Chapter Ten: Though I Walk Through the Valley


Shouldn't she be afraid, Taylor wondered as she watched the Parahuman killer bear down on her? Using any normal definition of sanity, she most certainly should be. Yet, somehow, she wasn't.

She remembered all of the books she read on martial arts and fighting, as well as the practice she'd put in. However, none of it was real life, and while it might suffice to fight ordinary men, was there any way it could do the same for someone like Hookwolf? Somehow, she doubted it.

Then the time for thought was over and Taylor had to move.

She put zero thought into her movements, instead acting on instinct as Hookwolf hammered through the space she'd occupied by a moment before. Somehow, she was able to use Umrahnuha to push off from the ground while taking two steps toward the other Parahuman, vaulting up and over his head. She twisted her slim body as she went by, thereby avoiding his tail, which swung past her torso just inches away, looking like the bastard child of a spiked, bladed wrecking ball and a chainsaw.

Then she was gracefully landing on her feet and spinning around. Hookwolf, having missed her, did the same. Then he charged her again, roaring his hate and defiance.

It seemed like she had all the time in the world now to observe her foe's movements. Taylor noted the way the metal blades of his body seemed to spin and whir so closely together that they would not allow so much as a piece of paper to pass between. At the same time, cruel barbs and hooks stuck out from all over him, ready to pull in his prey in order to tear it to pieces.

Again, Taylor leaped, but landed on the back of the dog-like body, somehow finding two places that were not part of the spinning, whirling destruction. A split second later, she had to side flip off of him as spikes hammered upward from where her feet had been a moment before. Eyes narrowing, she considered her options, almost immediately coming to a decision.

This time, Taylor took the same two steps she had the first time, then leaped without the aid of her staff up onto Hookworlf's back, her feet finding two different tiny spots where spinning, whirling death was absent. She instantly took Umrahnuha and hammered it down into the depths of the Parahuman's body, trying to reach a core that her eyes had spotted on their first exchange.

Her staff was stopped short of its target, but Hookwolf's gears and blades snapped off upon contact with it, while the force of the blow sent him skidding off to one side, while she side-flipped off in the other direction, landing in a roll that she used to bleed off the momentum of her fall.

Rising back to her feet, Taylor made herself unnoticeable and waited. She didn't have to wait long.

Hookwolf rose to all fours, shaking himself like a wet dog, the broken pieces within him spraying outward like droplets of water, to be immediately replaced with fresh bladed death. His head darted from side to side, visibly searching for her. When he didn't immediately find her, he cursed, "Goddammit! You coward! Come back and fight me!"

Deliberately, Taylor pushed her voice out from her, making it as strong and passionate as she could. Eerily, it had an echoing effect, as if coming from more than one place. "I don't want to fight you."

There was an audible sneer in Hookwolf's voice as he shot back, "Too bad, bitch. You should have thought about that before you got yourself involved in Empire business. Now you're going to bleed."

Why didn't he understand, she wondered? Trying to make herself more clear, and hoping that maybe her symbol could work even when it wasn't visible, Taylor said, "I don't want to fight because I don't want to hurt you."

"You hurt me? Crazy slut. I'm going to tear you apart when I find you!"

Taylor began silently walking in a large circle around the monstrous cape. "Maybe. But you can't find me, can you? I mean, I can see you, but you can't see me. How about instead of fighting, you help me? Help me to understand why you are doing all this?"

"What? What the hell are you talking about? Come out so I can rip you to shreds!"

"I don't think so. Why are you doing this? Why hurt people? Why make them fight one another? Is it because you enjoy watching them hurt each other? Are you just a sadist? Is it that simple? Help me to understand."

"Jesus H Christ! Words? Is that all you have? If so, I've already won! After all, it's just a matter of time until I find you!"

With that, Hookwolf began making short rushes in random directions, tearing up the pavement and gouging holes in the walls of the buildings themselves. Thankfully, the two gunshot victims had been taken away by their friends or they would have been torn to shreds. Still, it was a useless tactic to use against her, although Taylor didn't think it was actually intended for her. Rather, Hookwolf's actions played to their unseen audience that still lurked there in the shadows, impressing them with how fearsome he was. Two could play that game, she decided.

Conviction dripped from her voice as she said, "I could kill you now. But I don't really want to. I know your followers are still out there, hiding like vermin in the alleys and sewers. You play the tough man for them, but we both know the truth."

Taylor's words seemed to be making brutish Parahuman even more angry and he moved faster and faster, tearing apart a car that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As he shredded the vehicle's body beyond repair and threw the engine block through a wall, Taylor said, "You're weak. It's why you have to terrorize others. You don't lead through strength, but rather the fear tactics of a bully writ large. How can you men out there follow this... thing? Have you no self-respect? No sense of your own worth?"

The last few comments were aimed at their audience, rather than Hookwolf, yet it still drove him into a frenzy. He tore apart another derelict car, then tossed yet another all the way across the street to slam into the opposite building. Then he took down one of the street lights, cutting completely through its wooden pole and plunging that end of the street into darkness. The entire time, he cursed and howled his rage and hate.

More and more passion filled Taylor's voice as she spoke, her volume increasing until the words rang from end of the street to the other, "Hating others for the color of their skin is not strength! Terrorizing those weaker than you is not strength! Cruelty and evil is not strength!

"No! Strength is standing up for what is right no matter how hard it may be! Standing up though it cost you everything! Fighting evil with the last breath in your body! Saying that I will not stand aside for you to harm others!"

Hookwolf stopped moving, merely standing in the center of the street, cloaked in darkness. "You speak words, coward. But what are your deeds, weakling? Where's the cemeteries that you've filled? When will you pit yourself against me? Or will you continue to hide from me like the craven filth that you are?" Despite his own words, his tone was far less certain than it had been a moment before.

