Alea Iacta Est

Part Sixteen: Rolling High, Rolling Low

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

Director Emily Piggot

"And were the Merchants where the note said they'd be?" Emily didn't want to have to ask the question—she was almost certain she knew what the answer was going to be—but she asked it anyway.

"Yes, ma'am." The more Armsmaster disliked a situation, the more curt his answers became. Emily could understand this; she was much that way herself. "Skidmark was wrapped in a fishing net with hooks to hold it closed, as was Whirlygig. Squealer was in an alley next to a manhole that had had a similar net set up as a trap. And Mush was lying on the sidewalk, soaked to the skin. All four were unconscious, but recovered when stimulation was applied. Squealer's latest creation had been destroyed on site by high-powered energy bursts. The house they'd been squatting in had somehow been flooded from the inside. Every faucet had burst and the toilet had blown its float valve through the ceiling. They were literally flushed out."

Emily frowned at the levity, then took note of Armsmaster's expression. He doesn't even realise he made a pun. "So, who do you think did all this?" Because there was no way in hell that sort of thing happened by accident. Not even in Brockton Bay.

"Unknown hydrokinetic, high-power Blaster," he stated bluntly. "If I were a betting man, I'd lay long odds that the Blaster was Purity. It's the same MO as the Coil setup."

"Well, the pattern certainly fits to several decimal places," she allowed. "I hope these people, whoever they are, understand what they're dealing with when it comes to Purity." Capes are bad enough as it is, but letting a villain pretend to be a hero sends the wrong message. Assault hadn't been her idea, but she'd been ordered to let it happen and it seemed to be working out so far. This did not mean the next one would, though. Shadow Stalker's disastrous reveal had proven that, in spades.

"And with this hydrokinetic," Armsmaster said. "At least we know Purity's basic capabilities. We've got nothing at all on this other person."

Emily nodded. "Someone powerful enough to flood a base so large in just minutes by drawing on the entire city's water supply is distinctly worrying."

"The entire water supply?" Armsmaster looked intent. "Are you sure?"

"Certain." Emily's lips thinned. "I got a phone call from Mayor Christner himself, asking why his water pressure had suddenly dropped to near nothing. Fortunately, it went back to normal afterward. Though it's going to be quite some effort, pumping all the water out of that base just so that we can investigate it."

"At least we managed to figure out which water main was feeding it, so we could divert it for the duration." He didn't sound thrilled even with that minor victory. "But even after we drain it, we'll have the problem that much of it is likely to have collapsed. Digging through the remains is going to be extremely effort-intensive, for unknown rewards."

"And yet, we have to make the effort." Emily didn't like it any more than he did. "Who knows what he had stored down there, and what's still intact. The last thing we want is a bunch of rogues burrowing in there, finding some working Tinkertech, and deciding to go villain with it."

"Or even non-working Tinkertech. There were those reports of Coil's mercenaries having high-powered lasers attached to their rifles." Armsmaster's voice took on a tone Emily had heard before; that of a Tinker wondering exactly how good another Tinker's work was, and if it could be adapted to their own use.

"Well, the last thing we want is a third party getting their hands on any of that, working or otherwise." She grimaced. "So we keep pumping and we keep digging. Anything that comes out of there gets bagged and tagged until the lab jocks can analyse it."

"Understood." He cleared his throat. "Any instructions on the Merchant capture?"

She'd already thought this one through. "Interrogate each of them separately to see what they know of who hit them, investigate the house thoroughly in case our mystery capes actually went in there, and check traffic cameras in the area."

"So we're treating them as potential hostiles?" His tone was neither approving nor censorious, merely awaiting confirmation.

Emily set her jaw. "We're treating them as unknowns who may or may not be harbouring a criminal within their ranks, attacking other criminal capes for motives that could range from keeping the streets safe to removing rivals. Even if their motives are pure as the driven snow, their actions threaten to unbalance the status quo in ways they almost certainly didn't take into account."

"Gang war between the ABB and the remains of the Empire Eighty-Eight over territory," Armsmaster said, confirming that he was following her thought process. "Because Lung will push."

"And that's if they're on the up and up." Emily shook her head. "If they're playing a longer game, looking to deliberately destabilise matters in Brockton Bay, they're certainly going about it the right way. It's only sensible to find out everything we can about them in case shit goes sideways." Her expression soured. "If they want to play their little game, they're going to find out I've been playing it a lot longer."

