And so there was a second chapter. Hopefully I'll be able to keep up this rate, although past evidence does suggest not. Still, I shall try.

I would also like to say thank you to everybody who reviewed. Yes, even the person who left an anonymous rant that made very little sense. I appreciate all of it. Sort of.

Anyway, I've taken the useful comments into account, and altered my formatting to make paragraphs clearer- something that I've also done to the first chapter. And...that's all, I think. So, without further ado...Worm does not belong to me, and I hope you enjoy.

As it turned out, Clockblocker had been correct about something big going on with Lung. According to Parahumans Online- the website that was the first stop for cape news, gossip and speculation- the leader of the ABB had clashed with a much smaller gang, The Undersiders. It hadn't worked very well for the Undersiders, and they had been forced to flee, leading Lung on a rampage until they were all intercepted by the Protectorate and the Undersiders had been able to flee. Lung had proceeded to beat the tar out of most of the Protectorate team- PHO listed the heroes Dauntless, Miss Militia, Assault and Battery as being injured. Armsmaster, the Protectorate leader, had managed to hold off Lung long enough that the gang leader had left the fight, evidently no longer interested once the Undersiders had escaped. The Protectorate was trying to spin it as a victory, but the massive amounts of damage caused to the fortunately sparsely inhabited Docks area was making that hard. Taylor herself- Circaetus- had a small PHO thread in progress, but it was fairly quiet.

'Apparently massive fights overshadow new arrivals.' She noted.


'Thank you for reminding me of how short the average lifespan of an average independent is.' She replied dryly.


'I'm impressed that Armsmaster managed to hold Lung off though. Even if Lung wasn't really trying, that's a considerable feat.'

The Emperor hummed in a non-committal manner, and Taylor shrugged. She still thought it was a decent feat, considering that Lung was nigh unstoppable once he got going. Certainly, Taylor would be very wary of taking him on: she might be able to survive the fight thanks to her Perpetual status, but it probably wouldn't end pleasantly. The Emperor contributed a mental image of strawberry jam, and Taylor winced a little. Yeah. That was why she didn't want to fight Lung until her powers had grown.

'I could do with a better weapon. That bat isn't great for channelling, a real Force Weapon would have smeared Krieg over the street.'


Taylor took a moment to process the awful, awful pun, and closed her eyes in despair. This…this was what she got. Forty thousand years of experience, and the Emperor came out with lines like that. Then again, considering how she had taunted Krieg, maybe she didn't have any ground to stand on.

'I guess that it might be better, for the moment. But a real Force Weapon would be better, I could use it as a bat and boost it if I needed to.' She thought, trying to get the conversation back on track. The Emperor went quiet in her mind, in that particular fashion that indicated he was thinking.


'True. I could do with something else, maybe, but that can wait until I've built up some money and reputation. A staff, perhaps, that isn't made of aluminium.'


'Make my own? This…this is gonna be some shamanistic skulduggery, isn't it?'


'Wood and bone…yeah, I could see how that might negatively affect my image. Animal bone though, that isn't as bad. Hmm, maybe.'

Taylor put aside the thought of carving her very own wizards staff and started paying attention to her lesson again. She was keeping up a mild aura of being inconspicuous, but she didn't want to push it too far. That was the sort of thing that got capes noticed. Taylor instead paid minimal attention to the teacher- frankly, passing any test she was given would be easy. She had her own intellect, plus the genius level smarts of the Emperor, plus the ability to read minds. The problem would be answering the questions at a low enough level to not look suspicious. At least she could coast through this lesson: Computing was easy for her. Instead, Taylor chose to think through what she had done yesterday, and try to come up with a better plan. Two months of practise with her powers had been helpful, but she wouldn't manage much by hitting random targets. She needed to be more cunning than that.

'Cut off the head and the body will fall.'


'What do you suggest, then?' Taylor asked in response, but there was nothing. Taylor fought back annoyance, knowing that the Emperor would not answer. Not until she had an answer herself. Taylor thought on it for the rest of the lesson, and when the bell rang she stood and walked out, still lost in thought. So lost in thought that she failed to notice the group of girls ahead of her until she bumped into one of them, and had to stagger back.

"Careful, Taylor. Clumsy of you." Emma said, her eyes gleaming oddly. Taylor blinked at her, and looked around the semi-circle that had trapped her. Madison and the miscellaneous minions looked vaguely interested, and Sophia had a strange look in her eyes. Anticipation, Taylor thought.

"No," she said slowly, "I wouldn't want to fall. That's kind of you to say, Emma."

Emma beamed, and there was something vicious about it. Taylor decided not to stay, and started walking: as she suspected the minion that she walked at wasn't willing to stay put, and she managed to slip out of the circle.

