AN: Still not satisfied with my work here. I just wanted to portray how susceptible the Endbringers are to Card Holders.

Edit: Made minor revisions on some scenes.

She listened from the stairs as her Dad spoke on the phone. They were supposed to leave this Friday for a weekend camping trip, but this sudden call from the Mayor's office may have put everything on hold. Minutes later, the phone conversation ended and her Dad came to her.

"Hey, kiddo," Danny Hebert was rubbing his neck, "I'm really sorry, but the Mayor wanted to meet with me today. There's a group of investors interested in opening the ferry. I know you've been excited for this trip, it's just that-."

"It's all right, Dad," she answered, "This is very important. It could mean jobs for everyone in the union. There's always a next time."

"Yeah, don't worry, we can always go next time."

Since then, there was almost never time for them to be together. She couldn't exactly blame her Dad. Ever since Mom died, there seemed to be a wall that divided them. Probably due to their way of dealing with grief. She concentrated more on doing things, helping people, and raising money in her own way. Her Dad, on the other hand, spent more of his time working on the ferry revival, and generating work desperately needed by the Dock Workers' Union.

Very rarely did they meet in the house. Most of the time, they simply left messages for each other on the fridge, or through Hannah, when she began living in their home.

The thought of Dad's girlfriend still gave her mixed feelings, but she had to admit that he looked much happier compared to when her Mom died. What really bothered her was that her Dad started leaving things at home for Hannah to take care of, just like when her Mom was still alive. Like nothing's changed.

But everything has changed.

Her Mom was still gone.

Deep down, she felt that her Dad was still in denial over Mom's death, that he's using Hannah as a replacement. The woman seemed comfortable with the way things were, which was a good thing. But that wasn't right way to deal with grief. He needed to accept the truth already, to finally gain the strength to move on and live his life again.

And be the father that she desperately needed.

She missed her old Dad. She missed his laughter. She missed his anger. She missed his focus. She missed everything that made Danny Hebert her Dad.

Maybe… Maybe if he spent more time with her.

If he no longer kept asking her for a 'Next time'.

She wouldn't feel so tired living in this world anymore. She wouldn't feel so tired of looking at a man wearing the form of her father.

She's already running out of 'Next times' to give.

Chapter 13: A False Angel Shall Die

Australian War Memorial

Campbell, Canberra

2:30 p.m.

"Zelretch, meet Lancer," Taylor began, "Lancer, meet Zelretch."

"Hello, Lancer," Zelretch greeted stiffly.

The old man was confident that he had seen everything, what with being the Kaleidoscope that travelled all over the multiple universes. Although even he had to admit that seeing two enemy card holders approaching him, without trying to kill each other, was something he didn't see every day. It sure reminded him that there really was a first time for anything.

"Uhm," Zelretch began, "Something you wanted to say, Ruler?"

The woman with purple hair and red eyes giggled while Taylor face-palmed.

"I made a deal with a witch," the Grail's Guardian replied, "sort of."

"Still calling yourself Ruler?" Lancer asked mirthfully, "I thought you couldn't use that Class Card for now?"

That bought the two other people short and stared at her.

"What made you say that?" Zelretch asked.

"Even at just a glance I could tell the power she emanates," Lancer smiled, "It's not Ruler's ability she's drawing on. It's Archer's. And the only reason she couldn't use her stronger class card is because her body still couldn't handle the sheer power of Ruler. That ability only comes with time and training. Take it from me, that's how I've been able to handle Lancer."

"So, what should I call myself, then?" Taylor asked sarcastically, "Queen?"

Lancer's smile widened.

"That's perfect!" she cheered, "It still stays true to your role as system administrator, and yet still allows you the flexibility to maintain your identity no matter the class card you use. Yes, from now on I shall call you Queen!"

"That was just a joke!" Taylor exclaimed, "Oh, never mind. Let's go kill Simurgh. 'By my right as Administrator of this Syste-'."

Taylor was interrupted when Lancer grabbed her hand.

"What are you doing, Queen?" the purple-haired woman asked.

"Using my Command Seal to Install Archer," Taylor replied.

This time, it was Lancer's turn to face-palm.

"Didn't I tell you that these so-called Endbringers are actually susceptible to our Mysteries?" the older woman asked, "Even in your Include state, they will still fall."

"But the Include state's power is one level lower than Install," Taylor protested, "It'll take me longer kill the Simurgh."

"And yet you will still kill her in the end," Lancer replied, "What's a little challenge in life? You should save your Command Seals in case you need them for some serious battle."

"And the Simurgh isn't serious enough for you?" Taylor was incredulous.

"As I have said," Lancer shrugged, "Endbringers needed to use physics to create their invincibility in battle. Our powers will simply bypass it. Take note, you've only managed to win three new Command Seals, and only for Archer. Don't waste them. The only way you can gain more Command Seals is by defeating the other card holders. Which reminds me…"

She looked closer at the teenager.

"Why are you so intent on using all your power to fight?" Lancer asked.

