Here's a chapter to lay out the groundwork for things to come. Kind of boring, but necessary in a way. Wrote it in one sitting, haven't done any proofreading for language or actual thinking of whether it makes sense, but I'll just upload it. I can edit it again later. Hopefully I don't regret it.
Thanks for all the reviews that have been left. I know pacing and character interaction with the cast is a big issue right now, and I hope that I can address it going forward. Special shoutout to TheHysteric for his very lengthy and thorough mammoth of a review. If anyone has any other suggestions or critique, or simply a burning desire to call me out on my very blatant Taylor powerwank falsely given the misnomer of a story, please do drop me a PM or review.
With this, we've broken 100k words in just around 3 weeks! I was expecting only less than maybe fifty or so people to read this story, but your responses have been overwhelming. I find it very interesting how there's a visible difference in visitor count between the disaster that is chapter 3 and chapter 4. For those that stuck around, I'm not going to judge your collective tastes in masochism, but thank you nonetheless. Sorry for the inevitable disappointment to come.
I don't normally respond to individual reviews within a chapter, but I can't send a message to an anonymous reviewer otherwise. legion29, drop me a PM if you can.
Chapter 12: Setting the Stage
Two days after the Sports Festival, I had been asked to attend a meeting with the other teachers before classes began for the day. Kan, Nemuri, Aizawa, Hizashi and Nezu were already in attendance. Probably something related to the hero classes, then.
I had been busy for the last day, putting the day off that we'd been given after the festival to good use. I had been researching all the information I could find regarding two major issues that had come up during the tournament. As it turned out, society here wasn't as simple as I'd been led to believe when I first arrived.
Iida's brother was the hero Ingenium. Well-loved by the public and renowned for his speed-based quirk that ran in the Iida family, he'd been attacked by a villain only minutes before the final round of the tournament. He would live, thankfully, but with the injuries suffered he had become paralysed from the waist down. His prognosis for recovery was poor, given that this world had no healers on par with the likes of Panacea or Bonesaw.
He had been hunting for the Hero-Killer, Stain. I'd heard snippets and passing comments about him before, but hadn't taken the time to look him up given my focus on planning for the festival. When I finally did that just yesterday, I was strongly reminded of some of the villains from my world.
While he shared his moniker with Behemoth, his kill count wasn't anywhere near as high. Nevertheless, with his seventeen known murders and twenty-three acts of irreparably crippling heroes, he'd have possibly earned a Kill Order or at least a Birdcage sentence back on Earth Bet. My search hadn't revealed anything related to his abilities or his quirk. All I understood was his modus operandi. He'd taken to secluded alleyways to carry out ambushes, often ending fights within instants.
More than likely he'd have a significant Striker or Stranger power, if his method of choice was so restricted. I just didn't know exactly what it was.
I needed to talk to Iida. I'd seen capes fall apart before, and the way he'd shut down during the tournament wasn't a good sign. I would take on the likes of the Hero-Killer myself, but doing so without more information would be foolish. Besides, I should probably find a legal way of doing so before I continued down the path I took in Earth Bet.
Then there was the matter of Endeavour. It seemed that my mental comparison of him with Armsmaster wasn't so far off. He had the highest engagement in villain takedowns, and by all metrics seemed to be an extraordinary hero. Yet, his methods often led to significant collateral damage, and he was generally brash with his adoring fans. Coupled with his attitude toward Shouto, he seemed determined and willing to achieve glory at any cost. Outside of that personality trait, Endeavour appeared to actually be a reasonably decent person.
My plans on that matter were less concrete. I didn't know enough about Shouto to come up with a way to approach him about his resentment toward his father and the half of his quirk that stemmed from him. At least Aizawa had things covered in that aspect.
I had to shelf those thoughts away for later. The meeting was about to begin. Nezu gestured for me to sit at the table, and I took the chance to spy on Hizashi's expression for myself. Good, it seemed like he hadn't figured it out yet.
Maggots were surprisingly easy to hide in a sandwich.
"So!" Nezu began, standing on his chair. "The festival was a great success, largely thanks to the efforts of Taylor here. We've had excellent feedback for the events and the training exercise. In fact, Shiketsu High School is trying to poach you away from me."
He nodded gratefully toward me, and I waved him off. If this meeting was about the festival, there was probably only one thing that it could mean.
"The offers from the heroes are in?" I asked.
Nemuri nodded. "You did a great job, you know. Almost all our students from the hero classes received offers from Pro Heroes, even those that didn't make it to the tournament. Their interests seem to align with how the students went about the first event."
"They'll be able to experience some actual fieldwork, then. They could probably learn some practical applications of their quirks as well, if they're in line with what they did in the festival," I mused. "When will the students be looking at offers?"
"I'll be briefing 1-A about it over the first period. Nemuri will be helping with that," Aizawa said.
"We'll be doing the same right after 1-A. They'll need to pick hero names as well," Kan told me. "I'm guessing from your speech that you'll continue going by Weaver?"
"Yeah," I said. "Sentimental value."
I hadn't chosen the name myself, but grew into it. I didn't care much for cape-names, anyway. Skitter and Khepri hadn't been picked by my own design either.
"You've got many offers as well, you know. You've made quite some waves with your training exercise," Hizashi said, then smirked slyly. "You've even got some memes made about you."