"What's wrong, Taylor? You seem upset." Emma said innocently. Taylor paused. That statement sounded wrong somehow, false. She hadn't showed a great deal of emotion, so why…

"So upset, in fact, that you're going to cry yourself to sleep for the next week?"

Taylor froze. Surprise turned to shock turned to seeping, bloody rage that boiled in her stomach. Emma had used it against her. Taken her week of grief at the death off her mother, and perverted it into a weapon to hurt her. Taylor clenched her fist, fighting against the rage that called to be used, and turned slowly. The girls were smiling, pleased, and Taylor nearly lost her control. It would be so easy. A psychic blow that would turn Sophia comatose, slam an enhanced fist through Emma's smiling, traitorous face. Slaughter the others as they tried to run, and a sudden image of her, red with blood and hate and rage, lightning swirling around her and Taylor repressed it all, forcing it down, hate and rage crystallising into a cold, hard shard that ripped at the inside of her chest.

"Thank you, Emma." She said, very quietly. Emma's look of triumph turned to confusion.

"Thank you?" she repeated stupidly. Taylor smiled gently, beatifically.

"Yes. Thank you. Before this, I still thought that you might be the person I used to know, somewhere deep inside. Before this I thought I might have you as my friend again. But now, you've proven me wrong. You've proven that you're not the person I remember, by using my mother's death against me."

Taylor felt Madison and the minions shift in surprise, and mentally tutted. They hadn't known. Typical. Still, that they seemed uncomfortable was a small point in their favour. Sophia was looking even hungrier, and Taylor skimmed through her mind to note that she expected Taylor to fight back. To hit them, to struggle, to vindicate Sophia's predator and prey mind-set. So instead Taylor looked at her, still smiling.

"Well. If that's all, Emma, I think I'm done here." She said, turning and walking away. Sophia would probably have moved, but Taylor left a strong compulsion to stay where they were for Sophia and Emma, and a need to question them in the minions and Madison. That would cover her escape as she left them, because she couldn't remain a moment longer. Taylor didn't go to her next lesson: instead she left the school entirely, bottling up her rage as best she could until she was away from any innocents who might get hurt.

Taylor walked home quickly, and headed into the basement where she stored her costume. Once there she locked the door and changed into her costume, leaving again in a hurry; her control was starting to slip, and tendrils of lightning were already beginning to play over her fingertips. She ran across the city, using alleys and rooftops to get to the Boat Graveyard as fast as possible without being seen. Once there she made her way into the tangle of wrecked and beached ships, until she would be hidden from sight, and let go of her control. Her scream of pain and fury was accompanied by a whirling vortex of lightning and telekinetic force that raked across the ships around her, tearing and scorching until she was surrounded by a blurring whirl of shrapnel. Taylor screamed until she ran out of breath and let her legs collapse, falling to her knees and dropping her head to stare blindly at the deck below her.

"I hate them." She said, aloud but quietly. She felt the Emperor extend a sensation of comfort, and smiled a little.

'You would think I would understand. I can read their minds. I have all of your experience, even if most of it is barely even scraps of knowledge, and yet the cruelty of men still surprises me.'

"THE CRUELTY OF MAN IS VAST. BUT SO IS THE KINDNESS, IF YOU CAN FIND IT." The Emperor offered, and Taylor smiled a little more. A little cliché perhaps, but true nonetheless.

'I can't leave school. Not after this. It would be weakness.'


'It doesn't matter. I'm not doing this for anyone else, I'm doing it for me. And one day…one day, after I've broken the gangs. After I've defeated the parasite. After I've proven myself to be the greatest hero this world has ever seen, after I have demonstrated my power…one day, I'll stand before Emma and Sophia, and I'll take my mask off and let them see, let them know. And then…'

Taylor brought her fingers up, touching gloved fingertips to her scarf and smiling more widely as she rose to her feet.

'And then, I'll just smile and walk away. And they will know, they will understand, that in the end I was better.'

The approval of the Emperor washed over her, and Taylor surveyed the destruction around her with a thoughtful eye.

'That show will draw attention soon. We should leave…besides, I'm sure there are gang members in need of a good beating somewhere in the city.'

