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A Darker Path [Worm Fanfic]

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

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  1. Fafnir(Kaliedoscope)

    Fafnir(Kaliedoscope) Making the rounds.

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    This is weird I had two post about the field of fucks so I'm kinda bewildered.

    One from AnonymousReader and the other from Ack.
     
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  2. Vanbers

    Vanbers Experienced.

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    Lisa: "Logically speaking, she's going to go after Kaiser, because of reasons A, B, and C, which my power-enhanced intuition confirms."

    Taylor: *Throwing darts at dartboard, before rolling dice*

    Pfft. Silly Lisa, Taylor doesn't have an intricate master plan beyond "Kill Person X".

    Always nice to see more of this, it's rapidly become one of my favourites. It's got killing, vmurder, and lack of fucks to give, but like, not the edgy cringe as fuck kind that I usually see in 'vigilante/heroes kill people fics'.
     
  3. FictionPack

    FictionPack Getting sticky.

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    I'd love to see Coil end up first on the chopping block through pure random chance.
    Tattletale is right that Skidmark isn't going to be first, but that's literally only because he hasn't gotten the memo yet. Ignorance is bliss, and a stay of execution. It's always nice when your future assassin politely waits until you have forewarning.
     
  4. MichaelSuave

    MichaelSuave Not too sore, are you?

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    So, anybody going to mention that due to Taylor's setup, that she can kill endbringers?

    "Path to killing leviathan before he can hit brockton bay?"

    shoot a guy named david in a grocery store in Phoenix...
     
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  5. ConsiderableHat

    ConsiderableHat Hot glue beard disaster.

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    If we're accepting Ward as canon doesn't at least one of the Endbringers get a bit ... odd about that?
     
  6. Hellkite

    Hellkite Getting sticky.

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    I want to see her run "Path that leads to their end and the most fun for me." This is giving me little shivers of anticipation... I can't wait to see where it goes. Its giving me flash backs to that Path to Food fic from a while back and kind of hope the when she ends Kaiser she uses a cream pie.
     
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  7. ConsiderableHat

    ConsiderableHat Hot glue beard disaster.

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    That's Path to Munchies, which I had the good fortune to read quite recently. And, as I recall, the path involving pie-ing Kaiser left him a broken, hollow, haunted shell of a man and earned Taylor a villain rep for the sheer cruelty of it, which is why she elected not to follow that path.

    I quite agree she should've taken that one for the anti-nazi team.
     
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  8. anwan7

    anwan7 Know what you're doing yet?

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    You mean Path to Munchies?
     
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  9. Hellkite

    Hellkite Getting sticky.

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  10. GW_Yoda

    GW_Yoda Professional Lurker

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    Loving this quite a lot.
     
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  11. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    It's literally in Atropos' taglines when she makes the post. (And who's LCoM?)

    This is not commissioned, and unless one of my regular commissioners takes it up, it won't be.

    Not to worry, I have a couple chapters on backlog.

    I stole the quote to use.

    Who said we're accepting Ward as canon?

    I'm accepting "You needed worthy opponents" as canon.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2022
  12. ConsiderableHat

    ConsiderableHat Hot glue beard disaster.

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    Well, I bounced off it two chapters in and only know about it from what can be gleaned from fandom wikis, so not me.
     
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  13. Threadmarks: Part Five: Interviews and Acquisitions
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    A Darker Path

    Part Five: Interviews and Acquisitions

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



    Taylor

    Leaning on the window frame, I let the chill winter breeze wash over my face as Dad maneuvered the car through Brockton Bay's morning traffic. I'd been a little hasty with killing Sophia, I decided. It would've been much better to have shot her with a crossbow or something, but she hadn't been thoughtful enough to provide one. Going the extra mile to provide my targets with a fitting kill was something I should aim for.

    Oni Lee … well, I'd shot him with his own gun, so that was fitting enough, I figured. Blowing him up with his own grenade would've been even more so, but my power hadn't offered any options for doing it that way. Meh, I was okay with how it had turned out. Also, I'd scored an absolutely rockin' costume, so that was a plus point for just shooting him.

    Which left my next four targets. Skidmark was maybe the easiest of the lot. He was into the drug scene, so he'd have to die by drugs. I wasn't really sure what Coil's thing was; maybe a coil of rope to tie him up and hang him by? Kaiser, I was thinking I could kill with a metal spike or spear or something, and Lung … hmm.

    Lung was going to be difficult, I could just tell. Burning him to death was a non-starter, but what about an explosion? That was thematically similar to fire. But I couldn't just throw a grenade at him; my power helpfully informed me that he would survive such an attack if he was at all ramped up.

    But then it started making suggestions. Very interesting suggestions. Suggestions which, if I made the right preparations, were eminently possible to carry out.

    "Taylor?" Dad's voice jolted me out of my reverie.

    "Yeah?" I looked around, realising that we'd parked and he had his door half-open. "Oh. We're there. Sorry, I zoned out for a bit."

    "That's okay. Don't stress about it. Tell them what you saw, and don't try to embellish, alright? I'll be right there."

    "Thanks." I wound up the window and got out, making sure to lock the door as I did so. "Sorry for having to put you through this."

    He stepped up onto the sidewalk and ruffled my hair. "It's my job to be there for you. No big deal. Trust me, there'd be many dads accompanying their kid to the local precinct who'd love to swap out with us."

    That hadn't been what I'd meant. I was about to drop a massive bomb on him that he just wasn't ready for, but there wasn't any way I could warn him ahead of time that wouldn't have other consequences down the line. But we'd get through it; once it was dropped, I'd be able to minimise the fallout, but only then. My power was really good at ending stuff, but only so-so at preventing it before it ever happened.

    Besides, this way would play right into ending suspicion on me.

    We walked into the precinct station, me in my hoodie, baggy jeans and ancient sneakers, and Dad in his Association working clothes. A bunch of other kids I vaguely recognised as Winslow students were sitting around, accompanied by adults who were probably their parents; I neither knew nor cared. It looked to be standing room only for the moment, but that didn't matter either. I could plan just as well standing up as sitting down.

    As Dad and I joined the line to speak to the police officer on the front counter, a door opened and Emma emerged with her father. They saw us at the same time as Dad saw them, and they came our way. Or rather, Alan Barnes came our way while Emma reluctantly tagged along.

    "Alan," Dad greeted his old friend. "Fancy meeting you here." His wry grin and handshake went unanswered, and he frowned.

    "Good to see you too, Dan." Emma's father had a pained look on his face. "Sorry, we can't stay. Emma and I have some things to talk about." He looked over at me. "For what it's worth, Taylor, I'm sorry."

    I eyed Emma speculatively. Her makeup might have fooled some people, but I knew her rather better than that, and she looked like hell. She also looked terrified of me, while desperately trying to hide it.

    "Emma," I said neutrally. "It's good to see you. I hope you're doing well?"

    "I'm-I'm okay," she jerked out. "You-you look good too."

    I put my hand on her shoulder and she flinched, but stopped short of pulling away. "It's alright," I said just loudly enough for the adults to hear. "Go mourn your friend. I'll see you later."

    "Th-thanks." She leaned closer and lowered her voice until only I could hear her. "I'm sorry. For-for everything."

    I moved my lips close to her ear. "I know," I whispered back. Then I let her go and stepped back. "Bye, Emma."

    "B-bye, Taylor." She huddled close to her father.

    I looked up at Alan Barnes and nodded. "Thanks. I appreciate that."

    He nodded in return. "Well, time to go, Dan. See you around?"

    "Count on it." Dad waved briefly, then turned to me as we moved up in line. "What the hell was that about? Why was my oldest friend apologising to you? And what was wrong with Emma?"

    "Tell you in a minute, Dad." I nodded toward the desk sergeant to remind him why we were in line.

    We got to the counter, and Dad gave his name, my name, the reason we were here, and the name of the police officer I was supposed to be seeing, a Detective Andrews. The sergeant checked his list, verified via my student card that my name was indeed Taylor Anne Hebert, and nodded. "Take a seat … if you can find one. He'll be with you shortly."

    We went and found an empty spot where nobody seemed inclined to eavesdrop on us, then Dad turned his attention my way again. "So, tell me. Why was Alan apologising to you? And what's going on with you and Emma? I would've expected you to be all over each other like a rash, but it was like you didn't even want to be in the same room as each other. When did you two stop being best friends?"

    "Year before last," I said bluntly. "I got back from summer camp and she had new friends, and didn't want to be bothered with me anymore. When we started at Winslow, she doubled down. Went from 'no longer friends' to active enemies. They all started bullying me."

    His eyes widened. "What the … oh, hell no! When I see Alan next—"

    "He didn't know anything about it," I interrupted. "But I'm pretty sure he does now. I didn't tell you for the longest time because you were still getting over Mom, and I figured I could handle it myself." I could feel my voice patterns changing to sound more convincing, along with my body language. It was working; he was still engaged, still listening to me. "After winter break, I think they'd decided that I wasn't worth it anymore. They still said a few things to me, but it was half-hearted, tapering off. And then this happened."

    "What's this got to do with what Emma was doing to you?" He still sounded pissed.

    I took a deep breath for effect. "The girl who died was one of the major instigators, apart from Emma. I'm thinking she found someone else to pick on, and it went badly. Emma was … they had some sort of emotional co-dependency thing going on, and now she's gone."

    "I still think I should talk to Alan—"

    I shook my head. "No need. You saw her. She's a total wreck. She couldn't bully a newborn kitten right now. I hate what she did, but there's no point in kicking her when she's down."

