Sorry this took so long- it fought me on every word and needed more than one re-write. Still, I hope you enjoy.

Taylor let her question ring into the silence, mentally mapping the whole apartment block. The Teeth capes hadn't come alone, bringing their unpowered members to deal with the other residents- and probably act as cannon fodder in the event Kaiser or Purity was home. Taylor could taste their excitement as they spread out, the fear of the occupants a thick and sour miasma fogging the back of her throat.

The Butcher was close. Taylor could hear the chorus of screams that surrounded her, the screaming and calling of every Butcher before her, trapped in a writhing, shuddering mess. She strengthened her mind, pushing it aside. It wouldn't distract her this time. The Butcher was approaching, but Taylor had a moment. She focused on Hemorrhagia and Spree instead. If she could get them to surrender, all the better.

"The two of you should just surrender, you know," she said, walking towards them. A Spree clone flung itself towards her and Taylor jerked her head at it. A wall of force smashed it to the side and she kept walking, stalking forwards.

"I mean, you aren't going to get out of it. Jail time, for sure. But it's a lot better to walk there than have to be carried. And believe me, if you make me take you in, you will have to be carried."

Hemorrhagia and Spree glanced at each other- they weren't going to bite- and looked back at Taylor. Hemorrhagia took the lead, as Taylor might have expected.

"You want us- come and get us, bitch!"

Spree thrust out his hands, a fresh wave of clones pouring away from him and rushing down the corridor, and Taylor bared her teeth in an ugly, hidden grin.

"Well alright then," she murmured. Taylor felt Dauntless and Weld closing in behind her, present and solid, and let her grin widen even more. Lightning crackled up her arms and to her shoulders, spreading from her fingertips, and she crossed her arms at the wrist and slashed them forwards. Electricity cascaded down the corridor, clones collapsing and spasming as it tore across their fragile nervous systems, and Taylor beat her wings back and lunged. She blew past the clones in a single, massive leap, landing heavily, and Spree went toppling away from her. Hemorrhagia gave a hoarse yell and lunged in, blood dagger held like an ice-pick and descending towards Taylor's neck. Taylor met her wrist with her forearm, drove a punch into her face before grabbing the stunned woman by the collar and flinging her towards Dauntless. Hemorrhagia smashed into a clone, rolling to a stop after the impact, and Taylor turned on Spree. She had to admit, the Butcher was reasonably clever here. If Taylor hadn't been tracking her, she might have been caught by surprise when the Butcher rounded the corner and levelled an RPG at them all.


Taylor held out a hand as the Butcher fired, a tear in reality opening up. The kaleidoscopic fissure consumed the rocket, swallowing it into the endlessness beyond, and Taylor took a step.

The Butcher was fast, hurling the empty launcher at Taylor and teleporting after. Taylor turned, the launcher bouncing harmlessly off her backplate as she caught a vicious downward slam on her forearms, the impact of the Butcher's fists ringing through the armour and rattling reinforced bones. Weld sprinted through the still-stunned clones, shoulder dropping in a ram, and Taylor leapt into the air as the Butcher teleported, maintaining her leap with her wings just long enough for Weld to pass under her and throw himself at Spree. The Butcher teleported again and Taylor felt the heat of the explosion on her back, knocking her towards the ground before the Butcher landed on her back and tried to wrench her skull off. Taylor landed in a crouch, throwing herself into the wall and slamming her elbow back. Something crunched and the Butcher let go, a harsh snarl in her ear. Taylor ripped herself away from the weakening grasp and dropped to one knee.

The Butcher appeared in front of her, clenched fist passing over Taylor's head, and Taylor lunged at her. One hand wrapped itself around the Butcher's ugly mask, the other forearm rammed against the Butcher's chest, and Taylor tackled her through the window at the end of the corridor. They were suddenly in flight and Taylor crushed the Butcher to her, her right hand still clamped on the Butcher's face while her left caught the Butcher around the torso and they plunged towards the ground. Taylor let go at the last minute, kicking off from the Butcher and rolling away, lessening her impact with her wings and a touch of telekinesis while the Butcher slammed into concrete. Taylor wasn't foolish enough to assume her defeated and dropped to the ground, rolling her shoulders and cracking her neck.

"Come on," she said, "I know that wasn't enough."

The Butcher flipped to her feet, furs and leathers flying, and landed in a half-crouch that was almost animalistic. Taylor flexed her fingers.

"People like you," Taylor said, silently glad that the car-park they had landed in was mostly empty- better to keep property damage to a minimum- "They just don't know when they're beaten. I know that you're going to fight until you can't fight any more. I know that I'm going to have to break you to get you to stop."

Taylor breathed out, feeling the ice and fire touch of the Warp in her skin.

"I'm going to enjoy it."

A guttural roar tore itself from the Butcher's throat as she lunged, no teleport this time, just a drawn sword and boiling violence. Taylor met the sword with her forearm and a wall of telekinetic force, her left hand reaching out and coiling a tendril of power around the Butcher's legs, pulling them out from under her. Taylor stomped down at her fallen enemy, the Butcher teleporting away an instant before Taylor's Warp-reinforced boot cracked the concrete. The snapping retort of a bow behind her and Taylor turned, hand stretching out, four arrows hitting the barrier and bursting in an explosive display. Taylor flinched away despite herself, the blasts catching her eyes, and a fist caught her in the small of the back. Taylor went with it, rolling as she hit the ground and coming to her feet in time to see the Butcher coming at her again.

"Now! Invade her mind now, while she's distracted!"

Catch the straight punch, sword scraping jarringly on her armour but not punching through and Taylor rammed her free fist into the Butcher's ugly mask, cracking it and worming a tendril into the Butcher's mind. It was only a crack, but one she could exploit as they both fell back. The Butcher shook her head like a boar at bay, throwing off the impacts, and Taylor spared a second to glance at her armour. The Butcher hit hard: three layers had been sliced through, she estimated. Almost halfway.

'My good armour, too. Bitch.'

"Her sword is damaged, though. It's unlikely to be a real danger."

'Yeah, must be a replacement.'

The Butcher raised her katana in front of her, slashing it diagonally down. Taylor briefly wished for her glaive. Cutting through the steel with the crackling blade of her fledgling Force weapon would be a highlight of her day. Bereft of that, Taylor flexed her fingers and called on the Warp, lightning curling and wrapping around her forearms, a crackling sheath like ivy enclosing branches. The Butcher was tough, her sense of pain deadened and her strength enhanced, but the application of enough electricity would put her out of the fight for long enough.

