"Sewers are disgusting," Taylor stated flatly through her face mask, using the same sort of tone one would use when commenting on the weather...if said weather happened to be part-and-parcel of a nuclear winter. Or a sudden spate of rain in a coastal city when the middle-child of the Endbringers was due to make a call. Or…or... A very unpleasant thing that no one liked. In other words, the right sort of tone to use when you were trekking through the sewers in the middle of the night as a ball, an actual ball, of used condoms floated merrily past you on your way to do battle with the forces of darkness. "They never put this in the stories…"
Sometimes, perfect night-vision just wasn't worth the trouble. Really. All the things she could see...urgh. This wasn't her fetish. Not at all...and, once again, she'd been lied to. Stupid stories, taking out all the important bits...
"Of course not, Taylor. Of course, they didn't put that in the stories. That isn't interesting enough" Lisa's voice came through loud and clear in a low mutter, directly into Taylor's ear. If Taylor hadn't known better, she would have said that Lisa had been right next to her when she'd said it. But she did know better. That was the thing. The other thing was that the Bluetooth earbuds Madison had given her were amazing...even if they were a little...squishy... Bio-tinkers were surprisingly well-rounded for their label. "They want to hear about how the intrepid hero tracked the criminal down, beat the tar out of him, and dragged him to justice. Not about the rats, the things they step in on the way to fight the criminal, or how crap gets everywhere...especially in places it shouldn't. Like the insides of your clothes...and hair."
"... Did you have to say it like that, Lisa?" Taylor asked, her mouth set firmly into a grimace as she resisted the urge to touch her hair and walked past something unidentifiable and, no doubt, extremely foul. That she couldn't smell it, or have anything in here touch her directly (without dusting anything dead and organic that came within three feet of her) was a marvel of magic and quantum engineering… She was a worker of miracles, truly. If only her (extremely small) circle of acquaintances would recognize that… One day, she hoped. "Really?"
"Well, no. No, I didn't. But I did." Lisa admitted, sounding darkly amused as she did from where she was. From where she was warm and safe, and not surrounded by fecal matter in the assumed safety of Madison's van while Taylor was...none of those things… The things she did for heroism and external validation were just too much sometimes… "Now that you've been in a sewer once you're never going to, willingly, be in one again." Lisa's voice lowered into a conspirative whisper. "If I don't needle you about this now, when will I ever?"
"I'd really prefer if you didn't. Ever." Taylor was feeling queasy enough as is...all she needed to do was vomit in her mask to make it all complete. "I don't think I made it clear enough when I said that this place was disgusting…"
"How did that saying go again, honey-bunny?" Lisa laughed. "Wishes in one hand…?"
"Ignore her, Taylor. She's just mad that she's effectively useless." Madison cut in easily, using her familiarity and instinctual use with the equipment to push a, no doubt, now fuming Lisa to the metaphorical side in a short-lived, but audible, scuffle before the blonde could really get going. "And just keep going straight until you hit a four-way intersection. You're getting close to the nest."
"Okay," Taylor said as she steeled herself, walking briskly forward, avoiding stepping on any confused insects that suddenly found themselves without shelter/food… "Wait." And then she stopped as a thought occurred to her. "How do you know I'm getting near?"
Now Taylor knew she was getting near...but she had a reason for it. She had magic. A familiar. An almost overlay behind her eyes that let her see her prey in bluish-green sparks of differing sizes and intensity. What did Madison have?
"Well, I took the reports of missing women!" Lisa screamed, her voice blurred with distance. "The sightings! The rumors! Then I compiled them and plotted out a map!"
… Ah. That explained it.
"After some checking and fact-finding, I came to a conclusion! This has the highest possible concentration of-FUCK OFF!"
Taylor blinked and continued to wait while Lisa struggled in the background.
"I found the most likely spot they were hiding as I know they're behavior better than anyone else!" Madison butted back into the conversation while Lisa was preoccupied. "They enjoy wide open space and moisture with easy access to food! Since this is downtown-"
"I GOT THE DIAGRAMS TO THE SEWER SYSTEM THAT SHE'S USING!"
"Uhhhh…" Taylor licked the tip of one of her canines and continued to stand in place. Was she supposed to do something about this? She felt like she was supposed to, but… "Okay?"
