Firstly, as always, I would like to thank all those who favorite, followed or reviewed my story. Your support is really appreciated and pushes me to try harder.
Secondly, "Vox Populi, Vox Dei!" the pool is now closed and your voice has been heard! With 361 against 160 votes the choice of making Agent Skitter Canon compliant to the rest of SC has won. So you may consider both the previous Omake and all future ones to actually have happened in the story. Hope you all like our dear Queen of Escalation future adventures as a secret agent.
Thirdly, like many of you accurately guessed, the new Big Bad is Anansi, the Spider, a figure from African folklore which is described as both a trickster and a thief that was reputed as having stolen all tales underneath the sky.
I also must admit that the second most guessed option, Baron Samedi, caught me slightly by surprise, though I do see why many made that assumption. The baron would fit to the role quite well too.
Fourthly, IT'S ALIVE, IT'S ALIVE! BWAHAHAHA! Cue dramatic thunder strike.
Jokes aside, I'm terribly sorry that I allowed this story to go for so long without an update. I got dozens of excuses ready to explain my absence, but we all know you don't want to hear about that. So instead allow me to apologize one more time and let's get down to the good stuff.
Lastly: I do not own "Campione!" or "Worm Serial".
One Step Forward…
As she took in the many and varied exotic trinkets scattered upon the bed of her hotel room, Taylor had to admit that Harakty had truly outdone himself in regards to fulfilling her request for Dragon Bones.
She had expected one or two of the things due to their rarity, perhaps three or four if she had been lucky, just enough for her to experiment upon and see if her mad hypothesis about using the divine remains to empower her Authorities had any value.
But no, the old mage had gone well and truly beyond the call of duty, and as a result there now rested twelve of the extremely rare magical artifacts in front of her. Far more than enough for her intentions, which was quite good, because reading between the lines of the message Harakty had sent alongside the Dragon Bones made it clear that those were basically all of said items the Council and their allies had managed to scrounge together in the whole of the African continent. Twelve priceless artifacts, each of them more than capable of being a serious threat to even accomplished mages if used correctly. The kind of items most organizations would do almost anything to obtain and the value of which could be barely measured, freely offered to her in a matter of days as a show of both devotion and an attempt to gather her favor because of a simple request she had made basically on a whim.
As she sat cross-legged atop the bed, Taylor couldn't help but shake her head in bemusement at the thought, at how far most mages of this earth would go to both appease and endear themselves to the Campione.
Shoving the stray thought away, the eighth Campione refocused on the problem at hand, which, for once wasn't being caused by her powers, much to the contrary in fact. Actually, instead of being stubborn or anything like that, her Shards of Eternity were being stupidly cooperative with this whole undertaking. Apparently getting a permanent power boost was something that the conflict loving Authority was wholly in favor of and ready to offer its full support to make it happen.
Trying to not linger too much on this newest evidence that her Authorities were at least somewhat sentient, Taylor focused on the crystallized magical remains scattered across her hotel's bed.
Despite the apparent overabundance of Dragon Bones at her disposal, the truth was that her plans regarding seeing if she could recreate what Pandora had done using Khepri's remains had already hit a small snag. For, of the twelve ludicrously valuable and extremely rare items now lying atop her bed, it seemed that ten of them were actually completely useless to what she desired.
All ten items had one thing in common; they all were formed from the remains of mere Divine Beasts, supernatural creatures of immense might whom, nonetheless, were apparently far too weak to serve as an energy source for her Authorities. Only the two remaining Dragon Bones, which had been formed from the remains of actual Heretic Gods, seemed to hold the necessary energy to work as fuel for that. It was an annoyance, yes, but not wholly unexpected to the young Campione.
The second problem was that despite both of them apparently having enough power, of the remaining two one of them simply refused to resonate with her the way the other did, and even that one seemed only to resonate with her Scion-born Authorities.
Thankfully the active Thinker Shard she had running, which her battle-maniac of an Authority had all but shoved at her the moment she had activated it, was up to the task of answering that particular riddle. The first thing that she immediately discovered was that, apparently, due to their very nature of adaptation and growth, only her Scion born Authorities seemed to be able to be affected by whatever it was that Pandora did to give her a power boost. The second was that only Dragon Bones that shared one or more affinities with the ones' of said Authorities could be used.
War, Steel and Creation. Those where the affinities, the nature, that this reality's magical laws had apparently given to Scion. So, only the remains of gods that had one or more of those natures could be used to try and perform the ritual.
