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set in motion something new

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Shadow Stalker doesn’t set out to get into a fight with a bunch of E88 dipshits, but she also doesn’t exactly go out of her way to avoid it. She’s got a full day’s energy to burn off, built up frustration from trying and mostly failing to pretend to be boring, and she didn’t even get a chance to spend some of it at track because today’s practice was canceled for stupid reasons. If anything, she’s thrilled for the excuse to knock some heads.

Even on the streets, it’s been quiet for the past weeks. Shadow Stalker doesn’t have a team of heroes or villains at her back, which is good for nobody telling her what to do reasons but bad for staying tuned in with local events reasons. Her understanding of the city’s patterns are based on intuition and experience, not hard numbers or personal understanding of the other players, so she doesn’t know why it’s this way. Just that it is, and it’s annoying.

She jumps from rooftop to rooftop, floating like a storm cloud and dropping like a stone. When she spots the handful of nazi punks trying to get some more spray paint out of a clearly empty canister and arguing about it, she doesn’t think to look around— built up anticipation makes her reckless. It’s not like she needs to worry about the six, seven skinheads. They’re all human, unlike her. She’s beyond that.

Except when one of them runs and she chases them down into an alley, she finds herself ambushed by some of their parahuman muscle— Stormtiger, Hookwolf, and Cricket. They’d been waiting, though maybe not for her. It’s not a great match up for Shadow Stalker— they can’t really hurt her in her breaker state, but she also can’t hurt them. And it’s hard for her to back up enough to snipe them since both Cricket and Stormtiger are pretty perceptive, not to mention fast and benefiting from surprise.

Shadow Stalker could just run, maybe lead them to a Protectorate patrol or cross into ABB’s territory, but she did want something to do. This isn’t quite as easy as picking on stray losers trying to paint a swastika further afield than they’re strictly speaking supposed to, but it’s also more fulfilling if she scores a win or at least a tie. She figures she can probably get some damage done to Cricket or Stormtiger, and if she manages to put at least one of them out of commission for at least a week, that’s a job well done. If she kills one of them— well, they’re nazis. Who cares?

Well, the Protectorate would probably noticed if she killed a big name villain, and then that’d be a whole thing. They always seem to give more a shit about the villains than the everyday people they hurt, even when those villains are fucking fascists. But she’ll burn that bridge when and if she comes to it.

She eats shit pretty quickly when Hookwolf gets behind her— she dodged out of the way and back into shadows fast enough that the steel spike only kind of pierces her back, but she’ll still need to patch herself up later. She swears and tries to get onto the rooftop so she can give sniping a shot, but Stormtiger knocks her off course, so she bounces back down. She has to turn solid briefly she doesn’t need to worry about floating through the ground, and it makes the stab wound hurt.

Right. She shifts solidly into retreat mode— this wasn’t a fight she was going to solidly win, and she’s given a few lumps to match the one she’s taken. She’ll get revenge later. Right now, worry about getting out.

Before she can back out of the situation, something else happens. She thinks for a second Hookwolf’s suddenly developed a cloning power when she sees another massive hound shape hurtling down Brockton’s streets, but it’s not metal at all. It’s fleshy and the pointy parts Shadow Stalker spots even in the dark night are bone. It’s also bigger than Hookwolf, even in his transformed form. The beast knocks Hookwolf out of the way of her retreat.

“What the fuck—“ Stormtiger starts, but Shadow Stalker takes the opportunity to turn solid briefly and pulls up one of her crossbows, shooting him in the chest at point blank range. He deflects it, the bolt only piercing his shoulder, but he still staggers backwards.

“Get up here!” a girl’s voice shouts from on top of the not-Hookwolf beast thing. Shadow Stalker follows the command before really processing, lunging up as a shadow and landing awkwardly. “Now let’s go, Bitch!”

Shadow Stalker barely registers the insult— name?— as she tries to find a handhold on the beast and rummages in her belt compartments trying to find gauze to stop the bleeding at the same time. It doesn’t help that the thing backs up, then starts retreating away from the three injured and baffled nazis. She bites down on her scream, just feeling the wound getting worse with the motion. Shadow Stalker’s never ridden a horse but she imagines this is what that’s like. Or worse. Fuck.

