Don’t go near the Reaches. The Noumu lurk.
Izuku huffed and gripped at his notebook tighter, staying to the walls as he quietly walked. This part of town was deserted thanks to its proximity, buildings and homes abandoned, and it meant his walk was silent except for his own steps.
He glanced at the grey sky and back over his shoulder, squinting at the lights of Musutafu proper. He was far out now. Not much longer until he reached the edges.
Musutafu was large. There were over a hundred thousand residents, all with varied Quirks, and a diversity that wasn’t seen in the outer reaches of the land. They had just enough greenhouses and surrounding area to support the metropolis located in the middle of the abandoned districts, and were purported to be the most advanced city in the region.
Purported, because any contact with the outside world had been lost over half a decade ago.
A howl went out through the ruins, and Izuku froze, head darting this way and that as he waited to see if whatever it was would jump out at him. Nothing. He continued on his way. He only had a few more hours before someone noticed he was gone, and it wouldn’t be much long after that before they raised the alarm. He had to hurry.
He walked. And walked, and walked, until the road began to widen, and sink, and finally, the ground started to slope before abruptly dropping, buildings and rubble cascading down into a shadowy ravine. Izuku walked to the edge of the asphalt, peering down into the blackness. He could see shapes moving in the darkness, barely visible. Some of them were the size of his fingernail. Others, his hand. He shivered at what that implied.
Then, he looked for a safe way down.
The Outer Reaches were taboo to speak about. Taboo to discuss, taboo to mention, taboo to think about . No one wanted to bring up the reason for the city’s slow death. No one wanted to destroy the image of hope they had.
Izuku had long given up on hope. He just wanted to survive.
He huffed as he dropped from a particularly large rock, grimacing as the impact shook his legs. The bottom of the ravine was shadowy, a constant haze obscuring your vision and dimming the colours of the surroundings. No matter. He came prepared. Izuku fumbled with his bag and pulled out the goggles Hatsume had given him, flicking them on. They came to life with a whir, and suddenly everything was bright as midday, his vision washed in whites and greys.
He had seen a particularly large cluster of Noumu off to the west while he was still climbing, so he went in that direction, keeping his steps light and looking around constantly. It was as silent here as it had been on the surface, the only noises those of far off beasts. He wanted to make a noise to break the oppressiveness of it, but. Not a good idea.
He hoped Aizawa-sensei wouldn’t be mad, if he- oh who was he kidding, Aizawa was going to find out the instant he didn’t come back to the dorms on time, and he was going to have the shit beat out of him and be put on house arrest. Again. The Watcher still hadn’t relaxed from what had happened to Tsuyu and Katsuki, and this was just going to make it infinitely worse. Izuku shivered at the memories, images of a many-handed thing reaching towards him flicking through his mind before he forcefully pushed them away. No, he wasn’t going to focus on that. He had a mission.
There was a scratching, and Izuku froze, ducking into one of the more untouched buildings as he held his breath. The noise paused, before there was the sound of clicking, going higher and higher... It eventually faded out, and he sighed out slowly. His hands were shaking, he dimly noted. How much adrenaline was he going to pump through his poor heart before the end of this?
Izuku eventually found the group he had been searching for. They were twisted things, like everything else down here, masks welded to their faces through some gruesome process and unnatural limbs sprouting from them. One of them had a mouth that stretched from nose to neck, lips stretching back to where its jaw ended. Another had vines for hair, wrapped round its mouth and keeping it from speaking. There was one whose arms seemed more like tumours, bulging and bone jutting from its knuckles.
The seeming ringleader was more humanoid than the rest, for all that it still had a beak and flaky, blackened skin. But… no. He narrowed his eyes, peering at thing’s back and holding back the urge to gag. Whenever it’d been taken, it had been with a child. And it hadn’t let go. The poor waif was haphazardly fused to him, jutting from his back like a hump. Izuku could just make out where the child must have grabbed on, arms wrapped around a neck, and hurriedly looked away. As long- as long as he didn’t focus on what it was, he could take notes. He could do this.
He couldn’t hear what they were saying, if it was anything comprehensible in the first place, but it was enough to sketch them, noting any possible weaknesses in their anatomy and any abilities they may have. He glanced up when one of them hissed, watching as the group looked off into the distance. There was a murmur among them, and the leader jerked his head, lurching to his feet. Thankfully, they didn’t head in his direction, lurching north instead. But, if they were worried about something… He should get going too.
Izuku shoved his notebook into his bag, beginning to loop back the way he came. A far-off roar sounded in the distance, and he shivered, sighing as he walked under an old, decrepit bridge. It really was creepy down here, but it made him wonder. What had this all looked like when it was still uncorrupt-?