Taylor glared at her, "So I could end this War as soon as possible."

Lancer tilted her head, observing the teenager carefully. After a few moments, she sighed.

"Well, so much for my expectations," she said, "I had hoped for a little more excitement. Anyway, you can't use your Command Seal now."

"And what made you say that?" Taylor asked heatedly.

"Because the Simurgh is already here," Lancer smiled brightly, "therefore, you don't have the time for a proper Install ritual anymore."

"What?!"

Taylor whirled around and scanned the skies. Lancer merely patted her back.

"Don't worry, you can still deal with her in time," the older woman said, "Allow me to bring you to the gathering of heroes."

"Wait, what?" Taylor stared at Lancer.

Without another word, the other card holder wrapped her arm around the teenager's shoulders.

"This'll be a very short trip," she laughed, "Exciting, too."

Taylor didn't have the chance to reply as Lancer jumped high in the air, bringing her along. Moments later, they were gone.

Zelretch couldn't help but simply stare as the entire scene happened. It was too fast. The only thing he could be sure of was Lancer's brief reaction to Taylor's reason for fighting.

It was sadness tinged with disappointment.

OoO

Cape Gathering and Recovery Zone

Canberra Rally Point

2:15 p.m.

Tattletale took a moment to orient herself as she and the rest of the Undersiders, along with many others from Brockton Bay, were teleported by Strider to Canberra. Seeing the setting sun cast a beautiful orange glow over the city landscape, she thought it served a strange contrast to what would certainly be a dangerous affair.

"Remind me again what we're doing here, Tats," Regent whined.

"Because we need to establish ourselves as useful for these occasions," Grue replied instead, "That'll get the heat off our backs from the Protectorate and simply treat us as mere nuisance in the city."

"Besides, with our Boss gone, we need a better way to establish our reps," Tattletale added, "Yeah, I know we've got the cash, I've secured a lot of it for our group, but that doesn't mean we can simply take things easy. This is our way to make sure we are not going to be constantly chased whenever we're out."

"But we ain't fighters," Regent protested, "We can't go against the Simurgh."

"But we're masters of escape and evasion," Tattletale pointed out, "That's useful for search and rescue, which we are certainly going to be busy with. Meanwhile, I'm going to the Thinker group and help analyze the battle."

"What gave you this hare-brained idea anyway?" Regent asked, "I mean, an Endbringer battle? We've never participated in one before. So, why now?"

"I've told you already, it's for our reputation."

Actually, it was only half of the reason. The other one was from the conversation she had with Taylor earlier. Having seen Uber and Leet's antics in the Boardwalk had Tattletale thinking. Despite their labels as villains, people don't exactly see the duo as one. At most, they were being treated as amusing, if not annoying, pranksters.

Even the Protectorate didn't expend much effort to arrest them. Case in point: Vista and Clockblocker, the two Wards patrolling the Boardwalk earlier. They simply stood at the sidelines, alert for any shenanigans from Uber and Leet that never came. When their performance ended without incident, the two Wards went on their way.

Tattletale wanted that same treatment for the Undersiders. Now with Coil gone, for reasons even she hadn't figured out yet, there was really nothing much that the team could do. They could still attack the other gangs, but they needed something that can help keep the PRT off their backs better.

She glanced at Bitch, who was busy enlarging Brutus, Judas, and Angelica in their bone armor.

What they're doing today was also for her. With Bitch being wanted by the police, having her act as rescuer in Endbringer battles could help keep authorities away and provide additional evidence to prove her innocence. The blonde Thinker had sworn to never abandon the dog master, as well as help the Undersiders become a more 'respectable' villain group.

"What the hell are you doing here?" a familiar voice called out.

Internally groaning, Tattletale and company turned around and saw Shockwave with her arms crossed, flanking her were Aegis, Shadow Stalker, and Kid Win. From a distance, she noted Gallant being glomped by Glory Girl, while Armsmaster and Miss Millitia were speaking with Panacea.

"Hello, Shockwave," the blond Thinker smiled, "Fancy seeing you here."

"It's an Endbringer battle," Shockwave retorted, "Of course I'd be here. And you haven't answered my question."

"Well, the Undersiders wish to lend a hand," Grue stepped forward, "We believe our skills will be useful in search and rescue operations."

"There's no doubt of our usefulness," Tattletale added, "As you Wards are often witness to."

"Yeah, right," Shockwave gritted her teeth, "I still haven't forgotten the bank heist."

"Hey, it's not our fault that you zapped Kid Win's ass," Regent said, "I mean, you kept staring at his bum."

"That's because you kept twitching my head and hand there, you dolt!" Shockwave shot back, "And don't deny it, I know it was you. That's the only way I'd have hit Kid Win."

"Hey, calm down, Shockwave," Aegis said, "We're under the Truce, remember?"

"Besides," Kid Win added, "I'm the one who's been zapped, and I'm not complaining here."

"I agree with Aegis and Kid Win," Shadow Stalker added her two cents.