'How many hits before her nervous system gives up?'

"For a temporary solution? Only a few."

'Mm. Not quite breaking her spine over my knee, but it's close enough for me.'

The Butcher moved and Taylor moved to meet her, darting across the open space. The Butcher swing a massive backhand blow, a cleaving strike that hissed through the air, the chipped blade hacking at nothing as Taylor ducked, reached up and grabbed her opponent by the wrist. Lightning twisted from her fingers, burning into the Butchers arm and Taylor drove a fist into the Butchers solar plexus, her gauntlet denting the armour. The Butcher clamped her free hand onto Taylor's head and Taylor pulled her fist back, grabbed the Butcher's other wrist and jumped, ramming both boots into the Butcher and kicking off in a backflip. The Butcher vanished mid-stagger, a distant explosion and Taylor tracked her, saw her level her bow and fire before teleporting again. More explosions, a symphony of blasts as the Butcher circled Taylor, an arrow with every landing and Taylor drew in her wings and enfolded herself in a cocoon of force, the arrows ramming into it, smoke clouding as their payloads burst. Taylor flared her wings, a gust of wind blowing away the smoke.

"Come on," she shouted, "Actually give me a challenge!"

The Butcher let out a berserker roar, teleporting almost on top of Taylor. Taylor crossed her arms in front of her, a wall of telekinetic force taking the hit before it shattered and she lunged through. Right fist to the mask, the Butcher staggering and Taylor gestured, wrapped the Butcher in a hundred telekinetic tendrils and rammed the woman into the ground. A flick of her arm and the Butcher hit a wall hard, another gesture and she came back, Taylor meeting her with an elbow to the chest and grabbing her by the face, kicking her legs out from under her and smashing her into the ground. The ugly mask shattered and fell away under her fingers, the Butchers crazed expression bared to the world and a fist hit Taylor in the chest with enough force to knock her several feet. Taylor beat her wings, taking to the air to bleed off the impact, hovering as the Butcher rose again. Blood stained the Butcher's teeth and chin, running from her nose and her lips, but her eyes were as wild and full of fight as Taylor had ever expected.

"I should really tell you to surrender," Taylor said, spreading her arms and letting the lightning crackle across her wings, "But I have to admit, I'm enjoying this. So what do you say. Can you dance a little longer?"

The Butcher teleported.

Taylor whirled in mid-air, parrying the punch with her left hand, her right making a slapping motion and smacking the Butcher into the ground with the force that followed. Taylor folded her wings and dropped, a boot crashing onto the Butcher's arms as she raised them in defence and her fist followed but the Butcher teleported again, Taylor's fist cracking the ground, and a car hit her in the back and knocked her off her feet. Taylor laughed, delighted, the car bursting apart under the weight of her power, a storm of metal fragments swirling briefly before she let them fall. The Butcher was opposite her again, sword in one hand and a tire-iron in the other.

'She really can take a beating. I'm honestly impressed, although I think she's getting to the end of her strength.'

"That's not a hard guess, I can see her shoulders shaking from here. She's exhausted, and we're still ready to fight."

'Mm. It was fun while it lasted, though.'

The Butcher didn't teleport this time, charging across the open space. Taylor planted her feet, meeting the hacking downward slice of the katana with her forearm, steel ringing on reinforced ceramite, and the blow of the tire-iron met her other vambrace. The Butcher was a storm, assaulting without remorse, blow after blow after blow and Taylor met them all, gritting her teeth as the shocks ran through her arm, leaning into every block and coating her vambraces with the slightest touch of power, enough that they wouldn't be damaged. Not enough power to tire her, just enough to keep her armour intact and the Butcher screamed in frustration, throwing aside the tire-iron and gripping her katana in both hands. The downward swing was stronger than any before, accompanied by the roaring, howling demand.

"Why won't you die?"

Battered steel met Warp forged telekinetic barrier and ceramite and shattered. The Butcher staggered past, momentum too much to stop, and Taylor planted a hand against her back.

"I'm just stubborn like that."

The push sent the Butcher sailing through the air, smacking off the roof of a car and ploughing into another. The second car slid back, the whole side dented in, and Taylor walked towards it with steady stride. The Butcher tore herself free of the metal, dragging herself free. She made it one step before she fell to a knee and Taylor shook her head.

"Is this all you can manage? Well, it can't be helped. Some people have it, some people don't. That's just the way it is."

"No," the Butcher rasped. Blood dripped from her chin to the ground and Taylor tilted her head.



Slowly, ever so slowly, the Butcher forced herself to her feet. Her wild eyes were shadowed by bruises, a cut along her forehead dribbling more blood down her face, her limbs shaking, but she stood. She opened her mouth, a low and gurgling snarl emerging, flecked with blood.

"I won't…I won't fall to you!"

Taylor shook her head.

"You don't have a choice."

The Butcher lurched forwards, her hands rising, and Taylor took advantage of the crack she'd left in the Butcher's mind just a minute ago, spinning an illusion just to her right. The Butcher lunged, passing by to Taylor's right, and Taylor stepped aside. She felt the utter confusion the Butcher felt as her target turned to smoke and mist under her grasping hands, just an instant before Taylor grabbed the woman by the collar and clenched her right fist, driving it into the Butcher's spine. Bone didn't crack, muscle didn't tear, but the Warp-fuelled shockwaves that ran through the Butcher deadened her nerves, coils of Warp Lightning touching flesh and paralysing it. Taylor let the Butcher go, and her enemy landed on the ground, broken and defeated. Taylor took a single step back and looked up at the broken window, mind reaching out until she felt Dauntless and Weld, a little tired, but triumphant.

'You think I can get a dentistry degree? For dealing with bad Teeth so easily?'

"I think you need to get some more sleep, if your level of jokes has dropped so far."

Only the fact that she was trying not to look like a maniac prevented Taylor from laughing aloud at the Emperors dry comment.

Taylor leaned back against a wall, shaking her head. Just a month or two ago she would never have been able to hold her own against the Butcher. And now, here she was, triumphant and barely even injured.

'Wonder what they'll do with her. Can't exactly pack her off to the Birdcage, can we? One mistake in there and it's an all-you-can-eat buffet for the Butcher.'

"If it is truly inescapable, then it would solve the problem of potential overcrowding."

Taylor winced at that, shaking her head.

'That's…wow. I hate how practical that is. Although I think it probably comes under 'cruel and unusual punishments'.'

"The Birdcage itself falls under that title. After all, if they are to be imprisoned there forever, then why not simply kill them? Imprisonment usually comes with some sort of use. Usually rehabilitation, these days."

