Now, for you guys on FF dot net, I know I said I won't post anymore, but this is a part of 1.10, delayed for quality control, so since I already posted 1.10... It's not like FF dot net compromises any font choice or some such in regard to this chapter.

Also, I want to address the concern of having to slog through pages of comment to find chapters. First: I wish, man. Second, there's always the threadmark function which will take you to all the story posts. It's hard to get this information posted without dedicating an entire chapter to essentially advertising another site, so have a chapter to go with it! If you need anything, don't hesitate to PM me, just know that it may take a while for me to notice.

As per usual, thank you to Twei, Beast_Regard and eschwartz for betaing. Apology to Samarkand for not waiting on your input.

Sophia Hess. 7th December, 2010

Powerful legs pistoned a steady, powerful rhythm. Her entire body moved to it. Her heart beat to it.

The ledge approached. Lesser men would have slowed down. They would fear the edge and turn away, they would stop.

Shadow Stalker charged headlong toward it. Steady and unafraid. She had done this before. She would do this again.

She leapt, soaring through the gap between rooftops. Her form exploded into a cloud of darkness and shot forward, trivially crossing the chasm before rematerializing in a roll. Capturing the momentum, Sophia sprung forth and kept moving.

This, she thought to herself, was the purest of freedom. A predator prowling the canopy of Brockton Bay's concrete jungle. The PRT thought to chain her down. They couldn't. Nothing could.

This was not her usual hunting ground. Her diet was primarily neo-Nazis. Still, with the collar the PRT forced upon her, it was more prudent to search for less organized prey. Fucking up bottom-feeding druggies was nowhere as satisfying as bending a skinhead's knee backward, but it was something. Beside, they had gotten uppity last night with the arson. Someone needed to remind them of their place.

A shrill, girly scream caught her attention. The probationary Ward came to a stop on a dilapidated office building and cast her eyes down.

There, down in the alley, were four disgusting example of the Bay's lowest dregs converging on a single young woman. The four twichy, spindly wastes of skin were textbook Merchant stereotypes: they looked filthy, they smelled filthy, and they probably bled sewage. The woman was more peculiar. She was dressed like a whore coming back from a night of work: a heavy jacket that was too large for her frame, and a white, ratty tube top that was the opposite, too small to cover her sizable assets. Underneath, she wore either large panties or very short shorts. It looked like jeans, so Sophia suspected the latter. However, she didn't have a whore's look. She was tall and beautiful, with luscious black hair and unblemished tanned skin. There were none of the usual signs of self-destruction.

The thugs advanced, and she took a step back, pressing herself against the dead end. With nowhere to run, she shrunk into herself. The quartet advanced, all four grinning and leering.

Sophia kept her eyes on the scene below. There was no way the woman could fight them off by herself, but that wasn't the point. She needed to fight regardless. If she dared to bite back, she would earn her right to live. If she remained as she was, scared and weak, then any effort spent would be effort wasted.

She did nothing. Worse, her whimpering only encouraged them further. One stepped up, driving a fist into her stomach, laughing as she slumped to the ground. The bottom feeders closed in, one bent down to pick her up.

The Ward expected a scream, yes, but not a hiss. The supposed victim had his wrist in her grip, apparently squeezing hard enough that he was screaming bloody murder. Before anyone could fully comprehend what was happening, she leapt, taking him up with her. The young woman twisted mid-air, three limbs somehow finding purchase on the wall behind her while the last swung upward, sending the druggie skyward.

She twisted again, face turning back to the other three even as she hung there. She didn't look right. She looked like some great, four limbed bug had taken to wearing human skin, but only had a passing familiarity with how joints and a spine were supposed to work.

Did she trigger? No. A fresh trigger should be confused and terrified. They didn't move with this alacrity and grace. It was a trap. Feigned vulnerability to draw in overeager animals.

The airborne thug came past Sophia's view again, this time dragged by gravity's leash. He impacted the ground with a meaty thud. Sophia found her eyes drawn to his unmoving form sprawled there on the ground, limbs bent in painful angles.

He was dead.

