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Snek is a Good Boy [a Worm Crackfic]

On the one hand, yeah, Cody is an asshole.

...On the other hand, he had to live in close proximity to Krouse, of all people, for a prolonged period of time.

And on the grabbing tentacle, *nobody* deserves the Yangban, and just killing him would be kinder than them.
Snek is indeed an good boy! I can't wait for Cody to get his head unfucked, I wouldn't be surprised if Cody was used as an foil by the Simurgh to push Krouse into the moronic nut job he is.
Snek is indeed an good boy! I can't wait for Cody to get his head unfucked, I wouldn't be surprised if Cody was used as an foil by the Simurgh to push Krouse into the moronic nut job he is.
Let's just say, after he gets un-Ziz'ed, he'll still be a mildly unpleasant jealous asshole, but at least he'll be a rational mildly unpleasant jealous asshole.

I'm thinking he'll ask to stay in the magical world, but ask one favour ... get Snek (or someone) to rearrange everything on Accord's desk when his back is turned, then watch Accord's head explode when he turns back and everything is wrong.
Part Nine: Together Again
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Nine: Together Again

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


"Okay," said Cody. "So … I have a question."

He was looking at Noelle instead of the Master of the Castle, who was giving them space to talk, so she nodded. "Sure, what is it?"

"Now, don't freak. Hear me out." He spread his hands, palm up. "You said Krouse and the rest are in PRT custody, right?"

"Right." She said it guardedly. "What's your point?"

"My point is …" he paused, apparently trying to think of how to phrase it, "… why don't we just … well … leave them there?"

She blinked solidly, going back over what he'd said, trying to wring another meaning from his words. "You have to be kidding. Why would I ever agree to that?"

"Listen. Listen, listen, listen." He was in full wheedling mode. She recalled a time when it had worked on her. Too much had happened since then for it to have any sort of effect now. "Ever since Krouse joined our group, things have gone to shit. Name one good thing that's happened to us."

She stared him down. "Now you're pushing it. The Simurgh, that wasn't Krouse. We were Simurgh bombs from then on, so all the arguing …" Recalling the words of the Master of the Castle, she amended her words. "… okay, most of the arguing was down to that."

"Krouse gave you that shitty formula." He grinned as he said it, evidently sure he'd scored a winning point.

"The Simurgh made him find it," Noelle countered. "She made sure we'd drink the ones we did. She wanted me to be a monster. Everything after the Simurgh, us becoming the Travellers, was basically down to her." She pointed at Cody. "But you were the one who nearly got Mars killed by Accord."

From the expression on his face, he knew he was on the back foot now. "That was the Simurgh, too," he protested. "You said it yourself. And anyway, the guys have all committed crimes. The PRT will put them in jail, they'll break out and go their own way. Meanwhile, you and me …"

She shook her head. "No. Krouse has stuck by me through thick and thin. Yeah, I know it was the Simurgh's influence that probably caused you to mess up all those times, but I was with Krouse before we ever came to Bet."

"So why am I even here?" asked Cody. "I thought we had something."

"We did, once," she agreed. "But not anymore. I asked for you to be rescued because you were once my teammate, and I'm hoping we can still be at least friends. But the others get a choice as well."

"Well spoken, Miss Meinhardt," said the Master of the Castle approvingly. "Snek, if you can retrieve the other members of her group, please?"

"Yess, Masster," the massive snake agreed at once. "Ssnek will do that." Turning, it wriggled out through the door, which closed behind it.

"Is it just me," murmured Cody, "or does that thing get creepier every time you hear it talk?"

Noelle stared at him, absolutely certain that the Master of the Castle had just heard his words. "No!" she protested. "And you're a horrible person for even thinking that! Snek is a perfect gentleman!"

Cody made an abortive gesture, then blinked. "Crap," he muttered. "What happened to—?"

"Your temporal rewind powers?" The Master of the Castle's smile was wintry. "They are currently in abeyance. And I will thank you to be more polite in general. This castle possesses an abundance of both dragons and dungeons." Though his tone was light, there was steel beneath it.

Cody gulped.


Regional Director Emily Piggot


Emily relaxed in her chair, looking over the morning reports. Nothing drastic had happened overnight, which she decided to chalk up to a minor miracle. The day before had been impressively chaotic, or chaotically impressive, whichever way she wanted to describe it.

Not only was Coil in captivity, but he was also Thomas Calvert, which explained so many things that had been going wrong since he'd slimed his way back into the PRT from being a mere civilian advisor. Also, the Travellers were under lock and key (all except for the semi-mythical monster that had reputedly been accompanying them) and finally Tattletale was spilling the beans about Coil, just as fast as she could manage it.

This situation was not without its complications. She'd had to call in extra manpower from everywhere to cover for every person with whom Calvert had had even a tangential part in placing within the building. And that didn't include those who had been cleared by his stooges, all of whom were now also under intensive investigation. Tattletale had (somewhat unexpectedly) been of assistance here, willingly pointing out the ones she claimed to be his moles. Emily wasn't so gullible as to take these assertions at face value, or to immediately clear the ones Tattletale said were fine, but she was happy to use said assertions as a data point for or against.

As part of this, she'd automatically assumed the PRT building's computer system was compromised—if she knew Calvert, it was the first thing he would've done—so she had IT guys with suitable clearance going through it with the electronic equivalent of a fine-toothed comb, snagging out the bits and pieces that should not be there. So far, they weren't even half done, and they'd already found enough evidence of tampering to make her consider raising their salaries. She also wanted to tear her hair out, but she could do that later.

What to do with Tattletale after the dust had settled was another matter. The girl clearly did not want to go anywhere near juvenile detention, and Emily could see why. With the smart mouth on her, it was a fifty-fifty crapshoot as to whether she'd be running the place or losing all her teeth inside the first month.

Pulling a Shadow Stalker and inducting her into the Wards was a second option, one which Emily was starting to reluctantly lean toward. She clearly had zero loyalty toward her ex-boss (considering the means of her recruitment, Emily was hardly surprised) and was working hard at projecting an image of a helpful, cooperative, potentially law-abiding, useful teenage parahuman. Not all of which Emily actually trusted, but it was a good start.

Armsmaster had of course ferreted out the girl's real identity and spoken to her regarding her family; the response he got back about informing them about any of this had been a solid nope. Which, given that Tattletale was over sixteen and currently of sound body and mind, meant that Emily didn't have to if she didn't want to. And she really didn't. People who could cause their daughter to trigger from emotional stress did not fit her view of suitable parents in any shape or form, ever.

She still had to make her final decision, and of course the girl would have to pick a costume far different from that skin-tight purple monstrosity, but—

A triple knock resounded through her office; not from her main office door, but the one leading to her ensuite. Which she knew for a fact was empty, since she'd used the facilities not twenty minutes beforehand. There was no connecting door anywhere else, and even the air ducts were only three inches square and trapped with electrified monowire, so the chance of someone sneaking in there from somewhere else in the building was vanishingly small.

Her hand slid down into the foot-well of her desk, where her service pistol resided in a holster clamped to the solid wood. Carefully, she eased the firearm from its place, the weight of the cold metal comforting to her hand. Her other hand took hold of the duress button under the edge of the desk, ready to jam it to its stop if this went bad.

The knock came again, but it wasn't a sharp rapping; more of a boomp-boomp-boomp, as if someone were thumping their knee against the door. "Hello?" she called out warily. "Is there someone in there?"

"Ssnek iss Ssnek. May Ssnek come in?"

She froze. The voice was eminently recognisable from the recordings she'd listened to, time and again. If it didn't belong to the giant snake that had been occasionally seen around Brockton Bay (and, she reminded herself, had been instrumental in Coil's downfall) then it was the best imitation of it she'd heard yet. Which still didn't rule out an amazingly ill-advised prank, merely reduced the chances of it.

Best to hedge her bets. "If this is Assault, I swear I will have you scrubbing every latrine in the building with your toothbrush." After you show me how you pulled this off.

The voice came back. "Ssnek iss not Asssault. Ssnek iss Ssnek. May Ssnek come in?"

She pulled the duress button—more of a sliding toggle—back to the first click. This alerted the security station to the fact that something was going on, and gave them video and audio to her office, but let them know she was handling the situation at the moment. Almost as an afterthought, she thumbed back the hammer on her pistol. "Come ahead."

The door handle clicked, then the door swung inward. And out through the doorway slithered the giant fucking snake, or at least a dozen feet of it. Emily had no fucking idea where the rest of it was; there literally was no room in the ensuite for fifty feet of horror-movie reptile.

Also, it wore a regular-sized fedora in the middle of its broad head. What that was about, Emily couldn't even begin to imagine.

It actually smiled at her, or at least that was how she interpreted the expression. "Hello, blue ssuit lady. Ssnek iss pleassed to meet you."

Not the way she'd ever expected to be greeted by something that big and with that many teeth, but it was infinitely preferable to being immediately attacked. Carefully, she lowered the hammer on the pistol and pointed it at the floor; she'd seen how ineffectual lasers and bullets were against the thing, so the gesture was more diplomatic than meaningful. She remained ready to pull the duress button back to the full emergency level, though.

"It's … interesting to meet you as well," she replied. "Why are you here?"

"Ssnek hass resscued not-monsster Noelle and Masster has fixxed. Not-monsster Noelle hass assked for funny hat man and hiss other friendss for Masster to fixx. Ssnek iss here to tell blue ssuit lady that Ssnek will be taking them."

That took a few seconds for Emily to parse out. Finally, she recalled that Trickster habitually wore a top hat. And if 'not-monster Noelle' was the missing, mysterious member of the Travellers …

"The Travellers," she said. "You're saying you want to take the Travellers."

"That iss the name not-monsster Noelle ssaid, yess." Snek managed to look even more pleased with himself? Itself? "Ssnek will be taking them. Masster hass ssaid sso."

Part of her mind was saying, what are you doing? Don't argue with the giant snake! but she resolutely ignored that part. "They've committed crimes," she said firmly. "They've done bad things. I can't just let them go."

"Not-monsster Noelle ssaid they are Ssimurgh-bombss," Snek informed her. From the tone of its voice, it didn't know what the phrase meant, but knew it was important. "Sso wass not-monsster Noelle. Masster fixxed her. Masster can fixx other Travellerss too. If blue ssuit lady wantss, Travellerss will not come back."

Shit. Fuck. Okay, then. That's something I definitely needed to know yesterday. "So, what you're telling me is that the Travellers are Simurgh bombs, that your Master can fix that, and that he can arrange matters so they never return to this city even after he fixes them?"

"Travellerss will not come back to thiss world if blue ssuit lady does not want," Ssnek corrected her blithely. "Not-monsster Noelle wantss to sstay on Masster'ss world. Otherss may sstay there too."

This was sounding better and better all the time. "And if I said you couldn't take them?"

Somehow, the giant shoulder-less reptile managed to shrug. "Ssnek will take them anyway. Ssnek jusst likess to assk first. Masster ssayss politenesss iss important."