'A lot of people consider just up and executing people barbaric. And I think we've had this conversation before.'

"We have. You agreed with me. You don't simply execute people because one might be innocent. But if the Birdcage is impossible to leave, then what difference does it make? A simple one: an innocent executed passes on to reincarnate, or become one with the universe, or to whichever afterlife awaits. An innocent condemned to the Birdcage suffers a lifetime in the company of monsters, without any hope for release, before any of that. The Birdcage is an act of unmitigated cruelty."

'I wouldn't have thought you would care about cruelty.'

"I do when it is inefficient. The Birdcage serves no purpose and its maintenance is nothing but a cost. It does not free anyone from any burden, save the guilt of those too squeamish to take a life with their own hands."

The roar of a motorbike broke them both out of their debate- it could hardly be called an argument, not when they were both in fundamental agreement- and Taylor looked up.

'You think Armsmaster would appreciate my pun?' she asked, pulling them away from their former topic. The Emperor chuckled, more amused now.

"I don't think he believes in puns."

'He works alongside a pair of Heroes who call themselves Assault and Battery, how can he not believe in puns?'

"Sometimes ignoring all the evidence of your senses is the best self-defence method."

Armsmaster came racing into the car park, sliding his bike to a halt and using the last of the momentum to leap off and land in a crouch, halberd already drawn. Taylor was glad she was wearing a helmet- he definitely wouldn't have appreciated the look of amusement on her face at his sheer dramatics. Taylor saw his head move, looking around, and didn't move from her relaxed position. Armsmaster turned to her, his halberd shifting in his hands to a less aggressively ready stance and Taylor uncoiled from the wall.

"The Butcher?" he asked. Taylor kicked the body at her feet, demonstratively. Armsmaster nodded slowly, although his halberd tilted itself towards Taylor.

"She's not dead, is she?"

Taylor shook her head.

"Just sleeping," she said, suddenly realising that Armsmaster didn't want to approach to check. Taylor guessed that it was sensible enough in theory: if she had been infected- assuming she could be infected- then the last thing Armsmaster would want would be to be in grabbing range. Taylor took several deliberate steps away from the Butcher, gesturing.

"Check her if you want."

Armsmaster carefully advanced to the Butcher, his halberd held steady in a single hand and pointing at Taylor. Taylor admired the strength it must take to keep the blade so steady, extended towards her.

"He is probably using his armour as a support. Pseudo-muscles."

'Don't be so cynical.'

Armsmaster pressed his fingers to the Butcher's neck- not for the first time Taylor wondered how exactly he felt for a pulse through his gauntlets. Maybe there was some technology in his gauntlets themselves? Most likely. Armsmaster was still for a few seconds before nodding and straightening.

"She's alive," he said, putting his halberd away and unhooking a pair of handcuffs from his armour.

'No apology, not even a 'good work'. He must be stressed,' Taylor mused, extending a trickle of power towards him. She could feel his headache, slowly pulsing at the back of his skull, and the nagging tiredness. She wondered if he'd slept at all, or simply pushed himself onwards. She suspected the second was more likely.

"What else is going on?" Taylor asked, stepping closer, "And what are we doing with Theo and his sister? We can't exactly just keep them."

Armsmaster didn't look up at her, clicking the handcuffs onto the Butcher.

"Their parents are criminals. That gives CPS a case to remove them from their homes."

Taylor scoffed.

"You think that's going to fly? Kaiser's not going to just shrug his shoulders and accept his son and heir presumptive being taken away, and I'm pretty sure that Purity actually cares about her daughter."

Armsmaster shook her head.

"Making deals like that is dangerous, Circaetus. There's a line where reasonableness becomes weakness. You defeated the Butcher, you can do the same to Kaiser and Purity."

"That's not the point," Taylor muttered, "The damage that they could do…both have wide-area powers."

Armsmaster finished securing the Butcher and looked up, his jawline hardening even more than before.

"I'm aware," he snapped, "The Empire is already on the warpath. Myrddin has gone to attempt to calm them, but we cannot place children back into the custody of a pair of murderous villains. To even appear that we are considering it is to send the message that the Protectorate can be threatened into acquiescence."

His voice had risen a fraction, his temper flaring. Taylor narrowed her eyes at him, shaking her head.

"If you say so," she said, letting it lie for the moment.

'Given the kill counts of the Slaughterhouse Nine, I'd say it's already pretty clear that the Protectorate will bow before power.'

"We ourselves have made use of it, our power in exchange for almost complete freedom. If Armsmaster thinks he can take a hard line now, he may be several years too late."

'Yeah. But we can't just leave it.'

"No. No, we cannot."

Taylor stepped back again, watching as Dauntless and Weld left the building with Hemorrhagia and Spree in cuffs. She strode across once she saw Theo behind them, his face pale and pinched and his younger sister huddled in his arms. She nodded briskly to Dauntless and Weld but bypassed them to reach Theo, pulling her helmet off.

"Theo," she said, making sure that her voice was quiet and soothing, "Are you alright?"

Theo turned pale, grim eyes on her before opening his mouth. No sound emerged and he shook his head, his mouth clicking shut. His sister sniffled in his arms and Taylor nodded, gently setting an arm on his shoulder.

"Alright," she said, "Alright. Take a deep breath, right? You're okay."

Theo squeezed his eyes shut, drawing in a slow lungful of air. Taylor took a moment to look down at the child, checking for injuries. Nothing, fortunately, and Taylor absently extended a sliver of power to warm and soothe her.

"Thank you," Theo said, softly croaking. Taylor shook her head.

"If I'd done my job properly, you wouldn't even have been involved," she said, just a little sour, "You're alright? Not injured?"

Theo shook his head.

"Just bruises and scrapes. I…I managed to get away, since I…Triggered, I guess."

Taylor nodded. She didn't ask, but Theo elaborated anyway.

"It was just like…whatever I was touching, I could manipulate it? I used it to turn the walls across the corridors and block them, but I couldn't really do much more. And the Butcher was…there. Up above, I think, killing people."

"Yeah, well, she probably won't be doing much of that now," Taylor said, sticking by him as they regrouped with Armsmaster. He had pulled the Butcher into a sitting position, her arms shackled behind her back and a heavy helmet on her head. Taylor tilted her head at him.

"What's with the helmet?"

Armsmaster glanced down.

"She can't teleport if she can't see. This is a simple solution, for the moment. So that's the Butcher, Hemorrhagia and Spree accounted for. Vex?"

