"At long last, I have found you!"
It was here. He was here.
He was ready. He had studied the White Spider's activities ever since it had first come to his attention.
Even in its relative infancy, it had already tried to make war against the ABB by ambushing his lieutenant whilst he was occupied with one of his few civilian hobbies. It had cleverly led him into a trap and attempted to use numbers against him. Though Lee had emerged personally victorious in that encounter, it had cost them one of their most secure safehouses. It was a humiliation he could not ignore, could not allow to pass unanswered. Not by a relative newcomer.
In its next public encounter it had waited for the Empire's Runt and New Wave to engage each other before taking out the mundane gangbangers as well as the junior pair of heroes. It had found its opening and went for the weaker members first to quickly remove them from the picture. The moment it had found itself matched by the two stronger capes, however, it had quickly made its escape by using its own swarm as a distraction.
"There will be no escaping this time! You and I will do battle and only one shall walk away!"
Much of the following encounters against the gangs in the city had followed along the same vein. The White Spider would lure in its opposition's forces by preying upon their lesser members, then turn the tables by throwing the battlefield into confusion. If its opponents were canny enough, strong enough, to mount an effective resistance it would fade into the background whilst leaving behind disposable decoys in order to cover its tracks.
That strategy had led to the downfall of the Merchants. It had brought the Empire to its knees. He'd had no first-hand knowledge of confrontations with the Protectorate, but he would bet money that the spider had made use of and taken advantage of their PRT soldiers.
The pattern was clear; it never fought where it could not immediately obtain the upper hand. It was an ambush predator, oftentimes surprising its foes whilst they were otherwise focused on the more obvious opponents in front of them. If the odds turned against it, then it would flee with no concern for the outcome.
He had learned from the mistakes of his foes. His own members had been warned that their battles against the Spider were their own. He would not allow himself to be drawn into a battlefield of its choosing. He was strong, yes, but he was not so prideful that he would disrespect such an opponent and believe it had no way to deal with him, especially if it caught him off guard.
Instead, he tried to turn the tables upon it. He had done his research. He had sought out any clues to its habits even as he used Lee to scout its tactics whenever possible. He looked for any scrap of information he could collect in order to determine its motives or selection patterns. He was not… entirely proud to admit it, but he had also contracted interested third parties for what knowledge and expertise they could provide.
But his own traps had failed; the Spider having repeatedly refused to take the bait he had carefully laid out. Even the one procured—at great cost—after consulting with the Snake's own informant.
Perhaps the Spider had simply been too cautious—rightfully so. Or perhaps the informant had fed his men false information. If it was the latter, she would soon know his wrath.
When Leviathan had made landfall he had known this was to be his opportunity. If the Spider was anything like him, it would not be able to resist the siren call of a worthy battle. It would test its mettle against a creature that had never been laid low. It would prepare a battlefield where the enemy had every advantage and could shatter all preparations. Most importantly, it was a fight it could not easily run from, not without losing everything.
"How does it feel, having your own tactics used against you?"
And he would flip the script around. He would escalate himself as much as he could without actively participating in the battle, then he would be the one to catch the Spider off guard. He would be the one to assert his dominance over Brockton Bay. He would prove that he had nothing to fear from a mere insect, that he had merely held back out of practicality. He would demonstrate that he was the only one who could accomplish what all the other gangs and the Protectorate could not and bring the White Spider to its many knees.
And if Leviathan just so happened to fall between their combined might, so much the better.
He was ready for this fight. He anticipated it with his very being.
…and then the portals opened up and Lung realised he probably should have committed the last few minutes into his planning a bit more.
You don't say!
Really, now? Fascinating!
[Can you really understand him?]
Not a single thing. You?
[Nope. It's all just 'rawrrrr' to me.]
That's what I figured.
So uh… thoughts about tall, silver, and scaly?
[…Make them fight each other?]
Well, yeah. I mean, it's not like we could stop them. They're gonna stick around whether we want them to or not, it's just—
Oh, oh! Yeah, we could just… tip-toe this way and then leave them to their—
Okay, I can totally see Lung's eyes tracking me. How about sneaking thaaaat way?
[They're both staring. Both of them. With everybody else watching us. This is starting to feel embarrassing.]