Well, that definitely laid everything out in black and white. "I suppose I can't stop you then. I'll notify the guards to not get in your way." A thought struck her. "One more thing. Is Tattletale a Simurgh bomb as well?"

Snek paused. "Ssnek doess not know. Pleasse excusse Ssnek for a minute?"

Emily had long since decided to go with the flow. Placing the pistol on the desk, she waved her hand magnanimously. "Go right ahead."

"Thank you, blue ssuit lady." A portal appeared in front of Snek and the gigantic reptile poured itself? Himself? down it. All fifty feet of missing length whipped out of the cramped ensuite and into the portal before it snapped shut.

She took a deep breath and spoke to the air. "You've seen and heard all that, correct?"

"Yes, ma'am." It was Hendricks, in the security station. "You've been having a conversation with a giant snake called Snek, which is giving us notice that it intends to take the Travellers off our hands." She had to admire his ability to state the utterly ridiculous in a matter of fact tone like that.

"Correct." Which meant she wasn't going insane, or at least not in ways that were immediately obvious. "Note that I'm inclined not to fight this situation, mainly because I'm pretty sure we can't."

"Affirmative, ma'am. For what it's worth, I agree with you. Also, Simurgh bombs."

That was an excellent point. She opened her mouth to make another observation, but then the snake slithered out of her ensuite again; this time, as the door was open, it didn't need to knock. "Hello, blue ssuit lady. Ssnek iss back. Masster sayss that purple girl iss not Ssimurgh bomb. Iss jusst naturally annoying. Masster alsso sayss that purple girl will make good Ward."

Emily bit back a snort of amusement. Just naturally annoying, indeed. Well, he's definitely got her number. "Thank you," she said, trying not to crack a smile. "I'll take that recommendation under advisement."

"Blue ssuit lady iss welcome," Snek said politely. "Ssnek will be taking Travellerss to Masster now."

This time, instead of vanishing into a portal, it wriggled backward into the ensuite. The door closed behind it.

Slowly, Emily got up from her desk. She approached the door and opened it, then looked within. The porcelain fixtures, including the cramped shower cubicle, were as pristine as ever. Of the gargantuan reptile that had slithered out of it—twice—there was no sign.

Shaking her head, she closed the door and headed back to her desk. She'd just gotten there and lowered herself into her seat when the hidden speakers in her desk came to life again. "Hendricks here, ma'am. The guards in Holding have just reported that the Travellers are missing from their cells. Should I fill them in?"

She pursed her lips thoughtfully. Damn, that thing works fast. "Not until you've had them pull all the security tapes, to see if you can spot how it pulled it off. After all, the next eldritch menace that comes through here might not be so polite as to give us advance warning."

Hendricks' voice may have held a smile. "Right you are, ma'am."

"Oh, and Hendricks?"


"Could you send someone up to reset my duress button?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Leaning back in her chair, Emily Piggot shook her head. It was never dull in Brockton Bay.



The dining hall was huge and well-lit, with a long cloth-covered wooden table running most of the length of it. Large windows let in the afternoon sunlight, and richly woven tapestries added colour to the walls. When they'd sat down to the meal, the same hearth-dragon that she'd met earlier—or at least, she thought it was the same one—had swooped in through the window and perched on the arm of the chair to her left.

Servants had trooped through, depositing platter after platter of enticingly smelling food in front of them, before leaving them in peace to eat. The crockery and eating utensils appeared remarkably modern, compared to what she had read about in books on medieval customs. Most surprisingly, the tiny dragon—and its friends, who had also shown up, looking hopeful—didn't immediately start stealing food, but waited for it to be offered instead. For creatures with scales and wings instead of fur, they had an amazing line in puppy-dog eyes.

Krouse, sitting on Noelle's right, took a bite from a large drumstick—if that had come from a chicken, she wasn't sure she wanted to meet the original bird—and waved it around. The iridescent red-scaled hearth-dragon beside him watched it hopefully.

"So, what's the catch?" he asked. "We're all out of PRT holding. We're not Simurgh bombs anymore. Okay, we had to give up our powers, but I'm pretty sure most of us agree they were more trouble than they were worth."

Noelle offered 'her' dragon a chunk of meat, which it accepted politely from her fingers. "Well, duh," she said. Looking around, she could see Oliver and Marissa and Jess—the latter of whom had arrived in the dining hall escorted by the kid called Riley, walking on her own two legs—nodding in agreement. But Luke looked dubious, and Cody was outright scowling. "Come on, guys. All they did was get us out of one hole and straight into another."

"I know we can't go back to Bet," Luke said, "but we could've been heroes on Aleph."

"Fuck being a hero," Cody grumbled. "What right did they have to say we couldn't go back? Accord sold me into slavery, guys!"

"And Snek got you out," Noelle said. "The only way you're ever going back there is if Snek or his Master say so. Good luck with changing their minds. Especially since Director Piggot said she didn't want any of us ever going back." She was reasonably certain it hadn't been Piggot's decision, but the regional Director of the Brockton Bay PRT had a reputation of being enough of a hardass to agree with it.

"So what do we do now?" Krouse asked her. "You've been here the longest. Do you think we should go back to Aleph? We've been away for a year and a half. They probably think we're dead."

"Well, you can do what you want," she told him. "I'm staying right here. It's a whole world, set up for the kind of adventuring we used to pretend we were doing when we were playing Ransack. With enough convenient magic to prevent it from being horrifically medieval."

"Then I'm staying too," he said immediately. "You think it'll take us long to, I guess, train into a class? Or however it works here?"

"What? No!" Cody jammed the tines of his fork into the hard wood of the table, through the cloth. "Krouse, you were gonna go back to Aleph! Just go, why don't you? Nobody wants you here!"

"I want him here." Noelle spoke firmly, looking Cody in the eye. "You can go, or not, if you want. We don't have powers anymore. There's no reason for us to stick together as a group. But if Krouse wants to be here with me, to see if there's still something between us after all the shit we've been through, I'm willing to give it a try."

"Aarrrgh!" Cody jumped to his feet and stormed out. The door banged shut behind him. Two hearth-dragons jumped onto the table and started eating the food that he'd put on his plate, dividing it neatly between them.

Jess let out a heavy sigh. "Well, that happened."

"Yeah, it did." Oliver shrugged. "I'll try to find him and talk to him once he's cooled down a bit."

"Probably not a bad idea." Marissa looked across at Noelle. "So, two questions. Is there ballet here on this world? And I've been meaning to ask: what's that outfit you're wearing? Because it's absolutely kick-ass."

Noelle shrugged. "I don't know if ballet's a thing here, but I'm willing to bet that Snek's Master can make it happen. Maybe you can teach it."

"Ooh." Marissa looked pensive. "That … wow, I have no idea what to think about that."

"And what about your leather armour?" Jess leaned forward. "Where did you get it from? Because I absolutely want a set."

"That shouldn't be too hard." Noelle could feel the grin trying to take over. "I got it from a magical wardrobe in my room. As for what it is … dragon riding leathers."

That got everyone's attention.

"What?" asked Krouse. "Did you say dragon riding?"

"As in riding dragons?" Jess added.

"Real dragons?" Marissa said. One of the hearth-dragons squawked at her, and she fed it a piece of meat. "Sorry, sorry. You're very pretty. But actual, rideable dragons?"

Even Luke leaned into the conversation. "You've got my attention."

Noelle nodded, her grin widening. "Yup. Guys … I've absolutely ridden a dragon. I've done it. It's amazing."

Oliver seemed to be trying to catch his breath. "Can we … can we do that too?"

"Ahem." The Master of the Castle was abruptly sitting in an ornate chair at the head of the table. Noelle wasn't sure if he—or it—had been there all along, but her brain seemed to think so. "Yes. You may indeed ride dragons. Does this mean that you wish to stay?"

"Do we!" Luke turned to Marissa, Jess and Oliver. "You in, too?"

Jess nodded her head definitively. "You had me at 'we can ride dragons'. Mars?"

Marissa gave her a high-five, while Oliver merely nodded. "Well, duh."

The Master of the Castle nodded. "Very well. Your absent comrade has chosen, through sheer spite, to travel on his own for now. I wish him well in his endeavours, and you in yours. If you need assistance, call Snek's name and he will attend your needs. In the meantime, enjoy your meal."

As abruptly and soundlessly as he had appeared, he vanished once more, chair and all.

Jess and Marissa stared at where he'd been, then turned to Noelle. "Okay, give with the deets," Marissa demanded. "Riding dragons. What's it like?"

Noelle fed her hearth-dragon another chunk of meat. "Okay, the first thing you've got to understand is that they're big. I mean, huge. The next thing? They're huge dorks."

End of Part Nine
I really wonder something. With the existence of Snek and dragons, does the Master of Castle keep abominations of the highest degree at the deeper parts of his home?
Well, he did mention dungeons.

I will also remind you of this scene:
She eyed him cautiously, but he didn't seem to be about to launch an attack. "If you know who I am and where I'm from, then you're aware what's at stake," she rasped. "Billions or even trillions of lives."

"Oh, I am definitely aware." He took hold of his staff and made a pass with it. A holographic globe popped into existence in the air before them, and then another, and another and another. "Yours is not the only world in peril. Mine is not the only one I protect." Another twitch of the staff brought into being a creature that was all glowing eyes and shadowy tentacles, at least the size of the Moon, stretching its appendages out to wrap around one of the planets and drag it into eternal darkness. "Threats abound throughout the multiverse, some of which would overwhelm your little problems in an instant, or make them much, much worse." From the surface of the planet burst lightning, striking the shadow-creature and rending it asunder. "Are you beginning to understand?"
This chapter was kinda mixed for me. On the one hand Snek + Piggot was neat, if short. I liked this part.

On the other hand, The Travelers. This part was boring and I can't really say I like them.

Hoping for more Snek.
Travellers will be travelling on.

Snek will be back.
Part Ten: Gotta Catch Them All
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Ten: Gotta Catch Them All

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


Max Anders drew a deep breath as he looked at the assembled group of capes that made up the Empire Eighty-Eight's muscle. "Congratulations, everyone," he declared. "We've won. Lung is gone, Oni Lee and Bakuda have managed to kill each other, and even Coil's been captured. There's nobody standing between us and total control of the Brockton Bay underground."

Justin raised one finger briefly. "The Merchants are still out there, and we've still got the PRT to worry about."

Cricket snorted and elbowed the young man in the ribs. Similar eye-rolls and expressions of exasperation spread through the rest of the group. With a slight smile on his face, Max waited for the interruptions to die down before he continued.

"Yes, the Merchants still exist, but if you honestly think a bunch of subhuman degenerates and drug addicts stand any chance of opposing us, then you're hitting the hard stuff more than they ever will. And as for the PRT … well, they have their rules and regulations. More to the point, if they were hesitant to come after us when we weren't the only significant group in town, what makes you think they'll change their ways now that we are?"

There was a pause of a few seconds, then Rune cleared her throat. "Uh … what about the snake?"