"Dead," Dauntless said. Taylor refused to look ashamed when Armsmaster glanced at her, but he just shrugged.

"She was Birdcage bound, anyway. Mr Anders. Are you injured?"

Theo shook his head, looking slightly intimidated by Armsmasters looming presence. Taylor shuffled slightly, bumping her shoulder against his to remind him that she was there.

"No, sir. Aster and I are fine. The CPS agents, they…they're dead."

Armsmaster nodded.

"Unfortunate. It's lucky that you're alive and unharmed, however."

His words were punctuated by an explosion, somewhere off in the main city, and a tiny, grim smile crossed Armsmasters' face.

"Your parents don't seem very pleased to have had their identities revealed, however."

"No," Taylor said, before Director Piggot could even open her mouth. The woman glared at her.

"I haven't even made a request yet."

"Don't care. If you're going to say something like "When Kaiser and Purity arrive I want you to take them into custody", the answer's no. Same for Tattletale."

Piggot scowled at her.

"You cannot argue that it isn't the best option."

"It's the most straightforward option," Taylor corrected, "Not necessarily the best. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying no out of some sort of compassion or sense of honour. Just that if we do this now, we throw away any chance of getting villains to meet peacefully with us in the future."

Piggot stared at her for a few heartbeats longer, her eyes narrow and her lips pursed, before nodding.

"Good. At least you aren't getting carried away by the notion of being the Hero. If Kaiser and Purity start something…"

"Then I'll hospitalise them both," Taylor said, bored by now, "I'm pretty sure we've seen that I'm ready to do that already. Where are we meeting?"

Piggot pointed down.

"There's a neutral meeting point, apparently. We've been given the location."

"A neutral location?" Taylor echoed, surprised, "I wouldn't have expected Kaiser to let us know about something like that, if it's what the villains use to try and work together."

Piggot shrugged.

"Apparently he's desperate. And Tattletale also agreed to attend, so he won't want to look afraid. They can always find another location, there's plenty of real estate on the market now."

"Ah, people leaving due to Leviathan? That makes sense. What about Lung, though? Or Marque, even? I understand that Marque is probably going to get folded into Tattletale's organisation, but he's a free agent at the moment."

Piggot shook her head.

"We don't expect either to attend, but be ready in case they do. We're meeting at one in the afternoon, so we have a few hours. At least the Empire have stopped their rampage."

Taylor nodded slowly.

"Yeah. About that. What's the damage?"

"No deaths, but almost thirty injured. Both Kaiser and Purity went berserk and attacked a police station, we were lucky that Myrddin was nearby and that refugees weren't at the station at the time. The timing probably saved a lot of people."

Taylor checked her watch briefly. Nine in the morning. A few hours was about right.

"Probably lucky for him, too. I don't think we'd be having this meeting if those thirty people had died."

"No," Piggot agreed, "We wouldn't."

Taylor glanced to the side, looking around. There was a bustle, as always, but it seemed purposeful. Already directed.

"Is there anything you need me for, Director? Or am I free to just wait?"

Piggot pursed her lips. She shook her head, although it seemed thoughtful rather than dismissive.

"I need you to go to Brockton Central Hospital. Half of the Wards are still there, and I don't trust Kaiser or Purity. They might well decide that since we've still got Theo and Aster, they might as well take some hostages of their own, even with Myrddin staying with them as insurance."

"Hostages of their own, huh?" Taylor asked, amused at the slip of the tongue. Piggot scowled at her.

"You know what I mean, Circaetus. Even if we don't intend to treat Kaiser's children as bargaining chips, he'll assume that we do and could overreact. We need you to be ready in case that happens."

Taylor raised her hands in a gesture of surrender that was only a little mocking.

"Sure thing, Director," she said, "I'll get myself out of your hair."

'Leaving Myrddin to ensure good behaviour? That's a risk I didn't think Piggot would take.'

"Mutual destruction. Kaiser and Purity have to know that Myrddin is far more likely to escape them than Theo and his sister- Aster, did Piggot say? Than Theo and Aster are to escape us."

'Although we're a lot less likely to kill our hostages.'

The Emperor hummed. Taylor interpreted it as meaning something like 'Well you are, at least', but elected not to comment on it. He had an argument, probably- hostages were only useful when you were actually willing to make use of them- but killing a fifteen year old and a two year old…it just didn't sit well with Taylor. She shook her head, shaking away any lingering concerns, and stepped away from the bustle to walk into the Warp. If she remembered correctly, then Vista, Clockblocker, Kid Win, Miss Militia and possibly Panacea would all be in the hospital. She would have thought that an infirmary in the HQ would have been safer, but she guessed that not everything could be crammed into one building.

'You think these negotiations are going to go well?' she asked as they left the Warp, walking towards the hospital. The Emperor snorted.

"I have very little faith in it. Director Piggot and Armsmaster hardly seem like the type of people to just let Kaiser and Purity off with their attacks. We're lucky that they're negotiating at all, instead of fighting."

'You agree with them, don't you? You don't think we should even bother negotiating.'

Taylor didn't really care, one way or the other. If Kaiser and Purity could be convinced to leave Brockton peacefully, or give up, then it would be a lot easier. If she was called on to fight, then she would fight. That was simply the way it was. Still.

'Maybe we should try to provoke them. How much would it take to push them both into attacking? If they're the ones to start a fight, then we can't really be blamed for it.'

"There will be suspicion, regardless. We should keep it in reserve, just in case, but otherwise…there will be other chances to bring the Empire down, if they remain in the city. And if they don't…"

Taylor gave a mental shrug.

'It's not like I really have anything against them. Other than their ideology, of course, but if they leave the Bay…it'll pull their power-base apart. They might not be gone, but they'll likely be crippled. I wonder if they'll flee to Gesellschaft or whatever the European organisation is called.'

Taylor paused just long enough to hear the Emperor make a thoughtful noise.

"Yes. That group. I wonder where they came from? As I recall, Neo-Nazi organisations were surprisingly thin on the ground in Germany during this period in my universe. At the very least they were subtle enough to avoid something like this. I wonder, also, what their end-game is. Why create a criminal organisation when you could instead attempt to work your way into government?"

'We should be thankful that they didn't go into politics. Political assassinations aren't exactly in either of our wheelhouses.'

"Assassinations, maybe not. Coups, however…"

'Put that thought down right now.'

"Don't pretend you haven't thought it, Taylor. This world is a world wracked with superstition, fear and jealousy. You do not have to let it remain so."

'And you didn't have to quote Rob Zombie at me, but here we are.'