Kayden's Apartment

I rolled the dice across the table and studied the results with growing satisfaction. When I raised my eyes to everyone watching me, I saw Lisa break out into a grin before I even spoke.

"The Merchants have all been arrested, they'll be tried for their various crimes, and they will go away for a nice long time," I announced. "And just by the way; Dinah, Theo, Lisa? All that work we did locating their stash houses and handing them over to the cops? That's what's going to nail them to the wall. They can't just plead 'having a little fun' with that big of a distribution network."

"Haha yeah!" crowed Annette, giving Theo a high five. "You go, little brother! That's what we're talking about!"

Kayden smiled as Theo flushed with shy pride, then gathered him into a hug. "I am so proud of you," she said warmly. "You don't need powers to be amazing."

"This is what teamwork is all about," Dad noted as he stood there with his arm around Andrea. He gestured at all of us. "Everyone did their thing and pulled it off perfectly. But we have to remember that not every plan is going to go exactly as intended, every single time. Yes, you three are an extremely potent force to be reckoned with, and I'm not taking away from that one iota. However …"

Janet nodded. "However, sometimes shit just happens. It's not what you prepare for that will bite you in the ass, but what you don't prepare for. That day Harvey and I took the Avalon out for a fun day on the water, we had all the usual precautions in place; first aid kit, distress flares, spare water and food, satellite radio, EPIRB, the lot. But we weren't listening to the emergency weather channel once we left harbour and a nasty storm spun up out of the Caribbean. Caught us by surprise because we'd been playing grab-ass instead of watching out for that one little detail." She folded her arms, tucking her stump under her armpit. "Mistakes like that, you never stop paying for."

Dinah caught my eye and tilted her head toward Janet. I realised what she meant and walked around the table. Putting my arm around the older woman's shoulders, I held her close. "This is why you're here now, with us," I said. "To help us avoid stupid mistakes in the future."

Turning her head toward me, she raised her eyebrows slightly. "Your dice told you that, did they?"

"No," I said honestly. "All they tell me is that we can do a hell of a lot more good working together than individually. It's just what I think."

"But she's not wrong," Dinah added earnestly. "Of all of us, you just edged out Mr Hebert in the job of 'knowing what we don't know'. I mean, Lisa's good and all, but …"

"… but even I need some kind of hints to play with before I can put my power to work," Lisa agreed. "Plus … hmm." She frowned.

"Plus what?" asked Andrea. "Don't leave us hanging there. C'mon, spill with the deets."

Lisa's frown deepened. "I can't be certain, and I wouldn't even be considering it if I didn't have you guys to bounce it off, but … I'm wondering if my power isn't biased toward optimism. Like, if I make a plan and there's a potential obstacle, chances are it'll tell me 'we got this' instead of 'let's back off and have another look at it'."

Silence fell while we digested this not exactly thrilling news. I'd seen Lisa's power in action before now, and it had seemed to be fairly reliable, but she had a much longer baseline of experience with it than I did. The idea that it might be adjusting the perceived odds of a plan working was … problematic.

"So what you're saying," Dad ventured, "is that if you're left in charge of the 'go/no-go' phase of a plan, your power is more likely to tell you to 'go' rather than 'no-go', even if there's a potential problem to deal with?"

"Yes … no … dammit!" Lisa ran her hands through her hair, disarranging it further. "Right now I'm absolutely certain in my own mind that this isn't true … but can that be trusted? When I repress my power, I'm a lot less sure about it, but when I don't repress it, it tells me that I'm worrying about nothing and that I can handle all the variables."

Amy, silent until now, cleared her throat. "That sounds … concerning. Almost as though your power is forcing a split personality on you. The part of you that accepts unconditionally what your power is telling you, versus the part that raises legitimate queries about it." She tilted her head slightly. "I wonder if all Thinkers have this problem?"

The silence that fell across the room then was a lot more uncomfortable. Meeting Dinah's eyes, I could tell what we were both thinking. What if my power isn't one hundred percent accurate in what it's telling me? Worse, what if (as seemed to be happening with Lisa) my own biases were affecting the results I got from the rolls? Up until then I had prided my power in being utterly impartial … but what if it wasn't?