An awkward silence followed. Nobody wanted to talk about the snake. It was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and the word on the street was that it had eaten Lung. Another story suggested that it was also responsible for eating Hatchet Face, abducting Bonesaw, and killing Jack Slash, and thus precipitating the dissolution of the Slaughterhouse Nine.

Max had no idea what to think about it. Certainly, it had appeared in Brockton Bay more than once—the viral footage aside, Fugly Bob's was now proudly displaying a framed picture of the snake itself proceeding peacefully through their drive-through—but beyond being seen with various capes, it had yet to establish any kind of allegiance. Where it came from, what it wanted and who it answered to, nobody knew.

On the one hand, it had attacked criminals in the act of committing crimes, and nothing they'd been able to do had even dented it. On the other, it had yet to bother the Empire. Perhaps it was a sympathiser, or was cautious of their power? They could, after all, muster more capes in the same place than any other group in Brockton Bay.

The most important aspect, he knew, was to show zero concern about it. If the others got even the slightest idea that he was worried, it would poke large holes in his façade of confidence. His father had drummed into him over and over that no matter what the actual situation was, he must always act like he knew what was going on and how to fix it.

"What about the snake?" he replied rhetorically. "At worst, it's a loose cannon. We know it isn't working with the PRT. Even if it was inclined to, they're not about to ally themselves with something that eats people whole. And if it did look our way, there's nobody here who isn't either fast enough to get out of its way or tough enough to make it back off." He almost said kill it, but that felt like pushing matters a little too far. It had taken on several powerful capes so far, and survived them all.

"Like to see it fuckin' try," boasted Hookwolf. "Stupid thing won't know who it's fuckin' with 'til it's too late."

A low murmur of agreement arose from the Brute-rated members of the Empire. Fenja and Menja both flexed, growing six inches taller before reducing to their base heights.

Max nodded. "Exactly. Keep an eye out for it and call it in if you see it, but otherwise; business as normal."

That should do it.


That Evening
Aisha Laborn

Motherfucking cock-gargling ass-munching turd-jugglers. Panting, Aisha darted around the corner and wriggled behind a dumpster. It was narrow and cramped, and stank like Skidmark's underwear—because skidmarks, geddit?—but it had the advantage of putting her out of sight of the Empire assholes chasing her.

She didn't even know why they were up in her grille all of a sudden. This wasn't Empire territory, or at least it hadn't been until recently, so they'd sung low when passing through. But now, she'd only given them the finger just once from across the street, and half a dozen of them had come running after her.

Pounding footsteps became audible and she paused, trying to breathe slowly and silently. Nobody ran unless they were chasing someone or being chased, at least in this area of Brockton Bay, so she figured they had to be the same racist pricks she'd been trying to evade for the last fifteen minutes. Why couldn't they just give up and go home already, she groused silently.

"Where is she?" That had to be the leader. Aisha hadn't gotten a good look at him, but he had a deeper voice than the others, and the faint clinking of chains suggested that he wore them as an accessory. Because nothing says 'I've got a tiny dick' better than a bunch of chains hanging off you.

"Dunno," another one replied. "She couldn't have gotten far."

"Fuck," said a third one, breathing heavily. "That little bitch can run."

Damn right I can.

"She has to be around here somewhere," the leader growled, and she heard the sound of clinking chains coming closer to the dumpster. "You and you, look in there."

"What, inside?" It was more like a yelp than a protest. "It smells like shit in there!"

Chain guy had apparently had enough. "Open the fucking lid and start looking, or I'll shove you in there myself."

"Okay, okay, sorry. I didn't mean it that way. Couldn't you maybe make the smell go away or something?"

"I'm Stormtiger, not your personal fucking servant." The leader's tone was low and deadly.

Oh, shit. Aisha knew who Stormtiger was. Her personal threat awareness was now so far off the scale it was out of sight. Among those that the Empire Eighty-Eight had a beef with (ie, anyone with an ethnic background other than pure whitey-white) it was well-known that there were the bad ones and then there were the really bad ones. Stormtiger was one of the latter.

She heard the lid creaking open, and the dumpster was shoved a couple of inches into her ribs. Although she did her best to muffle it, she let out a pained grunt.

Stormtiger was still talking. "I don't— what was that?"

Aisha froze. Nope. Nope. Nope. You heard nothing.


"I didn't hear anything."

"Me neither."

"All I heard was the dumpster."

"Same here."

"Step back." That was Stormtiger. "Unless one of you is wearing Dove deodorant, she's behind the damn dumpster."

Aisha's eyes opened wide. Shit fuck crap dammit—

A massive gust of wind smashed into the metal container, sending it flying down the alleyway. Aisha tried to grab hold, but it was gone before she could get a grip. Suddenly bereft of her hiding place, she stared up at the five Empire Eighty-Eight followers—and the one cape—standing there.

Some would've frozen on the spot. Aisha had no such reflex. Scrambling to her feet, she dived for the shadows in the full understanding that if she didn't get away, she was going to regret everything that happened next for the rest of her life. However short that might be.

One man cursed and reached for her, but she fended him off as though her life depended on it … which it essentially did. Another jumped in the way, arms and legs spread wide as though to body-block her; she dived between his legs, delivering an elbow to his groin on the way past. On her feet again, she dug her sneakers into the grimy, cracked concrete as she bolted toward the sanctuary of the darkness.

The whistling wind picked her up and spun her around. Losing all her footing, she flailed wildly as Stormtiger gestured. "Hey!" she yelled. "Let me go, assmunch! What'd I ever do to you?"

"Nothing," he admitted, with what she thought was a smirk under the mask. "But you're black, and you're in my city. That's enough for me. We were looking for someone to initiate the guys with, and you just volunteered."

If Aisha thought her eyes couldn't get any wider, she'd just proven herself wrong. She'd heard about Empire initiations, and none of it was good. "You-you don't want me," she blustered. "I've started my rag today. Talk about red tsunami, it's fuckin' gross."

Stormtiger turned his head to the other men. "Little cooch thinks a bit of blood's going to put us off. Anyone got a problem with that?"


"Hah, no way."

"Not likely."

"I'm good."



Stormtiger paused at the unfamiliar hiss. Now, the movement of his facial muscles behind his mask suggested a frown. "Who said that?"

"Ssnek ssaid that." The voice came from the darkness in the alleyway where Aisha had been trying to seek refuge. And then, a moment later, the speaker slithered into view.

While Aisha had never exactly afraid of snakes, her view of them had been very much 'pass'. They could do the wriggly hissy bitey thing somewhere else where she wasn't, and she'd be just fine with that. But right now, she was aware of exactly what (or rather who) this snake was, and she knew that it had eaten Lung and Hatchet Face. If it could do the same for her with Stormtiger, she was willing to review every bad thought she'd ever had about any snake anywhere.

"Snek!" she yelled. "Help!"

The gigantic python, or anaconda, or whatever Snek was, slithered closer, his massive head lifting off the ground until it was at Aisha's height. Despite the wind still blowing around, the fedora it was wearing (Aisha had no idea what that was about) stayed in place. "Ssnek help?" it asked. "Bad men?"

"No, we're not bad men," Stormtiger scoffed.

"Yes, bad men!" yelled Aisha. "They're going to hurt me!"

Stormtiger shook his head. "This is a bad girl. She's a thief. She stole from us."

Suddenly, the snake's enormous head—it had to be at least as long as Aisha was tall—darted forward until it was right in front of Stormtiger. "Ssnek thinkss blue massk man iss lying."

"Well, yeah, he's lying!" Aisha wasn't going to stand back idly for this. "He's Stormtiger! He's a supervillain! He works for the Empire Eighty-Eight! They're all bad people! They hurt people like me all the time!"

"She's lying!" blurted Stormtiger. "She's nothing but a little thief!"

Snek turned his head so that one enormous gold-rimmed eye was looking at Stormtiger, and one at Aisha. "Ssnek thinkss purple hair girl iss telling truth and blue massk man iss lying. Blue massk man wantss to hurt purple hair girl. Ssnek doess not like people hurting children."

Quicker than the eye could follow, the great mouth opened and a long tongue darted out. Instead of the simple fork that snakes tended to have, this one separated out into many prehensile tendrils that wrapped around Aisha and dragged her out of the whirlwind effect Stormtiger had trapped her in. With a flip of his head, Snek deposited Aisha astride his neck, then turned his attention back to Stormtiger.

"You're making a bad mistake," the villain averred, bringing up a barrier of wind between them. "The Empire Eighty-Eight would make a bad enemy for you. There's just one of you, and many of us."

"Ssnek hass fought many enemiess before," the snake said cheerfully. "Mouss ssayss iss called 'target rich envi-ron-ment'. Iss fun."

"Wait, is that Mouse Protector?" Aisha grinned widely. Girl was her kind of hero. "I've seen her pictures with you."

"Yess." Snek sounded pleased. "Mouss is good friend. Have adventuress together." He leaned toward Stormtiger. "Tell where other bad men who would hurt purple hair girl, and Ssnek will not eat blue massk man."

Stormtiger glanced to the left and right, and Aisha suddenly realised that his unpowered cohorts were deserting the scene at speed. She suspected that they also knew what had happened to Lung and Hatchet Face. "Looks like you're all alone, Stormy," she taunted. "You want to maybe tell the Snekmeister here what he wants to know, before he goes all om-nom-nom on your pasty-white ass?"

"I'm loyal to the Empire Eighty-Eight," snarled Stormtiger, "and I refuse to bow down to man, beast or ni—"

"Get 'im, Snek!"




The motorbike rumbled slowly down the road. Brad didn't bother with anything so pussy as a helmet or leathers; if he fell on the road, he knew what would give way first, and it wasn't him. Behind the bike, there was a pickup truck full of the party faithful; shaven heads as far as the eye could see. They were armed with pistols and assault rifles, based on how good they were at the makeshift target ranges the Empire had set up here and there.

There'd been no word from Stormtiger since one of the idiots who'd been with him had called for backup in a panic. Brad had been skeptical about the report—if his buddy had any idea what was coming for him, he could kick ass with the best of them—but the fact remained that Stormtiger was still radio silent. The long and the short of it was that he intended to find out—or find Stormtiger himself—and kick the ass of whatever had gotten to him.

He was fully aware that the guy's babbling added up to that stupid snake coming out of nowhere, but idiots lied all the time so they didn't look bad, or so they looked good. Brad had no tolerance for lying—well, they could lie to anyone else, but not to him—so he was going to go and find out exactly what had happened. If someone's ass needed kicking, Brad would kick it. And if it did turn out to be that goddamn snake, Brad was going to be wearing new snakeskin boots.

Nobody fucked with the Empire like this. Nobody.

Up ahead was the alley where the guy had said Stormtiger was facing off the snake. Smoothly, Brad pulled over to the side of the road and parked the bike. He didn't bother looking back at the others as he stalked into the dimness. They knew what to do.

When he got to the wider section where the action had supposedly taken place, he frowned. There wasn't any blood, or really anything else. He could see marks where a dumpster had stood and then been moved sideways, but that was about it.

"… the fuck?" he asked out loud.

"Sir?" called one of the trigger-men from outside. "Did you want us?"

