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Snek is a Good Boy [a Worm Crackfic]

Snek is the bestest boy of all time. Also, Riley on PHO is funny, what kind of coverage do you need to breach dimensions, 40G? Now I'm imagining Snek posting on PHO through Riley and that leads to a funny image of Riley trying to teach Snek what a forum is, because she gave up entirely on teaching him the internet.
Huh. I could swear that the entire "Fuck with Taytay" campaign began and ended with Emma, and Sophia litteraly gave no shits and was just in it for the ride and to give her homie a hand... Weird.

I think so too but honestly it's pretty easy to lump then together and it's pretty common for it shake out like that in fanfiction.
Huh. I could swear that the entire "Fuck with Taytay" campaign began and ended with Emma, and Sophia literally gave no shits and was just in it for the ride and to give her homie a hand... Weird.
Look at their very first interaction.

Then look at the bookstore incident.

Sophia was in it to push Taylor down.

She'd convinced Emma that in order to be strong, she had to push someone else strong (like Taylor) down, and then once Taylor got strong again, she would be worthy of their friendship. But then it was just easier to keep bullying her.

When she found out that Taylor was Skitter (and had thus been the one to beat her) she threw a spectacular wobbly, and kicked the TV in.

Madison was the one who was doing it for fun.
People pull out the popcorn as we prepare Piggott to come unglued at the shear stupidity that is Sophia Hess with her inability to comprehend why you don't fuck around. Also I think Snek would be the best moral witness for Taylor in the court case. Who's going to argue with the Endbringer devouring snake?
I'm at Kaiser's first appearance. And I have to say: Kaiser is evil, yes, but Kaiser is also smart. He doesn't believe the Nazi crap, he just uses it to control idiots.

He should have been able to draw up some anti-snek protocols and shared them with his gang.

"Yes, the snake is the strongest cape in this city, but it's also the dumbest. It's simple. We concentrate our efforts on the merchants and when we meet it we're telling it about all the bad things they do. We will just have to stop targeting women and children, which, now that we're the undisputed Masters of this town, is a mercy we can actually afford. Mercy is a luxury and we are richer than ever.

We'll just slowly drive off all the male niggers and chinks and the subhuman whores will migrate away naturally, because there'll be no drug dealers willing to fuck them for their next fix and the little niggers will have no gangs willing to give them jobs. A nigger child without a gang to aspire to? They will see they have no future in this city and move away. Honestly unless one of you gets drunk and angers the snake, this time next year we should found a chapter in another city, spread our good fortune after this one's purified.

Now, Victor? You'll get me a list of children who take drugs. Everyone will memorize some of the names and if the snake tries to stop you, you shout that you are just trying to find out who gave drugs to little Timmy Jenkins. It was a black skinned man you know and these people also have black skin and a lot of black skinned men in this city are friends with each other.

In the unlikely event that it tries to lecture you about racism, just play a little dumb and ask lots of questions. Like, ask it why most criminals are black or Asian, if they aren't inherently worse and tell it how the PRT are mean to us, just because we noticed that. It's a dumb animal. If you're not hostile to it and ask hard questions like you're confused it won't hurt you."


Personal story:

That was like pulling teeth. While trying to write that, I wished I'd read more neo-nazi propaganda, because I wasn't able to semi-coherently argue and didn't know enough racial slurs. Then I was like: "Wait, I don't actually want that." Then I realised "Whoa, that's the first time I ever in my whole life didn't want to learn something." As in not "I don't have time to learn it." Or "I'd rather study something else.", but "I don't want that skill."

Then I realised that when I was writing Hold My Beer, I was also asking other people for help with Kaiser's dialogue and in the end half assed it.

I quit my job as a teacher because I hate it when people don't want to learn something when it doesn't cost them anything.

If you're going to have to sit in this room anyway, why not try to learn something? Why argue ten minutes over a two minute task?

Calling me to help you send photos over the internet takes more time than learning how to do it yourself.p

It's now become a matter of personal integrity and self expression to me that I must learn to write convincing Nazi bullshit.

Just because for the first time I had an impulse that I didn't want to know something. Thank you Ack, for showing me what that's like. It's important to me to be true to myself.
I'm at Kaiser's first appearance. And I have to say: Kaiser is evil, yes, but Kaiser is also smart. He doesn't believe the Nazi crap, he just uses it to control idiots.

He should have been able to draw up some anti-snek protocols and shared them with his gang.

"Yes, the snake is the strongest cape in this city, but it's also the dumbest. It's simple. We concentrate our efforts on the merchants and when we meet it we're telling it about all the bad things they do. We will just have to stop targeting women and children, which, now that we're the undisputed Masters of this town, is a mercy we can actually afford. Mercy is a luxury and we are richer than ever.

We'll just slowly drive off all the male niggers and chinks and the subhuman whores will migrate away naturally, because there'll be no drug dealers willing to fuck them for their next fix and the little niggers will have no gangs willing to give them jobs. A nigger child without a gang to aspire to? They will see they have no future in this city and move away. Honestly unless one of you gets drunk and angers the snake, this time next year we should found a chapter in another city, spread our good fortune after this one's purified.

Now, Victor? You'll get me a list of children who take drugs. Everyone will memorize some of the names and if the snake tries to stop you, you shout that you are just trying to find out who gave drugs to little Timmy Jenkins. It was a black skinned man you know and these people also have black skin and a lot of black skinned men in this city are friends with each other.

In the unlikely event that it tries to lecture you about racism, just play a little dumb and ask lots of questions. Like, ask it why most criminals are black or Asian, if they aren't inherently worse and tell it how the PRT are mean to us, just because we noticed that. It's a dumb animal. If you're not hostile to it and ask hard questions like you're confused it won't hurt you."


Personal story:

That was like pulling teeth. While trying to write that, I wished I'd read more neo-nazi propaganda, because I wasn't able to semi-coherently argue and didn't know enough racial slurs. Then I was like: "Wait, I don't actually want that." Then I realised "Whoa, that's the first time I ever in my whole life didn't want to learn something." As in not "I don't have time to learn it." Or "I'd rather study something else.", but "I don't want that skill."

Then I realised that when I was writing Hold My Beer, I was also asking other people for help with Kaiser's dialogue and in the end half assed it.

I quit my job as a teacher because I hate it when people don't want to learn something when it doesn't cost them anything.

If you're going to have to sit in this room anyway, why not try to learn something? Why argue ten minutes over a two minute task?

Calling me to help you send photos over the internet takes more time than learning how to do it yourself.p

It's now become a matter of personal integrity and self expression to me that I must learn to write convincing Nazi bullshit.

Just because for the first time I had an impulse that I didn't want to know something. Thank you Ack, for showing me what that's like. It's important to me to be true to myself.
Note that Snek didn't really give them a chance to try to bullshit him.

Also, he might not be smart, but he does have a good bullshit meter. (Low INT, high WIS).
Part Thirteen: Snek Eyes Means You Lose
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Thirteen: Snek Eyes Means You Lose

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

Afternoon of May 16, 2011
Offices of DC&H


Mr Howe was a very self-controlled individual who I personally suspected could look a person over and estimate their monetary worth to within ten dollars. Throughout the entire process of gathering information for the lawsuit, he had always exuded the air of being on top of the situation at all times. I understood that giving this impression was specifically part of his job, but all the same, it had reassured me.

This was the first time I had seen him rattled. It was a surreal experience.

Pulling on a pair of white cotton gloves, he carefully lifted Shadow Stalker's mask out of the paper bag I'd been carrying it in and turned it over in his hands. "Oh, my," he murmured. "Are those electronics in the eyeholes?"

"I'm not sure," I confessed. "I'm pretty sure it's Tinkertech, and I don't want to make it break or blow up or whatever, so I haven't been poking at it."

"That is an undoubtedly wise course of action," he agreed. "While I have never met Shadow Stalker in person, I would agree without a doubt that this is a genuine article of superhero costumery." He set the mask down, then gingerly picked up the crossbow, still loaded with one of the tranquilliser arrows. I noted that his finger never went anywhere near the trigger. "Explain to me, please; how exactly did you come by these items, and what do they have to do with the case at hand?"

Dad and I glanced at each other. If we were to bring this into the main case, we would have to fill in Mr Howe on my powers and super identity. Fortunately, DC&H listed parahuman law as one of their specialties. At Dad's nod, I took a deep breath. "I am also a parahuman. Can you deal with that, or do we have to bring in someone else?"

To my relief, he took it better than being shown the mask and the crossbow. Carefully setting the weapon down, ensuring that it wasn't pointed anywhere near either of us, he interlaced his hands before him. "I am entirely capable of dealing with it, Miss Hebert. Kindly relate the story from the very beginning."

"Okay, then." I thought back, trying to decide what was relevant and what was not. "You know who Snek is, right?"

Mr Howe chuckled dryly. "Miss Hebert, I would venture to say that there are more people in the world today who know of Snek than there are who do not. I am not a fan of snakes in general, but for that particular reptile, I shall make an exception. Please, go on."

"Okay. Well, I've gone out in costume with him a couple of times, and he came by last night. We spotted some muggers threatening a bunch of girls, so I decided to intervene …"

Gradually, I led him through the events of that evening until we got to the point where Shadow Stalker escaped without her mask. In the process of this, of course, I had to explain that I went by the name of Lady Swarm. He accepted all this without a qualm, jotting down the occasional note.

