Assault looked at Dauntless, who looked back, then both of them turned to Emily. The red-clad hero pointed at the monitor displaying the steadily cooling crater where Winslow had been earlier that day.

"You want us to go and look for whatever did that? Then try to talk them into going somewhere else?" His voice sounded somewhat strained.

She nodded, smiling a little. It was rare to see the normally annoyingly irrepressible man put off balance like this.



"Because I don't want it happening again," she said in a growl, leaning forward a little and watching as he recoiled slightly. "You know that Armsmaster would almost certainly put his foot in it somehow, and this is a far too volatile situation to allow his normal approach to be used. He means well, but..." She spread her hands.

With a deep sigh, Assault finally bowed his head. "Yeah. Damn it."

"What about Miss Militia?" Dauntless asked, also with a certain amount of trepidation apparent. He kept looking at the monitor and wincing.

"I have my reasons for wanting her kept out of this as well for the time being," Emily replied. "Call it a hunch backed by bitter experience. As crazy as it seems even to me, you two are probably the best chance we have of sorting this out reasonably peacefully."

"And if we can't find whoever or whatever was behind all this? Or worse, we do manage to find them, but they don't want to leave?" Assault looked worried.

She shook her head. "We'll deal with that when it happens. Right now, I'm trying to avoid something horrific happening to this city. We got lucky with Winslow, as far as we can tell at this point no one actually got killed, which is nothing short of a miracle, but if, for example, Lung decided to make a move on a new Tinker… One who can do that?" She waved behind herself without looking. "Or Ellisburg, or any of the other places. I do not want to have a cape fight between a rage dragon and something that makes Behemoth look tame, trust me."

Both men exchanged another glance, then peered over her head at the monitor again. She noticed that they both shuddered slightly. "No, I think I can agree with that," Assault replied rather faintly.

"Have you told Armsmaster and Miss Militia yet?" Dauntless asked.

She shook her head. "Armsmaster is still tied up with the investigation at the Winslow site, while Miss Militia is on the Rig coordinating with the BBPD. I'll contact both of them shortly. Right now I want you two to get out there and see if you can find any signs of the responsible party. We've got people looking already, with strict orders to stay well out of the situation and wait for you if they find the perpetrator." She glared at them both. "Do not fuck this up."

"Hey, look on the bright side," Assault said, definitely trying to cheer himself up as much as anyone else. "If we do fuck it up, we'll probably never know."

Dauntless turned his head very slowly to fix his companion with a hard look, while Assault put his hand on his face and shook his head. "God, I wish I hadn't said that," he mumbled. Emily sighed.

"Thank you very much, Assault," she said with irritation. "Get out of here, find this mad Tinker or whoever it is, and persuade them to become someone else's problem for now, will you?"

"Hey, they're going to be owed a hell of a lot of money for taking out half the world's S class problems, right?" the man said, half-turning away towards the door then turning back as the thought struck him.

"Probably, yes. The bounties on some of those threats were enormous, not that anyone thought it was possible to collect," she allowed slightly suspiciously. "And Ellisburg didn't even have a price, as it was obviously never going to happen."

"Maybe we could point them at the S9 or something," he grinned. "If they're profit-orientated, I mean. That would keep them out of our hair."

She folded her arms and looked steadily at him. "And when we run out of S and A class problems, what then?" she asked acidly.

He shrugged. "They freeze to death in the winter?"

Emily sighed again. "Get out there and try not to get killed, you idiot," she said, pointing at the door. He saluted her with one finger, then turned and headed in that direction, Dauntless giving her an apologetic glance then hurrying after his colleague. She watched them disappear, hoping that she was right in her choice of personnel, and really hoping that they got to the horrifically destructive unknown party before some gang idiot did.

She also wondered why the hell none of the upper level PRT or Protectorate people were making inquiries yet. It made her nervous. The longer the delay, the more annoying the interference was when it finally turned up, in her experience...

