A Subtle Approach (Worm Endbringer SI)
This was done using the Worm CYOA v1 taking the Endbringer option.
Valefor had a reputation among many people.
Crazed Cultist, they called him. Supervillain, they branded him. Insane, they accused him.
But none of those fools knew the true him.
Valefor was faithful. Valefor was dutiful. Valefor was a rare religious man in this fallen age.
And now his faith was vindicated, and he was on a holy mission! His heart sang! He exulted! He all but trembled with excitement. He wanted to jump up throw his arms towards the heavens and roar at the top of his voice.
Of course he allowed none of this to show in his face.
Principal Blackwell closed the file with a snap and smiled at him.
"Everything seems to be in order Mr Endring," She said. Then she pushed the folder across the desk at him. "You can start classes today."
He gave her his best smile. "Thank you principal Blackwell. I'll do my very best as a student at this school."
"I'm sure you will Mr Endring." She said. Then she gestured towards the door in clear dismissal. "My secretary will give you directions towards the class coordinator"
He stood up and left the principal's office, closing the door behind him. The secretary was in that room. A blonde woman who smiled at him as he approached. He went through the motions again, smiling and making himself charming.
Only when he was out in the corridors did he let out a long breath and relaxed his shoulders.
He hated this. This smiling at and fawning over these, these scum. But he had his duty, and what none of those PRT fools who dismissed him as a fanatical cultist understood was that he was principled. He put duty above all else. Even more now that his faith has been vindicated. So he would put on a mask. He would smile at these scum and do his duty. But it was hard, especially so because his Lord has revealed to him the truth of this place.
The class coordinator gave him his class schedule and a temporary student ID.
Finally! He was free to carry out his holy mission!
By the time he emerged from the principal's office it was already lunchtime, so he ended up linking up with Erigor at the school cafeteria and they compared notes.
"Hello cousin James. I see you made it safely."
"Thank you cousin Thomas. It was no trouble, the he….. everyone here is very… friendly." Erigor tried to smile innocently.
Valefor sighed. His partner really needed to work on his subtlety. He wouldn't have brought him on this mission if there had been any other viable choice. But now that he was here he would shape up! He would not endanger their Holy Mission!
Valefor conveyed all of this through a well concealed glare that had Erigor cringing.
"That's good cousin," He said. Then he subtly brought the conversation back to their mission. "So have you met anyone interesting?"
Erigor got the hint. "No one interesting bro… cousin," He said. He cleared his throat. "I hope to make some friends soon."
"We will do it together," Valefor said. He smiled at his brother. "We will make good friends here. I know it!"
Both of them bit into their sandwiches.
A few more bites later, Valefor spoke up again. "Did anything else happen?"
"Yes" Erigor leaned forward. "When I got here and went to find my locker I smelled the most putrid stench. Naturally, I summoned the school authorities. As it turned out one of the girls lockers had been vandalized. It was all cleaned up later of course." He gave a small grin.
Valefor nodded firmly. "Good. You did your good deed for the day!" He kept his face blank but inside he was cheering. The first part of their Holy Mission was complete!
Their next class was world history.
As they both had to find their class with the aid of a map they both ended up being late.
This was how they ran into her.
Like them she was late to class. She was coming down the stairs that Valefor guessed led to the roof, while they came up from below. They met in the corridor outside the world studies class. As a matter of fact they almost bumped into each other.
Valefor bit back a scowl. He wanted to snap at the girl, but he was mindful of his holy duty. He had an image to project in this place, he had his mask. Thus he put on his most charming smile.
"So sorry. We are new transfers here you see, and have no idea where we are going," He said. He gave her his most charming smile for good measure.
She smiled back hesitantly. "It's…. it's alright."
Valefor wanted to end it there, but he was mindful of the role he played. "I'm Thomas Endring." He offered her his hand.
She hesitantly offered her own hand back. "I'm Taylor Hebert."
His heart stopped.
He showed none of his panic on his face. Rather he said a brief prayer to his Lord to thank Him for this opportunity, and took the time to form the perfect greeting. This moment had to be perfect! Just as he opened his mouth however, Taylor squeaked and jumped back. He frowned. Why was she suddenly…. He followed her frightened gaze.
Erigor was prostrating himself on the ground. Kowtowing to the girl.
It took all of his self control not to scream.
He gave an embarrassed smile to the girl. "Please give me a moment? I swear I will explain everything."
Then he hauled Erigor to his feet forcefully and hauled him down the corridor.
"What are you doing brother?" He snarled. Taking care to keep his voice low and face pleasant. "Are you trying to endanger our Holy Mission!"
"But! But!" Erigor babbled. His face contorting. He was clearly caught between faith and duty. "She is the high priestess! The chosen one! How can we not give her the honor she is due?"
Valefor sighed. He could not fault his brother for his faith. But. "Brother, she has not yet learned the Holy Truth!. We must go slowly. Do you understand?" He asked. And Erigor nodded. "Good. Now come, we must fix your blunder."
They made their way back to the girl. Taylor was waiting for them. Even though it was with the attitude of a fawn about to flee her hunters.
He smiled apologetically at her. "I'm sorry. My cousin here…. Well he has a….. mental condition you see," He said, and put on his best sorrowful look. "He is cleared to be among people. But sometimes when he forgets his meds he becomes a little confused. Please forgive him. And," He looked hopeful. "I hope you won't judge him on this…."
Taylor's eyes filled with tears. "Oh I'm so sorry!" She said. "Of course I won't treat him any different!"
Valefor smiled. "Thank you," He said and gestured down the corridor. "Now shall we go to class?"
The world studies class was headed by a disgusting human by the name of Gladly. His Lord had enlightened him about this man. And knowing this truth, the false smiles the man sent his way did nothing to sway him.
When they were told to go to their seats, he noted the seat that must have been Taylor's covered in glue. And the girl was still dejectedly making her way to it. His jaw clenched. But his brother overtook her in two steps and claimed the glue covered seat. Taylor looked surprised for a moment before taking another unsoiled seat.
Valefor gave a mental nod of approval to his brother. He might be overeager, but he was faithful.
He also made a mental note to find out who despoiled Taylor's seat. Blasphemy had to be dealt with after all.
The lesson itself was boring, until….
"Okay class," Mr Gladly -Valefor would never call the thing Mr G- said. He paced in front of the class. "Today we are focusing on current events. In particular the appearance of the fourth Endbringer."
Valefor perked up.
Who said education was useless? Out of the corner of his eye he could see Erigor leaning forward in his seat, his eyes shining. He was also careful to notice Taylor's expression. She looked interested.
This was good. So long as she was interested. Then he could use it as an opening to enlighten her.
"What do we know about it? Come now!" Mr Gladly encouraged the class. "Participate!"
A hand went up. It was a thin nerdy looking kid. "It arrived months ago," The kid said.
That was about right.
Another hand. "Its called Set!"
A passable name for the Holy One. But that needs to change soon.
Another. "It looks like a giant black jellyfish!"
Valefor clenched his jaw.
Taylor raised a tentative hand. "It… It has behaved rather erratically for an Endbringer."
Valefor fought back a grin. Of course she would notice it! Her genius was without limit!
"Excellent points all," Mr Gladly smiled at them all. "The fourth Endbringer, that we are calling Set, first appeared on the 23rd of November last year. It was detected in orbit and flew down into the African hinterland. Naturally our heroes and military responded, and it was hit with missiles and capes. But that may have been a mistake. Can anyone tell why?" He looked at the class expectantly.
"Because it's like the lovechild of Lung and Eidolon!" Someone piped up.
Valefor mentally added them to his list.
"Yes indeed" Mr Gladly said. He smiled at the class. "Set did not display any special powers in the beginning. The only ability it had initially seemed to be flight. The first missiles even wounded it. But then it produced a forcefield. This ability only got stronger as more and more attacks were thrown at him. The collective parahuman might of the world couldn't damage it. But then something strange happened. What was it?" Mr Gladly grinned at the class.
"Scion!" Someone called out.
"Exactly!" Mr Gladly was clearly enjoying himself. "Scion turned up to the Endbringer fight and attacked the new Endbringer. But he didn't content himself with simply driving away the Endbringer, he gave chase. Set did everything to escape the Golden man. He flew, he teleported, he vanished from this world for a time. But whatever Set tried, Scion was right behind him. At first Set only ran, but later he started to counterattack. Their battle, what little we saw of it, was apocalyptic. So far no one is winning. But let us hope it's Scion eh?"
Valefor hid a grin. Yeah lets.
The rest of the class passed in the same vein.
During gym they managed to find Taylor again. It wasn't hard, the girl was by herself.
"Hello Taylor," He said and smiled at her as he approached. "Do you think you can show us newbies the ropes?"
She looked surprised that they were even talking to her. "Um, are you guys um….. sure?"
Valefor smiled at her, though on the inside he was adding another tally on his list. "Of course we are. Who wouldn't want to hang out with a cute girl like you?" That got her blushing and ducking her head.
Still she did partner with them for gym.
At the end of gym though things went sideways.
Afterwards, Taylor had gone to change out of her gym clothes when we heard raised voices from the direction of the girls changing rooms.
They exchanged a glance and as one, went to investigate.
They found Taylor surrounded by several girls in the corridor outside the girls changing room. They heard snippets of what they were saying.
"Look at her."
"Waste of space."
"Why would anyone bother."
"No wonder her mom died!"
Taylor was crying.
Erigor launched himself forward with a roar!
He hit the girls in a running tackle and they went tumbling through the doors.
The girls changing room doors.
The screams were ear piercing.
They all ended up in the principal's office.
Valefor was pretty sure he was going to have to use his power to get them out of this.
"Don't worry," He said. Only to reassure a worried Taylor who was sitting next to them. "We are getting out of this." He glared at Erigor, who had the grace to look abashed.
Valefor suddenly let go of his anger and sighed.
This was his responsibility and he had to deal with it.
It was just so hard being the only sane one in the team.
Thousands of miles away, the watching capes stared in amazement as the new Endbringer started to bash it's head against Africa's mount Kilimanjaro.
Then it suddenly turned and hightailed it as golden lasers began to rain down around it. The Endbringer vanished into the sky, Scion giving chase.
"I really didn't expect this Mr Endring," Principal Blackwell said to Valefor. "Your first day and already fighting?"
The principal's office was packed with students.
Taylor, Valefor and Erigor stood to one side, while an entire pack of girls took up the other side of the room.
"Your cousin attacked these girls and then broke into the girl's changing room!" The principal continued talking. But Valefor tuned her out. "This is not the kind of behavior we expect from the students of this school!"
"Principal!" Valefor interrupted her smoothly. "If you will allow me to explain the situation?" He produced his smartphone and poked it for a minute to bring up the video.
The principal watched wordlessly as the video played itself.
"As you can see, you have a very wrong idea," Valefor smiled. His Lord's instructions had proven true once more! Truly, he was on the right path! "My cousin intervened to stop the cruel and vicious bullying of a fellow student by these..." He gestured to the other side of the room. He also memorized faces. "… girls."
The principal spluttered for a moment before she rallied. "He still attacked fellow students violently. And he still broke into the girl's changing room."
"Accidentally!" Valefor put in.
"Still he did it!" Principal Blackwell insisted. "We can't let this go!"
"While I agree that his violence was uncalled for, there are special circumstances," Valefor said. He gave her a quick touch with his power. "I can explain. If you give us privacy?"
Five minutes later they were leaving the office, scott-free.
"I don't believe it!" Taylor said as they walked away. "I thought we would all get suspended!"
"I just had to explain about my cousin's illness," Valefor explained cheerfully. "She didn't want to risk the fallout from disciplining a child with a mental condition."
"Huh, I didn't think that woman could be fair," Taylor muttered.
"Hey, Cheer up! I promised to get us out of this and I did. There's no need to look so sad!" He smiled at her and, after a long moment, Taylor hesitantly smiled back.
After leaving school he was finally free to check up on how things were proceeding on the other side of their Holy Mission!
A quick message to the other half of his team confirmed that they had succeeded. Not that he had expected anything less. They were on a Holy Mission after all. Failure wasn't something they would allow to happen.
When he made his way to the abandoned warehouse they were set up in, he found the rest of the team waiting, along with the fruits of their labor.
"Well done brothers," Valefor praised his team. "That was efficiently done!"
"My faith guides my hand," Eridor replied humbly.
"I do as my Lord commands me," Kimaris replied piously.
"The blessing of my God makes me flawless," Scratch declared, and Valefor frowned at that.
His brother sounded like he was walking a dangerous path. Yes, their Lord has blessed them. But that didn't make them invincible. Honestly, Scratch sounded like some kind of religious fanatic instead of an enlightened soul. Valefor was going to have words with him later.
"Good, now does anyone else have anything to say before we start?"
"Mffffff… mfffff….. mfffff!"
"Yes, I'll get to you in a moment," Valefor said dismissively. "Anyone else? No? Very well. Kimaris? Erigor? You may go and get started on our other project. We will deal with this." The two named capes withdrew, leaving only three people in the warehouse.
"Mffffff… mfffff….. mfffff!"
"Yes, yes we're dealing with you now," Valefor said as he leaned down and pulled the gag from the girl.
"…. Ack….. Ahem… Thank you!" The girl wiggled in her bonds. "Is there a reason I've been kidnapped by a bunch of teen-aged boys and brought to this place?" Her voice wasn't panicking or even that worried. Not the typical reaction of a freshly kidnapped girl.
"Can't you tell?" Valefor asked with a small smile.
The girl frowned. "I can guess. You want to recruit me for something, you're not the members of any of the local gangs. I haven't been able to figure out anything else. You bastards kept me blindfolded!"
Scratch laughed. "Your paltry tricks will not help you here girl! We are under the aegis of….." He trailed off under Valefor's glare.
"Enough!" Valefor snapped. "Let's get started! Brother!"
At his command Scratch reached into the case at his feet and produced, of all things, a sword. The girl's eyes widened in alarm.
Valefor smiled a beatific smile. "Lisa Wilbourne!" His voice thundered. "You have been chosen!"
"Oh shit!" Lisa said, and then squeaked as the sword blade touched her throat.
Valefor kept smiling. "I think you know he will not hesitate to use it," He said, and Lisa nodded very slowly.
"Now as I was saying, you have been chosen," This time Lisa kept silent. "Fear not! You have been chosen to serve, not to be culled. And unlike your old employer, the villainous Coil, we are more civilized and will treat you properly during your induction!"
Lisa was watching him with dropped jaw.
Her indignation even overrode her survival instincts briefly. "Are you serious" She looked at their faces. "So help me, you are serious. Coil kidnapped me and recruited me into a villain gang with a gun and a wad of cash. You kidnapped me and are recruiting me into your cult,….. I mean religious organization?" She backtracked as the sword scratched her adams apple. "How is this possibly different?"
"This is very different," Valefor patiently explained to her. "Coil recruited you by pointing a gun at your head and offering you money. We are recruiting you by pointing a sword at your neck and offering you faith!"
Lisa imitated a fish. Her mouth opening and closing repeatedly.
"Faith cannot be measured in coin," Valefor explained patiently.
"A sword is a very honorable weapon," Scratch added in his own two cents.
"Now Lisa," Valefor brought her attention to the matter at hand. "It's time for your answer. What do you say? Will you join us or shall we release you from this mortal coil?"
"Colin?" The digital avatar suddenly appeared, taking over a computer screen in his lab. "I need your opinion on something."
Colin straightened and gave her his full attention. "Of course Dragon," He didn't smile, but he came close. "What do you need?"
"Look at this," The computer screen split in two, one side showing Dragon's avatar, and the other showing video footage. "This was taken by my drones above the pacific," The greatest tinker in the world sounded worried. "Keep watching."
The footage showed the newest endbringer, code name Set, as it dived out of the sky at supersonic speeds. After a moment it began to slow down.
At that time Dragon spoke up. "I was able to predict the destination with my algorithms," A pause. "It wasn't hard. Set was flying straight as an arrow. Look at this."
The screen changed to show an idyllic resort beach. The camera zoomed to show a woman sunning herself in a deck chair while sipping some kind of fruit drink. It had a small umbrella. She was wearing a string bikini and a fedora.
"Who is she?" Armsmaster demanded. "And how are you even getting this footage?"
"I hacked the cell phone cam of a creeper," Dragon replied without missing a beat. "And keep watching."
The sunbathing woman suddenly sat up as as the massive form of the Endbringer appeared on the horizon. With the backdrop of the buildings Armsmaster could see that the Endbringer was massive. As large as a skyscraper. It was jet black and did indeed look like a giant jellyfish. Or a soccer ball with tentacles. There were no eyes or mouths on it that he could see anywhere. Not for the first time Armsmaster wondered how they perceived the world around them.
On screen the bikini and fedora clad woman leaped up and turned to run, but the endbringer was faster. The giant black form of the Endbringer blotted out the sky, and suddenly objects around the beach started to move on their own accord.
"Telekinesis?" Armsmaster asked for thoroughness sake.
"We believe so. Keep watching," Dragon said.
Armsmaster watched as several buckets of paint levitated, then flew across the air at breakneck speeds and unloaded their full contents of the woman in the bikini.
She ended up painted a dozen colors from head to toe.
Next her fedora, which had come off sometime during her run, floated into the air. The Endbringer grabbed it with one giant tentacle, then it flew away.
A moment later the distinctive sound of a sonic boom was heard.
The multi colored fedora less woman was left on the ruined beach, shaking her fists and screaming after the Endbringer.
"What?" Armsmaster cleared his throat. "What was that?"
"We don't know" Dragon admitted. "That woman doesn't appear on any record, and we couldn't find any trace of her afterwards. We don't know why the Endbringer attacked her in such…, bizarre manner. But we will find out!" Dragon's avatar set it's mouth in a grim line. "The best thinkers and tinkers in the world are even now gathering to analyze this incident. Colin," Her avatar turned earnest. "We need your help!"
Armsmaster nodded firmly. "Anything I can do!"
Lisa was now free of her bonds and poking around the warehouse.
It wasn't much of a Holy Temple, Valefor admitted to himself. But they were working on it. The statue and altar has been commissioned and the incense braziers had already arrived. He made a mental note to put the new girl to work setting them up. Helping to build the temple should be a good exercise to teach her piety.
"So what exactly do you want me to do?" She asked the two cultists keeping her company. "You want me to use my awesome powers to help spread the glorious message of our lord and destroyer?" She frowned at them. "That's not it."
"No, however that might come later," Valefor hovered at the girl's shoulder, now that she mentioned it, that was an excellent idea. "No, you see, we came here with a purpose. There is someone very important in this city. The high priestess of our faith. We came here to protect her and enlighten her."
Lisa stared at him. "So…., Ignoring the disturbing, I mean enlightening parts of that explanation, pleaseputtheswordaway! You want to recruit this High Priestess. And you want me to…..no?"
"Yes!" Valefor cheerfully shattered her hopes and dreams. "Your task from now unto the end of your life is to serve as the acolyte of the Lady!"
Lisa let out a long breath. "Of course," She smiled a megawatt bright fake smile. She also loaded herself up with fake enthusiasm. "And what exactly will I be doing as the Lady's acolyte?"
"Mostly you will fetch things," Valefor told her.
"Fetch things?" Lisas megawatt smile was slowly dimming.
"Coffee, towels, papers, snacks. Things like that," Valefor elaborated.
Lisa spluttered. Both fake smile and fake enthusiasm vanished. "You want me to be a cultist's secretary? And fetch stuff? For the rest of my life?"
"You are not a secretary!" Valefor snapped. "A secretary is paid. You work for faith!"
Lisa had no words.
"Rejoice Lisa!" Valefor threw his arm around her shoulders. "You have found purpose! You have found family! We shall give you all of this, and we shall never let you go!"
Lisa burst into tears.
"It is alright to weep for joy sister," Scratch patted her head with his swordless hand. "I did it myself when I was finally told the holy truth!"
Lisa's crying intensified.
They had assembled at the temple, that Holy Structure looking more complete by the day.
"Hallelujah!" Valefor cried.
"Hallelujah!" His brothers and sisters echoed back. Their voices raised as one, united in their faith.
"Hallelujah!" Valefor cried again.
"Hallelujah!" They yelled back at the top of their voices.
"Halle…..," Valefor paused. "Wait! Where's the new initiate?"
"Hallelujah!" Erigor screamed back at him.
"Shut up!" Valefor shouted at him. "Where is the new girl? Tattletale?"
Shocked and increasingly embarrassed glances were exchanged between the faithful.
Eventually Erigor raised a hesitant hand. "I think Scratch was watching her last time?"
A quick search produced a Scratch who was knocked out and hogtied behind some crates and no Tattletale.
"Dammit! Where did she go?" Erigor demanded as they manhandled the unconscious Scratch into a couch and attempted to revive him.
"I don't know," Valefor said grimly. "But I will find out!"
Taylor was awakened from her sleep by someone jumping on her sleeping body and a hand clamping down on her mouth.
"Shut up!" The person hissed. "I just want to talk to you! Shut up and listen!"
Taylor of course did the sensible thing and struggled get get free. This was not as easy as she might have liked because while the person atop her was clearly female and not very heavy, they were laying on top of her and had better leverage.
Taylor realized this immediately and did the next best thing. Ignoring the panicked "Wait!" that was hissed at her she bit the hand holding her mouth closed.
Her attacker mewled and let go, the motion also causing her to lean back and give Taylor more leverage. More importantly, it freed one of her arms.
Taylor immediately grabbed her bedside lamp and hit the intruder over her head, hard.
The intruder made a last "Oh!" sound before collapsing in an unconscious heap.
When she came to, the intruder found herself tied hand and foot with curtain wire and staring down the nozzle of a pepper spray can.
"Um, this isn't what it looks like?" She asked hesitantly.
"Really?" Taylor said, her voice quite sarcastic. "Tell me then. How does you breaking into my house and assaulting me in my sleep look like?"
"Well when you put it like that…..," The intruder trailed off. "But I had a good reason for what I did!"
"Uh, huh," Taylor looked the intruder over. She was a freckled blonde who was probably her age if not a bit older.
"By all means, tell me," She waved her pepper spray magnanimously. "And remember I can always call my dad and the police, not necessarily in that order."
"Okay look," The blonde housebreaker said. "I know this was stupid, but I was desperate!"
"You don't say," Taylor said blandly.
The house breaker sighed. "My name is Lisa. And I need your help to escape an insane Endbringer cult that is forcing me to become their secretary!"
Taylor stared at her.