I groaned. I had seen some of those yesterday. People really had far too much time on their hands.
"You want me to go on an internship?" I asked Nezu instead. "I've already got plenty of experience in hero work."
He hummed in consideration for a moment. "Hmm. It's not strictly necessary, but almost all hero course students jump at the chance for practical experience. You have other ideas?"
"I was thinking of starting my training with Shinsou. I'm not sure when you're planning on letting him join the other classes, but he has quite a long way to go before he catches up with them. Outside of his quirk, he's effectively powerless."
"You'll be missing the opportunity to network with heroes," Nezu pointed out.
I considered his point. "It's only for a week. Besides, there'll be more opportunities in the future," I said. I couldn't spare the time to research all the heroes that had sent me offers, anyway.
"I was thinking of working with Shinsou-kun as well," Aizawa said.
"Oh?" I raised an eyebrow.
He nodded. "As you said, he needs training outside of his quirk. I'm most skilled with my capture scarf, but I'm well-versed with other forms of combat as well."
I hadn't seen him in action before, but accepted his words at face value. One didn't progress far with just a power nullification Trump ability alone.
"I'll coordinate with you regarding Shinsou, then," I said. He nodded in agreement.
There was a moment of silence. Nezu took charge. "Right, any other matters?"
"What about Iida?" I said.
The mood turned solemn. With Iida having made his way to the finals, there was a lot of discussion in various media regarding the Hero-Killer. Many were asking for heroes to take him on.
"I'll see if he turns up for classes today," Aizawa said. "He might need some space."
"I'll speak to him if he shows up," I said. "Let me know if you need any help."
At that point, the bell for the first class of the day rang, calling the meeting to a close.
"I'll see you in class," I told Kan as we made our way out.
The students were given a day to think over their choices for their upcoming internship experiences. My six students had received the bulk of the offers for our class, with Neito, Setsuna and Ibara topping the list. More than likely they'd impressed some heroes with their performance in the events and the tournament.
They had all chosen their hero names as well. Itsuka had gone by Battle Fist, Neito by Phantom Thief, Setsuna by Lizardy, Ibara by Vine, Kinoko by Shemage and Pony simply went with her own name. Very different from the cape names that I was used to, but hero and civilian identities here were much more closely interlinked in this world.
"You're so popular, Taylor-chan!" Setsuna said as class ended for the day. "You received so many offers!"
"I'm not even accepting any of them," I said. "I'll be working with Aizawa to help with Shinsou."
"So you're saying you'll be giving up the chance to work with a Pro Hero to be with a boy?" she teased.
I sighed. "Not quite what I'm getting at, but yes."
"Lucky him," she commented. "Getting all of Taylor-chan's attention while we're all away."
I spied Iida walking past the corridor, away from Izuku and Uraraka. Perfect timing.
"Hey, talk to you later," I told Setsuna.
I ignored her. "Hey, Iida!" I said, moving to intercept him. "Wait up!"
"Taylor-san?" Iida asked. He looked better than he did on Monday, but it was clear that he was still out of sorts.
"Just wanted to check up on you. I heard about what happened with your brother. I'm sorry."
"Thank you," he said with a smile. "I'm alright. I'm sorry if I caused any undue concern."
It was a lie. My bugs could sense all his subtle tells. His spine was just a little too stiff; muscles a little too taut.
"Follow me for a second," I told him.
My bugs could still sense his discomfort, but he followed nonetheless. I led him to a classroom, away from prying eyes and ears of our classmates. I gestured for him to sit.
He chose to remain standing. "Taylor-san, what is this about?"
I stared at him for a moment, considering my words. "I can tell you're lying, you know," I began saying.
He gave a polite smile. "Lying? Taylor-san, you must be mistaken –"
"Just listen for a moment, please. You're good at masking your expression, but you aren't fooling my bugs."
He stiffened up. I continued, regardless. "I've seen people in your position before, you know. Endbringer battles or villain attacks, it doesn't matter. In situations like yours, people react differently. Some shut down, some get angry, some don't react at all."
I closed my eyes for a moment, remembering Regent. I recalled how I'd felt when Bonesaw had been torturing Brian. I remembered Rime, dying to Behemoth; Revel, falling before Scion. "One of my teammates died to an Endbringer. We weren't very close, but he was a friend. Another of my teammates was tortured by a villain. I've seen some mentors I trusted die in battle. Trust me when I say that I know how you feel."
"You're struggling. I know you're putting on a mask. I don't know if you're deceiving your friends in order to protect them, so that they won't bother you or just to put distance between you and them. It doesn't matter. What I'm asking is for you to not lie to yourself."
For several moments, his body shook, the vibrations conveyed through the senses of my bugs. What was he feeling? Anger, rage, frustration? Grief, sadness?
Finally, he slumped over slightly, breaking the facade. "What do you want me to say?" his voice cracked. "Tensei won't ever become a hero again. He wants me to take on the mantle of Ingenium. And Stain…"
His voice trembled, but he didn't say more. I let the silence grow for some time.
"It's not my place to tell you what to do," I said slowly. He looked toward me, eyes just slightly moist. "I don't know what you're planning. People react to grief differently. I wouldn't blame you if you tried going for Stain yourself."
