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A Darker Path [Worm Fanfic]

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

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  1. Diraniola

    Diraniola I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I'll concede the point, forgot about that one.

    Just because it was handled correctly doesn't mean it doesn't count.
     
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  2. Highlord

    Highlord I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Weaponizing a dust explosion. Yikes.

    That rumble was felt all over the docks. Literally every emergency responder available will be on site, because a kaboom of that magnitude can't be ignored, let alone the ensuing fires. HAZMAT will follow when it becomes known whats burning.

    I imagine it will be Danny that deflates some of Taylor's victory high after this one because of how stupidly dangerous that was. I'm not saying Taylor didn't have a handle on the setup and detonation itself, as well as making sure she and her friends were safe, but does her Path to Ending also handle "Path to keeping it contained?"



    To put that in perspective, in my town we had a grain elevator blow due to a dust explosion. Rather than just destroying a giant reinforced-concrete structure, it cracked open an old sewer main, igniting the gasses therein, and caused a chain reaction that blew up not only the whole (poorly maintained) sewer system in that part of the old commercial area, but also triggered a second dust explosion in an animal feed plant six blocks away when the manhole in their interior loading dock blew out on a pillar of fire.

    One in a million occurrence in a run down and poorly maintained part of town, yeah. But what are the Docks in Brockton again?

    Still, cool as hell though. I approve, though my inner OSHA inspector does not. :)
     
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  3. Golden_Simian

    Golden_Simian Gorilla Appreciator

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    Anyone else think this line is kinda cool?
     
  4. MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot

    MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah, that was my thought, too. Sure, she destroyed some drugs, but odds are that she's going to get a bunch of people caught up in toxic clouds and/or secondary explosions if she didn't explicitly path for that, too. And as we saw with the dealer-out-the-window thing, if she's not explicit with her paths they default to killing.

    Meh? Kinda edgelord? Then again, she's a fifteen-year-old mass murderer, so it's to be expected.
     
  5. Highlord

    Highlord I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Eh, semantics. Taylor isn't a mass murderer.

    If anything, I'd call her a pest control specialist.
     
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  6. MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot

    MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot Not too sore, are you?

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    She's killed at the very least dozens so far, sometimes at a single incident. She's definitely a mass murderer. One could even argue she's a serial killer since the type of people she kills tend to be similar. Doesn't make a bad thing, but she is what she is.
     
  7. Lovhes

    Lovhes Getting sticky.

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    I think the paths Taylor walked would mitigate collateral damage, since iirc Taylor is still running the path to kill prt distrust of her. Massive collateral damage would definitely increase prt distrust of her.
     
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  8. Highlord

    Highlord I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    She may know that, but others don't. And even if she minimizes collateral as a reflex, getting called on it would still do her some good by making her start actively thinking about.
     
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  9. MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot

    MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot Not too sore, are you?

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    That's a very good point that I'd missed. If her paths even follow her instinctive desires, like "protect Aisha" even if she didn't explicitly run that one, then this should be covered. The flip side of this is that I'm not 100% sure her power works that way, since it's "path to endings" rather than "path to victory". It's a bit unclear what the difference is in the story, since it frequently wanders from one to the other and back. Her "protect Aisha" did involve killing a guy until she double-checked it, and even after that it involved badly maiming two people, so I'm not sure it's good at protection at all, except in the case where doing extra damage goes directly against a path like "kill PRT distrust of me".
     
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  10. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    Before Chapter 18, she'd killed eight people (Stalker, Oni Lee, the four gang bosses, the two ABB idiots).

    Since then, she's killed one enforcer and the dozen or so people in that one stash house.

    It's all about making the other people lose, rather than gaining her stuff.

    It protects the people she wants protected by pointing out who's looking to harm them.
     
  11. Threadmarks: Part Nineteen: Preparations
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    A Darker Path

    Part Nineteen: Preparations

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



    Atropos

    As we drove away from the still-burning warehouse—all the cops were going to get out of that place was a whole lot of ash and some pretty damn toxic residue—I turned to Brian. "Okay, last stop for the day." I gave him the address. "Not drug related, this time."

    "Aww." Aisha mock-pouted in the back seat. "I thought we were going to fuck up the day of some more druggies."

    "The shipment won't be coming in until tonight," I said. "Accord has yet to hear about it and arrange to replace the lost product. But I'm gonna wait until it hits the city limits, just to make a point."

    "Oh." She brightened. "So, we've already fucked up a supervillain's day, and he doesn't even know it? Which one's Accord, anyway?"

    "He is absolutely going to be extremely unhappy about it, yes," I confirmed. "As for what he's like … you know how different Brian is to you when it comes to keeping things neat and tidy, everything in its place?"

    "God, yeah." I was pretty sure she'd just rolled her eyes. "I swear, I have to talk him out of ironing the towels."

    "Hey!" objected Brian. "I'm not that intense about it!"

    "Well, you fold 'em!"

    "Towels are supposed to be folded!"

    "Since when?"

    I cleared my throat. "Aisha, settle. Towels are kind of supposed to be folded. Anyway, imagine someone who makes Brian look twice as untidy as you."

    Silence fell in the car. In my peripheral vision, I caught Aisha blinking a couple of times. Eventually, she shook her head in wonder. "Holy motherfucking Smurfballs. Is he really that bad?"

    "You tell me." I shrugged. "This is a guy who times his own bathroom breaks to the second."

    Now Brian turned toward me. "You're messing with us." He paused, awaiting a response from me. I said nothing. "You are messing with us. Right?"

    "Oh, man," breathed Aisha, her entire being alight with an unholy joy. "I could so totally fuck with his head."

    "No!" snapped Brian. "Bad Aisha! No poking at supervillains!"

    "It's actually a bad idea," I agreed. "If someone interrupts one of his meetings, his immediate reaction is to kill them. In fact, that's his go-to for basically anything that disrupts his routine for any reason. The man has no chill. I'm pretty sure he considers 'chill' to be a dirty word."

    "And yet, you've got no problem with blowing up his drugs." Aisha's tone of voice was speculative.

    "None whatsoever." I half-turned in my seat, looking back at her. "I know how to handle him. And how to kill him, if he makes it necessary. So even if he comes to town, even if you happen to lay eyes on him, you do nothing. No smartass comments, no little jabs. You walk in the other direction, and you don't stop until you're out of sight. Do you understand?"

    She couldn't see my expression, but something in my tone must have gotten through to her. "… yeah, okay. I'll leave him for you to fuck up."

    I smiled and reached back with my fist for her to bump. "Good plan. We'll go with that one."

    Brian cleared his throat. "Okay, now we've got that settled, what's at the address where we're going?"

    "An empty lot." I held up a hand. "But near there are a couple of guys I want to have a word with."

    "Wait a minute, wait a minute." Aisha spoke a little breathlessly. "I know who you're going to see. 'Cause I pay attention."

    Brian frowned. "Okay, now you've lost me. Who?"

    <><>​

    Uber and Leet's Base

    Brendan looked around as a buzzer sounded. "What's that?"

    There was a thump and some swearing, then Leet stuck his head out of his work-room. "We got someone coming up to the front door. That's the proximity sensor. They'll be in camera range in a minute."

    Dropping the controller, Brendan came to his feet. "Are we expecting anyone?"

    His phone, on the side table, rang. Scooping it up, he looked at the caller ID, and froze. It said 'ATROPOS'. The phone rang again. Slowly, his thumb swiped to accept the call. "Hello?"

    "You're expecting me," a teenage girl's voice said briskly. "Remember? I told you I wanted to talk to you?"

    "Dude, what's the matter?" asked Leet, coming out of the work-room. "Who is it?"

    Brendan pointed at the screen. "A-Atropos," he croaked. At that moment, two teenagers walked into view. Both were black; one was a tall buff guy, and the other was a petite girl.

    "Um, no, they're not." Leet frowned. "What the fuck are they doing here?"

    "Waiting for you to let them in." The voice, that of a teenage girl, came from behind them.

    Brendan whirled, setting up with a defensive martial-arts pose, while Leet just spun around with a startled squawk. Atropos was standing there, every inch of her radiating menace. Around one finger, she spun a pair of odd-looking shears.

    "Where the hell did you come from?" demanded Leet. "How did you get in?" He fumbled a cloth mask out of his pocket and pulled it over his head. Brendan followed suit, though he wasn't sure it would do any good.

    "Your back door was unlocked," Atropos said. Brendan was sure she was grinning her head off behind that morph mask.

    "It was not!" Leet puffed himself up with outrage. "I made sure of it, an hour ago!"

    "Well, it was unlocked after I entered the security code." Atropos shrugged. "It's all the same to me, really." She turned her head toward Brendan and gestured toward the front door with a flip of the shears. "So, you want to let my friends in?"

