Lily stared critically at herself in the mirror. She reached up and adjusted the long scarf that covered the lower half of her face as she examined her new costume. She'd been surprised that they'd accepted her petition to be named Shinobi. The new Ward had been under the impression that the PRT preferred their younger heroes to have names with a less violent context.
But then again there was a hero in this very building named Assault so what did she know Lily mused with a wry twist of her lips that was concealed by the scarf. Shadow Stalker wasn't exactly a wholesome name either, so maybe she had more to learn where the internal machinations of the PRT were involved.
She resumed examining herself, determined to make sure that absolutely nothing was out of place before her debut. The skintight bodysuit that made up the underlayer of her costume was colored a deep, dark purple that would blend in well with the night. Seemingly traditional-looking armor pieces covered her shins, forearms, and biceps. The deceptively antique-looking armor was actually far more functional than decorative and made from modern materials even if the practicality of a fully armored costume was sacrificed for appearance's sake. Her feet were safely wrapped in sturdy shoes with metal cleats on the bottom through which she could use her power to aid her parkour. Strapped to her legs were the throwing knives that Jiraiya had gifted her after her escape from the ABB. The PRT had been leery of it at first before thorough testing of the thinker aspect of her powers had convinced them that it was relatively safe. A deep, charcoal gray tabard-like cloth covered her chest, the ends dangling between her legs served to somewhat hide the skintight nature of her costume. Emblazoned across her chest in a dark purple that matched her bodysuit was the Japanese character for shinobi.
Strapped to her back were the tinker-tech arbalest and the nearly three-foot-long needles that served as its ammunition. She had been told that it was similar in function to Shadowstalker's own pair of crossbows though much larger.
She irritably tugged at the scarf around her neck. Lily had gotten a little better since her time as an ABB prisoner, but she still couldn't get used to the feel of something wrapped around her neck. Every once in a while when she got distracted or zoned out, she'd move slightly and feel the heavy material of the long scarf tug at her neck and she'd flinch, reaching for a bomb that was no longer strapped to her neck made by a tinker who was no longer alive.
The thought of the now deceased tinker naturally made her think of her sister. Hisako had promised her that she'd come see her debut in person. The thought both pleased and worried her. Hisako was still technically a wanted criminal even if the PRT and Protectorate seemed content to focus on other matters for the time being. Partially in exchange for her own membership a cynical part of her whispered. But there was no reason to take the risk even if Lily would like nothing more than for Hisako to see this new chapter of her life start. She recalled her sister's words when she'd voiced her concerns.
"Just because you will not see me does not mean that I will not see you, little sister," Hisako had said, her normal apathy gaining an edge of amusement. "Do not worry, I will not be seen unless I want to."
Lily shook her head in exasperation at Hisako's antics only to flinch at the feel of the scarf constricting against her neck with the motion. Aborting a motion to tug at the scarf once more, Lily turned sharply and exited the bathroom before she lost her good mood, the long scarf fluttering behind her in twin tails. Turning the corner she found herself smiling as she noticed one of her new teammates. The Wards had been kind of a mixed bag truthfully. More good than bad she noted to be fair, though Shadow Stalker reminded her more of the ABB gangsters that had kept her prisoner than any sort of hero. Clockblcoker had been nice though. Apparently he was a friend of Jiraiya's and so had gone to some effort to make sure she felt welcome. But her favorite of her new teammates was the one she was currently walking towards.
"Hello Oracle," she greeted with genuine warmth, smiling at her fellow Ward member in the Saved by Jiraiya Club. Their shared background with the independent hero had allowed them to smooth away the awkwardness of first meetings.
Wrapped in a voluminous rose colored robe that contrasted nicely with the pink toad standing guard by her side was the second newest ward. The younger cape startled, looking up from under the deep hood of her costume, eyes covered by a strip of cloth that the precog had assured Lily didn't impede her vision peered up at the person who'd called her name.
