A/N: Quick recap: Shadow Stalker just tried to kill Taylor. Taylor did not appreciate the attempt, and is now in the process of subduing the idiot with the power of tasers.
Alternate chapter title: Shadow Stalker is a fucking idiot, but she's a dangerous idiot.
In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green, and water is wet.
And water is, in fact, wet. I will fight you on this.
If you try to tell me the sky isn't blue I will publicly shame you for your stupidity.
If you think grass isn't really green I just don't know what to tell you. Chlorophyll is a thing? You do know that those football fields are made of plastic and rubber, not real grass, right?
Honestly, nothing personal if you like Shadow Stalker. I just don't think she's a very interesting character, nor one that Taylor would have ever been hard-pressed to defeat. Crossbows probably have a smaller effective range than Taylor's bugs, and walls don't stop bugs any better than they stop Shadow Stalker. And if Taylor had been willing, at the start of the story, to ask for help (not from Blackwell, who definitely knew who Shadow Stalker was and wasn't willing to snitch on the violent vigilante that walks through walls, but it's possible Gladly was being genuine when he asked who was bullying Taylor) things would have gone very differently.
As satisfying as it had been to shoot Sophia in the back with a taser, it occurred to me that I hadn't planned this out very well. As I wrapped her body in my electric fan's cord and turned on to said fan make sure electricity flowed through the wire I was coming to realize that there were a great many things about this situation that I simply had no idea how to handle. I was lucky I had an electrical cord lone enough to tie someone up on hand, but I had no idea how long a taser would keep someone unconscious, and no way to tell if she started playing possum as soon as she woke up. I also couldn't shout for help at the moment, on account of my vocal cords being some of the casualties of her attempt to murder me by means of a slit throat. Keeping an eye on her, I stood carefully. I wasn't bleeding very much; my power seemed to mostly stop blood from wanting to leave my body. But there was still a large amount of it not in my body any more, and this would be a terrible time to pass out.
Opening my bedroom door (had she come in through the window? Just phased through the door?) I walked over to my Dad's bedroom door and knocked, loudly, on the door before opening it. I turned on the lights, and he blinked at me blearily, then shouted in alarm before quickly cutting himself off by throwing a hand over his mouth.
"Taylor! What happened."
I still couldn't talk. I don't think I was breathing, actually, which in hindsight raises the question of just how my power pulled off keeping me conscious. Maybe it was slowly converting brain cells to the oxygen they needed to survive.
On second thought, I hope that's not the case. I need those.
All the same, the only thing I could do was gesture at my throat and rattle at him as air escaped a slowly closing hole in my throat. Then I pointed toward my bedroom and mimed talking on a phone by putting a fist to my ear with thumb and pinky extended.
"You…want me to call someone?"
I don't think he'd fully woken up, because that was of a stupid question. I'd woken up in the middle of the night with a slit throat, of course I wanted him to call the cops. Still, I nodded and then went back to my room to make sure Sophia was still tied up. Fortunately, she was. I carefully re-folded the taser gun's wires into their spring-loaded launch package and then stood watch over her. After a few minutes, I heard my Dad start shouting downstairs. Something about having one of their precious Wards in his house and said Ward being guilty of attempted murder in the dead of night. Also quite a bit of profanity. Hopefully they would send someone to deal with the situation.
New Wave arrived long before the PRT came to pick Sophia up, and that was probably a good thing. At the moment I trusted them a whole lot than the state-sponsored anti-parahuman military branch that allegedly kept people from being murdered in their beds by capes.
Carol found me in my bedroom, still waiting for Sophia to so much as twitch and give me an excuse to shoot her again.
"Taylor! Are you all right?" she asked.
I nodded. By now, my throat had completely healed. "She just slit my throat. Nothing I can't walk off."
Carol sucked in a sharp breath. "Attempted first-degree murder, then. That wasn't very smart. Especially not since I know for a fact she had to break out of the PRT's holding cells to do it. We've caught her red-handed. There's no avoiding 20 years to life at a minimum, not now. Not after this."