"Stay the fuck out there!" he yelled back. He was no detective, but surely there were clues here about where Stormtiger had gotten to, and he didn't want the morons walking everywhere before he found them.

And then he saw it. Off in a corner, partially hidden under a newspaper, something patterned in white and blue. Exactly the same colour as Stormtiger's mask.

Moving in that direction with fast strides, he whipped the paper aside and picked up the mask that had been revealed. It was definitely Stormtiger's, alright. He'd know that paint job anywhere. The question was, who or what had cut clear through the tough leather strap and left it there? And more to the point, if it had only been lying there for half an hour, how did an old newspaper get draped over it?

That was when every hair on the back of his neck raised, all at once. Fuck. It's a trap. And I walked right into it.

In the next instant he let the blades out of his body in all directions, assuming his preferred wolf-shape as he spun around. His eyes searched the alley in both directions for the ambush he knew was coming. It was too neat a snare for there not to be one.

"Hello, pointy-blade man." The voice, redolent with a deep hissing undertone, came from above. As he turned his eyes in that direction, he saw the snake slithering over the edge of the roof three floors above and down toward the ground. Its eyes were bright with interest and curiosity, and there was a young black teenager with a purple streak in her hair riding astride its neck. Also, a normal-sized fedora on its broad head, but that wasn't important.

"Where's Stormtiger?" he demanded, then held up the discarded mask. "The man who was wearing this mask! Where is he?"

"Snek chomped him," the black girl said gleefully. "It was amazeballs. He was right in the middle of telling Snek where to go, too. Perfect timing."

"Ssnek not like bad men hurt children," the snake explained. "Blue massk man wass going to hurt purple hair girl. Ssnek wantss to know where other bad men are. Pointy-blade man tellss Ssnek where to find bad men, Ssnek not eat pointy-blade man."

Brad held up a hand. "Wait, wait. You're interrogating me? About the Empire Eighty-Eight? Is that what you're trying to do?" It was so stupid it was hilarious. Nobody interrogated him. Who the fuck even had the stones to try?

All of a sudden, the rest of the snake had slithered over the edge of the roof and joined him in the alleyway. There was an absolute fuck-ton of it, all wriggling and curling so fast he barely had time to react when two massive coils fell around him and started squeezing. "Yess. Ssnek needss to know where bad men are. Pointy-blade man knowss. Ssnek iss assking."

"What the … fuck …" Brad grunted, trying to loosen the grasp around him. Blades speared out of his skin, seeking to slice and dice the importunate reptile. It wasn't happening; the scaly hide seemed impervious to his keenest edge, and there was more muscle than he could stand up against. Inch by inch, foot by foot, he felt the steel he'd extruded being forced to either bend or be forced back into his body.

"Iss pointy-blade man ready to tell Ssnek where bad men are?" The snake's snout was mere feet from his. Even now, it didn't seem to exhibit any level of menace or anger. Just an innocent determination to do what it had to do. "Ssnek needss to know." A coil tightened, and metal snapped. "Pleasse."

"Hey!" yelled a voice from a little further down the alley. "What's going on?"

"Whoa," the girl said, looking over her shoulder. "Snek, they've got guns."

"That's right," grunted Brad, forcing the words out past the constriction. "They might not hurt you, but they'll fuckin' Swiss-cheese her."

"Ssnek not like bang-ouch weaponss," the snake replied. "Purple hair girl hide behind Ssnek." As he spoke, a section of its body rose up to shield the girl.

"Hey, Hookworm, you know Snek will just run these morons over or eat them too," the girl said. "Tell 'em to get lost and go fetch reinforcements. You know you want to."

As much as he hated to be told what to do, and as much as he loathed being helpless, Brad had to admit that the girl was correct on both points. "Go!" he yelled with what felt like the last of his breath. "Get Kaiser! Bring everyone! Kill this fuckin' thing!"

"Pointy-blade man not tell Ssnek where bad men are?" asked the snake almost plaintively, after the sound of running footsteps had died away.

"Not a chance," gritted Brad.

The snake nodded. "Ssnek undersstandss." Between one instant and the next, its coils opened up, leaving him free on the ground. Then the gigantic head blurred forward, jaws agape. He didn't even have time to scream.



The Same Alleyway
Half An Hour Later


Max trod carefully through the muck and the grime, flanked by Fenja and Menja, along with an army of Crusader's ghosts. He wasn't taking any chances; Rune was providing aerial overwatch, Victor with a sniper rifle on her platform. Cricket, Alabaster and Krieg were coming in over the rooftops from different directions. Finally, Othala had personally made him invulnerable before he'd walked in, so no matter what happened, the snake was going down.

He wished Purity, Night and Fog had chosen to stay with the team, but he figured he could handle this without them.

The section of alleyway was empty, both of any people and of an oversized snake. A couple of gleaming pieces of metal caught his eye, and he toed them with his boot. "Hookwolf's blades," he said out loud. "Broken off. Look alive, people."

Fenja pointed with her sword. "What's that over there?" In the corner, where she'd indicated, was Hookwolf's metal mask, overlaying something coloured blue and white.

"Eyes all around," ordered Max over the radio net they were using, and strode over to investigate. Hookwolf's mask was a little bent and twisted, as though it had been subjected to impressive stress, while Stormtiger's was undamaged. As he turned them over in his hands, the fingertips uncovered to better feel what he was doing, he sucked in his breath in a sudden hiss of pain. Looking to see what had happened, he realised that he'd cut himself on a sharp edge of Hookwolf's mask …


Cut myself?

"Othala," he said urgently. "Come in, Othala." The invulnerability she granted invariably lasted longer than that.

There was no reply.

"Kaiser to all points," he snapped. "Can anyone see Othala?"

"Victor here. That's a neg—"

"Kaiser to Victor. Repeat your last?"

Only dead air answered him.

"Kaiser to Rune! Where's Victor?"

"Look out!" yelled Menja, shoving him aside. At the same time, Fenja grew to twenty feet tall and put her shield over her head. Something shattered on it, pieces of concrete going everywhere.

Somehow, without even looking, Max knew it was the chunk of pavement Rune had been using as her personal flying carpet. "Everyone, sound off!"






He looked around, confused. "Where's Menja?"

The milling Crusader ghosts suddenly vanished. Kaiser was starting to understand how the victims in a horror movie felt. "Menja! Crusader! Report!"

"We've got to get out of here," Fenja said urgently. "I can't get too big in this alley. But if we can get out on the street …"

"Good idea," Max said grimly. "Everyone, we're regrouping out on the street. Meet me there." Moving at his best speed, he hustled from the alleyway, secure in the knowledge that Fenja was covering his back. When he got to the car, where Alabaster, Krieg and Cricket were already waiting, he turned …

… and she was gone.

And that was when the music started.



"Dude! We've got to kill the show!"

Leet stared at him. "We can't kill the show. You already told me we couldn't—"

"No! Look!" Uber pointed.

As the music drifted to his ears, Leet stared. "We're killing the show."

Uber started the car. "Got the Snitch ready?"

"Ooh yeah."


Deputy Director Renick's Office
PRT ENE Building

The phone rang.


"Uh, sir, you're not going to believe this …"

"Trust me, you have no idea what I would believe right now."

"Well, sir, we seem to have most of the Empire Eighty-Eight in custody. They just keep appearing in our holding cells."

"I'm not actually surprised. But thank you for informing me."

There was a pause.

"Uh, sir?"


"Why are you not surprised?"

Deputy Director Renick sighed. "Because I'm watching a live feed of Kaiser, Alabaster, Cricket and Krieg being chased through the streets of Brockton Bay by a giant snake. There is a girl on the snake's back playing 'Yackety Sax' on her phone and cackling her head off. That's why."

There was an even longer pause.

"Okay, yeah, that's fair enough."

The call ended. Renick went back to watching the show.

End of Part Ten
Part Eleven: See Monster? Eat Monster!
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Eleven: See Monster? Eat Monster!

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

Mouse Protector

Laughter rose from the viewing area atop Captain's Hill, where five humans and one snake relaxed at their leisure. Mouse Protector, unmasked and going as Diane for the moment, raised her soda in a mock toast as she leaned back against one of Snek's coils. "Oh, man, that's a good one," she said with a chuckle. "Did you really say, 'Get him, Snek'?"

"Purple hair girl did ssay that, Mouss," Snek confirmed, his snakish smile seeming to extend even further. "Blue massk man wass bad man. Wass not happy when Ssnek dropped him in ccell. Ssnek pay back blue ssuit lady for prissonerss Ssnek took."

"Well, I have to say this, Snek, you're the best boi." Lisa leaned over and booped him fondly on the snoot. He preened happily. "The look on Armsmaster's face when you called him 'pointy metal stick man' was amazing."

Diane's eyes widened, along with her grin. "No. You didn't."

"Ssnek did." Somehow, even without shoulders, the enormous reptile managed to shrug. "He had pointy metal sstick. Iss good name."

"It is totally the best name," Taylor decided. She reached into the basket sitting on the nearby table and pulled out an entire roast chicken. "Snek. Heads up."

Snek lifted his head, watching her carefully. When she tossed the chicken in the air, there was a blur of motion and a snap, and the chicken was gone. Lisa, Taylor and Aisha clapped. "Thank you, buzzy-bug girl."

"Buzzy-bug girl." Lisa snorted with amusement. "That will never not be funny."

"Says purple girl," Aisha snarked in return.

"Yeah, because purple hair girl is so much better."

Diane chuckled, listening to the kids bicker amicably. Snek was a big friendly goof who enjoyed having fun and wanted his friends to have fun, too. So bringing them all together and introducing them had been his best idea for doing that, and it had been a good idea.

The most amusing part of it all was the cape bogeyman, whom Snek had called 'nicce hat lady' and had introduced herself as Fortuna. Wearing a fedora identical to the one Snek had perched in the middle of his broad head, she was sitting quietly, sipping at her own soda. Either she was somehow unaware of the hat Snek was wearing, or was choosing to ignore it altogether, which made it even funnier.

Diane's phone beeped, and she pulled it out with an annoyed grunt. "I swear, if this is another telemarketer, I'll sic Aisha on him …" Her voice trailed off as she read the message on the screen. "Oh, crap."

"What?" asked Taylor. "What's the trouble?"

Diane and Lisa spoke at the same time. "Endbringer. Leviathan."

Taylor and Aisha both sat bolt upright. "What, here?" yelped the younger girl, staring out to sea, where a total lack of storm clouds and tsunamis could be seen.

"No, Savannah." With an acrobatic flip, Diane extricated herself from Snek's comfortable seating and landed on her feet. "I'm down for search and rescue in the PRT's contact files. Sorry, kids. Gotta leave the party early. Thanks for inviting me, Snek. I had a blast." Regretfully, she put her half-finished soda down on a table.

"Mouss iss welcome," said Snek. "What iss End-Bringer? What iss Lev-i-a-than?"

Diane pulled on her boots, then slung her baldric over her shoulder. Last, she picked up her mouse-themed helmet and put it on. "An Endbringer is a giant monster. Leviathan is an Endbringer. Every few months, he finds a city to wreck. We all go to fight him until he goes away."

