There was a feeling of comfort in coming back home that was, in many ways, hard to describe.
The main difference was that my senses were no longer human, or at least there was so much added to them that little things like what I could physically hear and see with my ears and eyes were such a small fraction of the information I took in that the normal range of descriptors started to break down.
Appearing in my office, on the top floor of New Brockton Bay's 'Federal' building, I moved from the chaotic pell-mell of the Endbringer fight, in some ways complex but in others almost insultingly bland, and felt the familiar sensations that I'd come to be used to. The flow of air through the now finished buildings, rising, falling, and twisting in eminently logical, but immensely complex patterns. The bouncing of ten thousand soundwaves off a hundred-thousand surfaces, the unique sounds of conversation and life moving in wholly common patterns until they created a familiar susurrus that flowed together in rivers of noise. The framework of stone the city pat upon, a reverse skyline resting underneath our feet, like a chair one had sat in countless times before. The hundreds of minions I'd created continuing their assigned tasks, perking up at my presence, before continuing to carry out my orders. The dance of millions upon millions of insects following pre-set directives, some dictated by biology, others by the commands of my partner as, even now, she strummed those connections, like a spider their web, or musician her harp, only one with more threads than human lives in this city.
All this and more flooded my senses as I moved to take my seat at my desk, Taylor moving to hers by my side, the girl sending out a small flood of messages as she took control of hundreds of computer-spiders, downloading data collected during the fight, short as it was, and processing it. "Scion's giving Break the stink eye, but that's it," she told me, my computer booting up, a video feed projected into the air, showing The Warrior looking around the battlefield in confusion, several annoyed looks sent the man's way, Alexandria and Eidolon flying up beside him.
Those two got looks of disgust, which, considering they had bits of his dead mate grafted onto them, made a certain degree of sense. The Entity had never made any bones about what he was, it was just that most didn't know enough to interpret what they saw correctly. I waited, at the ready, none of us truly sure what The Warrior would do after the first Endbringer was destroyed, only what he'd done before. But before, he'd been the one to kill Behemoth, for reasons that I really didn't understand, and this time it'd been all us that had slayed that beast.
While it was only a minute, it felt like several times that before the golden puppet turned and flew away, the directionality of it seeming fine, but. . . "Flight path?" I questioned.
It was Overwatch who responded, voice coming from the compiece in my ear as he appeared in the room, stepping through a burst of static, "The Philippin- no, Argentina. He is not headed in our direction."
I sighed in relief, the airflows throughout New Brockton Bay smoothing out once more, the forming of air-walls not needed. They wouldn't've stopped The Warrior, even if he was keeping himself to his canonical laziness, but it would've slowed him enough to allow us time to move, escape, and launch our own counter-offensive. It would've been a Hail-Mary play, but we'd started to build some options. They weren't good options, but they were better than the alternative, which would've been absolute defeat.
"Alright, how are our checks from Déjà, Foresight, and the others?" I questioned, dropping down to the next step on the list.
"All clean!" smiled Taylor, and, sending her a questioning look, her good cheer dimmed a little. "Still nothing from your dad, though."
I shrugged, not having expected him to respond, even if some part of me had hoped that this would've finally been enough. The man would send us warnings if he saw something incoming, but outright refused to coordinate with us, his communications coming on his terms, and his alone. I'd sent some people to try and track him down, and he was still alive, at least, operating out of the southwest, but the very power that was so useful that we sought him out meant that they couldn't find him, the man sending us an email from an untraceable account in ALL CAPS 'requesting' us to "CEASE ATTEMPTS TO ASSIST AS THEY ARE DOING MORE HARM THAN GOOD."
Responding with a request to meet so as not to accidentally disrupt his plans instead had resulted in no answer at all.
I was aware of the fact that, with his precognitive power having an approximately twelve hour limit, and my own status as a Blindspot, I could probably track him down myself, but doing so would, well, 'do more harm than good'. For whatever reason, my father was on the other side of the country, and, to be honest, when it came to forcing a talk with him, I had more important things to do.
Still hurt, just a little.
Thankfully, my relationship with my family was one of the few things that had been going badly, and, with any luck, even that might change, if due to unexpected factors. "Overwatch, I'm assuming you were listening to my conversation with Grace?"
My vizier nodded, more windows opening, revealing the armor I'd seen her working on in action, as well as more images, one displaying my cousin's face pulled from Cauldron's servers. "Her story seems plausible," the lawyer-cum-administrator informed me. "Dragon registered her as an extradimensional refugee, and possible Case-53, shortly after Leviathan's attack. While she retains her previous memories, and does not possess the standard mark, she is supernaturally cold, body temperature at a steady thirty-two degrees, Fahrenheit. Literally freezing."