"How typical," Taylor mumbled to herself as she bundled up the eleven completely useless priceless artifacts in front of her in a spare blanket and shoved them to the side, before her eyes moved to rest at the final item.
It looked like some kind of fancy ebony saber, which was apparently made out of a talon from an old Egyptian war god called Montu or something like that. She had no idea who Montu was, hadn't even heard the name before today, truth be told. But her active Shard did inform her that it was strongly aligned with War, and that it would work as a good test for the empowering ritual she wanted to attempt.
It was not like she had a rule book or any kind of guideline in regards to this, after all.
After a short moment of consideration, Taylor rose from the bed and eyed the ebony saber as she weighted the pros and cons of what she intended to do. Before with a firm nod she grabbed it and started towards the sitting room in search of a big enough space to try and cobble up a ritual of some kind that would hopefully work.
Pushing the large sofa to the side Taylor started to activate a second shard, the Authority eagerly rushing forth to aid her in this endeavor. Not wasting another moment she started towards where she had stocked some chalk and several magical ingredients and got to work.
After all, what was the worst that could happen?
"Well this is it for today, I suppose," Anit said as she followed Lisa out of the building where they had just had a meeting with Lord Harakty in order to iron out the final details in regards to dealing with what remained of Zaliki's now greatly diminished power base.
Apparently even that idiot had some kind of survival instincts in the end. It appeared that after losing his cabal of pet assassins the council member had finally realized that angering a god-slayer was a bad idea and had started to frantically backpedal in regards to his plans of trying to entrap Taylor. He would be back; Lisa was certain of it, that particular breed of arrogant idiocy never truly learned its place after all, always yearning for more. But for now he was apparently trying to lay low as he licked his wounds.
"Indeed, now lets us return to our dear overlord before she manage's to set fire to the hotel!" the blonde cheerfully piped in as they both entered into the car waiting for them and the driver took off. She could deal with the idiot latter, for now, it was best to go make sure Taylor was copping with everything half as well as she pretended to be doing. Heavens knows that girl had a tendency to bottle things up to an incredibly unhealthy degree.
"You say that as if it could actually happen," the Egyptian mage said as she gave Lisa a slightly concerned look.
"It wouldn't be the first time," Lisa promptly replied with a shrug of her shoulders and a grin, as she savored the skeptical look the other woman was giving her. And this time she wasn't even lying! Though, how Taylor had managed to burn down that old warehouse back in Brockton while practicing a new trick with her swarm was something that still baffled Lisa to this day, and she was a Thinker for heaven's sake! All that she had managed to gleam from that particular incident before ending up with a migraine was that it had involved thermite somehow. Lots and lots of thermite. How Taylor had even managed acquired that substance back in good old Brockton Bay in the first place was a question she had decided she didn't want to know.
"Now you're just pulling my leg," Anit replied with an annoyed huff as she mock glared at the grinning Thinker. "There's no way that's true!"
"No, really, you wouldn't believe what that girl gets up to if left unsupervised!" Lisa happily said as she remembered some of the more ridiculous escapades the bug mistress had somehow found herself involved with back in the day. Seriously, back then it sometimes felt like she would turn away to deal with something for a minute, and when she looked back Taylor had done another ridiculously over the top action as if it was nothing.
As they bantered back and forth as they grew closer and closer to the hotel they were currently staying at, Lisa discreetly watched the Egyptian mage. She had grown to know Anit pretty well these past few days. Perks of being a Thinker. And so she was now forced to face a hard dilemma: To decide if she should tell the olive-skinned mage the truth about both her and Taylor's origins as off-worlder's or not. A dilemma, that she had been pondering about for almost a day now.
In one hand, by this point she was as sure as she could be that Anit's loyalty to Taylor was actually the real deal, rock solid to an impressive degree, and as such her trustworthiness was not in question in the slightest. Nor was her ability to handle the truth for that matter, for apparently more than one Campione had had the ability to travel to other planes of existence in the past, up to and including the still living King of the Underworld's ability to access the realm of the Fae. So the idea of parallel Earths wouldn't be much of a stretch for the Egyptian mage to get over with.
No, the great problem was that Lisa found the sheer disbelief and wild conjectures the olive-skinned woman constantly came up with in order to try and make sense of Taylor's origins and actions to be dreadfully amusing.
All the crazy theories both Anit, and basically everyone else that knew about magic on this planet, kept coming up with in regards to Taylor made some of the tinfoil-hats from PHO look positively tame!