A chuckle in the back of her mind, warm and fond.

"It's a good way of telling if you're listening. There is a future ahead of us, Taylor, once the Parasite is defeated. There must be. What will you do then?"

'I told you,' Taylor said, walking into the hospital and waiting by the reception, 'We're going to go back to your universe and drag the Primarchs into sanity whether they like it or not. We're going to fix things there, as well.'

"And if we can't find a way back," the Emperor said, quietly, "What then?"

Taylor waited for the receptionist to give her directions before she answered, taking the stairs. The repetitive motion of her feet on the steps jarred through her thoughts, pulling her back together.

'I…I don't know. I don't want to rule Humanity. I don't want to see them marching to the beat of my drum, bowing to the words in my voice. I don't want to be the only future they see.'

"What do you want, Taylor?" the Emperor asked. Taylor stopped walking on a landing, looking up and shaking her head. A small, rueful smile fell across her lips.

'What do I want? I don't know. I don't know. I want…I want the stars. I want to see the future, I want to find something new. I want to set out into the black of space and find new sights, new smells, new memories. I want adventure. I want to sail the stars, walk distant planets, find new races, even. I want to do something different.'

"Yes," the Emperor said, his voice a little distant, "I can't say that I blame you."

Taylor recognised the end of the conversation for the moment, walking past a squad of PRT Troopers and into the hospital ward that had been commandeered for the Protectorate members. The first person to notice her was Vista, propped up in her bed with a tablet in her hands. Vista looked across and waved as Taylor pulled her helmet off, a slightly grim smile curving her lips. Taylor felt her thoughts shudder with a brief fear and frowned.

"Do not forget, it was your clone who nearly killed her."

'I wish I could forget. Maybe I should have left my helmet on.'

"I doubt she would have stood for it."

'Because a twelve year old is the best judge of how to deal with her lingering trauma.'

"Hey, Vista," Taylor said aloud, strolling across. She looked at the chair next to the bed, mentally calculating its strength, before leaning against the wall. Vista was staring at her through hooded eyes, assessing her. Taylor could feel her gaze.

"Hey," Vista said quietly, her voice still a little rough as she looked at her lap, where her hands were folded over her tablet. Taylor nodded, choosing to look over the ward rather than comment. She could see Kid Win and Miss Militia, both asleep, but there was no sign of Clockblocker. No sign of Panacea either, come to think of it, although Taylor was a little thankful for that. Panacea gave her a headache at the best of times.

"I haven't had a chance to thank you," Vista said, breaking the silence, "For saving my life."

Taylor leaned against the wall, her wings pressing hard against it. Taylor idly wondered if her wings could break through the wall, or if the ceramic solid energy that formed them would crack and shatter first.

"You don't have to," she said in reply to Vista, speaking slowly as she thought it through, "If I hadn't been grabbed you wouldn't have been hurt to begin with."

Vista set her jaw and stubbornly shook her head. Had Taylor been this bad as a young teenager? She hoped not.

"One of the other clones might have attacked me," she said. Taylor raised her hands in a shrug.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Look, Vista. It was my clone who hurt you, so leave me to my unearned guilt and I won't tell you that you'll understand when you're older."

Vista scowled at Taylor. It was sort of adorable.

"You're not as funny as you think," she said. Taylor reached out and patted her condescendingly on the head.

"Sure thing, kiddo."

Vista made a pretence of trying to bite Taylor.

"What a precious child you are," Taylor said. Vista pulled a face at her.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. Taylor shrugged.

"The Butcher went after Kaiser's kids, so we took them to the HQ after saving them. We're supposed to meet up and give them back, but Piggot was worried that you might get kidnapped as leverage."

Vista made a noise of understanding.

"I wondered why you were fighting the Butcher," she said, "Though I didn't think it would be over Kaiser's kids."

Taylor cocked her head.

"How did you know that I was fighting the Butcher?"

In response Vista raised her tablet and Taylor, curious, leaned in to look. Vista drew away from her a fraction, but Taylor didn't draw attention to the little flinch. No matter how brave a front Vista put on, it was only to be expected. Instead she peered at the video paused on the tablet.

"Circaetus vs Butcher livestream?" she said aloud. Vista nodded.

"Someone was recording I think, from one of the nearby apartment buildings. They saw you from just after the two of you broke through the window."

Taylor studied the frozen image of herself facing down the Butcher, wings spread and lightning crackling along her forearms. She slowly shook her head.

"Says a lot about this city that someone looked out of the window, saw me fighting the Butcher and decided to record instead of run. What are the comments like?"

"Pretty sure you're about to go viral, Tweety," someone else said. Taylor glanced up, waving to Clockblocker as he wandered down the ward. He waved back, slumping down on a bed with an exaggerated sigh.

"Do we really need to wear these masks?" he said, waving a hand across the domino mask covering a fraction of his face, "Are they even that effective?"

"Well, I don't know who you are," Taylor told him. He squinted at her.

"Tweety, you've never met my civilian self."

Taylor just grinned in a self-satisfied way and he groaned.

"Yeah, yeah. I get it. But at least I'm not the internet sensation."

"Coming out and naming yourself 'Clockblocker' got quite a lot of attention," Vista mildly pointed out, and he sagged even more.

"Well- yeah, alright, you've got me there. But for the moment, everyone wants to see the girl who punched the ass out of Leviathan in action. Tweety's the one in the spotlight now."

"Oh no," Taylor said, wryly amused, "However will I cope? Seriously, Vista. What're the comments on that video like?"

Vista consulted her tablet, a tiny frown rumpling her brow as she scrolled.

"Well," Vista said, her fingers still scrolling, "More than a few people are jealous of the Butcher."

"Jealous?" Taylor asked, baffled. Vista nodded.

"Mm-hm. Apparently, a lot of people would like 'angel mommy' to step on them."

"Jesus H. Christ, Vista," Clockblocker murmured, a soft laugh cracking his voice as Taylor tilted her head back and laughed with far less restraint.


"Yep," Vista said, her eyes sparkling with mischief behind her own domino mask, "There's a real bunch of degenerates out there. There's weird like drooling over shoulders or abs or whatever, and then there's weird like this."

"Do they know that I'm underage?" Taylor asked, tilting her head. Vista snorted.

"Looks like about eighty-percent of them had breakdowns when they learned they were lusting over a kid."

Clockblocker peered at her, shaking his head.

"Gotta say, I don't see it Tweety. Maybe we should ask Flechette."

"What's Flechette got to do with anything?" Taylor muttered. Clockblocker shrugged.