And, if she was like me and Herb, her power wouldn't be the thing dictating any nonstandard traits, what she chose to change about herself would, I mused internally. Thinking about it, 'freezing cold' sounds like the kind of language she'd use too, so that's exactly what she got from Abaddon. After all, the one thing the Entities were lacking in was creativity. "Her powers match, coming from the same set the rest of ours did, if in an. . . odd combination," I stated.
At the other two's curious looks, I elucidated, "She's got her own personal pocket dimension to store things in, and take them out of in a hurry; enhanced cognition, of the 'think faster', 'incredible memory' and 'learn quickly' varieties; the ability to shift to an elemental form, like Megalith of Bell Tolls but with more flexibility; freeze air and water on sight, shaping it, but it's Manton Limited; program herself like a self-Master to physically do things, though actual Mastering overcomes it; and the ability to have every power of every Host within a kilometer and a half of her position at a little less than one-third strength, though there are obviously some exceptions, like how Break can't copy my copied powers."
"That's. . . a good deal of ability," Quinn noted, then sighed. "Though I should've expected as much from someone like you and Herbert." He paused, then questioned, "Was it really wise to be as open with her as you were?"
Now it was my turn to sigh, "She'd already spilled the beans to Dragon, which meant if she did so before she got that woman a body, she did so to Saint and the others."
"Think she's what happened to 'em?" Taylor asked, our own attempts to contact Dragon having been stymied for reasons we hadn't understood. Attempting to go after the Dragonslayers, since they'd had a backdoor into the sentient AI's systems, had gotten us a bit further, but they'd suddenly gone dark, and when we'd sent a scout, they'd found nothing but a frozen crater where the hacker's base used to be.
"Looks like," I agreed, "But with our taps into the Cape-inati's systems, if they'd known about her relation to me, we would've too. And, since my cousin's not an idiot, she's almost assuredly a Blindspot like the rest of my family, so she would've slipped Contessa's net. But, while finding her was certainly a windfall, her help isn't what all this hinges on. Public response?"
The fight's broadcast was on a five-minute timer, given how badly the last few had gone, that was something I hadn't blamed Cauldron over imposing, even going along with it and doing the same with our publicly available channels.
"Gimme a sec," Taylor requested, working furiously, before nodding to herself. "Sending. . . now," she stated, flaring a handful of threads for me to follow, peering through the eyes of a number of camera-flies in various employee break rooms, and finding the broadcast was still in the 'Behemoth has not yet appeared' state, less time having passed then I'd thought. A lot of people had taken the day off, but a sizeable percentage of employees had come in despite it being the day of an Endbringer attack, though when the announcement had gone out that Behemoth was about to breach, they almost universally had rushed to watch what was going on.
The standard newsfeed was interrupted, displaying what I could only describe as a music video, the girl sitting beside me effectively a one-woman media team, working in perfect cohesion. The actual fight was short to watch, only two minutes long from breech to destruction, though it'd felt a lot longer, though that was the danger of splitting focus, my sense of time going out the window as five minutes could be spent doing a dozen things, while that wouldn't feel like an hour, it would seem closer to half of one then the twelfth of one it was.
It didn't escape my notice that the sequence was framed in a way that undercut the damage Grace had done, while the handling of my block and deflection of Behemoth's response was borderline cinematic, and, sending a look to Taylor, who'd retracted her helmet, the girl was completely unapologetic. After that, all was left for Herb and his Replicants to bully Behemoth like a red-headed stepchild that owed him money, resulting in its death, cheers all over the city ringing out, as, for the first time in decades, an Endbringer was well and truly defeated instead of merely rebuffed.
"Well, there goes today's productivity," I quipped, receiving a flat look from Quinn at how blasé I was being about this. "That's the first few hurdles down. Still no sign of the emergence of a new Endbringer?"
For a moment Quinn's eyes unfocused. "None. Do you believe it will be this 'Khonsu' you have mentioned?" he checked.
Shaking my head, I told the Tinker, "Not a clue. I have no Idea what mechanism 'creates' them, only that there's, hopefully, only twenty of them." I couldn't remember who had claimed that was the cap in the original, but, as I'd long since learned, people lied, and, as had burned my brother a few times, Thinkers like Tattletale could be one-hundred percent certain of what they were saying, and be one-hundred percent wrong.
But if there were more, we'd kill them too, and I'd reap their powers, like I had Behemoth's.
My phone buzzed, receiving a text message from Break reading: 'Witches wanna talk. Be back by tonight.'
Taylor was already reading over my shoulder, and I turned the screen so Quinn could see it, the man nodding. "Should I slip into their systems?"
"Use Déjà," I ordered, the Tinker nodding once more and disappearing into the air. With the Endbringer taken care of, and my part in things done, he'd get a good look, barring another Endbringer attack, and if the new one arrived we had other, non-replenishing resources we could call upon if need be.