The ground shook, and he had a split second to jump back as a manhole in front of him exploded outward, black, fluorescent sludge rocketing out. God, no no no noono no he stumbled backwards, fighting not to trip, turning to run because he had to get away from whatever this was-
“ Gyehehe, you think running’s going to help you, boy?” Sludge shot out and wrapped around his ankle, yanking and sending him slamming into the pavement, crawling up his legs and closer to his face no no no , “ I’ve got to thank you, really. That freak’s been tailing me for days, and you’re the perfect disguise. So why don’t you just make it easier for us both and let me ride you outta here?” Sludge in his mouth, he gagged, scrabbled, but it slipped through his fingers, choking, taking , and he made a mistake coming here, fuck, he couldn’t hit the SOS, he was going to die here with no one knowing where he was, a Noumu cackling as it rode him and attacked everyone he loved-
There was an almighty hiss, and a flash of blinding light in the goggles, the Noumu screeching and releasing him abruptly. Izuku fell to the ground coughing, clutching at his throat and thanking every god that he’d thought abandoned them, squinting through the tears in his eyes as the light faded. There was a hulking form, writhing and glowing as it stood over what remained of the Noumu. Izuku stared at it, caught a glimpse of what could have been horns and glowing eyes, before it took notice of his attention and flinched, turning and bounding away. He ripped off the goggles just in time to catch a hint of yellow and pink before it disappeared completely.
Izuku slowly calmed his breathing and thought of nothing for a long while.
He got back ten minutes before curfew. Aizawa-sensei stared at him long and hard when he stumbled into the common room, but Izuku had made sure to bring a spare set of clothes and clean himself up before he came in, so the only sign anything was wrong was his own pallor. Finally, the Watcher tsked, shuffling him inside with the others.
The commons was rowdy, Kirishima yelling about something he’d taken down with Toyomitsu-sensei and Amajiki-san while Yuuga and Kyouka cooked and tried to shove the others out of the kitchen. Ochako and Todoroki waved from the couches when they caught sight of him. He smiled weakly back, and ignored their frowns as he hurried to his room.
They were outside his door not a few minutes later, because of course they were. They knew him well enough to tell when something was deeply wrong. He let them in, closing the door as Ochako claimed his bed and Todoroki settled against the window.
“What did you do?”
Izuku glanced at Todoroki, grimacing. “What makes you think I did something?” The heterochromatic man gave him a flat look.
“The last time you had that look on your face, Tenya lost an arm and we were nearly killed fighting Stain.” Ah. Yeah. Izuku hesitated, shuffling a few blueprints on his desk.
“I need you not to yell.” Their faces pulled down with dread. “Please don’t look like that.”
“Deku, what did you do?”
“I- everyone’s going on about how it’s getting harder to predict them, and how the Watchers are needing to do more and more patrols- they’re letting us come along on them, for god’s sake- and I thought, maybe, maybe if we could observe before they attack-” Their faces went slack. Izuku winced. “Uh.”
“ You went into the Outer Reaches!? ”
“Shh!” He slapped a hand over Ochako’s mouth, glancing back at the door. No pause in the noise downstairs; good. “Don’t say it out loud- do you want Aizawa-sensei to kill me?”
“I don’t see why it matters to you, considering you don’t seem to care whether you live or die.” He sent a wounded look to Todoroki, who ignored it. “You’re lucky you weren’t discovered, by the professors or the Noumu.” He hesitated for a moment too long, and Todoroki closed his eyes. “You were discovered, weren’t you.”
“On- on my way back. There was a liquid-based one that, that tried to uhm. Use me as a vessel.” There was a heavy pause at that.
“Deku, how are you-?”
“I don’t know. Something else- something killed it, and didn’t attack me. But- but even if that happened, I was able to get information , there was a whole group of them and I was able to analyse them, didn’t have to wait until we were protecting civilians and infrastructure-” He pulled out his notebook, opening it and passing it over to them. “ Look , look at how much I was able to write!”
They looked. The hesitation and revulsion was clear on their faces, but the sketches and notes couldn’t be refuted; this sort of information wouldn’t have been gathered until after a battle normally, until it was too late to prepare for it.
“Midoriya… You know how much you’re risking doing this, right? It’s forbidden to go to the Reaches for a reason. If my father or Hakamata, or Aizawa, find out, you’re going to be put under suspicion of corruption immediately.” Izuku gave Todoroki a steady stare.
“Then I’ll just have to make sure they don’t.”
The information was sent to Nighteye later that night. The Watcher had been the only one he’d consulted in this, sure that he’d support it. Nighteye had grimly signed off on it all. He knew the dangers and advantages just as well as his apprentice.
