Taylor never won.
It was a simple fact of life at this point. And this, right here, was the ultimate loss. Because she knew, from the bottom of her heart, that the girls had finally stepped over one of the last lines in the sand that could be drawn. This was a step above humiliation, and showed a simple willingness to continue escalating past what Taylor could possibly deal with.
Today, being shoved into a locker filled with used tampons and pads and bugs and blood. Tomorrow... what would tomorrow bring? What would they think of worse than this? Whatever it was, Emma, Sophia, the others, they finally pushed through her limits. There was no way out for her anymore. No way she could win. She would suffer until she was dead.
She had tried giving up, but it just made her suffer more. She had tried fighting back, but she didn't have the power. She was powerless. The weakest person in the world.
But that made her the strongest.
"Do you think she got out yet?" Sophia asked as they wandered nearby Taylor's locker.
"She's not screaming, at least." Madison said.
"Maybe she likes it in there."
As they came nearby, they watched it, and noticed something off. "It doesn't smell." Sophia said suddenly.
All at once, the door of the locker twisted and crunched as thirteen screws the size of basket balls punctured the locker from the inside out. The shredded remains of the door hit the floor in front of the three girls, and they watched in horror as Taylor pulled herself out of the opening, looking eerily calm and completely clean. The locker was empty, not a single sign of what they had done. Then, between her eyes blinking and opening again, the twisted locker door was back where it belonged.
"Shit. Shit, get behind me, both of you." Sophia said, backing up.
"What's wrong Sophia?" Taylor asked, then she smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes, "Man, that was a funny prank, wasn't it? Good work, it must have taken a while to put together. I didn't figure out how to get out until just a moment ago!"
"Bullshit, you were waiting for us to walk by."
"If you think so."
"Taylor, what the fuck did you do?"
"What? I didn't do anything." she said, "I mean, I really didn't. I didn't do anything to deserve any of this."
"Shut up-" all three girls were slammed into the wall, massive screws impaling them to the wall, crucifying all three at once. And then they were back on the ground, in no pain at all. There were no screws, no holes, no damage to even the wall behind them.
"What was that?" Madison asked quietly.
"You have powers! You used them on us!" Sophia growled, "That means I'm allowed to do this!" she leaped forward, turning to shadow form, and solidified just long enough for her fist to knock Taylor back against the wall.
"No I didn't. I didn't do anything, and it's not my fault." Taylor said, her serene expression unchanged. Her false smile still there.
Sophia, snarling, began to hit, and punch, and kick, while Emma hurriedly called the police. Taylor fought back, a little, summoning more screws, but Sophia simply melted around them, not taking a single strike herself. Soon, Taylor was a mass of bruises, broken bones, and messed-up clothing. Her glasses laid crushed on the floor. Sophia, breathing hard, had blood on her knuckles, and a scrap of Taylor's clothes in her clenched fist.
"Ow." Taylor said, casually, without much feeling. "Oh well, it looks like I lost again."
"Fuck yes you lost." Sophia growled, "Because even though you're a Cape now, you don't have shit on me! You having powers changes nothing, Hebert! Cause I'm standing here, and you're on the ground, and that's how it'll always be, got it?!"
"Stand down!" Armsmaster roared.
"Don't worry, I already have her taken care of-" Sophia began, before absently reaching for her face, skin touching skin. No mask, no gloves. She had outed herself.
She glanced to the left and right, and saw students staring at her, wide-eyed. Enraged, she turned back to Hebert, who- the fake calm and fake smile were gone, she looked utterly miserable, tears flowing freely from her eyes. "Y-You bitch! You set me up!" Sophia growled, grabbing Taylor's shirt and lifting her by it, Taylor was a little taller than her, but she was all bones, Sophia could have thrown her, if she wanted. She shook Taylor then, and Taylor let out a pained gasp, before going limp in Sophia's grip.
"Hess, put the girl down right now."
"She- She's a Parahuman!" Sophia said, "She attacked me! Me and Emma and Madison! They called you, didn't they?"
"Whatever the case, you won. You beat her. This is just overkill. Now put her down." Armsmaster barked again, and his halberd crackled, lit up like a Tesla coil with electricity.
She didn't need to be told a fourth time. She dropped Taylor, who remained limp, and put her hands up as Armsmaster marched over to her and handcuffed her in front of everyone. "She attacked us. With- with these screw things. They vanished, afterwards, and-" she looked down at herself, at where she knew she had been pierced through by it, and saw she didn't have a mark on her. And in the fight afterwards, Taylor hadn't been able to get in any more hits, because Sophia was just that good, and because of her power, "She destroyed her locker, but then, she fixed it, after." she said, "Maybe she reverses time, or something. No... that doesn't feel right, she-"
"Quiet." Armsmaster said.
She was quiet.
Emily Piggot looked through the pictures, and the testimony. "...Well, I'm not sure what to make of this, Shadow Stalker."