The Undersiders whipped their heads at the same time the two male Wards moved theirs to stare at the hooded cape. Shadow Stalker was rather infamous for being constantly against Aegis and Kid Win. For her to agree with both was akin to a miracle.

Or was it?

Allowing a little bit of her power free, Tattletale read Shadow Stalker:

Wants to improve her standing with the Wards.

Wants to make peace with those she had offended.

Wants to be a better person.

Afraid of dying without making a difference.

Afraid of wasting her second chance.

Afraid of fighting again someone like ???

Grateful for being saved by ???

"What the fuck?" thought Tattletale, rubbing her temples.

This problem of hers has become too common as of late. For some reason, she's been experiencing blind spots in her inferences. She could still get details, but most of the crucial parts, the ones that help her reach her conclusions, tended to be missing. It's been driving her nuts, considering that Coil, before he disappeared, had been acting strangely ever since she deduced that he's also experiencing blind spots as well. He's been working her harder in information-gathering from that time on. But how the hell could she find information when she couldn't find information in the first place?

She was in the middle of her pondering when the sound of someone screaming from above caught her attention. Looking up, she saw a purple and red blur fast approaching a clear spot just beside her. Taking a step away as a safety measure, she saw the blur land in a faint cloud of dust, revealing itself to be two women. One was wearing a purple bodysuit, while the other wore a red hooded trench coat.

"Well, this is quite the trip, Queen," the purple-wearing woman said.

"Lancer, how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me Queen?" the trench coat-wearing teenager asked in exasperation, "I'm Ruler."

"Not right now," the now-named Lancer giggled, "You have to admit that Ruler would be an incompatible name, considering the power you're using."

"Arrrggh!"

Queen, or Ruler if she preferred, threw her hands up.

She was about to say something when she noted the eyes turned to her. Despite her lower face being covered by the scarf, and the hood casting a shadow over the rest, it was obvious that the newcomer was embarrassed.

"Oh, hi everyone," Ruler clasped her hands behind her back, "Now, this is awkward."

Shadow Stalker approached the trench coat-wearing woman.

"Uhm, Ruler?" she bowed in greeting, "I didn't expect you to be here. Did you also hear the Endbringer sirens?"

Tattletale noted the respect the shadowy cape displayed to the other hooded cape.

How curious.

"Would you believe me if I said that I was just visiting a museum here?" Ruler answered Shadow Stalker, "I initially had no intention of fighting here."

"Boring," Regent droned, "Museums are so boring. Video games are better."

"Hey, show some respect, you dolt!" Shockwave quietly hissed, "You don't want to make her angry. You won't like her when she's angry."

"Why, who's she?"

"Someone who beat Lung up to a bloody pulp," Aegis replied instead, looking at Ruler nervously, "While he's already ramped up to having wings."

"What? How did that happen?" Grue looked at the Wards sharply, "I mean, the last time I heard something like that was when the Armored…"

The leader of the Undersiders trailed off upon realizing just who exactly they were talking to.

"Oh crap," Grue groaned, "She's the Armored Maiden."

"It's Ruler!" Shockwave hissed again, "She's just got a wardrobe and name change."

Sounds of whining had Tattletale glance from the corner of her eye, noting that Bitch and her dogs were kneeling down in terrified submission. When the most combative member of their group backs off, it's a good indicator of how dangerous the person in front of them was. Even Regent, apathetic as he was, took a step back in fear.

"Ah, huh," he stammered, "I d-didn't mean anything, honest, m-ma'am."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ruler," Tattletale greeted, internally cursing the way her voice pitched higher at the end, "We didn't expect you here."

Then again, it's not every day you meet someone who crushed Oni Lee's head with her bare hands and defeated a ramped-up Lung on her own, not to mention having a triple-digit body count in just a few hours. That's a hell of a way to establish a reputation.

"Excuse me, she doesn't answer to that title anymore," the woman known as Lancer began, "From now on, please address my companion here as Queen, as is appropriate."

"Queen?" Kid Win asked, "Why another name change?"

"Because her power as Ruler is temporarily unavailable," Lancer explained, "Thus, her use of another ability. One she had won through glorious combat. In any case, Queen is the most appropriate appellation for her."

"Lancer, would you mind?" Ruler, or Queen, glared at her companion, "I didn't come here to talk about my skills. Stop talking."

"Why, and let the misinformed come up with their own twisted interpretation?" Lancer asked, "Might as well get it all out early enough, Queen. So again, I reiterate to everyone within earshot, please address my companion here as Queen."

The younger woman stared at Lancer, and then sighed.

"Fine," she said, "who cares about names, anyway? Call me whatever you want."

Tattletale had noted something important earlier, but it was a Ward that voiced it.

"Wait, what do you mean, your power as Ruler is unavailable?" Aegis asked, "How are you going to help in the battle against the Simurgh, uhm, Queen?"

"Great, now I'm really stuck with the name…"

Sighing heavily at the new cape label, Queen ended up shaking her head. Raising her left hand, those who were close enough saw a golden card float in front. Grasping it, Queen intoned:

"Include, Archer!"

