Ghost of Hope

I'm alive! I've just been dealing with my somewhat chaotic personal life...which I've been doing for a while, actually. Some things have a way of creeping up on you. And this chapter proved to be a bit tough to write in places. Sorry for the wait and thank you kindly to all who reviewed.

Disclaimer: I do not own Worm.

Chapter 1: Partners!

Brockton Bay was a faded echo of the thriving port city David had spent his childhood in.

He'd only lived here for seven years. Of all things, it was the family financial situation that saw them move to Seattle; painfully ironic to think about now that the block he'd lived in was a slum controlled by the Empire 88. His memories of the city were pretty faded, all things considered, and his had little emotional attachment to what did remain (he cut himself off of everything human, except a few tethers he couldn't live without), but looking at the ruins left by the advent of Scion was deeply frustrating.

Which, on top of what this night has already turned into, was saying something.

"You can't be more specific than just the docks?" He half snapped at the ghost trailing after him. "That covers almost a third of the city."

The young woman let out a faintly exasperated noise. 'I'm telling you, I don't know the street address or anything. My knowledge on today isn't quite that specific. And besides, it's gonna be hard to miss if he lights up before we find them.'

"I'm still not sure I believe you," He said, even as he pushed off the roof of the apartment he'd been standing on in search of a vantage point.

She snorted. 'You believe me enough to cross three states in the middle of the night, and I'll have corroborative evidence soon enough. I want to help you, David. I would never screw with you on something as serious as this.'

David sorely wanted to ask why a girl with the power to control bugs is as important to her Plan as powerful precogs, the greatest healer cape in the world, or the unchaining of an artificial intelligence, but something kept the question behind his tongue. For as nonsensical as it seems, whenever he challenged her on her knowledge, she told him something that left him reeling. He wasn't sure he wanted to know why she was so set on ensuring Taylor Hebert became a hero, even above gaining Tattletale's cooperation.

There was also the matter of a probationary Ward shoving a young girl in a locker full of toxic waste, leaving her there for over an hour, and getting away with it thanks to her handler. Had it not been for his own miserable experiences within high school, he would have been tempted to laugh that off as something out of a cartoon. However, he knew better than most people how vindictive people could be if they thought they could avoid consequences...especially teenagers. How did Director Piggot let that happen right under her nose? If that got out, the damage it would do to the PRT was...immense. Especially in Brockton Bay, where true victories were few and far between. This couldn't stand. Shadow Stalker had to learn, once and for all, that having powers didn't exclude her from the rules keeping society from tearing itself apart.

That aside... maybe David isn't nearly as fond of or as comfortable with young people as Nathan, but he can't know about those events and let it stand when it would cost him nothing to fix it.

Even if the mere idea of dealing with high school fallout makes him feel faintly sick.

He really shouldn't be here by himself; he should report to Cauldron, get Rebecca and have her go over what the girl told him – verify the truth. Hell, he should at least tell them where he was going. But he hasn't done either of those things, even though he can hardly believe half the things she's said, and came here because – because – he had to see it, had to see events unfold as she told him they would. Because if it's true, if half of it is true –

A plan. A direct and concise way to defeat Zion, to kill him and save all of humanity. Not some nebulous ill-defined Path; no more flailing around in the dark, no more reason to accept monsters and serial killers as necessary –

Realistic, realistic, he told himself. Even if its true – if it was true – problems outside of Zion wouldn't vanish overnight. The hero to villain ratio still meant that appeasement and social maneuvering was no less important. The balancing act wouldn't vanish, it would just change...

'...David? Are you ignoring me?'

"I'm thinking," He responded sharply, and he was about to retort with hername – it bugged him that she kept using his given name despite the fact he's in costume – when he realized something. A hot spike of embarrassment cut off his sentence, and he was glad for the mask. "I'm not certain you ever told me your name."

'Didn't I?' She let out a small involuntary chuckle. 'I guess I got carried away. Or maybe it's the dream, making me miss things.' He'd given up on trying to convince her she wasn't sleeping, so he just sighed instead. 'I'm sorry. My name's Elena.'

"Elena," He repeated, slowing his flight slightly as he glanced over at her. Her smile was self conscious; even her ethereal visage can't obstruct that. She had to be at least ten years younger than him, probably more. She was pretty, though hardly striking by most people's metric, and prone to dry remarks when irritation set in. (at least, that was his strong impression at this point.) As far as he could tell, her form was completely intangible and invisible to everyone except himself, which convinced him she'd triggered with a Stranger/Thinker package of some stripe. Maybe her trigger event was so severe (what event would result in a power that disconnected her with the world so completely?) she developed traumatic amnesia. Or it was a side effect of her power.