"And I managed to make a biological Bluetooth headset that could work under the streets or in space!" Madison yelled back.
Taylor started walking once more, cringing as what sounded like a slap fight started up. It was a very distinctive noise...and weren't the two of them almost adults? How embarrassing... Especially when she was the one doing most of the work in the first place.
She wasn't bitter or anything. Not at all.
Then suddenly, with two feminine yelps, the comms went silent, filling Taylor with unease...and then, clicked. "Took care of the two idiots," Rachel spoke dully into her new headset. "They're fighting like a couple of pups that want attention. So I had the dogs sit on them." She paused. "Fucking stupid."
"SHE'S EATING MY HAIR! STOP! I JUST GOT IT BACK!"
"NOOOOO! NOT THE DROOL!"
"... Oh. That makes sense," Taylor said, her worries that they'd been ambushed or something of the sort temporarily put away as a large blob, almost as large as Squiggles, scuttled by right over her head...before it was quickly followed by another three, much smaller, blobs. They were reproducing. Not good. "Anyway, where are they?"
"Lisa's fucking map says you're going the right way," Bitch grumbled. "To one of those big places with the water in the middle."
"... A reservoir?"
"I don't fucking know. Does it fucking matter?"
"It does to me."
"Whatever. I don't care. Just keep walking until you hit the four-way," Bitch grunted, ending the conversation and any hopes that Taylor might have had in getting a name for the location (names were important) with a single emote. "Talk too damn much about stupid shit, all of you."
… Now, at this point, Taylor was sure that she didn't like the other girl. At all. Having Rachael attack her in her own home, even if ineffectually, hadn't exactly made a good first impression. The second, third, and so on hadn't helped either...and if Taylor had been topside right then, she'd have been tempted to give the girl another lump on her face to match the first.
But, thankfully for Rachel's face, Taylor wasn't topside. Also, Taylor had just reached the intersection after fifteen minutes of walking. Fifteen minutes.She was not going to backtrack, after all that, just so that she could show someone the back of her hand.
Rachel would get to live without symmetrical features for another day it seemed. Lucky girl.
"Left, right?" Taylor asked, her tone clipped and filled with tension when finally, after all this time, she could see what she'd been looking for.
Stunned silence. Something Taylor was used to. "... What?"
"Don't worry about it." Out on the very farthest edges of her vision. A towering sphere of roiling blue flames frolicking about. Across the ceiling, under the water. Everywhere they could fit whenever they weren't going out and up into the forest at the edges of city proper. "I found the nest."
"Got your thumb out your ass. Good. Could have just said that, but fuck it."
Taylor closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and counted to ten. "Please put Lisa back on. Or Madison. Don't much care which."
"They're still screaming."
"Give them the fucking coms..." Taylor grit her teeth, blew air out through said teeth in a hiss, and forced herself to calm down again. She'd swore. She didn't often swear but...but she had. In this case, it could be forgiven. She wasn't sure what it was about Rachel, besides the obvious that got to her...but Taylor would be glad to see the back of her when this was over. "Before I curse you with a lifetime of agonizing menstrual cramps."
It was then that, like a switch had just been flipped, the screaming in the background cut off at once. Instantly. No warning or lead up...until a high-pitched squeal started sounding through the coms, along with the whining of dogs while the headset audibly changed hands once again. "Hey now! There's no need for that!"
"Hello, Lisa," Taylor, already feeling a great deal better about this whole thing, her trek through the sewers notwithstanding, welcomed the blonde back to their current problem with more than a little cheer. For multiple reasons. Going into a fight angry or, at least, as angry as Rachel made her just wasn't a good idea...and Lisa was her girlfriend. Why shouldn't she be happy to talk to her? "How are you today? Also, what is making that noise?"
Had they crossed a wire? Put a speaker too close to another speaker? Could a Tinkertech headset even get feedback? If they could, then it wasn't nearly as impressive as Taylor had thought it was… Terrible.
"Got some dog spit in my hair and I might have slipped a disc trying to shift two-thirds of my own weight off my back. You know, nothing big… But level with me. You can't really 'curse'..." The finger quotes in 'curse' came through as clear as Lisa's actual words. "Someone with agonizing menstrual cramps, right?"