Feeling a sadness that hit her harder than expected, Taylor asked in a much lower voice, "Can I not convince you to put aside your hate? To walk a different path?"

Like a scalded cat, his powerful metallic form jumped and he shouted, "There is no other path for someone like me! I am who and what I am! Face me!"

"So be it."

Taylor allowed herself to become visible again under the light of the one remaining street lamp as she finished her circuit to come to a stop facing the raging Parahuman. There was roughly a hundred feet between the two of them now. She made sure to push back her cloak so that the symbol on her costume was completely visible as she waited for her opponent to react. Hookwolf took one long look at her, then charged forward at her as fast as he could, a kind of desperation filling his movements.

She watched as he closed the distance, pain filling her. What price a man's soul, she wondered bitterly. What price Hookwolf's? Regardless, there had to be an ending. Holding Umrahnuha above her head in both hand, Taylor called down Lightning.

Once. Twice. Thrice. Brilliant flashes tore apart the sky blinding her watchers as the cacophony of steel shattering and tearing echoed between the buildings in a cataclysm of sound and fury.

The tottering wreck that crashed to the ground a handful of feet away from her barely resembled the Parahuman who'd charged Taylor a moment before. So much of what he'd been was gone. Steel blades and hooks were melted and misshapen, and instead of the perfection they'd displayed before, beat against one another in a whining, grating shriek where they moved at all. Others refused to spin, melted and fused into place.

Even as she watched, Hookwolf began to shrink, the broken, interlocking blades receding within him, until all that lay on the street before her was a man, his form steaming slightly, as if he'd been cooked medium rare. She knelt down next to him, removing his wolf's head mask and staring at the still face of a dying human being.

She immediately saw that he wasn't breathing, both her exceptional eyesight and sensitive hearing registering the lack of air moving in and out of his lungs. Placing a gentle hand sans glove on the slack muscles of the mans' bare chest, Taylor's touch noted how his heart was slowing down as if it sensed the inevitable.

Soon, it would stutter to a halt and the man known as Hookwolf would die.

She was aware of the men who were slowly coming out of hiding, creeping like rats out into the light of day as they prepared themselves to flee or follow her. Opportunity lay before Taylor, a chance to make an impression upon them, perhaps pull them from the dark paths they traveled down. If she were to show them the dead body of one of their leaders, many of them would be broken and disheartened, driven to leave Empire 88 for something else. Those men might be saved

Unfortunately, it wasn't an opportunity she could take. That path would remain closed to her for now. Instead, she would choose the harder, far more dangerous path before her.

Rather than allowing him to die, Taylor reached into that well deep within her and pushed Healing into Hookwolf, feeling as his heart woke with a stutter, then thundered a mile a minute. As his lungs filled to bursting with air while the scars upon his body disappeared. Even the tattoos he'd once adorned himself with faded away until nothing of them remained.

Like Tattletale before him, Hookwolf had a malignancy within his head, a foulness that sickened Taylor until she wanted to vomit from the mere awareness of its existence. She did her best to heal that wrongness.

And failed. Even pushing another dose of Healing into Hookwolf wasn't enough to cure him. She just wasn't strong enough.

Staring down into the face of the sleeping man as she knelt at his side, Taylor vowed that one day, she would grow strong enough to crush the pestilence within him. She would cure Hookwolf and those others like him, making them human once more. So she pledged as something vast and terrible seemed to rise from within the staff that she still clutched in her other hand to accept the promise she'd made.

There was almost a ringing sound in the air, something that even the men who'd gathered in a loose semicircle around the two of them seemed to feel by their uneasy stirring. Leaving the man lying amid the detritus of the street, Taylor rose to her feet to face her audience. Later she would think on what her words had stirred up. But for now, she had other concerns.

Slowly, she looked upon them, bitter men who'd lost hope in a better life. They'd grown desperate enough in the day to day struggle of living to pin those hopes on something as dark and terrible as Empire 88. Taylor's gaze pinned each and every man there, seeing the fear and hopelessness in their eyes, while their own seemed irresistibly drawn to the symbol upon her chest.

Finally, in a voice of passion and fire, she cried out, "Choose another path! All of you! You walk in the footsteps of evil, fostering cruelty and hate! You believe yourselves to be strong! Is this strong?"

Deliberately, Taylor placed a foot upon the bare chest of the slumbering man she'd healed. Every single pair of eyes were briefly drawn to her black combat boot resting upon Hookwolf's chest, before being pulled irrevocably back to her symbol. Every face around her struggled with a terrible truth that seemed to be devouring them from within as tears of grief and pain were visible on the faces of more than one man.

Softening her voice just the slightest, Taylor said, "Heed my warning. Consider the paths of your lives and what you would accomplish. Neither this man, nor his master, have the answers you seek. Instead, consider this: What is Right? Find the answer to that question and you will find yourself upon a better path. Now, who is badly injured among you?"

For a moment, no one moved. Finally, though, a man half carried another toward her, stopping just a few feet away. Tall and broad-shouldered, his face and torso scarred by innumerable fights, the injured man couldn't really walk, his knee bent sideways, the joint clearly destroyed, its tendons and ligaments ripped and torn as his lower leg flopped loosely.

Despite the fact that he faced the pain he was feeling with complete stoicism, the man still flinched when Taylor reached out and touched his face with slim fingers. She pushed Healing into him and seconds later, he stood tall and straight again, his leg as healthy as the rest of him.

Despite his size and ferocious appearance, made less so now without any scars or tattoos, there was an odd humbleness to the man's voice as he said, "Thank you, Avatar."

Taylor's own voice was equally gentle as she replied, "You're welcome. Who else?"

