Diversification 19.14

"And who are you all?" an annoyed looking PRT official asked my group.

"I'm Nephilim," I replied. "We're the Penumbral Defenders, from New Brockton Bay." I looked around the marshaling ground, which had been set up next to a 'West Deptford High School'. I'd Strode us all nearby, and been directed by PRT staff to this person, who was acting like it wasn't their job to talk to me. "You were expecting us."

The man winced, putting a finger to his ear. "Alexandria, they're here."

I could feel the wind created by the woman as she flew over, almost too fast to see for a normal person, but either experience or Peak Condition let me track her easily. She stopped, floating above us, staring down on us, her eyes hidden behind her visor. As before, she glowed with the Grey & Faded Black of Personal Temporal Stasis, a power that, even only looking at it, I knew would be locked to me even if I could wiggle around the fact that there were no visual effects to the power, only a lack of being affected by other things.

"Where's Break?" she barked out, annoyed.

Lifting an eyebrow, I regarded her skeptically. "Vejovis thought it better not to bring the power copier to fight the thing that makes evil copies of people. Same with Panacea. I owe him five bucks, I didn't think you foolish enough to want Break for this. Ten, actually, as I didn't think you would be here either."

From the set of the woman's mouth, she wasn't very happy with my rebuke, and subvocalized something. However, with my capabilities, she might as well have been shouting. "Numberman, I need eyes on Vejovis."

There was a pause, before my comm unit activated, my own voice informing me, "Cauldron opened a Door to my office. I threw a pen at them."

"Vejovis is in his office. He's not happy," Numberman's voice added, coming from the earpiece Alexandria was wearing.

"Then it's probably him," the woman muttered, head turning slightly as she took in the twenty fighters we'd brought. "I haven't seen you before," she stated accusatorily, looking at me directly. "Who are you?"

"I fail to see how that's my problem," I replied, "and you can call me Nephilim." I opened my arms, and my wings, "you can probably guess why."

As always, my dimensional cloak was worth several times its weight in gold, letting me shift to a new costume as needed. Metal Projection allowed me to form mithral pseudo-plates, which I directly controlled, and fit as an underlayer on the purple and red, intricately 'carved' plate armor that I wore. From my back extended a pair of mithral wings, that burned silvery-white with Healing Fire, the colors tweaked to avoid comparisons to the Suns I'd previously created. With my ability to change the color of my powers I could create silver suns as need be, as would every other power I used in this role be similarly colored.

In some ways, I bore a resemblance to the form I'd worn when I clashed with the Simurgh, only human sized, and not blindingly golden bright. I still wielded an orichalcum sword, though, with the design for strike enhancement running through it, which I'd made by guiding Taylor through the process. The fact that all my efforts to distance myself from appearing to be Vejovis hadn't worked was aggravating, but thankfully Projection was there to cover my ass.

"Powers?" the woman demanded.

"Like you, but less so, and multipurpose fire," I replied easily, forming a silver sun-knife, and tossing it into the air, making it twirl like it was a solid thing, and catching it, and then blinking to the side in a short bolt of lightning that I'd tuned to be blue in this form, reforming as I was, sun-blade and all. "That, and a good bit of Tinkertech. What's the plan?"

"You'll be told when it is time," the older woman informed me, before flying away somewhere else.

Walking over to me, Taylor sighed. "I can't believe I liked her."

I shrugged, asking sarcastically, "When someone 'knows' they're smarter and stronger than everyone else, why bother being polite to the peons?" Turning around to the gathered PD behind me, I addressed them all. "Alright, looks like we're on our own. Fucking lovely. Everyone remember the briefing? If they're naked, they're clones. If their forms are twisted and they're naked, they're not Case-53's, they're clones. If they're fully transformed, they might not be clones, but if they try to kill you, well, that's not kosher, so try kill them right the fuck back. And remember, stay safe. Clones have no sense of self-preservation, so it'll be like dealing with the worst of the Zones, so kill first, ask questions much, much later. I don't want to explain to Break how any of you managed to get yourself killed. Understood?" I asked, reinforcing my words by addressing their Shards directly.

"Understood!" the others echoed back to me.

"Good, then do as you will. Assuming that our actions haven't changed things, the fight kicks off in two hours. Remember the cardinal rule of Precogs! They see what would've happened if they hadn't told you anything. That's useful, and can get you intel you wouldn't have otherwise, but they're not infallible. Isn't that right, Gauge?" I asked, turning to Theo, who was loaded for war.

