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A Darker Path [Worm Fanfic]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Ack, Aug 27, 2022.

  1. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    I actually put that and several other names up for vote, and Miss Medic won by a long way.
    FictionPack and Prince Charon like this.
  2. Threadmarks: Part Forty-Three: Returns on Investment

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    A Darker Path

    Part Forty-Three: Returns on Investment

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    Relevant Side Story

    Friday Afternoon, January 21, 2011
    Protectorate New York Base


    Lily drew a deep breath, then let it out as she knocked on the office door in front of her.

    A moment later, a voice called out from within. "Come in."

    She opened the door and stepped inside. Legend wasn't behind his desk, as she'd expected him to be. Instead, he was off to the side, having just stood up from a comfortable chair in front of his large picture window.

    "Thank you for seeing me, sir," she said hesitantly, then mentally kicked herself. Of all the times to get second thoughts about what she wanted to ask him, this was the worst.

    "No problem at all," he said genially. "Join me, and let's talk about what's troubling you." Casually, he sat down again. "Your request to see me was fairly vague."

    "Nothing's troubling me, exactly, sir," she said, but sat down anyway. The chair was very comfortable, and somehow it was easier to talk to Legend when they were both sitting and relaxed. "I just wanted to ask permission for a little time off."

    "Oh?" He turned to look at her. "I can't see a reason why not, but when were you thinking of taking time off?"

    "Uh, actually, the fifth of February." She paused, then kept going at his inquiring look. "In Brockton Bay, they're doing a fundraiser for their children's cancer ward. Mouse Protector said she's going, to repay Atropos for what she did to Ravioli—I mean Ravager …" She trailed off awkwardly.

    Legend chuckled. "Ravioli will do fine. Yes, I remember that. So, Mouse Protector is showing up to put on a show for the kids, and you want to tag along and help out, is that it?"

    Lily nodded. "Well, yes. If that's okay, I mean."

    "It is definitely okay, young lady." Legend gave her a nod of approval. "This is exactly the sort of heroic initiative I like to see in our Wards."

    "Oh, uh, cool! I mean, thank you." All the angst and worry that had been weighing Lily down dissipated like yesterday's fog. "I totally appreciate it."

    "No, really. You've earned it." Legend stood up again. "I'll set the paperwork in motion immediately. Who's your current team captain again?"

    "Jouster, sir." Lily got up as well. "Do you want me to inform him?"

    "No, I'll send the message through channels." He clapped her on the shoulder. "Have a good afternoon."

    "Thank you, sir. And thank you again for seeing me." She headed for the door and opened it.

    "Not a problem in the world." As she closed the door behind her, he was sitting down behind the desk.

    Wow. That was easier than I thought.


    Monday, January 24
    Boston, Massachusetts


    "... and so, in summary, I am quashing Justice Regan's preliminary findings. Ms Mcabee, you will reimburse Mr Cantrell for his medical costs, plus twenty thousand dollars for emotional pain and suffering. I am also sentencing you to time served plus a five-year suspended sentence. Furthermore, your song lyrics will need to be scrutinised for any potentially harmful commands before you are permitted to perform them in public. Be aware: you are on probation for your actions. Is there anything about this that is unclear?"

    Paige opened her mouth—it isn't fair! What about my pain and suffering?—but then she felt Mr Calle's hand on her arm and she shut it again.

    "It is all eminently clear, your Honor," he said smoothly. "My client understands perfectly."

    "Very good." The stern woman eyed Paige, then nodded. "You will receive an itemised list of the medical costs from the bailiff, which you will be expected to pay within one month." The gavel banged.

    "But—your Honor!" All too late, her ex started up from where he sat on the opposite side of the courtroom.

    The judge turned her basilisk glare upon him. "Mr Cantrell, I have rendered my judgement, and it is final. Outbursts are not permitted in my courtroom. If Ms Mcabee fails to reimburse you for the amount found in today's judgement within thirty days, then we will be revisiting this matter. But until then, this is over. Do you understand?" Her entire attitude stated that he'd better understand.

    The district attorney, who'd done his best to dent Paige's story, but had signally failed against Calle's imperturbable demeanour, whispered to her ex and more or less forced him back into his seat. "He understands, your Honor," he assured the judge.

    "Good. We're done here."

    Paige stood at the bailiff's command of 'all rise', but her head was spinning. A week ago, she'd been essentially locked in solitary; all guards wore hearing protection, and any court appearance had involved a torturous metal gag and heavy metal chains. But everything had changed overnight, a new judge had taken the case, and none other than Quinn Calle had shown up as her lawyer, paid for by her suddenly unfrozen accounts. He'd demanded a bench trial, which the court had been obliged to supply, and everything had gone on from there.

    "So, what does all that mean?" she asked quietly, once the judge had left the courtroom. "Did we win or did we lose?"

    "Oh, we won, but we made it look like we lost." Calle seemed quite pleased with himself. "Make no mistake, Ms Mcabee, the judiciary had you solidly in their sights. They were determined to make an example out of you. However, they overreached, which gave certain people some much-needed leverage. Trust me, this is the best possible judgement you could've gotten in the matter."

    "I—" Paige cut herself off as her ex bulled toward them. "What do you want? You're getting twenty thousand dollars from me. You should be happy now."

    "I deserve more than that!" He was building himself up to a fine head of steam. "You made me cut my fucking dick off and shove it up my ass!"

    Anger rose in her. "It's not my fault that's your go-to when someone tells you to go eff yourself!"

    "To do what?" He leaned in. "Did you just Master me again?"

    "Nice try, Mr Cantrell." Quinn Calle smoothly inserted himself between the two of them. "I'm fully aware of the limitations of Ms Mcabee's powers, and I know for a fact that she hasn't sung a note in another person's hearing in months. Also, that listening to recordings of her songs reduces the effect considerably. Merely hearing her talk will not cause Mastery. For example: I have been speaking with her all day. Ms Mcabee, give me a command to perform a harmless act, please."

    Paige swallowed, hoping he knew what he was doing. "Mr Calle, stand on one foot."

    Nothing happened. Both his feet remained planted firmly on the ground.

    "You see?" He smiled urbanely at her ex. "Be aware that I will be taking note of this attempt to harass my client, now that the case has been dealt with. Much more of this, and we might just be able to get those twenty thousand dollars back off you, plus extra for emotional pain and suffering."

    The asshole glared at both of them. "Fuck you!" Turning, he stormed away again.

    Paige took a deep breath, aware of how fast her heart was beating. "I literally cannot tell you how much I appreciate your help. I don't know how bad it would've gotten, but it was pretty horrible there for a while."

    "As I said, you were in their crosshairs. You got a punitive fine; plus, you're going to have to keep your nose clean for the next five years. That should satisfy the people who want to see you punished for simply being a Master." He gave her a sly grin. "I normally represent much worse people than you. It's always fun to poke a stick in the eye of the judiciary whenever they think they can railroad capes just because they're capes."

    "But there's got to be more to it." Paige knew she wasn't special in the big picture. "Why you? Why me?"

    "An entirely relevant question." He took his phone from his pocket and speed-dialled a number. "Hello? Yes, it came out the way I expected. We're on the way out of the courthouse now. Here, I'll give her the phone."

    Her mind now buzzing with curiosity, Paige accepted the phone and held it to her ear. "Hello?"

    "Hello, Ms Mcabee." The voice held a Canadian accent. "This is Dragon. Do you know who I am?"

    Paige blinked. "What … the Dragon? The superhero?"

    "Correct." There was a smile in the voice now. "When I saw the raw deal you were getting, I did a little poking and prodding. I'm pleased it turned out as well as it did."

    "What?" Paige stopped in her tracks and leaned against the wall. "You did that for me? You got my funds released, and got Mr Calle to represent me? I-I mean, thank you! I can't thank you enough! But … but why?"

