1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
3) I will accept any legitimate criticism of my work. However, I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong" without showing how it is wrong, and suggesting how it can be made right. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to have said reviews deleted.
A/N: Much of the text and dialogue in this prologue is taken from Worm: Interlude 15. It is intended to explore the ramifications of what might had happened if things had gone another way.
A/N 2: This chapter has been revised from the original posting.
"Stand down," Brandish ordered.
"Now why would I want to do that?" Marquis asked. "I've won every time your team has challenged me; this situation isn't so different."
"You have nowhere to run. We've got you where you live," Manpower spoke.
"I have plenty of places to run," Marquis replied, shrugging. "It's just a house, I won't lose any sleep over leaving it behind. It's an expensive house, I'll admit, but that little detail loses much of its meaning when you're as ridiculously wealthy as I am."
The Brockton Bay Brigade closed in on the man who stood by his leather armchair, wearing a black silk bathrobe. He held his ground.
"If you'll allow me to finish my wine -" he started, bending down to reach for the wine glass that sat beside the armchair.
Manpower and Brandish charged. They didn't get two steps before Marquis turned himself into a sea urchin, bone spears no thicker than a needle extending out of every pore, some extending twelve or fifteen feet.
Brandish planted her heel on the ground to arrest her forward movement and activated her power. In an instant, her body was condensed into a point, surrounded by a layered, spherical force field. It meant she didn't fall on her rear end, and she could pick a more appropriate posture as she snapped back into her human shape.
Manpower wasn't so adroit. He managed to stop himself, slamming one foot through the mahogany floor to give himself something to brace against, but it was too late to keep him from running into the spears of bone. Shards snapped against his skin and went flying.
Lady Photon opened her mouth to shout a warning, but it was too late. Flashbang fell to one knee as a shard bounced off the ground near him, reshaping into a form that could slash across the top of his foot. Brandish caught only a glimpse of the wound, primarily blood. She didn't see anything resembling bone, but Marquis apparently did.
There was a sound like firecrackers going off, and Flashbang screamed.
The needles retracted. Marquis rolled his shoulders, as if loosening his muscles. "Broke your foot? How clumsy."
Lightstar was the next to go down, as one splinter that had embedded in a bookshelf branched out to pierce his shoulder. Fleur caught him before he could land on top of more of the bone needles.
Brandish shifted her footing, and the slivers of bone that scattered the ground around her shifted, some reshaping into starbursts of ultrafine needle points, waiting for her to step on them. She knew from experience that they would penetrate the soles of her boots.
Lady Photon fired a spray of laser blasts in Marquis' general direction, tearing into bookshelves, antique furniture and the rack of wine bottles. Marquis created a shield of bone to protect himself, expanding its dimensions until it was taller and wider than he was.
He's going to burrow, Brandish thought. He'd done it often enough in the past, disappearing underground the second he'd dropped out of sight, then attacking through the ground, floor or rooftop.
"Careful!" she shouted.
Lady Photon spent the rest of the energy she'd gathered in her hands, spraying another spray of lasers at Marquis' shield. Then, as they'd practiced, she prepared to use her forcefield to shield Flashbang, Fleur and Lightstar. Brandish and Manpower could defend themselves.
A barrier of bone plates erupted around one corner of the room, rising just in time to keep some of Lady Photon's salvo from striking a closet door. Marquis emerged from the floor a short distance away, driving a spike of bone up through the ground and then deconstructing it to reveal himself.
"What are you protecting?" Lady Photon asked.
"I'd tell you, but you wouldn't believe me." He glanced around, "I don't suppose we could change venues? I'll be good if you are."
"Seems like we should take every advantage we can," Manpower said.
"If you're talking purely about increasing your odds of victory, yes. But should you? No, you really shouldn't."
"If you say we shouldn't, then that sounds like a good plan to me," Brandish stated boldly.
Marquis sighed, and held up a hand. "Truce, for just a moment?" As he spoke, the spikes and spines of bone throughout the room retracted, ceasing to menace the heroes. "I'll not attack if you don't."
"What's your play?" asked Lady Photon suspiciously.
"Dear lady," Marquis stated carefully, "I mean it. Truce. There is something that needs to be explained. And it's better shown than told."
"No tricks," Brandish snapped.
"No tricks. My word upon it."
