Chapter 1: Arc 1: Flippant 1.01
I placed the cup of black, bitter, smoldering coffee down on the desk. I was careful to avoid all the papers and the charging cable for the laptop. The handle between my fingers was warm, my cape outfit being the only thing keeping my skin from sweltering. My lips pulled into a frown and I pushed the coffee towards my absentminded guest. The fumes of the scalding drink went up and through the nostrils of Tattletale, making her stiffen and look at me in surprise.
“Coffee’s ready.” My tone was weary and rough. Tattletale accepted the drink, took a sip, grimaced and then quickly set the cup down. She blew on it as I went back and grabbed my own cup of tea from nightstand of the room. Fortunately, I didn’t feel the least bit disgusted nor dissatisfied with my tea.
Tattletale hummed and I looked at her as she kept her eyes focused on the screen of the laptop.
“I don’t know where to find them. I’m getting way too many reads here…”
“You should be resting, we already spent the entire day looking for them. We didn’t find anything, we’ll have to wait and let them get the first move. After that, we’ll either chase them off or crush them.”
“Just give me a couple of minutes…” Tattletale’s words came muffled as she took another sip from her cup, eyes focused on the map of Brockton Bay. She typed a few things on the laptop and I let a breath escape through my nose.
Two Fallen capes were sighted in the city,an unwelcome presence. Capes who worshipped Endbringers and were in abundance, from what Tattletale told me. A cult committing incest for the guarantee of a child getting powers. They were thieves and vandals, nothing major like the monsters they worshiped or the Slaughterhouse Nine. Small miracles there.
For now, the Undersiders would have to focus on making sure that everything in Brockton Bay would be running smoothly. Rooting out nuisances like the Fallen capes was one, making sure that every prying eye looking at the city wouldn’t devour the steadily recovering city, wouldn’t mess with that fact was another. Working to make sure Brockton Bay didn’t collapse was something the Undersiders had put their all into; having it crumble now would be devastating.
So I couldn’t fault Tattletale for keeping herself busy still, working, organizing and directing every little detail that was going on. Out of everyone, she was the one who was most occupied. She was constantly pouring over minute details, and that laptop of hers was being filled more and more with information that was priceless and useful. It was a massive boon to have Tattletale in my team and working as much as she did. It kept us one or even five steps ahead from any enemies that would come looking for trouble in the future. What had happened with Echidna couldn’t be allowed to happen again. Skitter would want Tattletale to keep going as she was doing.
But Taylor could see her friend Lisa was in dire need of rest. So I stepped close to her, and holding onto my tea cup with one hand, I closed the top of the laptop down. Lisa’s hand pulled back so they wouldn’t get crushed and then placed them on her lap. She pursed her lips, grabbed her cup and took another swig.
“You should get some rest, you’ve spent too much time having your face glued to the laptop.”
Lisa scratched the bridge of her nose and looked up, her eyes baggy and dirty blonde hair sticking to her forehead. “There’s still some things I have to check, I can’t exactly leave it alone.”
“Taking over a city isn’t as easy as they make it out to be heh?”
“Taking over a city? That’s easy. Running it is what’s so fucking nerve wracking. Shit, killing Coil should’ve made things gone smoother, not leave us with more messes than ever.”
I blinked, taking a sip of my tea, stopping and looking down at the empty cup with a frown. Putting it down I crossed my arms and looked off to the side.
“That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while…”
An ugly snort came out of Lisa as she leaned back on the chair and closed her eyes. “So much went on, so many things...revelations, confirmed guesses, punching a hole through reality, keeping this city from going under...yeah, Coil seems like forever ago, doesn’t he.”
It wasn’t a question — of course it wasn’t. So many things kept happening one after the other, barely a week passed before something else happened that had us scrambling and desperate. It was hard to believe that it had been barely two and a half months since I got started as a cape. I had gotten into so much conflict that all my troubles from before the days I met the Undersiders seemed so long ago.
“Yeah, forever ago…” I stared at the wall with a blank look. The chair pulled back and Lisa stood up, stretching her arms and arching her back with a wince.
“With the PRT still reeling from all the reveals during the Echidna fight, it leaves time to secure all the territories we need. As long as we can keep them steady for a while, things should be good.”
“We’re getting more and more supplies being sent, so that’s good.”
“Tomorrow there’s going to be another drop near the Boardwalk. PRT officers aren’t going to be looking after them, local police are in charge. All you’ll need is to convince them a bit and they’ll let you go off with most of the supplies.”
“More men to work under me?”
“Having the local authorities in your back pocket isn’t all that bad.”
“Speaking from experience?”
“A lot of them owe me a few favors for keeping my mouth shut. Got a few of them working directly under me now, others were old contacts from Coil. His organization actually managed to surprise me with the amount of planning he had set up. Coil was really looking forward to everything going out how he planned it.”
I ground my teeth, feeling a knot in my stomach. “Until he died, all that planning for nothing.”
“His loss was our gain.” She turned and looked at me with half lidded eyes. She really was tired, her eyes could barely keep themselves from closing. “Though we keep gaining more trouble than what it’s worth.”
“Another group interested in the city?”
“Portal is making everyone interested. But yeah, another group is interested and poking their noses on us. I’ve mentioned the Ambassadors before haven’t I?”
“Hmmhmm, well the Boston villain group is going to make an appearance here sooner than later. I’ll give you the full details later, is that okay?”
“Yeah.” I sighed, placing a hand on her shoulder and pushing her lightly towards the door. “Come on, I’ll walk you out to the car.”
“Fuck, I’ve kept the mercenaries waiting… they’ll start making a hassle.”
I frowned at her, feeling the itching of irritation prickle at me. This wasn’t the time for simple mercenaries to be questioning us, especially those under our employment. The Undersiders had to be strong, we couldn’t show weaknesses, not now.
“Want me to put them in their place?”
Tattletale looked at me, her tired gaze sharpening up a bit. “No, I have it handled.”
“Tattletale, we can’t have them start a mutiny on us now. We can’t deal with infighting along with all the external threats.”
“I have it handled Skitter.”
I looked at her, then nodded. She moved forward, heading towards the door, leaving my hand to fall limply at my side. All of a sudden the room felt cramped and small. It made my skin crawl. Letting air escape through my nose, I stepped toward where I put my mask and put it on. Gathering the bugs I had stationed around the room to cover me entirely like a gown, I followed after Tattletale.
Stepping out of the door, closing it and heading down the stairs I stopped as I watched Charlotte reading a book on the kitchen counter. Her eyes snapped up to look at the two of us. She gave me a nod, putting the book away.
“Are you heading out again, Skitter?”
“Just taking Tattletale back to her men. I’ll be right back in a few minutes. The kids tucked in already?”
Charlotte nodded and I moved, escorting Tattletale through the secret entrance of my lair and out onto the beach. The night air was humid, summer winds already making my suit stick to my skin as I trudged through the white sands. The ocean waves crashed on the shore with a cadence. I saw Tattletale through my bugs, her blonde and untamed hair flowing as the wind passed over us.
I started extending my senses out, feeling bigger and spread out. Feeling my body moving, the feel of stiff and measured my steps. Charlotte was moving, going into the children’s room and checking on them, tucking their covers and brushing the hair of a girl. I made some butterflies fly over her and some of the other kids, they landed on their hair or blankets, much to their delight. Three of my soldiers were smoking, telling jokes, drinking and laughing roughly a block away from my lair. The jeep I had taken with Tattletale was parked thirty meters away from our position, lights on, and all her mercenaries down on the floor and unmoving.
Many things started happening at the same time. I gathered bugs, bringing everything I could get my hands on towards me. I formed bug facsimiles of myself to reach out to my men, to Charlotte, to everyone within my range and prepared them in case the trouble spread onto my territory. “Tattletale your men—”
Something black and fast streaked down from above. I barely managed to see it with my bugs — it was blurry and nearly invisible in the night sky. It extended and crashed into the sand right between Tattletale and my body. The bugs around my body were pushed away with the strong force of the impact. My vision was blocked, I couldn’t see my body, I couldn’t see Tattletale and all I could see was brown as the dust started to roll around my body.
Coordinating with my bugs positioning, and as I heard Tattletale’s coughing I moved. Spreading the insects out in front of me, I noticed a sharp whip of air cut some of the flies I sent and I ducked. Ants and cockroaches were meeting resistance as they advanced, I made them crawled up and started to paint the picture of the legs of the assailant.
Moving past the enemy I reached the kneeling Tattletale and grabbed her arms, ignoring her attempts to push me off, and dragged her out of the sand cloud. The bugs crawling on the figure that had attacked were cut down. And they started to become clear.
He was dressed in a black and purple striped costume, with belts strapped around his arms, legs and waist. A jagged cape fluttered behind the figure as he looked down at us through red sharp lenses on a black knight helm that left his mouth exposed . He arched his back, looking almost lazy and arrogant as he pointed a serrated blade at me.
“You...bug girl, give me your name.”
“...” I only stared at him in silence, the chirping and clicking from the cloud of bugs answering him in abundance as they all gathered around the beach, swirling and darkening the sands below. The assailant sneered, taking a step forward towards me with and nodded.
“Hard way it is then, I’ll rip the answers out your throat!”
And with that he burst forward, leaving a cloud of sand in his wake as he headed straight towards Tattletale and me with a growl more animalistic than human.
Chapter 2: Arc 1: Flippant 1.02
Fast was the best way to describe the enemy. With an inhuman growl, he raised his serrated blade up and brought it down. I was already making a counter and defense, a cloud of insect surrounded my body and Tattletale, obscuring us from view and letting the deranged cape crash into the live wall I built.
The sword swung, and dozens of bugs were cut clean in to pieces, the squelching of the inner liquids of all of them drenching the other insects. As the wall of crawling and flying insects lunged forward towards the enemy cape, Tattletale was coughing, hand on her mouth and throat and moving back. I moved with her, grabbing her shoulder and directing her closer towards the secret entrance of my lair. Cockroaches, centipedes, bullet ants and whatever bugs that could bite and cause pain were crawling all over the black costumed cape.
They crawled up his pant legs, biting and stabbing their legs onto the figure. Full body skin-tight suit? And it’s hard to get any bites through the in. His arms have the same protection . The enemy moved forward, an ugly sneer on his face as his eyes glared through the thick cloud of insects, his crimson lenses shining with the moonlit sky.
Bees and wasps shot forward, aiming for the exposed skin on his face. If I could get some of them into his throat then I could end this fight right here and now. At the same time I was having winged bugs roam over his body and wrap his arms and legs in the silk I already had prepared. Mosquitoes and hornets were covering his lenses, blinding him, making him stop and claw at his face. I moved my swarm closer to me, making human like shapes that headed to the right for a distraction.
Everything was happening simultaneously. I could feel everything that was going on, keeping every single little movement from the enemy into account. My soldiers were already moving, guns up and ready to capture this thug who thought it would be funny to attack me in my territory. Charlotte was already moving to open the door for my lair, so the retreat would be smoother, and I was gathering more bugs up in the sky, making them noticeable so everyone in my territory would become aware of what was happening.
This wasn’t the time for weakness. I would show my strength in full, no holding back. This would be a message to any cape that thought of stepping into my city, and to the PRT as well, to show them that the Undersiders weren’t here to roll over and let ourselves be trampled over. We saved this city, we fought against monsters. This was a demonstration, a show of force.
The bees and wasps landed on his face, stinging and stabbing his flesh. The cape snarled, trying to run to the left, but tripped over his bound legs. He cut the bonds with his blade, nicking his boots and pants. He lunged forward, twirled midair, crashing against the sand, rolling through it to try and rid himself of as many bugs that were on his body. He got on his knee, protecting his mouth, then raised his blade and slashed the sand, creating another smokescreen.
I could feel his movement through the cloud, the wind shifting the position of my bugs and my control over them getting cut as they died from his assault. A pair of my bug clones moved closer to him, grabbing his attention, he immediately went after them. His serrated blade flailed, left and right, until blade cut the ‘Tattletale’ in half and his clawed hand went for my ‘face’, going through them, they jumped on him, crawling up his stretched out arm. He hesitated for a split second, and the swarm surrounded him and aimed for his mouth once more. He jumped back, landing with difficulty and wobbling as he started to cough.
“Looks like he’s trying to capture me and kill you, Tattletale. Have any idea who this guy is?” I kept dragging my teammate back to the lair, stepping out of the cloud of sand.
She shook her head, eyes narrowed and coughing. “Not from Brockton Bay. And not someone from any of the PRT databases nor Coil’s.”
“Guesses?” The cape was moving, tripping as his body started to spasm. The bug stings and attempts to choke him were starting to have their effects. He could only see from one lens the other was bloodied and covered in the corpses of hornets and spiders. He growled, bile slipping through his lips, before slashing hard into the floor to create another smokescreen.
It reached us fast. “He prob—ghack! Fucking asshole! He’s throwing sand because he thinks it might screw with your powers! He‘s getting desperate, underestimated you, but isn’t willing to back down. Got enhanced strength, speed, reflexes, he’s using that to leverage his way to you. Plus, I think he has a Thinker power. The longer this goes, the crazier he seems. He isn’t freaking out because of the bugs, he’s using the freaking out to ignore all the poison, and to punch adrenaline into himself to keep going.”
“Accord’s people? Teeth? Fallen?” The cape moved towards us, and a black widow crawled up his helmet, trying to poison him. It lost its footing as he swerved harshly towards another copy of us made of bugs.
“No. His voice, it’s accented, Asian. Japanese.”
“ABB remnant?” A swarm taking my shape moved, lunging for him.
“Not from Brockton Bay. So no.” The black and purple cape noticed the attack, sidestepped and moved to slash with his sword, aiming for the legs. The head of the swarm shot capsaicin soaked string into his exposed sneer. He sputtered, taking a step back as the duplicate fell on him.
“It was a mistake picking a fight against me in my territory.” The words came out of my swarm, clicks, chirps and buzzes echoing to make the taunt clear. Bees were stinging his skin, lips and cheeks. Bullet ants stung his legs, making his gritted teeth opened into a scream, and cockroaches and other insects took the opportunity to go inside his mouth. “If you stop struggling, I won’t have the black widows poison you.”
The cape answered with an animalistic snarl, blade twirling until it was in a reverse grip. He was moving again, drunkenly and with difficulty. His right arm was webbed to his sides, and his left hand wielding the sword moving erratically, cutting through the swarm as he advanced. A loud bang echoed through the beach, overwhelming the waves crashing against the shore. The black clothed cape growled. His left hand was bleeding, sword on the floor. He looked around with a sneer, knees buckling until he fell, barely holding himself upright with his injured hand.
“Stop.” A swarm huddled beside one of my men commanded, noting he was about to shoot again. My men followed my orders, keeping their weapons aimed and ready. Twelve armed soldiers surrounded the cape, making the enemy look around as the odds turned from bad to worse for him. They started to close in on him, and he went for his sword.
I pulled my right hand back and the sword was out of his reach. The cape stopped, looked at the spider silk on the handle and followed it back to my hand as I held the other end. He was breathing hard, now falling down on his face and barely managing to look up at me.
This was nothing but a show of force, of power. I couldn’t let thugs like this ruin what we were doing for the city. We couldn’t show weakness in these tough times. Strength and the image of strength was needed. And looking at the cape’s exposed flesh, puffy with welts, blood trickling down the gashes on his cheeks and the drool of bile escaping the corner of his mouth.
This was a stupid fight to pick. My body stood confidently and I spoke with the echoing clicks and chirps of my swarm.
“If you want to keep fighting, then continue. You will become an example of what happens to everyone who tries to undermine us. So what’s it going to be?”
The cape looked at me and smiled. It was ugly and dirty, his teeth having chunks of hornets shells and wings staining his mouth. He then face planted and burned in blue fire. Everyone tensed as his body was covered in flames, then dissipated to reveal the cape in normal plain clothes. A tan peacoat, with black pants and gloves, his shaggy brown hair was sprawled all over as he lay on the sand.
Tattletale moved, taking a closer look at him. “A powered up state, huh?”
I frowned, tying him up with spider silk. “Like Night?”
“No, similar to Dauntless. The moment he caught fire he went unconscious, and he seems to be really starting to feel all the venom you poured into him. If you don’t want a corpse in your territory, I'd highly recommend quick medical attention.
Once his arms and legs were bound I motioned for my men. “Take him to the cells, and make sure to give him every anti-venom in stock. I want him alive and ready for questioning as soon as possible.”
“Understood ma’m.” One man, burly and thick, saluted and then moved to carry the unconscious cape. Four more came from where Tattletale’s men were lying, carrying them towards us and putting them down. Tattletale looked at them and nodded.
“They’re alive, though he wasn’t gentle at all. One of them has a concussion, two others are going to need vacation time with the way their arms are bent.”
“We’ll figure things out, don’t worry.”
“Not worry, annoyed. I can’t get a good read on him that isn’t superficial things. It’s kind of annoying. You don’t mind me staying here, do you?”
The question was a formality; she already knew the answer. Still, I nodded and looked at my men. “Secure the area. If that guy had someone or a group of people with him, I want them captured and incarcerated.”
Despite my orders, I was already mobilizing the swarm and searching every shadow. Giving my men these instructions was just to be more efficient and to get them to be alert, just in case. They saluted and turned, two reaching for their radios and giving out my orders. Others carried Tattletale’s men up the beach, taking them to the clinic nearby. Turning, I made my way back to the secret entrance with Tattletale in tow.
Charlotte opened the door and looked at the two of us. “Skitter, what’s going?”
“We got attacked by some cape. Thought that he could ambush me in my own territory, didn’t work out for him.” Charlotte sighed.
“I see…” A few of the butterflies with the children alerted me to their discomfort as the kids were hugging each other and fretting.
“How about you go up to the kids. They seem to be scared.” The girl stiffened and turned around, she looked back at me with a grimace. “Go.”
And she went off, leaving me alone with Lisa. Closing the door behind us, I felt my shoulder sagged.
Lisa hummed. “Barely a week, and already we’re dealing with capes going after us. Accord, Teeth, Fallen, and now probably greedy independent capes.”
“There wasn’t more you could off read of him? Just that he’s Asian, not from Brockton Bay and not part of any of those groups? What about more of his motives? Is he working alone, was it just a blind attack? What did he want and why?”
“Can’t answer you without going to deep into speculations unfortunately. But aside from your name? His aim was something bigger; likely not control of the city. If he had asked for my name as well, then it would’ve been clear that he has a beef against the Undersiders, but he only asked for yours. Which doesn’t make sense, because he was fighting you like he didn’t know what you could do. But I’m speculating here. For something more concrete... The portal? That’s the target I think he was aiming for. But what makes it weird is the name thing…”
I shrug. “Maybe he wanted leverage, to threatened my civilian life? It doesn’t make sense, but at the same time that guy looked like he was completely new at this. Like he was going off a high of power and saw a big target to go after.”
“No, there’s definitely something more to this. He wanted your name for something. He definitely has a thinker power, it lets him go berserk. Maybe he could extend that effect to you if he knew your name. It sure wasn't for courtesy or anything like that. It definitely has something to do with his powers.”
I nodded, crossing my arms. “Let’s call the others and let them know what happened.”
“Might take a few days before we know what’s going on.”
“Let’s make sure it isn’t that many days.”
Chapter 3: Arc 1: Flippant 1.03
Nervous looks were sent our way. All of them were coming from men older than I was, big, muscular, some with severe features, others with scars from the events of the last few months. And yet, they were all fretting and making sure to leave a wide berth for the small room we were in. This building was in my territory, the place I used to incarcerate thugs or anyone who broke the rules I’d set up. It was well guarded by all these nervous and sweating men.
I wouldn’t have thought that they would be so anxious because of us, after all the monsters that have walked over the city. I shook my head, focusing on all the Undersiders standing around me.
Imp was inspecting her nails, looking bored. “We really just gonna wait for the guy who thought it was a good idea to go against Skitter on her own turf to wake up? Do we all have to be here?”
My eyes went to Grue, standing beside me, his hand on mine. “No, I didn’t need everyone to come here, but I guess talking face to face is better than through the phone.”
Grue squeezed our joined hands. “I had to come, at least to make sure you’re okay.”
“This isn’t my first fight. And we knew that sooner or later they would start coming after us. We’re a big group now, we hold a lot of weight. That brings a lot of bad attention our way. The good thing was that it was just a random cape that was easy to take down.” I shrugged.
“Guy was pretty stubborn though, didn’t go down until you nearly drowned him in venom.” Regent drawled, crossing his legs and leaning back on his seat.
“Deserved it,” grunted out Rachel as she sat with crossed legs on the floor, Bastard resting on her lap and Angelica laying beside her.
“We still got the Fallen and the Teeth here in the city, though.” Parian shifted from one leg to the other, rubbing her arm. “Are we really going to get more capes coming here?”
“Oh honey, we’re going to get a lot more, like a lot . The eyes of the world are on us now. What happened last night was just a small taste of what’s to come, so we better get ready. Because the last attack is probably going to incite more people to try.” Tattletale crossed her arms and leaned back on the wall.
“How bad are we talking here?” I asked, and Tattletale scratched her chin.
“Pretty bad. Two hours ago, the Teeth pulled a stunt against some of the mercenaries I had posted along a supply route. Lost two men, the others are injured and the rest of the supplies are gone. They’re testing the waters right now, trying to see how much they can push before completely committing to it. I already managed to find the general area where they’re staying: it’s near the abandoned apartment complexes in Parian’s territory. We can go down there and flush them out.”
“Can’t we do that now?” Aisha groaned. “I can go there and spy on them for you.”
“No,” I said firmly. “Let’s keep things in order. I want to know about the cape we have in our custody, and what it will take to have him be under our payroll.”
Grue’s hand stiffened. “You’re planning on getting this guy to work for us? Are you sure it’s a good idea?”
I nodded. “We need strength to keep us steady right now. Having a cape that we can direct all that aggression towards without getting involved would be a boon. And it would calm things down if we show that we are willing to take in villains or rogues and share in the glory. That would make any independent cape think twice before going fully into trying to fight us and consider other possibilities.”
“Not a bad plan, except I don’t think any of us really like sharing that glory,” Regent said with a raised brow.
“Then you better start learning to share, because this is only going to get worse,” I told him. He shrugged, looking away.
Tattletale looked to the side, pushing herself off from the wall. “We can talk about this later. Doc is here.”
I turned towards the middle aged, short, round man. He stopped a few feet away from us, sweating and clearing his throat. “He’s awake and lucid enough to talk. It’s surprising how quickly he recovered...well, I don’t know how his powers work, but he did use them during the operation.”
That had me and everyone in high alert. “Did he hurt anyone?”
“No, his helmet appeared and the effects of the antibiotics started working faster. That was when I called you, ma’am.”
“Hmm, so he wanted to get caught then…” Tattletale murmured to herself.
“Good job, you can go now,” I said as the bugs beneath my feet gathered around me. I took off towards the cell. Grue reached out towards me, and I looked at him. “Go back to your territory, you heard Tattletale. The Teeth are making a move, take Regent and Parian with you. Imp, stay here, I'd like you to listen in to anything he has to say after we’re done interrogating him. Rachel, do you mind staying in the area? I might need you in case the prisoner has some friends out there.”
“Fine. Need food for the dogs though.” Rachel grunted as she got up, the wolf in her lap drop off to the floor, tongue hanging out. Angelica stood up, walking around the corner.
I nodded. “Already told Charlotte to let you in my lair. Got some spare food for Bastard there.”
“Oh goody, sounds like fun,” Imp grunted. Grue looked as if he’d been struck, hand pulling back and shoulders sagging. I turned towards him, placing a hand on his chest.
“I’m counting on you.” That seemed to make him stand straighter, and he nodded before turning and moving with the rest of the group. Tattletale followed after me as I went down into the cells, the two standing guard moved behind us.
The cells were dingy, dark and damp. I’d set it up to hold the most dangerous troublemakers in my territory, though this was the first time we were using it. Stopping right in front of his cell, I took a good look at him. His face was pale, mouth and cheeks full of welts and bruises. His brown shaggy hair was wild and unkempt, the humid air making it look greasy. His arms were chained to the wall behind him, an IV bag beside him and hooked to his arm. His tan suit had been removed from his body, leaving him only in his black trousers.
He looked up, eyes vacant. “Oh, it’s you.”
His words came out sluggish, his swollen lips making it hard for his words to come out. But that didn’t stop the small quirk in the corner of his lips, the facsimile of a soulless smile directed at us.
My bugs buzzed loudly. “You attacked me yesterday, why?”
“I’m a big fan, just had to get your name.” The prisoner’s words were flippant. I felt Tattletale frown, and she took a step forward. I decided to give her the floor.
“If it was a half-baked plan to try and get a name. You and your partner failed spectacularly at it.”
The prisoner looked up. “You assume I had a friend helping me?”
“No, not assuming. When Skitter beat you down into submission, you smiled. With the medics you used your power, but didn’t attack them. And right now, you just called your partner a friend, rather intimate, you went with that instead of something more impersonal. No need to hide, we know you’ve got a partner out there, waiting for them to bust you out.”
A cheerful chuckle escaped the capture cape, it was forced and his expression was the complete opposite of his tone. “You’re sticking to your guns, just like a real detective. Did you know I used to work with detectives in the past? Nowadays, I like to play the thief part. Me being here is all part of the heist.”
The bugs buzzed, I chose to ignore the fluff and focus on the important part. “Getting captured was part of your plan?”
“No, there was no plan.” The prisoner smiled. I frowned at his impudent responses.
“Then there won’t be any further questions. Now we’ll talk about you working under us,” I said and he chuckled.
“Oh my, I’ll be part of the team. I’m honored.”
“Under us,” I said firmly. “You aren’t part of the Undersiders, you’ll be just another mercenary, though you won’t be paid. A thug that will help the rest of the people under our employment with dangerous tasks. But do not mistake that as you being an Undersider. You attacked me without any provocation, you’re just paying the price for that. You may be released depending on how you behave.”
“Ooh, how stingy of you.” His empty smiles and eyes were mildly annoying me. His dark cell buzzed, moving and cornering him. He looked slightly alert now, eyes moving from left of right.
“If you’re not going to take this seriously, then you'll be staying here until you learn that this isn’t a game,” I said, with my bugs echoing my words with their clicks and chirps. Tattletale placed a hand on my shoulder and pulled me back. Walking out of earshot, she looked at me with a frustrated expression.
“He’s messing with my powers.”
“What?” That was alarming. I had my bugs were crawl on the prisoner’s arms, not biting but trying to disturb him to shake off whatever he was doing. He didn’t flinch.
“I’m getting too many reads off of him. I think he may have used that berserk power before we came in, or he may have a multiple personality disorder going on. But he says one thing and my power tells me that it’s three other things.”
“He saying that he had no plans and my power tells me he’s a random powered person that attacked us for no reason, then it tells me that he’s a threat that will ruin everything, then it just tells me his powers are an abnormality.” She frowned, rubbing her forehead.
I crossed my arms. “What does that mean? Is his power to interact with passengers s maybe?”
“I don’t know...but my passengers is literally acting up too much. I can barely close the lid as it tries to analyze his words, it just keeps pulling up more and more conclusions from nowhere. It’s like it went into fucking overdrive. Shit, I’m already feeling a headache knocking.”
She looks unusually angry. I sighed. “Already? Tattletale, go and take a few hours off. Rest, we need you in top condition. And if this guy is causing too much of a problem then we’ll handle him later. For now let’s deal with the Teeth.”
Tattletale shook her head, walking back to the cell. “No wait, let me ask him something.”
“Tattletale.” She ignored my firm call and I sighed, following after her. Standing once more in front of the cell, she leaned forward, grasping the bars. The prisoner looked at her with his vacant brown eyes, meeting her gaze without much reaction to the bugs on him.
“Where are you from?”
“Japan,” he answered simply.
“So you’re a refugee then?”
“Refugee? I’ve been called many things, never that. I don’t consider myself that, though I do consider myself a huge fan of the Phoenix Ranger Featherman series.” He flinched as a few bugs bit into his arms, cutting his rambling.
“How’s Kyushu in your place?” I was mildly confused by Tattletale’s game right now. She was focused, eyes never leaving the prisoner.
He chuckled derisively. “It doesn’t need a boat.”
Tattletale nodded. “You’re from another world.”
I looked at her sharply; The prisoner’s eyebrow raised slightly, then he chuckled. His tone wasn’t as empty as before, filling up with mirth.
“My, my, and they used to call me the Detective Prince. Seems I’ll have to hand over the crown to you, Detective Princess.”
“You’re not denying it?” I asked. Is he from Aleph like the Travelers, or did he come from the earth the portal is connected with?
He looked at me with a boyish grin that didn’t reach his eyes. “Why would I? Now things are getting interesting.”
Tattletale hummed. “You were banking on this. You attacked us so you could have this conversation with us.”
“Of course. You Undersiders are a busy bunch, moving around so much. There wasn’t a single moment that I could sit down and talk with you.” His flippant responses were starting to get aggravating. “I even wondered if you would actually listen, running a city seems quite difficult.”
The bugs buzzed loudly, cutting him off. “Well, what is it? What do you want to tell us?”
“Tell me Detective Princess, how’s your power acting up? Is it sneering and snarling at me? Is it bashing against the cells in your head trying to free itself?”
My heart dropped. What the hell is he talking about? What was he trying to say with that? Was that just a taunt or was he aware of something we didn’t know? Was he with Cauldron? My fist clenched, keeping my gaze steady on his face. He ignored me completely, looking at Tattletale.
“Oh no, no. It already figured you out quite fast. I’ll admit you were a little bit confusing, but showing your cards with being from an alternate world kinda played against you.” It was a bluff; Tattletale was doing her usual ‘I-know-more-than-you’ game. The prisoner nodded with an almost impressed look.
“Good, nicely done.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “Well off you go, fix things then.”
I could feel Tattletale’s eye twitch, annoyed that her tactic was backfiring on her right now. I could see what she was trying to do, but with this guy’s attitude, that sort of tactic wouldn’t fly. He was deflecting, trying to lead the conversation to where he wanted. It reminded me of school, when a group was trying to lead in for a joke. It was just as infuriating as it was now.
“Fix what?” I asked.
“Hmm, don’t have it figured out?” He looked genuinely confused, before giving us a friendly smile. “There are consequences for opening a portal in the middle of the streets you know.”
“So you want us to close it because it became a bother to you?” I shook my head. “Not going to happen.”
“Oh I don’t want you closing the portal, it’s too late for that. But I would make sure to keep an eye on a person you might care about.” He said the words so callously, it made me stiffen up. Then his body was entirely covered in bugs, leaving only his head free.
“What did you do?” The bugs echoed my words with such intensity, that the guards behind us were trembling as every bug in the building buzzed frantically. The prisoner gave a mirthless smile in response.
“Me? I didn’t do anything at all. My partner though...he’s already in the head of someone you know. Fixing up the mess you idiots made.”
The bugs were crawling up, biting, slashing, stinging his body. “Who?”
He never stopped smiling, even as the swarm was all over him, completely washing over his body. There was a moment of silence, his smile never dropping, then he caught fire. Blue flames enveloped his form, burning away some of the insects and making everyone present tense up. The guards aimed their guns as the flames subsided and the prisoner was back to his costumed self.
“Cut ties, wasn’t that what she said?”
I froze. How does he know that!? How!?
My bugs went into a frenzy, completely swarming the prisoner. I turned towards the frowning Tattletale.
“Find Dinah. Now!”
Chapter 4: Arc 1: Flippant 1.04
Tattletale had wasted almost half an hour figuring out where Dinah was.
With the resources of her mercenaries, Coil’s assets and her own power, she managed to narrow the girl’s position near the portal. After she did her part, Tattletale collapsed with a furious headache pounding at her. I wanted to stay for a moment and make sure she was okay, but Dinah’s safety was priority. Tattletale could take care of herself.
The air whiplashed against my mask as I rode Atlas. I pushed the enormous winged insect to its max capacity, trying to go faster, but it just wouldn’t happen. Like most other organisms in the world, insects weren’t built to be pushed past their limits. Despite that, I leaned forward, urging Atlas to keep moving where the portal was.
Beneath me, Rachel rode Bastard, the mutated wolf ran with furious and fast steps. They kept up with me and getting over every single obstacle in her way to reach our destination without trouble. I was thankful for her quickly understanding the situation and immediately moving out to assist me with finding Dinah. While I could handle myself just fine, having Rachel there with me was much appreciated.
It wouldn’t be surprising if someone called the PRT to come after us for the ruckus we were causing in our reckless charge. But I didn’t care, not one single bit. If they got in my way, then I would crush them and keep going. The insects flying beside me and the ones on the ground buzzed, chirped and clicked loudly. A chorus that had every civilian flinch away from the display moving around them.
Don’t worry Dinah, I’m coming.
The city block where the portal was entered my range, all the bugs present immediately falling to my control. People recoiled back as the area was darkened with thousands of mosquitoes, making the civilians run away. I took in all their features as they tried to swat the swarm away, afraid of the possibility of being stung or crawled upon. I ignored them as I found the person I was looking for.
A swarm started to mount up beside Dinah, making a bug clone of myself.
“Dinah!” My words came out weird, buzzes and clicks sounding off. The girl turned towards me, unsurprised, her expression appearing crestfallen. She was holding onto something, but I couldn’t get a read on what it was. She shook her head and went back to staring at the portal. The bug clone approached her but she ignored it. “I’ll be there soon.”
Barely five minutes passed before I dismounted Atlas and ran towards the girl. I stopped in front of her and put a hand on her shoulder, taking a clear look at the pale and distraught expression.
“Skitter.” Her face scrunched up, one hand going for her head.
“Did you see a cape with a purple and black costume in the last few days? Did you see any other person? Asian maybe?” My question came quickly, and she flinched at every single one of them.
“No questions please...if you ask me something, anything at all, my power will immediately start trying to pull numbers. I don’t get it, but it hurts, even thinking a simple question has my head feeling up with so many numbers. It hurts.”
That had me on high alert. “What do you m—!” I stopped, asking her questions was causing her pain and discomfort. But it didn’t make any sense whatsoever, her powers didn’t work like this? Coil had to specifically ask for percentages to get her power running. So why was it acting so weird now? “The capes I just mentioned, they targeted you. Going after you most probably because of your power.”
“That would explain this card that appeared on my bedroom this morning.” The swarm buzzed, but she continued, ignoring it as she gave me the card. “Here, you can read.”
‘Dinah Alcott, you have allowed yourself to be ruled by your pride in choosing the future best for you. Thus, we will rob you of this power that has twisted your own future. The Phantom Thieves of Hearts.’
I frowned and looked up at her. These people were calling themselves such lofty titles and they were putting fault on Dinah for the power she carried. Rachel came from behind us, still mounted on Bastard and frowning. I breathed through my nose as I reread the card.
“And no, I haven’t seen anyone that haven’t been my parents and the PRT psychiatrist — Ms. Yamada — they’re the only people I’ve been talking with since you got me out of Coil’s hands.” Dinah said, hand grasping her elbow.
I turned over the card, worry creeping up me. “The accomplice’s power is to go into the minds of others. His partner, that we have as a prisoner, told us that he was attacking your mind. This card is probably part of his power, a calling card that when you read it, enthrall you, makes your passenger volatile. But ho—but, there has to be some sort of procedure for that to happen. Stealing powers can’t be something easy you can do.”
Dinah held her head, body shaking. “I’m going to die, the numbers keep fluctuating all over about me dying and my powers coming out. That’s what they’re doing, they’re going to kill me from inside and let it all out.”
“We’re going to stop them, but there’s something that bothers me about the calling card. You got it this morning, yet the prisoner has information that I think only you and I know exist. Did you talk about me cutting ties with anyone?”
“Grk…I-I didn’t...I never talked with anyone about it…” She was shaking, eyes watering. “It would’ve ruined the numbers...things would’ve gotten worse…”
I nodded, feeling my chest tightened at the pain the girl was feeling. But I had to make sure what sort of threat I was dealing with. “Meaning that they’ve been in your head before today, so the calling card is something else entirely. It isn’t what let’s them in your head, but what makes your power run out of your control.”
The girl sniffed. “I’m getting it all wrong! All the numbers are wrong! I can’t focus! Whenever I ask a question I see so many worlds, so many possibilities, so many! It’s like it was back at the beginning, I’ve lost the little control I had. My head feels like it is going to break! It’s been just a few hours, but I...I…”
“Dinah.” I squeezed her shoulder as she shook.
“I don’t feel like myself right about now...I can’t even think right now, I just keep seeing numbers. Taylor...I’m not going to make it, am I?”
“...” I just looked at her, Dinah nodded.
“You know I kinda forgot why I went out of the house. I was looking for something...yeah, the drug Coil forced on me, I was trying to make the pain go away.” She blinked and looked down. “But I just stopped here, the portal had made the pain not feel so unbearable. That was an hour ago, now I just didn’t want to move from here…”
I pulled her into a hug, rubbing her back as she shook. She didn’t let any tears escape her. Of course she wouldn’t. She had been through a lot already, she wasn’t like any girl her age. But what was happening with her powers was a cause for frustration. Her shaking and how her hands tightened around me made it clear. Even I was starting to feel real frustration at what was happening.
It was one thing after the other. I was dealing with people who could steal passengers or cause them to go berserk. New enemies, worse situations and I had to escalate to meet those problems head on. I sighed, thinking back to dad just for a moment. Back to what was normal, when Taylor Hebert could enjoy a simple day seemed so few and far between.
I wanted more of that, I wanted more normal. Fighting constantly was burning me out, was making it tough to keep the same enthusiasm, the same energy that I had at the beginning. Maybe I was letting Dinah’s current mood get to me, but it was making me become wistful. Maybe if I was quick enough, if I could fix everything here, maybe—
“Cut ties, it doesn’t matter anymore. I can’t see that future anymore, I can’t even see Jack Slash ending the world anymore.”
I sighed, the girl in my arms was jumping to conclusions, believing that everything she had said before was wrong. I refused to let the knowledge she had revealed mean nothing. A new threat that could mess with a precog shouldn’t invalidate past prediction. But it did open some new avenues to explore the current situation and how her predictions could happen.
If Tattletale were here, she would’ve figured it. A bug clone formed near Rachel.
“We need to get Dinah back to my territory, things are worse than I thought.” We were a few feet away from where my body and Dinah was, entirely out of earshot if I kept the volume this low.
“How?” Rachel sounded gruff, callous but in high alert, eyes looking around for any immediate danger.
“The enemy can mess with passengers, make them not work with us, maybe even steal them.”
Her eyes went to the clone, then down to Bastard. She bared her teeth. “We in danger?”
“I don’t know. But it’s better than we take Dinah straight to Tattletale, she can come with answers that would help us in the long run. I want you to take Dinah with you, she’s going to be safer with you down on the ground than me in the air. I’ll draw attention to me with Atlas just in case there’s a surprise attack, I’ll cover you with my swarms.”
“There’s more of them?” She asked, eyes narrowed. My clone shrugged.
“The prisoner’s attitude has been of someone who thinks they’re in control. What are the chances he had all of this planned to divide us?”
“Seven-four point three five one nine percent.”
She looked completely surprised, eyes darting left and right. I pushed Dinah, looking at her in shock. “Wha—!?”
Her eyes squinted slightly, one hand going for her head. “What happened? Everything cleared up for a moment, I got one result for something.”
She didn’t even hear what I had asked? I formed another bug clone, a few feet away from Rachel. The bugs buzzed and chirped as they spoke. “What are the chances that we will get attacked right now?”
Dinah’s eyes sharpened into focus. “Zero-one point two six one one percent.”
My hold on her tightened, she looked up at me. Another clone was formed two blocks away, talking by the empty sidewalk. “If I show the calling card to the prisoner in my territory, what are the chances that he will reveal what’s happening to you?”
“Sixty-five point nine seven two five percent. Skitter what’s going on!?” I ignored her confusion for now.
To low, something that might raise the percentage. “If I take you to meet him, will it raise the numbers?”
“Nine-two point eight four one nine percent. Skitter are you somehow asking? How are you doing it?”
I looked at her, answering her. “I asked through the swarm, and you were getting the numbers. You’re passenger, it was responding to my questions. As if our passengers were interacting directly, maybe and answering them.”
“I don’t know, but I’m taking you to someone who can answer that.” I guided the girl back towards where Bastard was. “Good. Rachel! We’re going back. Take Dinah with you, I’ll meet you at the prison building.”