"Very interesting," he said at the end. "You acquitted yourself well, I think. And you say that your body-cam recorded Shadow Stalker's face after Snek took her mask but before she fled, and upon examination of the footage, you discovered her to be one of your tormentors?"

"I did, yeah," I said. "Do you want to see?"

He held up both hands hastily. "Ah, no," he said, his tone apologetic. "While I am permitted to act on behalf of those parahumans who willingly reveal their identities to me, that is one thing. If a known hero's powered identity is revealed to me without their knowledge, I may not make any use of that information unless specifically empowered to do so by the Parahuman Response Teams."

"But she's not a hero," I said quickly. "Not acting the way she does."

Mr Howe tilted his head in acknowledgement. "True, but the public perception of her is that she is one," he reminded me. "We have to prove otherwise, remember?"

Dad nodded, as though he'd half-expected this. "So, before we can fold this into the current case, we have to go talk to the PRT anyway? The people that Shadow Stalker more or less works for?"

"That is the situation in a nutshell, yes," Mr Howe agreed. "I agree that it would appear to be a system ripe for coverups and brushing such matters under the rug. In fact, a more cynical person than myself might even venture to suggest that it was set up that way in the first place on purpose. However, your course is clear; this needs to be taken to Director Piggot, to see if she can handle that matter in-house before we add it to the ongoing case."

"And if she stonewalls us, or tries to brush the whole thing under the rug, as you put it?" Dad and Mr Howe aside, I didn't have a great opinion of authority figures.

"Then we open a second lawsuit," Mr Howe explained. "One to be held behind closed doors, citing the PRT for criminal negligence in allowing Shadow Stalker to carry out her delinquent activities when she should by rights be under constant supervision." He paused at our looks of surprise. "Oh, didn't you know? She was considered to be a dangerous vigilante, and it was only due to someone speaking up for her at a legal hearing that she was shunted sideways into the Wards rather than remanded to juvenile detention."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, that's a miscarriage of justice if I ever heard of one."

Dad had an intent look in his eyes. "Who spoke up for her?"

Mr Howe grimaced. "I would tell you if I could, Mr Hebert, but that risks delving into the specifics of a case that has little bearing on this one."

That was when I had my epiphany. "I bet I know," I said quietly. "If I say a name and it's not the person, can you shake your head, please?"

"Just one name, please," Mr Howe decided. "This is edging into legally dubious territory as it is."

I nodded. "Sure. Alan Barnes."

Mr Howe locked his gaze on mine, and did not shake his head.

"Son of a bitch," whispered Dad. "Taylor, how did you know?"

"She's been hanging out with Emma all this time, and who better to give her a glowing character reference than a lawyer who has a reason to help her out, such as her best friend's dad?" I shrugged. "As soon as I thought of it, it made perfect sense to me."

Dad nodded. "It does. It really does. Once this lawsuit is done with, I'm going to be asking Alan some very stringent questions."

"As is your right," agreed Mr Howe. "But until then, we have other matters to deal with. Allow me to suggest ways and means to approach Director Piggot on the Shadow Stalker situation …"


At That Moment
Elsewhere in the United States


"Hey, Butcher," jibed Spree. "You hear about that giant snake killing an Endbringer? I thought those things were unkillable."

"Only 'cause I never tried killing one," Butcher boasted. "Not worth it."

"Not worth it?" Hemorrhagia finished off her beer and belched. "Damn, girl. You need to fix your priorities. If we offed an Endbringer, they'd be serving us all the pussy, dick and cash we wanted on a silver platter. Not worth it, my ass."

"But we can take all that, any time we want," insisted Butcher. "Endbringers are just doin' their own thing, like we are. I don't fuck with them, they don't fuck with me."

"Well, that snake certainly fucked with them." Vex used a couple of her force fields to slice meat off the leg of ham she was holding. "Chowed down on Leviathan like a Christmas turkey."

Animos nudged Reaver in a 'watch this' manner. "Hey, Butcher? I bet you can't kill the snake."

"Yeah," chimed in Reaver. "Just wouldn't be worth it. It'd piss off too many people. Besides, he's way too tough. I mean, I wouldn't blame you for backing off."

The crunch as Butcher's beer can crumpled in her suddenly clenched fist was drowned out by the fssss as the beer in it sprayed across the room. Slowly, Butcher sat up and looked around. "Fuckin' what did you just say to me?"

"Ah, nothing, nothing," Reaver claimed, affecting innocence in the whole matter. "Just shootin' the breeze, is all."

"Yeah," Animos added. "I mean, you wouldn't really want the hassle, would you? Besides, I mean, fuck, the thing's gotta be sixty foot long."

Butcher gave them both an extremely unimpressed look. "Don't think I don't know what you two clowns are up to," she growled. "You're full of shit, both of you."

"You're totally right. You're absolutely right," Animos assured her. "But you know, I was just thinking about its teeth."

"Oh, hell yes," agreed Reaver. "Some of those are as long as your damn arm. Can you imagine how much more badass we'd look with some of those fangs hanging off us?"

Butcher opened her mouth, paused, then closed it again. "Let me see that fuckin' wannabe sock-puppet again."

"Here." Reaver had his phone open, and was calling up one of the many images of Snek with his mouth open. "Look at those things, huh?"

The teeth on the giant snake were indeed impressive, and Butcher thought about it. In the back of her head, a few voices counselled caution, but were shouted down by the rest. The consensus was almost unanimous. It's just an overgrown garter snake. We can take it.

"Okay, fine," she conceded. "Let's go snake hunting. But I get first crack."

Animos and Reaver shared a high-five. "Fuck yes."


Saturday, May 21, 2011
PRT Building


It felt weird to be walking down the sidewalk in broad daylight, wearing my Lady Swarm costume. The Saturday morning foot traffic around the PRT building gave me looks ranging from 'shit, it's a cape' to 'okay, it's a cape, but which one?'. I had vaguely hoped that someone would give me a sign of recognition, but it seemed the public was still in the dark about Lady Swarm.

If I felt weird, Dad had to be undergoing an even more surreal experience, as he was currently wearing a jacket that gave him considerably more bulk than normal, and a cloth mask over his eyes. There was no way he wasn't going to be at the meeting with Director Piggot, and if he came undisguised, it would be too easy to derive my identity from his. I couldn't discount the possibility that the PRT had other means of figuring out who I was, but there was no sense in making it easy for them.

Mr Howe, the third member of our little group, wore neither disguise nor mask. He knew my identity and Dad's as well, but even if the Director herself asked him who we really were, he was legally permitted (and required, unless we gave permission) to politely tell her to go to hell. Of the three of us, he seemed to be the most at ease, which meant that either his career had put him in some odd situations … or he was just really good at acting.

We approached the front doors, which slid aside smoothly to allow us entry. Mr Howe took point immediately, giving the guards a genial smile and approaching the reception desk. "Good morning," he greeted the lady behind the desk. "I'm Harold Howe, of DC&H. I believe my clients and I have an appointment with your Director in approximately twenty minutes?"

From the way her eyes widened, she knew the name of Mr Howe's firm. It wasn't a happy widening, which meant DC&H had history with the PRT, possibly on the other side of contentious lawsuits. I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but at the very least we definitely had their attention now.

"Let me just check on that," she said, typing something into her terminal. "A few issues have come up today, and the Director may not be immediately available … ah."

Mr Howe raised his eyebrows. "Young lady, I do hope that is an optimistic 'ah'. If Director Piggot has decided to duck out of this appointment so as to avoid a problematic encounter with me, her wish will in no way be granted."

"No, no," the receptionist said hastily. "It looks like she knew she'd be busy, so she arranged for Deputy Director Renick to take the appointment in her stead."

"Hm." Mr Howe seemed to consider that. "We shall see how that goes."

With a look of relief on her face, the receptionist nodded. "Would you like to go up, sir?"


PRT Building, Conference Room A


The room was spacious, with a table large enough to seat maybe twenty people. Moreover, the chairs were actually comfortable. At one end was an impressively large wall-screen, while one side wall was taken up with a gigantic whiteboard. Mr Howe seemed to be content to go through his notes for the meeting, but Taylor kept stealing glances around the room. Interestingly enough, she was almost entirely ignoring the PRT guard who had accompanied them up in the elevator and was now standing near the door.

"Everything okay?" asked Danny, leaning in toward her. He lowered his voice for the question, but had no doubt the guard heard him anyway; the sound quality in here was amazing.

"Oh, sure," she said, keeping her voice down as well. "I was just counting the cameras. Six, if you're interested. And two extra microphones."

"Really?" asked Mr Howe, looking around. "I was always curious about that. One imagines that they would not build a room like this without cameras, but my eyes are not as good as they once were."

Danny had other issues in mind. "Are they live? Are we being recorded right now?"

Taylor didn't hesitate. "They're live, yes. Recorded? I can't tell."

"Well, that's good enough for me." Danny nodded to the body-cam Taylor was wearing. "Turn that on. If they're going to record us, then we're going to record them."

"Right." Taylor fiddled with it; given the entire lack of background noise in the room, the tiny click was clearly audible. "Recording."

Mr Howe raised his head. "I'm curious. How can you tell that they're live?"