"Oh," the precog said, "Hi Shinobi. How's it going? Ready for your debut?"
"I'm a little nervous," she said honestly, nodding to the toad standing next to the precog. "Just waiting for them to let me know when it's time to go to the press release."
"Chances are that it will go well," the powerful precog assured. "And your costume looks so cool," she added enviously.
Lily nodded in understanding, relaxing slightly at the words. Cliches like that had a lot more impact coming from someone that could see the future.
"Hey," Lily said slowly, looking at her friend more closely, "are you doing okay? You look exhausted."
"I've been working a lot with Armsmaster and Dragon," the younger girl offered in explanation.
"Your secret project," Lily said in understanding. "Still, it's not too much is it? I know whatever you're doing must be important if you're working with both Armsmaster and Dragon, but you should rest too."
"As I was saying young miss," the pink toad chimed in, looking innocently away at Oracle's annoyed look.
Oracle let out a gusty sigh. "It's not really that I'm tired," she explained, "you're right that what I'm helping them with is important. But," the precog paused, biting her lip. Seemingly coming to a decision, she spoke suddenly, "what would you do if you knew about something dangerous. Something that could hurt your friend but you weren't allowed to tell anyone?"
Lily rocked back on her heels at the unexpectedly serious question in thought, ignoring the way the younger girl shifted nervously staring intently up toward the older cape. Lily thought back to her time as a captive to the ABB. To the idea of her older sister in some sort of nebulous danger. Too many other things.
"I'd warn them anyway," she said firmly, voice sure. "We're supposed to be heroes right?" She asked in response to the younger girls surprised look. "We're supposed to help people. It's the right thing to do. At least that's what I think." She shrugged a little self-consciously. "And you said they were your friend right?" Lily shrugged again, unsure of what else to add.
"Thank you," Oracle said after a long moment. "I think I needed that." The younger girl nodded firmly to herself. "I'm sorry, but I have to go make a call."
"Sure," Lily agreed. "I have to go anyway," she said as she noticed a PRT member trying to get her attention. "Good luck," Lily offered, receiving a distracted nod in return as the precog scurried off, phone clutched tightly in her hand,
The soon to be official Ward marched briskly towards the PRT officer, more relaxed than before and suddenly ready to take her first steps as a hero for Brockton Bay.
He eyed the line of code on the screen critically before swiping the screen, sending it over to his partner in this endeavor even as he turned his attention to the nano-thorn project.
"Take a look at this would you? I think it will help the Forecast Program further narrow Leviathan's arrival down beyond simply the day.
Dragon hummed with interest as she went over the relevant code.
"It looks good," the greatest tinker in the world agreed.
Armsmaster nodded in appreciation, sparing a quick glance to the other tinker's avatar as he continued his work. His hands slowed their work when he noticed the frown on her face.
"I'm not sure how happy I am about the plan," the Canadian tinker admitted. "With this much advance notice we could easily evacuate the entire city safely. Civilian casualties could be lowered to an unprecedented level for an Endbringer attack."
"It makes logical sense," Armsmaster replied as he resumed his work. With the Endbringer on its way to his city, it was more imperative than ever that he complete nano-thorn project. It was his best chance at actually harming one of them.
He worked for a few more minutes before noticing that the former companionable silence had turned awkward.
"Director Piggot isn't happy about it either," he said abruptly. "She understandably isn't happy about an Endbringer attack on her city. Nor that this necessitated us to put a pin on our operations against Coil," he added with a severe frown. He was intensely unhappy about that himself. "The Director would prefer that the city be evacuated as well. Chief Director Costa-Brown overruled her. The experts and thinkers agree that the chances that one of the Endbringers would notice a complete evacuation of the city in advance of their attacks is too high. We have no idea how they would react to that."
"I understand the logic as well," Dragon said with a hint of distaste. "We can't afford to waste an unprecedented advantage such as this. But that doesn't mean I'm happy with it."