The card disappeared and was replaced by a huge black bow.

"Oh, fuck!"

Shadow Stalker suddenly stiffened upon seeing the weapon. Lancer smiled upon seeing the girl's reaction.

"Interesting," the purple-haired woman stated, "It appears that you had faced the power of a divinity and yet lived to tell the tale. Not many could make such a claim. Consider yourself fortunate you only tasted a fraction of its true power."

Shadow Stalker stared at Lancer, "Did Queen get it by…"

"Yes."

"Oh, fuck… Is she like…" there was a quaver of fear in the young woman's voice.

"No," Lancer shook her head, "Think of it merely as her taking back the power that was originally hers to command. That's why I look forward to the day she finally fights me. Who knows what she could do with my power."

Despite the face covered by the mask, Tattletale could swear that Shadow Stalker looked really ill at ease.

"Excuse me," a woman's voice spoke up.

They all turned and saw Alexandria herself standing in front of them.

"Shockwave, pleasure to see you again," the heroine greeted warmly.

"The honor is mine, Alexandria, ma'am," Shockwave stood straighter.

"Anyway, I came here to hand you and your companions your armbands," Alexandria said, "The Simurgh is estimated to arrive within two hours. I advise you all to listen to Legend's speech that's about to begin in five minutes."

The legendary cape glanced at Lancer and Queen.

"I see some new faces here," Alexandria began, "And you two are?"

"Lancer," a giggle, "I've always wanted to attend fights like this."

"Queen," a deep sigh, "And I'm really regretting my presence here."

"Well, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to thank your participation in this Endbringer fight."

Alexandria began handing out the tinkertech devices. Shockwave and the rest of the Wards with her got theirs first, followed by the Undersiders, then the last two. It was after Queen had accepted hers and registered herself that Lancer simply snorted and waved away the armband offered to her.

"No, I won't need it," Lancer said.

"What do you mean by that?" Alexandria asked, slightly miffed, "This is an Endbringer fight, against the most dangerous of the Endbringers. You need this in order to coordinate in the battle better and monitor the length of time you're exposed to the Simurgh's scream."

"You seem to misunderstand," Lancer smiled, "I'm not here to fight the Simurgh."

"Excuse me?!"

"I'm just here to watch Queen kill the Simurgh. And how I'd be gushing at how well Queen performed the act at the climax."

"What?!"

"Which reminds me," Lancer turned to Queen, "She has arrived."

As if on cue, the red clouds dispersed and the armbands began to beep in alarm.

"All capes, be advised!" Dragon's voice on the armband spoke urgently, "The Simurgh accelerated her arrival time! She is now on site, repeat, the Simurgh is now on site."

In a flurry from multiple wings, the most dangerous of Endbringers appeared in the skies just a hundred feet above them. The capes assembled could only gape in shock. There was no warning at all. The attack run was supposed to happen two hours from now, not exactly now.

"Oh fucking hell!"

Aegis and Shockwave cursed at the same time while Kid Win hastily unslung the rifle on his back and began attaching modules to it. Grue had the Undersiders gathered closer to him, smoke faintly flowing out of his hands. Alexandria began to issue orders to those around her and through her own armband. Amid the panic and mayhem going around them, Lancer and Queen, on the other hand, were reacting rather calmly.

"So, it's begun, huh?" Queen said, "This is going to be a pain with all these capes moving around. I plan to fight the Simurgh from a distance, but if someone like Alexandria gets close to strike, there's no assurance that my attack won't hit her as well. I'll need them all out of the way."

"I've got a solution for that," Lancer raised her hand, "Do you recognize the runes I've just written on the palm of my hand?"

"That?" Queen glanced at the writings, "Yeah, I know that. It's a Geass contract, one that's sealed once we shake hands."

"Correct," Lancer replied, "And 'I solemnly swear that I shall ensure the health and safety of all the capes participating in this battle today, provided that you fight and kill the Simurgh'. And before you complain, I assure you that the Simurgh will die by your hands. If you don't believe me, since I'm your enemy, believe in your strength. Believe in Archer's strength. You are powerful in your own right."

Queen was silent for a few moments, pondering Lancer's words. She then extended her own hand.

"Well, I suppose it's as good a deal as any," the teenager said, "Besides, if my suspicions are correct, you really will keep the others from interfering, which is a good thing, in my book."

Lancer smiled and shook hands with Queen.

"Go kill the abomination, Queen," Lancer urged.

Tattletale watched as one of the most dangerous capes she had ever known walked towards one of the most dangerous Endbringers she had ever known.

OoO

Cape Gathering and Recovery Zone

Canberra Rally Point

2:29 p.m.

Queen simply stared at the Simurgh as she slowly strode forward. She knew just how dangerous the Endbringer was, the lives it destroyed, cities that were isolated, the people treated as pariahs, among other things.

The thought that another city might fall at the hand of the Simurgh sickened the Grail's Guardian.

