« Back
Generated: Apr 26, 2018 9:50 PM
Post last updated: Feb 26, 2017 12:09 AM
Two Sorts of Destiny
Ellie in Worm
Permalink Eye

The first rays of the sun are just threatening to peek over the horizon as Ellie pulls into the parking lot. The sign at the gate says "Open dawn to dusk" so she's a little early, but no one stops her. Not that they could, if they tried. She turns the engine off and grabs the backpack from the passenger seat before getting out of the car.

It contains some travel essentials: change of clothes, meal bars, water bottle and purification tabs, first aid kit. Jeanne always did emphasize preparedness, she's had a similar bag sitting next to the door of every house they lived in for as long as she can remember. The battered copies of the Iliad and Odyssey are not part of the standard. A last-minute concession to sentiment. Ellie liked those stories, of gods and heroes and monsters. It provided a relief from the present world, where the monsters far outnumber the heroes, and the gods are indifferent and uncaring. But she's one of them now. No more escaping it.

She sets off into the woods of the national park. Her destination is on the far side, a town called Eagleton, nestled up in the Appalachians. A long hike, but doable. And she shouldn't come across any patrols from this side.

It's a long day of walking before she gets close.

Permalink Eye

The defenses are thick, but they aren't mostly meant to keep anything out. She'll see a wide area just empty, no cover with no real way to know whether any particular stretch is being watched. In the center is a skyscraper-tall wall of flat stone. Parahuman-made, probably. Inside, who knows.

Permalink Eye

She's here to test, isn't she. Only one thing for it.

Still behind the treeline, she summons up one of her images. Or ghosts. Still not quite sure what exactly to call them. But they obey her, that's enough for now. A hulkingly indistinct figure leads her as she crosses the open space at a run. When it reaches the wall it slams both fists into it, and a gaping black door way appears.

Ellie enters without hesitation, it's not the first time she's used a tunnel like this. It is the first time it's been created at her command. She emerges on the other side of the wall.

Permalink Eye

If she didn't know better it wouldn't be obvious that this place used to be Eagleton, Tennessee. There's another broad swath of a few football fields' worth of nothing; no patrols in sight at the moment but no guarantee it'd stay that way. Beyond that there's a town, but most structures anywhere near the perimeter are collapsed. Inhabitants—not for a long time, she knew that much coming in.

Permalink Eye

Part of what makes this a good testing ground. As crosses, she summons her other- shade might be a good word for them. The one that used to be Jeanne. The stylized lightning motif she favored as highlights on her costume has become part of her skin in death, the jagged bolts forming raised ridges across her body.

Ellie heads for the closest intact structure, to get her bearings while she looks for signs of the mechanical denizens.

Permalink Eye

The first sign is a glint of light reflecting through a window from across the street. It's not attached to a machine soldier, but it means she's been spotted.

Permalink Eye

She makes her way to a higher floor. At a thought, her shade raises its hand to point at the glinting window. With a crack and a crash, the glass is shattered by an electrical impact. The shade continues pointing, and bolts of lightning continue to crack through the air, getting louder and more violent.

Permalink Eye

It's no longer an issue of "spotted."

The camera's gone, but it's done its job. The expected robots start to swarm, or more like march, toward her position. They're coming from every direction (except outward, naturally). They move perfectly in step: the left leg of the bipedal machine to her left hits the ground at exactly the same time as legs one, three, and five of the insectoid ones in front of her, and an enormous wheel farther off rolls toward her with one revolution in an amount of time exactly divisible by that length...

The former site of a window only gives so much of a view. But there's plenty of hardware in every direction she can see.

Permalink Eye

Many targets, easily predictable. Just the sort of thing she wanted. She has her lightning shade fire with both hands into the ranks of approaching machines. She had never seen Jeanne sustain a barrage longer than ten or fifteen seconds at a time. She complained of tiredness afterwards, but there was not much left of the vault door. Fatigue should no longer be an issue.

Permalink Eye

Extremely predictable. They go down, but only when hit. Not all targets are equally visible, and there are plenty to fill the gaps in the ranks. They keep advancing mechanically.

The fallen robots get removed for either repairs or spare parts or just to get them out of the way.

Permalink Eye

She continues the assault. The lightning bolts are now so fast as to be almost continuous, their thunder an endless drumroll across the sky. Some of those buildings are blocking the view, one of the shade's arms shifts to demolish them while the other continues sweeping methodically across the robotic ranks.

Permalink Eye

They're an army, not a horde. Heavy losses can convince them to slow.

...or maybe they aren't thinning out their numbers at all and this was just a question of creating enough of a distraction. The floor rocks with explosions, and the building she's in starts trembling.

Permalink Eye

The tunneler reappears, creates an opening on the wall next to her. She darts through, hits the ground in a roll, and keeps moving to cover, not presenting a stationary target. Just like she was trained.

Permalink Eye

Well, moving toward cover leaves a brief window where there's a clear shot. 

There are a few types of weapons coming at her. Electricity not entirely unlike her shade's blasts, explosives, bullets. She could probably match the appearance of different types of robots to their weaponry, if she weren't busy not dying.

Permalink Eye

Yes, that does tend to occupy one's full attention. She pulls her lightning shade down to provide some covering fire. Which she should have done earlier than now. She doesn't personally direct it, just forms the vague intention of what she wants it to do, while she concentrates on moving.

Well. She's not dead yet. But goddamn does that hurt.

Permalink Eye

Thanks in part to the covering fire, she can outrun the slowly advancing lines. The hard part is running to somewhere they aren't already occupying. This is very much enemy territory.

Permalink Eye

She can at least go directly through walls and buildings rather than going around or finding a door. Or if there's a long wall with a cross-section wider than she is, she can order a tunnel down its length and skip that distance.

Permalink Eye

The first bit doesn't throw them off. They predict her position flawlessly. The second does; any time she doesn't happen to come out in view of a camera she gains a wall-length on where they think she is. It only lasts until she's spotted again, but she can reliably earn a brief moment out of the spotlight.

Permalink Eye

She needs a way to disable the cameras, or to predict where they are. It's no good blasting them after she's been spotted.

Permalink Eye

Now that she's well past the perimeter, sentry cameras are fairly rare. When she gets observed it's more often by a mobile drone. Even harder to predict in advance.

Permalink Eye

All right. New strategy. Her shade is strongest when it's allowed to stand still and focus fire, but staying still is going to get her killed, there's just too many of them. She needs to pick her fights, find places that limit possible approaches and allow quick getaways and do as much damage as possible before she gets in danger of being overrun, and keep moving in other cases.

She moves slightly wrong and grits her teeth at the pain. She'll have to see about finding a moment to wrap that up as best she can, too.

Permalink Eye

Those criteria tend toward leading her inward. Quick getaways and few approaches mean more intact walls, especially thick ones, and the closer to the center she gets the less damage there is from skirmishes with the Protectorate.

The downside is that, while she was already surrounded, now she's more surrounded. The army of robots is pursuing from behind, but mostly it's converging toward her from every direction. The fact that they go around walls that she could go through only means that the ones approaching the front line get zapped from the side early, not that the other side of walls are safely clear.

Permalink Eye

Why's there have to be so many of the damn things? Where are they coming from?

Permalink Eye

Everywhere except up. From most sources the numbers actually do thin out, though; it's only holding steady from one direction. Those ones are coming from near but not at the center of the former town.

Permalink Eye

Well. Let's see if she can't do something about that. Cut them off at the source. She starts moving in that direction.

Permalink Eye

It's against resistance, of course. But they're predictable; if she times it right and resists the temptation to just blast everything she can avoid letting the machines get off a shot.

Permalink Eye

Plenty of time to blast them all later. After they won't be immediately replaced.

Permalink Eye

Means she's back to being more surrounded, for what that's worth. But after making some progress, she can see where they're coming from. It's definitely not a converted preexisting building; this one is all metal and heavily fortified. Robot armies march out of the open gates, but there's no easy way to tell if they're leaving a garrison or are actually being built in real time.

Permalink Eye

Metal walls don't present any more of an obstacle than other sorts. She'll go in on the far side of the building from the gates.

Permalink Eye

The gates on this side are closed. And subsequently irrelevant once she's inside.

It's more of the same. Mostly bipedal, some variants, and the same types of weapons. There are in fact robots being repaired, but it's slower than the rate she's been destroying them and the repair drones aren't building more from scratch. She's been making progress after all.

Permalink Eye

Aha. Good. Then she can get to work on destroying these repair bots.

Permalink Eye

They go down easily. It's a sensible priority, but it eases up the pressure on the ones currently trying to kill her. A hail of what looks like lightning arcs toward her from most directions.

Permalink Eye

Not good. She retreats back through the still-open tunnel.

Permalink Eye

As long as there's a tunnel it also contains bullets and the a few grenades. Apparently the robots weren't going to use those indoors. When the tunnel disappears, the blasts from both both sides of the wall and inside it leave a more permanent hole.

Permalink Eye

Very very not good. Lightning is preferable to grenades. Back to the enclosed space. Not the same room that just got a hole blown in it.

Permalink Eye

As soon as she's inside the explosives and bullets stop. Missed lightning shots hit the thoroughly grounded wall, regardless of whether they're hers or theirs.

Permalink Eye

Time to keep moving again. Maybe she can find some sort of command center in the building.

Permalink Eye

On the way, she'll thin out their numbers a bit more. (The robots aren't terrible shots, probably, but they're very predictable. A split second to register her location, another to aim, and if she keeps moving she can usually be gone by the time she needs to be.)

A few tunnels later one of the rooms is entirely empty for no obvious reason. A voice comes from a hidden speaker. "You've really put a dent in my army, you know that?"

Permalink Eye

She starts, looks around for the source of the voice.

"Your army?"

Permalink Eye

"Robot armies don't just happen, you know. Congratulations, you got farther than any other heroes. Though to be fair I don't think either side is seriously trying usually."

The ceiling retracts, and a human descends. He's flanked by a squad of robots similar to the ones she's been evading, and wearing a matching suit of fairly basic power armor. He gestures, and the machines open fire.

Permalink Eye

Ellie dodges to the side while he lightning shade returns fire.

Permalink Eye

These are much less mechanistic about it than the earlier ones. They move like extensions of the tinker's suit more than as autonomous drones. He leads them out of the direct line from wherever she puts her shade, but doesn't seem to be doing anything analogous to help them shoot at her yet.

Then several of the machines blast straight down and plant long metal poles through the floor, angling them toward her. Lightning grounds harmlessly through the rods, and they take aim with ordinary bullets.

Permalink Eye

The lightning shade repositions so that the rods aren't directly between it and the tinker, while Ellie ducks through the wall again, closing the tunnel immediately after herself.

Permalink Eye

And the other side of the wall contains ranks upon ranks of robots, already set up with lightning rods and already firing.

 

They aren't terrible shots. And there are a lot of them.

Permalink Eye

Too many, too many-

Keep moving-

If she can get closer to the tinker she can at least kill him before she dies-

Permalink Eye

She can run back through the wall and that doesn't exactly help...

 

 Everything is bathed in a golden light. The machines don't stop, but they get silenced and shut down with a beam from the newcomer's hand. Ellie can hear others still active but none in the immediate area. Her opponent is more confused than anything else; what is Scion doing here, doesn't he have kittens to rescue or something?

The golden man swings an arm, not bothering to make a fist, and the tinker slides across toward Ellie. His suit sparks and hisses and is obviously at least partly nonfunctional.

 

Scion looks around, barely acknowledging Ellie, and then flies off to explode a few more helpless machines.

Permalink Eye

 

What.

Permalink Eye

And then she recovers herself enough to lunge down and grab the tinker, reach out for his power and rip it away.

Permalink Eye

He's not totally out of fight yet, and a partly-functional set of power armor is great for grappling—

but he's really not expecting an instant death touch.

 

There's a brief flash of something enormous floating through space, and then—
His power is exactly as impressive as it probably looked to the heroes. Not a lot of variety in what it can make but perfectly capable of machines building machines. Easily overwhelming with a little buildup time; presumably that's what happened here.

Permalink Eye

Oh, oh this is nice. She is going to have some fun with this.

...Though she should check if Scion is still in the area first.

Permalink Eye

He's out of sight. Notoriously hard to track, but at least she can't see him at the moment.

Permalink Eye

Good.

She shouldn't stick around either, come to think of it. Someone's probably noticed all the commotion and might come to investigate. Better to make something outside of the Endbringer-grade containment, anyway. Back to the wall.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't quite have to fight her way out. Scion did enough damage that keeping her way clear is almost trivial, especially with the new shade whispering about what patterns the robots are repeating.

 

On the way back she does run into a Protectorate patrol. They all take an aggressive stance, but ready to fire at the drop of a hat doesn't mean they already let fly.

"You're not Scion," one of them says unnecessarily.

Permalink Eye

"Well spotted. Get out of my way."

Permalink Eye

"Mind if I ask what you're here for first?

I'm Lightscour, by the way." He's surrounded by shadows, or wearing them depending on point of view, and dismisses the ones pointed at her.

Permalink Eye

She still has all three of her shades up.

"Sightseeing."

Permalink Eye

"In Eagleton.

There is exactly one sight to see here. I'd ask what you had to do with the Machine Army except that no one ever has anything to do with it."

Permalink Eye

"I wanted to see what it looked like."

Permalink Eye

"It's quarantined for a reason. The fact that it took Scion to bail you out should be a dead giveaway.

Look, I don't especially want to arrest you. Lot of bother for not much reason. But we've got to have something to tell our superiors. Why'd you really break in?"

Permalink Eye

"I already told you. I wanted to see it."

She starts stepping sideways around, edging closer to the wall.

Permalink Eye

The three of them spread out, staying between her and it. "All right. Why did you want to see Eagleton instead of some other, less robot-infested place."

Permalink Eye

"I thought people would mind less if I broke things here."

Permalink Eye

"Heh. You're not wrong. Stupidly high stakes for testing a power, but that's your risk to take. Kind of. Still restricted access here.

Anyway, that mean you aren't going to break things anywhere important?"

Permalink Eye


"Yes."

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "All right by me. What do you do, anyway?" He eyes the shades. They're recognizably human, in about the same sense that a caricature is recognizably a portrait, but at least the new one isn't obviously the source of the Machine Army.

Permalink Eye

"Walk through walls," she says, starting to move towards the big one again.

Permalink Eye

They let her approach, but walk with her. "Explains some. But you could test that anywhere. What was the power that breaks things?"

Permalink Eye

"Sometimes the walls don't survive the experience."

She alters her path slightly, so her trajectory converges with the talker's.

Permalink Eye

He thickens the shadows on that side of himself, but manages not to do anything remotely aggressive.

"Okay, but expendable walls are easy to come by. Eagleton's where you end up to shoot robots instead of hurting someone. If you don't want to explain your power, you can just say so."

Permalink Eye

"I didn't want to seem overly hostile."

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "You're seeming pretty darn evasive, but that's not a crime. Breaking in here probably is but it's not like you were breaking anything out." If he has a reason other than gullibility for knowing that, he doesn't volunteer it. "You got a cape name yet?"

Permalink Eye

"No."

She evaluates the distance between them. She just needs a touch, but the shadows will probably do something inconvenient. A distraction would be good. She dismisses two of her shades, leaving only the tunneler.

Permalink Eye

"That one of the things you don't want to explain?"

Permalink Eye

"Hm?"

Permalink Eye

"The– ghosts, or whatever they are."

Permalink Eye

"They follow me. Sometimes they go away. I don't know why."

Permalink Eye

"That's a yes, then. Okay, fine.

 

Huh, I'm probably supposed to pitch the Protectorate. Job sucks but worst-case you end up here blasting robots and bored, they'll take you if you want. There, done."

Permalink Eye

They're close enough to the wall now that she can make a break for it if this doesn't go well. The lightning shade comes back, placed on the other side of the talker from her, immediately raising both hands and firing at the talker and the nearest other person. The tinker appears in the face of the third patroller. Ellie lunges for Lightscour.

Permalink Eye

They go down, one with a shout of surprise and the other not even that. The nearest opponent solidifies the shadows and knocks her back, but in the split second it takes him to form it into a weapon she's already on him again. And that's all it takes.

Permalink Eye

The power is hers, now. This one, and the others that are on the verge of floating free.

Permalink Eye

There's the same glimpse of vast formless things with each collection. And then new powers. Shadow generation and manipulation, with slightly increased physical abilities. A thinker power detecting nearby threats, fairly vague but her own power can help understand how to phrase queries about what does and doesn't count. A generic blaster power, shooting bullets that explode into hot air and smoke. Not exactly the cream of the crop as powers go, but they're hers.

Permalink Eye

She shakes her head to clear it of the visions.

None of these feel as big as the tinker did. But they are useful, in their own ways. The thinker, especially. No more running blindly through walls and stumbling over enemies.

...But it seems she can only have three shades out at once. Mildly inconvenient. She keeps the tunneler, the thinker, and the lightning shade. Any dangers outside the wall?

Permalink Eye

Yes.

(It doesn't say any more than yes, but she does get an automatic description of what that is and isn't answering. What it considers to be the relevant range for "outside the wall," what level of risk is worth warning her about, no details on what the danger might be coming from.)

Permalink Eye

Can she get it more specific about location than that? Anything within a hundred-foot radius of her exit?

Permalink Eye

That switches it to "no."

Permalink Eye

Within a thousand feet?

Permalink Eye

Yes.

(Each specification comes at a cost to precision in other possible variables, her own power informs her, as well as a higher risk of being outright wrong, but she's barely exerting it so far. Plenty of room to just keep asking before the thinker headaches set in.)

Permalink Eye

Is it more or less dangerous than the blaster she just collected?

Permalink Eye

More.

(That might have fooled the original thinker once, but Ellie knows this power. The danger sense can't usefully make comparisons outside the present tense— it doesn't think she's in any danger at all from the blaster she just collected.)