"Mouss fight Lev-i-a-than? Iss dangerouss?" Snek sounded concerned.

"Heck yes, it's dangerous," declared Diane, getting back into her heroic persona. "But that's merely a day in the life of Mouse Protector, defender of the weak and assister of the unassisted. Mouse Protector, away!" Posing, she prepared to teleport to the local PRT building.

"Mouss. Ssnek help."

Diane paused. Snek was strong—really, really strong—but with his carefree mindset, she wasn't sure if she wanted to see him going up against an Endbringer unprepared. "Leviathan's more powerful than all the capes you've fought before, put together," she cautioned him. "If you go after him like you usually go after bad men, he could kill you."

"Ssnek undersstandss." The giant snake got an adorably determined look on his face. "Ssnek will assk Masster to fix. Mouss want to come, meet Masster?"

Now she was really torn between what she wanted and what she needed. Because heck yes, she wanted to meet Snek's mysterious Master. "This won't take long? Because I'm not sure if they'll hold my ride."

"Masster iss very ssmart and powerful," Snek assured her. "Will not take long."

"Well, then, o slithery vanquisher of a thousand foes," declaimed Diane. "Let us visit your Master at once!" Letting the voice drop, she turned to the others. "Sorry, kids. Heroic duty calls, and all that."

Taylor slid off Snek's coils and stood up. "Uh … should I costume up and come too …?"

"No." Diane shook her head definitively. "You don't know Savannah, and bug control isn't great in the pouring rain." She glanced across at Fortuna and raised an eyebrow.

"Fine." Fortuna sighed as she stood up. "I'll get the children home. Thank you for inviting me to your party, Snek. It was … different. In a good way."

"Nicce hat lady iss welcome." Snek dipped his head and looked pleased. "Will ssee again, when Ssnek can."

The look on Fortuna's face was somewhere between resignation and acceptance. "Yes. I have no doubt."

Grinning, Diane swung her leg over Snek's neck and settled herself into position. "Take care, kids. I shall return! Snek—away!"

"Yess, Mouss." Snek reared up slightly as the portal appeared before them. Before Diane think of anything cheesier to say, he whipped them through it … into a building she'd never seen before. The heavy stone walls and the massive wooden beams overhead gave her a strong hint, however.

"Is this your Master's home, Snek?" she said softly, looking around. "Because dang, he's got one heck of an architect."

"Masster built all thiss," Snek said proudly, wriggling along a corridor toward a heavy wooden door. "He iss the Masster of the Casstle." Pausing in front of the door, he bumped his snoot three times on it, counting under his breath as he did so.

"Come in, Snek," a voice intoned from within. "And kindly bring your guest as well."

Snek seemed to use his tongue to open the door, then slithered into the room beyond. Diane just stared around, jaw dropped, as she took in the scenery. A classic medieval castle was one thing, but this was a wizard's workshop if she'd ever seen one. And overhead, she could see a small dragon or a technicolour alligator with wings; either way, it had been taxidermied and hung from the ceiling as though caught in midflight.

In front of her was the wizard in question; of that she had no doubt whatsoever. She'd met Myrddin on several occasions, and he'd pulled off the 'master of the magical arts' schtick pretty well, but this guy made him look like a cheap stage magician without even trying. Greying hair and long robes, check; a gnarled staff made of some kind of wood she couldn't immediately identify, check; a palpable aura of power, check. Currently, he seemed to be working on a set of armour hanging off the medieval version of a dressmaker's dummy.

As they came to a halt and Diane slid off Snek's neck, he turned to face them. "Welcome, Mouse Protector of Earth Bet." His craggy, bearded face—she estimated his age to be somewhere between sixty and six thousand—creased in a smile as age-old eyes twinkled at her. "You are Snek's first real friend from your world, and as such I am grateful to you. He has spoken much of your adventures and how much he enjoys exploring your world with you at his side. Some would seek to take advantage of his gentle nature, but you have not."

"Well, no, of course not." She straightened her back and allowed just a little of her cape persona to creep into her speech. "I'd never do that to the big lunk. He's too lovable."

"Indeed." Shaggy eyebrows rose as he looked down at Snek. "I understand you are here with a request?"

"Yess, Masster." Snek raised his head slightly. "Mouss ssayss a monsster iss attacking. Lev-i-a-than. Ssayss monsster iss dangerouss, may hurt Ssnek. Ssnek wisshess to fight monsster, protect people. Masster help?"

"Well, then." He rubbed at his lips with one knuckle, then casually held out the other hand. The staff, which Diane belatedly realised had been standing upright with no other support, jumped to his hand as though it had always been there. "Water breathing enchantment …" The staff tapped Snek gently on the snoot, and a wave of silvery energy rippled along the length of the giant serpent. The Master of the Castle muttered a few words under his breath, then tapped Snek again. "Improvement and upgrade to your Ironscale and Razorfang enchantments." This time, the energy wave was a sparkly purple. Diane could actually see Snek's scales growing thicker and wider as she watched.

"Thank you, Masster." Snek swivelled one eye to look at Diane. "Masster help Mouss too? Mouss not sstrong like Ssnek."

Oddly enough, the Master looked pleased as Snek made the request. "Yes, I can most assuredly do that. You're a good boy, Snek."

"Thank you, Masster." Snek preened.

"Mouse Protector of Earth Bet." The Master held out his hand. "Will you accept magical assistance upon your quest to protect others?"

Diane found herself smiling at the formality. "What sort of a hero going forth would I be if I did not?" She reached out and grasped his hand.

"Very true." This time, he barely whispered a word, before the same silvery wave washed over her. It felt as though the fatigue in every cell of her body had been flushed out and she had been restored to full energy. "You will be untroubled by water until the danger is past."

She blinked. "I, uh, thank you, Master of the Castle." Not having to worry about drowning in a Leviathan attack? That was pretty damn big, right there.

"Ah, but I have not finished, young hero." Releasing her hand, he stepped aside and gestured at the armour on the stand. "I believe this will suit your needs?"

She blinked and stared at the armour, looking at it properly this time. Subtle contouring indicated that it was indeed designed for the female form, with a sheathed sword at the hip … hell, the helmet even had her mouse ears on it! How had she not seen that before?

"Because I did not wish for you to be distracted," the Master of the Castle said, before she could voice the obvious question. "Wearing this mail, you will be proof against treacherous attack, and no armour will turn your blade."

Oh, holy crap. Magical armour and sword? Yes, please!

She managed to rein in her immediate 'I want' impulse and turned back to the Master. "Just one question. When will you need it back by?"

"Whoever said anything about giving it back?" He made a brushing-away gesture. "The armour is yours. Wear it in good health."

"Uh, yes—yessir!" Suddenly aware of the ticking clock, she stepped over to the armour and examined it.

The pieces seemed to be remarkably similar to hers, and she quickly figured out how to don it. In this she was assisted by a girl who came out of nowhere and assisted her with murmurs of, "this goes here," and "buckle that there".

When she was finished—if anything, it felt lighter than her previous armour—she drew the sword and examined it. The weight and balance were so close to her original weapon that they could've been identical, save that her new blade felt like silk would if it were made of steel. The edge of the sword gleamed with unspoken promise.

Sliding it away again, she turned to thank her impromptu assistant, then stared. "Wait a minute. I know you. Bonesaw?"

"Not anymore." The kid shook her head. "The Master fixed my head. I'm Riley, now. Bonesaw died when Snek rescued me." She stepped forward and hugged Diane hard. "Thank you for killing Jack Slash."

Awkwardly, Diane ruffled her hair. "Yeah, well, it was about time someone did. You're doing okay, here?"

"I am." Letting her go, Riley stepped back and gave her a grin. "It's fun helping the Master with his magical experiments, and I get to play with dragons. And Snek brings us fast food sometimes, which is always nice."

"Heh, yeah, I heard about that." Diane drew a deep breath. "Look, I'd love to stay and catch up with everything that's happened, but Leviathan's likely to get all antsy if we don't show up on time. You know how Endbringers get."

Riley giggled. "Drama queens, the lot of them. Go, kick his scaly butt for me."

"So promises Mouse Protector." Diane turned to the Master. "Thank you once again for all of this."

"It is but a pittance. Your friendship with Snek repays all." The Master made a shooing gesture. "Go forth, young hero, and vanquish the beast."

"And vanquish we shall!" Diane glanced around for Snek, but the massive reptile was too fast for her, ducking his head under her leg to seat her astride his neck. "Wow, you're good at that."

"Ssnek practiccess. Goodbye, Masster. Goodbye, Riley." Snek turned and wriggled toward the door, opening it with his tongue. "Mouss hold on."

That had always been good advice. Diane dug her knees in as the portal opened before them. "Woohooo!"



Snek decides to open wriggle-hole straight to Sa-van-nah place where monster Leviathan is attacking. Is good Master gave Snek and Mouse water protection magic because is raining lots and lots. Mouse sees men in dark armour and says to go that way. Snek wants to go toward ocean because that is where monster Leviathan is, but Mouse knows better so Snek goes to men.

Men look and smell frightened by Snek, but Mouse speaks to them. She is good with words, and says Snek is friend, and will fight Leviathan. Man gives Mouse pretty bracelet for wrist. That is nice. Mouse is good friend and deserves pretty things.

"Onward to battle!" shouts Mouse, pulling out long blade Master gave her and waving over head. Snek decides this means to go toward monster Leviathan and starts wriggling that way. Monster Leviathan sounds fun to fight. Is bad monster, so Snek can eat!

Lots of water from rain, and rivers to cross, but Snek is good swimmer. Snek sees bright coloured people and knowing they are here to fight monster Leviathan, decides to let them fight if they are polite. Snek does not want to hog fight.

When Snek reaches shore, big wave is coming in, taller than Snek is long. Snek can tell monster Leviathan is inside wave. Snek is very impressed. Wave is bigger than anything Snek has ever done, even when splashing tail really hard in bath.

Mouse slides off Snek's back. She gives Snek a headpat, then a skritch just where Snek likes it. "Snek …" she says.

Snek knows what Mouse is going to say, but waits anyway.

"… get him!"

Wave is much closer now. Mouse digs tip of long blade into sand and kneels, holding hilt with both hands. Snek knows Master armour and long blade will keep Mouse safe. Monster Leviathan is inside wave. Snek dives forward into wave.

Snek is under water now. There is water all around, but Snek is not frightened. Snek does not need to breathe, and Master's spell lets Snek see where monster Leviathan is. Snek swims toward monster Leviathan.

Hurting people is bad.

Snek will not let monster Leviathan hurt anyone.


Mouse Protector

Diane wasn't sure how she knew this trick would work, but the knowledge was there all the same. Kneeling, she grasped the hilt with one hand and laid the other one over the pommel, sword tip sunk into the sodden sand, blade edge toward the onrushing tsunami. In any other circumstance, with the tremendous wave mere seconds from breaking over the outer shores of Tybee Island, she would've been prepping for a hasty teleport to get her out of harm's way.