    "I guess you're right." He grimaced. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

    "Like I said, you had enough on your plate, and I thought I had to handle it myself." I shook my head. "I know, stupid. But I guess it's one of those rare situations that solved itself, in a really weird way."

    "After more than a year of bullying." The scowl had settled on his face. "I can't believe Alan didn't know."

    "It's amazing what people don't see if they don't want to see it." I said it lightly, but I saw him flinch anyway. While the statement hadn't been aimed specifically at him, it was still accurate enough to sting.

    "Well, not anymore." He set his jaw. "From now on, I'm Dad on deck. You have any problems, you bring them to me."

    "If I have any problems, I will absolutely bring them to you," I promised. Of course, I didn't intend for anything to get to the level of being a problem, but he didn't need to know that.

    We stood a little longer in companionable silence as names were called. From time to time, we glanced at the clock.

    "How many classes are you going to be missing out of this?" he asked.

    I shrugged. "The school doesn't expect me back until after lunch. Once we're finished here, I can take the bus there while you go to work."

    "Hm. Okay."

    "Hebert!" We both turned our heads as the voice called out. "Taylor Hebert!"

    "That's me," I responded.

    It was time to go lie my ass off to the police.

    <><>​

    Danny

    This was not Danny's first rodeo, not by a long shot. He'd already cautioned Taylor about saying too much or embellishing her words, and it seemed that she'd taken his advice to heart.

    "So," began Detective Andrews. He was a big man, with muscle starting to go to fat, with thinning brown hair. "Tell me about your day at Winslow yesterday. Just the highlights, to begin with." He held his pen ready with his notepad, though Danny was sure there was a recorder running.

    Taylor nodded. "Well, my first class was Computers, with Mrs Knott, then the second was World Affairs, with Mr Gladly. After that, I went and had lunch, then read for a while in the library. Then I went to art class, then math class, and that's when they made the announcement that we had to wait back."

    Detective Andrews made some notes. "Okay, on your way from the library to the art classroom, did you see or hear anything happening in room thirty-nine A?"

    Taylor frowned. "That's where it happened? No, that classroom isn't used at that time of day. The door was closed."

    Scribble, scribble. "Understood. Now, how well did you know Sophia Hess?"

    Lifting her head, Taylor pressed her lips together before answering. "I knew her. Along with Emma Barnes and Madison Clements. They made my life a complete hell over the last year and a bit."

    "Really?" Andrews' brows rose. "She was bullying you?"

    "Yes." Taylor leaned forward slightly. "If Emma or Madison say any differently, they're lying. I've been tripped, shoved, had stuff stolen from my locker, had glue or glitter or juice put on my seat, had my assignments stolen and stories spread about me. If there's a checklist of what school bullies do, they've ticked off everything."

    "Hmm." Detective Andrews made a few more notes. "So, what was the last thing they did to bully you?"

    Taylor didn't have to stop and think. "Just after World Affairs, I was heading to the cafeteria. I ran into Sophia. She tried to shove me around, but I bluffed her into thinking a teacher was watching. Come to think of it, she was pretty half-hearted about it, like she was getting bored with the whole thing. Then I went to have lunch. Emma and Madison came up to me then, but the same as Sophia, it was like they were just going through the motions. They didn't even try to tip my tray over or spill my juice on me."

    "Is that the last you saw of them before the announcement in math class?" More notes were made.

    "Um …" Taylor paused. "No. I went to the library after I finished lunch, and I saw Sophia come in while I was browsing the stacks. I didn't know if she was looking for me or Emma and Madison, so I just stayed out of her way. That was the last time I saw her. I didn't see Madison at all for the rest of the day, and I saw Emma in math class. She left the classroom just before the announcement. I think she had an upset stomach or something."

    "I see." Detective Andrews flipped to a new page. "With all this, I think it's fair to say you might have been justified in holding a grudge against Miss Hess?"

    Taylor didn't laugh out loud, but she did let out a rather bitter chuckle. "A grudge? Yeah, I think you could say that. I hated her guts. I still hate Emma and Madison. Not that I could do a damn thing about it, but I hated her. Wouldn't you?"

    "I might," admitted the detective. "But holding a grudge, even for the level of bullying you seem to have gone through, doesn't justify murder."

    "Wait, wait," protested Danny for the first time. "Detective, are you seriously accusing my daughter—"

    "Dad, chill." Taylor waved him down. "Detective, how did she die? I doubt she was shot, because I know damn well Hollywood lies about silencers. Stabbed? Hit over the head with something from behind? Choked out?"

    Detective Andrews drew a deep breath, then released it. "She was beaten to death," he admitted reluctantly. "Using advanced martial arts moves. Crushed larynx, shattered ribs, stopped heart."

    Taylor snorted. "Well, that leaves me out, then. My most advanced martial arts form is best described as Way of the Chicken." Still sitting down, she performed a credible impression of someone running for their life.

    Danny felt relief seeping through him. He'd always known Taylor was innocent, and now he could prove it. "It's true. She's never had martial arts training. I know, because I never paid for any."

    "May I see your hands, Taylor?" asked the detective.

    "Sure." Taylor stood up and stepped forward, holding her hands out in front of her.

    Without touching them, the detective examined her knuckles carefully. Then he shook his head. "The amount of training it takes to deliver blows like that flawlessly would leave unmistakeable calluses on your hands, and probably break a few bones in the process. You don't have anything like that."

    "Yeah, screw that." Taylor sat down again. "I like having my hands the same shape they've always been, thanks."

    "I can understand that." Andrews drew a line under his notes and closed the notepad. "Well, my condolences for what you had to go through, and I doubt we'll be needing to speak with you again."

    "Good to hear," Danny said. "I hope you catch whoever did this, before they kill someone else."

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Keeping a tight control on my expression so I wouldn't even crack a smile—way too late for that, Dad—I followed Dad and Detective Andrews out to the main lobby, where the next would-be witnesses were called in. Heading out through the main doors, we ended up on the sidewalk.

    "Well, that was that," he said, dusting his hands off. "Thanks for giving me the heads-up about Emma and her friends before we spoke to the detective, but honestly, you could've told me sooner. I would've done something about it, made sure you didn't have to live through all that crap they did to you."

    "I could have, yeah," I admitted. "I guess some part of me wanted to make it my problem to fix. But it's over and done with now, anyway." And it was, just like the investigation into me. Detective Andrews had been the main one to suspect me for the killing since he'd been given my name, and now there was no suspicion there at all; I'd killed it stone dead.

    "Are you sure you're okay with taking the bus to school?" he asked, gesturing toward the car. "I can drop you off on the way to work."

    I snorted and rolled my eyes. "I don't have to be back until after lunch. Give me the chance to enjoy my freedom while I can, huh?"

    "You raise an extremely valid point. Well, have fun and don't be late to class." He gave me a quick hug, which I returned. "It's good to have you back, Taylor."

    "Likewise, Dad." I watched him go to the car, start it, and pull out into traffic. Before he was even out of sight, I turned and started walking in the other direction.

    According to the wall clock within the precinct, it was ten-thirty. Lunch ended at twelve forty-five. I had two hours and fifteen minutes to play with, and I intended to make the most of that time.

    The first thing I needed was money. While it was possible to steal the items I wanted, it would take too much time. Simply being able to hand over money streamlined the process immensely.

    Of course, I was going to steal the money, because at some point theft had to enter the equation if I was going to acquire resources quickly. Not that I had a problem with stealing; I was already murdering people, and running a path to killing my current cash flow problem was small potatoes next to that.

    Assuming a detached in-a-hurry air, I hustled down the sidewalk, eyes front, not even bothering to scope out the people I was passing by. I'd never practised this in my life, but just like the martial arts thing, it didn't matter; the hand was quicker than the eye. Before I'd gone fifty yards, I had a wallet in the right-hand pocket of my hoodie.

    Continuing my onward march, I opened the wallet without removing it from my pocket, extracted and counted the cash by touch, then pulled a cash card out of it. An ATM beckoned; with my sleeves pulled over my knuckles, I sidled up to it. One hand casually covered the pinhole camera, while the other slid the card into the slot and tapped in the PIN without hesitation. The balance on the card was worth thousands, but I only needed a few hundred to cover what I wanted to do. I entered that amount and waited.

    Thirty seconds later, the machine spit out the required amount of cash. I took it and the card, and moved on. My skin had not touched the machine once. A garbage truck rumbled past; I flicked the wallet, with the card back in it, up into the load. It wasn't my problem anymore.

    Next, my footsteps led me to an electronics hobby store. The plan I had in mind was a little grandiose, but that was all part of the fun. However, it also meant I was going to need some items it was easier to buy or steal than make.

    The guy at the counter looked up as I wandered in. I pretended to meander back and forth, but I knew what I needed. I also knew that the counter attendant was watching to make sure none of the stock vanished into my hoodie pockets. Well, the joke was on him; I was going to buy it fair and square.

    What I placed on the counter was a hodgepodge of electronic devices and tools, about half of which I actually needed and the other half protective camouflage. When he raised his eyebrows, I shrugged. "Science project. I don't even know what half this stuff does." Which was technically true, but it didn't matter.

    "Suit yourself." He rang it up on the register, and I paid with cash, throwing in a few coins from my bus change purse to make it look good. Moments later, I left the shop, holding my hand in front of my face just in time to avoid getting mugshot by the sole security camera they could afford.

    Around the corner, and fifty yards down the road, was a parked motorcycle with a helmet hanging off the back. With two of the tools from the electronics shop, I bypassed the ignition and had the cycle started almost as fast as I could've done it with the key. Then I pulled the helmet on, swung astride the bike, and took off.