Hookwolf watched as one of the E88 unpowered people he'd taken with him came back around the corner. "She's still there with that other guy," their scout reported breathlessly, as he stopped in front of the group of a couple of dozen people plus the three capes. "Looks like they're just finishing, the guy was looking for his wallet or something. I don't think they saw me."

"Good." Brad glanced at his companions, receiving a nod from Cricket and a shrug from Victor. The normal gang members were looking slightly apprehensive, but he wasn't sure how much of that was from thinking about going up against a new Parahuman or being next to three of their own. Nor did he care. "I think we should go introduce ourselves and pass on Kaiser's… request." His teeth showed through his mask as he grinned.

Several of the others chuckled, a couple making a show of checking their weapons, which ranged from brass knuckles through pump-action shotguns to an AK-47. "Victor, you stay back and keep watch like normal, OK?"

"Yeah," the much smaller man nodded. He patted the large rifle he had over his shoulder. "Just let me know if you need backup." The man looked around, then pointed. "I'll be up there."

Brad followed his finger and approved of his companion's choice. The old office building was one that had been abandoned for close to four years, since the financial company that had owned it went bust and got bought out by another one from New York. No one wanted a fifteen story office building in Brockton Bay so the place had remained empty except for the occasional squatter ever since, and even they didn't tend to stick around because the power was off and none of the elevators worked, which combined with a place that wasn't really suited for living in, made them seek other locations. It was easy enough to get into though due to several badly patched large holes at ground level caused by a fight between the ABB, himself, and Glory Girl a couple of years ago.

He still thought it was funny that Glory Girl had done most of the damage.

He watched as Victor headed down the block, vanishing into the building a minute later having kicked a couple of planks out of the way in the process. They waited until his phone beeped, a text message from the other man saying he was in place. Secure in the knowledge that they'd both get warning of any Protectorate interference in the upcoming chat, and have backup in the form of a high velocity sniper bullet if anyone got uppity, not that Brad thought he really needed it, he turned to the others.

"Come on. No one starts anything without my say-so, got it?"

He shoved his way to the front of the group and rounded the corner, walking down the street to the pizza place through the slushy snow while sirens sounded a couple of miles away in the vicinity of Winslow. Whatever had happened there was useful in his opinion as it took the attention of the PRT and the cops and left his own people free to operate without hindrance. He didn't know, or particularly care, what had happened to the place.

From what he'd heard it was a shit school anyway so it was no loss even if one of the subhuman scum who infested the place had burned it down or something.

At the other end of the street, about three hundred or so yards away, he could see the pizza place which was a beacon of light in an otherwise mostly dark area, the weather having been bad enough to make most of the other shops and restaurants close early tonight. Aside from that and a dozen or so streetlights, the entire area was dark and oddly still, without any vehicles or any signs of other people. That last part could well be down to any passers-by spotting his group and clearing out, which was the usual result. He assumed there could be watchers in the buildings, but didn't bother looking. While he could almost feel the eyes on them he knew no one would have the balls to interfere.

Halfway to the pizza place, he saw the Tinker girl, now wearing her helmet again, step out of the front door, the older guy following her while looking back over his shoulder and apparently saying something to someone inside, probably the staff. He waved then let the door close, before heading with the girl in the other direction. Hookwolf was sure she'd glanced in their direction but after that she apparently entirely ignored them, which was… unusual.

The old guy didn't even seem to notice, so he was probably just unobservant. Not to mention they were walking in near darkness except for the streetlights, of course.

The E88 group kept moving, steadily closing the distance, since their target didn't seem to be in any hurry. Brad kept his eyes fixed on the power-armored young woman as she was the potentially dangerous one although he was sure that as a new Trigger she wasn't going to be particularly hard to cow. Yeah, the dark purple armor was impressive, very professional and giving off the air of something that even Armsmaster, that shiny bastard, would nod approvingly at, but how dangerous could a kid like that be? Especially out on the street like this, and apparently completely ignorant of the simplest aspects of cape life.

