Progression 5.3

1 Week Later

Billy Mason (E88)

Fuck fuck fuck.

What the fuck was going on? It was supposed to be a simple job. Just head down to the south side and smash up a couple of shops. Show the fucking slants who owned Brockton now that Lung was gone. Assert their dominance and let everyone know that the fucking Empire was the true power in the Bay.

It had gone wrong so quickly.

Just keep fucking running dammit he mentally shouted at himself. Stay focused.

He was not going to end up in jail today.

Gotta run. Gotta hide. Gotta just keep fucking moving. Anything, just gotta do something.

His arms pumped furiously as he ran on, desperate to put some distance between him and the chaos.

"Over here, man!"

Whirling around at the call, Billy cursed as he almost fell over. He sagged in relief at what he saw.

"Get over here," Connor hissed, waving furiously to his hiding spot behind the food truck.

Billy cast one last fearful look back to where they'd come from before hurrying over to his fellow Empire member.

"What the fuck do we do?" he asked desperately.

"We're on our own," the more experienced member said grimly. "I already reported it in. The operations a bust. Our orders are to get the fuck out and get to more friendly territory."

Billy could feel his world caving in at the grim news. "They're not gonna send one of the heavies?" he asked in disbelief.

Connor grimaced and shook his head. "Not for grunts like us," he said with grim acceptance. "Not after the captures that went down during the free for all with the ABB and the heroes."

Billy closed his eyes and tried to quell his rising panic.

It had been going so perfectly. Their group had managed to get into the chink's territory without trouble. They'd had a target all picked out. A ramen bar that previous scouting had confirmed held one of the ABB's illegal gambling dens running in the basement. There had been 8 of them, all strapped and with Molotovs at the ready.

It had all gone wrong just as Jack had gone to light up his bottle. Even now he wasn't entirely sure of what had happened.

From the shadows a fleshy rope had shot forwards and smacked his fellow Empire member, sending him flying and his bottle to crash against the ground. He remembered his brothers cursing and backing up as the destroyed Molotov was ignited by the dropped zippo lighter. The rest was a blur as the sudden fire destroyed his night vision. All he remembered was a figure with orange eyes and cloaked in crimson diving into their group from the shadows like some kind of demon, throwing fists and more of those fleshy whips as it laid destruction onto his fellow brothers. A white blur that came from the sky and carried off a screaming Vincent into the night.

He'd had enough. He was ready to fight for the Empire. He knew the superiority of his race. But there were limits. He'd ran away as fast as his feet could carry him.

"Fucking shit," Billy muttered as he peeked around the food truck as well.

Nothing.

"How did they even know where to hit us?" he demanded, more for distraction than anything else.

"Cape bullshit probably," Connor muttered distractedly as he glanced sent another text to their superiors.

Billy grimaced but nodded in agreement. What other explanation was there really? If only they'd had one of the Empire capes on their side. But with everything that had happened at the end of the gang war, there was no way their group of grunts and associate members rated that kind of protection.

"At least we got away," he muttered distractedly.

"Well, not quite."

Billy froze. Slowly, reluctantly, he looked up towards the unfamiliar voice.

Standing on the food truck and looking down at them was the absolute last thing he wanted to see. Stern and unamused, cloaked in red with orange eyes almost glowing from beneath the hooded coat in the dim light of the streetlights.

Jiraiya.

"Fuck," he whimpered as he watched the hero flip through those weird hand signs of hers before another of those flesh whips grew from her palm and lashed out at them. Some small part of him that remained untouched by the current mix of fear and panic currently overwhelming him noted that it was a tongue as the appendage cracked as it wrapped around a fleeing Connor and yanked him towards the hero.

"Fuck," Billy said again, voice cracking as it reached an octave he normally wasn't capable of. "Fuck this!" He turned and ran while the bitch was occupied with Connor. He was the last one left and he was not getting fucking caught. Panic and fear blurred his vision as he ran as hard as he could one foot in front of the other. Billy looked behind him as he kept going as fast as he could. He almost tripped at the sight of Jiraiya casually going about binding a motionless Connor.