The boy was standing nearly almost as tall as I was, in a suit of power armor. His Small Arms Tinker ability, while Second Triggered in strength, had been a Vial, with all the problems that entailed. However, over the course of a few sessions where I, with his permission, mucked around with his Shard, I'd loosened it up enough to broaden its 'Small Arms' requirements even further than had been before, and allowed him to use it even more effectively.

With those modifications he'd been able to reach even further afield of what should have been allowed, which including making a full set of power armor as a 'small arms accessory' according to his Shard. Was it kind of dumb? Yes. But considering that DekoTara had gone from ugly as sin trucks, to the literal shining mecha she was currently working on, Tinkers were eight kinds of bullshit if you gave them enough time and resources.

Then again, it was Tinkers that helped take out Scion, in the original timeline, I considered. The ones that did it originally were still in the Birdcage. I think. Honestly, I couldn't remember who did it, only one of them was the person who'd shot the moon.

Regardless, the boy had taken well to the near-infinite metals we had in stock, and he had built a full on Ironman suit. Okay, he built Warmachine, with the number of guns he had in the thing, but it could protect him, fly, and was something he was improving when he wasn't doing custom orders. While the boy philosophically preferred non-lethal weapons, anything that could non-lethally take out a Brute was almost certainly lethal to a more normal person.

"It is," the boy agreed, backing my statement on the fallibility of Precogs, being one himself. "Should I start cycling?" he checked.

I wanted to say no, since the fight wasn't going to start anytime soon, but I'd just talked about the fallibility of Precogs, so I nodded, the boy's power starting to flicker in slow, regular patterns. "Alright everyone," I ordered, "spread out if you want, and remember, you living is more important than getting a killshot. Dismissed!"

The PD started to wander off, and I looked around, taking in all the Parahumans that had gathered. There were a lot, though not nearly the number that had shown up to fight Leviathan, and I didn't see anyone that I recognized as a Villain.

Regardless, I Saw them all, many of whom were using their powers in small ways, more than enough to start copying Shards by the dozen. I had a single open Minor slot, having learned my lesson, the next one two-thirds of the way towards unlocking.

As for my Major slot, I'd finally gone ahead and plugged in a Shard into the single slot I'd had, the next one three-fourths of the way there. And in so doing, I had gained a new power.

Legend's.

The others seemed nice, and Short-range Teleportation had been very tempting, as I wondered, exactly, what about it would merit a Major slot, but at the end of the day, the choice was obvious.

It had speed, it had power, it had versatility, but it was also incredibly fucking distinctive. This wasn't a common-use power, this was a 'Holy Shit I'm Fighting Scion!' power, and one that would be very, very useful for that.

It was also incredibly fucking difficult to use.

It was a Mover power. It was a Shaker power. It was a Brute power. It was a Breaker power. It was a Blaster power. It was a Striker power. Hell, it could be argued to be a Changer power! Over half the classifications applied to it, though, when I tried to use it to it's utmost, turning my body to light, some part of my power revolted and said NO. Then again, given the taboo on any kind of Changer ability I was shackled with, I was somewhat surprised I'd been able to select it at all.

So I couldn't turn into a living laser, nor could I then use other forms of energy to heal myself, but the 'blasts' it provided were free reign, in addition to the man's flight, which stacked with my other kinds of movement. In a straight line, I was made of 'goes fast', only Legend himself likely able to outpace me, by telling relativity to go suck it by becoming mass-less.

However, just like with my other Major powers, Absolute Territory was a stone-cold bitch to use, effectively a self-contained suite of powers instead of a straightforward one like the Minor Shards always were. With Aerokinesis I could fly, make shields, make weapons, control gasses, scrub gasses, detect people by their breath, deny people the ability to breathe, and so much more, but all of it was reliant on my own control of the power.

With Legend's power, some base uses, like flight and straightforward kinetic blasts were easy, but everything past that was taking work. I'd managed basic hot and cold rays, and figured out how to condense them into a touch based blast. Past that, trying to do most of what the Cauldronite could do on the regular, like forking the lasers, shooting them around corners, and shooting them through walls without discharging their load, were beyond me. He could also make them cut, disintegrate, our outright invisible, something I had no idea how he'd managed to do.