Permalink Eye

Not exactly user-friendly. Fine. She's still feeling confident. Through the wall and see what awaits for herself.

Permalink Eye

It's just more Protectorate heroes. Could probably have gotten that from common sense instead of superpowers, but either way.

 

They noticed teammates going silent. Then they spot Ellie and charge toward her.

Permalink Eye

She swaps tunneler for the shadow-maker and starts gathering darkness around herself as armor. She'll take the thinker's advice on which one is the most dangerous for lightning's targeting.

Permalink Eye

Most dangerous does not necessarily mean most resistant to lightning. First target goes down—not fatally or she'd have noticed—and the next most dangerous manages to evade the bolts. He's moving faster than a non-cape could, and charges at the lightning-throwing shade. Manages to get close without being zapped, only to find that a physical strike moves right through it.

Permalink Eye

If she switches out the thinker for her other blaster, does that one have more success at hitting the speedster?

Permalink Eye

Not really, but a near miss can mess with visibility and slow him down. He can't evade forever now.

The next problem is that the other capes are getting into their effective ranges, and Ellie is still only three capes.

Permalink Eye

Bullets can keep focusing on the runner, lightning can attack the rest of the group.

Permalink Eye

After a few shots the smoke from the bullets obscures enough that no two people can see each other. Her lightning is easily the best blaster power on the field; she can take an undirected hit every now and again but the same isn't true of her opponents. The best response would be area-effect powers, and the closest the heroes have is a localized earthquake that seems to follow her around.

Permalink Eye

She's probably gotten as much benefit from the bullets as she's going to get. She brings back the thinker to help with targeting. How fast and strong is the earthquake?

Permalink Eye

Strong enough to throw off her aim, weak enough that she can keep her feet while trying to aim.

It'd take a lot of asking to get the danger sense to output a location precise enough to shoot at. While she's narrowing down the probable location of the earthquake person, a large cape flies out of the smoke and tackles her. Bad idea.

Permalink Eye

He's dead before she hits the ground.

Permalink Eye

—impossibly huge beings, dwarfing planets, alive

The new power gives strength, toughness, and a complete lack of endurance even compared to normal humans. The cape probably got as far as she did by walking up and shrugging off the hits whenever the lightning got a lucky shot. The body is not quite human; for instance there are metallic ridges running down the spine that could almost pass for part of the costume. The shade has the same deviations but exaggerated, most notably representing the ridges as more like a carapace.

 

Thanks to the smoke, the other Protectorate capes still don't know that hand to hand combat is hopeless.

Permalink Eye

Gah, that is distracting. What is with those... things?

She wriggles out from underneath the body and moves away from it before returning her focus to tracking down the earth quaker. Wouldn't do to have other capes stumble across him before they get close to her.

Permalink Eye

Cape fights are a lot more one-sided than usual when one team doesn't know that touching the opponent means death. She gets the earthquake generator and another blaster before that detail gets out. When the speedster is the last one standing he turns and runs.

Permalink Eye

Can she slow him down with the earthquake and then tag him with one of the blasters?

Permalink Eye

If she wants to kill a fleeing hero, then yes, she'll land a shot before he gets out of range.

Permalink Eye

No witnesses. No survivors.

Permalink Eye

There's no way of knowing what if anything they communicated to the PRT. But the no witnesses part she can do. Plus, free mover power.

Permalink Eye

Good enough. That'll help with getting back to the car.

She'll have to think about where to go next. This expedition proved... unexpectedly fruitful. She wants more powers. And she needs a place to work with the tinker for a while.

Permalink Eye

Those goals are at least partly opposed. The main constraint on working with the tinker power is going to be the Protectorate, or maybe even unusually observant villains. Going somewhere smaller with less parahuman activity can buy time easily enough but also means fewer powers to steal.

Permalink Eye

She has, let's see... ten shades now. That's probably enough to be going on with for the moment. Once the machines get set up, they can be sort of self-sustaining, so it'd be a good idea to get that rolling first. Somewhere smaller it is.

Permalink Eye

Geography's up to her too— anywhere close and the PRT is that much more likely to recognize the robots as the Eagleton machines.

Permalink Eye

She's always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. She'll head westward, and see if she comes across any good prospects.

Permalink Eye

Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas... there's any number of prospects across the country. Serious cape towns are few and far between, but plenty of places have two or three locals and a tiny PRT office. Aiming for closer to the second category, it could mean almost anywhere in the lower population density states. If she does research in advance she could basically pick a number for how many targets she wants.

Permalink Eye

She gets back to her car. It's dark again. No sign of any rangers, so she takes a quick nap, then sets out, gets on the interstate.

When she stops for gas the next day, she also pays a visit to the town's library. Not big, but it has a few computers with Internet. She skims the Parahumans Wiki, looking for capes that are based in the Kansas-Oklahoma-Colorado-New Mexico area. Anyone really interesting is probably going to be at a big city, but she might find something anyway.

Permalink Eye

There's uninteresting and then there's uninteresting. A lot of parahumans are limited less by what their powers can do than by their personalities or their neuroses or their circumstances—problems their shades wouldn't have. Reading between the lines, a small-time villain on the Kansas-Oklahoma border is probably in that category. Extremely destructive short-range blasts of chaos, the unofficial wiki describes it, losing control if she gets stressed. Which happens easily. Has a habit of monologuing about her own greatness even though her villainous career usually just involves stealing necessities. She fails miserably whenever she tries to make it in the serious cape scene, but not because of a weak power.

The town of twenty thousand includes a handful of other capes. Two part-time heroes whose (non-emergency) hero work consists of working with nearby police departments on ordinary crimes and foiling the local villain occasionally. One has a very short term master power, the other selectively penetrable three-dimensional force fields. The last is a rogue who uses the sensory component of her shaker power to detect gas or oil. A nobody by the standards of the more combative cape scene.

Permalink Eye

Looks promising. She'll start there. She clears the browser history and logs off the computer.

She can get a room for the night when she gets to the town, and look for an abandoned warehouse space or similar to set up in the next day.

Permalink Eye

The town is actually doing pretty well economically. There are probably some empty buildings to be found with effort but they're not on every corner or anything.

If she wants to take over one of the Endbringer shelters, that'd be...aggressive, but a hard target to dislodge her from.

Permalink Eye

Well. It's not as though they are in active use at the moment, is it?

One would suit her purposes. Already hardened, limited approaches, out of the public eye. Is there anything set up to stop her from taking it?

Permalink Eye

Directly, no. It'd be too much to hope for that no one would notice her at all, but she doesn't even need it unlocked.

Unlike some coastal cities that would be likely targets for Leviathan, or large cities that would be slow to evacuate, they aren't expecting to have to hide the entire population. But there are a few giant bunkers; places engaged in energy production are at slightly elevated risk of Behemoth.

Permalink Eye

Big enough to set up in. This works. Any insights from her tinker about security/surveillance systems?

Permalink Eye

Outside the shade's purview, mostly. It can tell her that if there are, nothing looks like it works on the same principles as its machine soldiers. But looking with regular eyes or cameras turns up no security other than lots of really thick walls.

Permalink Eye

Then she will start production here, and deal with problems as they arise.

First she needs eyes on the town. Cameras. Drones to deliver them. A monitoring station.

Permalink Eye

The tinker shade doesn't tell her how to build those things; it tells her how to build things that will. It fills her head with plans that are hard or impossible to execute, and suggests shortcuts and substitutions to make it manageable. She'll need resources. And the power wants her operating at an industrial scale, but the Eagleton tinker got started somehow. That's probably not mandatory.

Permalink Eye

She's not able to operate industrially right now, nor does she want to. Provoking another quarantine would be less than optimal. Overwhelm, not annihilate.

Permalink Eye

There are fewer options for small scales and quantities. The shade remembers making autonomous helper drones to inspect the assembly lines? There were never very many of those, and they could be modified for spying probably...

Permalink Eye

Seems like roughly analogous skillsets. She'll try to put some of them together.

Permalink Eye

Needs fewer resources and nothing that can't be cannibalized from consumer electronics. Very little robbery required.

The end result is an ugly kludge compared to the design in her head, but serviceable. She can plant cameras anywhere that isn't secure enough to notice a drone dropping things off, and the cameras will stay hidden. Probably.

Permalink Eye

Serviceable will do. Anything immediately interesting?

Permalink Eye

Depends where she puts them. There's technically a PRT office, which is definitely relevant. It's a one-room affair that probably has like one staff member and one part-time employee. Not much threat there. The police are more likely to notice a camera flying in but are probably where the response would come from if she wants to risk it.

Permalink Eye

She can have cameras watching the outside of station. Does it get quieter at night?

Permalink Eye

Quieter, yes. Never empty.

Permalink Eye

...She'll not risk it yet.

If there's no indication of undue activity, then it should be safe to start work on some other projects. The beginnings of an army.

Permalink Eye

She gets into the start of the larger-scale production before the PRT notices she's not just squatting. Ellie's device can let her pick up on the PRT calling the regular law enforcement and sending in both Edict and Licit. They're not there yet, but will be soon.

Permalink Eye

It's not like this was unexpected. How much equipment are they bringing?

Permalink Eye

The camera isn't going to tell her that until they're on the way; she can't see them preparing.

Turns out it's regular police equipment. They're well armed with guns and less-lethal weapons, but none of the fancy containment foam sprays. And they've got both parahumans with them. They think it's probably overkill.

Permalink Eye

Her army isn't ready yet. A couple units have weapons online, but they're not mobile. She repositions them to cover the entrance.

Lights off, two blasters and the danger sensor at the ready.

Permalink Eye

They do not come in guns blazing. Or in large numbers, for that matter. They don't know she knows who they brought.

"This is the police," one of them calls out after opening the door. One visible silhouette. "I'd like to talk to you, if you're willing?"

Permalink Eye

"You're already talking. Feel free to continue."

Permalink Eye

"Um, you know this is a restricted area right?" The figure starts approaching and fumbling for a light switch. "Whatever you're building, doing it officially can get you resources and backing instead of having to trespass. What is it, by the way?"

Permalink Eye

"Stop. Either all of you come in, or none."

Permalink Eye

"Okay."

The door is wide enough that an additional nine people entering still leave it looking empty. Two of them are in costume, visible once the light goes on, and Ellie can see the ghostly forms representing their powers hovering around them.

Permalink Eye

Danger priority?

Permalink Eye

None are imminently about to be a threat. The most dangerous is the cape whose shadow has a bobblehead shape, with the exaggeratedly large face. Probably the master power.

Permalink Eye

He can be first then. When the shooting starts.

"Better."

Permalink Eye

They're mostly looking at her, but not exclusively. And the robots aren't exactly hidden, or the reason they've been moved.

"Why the weapons?" one of them asks as soon as no one is in the immediate line of fire. "Self-defense is a common tinker problem, we might be able to help."

Permalink Eye

"Help how?"

Permalink Eye

"Depends why you needed the guns. The most common threat is someone forcing people in your position to work for them, or trying to, but sometimes there's someone more specific involved. In which case we can usually just arrest them."

In the interests of politeness, they continue assuming this is definitely what the guns were for.

Permalink Eye

"It's more of a sort of insurance against that sort of thing."

Permalink Eye

"Just in case, huh? Kind of a lot of hardware for that."

Permalink Eye

Shrug. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."

Permalink Eye

"Does it still seem like one? I can't help but notice you're still going. There aren't that many threats you'd need an army for."

Permalink Eye

"True. Unless I intend to become such a threat."

Permalink Eye

Well, that response made everyone in the room more likely to be a threat. Not knowing about the danger sense, they try not to show it.

"I wasn't going to say it. Do you?"

Permalink Eye

"Not to you. Leave your capes here and go wait outside."

Permalink Eye

"...so that you can fight them? If that's what you meant, no. Definitely no."

"We can take her," one of the capes interjects. "She's outnumbered—"

"On a field she chose, and surrounded by her machines."

 

And then another officer recognizes the robots as the Machine Army, and Ellie is extremely under arrest.

Permalink Eye

"I'd like it to be noted that I did offer you the chance to walk away."

And then her two blasters open fire on the master while she uses the speedster to get to cover. She sends the activation command to the units she has by the door, which can at the very least hinder the retreat.

Permalink Eye

They don't retreat.

The master starts shouting "Stop!" repeatedly halfway through Ellie's sentence. The police exchange fire with the robots. They don't shoot at Ellie, likely because they know the second cape is creating three-foot force field pillars in front of her. They block the smoke blaster power fairly effectively, but each goes down after the first lightning bolt. A new field appears about once every two seconds—too slow to actually cancel out her blasters, but the translucent fields do help obscure her vision.

 

Ellie isn't forced to stop. But after the first time she ignores the command, she sees a rodent of unusual size leaping straight at her from stage left. The second time she disobeys her left leg goes limp, and the third time her aim worsens beyond what she'd already expect from being unbalanced.

Permalink Eye

And that's supposed to be enough to stop her? He'll have to be much more persuasive.

Smoke is useless, go away. She summons the earthquake cape, starts that beneath her enemies. Mover has done its job, replace with shadow-molder, begin gathering darkness. The rate of fire on the lightning continues to increase.

Permalink Eye

If she keeps not stopping, a shallow wound opens up on one of her arms. Nothing she can't ignore. Then she starts involuntarily flinching every few seconds, then it's a case of hiccups, and then the cape must have guessed that the effects got negligible because she runs for cover. Or staggers for cover, what with the earthquake and all.

Between the smoke, the shadow, the earthquake, and the remaining force fields, everyone's accuracy is pretty terrible. Ellie is earthquake-free but has the additional difficulties from some of Edict's effects so it's roughly even.

Most of the robots are down, but some of the police have been zorched and the people still standing are having a hard time with the remaining ones. The earthquake's fault.

Permalink Eye

Who needs accuracy when you can fire three bolts of lightning a second? She keeps up the pressure on the forcefields, and begins dragging herself in her best guess to where the master is hiding.

Permalink Eye

At the rate she's going the force fields can only block one shot in six. The cape makes sure to drop the occasional block in her way; slowing her down is worth an extra lightning bolt. He's less affected by the earthquake because all the force fields are at least a foot wide anyway; he doesn't need to be as precise.

His partner shouts again, giving a clue to her position. This command doesn't have any obvious penalty any more than the last one did. But Ellie's robots are definitely about to turn on her right now.

Permalink Eye

Her hand twitches towards the self-destruct. But- even if they were, they're still on the other side of the fight from her. And it's not like they can move.

She pauses to rescan the field.

Permalink Eye

The robots she deployed are, but what if the half-completed ones behind her finished building themselves weapons, she should at least consult the tinker power for whether they could have—

 

There's one robot still shooting, and three officers. Ellie's power doesn't tell her if the downed non-capes are dead, but the danger sense confirms that they're not threats. With a few more questions it can narrow down the master's location, which it turns out is just on the opposite side of the half-open fortified door. There are force fields providing enough cover for her to duck in and back out, and the shaker is keeping his distance at a wide enough angle to avoid the earthquake. While she pauses a sharp pyramidal force field appears in front of her with the point directly toward her good leg.

Permalink Eye

...the hell with it. She'll just start over. She swaps shadow for that brute to use its resilience, replaces the earthquake on the shaker, and hits the destruct button for the robots, who all go off like hand grenades.

Permalink Eye

Most of the robots were behind her, but she's fine. Some of the neutralized robots had intact self-destructs, so the police are not fine. The master sticks her head in the Endbringer shelter and shouts again, and when Ellie ignores this one she's blinded. Her power sight and danger sense are unaffected, so the opposing capes might not even know what happened.

Permalink Eye

The lightning shade continues to pound at the shaker. They won't be able to hide forever. Ellie resumes her course to the master.

Permalink Eye

The shaker doesn't have cover and can only layer so many force fields. Ellie's aim is still terrible but the sheer number of bolts overwhelms him. He cries out after getting zapped.

Ellie's course, meanwhile, leads her straight into the pyramidal spike. The brute power means it glances off without doing more than scratch her, but it gives away the fact that she's bad at avoiding those. Licit could probably make use of that if he weren't a little busy right now. Edict doesn't want to reuse her power so soon but fires her taser at the lightning shade and drops it. Half the bolts from the next volley get diverted through the path of least resistance.

Permalink Eye

If Licit was hit, it's a good time to step up the attack. Danger sense isn't as useful, she can tell where the capes are well enough herself. Switch for another blaster, continue firing.

Permalink Eye

The second blaster still isn't very effective against the force fields. But since there usually aren't force fields—

Licit is desperate now. Sharp fields appear pointed at her face, in hopes that making Ellie stop shooting will be more effective than trying to block. But it's still only scratches. Edict shouts continuously again. Paralyzed arm, fall to the ground, trip again, inability to talk, no effect. She tries a handgun but can't get a clear shot through the smoke from the new blaster. Ellie manages to inch closer to Licit while he's pinned down by lightning.

Permalink Eye

She is going to reach this cape and rip the life from his beating breast, and he can't stop her, and neither can anyone else.

Step. Step. Step.

Permalink Eye

He yelps again after another lucky shot zaps him. Edict risks getting closer for a direct line to Ellie, fumbling through the smoke.

Permalink Eye

Bullets switches targets, shooting at the approaching cape. Step. Step. And then she's on top of him and grasping-

Permalink Eye

The bullets miss, of course. But they don't need to hit to billow out more smoke and protect Ellie from bullets. Shields appear in front of her, separating her from her target. But they're never very big; she reaches around and—

destination–

—the power is exactly what it looked like. Force fields, simple three-dimensional geometric shapes, three cubic feet maximum and selectively intangible. Can only take so much punishment; the bullets and smoke power could batter it down eventually. It's hers now.

Permalink Eye

She drops bullets again and uses her new forcefields to pin down Edict, throwing some lightning her way too.