There were plenty of gang members in need of a good beating in the city, but it didn't take Taylor long to realise that going looking for them in broad daylight was a terrible idea, and that she would be much better off waiting for dark. So, instead, she took off her coat, sweater, mask and scarf, stored them in her satchel, and went for a walk. Brockton Bay did actually have a few parks. Contrary to what many people on PHO seemed to believe the city wasn't a hellhole. Yes, it had one of the largest villain-to-hero disparities in America. Yes, it was home to the Neo Nazi Empire 88 and the ABB, two extremely formidable gangs. And yes, the villain Lung, who had defeated several hero teams single handed, lived in the city. So…well, ultimately it was a hellhole. But it wasn't a complete hellhole. That was what mattered. And there was a park, with trees. And Taylor required a staff. Which required wood. And bone, but she was putting that off a little bit, due to it being, well, creepy. Regardless, it took her quite a few hours to find a branch that was good enough- as the Emperor noted, pollarded or coppiced trees of the right size weren't that common in the city parks. Still, she found a branch that was about right, severed it from the tree with her powers, and wandered out of the park with it.

'How am I going to carve this thing? I'd need wood-working tools or something.'


'True enough. Wonder how they'll react to someone walking in in full costume?'

As it turned out, the shopkeeper wasn't too phased. Well, he looked a little alarmed as she first walked in, but it was getting late- Taylor had gone home to eat and then left again, telling her Dad that she would be home soon- and the shop was nearly about to close. In fairness, Taylor suspected that parahumans wandering into shops in full dress were usually robbers. Nonetheless, she raised her hands in a pacifying manner, making it clear that she wasn't armed.

"It's ok, I'm just here for some tools. Thought it would be easier to get them in costume." She said, putting a smile into her voice. The clerk relaxed visibly, and even managed to push a small smile onto his face.

"Oh. Oh, well then, how can I help you?"

"Oh, I just need some wood-working tools. I can find them myself." She said, nodding to him and walking quickly through the shop. A knife, that was what she needed, a proper wood-working knife. There was a saw in the basement at home that she could use. It didn't take her too long, and she paid and left the shop without trouble. The street outside was growing dark, and Taylor wondered if she would find trouble. It would be nice, and yet inconvenient: she didn't have her bat on her. Oh well. If anyone wanted a fight, they would get one. Taylor half closed her eyes, stretching her mind out and looking for anything close. She would save people if she could reach them easily, but she had targets for tonight and could not afford to spend all of her time dealing with petty crimes.

"YOU HAVE A PLAN THEN?" The Emperor asked. Taylor gave a mental affirmation.

'I'm going to find out all their secrets. Their hideouts, their safehouses, their drug dens, their weapon stores. And I'm going to hit them, weaken their parahumans until the day I can leak it to The Protectorate and blitzkrieg the Empire. But until then…any dream will do.'

There was a quiet chuckle in her mind, and Taylor acknowledged the irony in using a blitzkrieg strategy against neo-Nazis as she walked into an alley, mind still working to find a victim. It shouldn't be hard, should it? There were gangs everywhere, and surely she could find some lowlife who was preying on the weak and innocent. Or weak and guilty. Did it really matter? Taylor just really wanted to hurt someone, and there was definitely someone with nefarious intent not far away. Maybe a drug deal? Taylor liked breaking up drug deals, she had decided since yesterday. She leveraged her psychic powers and a fire escape to make it to the roof of a nearby building, and then started roof-hopping towards the five minds that she could feel in an alley close by. She slowed as she approached, her dark clothes helping her blend into the dark rooftop, and carefully made her way to the edge of the building. Looking down, she could see the five men: one man with a smug smile and a suit, two burly men just behind him. There was one man and one woman opposite him, both of them scrawny and looking desperate. Merchants, Taylor thought, drug addicts. Lucky, lucky her.

"WAIT." The Emperor boomed in her head, and Taylor flinched as a buzzing filled her mind.

'The hell is that?'


Taylor gritted her teeth, directing some of her power inwards and pushing the buzzing from her thoughts. She looked around to see where it was coming from, and looked up just in time to see a figure in white drop from the skies into the alley. The figure landed between the two groups in a picture-perfect three-point landing, and Taylor narrowed her eyes.

'Glory Girl, Brockton Bay's very own flying brick. I can see where she gets her reputation for collateral damage if she makes entrances like that all the time. And that psychic influence...very interesting. It doesn't seem to be conscious, either. That might be worth studying.' She observed, noting that the two drug addicts had been knocked over by the landing and were slow to get up. Taylor shifted herself so that she could jump down if needed, but for the moment decided to just watch. See how a true-blue Hero handled things.

"So," Glory Girl said with a beaming smile, "Are you all ready to give up?"

Amazingly, they were not. The man in the suit and his two minions all went for guns and Glory Girl lunged at them, and Taylor took the chance to drop down from the roof behind the fast ending brawl, cushioning her impact carefully. It might not be as dramatic, but it was also much quieter and didn't risk injuring anyone. Two gentle pulses of energy knocked out the addicts, and Taylor leaned against a wall and watched Glory Girl fight. She wasn't just a brawler, Taylor noticed, she seemed to know how to throw a punch at least, but she wasn't what Taylor would call an accomplished martial artist. Still, basic fighting knowledge in addition to super strength and invulnerability was an impressive package, and the three thugs went down quickly. Glory Girl made a pose, fists on hips, and Tylor smiled briefly, waiting for the right moment.