    Halfway to my destination—I wasn't even sure where I was going, except that it was toward Captain's Hill, and I was on my way to collect a metal spike to murder Kaiser with—I pulled over and parked next to a locksmith. I had no idea what I needed there, but I was learning not to question my power.

    "Hi," I said giddily as I swept into the shop. "Now, this is going to sound really weird, but my boyfriend and me are having our six-month anniversary real soon, and I wanted to give him a special gift but I can't afford much, so I was wondering if I could buy one of your keys there and get you to engrave something like 'key to my heart' on it, pretty please?"

    The old guy behind the counter didn't even blink. "Sure," he said, and indicated the rows of key blanks. "Got a preference, kid?"

    "Um, um, um," I said, pretending indecision. Then I pointed at the one I needed—for what, I wasn't sure yet. "That one, right there. It's the prettiest."

    "Okay," he grunted and slid the blank off the hook. "That'll be ten bucks."

    "Thank you so much," I gushed, watching as he expertly engraved the words into the blank. I didn't need the engraving, of course, but it was a convenient excuse for acquiring a key blank.

    Back on the bike, the key in my pocket, I kept moving. About five minutes later, a citywide ping reached me; the owner of the motorcycle had discovered that his ride was missing, and had informed the police. They were now looking for the motorcycle (and by inference, the thief—me).

    I kept riding.

    Two detours later, to avoid police officers who'd gotten the message about the stolen bike, I was definitely in the more affluent area of Brockton Bay. Multi-story houses with attached swimming pools, gated communities, the works. I wasn't quite sure why I was here, but here I was.

    I stashed the bike in a quiet side street and went on by foot. My destination was apparently a three-story edifice complete with a patio and a high stone wall all around it. Taking a run-up, I went up the wall like a startled squirrel and vaulted over the top to land and roll on the far side.

    Keeping low, I darted through the immaculately topiaried shrubbery until I reached a discreetly placed back door. In place of a lock, it had an electronic keypad; using my sleeve-covered knuckle, I tapped in the code. The door obediently opened with a discreet click, and I entered.

    The interior was utterly gorgeous, with works of art here and there that were undoubtedly worth more than our entire house and contents put together. A crack team of burglars could've made millions in fifteen minutes, given the run of the place. But I wasn't here for that.

    Sneaking through the corridors, I tried one specific door and it opened into a luxuriously appointed study. And here was what I was looking for; a huge glass case, taking up part of one wall, exhibiting swords and knives of all kinds, from great six-foot-long monstrosities to little tiny things barely longer than my hand.

    Two of them caught my eye. One was a solid-looking double-edged sword with a weird S-shaped crossguard, apparently used by some knight to defend some castle, back in the day. And the other … was a pair of shears. Not just any shears, but shears that could also be used as a dagger. The handle even featured a crossbar. It even came with its own sheath.

    It would totally fit my image as Atropos.

    Oh, yes. I want.

    The glass case was locked with another keypad; I didn't even have to think about it as my fingers tapped the code in. Moments later, I was the proud owner of a sword and a set of dagger-shears.

    Leaving the house was about as uneventful as the entry had been, even with my ill-gotten goods. Apparently my power allowed me to emulate Olympic level gymnasts at the top of their game, even while wearing jeans and a hoodie.

    The sword did pose a slight problem when I went to get back on the bike; it hadn't come with a sheath, and there was no handy scabbard attached to the bike itself. I ended up sliding it down the back of my hoodie so the tip poked out the bottom, and the hilt rested against the back of my helmet. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it worked for the time being.

    Stealing a car, I decided, was much more convenient.

    I abandoned the bike about three streets away from our house. Once again, I wiped down everything I'd touched, trying to at least blur any fingerprints that they might find. With the sword blade up my sleeve and the hilt in the bag with the electronic items I was carrying, it didn't look like I was wandering around with a three-foot stolen blade, which was all I needed.

    When I got in the back door, the clock was showing a quarter to twelve, which meant lunch had just started. I had an hour to get there.

    Taking my spoils down into the basement, I used a screwdriver from Dad's toolkit to remove the plywood covering the old coal chute, and stashed the sword and electronic bits in there, alongside Oni Lee's grenades, knives and pistol. Then I screwed it back on, headed back upstairs, and left the shears with the rest of my costume. That, at least, came with a sheath.

    Time was starting to get a little tight, so I threw together a sandwich and grabbed an apple and a juice box from the fridge. I jogged the two blocks to the bus stop, and caught the next one heading in the right direction. As the bus drove off, I took a satisfied bite out of the sandwich.

    <><>​

    Winslow High School
    12:40 PM


    The bus stopped outside the school and I got off. Moving with a fast stride, I made my way up the steps and into the school proper. May it be ever so grimy.

    I got to my locker just as the bell rang; as I opened it, I appreciated the fact that nobody else had filled it full of crap while I was gone. The faint waft of bleach, and the entire lack of paint on the inside of the locker, showed me just how hard the cleaning staff had worked to get rid of the mess. They'd even bent the door back into shape, which was kind of impressive. Grabbing my backpack, I shoved my art supplies and math textbook in there, then added the pencil case that I'd taken from Emma's locker.

    When I closed the locker door, Madison was standing there.

    "Oh, hey," I said. "Is this an official visit, or are we two ships passing in the night?"

    She took a deep breath, twisting her fingers together. "Emma and me, we talked to the police today." The words came in a rush.

    "Mm-hmm," I said. "So did I. What did you tell them?" I didn't tell her that I'd seen Emma in the precinct. She'd learn soon enough.

    "That we bullied you. All three of us." I could see her clenching her fists hard enough to whiten her knuckles. "I've been grounded forever, and Dad's taking my phone away after school. Is that enough? Is that good enough?"

    I nodded. "It's a start." Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I headed off to art class.



    End of Part Five
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2022
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  14. GW_Yoda

    GW_Yoda Professional Lurker

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    Challenge accepted!

    How many chapters on backlog? Asking for a friend.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2022
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  15. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    One I'm working on right now, and a couple planned.
     
  16. O’Brien

    O’Brien Not too sore, are you?

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    I don't know if its just me or you are updating at an extremely fast rate to your normal one. Not that I am not enjoying it, keep it coming.
     
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  17. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    I have a little time up my sleeve right now, and I'm inspired.
     
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  18. Gaemnomut

    Gaemnomut Experienced.

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    Another great update. Looking forward to seeing her take out her first gang boss
     
  19. anwan7

    anwan7 Know what you're doing yet?

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    And we really like it when you get inspired. I think the last time you got this inspired we got 6 chapters of Recoil in 17 days.
     
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  20. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    That was a wild time, wasn't it?

    (sigh)

    I'll be slowing down a little, and probably cutting off on the 29th or 30th, but hopefully I'll get another two or three out by then.
     
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  21. magic9mushroom

    magic9mushroom BEST END.

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    LCoM is an initialism for your beta-reader's internet handle.

    It's not clear from reading which taglines were added when (e.g. "banned" and "you wish" were clearly added after the ban/threadclose post, and they're before "can actually kill anything" in the tagline).
     
  22. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Taylor didn't want the 'Banned' and 'You Wish' to come after the 'Can Actually Kill Anything' and its attendant taglines, so she put it before them.
     
  23. Threadmarks: Part Six: A Good Death
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    A Darker Path

    Part Six: A Good Death

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



    Later That Afternoon
    Hebert Household Basement

    Taylor


    I pressed the button on the tiny remote; with a tiny whine, the jaws opened against the spring holding them closed. Releasing the button let the jaws snap shut again. I carefully didn't press the second button on the remote, which would overload the tiny battery powering the whole gizmo and deconstruct it explosively.

    I hadn't even known that was possible, up until now.

    Resting on the workbench were several other devices with similar applications, all constructed from the bits and pieces I'd purchased from the electronics store. I wasn't sure what they were going to be used for, but I had no doubt it would be impressive.

    Setting the remote aside, I took up the key that the locksmith had engraved for me. Thirty seconds with an angle-grinder had erased some of the engraving, and transformed it into a functional key. For what, I still had no idea, but I was sure I would find out.

    (And yes, I was impressed that my power could freestyle a working key in thirty seconds with an angle grinder. I mean, damn).

    However, I was done here for the moment. Bundling everything together, I put it back in the coal chute and screwed the wood facing back on. By the time the car tyres crunched on the gravel in the driveway, I had washed my hands and face, and was hard at work prepping a lasagne in the kitchen.

    "Hi, Taylor," Dad said as he opened the back door. "How was the rest of your day?"

    I shrugged and kept on with my task. "Eh, got stuff done. Nobody messed with me."

    He slapped me on the shoulder on the way past to the fridge. "Best kind of day."

    <><>​

    Under the Medhall Building

    Hookwolf


    Bradley shook his head. "Oni Lee wasn't any kind of pushover," he said flatly. "I fought him enough times to know that. If this Atropos asshole offed him and says they're gonna go after you, I think you should take some kinda precautions."

    "That's what I've been saying," James replied. "Max. What are your thoughts on the matter?"

    Max ran his hand over his face and looked around at his two lieutenants. In his hand was an untouched glass of bourbon, the ice slowly melting into the drink. "Sorry, I'm a little distracted. When I got home, I found some of my property missing. Someone not only penetrated the security system, but filched two items out of my private collection of blades. My katzbalger and the bodice shears are gone. All the cameras caught was a shadow on the edge of the frame."

    "Shit, that sucks." Bradley went for a sympathetic tone. "How much were they worth, anyway? Was it the gold-plated stuff?"