    "Because I know what it's like to be unfairly judged and punished for something that's not my fault. However, I can't take all the credit for how smoothly everything has gone. Just on my own, all my protests would've gone unheeded. So, I asked a … friend, shall we say, to lend some weight to my arguments."

    "Good God." Paige saw a seat nearby and dropped into it, because her knees weren't really up to the job right then. "Who's your friend? Who has that kind of pull? Was it Alexandria, or someone else in the Triumvirate? Or aren't I allowed to know?"

    "Not Alexandria, or either of the others." Now she sounded a little sad. "I went to them first. They wanted nothing to do with the case. It was very much a situation of 'let the legal system do its job'. Even if the judiciary was unfairly targeting you."

    "Um. Okay. So … who helped? Who's got that sort of pull?"

    There was a slight pause. "Have you ever heard of Atropos?"

    Paige had definitely heard of Atropos.

    She'd first come across the name when she got her own phone back, a week ago. Scrolling through to find out what she'd missed out on in her months of being incommunicado, she'd encountered a couple of what she'd thought were sensationalised news articles, but when she followed them up … they weren't.

    Over the course of two weeks, the villain-slash-vigilante-slash-antihero-slash-who-knew-what had taken the northeast of the United States by storm. The known casualty list included Lung, Kaiser, Heartbreaker, Butcher and the Teeth, as well as the Slaughterhouse Nine; the recorded footage was insane, and Atropos' PHO thread read like something written by a genial horror movie slasher.

    She had a fan club. A fan club.

    It was a good thing Paige was already sitting down, because if she hadn't been, she would've ended up on the floor. "Yeah. I've heard of her. Sh-she helped me out?" Oh, god. Now I owe a serial killer a debt. Maybe I'd be better off back in that cell. The feeling of being between a rock and a hard place was coming back again.

    "It was more a case of me asking her if I could use her name to get results, and her agreeing. As soon as Regan heard that she was interested in making sure the case would be fairly adjudicated, he basically tossed all the paperwork in the air and walked away from it."

    "Oh. So, she didn't actually murder anyone to get me out of it. I suppose that's a good thing." The next question needed to be asked, even though she didn't want to ask it. "So … uh, what does she want from me, in return?" She didn't even want to think about the ramifications of Dragon being friendly with a mass murderer. Some things just didn't bear close scrutiny.

    "Well, as it turns out, the Brockton Bay General Hospital children's oncology ward is having a fundraiser on the fifth of February. She said if you were able to make an appearance and put on a show for the kids, she'd be happy with that."

    Paige's brain screeched to a halt so abruptly, smoke should've been drifting out her ears. "Oncology ward? A charity show for kids with cancer?" This did not go together with 'remorseless serial killer'. "That's all she wants?"

    "That's all. Oh, she might turn up for a signed selfie with you. She does that." There was resignation in Dragon's voice now.

    "Would … would she be angry if I didn't? Make an appearance, I mean? Or agree to a selfie?"

    "Hmm." Dragon paused for a moment. "Probably not, to be honest. She's fully aware of the impact of her reputation. But if you were to ask me? I'd say, do it. She's an extremely reasonable person, and as of right now, Brockton Bay is one of the safest places in the United States."

    "So … she isn't likely to shoot me if she takes offence to something in one of my songs?"

    Dragon actually laughed out loud. "No … no, she isn't. We're more frenemies than actual friends, but I do know this much about her. Atropos has exactly zero fucks to give. Just don't dilute or tarnish her brand in any way, and you'll be perfectly fine."

    Paige made a mental note. Nothing about Atropos in any of my songs, got it. "I see. I will seriously think about it." Which, both of them knew, meant that she'd say yes.

    "Thank you. I appreciate it."

    "No, thank you. For everything." Paige ended the call, and sat there looking at the phone. What have I gotten myself into?

    One way or another, she figured, she'd find out.


    Sunday, January 30

    New York

    "Hey, March?"

    May looked up from the book she was reading, an illustrated version of Lewis Carroll's classic, to where her minion was leaning in through the doorway. "Yeah?"

    The kid—Barry or Gary or something like that, she couldn't be bothered remembering their names—sucked in a nervous breath. "I heard a whisper. Flechette's going to Brockton Bay on the fifth for some charity show."

    Setting a bookmark in place, May sat up. "Really."

    "Yeah. They say Legend's real pleased with her for taking the initiative like that."

    A slow smile spread across May's face. "Really." She gestured, a flip of the hand. "Got it. Go away."

    He vanished from the doorway. May closed the book and set it aside, thinking hard.

    Flechette wanted to make herself look good by attending a charity show, huh?

    The first thought May had was to go to Brockton Bay itself and wreck the show, making it look like Flechette's fault, but common sense prevailed. Brockton Bay had acquired a Reputation among criminal capes; more to the point, Atropos had expressly forbidden March from going there. Atropos had a Thinker power that allowed her to know when anyone was about to mess with her town, that much was obvious. Heartbreaker had only been allowed to come in as far as he did because Atropos wanted to kill him, and Damsel of Distress had been met with a shotgun to the back of the head.

    Challenging Atropos on her own turf, when the serial killer probably knew she was coming, would possibly end badly. But there was more than one way to skin that particular feline.

    How to make sure Flechette can't look good at the show without actually being there myself … hmm.

    The solution, when she arrived at it, was simple.

    Make sure Flechette never got there.

    Her smile spread, Cheshire Cat-like, under her mask. Now to find out her patrol schedule.

    Flechette was going to regret ever trying to walk away from the little cat-and-mouse game they had going.


    Monday Afternoon, January 31


    "Hey, Parian!" Wearing just her goggles to hide her identity, Oracle smiled in greeting as Sabah climbed off the six-legged horse. Bastet, who was sharing what appeared to be a Fugly's seafood selection with Spitfire—who was wearing a domino mask, with her dragon mask lying on the table—looked up and waved. A moment later, Spitfire shyly did the same.

    "Hi, all." Sabah sat down, smoothing her skirts, and surveyed the others with quiet pride. They weren't a superhero team, but they were still her Rogues' Guild. Since they'd first officially become a group, they'd taken to meeting at the same table where they'd received their stimulus cards. Nobody wanted to come right out and call it their 'lucky' table, but she kind of felt that way herself. "Where's Salvage? I wanted to go over ideas for next Saturday."

    "He's not far away," Bastet said cheerfully. "Started his new job today."

    It was amazing what a difference just a few weeks of nutritious food and sleeping on actual beds had made. Gone was the hangdog, desperate young woman who had almost pleaded with Sabah for a chance to be part of a bigger thing, so she didn't have to eat out of (and sleep in) dumpsters anymore. Now, Bastet was confident, no longer scrawny, and her hair was shiny and well-kept rather than matted and dull.

    "Oh, he got it?" Sabah was pleased. "That's amazing."

    "Well, he did have a seventy-three point nine four three percent chance of—" Oracle began, then squawked as Bastet grabbed her around the neck and administered a gentle noogie.

    "Yes, we got it," the kineticist chuckled. "You're awesome, and we all know it. Now, what about Spitfire? You got any tips for her?"

    Oracle emerged from the hold with her hair ruffled but her eyes were sparkling with amusement. She stole a calamari ring from Bastet's side of the food, then stuck out her tongue at the older woman. "Yeah, actually. I was talking to my cousin Rory, and he said that out at the College they need to use really nasty chemicals to scour out some of their reaction containers. If they didn't have to keep those chemicals stored onsite, with all the safety precautions and stuff, they'd probably save a bunch of money." She turned to look at Spitfire. "I figure you've got a seventy-six point nine one three percent chance of getting an ongoing job there."

    "What, really?" Spitfire looked startled.

    "'s what my power says." Oracle took a bite out of the calamari ring. "Mmm, nice."