He promised to forward it to the Watchers and leave out his source. They’d assume it was one of his drones, most likely, and that suited Izuku just fine.
The outskirts of town were as deserted as the first time. He walked more sure than he had before, going quick and silent down the road.
He was approaching from a different direction this time; before, he had gone north, to the edges of the residential district. This time, he had left through the financial district, slipping between the streets while Mirio created a distraction.
He had more in his backpack, this time; mace and a stun baton, for all that they wouldn’t do much. It was still more protection than the kevlar jumpsuit he had hidden beneath his clothes, and something he could use at more of a distance than the steel-lined shoes and gloves he wore. The goggles and notebooks from before were still with him, along with a rope he hadn’t thought to use the first time. Izuku was prepared.
There was no bridge to mark the beginning of the Reaches, here; instead, trees started to dot the landscape, cutting into concrete and taking over the urban sprawl. They were diseased things, blackened wood and creeping branches releasing a fog that couldn’t be explained. Maybe they had mutated, as the people here had? It was something to contemplate later.
He stopped at the edge of the woods, hesitating. This was different from the cityscape, he thought. It’d be significantly harder to find his way back. But, that was why he had the tracker and panic button sewn into his collar, wasn’t it?
Izuku sighed and slipped his goggles on, venturing slowly into the woods. Looking around, it was like a horror movie, the stark, inked outlines of the trees broken up by lighter greys. He could hear the occasional call or hiss deeper in, and kept the stun baton at the ready.
He walked and walked, keeping an eye out for anything. There were bones littering the ground, and the occasional scrap of clothing or other debris. He wondered, unnerved, how many people had tried to escape this way when they were first caged in. How many people had seen the forest that rose out of nowhere and decided to brave it instead of the ruins of the bridge?
It was a depressing thought.
A crack echoed through the woods and he froze, poised to the run. There was a scraping, the sound of something sharp digging into the earth, and he threw himself to the ground just as something lunged for him.
“You shouldn’t be here again. It’s dangerous. ” The voice was deep, a vibrating hiss that shook his body. He spun, foot shooting out, but the Noumu jumped away, climbing a tree faster than he could spot it. By the time he found it again, the only thing visible despite the goggles were multiple, glowing white dots. “ Leave .”
It wasn’t attacking. Why wasn’t it attacking? Here again. Again? Why again? He backed away, but the dots- pupils? - shrunk, the Noumu shifting forward as if ready to jump, and he froze again. What to do, what to do- distract?
“I need to collect data.” He carefully reached to his neck, rubbing it as if nervous. It was easy to press the button to activate his SOS signal. “Your kind keep attacking the city. We need to know how to stop you.” The Noumu made a noise, low and keening.
“I am not- not, no, no-no-no-no- ” There was a thud, and Izuku jumped, stun baton humming in his hand. But there was no movement, only a low groan, and something shifting in the dirt. “ I’m not one of them , I’m still me, I am-”
“Okay, okay, you’re not a Noumu, I’m sorry,” He hastened to say. The moaning tapered off, until they were left in the silence. He wished Mirio would hurry up. “You…” He squinted, pulled off the goggles, looking into the darkness and trying to catch sight of them on the ground and only seeing a lump. “...Are you the one from last week? The one who saved me from that sludge Noumu?”
They shifted, and- stood? Sat up? Glowing dots of blue swivelling and focusing on him. He shivered at the chill that ran down his back.
“Yes. You should not have been in the disaster zone. It is dangerous for civilians.” Izuku blinked. That wording was…
“I’m not a civilian.” Six of the dots high up on the figure- three pairs, the main eyes, likely- disappeared for a moment.
“You have no Quirk.”
“You don’t need a Quirk to be a Watcher.” They made a noise that almost sounded confused, and he had a feeling they were about to ask another question before there was yelling in the distance. They both perked up, Izuku because of the fact he could recognise it as Mirio and the being because of the noise.
“Do not come here again. For your own safety.”
“Wh-” There was the sound of something shifting, and suddenly pounding feet, and then he was alone again. Mirio yelled out again and he sighed, calling out, “Over here!”
As he waited for his colleague to find him, he tried to calm his shaking, and contemplated the strange encounter.
The being had claimed they weren’t a Noumu. There were two options- no, three. One, they were telling the truth, and weren’t a Noumu, but still not human, which was an unknown and dangerous factor. Two, they were human, and their Quirk was simply so monstrous they’d been forced out to the Reaches- something that had happened in the past when tensions ran high, as ashamed as he was to think about it.
Or three: They were a Noumu who had retained their sanity and personality, and the only known case of that in seven years.
No matter which it was, he was going to investigate further.