"It's true!" Lisa the housebreaker insisted. "They kidnapped me and I just barely managed to escape today. Then I came straight here"
"Uh-huh," Taylor said in the same bland tone. "And how do you suppose breaking in here will help you against an insane Endbringer cult?"
"Why by taking you hostage of course!" Lisa said cheerfully.
"Whu...," Taylor garbled as Lisa's feet kicked up and knocked the pepper spray out of her hand, she simultaneity brought her previously bound hands out from behind her back and aimed a small pistol dead center at Taylor's forehead.
"Shhhhhh!" Lisa motioned with a finger held over her lips.
Taylor glared at her.
The blonde kept the gun trained on Taylor while her other hand worked on the bindings at her feet. She didn't even have to look.
"Now, move. Ah ah! Keep your distance and move slowly," She then proceeded to herd Taylor out of the house.
Once or twice Taylor actually thought about screaming and waking her dad, but didn't dare risk it with the gun present.
When they were actually outside the house she looked around desperately hoping one of the neighbors would be awake and see what was happening. But her hope was for naught. The houses lining the street were dark and the street was deserted.
"What do you want?" She hissed when they were out into the street and concealed behind one of the trees that lined her street.
"I told you," Lisa answered back while still keeping the gun on her. "I'm using you as hostage against a crazy Endbringer cult."
"Are you serious?" Taylor demanded as she hugged herself. It was freezing out here and she was in her pajamas.
"I'm quite serious!" Lisa hissed, suddenly angry. "And I swear I…," Whack!
Lisa's eyes crossed and she fell to the ground unconscious, revealing a young man with a club who had snuck up behind her.
It was her new friend from school, Endring, the mentally unstable one.
"Well done Taylor! You kept her attention on you and let us move in to subdue her!" And there was the other one.
"Guys," Taylor finally found her voice. "What are you doing here?"
"We came to rescue you of course," John said it as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. As if it was completely normal for classmates to turn up at your house and rescue you from crazy kidnappers in the middle of the night.
"Right," Taylor said slowly. "Then shouldn't we call the…," She trailed off in astonishment as two more boys suddenly turned up to help James tie up the unconscious kidnapper. Then one of them hoisted her onto his shoulders and straightened up. "…..the police?" She finished lamely.
"There is no need to bother the police," Thomas assured her. "We will deal with her ourselves."
"Wha….," Taylor felt like she had stepped into the phantom zone.
She pinched herself to check if she was dreaming. Ow! Okay, not dreaming.
But Taylor was a strong girl. She rallied.
"Look guys," She pointed at the unconscious blonde. "She broke into my fucking house and kidnapped me at gun point! Babbling about some crazy Endbringer cult."
"Blasphemy!" John snarled. "She dared to lay hands on you! She shall suffer for this! We will….,"
"Brother!" Thomas cut him off. Surprisingly enough that one word did cut off the other boy as if a switch had been thrown. Then Thomas turned towards Taylor. "I had hoped we would have more time before it came to this. But I guess it's time."
"Wha…..," Taylor gaped at him. "What do you…..? You mean…..? Do you?" Her brain did a fast reboot and loaded the Taylor OS in safe mode. "You mean…..? She was telling the truth?" She finished in a little whimper.
Thomas held up his hands. "I swear to you Taylor, on my honor that I mean you no harm." He nodded his head at the other boys. "No one here will harm so much as a hair in your head. Please let us explain? Please?"
Taylor looked at the boys plus one unconscious blonde. This situation was crazy. This night was beyond crazy. What should she do? Should she do the sensible thing and scream at the top of her voice? Or should she trust the increasingly suspicious boy before her.
Even as she deliberated, Thomas took matters into his own hands.
"Erigor? If you could?"
"Wha…..?" Taylors question was lost in the flash of a mass teleport.
Elsewhere, Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown replayed the video clip for the hundredth time.
"So you have made no progress in identifying this woman?" She asked her computer. She had it set to audio only, because she didn't want Dragon to see her grin.
"I'm afraid not Chief Director," Dragon answered apologetically. "A think-tank of the best thinkers of the world tried to find her but got nowhere."
"I see," Rebecca played the video again and silently laughed as the Endbringer flew off with the Fedora. "Can we find out what her expression was when this hat was stolen?"
"We only managed to construct a CGI of that. There were simply no cameras for that angle." Dragon admitted.
"I see," She said again. "Send me the CGI. I want every detail."
"I'll get right on that Chief Director," Dragon promised.
Just then a message alert said that she got a text. Rebecca flipped her phone open.
"I hate you" - Contessa
Taylor furiously shook her tiny fist at Thomas Endring. "You kidnapped me!"
"We teleported you with every intention of taking you back," He tried to placate her.
"I am ashamed! I will flagellate myself until my skin is shredded from my back for visiting this blasphemy upon your person!" James wailed at the top of his voice.
"Wha…..," Taylor gaped. She was doing that a lot today. "No! Don't do that! No flagellation necessary!" Seriously, they might be parahuman kidnappers but she wouldn't wish that on them.
"Your mercy knows no bounds!" James wailed. "Truly, you are the avatar of compassion!" He threw himself at her feet only to be bodily yanked back by Thomas.
"Taylor, please," Thomas implored her, and he was sincere, she could see it in his expression. Either that or this was the world's best liar. "Let me explain. And then I will personally take you home."
Taylor took a deep breath and looked around her.
She was in a warehouse that looked as if it was being converted into a temple for cthulhu. She was surrounded by confirmed crazy Endbringer cultists. It was the middle of the night. She was in her pajamas.
Oh and there was a kidnapped kidnapper who was currently tied up and gagged in here with them. The former kidnapper was also shaking her head frantically at her. Taylor hazarded a guess that the kidnapper…. Lisa, was telling her not to listen to Thomas.
Taylor thought about it.
"I'll hear you out"
Meanwhile, the people of New York watched in bemused amazement as the newest Endbringer flew circles around the city with Scion flying circles after him.
The unprecedented event of a Scion vs Endbringer chase kept the entire hero and villain roster of the city occupied as they stood ready to defend the city if a battle really did break out.
The only one absent was the Ward who called herself Flechette. She spent the day laying in bed with a tummy ache that suddenly came out of nowhere.
She knew she shouldn't have eaten that street food.
Sometime later, Taylor was sitting on a stool and nodding her head.
Finally, she thought she understood this madness.
"So you really are Endbringer cultists?" She asked.
"We are," Thomas admitted.
"And you are actually in contact with an Endbringer?"
"We are" Thomas confirmed.
"And your Endbringer made a prophecy naming me his high priestess that will lead the world to a new age?"
"More or less," Thomas shook with what she now guessed was religious fervor.
"And that's why you came here? You actually want me to lead you?" Taylor asked the final question."That's all exactly right!" Thomas confirmed once again.
"Righ,t" Taylor let out a semi-hysterical laugh. "So I guess the only question that remains is…..," She drew in a deep breath. "WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I DO ANY OF THIS?"
Thomas was unworried by her scream that rattled windows and threatened eardrums.
"You are only looking at one aspect of the issue here Taylor," He said calmly.
"Oh really?" Taylor panted. "Do tell."
"You are our High Priestess," Thomas explained. "We will be your subordinates. We will follow every order you give us."
Thomas was still talking. "If you order us to fall upon our blades we will. If you order us to turn the Boat Graveyard into a temple for our Lord's glory we will. If you order us to beat up the villains and gangs in this city and leave them tied up for the police to pick up we will."
Taylor's jaw had dropped open. She didn't notice.
"All this. And you need only do one thing," Thomas spread his arms wide. "Accept your destiny!"
Valefor watched the chosen one in turmoil. He regretted that it came to this. He would be having words with Tattletale.
"You will fight the villains if I tell you to?" She asked tentatively.
"We are your swords," He replied truthfully. "And we are powerful parahumans." He added just for a bit more incentive.
"So what else would I um, have to do?" She asked as she visibly thought about the idea.
"Well other than spread the word of the glory of our Lord, whatever you dictate," He assured her. "We don't sacrifice people or blow up cities." He added just in case.
"Wha….., But the Endbringers!" Taylor gasped.
"The Holy Endbringers do what they do. We don't want to follow in their footsteps. We simply wish to prepare humanity for the inevitable and ease their way," Well they did that now. "We have been enlightened," He continued. "We are fully willing to do good in the world. We just need guidance."
"I….., I see." Taylor thought about it. "And you guys will become heroes if I join and order it?"
"We are your swords," Valefor assured her again. "At your command we will be the greatest heroes this world has ever seen!"
"I…., I" Taylor took a deep breath and drew herself up.
"I'll be your high priestess!"
A cheer rose up from everyone in the temple, and Tattletale burst into tears.
Valefor gently took Taylor by the hand and led her towards the alter. There he had everyone awoken and assembled. Even Tattletale was untied and allowed to join their line under the careful eyes of Erigor and Scratch. To them he presented the chosen one.
"Behold!" He roared. His eyes alight with fervor. "Behold the Chosen One who has accepted her destiny! Behold our High Priestess!" And he fell to his knees before her, and the others followed suit.
A dozen men and women, all knelt before a teenaged girl in her pajamas, standing in the middle of a warehouse turned temple.
"Hallelujah!" Valefor roared.
"Hallelujah!" His brothers and sisters roared back. Their voices raised as one, united in their faith. Tears ran down their cheeks as they raised their arms towards their glorious priestess.
Valefor nodded towards Lisa aka Tattletale.
"Um, Hallelujah?" She asked tentatively.
Scratch reached for his sword.
"HALLELUJAH!" Lisa screamed with her arms raised high and tears running down her cheeks.
Valefor gave a satisfied nod and gestured again.
"Dear diary, I mean Holy Chronicle," Taylor recited. "My name is Taylor Hebert, and until recently I have been a bullied and lonely high school girl. But in the past week everything has changed. Now I have made sort of friends and even have a weekend job, also sort of," Taylor paused in her recitation to take a drink of water. "Of course my weekend job involves being the high priestess of an Endbringer cult, and my friends are all members of said cult. I'm sure that I'm making a mistake somewhere with all of this, but it's kind of nice to have people to talk to, and through them I might even realize my lifelong dream of being a hero and help my city recover!" Taylor paused for breath. "Did you get all that?"
"Sure did High Priestess!" Lisa finished typing. "The first part of your chronicle is immortalized in paper!"
"Good!" Taylor leaned back in her chair and stretched. "Now what's next?"
On cue, there was a knock on the door of the little office she had gotten. At a gesture from her, Lisa hurried over to open it.
"Greetings Holy One!" Valefor, aka Thomas, came in carrying a rolled up paper. "I come bearing the fruits of my labor!"
"Excellent!" Taylor was on her feet in an instant. "Let me see."
The paper was unrolled across the desk and was revealed to be a map. Certain regions of the map had been marked with borders and other locations had been circled and named.
"This is the city as it stands now," Valefor explained. "The Merchants, the ABB and the E88 all hold significant territory. Coil and Faultline do not hold territory as such, but they do have significant cape firepower," Valefor pointed out each faction and stronghold on the map. "And finally, the Protectorate is not exactly holding territory, but their patrol routes are keeping crime well controlled in the areas, so the nicer parts of the city can be called their turf."
"It seems the E88 and PRT control the nicer parts of the city," Taylor observed the map. "The Merchants and ABB seem to be the ones holding territory in the bad areas." She looked at Lisa. "Anything to add?"
"I vote we take out Coil and then sacrifice him!" Lisa leaned forward, her eyes flaming. "We will be doing the world a favor and pleasing the end…., I mean our Divine Lord!"
"Hmmmm," Taylor pretended to consider it. "I'll take it under advisement. But…," She considered the map again. "How about the Merchants?"
"I bow to your wisdom High Priestess," Valefor agreed. "They spread poison across the city, recruit people by forcefully addicting them to their vile drugs, and impoverish already poor people. They also only have three capes."
"Wait, so you're just going to go and beat up the merchants…?" Lisa trailed off. "No! Oh god! You're going to-"
"-Yes," Valefor cut her off. "Simply beating the capes and muscle isn't going to solve the problem,"
He turned to Taylor. "The Merchants by themselves are just a gang. The problem is their niche. Drugs," He explained and Taylor nodded in understanding. "The people here are poor, unemployed. They use drugs to make some money and take their mind off their sorry circumstances. Nine out of ten live in a drugged haze and one out of ten make a living off drugs. It's a nice little economy centered around the poor areas of the city. So any serious attempt to 'fix the city', needs to be focused on the root of the problem. Otherwise another gang will pop up in a few months to replace the ones we take out. We need to go after the community."
"It's all about the hood!" Lisa added in helpfully.
"So how do you propose we proceed?" Taylor asked. Lisa squawked at being ignored.
"First, we need to remove the Merchants firepower. Meaning their capes," Valefor walked over to a white board and began to write. "They can hinder our attempts to help these people." Lisa suppressed a snort. "And cut back any progress we make. Second, we need to remove their non-powered dealers. They are the ones driving the narcotic economy. Third, we need to cut off the supply. They're getting their dope from somewhere. Finally we need to clean up the addicts. Get the drugs out of their systems and put their heads on straight. And last of all we need to deal with the poverty so that people are not tempted to go down that route again."
"That's," Taylor paused. "That's a lot of work."
"Being a hero isn't easy," Valefor admitted. "Tis often a thankless and uphill battle Holy One."
Taylor laughed. "Still you're right," She gestured at the map. "Just beating capes won't fix the problem. Hmmm I might have an idea. Tell me if it's viable."
As he listened, Valefor once more marveled at their Lord's wisdom. Inexperienced she might be, but the high priestess had an instinctive grasp of strategy. Her plans were good, a little rough around the edges, but she had targeted each of the serious problems with creative solutions. With her at their head, the faithful will be unstoppable!
"We can go ahead with most of them Holy One," He assured her. "Your plan for the Merchants themselves is perfect!" Taylor's face lit up. "The free clinic might need a little work. The ideal person to do detox would be Panacea, persuading her to come and help might be a good move"
"But, she's Panacea!" Taylor exclaimed. "How are we going to persuade her to help us?"
Valefor smiled. "This might be an opportunity for our initiate to redeem herself." He turned to Lisa.
"Wait, you want me to…..," Lisa gaped. "Oh hell no! I'm….," She cut off as Valefor glanced at the swords mounted on the walls of the office. "I'm glad have this chance to prove my faith!"
"Good!" Valefor turned his attention back to Taylor. "This is my plan Holy One."
That was how Amy Dallon, aka Panacea, ended up meeting Lisa.
Amy was walking home from the hospital that day, her sister being unable to come over for some reason.
The sudden cry caused Amy to turn and see a girl being manhandled into an alley by two rough looking men.
Amy wiped out her phone to call the police, but found the battery mysteriously missing. She briefly considered just walking away, but her heroic upbringing wouldn't let her do that.
So she did the next best thing.
"Hey you!" She called out to the two ruffians. "I called the police," She held out her powerless phone. "You don't want to stick around for them."
The ruffians exchanged a look.
Then they wordlessly abandoned the girl and ran off into the night.
"Thanks," The former victim of the ruffians walked up to her and extended a grateful hand. "I'm Lisa…."
A few days later…..,
"Hello there!" The protectorate heroes Assault and Battery greeted Taylor outside the abandoned shop where they had set up shop. "Quite the place you have here!"
"Thank you!" Taylor smiled at the heroes, though inside her heart was pounding. "We did the best with what we had!"
"So this place is a free clinic?" Battery asked as she gave their little building a once over.
"It will be," Taylor promised. "We just need to get a few more things set up. For now we're running a soup kitchen."
"That's really nice of you kids," Battery assured her with a smile. "You don't see many kids your age getting into good works like this."
"We're just normal kids who wanted to make a difference," Taylor said shyly. She was actually talking with Protectorate heroes! And they were praising her!
"You're very special kids," Battery told her. "You are heroes. You don't need to wear costumes and have powers to be a hero."
"Though you should be careful," Assault added on top of her. "A free clinic that helps people recover from drug addiction, you know who is gonna take offense at that."
"There have been some grumbling from the Merchants," Taylor admitted. She didn't say that this was their plan. "But so far it has just been groups of them coming over and acting tough."
"And you are not worried?" Battery asked. "There are rumors that the Merchants have a new cape, and a rather powerful one."
I know, Taylor thought to herself. We planted him there. Out loud though, she said something else. "We are not doing anything illegal. We're not going to be frightened away from doing the right thing by a gang of supervillains!"
"That's the spirit!" Assault cheered. "And who knows, maybe we can ask someone from the Protectorate to drop in now and then, keep an eye on the place."
"Wow!" Taylor gasped. Inwardly she was rather conflicted. This could go both ways. "You'd do that?"
"We'll see what we can do," Battery promised. "In the meantime maybe we can ask one of the independents like New Wave to look in on you now and then."
"That's really nice of you," Taylor told them. "Would you like a tour of the place?"
"Love to," Battery replied and Taylor led them inside.
"So here we have our soup kitchen," She walked them through the interior of the building. "Soon we plan to add a free clinic to it as I said, and then," Taylor turned to face the heroes. "If things work out we plan to add in a program to help homeless people find jobs."
"Wow," Assault grinned. "You kids don't aim small huh?"
"The Good-End Charity plans to make this city a better place!" Taylor insisted. This was something she was one hundred percent behind. Jumping in bed with an Endbringer cult might be something she still had some reservations about, but this had no such moral dilemma. They were doing good.
And maybe she could redeem her faithful and make then genuine heroes while she was at it. She was at least planning to try.
The next day….,
Carol Dallon was many things. Superheroine, lawyer, cape-mom, wife and not exactly stable, to name just a few.
Practically all of these professions were high stress, and sometimes she really really had to take a day off. Especially now that she had heard the news of her other daughter taking up with that blonde.
But, she was able to find this nice bar where she could toss back a few drinks and let it all out.
She even found this nice guy wearing a fedora who made a nice drinking buddy.
"I mean look at her!" Carol gestured with her drink. "There she is, the nice cute, innocent healer, can't do wrong!" She paused to gulp down her drink. "I'm the only person who sees what she can turn into. None of the others seem to care! I have to watch her like a hawk, all by myself! None of the others understand! They're all useless!"
"I know exactly what you mean," Her new best friend declared as he pulled directly from the bottle. "I mean, there I was, hunted day in and day out by this magic-space-whale right?" He paused to toss the empty bottle aside and grabbed another. "So, I can't spare the time to take a piss! Forget about doing anything else! So, what do I do?" He popped the bottle open with his thumb and took a pull. "I delegate. I find these guys that are so devoted to me they are effing fanatics and I tell them…..," He drank another gulp before Carol took the bottle and took a good gulp herself. "I tell them, 'Hey guys! I got this very very important job to do, could you be good boys and girls and do me a solid?' And they say…..," He gestured wildly with his hands and spoke in a high pitched voice. "'Yes of course sempai!' And then when I take a look after a while what do I find? The little fuckers are turning this into a circus! This is gonna end with the city in rubble! I just know it!" He grabbed a fresh bottle and struggled to get it open.
"Oh I know all about collateral damage," Carol assured him in a drunken slur. "My Vicky. Well, she's mommy's little girl, but damn does she pile up them property damage bills. I sometimes wonder if she's like, all repressed and she's trying to express herself. But that's ridiculous!" She laughed, drunkenly. "I'm not that kind of mom!"
"No you are definitely a MILF kinda mom," Her new bff said as he went to work on a fresh bottle. Somewhere in the back of Carol's head a voice said that no human could drink that much and live. But she was far more interested in his comment about her MILF-ness. "So you think I'm a MILF huh?" She waggled her eyebrows in exaggerated fashion.
For the record, she smelled of alcohol and looked ridiculous. But none of that mattered to her new bff. "Definitely!" He tossed the bottle over his shoulder and leaned forwards…,
And then golden light filled the room, and when Carol could see again both her new bff and the golden light were gone.
"Damn!" She sobbed. "I was so close!"
Sam Winters was a parahuman. But he wasn't one of those idiots who ran around wearing spandex while punching out villains. No, he was a rogue. He did the sensible thing and spent his time making money with his power. And as his power let him manipulate bronze, and with his background as an art student, he had a very successful business as a sculptor.
Now though he was tempted. The dark side beckoned him.
"I, I don't think I can do this," He stammered into the phone.
"Don't play coy Sam," The voice on the other end said, causing Sam to jump a foot in the air at the use of his real name. "You're ability is bronze working, you're perfectly capable of doing what we ask of you."
"But," Sam stared at the picture that had been faxed to him.
It was a picture of the newest Endbringer, Set. They wanted him to make a statue of him. A twelve foot bronze statue of an Endbringer.
It didn't take a genius to figure out who these people were and why they wanted this.
"My friend, we are offering you a very generous sum for your work. And more than that, you will have our gratitude and protection for doing this for us," The voice continued persuasively. "We're not asking you to commit a crime, this is just a business transaction."
Sam Winters considered his situation.
The voice was right. He wasn't committing a crime, this was just work.
And they knew who he was.
Sam decided to be tempted.
"I'll do it!"
At the other end of the line, Valefor grinned.
No good deed goes unpunished.
Such were the thoughts of Amy Dallon, aka Panacea, as she sat in the dining room of her parents.
She had gone and been a proper hero for once in her life and saved a girl from two ruffians. Of course all she had done was bluff with an empty phone. The ruffians had run off rather quickly after that. But how did that work out for her?
The blonde, who had graciously introduced herself as Lisa, had thanked her profusely for protecting her virtue before somehow turning the conversation into an invitation to come into her home. And while Lisa was charming company at first, she got annoying really fast. But before she could get rid of the blonde, her adopted mother had turned up, hungover and looking really guilty. Amy had done the sensible thing and not offered the make the hangover go away.
Then Lisa and Carol had started talking, and then they'd hit it off. And then Lisa had babbled about this Free Clinic some charity she's working for was setting up. And then they started talking about fighting drug addiction, and then Carol volunteered her services to Lisa's clinic, without so much as asking!
"Next time I'll just leave her to deal with those fuckers," Amy thought to herself as her supposed mother chattered on an on with the stupid freckled blonde.
It wasn't that she was opposed to the idea. She could see how this would help the city, and help dozens, possibly hundreds, of people get back on their feet. This was what she was supposed to do as Panacea.
She just wished they'd damn asked her first!
"We're going to have so much fun Amy!" Lisa grinned at her.
Elsewhere, the newest Merchant cape was dueling the official heroes of Brockton Bay.
Said heroes consisted of Miss Militia and Triumph, along with their tag alongs, Kid Win and Aegis.
