Two days after the fight with Sparticus, I woke up to the smell of frying bacon. That might not seem that unusual, but considering that there were only two people in the house who could actually cook anything resembling food with anything other than a campfire and both of them were currently using me as a plushy, I was understandably a little confused. I glanced down at the two Servants that were hugging my arms, took the opportunity to rub my face against Tamamo’s fuzzy ears, and dissolved into mist to escape their grip. I reformed at the door and glanced back, just in time to see Tamamo and Nero register my sudden disappearance and, in searching for the warmth they were apparently getting from my body, ended up shuffling into each others arms. I stared for a moment, then retrieve my phone to snap a picture and left the room.
I made my way into the kitchen and stopped in the doorway, mainly because what I saw was rather...unexpected. The mystery chef turned out to be Eve, but that wasn't what surprised me since she was really the only one it could have been. No, what surprised me was the fact that she was wearing a maid uniform instead of her normal dress.
Eve glanced up as I walked in and ducked her head in greeting.
“Hnn,” she grunted softly.
“Morning,” I said, “Whats with the outfit?”
Eve grunted and pointed in the direction of my room.
“Right, so one of those two put you up to it,” I muttered, “Somehow, that doesn't surprise me.”
“Well, as adorable as you look in that getup, you don't have to wear it,” I said.
Eve blushed and shook her head.
“Fair enough,” I said.
I was about to sit down at the table, but before I could, my Cape phone started buzzing.
“Hello, Alucard hear, who needs saving?” I said as I dropped onto the sofa.
“Good morning Alucard, this is Carol Dallon of New Wave,” said the person on the other end.
I sat up in surprise.
“Um, hello Brandish,” I said, “What can I do for you?”
“I understand that you contacted Victoria about a problem affecting Amy?” she asked, “Some form of addition, correct?”
“Thats right,” I said, “What could be causing it I don't know, but I dare say we could find out if we had the chance to properly look at the issue.”
“I see,” said Brandish, “In that case, I would like to bring my Daughters along to your base as soon as possible. I don't like the idea of Amy being under an effect like that.”
Both my eyebrows shot up. That...was NOT what I expected from Carol Dallon. While it could just be that she didn't like the idea of Vicky being close to someone affected like Amy was, she genuinely sounded worried about Amy.
“Um, if possible, I’d prefer to wait for the weekend,” I said, “As far as I could tell, she wasn't in any real danger and I have no idea what’ll happen once the issue is resolved. I doubt it’ll be bad, but it’ll be a good idea for her to have some time at home to recover.”
“Very well, if your sure shes in no danger,” said Carol.
“No, none at all,” I said.
“In that case, I shall see you on Saturday at 11,” said Carol.
“Certainly, see you then,” I said.
Carol said goodbye and hung up, leaving me staring down at my phone in confusion. I had honestly not expected to hear from Carol until after I helped Amy out and that would probably involve a lot of shouting. Instead, she sounded...reasonable. Then again, Piggot was also reasonably and two thirds of the Bitches Three weren't complete monsters. Was it possible that this world wasn't quite as fucked as Worm Canon? I could only hope.
Carol Dallon was many things. A high class lawyer, a Hero and generally a decent person. However, one thing she was not was a good mother. Oh, she did her best, but the personality that made her such a terror in the courtroom was a poor fit for home life and her past baggage certainly didn't help, even after years of therapy didn't help. The fact that she was often hard at work, even at home, and stressed by that same work didn't help matters and resulted in her being a little more snappy than she liked. As a result, her relationship with her Daughters could be a little strained.
That said, she was rather surprised, and disappointed, that she only found out about Amy collapsing over a week later and from her sister, who seemed equally surprised that she didn't know about it. She knew Amy was a rather private person, but that was unacceptable.
“So, would one of you please tell me why I’m only now finding out about you collapsing Amy?” she asked, fixing the two girls who were sat on the couch with a glare.
“W-well, you’ve been so busy lately, we thought…” started Victoria.
“I might be busy, but one of my Daughters falling ill is something that I’m perfectly happy to prioritize,” she said, “And you Amy, I know that your Father and I have spoken with you about sneaking out to the hospital before. In fact, we’ve had to do it twice. Its not healthy, as was proven the other day!”
Amy flinched and looked away. Carol sighed.
“Look Amy, I get that you want to use your power to help people and that's an admirable goal, but it does no one any good if you work yourself to death.”