    "That lock has a rotating security passcode that changes every minute, and changes the passcode generation seed every hour," Leet insisted. "Even if someone gave it to you ten minutes ago, there's no way it would've worked."

    Brendan left him to it, and went to the front door. The screen showed them simply waiting, not even bothering to knock. He undid the latches and swung the door open. "Hello. You can call me Uber. Come on in." Whoever Atropos' friends were, it was probably a very good idea to be polite to them.

    "Thanks." The big guy—about Brendan's size and heft, with an air that said he could handle himself—looked around with interest, but didn't comment.

    His reticence was more than made up for by the girl, who sported a purple streak in her hair, Glory Girl's tiara, and an attitude a mile wide. "Holy shit, this place is a mess. Hey, how you doing? This is my big bro, Bravo. I'm Alpha. Because I'm just that cool."

    "That's also the name Atropos told you to use," 'Bravo' said, with a long-suffering sigh. "And remember, she told you to keep your hands to yourself. This isn't just a Tinker lab, it's Leet's Tinker lab. We have no idea what any of this stuff does, whether it works, or if it'll just explode instead."

    "Hey, he's not that bad," Brendan objected, driven more by the impulse to defend his buddy than to actually set the record straight. "Most of his stuff works, most of the time."

    "Really?" 'Alpha' gave him a challenging look. "So, how many times did he lose his eyebrows last year?"

    Brendan sighed. "Last year was not a good year for that, I'll admit. But it still wasn't that bad. We're both alive, and still not in prison."

    "That's because you were right at the bottom of the priority list," Atropos said from right behind him, making him jump. He'd seen she was wearing knee-high hard-soled boots, and she'd still snuck up on him.

    "Jesus, don't do that!" he protested, forgetting his intention of being polite as he turned to glare at her. "And what do you mean, 'priority list'?"

    "It's a PRT thing," 'Bravo' said in a professorial tone. "When there's powerful capes they'd love to arrest and low-tier capes who aren't committing high-profile crimes, a sort of paralysis can set in. Going after the big names requires far more resources, and sometimes the powers that be can query if it's really worth putting all that effort into catching one cape, when the same level of force can theoretically roll up four or five lower-level ones. But if they commit to the lower-level ones, you get people—sometimes the very same people—asking why they're not focusing on the really dangerous capes."

    He seemed to realise that both Brendan and Leet were staring at him, and he shrugged in a self-effacing way. "Sorry. I had to do a paper on it for one of my classes."

    "Wait," Leet said, in a tone of disappointment. "You mean we're not that good at hiding?"

    "Pfft, hardly," 'Alpha' said dismissively. "My girl Atropos said, 'let's go visit Uber and Leet' and bingo, we came straight here."

    "And don't worry," 'Bravo' said. "We're not going to tell the PRT where you are right now. This is purely a social call. Atropos is calling the shots, here."

    "But why are you here?" asked Brendan. "What do you want with us? If you're here to warn us to get out of town, trust me, telling us on PHO would've done the trick."

    "Because I don't want you out of town just yet," Atropos explained. "In fact, I'm here to trade a favour for a favour. Leet, if we can just go into your workroom, I'd like to discuss the nitty-gritty with you. Uber, figure you can entertain my friends for a bit? Thanks."

    Before either Brendan or Leet had the chance to object, she grabbed Leet by the arm and dragged him into the workroom. The door closed behind them.

    "Well," remarked Bravo. "That happened."

    "Does it normally? Around Atropos, I mean?" Brendan had a sinking feeling he knew the answer.

    "Pfft, when does it not?" Alpha grinned widely. "We met her in the park today for selfies, and before we were done, I had this as a present." She tapped the tiara. "It's genuine as fuck. Glory Girl tried to pull shit with Atropos, and did not have a good time of it."

    Brendan's eyes widened. "Holy shit. The Glory Girl? She once dislocated Leet's shoulder. And Atropos beat her up?"

    "Something like that," Bravo confirmed. "Just between you, me and the gatepost? Don't ever try to pull shit with Atropos. It's a bad, bad idea. We just torched millions of dollars worth of drugs, and she's going to keep doing it until the people sending it to Brockton Bay get the message."

    Alpha pointed. "Hey, nice console setup. What games you got?" She headed over to get a better look.

    "Whoa, hold back there," Bravo said reprovingly. "You can't just go poking around someone else's gaming gear."

    "We've got all the classics," Brendan said, happy to show off with something that didn't make him feel second class. "You guys play? We've got a third controller around here somewhere if you're interested."

    Bravo smiled in the same way that a card shark might, just before asking someone to explain how the game was played. "Oh, I've been known to sit down with my friends from time to time."

    "Whoo yeah!" whooped Alpha, vaulting over the back of the sofa and grabbing up one of the controllers. "Let's do this thing!"

    "Sorry about her," Bravo said. "She gets … enthusiastic, from time to time."

    Brendan shrugged as he went digging under the accumulated detritus of two guys living together for the third controller. "It's okay. Trust me, I've seen worse."

    Alpha chuckled darkly. "Challenge … accepted."

    "No," Bravo said. "Not challenge accepted. There was no challenge. Do not accept any challenges."

    As Brendan located the other controller and plugged it in, he wondered why Bravo was so adamant that there was no challenge.

    <><>​

    Half an hour later, he had his answer.

    Alpha was a maniac. Her rapid-fire delivery was nothing compared to her gameplay style. While her brother was skilled in his own right, with steady, competent button work, Alpha was chaos incarnate.

    He'd never seen anything like it before, and he'd been gaming with Leet since there were console games to play. She alternated between reckless button-mashing, ridiculous off-the-wall plays, and occasional bursts of either madness or brilliance; he couldn't quite tell. While Brendan was specifically very good at controller use, she seemed to have an instinctive quality to outplay him at crucial moments, by doing something totally illogical that still got her the win.

    All in all, he was both relieved and disappointed when the work-room door opened, and Atropos emerged with Leet trailing behind. "Okay," said the black-costumed killer. "We're all agreed?"

    "Yeah," Leet said. "I'll change the command recognition codes tonight. The other one will take a bit longer. Maybe a week, depending on how it goes."

    "Good." Atropos' voice seemed to change, become somehow unearthly. "Just don't screw it up."

    "I, uh, won't?" Leet sounded more nervous than ever.

    "Good." Atropos came over and leaned on the back of the sofa. "Okay, time to go."

    "Aww, I was just getting my eye in," Alpha complained. "Bro, we need a gaming console."

    "I'll see if I can ask for one." Bravo got up and dropped the controller on the sofa. "Thanks, Uber. Good game."

    "Yeah, me too." Alpha jumped up, then planted her foot on a cushion and vaulted back over the sofa. "That was actually kinda fun."

    "Good. Glad you enjoyed yourselves." Atropos straightened up and turned to face Brendan and Leet. "Over and above our arrangement, I'm going to leave you alone. But given that all the big gangs are out of action, you are the big supervillain names in town right now, so you're probably on the top of the priority list all of a sudden. It might be an idea to keep your heads down anyway."

    Somehow, the shears had found their way back into her hands, and she began spinning them one way and then the other, the razor-edged blades glinting in the light. "Oh, and I suggest you never have another episode where people get hurt for real. Or you two and I will be having another chat. An extremely brief one. Do I make myself clear?"

    Brendan nodded. It didn't seem like a smart idea to do anything else. "Crystal."

    "Good. I'm so glad we understand each other."

    <><>​

    PRT Building ENE, Director's Office

    Director Emily Piggot


    Emily eyed the Laborn boy. He seemed unharmed, though one foot kept twitching and he had to cradle the cup of coffee in both hands. She'd seen these signs before, usually in soldiers who'd spent too long in a hot zone. "Are you alright? Did she make you as a Ward?"

    He chuckled hollowly. "In about the first ten seconds." A sip of the coffee seemed to steady his nerves. "But she wasn't worried by it. She knew exactly why I was there, and didn't even have a problem with me calling the Deputy Director."

    Renick, sitting off to the side in his own chair, shared a glance with her. Then he posed his own question. "Did she threaten you or your sister to keep you in line?"

    Laborn shook his head. "No. She didn't bother. The whole time we were with her, she was … nice. Like she was making the extra effort to put us at our ease. She even told me flat-out that so long as the PRT and heroes in this town didn't aggress on her, she wouldn't hurt us. And even if one of us did, she promised not to kill them."

    Emily shook her head. "Even having seen what she can do, that's a rather broad and sweeping claim. It presupposes an ability to harm or kill any hero in the city, if they happen to attack her. Did you see any capability that might bear that out?"

    "She knows stuff she literally shouldn't," he said frankly. "Like the locations of those drug stash houses she destroyed. There was no checking of data, or making phone calls. She just had me drive straight there. She also knew where Uber and Leet's hideout was, and was able to enter the combination of a secure code-lock in just seconds. If she can do all that, then there's nothing stopping her from knowing any cape's weakness, or figuring out how to kill them."