"Give it up villain!" Aegis shouted, only to yell and be blasted back by a gust of wind from his enemy.
"That's right Gusty! Give it to them cocksuckers!" Skidmark yelled from where he hid behind multiple reinforced forcefields.
The sonic attacks of Triumph and the bullets from Miss Militia were both repelled by the force field. And Skidmark kept reinforcing it. Anytime the Wards tried to flank them, Air blades and air bursts from Gusty drove them back.
It was a stalemate.
They just had to wait for Squealer to come in with their getaway car.
Even as they waited, Kid Win once more tried to flank and strafe them.
This time Gusty caught the tinker's flying hoverboard with a blade of air that was sharp enough and strong enough to slice right through the metal. As his flying contraption broke under him the teenage tinker fell almost twenty feet down. Gusty was sure he heard the kid's legs break from the fall. And when his friend Aegis flew in to save him, the second wind blade caught him in the guts. He'd survive, his power made him hard to put down, but he would be hurting like hell.
The older heroes were forced to give up their assault to go and secure their downed Wards, and this time Gusty let them do it. He didn't want to see the Wards die after all.
And right on cue, Squealer turned into the street on her monster truck.
They made a quick escape while the elder protectorate members were busy securing their Wards.
"Hell Yeah! Now that's what I'm talking about!" Skidmark cheered as they drove off. "We showed those limpdicks what's what!"
"Whoohoo!" Squealer cheered.
"You did good Gusty! Now they know the Merchants have a new mofo!" Skidmark continued singing his praise.
Gusty nodded and smiled as the tinker made truck sped on, he hated his new name, and he hated these degenerates he was forced to spend time with. But his High Priestess had commanded and he would obey. However….., one day this facade would no longer be needed, and then, oh Holy Set, then.
Daydreams of just what he'd do to these degenerates brought a smile to his lips. He especially couldn't wait to introduce Skidmark to his true persona, Eligos.
"So how did it go with Panacea?" Taylor asked the kowtowing cultist.
"Through my hard work and dedication I was able to convince her High Priestess," Lisa reported. "With the full approval of her parents she will be reporting for duty once a week every Friday."
"Then that will be our clinic day," Taylor made a note on her file and stood up. It still took her concentration to walk without getting her feet tangled up in her robes. Still, her new rank demanded she dress to look the part. So here she was, decked out in white robes trimmed with gold. She even had a gold lined visor to replace her glasses.
She felt ridiculous at times, but she had to admit she cut an impressive figure.
"And how did your work go?" She asked Thomas as she continued walking out of the room, the two of them fell into step behind her.
"Yes indeed Holy One! I and my team visited several hundred households over the last week and made several speeches at the local schools and shopping malls" Thomas aka Valefor reported. "Our message was received, but only a few seemed brave enough or desperate enough to try it. I believe the main reason is fear of retribution from the Merchants."
"That and apathy, um, High Priestess," Lisa chimed in. "People who end up in these situations sometimes refuse help even if it's offered, even when you show them the way out they are reluctant to take it."
"The initiate speaks true Holy One," Valefor confirmed. "Sometimes their medicine must be….., forced down their throats"
"You mean we have to force them to get the treatment? That's wrong!" Taylor protested.
"Not force them, simply use a….., firm hand," Valefor demurred. "Think of it like this, sometimes children become contrary and refuse to go to school, but their parents insist they go. This is for their own good. For a good education is essential for their future. This is not wrong, it's what they call tough love."
"Well," Taylor considered. "I guess so."
"And I do not mean forcing them at sword-point. In the case of young ones, we can speak with their parents and get them to send them. We can talk with the local police and get them to offer leniency if they come to the clinic. We can talk to your father at the DWU and get him to offer jobs to those that come clean. We can give them…., incentive."
"Oh you're good," Lisa muttered. "Meep!" She said when Valefor glared at her.
They had finally left the office and entered into the main body of their temple.
It was looking like an actual temple now. With whitewashed walls and tiled floor. The ceiling was in the process of being painted. And the new altar had finally arrived. The only thing missing was the statue of the Endbringer they all worshiped.
When she saw all this Taylor still had doubts about what they are doing.
But she kept reminding herself of all the good they can do for the city. Even an Endbringer cult can be made into a force for good. She just had to lead them down the right path.
"Um, High Priestess?" Lisa tentatively spoke up. "If I may, your plan to help the city threatens the villain groups. Especially Coil. They won't just let you keep doing this."
"She's right Holy One!" Valefor confirmed. "We were warned about just this possibility from our Divine Lord!"
"You, you mean the…., He warned you about this?" Taylor was surprised to say the least. She still wasn't sure how she felt about an Endbringer actually contacting them, it was a subject she had carefully avoided thinking about.
"Indeed Holy One!" Valefor told her while she and Lisa stared at him. "Even the trickle of people we get for our clinic should change into a flood once the Merchants power is broken. And Coil might disrupt the efforts we make towards finding jobs for our people. As we already have a plan to deal with the Merchants, we should also deal with Coil"
"You know, for once you have my wholehearted support!" Lisa chimed in.
"Good," Valefor nodded approvingly. "Now, this fiend Coil is the worst sort of parahuman, he kidnapped Lisa here and forced her to work for him at gunpoint!"
Taylor gasped. "That's terrible! We can't let him get away with this!"
"Oh the irony!" Lisa muttered.
"What was that?" Taylor snapped.
"Nothing!" Lisa squeaked.
"Good, now that the girl who tried to kidnap me at gunpoint is done complaining," Taylor turned to Valefor while Lisa sulked. "Has our…., Lord, made any declarations about this Coil?"
"Indeed Holy One, our Lord has commanded us to make contact with a group called the Travelers and offer them aid, one of their number has an uncontrollable power and they turned villain in a desperate effort to find her a cure. We were commanded to offer them aid, and prevent Coil from luring them into his web at the same time."
"Okay," Taylor was still trying wrap her head around what she had just heard. "And we have the means to help them?"
"Oh yes Holy One! Our Lord provides for his faithful!" Valefor declared. "With your permission, we will set this plan in motion, as well as make preparations to deal with Coil himself."
"Wait! Wait! You can deal with him?" Lisa demanded in drop-jawed shock.
"Oh you faithless child!" Valefor laughed. "Let us show you what the faithful are capable of!"
"Colin! Colin!" Dragon's voice blared over the speakers and startled Armsmaster out of his tinkering.
"Dragon, what is it?" He left the new nano-thorn halberd he was working on and turned his full attention to the avatar on his computer screen.
"We have a new update on the Fedora Woman," The Fedora Woman was the codename they had given the mysterious woman who had been singled out and attacked by the newest Endbringer.
"Show me!" Colin demanded and Dragon obliged.
The avatar vanished and was replaced by a video clip. It showed a modern shopping mall, with people going about their business.
"This is in Bristol, England," Dragon helpfully supplied.
Colin watched as the mall goers suddenly panicked and started running every which way. A cheerful Yakety Sax tune started playing on the mall intercom system, and a moment later the Fedora woman appeared, running for dear life and holding her fedora with one hand. And chasing after her was a horde of….., Llamas?
Colin watched in amazement as the Fedora Woman ran off screen, Llamas in hot pursuit. A few seconds later the Llamas reappeared, this time running in the opposite direction, with the Fedora Woman in pursuit. One of Llamas carried the woman's fedora in it's mouth. Colin watched with dropped jaw as they all disappeared off screen once more, this time for good.
"What?" He finally managed. "What was that?"
"That's what I'd like to know" Dragon's avatar once more appeared on screen. "This makes less sense than the other incident. What do you think this is about?"
"There you go sir, all the damage to your body is repaired and the physical causes for addiction have been flushed from your system. You won't suffer withdrawal symptoms, but will experience cravings from time to time. From now on it's up to you. You have to resist the cravings and not backslide. You have to fight for it!" Amy rattled off her practiced speech as she healed yet another drug addict.
The man was appropriately grateful and left after swearing up and down that he would never touch drugs again. Amy had her doubts.
She had been working at this new charity for almost a week now, putting in time in between her work at the hospital. And while she understood that it was doing good work, she was the one who was doing the hard work on top of everything else.
Still she kept doing it. Because what else could she do? She was fucking Panacea! She had to help the people who came and asked her for help….., even if she was being worked to the bone without so much as a by-your-leave.
Amy glanced outside, where her sister was hovering above the door of the clinic. When Carol had heard of the do-gooder charity, she had not only volunteered Amy for the job, but she had also sent her other daughter along as bodyguard and muscle.
At least Vicky was enjoying herself.
All she had to do was stand around and be imposing, and tell everyone that the clinic had her on speed dial in case of trouble. According to Taylor, this simple strategy was already paying off and the local Merchants were starting to give the clinic a wide berth.
Especially since the PRT managed to catch both Mush and Skidmark and imprison them the other day, leaving the Merchants with just two capes to their name.
That was another thing, Taylor was a girl younger than her, but she practically ran the place. The way the others deferred to her, practically jumping at her orders, was weird. They thought they were being subtle, but Amy had learned how to read people during her tenure as healer. The little cues and gestures. And with her power acting as a perfect lie detector, she had learned to associate those little cues and gestures with their emotional counterparts. So, she was good at reading people.
Add to that the suspiciously convenient way Lisa just happened to get mugged where Amy could come to her rescue…, well, Amy was getting just a little suspicious about this charity.
"We have been called? Finally! We shall smite Coil….," The cry from the back room cut off abruptly, but Amy had heard enough.
She recognized that name. And in her humble opinion, anyone who yelled about smiting a suspected supervillain needed watching.
She looked carefully around. The clinic was mostly empty. There was no one watching, there were no other patients needed her attention.
Amy carefully started creeping towards the back room.
"Sometimes I feel bad for Lisa," Taylor mused sometime later as she watched her loyal cultists finished wrangling the giant statue into place. "Forcing her to be my secretary attendant is rather cruel."
"She broke into your house and kidnapped you High Priestess," Valefor reminded her.
"You're right," Taylor's mouth set into a firm line. "Let's keep her there for a while longer."
"In the meantime High Priestess, I believe our faithful have assembled." Valefor said. And sure enough, the full complement of cultists were present in the temple now, even the ones who had been pushing the statue into place.
They quickly fell into ranks and stood in line before Taylor and Valefor. All told they were a dozen strong. The faithful few. The ones who were going to help her fix this city.
"Ahem," Taylor began. "You were all briefed about what we got planned for today. Are there any questions? Is anyone still unclear about their roles?"
"No High Priestess!" Their voices were raised in union in that shout.
"Okay then, get into your teams," At those words the cultists obediently fell into two teams. One larger and one much smaller. Taylor went and personally spoke with both teams.
"You have been chosen to go on the hardest mission," She told them in her most confident voice. "You are brave beyond….., wait, I haven't seen you before!" She tried to peer under the hood of the female cultist. The cultist ducked her head and tried to keep her face covered.
"I'm…., ah new, your holiness!" The female cultist squeaked. "I'm ah, I'm new!"
"Oh, okay," Taylor stepped back and put her confidant voice back on. "As I was saying, you are brave beyond imagining for volunteering for this mission. But know this, if you succeed, then we will take down a dangerous parahuman criminal who plagues this city and take a huge step further in furthering our goals. I believe in you! I believe you can win! So get out there and give them hell!"
"Yes High Priestess!" They roared.
She was less fire and brimstone with the second group, but no less encouraging.
"Your task might be less stealthy, but it is no less important. Indeed, you are the linchpin upon which this mission depends. Do not hesitate, do not deviate from the plan, and do not fail!"
"Yes High Priestess!" Their zeal was no less than the larger group.
In no time at all both groups were gone, and soon the only occupants of the temple were Lisa, Valefor and Taylor.
"I hope they come through," Taylor worried. "If things go south...,"
"They are the faithful of Set!" Valefor soothed her worry. "They will come through Holy One. Believe in them."
"I will. Yes I will." Taylor closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath.
A while later….
"That was panacea wasn't it?"
Less than two hours later, the nefarious villain known as Coil was ensconced in his secret base, (That was not inspired by James Bond), when the alarms went off.
Coil stared in astonishment as his base was invaded by…, men and woman wearing white hooded robes and golden breastplates. They also carried swords and shields.
While Coil could gape at their choice of attire, he could hardly criticize their fighting technique.
Nor could he make issue with their tactics.
They had started with an EMP pulse that disabled a good portion of his base. Then they blew the doors and rushed in. His mercenaries were swarmed and cut to pieces and clubbed down. His reinforced steel doors were blown up by plastic explosives. The bullets and lasers from his troopers were deflected away by the breastplates and shields of the attackers. Gas grenades and flashbangs obscured the battlefield further. He also suspected there were some parahumans among the group because of the ease with which they were curbstomping his veteran troopers.
That female in the lead was a true berserker.
Coil winced as she tore through four of his veteran troops with effortless ease. Crushing skulls, kicking groins and pulverizing kneecaps. She had a fury that put Hookwolf to shame. Where had a warrior like this come from? Where had any of them come from?
The voices over the few comms that still worked wasn't helping at all.
"DOWN WITH THE HERETICS!" Amy screamed as she lay about her.
"FUCK YOU COIL!" She cracked a mercenary's skull with a massive overhead swing of her mace.
"FUCK YOU CAROL!" She kicked another square in the crotch. They had been issued steel-toed boots for the mission.
"FUCK YOU!" A kneecap turned into pulp under her next strike.
The final mercenary tried to surrender.
He threw down his gun and raised both arms. "Wait I surr… ARRGcccccccchhhh!" His jaw cracked under her swing.
The man went down choking on his own spit and blood.
Amy stepped over the groaning bodies and charged headlong into the next group.
Coil watched through his computer screen as the last of his troopers went down.
Then he kept watching as the crazy berserker was forcefully pulled back and stopped from further mutilating the bodies of his slain minions.
He didn't want that woman getting hands on him.
On cue, he heard the explosion and felt the rumbling sound that signaled his last security door being blasted open. Now only a flimsy office door separated his and the attackers.
Well fuck this, he was going to end this time…
At home, the upstanding citizen known as Thomas Calvert looked up in annoyance as someone pounded on his door. He went and peered through the security monitors that covered his house quite thoroughly. No need to take stupid risks when he was under attack in another timeline.
But it was only a pair of religious types. Probably here to tell him about the glory of our lord and savior, Scion.
Thomas stomped over and irritably opened the door to tell them exactly what he thought about that.
"Good Morning sir! Do you have time to learn about our Lord and Savior, Set?"
"No I don't have bloody time for….," Thomas paused. "Wait, who?"
Thomas gaped at the man, looking down in astonishment at the bleeding bullet hole in his chest, and then looking back at the smiling man. This time he saw the smoking gun barrel poking out from between the stack of pamphlets the mas carried.
He stumbled backwards into the house and fell on his back as his legs went out from under him.
The man stepped into the house and drew the gun fully, aiming at the downed Thomas and…..
Thomas dropped that timeline.
…. Coil cursed as he was stuck in the timeline in which his base was attacked by a bunch of lunatics with medieval weapons.
He jumped to his feet, drew his sidearm, and started to run for the escape tunnel he had installed into his office just as his office door was kicked open.
He didn't get far.
"We have him Holy One!" Valefor reported to Taylor. Whose shoulders slumped in relief. Truly, the way she cared for her flock was admirable.
"Good, alright, excellent" She babbled in joy. Truly, his heart soared to see the Chosen One happy. "Where do they have him?"
"That's the unexpected part Holy One," Valefor admitted. "It seems we have him at his underground base" The Chosen One's mouth dropped open. "We seem to be in control of both him and the base now."
"How?" The Chosen One paused. Perhaps she was in communion with the Divinity Himself? "How did that happen?" Or perhaps she was just flabbergasted. It wasn't his place to judge.
"A number of things seem to have contributed to it Holy One," Valefor explained as he read the hasty report on his phone. "Despite our efforts to harden them, the base team had their comms knocked out by the emp blast. So the house team had to time their attack by the last message. As far as I can tell, the house team attacked first and caused Coil to drop that timeline, leaving him trapped in the base."
They had worked out the best way to attack Coil based on their Gifted knowledge of his power and Lisa's insight into just where he was likely to be. The attack on the base was supposed to cause Coil to drop that timeline. They were supposed to take him at home.
But this, this was surely the will of Holy Set?
They had an underground base for their effort. Truly, their faith was rewarded.
"And the base team? Are they okay?" The Holy One demanded. Truly, her concern for her flock was heartwarming.
"No casualties among us Holy One," Valefor assured her. "This is largely due to the zeal of a female initiate who almost single handedly tore through the depraved mercenaries the villain had under his command. The mercenaries themselves are our prisoners. You need to decide what to do with them Holy One."
"What? How many of them are there?" The Holy One demanded.
"About twenty," He informed her. "None of them are dead, though there are injuries. It's quite surprising, according to the mission commander. Some of them should have died from their injuries, but at second glance they turned out to be not as injured as they had first seemed. That or someone healed them just enough so they won't die," Valefor hid a grin. Then. "You can have them put to death Holy One. Heretics deserve no better."
"What? No! There's no need to kill them," The Holy One babbled. "We can…., Convert them! Yes! Convert them! We'll have twenty more followers and no killing necessary!"
"Truly, your wisdom is without end," He was awed by her, truly. Already she was planning on getting converts. Already she was planning to expand their faith.
"Yeah, good we'll do that," The Holy One paused. "You said we also have their base?"
"Yes Holy One," Valefor smiled. "Might I suggest we move our temple there? It will make for a more…., Secure location than this place."
Amy watched as the cultists around her got to work. Locking the tied up mercenaries inside cells and cleaning up the damage their assault had caused.
Well, she finally had the proof she needed.
This was a crazy Endbringer cult. They even had a fifteen foot tall statue of an Endbringer to prove it. Tentacles and all.
So all she had to do now as call the PRT and report what she had seen.
It was the right thing to do.
She gave her mace a few experimental swings.
Maybe she'll wait a few more days. Gather more evidence.
When Coil regained his senses, he did so in easy stages.
First he became aware. Then he heard faint voices. Then he opened his bleary eyes and saw the fuzzy shape above him. Then his eyes focused and he saw the giant tentacled monstrosity that was looming above them.
Then he screamed.
After the brief bout of panic, only made worse by his futile attempts to scream and struggle. Coil finally recovered his wits enough to take stock of his situation.
First of all, he noted that the tentacled horror above him was nothing more than a bronze statue. This did a lot to calm him down. The next thing he noticed was that he was tied and gagged to a flat surface beneath the statue. When he lifted his head as far as he could and looked around, he saw black painted walls, burning torches stuck into wall sconces, incense braziers handing from a dark ceiling, and a group of white robed and hooded figures watching him silently.
Coil screamed again and instinctively split the timeline, trying to escape in both. He failed in both.
"The heretic is awake!" The voice stopped his struggles in both timelines. "Come brothers, let us begin!"
Coil watched in horror as the robed figures formed a rough half circle with his bound figure at the center. Then the voice spoke up again. "Who will assist our noble High Priestess in this-"
"-Oh! Oh! Me! Me!" Coil watched in horror as a very familiar blonde figure stepped up and dropped her hood.
"Very well initiate!" The voice, that Coil had now identified as coming from somewhere behind him, boomed. "You may assist the Holy One!"
Coil watched, his terror mounting, as a girl with long curly brunette hair stepped into his field of vision. She wore the same white robes and hid her face behind a gold tinted visor. The girl hesitated as she approached him and looked in the direction of the voice.
"Um, are you sure about this? What am I supposed to do?" Her voice was hesitant and completely out of sync with her regal figure.
"Simply repeat the prayer High Priestess, believe in our Divine Lord!" The voice said encouragingly.
"Um, are you sure he won't be…..?" She still sounded hesitant.
"High Priestess," The voice said patiently. "You only have to call out to our divine lord. Everything that happens from then on is up to Him! Believe in yourself. Believe in Him!"
"Okay then," The girl said. Then she drew in a deep breath and straightened herself.
"Coil!" She yelled, her voice becoming firmer with every word. "You have plagued this city for too long! The time has come for a reckoning!"
"But rejoice villain! For you will atone for your sins by becoming a sacrifice for our divine lord! The Holy Endbringer! Set himself!"
Coil's eyes widened in horror, and he peed himself, in both timelines. Over the crazy priestess's shoulder, he could see Tattletale grinning maniacally.
The crazy girl cleared her throat and raised her arms in a praying gesture.
"Oh Holy Set! I call upon you as your high priestess! Please cast your divine gaze upon us and-" She hastily turned to check a flash card held up by a grinning Tattletale before turning back. "-and smite this villainous Coil! Show unto us your divine power!"
And then, to Coil's absolute horror, a portal opened in mid air above him, and a giant tentacle came through.
There were cries of exultation, surprise, and fear. But Coil didn't pay attention to any of that. His full, horrified, attention was on the tentacle, that suddenly plunged into his chest without any warning.
Coils muffled scream stopped when he realized he felt no pain.
There was a tearing sensation behind his navel, a dizziness in his head, and the tentacle withdrew.
Coil watched in shock as the tentacle withdrew through the same portal it came through, which closed.
The silence that followed was deafening.
"Incredible!" In the silence, the voice came as a shock. "I have never seen someone so blessed by our divine lord! To summon his physical form. You truly are his chosen!" A multitude of other voices agreed with the first voice.
The girl who started all this was panting as if she had run a footrace, and she was muttering something to herself.
Tattletale was watching him intently, then, slowly, her face morphed into a gleeful grin, before collapsing into hysterical laughter.
"Oh my…..," Tattletale choked. "He, His," More laughter, and then. "His powers's gone!"
Coil's eyes widened. He tried to split the timeline…., nothing. He tried again…, nothing. He kept trying, only to be stuck on the same timeline no matter how he tried.
"Of course!" That accursed voice boomed again. "Such is the fate of those who draw the wrath of the mighty Set!"
Lisa found their new sister Amelia curled up into a ball near the entrance of the temple.
"Yes," She said as she plopped herself down next to the traumatized girl. "There really is an Endbringer."
Amy turned haunted eyes at her. "I, I…..."
"You thought they were just a crazy Endbringer cult right? " Tattletale asked knowingly. "Yeah, that was me too at first. Then I figured out the truth. Look," She gestured towards the temple. "These crazies recruited me at sword point. Why do you think I haven't run yet? Or called the PRT?"
Amy just looked at her.
"Because if anything happens to that girl, that tentacle monster will come here."
Amy's jaw dropped.
"The others told you what my power is right?"