Permalink Eye

Now that the force fields have switched sides, it's much quicker.

 

After claiming the master power, she gets a sense for duration. She's not permanently blinded or paralyzed or cetera, but it may take a while to wear off. Half the effects will disappear after an hour, half of the remainder after a day, and from there it slows down to a half-life of a week. No control over what disappears when, which is inconvenient because she probably needs to move.

Permalink Eye

With luck the big things will be gone first.

Any danger approaching?

Permalink Eye

Nothing in that power's range.

The PRT has to know where she is (and, worse, that she's not just a tinker), but that was all two of the local Protectorate affiliates. There shouldn't be much left they can throw at her.

Permalink Eye

Well. Not much to do but wait and hope the blindness goes first. She checks for danger periodically.

Permalink Eye

Blindness goes, revealing that one of the ones with no apparent effect was color blindness. Which stays. The paralyzed leg reactivates and the paralyzed arm doesn't. The rest are comparatively minor, or at least not incapacitating.

Permalink Eye

Good enough. Are any of the fallen not yet dead? And she can check for intact comms at the same time.

Permalink Eye

They all look pretty dead. Licit's comm is still in one piece; he got killed by a touch instead of lightning or explosion.

Permalink Eye

She takes it. Anyone still talking?

Permalink Eye

No. If there was, they stopped when the line went dead while Ellie was waiting out the hour.

Permalink Eye

"Is anyone still monitoring this frequency?"

Permalink Eye

Pause. Pause. "Yes. Who is this?"

Permalink Eye

"We are the Keres." She speaks with all the voices at her disposal, lending an ethereal echo to her speech. "Harvesters of the slain. This is our warning. You are of little interest to us. So long as you do not come between us and the god-touched, you will be ignored. Interfere, and your lives are forfeit."

Permalink Eye

"God-touched?" The lone PRT person knows exactly how far out of her depth she is, but can at least try to get more information. "Who are the god-touched, and what do you want with them?"

Permalink Eye

"Those you term 'parahuman'. They are ours."

Permalink Eye

"Who's we? Edict and Licit were parahumans, killed by one person."

Permalink Eye

She tosses the comm on the ground, and fires a bolt of lightning at it.

Two down, two to go. She consults her tinker: is anything left after the blasts salvageable?

Permalink Eye

The local PRT office has some calls to make.

 

The pieces of robot that hadn't yet been assembled into anything much are fine, but for all the best progress, the self-destructs were too effective.

Permalink Eye

Alas.

Not a whole lot of point in staying around. Doubtful that she'll get the time to ramp up to production again, if she was the PRT, she'd be screaming for reinforcements. Take what else she can from here, and move on.

She exits through the back of the bunker. With the shadowmaker to shroud her, the sensor to scout, and the forcefield maker as a first measure against any she encounters, she sets off looking for the other local capes.

Permalink Eye

She gets interrupted. A tall and very thin figure dressed all in black runs toward her faster than anyone in a gown should be able to. She rockets forward and occasionally upward with dark blasts of something or other going behind her. Overall it's pretty erratic, but fast.

"Are you Keres?" she shouts. "Prepare to meet your match, in Damsel of Distress!" She continues monologuing as she gets within her range of Ellie. "You killed my nemeses! MY nemeses! The white hats said you'd be coming for me next, but Damsel of Distress doesn't run!"

Her aim gets progressively worse as her number of exclamation points increases.

Permalink Eye

How convenient. Ellie drops a couple forcefields in her way.

"Do you always talk so loudly?" Sensor gets dropped in favor of lightning, who begins shooting.

Permalink Eye

Her next backward blast launches her straight into one of the force fields. It winks out, implying a lower bound on how hard she hit it. Then she get zapped by the lightning bolts and stops moving.

It technically answers the question, depending on how you look at it.

Permalink Eye

It's not like she really wanted an answer. She targets the unmoving Damsel with a few more bolts.

Permalink Eye

That doesn't make her move any less.

 

The now-familiar flash of a vision shows the enormous life forms watching parahumans fight, and as soon as it's over she has yet another blaster power.

Permalink Eye

...Perhaps her 'god-touched' phrasing was not entirely inapt. She had chosen it on a whim, but.


She has one more to collect from this town. Who was it? A rogue, something to do with oil dowsing?

Permalink Eye

There was one, but without Damsel of Distress' specific motivation the shaker probably did flee. She could try tracing through some employers if she wants to; that's not the most available information ever but it's not secret either.

Permalink Eye

Not worth her time to pursue when there are still other, more accessible targets.

This town is exhausted, then. Onwards.

Permalink Eye

There are several cities with a small handful of capes. But she's very kindly informed the PRT of what she's doing, so they warn the capes ahead of time. Not all of them heed the warning, or run fast enough, so the trail of murders does point out a direction.

 

A few towns later, she runs into a man in a green cloak waiting for her. She might recognize him from the fact that he's Eidolon. Someone's taking her seriously. He isn't speaking loudly, but his voice carries clearly.

"Keres." He leaves off the definite article. "Two things. One, what you've been doing is a very good way to get a kill order quickly. One of the best ways, even. If you continue your killing spree, there won't be a warning next time unless you count the warrant from the judge. And two, there won't be a next time. You're under arrest."

Permalink Eye

She stands her ground, hooded in a black robe and not at all afraid.

"We will not be caged. Not by you, or anyone."

Permalink Eye

"I don't suppose that means you'll swear off the murdering? If you don't commit any crimes, maybe we can talk about not jailing you for the earlier ones."

Permalink Eye

"Were it anyone else, Shepherd," she laughs, "we might have to take offense. But for you, we could content ourselves with merely scavenging the battlefield and ceasing to contribute to the carnage."

Permalink Eye

He levitates in place for a moment. "You meant that. But what happens once you think you could challenge me? If it's only for me that you stopped, there'd be nothing stopping you from starting again."

Permalink Eye

"What oath would you have us give that you trust more than your own strength? For those such as we and you, what higher power can there be?"

Permalink Eye

"Contessa," he doesn't say. "Scion," he doesn't say. "Derek Parfit," he doesn't say.


"So that's a yes, you'd go back to killing capes as soon as you thought you could get away with it? I'm taking you in after all, then."

Permalink Eye

"Are you so eager to see a death today? Our question was genuine, Shepherd. What assurance do you seek?"

Permalink Eye

"If you could have honestly said that you wouldn't, and that you were not expecting that to change, I would have believed you." Not necessarily true anymore; the truth-detection power is being swapped out for something he hopes turns out to negate hostile powers. "But if it's a question of strength, we both know you'll eventually get to where you think you can challenge me. I'm not going to loose that on everyone else if I can capture you now."

Permalink Eye

"If you can."

Two of her shades are blasters, and start shooting. She and the third blink away with a briefly blindingly bright flash of light, appearing on a rooftop behind Eidolon's position.

Permalink Eye

He doesn't bother turning around, but casts an arm behind him and throws a beam of dull light toward her new position. It moves past her, and during the period where it intersects she can feel part of herself moving slowly. Then it's past and she's back to normal.

Eidolon shrugs off the shots from one of the blasters but takes the time to neutralize the ones from the other.

Permalink Eye

That... did not feel pleasant.

She blinks again, back to the ground, and replaces the ineffective blaster with the shade of Edict. "Don't do that again," she orders.

Permalink Eye

That power only does one-word commands, but in context "don't" is perfectly clear. Eidolon knows Edict's power too—he stares Ellie down for the requisite three seconds and then deploys the same thing from both hands directly at her.

Permalink Eye

She knows the timing as well as he.

"Stop."

Permalink Eye

The beam washes over her with the same bizarre feeling as before, but he doesn't replenish it. After pausing for what feels like maybe one second he does it again, not showing any effect from the order.

Rather than actively block the ranged attack, he experimentally lets one hit him and decides against shrugging off the rest. He drops out of the sky, it looks faster than free-fall, then catches himself.

Permalink Eye

She swaps Edict for a brute, who charges. She blinks away again.

Permalink Eye

He avoids the charge. No surviving witnesses ever did find out if the shadows can do the instant death thing, so he's not about to take the chance.

The blinking is ineffective because he's fast, and more importantly because he still knows where she disappeared to right away. His own blaster power catches her again, and this time the world speeds up by even more than before for a shorter subjective time. It hadn't reached full strength before. There's no way to tell if it has yet.

Permalink Eye

Can she block it with forcefields?

Permalink Eye

If she drops one of the current powers.

It acts like a variety of light. The translucent force fields make it less effective but not ineffective. On the bright side, each fields lasts a relatively long time against this beam compared to other ranged attacks.

Permalink Eye

She keeps the blaster and the teleporter, uses the fields to set up a barrier around herself and two other points, then rotates them between them. She drops the forcefield maker while doing that to experiment with other offensive capes she has, to see if she can find another one that is as effective as the blaster.

Permalink Eye

He's keeping his distance enough that it has to be ranged, and the lightning bolts are still the best blaster power she has.

Eidolon seems perfectly content to let her shuttle around and slow her down. How much it interferes with her is mostly determined by how many fields are in the way at the moment, but the general trend is toward the world speeding up more and the force fields giving less protection.

Permalink Eye

It was probably to much to hope for. Time is not on her side here. She'll have to get close.

Blink.

Permalink Eye

He stays at range, and high enough to be out of reach. It costs him accuracy but he's mostly still playing for time.

Permalink Eye

Note to self: find a shade that counters flyers.

She tries blinking up to where he is and grabbing him.

Permalink Eye

He's moving quickly and not especially predictably. If she gets close he'll start to worry. 

And then there's a sound effect like a rush of air and he flits outside her field of vision to where there aren't any force fields blocking his way, and suddenly everything is a gray blur.

The blur disappears after a few seconds. When the world is visible again she's restrained, in what is either a very small room or a very large box, and with an uncomfortable series of irregular plates jutting out from every side instead of any flat surfaces.

Permalink Eye

 

Killing him is going to be personal now.

Plates block her tunneler, no spaces big enough for her to fit through.

She summons a selection of shades, arrayed around her. The projecting metal presents no obstacle to them. First, dangers in and around the box?

Permalink Eye

Nothing that's about to harm her. Not to be confused with nothing that could.


(Trying not to be obvious about it, cameras keep track of which shades she calls up first when trying to escape.)

Permalink Eye

Not discreetly enough.

Cameras get zapped by lightning, the shadowmaker starts darkening the room.

Does this change the outlook?

Permalink Eye

No. The potential danger on the outside doesn't change position, so either doesn't know or isn't surprised. But now her observers can't see anything, so there's not too much point in waiting. A voice comes from one of the walls.

"Keres? My name is Dragon.

The speaker's to your left if you want to zap that too, but keep in mind you are still in a small space filled with metal."

Permalink Eye

"The Keres. It is our title, our role, not our name."

She doesn't zap the speaker. Instead, she summons a shade that can cut her restraints, and one with resilience so that her extremities remain intact.

Permalink Eye

The restraints are very cutting-resistant, certainly more so than any available brute power. Probably some kind of a titanium-technobabble alloy.

 

"My apologies. If you'd prefer a name to the title, let me know.

I had a few things I wanted to say. You might be sent to the Birdcage, even on a first conviction, simply because no other prison could hold you. If that happens, you'll be surrounded by parahumans, many quite powerful, with nearly no one who can stop you from killing them. Don't. It would be useless as a prison if it became a death sentence, and that would mean no new inmates.

And second, you might not be sent there. Then this would be the only time you're in my custody, so I'll say it now: you don't want a kill order. If you get put in a prison that can't hold you, keep in mind a powerful parahuman motivated by murder is likely to be overwhelmed by heroes and villains. And Eidolon might not be holding back."

Permalink Eye

Any better luck with energy-based shades?

"All are victims of their nature. We are for the harvest. Killing is not our true purpose, it is simply expedient."

Permalink Eye

She hasn't got a great selection. There's Damsel of Distress' former power, but that would be extremely obvious and not a good one to use around any limbs she wants to keep.

"Regardless of why you want it, keep in mind that the rest of us don't. Make a pattern of killing people and you could get sentenced in absentia, and the more you escalate the more the Protectorate will."

Permalink Eye

How many does it take to make a pattern for these people? Not that she's going to say anything like that to them.

She doesn't have any good options right now, and it sounds like the Birdcage is not imminent. If she waits, perhaps something will present itself. She dismisses all her shades.

Permalink Eye

After she doesn't do anything for a while, an engine starts. The room shudders and starts moving and drives off.

Permalink Eye

Is the danger she sensed following?

Permalink Eye

No.

Permalink Eye

She waits an hour and checks again.

Permalink Eye

Still no.

Permalink Eye

She summons up Damsel's shade and blasts through a wall of the box, in the direction of the front of the vehicle.

Permalink Eye

The blast is a cone-shaped maelstrom. It applies chaos to space, gravity, physical force, temperature, and the wall. Basically any single blaster power is probably included in there. The wall didn't stand a chance.

Through the new hole in the cell, she can see that there was no driver. Through the new hole in the front of the van, she can see it turn on its hazard lights and turn signal and pull over to the side of the road.

Permalink Eye

She lets it do so.

"We told the Shepherd we would not be caged. If you want to keep us, you will have to kill us."

Then she sends another blast at the likely location of the engine block, and blows out the other walls. She calls her teleporter and blinks away.

Permalink Eye

Kill her, or transport her in a really big vehicle so Damsel's power can't reach anything. Either way.

 

One of the walls had her attached to it. That one takes more effort with such an inexact power, but doesn't stop her from teleporting. The handcuffs stay on.

Permalink Eye

She can deal with them later. After she gains some distance. She heads north and west, using a combination of her speedster and teleporter.

Permalink Eye

They don't have eyes on her, as far as she can tell. She's kind of in the middle of nowhere but it's better than the previous problem.

Permalink Eye

Yes.

She keeps going.

Permalink Eye

Most powers have usage limits. If she's following roads she'll easily be able to get somewhere that's less nowhere before that starts to matter, but will also be easier to find.

Permalink Eye

She's not exactly inconspicuous with her present accoutrements. The longer it is before she's spotted by anyone, the wider their search radius will have to be. She stays away from roads, and finds a thicket to hole up in when her shades are exhausted.

Permalink Eye

Then she can stay unspotted longer. The other limiting factor would be that she still needs to eat and sleep, but that's less pressing.

Permalink Eye

Yes, those can be put off until she comes across a lonely farmhouse or similar.

Permalink Eye

Or a cape who doesn't need to eat and sleep. But here she is in the middle of nowhere, so farmhouse it is.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't worry too much about finding one the first day. The next, she will be looking harder.

Permalink Eye

Even with having to rotate the shades, she's making good time. It'll be less than a day before she runs into somewhere robbable.

Permalink Eye

Excellent. Hello people, she is here to take some food from you, do not make this get messy.

Permalink Eye

She is more than scary enough to get away with that demand.

They're very likely to call the PRT after she leaves, though.

Permalink Eye

She's going to blast the landline, and they're going to hand over any cell phones they have. And if she runs into any units responding to a tip from them, she's going to come back and burn their house to the ground.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, they're not that civic-minded.

It's entirely possible that the PRT would pay for the arson, but they're too recently-threatened-by-a-supervillain to be tempted and don't mention it.

Permalink Eye

Good.

She moves on.

Permalink Eye

She could keep doing this indefinitely. Or at least until she gets tired. If she's stolen a map, she could even have an actual destination.

Permalink Eye

After a few days, she stops to find a highway and check where she is.

Permalink Eye

She's on US route 400, middle of Kansas. North of where she came from and a bit east.

Permalink Eye

It's probably safe enough to emerge, if she keeps a low profile.

She shadows the highway west, until the next town.

Permalink Eye

The signs welcome her to Dodge City (Yes That One). Population twenty-five or thirty thousand; there are probably parahumans here.

Permalink Eye

Maybe one of them will have something to get these handcuffs off. Kind of hard to walk around in daylight with them. Is there somewhere she can claim that won't attract attention?

Permalink Eye

If it's just space that she needs, she could break into an empty hotel room or something without anyone looking at her hands. Her shades can't be inconspicuous, but she can go temporarily powerless if there's a good reason. Probably can't not be seen at all, though; being here in daylight risks finding out the hard way whether the PRT has been disseminating her picture.

Permalink Eye

Well. If that happens, she'll deal with it. For now- she wants these cuffs off. That means something powerful enough to break them but precise enough not to hurt her, or some kind of changer, or a regenerator so she can use a powerful but imprecise ability. She also wants to sit down with her tinker and ask about designs for smaller, less obvious bots. If she'd had more available to distract Eidolon in that fight, it might have gone differently. But for that she needs space and time, and a city with parahumans is not really the ideal setting.

She finds an empty room to stay in until dark. Then she goes to break into a library to use a computer again.

Permalink Eye

Dodge City's public library is equipped with the latest in anti-parahuman defensive technology— yeah, no. It works. Priorities on information to look for?

Permalink Eye

Capes local to Dodge City, powersets, affiliations, favored haunts.

Capes in other areas that might suit her requirements.

Any news about herself.

Abandoned warehouse space.

Permalink Eye

None of the local capes have a get out of super-handcuffs free card. Other ones that might... if distance were no object it'd be easy. There's a tinker in North Carolina who can make healing potions. A traveling mercenary whose power is to straight-up pick her own body, and another whose is exactly "cut inanimate objects." A hero in New York who can cut things just as well. Two in Brockton Bay who heal themselves, one in Las Vegas who probably can. A kid who expands and contracts space.  Boston has a shape-changer hero and a villain who can vanish small or medium-sized objects with a touch. One with concentrated energy in Texas. The right tinker could dismantle it if she had any way of knowing who the right tinker is. There are brutes who could just break pretty much anything, but they'd be high-profile and potentially difficult targets. Plenty of possibilities in the Birdcage. Sleeper.