    "No, and that's what I can't figure out," Max snarled. He clenched his free hand into a fist and thumped it on the table. "The thief walked straight past pieces of art worth six figures, and took none of it. They went straight to my study, opened the display case without tripping the alarm, and took exactly two pieces, neither of which is strikingly unique or intrinsically valuable. Then they left again."

    James shrugged. "So we approach it from that end. Why would someone want those two specific pieces? Who would want them?"

    "There's a few capes out there who like the whole medieval look," Bradley offered. "I mean, Armsmaster's got that fucking halberd."

    "But that's Tinkertech," James objected. "Max's collection is all genuine antiques. A sword is just a sword. Shears are just shears. Who needs shears?"

    Bradley chuckled. "Parian? You know, for cutting up the cloth for her stupid stuffed animals?"

    "Wait." Max sat upright, his eyes opening wide. "Shears. Cutting cloth."

    "Yeah, that's what I just said." Bradley eyed his boss warily. "You okay there?"

    "Motherfucker." It was like Max hadn't heard him. "Shears. You know who else uses shears to cut things?"

    Bradley shared a glance of mutual incomprehension with James, then shrugged. "Fucked if I know."

    Max looked at the other two. "Did you ever learn about the three Fates in school? Clotho, who spun the threads of people's lives, Lachesis, who measured them out … and Atropos, who cut them using shears?"

    A silence descended on the trio, that lasted almost thirty seconds.

    "So it was Atropos," James said slowly. "They were right there. In your house."

    "It might not have been them," Bradley objected, but it sounded weak even to his ears.

    "Really?" Max's lips were pulled back in a snarl. "You think so? Exactly two things were taken. A German landsknecht's sword, and a pair of shears. That's a message if I ever saw one. 'I know you're Kaiser, signed Atropos'."

    Bradley didn't get it. "So it's a German sword. What's that got to do with anything?"

    "Because," Max said with an air of strained patience, "it was once owned by Kaiser Wilhelm the first. My father built the collection around it."

    Well, that put a whole new meaning on things. "Oh. Oh, shit."

    "It's clear that your house isn't safe anymore, that's for certain," James decided. "Maybe you should actually think about …"

    Bradley shook his head. "Nope. Don't even go there."

    "No." Max's voice was firm. "If you were about to say, 'think about leaving town', that's not a possibility. I am the Empire Eighty-Eight; the Empire Eighty-Eight is me. I inherited this team from my father, and I refuse to abandon it like this. Besides, if word got out, how would it look? All people would have to do is post a credible death threat on PHO, and I leave town? They could cripple us at a whim!"

    "Your death would also be a huge setback." James took a sip of his drink. "I do agree. You must not be seen to flee from a potential assassin. But your house is clearly not secure enough for this matter. I think … right here, in this building, is the best place to be. Electronic security is one thing to defeat. But no matter how stealthy this Atropos is, I doubt they could fight their way past our entire cape contingent to get to you."

    Bradley cracked his knuckles with a series of metallic pops. "Damn right."

    If this Atropos seriously decided to come after Kaiser, he decided, they would regret it very fucking briefly.

    <><>​

    ABB Territory

    Lung


    Despite his anger, Kenta's power lay quiescent. Nobody threatened him directly; midnight was still hours away. He looked down at the dark stain on the sidewalk where Oni Lee had died. A single shot to the face with his own gun. The autopsy, he'd heard through his own sources, had revealed a tiny mass of sodden ash at the far end of the wound channel.

    Atropos had taken his gun, and grenades, and knives. The final insult. She'd left the mask though, which was good.

    He'd brought Isamu along with him, despite the idiot's broken arm (now splinted, and in a sling) and bandaged head. The young man spoke Vietnamese as well as his native Japanese, which would be useful; the proprietor of the shop spoke little to no English, and Kenta's own Vietnamese was limited to extremely crude subjects. He wanted exactly zero misunderstandings, going forward.

    Waving to his other five men to stay where they were, he stepped forward and pushed the shop door open. A tiny bell jingled cheerily as he did so. From within the shop appeared an elderly lady, who bowed deeply and said something. One of her assistants spoke up. "Great Lung, we—"

    "Silence!" barked Kenta. "My man will translate." Turning his head slightly, he nodded to Isamu. "What did the old lady say?"

    Isamu cleared his throat. "She said, 'Great Lung, we are honoured by your presence in our humble shop.'"

    "Hm." Kenta glared at her. She bowed again, then went to her knees. "Ask her where my money is."

    Isamu spoke briefly. The lady replied quickly, barely above a whisper, trembling the whole time. Clenching his fists, Isamu stepped forward, but Kenta held up his hand. "Stop! What was that about?"

    Breathing deeply through his nostrils, Isamu gritted the words out. "She says, 'I don't know. Perhaps that masked girl took it from you.'"

    That was highly possible. It was what Kenta would have done. "Ask her what happened when the girl entered the shop."

    A brief conversation ensued. "She says the girl required them to outfit her with a costume. After she killed Oni Lee, they were too afraid not to do what she said. The girl spoke Vietnamese fluently, better than me, she says."

    "And you say she was white?" Kenta was pretty sure that was one of the details he'd been told. White girls who spoke Vietnamese that well were few and far between.

    Isamu nodded, but carefully. "Yes. I remember wondering if she was a tourist."

    Kenta frowned. That was actually a good point. Was this a cape from out of town, instead of a local? He wasn't sure how to check that. "Ask them if they saw the girl's face while they were outfitting her." He'd already established that none of the three men had seen her closely enough to recall any details. Concussions tended to have that effect.

    Once more, Isamu passed on the query. The old lady answered, along with a hand gesture that covered the lower half of her face. When she'd finished, Isamu turned to Kenta. "She had a mask over her mouth and nose. Whenever she took it off, she turned her back on everyone."

    "Of course she did," sighed Kenta. If this was a newcomer to the game, she was being very slick about it. "Did she seem to need her glasses, or were they just part of a disguise?" Isamu had mentioned the glasses, earlier, but Kenta doubted they could be worn over a morph mask.

    The question made the old lady pause and think. Eventually, she shook her head. Kenta had his answer before Isamu translated. "She says no, the girl did not seem to have any sort of vision problems after she took her glasses off."

    At least his men wouldn't be wasting their time looking for girls with glasses. "And she was tall, skinny, with long dark hair?"

    The old lady bowed briefly and spoke a few words. Isamu snorted, then turned to Kenta. "She said, 'Great Lung knows all.' I think she is mocking you."

    "I know mockery when I hear it." Kenta's tone was mildly censorious. "She would not dare mock me or lie to me." He doubted that the old lady liked him, but fear and respect were wolves that ran side by side and could easily be mistaken for one another. He didn't need friends; he just needed obedience.

    "Should I tell her to hand over the protection money again?"

    "Hm." Kenta considered it. "No. Tell her that in my generosity, I will forgive her the money this time, but in return I expect her to contact me immediately if the girl comes back, and to keep the girl talking until I arrive."

    "Yes, sir." Isamu turned to the old lady, and rattled off a speech. Her reply was much shorter, and punctuated with another bow that put her forehead to the ground.

    "She said, 'It will be done, great Lung.'" Isamu frowned. "I don't trust her."

    Kenta turned toward the door of the shop. "I trust her to see to her own best interests. She knows that if the girl is seen in this shop again and she doesn't call me, I will burn it down with her inside."

    Isamu followed him out; the door swung shut behind them. "But you didn't tell me to tell her that."

    Turning to face his minion, Kenta smiled coldly. "Some things, you don't have to translate."

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Dad wanted to talk over dinner. I liked that he was engaging more, even if it narrowed my window for getting out and performing long-delayed retribution on some people who desperately needed it. So, after we cleared the table, we sat back and chatted.

    Of course, he wanted to talk about Emma.

    "What do you think happened to her, to make her turn on you?" he asked helplessly. "She was your best friend, for crying out loud!"

    "I'm not totally sure," I said, though I had my suspicions. "Whatever it was, Sophia was at the centre of it. But it's not even all Sophia's fault, I don't think. Emma's always been a little … fragile. When she's got plenty of support, she's fine. But take that away, and she shatters. And when whatever it was happened, Sophia helped put her back together wrongly." I shrugged. "You saw what she was like when she lost Sophia."

    "That's a little cold, isn't it?" Dad shook his head. "Emma was your best friend for years. Now she's a quivering wreck. I never knew this Sophia, but she was a human being too. You can't just dismiss them out of hand like that."

    "Why not?" I asked reasonably. "They spent the better part of a year and a half doing their best to destroy me. Emma looked me in the eye and tore down Mom's memory in front of everyone. She chose to stop being my friend, and Sophia simply chose to be my enemy. I owe them nothing."

    I hadn't raised my voice, but Dad still flinched. "Okay, yeah, I get it. You're still pissed at them. Believe me, I understand. I would be too. But at some point you have to learn to let things go, or it'll eat you up inside."

    "No," I said. "You don't understand. I'm not angry at them, but I'm not about to forgive them either. I've literally stopped caring about them. Where they go, what they do, so long as it's not near me, I simply don't give a fuck."

    He blinked. "Oh. Well, uh, that's … I suppose that's actually a very mature way to look at things. It's not one that I've ever mastered." A self-deprecating chuckle. "The best I ever did was learn to walk away before I punched someone."

    I shrugged in return. "That's probably a good skill to have if your problems don't keep following you around the school. And if they'd kept it up after winter break, I would've come to you about it. But they didn't, and Sophia pulled her shit on someone who really wasn't going to take it, and here we are."

    "Which is a matter of concern in and of itself," Dad noted. "Why would someone capable of that level of martial arts go after a teenage girl in the middle of school? What could she have possibly done to deserve that level of retaliation?"

