So it's been a while since I've written anything, hasn't it? Yeah, it's hard to say it. but, I was burned out with writing Fate. It's my favourite franchise, but I felt like I needed to shake things up a bit. Get out of my Comfort Zone, you know? I don't think I've written anything that's not Fate or an Xover with it since 2014. That's a long time ago.

So what's happened since the last I write anything? I reread Worm, I started studying Java programming, I've thought about adopting a dog, I realized my drawing skills are still nonexistent, and I've decided to finally finish Kingdom Hearts 1&2. With the 3rd game's release just a few days ago, I'm really far behind with my game backlog. In my defence, my friend keeps spoiling the endings for me so I always know how they end before I get halfway through them. Still, I've made it clear that I don't want any spoilers this time around. Maybe that will make him stop spoiling games for me.

As always, thanks to 7137 for betaing he chapter for me. I was appreciated and needed.


Spoilers!

This is an Alt!power story. The idea is that Annette received a bud of Lustrum's shard when she was still a member of her 'gang'. The QA stayed with Danny and Taylor received the bud from Annette instead. She triggers earlier than canon and everything snowballs from there. Kind of AU in that her earlier trigger and different power is part of a kind of catalyst for the Butterfly effect that results in a lot of different things, but that's what's so interesting about fan fiction.


-[}{]-


October 10, 2010.

It was the worst day of my life.

Even as I ran, the fear clung to my heart. I knew they would catch up eventually. I didn't want to know what would happen afterwards.

The cold metal bit into my hands. Pain burned my palms as the sharp edges drew blood. I didn't care.

I wouldn't let them take it away from me again.

Blood flowed down my mother's flute as I ran.


-[}{]-


December 02, 2010

Boston.

Boston.

I was in Boston.

I took a sip from my coffee, grimaced, and threw the cheap and now cold cup in a trash can. I was tired and knew I needed something to wake me up, but I couldn't find it in me to drink the damn coffee I had bought for that precise purpose. I had drunk three cups of coffee just so that I wouldn't fall asleep on the way here. It had worked at first, but I was slowly losing my battle with the sandman.

Interestingly, while I was growing more tired by the minute I was also growing more giggly at the same rate. Sleep deprivation and caffeine apparently made me an easily entertained mess. I was laughing at the simplest of things, like the fire hydrant with a smiley painted on it. My mind found it absolutely hilarious for some reason.

I shook my head and looked around, hoping the would come soon. Getting here had taken a little over three hours, but that was partly my fault. I had never used my powers to travel this far before, and I didn't want to risk being stranded fifty miles away from home simply because I didn't know I could overuse my power. Instead I had gone slow and steady, at a calculated thirty miles/hour.

It had been a good test though. Despite being in constant use for over three hours, my powers hadn't even shown signs of waning. It might've been my slow speed, but travelling from Brockton Bay to Boston wasn't that bad for a newbie like myself. I was even considering trying to flooring it on my way home. I was pretty sure I could go almost twice as fast if I pushed it. If I made it out of Boston alive, that is.

My thoughts returned to the depressing and dark reality of why I had decided to take a midnight flight to Charlestown. Boston wasn't bad in and of itself. I'd heard good things about the city over the years that made me want to visit. None of them sprang to mind at the moment, but I knew there was something at least. Maybe that was for the better. I wouldn't have time to do any sightseeing to begin with, given the time. Not that any of the usual tourist traps were open at 4 a.m.

I paced around the agreed meeting spot, waiting for my… client? Client was an appropriate word, but it didn't leave me with a lot of confidence. I felt like a villain, which I suppose was correct in a certain sense. I was committing a crime using illegal methods, merchandise, and channels. Considering I was using my powers as well that made me a supervillain. Not what I had imagined my career would be when I grew up, but it was for a good cause. At least for me, it was.

I sighed and checked my watch.