He tensed up. "You know?"
I sighed heavily. Of course he would be the type to seek revenge in the name of justice. "It's what I would have done," I said.
Hell, I had done that. When Alexandria had led me to believe that she'd killed my friends, I didn't think about anything else other than revenge. If anything, I'd been more enraged at her than with Coil. With Coil it was necessity mixed in equal part with vengeance; Alexandria was entirely personal.
He didn't respond immediately. Finally, he spoke. "I'm guessing you're telling me not to do that?"
"Would you listen?" I asked instead, then shook my head. I knew his type. I was one of them. He wouldn't be dissuaded from pursuing revenge. "In your shoes, I would do the same. I can't stop you forever. Whether you fight him tomorrow or years later, you won't stop hunting him down. Just please listen to my advice."
That probably wasn't what he was expecting, based on how his tension shifted yet again. I continued.
"I know what it's like. Call it revenge, justice, whatever. In the end, it boils down to escalation. If you're going down this path, you need to know just where you stand. Stain won't hesitate to kill you, and you're far less experienced than the other heroes he's taken down. Ask yourself how far you're willing to go, and whether or not you're ready. Whether it's tomorrow, a week, a month or years later, it doesn't matter. Unless you're willing to play on the same level as him, you're only going to get hurt or worse."
"You're asking me to kill him?" he said, aghast. Good, he wasn't going too far down the path of vengeance just yet.
At the same time, it made him far more vulnerable if he did try to fight Stain. Problematic.
"No," I said. "I'm telling you to consider that while you fight to capture, he fights to kill. He's willing to be far more aggressive. If you're not careful, you'll die. I'm not sure if anyone told you, but I told your class back in USJ that I'd nearly died on my first night out because of how inexperienced I was."
I let that sink in. "I don't know if you're going to listen to my advice. I hope you do. But trust me when I say that you're not ready for that just yet. You're inexperienced, playing by the books, while Stain probably knows every trick there is. You don't know a thing about his quirk or his physical abilities. All it takes is one mistake."
I fell silent, letting him think over my words. Eventually, he stood up straight once more, giving me a smile.
It was still a strained mask. He was probably still thinking about revenge.
"Thank you, Taylor-san. I'll keep your words in mind."
He bowed, then moved to the door.
"Wait," I called out. He paused, then turned to face me.
"Iida. You aren't alone. You know that, right?" I said. "I highly encourage you to think about it all and not try to find Stain. But if you do, at the very least do it smart. I don't know when you're planning on hunting down Stain, but when you do, make sure someone knows to watch your back. You've got my number, in any case."
He nodded stiffly, then turned and left the room.
I sighed, running my palm over my face. No good. He was still clouded by thoughts of revenge.
I could keep him restrained, but that wasn't a long-term solution. I could only hope he wasn't stupid enough to attempt hunting him down just yet. I'd better ask Aizawa to keep an eye out for him.
The rest of the week passed quickly. The offers from the heroes were accepted, and my students were getting ready to head off for their internships.
Itsuka had initially considered accepting the invitation by the hero Uwabami for her work in public engagement and image, but reconsidered and ultimately accepted an invite from Gunhead for his expertise in armed combat. More surprisingly, Neito had joined up with her. It seemed that he was seriously working toward improving in his combat in close quarters, with or without a borrowed quirk. Together with Uraraka, the three of them would hopefully gain some decent experience with the hero.
Ibara had opted to intern under the hero Kamui Woods. Like her, he was a Changer with a Shaker-like application, with a quirk eerily similar to Marquis' power. Where he manipulated bones, Kamui Woods could control the wood making up his body. I looked forward to seeing what tricks she might pick up over the week.
Setsuna had impressed Edgeshot enough to receive an offer from the hero. Their quirks were quite different, but with enough similarities in their Changer aspects that Setsuna could learn a thing or two.
I hadn't heard of most of the heroes that the rest would be working under. Regardless, they had all opted to go with heroes with quirks similar to their own, and had challenged me to a rematch after the week was done. I wondered just how much they could improve during the coming week.
Izuku had thankfully managed to find someone who seemed to know of ways to help with his quirk, going by the name Gran Torino. He'd apparently been a retired teacher of UA that taught All Might in the past. I didn't reveal just what I knew about the nature of their quirks, but wished him all the best. When he returned, if he could control his quirk sufficiently I was considering putting him to work with my version of Rachel's power.
I was more interested in the two students whose personal issues came up during the festival.
Shouto had very surprisingly gone with Endeavour's agency. I'd asked Aizawa about it, and was told that Shouto was dealing with some complex identity issues stemming from his tournament performance and the restrictions he'd placed on his own quirk. From what I had eavesdropped earlier during the week, it sounded like Shouto was having serious self-doubt and falling back to default habits under his father's thumb after the unexpected defeat. I thought that working under Endeavour might be a disaster waiting to happen, but Aizawa was of the opinion that allowing the interaction between the father and son duo would be beneficial for both parties.
Iida's choice was more worrying. He had opted to go under the hero Manual, someone that I'd never heard of before. Barely a minute of research later, and it was obvious just what Iida planned to do. Manual operated in Hosu, the same city where Stain had become active and where Ingenium had been attacked. I hoped that Iida took heed of my words enough to at least stick with other heroes while they worked to take down Stain.