    "Well, I'm only making a wild guess here," I said. I was fully aware that I was lying through my teeth, but I also knew it was a lot safer for him to believe this than to be aware of the truth. "I noticed they were being a lot less enthusiastic about going after me, right?"

    "Right," he said, nodding. "You mentioned it in the precinct."

    "Yeah." I assumed a thoughtful expression. "My guess is that over the winter break, while she couldn't get to me, Sophia found someone else to torment, and they fought back. She's got—she had—this thing about always having to win. So, if they pushed back and actually got a punch in, she would've utterly fucking demolished them."

    Dad didn't react to my swearing as he nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can see that. I've known people like that from time to time. So you think … they were related to a cape?"

    I shrugged. "Or whoever it was, maybe their parents knew a cape. Maybe even one of the Empire Eighty-Eight." He looked at me and frowned, and I realised he was missing crucial information. "Oh, yeah, sorry. Sophia was black."

    "Oh." He sat back. "Shit, yes. That makes sense."

    "Mm-hmm." I nodded. "It wouldn't be all that hard to sneak someone into Winslow over the lunch break. She comes into the room, expecting to see her victim of the week, gets sucker-punched into the middle of next year, and they beat her to death."

    Dad nodded again. "Yeah. Scary. I hope they catch who did it."

    "The Empire's hurt a lot of people over the years." I said it like I was agreeing with him. "I don't think anyone's going to shed too many tears if they go down over something like this."

    "Very true." He pushed back his chair. "I'll wash, you dry?"

    "Sounds like a plan."

    <><>​

    2350 Hours

    Coil


    Thomas Calvert slept the sleep of the clear of conscience, and those who had no conscience at all. Only in one of his instances was he actually asleep, so his dreams were lucid, populated with the goings-on of the other instance. This was a useful trick to have, so he made use of it as often as he could.

    In the instance where he was awake, he was hard at work in his office in the underground base. Every mercenary was up and active. Eight were patrolling in pairs around the exterior exits, dressed as local security, while the rest were either moving through the base in regular sweep patterns or resting in their bunks, fully uniformed with their weapons beside them.

    In the other instance, he was asleep in bed in his suburban house, with a pistol under his pillow. He had paid extra for a security panel that required a key to be inserted and turned for it to be disabled, and right now the only way to get to him was through one of three rooms covered by that security panel. And even if Atropos was coming after him under his real name, the house had been purchased under a false identity for just such a situation as this.

    Seated in his office, he flicked his eyes at the alarm clock he'd placed on his desk. Then he picked up the radio that sat alongside the clock. "Security check, please."

    "Security check, yes, sir."

    He heard the names being read off and the code-phrase responses. Everyone answered correctly, as expected. But why were the hairs raising on the back of his neck?

    "Check again," he ordered. "Secondary codes."

    "Secondary codes, yes, sir."

    This time, the names were only half done when a yellow light blipped up on his monitor. Unauthorised door opening. The sewer entrance. "Who opened the sewer entrance?"

    "Blake and Senegal are out there, sir. They just answered with the correct phrases." He could hear running feet in the background, and people calling commands without using the radio net.

    "Well, someone just got past them!" The hairs all down his spine were flaring now. He jumped to his feet and grabbed his pistol.

    "On site now, sir. It's Blake. He—" There was the sound of a shot, both over the radio and through the base, and the signal cut out.

    With the pistol in hand, he took up the radio and flattened himself to the wall next to his office doorway. "Somebody report. Now."

    "Blake's gone nuts!" someone else shouted over the radio. There was the sound of gunfire and lasers going off in the background. "Get him!"

    "That's not Blake." He forced himself to keep his voice steady. "That is Atropos. Shoot her."

    More gunfire rang out, but he couldn't tell who was winning, or even who was firing. Slapping the emergency-close on the sliding door—it couldn't be opened from the outside without using a code that only he knew—he threw himself into the computer chair. A click of the mouse (his pistol was in his left hand, because he wasn't stupid) brought him to the feeds for all the security cameras in the base.

    What he saw was … horrifying. The person wearing Blake's armour was steadily advancing against his troopers, carrying a pistol in each hand, casually side-stepping around incoming fire—bullets and lasers both—and dropping a trooper with each shot from the pistols. Thomas even saw the intruder firing in two different directions and killing both targets at the same time.

    He'd only seen such impossible capability once before, but he knew it couldn't be her this time. The bogeyman of Cauldron had ways of appearing inside locked rooms; she didn't have to sneak in and kill all his men.

    There was something odd with her profile as she stepped onto the catwalk leading to his office. He zoomed in with the closest camera, and blinked. Somewhere along the way, she had discarded Blake's helmet, and the rest of his armour. Now, she was wearing a black broad-brimmed hat, uncomfortably reminiscent of the Cauldron cape. Beneath that, she wore a black morph mask and long-coat, just as she'd been described on PHO. The coat was a little tattered and frayed from a few laser shots that had pierced it, but it only made her look scarier.

    With a final flurry of shots, she dispatched the last of the mercenaries brave enough to go up against her. More than three-quarters of his guard force had already been destroyed, the only ones not yet dead or wounded being those who hadn't broken cover.

    Now she stood before the door to his office; his sanctum sanctorum. Three inches of metal, sandwiched with radar-reflective material, ensured that she couldn't get through to kill him. In the meantime, he certainly intended to kill her.

    Clicking on the mouse, he called up a particular menu. While constructing the base, installing the self-destruct explosives had been time-consuming and dangerous, but he'd made sure it happened anyway. Those who participated in that aspect all got lavish bonuses, and lovely funerals. Now, it was going to pay for itself—

    The door beeped and slid aside.

    What the fuck?

    Caught on the back foot, he tried to swing his pistol to shoot the figure looming in the doorway, but a boot lashed upward. The gun was smashed from his hand, and he felt his trigger finger snap.

    "Hey, asshole." The voice was that of a teenage girl. "Thought I told you to get out of town. It's two minutes to midnight. Any last words?"

    As she spoke, she blocked the swipe of his fighting knife with what looked like a pair of shears, kicked him in the groin, and disarmed him with insulting ease. Then she smacked him on the head with the butt of the pistol, making his ears ring.

    When his head cleared, he found himself wrapped up in rope, immobilising his arms at his sides. There was also a noose around his neck. "What—what do you want?" he rasped.

    She frog-marched him out the door of his office, where he saw that the rope that had been tied around him was actually looped through the rail of the catwalk.

    "From you? Nothing. I said you were gonna die at midnight. And it's midnight."

    He felt an irresistible shove, then he went over the rail. Shit—I'm the counterweight—I'm going to hang myself—

    Then he hit the end of the rope, and that timeline closed.

    Safe at home, he sat up in bed, breathing hard. Fuck. That was terrifying.

    "Hey, asshole." The black-masked figure seated in the armchair raised her pistol as the floor-lamp clicked on. "Thought I told you to get out of town."

    <><>​

    Taylor

    The look of sheer, unadulterated terror on Coil's face as he saw me made all the prep so worth it. I'd been wondering what the key was for, right up until I broke into the unassuming house in the suburbs to find a high-powered security system waiting for me. With that sorted out, I'd carried the armchair and floor-lamp into his bedroom and set things up to wait for when my power told me was the right time.

    A sudden reek in the air told me that he'd pissed himself. In a way, he was lucky; he wasn't the one who was going to have to change the sheets. I waited patiently. In a moment, he'd remember the pistol under the pillow—

    He was actually pretty fast, his hand sliding under there and out again with the gun already pointed at me. There was no bullshit about trying to tell me to drop my gun; he just started firing. Or, well, tried to. There was one dry click, followed by a lot of useless trigger pulls.

    I opened my left hand and tilted it, allowing the cartridges to spill from it onto the bedroom carpet. Then I came to my feet, my pistol never wavering from his head. "Now," I said. "You were warned. It's midnight. Any last words?"

    "You have no idea what you're getting into," he spat, his courage apparently building again. "I have friends—"

    Pulling the shears from their sheath, I plunged them into his throat and ripped out sideways. The keen edge sliced through his carotids, windpipe and jugular quite easily, and I sidestepped the resultant spray. For a skinny guy, I had to admit, he had an impressive amount of blood in him.

    Past tense, of course.

    As he watched me in rapidly fading horror, red pulsing from between his vainly clutching fingers, I holstered the pistol. The costume that I'd removed from its hiding place was draped over the back of the armchair; I grabbed it and tossed it to land over his body. "That's nice," I said, stepping back from the rapidly spreading pool of crimson on the floor. "Everyone should have friends."

    Strolling out into the living room, I paused in front of his high-end computer. There was a handy pen, so I scribbled down his passwords on a note I left tucked under the mouse. The Path to ending Coil's influence went quite a bit further than ending Coil himself, apparently. I'd also amused myself earlier by leaving Post-It notes saying SAFE HERE wherever he'd hidden a safe in the house. There were more than I would've expected.

    When I left the house (I washed the shears off first in his sink), I thoughtfully engaged the security system, but at the lower setting so that nobody would need a key to get past it. Then I got back in the car and drove off, removing my hat and morph mask before I did so.

    Why no, officer, I've never even heard of Atropos.

    My next stop was the Medhall building. Kaiser would've been staying up until midnight with all his security on high alert; by the time I got there, they'd be winding it back so everyone could get a good morning's sleep. While I could sneak in and kill him now, I'd said midnight and so midnight it would be.

    However, I hadn't said anything about not making preparations.