 

The fact that someone killed all the parahumans in several towns has hit the news. It's the biggest news locally, and a big deal nationwide for cape geeks. The news doesn't say who or how, or mention that she was captured and escaped. It's known that Eidolon was somewhere nearby, and some people speculated that that was related. Current speculation is that he killed her, possibly by accident, and that nobody told the media.


There are five warehouses for sale, and some of them have been unused for a while. None that are conveniently labeled "abandoned" because for some reason people want to keep the rights to their property.

Permalink Eye

Texas is out. Too close to Eidolon. New York is where Legend is based, less daunting but still unwise. Mercenaries might be a good idea, if she had any way of tracking them down. She doesn't especially want to go chasing a 'probably' in Vegas. Boston is promising. Brockton Bay... has a lot of activity. Easier to hide maybe, but also easier to trip over something else. North Carolina is the closest reasonable target.

It seems as if they might be waiting to see if she pokes her head up again? Low profile it is. If she doesn't need a specific cape, attacks of opportunity only, and no getting caught up in large-scale fights.

She notes warehouse locations, and goes to assess them in person.

Permalink Eye

They range from a few thousand square feet to nearly a hundred thousand. None have any manufacturing equipment she might want to use, and of course the ones closest to places to steal from are also in higher-trafficked areas and more likely to get her spotted. Not that seizing a building is exactly low-profile at best.

Permalink Eye

So the question is, can her tinker make anything that would be worth the risk? She doesn't need something as big and obvious as an army, she needs something more along the lines of a flock of stealth drones.

Permalink Eye

It'll do small if it gets to do numerous, to anthropomorphize a bit. Stealth per se is outside its fairly narrow range of designs, but it can manage inconspicuous.

Permalink Eye

She can work with that. What is the warehouse that's been empty longest look like?

Permalink Eye

It's in an industrial area, two twelve-foot drive-in doors, boasts of being hooked up for electricity and ready to go which could be convenient if true except that actually using it would be a bit of a giveaway. It's plenty big enough; since she's not actually building an army space isn't likely to be a constraint. The current owner is an out-of-state realtor who bought it when the prior owner went out of business and hasn't managed to make any use of it.

Permalink Eye

Out-of-state owner is good. Hopefully the neighbors won't be too nosy. She will set up here.

Permalink Eye

She'll have to steal equipment like before. Probably better equipment, both for producing larger numbers and because getting the end result closer to her power's mental image will be more important when stealth is a goal.

Permalink Eye

This is an industrial district. There must be usable things around, free for the taking by the enterprising parahuman who can walk through walls.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't have forever before the night ends and people might see her. For everything not stopped by time constraints, she can find anything she needs aside from the really exotic.

Permalink Eye

Then she can begin work as dawn breaks.

Permalink Eye

She'll pretty frequently think "if only I had a whatever," but that's more just because tinker powers aren't very understanding about circumstances than because she prioritized badly.

Permalink Eye

The important thing is that she is making progress.

It's relaxing to be able to tangibly achieve something, after spending those days on the run.

Permalink Eye

Extremely tangible. It'll take more trips, and so more days, before she can get a fleet of really good drones, but she can do it.

Permalink Eye

And once she does have them, she has no further reason to stay. She spends the day dismantling the workshop.

When night comes, she's ready to leave. But she's short on cash, and since she's leaving the city anyway, she might as well rob a bank on the way out.

Permalink Eye

Spur-of-the-moment bank robbery. Sure why not; it's important to be spontaneous.

The nearest bank is nicely placed on her way east.

Permalink Eye

She sends a pair of drones in via the roof to scout the layout. She wants the shortest path from an outside wall to the vault.

Permalink Eye

It's coming in from the back. The vault is itself up against an exterior wall.

Permalink Eye

...Well then. Nothing fancy, just in and out. She's not expecting trouble, but spreads her drones out in a screen just in case.

Permalink Eye

It's a very thick wall; multiple layers of very tough material. Still just a wall.

As soon as she sets foot on the inside several different alarms go off. Presumably. They don't come with sirens on the inside.

Permalink Eye

She has a bag, a drone to carry it, and another to help fill it. This shouldn't take long.

Permalink Eye

She doesn't have long. But response time isn't literally zero; she can slip out before they get the place surrounded.

Permalink Eye

 

It is for the best if she leaves without a fight. Yes. This is true. She exits out the back again.

Permalink Eye

They'll know she was here; there have to have been cameras in the vault. But they'll also know she passed up a fight she could easily have won, so maybe it's worth it. Besides, "under threat of law enforcement" is the traditional way to get out of Dodge.

Permalink Eye

Which she proceeds to do.

She only keeps a few drones with her as she travels, the rest are spread out, keeping pace. She decides to try for the Carolina tinker first. She'll never get there if she travels on foot, driving a car would invite awkward questions if anyone looked in and saw her hands. She could take a bus, if she can get a ticket. A few towns over, there's a station. Anyone around who wants to make a hundred dollars for five minutes work and not ask questions about it?

Permalink Eye

That raises curiosity, but curiosity doesn't beat literally being paid to not ask questions.

Permalink Eye

A drone offers a stack of bills. She wants a ticket to North Carolina, keep the change.

Permalink Eye

Then she's on her way. It's a long slow trip but a much faster increase in the Protectorate's search radius.

Permalink Eye

She keeps her hands hidden, and doesn't interact with other passengers.

Permalink Eye

No one bothers her or needs any terrifying.

Eventually: Raleigh. It has a medium-sized Protectorate department, and the tinker she's after is part-time and strictly noncombat. Finding him might be tricky.

Permalink Eye

He must visit the Protectorate at some point. She can have her drones keep watch for that and then trail him back to wherever he lives.

Permalink Eye

Cask is pretty identifiable. Between his size and the barrel-shaped costume, not to mention the large bottles he's always carrying, the fact that there's someone called "Cask" would be enough information by itself. The drones can spot him without having to go inside the secure building. When he's on his way out, he's usually either going to the North Carolina State campus or to...yep, wherever he lives. Perfect.

(He's much less identifiable without his costume. Not that it matters; his power looks exactly the same.)

Permalink Eye

Does he have any security arrangements at home?

Permalink Eye

Not that she can see without sending the drones in to check, which of course hypothetical security arrangements might notice. But he does leave at exactly the same time every day.

Permalink Eye

If he has a consistent schedule, she can catch him while he sleeps.

Is his bedroom visible from outside?

Permalink Eye

Yep. Not from an easy angle from the street, but the drones can identify it easily.

Permalink Eye

Then once he's safely tucked in, she can infiltrate.

Tunneler, danger sensor, and the resilience brute to mitigate the effects of any poisons.

Permalink Eye

As soon as she's in something awakens him and he sits straight up. But he's still half asleep, and she's charging straight at him with three superpowers and an instant death touch, so he really doesn't have a chance.

Permalink Eye

No, he really doesn't.

Permalink Eye

–two monstrosities spinning through space, shedding pieces of themselves and watching the fragments fall to the planet below–

 

 

There are several of the large bottles nearby. Unlabeled. Her new tinker power might be able to tell what's in them later, but there's no time.

 

Permalink Eye

She has what she came for. Time to get out of the house, and then the city.

Permalink Eye

This whole strategy of bursting through walls and killing people is so effective there should be a rule. Some kind of unwritten rule, that capes follow out of enlightened self-interest because they don't want other people going after their own secret identity next. No, that'd never catch on.

 

Anyway, she gets away clean and is halfway out of the city before the sirens go off.

Permalink Eye

If she had a secret identity she cared about, a rule of that sort might matter more to her.

Next step is find a trashy motel room a town or two over with a proprietor who cares more about the money she hands over for its use than any trendy jewelry she may be wearing on said hands.

Permalink Eye

The proprietor starts warning her about what records he's required to turn over to the police on request, then sees how much money she's handing over and doesn't bother finishing.

Permalink Eye

It is pleasant to deal with a reasonable person.

Now, what sorts of things can her new tinker do?

Permalink Eye

Makes elixirs that give better-than-human abilities. Strength and endurance are ones this shade knows well; same with healing. It's not outright regeneration, but if there is a hand left after getting out of the cuffs this can restore it to perfect condition. Cask also used it for reflexes and even mental speed. It's possible that with a well-stocked lab and time to tinker she could come up with more and better options.

Multiple potions work fine together. The catch is just that she has to physically drink about a liter and a half per dose.

Permalink Eye

That's less than ideal. No wonder he called himself Cask. She doesn't have a well-stocked lab and isn't likely to acquire one. Is it going to be possible to make a potion that will fix a hand she breaks badly enough to slip it out of the cuffs?

Permalink Eye

As usual, it depends on the quantity of robbery. She can do it easily if she has a decent supply of cookware and the entire contents of a drugstore.

Permalink Eye

Stealing an entire drugstore so soon after Cask's unexplained death is going to get her noticed and found by a person with the right cast of suspicious mind. She'll have to do multiple smaller thefts, spread out in space and time. Still noticeable, but hopefully harder to track. Randomize where she hits across the state, and travel off the grid as much as possible. She can lay out more cash for an extended reservation on this room.

Permalink Eye

A series of connected robberies definitely alerts the PRT that something is up, but that by itself doesn't help them narrow down where. A few crimes later she's got her alchemy.

Permalink Eye

Can she also do an anesthetic?

Permalink Eye

If she sits down and invents for a few days, probably. It's not something the shade knows off the top of its head.

Permalink Eye

If she doesn't have to deal with the pain, she'd prefer not to. She will take the time to come up with something.

Permalink Eye

The end result is a neurologically dubious effect that should turn off all feeling while still allowing her to move. Would probably be really dangerous if not combined with the healing draught.

Permalink Eye

Good thing she is combining them, then.

Right. First the anesthetic draught. Losing feeling but not control is quite odd. She follows that up with the healing potion, it works slowly and it would be hard to lift the bottle with broken hands. Then- it's time to break some bones. She summons a brute, and crushes her hands until she can shake the cuffs off. From the way they flop around, this would be excruciatingly painful to experience.

Permalink Eye

They slip out, or maybe more like ooze out; they're not in great condition.

Watching her hands re-settle is differently weird. The disconnected joints get realigned, and the tissue she tore grows back. The healing is sped up but not immediate. The anesthetic wears off first, but by then she's healed enough that it's less an unendurable agony than a bizarre feeling like her hands are expanding.

Permalink Eye

So much for being comfortably numb. But she can move her hands and arms freely now, and is no longer the target of immediate suspicion on that basis. Whether she will be on others is something she needs to check on. Library time again.

Permalink Eye

News has already broken that Cask died. No one has made any serious accusations, probably because all the local villains were a lot of escalation away from home invasion and murder. If the PRT suspects it was her, they didn't publicize that.

Permalink Eye

Still safe to walk around, then. She should still move on, away from here. Maybe head north. Any interesting powers in that neck of the woods?

Permalink Eye

Selection's limited if she's still avoiding the biggest cape cities. There's a shaker 12 who can reportedly more or less create her own environment, and a highly rated changer who can morph into impossible monsters. Each is with a traveling team, so could maybe be coaxed away from wherever they are right now. If she wanted to go to Toronto there's a cape who is almost Legend lite, toggling between the speed and invulnerability or the firepower. A hero who doesn't need to eat or sleep, which would have come in handy lately, but she's not likely to get him out of Boston.

Permalink Eye

Toronto sounds good to her. Far enough away that she probably won't be expected there either.

Permalink Eye

It's definitely that. She's kind of establishing a pattern if they do know this was her, but at least it's not a pattern that lets anyone predict her very well.

Permalink Eye

That's the idea.

Now that her hands are free, she can get another car and use that instead of taking the bus.

Permalink Eye

Cars are traceable. At least if anyone does track it down, it'd be the stolen-car police not the extremely-superpowered-serial-killer police.

Luckily for them, no one tries to get in her way for far enough that they probably aren't following her.

Permalink Eye

Good. It's going to be a long enough trip without that kind of distraction.

Permalink Eye

The Protectorate building is nice and obvious. Toronto's cape scene is on roughly the same scale as Raleigh's; it has a fully-staffed PRT department and hero team but isn't one of the big-name cities. A couple gangs mostly engaged in petty crime and only notable for the fact that they have parahumans attached, and an independent hero team who would probably be more accurately labeled rogues.

The target is also fairly conspicuous. Grumman doesn't really have a secret identity; it's a side effect of how he's either completely immobile or an extremely maneuverable bullet. It'd come out the first time he tried to have a conversation while walking. So finding out where he lives is easier than the last time around. Of course, identities are normally secret for a reason. Even if no one expects villains to attack someone at home, they have to be aware of the possibility.

Permalink Eye

Reconnaissance is part of what the drones are for. She sends them to scope out the target.

Permalink Eye

The drones spot what are probably alarm systems. Getting very close would be a risk. But they can tell there doesn't seem to be anyone living there except for the target and his mother.

Permalink Eye

Surprise is going to be crucial. If he runs, she won't be able to catch him. Probably neither of her tinkers know anything about alarm systems?

Permalink Eye

The new one definitely doesn't; the other would have to see the house's defenses up close.

Permalink Eye

How heavily trafficked is the neighborhood?

Permalink Eye

Not very. If she strolls by looking at the house, chances are no one outside it would see. It still wouldn't be that much better a view of the home defense systems than the drones could get, but it's something.

Permalink Eye

Risk is low enough. She'll take a walk. Casual-like.

Permalink Eye

No one questions her. A woman who is presumably Mrs. Stodt is visible inside the house but doesn't do more than glance at her.

Some of the alarms look like motion sensors, presumably turned off since it's the middle of the day. Cameras view the entrances from the outside but have fairly wide fields of vision. There's no stretch of wall that's obviously unwatched. Including the roof, though the drones could say that one already. (The devices look sufficiently different from what the Machine Army tinker could do that that power is no help here. Which is interesting; it's suggestive that there might be tinker tech involved.)

The house probably isn't impenetrable. But if there are vulnerabilities, walking past isn't going to reveal them.

Permalink Eye

It's more penetrable than the Protectorate headquarters, and catching him in transit is intractable. If she knew when and where he was going to be patrolling, she could try to arrange something that would require intervention.

Tinkertech home security is.. atypical. Does Toronto have any local capes who might provide such a service to teammates?

Permalink Eye

They don't publicize exactly what the specialties are except in the obvious cases, but there is a tinker on the team. She does have a tendency to make sets of interconnected small items; that could apply here whether it's for power reasons or not.

Permalink Eye

Hmm. So it's not completely unreasonable that this be here. Doesn't really help with circumventing it.

Does a few days more of observation turn anything useful up?

Permalink Eye

Nothing out of the ordinary. She can guess in advance when he'll be at work, but not whether he'll be actively out patrolling. He's probably never going to be completely vulnerable; she might have to pick a least bad option.

Permalink Eye

Which is probably going to be the house while he sleeps, again. She waits for his return and plans her route.

Permalink Eye

It's a bit of an awkward angle of approach. His room is on the ground floor and not on the side facing the street. But: teleportation.

Permalink Eye

The flash of light associated therewith can be kind of a giveaway. But perhaps no one will be watching.

Permalink Eye

They aren't.

Until she's approaching the wall and right up next to it, and by the time she tunnels through the wall he's half-awake and blinking. Once she's inside, wow those alarms are loud. And bright. And arranged directly around the person who needed to be woken up at a moment's notice; nice and considerate.

Permalink Eye

She blinks again, next to him, reaching out-

Permalink Eye

–and he crashes away at eighty kilometers an hour. Straight through the wall behind him, without even leaving an oddly precise human-shaped hole. Or a wall.

Permalink Eye

Dammit! That's exactly why she wanted him.

With her target gone, she will make her own exit.

Permalink Eye

(A few seconds after the crash there's a less dramatic sound of a door opening and then silence.)

 

And a voice blares through the same speakers as the heavy-duty alarm clock. "Surrender! You're surrounded!"

Permalink Eye

Drone report?

Permalink Eye

She's not even a little bit surrounded.

Permalink Eye

In that case, she's not sticking around.

Permalink Eye

They are on their way, though. First to arrive is a suit of power armor with limbs tapering down to points and a bewildering array of weaponry. "Hello again," says Dragon's voice.

Permalink Eye

...There's no one in that suit. No reason to stick around and try to peel them out, then. She pulls out the chaos blaster to distract/disable the bewildering array of weaponry while she continues fleeing.

Permalink Eye

The suit flits out of the way of the conical blast and activates some sequence of random bright flashes. The light isn't a threat, but it does mean there's no line of sight to teleport with.

"Grumman was a fairly obvious choice of victim once we knew you were coming here. Incidentally, my guess is that assassinating specific people for their powers would still get you a kill order but in most places would not mean every parahuman in the city bands together against you. In case you were wondering." Dragon is still talking for some reason.

Permalink Eye

"We were not. We were wondering why you care enough to provide us this information, but not enough to visit us in person."

She can still run. And call in drones to attack the suit.

Permalink Eye

"You're hard to find. And if someone does go to the courts, I'd rather you know better than to conclude you might as well go back to killing every parahuman you can." The drones are primarily built for stealth not combat. Dragon doesn't know that, so they provide an effective distraction.

Some ghostly forms, like hers but less caricatured, start shambling toward her from the direction of the street.

Permalink Eye

Any clear paths out of the area?

Permalink Eye

Bursting through hedges into a neighbor's yard? Or it's possible she could fight her way through the ghosts; research before arriving showed they're dangerous to touch but not all that tough and there are rarely more than four at a time. Whatever she tries, she doesn't have long before Dragon's drone finishes with the distraction.

Permalink Eye

She'll go through the ghosts. Even with one shade tying up Dragon, she's still got the firepower. And maybe she'll run into the cape responsible for them.

Permalink Eye

He's got to be around somewhere; nothing mentioned him having an amazing range. She could probably track him down by which direction the replacement ghosts are coming from if she wants to take the time.