Two others were helped forward, including one of the men who'd been shot, and she healed them both as well, accepting their thanks in turn. It was only later that Taylor realized that she'd used her healing six times in a row that night, the first time ever that she'd been so strong. Unfortunately, her thoughts were taken up with a completely different matter a moment later.

"Everybody freeze! I don't want anyone leaving the scene until you've answered some questions!"

Turning around, Taylor beheld the sight of two of the Wards stepping forward from the shadows at the mouth of an alley. Aegis, the one who'd ambushed her once before hovered a foot or so in the air, while someone dressed in a formfitting white costume, with clocks and clock hands all over it, stood on the ground beneath him.

Realizing the second cape had to be Clockblocker, Taylor considered their body language and any visible expressions. She felt no sense of danger from either. Deciding that there would be no repeat of the other night, she turned her back to them. Raising her voice slightly, Taylor sternly commanded, "Take this man back to his master."

The first man she'd healed, a look of fear and wonder on his face, asked, "What should we tell him?"

Taylor hesitated. What price escalation, she wondered? However, more importantly, what price could you put on this man's soul? On his hopes for a better future?

Fortune favors the brave seemed to echo within her mind. In a voice that rang like steel upon steel, as passion and fury vied for dominance once more, Taylor shouted, "Tell Kaiser that his days are numbered! The span of days for his Empire's existence in my city is no more than three score! One way or another, by his will or mine, he will leave! Or he will learn the same definition of strength that Hookwolf did!"

Dismayed silence met her words. There was no stir of applause or cheers from the crowd surrounding her. Instead, eyes seemed drawn once more to the symbol on her chest as men stood utterly frozen, sick looks of horror on many of their faces. Oddly, despite the silence, there wasn't anything resembling disbelief in any of the expressions she saw.

Rather, it was as if they understood just how dangerous a decision she'd made, to call out the most powerful Parahuman gang in the city. How serious she was in her intent to do so, as if Umrahnuha's symbol had driven the information into their very beings. For a moment longer, it seemed as if no one around her so much as breathed so still were they. Finally, though, the men around her began to disappear from view in ones and twos, sliding backward into the welcoming darkness.

"Hey! Stop right there! You! Don't you dare move a muscle!" It sounded like Clockblocker had decided to take exception with his 'prisoners' not staying for questioning, she thought in wry amusement.

Turning back to the Wards, Taylor said, "Leave them alone. They've lost their faith and won't be right again until they've found a new path."


Dennis groaned. "Why did they have to get Panacea to heal us? I was enjoying my time away from school and patrol just fine. I finally made it to level thirty in Demon Siege."

Carlos, his teammate for this particular patrol, chuckled. "Maybe because they knew you were enjoying your vacation just a little too much."

Huffing at the other, Dennis muttered, "Fine. Still, you'd think they would give me a patrol partner who was more my speed."

"If by your speed, you must mean slow. Unfortunately, you're fresh outta luck. I'm sorry, Clock, but you're currently the Ward on the roster who most resembles a snail."

"Bah." Despite his words, Dennis chuckled. He wasn't really irritated at going on patrol, or even having Carlos as a partner. Not that he would have minded staying back at HQ and playing video games. Plus, if he did have to patrol, it was nice to do so mucus-free.

The recent flu epidemic had epically sucked. They'd barely gotten back from the Christmas holidays when all of them but Carlos and Sophia had come down with a nasty strain of flu. Dennis had joked that maybe it was Bonesaw's revenge upon the world, something which hadn't gone over too well with the other Wards. Or their handlers in the PRT. Or Director Piggy.

The corpulent woman had come down on him like a ton of bricks, only the fact that he'd already been so sick and Shadow Stalker being in deep shit keeping her from sticking him on console duty for a month straight.

Not that Dennis had been all that worried about the woman's punishment, whatever that punishment was. As sick as he'd been, all he'd been able to do until shortly before being healed was worship at the porcelain throne. So not nearly as much video games as he'd boasted. It also irked the hell out of him that he'd missed seeing Sophia Hess getting tossed out on her ear.

Now that was something he could get behind. "Tell me again, Aegis, what Shadow Stalker did that got herself booted?"

The other boy shook his head. "She wasn't 'booted,' she was transferred."

Grinning, Dennis cackled, "Yeah, to Ellisburg! Nothing says you've screwed up more than babysitting the Goblin King."


"Too much? Okay, I guess I can see that. Although, it's not like I wished for Sophia to get eaten by a goblin or anything-"


Suddenly, Dennis realized that Carlos calling his name in that tone wasn't because of the inappropriateness of his comments but rather because the other boy had seen something. Now silent, he also heard faint crashing sounds and saw a flash of light in the distance, Dennis ran along as his team leader flew above. Both stopped a minute or so later. Following Carlos to where he hovered just inside the mouth of the alley they were in, he wasn't surprised to hear voices coming from out in the larger street that lay in front of them.

"-paths of your lives and what you would accomplish. Neither this man, nor his master, have the answers you seek. Instead, consider this: What is right? Find the answer to that question and you will find yourself upon a better path. Now, who is badly injured among you?"

Peeking around the corner, he watched someone dressed all in gray heal someone with a crippled leg as another man lay still next to her. However, it wasn't until the big man almost bowed and said, "Thank you, Avatar," that Dennis realized exactly who he was watching.

Holy shit! That was her. Avatar. The girl who was sneaking around hospitals and healing people. Plus, there was supposedly something wonky about her costume. A weird symbol or something. They were definitely supposed to be careful around her. Taking a few steps back, Dennis waited as Carlos alighted next to him.

The other boy looked worried. "I'm pretty sure that was Hookwolf on the ground, unconscious or dead. Call it in. I'm going to continue listening and see if I can figure out what's going on."

Hookwolf? Seriously? Deciding that team leaders got all the fun, Dennis retreated back into the alley before raising his communicator to his lips. "Console, Clockblocker here. We have a ten fourteen at the corner of Baker and Forty-first Street."