You will be untroubled by water until the danger is past …

Gritting her teeth, she grasped the sword a little tighter, hoping the magic she thought would protect her was as good as she thought. Ahead, as the great green wall loomed over her, she briefly glimpsed Snek's sinuous form closing in on Leviathan, massive jaws agape.

And then there was no more time, as the wave broke. She was surrounded by a thunder of water, the maelstrom seeking to tear her one way or another, but thwarted by the edge of the blade as it split the onrushing torrent to the left and right. Directly around her was calm water, swirling gently.

Standing, she planted her feet firmly in the sand underfoot. When she pulled the sword from the sand, the current increased noticeably, but it still wasn't enough to be a problem. A thrashing swirl of bubbles caught her attention nearby and she looked around, to see that Snek had latched his teeth into Leviathan's tail and was trying to wrap his body around the rest of the monster. Leviathan was clearly not in favour of this concept and was doing his best to get away, with only middling success.

They tumbled away through the water and Diane re-sheathed her sword with an inner sigh. While she was entirely willing to test out the 'no armour will turn your blade' promise on a certain aquatic Endbringer, her armband was currently yammering out the names of people who had been caught in the tsunami and were now in a bad way. Pressing two buttons at the same time, she reported, "Snek has engaged Leviathan. The best boi is chomping on him like a chew toy. This is Mouse Protector, commencing search and rescue."

Grinning at the stunned silence that followed, she kicked upward into the moving water and swam toward the nearest struggling victim. It seemed that the 'you will be untroubled by water' promise had been quite literal; for her, the turbid silt-filled inundation was as transparent as air, and she could move through it with the grace and speed of a dolphin on cetacean performance enhancement steroids.

There were two capes quite near each other, both struggling to reach the surface and failing badly. Diane saw that one was trapped by wreckage, and the other was held down by a waterlogged costume. Idiot. What did he think was going to happen? Swimming closer, she pulled the sword again and sliced through the steel cable like it was a strand of spaghetti, then sheathed it again, grabbed them both, and boosted them to the surface.

Once the mandatory coughing and spluttering was out of the way, she turned to the one who'd been trapped. "The shallows are that way. Figure you can get doofus here to safety?"

"Y-yeah," he rasped, the salt water he'd swallowed making his voice rough. "Who—who are you?"

She grinned. It was too good an opening line. "I'm the mighty magic Mouse Protector, of course. Purveyor of cheesy puns and aquatic rescue. Now, I'd love to stay and chat, but there are others who need my assistance."

Releasing them, she paused to make sure that they could indeed stay afloat without her assistance—having a lungful of air made all the difference, apparently—then swam off toward the next rescuee. This guy had apparently tried to Tinker up a force-field barrier to stop the tsunami but hadn't factored in the concept that the wave would be higher than the barrier. She paused to disentangle him from the remains of his own tech and get him to the surface, then looked around for more people to help.

What she saw instead was Leviathan.

In the few minutes that she'd been working to save people and make the world a better place, Snek had evidently been having a lot of fun. There were large chunks missing out of Leviathan's hide where the world's biggest cuddle-bunny snake had sunk his fangs in and ripped out a piece. In addition, half his tail was missing—so that's how he got free from Snek the first time—and his left leg looked severely gnawed upon.

And now he was arrowing directly at Diane through the water at a speed that left behind bubbles of supercavitation. Racing in from the side, streaking through the water like the world's biggest and cutest homing torpedo, came Snek, fedora still fixed firmly atop his head. But Leviathan wasn't so much running away from Snek—though he was doing that too—as he was going toward Diane, all four green eyes blazing like Christmas lights set on overload.

The implication was easy to understand. Diane wasn't quite sure how it was that tall, ugly and scaly had figured out that she'd brought Snek into this fight, but he was absolutely willing to take his pound of flesh in retaliation. In other words, he fully intended to smoosh her all over the Savannah waterfront.

There was nothing for it. She drew the sword—even underwater, the motion was far smoother and faster than she'd ever been with her old weapon—and brought it up and around into a guard position. That was all the time she had before Leviathan reached her.

A stunning blow sent her tumbling ass over teakettle in a rush of bubbles. But there was no stabbing pains, no feeling of broken bones. She brought herself to a stable floating position, and checked herself over. Everything was still present and correct; the armour was slightly discoloured, but she was sure that would buff out.

Wearing this mail, you will be proof against treacherous attack …

Well, he hadn't been wrong. But now she had to get back to the fight. Leviathan had tried the ultimate sucker punch on her, and she wanted to return the favour.

That was when she heard the crackling, crunching sounds. Very familiar crackling and crunching sounds. The first time she'd heard them was when Hatchet Face met his unfortunate demise. Looking around, she saw Leviathan again. He was missing one arm and most of one leg; sliced neatly off, they lay on the sand beneath him. Oh, cool. I got him.

And she hadn't been the only one, because wrapped all the way around Leviathan, applying the special snekky cuddle the way only he could, was Snek himself. And the more Leviathan struggled, the more Snek squeezed. One by one, the Endbringer's bones broke.

And then, Snek began to eat him.



By the time Snek finish eating monster Leviathan—keep leg for snack for later—rain has stopped, water all drain away. Mouss is there, looking happy. Snek happy, too. Was angry when monster Leviathan try to kill Mouss, but Mouss cut off arm and leg. Master sword good for Mouss.

People say many nice things to Snek after Mouss explains. Snek gets many headpats and backrubs. Is nice when people like Snek.

Snek offers to take Mouss back to city with buzzy-bug girl and purple girl, but Mouss says she will stay to help clean up mess. Mouss hugs Snek and thanks him for eating monster Leviathan. Snek is happy Mouss invited him to big fun fight.

Snek goes home through wriggle-hole to Master's castle. He bumps three times on door to Master's work room. "Come in, Snek," says Master. Snek comes in.

"Hello, Masster," says Snek. "Wass good fight. Ate monsster Lev-i-a-than. Got Masster pressent." Snek takes hard ball that was inside monster Leviathan from not-eat place in throat and holds it out to Master.

"Thank you." Master takes hard ball and holds up to light. "This is a fine specimen. I believe I will add it to the collection. You're a good boy, Snek."

Snek is happy. Snek likes being told he is a good boy.

"So, did you really eat an Endbringer?" asks Riley. She gives Snek more head-scratches, which Snek always enjoys. "What did it taste like?"

Is easy question to answer. "Monsster Lev-i-a-than tasste like chicken."

Riley rolls on floor and laughs and laughs. Snek not understand why.

End of Part Eleven
Hooly shit. I knew that our handsome boi would chomp on one of the Endbringers sooner than later, but it still was brutal.

The other three are really going to gun for him.
Two, right now.

But hey, you know what Snek calls extra Endbringers?

A buffet line.
Part Twelve: Post Leviathan
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Twelve: Post Leviathan

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

[A/N 2: I've used some of the comments posted to the last chapter on Spacebattles in the comments section of PHO, with adapted names.]


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♦ Topic: Leviathan Dead
In: Boards ► Endbringers ► Leviathan ► Savannah (5/15/11)

(Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (Verified Cape) (Head of Protectorate)
Posted On May 15th 2011:
Okay, so this is apparently what happened.
Mouse Protector attended Savannah, riding astride a sixty-foot python or constrictor (I'm not an expert), fitting the description of the creature called 'Snek' that's been making news over the last month or so. As soon as MP was issued her tracking unit, she and Snek traveled eastward, toward where Leviathan was due to make landfall. Leviathan's first tsunami disrupted the defenses. Two heroes and one villain were in danger of drowning, but were rescued by MP. At this time, a violent disturbance was noted in the water, but no clear images could be acquired.
Shortly thereafter, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared. MP and Snek emerged from the water. The latter was carrying one of Leviathan's legs in its mouth. It reportedly described this as 'snack for later'. Mouse Protector confirmed that Snek had eaten the rest of Leviathan. This was further verified when we found no other evidence of Leviathan's presence in the area, nor any indication that he had fled.
It actually does appear that Leviathan, as bizarre as it sounds, has been eaten by a giant talking snake.
Due almost entirely to this, for the first time ever, we've had an Endbringer attack with zero fatalities.
Congratulations, everyone. And a special thank-you to Snek, for doing what nobody thought could be done.
You are indeed a good boy.

(Showing page 1 of 10)

Replied On May 15th 2011:
All the Snek Snacks and head pats for the Good Boy! All of them!

Replied On May 15th 2011:
Truly, Snek is best boi.

► Distant_Target
Replied On May 15th 2011:
Well scratch one Endbringer. Snek is a very good boy for having rid the world of the nasty fishy monster. Truly, he "tasted" victory this day!

Replied On May 15th 2011:
Snek continues to be the best nope rope.

Replied On May 15th 2011:
Is it really true? I can hardly believe it.

►Mouse_Protector (Verified Cape) (Independent Hero) (Veteran Member) (Purveyor of Cheesy Puns)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
Hon, it is most definitively true. I swear upon my oath as protector of all things mousey and cheesy.

►Legend (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (Verified Cape) (Head of Protectorate)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
@Mouse_Protector, I would be extremely interested in sitting down with you and learning everything you have to tell me about the battle and about Snek.

►True_Believer152 (Temp Banned)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
Blasphemer! None can destroy Our Lord of the Waters! His Wrath shall rise up and destroy you! The false idol will also be obliterated!

►Mouse_Protector (Verified Cape) (Independent Hero) (Veteran Member) (Purveyor of Cheesy Puns)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
@Legend - sure, next time I'm in the Big Apple, I'll swing by. Just be sure to leave out a platter of my fave cheeses. A mousey's gotta eat.
@True_Believer152 - Oh. You're one of *those*. Well, sorry to say, Fallen-boy (or girl), but your Lord of the Waters ended up as a Snekky snack. He's now a fish-flavored belch.
End of Page. 1, 2, 3 ... 8, 9, 10

(Showing Page 2 of 10)

Replied On May 15th 2011:
Man, now I wish I'd been there.

►True_Believer152 (Temp Banned)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
Lies, all lies! The Lord of the Waters will return to bless you with his unstoppable floods, and to all who stand against him, woe!

►Brilliger (Moderator: Protectorate Main)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
Okay, that's enough out of you, @True_Believer152. You're allowed to hold whatever opinions you feel are valid, but cultist rantings are a no-no. Have a temp ban while you think that one over.

►Laotsunn (Kyushu Survivor)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
@Mouse_Protector - please pass on to Snek all of my heartfelt gratitude and best wishes. He will be in our prayers.

►Brocktonite03 (Veteran Member)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
I remember when we were the only ones to have weird Snek stories. Hell, I remember when everyone thought he was an urban legend.
Snek, you rock!

Replied On May 15th 2011:
Hi, I won't be getting on much, but I wanted you all to know that I've passed on your thanks and best wishes to Snek. He's happy to know that everyone thinks he's been a good boy.
@Mouse_Protector - he says hi, and he'll be around to visit you sometime soon. Also, he says Leviathan tasted like chicken, not fish.
@True_Believer152 - Leviathan deserved everything he got.
@Legend - according to the boss, he's a Hyrakian python. Don't bother looking that up. It won't be in your books.