That was the reason why she had been discreetly throwing fuel in the fire in regards to the mage communities' wilder theories in regards to her friend's origins, after all. It was hilarious! The fact that Taylor had, somehow, managed to actually be recognized as an off the books American government blacks ops agent, by accident of all things, and without an ounce of outside interference at that, was only icing on top of the cake of the whole absurd situation! If really nice icing.
So letting the mage continue to try, and fail, to figure out Taylor's past definitely appealed to her, regardless of the moral implications of doing so. But then again, no one had ever accused her of being 'nice'.
But in the other hand, Anit was now a teammate, someone who was working alongside her while seeking the same goal of keeping Taylor alive and sane-ish despite the former bug-controller best efforts otherwise, and was actually both a hard worker and loyal to Taylor. And she loathed to misled a teammate needlessly, that was a fact.
With a internal sigh of defeat, and a metaphorical eye-roll, Lisa admitted defeat as that final thought basically answered the question of if she should tell Anit the truth or not. All the while she bemoaned and questioned why her conscience chose to nitpick and bother her on such scenarios. What a bother.
"Hey, Anit, there is something that I should probably tell you," the blonde stated with finality before she could second guess her decision as she looked the other woman straight in the eyes. "You know, the truth is that Taylor and I actually aren't from around here. We are actually from another dim-"
But before she could proceed with the much needed explanation, a loud deafening explosion reverberated throughout the evening, well and truly derailing the conversation before it could even start as the driver cursed and swerved to the side as he hit the brakes while attempting to avoid hitting the other cars as drivers panicked due to the explosion.
"What was that?!" Anit exclaimed as she quickly removed her seatbelt and jumped outside the vehicle the moment it had stopped, her hands already alit with magical energy as she readied herself to erect a barrier at the slightest hint of an attack.
Lisa wasn't far behind her; discreetly palming her handgun as she swiftly took in the whole situation in order to feed her power as much data as possible, all the while making a mental note to bother Taylor about borrowing an Authority or two in order to have a crash course in magic later on. No longer being just a squishy Thinker really appealed to her sensibilities.
A moment later, she knew with some degree of certainty what had caused a large smoking hole to appear exactly where Taylor's room was located in the hotel. And far more importantly, she now knew with a far larger degree of certainty exactly who was responsible for it.
"THAT is precisely why Taylor should not be left unsupervised!" Lisa grumbled to the woman now incredulously staring at both her and the hole at the hotel façade as she re-holstered her gun. And with a tired sigh and a gesture for Anit to follow along, Lisa hurried onwards to see exactly what Taylor had just done to result in such a explosive result.
"Really, Taylor, what were you thinking?" Lisa angrily asked as we walked out of the large hotel we had been staying up to this point. Something that we probably wouldn't be able to continue doing, what with the large hole on its side were my room used to be and all the talk from the Council's operatives about checking out the building's structural integrity.
"Look, there may have been some unforeseen side effects-" Taylor tired to say as she attempted to keep all feelings of embarrassment and sheepishness out of her voice. They were in public and she had an image to maintain, after all. Regardless of the fact that her clothes were tattered and covered in soot, image was important. Only for Lisa to cut her short and continue on her rant.
"No, really? I would've never guessed!" she sarcastically continued as they stopped so that another contingent of mages could pass them by. Normally Taylor didn't really pay much mind to the myriad council operatives that where always lurking around, but now she couldn't help but be slightly thankful for them. What with how promptly and efficiently they had cordoned off the hotel and proceeded to edit all the memories of those who shouldn't know about the supernatural. All their actions seemed planned out and following a logical patern. It was almost as if they were following a rulebook or something.
"They have started to trade information with the Italian Mage Association's after Doni's little visit, and the Italian's have a lot of experience containing the results of the King of Sword's antics" her blond friend said with a wave of her hand in answer to her unasked questions as they entered a waiting car alongside a very bemused looking Anit. "But do not change the subject! Seriously Taylor, what the hell? What were you thinking trying to cobble together a ritual by yourself in a hotel room of all things!"
"It worked!" She blurted out in an attempt to stop Lisa's rant short. Sure, the ritual needed some refinement, what with how it had ended. But it had worked! "I have managed to reduced the cool down period for my Golden Hero Authority by a full twelve hours!"
"Wait, really? But how- no, but wouldn't that mean- If that's the case, then-" Lisa started mumbling to herself as she raise a hand to her chin, losing steam as she started to process the meaning of this new development and all the ways they could use it to improve their situation. Before she snapped back to glare Taylor's way. "Stop trying to distract me. We were talking about your latest harebrained idea and how it ended up explosively. We can discuss the rest later!"