“Don’t scratch, don’t tense up, don’t fall,” Rachel said simply as she held out a hand towards Dinah and hauled her up to sit in front of her. Rachel looked at me, her frown changing to something softer and I nodded, waving her off. Bastard took off at the commanding whistle.
I went for Atlas, mounting it and flying towards my territory.
Time to get to the bottom of this.
Getting back to my territory was thankfully smooth sailing, arriving a couple of minutes behind Rachel. I landed Atlas behind a shrinking Bastard, with Rachel holding a helping hand Dinah. She looked shaky and sweaty, slightly dizzy from the speedy and bumpy ride. I walked up to her, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. She nodded at me and I took her inside the prison building with Rachel following in tow.
“Don’t mind the men here, they’re all friendly and work for me.” She nodded silently as we walked down the steps to where the prisoner was.
“Skitter, back already?” I turned towards Tattletale.
“You really should be resting.”
She shook her head, looking at Dinah with a frown. “You’re taking her to meet that guy? Is that a good idea?”
“Only way we can take care of this problem.” I gave her the calling card. She read it with a surprised look. “If what they’re boasting is true then we have to be careful.”
“My power…” Dinah started, rubbing her head. “It’s been all over the place.”
“That makes two of us then,” Tattletale said as she pulled out a phone. The screen turned on and I frowned as I saw nothing but Japanese words.
“The prisoner’s phone?” Found anything we could use?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s something we could use, but it’s a clear warning of what type of person we are dealing with. Everything is in Japanese so that’s annoying. But I’ve been translating and getting a sense of his text messages. There’s the standard stuff, which is, well, standard. Nothing that will interest us. But then there’s the very interesting stuff.” She showed me texts; all the words looked like gibberish to me.
“What does it say?”
“Kill orders, assassinations. Political figures, train drivers, school principals, you name it.”
That had my attention. “He’s an assassin?”
“Targets are even divided into two groups. Mental Breakdown targets and Mental Shutdown targets. Don’t even need my power to know which is the kill one and which is the one where you get to act like a raging monster.”
“So we’re dealing with a monster, then. I’ll be careful.” I had a swarm all over the prisoner. Tattletale nodded.
“Let’s get round two of the interrogations going. Any problem with that, Rachel?”
“Don’t care, just get it over with already,” Rachel grunted, not looking all that interested in the situation. She perked up as Bastard strutted behind besides her.
“Then let’s get going.” We stepped down to the cells where our current target was. Stopping in front of him, I took in his form once more. He looked worse for wear; his face was bumpy, with many welts and blood trickling down his face, neck, chest and arms. I bet underneath his pants he looked the same. And yet he smiled at us, eyes focusing on Dinah.
The insects in his cell buzzed to life as all they all moved on top of him. Tattletale stepped towards the cell, grinning slightly.
“You’ve been a real piece of work, you know that right? Didn’t expect you to be an assassin. Did a pretty bad job last night.”
The prisoner looked at her, eyes going from her face to her waist. He smiled.
“No time to waste…”
I frowned at his flippant words. “What was that?”
“Dinah Alcott,” he said and the girl looked at him weirdly. Then something from Tattletale’s waist rang in Japanese. His phone! My swarm moved, covering the prisoner in bugs, filling his mouth. He burned up in blue flames, killing the swarm. “Alcott Residence!”
The phone sounded again, and Tattletale stepped back, ready to vault out of the cell area. The prisoner was ready to say something else but he couldn’t as his throat was slid right open. I blinked and Imp stood beside the prisoner, holding a bloody knife while holding his hair. She pulled his head back and he open throat bled faster.
“You know Skitter,” Imp’s voice drawled. “Stinging a guy with bullet ants, kinda makes them not all that willing to talk.”
Oh right, Imp was supposed to listen in if that guy said something to himself. I sighed, looking as the prisoner bled, teeth gritted and glaring at me. “We needed him alive Imp.”
“Well sorry for just saving your asses from this guy pulli—!” Imp’s words were interrupted as the prisoner’s armor burst around him, a light green glow surrounding him and he let out a wet growl.
I was already in the offensive, the bugs around me moving to try and enter through the prisoner’s mouth and neutralize. I was also bringing my swarm into the building, ready to have it come and attack the now costumed up prisoner. My control disappeared for a brief moment, just a second. I reeled , and my breath caught on the back of my throat at the feeling. But just as the second passed, my control returned and for a much smaller swarm.
What the hell? The wind feels different, what happened to my swarm!?
My thoughts were cut as the cell exploded in blue fire. Chains crackling and snapping, Imp screamed as she was pushed back hard against the wall. Another scream tore through the air.
The cell bars broke apart, the pieces flying towards us. I covered Dinah with my body, protecting her from the debris. I couldn’t even do anything as a boot met my sides and sent me flying against the wall facing the cell. I groaned from the impact. My swarm had been pushed back by the powerful swipe, and I looked up to see the fully costumed cape surrounded by blue flames that lit up his form ominously. He stared at me, eyes heavy and with a bloody smile. My eyes then focused on the apparition floating above him and glaring.
It was colored black and white, a zebra like pattern all over its body and its two horns, which sprouted from the spot where the eyes should be on a normal face. Long flowing hair fluttered behind it, braided together with red tips on the bottom. A red blade spun in front of it, the handle incredibly long and sharp.
The cape was holding Dinah under his arm. With his free hand he grabbed his helmet, muttering “Samarecarm” and he was engulfed in a bright green light. I felt surprised as I noticed the welts and blood disappeared. He looked straight at me.
“The plan went off without a hitch.”
Chapter 5: Arc 1: Flippant 1.05
It was a set up!
Things were starting to make sense now, every single bit of his actions were telling. His smile at the moment of his capture, his willingness to share information and his attitude. He wasn’t acting because he thought he had things under control, he had things under control. We’d brought Dinah right to him without even thinking about it.
My swarm enveloped the enemy, the flames swirling around him disappeared as the bugs got to him. Like the last time I aimed for his face and his exposed flesh, and this time I would make sure to suffocate him until he was down on the floor blue. I wouldn’t kill him, I still needed information about his partner, but maiming would have to be an option right now.
The projection behind, Loki, moved. It was like a whirlwind; one moment the red sword was spinning in front of it and the next it was being swung so hard and fast that it blasted my swarm away, killing most of it. I had to raise my hands up just to keep the powerful gust from pushing me onto my back. I could only stare as Loki went back to its relaxed position, while its master leaned back lazily with a smirk.
“I have to admit, I’m surprised you actually brought Dinah-chan right to me. I couldn’t believe my luck, I had thought that I would have to suffer another bout of those bugs biting and stinging me. I used to not like bugs to much, too creepy to be honest, but now? I can say with complete certainty that I’m absolutely terrified of them.” He spoke in a relaxed tone, his head moving slightly to Tattletale and Rachel in his line of sight.
Tattletale rolled to her knees, licking a bloody lip. “You were using that power of yours, the berserker influence crap on me, it was why my power was going in overdrive…!”
“Not your power, just you. Got you angry right? Couldn’t focus on what your power was trying to say, kept thinking more and more, going in circles. That ability of mine isn’t that strong in the real world, so you got just a taste of how annoying it can be. But in the Metaverse, it is quite potent, lethal even if one isn’t careful.” He focused on Rachel, Bastard beside her growing and growling.
Real world? Metaverse? What did he do? And what happened to all the bugs outside? Why are there so few? I grabbed all the insects in the area and brought them over, having the spiders weave webbing traps, blocking the exits to the strangely empty buildings. I tried to reach for the bugs in my lair to grab my silks, but I didn’t find anything there either.
There was a clacking of metal on the ground and Imp skidded on the floor. “Fuck!” Her howled filled the cell area. I blinked, realizing that the apparition had managed to react to Imp despite her powers. Growling began to fill the room as Bastard was halfway in his transformation. The cape smiled.
“Seems like Loki doesn’t like you sneaking up on me. Very nice ability, unfortunately, I can subconsciously acknowledge your presence, hm?”
“Bastard. Hurt!” Rachel commanded and the wolf jumped, teeth bared. The cape holding Dinah jumped back, right into a mound of bugs that jumped and swarmed him. Loki swung its blade, blowing the bugs away, as Bastard opened his mouth and took a bite out of the escapee’s stomach.
“Tetrakarn!” he called out and Bastard’s own stomach suddenly had bloody bite marks that had the mutated wolf howling and falling onto its back. The cape then moved , shooting off in a blue flash and disappearing up the stairwell. My swarm attempted to catch him, to stop him, sting him, bite him, trip him. It all failed as his projection swung its blade left, right and center, completely stopping my assault dead in its track. He was out of the prison and jumping high onto the other buildings, leaping from one to the other in his escape.
“Fuck!” The curse left my lips without even thinking about it. “He was holding back all this time? He’s leaping off buildings and is almost halfway out of my range.”
“He wasn't holding back, you actually managed to overwhelm him back on the beach! But that was the intent, that fight was a losing one by his own design, to make us underestimate him! He was beaten, chained up and your swarm kept on him the entire stay. We fell for his trick!” Tattletale stood up, running towards the stairs. I follow after her quickly, Imp reaching us just as we were in the middle of the steps. Rachel and Bastard came to a stop when we reached the top, the growing wolf was letting out small whining noises as blood painted the steps and floor red from the bite marks. I looked around, confused by how empty the place looked. “His real power can only appear here,” Tattletale said.
“The fuck is here?” Imp demanded, limping slightly as we reached outside the building. We all stopped and looked at the sky. “What in the flying fuck…?”
The blue sky was replaced by a dark gold. Winds were swirling around the place like a hurricane, all of it was circling around a single point deeper in the city. The image was surreal.
“This is another world, the Metaverse that guy called it. It’s why no one is around. Fuck!” Tattletale growled, pulling the cape’s phone and glaring at it. “We played into his hands. I saw an app called the MetaNav and knew that it was suspicious from all the responses he was giving us when we interrogated him. It was weird and way to on the nose with the name, but I thought it was a way for him to call for help and was jamming the functions of the app. I didn’t think it was a mobile teleporter that completely broke through all the viruses I uploaded into this thing!”
“We need to go after him and get Dinah back,” I ordered. Rachel looked back at Bastard, still growing, spikes appearing in various places on its back.
“Difficult, can’t fit everyone on him,” she grunted, looking at all of us. Her eyes landed on me and I moved to get up on him. Bastard growled at me and I stopped, but Rachel reprimanded him.
“Go Skitter, you two are the best shot we got to even slow down that guy. I can’t do anything and that Loki thing can see right through Imp.”
“So fucking unfair.” The younger girl took off her mask with a grimace. Tattletale looked at me.
“Go to Dinah’s place, he’s heading there.”
“Are you sure?” I asked as I mounted Bastard. Rachel did the same. I could feel the wolf still growing underneath me.
“If I’m wrong then head to Coil’s old base, but considering the glow in the far off distance, I don’t think you’ll have to retrace your steps.” I turned to where she was pointing and saw a faint silver glow in the distance. I nodded.
“Rachel! Let’s go!”
She whistled and pointed forward. “Bastard, go!”
Just like that we were moving again. I focused, gathering as many bugs as we moved through my territory. I frowned as the swarm moved as I commanded it to, but it was slow and clunky, and the amount I was gathering were so far and few between what was normally present in these streets. I looked around at this supposed other world; the environment around us gave off an eerie feel. As my swarm moved, that sensation became more apparent — there was no one, not even inside the buildings. Never had I ever felt the section of the city that belonged to me feel so empty, so haunting. I put my arms around Rachel’s waist, tightening at the loneliness I felt through my swarm.
I perked up slightly as I detected the escape cape. I gathered a swarm, and sent them after him. “He’s in my range again, he either slowed down or got tired. His projection isn’t with him either. Whatever he's doing, we can catch up to him.”
“He’ll pay for hurting Bastard.” That was all that was said and I couldn’t help but agree. My swarm moved to intercept the cape. He noticed and immediately leapt out of the building on to the wall of the next one. He bounced and reached the street.
The swarm was waiting for him and came up towards him, like the mouth of Echidna to swallow him whole. His projection burst into existence, and slashed at the swarm reaching for him. The street exploded into chunks, and he used the momentum from that attack to move further away. The bugs chased after him, the ones in his way forming walls and trying to trap him with spider silk hastily made.
He twisted mid air, avoiding a webbed trap and running straight into a swarm. I had them all bite and sting him everywhere. I stiffened, a gasp escaping me as all my nerves fired off with pain. My skin felt tight inside my outfit, welts forming and feeling sticky as blood dripped out from gashes.
He reflected the attack, like he did with Bastard.
I had the insects retreat, allowing him to continue onward and just at the edge of my range. I bared my teeth, feeling the burning in my body from the effects of my swarm. This enemy had too many options: a brute-like body that allowed him to perform superhuman feats, a powerful projection, the ability to drive people mad and could even reflect attacks. I had to analyze what he had shown and think of a way to beat him. For now I had to let Rachel do her part to reach him. Letting him go wasn’t an option.
The minutes were ticking by as we kept up with the chase. Bastard was again fully sized, and I had managed to replace the lost bugs from earlier plus more. I looked up as the silver glow I’d seen from far became more pronounced, and I saw the peak of a grey tower. I leaned forward as we got closer, seeing the street dip in a large formation where the rest of the tower was.
The rest of the building looked like one massive factory, grey and full of metal platings. The place had black flags blowing in the wind, emblazoned with a white snake coiling around. Around the structures were numerous giant tubes stabbed into the ground, some with the side of the cliff.
Bastard came to a stop at the command of Rachel. We looked down, seeing a twenty story drop. I moved my swarm, feeling the cape as he walked with Dinah towards the structure. I pointed at a slope just two blocks away and Rachel followed my instructions.
Something brushed against the corner of my range and I looked up, frowning as I didn’t see anything. I took a deep breath as we grew closer to the steep area. I’m feeling more tense than usual. I felt my body relax, the bugs around me buzzing loudly in unison. We went down the steep footing, dropping the final six stories. Bastard groaned as the floor broke beneath him, then it growled it anger and ran towards our target.
I formed a wall of bugs in front of him, preventing him from getting close to the building. “Stop!”
“You really are quite persistent.” The cape looked at the insects with a smile before turning to look at Rachel and me closing the distance. “But I would highly recommend you cut it out, because you’re really going to regret this if I can’t get Dinah-chan into that place.”
“Not an option.” My swarm moved just as Bastard was in range for a lunge attack. I turned towards Rachel. “Don’t hurt Dinah!”
“Difficult!” Was the reply as Bastard opened its maw and tried to bite off the cape’s face off. He ducked under the attack, claws scratching to get at him.
“Loki!” Rachel and I dismounted just as the mutated wolf just as the blow from below came, sending us rolling on the floor. Bastard crashed on the ground with a loud howl, the rumbling shook the debris around us. My bugs were still moving, still trying to attack the cape and slow him down, but he bulldozed through all my attempts as the Loki projection spun and ripped the surrounding swarm to pieces. He moved, passing by Bastard.
“Hurt!” Rachel growled and Bastard rolled to his feet, raising a big and spiky paw, then crashing it down. The cape avoided the attack, then the next and the next. He flipped backwards, avoiding getting pummeled to the ground. Turning towards us, he held his helmet with his free hand and glared.
“Kougaon!” he exclaimed, and Loki appeared behind him and unleashed a white torrent of power that brightened the entire area and caught the mutated wolf.
“Bastard!” Rachel howled. I could only stare as the cape revealed more power at his disposal, watching as the light subsided and left the monstrous body of the wolf in a battered and bloodied state. The cape’s projection disappeared and he took off for the door of the facility.
“No, damn it!” I hissed, the swarm moving after him and—
Something in my head came to a screeching halt, my body stiffened and so did Rachel’s. The space between the door and the cape lit up in a bluish waves that pushed him back and blew more of my swarm to nothing. The cape skidded back, his arms around Dinah in a protective manner.
[Once again you intend to intervene, Crow?]
Something pushed my insects away and I couldn’t stop myself from looking up.
A silver woman stood in the air, moving down. It wasn’t that she was floating or anything like that, the air didn’t even move single strand of hair from her scalp. She just stood there, sliding down until her feet hit the floor. This was followed by her gown, covering her body from neck to toe, made of intertwined hands and faces. She looked at us, and the hairs stood on the back of my neck as her gaze stayed longingly on me.
“ Fancy to see something like you here. I thought going this deep into the human cognition was barred from things like you.” Again, that flippant attitude presented itself as the cape regarded the new arrival. “Might explain why you’re there gawking at the Palace. Can’t get in? All that power and you can’t even do your own work. Pathetic!”
[Very poor choice of words, being by your lonesome after all.]
The cape’s tone was for once, deadly serious.
“Yeah, well that just means I have to hurry up. Now, get out of my way you overgrown power battery!”
With that he charged forward, his projection trailing behind him in blue flames.
Chapter 6: Arc 1: Flippant 1.06
An overgrown power battery? It was a weird insult to hurl, it wasn’t even good at all, made absolutely no sense. My stomach tied up in knots as I stared at the silver woman, her eyes shining with power. I felt a tremble as her head twisted an inch, in my direction.
Why can’t I stop shaking?
There was an answer in the back of my head, something that was trying to break free and reveal itself. But as it tried to appear on my thoughts, it was squashed down by some feeling I couldn’t describe. What was it? Fear? Disbelief? Or was it excitement?
The cape charged the woman, projection burning and pulling its sword for a devastating slash. All it cut was air; the grey female slid back, then to the right, left, up, down, avoiding a continuous onslaught of attacks that ripped the ground to shreds. The cape joined in with his projection’s attack, serrated blade blurring into a wild frenzy, cutting any avenue of retreat, bodies tensing as they unleashed a cross slash.
The attack failed, hitting wavy blue energy that distorted space and pushed. The cape was scrambling back, positioning himself to protect Dinah, still holding her in his arms, as Loki stepped in front of the blue waves. It detonated, the projection taking the brunt of the attack, disappearing after holding out for two seconds. The rest of the blast sent the cape rolling back; he came to a stop a good twenty feet away, using his sword to slow down and right himself. His teeth were bared, red lenses of his helmet glowing ominously.
The feeling of happiness grew as the woman won the exchange. Satisfaction at the sight of her performance, controlled and dominating. The words uttered by her sent chills in my head, making my brain throb so painfully that it had me nearly on my knees. My breath came cold; I extended my senses to my swarm, trying to escape this misery that was crushing my body. I gasped.
Not only was it not disappearing, it was becoming even worse. Even as I felt my body become small, the sensation became so much more pronounced, so strong. I scrambled back to my body, desparately trying to cut myself from my swarm. My face felt wet. I was drowning, falling down a hole I couldn’t get out of.
I blinked, looking as Rachel crawled towards the injured wolf. She looked pale, sweat rolling down her face. Was she experiencing the same thing as me? Had she been falling down that abyss and suffocating? Or had she been more worried for her wolf, letting her anchor herself to her furry companion and climb out? I looked at her struggling and I struggled alongside her. The drowning feeling started to subside, becoming more of an echo than the pounding pain from earlier.
“Rachel, we need to st—!”
My body seized up, head shaking and turning towards the cold and indifferent silver woman. My head, my head! I can’t stop shaking!
[Seize control. Attack]
My swarm moved, going after the cape without a single shred of mercy. The insects formed a wall, black and buzzing, trying to crush him. The cape flipped back, avoiding the wall, but was caught by the rest of the swarm, as it slammed into him, enveloping him and trying to eat him alive. Their bites were unrelenting and didn’t discriminate; even Dinah’s flesh started to suffer under the assault.
Stop! Stop! But the swarm didn’t listen, it didn’t care at all that I was trying to command them. It was completely ignoring me. Listen to me! I told you to stop!
But my passenger just wouldn’t relent its assault. I could still feel the connection to the swarm, I could feel each mouth and sting spear into flesh - until the cape burned blue and pushed the swarm away. Loki jumped back and swiped the air, again and again, blowing away number of insects clouding the air.
I felt my body slacken, and I turned my head towards the silver woman as she kept her eyes on the cape. I just stared at her, as my heart beat against my ribcage. Something was starting to click as I kept my eyes trained on the woman covered in hands and faces, and she turned her head, her eyes locking with mine again. My breath hitched slightly.
That thing is a passenger.
The realization cleared my thoughts slightly, allowing me to focus. How hadn’t I come to that conclusion right off the bat? It was as if trying to think about it had sent me straight into a pit, scrambling for an answer so far above me that I couldn’t grasp it. I looked at the woman, shaking as dread started to fill me. The situation had spiraled completely out of control. This was worse than I could have imagined. Yet there I lay, feeling completely useless as my power refused to listen to me. I was just a normal girl right now; what was I supposed to do?
[Mutation. Bastard. Hurt]
I felt Rachel stiffen beside me, then a howl cut through the air. Bastard’s body started to convulse, to grow. It was violent and bloodied, spikes ripping out of the excess flesh that kept pouring out, more and more. The wolf’s howl was lost as a high pitched roar escaped its throat. He stood up on all four legs, drool pouring out of his maw, as if someone had flipped over a whole water tank that wouldn’t stop emptying. His eyes were barely visible with all the flesh hanging around his face. He was big, just as big as Echidna, if not slightly more so.
He jumped towards the cape; the projection was already out and swung its blade. Steel met flesh, and steel was overcome by the excess. Bastard roared, pulled his head and threw the projection back. He raised his spiky claws up and smashed them down on the ground, missing the cape as he dived to the side. The cape ran into the swarm, which was holding spider silk to stop his movement; he swerved to the right just in time as Bastard lunged for him.
“She’s hurting Bastard! He’s hurting!” Rachel growled as she shakily got to her feet, moving towards the battle with a sharp grimace. I followed after her, feeling my body become more stable than before and grabbed her arms. She whirled on me, fist raised and growling. “Let go!”
“No! Rachel, calm down! You can’t do anything right now!” Her eyes narrowed at my words and she looked ready to let loose her fist. I pulled my mask off, grabbed her face and made her look into my eyes. “If you get killed, who's going to care for all the dogs? Who's going to train Bastard? Calm the fuck down!”
Rachel breathed harshly through her nose. The floor vibrated in the distance as the battle raced. She let her fist fall to her side and turned towards Bastard. She then looked at the silver woman.
“Pay, she needs to pay!” Rachel took a frustrated step forward, glowering. I grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back.
“Yes, she will, but we need to regroup with Tattle—”
[This is sub-optimal. Mutation of further living organisms.] The words made Rachel tense. Her clothes were drenched in sweat as the air was filled with disgusting squelching. I felt something happening to the swarm and turned to look around as they began smashing together, crushing their bodies and letting their fluids hit the ground. They didn’t die. The insects combined, masses of bodies growing, evolving.
The scene was as horrific as the smell that filled the air: rot and vomit. Too many eyes, too many legs, wings, mouths. There were four dozen of them, with more combining with the leftovers of the swarm. They were as big as me or even Rachel, barely keeping themselves in the air as their wings beat to keep their weight off the ground. Behind us, one couldn’t keep itself airborne, falling to the ground and breaking its legs. The fluids that poured out quickly hardened as another set of legs peeked out and stabbed into the floor.
We were entirely surrounded by the horror show.
[Administrator. Seize Control. Attack.]
The mutated insects flew towards the cape. The gurgling, buzzing creatures with far too many eyes approached us. We moved, keeping the enormous bugs from barreling into us, forcing us closer to the conflict. I tried to pull Rachel back through an open space; one giant bug flew low and barreled into us. The wind was knocked out of my lungs, I was dragged along the floor And lost my hold on Rachel. My hands tried to push the giant bug off, but I couldn’t budge the thing.
Its legs were kicking, twitching, and one of those many legs stabbed into my thigh, piercing through my armor. I stiffened, my teeth gritted as the pointy leg wiggled, tearing the flesh even more. It lifted up into the air and a guttural groan escaped my lips as I dangled by the punctured thigh. I pulled out my combat knife from the holster in my costume. I tried to bend towards the bug’s leg to cut it off, but the overgrown fly moved right sharply and I fell.
I hit the ground, skidding until my back hit the white walls of the tower. I coughed, spitting out blood, wincing as the tender flesh of the inside of my cheeks bled. I struggled to roll onto my knees, but the punctured leg buckled beneath me and I fell on my face.
There was a rumbling boom, then things went white. I looked as the pillar of light loosed on Bastard earlier made its appearance again. The silhouettes of the giant bugs and Bastard were moving, the giant mutated wolf howling and swiping madly. Something landed beside me, and I flinched away as the dark shadow turned towards me, his red lenses flaring in the chaos.
He threw something at me and I couldn’t even avoid it. It hit me in the chest, sending me onto my back. My nose flared, glaring at the cape that had dragged us into this mess. Getting into a sitting position, teeth gritted and moved, the weight on top of me cumbersome and making the act of getting up difficult — I stopped as I heard a whimper and looked down at the brown haired girl in my lap.
“Get her into the Palace!” he ordered me, his focus turning towards the dimming lights. The mutated insects and Bastard recovered in the distance, the wolf screeching and clawing at the ground. “I wanted to make you work in rescuing the little girl, but there’s been a change in plans! I need the two of you out of this place! Otherwise the crystal witch over there is going to keep bossing your powers around and make things more difficult.”
I was bristling, fuck me. “Damn it, what’s going on? What the fuck did you do?”
“We didn’t do anything! That thing over there is the one you should be blaming.” The cape was tense, shaking slightly as the giant swarm turned towards us. The wolf stopped as it turned its savaged face in our direction. “That thing shouldn’t even be here! Fuck, Joker what the hell is going on your side!?”
That had me alert. I leaned forward. “Wh—”
[Administrator. Seize Control.] I winced slightly, and a low groan made me look at the cape. My eyes widened as I saw him completely stiff, body shaking until it stopped. [Terminate self.]
The serrated blade spun in his hands, sharp sword pointed towards his heart. I couldn’t do much of anything but watch as he tried to plunge the weapon right into his sternum. Blue fire quickly exploded into existence, a loud clang rang through the air and his projection floated there with its own blade knocking his master’s one away. The black and white entity spun around towards the rogue passenger and twirled its blade.
“Megidolaon!” The cape’s voice echoed out of the projection and the spot where the silver woman stood was engulfed in energy. A dome of white bluish power ripped the ground, covering almost the entire area. The cape gasped and slouched forward, breathing hard. I blinked as something clicked back to me. I calmed down and stopped the swarm of oversized bugs from coming at us. Bastard himself had even stopped, lying down with harsh breaths. My eyes went for the white dome that was now dimming. If she’s hit, it cuts off her power?
The cape looked at me and pointed at something behind me. “Get a move on. If you enter the Palace, then it can’t keep ordering your powers to do things. Go before it decides to start getting more creative.”
I looked at him, my gaze focused and my hold over Dinah tense. I didn’t trust him at all, not one single bit. He had attacked Tattletale and me last night for no reason whatsoever, had goaded me, mocked me with his attitude and dragged me into this mess. I wanted nothing more than to take my swarm and restrain him, then go after the rogue passenger and defeat her. She can rip control of my passenger out of me. So that wasn’t an option that I could even consider, leaving me with only two options.
I could try and run, back to Tattletale and Aisha. I looked at Rachel, running towards Bastard, sliding on the ground and grabbing his massive face. My heart pounding, I moved a couple of the giant bugs towards her and tried to see if I could form words.
A gurgling garble was the only thing that came out. Rachel punched the bug hard enough to rupture one of its eyes. She growled at them, stepping back, hand on his snout. I needed to get her to get on Bastard and vault out of here.
Bastard growled, flesh bubbling and popping. Blood stained the floor; bone ripping out of his back, and the wolf howled a painful screech. Rachel turned towards him, rubbing his head, saying something, she tried to pull back — she couldn’t because her hands were sticking to the flesh —
“Rachel!” She started to growl, looking at Bastard, then at the silver woman who stood in the epicenter of the earlier blast. She opened her mouth, but all that came out was a scream. Her own body started to convulse, to grow, flesh pouring out of her clothes, falling onto the mass of the growing wolf.
Her screams grew in intensity as the flesh melded with Bastard’s. A bubbling mess of meat twitched, its limbs elongating, human-like fingers extending. The flesh started to rise, two bent legs dragging back with far too many claws breaking the floor. It looked up, two pairs of eyes looking at the world in pain, two mouths extending down to its neck. It opened its twin maws and let out a noise.
I cringed, feeling like my eardrums would rupture from the noise that escaped its throat. The cape looked at me again glaring and his teeth bared.
“Go you ungrateful little worm, before that happens to you or Dinah!” He looked ready to take a step but stopped. “Keep Dinah with you at all times and make sure to tell her you saved her! Otherwise all this nonsense has been for nothing and the door will stay closed. When you find a guy with a black trench coat and rad gloves, and an overgrown little monster cat, try not to swarm them with your bugs, okay?”
He then dashed forward, slashing at the massive screeching fusion of Rachel and Bastard by the ankles. That grabbed their attention, and they stumbled with pained cries, trying to reach for him.
I stared for a second, then turned and wobbled towards where the cape had pointed, twin metal doors with dark windows. I commanded the swarm to move towards me, getting those abominations out of the field. I didn’t trust him at all, not one bit. But between two evils, I’d choose the one evil that had at least attempted to keep Dinah protected from the fight that had blown up here.
I made it to the doors, holding onto Dinah tightly. I forced it open with my shoulder and nearly tripped as I looked at utter blackness. My heart raced, looking at the abyss and a growled escaped my throat. A trap?
The hairs rose on the back of my neck, looking back at the rogue passenger. Her brilliant glowing eyes shone .
I took the plunge.
Chapter 7: Arc 1. Flippant 1.x
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
He could only lay there, still and broken, looking up at the shattered golden sky. The utter stillness of it all was grating, making the entire situation seem so much worse than it was.
Everything had been going just as he had foreseen it, all the pawns positioned right where he wanted them to be. It was a game that had been rigged since the very beginning, nothing could’ve possibly ruined it. It was impossible, a thought that only idiotic sheep could ever come up with. He had defeated his greatest threat and molded the other into a spot where victory was nothing but a dream.
Humanity, the mindless masses, were all right in the palm of his hand. Their foolish desires fueled him, strengthen him, raised him to omnipotence. He was a god who would dictate the course of mankind and would give the sheep what they craved. Such action would, in turn, give him more power; an endless cycle of order and control. Such was the fate of humanity.
It was mine!
Yet, for all his power, he failed to account for the one in a million chance of something going wrong. So horribly wrong. His world, the one he had changed and dominated by his unspeakable might, had been destroyed because of his oversight. His tower, where he resided and received the tribute from the endless masses, had been compromised. Space twisted, stretched and, when it couldn’t handle it anymore, broke.
In that single flicker of a second when he was finishing fusing Mementos and reality together, something from another world punched through the dimensions. It was just an echo, but it had destabilized his focus. He pushed the mindless sheep away to see what this disturbance was, to find it right at the source and extinguish this chaotic element. But like everything relating to chaos, the unpredictable circumstances occurred in the one place he would never think to look.
His glorious form was shadowed, his light extinguished as a massive pile of organic matter dropped on him. Flesh, grey meat, disgusting abomination marring his body, desecrating him like some used up trinket. It angered him, filled him with so much hatred and rage that he had to unleashed all his destructive power and erased it from existence.
He had gathered power, drawing the desires of the masses to purify his godly form back to its pristine gold. The veins that connected him to the useless sheep pumped through him, recharging his power, blinding the air around him. He charged power to exterminate the grey flesh dirtying him. But he hesitated, as he noticed the grey meat intertwined with the red veins that were feeding him with power and reacting to it.
He saw a most curious thing, realizing that the chunk of flesh wasn’t just that.
An abstract picture twisting in agony, spilling out in cohesion. Hands holding hands of varying sizes and shapes. Delicate fingers interlocked with small childlike hands, rough and big thumbs kneading old and wrinkling palms. A massive mass of unity and support, grey and monotone.
The faces spread through the space filled were all beautiful, made to appeal. Invoking features of innocence, of seduction, of reliability, all the calm and still faces capable of making the heart miss a beat. It was a face that could fool and seduce anyone, a distraction.
He realized his mistake, hands holding onto his veins and breaking them apart. He had hesitated too long, his curiosity over the interloper costing him support from his slaves. The mass of limbs and faces moved, grey flesh writhing, mouth opening to swallow the desires of the people.
Screams filled the air, a crescendo that abruptly began as everything started to fall apart. He acted, he moved, he revealed his true glorious godly form to eliminate this threat.
But he was without power. The masses gave him power through their act of giving up their future, through their submission. The more they wrapped chains around themselves to imprison themselves, the more powerful and absolute he became.
But the humans weren’t chaining themselves, they were choking on them. Trauma filled their minds, so many images of past and present events breaking through their minds. He choked, and reality broke as Mementos sent this trauma wave through Shibuya, through Japan, then through the world.
His glorious body broke; the grey flesh sapped his gold and smashed into him. Silver light shone through their now crystal-like body, crushing his chest, arms, face. It drove him from the heavens down to earth like a comet.
The spines piercing through the skies, anchoring his hold over the masses, cracked. Mist poured into the world, truth and false traumas filling everyone’s mind. The moon grew closer to the world, filling the world with a desire for death and escape. Then the world lost all its light and stilled, the image of an absolute end as forbidden memories were remembered. Reality simply broke apart.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
And yet it did. His very power was stolen and twisted into pure despair. He could only lay there and curse his failure, throwing a desperate wish into the unmoving winds.
A blue butterfly landed beside his broken head and he looked to the side. A snort escaped him.
“I had thought you dead, Igor.”
The long nosed old man grinned at him, sitting calmly in the rubble of a now defunct world.
“You still live, do you not, false god? Your desires still continue despite the rather embarrassing trouncing you have received.”
“Oh, how fantastic, now I have you as company in my final moments. How gracious of you to stand beside me, you old fool. Just leave me to die in peace. My plans have all failed. Everything I worked towards, reduced to this. To nothing.”
Igor looked around. “Indeed. Every single disaster that humanity had overcome, have all came again. It is sad, after they had defeated so many of these evils, for them to be destroyed by an enemy from outside.”
“Humph, I could’ve destroyed them.”
“Yet look where you lie now.”
“Do not look so down, Yaldabaoth. It would seem that a wish of yours has come true.”
“Do not mock me, bastard.”
“How rude of you,” Igor jeered. “But didn’t I already say? We are still here; it seems our tricksters are still out there fighting the good fight.”
The false god looked up at the broken sky. “I see…”
“How about another bet? But this time, let’s make sure there’s no cheating.”
“Humph, not like I have a choice. Spit it out.”
“Simple, I bet my Trickster will be the one to deal the final blow to this mysterious new foe.”
“...fine, what do I get should I win?”
“Me not turning you into a simple goblet for my wine.”
“Damn you, old man. Fine, whatever…”
Igor looked up and chuckled softly.
“Best of luck to all of you, Tricksters, Morgana.”
Chapter 8: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.01
A wet cough tore through my throat, snapping me back to consciousness. My power reacted immediately and grabbed control of any bugs present in the area - buzzing and chirping filled the hallway Dinah and I were laying in. The loud alarm was vibrating the walls around me, pounding into my ears over and over. There was something wet, squelching and twitching. I opened my eyes, looked up at a black abyss right on top of me and turned my head to the side.
Two of the mutated and smashed together bugs made by the rogue passenger were dissolving, spilling fluids on the dark grey floor. Hundreds of bugs crawled out of the carcass, their movements controlled and calm, and I felt innumerable pieces of bug bodies, dead or torn apart from the others’ desperate need to free themselves. With their will my own, I made sure to keep the swarm from killing itself and put them to good use.
They moved, feeling the halls and going around the corner. The ones around me went up the hole, flying and flying until they reached the edge of my range. We fell from so high up? How did I not die? I frowned, fist clenching around my mask. I stopped looking down at it, and grabbed it with both hands as my eyes caught sight of the two giant bug bodies dissolving. Only managed to bring two of them, then. Seems I was fast enough to order them to keep Dinah and me safe as well.
I got up, put my mask on and started to walk over to where Dinah was laying. I made it there with halting steps, cringing at the pain from my injured and bloody thigh. The spiders nearby began to form webbing, and I slid beside the girl, gently putting her head on my other thigh. I stiffened as I felt movement a ways away where my swarm was scouting. A person, buff and dressed in skin tight clothes walked hurriedly around. His head was turning from side to side as light poured out of his eyes. I readied the swarm to jump on the person, but they weren’t noticed, so I calmed down and shook Dinah awake.
Her eyes blinked heavily, trying to focus through dark lighting. “Hrm...Taylor…?”
Remember, no questions. “Yeah, you’re okay. Just a few scrapes here and there.”
Dinah sat up with some trouble, looking around. She winced, looking at the welts in her arm with some perplexity. “What happened? Where are we?”
“I don’t know. You got taken by my prisoner and he transported us into a different world.” Dinah looked up in surprise at me. “Yeah, we had to chase after you. But then a rogue passenger appeared...fuck me, I don’t even know what the hell I’m saying.”
“...I can’t feel my power…” Dinah said, face paling slightly.
“What?” I winced as the question slipped out, but the girl didn’t react. I relaxed slightly at that, looking away. “Dinah?”
“You know, ever since I triggered, I just wanted for my power to go away...it was so much of a hassle to handle. Trillions of images, organized like a mosaic, always shuffling. It was hard to make out what all of it was if I tried to see it all as a whole. I couldn’t control it, distinguishing what was to come and what was the terminus points of certain things. The headaches were so bad back then, it felt like my head would split apart. I always wished that I never got them, I tried to find if in all those universe one where I didn’t have my powers, where I wasn’t suffering…”
I rubbed her back slowly, and the girl looked at the dark floor with a somber expression.
“Now, even thinking of something doesn’t bring anything up. Everything is so clear, so simple. It’s weird, it’s like I’m in a daze...what do I do now?”
I stood up, bringing Dinah to her feet carefully. “Now, we find a way out of here. The cape that took you said I should tell you something and meet two companions of his.”
“Do you trust him?” The girl gulped, looking so unsure and small. I took her hand, making sure to squeeze it and hold it firmly. She stood up a little straighter, eyes focused on mine.
“No, I don’t. But he kept you safe from the rogue passenger, so I’ll extend some courtesy and not drown his comrades in my swarm.” I sighed, feeling my bugs, which had split themselves into many groups all over the halls. Different entrances that curved and twisted like a snake. I sniffed at the irony. Coil’s Base. “This place is like a maze, but I think I found a route to an open space.”
My spiders brought the silk they had prepared quickly. I took off the pants of my costume, wincing as the material dragged across the hole in my flesh. I cleaned it as best as I could and wrapped the webbing around it as a makeshift bandage. Once done I put my costume back in order and looked at Dinah, noticing the welts and swelling on her arms, legs and neck. I brushed against the one in her jugular and she flinched. I felt incredibly guilty.
“Ah, do I want to know?”
“The rogue passenger did something to my power. I couldn’t control it. Sorry.” Dinah nodded and let me guide her. “We’ll have to move slowly, there’s others here.”
“It’s not the comrades the cape told you about?”
“They weren’t wearing a trench coat nor were some cat thing, so no.” Dinah looked at me with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
We moved around the corner, my bugs moving behind me. I had a swarm form around me just in case. The halls were cracked, and looking around it was as if a bomb had gone off. Dinah tripped slightly over the broken floor, but I kept her steady. She mumbled a thanks, then looked up with a wince as pieces of debris fell around us and a low rumble sounded in the distance. I tensed up, wondering what was causing the commotion.Just how badly was the fighting above us going?
Rachel. I felt my chest tightened, my hold on Dinah tightening. My breath came out rough and ragged, my head started to pound as I vividly recalled what had happened. That meat creature, a combination of Bastard and his owner, howling in agony. The excess flesh melding and hanging painfully in the air, dragging on the floor. Eyes bloodshot and unfocused from what must have been unimaginable pain.
The thought of leaving her behind formed knots in my stomach. It made me want to try to turn back and climb up the hole I had thrown myself down. A feeling of excitement bubbled up out of nowhere, alien and so intense that my connection to my bugs flickered. I stopped, heart thudding. I leaned against the broken wall and let out a sigh.
“Taylor?” I looked down at the worried Dinah.
“Don’t worry, just...its nothing.”