[Yes, no way. I don't think there's any way we're getting out of this.]
Whelp, the test pilots proved themselves able, so lets roll out the production models!
[Release the hounds: Inaugural Squadron!]
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
A dozen portals rip open around us and from each one a vehicle-sized empowered not-so-mini-me slams into the ground.
Lung, meet the super-empowered minions which are apparently giant-biological-mecha-suit-thingies-with-spikes-of-DOOMandnoIhavenoideahowthatworksbecausepowersarebullshit. Leviathan, you've already been introduced.
Minions, meet the targets.
Now, we're trying to be real friendly here, so let's all kiss and make up.
In unison, each newcomer bares their fangs and step forward. Most of them light up with a bright neon-green glow, though a few holdouts are rimmed with an angry orange, cool blues, or shocking yellow light.
And Lung wastes no time in turning and decking the nearest… thing (I really need to think of a name for them) across the head. That is not how you respond to a lady making advances on you, Sir Dragon! You either let them down gently or just walk away!
Just as I'm about to tell The Squad to beat down this enemy of women, said enemy suddenly erupts in a steam explosion. At the same time, all of the rest of us are the targets of a deluge of water spontaneously forming in the sky and falling upon us.
There was an Endbringer too, wasn't there?
Swam-in-Charge, weren't you saying you were going to dedicate a fork of yourself towards keeping an eye on our surroundings?
[I plead the Fifth.]
"Lung is on-site," Miss Militia barked into her communicator. "He's engaged both Shelob and Leviath—make that multiple large-scale Shelobs.
She watched through her scope as she awaited instructions, whether they be to continue to serve as overwatch or transition to firing support.
The new arrivals split into two groups and fling themselves at either opponent. Both groups had little effect at first, as Leviathan nimbly dodged their attempts at a spider-pile and bashed them into the nearby structures or uppercutted them into the sky. Lung simply ignored them in favour of charging straight towards the much smaller white figure in his path.
Several of the spiders fired off shotgun sprays of threads, much larger and more numerous than could be expected even from something their size, given that Miss Militia had been able to spot it from her vantage point. The flying nets flew through the air at speeds that seemed to ignore physics and they wrapped themselves around the charging dragon, the impact checking his momentum for a brief moment before he roared and burned them from his flesh.
One giant spider managed to regain its balance after having been body-checked and scuttled forward, interposing itself between Lung and Shelob in the blink of an eye. It dug its claws into the pavement and heaved, pulling up a wall of concrete and rock that arched over the pair just as a stream of fire immolated itself against the improvised barrier.
"Armsmaster, are you getting this?" she spoke into the pickup embedded into her jacket's collar.
"I see it," came the voice of the Protectorate leader on the BB Protectorate's local channel. "Using the earth to construct a sloped roof. I don't think Shelob has displayed that sort of power before."
"It's… a giant spider. Really gigantic spider. For all we know it could just be an extension of an existing brute power," Miss Militia observed.
"To promote clarity across our comm-protocols, I am designating the larger specimens as sub-category: Terra Architects—earth-builders," Armsmaster pressed on, ignoring her. "Dragon, can you pass that suggestion on to the communications network?"
"Stand by," came the slightly distracted voice of the Tinker pulling the double-duty of managing a communication hub as well as piloting multiple assault craft. Miss Militia found herself wholly unsurprised to find she had tapped into their channel as well. Armsmaster did always seem to have a soft spot for the Guild's most famous cape.
"This isn't a game of scrabble, Boss," Assault's voice came over the comm. "That's kind of a mouthful."
"It's not pocket monsters, either!"
Lung roared again as he leapt into the air and came down upon the temporary structure, weakening it into collapsing. It resisted just long enough for Shelob and the giant spi—for the terra-tect to skitter out of the way as the rest of the swarm closed in on him from behind.
Several of them pounced upon the ABB leader and he roared in pain or fury, more likely the latter, as he threw them off in turn. Flames burst from his wounds, searing them even as they healed closed, and Miss Militia belatedly noticed several of the terra-tects' fangs were dripping with a sickly green liquid. Another's attack against one wing resulted in the limb being partially coated in frost before a backhand struck it to the ground as well and she could see that one's fang glowing a bright blue.