"Well, she's a lesbian, so maybe she'll understand the attraction of being dominated by some winged menace."

"Clock," Vista said slowly, "What the fuck does being a lesbian have to do with angel domination kinks?"

Now the subject of two baffled gazes, Clockblocker squirmed and shrugged uncomfortably.

"I dunno, man, it sounded funny in my head. I've still got a slight concussion, though."

Taylor put her head in her hands for a moment- Vista seemed to have been struck dumb by the sheer bizarreness of the comment.

"And," Clockblocker continued, apparently deciding to just tough it out, "I don't find being stepped on by a dom angel that attractive, so maybe someone on the other end of the spectrum would know more."

"You're both attracted to women, though," Taylor pointed out, morbidly fascinated by the conversation currently unfolding, "So aren't you roughly at the same end of the spectrum?"

"Ehh…yeah. Good point. Alright, we won't ask Flechette."

Vista looked like she was regretting every life choice that brought her here, and Clockblocker had slumped down in his bed. Taylor looked up at the ceiling, gathering her strength to continue, before changing the subject without the slightest hint of grace.

"So, what else do the comments say? We've got the internet classic of constant thirst, what others are there?"

Vista scanned her way down the page.

"Eh…arguments over whether you used too much force or not enough…the classic cheering you on…couple of people who wanted the Butcher to win, why would you even begin to want that…and…oh."

"Oh?" Taylor said, her attention caught. Vista tilted the tablet closer to her face and Clockblocker sat up, as though sensing a scoop. Vista shrugged uncomfortably.

"One of the longest comment chains started with someone saying 'Isn't Circaetus a murderer?'"

Taylor hummed thoughtfully.

"Huh. That's a good one. I guess some people didn't catch the whole 'It wasn't her, she was with me' thing that Armsmaster put out."

Taylor chewed her lip in thought.

"Still, I don't think that it's much good for my image."

"I didn't think you cared about your image," Vista said slowly. Taylor shrugged.

"Well, I don't really. But people thinking I'm a murderer on the run is just going to complicate things a lot more than I want."

They all went quiet for a moment before Vista carefully cleared her throat.

"Circaetus," she said slowly, "What exactly happened that made people think you were a murderer? I haven't really heard that much about it, and Clock hasn't said much."

Taylor glanced over to Clockblocker, who was shrugging.

"I just knew that some police had gone to arrest you and that you weren't guilty," he admitted. Taylor sighed, closing her eyes for a few heartbeats and pinching the bridge of her nose.

"Alright," she said, "I guess it won't hurt to tell you. So, I got grabbed by Echidna and cloned a couple of times, right?"

Vista shuddered.

"Right," she agreed, her face pale. Taylor nodded.

"Right. So most of them didn't have powers. I've got…some augmentations, I guess you could say. Stronger, faster, that sort of thing. The clones had them, but they were pretty messed up. The only exception that I saw was Luna."

Vista curled into herself. Taylor frowned, regretting what she was about to say but knowing that she had to finish.

"She…I fought her, on our way out. Put half of my staff through her chest. I was pretty sure that she was dead, but I was a little too busy to check what with dragging a bunch of injured out of the way of all the clones. What I didn't realise was that Luna can apparently regenerate."

Taylor almost admitted that the regeneration was from her, almost certainly the same as hers, but she kept that secret behind her teeth for the moment. No need to cause a panic. Vista was still hunched over, her voice brittle with determination.

"She escaped."

Taylor nodded slowly.

"She escaped. I don't…I don't know everything. One of the Echidna clones told me that one of my clones was sent to kill my Dad, but when I got there all I found was her in a nearby alleyway, beaten to death. And Emma, who Luna killed…"

Taylor had suspicions, suspicions that she didn't really want to voice. But they were still there, more present than she liked.

"I think she was…protecting me. Or she wanted to be the one to hurt me, perhaps. She said something, when I asked her about Browbeat. She told me that she killed him because he wasn't important. Because he didn't matter to me. That suggests that she's…trying to make a point. Given that Emma was my friend for so long…something about betrayal, probably."

"I remember," Vista said, still quietly subdued, "What she said. She talked about So-Shadow Stalker, too."

"Ah," Taylor said, "Yeah, I guess she would have. Can't help but notice that Sophia ain't here."

She used Shadow Stalker's real name on purpose. Vista and Clockblocker flinched slightly, but Taylor ignored it. Clockblocker was the one who replied.

"Yeah, she's back in the HQ. In a better protected place."

Or more suitable holding cell, Taylor idly noted. Honestly, she couldn't really find it in herself to care. Sophia probably deserved some sort of punishment, but given that Luna had beaten her to a pulp and blinded her…in the long run, Sophia was a very petty sort of villain.

"Either way," Taylor continued, "Luna headed on out of here after killing half of the Barnes family, and Zoe Barnes- that's Emma's mom- pinned it on me. Bit offended, really, since I'm quite clearly not blonde, but in the dark and in panic I guess I can see it. And then Coil got involved. Probably wanted to put me on the run, used his connections to make sure that the police headed out to arrest me. Didn't work out, as I think we can tell. And that's about it."

Silence fell, soft and suffocating. Clockblocker was the one to break it, sending a sympathetic look at Vista first.

"So we don't know where she is?" he asked. Taylor frowned, shaking her head.

"I don't," she said carefully, "But I haven't really had time to think it over. Once I get the chance, I'll go and look for her. I don't think she'll be laying too low. It sounded like she wanted to build a powerbase, so she'll be somewhere she can build her power. Someplace where the PRT and Protectorate are weak, and…"

"The easiest way to gain power is to co-opt something someone else has already built."

"And," Taylor said, taking the Emperor's statement into account, "Someplace she can take over some gang, or a group. Or a cult. Somewhere like…huh."

"I wonder," the Emperor commented, "How the Fallen would take the news that some new Cape had driven away their false god. Religion is so very useful…a fanatic is a fanatic, after all. You just have to convince them."

And just like that Luna took a higher place on Taylor's concern list. A resurgence of the Imperial Cult was not something Taylor wanted to deal with. Maybe she would have to postpone her long-awaited vacation after all. She somehow managed to keep the scowl off her face at the thought. And then, just to make her already poor mood worse, Panacea entered the room. Taylor didn't frown about her entry, but she saw Panacea's lips tighten, felt the disgusted irritation that cloaked her soul when she saw Taylor.

'She could at least have been grateful for healing her.'