    "Oh, hey, there's the big guy now." Bastet waved. "Yo! Sal! Over here! Saved you some curly fries!"

    "Hell yeah, they're the best." Salvage clomped over to them; like Bastet, he was looking considerably more upbeat, and healthier, than when Sabah first met him. Even his armour looked sleeker, now that he had better tools to maintain it with. "Hey, guys. Sorry I'm late. Boss wanted to talk to me about getting my forklift ticket. That'll be even more dollars in my pay packet."

    "Forklift?" Sabah frowned. "Can that armour even fit on a forklift?"

    He chuckled and grabbed some curly fries. "My armour is the damn forklift. I'll be learning the safety rules they operate by, so I can stand in for one in tight spaces and stuff. Also, I'll be adding flashers and a beeper for backing up."

    "Ha! All right!" Bastet high-fived him. "You da man."

    "That's really good," Sabah agreed. "You've done well."

    He hunched a metallic shoulder. "Couldn't have done it without your coaching, or Oracle figuring out who was most likely to hire me on."

    "Well, duh." Bastet stole his cap and put it on her own head. "We're a team. We look out for each other."

    "Yeah, we do." He ignored the theft in favour of shoving a curly fry into his mouth. "Damn, that's good."

    "So, you said something about going over ideas for next Saturday?" Oracle prompted.

    "Oh. Yes." Sabah took a deep breath. "There's that fundraiser charity show at Brockton General. Atropos suggested we put on a display as the Rogues' Guild. That sort of publicity can only be good for us, right?"

    For a long moment, she thought they were going to turn the idea down, but instead they looked thoughtful. "Atropos did save our asses with Bastard Son," Bastet mused. "We kind of owe her."

    Salvage frowned. "Yeah, but what kind of show could we put on that'll make people want to donate lots of money? We do okay on the Boardwalk, but that's because nobody's expecting anything amazing. We don't really have a single theme that ties us together, you know?"

    Spitfire half-raised her hand. "I might have an idea. I saw on social media that Canary's going to be singing a few songs. It'll be her first gig since the trial. What if we kinda ... helped her out with her act? I mean, she's a fellow rogue and stuff."

    Sabah blinked, impressed. That had been perhaps the longest speech she'd heard out of the withdrawn young woman since she'd joined the Rogues' Guild. It was also a good idea. "We can definitely make the offer," she said. "I like it."

    "Yeah." Bastet slapped Spitfire on the shoulder. "Great idea."

    Ducking her head, Spitfire blushed pink. But a tiny smile crossed her face at the same time.


    Friday, February 4, 2011
    A Seedy New York City Alleyway


    May surveyed the alleyway and smiled under her mask. This, she decided, would do perfectly. It was a dead end, so Flechette wouldn't be able to run. This would give May all the time she needed to beat her clustermate just badly enough that Flechette wouldn't be able to go to Brockton Bay and show off for the charity deal.

    She would let Flechette escape in the end, of course; this part of the game was all about catch and release. And letting Flechette know that she was being released would be almost as demoralising as catching her and keeping her, without all the hassle of dealing with escape attempts. This was a game she could play over and over.

    Loosening the rapier in its sheath, she took up her position in the depths of a shadow just within the mouth of the alley. Flechette's behavioural patterns would bring her just past the mouth of this alley, where May would be able to force her inside and disable her comms before she was able to call for help. And then, May would have all the time in the—

    Someone tapped her on the shoulder.

    There should be nobody in the alley! I checked!

    Turning with all the speed she was capable of, May drew her rapier with a rapid serpentine hiss. She found herself facing a tall, black-costumed figure; the suit and tie and morph mask marked her opponent out as the one person she was staying away from Brockton Bay to avoid. But that was secondary to the fact that a pair of heavy shears had just rapped her over the knuckles, forcing her to drop the rapier.

    "Hi." Atropos sounded positively upbeat. "Stay away from Flechette."

    Despite the fact that she'd just been expertly disarmed, May knew the fight was far from finished. She knew three different ways of kicking the sword back into her hand, and she'd already watched enough footage of Atropos fighting to be able to dance between the raindrops once they got started. But first, she needed to distract the extremely adept killer in front of her so she could regain the rapier.

    "Really? What's she to you?" she sneered, preparing to kick the rapier upward with the toe of her boot. "This isn't Brockton Bay. You're in New York now—"

    Atropos' boot flicked out. There had been zero warning, no shifts of her weight. The toe struck the rapier, propelling it into the air. Already calculating how to catch it, May shifted—

    And an elbow arrived like a freight train, smashing into May's jaw and brutally driving her sideways. She managed to roll with it just enough that she wasn't knocked cold, but the world spun in great looping circles and she was pretty sure her jaw was broken.

    "I wasn't asking, and I wasn't looking for an answer." Atropos' tone hadn't changed; she might have been discussing the weather. "I was telling you. You will leave Flechette alone."

    She now held the rapier, May saw. Worse, she was between May and the exit to the alley. But she didn't attack, even though she had to know she had the advantage.

    May's head was clearing now. A couple of her teeth had come loose in her mouth, and she surreptitiously spat them out into her mask, along with some blood. She didn't know what brand of combat Thinker Atropos was, but the serial killer for damn sure had never gone up against someone like her.

    The rapier was the big problem. It had reach, and could easily be brought back into line. But Atropos wasn't holding it like an expert, or even a talented amateur. Her grip was all wrong, and the tip was wandering all over the place.

    Still, with those shears in play, it would be hard to land a hit on Atropos' upper body or head. So instead, she'd come in against the rapier, brush it out of the way, and land a solid kick against Atropos' kneecap before disengaging. It would be a lot harder to fight if—

    Atropos was a fluid blur of motion. The rapier licked out toward her left shoulder like silver flame. She fell back, deflected a slash from the shears with her right hand, then realised far too late that they'd both been feints. The heel of Atropos' boot smashed into the side of her knee; cartilage tore, tendons popped, and she bit off a scream as her knee joint bent in a direction it was absolutely not designed to go.

    May almost collapsed, but she managed to catch herself with one hand up against the wall, her bad leg trailing uselessly behind her. Air hissed in and out between the teeth she had left. She was only just now starting to realise the depth of the shit she was in.

    Atropos was faster than her, and refused to move to any pattern her power could analyse and beat. Twice now, May had been taken unawares while facing her. Both were blows that could've taken her out of the fight if Atropos had chosen to capitalise on them, but she hadn't.

    She was drawing this out, just like May herself liked to do.

    It was not a pleasant feeling.

    "Now, I've warned you twice to leave Flechette alone." Atropos sauntered forward, the rapier once more held carelessly in her hand. "She is important to me. Important enough to protect with lethal force. Is that understood? Nod if you understand."

    Grudgingly, knowing with absolute certainty that she would die if she did anything else, May nodded.

    "Good." Atropos may even have smiled, but the morph mask made it impossible to tell. "So, you may be under the misapprehension that I came here to kill you. That's not true. If I had, you'd already be dead, probably in a highly ironic and somewhat hilarious fashion. As it is—"

    The rapier speared forward, pinking May's throat. One inch farther in and she would be dead, she knew. It withdrew, then made another lightning jab, this time going between her ribs just far enough to start her bleeding, but not hit anything vital. The message was loud and clear. I could've killed you at any time. I can kill you at any time.

    Just as May was assimilating that, Atropos stepped in and smacked her on the temple with the guard of the rapier. It was the final insult to her abused body. As May's vision began to darken, Atropos leaned in close. "You'll survive …" Her voice dropped to a whisper. "… if you leave Flechette alone."

    May's legs gave way then; Atropos helped her down, turning her to lie on her left side. As Atropos straightened up and stepped away, May heard the tones of a cell-phone. "Yes, ambulance and PRT, please." Atropos' tone was just as upbeat as ever. "I just saw a supervillain in an alleyway. She looked pretty beat up. Wearing a stupid-looking rabbit mask. Can't miss her."