"Seriously, Lisa, it worked, didn't it!" she indignantly replied. Sure, now that she thought about it taking a few precautions beforehand would've probably been a good idea. But what was done was done. No point in bemoaning about it any longer!
"Reviewing prior errors is never a waste of time. But at least you are now considering thinking at least a little before jumping," the blond tiredly said as she started to massage her brow, as if to ward off a headache.
"How do you two keep doing that?" Anit asked as she kept giving the two of them slightly confused looks, Clearly wondering about the parts of their 'conversation' she was missing.
"Long familiarity. The fact that I have an ability that allows me to read micro-expressions, and other such tells, which allows me to deduce things to an insane degree also helps," Lisa promptly replied. The honest answer actually catching Taylor by slight surprise. It being a huge show of trust towards Anit from the normally very wary Thinker. "Anyway, lets shove this for later. But we really need to find a more permanent base of operations, somewhere we can reinforce and secure. Especially since you experimenting with things most would think best left alone is going to become a thing, isn't it?"
Taylor wanted to protest. But Lisa was pretty spot on. There was simply no way she wouldn't try and push this new discovery to its theoretical limits. Not when it could well mean the diference between victory and defeat in the long run.
"In that case, if you give me a list of what you would desire for your new abode. I could ask Lord Harakty for locations and properties fitting it," the olive-skinned mage replied even as she gave Lisa a considering look. Clearly digesting this new bit of info.
"Thanks, Anit, that would be very helpful," Taylor said to her new friend, before something else occurred to her. "Also, ask Harakty to place some feelers towards the international community in regards to where Dragon Bones' aligned with Steel, War or Creation can be found."
Anit gave her a slightly confused look, but nodded anyway. Lisa in turn was looking her way with a deeply considering gaze. Taylor wondered what exactly the blonde's power would make out of the ritual she had cobbled together, and if it would have any suggestions on how best to improve and refine it.
Making it so it wouldn't explode again would be a great help, after all.
"So the little thief seeks the remains of Heretic Gods, does she now?" Anansi casually asked his thrall as he sipped from his glass while lounging upon a very comfortable throne-like chair that had once belonged to said foolish mortal. Human arrogance had always astounded and amused him in equal measures, but there was no denying how confortable the seat was.
"Yes, milord," Zaliki promptly answered as he knelt in front of the old trickster. "More specifically, the Eighth Campione seems to be after the Dragon Bones of Heretic Gods aligned with creation, war and steel. The Council has started searches for such artifacts beyond our shores.
"Very interesting, very interesting indeed," the Heretic God mused as he gently swirled his glass around making the ice cubes inside tinkle with every motion. "So we have the start of what could be a magnificent tale, don't we?"
Ignoring the still kneeling thrall completely, Anansi mused how best to spin this newest story. How best to weave this new and excitting tale. The child of Pandora that had dared claim the lands of his birth as her own would demand nothing short of a true epic for her final tale, after all.
"A bait to draw her to an appropriate stage, now that could be arranged easily enough," he thought out loud as he considered which of the many trinkets he had acquired during the passage of the centuries would be the most appropriate for the role. "But what about the stage itself? And far more importantly, the actors to fill the roles needed for such a magnificent performance!"
The old trickster knew of his foe's martial might. Like the spider that he was he had waited and watched, acquiring all the information he would need to entrap this new foe into his web and her inevitable end. He knew that facing her in open combat alone was folly. That facing her in a fair fight was not the best of ideas in regards to his continued well being. Luckily, as his many legends could easily attest, fairness had never been something he had put much stock into.
His fanged grin grew even larger as an idea occurred to him. He wondered if that old snake was still skulking around her usual haunts as she attempted to regain what she had lost. Aiding her to regain what was lost wouldn't be too hard considering his collection, and it would be the neighborly thing to offer her some help, wouldn't it?
And if said help took the form of something little Miss Hebert just so happened to be seeking? Why, that old dear's darling children oh so happened to be such wonderful combatants! And it would be only right for him to aid her in such a situation against a pesky little interloper.
"Oh, yes. This will be a magnificent performance indeed!" Anansi decided with a gleeful laugh as he started to spin plans and stratagems. Oh, he would enjoy this greatly! Not to mention that Greece had such a lovely weather this time of the year!
Omake - Agent Skitter – The Name is Hebert, Taylor Hebert.
"Stop laughing, Lisa!" Taylor grumbled to her blond friend who was all but collapsed upon the couch as she laughed herself silly, before she fiercely gestured to the now slightly smoking laptop that had just delivered the newest bout of absurdity to plague her life. "We got to do something about this!"