"Well, uh, that's definitely a potential problem," Janet said. "I guess we're just going to have to make sure we double-check each other's work a little more closely from now on. And Lisa, if you ever feel it getting on top of you, let someone know. Cutting you out of the loop until you can get your head back together will hurt the group dynamic, but not as much as making decisions based on flawed assumptions."

"Well, that's what us token normies are for," Annette announced cheerfully, putting her arm around Lisa's shoulders. "We can make plans too. The difference is, we know we can screw up."

"Which brings us back to what we're doing here," Dad said. "Taking down the ABB. Or rather, taking down the capes. Lung and Oni Lee. Comments?"

"We can't fight them both at once," I said immediately. "The numbers for that are horrible."

"But are you sure?" asked Annette, in a fake-suspicious tone of voice. "Or is that just what your power's telling you?"

Andrea left Dad's side and took a couple of steps to lightly smack her daughter upside the head. "Behave," she chided playfully. "It's not like anyone couldn't have figured that out without powers."

"Yeah, yeah," Annette said, then stuck her tongue out at Andrea. "But it was funny."

"Taylor's right." Lisa turned the whiteboard over and scrubbed off the planning details we'd made for the attack on the Merchants. She took care to leave the locations for the stash houses we hadn't had time to nail down properly; we'd get to that when we could. Finally, she wrote Lung's and Oni Lee's names side by side, with a vertical line separating them. "Fighting Lung will be bad enough. Fighting him with Oni Lee running interference for him would be a killer. And I mean that literally."

"Do you think Kayden and I could take Lung at the same time?" ventured Janet. "Because if we can't …"

"You two are the only ones of us who are capable of bringing him down," Dinah assured her. "But we need a third to make it a certainty. Unfortunately, that person isn't here." She glanced at Amy.

"What?" The healer was visibly startled. "You want me to bring Vicky in on this? Up until now, you've been all about keeping her out of the loop."

"She's about the biggest hitter in Brockton Bay." Lisa wrote in three names under Lung's heading.




"Can't Manpower hit really hard too?" asked Theo. "He's one of the reasons Hookwolf never really liked mixing it up with New Wave."

"He can," agreed Lisa. "But he's not totally fireproof, and he still needs to breathe. Also, he's ground-bound, while Lung eventually grows wings."

Amy rolled her eyes. "Also, bringing him in on this brings in Aunt Sarah, which brings in Carol, and I am so over that shit right now."

Annette left Lisa to go back to Amy. "Hey, hey. It's okay. We're good to be here right now." She gave the brunette a hug, which Amy accepted and even returned.

I cleared my throat. "But the biggest problem with fighting Lung and Oni Lee together is that they cover each other's weaknesses. Lung is a tough opponent on his own, but he's beatable, so long as Oni Lee doesn't show up to help out. Likewise, Oni Lee is beatable so long as he doesn't get to simply spam attacks all over the map." Annette gave me a thumb's up, probably for the gaming reference. I returned it.

"As far as I know, he needs line of sight to teleport somewhere," Theo offered. "So, if we block that, we can maybe hamper his movement? Also, he usually takes a second or so between teleports to get his bearings and send out another version. If he can be hit immediately on showing up, that injury stays with him. Fath—uh, Max—had Victor working on an overwatch scenario with a sniper rifle in case Lung and Oni Lee ever decided to go for broke and attack the Empire directly."

"Well, I can locate him as soon as he shows up," Janet said. "But no matter how I screw with his hands and arms, I won't be able to stop him from teleporting somewhere else."

Annette rubbed her chin thoughtfully, leaving the other arm around Amy. "Yeah, but, could you make him go blind? Temporarily, I mean?" I personally had no doubt she could send Oni Lee blind—or far worse—in a very permanent fashion, but this would come down to what she was willing to do.

"I can … maybe do that?" Janet didn't sound very sure. "I'd have to be very careful to not do permanent damage."

"In the heat of combat, not a great idea to depend on finesse." Kayden gave Janet a shrug. "Sorry, but it's true. Adrenaline and all that. Too little and nothing happens. Too much and …"

"Pop," Andrea said. Well, we'd all been thinking it. Or at least, I had.

Janet shuddered. "Pass. I'm not even going to go there."