Missy's voice replied, "Understood, Clockblocker. Dispatching Protectorate members and PRT troops to your location. Who are the Parahumans involved?"

"One of them is Avatar. Aegis thinks that the other's Hookwolf."

There was alarm in the girl's voice as she said, "Hookwolf's there? Are you both okay?"

"Relax, chica. Hookwolf's taking a siesta. Or he's dead. Avatar apparently took him down already. Uh oh, Aegis needs me. Clockblocker out."

Ignoring the sputtering sounds coming from his communicator, he switched it off. Hurrying over to where Aegis was gesturing as he floated just a few feet above the pavement, Dennis followed him out into the street. Aegis shouted, "Everybody freeze! I don't want anyone leaving the scene until you've answered some questions!"

Uh oh, Dennis thought. He halfway expected all hell to break loose when Carlos made his demand, maybe even the gang bangers from Empire 88 attacking them en mass. But all that happened was that the rough looking gang members who surrounded Avatar in a semicircle looked toward her as if waiting for her to make a decision. She, in turn, glanced back at the two of them, then turned her back to them as if they weren't worth her time.

In a strong voice aimed at the men around her, she said, "Take this man back to his master."

This man? Did she mean Hookwolf, Dennis wondered? There was no way they were letting that murderer get away. But rather than argue, Aegis merely silently floated in place as one of the Empire mooks tentatively asked, "What should we tell him?"

If her voice had been strong before, it could peel paint now, Dennis decided, aghast. In front of him, Avatar shouted, "Tell Kaiser that his days are numbered! The span of days for his Empire's existence in my city is no more than three score! One way or another, by his will or mine, he will leave! Or he'll learn the same definition of strength that Hookwolf did."

Dennis was stunned, both by the girl's words and her sheer chutzpah. She'd just called out the biggest Parahuman gang in the city. Given them a time frame to clear out. Never mind that the time was almost two months away. Kaiser was going to go berserk when he found out. And, as usual, the Protectorate and Wards were going to get stuck trying to keep the peace.

When he noticed the gang members beginning to disappear into the surrounding darkness, Dennis shouted, "Hey! Stop right there!" He pointed to one guy in particular. "You! Don't you dare move a muscle!"

The man in question stopped for a second, staring back at him, then started moving again when Avatar said, "Leave them alone. They've lost their faith and won't be right again until they've found a new path."

What the hell? Faith? Path? Dennis was about to provide the girl a sampling of his infamous wit when Aegis settled to the ground between them and asked in a serious tone, "What do you mean, Avatar? What faith?"

The girl turned to face them fully and Dennis felt himself flinch at just the glimpse of that strange shape upon her tunic he got. Whatever that thing was on her chest, it almost hurt to look at it. Even blinking didn't help,he thought as his eyes watered.

Aegis also seemed to be affected, if less so than he was. Certainly he continued to stand there facing Avatar as she answered his question, although he had flinched momentarily. "They believe that hate and cruelty are the answers to life's question. I have shown them a different path. Now they have to choose. Which choice they make will determine their fates. I fear that some of them will not live out this night. Others..." She shook her head sadly as her voice trailed off.

Okay, wasn't that just a ray of sunshine, Dennis decided, his thoughts feeling almost fuzzy as he couldn't look away from that damn symbol. A moment later, he wondered why he was even here when his dad was so ill.

Avatar said, "Look to your companion, Aegis. I fear that Truth overwhelms him."

His team leader's movement momentarily blocked his view of the symbol. Dennis allowed himself to sink to his knees, holding a hand over his eyes. He shivered, feeling almost feverish and he wondered if his flu had come back. His dad... A moment later, a hand gripped his shoulder, and he groaned at the intensity of the other boy's grasp.

"Damn, Aegis. Don't break me."

The other boy chuckled, then firmly stated, "You're okay." Then, a second later, he exclaimed, "Shit! Where'd she go?"

Dropping his arm and forcing himself to rise to his feet, Dennis surveyed the street. There was no one around as far as the eye could see. Disgusted, he said, "After all that, Avatar got away."

His mind shied away from the direction his thoughts had taken a moment before. Dennis was exactly where he needed to be, helping to make his city a better place. He had to make it a better place, he repeated silently. Anything else would be unthinkable.


Carlos glanced at his teammate as Dennis finished up his verbal report to Miss Militia. It figured that she would be here as the woman never slept. Or seemed to take time off, rivaling Armsmaster in that regard.

Frankly, he was worried about Dennis. Seeing that damn symbol of Avatar's had seemed to hit him really hard. They had decided to give her a Master classification of three to go along with the hodgepodge of other classifications she already had. While she didn't seem to really control anyone, something which he could attest to, Avatar did make you question yourself and the choices you made, leaving yourself vulnerable to being attacked or worse.

His thoughts were pulled back to the other boy as Dennis finished giving his report. Carlos wished he could get his teammate to talk to him, but despite having been in the Wards together for several months now, they really weren't good friends. Come to think of it, he didn't think Dennis had any true friends. Certainly no one he could really talk to about whatever was troubling him.

Maybe, just maybe, he could try to become that friend, Carlos thought. If he could somehow be there for Dennis, maybe help the other boy through whatever crisis seemed to be brewing inside of him, he could make a difference above and beyond going out in brightly colored costumes.

With that decision made, Carlos felt like the world had just been lifted from his shoulders.


Giving his teammate a glance, Carlos asked, "How are you feeling? Okay?"

"Yeah. I'm cool." The shifting gaze, though, gave Dennis away.

"How about we grab a burger before we head back? My treat."

Dennis scuffed one foot on the ground. Looking uncertain, he asked, "Do we really have time? The nearest twenty-four hour place is nearly three miles away."