The client was late. Something was wrong. I had checked PHO beforehand, and nothing I read filled me with joy. Not that I expected a supervillain to do anything I would find joyful, but at least I didn't think it would fill me with dread from start to finish. Neurotic, murderous rage, well-connected, neurotic, extremely wealthy, and did I mention he was neurotic? For someone who was infamous for murdering people at the slightest mention of error, Accord was surprisingly late. I checked my phone, or the phone I had stolen from a merchant who was now detoxing in jail. 4:06, he was well over five minutes late.

With a pang of anxiety, I checked the original email he'd sent me. What if he wasn't late? What if I was at the wrong place? Crap, why did they have to make phones so damn complicated? I just wanted to find my inbox. After a few minutes of searching my folder, I found the address we were supposed to meet at.

Concord St. 30, Boston, Massachusetts.

I double-checked the address and sighed in relief. The red brick building in front of me was not the prettiest, but it was the correct address for the meeting place. It started just before the hill started and avoided the sloping all the houses after it suffered from. It was uglier than the rest, but I don't think Accord would find a building's colour to be as much of an annoyance as the asymmetry. I thought someone with as OCD as him would find the remaining buildings to be quite unacceptable.

I did find it a little funny that a guy named Accord owned a building on Concord Street. Did he have a sense of humour or was it his neurosis that forced him to buy it?

'There's a street called Concord in my town? Quick, Evil Henchmen! Buy as many houses you can! I want the entire street turned into my secret HQ! On the double, I say! On the double!'

Damn, I was smiling again. Stupid sleep deprivation, I had to stop doing that. Smiling was unprofessional. All night I had prepared myself, convinced myself to put on a professional front. I had trained in front of the mirror to harden my cheeks into a chiselled marble. I'd read stories about people meeting Accord and how he'd killed some for the simple act of laughing. Smiling led to laughter, and laughter led to death.

I took a deep breath and forced my cheeks into a neutral expression. Calm thoughts, think calm thoughts.

"Grim, sir?"

I could only describe the voice as Professional, with a capital P. I turned around and saw a black woman wearing a white dress and a matching white mask over her face. Both the mask and the dress had black lines drawn over them, each side mirrored in perfect symmetry. I spent a few seconds comparing the two sides of her outfit, trying to find faults in the design. I quickly gave up as my sense for fashion had never been good, even before Emma….

"Please, just call me Grim. I'm saving all my professionalism for when I meet Accord," I replied. I didn't need even more pressure. My nerves could be used as guitar strings at the moment, whatever that meant. I think the sleep deprivation was getting to me. I was thinking nonsense, right as I was about to meet one of the most feared villain on the East Coast. Good times indeed.

I wanted to point out that my name was Grimm, as in The Brothers Grimm, but now wasn't the time. I had spent hours thinking up a good name, but the PRT had messed that up completely. The next time I saw Triumph, I was going to... heck if I knew, put a 'kick me'-sign on his back.

"As you wish, Grim. We apologize for the delay on our part. Blasto decided tonight would be a good time to strike one of our bases. We had to deal with his creations before we could meet with you. I hope you understand and forgive us, given the circumstances," she said, bowing her head slightly.

I didn't know if I should be relieved or terrified. I could be relieved because I now knew it wasn't my fault he hadn't showed up. It might make him more inclined to forgive me if I made any mistakes when the deal started.

On the other hand, I was about to have a meeting over illegal merchandise with a known supervillain who kills people for speech patterns and who just a few minutes ago was in a battle with another known supervillain.

Did I mention I also stole said illegal merchandise from the people who originally stole it and accidentally broke some of it in the process? And that he was the original owner of said merchandise?

Calm thoughts, Taylor. Calm thoughts.

"I understand. It can be quite frustrating when appointments clash with other engagements," I said with (what I assumed was) a respectful tone. I might've charged my power up before I came here, but I didn't fancy my chances fighting of the crime lord of Charlestown. Being nice now could save my life further down the line.