Sophia chose that moment to scream as she tried to escape her bonds using her powers only to find that she really, really couldn't. I kept the taser on her, just in case she realized she could unplug the fan's cord by rolling over twice in the right direction, or holding it to herself and rolling over only once.
"Does that count as resisting arrest?" I asked pointedly.
"Sadly, no," Carol said. "You're not legally capable of placing her under arrest, nor have you stated any intention to begin a citizen's arrest."
"So if I do state my intention and she tries to escape?"
"I doubt she'd be so foolish."
There was silence for a few, long moments, before I decided to play it safe. "Sophia Hess, also known as Shadow Stalker, I'm hereby placing you under a citizen's arrest. I assume Carol here can read you your rights to make this official enough to count."
"In this case, I don't even need to. She was read her rights a long time ago, and neither of us are legally required to reiterate them for her now."
Sophia, who had been silent up to now, chose that moment to interject. "Fuck you both."
"Real mature, Sophia. Did you know you broke my neck, when you shoved me down those stairs?"
"Hah! Serves you right!" the psychopath exclaimed.
Carol on the other hand looked at me in shock. I suppose I hadn't told her about that part. I'd just mentioned that my injuries had healed suspiciously quickly.
Well then, I guess I have nothing more to say here. She'd said enough, and one thing Brandish had taught me was that the hidden recorder she carried around as a matter of course was admissible testimony in court. The laws were sketchy, but it was technically legal as long as she was in a place where no one who had a right to privacy objected to the recording. And since this was my bedroom and I wasn't objecting, everything was above board.
There were few things in my life before that point that had been as satisfying as watching the heavily-armored PRT goons slap a pair of obviously tinkertech cuffs on Sophia Hess and take her away.
"Well, this has gone far enough," Carol said after the vans pulled away. "We gave the Protectorate a chance to contain this problem and they failed. This calls for drastic measures."
"Carol, we can't," stated Lady Photon, also known as Carol's sister or Sarah Pelham. Allegedly, Sarah was also in charge of New Wave, even if anyone with a family could tell you that no one was really in charge of New Wave.
"What can't we do?" I asked with some confusion, "Fly over there and give them a piece of our minds? I personally would like some words with whoever was in charge of locking Sophia in a cell and keeping her there."
"That…would, I suppose, count as drastic by some definitions of the word," Carol allowed.
"I'll call Victoria," Sarah said, "she has the right kind of attitude for this kind of conversation. And it's not like I can carry you both."
I wondered briefly why Brandish couldn't just go into her ball form the whole time, but decided against asking. I wouldn't want to fly around as cargo even if my powers made it practical, and maybe especially not if they did. Besides, Having Glory Girl there as backup couldn't hurt.
It only hurt a little bit when Glory Girl grabbed me with bruising force to shake my hand. I introduced myself to her in a bit of a daze before her mother sharply reminded her to reign in her aura. Her aura that…was what had been making me see her as an angelic figure second only to Alexandria herself.
Yeesh, that was a scary power. They let her run around with a barely controlled master power but Heartbreaker was evil when he started a harem of charmed love slaves?
Regardless, we flew to the Protectorate's modified oil rig headquarters, not the PRT building where Sophia was headed. When I asked why, Sarah happily explained that while the PRT detained parahumans, it was by and large the Protectorate that actually did the fighting. Additionally, any cell designed to hold Shadow Stalker would have been the work of Armsmaster, and he could be found on the Rig at this time of night.
Sure, Sophia wasn't going to be there to defend herself from any accusations we made, but in my mind that was a plus so I didn't complain.
When we arrived, we were greeted by the force field that protected the Rig from attacks. After a few minutes a small section of it flashed and then disappeared. It reappeared behind us as we flew inside. I wondered why no one had come out to greet us, before I realized that in the dead of night, it was entirely possible that any fliers the Protectorate had were asleep or just not on the Rig. If it hadn't been New Wave staring down whatever security cameras they had, we probably wouldn't have even been let in.