"Orders regarding Lung?" Miss Militia pressed, absentmindedly adjusting the knob on her scope.
A low growl came over the channel, followed by Armsmaster's frustrated voice. "Personally, after what Shelob's swarm of Lesser Terra-tects just did to us, I'm inclined to let Lung give it payback on our behalf. That said, neither Legend nor Alexandria have said anything on the matter since they're still focused on Leviathan… and Lung is distracting a valuable asset from that greater threat. Get him turned around, or take him down."
"Copy that," the sniper confirmed amidst a chorus of similar acknowledgements. She held her aim, but lifted her head briefly to check on the other fight, as the combat zone had definitely split into two, as Armsmaster had indicated. The distance, combined with the brevity of her glance, only revealed flashes of released energy and arcing water spouts several blocks down the street as the other group of terra-tects pressed upon the Endbringer, joined by the capes on the scene.
"Leviathan is currently engaged at BC-5," she said into the operational channel. "Velocity, I'm pretty sure you're around there somewhere. I see A mix of flying blasters and a few ground-bound brutes, along with half a dozen terra-tects."
"MM, Velocity. Confirmed. Legend and Purity, plus a handful of others. Alexandria is closer to the ground with Kaiser, Armsmaster, and that metal Ward from Boston. The terra-tects seem to be taking point and the rest are filling in." Velocity was running on full combat-adrenaline, it seemed. His speech was a tad faster than normal, not devoting as much mental power to slowing it down as he normally did when he was in the middle of doing his thing. Several of his words were blurring together as he spoke.
"We're just using probing attacks," Armsmaster defended himself. "No sense in committing too hard when we don't know what they're fully capable of yet."
"Copy that. Armsmaster, doesn't look like there are any surprises so feel free to command at your discretion. The Shelob-Lung battle is at BC-4 and increasing in distance, so there shouldn't be any immediate interference. I'll let you know if that changes. Right now Shelob is—"
Spidermech 1 uses Ice Fang!
The newly labeled spidermech leaps forward and digs her fangs into one of Lung's wings. The limb freezes over and the additional weight unbalances the transformed gang leader enough to stumble to one side briefly.
He roars in wordless fury and flames flare up from his flesh, though Spidermech 1 stubbornly retains her hold on the limb and continues to chew. Her forelimbs come around and begin stabbing and slashing at his exposed back. The wing sheds water and steam, but new ice is reapplied as she continues attacking it at the joint where it meets the ABB leader's body.
It's… well I can't tell if it's actually effective or not. Props for literally hanging in there, though.
Swarm-in-Charge, did we get anything from him? That's like the twelfth time one of the Spidermechs has bitten him!
[We got something, but I can't quite tell what it is whilst I'm busy trying to micromanage the Leviathan group. Are you feeling angry?]
No more than usual?
[Are you turning into a dragon?]
I inspect my claws. Very sharp, very pointy. Still just a spider limb and not looking very lizard-like, however.
[Then I've got nothing, yet. It'll come to me sooner or later.]
Well, if Lung wants a fight, he's going to get one. But it's gonna be on my terms!
BLINK! BLINK BLINK BLINK Blink blink blink blink blinkblinkblinkblinkblink ʙʟɪɴᴋʙʟɪɴᴋʙʟɪɴᴋʙʟɪɴᴋʙʟɪɴᴋʙʟɪɴᴋ…
Don't use anything he can just burn away!
Each of the spider clones make use of an ability we've only practiced in sparring until now. By remaining attached to the line and feeding a sliver of a power into it, they give it a degree of invulnerability. The threads can still be knocked around, brushed aside, and whatnot. But for the duration that Brace lasts they can't be cut, set ablaze, or otherwise destroyed.
The downside is that the invulnerability period is fairly short, but for the purpose of an improvised web wall or temporarily tying down opponents like this, it's invaluable.
True to form, Lung immediately flares out with his fiery aura once more in a knee-jerk reaction of burning the hundreds of lines tying him down, but they resist for that crucial moment.
I immediately leap forward into his personal space, flicking out a shield orb and cannonballing into Lung's chest. The impact itself barely sets him reeling, but as I rebound away I compress the air behind me into a platform, landing and ricocheting right back towards him.
