Clockblocker and Vista were in two seperate PRT vans, en route from their respective schools. Shadow Stalker and Kid Win were on patrol and would meet them on location. The rest of the Wards were either off-duty, not answering their phones, or couldn't be pulled from school for cover reasons.
As they travelled through the city Clockblocker could still see the scars. Lord Doom had not actually killed anyone, as far as they could tell, but he had left a wake of devastation all across the city.
Hundreds of buildings had collapsed, partially or completely, leading to an endless nightmare for the fire department and police. And the big stuff, entire warehouse buildings gutted by Tinkertech weaponry, city-blocks evacuated as the government dealt with the unstable ruins, was perhaps not even the worst of it.
Lord Doom had literally spared nothing. If three youths in Empire colours hung around a certain corner selling drugs, there were now scorch marks etched into the walls of the building, from Lord Doom's own personal brand of homemade bombs. If they had hidden drugs underneath a porch step, that house no longer had a porch.
It was safe to say anyone who had worn Empire colours was at least a little bit traumatized by their experience. All the senior Empire members were still trapped in the time bubble, but the junior members that just did the grunt work had not escaped punishment. First degree burns, lacerations and burst eardrums were the most common injuries, although there were even a few cases of permanent blindness.
In an unsurpring move, considering New Wave's history with the Empire, Panacea had not been sympathetic to any requests for healing blast injuries. For all that each and every Empire member claimed to be just an innocent bystander, a victim of collateral damage, most investigations showed that there were very few such cases.
Brockton Bay was a city recovering from an intensive period of trauma and people were still scared. The Protectorate were all away on a PR event, a show of strength to convince rich and powerful people the city was still worth investing in. With the fallout of the Medhall crisis still looming over the city, its economy needed any boost it could get.
The most cathartic thing for the city would have been for Lord Doom to have been caught. If the Protectorate had put him on trial, wearing Tinkertech cuffs, in front of the media that would have done something to reassure people. In a year or so when the time bubble burst the Protectorate hoped to do exactly that, but it wasn't the same.
"Intel says it's likely the Undersiders," Kid Win was the oldest, and thus technically in command. "We have a confirmed sighting of Hellhound's dogs. The rest of the team are Regent, can make muscles spasm at a distance, Grue, generates darkness and Tattletale, unknown but probable Thinker. Scene is Brockton Central Bank."
It was technically a four against four fight, but Clockblocker was still nervous. If you counted Hellhound's dogs it was a lot more than four villains. Those things looked nasty.
"They have hostages, so we can't rush in. Vista will block their escape," Kid Win continued. "If we're lucky once we trap them the entire thing turns into a long hostage negotiation and the Protectorate has time to arrive from their event. If we're unlucky they attack us. If they do, our main goal is to protect Vista and keep them contained."
"We could really use a brute against those monsters," Vista said over the radio. "Aegis isn't available?"
"No," Kid Win said. "Nor is Browbeat. Clockblocker can freeze them and I'm mobile enough to attack Hellhound behind them, that's our best hope. I also sent Myriad a message, but she hasn't responded yet."
"Twiggy?" Shadow Stalker spat. "She won't come. She's too scared to come to school or patrol, never mind a cape-fight."
"You've been repeatedly asked to not call her that," Kid Win said firmly. "And a GED is just as much as real education as high-school."
"So send me home as punishment. Go and fight the Undersiders without me."
Kid Win just sighed.
Dealing with Sophia was an absolute nightmare, Clockblocker was not looking forward to his own turn to be the Ward captain. Sophia was a bitch to everyone, but she seemed to have a personal grudge against Myriad for some reason.
The first part of their plan went without a hitch, they arrived and twisted space around the entire bank to trap the Undersiders. Kid Win had barely grabbed a loudspeaker to announce their presence when the Undersiders attacked.
No less than five giant monsters burst out of the bank, visibly growing in size as they pounded towards the Ward's line. Clockblocker's heart thundered in his chest and he moved to stand in front of Vista, a hand extended.
Shadow Stalker leapt over their lines, given a boost by Vista, aiming directly for Grue. Kid Win followed her on his hoverboard, moving towards Hellhound.
Grue, just visible in the doorway, blasted Shadow Stalker with darkness, and she was forced to move away after firing two shots that vanished into the black nothingness. The darkness interfered with her Breaker state and she was forced to stay outside it, which is why she had such a deep personal hatred of Grue. Kid Win flew into the darkness, his pistols firing, but Clockblocker didn't have time to see what happened.