She wasn't chasing him?

"I can make it."

Billy almost sobbed in relief at the realization.

The dumb bitch wasn't chasing him. He could get out of this. He just had to keep moving.

Fighting off the urge to give in to the intoxicating mixture of relief and exhaustion, Billy pushed himself to run even faster.

"I can fucking mak- ,"

His words were cut off with brutal finality as he turned around to continue running and ran face-first into a white-gloved fist and Billy Mason knew no more.


Taylor

She looked up from zip-tying the Empire thug at her feet and rolled her eyes at the sight of Glory Girl brushing off non-existent dust off her shoulders while hovering over the unfortunate gangster.

Directing the scouting toad on her shoulder to hop off and keep an eye on her temporary prisoner she made her way over to her friend of sorts.

"Patrolling with you is way more fun than with Gallant and the other Wards," Vicky announced with satisfaction.

"How's that?" Taylor asked, reaching into her battle jacket to get another zip-tie. She scowled at the unpleasant realization that she actually recognized the dazed gangster. She was pretty sure that he was in her calculus class at Winslow. Further proof that despite the near decapitation of the ABB and the end of the recent gang war, the poison still infected nearly every part of Brockton Bay.

"They got waaaaay more rules," Glory Girl said, waving her arms in emphasis. "Like you wouldn't believe the hoops they have to go through when they spot some trouble before they can do anything about it. We'd probably still be waiting while they talked to their superiors sitting at a desk somewhere on the Raft."

Taylor grimaced reflexively at the thought. She was sure that Vicky was exaggerating somewhat but probably not by as much as she'd like.

"Not to mention," the New Wave member continued, "they don't have Noir in the background pointing them to all the fun spots. I dunno how she does it but if she keeps leading Nazi faces to my fists then I might have just found my new best friend."

Taylor idly wondered if Vicky would still feel that way if she knew about Noir's past even as she nodded in agreement.

"She's made patrols much easier."

Glory Girl laughed, "You're telling me," she said with a grin. "Three dust-ups in as many hours? I knew us hanging out could only lead to good things."

"Thanks for the help by the way," Taylor added belatedly.

"Like you needed it," Glory Girl said with a dismissive shrug. "I'm glad that you took me up on the team up offer but you're a badass when you want to be, even without the toads. You didn't need me for these scrubs. Could do with a little less of the tongues though," she admitted with a grossed-out expression.

"They're useful," Taylor said, reflexively defensive over the advanced summoner technique Gamakichi had taken the time to teach her.

"Useful sure," the blonde agreed, "but still gross."

Sensing a wasted effort Taylor just hummed rather than trying to convince her friend of the greatness of toads as she finished tying up her now former classmate.

"I see you ladies are cleaning up the mean streets," a jovial voice called.

Tensing and relaxing moments later, Taylor turned and gave a nod to the clock themed ward.

"Clockblocker," she acknowledged, greeting her other… friend?

It was a strange thing even now but she could acknowledge it now. Glory Girl, Clockblocker, Dinah, Sabah, Greg, even Lisa might be one someday. Sure all of her friends were capes or toads but she had some and they were hers.

It was… nice.

She'd almost forgotten what it was like.

"I told you they were strong independent women that didn't need no man to come save the day," Clockblocker said looking upward as he waved to her.

Following his gaze, she saw Aegis come floating down to stand next to his fellow Ward.

"So you did," the Ward captain acknowledged with a well-practiced mix of patience and amusement.

"Aegis," Taylor greeted, a little unsurely. She hadn't interacted with him nearly as much as Clockblocker or Glory Girl. And the last time she'd seen him the Ward had looked awful courtesy of Bushido and his steam. "I'm glad you're doing better," she said sincerely.