    Emily thought back to Shadow Stalker's autopsy. There had been a faint burn mark on the corpse. Electrical? Did Atropos know to use electricity against her? God damn it.

    "Uber and Leet?" Renick sat forward. "You know where they are?"

    "She wanted a favour from Leet," Laborn said hastily. "We were essentially there under flag of truce. She asked me not to pass the location on to the PRT, and I'm honouring that."

    Emily didn't like that, but she nodded. Truces between heroes and villains were to be respected, because there was no other way to induce the villains to stick to them when the heroes were on the weaker side. Still, that didn't mean she couldn't ask other questions. "Did you find out what she wanted from Leet?"

    "No, they were in another room." Laborn paused. "But after they came out, she said she was okay with them staying in town, but they were probably a higher priority for the PRT now. And if they did any more shows where people got hurt, she'd pay them a very brief visit."

    In other words, kill them. "Understood," she said. "What's your impression of her capabilities and her motives?"

    He took a long drink from his coffee. "Capabilities? Utterly terrifying," he confessed. "When we were in the warehouse, she had me fill it with my darkness … which she flat-out ignored. She said something about how sight is overrated, then went straight into the darkness and started subduing guards. A little earlier than that, the first drug house she torched, she went in there alone, they all pulled guns … and she killed every single one before they could open fire on her. Because she didn't want anyone endangered by bullets flying through walls. As for motives … well, she's not in it for money. She walked straight past a literal pallet of cash and didn't take a dime. In fact, she deliberately burned it."

    He drew a long breath, then let it out. "There's one more thing. Something I think we need to keep on the down-low."

    "We're listening," Renick said encouragingly.

    Laborn seemed to consider his words. "When we were in the park with her, there was an encounter with Glory Girl. We were posing for a group camera selfie when Glory Girl attacked from behind, aiming for Atropos. But because we were standing close together, she would've gotten all of us. Aisha could've been badly hurt. I could've been badly hurt."

    "What happened?" asked Emily.

    He shrugged. "Atropos shouted a warning at the last instant and pushed us away, then dropped flat. Glory Girl demolished the picnic table. Atropos and I both warned her to back off, but she wouldn't. Then Atropos did something with a coin, and Glory Girl inhaled it on her next pass, and started choking. Panacea arrived just as Atropos was holding her shears right next to Glory Girl's eye."

    Renick shook his head. "She'd never get through Glory Girl's invincibility."

    "Except she did, sir." Laborn gestured to his eyes with one hand. "She snipped off a couple of Glory Girl's eyelashes, and she kept on smacking her on the forehead with those shears to prove she could hurt her. Then she got a promise from Panacea for a favour if she didn't spill the beans about Glory Girl nearly hurting me and Aisha. Also, she confiscated Glory Girl's tiara and gave it to Aisha."

    "Ah." Emily shared another glance with Renick. "I do see what you mean. We'll need a more complete written report about the whole event. Though did she say anything about the favour she wanted?"

    "No, ma'am." Laborn looked pensive. "Just that it wouldn't be 'hugely illegal', whatever that means."

    "Understood." There was no way Emily wanted to queer any deal Atropos had with Panacea. She's probably setting aside an option for emergency healing, just in case. It sounded as though Glory Girl had learned a salutary lesson anyway. "Your overall impression of Atropos?"

    "Impossibly skilled, inhumanly capable, effectively psychic, possibly precognitive," rattled off Laborn. "But she was human enough to not kill anyone in the warehouse, because she could see I was starting to get antsy over all the death. Didn't get angry with me, just pivoted to 'okay, we're not killing anyone this time' and got the job done. And she positively doted over Aisha." His head came up. "Oh, there was also the incident of the drug dealer she threw out the window to save Aisha."

    Emily raised her eyebrows. "Details, please."

    "We were in the car, waiting downstairs while Atropos deprived our mother of every last drug in her possession. But her dealer showed up, and left his hired muscle downstairs. One of them noticed us and came over. Aisha smarted off to him, things escalated, and he was just pulling a gun when the dealer landed on him from the third floor. Atropos had thrown him out the window."

    "There was a police report of a dead man in the stairwell there," Renick noted. "Shot in the face. Atropos?"

    Laborn nodded. "Almost certainly. That would be the other bodyguard. He pulled his gun before he went in."

    Emily shook her head at the idiocy of some people. "Well, I'm pleased you made it through the ordeal unscathed. How was your sister at the end of the day?"

    For the first time, Laborn smiled. "She's over the moon. Atropos brought along a Polaroid camera, and gave us both signed selfies with her. Aisha also got to go along and watch as Atropos destroyed literally millions of dollars' worth of drugs. It's made her entire year."

    "And how are you holding up, young man?" asked Renick. "It can't have been easy, to have someone who's killed so many people within arm's reach like that."

    "Still a bit jittery," admitted Laborn. "But Aisha had an amazing day, and I think that makes it worth it."

    "Good," said Emily. Now came the sixty-four-million-dollar question. "If and when your sister makes another arrangement to meet with Atropos, do you feel up to accompanying her again?"

    Laborn drew a deep breath then held it, seeming to think about the question. Finally, he nodded. "Yeah. I can do that."

    Renick stood. "Good lad," he said heartily. "You've done well. Go and relax for the time being. Unwind. You've earned it."

    "Thank you, sir." Laborn stood up as well, and nodded toward Emily. "Ma'am." Turning, he headed out of the office, taking the coffee cup with him.

    Emily waited for the door to close before she turned to Renick. "What do you think?"

    Renick rubbed his jaw. "A little rough on the boy," he said judiciously. "But worth it overall, I think. The information that Atropos doesn't intend to hurt our people is very good to have."

    "True," Emily said dryly. "Now, if only we could convince all the other idiots to not get in her way."

    He snorted gently in amusement. "I'm only a Deputy Director, ma'am. Not a miracle worker."

    <><>​

    Later That Night

    Atropos


    I sat in Dad's car in a turnoff, just inside the Brockton Bay city limits. We had the windows open for ventilation, and so I could hear the traffic. There wasn't much at the moment, which was good. I didn't need any misguided good Samaritans trying to intervene on the other side's behalf.

    "Five minutes," I said. "I've said this before, but I'll say it again. There'll be a lead car and a chase car. Each one will have three men in it. The driver's a regular truck driver who doesn't know what he's carrying; he's been offered twice the normal pay to get it into Brockton Bay tonight. There's a secondary location that Accord doesn't think I know about."

    "Are you going to do something about it?" asked Dad. "I mean, since they won't have any drugs to distribute?"

    "Not at the moment." I leaned back in the seat and relaxed. "I'll let him pay their wages and waste his money until they actually start earning it, at which point I'll cut them off."

    "How about Accord himself?" he asked. "You did say something about how people sending their underlings to the Bay wouldn't get away with it either."

    "Oh, he'll get the message when I destroy this shipment." I checked the pockets of my long-coat. I wouldn't need my last grenade until tomorrow, but the road flares should come in handy, as would the hand-held two-way radio. I'd scored it from the Dockworkers' Association, and done a little work on it to get it to the right channel. "The man may be nuttier than squirrel shit, but he's unlikely to throw good money after bad. Besides, I've got a use for him in the long term."

    Dad shuddered. "The poor bastard," he muttered. I was pretty sure he'd intended for me to hear it.

    I smirked. "If he didn't want to get mixed up in my business, he shouldn't be selling drugs in Brockton Bay."

    We fell silent then, listening to the vroooom of cars and trucks passing by. When the clock in my head ticked over to one minute, I removed my glasses and put them in the centre console, then opened the door and got out. My mask went on, and then my hat. I retrieved the duffel-bag from the floor of the car, and closed the door. "Stay in the car," I said.

    In the semi-darkness, he shook his head; in worry, not negation. "I wish this didn't have to be you."

    "It would've been nice if someone did this before I had to," I said with a shrug. "Nobody did, so it's up to me."

    I turned away from the car and made my way out of the turnoff toward the side of the road. Even in winter, the trees were thick enough to make spotting Dad's car nigh-impossible unless someone drove down that exact turnoff. With ten seconds to go, I dropped the duffel in the shadows then stepped out onto the edge of the road, drawing my pistol.

    The lead car, going like a demon, roared around the corner far up ahead, briefly lighting me up with its high beams. The driver and passengers, keyed up as they were, would be asking themselves, 'was that her, or was it just a shadow?'. The speed limit was seventy, and they were sitting exactly on that, getting closer to me at just over one hundred feet for every second that passed.

    Unhurriedly, I raised my pistol. The range was six hundred feet. Five hundred. Four hundred. The driver decided that I was no shadow, and began to edge toward me, aiming to clip me with the corner of his fender and ragdoll me into the trees. Three hundred.