"Thank you. If you would, please follow me. Accord is waiting and tonight has been enough of a disturbance without adding more to it," she sad as she turned away and walked briskly into the small brick building.

As if I needed even more reason to feel utterly terrified.

The interior did not match the exterior at all. Elegance was the only word that came to mind when I entered the Embassy, as people had begun calling Accord's properties. Each detail felt meticulously planned and carved by hand. The patterns on the walls and the carpet on the floor had perfect unity with each other. The furniture could be described as divine in design and heavenly in execution. I had no idea who Accord's interior decorator was, but when I had my own Evil Lair Deluxe TM I would find him, and I would hire him.

I mean, Secret Hero HQ Deluxe TM. Why would I want an evil lair? I'm not a (real) villain.

I suddenly felt inadequate for the meeting at hand. My costume was cheap and tattered. It was a bunch of stuff I found at a flea market and our attic. Even if I tried going for the vintage angle, the dust still clinging to my clothes spoke of its hasty procurement.

I glanced at the dress my guide was wearing. It looked amazing on her, hugging all the right curves in away that spoke of years of practice and perfection. I didn't even know what the fabric was, only that it looked more expensive than everything in my room combined. Even our shoes were light years apart in terms of fashion and design.

My boots looked like they'd survived a war, which they probably had. They were American paratrooper boots I'd found for sale at the Lord Street Market. They were of good quality and comfortable. My power worked perfectly with them, and I knew they could take a beating. The only problem was their old and tattered look.

Her shoes looked like they were meant for the red carpet. White with black details, high heels of impossible heights, and a bow just above the toes with what I suspected were diamonds sewn into it. The contrast between our outfits made me feel even more lacking.

Plus, she had curves. Real curves!

I was taller than her, but I was taller than most girls and even most women. It didn't make me feel any better, not when she almost reached my height with her heels. When I wore my costume, my already flat chest and thin hips were obscured. My first thought when I picked out my outfit had been that it was kind of cool. Now I thought I looked like a boy.

Genetics were bullshit.

"Accord is already inside waiting for you," the woman with the unjustly lucky genetics said with a smile. I smiled back, but I doubted she noticed it under my red scarf. Good, it might hide any expressions Accord might go psycho over..

I took a moment to steel myself before I opened the door and stepped inside.

Accord was short.

Very short.

Even behind the exquisitely carved desk, I could tell he couldn't be taller than five feet. I'd imagined him to be some sort of giant, standing over seven feet tall, rippling with muscles and glistening with sweat.

Instead, all I saw was a rather short and plump man sitting in a leather chair, his hands in front of him and fingers intertwined. He wore an extremely white and probably expensive suit.

I was a little disappointed.

Not that I actually wanted him to be a freakishly strong bodybuilder, but the rumours had been so serious and full of warnings that my imagination had become a little stressed. In hindsight, some of the rumours were a little ridiculous. Like cutting his own subordinate's throat for simply forgetting to say 'Sir'. I mean, that sounded crazy even for a supervillain.

I approached the man sitting behind the desk and waited.

"Grim, I take it?"

I nodded. "Correct, and you are Accord?"

God, I never realized just how much I hated formalities until now.

"Indeed, I must apologize for the inconvenience. It was an inexcusable delay. Blasto has been a thorn in my side for quite some time, but he's been acting out much more frequently lately. My sources tell me his romantic partner recently left him yet again, and he's simply taking it out on anyone he can. An immature reaction, but one that caused a disruption in both our schedules. I assure you it will not happen again, should we have future affairs," Accord's voice was controlled, but it hid an underlying anger. Each word was measured and planned, spoken with the certainty of an already written script. Accord's schedule most likely meant a great deal to him. To have it altered because of a villain's heartbreak didn't seem to please him very much.

Right, neurotic supervillain. Almost forgot that bit.

"I completely understand. Brockton Bay has its own share of capes causing problems, and it's not the first time I've been made to wait because of them. I assure you it's no problem." I really, really hoped my voice didn't betray my actual state of mind.