The bounce sets me spinning and I stretch out my legs, each one sharpening and lengthening into scythes as I hit the dragon with all of the grace of a buzzsaw.
Blood sprays from the gash that opens up against Lung's chest but he sets his feet and lunges towards me, trying to capture me between his claws as I rebound once more. Another aerial platform does the double-duty of allowing me to jump away at a new vector and impedes his charge as he runs chest-long into it. The hapless mini-mes are pulled from their perches—invincible threads or not, they still suffer from a strength-mismatch and physics—and are dragged across the pavement as Lung continues chasing after me.
Then Spidermechs 2 through 6 catch up and all six ginormous beings finally succeed in spider-piling Lung, sending him sprawling across the street. His flames have long ago evaporated most of the water in the area, so the impact sends up a cloud of debris and dust. Which only increases in volume as the spidermechs situate themselves around him and begin stabbing their legs into the body underneath them. The debris cloud blocks out all sight lines of the interior, leaving nothing but flailing limbs and the occasional head visible as they are rocked by various impacts from within.
The ground literally shakes with the force of Lung's roar as a massive claw reaches out and tears the face off from Spidermech 5. The rest of the body collapses in flames as the powers keeping it durable wink out and the mini-me piloting it is trapped inside as she's burned alive. The dragon seems to feed off the fresh source of heat and lets loose another challenging roar.
The remainder of the half-squadron start to pop out shields, but the Lung's other hand and wings sweep the area around him. They weather the hit and move back in, when a second set of wings unfurl and knock them onto their surprised asses.
Spidermechs! Your sacrifice will be remembered, keep distracting him!
A blazing claw snatches my leg out of the air and slams me into the ground!
Hoo boy, he's not pulling his punches. I need to get out of here!
SLAM SLAM SLAM SLAM.
I. Can't. See! LIKE! THIS! WHERE! CAN! I! BLINK! TO?!
The metaphorical warning light pops as I feel a pressure against my jaw. Visions of poor Spidermech 5 flash through my head as I feel an immense tearing from somewhere in my body—
Armsmaster ducked beneath the supersonic whip that was Leviathan's tail, then turned his duck into a roll to avoid the followup after-image. Rising smoothly to his feet, he watched the terra-tect to his side reel from the double impact, stumbling unsteadily on its five remaining legs as both strikes bit into the armoured chitin lining its body.
Two of its limbs were still embedded in Leviathan's arm, its own water skin not having managed to dislodge the scythes yet. It's final missing limb tumbled to the ground in front of Armsmaster, having been used to blunt most of the attack.
The Tinker feinted forward with an abbreviated thrust, then pulled back just as quickly as Leviathan spun towards him. Several capes on the Endbringer's far side used the opportunity to launch their own assault which drew its attention once more, allowing him to charge in for real.
His halberd sliced deeply into the wounds created by the terra-tects' attacks, gouging out his pound of flesh. Mid-swing, he toggled a small switch under his grip and a heavy dose of sedatives were released directly into what he prayed was Leviathan's bloodstream. He wasn't expecting them to actually have an effect, but even the chance of forcing the Endbringer to waste precious moments flushing the chemicals away or otherwise dealing with them would be a minor victory.
"Miss Militia to team," the voice came over his secondary channel. "Shelob appears to be neutralised. Lung is heading your wa—what the fuck?"
Armsmaster brought one hand up to where his earpiece would be, were it not covered by his helmet. "Repeat that? What's going on, Militia?"
His answer came in the form of an object flying through the air and striking Leviathan upside the head. The Endbringer whirled around just in time to catch several tons of flaming dragon, the two enormous figures hitting the ground and rolling for several dozen feet before they each came up swinging.
Several things happened at once, the remaining terra-tects froze and began disintegrating into ash. The object that had preceded Lung's attack rolled against his feet and he stared down into the nightmarish vision of Shelob's crushed cephalothorax, one leg still barely attached to its underside. Then he flinched backwards as it erupted into white light.
Owww… You know what? Let's just sit this fight out. It's Leviathan, he's gonna turn Brockton Bay into a small ocean at some point. It's probably safer if I just float around like this, not drawing any attention to myself.
[We can't keep this up.]