“I know, but whenever I think about the people I could be helping...I can't help it,” said Amy, “I have these powers, I need to use them to help people! If I don't...how am I any better than my Father?”
“I've heard you and Aunt Sarah talking about him,” she sniffed, rubbing at suspiciously red eyes, “I don't know who he is, but I know hes a Villain, probably someone bad enough to be Caged! I don't want to be like him, I won't!”
Carol stared at Amy for a moment, then sighed.
“Honestly Amy, you are a lot like your Father,” she said.
The young healer jolted back on the sofa with a look of horror on her face.
“But,” said Carol, holding up a hand before her Daughter could protest, “I don't mean that in a bad way. Yes, your Father was a Villain and yes, he is in the Birdcage, but people are more than a label. Being labeled as a Hero or Villain says nothing about you except what side of the law your on. There are Heroes out there who are horrible people and use their powers to hurt people in the guise of doing good and there are Villains who ended up there due to bad luck, desperation or because they had no choice. Your Father did horrible things, but he wasn't a bad man.”
“It sounds like you know him quite well,” said Victoria, shifting closer to Amy and putting an arm around her sisters shoulders.
“We met in college,” said Carol, “Actually, he saved me from getting hit by a van that ran a red light. Mason was an...interesting man. Back then things were even worse in Brockton if you can believe it and he wanted to do something about it. I guess he decided he could do more as a Villain than a Hero and, to be fair, he did actually manage to make more of a difference than the PRT ever has.”
She sighed heavily.
“I didn't, and still don't, agree with his beliefs and I certainly don't think he went about it in the right way, but I won't deny that he did a good job.”
She shook her head.
“But all that's irrelevant,” she said, “Your not your Father Amy. You have some of his traits, good and bad, but its a person's choices that make them who they are and nobody can make them for you. Be who you want to be, just try not to work yourself to death.”
Amy stared at Carol for a moment, before she burst into tears. Carol sat down beside her adopted daughter and hugged her, letting the poor girl cry out her troubles while Victoria hugged Amy from the other side. For all the potential tears that could have been shed at this moment, these were at least good ones.
Taylor glanced up from her notebook as I dropped my lunchbox down in front of her and took a seat across the table.
“Hey Tay,” I said as he opened the box, revealing a neatly packed Japanese style lunch Tamamo had been making for me since I’d summoned her.
It certainly beat cafeteria food.
“Whats up with you?” asked Taylor, “You’ve been quiet all day.”
“Oh, just...thinking I guess,” I said, “Something...strange happened lately and I’m still processing it.”
Taylor narrowed her eyes and glanced down at her notebook.
“Something strange like a fight at the Dock?” she asked.
I paused and glanced at her, then shrugged and ate the piece of rolled omelette I had in my chopsticks.
“No, something different,” I said, “Very astute though. Its surprising how many people wouldn't be able to figure that out.”
Taylor blinked. Guess she wasn't expecting that.
“Your not mad?” she asked.
“What, mad that you figured out I’m a Cape?” I asked, “Not really. Honestly, I’m not in the least bit surprised. Your very smart and observant after all. That said, we probably shouldn’t talk about this here.”
I pulled my notebook out of my bag and scribbled down the address of my base.
“Here, come to that address on Saturday,” I said, handing her the paper, “We can talk more then if you want.”
Plus, I could introduce her to some people who would probably be good for her. The Dallon girls were often good friends to Taylor after all.
“Um, thanks?” said Taylor, examining the paper with a slight frown, “But is that really OK?”
“Sure, why not?” I asked, “Don't worry, you’ll be perfectly safe.”
“OK, I guess I’ll do that,” said Taylor, “So um…”
“Did you do Gladly’s homework?” I asked, steering the conversation back to safe territory.
“Yes, but I don't know why I bothered,” she growled, “I just know one of the Bitches is going to steal it…”
The rest of lunch was spent talking about safe, normal subjects.
For a very long time, the gangs of Brockton Bay had been engaged in an extremely volatile cold war, balanced on a knife's edge between simple skirmishes and outright war. The ABB had Lung, a man who could easily hold back just about any group of Capes short of the Triumvirate while the Empire had the advantage of numbers. While Lung could certainly defeat any combination of foes they sent against him given enough time, it also left his territory open to assault since Oni Lee was a lot less effective. This meant that neither group could really advance without leaving themselves open to either a precision strike from their enemy, the Protectorate stepping in and dealing with the distracted Villains, the Merchants doing something stupid or one of the lesser known, and much less dangerous, gangs taking advantage of the distraction to try and increase their tiny terretories. There was also the issue that making too much noise could attract the attention of out of towners, which could be extremely bad.