    I fired three times, during which interval the car covered another fifty feet toward me. The most immediate effect of this was that the windshield starred all the way across, then crumpled inward due to wind-rush. With the driver and both passengers dead or dying, I switched aim to the driver's side front wheel and shot it out.

    The last two shell-casings tinkled to the gravel at the side of the road as the car blew past, already swerving toward the Jersey barrier in the middle of the road. It struck, spun out, then flipped. I'd already put it out of my mind when I turned back to look down the road.

    Raising the two-way to my face, I toggled the press-to-talk switch. "Breaker, breaker," I said. "White Peterbilt, license plate ending in Bravo Golf Two, prepare to stop. This is not a request. Atropos, out."

    Dropping the radio back into my pocket, I moved into the pool of illumination cast by a streetlight and raised the pistol as the eighteen-wheeler came into view. At first, it slowed; I heard the distinctive sound of a downshift. But then it accelerated again. I smiled grimly under my mask. It seemed that there was someone in that cab who didn't want to do what I said.

    Well, he heard my name. He was warned.

    At five hundred feet, I fired a single shot. The semi was of a type that had two panels for the windshield, so only the passenger side starred out. Immediately, the eighteen-wheeler began to slow down again, applying brakes and gears as only a master of the art of truck driving can do.

    Before it came to a complete halt, I had holstered my pistol and was running up to the passenger side. I scrambled up onto the running board, then hoisted myself up onto the cab, using the wing mirror as a brace for my foot. From there I took a running jump onto the top of the trailer itself.

    The chase car came blazing around the corner at this point. I wasn't sure if they could see me, but they could certainly see that the vehicle they were charged with shepherding all the way into Brockton Bay was stopped at the side of the road.

    Also, there were four more men in the trailer itself, hemmed about with crates that would stop gunfire from the side but allow them to shoot at anyone opening the rear doors. I drew my pistol again, and fired four shots down into the top of the trailer. Well, there had been four men in the trailer. Now there were four corpses.

    A shot winged past me, just close enough for me to notice it, and another pinged off the corner of the trailer. It seemed the men in the car had noticed me. Which meant they could have chosen to drive past peacefully, turn around, and slink back to Boston to give the bad news to Accord … or they could choose to commit suicide.

    Suicide it was, then. I fired four times, and the car veered off the road into the trees. Contrary to popular belief spread by Hollywood, it did not burst into flames. I was vaguely disappointed. The next car I sent careening off the road, I decided, would explode into flames in proper action-movie style.

    The driver, huddled in his seat, jumped when I swung down alongside his door and tapped on his window. He rolled it down, looking at me as though he expected to die at any second. "I'm not part of it," he quavered. "I just drive. They never tell me what's in the back."

    "And that's fine with me," I said. "I want you to unhitch this thing from the trailer, and then take a message back to whoever you work for in Boston. Can you do that for me?"

    He nodded urgently, very willing to cooperate with me. "I can totally do that for you."

    While he was unhitching the prime mover from the trailer, I went and collected the duffel, then climbed into the back of the trailer. The eighteen-wheeler had been carrying washing machines, or so the crates that greeted me said as much. I appreciated the irony. Passing by two of the crates, I took the pry-bar out of the duffel and levered the top off a third. Within was stacks and stacks of cash; the money Accord had sent to pay his dealers to keep dealing in the face of my threats.

    It took me awhile to put enough of it into the duffel to work for what I wanted, then I zipped the bag up and went to the back of the truck. Outside, I could hear the prime mover's engine rumbling as the driver rolled it forward, away from the now abandoned trailer.

    Pulling out a road flare, I lit it up and tossed it onto the open crate of cash. The rest of the trailer would catch soon enough, and the entire shipment would become one huge bonfire in the middle of I-95. I jumped down and headed forward to where the truck driver was nervously waiting for me alongside his truck.

    "Here," I said, holding the duffel out to him. "Give this to your boss, and tell him to pass it on to Accord. Tell him that this is payment for a service. Also tell him that I've already contacted Accord and told him exactly how much is coming through. Then I suggest you find another line of work. This one might get unhealthy."

    He took the bag, staring at me as smoke started to curl out the back of the trailer. "Are you insane?" He shook his head. "You're paying him to do something with his own money?"

    "As soon as it entered my city, it stopped being his money," I said. "Pass on exactly what I said. No more and no less. Understood?"

    He nodded jerkily. "Understood."

    "Good." I watched as he climbed awkwardly into the cab, weighed down by the duffel bag. The heavy door slammed shut, and I heard the clunk as the truck dropped into gear. It rolled off, gathering speed, the driver no doubt wondering if I was going to kill him even now.

    I strolled back across the road to the turn-off, then pulled my phone out. As I watched more and more smoke begin to pour out of the back end of the open trailer, I dialled a particular number.

    "Who is this and how did you get this number?" demanded a sharp, precise voice.

    "Good evening, Accord," I said. "This is Atropos. I'm calling to let you know that your shipment has been unavoidably destroyed. This is formal notice that you don't get to sell your drugs in my city, now or ever. Nor does anyone else."

    There was silence for a minute, before he spoke again. "Nobody speaks to me like that and lives."

    "You'd think so. Everyone who's tried it with me has died. Now, we can be enemies—briefly—or we can have a working relationship. It's your choice. Would you rather waste resources attempting to regain your foothold in Brockton Bay, or be paid to do what you do best?"

    Again, there was silence for exactly sixty seconds. "I'm listening."

    "Excellent. I'm sending the truck driver back to you with exactly five hundred thousand dollars in a duffel bag. He will deliver it to his boss, who will pass it along to you. In return, I will be needing a plan for revitalising Brockton Bay at all levels, including dealing with the fallout of a total hard drug prohibition on the whole city, assuming an initial cash influx into the city of approximately ninety-seven million dollars, with more to follow later." I didn't ask if he could deliver. That would've been the greatest insult of all.

    This time, the pause was only ten seconds. "I can have it finished by Wednesday."

    "Good. I'll contact you then, and let you know where to have it delivered to."

    "Understood." He ended the call, regaining what little control he could. I was okay with that.

    As I headed back down the turnoff to where Dad waited, I tapped in another number. The voice that answered was feminine and somewhat warmer than Accord's sharp tones. "Hello?"

    "Hey, frenemy mine," I greeted her. "I've got a proposition for you."

    Dragon sighed. "I thought I said we'd see about the frenemy thing."

    I injected faux surprise into my tone. "So, you don't want to come help me kill off the Nine tomorrow?"

    Her voice changed, becoming considerably more alert. "Where would you like me to pick you up from?"

    "I'll call and let you know."

    "I'll be waiting."

    "See you then."

    Ending the call and dropping the phone into my pocket with a grin, I headed back down the turnoff to where Dad waited. He looked up as I got into the car.

    "So, are we all done?" he asked.

    "We are," I said, and pulled off my hat and mask. He handed me my glasses, and I put them on. "Let's go home. I've got a big day tomorrow."

    "You got it." He started the car.

    A thought occurred to me. "Dad?"

    "Yeah?"

    "Where can I get a fire extinguisher from?"

    He sighed. "We'll swing past the Dockworkers' offices again."

    I smiled. "You're the best."



    End of Part Nineteen
     
  12. Highlord

    Highlord I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Get fucked, accord.
     
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  13. FictionPack

    FictionPack Making the rounds.

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    So now we know that the Nine's creepy white van is going to careen off the road and explode like an action movie.

    Brian probably just inadvertently created a theory that Atropos is actually blind.
     
  14. GasperVladi0

    GasperVladi0 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Burnscar?
     
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  15. woodzrox

    woodzrox Getting sticky.

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    That’s what Ack wants us to think! She might use it as a club or, depending on the type of suppressant contained, choke someone with it.
     
  16. Xyshuryn

    Xyshuryn Holder of Hands

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    This was wonderful. Aisha was a real treat as always. I will wait patiently for Taylor to turn Dragon from Frenemy to Best Frenemy Forever! Maybe they'll get together and have a fun time? Really paint the town red. Blood Of My Enemies is a delightful shade, and the 9 seem like a good source.
     
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  17. GasperVladi0

    GasperVladi0 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Eh, it can be all if the above, it's a multi-purpose tool if you're brave enough.
     
    woodzrox, GoldenFlake and Ack like this.
  18. poiu18894012

    poiu18894012 Beep boop, perverted robot.

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    Totally going to use it to fuck with mannequins braincase somehow.
     
    Ack likes this.
  19. Diraniola

    Diraniola I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Path to End vs Jack Slash's Broadcast had some interesting interactions. Broadcast the to subvert other shards but PtE is on a different network and jailbroken. The toughest nut to crack in this lineup is probably Crawler, also probably why Dragon is invited along.
     