Of course, I wasn't entirely certain regarding Iida's motivations. For all I knew, I could have been incredibly wrong. He might just have been a fan of the everyman hero. Manual was surprisingly popular in his community.
It was frustrating, dealing with someone as stubborn as Iida. I would need to convince Aizawa to allow me to keep an eye on him.
I made my way to a meeting room where I'd be meeting up with Aizawa and Shinsou. Aizawa was already seated in the room, dressed in his hero costume.
"Iida may be going after Stain," I told him directly.
He sighed, pinching his nose. "That idiot problem child," he said. "How do you know?"
"I had a chat with him on Wednesday, and he's working with Manual. It's a possibility."
"I'm going to bring him back," he said, rising from his chair. I gestured for him to sit.
"Don't. It wouldn't work," I said, shaking my head. "He's stubborn. He's like me, in a way. If you stop him now, he's only going to throw himself into more danger. I've been getting a sense of him with my bugs over the week, and he hasn't changed one bit. He'll be going for Stain one way or another. Hopefully, he'll remember my advice and at least make sure he's not alone."
"You're only telling me this now?" he asked, irritated.
"I only just found out about his internship," I said. "Anyway, I think the best thing would be to watch out for him."
"I'm still not happy with letting Iida go on his own." He refused to yield.
"Neither am I. Point is, we'll know this time where he is and who he's with. If we prevent him from going now, we might not get the same chance next time," I said, trying to convince Aizawa of my reasons.
He still looked angry, but remained calm enough to see where I was coming from. Did he know capes with similar experiences as well?
"Fine. I don't like it, but fine," he reluctantly forced out.
"Will you be alright with Shinsou on your own?" I asked.
He shook his head. "If Iida-kun's seriously going to be hunting down the Hero-Killer, I'm not going to leave him on his own. Shinsou-kun can do his training with us in Hosu. Besides, I can keep tabs on Endeavour and Shouto-kun as well."
Right, Endeavour's agency was also based in that city. More eyes to look out for Iida was always welcome.
"Yeah," I agreed. I noted the bugs that I'd tagged Shinsou with earlier in the day moving closer toward the room. "Shinsou's coming, by the way. We should continue this later."
"You've got a really useful quirk."
I shrugged. Sure enough, Shinsou made his way in.
"Aizawa-sensei, Taylor-san," he greeted. "Sorry that I'm late."
"It's fine," I said. "Take a seat."
He obliged, and I looked at Aizawa, silently asking if he wanted to conduct the briefing.
He nodded. "Shinsou-kun," he began. "Taylor-san and I will be taking you for training over the next week. You'll be excused from classes during that time. I'll be handling the combat aspect of things, while she'll work with you on your quirk. We'd originally planned for the training to be done in school, but some circumstances have changed. Are you alright to be in Hosu for the week?"
"Hosu?" he asked. "Why there? Isn't that where the Hero-Killer is?"
He certainly had a sharp mind. "Partly, yes. We need to keep an eye on Iida," I said. No sense keeping him in the dark about it.
"Ah," he said simply, without any other visible reaction. No doubt he knew about what had happened. I didn't need to explain any further.
"So what now?" he said instead.
"We'll be leaving on Monday morning after we get some arrangements made in the city. Pack what you need, and we'll meet up at the station near the school to head off," Aizawa told him.
Shinsou nodded. "Okay. Anything else?"
Aizawa turned to look at me, raising an eyebrow. Right, the big reveal.
"The other classes already know about me, but if you're going to join the hero course there's some things you need to know," I began.
"What things?" he asked curiously.
"First, you'll need to promise me that you'll keep this completely confidential. No negotiation."
He nodded, although there was confusion and apprehension in the way he'd done it.
"Say it out loud, please."
Fine. I moved on with my explanation.
"You know how I'm a teaching assistant despite being a first-year?" I asked. He nodded. "I'm a lot more experienced than the other students. I've done over two years of hero work prior to joining UA."
"How?" he asked with some confusion. "You're not allowed to do any hero work without a licence, and you need to be in a hero school to get one."
"Yeah," I agreed. Probably best to be direct. "Thing is, I'm not from around here. In fact, I'm not actually from this world."
I watched his expression change from intrigue, a short period where he'd processed my words, and then shock mixed with disbelief within seconds. There was an audible click of a shutter as Aizawa took an image of Shinsou's expression, a smirk on his face. I glared at him.
He shrugged. "I'm allowed to mess with my students. Never gets old."
"What do you mean, not from this world?" Shinsou asked when he'd finally recovered, ignoring Aizawa. I couldn't blame him for his fixation on the bigger issue.
"That's kind of a long story," I began. "You know the trouble at USJ that class 1-A had a few weeks back? I found myself appearing there…"
Shinsou didn't interrupt at all as I gave my highly abbreviated version of the circumstances that led me toward joining UA. It was only at the end, when I began to talk about power classifications, that he asked for clarification.
"So you're saying I'm a human Master?"
"Yes. A little more limited in terms of the conditions needed to activate it, but very versatile. What exactly is the limit of your quirk, anyway? The file that we have on hand doesn't provide me with much."