When I got a handle on it, that power was going to be great, but, for now, it was effectively a flight aid, especially with Alexandria around. I might've been able to bullshit Eidolon, but Rebecca Costa-Brown was a great deal more perspective than David, though just, apparently, as dumb, given she was here to fight the thing which copied people on contact. I was using abilities she didn't think were possible, but if I started throwing around her friend's lasers, even recolored?

It was an unnecessary risk.

Lacking anything to do, I slowly walked around the field, Taylor walking beside me, on my right. Taking an obsidian oak disk from my belt, I flipped it out, my partner using her power to grow it outwards into a Dryad body, which started to walk on my left. On the bright side, at least everyone here seemed to be an adult, so they at least hadn't dragged the Wards into what, even if we didn't lose a single fighter, would still be a bloodbath.

Lady Bug might actually be one of the youngest ones here, I realized. However, given what she'd seen, fighting monsters beside me, I wasn't too worried about her. She'd only seen the beginning of what I'd eventually assumed was my fight with Echidna, but, given that we were fighting Echidna now, and I remembered killing something, I suppose that Echidna hadn't been responsible for that near-apocalypse.

Then. . . who did I kill?

I still didn't remember what'd happened, but the feeling that I'd killed someone was something that was hard to shake. Thinking about it won't matter, I told myself, focusing on the here and now. Collecting more powers, I looked for any kind of organization at play, but other than a base-camp being created for people with medical abilities, the kind of people who couldn't escape if Echidna bum-rushed them, I didn't see anything resembling order.

No one was being grouped, hell, no one seemed to be briefed on what we were going to fight, for if they had then everyone would've been ready to run on a moment's notice. This isn't good, I thought. Toggling my comm-unit to reach everyone I'd brought, I commanded, "Defenders, spread out and tell everyone the basics of what we're facing."

The people I'd brought with me nodded and started to move to the various groups that'd gathered as Taylor and I continued to walk. "Any thoughts?" I asked the girl beside me.

". . . It feels like when Leviathan attacked," she said quietly, and I grimaced.

"It does, doesn't it?" I sighed, continuing to collect powers. "On the bright side, while Echidna's stronger than most, she's dependent on her clones. If we can pin her down, I can kill her. Remember, if you see Trickster?"

"Kill him," she replied, not happy about it, but she understood why. Echidna was dangerous, a teleporting Echidna was a disaster. While the girl would've liked to save people, the point that someone started indiscriminately killing was the point you stopped trying to save them.

It was a good twenty minutes later when Gauge's voice came over the comms, sounding panicked. "Attack incoming! They're underground!"

I froze, feeling out the area around us with Mineral Manipulation, one of my less used powers. It didn't work nearly as well on dirt, which is what we were standing on, and, focusing, I could barely sense voids, but they almost seemed like sewers, instead of something else, only the presence of air down there letting me even detect that. And, even then, someone with a more specialized power should've noticed!

"Everyone, Run! Gauge, attack how?" I demanded, Taylor having frozen beside me, assuming direct control of every insect several miles around us, her relay bugs having already spread out. Through them I could taste sewage in the caves below us, which had been what'd caused me to ignore them, though the spaces were completely lightless.

Using Strider's power, I captured a bit of my own silver flame and teleported it into the space under our feet, illuminating dozens upon dozens of twisted, sickly looking naked men standing knee deep in shit, a couple of large, mole-like creatures still digging through the dirt of the areas not yet 'covered'.

I couldn't see their powers, but when Gauge quickly replied, "I don't know, the ground just explodes!" I didn't need to, grabbing Taylor and flying straight up.

Using Acoustokinesis, I shouted, making the sound carry, even as I reached out without a hint of subtlety to command every Shard in range, "Telekinetic Clones Below Us! FLY! NOW!"

Taylor was stiff in my arms, focusing on Dryad as the creation's wooden body exploded outwards, growing out in every direction to try and cover the earth. I tried to reach down and press down with Mineral Manipulation, to try and crush the clones, or at least keep everything in place, but my power found little purchase on the mixed minerals and other matter of the dirt.

The flame I'd teleported in sputtered out, throwing the underground cavern into darkness once more, but the clones, having been discovered, were already reaching up, several glowing with a variety of colors as the combined parahumans on the marshaling ground all stampeded away, many in blind panic, all trying to escape.