"Nice pose." She commented cheerfully, and took an unholy glee in the way Glory Girl jumped. Even more hilariously, the heroine didn't come back down: she remained floating about half a foot in the air as she spun around. Taylor raised a hand in a friendly manner.


Glory Girl had jerked away reflexively, but now she slowly descended and approached.

"Oh. Er, hi. You're that girl who helped the Wards, right? Circe, or Sir Kate, or, um…"

"Circaetus." Taylor supplied, amused. Glory Girl nodded jerkily.

"Yeah. Circaetus. Uh…what are you doing here?"

"Me? Oh, well I was looking for something to do. You just beat me to it. Nice work, by the way."

Glory Girl visibly brightened, and Taylor felt the buzzing in her head strengthen for an instant. Some kind of involuntary effect, she surmised.

"Really? Thanks! I was just waiting for the Wards, you see, 'cause I was going to patrol with them, and I saw these guys and thought I'd get a warm up in."

Taylor was nodding, listening, but as she listened she saw something. Just behind Glory Girl the suited man had stood up and levelled his pistol.

"Look out!" Taylor snapped, diving to one side. The pistol fired, deafeningly loud, and Glory Girl seemed to act on instinct. There was a meaty thud, and the man was suddenly airborne, travelling towards a wall far too fast. Taylor took an instant to register the panic on Glory Girl's face, and stretched out a hand. A web of telekinetic force wrapped around the man, slowing him enough that he thumped into the wall at a velocity that was far less terminal. Slowly, Taylor advanced: the man's jaw was a mess, broken in several places. Shattered, in fact, but he would live and, with appropriate treatment, even recover.

"I'd ring the police to collect these." Taylor suggested to Glory Girl, "And then we should go. You said you were meeting the Wards?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I will." Glory Girl said. She still looked shocked, and Taylor took a moment to probe her emotions. Remorse and guilt, she thought, odd. Almost as though Glory Girl had done this before, and was trying not to do it again. Taylor waited, thinking on that, as Glory Girl made the phone call and returned to her.

"Ok." The heroine said, sounding a little less rattled now, "The Wards should be over this way. Can you…do you need a lift to the rooftop?"

Taylor considered, and then swathed herself in an invisible cocoon of force and willed herself into the air.

"No," she said, smiling as her feet left the ground, "I think I can manage."

Once they found the Wards Taylor found it very easy to tell why Glory Girl had wanted to meet them. Given the way that she had sailed across to Gallant, Taylor guessed that the rumours that the two of them were dating were accurate. Gallant's partner was the small girl, Vista, and Taylor drifted across to talk to her once she noted the scowl the Ward in white and forest green was wearing.

"Vista, right?" she said, hoping that the young hero would be willing to talk to her. Vista turned to her, and a smile replaced the scowl under her visor.

"Yep! You're Circaetus, right? Clockblocker told us about you."

Taylor smiled at the sudden enthusiasm.

"All good, I hope?"

"He was really impressed. It's not often that a new cape turns up and can hold off someone like Krieg and Rune." Vista praised. Taylor shrugged.

"I caught them by surprise. I don't think they wanted to fight all three of us at once." She said, downplaying her accomplishments. The PRT and Protectorate were friendly now, but it was better that they think her unremarkable in case that ever changed. Vista didn't seem all that convinced, but she shrugged and let it go. The four of them had started moving, crossing rooftops: Glory Girl floated, of course, but Taylor, Vista and Gallant made use of Vista's power to affect space, narrowing the gaps so they could simply step between rooftops. If Taylor was honest, the actual mechanics of it were disturbing, so she tried not to look at the distorted space.

"So," Vista started, after a few minutes of quiet, "Why are you doing this? Why are you a hero?"

Taylor didn't answer immediately, searching her mind for an answer that wouldn't sound trite and cliché. It was harder than she might have thought.

"Because," she said eventually, "Because I can. Because it's the right thing to do. Because every single life that I can save, every single person that I help, makes a difference."

Vista, Gallant and Glory Girl all gave her long, silent looks, and she shrugged, a little embarrassed. Cliché as it was, it was the truth. She was the Guardian of Mankind. Even if she couldn't say it outright, she had taken up the mantle of the Emperor, and would do it justice. Gallant was the first to speak.

"You know, the Wards help people." He said. Taylor almost smiled: she had gotten a look at his thoughts, and he knew that she wasn't likely to join. He was making the offer out of duty.