"I'm hard to keep down," the dusky-skinned Ward said with an easy smile as he eyed the defeated Empire gangsters.

"What are you losers doing on the south side," Glory Girl interrupted with a smirk. "Isn't it past your bedtimes?"

"We got word of the commotion and decided to come check it out," Aegis responded, smoothly interrupting whatever Clockblocker was going to say in answer to the New Wave brute's teasing. "We called it in for you once we realized what was going on, the police should be on their way to pick these guys up soon."

"Thanks for that," Taylor said as she idly flexed her hands. The toad whip technique was incredibly useful but it still felt weird to summon the appendages from her palms. Especially when they were no longer a part of her. Like a weird minor sense of phantom limb.

"Yeah, thanks for the assist," Glory Girl replied with heavy emphasis on the last word.

Taylor rolled her eyes as the two brutes started ribbing each other, or rather, Glory Girl started ribbing a patient Aegis, as she walked over to Clockblocker.

"I see you haven't slowed down at all," the time stopper said, voice marginally more serious than was the norm for him.

"It's been busy," Taylor said honestly. "The Empire has been pushing hard into ABB territory despite their recent losses with Lung gone."

"Tell me about it," Clockblocker groaned. "Who would have thought Nazis would be so annoying? Not to mention the Merchants aren't staying out of it either. I almost feel bad for the ABB honestly."

Taylor thought of the condition in which she'd found Lily and The Painted Lady's new followers with the red handprints emblazoned on their stomachs. An indelible mark of both their trauma and defiance. Taylor thought about all of that and silently disagreed with her fellow cape.

"It's good that you're here actually," she said.

"Oh?" The Ward asked, perking up in interest, looking away from the two brutes as Glory Girl tried to egg Aegis on into an arm-wrestling match.

"It's about Oracle," she said slowly. "Is everything okay with her? I haven't been able to get in touch with her lately."

It was actually starting to worry Taylor. They only reason why she hadn't made a bigger issue of it yet was that she could still feel the reassuring steady pulse of Gamatama's presence through their bond.

"She's doing fine," Clockblocker said reassuringly. "She's been holed up with Armsmaster and Dragon almost constantly this past week. I don't know what it's about but I think they have her on radio silence," he said apologetically."

Taylor frowned in worry. The only thing that she could think of that might cause such a strong reaction from the Protectorate is that she must have seen something in her visions. Something extremely important. Or maybe something about Coil she wondered? But for Dragon to be involved also…

"No," she muttered to herself, "it has to be from one of her visions."

"That was our best guess also," Clock agreed, startling Taylor out of her thoughts.

"What could she have seen that could be so serious?" Taylor asked, deciding to voice her thoughts.

"I don't know," Clockblocker said with a shrug that did little to hide the unease he was feeling.

Taylor could sympathize. Brockton Bay had enough bad things happening as it was, they didn't need a new disaster.

"Oracle really is doing okay," the Ward said again. "Despite Armsmaster's best efforts, she's not on house arrest. She's fitting in well and she seems to be getting along well with our new recruit."

"New recruit?" Taylor asked in interest only to realize who he meant moments later.

Lily.

"She really did it." the toad summoner said, a little surprised despite what The Painted Lady had told her.

"Of course you already know about it," Clockblocker said sounding goodnaturedly aggrieved. "One of these days it's going to be me surprising you, just you wait."

"I wouldn't count on it," Taylor said, amused despite herself. "Did she pick a name yet?" she asked, cocking her head in interest.

"Sure did," the time stopper said. "She's going by Shinobi. It's totally badass," he said with some real envy.

He wagged his finger in exaggerated admonishment towards the slightly taller cape and somehow managed to give off the impression of winking despite his full-faced mask, "Now don't go telling anyone about this and ruining the surprise. It's not official yet."

Taylor nodded distractedly as she rocked back on her heels and looked up at the night sky in thought.

Shinobi huh?

It was a good name.