"Static electricity and magnetic fields," Taylor said at once. "Some bugs are sensitive to that sort of thing." She paused. "I could mess with them if you liked. Make sure that all they see and hear are bug butts and buzzing wings."

"As tempting as that is … perhaps not. At least not today." Mr Howe glanced at the guard. "We don't want to start this meeting off on an adversarial note."

Danny nodded. "Let's extend the Deputy Director the courtesy of believing that he's going to be acting in good faith today, and do the same." He, too, looked at the guard. "Where is he, anyway? It's been nearly twenty minutes."

"There's three people coming right now," Taylor said. "Two are in costume, one's not."

True to her word, the door clicked open about fifteen seconds later. A man Danny assumed to be Deputy Director Renick—tall, greying, careworn—entered, followed by a costumed young man in a lion's head mask and another in a rust-red costume with silver highlights and a shield on his chest. The latter pair he recognised: Triumph and Aegis.

Instinctively, Danny stood, along with Howe. It wasn't so much deference as a little harmless courtesy. Taylor followed suit, a moment later.

"Good morning, lady and gentlemen." Renick went to the head of the table and took a seat there. "Please, sit." He gestured to the two capes with him, and they went to the far side of the table.

Mr Howe got himself settled again and beamed at their host. "Deputy Director, good to see you again."

"Mr Howe. I hope I'll be able to say the same about this meeting. You were somewhat vague, mentioning a problematic Ward …?" Renick let the question hang in the air.

"Yes, I did. But first, allow me to get the introductions out of the way." Mr Howe gestured to Taylor. "This is Lady Swarm; she's been on the news once or twice. And this gentleman is here on behalf of Lady Swarm, and can be referred to as John Doe."

"Ah." Renick gave Taylor a friendly nod. "Always happy to meet a new hero in the city. Has anyone suggested yet that you join the Wards?"

"We discussed it," Danny said firmly. "And we decided that it wasn't for her."

Renick looked a little taken aback by his no-nonsense tone. No doubt his experience was more along the lines of parents trying to convince their kids to join. "Thank you, Mr Doe. Any particular reason for that?"

"Yeah." Taylor kept her voice level. "Several. A couple of which also count as our reasons for being here today." She gave Renick a nod in return, given that he was unable to see her expression. "So, did we want to get this started?"

"Certainly," agreed Renick. "Just as a side note, Triumph is here as an obligatory member of the Protectorate for meetings like this, and Aegis is the current leader of the Wards."

"Understood." Mr Howe cleared his throat. "So, to commence. My client, Lady Swarm, was out on patrol on the evening of the fifteenth, and she encountered Shadow Stalker while in the process of saving a group of ladies from some muggers. Specifically, it was Lady Swarm doing the saving. Shadow Stalker was observing and doing nothing." He paused expectantly.

Aegis went to speak, then stopped and held up a finger. "Uh … can I say something?"

"You may," Mr Howe said graciously.

"Thank you. Shadow Stalker is kind of … well, I've never known her to back down from a fight. Just saying. Triumph?"

"Me neither." The young man, even when not using his power, had a deep and resonant voice. "She's very much a go-getter. Standing back and doing nothing doesn't sound like her at all."

"Thank you for those observations," Renick said, clearly pleased at the way the capes were defending their teammate. "What happened next?"

Mr Howe nodded in acknowledgement. "After Lady Swarm had subdued the muggers and sent fireflies to lead the ladies to safety, she invited Shadow Stalker—whose presence she'd already noted—down into the alley to talk to her. Shadow Stalker came down and immediately began shooting the subdued and bound muggers with what I presume were tranquilliser arrows from her crossbows. Lady Swarm protested this, and an argument developed." He raised his eyebrows. "Those are tranquilliser arrows, yes?"

"To the best of my knowledge," agreed Renick. "Aegis?"

The young hero nodded. "She uses tranquillisers, yes, sir."

"Good. We are once more on the same page." Mr Howe smiled. "During the course of the argument, Shadow Stalker made several statements and performed actions which call into question her status as a hero. Specifically, she said she was delaying the rescue to see if the victims would fight back; that she was going to claim the entire bust as her own because as a Ward she was untouchable; and that the lawyers available to the PRT would bury Lady Swarm if she tried to allege anything different. During this time, she directly threatened Lady Swarm with her crossbow."

"That's … a series of very damaging allegations." The statement from Renick sounded almost reflexive. "While I have nothing against you, young lady, do you have anything to back that up?"

"Aside from my unsupported word?" Taylor picked up the shopping bag she'd been carrying when she came in. "Because I'm pretty sure you'd accept hers. But okay, here, have some proof. You see, I wasn't out and about on my own. I was with Snek. He took this from her just as she was about to shoot me with it." She took the crossbow out and placed it on the table, making an audible clunk. As with the time Mr Howe had handled it, she made sure not to point it at anyone. The sudden inhalation from Renick and both capes should have been amusing, but neither she nor Danny were smiling. "And then, when he said he was going to put her in a cell for Director Piggot to deal with, she made a run for it, but not before he snagged this." The mask followed the crossbow onto the table.

Aegis' eyes were wide behind his helmet visor. "That is not the story she told about how she lost those things."

"Those are Shadow Stalker's, then? There's no doubt about it?" Renick suddenly sounded much less sure of himself.

"Short of actually taking them into Kid Win's lab and disassembling them, I believe so, sir." Triumph was just as taken aback. "I'd know them anywhere."

"Well, is Shadow Stalker in the building?" the Deputy Director asked. "I very much want to hear her side of this."

From the tone of his voice, so did Aegis. "She's on console duty," he reported. "She claimed to have been ambushed and beaten up when she lost the crossbow and mask, and she's been limping ever since, so I've had her on light duties."

"I see." Renick turned to the guard at the door. "Send word to have Shadow Stalker attend this meeting, as soon as possible," he ordered. "No other details than that."

"No weapons, please," interjected Mr Howe. "I would very much rather not find out what those tranquilliser arrows feel like first-hand."

The guard turned his helmet toward Renick, and he nodded. "Definitely no weapons."

"Yes, sir." The guard began mumbling into his radio.



I knew it would only be a few minutes before Shadow Stalker arrived, but time seemed to stretch on interminably. Dad put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a companionable squeeze, which served to calm my nerves somewhat. No squads of armoured PRT troopers seemed to be rushing through the corridors toward us, which seemed to be a good sign.

And then my bugs spotted her, stepping out of the elevator on our level. Even with their crappy eyesight and hearing, there was no mistaking the proud stance and the angry walk, especially when I added in my knowledge of Sophia Hess. But she wasn't coming to us as Sophia. With what I had to assume was a brand-new mask (and probably crossbows, elsewhere) she was all Shadow Stalker right now.

"She just got out of the elevator," I announced for the benefit of everyone else in the room.

Triumph and Aegis, who had been conferring in low tones, sat up and stared at me. Deputy Director Renick also raised his eyebrows. "I thought you were an insect-centric Master, not a Thinker?"

I shrugged. "I control bugs. Bugs go everywhere. Their sight and hearing is crap, but I can usually put together a picture when I want to."

"I … see." He seemed about to say more, but right then the door opened and Shadow Stalker stomped in. The limp Aegis had alluded to seemed to have mysteriously vanished.

"Okay, I'm here," she announced. "What's the big—holy shit! You!" Dramatically, she pointed at where I sat with the mask and crossbow in front of me. "That's her! That's the one who ambushed me and kicked the shit out of me! Fuckin' arrest her already!"

"Oh, come on," I said derisively. "I never laid a hand on you, and you know it."

"Shadow Stalker," Deputy Director Renick stated firmly. "Lady Swarm here has made severe allegations regarding your conduct on the night that you lost your crossbow and your mask. Would you like to revisit your statement about that night?"

I thought I saw, through the eyeholes of her mask, a hunted expression. But even if she was indeed feeling pressured, she was a damn good actor. "Hell no, sir. Whatever she says, she's lying. She ambushed me and stole my stuff."

Mr Howe cleared his throat. "If I may, Deputy Director?" Reaching into his briefcase, he brought out a thumb drive. "I assure you, it is clear of any malware."

Renick gave him an austere smile as he took the drive. "I accept your assurance, but the regulations state that the room will be isolated from the rest of the building while playing media from outside the PRT. Let's see now …"

Reaching under the table, he must have plugged the drive in somewhere, because the screen at the far end of the room came to life. A few clicks and taps from Renick's end brought up the video, starting from when Snek and I had first noticed the mugging, and I'd told him to hang back. Even then, Shadow Stalker had been visible on the rooftop.

The camera on the faux pendant was good quality, and even in the low-light environment it got a sharp picture. Everyone else watched as the footage rolled through; I was more interested in keeping an eye on Shadow Stalker with my bugs. I didn't give a damn if she made a bolt for it, because that would immediately put her on the PRT's radar. But if she tried to hurt me and got Dad instead, I would have no mercy whatsoever.

It stopped just at the point where Snek scored her mask, leaving the exposure of her face ambiguous. There was a clear shot of her just a couple of frames on, but I didn't want to have that debate right now. Nobody there seemed to remark on it, which was good. Instead, Deputy Director Renick turned to Shadow Stalker, who had to be sweating bullets right now.

"Very well. The evidence does seem to be conclusive. What do you have to say for yourself?"