Suddenly, I was unspeakably glad I'd decided to wear my hoodie-and-bandana 'costume.' It wasn't much, but it would keep them from directly connecting Taylor Hebert to whatever cape name I picked out for myself.
When we landed on the Rig proper, Miss Militia was there to greet us in person. The military-themed cape was wearing a bandana decorated with the American flag as a mask, so I couldn't read her expression very well, but she looked worried somehow. I can't imagine why.
"To what do I owe the pleasure, Brandish, Lady Photon, Glory Girl?" Miss Militia asked.
"We'd like to talk about what your beloved pet monster just tried to do," I answered with no small amount of annoyance.
Miss Militia didn't do anything as crass as pointing a weapon at me, but her power, which had previously been manifesting itself as a knife in a sheath on her leg, turned into a pistol in a different sheath on her opposite hip. "And who are you?" she asked coldly.
"Technically speaking, I don't have a name yet. But Sophia Hess has already broken my neck and slit my throat. So I've had a great introduction to my new life as a parahuman so far," I said just as coldly.
Miss Militia's weapon blurred into green energy before reforming itself as the same pistol, now on her other hip. "I see. How long ago did this happen?"
"How long ago?" I asked incredulously. "That's all you can think to ask? I tell you that your fucking Ward snuck into my bedroom and slit my throat and you want to know how long ago it happened?!"
Her power was suddenly a knife again, this time held in her hand, though she didn't make any other moves. "I see," she said simply. "Would an official apology help matters?"
"No, that ship has long since sailed. She bullied me for over a year with no one there to stop her because she wasn't wearing a mask when she did it. You're a year and a half too late to be apologizing for what she's done."
I'd had a long time to think of things I'd like to tell Principal Blackwell when the bitch told me I didn't have anything but circumstantial evidence. Most of the things I'd thought of could be effectively repurposed for use here.
"Over a year?" Miss Militia asked, so quietly I almost missed the question. Suddenly, she seemed to realize she was holding her power in her hand and she shoved in into a sheath on her right leg. "I suppose I'm speaking to you in the presence of a lawyer for a reason, then?"
"The fact that it took a parahuman lawyer to call out what's been happening to me as wrong says something about the state of the city, if you ask me," I said in a tone of voice that probably didn't sound as angry as I felt.
And then Carol decided to interject. "I have your Ward on tape saying that it 'serves you right' after my client here accused her of breaking her neck by pushing her down a flight of stairs. And my client possesses the original copies of several 70-sheet spiral-bound notebooks filled to the brim with accounts of bullying behavior. Sophia is responsible for at least a third of said behavior, since by my client's account there were three main instigators during the bullying campaign."
"In other words," I said after Brandish fell silent and Miss Militia paled visibly, "We could take this to court and you would lose. So what exactly do you plan to do about that fucking psychopath?" I was nearly shouting by the end of that sentence, but I'd like to think I can be forgiven for getting emotional.
Miss Militia was quiet for a long time as she considered the question. At least a minute passed before she said, "I can't speak for the Protectorate as a whole, obviously. But personally? I will see to it that Shadow Stalker never sees the light of day again, one way or another."
That genuinely shocked me. It almost sounded like Miss Militia was willing to kill Shadow Stalker if that's what it took to keep me happy. But that raised questions which themselves raised questions just by existing.
"How, though?" I asked, deciding to get the most pressing question out of the way first. "It's not like locking her up in a specially designed cell was enough to stop her from slitting my throat while I slept."
Miss Militia's eyes flicked from my face to my throat, hidden by the bandana, to Brandish, Lady Photon, and Glory Girl. "What did stop her then?"
I suddenly realized that she didn't know just what my powers were capable of, and how I'd survived what amounted to an assassination attempt. Given the situation, I wasn't inclined to enlighten her. "She's a fucking idiot, that's what. Also, I was sleeping with a taser under my pillow." Technically, I wasn't even lying. She'd attacked an unknown parahuman in their sleep for having the gall to get her in trouble.