He motioned with his hand for me to sit. I didn't hesitate to accept his offer.

The chair was divine. Soft, yet firm where it needed to be. It supported my weight, but it gave way at just the right spot. Wood and leather worked together with what I could only guess was cotton and wool to create the greatest chair imaginable. There was nothing I could complain about. I felt like worshipping the chair, because it was practically worshipping my rear.

I needed this chair in my life.

"I must admit; I wasn't expecting you to be quite so young. Most capes your age are of the more foolhardy kind, especially villains. Have you heard of the Travellers?" he asked, adjusting the angle of the pen resting on his desk.

I snapped back to reality, forcefully ignoring the greatest feeling my back and thighs had ever experienced. Whoever designed and made this chair had to have used powers. Normal people didn't make furniture that good.

"I'm afraid not. A villain gang, I take it?"

"Yes, one I had the displeasure of dealing with a while ago. Most of them were your age, and it showed. It's because of people like them that I investigate my possible future contacts before going any further than the first meeting. You were an exception due to extenuating circumstances, loath as I am to admit it. Unknown elements are something I despise, you see." His fingers twitched at the last part, proving his words to be true.

"That's why I'm curious; what made you decide to become a villain? Why did you contact the black market salesman and try to fence what you thought were illegal substances?"

The question put me on the spot. I hadn't expected a question aimed at my motivation. The question was made even harder to answer because I didn't even want to become a villain. I was forced to become one by the circumstances of my trigger. If it weren't for my immediate need for money, I'd be out kicking Merchant booty.

"I needed money for personal reasons. This seemed to be the best way to quickly gather capital. I'm not even sure I am a villain yet. My goal was to be a hero, but at the moment that seems to have been put on hold." Heroes weren't bullied in school or drowning in medical bills. I would probably have been the first one if I had decided to go hero instead of what I was doing now.

He nodded understandingly. "Yes, money is a vital part of our long-term goals. It's something I've had to deal with myself. I won't ask what your own goal is, Hero, but I know from experience that a hero's salary is a paltry one."

"That's what I thought. My age also means I would be a Ward, not a real hero. My actual wage would therefore be much smaller than what I need it to be, or so I've heard. That's why I decided to skirt the rules a bit, so to speak. This was originally your property after all. I'm simply returning it for a modest finder's fee." That's what I'd told myself the last few days at least. It made everything seem so much more simple and clean. It almost felt legal.

"That is indeed what you are doing. However before we go any further with the discussion, I must ascertain whether or not the product is in fact genuine. May I see it?" Accord asked as he held his hand out. I nodded stiffly, swallowing the heart trying to beat its way up my throat.

"Of course, that's only to be expected," I said. I sounded like a tool. I was fairly certain Accord knew I was faking my calm demeanour.

I grabbed the handle of the old square briefcase I'd acquired the same night as the items in question. Flicking in the correct combination, I felt the locking mechanism unlock with a snap. Placing the briefcase on the table I flipped it over to him for inspection.

I could immediately tell he was personally insulted by the old and battered thing. He reached into one of his desk drawers and pulled something out. I was about to use my powers in case he drew a gun, but only a pair of white silk gloves left the drawer. He pulled them over his hands with surgical precision, eliminating each wrinkle with lethal intent. Only after every inch of skin on his hands was covered by crisp white cloth did he reach for the briefcase he'd asked for.

The frayed and ripped (fake) leather case clashed horribly with his attire. I felt almost ashamed of my own costume as well. I had actually felt proud of it when I first made it, but now the contrast was like a punch in the gut. I kept thinking he was a veteran of the villain scene while I was a newcomer. Then I berated myself for thinking I was a newcomer to the villain scene when I wasn't even a villain. It was just my nerves. They were messing with my thoughts. I didn't want awesome supervillain threads.