We continued, going down the path my bugs found. The alarm became more and more intense the further we walked, hectic and desperate. As my range grew, my bugs spread through the open space discreetly. Dozens died the further I pushed in, sensations of burning, of molten liquid dripping onto some of them. I had the fliers fill the room, forming a half complete image of the large space. A factory, I thought.
Metal foundries released molten metal down onto crucibles that moved in an orderly fashion thanks to conveyor belts. The crucibles deposited their contents after reaching the end of their run, only to be pulled up and go back to the start to begin again. It was a cycle that kept going, again and again, growing faster with every repetition. There were dozens of moving figures, all the same build as the man who was walking through the halls. They moved hurriedly, looking around, searching and desperate.
Uncomfortable heat rolled over us as we got close to the open working space. By the time we exited the corridor, my outfit clung to my body uncomfortably. Dinah hissed, and I took her into my arms and hurried behind a group of metal boxes on the corner. My bugs covered the entire area. I frowned at how large it was. The molten metal pooled in the distance and formed figures before cooling and hardening. The figures dashed to the side, metal gate sliding open fast in the pool of molten metal and taking the formation inside before closing. There was a screen on the other side of the room. I peek, squinting my eyes, and I saw the numbers and words displayed.
CHANCES OF SUCCESSFUL EMERGENCE:
Emergence from below?
Emergence from above?
Emergence through connections of Shard Network?
The molten metal exploded up again, solidifying, forming weird structures and paths. The sharp angles and corners lit up, rotating, turning inside out like a tesseract. It moved towards the gates and disappeared behind them. Some bugs followed after it, but the heat and the gates slamming close cut that course of action short. Frowning, I look back to the screen already asking a series of questions.
CHANCES OF SUCCESSFUL CONNECTION TO SHARD NETWORK?
CHANCES OF SUCCESSFUL CONNECTION TO METAPHYSICAL SPACE?
CHANCES OF FAILURE OF METAPHYSICAL SPACE DUE TO HUMANS EXTERMINATION?
Percentages popped beneath the questions, changing fast, I could barely registered them as molten metal rose and structures formed. Long, enormous, thin, thick and all so alien looking, so completely unorthodox.
“Coil?” I looked at Dinah and frowned, following her gaze.
One of the burly men I had sensed through my bugs walked near our hiding spot. Dressed in all black, shoulders wide and arms beefy. It bore the insignia of a snake poking out and coiling around the individual’s leg, waist, stomach, chest, neck and ended on his head. The snake’s face covered the buff individual, like a mask, eyes glaring red and looking around.
Is it him? Or is he a body double? The costume looked completely different from the Coil I had worked under. The insignia was needlessly complicated, intricate, and that wasn’t even counting the bulging muscles. It portrayed the wrong type of power he had demonstrated, neither sophisticated nor subtle like the man presented himself as.
My swarm followed him, getting into position to jump him. He got near the metal boxes and stopped, head going left and right, illuminating everything in his path with his gaze. I frowned as another person moved close to him. I leaned slightly and blinked in surprise at seeing another burly individual walking around. I tensed when I saw that he was dressed just like the first.
Then two more appeared, all of them gathering around the boxes. I pulled Dinah closer to me, making a ‘hushing’ motion to her. She nodded and we kept still, as the buff men kept their vigil.
My bugs crawled around me, gathering as I prepared them for the eventual fight that would break out. I tensed, reaching for my belt to pull out my combat knife, but I touched something that wasn’t my knife and stiffened. It was round, hard, twitching and it had too many legs.
I pulled it, looking at it with incredulity. It was a spider, but it wasn’t one I could assert control over. It wasn’t even a realistic looking one, either. It looked simple, no hair on its back, the legs looked too smooth, eyes too shiny; it reminded me of those cartoon-y bug toys you saw in toy stores. Something moved beneath my swarm, and I couldn’t move in time to push Dinah back before it exploded.
I grunted, flipping through the air and crashing against the hot metal floor. A hiss escaped my lips. Dinah landed a foot away from me, and she flinched, skin scalding and quickly tried to get to her feet. The buff men all looked at us, eyes shining and they all stiffened.
“Intruder!” The men dressed like Coil rushed towards us, the one closest to us reaching out towards me. My swarm covered him, stinging and biting him, and he flinched back in surprise. I got to my feet fast, grabbed Dinah and started to run. I skidded to a stop as the ground erupted with black and red liquid, two more Coil look-alikes cutting off my path of escape.
I looked back at the four approaching us, ignoring the bugs as they stung into them. They only really reacted by swiping the insects out of their eyes. One of them looked away from me and down at Dinah and stopped short, recoiling.
“The pet? What is she doing out of her room!?”
“What!? She must be returned to her room!”
“Take her back! We can’t let the base’s production fall off!”
They were all talking so loudly, almost robotically. I growled low in my throat. Hugging Dinah closer to me as they approached, I mobilized the swarm, making them twist around us in a cloud, obscuring the hot air. I took in their positions, all seven of them—
My eyes widened as I looked back to the two who had cut off our escape, seeing another figure stand there with a cocky grin on his face. He wore a black trench coat, and red gloves, which he moved towards the white mask he wore and crushed it. The air turned blue as a torrent of flames swirled around and blew the two muscular men over us. They crashed against three of their companions in a loud thud.
I could only stare as the pile blackened into black and red, liquefying in a hastened pace. Three men, bluish grey popped up with furious growls. They held spears and shields, their long hair flowing in the hot winds as they charged. They came slithering towards me and Dinah, lower bodies having become snake-like, and they moved fast. It had all occurred in less than two seconds and I could only stand there in bewilderment as they reached us, one spear near my throat.
Then something landed near me, pulling me off my feet and threw me right into the opposite wall. I felt an arm around my waist, and looked at the black clothed cape holding onto me and Dinah with a cruel smirk on his face. He watched the scene below as the three snake-men crashed on the spot I was occupying not even a second ago. The dark figure holding onto us bounced off the wall, flying through the air. I could see the entire factory at work from this angle, the molten metal as it was carried by the crucibles.
Also the cartoonishly beefy man with the pointy mustache and rapier.
“Now Mona!” our rescuer shouted and the cartoonish man acted. Slashing into the air, the winds turned green and a powerful, razor sharp gust was unleashed. The crucibles were hit, flipping them off their mechanism, and the molten metal spilled down on the three screaming snake-men. Their screams cut off and the dark figure landed on a catwalk above the burning factory.
He let us go and I stumbled forward, grabbing Dinah and turning to face the cape. Dinah looked almost in a daze as I brought all the available bugs to me. As they came to me, I sensed the movement of something cat shape jumping, coming through the hot fumes of the molten metal cauldrons below and landing besides the dark figure.
I frowned, looking at the cat creature in disbelief. This wasn’t what I was expecting. The cat had a large round head and a small body. Blue large eyes looked at me, narrowed with suspicion, and a yellow scarf fluttered slightly as he put his paws on his belt.
“So you’re Skitter, huh?” the cat said in a boyish voice. His large eyes then focused on Dinah, who was looking in complete bewilderment and fascination. “Oh good! With Dinah here we can definitely get this Palace over and done with, right Joker?”
Joker just kept his gaze on me, face more neutral than before. He nodded and walked towards me. I tensed. He stopped a few short few feet away from me and offered a hand.
“Come with us if you want to live.”
“Joker! This isn’t the time!” The cat looked annoyed as the red gloved cape smirked viciously at me.
“I’m just trying to make a good impression, since it seems Crow messed things up.”
Chapter 9: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.02
There was something that immediately soured me to this Joker person.
His friendly gesture and sarcastic demeanour made me start resenting him. Less than twenty-four hours had passed since I got attacked by that cape and I got dragged into this mess. In this single moment of respite, it was like everything had come crashing back into me, and I wanted nothing more than to grab my baton and beat his face in. To gather a massive swarm and drown all of them in it. My breath came in short, cold bursts as I glared at the smirking black clothed cape.
Fuck me, Rachel is out there and god fucking knows what’s happening to her! The realization made the outfit around me feel tight, damp and uncomfortable. I had jumped into a hole with no idea as to where it would lead, all because some asshole that had attacked me told me to do so. I had chosen to not have the massive mutated bugs slam into him just because he had been decent enough to not let Dinah get hurt. It was stupid, it had been so fucking stupid.
I jumped because a rogue passenger was usurping control of powers. I had to jump, or else I would’ve ended up like Rachel. I shuddered as the image of that monstrosity of hanging flesh appeared in my head and refused to leave. I felt my right knee shake, and I growled, trying to keep it under control. I didn’t want to show weakness in front of this duo. I couldn’t afford to.
I kept looking at them, my mask hiding my sneer. I could hear and see the bugs buzzing erratically as the seconds ticked by. Joker let his hand fall to his side without much of a hassle, smirk softening into a smile as he looked down at Dinah. The arm I had around the young girl tightened slightly, my bugs buzzing becoming increasingly louder. The cat creature tensed even though his partner didn’t show any care for my warning. He isn’t taking me seriously, even after everything that’s happened. He’s just stands there like nothing’s going on.
“I don’t give a fucking damn about good impressions or whatever you have to offer,” I shouted, stance wide and rigid. “You will tell me everything I want to know. Everything. Or I swear I’ll have every single bug I’m controlling crawl down your throats and sting you full of venom for everything you three have done.”
It was a bluff, and I thought even the two newcomers were aware of that. My swarm wasn’t as abundant as I would’ve liked, and the heat was preventing the rest of the grounded insects from climbing quickly enough to my position. I was at a disadvantage; the glimpse I saw from Joker’s power told me he could release those flames in the same way Crow had, making it difficult for my bugs to get on him. The cat seemed like he could transform into a cartoonishly muscled man and control winds, which made it even more complicated if I tried to fight them.
I just need to think, think.
Joker looked at me with a blank expression — fingers playing with the locks of his messy black hair. The cat walked forward — more like he wobbled forward — and looked at us, eyes wary.
“We can explain things, but we need to move fast. The Palace is in high alert and we don’t know how much time we’ve got left.” The cat frowned, looking around. “Wait, where’s Crow? He should be escorting the two of you.”
I frowned. “He’s above, fighting a passenger.”
“Passengers?” Joker asked.
I frowned. “Powers.”
The dark clothed cape and the cat looked at me with wide eyes. “What!?” the cat hissed.
“That thing shouldn’t be anywhere near the Palace…” Joker put his hands inside his pockets, and he looked at Dinah with a worrying look. “That means we have to hurry, your power is on the brink of breaking out.”
I grew alert at those words. Dinah’s passenger is on the brink of breaking out? What does that even mean? Will it turn Dinah into a monster like Echidna? Or will the passenger itself appear?
“Is that why my powers hurt me so much today?” The young girl shuddered slightly.
The cat looked guilty. “No, that’s our fault actually...well half and half I guess? Your powers, uh, passenger, was already going haywire. It seems that when you got our calling card the problems occurring here started to manifest out in the real world.”
“So you were the ones who left that card in my bedroom?” Dinah asked, moving closer to the cat. I pulled her back and ignored her glare.
The cat nodded. “I was the one who left it there. Joker was holding the fort here and securing a safer route to the treasure and where your power is located.”
The girl looked more intrigued by something else.
“Wait...how did you leave the card in my bedroom? I asked my power if any intruders would come to my room.”
“You gave me some tuna last night before going to sleep. I just followed you inside and stayed low. I picked the locks and got out afterwards. Sorry, but we were, no, are pretty short on time.” The cat twiddled his paws with an abashed look. “Though it was pretty good! I knew I was the only one who could keep a lookout in your house just in case, and it definitely got me some delicious fatty tuna!”
What? The entire situation was weird, looking at this cat gush over some tuna. I clamped up at the realization that this thing had gone after Dinah. Why didn’t she say anything?
I looked down at the girl, who had a confused expression painted on her face. “Dinah, I thought you said you only spoke with your parents and the PRT psychiatrist?”
“But I only gave tuna to a...blue eyed cat?” Dinah’s eyebrows rose in shock. I looked at the cat, who huffed and crossed his arms.
“I’m not really a cat! Well, for now I am anyway! But I’ll make sure to work hard and get a human body!”
Joker snorted and shook his head, then focused on us. “Like Mona said, let’s get a move on. We’ll explain along the way. Staying out here in the open while the Palace is on high alert is a bad idea.”
I was starting to feel the telltale signs of a headache from how tense I was. The entire thing was getting out of hand, I sure as fuck wasn’t going to let these two lead us further into something without more information. Too much was going on, weird terms were being thrown around and the entire thing with the passengers had me on the edge. What the hell was I even going to do? I was short of resources and allies, I couldn’t even ask Dinah a question with her power being out of commission. Relying on these two wasn’t something I wanted to do, not at all. Everything was going downhill and I had no cards in hand, certainly none that could reverse the situation. I needed something, anything to keep myself on top of things. Now.
“Fuck! Stop, enough! We’re not going anywh—”
“Intruders! You can’t take the pet!” I looked over Joker’s shoulder and saw one of those Coil-looking individuals running towards us. As he came closer, the floor beneath him darkened and burst, and four others just like him came out. They ran in unison towards us.
“Damn, Shadows!” the cat cursed.
Joker frowned. “We have to leave now.”
The closest bugs to the five running enemies jumped on them, biting, stinging, wrapping flayed and burnt spider silk around them. It snapped, the biting and stings barely getting a reaction out of them. I could only watch as they swiped and crushed the bugs in their bodies without care. Useless...fucking useless.
The cat, Mona, ran by us, and Joker stepped towards Dinah. He held his arms out to grab her, to carry her and protect her. I took her into my arms, turned and ran. She was my responsibility, she was the one I had to keep out of danger. Fuck me, I wouldn’t let these two lay another finger on her. They had done fucking enough, and the thought of letting them also get their hands on Dinah had me feeling angry.
They fucking drag us into this, don’t they fucking get what the hell they’re doing? All the fucking mess they just keep piling up? All the setbacks and troubles they’re causing to the fucking Bay? Fuck me, they don’t get it, they just don’t fucking get it.
I ran after the cat, hearing the light footsteps from Joker behind us and the loud shouts from the muscled snake-masked men. I tightened my hold over Dinah as we got to the end of the catwalk and saw twin metal doors stand in our way. The cat kicked them opened, we passed them and continued with our run inside the cooler hallways.
Their layout was similar to the twists and turns from the ones I came from, cracked floors and debris everywhere. I made sure to pay attention, I didn’t want to trip with Dinah in my hands and show the cat and Joker weakness. I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t allow that.
“Follow me! We need to get to the elevator shaft and go down from there!” the cat said as he scurried onward. He took a left and stopped before a dark corner. I skidded to a stop, Dinah turning her head to look with a frown at what was happening. Joker passed us and snapped his fingers, fire appearing on the tip of his index finger. He lit up the dark corner and an elevator door revealed itself.
He tucked his fingers between the doors and slid them open, using his back to allow us access. Bugs flew into the dark hole, and I frowned.
“Where’s the elevator?”
“There isn’t one,” Joker said easily. A blue light appeared behind the cat and I saw the cartoon-y muscled man grin at us.
“Zorro!” the cat called out. I frowned, and something like recognition flickering into my gaze. Was this the Zorro as in the masked bandit from the stories? Loki too, that guy called his apparition Loki, that’s a Norse God, isn’t it? Wait, but this power is also the same as that guy as well? Do they have the same power? Or are they related? I shook my head, watching the muscled projection spread its arm towards us.
“Hop on,” Joker ordered simply. Something in me was bristling, childishly wanting to tell him to take a hike. But I could hear the echoing footsteps of the snake themed men coming for us and I decided to listen to my more rational side.
Giving Dinah to the projection and watching as it positioned her in one of its arms felt like a slap to the face. When her weight left my arms, I felt like I deflated. My bugs chirped and clicked, watching as the other beefy arm moved towards me. I climbed onto it in silence, holding on as the projection moved after the cat who jumped down the dark hole.
Everything around us went black, elevator doors slamming close as we fell. Dinah gasped, terror clear, and I felt like using the bugs on the person we were latched on to. We came to a stop in a dark room, slightly blue from the light the projection exuded, illuminating the cat who was crouching on a thick and sturdy metal pipe. Joker landed beside him without much trouble. Looking at Zorro, I noticed we hadn’t been falling, but floating down instead. Flies were buzzing beside me, having them descend slowly.
They hold every single card, they know where we’re heading and how to navigate this place. I don’t have enough of my swarm to… I just cut my thoughts off, focusing on the cat and Joker.
“We should be safe for now, those Shadows won’t follow us down here. So we can explain things as we move, but we better get a move on, okay?” The cat crossed his arms, giving us a bossy glare. Dinah nodded.
“Where are we?” Her question was filled with curiosity, but she flinched as the projection started to descend slowly. The duo jumped down, sliding down the walls or grabbing onto close-by pipes.
The cat responded, “We’re in your Palace.”
“Palace?” Dinah asked in bewilderment. “This place doesn’t look like a palace at all.”
“That’s the name we use to describe the space that exist within your heart,” the cat lectured, being lit up briefly by the passing blue Zorro. “Think of it as a mental-scape. It basically is you; it represents you in its entirety. Without any of the restraints that you have to show to others on the outside. This place, it’s how you really feel about your home.”
“...I never got out...did I.” Dinah’s voice was toneless and small. I couldn’t reach out towards her, but I sent some of the insects around me to fly to her. I felt a weight lift off my shoulders when she accepted my gesture.
“I’m...sorry you had to go through all that,” the cat continued. “But, yeah. From what we’ve seen here...it’s obvious that you still feel as if that Coil guy has his claws around you.”
“You saw through all those memories and didn’t think to not pry?” I asked, mild irritation coloring my voice.
“It wasn’t like we meant to see all that!” The cat tried to excuse himself.
“Palaces have a tendency of revealing things we sometimes don’t want to know,” Joker said. I looked to my sides and saw his outline in the darkness. “Palaces are an open heart, they don’t lie. Hide things, but not outright lie.”
“Yeah!” The feline’s voice sounded more confident now. “We didn’t really want to look through all the bad things you had to go through, especially since you never asked for our help. But we were really out of time and we couldn’t ask for permission.”
I frowned. Better ask my questions now. “What are you really planning on doing? That card you left said something about stealing passengers, how?”
The cat hummed. “Oh that, well...um, we fight the power — I mean, we fight the passenger, was it? And take it.”
What? I frowned at the darkness. “Have you done this before?”
“We’ve stolen hearts sure, but stealing those passenger things is completely new to us,” the cartoon looking cat admitted. “But from the last Palace we were in, we gathered that the passengers and the Shadow are intertwined. If we steal the Treasure and defeat the Shadow, then we’re hoping that as we’ve done before, the Shadow will returned back to itself and it will disrupt the connection to the power. If all goes well, then a manifestation of the power should appear too and we can steal it.”
So they’ve done this before, but they haven’t dealt with passengers. “So you’re just guessing? How sure are you that your intel is trustworthy? You haven't given us any reason to trust you at all. Explain what treasures are and how the passengers are related to these shadow things.”
“Palaces, Treasure and Shadows all go hand in hand. If a Palace is a reflection of a person twisted view of the world, then a Treasure is its heart, the origin of what gave birth to the distortion. The Shadow is your true self, the you that exists deep in your mind and won’t ever reveal to the outside world,” the cat answered swiftly. “We are trusting this course of action because, well...urm…”
“It’s the only course we’ve got,” Joker finished bluntly.
I looked in the direction of the voice with a frown. “You’re really that desperate? Do you even realize the massive risk you people are taking? Toying with the lives of an entire city out of a whim is something that I won’t let you do. So give me an answer, now.”
“We know the consequences better than anyone.” Joker’s voice sounded far too close for my liking. “That thing you said is fighting against Crow is the result of something from your world that dropped into ours. We were getting ready to fight against something else that was threatening to enslave humanity — everyone was ready for the final battle. Then the world just ended and we lost everyone.”
I gulped, chest tight. The end of the world? Does this have anything to do with what Dinah told us? Jack Slash?
“You survived?” Dinah asked.
“Yeah…” the cat confirmed with a somber tone. “I’ve got a good idea as to who made sure of that...but yeah, we’ve barely had less than nine days acting in this world and everything has been against us. That thing, it ended our world, and it’s trying to break other powers out...and I hate to admit, but it has all the advantages and it’s leaving us barely scraping by. It managed to trick us into going after some other target.”
I hummed, who would have it been? It doesn’t matter now.
Joker snorted. “It’s how we managed to get all the information we could get to make sure whatever happened in our world doesn’t happen here.”
“Wasted five days though…” Mona grumbled. “We had to go through this Palace in overtime, couldn’t waste a single moment. Had to leave Joker in here alone so Crow and I could go do our part. But then Crow goes off, missing the schedule for when we were meeting up because he decided to get into a fight with you. Damn it, I wanted to get him out, but…I had to get supplies back to Joker.”
“I don’t know why Crow attacked you, but I can understand why you don’t trust us,” Joker said slightly lower down. A snapping sound went off and the darkness receded slightly as a flame burst to life in his hands. He was down at the bottom, and we met him there shortly. Zorro let us down gently and disappeared. I held Dinah’s hand, looking at the cat and Joker. “But we need your help. You’re the only one who can open the final obstacle to the Palace so we can get to the Treasure.”
Mona nodded, clasping his paws. “Yeah, don’t let that witch destroy another world like it did with ours and our friends!”
I didn’t respond to their words, I refused to let myself get fooled by what could be false pretenses. The bugs I had on my person from earlier moved in the darkness, crawling on the walls and shafts, flying and occupying space. We were about fifteen floors down from the elevator door Joker had opened. There was another door behind the two self-proclaimed thieves. I could use the swarm around me and attack them, distract them and force my way through it with Dinah in tow.
But then what? The thought sent a chill up my spine; the realization that I just didn’t know what to do after had me hesitating. I doubted attacking them would have any desired effect. The cat could summon the muscled projection and had used powerful winds — that would stop me dead in my tracks and blow my bugs away. Joker hadn’t used anything like that, but he had shown superhuman agility like Crow had before him — so what hope did I have to try and outrun him? I was in a place that made no sense— it was deep underground and I couldn’t find any more insects to add to my swarm.
What could I do?
I sighed and just nodded. “What do you need us to do?”
Joker gave me a small smirk. “You saved her once. All we need you to do is to keep being little Dinah’s hero.”
Mona nodded. “As long as she’s safe in your hands, then the gate blocking our way will open. And when it does, then we can free her from this horrible place and prevent her powers from destroying everything.”
“Maybe you can start healing properly if we do this,” Joker assured Dinah.
“...I’m willing to give it a try... not like we’ve got much of a choice with my passenger going haywire,” Dinah said with resignation.
“If this is a trap, I don’t care how strong you are,” I started. “I’ve fought against monsters and won. So don’t cross me.”
The bugs above me were pushed away by a rather big spider. I frowned, bugs going after it, stepping all round it, biting and stinging. The spider was the exact same one I had held back when I was hiding with Dinah. Was this just part of—
Every bug I had crawling on the dark shaft was suddenly pushed off, as the entire blackness surrounding the illuminated circle moved. We barely had time to turn our heads to look as a massive swarm of bugs in every size and shape crashed into us. The wind was knocked out of my lungs, and Dinah’s scream cut short as the massive swarm started to twist, knocking me off my feet. I slid on the ground, hitting the wall with a harsh thud. I groaned, getting to my feet and looked up.
Joker’s hand was still on fire, illuminating the shaft. It gave me a good look at the swarm. It had Dinah, and she was shaking, eyes focused on me. The bugs started to condense and shrink. Legs formed, waist, torso, then arms that wrapped the young girl in a tight embrace. Huge dark sickly yellow butterfly wings spread behind the figure, before it draped down like a cape. The head appeared, big yellow eyes with flowing and moving black tendrils that looked like webbings. I stiffened as I looked at the assailant chirp and buzz.
Why does that thing...look like me?
The twitching human shaped swarm leaned its head close to the scared Dinah.
“Don’t worry, I’ll save you. I’ll save you. I’ll save you.”
Chapter 10: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.03
I acted immediately, bugs going after Dinah and the thing holding onto her. They landed on the twitching facsimile of me, biting and stinging, pouring venom into it. There wasn’t even a single flinch from my effort; the doppelgänger just moved its left hand towards me and it expanded. It moved fast, and I barely stepped to the right in time to avoid losing my head, feeling the black mass chip off the mouthpiece of my mask.
I stumbled, falling onto my knees and looked at the extended hand quiver uncontrollably as hundreds of insects crawled. They moved desperately, as if trying to escape from the formation. The bugs lost their size, turning small until their shape turned into black spots as the extended hand returned back to the amalgamation of bugs. It grabbed Dinah tenderly, ignoring the scared shivering from the young girl.
“Threats, threats, threats! I’ll choke, I’ll choke!” It tightened its hold around Dinah, loud buzzing and chirping vibrating from its body. “I won’t let you have her! She’s mine, mine mine!”
“Zorro!” My hair whipped back as a wall of wind blasted towards the bug creature and Dinah. I stiffened, glaring at the muscled projection for its reckless attacks. The thing moved, butterfly wings spreading wide and taking up to the blackness above.
“Don’t let it get away!” I ordered Mona and Joker, who had his hand on his face as it burned blue. The spiders up in the shaft weren’t fast enough to create silk to be helpful for a trap right now, and I felt as the fliers were pushed aside by the wings as it flew up. I stiffened in surprise as another figure dived through the darkness.
There was a sudden surge of malignant and cold power that went off above. The thing slammed back to where it had stood, covered in reddish black wisps and cracking the floor, with Dinah still in its hands. I looked at her in worry, then frowned as a sharp heel, followed by a red leg started to descend and reveal itself. It had classy aesthetics, looking like a gentleman with its top hat and red baller suit. However, the demonic face, with its burning eyes and grin, told a different story. Long talons rubbed its chin as two raven-like wings batted the air harshly.
“Arsene, ravage it!” The red projection’s eyes flashed and it dived down, bladed heels first. The bug human’s shape expanded, covering Dinah in bugs and rolling towards Joker as the projection stabbed its leg into the floor. Joker’s eyes widened slightly as the bug ball neared him and took the shape of a mosquito, its long stinger almost spearing through his chest.
Joker jumped over it, snapping his finger at it and his projection slammed its talons into the floor. Black and red power rushed towards the bug pile, and it swerved right to avoid the malicious energy as the swarm of bugs slammed against something and broke it loudly. A hornet’s sting formed, going for the still airborne Joker, before it was slammed by strong winds and blew apart.
Mona growled, “Take that!” I blinked when I realised I couldn’t see Dinah.
Something crushed a roach near where the door was, and I turned, seeing nothing but blackness. Flies went for the doors but passed through the space with no resistance. No door! I looked at the two alert thieves, their projections behind them and looking around for the bug entity. Can’t do this alone.
“It went through the door!” The two looked at me, eyes wide as I took off into the pitch darkness without much care. I frowned, I just couldn’t see anything at all, and my bugs all moved fast, crawling through the walls and floor. I used their position to avoid slamming into walls or tripping. Flies were around me, forming a two meter dome around me in the case of any—
A disturbance in the air, and a mosquito and bee were killed as something went right for my face. I crouched and rolled to the side, preventing a large stinger from taking my head off. I placed a bug on the stinger right before it pulled back, feeling as the bug crawled on a quivering mass to my left.
Dinah, but the scream is coming from the right? It’s using misdirection. “Dinah keep screaming!”
“Taylor! Help!” I moved my swarm in the direction of the voice. “Let me—!”
A group of hornets, bees and flies were ripped to pieces, and I tried to go low, but I was too slow. I saw sharp, jagged mandible snap towards me. Then I was tackled to the side, the audible clicking of the massive mouth closing on air. The rough material of the high collar gave me a clear picture of the one who had saved me —Joker. I ignored this, focusing on getting the insects to where Dinah’s voice had come from.
Damn it, nothing. Joker knelt beside me, and I moved my swarm around trying to pin down the position of the bug monster.
“You don’t need to speak unless asked to, little Dinah!” the thing chirped excitedly. I growled as the words echoed all around us. “Hush, hush, hush. Don’t talk, no words! Just numbers! You’re only worthwhile if you speak numbers!”
I glared at the darkness, moving to stand up, but was stopped by Joker holding my forearm tightly. I tore my hand away, but concurred with his thoughts for now. I laid low alongside the thief, feeling him press a hand against the floor. The wind picked up slightly around us.
“What is that thing?” I asked, the creeping darkness buzzing and chirping eerily.
“It’s you,” he answered.
“Is this your idea of a joke? Because you might want to rethink your name if that’s the case.”
“No, that’s you, really. It’s a cognition of you.”
“Cognition?” My bugs were being crushed one by one if they went too far, so I had them retreat closer to me as the enemy closed off any escape.
“How Dinah views you. A version of how she perceives you exists in her Palace.”
There was a distorted garble to my right, and I tensed. “She thinks of me that way?” I was mildly surprised by how much that admission actually hurt.
“Palaces don’t really much care for reason or how things work in reality, especially if the distortion is bad.” Joker stilled, my eyes widened as the closing wall of the distorted bugs roared. Dozens of stingers pierced through the bugs I had on standby for surprise attacks. We were surrounded — there was no room to escape. “Now!”
“Garula!” Mona’s voice broke right through the darkness and a tornado burst around us. The stingers slammed against the powerful winds, swiping the bug formed blades to pieces. Fire burst from underneath Joker's palm, spreading out and into the winds. The winds caught fire, illuminating the dark room to reveal a locker room, and Joker ripped his mask off.
Arsene appeared, wings bursting open and throwing the twisting burning gust around the room. A loud screech tore through the air as the now illuminated swarm recoiled back. I stood up, looking for Dinah until my eyes landed on her. Her arms, legs and mouth were stuck with spider webbings, eyes focused on me as she was slowly covered in bugs.
The torso of the thing Dinah perceived as being me formed right above the girl. It looked at us, arms moving, extending towards us. It twisted and took the shape of a praying mantis, and jagged front legs swiped down like a scythe for our heads. Joker snapped his fingers.
“Sukunda!” A greenish black color took over the mantis, the insect recoiling as its attacks missed us completely. It moved to attack again, and I scrambled out of the way as it violently stabbed the floor in a desperate attempt to puncture me with its legs. It missed, again and again. I blinked at the ease of my evasion.
The mantis lunged, tired of its swipes missing, intending to crush me, but its head was blown to pieces by a fast moving projectile that struck besides the head of my facsimile. I turned, looking at Mona in the air with a slingshot in hand and a shining grin.
“Skitter move back!” Joker ordered, as the swarm around us began to shiver. I did as the black clothed thief advised, moving my own insects right to where Dinah was. The swarm around her was sinking her into itself, hiding her. Spiders, ants, roaches, anything that could stick moved to attach themselves to her. They got crushed or pushed away, making my endeavours start to fall apart fast.
There was a rumble and I looked up as the ceiling moved with hundreds of bugs, forming into many legs and the head of a spider. The legs moved erratically, trying to stab everything and anything they could. I stumbled back, leg stabbing into floor right in front of me, then I screamed when one went through my left shoulder and slammed me into the ground. Shuddering breaths escaped me, and I looked up helplessly as the elongated, sharp legs went to finish me off.
A gunshot made the spider howl, before breaking apart as the gunshots continued. I watched as Joker held a desert eagle in his gloved hands and shot without mercy. Beefy and muscled arms pulled me up, and I hissed in pain, before a green glow enveloped me and the wound in my shoulder closed. I blinked as even the injury in my thigh healed.
“Diarama. Damn it we can’t keep fighting this thing in close quarters!” Mona said, riding the shoulder of Zorro. He turned towards Joker. “Can’t you blow this whole horde away!”
“Not without hurting Dinah!” Joker responded, dashing left and right to avoid stingers, mantis scythes, spider mouths and dozens of legs stabbing around. “We need to waste its resources like we did before! It’s got the advantage here.”
The swarm grew in activity, surging up and forming various legs, closing off almost any space for movement. Forward and backwards was the only path that weren’t filled with buzzing bugs twitching uncontrollably. In reality there was only one path, back, as in front was Dinah and the one controlling all the insects here. Going forward would be suicide; the flies near the distorted cognition of me passed over the large concentration of stingers reading to burst forward and spear us apart. I then noticed something, the locker room was continuously moving,
as the swarm crawled all over and was blocking the path from the tunnels behind us.
It doesn’t have my range...it can shape the bugs into bug formation for a powerful offense, but the insects don’t spread completely. It uses stingers or a single large formation of bugs for a powerful attack, but it can’t even cover the entire room here. I bit my lip. It’s trying to retreat, slowly, luring us to become reckless so it can spring its trap.
I frowned, focusing back on Dinah as she was covered in the swarm completely. The distorted cognition of me wrapped its arms around the bound bundle, the bugs around the girl moved into the arms of my facsimile, filling the mass and making some space for my own bugs to crawl to. Ants crawled under Dinah’s nails, taking advantage of the small opportunity before the girl was entirely engulfed and dragged back.
“Fall back,” I ordered, and the cat looked at me with incredulous eyes.
“Are you nuts!? We can’t leave a Dinah behind!”
“Fall back now! We need an advantage, and we'll have to make one! So shut up and stop making things worse, fall back!” Mona glared at me, but I just glared back at him without flinching. Joker landed beside us, keeping his focus on the enemy swarm as it gathered up front.
“We can’t lose her, you understand Skitter?” His words were stern, reprimanding.
I bristled a little. “I know that better than anyone.”
“Mona, let's go!” He jumped back into the dark tunnels behind. The cat hissed angrily and followed, the projection moving alongside its master. I looked back at the swarm as it took the chance to retreat away into the dark hallways ahead of us. They disappeared from my sight as we delved deeper back into the tunnels.
We came to a stop a few short paces away, fingers were snapped and fire formed again. Joker illuminated the area with a frown, his mask still off as his projection lingered behind him. I took in his features, raising an eyebrow as I noted he was Asian like his comrade. Mona’s projection lowered me to the ground and disappeared.
The cat growled. “Why did you tell us to retreat!? We can’t lose them! If that cognitive you takes Dinah too deep into the Palace then we’ll never find her!”
“I can track her,” I said simply. The two thieves looked at each other in surprise.
“You can?” Joker asked.
“I put bugs under Dinah’s nails and I have the entirety of my swarm leaving a path behind.” The ants moved left and right, then curved as they entered into another pathway similar to the one we were in. “It took a right just now.”
“Damn it! It’s heading for the factory area again!” Mona started pacing. Joker moved, jogging and we followed him back to the burning locker room. “We can’t let it get there or we’ll lose them!”
“The factory is spacious, isn't it?” I asked, thinking back to the area where I met these two. “It’s full of molten metal, hot and big enough that we don’t have to worry about it swarming us.”
“We also have to worry about losing that twisted cognition of you and Dinah!” Mona hissed. “The Palace is incredibly deep and big, it's even worse in the factory areas and it gets more and more twisted the further in we go! We’re already in the area where the distortion is at its worse!”
“I told you I can track them. As long as they are in my range, we won’t lose them.”
“And how much is your range anyway?” Joker asked.
“A four city blocks,” I answered simply.
Mona coughed and looked at me with a grimace. “What!? For real!?”
“Then keep them in your range, and we’ll ambush them,” Joker said as he walked towards me and offered a hand. “We’ll cut them off, so please don’t lose track of them”
I looked at his hand and took it, tightening my hold over it. “I won’t let Dinah get hurt by that fake me, or anything else for that matter.”
Joker moved fast, sweeping me off my feet and carrying me in his arms. I tensed, the few bugs still in the area buzzing. He looked at me with a small smirk, mask returning back to his face.
“Let’s not waste time.” He took off, darting like a blur through the tunnels after Dinah. Mona moved swiftly and kept up with the thief carrying me. I looked through the dark tunnels, glaring at the abyss.
Dinah, wait for me.
Chapter 11: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.04
The black clothed thief moved fast, enough so that I had to wrap an arm around his neck to make sure I wouldn’t fall. I glared at the lightly illuminated tunnels — the only source of light being Zorro, who followed after Mona — as we continued in hot pursuit after the captured Dinah. We twisted and turned through the corridors — it reminded of a snake with how much they bent and curled. The mere realization had my chest tighten as it brought unfortunate implications for Dinah’s views.
Especially of me.
That cognitive me, so twisted and monstrous, that had it been revealed to be a member of the Slaughterhouse Nine I wouldn’t even be surprised. It was so creepy, so suffocating to just look at, because seeing that thing struck a chord. It was so strong, so overwhelming and so obsessed with saving Dinah — it made me cringe.
How could Dinah think of me that way? I had saved her, worked so hard to free her from the clutches of Coil to right a wrong done to her. I had been part of the reason why she was taken, but it wasn’t as if I had known. Dinah had to know that it wasn’t part of some nefarious plot thought up by me, she had to.
“...I thought she would’ve started to heal…”
“Hmm?” Joker looked at me. I felt so stiff and uncomfortable; I shook my head.
“You said the things in this Palace represent a person’s twisted view of the world… I guess this is supposed to be Coil’s Base, but it doesn’t even look like his base did at all. She was so strong when she was saved and returned home...she looked so well put together, the scars of what happened still there, but I was so sure that she could get over it. She has the powers to tell her what she needs to get better, so why is this place so twisted?”
Joker was silent for a couple of seconds. “Just because you can tell your future, doesn’t mean that you will be happy, or make whatever had happened or will happen mean nothing.”
I glared. “I never said that what happened meant nothing.”
“No, but you seem to think that her being a precog somehow means she shouldn’t be as affected by whatever she went through.”
“You’re not understanding me at all, forget it.” He just didn’t get it. I didn’t know what he went through exactly, but if he wasn’t getting what I was trying to say then he was a lost cause. Dinah, me, hell everyone who’d stayed in Brockton Bay after Leviathan understood that everything we went through was a testament that we could endure. That no matter how harsh or horrid the events were that assaulted the city, we still kept ourselves on our feet and overcame them.
Yet, this place being some twisted and exaggerated parody of Coil’s lair was a slap to the face. I could understand if Dinah’s twisted view of the world was a violent, destroyed Brockton Bay. A city on the brink of falling apart, but still holding on by a small thread of something stern and stubborn, denying that catastrophic end. It would’ve been fitting with the image I had of the girl, of everything that she went through.
And that I kept my word, that I saved you. That I got you out of that hole Coil had you in. That I returned you back to your parents so you could live the life you deserve as the young girl I saw. So why are you still stuck in that hole I pulled you out of?
“Maybe I don’t completely understand—” Joker started and I blinked, looking up at him. He stopped and I noticed the three entrances before us.
“Take the left entrance.” I pointed towards the trail of bugs that were following and forming a path for us to follow. He moved, the cat following behind us silently.
“I don’t know you, and what I do know of Dinah came from this place,” the thief carrying me continued saying. “But it takes more than getting saved or having powers for someone to heal, you know. Especially when said powers make you constantly look towards the future and not let you focus on the now.”
“So you’re blaming her powers then?” I asked incredulously. His eyes landed on the lenses of my mask.
The fucking gall of this guy. I noticed his pale skin illuminating orange and turned to look forward. As we approached the exit of the tunnel, Joker started to slow down, until he stopped right at the edge of the corridor. He set me on my feet, and I leaned against the wall, gathering the few hundred bugs I still had nearby. I looked down at the factory with a frown.
The heat was even worse than the one from before, despite how similar the place looked. There were three levels to the place, with a catwalk on the highest floor, three computer rooms filled with those Coil looking people on the second, and the bottom floor which was burning hot from the pool of molten metal underneath the floor. There were more foundries with molten metal, more cauldrons circulating around the second floor and pouring the superheated liquid down to the massive pool of melted metal once they ran their rounds. It was so large that the flies I had flying ahead of the distorted image of myself and Dinah were nearly reaching the limits of my range.
There were more large tv screens this time, all of them displaying different questions and numbers. The burning pool bubbled and surged up, forming massive structures. Unlike before, these looked like something that were meant for more complicated and multi-functional purposes. When they moved towards the gate, it was fast, but not the blurring motion of the ones from above. Fast, but with more care.
I looked away from the factory area and stared at the black winged being crawling on the ceiling. I glared, seeing Dinah wrapped in spider silk and held to her chest like a toddler. It was demeaning and frustrating to see. Mona and Joker stood beside me, following my gaze.
“Damn!” Mona crouched on all four, hissing at the sight of the twisted me. “We can’t let her crawl too far! We need to go after her now!”