"Grue's darkness can't be seen through at all," Lisa said. "He's done it before with Oni Lee, and it's worked. The trouble is, once Coil was taken out of the picture and I more or less walked away from the group, the Undersiders weren't so thrilled with me for taking away their main income stream and safety net in one move. In fact, I'm pretty sure they kind of broke up after I left. Went their separate ways."

"Is he still in town? Would he be willing to work with you for the street cred?" asked Kayden. "Having a hand in taking down Oni Lee would be worth a lot in certain quarters."

"It's possible." Lisa frowned, thinking. "I'll have to track him down and talk to him first, to see if he's still pissed at me. So that's a definite maybe."

I hefted my dice. "I'll save you the time." They clattered on the table, and I sucked in air through my teeth. "Ew. Yeah. He's not happy with you, but he's likely to listen to reason. Forty-nine point three five percent chance. The street cred line would push it up a bit. Money would sweeten the deal quite a bit more."

Lisa put up a finger. "How about if I can't pay him too much for his time? I got some of Coil's accounts before they were shut down, but not enough that I can afford to just throw money around."

Rattle went the dice. "Just you, using your best approach? I give it a fifty-seven point nine one percent chance of working."

"Hm." Lisa wrinkled her nose. "Thanks. I'll still give it a try, but I appreciate the heads-up." She looked around. "So, what other options do we have, in case that doesn't pan out?"

"Janet, how about that fog you made during the Merchant attack?" asked Amy. "That'll kill line of sight for sure, if you make it thick enough."

"Fog, I can definitely do," Janet confirmed. "I'd have to bring it up quickly enough that he doesn't get suspicious until it's too late to get away. And even then, it would be very hard to make it thick enough that he can't create multiple clones in a small area and use them to attack anyone who comes near."

"Which means Amy can't come close enough to disable him until he's disabled, in which case we need to be able to disable him without requiring Amy." Dinah bit her lip. "Chicken, egg. Egg, chicken."

"Can't you just, you know, hold him still?" Amy looked at Janet. "All I need is a touch."

"Not still enough for what you need without risking permanent damage." Arms folded once more, Janet dropped her chin a little, a sign that she was starting to withdraw from the conversation. She may have ended Kaiser with a well-placed lightning bolt, but she'd long since made it clear that didn't mean she was okay with hurting and killing people.

"What if I fixed it straight away?" pressed Amy. "You know I could."

"And what if the damage was to his brain?" countered Janet. "I've never done this before. I don't know what would be affected." Her voice was a little harsher, a little higher-pitched. I smelled rain on the breeze coming in through the window, felt the temperature drop a couple of degrees. Distantly, I thought I heard thunder.

"Amy, enough. We're not doing that." Andrea moved up alongside Janet and rubbed her back gently, in slow circles. "We're not going to ask you to do anything you're not comfortable with." Setting her jaw, she looked around at the rest of us. "Figure out another way to do it."

Immediately, I looked at Dinah; as did Lisa, Annette and Theo. It made sense; she was the one who could figure out who was the best person for a job. She blinked, then shook her head. "Okay, my power's still saying Janet and Amy are needed for this, but Kayden is also required for … providing the final piece of the puzzle?"

Our attention shifted to Kayden, who looked blank. "Me? I can't do much more than blast him into pink mist … wait a minute." Enlightenment showed clearly on her face. "Janet, remember the hospital room, when Cricket was coming after me? Remember how you stopped her then?"

Janet paused, then the penny dropped for her as well. "Pepper spray," she breathed. "I could guide pepper spray onto him." Her whole demeanour relaxed visibly as she said this.

"And he certainly won't be able to see straight with a face full of pepper spray," Dad noted. "Or breathe without effort. What do you think, Amy?"

Amy glanced from Janet to Dad, then nodded. "Oh, yeah. Everyone's all gangsta until they get a sinus load of that crap. I don't think I've ever treated anyone who was able to function normally with a good dose of it in their mucous membranes. That'll definitely work to keep him in one place until I can get a hand on him."

Lisa lifted the marker pen to the whiteboard. "So the plan is, we go after Oni Lee first to isolate Lung, then hit Lung once Lee's in PRT custody?"

"That's about it," agreed Kayden. "I know I'd prefer to take on Lung without Oni Lee being involved than with."

"I'd personally rather not take on either one, but that's just me." Lisa scribbled on the whiteboard, summarising the plan elements we'd already come up with in Oni Lee's section. "The question is, when are we going to do it? Having Lung come to Lee's rescue would be just as problematic as the other way around, if not more so."