"Are you making that offer because of the short lifespan of independent Heroes, or because the Protectorate would really appreciate a telekinetic?" she asked.

"Yes." Vista commented dryly. Taylor laughed.

"In that case, I'm going to have to say no for the moment. But I'll tag along with you if you like." She offered. Gallant smiled, and Taylor noted that his name was appropriate: even his thoughts seemed to match, given that they were mainly relief over her not going off on her own. No wonder poor Vista was smitten. Taylor looked at Gallant thoughtfully, remembering that he could see emotions. She wondered what he saw when he looked at her, and couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him. How awkward must it be to see how Vista felt every time he looked at her? The girl was barely a teenager, at least three years younger than Gallant.

"So," Taylor said, changing the topic a little, "This is what you do all the time? Walk a patrol route and look imposing?"

Even as she said that, Taylor wondered which of them looked most imposing. Vista was out: no matter how dangerous she actually was, a short, slim girl in white and forest green was not threatening. Glory Girl wore white as well, of course, but taking away her reputation she looked like a princess. A Disney Princess, so maybe she was out. Gallant had his grey power armour, that was fairly menacing if he leveraged it, but Taylor suspected that her own dark clothes, with the golden double headed eagle on the chest, were more villainous and menacing. Plus, of course, if she was actively using her powers to any degree her eyes would glow that unnatural blue. All things considered, Taylor suspected that she would be a nightmare for the Protectorate PR department.

"More or less, yes. We aren't supposed to get into fights, really, we're just training, so we try to make the citizens feel safe." Gallant confirmed. Taylor nodded absently, a little distracted by all the cries for help that she could hear in her mind. Maybe patrolling with the Wards wasn't the greatest idea.

"Console to Gallant. Gallant, come in."

"Gallant here. What is it, console?"

"Merchants engaging Empire capes, not far from you. Miss Militia has requested that you move in that direction and observe the situation, see how much force we'll need."

"…understood, Control. We'll head over and scout. Gallant out."

Taylor retracted her previous statement. Merchants and Empire? Oh, lucky day. She almost hoped that Krieg and Rune would be there, beating them again would really cement her place as a relatively heavy hitter. Of course, taking down other Empire capes would probably do that as well. But taking down Rune and Krieg would be like the start of a rivalry. Which she would win, of course. Taylor followed Gallant automatically, letting her legs carry her over the rooftops as she spread her powers and tried to identify the capes who were punching it up. Hmm…there were the three Merchants that she knew of, none of those should be a problem. And there was at least one Empire cape, maybe two. She'd need to get a little bit closer to see for certain.

"We should be there soon." Gallant said, breathing even as he ran. Taylor nodded, keeping pace with him, Glory Girl flying just overhead. Taylor had to admit, she liked the girl, but subtlety was not her strong point.

"What's the plan, Gallant?" Taylor asked. She would never join the Wards or Protectorate, but allowing him to take the lead had merits. She wasn't quite up to speed on every parahuman in the city, and he would know more. Besides, giving the impression of being willing to cooperate would go a long way. The young man in grey power armour glanced at her, and nodded slowly.

"We'll move up quietly, see who's there. We make our report, and don't engage unless we have no other choice." He decided. Taylor shrugged.

"Works for me. Lead on." She said cheerfully, already sure that the plan wouldn't work how Gallant wanted it to. Not with Glory Girl there, but still, she could play along. Taylor glanced discreetly at Vista: though she could tell from the small girl's thoughts that any blatant attempt at protecting her would be seen as babying and met with scorn, she was concerned. Glory Girl was invincible. Gallant was power armoured. Taylor herself would regenerate from anything given time. Vista was a teenager in a lightly armoured bodysuit. Taylor made a mental note to keep an eye on the younger Ward if everything kicked off as she expected it to. Taylor followed Gallant as he crept across to the edge of the building, her own dark clothing letting her blend in better than Gallant in his polished armour. Beneath them there was a battle going on.

"Control, this is Gallant. Have observed engagement. Skidmark, Mush and Squealer are fighting Victor and Alabaster. Advise?"

"Miss Militia and Dauntless are on their way. Do not engage unless necessary." Taylor heard the voice reply, and quashed a sigh. Watching was sort of boring, but she supposed it would let her assess her potential opponents. Although there wasn't really much fighting going on. Squealer was off in a corner, working on some…something that could charitably be called a truck. Mush, the parahuman who could compact garbage to create a sort of golem body for himself, was chasing Victor around, and Skidmark was keeping Alabaster at range. At least, that was what she assumed. From what she remembered Alabaster was invincible…or he regenerated…or, well, something like that, so Skidmark wasn't really doing much. And Victor seemed to be unnaturally well versed in parkour, and judging by the way fragments from Skidmark's wild attacks were bouncing off him he had some sort of toughness ability as well. Which really all boiled down to free reign for her to be excessive against them. Yay.