"Well trust me, messing with her is a bad idea. So don't go doing anything stupid right?"
Amy nodded slowly.
Lisa sighed and patted her back. "If you need to talk, come find me. I could really use a friend through all this." She clambered to her feet. "Well, gotta go, so many mercs to convert, so little time."
Amy watched the blonde cultist walk away and was left thinking about her life choices.
The next day, a full scale battle was raging before the PRT office in the city.
A vehicle that looked like the love child of an armadillo and a bulldozer, with guns sticking out of it had rammed the building and collapsed a good chunk of it.
The guns mounted on the monstrosity were firing on the PRT troopers and heroes alike.
Inside the vehicle, Squealer whooped in triumph before ramming the building again.
"I'm coming Skiddy! Wait for me!" She hollered through the loudspeakers mounted on the mutated bulldozer.
Miss Militia fired anti-tank rockets at the vehicle, but they couldn't penetrate its armor. Armsmaster tried to close the distance with his halberd, but her machinegun fire kept him away. Lighting from Dauntless bounced off the hardened shell she had covered the vehicle with.
Squealer laughed like a madwoman as she reversed the vehicle for a third charge.
"Gusty! Move in with your team now!" She commanded over the radio.
The reply was not what she expected. "I'm sorry Sherryl, but I can't do that."
"Wha," Squealer gaped. Then shouted and directed her machine guns to deliver suppression fire at Armsmaster, who tried another charge. "We need to rescue skiddy you cunt! Get over here!"
"Well you see," He said. "If you and Skidmark both go away, it occurred to me that I'd be the top dog of the Merchants."
"What?" Squealer screamed. "No! Get over here you cocksucker! You'll never hold the Merchants on your own!"
"We'll see," He said. He sounded completely unconcerned. "Bye bye love."
Squealer let out a wordless roar of fury as Gusty cut the connection, only to let out another as the rest of the heroes, who Gusty was supposed to distract, turned up to join the fight.
Squealer was surrounded.
She cursed Gusty with every word she knew, and she knew a lot. But neither that nor the impressive power of her creation helped in the face of so many heroes.
It was only a matter of time before they brought her down.
"Hello there!" Taylor turned to see the full might of the Brockton Bay Wards team, sans one. "We were told this was the charity Amy worked at?"
"Of course!" Taylor smiled when she figured out that they were not here to arrest them. "Welcome to the Good-End charity!"
"Thanks," Clockblocker said. He gestured at himself and the others. "I'm Clockblocker, and these are Vista, Gallant, Aegis and Kid Win."
"I'm Taylor Hebert," Taylor said. "Vicky did tell me about you guys."
"Ah, my reputation precedes me!" Clockblocker said as he stepped into the building, the others following behind.
"Yes," Taylor said as she led the way inside. "For one, I was warned never to shake hands with you!"
"Hey!" Clockblocker's indignant shout was ignored by the other Wards as they introduced themselves to Taylor one by one.
"So, do you guys work here everyday?" Vista asked as she poked around the building.
"The soup kitchen is open everyday," Taylor told her. "The clinic is only open on fridays, but we're thinking of doing another clinic day. With the Merchant capes getting arrested, a lot more people are coming to the clinic."
"Yeah that was a good thing for the city all around." Vista agreed. "So is that all you guys do here?"
"Well," Taylor said. "The clinic and soup kitchen are what we do. But recently, a Brockton Bay businessman called Thomas Calvert has offered to help us. His company is called Fortress Construction, and they usually make Endbringer shelters. But he agreed to let them build houses for the homeless and find them jobs."
"Oh wow!" Vista was suitably impressed. "You guys are really making a difference!"
"Well," Taylor blushed. "We just started the soup kitchen. It was Amy who made the clinic possible, and now it's Mr Calvert who's making the jobs and houses possible."
"But it's you who made it happen by starting this," Gallant said. "You really are a hero."
"So," Vista sidled up to Taylor. "What can we do to help? You're doing so much good here! We'd love to help. I'd love to help."
Taylor looked at the earnest, hopeful, look of the tiny Ward and couldn't bring herself to refuse her.
"Well," She asked. "What can you do?"
"Anything you want!" Vista promised. "I'd be glad to work wherever you want and help out."
"Well then," Taylor said. "If you come here once a week, you can work in the kitchen. Preferably someday other than friday. Vicky already comes in then to watch over Amy."
"Having a Ward on site will help deter troublemakers," Gallant said knowingly.
"Yes," Taylor admitted. "The Merchants had been giving us trouble before Vicky came. Just having her show the flag was enough to send them away."
"We'll be glad to help," Aegis assured her. "Our duty is to help people, and this is helping people."
"I would expect no less from our valiant heroes!" Taylor blushed as she smiled at the cute Ward.
"Ahem," Clockblocker drew their attention back to him. "So, could you give us a tour of the place?"
"I'd be glad to," Taylor gestured for them to follow her. "Right this way."
"Dear Holy Chronicle," Taylor recited. "Things have really changed since we carried out our two successful operations. Our soup kitchen is feeding the poor people of the area, and our free clinic is freeing people of their drug addiction. The number of people who are coming to the free clinic have skyrocketed now that the Merchants leadership are behind bars and one of our men is effectively in command of the group. We have been able to direct the police and Protectorate to the Merchants middlemen one by one while effectively taking over their territory. Our new philanthropist, Mr Thomas, has offered the services of his company to rebuild the destroyed and decrepit areas of the city, which also creates jobs for a lot of people. And his former mercs, once converted, are now acting as a private security force to keep the other gangs out of the area." Here Taylor paused to gather her thoughts. "The city is slowly becoming a better place. Now barely two months after I stepped into my role, the city streets have become cleaner and hundreds of people have found new jobs and are leading drug free lives. Person by person, street by street, we are making progress. I'm beginning to think that joining this….., faith, was the right choice after all." Taylor stopped and looked towards her secretary-who-was-not. "Did you get all of that?"
"All written down High Priestess!" Lisa assured her.
"Alright," Taylor said and got to her feet. "Let's go meet Thomas."
"Right you are High Priestess!"
Lisa dutifully trailed behind her as she exited her much larger and comfortable office into an underground base. They had recently moved operations to Coil's former base and vacated their old warehouse base. It was much more roomy in here, not to mention it was much more secure.
Though as she walked the corridors, Taylor could see that her faithful were already converting it from a futuristic villain base to a creepy underground temple. The iconography and colors of their god were popping up everywhere.
And since their iconography involved tentacles and their color was a glistening black, her new temple was starting to look like a dungeons and dragons adventure locale from her father's old books.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the lowest level of the base, where a massive vault had been converted into their sanctuary.
Their massive endbringer statue had been moved into the vault and they had converted the vault into a, very creepy, inner sanctum. It had everything. The statue, the altar, the incense braziers, and the torches.
At the moment, it also held Valefor, Thomas to his friends.
"Welcome high priestess!" His face lit up when he saw her. "Will you look at this place! Faith is rewarded in the end! This is proof!"
"Yes," Taylor said demurely. "It turned out to be a surprisingly successful project."
"I still say we should have made Coil the janitor," Lisa said. She was ignored.
"By the way high priestess," Valefor said. Drawing Taylor's attention from where she was contemplating the statue. "Our newest little project has begun and is on schedule."
"Ah, that," Taylor mumbled. "I did authorise that didn't I?"
"Yup!" Lisa said helpfully.
"So?" Taylor said hesitantly. "We weren't driven out of town by angry mobs for preaching about the Endbringers?"
"No high priestess!" Valefor chuckled. "It's not illegal to venerate the Holy Endbringers, just as being a member of a white supremacist organization itself isn't strictly illegal, neither is worshiping Scion, or forming a Heartbreaker fan club. There's just a lot of social stigma attached to it. It's when you act on them by word or deed that you run into trouble. It's a very subtle, sometimes ridiculous, difference."
"This is America," Tattletale put in. "Land of the free. And sadly, freedom means tolerating all kinds of crazy."
"She's right," Valefor said. "Besides, we're keeping it very small and subtle. We're not making any big noises just yet."
"Oh, I see," Taylor mumbled.
Not half an hour ago she was starting to think this cult might not be so bad after all. Now she was right back with her doubts. And that was without considering the literal Endbringer in the temple.
Taylor rubbed her temples. She felt a headache coming on.
Absently she reached out and took a cup of water and pair of aspirins held out by Lisa.
No wonder her dad said management was stressful.
"You know high priestess, this isn't that bad a decision. In fact, compared to the decision to let Wards join your little clinic, where they just might stumble onto something they shouldn't, this is pretty mild."
Taylor glared at Lisa.
"We've got to do something!" Amy hissed.
"Uh huh," Lisa said as she wiped the tea set with enthusiasm.
"You saw it yourself! There really is an Endbringer!" Amy hovered around the blonde. "They're right here in the city. Who knows what they're planning? We need to come up with a plan!"
"Oh god! Why did I ever talk about this to you?" Lisa moaned. She carefully stacked the tea set next to the kettle before turning her full attention to the agitated healer. "Look Amy. You were told what happens if we call the PRT or harm Taylor in anyway right?"
"You checked me with your power a dozen times to check if I lied, right?"
"So what can we do?" Lisa demanded.
"Exactly!" Lissa snapped. "The best we can do without risking an Endbringer attack is guide Taylor down the proper path. Not that there's much work involved. She's already a do-gooder."
"But, but," Amy spluttered. "They're Endbringer cultists!"
"And you're the daughter of a supervillain!" Lisa snapped back at her and Amy recoiled. "All those people at the hospital give you a chance to prove yourself and use your power despite that don't they?"
Lisa rubbed her temples. She felt a headache coming on.
Absently she reached out and took a cup of water and pair of aspirins she had prepared in advance.
"Look," She patiently said to the still glaring Amy. "Stop nagging at me and think this through carefully. The best option now is to watch the cult carefully from the inside. So far they haven't done anything really bad. If they plan a really evil deed, we'll be the first to know. Then we'll take them down from the inside! How's that for a plan? Huh? Huh?"
Lisa waggled her eyebrows in exaggerated fashion.
Amy glared more.
Finally Amy gave a reluctant nod.
"That's the spirit!" Lisa cheered. "Now, I highly recommend you find a way to unwind and leave me alone to have some peace and quiet. In fact, I know just the thing….."
"I really missed this!" Taylor said as she and Vista walked down the Boardwalk.
"Glad to be of service!" Vista said cheerily as she scurried along after the long legged girl. "I didn't know your charity work involved having fun on the side!"
"Well this was Thomas and John mostly," Taylor admitted. "They said I was working too much and sent me out with orders to have fun. And since you worked so hard at the clinic today, you get to share in it."
"So, they staged an intervention huh?" Missy grinned over at Taylor.
"Hey! I don't need an intervention! I just like my work!" Taylor said in mock indignation.
Despite their argument about interventions, they had a good time.
They window shopped. Vista posed for pictures and signed autographs. They ate ice cream and popcorn.
It was when they had settled in an outdoor cafe for a little rest and a cup of tea that things got crazy again.
"Um, excuse me Miss?" Taylor turned to see a tween girl behind her. Maybe twelve or thirteen.
"Um," The girl hesitated. Then, before Taylor's astonished eyes, she dropped to her knees and raised her arms in a praying posture. "I am the humble Dinah Alcott, and I wish to join you under the service of our divine lord! The Holy Set! Please Oh Holy One! Accept my humble service!"
"Um," Taylor stared at the kneeling girl.
Then she cast a nervous glance at Vista, who was staring with her mouth open.
Then she cast a horrified glance at the other patrons of the cafe, who were all watching with dropped jaws.
With a wince, she noticed the camera phones, and the cctv camera the cafe had stuck on a counter.
"Um, This isn't what it looks like?"
Miles away, one Carol Dallon opened her door to find a pair of strange young men on her porch.
Erigor gave her a bright smile. "Good evening ma'am! Do you have the time to spare to learn about our Divine Lord, the Holy Set?"
Carol slammed the door in his face.
"Well that was rude!" Scratch grumbled as they walked away.
"I know, but what else can you expect from the faithless?" Erigor grumbled. "We had much better luck at that Alcott house."
At the same time, on the other side of the city, Joe the mook was standing guard over an Empire safehouse.
Since the Merchants lost all but one of their cape roster, the Empire has been moving in on the former Merchant territory and taking over their safe houses and their cash and drug stashes.
Joe was currently in one such former Merchant safehouse, guarding the stash of money and drugs they captured.
He was eyeing the stacks of cash and idly wondering if they'd miss a missing couple of thousand when he heard voices outside. Joe frowned. He shouldn't be worried. There were four guys who kept watch outside.
Curious and weary, he turned to the door and fingered the gun in his waistband.
He took a cautious step towards the door.
And then the door was blasted inwards, and Joe automatically drew his gun and fired.
The bullet hit the medieval style shield of the woman who had rushed in, and ricocheted.
The ricochet went right through him.
Joe collapsed gurgling blood.
He watched through rapidly fading vision as the shield bearing woman stepped up to him and knelt. He felt her touch him.
And suddenly he could see again. His pain was gone, his wound was gone! Tears came to his eyes as he realized that he was not going to die!
Then the woman cracked his skull with her mace.
"So, let me get this straight," Valefor said to the sheepish Taylor. "You came to the food court here with Vista, and encountered a possible convert, who openly proclaimed her allegiance?"
"And then you panicked at being called out in a public place and called for help?" Valefor continued.
"Said message was received by Erigor, who rallied everyone and came to your rescue, decked out in full panoply, then proceeded to secure the cafe and turn it into an urban fort, liberally cracking skulls while doing it?"
"That is what happened," Taylor said in a small voice, over the sounds of shouting starting to rise in the background.
"And that developed into this?" Valefor said in an exasperated tone, indicating the scene around them.
The once peaceful cafe had been turned into an impromptu fortification.
Overturned tables, overturned walls and overturned cars formed a bullet ridden barrier behind which the cultists crouched.
Opposite them across the no man's land of the street, the PRT troopers were crouched down behind their own armored vans.
Twice the troopers had tried to storm their position, with select men laying down hails of non-lethal bullets to keep their heads down while others got close enough with grenade launchers to send containment foam grenades over their barricade. But both times the assaults had been driven back thanks to the parahuman powers of the defenders.
Right now they were at a stalemate, with neither side able to gain an edge.
"High Priestess," Valefor said with a sigh as he prayed for patience. "Your wisdom is without limit of course, but sometimes it's better to handle matters like this delicately."
"I know that!" Taylor snapped. "I panicked okay! I wasn't really thinking then."
"Well, in either case-"
Valefor was interrupted when one of the PRT troopers at the other side of the street shouted into a loudspeaker.
"Attention unknown capes! This is your final chance to release your hostage and surrender before we storm your position!"
Behind the PRT line, they could see the costumed figures of heroes starting to arrive. Starting with the multicolored lineup of the local Protectorate and the white themed heroes of New Wave.
"We will never surrender!" Erigor jumped up behind the barricade and screamed, spittle flying from his mouth, before hastily ducking to avoid a bullet.
"Yeah! The Chosen of Set shall prevail!" Dinah shouted shrilly alongside him, taking up where he left off.
"Dinah! Is that you?" A blonde and well dressed woman screamed from the PRT lines where she was being bodily held back by two troopers. "Get over here at once young lady!"
"Mom! Go away and stop embarrassing me! I've found where I belong!" Dinah yelled back from the barricade.
"Stop talking rubbish Dinah!" said Mom yelled over in a very loud voice as she struggled against the troopers. "You get over here right now!"
"Oh Set be merciful!" Valefor muttered.
Taylor however had been thinking about something.
"We don't have a hostage do we?" She asked.
"Um, you kind of do," Vista said from where she was sitting nearby.
"Oh yes, I guess you kind of count as a hostage. I didn't notice you," Taylor said before pausing. "Wait a minute! Why didn't you use your power and escape?"
"Because!" Vista snarled. "He did something weird to me!" She pointed at Valefor.
Valefor covered his eyes with a tired hand.
"I used a compulsion to stop you from using your power," He said, still with his hand over his eyes. "You're implying something else entirely!"
"It was still weird!"
His Lord was testing him. He had to be patient.
Valefor's patience evaporated in seconds when the latest development from the battle line caught his attention.
"AMY!" A very loud voice screamed. "What are you doing?"
He looked over to see that Sister Amelia's hood had fallen down during the fighting and exposed her face in all it's freckled glory.
People were staring at her, frozen in genuine shock at seeing Panacea here among the enemy.
All except Brandish of New Wave.
"Um," Was all poor Sister Amelia could say.
Brandish however, said enough for the both of them.
"I KNEW IT!" She yelled. "I knew this would happen! It was only a matter of time! Do you see Sarah? Do you see?" She shook her unresponsive sister. "I told you! Didn't I tell you? It was only a matter of time before she became like this! We took her in! We fed her! Clothed her! Gave her a roof above her head! And this is what she does! It's in her blood! She can't be anything but a villain!"
Sister Amelia made an incoherent noise, before full out screaming and vaulting the barricade before anyone could stop her.
Before everyone's still frozen eyes she ran up to Brandish and-
Her mace came down on top of the New Wave heroine's head.
Brandish crumpled like a cut banner.
"FUCK YOU!" Panacea screamed into the dead silence.
Then everything happened at once.
"Charge!" Erigor screamed and vaulted the barricade after her, and the rest of the faithful followed.
The misguided heroes answered with their own charge, and the two lines met in the middle of the street.
It was pandemonium.
Panacea clashed with Glory Girl, mace and shield against invincible fists.
Dinah wrestled with her mother.
Erigor teleported over to Miss Militia and hit her over the head with a cafe chair.
It only got worse when the Merchants, led by their inside man Eligos, turned up and attacked the rear lines of the PRT.
"Um excuse me?" He looked down to see Vista tugging on his pants leg. "Can I go now?"
Valefor sighed again and waved in the general direction of the battle.
"Yes, you can go."
"Thanks!" Vista trotted of towards what was left of the PRT vans, leaving Valefor and Taylor alone.
Before his eyes, the battle raged on.
Blades of wind sliced PRT vans apart like loaves of bread.
The battlefield lit with teleport flashes as Erigor teleported back and forth.
Laser fire from New Wave bounced off shields alongside gunfire from the PRT troopers.
Sister Amelia vomited a green gas that quickly spread over the battlefield and incapacitated friend and foe alike.
The merchants added their fire to the ongoing firefight, hitting both friend and foe, and missing more often than not.
Above the noise of the bullets, battle cries of the the faithful dominated the field.
Cries of "For Set!", "For the High Priestess!" were heard alongside the wild yodelling of the Merchants and the screams of Dinah's mother as her daughter bit her hand.
He turned from contemplating the disaster before him and gave his attention to his high priestess, finding her dejected face looking at him.
The two of them were the only ones left behind the barricade.
"I ruined it didn't I?" She asked in the same dejected voice.
"It was an unwise call on your part, yes."
"High Priestess," Valefor said and hesitated. "There might be a way to salvage this mess."
"What? You have a way out of this? For all of us?"
He had her full attention.
"It would take a miracle to get out of this one," He indicated the chaos before them. "And who can grant miracles?"
"You're? You're serious aren't you?" Taylor demanded incredulously. "What about this situation looks like it can be improved by bringing HIM here? And how do we even call him?"
"He has shown you favor in the past, he might do it again," Valefor said over the sound of battle. "This is all I can think of right now."
"So you want me to call Him here through what? A prayer? Why don't we just surrender to the PRT while we're at it? This situation cannot be fixed by praying!"
Valefor finally ran out of patience.
"Woman! It's all we have left! For once just start praying without argument!"
Taylor glared at him.
Taylor fell to her knees and clasped her arms over her chest, before starting.
"Oh Holy Set! I, your High Priestess, beseech you! Please aid us in our time of need! Please deliver your-"
"-faithful!" Taylor finished.
And looked around.
She was seated at the cafe she could have sworn was destroyed in their battle against the PRT. Vista was sitting opposite her. The people that she could have sworn had been assaulted by the Paneacea, Erigor duo were sitting at their tables, chatting and sipping their coffee. The cars they had used for their barricade were parked in the street outside, very much undamaged.
"Um, excuse me Miss?" Taylor turned to see a tween girl behind her. Maybe twelve or thirteen.
Realization came to Taylor.
It was impossible, but somehow, maybe because of Him, she had come back in time.
Taylor's hand snapped up to cover Dinah's mouth.
"Now now Dinah!" She said cheerfully. "We shouldn't talk about our charity work in my off day! Those guys will never let me hear the end of it. You can come to my office at the free clinic tomorrow and talk it over. You remember where it is right? The Good End Charity! Not like your uncle doesn't know where it is."
Taylor winked exaggeratedly.
Dinah stared at her over the hand over her mouth and nodded.
Taylor let out a relieved sigh.
Thousands of miles away, over the Atlantic ocean, the world's newest Endbringer shook it's giant head and resumed flying towards Europe, Scion right behind him.
Jack Slash, the notorious parahuman criminal, was leading his merry band of murderhobos towards their next target in a largish bus they had purloined.
Jack was driving, with the others squeezed into the front two seats with crawler taking up all of the back. The bus itself had to be modified by Mannequin so that it could support the creatures massive weight.
"My arse is on the gear box! Move over!" Cherish whined.
"No swearing!" Bonesaw chirped from the Siberian's lap.
"-" Said Mannequin.
"It's alright for you! You can fold yourself up like a fedex box!" Cherish whined, again.
Indeed Mannequin was folded up into a rough box shape.
"Children," Jack admonished. "This is uncomfortable, yes, but we need to bare with it till we get to the next town. We'll get a truck or lorry."
"Or we can get our tinkers to build us a proper transport," Shatterbird said. "Ever think of that."
"Ohhh! Ohhhh!" Bonesaw jumped up and down excitedly. "A giant bug! We can all travel in its belly! Or a giant worm! We can travel in its mouth! Or-"
"-" Mannequin said.
"Or you can build a giant glass ball that can fit all of us I guess," Bonesaw said grumpily. "Oh! Ohhh! I can add legs to it so it can move faster! And wings so it can fly! And fins so it can swim! And-"
"Children!" Jack put in. "We'll build your giant vehicle I promise. For now, let me focus on the road. Remember! Road safety is important!"
"Right you are Mr Jack!"
"Good! Nowwwwaaaagghhhh!" Jack yelled as a giant black thing briefly obcured his vision, and he almost lost control of the bus. "What the fuck was that!" He yelled as he brought the bus to a halt.