Accord opened the case with the calculated movements of a chess master playing his greatest match ever. Looking inside, he pulled out one of the items I had stolen from the Merchants. He inspected the metal canister for a moment, twisted it around, and opened it. A small vial, like one they used in movies, appeared when he opened the lid. It was probably some kind of super drug, one the Merchants had stolen from Accord's secret laboratory. As a hero I should have taken it to the PRT, or the police at least. I knew that giving a villain back (or technically selling it back) his own product was a crime, but I really needed the money. The hospital bills weren't going to pay for themselves, and the material I needed to buy wasn't cheap either. I somehow doubted the PRT would be giving me a reward of twenty-five thousand dollars for handing in a bunch of vials belonging to a villain with no evidence to prove it.

Accord placed the vial back in its canister before doing the same thing to the three others. Each action was deliberate, with no wasted fumbling or twisting. One of them he placed on his desk. It had a dent in it, probably from the Merchant I'd stolen it from. I think his name was Mush? It didn't matter, since he was in PRT custody now.

Aside from the dented one, no other canister stayed on the desk. When he was done with his inspection, he closed the briefcase with a firm push and placed on the floor to his side. He then looked me straight in the eye. For the first time since I met him, I noticed that his mask actually followed his expression. Tinkertech perhaps?

"I must thank you, Grim. When one of my prospective employees stole the merchandise you found I was left in a troublesome position. These vials are worth far more than their monetary value implies. I had high hopes for the employee as well, to the point that I was saddened when I heard the Merchants killed him after they saw him enter Brockton Bay. A shame that, I would have liked to repay him for the trouble he caused me," Accord said, his voice even without any hint of the threat he had just given.

"No thanks are needed. You were prepared to pay for the merchandise, and I was prepared to sell it." I had to keep it professional. That was the number one advice the internet gave for dealing with Accord. Professional, strict, decisive, and clean were the entire list, aside from: Don't!

"Good, it seems you've done your homework at least. So many of the young capes these days think their powers give them a free pass at everything, even manners and decorum. When I heard someone was trying to sell my property at an auction… well, I was livid. Of course, it wasn't the auction that was the problem. It was the selling of my property that was the issue. It was only after my assistant got in contact with you that we were able to connect our runaway thief to the Merchants." He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to wipe the grime from the canister. It wouldn't work. I'd already tried to clean the majority of the oil and dust from the extremely filthy metal, but the merchants must've been bathing it in radioactive super dirt because no matter what I did it wouldn't disappear.

The dent I hadn't even tried to fix. I was still working on fixing my mom's flute. Even with my powers, fixing it would take a while. I wouldn't waste time on a permanently stained piece of junk I wouldn't even get to keep.

"Yes, it's hard to find good help these days, even with the procedures I have in place. Have you ever considered moving to Boston, Grim?" he asked, carefully rubbing away at the metal.

"I can't say I have. I'm happy as I am in Brockton Bay." That was probably the first time I lied in the conversation. I was decidedly not happy with my current life. Between the trio and Winslow in general, my life sucked hard. The only good thing I had going right now was my power, which was the result of my depressing life.

Oh, but things were about to change for Taylor 'Grim' Hebert.

"Yes, I might believe that someday," he stated, obviously not believing my words now. "I would prefer your honest opinion on the matter, Grim."

"It's… a work in progress. The gangs are always an issue, but they're a symptom of an already existing problem. It didn't help that they grew after what happened to New York." To be fair, the New York-incident didn't help anything or anyone. "Now it's like fighting a hydra. Remove one gang and two more will fill the void. Simply throwing capes at the gangs won't solve the root cause."

"And you believe you know what the cause is?"

"I believe the entire city knows what the cause is," I said, finally feeling confident about something. "It's not a secret that Brockton Bay lived on its shipping industry. With the death of the global shipping industry, Brockton Bay lost most of its income. The dockworkers lost their jobs and remain to this day the largest recruitment pool for all the gangs in the city."