"Do not engage unless necessary, Gallant. Protectorate members are on their way. Continue to observe and report." She vaguely heard. But she was too busy plotting the best way to take down the five parahumans fighting below. She wasn't going to just jump in half-cocked. With any luck she could wait until the Protectorate got here and use them as a distraction. With any luck. And then she sensed a flicker of intent from the woman, Squealer, and a flash of her thoughts: a white figure, half showing above a roof, and a cannon, just repaired.

"I see you!" screamed the woman, a high pitched whining following. Taylor didn't even think, flinging herself at Vista moments before there was a thudding boom that she felt in her bones and the roof tilted violently.

"Fuck!" shouted Glory Girl, and Taylor registered her grabbing for Gallant as she took off. Taylor herself grabbed Vista, pulling the smaller girl close to her and reaching out with her powers.

"Hold on!" she cried, anchoring herself to the roof and directing it in a slide downwards. Taylor felt exhilaration burst through her as she rode the rooftop down the side of the building, cushioning the impact and rolling as she landed. She let go of Vista and snapped to her feet, just as Alabaster turned in shock and raised his knife. Taylor struck him in the chest with an open palm, putting enough telekinetic juice into it to give him airtime. The utterly white man ragdolled across the open space and hit a wall, and Taylor let out a circular blast of power that cleared the dust away.

"Hey." She said, nodding her head at the villains in greeting a bare moment before Glory Girl and Gallant landed heavily behind her.

"Console, we've been spotted. Suggest you inform the Protectorate; we may need reinforcements earlier than anticipated." Gallant said calmly behind her. Taylor watched with interest as Alabaster crawled out of the hole he had made in a wall, a look of fury plastered on his features.

"I'm going. To cut you up." He stated. Taylor grinned behind her mask, feeling power surge through her.

"Bring it, white boy."

And all hell broke loose.

Glory Girl hurtled towards Mush, and Taylor assumed that that was fair enough- the Merchant cape could presumably take a beating. Gallant ran towards Victor, and Taylor found herself mixing it up in hand-to-hand combat with Alabaster. The pure white man- and wasn't that appropriate for a Neo-Nazi- was reasonably skilled with his knife, but not that skilled. Taylor caught a wild swing with her left hand, fingers closing around Alabaster's wrist and holding it still while her right fist, charged with telekinetic power, struck the region of his elbow. From the noise the entire arm bone shattered, and Taylor sent Alabaster back to the building he had climbed out of with a similarly charged kick. To her surprise, however, Alabaster did not rush at her when he once again emerged from the rubble. Instead, Victor ran across to him and dropped something- a small thing, like a grenade or…

"Flashbang!" Vista yelled, and Taylor instinctively hit the ground and dropped her face to the dirt. The noise and light that followed was still blinding and deafening, but she was less disorientated than she might have been and regained her feet fairly quickly. Glory Girl returned to her side, cursing and dragging Gallant, and the four of them faced off against Skidmark and Mush. Taylor decided to try some diplomacy. It was somewhere between unlikely and impossible that it would work, but trying couldn't hurt.

"Give up now, Merchants, and you won't be hurt." She said. Skidmark sneered, dark skin and chafed lips peeling back to show slimy, rotting teeth. Taylor shuddered a little inside.

"Go fuck yourself, you little-"

"Vista get me close!"

The space between Taylor and Skidmark narrowed to nothing, and she drove her fist into his face. Only with a minimum of power behind it- she didn't want to punch his head off after all- but enough to send him staggering. Taylor caught his flailing wrist with her left hand, holding him closer to her where she could throw in a beating. Older and taller than her he might be, but he was also a skinny drug addict with no combat experience other than street brawling, and she mercilessly exploited every weakness he showed. A fist slammed into chest, stomach, chin, shoulder and then Skidmark howled and hit her back. His free arm motioned, and the floor beneath her feet suddenly became slippery and Taylor let go of him as she slid backwards, converting the motion into a roll.

"Damn!" she hissed, realising that Skidmark had used his powers against her- he was able to lay down 'streaks' that either accelerated or decelerated objects that touched them. Usually they made a cut price railgun, but in this case he had used it to move her off him. Mush ran clumsily over to Skidmark, and Taylor saw Glory Girl flash past, heading at Mush. Skidmark was grinning, and Taylor felt an awful flash of premonition.