"It's that Endbringer! Look! Look!" Bonesaw pointed.
Jack stuck his head out the window and looked.
Sure enough, the newest and strangest Endbringer was doing a flyby right above them.
Even as he watched, a single black tentacle darted down and smashed right through a beat up white van that had been following them at a distance.
The van crumpled like a paper cup.
"Owwie!" He turned around to see Bonesaw fall to the floor of the bus, the Siberian, on whose lap she had been sitting on, having vanished.
Jack turned to look back at the wrecked van.
Then he looked back at the rapidly vanishing figure of the endbringer.
"Oh fuck me!"
"Hey! Language! What the-"
He turned once more to see something that took even him off guard, despite spending time with Bonesaw on a regular basis.
There, in the bus, where the siberian used to be there was a tiny, human sized figure of the newest Endbringer.
Then, golden light filled the area as a very pissed off Scion suddenly loomed in front of the windscreen.
"Oh fuck m-"
"So the Slaughterhouse Nine is dead?" Chief Director Costa-Brown asked Legend, who had been first on the scene.
"According to the thinkers they are," Legend said over the comm. "According to the eyewitnesses, the Endbringer flew in and attacked a van, killing the man inside. Then Scion turned up and lasered the bus. When we came and checked the bus, we found nothing except for a smear on the road. They've been atomized. But then our thinkers all started clamoring. Looks like they're gone."
"Well damn," The chief director said. "Does this mean Scion has started taking down criminals?"
"That's something we need to confirm," Legend said. "But it might be a good thing, while it lasts."
"Let's hope he stops at villains," The chief director said. "There is the question if the Endbringer somehow made him do it."
"Like I said, we need to wait and see."
"Alright! I call this meeting to order!" Taylor proclaimed.
"Yes High Priestess!" The multitude of voices responded.
Taylor looked around the table.
Here were her most trusted followers. Her inner circle.
Oh god! She was starting to even think like one of the cultists!
"So! Progress report! Thomas?" She pointed at Valefor.
"At once Holy One!" Valefor said. "Ahem! The Archer Bridge Merchants are officially gone!" He declared to cheers from the group. "We mopped up the last of them and now all that remains is to cure what's left of their addicts. With that, we've recalled Eligos, he will be taking up residence in the base from now on."
"Excellent!" Taylor was genuinely happy. "Well done team! We've done some genuine good here!"
"It's our deepest privilege Holy one!"
"We are your swords!"
"It's the will of Set!" A tiny voice piped up at the end.
"Thank you Dinah," Taylor said. "Now. How goes our charity work?"
"We have kept in touch with our former patients and folded many of them into our organization. They have formed little support groups and are helping each other get back on their feet. We are basically trying to get one group per area," Valefor reported. "They are amenable to our plan to help the city, and keep an eye on their area for us."
"How many of these are we talking about?"
"Fifty two and climbing High Priestess!" Her secretary, Lisa, reported.
"That's... a lot of people," Taylor said.
"Hundreds," Lisa said cheerfully.
"And they have no problems working as what? Minions?" Taylor demanded.
"Informants," Valefor said. "They call us if anyone is backsliding, or if they see crime or other unseemly things in the area. That's something people will do readily. Minimum risk involved."
"I see," Taylor said.
"And now we have an ever growing information network," Lisa said cheerfully.
"And we have removed the Merchants," Taylor said. "Let's focus on the good we have done."
"We might have another problem Holy One," Valefor said. "With the Merchants gone, our…, informants, are reporting the ABB and the E88 moving in. Already people are being shaken down for protection money."
"We've dealt with it so far with the strength of our faith!" Erigor said. "As soon as our informants call us, we either call Glory Girl, or the Wards. We have refrained from taking to the field ourselves as per your most holy command!"
"But this is a temporary measure," Valefor cut in. "If we don't want our hard work ruined we need to move on them. I feel we need to do two things. First, we need to move on the other two gangs, second, we need to create our own 'Hero Team'."
"You know we're basically shaping up to be a gang of our own right," Lisa put in. "Street level informants to call if the competition is moving in, and a strike team of capes to drive them back. All we need is a drug ring and protection racket!"
"Yes high priestess?"
"How would you like to be strapped to the altar when I next summon Him?"
"That's what I thought."
"Back on topic," Valefor said after a glare at the suddenly quiet Lisa. "What do you think of the idea Holy One!"
The Holy One thought about it.
"Hmmm. Dinah? Chances of success?"
"92.251% Holy One!"
"I see," Taylor said.
She thought about it some more.
"Let's do it!"
Amy looked up to see Erigor looming over her.
"The High Priestess wants to see you. In the office."
"Oh! Um, right! Do you, do you know what it's about?"
"We do not question her will!"
"Right! Yeah! Of course!"
Amy scrambled past Erigor and padded down the corridors of their underground base towards the office of the Holy One.
At time like this she seriously questioned the choices that landed her in this fix.
But now she was here, and she had to see it through.
In front of the office door she was met by Lisa, who was just leaving.
The blonde gave her a wink.
"Good luck! Go right in!"
Amy paused for a moment to steel herself, and pushed the door open and stepped in.
Inside the high priestess was sitting at her minimalist desk with a laptop open, looking for all the world like an intern at some tech company.
But Amy wasn't fooled.
She still had nightmares about the tentacle.
"Hail High Priestess! Your most faithful-"
"You're not fooling anyone you know."
"-sub, wait? What?"
"We know who you are Amy."
"We knew since day one."
"I mean, you're world famous! Who wouldn't recognize Panacea?"
"But it doesn't matter."
"I was ju…..huh?"
"We will accept even you as one of our own. Despite the way you sneaked in."
"You have proven yourself loyal and brave, and a fierce combatant."
"Therefore, I will officially induct you into our ranks and make you a member of our new hero team, the Paladins!"
"So she kind of fainted after that," Taylor said as she watched Lisa tend to the unconscious healer.
"The enormity of the honor she is awarded must have overwhelmed her," Erigor said.
"Yeah, that surely was the case," Taylor said with a voice dripping with sarcasm.
"Indeed Holy One!" It sailed completely over Erigor's head.
The voice from the couch got all their attention.
Amy Dallon got up into a sitting position and shook her head to clear it, before freezing at the sight of the people surrounding her.
"Welcome back Panacea," Valefor said cheerfully. "We were just discussing your role in our new hero team. Do you feel well enough to join us?"
Amy looked around once more at the group, and shivered.
A few days after the parahuman gang known as the Merchants were effectively taken out of business, a meeting was taking place in the city hall, inside an office that hadnt been used often during recent years as the city and it's economy declined..
"So let me see," the official looking man seated at the desk said. "You want to start an… Entertainment Company?"
"That's right," the young lady seated across from him nodded cheerfully. "A startup to breathe new life into our city."
"With a porn company?" the official deadpanned.
"It's not porn! We're going to animate most of our work anyway!" the girl snapped.
"Animated porn is still porn," the official deadpanned. "But I can't really stop you unless you use underage actors in any of your work. If you do, it'll be another branch of the civil service that you'll be meeting."
"Oh, no worries on that count sir," the girl assured him. "All our actors will be over the age of eighteen or CGI. And our legal team is hard at work setting up the boundaries we must never cross. I assure you, we will produce good ethical work!"
"Right, right," The official sighed. "Just give me the forms. And whats your name again?"
"Lisa," the girl said. "I'm the company-" her expression turned sour. "-secretary."
Later that day, the inner circle of the faithful met in their underground base.
"It's tentacle porn," Taylor snapped.
"It's not tentacle porn Holy One," Valefor explained patiently. "It's the first step towards turning our divine lord from a terrifying figure of death and destruction that gives grown men nightmares and making him into a family friendly mascot that kids can watch in the Saturday morning cartoons."
Taylor put her head in her hands. "Family friendly mascot," she said into her hands. "Do you even listen to yourself?"
Valefor was not deterred. "Holy one, we have taken down the merchants and cleaned up their territory. Now we need to move in on the ABB while we still have momentum. We need to strike at their weak point!"
"Their weak point is tentacle-?"
"Anime!" Valefor waved his hands for emphasis. "The anime industry, tentacle based or otherwise, never recovered from Kyushu. We need to give it new life, and win over the Asian population of the city at the same time."
"Ahem, if I may?" Lisa raised her hand. "This idea might not be as…far fetched as it might sound. Yes, we cleaned out the drug addicts, but we didn't address the root cause of their problems."
"The gangs?" Erigor asked from the seat next to Valefor.
"The poverty," Lisa explained. "Brockton Bay started to go down the drain after the shipping industry shut down, and any attempt at fixing the city needs to take that into account. The city needs a new industry. One that will create jobs for the citizens."
"And we do this with tentacle porn?" Taylor deadpanned.
"Actually, I've never seen any tentacle porn, can I watch one? For research?"
"No Dinah!" That statement came from everyone.
"Back on topic," Valefor said. "This can be the start of the city's revival. Imagine! A movie studio that produces anime and creates jobs for the creatively inclined. And eventually, the Train-yard or the Boat Graveyard converted into a theme park that will bring tourists from across the country. This will create thousands of jobs. This will put the city on the map!"
Taylor stared at him. Then she shook her head and looked at Dinah. "Can that work Dinah?"
The girl scrunched up her face. "It's too much for a single question. You need to be more specific."
"Fine," Taylor said. "We'll call this idea by Thomas 'Plan Tentacle' from now on. What are the chances of Plan Tentacle working."
Dinah silently asked the question. "Ninety two percent chance it can work."
"Well," Taylor said eventually. "It seems we have a plan."
"Oh happy day!" Erigor cheered. "Just think, soon enough there might be a giant statue of our Lord looking down upon the city from a children's park."
"Shit," Taylor buried her face in her hands again.
"But there is more to dealing with the ABB than making movies," Valefor brought the meeting back on track. "We need to takeout their firepower, and we need to do it quickly. Remember, they only have two capes, but both are miles above the other rabble of this city. They have held off the PRT, the E88, the Merchants and the Protectorate. All with just two members."
"Yes," Taylor got her head back in the game. "We need a good plan. But remember, we have advantages too. We have Dinah, we have Lisa, and we have our new team. I think it's time they made their debut."
"Actually Holy One, I might have a plan," Valefor put in. "Considering the gravity of the foe we face, it might be permissible to call upon our Divine Lord."
The notorious parahuman known as Lung was roused from his bed at two in the morning and told that someone had robbed his casino. Naturally, he suited up, grabbed his mask, and marched to the scene of the crime, and then towards the Boat Graveyard, where the thief or thieves had fled to.
He had barely taken ten steps into the boat graveyard when things had gotten out of hand.
"Stop right there villain!" A very loud voice called out, and suddenly there was a blinding flash of light. When it died out, Lung found himself looking at a group of people dressed in armor that looked like a cross between modern Tinkertech and medieval knightly regalia. They were even armed with that looked like swords, axes and crossbows.
"Who the fuck are you?" Lung was nothing if not direct.
"Foolish villain, we are the Paladins!" The one in the lead shouted. "We are the heroes that are going to bring you in."
Lung snorted. "Better than you have tried child." Already he could feel his power responding, strengthening him and making him grow. Fire started to run through his veins and spilled around him. He was growing quickly, fast enough that he knew this group was not to be under estimated.
"Oh fuck this byplay," Another of the armored group stepped forward. This one was clearly female, and armed with a mace and shield. "Here, I'll start."
What looked like rocket boosters boots fired up, and she shot forwards at impossible speed, bringing her mace down at his head in a blow meant to turn it into pulp.
But he raised both hands and formed an x, blocking the blow and stopping her charge in it's tracks. Pain shot through his hands as he felt bone break, but he roared and kicked out with his leading foot, catching the woman in the belly and sending her flying away from him.
Even as he lowered his hands he felt his power making him larger, while the broken bones were already snapping into place and mending. He laughed, the trill of battle never failed to excite him!
"Come on then!" He shouted at the capes who had formed a rough half circle around him. "Come and show me what you can- Arrrgghh!" He roared as a laser bolt fired from a crossbow went through his shoulder. He charged the bowman, hoping to close the distance before he could fire again, hoping that his power would repair his wound by the time he was done with the enemy.
Except it didn't.
He managed to knock the bowman down, but before he could finish him, something slammed into him from the side and knocked him back. His vision swam and he hoped that his power would repair him soon, but he couldn't feel any change in the wound. In fact as the capes surrounded him and started hacking away, he could feel himself shrinking instead of growing. The fire was withdrawing from his veins.
To his horror, he realized that they must have a Trump that can affect powers.
The last thing he saw was a mace that came right at his fa-
As the protectorate hero known as Armsmaster came to a stop in front of the group of armored capes, the first thing he noticed was the white cloak covering what was clearly a human body.
"Is that a dead body?" He asked as he leaped from his bike and brought his weapon to bear.
"No," One of the armored capes leaned down and pulled the cloak back just enough for him to see. "His cloths burned out during the fight and we had to….cover his bits."
Armsmaster stared. "That's Lung."
"Yes," said the cape who appeared to be the spokesperson for the group.
"You took down Lung," Armsmaster said.
"In under a minute," The cape said.
"How?" Armsmaster demanded.
"We acted before he could really get going and hit him hard and fast," The cape explained.
"Hard and fast?"
"He has no permanent damage," The cape assured him. "You're free to check."
"You're telling the truth," Armsmaster looked down at the fallen, and naked, villain. "I assume then that you are heroes? A new group?"
"Indeed we are!" The armored cape drew himself up to his full height and stuck a heroic pose. Behind him, the rest of the group did likewise. "We are the Paladins! The heroes bringing the light of S...Hope to Brockton Bay."
Sister Amelia looked up to see the floating figure of Glory Girl. Who was also her sister in her muggle life.
"Um. Hi. Vic-. Glory Girl!" She cleared her throat and gathered herself before striking a pose. "Always a pleasure to meet a fellow hero!"
"Oh likewise. Likewise!" Not to be outdone, Glory Girl stuck a pose as well, in mid-air. "I see that you have taken down these villains quite heroically."
"Oh yes!" Amy nodded behind her face obscuring helmet. "They were dealt with using only the necessary amount of force a hero should use! No broken bones or internal bleeding involved! None at all!"
Behind her, one of the groaning pile of bodies raised his head and started to protest. Amy carefully took a step back and casually kicked him in the head in passing.
"As I was saying," Amy stuck her pose again. "No unnecessary violence here! Besides….. There's no evidence! They're all fine!"
"So I see!" Glory Girl coughed into her hand. "So, the ABB right?"
"Yes," Amy said and indicated the pile of bodies next to her. "With the arrest of Lung, tensions between the E88 and the ABB rose up and if it is left to grow, a full gang war might erupt. We decided to step in at that point."
"That's very heroic of you," Glory Girl said. "Say, do you want to go out patrolling together sometime? I can introduce you guys to other heroes. We can totally kick gangster ass!"
"So how are we doing?" Taylor asked her inner circle, which she stubbornly referred to as her team in her mind. "Give me our progress."
"Our hero team is being positively received Holy One," Valefor said. "The local authorities are now aware that we are on the same side. And our capture of Lung was videotaped and published by us, giving us a good reputation right out the gate. Not only that," He continued with a slight smile. "The paladins have also acquired an aspect of lighthearted playfulness among the younger demographic."
"What?" Taylor asked.
"Our own Sister Amelia has been made something of an icon in PHO oh Holy One," Erigor said. "They are shipping her with Glory Girl!"
"Buh?" Taylor asked.
"They're calling it …..Gloryknight!" Dinah piped in.
Lisa sniggered again.
"This one called void_cowboy has even started a fanfiction about them," Eligos said, then bristled at their stares. "What? I read fanfics in my spare time!"
"But, but," Taylor spluttered. "They're sisters! That's incest! Tentacle porn is one thing! Incest is something else entirely!"
"Firstly, it's not tentacle porn," Valefor said in a voice that hinted that this was an old argument. "Secondly, they don't know they are sisters of course! But they have drawn many similarities between the white panopoly they both wear, and their obvious enthusiasm for battle. Then there is the fact that they exchanged a greeting where they both…. Acted rather obviously."
"Oh go…. Set," Taylor moaned.
"I don't see Sister Amelia complaining," Valefor smiled. "She even asked for permission to arrange a joint patrol with Glory Girl. And associating with New Wave's golden girl will only boost our reputation."
"Amy has also been giggling in a really disturbing manner," Lisa put in. "I don't want to know what she has planned."
"Well that's the least of our problems," Taylor put it from her mind. "How is the business front coming along?"
"We have registered our company Holy One," Eligos said. "It's official as of yesterday, and we have already rented the building space necessary. So far we haven't managed to turn the space into a proper studio, but the first floor and reception area are ready."
"Just one floor will do for now," Taylor said. "We need to get the studio off the ground quickly, and hire creative staff. Is the press conference ready?"
"All prepared High Priestess," Lisa gave a thumbs up. "You just need to give the go ahead."
"Good," Said Taylor. "We'll hire a small group of staff as soon as the conference is over, and put them to work in the space we have available. We will hire more as we develop more building space."
"An excellent idea Holy One," Valefor approved.
"How is our money situation?" Taylor asked.
"It's a little tight Holy One. The largest expense came when we set aside funds to purchase the abandoned land of the Boatgraveyard and the Trainyard. The purchases will happen slowly over weeks, through several proxy companies Lisa set up for us," Valefor said. "But we still have enough of Coil's funds to set up the studio, and if this works out we should have a steady income that is perfectly legal."
"Good! Excellent!" Taylor smiled. "It's time to launch our first legitimate business!"
A few days later, a host of cameramen and reporters were attending a press conference in a newly appropriated multistory building.
"Welcome! Welcome!" Thomas Calvert smiled at the reporters from atop the small stage. "This is the official opening of the White Snail Studio!" Behind him, on cue, a black banner unfurled. A logo with a white snail had been emblazoned on the black background. "This studio is meant to grant a creative outlet to the artistic youth of Brockton Bay, and create gainful employment for them at the same time!"
"Mr Calvert! Mr Calvert!" The words were barely out of Thomas when the reporters raised their hands and started shouting questions.
Cameras flashed and Thomas smiled his professional smile and pointed at one of the reporters at the front.
"This is a new business for you sir. Are you abandoning the construction business in favor of this?"
"Not at all," Thomas said easily. "Fortress construction is still my focus. This venture was created when a group of young people approached me and asked for my help with their startup. I am merely the overseer. The real work of this company will be done by a team of enthusiastic and creative youth."
"Mr Calvert! What made you choose a manga studio of all things?" Another reporter demanded.
"I assure you, it was the furthest thing from my mind. But these young people approached me, and convinced me through their work and passion to back them," Thomas said and smiled. "And while it's a manga studio for now, we hope to turn it into a full animation studio in time. Next question?"
"What made you think that Manga and Anime is a good business idea for Brockton Bay?" That was a reporter in the back.
"Art has no set boundaries or location," Thomas said without missing a stride. "And I believe this city more than any other needs something to lighten it's mood. Next?"
But he was interrupted by an employee tapping on his shoulder and whispering in his ear.
"Please excuse me," Thomas said and got to his feet and indicated Lisa who was sitting next to him. "I must deal with something urgently. Miss Laybourne will answer your questions."
Thomas stepped into the room adjacent to the entrance hall where the press conference was going on, out of sight from the reporters and the cameras. When he saw who was waiting for him, he grinned.
"What the hell do you think you are doing?"
Thomas never stopped smiling.
"Emily! How nice of you to come for-"
"-Cut the act Thomas!" Emily Piggot snarled. "Just as a gang war is about to start you start this 'Business Venture'. You're up to something! I know you!"
"Emily! Emily!" Thomas shook his head. "This is a business intended to breathe some life into our dreary city. I just want to get this off the ground and help these kids realize their dream. You can come at me from any angle you like. In fact I'll go a step further. You want to question me with Tinker tech lie detectors? Fine! You want to scan me for parahuman powers? Fine! In the end you'll only find what I already told you."
Piggot gaped at him. Then-
"Fine!" She snapped. "Fine! You actually volunteer for it? I'll question you and scan you-"
"With a lawyer present," Thomas added.
"-With a lawyer present," Piggot snapped. "Then we'll find out what you're planning."
A day later, interviews were in progress to hire new staff for the new company.
"So you need to introduce yourself and show me a sample of your work," Lisa said. "If we like your work, and you pass the interview….. We'll talk. Remember, age and other details don't matter, we have a flexible schedule. Ready?"
The interviewee nodded.
"Alright then! Let's begin," Lisa smiled. "Introduce yourself!"
"I'm Annie Bent," the girl across from Lisa said and handed over an open folder. "This is my art."
"Hmm, I see," Lisa mused as she flipped through the pages. "This is pretty good."
That was one of the few good interviews.
"I'm Greg Vedar, and this is my work."
"Oh my Se-God!"
"I'm Madison Clements! And this is my work!"
"Oh my! This is… certainly innovative."
Lisa goggled at who she knew to be Oni-Lee….. In a suit.
She glared at Uber and Leet.
"You're not even trying to hide!"
"We figured it would be better put our cards on the table," Uber said. "I must ask though, have you guys considered branching out into the video game market."
"I'm Crystal Pelham, and this is my art," The furiously blushing girl across from Lisa said.
"You know buddy, I feel as if you're the only one who understands me," The man wearing the fedora said.
"I know I dropped in unannounced, but I really needed to just talk to someone."
"Right now, as we speak, printing presses are at work cranking out copies of a dozen stories that portray me…..well characters that look like me, doing unspeakable things with young ladies."
"Even now, a score of animators are working on a show that will soon grace the tv screens of kids across the U.S."
"Soon enough it will be available to download in the internet and teenagers across the world will masturbate to it."
"I wasn't expecting this when I took up this gig."
"I mean! I got the best power, all the perks, and a near invincible endbringer form. How could that combo not work? Now look where I am."
"Shows how much I know huh?"
"I really need a pick me up."
"You're right. Maybe I should visit Fortuna again, that always cheers me up."
"Thanks Sleeper, you're really the best listener."
"So! How is the charity work going?" Vista asked as she and Taylor walked down the street. She was taking another day off and Taylor had invited the little Ward to join her on a walk. "With the merchants gone and the new business boom, things must be looking up."
"Yes," Taylor said as she patted herself on the back. She was honestly proud of what she had accomplished. "The clinic is working at full capacity, cleaning up the damage the Merchants have done. And with the merchants gone and the new heroes keeping anyone else from cornering their market, there is very little chance of them falling off the wagon again. Once they stay clean for more than a month, we have the second program get them jobs and places with affordable rent."