►Legend (Original Poster) (Veteran Member) (Verified Cape) (Head of Protectorate)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
@GoodGirlRiley - thank you for that. Is it possible to contact Snek through you? I'd really like to talk to him and see if it's possible to set up a regular working arrangement with the Protectorate and PRT.

Replied On May 15th 2011:
@Legend - sorry, I'm not Snek's boss, just his friend and work colleague. The boss generally has requirements on his time so he probably wouldn't be able to commit elsewhere. But he'll be around again sometime. He really enjoys visiting you guys and helping people.

►FuglyBobsUSA (Verified Fast Food Restaurant)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
This is to announce that the entity known as 'Snek' can now eat for free at any Fugly Bobs restaurant, in perpetuity.

►Mouse_Protector (Verified Cape) (Independent Hero) (Veteran Member) (Purveyor of Cheesy Puns)
Replied On May 15th 2011:
@GoodGirlRiley - Well, if it isn't my little armor assistant. Nice to hear from you. Your boss must have one heck of a communications setup.
Chicken, huh? Well, looks like my comment about keeping a drumstick for later was on the money.
It'll be nice to see my Snekky-boops again. Him and me go together like cheese and crackers.
@FuglyBobsUSA - Wow, you're brave. You do know he ate most of an Endbringer in one sitting, right?
End of Page. 1, 2, 3, 4 ... 8, 9, 10



I'd never been to Savannah, but it wasn't hard to tell the aftermath of a Leviathan-spawned wave. Rubble was everywhere and they were still cleaning up the streets, while shots of the island just offshore showed that many buildings had just been flattened. And that had only been the one wave.

Snek had presumably vanished through his own personal wormhole before the news crews had arrived on site (being able to teleport had to be so handy) but Mouse Protector (or Diane, as she'd told us to call her) was still on site as the cameras were panning around. I couldn't help thinking that her armour looked a bit cooler and sleeker than what she'd been wearing before, even without taking into account that she'd just been through an Endbringer battle in it. Did she get an upgrade from Snek's Master?

Dad nodded at the TV. "You see that? That sort of thing is what made me nervous about you going out as a hero. Taking down punks and thugs is one thing, and having Snek around to protect you against the nastier villains was a huge bonus. But some things are too damn powerful for anyone's good, and they don't give a damn about who gets hurt."

"Yeah, I got that with Lung," I said. "Tattletale tried to tell me about how it's like a big game of cops and robbers, and the rules that they all follow." I rolled my eyes. "Everyone but Lung, apparently. It's a good thing Snek was there."

"Yes, it was." He drew a deep breath, then drummed his fingers on his thigh. "Can … can we talk?"

The tone of uncertainty in his voice made me start to worry. "About what?"

He frowned, deeply. "About … well, about your powers. What you're going to do with them. We haven't spoken about it since you showed me where Lung died."

"Dad, I—"

"Now hear me out," he said hastily. "These are your powers. This is your super identity. I really, truly do not want to make you feel like I'm cramping your style here. I know you want to do this … but I'm unhappy when I think about you not having someone like Snek backing you up while you're out and about."

My breath caught in my throat. "Dad … are you trying to tell me that you don't want me going out as a hero? Because that's what it sounds like."

"No. No, no, God, no." He shook his head. "You've got powers, and you want to do good with them. I would be the worst father in the world if I held you back from that. I just want to see if we can work toward a compromise, where you still use your powers to help people and I can feel at least moderately confident of your safety while you're doing it."

I allowed myself to start calming down again. "Okay … that sounds fair, I guess. What were you thinking of suggesting?" Because if I knew my dad, he wouldn't be putting something like this forward if he didn't already have ideas in mind.

He looked relieved, probably because I wasn't shooting him down immediately. "Well, I'm guessing you're still set against the Wards."

"Yeah, that's not happening." I waved the idea away physically. Emma and Sophia were doing their best to hound me every day at school, and it took bug-enabled prescience for me to duck and dodge around their ambushes. If the Wards had one tenth of that kind of drama, I didn't want to be there. And it wasn't like I could sign up for a trial period; I'd looked at the Wards contract online, and balked at the sheer number of clauses they could call on.

"New Wave would require you unmask." He knew how I felt about that.

"Also, I'd probably ruin their aesthetic," I agreed. Grey and black and swarms of bugs probably wouldn't mesh with their image of light and warmth.

"I could go out and about with you, and drive you to trouble spots?" He didn't sound particularly enthusiastic about the option, but I knew if I took him up on it, he would follow through.

Still, I shook my head. "That could go pretty badly wrong. If the wrong people see our license plates at the wrong time, I'm outed."

"True." He paused, thinking. "I'm guessing you're not willing to wait until Snek is in town again and go out heroing with him."

"So, what I was already doing? No, thanks."

"Then what about the other option I thought of? Use your power for pest extermination?"

I blinked. "I … well, I basically assumed that I couldn't because of the rules about being paid for power use."

He held up a cautionary finger. "Never assume until you've double-checked. I looked it up: so long as we take care to jump through a few basic hoops, we should have no trouble establishing you as a hero who exterminates bugs on the side."

"What sort of hoops are we talking about?" I asked. "Because unmasking—"

"—is definitely not on the table," he assured me. "Basically, you're not allowed to price anyone else out of the market, or force them out in any other way. This is so that if you suddenly lose your powers or decide that exterminating bugs isn't fun anymore, or stop doing it for any other reason, there'll be others who can take up the slack. NEPEA-5 has a bunch of rules that don't apply to you, such as using Thinkers to predict market trends and suchlike … though I guess if you used your powers to move bugs into someone's place, you'd know who was going to call you next."

I shook my head definitively. "Yeah, that's a hard nope for me. Pretty sure that would count as going villain, and that's not my deal."

"I'd prefer we didn't go that way, either," he agreed. "But I can start looking into the paperwork for registering you as a bug-extermination rogue cape, if you want. What sort of trade name do you think you'd like to go with? Because as cute as it sounds when he says it, 'buzzy-bug girl' probably won't get you the respect that you deserve."

"How about Lady Swarm Extermination Service?" I spread my hands. "It's not like I'm going to be pretending to be another cape altogether. And rescuing people from muggers is kind of separate from removing all the bugs from their house. There won't be any confusion about what I'll be getting paid for."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. That should work. I'll start setting that up tomorrow. Also, I've been speaking with Mr Howe. DC&H should have everything lined up to hit them with the lawsuit as of the twenty-eighth."

I blinked. That date was significant. "First day of summer vacation?"

"Exactly." He grinned viciously. "That way, they can't use ongoing school duties as an excuse to duck and dodge out of showing up to court."

"And that's only about two weeks away." I nodded. "Sure, I can hold out that long."

"Good." He patted me on the shoulder. "I know it's been hard on you, and I know I wasn't there to help you out for far too long, but I'm here now and we'll get through this together."

Impulsively, I hugged him. "Thanks, Dad. That means so much to me."

His arms crept around me, and I felt the warmth and belonging of an answering hug. It felt safe and secure.

We stood like that for a long time.


That Evening

Snek is happy that he ate monster Leviathan and gave Master hard ball from inside. Master has put ball in collection, where Snek can see them all. They would be crunchy and tasty—Snek has eaten others like them—but they are Master's, so Snek does not eat. Snek is happy that Master likes Snek's present. Master's collection is very impressive. There is more than ten balls in it.

Master is doing Master things, and Riley is riding dragons, so Snek decides to go visit friends in fun world. He asks Master permission first—being polite is good—then goes through wriggle-hole to city where purple girl and buzzy-bug girl and purple hair girl all live.

Buzzy-bug girl likes being hero, so Snek goes to her house. He knocks on door with snoot, counting one-two-three, like he does with Master's door. Is good to be polite.

Door is opened by Danny. Danny is buzzy-bug girl Taylor's father. "Hello, Danny," says Snek.

Danny looks surprised to see Snek. "Uh, hello, Snek," he says. He is very smart. He remembers Snek's name! "Are you here to see Taylor?"

"Yess, Danny," says Snek. He is very impressed. He did not even have to tell Danny what he wanted. "Iss buzzy-bug girl Taylor here?"

"Sure, just one moment." Danny steps back into house a little. Snek waits. He is good at waiting. "Taylor, can you come downstairs, please? You have a visitor."

"Coming!" calls out buzzy-bug girl as she runs downstairs. She comes to where Snek is and her eyes go wide. "Snek! It's good to see you again!"

"Iss good to ssee buzzy-bug girl again," Snek says. Is true. Buzzy-bug girl is Snek's friend. "Would buzzy-bug girl like to come out helping people with Ssnek?"

Buzzy-bug girl stops and looks at Danny. "Can I, Dad?" she asks. "Please?"

Danny looks at Snek and then at buzzy-bug girl. "It is a school night," he says.

"I've already got my homework prepped," says buzzy-bug girl. "Sealed in waterproof envelopes with my name written across the seal. And they can't just steal the whole thing and erase my name. I wrote it, front and back, every page, in pen."

Snek does not know what is happening, but he knows stealing is bad. "Bad people ssteal buzzy-bug girl'ss thingss?" he asks. "Ssnek will get back."

Buzzy-bug girl gives Snek a hug and a snoot-boop. Snek likes snoot-boops. "Thanks, Snek, but it's alright. I'd just like to go out and be a hero."

Buzzy-bug girl says is alright, so is alright. Snek smiles at buzzy-bug girl and Danny. "Ssnek likess helping people."

Buzzy-bug girl looks at Danny. Danny nods. "Okay, but try to be home by midnight."

"You're the best!" Buzzy-bug girl hugs Danny. "I'll be as quick as I can, Snek." She opens door and runs down into basement. Snek will wait. He is good at waiting.

Danny looks at Snek. "So, uh, what was it like fighting an Endbringer?"

Snek smiles. Danny is nice person. "Monsster Leviathan try to hurt people in Ssa-van-nah, make big wave. Ssnek bite tail. Tail tassty, Ssnek eat. Monsster Leviathan try to sswim away, but Masster hass put sstrong magic on Ssnek …"


Shadow Stalker

Sophia sighed, rolling her eyes. It was the same old damn story, no matter how many times she saw it played out. A bunch of stupid ignorant goddamn sheep, with the collective survival instinct of a bunch of stoned lemmings, had gone out looking for fun and excitement on the wrong side of town and found far more of it than they could handle. Fuckin' shocker, right there.

And not only had they gotten lost on the way back to their car, and taken a shortcut through a fuckin' alley in the hope of getting back on the right track, but they'd also walked right into a bunch of Merchants that were probably jonesing for their next fix, and not too particular how they paid for it. She'd been trailing the partygoers for the last ten minutes, morbidly curious as to exactly how much trouble they were going to get themselves into. Well, she had her answer. Way too much.