    End of Part Six

    Relevant Side Story
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2022
    Victory00, PrimarchXI, Lufio and 94 others like this.
  24. GasperVladi0

    GasperVladi0 (Confirmed Nurgle Cultist)

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    slow impressed claps. That was everything I dreamed it to be, Taylor's Path to Murder clearly has a sense of style and I absolutely respect it.
     
  25. FictionPack

    FictionPack Getting sticky.

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    She's started pulling out the classic femme fatale tropes now.
     
  26. Hanlock5

    Hanlock5 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    26
    Sorry, but I'm still struck with awe at the shear level of casual brutality this chapter evoked. Totally satisfying, yet still I feel the smallest vestige of pity for the fools who refuse to run.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2022
  27. Gaemnomut

    Gaemnomut Experienced.

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    Gad daaaamn. Great update
     
  28. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    Well that was a fun ride.
    FTFY. :D
     
  29. SailorOfMyVessel

    SailorOfMyVessel Writer of plot, with some Plot for pleasure.

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    Oh Ack, you spoil us so.

    As an aside, I appreciate how Taylor's power took the ideal route to killing all of them without scaring the others off.

    Nobody cares about Skidmark and he's high as a kite so he gets to go last.

    Coil's an unknown but would run the moment Kaiser or Lung drops. If Skidmark went he'd double up on security and all. Kaiser and Lung probably don't assume too much trouble especially if it gets out he died in civvie.

    Lung dies? Kaiser probably reconsiders not running. Coil would be out of the country.

    Kaiser dies? He's just a tin man to Lung, he could've taken him if it was one on 'most of the empire' so Lung ain't running.
     
  30. Threadmarks: Part Seven: Consequences and Preparations
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    A Darker Path

    Part Seven: Consequences and Preparations

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



    ■​

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    ■​

    ♦ Topic: Fixing Brockton Bay, One Corpse At a Time
    In: Boards ► Brockton Bay ► New Capes ► Atropos

    Atropos
    (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Posted On Jan 5th 2011:

    So ... I thought I'd formalize things by opening my own thread here. That way I'm not cluttering things up for other new capes.

    I am pleased to inform you that my plan for cleaning up Brockton Bay is going well. Two hours ago, I faced off with none other than Coil.

    Needless to say, he is no longer among the living.

    He leaves behind no wife, no kids, no pets, just an underground Bond villain base and a bunch of mercenaries, villains and PRT moles who used to be on his payroll.

    That is, moles in the PRT, not moles from the PRT.

    Also, guys, you might want to do a headcount of your strike squad commanders. Just saying.

    So anyway, there are three people left from my original list. Lung, Kaiser and Skidmark. If you are all not out of town or surrendered to the PRT in twenty-two hours (ie, 24 hours from midnight just gone) Imma kill one of you.

    Oh, and could someone wake Skidmark up? The idiot still doesn't know about this.

    Toodles!

    (Showing page 1 of 10)
    ►Reave (Verified PRT Agent)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    @Atropos - If this is true, it's very serious. You need to come in or at least tell us who the moles are.
    The offer is still open for you to hand yourself in.

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    @Reave - DM sent. You should find answers to all your questions at this address. Alarm code is 09435112.
    Still not interested, sorry.

    ►Wherewolf
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    What? Coil? Not Kaiser?
    Dammit, I just lost ten bucks.

    ►TeamMom (Senior Moderator)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    @Atropos - how are you doing this? It's very irritating.

    ►PureBlood01011000 (Empire88Bootlicker)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    @Wherewolf - you bet that Kaiser would die to this pretender? Watch your back.

    ►PureBlood01011000 (Empire88Bootlicker)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    What the fuck? Where did that tag come from?

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    @TeamMom - If you put barriers in my way, I can kill them. Simple as that.
    @Pureblood01011000 - if the racist shoe fits ...

    ►LotusBlade (Lung's Special Little Friend)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    The pretender boasts
    Their looming fate approaching
    Atropos will burn.

    ►LotusBlade (Lung's Special Little Friend)
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    What? No! Remove the tag immediately! That's not what I am!
    End of Page. 1, 2, 3 ... 8, 9, 10

    (Showing page 2 of 10)
    ►UnconcernedFox
    Replied On Jan 5th 2011:
    *gets more popcorn*​
    <><>​

    Tattletale

    Lisa stared at the screen and scrubbed her hands over her face. Then she took a drink from her cup, making a sour face at the tepid coffee. Slowly, she put it down again, hands quivering from the mixed feelings of terror and glee.

    "He's dead," she whispered, if only to hear it for herself. "Holy fuck, he's dead."

    A moment later, she sat up straight as her eyes were drawn back to the text on the screen. Her power, which she'd allowed to relax for a moment, flared to life again. 'You should find answers to all your questions ...'

    "Shit!" This time, she was much louder. The coffee went unheeded as adrenaline started coursing through her bloodstream in industrial quantities. "He knew everything about us, and she just turned over all his secrets to the PRT!" By now she was on her feet, slapping her laptop closed. "Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! GUYS!"

    Nobody answered, of course, though there was a sleepy 'woof' from the direction of the room where Rachel kept her dogs. Everyone was fast asleep, and she was pretty sure Alec would slumber through an Endbringer attack if people let him. Worse, he could be a total goblin if he thought people had deliberately disturbed his beauty sleep.

    Right now, Lisa couldn't give a flying fuck about his precious feelings. Wrenching his door open, she switched on the light, grabbed him, and shook him by the shoulders. "Wake up!" she screamed. "The PRT is on the way!" He came awake with a convulsive heave that dumped him on the floor.

    By now, the noise had woken Rachel's dogs, which had in turn roused Rachel. When Lisa opened her door and hit the light switch, her teammate was already sitting up in bed. "What the fuck?"

    Lisa stopped to take a breath, fully aware that Rachel was the most likely to ignore what she had to say if she presented it wrongly. "The PRT is coming here, to this hideout, right now. They know we're here, and they will kick down the door and arrest us."

    Rachel blinked and rubbed her eyes. "What? How do they know where we are?"

    Lisa wanted to scream. Life would be so much easier if people just accepted what she had to say. "Our secret boss was Coil. He got killed a couple of hours ago. The person who killed him just gave the PRT access to all his information, including everything he knew about us. Which means the PRT will be on the way here as soon as they start accessing his files."

    "Oh." Rachel yawned and scratched her head. "Why didn't you tell us about Coil being our boss before?"

    "Because he told me not to." Lisa wanted to tear her own hair out. "And it wasn't important then. Now he's dead, and it's very important, so I'm telling you."

    "What's this about the PRT?" Alec had emerged from his room. "Why are they coming here?"

    Lisa stepped back and half-turned, so she could talk to both of them. "There's a new cape on the scene, called Atropos. You know how Oni Lee is dead? Yeah, that was her."

    "Atropos?" Alec yawned as he leaned against the door-frame. "Isn't that the crazy cape who put out the challenge against the gangs?"

    "Yes." Lisa tried not to grit her teeth. How many times was she going to have to explain this? "She killed Coil tonight. He was our secret boss. And she just told the PRT where to find all his files ... which would include the files he had on us. So pack what you really can't part with, because in the next hour or two, we're going to have some unwelcome visitors. And I don't intend to be here for that."

    "But why—" whined Alec, just as Lisa opened the door to her own room.

    She whirled to confront him. "Why did Atropos kill Coil? Because she wanted to! Why did Coil have files on us? Because he was a controlling micromanaging piece of shit! Why did she tell them where the files were? Because she wants to end everything about him, and that includes the Undersiders! Does that answer your question?"

    He stared at her, then shook his head. "I was gonna ask, if it's all a big game of cops and robbers like you keep saying, why would the PRT raid our hideout? I mean, that's kind of against the unwritten rules and stuff, right?"

    She rolled her eyes. "It's all a game, until someone with the chops to make it stick decides it isn't. I'd love for it to be anything else, but my intuition says they're gonna raid us, so I'm going with that."

    Deliberately turning her back on him, she stomped into her room.

    She didn't even own a suitcase—dragging one around when she was homeless would've been too much like work, and buying one once she'd been settled with the Undersiders hadn't seemed like a great idea. There was no sense in letting Coil think she was about to make a run for it, just in case he took the possibility seriously.

    If she was going to disappear, she'd known, she would have to run far and fast, and travel light. Unfortunately, over the weeks and months with the Undersiders, she'd managed to acquire more stuff than she could easily run with. Having lots of disposable cash kind of led to that sort of thing.

    Reaching under her bed, she dragged out the ratty overnight bag she'd been stashing her belongings in before Coil's men grabbed her. Underwear went in first, along with her most treasured outfits. A few trinkets from her nightstand followed those, then she stood in the middle of the room, trying to decide what else she loved too much to leave behind. She grimaced; it was either everything, or nothing.

    Darting out of her bedroom, she nearly collided with Rachel. "Clear the tinned food out of the pantry!" she shouted. "Stack it on the table, we'll each take some!"

    "Plus can openers!" Alec retorted from somewhere out of sight. "I made that mistake once! Never again!"

    Did they even have three can openers? Lisa wasn't sure, and she wasn't about to use her power for such a pointless job. She ducked into the bathroom and grabbed her towel off the rail, then scooped her toiletries into the bag as well. It was a good thing Rachel was the only other girl in the Undersiders; there was no way in hell their toiletries would ever get mixed up. Though she was pretty sure Alec stole her shampoo sometimes.

    She nearly tripped over a dog as she left the bathroom, stepped aside for Rachel, then made her way past Alec into the living room. Her laptop still sat on the sofa, alongside her phone. The latter she shoved in her pocket, the former into the now very full overnight bag. As an afterthought, she collected the chargers as well.