"I keep being amazed at how much you guys have accomplished," Vista said. "You guys have done more for the city than the Heroes have."
"No we haven't," Taylor said. "We would have been put out of business by the Merchants within the first week if the heroes hadn't held them off. We couldn't have done it without you guys."
"That's really nice of you," Vista said and grinned under her visor. "I heard from Dean- you know? Vicky's boyfriend?- that his dad just signed up to help you guys in finding jobs for the people you help."
"You mean Mr Stansfield?" Taylor asked. "Yes, Mr Calvert talked him into it. And the Stansfield Group is really helping."
"It's really nice to see everyone working together to fix the city like this!" Vista smiled. "It's really like how things are supposed to be."
"Yeah," Taylor said. Too bad it took an Endbringer cult to get said people together. "I'm just happy we're making progress."
"Oh look!" Vista squealed and pointed. "That's what I wanted to show you!"
Then she dragged Taylor towards a street stall run by an Asian guy that sold-
"Manga," Taylor said in a long suffering voice. Now that she looked, that Asian guy sported some suspiciously telling tattoos. She would bet dollars to doughnuts this was one of the former ABB goons that had started to jump ship now that their cape leadership had fizzled out.
Vista remained oblivious as she rifled through the selection.
"They came out only a month ago and I love them! Look! This one is my favorite so far! It's about a teleporting ninja who fights an evil organization of ninja's who hide as french maids in plain sight!"
Taylor exchanged a look with the manga vendor. They both knew who wrote that work of art.
"Yeah, it looks awesome," Taylor said glumly. "So you read manga huh?"
"Me and the rest of the girls at my school," Vista said cheerfully. "I've even started collecting. And guess what? I've heard about a manga convention being planned for the end of the year where you can cosplay as your favorite character!"
Oh Taylor knew all about that! But-
"Really? That's cool! Maybe I should go myself?" was what she actually said.
"That'll be really cool! Who will you go as?" Vista turned and indicated the manga lineup.
"Maybe this one?" Taylor said as she pulled out one at random. "Magical Girl Destroyer Cupcake?"
The former ABB guy grinned behind his hand.
"Magical Girl Destroyer Cupcake!" Taylor yelled.
"It's a really good art style, if not a good name," Valefor said in a placating voice as he looked over the offending manga.
"This! This is what happens when you let Greg loose on anything! Much less art!" Taylor however, didn't want to be calmed down.
"I know Holy One," Valefor said patiently. "I accompany you during school remember? But I don't think you're being very fair to him."
"He's a lonely boy who desperately wants companionship but has absolutely no social skills to make it work. But he's actually intelligent and creative. And his work is selling. You can't argue with money."
"Well," Taylor said. "He never did anything to help. He always sprouts rubbish."
"He's not malicious Holy One," Valefor said. "He just didn't know how to talk to you, didn't have any friends he could persuade to help, and wasn't physical enough to intervene."
"So… he's a bumbling idiot?" Taylor asked.
"I suppose that's one way to put it," Valefor said. "But I hope that he'll bloom among us."
"Well….." Taylor hedged.
"Give him a chance Holy One. Everyone deserves a chance," Valefor said as he resorted to outright pleading.
"Even if we're taking a chance on a scantily clad magical girl who fights a tentacle monster?" Taylor finally smiled.
"Even if Holy One. Even if…." Valefor grinned back.
Greg Vedar looked up from his desk and smiled awkwardly at Madison.
They were both in the first floor of the new company's office building. The space had been converted to an open concept studio with tables, chairs, bean bag chairs and whiteboards scattered around. The walls, floor and ceiling were painted a very crisp white, but already some of the team had started to paint the walls.
"So….. I looked at your manga," Madison said and wrung her hands. "It was really cool. You're really talented."
"Uh? Thanks?" Greg said, his confusion evident. "I, uh, saw your work too. It was really cool."
"Really?" Madison gave a shy smile. "I've always been a fan of the old nineties manga, especially the ones with cool monster battles. I've always wanted to do one myself."
"I've uh, liked magic and stuff," Greg said awkwardly.
"You mean magical girls?" Madison giggled.
"Like you do monsters?" Greg managed to rally.
Madison jumped and then giggled again. "So I have a monster fetish? It's not like we can hide it in this place."
"No I guess not," Greg said and shook his head. "But I do think that your monster manga is cool."
"Thanks," Madison said and blushed. "And I think your magical girl is cute, especially during the last battle where she was almost caught in the tentacles."
"Eh, heh. Thanks," Greg said and blushed.
"So….?" Madison asked tentatively. "Could you maybe not tell anyone at school what I'm doing here?"
"I won't if you don't?"
"Ta da!" Leet said proudly as he unveiled his creation. "Here is my baby."
Valefor stared at it.
"It's certainly…..unique," he said at length.
They were on the second floor of the office building. This space was still being worked on, and was intended to be their new animation studio.
The machine in question looked like a giant desktop computer, 3D printer and star wars holo projector had all been connected together.
"And it works?" Valefor asked.
"This is the first time I ever made a machine like this. So trust me, it works!" Leet bounced on the balls of his feet. "You won't find it's match anywhere."
"An animation machine," Valefor said quietly. "And it can produce working animations in a fraction of the time it takes if we used mundane means?"
"Yes," Leet said and explained the machine. "The characters and backgrounds are scanned into the machine where they are stored-" He indicated the 3D printer like apparatus. "-Then we send it to the holo projector-" He patted the device in question. "-and we animate it. The animation process is simple drag and drop that responds to your hand movements and it's fast, very fast. Finally the finished video is sent to the computer to be cut and edited."
"Alright," Valefor said. "We'll use it to produce the pilot episode ahead of schedule. And if the pilot takes off we'll produce the others. If this pans out you have saved us a lot of money and a lot of time Leet. Thank you. We will compensate you in full."
"My pleasure," Leet said as he preened. "So does this mean that you start on the video game?"
"The funds we save can be diverted to it," Valefor said. "Though it occurs to me that we can easily make a visual novel quite easily with this setup."
"Oh hell yes!" Leet cheered.
"Yes, we'll be killing two birds with one stone. Now I just need to float it past the boss," Valefor said.
"You mean Mr Calvert?"
"Let's go with that."
Dragon's voice brought Colin out of his work in a manner nothing else could.
"Dragon? What is it?" He asked as he dropped his helmet to focus on the computer screen.
"There's another one!" Dragon babbled.
"Another of what?" He demanded.
"Another video of the Fedora Woman," She said.
Colin perked up. That was the name they had given the woman that had been targeted by the Endbringer. Any sightings of her were carefully recorded and analyzed.
"Look," Dragon said and her face disappeared, replaced by a playing video.
The fedora woman -sans fedora- was riding a white horse through what looked like an old western town.
"This is a little town near Bryce Canyon," Dragon said helpfully. And indeed the famous rock formations were visible in the background.
As they watched, the fedora woman produced a lasso from somewhere and twirled it above her head like an old western cowboy. Ahead of her, a black horse was fleeing, without saddle or bridle, and in it's mouth it held a now familiar fedora.
Then both horses passed out of camera range and were gone.
"This is a pattern," Colin said decisively.
"Yes," Dragon said in agreement. "This poor woman always gets her fedora stolen. First by an Endbringer, then a herd of Llama, and then by a horse. But why though?"
"I have no idea," Colin said and scratched his beard. "Maybe it's her power? To always have her fedora stolen?"
"...Colin, that's ridiculous."
"We're wasting time!" Taylor hissed out of the corner of her mouth. "We could be working right now!"
"Education is important H….Taylor!" Valefor hissed back.
Taylor gave him an incredulous look and indicated Mr Gladly, who was droning on and on at the front of the class, pointing and gesturing at a picture projected onto the whiteboard.
"Okay, maybe this particular class is useless," Valefor said and shook his head. "World studies? Seriously? But Biology and Physics and things like that are the foundation for what you need for higher education."
"Hah! As if I can ever go past high school education." Taylor grumbled.
Valefor grinned at her.
"What?" Taylor hissed.
"What is the problem with you being unable to go to Brockton Bay U like your mom? Or anywhere else for that matter? Money? Scholarship?" Valefor asked while letting his amusement show. "You think that will ever be a problem for you? For us? If you want to go to Oxford, just say the word."
Taylor started for a moment before letting a slight grin appear on her face.
"Well maybe n-"
"-What are you doing over there!" Both their heads snapped up at Mr Gladly's voice.
They both watched as he walked right up to them, then past them, up to a girl in Emma's usual circle and reached down to pull up… a very recognizable manga book.
"Oh boy!" Taylor and Valefor said the same thing in sync and turned to look at each other. Then they both shook their heads. Valefor smiled while Taylor grumbled.
"Well this is…..interesting," Mr Gladly said as he paged through the manga. "And I'm glad you're taking an interest in any form of art. But I hope you will enjoy it during your free time?"
"Yes Mr G," The girl said.
"Good. Then don't let this happen again." Mr Gladly handed the book back to the embarrassed girl.
Taylor and Valefor changed another glance.
"We have unleashed the calamity!" Taylor hissed.
"You're quoting Genghis Khan."
"My point still stands," Taylor said as they sat in the cafeteria during lunch break.
"So even the kids read our manga. It happens." Valefor shrugged his shoulders.
"Well….. So long as it's one kid it's okay I guess," Taylor said and went back to her meal. "It's not like we're corrupting all of them."
"Uh, Taylor?" Valefor tapped her shoulder.
"What?" Valefor pointed.
Taylor followed the line of his pointing finger to see dozens of students, most of them asian, reading manga with one hand while shoveling food into their mouths with the other.
And that wasn't all. At a corner table, Greg and Madison were sitting together and looking over something that looked suspiciously like a sketchbook.
"They put in a request for a crossover issue of their manga," Valefor said unhelpfully.
"I didn't need that picture in my head," Taylor said grumpily.
She turned her head away from that disturbing sight, only to - horror of horrors - see Sophia and Emma at another table with their head buried in a manga.
Taylor buried her face in her hands and groaned.
"At least it's good money?" Valefor said in an utterly unhelpful statement.
"I'm glad you found the time to spend at home kiddo," Danny Hebert said as he and his daughter had breakfast together. "There's nothing like a good home cooked breakfast on Saturday morning."
"Mmhmm!" Taylor agreed as she stuffed her face with pancakes.
"You've certainly worked up an appetite," Danny joked. "Your new lifestyle must agree with you."
"Rewarding work, good exercise and good friends… even if they are weirdos makes you motivated," Taylor said through her pancakes.
"Uh-huh," Danny said as he picked up the remote and switched on their TV.
"And now! It's time for another episode of… Magical Girl Destroyer Cupcake!" The enthusiastic voice on the TV said.
Taylor choked on her pancakes.
Danny leaped into action and pounded on her back, before getting her to drink down a glass of water and take deep breaths.
"Really Taylor, you need to eat more carefully," Danny said as he kept patting her lightly on the back.
"You wicked monster! You will not lay a single tentacle on these innocent students! Not while I Magical Girl Destroyer Cupcake stand resolute!" The television was still on.
Taylor gritted her teeth.
Danny looked over her shoulder at the TV. "Oh that show. I've heard the guys at the Union talk about how their kids watch it. It's supposed to be funny."
"Funny? Funny? Not softcore porn with a dash of tentacle rape?" She demanded as soon as she found her voice.
"Well….." Danny thought about it. "They're aiming at the teenage demographic after all. And it does remind me of the old Japanese anime from before Kyushu. I loved the old Kamen Rider shows. I might even have an old costume somewhere."
"Dad," Taylor asked carefully. "Are you a closet otaku?"
"I admit to nothing!" Danny Hebert cried with a hand over his heart. "I definitely never cosplayed manga characters with your mom back in the day!"
"Take that! Your vile tentacles will never find purchase on my virgin flesh!"
Taylor stared first at her dad, then at the tv.
"There is no hope!" She moaned.
"Thank you for taking me to work dad," Taylor said later as she sat in the truck.
"Hey! Taking your daughter to work is a traditional duty for dads the world over," Danny said as he guided the truck through the streets. "And I wanted to show you the new work site."
"It's great that the union is finally getting work," Taylor said as she carefully looked out the window.
"Yeah. It was all down to that guy who also supports your charity. Thomas," Danny said.
"Uh, yeah. Him," Taylor carefully avoided her dad's eyes.
"He's a really good guy," Danny said. "Really dedicated to making the city a better place."
"Uh-huh. That's Thomas," Taylor said in her best casual voice.
"I just wonder where he was all this time," Danny continued cheerfully oblivious.
"Plotting to take over the world from his secret underground base?" Taylor asked perfectly seriously.
"Ha! Good one Taylor!" Danny laughed. "I'd bet he had a self destruct on his secret base too!"
"Yeah. I'd bet." Taylor did her best to laugh convincingly.
Still chuckling, Danny reached out and turned on the radio.
"There is a feeling of hope all across Brockton Bay these days," The radio host was saying. "Just months ago, our city has lost hope. The economy was in ruins, the gangs were out of control. But now, two of the three gangs that plagued our city have been effectively taken down. The Merchants were either arrested or driven off after their parahuman leadership was captured. And the ABB seems to be quietly dying out after their famous leader, Lung, was arrested. Both the Protectorate and independent groups like New Wave and the Paladins are stepping up to keep new gangs from gaining a foothold in the city. But that is not all. The city is experiencing an economic boom. Brought on by an animation and comic studio of all things. White Snail Entertainment has begun to slowly transform the bay into an entertainment center for the entire U.S and even now, plans are being made to turn the old boat graveyard into a theme park that will bring in thousands of tourists and truly revitalize the city. It seems like a miracle has truly happened in Brockton Bay."
"Well," Taylor said. "Maybe it's worth it."
"Wow!" Taylor said after they got to her dad's new work site.
A long chain link fence was being erected around the entire Boat graveyard. Within it, workers in yellow hard hats scurried like ants. Bulldozers assaulted buildings and reduced them to rubble. And the rubble was then cleared away by giant trucks. In the distance, Taylor saw both Glory Girl and Laserdream fly around. Glory Girl wielding a giant hammer. And Laserdream firing her iconic lasers. Taylor vaguely remembered Valefor telling her that they had cleared it with the local authorities by exploiting a law that permitted parahumans to be hired as rouges.
"I can't believe it myself," Danny said. "They managed to do this much work in a month."
"They managed to destroy the place in a month," Taylor said dryly. "Not much to brag about." In the background, on cue, a levitating Glory Girl swung her hammer at an old warehouse wall in a golf swing.
"It's the first step," Danny said as the wall collapsed behind them. "When we demolish everything and clear the rubble, we can move onto other projects."
"Such as?" Taylor asked.
"Finish the fence. Lay in concrete foundations for selected lots. Lay in water pipes and electrical cables," Danny explained.
"That's a lot of work!" Taylor complained. "If it took a month just to clear out the rubble, then how long will it take to just lay the cables. And it will take even longer to build the park!"
"Hey now," Danny patted her back. "Rome wasn't built in a day kiddo. It'll take at least a couple of years before the park finishes."
"Years?" Taylor yelled.
"Brockton Bay has survived this long. It will manage a few more years until it's salvation is ready."
"We'll see about that," Taylor muttered under her breath.
Two years was unacceptable. They needed to move quickly. It was one more problem she will bring before her inner….her team. And they will solve it. She had faith in them, if not in the tentacle monster they served.
"You must be busy. With school, your demolitions job and the studio," Taylor said as she and Crystal sat on the bus.
The two had met when Crystal, in her alter ego as Laserdream, had come to help at the charity Taylor had ordered the cult to open. Then they had become acquaintances and then, friends. Taylor really enjoyed being friends with someone outside the cult. Sadly, Vista and Crystal were the only ones.
Amy didn't count. She was halfway converted already.
"It's cool. I need the money from the job. And the studio is my passion. So I can't really give any of them up." Crystal said.
The New Wave heroine was out of her iconic costume and in civilian clothes, with a cap over her head to hide her identity.
"I was really surprised when I saw you at the studio," Taylor leaned back in her seat. "It's the last thing I expected from Laserdream."
"New Wave was something I had to do," Crystal waved her hand. "Mom and dad pretty much saddled me with it. Art is what I want to do. It's my dream."
"That's our Mr Calvert. Empowering the dreams of youth since a couple of months ago," Taylor said dryly. "Seriously though. We all owe him a lot."
"And we owe you a lot huh?" Crystal grinned at her.
"Wha? What do you mean?" Taylor babbled, one hand reaching for her ever present phone that doubled as a panic button.
"We know how it was you who sat down with the boss and convinced him to back the studio. The story is all over the place."
"That's. Uh. I," Taylor said eloquently.
"Yup," Crystal said oblivious. "We're all really grateful for this chance. To the both of you."
"I see," Taylor said. "So….who all knows this story?"
"Just about everyone at the studio really," Crystal admitted.
"Great," Taylor said in a deadpan voice. "And do you know who might have told them?"
"Oh I think it was Mr Endring? The slightly nutty one?"
Erigor. Taylor frowned. They will be having words.
Lisa looked up from her desk to see a woman wearing a concealing brown trench coat and fedora standing before the desk. The only part of her that was visible was her porcelain white face that could have given the best supermodel image issues.
Lisa however, was not a supermodel, so she just smiled pleasantly. "Yes? Can I help you?"
The woman tucked away a stray lock of white hair that had fallen loose from her fedora and smiled pleasantly. "I understand you are recruiting new manga artists. I would like to submit my work for consideration."
"Oh! Of course!" Lisa scrambled to clear the papers littering her desk. "I will need a sample of your work and your name. Things like age and education aren't important for this job. We're equal opportunity employers."
"Of course! I have them right here!" The woman produced a plastic paper folder from within her voluminous trench coat and slid it across the desk towards Lisa.
Lisa took the folder and flipped through the sheets within. "Wow!" She said. "This is quite good." And she was being fully honest. The pages depicted heroes in costumes fighting various giant monsters in epic battles. Granted, most pages depicted the heroes losing horribly, but that could be fixed.
"Thank you." Lisa, her attention still on the pages, heard the woman talk above her. "It was a little hard to adapt my concepts to paper medium, but I think the results speak for themselves."
"Mhmm," Lisa said. Still not raising her head, she examined a picture of a city going up in flames while dozens of costumed heroes fought a giant winged tentacle monster in the sky. "And what did you use before? A tablet?"
"No. I created my art on the fabric of fate itself."
"Mhmm," Lisa said. She flipped to the next page in the folder, that had someone that looked suspiciously like Alexandria choking to death. Then what she heard registered, and Lisa slowly raised her head to meet the gaze of the smiling woman. "The fabric of fate huh? What was your name again?"
The woman's smile never wavered. "You already know my name Sarah." She shed her trench coat in a single movement, and her fedora was flicked away by a toss of her head, a cascade of silver hair falling free. All over her body, dozens of angelic wings unfurled as she levitated off the ground. "I'm your good friend Ziz!"
Lisa screamed and jumped back. Her chair clattered to the ground, Lisa tumbling over the chair and hitting the ground. She ignored the fall and continued the scramble away on all fours.
"What's the matter Sarah?" The Simurgh asked as she floated after Lisa. "Didn't you say you were an equal opportunity employer? Are you discriminating against the endbringers?"
"I don't care about discrimination!" Lisa screamed. "I just don't want to end up barking mad!"
"I never wanted this job!"
"I never wanted any of this!"
"I was perfectly happy shoplifting!"
"Aieeeeee!" Lisa screamed and jumped to her feet.
Something slapped her across the face. "Lisa! Calm down and get a grip!"
"Huh?" Lisa blinked and looked around owlishly. She was in the back of a van. There were four other boys in here with her, and she could see the landscape flashing past the windows.
Memory came flooding back and Lisa fell back into her seat with a groan. "Sorry guys. I had a nightmare."
"Focus on the mission sister," Erigor said. "Offer up your prayers to Set and your mind will be cleared."
"Yes, thanks." Lisa began to fake mutter a prayer under her breath.
The mission. Her boss, the glorious high priestess, had gotten it into her head that the construction of the giant amusement park was going too slowly, and a prayer session with a number of cultists(herself included) had produced an utterly ridiculous plan by which they might speed up the process. That had resulted in the five of them leaving Brockton Bay in this van to carry out their 'mission'. Though that lunatic Erigor kept calling it a quest.
"There it is." The voice of the driver brought Lisa's attention back to the present. "Cornell University."
It loomed ahead of them, giant rectangular buildings surrounded by a ten foot high wall. Her power told her what the buildings were, lecture halls, labs, dorms. Somewhere in there was the mission objective.
"This is a terrible idea," Lisa said.
"Have faith sister! Our divine mission has yet to lead us astray!" Lisa sometimes wondered what it was like inside Erigor's head.
The van pulled up beside the University gates, and four of then, sans the driver, piled out and made their way towards to gates. Lisa brandished a document that said they were to be interviewed by the staff for next years uni entrance, and the security let them through.
Once inside, it took them a while to get their bearings and find their way. It was a typical university, with treelines pathways between the buildings and students wandering the grounds in small groups.
"That one," Lisa said. The building she pointed at had a prominent sign that identified it as a laboratory.
They all trooped inside, with Lisa once more taking point. They went up several flights of stairs and ended up in front of one of the chemistry labs.
"This is it?" Erigor asked.
"This is it," Lisa said.
"Excellent!" Erigor immediately opened the door and rushed in.
"Hey wait!" Lisa rushed in after him.
Inside she found Erigor already confronting a half asian girl who was gaping at him. Lisa dashed over and jumped in front of him. "Whatever he said, I can explain."
"I only told her the happy new sister," Erigor said. "That she had been chosen to serve a divine purpose."
"What he said," The half asian girl said. "Though I am curious as to how you can possibly explain this."
Lisa sighed. This was going to take some work.
"So let me get this straight," The half asian girl, who turned out to be named Grace, said. "You are capes. Not just capes, you are the Fallen. And you lot worship Set. The newest Endbringer that has the tentacles. Am I right so far?"
"Correct," Lisa said.
"And your Endbringer came to you through some prayer session and told you to recruit me?" Grace went on.
"It's called the Endbringers Tarot, but essentially correct," Lisa said.
"Right, right. So…. with all this in mind, I have a question." Grace stopped and drew in a deep breath. "WHY THE FUCK SHOULD I DO THIS?"