    She wandered out of the alleyway, taking the rapier with her and still talking on the phone. Her voice faded as she went out of sight.

    A moment later, Flechette headed past the mouth of her alley on her patrol. May watched her go; just before she lost consciousness altogether, one last thought crossed her mind.


    End of Part Forty-Three
    Last edited: May 28, 2023 at 3:06 AM
    easty, 1441, Trilonias and 79 others like this.
  3. Yohnos

    Yohnos Not too sore, are you?

    Oct 14, 2021
    Likes Received:
    "Go ahead, flip that coin"
  4. Lictre

    Lictre Getting sticky.

    Nov 1, 2018
    Likes Received:
    So, I guess Atropos just gave May her Marching orders.
  5. Shaddurak

    Shaddurak Making the rounds.

    Mar 7, 2020
    Likes Received:
    I dont know if that was an intentional reference or not but it felt like it so

    if it was? nice!
  6. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    It wasn't, but that was hilarious.
  7. MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot

    MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot I trust you know where the happy button is?

    May 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    While still well-written, this is getting to the point of repetitive self-indulgence. Atropos has already shown she can totally dominate Lung, Contessa, the Elite, the Teeth, Gesselschaft, the Nine, and on and on, all without breaking a sweat. Showing her smacking around low-level capes (or even high-level capes) got old several chapters ago. You don't have to show her beating up or killing every single named cape in Worm. Doing so is boring, and it's already there. Either end this, or escalate to an Endbringer as promised. Or have the Triumvirate come down on her. Anything less than that is kinda useless filler after all of this.

    I used to really look forward to new chapters of this story, but now I'm debating dropping it entirely because there's been nothing new or interesting for too long. Dragging out the "my character is best character" this long makes it far less fun than it was at first.
  8. Oddboy

    Oddboy The Trash Cat

    Jun 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Imagine being so insanely arrogant that you look at the person that killed Lung, Kaiser, Bastard Son, Heartbreaker and the Slaughterhouse Nine and you think "I can take her".

    lol. lmao even.

    I don't know what brand of glue March likes to sniff, but it's gotta be some industrial strength shit.
  9. Shaddurak

    Shaddurak Making the rounds.

    Mar 7, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Ahh well its what I thought of as soon as I read that line they have a whole bunch of skits id recommend watching them.

    thanks for that chapter
    Death by Chains and Ack like this.
  10. Sleepyfoo

    Sleepyfoo Know what you're doing yet?

    May 3, 2017
    Likes Received:
    I think you are misunderstanding the genre of story this is. By narrative conventions for action stories or dramas, you are correct, her bone-fides are well established now and the plot should progress.

    That is not the kind of story this is.

    This is a slice of life & fix fic story. It just so happens to be slice of life of someone with the power to do whatever she wants and the rest of the world needs to deal with that. Indeed, the consequences are the point of the story. This chapter showed what came of her freeing dragon and their relationship, and the positive effect it had on one of the tragedies of Worm. It also showed March escalating as a direct result of the MC's actions, and the MC taking offense to that because it would make the her plan to fix things that little bit harder.

    Just another day in the life of Atropos/Taylor Hebert.

    It's not quite as deep into the Slice of Life perspective as Cmptrwz stories, but it definitely isn't a standard Hero's Journey or action-type story either. If you are expecting that sort of story here, you will continue to be disappointed.

    It Gets Worse, also by Ack, is a more standard dramatic story with a similarly OP protagonist, and it was relatively short and did escalate like you are desiring this story to.
  11. Lovhes

    Lovhes Know what you're doing yet?

    Mar 11, 2015
    Likes Received:
    Can't wait to see the charity drive thingy. Mostly to see what kind of stage the Brockton rogues will set up for/with canary
    Death by Chains and Ack like this.
  12. Impartial Panic

    Impartial Panic I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Nov 22, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Problem is May really can't do that thanks to the mind fuckery that is a shard cluster especially after her near death experience.
    Makes me wonder if Taylor could fix that given May was apparently a decent person before she got her brain shard fucked.
    Ack likes this.
  13. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Was she?

    She may not have ever been in trouble, and she had a personality shift, but she apparently wanted Lily's life even before the near death experience, just not enough to do something about it.

    But when it comes down to it, Atropos is not a good person. She doesn't help people just to help them. She's not cruel for cruelty's sake, but neither is she kind for kindness' sake.

    March gets in the way, March gets removed. It takes less effort to wreck her than to fix her.
  14. Prince Charon

    Prince Charon Just zis guy, you know?

    Feb 20, 2014
    Likes Received:
    There are so many things that she could do on a 'Path to Ending March's attempts to kill Flechette (without killing anyone),' and most of them wouldn't need to leave March mentally healthy, right?
    Ack likes this.
  15. Impartial Panic

    Impartial Panic I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Nov 22, 2014
    Likes Received:
    True since in all honesty even if she were reformed her powers don't really make her all that useful for much outside combat and even then she's just another dead body in the endbringer fights at best.

    It's Taylor Hebert the worlds most toddler unfriendly parahuman, not a good person is kinda an understatement.
    DyrantCore, Death by Chains and Ack like this.
  16. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    Ironically, in this instance she knows exactly who to gank, instead of just killing everyone who might possibly be a threat.
  17. Threadmarks: Part Forty-Four: Flechette's Big Day Out

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
    Likes Received:
    A Darker Path

    Part Forty-Four: Flechette's Big Day Out

    [A/N: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    Relevant Side Story

    February 5, 2011; 08:05 AM
    New York City Protectorate Headquarters


    "Hey Flechette, wait up!"

    Lily paused and looked around as Jouster used a speed burst to catch up with her. "What's up? The transport to Brockton Bay leaves in five minutes."

    "Yeah, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." His expression was serious. "Please be careful while you're there. I've heard crazy things about that place."

    "About Atropos, you mean." She raised an eyebrow. "When we met her, she was nothing but nice to us. I mean, you were there too. You saw it. She took selfies."

    "And she's also murdered a whole bunch of capes in Brockton Bay, and she cut out those people's eyes, and chopped off their hands!" Glancing around, he took a breath, evidently trying to calm himself down. "Look, what I'm trying to say is that she can't be trusted. She could be nice as pie one second, then decide to put you on her own personal murder list the next."

    Lily shook her head. "Um, no. That's not what I've seen. Every single person she's killed, except maybe Oni Lee, she gave ample warning to. She's really, really predictable. I mean, I'm not saying I approve of how she's killed all those people, but she does actually warn people first."

    He bit his lip. "That might be true, but I still want you to be careful. If you see her again, don't engage, don't even go near her. Get the hell out of there. Okay?"

    "I appreciate the advice." She thought he was being far too alarmist, but she didn't intend to provoke Atropos anyway. That was more a matter of basic common sense than any particular worry about the black-clad cape's intentions. Also, Atropos had an amazing sense of humour, if what she'd done to Ravioli was any indication. "Was there anything else?"

    "Not really—wait, yeah." He held up one finger. "Yesterday, they got a call about a downed villain right near where you started your patrol. Injured, still alive. Turned out to be March. You didn't run into her, did you?"

    "Ugh, no." Lily grimaced. She just wished March would leave her the fuck alone. Every time she shifted to a different Wards team, March showed up with a new bunch of capes and engaged her group with brutal efficiency. It was like the military-themed cape was determined to ruin her career as a hero. "Who got her? I'd like to send them a thank-you card."

    He shrugged. "That's the thing. We don't know. Whoever it was busted her jaw and wrecked her right knee, then knocked her out. Right now, she's handcuffed to a hospital bed with two armed guards. She's not really coherent yet, but even if she was, she can't talk worth a damn." He grinned suddenly. "Oh, and whoever it was took her rapier, after poking her a couple of times with it."