Wearing a mask was Caping 101 as far as most Parahumans were concerned, even an idiot knew that, unless you were New Wave, and they were just stupid. If it wasn't for their power and Panacea, they'd have been wiped out or acquired by a gang years back in his opinion. But this girl either didn't know about the dangers of letting people see your face, or thought she was above that.

He was going to have to show her where she was going wrong in that respect.

Their quarry stopped next to a somewhat beaten-up old car parked a way down the street from the pizza place, the vehicle one of those older model ones that seemed to keep working forever even though they sounded like they were about to fall apart at any second. The old guy unlocked it, while talking to the girl in a casual fashion as if having someone in power armor standing there was an entirely normal thing to do. In Brockton Bay it wasn't as unusual as it would have been in most places, Brad thought with slight amusement, but even so it wasn't exactly common.

When his group was only about fifty feet away, both the other people still apparently not noticing them and just standing there talking quietly, Brad held up a fist. All his people stopped, Cricket moving to the side to have a clear shot at their target if anything happened, the rest of the normals spreading out with weapons ready but not aimed. "Hey," he said after a few seconds, somewhat incensed that the Tinker and her guy were still ignoring them.

Both looked around at his call, then exchanged a glance.

"Kaiser wants a word with you, girl," he added, making his voice as commanding as possible and conveying by his stance and tone that what Kaiser wanted, Kaiser got.

"No thanks, I'm busy right now," the girl replied, her own voice sounding confident but unimpressed. She turned back to the old guy, who smiled a little and opened the driver's door.

Brad stared, then looked at Cricket, who met his eyes with a puzzled and questioning look of her own. This was not the usual response to a heavily armed group of E88 people, complete with two capes, in his experience. Especially when one of the capes was him.

"You know who I am?" he demanded roughly, taking a step forward and letting his power start to change him, blades beginning to push out of his skin. He wasn't particularly pleased she was treating this so lightly.

He got the impression that the girl sighed slightly as she turned to face him again. "Yeah, you're that Nazi idiot… um, I want to say… Knifedog? No, that's not it. Stabbypuppy? Nope, that's ridiculous. I know it's something edgy and dog related… Swordmutt?" Brad gaped incredulously as she tilted her head a little, apparently thinking. "Hang on, it's been a while, I'll remember."

As he was about to say something, his temper rising, she snapped her armored fingers in triumph. "Aha! I know. Hookwolf! That's it!" Her demeanor changed from almost playful to completely focused in an instant, making him go from confused to wary. "Hookwolf the Nazi. Go away, Hookwolf the Nazi, or I'll do something you'll regret. I've had a very long day and I am not in the mood to play. I just want to go home with my dad and catch up on what happened while I was away." She turned dismissively and looked at the man, who was watching with apparent amusement and what looked like pride.

Her dad, hmm? That was careless of her. Through his growing anger at her insolence and attitude, he made a motion to a couple of his guys to go around the car and grab the guy for insurance. Jeff and Lonny headed towards the tall skinny man, the former slinging his shotgun over his shoulder and cracking his knuckles.

"You really sure you want to start something, boys?" the man asked as they neared. He didn't sound particularly worried, which Brad put down to bravado. It was surprising how many people fancied themselves as fighters right up until they got a fist in the gut. That usually changed their minds right quick, and that guy was at least forty and looked like an accountant or something anyway.

The girl merely watched as the two enforcers approached her father, even stepping back to give them room. Brad frowned a little, the slightest inkling that something odd was going on prodding the back of his mind.

Jeff grinned unpleasantly, laughed a little, and replied, "Yeah, I'm sure," he said as he reached out for the man's arm to grab it and spin him around with it in a submission hold.

"OK," the man said, shrugging.