"Archer," thought Queen, "In front of us is a relentless monster that threatens the safety of the people and the city they reside in. It's time to show everyone that all's not lost. That the Chaste Huntress roams the wilds once more. Let's show the whole world why you are the greatest mortal huntress to ever grace the lands. That no more monstrous beasts shall remain in this world. Let's kill the Simurgh."

A sensation of agreement filled the teenager's whole being. Yes, Atalanta wanted to test her mettle against such a dangerous beast.

Time to give an appropriate greeting. Nocking two arrows on her bow, Queen then pointed up to the sky.

"With my bow and arrows," Queen intoned, "I respectfully ask for the divine protection of the sun god Apollo and the moon goddess Artemis."

She released the arrows, "I offer this calamity – Phoebus Catastrophe!"

The twin arrows disappeared into the darkening skies. Moments later, the skies brightened as thousands of arrows made of light began to rain down on its target: the descending figure of the Simurgh. The attack lasted three minutes, a non-stop barrage of divine projectiles against a mockery of an angel. Once the attack ended, Queen was finally able to see the results.

It wasn't a pretty sight.

The Simurgh's wings were all destroyed, her skin blackened, her hair burned, with countless arrows sticking out all over her body. Fluids that seemed to be blood were seeping out of the wounds, although Queen could not be sure due to the distance. Despite the grievous injuries, the Simurgh was still floating in the air.

"Huh, she didn't actually need the wings to fly," Queen raised an eyebrow, "Fancy that."

She notched another pair of arrows, deciding to use the anti-unit version of Phoebus Catastrophe. It was right before she could fire that the Simurgh disappeared into a wormhole. Seconds later, the Endbringer emerged from another wormhole, now about thirty miles away from the archer.

"The hell?!" Queen exclaimed, "No one said anything about her being able to do that."

Her momentary pause was taken advantage of by the Simurgh, who was now telekinetically lifting countless boulders, building, cars, anything and everything else around. With a gesture, all these debris were thrown everywhere. Some went straight to Queen.

"I hate it when this fucking happens!"

Queen cursed as she began dodging everything thrown at her. She had to be more careful, since her current body doesn't have the same durability as a Heroic Spirit. One wrong move and she'd be dead.

Good thing she has a trump card for that, one that made Atalanta such a formidable opponent.

"Go ahead, and I shall pass in front of you afterward like a squall," she chanted, "Aesthetics of the Last Spurt!"

As if in auto-pilot, Queen began to adjust her movements. A step further here, a little pat of the hand there, a twirl around, a slight leaning forward, and the teenager began to avoid the barrage with ease. At the same time, she was able to get closer and closer to the Simurgh. It was rather fortunate to have all these floating debris around her. It made getting close much easier as Queen used the larger projectiles as her stepping stones.

She was in the process of shooting the Simurgh again when the Endbringer opened up another wormhole and disappeared through it. Instead of getting frustrated, Queen simple pointed her arrow at a different direction. Releasing it, the projectile flew straight through the Simurgh's head as she emerged from her wormhole, ten miles away. The power of the shot was strong enough to pulverize half of the Endbringer's head, but it seemed to not have any effect.

"Right," Queen muttered, "the body's fake. It's the core I'd have to aim for."

The Simurgh changed tactics. Instead of throwing debris at random and escaping through wormholes, the Endbringer began to create hundreds of thousands of wormholes, which she used to send through all the debris that she could control in all directions. She also began to scream, creating shockwaves that destroyed everything within a ten mile radius and creating more debris that was sent against Queen.

Normally, the scream was the Simurgh's most potent weapon, turning anyone who listens to it long enough into a walking tool of mankind's destruction. Aside from that, it served as a means to open up the minds people for the Endbringer to read. But when it came to Queen, it had no effect at all. Despite using Archer's power, she was still passively protected by Ruler's own defensive mysteries. Her mind remained clear and unseen by the enemy.

There was no telling which wormhole would spit out projectiles first, and due to their sheer numbers, Queen was exposed to a constant barrage of attacks. Then again, she was currently using Aesthetics of the Last Spurt. As Archer's Personal Skill, it allowed her to predict the movements of her opponent and create a counter to it, provided that the opponent moves first.

And Queen had been letting the Simurgh attack first.

For five minutes, Queen had been dodging projectiles heading towards her, as well as shooting down those that she couldn't avoid. She was also getting herself into a good firing position, knowing that her opponent will make a tactical error. Whenever possible, she would fire several arrows at the Simurgh, damaging and distracting the Endbringer and using the opportunity to improve her positioning.

Finally, as the Simurgh sent through another barrage of debris against her, Queen discovered that the Endbringer would be stationary for seven seconds. For seven seconds, the Simurgh would be truly be exposed to an attack. Thus:

"Phoebus Catastrophe!"

This time, a single concentrated beam of light streamed down from the sky. It hit the Simurgh head-on and sent her crashing down to the ground. The beam continued its attack for a few minutes before dissipating. What remained of the Simurgh was a sorry heap of burned torso and stubs for limbs.