"You sleep with a taser under your pillow?"
"I do now," I said simply.
From the look she gave me, Miss Militia understood why I hadn't before, and why I did now. The heroine sighed, and then looked deep into my eyes, like there was something she wanted to find in them. "What do you plan to do now, then? Why did you come here? You should know that this isn't where parahuman prisoners are kept."
I scoffed. "I didn't come here to talk to Sophia. She's said everything she needs to say, and I was never interested in listening to her in the first place. I came here because I wanted you to prove to me that the Protectorate didn't know what she was doing, and that you didn't send her to keep me quiet after I accused her of being a bully in her civilian identity."
"…holy shit," Glory Girl said quietly, "You just accused Miss Militia of trying to kill you."
Wait, what? I stopped and re-examined what I'd just said. "Well, I'm not feeling very charitable right now. That might be having an impact on my mood."
Lady Photon spoke up, then. "Perhaps returning home and coming back when you're feeling calmer might be wiser, then? I know I'm long past my bedtime, and I hear you have school in the morning."
I gave that attempt at a joke the short, stunted, bitter laugh it deserved. "As if school matters right now. My grades are terrible because any time I take my eyes off my homework it goes mysteriously missing. The other students aren't even nice enough to stand on the right side of a staircase if I'm about to fall down it. School is the last thing I want to think about right now."
"Jesus Christ, what kind of gangland school do you go to?" Glory Girl asked.
"Winslow, same as Shadow Stalker," I said.
"Oh…oh. Right," she said, realizing perhaps why that was a stupid question.
"Still, I wouldn't be against going home if it weren't for the fact that someone from the Protectorate just snuck into my bedroom while I slept and slit my throat. That sort of thing can leave a person feeling unsafe. Maybe I can stay at your place for a bit?" I asked speculatively.
"If nothing else, that will mean that the Protectorate will know where to look if they want to talk to you," Lady Photon said. "I don't see any reason to object."
"Good," I said, and I nearly brought up the need to fetch my dad before I realized we could talk about that on the way back into the city, and definitely shouldn't talk about that here. "Let's go do that then. I'm tired and officially too angry to keep up with this conversation anymore."
I was only exaggerating a little bit when I said it, too. Miss Militia wasn't nearly as bad as Blackwell had been.
A/N: Someone help, Taylor keeps de-escalating the situation. I'm going to get in real trouble soon; she's the fucking escalation queen! Hell, if multiverse theory is real and my interpretation is correct, she's probably out there somewhere, just waiting to pounce on me the moment I bring shame to her vaunted list of titles that she loves so much!
Wait, if Taylor Hebert is real, would she actually mind a story that portrays her in a less…villainous light than canon?
Hmm. Taylor Hebert isn't real. This is probably true. Taylor Hebert…wouldn't hurt me even if she was? Well, let's hope so. If Taylor Hebert wants to hurt you, it's best to sit back and take your lumps. Fighting back just makes her dig in and want to hurt you more. Also, she usually has a good reason why she wants to smash your face in with a jumbo-sized frying pan. So accepting that she's Karma's agent of retribution will, if nothing else, help you deal with the pain.
Unless you tried to kill her friends. Then she'll probably just suffocate you with bugs and call it a day. Might accuse you of being a Ziz-bomb while she's at it, why quit when she's ahead? It's not like you were a good person, you tried to fuck with an unarmed girl who was trying to surrender…who then proceeded to suffocate you with bugs. Still, I'm sure it was justified.
Rest in Peace, Alexandria. You were an icon to her, once. Now you're just as dead as the friends you pretended to kill. If it makes you feel better, there's no way Contessa didn't plan that one out, so your death did serve a purpose. And it's not like Alexandria's gone, just brain-dead. Your body will be put to good use.
Anyway, I'm on fire lately. No telling when the words will stop flowing for this one and start flowing somewhere else, but I can tell you that as a student staring down the barrel of finals week, I might have very limited free time in the near future. Consider yourself warned.