"All of the news stations are warning about the storm of the century," he offered after a moment. "The mayor called for city-wide Endbringer shelter evacuation drills in preparation for it. Even if the citizens don't know the true reason behind it, the drills should help decrease casualties. Those who can afford to are evacuating inland in advance," he added, showing her the relevant statistic.
Dragon nodded, hearing what she already knew, a reluctant smile crossing the face of her digital avatar.
"Thank you Colin. And yes you're correct, it should help."
Armsmaster nodded, satisfied that the issue had been solved and went back to his work. He was close to completion, he could feel it. The scans of that toad's wind blade from the battle against Lung had been the final piece in the puzzle that he'd been missing. A thought niggled at the back of his mind as he continued to work.
"I understand the logic of this plan," he began to speak finally, an uncharacteristic hesitation in his words. "It is sound. But I dislike the necessity."
"Of course," Dragon said warmly. "Why don't you send me what you have for your Combat Prediction Engine for review," she offered.
Armsmaster nodded in acknowledgment. The companionable silence from before once more taking over the room as they continued their work.
Mount Myoboku - Fukasaku (Pa Toad)
The elder toad stood in the middle of the chaos with his eyes closed, absorbing the warmth of the toad clan as they celebrated their summoner's latest battle. It did these old bones of his good to see the clan rowdy once more. Things were always more interesting when they had a summoner.
He opened his eyes as the crowd of toads let out a wave of jeers. Curious, he opened his eyes to look at the cause.
The toads were all staring at a massive crystal ball as an indulgent Gamamaru replayed the battle for the benefit of the toads who weren't involved in the fight. It look like Taylor-chan had just summoned Gamariki.
"Hey Gamakichi, how the fuck did you forget to tell our summoner that Genjutsu requires the victim to have chakra?" one of the toads yelled out.
"Indeed," a recovering Gamariki said primly, wrapped in bandages and sitting at a seat of honor at one of the spots closest to the orb.
Gamakichi grumbled but said nothing as the other toads piled on him with mocking taunts.
Fukasaku shook his head. Gamakichi-chan was young yet. Mistakes were to be expected. Their summoner was not harmed and a valuable lesson was learned. A fair trade in the wizened toad's opinion.
The elder toad frowned at the increasingly massive dragon man on the orb. He ignored the shouts of the other toads as he thought back to when Gamamaru-sama had first prophesied that the clan would receive a chakraless summoner. He hadn't doubted the seeming impossibility of such a thing. Gamamaru was never wrong after all. But as he eyed the growing monster on the scrying orb, he could acknowledge that perhaps he'd underestimated the vulnerability that such a summoner would have to contend with.
He watched on as the dragon man grew a set of wings in dramatic fashion before turning sharply and walking out of the room and leaving the party behind. Perhaps it was time to revisit the project he'd started shortly after hearing Gamamaru's prophecy. A chakraless summoner wasn't simply more vulnerable than a normal summoner. It was also a summoner who lacked the opportunity to fully embrace what it meant to be a summoner of the Toad Clan in tune with the natural world around them.
Yes, he thought, hurrying his stride. Their summoner was young yet but the dangers she faced left him no other choice. He had to finish the project so that young Taylor-chan had the opportunity to truly become all that a toad summoner was and walk the path of the sage.
She looked up from where she was making lunch at the sound her dad made.
"What is it?"
The elder Hebert's face was buried behind a newspaper. He lowered the paper to reveal a sheepish face as he ran his hand through his thinning hair in embarrassment.
"Sorry about that bug, I was just reading the weekly cape profile."
"Ah," Taylor acknowledged, turning her attention back to the chili. "Who's it about this time?" she asked, idly wondering if was anyone that she knew.
Taylor stilled at the response before forcing herself to resume stirring.
"What do you think of her?" she found herself asking eventually, not sure if she wanted to really hear the answer.
Her dad looked over with a surprised look that morphed into thoughtfulness as he folded the newspaper. He took a sip of his coffee as he considered his answer.