Carlos chuckled. "You do know I can fly, right?"

Grabbing both of Dennis' hands, he rose into the sky, the other boy dangling beneath him. "Hey! Wait a second! I didn't agree to let you carry me! Put me down! Aeeeegggggissss!"


Taylor got up a little early the next morning and went for an extra long run. She was still filled with a strange mix of excitement and dread from the night before, crawling like insects along her muscles and nerves. Last night, she'd fought another powerful Parahuman, Hookwolf, and defeated him. She'd even healed him, then sent his healed form, sans the symbols of his allegiance, back to his master, Kaiser, head of Empire 88.

More importantly, she had likely turned men who would have ended up as members of Empire 88 away from a terrible fate and hopefully toward a better one.

Taylor wasn't naïve. She knew that some of those men weren't going to be able to break their ties with the sinister group of racists. Instead, they would allow themselves to be convinced by others, or their own fears, that it was better to stay in the place where they'd always been than to take a chance on doing something else. Of achieving something better.

Unfortunately, she didn't think they would be able to hold out in the long term. Whatever it was that Umrahnuha's symbol was doing to people, it seemed to force them to face the brutal truth about themselves and their choices, no matter how unpalatable that truth might be.

She didn't think that anyone who turned away from that truth would be able to abide by those false choice too much longer. Filled with doubts and fears, she thought that they might just self-destruct, something which would only occur faster if put under any kind of pressure.

Like searching for a Parahuman who insulted their leader, maybe getting into fights with other gangs while doing so, a little voice in the back of her mind seemed to whisper to her.

Maybe. Or maybe in the next clash against the ABB, such a man might hesitate to strike a blow, and end up being struck, perhaps even dying because they were too weak to be able to turn away from the path they were on.

She shivered, suddenly feeling cold. Taylor sped up a little, as much to escape her own thoughts as to warm up. She was really starting to wonder about the gifts she'd been given. Like whether they were really gifts so much, or burdens that affected the people around her.

Still, Taylor only had to look at her dad, or to think of the people whose lives she'd saved in the hospital, to understand that it was just her own fear talking, trying to undermine her determination to be a better person. To save as many of the people around her as she could. To build a better world for everyone to live in.

If that meant going against Kaiser and Empire 88, she'd do so. Not that Taylor believed for even one second that she could beat them in a straight up fight. Despite all of her gifts, they'd wipe the floor her and likely kill her.

No, she would need to careful here. She'd need to plan her campaign like a veteran general and try to take advantage of every single weakness that the other group possessed. Or otherwise, she'd end up as just another statistic, a new cape coming into their powers and being killed within months of obtaining them.

No, she needed knowledge, and she already knew where to obtain that.

Making a decision that after school today, she'd head to the public library and look up books on tactics and strategy, made Taylor feel better. While she understood that not everything could be learned from reading books, there was still valuable insight to be gained there. Plus, if it gave her nothing other than a different way to consider things, it would not be time wasted.

Of course, before she could do so, she had to deal with giving a speech to her new Debate teammates, Mary Anne and Tara. Facetiously, she wondered if they'd accept the same speech she'd given those Empire 88 candidates last night. Deciding that probably wouldn't be a wise thing to do, Taylor put on a burst of speed as she entered the home stretch.


Jim walked up the stairs from the basement that had been his bedroom for the last two years and headed toward the kitchen, ready to face the music.

He'd gotten in too late the night before to talk with his parents about what he'd been doing lately, but he was going to do it before his dad left for work. He just didn't see the point in waiting any longer.

"Good morning, James. Did you sleep well?" his mother asked as she began making him a plate before he even got to the table.

"Martha, let the boy get his own food. You're spoiling him." His dad wasn't nearly as sunny in the mornings as Jim's mom was, likely still feeling the effects of the six pack he'd drank late last night.

His dad asked, "So when did you get home, Jimmy? It wasn't within your curfew, that's for sure."

"No, Dad, it was a later than that. Look, I need to talk to the two of you about something. Something happened to me recently. Something... I don't know if it was good or bad, but it changed things. I..." How to tell them, Jim wondered? How did you tell your parents that you'd almost joined Empire 88, a group of racists and Parahuman monsters, who'd terrorized the city for decades? That the only reason you hadn't been doing your best to kill other human beings last night had been because of a tall skinny teenage girl dressed up in a costume.

His mom immediately asked, "Was it those boys you hang around with? I just knew that Mike Bowers was trouble. I just knew it!"

"Martha, let the boy speak. Jimmy... Jim, what's going on?"

For the first time in a very long time, his dad was looking at him with something other than disappointment. There was an awareness in his eyes, as if he could read between the lines of what his son had said and knew there was a great deal more. That awareness, couple with the clear concern that shone in his eyes seemed to give Jim strength and he slowly began to explain.

Over the next few hours, there was a great deal of yelling and screaming, of tears and remonstrances, but at the end of it, Jim no longer had any doubts that his parents loved him dearly. He just hoped it was enough to weather the storm that was coming.


Max Anders paced in his office, careful to let none of the fury and frustration currently filling him to show in his expression. After all, control was one of the things that made someone a man.

It was one of the hardest lessons that Max had learned from his father before the man had died. But learn it he had, by fist and belt, and later more grievous techniques. He'd learned to control himself under any and all circumstances, not even allowing a shred of the grief he felt cross his face as the man's casket was lowered to the ground that cold November day.

He'd maintained control when his first wife had been killed by members of the Teeth, her body shredded by the flesh destroying power of the Butcher. He'd never been able to get his revenge there, not wanting to become the latest iteration of the dreaded cape. Still, he had maintained control despite that and had watched her buried less than two years after his own father.

Max had maintained control despite his disappointment in his sad sack of a son, Theo, who he already knew would never amount to anything. If the boy even ended up triggering, it would likely be with a useless power that suited his useless self.