Taylor, her brow furrowed as she stared curiously at a lightly sizzling puddle of slime that just happened to be within her aura, refused to answer. This sounded like one of those things Lisa didn't need an answer to for once.
"Taylor? You can't do that, right, Taylor? That's crazy talk, right, Taylor?"
Yes. She didn't need confirmation. That was clear. Better to stay silent on this one… Deflect! "I can see them now, Lisa. The overlap makes it hard for me to tell how many there are...but I expect there to be over a hundred and counting. With some of them even bigger than Squiggles."
"Oh, Gooooood…" Lisa moaned faintly, horrified...and completely distracted from the question she hadn't really wanted to know the answer for. Success. "I swear to god that if Rachel wasn't here right now I'd do…" Lisa sighed. "Something. I dunno. Violent maybe? I'm tired."
"We've got hot chocolate and a record player waiting for us at home, Lisa," Taylor offered. "We can cuddle up next to the electric fire and you can use my breasts as a pillow after." Taylor welcomed yet another bout of silence as the flame before her grew brighter and brighter, forcing her to slowly turn the sensitivity down until it was almost nil so that she wouldn't blind herself. A battle was upon her. "Would that make you feel better?"
"That's so sweet," Madison whispered in the background, earning a thrown something from Lisa that got her squealing (now Taylor knew what that noise had been) again.
Ah, well… Not Taylor's problem.
"Alright," Taylor replied as she cracked her fists, rolled her shoulders, and tested out one of Miss Militia's famous eye crinkles. Superpowered or not, it was best to be limber when you got to work. A cramp somewhere tender, even if it was your face, while you were fighting against villainy was just embarrassing. "I'll wrap this up and we'll have some cookies and tea after."
"Shower first. Please," Lisa grumbled. "As you said. Sewers are disgusting."
Taylor couldn't help but chuckle at that. Lisa could be cute. Especially when she didn't want to be. It was part of her charm...and a smidge of levity in dark times always made things easier… Almost.
After finally reaching her destination, the location of Taylor's heart took a sudden nosedive.
"... Madison," Taylor started, staring at what was before her as she hesitantly licked her lips. "Did any of your pets show a tendency to make nests? Or use their slime in a constructive or, possibly, artistic manner?"
"They tended to keep stealing my sheets and clothing to curl up in...and the piles could kind of stack up if you didn't clear them out quick enough… Why are you asking?"
"Well… I saw this movie the other day. With Lisa." Taylor continued while dodging a gob of fluid dripping from the ceiling...and didn't melt away as soon as it came within a foot of her body. Whatever it was, it was close enough to 'alive' that her protections erred on the side of caution. Odd. "Does Ripley mean anything to you?"
"Shiiiiit..." Lisa hissed...and, if Taylor knew her, which she sort of did, she was going to need a couple shots of something strong in her drinks tonight. They might not have had access to anything alcoholic, but no one had ever accused Taylor of being unimaginative.
"No… A different sort of semifluid, thankfully. Various organic constructs on the walls and ceilings for housing. Bundles of heat and the impression of pulsing, unknown bits of flesh." Taylor squinted into the gloom at a much more colorful pile. "...and what I think may be a mound made up of nothing more than discarded, female clothing," Taylor observed while Lisa groaned. "And, I think I-one moment." Taylor bent backward, arms crossed over her chest as she barely avoided a slimy limb aimed at her head. "It's noticed me."
"WHAT NOTICED YOU!?" Both Lisa and Madison yelled over the coms.
"It looks like a gestalt," Taylor said calmly, much more calmly than she actually felt as she cartwheeled out of the way of yet another tentacle attempting to wrap itself around her waist before dipping back into the slime where it's flame was swallowed up by the rest of its kind, far down below...and, whatever that slime was, it was alive enough to give anything that might have been in it a sort of cover to her senses, physical or otherwise. Clever of them. "I think that Madison might have understated their intelligence. Collective or otherwise."
"WHAT!?" Lisa shrieked hysterically over the coms, the noise sufficient to deter an incoming attack just from the shock it caused before Taylor batted it away. The subsequent flash of light and bug zapper-esque sound that accompanied said batting, just before that limb went, well, limp, was a testament to Taylor's genius if there ever was one. "GESTALT!?"