"Not done yet." Piggot snapped, and Sophia sunk back down into her seat, "We've gone over your own account of what happened, but the facts simply remain: First and foremost, you and your friend Emma seem to be the only ones who saw any Parahuman activity at all. Miss Clements, who you claim was right with you, denies any of it happened."
"She's lying. To cover her own ass."
"Yes, so that she doesn't feel the fallout for this 'prank' you described. The one we couldn't find evidence of."
"She- she must have got rid of it all!"
"Why?" Piggot shook her head, "And I don't mean just why she would get rid of the evidence if her goal was to frame you, I'm also wondering why you'd admit to something so horrible, especially when there's no evidence it happened."
"It caused her to trigger!"
"That can't be the case, because Taylor Hebert is not a Parahuman." Piggot said, "We have the MRI and X-Rays to prove it. She has the potential, but she is absolutely not one currently."
That had Sophia simply looking flummoxed.
Piggot continued, "We found evidence at her home detailing an ongoing account of bullying perpetrated by you and your friend against her, this fits in line with what we saw, which was you assaulting her in the middle of the school, out of costume. Emma also claims to have filled the locker with waste, but no one else who was supposedly in on it has admitted anything, and there's nothing connecting them to it anyway." she began to look angry, "I'm confused, and I'd like for someone to start making sense."
"But- but it had to be her! I... I saw her, and-"
"She genuinely believes that Hebert is a Parahuman, who attacked her. She also believes she committed the... 'prank' that apparently caused the so-called Trigger Event."
"Hm." Piggot shook her head, "Then Master-Stranger Protocols." she sighed, "We should have done this earlier, as soon as she used her powers in public without realizing."
"You- you think I was Mastered? Hebert must have-"
"Was obviously the intended victim. Either that, or she was a casualty of what was likely an successful attempt to make you out yourself." Piggot said, "Armsmaster, take Shadow Stalker and bring her to the isolation cells. Have Emma Barnes located, as well as Madison Clements. Explain to their guardians what we think happened, and arrange for Emma Barnes and her friend to be isolated as well, since they were present. Contact the hospital to isolate the Hebert girl as well."
Taylor opened her eyes, and quickly gave herself a once over. She was in a great deal of pain, her body had taken a massive amount of harm.
She could, very easily, simply make it so that it had never happened, but she kind of liked it. She had been treated, at the very least, and given some drugs, and her clothes had been taken, replaced with a hospital smock.
She was a little sad that her father would be upset- she really didn't want to be a bother for him, but there was no way he hadn't been told. But then... she could take that away as well. Make all of it a simple fiction. His pain, her pain.
But... not yet.
She'd let Sophia soak in her own fury for a bit. Taylor had lost, but that didn't mean that Sophia won. No. Sophia wasn't going back to Winslow, she was going to have to be taken to some other city, with a fresh identity other than her precious "Shadow Stalker". Hah! If Taylor had any luck, she'd count herself lucky that Sophia was a Parahuman, a Ward. She had been hoping that Sophia would simply get caught by a teacher for doing a level of damage that couldn't be ignored or blamed on someone else. But now, now she had gotten Sophia in trouble with the entire Protectorate!
It was almost enough to make her smile.
She waited in isolation for days, and kept up the innocent act, until the PRT gave up looking for signs of 'continued control' or anything else. They apologized profusely to her for Shadow Stalker's actions- both her most recent beating, as well as the last 18 months of abuse, and when she finally got to meet her Dad again, he was told that she had been told the same thing.
Dad was, of course, miserable. But he was like her, in many ways. Danny Hebert may shrivel, break, and shut down, in the face of adversity, a true loser, like her, but he didn't give up. Even now, he was trying to rebuild their relationship, and even decades later he was trying to rebuild the docks.
It wasn't his fault he failed in both of those things.
She was nice to him. She kept her most genuine smile up for most of the night, helped him with dinner, ate together, and even put on a movie they hadn't watched in a long time. It was pleasant, and awkward, and full of unspoken feelings. She waited until he had fallen asleep before she started erasing evidence of her existence from his memories and from the house. She packed a full suit-case of things she didn't want to leave behind, like clothes and maybe a keep-sake or two. Then she removed her room, her bed, her personal effects, every trace of herself became a simple fiction.
She had already gone ahead and erased her own records at the hospital, and the school, the city, and the PRT. She didn't touch any other memories beside her Dad's, but she almost wanted to see the shitstorm of Master-Stranger Protocols that would follow.
Leaping from the window, she landed, broke her legs in the process, and then decided that breaking her legs had been a fiction, and walked happily along the street. Her new life was ahead of her.
For too long, people like Sophia, the winners of the world, had shit upon everyone else. Not that she cared for 'everyone else' but it still was something she found disgusting. Some people, like her, were born losers, and that wasn't their fault, they didn't do anything. So maybe, she would erase all the winners. Make the world a place of nothing but losers. A place where everyone else was as miserable as her...
Or maybe she'd do something else entirely.