Yep! Just an innocent piece of seaweed~
[I mean, we're running out of material to force molting. It's a lot more inefficient than letting it happen naturally so it ate up a lot of our reserves. Plus, I don't know how I know this, but something is telling me that our clone spamming capabilities are not infinite. It was easier to manage when you were itty-bitty, but at our current size it's not sustainable. We need more mass!]
…Are you calling us fat?
[No, it's the exact opposite! We're metaphorically starving!]
What if we went back to cloning itty-bitty mes and held back just enough for more rezzes?
[Then they'd have almost no combat ability. I can still make a few thousand more clones of our current form but we're completely tapped out after that. Even more spidermechs might be a stretch. We've burned through almost everything we've consumed since we were born. If we survive this, we're gonna need to eat. A lot.]
No way! Why didn't you say something sooner?!
[Because I didn't expect to die this much!]
Okay, okay. So what I'm getting is… be a bit less cavalier about taking fatal damage. Make surviving a priority for any more clones, if any, and um… well, quality over quantity?
[...Actually, yes. I'm somewhat surprised you were able to work your way through that.]
Time to do it!
[Oh geezus, we're fucking doomed.]
"Shelob has reentered the fight," Armsmaster reported.
Miss Militia brought her rifle around the few degrees she needed to reacquire her targets. "I've got a shot on Leviathan… but Lung's in the way."
"Take it. He can handle it. Assault, Battery, what's your status?"
The sniper tuned out the reports from the rest of her team as her focus narrowed. Her position. The water in the air. The sun hidden behind the clouds. Leviathan's position.
She squeezed the trigger, then flexed her power. Squeeze, flex. Squeeze, flex.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Two sprays of blood accompanied her shots, one crowning the top of Leviathan's head, the other skimming its back. The third didn't appear to hit anything at all, but the enraged roar from Lung told her it'd probably buried itself somewhere between his wing joints. Both monsters appeared to ignore her attacks.
"MM, Velocity. Three hits, confirmed. No effect."
"Anti-materiel rounds appear to have no significant penetration," Miss Militia reported flatly. She eyeballed her scope once more and widened her eyes. "Uh…"
She saw Shelob stepping away from Armsmaster, the spider seeming to sway slightly as it took its first steps on regrown legs. Its abdomen seemed slightly thinner, more angular than before, although that might have just been the new angle she was viewing it from.
As Shelob took a second step, its height doubled. A third step and it doubled once again. Within seconds, a kaiju three-storeys tall was charging between panicked capes hurling themselves out of its way and it threw itself into the growing monster fight.
"Uhm…?" Assault's voice was a horrified whisper.
"Confirmation that Shelob has stolen Fenja or Menja's power," Armsmaster noted clinically. "Either during this encounter or sometime earlier."
"Does it really matter?" Battery all but shrieked.
"Armsmaster, sir," Aegis' voice broke into the channel. It was barely recognisable, some sort of high-pitched static in the background giving his transmission fits. "Requesting orders."
"Wards, withdraw to recovery zones or re-deploy on SRR operations," the Protectorate leader ordered. "Do notengage this three-way. Let them fight."
"Let them fight…"
"Sir," Miss Militia squeezed her hand into a fist. "Permission to ready S-class level ordnance?"
There was silence on the comm channel for a few moments. Then a sigh. "I can't authorise that just yet. Keep it in reserve, or send a priority message to the Triumvirate."
"Yes sir, standing by." Miss Militia temporarily muted her mic and reached for her armband.
As she did so, however, she was brought up short by an electronic click issuing from behind her.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Bakuda rasped.
AAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAH! This is amazing!
[What is this I don't even.]
We're the biggest gal on the block now! Who wants some!
A stream of fire hits one leg and barely cooks it. A whip of water shortly follows, which does carry more weight to the strike, but it still barely feels like anything.
You! You want some!
[This shouldn't be possible. We have no internal skeleton, our legs shouldn't be able to handle this much height. There's a reason why Eight-Legged Freaks is a stupid C-list monster movie…]
Square-cube law has always been my bitch. Get with the times, Swarm-in-Charge!