"Glory, don't-"

Too late. Glory Girl was passing over multiple layers of bluish streaks, and Mush swung at her with a heavy overhead blow. Glory Girl caught the blow on crossed arms, but it forced her to the ground where she seemed stuck for a long moment, struggling against the layered power pushing against her. Mush stepped away, firm on solid ground, and swung a fist. Taylor moved on instinct, shoving Vista away just as the blow broke Glory Girl's concentration long enough for Skidmark's power to hurl her away. The heroine in white hit Taylor like a freight train, and Taylor heard a bone in her left arm break with a dry, crunching snap.


Taylor wasted no time, pushing Glory Girl off her and rising again. Her left arm was limp and screaming with pain, but she blocked it out. She just didn't have time to feel pain, she decided even as Mush, in a surprisingly quick motion, sprang away from Skidmark and downed Gallant with a single crushing blow. The Ward was still conscious and even mostly unhurt, but he was on the ground a mere foot away from the hulking golem form of Mush. Skidmark was laughing, and Taylor felt an awful, boiling rage rise up inside her, screaming at her to take his skull and bathe in his blood and Taylor barely fought it down again and concentrated.

"See! See, this is what you get, bitches! You try to fuck with the Merchants, you get fucked! Have a nice time in the hospital, you fucking whoreson cu-"

"Skidmark!" Taylor bellowed, cutting off the ranting man. She thrust her right arm out, pointing it at Mush and focusing.

"There are children present, so watch your fucking language!"

She didn't wait for a response, curling her fingers into a claw and whipping her hand at Skidmark. Her power responded, howling in her veins, and it simply tore about two thirds of Mush's garbage body away and hurled it at Skidmark. The Merchant leader hardly had a second to react before he was buried under a deluge of refuse, and Taylor was already on Mush, hitting the Merchant cape with a telekinetically charged fist as he started to fall. Mush sailed several feet back, his body disintegrating around him, and Taylor turned to Squealer. Who had aimed that massive cannon again.

"Oh, fuck." Taylor commented, realising that she may be testing the full extent of her status as a Perpetual sooner than she liked. The cannon whined as it powered up, and Taylor gritted her teeth and raised the strongest barrier that she could. The very air seemed to shimmer, and then there was a flash of white as Glory Girl flung herself in front of Taylor and covered her. There was a deep, roaring boom, and the world went white.

"Circaetus! Cir-"

"I'm fine." Taylor said gruffly. The pain in her arm came back twice as bad as she opened her eyes, and she bit her lip hard enough to draw blood in order to prevent herself from crying out. She awkwardly sat up and rose, wobbling only briefly before she stabilised and looked at Vista, who was hovering nearby a little nervously.

"What happened?"

"Squealer fired that cannon. It did something weird, like a sonic shock or something. Glory Girl blocked most of it- she's fine, invulnerable and all- but it knocked you out. You've only been out for a few minutes, but the Merchants piled into the truck and ran away. I would have followed, but with you two down and Gallant still shaken by Mush…"

"Yeah. Yeah, I get it. We'll get them next time." Taylor said, understanding and driving some optimism into her tone. Vista smiled a little.

"Are you ok?" she asked. Taylor nodded.

"I'm fine."

Vista looked sceptical, and Taylor relented.

"I'm not fine. My arm is broken, I think." She admitted, looking around and seeing Glory Girl and Gallant deep in conversation with a man in Greek looking armour. Dauntless, she thought.

"He just arrived. Gallant is the senior Ward, so he's giving a report, and Glory Girl was the only one of you two awake so…well, y'know." Vista informed Taylor. Taylor nodded, gritting her teeth as she focused her powers on blocking the pain in her arm. Her head was pounding, but she wasn't sure if it was from excessive use of her power or the Merchant cannon. Silently, Taylor swore that she'd put Squealer down first the next time she saw the bitch. The Emperor chuckled deeply in her mind, but otherwise remained quiet. Taylor leaned against a wall and closed her eyes, absently timing her pulse to the throbbing in her head and arm. It didn't really help the pain, but it distracted her a little bit.

"Circaetus, right?" came a voice. Taylor opened her eyes and straightened slowly, blinking at the armoured Hero who was addressing her.

"Yes. Yes, that's me. Dauntless, right?"

"Yes. I just wanted to introduce myself, and say thanks for your help." The man said. A cursory scan of his thoughts offered no deceit- the man was a Hero in deed and mind as well as title- and accepted his outstretched hand, shaking it briefly and firmly.

"It was my pleasure." She said, managing to make the platitude sound sincere. In all fairness, beating on Krieg and Rune had been fun, and even this fight hadn't been too bad. She sensed that Dauntless was smiling.

"Well, I'm glad that you think so." He said. He glanced around himself.

"Normally, I'd have to ask you a lot of question, debriefing, that sort of thing. However, in this case I think I can let it go- you should get your arm looked at. In any case…thank you, again, and I look forward to working with you again in the future."