With my vizier gone, I turned my attention outward, across New Brockton Bay, as the celebrations continued to ramp up, and followed the connections outwards, to our other cities.
Turns out, if you were strong enough you could bully the American government, as long as you didn't ask for anything too extreme. We'd kept our presence in Boston to that of an independent team and built what amounted to an embassy in Cambridge, but had moved out into rural New Hampshire and Vermont, working out deals with both State and Federal governments to create 'experimental governance zones'. There was even national precedence for it, as the PRT had quietly bribed a few more powerful Villains that way, as long as they kept their actions less egregious then, say, Heartbreaker. In return for not causing problems, and occasional Endbringer Battle participation, they got some place like 'Coolville, Ohio' which had a couple hundred people, to play with, and rule over.
Oh, and Disney got the same thing too, but for probably different reasons.
So, while it worried the hell out of the government, us directing our attentions towards building and improving things had given them a target to go after and threaten.
Which had they done. Once. And then every PRT and FBI agents involved had been decapitated in a single night, with us informing those organization that we were going to negotiate the deal, since our first one hadn't been clear enough.
That had resulted in 'Villain' attacks, which had been put down with extreme prejudice, then an intervention by 'heroes' which had been similarly dealt with, and ended finally with Break dropping in on a meeting of PRT department heads informing them that, however much they escalated, we would do more. That had been the kick in the ass Cauldron had needed to convince people to let us build our damn cities, as well as pressure from the politicians that those organizations were supposed to be answerable to, as we'd temporarily halted all exports and services, and thus the industries that had sprung up to take advantage of what we offered, which made up a sizeable percentage of the politican's donors, had been pissed.
And then, voila, the problems disappeared, economic pressures and denying people their profits far superior to motivating those who had taken oaths to represent and serve the public than morality or the very real threat of death, which, I'd realized, they didn't take seriously. While the common man lived in low-level fear of gang and Villain attacks, those in power had been isolated, protected, and leaving a post-it note on a senator's face that read 'next time this might be a bullet' just made them lash out, thinking that their 'preparing' made a difference instead of realizing they were out-classed.
It was an odd thing, where assassination wasn't taken seriously, even repeatedly showing it was a possibility by following through on those threats, because such a thing just wasn't 'done' in the world these people lived in, but bullying, breaking contracts, and threatening their bottom line was.
More and more, 'Power Aristocracy' was seeming like it'd actually been the right way to go, implemented while I recovered from the Nine, and despite my reservations. At least Hosts understood 'You don't play nice and I'll fucking kill you, but I'd rather play nice', even non-combat powers coming from Vials instilling a certain understanding about the physical realities of the world.
Well, Thinkers excluded, but they normally learned pretty quickly the first time some well-crafted and psychologically cutting insult got them shot in the leg, cries of 'But I wasn't using my power!' neither believed nor truthful ninety-nine times out of a hundred.
Thus, while we had New Brockton Bay, we were also in the process of building up Edoras, Midgar, and Balder's Gate, because if I got to name the towns, they'd at least be cool. For obvious reasons I'd vetoed Gotham, Kickassia, and R'lyeh, the last of which had revealed that Herb had been throwing names out just to see what he could get away with.
With lines of Relay Bugs crisscrossing the area between our strongholds, each one with several years' worth of nutrients to survive off of, Taylor and I could reach into these other locations from our offices, though she preferred to hang out in mine for reasons she would not divulge. Even now, a dozen Dryads were hard at work, following the plans we'd put together to continue the expansion of our unofficial 'Kingdom' of New Avalon, a name we'd leaked ourselves. It had then been spread across the net, in news articles and forums, our own Blindspot-backed hackers, a sizeable percentage of which were just Taylor and Quinn, spreading it despite Cauldron's attempts to quash it. We'd then 'agreed' to the name, started printing it on our documentation, and, well, technically it was illegal six ways to Sunday, but the clean hands doctrine was in effect, and everyone else's were filthy by comparison.
Still didn't stop them from trying.
Still didn't stop them from dying.
And, eventually, they got the memo.
So we continued expansion, a number of Thinkers assisting, and only about a third of them had to be told, firmly, to not fuck with shit, and of them only a fifth had been let go from Arachne Assemblages for their inability to play nice, something they couldn't even blame on their Shards, as, after my first talk with them, their Shards wanted them to cooperate. If we'd still had access to Planning it would've been far easier, but, after the shitshow in Boston, we didn't.
Well. . . that wasn't exactly true.
I wasn't sure what the hell that other me, the mask I'd crafted, had done in that short hour of my relinquishing of control. Unlike with the Bandits, I'd fully blacked out, but the next time I'd meditated, there'd been a star in my Constellation of Possibility that there hadn't been before, one that could not be there, and yet it was.
The Black Steel Cogs and White Flame of Planning.