Everyone froze at the wet crack as Jeff's arm snapped like a twig at the elbow, even Jeff himself, until he screamed like a little girl when the pain hit. Brad stared as somehow the man ended up holding Jeff's shotgun, which he struck out with in a sharp motion. The screaming abruptly stopped. Before Lonny could react the butt of the gun slammed into his stomach, then up into his chin so hard he almost flipped backwards, totally unconscious and possibly dead before he'd finished falling.

The older guy who suddenly seemed a lot more dangerous spun the weapon in his hand, cocking it in the process, to cover Brad and his remaining people, who were staring in shock.

"Nice one, Dad," the girl said admiringly.

"Out of practice, Taylor," the guy replied, not looking away from the others. "I think they're still alive."

"Easily fixed," she shrugged. Turning back to Brad, she moved slightly in front of her father, although she was careful not to block his line of fire. "OK, fun's fun, but I really don't have time for this shit. Fuck off, take your idiots with you, and you can live. Annoy me any more and I will fucking end you, your entire gang, and anyone who ever even smiled at you, you hear me, Hookwolf the Nazi?" She leaned forward a little, adding, "I don't like Nazis."

Her voice had become something horrific as she spoke, making Brad get a chill down his back in a way that he'd never experienced before in his entire life. Most of the others with him almost unconsciously grouped closer together, exchanging glances that were mostly uncertain and worried, if not actually scared.

There was a moment of near-stillness as everyone just stood there. A second later Brad growled, "You're going to pay for that," at the girl's father, who didn't react at all. He let his transformation go further, bulking up with a metal on metal sound as more blades appeared. "Kaiser said bring you to him, that's what I'm going to do, girl."

"You're really beginning to piss me off, Stabbypuppy," the girl replied with a snarl of her own, almost visibly radiating rage in a more than slightly disconcerting way as she stared them down. "Last chance to walk away, and that's only because I'm full of pizza and in a good mood."

"Get that guy," Brad ordered Cricket, not taking his eyes off the armored figure of the Tinker girl, who he suddenly had a very strong feeling was a hell of a lot more dangerous than he'd first thought. He was beginning to wonder if he'd made a mistake approaching her like this. And if he was actually seeing the dull red glow out of the corner of his eyes that he thought he was. Still, it was done and the Empire couldn't back down. "Leave this one to me."

His companion didn't bother acknowledging his order with even a glance, she merely shot forward with both kamas raised, moving much faster than most people could track never mind avoid. Brad winced at the sensation of her echolocation, even though she was facing the other way. It would be much worse for the other two of course.

The sound of the shotgun firing drowned out her ultrasonic scream with a flat boom. Moments later Cricket slid bonelessly to a halt at the girl's feet. Brad took a moment to realize that there had been at least three shots so close together they merged into one, the man having worked the action of the gun faster than he'd ever seen done before. The first shot had missed, the other two hadn't, and at near enough point blank range the damage was horrific.

"Cricket!" he yelled, furious and shocked in equal quantities. His remaining men were, when he looked around at the sounds of motion, backing away like cowards. Wanting to kill the Tinker and her dad, the only thing holding him back was a combination of Kaiser's order to bring her to him and a certain wariness that both of them were clearly more than he'd thought they were. There was no way someone should have been able to take Cricket out that easily, but the guy had made it look trivial. He was just standing there with the shotgun raised and ready. The girl still didn't give off any impression of being worried, although she was emanating an aura of anger that was more than a little intimidating.

As he was trying to decide whether or not to attack, the girl suddenly snapped out a hand so fast he didn't even see it move, putting it in front of her father. Moments later there was a distant gunshot. She opened her hand and held up a fucking bullet, making Brad stare in horrified fascination.

She'd actually caught a fifty caliber sniper bullet in flight!

No one was that fast.