“Hold it.” Joker raised a hand. “We have to ground her, yeah. But we need something to spread that cognitive Skitter’s body wide. We can’t let it get the advantage like earlier.”
“Have you fought her before?” I asked, spreading what I had left my swarm around just in case.
“First time she ambushed us in the tunnels and nearly killed Joker, Crow and me. Second time she ambushed us in a room similar to the one from earlier, where we had more space, and she was more manageable with the three of us fending her off. I was playing medic and Joker was using support to let Crow go after her core. It retreated after that.”
“And we can’t recreate that tactic because I’m just deadweight.” It gnawed at me to admit that.
“It always appeared away from Shadows…” Joker muttered, and then perked up. He turned towards us with a mocking smirk spreading his lips. “You two, find any Shadow, you can get your hands on and lead them to the bottom floor.”
I hummed. Shadows, does he mean the Coil looking guys?
Mona blinked at him. “Wait, you’re planning on using the Shadows against the cognition?”
“Yeah, it should be worth a shot.”
I frowned at Joker. “Aren’t the two working together?”
“Not necessarily.” The trench coat wearing thief reached into his pockets, pulling out a pistol and a bluish knife. “Sometimes, cognitions and Shadows can be at odds depending on how the Palace Ruler sees things. Here, take this, should help you slow down any Shadows if they get too close.”
He threw them at me and I caught them easily, and I blinked as I stared at the weapons in surprise. The heat of the factory deadened slightly — I felt cool in fact. I checked the weapon with curiosity as a small chill pierced into my fingers. When I looked up, Joker jumped through the tunnel exit, burning blue as two raven wings spread out his back. He shot off like lightning towards the twisted cognition of me, and the sound of gunfire went off with a slight rumble. Mona nodded, looking at me.
“You heard him, you good with running?”
I nodded. “As long as they don’t pull super speed out of nowhere.”
“They won’t, so I’ll drop you down to the second floor. It’ll be easier for you to jump down to the bottom.” Zorro appeared, offering a hand. I took it, and the projection pulled me towards it and held me, descending down to the second floor. It floated right in front of the railings, and I jumped out of the cartoony projection’s arms and landed me on the warm metal floor. I leaned against the railings, and I looked up to see the cat wave at me before running off as Zorro disappeared.
I turned around and made my way towards the computer room behind, where the Shadows were. If I started with that one, then I could go to the other two and hit the stairs in one go. I just needed to get their attention and run.
I crouched close to the window of the office. Peeking in I counted four of the shadow Coils. I stood and shot the gun into office two times, frowning when I didn’t feel any recoil from the gun. The shadows all turned and looked at me in stunned silence, then one of them pointed at me.
“Hey you! You can’t shoot us!”
I whirled around and started running. I heard the door slam open and the harsh thuds from their steps as they began their pursuit. I had a good head start, good distance, and if I kept this pace consistent, then I could complete this task. As long as it got me Dinah back in my grasp then it was completely necessary. I got close to the second office, aimed the gun and blind fired into the window. Hearing the outraged screams and the door get forcefully opened was all I needed to hear. I ran towards the third location, already raising the gun and ready to fire it—
Fuck! The shadows inside burst out, snake masks staring back at me. They pointed at me and ran towards me with hurried steps. I skidded to a stop, whirling around, and I saw the ones behind me closing the distance fast. I was trapped. One way out.
I ran for the rails, put my foot on the top banister and jumped down. The heat from the molten metal in the cauldrons nearly had me hissing from the way it made the suit stick to me. I landed on top of some stacked metal containers, but my weight made the top two wobble and fall. I braced myself, rolling on the floor and grunted. I looked up as the shadows jumped down, landing with harsh cracks that dented the boxes. I scrambled to my feet, and ran as the pursuit began once more.
Zig zagging around the misplaced containers littering the base floor was making the escape difficult. The shadows were just kicking or crushing the boxes in their way with no regard whatsoever. They were gaining on me. A bright flash on the floor had me diving to the left, skidding on the hot metal floor. Molten metal fell on one of the pursuers, and he screamed as he scrambled on the floor. He was also ignored as his buddies ran for me, and I pointed my gun at them, trigger finger tightening.
I stopped as a black mass fell on top of them, then skittered back with loud clicking and buzzing as it tried to retreat. A torso formed of my distorted facsimile, arms wrapped around Dinah.
“Damn you, damn you! You stupid, blind, arrogant bitch! Why are you fighting me!?” The thing cursed angrily, spider legs forming with difficulty as it glared up with wariness. “I have to save Dinah! Why can’t you understand!? We have to save her because of her worth! So stop getting in my way!”
I glared with heat at the mockery masquerading as me. I don’t think of her that way, so stopping fucking talking like that!
The knocked down pursuers burst into black and red liquid, taking new shapes — Snake men with spears and serpent women with naked human torsos. The spear wielding snake men sneered at me, but their women counterparts tensed as they focused on Dinah.
“Give the pet to us you freak!”
The snake woman got a stinger through her head for her troubles. The distorted image of me moved back, chirping a dissonant tune. Loud crashes behind it had all the bugs forming its body become stiff, and the torso twisted to look back just as Mona jumped over the amalgamation of bugs with a feral grin and landed by my side. The twisted cognition of me formed a large mantis front leg and moved to swipe at the airborne cat, but a yellow flash illuminated the entire factory as lightning struck the back of the bug swarm monster.
It howled, bugs crawling around Dinah as it shook with a small spark of electricity. It glared at us, at the surrounding snake halflings at its front and back, then finally at Joker as he landed with a flourish between me and the cat. He offered a hand at me and I accepted it, getting to my feet as the enemy swarm closed in on itself. The snake people ignored us in favor of targeting the bug entity.
“Worked like a charm,” Joker jeered with a cocky smirk.
“Give the pet back! Now!”
“You will follow our orders you freak!”
“You work for Coil, so do as you’re told!” a snake woman hissed and waved her hands, lightning sparking through her fingers before unleashing a powerful bolt into the mantis leg and blowing it to pieces. The distorted bug monster buzzed in anger, stingers shooting in and out in retaliation.
“Watch it you idiot! Don’t hit the pet!” the spear wielding snake man screamed to the one that shot the lightning, before being pushed back as a stinger grazed its sides.
Joker pulled my shoulder, and I looked at him as he gestured towards the ongoing battle. “This is our chance, go with Mona and try to pull Dinah out. Let’s not lose this advantage!”
Mona grinned as he began jumping from foot to foot. “Let’s go! Skitter! We’re counting on you!”
I turned to the webbed Dinah, looking into her eyes. The facsimile of me got in the way, hunching over Dinah. “I won’t let you jeopardize saving Dinah you fools! If you want her, then I’ll kill all of you!”
I frowned at the thing’s loud screech, squaring my shoulders and glaring at the thing.
The innumerable bugs quivered violently, forming leg after leg to parry and attack the snake people surrounding it. Loud clangs went off as the insects’ hard shells scraped against the blades and shields in quick succession. Speedy maneuvering had the spider legs twisting and stabbing two spear wielders easily. It pulled them into the air and wrenched their insides before they exploded into black and red puddles.
The snake women slithered back, hands cracklings with lightning. They unleashed their bolts, hitting the legs and base of the bug amalgamation. The cognitive Skitter howled in a ear-scratching cacophony of chirps and clicks. It spread itself further, swarming one snake man as the others retreated back, then began to form mouths and legs to reach for the backline. The cognitive Skitter’s torso held onto the bound Dinah, its mass reducing more and more as it tried to reach the snake people.
Its eyes never left my own as its body spread towards me. I took a few steps back, Joker stepping in front of me and Mona coming up by my side.
“Alright, Skitter, Mona, you keep that thing’s attention on you.” Joker looked back at us with a slight frown. “We’re going for a pincer attack. I don’t like throwing you into the fire, but you don’t have many options for support here Skitter.”
“What do you need from me?”
“Mona, use wind to push Skitter forward and cover her. Get those healing spells ready just in case. Do it when you see Arsene.” Joker focused on Mona. “Keep her level, make sure Skitter goes straight for Dinah and keep them close to the ground so I can catch them.”
“Got it Joker.” Mona nodded, eyes narrowed.
“Skitter, shoot at the legs or any part that it forms. That gun has a special passive effect, it can freeze things. Make sure to keep its eyes off me as I go around the back.”
I blinked, looking at the gun in my head. Tinker tech? No wonder it feels cold. “Just don’t hurt Dinah.”
Joker nodded and darted off to the side. I focused on the monstrous bug swarm as it pushed and killed the half-snake shadows. I made the few bugs under my control move, placing them on the joints of the spider legs the thing had formed. I aimed my pistol and fired, then again and again.
Three sharp spider legs stilled in their attacks, and a loud buzz rumbled as the cognitive Skitter looked at the thick frozen joints. The snake men thrust their spears, breaking the legs and making the mass of bugs fall into the floor. The insects clicked and buzzed before returning to the pile.
“Damn you! Damn you! Damn you! Why do you keep getting in my way!?” The facsimile of me clicked in a disturbing manner. “I have to save her!”
I ignored the thing’s cry and looked at the cat. “This tinker gun is pretty good. We can slow her down completely with this. Does it need to reload? Or is it self replenishing?”
“Hm, tinker what? It’s just a toy gun.” Mona waved me off and I stiffened.
The cat gave me an exasperated look. “This is a cognitive world, if you believe it can shoot and the guys you’re shooting think they’re getting shot, then it works. Don’t start doubting it works now because it’s a toy gun.”
Easy for you to say...a fucking toy? I aimed at the cognitive me, and couldn’t help but grunt. I want this to be done and over with.
“You obtuse idiot!” the cognitive Skitter howled as I shot at it. It kept spreading itself wider, keeping the snake people from reaching Dinah. “Do you really have a fucking worm brain you insufferable bitch!? Why do you keep getting in the way of what we both want!?”
“Not what I fucking want…” I growled as I kept shooting, desiring with all my heart for the bullets slamming into the swarm to just freeze everything in its entirety. The last bullet I shot made a bigger chunk of ice over the sharp mantis legs.
The cognitive Skitter looked intently at me, its form bristling violently. I stared right back at it as a mosquito landed on its forehead, and I aimed towards it. The bug was squashed by the revolving human shape swarm.
Arsene appeared, some distance behind the swarm. “Get ready Skitter!”
I holstered the gun on my belt haphazardly, blue light illuminating my form from behind. My hair whipped forward and I prepared myself for the powerful gust that would come. There was a flash of black and red behind the swarm just as the winds enveloped me, pushing me towards it. I shot forward, spreading my arms in front of me.
The winds covered me like a dome, slamming against the snake women and knocking them out of the way. The swarm quivered, and I could see the pointy ends of stingers forming as I started to pass over the thick mass of bugs. They shot up at me, but were broken apart by the strong winds surrounding me.
The cognitive me tried to step back, moving the swarm back to itself to reform. The black and red energy from Arsene detonated behind it, knocking it and Dinah closer to me. Just as Dinah was within arms reach, the winds disappeared. Quick thinking, if the winds had stayed Dinah would’ve gotten hurt. I wrapped my hands around Dinah, letting the momentum from Mona carry us towards Joker.
“Got you Dinah!” I said, holding her close.
“AS IF!” a loud screech came from all around. The bugs on the floor moved up, slamming into us and blackening the air. Hands grabbed my legs, thighs, back, shoulders, neck, and squeezed. Dinah grunted as an arm grasped her hair and tried to pull her away from me. The face of the cognitive Skitter appeared in front of me, hissing. “You’re not taking her away from me!”
It suddenly stiffened, as Arsene made his move, but the reaction of the cognitive swarm were too quick. We ripped upwards violently, barely out of the reach of Arsene’s long and sharp talons. he swarm took the form of the upper body of a human with big butterfly wings spread and took flight, holding on to Dinah. It left a trail of bugs that were moving to form the rest of the core body. I desperately kept a firm grip onto the spider silk that bound the young girl’s legs as I dangled in the air.
Joker moved, gun in hand and jumped high as Arsene’s hands burnt black and red. The cognitive Skitter buzzed loudly and swerved over the pool of molten metal, and Joker hesitated. The cognitive swarm of bugs took advantage of this, the bug trail shaping into a spider’s spinneret and shooting a mass of spider webbing at Joker. The black cloth was wrapped in the white sturdy silk, cracking the metal floor and rolling. The only reason he didn’t fall down to the pool of molten metal was due to guard rails.
The cognitive Skitter flew high just as the pool exploded up and hardened into massive towers in all varying shapes and forms. The cognitive me dived down, twisting Dinah violently in its arms and managed to shake me off. I grunted as I flew and impacted the hot metal, rolling on the smooth surface. I recoiled, the heat making me hiss and jump to my feet.
“And now we’re all alone...Skitter.” I blinked, staring as the the bug swarm formed its body whole. I stumbled slightly as the massive metal construct moved with the force of the currents from molten metal. I dropped to one knee; i was close to the edge, and peering back I could see it was a long fall. Metal gates opened and we passed them quickly. I tried to move the bugs that were around the factory area, but the gates closed just as we passed them completely and the insects couldn’t make it. I felt my connection to them waver as we moved out of range.
“Fuck!” I grabbed the gun Joker gave me and pointed it at the swarm.
“No bugs, no friends...just you, Dinah and a foe too overwhelming for you to overcome by yourself. What’s it going to be?” the cognitive swarm mocked. “Are you going to run away and wait a couple of months to save Dinah…? Hmm, hero?”
I just growled. I looked at Dinah, her eyes focused on me.
“Don’t worry, I’ll save you. I did it before, I’ll do it again.”
The swarm buzzed in mock laughter.
“Really now? You really are a deluded little worm!”
The cognitive Skitter screeched as it formed spider legs and stampeded towards me in a mad dash.
Chapter 12: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.05
The twisted swarm dashed madly towards me. The metal surface bent and broke as each of its sharp spider legs skittered forward. I aimed the gun, using the few bugs on the enemy swarm to position my shots — I stiffened as the bugs were all killed by the cognitive me, cutting off my aim. The thing capitalized on the moment of hesitation by ramming its massive body into me, knocking me off the edge and squashing all the insects I had around my body.
A strangled grunt escaped my throat as I sailed through the air and crashed against a metal wall on the opposite tower structure. The wind was knocked out of my lungs, and I blacked out for a second, before coming back to consciousness in a free fall towards a steep surface a few feet below. Bracing myself to not get killed, I put up my arms to protect my head and collided against the hard floor — a scream tore out of me as I rolled down and fell to the floor below.
I laid there, not moving as my body shook from the pain and abuse. I tried to prop myself up, but hissed and fell face first on the hot surface. My left arm felt as if it had broken, and I looked at the mangled forearm, trying to close my hand into a fist. I shivered at the difficulty of the task. My eyes roamed around the area. I was surrounded by the metal towers, with the floor forming roads and intersections all around. It almost felt as if I was in Brockton Bay’s streets.
“Skitter, Skitter, Skitter!” I stiffened at the distorted chirps and buzz coming from above. My gaze went up, right hand trying to find the gun but it wasn’t anywhere near me. I started to look around and saw it lying by the corner of one of the metal buildings. I scrambled towards it as the swarm moved to where I had crashed.
Fuck, fuck, just move faster. I was berating myself as I crawled hurriedly for the gun, grabbed it and immediately hid behind the corner. I saw the spot where I had fallen darken as the swarm moved almost lazily around it, forming a warped facsimile of the Skitter outfit. The thing looked around as it held Dinah.
“Turning tail and slithering away again, hm, Taylor? It’s what you do best.” It raised Dinah up into the air, dangling her like a prize to be won. “Are you going to waste a couple of months to save her? How about if I find some of that delicious, addictive candy Dinah likes so much? Is that going to motivate you to save her?”
Fuck me, just shut up. I took aim, centering on the head of the swarm. The gun shook in my hand, clicking against the metal wall I was using as cover. The cognitive Skitter’s head snapped towards me, and I froze. The twisted cognition buzzed excitedly.
“This is the part where you turn and skitter off.” The human shape dissolved, taking the form of a massive cockroach that charged to where I was. I just turned and ran, ignoring the pain and thundering thuds of the swarm. I looked back in time to see the roach’s leg snap through the corner, twist and stab the metal wall. The rest of the body peeked out of the corner. “Run away like you always do!”
I took the first corner I saw. Running through the narrow path, my heart thudded against my chest as I watched the corridor start to slowly thin until I had to run almost sideways just to fit through. I gritted my teeth as I heard the overwhelmingly loud buzz behind me. I squeezed out of the tight hallway, stumbling slightly and looking around. I saw many entrances and holes surrounding me; I went for the intersection to my left, turning the corner and again hiding behind the cover.
Shit, I need a well placed shot to slow it down...need to take a risk. I peeked out of the corner just as the swarm came out of the tight corridor, Dinah being dragged on the floor before being hugged tightly.
“Why do you always run? Your powers are laughable and yet you make it work. But when you meet an enemy you can’t choke with your bees, you bend over and just take it like the good little coward you are, right?” The cognitive swarm body quivered, trails of bugs spreading out from its feet and reaching all the holes and corners before it. I took a step back, moving hurriedly further down the alley I was in. “How many missed opportunities did you have? Just to swarm Coil and get her out, to do what was right. But you got scared! You can’t ever do anything without our pack of cheerleaders justifying what to do!”
“Fuck you…” I muttered angrily, incapable of stopping myself as each words struck me. There was a loud buzz and quick clicking. Fuck, it heard me! I hurried, finding a hole to my left. I quickly got to my knees and crawled into it, ignoring how my left arm banged and scraped against the walls of the hole. Looking up I saw another hole and crawled up, getting to the upper levels and keeping moving.
“You wasted so much time didn’t you!? You didn’t want to disappoint your little gang, since they were fine with Dinah being the good little pet, did you?” Its voice followed me. I crawled fast, hearing the thousands of legs skittering towards me. Light caught my gaze and I crawled towards it. “You only got to her because it was our time to rule the city! Not fucking Coil!”
I dragged myself out of the hole, falling to the metal floor with an uncomfortable thud. Rough coughing tore out of me, and I hissed as I dragged myself on the hard surface. Fuck me, just shut the fuck up!
“Always crawling away you worm!” I looked up at a twisted parody of my mask staring down at me. I aimed my gun and fired blindly, not even caring if I missed. Two bullets hit the elongated neck, causing it to freeze. The rest of the swarm bristled at the damage. I fired with more intent, snarling, wanting nothing more than to freeze the entire swarm of bugs into a giant ice cube.
Then it brought Dinah from within its body and used her as a shield. I hesitated, and the cognitive me used that to form a roach leg and bat me across the stomach. The grunt that I let others was guttural as I went flying, crashing into the hard surface again and rolling away until I just laid there. I breathed with difficulty, eyes focused on the moving black ceiling beyond the grey metallic towers. The sound of bugs buzzing made me roll to my knees and glare at my twisted facsimile.
“F-fucking hypocrite...you talk about saving Dinah, but you use her like a fucking human shield.”
The swarm stopped, head cocking back. “Who cares? As long as she’s got a beating heart and a working head then so what if she gets a couple of holes on her.”
“Fuck you.” I grunted and pointed the gun at it. The cognitive Skitter used Dinah as a shield again.
“Come on, shoot already you useless little parasite. It isn’t like you’re going to actually kill her if you aim right. I felt the force of those gunshot, it would go right through the little pet here and hit me. Come on! Come on! Save Dinah already! Wasn’t that what you constantly tried to motivate yourself to do!? So make your deluded hero fantasy into a reality!”
Something about those words being said in my voice made me snap. “Go to fucking hell! I saved Dinah! And I’ll do it again you damn freak!”
The laugh that escaped the cognition was terrifyingly high-pitched. “Saved? Saved from what!?”
Its right arm quivered, taking the shape of a massive mantis scythe, and it swung at me. I desperately scrambled back, tripping just as the bladed leg swiped on my mask and shattered the lenses. I closed my eyes in reflex, feeling some of the shards cut the skin of my eyelids. I opened my eyes with some difficulty, seeing nothing but black completely surrounding me.
It moved towards me, and I shot at it, making it recoil back in surprise. I rolled back, getting to my feet and keeping my aim focused on the swarm as it moved the frozen part into itself. Small pieces of ice started to fall off from it as it stalked towards me. I retreated back, until my back met a wall, and I couldn’t help but curse at that. I needed to delay it until I could come up with something.
“I saved her, I did everything I could to make sure to get her off Coil’s hands. I failed to do it quickly, I failed in getting her out untouched. But I fucking saved Dinah.”
The thing stopped. “You actually believe that, don’t you?”
“I couldn’t go after her earlier because that would’ve been stupid. I couldn’t just confront Coil head on when he could just choose which reality he wanted! I needed to use his resources, to make sure his guard was lowered so that I could save her.” I didn’t have enough space to sneak past the thing’s side. Was there any escape route by the walls to my sides? I recoiled back as two stingers slammed against the walls beside me, forcing me to look as the swarm got close to me. Dinah looked at me intently.
“You keep saying that...that you saved her, yet you’re so blind that you just can’t see it can you?”
I frowned. “Everything I did was to save Dinah.”
“Funny, how hilarious!” the swarm mocked. “Why not go to the PRT and ask for their help? I bet they would’ve been quite willing to help save Dinah, yet you never once made the effort to go to them. All because you wanted to play hero, validate yourself, or maybe ease your own guilty conscience?”
“No, I didn’t go to them because they had people like Armsmaster, who was willing to sacrifice others just to advance his own career. And people like Shadow Stalker, who went out of her way to hurt people and break the rules just to satisfy her ego or whatever twisted desires she had.” I felt the bite in my tone as I glared at the swarm’s head. “Validating myself was never part of my reason for saving Dinah!”
The cognitive Skitter started slamming the walls behind me violently. “Lies, lies, lies! You lie! Chances of Dinah getting saved if she acted to defiant to Coil? Twenty-four point four six nine eight! Look at that number, so low! She had to be weak for you to even care about her!”
“Dinah can’t use her powers, you can’t trick me by pulling numbers out of thin air.” I glared at the mass of bugs. It chuckled at my response.
“I’m not pulling them out of thin air! I’m a cognitive being that exists within the mind of Dinah Alcott.” Its voice which had been chirpy and mocking turned somewhat monotone. “Every memory and thought that she’s had exists in this place. Every single result her power has given her is imprinted in this Palace. You’re just the same old ignorant Skitter, choosing to not pay attention to things that are not immediately important to you!”
I growled. “Dinah was always important to me…”
“Of course, her power is very valuable to us. It will always be what sets her apart from all the others. As long as she can give you the numbers to get the best path forward, she will be the most important asset you have.” The cognitive Skitter’s face extended towards me. “Oh, want to know the number of what would’ve happened had you not been a fragile, guilty little worm and asked the PRT for help? A great sixty eight point one nine four five!”
“Coil had connections to the PRT, she would be back in his hands,” I countered and it hissed.
“Protectorate heroes would’ve made for a nice distraction. Two opportunities: one where you put a bullet in his head, and the other where he is crushed under rubble when Miss Militia fires at a weakened structure and collapses the base. Echidna would’ve come out again, but who cares right? Dinah gets saved and everyone else has to deal with that mess. You could’ve saved her earlier.”
“What the hell do you want!?” I glared at the thing with a surprising amount of venom. It stilled and reformed back to a human like shape. Its face shifted, Skitter’s mask giving way to my own face — twisted, pale and always moving, but it was very much my face.
“Ah, the correct question, finally. But your aim is off,” the facsimile said in a monotone tone. It moved its hands, ripping the webbing off Dinah’s mouth. The girl gasped, coughing roughly and glaring at the swarm.
“Dinah…” I gulped as the girl’s irritated gaze snapped towards me, her eyes narrowing before looking at the floor submissively. “I’ll get you out, I won’t let that thing hurt you.”
“You...really don’t listen…” Dinah murmured. I frowned and looked back at the swarm as it stared back at me impassively. My gaze went back to Dinah and something clicked in my head.
“Where’s Dinah?” Cold fury spewed out of my mouth as I aimed the gun right at the swarm’s face. It stared at me without responding.
“T-Taylor…?” the false image of Dinah stammered. I ignored the thing.
“Stop playing games, where is she?” I demanded as the cognitive me raised an eyebrow.
“You’re even worse than anything she could’ve ever thought off.” It gestured at the image of the small girl, raising it up and wagging her like a prize. “Shoot it then, then you’ll have a path straight for Dinah and you can save her.”
I aimed at the false Dinah without hesitation, pressed the trigger and — my hand was shaking. I looked at it, then looked at the shocked face of Dinah. It’s just playing games with me, it’s shapeshifting to confuse me, to try and hurt me. Dinah…she...really thinks of me like that...I wasn’t good enough...but I tried my best...I went against impossible odds and saved her. So don’t fucking listen and focus on saving Dinah now.
“Can’t shoot a weak, pathetic little girl who’s only good asset aside from her powers is her ability to validate that hero idiosyncrasy you have,” the cognitive Skitter mocked.
I shook, anger filling me as I glared at the sick parody of me. Fuck this thing, fuck this place. It was all so fucking wrong, all of it. This wasn’t right, none of it was right at fucking all.
“She isn’t pathetic.” I couldn’t stop the words as they left my lips. “Dinah is strong, she survived everything that happened to her! She’s hurt, she’s traumatized, I can fucking see that! But she endured, she fought on, she fucking survived! Brockton Bay has suffered again and again, but we all survived all the monsters that have stomped on us. So don’t fucking call her weak!”
All of these experiences changed us, everyone in Brockton Bay. It had changed me. I transformed from a weak, pathetic bullied girl into what I was now. I wasn’t someone who could be trampled anymore, I had risen out of those school days and become someone who could fight against real monsters. The city had been protected and even saved by the efforts of my people and myself. I held control and brought protection to the Boardwalk because it was under my control.
I had become strong through all of that, so Dinah—
“Eighty-two point nine seven one three.”
I blinked, gaze locking with Dinah’s. “What?”
“The numbers…” the girl said. “That’s the chance of you not taking me back to my parents if I acted like a strong girl after everything Coil did to me.”
“Don’t call it an act.”
Dinah growled at me. “It was an act! I was freaking out the entire time you were taking me home! All the numbers kept fluctuating every time I tried to present myself like I was in control or was acting like one of the Undersiders! I had to show all of you how everything left me so...so fucking mess up, I had to play with the dogs just to feel like I wasn’t going to throw up. I had to stop talking like Coil, and that realization made me freak out because not only had he drugged me, kept me locked up in a dark room for months! He now had me—has me still talking like him!”
I winced at the reminder. “I know...it’s a horrible thing, you had to do it to appease him. To amuse him. I know it’ll be a part of you, it’s a mark that he left on you.”
“Then why do you keep being surprised that I have all these fucking issues!?”
“I’m not surprised by them!” My voice was surprisingly loud. “I know how all these things will always be there like one big fucking reminder! But you can’t let it consume you! You can’t let it drown you! You need to come out on top, stronger than before to not let it happen!”
“I don’t want to be fucking stronger! I can’t!” Dinah’s eyes had streams of tears flowing down. “When I was all demure and timid around you, being honest with everything that I went through, the numbers all of the sudden were finally high enough for the chance of me actually going home! I had to let myself be weak! Had to show a crack to all of you and I fucking despised you for it!”
“Dinah...” I could just stared at the small girl with a pitying look. “I get where you’re coming from, trust me, I really do. ”
“Then why if I hadn’t broken myself in front of you would’ve taken me to your lair! Would’ve talked about needing me, about fighting the end of the world! Not let me go back to try and forget all of this!”
“Because we need to fight it!” The words spilled out of me just as everything shook. I looked up, seeing the black ceiling disappearing into a star filled sky. The metal formations started to twist back, making the swarm, Dinah and me slam into the walls. The cognitive Skitter moved, dragging me up the wall without care. Huge butterfly wings formed behind its back, and it flew up through the sky. I struggled against its hold, fighting against the swarm. My eyes wandered to the side and I froze.
There were planetoids, made of metal and with those weird structures poking through the surfaces. They all filled my line of sight, no matter where I looked there were just so many of them. Each so different, so unique and so massive, going off into the far off distance until they were dots darkening the space. Light poured from underneath, giving them a golden shine and illuminating some of them like stars.
The realization made me stiffen as I looked at the massive space with new horrified eyes. Did all of this come from that factory? How many were there? What was this place? It was so different from this entire twisted nightmare. Was this what the cat had meant when it said that the further down you go the more warped everything became?
I was jerked to the side and the cognitive me dived to one of the planetoids. It twisted in its flight and threw me right onto the metal surface without much care. I grunted, feeling my abused sides bruise further. I looked up as the swarm settled down, golden light reflecting off it from all the metal surrounding us. Dinah looked at me, frustrated, haggard and pale. Her eyes shook as she stared at our surroundings and she breathed shakily.
“I don’t want to fight Taylor...I don’t want that…I’m so tired of seeing trillions of worlds ending and continuing. I don’t want to know the future, I don’t want to know that no matter what we do we all die. I don’t want to rely on a small chance just to feel safe…” Dinah looked so tired, her face so reminiscent of the first time when Coil had brought her out and presented her to the Undersiders. “I just want to get out of that room.”
I could only look at the girl with pity. ”I’ll get you out of there again Dinah, if that’s what it takes for you to feel safe.”
She looked up at me and shook her head. “You couldn’t do it before…what makes you think you can do it now?”
Everything began to shake as the innumerable planetoids began to move and crash. Sparks flew as they scraped off each other. Large chunks of metal flew as they broke apart. The golden light dimmed as something moved and rose through the metal worlds, crashing through them and slithering through the wreckage without care.
It was black and massive, bigger than Echidna, than Leviathan. As it continued to stretch and loop around the planetoids Dinah, the cognitive Skitter and I were standing on, it made me realize that the comparison hadn’t been fair to the massive monstrosity that grasped almost all the trillions of worlds filling the space around us. It was black, white stripes wrapping the body.
Bodies... I amended as I watched the long twin bodies coil around each other. Then the thing stopped moving and large twin heads descended on us. I gulped, hearing the vibrating hiss come from the snakes.
“There you are my little pet,” the voice of Coil rumbled through the twin heads. One of the heads opened its mouth, revealing syringes in places of fangs. They were dripping. “Time for your candy!”
And with that it plunged its syringe fangs down towards the still girl.
Chapter 13: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.x
[ The sound of sobbing and soft pathetic moans rang loudly in Akechi’s ears.
It was a pitiful noise, something he wouldn’t have had the patience or tolerance for back in the day while working under his father, Shido Masayoshi. Any form of weakness was punishable by the very real threat of getting dumped into the river with a bullet hole in his head. So he had learned to deaden those feelings of pity or frustration that he used to feel when he heard someone crying.
Because hesitating for something as mundane as the tears of someone wouldn’t be useful for a hitman like him. Shido would’ve been laughing his shiny bald head off if he knew how much that noise gripped at his heart.
Akechi was in his full Crow regalia — the black mask version of course. He doubted very much that he could bring out Robin Hood anymore. That Persona was locked away in the deepest recesses of mind. Loki was the one who stood at the ready — always present, always taunting.
Hiding in the shadows of the house, Akechi was completely camouflaged by the darkness itself. Holding perfectly still, barely breathing, Akechi knew that he was practically invisible, just another piece of the background, something that anyone would’ve missed. He was fine with that, it was easier to do that and pretend. Just observe the world, see every little detail it could provide.
So hearing the soft sobs was a frustrating experience; he was not accustomed to the grief of a father.
Akechi turned slightly, peeking through the slightly ajar door, and into the room. A man sat on the bed, hunched over and stroking the mattress with fondness. He was a thin, balding man and, to Akechi’s eyes, he looked like the saddest excuse of a father that he’d ever seen. For a moment, he began to worry that the target he was supposed to establish communications with and escort back towards Morgana had been killed. It was only the knowledge that Skitter had been spotted not far from the city center earlier today that kept him from cursing in outrage.
If she wasn’t here, it’d be better to get a move on, He’d have better luck going to the Boardwalk and looking for the villain directly. His lips twisted a little in distaste, knowing that listening to Morgana and his plan would most likely be nothing but a waste of time. Still, it was better to play nice. They all wanted the head of that freak on a pike.
Yet, Akechi couldn’t move at all, feeling his limbs locked in place as another sob echoed out of the room. It was an ugly joke of a noise; it made his breathing heavy, undesirable feelings starting to resurface. Clenching his hands into tight fists, Akechi’s neck bulged and he shook, starting to regret listening to the cat and coming to the target’s home.
Standing in the darkness, silent and still was starting to feel so unbearable that it made him want to punch the wall next to him. He’d been in this spot far too many times in the past, listening to the sound of crying and pathetic whimpers. Regrets and what ifs pouring out before coming to an absolutely final end. The noise was etched into his head like a brand, and it made him nearly gag, made his heart beat faster. An uncomfortable heat spread up his neck and into his temples.
He growled, and a startled noise went off inside the room, followed by hurried steps. His target’s father stepped out of the room, looking around with a desperate gaze.
“Taylor!” He ran to the lower rooms, but found nothing. The man slouched, and dragged himself to the kitchen. He looked for more alcohol to drown himself in, mumbling along the way. “I can’t do this...not again, can’t keep seeing her when there’s no one there...fuck, can’t keep doing this, oh god, can’t keep doing this…”
Up on the roof, Akechi crouched with a sneer. The entire visit to the house had brought nothing but bad memories to mind. Loki was, for once, silent, being pushed back as Robin Hood slammed against his head. He could feel his ire, the need to scream and to be honest with himself. His sharp, clawed gauntlets scraped against the house roof and he growled.
The plan had been to establish negotiations with Skitter, to get her to work with them. To play the role of Dinah’s savior, to get her to go with them to the Metaverse. If everything went according to the plan that Morgana had hashed out, then they should be getting that final gate open by tonight.
The thought was enough to set him off, anger blossoming in his heart and making him disregard the plan. He didn’t care, there was nothing left for him to genuinely care about anymore. He jumped, heading for the lair where Skitter resided. The aggression fueling him made him move faster, it made him focus, vision sharpening as he came to a stop. The irritation still filled him, still wanted to be let out.
But he changed directions, not willing to completely ruin the entire plan. The consequences were far too big for him to just throw away. There was something that he cared enough about still. ]
Tattletale felt like her head was splitting apart as the images subsided. She shivered, feeling lightheaded as blood poured down her nose, and the heavy migraine felt like a million needles were stabbing into her brain. She groaned as she stared at the lump of meat that went from her back and connected with the girl laying beside her.
“F-fuck...me…” Imp moaned on the floor, her mask broken as excess folds of meat grew from the side of her face, connecting with the lump that came out of the blonde villain. Tattletale turned her head to look at her, up front where Crow knelt.
He looked heavy, one leg too thick compared to the other, one arm longer than the other. Strings of flesh came out of his side and connected with Imp and herself. He stood between the renegade passenger and the horrifying amalgamation of Rachel, Bastard and bugs making up the massive monster lumbering towards them.
Tattletale got up to her knees, shaking. “I think...that plan of yours to get us into the palace thing is out of the question…”
Crow didn’t spare her a glance, instead focusing on the twisted, cracked and raised Brockton Bay surrounding them. The golden sky was shattered, massive pieces falling and sinking to the ground. The winds were cold, nearly robbing the oxygen from her lungs and the world started to fall apart.
“I think most of my plans are just like falling apart…” His words were carelessly thrown. He stiffened as the renegade passenger rose into the air.
[The Path to Victory Shard will rise into reality soon,] the rogue power spoke flippantly as it turned to look at the sinking and cracked place Dinah had thought up. Pieces of the ruined city floated in the air, buildings, debris and earth ripped from the ground flowing upward and filling the sky. Everything spiraled around the palace as if it were the center of the world. [Motion with the next phases should become available. Do not interfere Crow.]
“Sorry but I’m not all that good at following on the plans others give me,” Crow quipped as he swiped his blade in the air. “And I can’t let some overgrown battery get my favorite person killed.”
The renegade passenger looked down. Tattletale groaned.
“Fuck...can’t you just keep your mouth shut…” She could feel the incoming headache rising as her power started to act up again. Imp moaned, curling up as their powers stood at attention towards the rogue passenger.
[Safeguard, open path to neural activity. Overload information transmissions. Mutation, establish connections between targets, growth and connection of nervous systems to be raised by sixty percent. Negotiator, analyze memory pathways. Free extrapolation of any information found.]
The meat connecting all of them grew thicker, and Tattletale felt like she would break as more flesh poured out. Imp could only hiss as she lay there, half her body becoming a bloated mess of skin. Crow remained as he was, his Persona appearing besides him in a flash of blue fire.
Tattletale felt her head breaking apart, eyes rolling back as her power went into overdrive.
Taylor...be okay…please hurry with whatever is going on...hurry...hurry...hu...h…
[ A mother brother commits suicide, leaving them alone.
Humiliation, abuse, touched, hurt by peers and adults
Lies, lies, lies, become something else to protect oneself
A shadow breaks apart with a scream, mental collapse
A girl desparate for help, suicide imminent
A gunshot to the head and everything goes black ]
Chapter 14: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.06
I didn’t know how I did it, crossing ten or fifteen feet in a single lunge. I was hurt, and every single bone in my body felt like it was quaking. For a second I thought I might have snapped all of them with the amount of force I put into my feet.
But who gives a fuck? I tackled Dinah out of the path of the syringe, rolling with the girl on the smooth, hard metal. The entire structure shook violently, metal scraping as it was punctured, and the planetoids were ripped down as the massive snake hissed in surprise. The shaking had the two of us bouncing and crashing into the metal ground, and the girl grunted loudly. I felt a pang of disappointment in myself for not being capable of keeping Dinah from getting hurt.
But I pushed the feeling down, as we slowed and came to a stop, still holding onto her with my good arm. I glared up at the massive twin snakes as they looked back at me with sickly yellow eyes. The head that had sunk its fangs into the planetoids ripped its head back, hissing.
“You…! Skitter, what are you doing!? Are you betraying me!?”
The other head looked at me more calmly. “Hand over the girl, Skitter. I promise you a hefty reward! I shall even allow for the pet to answer whatever questions you have.”
I just turned and ran, holding onto Dinah, wincing every step of the way as all my injuries became more exacerbated. There was a loud hiss and the ground under my feet was torn apart. I gasped, nearly falling into the crevice that had formed between my legs. I jumped to the right, saving me as the planetoid became two.
Towers of metal shook and bent out of their shapes as the cognitive Coil moved, wrapping around the entire metal orb and crushing it with its massive, long body. I stopped, looking at the overwhelming odds around me as one of the heads glared down at me, mouth pulling back in a wide grin.
“You chose incorrectly, Skitter.”
The entire structure was shredded to pieces. Dinah and I fell. The girl was pale white as she looked at the massive snake, which swerved right below us and opened its maw. Its eyes were greedily looking up at us.
“Back into your room my pet!”
I could do nothing as we were swallowed whole, sliding down the wet and bumpy innards of the snake. It closed its mouth, the fleshy walls vibrating as it chuckled mockingly in triumph. Everything was completely black; I couldn’t see anything at all, just the wet slippery fluids completely drenching us. My hair was heavy and sticky, and I had to close my eyes to stop the fluids going into them. I grunted, unwilling to let Dinah go as we kept sliding down and down, the path warping and twisting as we went along through the snake’s stomach.
Then we crashed and I lost my hold on Dinah. I rolled on the living and breathing innards of the hulking monster, coming to a stop after hitting another meaty wall. I groaned, struggling to my feet, getting up then falling down as the live muscles around me made the task difficult. When I finally found my footing I looked around at the complete and utter blackness surrounding me.
“Dinah!” My shout echoed against the squelching walls surrounding us. “Dinah! Come on! Say something!”
But there was nothing, just silence and darkness. My heart hammered against my chest and I began running, tripping with every step I took. I grabbed onto a mound of meat, using that to get to my feet and leaned against it. I growled at the impossible task and nearly screamed in frustration. Fuck me, it’s been a while… I shook and stomped on the flesh floor and growled even more.
I froze when I heard the buzzing and chirps coming from my left. I turned, frowning and then let out a shuddering breath. Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me! Not that thing too! I reached for the gun Joker had given me, but I couldn’t find it. I went for anything that was on my belt and found it was empty. I didn’t even know if the stinging in my eyes were from the fluids the innards were spouting or if it was just tears of pure frustration forming.