"Yes. It is a German word. One usually used to describe something that should be looked at as a whole instead of its parts..." Taylor frowned and hummed to herself as her fists and feet flashed out in all directions, the only sign that she was actually putting any sort of effort into what she was doing being a drop of sweat that was now running it's way down her back...and she had to admit that she found it worrisome, seeing as she'd just started. "Probably not the proper word."
Honestly, if she hadn't been so used to handling Squiggles, she'd have probably been overtaken by now. She was though, so the point was moot...not that Lisa seemed to think so as she continued to scream in Taylor's ear about linguistics and danger in a babble… Probably shouldn't have mentioned that horror movie in the first place. Lisa was high strung at the best of times and giving her a face to her nightmares was, most likely, not the best thing that Taylor could have done.
"Yes… Not the right word at all. It's more like a Colonial organism. Though, generally, they're not nearly this lively." An uppercut to one of the largest tentacles she'd ever seen led to that limb flying up, up, up...and then falling apart. Disintegrating into dozens of the smaller, younger variations of their breed that, after having been knocked loose, groggily fled into the furthest parts of the room… Hopefully to hide, and not to recuperate for another go. "... This might be harder than I thoug-"
Taylor found herself interrupted by a second tentacle hiding in the shadow of the first. One that sent her flying backward with a huff of air escaping from her lungs. She then, after a short time in the air, smashed into a brick wall, cracked it on impact, bounced off of it like a tennis ball, then fell into the murky and very hygienically questionable water below...where she took it as an opportunity to regain her bearings instead of vomiting like she so very dearly wanted at that moment.
Water wasn't organic...but there were plenty of organics in sewer water and…and it was in her hair...the only thing that was keeping her here in the, increasingly clearer, water was that she could see the tentacles above her. Pacing. Waving their bits about as they peered down on her and, if research had been anywhere near as comprehensive as she'd thought, madly chirping.
Her research on Squiggles and his species had never been more valuable. He would splash around in the water. He would play with it. But, when she deepened the pool in his habitat, he seemed that much more cautious around it. Wary even. The one time he'd fallen in had told her everything she'd needed to know.
He couldn't swim. Either it wasn't an ingrained instinct or it was just an impossibility for him. Lots of panicked splashing and flailing and squeaking before he'd got himself a solid grip on a nearby rock and crawled onto dry land. The rest of that day, on his end, had been spent curled up in Lisa's pants and not even poking his head out for food.
She'd felt bad about it after, and filled it in with wood chips and shavings. He'd been a lot happier then… Anyway, seeing as they hadn't come in after her yet and were content to waffle about as her chest began to ache, that seemed to apply to the rest of Madison's creations as well.
She was enhanced in many ways, yes. Some merely cosmetic. Most for utility...but, for some odd reason, lung capacity had not been one of them. Her bodies general resource efficiency could only carry her for so long, an oversight she would have to correct as soon as she got some time with a shower...And some time with a rather coarse scrub brush and some crying.
She was swimming in fecal matter and other, questionable substances. A good cry in the shower was the least she deserved.
She stayed in the water despite the increasing pressure in her chest. Time was against her, but she could still cheat it for a little bit longer. Had to as she watched the horde move over her in moments that she would have sworn were, in their own way, signs of panic... And then, right as one of them reared back to look around for help from his fellows, she moved.
She kicked off from the bottom below her, causing her to rocket out of the now pure water with a scream as she tackled the closest tentacle, sending the both of them flying. They smashed into the ceiling, sending smaller, frantically squeaking tentacles flying and scrambling for cover. All she needed to know that none of them had fallen in the water was a quick glance behind her, and then she was off.
Mostly because she'd just been grabbed around the ankle while in mid-jump, but she was off. Semantics. It wasn't that important when your heel was doing it's damndest to equal Achilles in terms of what could be considered a weak point… This happened far too often for her liking. Yet another thing that she had to work on.
She wasn't able to find purchase on anything, even when she tried. The floors and pipes and surrounding constructs were too slick with slime and other, nastier things. Kicking the limbs surrounding her did nothing, the physiology of her foe more than capable of absorbing any blunt trauma she could give. The frenzied motions they were making didn't help either, leaving her unable to contort her body in a way that would allow her fists to go to work before up was down and down was up.