Now she was crouched on a rooftop, looking down at the confrontation, wondering if any of the simple-minded little twits were going to show the slightest bit of spine before it was too late. The law of the jungle was simple: if you walked into the jungle without being prepared to fight, you ended up as lunch. Sometimes she liked to think of it as predators versus prey, but most of the time it was survivors and losers.

The thought of losers made her fists clench inside her gloves. There was one specific loser who was absolutely getting on her nerves these days, and the situation was becoming more and more aggravating as time went on. She didn't want to accept the concept of Hebert managing to acquire something resembling competence, but for some reason it was getting harder and harder to pin her down at Winslow these days. No matter how much of a pattern she built up, whenever they tried to exploit it, that was the day she did something totally different.

There were only two weeks left before the end of the school year, and there was no way in hell she was going to concede to Hebert and whatever bullshit she was pulling to keep ahead of them. Emma was getting just as antsy, but for a different reason. The line Sophia had fed her about pushing Hebert down so she could show how strong she was … well, it had kinda backfired. Given Hebert's run of luck with how successfully she was avoiding them, Emma was starting to wonder about her own strength. If she couldn't even keep Hebert down, was she really strong?

One of the girls down below cried out as a Merchant grabbed her by the arm. Nobody intervened, and she didn't even try to slap him. Sophia rolled her eyes again. Weak, that was what they were. Weak and spineless. Maybe if they went through a bit of a rough experience, they'd fight back next time.

They'd survive. They wouldn't enjoy it, but they'd survive. And afterward, Sophia would punish the perpetrators.

The Merchants all yelled at once, but not the kind of shouts she was expecting from guys expecting to make some money and maybe get some rough trade, all at the same time. These sounded like they were in pain, but their prospective victims still hadn't fought back. Stumbling back away from the girls, the gang members looked like they were fighting—and losing to—invisible opponents. Their yelps of pain as they waved their arms around were very real, which made Sophia reasonably sure they weren't suffering withdrawal hallucinations.

"Follow the fireflies," buzzed a creepy-as-fuck voice, just as a line of fireflies sprang into being in front of the girls. "Go, now."

The girls wasted no time in doing what they were told, hurrying out of the alley in what looked like the right direction to get back to the main road. Their would-be assaillants had lost all interest in pursuing them, and indeed seemed unable to stay upright. One after the other, the men tripped and fell. Despite struggling to get up again, they remained on the ground.

And then … a teenage girl stepped out of the shadows.

Her costume was actually pretty badass, Sophia had to admit. Not as good as the Shadow Stalker costume, of course, but still up there in the edgy stakes. Grey and black that blended in with the shadows remarkably well, with yellow lenses and insectoid mandibles on the mask. Finally, she had some sort of chunky spider pendant around her neck, that really helped sell the look.

Sophia frowned. She seemed to recall a briefing about some new hero called Lady Swarm, but no details were surfacing. Except for bug control. That was pretty damn obvious. The way the newcomer had taken the assholes down would've been badass, except that like every Master ever, she was a coward, hiding behind her bug minions.

And then she stopped and looked directly up at Sophia. The yellow lenses, seeming to float in a sea of shadows, looked even creepier than the voice sounded. "Why don't you come on down?"



The cloaked girl turned to shadow and drifted down into the alley, then reformed on the ground in a dramatic crouch. I got the strong impression that she thought a lot of the theatrics made her look cooler than they really did. Slowly, she rose and turned toward me, then her hand came out of her cloak with a small crossbow.

I tensed, but it wasn't pointing at me. Instead, it angled toward the nearest of the would-be rapists (or at least robbery-with-menace-ists) and went off with a soft twungg sound. A short arrow with a liquid reservoir in the middle of it was now stuck in his leg; he protested weakly, then slumped.

Okay, so it shoots knockout arrows. The only question now is why.

"What the hell?" I demanded, barely remembering to have the bugs buzz along with my words. "They're down. They're secured. You didn't need to shoot him—hey!" My yell came as the crossbow somehow reloaded itself and she shot a second guy. "I said they're secured!"

"Yeah, right," she sneered. "All the way up until one of them cuts himself loose from whatever you did—spiderwebs, right?—with a hidden knife, then shanks you when your back's turned. Doing you a favour, right here."

"I checked them over," I snapped back. "No knives where they can get to them."

"Bullshit." She shook her head. "You never went near them."

"When I've got fifty bugs searching every one of them, I don't need to." I flew a swarm of moths in front of the crossbow before she could shoot a third one. "I said quit it!"

"You're a fuckin' newbie," she jeered. "You don't know how this goes, do you? Your witnesses are three blocks away by now. What are you gonna tell the cops when they show?"

"Well, for one thing, they're all carrying drugs." I wanted to roll my eyes, but she'd never see it. "Why were you sitting up there watching, anyway? That one girl could've been badly hurt, but you never made a move."

"None of your fuckin' business," she said, her voice an almost literal growl.

"It is actually kind of my fuckin' business." I made the buzzing overlay even more intense. "It's our job to protect people, not be glory hounds. Were you scared? Was that it? Waiting until they were distracted with her, so you could shoot them in the back and be the big damn hero without any risk?"

She took a step to me. "What did you say?"

"You heard me. Were you scared?"

"I was not scared!"

"Could've fooled me," I said dismissively.

"I don't get scared!" she screamed at my face.

"So why did you wait?" I shouted back.

"For them to fight back!" She paused for a moment, as though realizing what she'd just said out loud.

"You're shitting me." I shook my head. "You expected them to fight back? How fucking delusional are you, anyway?" Another thought hit me, with the power and speed of a freight train. "And just how many people have you let get hurt, because you were waiting until they fought back?"

"That's none of your fucking business." The crossbow was pointed directly at me, now. "This is the way I see it. You're gonna fuck off now. Thanks for letting me know they're carrying drugs. This is my bust now. When you get home, you're gonna forget this whole thing, because I'm a fucking Ward, which makes me fuckin' untouchable. Try and allege one thing without proof, and our lawyers will bury you."

"Yeah, yeah." I smiled under the mask. "There's just two problems with this idea."

I was absolutely certain she'd just rolled her eyes. "And what are they, Einstein?"

"Well, for starters, you're threatening me with a crossbow, and I have a friend who really doesn't like that. Snek, if you will?"

My only regret right then was not being able to see the look on her face as Snek's tongue came down from above and yoinked the crossbow clear out of her hand. It retracted into his mouth, and I knew the weapon was now stored in his 'not-eat place'.

"Hello, sshadow girl," said Snek, coiling down into the alleyway. "Ssnek iss Ssnek."

"Jesus fuck!" she yelped. "Where the fuck did you come from?"

"Ssnek comess from Masster'ss casstle," Snek replied promptly. "Iss helping buzzy-bug girl be hero. Why did sshadow girl point twang-arrow weapon at buzzy-bug girl?"

Shadow Stalker's whole attitude had changed in just a few seconds. I was pretty sure it was because she knew exactly who Snek was. Of course, there were very few people in the world right then who didn't know who he was. The image of him wriggling out of the surf with Leviathan's leg held triumphantly in his mouth had shown up everywhere.

"Look, this is just a misunderstanding, okay? Heroes do this all the time. Mistake each other for villains, trade a few punches. We're all good, right? Right?" The cockiness had gone right out of her attitude, replaced by an edge of desperation.

"Ssnek thinkss," he said deliberately, "that sshadow girl iss bad persson. Blue ssuit lady would want Ssnek to put bad persson in prisson ccell."

"Blue suit—ohhh, no," Shadow Stalker said, clearly realizing something I hadn't. "You are not going there. This doesn't end that way." She began to back away.

Snek suddenly lunged at her. His tongue shot out and grabbed at her; before it could get a proper grip, she went to shadow. I'd half-expected him to clamp his jaws around her anyway, but she flitted away up the wall and out of sight. He poured himself into a portal and vanished. A few seconds later, he returned, empty-mouthed.

"Ssnek ssorry," he said. "Sshadow girl got away."

He looked so downcast that I gave him a hug and a pat on the head. "Don't worry about it, Snek. You did good. You did really good. And you helped me out a bit."

"Ssnek did?" He seemed to regain some of his spirits. "How did Ssnek do that?"

I chuckled wryly. "Now I'm absolutely certain that I don't want to be in the Wards, if that's how they let them act."

"Ssnek undersstandss." He turned to face me. "Ssnek alsso got sshadow girl'ss facce, if buzzy-bug girl wantss."

"Her face?" Then his tongue came out, clutching a full-face mask portraying a scowling woman's face. "Oh, her mask. It does look like a face, doesn't it? Thanks, Snek. This will help when I make the complaint against her to the PRT." Personally, I didn't think it would come to much—even with all the evidence I had, her crack about the lawyers had struck close to home—but I was willing to give it my best shot.

He had cheered up all the way again now. "Ssnek likess to help."

I gave him a scratch along the jawline, which he leaned into. "Well, I really appreciate your help. You're a good boy. Now, if you can help me watch these guys until the police arrive, that would be great."

"Ssnek can do that."



Taylor opened the back door at eleven thirty on the dot. Danny gave up any pretense of watching the news and got up to greet her. "How'd it go?"

"It went … interesting." She stepped aside to allow Snek's nose to enter the doorway, and gave it a boop with her fist. "Thanks again for helping out, Snek."

"Ssnek likess to help," the giant snake said. "Hello, Danny."

"Hi, Snek. Thanks for keeping her safe." He gave the broad nose a scratch, which Snek seemed to enjoy. "I'd ask you to stay, but it is kind of late."

"Ssnek undersstandss. Masster will be waiting. Ssnek will ssee you again. Good night."

"Night, Snek." Danny still wasn't sure how this had become almost normal to him.

Taylor gave Snek a quick hug. "Night, Snek. You're a good boy."

"Thank you, buzzy-bug girl." Snek backed up from the doorway, then vanished into a portal.

Slowly, Danny closed the door. "How is it that having a giant snake visiting on the regular can be both weird and natural at the same time?"

Taylor pulled her mask off, then grinned as she shook her hair out. "Oh, that's better. I've got no idea. But I'm glad he was around. Tonight could've gotten a bit problematic, otherwise."

He felt his eyebrows climbing toward his hairline. "Oh?"

"I'll tell you about it later, once I've processed it all." She lifted the spider pendant off her neck. It was a little on the chunky side, deliberately so. This helped conceal the electronics within. "Right now, I'm going to see what I caught on the body cam."

"You do that. I'll clean up and turn out the lights." Yawning, he headed through into the living room and flicked off the TV, while Taylor went upstairs. The custom camera had set him back more than a little, but if anything ever came down to he-said-she-said, he wanted Taylor to have footage.

He was halfway up the stairs himself when he heard her call out from her room. "Uh, Dad?"


"You know the lawsuit?"


"Can Mr Howe include the PRT in it? In particular, whoever's got overwatch on the Wards?"

His eyes opened wide. "That's a very specific question. Why do you ask it?"

"I tangled with Shadow Stalker tonight. Snek snagged her mask before she went to shadow, and you'll never guess whose face I'm looking at right now."

End of Part Twelve

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