Lisa sighed. This is going to take a while. "Let's break this down." She held up one finger. "One, you recently triggered as a tinker. A tinker that makes bombs." She watched in smug satisfaction as Grace's mouth dropped open. However she gave no sign of it as she held up the second finger. "Two, you were gonna hold the University hostage because they gave you bad grades. But you know inside that it never would have worked out. Hostage situations never do. What you want, what you really want is for them to acknowledge that they made a terrible mistake." Lisa held up the third finger. "But the best way to show them up is to go out into the world and do something great." Fourth finger. "And that's what we're offering. A chance to do something great. Something that'll write your name into history."
Grace stared at them with dropped jaw. She stared for a full five minutes.
"I think you damanged her," Scratch hissed in Lisa's ear.
"Give it a moment, she'll come around," Lisa hissed back.
"I don't know, she looks pretty out of it," Erigor said. He didn't bother to keep his voice down.
"Shhhh! She'll recover right about now," Lisa said.
And on cue, Grace came back to life. She shook her head a few times and rubbed her face before speaking. "How do you even….Oh forget it! What do you even want me to do?"
Lisa obliged. "We want you to make a bomb that will speed up time inside a large area for a set time. It's intended to speed up a construction project. Do two years work in a month. The sort of thing that will change the world. The sort of thing that'll make you legendary."
Grace gaped. "That's…..I don't even. I've never built something like that."
"Can you?" Lisa asked.
"I don't know," Grace said. "Now that I think about it I do have some ideas but…. I might be able to?"
"You won't back down from a challenge!" Lisa grinned. "I'm sure that if you put your mind to it, you can have it done in a flah. So…. what do you think? Will you join us and change the world? Become a legend among capes? Write your name into architectual projects that'll be around for thousands of years?"
Grace thought about it.
"My faithful!" Taylor roared. "Rejoice! For we are going from victory to victory!"
Her people cheered.
"We owe all this to our Devine Lord, the Holy Set!" Taylor raised her arms towards the sky. "It is by His will that we move foarward! It is by His blessing that we lay low our foes! It is by his design that we make this city a better place!"
Taylor had learned a lot since joining the cult. Giving speeches was one of many. It hadnt been easy for withdrawn girl like her, but she managed. When she froze up or her fear welled up, she imagined herself as her mom lecturing in Brockton Bay U and the cultists as her students. It had been hard to get into character at first, but now it came easy.
The proof was in her cheering followers.
"And now!" Taylor tundered. "Join me in giving thanks to Him for giving us his blessing! Hallelujah!"
Taylor spun to meet to gaze of a member of the Paladins. "What is it?"
"We caught an intruder Holy One!" Taylors heat froze. "But do not fear! Sister Amelia caught her before she alerted anyone to us. And Lord Valefor assures me that no one knows of her presence here."
Taylor breathed again. "Good. We need to decide what to do."
"About that," The paladin said. "Lord Valefor humbly requests that you come and look at her."
Taylor was curious. But that curiosity vanished the moment she saw who they had captured. The slumping captive kneeled on the ground between two paladins, one of them Sister Amelia, showing clear signs of beating and abuse. Valefor stood next to them.
"Shadow Stalker," Taylor said. "A Ward found us."
Said Ward jumped when she laid eyes on Taylor and began to struggle, but the two Paladins held her down. Shadow Stalker didn't use her power to escape however, and Taylor imagined that Valefor had commanded her not to use it.
"There's a bit more to it Holy One," Valefor said. Then in a single movement, he leaned down and pulled the Ward's mask off and Taylor met the girl's terrified gaze.
Taylor's jaw dropped. "Sophia!"
"Indeed," Valefor said. "The corruption of the city seems greater than we ever imagined."
"This is why no one did anything," Taylor said. "This is why they got away with everything."
"Yes," Valefor said. "However, we have her now. And I can only imagine that this is His will. He has delivered her unto you to be judged."
Taylor frowned. "You mean sacrifice her like Coil? I don't know. She's not as bad as him, for all her faults."
"Your compassion does you credit Holy One," Valefor said. "But we must look at this from more than one angle. If she is a gift from Him? Do you want to offend Him by refusing? And are you telling me that you never wanted vengeance on her?"
Taylor thought for a moment. Then she looked down at a frightened Sophia. Then she started to smile slowly. Then she gestured to Sister Amelia.
Emily Piggot, the director of the local PRT, put her face in her hands. "Run this by me again. Maybe the first two times will turn out to be a hallucination."
The assembled heroic might of Brockton Bay exchanged glances. Then Miss Militia stepped forward and, bravely, began narrating. "The first indication we had that something was wrong was when Shadow Stalker failed to report in for a full twenty four hours. Before we could move on that however, she emerged, in a Merchant hideout that had managed to escape the recent sweeps."
"And what a way to get our attention," Assault said.
Miss Militia ignored him and continued on. "She posted a selfie of herself with the tied up merchants and a pile of drugs on the background. We got her location from her post and rushed to the scene, but by then she had gone. But we learned some disturbing news from the captured criminals."
Again, Miss Militia ignored him. "According to them, she started by tasting some of their drugs saying she wanted to see what the big deal was, but then escalated and started dosing herself up with more and more substances. Eventually she drank an entire bottle of tinker modified LSD and started acting very erratically."
Assault flat out laughed. Battery promptly hit him upside the head.
Miss Militia stopped glaring at the red clad hero and resumed her story. "Then we lost her until we heard that she had kidnapped Panacea from Brockton General and Parian from her shop. She had threatened them into making her some….well-"
The heroes exchanged glances.
Dauntless took over the story. "She threatened Parian with death and forced the girl to make her a… well a chain-mail bikini and a crown."
Dauntless drew in a deep breath and got the other sentence out. "And she threatened Panacea and forced her to make an….. army of orcs."
"Then she declared herself Dark Lady Sophia and proceeded to attack the city and the heroes, declaring her intention to make this into her new kingdom," Armsmaster said.
"I admit, I never thought I'd be fighting orcs. Or an actual Dark Lady," Assault said. "That was a reenactment of the Lord of the Rings, right here in Brockton Bay."
"Those things were tough," Dauntless said.
"That's because there were thousands of them," Armsmaster snapped. "Tens of thousands!"
"But we won in the end," Velocity said. "Though the 'Dark Lady' escaped."
"That's a small comfort, if any!" Emily snapped. "There are videos! Videos! Of that stupid girl acting up! Revealing her identity! Attacking the city! Making a mockery of anything and everything we are and represent! It's all over the country! It'll be all over the world soon!"
"Not to mention Panacea," Armsmaster said.
"Yes," Piggott said and groaned. "In a single day, Panacea is revealed to be a biokinetic on the level of Nilbog or Bonesaw if she ever went bad, and then she's vanished!"
"We're still searching," Armsmaster assured her. "Every hero that helped in the battle has volunteered to search for her. New Wave, Paladins, Wards. We'll go ourselves once this is done. Last report said that Parian had been rescued by the Paladins from an abandoned warehouse. It's only a matter of time before we find the other two."
"Yes," Piggot said. "We need to find them both before someone else does. Or that crazy girl forces Panacea to make an army of dragons this time!"
"Sauron to Morgoth huh," Assault said under his breath.
Piggot glared at him. "Enough! Get out there and find that girl so I can strangle her! Quickly!"
"She's not in her right mind," Miss Militia said.
"That's not going to save her!"
Halfway across the city, Taylor was watching the video playing in her brand new tablet and laughing with genuine mirth. Something she discovered that she was doing a lot these days.
"Lisa," She said over her shoulder. "You're forgiven for trying to kidnap me! I'm promoting you up from secretary. This couldn't have happened without you!"
Lisa cheered from where she was making tea and proceeded to do a victory dance.
Taylor went back to watching the video of Sophia making a fool of herself and leaned back in her chair, a permanent grin on her face.
"High Priestess! Might I have a moment of your time?" Erigor stepped into the office and genuflected. Taylor absently gestured for him to continue, never taking her eyes off the screen. "Our new Sister Grace has proposed a slight alteration to Operation Tentacle Park. Instead of creating a time bubble and accelerating time inside the bubble, she proposes that we use an explosion to build the entire park in one go. Apparently she wants to make a bomb to penetrate the fabric of reality and find an alternate world where this park already exists and bring it here and make a copy of it. She also said that the risk of creating a black hole was minimal."
"Mhmm," Taylor said. Her attention was still on her tablet. "Good job. Keep it up."
Erigor blinked. Then he shook himself and genuflected. "I bow to your divine wisdom Holy One! It''ll be as you say.'
"Are you sure you want to do this Amelia?" Valefor asked.
Amy wrung her hands. "I do! I'm stuck in this rut and this is the only way to move forwards!" She drew in a deep breath and let it out. "I'm ready for this!"
Valefor placed a hand on her shoulder. "You have us. We are your brothers. We are your sisters. Whatever you do, whatever comes, we'll back you up."
Amy wiped her eyes. "Thanks Thomas. I never imagined when I infiltrated you guys that you guys would end up being my best friends."
Valefor smiled. He loved it when a new sister came into the fold. And he didn't even have to use his eyes!
"Okay," Amy said at length. "Let's do this!"
As Amy got to work, Valefor stood back and watched. Of all the things he imagined himself doing once he became a cape, helping Panacea fake her own death was not one of them.
He watched as Sister Amelia began to transform the pigs they had brought into the room. The two animals were fused, creating a single giant pig. Then, right before his eyes, the giant pig morphed and transformed into the very human body that was absolutely identical to Sister Amelia. The only difference was that this body was naked, and it had a fatal bullet wound in her chest.
"Incredible," Valefor said. "So it's identical? Even to a forensic scan?"
"Yes," Sister Amelia said. "All the fingerprints, dental records, even the DNA record should match. She even has an active Corona Gemma. But the best part? She has been aged. If someone checks her age via any method, it'll be accurate down to the last day."
"Incredible," Valefor said again. "This is the most convincing ruse I have ever seen. I suppose the next phase of your plan is also proceeding apace?"
"Oh yes," Amy said and smiled through her tears. "The letter will be delivered to my sister within the next three days, and she will find my… present when she follows it."
"Good," Valefor said. "We stand ready to do our part. As I said, we're your brothers. We're with you all the way."
Amy gave a tearful laugh.
"A lot of things have happened in Brockton Bay during the last three days," The newscaster said. "The former Ward, Shadow Stalker, went rogue and attempted to take over the city with an army of fantasy orcs, created for her under duress by a captured Panacea. The rogue Ward managed to escape, but her army was eventually crushed by the combined efforts of our local heroes."
Taylor grinned. She was sitting in her office with her tablet in her hands. One other person occupied the office, cowering in the corner.
"Shadow Stalker is said to have been under the influence of several drugs during the incident, drugs she seized from the now defunct Merchants," The newscaster said. "But there is little sympathy for the former Ward, since her rampage resulted in the death of Panacea. The body of the famous healer was found earlier today and the public responded with outrage. Shadow Stalker has been declared a villain and a warrant has been issued for her arrest. PRT director Emily Piggot issued a statement condemning Shadow Stalker and her actions. But the public are reluctant to accept her apology. And with Shadow Stalker's identity revealed, new issues about her behavior are coming to light that question the PRT's ability to manage the parahumans under their care…..."
Taylor switched off the tablet and smiled at the cowering girl who stood in the corner.
"Well Sophia? What will you do now?" She looked at her fingernails. "I'm a woman of principles and would never hold you here against your will. I'll let you go the moment you say the word." She chuckled as Sophia whimpered. "Of course, you can stay here too. You have just lost everything. Your life has collapsed around you. Your identity is out. Though it might not matter as you no longer even qualify as a parahuman. You are a fugitive and can't set foot outside without getting arrested. I will give you sanctuary. I happen to need a new secretary."
"I….I," Sophia stammered.
"Hmm? What was that dear?" Taylor switched her tablet on again. "You need to speak up."
"I'll stay," Sophia said.
"And?" Taylor poked at her tablet, completely ignoring Sophia.
Sophia burst into tears. "I'll be your secretary."
"They're calling it the 'Miracle of Panacea'," Miss Militia said as she wiped a tear from her eye. Next to her, Clockblocker burst into full on tears. Even Assault was serious for once, and Battery was silently weeping.
They were standing in what had once been an abandoned warehouse in the trainyard. Now the warehouse was gone and a giant golden tree had taken its place. Currently the tree had been cordoned off by the PRT troops who were busy erecting a more permanent barrier of concrete and steel. Though no one had been able to remove Glory Girl, who was hugging the tree and weeping.
"As far as I can tell, Glory Girl got a pre-prepared message three days after Panacea passed," Armsmaster said. "And when she followed it she found the tree. It seems to be a contingency prepared by Panacea in case she died suddenly."
"That girl was a lot smarter than anyone gave her credit for," Assault said.
"Do you know if it works?" Miss Militia asked.
"They were tested on animals and they work so far," Armsmaster said. "We almost have the approval to test on humans."
"They won't have a choice but to approve," Miss Militia said. "The demand for them is too high and we have positive results from animals."
"A tree that produces fruit that can cure any illness," Assault marveled. "It's like finding the philosopher's stone."
"Even in death, she thought about others," Armsmaster said. "That girl truly was a hero."
There was a thud as Dauntless landed next to them, the greek themed hero stared at the scene near the tree for a moment before turning to the group. "That consultant guy? Thoms something? He's pressing to turn this place into a commemorative park and shrine for Panacea."
"There director won't allow that!" Armsmaster said.
"He had the mayor onboard when I left," Dauntless shook his head. "And the moment it leaks to the public, people will mob the PRT to make it happen."
"It deserves to happen!" Clockblocker cried through a fresh flood of tears. Miss Militia reached over and hugged him.
"It will end up happening," Armsmaster said. "It's barely been a day since this was revealed and already the momentum behind this is incredible. People want it. Capes want it. Politicians want it. These fruits will be made available and the tree will be in the center of a memorial park."
"On another matter," Dauntless said. "The director still wants us to bring in Shadow Stalker, by any means necessary."
Armsmaster gritted his teeth. "We will. She will not get away with this."
"Sophia!" Clockblocker growled as he lifted his head from Miss Militia's bosom. He was promptly pulled back down.
"You mustn't give into revenge," Armsmaster said even as he gripped his weapon tightly. "We will give this poor girl justice. Not retribution."
"Yes," Miss Militia said. "She killed a cape and there's overwhelming evidence. This won't quite get her the Birdcage. And it's not a kill order, but she will never be a free woman again when we get her. This won't be something she can ever brush off. Even if she starts off at juvie, she'll be transferred to regular prison when she comes of age."
"Good riddance," Clockblocker snarled.
"I feel like I failed," Armsmaster grunted as they watched the wailing Glory Girl being forcefully pulled off the tree by her family. "I could have stopped this. I should have seen this coming."
"We all should have," Dauntless said. "This could have been avoided, yes. We should have done so many thing, yes. But it's too late."
"We can only do right by her legacy," Miss Militia said and Clockblocker burst into a fresh flood of tears.
Later that day, the Good End Charity Clinic had two visitors. They occupied the empty consulting room, as the clinic was closed that day.
"And then!" Glory Girl wailed. "And then she waved goodbye to me from the hospital roof!" Sniffle. "She looked so beautiful in her white robes! Like Mother Teresa! Like Florence Nightingale!"
Wordlessly, sister Amelia held out a Panacea plushy, being newly manufactured and marketed in the Boardwalk. Glory Girl grabbed it and hugged it.
"I miss her so much!" Glory Girl wailed. Sister Amelia patted her head.
"She was my baby sister!" Glory Girl cried and snorted mucus down her nose.
"Actually, wasn't she slightly older?" Sister Amelia asked as she held out a tissue.
"I don't care!" Glory Girl blew her nose. "She felt so little as I flew her back from hospital everyday! She was like a little puppy I had to look after!"
"Really?" Sister Amelia asked as the white clad heroine continued sobbing.
"Yes! She was so innocent! So pure! She never harmed a soul!" Sister Amelia winced in her helmet. "Even in death she thought about how to help people!" Sister Amelia looked away guiltily. "She was an angel in human form!"
"There now Vicky," Sister Amelia said as she hugged the sobbing girl. "You must hold on. For your family! For your friends!" The sobbing only intensified, with Glory Girl once more blowing her nose with a noise like a foghorn.
"Um, look," Sister Amelia reached up and unclasped her helmet. "Since there seems to be no one else to do it, and you really seem to need it right now, I'll be your….friend! I'll back you up! Whatever you need! Both as cape and civilian!"
Glory Girl looked up, saw what Sister Amelia was doing, and reached out to stop her. "No! Wait! You don't have to unmask for me! It's fine! I'm fine!"
"It's not fine!" Sister Amelia said as she removed her helmet revealing her face. "You really need a friend right now!"
Glory Girl paused, then she wiped her eyes and smiled tearfully. "Thanks. You have really nice hair by the way. It's almost my color."
Sister Amelia blushed. "Thanks. So, I'm Amelia. Looking to be your friend in this shitty hour," She held out her hand.
Glory Girl giggled tearfully and took her hand. "I'm Vicky. And I really need a friend right now."
The two shared a smile.
"Brockton Bay is on the map," Valefor said to the inner circle. "With the healing tree being approved this will be the place everyone who needs healing will come to. At least until it's been duplicated."
"According to Sister Amelia, even though the seeds can be planted to grow new trees, these new trees won't give healing fruit until they mature. And that will take a few years." Eligos said.
"We have until then," Valefor said. "Five years at least, ten a the most."
"Brockton Bay will be a world hub for medical needs," Lisa said. "Everyone will come here. And I mean everyone."
"We can ask for anything," Valefor said. "Money to rebuild the city. More men for the police force. Better transport systems. Anything."
"We can once we get the mayor on side," Taylor reminded them.
"He will see the light!" Dinah insisted. "We just need to send in the right emissary!"
"You mean Thomas?" Lisa asked snarkily.
"No!" Dinah snapped. "We need you! And me! And we need to show him the good work we do and he will come around! I spent days asking questions and have all positive answers. I know this can be done!"
"We were going to talk to the mayor anyway," Taylor said. "Lisa! See to it at once! Send an embassy to the mayor and show him our ways."
"Yes Holy One!" Lisa saluted.
"I expect results!" Taylor glared.
"Yes Holy One!" Lisa gulped.
"Good! Now how is Amelia settling into her new life?" Taylor asked.
"I believe she's happy Holy One," Valefor said. "We have heard singing and laughter from her room. And her only source of guilt seems to be the feeling of loss her sister Victoria is feeling about her 'death'. It's a honest miracle why this girl didn't jump ship earlier."
"Huh. I suppose we ended up helping her in the end," Taylor nodded. "We did a good thing."
"Sure we did," Lisa sniggered behind her hand, and jumped as Valefor glared at her.
"You can always be demoted again Sister Lisa," Valefor's voice was pleasant.
"Now, I do believe that we helped Sister Amelia," Valefor said. "But I believe we need to keep an eye on her during this stressful time."
Taylor sighed and rubbed her face. "Alright, I'll do it myself. I have little enough to do now."
"She will be honored!" Erigor cried. "That you yourself will take an interest in her well being! Truly an honor!"
Taylor considered telling him that she was merely bored. "I care for my children," She said instead, and was rewarded by the looks of adoration on the faces of her followers and a knowing look on Lisa's. One glare was all it took to cow the blonde.
"So it is decided," Taylor said. "We send an embassy to the mayor headed by Lisa and Dinah, and I personally will take care of Sister Amelia." She stood up. "Send for my secretary, I need a good cup of tea."
Carol Dallon was back in her favorite bar, and she even ran into that one guy in the fedora she vaguely remembered from the last time she came here, before she had passed out.
She was also quite drunk.
"And I never really gave her a chance!" She wailed into the fedora man's shoulder. "I never looked at her and kissed the top of her head! I never told her 'Well done Amy!' even once."
"I never congratulated her on her grades!"
"I never encouraged her hobbies!"
"I never encouraged her to do sports!"
"I never gave her enough pocket money!"
"I sneaked into her room and read her diary!"
"As you say."
"I stole her mail!"
"Fuck my life."
"I'm a terrible mother!" Carol wailed.
The fedora man patted her back awkwardly.
Carol blew her nose into the fedora man's coat and hiccuped.
"I'd say this is karmic justice if it wasn't me dealing with you," The fedora man gently transferred Carol into his other shoulder.
Carol mumbled incoherently and reached blindly for another bottle of vodka. The fedora man obligingly put one in her hand.
"Say," The fedora man said as she chugged half the bottle. "You wouldn't consider the possibility that she faked her death and ran off somewhere? Like maybe to join a cult? Specifically an Endbringer cult?"
"Thasssshhh Stooooid," Carol shook her head. The bottle fell from her shaking fingers and shattered on the bar floor. "Mah shhhhweeet Arrrmy woon doooo tashhh!" She hiccuped, and threw up all over the fedora man.
Then she fell insensate.
The fedora man stared at her for a moment before sighing, picking her up in his arms, throwing her over his other shoulder and standing up. "As much as I want to leave you here, I think you suffered enough."
He threw a few bills onto the table and walked out, vomit on one shoulder, blonde on the other.
"Alright!" Valefor commanded from within the mission control they had set up within their underground headquarters. "Proceed with operation Instant Build!"
"Yes Sir!" A multitude of voices shouted.
Valefor watched through helmet cams as across the city, teams of capes moved into position.
One group took up position on a rooftop in a building a good ways away from the boat graveyard and set up a long range camera to keep a bird's eye view over the entire area.
The second group piled into a white van that slowly drove up next to the large fence that had been erected around the entire boat graveyard and simply cruised along. Keeping the area under surveillance from close range.
The third group consisted of two men, wearing the uniforms of the night watchmen and actually inside the boat graveyard. They had been given the job after the regular men had temporarily taken sick, courtesy of Sister Amelia.
The fourth and final group pulled up to the chain link in another white van.
The side door of the van facing the fence opened, and Eligos jumped out. In less than a minute, he had used wind blades to cut a man shaped hole in the fence, covered from the street by the body of the van, another pair of cultists jumped out and pulled out a rather bulky box between them.
They carefully carried the box through the newly made hole and proceeded into the boat graveyard, guided by one of the fake security guards.
Back in mission control, Valefor turned to look at the girl beside him. "Steps one through three are done. It's now time to put your creation to the test."
Grace had both her hands in her mouth, biting her fingernails.
Valefor turned to face the monitors again.
On the monitors, the three cultists had placed the box they had in the very middle of the yard and were now rapidly moving back to the opening they made on the wall.
Valefor watched patiently as they exited without issue and got into the van. "Alright! Final mission check. Team one!"