That didn't explain the seemingly perfect knowledge of the immediate past, present and future...Doctor Mother had said that precogs couldn't predict Scion or the Endbringers, only the results of their actions. Yet that didn't stop Elena from knowing things she shouldn't, down to the finest details. He was missing something here, a single puzzle piece that would allow all of this to make sense, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Maybe he needed to think about it more...

That thought was cut off by a pillar of fire exploding out of a street in the distance. David came to an abrupt halt, staring wide-eyed as distant shrieks of alarm rose from the ground below. Elena, however, let out a mirthless chuckle and turned to him with her arms crossed. 'I do believe that's your cue,' She said with a mild tone wildly at odds with the situation at hand.

Pyrokenisis...the only other parahumans in Brockton Bay who possessed that ability were Spitfire and Circus. Neither of whom could, or were known, to use it on that scale.

"Because a few hours from now, a suicidal young girl with the power to control bugs is going to take on Lung in order to protect some teenagers. And if you don't talk to her first, one of the villain gangs will get her, and you will not like what happens next. Rebecca, even less so."

David's heartbeat picked up.

As Taylor watched the most terrifying villain in Brockton Bay make his way up the building towards her, she took a moment to dimly contemplate what might be written on her tombstone. Praise? Grief? 'Here lies Taylor Hebert, a total idiot who thought she could fight Lung'? Maybe it wouldn't matter. Hell, maybe Lung wouldn't even leave a body to be found; her dad would be left to wonder what had become of her... Well. At least he wouldn't be able to kill those kids.

That had to count for something.

The upper half of Lung's body had just emerged over the side of the building when a green light shimmered for a brief moment. The infamous supervillain didn't even get a chance to look up – a blast of super-heated energy struck him from above, driving him straight into the pavement several stories below.

Taylor sucked in a breath of blessedly clearer air, dazed and slightly in shock at the unexpected assistance. Lung's screech of outrage was cut off by a second blast; the earsplitting crunch of pavement told her he'd been in mid-jump. A moment later, a figure in green landed on the edge of the roof. He looked over the edge for a few moments; when firelight filled the alley again, Taylor heard something that sounded faintly like 'you've got to be kidding me' before the cape turned slightly to look at her.

"Are you hurt?" He asked. He had an older man's voice, a tired tone that slightly reminded her of her father.

Whatever response Taylor might have stuttered out if she'd met any of the local Protectorate died a violent death as the fire below allowed her a better look at her rescuer. Briefly she wondered if she was hallucinating from smoke inhalation; the thought was only discarded because Lung likely wouldn't let her live long enough to see things. Sure, Alexandria had been her personal hero as a child, but as a cape geek she had long held the Triumverate in near reverence, so to see the most powerful man on Earth short of Scion personally intervene to save her upended the known world.

"Are you hurt?" Eidolon repeated, a faint note of concern bleeding through that exhaustion.

Taylor tried to muster up a bold, casual response; something like of course not, this is just an average day in Brockton Bay sir. All that came out, however, was a squeaking noise dangerously close to what you heard from cape fangirls. She shook her head.

"Good," He sighed. "Stay there. He's still trying to ramp up." With those words – ascribing no reaction to the escalating power of the city's most dangerous villain greater than mild irritation – he stepped off the side of the building and disappeared. Lung roared again, followed by the sound of laser fire. Taylor briefly why Eidolon was using brute force before realizing it was a distraction – or a means to keep Lung in one place. Being the only cape aside from the Fairy Queen who could use multiple unrelated powers simultaneously, it was more likely he already had a Master power active.

Powers, she thought somewhat hysterically, could be so incredibly unfair.

There was one final, very definitive sounding thud after which the alleyway became quiet again. Hesitantly, she made her way to the edge of the roof and peered into the dimly lit street. Lung was lying in a foot deep crater in the pavement, slowly shrinking back down to his original size while Eidolon stood several feet away, watching cautiously. Taylor blinked a few times. There was...some sort of glittering light down there? Like silver and stars. But when she tried to focus on it, she got a headache, and then it disappeared.

She thought it was hovering near Eidolon, though. Strange.

Lung, now in human form, lay perfectly still. Eidolon knelt next to his downed opponent, a soft glow surrounding his hand. Whatever he was doing – checking for a pulse, drugging the villain to ensure he stayed unconscious, it was hard to tell from her vantage point – it only took a moment. Then he stood, and in a blink he was standing a few feet away from her. She nearly squeaked again. It amazed her, a bit; after fifteen months of barely being able to experience anything but exhaustion, distress and general unhappiness...that she could even feel such basic things glee, nervousness and – excitement, for lack of a better word. He wasn't Alexandria; but he saved her. When was the last time someone had done anything to help her?

"T-Thank you." She managed to keep her voice mostly level! Progress!