That said, the balance was extremely delicate and any change to the status quo risked disrupting it. That more than anything was why Kaiser used his connections to suppress any hint that Purity, Night and Fog had all left the Empire. The powerful Blaster was one of the few Capes Lung couldn't easily counter without ramping up to a degree that would likely result in the Endbringer Sirens going off. Unfortunately, the deaths of three of his Capes was a lot more difficult to keep quiet.
Fortunately, none of them were truly heavy hitters, but the loss of Alabasters ability to take hits and keep on fighting to act as a distraction and Victors wide variety of skills was a potentially deadly blow to the Empires strength. Stormtiger was less of a loss, but he was still a skilled and very willing warrior. However, heavy hitters or not, it still meant a loss of firepower and there was no way Lung wouldn't attempt to capitalize on the apparent weakness like the animal he was.
Kaiser sighed softly as he shoved down the irritation at the entire mess. It could be easily fixed by bringing Purity back into the fold, but he wasn't quite ready to tug on her leash quite yet. While he was confident that she would see sense and return in due time, it wouldn't do to push the powerful Blaster too far to fast lest he push her further away. Or make her snap and blast him to bits. Kaiser was arrogant, not stupid.
“Krieg, gather and arm the footsoldiers,” he said, pulling his attention back to the matter at hand, “I have no doubt that the ABB will start probing our defences soon. Feel free to break out some of the big guns if it becomes necessary.”
“Understood,” said Krieg.
“The rest of you, do what you can to up recrutement,” continued Kaiser, “There are a number of independents who could be useful assets if they can be...convinced, but try not to push too far. I don't want to give the PRT any ideas of pushing their luck when they think we’re weakened.”
He fixed Hookwolf and Cricket with a glare.
The two Parahuman pit fighters growled, but nodded. The two had been close to Stormtiger, not friends, none of them had enough empathy left to actually form friendships, but they considered each other to be valued comrades and as such, they were extremely angered by the Aerokinetics death and clearly wanted revenge on someone.
“Yes sir,” growled the two Capes.
“Good, now, moving on…”
Regardless of the problems that would come in the future, the Empire would win. No matter what that animal Lung was planning.
Across town, the very subject of Kaisers thoughts sat back in his lazy-boy recliner and frowned. Despite his reputation, Lung was far from a fool. In fact, he was quite intelligent under his burning rage. After all, he may be a Dragon, but in his homeland, Dragons were considered beings of great wisdom and, while he preferred the blazing fury of the Westen version, he did acknowledge the value of thinking things through rather than just setting them on fire.
This situation was one such time. While a part of him wanted to take advantage of the sudden loss of Empire manpower to sweep the parasites from his lands, he also knew that there would be increased scrutiny for a while. The Empire would be ready for a push from his forces and the PRT and Protectorate would have their eyes open for any hint of a gang war breaking out. While Lung could defeat any opponent the City could offer given enough time, he wasn't arrogant enough to believe that he could stand against the Triumvirate if they decided to intervene and, while the PRT was strangely hands off when it came to the Bay, he wasn't willing to push his luck just yet.
Coming to his decision, he sat forwards and cleared his throat.
“Lee, spread the word,” he said to the ever silent killer who was stood in the corner of the room, “The men are to work to defend our territory but are not to push into Empire Territory. If they attempt to push, they may push back but they are not to instigate any battles. If they do, I shall be...displeased.”
Oni Lee bowed and vanished, leaving nothing but a pile of ash. That done, Lung picked up the rolled joint that was sitting in the expensive jade ashtray beside his chair and the TV remote. Now that the annoyance was dealt with, he had more important things to deal with.
Fighting evil by Moonlight…
Lisa frowned slightly as she stopped in front of an apartment building and glanced down at the note she held in her hand. The note that had been delivered into her room while she was in there only hours after the defeat of Sparticus with no hint of who was behind it, indicating that it was likely Assassin from Alucards team.
The note was an invitation to take part in a plan to take down Coil, or the ‘Two Headed Snake’ as it referred to him as. It had taken a while to decide whether or not to accept the invitation, but after much thought and another unnerving conversation with the creep had convinced her that it was necessary if she ever wanted to get out from under his thumb. So, after getting home, she’d dressed in her best notice-me-not outfit, carefully crafted to be able to blend into the crowd without being so normal and boring that it became noticeable, and snuck out the fire escape she’d carefully rigged so she could make a quick escape if needed. She was certain Coil was currently unaware of the exit and her power conquered.