"More limited?" he repeated, shaking his head. "It's a villain's quirk –"
"I thought I told you not to call it that."
"People think it's a villain's quirk," he corrected himself. "What kind of quirks have you seen in your world?"
I thought over his question. No harm in sharing, I supposed. "There was someone with a power like yours, only his orders required eye contact. Another person could implant suggestions when she sang. I knew someone who could alter and augment emotions at a massive range. Then someone else could also act more directly, causing twitching of muscles or directly puppeteering their bodies."
Valefor, Canary, Cherish, Regent. And –
"Then another person," I said. The words caught in my mouth for just a moment. "She had absolute control over anyone that came within sixteen feet. Once within her range, her control was inviolable, unless their own power gave them immunity. They would be locked inside their own bodies, while feeling everything that was being done to them."
"That's terrifying," he said. He hesitated for a moment. "That last one was personal?"
Had I let my composure slip when I talked about Khepri? Shinsou was definitely observant.
"Somewhat," was all I said.
"I'm sorry. What happened to her?" he responded. Did he think it personal in the sense that I'd come under Khepri's dominion? I wouldn't correct his mistaken presumption.
"It's fine. She's gone now." I waved him off. "More importantly, your quirk?"
He gave a practiced explanation. "I have to concentrate on a person for me to activate it. If they respond, I can issue orders to do as I say. Only simple tasks, nothing requiring complex brain activity. Repeating words is fine, for example, but I can't get them to divulge information. During that time, they won't remember anything that happened."
A low-to-mid grade Master power, then. On Earth Bet, internal PRT designation would probably place him at a Master 3 or 4, in the sense that a trained team of operatives could take him down without cape involvement, as long as they avoided triggering his quirk. He wouldn't be considered experienced enough in other ways to justify parahuman assistance.
"Any other limitations? Number of targets, time limits?" I asked.
"I can technically give orders to more than one person, but it's hard. I need to concentrate on my target when I give the order," he said, considering carefully. "I suppose I could use my quirk on separate occasions to give orders to more than one person. It only works with voice produced through biological means, so I can't activate it through a speaker or if they respond through a phone. As for its limits, time doesn't seem to be an issue, but any kind of disruption breaks them out of my control."
"Disruption?" I asked for clarification.
He shrugged. "A stone's throw, a nudge; things along those lines."
That sounded familiar. Thirteenth Hour's power during my raid on the Adepts on my first mission with the rest of the wards came to mind. She could cause herself and anyone in the room to fall into a trance, conscious but helpless to act. Like Shinsou's quirk, her power could be broken by anything suitably jarring.
I had a hypothesis I wanted to test.
"Use your quirk on me."
He looked startled. "What?"
"Humour me. Something requiring a bit of time, maybe walking to the end of the room," I persuaded. "Aizawa's here, anyway. If anything goes wrong, he's on hand to erase your quirk."
He still looked uncertain, turning to look at Aizawa. The older hero nodded reassuringly.
"I'm not sure what Taylor-san is thinking about, but there won't be any trouble from this," he told Shinsou.
"Alright." He didn't sound convinced, but was willing to play along. "You'll need to respond."
"Sure," I said, waiting for his power to kick in.
"Walk to the end of the room," he ordered.
Instantly, I felt a very peculiar sensation. When I had looked into Valefor's eyes, my thoughts had dissolved into nothingness, a kind of odd, warm static. I didn't have control over my actions, but my unconscious mind still had a coarse control over my power, carrying out the intent of the orders I had planned for. I'd been able to pack his eyeballs with maggots at the time.
With Thirteenth Hour, it felt more like a dream; almost like scopolamine from the nightmare I had about Coil and Dinah. My thoughts had slowed, all sense of time eroded. It had been calming, relaxing, as though nothing in the world mattered. I had just barely enough grasp over my power to break myself out of her trance.
Shinsou's quirk seemed more like a hybrid of the two. I felt a compulsion take over, a sheer need to walk to the end of the room while nothing else mattered, but mixed altogether with an indistinct understanding over the concept of the order I'd been given. With each step, each time I tried to consider what I was doing, my thoughts slipped out of my ethereal grasp. Most interesting.
Still, I had enough control over my power to break out of his spell. Parahuman powers always were kind of bullshit. As I'd done before with Thirteenth Hour, I flew a cockroach out from inside my costume, up my nose and down my throat, forcing myself to gag.
The dominion he had over me broke. I still remembered his order, but there was a distinct yet intangible sense of lack over my memory in the brief period that I'd been under his spell. I could see why his targets wouldn't remember what they'd been doing.
"Not bad," I said.
"That…" Shinsou was stunned. No one he'd tried his quirk on had ever broken themselves out, probably. "How?"
"Past experience. Call it a hunch that I had." I showed him the cockroach in my hand, then placed it back into my costume.
"Your quirk is versatile," Aizawa said, impressed. I accepted the compliment.
I wanted to test the limits of his quirk more, to see whether speaking through my swarm would activate the use of his quirk, but I didn't want to reveal the full scope of my abilities yet.
"You retained control?" Shinsou asked. There was a mix of curiosity, excitement and wariness in his tone.
"Not completely," I said. "It's hard to describe. I knew I had to walk, and I didn't really remember what else happened. I could still focus on my bugs and move them around slightly. Sometimes, power interactions just happen. Master powers don't always completely work on me."