The first of the dogs was upon them and he barely managed to tag the giant beast in time, freezing it to hang in the air. Unfortunately two more were just behind it, both heading straight for him. The monsters were the size of cars, all spikes and bone plates and massive snarling jaws.
He moved to tag them but he collapsed. His leg still twitching as he struck the cement pavement hard, his armour cushioning the impact.
The dog leapt over him to get to Vista, its armoured underbelly passing over Clockblocker's head.
A white blur struck the dog in midair and it bounced back, crashing down onto the pavement far away. The entire bony set of spines that guarded its head had been shattered, a deep crack running down the plate in its forehead.
Myriad hung in the air without a scratch on her white and glowing green armour, her long white cloak waving in a non-existent wind.
Clockblocker heard a whistle from somewhere and two more dogs leapt up at Myriad.
She swatted the first out of the way with a contemptuous backhanded blow; shattering the plates on its side and sending it flying into the pavement.
Clockblocker rolled back up and quickly tagged two wounded dogs.
Another dog had managed to bite at Myriad, grabbing her in its giant jaws and chomping down, but it did nothing. She didn't even budge an inch at the impact, the dog hanging off her in midair, wiggling its jaws to try and hurt her, slobber running down her slick force fields.
Her cloak had helpfully moved out of the way to prevent itself from being dirtied by the dog's spit.
Apparently deciding she had finished her Siberian impression, she grabbed the dog by the jaws and tore them open before throwing it away, where it slammed against the bank wall a dozen feet away.
"Sorry I'm late." Myriad said and the segmented drones that made up her face-mask twisted into a glowing green smile. "What do I do?"
Clockblocker knew Myriad was a high-rated Tinker, that's why she managed to get a large budget even though she barely did anything. She rarely went on patrol, she didn't even spend that much time tinkering in her very expensive lab in the PRT building. The little she did was some collaboration project that made Armsmaster very excited, the rumours said it was anti-endbringer weaponry.
Shadow Stalker had said Myriad treated the Wards "like it was a fucking hobby or something", and as much as her tone rankled she had been right. From the start Myriad had been clear that it wouldn't be a full-time thing for her, and Clockblocker couldn't blame her to be honest. If he'd been attacked by Hookwolf in his civilian identity he'd have second thoughts as well.
But now, after seeing Myriad effortlessly shred Hellhound's monsters, he understood the PRT's decisions a little better. Kid Win's endless talk about her incredible armour wasn't just Tinker admiration due to her helping him find his speciality; Myriad was the genuine Alexandria package, Glory Girl without the cooldown, and she was terrifying.
"Take down Grue, he's blocking Shadow Stalker!" Clockblocker yelled. "I'll keep the dogs frozen."
Myriad grimaced but shot away, crossing the distance in the blink of an eye.
Grue was blasting more darkness, covering a massive area in front of the bank in pitch-black shadow, shielding him and the other Undersiders and keeping Shadow Stalker at bay.
Dozens of Myriad's armour drones separated away as she approached, shooting out into the darkness like the burst of a fragmentation grenade. The remaining ones immediately shifted to cover the holes in her armour.
She hovered above the darkness, waiting.
After a couple of seconds a group of her drones shot back up, pointing in a straight line into the darkness. She dove in after them.
Three heartbeats later she shot back up, holding a struggling Grue in one hand. A plume of darkness followed her flight, Grue never ceasing to produce it. Only her rapid flight kept her clear.
She tossed Grue onto the roof of a nearby tall building, a trail of darkness in the air leading towards it, and then shot back to the battle.
Myriad suddenly flinched and her course changed rapidly, ploughing into the cement plaza in front of the bank at an obscene speed. She immediately flew back up, no visible damage to her armour, and then kept on twisting in a cartwheel that sent her back into the ground.
Just at the edge of the darkness Clockblocker could see Regent's grinning mask.
Clockblocker heard a noise behind him and turned around in time to see Circus, a supposed solo villain. He reached out to grab her but she did something with her hands and flames burst into the air.
Clockblocker flinched back as Circus jumped forward and swiftly kicked him in the knee. When he fell Circus threw a weighted net over him.
In what was a remarkably poor bit of luck the first of the dogs unfroze then and Vista was forced to flee, breaking the space-warp trapping the Undersiders.
Circus had timed her attack perfectly, the dogs were just coming out of it. Clockblocker struggled desperately at the net, but it was too late. Within minutes they were all free and Circus cartwheeled away with a mocking laugh.
The dogs all ran towards Hellhound, who already sat wide-legged astride one of them next to Tattletale.