Landing on a nearby hill, Queen inspected her handiwork.

"Hmm, Lancer was right," thought Queen to herself, "the Simurgh is susceptible to my attacks."

She was about to turn away when she stopped, "Wait."

Turning her head, she glanced at the Simurgh's remains. What was important to note was a small sphere just below the chest area. It was the Endbringer's core – the real target.

"I think this bitch's dead," she muttered, "But let's check for a pulse."

Certain of her mana supply, she sent another pair of arrows to the sky.

"Phoebus Catastrophe!"

A few minutes later, nothing was left of the Simurgh, including its core.

"No pulse," Queen nodded to herself.

Belatedly, the armband she wore beeped, and a synthesized voice spoke:

"The Simurgh is dead, I repeat, the Simurgh is dead."

OoO

Cape Gathering and Recovery Zone

Canberra Rally Point

2:31 p.m.

Tattletale stared.

That was the only thing she could do.

Ever since Queen walked forward to fight the Simurgh, everything she thought would happen didn't pan out the way she thought it would. From the very start of the fight, which was conveniently captured on camera by one of Dragon's tinkertech drones, she bore witness to something she thought she'd never see.

The possible death of an Endbringer.

When Queen fired those two arrows in the sky, Tattletale first thought it was a pathetic attempt to distract the Simurgh. It was after the rain of glowing arrows burned away the Endbringer's wings that she realized that there was more going on.

She almost choked on her own spit when she saw the Simurgh open a wormhole in order to escape. There was no indication from previous engagements that such ability existed. Letting her power free for a bit, Tattletale's head had begun to ache once more.

Simurgh cannot see ???

Simurgh cannot see ??? as a threat.

Cannot counter non-existent threat.

Damaged by non-existent attack.

Cannot defend against non-existent attack

Body damaged by ??? at source.

Cannot access additional data from analytic engine hosts.

Cannot formulate appropriate response.

Combat capacity greatly reduced by ???

"Oh, shit…" she moaned, "Why is this happening to me again?"

It was when she was rubbing her head that she realized something. Glancing at Queen's figure on-screen, Tattletale let her power free once more.

???

???

"So, she's the reason for my blind spots," she muttered.

On a whim, she decided to try her powers on Lancer as well. The woman in question was currently helping a hyperventilating Shadow Stalker sit down. Shockwave was frantically rubbing the back of her fellow Ward.

???

???

Just like what happened with Queen, Tattletale could not read Lancer as well. Odd. Two people whom she's been unable to read. This was the first time that it ever happened to her.

"What's going on?" the Thinker wondered.

"We should go now!" Alexandria called out, "Queen has given us an opening. We should take advantage of it!"

There was a chorus of agreement from the other capes as they began to assemble in their designated combat formation during Endbringer battles. They were about to move out when a shimmering dome formed above their heads and even covered the ground under their feet. Upon touching the dome and the ground, everyone realized that they could not get through. Even Shadow Stalker, in her breaker state, couldn't get past it. At some distance, Strider was shaking his head at Legend, indicating that he cannot teleport as well.

Several of the random wormholes opened up and showered the gathered capes with huge rubble. They hit the barrier and simply slid down it. Even the resulting dust didn't get past the dome

"I'm sorry, everyone," a voice called out, "I swore to keep you all safe and sound during this battle. Figured this is the best way to do so."

Lancer stood tall, a glowing circle with strange writings below her feet. She gave everyone a sheepish smile.

"You did this?" Alexandria demanded, "This is inexcusable. We are in a middle of an Endbringer battle. Everyone needed to get out there and fight the Simurgh now!"

"Oh, don't worry," Lancer giggled, "Queen will be killing the Simurgh soon."

"As if," a famous voice retorted, "You need great power to defeat an Endbringer like the Simurgh."

The gathered capes parted, allowing Eidolon to pass through. Resplendent in his green robes and glowing with power, he floated straight at Lancer.

"I demand that you drop whatever barrier you've set up," he ordered, "We are all needed to fight the Simurgh."

"And like I said," Lancer said, "It's unnecessary. In fact, there is no need to prove yourself with those so-called worthy opponents. After all, you've already shown how powerful you are."

Eidolon glared at her, his glow flaring out even more against the darkening sky.

"If you do not drop your barrier," he growled, "I will make you. And you won't like it."

Lancer snorted, "Ha, let's see you try. I bet I can drop you with a wiggle of my fingers."

"You really do want a fight, huh?" Eidolon began charging up his blaster power.

Seeing a battle about to break out, the rest of the nearby capes began to move away quickly. The only one not doing so was Lancer, who was cleaning her ear with a pinky finger. As Eidolon prepared to attack, Lancer wiggled her finger, like writing something in the air. And like a puppet with strings cut, Eidolon's power and green glow winked out and he dropped unceremoniously to the ground, unconscious.

"Eidolon!" Alexandria screamed.