"I was under the impression that the city had mostly recovered from its depression. Your city is rather famous for its technology," Accord said, putting the metal canister to the side. The stain remained, a testament to its vile nature.

I frowned. Accord should already know about the gangs and the dockworkers. Both the gangs and the Protectorate had close ties with each other in Boston and Brockton Bay. We were neighbours. Why would he ask me something he obviously already knew the answer to?

"Dockworkers aren't usually the kind of people capable of writing software or inventing machines. The city may have recovered financially by focusing on technology, but the large body of dockworkers are still unemployed. It seems as if the current administration's plan is to wait until the working class generation dies out and hope for the best. It's not like they have time or money to go back to school." I'd seen the people my dad worked with. Huge mountains of muscle worked against you when the employers wanted somebody who knew Java or C++. Not that the dockers would ever make it that far in the interview.

I knew more about programming than most of the dockworkers, and I was still in high school. That spoke volumes of the current situation my dad was facing.

"No, they don't," he agreed. "Very well, I have confirmed the product to be genuine. I'll have Theobroma transfer the payment over to your account. You did follow our instructions when contacting the Number Man, correct?"

I nodded.

"Good, I hate working with people who don't know how to follow instructions properly. Now then, since our first order of business has been concluded, shall we proceed to the next?"

I blinked. "I'm sorry?"

Accord leaned back against his chair. "I know competence when I see it. You're new, barely a teenager without a thinker power and a dreadful costume, and yet you were able to steal valuable property from a gang lead by parahumans, defeat one of said parahumans, contact a black market mediator for an illegal auction, negotiate a price with my assistant using advanced negotiation tactics, and you managed to do it all in the span of four days. If I hadn't ascertained your inexperience during our conversation, I would've declared you a spy and killed you immediately on the suspicion alone." He intertwined his hands as he spoke.

"Quite frankly, it's as if you were born for this kind of work."

I gaped under my scarf, frozen by his words. I had no idea how to respond. I'd been desperate, but I wasn't a villain. It hadn't even felt like it was something special. Anyone would do what I'd done under the same circumstances. I had spent hours searching the web, spying on gang members, eavesdropping on villains, and breaking into known Merchant safe houses to find any form of record or receipt to point me in the right direction. If I wasn't ready to do break the rules a little, then what was the point?

My fingers caressed the leather sheath containing the flute. It was a nervous tick I'd acquired the last few days.

"Which is why I'm here talking to you. Normally it would be my assistant who would be handling this deal, but recent times have been frustrating, to say the least. I'm sure you've heard of the Slaughterhouse Nine?" Accord spoke, his mask moving in tandem with his actual expressions.

I nodded. Who hadn't? Even the slightest rumour of S9 could cause half a city to take an unplanned vacation of indefinite length.

"They were in town recently and wreaked havoc in my territory. I lost a good number of my Ambassadors, but I was able to replenish the number fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the Teeth arrived soon after, followed by Barnside, who was quickly followed by Liverspot. Add the influx of refugees and capes from New York and I'm facing quite the annoying situation." Wow, when it rained, it poured. Brockton got its fair share of the refugees, but we were further north than Boston. Accord's area worked as a sort of bulwark in that regard. "Boston has seen better days, but I have already a plan to help the area recover. The problem I face is the lack of resources, or manpower to be precise."

I didn't like where this was going.

"My Ambassadors all go through an extensive testing procedure to ensure they are competent enough to join. In time, I have no doubt I'll be able to replenish the Ambassadors I lost. However, it does take time to do that, and the vultures outside are circling. I need immediate firepower to ward them off. Firepower I don't currently possess." He leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk.

"From what I can gather, you are competent, relatively local, intuitive, and you have a decent amount of firepower at your disposal." Oh, he must have seen the photos of the place I fought Mush at. I'd gone a little wild back there, but it wasn't my fault, not entirely. It was Mush's fault for not going down when I hit him the first time, or the second or third.

"It's decent enough."