"Hmm. I wonder if that is the problem. She is useful because she can heal, perhaps she feels threatened by your abilities? Or perhaps…"

Taylor made sure that her mental sigh was obnoxiously loud. The Emperor projected a sense of amusement back at her, flickering through her nerves.

"Or perhaps, it is because you've waited so long. She claims that she can't affect brains, but you healed her concussion. She might be angry because you could do the same thing as her, but you don't spend all your time healing for no reward. She's jealous, and angry because of it."

'Great. Fucking teenage drama, exactly what I don't need right now.'

"Panacea," Taylor said aloud, pleasantly, "Good to see you up and about again."

Panacea sent her a sour look, but didn't rise. Taylor raised an eyebrow, interested at that.

"Circaetus," she said, "What are you doing here?"

Taylor shrugged.

"Playing bodyguard in case Kaiser decides that he wants a hostage for negotiations. I don't think he's gonna, because throwing down at a hospital is going to cost him all the goodwill he's got and because Myrddin agreed to stay with him in lieu, but I'm here just in case."

Panacea sniffed, walking past Taylor to check on Clockblocker.

"I had thought you would be flexing your new healing muscles, since you like to show everyone up at everything else."

Taylor smiled, a sardonic twist of her lips.

"I wouldn't want to put you out of job," she said, "Besides, I have to conserve my powers. Can't be caught wanting when I'm the person everyone else ends up hiding behind."


'She deserves it.'

Panacea gave Taylor a deeply unimpressed look, her lip curling just a little. Taylor remembered what Tattletale had told her, about the threats Panacea had made in Brockton Central Bank so long ago, and wondered what lurked behind the jaded bitterness that Panacea exhibited most of the time. What darkness lurked within that heart? Were she willing to tip her hand, she could take a look. Lure Panacea to a private place, crack open her mind, erase the memory when she was done. But that was a little excessive, even in Taylor's opinion. She would have to content herself with keeping track of the other girl.

"How very magnanimous of you," Panacea said. Her lips twisted into something that was a bare inch away from a scowl, her brows lowering.

'She's got something to say, but she doesn't like it.'

Panacea stood in the middle of the room, her eyes locked onto Taylor.

"Listen up, since I'm only going to say this once. I don't like you. I don't like the way you act, the way you talk, the way you cause trouble all the time. The way you've got powers that could help people and use them for nothing but fighting. But."

Panacea took a deep breath, a muscle jumping in her jaw. Taylor raised her eyebrows, Vista and Clockblocker staring at Panacea in silence.

"But…you tried to help Vicky after Mom died. And you healed me, so I didn't have to wake up and find that everyone else had already mourned. So…thank you. For that."

The silence in the room got deeper, if that was even possible. Vista and Clockblocker looked like they were re-evaluating their whole view of Panacea. Taylor brought a hand up, muffling a cough into her fist.

"Well," she said, "I don't think that's the most ungracious thank you I've ever gotten, actually. You're welcome. Please never thank me again."

Panacea nodded.

"Sure thing."

Taylor leaned against the wall again, chewing her lip in thought.

"How's Glory doing?" she asked. Panacea glanced at her, her eyes hooded.

"Why? Looking to drag her into your next fight with the Empire?"

Taylor took a breath through her nose, reminding herself that smacking Panacea in the mouth was definitely bad form and wouldn't do anything other than prove her opinion of Taylor justified.

"No," she said, "Because I'm her friend and I want to make sure that she's at home recovering rather than doing anything stupid. And speaking of being at home recovering, you should be doing the same thing."

Panacea rolled her eyes and turned away from Taylor.

"I'm checking on the Wards, that's all. Besides, you aren't any sort of healthy example of coping mechanisms, are you?"

Taylor had a retort on the very tip of her tongue, acid and cutting. I know you like to think you're special, Pan-Pan, but you aren't the only one with a dead Mom and a depressed Dad. And some of us don't have other family to lean on. But…the words that the Emperor had spoken on needless cruelty flickered through her mind, and Taylor couldn't really be bothered to pick another fight. She'd probably have plenty of that with Kaiser and Purity in a few hours.

"Sure. Whatever you say, Panacea."

Taylor's stomach gurgled briefly, hunger gnawing at her gut, and she sighed.

"I'm going to get something to eat. You guys want anything?"

Taylor almost expected a snippy comment about leaving her post, but Panacea didn't say anything. Vista shook her head, her eyes slowly dipping between Taylor and Panacea as though expecting a fight to break out. Clockblocker was slightly more verbose.

"Nah, I'm good thanks. Try not to start any fights on the way down, though?"

Taylor didn't bother to stifle her chuckle.

"No promises, tick-tock."

'So,' Taylor said an hour and a half later, safely back in her lair and preparing to change into her power armour, 'What are the odds that this thing will actually go well? I mean, I can't imagine that the CPS will be happy to just leave a two-year old in the custody of a supervillain. Not without supervised visits and shit. Is that what they do?'

"Why are you asking me? I didn't have any children other than the Primarchs."

A pause, the silence growing increasingly incredulous.

"That I could confirm. Alright, I was practically the definition of deadbeat dad, but at least I paid child support."

'Kaiser can definitely afford child support, he runs a whole company.'

"Are known criminals allowed to own companies?"

'There's like seven jokes to be made there, but they're all far too easy.'

"Your restraint is admirable. You're worried, and not about the summit."

Taylor let out a slow sigh, setting her now battered breastplate down.

'Do you think…I know that Panacea didn't outright say it, but I know what she meant. She meant that our fighting, our efforts, they've made things worse. That we should have stayed out of the gangs as much as we could. Do you think she's right? That we could do more- that we're being selfish by fighting instead of healing?'

There was a long silence, longer than Taylor liked, before the Emperor spoke again.

"No," he said, and contrary to the long pause he didn't sound as though he was uncertain, "I do not. You were not wrong, when you implied to Panacea that you do not have the luxury of hiding behind others. We are the strongest here, the first and possibly last line of defence. We cannot afford to squander our powers on healing small hurts. And, just as much, you are intent on not becoming a crutch for humanity. If you heal their ills, then what are you other than a crutch? And when it comes to fighting the gangs…maybe your motives are not entirely pure. Vengeance, anger, the love of battle, all those drive you. But show me someone who claims they have only purity in their hearts, and I will show you a liar. Doing nothing is not a neutral choice, and standing by to play nursemaid is moral only in the eyes of the self-righteous. We do what we can, we act as we think best, and we bear the consequences. We cannot control the actions of others, only try to help them. And no matter how hard we try, we cannot save everyone."