Dinah turned to me with a grin. "Gee, I don't know. What do you think?"

I returned the grin as I collected my dice. "I think …" The dice left my hand, and rolled and clattered across the table. "… the next time when we'll have a reasonable window of time to capture Oni Lee without Lung interfering is … uh, Sunday, March sixth."

"So, about two weeks away." Annette grinned. "Excellent."

"What do you think, Theo?" Lisa raised her eyebrows. "Between your know-how and our analysis, can we build up a profile on him between now and then?"

Slowly, Theo nodded. "Yes, I definitely think so."

Kayden put her arm over his shoulders, then brought her hand up to gently rub her knuckles over the top of his head. "That's my boy."

ABB Territory
Sunday, March 6
8:32 PM
Oni Lee

All was quiet in the territory ruled by Lung and the Azn Bad Boyz. Tributes were coming in as smoothly as clockwork, the substance trade had taken an uptick since the demise of the Merchants, and the Empire Eighty-Eight had understandably reduced their activities since the deaths of Kaiser and Hookwolf. There was graffiti on some walls, most applied with more enthusiasm than accuracy, depicting Kaiser's last moments, usually with a caption that read something along the lines of 'what a moron'.

Lee walked smoothly down the street, his pace steady and unvarying, looking neither to the right nor the left. He knew his boss was out of town, an event that occurred rarely enough that he couldn't offhand recall the last time it had happened. Neither of them thought for even a moment that the absence of the Dragon of Kyushu would cause unrest or even unease among the faithful … but it was better to not tempt fate.

There were those in the city, among the ranks of the racist white supremacists or those who would uphold the law (as if Lung were subject to their puny laws) who would take such an event as an opportunity to raid ABB territory and disrupt matters before he returned. They would never venture to attack Lung himself, of course. Lee could recall the last few times that had happened. It had not gone well for the attackers.

All who knew Lung and Oni Lee knew a simple truth; where Lung was, Oni Lee was not far away. And where Oni Lee trod, Lung watched over him. So tonight, Oni Lee was walking the streets, showing his presence. And by inference, showing that Lung was nearby. Out of sight but never out of mind.

He looked around, fixed a point on a nearby rooftop, and sent himself there. The consciousness of the new clone looked around at the copy still walking along the street, until it collapsed into a heap of ash. He wasn't aware that he was being created and destroyed anew each time he manifested a new clone, but it wouldn't have bothered him if he'd known. As far as he was concerned, he had continuity of memory, and that was all that mattered.

It was dark up above street level; moonset had occurred about an hour ago, and the city lights washed out all but the brightest of the stars. Still, Oni Lee knew the rooftops like the back of his hand, so he picked a landmark in the middle distance and sent himself there. When he arrived, he paused for a moment. His instincts were telling him that something was subtly off, but he wasn't quite sure what.

Slowly, he turned his head, trying to pin down the sense of unease. Nothing came to his ears or eyes, though there could be flyers in the sky and he'd never know it until they came close enough for the light from below to reflect off their costumes. As his hand caressed the first grenade on his bandoleer, he inhaled deeply, tasting the night air.

Was that the scent of perfume or deodorant, brought to him by an errant breeze? He looked around more sharply, but all he saw was a coil of fog, drifting by. And then another, and another. Looking up, he saw that the few visible stars had been blotted out by cloud.

He'd seen sudden fog coming down on Brockton Bay, but those had been under different conditions. There had been no drop in temperature, no recent changes in the weather. This smacked of outside interference.

Alarm flared in his mind and he took the grenade from its place, forefinger sliding into the ring of the pin with practised ease. "Who's there?" he shouted, looking around as more and more fog slid into place around him. All he could see was the rooftop directly nearby; nowhere to go if he wanted to retreat.

But Oni Lee did not flee like a craven mongrel of the streets. Oni Lee attacked. It was part of his legend, that he did not fear death itself because he had already died ten thousand deaths. He brought death to others, and lived to spread the tale.

Almost instinctively, he began to teleport, shifting his clones from one point to another, each one holding a grenade with the pin pulled, creating a group of ever-renewing versions of himself, all looking in different directions. He had used this technique before. Anyone attacking from the outside would be confused as to which of him they should target. And as soon as they did attack, he would have a target of his own.

