This story begins in the middle of chapter 21.6, the fight with Butcher and the Teeth. All characters are property of Wildbow.

"We're attacking," I said, and I spoke through the bugs that were near each of my allies. "Be ready."

My bugs swept into the building, ruining food, scattering money - but the priority target for the evening was Butcher. According to Lisa's debrief, while Butcher shouldn't feel any pain (courtesy of her twelfth incarnation), the mad cape had twitched a few times when I had used my power at our last meeting. Despite her Thinker power-induced headache, Tattletale had managed to piece together that it was possible one of Butcher's incarnations had been an entomophobe. For our plan to work, we needed Butcher disoriented and off-balance.

Which meant that while I was harassing all of the Teeth? I went after Butcher hard.

The rain was hampering my ability to collect local insects, particularly fliers, but I had whole hives of bees and wasps that I had brought from home, and knowing that Butcher was immune to pain meant that I could forgo treating their stingers with capsaicin in order to pack them in just as tight as possible.

Butcher had been seated, cleaning her enormous gun. She made it halfway to her feet before my insects swarmed her. For a few split seconds, the black and yellow insects crawled over her body, doing their best to focus stingers in sensitive locations, where her impervious skin was thinnest. Eyeballs and eyelids. Ear canals. The inside of the nose. The tongue and throat. Then, without even taking the time to put on her mask, she disappeared, and a cloud of flame blossomed on the roof of the building.

It was surprising, to see Butcher come out into the open so soon. Tattletale had briefed us on the Teeth's tactics, and their normal mode of operation was to form into lines of battle while members like Butcher and Animos attacked from behind cover. Still, the possibility of Butcher acting aggressively was nothing that we hadn't prepared for. Citrine shouted to the other Ambassadors, and Jacklight, Codex, and Ligeia opened fire, jets of water mixing with orbs of light and a ghostly glow in a rush of metahuman power towards Butcher's location. The geyser threw Butcher into the air, only for her to be caught in the orbit of one of the orbs and slammed back down, through the roof of the building.

I grinned savagely, and sent my swarm after Butcher again. Between the powers of Butchers Three and Six, Butcher had the ability to sense danger approaching and to teleport out of its way, but it seemed that ability had some sort of limit on how quickly it could be used, or Butcher would have dodged the blows.

The next time that she teleported, it was right into our midst. I felt flame wash over me as she appeared out of thin air, her unmasked face red and contorted with rage, her mouth frothed with spit. Behind me, Rachel released her dogs, thousands of pounds of snarling muscle bearing straight for her. Butcher charged forwards, holding her gatling gun like an oversized club, and for a second I saw my own inevitable death, my skull about to be crushed by a thousand-pound hunk of metal swung with superhuman strength.

Then Regent shouted, and one of her legs buckled out from under her.

When she looked up, I could see that her eyes were bloodshot, and her face was puffy and swollen. Spit still frothed her mouth, but rather than being contorted in rage her mouth was open to try and take in as much air as possible.

Shit. She wasn't flinching because she had a phobia. She was flinching because she has an ALLERGY! And I just stung her in her airways more times than any normal insect swarm would sting her!

Desperately I reached into a pouch in my costume, beetles and cockroaches working together to place the epinephrine injector into my hand. I was halfway to injecting her with it when Bentley and the other dogs ran past me and bowled Butcher over, worrying and tearing at her arms and legs and dragging her further away from our lines, further away from me. Butcher's eyes glowed a soft white as Codex blasted at her brain, draining her intelligence.

"Back off!" I shouted. "Back! Get the dogs back!"

Even as I tried to make myself heard over the din of Bitch's hellhounds, the door to the Teeth's hideout burst open. Seeing Butcher being literally dog-piled, the Teeth burst into action. Spree started to pump out legions of angry clones, fifteen loud angry bodies a second stampeding towards our battle lines. They were joined by the unpowered members of the Teeth, who had made their way around from the back of the building. Vex erected shimmering barriers of razor-sharp forcefields, Animos shifted to a beastlike form and bounded towards the fray, Hemorrhagia formed scab-swords out of her own blood, and I watched in despair as my route to saving Butcher's life dissolved into violent chaos.

Butcher was dying. And when she did, I was going to have killed her. I would become Butcher XV, host to fourteen sets of powers from Butchers past, host to fourteen insane voices, angry ghosts that would want nothing more than for me to turn on my friends, slaughter them brutally, and claim my place as the new leader of the Teeth.

Before that happened, though, while she was still choking to death? I was going to take out as many of the Teeth as possible, give my friends the closest thing I could to a fighting chance. I reached out with my thoughts, and the swarm answered. Up until now, I had been stinging, biting, trying to distract and incapacitate the Teeth with fear and pain, but not trying to blind or cripple. With Butcher about to crawl inside my skull, I was running out of time to play nice. Hornets dug their way into eyesockets. Dragonflies looped spidersilk around necks. Black widows and brown recluses went for the easiest places they could reach, whether that was the face or the leg. I strode forward myself, using my combat baton to strike the Spree clones that were getting in my way.