Myriad was still disabled by Regent, facing the wrong way and her body twitching randomly. She'd apparently cut the connection to her flight. Regent gave a jaunty wave with his sceptre and jumped onto a dog of his own.
Myriad didn't visibly do anything, but her entire right-arm came free, exposing the white bodysuit underneath. It shot across the distance with incredible speed, more like a bullet than a piece of body armour and it smashed into Regent's chest.
He stayed on the dog, barely, bent over and grasping a spike in either hand. He was retching and coughing violently. The arm came back and this time slapped him hard across the face, twisting his head and shattering part of his mask. Almost immediately the arm slapped him again from the other side.
The Undersiders bounded off, Regent still haunted by Myriad's hand, resolutely following its programming to keep on slapping him.
Once they crossed some line, Myriad's limited range, the arm fell lifelessly down to the ground.
Shadow Stalker stood outside Grue's darkness, her body language screaming absolute fury. She'd been able to do pretty much nothing in this fight.
As Grue's darkness slowly faded Kid Win was revealed, zip-tied on the ground next to his hoverboard.
Clockblocker looked up. As expected, Grue had gotten off the roof somehow. Just perfect.
And yes. The people in the office buildings surrounding the bank were all against their windows, with their phones out.
Taylor had jobbed the fight, hard. The days when Grue's darkness countered her were long past, so she didn't even have an excuse. She could have made her hand drag Regent back off the dog, she could even have split her armour into five copies and grabbed the entire set of Undersiders plus whoever their new clown was.
She could have used her camera drones to follow their escape and ambush them as they emerged at the halfway point to their lair.
If the PRT hadn't banned her from using her laser drones, maybe she'd have felt more inclined to try her best. They would have shredded through Grue's darkness. And their main disadvantage, that even scattered light from their beams could instantly and permanently blind people, wasn't even a problem thanks to Grue!
If the worst came to the worst she could even have launched missiles from one of her clandestine labs, taking them and their dogs down. Probably permanently, there wasn't really anything like a non-lethal explosive that still disabled people. Not since Taylor had gotten rid of most of Bakuda's bombs, those things really didn't have a shelf-life.
She hadn't gone easy on the Undersiders because they were kinda sorta friends with Lord Doom. There were even decent odds some of the dogs she threw around were from the dogfighting ring she'd helped the Undersiders raid, but that wasn't the reason she let them get away.
Although that was part of the reason she restrained her drones, using just enough force to throw them around without hurting the animals deep inside the fleshy mecha-suits.
The Undersiders were fairly harmless, they didn't kill or unmask people. The Wards got a bit of exercise, Taylor got a chance to show-boat, and then the Undersiders escaped with some money that probably was insured. Sure Regent humiliated her a bit, but she repaid him in kind with interest.
At the end of the day, it was all in the game.
Taylor was mulling over her thoughts at the entrance to her official PRT lab, on her way to put the Myriad suit back on its dummy, when Sophia jumped down through the ceiling to land directly behind her. Despite her camera drones having given her advance warning she couldn't help but flinch.
Sophia knew it was a trigger for Taylor and she took relentless joy in exploiting it. But no more. Taylor had tried her best to be a good Ward and get along with her old school bully, but she'd officially reached her limit. And this particular portion of the corridor wasn't in view of any cameras.
"Hey," Sophia smirked. "Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
"What do you want?"
"I want to know what the hell was that out there? You kicked ass."
"What do you mean?" Taylor halted her plans. She'd honestly been expecting this conversation to take a very different turn.
"I just don't get you, Hebert. At school you were a total wimp, but then you dropped out or something. And then you did the vigilante thing, but you were shit at it, just hanging out in the Boardwalk. But then you gank fucking Hookwolf! I was legit impressed, until you went back to being a scaredy-cat, not even patrolling. And now apparently you're like fucking Alexandria or something. What the fuck?"
"Is that how you think?" Taylor asked. "Some caveman thing about respecting strength and treating everyone else like dirt? I just have to be stronger than you and you'll finally be nice to me?"
"Fuck you! You'll never be stronger than me." Shadow Stalker phased her arm into her shadow state and back. "I can take you apart behind all that armour without even breaking a sweat."
OK, her plan for dealing with Shadow Stalker was a go again. There were many different approaches that could have been taken, leaking some footage of Shadow Stalker using lethal ammunition was the simplest solution. But Taylor had decided to have a little fun with it, and inflict a reverse of the situation Sophia had helped put Taylor in, a lifetime ago.
"Come at me then." Her taser drones were an extension of her body, as easy to move with a command to her visor as her arm, and they swarmed out of Taylor's lab to form a shield in front of her. For effect she made a few of them arc, crackling tiny bursts of lighting jumping between them and exuding a bitter ozone smell.