The first cape she sees isn't him. It's a tall woman whose shade has a mark on its forehead. She's wielding a metal rod, which she plants into the ground angled toward Ellie. Then she starts unloading a containment foam sprayer even though she's outside the effective range.
(The Protectorate might not know whether she's grossly underinformed. Having done her research, Ellie knows any blow she lands would affect both of them.)

Permalink Eye

Another ones for the drones to distract. Ellie opts to continue tracing the ghosts' path.

Permalink Eye

Dragon can run through a carload of spy drones pretty quickly, and having to dodge an extremely destructive cone whenever the Keres can spare the attention doesn't slow her down all that much. She flies forward. When she's directly above Ellie she starts raining down red energy bolts that take a mover power to dodge.

Permalink Eye

Good thing she has a mover power at her disposal. And if Dragon's closing in, then she can start having to dodge two blasters.

Permalink Eye

She rises another fifteen feet, staying well outside the range of the maelstroms. One blaster is easier to dodge. Aside from the harm to Dragon's accuracy, the increased distance does mean there's the occasional gap in the dazzling lights strategy for blocking teleportation—

Permalink Eye

She finds a hole, blinks out-

Permalink Eye

She's past the hero with the containment foam, and the three current ghosts reverse course to come back at her. Then they vanish and four replacements start coming from the other direction. Makes sense, since they're slower than she is. Dragon repositions herself near-instantly to prevent the same thing happening again, decreasing her safety margin and firing more energy weapons. A glancing hit makes Ellie's left hand go numb.

Permalink Eye

Tsk. Her own fault for pausing. She keeps going towards the ghosts, and their creator.

Permalink Eye

They don't put up strong resistance so much as they have a decent chance at landing a touch while she's distracted. She still has to mostly focus on Dragon, with the occasional warning shot at the tall woman, but can zap ghosts as necessary. The time it takes for replacements to arrive gradually decreases until she steps around a corner and sees where they're coming from. Two capes, not one.

Permalink Eye

She can spare one shot of chaos at this pair.

Permalink Eye

The one generating ghosts has been scrambling backwards since she came into view and gets away. The other screams as her arm gets disintegrated, but manages to slam a button with her other hand.

Small lights start glowing from every direction and elevation, then in a split second thin blue lines connect the perimeter and pull toward each other. The glowing constellation snaps shut, leaving her bound and immobile. The ghost cape rushes forward to pull his teammate out of vaporization range while Ellie is distracted as well as stuck.

Permalink Eye

She pulls out a brute and tries to struggle free, but that doesn't stop her from shooting again.

Permalink Eye

This power isn't the most accurate one even when the user is in more of a position to aim. But then, they're not in the best position to dodge either. The tinker stops yelling, and the master starts. He still has the presence of mind to move out of range.

Permalink Eye

She grabs the tinker's power before it floats free, and queries it for ways to escape this trap.

Permalink Eye

No single point is necessary; the ones around it would just link to each other to close the gap. Getting out while tied up would take forever. Easier to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow on the remote, which is right over... she blasted it.

Dragon flies over, too late, for what she cares about, and starts firing stun bolts again.

Permalink Eye

She can't dodge anymore, but she can still shoot back.

Permalink Eye

And Dragon can dodge. Everything goes numb, then black.

 

 

When she's conscious again, she can hear Dragon saying to a newly arrived PRT team that she'll be out for a few minutes yet. Probably a bad idea to open her eyes.

Permalink Eye

Can she tell where Dragon is based on sound without opening them?

Permalink Eye

Pretty close, at least. Probably not close enough she can confidently shoot at her or anything.

Permalink Eye

...She cracks her eyes open very slightly, not moving anything else.

Permalink Eye

Dragon is there, standing close in case there needs to be emergency re-stunning. She left the dazzling lights on, but now it's pointed more precisely. PRT agents there (and, by the voices, there and there and...). Other heroes are present, mostly in the direction where Ellie vaporized their teammate.

Permalink Eye

Now that she knows where the suit is, how does it handle an unexpected short-range chaos blast?

Permalink Eye

Not very well at all. Most of the suit is a hole now. The PRT people are trained professionals and start spraying containment foam as soon as they see what happened. The capes are marginally less trained mostly-professionals and start reaching for their powers. Some of them are screaming Dragon's name in exactly the same way the ghost cape did the last time she vaporized someone.

Permalink Eye

Do they not know the suit was remotely controlled? Well. They'll figure it out.

In the meantime, she has not-here places to be. Blink.

Permalink Eye

It's kind of a silly sight. She's tied up and moving only by the teleportation power and the recoil from Damsel's, and is still outrunning the pursuers. At least until those shades get tired.

Permalink Eye

As long as she is outrunning them, that's the important thing for now.

Permalink Eye

Very important, but unlikely to last forever. They have advantages like numbers, and vehicles, and not being tied up.

Permalink Eye

She can change at least one of those things if she gets some time to do it. Just need to break line of sight and duck into a house.

Permalink Eye

Neither of those is very hard. They will know which house, though.

Permalink Eye

Are the people inside she can hold hostage?

Permalink Eye

Probably. They're asleep; she's covered enough ground by now that the cape fight didn't wake the neighbors this far out.

Permalink Eye

Up and at 'em, everyone, you get to be the things standing between her and the Protectorate while she gets out of this netting. Feel free to call for help and let them know you're here, but if they come in or you kick up too much of a fuss, she's going to kill you.

Permalink Eye

No one likes the idea of doing what the villain wants them to do, but under the circumstances it's better than not doing it. People start dialing.

Permalink Eye

She keeps an eye on them while asking the tinker shade the best way to go about removing the net, given the tools she has at hand.

Permalink Eye

Get as much electricity as she possibly can and apply it to that node right there. Unless she wants to do it without frying herself, in which case the easiest way is probably to make an extra node, and attach it to the network without telling the adjacent ones to pull it tight, and then just step through the gap.

Permalink Eye

She'll work on the second option.

Permalink Eye

She'll want to cannibalize the microwave, dismantle the television, and probably raid the fridge.

Permalink Eye

Her hosts have no objection, she trusts?

Permalink Eye

Nothing worth arguing about when they're being held hostage.

Permalink Eye

Good. To work.

Permalink Eye

The opposition is all around the house and has evacuated the nearby ones by the time she's done. Surprising that the tinkering went that fast; probably because it's just a slight modification to something recent.

Permalink Eye

She adds the node and extricates herself from the net. Much better.

Now. What she wants to do next is leave the city. The heroes are blocking her from doing that, so she needs to create a hole. There are too many to fight efficiently, so she needs distractions. She has hostages, a few drones, and a variety of powers. So what she'll do is send drones to attack on one side, blow open a second with her shades, and go out the front door, with the hostages. Hopefully that will confuse them long enough for her to blink away and gain some distance.

Permalink Eye

From the heroes' point of view, there are more people than they expected, then a flash and it's the correct number. They don't have any way of cheating at finding out where she reappeared, but if it's close they might spot her the normal way.

Permalink Eye

She's on top of a roof at the other end of the block, and moving fast.

Permalink Eye

Then without Dragon, they'll have a much harder time tracing her.

Permalink Eye

Good. She needs to leave the city and lay low for a while, rebuild her drones, see if the new tinker has any useful concepts, figure out how Dragon traced her.

Permalink Eye

The hardest part was getting far enough away that she could be anywhere in the city. That done, actually being anywhere in (or out) of it is relatively easier. Any destination in particular?

Permalink Eye

Not really. Somewhere quiet, out of the way. No resident parahumans.

Permalink Eye

There are quiet out of the way places. After heading east and skipping some she'll end up pulling over at some place called Jacob's Bell.

Permalink Eye

And now she needs needs a place to sit and think, and optionally work.

Permalink Eye

It's early morning by now; coffee shops are open. Or she could break into a hotel room like before if she's worried about being recognized.

Permalink Eye

...Some coffee actually would be a good idea. It's been a long day.

Permalink Eye

Coffee, then. They haven't plastered her face across every television screen, so there aren't any surprise interruptions.

Permalink Eye

She wonders briefly if they ever will do such a thing. Convenient for as long as they don't though.

First question. Dragon. How did they find her, and can she do anything to stop it from being done again?

Permalink Eye

Most relevant face-plastering is the tinker's picture. The PRT is spinning it as "there was a hostage situation, no victims harmed, one hero tragically deceased" and letting people draw the obvious (false) conclusion. Then they talk a lot about the person now revealed to be Diana Thompson, partly because it plays well to the viewers and partly so the PRT can focus no more than necessary on the fact that the villain escaped.

 

There's really no way to find out how Dragon did it. Tracked the car she stole in North Carolina? Left a tracker under her skin in Kansas? Chicken entrails? It'd look the same from Ellie's side.

Permalink Eye

If Dragon would have just actually been in that suit she blew up, this would be a solved problem. The heroes weren't expecting it either, judging by their reaction. It seems like she ought to be able to exploit that somehow, but nothing immediately springs to mind. She might just have to wait and see if Dragon turns up again and if any new clues reveal themselves.

Other tinker things. She has a new one now, with a new specialty. What information did she get about what it can do?

Permalink Eye

It's less about specific devices than connections between them. It's not going to build anything complex or powerful but might get some complex piles of coordinated stuff. The last person with the power used it mostly to affect wide areas, like the security system or the net trap.

Permalink Eye

That could be interesting in combination with the Machine Army. She needs a workspace. Is this the sort of town to have one?

Permalink Eye

Not really. Not on the Machine Army scale, for certain.

Permalink Eye

Hmm... Actually, she has an idea for a project that wouldn't need much space. A room's worth. It'd only be person-sized at the end.

Permalink Eye

Rooms are way easier to steal. Equipment and materials are about the same difficulty as in the other places.

Permalink Eye

Then she finishes the last of her coffee, and goes to look for a room.

Permalink Eye

Finding room-sized places is easy. Now that she has money, she could probably get it fairly. Or not; whichever's easier.

Permalink Eye

It's important to try new things. She'll pay money for it.


Once she has a bit of privacy, she gets out her two tinkers to go over the idea, and the danger sensor, just to check.

Permalink Eye

The two relevant tinkers say maybe and yes, respectively, and the danger sensor is mostly just flashing neon signs about how now is a good time to panic.

Permalink Eye

 

How far?

Permalink Eye

There's a knock on the door. That.

Permalink Eye

Shades out, brute-blaster-mover.

 

She opens the door.

Permalink Eye

It's a Johnny Depp lookalike smiling and extending his hand to shake. He's pretty recognizable.

"Hello! You must be the Keres."

Permalink Eye

She regards the outstretched hand.


She takes it. "Jack Slash."

Permalink Eye

"Correct.

You know, you've made a much bigger splash among the white hats than they've been showing."

Permalink Eye

"What makes you say that?"

Permalink Eye

"You fought Eidolon, and got Dragon's attention. Twice. Better, even: they sent Eidolon early. That means they're afraid of what you might become."

Permalink Eye

"Are you?"

Permalink Eye

"Afraid? I'm well aware you could become more powerful than me, but you did that long ago. Unlike the heroes, I don't always have to be the strongest one around."

Permalink Eye

"Hardly surprising, given the company you tend to keep."

Permalink Eye

"Very true. 

And if I'm not mistaken, I can offer you what you're after on that score."

Permalink Eye

"Is that so."

Permalink Eye

"Extremely. If you'd confirm a guess of mine, either Eidolon or Dragon got you to scale down and cross the country between assassinations instead of just taking the powers you want?"

Permalink Eye

"Something like that."

Permalink Eye

"I can offer you a way to stop holding back."

Permalink Eye

 

"Is this a recruitment pitch?"

Permalink Eye

"Got it in one."

Permalink Eye


"We understand your organization has a fairly high rate of turnover."

Permalink Eye

"It's a very dangerous lifestyle; not everyone can hack it. If only there were people who actively wanted fights to the death against as many other parahumans as possible, them I'd expect to do just fine."

Permalink Eye

"The fights are incidental. We only care about the deaths."

Permalink Eye

"They usually go together. Sneaking around can get you some, sometimes you even get to pick. Not sneaking around can let you collect an entire hero team while using the powers of the last one. Or villains; we're not picky."

Permalink Eye

"What if we do not wish to join you?"

Permalink Eye

"I think you will. If not, the other members rush you through the interview process anyway. It's not unheard-of for people who don't want to join to survive."

Permalink Eye

"What is the interview process?"

Permalink Eye

"It's very...rigorous. Each member sets a test. Can be hard or very hard, depending on their opinions. If the candidate fails, they exact a forfeit. Always major, sometimes fatal, occasionally worse. But since you're my nominee, I have no compunction about telling you that it's perfectly acceptable to decline to participate in a test and simply fight anyone who presses the issue.

Permalink Eye

 

"We accept your offer."

Permalink Eye

This would look like an evil grin even if it were on a face not belonging to Jack Slash. "I thought you might. Anything you want to take care of before meeting the rest of the team?"

Permalink Eye

"We were about to begin creating a replacement for the drones we lost at Toronto before you knocked."

Permalink Eye

"I'll take that as a no, then. Much better than interrupting you once you've started. Besides, they're here." An elevator dings, audible through the open door.

Permalink Eye

She opens the door fully, and stands aside to let Jack and the rest enter.

Permalink Eye

Some of them are recognizable, others less so. It varies by infamy. Crawler's unmistakeable. He's also outside the window. There aren't many elevators that work for him. Then there's the Siberian, and the other end varies all the way down to a completely unfamiliar friendly-looking girl with a red streak in her dark hair.

Permalink Eye

The Slaughterhouse Nine. Right here in front of her. Not how she was expecting this day to go.

"We would extend our hospitality, but we have only just arrived here ourselves."

Permalink Eye

"No problem at all. Introductions!

This is the Siberian, and Bonesaw, Mannequin, Shatterbird, Crawler, Burnscar, and our newest recruit, Cherish. Me you've met. Everyone, this is the Keres. They're up for Hatchet Face's spot, depending on how all this goes."

The black-and-white striped woman has no visible shade at all. Even though the Siberian definitely has powers. The absence is a bit distracting.

Permalink Eye

It's like Dragon's suit, except for the part where it doesn't seem plausible. Some sort of projection? You'd think that sort of thing would have been noticed.

"A pleasure to meet you all, we're sure."

Permalink Eye

Bonesaw is the first to pipe up. "Jack says you collect powers! Do you have any good ones for art, yet?" Bonesaw's idea of art is pretty widely known to tend toward the biological.

Permalink Eye

"That is not a criterion by which I have been filtering. The tinker called Cask, perhaps." She brings forth the relevant shade.

Permalink Eye

She peers at it. There's not a whole lot of information to be gleaned that way; the ghost is at most a vague metaphorical depiction of the powers and even less clear to people who aren't Ellie.

"Well that's something. I'm sure you'll get more."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps you would like to suggest some possibilities?"

Permalink Eye

"There's– oh, but I wouldn't want you to have to kill her. Maybe the tinker in Boston, even though he makes his own canvases. Oh! Or Nilbog!"


Jack laughs. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. There'll be plenty of time to plan collaborations after she's joined."

Permalink Eye

Ellie smiles at Bonesaw.

Permalink Eye

Bonesaw smiles back.

One of the others looks up from where she's staring at a flame encircling her hand. Burnscar. She intones in a flat voice "Seems OK. So when do we start the testing."

Permalink Eye

"Whenever you're ready."

Permalink Eye

"I'm not," says the same flat voice. "Don't know what you're afraid of yet."

Permalink Eye

"Nothing you'd be capable of doing."

Permalink Eye

"You'd be surprised how many people say that. It's part of why we have the tests in the first place.

Anyone else?"

Cherish looks about to speak up. An unknown quantity.

Permalink Eye

"What about... her?" she asks, looking at the Siberian.

Permalink Eye

"She wants to start at the top, we can play along."

To Ellie, "She doesn't talk, of course, but her test is always the same. It's..well, if you don't know I suspect you'll find out."

The danger sense goes apocalyptic shortly before the striped woman rushes her, snarling.

Permalink Eye

Teleporter out, blink out the window, blink again. Again.

Permalink Eye

The Siberian is fast. She can of course run absurdly fast, but when looking backward Ellie can also occasionally see her jump into the air and kick off a falling leaf. She doesn't quite move at the speed of being at her destination as soon as she can see it, but it's close.

Permalink Eye

That's not fair. It really isn't. She's not even in that body, so Ellie can't do anything about it.

Permalink Eye

And Ellie knows how much teleporting this shade can do and how fast, but she doesn't know what the Siberian's limits are. If any. The extremely unfair person runs circles around her, occasionally even literally curving to come from a different direction, and is really hard to stay away from.

Permalink Eye

The Siberian is immune to everything. Ellie tries a chaos blast, just in case 'everything at once' turns out to be an exception to everything.

Permalink Eye

It doesn't, and letting the Siberian get close enough to test that may be a bad idea. The range is only six or fifteen feet, and either participant in the chase can cover that in a blink.

Suddenly there's a cold, colorless hand over her eyes and an inexorable force moving one of her arms Siberianward.

Permalink Eye

"I know you're not here. Come out and show me what you really look like."

Permalink Eye

The Siberian spreads Ellie's fingers and bites down on one above the second knuckle. Then she lets go, takes the hand away from her quarry's face, and stands a step back. There's blood sliding down her chin.

Permalink Eye

Gah. That hurts. She grits her teeth, but refuses to scream. She grabs the stump in her other hand and applies pressure. Deep breath.

Blink away. If it is a projection, maybe there's a range limit. This is Canada, there's lots of wilderness. She travels as deep as she can, avoiding roads and towns.

Permalink Eye

That... works. The Siberian's movements and reactions slow, then she eventually stops reappearing. 