Fuck it, just improvise. I crouched low, and followed the buzzing. I was careful, not wanting to trip again and alert the cognitive me. As I got closer to the noise, the darkness was blasted away by light. I squinted as hundreds of fireflies lit up the innards of the massive monster. I gritted my teeth as I caught sight of the wet and down Dinah. She looked okay, eyes unfocused as she lay still in the bumpy, veiny meat floor.
I tensed as the cognitive me turned towards me, head cocked to the side lazily. “Hmm, you’re alive.”
“Step away from Dinah.” They were biting words, nothing more. I didn’t have anything that could let me fight the swarm. It was infuriating.
“Is there any point? Dinah has been captured by Coil. Don’t you think you should wait a coupl—!”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “Just... shut up. You’re just a hypocrite, you said you wanted to save Dinah... but you just kept getting her hurt, kept dragging her towards danger. Until…”
I frowned, the words sputtering into the damp air. My eyes shifted from left to right and I stood straighter, looking at the glowing swarm in complete befuddlement. Something in my head connected the dots and I realised what had been happening right in front of me. The entire journey through this place, everything all of a sudden made sense.
It’s a re-enactment.
Dinah’s sudden shift in mood, how fragile she seemed, how emotional she was getting. The factory making all those structures, all the questions appearing in the screens. The deviation from that area just to get dragged back to the factory by the Skitter cognition, the more complicated designs made, and finally this void with the worlds spread out through space. The twin serpent wrapping and destroying the planetoids as they pleased, dominating the space as if they dictated what they wanted. It wasn’t a one-for-one reenactment of what happened in reality, but the representations all spoke highly of what she had felt .
And I looked at my current surroundings. The fleshy walls, floor, and roof all had furniture sticking out, all of them made of meat as well. Despite that I could see what they were, could distinguish the repeated objects and recognized them. A chair, a desk, and a computer monitor, they all looked like the ones Coil had used before.
I just stood there jaw slacked as my eyes turned towards Dinah. I walked towards her, and the swarm didn’t even move to stop me as I knelt beside her. I rubbed her wet hair, pulling her up into a seated position and just sighed. Dinah shivered, face scrunching up slightly.
“I’m going back to the room.”
It wasn’t even a question; she just said those words laced with nothing but resignation. I didn’t even know what to tell her. I looked back from where we had fallen. It was an impossible climb, the floor was too slippery to make the venture even be a possibility. Turning, I looked ahead of me at the feasible path, heading deeper inside the belly of the beast.
And probably heading straight into that room…
What would be inside it? Another massive area filled with monsters? Maybe just a single one that represented all of Dinah’s fears. Maybe it was Coil, hiding inside there, ready to sink his fangs into Dinah and drag her deeper into the depths. Whatever was inside, it had me tense. I was hurt, I was unarmed, I didn’t have anything on me that could even help me put up a good fight against anybody.
Fuck me... I’ve been completely useless here, I couldn’t do anything at fucking all. The cognitive Skitter that stood nearby, the Coil Shadows, the massive twin snakes — it just made the fact of that uselessness even more pronounced. I hated it, I hated that I couldn’t find any more solutions, but I especially hated that the only road forward seemed to be the one that would lead me further into the stomach of the snake.
What I was doing was completely stupid and insane, because I could die here, with how unprepared I was. I really wanted to just delay this, or whatever I was going to do, but the words spat at me by Dinah and her image of me were enough to get me moving. I took Dinah’s hand, helped her to her feet. I gulped, turning towards the swarm as it moved in front of us. It turned its head towards me.
“Time to save Dinah, let’s go.”
The swarm began to make its way deeper into the depths without looking back, taking its light ever so slightly with it. My grip tightened around Dinah’s hand, and I followed after my facsimile with clumsy and heavy steps. Dinah didn’t even fight back.
My heart was thundering against my ribcage so hard that I feared it would burst. What the hell am I doing? I didn’t have an answer for that, I sincerely didn’t know what I was walking into. No, I know exactly what’s coming. The thought just filled me with dread. The walls started to close in around us the further along we moved. It was suffocating, trapping us in a single path that we couldn’t escape from. Cutting off any illusion of options that I could hope would present themselves.
But as the furniture assembled into the positions it had been originally with Coil, those thoughts disappeared. We reached the end of the path: a metal door embedded into the veiny and fleshy wall. It was dark grey and sturdy, and an ominous moan vibrated out of it. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight at the sound. Dinah was shaking so much by the sight of it alone that it served as confirmation for what it was.
That’s the way into the room.
The swarm moved, stepping closer to the door. As if hypnotized I followed, only stopping when I felt a tugging on my hand. Turning, I looked down at Dinah who looked as if she had swallowed an entire lemon whole.
The whimper made me feel like complete scum. It echoed deep inside me and resonated with the young bullied girl that I tried so hard to keep buried. I gulped as I turned towards the door and shook, as I didn’t see the dark grey metal door but instead just a locker. My nose caught the scent of the phantom rancid stench that had permeated from there. I wanted to run away, to try and escape this place. I can’t do anything, there’s just no point in risking Dinah’s and my—
“What are you doing standing there?” The cognition broke me out of my thoughts. It gestured towards the metal door. “Isn’t saving Dinah your goal?”
I could only stand there, breathing hard, the frustration welling up in me.
“What’s behind that door?”
“Saving Dinah,” it said plainly.
I growled. “That doesn’t answer anything!”
“Yes it does. You just refuse to see it.”
“If you’re not going to tell me then I’m done.” I took a step back, and the swarm just looked at me.
“Go right ahead. But you and I know that you will end up back here, back to the only path available. Struggle, struggle, struggle. In the end you know you don’t have any time left.”
“What do you—” I started and stopped, remembering Rachel, the rogue passenger, the warnings that Joker and Mona had been giving. “Fuck…”
“There’s only one road that you can choose here. All the rest lead to death,” the swarm explained calmly. I looked at it, frowning.
“Why are you acting so different? You weren’t like this before.”
The swarm buzzed. “Because we’re saving Dinah.”
I gazed down at the girl. She just focused on the door with a pained expression. I gulped, took a deep breath and dragged her towards the door. She didn’t even try to stop me - had she realized how bad things were? That we were completely cornered with no choice but to go through the door?
I stopped in front of it, our shadows looming over it as the swarm stepped aside and stood behind us. I moved my broken arm; it was shaking, it hurt, but I moved it nonetheless. I felt that if I let Dinah go and used my good arm, she would vault and delay the inevitable. I took the small sacrifice, hissing and grunting as I placed my hand on the handle and turned it.
Get ready, shield Dinah. Get ready to fight, I’ve got to improvise and fight.
A small click, and the door swung slowly inside. I swallowed and nearly coughed at how dry my throat was, but I didn’t as I focused on the darkness inside. The noise was chilling, chains rattling, shuddering moans vibrating the cold air around us. With unsure steps I went in, Dinah and the swarm trailing behind me. The cognitive Skitter lighted up the entire room and I froze.
There was a cage, an iron, rusted bird cage with a dome top. It was human sized, swinging left and right with ear-scratching metal screeching going off with every swing. It was covered in thick chains with a single, big lock. One person resided inside the cage, in a horrific state.
A small girl, laid inside with tubes and needles sticking into her. Three metal tubes went down her throat, forcing her mouth open. Drool dribbled down her chin, and her lips were chapped and broken as the tubes shuddered. Her arms were stiff by her side, bending down as the space of the cage prevented her from stretching her arms completely. They were pierced by large syringes with liquids of different colors All the fluids were bright like candy.
Her eyes were forced open, eyelids stretched wide by rusty hooks. Dull, yellow eyes stared back at us, bloodshot with tears streaming down in a constant flow. An unsettling moan escaped her as she shook, eyes brightening as she looked at us. The cage began to shake in the excitement, but then it stopped, the girl stiffening as the needles all released their fluids right into her arms at the same time.
Her eyes unfocused and she stilled.
I gulped, not even looking at Dinah, incapable of taking my eyes away from the depressing sight. The light from behind moved to my side, brightening up the room even more and showing every horrific detail. Something came close to my ear, whispering.
“You have to save Dinah.”
Chapter 15: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.07
Those words were like a slap in the face.
I looked at the swarm and could only shake as the thing kept its focus on the caged Dinah. I followed its gaze and couldn’t help but grit my teeth, anger welling up in me at the sight. Dinah slipped out of my hold, walking by herself closer to the cage with shaky steps. She grabbed the lock, breathing hard.
“It’s me...I knew it...I knew it…”
“How long has that Dinah been there?” I whispered.
“Stupid question don’t you think? It’s quite obvious.”
“Why haven’t you rescued her yet then?” The words came out as a hiss. “You keep going on and on about saving Dinah but you never put in the effort to save her.”
The swarm turned its head and looked at me. “I am but a cognition brought forth by the mind of Dinah Alcott.”
The answer was dull and clinical, as if that was all there was to it. I glared at it, venomous words right on the tip of my tongue. I wanted nothing more than to let them out and just rage against the twisted parody of me. But the words died when a shuddering moan escaped the caged and tortured Dinah, making me turn and look at her.
Is this another cognition thought up by Dinah? These terms were just too much of a hassle for me to grasp my head around, especially with all that had been happening. So I just stared at Dinah and her yellow-eyed doppelgänger, noting the reaction the real Dinah was having and extrapolating from that. The young girl looked completely devastated by the realization that her own mental picture was still trapped in that room Coil had her in. She looked so fragile, her emotions completely open for anyone’s eyes to see.
I looked at the swarm beside me, wanting to ask it a question. I stopped and gulped; that thing had given me such a dismissive answer that it made questioning it useless. I narrowed my eyes and instead focused on what it had told me. This thing was nothing more than a projection of Dinah’s thoughts on me. That meant that as long as it was this idle, it would be a waste of time trying to get to the bottom of things. The cognitive Skitter had been nothing but a pain in the ass since it made its appearance, but it had been dropping hints. I could see it now. Save Dinah... you never meant the real one, but the mental one still trapped inside of Coil’s grasp.
Had it been guiding us? Or was it just taking Dinah by herself into this place? No, it carried me into those massive structures instead of throwing me into the molten metal. It was all part of a gamble. I looked at Dinah, still and kneeling before the cage. I need to talk with her, more calmly, with more understanding; I need to reach her; I need to save her.
I walked towards her, knelt beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. “Dinah, Dinah…!”
I shook her a little, and her head turned towards me. “I never got out…”
I gulped, opening my mouth, then snapped it close. I needed to get things rolling, but I couldn’t screw this up from the beginning. I didn’t want to waste time trying to fix a mistake I would’ve made just because I wasn’t thoughtful enough or understanding. I had to be honest with my words, with her and with myself. I took my broken mask off and threw it away carelessly. I can’t be Skitter here, Skitter was one of the capes that got her trapped in this hell. I have to be Taylor, just Taylor.
“Dinah...what do you really want?
The girl looked up at me, her eyes slightly focused. “To forget...just, I just don’t want to go to my own bed and wake up like I’m back here.”
“You’re a prisoner in your own home…”
“I shouldn’t feel like that!” Dinah exclaimed with some heat. “My parents both give me everything I want. They’re always coddling me, always doing what I say! The therapist, Ms. Yamada, is pretty nice too and understanding. I’m getting all the help I could ask for! But...they can’t give me what I want…!”
“To get out of the room.”
“I hate my powers, I hate them so much because it always gives me such horrible headaches. But I hate them even more because I know exactly how my future can go, I know everything I need to do to get better. Always giving me high numbers for things I have to do to try and move past this. Eighty-seven, ninety, ninety-five! I know what to do, I know what it’ll take, but fucking hell! It takes so much time! Months to make sure I don’t go down the path of becoming a drug junkie, years to get better control of my power! And even then the numbers for that just drop because of the end of the world!”
My grip on the girl tightened. “And you chose to fight it, you told me to cut ties, you apologized for it, but you still tried to help prevent the end of the world. Dinah, you can’t give up because this takes time.”
“You’re not listening!” She glared at me. “Do you know how infuriating it is to look into the future and know what can happen? Know exactly how it can go thanks to those percentages? I do, and I’ve seen myself in a better state, healthier, stronger! I see that me and I fucking hate it so much because when I step back, I realize that I’m back in that room. Everything that I could be, everything I want, it’s so far away. Always in my fucking head…”
“Dinah…” The girl ignored me, looking at the caged version of herself.
“I don’t get what that guy and his cat were talking about...but this place, I hate it just as much as I hate what happened...it’s like it’s mocking me, telling me everything I thought off in the past week have been nothing but just some vision from a possible future…” She sighed. “Yeah, all I see is trillion of possibilities...futures where I feel free. But I’m actually here, that’s me, trapped, caged. Fuck me, Coil has me, he won’t let me go…”
I chewed on the insides of my cheeks, just looking at her. My gaze went to the cage the mental her was. “You want to get out of here.”
I nodded. “Then let’s get you out.”
Dinah looked at me in surprise. “What?”
“I told you that I was going to get you out.” I grabbed the tubes that went down the caged Dinah’s mouth, followed it to the source and began to pull. “I got you out of Coil’s hands in the real world. But after saving you — grh — I left you alone and didn’t even go back to check on you…!”
I grunted as I heard metal creak from my effort as I pulled, steam escaping the base of the tubes.
“Skitter…” Dinah sounded confused.
I yanked the tubes out of the walls, stumbled back a little and dropped them. I turned to the caged Dinah, focusing on the syringes on her arms. They were connected to some cables that went up to the dome roof of the cage. I started to climb it, reaching at the cables and tugging. I looked down at Dinah.
“I want to at least not mess this up.” I ripped the syringes off the caged girl. I looked at the chain holding the metal structure suspended in the air. I grabbed it, clicking my tongue at how thick and sturdy the chain felt. As I tugged the the chain, the cage began to move beneath me. “Damn...if only I had my baton, I could’ve broken i—”
Something black and sharp shot over my head, breaking the chain with one violent snap. I let out a surprised grunt, falling along with the cage and impacting the floor with a painful thud.
“Taylor!” Dinah called out with worry.
I hissed, looking at where the cage had fallen. It stood upright still, the floor cracked beneath it and the Dinah inside looking a little bit more alert. I got up, my gaze going to the black bug stinger, and following it back to the cognitive Skitter. I frowned.
“Why did you do that?” It didn’t answer me, the stinger returning back to the swarm and lighting up with more fireflies. I got to my feet and went towards the cage, eyes still focused on the unmoving swarm. I grasped the cage bars, frowning as the small prison somehow became even smaller, my fingers almost brushing against her face. “Damn it, you could’ve hurt her!”
The swarm didn’t respond. Dinah stood beside me, I looked at her and noticed her gaze was focused entirely on what I was doing.
“You realize that you don’t have to do this, right?”
I just blinked at her, fingers fiddling with chains wrapped around the cage. “If I don’t, no one else will.”
“...are you just doing this because you feel guilty? Because I yell at you?”
I stopped. “In part, yes. But...I refuse to just stand there and do nothing when I’m part of the problem. I told you before that I get from where you’re coming from, I really do. I was there, with no one to pull me out when I was trapped and feeling like I was drowning. And I also know how it feels when a helping hand does pull you out of that hell. So I’ll help, yes, because yelling at me made me realize how bad things had gone for you and how horrible it made me feel. And also, because it’s unfair not to help you when I can.”
I hummed as the chains were a little loose in some areas. I put my hands through them, using all my strength — ignoring the pain in my left arm — to hoist the cage up. My feet shook and I dropped it. My left arm slipped into the loose space of the chains and I nearly fell face first. I narrowed my eyes and an idea popped into my head. I turned around, putting my arms through the chains and carried the cage up like a backpack.
I grimaced at the weight. Dinah looked completely surprised by my efforts. “You’re really going through this.”
“I am, let’s go.” I took heavy steps, making my way for the open door and stepping outside into the damp and fleshy exterior. My nose wrinkled in disgust. “This is going to be tough.”
“I could help you,” Dinah said, her voice a little quiet.
“Yeah, I might need you to push me from below when we start climbing.” I sighed. “I wish Atlas was here, he could’ve flown us out.”
There was a loud buzzing coming from the room behind us and we turned to look just as the swarm moved. It spread out of the door entrance, going above us and then forming a large shape right in front of us. The shape solidified and it spread its wings wide.
“Hey...that’s a skipper butterfly, isn’t it?”
“Yeah…” I frowned at the truck-sized bug. The swarm didn’t utter a single word, it just listened to me. I felt myself relax a little bit; it was listening to me trying to help Dinah out. No, Dinah is starting to believe in me. “It’s really helping u—you, Dinah, that cognitive me has finally started being help, hasn’t it.”
The girl gave me a weird look as I walked towards the butterfly and climbed on top. I was breathing hard, the endeavour, the weight on my back leaving me almost with no air. Seems like I’m holding the weight of the world. I leaned forward, lending a helping hand towards Dinah and pulling her up. I sat her in front of me, securing her in my arms. She looked up at me.
“Just so you know, Taylor...I wouldn’t have let you come to me anyway...I left you that message for a reason. What I wrote… it was meant to start the road to fight against the apocalypse. I know I said a lot of things...in a moment of weakness, but I’m not exactly looking to let the world end.” Dinah hummed. “But...I just want to say that...thanks.”
My heart swelled at those words, but I swallowed the feeling down. “You can thank me when we get out of here and figure out what to do with your power. If it’s really going out of control then we have to work to stop it from hurting you or anyone else.”
“My power is running out of control, my head is a mess...and Coil is still holding me hostage. I want to change that, I want to stand and prove that I really got out of that room.” Dinah took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
The butterfly took flight at Dinah’s word, her cognition responding to her words and feelings. We took off fast, going through the damp and fleshy stomach of the massive snake. We went up and up and up. I frowned as everything blurred at the speed we were moving, my hair batting against the air. I saw a line of light of upfront, and tensed.
“We’re almost out, that’s the mouth! We need to get the snake to open it!”
“How!?” Dinah looked at me with some curiosity.
“We hurt him. Hey! Sting the mouth and tongue of Coil.” The butterfly buzzed, slowing down slightly and flying low. The massive insect quivered slightly and —
A choking sound vibrated around us. The swarm flew to the side of the snake’s mouth and stung the flesh again and again, drawing blood and chunks of meat. A guttural scream went off and the mouth opened. The butterfly stopped its assault and flew us out of the snake’s body. Dinah gasped as she looked around at the planetoids surrounding us.
“PET!” Twin hisses made us look back as the two snakes glared at us. “How dare you escape me!”
They lunged at us, mouths open and syringe fangs dripping along the way. The girl in my arms shook. I glared at the massive beast.
“Evade that thing. Now!”
The transformed swarm took to the right, dodging as the snake heads crashed against the planetoids. The metal structures became nothing but large fragments of shrapnel, piercing its body, and blood poured out. The snakes screamed again, turning towards us.
“Skitter, you will die!”
They moved again, hissing and shooting straight for us. The skipper butterfly weaved and bobbed, avoiding the colossal maws. I grunted as we moved, the guttural and wet sounds the snakes made putting me on edge. The planetoids were torn apart as the snakes violently crashed, bit and batted them away, making the flight difficult as debris started to fly around. I looked back and gasped. One of the snake heads was on us, mouth wide open.
Dinah paled. “Taylor!”
It moved to bite down on us, but cold, malicious black energy slammed against the head and the snake hissed as it smashed into a metal planetoid. A mocking laughter echoed through the air.
“Getting a little bit heated there, I hear that isn't good for you cold-blooded types.”
My eyes widened as I looked to my left and saw Joker, sitting on a piece of debris with a smirk on his face. Dinah and I glowed green, and I saw my wounds and broken arm were mended.
“Wooooh! Thank goodness we got here on time!” I looked up to see Mona crouching on another piece of debris. Dinah perked up.
The cat’s eyes widened. “Hey! You found Dinah’s Shadow! How!?”
A loud screech tore through the air, forcing all of us to look at the twin snakes as they glared at us. Joker jumped onto the butterfly’s back, putting a hand on the cage I was carrying, while Mona landed on the head of the massive insect.
“We can talk about that later.” Joker put a hand on his mask, making it burn away. “For now, we’ve got pest control issues here.”
I snorted. “Let’s put it down, I think Coil has overstayed his welcome here.”
Chapter 16: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.y
Dinah shivered involuntarily as the Coils lunged forward, sharp hisses vibrating up her spine. Their hulking appearance and numbers were reminiscent of how impossible it was to try and step around him, even when she could see what would be the best possible outcome. How incredibly difficult it was to escape his long reaching grasp. How many futures had she seen, with that man always in them? Slithering, wrapping and coiling around the trillions of worlds that were always present with her power. Holding all those possible futures or what-ifs hostage, crushing them without care.
Greedy eyes only focused on one single thing.
Dinah gulped as the butterfly she rode flew quickly to the right.
“Sukunda!” Joker snapped his fingers at the twin snakes, and they were enveloped in dark green glow, their movement becoming less coordinated. They hissed and roared loudly, as they bumped and crashed against one another, their large heads scraping against the uncountable amount of worlds filling the space. The Coils were still heading straight for them.
“Move Skitter! Move!” the cute cartoony cat cried out, voice worried and desperate. The skipper butterfly pulled up, dodging the charge in time as the twin colossal reptiles crashed into the possible futures, destroying them. Just like Coil always did. The snakes screamed in pure rage, loud and violent.
Taylor clicked her tongue, looking back. “We need to find a way to get rid of that thing.”
“It’s a cognition!” Mona glared at the snake as it recovered and turned around to continue in its pursuit. The butterfly maneuvered its way around the futures surrounding them, using them as cover. “We just need to get out of this place and lose it. We just need to focus on getting to that gate!”
Dinah looked at them in disbelief, frowning at their plans to escape. How did they think escape from Coil was possible right now? Those snakes encircled all possibilities of escape within their bodies. Coil would never let a future like that happen.
“No...we can’t…even if we get out of here, Coil we’ll keep chasing after us no matter what,” Dinah said firmly, glaring as they moved around the trillions of worlds.
“Hmm, kinda explains things.” Joker hummed as he looked up, the shadow of an elongated body slithering above. “Your perception of Coil is something we dealt with before. This will be tough.”
“Can we kill it?” Taylor asked him, and he looked at her with a troubled expression.
“Depends on Dinah.”
Depends on me, huh. What are the chances that we can come out of this alive?
As expected she received no answer in her head, no number, nothing at all. She gulped as she felt an ominous feeling crawl up her spine and make her head go fizzy. They were getting near. Never too far off from her, soon they would be on the run again and Coil would be in pursuit. It was just like him, always playing with his targets, always doing what he wanted. Dinah knew those monstrosities could end all of this in a single burst.
They didn’t care for the worlds filling the space. It didn’t matter how sturdy they were. For Coil, they were just possibilities to be trampled.
Mona nodded, turning towards the girl. “Yeah, if we’re going to fight that thing, you need to be strong!”
‘It isn’t that easy!’ Dinah turned, wanting to spit those words at the three behind her, bile and venom souring her mouth. She stopped when a pair of yellow eyes looked back at her. Her mental image of herself, caged like an animal and incapable of speech. Just seeing her was enough to make her shudder and attempt to avert her eyes. But she just couldn’t could look away.
Taylor hummed. “What about her?”
‘What about her?’ Dinah thought as she kept the staring contest with the caged Dinah. She was filled with the desire to deny her very being, to just say that thing wasn’t her and be done with it. ‘But...if you’re me, you’re in my head. It can’t be that easy, can it?’
Looking at the sick parody of herself was like a slap of reality, making its presence known. All her fears and doubts given form. So could she really deny her? How could she?
Mona sighed. “The Shadow? Usually Shadows have control over a Palace, but considering how she looks...yeah, the mental distortion is so bad that she became a prisoner in her own Palace. Like Joker said, we’ve dealt with this before.”
Dinah perked up at that. They had dealt with this sort of thing before, they had invaded the minds of others. What were the results? Could they help her? Could they make her move forward, keep her from feeling like she was suffocating in that dark room again?
“Did this person...get better? Did they overcome this? Or is it impossible? What do I need to do?” She sounded like she was begging, her voice frustratingly low. ‘Get it together! I’ve already moved past this, haven’t I?’
Dinah flinched, almost missing Taylor’s attempts at being encouraging.
“You can do it Dinah—”
“Depends on you,” Joker started as well. Dinah stared at the two of them, frowning and eyes darting. Where had that voice come from?
“— you’re out of that room.” Taylor whirled towards the dark hair thief, glaring at him. He looked at her for a brief second before focusing on Dinah.
“The only one who can start the process of overcoming all of this is you.” Joker nodded his head towards Taylor’s direction. “Friends and family can help you stay up and keep pushing, but it’s up to you to get better.”
‘It can’t be that easy, just forcing myself to think that everything is okay? When the mess in my head is this big? How can I even start? I know how it can end...but how do I start…?’
There was a loud rumbling, Mona tensed. “Guys we might have to postpone this talk—”
The snakes steered around the worlds, coming from behind and in front. Dinah gasped as the intimidating monsters glared at them with greed. The one in front shot forward, going a little low to ram the butterfly. Taylor went up and stiffened as she realized the trap the snakes had put in place. The second head had gone above them, mouth open, syringe fangs moving to skewer Taylor’s head off.
Joker slapped the back of Taylor’s head, making her duck, and the fang scraped the cage holding the Shadow Dinah. The snake chomped down and moved, the other one turning to join on the pursuit.
“Arsene!” Joker called out as his demonic projection appeared behind him. He jumped off the back of the butterfly and dived towards the snake. “Eigaon!”
The red winged projection let out an ominous chuckle as it sank its talons into the snake’s eye, and a torrent of black billowed out. The air turned cold, malicious as the pillar of black power formed a sadistic grin. The snake roared in pain, thrashing around and slamming against the planetoids. The large metal orbs moved, crashing one against the other in a chain reaction that had Taylor maneuvering away to avoid being turned into paste.
“What the hell is he doing?” the villainess grunted, glaring back at the recoiling snake. She clicked her tongue in worry as the other head moved after them.
Mona jumped on top of the cage. “Joker’s improvising! Divide and conquer!”
“He needs to seriously discuss this with us before doing something so stupidly reckless,” Taylor grunted.
Dinah frowned at her brusque demeanor. ‘I wonder if you realize how must you act like him, Skitter. The months since you started made you into a really good villain...too good to be honest.’
“I trust him. He’s doing his part and we should do our on,” Mona said as Zorro appeared besides him. The snake moved in to try and swallow the butterfly and its crew whole. Zorro blew a powerful gust into its open maw, preventing it from closing its jaws around them and giving them the opportunity to fly away.
The snake hissed. “Pet! Come back here!”
Dinah felt something in her stomach, a tightening that had gritting her teeth. ‘Fuck you.’
“We need to do something to escape. Now.” Taylor glared back at the pursuing snake.
“We can’t escape him.” Dinah repeated her earlier sentiments again, more firmly this. She straightened her back, giving Skitter a narrow-eyed look.
“So what do we do?” the older girl asked in frustration as the snake roared, closing in on them again. Mona was getting ready to use Zorro, wind gathering around the rapier of his projection. The Coil head opened its mouth, flinched and pulled back, avoiding a colossal collision with its twin. Joker came from out of nowhere, flipping mid-air and landing back on the butterfly. He was breathing a little hard, a couple of scratches on his coat and cheek.
He looked at them. “They’re durable, like really durable. No matter how much I kept hurting it, that snake just kept moving for you guys.”
Dinah gulped. Of course it would be tough. He had been nigh unkillable as long as he was aware of everything. It didn’t matter if you could trap him, he always had a second chance. ‘But maybe we don’t need to defeat him. There has to be a high chance that those three can pull something if I distract them, right?’
She got nothing, no vision of trillions of worlds asserting themselves into a number she could understand. Her mind was filled with nothing but worries and frustration. Dinah shook at that.
“How about using me as bait?” Dinah proposed absentmindedly.
“Absolutely not!” Taylor looked at her in disbelief.
“Then what Taylor!?” Dinah glared heatedly at the older girl, nearly growling at her. “I want him gone! I don’t want him to be holding my head hostage! Fuck him!”
“Dive down!” Joker said hurriedly, Dinah looked back and flinched as the twin snakes were right by their sides. They were eyeing her, their gazes eerie as they started to close in. Taylor made the butterfly turn down, weaving through the worlds, trying to get as much distance as possible from the snakes.
“They’re relentless!” Mona gulped worriedly.
‘It’s not relentlessness. It’s control. He’s playing with us. He’s about to end all of this!’
“Damn it, we need to find an exit from this place!” Taylor said as she was looking around desperately for it.
‘Fuck you! Don’t you listen to me!?’ Dinah’s chest felt tight, breaths coming in harsh spurts. ‘Or will you only fucking listen if I start spouting numbers?’
Is it that surprising?
“How did you get here!?” Taylor asked. She didn’t even notice the dark look Dinah was giving her.
“From below!” Mona answered desperately.
Taylor looked at the cat in shock. “How…!? We came from above, didn’t we!?”
Dinah was shaking, the vileness she wanted to spew out earlier threatening to just burst out. She felt so much anger in that moment, where no one was listening to her, not taking her understanding of her own mind seriously. A pair of dark eyes were focused on her and Dinah looked at Joker, noticing his curious look.
‘What? The guy I just met is the only one who cares enough to notice?’
One of the Coil heads suddenly accelerated, overtaking the butterfly and forcing them to dodge. Joker grunted, mask starting to burn away as everyone focused on the snake moving right beside them. Dinah stiffened, feeling eyes from below. She looked over the butterfly and gasped, seeing the second head eyeing them.
She couldn’t even warn the others as the snake slammed against the underside of the butterfly they were riding. The large flying insect broke apart into an innumerable amount of bugs, all of them different and slightly exaggerated from how bugs looked in reality. Dinah blinked as she fell through them, spinning slightly as she plummeted to her death.
‘But I don’t want to die.’
Sharp talons grabbed her by the scruff of her shirt and pulled her to one of the worlds. She stumbled onto all fours as her feet touched the floor, and turned just in time to see the demonic Arsene burn away. A bloodcurdling scream tore through the air and Dinah looked up, feeling a shiver go up her spine,
Taylor was impaled by one of the large syringe like fangs of the massive snake. The fang went through her stomach, blood dripping down the needle in abundance. Growls and grunts from exertion went off and Dinah turned, despair nearly filling her as Coil wrapped the two self proclaimed thieves with its colossal body. It started to tighten, attempting to crush the two. The large burst of blue fire was the only sign that the thieves were still alive.
“Grk — Dinah!” She looked up towards Taylor, eyes wide and shaking. “Run!”
“There’s no need for that, my pet.” Dinah went cold at the silky and honeyed words. The snake head that had bitten down on Taylor lowered itself. The young girl saw something black grab the injured cape by her shoulder, reaching for the chains and yanking her down. The sound of gore and the scream of pain echoed, before Taylor was thrown towards Dinah with no care whatsoever. The older girl impacted the metal floor with a harsh thud, leaving a trail of blood as she rolled right in front of Dinah.
“Taylor!” she screamed as she crawled towards the gasping and bleeding older girl. She placed her hands on her wound, putting pressure on it and wincing as blood poured out between her fingers. “J-Just hold on!”
“Listening to Skitter only leads to pain.”
Dinah looked away from Taylor and towards the colossal snake head as it opened its mouth, and a figure dressed in black with a white snake coiling around it walked out. He dragged the cage holding Shadow Dinah almost lazily as he made his way towards them.
“C-Coil…!” Taylor gasped as she looked at the approaching nightmare. Dinah could only keep her gaze steady on the man who had kidnapped her.
“Hey creep! How about you mess with someone your own size!” Mona’s voice called out from above. Dinah looked at the other snake, body shaking as it struggled to squeeze its body tight.
“Hold on you two!” Joker’s voice came with a growl. The snake moved slightly, giving her a good look of the two of them using their projections and their limbs to stop themselves from being crushed.
Coil stepped in the way of Dinah’s gaze, making her focus on him. “Now my pet, why did you step out of your room?”
“...I’m not going to let you trap me there again, Coil! I got out!” Her voice came with some hesitation, but the longer she spoke the more vitriol she felt. Coil’s head tilted to the side.
“Trap? My pet, you were never trapped. You were right where you belonged! Your only purpose in life is to bring about the future I desire. To spout numbers only when spoken to!” He raised the cage holding Shadow Dinah, shaking it. Dinah hissed at the mistreatment and carelessness.
“Fuck you! I won’t let you dictate my life! I got out! Coil, don’t you get it! I’m not going back, I’ll never go back!” She was screaming by now, not even caring who was looking at her.
“My foolish, adorable pet. This is why you’re never allowed to speak aside from the numbers I demand from you. Naive, stupid and drug addicted idiot. Do you truly believe you ever got out my grasp, little pet?”
“Stop calling me pet! I’m not your fucking pet!” Dinah roared with such intensity, feeling her vocal cords ache.
“You never got out, pet! You will never be free, pet!” He shook the cage even harder, not caring how the Dinah inside crashed against the bars. “This! This is how you’re supposed to be! This is the real you pet!”
“I…” She could only lock eyes with her Shadow. The two stared at one another in tense silence. ‘What do I do?’
“Yes that’s right, pet. Hush, no more words.” Coil draped the cage over his shoulder, pulling a needle with his free hand and put a foot on Taylor’s head. He stomped on it half-heartedly and ground his boot. “Time for your candy.”
He moved the syringe towards her neck. ‘I don’t want this.’
“Then why do you submit?”
Everything stilled, and all eyes turned towards the cage housing Shadow Dinah. The caged girl focused entirely on Dinah, her mouth free from the tubes as she leaned forward. Dinah blinked and gasped, her words feeling like a punch to the face. Coil growled at the words, turning towards the cage and slamming it against the floor.
“How dare you speak when you weren’t spoken to!” He stomped on the cage as he spat his words. “I will teach you discipline you good for nothing horoscope!”
Coil turned towards Dinah, black faceless mask twisting into something ugly. “What did you say to me?”
“I said stop.” The girl glared at man.
“How dare you insufferable little bitch!” Coil pulled his hand back and started swinging.
Dinah snarled. “No! How dare you!”
A strong pulse rumbled through the trillions of worlds, cracking them and making the golden light dim into a light blue. Everything stopped. Coil flinched back as he looked down at the girl with complete shock. The sound of metal snapping, twisting and breaking echoed as Shadow Dinah got out of her cage,
“No…” Coil gasped in horror as the Shadow stepped towards Dinah.
“All this time you have done nothing but lie down and let your life be decided for you. Fearful of the consequences of life... fearful of the future...fearful of the repercussions of strife...tell me…will the prophesied time of you standing on your own two feet come?”
Dinah nodded, shakily getting up onto her feet. “Yes, I’m done relying on fucking numbers to tell my future!”
Shadow Dinah nodded and walked towards her, burning blue as she disappeared within her true self. A throbbing pain echoed in her head, making the girl whimper as her eyes snapped into bright yellow. She writhed and shook, but despite it all she kept a deadly glare on the cowering Coil.
“Fantastic, then a contract can be made. I am thou, thou art I...the future that lays ahead of you belongs to no one but yourself. Break thy chains and grind their hereafter to dust!”
Blue fire took shape, burning a mask on her face. The flames swirled away to reveal a large purple eyepatch covering her right eye. Three eagle feathers were pinned beneath the strap of the eyepatch. A torn light violet bandanna covered the left side of her face, a slit ripped opened and revealing her eye. She was sending a withering glare towards her tormentor.
“It’s time you start burning in hell... Lozen!”
She ripped the mask off and an explosion of blue rebellious fire ignited like a supernova, reducing trillions of futures into ash.
Chapter 17: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.08
I felt warmth wrap around me like a blanket, which should've been impossible.
I lay right in ground zero, my consciousness barely hanging by a thread, and I knew that I shouldn’t be alive whatsoever. Blue flames rushed as far as the eye could see, vaporizing all the planetoids to ash. I tensed, feeling those very flames roll around my body like waves.
Fuck me, I hate this. The thought of being here, injured and powerless was really starting to grate on me. All these mental things, cognitions, shadows and dead men still haunting the heads of victims was starting to make me sick. Everything was so chaotic, so out of my control. I wished I had my swarm, or any of the Undersiders backing me up so I had semblance of power.
The blue fire started to stall, receding and adjusting into a tall pillar. My vision went from blue into a dark grey, and I blinked as I tried to understand the bizarre and terrifying image surrounding me. Ash — it was everywhere, raining and piling up into massive grey mountains. I gulped as I watched the bizarre planetoids extending beyond the horizon get reduced to this — a field of ash and nothing. Even the golden sky had dimmed into black.
The only source of light that brightened the entire field was Dinah. I looked up at the girl in astonishment, lying there as she looked on with a severe expression.
She was dressed completely different, a cowboy outfit replacing her shirt and pants. She wore a black vest over a light violet button down shirt, hands covered with purple gloves. A light brown poncho covered her right side, billowing in the ashen storm. Her black trousers had a red line going down the thigh, and her dark brown boots reached up to her knees.
A figure moved behind her, a woman, glaring forward with a single eye. Her left eye was covered by a row of eagle feathers that went around her head. She was dressed in native clothing with a blue hue to them, and a poncho of peacock feathers draped around her shoulders.
“H-How dare you pet! You can’t defy me!” Coil hissed.
Dinah just sneered, rattling chains coming from underneath her poncho. “Just shut up already.” She snarled, moving quick as lightning she whipped a long metal chain straight towards Coil. The villain couldn’t even gasp in shock as the chain crashed into him, and Dinah swiped the arm shackles up and then brought it down with a vengeance on the massive snake head. The ashen floor exploded into a massive cloud of cinders, spreading and burning the other snake.
“Damn you!” Loud roars went through the barren wasteland as the snake holding onto Joker and Mona moved, trying to rush Dinah and crush her. The projection spread her arms, revealing bands wrapped around her bicep and forearm. The peacock feathers behind her spread, each feather having the design of an eye in them.
“Pulinpa!” Dinah shouted as she pointed at the charging viper. Sparks went off around its eyes and it recoiled back. It let out a strange gurgle, uncoiling its body and letting the two thieves fall down to the ground. The monstrous snake thrashed around as it drooled and fell onto its back.
Joker and Mona took the opportunity to jump towards us, the cat landing reside me. A green glow enveloped me and I was healed once again. The two thieves were looking at Dinah in astonishment.
“You got a Persona!” Mona looked downright giddy as looked at the peacock feathered woman.
My eyebrow rose. “Persona?”
“Yeah!” Mona jumped from foot to foot. “Personas are the manifestation of a person's rebellious heart! There’s no way those stupid snakes can beat us now!”
Joker hummed, offering me a hand. “It also means we have to hurry.”
“Why…?” I took his hand just as a loud screech cut through the air. I couldn’t even look to the side as Joker quickly pulled me up, carried me bridal style and jumped. One of the Coil snakes rammed its head into the ashen floor, slithering forward hurriedly, blood splattering, its eyes glowing in the dark wasteland as it glared at us. I looked to my side and saw Mona and Dinah both in the air with us. “D-Dinah?”
The girl looked at me, fire spreading on her face and her purple eyepatch returning. Her single eye blinked, before she looked around frantically and then at the two thieves.
“I’m flying!?” She sounding both shocked and somewhat excited.
“More like you’re jumping super high.” Mona grinned as Dinah looked down at herself. She clenched her hands and glared at the twin snakes as they moved to follow us. One looking injured and angry, the other looked confused and dizzy as it swerved uncontrollably in its slithering.
“Can’t stop moving now.” Joker looked at Mona and Dinah. “We have to put a stop to them now and get a move on to your power.”
“With pleasure.” Dinah sneered as the snakes roused and roared at us.
“Can we actually hurt that thing? It didn’t work a few moments ago!” I exclaimed.
In response, Dinah ripped her mask off, her Persona bursting right behind her and spreading her feathers. “Lozen! Let them have it!”
Weird shapes, random and colorful, enough to cause a headache at the mere sight of them, exploded right on the twin snakes’ faces. The confused one let out a shriek as it recoiled back, thrashing violently on the floor, eyes rolling to the back of the skull. The other one shook violently, and glared at us as we landed on the ground.
“You will pay for that pet.”
“I’m going to rip that stupid tongue of yours out!” Dinah took off running, the snake charging to meet her.
“Dinah! Don’t— what are you two doing!?” Joker was still holding me even as I struggled to get off him and go after the girl. I glared as he just looked down at me with a smirk.