    "Oh, boy." That would piss off March more than anything else. She loved using that rapier to make people look stupid. Which raised another concern; if someone could give March a beatdown of that calibre and make off with her rapier, it meant there was a new player in town. There goes the status quo. "Who called it in?"

    "No idea. No voiceprint matches in the system, but it sounded like a girl about our age. Whoever it is, I'd like to shake their hand, especially if it gets March off the streets and out of our hair."

    "Yeah, no shit." She held up her fist for him to bump. "Wish me luck. And I promise to only say nice things to Atropos, if I meet her again. Okay?"

    He sighed. "Okay. Just take care." His fist tapped hers. "Now go, or you'll be late."

    "Yes, boss." She dashed for the elevator.

    All the way up to the roof helipad, she puzzled over who could have gotten the drop on March. There weren't many purely physical-based parahumans in or around New York who also had the moves to take on someone as hard to tag as March was. In fact, the number approached zero. It couldn't be zero—someone had evidently done it—but who it could've been, she had no idea.

    As she came out on the rooftop, the transport chopper's rotors were just starting to lazily turn. Trotting across the tarmac while keeping her head down, she climbed on board and began to strap herself in. The arbalest, she strapped into the next seat over. "This is the transport to Brockton Bay, right?" It was always good to make sure.

    "Certainly is." The pilot's name was Jake; she'd flown with him before. He was brisk and professional, and kept a photo of his wife taped to the console. "Just waiting on one more."

    "One more? Who?" She frowned. Nobody else on the team had mentioned they were going to Brockton Bay.

    "Yours truly, duh." Mouse Protector swung herself on board and dropped into a seat. "You didn't think I was planning to walk all the way there, did you?"

    "Ah, right. Good point." She tilted her head as the engines began to spool up in earnest. "So, how'd you talk Director Wilkins into letting you ride along?" It would've taken more than Legend's say-so, she knew that much.

    Mouse Protector grinned at her. "Told her I'd make sure to keep an eye on you while we were there, and protect you from scary Atropos, woooo." She wiggled her fingers to emulate spookiness, then went back to strapping herself in.

    "Hah, gotcha." Flechette grinned back, then settled in for the ride as the chopper began to take off. She didn't know exactly what to expect when she got to Brockton Bay, but she could definitely think of worse travelling companions than the mouse-themed cape.


    Philadelphia Parahuman Asylum


    "Mrs Yamada!" Sveta broke out into a beaming smile. "It's so good to see you again!" She worked at keeping her tendrils under control; she really, really wanted to be able to talk to Mrs Yamada face to face, and that would only work if her powers weren't trying to kill the therapist at the time.

    "I'm pleased to see you, too." Mrs Yamada's smile was visible through the faceplate on the protective suit, and her voice was easily audible via the speakers. "Have you been doing your exercises? You seem to have better self-control."

    "Yes, I have." Sveta breathed carefully as Mrs Yamada stepped into the cell. Not enemy, not danger. Do not attack. Not enemy. "I've been wanting to talk to you."

    "I got the message, yes." Mrs Yamada sounded contrite. "I wish I could've gotten here sooner, but I had other obligations that I couldn't put aside. But I'm here now. What did you want to talk about?"

    "I want to go to Brockton Bay." The words just slipped out, bypassing her carefully laid-out speech. She mentally cringed, and her tendrils twitched. No. Do not attack. "Sorry, um, I mean … is it possible? Could I go? Please?"

    "Hmm." Mrs Yamada frowned thoughtfully. "It shouldn't be too hard to give you safe containment for the trip, but … why? What's in Brockton Bay? You do know we don't have facilities like this there, right?"

    "No, no, I know that." She hasn't said no yet, she hasn't said no yet. "Atropos is in Brockton Bay. She can kill powers. I saw it on PHO. It's really real. And … I, uh, already asked her, and she said that if I can get to Brockton Bay, she'd kill my powers and then get a friend to fix me."

    Mrs Yamada paused, then gave her a serious look. "Atropos. You've asked Atropos to kill your powers."

    "Um, yes?" It's not a stupid idea, it's not a stupid idea …

    When the therapist spoke again, her voice was soothing. "Sveta dear, you are aware that she might just kill you instead, right?"

    Sveta was definitely aware of that. "Yes, I've thought about it. They tried hard enough to kill me before they captured me. If I ever escape, then I'll probably kill more people. Best case, she kills my powers and I'm free of them forever. Worst case, she kills me, and I'm still free of them."

    Mrs Yamada sighed. "I will admit, I have trouble thinking like that. However, I also know I'm not in your specific position. I'll speak to the Director and see if something can be worked out."

    And she would, too. Mrs Yamada had never lied to Sveta yet. "Thank you. I appreciate it so much."

    "Well, it's clear this is something you're set on, and it's a good thing to have achievable goals. I just hope you get what you need out of it." The therapist smiled as she changed conversational gears. "So, how have you been? Are you keeping up your dream journal?"

    "Um, yes, actually." Sveta directed a couple of her more compliant tendrils to where she kept her journal on a shelf. "I remembered being on a fishing boat. Not sure what we were catching, though."

    "Well, that's definitely a good start." Mrs Yamada accepted the notebook and paged through it. "This is good. Lots of detail."

    "Thank you." Sveta felt herself relaxing, her tendrils twitching less. It had been an interminable wait for Mrs Yamada to show up, but now she was here, and things could start happening.

    Brockton Bay, here I come.



    Brockton Bay


    Paige swung down out of the van and headed around to the back. She hadn't been able to pull together any kind of band at short notice, or even hire roadies, especially given that the charity aspect of the gig meant no big paycheck at the end. Which meant that she'd be stuck dragging this stuff out of the van and setting it up herself. Rough work, but she'd doubled as a roadie herself more than once before she hit the big time, so she knew how everything went together. It was just going to be an absolute pain to get set up, working solo, before the actual event started.

    Opening up the back doors, she eyed the gear waiting for her, and sighed. Oh, well. It's not going to set itself up.

    "Ah … excuse me? Canary?"

    Wow, that was fast. I didn't know I had any fans in Brockton Bay. Apart from Atropos, of course. Turning around, she surveyed the small group of capes before her. None of them were Atropos, though the kid's costume was definitely inspired by the look.

    The one who'd spoken looked like a porcelain doll, with a literal doll-face mask and gleaming golden curls for hair, as well as a floofy fancy doll's dress. Flanking her were a guy in a metal powersuit with goggles and a train conductor's cap, and a woman in an Egyptian themed costume. The Tinker (he couldn't be anything else) had lights built into the shoulders of the suit, while the woman's costume had a cat-themed mask, as well as ribbons draped here and there.

    Finishing out the group were the kid in the Atropos-lite costume, sporting a fedora, a full face-mask and a heavy coat; and a blue humanoid plush dragon, complete with wings and tail, wearing a basic red costume over the top. Behind everyone else stood two giant stuffed animals: a six-legged horse and a purple gorilla.

    "Uh, yeah, that's me," she said cautiously. "The question is … who are you?"

    "We're the Brockton Bay Rogues' Guild," the doll-faced woman said, as if that made perfect sense. "I'm Parian, and this is Bastet, Salvage, Oracle and Spitfire. We're here to help you out, if you want."

    Paige blinked. "What, really? Do you know how to set up a stage and musical instruments?"

    "Nope," said the power-armoured guy, who just had to be Salvage. "But I listen good, and I just got my forklift ticket, so I know how to move heavy stuff around safely. You tell us what to do, and we'll do it."

    "I can't pay you," Paige said, just to make sure they knew it. "This is basically me advertising my presence back on the music scene."

    "It's good advertising for us, too," Parian agreed.

    "Yeah." That was Bastet. "We're trying to boost our image in the city, and we owe Atropos a solid, so here we are."