Focusing my own powers, I threw down a shield of air over the ground Taylor hadn't covered, causing some capes to stumble, finding the floor an inch higher than they expected, but most rallied, feet pounding on the harder material, their own steps wearing against the protection, but the ensuing blasts of air giving them even more speed. Trying to throw up every defense I could, I pulled upon New Wave's power, spinning a silver shield around Taylor and I as we continued to ascend as quickly as I could safely move the girl.

It had been barely twenty second from my warning when the field exploded upwards, dirt accelerated to extreme speed. Those with high enough Mover or Brute/Breaker ratings either made it out of the blast, or were able to weather it, but somewhere close to a third did not.

Those that'd run for Dryad's shield were shoved upwards, Taylor quickly forming walls and a ceiling around the disk to try and keep them from falling off, even as the near-hypersonic dirt scoured the formation, and I flew to it, sending a command through my comms to where Panacea and the others were ready in New Brockton Bay, "Injured incoming!"

Reaching it, as dirt, rubble, and dismembered bodies flew everywhere, I slammed a hand on it and Strode it away, the possibility that anyone inside still fully combat capable slim. I couldn't see anything, so, with a sweep of my hand, sent winds flying outwards to clear the air, feeling others trying the same thing as I worked, and letting their efforts beat out mine where they clashed.

The debris fell away, revealing fetid pits, from which dozens, hundreds of malformed naked men and women started to pour out of. To my Sight, the copied powers spilled together into swaths of raw power, the hundreds of variations of each ability melding together into formations that, at a glance, I knew were forming into Major Shards in my constellation.

I also knew that, this many powers, used at once, and by False-Hosts with no care for their own lives, would massacre the still recovering parahumans.

Luckily for those gathered on my side, mass destruction of my opponents was my specialty.

Letting go of Taylor, but snaking a metal tendril out to keep her up, I swept my arms together, pulling all of the air in the area towards the pits, compressing and forcing it down, thickening the gasses around the clones into a thick soup, then a solid prison, even as they struggled. Many broke apart everything they touched, the Ballistic Clones' powers able to break them free by disrupting the solidified gas, but high-speed air was no danger to my powers.

I pulled more and more winds in, spinning them into a descending tornado that could be seen by the naked eye, streaming in from every direction even as Taylor started working to grow Dryads below us, grabbing every fallen Host, or just those that weren't running fast enough, to carry them away beside me.

Another section of the ground, slightly further away, exploded up but was shunted to the side with blasts of air from several different Hosts, myself included, as more clones started to pour out, including Echidna herself.

Well, if you're going to make it this easy, I'm not going to argue, I grinned, flicking a hand out and sending a silver sun dart out, the flames looking like burning metal, impacting the descending tornado and setting ablaze, lighting up the night with harsh incandescence as the star-stuff ignited the twister, burning straight down until it hit the clones, and the hardened air, whereupon it exploded, my own control over air and star allowing me to vent the explosion back through the tunnel they'd dug, directing the rest straight up into an enormous pillar of fire out of the old testament itself.

Game. Set. Match. I thought, only for a louder noise, as if the world was ripping apart, to come from the city itself. If the previous explosion had been a bomb, this was a nuke, the city erupting in every direction, destroying Philadelphia in seconds, and sending millions of tons of shrapnel in every direction.

I moved to throw up shields of air, pushing Unidirectional Telekinesis to deflect the larger pieces with silver glows as they headed for us, while glancing back down to the crater where a burned Echidna should have still lived, regenerating from the blast, but there was nothing but scattered, burned body parts, and ashes.

One of the other members of the Penumbral Defenders, the one that Herb had given the second Triggered weather control vial to, moved to do what I did before, only on a larger scale, and with less control. Tornadoes touched down across the city, absorbing dust and debris, before hurricane force winds blew through the area to create clear lines of sight.

Philadelphia was destroyed, utterly, and pouring from its wreckage were tens of thousands of clones, hundreds of Echidnas present, and all of them screamed in a mindless fury that wouldn't stop until the world burned.

Staring at the forces arrayed against me, I looked to Taylor. "Ready?" I asked.

As the clones launched countless attacks our way, blasts of fire, lightning, cold, stone, warped space, and who knows what else, my partner shook her head.

"No. Let's do this."