They relaxed slightly; whatever else he was, Marquis was a man of his word.
"So what do you want to show us?" Manpower asked bluntly.
"This." Marquis stepped back to the closet door, the one that he had been protecting. Never quite taking his eyes from the heroes, he reached back and opened it. "Amelia, dear, come out and meet our visitors."
A girl. A toddler, not much younger than Vicky. The girl was brown haired, freckle-faced, and clutched a silk pillow to her chest. She wore a silk nightgown with lace at the collar and sleeves. It looked expensive for something a child would wear.
"Daddy," the girl's eyes were wide with alarm. She clutched the pillow tighter.
"Brigade, meet Amelia. Amelia, these delightful people are the Brockton Bay Brigade. They're superheroes. Like on TV." He offered his hand to the little girl, deliberately leaving himself open to attack. Nobody moved.
Trustingly, she stepped from the closet; he scooped her into his arms, pillow and all.
"Real superheroes, Daddy?" she asked, eyes wide, the fright slowly leaving them.
"Real superheroes," he agreed. "Really and truly."
"The motherfucker has a kid?" Lightstar muttered the question, as if to himself. "And she's, what, five?"
"Six," Marquis answered. "And I'll thank you to moderate your language around my daughter."
Six. Vicky's age, then. She looks younger.
"Sorry," muttered Lightstar, despite himself.
"Better." Marquis raised an eyebrow. "Now, dear Brandish, if you'd like to tell young Amelia here what you're doing in my home?"
Brandish glared at him. He was putting her on the spot, in no uncertain terms. "Amelia," she began. "Your daddy is a bad man, and we have to take him away."
"You can't take him away," the girl told them.
"He's a criminal," Brandish responded. "He's done bad things, he needs to go to jail."
"No. He's just my daddy. Reads me bedtime stories, makes me dinner, and tells me jokes. I love him more than anything else in the world. You can't take him away from me. You can't!"
"We have to," Brandish told the girl. "It's the law."
"No!" the girl shouted. "You can't take him! You can't!" She buried her face in her father's shoulder and started to cry.
"Well then," Marquis observed. "It appears that the jury has spoken. Amelia here knows me better than anyone else in my life. Her mother's gone, I'm afraid. The big C. Amelia and I were introduced shortly after that. About a year ago, now that I think on it. I must admit, I've enjoyed our time together more than I've enjoyed all my crimes combined. Quite surprising."
Gently, he patted his daughter on the back. "Now, now, little one. Don't cry. I'll read you your favourite bedtime story later. All right?"
Slowly, the crying devolved into sniffles, but the girl kept her face close to her father's shoulder.
"Now, we can keep this going," he observed. "I can send Amelia upstairs, and we can retire to a less dangerous venue. But I'm wondering which of you will be chosen to explain to my little girl why it is that you're arresting me. Why you chose to burst into my house and start a fight while she was here."
"We didn't know - " began Manpower.
"Manpower… do try to keep up. The dumb brute stereotype persists only because people like you insist on keeping it alive. You should have found out. After all, you found out my real identity, my real address. But you didn't keep looking, did you? You just decided to pounce."
"Perhaps we should just go -" began Lady Photon.
"No!" Brandish's voice was loud; Amelia jerked in Marquis' arms; he shot her a reproachful look. She moderated her tone. "No. Can't you see? He's playing us. Hiding behind his child."
"Playing you, most definitely, dear Brandish," he admitted. "And a most entertaining game it is. But hiding behind my little girl? Not at all." Taking a few steps toward the doorway, he lowered Amelia to the floor.
She clung to him. "No, Daddy. I don't want to leave you."
"And you won't, sweetness. Run along upstairs. Clean your teeth and get ready for bed. I'll be along to read you that bedtime story."
"You'll be in handcuffs," muttered Brandish.
"That may well be," he replied cheerfully. "But we shall see. Go along now, darling."
Obediently, she trotted out the door. Then she stopped, turned, and pointed at the heroes. "Don't you dare hurt my Daddy," she told them sternly. "You leave him alone!"
Marquis smiled. "I'll be fine, Amelia. Go on."
As her footsteps could be heard pattering up the stairs, he turned to them. "Shall we retire to a less hazardous venue, now that you have seen what I am protecting?" he asked. "Outside seems about right. Less chance of a stray shot punching through the ceiling. I shall withhold hostilities until we are safely away."