"Yes, I suppose it is. I'm NOT trying to recruit you into the Ambassadors, Grim. I can tell you wouldn't fit in as one. Your costume is barely passable as it is, but you seem to have no problem wearing it. No, you wouldn't belong with my ambassadors. The Travellers were bad enough, and I won't make the same mistake again. You would be hired muscle for my more important undertakings only. I have predicted a period of one month where outsiders will try to come in and establish themselves. Should I find them to be a nuisance and more than my current staff can handle, I would contact you for your services. Payment would be up for negotiation depending on the intruder, but you would be free to decline if you so desire," he spoke, as if we were discussing a part-time job, not fights between capes. Technically it was a part-time job, but I hadn't ever had one before either. Before that though, I needed to get something off my chest.

'Holy shit, a supervillain is trying to hire me as a mercenary!' I yelled inside my mind. I resisted the urge to shake my head frantically. Who knew how he'd react to that?

My heart was beating like a jackhammer as I answered.

"I'm… flattered, but I'm afraid I must decline. As I said earlier, I do aim to become a hero and associating with a known villain would put me firmly in the Villain camp. Villains who try to go legit as heroes tend to face an uphill struggle." 'More like Sisyphus' struggle.' Welp, I had officially declined a villain's 'Join me'-pitch. I was pretty sure this was when we started fighting.

"Of course, I was expecting you to decline."

'WHAT?'

"You said it yourself, didn't you? You wanted to become a hero. Had you accepted my offer I would've known you were weak-willed and greedy, much like the employee who recently stole from me. I would have executed you on the spot. Now I know more about your personality, and we can conclude our meeting amicably," the short and plump man said confidently.

Only the fact that he had at least two capes outside stopped me from decking the villain's mask with my fist. I could punch people pretty hard these days, thanks to my power. He would probably not appreciate losing a tooth or four.

"Yes, I guess we can," I bit out, trying my hardest to grind my own teeth into dust.

"Excellent, Theobroma will show you out."

I stood up, my butt protesting leaving the incredibly comfortable chair. I had the urge to steal the furniture, but I doubted Accord would let me. I didn't need to go that far either way. I just needed to find the cape with furniture-making powers and hire him.

I needed that chair!

Screw Accord though; that neurotic ass wouldn't be seeing me ever again. I didn't need another near heart attack.

As I left the meeting room, I did my best not to storm out like a petulant child. My nervousness had disappeared, replaced by a simmering anger. In hindsight I should've noticed it. He hadn't asked me questions about the gangs of Brockton Bay out of ignorance or interest. He was testing me and my awareness. He needed to know if I was as competent as he had assumed. Only if I had needed money badly enough to accept his offer he would have killed me on the spot. That in turn meant he had enough capes already to make him confident he'd be able to do it.

Which made me even more relieved I hadn't used my flute to cut his mask into bits and pieces.

I walked down Concord street and turned a left at Bunker Hill street. I didn't want to use my power so close to the meeting spot, given the nature of my abilities made me quite noticeable at night. While I had grown to dislike the crime lord in the few minutes we had spoken, I wasn't stupid enough to draw attention to him after having just finished a deal with him. I would take a walk for a few minutes, maybe double back and see the Bunker Hill Monument.

Oh wait, the monument square had become a refugee camp a few weeks ago. I doubted the refugees would appreciate a tourist walking around taking pictures in the middle of the night.

'Oh, don't mind me! I'm just here to sightsee. You go back to wallowing in despair over having lost your homes and families while I was having fun learning how to use my powers.'

That was SO not suspicious at all.

"Hey, look here! Seems like we got ourselves a loner."

The owner of the voice was a young man wearing gang colours all over his body. Green scarves hung from his arms and belt, with even more hiding under his thick jacket. He wore another scarf over his mouth, hiding his face just like I did. A huge swastika covered his shaved head, showing the world his political views. A black handgun was tucked into his pants, its barrel pointing straight at his manhood. I recognized the name of the manufacturer, a gun company infamous for its cheap handguns often being used as disposable weapons.