Turning her head to look up at the building several hundred yards away where Victor was, it obviously being him who'd fired the shot, she dropped the expended round to the ground, then did something that resulted in her holding one of the biggest and most lethal-looking rocket launchers that Brad had ever seen. Without hesitation she raised it and fired twice, the rockets roaring from the launcher over their heads so quickly they barely had time to duck. When Brad followed the trajectory of the shots he was in time to see the entire upper floor of the defunct office building erupt in a strangely colored fireball and disintegrate into fragments that rained down over the entire area, the top twenty feet or so of the place completely gone. Victor was very obviously no longer among the living.

He looked back, to find a different weapon pointed directly at him, a violent blue glow inside the enormous muzzle.

"Oh, fuck," he managed to say. Then the world turned into pain.

"So how are we supposed to go about finding someone who can erase an entire city and salt the earth?" Dauntless glanced at Assault, who was sitting on the other side of the PRT transport vehicle as it headed for a site off to the side of the Winslow event, near where Armsmaster had lost the tracks of the car and whoever had been accompanying it. That suggested to him that this person, whoever it was, had local backup. He wasn't, if he was honest with himself, particularly looking forward to meeting this person. They appeared to be dangerous to a level that made the word 'dangerous' entirely inadequate.

He only hoped they were willing to listen rather than open fire on sight…

His colleague was looking pensively at the floor, clearly thinking. At his words, Assault looked up, then shrugged a little. "Dunno yet. If they've gone to ground we might not find them at all. Or they might have left the Bay entirely already."

"That would be my ideal situation," Dauntless half-grinned.

"Yeah. Can't say I'd have any problems with it either," the other man agreed with a sigh. "Fuck. A teleporting, S-class eliminating, power armored walking weapon of mass destruction decided to come here?" He met Dauntless's eyes. "And then vaporizes an empty school? What the hell is that about?"

"I've heard that Winslow is pretty bad..." Dauntless said weakly.

"There's bad, then there's in the same category as Ellisburg!" Assault spread his hands, rocking slightly in his seat as the transport vehicle went around a corner. "I'm pretty sure that a bunch of high school kids aren't quite on the level of lethal man-eating biotinkered nightmares."

"Have you met high school kids?" Dauntless asked, making the other man snicker.

"Well, yeah, point to you. But it's still weird. What the fuck did Winslow have in common with Ellisburg, Eagleton, the Three Blasphemies, Moord Nag, and all the others?"

"It was definitely on someone's shit list, that's for sure," he sighed. "I still can't believe anyone could do that much damage and not destroy the entire city. I mean, a crater that big would need a nuke to create. A pretty big one. There are smaller holes in Nevada. And aside from a few small fires, the only thing that got erased was the school itself. That's… impressive. For all the wrong reasons."

"Also a good point. On the other hand, powers are indeed bullshit as our clock themed practical joker keeps saying."

"There's bullshit, then there's that..."

They looked at each other for a moment before simultaneously shivering.

"I've got a bad feeling about this whole situation," Assault muttered.

"Join the club," Dauntless replied, shaking his head, then checking his arc-lance somewhat nervously. It was about the tenth time he'd done that in the last six minutes.

One of the two PRT troopers in the front, the one who wasn't actually driving, leaned around to look back through the doorway between the cab and the rear of the vehicle. "Sir, we're getting a report that someone has posted on PHO that Hookwolf, along with Cricket, Victor, and at least twenty normal gang members, has been seen hanging around on the corner of Bleak Avenue and Ocean Drive."

Assault and Dauntless exchanged another glance, rather more worried than before. "Shit. That's only about a mile from the Winslow site and in the direction that the tracks were heading if they turned right where Armsmaster lost them..."

"Balls. If that crazy Nazi blender gets involved… He's not exactly known for his diplomatic skills." Assault groaned, rubbing his eyes. "Oh, hell. How would the E88 have found out?"

"It's not like everyone in the entire state didn't see and hear that explosion," Dauntless pointed out. "Maybe one of their people spotted someone in power armor wandering around and passed it up the chain."