Permalink Eye

So there is a range. Good. The projector can reposition, but hopefully whatever mobility solution they have been using will be less effective in this terrain.

She should move from this position, then find somewhere hidden to rest a while. With the danger sensor up.

Permalink Eye

The Siberian is outside the danger sensor's range. Until she abruptly isn't. And she covers the distance from the edge of the range quickly, sometimes charging straight through obstacles. There's a cartoonish Siberian-shaped hole in one tree; another just falls.

Permalink Eye

She goes, again trying to outrange it.

Permalink Eye

She (it?) is faster than Ellie with the wilderness blocking line of sight. She's taken to running in the low branches of trees; it barely slows her down and it means Ellie can't keep an eye on her if she wants to look where she's going. She closes in.

Permalink Eye

She blasts a hole in the canopy and blinks straight up then over, catching herself on a treetop before blinking again.

Permalink Eye

She can't fly, and the Siberian might as well be able to. But she can change direction midair a lot more easily– it's hard to tell whether she's actually getting anywhere. But she's not currently having any more fingers bitten off, so that's good.

Permalink Eye

She's going to run it out of range eventually.

Permalink Eye

The trick is to teleport whenever the Siberian starts to move in a direction, regardless of how much safety margin it looks like she has. Once she gets that down, she's as safe as one can be when pursued by a that thing. There are a couple close calls, but no more injuries.

Permalink Eye

"How long are you going to keep chasing us?" she calls. "What happens when we decide to go back to Jack and tell him you're not what he thinks you are while you're distracted moving your real body?"

Permalink Eye

Charging: still happening. Telling Jack isn't a sufficient threat, apparently.

Permalink Eye

"What happens when we tell him that's the reason you failed?"

Permalink Eye

No response. Unless continuing rage monsterness is a response, of course. The Siberian leaps at Ellie twice more in two seconds.

Permalink Eye

She blinks for range again.

Permalink Eye

It works, eventually. She's covered a lot of ground by now (again) and the projection stops pursuing.

Permalink Eye

This time, she backtracks, looking for the projector.

Permalink Eye

Without knowing the radius or even the direction, that's a tall order. The first promising-looking car parked by the edge of a road turns out to be just a breakdown. She'll spot the projection raising its face to the air and sniffing before finding the master.

Permalink Eye

"There you are. Are we playing again?"

Permalink Eye

Standing. Staring. Not charging.

Permalink Eye

"And here we came all this way to find you."

Permalink Eye

She tilts her head to one side.

Permalink Eye

"Vocalizations not in your repertoire? Then here is our offer: We return together and you tell them I passed your test, or you return alone and tell them you couldn't keep up with us because you are a projection."

Permalink Eye

The Siberian stands stock-still for indecisively long. Then she nods.

Permalink Eye

"Let us be off, then."

Permalink Eye

It takes a bit longer than the way out, since it's not a life and death hunt, but it's not a hard trip. The projection leads the way to where the others have moved to and they can walk in side by side with the Keres conspicuously not dead.

Permalink Eye

"We return." She looks around the room.

Permalink Eye

"And ended it early! That's a novel result."

Permalink Eye

"For how long does it usually last?"

Permalink Eye

"Until she decides she's had enough."

Permalink Eye

"Who is next?"

Permalink Eye

"There's a good standby for capes like you," says Shatterbird, "I decided to try putting you in solitary confinement for a while. You, singular." A floating ball of glass pushes her through a door. She barely feels, let alone sees, the prick of something sharper.

Her new surroundings are a bare room, not remarkably small but mostly taken up by a large roughly cubical glass. Very roughly; there are shards jutting out at irregular intervals. It appears almost designed to look threatening, as much as an inanimate object can.

Permalink Eye

All the more so, given the nature of the person who pushed her in.

Not that she need stay. She summons her tunneler.

Permalink Eye

No she doesn't.

A moment after she tries, the object expands.

Permalink Eye

what


she thought hatchet face was dead

Permalink Eye

No. Stop. That is not a helpful response. She's been here before, and lived through it.


The glass expanded. Not all powers in the area are blocked. It's not Hatchet Face. That slight sting- an injection? A drug by Bonesaw?

Permalink Eye

It seemed like it moved in response to her attempt at summoning a shade. Well enough, she will simply not call on any.

Permalink Eye

For a moment, nothing happens. Just a ticking clock. After a moment, nothing continues to happen.

It's a full five minutes before the unusually scary pile of glass reassembles itself into a form that takes up more space. Again.

Permalink Eye

Okay so maybe it's time-based.

She tries for a brute this time.

Permalink Eye

Nope.

And it moves again. There's enough space for now that she can still walk around it normally, but why would she do that when she can hug the wall.

Permalink Eye

yes that seems like a good idea

Permalink Eye

 

No, it actually isn't. That would be an admission of fear, of weakness. She can't afford that.

She will not hug the wall. She will stand normally.

Permalink Eye

At a certain point fear is really just accuracy.

Especially since ignoring it means standing closer the next time it expands like that– no, it didn't really move yet. Did it?

Permalink Eye

Permalink Eye

...She shouldn't be this scared, nothing has actually happened.

Permalink Eye

Yes it has; it's right there. All lurking and stuff.

It does get a lot less scary on reflection.

Permalink Eye

That was significantly more fear than it warranted. Someone was messing with her.

Permalink Eye

...maybe it made sense while she was scared, but now she's thinking about that theory and it's almost embarrassing.

Permalink Eye

Right, best to drop it and never bring it up again-

 

No, someone is messing with her. Likely the new one, Cherish.

Permalink Eye

Well, being more specifically suspicious doesn't prompt any change. Still vaguely embarrassing.

 

Five minutes after its last shift, the glass expands again. Now she actually is too cramped to walk normally, and can't not stare at that thing

Permalink Eye

Okay, she's done with it now.

She tears strips off her shirt to wrap up her hands.

Permalink Eye

It exists at her threateningly.

Permalink Eye

She aims a blow at one of the less spiky areas.

Permalink Eye

It breaks about as well as glass should. Then the pieces return to where they used to be, now spikier.

Permalink Eye

She's not going to stand here and wait to be crushed against the wall. If she can't get out, Shatterbird is at least going to need to keep picking up the pieces she makes.

Permalink Eye

After breaking it and watching pieces reattach, she'll eventually run out of nearby smooth parts. Which means that when it expands again and she has to stand exceptionally straight, there's nothing on that side to brace against...

(Which is fine; the thought of touching that is almost the worst part of picturing being lacerated to death against the wall–)

Permalink Eye

"Get out of my head," she hisses, raising her arms to bring them down in one final blow, heedless of damage.

Permalink Eye

Then damage happens. Partly to it, more to her arms. The first category repairs itself.

Permalink Eye

Again. She is not going to sit and wait.

Permalink Eye

This is an extremely questionable idea. Eventually she's going to run low on blood if the pain doesn't convince her to stop first.

Permalink Eye

If Jack still wants her, he'll have Bonesaw do something afterwards. But she's not going to stop for petty concerns like pain or death.

Permalink Eye

Eventually she'll stop for similarly petty concerns like blood loss. The no-longer-a-cube expands again, pressing her against the wall in case she's still conscious.

 

Bonesaw does in fact do something afterwards.

Permalink Eye

...If she wakes up with her mind intact, there's a limit to how bad it could be.

Permalink Eye

It's not even close to the limit. Her arms are definitely human ones, if not precisely hers she still wouldn't even stand out on the street. Perfectly functional too.


"Jack said to do as little as possible since you might end up joining or failing. So I didn't do any upgrades or anything just for fun."

Permalink Eye

"There will be time enough for that later."

Permalink Eye

"Yep!" Either way, really.

Permalink Eye

And now to return to the others?

Permalink Eye

Shatterbird gives her a nod. If any of the others were relevant they're not showing it.

Permalink Eye

She fixes a look on Cherish. That is a person she is going to kill, regardless of anything she may feel now or in the future.

Permalink Eye

That kind of professional rivalry isn't uncommon.
Everyone especially Cherish notices the look but no one seems to consider it urgent. Possibly because Ellie's power is still out of commission.

"Congratulations on that result, I think I can say. A very spirited response."

Permalink Eye

"De-spirited, we would call it."

Permalink Eye

Jack laughs more than the pun strictly deserved. "That too.

Mannequin's test is always a variation on the same theme, if you haven't been following us closely you might not have heard. You're going to change yourself, something that costs you."

He tosses her a piece of paper. It says, in neat handwriting, that since she's barely more attached to her physical form than Mannequin himself is, and making her cripple her power would be counterproductive, she is to interrupt the nearest news broadcast and introduce herself as Keres. A parahuman like any other and not any kind of mystical plural entity. 

Permalink Eye


"Will we be allowed to use our shades to accomplish this?"

Permalink Eye

Jack looks to Mannequin, who shrugs. Bonesaw tosses her a pill. "Antidote. Well, antibiotic, technically; it's a parasite not a poison. But this fixes it."

"Yes," Jack agrees, "showing off will make for a much better image. Might want to confess or commit some juicy crimes for the same reason, pretend to be doing this for the notoriety, but he left the details up to you."

The paper does include locations. None of them are likely to have capes defending, because why would they.

Permalink Eye

She takes the pill.

"We think we can provide a suitable spectacle. We will return when this is accomplished."

Permalink Eye

"Have fun."

Permalink Eye

So she leaves. She'll go to the nearest station, minimum of messing around. Is it as undefended as it ought to be?

Permalink Eye

Pretty much. As far as she's concerned it might as well be made entirely of unlocked doors.

Permalink Eye

Is it an hour when there is a broadcast to be interrupted?

Permalink Eye

Judging by the "do not enter" and "on air" signs, probably.

Permalink Eye

Excellent.

She enters from the back, accompanied by three shades, darkness swirling ominously around her. A blast of chaos obliterates the anchor's desk.

"Do not cut," she instructs.

Permalink Eye

If there's one thing that obedience is symptomatic of, it's weaponry. People talk themselves into thinking this is newsworthy even without the implied threat.

Permalink Eye

"Most of you do not know who I am, your Protectorate has not seen fit to inform you. I consider this an unforgivable oversight. I am the Keres." The shades are not echoing her voice. "I have killed many of your heroes: Edict, Lightscour, Cask," she lists off the shades she has. "I have fought Eidolon and Dragon, and yet walk free. I am not magic, only myself, a parahuman. If you are another such and think yourself capable of stopping me, come and find me. I will add you to my collection."

Permalink Eye

When she gets to the tinker from Toronto the cameras zoom in on the shade's face. Regardless of whether it was because the PRT wanted to affect the focus, that was big news very recently.

Anyway, singular personal pronouns, giving up the deal with the role, ought to satisfy Mannequin.

Permalink Eye

She sneers into the camera, then turns and departs the way she came.

Back to the Nine.

Permalink Eye

Mannequin signals his acceptance by extending a hand. It looks more like a length of chain being levitated than an arm.

After they shake, Crawler interjects, "My turn. I want to see if you can hurt me."

Permalink Eye

"That's it?"

Permalink Eye

"It's why I joined. Most can't. If you can't, you fail."

The armor plates where his foremost pair of legs meets his body shift around, a motion that was probably a shrug when he was humanoid. His motivation is pretty obvious; Crawler is famously immune to whatever once managed to hurt him.

Permalink Eye

"Very well." She reaches out a hand, touches, grabs-

Permalink Eye

There's the creature from her visions again. A short flash of all its discarded cells combating each other—

Crawler's shade doesn't even recognize that there was an attack. Certainly it doesn't regenerate the lack of physical damage; it's hers now. Not his. The ground shudders when Crawler's body hits.

Permalink Eye

"Does that count?" she asks with a half-smile.

Permalink Eye

Crawler doesn't object.

"You killed him! Now you've got to help me bring him back."

Permalink Eye

"Oh? And how will we be doing that?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't know yet. It mostly worked with Hatchet Face, but Crawler is a little bit different. We can figure it out, it'll be fun!"

Permalink Eye

"Is this another test?"

Permalink Eye

"Those aren't supposed to be fun. I guess, if that's what it takes."

Permalink Eye

"Let us be on with it, then."

Permalink Eye

"If you need more tinkers just say. I'm sure no one would mind a detour, and I can put Crawler on ice." She looks at the body, roughly the size of a small car. "Lots of ice."

Permalink Eye

"Outside of you, the only one with an applicable talent I am aware of is the one in Boston."

Permalink Eye

"Not the barrel one? Oh well, we were probably going to hit a big city next anyway since we were about to have all Nine; it might as well be Boston. Right?"

She looks to Jack, who says "be patient just a little longer; she hasn't finished joining yet."

Permalink Eye

"Could I not say I decline any further tests, and fight anyone who wishes to press the issue?"

Permalink Eye

"If you wanted to risk it," Burnscar threatens.

Permalink Eye

"Do you know what your test would be yet?"

Permalink Eye

The fire around Burnscar's hand has been gradually growing since Ellie mentioned fighting her. "You know what, never mind," she says flatly. "Let's just do it this way." A pool of fire spreads out around her feet, and she disappears into it.

Permalink Eye

So that's a no, then. If Crawler is not already immune to fire, Ellie will be very much surprised. This ought to be easy.

She leaves to look for the fire Burnscar emerged from, summoning Crawler's shade. The nature of this power means that it does not follow behind as a distinct entity. Rather, it wraps around and through her, a ghostly image of the horror she killed.

Permalink Eye

Crawler had adapted to fire, but not just fire. She feels herself mutating, the extra mass coming out of nowhere, until she's exactly the size of the Crawler body on the ground.

There's a trail of small fires. Burnscar decided on a whim, so no setup ahead of time. The problem is that she doesn't have to be going linearly: she's appearing and disappearing between fires to lob small fireballs and expand her list of places she might be at any given time.

Permalink Eye

Ellie does have to travel linearly, her teleport is limited by line of sight. She stomps out fires where she can, and tries to catch up with Burnscar. She only needs to get one hit in.

Permalink Eye

Yeah, but she's enormous. Crawler may have been deceptively fast, and all that experience transferrable to her, but that doesn't mean hard to avoid.

Burnscar's easily avoiding her but hasn't tried anything offensive yet.

Permalink Eye

Then she will continue to cut off lines of retreat as she finds them.

Permalink Eye

Her opponent has plenty of time to wait for an opening. The first time Ellie is standing over a big enough flame while prioritizing the fires next to her, she erupts from underneath. She's directing concussive blasts upward—how does that even work, it's massless—and jolts her vertically. Then does it again, and again.

Permalink Eye

"Stop," she says, an Edict-enforced command.

Permalink Eye

After using her power enough to knock Crawler around, Burnscar is in no condition to just stop. Whatever the penalty was isn't slowing her down.

Ellie lands with a crash, completely unharmed. Bonesaw's voice shouts "Not here!" but Burnscar's not listening. Ellie's Crawler-sized bulk suddenly vanishes, along with all her shades.

Permalink Eye

What the hell- Bonesaw said something about resurrecting Hatchet Face. Must be it.

She can't get shot by a fireball in here, but Burnscar can still ring the place in fire. She needs to get out now. She runs through, pulling at Crawler's shade all the time, wanting it up as soon as she's able to.

Permalink Eye

Burnscar is launching obstacles at her the same way she moved her when she was Crawler-sized. A piece of a tree trunk here, a rock there. Much to Bonsaw's dismay. None are very accurate as weapons, but it's more than enough to make her think twice about running straight through.

And then a knife appears in Ellie's leg. "Our dear Burnscar wasn't the only one who hasn't had a go yet, remember."

Permalink Eye

Ow.

"Oh, but Jack. I thought you liked me."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, what's a little stabbing between friends?" He's lazily tossing more knives, none of which do more than scratch her. That and give Burnscar some time.

Permalink Eye

"Maybe treat me to dinner, first."

She takes a winding path through, trying for cover from both knives and fire-propelled projectiles.

Permalink Eye

Hatchet Face's range was never very wide.

Apparently what Burnscar came up with was an enormous fiery pulse. Her control over it fizzles out, highlighting the boundary neatly, but the blast of superheated air continues.

Permalink Eye

...Hatchet Face will be at the center of the circle. She grabs the knife out of her leg. She'll just do another resurrection with Bonesaw if she complains.

Permalink Eye

From the outside, this probably looks like she's fleeing the heat. But the circle is small enough that seeing the curvature could point her toward the center. When she finds Hatchet Face, he's standing inactive. No current orders.

Permalink Eye

She cuts his throat.

Permalink Eye

He does move to defend himself—more than zero instincts, apparently—but not quickly. And his brute powers do not render him immune to knives.

After he falls, her attempts to reach for Crawler's shade go through. She can walk through the fire and probably shrug off most of whatever Burnscar is throwing.

Permalink Eye

Good. She heads in the direction of the most recent missile.

Permalink Eye

Jack is enormously pleased when the power nullification goes down and the Crawler shape goes up. He seems to be trying to talk Burnscar into conceding. She's not very receptive.

Permalink Eye

"You should just let me kill her."

Permalink Eye

"Why? Admittedly she's not always the most interesting member of our little family, but that's hardly a capital offense.

And I don't think you'd want her power anyway. What with the enforced recklessness and inability to think clearly."

Permalink Eye

"I do get some insulation from those effects. And it would solve the problem of the moment."

Permalink Eye

"But long-term solutions to short-term problems are so boring. Much more exciting when everything is balanced on, well, a knife's edge.

Besides, you'll probably outlast her. Until then, the more dangerous we collectively are the more capes we end up killing. After, of course there's no reason not to."

Permalink Eye

 

"Fine."

Permalink Eye

He doesn't talk Burnscar into conceding, but he talks her into a ceasefire for a bit and then into calling the fight over.

Permalink Eye

Ellie will accept that.

Permalink Eye

Then the only one remaining is Bonesaw, who is not about to object.

Permalink Eye

So she is one of the Slaughterhouse Nine now?