Then again, I wasn't technically the source of my power, not in the same way quirks were. Administration was sequestered away in whatever extradimensional space the Entities operated in, and I doubted that Shinsou's power could touch her.
"More importantly though, it means that you can practice using your quirk on me without worrying about the consequences," I said. Thoughts and potential ideas for applications of his quirk were coming to mind, but I needed to define just what he could do. "For starters, you'll need to see just how complex your orders can get, whether there's limits on range or other parameters. I don't imagine you've been able to find willing volunteers to work with your quirk."
He shook his head. For once, there was a gleam of excitement in his eyes. I remembered how it'd been in the months after the Locker, as I experimented with just what I could do with my own power. He couldn't have had much of a chance to completely and thoroughly work things out for himself.
"When do we start?" he asked.
"Aizawa will work on your foundations and combat training first, since that's what's most lacking." I looked to Aizawa for confirmation. "Over the week, I'll find time for you to experiment with your quirk."
"You'll want to think of how you want to fight outside of your quirk," Aizawa cut in. "I'd like to teach you how to use a capture scarf like myself, but it'll be a long process. Otherwise, some martial arts training would also be helpful."
Shinsou nodded. "Thank you. Both of you," he said, his normally withdrawn mask breaking just a little more. "Really."
"We Masters have to stick together," I repeated the words that I'd told him. "I know a little about what it's like being labelled as a villain, anyway."
"You were a villain," Aizawa pointed out. "I still don't like how you're not telling us all the details."
"It's not important. You know that I wouldn't do anything to harm the students."
That was always an area of contention between the two of us. We always fell back to this same uneasy agreement, but I knew he wouldn't completely trust me with more responsibility.
As always, he gave in, then addressed Shinsou. "We both don't use quirks that enhance our own abilities. I know what it's like having to train yourself from scratch and rely on technique rather than overwhelming force. Taylor-san's done the same, if you've seen her training exercise."
"People tend to underestimate what we can do outside of our powers. Take advantage of that fact," I added my own perspective.
Shinsou nodded. "It's something I've been thinking about, after the festival. Outside of capturing the fake villains and using my quirk on people who didn't know about it, I couldn't do a thing."
"I might have to learn how to do the same, now that I only have one arm to work with," I aired my thoughts aloud. "I could try using insects to manipulate a scarf rather than throwing it around. Do you have any spares I could try using?"
"I do, but couldn't you just use your bugs to capture villains anyway? I heard about what you did to the Noumu."
"Braiding threads together takes some time, and I'm not always going to have access to a large number of spiders, even if the silk of some strains may be tougher than your scarf," I informed him. "A backup option could always be handy. I had a knife, baton and pepper spray before."
"Mhmm," he hummed in agreement. "You're very prepared. I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks," I said. Then, I turned toward Shinsou. "You know, you took my revelation rather well, all things considered."
"I am surprised," he clarified. "But Aizawa-sensei seems to agree with all of what you said. I don't see a reason for you to lie about any of this."
Lie, no. Obscure the truth, yes.
"I wasn't there when Aizawa and Kan told their classes, but they apparently hadn't taken to the news easily." It had taken so long for them to settle down that my impromptu class had been cut short.
He shrugged his shoulders, but didn't otherwise comment any further.
"Okay then. Any more questions, Shinsou-kun?" Aizawa asked. The boy shook his head. "Fine. I'll see you on Monday. I need to make arrangements for Hosu and let Manual know to watch out for Iida-kun."
"Spend some time thinking about your quirk and any support items you may need. We can liaise with the Support Department after the week is over to work on your equipment," I said.
He nodded, offered his thanks once more, then left the room.
"Anything else regarding Iida? We were interrupted, earlier," I asked once he was out of earshot.
"Not about Iida-kun, no. I don't like it, but I'll make sure Manual has him on a tight leash. There's something else, though." He stared at me intensely. "That Master you were talking about. That wasn't just personal, was it?"
Damn, Aizawa was sharp. I'd have to consider him as a very low-grade Thinker in addition to his Stranger abilities that didn't tie in with his quirk.
"Something like that," I said.
"I suppose you won't be telling me?"
"No." Khepri wasn't something I wanted to talk about, ever.
"Hmm." He continued staring for awhile longer. "You're keeping many secrets."
"Can you blame me?"
He didn't reply directly. "You can't keep it up forever, you know," he said instead.
I knew that. Secrets had torn apart my world. Cauldron and their manipulation, Coil and his plots, the truth behind Parahuman powers and more. The facts that I'd concealed weren't anywhere close to their level of potency, but I knew how dangerous secrets could be.
Still, I wasn't willing to trust them fully just yet. Besides, they wouldn't accept many of the things that I'd done.
"If that's all?" I asked.
He nodded slowly, still looking closely at me. I stood up and left the room. A short while later, my bugs indicated that Aizawa did the same.
I was dressed in my full costume, flight pack included. New additions to my costume were my procurement of a collapsible baton and a tube of pepper spray, just as I had done as Skitter.
I felt only slightly out of place alongside Aizawa and Shinsou still dressed in their civilian attire. The former didn't like publicly being associated with his hero identity, given his status as an underground hero, while Shinsou didn't have a hero costume prepared. I wouldn't compromise on being prepared and chose to remain in costume. There wouldn't be a way for me to easily transport my flight pack otherwise.