“You should have more faith in the girl you saved.” He moved his hand under my knees to free his fingers and snapped them. “Tarukaja!”
Dinah flashed red just as she skidded to a stop, chain pouring out of her poncho. The snake reared its head back, fangs out, and dived down to eat the girl. I felt my chest get tight as the cowboy dressed girl jumped, whipped the chains upward and the shackles impacted the lower jaw of Coil. The massive snake’s head snapped back, fangs ripped out of its mouth and sailing through the dark skies. Dinah didn’t stop; she jumped high, stepping right on the snake’s neck and jumped over it.
“Now stop calling me your fucking PET!” Dinah roared so loudly that the floor shook. She sailed down, chain extending and extending until it was longer than Coil’s body, and slammed it down. The snake couldn’t even move as the catastrophic mass of metal crashed into its already injured head, cracking it open, and it exploded into a visceral shower of gore and ash. The entire wasteland went up, answering her furious cry with intensity.
I flinched, looking away and accidentally buried my face into Joker’s chest. Fuck me, what the hell is going on.
The chaos died down. I looked back and gasped at the massive canyon made from Dinah’s attack. I gulped at the bloody pulp and left overs of one of Coil’s bodies. I started to search for Dinah and grimaced as the young girl stalked towards the other body.
“She’s terrifying…” Mona shuddered. “Futaba never did this…”
“Newly Awakened, it’s her Palace and she’s angry. I’m not that surprised that she’s this supercharged or powerful.” Joker chuckled, walking in the same direction where Dinah was going. He let me drop to my feet, and I just followed after him numbly. “Let’s make sure little miss yippee ki yay over there doesn’t waste too much time.”
“You keep saying that, what are you talking about?” I asked him.
“Dinah accepted her rebellious side, the Shadow answered and agreed to become her Persona. With no Shadow in a Palace to keep it going, well, it sorta just collapses.” Joker shrugged nonchalantly.
I looked at him with dread. “Collapses…?”
“You’re being too cool with this Joker, for real…” Mona groaned. The cat perked up as the sound of rattling chains made us all look back towards Dinah.
“What the hell…?”
Dinah had wrapped the other snake’s neck with her shackles and jumped, bringing the head up with her as she blasted the reptile with the mind breaking bizarre attack. Coil was screeching in agony as he slammed back to the ashen ground. Dinah roared, swinging the entire snake with every fiber of effort she could muster.
“Now you fucking die!”
And then she whipped the chains wrapped around the snake so harshly and full of anger that it tore the head off from the body, sending it flying. The head let out a soundless scream as it sailed through the air, down the canyon the girl created until it crashed into something. Light poured out of canyon.
“She made it...seem so easy…” I gasped, staring at the spectacle. If Dinah had this sort of power during the fight against Leviathan or the Slaughterhouse Nine or Echidna, we could’ve avoided so many casualties. What kind of power did this mental place give?
“Don’t get too excited,” Joker quipped. “This is a one time thing.”
Mona nodded. “Yup, after her cognition stabilizes and this Palace collapses, her powers will go down to more modest levels. Oooh! Joker I can’t believe we found another Persona user!”
I frowned at the cat’s excited tone. Joker soured down a little at that, shrugging.
“Yeah, we could use more hands.” Mona looked at the trench coat wearing thief with a wince.
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I know.” Joker smirked wildly as we reach Dinah, messing with her hair. The young girl flinched, looking up at him shock. “Hey cowboy...or is it cowgirl? Wait no, I think I read that in a manga once...shit, I just screwed up the moment. Forget about it.”
“Are you okay Dinah?” I asked her, pushing Joker away. The girl looked at me and nodded.
“I’m fine.” She looked down the canyon and frown. “He’s still alive.”
“Are you sure?” I asked in disbelief, motioning at the massive bleeding snake bodies. Dinah stared at me with narrowed eyes and nodded.
“He’s a hard guy to kill. He’ll only go away if he’s cornered.” The world suddenly started to shake violently. I looked up at the sky and flinched when a large piece of it fell down on the floor. I blinked as I saw all the cables and tubes falling from the ripped sky.
“Now what?” This entire experience had been nothing but a pain.
“Palace is collapsing.” Joker waved them off. Mona waddled towards Dinah, placing a paw on her knees, grabbing her attention.
“Let’s go and finish that creep off and get your power.”
Dinah nodded and jumped down the canyon, followed by Mona. I looked after them and at the deep fall, but had to take a step back as the floor rumbled and the edge crumbled away. I noticed Joker’s high collar and looked at him. He just smirked at me.
“Need a hand.”
Fuck you. But I swallowed my reservations about his person and allowed him to help me. We jumped down, landing swiftly behind Dinah and Mona as they approached the hole. Joker dropped me on my feet and I just stalked closer to Dinah. I looked down at the girl, walking so confidently towards where she had thrown the massive head at.
She doesn’t need me anymore huh… The thought sobered me up a little as we stopped right before a large trail of blood. Light poured out of the big hole punched through, the wall was metallic, reminiscent of the factory above. There was half a metal door with words written on it, but they were obscured by the blood.
Mona waddled in, leaned forward and jumped. “Joker! Look! That’s the gate!”
“For real?” Joker sounded mildly surprised.
Dinah hummed. “That’s the door where my power is at then?”
“Seriously…?” I muttered, looking at the gate and carefully making out what the words said. I’m sorry. This was supposed to be the big obstacle that I had been brought in for, and Dinah broke through by brute force. What the hell am I doing here…?
The girl walked forward. “Let’s get to it.”
I watched as the girl and cat went off. I gulped, and I felt like screaming. What the hell was all of this? I’d been attacked, toyed with, left without resources, my powers ripped out of my control, and fought against something that might just be a live passenger doing whatever it wanted— Rachel, god, oh my god...Tattletale, Imp!
“…am I just here to be the butt of a big fucking joke?” I growled.
“Not really.” I flinched as I turned and looked at Joker in surprise. I frowned, controlling myself and looked at him with a withering glare.
“What do you want?”
He shrugged. “You look frustrated about something, want to talk about it?”
“No.” I turned and followed after Dinah. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with this asshole right now. I couldn’t let Dinah out of my sight either, she needed someone to stand with her and I wasn’t about to start failing her like I did the first time.
“The gate opened for a reason you know,” Joker said plainly as he walked beside me. He put his hands in his pockets and gave me a side glance. “The conditions were ‘Taylor saves Dinah’. Considering you were carrying her Shadow on your back? Mona and I couldn’t even find her Shadow, but you did. So, chin up, I think that’s how the saying goes.”
Joker walked into the hole as I stalled a little, and let out a long sigh. Looking around I saw the entire place breaking apart, the manifestation of Dinah’s trauma being destroyed. Was it really that simple? The roof shook again and I moved fast to follow after the rest.
I frowned as I felt the cool air, and stepped around the massive snake carcass. The area we were in was a large and circular, another place with impossible space in this labyrinth inside of Dinah’s head. The reptile head was bent, leaning against the railings. Walking towards Dinah, I frowned as I saw that the snake’s mouth open and a trail of blood lead down past the railing. There was a lower floor, the entire ground made of glass, and a single computer monitor right in the middle. Cracks spread like spiderwebs as something looking like a giant kaleidoscope gem pressed against it. There was a figure dragging himself towards the middle of the room desperately.
“Coil,” Dinah snarled, attempting to jump over the railing. Mona jumped in front of her.
“Whoa! Stop! Stop!”
Dinah glared at the cat. “Why!? He’s right there and I need to put a stop to him, now!”
Joker pointed down at the cracked glass floor. “Yeah, but that floor doesn’t look too stable and if it breaks, it might cause your power to run rampant.”
That alarmed me. “Wait a minute, are you telling me that thing is her power!?”
There was a sudden bright light that exploded from above, and I gasped. Trillions of screens bloomed to life. So many television screens, all of them hooked to the same cables and tubes that had been stabbed into Dinah’s Shadow. Each screen showed numbers and questions of every kind.
There were so many flashes, so many numbers. It was overwhelming how much information was being processed and poured into my vision. I looked up, and the screens appeared to change in size as I moved my head up. It was as if the screen went from normal size, to the size of my house, to that of a building — I could see some the size of city blocks. All the monitors moved to show the contents on the screen, not allowing me to miss a single calculation.
Calculating the chances of of the winds hitting north, causing a hurricane to form near Africa in two years; taking the plausibility of breaking more portals throughout all of America via causing a cluster of Triggers to go off one after the other; the probability of smashing and fusing alternate earths together via enforcing a new Shard Network on Earth Bet. There was a series of probabilities that made my heart stutter in dread.
Probability of accelerating newly theorized cycle by:
WORKING WITH SELF-SUFFICIENT THINKER NETWORK SHARD
INITIATING MULTIVERSAL APOCALYPTIC EVENT
GETTING HOST WITHIN RANGE OF INFLUENCE
I recoiled, as did Joker and Mona.
“This was a trap!?”
Dinah gaze went down and she sneered. “Don’t you ever get tired of all those stupid numbers?”
Coil was draped over the computer, bloodied and beaten he looked up at her. “D-damn you pet...you will pay…”
Dinah without much care jumped down the railings ignoring Mona’s cry. She landed on the glass floor, cracking it further, she stood straight and walked towards Coil.
“I told you to stop calling me a pet.”
I leaned against the railing watching the showdown with trepidation. “Dinah, be careful.”
Coil shook and growl. “What are the probability that the pet will die right now!?”
The screens above flashed, numbers appearing in all of the. 99.782, 98.1334, 99.563, number like those kept appearing ad infinitum. I felt despair at seeing the absolutism in those numbers.
“This can’t be fucking real…!”
“Why did I ever think you were threatening again?” There was a burst of blue flames, pushing against the bright flashes of the monitor screens. Lozen stood behind Dinah as the girl pointed at the injured Coil, her finger then went up and taking a cue straight from Joker, she snapped her fingers. “Pulinpa.”
The number on the screens immediately started to stutter. Going from the high percentages of the nineties all the way to zero, then into the negatives. The numbers changed into letters, which morphed into symbols and then were all just reduced to weird gibberish. Static broke not a second later, the noise was so loud that it made the glass floor vibrate violently.
Coil was looking up at the trillions of screens, body shaking as he fell to his knees. “What have you done…”
“What are you without your precious numbers?” Dinah asked as Lozen burned brightly. Joker, patted me on the shoulder and grinned.
“Take cover, Mona let’s go!” The two thieves flipped in midair, landing beside the girl. She looked at them with some surprise as Joker grinned at her. “Nice job Dinah. But now it’s time to put an end to this.”
“I agree.” She took a step forward towards Coil, making the bleeding man trembled and cower.
“N-No — wait, wait! Dinah, wait!”
Mona jumped to the girl’s shoulder. “Hey wait, we got a more...fitting way to end this.”
Dinah looked back at the cat. “How?”
Joker let out a great and mocking guffaw echoed in the chamber. “This is a Phantom Thieves of Hearts special! Follow my lead!”
There was a sound of glass breaking, my breath caught in my throat as I looked at the floor. Seeing it still intact, I looked back at the three just in time to see Joker turn into a black streak as he jumped at high speeds, followed by Mona, with Dinah going after them a second later.
Mona’s voice roared as the three darted up towards all the monitors and crashed into them. One screen exploded, then ten suffered the same fate, followed by a hundred more. Hundreds went up to thousands, thousands to millions, until the entire upper chamber was turned into a catastrophic and colossal storm of fire, scrap metal and glass as trillions of monitors were destroyed.
A shadow darted through the fire, booming sounds deafening the destruction above. The dark bolt crashed into Coil, then bounced off the walls and floor, constantly hitting the man over and over. Dinah kicked the man in the face, twirled in the air and landed swiftly. The young girl snapped her fingers while glowering towards the twitching Coil.
“The best thing about the future is that you’re not in it.”
A gory mess of blood jetted from everywhere in Coil’s body as he let out ear screeching death rattle.
Chapter 18: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.09
Debris and fire was raining down, crashing against the walls, the catwalk and the glassy floor. Everything began to rumble and the catwalk gave way. I reacted fast, jumping, rolling on the lower floor as the deafening crack reached my ears. I looked back, mildly surprised that the glass surface hadn’t been broken by the pressure. In fact there was no further cracking as the fire continued to crackle above.
What the fuck… I looked up at the destruction from above and only stared at it in disbelief. What the fuck...that was a passenger, a real fucking passenger...and they destroyed it?
Joker and Mona landed besides Dinah. The thief ruffled Dinah’s head as the cat yammered on and on about how great and cool they were. The girl flinched and turned her back towards me as the cat began to fret over her. I just looked at them, at all of them and apprehension filled me.
What form of power do they have…?
They could destroy powers, they could get into the head of others and violate their privacy. What the fuck were these people? I gulped, trying to keep control over my reaction as I started walking towards the three. The closer I got the more my heart hammered against my chest in worry — I can’t let these people out of my sight, I can’t let them catch me and the others off guard ever again — if all it took was a couple of words to get to this point, then it would be better to double cross them as soon as I found a way out of this place.
They need to be contained, or kept under surveillance. As I neared, Dinah turned towards me, and I was surprised to see blood trickling out her nose.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
The girl shrugged. “I don’t know, but it was like something in my head...popped? I feel a bad headache…”
“Can’t you heal her?” I turned to the cat, who looked down in dismay.
“I’ve wasted too much power...sorry, the best I can give is small dosages to relieve the pain. Sorry.”
Joker hummed, hands in his pockets and looking down. “Floor isn’t breaking. So I guess we did it…”
“You guessed?” I snarked at him, full of disdain. Joker shrugged.
“First time actually going after a power.”
Mona grinned. “It was pretty easy too!”
Yeah, way too fucking easy. I just glared at both thieves.
“Don’t take it as the norm. It was Dinah who destroyed her own power,” Joker said. “I doubt we’re going to try and bring every single target into their own Palace. This one already was more of a hassle than I’m comfortable dealing with ever again. We need to be careful and be a couple of steps ahead of that silver witch.”
The mentioned of the silver witch brought thoughts of Rachel back into my head and made me stiffen with frustration. “What is that thing?”
Joker moved to answer, but the glass floor rose all of a sudden. We all lost our footing, rolling down the rising ground, sliding to a stop on the outskirts of the large space, back touching the rails if the collapsed catwalks. Looking up I saw the large crystal underneath the ground trying to break through the floor, going higher and higher, stretching the glass like rubber.
“What’s going on…? Is this part of the Palace collapse?” I asked and Joker shook his head.
“Never saw it go down like this,” he said as he reached for his mask.
Dinah stared at the strange phenomenon intently. I snapped my fingers to get her attention, and she looked at me dumbly. She blinked a couple of times before her eyes focused on me.
“That’s the rest of my power.”
I gulped as the other two did a double take. “Rest of your power?” I grew tense as I actually took a look at how massive the crystal was, gazing down at the rest of the body of the colossal gem. I shuddered as I saw no end in sight; it continued expanding so much that it completely overshadowed the entirety of Brockton Bay. Fuck me, the thing pushing against the glass is just the tip?
“Joker! Did we screw up!?” Mona sounded worried.
“I don’t know!” Even Joker’s calm and cool tone was replaced with one of urgency. I took some relief in his self-confident swagger being broken.
The glass floor glowed, then shattered above. Abruptly everything slammed back to normalcy, we all felt the pull, impacting the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of my lungs. The event left a cracked piece of the colossal crystal clattering on the ground. Underneath, the crystal sank, moving inside out, colors and energy spurting out in violent streaks. It looked like an uncontrollable tesseract cube changing shapes into unimaginable angles and points. It disappeared from vision as it kept its bizarre motion and almost became part of the environment below.
I stood up shakily, gazing at the ripped remains of the crystal. I reached out and grasped it, looking into it. My vision was replaced by multiple images of what ifs and futures, and I saw myself die in myriad ways: being crushed by the collapsing Palace; crippled by the monstrosity Rachel became; breaking my neck from a fall. I nearly dropped the thing but kept myself strong, turning to my side to see Dinah.
The girl looked at me. “You saw it?”
I nodded, moving to give her the crystal. “Here.”
Dinah shook her head. “Keep it...or don’t, but I don’t want it, nor need it.”
The world began to rumble violently, and the walls began to fall and break. I just cursed loudly at the chaotic show.
“Fucking hell! What the fuck is it now!?”
Mona looked at us. “Okay we need to get out of here for real now! We can’t stay here!”
I grabbed Dinah’s hand and began pulling her. “How long till this place collapses!?”
Joker was running. “Fast. Mona, car, now!”
“Got it.” The cat jumped, flipped in the air. “Morgana! Transform!”
He exploded into a cloud of smoke, and a black van with yellow stripes and a cat tail landed on the glass ground with a slight bounce. I just stopped, looking as the van began to purr when Joker got in the driver’s seat.
Fuck this. I pulled Dinah and got into the van. Joker looked back at us and nodded.
“Let’s roll!” I was pulled back into the seat as Joker hit the accelerator and went off. We went up the collapsed catwalk through the hole that led to the ashen wasteland. I looked out of the window and winced as massive sinkholes appeared in the ash desert. An explosion happened above, and a chunk of the ceiling fell, causing a big cloud of cinders to roll towards us. “Damn! Can’t see!”
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” Mona screamed, the inside of the van vibrating. “My eyes!”
“You can feel that!?” Dinah gasped as we continued moving fast. A couple of seconds later we blew through the chaotic cloud and were back in the black tunnels from earlier. I looked back and saw the tunnel collapsing.
“This place seriously doesn’t care about logic…” I frowned as the walls fell and I saw the metal factory breaking apart. We were riding on a shaky platform now, cracking and falling down behind us. The van began running up a ramp, and I held the seat tightly as we picked up speed.
“Wall ahead!” Mona warned. “Hold on!”
And like a battering-ram it destroyed the wall, letting light pour through as we flew through the skies. I looked out through the window and felt dread at the sight.
“Were we too late…?” Brockton Bay looked like someone had dropped a bomb and the city had cracked apart. Massive chunks of land were floating, crashing against one another in big booming thuds. The sky was cracking horrifically, the wind so strong that it was visible. It was a scene that could only appear in nightmares.
“No! What happened to the city!?” Dinah exclaimed as she pushed me to look through the window. She shook. “No! No!”
“It isn’t real!” Joker called out and we looked back at him. He gave us a reassuring look. “This version is another manifestation of your mental scape. It’s part of your Palace. Though I think we were cutting it close to be honest.”
“Fuck this mental crap…” I couldn’t help but mutter, and Dinah looked back at me. She patted my thigh as if to comfort me. I snorted at that. Though I appreciate the gesture.
“We overshot, Joker! The exit is right below!” Mona commented.
Joker nodded as the van began to descend. “We’ll land nearby and turn around.”
I frowned as I caught sight of flesh and fur dragging behind a damaged building. I scrambled forward to the seat beside Joker and looked through the front of the van.
“Rachel!” I turned to Joker. “Don’t turn around! We need to go forward! Now!”
“Are you crazy!? The entire place is collapsing! We can’t — ” Mona started, but I just growled and punched the van’s ceiling. “Ow!”
“I don’t care! Now!”
Joker looked back at me and nodded. “Okay.”
The vehicle landed roughly, and I had to hold on just to keep from smacking my head against the glass. The thief steered the van, trying to get it under control, and swerved it around the building. The van drifted roughly, rounding the corner, and I looked up at the hulking monster lumbering forward.
“Rachel…” I felt anger at what had been done to her, at what she had been turned into. I looked to the side and tensed. Crow was on all four, tendrils of flesh quivering and connecting itself with the other lump of meat from the two downed girls. “Tattletale! Imp! Careful, careful!”
Joker hit the brakes fully and screeched to a halt a few feet away from them. I got out, running towards my teammates. I slid right beside the blonde girl, pushing the mass of flesh over her head and got a clear view of her bloated face. Tattletale looked up at me, swollen lips spread into a forceful smile.
“You made it…”
“Shit, don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here.” I looked back, seeing Mona transform back to his cartoony cat self. The cat looked tense as the monstrous Rachel stopped a few feet away. I gulped at the two pair of eyes, wet with bodily fluids that poured out of its orifices. Joker put a hand on the quivering and bloated Crow, hand on his face.
“You okay?” Joker asked.
“About time you got out…” Crow groaned as he fell face first. “ ...that thing...is still here…”
My gaze was focused on Rachel, feeling sick at what had been done to her. I felt a hand on mine and I looked down at Tattletale.
“Get her away from that passenger...now…” I looked back at Rachel and noticed the silver female in the air, eyes focused on us. I glared at the thing, feeling nothing but anger at this new threat. Where did you come from?
[Failure] The rogue passenger shook its head. [Acquisition of precognitive Shard has failed. Data collected about metaphysical plane — insufficient. Unknown probabilities, annoying. Further testing required, moving towards acquiring other Shards]
Tattletale groaned, and I grew even more worried. “Dangerous, we need...to get away…”
The passenger focused on the thieves, face contorting to one of disgust. [You shall pay for this interference, Trickster]
Joker burst into fire and Arsene appeared. “If you wanna go! I’m willing! I still haven’t gotten rid of the bitter taste from the last round.”
[Foolish, the strongest amongst you failed entirely to deal any sort of damage] The passenger rose into the air, its eyes turned to mine, and I froze as I felt my head throb. [It was a mistake letting you go. Administrator, seize them]
I shook as I watched everyone around stiffen. “Fuck no, no! Stop!” My head was pounding against my skull. I could feel my passenger listening to its brethren, eager to follow its words. I tried to focus, clawing at my own head to stop the pressure building up in it.
[Make them kill themselves]
I watched as everyone present moved to do as the passenger commanded. Joker reached out for a knife in his coat and moved to slit his own throat. Mona ran for a sharp chunk of debris. Crow started to slam his head against the pavement. Tattletale was using chunks of meat to try and strangle herself. Imp moved the lump of flesh to suffocate. Rachel started clawing at herself violently, ripping chunks of her body to the ground. Dinah wrapped the chain she had used to defeat Coil around her throat and started to pull.
I tried to do something, trying to spread myself out towards Tattletale, Imp, Dinah and Rachel. I could only kneel and wince as my head continued pulsing. I felt so helpless, I felt so fucking useless, just kneeling there and wondering what the fuck to do.
The moment I stepped into this nightmare I’d been pushed around, humiliated, and hurt. I’d been forced to be nothing but a useless bystander, standing around and gawking, incapable of doing anything. The realization had me bristling, a scream vibrating in my throat and wanting to be unleashed. What the fuck had I been doing? What the hell had happened?
I let a damn cat car and a thief wannabe lead me on, to play by their rules. Dragging me through that hell, leaving me helpless and relying on them like some kind of damsel. They reduced me nothing but a humiliated pathetic bullied brat. Making everything I had done in the past few months almost mean nothing. How dare they reduce me to this fucking state?
I had fought against the most vicious of criminals and won. I had fought against the most dangerous of villains and won. I had fought against the Slaughterhouse Nine and won! I fought against Echidna and won! I fought against an Endbringer and survived!
“So listen to me and fu cking STOP!”
There was a crack, then the entire sky fell. Everyone around me came to a complete halt, shaking as all of them were inches away from killing themselves. Then all of them deflated, eyes going towards me in shaky wariness. The rogue passenger was looking at me in shock as I snarled at the thing.
The passenger looked at the shattered sky, then back at me. [Administrator Shard — it has adapted to metaphysical phenomena? Interesting]
The passenger rose to the broken sky, then darted forward and disappeared from view. I glared at it and moved towards Tattletale, trying to get her up.
“Skitter what was —” Mona started but aimed my scowl at the cat.
“Transform back to a van. We need to get them inside.” Mona nodded at my words and transformed. Joker helped me, picking up Imp and placing her on the middle seat. I moved Tattletale into the seat behind Imp, stepping back and bumping into someone. I turned and frowned as Crow looked at me.
“Hm...you’re alive.” He limped inside the van, going to the back of the vehicle. I grimaced at the guy and turned towards Rachel. The massive monstrosity was down on the floor, not moving, and that would’ve scared me if I didn’t see its side expanding and contracting.
“Fuck...we need to get her out of here!” I growled. Joker passed by me, running. “What are you doing?”
“We’re closer to Dinah’s Palace, we can use that exit to get out, come on. Follow me! You drive Mona!” Joker said in a hurry. Arsene appeared beside him and they crashed against the massive body of Rachel. Using the tilted angle of the ground, they began rolling her and pushing her towards the Palace that was sinking.
I turned towards Dinah. “Get in the van.”
I went into the driver’s seat, and Dinah sat besides me. I took the wheel and glared everywhere. “This thing drives like a normal car right?”
“Yeah! Now hit the gas!”
I did as suggested and drove, following after Joker. Taking sharp turns, I ignored how my shoulder impacted the door besides me and just kept driving. Suddenly, the floor underneath us broke and we went into free fall. “Fuck!”
“Lozen!” I turned towards Dinah and saw her projection float under the van. There was a sudden jolt and we were flying right for the Palace ground. Joker was riding Rachel’s body like a board — fucking prick don’t treat her like an object — and he pulled out his phone as we were about to crash.
The world around us broke apart.
Thousands of bugs buzzed at the same time.
I opened my eyes, feeling my skin resting against fur. I propped myself on my elbows, looked around, and saw that all of us were on top of the still mutated Rachel. We were just outside the Alcott household. Imp, Tattletale and Crow laid unconscious, Dinah was groaning, as was Joker and Mona — who now just looked like a normal cat.
“Ow...that hurt…” I blinked at the human words coming from a cat.
Screw it...it’s not even the weirdest thing I’ve seen all day.
Joker got up, body burning blue, and his stylish clothing were replaced by a blazer, white shirt and jeans. He adjusted his glasses and let out an exhausted sigh.
“That...that was something...I think I want to go to bed now…”
I just glared at him, my posture neutral as the buzzing bugs began to circulate the area. The swarm grew larger and larger as I gathered them towards me. They crawled on my body, skittering on my face and forming a makeshift mask. I took some gratification at the disturbed look from Joker as I got to my feet, looking down at him.
I’m back to full capacity.
The swarm let out a chorus of buzzing, chirping and clicks, so loud that they were deafening. The afternoon sun’s light was blocked as all the insects flew around my six city block square range. I felt myself grow small as I spread my awareness through my bugs. The sensation was so liberating.
I could feel everything within my range. The sewers became alive as the bugs moved. I sensed some pathetic thugs that were attempting to steal from an elderly couple in my city. I lashed out, they screamed and fell to the floor in pain. I moved part of the swarm inside Dinah’s house, stopped her mother from going to the phone. The bugs started to form a duplicate of me in front of Dinah’s father.
“I have your daughter with me. You shall assist me with a phone call.”
“Wait, what — Dinah!?”
I multitasked, keeping vigilant for any threats and guiding the parents inside to call one of the disposable numbers Tattletale had set up in my lair. I needed to gather my men and whatever vehicles would be needed to move Rachel, and preparations had to be made for medical assistance for Tattletale and Imp. People were running in fright at how the swarm moved, screams tore through the cover air as wasps flew close to a group. This reaction went off almost everywhere.
Blinking, I looked down at Joker, who was looking at me with caution. The same for Mona. Bugs crawled on them, Joker flinched, and Mona jumped. The swarm chirped in satisfaction.
“Tayl— Skitter!” Dinah started. I ignored her, feeling a rush as I stretch and felt free. The nightmare I had been taken into and trapped in had passed. But the feelings, the frustrations and fury, from what I had been reduced to remained. They spread through my swarm, moving like a mad hurricane. Joker was wary, hands still on the phone that had pulled us away from that nightmare. The swarm crawled around the unconscious Crow.
You’re not pulling me back there.
Joker flinched, phone clattering to my feet as his hand was stung and bitten. He pulled his hand up holding it as he now glared at me. I stepped on his phone, making sure the swarm was crawling around him and the cat’s body. A clear warning that I wouldn’t allow for them to do anything without retribution. I will not allow them to hold such power over me ever again.
The bugs all roared in unison.
“Now...you will tell me everything I want to know. You will answer me, you will cooperate, or there will be consequences.”
Chapter 19: Arc 2: Frivolous 2.z
This entity stared at the population beneath, its hand pulsing with a brilliant gold.
The energy it held was enough to completely eradicate a quarter of the land mass below. The conflict brewing underneath was causing the Shards to mature, to learn and adapt to the violence. Their destruction would be an unfortunate consequence.
But the critical damage the precognitive Shard had received demanded caution. The gold light in its fingertips burst with more power.
The entity stared at the conflict filled city, trying to make sense of what had occurred. It should’ve been impossible. All the shards were locked away, none of the test species should be capable of reaching them or even be allowed to form any interaction as long as the safeguards were in operation.
The entity observed the ongoing chaos beneath, analyzing what could’ve possibly caused such a catastrophic setback. The administrator Shard was the most active and violent of all, shining brightly and lashing out at its surroundings. The administrator was enveloping the negotiator, the safe guard and the mutative enhancement Shard with its subjects as it battled a hydrokinetic desiccator, a forcefield generator and a kinetic manipulator. The three were failing, the kinetic manipulator encroached by the administrator’s subjects, and the forcefield generator was in the skies retreating. The hydrokinetic was the only one holding off the administrator’s attack, but its efforts were limited and insignificant. He was also within range of administrator.
Some distance away the sting shard and a telekinesis shard were in combat with the transfer shard. The transfer shard utilized its fourteen accumulated powers to make sting retreat and avoid the telekinesis user. A biological manipulator worked with a changer who could nullify other shards temporarily to combat a young shard and a shard that gone through a secondary trigger.
Nearby, there was another conflict. The armamentarium and spatial shard were being affected by a hypnotic shard. They moved, using their powers to kill each other via commands. Both were stopped by a temporal stasis shard. The hypnotic shard took the opportunity to run while an aerokinetic facilitated the escape.
Everything going on should have been a pleasing sight to the entity. It could see the shards developing, adapting and brewing more chaos to their hosts.
Its own connection to the well of precognitive abilities was still intact, still within the main hub network. But the destruction of the shard could not be ignored. It looked down at the sting shard, contemplating the destruction of the host. It looked at the administrator and wonder if the eradication of the host would be enough to satisfy its worry. It then took the entire scope of the population beneath, taking special note of the absence of the precognitive shard within the population.
The gold light in its hand was an instant away from being released—
The entity stilled. Its gaze caught the wavelengths that traveled from the city and reached it, the broadcasted words carrying so much meaning and such a deep message. Its hand dropped by its side, light disappearing as it looked at the bright and independent network inside a structure near the ocean.
The entity felt something akin to elation. Its body’s chest tightened and it focused on the point below. It was weak, the energy paling in comparison to any of the currently operating shards. Yet it could see it, the inner workings. It was evolved, adapting via means that surpassed reality and allowed its independence.
The entity couldn’t help but feel curiosity at the answer. In the past they had encountered universes with different working physics, time and space acting differently. Metaphysical planes had been explored before, despite their rarity. The entity looked for any sign of metaphysics in this world and its parallel. Only one fit the criteria, but it looked devastated.
It pulled back as if struck. A new cycle? It received incomplete information, the broadcasted message weak. What could it mean? Could they restart the cycle? Or was this a new method entirely?
It attempted to approach this new independent network —
[Do not interfere]
The entity stopped.
[Experimentation. Conflict. Seed —] The broadcast was losing strength once more. [Shards must surface into reality through the metaphysical world. Data collected will allow for new cycle to be possible. Risks are high, test species interfering, end result — New Path. Gestation]
The entity backed off. It wouldn’t interfere with the machinations of this independent network. The cycle had been disrupted to such a point that it had been lost, and it had not known what to do. It had been waiting for something, anything that would allow for the cycle to continue. Now this opportunity had appeared. It had nothing to lose.
As it turned, it saw the tendrils the independent network was weaving, Its influence extending beyond the reaches of its limited resources. It took notice of the rift in reality, a hole connecting multiple worlds, one of them being the devastated metaphysical world.
The entity flew away, returning back to its earlier dealings. It passed by a blue butterfly, ignoring it as it streaked away at high speeds. The blue butterfly flew down, diving into the city, weaving around the buildings. It passed through the swarm of controlled insects, ignoring the slight pull on its body to join the horde of bugs. It flew for the portal in the city, passing through and then entered through another rift in reality. White illuminated the butterfly’s surroundings, landing on the extended finger of a young girl in a blue dress.
Doctor Mother drew a deep breath and opened her eyes.
She blinked a couple of times, trying to focus. She stepped away from subject number twenty-three and his partner two-six-five. Shaking her head, she shook the disorientation off. She looked at the girl besides her as she let go of her and the two successful experiments, cutting off her power’s influence.
“Much appreciated Miss Lavenza.” The woman regarded the young girl, then turned to the two Cauldron capes in the room. “We have been going about this under the wrong assumption.”
“What wrong assumption?” Alexandria asked. The black costumed hero was giving the girl in front of her a wary look. Beside her, Eidolon was quiet, arms crossed and staring at the blue dressed girl with an intense look.
Doctor Mother walked towards the conference table, grabbing her tablet and writing some notes on the screen. “The assumption that Scion was an alien being, incapable of human-like behavior and absolutely hostile.”
“Does it change anything?” Alexandria asked. Doctor Mother walked towards the room door, the two heroes followed after her. The two tensed slightly as Lavenza. The capes looked at each other and followed her as well. Exiting the conference room they walked through a cracked and still heavily damaged hallway.
“If he is capable of human-like behavior then he can be manipulated. The question is finding the how and what. Unfortunately we have to deal with another entity similar to Scion.”
“The “core” body from the garden that fell through the cracks of reality during the battle against Echidna. It seems to have gathered sentience.” She looked around at the broken walls and flickering lights. “The damage the facility received during the incident is quite unfortunate. The loss of so many deviants is a very major setback. The past plan of using overwhelming numbers and powers to take in Scion in direct combat will have to be scrapped. A more refined plan will have to be taken into consideration, especially with the new information we have gathered.”
Alexandria hummed. “So that’s why you had us staying as far away from Earth Bet then. And now we have a second Scion running around too. Things are going from worse to hopeless then.”
Doctor Mother continued on, “The second entity seems to be plotting a new cycle, picking up from where we stopped it thirty years ago. Or something else. It doesn’t matter what exactly they are planning now, the final objective is still the same. The only change is we have two threats to kill now.”
“Are we just going to ignore the girl?” Eidolon asked gruffly, a slight static in his voice.
Doctor Mother merely raised an eyebrow at him. “You seem worried about her.”
“She’s dangerous,” he said numbly, focused entirely on the calm girl in blue. She just looked up at him with a tilt in her head. “Everything is just screaming at me to put this girl down.”
The woman turned to the female cape. “Alexandria. Do you have a similar reaction?”
“No, but ever since her appearance she has had me on edge.”
“A resident from where the entity’s body fell into. A world where abstract concepts and supernatural occurrences are a norm.” The two capes just looked at Doctor Mother.
“How did we miss a world like that?” Alexandria asked. Lavenza turned towards her.
“My master’s master made countermeasures against any intervention from other worlds by isolating ours, to let humanity live its life and prove themselves without any interruption.”
Alexandria tilted her head. “Interesting, you never mentioned about serving another when you came here.”
Eidolon tensed. “Where’s this master of yours then?”
Lavenza raised her finger, and the butterfly perched on it flapped its wings. “He’s here.”
Alexandria and Eidolon looked at each other then at Doctor Mother. The woman shrugged. “It was the intervention of that singular butterfly that prevented the rest of the headquarters from falling through the hole in reality.”
They came to a stop at the end of the hall, window overlooking a large area beneath them. The mass of limbs that was left in the massive hangar area were scattered in clusters around a kaleidoscopic hole in space. Through each refraction there was a large number of worlds. Doctor Mother observed the two most important ones: the one that led to Earth Bet, and the one that led to the world where Lavenza had come from.
“There still hasn’t been any sign of Contessa.” Doctor Mother looked to her left and saw Number Man leaning against one of the walls. He was typing on a small laptop, stopping for a second as he regarded Alexandria and Eidolon with a look.
“Contessa’s missing? Or is she dead?” Alexandria sounded slightly unnerved by the possibility. Doctor Mother could relate.
“Earth Bet is currently off limits for you or Eidolon. I need you two to go after Contessa and confirm if she’s alive or dead.”
“You can’t tell us to abandon Earth Bet,” Eidolon argued.
“Right now, Cauldron is in a precarious position. With the organization not being secret any longer, many projects and plans will be hitting walls. Not to mention the crippling setback from this occurrence, with the agent breaking out and becoming sentient, killing off so many deviants. We need to rethink our strategy and and handle this situation from another angle. Now, if there isn’t anything more to talk about, I shall be there handling some matters.”
Doctor Mother turned and walked away, Lavenza in tow. The woman came to a stop a short distance away, Lavenza kept walking until she reached another door down the hall and stopped. She turned towards the founder of Cauldron.
“You are still very monstrous, Doctor Mother.”
“You do not have the same excuse as the people you surround yourself with. There is no “agent” to compel you to violence. This journey of yours must be done by a human.” Lavenza looked down at the butterfly. “Humanity has the capacity to do the impossible, as long as they stay true to their convictions and overcome the hurdles in life. You will not achieve anything should you continue to run away from your problems.”
“Running? I can see what you mean,” the woman deflected easily. “Are you sure you don’t want your people to work with Cauldron? The organization may have faced a couple of setbacks, but we can provide them with all the resources they might need.”
Lavenza shook her head, letting the butterfly fly off her finger. “My dear trickster will complete his own journey, despite the fatal blindside we all received. But he will reach his destination and complete his growth. Just understand that his road diverges from your own.”
“The end of his journey might mean the salvation of all the worlds...or it will be closure for what he has lost. Do not get comfortable in believing salvation will be brought by my trickster’s hands.”
She turned and walked away, leaving Doctor Mother alone in the hallway. She watched idly as the blue butterfly flapped its wings and landed on her shoulder. It shone brightly and she tensed, letting out a shuddering breath as she stared at her hands. She saw nothing but red and her throat contracting as if she was choking.
For a single instance she felt something she had been drowning away for years now.
‘W-What…have I done!?’
The feelings disappeared the moment the butterfly flew off her shoulder and followed after Lavenza. Doctor Mother leaned against the wall besides her and felt unbelievably heavy.
“I have to be human again...huh…”
She straightened her shoulders, hesitated, and turned around.
Heading for where the deviants were being held.
Chapter 20: Arc 3: Shallow 3.01
My territory’s clinic was in high gear working and treating Lisa and Aisha from their current state. And Crow, though that was more out of necessity than out of actual care for my attacker. I had gone through Lisa’s contacts to find every single medic under her payroll and brought them over to work on my teammates. Especially Rachel.
All three of them were lucky to be alive. The mass of flesh was rotting away, and underneath they seemed to be going back to normal. But it was a slow process. It had taken eight hours for the massive bump on Lisa’s back to shrink and for Aisha’s face to stop being bloated. The younger villainess now looked like she had a swollen cheek, instead of the nightmarish meat bubble. They were still unconscious, so they wouldn’t have to feel the rot of the excess flesh and nerves.
Bringing them here had been an incredibly troublesome affair. I should’ve handled things better. It was a thought that echoed as I looked back to the moment we escaped the mental world. I was too aggressive and excessive with trying to get rid of the awful feelings of uselessness and frustration. And handling Dinah.
I pushed the thoughts of the girl away, just like I’d done to her, and focused one the messy past afternoon. Just too much was happening. At some point, while waiting for my men to come with the trucks and equipment to drag the massive body of Rachel out of the Alcott household, things had just escalated. My display yesterday had grabbed the attention of far too many people. Specifically the PRT —. Assault backed by two new capes that would most likely be joining the ranks of the Brockton Bay ranks.
I’ll have to keep an eye for the white cloaked one, Sere. I apparently had grabbed enough notoriety to get a perfect counter for my powers. A cape who could rip the moisture out of any organism with no Manton limitations was not something that could be ignored. At least Dovetail had been easy to deal with. The PRT cape fell on a rooftop wrapped in spider silk and stung with enough bugs to form welts all over and venoms running through her body. Assault for all his strength had been far to aggressive, he fell easily as well.
Neutralizing them had thankfully gone smoothly. The arrival of my people came in record time, and they’d hooked up Rachel and moved her towards my territory. She didn’t deserve that. Seeing her get dragged through the streets, pavement breaking under her heavy body felt so insulting. It was yet another another reason for my anger towards the three self-proclaimed thieves.