From my point of view, Shadow Stalker had two options: either to confess, or to make a run for it. She did neither. Pointing at me dramatically, she declared, "She's lying. Where did she get the footage from? It had to be computer generated."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, come on. I'm wearing a body cam. For crying out loud, stop lying."

Adamant, she shook her head. "You're the one who's lying. I'm being framed here." The sheer amount of chutzpah it took for her to deny the evidence before her eyes was breathtaking. If I didn't know for a fact that she was bullshitting as hard as she could, I would've been taken in.

Somewhere deep inside, I'd figured that bringing the evidence, both physical and digital, would be the end of it. I knew that Renick had believed me, but the rock-solid assurance in Shadow Stalker's tone was shaking that belief ever so slightly. He looked over at her. "So, what's your side of the story, Shadow Stalker? How did your encounter with Snek go?"

I tried not to let the frustration well up inside me. They were actually going to listen to her bullshit? Her casual dismissal of my body cam as evidence? What did I need to have in order for them to just accept what I had to say?

"Hah, he wasn't even there," she said boldly, angering me even more. "Why would something as powerful as that even go near someone like Lady Swarm? He's a hero. She's not."

"Snek. Was. There," I gritted, trying not to shout.

She sneered at me. "Prove it."

There was a thump-thump-thump on the doors. Puzzled, Renick glanced in that direction, and gestured for the guard to open them. When he did, Snek poured himself in through the open doorway, smiling as broadly as he ever did. He still wore his cute little hat.

"Hello, buzzy-bug girl!" he said happily. "Hello, buzzy-bug girl father. Hello, sshadow girl. Ssnek hass come to help."

"Hi, Snek!" I got up and went around the table to give him a skritch behind the jaw, just where he liked it. As I did, I noted that Shadow Stalker had backed all the way off. "It's good to see you."

"Iss good to ssee you too, buzzy-bug girl. Masster sspell tell Ssnek you need help. How can Ssnek help?"

"Oh, wow." He'd come here just to help me out? Snek really was a good boy. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"Ssnek iss eating bad men. Chassing Butcher. Will catch anyway. Head sstart makess more fun. Ssnek help?"

"Ah, yeah." I gestured to Deputy Director Renick. "This is Mr Renick. He's shadow girl's boss. Can you tell him what happened when we met shadow girl?"

"Ssnek can do that." He turned his immense head toward Renick. "Hello, misster Renick. Ssnek iss with buzzy-bug girl when sseess bad men with ladiess. Alsso sseess sshadow girl sitting on roof, not helping. Buzzy-bug girl sstopss bad men, helpss ladiess. Sshadow girl comess down, sshootss bad men with twang-arrow weapon, buzzy-bug girl sstopss her. Sshadow girl pointss twang-arrow weapon at buzzy-bug girl. Ssnek takess weapon, putss in not-eat place. Ssnek deccidess that sshadow girl iss bad persson, belongss in ccell, but sshadow girl runss away. Ssnek getss massk before sshe goess."

The Deputy Director blinked. "Well … that does seem kind of straightforward. Shadow Stalker?"

"He's lying!" she blurted desperately. "They're all lying!"

"I really don't think Snek knows how to lie," I said. "I mean, just look at this face." I gestured at Snek's broad, honest visage. "Is that the face of a liar?"

Snek suddenly blurred forward, twisting as he went. There was a snap and a cut-off yelp from Shadow Stalker as Snek's head disappeared into another portal. Then he pulled back, minus Shadow Stalker, looking rather pleased with himself.

"… what?" asked Aegis. "What happened? Where did she go?"

"Ssnek ssmelled sshadow girl wass about to run, sso Ssnek put her in prisson ccell for misster Renick and blue ssuit lady," explained the giant snake in a rather matter of fact tone. "Sshe ran one time, but not two timess."

"Oh. Right." Renick blinked and shook his head. "I suppose that will definitely have to do."

"Doess buzzy-bug girl need more help?" Snek looked up at me. "Bad men sstill to chasse. Iss fun."

"Ah," said Triumph. "If you're fighting Butcher, don't kill her, please. Killing her means she infects other people with what makes her bad."

Snek nodded. "Ssnek will remember. Will take to Masster to fix. Thank you, cat head boy. Goodbye, buzzy-bug girl, buzzy-bug girl father."

"Bye, Snek," I said. "And thanks. You're a good boy." I gave him a hug, and a snoot-boop for good measure.

"Buzzy-bug girl iss welcome." Snek wriggled backward out of the room, then pulled the door shut with his multi-branching tongue.

Cautiously, the guard opened it again and peered out. "It's gone," he reported.

"Yeah, he does that." I dusted my hands off. "So, are we done here?"

Deputy Director Renick shared a resigned look with Mr Howe. "Yes. I suppose we are."

And so, I knew, was Sophia Hess.

End of Part Thirteen
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Given Snek's mover rating, does that matter?
Actually, a fight with the potential of Snek ending up as the next Butcher would probably give everyone with half a brain cell cause to shit bricks.

Taylor doesn't because she has some hum about how BS Snek's master is.
Part Fourteen: Snek vs Butcher
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Fourteen: Snek versus Butcher

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

Snek has been having fun.

Snek went to world with sharp-tooth lizards and played chase games with them. Big-tooth lizard tried to eat sharp-tooth lizard, so Snek ate big-tooth lizard. Sharp-tooth lizards very happy.

Now Snek thinks Mouse would like to meet sharp-tooth lizards, so he makes wriggle-hole to go to Mouse world. He knows Mouse is nearby, and starts to look for her. Mouse is always happy to see Snek. Snek is always happy to see Mouse, too. Mouse is Snek's friend.

As Snek is looking for Mouse, Master's spell tells him that she is in trouble. Mouse is smart and fast, but there are many bad men in this world that Snek has not yet eaten. He sniffs for Mouse and finds her scent, then smells others around her. Bad men are not allowed to hurt Mouse.

Snek is a good boy.

Snek will help Mouse.


A Small Town Near Brockton Bay

Mouse Protector

How do I keep getting in these situations?

Oh, wait. Because I go looking for them.

Diane slashed her sword across Reaver's calf muscle, then stabbed him in the arm just before he would've caught his weight on it, causing him to dramatically faceplant. A cloud of tiny sharp force fields closed in around her, threatening to slide in through the gaps in her armour, so she teleported to one of her marks. Scooping up the small rubber puck—she'd started using these after Leviathan—she renewed the mark, then tossed it up onto a nearby rooftop.

The teleport gave her a small breathing space, which was good. While she wasn't in nearly as fraught a position as she'd been in when Snek rescued her from the Slaughterhouse Nine, it was still a good idea not to take her eye off the ball. Reaver was out of the fight for the moment, but that still left the rest of Butcher's personal cadre of assholes to contend with.

It wasn't as though she'd picked this fight to begin with; she'd just been in the area when the police bands started screaming about the Teeth attacking people at random. As she'd always contended, it was up to people like her to protect the mice of the world, human and otherwise. So she'd armoured up and gone looking for them, hoping to be able to occupy their attention until any other heroes in the vicinity deigned to show up and help drive them off.

Well, nobody can deny that I got their attention. As for the other half of the plan, where she enlisted another hero's assistance to drive them off, she was still working on that bit. But if she could disable a few more of them, maybe they'd decide to retreat all on their own. It was a possibility, anyway.

With a boom and a blast of flame that sent Diane tumbling out of the way, Butcher pulled off her own personal brand of teleportation. Personally, Diane thought it was way too overwrought; teleportation was flashy enough as it was without having some attention-seeking glory hound adding to it by tacking on an explosive blast. In fact, Butcher couldn't get much more on the nose if she tried.

Not that Diane wanted to take her on, either at range or in hand to hand. Due to the lineup of capes who had gone through the Butcher name, the arrogant villain had access to all the good powers. Fighting her in melee was a losing proposition, due to her Brute-level durability and strength; those that could match her in those matters would find it impossible to pin her down, because of the teleport capability.

At range, it was worse, because not only did she possess a danger sense of sorts, but she had access to a bunch of ranged attack powers, up to and including the ability to sense the cardiovascular systems of her opponents and target them unerringly—even through walls—with the minigun she carried. Which Diane considered to be the highest form of cheating. (As someone who cheated in combat all the time, she figured she was an expert on the matter).

She couldn't help wondering, though, what moron considered it a good idea to sell ammunition to the Butcher. A belt of the gleaming cartridges led up and over Butcher's shoulder, disappearing into her bulky backpack, along with a black insulated cable. Diane guessed that the cable was for the gun's battery, while the rest of the pack had to be stuffed full of bullets. No mundane human would be able to heft that sheer mass, much less the multi-barrelled gun attached to it.

Still, all she had to do was—

Pain lanced through her body. Unable to concentrate on her plan of teleporting away, Diane went to one knee. The barrels began to spin, faster and faster, as the gun angled around toward her. Her armour would probably fend off the first burst, but if Butcher got the idea to literally rip her out of it, there wouldn't be much she could do about it. Unless, and she had to pin her hopes on this, Butcher let up on the pain infliction power first.

By the time she realised Animos was on site as well, it was too late. His scream washed over her, draining her powers away so she couldn't teleport even if Butcher did let up on the pain. Well, crap. I'm going to die here, to an ensemble supervillain and a wannabe werewolf.