    Ack and Prince Charon like this.
  20. Zeushobbit

    Zeushobbit I use my mind and yours doesn't matter.

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    Hmm, fire extinguisher might be useful for supressing airborne toxins of bonesaw's creation.
     
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  21. Threadmarks: Part Twenty: Seven, Six, Five, Four ...
    Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    A Darker Path

    Part Twenty: Seven, Six, Five, Four …

    [A/N 1: This chapter beta-read by Lady Columbine of Mystal.]

    [A/N 2: I have used some adapted poster comments from Spacebattles in the PHO segment.]


    [A/N 3: TRIGGER WARNING: PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE.]

    ■​

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    ■​

    ♦ Topic: Drugs are Bad, mmkay?
    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 8th 2011:

    Good evening, you lovely folks in Brockton Bay!
    And yes, you're more lovely than ever, because I have had a Productive Day (tm).
    Why, yes, I can actually go out and about in the daylight. Though I have to slather on the sunscreen. It burns, my precious (I kid, I kid).
    No, really, I did go out today, to meet with my one-girl (so far) fan club. GreatAndTerribleAisha and I enjoyed a session of selfies in the park with her brother (nice guy, a little twitchy). We did have a kind of Glory Girl interrupt, but Imma let GTA tell that one herself.
    Anyways, after that we went out and about in the interests of shoving a whole series of sticks in the spokes of the Brockton Bay drug trade. Along the way, I got to throw a drug dealer out a window so he landed on top of his own bodyguard (cushioned his fall, so there's that). I recommend the experience. We should start Throw A Drug Dealer Out The Window Day. Make it an annual event.
    After that, we visited a drug stash house in the suburbs, and all these people decided to try to kill me at once with guns. Listen, I know all about the Second Amendment, but guns in suburbia are *bad*. Aim wrong when you squeeze that trigger and you've just shot your next door neighbour's kid. While he was in bed asleep. Maybe invest in bulletproof walls. Just saying.
    Anyway, I killed them before they could kill me. There were all these drugs there, so I kind of un-wanted it all with fire. Gave the fire department something to do instead of polishing those big red trucks of theirs.
    Then we found a warehouse full of the stuff. After getting all the guards out of the way, I blew it up. All of it. That explosion and mushroom cloud over the industrial area today? Yeah, that was me. It was *amazing*.
    Then I went and had that chat with Uber and Leet I said I was going to have. Don't worry, they survived the experience. But they promised not to repeat that Grand Theft Auto bullshit, so there's that.
    And finally? There was a drug shipment coming in to replace the one I blew up. It's currently on fire on I-95, just inside the city limits. When I said the drug trade in this city was coming to an end, I meant it.
    So tomorrow I'm totes on track to turn the Slaughterhouse Nine into the Slaughterhouse who?
    Stay tuned, and be warned: it's gonna get messy (for them, not me).
    Toodles!

    (Showing page 1 of 10)

    ►Bagrat (Veteran Member) (The Guy in the Know)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    Okay, today wasn't too bad, I suppose?
    Boy, when Atropos goes after the drug trade, she doesn't mess around. Of course, having seen her previous efforts, we were already aware of her 'not messing around' capabilities.
    Literally tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of dollars worth of drugs have gone up in smoke, over the course of just a few hours. Locations that I could have driven past and never suspected were uncovered and destroyed. An entire warehouse turned into a fuel-air bomb.
    And then there's the mess on I-95. Yes, there's a trailer off an eighteen-wheeler that was on fire. It's only very recently been put out. There are also two cars, both crashed, each with three heavily armed men, plus four more in the trailer itself. Still not as bad as the last few days, just saying.
    What we don't know is the location of the prime mover and the driver. Knowing Atropos, they could be literally anywhere.
    Anyway, it looks like the first shots have been fired in the war between Atropos and drugs. So far, Atropos is winning.
    If you deal hard drugs in Brockton Bay, I would suggest a change in either career or location. Just saying.

    ►StarCat (Verified Cat)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    You know, not every drug user is an addict. Some drugs even have therapeutic effects. It's a mistake to tar all users with the same brush.

    ►Wings_on_High (Verified Not the Simurgh)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @StarCat - It's all good, you can keep your pot and shrooms and stuff. It looks like Atropos is only going after the hard stuff.

    ►King_DuzKhul
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @StarCat - Pretty sure she's only going after dealers, not users. Also, only targeting the hard stuff like coke, H, meth and things of that class.

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @StarCat - Like the others are saying, I'm not targeting users, only dealers. I'll *take* your illegally obtained hard drugs away, but I won't hurt you if you aren't stupid about it. And I'll leave your weed and shrooms and anything that's on the soft end of that scale.

    ►StarCat (Verified Cat)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @Atropos - I don't use. I'm just pointing out that in principle, we should be allowed to put whatever we want into our bodies. And things like ecstasy can be used to treat depression. Other 'hard' drugs can also have useful effects.

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @StarCat - As far as I'm concerned, 'principle' is just a weasel word for 'this is my made-up right to do something I'm not supposed to'. If someone wants to use these drugs, they can buy and use them legally or they can get out of Brockton Bay. What you do elsewhere, I don't care. Just don't do it in my city.

    ►StarCat (Verified Cat)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @Atropos - You're forgetting that drug use, and drug addiction are not synonymous.
    Banning people from anything "for their own good" is paternalistic bullshit.

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @StarCat - See, that's where you make your mistake. I'm not doing this for "your own good". The illegal hard drug trade is bad for the city, so I'm bringing it to an end. Other than that, I don't give a flying fuck.
    End of Page. 1, 2, 3 ... 8, 9, 10

    (Showing page 2 of 10)

    ►GreatAndTerribleAisha
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    She really, really doesn't. Holy shit, the day I have had. She beat up Glory Girl and stole her tiara for me, then she threw my mom's fucking drug dealer out the window, then she burned one drug stash and blew the absolute living *fuck* out of another. Then we went and played video games with Uber while she had a chat with Leet (Uber's pretty good, but his end game is a bit lacking).
    I have photos. Signed selfies with Atropos.
    Best. Fucking. Day. Ever.

    ►GstringGirl
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    Oh, come on. Details. We want details.

    ►XxVoid_CowboyxX
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    I'd call bullshit, but I saw the mushroom cloud. Atropos rocks.

    ►GreatAndTerribleAisha
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    So, Glory Girl.
    There we were in the park, taking selfies, and GG comes up and starts getting in Atropos's business. She's really not taking no for an answer. So Atropos takes her down with a *quarter*, no less, after she kind of breaks a picnic table. Took her tiara away for asshole tax, and gave it to me.
    [signed selfie]
    [pic with tiara]

    As for the rest of it, she made me stay back out of the way, so I didn't see much. But holy crap, when she blew up the warehouse, it was *amazeballs*.

    ►TheRealGloryGirl (Verified Cape) (Cape Daughter) (New Wave Member)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT!

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    She really, really did.

    ►TheRealBrandish (Verified Cape) (Cape Wife) (New Wave Member)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    Victoria, get offline NOW.

    ►Brocktonite03 (Veteran Member)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    Whoo, buss-ted.

    ►Reave (Verified PRT Agent)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @Atropos - I'm probably just shouting into the wind right now, but the offer is still open for you to come in to the PRT and work out some kind of cooperation deal. You've got good ideas, and we've got the resources necessary to carry them out without quite so much bloodshed.

    ►Atropos (Original Poster) (Banned) (You Wish) (UnVerified Cape) (Can Actually Kill Anything) (Yes, Really) (Watch Me)
    Replied On Jan 8th 2011:
    @Reave – I still appreciate the offer, but you know what my answer's going to be. Sometimes you need to perpetrate a little bloodshed (or a lot) to make the opposition sit up and pay attention. But thanks anyway.
    End of Page. 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 8, 9, 10



    <><>​

    Early Afternoon, January 9, 2011
    Outskirts of Brockton Bay


    Jack Slash engaged the indicator—no sense in drawing law-enforcement attention before time—and turned the RV off the main road. He didn't know the location he was looking for, but he knew he'd recognise it when he saw it. Every city had them; areas where the money had dried up, where the city services didn't happen anymore, and only the truly desperate called home.

    In other words, an ideal place to stop and make his plans.

    And plans did need to be made. For all the notoriety currently gathering around Atropos, especially following her boast that she was going to kill him and his whole team, he had next to no intel on her. He needed to know who she was, what she was, what made her tick and where her weak points were. That she had weak points was a given; everyone had them.

    Except him, of course. Anyone who wished to appeal to his 'better nature' or his sense of fair play quickly learned that this was his best nature, and fair play was what he defined it to be. 'Whatever suits me at the time' was a reasonable description.