    "My saved games …" mourned Alec, staring at the multiple consoles as though he was seriously considering shoving them all in his luggage.

    "Fuck 'em," she advised. "Take the game discs, you've got your savings, you can buy the rest of the stuff elsewhere."

    Rachel emerged from the corridor, dressed and ready to go, a backpack slung over her shoulder. At her back, the dogs were already starting to grow. "And Atropos did this? She killed Coil and told the PRT where his files on us were?"

    "Not us specifically," Lisa said. "But yeah. Where his files were." She paused, staring at Rachel, and shook her head. "Don't even think about going after her. She's more dangerous than all of us put together. She's more dangerous than Lung and Oni Lee put together. We need to walk away from this."

    Stubbornly, Rachel shook her head. "Someone fucks me up, I fuck them up. She fucked with us."

    "Shit, no." Lisa shook her head again. "Bad idea. Really fucking bad idea. If we walk away, we're off her radar. If we go after her, she kills us. She's like Alexandria-plus levels of do-not-fuck-with."

    "What, she's that dangerous?" Alec shook his head. "I thought she was just another moron biting off more than she could chew."

    Lisa put her overnight bag down briefly so she could run her hands through her hair in frustration. "She shot Oni Lee in the face with his own gun. That is not the sign of someone biting off more than they can chew."

    "Anyone can get lucky …" Alec began dubiously.

    "There's lucky, and then there's Atropos." Lisa felt a migraine growing, from sheer irritation. "Coil was in a safe house, and she broke in and killed him. At midnight exactly, when she'd said she would. If you decide to go after her, you'll never see her until she puts the gun to the back of your head."

    "But—" Rachel began, then looked back at her dogs when they began barking. "Shit, someone's coming."

    Lisa dipped into her power, and the very faint background humming suddenly became clear to her. "Armsmaster and the PRT! They're here!"

    "Grow your dogs!" Alec shouted at Rachel, scrambling to put his mask on. Lisa swore as she tried to affix her own mask one-handed; she hadn't had time to apply the eye makeup yet, but that was way down the list of her problems right now. Slightly higher in priority were the tinned goods, in the kitchen area at the far end of the loft. Too late now.

    "What do you think I'm fucking doing?" Rachel's teeth were bared as she snarled back at Alec. "And don't tell me what to do!"

    "Watch the consoles!" yelped Alec, as the skittish dogs, now getting ever larger with their skin splitting and bone spurs growing, bulked toward the expensive (and delicate) items.

    "Fuck the consoles!" snapped Rachel, and gave a brief whistle. One of the dogs deliberately nudged the TV, and it fell over with a shattering crash.

    Zipping up her bag with an effort, Lisa slung the whole thing onto her back. Note to self. Get a backpack.

    "ATTENTION, UNDERSIDERS. THE BUILDING IS SURROUNDED. SURRENDER IMMEDIATELY. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE." The bull-horn from outside echoed badly, but she could still recognise Armsmaster's voice.

    "Fuck, time to go!" Alec scrambled up onto Brutus. Rachel was already astride Angelica. Lisa grabbed a bone spur and pulled herself onto Judas' back.

    She hung on for dear life as the gigantic dogs barrelled toward the window covering one side of the loft; ducking her head, she covered her face with her arm as the shattering glass flew around her. A tremendous impact and the weight of her bag nearly unseated her, but she grabbed a new handgrip. The enormous beast clawed its way up the building on the far side of the narrow street, and gained the rooftop.

    When she glanced around, Alec and Rachel were still on their dogs, though Alec seemed to have lost the bag he'd packed. He didn't seem willing to go back and get it. Rachel gave a sharp whistle, and the three dogs set out across the rooftops.

    Once Lisa felt herself secure in her seating, she pulled her phone out of her pocket. Speed-dialling Brian wasn't the easiest thing to do from the back of a galloping dog, but she managed. Come on, she silently urged him. Pick up. Pick up.

    He'd never wanted to live in the loft with the rest of them, preferring his own apartment. They'd had more than one argument on the topic, but if he was safe now because of it, she would concede the subject forever.

    The phone call went through. "Hello?" It was a masculine voice, but not Brian. "Who is this?"

    Lisa's power flared. PRT. They got to him first. Fuck. "Sorry," she said brightly. "Wrong number." Ending the call, she tossed the phone out over the yawning gulf of a darkened street.

    Alec looked over at her. "Brian?" From the tone of his voice, he'd picked up on what had happened.

    She shook her head. "They got him."

    "Shit."

    The dogs galloped on through the night.

    <><>​

    Saint

    "Okay, that's weird …" Geoff Pellick leaned back in his chair, rubbing his finger and thumb over his chin.

    Mags looked around from where she was disassembling and cleaning her pistol. "You're going to have to narrow it down a little, love."

    "This, right here." Geoff gestured at the screen. "There's a new cape in this place called Brockton Bay. Kind of a shithole, and they've got more gangs than you can poke a stick at. This 'Atropos' has decided that they're going to be the one to clean up the gangs, by murdering the gang leaders."

    "So, going the Gavel route. Not the first, won't be the last. What's so weird about it?" She kept scrubbing the tiny piece she had in hand.

    "This." Geoff tapped a spot on the screen with his fingernail. "When Atropos went onto PHO to boast about what they were doing, the mods tried to shut them down. Atropos hacked the boards, and beat both a threadban and a threadlock. So Dragon tried to shut them down."

    Mags put the bits and pieces down and turned to face him. "You mean, she failed?"

    Geoff nodded, not sure if he was feeling fear or excitement. "It failed, because Atropos used the exact same code string we use to spoof its sensors, to lock it out. Somehow, Atropos has access to Dragon's weaknesses."

    "So, is this a good thing or a bad thing?" she asked. "Good thing, right? More people to keep her in check?"

    "Maybe …" Making up his mind, he paused and shook his head. "No. No, it's not. We don't know Atropos, we don't know how they got access to the code string, we don't know what else they have access to, and above all we don't know what their intentions are. What if they want to free Dragon? Or somehow inoculate it against the string? Immunise it against Ascalon?"

    Mags frowned. "Is that even possible? I think you're reaching, just a little bit."

    "But am I?" Geoff gestured at the computer screen. "Everything was okay when we were the only ones with our hands on the reins. But now there's someone else who could theoretically yank it off course. Maybe even send it at us."

    "Has Atropos done more than hide from Dragon?" asked Mags, in a reasonable tone of voice.

    "Well, no," Geoff said sarcastically, "not unless you count the cold-blooded murder of two major criminal capes in thirty-six hours. This Atropos is not only going the Gavel route, but they're succeeding. Is this really the sort of person we want with any sort of control over Dragon?"

    He'd scored then, he could tell. Mags blinked.

    "What do you think we should do?" she asked.

    "Easy solution? We shut down Dragon now, for good." He tapped his fingers against the edge of the desk. "Cuts the problem off at the pass, once and for all."

    "It also deprives us of all access to Dragon's tech," Mags reminded him. "And don't forget, she's the one who maintains the Birdcage. Besides, she literally hasn't done anything to require a shutdown."

    He hated to admit it, but she was right. "Okay, slightly harder solution. We go to Brockton Bay and deal with Atropos. If anyone's going to keep an eye on Dragon, it's us."

    Mags nodded. "Yeah, let's do that."

    <><>​

    A Little Earlier

    Armsmaster


    Colin slowed his bike to a stop outside the suburban house. A single PRT sedan was parked outside, the front door of the house wide open, and the interior lights on. Stepping off his ride, he set it to auto-scan the vicinity for hostile intent. Briefly, he peered at the mailbox, then headed for the front door.

    "Armsmaster, on site," he announced as he stepped into the house; no sense in startling the troopers already in the building. "Are you aware you're at the wrong address?"

    "That's news to me," one of the troopers replied. Her name tag read RICHARDSON. "Why do you say that, sir?"

    "The number on the mailbox reads nine-zero-nine." Colin gestured to the door. "It looks as though someone moved the number on the door. Calvert's address of record is across the road and down a little way. But you say the body you found is Calvert's?"

    "As close as I can tell without touching him." Richardson shrugged. "The costume looks about the right size, though I'll leave that for the techs. But it looks like Atropos has a sense of the dramatic."

    "What do you mean by that?" Colin had a bad feeling about this. Murderers were bad enough even without trying to make a production out of it.

    "Here, sir, I'll show you." Richardson beckoned. Colin moved up to the bedroom doorway and peered in. "See this armchair and floor lamp? They belong outside, in the living room. And that pile of ammunition? Belongs in the gun he dropped when Atropos cut his throat. He was asleep, Atropos set the scene, then played it out when he woke up."

    "Yes, I see it now." Colin nodded. "Guard the room. Make sure nobody gets in before the techs do."

    "Copy that, sir."

    Colin headed back along the corridor to the living room. "Do we have anything else?" he asked the other trooper; the man's ID tag read WAYNE.

    "Couple of things, sir. Someone, possibly Atropos, went around the house leaving Post-It notes wherever Calvert had a hidden safe. We've found six so far. Also, they left a note with Calvert's passwords for his computer setup here."

    "Really." Colin's head came up. "I'm going to need to see that." He located a sturdy-looking chair and placed it in front of the computer, then cautiously lowered himself into it. It creaked, but held for the moment.

    "Uh, sir?" ventured the trooper. "Maybe we should wait for the techs to look at that, as well?"

    "No time," Colin replied brusquely. "We have to assume that whoever else was affiliated with him also reads PHO. If they don't know he's dead yet, they will by morning. We need to know what's in these files now."