    "Atropos?" Paige blinked. "Do you … know her?"

    "Know her? Hah." Salvage snorted. "She saved our sorry asses when Bastard Son came to town. The way she went through his minions, now that was a thing of beauty. She's damn good at what she does."

    That was definitely something Paige could believe. "Okay, I think we can set up just over there. If you can get the bits of the stage out and stack them over there, I'll show you how to put them together." She paused, suddenly realising she was missing a bet. "Wait, do any of you sing or play an instrument?"

    There was a pause as they each looked awkwardly at each other. Then Bastet nudged Spitfire. "Hey, didn't you tell me how your mom made you take piano lessons and stuff, before she kicked you out?"

    The fluffy blue dragon managed to look embarrassed just from posture. "Yeah, but I wouldn't say I'm good at it."

    Paige blinked, realising for the first time that it was a girl in there. "That's okay. This isn't a professional gig. I'll try you out once we get set up, and see how you are with a simple backup tune."

    "Uh, I'm no musician," Salvage ventured, "but I can build a timer into my armour so I can do the same beats on a drum over and over, if that works for you."

    "And me and the boss here can show off our rad dance moves," Bastet offered. "Hey, Oracle. If we all pitch in like that, what are the odds of a successful show?"

    There was a pause, then the kid tilted her head slightly. "Eighty-one point seven six seven one percent," she said, her voice echoing slightly inside her mask.

    "I have to say, that's better odds than some of my other gigs," Paige admitted. "Okay, you're on. Let's see what you can do."

    As they began to carefully unload the instruments, she began to allow herself to hope that this might work out after all.



    To: Atropos
    From: Assault
    Subject: Just a casual question

    Hi there,
    I couldn't help noticing that you've specified that members of the totally-not-a-real-thing group called Cauldron are not allowed into Brockton Bay. Does this extend to people who've bought powers from them? In fact, what's your view on people like that?
    Asking for a friend.


    Brockton Bay PRT Building


    As the rotors spun down, Lily unfastened the five-point straps that held her in the aircraft. Taking the arbalest with her, she jumped out of the aircraft behind Mouse Protector. As they headed across the rooftop toward the guarded entrance, a PRT officer intercepted them.

    "Welcome to Brockton Bay," he said. "I'm Captain Reeves. Director Piggot sent word that she wanted to see both of you in her office as soon as you touched down."

    "She did, did she?" Mouse Protector sounded amused. "Good luck with enforcing that. I'm an independent. My chain of command starts and ends with me."

    Reeves was unruffled. "She said to say that it wasn't an order in your case, but a request. This is a brand new SOP, to be used for any new heroes in town. You're just the first, is all."

    "Really." Now Mouse Protector was outright grinning. "This isn't to do with Atropos and how we should avoid antagonising her by any chance, is it?"

    "Very likely." Reeves' tone indicated that he really didn't give a fuck anymore. "She knows of your history with Atropos. Still wants to see you."

    "Huh." Mouse Protector nodded slowly. "Okay, let's go see the wizard then."

    Lily accompanied her into the roof entrance, and they rode the elevator down in silence; Mouse Protector because she didn't seem to have anything to say, and Lily because she wasn't sure what questions to ask. While Lily had never been in the building before, Mouse Protector seemed to know exactly where they were going.

    When they got to Director Piggot's office, the secretary simply waved them through. Taking hold of the door handle, Mouse Protector whipped it open in one smart motion, then sprang into the room with a flourish. "Never fear, Mouse Protector is here!"

    "Of course you are." The woman behind the desk looked tired, Lily decided as she entered the office with rather less fanfare. "Mouse Protector, Flechette, please sit down."

    "Whatever happened to 'take a chair'?" asked Mouse Protector as she spun one of the chairs around and straddled it with her arms crossed on the backrest. Lily sat and waited to find out what the Director wanted.

    "Assault took a chair," Piggot explained briefly. "All the way down to the Wards' base. Do you understand why I'm talking to you?"

    "Something something Atropos is dangerous something something," Mouse Protector quipped. "Except you already know we've met her."

    "Yes." The Director tapped a Manila folder on her desk. "This is Legend's report on the Ravager encounter in New York. I have read it through very carefully. It mentions the fundraiser you're attending … and that Atropos seems to be invested in making sure it goes off successfully."

    Mouse Protector nodded. "I got that impression myself. So why bring us in here to tell us something we both already knew?"

    Director Piggot barely reacted to the mild jab. "Because you will be the only superheroes officially on site. I want you to keep your heads on a swivel at all times, for even the slightest problem that might threaten the fundraiser in any way. If a problem does happen, you are to ensure that it ceases to be a problem immediately."

    Leaning back, Mouse Protector eyed the Director. "Wow, that's pretty damn direct. Not that I would've done anything different, but why are you so insistent on this? I never would've thought you were interested in staying in Atropos' good books."

    Piggot snorted in what might've been grim amusement. "I'm not. In all honesty, I don't give a hoot in hell what she thinks of me. But you weren't here during the first two weeks. She killed two capes a day, on average, for twelve days straight. And that's not even counting the mooks, minions and idiots who didn't know well enough to stand down when they were looking Death in the eye. For the first four days of it, I literally couldn't sit down at my desk without getting confirmation that the supervillain she'd said she would kill overnight had died exactly when she'd said they would, despite their best efforts—and our best efforts—to the contrary."

    "Okay, yeah, I can't top that." Mouse Protector shook her head. "She definitely doesn't strike me as someone who takes orders from authority well, or at all."

    The Director gave her a medium-dirty look. "She hasn't killed anyone in days, and I want to keep it that way. So, if anyone disrupts this fundraiser for whatever stupid reason, I want you to get there first and stop them before they literally sign their own death warrant. Understood?"

    "Understood, ma'am, but …" Lily hesitated. "Why aren't you just surrounding the event with troopers?"

    Director Piggot pinched her lips together. "Because that might disrupt it. You can see how reluctant I am to have that happen."


    "Yeah, 'oh'." Mouse Protector stood up and spun her chair back around in one fluid motion. "Not a bad idea, but the execution of it might cause problems. So it's up to us to make sure nobody does anything fatally stupid."

    "Precisely." The Director raised her head. "Before you go, there's one other minor matter. Specifically, that damned fan club of hers." She nodded toward Mouse Protector. "I know you're already a member, and I can even understand why. But while we're not allowed to dictate Wards membership in extracurricular activities that do not impact your duties, Flechette, I would strongly suggest that you do not join, at least until you age out of the Wards. Director Wilkins dislikes Atropos even more than I do, and she may allow that to influence her decisions on your behalf."

    Lily blinked. She'd half expected a blanket ban, but that request was almost … reasonable. The look in Piggot's eyes was as someone who had stared into the abyss and had it reach out and boop her on the nose. "Understood, ma'am. If we encounter Atropos out there today, what should we do?"

    Director Piggot spread her hands. "Nothing. Be polite. You already know not to attempt to arrest her. She's stated that she won't harm PRT or heroes who aren't actively attacking her, and so far she's held to it, even to the point of cooperating with the PRT to save innocents." Her voice lowered to a growl. "Do not do anything to change that."

    "No, ma'am. Definitely not." That was clearly the safest answer to give, and a course of action Lily intended to follow to the letter.

    "Good. Get out of here, both of you." Piggot waved dismissively; by the time they reached the door, she was already studying the screen of her laptop once more.



    "Okay, then." Paige stepped back and surveyed the stage. It had been assembled to her directions by Salvage, who could indeed follow instructions. She figured that his status as a Tinker probably helped there, but she wasn't going to assume anything. Between them they'd rigged up a set of makeshift metal bongos for him to supply a regular backbeat, using the timer he'd contrived in his armour. "Let's see how we go."