"She's done a lot of amazing things in a very short amount of time," he said finally. "As a Brocktonite, I can't help but approve."
Taylor nodded absently, doing her best to focus entirely on the pot of chili in front of her rather than the confusing mass of emotions that were erupting within her.
"She saved Parian from the Empire, helped out in the gang war, helped stop ABB and Lung of all people, and she was part of the team that got that psychopath Bushido off of the streets."
He chuckled ruefully, "as a Brocktonite I'm probably obligated to be her number one fan. As a father though," he exhaled, taking a sip of his coffee, "I can't help but be worried for her."
Taylor shifted uncomfortably, focusing on the first part of what he'd said, "Wow dad, you followed her career pretty closely. Are you a closet cape geek or something?"
Danny Hebert gave his daughter a look that Taylor couldn't readily decipher before finally answering, "it makes sense to pay attention to these kinds of things when you work where I do."
Taylor nodded unsurely and began scooping the chili into bowls. She supposed that made sense.
Her dad nodded thankfully for the bowl as he went to finish off his coffee.
"Enough about the paper though, what's new with you?"
"Well," she said slowly as she sat down at the opposite end of the table with her own bowl of chili, "somebody asked me on a date today," she finished awkwardly.
Her dad coughed, choking on the dregs of his coffee as he stared wide-eyed at his daughter. Absently wiping his face with a napkin he settled down. A warm smile crossed his face as he finished digesting the words.
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
Taylor looked at the nonjudgmental expectation in her father's face and found to her surprise that she kind of did.
"I'm a little unsure about it," she started. "I was so surprised I kind of just said yes without thinking about it.
Her dad snorted in amusement looking wistful.
"So tell me about this person who has such good taste."
"Well, their name is…"
It was hours later as she was finishing up her daily run and her head was still buzzing with the conversation she had with her dad during lunch. It had been equal parts incredibly awkward and mortifying. But at the same time, it had been comforting as well.
The buzzing of her phone interrupted and further introspection. Taylor glanced at the caller ID as she walked over to the shade of a tree.
"Hey Oracle, how is it going?"
"Dinah is fine, I'm alone."
Taylor frowned, "What's wrong? You sound nervous."
"I'm not supposed to say anything. But I have to warn you."
Taylor frowned, reflexively looking around for any threat as she tightened her grip on her phone.
"Dinah, what's going on? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," the younger girl said impatiently. "It's not about me, it's about what I saw. Taylor, Leviathan is coming to Brockton Bay.
Taylor's eyes widened as her mind went into overdrive. Plans were made and just as quickly discarded as she thought about which of her toads would be most useful for a fucking Endbringer in her own back yard even as she ruthlessly shoved the part of herself that was a gibbering terrified mess into a corner until she could deal with it on her own.
"Taylor!" Dinah shouted.
The toad summoner reflexively flinched away from the phone, realizing that she'd been staring blankly at the tree in front of her and ignoring the Ward.
"Sorry," she said, "I'm still here."
"Taylor, please don't fight him," the future seeing cape implored, for once sounding like her actual young age.
Taylor winced, feeling horrible as she replied, "I can't do that."
"You could die!" Dinah shouted, voice breaking with stress at the end.
Taylor took a deep breath as the let the truth of that statement settle over her. The Endbringers were disasters. A good day against them was counted in slightly less dead bodies than average. Dinah was right. She really could die doing this.
She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the rough bark of the tree. She carefully didn't let out a sigh.
"There have to be some things that are more valuable than safety Dinah. I'm sorry. But I have to do this."
She was a hero. And that had to mean something.
"I know," the fortune-teller said eventually, reluctantly. The previous fervor in her voice had died down into solemnity. "But I had to try too."
Taylor felt a small smile at the edge of her lips despite the situation. "What were the chances you were able to convince me to stay out of it?"
"7.92%" the Ward replied.
Taylor shook her head. She wondered what that said about her?
"Let me know the details when you can okay?