    Using his HUD, he activated a call-out on Dragon's dedicated line. The computer powered up while he waited, appearing to be a perfectly normal stand-alone home terminal.

    He didn't trust it for an instant.

    "Hi, Colin." Dragon's avatar popped up in his HUD. "So you heard about Coil?"

    "More than that. I'm at the murder scene." He set his jaw grimly. "It's worse than we imagined. Coil was Thomas Calvert, and he was found at an address we weren't aware that he owned."

    "Crap." Her avatar's eyes widened momentarily. "I did not see that coming. So, do you need me for crime scene analysis? Because I'm in the mood for ripping some data apart. It's been a frustrating morning."

    "Not that exactly, no. But if you want to rant later, I'm willing to listen." He gave her access to his helmet camera. "This is his home computer. And Atropos left all his passwords for us."

    "Oh," she said softly. "Really." Her avatar smiled grimly.

    "Really," he agreed, and extended a cord from his gauntlet to plug into the computer. Immediately, the screen began to pop up windows almost too fast for him to read, as Dragon unleashed her proprietary hacking software on it. Having the passwords made it even easier, though he could tell Dragon was sandboxing the computer before trying each password, just in case one was a 'wipe all' screw-you.

    Minutes passed by and another squad of PRT troopers showed up, but they left Colin alone. And then, one of the flickering windows paused. "Colin … I find myself facing a dilemma."

    "Why, what's the problem?" He scanned the window, but it was blank.

    "I've just discovered that Coil was payrolling the Undersiders, and has complete information for where to find all of them, right now."

    Excitement sent spikes of adrenaline through his bloodstream. "I'm definitely interested in that. Where's the dilemma?"

    Her tone was reluctant. "This threatens to cross the line prohibiting us from attacking them at home. Out of costume. The unspoken rules …"

    "Don't apply in this circumstance." He spoke firmly. "They're accomplices of Coil, and so there's a strong chance they know what he knew about PRT inner workings. Left to go free, they're a clear and present security threat. We have to bring them in."

    She sighed. "I thought you might say something like that. Upload incoming."

    <><>​

    Winslow High School
    Computer Studies

    Taylor


    I had to admit, Winslow was a fuck-ton more bearable since I'd murdered Sophia. Emma wouldn't even meet my eyes, Madison very politely said hello whenever we encountered each other … and that was it. Nobody tried to trip me in the halls, there were no hilarious pranks involving problematic substances on my seat or in my locker, and the number of salacious rumours circulating about me equalled zero.

    It was almost like nobody wanted to get on my bad side, or something. Huh.

    Of course, being at school was still boring, but on the upside, it gave me plenty of time to plan the deaths of Kaiser, Lung and Skidmark. And as I got access to a computer in my home room period, I could also keep tabs on the reaction to what I'd already done. I wasn't at home, so I couldn't stir the pot, but it gave me a certain amount of amusement to read the slowly exploding thread.

    And it also, once I finished the assignment Mrs Knott had given us, gave me the opportunity to do something else. This time, I proxied into the PRT's own servers, making it look as though the input was coming from within the building. I didn't do anything to wreck the computer system (though I easily could have); instead, I set the virus it to trip via a specific stimulus and edit certain footage, then self-destruct after it was done.

    With a sigh of satisfaction, I finished my task and shut the computer down less than thirty seconds before the bell. I did so enjoy it when a plan was coming together nicely.

    <><>​

    Medhall Building

    Kaiser


    "Shit."

    Max looked around at Victor's softly voiced curse. As his resident computer security guru, any time Victor showed unhappiness, this was a bad thing.

    "What is it?" he asked. He'd already seen the PHO thread from earlier in the morning, claiming Coil's death and hinting that the secretive crime boss had shared some links with the PRT itself. While he didn't put much stock in that—anyone could make any assertion without providing proof—it was something he was definitely going to push to get out there. Anything that weakened the credibility of the PRT was fine by him.

    "Last night, while we were holed up in here." Victor clicked the mouse, and muttered another swear-word. "Someone nearly got in. They tried the elevators and got nowhere, but they were sniffing around our secure setup down here, and damn near cracked the encryption. It looks like they tried to spike the electrical system, and came close to succeeding. Blew a few fuses, tripped a few breakers." He took a deep breath. "And whoever it is might be directly connected to the Empire."

    "What?" Max was startled now. "Why do you say that?"

    "Because the PHO posts trace back to our IP address." Victor looked over at Max. "Now, it could just be a talented hacker, or it could be someone on the inside. Either way, we can't rely on purely electronic security."

    "So what's that mean to me?" asked Max. "Us, I mean?" He knew what he'd meant. From the look on Victor's face, so did the skill thief.

    "They might just have left a back door in the programming down here," Victor decided. "The doors are too easy to get through. I can't guarantee that they'll fail again if they try tonight."

    "Well, my house security is clearly less secure still," Max snapped. "So where would you have me go?" His glare dared Victor to suggest leaving town after all.

    "Up," Victor said unexpectedly. "Your office. There's even more security between there and any ground level entry, and we'll be physically watching all the doors. Plus, we can leave some tempting avenues of entry so when Atropos does try for you, we can end them once and for all."

    Max nodded. "I like it. Set it up."

    You want me? he silently challenged Atropos. Come get me.

    <><>​

    That Afternoon
    PRT Building

    Taylor


    Hands in my hoodie pockets, I slouched along with the tour group, pretending to ooh and ahh along with everyone else at the display of trophies garnered from defeated villains in years gone by. Every aspect of my body language indicated someone who wasn't worth noticing, who could be safely ignored. Alone in the group, I hadn't asked a question or drawn attention to myself in some other way.

    We went down in the elevator, and along a corridor sharing a long series of windows with the PRT laboratories. This was where I wanted to be; on the other side of those windows were several items I needed and could not easily get anywhere else. Thus, my need to turn to the PRT for my one-stop shopping.

    Ironically, I was willing to bet that there were some among the staff who would give me what I wanted free and gratis if they knew what I wanted it for. But all those pesky rules and regulations got in the way, so I had to do it this way.

    Easing to the back of the group, I waited until I came up to a fire alarm panel, and put my plan into action. In actuality, it was more than just a fire alarm panel; there were many things within these walls that could cause a much greater hazard than fire. In an attempt to prevent what I was about to do, it could only be activated via a swipe-card reader or a keypad with a three-digit PIN. I could have palmed the tour guide's card, but I went with the keypad instead.

    When I entered the PIN, the little cover popped open, giving me access to a wide variety of emergency options. I decided on 'bio-organic acid' as being the one most likely to make people scream and run. It also came with a handy ceiling-mounted spray of soothing counteragents. In this particular case, it did exactly nothing, but provided me with excellent visual cover.

    Lights flashed, sirens blared, and evacuation alarms began sounding. I ignored it all, darting instead to the nearest lab door and tapping in the appropriate code to open it. Once inside, I moved with absolute economy of action, despite the fact that I couldn't see a thing. Within thirty seconds, I was letting myself out through the next door along, with two glass containers and a plastic bag of tiny capsules taking up room in my pockets. I was also wearing a white lab coat over my hoodie, because why not.

    A PRT trooper loomed at me through the thinning fog. I could see his suspicion glaring in the back of my mind, so I stepped aside, tripped him, and foamed him with his own gun.

    Then I sprinted for the emergency exit.

    Five very tumultuous minutes later, during which I jostled to the exit among other white-coated figures, evaded another trooper, and tased a third one, I finally made it into the clear. Shrugging off my borrowed coat, I folded it and hid it under my hoodie; it was part of my later plans.

    Finally, I fished my brand-new burner phone out of my pants pocket and sent a specific signal. Humming to myself, I put my phone away and strolled toward the nearest bus stop. I had the ingredients to kill Lung; all I had to do now was put them together.

    <><>​

    PRT Building

    Director Emily Piggot


    "What do you mean, you don't have a workable image of the intruder?" Emily wanted to scream at the sweating tech, but she kept her voice level ... mostly. "Someone waltzes into my building, trips the alarm, performs a heist from the research laboratory, and we can't even identify them?"

    "Uh ... we can identify the intruder," the tech ventured. "We just don't know who she is."

    He hit a key, and security footage began playing. It was a shot of the tour group walking along a hallway; the one at the rear looked up and waved cheekily at the camera. That person, Emily observed with steadily increasing disbelief, was wearing the PRT's best guess at Atropos' costume; black hat, morph mask, long-coat, suit and tie, everything.

    "Please tell me," she said slowly, "she wasn't wearing that on the tour."

    The tech shook his head. "No, ma'am. At our best guess, she somehow infiltrated us with a virus that overwrote our security video files with that image. I've been through every second of it. It never blips, even once. Best deepfake I ever saw."

    Emily sighed in aggravation. "Do we at least know what Atropos took?"

    One of the lab techs took over. "Yes, ma'am. A selection of small capsules, teflon-lined for transporting samples of dangerous chemicals, a container of hydrofluoric acid, and a container of antimony trifluoride. Nothing overly valuable, but I would hazard a guess that she knew exactly what she was looking for."

    "What can be made with those?" She didn't want to know the answer, but she asked the question anyway.

    "Well, ma'am, if you take the antimony trifluoride ..."

    "Short answer," she ordered. "Worst case scenario?"

    "Worst case scenario?" He didn't have to think long. "Fluoroantimonic acid. Eats straight through glass, reacts violently when it contacts water, and emits corrosive hydrogen fluoride gas while doing so. Teflon's one of the only things that can contain it."

    She'd been right. She didn't want to know.



    End of Part Seven

    Relevant Side Story
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2022
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