"I'm not scared of your little toys," Sophia spat. "They can't do jack to me."
For all her bravado, she didn't shift into her Breaker state or attack. Taylor knew why, a little comment she had overhead at the start of her career.
Sophia moved her head slightly, enough that she could see behind her out of the corner of her eye. More taser drones were already there, behind her and crawling across the ceiling, a vast swarm surrounding Sophia on all sides.
"You know the difference between us, Sophia?" Taylor asked, her voice high and ice cold. "When I throw an Empire member off a building, it's because I meant to do it. And I don't get stuck as a probationary Ward doing pointless patrols afterwards."
It wasn't Hookwolf that caused it, although that was perhaps when Taylor had first noticed it happening. The theatricality, the bravado, the utter disregard for the thoughts of others, Lord Doom was all that and more. From the start he had been a mask Taylor could put on that would let her confront the world. He was a way for Taylor to escape, to be someone else for a little while, a person that had none of her problems or issues.
But wear any mask for long enough and your face underneath changes to match it.
Somewhere down the line, at a moment she couldn't quite pinpoint, Lord Doom had become something more than a throwaway identity. Taylor was Lord Doom, and Lord Doom sometimes just pretended to be Myriad. And she was dealing with Sophia Lord Doom style.
Sophia shivered, not because she was scared, but because Taylor had one of her drones mess with the air conditioning unit to make the corridor much colder. "Who the fuck told you about that?"
Taylor leaned forward, the swarm of taser drones giving way to expose her face mask. With a twitch of her eyes the white cover on it faded to a pitch black and the eyes burned a bright red. "LORD DOOM KNOWS ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESS. LORD DOOM KNOWS ABOUT YOUR HISTORY. LORD DOOM KNOWS ALL. AND IF YOU CROSS LORD DOOM, YOU WILL PAY."
Sophia actually backed away, nearly into the taser drones behind her, her mouth wide open. What was she thinking? Shock that Taylor Hebert had personally destroyed the Empire? Horror that Lord Doom was both alive and had a personal grudge against her? Mere disbelief?
Or was she just trying to fit the whole thing into her stupid dominance mindset?
Taylor didn't know and she didn't care. She had more important things to do, today would be the culmination of a careful chess game that had been weeks in the making and Sophia was just a petty, if amusing, diversion from that.
With a few parting words she and her drones swept into her lab and closed the electrified door behind them.
"THE OTHER WARDS DESPISE YOU. PIGGOT BARELY TOLERATES YOU. FEEL FREE TO TELL THEM ABOUT THIS, NO ONE WILL EVER BELIEVE YOU."
And it was the truth. For all that there were a million conspiracy theories on PHO, the official PRT line was still that Lord Doom was a Breaker. If a file containing a different theory had ever crossed Piggot's desk, Taylor would have known about it. And the PRT stood ready to arrest Lord Doom when he finally came out of the time bubble.
Well, Taylor wished them the best of luck with that.
Coil sat at his desk, in his underground base, and he was remarkably pleased with himself. He had done barely anything; he could not have foreseen this turn of events, that the Empire would be so comprehensively destroyed, but it was working out remarkably well for him. Just one obstacle remained.
His plan to complete domination of the villain-scene in Brockton Bay was so close to fruition. And as for the legal side, well, things were in motion. Myriad's presence in the Wards complicated matters there, just as much as she did on the other side of the law.
Thanks to the Undersiders' distraction, his men had successfully acquired his new precog. Soon he'd go down to meet her, but for now he just wanted to take a moment to savour the success.
His end-goal was in sight. He and Lord Doom had been sparring for weeks, a slow paced battle that played out across the entire city. It was a vast scheme of bluff and counterbluff, of throwaway universes and missile strikes.
Coil had been arrested more times than he could count in other universes, once Alexandria herself had even crashed through his secret base and swiftly executed him. It turned out the Triumvirate coming to town if you hurt a Ward was not just an empty threat. And yes, he had died at Taylor Hebert's hand, so many times. Whatever compunctions she had vanished quickly once she, her father or her new friends among the Wards were threatened.
But now Coil had access to a powerful precog and Lord Doom, for all his cleverness, for all his presence throughout the entire city and his million countermeasures, could not stack up against Dinah Alcott's power.
Victory was in sight for Coil now. In the end, there could only be one ruler of the city, only one person that dominated the hero and the villain-scene. There was only enough room for one lord of Brockton Bay.
In two different places, in two different universes, a pair of glowing red eyes stepped out from behind him.