Busy busy, always so busy… Nothing she wanted to do was ever easy, was it?
Before she could come up with yet another plan, already on plan thirteen as it was, she saw where she was being dragged to. It looked like the main body. It had to be, if only due to its sheer size and the metaphysical glow around it… But if it wasn't…
Nope. Positive thoughts, Taylor. It was the main body. This was working.
Yet another plan was starting to develop in her head as she was dragged into it. Something that actually felt like it could possibly work... Yes. Yes. It was perfect. She had to wait until she was in the perfect position but if she could pull it off.
She tried not to cringe when she entered the main body, the tentacles moving the entrance out of the way to pull her into a gaping, slimy maw...and, with a quick toss, she was enveloped.
Taylor shivered as she was surrounded by a pool. A sea of warm and squirming tentacles that were now carrying her elsewhere. Moving her. To where she had no idea. All she knew was that it was deeper in...and, eventually, she came to a stop. The tentacles shifted actions. The ones underneath her shifted, inflated, changed texture. Left her confused and feeling as if she was lying on an overly moist and living cloud.
"What?" Taylor intoned questioningly. Unwisely, as she came to learn when that weakness was exploited without hesitation. When they forced themselves into her mouth, she resisted the urge to bite down.
She could bite through steel at this point. Overkill and unneeded. She just had to build up. No need to do more than she had to.
After some more squirming and a little bit of noise on Taylor's part, a rather thick tentacle ended up firmly planted in her mouth. Pulsating. Throbbing. Showing her the bubbles sliding down that length as they moved their way up to her mouth...and she found herself pleasantly surprised.
'Is that? Ceylon tea? With lemon and a drop of honey?' Taylor thought to herself. There were a great many things it might have fed her. She hadn't expected this. 'Nutrient paste.' She couldn't tell exactly what was in it, even as she moved it around in her mouth, but she had brewed enough nutrition potions for Lisa to know the taste of B-vitamins. As Taylor thought on just how the tentacles might have been able to generate the needed nutrition for a human body (flavored like one of her favorite teas and honey) the tentacles introduced yet another tactic.
'Not fair,' Taylor sighed and started to relax when they slipped off her heels. Heels that, no doubt, would be joining the pile of clothes outside... Not that it mattered, not with how they were starting to rub her feet. Pampering them, more like.
Vibrating, foot massaging tendrils? That was just dirty.
Relaxation started to slip into a state of bliss as the tentacles holding her arms and legs started to slacken...and it was hard for her to fight back, even though she knew she had a job to do. She'd had a long week. A long few years. Dealing with so many things, having to meet so many new people all at once. More than she'd meet since she'd left…
Lisa was supposed to be the social butterfly. Taylor was not.
Taylor closed her eyes, a grin starting to grow over her features...and it was only when a couple of opportunistic tentacles tried to slip under her outfit that she realized what was going on. She panicked, remembering a piece of classic literature.
The tale of the Lotus Eater. Relevant. Very much so.
This was how the tentacles controlled the captured women and kept from escaping. By making them so relaxed that they didn't want to escape! Much better than she'd suspected, all-in-all...but things were starting to come to a head on the surface. This couldn't go on.
She had a plan. Now, she just had to act like it...maybe after they got in between her toes a little and-NO!
"Fuf et!" Taylor muttered around the obstruction in her mouth. This wasn't going to be pretty...but by magic was it going to be effective. Taking a deep breath, she pulled at the well of magic that was in her core. With a though, she channeled it. Through her will, she made an untapped possibility into reality.
Let there be lightning.
Reality stilled. The world fell silent...and then there was light. The sound of thunder...and Taylor found herself on the floor. Blinking away the spots in her vision and rubbing her sore bottom , if not hundreds, of small tentacle monsters fell to the ground around her. As she picked herself off the ground, she saw that more than a few of them were twitching, while a good half were smoking.
She was pretty sure she hadn't killed any...but, as she poked one of them over with the tip of her foot and retrieved her heels, she really doubted that any of them would be happy when they woke up.
"THE FUCK IS THAT!? WHO'S THERE!?"
"I THINK I'M DEAF!"
"WHAT DID YOU SAY!?"