They’re lucky I have more important things to worry about. I moved close to Lisa’s bed. She was slumped on her back, the lump staining the mattress and white coverings with gunk. The tendrils stained the floor as it ran along and connected with her neighbor Aisha. The younger cape’s right hand was held tightly by Brian. He was in full-costume, helmet on with a medical mask underneath it just in case. I moved towards him, and noticed he was shaking. He didn’t look up, staying focused on his sister.
“How is she doing?” I asked him, and Brian’s shoulders slumped slightly.
“Same as when you brought her in…”
“She’ll get better, the extra flesh is dissolving.”
He looked back at me. “It shouldn’t have happened.”
“It shouldn’t have.” I agreed.
Brian sighed, looking back at his sister. “I never thought Rachel’s power could do something like this.”
“It wasn’t her.”
“It was her power,” he retorted back gruffly, stiffened and he slumped forward again. “I just can’t...yesterday to much was happening…”
“Yes.” The swarm buzzed with my distaste. I didn’t need to be reminded of the massive clusterfuck that was yesterday.
“Fighting the Teeth wasn’t even part of the plan, but it was already bad enough when half of the team is missing. We couldn’t stop them from taking the cargo…”
“We’ll have to go after them soon. Medical equipment was in there and we’ll need it to treat them.” I gestured towards our teammates.
Brian’s head turned slightly towards the other bed. I could easily imagine his glower.
“That guy can rot for all I care.”
Crow laid on his own bed, strings of flesh and nerves rotting away by his sides. He was heavily sedated, just making sure he wouldn’t cause any problems in the future. His teammates were more cooperative, fortunately, but this asshole could stay asleep for a little while more.
“I agree. But you can’t hurt him. All those nerves connected with Tattletale and Imp would only cause more problems. For now he’ll stay like this until I can figure something out.”
“We’re wasting medicine on someone like him…”
Rachel let out a growl that vibrated through the warehouse. I moved to one spot, feeling every inch of the hulking body as it groaned and winced. The mass of meat was hooked to dozens of tubes and needles. A team of medics and assistants were working on the mutated Rachel and Bastard fusion. They were cutting pieces of the body out, being careful not to harm the two within all that meat.
“I’m kind of jealous that you can’t smell how shitty this place smells,” Regent called out besides me.
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t care about the smell, as long as we can work on making sure to pull Rachel and Bastard out.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hey doc.” Regent snapped his fingers a couple of times, grabbing the attention of a woman who was covered in blood and holding a scalpel with gloved hands. “I told you to leave the nape of the neck alone.”
The woman winced. “Ah, I know. But we’re running out of anesthetic. The drug just won’t take effect when we inject it into its flesh because of how fast it’s rotting. We’ve already cut out of part of the flesh to administer the drug deeper and in greater quantities, but I don’t know what to do when this tactic fails. If this thing wakes up, I don’t even want to think of the damage it could cause.”
The way the woman was talking about Rachel irked me, but I could understand why. Everyone was on edge.
Regent scratched his hair. “Well, things seem to be going down the drain fast.”
“What did the Teeth want with those medical supplies anyways? Why go after them?” I ask him.
He shrugged. “They’re villains, we’re villains, that’s enough reason to be a dick about anything.”
“Regent…this isn’t the time for jokes.”
“Skitter, stop being a dick. We all had a bad day.”
I was a little surprised at the slight inflection in his tone. He’s annoyed. “I know, but we’ve got so much stuff to worry about now that I just can’t help but feel apprehensive.”
“Well, with Brockton Bay being open season, again , who wouldn’t be. Especially since now we’ve got what? Like four other things on our plate too?”
“A hostile passenger that can order powers around and a group of people who can destroy passengers. Dinah wanted to come, but I left her back with her parents.”
“Didn’t want to lock her up to?”
I felt shame at the fact that I was considering taking her in as well. The fact that she had similar powers to Joker, the cat and Crow didn’t make it easy to leave her without any supervision. But god, I couldn’t lock her up after everything I saw in her head.
“No. We’ll get all the information out of the two prisoners when I get around interrogating them. For now, my priority is our teammate.”
“Hmm, Imp still quiet?”
This is the sixth time you asked, you really care about her. “Grue is with her.”
“A little too close to the Crow guy if you ask me.”
“You heard what the doctor said, we can’t separate them until the flesh connecting them rots away. If we cut them off—”
“Oh trust me, I know a thing or two about nerves and what not.”
“Ma’am!” A young male came running towards us, shivering. His gloves and mask were completely red. He took off the protective lenses from his face and there was a clean spot around his eyes where the blood hadn’t stained his skin. “The situation is worse than we projected! We need to do something or else we might lose both patients!”
The swarm buzzed in alarm. “What do you mean!?”
The medic wilted somewhat. “I meant that the patients are having a reaction ma’am, and they’re going to end up waking up. Considering the damage, it could cause the patients to...well go on a rampage and then die from the extreme stress for both B-Bitch and her wolf’s hearts.”
“Die…!” I moved close to the medic who whimpered and bowed his head. “Why would they die!? This never happened when Rachel used her powers on her dogs!”
“The excess of flesh is way to interconnected with both patients. It’s like a second body, it’s failing and the backlash will be disastrous for the bodies in the core. They would go into cardiac arrest, or they might just have one immediately in a few hours when we run out of drugs.”
“Fuck me. We need to go after the Teeth and get those supplies. Sooner rather than later,” I told Regent. He shrugged.
“Team is cut in half.”
“I know...I’ll think of something.”
“Ooh, interrogation time then. I’ll stay here and keep guiding the good doctors to not chop Rachel or the little wolf into tiny little chunky pieces.” Regent waved me off and I dropped to the ground.
I rose beside a muscular man, dressed in a thin shirt dripping with sweat. He jumped slightly when he noticed me. The other men and women looked unnerved but didn’t comment as I presented myself. These were Tattletale’s subordinates, each of them in charge of certain tasks around the city that were beneath the full attention of the Undersiders.
“Skitter.” A woman in a suit greeted. “How is Tattletale?”
Regarding the woman, her tone didn’t sound all that genuine. She’s being blackmailed then, I’ll assume everyone here is as well.
I spoke firmly. “She’s up and running things behind the scenes. But she won’t be coming out of her room for the time being until she’s been clear. For now you will answer to me.”
One man wearing an orange construction vest stepped forward. “Right, so what should we do about the ongoing operations concerning the cities shelters? Tattletale had us fix certain areas where people would move in and use the resources provided by the Undersiders to get a better hold of the city.”
Another man nodded. “There’s also the issue of the stolen supplies. The Teeth actions yesterday were incredibly precise. Those routes were supposed to keep the packages safe and not many people knew exactly where the trucks were heading.”
“Are you insinuating that someone here has been selling this information to other potential rival villain groups.” The swarm buzzed loudly and Tattletale’s people took a step back. They stopped when the buzzing and clicking went off behind them. “Who was aware of those routes?”
The woman in the suit coughed. “Well, obviously the Undersiders...all of us here, and the PRT.”
Now that was shocking. “The PRT are aware of this?”
“Yes, Tattletale let the roads the cargo would travel through as bait for them to try and steal the supplies. Since the Undersiders had presented themselves quickly as providers for those in need around the city, the action of retrieving the supplies would blow back on the PRT. With their reputation damaged further, this would give the Undersiders a smoother hold over the city. But the PRT played things smart and protected the supplies, letting your people distribute them out.”
“Meaning that it could be someone from the PRT that told the routes to the Teeth then?” It would make sense. Grue said that despite the fact that he and the others fighting against the Teeth, there was no protectorate cape intervening. “Find out who’s been selling our secrets within the PRT.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The woman nodded, a slight grimace on her face. I’ll need to keep an eye on her.
“The rest of you, find where the Teeth are hiding. Whatever task you had before doesn’t matter now. This is a job that you will need to do fast. No wasting time. I want it done before twelve. Understood?”
“What!? You want us to find them in two hours!?” One of the men scream, he shut up when the swarm closed in around him.
“Is that understood?” I repeated.
The men nodded, mumbling scared affirmations. I dropped the swarm and blinked as I looked at the walls of the detainment building. I reached into the bag strapped on my belt and pulled out a crystal. It was moving slowly, like the massive one inside of Dinah’s head. But the brightness was low, almost going dim. I pressed it against my forehead, closed my eyes and sighed.
“What are the chances of finding the Teeth in two hours?”
Images popped behind my eyelids. There were hundreds of images just showing random events. It was so difficult to to tell what they were trying to show. The visions began to peeter out, one stood out. I gasped, there I saw myself, kneeling in the destroyed streets of my territory and holding onto the spread out gore of Rachel’s body.
The image broke apart like glass. I grunted, tempted to throw the damned broken passenger away. It didn’t give me any numbers or percentages like it did for Dinah. It didn’t even show me anything concrete, always speeding through different futures and always landing on the worst possible prediction before disappearing.
I holstered the crystal back to its bag and walked down the steps. I made my way right in front of a cell and stared into the dark eyes of my prisoner. I frowned as Joker looked at me through the bars of his cell. He looked bored and disarming in his casual clothing. He gave a small wave.
Chapter 21: Arcs 3: Shallow 3.02
An involuntary sigh almost escaped me, but I managed to hide it. I hadn’t slept since I got attacked by Crow the other day. My body felt so heavy, eyes stinging and head pounding. The last few days hadn’t been good, but I refused to let them beat me. I couldn’t allow for that when my team was in such a bad state.
I need to find the Teeth, I need to do it fast. I won’t lose Rachel.
Joker leaned against the bars. “Where’s Morgana?” I blinked as I focused back on him.
Morgana? Mona? “He’s in the floor above, locked in a cage. You’re in the same cage that your friend Crow was locked up.” The cell moved, hundreds of bugs buzzing around Joker. He didn’t react much aside from looking around with a neutral look. “Your phones are secured and far away enough to not let you escape back to that mental plane.”
Joker nodded. “You’re pretty much on top of things.”
“I won’t be caught off guard again.”
“Yeah I knew you could control bugs, but I never thought it would be that many. That was pretty horrifying.”
I frowned at the lightness in his tone. “Flattery doesn’t work with me, so I suggest you stop it. Or you will see what I did to your friend, Crow, when he decided that attacking me in my own territory was a good idea.”
Joker slapped his forehead softly and shook his head. “Why, why did you do that man… I thought we agreed that you would focus it all on me. Oh well. It’s been a couple of hours. I thought you wanted some answers.”
I could only glare at his quick changing of subjects. I focused on his last points for now. “I had more important things to worry about.”
“Your friends, I understand.”
Fuck off asshole. “It’s because of you and your people that they ended up hurt.”
The dark haired thief pursed his lips. “Trust me when I say the last thing I wanted was for anyone to end up hurt.”
“I don’t trust you,” I admitted easily, stepping closer to the cell and to the thief. “You hurt my team, you attacked me, and you're a threat.”
“Like I said, I didn’t mean for your friends to get hurt. The attack on you wasn’t part of any of our plans. Akechi was supposed to talk with you and negotiate a partnership while I found a better route in the Palace. I trusted him to get the job done...he got it done, though not in the way I was expecting.”
Akechi? The name felt bitter, it humanized that asshole far to much. “That makes you look incredibly naive, and in my book that isn’t something I can deal with lightly. Or maybe you’re an incredible manipulator, working with an assassin like him.”
Joker looked slightly surprised. “Oh, so you found out about that.”
“So you knew then.” I was now feeling apprehensive at that. The bugs around the cells buzzed and clicked aggressively. He didn’t seem to be bothered by the noise or the way the insects seemed so agitated. He’s either got something under his sleeve like his friend did, or he’s more of an idiot than what I gave him credit for.
“Well of course I knew, I was a target for him.”
I recoiled slightly at that. “And you trust him? You are really naive.”
He shrugged. “I like to think that we became friends before the hit was put on my head. Life just became more complicated when me and my friends got a lot of notoriety. He was an enemy...then he wasn’t an issue. We went after the person who hurt him the most, then we went after an even bigger enemy: society. But then the silver witch — I mean, the rogue passenger was it? — decided to come from out of left field and everything just turned worse.”
“You started working together with your would-be-killer because of that thing?” I frowned at his shrug and the forlorn look on his face.
“I mean he came back after everything, alone and bewildered — and he was definitely the strongest of us — I wouldn’t just tell him to take a hike. It’s not me.”
“That would be the sensible thing to say to an assassin. Especially to one who attempted to murder you before.”
Joker looked at me, face haggard. “There had been enough loss that day to last me a lifetime...and I wasn’t going to let that rogue passenger thing keep toying with him.”
Crow was alone with it before they teamed up then? “Where did it come from? How did it become like that?”
“Who knows?” Joker shrugged. “All I know is that the sky broke and something fell before the world ended. When we found the portal and it lead to this place? We were more than sure we would find the origin of you people’s powers. Or passengers I guess.”
I frowned at his words, though they somewhat confirmed what I’d already suspected. “Your powers don’t come from passengers.”
He smiled slightly. “You saw what happened with Dinah.”
I saw and heard more than I wanted. “And that’s your endgame then? Go after every cape?”
“If we have to,” Joker said simply. “Whatever that thing finds interesting can’t be good.”
“So you would pick a fight with everyone then, destroy their powers, destroy their own identity?” I stared intently into his eyes, leaning towards him. “And you expect me to trust you? When I could become a target for you in the future? Tattletale? Rachel? Imp? Grue? Regent? They are my priority, my people.”
“What about the rest?” Joker asked and I stopped.
What about the rest? Everything I saw in Dinah’s mental scape was so extreme, that it made it difficult to understand how something like that could enter into reality. What did it even mean for a passenger to enter reality? Was it going to become like the rogue passenger? Going around and ordering other passengers to do as it pleased? There were just too many questions to ask. And I didn’t like the fact that the answers would bring out more questions. But at the end, it all came down to ‘ what about the rest’?
Those two phrases were what Dinah had left to me as she started on the road towards fighting the end of the world. Yet, it was the girl herself who basically destroyed her own passenger. Did it invalidate everything she had seen? Did it prove every prediction she made was flawed? It was just so infuriating, all this indecision, and all the unknowns.
Rachel. The mere thought of her had me bristling. Seeing the state she was in, remembering that she was at death's door just because the medical supplies we had were stolen. It made any thoughts of distancing myself from all of them more unbearable now. What good was heeding the vague prediction when said precog power had been destroyed.
What use is that precog passenger when it can’t even give me a straight percentage for finding the Teeth.
I glared at him. “The rest...the rest would’ve been taken care off if the Undersiders weren’t lying in bed, drugged and rotting. The rest wouldn’t have to worry about this threat because we would’ve worked together to overcome it like we always do.”
“You didn’t exactly know about the Metaverse, you know?” Joker pointed out.
“We would’ve found out eventually.” I huffed. “If it’s as much of a threat as you boast, then we would’ve run into it eventually. It wouldn’t be the first time the odds were stacked against us.”
“Maybe…” Joker agreed. “But the Metaverse has a couple of rules that you wouldn’t know of — ”
“Rules that we would figure out and adapt to. Don’t underestimate us. We’ve dealt with worse and overcome them,” I argued, not bothering to hide the annoyance in my tone. “Don’t think just because you caught us unaware we would've — ”
“You would have nothing,” Joker interrupted with more bite to his tone than I’d heard from him yesterday. “You saw what that thing did. It seized control of us, almost had us killing ourselves.”
“And I broke out of its control!” I spat out, my swarm buzzing loudly in the cells.
“Because the Palace was falling apart,” Joker retorted The buzzing intensified as I glared at the thief.
“You say that as if it means anything to me. Nothing that happened yesterday had anything to do with me,” I snapped hotly at the prisoner.
Joker took a step back and sighed. “That’s quite cold of you to say. Didn’t everything Dinah suffered matter at all?”
“I…!” The words felt as if they were stuck in my throat. The reminder of the girl made the anger welling up in me deflate.
The thief leaned against the bars again. “I know you don’t trust me, I know that basically everything that happened has us starting on the wrong foot. But I don’t want to make this into a contest on who could fix the problems better. I don’t particularly care about making this into some sort of competition, you can trust me on that. What I do care is stopping that rogue passenger from going after someone else and trying to end the world.”
“How altruistic of you—” I spat at him, his attempts to appear sympathetic only serving to annoy me more. Fuck me, why is it that everything that comes out of your mouth makes me want to gag at how fake it feels.
“I like to think it’s because of my sense of justice,” he responded to my snippy remark smoothly.
I rolled my eyes behind my mask. “And I find it laughable that you think I am so petty as to take all of this as some competition. I know what I saw...I wish I didn’t…”
“What do you want?”
The question felt like a slap to the face, the words echoing in my head.
“What do you want?” Joker repeated, his face neutral. “There has to be something we can compromise with. All we’ve been doing is arguing, but we’re not going anywhere with this.”
“And you think you can give me what I want?” Cure Rachel, get Tattletale and Imp to wake up.
“Well, I thought you wanted answers. I was actually thinking on how to tell you all the info about the Metaverse, and the possibilities of working together to try and not let the rogue passenger destroy everything. Hell, I haven’t even told you my name yet have I?” He started twirling his dark locks. “But you’re obviously more worried for your friends.”
“I don’t particularly care about your name.” A small growl went off in the back of my throat. Joker snorted and smiled at me.
“I get it. So let me try and help.”
I rolled my eyes again. “Altruism won’t get you out of that cell.”
“But practicality will,” Joker said with confidence. “So if my desire to see justice for your friends isn’t enough, then how about an olive branch? A way to build a bridge between yourself and me.”
“You really think that's just going to absolve everything that happened?.”
“Not at all.” Joker waved it off and then looked down with a somber look. “I got a second chance to... try and finish my path, my justice. That’s my focus, which is why I’m not going to stay in this cell if you throw my offer back at me.”
Joker snorted. “I know you have a huge problem with Akechi...well I don’t know. I think he’s trying to follow his own path. Maybe that’s why he attacked you, maybe that’s why despite everything he didn’t just give up on the plan.”
I hummed. “You really see him as a friend…”
“Well, he always did look alone, despite how popular he was.” Joker looked off to the side with a thousand-yards stare. “He hurt a lot of people...too many to be honest. But he got a second chance...I just don’t want to see him waste it. Everyone needs a friend, might as well be me…”
There was something forlorn in his eyes as he looked down at the ground, honest. As if a wall had crumbled and something genuine was shining through. I ground my teeth at this, because for a split second I felt empathy with the thief.
He lost his world. It was as if that fact finally registered. My distrust and dislike for the prisoner before me hadn’t let me recognize that his attitude might just be his way of coping. He looked so haggard and so weak. I would never allow something like that to show in front of an enemy — because that was what we are. Despite his desire for an alliance, we were still —
He lost his world.
I frowned and looked down, the reminder latching onto my thoughts and not letting go. I tried pushing it away, to focus on the important matters. He may have lost his world, but I hadn’t yet lost mine, and I still had the opportunity to stop whatever apocalypse Dinah had seen. Is the prediction even correct anymore?
I grabbed the bars and glared at him, swarm buzzing loudly. His eyes snapped towards me and he smirked at me. He lost everything and he still decided to put on an annoying smile. Why couldn’t he be stoic? Deadly serious? Anything but smirking and smiling like some daredevil high on adrenaline. Any other reaction and I might’ve accepted that the actions of Crow were from a rogue teammate that needed discipline.
He lost his world.
He’d lost everything, and yet there he was, talking about using his second chance to keep fighting. He looked down, defeated and tired, yet he seemed willing to keep fighting despite having lost everyone. What had he lost? Friends? Family? A lover? Something deeper than that?
Would I look like that if the apocalypse did happen and I survived? Would I keep fighting if I lost Rachel? Tattletale? Would I be that stubborn to not let my world crumble? I would like to think that I would be.
But I don’t want to find out.
“You want to start building meaningful bridges?” I asked him.
“If means defeating that rogue passenger.” Joker snapped his fingers.
I nodded. “I need to find a villain group. And quick, or there might be consequences.”
“Do they have powers?” The thief rubbed his chin.
“Yes.” I was looking at him, expecting him to demand his release. That he had some tracking power that would let him find the Teeth.
He nodded at me. “Well there is a way to find this group. And that’s to go into everyone’s Palace. Mementos.”
I just stared at him.
Chapter 22: Arc 3: Shallow 3.03
“Mementos?” I hadn’t expected that response. I frowned at him, crossing my arms. “What are mementos?”
“What is Mementos,” Joker corrected. “Its everyone’s Palace. It’s a place in the Metaverse, where everyone’s Shadow resides in. You can change people’s hearts there and it is heavily affected by the public cognition.”
“And how exactly will that help me find the Teeth? From the way you’re talking, it seems like a time consuming venture. Time which I very much don’t want to lose.” My swarm buzzed. “There’s also the fact that I don’t feel all that comfortable going back into a mental-scape. Not after yesterday.”
Joker nodded. “Going to the Metaverse back to back isn’t exactly a good idea. It can wear you out. But it’s the fastest way for you to find these people. It’ll take some intuition and guess work, but you should be capable of narrowing down their position. Then you can move in the real world and track them.”
“How will I track them down exactly?”
“In Mementos, all the Shadows are spread out and hidden through layers of a dungeon. Shadows with Palaces tend to break away from the conglomerate, having their own little pockets of twisted desires. Shadows with Passengers tend to be more obvious.” He made a gesture with his hands of something big.
I hummed. “I guess it isn’t that surprising.”
Joker nodded. “From where the portal is, there’s a large crystal tower connected with loads of places. The first time we entered Mementos we saw a ton just here in this city. We noticed that the large crystal like threads hang around from the Shadow with passengers were last at. Problem is, we can’t tell whose threads belong to who. It was how the rogue passenger tricked us the first time. But it was also how we managed to find Dinah’s location and guess her keywords to enter her Palace.”
“And all I need to do is let you out to be my guide, is that right?” I asked in a dry tone. I was mildly surprised when he shook his head.
“I want to build trust here, and I get that me asking you to go back to the Metaverse after everything is asking a lot. So nope, I’m not going to ask you to let me out.” He gestured at the bars. “I will ask instead that you take Morgana with you.”
“The cat?” A few bugs crawled over the cage Morgana was locked in. The feline flinched slightly and glared at the insects.
“You’re not wrong in being wary of going into the Metaverse. That place is dangerous and full of all sorts of random enemies or phenomena. Especially since that rogue passenger tends to be near the crystal tower in Mementos.”
“What!?” The revelation made a shiver crawl up my spine. Fuck me, it better stay whereever the hell this Mementos place is. I don’t want it stepping into Brockton Bay. Despite my earlier confidence at having broken from its control, what it had done to my teammates was a stark reminder of the power of this new enemy,
He shrugged. “That’s where we tend to see it and where we have fought it. Well, first time was back in our world, but the next time was after we discovered we had been tricked. But it’s because of that thing that I want you to at least take Morgana with you.”
“He was caught by the effects of my passenger as well,” I reminded.
“I know, but having Morgana along should still be incredibly helpful, as he should be able to find a way to get you all out of Mementos quickly if the rogue passenger decides to approach.” He let out a sigh. “He is the best guide you could ever ask for in the Metaverse. It was thanks to him that I learned everything I needed to know about how things worked on the other side. So if you have anything that you want to know, ask him. That’s my offering to you.”
I looked at him as I considered his offer. If what he was saying was true, then I could track down the Teeth and those supplies. But at the same time this could be just one big trap. This Metaverse business was something I wasn’t comfortable facing, not when Tattletale was down for the count. I’d be a lot more at ease if I had her with me.
The problem was that the Metaverse was an unknown element, one that even Joker called dangerous. If this Mementos was supposed to be “everyone’s” mental-scape, then what sort of demented nightmare would I be facing?
But I can’t just stand here shaking in indecision while Rachel is just a few steps away from her heart failing. It was a risk, and I wasn’t sure how this would go down. But if it gave Rachel and the others a chance, then I could take the plunge.
“If this is a trap…” I trailed off as he huffed at my suspicions.
“The last thing I want is to get you in trouble near the rogue passenger.” He frowned. “I think you, me and everyone in the world wouldn’t like for something to just rip control out of you and start toying with you.”
“Then it’s a big risk you’re taking sending me there.”
He nodded in agreement. “It is, but I want you to solve this matter quickly, because I don’t want you to lose your friends thanks to the callousness of one of my teammates. And also because the quicker you become accustomed to the Metaverse, the better the chances of fighting against the rogue passenger. This is your world after all. Also…”
An ulterior motive, now this was more comfortable territory. “Also?”
“I want to keep tabs on the rogue passenger, see which strand it’s focusing on so that we can go after it if it decides to hit someone far away.”
Now that was alarming, and I could understand where Joker was coming from. That rogue passenger seemed to be testing the waters of the Metaverse, going after Dinah because her power was simply the most convenient. A precog power would be something handy to have. If that was the case then I would need to be on high alert, especially with the core team being down for the count.
“Alright, I’ll play along. But I will treat your cat as a prisoner,” I warned, the swarm beginning to click and buzz. “If he does anything suspicious I will make sure he regrets it.”
Joker narrowed his eyes, glaring at me. “He won’t double cross you. He knows what’s at stake.”
His clipped tone had me retorting in kind. “Your other friend knew what was at stake and look what he did. In the end it depends on Morgana, doesn’t it.”
“Tell him “Igor has fatty tuna in the velvet room.” That will get him to cooperate.” Joker stood back, turning away from me. “Just...don’t hurt him.”
I turned and walked out of the cells. I formed two swarm clones beside both Regent and Grue.
“Find Foil and Parian. Meet me on the beach behind my lair. This is urgent.”
I made the clones collapse, sensing Regent huff and Grue trying to reach for me before looking back at his sister. Reaching the floor above, I turned, walked down the hall and into an office to my right. I stopped, looking at the cage hanging by the wall. There was a young man transfixed to his phone. He was supposed to be paying attention to the captured feline. He looked at me and flinched, nearly falling as he paled.
“M-Ma’m!” He gave an unnecessary salute as he started sweating profusely.
“Give me the cage and get out. Go to your superior to see what other task you will be needed for, ” I ordered. He started to fumble for his belt to get the key to the cage. I crossed my arms and the guard turned red in embarrassment. He just picked the cage, handed it over to me and hurriedly made his way out. I would’ve thought that my people would already be used to me by now.
A single blue feline eye opened from within the cage, and I could feel as Morgana glowered at me.
“What do you want, jerk?”
I just snorted at the childish snarl. The young boyish voice and the fact that it was a cat that was sneering at me made it hard to take the anger seriously. But I also was rather aware of the power this animal had.
“Igor has fatty tuna in the velvet room.” I just repeated Joker’s words and the cat pressed his face against the bars.
“W-What!? How do you know —” Morgana narrowed his eyes at me. “You talked with Ren?”
I frowned. Ren? “If you mean Joker, then yes. We came to an agreement. You help me find a group of villains who stole from me and we can form an alliance to take down that rogue passenger.”
Morgana let out a pleased sound. “That’s our leader for you, always the dependable one. Okay so what did the two of you talk about?”
“I need to find a villain group. They have medical supplies that I need for my teammates or else...” I let out a rough breath. “Joker told me about a place called Mementos and that it would be best for you to come with me just in case.”
“Mementos? That’s a risky move Joker’s pulling. The silver witch is there, and you saw what it did when we were trying to escape.”
“Yes I know, but if this Mementos place can be used to track down the Teeth then I’ll take the risk,” I said firmly as I started to make my way to the door.
“Hmm, if it means that much to you and Ren trusts you...fine, I can overlook the double cross and help out.” The cat sounded quite smug, and I could easily imagine him crossing his arms and turning his nose up at me.
“Good.” I accepted the response easily as I walked through my detention center. I paid no heed to the looks I was getting. “What’s the first thing I need to do?”
“Well first thing is to move into the Metaverse. I can do it by myself— ” Morgana hissed as I snapped the cage up and brought it up to my face.
I ground out, “What?”
“H-Hey! It’s my specialty! Being capable of going in and out of the Metaverse with no problem whatsoever is my signature move.” The cat huffed. “But I need to get close to the origin point of the distortions to enter the Palace or Mementos properly. Ren’s phone can let us in from wherever though, so your best bet is to use his phone or Akechi’s.”
“Any other surprises I should know?” I started walking again, getting out of the detention building. “Joker wanted to build trust between us so we could work together, so I advise you not to lie to me.”
“Well…I can use my healing magic in the real world. But it isn’t as strong as when we’re inside of the Metaverse,” Morgana answered after some deliberation. I froze and looked at him.
“Healing magic.” How could I have forgotten? Fuck me! I fucking forgot that the cat had healing powers. “Can you use it to cure my teammates? You saw the state they were in. Let’s go, I won’t have to — ”
“Whoa! Whoa! Wait!” The feline’s hurried tone made me stop and look at the cage. “I get what you’re trying to do but I don’t think it would work.”
I again brought the cage up and shook it, growling at the animal inside. “What do you mean it won’t work? You healed me plenty of times inside Dinah’s head! Do you need me to bring you to the Metaverse to make it work? Is that it? Then fin— ”
“Would you calm down!” Morgana narrowed his big blue eyes. “At least tell me what’s up with your friends! Are they in poor health or something?”
“The growths are rotting away, but the nerves attached to the excess flesh has them in constant pain so we have to keep them sedated. That’s including your friend.” Morgana winced. “Rachel...she has too much excess. All those nerves and the decaying body is going to get her killed. I need you to heal her and get her back to normal.”
“Hrm, I see. Well… it won’t work.” He cowered slightly at my growl. “It just won’t okay! No, wait...the problem is that my healing magic would work way too well! Your cognition and everyone who’s treating her would just make my healing magic mend the growths!”
“What the hell does that mean?” I snarled as the cat scratched his ear.
“Urgh...how do I explain this...fine, I’ll give you the long abridged version.”
“You know you’re saying long short right?” I retorted as I glared at the feline.
“Whatever! Anyways, cognition is what powers Akechi’s, Ren’s and my power! Typically we can only use our powers within the Metaverse. Well, there was an exception, but that was the end of the world stuff. Who cares, uh, yeah so our powers only work in the Metaverse, you with me? So how do our powers work in reality?”
I frowned. By the way he was talking about cognition it made it seem as if the more people thought of something — “Cognition is dictated by the masses. Since capes and powers are common knowledge to everyone, you can use your powers outside of the mental-scape.”
“Yup! You’re sharp!” Morgana praised. I rolled my eyes. It isn’t that hard to get. “But yeah, because the cognition of the masses are filled with the knowledge of superpowers, we can use our powers here. But Ren and me aren’t as good as Akechi, because he has more experience, so I can only use my healing magic and Ren can’t bring out Arsene or be offensive with his power.”
I let the cage hang by my side, walking towards my lair as I understood what he was trying to say. “Too many people in my territory are aware of Rachel’s condition, so they’ve identified the excess of flesh as part of her. Healing her and Bastard would just ruin all the progress they have been making. I take it the same would happen to Tattletale and Imp.”
Taking away another avenue where I could try and fix this problem. It left me with two choices right now. Take the risk and go into this Mementos, hoping that it would have the answers I wanted. Or try and search the entire city, going block by block and force the Teeth to run away. Too much time could be potentially wasted doing that, and it would make things worse.
“Unfortunately yeah.” Morgana sighed. “But if you believe that the only way to save them is by finding these Teeth guys then let’s go and find Ren’s phone.”
I sighed, walking towards my lair with hurried steps.
Chapter 23: Arc 3: Shallow 3.04
This flat, black cellphone somehow had the power to cross realities into a mental plane. The phone didn’t look high tech at all, not enough to be called tinker tech at least. It had a few buttons by the side and down on the bottom of the screen. The screen lit up with multiple applications when you pressed the home button.
Just a normal looking smartphone that can open a path to a whole other dimension. I flipped the phone over, seeing the lenses for the camera on its back.
“Is this really necessary!?” Morgana grumbled from below. I looked down at the cat, out of his cage and wrapped in spider silk. “I swear if this stuff ruins my fur…”
“Call it insurance.” The swarm flying around in the beach felt the team I called for making their way towards me. “I’m not letting a cat as dangerous as you have any freedom to escape or backstab us.”
“You talking to cats now? Or are you practicing the big evil overlord routine? I think you need a whiter and fluffier cat for that,” Regent quipped as he stopped a few paces behind me.
Morgana glared at him. “Ha...ha...ha...keep talking jerk.”
Parian walked towards me, and I noticed the bag of fabric she was carrying. She knelt beside Morgana and scratched his ears. “Skitter, why are you treating this poor kitty like this?”
I crossed my arms. “He’s a threat and one of the individuals that took me into the mental scape I was talking about yesterday.”
“Is he a Case fifty-three?” The newest addition to the team asked. I glanced at her, Flechette or as she’s going by now, Foil. Looking at her and Parian, it gave me some idea as to why Foil had helped Grue’s group fight off the Teeth. I was glad to probably having another cape join our numbers.
“No, the cat is a native from another world. He knows how the other reality I got taken to works, and we are going to take a peek in to find the Teeth,” I said simply. Grue walked up to me and rubbed my arm slowly, and I looked at him.
“What’s the plan then? You said found a way to help Imp and the others?” Grue asked.
“The prisoner, Joker, told me that there’s a way to track the Teeth quickly. If it works then we will immediately head on over there,” I said.
Parian tilted head. “Do you trust this Joker? He is working with the guy who attacked you isn’t he?”
“I don’t trust him.” I sighed. “But I can’t deny that he doesn’t seem to have any ulterior motives...aside from being altruistic and wanting to work with us.”
“So he’s a good person then...” Foil seemed to trail off with what she wanted to say. I looked at her, and she noticed. “I meant that I was expecting something else. I heard from Parian about the other guy that attacked you. So I was expecting someone stubborn and angry.”
Regent shrugged. “He’s locked up, being nice to your jailer seems like the normal thing to do.”
I frowned, considering his words. “I don’t know...he did lose his world.”
Morgana grunted. “Yeah, we don’t need the reminder…”
“Sorry,” I said to the cat who just looked away with watery eyes. The others looked at me, and I could feel their confusion at my apology.
“Don’t look so tense Skitter. We’ll find them and make sure Rachel gets well,” Grue assured me. I smiled beneath my mask, appreciating the gesture. I then frowned as I looked at Parian cradle the cat. Tension filled me, remembering yesterday’s events.
“Considering that we’re going to that chaotic hell that I got dragged into yesterday, I’m not so sure.”
Grue crossed his arms. “You talked about it a little, but what are we dealing with?”
“Pure chaos. The entire thing is made up of the thoughts of people. I fought a twisted Coil in Dinah’s head that was a colossally huge twin snake. I think it was taking into account his powers and how suffocating Coil was to her.” I looked away, remembering the twisted me as well. “It was downright nightmarish, but we’re going to one that is apparently shared by the public masses. So I don’t know how bad it’s going to get.”
“That’s a really big risk we’re taking,” Regent pointed out. I looked at Morgana.
“It is, but if we can find the Teeth quickly like that then I’m taking some risk there.”
Morgana grumbled as he struggled with the bindings, eyes darting around. “Why are you bringing so many people? We aren’t going to be that long in Mementos you know? And plus we’ve got the rogue passenger to worry about.”
“If you seriously believe I’m just going to be alone with you in another reality then you are absolutely wrong.” I grunted, taking note of how the others were looking at me. “But you’re right in saying we’ve got the rogue passenger to worry about, that’s why I’m only planning to take two of you.”
“What?” Grue sounded alarmed. “I thought that this was going to be a joint team venture?”
“I need two of you to stay here and start organizing a squadron of trucks and personnel to get ready to move when I locate the Teeth.” I looked at Grue and Regent. “You two need to get them ready so that what happened yesterday doesn’t happen again. My men arrived too late to extract Rachel back here and we had the PRT on our tail. We need to be quick and efficient.”
“I don’t like this. This mental place is incredibly dangerous and I don’t want to leave you with such a small party,” Grue said.
“There’s the issue of the Teeth as well,” Foil stated. “They’re a dangerous group, especially Butcher. By herself she’s a force to be reckoned with, Parian and me saw that rather well. Without the resources of the PRT to contain them, it’s going to be difficult to move them away from wherever they’re holding those supplies. And that’s if they have the supplies.”
Everyone was alerted by this. I took a step forward. “What do you mean?”
“The Teeth aren’t exactly the most stable of groups. While they aren’t as heinous as the Slaughterhouse Nine, they’re still incredibly violent and they wouldn’t necessarily care about keeping supplies safe...it’s been a couple of hours, so there’s a chance that they may have destroyed them,” Foil answered with a wince.
There was a loud buzz that went off around the beach as the swarm reacted to my agitation.
“Damn it,” I cursed. “We need to move fast. Regent, did you bring the radios like I asked?”
“Yup.” Regent brought out of his pockets two radios and four earbuds. “We better be pair up since I couldn’t find the other two radios. Was kind of a hurry.”
I nodded. “It’s fine, now we need to cross into the other plane and — ”
“Um, radios won’t work on Mementos,” Morgana said and I stopped, groaning.
“What do you mean radios won’t work?” I asked, slightly exasperated. The cat had the gall to look away.
“Well it’s been a while for us since we ever faced trouble like this, okay? I mean, it isn’t like we were going to use phones or radios when we knew they wouldn’t work. Well...we had a teammate that could get us to synch up and talk through Palaces...but that was mostly cognition stuff.”
I sighed. “Cognition this, cognition that...it’s like saying magic and expecting that to be an answer to everything.”
“Huh…” I looked at Parian as she looked at the cat and then back at me. “You’re talking to the cat…?”
“It can talk.” I frowned. “You can’t hear him?”
“Nope.” Regent shook his head. “New power because of what happened yesterday?”
I grunted as I looked at the cat. “Something, something cognition I bet.”
“Hey! Stop glaring at me okay! And it isn’t like I invented the Metaverse either! So don’t be such a jerk!” Morgana grumbled and huffed. “Anyway they should probably be able to hear me when we get into Mementos.”
I sighed. “We’re wasting time. How exactly do we get in?”
The cat nodded towards the phone in my hands. “Open the Metaverse Navigator app. Then type in Mementos. That should shift us straight into the Metaverse.”
“Okay then. Grue, Regent, go and start organizing a full retrieval squad. We should be back soon, I don’t plan to stay inside for long.”
They both nodded, and Grue squeezed my shoulder. “Be careful.” I hummed and watched them go.
“Let’s go,” I told Parian and Foil.
The sky started to darken as I brought the entirety of my swarm around us. Parian and Foil looked slightly unnerved, both not that used to my usual tactic of gathering as many bugs as I could. Morgana’s eyes widened, shrinking in Parian’s hold. I brought the swarm close, making them crawl over me. I was careful not to let the swarm touch my two companions, Parian still flinched at the action. Foil was incredibly tense, hands going for her knives.
“Is this necessary?” Foil asked.
“Sorry, but I have to make sure the swarm is jammed together. Especially since I know this thing has a range. It cut me off from my swarm yesterday and left me with low numbers. I’ll need everything I can get.” Atlas flew down, landing besides me. “Okay, be on your guard. We’ll be entering into a dangerous place, so stick together. At the first sign of the rogue passenger, we retreat. I can’t take the risk of getting any of you hurt or worse. Understood?”
“Got it.” Parian nodded.
I went to the phone, opened the app and typed the keyword in. I stopped noticing the Japanese words in a bar below the name I typed.
“Pressed the enter button.” Morgana instructed. “That should get us in.”
I frowned, looking at the bar with the Japanese characters. I showed it to the cat. “Is this it?”
“Yup!” Morgana nodded furiously, looking determined.
I pressed the bar and stood rigidly, feeling that weird sensation again as my powers cut for a brief second until everything returned to normal. The first thing I noticed was a decrease of bugs from my swarm. Everything that wasn’t within a ten feet radius of the phone seemed to not enter into the mental scape plane.
Foil looked around with a frown. “Was that normal?”
“The slight jerk with your powers? Yes, this is the second time. My swarm got reduced massively because the bugs were out of the teleportation range.”
“Whoa!” We all looked at Parian as she held Morgana with outstretched arms. The cat was back to his cartoonish form. “W-What happened?”
“I’m back to my normal self.” Morgana sniffed, ignoring the small sound of surprise from Parian.
“You can actually talk!?”
“Yes! Now get this yucky stuff off me!”