"Bad sspike lady!" Snek's voice was the most welcome sound Diane had ever heard, and that was saying something. "No hurt Mouss!" Barrelling out of a portal, he went straight on the offensive and wrapped up Butcher (gun and all) in an implacable embrace. "Ssnek eatss bad men for that! Bad lady no different!"

The agony let up immediately, which Diane could understand. Being enfolded by that enormously strong body, immunity to pain notwithstanding, would be highly distracting and terrible for concentration. She was still powerless—Animos' scream had a reasonable duration on it—but at least Snek was here now.

There was a metallic crunching and then an explosive burst of flame; Butcher had (of course) teleported away, once she realised she couldn't get out of Snek's coils. Almost immediately, Animos unleashed his scream in Snek's direction. Snek looked around curiously at him. "Hello, sshouting doggy," he said happily. "Ssnek like doggy. Doggy makess good ssnack."

That was apparently when Animos realised his mistake, but by then it was far, far too late. Snek could move very quickly indeed when he wanted to. The wolf-like cape began to turn away, only to run head-first into … Snek.

As had happened to Butcher, the gigantic serpent wrapped his body around Animos and squeezed. There was time for a very brief scream, and the crackling of snapping bones. Diane knew the exact moment when Animos died, because her powers came back. She looked away as Snek began to ingest the dead Changer, because while Animos had been a bad person and all that, it was still creepy to watch someone being eaten.

"Iss Mouss alright?" asked Snek after a short interval. "Not hurt?"

"I'm good now, Snek." She smiled as she gave him a hug. "You're really good at that last-minute rescue thing. I should be taking notes."

"Ssnek iss happy to help Mouss. Will go find exssplodey sspike lady and otherss."

"I'll help." She felt it was important to make sure Snek knew what was going on. "Explodey spike lady is called Butcher. Her gang is called the Teeth. They're all very bad people." Though she was totally calling Butcher 'explodey spike lady' to her face if she got the chance. Snek's naming scheme was just adorable.

"Ssnek undersstandss," the enormous reptile replied seriously. "Sshould Ssnek put them in prisson ccell, or jusst eat them? Ssnek hass eaten big-tooth lizard and iss not feeling very hungry."

"Putting Butcher in a prison cell wouldn't really work," Diane mused. "She'd simply teleport straight out again. Though we don't want to just—"

She meant to say kill her, but she was rudely interrupted by a huge arrow, at least four feet in length, that came up over a nearby building. It should have gone far over their heads, but as Diane watched, its path curved dramatically, aiming it straight toward the two of them. Crossing the distance in an instant, it hit her armour right over her heart … and shattered.

Welp, it looks like the Master's protection against sucker punches still works just fine. Not that Diane was the least bit surprised. Snek's boss gave the distinct impression that anything he enchanted stayed enchanted.

"Butcher sshoot twang-arrow?" asked Snek, looking in that direction.

Diane nodded. "I'm pretty sure you broke her gun when you gave her your patented snuggly-hug, so yeah, that would be her practicing archery on us."

As if to confirm her words, another arrow came arcing up over the building. This was followed by another one; as soon as the second one came into view, both corrected their courses. Diane could tell that both were aiming directly at Snek this time. She'd just opened her mouth to shout a warning when Snek's head blurred to the left and right, faster than her eyes could follow, accompanied by a snapsnap. Snek turned toward her, smiling his Snekky smile, with the fletchings of the arrows protruding from each side of his mouth.

"Butcher iss bad persson," he said as his tongue conveyed the arrows to the back of his mouth. Diane had an idea that he had some way of keeping things safe back there (as he had with Bonesaw) but she didn't quite feel confident about asking for details. "Ssnek will go catch her." Opening a portal in front of him, he slithered into it with his usual fluid rapidity.

"Yeah," Diane murmured as she pulled out another puck and marked it, then tossed it into a shadowed niche. "You go do that, Snek."

Her plan for another hero had come through in spades after all, though she hadn't expected her knight in Snekky armour to show up quite as dramatically as he had. With Butcher's attention entirely taken up with avoiding Snek (not that she could do that for long) Diane now had free rein to go after the remainder of this contingent of the Teeth. That much, she figured, she could handle.

Humming a tune which may or may not have featured on The Mouse Protector Show, she strode off in search of miscreants to beat up in her own inimitable style.



What the hell is that thing?

Well, clearly it's the snake.

I know it's the snake, dumbass. How is it doing what it's doing?

I don't know. Maybe snakes react differently?

The cape who had once been known as Quarrel did her best to ignore the infighting going on in the back of her mind. Butchers I and IV were particularly aggrieved, as their signature attacks—pain and festering wounds, respectively—came to nothing on the gigantic snake. She herself was more than a little peeved that she'd shot an arrow at Mouse Protector and gotten no effect, even though it should've gone through anything short of an inch-thick steel plate. But even that was nothing beside the fact that the snake had caught the next two arrows in its mouth, and apparently eaten them.

Not being affected at all is not the same as 'reacting differently'!

Well, we've got other powers! Find one that will affect it!

Her danger sense flaring, she dived aside from a gaping-mouthed lunge. Arrows scattered from her quiver as she performed an unplanned shoulder-roll. Large and no doubt very sharp teeth clashed together just short of her heels; she scrambled to her feet and bolted. Rage did not seem to be the best idea to inflict it with, given that it was already trying to kill her.

Why couldn't you have come to the party with the ability to reduce someone's anger? she mentally yelled at Butcher IX's shade. That might've been useful!

We're the fucking Butcher!
he bellowed back. We don't do de-escalation!

Well, maybe we should've taken the time to fucking learn!
She dived aside from another strike by the snake, then teleported as far away as she could. That she was abandoning the rest of the team was clear to her, but she consoled herself with the knowledge that they'd do exactly the same to her if the situation was reversed. Serves them right. They shouldn't have talked me into this.

She paused, looking around, waiting for the snake to emerge from one of those damned portals. How did a giant snake get to learn how to teleport, anyway?

Probably the same place it learned how to talk, snarked Butcher III.

Shut the fuck up.

In the distance, she heard a scream as Spree (she guessed) got taken down by that damned joke hero. Fighting Mouse Protector would've been more satisfying if she took the hero-villain thing more seriously. As it was, no villain wanted to go near her, because all she did was throw cheesy puns while beating the crap out of them.

The snake still hadn't popped its head out of a portal yet, but she wasn't fooled. The instant she targeted Mouse Protector again, it would return. And unlike a few members of her crew, she knew damn well when something was too dangerous to take on.

The worst bit was, the minigun was utterly fucking wrecked. She knew enough to do basic maintenance on it, but all the barrels were bent, mainly from being crushed against her body when it started to squeeze her. It was then that she'd discovered the hard way that the snake was definitely stronger than her, by a long way; even her best efforts had done zip and zero to prevent it from constricting its coils, slowly and steadily.

It was clear to her that the current crew was a dead loss (and in Animos' case, she suspected that was not a figure of speech). With the snake assisting Mouse Protector, there was nothing she could do to chase the idiot hero away, and the Teeth had shown themselves entirely incapable of dealing with just Mouse Protector, much less her and the snake together.

Fortunately, she'd kept the van keys on her, and the vehicle itself wasn't all that far away. She didn't want to attract its attention with another teleport-burst, so she started walking in that direction, discarding some of her paraphernalia along the way. The skulls had been crushed and a lot of her spikes bent into uselessness, so she threw them away. All I have to do is get to the van and I'm out of here.

Predictably, as soon as some of the Butchers realised her plan, they started protesting.

Hey, where are you going? You've got a snake to kill!

Fuck that,
she shot back. My best shot couldn't touch it.

You're just not trying hard enough,
jeered Butcher V.

We're Butchers! another one yelled at her. We kill or we die! No middle ground!

Yeah, right.
No Butcher had ever gone into a fight hoping or expecting to die, except maybe Butcher III, and he hadn't been in his right mind at the time. I don't do suicide missions.

You're making the Butcher name look bad!

I don't give a damn.

Go back there and kill it!

She gritted her teeth. As much as she hated to run away, she knew it was the smart thing to do. It ate Leviathan. Not just fought. Not just beat. Not just killed. Ate. And I'm pretty sure it did the same with Animos. I don't want to be next on the menu.

So what if you are?
Butcher X didn't seem to give a damn. We'd be rockin' a sixty-foot snake after that. Nobody but nobody would mess with us.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

She was almost at the van by now, the keys already in her hand. Where the snake was, she wasn't certain, but so long as it wasn't in her face she was happy. Maybe it had gone back to help out Mouse Protector?

Whatever; she didn't care. She hustled toward the van, slid the key into the door, and unlocked it. The door hinges creaked as she opened it … and right about then, just as her danger sense flared, she felt the breath on the back of her neck.

"Hello, Butcher," the snake said, from right behind her. "It hass been fun chassing you."

Closing her eyes, she leaned against the side of the van. I guess you guys win after all. "You gonna eat me now?"

"Cat head boy ssayss not to kill Butcher, sso Ssnek will not. Ssnek will take to Masster insstead. Masster will fix. Masster iss very ssmart."

