Any time, kid." She gathered her troops by eye and they headed off.

    I felt myself relaxing ever so slightly. "Okay," I muttered. "That could've gone a lot worse."

    Vicky nodded. "It totally could've. Mom, can you find out where they took Miss Militia? We need to go heal her."

    Dad put his arm around my shoulder. "Congratulations. You caught another supervillain."

    I leaned back into him. "Yay."

    <><>​

    Elsewhere in the United States

    "A dragon? Really?" Jack Slash turned the news up. "What will they think of next?"

    Bonesaw leaned into the room. "What was that about a dragon, Mr. Jack?"

    He rolled his eyes. "Brockton Bay, one of my old hangouts. One of the local teams has apparently acquired a real live dragon as a member. Publicity stunt, if you ask me. Media vampires, the lot of them."

    Her eyes widened. "Oooh. Can we go see?"

    "Really?" Well, it was a good idea to keep his poppet happy. "I'll think about it."

    "Yay!"


    End of Part Eighteen
     
  18. Scopas

    Scopas Know what you're doing yet?

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    Ah yes, very nice chapter! I was concerned that Sophia would be able to escape, and thus her arc would be drawn out further, but I'm glad she unceremoniously got blasted just as she almost got off-screen. Good show!

    And I'm glad that Armsmaster has at least apologized. It's literally the least he can do, but it's better than trying to throw good money after bad by dogging Taylor even further.

    And of course, Old Jack just can't stop watching the damned news, can he? He sure seems to rely on the networked talking heads for lots of his information gathering! I wonder if he's got a PHO account too, so he can lurk in the wild mass guessing boards? It's petty, but I bet he's the kind of guy who'd really love trolling people if he didn't have the ability to make them bleed in real life already.
     
    Ack likes this.
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