His friends emerged from the Spanish grocery store they'd been robbing. Like their comrade, they were all wearing green scarves. Swastikas and other Nazi symbolism adorned their skin and clothing. I didn't know what gang they were from, but their accent was a dead giveaway. They were from New York, which meant they arrived with the refugee wave. Given the obvious experience the young men were showing as they hauled their stolen property on to their truck, I was pretty certain their gang originated in NYC and had simply moved their entire operation to Boston.

"Is a good thin' you showed, yeah?"

'What?'

"Me and my friends were just shopping here and thought: 'the spics weren't gonna need all that stuff, y'know'. We weren't gonna rob anyone, just liberate some goods. We were actually gettin' a little bored with how easy it was but then you showed up! That's why I'mma give ya an offer, an offer, the best offer," the obviously high criminal said. I didn't need the yellow shine from the street light showing me his dilated pupils to tell me that. "Leave ya wallet, ya cash, ya phone, and ya shoes, and we leave you alone, see. Is a great deal, yeah?"

If his incomprehensible speech wasn't enough of an indicator, the fact that they didn't realize I was a cape based on my clothes was another sign that they were high on something fierce. I'd seen Merchants with more sense than these racist skinheads.

Actually, one of them was black. A black gangster robbing a Latino store with a group of neo-Nazis. There was a joke in there somewhere, and I was going to find it one day. Not tonight though, tonight I had something more important to do.

"I don't think you are aware of what's going to happen." I reached for my mom's flute. The metal was cold, but it filled me with confidence.

"Yeah? I'm aware that you're gonna die now, bitch." The skinhead reached clumsily for his gun. For a second I was afraid he'd shoot his own crotch with the way he was fumbling around. He finally got a good hold of the polymer grip and pulled it up to aim the firearm at me.

I let my power surge through me.

I felt the nine millimetre bullet slam into my shoulder. I took a step back from the momentum, but nothing more. The deformed piece of lead dropped to the ground, flattened from its own force. The lead skinhead gaped at me, no doubt confused out if his drug-addled mind.

I took a step forward.

The rest of his gang took out their own guns and fired. Twenty-twos, nine millimetres, and twelve gauge slugs hit me with varied speed and force. The sounds of gunshots echoed over Charlestown, waking the neighbourhood with its harsh cacophony. If I wasn't suffering from sleep deprivation I'd be worried about that. I'd be worried about a lot of things, such as gunshots and drugged up skinheads.

The deafening blasts of their guns disappeared, only to be replaced by the impotent clicks of their empty magazines. It played out just like in the movies. The clicks continued for a few seconds before their brains registered what happened. The more sensible of them reached for a full magazine, while the even more sensible began to run, leaving their spoils behind.

The lead skinhead simply reached for a fresh gun in his jacket.

Silver light burst from my mom's flute. The cold metal I'd grown used to turned into solid heat. I swung it as the light took shape, aiming it at the second gun the skinhead was holding. A crossguard formed above my hands, while a silver pommel appeared beneath them. The light grew until it was 35 inches long, tapering towards the tip.

The longsword in my hands sliced the gun in half, completely ignoring the polymer and steel it was made of. The pieces fell from his grip, even as the skinhead struggled to comprehend what was happening. I didn't wait for him to react this time. I struck his head with the flat side of the blade, the hard light construction being more than enough to knock him out. I was careful not to hit him too hard though. A real sword might've given him permanent brain damage, but my powers gave me enough flexibility to ensure he'd only be getting a mild concussion.

As the lead skinhead fell, I turned to his followers. The rest of his gang panicked when they saw me, all of me. I understood why immediately.

My powers weren't the easiest to understand. It took me a long time to realize I even had powers. It wasn't until I'd woken up one day and seen myself in the mirror that I understood what had happened.

I had powers.

Now they realized it as well.


-[}{]-