She was still fixating on the 'cat head boy' part of his reply, and hadn't even gotten around to processing the 'Masster will fix' bit, when he struck. He was so fast, she barely felt his jaws closing around her.


The Master's Apprentice

Riley leaned against a bench and watched the process with utter fascination. The Master of the Castle had allowed her to keep her powers, merely reversing the utter hatchet job Jack Slash had done to her psyche, but with Noelle and the others he'd gone deeper. However, even with Noelle it had been (as far as she could tell) not unlike extracting a particularly stubborn tumour. With Noelle's friends, removing their powers had been almost routine, with no complications.

There was a reason Jack Slash had never killed the Butcher, despite the Nine having virtually wiped out the Teeth once upon a time, back before she'd been kidnapped/recruited. It wasn't that he couldn't, but more that he knew the consequences of doing so. No cape with any kind of common sense wanted to have a dozen or more insanity-inducing voices hectoring them at every hour of night and day.

But now … the woman who was the current holder of the title lay back on the preparation table, unrestrained yet unable to move. Standing over her, the Master of the Castle held a pair of filigree tongs constructed of silver, the essence of midnight and the fleeting thoughts of a trapdoor spider.

Riley had seen what this world called a 'trapdoor spider', and decided she preferred Earth Bet's version; that type only bit people.

"The next jar, if you please, Riley."

"Coming right up, boss." Carefully, Riley picked up the heavy container—lead crystal wasn't light, especially enchanted lead crystal—and carried it over to where the Master stood. Placing it on the table at his elbow, she lifted the ensorcelled cover, remembering to first recite the phrase of unlocking in her head. Without that, it would have remained fixed in place as though welded to the jar.

"Thank you, Riley." The Master lifted the tongs, within which a thing of light and shade writhed and struggled uselessly. He deftly deposited it within the jar, and she replaced the lid just as quickly.

"No problem." Taking up the now-occupied jar, she carried it over to align it with its fellows; seven so far, and counting. Within each one, a webwork of colour shifted and changed; she got the impression of indignant protest. From what she understood, they'd been bad people before they became a part of Butcher, so it wasn't her problem what happened to them now. Except for the third one, but the Master would probably figure something out there too.

She took up her position beside the bench once more, watching as the Master used the tongs to probe the space around Butcher's head, winding in the threads of her power. He had remarked to her more than once that he enjoyed the puzzles that Snek brought to him from Earth Bet. They made life that little bit more interesting. As far as she was concerned, Butcher had been more like a terrifying menace than an intriguing puzzle to be solved, but that was just her point of view.


The Villain Formerly Known as Butcher

Opening her eyes with a gasp, she tried to sit up and look around. Nothing of the sort happened. Next, she tried to reach for her teleport power, but it wasn't there. None of them were there, even the ones she had as Quarrel.

Okay, so I didn't get eaten. Either that, or being part of the Butcher conglomerate is a lot different to what I expected.

Overhead, which was all she could see right now, was a high-raftered roof with a number of esoteric items dangling from the beams. The most prominent of these was a large winged lizard, maybe twenty feet long. It looked for all the world like someone had stuffed a dragon. But dragons weren't real. Were they?

"They most certainly are," a grey-bearded man observed, stepping up alongside whatever she was lying on. "But only here. Not where you come from, except under certain circumstances."

She blinked, that being about the only conscious action she could take right then. "Wh … where am I?" Oh, good. I can talk, too. "And what happened to my powers?"

He gave her a mildly disapproving frown. "You were misusing them to a frankly impressive degree, so I added them to my collection. As for you; you have two options. First, to be returned to Earth Bet, to be judged and incarcerated for your many crimes. Second, to remain here for the rest of your life and make your way as you will, unpowered and subject to the law of this land." Something about the tone of his voice suggested that the local law was a little more robust than what she'd been used to, back home.

Still, a fresh start was a fresh start. And it was better than being eaten alive by a giant snake. Or beaten to death in gen-pop by someone who'd lost a friend or relative to the Teeth at some time. "Yeah, I think I'll stay."

His smile was more austere than friendly. "As you wish."


Mouse Protector

The last PRT chopper was lifting off with the members of the Teeth that she had captured—Butcher's absence had made all the difference—when a portal opened and Snek slithered through. "Hello, Mouss," he said with his usual enthusiasm. "Bad men caught?"

"And bad women, too," she confirmed, and booped his snoot with her fist. "You got Butcher?"

He nodded, looking pleased. "Ssnek took Butcher to Masster. Masster fixed her, took out powerss and put them in jarss. Riley helped, and Ssnek watched. Butcher sstayed on Masster world, after."

With anyone else, Diane would've been calling bullshit. Nobody could just remove powers from someone and store them in jars like a bunch of fireflies or something. Except this was someone who had prepared magic armour in advance for her to fight Leviathan, and empowered Snek to the point that he'd nommed down on the aquatic menace like a Christmas turkey.

So instead, she nodded thoughtfully. "If it means we never have to worry about Butcher ever again, I'm down with that."

"Ssnek thinkss sso too." The gargantuan reptile rolled one gold-fringed eye up toward her. "Ssnek wass coming to assk Mouss if sshe would like to meet Ssnek's ssharp-tooth lizard friendss. Like to play chasse gamess." The hopeful tone was evident in his voice.

She sighed. For a multi-ton snake, he was altogether too good at doing puppy-dog eyes. "Sure, okay. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine." She held up one finger, causing him to pause before swooping his neck under her. "Just one condition."

"Ssnek iss lisstening."

"If your 'sharp-tooth lizard' friends decide to have a nibble of me, I will be smacking them on the nose. Just so we're clear on that."

He nodded earnestly. "Ssnek will make ssure they behave."

"Good. Then let's do this." What the hell, she decided. If she knew Snek, and she suspected she did, then in just a few moments she was going to be meeting a bunch of dinosaurs. And who'd turn down something like that?

End of Part Fourteen
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I'm with Mouss here, Whoooo dinos! I can't wait for the day Faultline meets up with Snek and just casually has her questions answered and worldview flipped by the words of a 3 year old equivalent. Poor unfortunate Newter finally getting his fulfillment, all for the small small price of those interesting reagents he has been producing.

Completely separate thought, I'm now wondering whether Snek can get high, and what a Snek who is tripping his balls off from Newter's hallucinogens would be like.
I'm with Mouss here, Whoooo dinos! I can't wait for the day Faultline meets up with Snek and just casually has her questions answered and worldview flipped by the words of a 3 year old equivalent. Poor unfortunate Newter finally getting his fulfillment, all for the small small price of those interesting reagents he has been producing.

Completely separate thought, I'm now wondering whether Snek can get high, and what a Snek who is tripping his balls off from Newter's hallucinogens would be like.
You don't want to get Snek high. (If it's even possible).

Because afterward, we just may have a Snek with the munchies.

And nobody wants that.
You don't want to get Snek high. (If it's even possible).

Because afterward, we just may have a Snek with the munchies.

And nobody wants that.
Snek on munchies... someone should convince Snek to clear out Nilbog's little town, saying its full of vermin that have no place in the world and as long as Snek stays within walls, there is nothing that Snek can't eat, because everything left inside the walls is bad.

Of course, that would probably have a lot of folks shouting about dead-man switches/triggers and potential bio-weapons hidden to explode if/when Nilbog himself is killed/depowered.

But reclaiming the area because Snek got high and got the munchies would be an inglorious, disrespectful, and perfectly fitting end to "Nilbog's Horror Kingdom" of former Ellisburg.

... but of course, the downside would be poor Snek might get a tummy-ache.
You don't want to get Snek high. (If it's even possible).

Because afterward, we just may have a Snek with the munchies.

And nobody wants that.
Last time Snek had the Munchies, the moon in that world with those twin failures of absentee gods was whole and hale.

After Snek sobered up, it was not. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.
By the way, did you know the moon isn't made of cheese? We know that now.
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Part Fifteen: Pride Cometh Before
Snek is a Good Boy

Part Fifteen: Pride Cometh Before

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

Mouse Protector

Diane had no idea what to expect next, but that was kind of the norm with Snek. It was one of the reasons they got along so well. He was so matter-of-fact about every weird and cool thing he did while not making a big noise about it. On top of that, he was unfailingly polite, except with the people he ate. Who were, Diane was happy to say, assholes one and all.

Firmly astride his neck, she leaned forward. "Okay, I'm ready. Let's go."

"Mouss hold on." The usual portal formed in front of Snek's nose and they blurred through it.

On the other side, the terrain was heavily wooded, strongly resembling a tropical rainforest in nature. Diane looked around with considerable interest, almost sure that she'd been here before (albeit briefly) when Snek did his mad dash to get them both away from the Siberian. It was cool and green under the trees, with ferns and other types of undergrowth. Much of the plant life wasn't familiar to her, though she wasn't sure if that was because it was extinct in the modern era or if she'd just never seen it before.

"Ssharp tooth lizard world," Snek said brightly. "Iss fun placce."

"From the looks of it, and knowing you, I can see why." A flock of loudly squawking birds flew from one tree to another, though she was pretty sure each one had four wings, and teeth instead of a beak. "But I don't see your sharp tooth lizard friends."

"They are very ssneaky," Snek said, raising and half-turning his head so she could see his smile. "Iss why Ssnek likess vissiting thiss world." As he spoke, they never stopped moving, Snek slithering through the undergrowth and between the massive trees like the way had been specifically arranged for him.