Lady Photon nodded. "I agree." Brandish went to open her mouth, but Lady Photon shook her head. "It's the best thing. We do not want to hurt the child. She, at least, is innocent."
"She's being harmed just by being here," Brandish muttered, but she went along at Lady Photon's gesture. Marquis stood aside as they filed from the room, Manpower supporting Flashbang, and Fleur fussing over Lightstar. They stepped down from the rear portico, out on to the vast lawn.
"One more question I want to ask before we begin," he stated, walking in a careful half-circle around the heroes; they turned to face him so that their backs were to the house. "If, by some chance, you defeat me, who takes Amelia in?"
"The foster system -" began Manpower.
Marquis, shaking his head, cut him off. "Do not be denser than you have to be. I have enemies. Would you like to see her fall into their hands? It wouldn't be pretty."
"They don't have to know," Manpower spoke.
"They'll always know, they'll always find out. You put that girl in foster care and interested parties are going to find out."
Lady Photon bit her lip. Brandish shook her head. "This is not our problem."
"No, he's right," Lady Photon admitted. "Even ignoring his enemies, once people found out she was Marquis' child, they'd start fighting over who could get their hands on her."
Marquis inclined his head. "Thank you, dear lady."
"Lady Photon -" Brandish started.
"Then they'll kidnap her. They'll do it to exploit her powers, and she's bound to be pretty powerful if she inherits anything like her father's abilities."
"It's not our problem," reiterated Brandish, a little desperately.
"It really is," he pressed. "Actions have consequences, you know. Mine certainly do; you are here to attempt to visit them upon me. And, should you defeat me, that will also hold consequences. Are you ready to face up to them?"
Brandish felt herself, just for a moment, wavering. Drawing a deep breath, she steeled herself. "We'll deal with that when we come to it."
"As you wish." He rolled his shoulders, looking past them at the house. "Shall we?"
Amelia knelt up on her bed and pressed her nose against the window. I know Daddy told me to brush my teeth and stuff, but I need to see that he's okay.
Outside, Daddy was facing the people he had called superheroes. She didn't like them, because they wanted to take him away from her. She glanced into the corner of her room, where the princess costume he'd had made for her held pride of place. He's my Daddy. I don't want him to go anywhere.
Glancing back, she nearly missed the first pass. Light flared and explosions threw dirt into the air, but her Daddy was always on the move, never where they expected him to be. The scary lady who had shouted was swinging a blade made of light, but Daddy moved in a funny way and it hit the really big tall man instead. Amy winced and looked away for a moment, but then she peeked out from between her fingers.
Daddy was smooth and graceful, like when he was teaching her how to do that really fancy writing, or how to dance, and it looked like he was dancing with them now. But each time they tried to hit him, they missed, and each time he tapped them, they tripped and fell. When he swung a big blade of bone at the big tall man, the scary lady jumped in front of it, and Amy caught her breath, but Daddy made sure it wouldn't hurt her.
One moment, Brandish was attempting to carve a bone manacle off of her ankle – there were shards of bone all over the lawn now – and then Lady Photon cried out and froze. Brandish looked around to see Manpower on his knees, bone covering his nose and mouth, his eyes frantic behind his mask. He was trying to break the bone gag away from his face, but his wounded arm was hampering him.
"It's in his lungs," Marquis declared, emerging from one of three bone spires that had erupted from the lawn. "Every cubic inch, all the way down to the alveoli. Yield, or he dies."
"I'll kill you first!" shouted Brandish, slashing the last of the bone away from her foot. She lunged at Marquis, but he stepped back out of the way. A bone shield sprang up, deflecting her blow.
"Even if you managed it, Brandish dear, you would never remove the bone from his lungs in time. To remove it, you'd have to remove his lungs altogether. Which would more or less defeat the purpose, yes?"
Manpower scrabbled at the bone; for every chunk he broke off, more grew in its place. His face was turning from red to purple; his eyes were bulging as he fought to inhale air that would never come.
"You're killing him!" screamed Lady Photon. "Let him go!" She tore at the bone that was suffocating her husband; in an instant, it had extended to encompass her hands and wrists.
"Not until you yield," Marquis replied implacably. "He only has a minute or two before he dies. Your move, ladies."