Permalink Eye

Yup. Welcome to the most-feared group of...humans. Endbringers don't count.

Permalink Eye

Where are they going first?

Permalink Eye

"Bonesaw suggested Boston. The problem with that is, Boston is in perfectly fine condition right now. They'll be able to concentrate forces on us. In a straight-up war...we could probably win. We are the Slaughterhouse Nine, after all. It goes much better if we pick somewhere already on its back foot. A question of priorities, and risk management."

Permalink Eye

"Sensible enough."

Permalink Eye

"In which case... Cherish, how would you like to set Boston at war with itself for the occasion?"

 

She smiles, looking a lot more cheerful than Jack's near-permanently evil grin. "Absolutely."

Permalink Eye

If no opportunities present themselves, create one. This should be interesting.

Permalink Eye

It should indeed.

 

Boston is close, at least on a relative scale. They migrate eastward, committing the occasional theft but no atrocities that would get serious attention. Being hard to pin down is important. When they're in the vicinity, Jack deploys Cherish to track down important capes and determine who can be set against whom. Bonesaw takes advantage of the delay to offer the Keres the same upgrades the rest of them have.

Permalink Eye

Which are?

Permalink Eye

A mental switch to toggle pain on and off. Implanted armor around each major blood vessel. Backups in case of organ failure. Reinforced skeleton. Any extra limbs? Extra limbs are fun.

Permalink Eye

She has all the limbs she requires at present, thank you. The other upgrades sound appealing.

Permalink Eye

By the end of it, she'll be not literally immune to weapons but certainly able to temporarily ignore details like a bullet to the chest. Depending on the bullet.

Permalink Eye

Excellent, thank you Bonesaw.


Does she still have time to make her drones before the show starts?

Permalink Eye

The show starts when Shatterbird says it starts. Right now it's still Cherish they're waiting on; Bonesaw can do an everything surgery in minutes or hours but Cherish has to track capes through a normal-person schedule.

Permalink Eye

Then she'll start work and hopefully won't get interrupted.

Tinkers, she has need of you. She wants a suit of armor made of individual drone-like components she can send off piecemeal to fight or reconnoiter or perform other such tasks.

Permalink Eye

The tinkers are happy to collaborate. The result will need regular maintenance, but being with the Nine so far has involved more downtime than it might have sounded like.

Permalink Eye

Then she will be as ready as she ever will be.

Still waiting on Cherish?

Permalink Eye

She comes back shortly after the suit is done, with a summary of who's how easy to subvert. There's a Protectorate division, obviously. PRT Director Armstrong is annoyingly fair-minded when confronted with someone who may have been less than legal in the past, so absent interference he'd probably work to ally with the local villains.

Accord, a mostly non-combat Thinker. To Cherish, he just screams being overwhelmingly frustrated at anything even the tiniest bit out of place. This also makes him absolutely awful to be around even when he can't order your death. Definitely capable of putting aside a grudge to deal with an unexpected Slaughterhouse Nine, but it's anyone's guess whether he could hold to that when an ally insists on speaking informally or tilting their head too far left. His Ambassadors are all loyal to him personally. While Cherish can isolate that faction easily and probably arrange enmity with others, she can't splinter it without being far too obvious.

The Teeth, led by Butcher. That's most of what there is to know about the Teeth, actually. The Butcher has her own powers, plus watered-down ones from the previous Butcher, whom she killed. She is number fourteen. It comes with thirteen other minds, so Butchers don't usually stay sane very long. The Teeth follow whoever is the current Butcher, because they're differently insane. Most of what they do is ordinary violent crime and drug selling. If someone arranges an unplanned assault by a Teeth cape on a PRT team or cape, that could spiral out and escalate.

Blasto, a plant tinker who is holding East Allston by himself. Frequent opponent of Accord, who is disgusted by him slightly more than by everyone else. Has similar rivalries with one of the Teeth and some unimportant independent villain.

The Travelers are in town. Probably not for long, what with all the traveling, so if the Nine hold off for a bit there'll be that many fewer capes in play. They don't necessarily like each other much but are very tight-knit. More interesting is that they have a hidden teammate who they keep voluntarily locked up. She has some powerful but dangerous ability, which she hates, probably because of unwanted physical changes. Cherish can recognize that feeling. The hidden girl is not always in control of herself, and on her bad days her friends—former friends, most of them—are afraid of her.

 

 

From the Keres' point of view, of course, it's all about the powers. None of the heroes seem uniquely interesting, with the possible exception of a Ward made of metal. No need to eat or sleep...and immune to Cherish. Butcher would be a fantastic prize, but killing her would be a gamble. Might risk becoming number fifteen. The Teeth have some promising-sounding powers among their lesser members: one changer can also temporarily cancel powers, one creates clones that quickly fade from "dull" to "brain-dead" but would be absolutely terrifying if combined with Crawler's bulk, and one potentially useful force field power. Accord's people tend to have strong powers in addition to being extremely competent. Notably, their field leader has an area-effect trump power that can strengthen or weaken parahuman effects with only slightly more difficulty than mundane physics. Blasto she already wants to target. One of the Travelers is publicly a Changer who can pick her own form with few or no limits, but Cherish says that's a lie. The fantastic beasts that get addressed as "Genesis" are projections; the girl herself is wheelchair-bound and unhappy with it. The real question is whether their other teammate should be targeted.

Permalink Eye

She wants them all, of course. But if pressed to prioritize: Blasto, Accord's trump, the Teeth capes other than Butcher, the metal Ward.

She wants to know more about the hidden Traveler. These hints are... tantalizing. Call that priority zero.

Permalink Eye

The rest are interested too. If they could find out what the power is, if it has enough collateral damage when she loses control, that could be more than enough chaos right there. Or it could just drive everyone to unite; that wouldn't.

Permalink Eye

So where is she hiding?

Permalink Eye

The basement of the building the Travelers are using for a hideout. It's tough but not fortified vault tough. Not that that would matter.

If they just show up, though, it'll let people know they're here. And Cherish hasn't started a war yet. How much surprise do they want?

Permalink Eye

That probably depends on whether the unknown cape losing control is something they can use. If it turns out it's not, they can always just kill the Travelers.

Permalink Eye

Ellie is in favor of plans that involve potentially killing several capes. They should go and see whether she will be useful, and then either start the show with her, or kill the Travelers and then start the show without them.

Permalink Eye

And even if the locals aren't at each others' throats going in, there'll inevitably be some kind of inter-faction war council. They can all hate each other then.

Cherish leads the way to the Travelers' current base.

Permalink Eye

Anyone home?

Permalink Eye

Three people. One is the hidden girl, another a friend of the Travelers or something. He's often around. Genesis' real body is here, which means the others are probably out in their cape identities.

Permalink Eye

Ellie is inclined to kill the spare and not disturb the Genesis body while they investigate the hidden girl.

Permalink Eye

If they don't end up killing the Travelers, the spare might be useful as leverage.

Turns out it's a moot point: there are no spares. As soon as they force their way in, with Cherish bearing down hard enough that the third can't muster the will to wake Genesis, Ellie will recognize that he's a parahuman.

Permalink Eye

Not an argument in favor of letting him live as far as she's concerned, but Jack would probably be interested to know.

Permalink Eye

"Well, we may as well interrogate him. Cherish, would you let him up?"  When she does,

"Hello. We are very scary. You're going to answer some questions for us."

 

Some enhanced interrogation later: his name is Oliver, the girl in the basement is Noelle; he got a useless power and she got something worse because they split a vial of superpowers in a can; there is such a thing as superpowers in a can; Noelle is herself from the waist up but is sitting on a monster that has to be fed a lot of meat every day; starving it makes it harder for her to keep control; if anyone touches her the monster spits out misshapen duplicates of that person; duplicates try to destroy everything the original cares about; duplicates of capes have variants on the powers tending toward slightly stronger; the Travelers are from Earth Aleph courtesy of the Simurgh. The Nine can be very good at enhancing interrogation.

Permalink Eye

That's in keeping with their reputation.

That power sounds very chaos-inducing. And also very much like something she wants.

Canned superpowers she might look into later, privately, as a side project.

Permalink Eye

Oliver can't tell them who made the cans. The Travelers found a set apparently abandoned in Madison.

 

Jack is incredibly happy with that description of the power. So much more potential than just setting off an uncontrolled rampage. "New plan! We kidnap at least one representative of each faction, and we do the obvious."

Permalink Eye

"How are we securing access to the girl?"

Permalink Eye

"Staying here, I assume. We'll have to fight the Travelers for it, but they won't know who's here."

Permalink Eye

"Can we kill them?"

Permalink Eye

"I don't see why not. Any surviving members would be able to spread the warning about what we're doing. We get them, no one can. Kind of them to keep it a secret."

Permalink Eye

"Good."

What does Oliver have to say about his other friends' powers?

Permalink Eye

Except for Genesis, all of them are as publicly portrayed. Sundancer creates and controls a sphere that can melt asphalt, and is herself immune to heat, Ballistic can launch any object he’s touching at a speed toward the low range of “bullet,” and Trickster is a teleporter in the sense that he swaps objects of roughly the same size and weight. Perdition is– dead, probably. Accord took him.

Jack senses a story there, and asks some more questions. It's not the most relevant.

Permalink Eye

Those all sound fairly impressive. And dangerous, for people who aren't the Nine.

If Ellie kills Genesis now, that will probably bring the others back to see what happened.

Permalink Eye

It will, but waking her up would do the same. Her power might not be much use to Ellie, since it might be either she or the shade that would have to go unconscious to use it.

(Besides, they don't know yet whether capes the Keres kills can keep their powers when resurrected. Best not mention that to Bonesaw until they've tried it for Crawler.)

Permalink Eye

Tsk. Fine. They can wake Genesis up instead of killing her to call the others back.

Permalink Eye

Bonesaw happily ensures that Genesis isn't going back into any comas. If Ellie calls up Cask's shade she might even be able to follow along; most of it is just some clever stimulants.

After that's taken care of, they may as well go see Noelle while they wait.

Permalink Eye

Yes, what's monster girl like?

Permalink Eye

Physically normal from the waist up. Of course, "the waist up" means near the ceiling. The monster part is mostly raw, angry red flesh, with some parts smooth or differently colored. It has multiple giant animal heads, some complete with necks and one only half jutting out from her side. Several sets of limbs, of which the most unsettling is the one that looks like a human child's arm. A couple of tentacles.

 

Noelle hears the door open and says "please, don't look at me—" before she recognizes who the visitors are.

Permalink Eye


"That is impressive."

Permalink Eye

That's one of the worse things to hear. Noelle seems to shrink back, and her reaction does nothing at all to most of her mass.

"So how does it work? Just touching you? What determines the clones' mutations or changes in their powers?"

Noelle doesn't answer.

Permalink Eye

"She doesn't seem in the mood to answer questions. We may have to wait for experimental results."

Permalink Eye

"I'll tell you if you– if it means you do it less." Jack agrees. This one's going to be easy.

The answer is that it's mostly untested, and testing might not be very informative, but as far as she knows it's how long she stayed in contact with the other victim. The longer the clone spends being created before being vomited up the closer the copy, and the benefit only accrues if she's touching the template. They do have to be alive; otherwise they'd probably just increase the size of the mound the way meat does. Power variations are random as far as she knows.

Permalink Eye

Can she do clones of clones?

Permalink Eye

She hasn't tried, because she's never used her power on purpose and what kind of crazy people would even want there to be more clo— never mind. She doesn't have any reason to think she can't.

 

While they're talking, Cherish warns them that the other three Travelers are arriving. They're ready for an emergency but are far too confident to know what emergency.

Permalink Eye

Best to get them inside before attacking, and then preventing retreat, yes?

Permalink Eye

Sounds like a plan.

...this is going to be completely trivial, of course. Outnumbering them three to one when all the heaviest hitters are on their side. But that's no reason not to do it right.

Burnscar sets up a wall of flame behind the Travelers, not to be impenetrable but to block Trickster's line of sight. Shatterbird launches a wave of glass shards. None of the Nine even need to be seen.

Permalink Eye

And as they die, one two three, Ellie grabs their powers.

Permalink Eye

May as well get Oliver's too, since they don't need him for anything and she doesn't seem to have a storage limit.

She gets the normal fragments of visions. Ginormous Incomprehensible Monstrosities altering the cells they drop so they don't outright kill the hosts—

And the powers are as described. Trickster's comes with an interesting new sense, like a pressure between any two objects, and if they're similar enough the pressure is the same from both directions and she can push them to switch. It makes sense how it would fit with teleportation.

When Noelle finds out what happens, she breaks down even more.

Permalink Eye

Not to worry, one of her friends is still alive. And Ellie wants to see what sorts of power variations will pop out of that interaction.

Permalink Eye

That's barely better!

Noelle manages to make Jack an offer. She'll cooperate, not that he really needs her to, if he'll have his Nine kill her after. It's not like she hasn't tried, and that was before today. Or at least kill her if he wants Bonesaw to keep the not-her body around for its power. He agrees, for whatever that's worth.

Permalink Eye

Ellie can work with that.

Now, about creating those clones. Are they going to start with Genesis or go gather representatives from the various factions first?

Permalink Eye

Genesis clones probably wouldn't feature in that plan; they're more just for overkill amounts of firepower and potential interestingness. The group they'd target is already gone.

Ellie is free to start with Genesis if she doesn't mind having her attention split during the planning for the kidnappings.

Permalink Eye

They're still in the 'subtle' phase, right? Which means no killing extraneous capes during the kidnappings, which means Ellie isn't all that interested in helping plan them. Just let her know what you want her to do when you've got it worked out.

Permalink Eye

Noelle is extremely unhappy about creating clones of her friend. Creating clones at all, for that matter. But she can't feasibly resist very successfully, and definitely not without losing control.

Genesis' hand sticks to Noelle's bulk and sinks part way in. She's nearly as horrified as Noelle is.

The Genesis clones get vomited out one by one, naked and misshapen. The later ones are closer, in the vein of a bulbous head instead of a stretched-out skeleton, but none would pass for Genesis herself. They aren't paraplegic, for one reason or another. When they start going into their comas most create forms that could pass for Genesis', with most making different tradeoffs of duration versus size versus biological plausibility. Some stay at least halfway conscious. They're not all strictly stronger than the original, but there's a wide variance. Most are undetectable differences from the outside. Ellie can get some mileage out of comparing their shades. 

Permalink Eye

Very interesting.

Test the first: Can she collect their shades normally?

Permalink Eye

Yes. After collecting the second she can compare the differences in full detail.

Unfortunately, after collecting the first she goes from a mostly-neutral enemy who shares some goals to a direct threat. Genesises three through five attack her. (Geneses? Leviticus through Deuteronomy? Whatever.) She has a pretty good sense of what kinds of creatures they could make, by comparison to the clones she did kill. But her knowledge of what these creatures can do is limited to "that one can fly and that one spits acid; what tradeoffs would my shades have had to make for those." The clones do manage to hide the projectors behind Noelle but they don't like their odds.

Permalink Eye

It's not as though they can meaningfully hurt her through the Crawler shade. She removes the original Genesis from the fleshy mass and has her other two shades mop up the detritus.

Permalink Eye

Maybe they could eventually come up with something Crawler had never been exposed to. But it's not as if they had time to experiment.

Noelle looks sick, not without reason, but she kept her head throughout and can confirm that some of those were clones of clones. So that's that question answered, she adds.

Permalink Eye

Yes.

Does she have any degree of control over the clones?

Permalink Eye

Not directly. None have ever tried to hurt her and she thinks they'd try to protect her, but she can't puppet them or enforce orders. Clones of Genesis would probably respect her tactical judgment because Genesis does.

Permalink Eye

If she makes a new clone now, will it also attack her?

Permalink Eye

Probably. Now that the original knows she'd just kill the clone, so will any subsequent clones.

Permalink Eye

Kind of puts a damper on experimentation. Well, she can still go slowly and see if any interesting powers crop up. After all, she doesn't care about physical appearances.

Permalink Eye

Noelle suggests using a clone as the source in place of the original. It might mean more variation, in addition to letting Genesis not have her wrist stuck sinking into monster.

Permalink Eye

Worth testing. As long as the clone will remain docile for the duration.

Permalink Eye

She won't, but can't actually do much about it with all four appendages stuck.

 

Eventually Burnscar drops in, having gotten bored with the planning since it basically amounts to who's going where, and volunteers to be cloned because why not.

Permalink Eye

Sure, could be interesting. Let her just clear away this clone first.

Permalink Eye

Burnscar clones all have different varieties of the power. Hotter and a different color flame. Faster acting mental changes. Finer control with less firepower. Water instead of fire. That one has a shade that looks like something to do with the mover power part, but it's hard to tell for sure because she vanishes right away.

Permalink Eye

...That was maybe a predictable variation. They should go inform Jack of this new complication.

Permalink Eye

"Well. That's not good. Cherish, do you think you can correct your colleagues' mistake?"

"I wasn't watching there, wouldn't recognize the clone's mind unless it stands out in a crowd..."

"If the emotions looks like Burnscar's when she's been using her power?"

"Then definitely not; there's hardly any emotion there."

 

"Then we have a problem. We can devise a punishment for you two later, for now we need to move before Burnscar's evil twin sets anything in motion. Burnscar, you're with Shatterbird and Mannequin going after the Teeth. Get a cape other than Butcher, it doesn't really matter which one. If you can do it without being recognized so much the better. The Keres is with Cherish, getting whatever heroes are on patrol at the moment—I want them alive, no disintegrations—while the Siberian and I handle the Ambassadors. Bonesaw will take Blasto easily, I expect."

Permalink Eye

She nods acknowledgement.

Presumably Cherish handles tracking down the heroes?

Permalink Eye

That and making sure they don't radio base until it's too late. The fact that these are the non-recognizable members of the Nine makes that easier.