Taylor's head snapped up as she heard a female voice. Multiple female voices, shout in the way that someone recently deafened would say...and here came a real smile.
It looked like she'd done it. She'd found the missing girls, just like she'd known she would...now, to package Madison's monsters up before they got their wits, and basic motor functions, back…
"She took on Menja in a fist fight and won," Lisa replied to Rachel's assertion matter of factly. "She isn't dead."
That she'd said it as a form of reassurance didn't matter. She was pretty sure that Taylor wasn't dead. Ninety percent sure. Maybe. Possibly eighty-five… Yeah.
"Okay. She's being fucked into a coma. Shame shit," Rachel corrected herself...and Lisa found that she couldn't exactly argue against that, and went back to poking at the equipment in a way that she knew bugged Madison beyond almost all reason.
It made her feel better. That was the only reason she needed to do it. That Taylor was possibly being violated at the moment because of Madison's mistakes was just a case of Casus Belli that she could fall back on as needed.
"The com shorted out shortly before the blast. And the PRT is going to be here any moment. We have to go."
Lisa slapped Madison's prodding hand away without even looking. "We are not leaving Taylor." She said with finality as she unbuckled herself from her seat, forcing Madison to scoot away from her and into the driver's seat before she was trampled like Lisa so dearly wanted. "I'm going to go check on her."
"Why? You're just going to get fucked right next to-"
The solid crack of flesh against flesh caused Lisa to stop mid-unbuckling...and, funnily enough, seeing Rachel laid out on her back, completely unconscious, was one of the most comforting things she'd seen in the last few days.
Seeing Taylor though, looking like a very attractive rat that the cat had dragged in, was just sort of unsettling… She'd been running around in raw sewage recently. She had no right to look like she did. "You look like Hell." Was all Lisa could say, her brain not quite catching up beyond 'I'm not kissing that'.
Raw. Sewage. NO.
"It's been a long day," Was all Taylor could say before trying to blow a strand of hair out of her face. More than once before she realized that it was plastered to her forehead and wasn't going anywhere without something a little more physical. "Move over, please."
Lisa quickly complied, ducking to the front of the van next to Madison and as far away from Taylor as she could get without getting offensive… Which is when, with a wet plop, a giant leather bag was dropped in Madison's lap.
The pleasure Lisa got from Madison's disgusted horror was completely deserved...and thank god Taylor had thought about killing the smell beforehand. Madison and her were already trying not to throw up as is.
"I got them all," Taylor informed the both of them flatly. "All 532 of them. They're all in the sack." Taylor got a rope of her hair in between her hands and gave it a twist, creating a puddle on the floor of the, thankfully, completely metal van without a care. "You're welcome."
"I only made fourteen!"
"Yeah, well...they were busy."
"They don't have reproductive systems!"
"Life finds a way," Taylor quoted as she continued to wring out her hair and shake out her costume.
"And the kidnapped women?" Lisa asked.
"They're fine. Better than fine actually...and rather ungrateful for the rescue." Taylor groused. "Their hearing will be fine after a couple of days. Probably be better than before after the first-aid I gave."
"... That wasn't an answer, Taylor."
"They're fine, Lisa. It's not a problem."
"How do you-" Lisa paused as the sirens suddenly sounded a lot closer. "Okay. Never mind. I believe you. Let's go."
Madison turned the ignition and, after a couple of false starts put it into gear while Taylor shut the van's back door. And, as they pulled out of the alleyway, Lisa got her answer to where the missing women were and what they were doing.
Lisa wouldn't consider a bunch of naked, squabbling women fighting over a pile of slimy and damp clothing to be 'fine'...but they were alive and free and that was pretty much all that mattered, right? … Of course. Just another day in Brockton. Just another day with Taylor.
What was the fun in making sense…? And boy did Madison owe them for this one.
Amy rolled over in bed, groping for her phone as it rang in what might as well have been her ear. Unbelievably tired, and really not feeling it after the shift she'd just got off of at the hospital...but no one ever cared about what she wanted, right?
It was like she wasn't a human being or something. Funny that.
Some more groping. Finding. Poking. "Hello?" She said after blindly accepting the call. "Yeah? Uh-huh..." And then bolted upright in bed, her eyes completely open...and, no doubt, completely bloodshot.
"You what and want me to what with how many!?"