Control had been maintained through a host of difficulties through the years, ranging from attempts to undermine his leadership and replace him, to personal losses as well as triumphs that had sent him spiraling into the depths as well as raising him up into the heights.

Today, he would also maintain control, despite the news he'd been given that morning by the man who'd died shortly after.

Max didn't consider the death of the bearer of ill news a loss in control. He felt nothing for the Empire soldier one way or another. But an example had to be made. An answer to the gauntlet that had been thrown into the face of his Empire. Into his own face. Such challenges must be met with blood and sacrifice, the primeval powers fed so that victory could be attained.

Not that Max truly believed that rubbish, but too many of his rank and file did, even some of the Parahuman members of his Empire being hopelessly superstitious. So he had made the gesture, despite the weakness of the opposition. After all, his Empire, and he personally, had been called out by a Parahuman who, as far as he could discover, had been active less than a week.

Despite the inexperience of his newest foe, Max did not plan to underestimate the other. After all, it was careful planning that had raised Empire 88 to heights that Allfather, his father and the leader before him, could only dream of. Max ruled a significant portion of the city around him, and if it wasn't quite as much as he would like, he could blame that on factors that required extremely long range planning.

After all, even dragons could eventually be killed if the hunters were patient and careful enough to set their traps properly.

But for now, Lung was not his focus. Tomorrow, or the next day, he would be once again. But for today at least, Max's thoughts lay on a far different cape, one that was known as Avatar. That cape would die soon, and he would use her blood and death to further his Empire, as he'd used that of so many before her.


Greg's hands shook as he typed on the keyboard in front of him. He'd stayed home from school today, despite having homework that was due, as well as a test, because he needed, more than anything else, to keep up with the thread he was following on PHO.

He was just so very, very glad that he hadn't done something else to cause him to be temporarily banned from the board, as he'd done so many times before. Now he was going to reap his reward.

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Topic: Avatar
In: Boards ► Places ► America ►Brockton Bay ►Independents

► Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

I've watched the video countless times now and I'm no closer to figuring out how the hell she was able to actually get on top of Hookwolf without being torn to shreds than before. Seriously, I'm stumped.

Then, of course, the small matter of her being some kind of amazing healer just makes it all that much better. Not only did she heal Hookwolf after him getting hit three times by her lightning, but she fixed up that one guy's leg, that guy who got shot, and the one missing three fingers from his right hand.

If there's anyone on this board who hasn't seen the video of Avatar taking down Hookwolf of Empire 88 last night, it's here. I know that the other links are already buried a couple of hundred pages back. Thanks again to the anonymous person who posted it on TubeView. I think.

► Gretel

Posted on January 19, 2011:

That was the sickest thing I've ever seen. How the hell was Avatar able to stand on all of those blades? Maybe she has a forcefield that protects her from damage, too.

► WhedonRipperFan

Posted on January 19, 2011:

Bagrat I don't see how we're going to really figure out any of that unless the PRT issues some kind of press release, OR Avatar gets on here and talks to us. Of course, there must be a thousand questions she's been asked on the previous pages.

► BigDaddy47

Posted on January 19, 2011:

I swear that it's like she was speaking in front of a pulpit. God is behind her! You can SEE GOD standing behind her!

User received a ten day suspension for this post: 1) Let's keep the crazy to a minimum, please.

► Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

WhedonRipperFan I don't necessarily trust the public mouth pieces of the PRT. They're going to put a spin things. It would be nice if Avatar got back on here, but what are the odds, really?

My sources in the PRT tell me that Avatar's been responsible for healing people in two different hospitals over in Brockton Bay. They still have the people she's healed under 72 hour quarantine until they know for sure that they won't have side effects. You can't get any closer to a hero than Avatar's actions and her words.

I'm not trying to create even more controversy, but my sources in the PRT also tell me that there is supposedly a symbol on her chest that is affecting people. I didn't see one in the video, but supposedly it doesn't show up digitally. You can see evidence in the way the gang members act around her, and later those two Wards, that something affected them.

► XxVoid_CowboyxX (Cape Geek)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

Avatar is a hero, I just know it. She's healing people, she's saving lives, she's stopping fights, and she's taking down villains. It's wonderful. I don't believe that she'd do something to hurt anyone.

► All_Die_Now

Posted on January 19, 2011:

The end is coming. You can know this by the number of the beast that is upon the deceiver's body. 666! It is marked! It is-post edited for content.

User received a ban for this post: 1) I meant what I said about the crazy. Inciting panic is not acceptable.

► Miraclemic

Posted on January 19, 2011:

This thread is attracting every lunatic around the country and most of those overseas. Joy.

XxVoid_CowboyxX That was slightly less manic than your usual posts. Good job.

Bagrat Are you serious about the symbol? Because that would be huge. I don't think it's nearly enough to get her a kill order, but she might get arrested and Birdcaged if she's using some kind of broad area of effect mind control. Healing or no healing, that's some scary ass shit.

► Arthur's_Chalice

Posted on January 19, 2011:

I don't know what all of the fuss is about. Clearly Avatar is what she pretends to be: She's the mortal form of a god or goddess who is here upon earth doing right. Even her powers fit the theme. Shame on all of you for not giving her your devotion and your worship. I know I am.

End of Page. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 1026, 1027, 1028, 1029

Topic: Avatar
In: Boards ► Places ► America ►Brockton Bay ►Independents

► Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

Miraclemic Deadly serious. I get what you're saying about her powers being potentially dangerous. However, I have it on good authority that it's less about mind control than that it pushes you towards making some kind of decision over things in your life.

I don't pretend to have all of the answers and until there's more known about Avatar, there's no way to figure out what's going on.