The armoured Hero strode away, and Taylor looked at Glory Girl and Vista, who were standing nearby.

"You need to get that arm looked at, like Dauntless said. I'll take you to my sister." Glory Girl said firmly, seeming serious. Taylor just nodded, but found the energy to raise a hand in farewell to Vista and Gallant.

"I'm sure we'll be working together again, so I'll see you whenever I see you." She offered. Vista nodded, and both she and Gallant waved as Glory Girl carefully wrapped her arms around Taylor and lifted her into the night sky.

Panacea, the world-famous healer, was not what Taylor might have expected. Or perhaps, as an insidious part of her nature whispered, it was exactly what she expected. Worn, tired, boiling with resentment and guilt, Panacea was clearly suffering from being used as a miracle cure from a young age. Taylor almost flinched, and carefully didn't dig any deeper. The girl needed therapy, and Taylor was in no condition to provide it right now. Maybe in no condition ever, considering the life that The Emperor had led.

"Vic- Glory Girl? Who is this?" Panacea said. Taylor didn't comment on the near slip, instead stepping away from Glory Girl and letting the heroine in white talk to her sister.

"This is Circaetus. She, uh, got hurt because of me so I was hoping…"

Panacea looked at Glory Girl, and Taylor could feel the narrowed eyes.

"Got hurt because of you?" she asked. Glory Girl looked uncomfortable, so Taylor intervened.

"Skidmark and Mush used her as an impromptu projectile. She's invincible, I'm not." She said, concise and calm. Panacea turned a judging look on her, and Taylor stood still, gazing back. Of course, they couldn't quite meet eyes, given that Panacea wore a hooded costume, but the intention was there. The Healer broke first, giving a heavy sigh.

"Do I have your permission to heal you?" she asked tiredly. Taylor paused.

"You do. But…you don't need to." She said, quietly. Panacea and Glory Girl both looked at her, sharply.

"What do you mean?" Panacea asked. Taylor shrugged one shoulder- her right, naturally, so as to not jar her injured arm.

"I heal quicker than normal. I'm sure I can pass this off as an accident, anyway." She said. Really, she had only offered because Panacea seemed stressed. The healer seemed to mull it over, then shook her head.

"It'll only take a minute. Besides, you clearly don't heal that quickly. I just need to touch bare skin."

Taylor sighed a little- at least she had tried. Gingerly, she rolled up her sleeve, and allowed Panacea to lay a hand on her wrist. The muffled gasp from the healer wasn't something she missed, but Panacea seemed to ignore anything else before healing the injury- Taylor grimaced a little as her bones shifted and ground back into position.

"Thank you." She said quietly, stepping back and slowly flexing her arm. Panacea nodded slowly.

"Circaetus…are you aware of what your healing factor does?" she asked, leaning in and speaking quietly. Taylor nodded curtly.

"Keeps me in the prime of my life. Slow regeneration, but complete." She admitted. Panacea seemed uncertain, and Taylor gently touched her shoulder.

"I know the ramifications. And I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself?"

Panacea twitched, almost as though shocked.

"Of course." She said, her voice regaining some briskness.

"Do you need Glory Girl to help you home, or-"

"I can manage. Thank you for the healing, Panacea. I hope that next time we meet it will be a little less work related." Taylor said, offering a bow of her head and stepping to the edge of the building.

"I'll see you around." She said over her shoulder, before she stepped off the edge and let her power carry her gently to the ground.

Over the next few weeks Taylor met Glory Girl and the Wards a few more times. Oddly, she never met Clockblocker or Kid Win again, but she did meet Vista, Aegis and Gallant on a few occasions. She continued her one-woman campaign against the Empire, wearing away at them for the time when she would strike and bring their whole dream crashing down, but she also got her hands on a cheap cell phone. It simply made it much easier to contact Glory Girl when needed. And given that the phone was vibrating in her breast pocket in the middle of a class, she was needed. Taylor quickly made an excuse of needing to go to the toilet and headed off, locking herself in a cubicle and shrouding the whole bathroom in a masking field similar to the one she used to avoid drawing attention.

"Glory Girl?" she said, answering the phone. The babble she got in return caused her to raise her voice, injecting some steel into her tone.

"Glory! Calm down, I can't hear you." She said. There was a pause, and then Glory Girl spoke again.

"Circaetus. The Undersiders are robbing a bank. My sister is in there, being held hostage. I'm on my way and so are the Wards, but-"

"I'll be there as soon as I can." Taylor promised, mind already working. Robbing a bank? How very, very bold of the small time villain gang. Ah well. Looked like it was time for Circaetus to get her full time daylight debut.

So, as always I hope that you enjoyed and, of course, reviews are greatly appreciated.