But nobody attacked. Or rather, the attack came from a different angle than he'd expected. The first he knew of it was an acrid smell, then a wave of mist fell over all of his clones. Before he realised what was going on, his eyes were streaming uncontrollably, and every breath felt like fire. He had to get away, had to teleport! But already, his eyes were swelling shut and he was coughing and retching uncontrollably.

A bright light impinged on his eyelids. Dimly, he tried to throw the grenade he was holding, but his hands cramped up and the grenade wobbled away on a short arc that barely dropped it off the rooftop. A moment later, it exploded in the alley next to the building. He tried to get his pistol out of the holster, but his fingers simply would not work.

I am Oni Lee! he told himself, even as he fell headlong, trying to breathe past the mucus in his throat. I do not lose like this!

The touch on his cheek registered too late for him to do anything about it. Blackness claimed him.


Amy knelt over Oni Lee's prone body, panting heavily. "Okay …" she said. "That … I never want to do that again."

Kayden put her hand reassuringly on Amy's shoulder. "It's alright," she said. "If Janet hadn't made him drop it in the alleyway, I would've just flown us away again. Check it out; we captured Oni Lee. And we didn't even need Grue to do it for us."

Amy tried not to hear the unspoken part of that; I would have left him to die to his own grenade. Kayden might be a nice woman who doted on her baby daughter and encouraged Theo to express himself, but she was still a supervillain who had killed before, in the name of racial purity. She wondered how Taylor and the others dealt with that knowledge, or if they even treated it as a factor anymore. Just because they don't think about it doesn't mean it's not true.

Which meant that Lisa's failure to bring Grue in on the capture—apparently it had been a close thing, but he'd said no in the end—was probably a good thing. For all the good intentions in the world, supervillains were still supervillains. They didn't play by the rules, more or less by definition. And bringing yet another villain in to work alongside the villain they already had, had the potential to give rise to so many problems that Amy didn't even want to go there.

But they'd done it. Oni Lee was down. All that required now was to secure him and hand him over to the PRT. Breathing deeply to get her heart rate under control, she reached into her pocket for the flexi-cuffs. The other members of the team had wanted to go with zip-ties, but she'd sat through the PRT lectures about how cuffs were far more secure, especially with prisoners who didn't care about hurting themselves.

One hand and then the other; the cuffs zipped neatly into place. She made sure to secure his hands behind him, so that he would have much more trouble doing even simple things. Removing the bandoleer and gunbelt, she set those aside, then figured out how to get his demon mask off. Normally she wouldn't have bothered, but a blindfold was a lot easier to apply without an oni mask in the way.

There was a click and a flash; irritated, she looked over her shoulder to see Kayden holding her phone. "What the hell was that?" she asked. "Did you just get a picture of his face?"

"What if I did?" asked Kayden. "He's a criminal and a murderer. If you ask me, he belongs in the Birdcage or on a Kill Order. Not just sent to prison."

"That's for the courts to decide," Amy muttered, clenching her teeth together. Lisa was a supervillain too, but she mainly dealt in teenage snark, which Amy was quite happy to throw back at her. Kayden didn't have the air of someone planning a sudden-but-inevitable betrayal (Vicky loved that show, especially the Aleph version) but she also didn't act like someone who was intending to play along with the superheroes every step of the way, either.

On the one hand, Taylor and Dinah were adamant that having both Kayden and Amy on the team was the best way to ensure that they'd do the most good for Brockton Bay, and Amy knew better than to argue with one Thinker, let alone two arguing in tandem. In addition, Theo was a nice kid who desperately needed peers of his own age, for all that he was Kaiser's son (and hadn't that been a bombshell of epic proportions) and Aster was just plain adorable.

But on the other … Amy didn't know that packing the ranks of this nascent maybe-superhero maybe-team with villains was a recipe for disaster (she wasn't a Thinker, after all) but at best it was going to have a neutral outcome. She wasn't about to quit the team over friction with Kayden (if she ignored the Nazi supervillain past, there were zero problems to be had) but … the friction was still there. And Amy really preferred to have more people on her side, who saw things from her point of view.

As she finished fixing the blindfold, she made the decision. Up until now, she'd resisted bringing Vicky in on the whole deal, for a variety of reasons. One, because this had been her thing, a team she'd joined of her own accord, where she actually had a secret identity of sorts. Two, because wherever she and Vicky went, she was automatically overshadowed. It wasn't really Vicky's fault, but it happened anyway.