Lady Photon wrenched uselessly at her calcitic bonds, then stared into Manpower's eyes. They were starting to roll back into his head. Hopelessly, she lowered her head. "I yield."
"What?" shouted Brandish. "No! We can't lose to him! Not again! We were so close!"
"Brandish, my dear, you lost the fight the moment you invaded my home," Marquis stated from almost directly behind her. "He hasn't much time. Yield."
She dropped into her invulnerable ball-shape, then reformed facing the other way, the lightblade stabbing out. At the last moment, she dissolved the weapon, fractions of an inch away from Flashbang's frightened face. Her husband was bound with bone, his mouth gagged with the same material.
"Killing me kills Manpower," Marquis told her from behind Flashbang, as casually as if he were inviting her for coffee. "Yield, and you all walk away today. He hasn't much time. Will you truly let your hatred of me kill him?" Behind him, Fleur circled around, trying to get a clear shot; absently, he raised a bone barrier in her direction.
"Brandish, for god's sake!" screamed Lady Photon.
Brandish stared at her, then at Manpower, then at Marquis. Her hands curled into fists, almost hard enough to gouge her nails into her palms. She gritted her teeth, forcing the words out. "I yield."
"And I accept." Marquis gestured negligently, and the bone retracted away from Manpower's face, releasing Lady Photon's hands. The big man inhaled a huge, shuddering breath, falling to prop himself on one arm. His other was still useless from the slash that Marquis had decoyed Brandish into inflicting on him. "He breathes; he lives. My side of the bargain has been fulfilled. Go, now."
For a moment, Brandish considered attacking him anyway. He divined her expression, and shook his finger at her. "Ah, ah, ah, Brandish dear. Let's not go there."
"Let's just leave," Lady Photon told her, supporting a still-gasping Manpower in her arms. "We've lost here. Please."
Out on the front portico, he watched as they climbed into their car. Brandish was the last to get in.
"This isn't over, Marquis," she told him. "Not by a long shot."
"No, dear lady," he replied. "It most certainly is not."
She got into the car, and the door closed behind her. The engine started, and the vehicle moved out of sight.
Turning, Marquis entered the house once more. He tut-tutted over the damage done to his study. Never mind; we'll be leaving soon, anyway.
Amelia finished carefully brushing her teeth. When she entered her bedroom, Daddy was sitting on the edge of the bed, waiting for her. "Little Amelia." He smiled and held out his arms.
"Daddy!" She ran to him. He hugged her, picked her up, put her on the bed. "I was worried about you."
"But not too worried, I hope." He smiled indulgently. Picking up a brush, he began to work it through her hair.
"I knew you'd win, Daddy, but that lady scared me. The shouty one."
"She wants to be a hero, but she has issues." He shrugged, continuing to brush at her hair. "But she's gone away now, and she's not going to bother us any more."
"But what if she comes back?" She lifted her eyes to his, the worry showing.
"We won't be here," he assured her. "Tell me, do you remember when we visited Boston?"
"Yes, Daddy," she replied. "Are we going to move there?" A moment of distress crossed her face. "I like it here."
"It holds many fine attractions," Daddy assured her. "One of which is a distinct lack of the Brockton Bay Brigade." He smiled down at her. "You were very brave, little Amelia," he told her solemnly.
"I didn't feel very brave, Daddy," she replied honestly. "They were really scary."
"Well, you helped a lot. You helped plant the seeds of doubt. And an enemy that doubts himself is a battle half won." Finished with her hair, he put the brush down.
"We defeated them with the one weapon that superheroes can't ignore," he intoned.
"And what's that, Daddy?" she asked.
"The power of love, Amelia. The power of love."
Reaching up, she hugged him. "I love you, Daddy."
"I love you too, Amelia." His strong arms held her to him for a long moment. "Now, did you want a bedtime story?"
She looked expectantly at him. "You said you'd read my favourite."
"I did, didn't I." Without even looking, he reached out and pulled a well-thumbed volume from the shelf beside her bed. As he turned it over, it fell open. "Well, will you look at that. The right page, even."
She giggled and snuggled down into bed as her Daddy began to read. "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess … "
Closing her eyes, she held her daddy's hand as she began to drift off to sleep.
I love my Daddy.
End of Prologue