Once she was sure she’d got away without being spotted, Lisa had made her way across town until she found the right building, which was where she was now.
Lisa jumped at the sudden voice and turned to see a vaguely familiar man approaching with a bag from the local corner store in hand. The Thinker twitched slightly as her power paused for a moment, before identifying the man as another Servant whatever that meant, this time Chiron which made no sense at all.
“I...yes,” said Lisa.
“Valarie said that there was a good chance that you’d come today,” he said, “Come with me.”
Lisa followed the Servant into the building and up the stairs to the second floor. Chiron stopped in front of a door and fiddled with the door knob for a moment, before opening it. Lisa followed him inside...and promptly froze as her power informed her that she’d just stepped through a portal. She glanced back, noting that the door Chiron had just closed looked completely different than the one she’d entered back in the apartment building.
She swallowed, not entirely sure if she should be worried or not, before turning back to the room in front of her...and promptly found herself freezing yet again as she spotted Caster, Saber and a girl with long pink hair kneeling in front of a shirtless Alucard and covered in something thick, viscus and white.
“Oh thank god!” she thought.
Lisa stood there awkwardly as Chiron vanished through another door, waiting for Alucard to finish up. A moment later he did and turned around and…
“Um, are you OK?”
Lisa nearly jumped out of her skin as Alucards voice cut through the babble of her power and she refocused. Unfortunately, the other blonde was now stood directly in front of her and was still shirtless, which certainly didn't help her blush. She had absolutely no idea why she was reacting like this or, more importantly, why her power was currently listing off Alucards favourite foods and the fact he apparently liked...oh GOD!
It was at that point that it all became too much for her and Lisa passed out.
I darted forwards and caught Lisa before she could hit the floor, quickly checking her over to see if Coil has somehow done something to her. However, the scan indicated that she was perfectly healthy, although there was a lot of activity in her Corona Pollentia and Gemma, so it could have been her power going overboard that caused her to faint. That said, considering that she was practically steaming she was blushing so hard, it could also have been due to a sudden rush of blood to the brain. Whatever, so long as she was OK.
I hefted the other blonde into my arms and deposited her onto the sofa, before heading off to find a replacement shirt.
When I returned a few minutes later, Lisa was awake and rubbing her head with a look of irritation on her face. I guess her powers were acting up for some reason. Hopefully not badly enough to stop her from at least getting started on a plan to deal with Coil, but it could wait a little bit longer. The guy was getting annoying with how many of his Timelines seemed to involve me in some way and giving me headaches as a result of suddenly gaining two different sets of memories, but he wasn't causing me to much trouble. Yet.
“Hey, good to see your OK,” I said as I approached Lisa.
The girl glanced up and blushed.
“A-ah, thanks?” she stuttered, looking away quickly with a bright red face.
I raised an eyebrow.
“Your not going to faint again, are you?” I asked.
Lisa blushed again and shook her head.
“No, I’m OK now,” she said, “Just...not really expecting to find you shirtless.”
“Yeah, turns out that letting Saber, Caster and Mouse loose in the kitchen wasn't such a good idea,” I said.
Lisa’s face flickered through an expression of confusion, then realization, then confusion again.
“Wait, Mouse Protectors here?” she asked, “Why?”
“Apparently she and Archer have history and now she decided to stick around,” said Alucard, “But thats irrelevant. I assume you want to know what I want you to help with?”
“That would be nice,” said Lisa, “For some reason, my power doesn't work properly on you.”
She blushed again and looked away. I raised an eyebrow, but dismissed it. The fact I could apparently no-sell Lisa’s power was interesting, but not really pertinent right now.
“Right, onto what I need your help with,” I said, “How would you like to help me take down a Villain?”
Lisa raised an eyebrow.
“You do know I’m a Villain, right?” she asked.
“Not by choice if my intels right,” I said with a smug grin.
“Besides, I don't think you’ll mind helping with this one,” I said as I put the folder I was holding down in front of her.
Lisa frowned, but flipped the folder open, revealing a mugshot of Coil. The Thinker froze, staring down at the picture, before she slowly looked up and met my eyes.
“I’m in,” she said, “When do we start?”
I grinned evilly.