"Indeed!" the Thinker cheerfully replied as she wiped a few tears out of her eyes and gave Taylor a mirth filled smirk. "We need to buy you some tailored suits! You got to look the part, after all!"
"Lisa, this isn't funny!" she angrily retorted as she passed a hand through her hair in frustration and glared at her, sometimes insufferable, friend in an attempt to make her take this situation seriously. "If we don't do something to correct this immediately, people are going to think that I'm a government secret agent or something just as ridiculous!"
A moment of silence permeated the room as both Anit and Lisa stared at the young Campione in complete silence for a moment after her outburst, only for it to be broken a moment later as Lisa started to snicker uncontrollably once again.
"Lisa!" Taylor shouted once again, now more than a little exasperated by the other's actions, the fact that Anit was now actively avoiding making eye contact with the young god-slayer only compounding her frustration to this whole ridiculous situation.
The blonde took a few more moments to recompose herself, before she turned very amused eyes towards Taylor.
"Sorry to burst your bubble, Taylor," she started with a huge smile firm on her features, not really sounding sorry at all. "But everybody, from the varied mage organizations around the world, to the American government itself, already fully believes that to be the truth!"
"What?!" Taylor shouted, as she stared wide eyed at her friend whose smile had somehow grown even larger. "How did that happen?!"
"Lots of circumstantial evidence leading to logical but incorrect assumptions in regards to your origins, that alongside you being a non-entity as far as your past is concerned in this earth, lead to a conclusion that would look right to an outsider perspective simply due to lacking all the actual facts that could disprove said theory," Lisa promptly replied as she moved towards Taylor and threw her arms around her in a half hug. "It also didn't help that you got yourself into the secret service paycheck and kept accidentally feeding the rumors with more fuel with your actions. So, congratulations, Taylor, you are a secret agent!"
The Eighth Campione simply stood there and stared at the blonde Thinker openly snickering at her face as she desperately wondered how the heck that could've happened. Only for Lisa to continue to speak, mirth clear in her every word.
"Don't be so grumpy, Taylor! After all, it's not like they are asking you to do things you wouldn't do anyway had you learned about them beforehand. Heavens knows you could never let things lie when confronted with something that went against your morals," Lisa happily chirped in with a fake aggravated huff, her huge smile not wavering in the slightest at the glare Taylor was giving her. "So just take this new development as an opportunity to get some extra intel and do some spring cleaning on the surrounding areas of the underworld! No big deal!"
Feeling more than a little annoyed, Taylor tried to push Lisa away, to no avail. Dearly wishing she could naysay the annoyingly happy Thinker in regards to her words. Only, that would be an outright lie, and both of them knew it.
"Anyway, with that out of the way, let's move on to far more important stuff!" Lisa happily continued as she released the young Campione and clapped her hands in clear delight, a mischievous glint clear in her eyes. "So, as the information specialist of the group I reserve myself the right to be M, mister Bond, and Anit can be your newest Bond Girl, since she definitely has the body for that!"
"Lisa!" Both Taylor and Anit shouted as one, their blushing faces mirror images of embarrassment as they glared at the very amused looking blonde.
So Taylor being an active secret agent linked with the American government is now canon to this story. That can only end well in the long run. Especially when adding a certain super hero themed American Campione to the mix… This is going to be fun! xD
Changing the subject, the different Natures or Types that Heretic Gods may have is a Canon Campione fact, and in the end I decided that War, Steel and Creation would fit Scion/Zion best of them all considering what we know of the Entities. In that regard, Steel is an odd godly Type in the Campione-verse. It pertains to the Warrior gods like Perseus and Verethgrama, and is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous and powerful types of divinity and is especially effective against Earth natured gods. It is closely linked to War but a god can have one and not the other.
In a side note: Montu is a very ancient god that was depicted to have the form of a falcon; he was originally a manifestation of the scorching effect of Ra, the sun, and as such often appeared under the epithet Montu-Ra. The destructiveness of this imagery led to him gaining characteristics of a warrior, and eventually becoming a widely revered war-god. The Egyptians thought that Montu would attack the enemies of Maat , truth of the cosmic order, while inspiring, at the same time, glorious warlike exploits and was considered to be the embodiment of the conquering vitality of the Pharaoh.
Once again, sorry for the long absence, it was simply one thing after another, and before I really noticed far too long had passed. I'll try and make sure that it doesn't happen again. Thanks for the patience. And also, please take care and stay safe until this whole madness that has befallen the world blows over.
Hope you enjoyed the chapter, please review before leaving.