We fell into an easy silence on the train. All three of us weren't the type to make unnecessary conversation. I was thankful for that; it was a refreshing change from Setsuna forcing me to speak.
Of course, all three of us were recognised by the public on the train, with them not bothering to hide their pointed fingers and hushed murmurs. It wasn't something I was too unfamiliar with. I had needed to command authority after Leviathan's attack, and people knew to recognise me. After I'd been outed as a cape, my identity no longer remained a secret.
Still though, this was a different kind of recognition. Their admiration was quite clear, although some appeared to be wary of approaching our group. I wasn't sure whether it was because they were worried of Shinsou's quirk or the way we'd carried ourselves during the festival.
It was right then that someone finally came up to speak directly to us. So much for peace and quiet.
"You're Taylor-san, the teaching assistant from UA, right?" The person asked excitedly. A young kid, probably quite a few years younger than Shinsou. "And you must be Shinsou-san! I saw both of you on television! You two were amazing!"
Shinsou probably wasn't used to that kind of praise, because the retort he'd been ready to fire at the vilification of his quirk died on his lips, looking surprised.
I didn't quite know how to respond. Tecton was always the one dealing with PR on the Chicago Wards. "Yeah," I said lamely.
"Your quirks are so cool! You're dressed up in costume; are you going to do some hero work? That's amazing!" he gushed.
I stole a glance at Aizawa. He remained seated contently, silently gesturing for me to handle this on my own. Annoying.
"You're interested in heroes?" I asked the kid. He was far too enthusiastic for just someone who'd watched us on television.
"Yeah!" he rattled on excitedly. "I want to be a hero too when I grow up! I'm going to be applying for UA when I get the chance!"
His enthusiasm was beginning to draw a crowd. Some of the passive onlookers had drawn closer now, listening in on our conversation. So much for a quiet train ride.
"Good for you. Just remember that being a hero is a lot harder than it seems."
"I'm not afraid!" he protested indignantly. "I'm going to become a hero like All Might, and I'll fight all the bad guys!"
"It's more than just that," I explained patiently. "You watched the Sports Festival. You saw how all the students chose different ways to go about the first two events. I don't know about your quirk or what you're interested in, but fighting villains is only a very small part of heroism."
"Yeah," Shinsou agreed, finally taking part in the conversation. He crouched low to meet the child at eye-level. "Being a hero isn't that easy. You saw my quirk. People… they don't really like how it works. I don't know what your quirk is, but if it's anything like mine you'll be fighting an uphill battle."
"Oh," the boy said, looking down at the floor. He hesitated slightly, before whispering at a low volume. "I'm quirkless."
At that admission, I could visibly see the onlookers react. Some were astonished, others were embarrassed. They clearly didn't think much of the quirkless. I frowned. I hadn't planned to get too heavily involved with the kid, but I didn't like how the quirkless were treated in society. It reminded me too much of how many capes saw civilians as free collateral back in Brockton Bay, how the authorities didn't intervene unless the gangs took serious measures to upset the power struggle.
"Hey," I said, then copied Shinsou to kneel with one knee on the floor. I waited for him to look me in the eyes. "It doesn't matter. Maybe you can't work as a hero in the same way. There's always other ways to help people."
If anything, that made him feel worse, because the few bugs on his person sensed his agitation. I quickly moved on to what I really wanted to say.
"But maybe you can," I said as convincingly as I could. His gaze focused sharply on mine.
The PRT on my world had been an organisation of unpowered individuals. They were the bread and butter of parahuman society, dealing with everyday parahuman incidents. Sure, they relied on fancy equipment such as containment foam manufactured by Dragon, but more than that they had the training, squad tactics and intelligence needed to deal with threats.
After all, wasn't it the Dragon's Teeth officer that had managed to contain Jack Slash at the very end?
"You could work on support equipment. Sometimes, brains are more important than muscle out on the field," I said. "But if you're dead-set on working up close and personal, I do believe that you can do it."
"Miss, are you sure you should be telling the kid that?" One of the onlookers asked, clear apprehension in her voice. "It's not good to give false hope."
The kid turned to look sharply at her, some tears seen building up in his eyes. I was causing more of a commotion than I thought.
"I'm telling the truth," I said. His head snapped back toward me. "Look at Shinsou, for example. Outside of his quirk, he's the same as you. Without mine, I have one less arm than you."
Shinsou nodded, although he probably wasn't quite on the same page as me. He didn't interrupt, but he clearly had some thoughts on the matter.
"More important than quirks are how you think in the field. Heroes today have support equipment of all sorts. You saw how the Nezu-bot worked, how none of the students could stand up against it. Principal Nezu may have piloted it with some assistance from his quirk, but its design stemmed entirely from here."
I pointed a finger at his forehead. "That's what's most important as a hero. Not your quirk, but your brain. The three of us, our quirks don't function like the top heroes." I gestured at Aizawa, Shinsou and myself. "We don't have All Might's strength and speed or Endeavour's firepower. We plan, we adapt and we use our heads in a fight. I don't think it's an exaggeration for me to say that I'm ten times more effective when carrying out a plan than when caught out by surprise."