"No need for that," Eidolon dismissed it mildly. It was impossible to read his expression due to the full face mask, but Taylor felt like she was being examined carefully. "You don't look familiar. Are you a new trigger?"

"Trigger?" Taylor parroted, confused. "Um, I haven't heard that word yet."

The Triumverate hero paused for a moment, his head tilted slightly. "Trigger Events are the name given to the moment powers manifest. It's been a while since I've seen the current Protectorate ENE lineup, but I don't remember seeing a costume so...visually distinct."

She flushed. "I-I'm new. The outfit – um – I hadn't intended it to look this edgy. It's spidersilk, mostly, and it wasn't until I set it up and started painting that I realized – it's really hard to make bugs look non-threatening. Or to find a name that doesn't make you sound like a villain or a complete dork."

Eidolon started slightly, then let out a small, soft chuckle. Her heart skipped a little; Eidolon had something of a reputation for being severe, serious and unapproachable, but the sound of his laughter was so genuine. With a jolt, she thought that it reminded her of her dad...the few times something would make him laugh, it seemed an involuntary sound, as if he couldn't quite remember what joy or amusement truly felt like. "Some powers don't exactly lend themselves to heroic imagery," He agreed. "Not easily, at any rate."

She giggled; he would know that better than most, after all.

"Bugs, then..." His voice grew mild again. "What possessed you to stand and try to fight Lung instead of running? He's not in your weight class." There was a flicker of silver next to him. It was quick, and Taylor wondered if she'd imagined it, but...

"Well...I didn't intend to?" She fidgeted. "I – I stumbled on him giving some orders to his men. Telling them to slaughter some kids who'd made him angry. I...I don't have a phone, yet. I couldn't let him do that, so I set bugs on them." She sighed in defeat. "I'd hoped that enough spider venom could knock him out before his power really kicked in, or weaken him enough that he wouldn't want to fight. I misjudged the dosage, I guess."

"So that's why his regeneration was still in overdrive after he passed out," Eidolon mused. "It was decent strategy, though you should be more certain of the variables in the future." He turned towards her. "It was brave, what you did. Stupid, but brave. You'd make a good hero."

Something akin to a sob escaped Taylor before she could stop it. Her mind darted back to Emma's endless belittlement, Sophia's violence, Madison's pettiness, the apathy of everyone who just watched them work to destroy her. Yet here was this man, half a god on Earth, saving her from trouble and telling her she was a hero.

"I...I've been thinking about it," She said unsteadily. It wasn't exactly true – the idea of dealing with other teenagers, turning her superhero life into an extension of school, was unappealing to the say the last. Yet... "But...well. Um. My, my life's a bit of a mess right now. I'm not sure I could j-juggle official status on-on top of everything."

There was that flicker of silver again. What is it?

Eidolon let out another small laugh. Taylor was getting the impression that he didn't laugh often. If at all. "The difficulties of being a teenager," He said. When she started, eyes widening behind her mask, he made a placating gesture and said, "Your voice gives you away. Most independents I've met use voice scramblers to obstruct potential clues to their identity. Something to think about."

"Oh," She managed, feeling her cheeks heat up. I hadn't even thought of that.

"You'd be safer in the Wards," Eidolon said seriously. "The usual rate for independents avoiding being impressed into gangs or worse ranges from six to eight months, and Brockton Bay is no exception. And that fought Lung, defied him and survived. You were there when he was defeated. The ABB will not take that lightly, and the two capes they have left have everything to prove with their master incapacitated."

Taylor swallowed. "You don't have to agree to anything right away," The older man assured her. "But do think about it. The Protectorate in this city is in need of good capes. Until you make a decision...stay under the radar, and try to avoid the docks. Take care of yourself."

"I will. Thank you...a-again."

'Dear lord, can you ever have conversation with a stranger that isn't hopelessly awkward?'" Elena asked him as the girl – Weaver, she'd called her – vanished down the dark roads. 'I mean, I totally get it, meeting new people is incredibly nerve wracking and it's never clear exactly what you should say, but I didn't think you'd need that much help.'

"...It was just as you said." David whispered. His hands were shaking, he noted dimly.

He'd been monitoring 'Weaver' via a passive thinker power. Everything she'd said had been honest, and her emotions were a riot of shock-elation-distress-amazement and the sort of joyful sadness that came with a painful feeling or memory being expunged. She really was just an unlucky girl who wanted desperately to be a hero – the desire for which had been the biggest barrier between her and suicide.

He couldn't be suspicious of that, or resent it. Not when it was so much what he lived with every single day since Clark's murder.

'Mmm-hmm.' To her credit, she only sounded moderately smug. The roar of a motorcycle was drawing closer and closer. 'Believe me now? Armsmaster's coming up, we should brainstorm a reason you haven't called ahead.'