"All clear!" The rooftop team checked in.
"All clear!" The team in the moving van responded.
On Valefor's other side, Dinah Alcott scrunched up her face. "All clear!"
"We're clear!" Erigor reported.
Valefor nodded, gave Grace a smile, and placed the remote in her hand. He had been holding onto it because he could see that Grace was panicking and was liable to jump the gun. "In the name of Set! Proceed!"
Grace raised the remote in her shaking hand, closed her eyes, mumbled a prayer to Set just to be safe, and pressed the big red button.
A day later, Grace was in cloud nine.
She had good reason to be. Her masterpiece had attracted attention across the world. She had done it! Revolutionized the building of buildings! Even cities! She had made history! Not even Mannequin or Hero in their heyday had ever pulled off something like this. Now she would be called on to do even greater projects! The greatest architectural marvels mankind has ever conceived.
She was a fucking genius, and now everyone knew.
She had gone off to celebrate her good fortune in a convenient bar in the territory her new gang/cult controlled.
She had had a good time, despite several people hitting on her and witnessing two bar fights. Now she was on her way back after getting thoroughly smashed, and stumbling through the dark streets.
Once she wouldn't have done this, she had heard stories from her teammates about just how the city used to be. But with two of the three gangs in the city neutered and the third on the way out, she was safe.
It was precisely what she was thinking when a tentacle reached out from an alley she was passing, wrapped around her waist, pinned her arms to her sides before wrapping around the lower half of her face and effectively gagging her, before it lifted her bodily off the ground and pulled her into the dark alley.
Within the alley, the terrified and suddenly sober girl found herself facing an entire mass of writhing tentacles coming out of a shimmering portal that hung suspended in mid air.
"Sorry dear," A smooth and echoing voice spoke directly in her head, and Grace started struggling anew. "But that last stunt you pulled almost destroyed the world, and with a second trigger you can technically make a bomb that can kill even me. So you need some nerfing. Don't worry, you won't remember most of this."
A second tentacle lifted up and started to approach her, and grace totally regretted all the hentai she ever watched. Her struggles intensified, and she started to scream hysterically through the tentacle gagging her.
From outside the alley there were several muffled screams and squelching sounds, before a dishevelled and panicking Grace stumbled out of the alley and ran screaming down the street.
"Help! Help!" She screamed hysterically. "I was molested by a tentacle monster!"
Passerby turned to stare as she ran past, until eventually she ran right into a police officer.
"Oh thank god!" Grace sobbed. "You have to help me! I was pulled into an alley by a tentacle monster and then it molested me!"
"It put a tentacle inside me!" Grace babbled.
The officer took a long look at her and smelled her, and the alcohol on her. "I see miss, if you'll come this way?"
"So," Taylor said. "First of all, how is Grace?"
"We got her out of the drunk tank Holy One," Valefor said. "She's sleeping it off."
"Good. And her project? Does it work?" Taylor directed the next question towards Lisa.
"Oh it worked," Lisa said as she gripped her head in her hands. "In layman's terms, she somehow made a bomb that punched a hole into an alternate world, a world where in theory this park already existed, and superimposed it on our world. I get headaches just imagining how this works. How did she even reach an alternate world, much less manipulate time and space enough so that it allowed this level of access? How did she select the one world that had what we wanted? How could she make a portal big enough to bring an entire building complex through without destroying the entire planet by collapsing it into an spatial anomaly or creating a fucking black hole? Urrgghh! My head!" She moaned into her hands.
"I see," Taylor took it in stride. "Someone get her an aspirin and a glass of water. So we have our park. The next step is getting it accepted by the PRT. How is that going?"
"Badly Holy One," Valefor said. "Despite Sister Grace confessing and offering to submit a full account of what she did, the PRT has cordoned it off and is threatening to declare it quarantined and seize the property. Your father is livid about that part."
"We can't have that!" Taylor snapped. She meant both the park being seized and her dad being mad.
"We will act at once Holy One!" Erigor yelled. "You need but say the word! And we shall take the PRT and the Protectorate both by storm! And we shall strike them down with our righteous wrath!"
Taylor sighed and muttered a prayer to Set. Then she caught what she had done and growled. "No! We actually want this park to go public. Not turn it into a fortress under siege." She looked around. "Any other ideas?"
Dinah raised her hand. "We use the fans!"
"Come again?" Taylor asked.
"We get the people to force the vile PRT to open the park!" Dinah elaborated.
"You mean, storm the gates with an angry mob?" Valefor asked.
Lisa frowned. "That can….work. If we call out to the manga fans, and the actual fan clubs. And make a real big go of it."
"99.231 chance it will work," Dinah said smugly.
"Well," Taylor considered it. "We need to do something. And this plan is Thinker approved." She turned to Valefor. "Thomas, you get Coil and start working the official media." She turned to Lisa. "Lisa, you start working on social media." She turned to Erigor. "You organize the mob, Lisa will see to it that your numbers are reinforced by her social media campaign." She turned to Dinah. "Dinah, school, now!" Dinah pouted and Lisa sniggered as Taylor turned finally to Sophia. "Sophia! Coffee!"
Not twelve hours later, Taylor had her mob.
"Good evening everyone! This is Brockton Bay News! And I'm your host Kyle Smith!" The blonde and dashing newsman said in front of the camera. "We're here in front of the newly dubbed 'White Snail Amusement Park' as the furious fans finally overpower the PRt and occupy the park by force. Construction of the park began months ago as the newly made White Snail Entertainment company met with startling success in both their manga and anime lines. At the time the new company, emboldened by their success, decided to take a daring step and open an entire amusement park dedicated to their products. It has everything. Theaters, games, rides, mock-ups of the anime city their series take place in, and most impressive, a fifty foot statue of the main villain of their most famous manga line, Magical Girl Destroyer Cupcake! But yesterday, something extraordinary happened. A dedicated fan who's name is withheld, who also happened to be a tinker, decided that the projected three year build time for the park was too long to wait. She stole the blue prints and made a tinker device that built the entire park in an instant!" The reporter gestured behind him. "The city awoke to find this!" He chuckled. "Of course our PRT immediately acted to cordon off the area and ensure that it's safe. But that wasn't going to sit with the fans. It started as a social media movement, then official complaints, then a horde of fans and citizens stormed the PRT lines and forced their way into the park and are now occupying it, demanding that the park be opened." The reporter gestured helplessly. "While we can all see that this will bolster the economy of the city and start a much needed revival, we're divided in what road to take. Can we accept this park built by technology we know nothing about? Something that can collapse any moment like all tinker made products? Or do we take a chance."
"Colin! Colin!" Dragon's voice in his helmet speaker pulled him from watching the disaster unfold before him. "What is it Dragon?"
"There's a weird report from Set!" Dragon's voice sounded excited. "He's displaying erratic behavior!"
Armsmaster ducked a trown egg. Rotten, his hud informed him. "Huh? What's he doing?"
"He ripped the roof off an alcohol factory in Kentucky and drank the entire stock!"
Armsmaster froze. "What?" This time the rotten egg didn't miss. He cursed and began to wipe the rotten substance off himself.
"He drank the contents of an entire alcohol factory!" Dragon continued, oblivious. "He's never done that before!"
"I sympathize with him," Armsmaster grumbled as the mob surged forward again.
Just a month ago, they had been full of hope. Just a month ago, the last of the gangs that plagued the city had been stamped out and a new amusement park and a thriving manga and anime industry had opened, giving them all hope that the city might come out of the hole it had dug for itself. The head of the DWU had even successfully petitioned to have the ferry reopened. For the first time in a long time, Hannah had been hopeful.
Now as she stood with the other capes before the full triumvirate, she wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Anytime they dared to let themselves hope, this happened.
Her eyes swept over the assembled capes.
All the Brockton Bay Protectorate were here. Most of the Wards were here. Even the team from Boston and capes from Chicago and Houston had turned up. New wave was out in force. The new team, the Paladins were fully assembled, Glory Girl was among them.
Even the villains, what remained of them in this city at least, had come. Though there was a good turnout from Boston. Accord and his Ambassadors, even that creep Blasto and his plantmen.
Everyone came to an Endbringer fight.
Hero or villain, this is something they all had in common. No matter how vile the criminal or how far away the hero, they all came together to fight the endbringers. This was why they tolerated the villains and why they played this ridiculous game. This was why the world needed heroes.
She turned her attention towards Legend, who was speaking.
"We have detected Leviathan approaching the city at great speed. We believe he will try to smash the buildings with walls of water, but we also believe that this will be a distraction. This city is built on a reservoir, a reservoir that Leviathan will try to destabilize. If he succeeds then the entire city will sink. The Endbringer shelters will not be able to save anyone if the land itself collapses. This is what we must prevent, we must meet Leviathan and hold him, and hold him long enough so that he either retreats or Scion gets here." Legend looked grimly at the assembled capes. "An Endbringer battle is serious business. If we lose only one out of every three capes who enter the battle, then we consider it a victory. The objective of this battle is not to kill Leviathan, not to drive him back, it's to hold the line!" He raised a fist. "But no one else will do it, so we must do it! So thank you for coming here, thank you for doing this….."
Hannah let the words wash over her. She lined up with the others and got her arm band. She joined the fire support team with the other ground bound blasters and waited till she was teleported into the staging area. Out into the city that was being pelted with rain.
Above her she could see the flying blasters led by the glowing form of Purity floating at the ready. She drew in a deep breath and converted the ever present weapon in her hands into a handheld missile launcher.
She was ready.
Inside one of the Endbringer shelters, the occupants were not civilians.
"There has to be something more I can do?" Taylor cried.
"You yourself are not a Parahuman," Valefor said patiently. "Just as I can do absolutely nothing against one of the Holy Endbringers. We do what we must."
"But, but," Taylor was in near tears.
"Holy One!" Valefor gripped her shoulders. "Believe in yourself! Those people are depending on you! You can do this!"
Taylor sniffled, wiped tears from her eyes, and nodded.
She left Valefor behind as she entered the inner sanctum of their temple, a long hall that was dominated at one end by the fifteen foot tall statue of the Endbringer. It was here that she had sacrificed Coil. It was here that she had led the cult in their worship. And now, it was here that she came when all other options were exhausted.
She stopped before the statue, and knelt. She clasped both her hands in a gesture of prayer.
She took a moment to center herself. She knew that this had worked once. She knew that Set favored her. So she had to hope.
She drew in a deep breath and began. "Oh Holy Set! I, your High Priestess! Implore you! Our city is beset by Leviathan! He's going to destroy the city! He's going to kill everyone! My friends, my dad, even that bitch Sophia!" She sniffled. "She wanted to go fight you know? Even with her being hunted. Thomas had to use a compulsion on her to stop her. But our team is out there! And Vista! And Vicky! So please! Help us! Use your weird tentacle powers or the Endbringer phone book or whatever! Just please help us!"
And before Taylor's astonished eyes, a portal opened before her, and a tentacle came through. Said tentacle patted her on the head before contorting to give her a thumbs up and withdrew via the portal, which snapped closed.
"High Priestess?" Valefor poked his head into the sanctum. "Are you….okay?"
Taylor shook her head and got to her feet. "I think so? I think he told me that he has things in hand. Either that or he started to molest me and then realized that I'm underage."
Valefore stared at her. "You've been reading too much of those manga."
"Get ready!" Legends voice shouted over the comms as the capes in the front lines braced for impact. "Shields! Shields!"
Hundreds of force fields of all shapes, sizes and colors popped into existence, forming a wall before the rapidly approaching walls of water.
Then, before the astonished eyes of the entire assembled capes, the giant tsunami simply lost momentum. The sea just calmed, and the rain stopped.
Then a giant portal opened in mid air, and the fourth and newest Endbringer dropped out of it before flying forwards and grabbing Leviathan with it's tentacles. Leviathan was large, but Set dwarfed him. He lifted the struggling Leviathan into the air. And then another giant portal opened in mid air, and Set flew through it, Leviathan still gripped in it's tentacles. The portal closed, and there was utter silence.
The assembled capes all just stood there, or floated in mid air, staring t the suddenly clear sky and the calm ocean, and the total lack of a Leviathan.
"What the fuck!" That was Alexandria.
Three days later, Taylor sat on her couch in front of her TV, eating popcorn.
"People are still celebrating what many call a miracle!" The newscaster said. "In a move that surprised the entire world, the newest Endbringer, known as Set, intervened in the Endbringer battle of Brockton Bay. The Endbringer Leviathan attacked the city and the defending capes braced for the battle of a lifetime. But then, at the last moment, Set intervened and wrestled Leviathan away, taking him through a portal to an unknown location….."
"Some miracle huh?" Her dad came up to the couch and stole some of her popcorn. "Still he saved the city. And if Set runs for mayor, he has my vote."
"Dad!" Taylor grinned. "That was terrible. And I'm sure he won't run for mayor. Only ask that we all worship him."
Danny laughed. "Hah! We can use the new amusement park as his temple. That giant statue already looks like him."
Taylor did her best not to look shifty. "Heh Heh! What a remarkable coincidence! It does look like him does it not? Heh heh!"
"Well coincidences aside," Danny said. "This is the first time an Endbringer was a hero!"
In an uninhabited earth above the ocean that men would name the Atlantic, the monster known as Leviathan was swimming through the oceans at massive speeds. He used his hydrokinesis to send tsunami hundreds of feet tall at the coast, but there were no cities to wash away, and no people to strike down. Forests and animals still perished, but no sentients. The only audience it had was the giant form of Set, that watched from low orbit for a long time before disappearing from that earth forever via another portal.
For once, Danny Hebert was eating breakfast alone.
His daughter had been called in to her part time job at the comic studio. Between the charity work, her job and school, she was keeping pretty busy. He really didn't like Taylor working so hard. He especially didn't like her working a job at this age, but seeing how happy she was, he didn't have the heart to even speak up against it.
So he sat and munched on his bacon, happy at how things had worked out for the both of them, and listened to the tv playing the morning news.
"The world watches with wonder as fourth new Endbringer, Set, keeps stopping the attacks of the other Endbringers," The newscaster was saying. "So far, he has stopped attacks by Leviathan, Behemoth, Simurgh. And when the fifth Endbringer, named Konsu appeared, Set intervened and stopped the attack almost as soon as it began. Each of the Endbringers Set defeats are never seen again, and the Protectorate has announced with certainty that these Endbringers have been completely banished from the world." Danny grinned and saluted the on screen image of Set with his Coffee mug. "With this obvious display of heroism, combined with the fact that Set never really harmed anyone, the world has started to see an Endbringer differently for the first time since their appearance. The public are seeing Set as a hero. And the Protectorate has announced that they will not be moving against the friendly Endbringer without provocation. With that, the only enemy Set has is Scion, the golden man himself, who has never stopped chasing down and attacking Set at every opportunity. A lot of people have started to criticize Scion for his actions against Set, and for the first time, there is a strong resentment against Scion in social media and other public forums-"
Danny switched off the tv and dumped both his plate and coffee mug in the sink for washing later. As far as he was concerned, anyone who saved his city from certain destruction was a hero in his book. The PRT might complicate things needlessly, Scion might be a few cards short of a deck, but the facts were obvious to anyone with eyes.
Flechette of the New York Wards was having a good time.
She had come to Brockton Bay on holiday and visited the new amusement park there. She had gone on the rides, played at the game booths and had even taken part in the cosplay. She had even met with the local heroes in her civilian identity and they had really been nice.
She was still in her civvies and walking along the dark streets of the downtown area.
Once she would never have done this out of costume. But Brockton Bay had recently been recognized as one of the most crime free cities in the United States. All three of the gangs that plagued the city were gone. The Merchants caught by the PRT. The ABB destroyed by the Paladins. And the E88 had died a quiet death after someone had tipped off the heroes about the locations of their capes. The E88 capes had all been captured and the rest of the organization had simply folded. So now it was possible for a girl to walk through the city in provocative clothing and be completely unharmed.
She regretted ever thinking such thoughts when a tentacle reached out from an alley she was passing, wrapped around her waist, pinned her arms to her sides before wrapping around the lower half of her face and effectively gagging her, before it lifted her bodily off the ground and pulled her into the same dark alley that another female cape had been dragged into a few months ago.
Within the alley, the struggling and silently screaming Flechette found herself facing an entire mass of writhing tentacles coming out of a shimmering portal that hung suspended in mid air.
"Sorry Lily," A smooth and echoing voice spoke directly in her head, and Flechette started struggling anew. "But it's time for me to finish the main quest. And to do this, I need you. Correction, I need what's inside you." It paused as Flechette screamed into the tentacle gagging her and started to struggle hysterically. "Even as I say this I realize that under these circumstances you will take it the wrong way." There was a sigh inside Flechettes head. "I'll make this up to you. Promise."
A second tentacle lifted up and started to approach her, and Flechette went deathly still and watched the approaching appendage with wide eyes.
Those outside the alley finally heard the sounds of struggles and screaming before the disheveled figure of Flechette shot out of the alley as if she had been shot out a gun.
"Help! Help!" She screamed hysterically as she ran down the street. "I was molested by a tentacle monster!"
Passerby and shopkeepers turned to stare as she ran past, but none of them acted too surprised. After all, they had seen this before. And there had been more than one cosplayer wandering around if a tentacle costume. It was one of the dangers of living in a manga mecca.
But this meant that no one came to help poor Flechette, and she kept screaming and running until she quite literally ran into someone before coming to a stop.
She found herself caught up in a pair of arms and steadied, and looked up to see the face of a beautiful brown skinned girl looking at her with concern.
"Oh thank god!" Flechette sobbed. "You have to help me! I was pulled into an alley by a tentacle monster and then it molested me!"
"It put a tentacle inside me!" Flechette babbled.
The dark skinned girl ignored the hysteria and pulled Flechette into a hug. "Okay. Calm down and I'll help you."
"Thank….thank you!" Flechette sobbed.
"I'm Sabah," Her rescuer said. "Let's sit you down and get some coffee inside you first."
Above the skies of New York, for the first time, Set stopped running.
The watching capes, PRT, media, and birdwatchers all collectively gaped as Set started firing what looked like a storm of purple lasers at the golden figure of Scion. It looked like ten thousand rapid fire laser cannons from the Star Wars universe were all unloading at once.
Before the astonished eyes of the watchers, Scion raised a golden force field to tank the laser blasts…..and the purple lasers punched right through the golden force field and stuck the golden man.
Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of laser blasts pelted to body of the golden man. And for an instant reality itself seemed to shift above the skies of New York. The watchers saw for an instant what seemed to be a desolate world, a moon sized abomination above it, and the thousands of purple lasers pelting it.
There was another scream.
This one was not sound, but every single parahuman across the world heard it.
Then the vision was gone, and Scion fell dead.
The watchers just stared as his golden body disintegrated before it ever touched the ground.
Then Set just turned and flew off into the distance.
There was silence.
"This is a great day!" Taylor roared. "Our divine lord has stuck down Scion himself!"
The cultists cheered.
"He has stuck down the Endbringers that dared to attack cities and leave this world ruined! He stuck down a golden god that dared to challenge him! If any doubted him, now they do not! He is supreme! He is Set! Praise him! Praise Set!"
Taylor raised her arms to the heavens.
Taylor smiled as she watched her people. Valefor and Erigor in the front, hands raised in prayer. Lisa and Amelia right beside them with Dinah standing in front of Lisa. And she held back a full grin as she saw Sophia in the back, praising Him right alongside Thomas Calvert.
Taylor felt tears threatened to fall.
She wasn't a hero. She hadn't gone out in a costume and beaten up villains. But she had done what no hero could do. She had saved the city even as Set had saved the world. She still didn't know if He really was a god. But honestly she didn't care.
It wasn't about labels. It was about what you did.
"A surprising revelation has come to light following the death of Scion," The newscaster was saying. "As is so often the case these days, this newsworthy event happened in Brockton Bay. Prominent heroes, businessmen, and charity workers have come forward and admitted to being worshippers of the heroic endbringer Set. These people are clamoring that their worship be recognized and given free reign under the freedom of worship act. And given the fact that the entire world is now singing his praises after the way he banished the evil endbringers and has only proceeded to help people since, it looks like it will be granted. In fact, a debate is being held in Washington right now about this very issue, and it looks heavily in favor of Set worship-"
Vicky switched off the tablet and turned to face her girlfriend. "You know, I never would have pegged you for an endbringer cultist."
Amelia giggled. "Neither did I. But I eventually saw the light."
"Still, I'm kind of disappointed that you're not the old style endbringer cultist. The kind who will tie a girl down to an alter and sacrifice her to the dark gods!"
"Well…..." Amelia drawled as she pulled Vicky into a hug. "We have an alter. And if we sneak you in when everyone's out-"
"-Can you two keep your erotic fantasies down?" Sabah complained from where she sat at the table next to theirs with her own girlfriend. They were all in the giant amusement park that used to be the boat graveyard. "We're trying to get some actual work done. Why don't you keep it subtle, like those two." she indicated Madison Clements and Greg Vedar, cosplaying as a magical girl and tentacle monster and wrapped in each other.
Amelia burst out laughing. "Oh set! How the world has changed." In the distance she saw Taylor relaxing at another table, with her newest secretary standing behind her holding a terrified expression and a coffee pot. Amy forgot her name, Emma something? "I never would have imagined this a year ago."
"Nor me," Vicky said. "But you know what? Things turned out fine."
In the sky above them, the giant tentacled form of Set flew above the city.
Armsmaster army crawled on his belly through the thick grass till he reached the ridge, and carefully….carefully, peaked over the top.
The advanced cameras built into his helmet zoomed in and magnified and enhanced the image better than any mundane camera could have.
"Dragon!" He whispered. "I found her!"
"Alright!" Dragon cheered over the commlink. "Does she have her fedora?"
Armsmaster checked. "No she doesn't. In fact she seems to….." He cut off as things started happening suddenly.
The fedora woman- sans fedora- had been sitting on a rock with her head in her hands weeping.
Then suddenly, the controversial endbringer known to the world as Set dropped out of the sky to hover over the fedora woman. And in it's tentacle it held… Armsmaster focused his helmet cam more.
"What the fuck?"
Set held out three tentacles towards the fedora woman. And held in those three tentacles was a teddy bear -wearing a fedora-, a bouquet of flowers, and in the final tentacle…. A fedora.
Before the astonished eyes of the tinker, the fedora woman stopped crying, took the fedora and put it on her head, took the teddy and stuck it under her arm and accepted the flowers with her free hand.
"I need M/S protocols. I think I've gone mad."
"I'll do it personally."