    Passing through another intersection, he cast a discerning eye over the neighbourhood. Derelict traffic lights, shattered streetlights, only stripped-down cars at the side of the street ...this was looking promising. Buildings were boarded up, the road was more pothole than asphalt and even the trash looked old.

    "This will do quite nicely," he decided, and pulled the RV up next to an extremely decrepit park. "We'll stop here for the next hour or so. Everyone, amuse yourself as you will. I'm going to be doing some planning."

    One of the features about the RV that had attracted him was an awning that folded out from the side of the vehicle. He got this into place, fetched a folding chair from inside, and set himself up in comfort. As he got his phone out in preparation for scouring the internet for information on Atropos, he noted that Crawler had rolled onto his back in the middle of the park and gone to sleep, legs splayed out like the world's biggest and ugliest Labrador retriever, while his poppet was doing maintenance on one of her spider-bots.

    "I'm going for a walk, to collect some glass," announced Shatterbird, indicating the broken windows all around. "If Atropos is all that, we're going to need as much as we can get."

    "Take someone with you," Jack advised. "I'd prefer nobody go anywhere alone right now, until we get a feel for the city."

    "I'll go," Burnscar offered immediately. "I need to stretch my legs anyway."

    Shatterbird nodded. "Sure, okay."

    The pair started off, and Jack commenced his research. Hatchet Face was sharpening his axe at the far end of the RV, Siberian was prowling around the perimeter of the park, and Mannequin was disassembling one of his hands to check on the articulation. All in all, quite a domestic scene if one did not look too closely.

    Now, if only he could get a sense of how Atropos operated ...

    <><>​

    Atropos

    "Are you sure you don't need any assistance?" Dragon brought her suit down to a feather-light landing on the building I'd indicated. This was on the crappy side of Brockton Bay, where hardly anyone lived. "You're good, I know, but—"

    "Wow." I chuckled, so she knew it was a joke. "If I didn't know better, I'd think you were concerned for my well-being." I unclipped the five-point belt, then hefted the backpack with its burden and climbed out. The Snitch--reprogrammed to follow my orders--hummed into the air and followed me out of the suit.

    "Fortunately for the pair of us, we both know you don't mean that." It seemed Dragon was equally adept at snark. I approved. "But these are very dangerous individuals, and nobody's ever killed even one of them before without inviting serious backlash. If you don't kill enough of them in time, they might escape into the city proper and go on a rampage."

    "Oh, they're going to die," I assured her. "All of 'em, even. I just need you to fire that missile on my call. Coordinates locked in?"

    "Locked and loaded," she confirmed. "I'm not even going to ask where you got them from."

    "If I told you a little Shatterbirdie gave them to me, would you believe me?" I was grinning now, pulling her non-existent leg, and I could tell she was fully aware of it.

    "Not in the slightest. But you knew that."

    "See, we can be friends. We understand each other so well." Slinging the pack over my back, I started down the fire escape.

    Her voice followed me down. "You have a very odd definition of friendship."

    Well, that was fair. I was a very odd person to be friends with. I parkour'd down the fire escape, dropped onto a dumpster, then forward-flipped to land on my feet. My first and second targets were a quarter of a mile away, and I had five minutes to get into position. Fortunately for my shoulders and back, I'd be able to discard the pack after that.

    The Snitch followed me into the slums.

    <><>​

    Burnscar

    "This place is an absolute shithole."

    Fire crackled gently at the back of Mimi's mind as Shatterbird spoke. It dulled her emotions and echoed the flickers of flame that ran up and down the edges of her hands. She looked on, uncaring, as her teammate drifted upward to alight on a heap of rubble where one of the decrepit buildings had exceeded its own use-by date and partially collapsed.

    "Jack said we're here to recruit Atropos," she said. "According to him, she's really good at killing."

    Shatterbird's eyes rolled behind her glass-beaked mask. "We're all good at killing." The words were scornful, almost as cutting as the glass blades she used to kill her opponents with. "It's kind of a requirement for joining."

    Feeling that she'd made herself look stupid, Burnscar turned away. "It's just what he said."

    There was an odd metallic klong, then Shatterbird spoke again. "It was a mistake for you to come here. This city is broken glass. Touch it wrong, and you die."

    That didn't sound right. Slowly, Mimi turned. "What do you mean?"

    The first thing she registered was that Shatterbird wasn't wearing her mask; in fact, it was lying in pieces on the ground between them. Then her brain caught up with her eyes, and she realised that Atropos was right there, behind a very groggy-looking Shatterbird, holding her upright. Even worse, Atropos had Shatterbird's mouth open and was in the process of forcing a jagged-looking chunk of glass—part of the mask, but that wasn't important—down her throat.

    "I mean, I already told you I was going to kill you," Atropos went on, dropping Shatterbird's voice. "Actually making it easy for me is … well, par for the course, to be honest."

    Just as the silicokinetic's eyes cleared fully, the piece of glass seemed to slip into position, and she began to choke. Atropos released her and she fell to her knees, pawing at her mouth as her face darkened horribly. Mimi knew Shatterbird had to 'sing' to use her power, and right now she couldn't draw enough breath to string two notes together.

    "It won't go down, and she can't cough it back up," Atropos confided. "Looks like she bit off more than she can chew, this time." Black-gloved hands spread ironically as Shatterbird fell over, her eyes rolling up into her head. "Whoops."

    The flames surged along Mimi's hands, translating her sudden fury into violent action. An inferno roared out toward the importunate killer. Even if Jack wanted to recruit Atropos, Mimi honestly didn't care right now. She was going to die screaming.

    But she wasn't there anymore. Even as Mimi tried to guide the flames onto the black-costumed bitch, she rolled out of the way, then jumped up and dived over the top as they angled down to scorch the rubble-strewn asphalt. On the way, she grabbed some kind of red cylinder which swung up toward Mimi's face—

    klong

    Everything was hazy. Nothing worked right. Mimi knew she was in trouble and tried to generate fire so she could teleport away and get the others, but it only came out in fits and starts. An arm settled around her neck, holding her in place.

    "You know," murmured a voice into her ear, "this probably breaks all kinds of regulations, but honestly, I couldn't give a flying fuck. I mean, who even thinks about killing someone with safety equipment?"

    Before she realised she should close her mouth, her jaws were forced open and a thick hose was fed between her teeth and down into her throat. The grip around her neck was loosened, a hand clamped her lips shut around the hose, and there was a dreadful hssssss. A terrible chill gusted down into her lungs as air was forced out of her nostrils.

    "Oh, right," whispered the voice. "I do."

    Her final thought was, cold.

    <><>​

    Atropos

    The last of the contents of the five-pound carbon dioxide extinguisher were exhausted before I let Burnscar drop, along with the extinguisher itself. Given that I'd just flushed more than twenty cubic feet of frigid carbon dioxide through her lungs and out via her sinuses, her brain was about as frozen solid as her alveoli were. It had served its purpose; as would she, I figured, once I collected her reward. Along with the one for Shatterbird, who was well and truly deceased by now as well.

    Turning to glance at the Snitch as it bobbed out from its stealthy observation position—I hadn't wanted either Shatterbird or Burnscar to use it for target practice, for obvious reasons—I held up two fingers. Two down, six to go.

    Continuing the same motion, I drew the bodice shears from their sheath and kept turning as I threw them, hard. Bonesaw's cute little spider-bot scuttled around the corner right on schedule, and the shears nailed it right through the braincase from thirty feet away. Even I would've been impressed if I hadn't been fully aware of just how bullshit my power could be with things like that. It wasn't like the shears were balanced for throwing, after all.

    Retrieving the shears and wiping the brain bits off with the oily cloth I'd brought along for the purpose, I looked around for my next ambush spot. It needed both good acoustics, and good cover. There.

    Jack had decided it was time to keep moving into the city, and he'd told Bonesaw to send the spider-bot to fetch Burnscar and Shatterbird back from their glass-gathering stroll. The little bio-organic robot hadn't seen me, so she'd be at a loss as to why it had stopped responding. Jack was no fool, though; instead of sending Bonesaw (his sole source of medical care) or the Siberian (his unbreakable protection) to see what had happened to it, he would next delegate the task to Mannequin.

    On the face of it, it wasn't a bad choice. Built into a ceramic shell of his own devising, Mannequin was fast, strong and very hard to damage. Stealthier than Crawler and more versatile than Hatchet Face (and smarter than both of them), he also possessed built-in weaponry, limited solely by his own imagination and Tinkering capability. And right now, my power told me, he was very pleased with himself; having dissected the information on how I'd killed the gang bosses, he had coated himself with Teflon, just in case I'd saved a vial of the acid that I'd killed Lung with.

    His mistake lay in the assumption that I only made use of physical weapons. It wasn't even a defensible error; Mannequin himself loved to employ psychological tactics against his chosen victims. So his real blunder was assuming that I had no such leverage that I could bring to bear against him.