And then Diane saw something dashing through the undergrowth on a parallel path; it was barely visible, a flicker of green on green. She only really caught it because of the motion, but by the time she turned her head to look, it was gone. A smile grew on her lips as she glanced to the other side and saw another flicker of green, so well camouflaged that she had to work to make it out.

"They're all around us, aren't they?" she asked.

"Mouss has good eyess," Snek confirmed. "Playing chasse game now."

"Oh, we are, are we?" On a hunch, Diane looked behind her.

Sure enough, while the pursuers on either side were falling back (Snek was absolutely powering through the rainforest) three of them had leaped up onto Snek's broad back and were running up his length toward his head. Toward her.

About four feet tall, they strongly resembled the raptors made famous by such movies as Jurassic Park and its sequels. She'd enjoyed the movies immensely, though she'd been dubious about the choice to add capes to the sequels. Seeing the team Brute grab a Tyrannosaur by the tail and use it to beat the Plotosaurus Rex over the head had been (to her, anyway) the highlight of the movie, but in her opinion, it didn't add anything to the overall plot.

These raptors, however, were feathered. Shimmering green plumage covered most of their bodies and spread out sideways from their arms, possibly to aid in balance. Their heads, however, bore flaring crests in gorgeous reds and blues; she guessed this was a threat display. Or a mating display, though she hoped not. Buy a girl a drink first, geez.

They were also remarkably agile, considering how they were leaning into the turns even as Snek's body swayed from side to side beneath their feet. She attributed part of that to their arm feathers, and the rest to their tails acting as counterweights.

Rising to her feet, she dropped a marked puck on Snek's head, then ran back toward the oncoming raptors. Just before the first one reached her, she leaped up and over, booping it on the nose as it reached up to snap playfully at her. The instant she landed, she threw herself into a slide straight through the legs of the second one, causing it to screech and tumble off Snek's back into the undergrowth.

Tossing another puck straight up, she teleported to it then dropped onto Snek's back behind the third raptor while it was still looking around for her. "Hi," she said, and glomped it, then lifted it clear off its feet. It was lighter than it looked, but it struggled like something with twice the muscle mass.

Squawking in surprise and whipping its body in all directions, it struggled mightily to escape, but Diane wasn't letting it off so easily. She recalled one time when she'd had Ravager in more or less the same position, and what she'd subsequently done. Shifting her grasp around, she brought her fingers into play … and began to tickle it.

At the time, it had turned out that Ravager was indeed ticklish and hated it. The villain never stopped cursing her out, even between fits of laughter. Still, it had kept her helpless long enough for Diane to get the restraints on her.

Burrowing in through the feathers, her fingers found its ribs and began seeking out the sensitive spots. She knew she'd found them when the raptor's wriggling and squalling changed dramatically. If she wasn't much mistaken, it was doing the dinosaur equivalent of laughing, and its attempts to free itself were now a lot less effective.

When Snek slid to a halt, Diane looked around and discovered that they were now in the middle of a clearing under the trees. More of the feather-crested raptors crowded around Snek, chirping and chattering between themselves. More to her surprise than she would really have expected, she saw that some were emerging from rudimentary huts built up against the trees. What really opened her eyes were the stone-lined firepits in front of each hut. They've got fire too?

"Well, hello there," she said, releasing her ad hoc prisoner and jumping down off Snek's back. The raptor slid down as well and scrambled to its feet, then rejoined its fellows. They began poking it and pushing it around, squawking and keening and producing that laughter-like sound.

"Thiss iss Mouss," Snek said, and they all quieted, looking up at the giant reptile as he raised his head to look at them all. "Mouss iss friend." He followed it up with a series of chirping noises almost exactly the same as they used.

Why does it not surprise me that he speaks their language too?

The raptors responded by regarding her curiously, then moving closer, chirping at her in what she chose to interpret as a friendly manner. She thought she recognised the three which had joined her on Snek's back, two pushing the third one along. That one said something in their language (it clearly wasn't just random chirps and squawks) and then handed her … the marked puck she'd left on Snek's head.

"Thank you," she said, tucking it away in a pouch. "I appreciate it." Unfastening her helmet, she hung it on her belt, every motion followed by the bright eyes of the dino-critters. "I'm Diane, but you can call me Mouse."


Home Base of the Crowley Branch of the Fallen; Kansas

Jake Crowley

"Fetch me a beer." Jake didn't care who did it, so long as he got a beer in his hand. He didn't take his eyes away from the TV screen as he watched—yet again—the horrific imagery of that serpent, the Defiler, slithering out of the receding waves with the leg of The Lord of Waters in its mouth.

One of his wives brought it to him and he cracked the cold can without even looking at it. As he slammed half the contents back in one hit, he became aware of his younger brother dropping onto the ragged sofa beside him. "You've been watching this over and over for days," Vince said. "What are we gonna do about it?"

And that was the big question, wasn't it? What could he do about it? All the worship in the world wouldn't bring Leviathan back, though he'd had his followers trying exactly that ever since the Savannah attack. A bunch of the devout had volunteered (or been 'volunteered'; he didn't give a fuck which it was) to be ritually drowned as a sacrifice, but that had just ended up with more bodies to be disposed of and no sign that it had worked.

As if his brother's question had finally crystallised the answer in his mind, Jake knew what had to be done. "We need to deal with the snake."

Vince tilted his head questioningly. "Well, not saying no, but how do you mean that? Kill it?"

"If we have to." Jake was thinking hard, now that he'd gotten past the mental block that had sprung up the first time he saw the heretical creature. "Either that, or co-opt it."

"Wait, what?" Now Vince was actually startled. "Bring it on board? What if it's not interested? What if it's just a projection or something?"

"If it is," Jake said patiently, "we find the cape behind it and bring him on board. Or kill him, or whatever. However we do it, we've got to deal with this thing before more people just walk away."

"Okay, yeah, got it." Vince looked at him expectantly. "How are we gonna do that? Any of it? I'm good, but I'm not that good. Even with Sabrina helping out."

Jake snapped his fingers. "I'm aware. For this, I'm going to need to make some phone calls."

"Wait." Vince finally seemed to have figured out where he was going with all this. "You're calling on Mathers for help?"

"And McVeay," Jake confirmed. "If that damn snake is good enough to destroy Leviathan—"

"—or drive him off," Vince hurriedly added, that being the stopgap explanation they were using at the moment.

"Or drive him off," Jake amended, "then we're going to need all the throw weight that we can get our hands on."

Vince grimaced. "I dunno. I mean, I know we've got to do something, but … you know they're going to hold this over our heads forever, right? We're going to owe them so hard."

"Doesn't matter." Jake started looking around for his phone. "Either the snake dies, or it becomes our new Lord of the Waters. And any debt we owe will look like chickenshit next to the cred we'll have once we've got our very own Endbringer to deliver judgement to the wicked when and where we say."

"I guess …" Vince shrugged. "But I can't help feeling there's something we haven't factored in."

"Are you sure this isn't just you being a little bitch?" Jake muted the TV then started looking through the phone's directory for the numbers he wanted. "Now shut up, I need to make those calls."

"Whatever you say, bro." Vince got up and wandered off, leaving Jake in peace.

"Damn right." Jake selected the first number and hit the call icon, already composing in his head what he was going to say.


Mouse Protector

Diane had been surprised already that the raptors were hut-builders and could use fire, but her next revelation came once the tribe had gotten more used to her. That was when the little ones came out of the huts to see what was going on. The youngest of them were about a foot tall, and they were covered in the cutest green fluff that made them into little floofy puffballs. Even better, when they were excited, they let loose with gravelly peep-peep sounds like baby chicks with a pack-a-day habit.

Having shed her armour to better enjoy the experience—the raptors had been intrigued by it, but not puzzled by its existence—she'd decided that a bunch of cute little raptor-babies cuddling up to her was about the best thing that had happened to her all month. They seemed to like her too, especially when she burrowed her fingers in through the fluffiness and scratched them down the back or rubbed their bellies. A couple of the mature raptors, ones she figured were the equivalent of stay-at-home moms, were lingering nearby to keep an eye on the kids, but they seemed relaxed and tolerant of their youngsters' interest in her.

These dino-people had no shortage of brains, she decided, or empathy toward their own. From what she could see, they cared for their young, their old and their infirm. All they were really lacking was the infrastructure and opportunities afforded by a technological society, and she couldn't really say they were missing out on much there.

Snek came slithering over from where he'd been playing some variation of tag-me-out with some of the other raptors. "Musst go. Mouss come with?"

Reluctantly, Diane let go of her armful of wriggly floof, and climbed to her feet. "Sorry, kids," she said apologetically. "Mama Mousey's gotta go pretend to be a responsible adult. Catch you all next time."

As she began to strap on her armour, the ones she'd tagged as moms came over and began to calm their brood, who were starting to show signs of unhappiness that their newest playmate was leaving. One of them chirped at her and put a clawed hand on her arm.

"Sshe ssayss it wass nicce meeting you," Snek translated helpfully. "Little oness like you."

Diane paused in her armouring up to give the reptilian mother a hug. "Tell her that I really enjoyed myself, and I'd love to come back and see them again sometime."