A stomp with a scythe the size of… well, something really big is enough to leave a crater in the ground, but unfortunately there is no Lung, nor Leviathan hanging off of the end. The formerly towering Endbringer is now barely taller than my eye-level, with Lung slightly smaller but growing by the minute. Adding in my… high storage-capacity abdomen, however, I should greatly out-mass both opponents.
This means when I move, I'm probably going to get right-of-way.
A swing of one leg sweeps Lung to the side where he crashes through the ground floor of some office building. Within the same motion I bring up my scythes to slam them down upon Leviathan. With a serpentine grace, it avoids the strike and slashes at my legs, which withstand both the direct impact and the followup water clone even without shields.
This is great! I didn't realise I'd get a sort of dampening effect when I grew this big! How do the wonder twins even get hurt if it's like this?
I suddenly feel a burn and note a spinning ring of water wrapped around one of my legs, worrying at it like a high-speed band saw.
Oh, like that. AHHH! GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!
Another kick sends Leviathan sprawling across the ground, where it's suddenly the target for a massive energetic barrage from above.
Oh look, the cavalry has arrived.
Capes line the buildings to either side of the avenue and fill the skies with para-projectiles. Energy beams, projectiles, explosives, and other things rain down upon the prone Endbringer, but it simply sits up through the attack and glares at me.
I charge, slamming my scythes into the ground and walking them forward. Leviathan finally slithers away to gain some distance. Just as it gets its stance stabilised, however, a bright sphere of light appears against its chest and abruptly expands outwards to engulf the Endbringer from within.
Steam erupts with a shriek as the nearby water evaporates. The concrete begins to melt and even nearby signage erupt into flames. It's as if the light is the very sun itself come to earth, with all of the destruction implied by such a thing.
I know that attack. I've been the target of that attack.
Where? Where is it coming from?!
[Second roof to our right. Red and black!]
I focus a pair of eyes towards the indicated direction and spot a figure in a black bodysuit with their hand held out towards Leviathan. The dark fabric is broken up with a pattern of bright red circles, stylised suns.
I'm gonna remember that face.
I'm gonna remember that mask…
What? It's kinda cooking right now. You want me to touch that? Are you crazy? It's—
It's walking out of the sun. What the hell?
Steam rises as the sun shifts to move after it, though the speed of its movement is that of a snail's. Leviathan out-distances it quickly, then completely leaves it behind as it breaks into a sprint. Its body is hunched over, arms pumping wildly as it stretches its claws out towards me.
Does nothing permanently hurt this thing?!
A black streak blurs through the air and the Endbringer stumbles to one side, suddenly unsteady on its feet. There was no sign of the projectile that had hit it. Instead there is simply a neat hole on either side of Leviathan's torso, to match an equally neat hole in the street. It stands out from the rest of the destruction by how clean the break is.
Leviathan regains its balance and resumes charging, but the bulk of my attention is focused squarely on the hole in its side.
The Endbringer had been wounded before, many times in this fight alone. Blood had been spilled. Flesh had been gouged. Hell, I'd even ripped out one of its eyes (which was back, by the way; talk about stupid levels of regeneration).
But it had mostly shrugged all of its injuries off. They almost seemed inconsequential, for how much attention it paid to its wounds. This one, however, though it treated it the same as every other wound. This one seemed… off somehow.
There's a power inside of me, nagging at me. It's the power that lets me pinch space and squeeze it like putty. It's the one that let me control tears through reality. This power is telling me that the hole is much tinier than it appears. It looks barely inches wide in diameter visually, but it seems like nanometres to my senses.
[Oh! Hang on! I've got it!]
My perspective abruptly flips and I would gasp if I could. The hole isn't tiny, it's just that Leviathan is massive. To my eyes, it's thirty feet tall and weighs about as much as something his size should. To my power, however, it's bigger than all of Brockton Bay with a mass to match that. The Endbringer is just… compressed. It's folded in on itself. Every wound, every drop of blood, every pound of flesh is barely scraping off a layer of dust compared to its true size.
The key is in that one bolt that struck it earlier. Leviathan being folded upon itself helps when the assembled capes can only strike at one layer at a time. But that one attack, like a sewing needle piercing a folded bolt of fabric, was able to hit its everything.
Do I have something that can do that?
Time to find ou—
Oh for crying out loud!