    Normally, I wouldn't have. And even if I'd somehow had access to the requisite knowledge, there would've been no way to use it against him.

    But with my power, I could cheat like a motherfucker.

    <><>​

    Mannequin

    The first moment that he knew something was truly wrong was when he heard the voice.

    "Alan?"

    He froze, then stared around wildly. He knew that voice.

    Catherine.

    It was impossible for her to be here. Impossible for her to be alive. But there was nobody nearby whose voice he could've mistaken for hers.

    He even knew where he'd heard it before. But I destroyed that recording! he insisted in his own mind.

    He had destroyed the recording.

    Hadn't he?

    "Alan?" His wife spoke again, the strain evident in her voice. "Where are you? I'm scared."

    It was a repeat of the increasingly disturbing series of phone calls that were the last communication he'd ever gotten from his wife. He'd been on the moon and she'd tried to get through to him during the Simurgh attack that killed her and the girls, but someone along the line had decided that letting her talk directly to him was too dangerous. He'd only gotten the recording afterward; in fact, they'd tried (and failed) to withhold the latter part of it from him. It was one of the things that had pushed him over the edge from being Sphere into being Mannequin.

    "Mommy?" It was Kira, seven years old and smart as a whip. But right now, the terror in her voice tore at his heart like a rusty razor. "Where's Daddy? Is Daddy coming to save us?"

    "Daddy will be here," Catherine assured their daughters. "I promise." Her voice changed, becoming quieter as she put her mouth closer to the phone earpiece. He could hear her quick breathing, could tell that she was fighting back tears, just from her tone. "Alan, please. She's already swooped over the house once, and I can hear her in my head. Where are you? Are you coming to get us? Please talk to me."

    "Mommy!" Francine, their five year old, shrieked in panic. "The scary bird lady is coming back!"

    He wanted to gather them up and comfort them, to tell them that he would save them from the Simurgh, but they were years dead and buried. Somehow he found himself on his hands and knees, head bowed, as the sounds from his buried past continued to hammer at him.

    One subtle difference from before made it even worse. When this had actually happened, the recording of the calls had had all the subtle distortions and interference of a long-distance connection. What he was hearing possessed none of that. It was clear and fresh and visceral, and cut all the way to the core of his being.

    Catherine spoke again, and this time he heard the tiny giggle in her voice, which made it even more horrific. "Alan? You know I never complained about not having you in my life when you were up there on the moon or out on the continental shelf, building your habitats, but …" She paused to giggle again. The sound was broken, and made him flinch within his unbreakable ceramic shell. "I really, really think you should've been here for us this time. Francine, stop stabbing your sister, I mean it."

    "Daddy?" It was Kira. There was a gurgle in her voice that sounded like blood in her throat. "Francine's hurt me, and it's all your fault, Daddy. Mommy said you would come and save us. Why didn't you come and save us, Daddy? Why?"

    "Oooh." Francine's piping tones made it even worse. "Scary bird lady is so pretty, and she sings so nice." Her giggle was entirely deranged. "She's telling me to cut and cut and cut, until everything is as pretty as she is. Daddy, you should be here to see how pretty I'm making everything."

    There was a pause, punctuated by incoherent screaming, then he heard his wife's voice again.

    "Alan?" Now Catherine just sounded tired. Even her giggle took effort. "I've put the girls to sleep. They look so peaceful, lying there. Waiting for you to come home and give them a good night kiss. I think I'll lie down and take a nap now. I love you, Alan. Come home soon.

    "Come home …

    "Save us …

    "Please."

    Then there was nothing but a fading gurgle.

    Mannequin became aware that his blades were extended and he was stabbing the ground with them, over and over. Slowly, he retracted them. He was going to have to seek out Bonesaw and determine the cause of this auditory hallucination—

    "Alan?"

    He wanted to run, to get away from the memories that bombarded him with every reminder of his wife's voice, but his legs would not move. It was even worse this time: he could hear every tremble of her voice, the inevitable progression of her madness, and the underlying despair of the woman he'd loved, seeing herself descending into the pit and being unable to stop it.

    When the ghostly voices ended once more, he found himself on his knees, sawing away at his wrist with his blade, as though that could possibly harm him. He wished he had not removed his eyes, and the tear ducts with them, so he could weep for those he had lost—

    "Alan?"

    Now, all he could hear was the accusation in her voice. You left us to die. It's all your fault.

    And he knew it was true.

    <><>​

    Atropos

    I paused to silently clear my throat—doing different voices in rapid succession, though entirely possible, was a strain on my larynx—but Mannequin wasn't listening anymore. Still kneeling, he angled back and clutched his head with his hands, for all the world as though he were screaming his anguish to the skies. But when he'd dissected himself to fit into his own personal sardine can, he'd left out important aspects like speech, so no sound emerged.

    When that apparently failed to assuage his denial and guilt and rage, he took hold of his head—not physically attached, it was apparently held on by a cunningly-placed array of magnets—and tore it free from its 'neck'. It wasn't a vital part of him, used mainly to invite attacks and carry incidental items, so when he smashed it on the ground before him and cast the pieces aside, there wasn't much harm done. In fact, I was pretty sure he had spares.

    Next, though, he split his torso in half, down the middle. From the angle I was standing, I could see between the pieces. The interior surfaces were transparent, and I could see an unidentified organ gently pulsing as a machine pumped fluids through it. If I'd had a high-powered rifle, I could've punctured the glass wall with a single shot, and killed him that way.

    But I didn't need to.

    Slumping forward, his hands on the ground, the headless torso gave the vivid impression of a man in the utmost extremity of grief. He was already broken—his track record over the past few years had proven that beyond the shadow of a doubt—but my little shadow-play had pushed him past his new threshold and broken him all over again. This time, for good.

    Air hissed as seals were broken. The glass walls separated from their mountings, and fell away. Several organs followed them out, slumping to the ground. The various recycling and regulatory machines whirred and clicked and hummed to a stop. Slowly, the two halves of the white carapace fell over, to the left and right, as the chains holding them together unreeled.

    Mannequin was dead.

    The clock was ticking.

    With the Snitch trailing behind, I hurried off. I had a little bit of work to do before my next ambush, and I needed the outcome to be a surprise to certain parties.

    <><>​

    Jacob

    Jack Slash stood up from his folding chair and looked around, frowning. "There's something wrong," he said, folding the notepad and sliding it into his pocket, then putting the pen next to it. "Mannequin should've fetched them both back by now, and retrieved the spider-bot."

    Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered if they'd simply decided to cut and run. It would fit the feeling he had that they were never coming back. But he knew them, better than their own families did by now. They wouldn't have betrayed him like this. He would've seen it coming.

    "Told you we shoulda left 'em behind," Crawler rumbled, now awakened from his nap. "They snooze, they lose."

    "Still think they're fuckin'." That was Hatchet Face's contribution.

    Riley wrinkled her nose. "That's rude and crude, and uncalled for," she said in a scolding tone.

    "Sorry. I meant they're foolin' around." Hatchet Face glared at Crawler, who'd just laughed raucously at his screwup.

    "No, I don't think so." Jack chewed on his thumbnail for a moment. "Nor do I think they've found someone to torture and kill. Something tells me it's more serious than that."

    Crawler, who'd come up with the last theory, stopped laughing at Jack's words. "Reckon someone got 'em?"

    "If they had, and if they'd 'got' Mannequin as well, I imagine we would've heard something," Jack decided, frowning hard. "I defy anyone to take on all three and still keep it quiet. No explosions, no gunshots." And yet, there they weren't. It was a conundrum, and he hated those.

    "What if it's a cape?" asked Hatchet Face eagerly. "Capes don't always make noise."

    Jack shook his head. "Not a cape." He knew it in his gut.

    "So, what do we do?" asked Crawler. "Want me to go look?"

    "You and Hatchet Face both," decided Jack. "Stick together. As soon as you've found out what's happened, report back."

    "And what if whoever did it's still there?" asked Hatchet Face.

    "Kill them and then report back, of course." Jack shook his head. "Do I have to tell you how to do everything around here?"

    <><>​

    Crawler

    Ned was already bored.

    Travelling was kinda fun, because he got to see new places. Fighting capes was lots of fun, because he got new powers used on him. Sometimes they tickled, and sometimes they did a lot more than just tickle.

    But looking for three missing teammates? That was boring. They were probably lost, that was all. Him and Hatchet Face would find them, they'd be perfectly okay, and Jack would yell at them for a bit—

    "Holy fuck!" Hatchet Face stopped suddenly, causing Ned to backpedal quickly so he didn't get caught in the power null field. The heavy axe Hatchet Face carried these days—and sharpened at every opportunity—swung out to point at something. "Look at that!"