Between the aggression of my bugs and the lack of Butcher's firepower, the Teeth were going down easily. Imp appeared out of nowhere, her taser putting an end to Spree's clones. Hemorrhagia flailed, under assault from an unseen force as Othello stared at her impassively. Animos was pinned to the ground by one of Bitch's dogs, Citrine's yellow aura flaring around him and rendering him unable to use his power-nullification abilities. Grue threw a tight knot of darkness over Vex, keeping her from seeing where to put her forcefields, and slowly draining off her power. Ligeia sent firehose blasts of water into Reaver, pinning him to the ground.

I reached Butcher, and turned her over to check her face. It was bloated and pale, her lips blue. Her body thrashed with a giant's strength and an infant's coordination, superstrong muscles trying desperately to generate enough suction to force air through her swollen throat. Epi-pen in hand, I stabbed down frantically, catching her right in the chest. The needle was designed to go through clothes. You could put it right through denim jeans. Apparently, metahumanly durable skin was just a little bit tougher. I turned the Epi-pen around and looked at the bent needle, then back down at Butcher, and felt her convulse one last time as her heart stopped.

I felt mine stop, too.

An empty space. Two beings, colliding. One sophisticated, deft, almost gentle; a being used to many years with a partner, habituated to trades of shards, pulling the least valuable pieces of itself to cushion where they meet. The other crude, rough, a hoary and ancient thing, surviving the only way it knows how - by seeking out others of its kind and stealing from them to survive.

The trade is a violent one. Shards break off on impact, to be exchanged and collected. How easy, then, to slip in an extra shard, not broken off on impact but fired, a parasite. Built to siphon power from the entity, to record all of its tricks, and then to make its way free. A millennia later, the Thief would return.

An endless second later, it beat again. The battlefield had similarly stopped for a second, all of the powered fighters temporarily incapacitated for that split second of - something - but Tattletale's mercenaries and Bitch's dogs had pressed the advantage, and the Teeth were being thoroughly handled.

Then Vex screamed. "Shit! Butcher's dead!"

Pandemonium erupted. No longer concerned with victory, the remnants of the Teeth fled, rather than face their former commander in battle. Similarly, the Undersiders and the Ambassadors were willing to let them flee, looking around to find just exactly who had made the fatal error of killing the Butcher. Looking to find me.

I could feel a muttering in the back of my head, a chorus of my own personal Greek Furies, begging me to rip, to tear, to slaughter my friends and allies. I pleaded with that voice to be silent, and for the moment, it was. Not trusting myself to speak, I reached out to my swarm. "Butcher - or Quarrel, anyways - had an allergy to bee stings."

I stopped to let that sink in, and heard a low, moaned "oh god, no." from behind me. Brian. A small, distracted part of me couldn't help but feel happy, that he had felt so strongly as to let that slip.

"For now, I am in control. The plan will proceed as previously discussed. We make our way to the Harbor, Cherish makes the Butcher commit suicide, and the Undersiders and the Ambassadors go home." I'd hoped to make a difference, to try to redeem myself on the side of the law, but this... this somehow also worked. I might not be able to add to the good side of things, but I would be taking something evil out, and that was... if not enough, it was better than dying while accomplishing nothing at all.

"Bitch?" I asked as she walked up next to me, the monstrous mass of Bentley standing by her shoulder. "Call Tattletale for me? Please?" I hated the way my voice sounded, broken and sad, and I could feel the other Butchers at the back of my mind clamoring for freedom at the sign of weakness. I didn't know how long it would take, how long it would be before my thoughts were corrupted entirely, but for now... "I want to say goodbye."

Bitch didn't say anything. Sometimes she was completely oblivious to the way that people thought; she snapped and snarled at them like her namesake, keeping her distance from an unpredictable and unintelligible other. Other times, especially when people were in pain? She read body language on a completely intuitive level. Today was one of those times. I don't know what she saw, but rather than try to talk or to console me, she just dialed.

Regent, on the other hand, had no such understanding. "Seriously? This is how it's gonna be? You're just going to give up?"

"Would you prefer that I waited until I had no choice but to hang you with your own intestines?" I said, fragments of Butcher's memory leaking into my mind's eye. I gagged a little bit, and Regent took a step back. "Yeah. I didn't think so."

There was a click, and from the phone I could vaguely hear a tinny voice. "... Hello?" Her voice was thick with pain and exhaustion, and Bitch switching the call to speaker did little to improve the quality of the sound, though it did get louder. "Did everything go well? No, you wouldn't be calling me just for that. Something's wrong. Butcher's dead? OW! Please, somebody. Stop making me guess."

I swallowed hard. When I didn't chime in immediately, Regent spoke, having made his way to my shoulder. "Yeah, Butcher bit it. Turns out Quarrel was allergic to bee stings."



"Is Taylor there? Is she... " There was a pause, like she was trying to come up with a way not to give offense. "Coherent?"

I cleared my throat, trying not to break down crying. "Yeah, I'm here. We're planning on finishing the plan."

"Wait, listen. Don't do that just yet. Answer me this - "