I shouldn't have it, as somehow acquiring it broke all of the rules I thought my power operated under, but the others had remained tight-lipped about what had happened, any evidence erased, and while part of me understood their doing so, the fact that I had been someone other than myself not something certain people would take well, it was still a little annoying.
But, I'd been forced to either do what they wanted, or Master the people I claimed to trust, so it'd remain a mystery, for now. In the meantime, it was locked up just as much as STING was, possibly a little less, but for whatever reason, my power did not want me to have access to it, though I supposed it was better to be locked away like that, then to be like my broken Shards. which were still in recovery, taking up slots, though they had been reforming at a steady rate, and by the time the anniversary of New Brockton Bay's founding came around, they'd be back and ready to use.
The ones I'd given away had reformed, though it'd be a little bit before I could pass them onto another, I knew that now, and Legend's Major Shard had healed from the overstressing of it I'd done handling Echidna. Time marches on, I couldn't help but think, the sounds of celebration only growing louder as people left their offices and rushed into the streets.
Perhaps our proposal to take over Madison will get approved, I wondered, Ziz having, eventually, admitted that she'd fucked up a little with that one. Her attacks on Switzerland, London, St. Petersburgh, and more had given her a skewed idea of how the populace would react, Cauldron having only intervened when they had to, as opposed to her actions in America, their backyard, where they were able to lock the entire city down after they 'Lost', that fight going over the Endbringer's arbitrary time limit.
Speaking of whom, I thought, as my phone rang. Answering, before I could say anything, an otherworldly perfect voice hissed out two words.
Looking over to Taylor, she just rolled her eyes. "You're the one that invited the Endbringer to our movie marathons."
"Culture's important, and it's not like Ziz doesn't already scare people," I defended, though perhaps showing the Psychic Kaiju horror movies hadn't been the best idea. It turned out that she used her ability to see someone's eventual reactions in the future to do whatever it was that was needed to elicit them. She did not understand why it worked, only that it had, which started to cause problems when she dealt with too many Blindposts at once. "Besides, we watched The Princess Bride, so it evens out." Turning back to my phone, I told the Endbringer, "Can I assume you mean seven days until the next Endbringer arrives?"
Well, this was more warning than I'd been given before, and I did appreciate it. "Any other clues you can give me? Is it Khonsu, the time-based one?"
The Morrigan was the one who answered, No, it is Legion. And it will not be coming for you.
Simurgh rebuked, but I could hear the plant-based demi-Endbringer sigh, which meant they were probably living in the house I'd built for them on the 'dark' side of the moon.
It would be best if you let the attack happen, the plant-controller informed me. Mother was going to wait to tell you until that morning.
"Is The Warrior going to show up?" I questioned, that being the one thing that would really screw with our plans.
. . . Probably.
The Simurgh admitted, audibly annoyed, and Taylor hid her laugh.
"Will Herbert and his Replicants be enough to Win, along with the others that will join?" I requested, making sure.
He Will Not.
"Then I'll make sure the innocents are evacuated, and leave them to it. I'm sure I can come up with a suitable reason to sit this one out," I promised the Kaiju, trusting her enough for this. However, while I had her on the line, "I found someone of note. She goes by Grace, or Khione. Is she a Blindspot to you? She was around Dragon for the last few months, if you need to know where to look."
There was a moment of silence.
I have not seen her before.
More becomes clear.
"She grabs a portion of the powers of every Host around her, will that be enough to turn the tides?" I questioned.
It Will Not.
Ziz stated with certainty, which made wonder just what this Endbringer's deal was, but I had one last question. "Will I lose the people I send, or will it be more like the older Endbringer fights?"
I Will Convince Him.
Without You, He Is Not In Danger.
So Neither Will Yours Be.
Unless You Act Through Them.
"I'll be hands off," I promised, "And have them prioritize their own survival over immediate victory." I smiled, the excuse obvious, "This time will be all about intel gathering, and evacuating innocents. After all, we'll be going in blind."
Then We Are In Agreement.
The Endbringer declared with utmost serious solemnity.
Are we still meeting on Tuesday? The Morrigan asked brightly, completely ruining the mood. I would like to see if Legolas survives.
"You just like him 'cause he's an elf," Taylor teased.
It is only smart to have an appreciation of nature, the phytokinetic remarked primly.
Sighing, I rolled my eyes, "I'll drop by and pick you two up then, unless I can't for some reason. For a Blindspot related reason," I added, before Simmy pointed out that there wouldn't be one. "And thanks for the help, Ziz."
You Are Welcome,
It replied, The Morrigan adding, Goodbye! Before they hung up.
Looking at Taylor, I asked, "So, it's name is Legion. Think it's some kind of minion-creating Master Endbringer?"
The bug-controlling Master just snorted. "No bet."