    Salvage led out with the beat she'd coached him into doing, then on the other side of the stage, Spitfire picked out the simple tune on the electronic keyboard, using Salvage's regular beat to keep herself in time. Paige listened carefully; it was a little rough at first, but Spitfire gradually got better at keeping up with Salvage.

    "Good, good," she said, clapping her hands once. "That's really good. We'll do it exactly like that. Salvage will lead out, then Spitfire picks up the beat. Once you're settled, I'll come in with guitar and vocals." She beamed at them. "I just want to say, thank you for stepping up like this. It's made things a lot easier."

    "Hey, I've never done music before." Salvage shook his head. "We actually sound kinda good, but only 'cause you showed us how."

    "We're gonna wow these kids." Bastet glanced over at Parian. "This never would've happened if you hadn't helped us out like that, just saying."

    "Well, I'm definitely not regretting it." Parian gestured at the framework that was being set up in full view of the seating, not far from the stage. It resembled a cross between a jungle gym and an obstacle course, with fake stone ruins as a base. "What I want to know is, what's that about?"

    "That's for me," said a voice from right behind them. Paige turned, startled, coming face to face with a superhero who was holding a small folding cloth Frisbee. "Hi. Mouse Protector. That's Flechette back there. We're here for the fundraiser."

    Looking past Mouse Protector—who she recognised now, after her initial fright—Paige saw a costumed teen climbing out of a PRT van. Flechette wasn't familiar to her, but she didn't follow the superhero scene all that much. "Uh, hi," she ventured. "I'm Paige Mcabee—Canary—and these people are the Brockton Bay Rogues' Guild … I mean, unless you already know them?"

    "Nope. You, I know, and I saw Parian there on the news once, but I've never really heard of this Rogues' Guild before." Mouse Protector held out her hand. "Anyway, pleased to meet you."

    Paige shook it. "Likewise. Are, uh, are you here because …"

    "Because of Atropos?" Mouse Protector grinned. "Yeah, there's this chick that was always on my case in New York, so Atropos totally messed up her credibility. Like, murdered it. Look up 'Ravioli' online when you get the chance. Anyway, her price for that was me doing this."

    "I saw that!" Bastet stepped into the conversation. "She did that for you? Damn, that was brutal. And I was there for her takedown of Bastard Son, so I know what I'm talking about."

    Parian went to meet Flechette. "So, are you here because Atropos asked you, too?" It was a reasonable question, in Paige's estimation. That did seem to be a theme at the moment.

    "No, actually." Flechette held out her hand to shake, though she also seemed to be checking out the doll-themed cape. "While she was in New York, Atropos asked me and Mouse Protector for selfies for her friends. She seems to be a nice person—apart from the serial murders, I mean—so I got permission to come along and help out with the fundraiser."

    "Well, that was nice of you." Parian shook her hand firmly. "The more, the merrier. What were you thinking of doing?"

    Flechette shrugged. "Well, I'm a rooftop runner and I've got perfect timing, so I was thinking I'd help Mouse Protector put on an acrobatic show on that monstrosity over there." She gestured at the parkour framework that had been completed while Paige and the others had been in the process of setting up.

    When Parian spoke, there was a smile in her voice. "I'd like to see that."



    To: Assault
    From: Atropos
    Subject: Re: Just a casual question

    Hi, he-who-used-to-be-Madcap,
    Short answer: I don't care how she got her powers, just that she uses them responsibly while she's inside Brockton Bay. That goes for all Cauldron customers.
    Slightly longer answer: I don't give a damn about how someone got where they are. I'm not in the business of handing out retribution for past crimes. So long as they play by the rules going forward, I'm good. If people decide to not play by the rules, that's when I start paying attention.
    By 'the' rules, I mean 'my' rules'. Just so we're clear on that.
    My beef with Cauldron has to do with their ongoing lack of style and competence, and the plans they had for Brockton Bay, not with their customers.
    Tell Battery that if she's cool with me, I'm cool with her.


    A Little While Later


    "Alright," said Canary into her microphone, the sound emanating from the speakers on either side of the stage. Cradling her guitar, she looked out over the audience, consisting mainly of the movers and shakers of Brockton Bay, though the kids who had been able to be moved were out in front where they'd get the best view. "Let's get this show on the road. Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, I'm Bad Canary, and these fine people with me are the Brockton Bay Rogues' Guild. Behind me, we have Mouse Protector and Flechette, who've come all the way from New York to lend a hand."

    As she paused, the spectators clapped; whether it was because they were pleased that all these capes had made an appearance or if it was just expected, Lily wasn't sure. She crouched on a crossbar, waiting for her cue. Nearby, Mouse Protector perched on a large fake rock.

    Canary strummed a few bars, then nodded to Salvage. The Tinker must have activated the timer in his armour, because his big metal hands started drumming out a beat on the metal bongos. A nod to Spitfire, and the girl in the fluffy blue dragon costume started playing a simple repetitive tune on the electronic keyboard before her, matching her timing to Salvage's drumming.

    After a few more seconds, Canary started playing her electric guitar, weaving the tune in and around the background beat supplied by the other two. With her sense of timing, Lily could tell that Canary was actually adjusting her tempo on the fly to keep her ad hoc backup band in the rhythm.

    Then Canary started singing a song about overcoming adversity and working together. When she was just speaking, her voice was gorgeous enough, but her singing was on another level altogether. At the same time, Bastet began to do her ribbon-twirl thing, tossing small plushies resembling Spitfire into the air so they orbited her as well. Parian's purple gorilla was also dancing, while Spitfire's wings flared occasionally, and her tail swept from side to side. All in all, it was pretty damn impressive.

    Mouse Protector launched herself upward and swung onto a crossbar not far from Lily, hanging head-downward with her arms out. Lily calculated the timing and jumped, clasping Mouse Protector's hands and swinging onward to let go and land on a new perch. She didn't pause, using every parkour move she knew (and a few she invented on the spot) to keep bouncing from one point to another, occasionally passing by Mouse Protector or even giving an assist to get to a higher spot.

    She didn't have her arbalest with her, but even without it she was extremely mobile; she found she was enjoying the workout, and maybe the chance to show off a little in front of Parian. While she wasn't certain the girl was interested, Lily certainly was. In a city freshly rid of a whole bunch of racist, homophobic bigots, she was totally willing to go above and beyond to get the attention of someone who had a figure and a voice like that.

    The musical number ended, and she ended up where Mouse Protector had been, while the veteran hero was up at the top of the framework. The adults and children alike were clapping for all they were worth, though whether it was for the music or the acrobatic exhibition, Lily wasn't sure and didn't care. They wanted a show? They got a show.

    Suddenly, Mouse Protector vanished, reappearing beside Canary on the stage. Lily had seen this before, but the audience had not; they gasped, then applauded again. "That was really nice," Mouse Protector said, her voice picked up and transmitted out by the speakers. "May I make an announcement?"

    "Thank you," Canary acknowledged. "And yes, you can." Stepping back a little way, she ceded the microphone to Mouse Protector.

    "Hi, I'm Mouse Protector, and I'm here for you today!" The announcement was bright and bubbly, and Lily found herself smiling just from the sheer infectious joy. "How are the little mouseys enjoying the show so far?"

    The kids definitely cheered that one, their faces lighting up as they clapped.

    "Good, good." Mouse Protector gave a slight bow. "So yeah, I came here from New York to pay back a friend for a favour. Just remember that, kids. Favours are great to get, but they're a two-way street. Anyway, this friend of mine, she's kinda scary if you don't really know her well—oh, who am I kidding, she's really scary to a lot of people. You've probably heard of her. She's called Atropos."

    From the ripple of reaction that went through the audience, they'd definitely all heard of her … wait. From where Lily was, everyone should've been looking at Mouse Protector, but their sightline was higher up. Turning, she looked around … and there was Atropos herself, crouching on top of the framework. Slowly, theatrically, Atropos brought up her finger in a 'shush' motion. All the kids quieted immediately.