Or it should.

"Scared and urgent. They're running back to HQ. The emergency is probably us, maybe Accord saw Jack and called them."

Permalink Eye

"Or the clone was spotted. We need to cut them off, prevent them from getting back."

Permalink Eye

"I could make them stop running, I don't think I could do that and stop them from saying something weird over comms. Think you can fake being the Travelers? A false trail can't hurt."

Permalink Eye

"As long as they don't see me or the shades. Drop a sun in their path, jerk them around."

Permalink Eye

"I'll distract them. And keep them down once they think they know what's going on. Can you get me near them like Trickster would do it?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes." She calls up the relevant shades. "Are you ready?"

Permalink Eye

"Ready."

Permalink Eye

She waits a moment until the heroes pass an appropriate trash can, then swaps it for Cherish, and conjures a burning orb in front of them.

Permalink Eye

One of the heroes suddenly thinks she's extremely distracting, and the other doesn't literally mistake her for his younger sister but reacts as if he had. No time to come up with something more original. Both rush to pull her away from Sundancer's sun. She lets them.

 

They start looking around for the Travelers, confusedly so after the first time Keres swaps them. Probably means they've called it in. So some complete hopelessness and despondency, always a good standby when you want someone to go inactive. Bit of an effort to maintain, though.

"They're down. Do you have anything to get their comms disabled?"

Permalink Eye

Does her systems tinker have any insight?

Permalink Eye

Yes, they can be silenced by taking the microphones and stepping on them.

Permalink Eye

She had already thought of that herself, she was wondering if there was a less obvious approach. But whatever, the direct route works.

Permalink Eye

Now for the bit where they have to move two prisoners, one of them heavily armored. "The plan was to get a ride from Shatterbird, but if they already know we're here you could just go all Crawler again. Probably."

She checks that they do actually know that. Interrogation is so much simpler when you can skip straight to the "gibbering wreck" stage and they can't think of lying. It's less know than suspect, but that's probably close enough.

Permalink Eye

Crawler form it is. She's more than strong enough this way to move everyone.

Permalink Eye

The heroes aren't physically restrained, but for some reason they don't feel like doing anything other than holding on for dear life.

 

Cherish suggests using Trickster's power for the last bit, in case anyone was following the highly visible Crawler.

Permalink Eye

She de-shifts from Crawler before doing that. Things of that size are easier to notice being displaced.

Permalink Eye

There are mostly human-mass sandbags lying around with an open line of sight. Presumably for Trickster's use. Swapping the heavily armored hero is harder and less accurate, but the counterweights get as big as some of Genesis' forms. It'll do.

Permalink Eye

Is anyone else back yet?

Permalink Eye

Jack and the Siberian are. They've brought in a cape in a black and white mask. He's badly injured and Jack occasionally cuts him again. (He promises there's a reason but it's not  obvious what.) The group that went after the Teeth managed to get the force field generator by the simple expedient of blasting glass around until it broke all the force fields. They did get recognized and killed people on the way out, but none of them was Butcher. Bonesaw arrives shortly after Ellie and Cherish, with Blasto being carried unconscious by one of his own creations.

Their own prizes are apparently Adamant, a short-range metallokinetic who uses it to essentially give himself power armor, and Hunch, a precog of some kind. The name might be an admission that he's unreliable or just a self-deprecating reference to his humpbacked appearance.

Permalink Eye

They'll be able to find out soon enough.

Best get to cloning if they want passable doubles.

Permalink Eye

No double will fool Accord. The heroes probably have ways to detect impersonation; the first pair of clones will be able to say whether they could pass with Bonesaw's help. Fooling the Teeth could work, if it weren't completely implausible that Vex would escape from the Nine. Blasto they can straightforwardly replace. 

But they don't actually need to sabotage from the inside. A supremely powerful psychological weapon can do a lot even without impersonating anyone. To cloning!

Permalink Eye

And hopefully they're not immediately hostile?

Permalink Eye

Jack had to make it clear they don't plan to kill any of the clones. Their other goals are to defend Noelle and wreak some targeted havoc, and as far as they know Noelle is an ally of the Nine.

(Doesn't mean they can't kill clones, but not until they don't need any further cooperation. On the way out at the latest.)

 

The Adamant and Hunch clones do think they can pass for the originals if Bonesaw corrects the deformities. They'd need a plausible way to have gotten less captured... (Cherish suggests saying the Nine have a master with them who can hijack people's bodies, and that Hunch guessed at how to block it with an appropriate metal hat.) The heroes' source is probably evil Burnscar, evil Hunch thinks, but a good enough impersonation should work even if the heroes know what to look for.

Permalink Eye

So they could send the hero clones off to do some inside sabotage. Does Bonesaw need any potion-based help with the surgeries?

Permalink Eye

Not really, but she's happy to have it. Too bad they still need the original Blasto for making clones of.

The end results look indistinguishable as far as any of the Nine can tell. At Hunch's suggestion, they make another who won't go in. They could use the extra precog cover.

And when they're on their way with suggestions about priority targets, Jack gives Shatterbird the signal. No glass anywhere here? Good.

Permalink Eye

Her drones are hardened against that. It seemed a natural precaution.

Permalink Eye

It's a high note, rising continually higher and louder than Shatterbird herself could sing. Seen from above, it looks like a cloud of broken glass billowing out from below her. There aren't very many capes who are on par with a natural disaster in their own right, and Shatterbird takes pride in being one of them.

It doesn't last very long. Each window pane or television screen can only transmit the sound for so long before it explodes. The cloud turns into a ring, and continues expanding until nearly everything glass in the city is shattered.

And the Nine have officially arrived.

Permalink Eye

Yes, very impressive and certainly demoralizing for the enemy. (But she's here because Jack promised parahumans to kill. Spreading terror and fear is more of an incidental thing.)

Permalink Eye

The easiest and most anticlimactic way of doing that would be to accept an invitation to the inevitable truce meeting and just kill every non-clone at the table. Has she checked whether she can use her death touch through a Genesis projection? If not they could disguise her as Sundancer for a little while. The Othello clone is spying on the Ambassadors and can tell them when and where...

If they go that route they'll have to create some spectacle later to make up for it.

Permalink Eye

She can't deathtouch through her shades. Genesis's power doesn't obviously seem like it would create an exception.

Every power she collects only makes her more capable of spectacle.

Permalink Eye

The Keres doesn't look anything like Sundancer, of course. Bonesaw could give her cosmetic surgeries until she fits perfectly into a spare costume, which is an extreme step to take but technically an option. (Someone like Accord would probably see through it in short order anyway, but not instantly. And the Othello says he wouldn't come in person.)

Permalink Eye

But Sundancer wouldn't go alone. And if she has a shade out to fill a spot, it'll be obvious that she's an imposter.

Permalink Eye

Jack can be Trickster. He's got no serious objection to being shorter and worse looking for a good cause. (Not that they know what Trickster looked like under the mask, he jokes, but they don't need to.) If the Keres can't use a shade, that just means they can't have her be Genesis as well as Sundancer. Fortunately, they have infinite Geneses.

Permalink Eye

Most of whom would rather kill Ellie than work with her. But Jack has shown himself to be a skilled negotiator.

Permalink Eye

This one's harder than most clones because everyone she especially wants dead is already dead. But she doesn't begrudge Ellie wanting to kill her; she wants to kill everyone. Most everyone, at least. And this is a good way to strike against every faction especially Accord. She walks out the door with some of Genesis' civilian clothes and is perfectly willing to work remotely.

Permalink Eye

Then all they need is a bit of surgery and confirmation on the time and place.

Permalink Eye

A lot of surgery, but that's trivial.

The scheduling doesn't take long. It's an emergency.

Accord doesn't come. He's sending Citrine instead, his top Ambassador and also the trump Ellie wanted. He of course has a plan for dealing with the Nine, but Othello doesn't know what's in it. It probably requires a lot of cooperation, so Cherish loiters within range making sure everyone dislikes each other more than usual.

Even to a truce like this, sending a single representative is an expression of confidence. The Teeth don't do that. Butcher is there, flanked by Spree and Animos, the self-duplicator and the changer with the power-nullifying scream. The obvious two for backup in case the meeting goes wrong.

Blasto has his own seat at the table. The person in it, with some of his half-tree-half-bear creations standing in the background, isn't the original Blasto. 

The heroes don't have much of a presence in Boston because of low crime. (Accord always takes credit for this.) Praetor, the leader of the local team, has hard-light powers that come with too much of a delay to be really high-level. Dynamo would be more useful to Ellie; she stores up kinetic energy whenever she's moving. Next to them is a masked figure in a Protectorate temporary costume. No one recognizes her except Ellie, who can cheat. Her shade is the same as the escaped Burnscar clone.

Permalink Eye

Citrine and Animos are likely to be the biggest problems, she should prioritize them. Then Spree, Dynamo, and Praetor. Butcher... She doesn't want to try killing Butcher. Not without significant precog support for the idea.

If they have the Burnscar, the Protectorate knows that the real Travellers are dead. As long as they haven't told the other factions, they'll have to explain themselves before attacking. Might be possible to try to spin that so it looks like the Protectorate is just grabbing an excuse to eliminate a gang.

Permalink Eye

It might!

As soon as the Travelers arrive, Praetor shouts. "EVERYONE, YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! Impostors—" he points them out. Fortunately it would be in character for Trickster to object, so Jack does, and suddenly there's shouting and even powers pointed at both factions. Animos is transformed but vacillating between targets; Citrine looks unreservedly certain that Praetor is telling the truth.

Permalink Eye

Maybe this fear and chaos thing is a little fun after all.

The Genesis is big enough that she can manifest a shade behind it and not have that be instantly noticed, at least. Get Trickster's, swap Jack for Citrine, kill her. If they're going to start something. She looks to Jack for a cue.

Permalink Eye

He's mostly just enjoying the fear and chaos thing. While being certain not to give any cues that Trickster is enjoying the fear and chaos thing.

He surreptitiously slices a piece off the end of Trickster's inexplicable suit coat and whispers swap her mask.

Permalink Eye

Whose, Citrine's? That'd be almost pointl- ah. The Burnscar's. That is a good idea.

Shade out, scrap cloth for mask, shade away. Hardly a flicker.

Permalink Eye

Flop.

The non-mask falls down, and now the undecideds are menacing the Protectorate. That's the Teeth and enough of an excuse for Blasto. The heroes try to explain, but if there's a way of producing evil twins the Burnscar is probably evil, and if it's in the hands of the Nine why would they make one who's against them... Introducing her as "Phoenix" does little to defuse the situation.

No one has started shooting yet but that's kind of a low bar for an alliance.

 

Permalink Eye

Heh.

But a simple not-alliance isn't the only goal here, she also wants to kill some people...

Permalink Eye

Everything goes silent. Citrine's voice rings out, "The Travelers have a sixth member. Clones she makes want their originals dead, followed by their friends and family and then as much destruction as they can manage. Phoenix probably didn't tell the Protectorate the last part." 

 

Blasto plays his part well. "I seem to recall something about a rule. Using powers violates the truce, anyone else remember that?" "So we kick her out," Jack says, "and then get on with this."

"Of course he wants me gone." Citrine. "He's a clone of the real Trickster."

"I assure you I'm not a clone. And, a secret teammate with an incredibly convenient power? Really?"

"He's not," the Burnscar clone says. "Trickster's dead and Noelle's power only works on live people."

 

Jack is having far too much fun to stop, but there's at least one person at the table that Ellie could frame for shooting first.

Permalink Eye

She considers her options for a brief moment.

Then appears one of her own copies of Burnscar in the same hidden spot and causes a wreath of flame to spring up around Phoenix, which spits out a fireball aimed at "Trickster". She quickly steps between and absorbs the blast with her body, harmlessly.

Permalink Eye

Things're already tense. That sparks it. The Teeth fire on the Protectorate delegation while Blasto shouts to his creations. Citrine does...something...and looks surprised when Jack starts bleeding from suddenly appearing cuts instead of teleporting uncontrollably. Once Spree uses his power it's instant chaos; that power is good for precisely one tactic, which is rushing the enemy.

Jack hasn't bothered to attack yet, but Genesis is using wide-angle breath attacks that can just happen to hit Citrine as well as the heroes.

Permalink Eye

Ellie brings out Trickster's shade and swaps people so that Citrine is being more definitively hit by the breath, and adds Sundancer's fire orb to the midst of those happenings.

Permalink Eye

That's three new shades, one of them a trump. The Burnscar clone was immune to heat, of course, and teleporting out while the getting was good.

The Teeth try to object that lethal force was a bit extreme, but by now the Teeth are outnumbered.

Permalink Eye

And the only trick is going to be getting Animos and Spree without tagging Butcher. Most of her powers are a little too unfocused.

Permalink Eye

Butcher is also tougher; if she wanted to go for it they'd probably die in the right order, but that's a bit of a risk. The main advantage is they aren't expecting another attack. Jack is saying something or other in character as Trickster. They aren't believing him at face value but it means she has time to strategize.

Permalink Eye

What's the range of capability on her new trump?

Permalink Eye

It targets an area and alters some characteristic. Friction, gravity, even time. The trump aspect is because if she finds the right wavelength, so to speak, she can make a specific power stronger or weaker, or even uncontrolled.

Permalink Eye

Are the Teeth stacked tightly enough that she can get them all at once?

Permalink Eye

If there's something she has in mind that she wants to do to all of them. It's a pretty wide area. Won't get all of Spree's clones, but they're not much of a threat without him anyway.

Permalink Eye

She wants to slow time way down for all of them, then use the dead bodies as counterweights to switch out Animos and Spree and deathtouch them. Any obvious reasons for this plan to fail?

Permalink Eye

Citrine's power thinks she can do it. It'll take some extra fine-tuning to make sure Trickster's power works across the boundary, but she's got time. Butcher is busy arguing with Jack and Blasto about why the Protectorate was in league with Accord and whether that was the real Burnscar.

Permalink Eye

Then she'll take the time, and set it up properly. Nice and neat, and the opportunity for a clean getaway from Butcher.

Permalink Eye

As soon as she does it Jack takes off Trickster's mask. "Told you it'd be easy. I do want to see what Bonesaw can come up with for this one. If you could shut down her teleportation?"

Permalink Eye

"If you like." She brings out Animos, and aims it at Butcher, dismissing Citrine's field.

Permalink Eye

She's probably going to have to keep reapplying that until they get back to Hatchet Face, but it's functional. Blasto leaves in a different direction, telling Jack he's going to spread the word that the Teeth started it by opening fire on Citrine.

Permalink Eye

It's the best solution she has. She keeps the effect active on the way back.

"That was enjoyable."

Permalink Eye

"Extremely.

Plus we've beheaded most of the opposition. A predictable success all around, really."

Permalink Eye

"Will they bring in reinforcements?"

Permalink Eye

"The Protectorate definitely will. Legend, probably. We do rate Triumvirate interference and he's closest. Accord might bring backup too; he does have allies outside the city."

Permalink Eye

"Good."

Permalink Eye

"Legend is fairly hard to kill."

Permalink Eye

"One never knows until one tries."

Permalink Eye

"That's the spirit! Of course, he hasn't managed to beat us either."

When they get back, Bonesaw starts gleefully investigating the inside of Butcher's head. And now they don't need the original Blasto anymore, so the Keres can join in! (It's not actually that much help. Blasto's plant-animal hybrids may be mechanically interesting, but plants don't have much neurology. Not that this is what Bonesaw would want to hear.)

Permalink Eye

Alas. Still, it is important to face reality as it is. Bonesaw will have to come to terms with remaining a uniquely gifted generalist in this field. Ellie will still offer what knowledge she can share, limited as it may be.

Permalink Eye

It's still just a matter of time. Maybe they can hit the Toybox later for that one brain tinker.

Permalink Eye

She is not averse to the idea.

Permalink Eye

Bonesaw thinks she could arrange for someone to kill the Butcher safely. Safely-ish. It'd be by constructing them a bunch of redundant neural pathways, and deactivating them as soon as the Butcher powers jump. They other fourteen personalities would still be there, just locked out of actually affecting anything or talking to the holder.

But safely killing the Butcher isn't interesting enough. She'll come up with something.

Permalink Eye

If the person who 'safely' killed the Butcher in that way was themself killed by someone else, would that person then get the full fifteen personalities with no barrier?

Permalink Eye

Oh yeah definitely. Unless someone did the same for them.

Permalink Eye

It could be quite interesting to arrange for one of the heroes to unexpectedly inherit the mantle of Butcher.

Permalink Eye

Bonesaw grins. That sounds like a plan. Not the hero part; that happened before and didn't do much, but the unexpectedness. If she keeps the Butcher unconscious but stably alive and hanging by a thread, they just have to arrange for the heroes to have some collateral damage...

And for that they need to know where the heroes are going to be. Well, Jack did want a spectacle.

Permalink Eye

Has he had any ideas for what the particular nature of that might be?

Permalink Eye

He's thinking the Protectorate base. They're down a couple members and this wasn't their most heavily garrisoned city in the first place; capturing it should be pretty doable. If they declare victory while sitting in there, preferably nice and dramatically, it'd have to carry some extra weight. Liberal application of fire and glass at scale, and they can be sure of getting attention.

Permalink Eye

Sounds like fun. And they have a pair of moles inside already.

Permalink Eye

And as much extra firepower as they need.

They could walk in right now and the non-mole Boston Protectorate couldn't do much about it. None of them had really fantastic powers and numbers won't save them. The only question is whether Legend came in person ahead of the reinforcements from New York or Brockton Bay.

Permalink Eye

Is that a question their precog has an answer to?

Permalink Eye

Hunch's guess is more of the form "I have a good feeling about this," so probably no Legend yet.

Permalink Eye

Then it sounds like they're good to go.

Permalink Eye

Unless they resurrect Crawler first!