"Yeah, probably. They've got more people on the street than we do… Fuck it. And Kaiser, the asshole, probably just thought, 'Oh, a new Tinker, better grab them quick,' without stopping to think for a fucking second that maybe, just maybe, this person might have something to do with whoever nearly nuked Brockton!" Assault's voice got more and more acidic as he spoke, a significant change from his normal somewhat ebullient air. His colleague didn't blame him, this had the makings of a real disaster waiting to happen.

"Sergeant, head for that location, but keep to the back roads," the other man then added in the direction of the cab.

"Got it," the driver called back, the vehicle taking a left turn and speeding up.

"Any other information come in yet?" Dauntless asked the Daniels, the trooper who'd told them about the sighting and who was still peering back at them.

"No, we don't have anyone else in that exact area at the moment," Daniels replied, shaking his head. "Our people were going in the other direction, towards the center of the city, not out to the suburbs."

"Well, we'd better keep everyone away for now," Assault put in. "Tell the squads on the ground to keep at least a quarter mile away from that location unless we call them in, but have them stand by."

"Sir," the man nodded, turning back to the cab. They could hear his voice speaking quietly into the comms system a moment later.

Assault looked at Dauntless, then tapped his own comms earpiece, as did the other man. A moment later, Director Piggot answered. "Report," she said, sounding tired but alert.

"We're chasing up a lead that Hookwolf and a group of E88 gangers along with two other capes were seen about a mile from Winslow, in one of the possible directions our unknown friend could have gone," the red-clad man said.

There was a long pause during which they both glanced at each other, then a burst of almost inaudible swearing in which the words, "...should have been strangled at birth..." could just be heard. When the director finished muttering to herself, she said more loudly and obviously with deliberately forced calmness, "Do anything you need to do to stop that lunatic from making a bad situation worse."

An enormous explosion echoed over the area, causing the transport to slam to a halt. All the occupants looked out the windshield in time to see a fairly tall building about half a mile away directly in front of them erupt in oddly orange-purple-white flames and abruptly become a couple of stories shorter in an impressively large shower of burning debris that flew up and out a remarkably long distance.

After several silent seconds of stunned shock, Assault said with remarkable restraint, "Yeah, we might be a little too late for that..."

Amy touched Dean's arm again, then shook her head. She'd repaired the damage caused by what seemed to be a stress-induced cardiac event, very rare in a teenager, but he was still deeply unconscious even though his brain was working overtime. And his corona activity was going nuts. She looked up at her very worried sister, then her adoptive parents, who'd come home to find the Stansfield boy laid out on the couch totally unresponsive. "He's really out of it. I could get him conscious but I'm not sure it's a good idea. Whatever is wrong is still going on and it might cause brain damage the next time, not a heart problem."

"It's got to be some sort of attack," Vicky said, her hand on her boyfriend's head. The blonde girl was clearly trying to hold herself together but was just as clearly terrified for him. "A Master or something."

"I can't see anything that would explain it," Amy said as she stood up and stared at the young man. "None of the normal signs are there for some sort of powers-related problem, at least not ones I'm familiar with. It looks..." She paused, thinking, then nodded. "It looks almost like something basically scared him so much he just… fell over."

Carol and Mark exchanged a look, then examined the boy, before looking at Vicky. "What were you doing?" Carol asked slightly suspiciously.

"We were just sitting there watching TV, Mom!" the blonde replied with a glare. "Then he screamed and collapsed. It wasn't anything I did."

"Hmm..." The older woman studied her daughter closely for a moment, then shook her head. "Well, we can't do much more for him. Something bizarre is going on at the moment, with that enormous explosion earlier, and most of the BBPD and PRT running around like mad people. No one seems to know what though. And now this..." She looked at Dean again. "I can't see how this can be a coincidence."

"We'd better call the PRT and talk to the director, I suppose," Mark added with a shrug. "The boy's a Ward after all."