She charged at Lancer, throwing a punch straight at her face. The other cape simply tilted her head to avoid the hit. A kick had Lancer jumping away from the circle, which remained glowing. The exchange continued for a few tense minutes, with no side gaining a clear advantage.

"Really, Alexandria?" Lancer asked, "Fighting during an Endbringer Truce?"

"You started it," Alexandria snarled, "You stopped us from helping fight the Simurgh, then you did something to Eidolon. You are the reason people will die!"

"Excuse me? What I did ensured everyone's safety. Besides, I really don't want anyone interrupting Queen when she kills the Simurgh."

"What you're saying is impossible," Alexandria declared, "No one, except possibly Scion, is strong enough to take down an Endbringer on their own. Eidolon might, but right now, he's unconscious."

Just then, everyone's armbands began to beep:

"The Simurgh is dead, I repeat, the Simurgh is dead," Dragon's voice was heard.

Alexandria's face could not be seen, but there was no denying the smug look on Lancer's face.

"You were saying?" the latter asked.

"Alexandria," another familiar voice spoke out.

A hand clasped the woman's shoulder. Glancing sideways, she realized that Legend had arrived.

"Eidolon's fine," he began, "Just unconscious. Right now, I need you with me to speak out about what just happened. The Simurgh is dead and Queen has left the area."

"Are you sure it's the Simurgh?" Alexandria asked.

"Our Thinkers ran the analysis," he replied, "It's a hundred percent confirmation. Not to mention that Queen solo'ed the kill. There's going to be a lot to talk about."

They both turned to Lancer, who was pouting.

"Man, just when I was about to see something good," Lancer complained, "You and your pals just had to come barging in. I missed the chance to watch Queen kill the Simurgh. It would've been a beautiful sight, another sign that the girl's about ripe for the picking."

"You know about this?" Legend asked.

"Of course."

"And Eidolon? What did you do to him?" Alexandria demanded.

"Just a simple spell to knock him out," Lancer replied, "You can't imagine just how nifty ancient runes can be when applied to the air."

"Cut it out with your nonsense," Alexandria snapped, "Just tell us what you did to him."

"Fine," Lancer pouted, "It was simple science, anyway. I changed the air around him to be pure carbon dioxide. He's been so worked up by my goading he didn't notice what I did. He got knocked out. It's not my fault he assumed I'll fight him head-on. That would be breaking my oath to Queen, then. Besides that, any attack of his that missed might hit others, and I can't allow that to happen."

"Is your oath to Queen that important to you?"

"It's what defines me, Alexandria," Lancer shrugged, "Then again, you might want to check on Eidolon when he wakes up. I don't recall him acting all confrontational like that. Isn't he usually the more level-headed between you two?"

"That's none of your business!" Alexandria said.

"Alexandria," Legend interrupted, "Now's not the time. I need your help with the gathered capes."

"But," Alexandria turned to her teammate.

"No buts," Legend said, "This fight is in uncalled for during the Truce. And Lancer only knocked out Eidolon to prevent unnecessary injuries. Think about it."

It was a valid argument. Looking at the attack Eidolon was charging, it was obviously a powerful blast meant to destroy a target. And it was powerful enough to also damage the surrounding area, including the bystanders. Come to think of it, Eidoron was acting strange. He wasn't usually that easy to goad, especially by a newbie cape.

"Fine, Legend," Alexandria sighed, "Lancer, you can be sure that this isn't…"

The Triumvirate cape trailed off in shock.

It was also the only time that Tattletale realized that Lancer was already gone. This should had been impossible, since the woman was right in front of them just a moment ago. Looking around, she also realized that the barrier had disappeared as well, weird glowing circle included. Her head began to ache again as she pondered over details that she never saw.

She really had no idea what had happened.

OoO

Australian War Memorial

Campbell, Canberra

2:47 p.m.

"Are you all right, Queen?"

Zelretch asked as both Queen and Lancer returned from the battle with the Simurgh.

"Oh, great," Queen groaned, "Not you, too."

"Well," Zelretch began, "While you two were gone, I'd been thinking. Lancer made a good point, regarding the way you use your powers and your current disguise as a parahuman. Having a cape name that's not connected to your class cards will help simplify matters."

Actually, he got the inspiration in order to separate Taylor from her Ruler identity – and it's implied trip to martyrdom. Addressing Taylor as Queen would help create that important gap.

"And don't I know it!" Lancer smiled.

"Anyway, how are you, Queen? Was the battle difficult?" the old man asked again.

"I'm fine," Queen replied, "Actually, I had no idea that it was easy to kill an Endbringer. Had I known, I would've gotten rid of them from the start."

"I told you, Queen," Lancer smiled, "Endbringers are not a problem for us. As long as we have activated our cards, we have a sure way to deal with them."

Queen frowned at Lancer.

"You do know that this will not change anything, right?" the teenager began, "I will still stop you from getting your hands on the Holy Grail."

"Pfft," Lancer snorted, "You can keep the Grail to yourself. I can assure you that neither I, Berserker, nor Avenger are interested in the Grail. What's the point? We're already getting our greatest wish."