Sophia had killed before. Three, to be exact. An ABB whoremonger whose body she crucified and left to bleed. A burglar lucky enough to have a taser on hand to discover her Achilles' heel. And a E88 thug that she was using to try out the dangle-over-ledge thing that fictional, bat-themed Aleph cape did before she slipped and dropped him in a dumpster. Turned out, a diet of primarily steak and bullshit generally leaves one too heavy for a teenager's arms to lift, no matter how athletic said teenager was.

Really, they made it look too easy. It was a spot of luck that he ended up in the trash where he belonged so she didn't have to climb down and clean up.

It wasn't easy. As much as she hated to admit it, taking a life wasn't easy. The act itself was messy and bloody, while the aftermath had her jumpy and twitchy for a while. But she managed! She killed people, then washed off the blood and acted normal the next day.

But it wasn't like this. Sophia still felt the weight on some level, both during and after the act. She tried to keep her kill count low and went for sending messages first and foremost. She put fear into the bottom feeders' hearts, and killing was a means to that end.

The bitch's murdering for kicks, Sophia realized. She could see the hunger in those eyes, within every movement. She saw mischief, anticipation, hunger, and nary a drop of humanity.

The thugs ran. The woman leapt. Her form came down on the slowest thug and pressed him to the ground as her mouth closed around the back of his neck like a lion clamping down on its prey's throat. One junkie found the courage to draw his pistol, turning around and emptying his magazine in a staccato of deafening thunders in a desperate gamble to save his comrade. Sparks exploded from her head and across her shoulders, having as much effect as a gentle breeze. She bit down with a wet squelching sound, and the thug beneath her went still. On his neck, a red pit sunk into the spine.

The rabid thing looked up, smoke wafting from where the bullets struck home, and moved. She moved like a lizard, in fact, crawling flat on all fours across the ground then twisting ninety degrees to go up a wall. Suddenly, she kicked on the red bricks, launching herself into the air and down on the shooter.

She descended, legs first and arms outstretched as if imitating a hawk's swoop. Instead of picking him up and soaring away, she simply kicked down with a sickening sound of bone snapping. The extra force carried her toward the sole survivor. Her arms closed around him like a vice, one clamping on his mouth to stifle his scream. Like a great python, she squeezed. Seconds later, the last corpse flopped to the ground, joining the other three. Four dead.

Sophia watched, equally disturbed and fascinated. She had never seen such… pure predation before. That was the term, wasn't it? Even people like Lung or Kaiser killed for a purpose, whatever that might be at the moment. Right now, from where she stood watching the cape prodding and… toying with her kills, Sophia highly doubted she understood anything higher than simple want.

Powers could fuck with people's heads. This looked like one of the extreme cases.

Suddenly, the woman darted toward the manhole cover and pried the lid open before grabbing the nearest corpse to toss into the darkness. Was she disposing of the bodies? Hoarding them?

So little blood, Sophia noted as she observed the other cape dragging the bodies away. Even the one she bitten didn't bleed as much as commin sense would dictate. From where Sophia stood, it looked like she had somehow destroyed his spine with her own teeth while avoiding cutting arteries. Actual animals do that, minimalizing bloodshed to avoid scavengers and larger carnivores.

When the third corpse disappeared into the sewer, the cape didn't come back for the fourth. Instead, she stood stock-still, unmoving like a statue. Was she coming to her senses? A berserk power?

Then she twisted. Her spine bent in a way that make Sophia's own ache just from the sight. Golden eyes fell on her, gleaming in the alley's shadow. The cape's lips pulled back, revealing an exhibition of gleaming knives before she roared, giving the vigilante a great view of her shark-like mouth.

"Fuck!" Sophia swore, body shifting to her shadow state as she descended toward the other cape. Her sudden movement seemed to disorient the rabid parahuman enough for Sophia to form behind her and bring her crossbow to bear. Her hunting crossbow, loaded with a broadhead bolt, not the tiny pistol thing the PRT forced her to use.

She could probably take the wild woman with phased bolts, but it definitely wouldn't be an easy fight. So, instead of letting her bolt loose, the Ward kept her eyes trained and her fingers ready. The feral beast turned around, keeping her own eyes on the Ward's as they circled each other. Hunter and beast, each waiting for the other to make the move.

"You gonna fight me?" Sophia called out.