Amidst more goodbyes, Diane donned the last of her armour and put her helmet on. She hugged the other raptor mom and waved goodbye to the rest; as an afterthought, she pulled out her phone and took a selfie with them. Then she swung her leg over Snek's neck.

"Mouss hold on."

"Woo hoo!"


The Boardwalk, Brockton Bay

Kid Win

"So, where were you thinking of transferring to?" Chris asked the question idly as he drifted along on his hover-skateboard, about six inches off the ground.

Gallant looked around at him, the set of his mouth conveying irritation. "Two questions. First, what makes you think anyone's transferring anywhere? Second, can't you walk like a normal person?"

Chris just snorted and shook his head. "Seriously? Let me count the number of major villains that have been eaten alive or chased the hell out of Brockton Bay since Snek started hanging around. Oh, wait. All of them. In case you hadn't noticed, non-cape crime is way down too. That's what happens when a sixty-foot boa constrictor is known to look over a safecracker's shoulder and ask him what he's doing."

"Hah, yeah." Gallant cracked a grin. "I'm pretty sure the poor bastard ended up with fear of snakes after that."

It hadn't been the only incident of its type, or even a rarity. Snek, so it seemed, was both remarkably curious and able to go basically anywhere he wanted. Humorously enough, he had a talent for interrupting crimes in progress with his 'innocent' questions.

"As Clock would put it, couldn't happen to a nicer guy." Chris tilted his head. "What I'm saying is, once the villains go away, there's less call for heroes in the city. So, the way I figure it, they're going to start offering transfers to places where there's more need for us."

Gallant sounded dubious. "Are you sure about this? What do the others think?"

Chris shrugged. "Haven't talked to everyone yet, but Vista's already packing her bags."

"Wait, Vista?" Gallant seemed taken aback by that. "She wants to go that badly? I thought ..." He trailed off before he could say any more, but it didn't matter. Chris already knew.

"Dude. Chill." He patted his buddy on the armoured shoulder. "The way I hear things, it's not about you. It's her parents. She wants to get away from ... how did she put it again? Their 'passive-aggressive pseudo-parenting'."

"Wow, okay." Gallant actually stopped at that point and did the 'time-out' gesture. "No matter what she did or did not say, I don't think here and now is a good time or place to air that sort of dirty laundry, do you?"

"Okay, yeah, sorry. I thought maybe you'd heard her in the common room before we came out on patrol. Clock got a real earful. She was kind of ranting a bit."

"I see. Think I should talk to her? Offer a shoulder?"

Chris thought about it, then shook his head. "Probably not the best idea in the world. You've already made it clear you're not interested in her. Something like that would send only mixed messages."

"Okay, yeah, granted." Gallant gestured sideways at the flying skateboard. "Next order of business. Why can't you just walk?"

"Image," Chris intoned piously, having had time to think about it. "The PR guys said that the public loves to see Tinker heroes using their equipment when we're out and about. So it's totally not my call. I'm forced into it by my adoring fans."

Despite the visor, Chris knew Gallant was giving him the stink eye. "You do know I can tell when you're full of shit, right?"

"That's my story and I'm sticking to it." Chris knew Gallant probably couldn't see it, but he raised his eyebrows behind his visor. "Anyway, Glory Girl barely walks anywhere in public that I can recall. It's like she can't help reminding most of us mere mortals that she can fly and we can't."

"It's not like that," Gallant protested weakly. "She's just … you know … Vicky."

"Yeah, we know." Chris grinned at the way he'd managed to turn things around on his buddy. "Hey, how about we grab some lunch and give the Fugly patrons a photo op?"

"That's actually not a bad idea." Gallant grabbed onto the notion quickly enough that Chris suspected he wanted to distance himself from the mention of his girlfriend rarely touching foot to ground. "At least both of us can eat in public. I still have no idea why Clock went with the full-face helmet."

Chris shrugged. "I think he likes the idea of nobody knowing where he's looking. Or maybe he was a hard-boiled egg in a previous life."

Gallant sputtered laughter. "Okay, that's it. When Aegis graduates to the Protectorate, I'm putting my foot down. You won't be patrolling with Clock for at least a month. His sense of humour is rubbing off on you, and not in a good way."

"What, I'm not allowed to have a sense of humour of my own?" protested Chris.

"Buddy, you're a Tinker. I'm pretty sure becoming one of those requires leaving your sense of humour at the door." He activated his helmet radio. "Console, this is Gallant. Kid Win and I are catching a bite at Fugly's."

"Copy that, static at Fugly's." That was Clockblocker on the other end. "Bring me back some curly fries, over."

"Sure, but they'll be cold by the time we get there, sorry. Gallant, out."

They climbed the front steps of Fugly Bob's and entered the partially open-air establishment. The server's eyes widened as they approached the counter. "Uh, hi? Is … is there a problem?"

"No, no problem," Gallant said smoothly, in his particular talking-to-girls way that made the server—her nametag read MARCI—relax and smile. Chris knew he'd never be able to emulate that tone, not in a million years. It was just a talent on his teammate's part, one envied by everyone who knew him. "We just dropped in for a bite to eat, that's all."

"Oh, that's okay then." Marci indicated the illuminated menu up behind the counter. "So, what would you like?"

"One of these days, I'm going to bring Aegis in here and see if he can take out the Challenger," Chris mused. "But right now, I'm thinking a Fugly's Extra Bacon with curly fries and a vanilla shake."

"Aegis's power is redundancy, not miracle working," Gallant retorted with a grin. "I'll have the same as him, but with a diet Pepsi, thanks."

Chris glanced back as more people came in through the front door, but they didn't seem to be in too much of a hurry. "Hey, were you working here when Snek came through the drive-through that one time?"

Marci finished typing up the order, then nodded. "Yeah, but I was on the front counter, not on the window. I only got to see him go past, then he just vanished. Krystal was working the window, and she had to go and sit down in the back room for half an hour afterward. Your orders should be done in a minute, gentlemen. If you want to take a seat, I'll bring them out to you."

Gallant inclined his head. "Thank you, Marci. We appreciate it."

He and Chris stepped away from the counter so that the next group could place their orders. One of them, a wispy blonde, went to walk past Chris, but a kid a few years younger than Gallant pushed between him and the woman. Chris felt himself being jolted aside with surprising force and he looked back in surprise. Gallant was also staring at the group, and Chris heard the click as he activated his radio. "Console, we're—"

"Everyone! Listen to me!" Another member of the group, a skinny teenage girl with long blonde hair, raised her voice. Chris noted that she had makeup pasted on her face, imperfectly concealing tattoos around her mouth. "Sit down, shut up, and don't communicate with anyone!"

Oh, shit, Chris realised far too late as the compelling gaze passed over him. Master. The eyes flashed, and his will dissolved into warm jelly …


Wards Base, PRT Building


"Gallant," Dennis said urgently. "Come in, Gallant. Can you hear me?"

Seated on the couch, Missy looked around at the unaccustomed tone of his voice. "What? What's happened?"

"Dunno. Come in, Gallant. They called in a stop at Fugly's, then he started to call me, then the call dropped out." He paused. "Wait, I can hear a woman talking, giving orders. I don't get … huh?"

"'Huh' what?" Missy rolled off the couch and made it to him in one long stride. He was shaking his head and slapping at his free ear. "Dennis! What's going on?"

Pulling off his headphones, he shook his head again, then turned toward her. "What? What the hell? I can't hear you. I can't hear anything!" His voice was oddly nasal as he stared at her with growing panic in his eyes. "Say something! Yell at me! Anything!"

Discarding the headphones, he jumped to his feet as though trying to escape whatever was happening to him. He started wiggling his fingers in his ears, as though trying clear water out of them. At the same time, he worked his jaw in the way they'd been shown to clear his ear canals.

Missy grabbed his wrists and tried to pull his hands away from his ears. "Calm down," she ordered him. "Just tell me what's going on!"

From a range of six inches, he yelled in her face, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

Oh, shit. Missy didn't know exactly what was going on, but she knew this was very bad indeed. Normally, she would've suspected a Clockblocker prank, but she could see the terror in his eyes. Also, he just wasn't that good an actor.

Grabbing up the headset, she flicked it over to internal comms and held the earpiece to her head while she spoke into the mic. "Vista to PRT Console. Vista to PRT Console. Clockblocker's under a cape effect. We need people here now-now-now!"

There was no answer. She tapped the button to make their console flash.



Mama Mathers

Christine looked at her two latest cape followers. Now under Valefor's influence, Gallant and Kid Win would be fine additions to her flock; Gallant's powers even fitted neatly with the Mathers family theme. Though she'd have to change that name.

It was too bad for those who had been listening in on Gallant's open radio channel. They had heard her voice, and so their hearing was hers, but she couldn't have them telling their colleagues what she was doing. Once her business in Brockton Bay was finished, she would speak to them as only she could. Either they would come to her, or they would go mad.

She didn't much care which.



She had to act. Whatever it was that could make Dennis go deaf over a radio link and incapacitate the PRT listeners at the same time was definitely bad news.

The word "Fugly's" sparked a memory association that brought back to her a polite conversation with an enormous snake, one who liked to help people and eat Endbringers.

She did the only thing she could think of.

Dropping the headset on the desk and tilting back her head, she called out, "Snek! Snek! Heeeeelp!"

End of Part Fifteen

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