"You really think I can do it?" his voice trembled. There was a flicker of hope in it.
"I won't lie to you. As Shinsou said, you'll have a hell of an uphill battle to fight. It might not be worth it," I said.
"I'm not going to give up!" he declared, wiping the tears from his eyes. They remained red, but now there was determination in them. The crowd was silent apart from some mixed whispers between a few people. Some of them had their phones out.
They didn't matter. This was about the kid. I looked him in the eyes a few moments longer, measuring him for myself.
"Good," I said finally. "Make sure you remember what I said. More than anything, you'll have to train yourself hard and fight smart. I'm not sure if you heard my students during the festival, but without a quirk, more than ever you'll have to fight villains at their own game. You'll need to plan well and use your head. You'll need to find advantages that you can make use of. But more importantly, you'll need to understand them, know to pick your battles. Not all villains are alike."
"Will that really be enough?" he asked hesitantly.
"People… we rely on our quirks far too much. People underestimate what we can do without them. I knew a villain from some time back that was taken down by a quirkless person, where other heroes had been killed by his hand."
I wondered how Jack Slash would feel about simply labelling him as a nameless 'villain'. Technically accurate, but altogether terribly insufficient.
"How?" he asked.
"He used his brain, and he had equipment and training to back that up." Of course, there was also the fact that the Dragon's Teeth officer didn't register to Jack's Thinker secondary power, allowing him to catch him by surprise, but that wouldn't really encourage the kid. "Do the same, work hard, and maybe you can be a hero. Even if you can't operate directly, as I've said before, support work plays a critical and possibly greater role than heroes out in the field."
He nodded, more determined this time. "Right!"
I patted him on the shoulder, then returned to my seat. The boy remained where he was, still looking at Shinsou and myself. He visibly deliberated on something, then stepped forward.
"Can I have your autograph?" he asked, his gaze alternating between Shinsou and myself as he took out a book and pencil.
Aizawa snorted in amusement. Funny, of the three of us, only the actual hero hadn't been addressed by the kid. I wasn't sure what he thought about my impromptu pep-talk, but I took his lack of interruption as a sign of approval.
"Sure," I said, humouring the boy's request. I had done some of this before in the Chicago Wards. Shinsou did likewise, with some traces of embarrassment on his face.
I gave the contents of the book a quick glance. Hero history? I was reminded of myself growing up all those years ago, playing heroes and villains with Emma.
"Keep working on things like this," I said, gesturing at the book. "Understand quirks and villains. Question their motivations and reasoning. If you want to make it far as a quirkless person, you'll need to know how heroes and villains work."
He nodded excitedly, placing the book back into his bag. He gave both of us a deep bow, then retreated quickly.
Funny. I didn't even get his name.
The crowd was beginning to disperse now that the kid left. Some clearly didn't agree with my words, but didn't otherwise comment. Most were indifferent. I couldn't actually find anyone who seemed to think that the kid might make it.
Society here was really different from back home.
"Hey," Shinsou whispered. "Back there, what you said. Was all of that true?"
I nodded, checking to make sure no one could hear us. "We didn't have enough capes to deal with all Parahuman incidents. Trained PRT squads were the cornerstone of cape society."
"And that last bit about the villain?"
I smiled wryly. "Would you believe me if I told you that the villain was the leader of the Slaughterhouse Nine?"
He made a choked gasp, drawing attention from Aizawa and some onlookers. Aizawa was probably going to question me about that later. I had made sure not to downplay what the Nine had done in my brief explanation of my circumstances, without highlighting my personal involvement in their affairs.
"Yeah," I told him. "I'll tell you more later."
He nodded in acceptance. We fell into silence once more. Minutes later, the city of Hosu came into view.
Right then. Hopefully, things would all go without a hitch. Shinsou would get some training in, Iida would remain sensible and not get himself killed, and Shouto would work out some of the issues he had with his mental state, with his quirk and with Endeavour. When I returned, Midoriya would be able to use his quirk without blowing himself up, and my students would impress me at our rematch.
Of course, I didn't exactly have a good track record with Murphy's law.
Many things are the same as canon here, with the major exception of Taylor, Aizawa and Shinsou heading off to Hosu. I'm thinking that this arc will set the scene for some differences from canon once Stain and Shigaraki make their moves.
Not sure if my reasons for why Aizawa didn't immediately pull the plug on Iida make sense, given how we've seen him threaten expulsion to those on the rescue team in canon, but I was thinking that there's always the uncertainty that they might be overthinking things. That, and the fact that Iida hadn't technically done anything wrong just yet. Iida's also been generally the responsible one in his class.
Hopefully Todoroki's thinking also makes sense when put together with his segment two chapters ago. He's a little lost following his defeat and dealing with self-doubt following his misinformation regarding Shinsou's quirk, and cruising along with how things had been in the past rather than actively making judgment calls for himself. He'll be getting some development soon, though.
Incidentally, it seems that more people that I thought are coming into this fic familiar with only one of the two story settings. I hope that you've been able to follow the story so far, but let me know if more exposition is needed to explain either setting. On that same note, there's going to be some stuff from BNHA canon happening that I won't repeat here, but I'll try to have it make sense when things finally interact with Taylor.