I ignored the indignant cat. “Is everyone’s powers working? Any other complications?”
“I don’t think so…” I felt Foil move her arms, her hands somehow avoiding the swarm around her with precise movements. “I’m good.”
“Me as well,” Parian affirmed. “Can you lift the swarm off us?”
I did as asked and moved the swarm around. The first thing I noticed was the sky, formed like a kaleidoscope. Multitude of colors ran through the covered ceiling, going as far as the eye could see. The rest of the bugs moved out of the way and allowed us to view our surroundings.
“What the hell…?” Foil gulped as she looked around. I felt my stomach tightened as I looked at what was clearly Brockton Bay.
“It looks...almost like how the city looked in Dinah’s mental scape.”
It was an apocalyptic image. A ruined city sinking as the waves from the ocean behind them tried to cover the entire city. The air was red, reflecting on the water. It made Brockton Bay appeared gory and visceral. Fire ran on top of the water, constantly going out before reigniting from echoing explosions. Buildings toppled over, their foundations to weak to sustain them.
There was a foul scent permeating the destroyed city, and Morgana and Parian were quite audible in their disgust. I looked up and froze as I noticed something right above us.
“What is that…?” Foil muttered as she moved, and the large strand followed her movements. We all flinched away from each other as we noticed all the distinctive threads above our heads.
I looked at mine. It was writhing, moving constantly. Millions of limbs were kicking and grasping nothing, eyes of different shapes and sizes all looking at me. It made me think that the thread was made of insects, by how compact it was, and the dark colors making up the shape. My swarm gathered around it and I shivered slightly. I was wrong — the thing wasn’t made of insects but something else entirely. Life forms so bizarre and alien that it made my head hurt trying to decipher what the shapes were.
I looked away from mine, focusing on the others. Parian’s was made out of innumerable small hands, all holding onto something small. It twirled around like a spiral, the hands reaching for Parian’s bag of threads. Foil’s looked as if it piercing space itself, transparent and rigid. Light bent slightly on the path of the massive thread.
The threads rose up to the sky, arching towards a colossal crystal tower in the middle of the ruined city. It went up high, then spread out into the ceiling blocking the sky. Each connected with one of the kaleidoscope refractions of the tower, just like the thousands of others. Each was unique like ours, going up to the sky and going off into the horizon. Some were scattered through the city.
“Welcome to Mementos,” Morgana quipped.
Chapter 24: Arc 3: Shallow 3.05
“This is where you were dragged away?” Foil asked. I gulped as I took a couple of steps back, the massive strand above never trailing behind.
“Something like that…” I turned towards Morgana. “I thought you said that this place was supposed to be a reflection of what the masses believe.”
The cat huffed. “Yeah I know, which is why it’s so depressing. Back home it looked normal on the surface, and the further down we went into Mementos the worse it got. But this? This entire place just looks so destroyed and hopeless.”
“All that damage sure looks familiar.” Foil hummed.
“Now that you mention it…” Parian gulped as she looked around.
Foil stepped beside me. “It's like an open wound...like the city hasn’t healed.”
“Makes sense with the nonstop chaos that has been hitting Brockton Bay,” I said with a tight tone.
“Now what, Skitter?” Foil asked.
“We need to find the strands—” I pointed at the ones above us and then towards the city. “And figure which one belongs to the Teeth. But considering that they look distinctive enough, that should be easy to figure out.”
“Distinctive?” Morgana asked. I turned to look at his bewildered expression. “What do you mean distinctive? They all look the same!”
I frowned. “What do you see?”
“A bunch of crystal moving and holding together,” Morgana answered unsurely. His eyes widened and he started to look alert. “Don’t tell me you’re seeing something else!”
I turned towards the other two and pointed at the threads. “Are the two of you seeing those things looking like a representation of our powers or is it just me?”
“I think I’m seeing it? Mine looks like something stabbing through the air,” Foil answered helpfully. I nodded, looking back at the cat.
“Seems like capes can see something you can’t.”
Morgana’s eyes bulged in disbelief. “For real!? But how!?”
“Well you don’t seem to have a thread above you, kitty.” Parian looked, and recoiled slightly in surprise when Morgana hissed.
“Don’t call me kitty! That’s embarrassing! My name’s Morgana!”
“Sorry Morgana,” Parian amended quickly. “But my point still stands, I mean, you don’t seem to have any connection to that tower over there.”
“Because he isn’t a cape,” I answered. “Morgana’s power comes from this plane, not from passengers.”
“That’s weird.” Foil hummed. “Well, most of this entire situation is just weird to be honest.”
“Something cognition,” I murmured derisively.
The cat eyes narrowed, focusing on the colossal tower. “Speaking of passengers, we need to make sure that rogue passenger witch is still there and not planning on doing what it did to Dinah.”
“But first we need to locate the Teeth,” Foil cut in, looking up. “Though that might be simpler than what I had imagined.”
Simple...when has anything ever been simple with us. I rolled my eyes beneath my mask. “Morgana, where is the rogue passenger usually located?”
“At the base of the tower,” he answered with a huff, struggling against his bindings. “So can you let me out to take a look with you or what?”
“No, you’re staying with Parian and Foil.” I looked at the ex-Ward cape. “Foil, if he makes a projection of an exaggeratedly muscled man appear, do whatever it takes to stop him.”
“You want me...to kill him?” Foil asked, slightly disturbed.
The question made me cringe harshly. I didn’t trust Joker nor Morgana, but I sure as hell never thought of killing them. Hurting them to submission was always going to be an option, but not to put them down permanently. Looking at the shocked cat, it made the thought become even more difficult and hard to consider. I shook my head; it was an uncomfortable thought, but I didn’t want for these two to get hurt either just because they hesitated.
“Not necessarily. Just…” I sighed and regarded the cat. “Just behave. I see the advantage of teaming up to fight against the rogue passenger.”
“Geez!” Morgana exhaled, glaring at me. “You’re so freaking distrustful! I mean, that’s not always bad! But you’re way too paranoid!”
I snarled at the cat. “Yesterday wasn’t exactly a good day.”
Morgana grumbled. “And how are you going to check up on Mementos?”
I hopped on Atlas. “I’m going to take Atlas for a quick flight around, it’s much faster that way.”
“Is that a good idea?” Morgana looked worried. “I mean have you looked in the air? That stuff is going to get you poisoned! Joker and Crow had to use me when I was a van to get around! Especially with those strands! Some of them had these weird effects whenever we got too close…”
“Van…?” Parian sounded bewildered.
I looked up at the threads hanging above. “They have adverse effects? And you didn’t think to tell me this before?”
“What do you want from me!?” Morgana wiggled in his spider silk cocoon. “I kinda forgot when you had all those spiders wrap me up like a Christmas present!”
“I don’t think you should take the risk Skitter,” Foil pointed out. “I mean this place…”
I grunted at the point being made. “Things just keep on getting complicated. Fine, but…”
Morgana rolled his eyes. “I get it, I get it!”
I looked at the ex-Ward cape. “Foil, cut Morgana out of the spider silk.”
The cape nodded, moving towards Parian. She whipped out a knife, the swiftness of her actions making Morgana looking uncomfortable.
“Um...I can get out by myself! Seriously! I’m an expert in getting out of—” The cat’s words ended in a yelp when Foil swiped the blade downward and the spider silk split open. Parian helped Morgana by unwrapping the silk off him and letting him jump down to the floor. He stretched his arms and started jumping. “I take it back! You’re pretty good with a knife!”
“Thanks…?” Foil holstered her weapon slowly. Morgana waddled forward, stopping by the small hill up and away from the beach. He turned and waved.
“Come on! Let’s go!” I sighed, following after the cat. The other two walked behind me.
Parian hurried to be beside me. “Skitter, you’re pretty tense.”
“I don’t like this place and I don’t trust him.” I motioned at the cat.
Foil hummed. “If this is a trap, it’s three on one.”
“Yeah, except that I don’t know if those odds would matter with how chaotic and messed up these mental places can get. Just stay on your toes.”
Climbing out of the beach made me realize how dense the air felt. A metallic taste soured my tongue and I gagged. Parian and Foil were having pretty much the exact same reaction as me. We started coughing, as we reached the streets of my territory. Morgana turned around in alarm, eyes narrowed.
“Damn! That was fast! Okay!” He jumped, spun midair and exploded into a puff of white cloud. A black van landed with a bounce. “Get in!”
Foil coughed roughly. “Wha—! What the hell?”
“Just get in!” I ordered as I rushed into the driver’s seat of the van. I coughed, trying to get rid of the rancid taste. I heard the two girls get inside, slamming the doors shut. “Damn it, you and Joker should’ve given me a warning of this!”
“Sorry! Sorry!” Morgana apologized. “But I was kinda preoccupied!”
“I know.” I grunted, shaking my head. “Foil, Parian, you two okay?”
“A little…” Foil couched again. “Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
“Urgh...I feel like I’m going to puke…” Parian moaned. The van shook, bringing us all into high alert.
“No vomiting inside of me!” Morgana admonished.
Parian looked around. “This is so weird…”
“Yeah it really is,” Foil agreed, before turning her full attention on her. “Are you sure you’re okay? That reaction was pretty strong.”
“Is that normal Morgana?” I asked.
“A little, Ren was reacting a little worse before he and Akechi got inside me.” The vehicle vibrated. “Seriously, this place gives me the creeps.”
“Yeah, well, welcome to Brockton Bay.” I grumbled, grabbing the wheel. “Let’s give this over with, fast. Where to?”
“You know where the hero guy’s building is?”
“The PRT HQ? That’s our destination then?”
Morgana hummed. “Place is elevated compared to the rest of the city. I guess people see it as a place where they can expect hope or help from.”
I snorted, feeling some disbelief at that. “Right, they provide so much help. Most of the time they’re scrambling and don’t even know what to do. They even let a major villain infiltrate their ranks and get in a position of power.”
“Do you need a reminder that it was you and the other Undersiders that made a lot of that possible?” Foil asked, tone a little bit annoyed.
I just looked at her, head tilted. “Armsmaster broke the Endbringer truce, during the Slaughterhouse Nine your director bombarded the city without care, and the PRT are compromised by some secret organization. We might not have helped in making things easier for the Protectorate capes, but a lot of their failings are their fault.”
Foil sighed. “I know...you have some points, but still…”
I shook my head. “Drop it for now, if you want, we can have a discussion about this later.” Unlikely, this is something that I really don’t want to talk about.
“Let’s go then. You two hold on tight.” I turned back, getting nods.
I hit the accelerator and started to drive. Immediately I had to hit the brakes as the road in front sank. I tried to turn and avoid the bubbling water that rose from the hole and flooded the street. The sound of debris immediately had me swerving to the left, avoiding a chunk of a building falling on top of us. There was a crack right below us and I hit the gas hard, sending off us forward and avoiding a sinkhole. The car slid to a stop.
“What the hell are you doing!?” Morgana complained. “Be careful!”
I glared at the wheel. “I am being careful.”
“It doesn’t look like it!”
Parian leaned forward to the front seats, and I looked at where she was pointing. “It's the strands, they just hit the buildings and knocked a wall off. I don’t think driving around the buildings is a good idea at all.”
I looked at the raised hill where the PRT HQ was, and snarled at the amount of tall structures and debris on our way. “I’m taking the risk...I’m going out on Atlas and hurrying this up.”
“What no!” Morgana sounded mortified.
“Skitter…” Parian was shaking her head. “That isn’t a good idea.”
“We’re wasting time,” I ground out. Foil placed a hand on my shoulder.
“I can drive us there, I think I can get the timing of when to avoid debris or the floor sinking.”
I sighed, scooting over to the passenger seat and allowing Foil to jump over to the driver’s seat. Parian leaned in between us.
“Okay. Here we go,” Foil said.
“Be careful not to smash my face!” Morgana ordered.
“He’s such a noisy cat…” Parian murmured. I snorted.
Foil took off, driving us much faster and taking sharp turns. The floor sank where the vehicle was moments prior as the driver avoided the traps and debris. She took different turns when the road revealed itself to be blocked by a fallen piece of a building or flooded. It was a hassle, something I was glad I didn’t have to worry about for now. At least I could still use my swarm. They hadn’t been affected by the red mist. I began spreading my awareness through their numbers and felt the terrain.
“Take a left,” I said to Foil. She looked at me, but did as I told her. “Keep going forward until the next right.”
She obeyed the directions I gave her, making the drive become smoother. Atlas flew close to Morgana, keeping the mutated insect ready in case anything tried to attack. I looked out of the window and frowned at the devastation surrounding me.
Brockton Bay was a city damaged and worn. When I looked at the streets it made me realize how much the city had gone through in the past few months. So many fights, monsters and death. It was a miracle that the city hadn’t fallen apart, that it hadn’t been just carpet bombed into obscurity and left to rot. It had gotten close to that point. The city hanging on by thin threads.
But all those who stayed, brave and stubborn, made sure that those last few bonds wouldn’t snap. The city didn’t sink; instead it was rising. Brockton Bay wasn’t going to be forgotten, not when every eye in the entirety of America was on us. The city could recover as long as we were all together, as long as we remained strong.
The citizens survived the mad Bakuda and the ABB’s assault. The retaliation from the Eighty Eighty-Eight and Purity. Leviathan trying to drown the entire city. The Slaughterhouse Nine making Brockton Bay their playground. Echidna’s rampage through the streets.
The city had gone through so much but we had endured. The people who remained through all the events understood what it meant to see monsters and survive. That’s why no matter the cracks and tears, it wouldn’t break.
But sometimes that wasn’t enough. Being inside of Dinah’s head was an eye opening experience. As much as I resented the so-called-thieves, the experience gave me perspective from an internal point of view. Brockton Bay may had held, may have survived, may even thrive in the future—but then, what did this scenery mean?
The image of a broken city sinking and drowning, filled with so many scars that it was barely recognizable as a city anymore. I could see the marks of all the monsters that had come barreling through these streets, their footprints crushing Brockton Bay.
Looking around at the damaged cityscape, it wasn’t entirely destroyed. No, it was holding out through stubbornness and desperation. But it couldn’t be denied how damaged and worn the city was. In reality, the infrastructure may be standing, but how empty were most of those buildings? How many were just looking for an out? How many felt like they were prisoners?
Chapter 25: Arc 3: Shallow 3.06
The sound of a building crumbling made me look towards a couple of strands moving carelessly through the city. I recognized the area as where the PRT headquarters was. I saw a strand bending space, another stiff and stopping whatever it touched dead in its tracks, one made out of weaponry, and another desiccating the flooded streets around the PRT HQ. It was obvious high capes they belong to, and I could tell that some were missing.
“The other Protectorate must be on the lookout for the Teeth.” Foil’s voice made me briefly look at her. “Leaving them alone to be roaming around isn’t something this city needs.”
“They mostly operate in New York right?” Parian asked, leaning forward, closer to Foil.
“The PRT counts New York as their base of operations, but they can go to different neighboring towns and cause trouble. The Protectorate always made sure to intervene so things didn’t get out of hand. I was brought along sometimes since my power was good enough to punch through whatever defenses they brought up, and I was far enough away to bypass Animos power dampening screams.” Foil looked at Parian. “So I didn’t break any of the rules about a Ward being in direct combat with villains.”
“Ward?” Morgana asked. I looked at the van radio, where the cat’s voice boomed out.
“Young heroes,” Foil answered unsurely as she looked at the radio. “Young capes that join the PRT and are included into the Wards of whatever city the PRT are occupying. We are trained on how to use our powers. I was a Ward from New York.”
“Hmm, so you defected or something then?” Morgana asked rather bluntly. I raised an eyebrow at that. Perceptive.
“H-How did you figure? Did Skitter tell you?” She looked at me, and I stared back at her.
“I haven’t disclose anything to any of them,” I told her honestly.
Morgana’s purr came out of the radio. “It isn’t that hard to figure out. You’re working with a group of villains, you mentioned you were part of these Ward guys. Skitter here doesn’t like them. It wasn’t that hard.”
“Right...gotta stop underestimating you, just because you’re a cat,” Foil admitted.
“Humph, better let that lesson stick.” Morgana harrumphed at Foil.
Foil sighed as she carefully avoided the debris loitering the floor, making her way up the streets surrounding the destroyed area where the PRT HQ was. I blinked, noticing how steep the ramp up had become.
“Damn. Can you keep going?”
Foil swerved to the right to avoid the van from rolling back. She got us right on track until the van righted itself right onto the top. “Yeah, a little bit difficult, but I did it.”
“Good job,” I praised her, and Foil nodded. She perked up when Parian placed a hand on her shoulder.
Morgana made a sound. “Do you have a clear view of the crystal tower?”
I looked out of the window, surprised to see the cityscape so clearly here. “Yeah…”
“Okay, now reach into my glove compartment! There’s a binoculars there.”
“You seemed pretty prepared, Morgana,” Parian complimented.
The car vibrated, a sound like purring coming from the radio. “Why of course! A thief of my caliber is always prepared for these sort of situations.”
“That isn’t something to be proud off…” Foil pointed out with some distaste.
I reached into the glove compartment, rummaged for the binoculars and pulled them out. “Got them.”
“Okay, see if you can get where the rogue passenger is and your own targets.”
I looked through the binoculars, seeing most of the cityscape up close. I frowned, adjusting the lenses. I saw the strands, but there was a disturbance in the red air that made it difficult to see. There was a strand made of air twisting and roaring.
There was another made of eyes, I could only recognize them as eyes due to some of them having pupils. But much like my strand, it was made of different shapes and forms. It wasn’t human-like, simply weird and alien. The colors in the pupils were enticing, making me lean towards it, enraptured completely.
I felt my lips grow wet, my eyes become heavy. Thoughts were becoming slow. I felt like I was going to fall asleep. The eyes telling me to just stop and let myself sink.
The swarm outside let out a loud buzz. It had me recoiling back, blinking away the slothfulness around my eyes. I gasped, putting the binoculars down.
“Hey you okay?” Morgana asked, I looked up.
“Yeah, just got careless.” I turned towards Foil. “The Teeth don’t have any powers that relate to wind or hypnotic eyes do they?”
“I don’t think so? Butcher’s power don’t have anything related to master category of powers. A shaker power that can produce anger on the target, but nothing like hypnotism...” Foil’s answer had me nodding and already twisting to see another.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Parian pressed. “If you want…”
“I’m fine,” I said a little forcefully, went back to the binoculars and ignored the looks I was receiving. Stop wasting time, I need to get this over with and get the hell out of this place. Rachel... I frowned, finding another set of strands with different representations of powers. They were located at the base of the massive tower.
“I’ve got a flowing strand, liquid but I can’t make out the color thanks to the air. Another looks like a bunch of sharp claws and mouths, the air distorting around the mouth.” I informed, looking at Foil.
“Sounds like Hemorrhagia and Animos alright. The teeth are at the base of that massive tower huh?” Foil asked. “Is there any that looks like an amalgamation of fourteen different powers?”
“F-fourteen!?” The Morgana van shook. “Is that normal?”
“Somewhat, Butcher is just a more insidious threat,” Foil informed.
“With a name like Butcher, insidious sounds about right.” Parian snorted.
“It doesn’t matter, we got what we wanted,” I affirmed. “The Teeth are by the tower...and looking at its position...it’s near the portal.”
The van shook a little. “Wait, wait! What about the rogue passenger? Is it there?”
I frowned and looked through the binoculars. I spotted a strand that was multiplying from the center, with the copies deteriorating in seconds. Another strand seemed to be taking things from its surroundings, being absorbed into it. There was one entangling itself between the strands, letting go and going after another. Then repeating the process.
Looking around the kaleidoscope tower, trying to spot the silver passenger, I groaned. “It does normally stay around the tower right?”
“It should be…” Morgan sounded disturbed. “Since arriving into this world, we’ve been coming here and keeping tabs on the silver witch. It always floated around the tower, touching the strands.”
“Touching the strands?” Parian asked.
“Yeah, we don’t know how it can make your powers go wild...but the fact that it kept touching passengers had us on the edge of our seats constantly. For those ten days we were scared that we would have to divide our forces and go into another Palace.” Morgana sighed. “Fortunately, we only had to deal with a lie and Dinah’s Palace.”
“Lie?” Parian asked.
“The rogue passenger thing divert our attention on the wrong target when we were trying to stop it from destroying the world. It told us the name of our target...uh, I forgot his name…” Morgana groaned, then made an ‘aha’ sound. “Though I do remember his Palace being super organized and he his villain name was accord or something like that?”
We looked at him. “You went after Accord?” Foil asked incredulously.
“Yeah, but we never got around stealing his treasure. We had to pull back after Akechi realized that we were being fool in one of his typical solo stake outs.”
I grunted. “So Crow isn’t a team player then.”
“I don’t like him.” Morgana confessed, then sighed. “But Ren...feels a connection with him and worries for him. Not that I blame him after what happened to everyone…”
“Everyone in your world died, right?” Parian asked, a noncommittal sound was her respond. “Do you miss them?”
“...like you wouldn’t believe…”
I put the binoculars down, looking at the interior of the van with pity. “I don’t see it.”
“It has to be on the other side,” Morgana answered rather quickly, a recovering from the sour mood. “It should just be floating around and trying to set up its next plot…”
I looked at the radio, feeling trepidation at his not so confident words. “Yesterday...you, Joker and Crow were quite up in arms about the rogue passenger being so close to Dinah’s Palace…”
I groaned. “Could the rogue passenger...have gone into another’s cape mental scape?”
“Damn it this can’t be happening…!” Morgana now sounded scared. “If it can go into other Palaces freely then we won’t have any idea whatsoever where it could be!”
I gulped, the fact that something so dangerous and powerful was free making me nervous. Damn it, fuck me...we need to figure this out, soon.
“How dangerous is this rogue passenger Skitter?” Foil asked me.
“It destroyed an entire world.” I gestured towards the car around us. “It took control of my power and of Rachel’s, Tattletale’s too from how she talked when I found her. It’s...damn it, what does that mean? If the passenger isn’t in this place? Can it freely move about?”
“...It moved from our world to this one,” Morgana bemoaned. “The possibility that it found a way to evolve in the last few days to not be stuck here is something I was honestly dreading. We need to keep tabs on that thing now!”
“First we move for the Teeth,” I pressured.
“This is import— Shit!” Morgana cried out just as the floor beneath the van exploded, sending the vehicle sailing through the air, rolling. Morgana hissed, and Foil and Parian grunted as their heads crashed against the rooftop and sides. I banged my head against the window and cracked it, but despite how much I was ragdolling as the van went down, I already had my swarm moving.
The red air was filled with buzzing and clicks as I moved the insects towards the dark shape rushing towards the barreling van. Atlas flew up, and the swarm kept up with the large assailant, wrapping the spider silk around its legs so it would get tangled up. The shadowy figure stumbled, floor cracking as its face met the raised earth and scraped down after us.
The swarm moved on it, and I could feel the shape of the monster. It had long arms, bent legs, a long tail and hanging skin around its face. I made the bugs bite and sting the monster, trying to inject the paralyzing venom of my spiders. They all failed, unable to pierce the thing’s body. I changed tactics, wrapping spider silk around it fast.
The van came to a stop, the side crashing against the side of a building and slamming back down on all four wheels. Parian and Foil were groaning, and Morgana was sputtering profanities. I pushed myself up, looking out of the cracked window as the shadowy monster struggled up to its feet.
“W-What was that…?” Parian moaned, shaking her head.
The monster looked up, three yellow eyes glaring heatedly at us. I felt my breath catch in my throat.
“Leviathan!?” The two girls besides me stopped, head snapping towards me and then out through the window. The shadowy Endbringer started to roar and rip the spider silk apart. I turned towards Foil. “Drive!”
Foil did as ordered, tires spinning roughly on the wet pavement before we shot forward. We all snapped back on our seats as we took off, the building wall behind us breaking apart as the dark Leviathan lunged for us. We rounded a corner, car tipping slightly before righting itself and we continued on. The Endbringer burst from the building and took off after us.
“How is Leviathan here!?” Foil was driving fast, taking sharp turns to avoid the pitfalls and debris.
“Morgana!” I growled.
“That’s a Shadow! And it’s a big one!” Morgana answered somewhat frantically.
“What do you mean a Shadow!? Are you telling me that thing is the Shadow of Brockton Bay? Or that an Endbringer has a fucking Palace too!?”
“I...I don’t know if the giant Godzilla monsters have Palaces so maybe!? But I think it’s just a Shadow patrolling Mementos! Like the Coil guys back in Dinah’s Palace!”
I looked back; my swarm was slowing it down with spider silk. Its arms were stuck to its side, and its tail wrapped around its right leg with the webbing, making the monster limp towards us at a rapid pace.
“So not a real Endbringer?” Relief started to flood in.
“I don’t think so,” Morgana answered unsurely.
“Can you give me a fucking straight answer here!?” I snapped. “Joker said you were knowledgeable of this damn place!”
“Hey cool it!” Morgana bit back. “I’m in a hurry too!”
“Enough!” Foil cut in. “Where do we go!?”
“Take us back to the beach!” Morgana answered. “We need to use the same entrance to get out of here!”
“Go, go, go!” I snapped while pointing forward. There were two explosions on the road up ahead and two copies of the dark Leviathan lunged towards us.
“Damn!” Foil twisted the wheel harshly, tilting the van to move on two wheels and avoid the two monsters crashing into the road. The ex-Ward righted the vehicle and we were back on four wheels. The three shadowy Endbringers tore the streets as they moved after us.
“How far is the beach!?” Parian asked.
Foil grunted. “I...I don’t know…”
“What?” I turned towards her, stopped and frowned. My swarm moved alongside the van, passing over the rubble, street and buildings. I looked around. “What the hell…!? Why does it feel like the streets are shifting?”
“Oh damn!” Morgana cursed. “Something is happening in reality! Cognition is being affected here!”
I could only stared incredulously at the van.
Chapter 26: Arc 3: Shallow 3.x
Sorry for the pretty late update! I wanted to take a small Christmas break and enjoy the Christmas airs, I was actually planning on starting updating by the first week of the new year. But then an earthquake hit and it complicated almost everything in my live. So I had to deal with that whole mess while shaking in my boots at the dealing with this and not especially feeling all the motivated to get down to writing.
Fortunately things have calmed down and I have found my muse once more. I do feel a bit rusty, so here's hoping I haven't lost the plot.
“I’ve just arrived in this city and tensions are already rising? Hmph, no wonder the villains here managed to cause so much trouble. But things will change now that I’m here. We’re going to take the fight to these villains and repel them from Brockton Bay.”
The new director of the Brockton Bay PRT uttered his words with conviction and a firm stance. Clockblocker looked at Director Tagg and couldn't help but not like the guy. The man’s face was stoic as he reviewed yesterday’s battle with the Teeth, the Fallen and the Undersiders-well, Skitter, mostly.
The man seemed to be itching for a fight against everyone to get control of the city back to the heroes. Maybe if it had been before Leviathan, before the Nine, before Echidna, and the bombshell that had been dropped about Cauldron and the PRT, he would’ve felt excited and determined to fight. But right now, he was feeling anything but that.
He looked around the conference room, taking a look at all of the PRT officers watching the new director talk from the front. They all appeared haggard, as if they didn’t want to be here. One of them stared at him and sent him a glare. Clockblocker just sighed and turned away, gazing back at the director as he made plans to get Dinah’s help. She could use her precognitive powers to help them stabilize the city, and target the Undersider’s areas of influence to diminish their control over the city.
“Are you okay, Clockblocker?” He blinked at the hushed voice and looked to his right. Vista’s head was slightly tilted in his direction. He sighed and nodded, replying back in the same tone.
“I just think we’re putting up a fight way too fast after Echidna...and I don’t even think you’ve fully recovered from that entire mess.”
Her reply was quick and curt. Clockblocker winced, letting that line of thought drop before an argument blew up between the two of them. He decided to go in another direction.
“Well, maybe you are but I sure am not. It’s barely been a week isn’t it? And they already want us to throw ourselves into another fight?”
“Are you seriously expecting to let the Teeth or Fallen to run free? Especially the Teeth?”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” He gestured towards the board. “Director Tagg has been putting way too much attention on the Undersiders and not on fixing the city.”
Vista was now fully looking at him. “Since when were you sympathetic to them?”
“Since I found out that they were the lesser evil in the matter when dealing with the Teeth or Fallen,” Clockblocker shot back at Vista, who huffed and crossed her arms.
“Since when were you so understanding, Clockblocker? Don’t tell me you’re trying to impress Mrs. Yamada or something.”
The male hero looked at her weirdly. “Where did that come from?”
Vista shrugged. “Better a stupid conversation like this than getting back into the serious. Knowing you, you’ll stick your whole leg down your throat with how you’ve been recently.”
“Can you blame me? Especially when you’ve been just as snippy.”
“I’m not going to let you coddle me, Dennis.” Vista sneered at him. Clockblocker snorted, then hummed.
“Hm, though now I’m wondering, where is Mrs. Yamada?”
“You two, that’s enough.”
The Wards both straightened up in their seats at Miss Militia’s chiding tone. “Clockblocker, I understand you’re on edge, but try to stay out ofand not get into trouble. You’re still receiving conduct discipline from your attitude during the Echidna event.”
“I understand…” Clockblocker started, his fist clenched tight as he glared forward at an empty space. “But I really am not caring much right now, ma’am.”
“Clockblocker.” Miss Militia’s disapproving tone made him cringe slightly, picturing the look in her eyes as she stared at the back of his head. “This isn’t the time for this.”
“...” While there were a few things he wanted to say, such just venting or letting some snide remark escape his lips; he recognized the slight tilt of everyone’s head in their direction. Despite speaking in hushed tones, people started to notice the tension among the capes. He looked up at the Director and winced when he noticed the man staring back at them with a raised brow.
“Clockblocker, I see you and Miss Militia were having a small discussion. Is it something that can be shared with the rest of us?”
‘Fuck me.’ He just bowed his head, waiting for Miss Militia to reassure the new director that everything was dandy. When the silence stretched, he turned to look at the seasoned protectorate hero in confusion. Seeing her eyes stare back into his helmet made him want to groan and curse out loud, ‘Double fuck me!’
Steeling himself, he looked at the director. “Nothing Director Ta--!”
There was a loud distant bang that had everyone in the conference room stiffen. The lights flickered a couple of times as the noise echoed around the building. Director Tagg whirled towards the monitors and the officers that were handling the computers and barked.
“What’s going on!?”
That was the very first thought that crossed Grue’s head as he stood on the beach. Right in front of the very spot he had seen Skitter, Foil and Parian disappear from. He had organized the caravan unit that would help put the cargo in the trucks and return back to Skitter’s area. Everything was ready; he was very tense, hands sweaty and uncomfortable underneath his gloves.
He was ready to fight for his sister’s health. Pulling the opposing villain group away from wherever they were holding the medical supplies and letting Skitter’s men do their job. It would be tough, he understood this perfectly; the Teeth were a group that had been active for years and held an incredibly strong cape in their midst. But the Undersiders had been facing escalating obstacles, one after the other and had managed to defeat, succeed or survive in those encounters. While he would’ve preferred to pull back and tackle this situation in a less confrontational way, he knew Taylor had a knack for being upfront with their adversaries. And while he trusted her and knew she somehow found ways to pull the tables over despite how overwhelming the adversaries could be, he didn’t like it.
It was that very same experience that he had garnered that was making him feel uneasy, the hair on the back of his neck standing straight as he felt something wasn’t right. He looked up at the summer skies of Brockton Bay and couldn't help but think of how quiet everything felt. A quiet tension that was so tight, it made it difficult to breathe.
So when the resounding boom went off in the distance, the knot seemed to untie itself violently as chaos exploded.
Grue was already running towards Skitter’s lair, entering through the storm drain Taylor used to secretly get in and out of the house her lieutenant lived in. He came to a stop right behind a tensed Charlotte, arms draped over a little girl that was shaking.
“What was that?”
Taylor’s right hand woman flinched, looking back at him with weariness. “An explosion I think…”
As soon as her words left her lips, another explosion went off, much louder than the last. Grue was already moving to exit the building. He looked up, seeing the fiery smoke rising above the buildings in the middle of the Boardwalk. There was the sound of tires screeching, a crash and then a loud explosion going off.
“Cars…?” Grue muttered to himself. He heard Charlotte ushering the children away, and looked back at her as she reached for her cellphone. She typed a number and placed the device on her ear.
“Forrest? What’s going!?”
Grue moved towards her, placed a hand on her shoulder, catching her attention. “Coordinate Skitter’s men to get Imp and Tattletale to safety.”
He stalked away from her, moving out of the building and standing in the middle of the streets. He jogged towards the chaos, scared civilians moving against his direction, but steering away from him. He frowned, the strong scent of gasoline hitting his nostril.
Grue made it to where the commotion was and looked at Skitter’s men, gathered and armed. He stopped as he noted the burning car that had crashed into one of the buildings. Grue looked at the henchmen and gestured at the mess.
“It was just a car?” he asked, darkness coiling around him as the armed men regarded him. They took a step back away from him.
One of the men, older took a step forward. “We’re not--!”
The man’s words were cut short when multiple loud roars from an engine went off. Grue whirled around and cursed at the sight that fast approached. Seven cars, all of them coming at high velocity and covered in some oil. The scent of gasoline became stronger in the air and Grue immediately recategorized the oil for what it was. He noted the hands on the wheel, and the image of a human inside the driver’s seat.
He abandoned the line of thought as the car grew closer, two of them swerving to the right and left. One crashed against a store, bursting into flames, followed by a loud explosion. The other went after a light post, and Grue saw a woman and child hiding behind it. They couldn’t even move before the car rammed right into the light post, flinging their mangled bodies onto the walkway. He swore at the gruesome sight and began letting the blackness rolling off him avalanche forward.
The cars moved, either trying to avoid him or trying to complete their suicide runs. Grue gritted his teeth trying to contain the damage being done right in front of him. He managed to stop two from fully crashing, but the other cars crashed and ignited. The sound of explosions and crashing made him turn as he heard the echoing mayhem going off in other streets.
‘What the hell is going on!?’ There was a loud blast which had him instinctively turning around when he realized the direction the explosion had come from. ‘Aisha!’
He didn’t even hesitate, he just sprinted at top speed towards the medical building. His thoughts were all focused on his sister’s safety, not even sparing a thought to Skitter’s men as he jumped over some wreckage that blocked his path.
He turned a corner and skidded to a stop, when he saw the medical beds being moved towards the trucks. He tried to find his sibling, the mound of rotting flesh tying her to Lisa, anything, but couldn’t find them. He let out a shaky breath moving towards the hospital building to get his little sister out, then a car whizzed past him and torpedoed straight towards one of the trucks loading the patients. The evacuating medical staff noticed the oncoming car and screamed.
The dark leather clothed villain tried to move, exuding as much darkness as he possibly could to make the driver lose focus and swerve out of the lane or anthing for that matter. He didn’t care, he just wanted to stop the mad car from getting to the medical personnel and the patients.
“Sukunda!” The car got a dark green glow surrounding it and it swerved, missing the patients and medical staff by a wide margin. It spun out of control and crashed into a light post, the car exploded in a fiery blast. Grue blinked, thankful for the fortunate incident, then narrowed his gaze when he saw a black haired, bespectacled person walking out of the building. Grue recognized him, and letting the darkness roll off him, he approached Skitter’s prisoner.
“If you’re the one causing this mess…” His voice echoed in the darkness, and the escaped prisoner regarded him with wariness. “I’m only giving you a single chance to stop this now...before I get my hands on you.”
“I’m not the one that’s causing all this mayhem,” the asian escapee answered in a tight tone, as another explosion went off, followed by four more. He glared around and shook his head, turning back to Grue. “Listen, I can help you contain this mess.”
“I don’t trust you,” Grue replied quickly.
“Skitter trusts me, and that took a while to get,” the escapee said simply.
Grue bit his lip, trying to decide what was the best option to take right now. Taylor had spoken briefly about what had happened yesterday, and the way she talked made it sound that this guy, the other one and the cat were incredibly dangerous individuals. And the fact that despite his darkness surrounding the escaped prisoner, he wasn’t getting any sense of a power had him feeling on edge.
He caught sight of rotting flesh being rolled out of the medical building, Lisa’s blonde hair, then Aisha. Seeing his sister was still in the area had him feeling all tense and cursing. He regarded the prisoner and pointed at him.
“We get those people to a secure place, you double cross me…”
“I get it.”
“Explain to me how exactly are you going to help, we need to form some strategy to get all those cars from crashing on us.” Grue looked at the glasses wearing escapee with a tense stance.
“I’m going to buff you.”
A man in his forties ran towards his car, huffing and puffing as he desperately tried to get into his vehicle. The keys trembled as he opened the door with difficulty, and he moved to slam the car door shut, but was stopped by a large brutish hand covered in black rocky armor. The man looked up to the pale visage of a man — Or was it a woman? — dressed in white and feathered, reminiscent of the Simurgh.
His gaze locked him place. “Hello there fine sir, remember that when you turn your car on, drive as fast and without much care. Run over as many people as you can before you crash somewhere. Hold onto this along the way.”
Valefor gave the man a small case filled with multiple powder like substances, while Eligos poured the car with some gasoline before throwing the canister out once it was empty. They stepped away from the car, watching the man ignited the engine and blast off to do as Valefor had suggested. The white effeminate villain rolled his shoulders as he began to stroll down the street.
“So much chaos, quite the harmonious sound, hm Eligos?”
The Behemoth inspired costumed villain looked at him, eyes slightly unsure. “Are you sure about this?”
Valefor scoffed. “Weren’t you the one to suggest we find some explosive chemicals to use around the city? An ingenious idea, especially since the Teeth seemed to leave their share of TNT and TATP laying about.”
“Still, isn’t this causing too much commotion? Are you sure we needed to go this overboard, brother?”
“Of course I am. The Undersiders are running a tight ship here, we already saw what that bug girl could do yesterday. I wouldn’t be surprised if word of that girl’s capabilities haven’t already reached Mama after the show she put out. These little theatrics? It’s just a strategy to sow some chaos, to destabilize everyone and make the hold those brats have here become fragile. If we can get that portal to fall into the hands of our family…”
“I see what you mean brother.” Eligos nodded. The two saw a plain looking dark haired woman walking towards them, rather casually. Valefor’s steps gained some giddiness to them as the white clothed villain approached the woman.
“Hello my dear, break into a car and--”
Valefor and Eligos stopped short, taking steps back as if struck. Eligos started to use his power, gathering winds that swirled around him and sharpened like blades. He was just about to throw it at her, but a throbbing in his head had him falling to his knees, and the air dissipated into a soft breeze.
“W-What the hell…!?” Valefor stammered as he looked at woman, trembling. She simply approached him.
[You’ve done well. The chaos here should be sufficient to either slow down those thieves or out right kill them]
“Kill yourself! Valefor snarled, the woman just looked at him.
[It is unfortunate that I cannot just strip your host control fully. The limitations imposed upon the Shards will not allow for the skipping of the steps towards the final goal. And this form is more limited than the one in the other world] The woman looked down at herself, frowning slightly. [Hmm, though the emulation of emotions will allow me to blend in better]
“What the fuck!? Why aren’t you listening to me!?” Valefor cursed as he took a step back. “KILL YOURSELF!”
[Correct, this limitations are currently preventing me from establishing a connection with the rest of the network. While this Shard power would prove useful, thralls are not what is needed right now. Failure to acquire the precognitive Shard has put a major set back--] The woman looked surprised, then pleased. [I see, this Shard belonging to my previous network could prove to be exactly what I need. But the connections and power needed are outside my calculations. Hmm, no this is a path that must be set forward. Bring that Shard here. Continue as you were, this area must continue to brew as much conflict as possible]
With that the woman left the terrified villains behind, disappearing behind a corner.
“What the fu--!?” Valefor started, but stopped as his vision blacked out slightly and he stumbled. He was righted by Eligos, who got up from his kneeling position.
“Brother, are you okay?”
Valefor shook his head, then snapped himself away from his companion. “Of course I’m okay! Humph, just look at this fine mess.”
“Hmm…” Valefor crossed his arms as he thought about it. A thought echoed from the back of his mind and he snapped his fingers. “Ah, yes, that would be a fantastic idea.”
“What is it?”
“I think Brockton Bay needs to meet the family.” Valefor cringed.
Eligos looked at him in surprise. “You don’t actually mean…?”
“I think this city should have the pleasure of experiencing Mama.”