Vicky and Amy exchanged a look.

"Please, I'm depressed, not stupid," Mark chuckled. "I've known he was Gallant for quite a while now. Not my business but it wasn't hard to work out."

"Oh." Vicky sighed, but almost looked impressed. "He won't be happy about that."

"He can be as unhappy as he wants when we find out what's doing this to him," Amy said acerbically. "Call Director Piggot."

Carol nodded and pulled out her phone, not even bothering to glare at Amy's tone. She dialed, then waited. "This is Brandish of New Wave. Director Piggot, please," she said when it was answered. There was a pause, then she scowled. "Tell her we have the Stansfield boy at our house, he's had some sort of medical problem that Panacea says might be the result of a Parahuman attack and he's currently unconscious."

Everyone waited as she listened. "Yes. That Stansfield boy. Thank you."

Clearly whoever had answered was transferring her call. A few seconds passed until she said, "Hello, Director Piggot. Sorry to bother you, I know something big is going on, but we've got… Yes, he collapsed here at our house about..." She glanced at Amy, who held up three fingers. "...three hours ago. Panacea says he had some sort of heart problem out of nowhere, which she's fixed, but there's an ongoing issue that might be Parahuman in nature. She's unwilling to interfere without backup. Yes. Yes, we can bring him to you. You're that short handed? I see. All right, we'll be there shortly, with Panacea and Glory Girl too." Disconnecting she dropped the phone into her pocket, then shook her head. "That woman..."

Turning to the two girls, she said, "Get your costumes on. We'll take the car, I don't want anyone flying tonight until we have a better idea of what the hell is actually happening."

Amy merely nodded, while Vicky looked at her boyfriend, stroked his hair, then followed the other girl out of the room. A few minutes later all of them had piled into Carol's SUV, Vicky carefully putting Dean in the back seat, then sitting next to him, with Amy on the other side keeping an eye on his vitals as they drove towards the PRT building.

"Jesus, what the hell is that!?" Ethan shouted over a noise like a slow running but very big engine with no muffler on it that suddenly came out of nowhere from just ahead of them, accompanied by rapid flashes of brilliant yellow-white light. Moments later both he and Dauntless stopped in their tracks as a glinting mass of metal blades shot past the end of the street they'd been cautiously approaching the area where the building had inexplicably exploded a couple of minutes ago. The transport vehicle was parked down an alley out of sight with two very nervous and heavily armed troopers guarding it, under strict orders to stay away unless their aid was requested.

Now, they watched in horror as Hookwolf flew, obviously not under his own power, past the end of the road, apparently propelled by something, or multiple somethings, hitting him with enormous force over and over again. Blade fragments flew everywhere, many of them looking melted and scorched. The sound of whatever weapon it was got steadily louder until the owner of it came into sight, striding forward at a steady rapid walk. The noise rose to a deafening level as the matte purple power-armored figure, who was holding a fucking enormous rotary cannon that was so large most people probably couldn't even pick the thing up never mind survive firing it, passed the end of the road and vanished again. A constant stream of muzzle flashes lit the entire area and the sound of the thing firing was like an angry god roaring in rage.

Almost overwhelmed by the sound and sight, both men had put their hands over their ears until the noise diminished again, then they exchanged horrified looks. Apparently the Nazi cape had not only found but severely annoyed the person they were also looking for…

"Is it me, or did that person look angrier than anything you've ever seen?" Dauntless said loudly, still barely audible over the sound of the huge gun firing.

Ethan merely nodded, almost awestruck. Then, with another look at his companion, he carefully and somewhat unwillingly edged forward, Dauntless following, until both of them could stick their heads around the corner and see what was going on.

In the direction the power armored lunatic with the portable anti-aircraft gun had come from there were a number of bodies lying in the road, with half a dozen more standing against the wall, their faces pressed against it and their hands behind their heads. A single figure was leaning on a battered car holding a truly enormous gun and covering the rest with it, while looking in their direction. They took that in with a glance, then looked the other way.