"And what's that?" Queen felt she knew what the reply would be.

"A fight to the death with you," Lancer smiled hungrily, "You have no idea how much we wanted to face you in battle. You have to realize that if there is anyone that should deserve to kill us, it would be you."

The Servant of the Spear turned and began to walk away.

"I'll be seeing you next time, Queen," she paused, "By the way, Berserker will be paying her respects to you on Friday, next week. I supposed you'd be ready to face her by then. And the day will come, when we'll have our own Duel. Now that would be a match made in heaven."

"Well, that's sort hell to me," Queen shot back, "Considering who you are."

"Hmm?"

"You're the god damned Scatach, Queen of the Land of Shadows! Not to mention practically immortal. How the hell am I supposed to kill someone like you?"

"That's the point!" Lancer giggled, "It would be the battle to end all battles. A duel between an unstoppable force and an immovable object."

"Arrgh!"

"See you later, Queen."

Lancer giggled again as she faded away in particles of blue light. Both Queen and Zelretch watched until she disappeared from their senses.

"What do you think of this Lancer, Zelretch?" Queen asked

"Worrying," the Wizard Marshall replied, "The fact that Scatach became a Servant meant that humanity in the future had ended. That's the only way the Land of Shadows would disappear and allow Scatach to become part of the Throne of Heroes. We don't know how this version of Scatach will behave after that event. This isn't normal."

"There's nothing normal in this Holy Grail War," Queen pointed out, "The fact that the extra Servant Classes, including me, showed up is proof enough already."

"Then again, the Throne of Heroes is a repository of all heroes past, present, and future," Zelretch mused, "It's possible that we're seeing a Scatach from the future. It may be similar to a previous case that my apprentice encountered, one with an idiot Master and a sarcastic Archer. Still, this bodes ill for the destiny of humanity in this world, if the Lancer we have is indeed this dimension's Scatach."

"I won't let that happen, old man," Queen replied with conviction, "Even if it costs my life, humanity in this world will survive. I'll see to that, destiny be damned."

The magician smiled at the young girl. It was times like these that he felt so proud of her. All that remained was figuring out how to get her out of her suicidal thoughts.

"I'm sure you'll find a way, dear," Zelretch replied.

OoO

Hills Outside The City

Canberra, Australia

9:00 p.m.

Lancer alighted on one of the hills overlooking Canberra. Waiting for her there were two women. One was a teenager, lean and muscular, her body toned to combat perfection. The other was an older woman, with a motherly air about her. Both looked at the new arrival expectantly.

"So, Lancer," the teenager asked, "What do you think of the Grail's Guardian?"

"Disappointing, Berserker," Lancer replied, "She does not fear death."

"Isn't that a good thing," the motherly woman replied, "Not fearing death will make her a formidable opponent. Someone who could truly face my power."

"No, Avenger," Lancer replied, "She does not fear death because she has nothing to live for. To embrace death, without protest or whimper, will make her unworthy to face our powers. She will fail in granting us the end we sorely desire."

"I still don't get it," Berserker scratched her head.

"She does not fear death," Lancer repeated, "She thinks it makes her strong. It makes her weak."

"Why?"

"How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, without the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death."

Lancer turned to teenager.

"She has faced death head on and has come back changed. What she needs now is something to give her value. Something that would make her realize just how important it is to live. Only then will she be able to face us at full power. Only then shall we experience a death match so glorious it would be the stuff of legends."

"Whoa, Lancer, hold up," Berserker winced, "That's pretty heavy talk. What should we do then? I'm not good at motivational stuff."

"Nothing," Lancer looked back at the distant city lights, "The solution would not come from us. I could sense it, the gears of destiny turning once more. You'd be surprised at how simple the answer would be."

"How simple?" Avenger inquired.

"She has no desire for glory, for honor, or for fame," Lancer stated, "She does not even wish for monetary gain. A girl like her has very simple dreams. Like those of a simple village girl. And it's in her dreams that she will find her will to live once more. Once she finds something to live for, when she finds the reason for existing, when she realizes that her life is worth keeping in the end, then fear will find her again."

She sighed wistfully.

"And thus end this wretched existence of ours in this world."

"Amen," Berserker and Avenger replied in solemnity.

A moment of companionable silence passed between the three Servants.

"So, what do we do now?" Avenger finally asked.

"Berserker," Lancer began, "I promised Queen that you would 'pay your respects' to her next week. I'm a woman of my word. Let's make it happen. Whether you live or die, you will know if what I have said will come to pass."

"And I'd like nothing less than that," Berserker grinned, "I'd better give her my version of a hero's welcome, hehe. This'll be a Duel to die for."

"Don't forget to activate three of our disciples in the city," Avenger advised, "It would do well for the Fellowship to keep those capes pre-occupied while you have your Duel."

"Of course," Berserker replied, "I'm sure it would be one magnificent battle to remember. Wonder how many glorious kills I'd be able to commit before the Duel?"