“Hold onto me,” the girl in front of Shadow Stalker says, turning her head back. Shadow Stalker takes her up on the suggestion, wrapping one arm around her and putting pressure on the wound with the other. “It’s not far.”

“What isn’t?” Shadow Stalker grunts.

“The loft,” she explains, explaining nothing. She notices Shadow Stalker’s confusion, so decides to explain something else. She points to herself, then forward to another girl that Shadow Stalker hadn’t even noticed in the darkness. “I’m Tattletale, she/her. That’s Bitch, really anything but he works but most people default to she or they.”

Tattletale’s a lanky white girl with blonde hair in a black and light purple costume. She’s also a complete stranger to Shadow Stalker. Bitch is a bit more familiar — Shadow Stalker thinks she saw her on the news at some point. Master with dog related powers. Presumably the beasts are her, since the name Tattletale isn’t very master, though to call these things dogs seems wrong.

“Shadow Stalker.” She doesn’t provide her own pronouns. “I could’ve gotten out of that.”

“Probably,” Tattletale says with a smirk, and Shadow Stalker still feels her heart in her chest. “But did you see the looks on their faces? Imagine how they’re going to explain that one to Kaiser.”

Shadow Stalker laughs, in part at how excited Tattletale is at their humiliation, then says, “Fuck, ow.”

Tattletale’s face is mostly covered by a domino mask, and it’s hard to see in the dark, but Shadow Stalker’s convinced her expression turns concerned briefly. Might just be a trick of the light, though. She’s cheery she says, “almost there! You got this, champ.” Shadow Stalker wants to punch her, but she’s too busy holding onto her.

They slow to a stop eventually, a few blocks away from their destination in a different alley; and Tattletale doesn’t offer to help Shadow Stalker down. Neither does Bitch. Shadow Stalker bounces off with her power, and when she’s on the ground, the beast has started shrinking. Tattletale leans against the wall, one eye on Bitch where she stands by the beast and the other on Shadow Starker. Shadow Stalker takes this as a cue to take care of the wound.

“He didn’t hit anything vital,” Tattletale says while Shadow Stalker tries to examine it. Shadow Stalker glances up at her suspiciously, then she smiles smugly and explains without explaining again. “I know things.” She adds, “Just disinfect it, bandage it up, then try not to get into any close up fights for a few months. Sniping with that crossbow should be fine.”

Shadow Stalker does that much. It’s not like there’s much of an alternative. She doesn’t exactly have a doctor on retainer like some of the villains and she definitely doesn’t have the fancy staff of a hero. The cons of being a loner. The pros are freedom, of course, and she wouldn’t sacrifice that for the world. Even if it is— occasionally isolating.

Once she’s finished cleaning and patching up the wound, she looks between the other two girls. Bitch sits waiting besides the beast as layers of flesh and bone slosh off. It’s visceral and fascinating to watch. A lesser hunter might find it gross. Shadow Stalker can’t help noticing Bitch’s burly muscles underneath her flannel shirt or all of her scars. Her nose’s been dislocated at least twice, if not more… Tattletale’s not as visibly a fighter, but she’s been completely cavalier the entire night, seemingly not caring about the enemies she’s just made by helping Shadow Stalker made.

“So, you two humiliate nazis every night?” Shadow Stalker asks, trying to act like she doesn’t care. Though, it might be nice to have some people to hunt with.

“Are you asking if we come here often?” Tattletale asks with a teasing tone, and Shadow Stalker flushes. She gets to her feet, a little unsteady, and Tattletale keeps smirking at her, like she knows the comment got under her skin. Or maybe she’s just always like this. Seems like it so far. “The two of us don’t usually do stuff on our lonesome— we’ve got Grue and Regent too, together we’re the Undersiders. Fighting nazis is a part of what we do, though honestly they humiliate themselves most of the time. It’s harder to make them look stupider than they already are.”

“What’s the rest?”

“Fucking around,” Tattletale says, twirling her hair, “Finding out. Come on— I’ll show you the base.”

“Aren’t you worried I’ll tell where it is?”

Tattletale snorts. “To who, the Protectorate? They see you as a villain too, since they can’t control you. Might as well see what picking a side is like, right?”

“Guess not,” she agrees and follows Tattletale home.