► Avatar2011
Posted on January 19, 2011:

I'm sorry, everyone, but I haven't had a chance to read any of your posts or consider your questions. I never imagined that what I chose to do last night would cause so much controversy and make this thread so crazy. I do want to say a couple of things before I log off.

First, yes, I can heal. I went to the hospitals that have traditionally have seen little of Panacea and tried to help people there. My healing does not have any side effects whatsoever.

To the PRT, please let those I've healed go so that they can return to be with their families and friends.

My symbol isn't mind control. At least, I don't think so. However, it does force someone to make a choice, whether to face the truth, no matter how painful that can be, or to just continue to hide your head in the sand and believe the lies and fantasies those in power tell us.

To everyone out there, I believe that this will be my last post for a while. It appears that things are going to get worse before they get better. But don't lose hope. Remember, believing in a better future and working toward that same thing is not the same as being delusional or an idiot. It actually means that you're a good person who wants to see a better tomorrow for your, and everyone else's, children.

Good bye, everyone. For now.

► XxVoid_CowboyxX (Cape Geek)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

Avatar2011 Noooooo! Avatar please come back! We need you! I need you! Come back to me!

► Loki's_Fang
Posted on January 19, 2011:

Lying scum! You besmirch the precious name of our leader, Kaiser, while pretending to be a good person. You will burn in hell, bitch!

User received a ban for this post: 1) I meant what I said about the crazy. Add racist rants and threats to that as well. Post with care, everyone. Zero tolerance from here on out.

► WhiteTiger22
Posted on January 19, 2011:

I'm glad she took the damn Nazis down. They've been making our city miserable for ages. The PRT won't, or can't, do anything about it. Go, Avatar!

► Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
Posted on January 19, 2011:

That was more than I expected to get from Avatar. Healer, fighter, bringer of lightning. I guess we can add orator to the list of her abilities as well. I'll be keeping an eye on the thread and an ear out for more actual facts. I'll post more when I find out something solid.

End of Page. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ... 1027, 1028, 1029, 1030

There was a chill that raced down Greg's spine as he realized the events that were taking place in his city. He'd never felt so alive as he did at that moment.

He'd watched the video that one of the men had recorded of the fight and the events afterward more than a dozen times. The way she'd moved and fought, plus the things she'd said...

Not only had Avatar beaten Hookwolf, one of the most powerful capes in Empire 88, but she'd told their leader, Kaiser to leave Brockton Bay. She'd threatened him with the same fate as Hookwolf, basically becoming her bitch. It was freaking awesome.

He hoped that Avatar didn't disappear from sight completely. He'd been more than half in love with the mysterious cape ever since she'd first posted a photograph of herself in her costume. He was going to miss her something terrible if she had to lay low for a while because of the damn Nazis.

Not even thinking about it, he whispered a brief prayer for Avatar's safety. If his words were more to her, than for her, what was the harm in that?


With a heavy heart, Taylor logged off of PHO just before the end of class. It had been a calculated risk even logging in from the school's server in the first place, but she'd used several tricks she'd learned recently to route herself through a few different ISP's before logging in. Fixing those to return her computer and browser back to normal, she pondered some of the things she'd read.

While she hadn't exactly lied in her post, Taylor had taken the time to read a couple of hundred posts, half of those posted before last night's confrontation, the other half afterward. She'd quickly realized that there was a strong dichotomy to the two time frame's subjects.

Those from before the confrontation were mostly fluff posts, more about her likes and dislikes than about her actions. They were mostly harmless even if some of the questions were disturbingly personal. After all, no one needed to know her skin care regimen. Those posted after the fight with Hookwolf...

To say that she stirred up strong feelings in the people who posted wasn't an exaggeration. Many of those feelings were undeniably positive and were reflected in the things they wrote. Praising her. Telling her that she'd done the right thing to fight Hookwolf and call out Kaiser. Unfortunately, the flip side of the coin was that many of those whose feelings were far less positive about her also wrote the things they felt in their posts.

Taylor was too smart to allow herself to be brought low by what a few people wrote about her. Not even one of the posters, neither those who wrote positives things about her, nor those who lambasted her, knew her in a personal way.

They didn't know her hopes and dreams, fears or aspirations, or ultimately what she wanted to achieve with her life. They didn't know her.

Because of that, they were unable to judge her motivations in any form. All of those posts, Taylor simply dismissed as unimportant, attacks by small-minded people who needed to pull everyone and everything down to their level so they no longer felt the shadows of those smarter and better looming over them. It was an all too human thing to do.

Even those posts that were mostly positive weren't important for exactly the same reasons. She just couldn't take someone serious who praised her because 'Nazis are bad, so you taking them down makes you a good person.' It was too akin the empty praise a parent gives a toddler when it was really too young to understand the difference.

It wasn't either of those types of posts that disturbed Taylor, gotten under her skin. Instead, it was thoughtful, well written posts of people who actually considered her actions, not in the light of whether or not her foes were heinous, but rather on the potential consequences of her actions for harm or help in the great scheme of things.

One post had asked if her actions would destabilize the delicate balance of power that the gangs had established within Brockton Bay, leading to greater violence breaking out in non-gang areas. Another, if using whatever power her costume lent her against others, for any reason, could be excused. There were quite a lot of hard questions from people who weren't just reactionary nut jobs and it made her question herself.

Was what she was doing here the right thing? Helping people was one thing, but as soon as she crossed the line into confrontations with villains, especially on the scale of Empire 88 or the ABB, Taylor was risking more than just her own life. Any fight between her and those villains risked the lives of those around her, as did the actions they might potentially take in reaction to her own.

Still, every time she thought about it, a quote from a great American came to mind. Benjamin Franklin had said all the way back in 1776 that "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. " While Frankline hadn't been talking about her exact situation when he'd made his famous quote, instead referring to taxation, Taylor rather suspected that if he were transported forward in time and saw what was going on in Brockton Bay, he would say the same thing again.