"We can't save everyone," Taylor whispered, running her fingers along the plates of her power armour, the suit still battered and scored by the battle against Leviathan. The Emperor perked up and Taylor set her jaw.

"We can't save everyone," Taylor repeated, slightly louder, a dry smirk settling onto her face, "Sure is a good thing that not everyone deserves to be saved, then."

"How very cynical," the Emperor said, amused. Taylor quickly settled into her power armour, rolling her shoulders and flexing her limbs to make sure that the pseudo-muscles hadn't stiffened. She reached out, tendrils of power calling her staff into her hand, and concentrated. The blade of force formed at the end of her new staff, glittering translucently in the dim light, almost like a blade forged of the clearest glass.

"You seem very prepared. Are you expecting trouble?"

Taylor grinned, a sharp expression of teeth and little mirth.

'Expecting trouble? Kaiser will be like a cornered rat. Purity will be rabid over her children. Armsmaster and Piggot don't understand diplomacy or when to back off, and Tattletale will be there to stir the pot. Expecting trouble is a pretty light way of putting it.'

Deep, rumbling laughter in the back of her head, warm amusement threading through her chest and Taylor's grin remained in place as she slid her helmet on.

'This is gonna be fun, I can already tell.'

Taylor turned, slashing open a portal to the Warp and striding through. The transit through the Warp at least bought her time to regain her equilibrium, forcing the grin off her face despite the anticipation that still coiled in her stomach. This promised to be good, but better not look too eager. She emerged back into reality just in time to see Tattletale step out of a nondescript car and Armsmaster swing a leg off his bike. The tenseness between the two of them could have been cut with a knife, and Taylor could sense a couple of Empire Capes approaching- the slippery feeling of Night and Fog, and Rune much closer.

"Everyone looking forwards to the party?" Taylor called before Tattletale and Armsmaster could exchange more than a tense greeting, and Tattletale turned towards her. Taylor saw Tattletale's mouth curl into a wicked grin as the villain sashayed closer in a movement that was very clearly meant to be seductive. Given that Tattletale's mind was putting out only amusement and Armsmaster was filled with consternation, Taylor could just about tell what was about to happen.

"Circaetus," Tattletale positively purred, "Darling."

Taylor spread her arms, letting her staff hang in the air, caught on a thread of power.

"Tattletale," she said in reply, matching the sultry tone as best she could, "Sweetheart."

Armsmaster made a choked noise- Taylor could just about hear muffled sniggering from behind him, probably Assault- and Rune's mind filled with absolute disgust. Such a bigot, Rune, although at least that was in line with Nazi ideals rather than being a shitty knock-off Confederacy. Arguably not a good thing, but Taylor didn't really care at the moment. Tattletale slunk up to Taylor, throwing her arms around Taylor's neck and pulling her down into a hug. Taylor settled one armoured hand at the small of Tattletale's back, recognising the need for privacy as Tattletale leaned close to her helmet.

"Kaiser and Purity are at odds already," Tattletale whispered in her ear, her voice thick with wicked amusement, "Good thing you came prepared."

"If you're going to keep needing me to save you like this, I'm going to start charging a protection fee," Taylor murmured in response, letting go of Tattletale. The villain skipped back, her grin still firmly in place and laughing as though Taylor had made a joke. Taylor could just about hear Dragon over Armsmaster's comm system, reminding him that both Taylor and Tattletale found it hilarious to mess with people.

"There she goes, spoiling our fun," Tattletale remarked. Taylor rolled her eyes, moving her helmet to get the motion across.

"We're not here to have fun," Armsmaster muttered. Well, less of a mutter and more of a clenched-jaw growl, but Tattletale didn't seem remotely phased.

"Mm, of course. Circaetus, honey, are you sure you don't want to come and join me? We'd have much more fun than you can with the Protectorate."

"Tempting offer, dearest, but I'll stay where I am for the moment."

Tattletale sighed dramatically.

"Shame. We'd be magnificent together."

Taylor watched her stroll away with amusement, Tattletale meeting up with Grue at the entrance to the building where the summit was supposed to be held. Taylor peered at the sign above the door.

"Somer's Rock," she said, eying the dilapidated building thoughtfully, "Not as nice as the HQ, is it?"

It was a pub that looked about ready to be abandoned, with rusting iron bars on the windows and drab grey-white paint on the walls. The only colour was the green splashes of moss and the red-brown of leaking rust, and Taylor was slightly worried that the whole place would collapse if she pushed too hard on the door. She walked over to Armsmaster, who was shaking his head.

"A little professionalism," he was grumbling, "Just a little."

Taylor tilted her helmet at Assault, who was standing just behind Armsmaster with an amused look on his face, and got a smirk and a shrug in response.

"So, how's this going to go?" she asked. Armsmaster let out one last, long sigh before looking up at her.

"We've organised this. Tattletale and Grue are here as a neutral party, allegedly, although I'm starting to question that."

Taylor preened under his half-glare.

"I'm just that good," she said happily. Armsmaster ignored her completely.

"They've gone in first, to make sure there are no surprises waiting. You, Assault and I will go in second, along with Night, Fog and Rune. Once we've confirmed there are no traps, the rest of us will arrive. We're expecting Kaiser and Purity with Myrddin, and Director Piggot will be accompanied by Dauntless, Theo Anders and Aster Anders. I don't need to tell you that we're negotiating here, so don't cause a scene."

"You talking to me or her, boss?" Assault asked, still smirking. Armsmaster gave them both a withering look.

"Both of you, although it's probably too late for that. Circaetus, if fighting starts then evacuation of Director Piggot is paramount. Aster and Theo Anders are secondary."

"Grab the child hostages and the unpowered commander. Well, we've been given worse jobs."

'So chipper, aren't you? You know that if things get serious we'll get dragged in to actually fight. We've got equal numbers of Capes, but Purity's got flying artillery privileges.'

"Sounds like fun."

Taylor grinned at Armsmaster, knowing that he'd read the expression in her body language even if it was hidden by her helmet.

"Well, let's not keep everybody waiting," she said, "This sounds like fun, so let's get to it."

And that's another chapter down. I don't really have that much to say in this Authors Note or whatever, other than- oh. Right. Someone asked what Taylor's Power Armour looks like. It has similarities to Mark III Crusade pattern armour, especially in the helmet, but the pauldrons are less dramatic. It's also matte-grey, since she hasn't had time to paint it yet.

Other than that, I think all there is to say is the usual: I hope you enjoyed, reviews are appreciated and, as always, I'll see you in the next chapter.