The armored person released the trigger just as they looked, the huge rotary weapon spinning down with a whine, possibly out of ammunition although neither wanted to swear to that. It did something which made the thing disappear, then produced a smaller but still very impressive rifle-like gun which came to life with a deep hum they could hear from a hundred feet away, several tally lights coming on down the thing. Hookwolf, clearly badly injured and far past the point of being a threat to anyone, was lying in a heap of blades against a wrecked car that looked like it had been dumped there by the side of the road.

As they watched, the armored person stopped about ten feet from the Nazi cape and looked at him. "I warned you, Knifedog," it, or more likely she, said in a voice that nearly made them piss themselves. "I don't like Nazis. I especially don't like Nazis that threaten my father, or interrupt me when I just want to go home and relax." She lifted the weapon to a firing position. "I'd say this was fun, but to be honest it's just annoying pest control."

There was a very loud sound and a series of brilliant blue-white flashes, then the woman in the armor turned away from the small glassy molten crater that was all that was left of Hookwolf and the old car and headed back towards the other end of the street. She nodded politely to a gaping Assault and Dauntless as she passed without slowing.

Both men stared in horrified shock, looked at where one of the most dangerous capes in Brockton Bay had died, at each other, then after the armored woman, who had just joined the man who was leaning on the car apparently waiting for her. He handed her the very big gun he'd been holding, which she made vanish, then picked up a much smaller but still very lethal shotgun from inside the car and resumed covering the presumably E88 members.

"You want these guys or do I just shoot them too?" the woman called, her voice no longer quite as pants-shittingly terrifying but with an underlying note that made both of them feel extremely worried. It was pretty apparent that she wasn't joking. "Once they tell me where Kaiser is I don't need them any more. I have to go have a word with that asshole."

"Oh, fuck me, this isn't good," Ethan mumbled.

"You think?" Dauntless hissed, his hand on his arc-lance.

After a long moment, both of them stepped out into the street and extremely cautiously headed towards someone neither one of them had any real wish to meet.

Sometimes this job absolutely sucked.

Emily inspected the unconscious form of Gallant, who was lying on a bed in the PRT medical center, looking pale and unwell although Panacea assured her he was in no immediate danger. As much as she distrusted Parahumans in general, she had to admit the girl knew her stuff and was unlikely to be wrong. She turned to the doctor who was studying the results of a brain scan he'd just carried out with a handheld device. "Any idea?" she asked.

"No. Panacea is correct, his corona is highly active, but the activity itself doesn't match the normal pattern we've seen from Gallant before. I'm at a loss as to the cause. It might be a Parahuman attack, but if it is, it's a new variant we don't have any records of."

She nodded slowly, wondering how this tied into all the chaos that had happened tonight. It seemed excessively unlikely that it wasn't connected somehow, but she had no idea how. Why Gallant? Why not any other Parahuman?

"Is it safe to wake him?" she asked.

The doctor studied his results again and thought for a moment, before giving Panacea, who was standing near the bed, a quizzical glance. The healer shrugged. "On the face of it I can't see any immediate reason not to," he finally said. "But I can't guarantee he'll be lucid, or remember what happened if he is. Or even know."

"Fair enough, but we don't have any other way to find out, so we might as well try it," she replied. Looking at Panacea she added, "Wake him, please."

"OK," the girl replied, putting her hand on the boy's for a few seconds.

Everyone in the room without exception was shocked when he suddenly sat bolt upright on the bed and shouted "She has come!" at the top of his voice in a really offputting way, paused, added almost conversationally, "She is ANGRY!" then screamed and fainted again.

Following a very long and extremely confused silence, Panacea said, "Well, that's not worrying at all."

Giving her an unfriendly look, Emily shook her head, then tried to work out what the fuck was going on.