It was something to think about.


Danny greeted Ken Stasney as the man finally arrived, getting out of his pick up and making his way toward where he was eating his lunch outside the Dockworkers Union.

Swallowing a bite from his sandwich, he asked, "Ken. How are you doing? Did you get everything worked out with that personal matter?"

The tall, red-haired man, his fair coloring that of the Irish whom he was descended from, nodded. "Yeah, Danny, I did. I'm sorry to put you in that position."

Shrugging, he said, "It's not a problem. I don't think the city's going to complain about a half day's delay in the erection of their fancy new railing in front of City Hall."

"Maybe not." Ken sighed, then looked away. A moment later, he took a bag of chewing tobacco out of his right front pocket and loaded a large piece into his cheek. He set to chewing it slowly as he stood there.

Danny waited, as the man seemed ready to expound upon why he'd needed to take the morning off of the welding job he'd gotten him. A moment later, his patience was rewarded.

"Danny, you've got a kid, don't you?"

Puzzled by the segue, Danny nodded. "A daughter named Taylor. She's fifteen and a sophomore at Winslow High."

"Winslow." The other man spat out the word, like it tasted foul in his mouth. Then he spat out something else in the form of a stream of brown liquid from the chewing tobacco in his cheek. Having done so, he continued, "That fucking school's the problem. It's gotten my boy, Jimmy, who goes there, in heaps of trouble."

Alarm bells began to ring in Danny's head as he registered the other man's expression. Taking Ken by the arm, he pulled him toward his office. "Maybe you should sit down and tell me what the problem is with Winslow."


Taylor had managed to complete Mary Anne and Tara's assignment during her final class' study time as she'd already done all of the reading for it ahead of time. The speech they'd wanted from her was over veganism and the tenets behind it.

"You're kidding, right?"

Mary Anne gave her a sympathetic look. "Not a big vegan I take it?"

Taylor rolled her eyes. "Not a vegan at all. All those protesters with their banners for animal rights... pretty much the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I mean, I'm not for hurting animals, or even for allowing them to become extinct. But the idea that we shouldn't eat meat at all because of some 'moral high ground'? Seriously idiotic. How can anyone buy into that stuff?"

Unfortunately, Tara was a bit less sympathetic. "The same reason people worship Endbringers. In a word: they're morons. Doesn't mean the point won't be brought up for debate at one of the meets. It's on the list of approved subjects. So suck it up and give us your pro viewpoint on it by two."

Cursing the blonde girl, Taylor used the rest of her lunch period and the latter half of her final day's class to do exactly that. Then she gave the speech to her two listeners. And defended it afterward.

Unfortunately, to her it had felt like the speech she made was a little wooden. It was hard for Taylor to get passionate about a subject when she frankly disagreed completely with almost everything it stood for. But she'd done her due diligence on the subject, then defended her viewpoint well enough.

Certainly, she'd managed to do a good enough job arguing on the health and environmental merits alone that the two older girls were more than happy with the result. Taylor wasn't going to have to spend any more lunches working on Speech-related items. However, she was also fairly certain that she would have at least two people to eat with for the foreseeable future, a not unpleasant trade off.

Research at the public library went quickly, if for no other reason than the number of books on strategy and tactics were far fewer than she would have suspected. At least ones that were good. Too many focused on past military battles and how they had been won, but with little emphasis on actual strategy or tactics. So Taylor had stopped looking at most of those types of books.

Instead, she'd focused on simple things like Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi's The Book of Five Rings. Classic books on warfare, she liked what she read in both. Two different books written by Generals from World War II and the Vietnam War respectively that focused on how different tactics and strategies had played their part in those wars, rounded out her research.

The rest of her time she spent focusing on reading the now enormous thread about her alter ego. Logged in only as BrHairGrl95, she read each and every post, making a mental note as to which posters she planned to actually reply to later.

Most of the stuff on there had been utter lunacy, as the more reasonable posters had decided to stay away from the asylum that the thread had become for at least a little while. Which was fine, Taylor decided. Later, she might even stir the pot through additional posts, using some of the diversion tactics in the books she'd read to make her foes underestimate her. For now, though, she was just going to abide.

Taylor had already decided that she was going out later that night. She'd avoid confrontation for now, allow Kaiser time to consider her words. While she one hundred percent doubted that they would have any effect on the white supremacist's opinions, maybe if he got angry enough, he might become careless. Plus, she planned to do a great deal of reconnaissance before she made any real forays against him.

She was actually whistling as she walked down the street from the bus stop. Taylor had already called and left a message on the answering machine in the kitchen for her dad, letting him know that she was on her way home and where she'd been in case he got home before her.

As she walked down the street, she waved at or greeted several different neighbors.

"Hi, Mrs Wineridge."

"Hi, Mr Jones."

"How are you today, Mr Khaled?"

She was still whistling when she jogged up the steps to her front door. Opening it with the house key, Taylor called out, "Hey, Dad, I'm home!"

She'd already seen that his car was there, as well as another truck. Briefly, she wondered if Kurt and Lacey had gotten another truck? A few seconds later, Danny called out from the kitchen, "Taylor, can you come here please?"

Setting her backpack in the floor of the living room, she headed back toward the kitchen. When she walked in, she saw her dad sitting at the kitchen table with two other people. She felt her pulse race as she recognized one of the people sitting there. It was Jim Stasney, the boy from last night, glaring up at her from where he slouched in one of the chairs.

Danny was frowning heavily at her as well. "Sit down, Taylor. I wanted to talk to you about what's been going on. Jim and his father, Ken, have told me a lot of things. I'd like to confirm what they said with you."


Next Chapter: This Is The Place Justice Made