"Colin." David murmured, turning away from Lung's still-prone form to the alley entrance. Elena made a faintly surprised sounding noise. "It's been a long time since I saw him outside of Endbringer fights."

'Huh. He was part of the first official Wards team, I suppose you'd know his real name.' Elena said, pondering. She tilted her head and gave him a curious look. 'You remember him from back then?'

"Sort of." The motorcycle turned the corner and came to an abrupt stop. Its rider swung off and took a few steps forward. Elena let out an admiring whistle and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'looks even cooler than I imagined before, whoa'. The familiar figure came to a sharp halt.

"Eidolon?" He demanded; even the voice filter couldn't conceal his shock. "Is that you, sir?"

'He's testing out his new lie detector,' Elena mused. 'It's a really handy piece of machinery.'

"Yes," David answered shortly, inclining his head slightly. "Armsmaster. It's been a while. Do you have backup on the way?"

Armsmaster took a brief look at Lung and replied, "I'll radio it in. Is he-?"

"Unconscious, for the time being." David frowned, knowing he would have to tread carefully here. The lie detector complicated things. "He's unrelated to what brought me here so late. He was in the process of attacking a young independent when I happened across him."

Armsmaster was too professional to curse when he wasn't under a titanic amount of stress, but David suspected he hadn't taken kindly to that. "Miss Militia, Lung is down. I need transport as soon as possible; I'll send you the coordinates." He paused. "Good." Then he returned his full attention to the man who'd been one of the three overseeing his initial days a Ward. "Was the independent harmed?"

"No." His lip twitched. "She was remarkably reckless, considering her base powers when measured against his, but I had time to subdue him before he could do her any serious harm."

"Did you offer her a position in the Wards?"

David resisted the urge to sigh. "Yes, though for the moment I'd rather she kept her head down and avoided pubic attention. With Lung in custody, Bakuda and Oni Lee will be making a power play. I'd rather they didn't target a lone teenager." Knowing that Colin would likely belabor the point, he continued quickly, "A source approached me with a number of warnings I cannot pass on at the moment, except one – the Protectorate ENE has a leak. Several, in fact."

It was hard to tell visually, since Armsmaster held himself in parade rest whenever he was in armor, but David was pretty sure he tensed up. "Are...are you certain, sir?"

He nearly laughed, which would have been a poor idea, though he managed to catch himself. "Relatively certain, yes. Which is why I can't explain my biggest concern until I've dealt with it – if what I've been told is true-" 'Really?' Elena snarked at him; he would have thrown her an exasperated look if he had the chance. "-it requires both my immediate attention and extreme caution."

'Well,' She mused, 'That's far more close to reality than your reaction to Echinda in the original future'.

Some days, David envied Nathan more than ever.

Armsmaster paused for a moment, then nodded in acceptance. He was still enough of a company man to take one of the higher ups at face value, it seemed. "What shall I tell Director Piggot?"

"That I'll have a report for her as soon as possible," David deadpanned. Elena's startled laughter smarted a bit. He wasn't completely humorless, damn it!

He waited until the PRT van arrived and Lung was secured, stoically ignoring the shocked stares and random questions thrown in his direction. Then he took back to the sky again, reaching heights that would make him difficult to spot from below as he moved across the cityscape.

"So...the Travelers. Where are they?"

'Hm. If they're not with Coil already, they're somewhere in the city. Coil doesn't hire then in earnest until Bakuda goes on her bombing spree-'

"Which she won't," He said with savage certainty. "I will never allow it."

She gave him a beaming smile at that, apparently not the least bit irritated at being interrupted. '-and he won't have approached them with the offer until after he got Dinah. Otherwise the pretense of being able to spoof the Simurgh's little plot would fall through.' She tapped her chin. 'You might be expedient just to use the Clairvoyant to reach them. We're going to have to call in to Cauldron in order to remove Noelle's power, after all – might as well make full use of the resource.'

He sighed. "And what exactly am I going to tell them? That a voice in my head told me where to find a Simurgh victim? The Doctor might just drop dead of a heart attack."

'Oh, lovely. That would make it a win-win.'

It was somewhat disturbing how cheerful Elena sounded saying that.

End Chapter

Yeah, Elena was not so subtly helping David through about half of his conversation with Taylor so he wouldn't step on her buttons. She hasn't told him that Taylor herself becomes Brockton Bay's warlord; for one thing to avoid talking about what happens to Alexandria because of that, and for another so it wouldn't color his initial response to her.

I avoided a typical thousands word long info dump where she explains basically everything to David all at once because I generally find those scenes fairly boring and wanted to avoid one. I hope no one's disappointed or finds it too disjointed; David will flash back to various things she's told him as he goes about preventing Brockton Bay from becoming a giant mess and setting up the Golden Ending (haha).

Read and Review please!