    "Anyway," Mouse Protector went on, apparently oblivious, "I invited her to show up here today, but I haven't seen her yet. Has anyone seen her?"

    Now, all the kids pointed and yelled at the same time. Lily got the impression they were saying some variation on, 'there she is' and 'right there', but it all blended together into one undifferentiated babble.

    "What? She's here? Where?" Mouse Protector turned theatrically and looked around … just as Atropos dropped down behind the framework, out of sight. She even went so far as to shade her eyes and peer at the framework before she turned to the audience once more. "I don't see her."

    Between one heartbeat and the next, Lily saw Atropos appear on the stage, in a crouching position, right behind Mouse Protector. Slowly, ominously, the black-clad cape straightened up, causing the kids to point and shout again. Reaching forward with one black-gloved hand, she tapped Mouse Protector on the shoulder. Her voice carried through to the mic clearly enough. "Tag. You're it."

    "What?" Mouse Protector spun around again, but Atropos had already leaped from the stage to the framework and was swarming across the crossbars and handholds with a level of celerity and dexterity that made Lily doubt her own athletic capability.

    As Atropos neared Lily, she reached up to her collar and switched on what had to be a clip-on microphone. Her voice came clearly through the speakers for the benefit of the audience. "Hi. You're it, too. Welcome to Villain Tag."

    "Oh, so that's how it's going to be, is it?" Mouse Protector switched on her own throat mic and triggered a teleport that took her to the top of the framework again. "Come on, Flechette. If she wants to play, let's play."

    Feeling a little left out of events—she didn't have a clip-on microphone—Lily launched herself after Atropos, in the wake of the laughing Mouse Protector. Atropos didn't make a sound, but she didn't have to. Lily could feel the grin emanating through that morph mask.

    Down below, Canary adapted fast; the next thing Lily knew, the classic Yakety Sax chase theme was coming out of the speakers, via her electric guitar. It was apt, too. No matter how hard Lily pushed herself and worked to cooperate with Mouse Protector, Atropos refused to allow herself to be hemmed in. Even the slightest gap was exploited, leaving both Lily and Mouse Protector clutching at thin air.

    Despite the tune being older than most of the adults in the audience, it was infectious even for the kids. All were laughing; some called out encouragement for her and Mouse Protector to ensnare Atropos, while others seemed to support Atropos' continued evasion from capture.

    When the tune came to an end, they were at different levels on the fake rocks making up the base. Lily was on one side of Atropos, while Mouse Protector was on the other. "We've got you mousetrapped now, Atropos," the veteran hero said, her hands flexing. "You may as well give up."

    "It's not over until it's over," Atropos retorted, reaching into her long-coat and drawing a narrow-bladed sword that Lily belatedly identified as a rapier.

    "Two can play at that game." Mouse Protector drew her own sabre and flourished it high. At the same time, she met Flechette's eyes and hooked her head sideways: stay out of this one.

    "Agreed," said Atropos, touching her rapier to the tip of Mouse Protector's sabre. A second later, it occurred to Lily that they were both holding their swords in their left hands. It didn't seem to hamper either one.

    "We don't have to fight." Mouse Protector responded to the tap with one of her own. "You're definitely a worthy opponent. I don't want to have to hurt you."

    Atropos shrugged. "You seem a decent hero. I'd hate to get hurt."

    They moved together, up and down the fake rocks, and their swords clashed a few times. Mouse Protector saluted one such pass with her sabre. "Using Bonetti's defence against me, huh?"

    "It seemed fitting," agreed Atropos, "considering the rocky terrain."

    Lily had no idea what was going on. There was subtext here that some of the adults in the audience were picking up on, but the kids were just watching the swordfight with deep interest. Canary was playing her guitar again while watching the display, with low dramatic chords.

    Under Atropos' renewed attack, Mouse Protector retreated, her sabre throwing off sparks from each parry. "I admit," she panted, "you are better than I am."

    "Then why are you smiling?" asked Atropos, pressing the attack.

    "Because I know something you don't know." Mouse Protector's broad grin was indeed visible to all.

    "And what is that?"

    Tossing her sabre from her left hand to her right, Mouse Protector flourished it briefly. "I am not left-handed."

    Atropos gave her a nod of appreciation, even as she fended off a new attack from the independent hero. "You're pretty good at this, too."

    "I should be," quipped Mouse Protector, "after watching all those Youtube videos."

    Leaping to a new fake rock, Atropos parried again. "There's something I ought to tell you."

    The onslaught briefly on hold, Mouse Protector looked at Atropos expectantly. "Tell me."

    Mimicking Mouse Protector's move from earlier, Atropos swapped hands with the rapier. "I'm not left-handed either." She darted forward, raising sparks from Mouse Protector's sabre.

    "Who are you?" demanded Mouse Protector, parrying briskly then returning to the attack.

    "You'll never know." Atropos steadily gave ground, retreating up the fake rocks, showing every sign of being trapped with no way out. Having seen her earlier performance, Lily was inclined to call bullshit, but this seemed to have been scripted ahead of time.

    "But I must!" With a truly egregious flourish, Mouse Protector caught Atropos' rapier and flipped it from her hand. Spinning end over end, it arced toward Lily. Leaning into her sense of timing, Lily snapped her hand out, allowing the hilt to slap into her palm.

    "Alas!" Atropos was really hamming it up there, but that also didn't surprise Lily. "Disarmed! But I must fight on!" There was a flicker of light on gleaming blades as she drew her signature shears. "Just remember, you brought this on yourself, bringing a sword to a shears fight!"

    In the next second, she'd moved in close; there was a clash of steel on steel, and Mouse Protector's sabre flew over the back of the framework. Mouse Protector stopped still, her hands held up, palm out. "Well, that was unexpected."

    Atropos saluted her with the shears. "While you're searching for your sword, I believe it's time for me to exit stage left." Just as she'd done in New York, she mimed snipping a doorway out of the air; an instant later, an actual smoky portal formed there. "Ladies and gentlemen, please consider donating to this very worthy cause." Briefly nodding toward the audience, she touched the brim of her hat with two fingers. "Toodles!"

    With that, she stepped into the shadowy doorway and vanished, the portal itself fading out of existence thereafter. But Lily wasn't paying attention to that, or even to the thunderous applause that erupted as Mouse Protector bowed to the audience in her turn. She'd seen this rapier before, in March's possession. It was the exact same one, down to the stylised 'M' on the pommel.

    Conclusions tumbled over and over in her mind, like boulders in a flooding river.

    Jouster said someone kicked the crap out of March and took her rapier. This is March's rapier.

    She was found near my patrol route. Was she planning to ambush me?
    It was absolutely something March would do.

    Did Atropos go all the way to New York to intercept March and take her rapier, just so she wouldn't be able to interfere with me coming here?

    Turning, she bowed to the crowd as well. I definitely need to ask her about that.

    But right now, there was the fundraiser and the chance to talk to Parian before duty drew her back to New York.

    She'd take that over a beating from March, any day.

    End of Part Forty-Four
    Last edited: May 31, 2023 at 3:54 PM
    Eyemore, Evilhippy, HeyaUser and 54 others like this.
  18. Yohnos

    Yohnos Not too sore, are you?

    Oct 14, 2021
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    So ... Who's the Princess Bride?
  19. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Answer Unclear, Try Again Later.
    Eyemore, Evilhippy, HeyaUser and 8 others like this.
  20. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

    Jan 10, 2015
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    ...So who's gonna get the Vizzini treatment?
  21. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

    Feb 12, 2014
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    Everyone who thought they were smarter than Atropos.

    If you're after specific poison kills, Hemorrhagia died from being slashed with fentanyl-coated shears.

    Last edited: May 31, 2023 at 5:31 PM
    Eyemore, MichaelSuave and FictionPack like this.