But now, not entirely certain about Kayden's motives and unsure if Taylor and the other Thinkers had taken matters into account with her background (and totally not sure how to ask about that) she figured she needed backup. Vicky would listen. Vicky would understand.

Vicky would have her back.

Director's Office
The Next Morning

"Oni Lee."

"Yes, ma'am."

"No casualties?" She had trouble believing that.

"None whatsoever, ma'am." The PRT captain sounded positively pleased with himself. "We got the call at about a quarter before nine. One of the side roads between Empire and ABB territory. There was Lee himself, lying on the sidewalk, wrists and ankles flex-cuffed, blindfolded. Fast asleep. His weapons were in a sack next to him. He woke up while we were loading him into the van, but he couldn't do a damn thing about it."

"So, in other words, he was handed to you on a platter." She could see that took the wind out of his sails a little.

"Well, yes, ma'am." He shrugged. "But we've got enough on him to put him away for a good long time anyway."

"This is true. Anything else? Were his clothes soaked, by any chance?"

He looked puzzled. "Soaked? Uh, no. It didn't rain last night." Then he held up a finger. "Oh, one other thing. It's not in the official report, but it'll be in the Director's-eyes one that we'll be filing once we have all the information. They lifted a partial off one of the flexicuffs, and you'll never guess who it belongs to."

She glowered at him. "It's too early in the morning for riddles."

"Right, right." He cleared his throat. "Panacea."

"You're sure about this." Her tone said, you'd better be.

He nodded firmly. "The lab guys are certain. But we figured you'd want to keep it on the down-low."

"You figured correctly. Was there anything else?"

"Uh, no, ma'am. We'll have the report to you ASAP."

"See that you do. Dismissed."

The captain left, and Emily leaned back in her chair. So Panacea's somehow mixed up with these mystery capes, hmm? Well, now I know who to pull in when I want to have a chat with them.

But I have to admit, bringing in Oni Lee like that took balls.

I won't lower the boom on them just yet.

ABB Territory

"What. Happened?"

Lung was trying not to become too angry. When he became too angry, when he decided that a threat needed to be met, he became more frightening. Frightened people tended to babble and miss details. So he tamped down the fire inside himself and forced his voice to remain even and reasonable. "Tell me everything."

The tale came to him from half a dozen people. Oni Lee had been doing the rounds, as he did. His presence reassured the people that their capes were watching over them, that any incursion would be met with fire and fury. Nobody knew that he'd been out of Brockton Bay, save the driver he'd taken along, and that man had only learned of his task just before they went.

And yet, someone had picked this one night to do the one thing nobody did with impunity. They had attacked the territory of the ABB. They had attacked the capes of the ABB. Some people had wondered about the encroaching fog, but nobody had been alarmed. The only warning anyone had that something was going wrong was the exploding grenade.

People had climbed to the rooftops and scouted the area, looking for the source of the grenade. They had found the heaps of ash which had indicated multiple teleports; Lung had seen this before. All clumped in a small area. It had been a battle.

But a battle where nobody else had fallen. There was no blood, no bullet casings, only one grenade spoon, and the faint acrid scent of pepper spray. Footsteps and other marks in the ash, showing that someone had been there, but who? Who would attack the ABB so brazenly? Who could battle and capture Oni Lee without a single casualty? Who would even try?

There were too many questions, not enough answers. He was not unaware of the downfall of the Merchants, or of Coil before them. The impression he'd gotten was that these had been isolated events. It pained him to admit that he'd been wrong, but there was no other option. Someone was out there, hunting supervillains.

Which meant that he was next. Somewhere out there, someone thought that he was a worthy subject for a hunt. Behind his mask, he bared his teeth. Dragons are not hunted. Dragons hunt.

If and when these would-be hunters came into his territory again, they would be in for a very nasty surprise. For they would be seeking just one cape; Lung. But they would find two.

For the ABB had a Tinker now. She was crazy, it was true, but sometimes crazy was what he needed. Oni Lee hadn't been the most stable of individuals, after all. He was interested to see what she would build first, especially considering that she had told him her specialty was bombs. Bombs were good.

They may have planned for me. But they have not planned for Bakuda.

And therein lies their downfall.

End of Part Sixteen