    "What?" asked Ned, edging sideways to see where Hatchet Face was indicating. Then he spotted it; Mannequin's carapace, lying empty and gutted, with the actual innards lying in an untidy heap between the two halves. "Shit, is that what I think it is?"

    "If you think it means someone fucked up Mannequin big time, then it's definitely what you think it is." The voice was that of a teenage girl, and came from where a black-masked figure in a long-coat was leaning casually against the wall of a building, a small ball hovering back out of the way. The only thing in her hand was an elaborate pair of shears, which she tossed up and caught again without looking, the blades glinting in the sunlight. "Hi, guys. The name's Atropos, and I'm here to collect on your generous offer. Brockton Bay thanks you for your donations."

    "Donations?" Hatchet Face asked the question first, but only by a second or so. "What fuckin' donations?"

    "Your kill order bounties, duh," Atropos explained mockingly. Toss, catch. "I can tell you're not the brains of the Nine. Or are you ugly, stupid and deaf instead of just ugly and stupid?" Toss, catch.

    Ned wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he knew that was exactly the wrong thing to say to Hatchet Face at any time, ever. Insulting his looks was one thing; he didn't like it, but he was actually kinda ugly and knew it. But calling him stupid set him off every damn time.

    "I'll show you who's stupid!" roared Hatchet Face, and charged to the attack.

    <><>​

    Atropos

    I didn't even need to lean into my power to goad Hatchet Face into chasing me. All I had to do was think of all the things I'd ever wanted to say to Sophia or Emma after the fact. I had no need to save those zingers now, of course. Sophia was forever out of my hair due to a severe case of mortality, and I'd permanently killed Emma's desire to mess with me ever again.

    With Tall, Bald and Ugly hot on my heels and Crawler trying to be smart by running the other way around the building, it might have looked as though I'd bitten off more than I could chew. It was supposed to look that way.

    I skidded around the corner of the building; a precisely timed duck let Hatchet Face's axe bury itself in the wall just above my head. "Missed me, missed me, you don't get to kiss me!"

    "Kiss you?" he bellowed, wrenching the weapon out of the divot it had made in the crumbling brickwork. "I'm gonna rip your head off and fuck the neck-hole 'til your eyes pop out!"

    "Eww!" I stopped in front of the boarded-up main doors into the building, the shears still in my hand. "I bet you don't talk like that in front of Bonesaw!"

    "I talk how I want!" He thundered toward me, his heavy footsteps raising dust with every running footfall. My power coolly measured the angles and prompted me into the correct posture; I set myself, poised for the right instant.

    When he got too close, I could feel his nullification power trying to overcome mine, clawing at my capabilities in an attempt to strip them away from me. Because he's a cheaty cheating cheater.

    I could also feel my power doing the equivalent of giving his power the finger.

    I'd ducked under the last blow, so he swung low this time. The instant he committed himself, I leaped into the air and let it pass under me. As the axe blade passed under my feet and shattered the boards, I lunged with the shears. He was tough, tougher by far than any normal human, but even a needle will penetrate a human eyeball. The razor-sharp blades drove into his right eye with all my weight and strength behind them, and popped it like a particularly gross grape. His eye-socket stopped them from going any farther, which I had fully accounted for.

    He roared in agony and reached for his ruined eye; as he pulled the axe from the newly opened doorway, my feet landed on his arm and I kicked off, diving into the building through the gap thus created. Rolling to my feet, I bolted for the stairway up to the second floor. A wordless scream of pure incandescent rage echoed behind me as he finished the job on the doorway and came pounding into the building after me.

    Even what little caution Hatchet Face would normally have been exercising was now dead and gone. Exactly as planned.

    Sheathing the shears as I started up the stairs, I reached into my pocket for the remote and clicked it twice. Bip-bip.

    <><>​

    Dragon

    The remote signal came sooner than she'd expected. Bip-bip.

    There was just one missile prepped and ready on the launch rails; its target coordinates had been locked in since before the suit arrived on location. She'd honoured Atropos' stipulation to refrain from sending any remote sensor drones into the target zone, mainly because Mannequin absolutely had tech that would detect such signals and raise the alarm; even the Snitch was recording as opposing to re-broadcasting. But she suspected that once this missile went off, the alarm would be raised by default, so the missile included a nosecone camera.

    She really, really wanted to see what a killer of Atropos' caliber considered worth expending a high-explosive missile on.

    Caliber. Hah. I kill me.

    The missile's guidance systems were already spun up and ready to go. She sent the firing signal. With a thunder of expended propellant—it was times like this that she welcomed the fact that her suits had no sense of smell—it scorched off the rails, already vectoring in on the logged coordinates.

    Calculated flight time: three seconds.

    <><>​

    Taylor

    Three …

    I swung around the landing and powered my way up the second flight of stairs, taking them two and three at a time. Once I reached the top, I pelted toward one particular window. The grimy glass was already broken, and someone had made a half-assed attempt at nailing a board over it, but I didn't give a shit.

    Hatchet Face bellowed something behind me, promising to perform an act that was both gross and probably impossible without Bonesaw's assistance, but I wasn't listening. I'd gained half a second by taking his eye out and another half-second on the stairs, and that was all I needed. Crossing my arms over my face, I launched myself at the window.

    Two …

    Glass and wood, both shattering on impact, sprayed out alongside me. I paid them no mind, tucking for a forward somersault to land on Crawler's back, just ten feet below. Multiple eyes swivelled toward me and I heard the beginnings of a grunt of confusion as I made contact and rebounded off him. Landed in the street, I kept moving at a dead sprint.

    Back in the building, I knew, Hatchet Face had reached the top of the stairs and was charging toward the same window I'd gone out.

    One …

    There was a derelict car thirty feet away from Crawler, and I was halfway there. Every footstep I made was ideally placed for maximum traction and running speed. It was literally my life's goal to be on the other side of that car in … point eight of a second.

    The remains of the window and part of the wall burst outward as Hatchet Face bellowed his rage—and hurled his axe—at my retreating back. As he plummeted toward his teammate, I dived over the hood of the car, already opening my mouth wide and jamming my thumbs into my ear canals.

    Zero.

    <><>​

    Dragon

    As the (strangely muffled) sound of the explosion reached her audio sensors, Dragon studied the last image the missile had captured before it entered its final burn stage. It was a tableau unlike any other, but the more she looked at it, the more she appreciated the sheer artistry that had gone into it.

    First, she picked out Atropos, dropping for cover behind a car as a large axe flashed over her head. Second was Crawler himself, turning his monstrous head toward where Atropos had gone, and opening his primary mouth, probably in an instinctive attempt to snap at her. The open mouth, incidentally, was now directly in the missile's path.

    Third, in the midst of a cloud of tumbling rubble, was Hatchet Face, falling toward Crawler. More importantly, he was close enough that his power-nullification field would be entirely enveloping the insanely durable cape at the moment the missile struck.

    Oh, I see. Combat Thinker, indeed.

    With a casual signal, she cast the image back to the PRT building and started printing it in full colour. This one, she was going to frame.



    End of Part Twenty
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2022
  22. woodzrox

    woodzrox Getting sticky.

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    Ha! Sweet vindication! Thanks for the chapter (and delaying my sleep) Ack.
     
  23. MichaelSuave

    MichaelSuave Not too sore, are you?

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    So many Updates! So much action! Would like twice if I could.
     
  24. Ack

    Ack (Verified Ratbag) (Unverified Great Old One)

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    And there's one more to come, in about 12-14 hours, before I run through my backlog.
     
  25. poiu18894012

    poiu18894012 Beep boop, perverted robot.

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    Three Ack updates in a week? Tis a good week.

     
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  26. dxdragon

    dxdragon Versed in the lewd.

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    So many updates, thanks Ack!

    Oh, I can't wait for the inevitable PHO thread after this!

    C-C-C-Combo Breaker!
    Slaughterhouse Closed for Business!
    Double Kill!

    That Mannequin death though, that was BRUTAL. Didn't expect her to psychologically torture him into killing himself. Even I felt a bit bad for him.
     
  27. MichaelSuave

    MichaelSuave Not too sore, are you?

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    Yeah, this really brought home how fucked up thw worm verse really is, and especially the simurgh.
     
  28. MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot

    MonkeyNinja d'PirateRobot Not too sore, are you?

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    Well, that was fun! As soon as HF and Crawler left together I knew how it would end, but still fun.
     
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  29. edale

    edale Versed in the lewd.

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    OK, that Mannequin section was.... Dark.

    Ack, you may want to consider adding a warning tag or two to this one. Phycological torture, suicide, whatever the hell you call that Simurgh bit...
     
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  30. GasperVladi0

    GasperVladi0 I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Fuck that was satisfying, a bit fucked up for our mind fucked tinker (the sardine, not the child) but still damn good. People are going to have a fit.
     
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