That seemed to catch the animalistic cape off guard. She sat back on her haunches and shook her head fast enough to send her long hair flying like a headbanger. When she decided that her disagreement was properly conveyed, she opened her mouth, barely visible now that her hair had completely covered her head.

Sophia expected… well, human sounds? A snarl? Something that belonged beneath God's green, fucked up Earth? She didn't expect a sound like a tractor with its tread jammed by tormented puppies. Still, Sophia held her ground, even with goosebumps rising slowly.

The feral lady let out a huff before reaching out with one hand to dig into the asphalt beneath her feet. Her eyes squinted and brow furrowed in absolute concentration as she traced letters into the ground.

Sophia squinted, trying to read the words without moving an inch closer. At least the rabid thing had the courtesy to write it upside down for her. I... good... girl…

"You don't look like one," Sophia commented, weapon still held steady in her palms.

The feral cape reeled, leaping to her legs and bringing both arms across her chest to form an X, and repeated the same enthusiastic head-shaking again, to much similar effect. The dark-skinned girl barely had a second to comprehend this cartoonish sight before the strange woman twisted around, her eyes falling on the remaining discarded corpse. She pounced on it, crawling over the broken body and picking it up with her mouth before turning back to Sophia with a dead Merchant dangling between her teeth.

Sophia blinked as she deposited the corpse at her feet before starting to carve at the ground with her fingers again.

M-e-r-t-c… "Yes, he's Merchant. I know."

The woman's lips pulled back in a massive grin, and Sophia felt a chill run down her back at the clear view she had of her dental: a mouthful of gleaming, ivory knives. With disturbing glee, she twisted the corpse's neck, turning its head the wrong way around, before tossing it aside and tapping on the 'good girl' scrawled into the ground again.

The vigilante stared, mouth moving silently behind her mask for a moment before she gave up entirely.

"The fucking PRT is definitely not gonna buy that shit."

The rabid cape let out a little sad whimper, which didn't thankfully didn't sound like the wailing of damned souls, and dropped to her ass again. She scratched at her cheek, face scrunched in deep thought. Some might even call the sight adorable, if they had the luck of not witnessing the past minutes or so.

Suddenly, she snapped a finger, her expression brightening, and Sophia could just imagine the lightbulb turning on above her head with a ding. She picked up the broken corpse around, this time using her arms, and offered it to Sophia with a big, bright smile.

The Ward did nothing, said nothing, thought nothing. Her grip on the crossbow relaxed. She watched as the woman's face turned from excitement to confusion then to recognition. The insane woman suddenly pounded the pavement with her fist, causing Sophia to jump back, steadying her crossbow as she did.

But instead of pouncing, the feral girl took a sharp-looking piece of asphalt off the ground and brought it to the corpse's face to write a 'to PRT' in bleeding lines encircled within a crimson heart.

"I don't think the PRT is going to take a brutalized body as a bribe."

Her face fell to disappointment for a second before she shrugged, infuriating, disturbing chipperness filling her once more as she scratched out 'PRT' and wrote 'SS' over it before offering the horrific bleeding mess to Sophia.

"I don't fucking want a brutalized body as anything!" Even ignoring the slight undertone of psychopathy and the serial killer vibe, it was just… tacky! If you were going to carve names into corpses with a piece of asphalt, you could at least do it for a better reason than addressing a present!

The other cape's face fell. Yellow eyes widened and drooped. Her lips pouted while pathetic, puppy-like whimperings emerged from the back of her throat. She shrunk under Sophia's eyes, using her kill as a shield to hide herself, occasionally peeking her quivering eyes out to steal a glance.

Great! It's like I kicked a fucking puppy! A murderous, sadistic shark-puppy. Fuck it. "I. Don't. Want. A. Corpse."

The...thing dropped her head, letting her black hair cover her entire face. Suddenly, she huffed and turned away, posessively hugging the corpse/bribe/present as she did. She stalked toward the open manhole. Stopping at the edge, she turned around to blow a raspberry at Sophia before leaping down into the darkness, carrying the last body with her.

Sophia stood unmoving, alone in a dark alley with only her thoughts for company.

Only in Brockton fucking Bay.