Life was cruel. Life was lonely. Life was unforgiving. Life was cold. That was the way of things.

Taylor shivered lightly, hands on her hips, feet perfectly placed, smile just wide enough to seem confident without being arrogant, just like she'd practiced in the mirror. All from her spot at the edge of the brownstone she'd commandeered for the night for the sake of tradition.

Brooding, even though she didn't really see much of a point in it without the gargoyles, which Brockton had a rather disturbing lack of, was a necessary part of any hero's first night out. A bit of introspection, some declarations of vengeance and/or justice to firm their resolve as they looked down upon those they had sworn to protect, with an oath or two thrown in for flavor. It was all part of the experience, something that any aspiring hero had to do at least once if they wanted to be taken seriously.

That was the way life was and you just had to deal with it. Even if life was hellishly cold at the moment, with varying levels of the rest of the things life most definitely was…and it was all your fault.

Taylor hadn't thought about it before…but she was beginning to regret coming outside, now that she was here, standing on a rooftop near the ocean as the wind blew in; wearing nothing more than a leotard, by herself, near the tail end of winter like an idiot. Her enhancements were the only reason she wasn't a hypothermic wreck…and why her nipples, at this point, were hard enough to cut diamonds. Or at least glass.

The tests she had run, involving a handful of ice cubes and a small hand mirror had given her results that had been rather... conclusive. Science had been done. Things had been discovered. Boredom had been put at bay...and she might have needed a new hand mirror at the end of it all.

But she digressed.

"WOOOO! TAKE IT OFF!" A drunk yelled up at Taylor, shocking her out of her 'brooding' before he bent over at the waist; dry heaving, dropping his half-empty bottle of booze as the crowd of assorted men—and women—that had started forming on the street below to look at her picked up the slack with a series of drunken catcalls, wolf whistles, and backhanded compliments—It was nice to know people found her desirable, really it was, but she was certainly not looking to start a career in pole dancing. Or hooking. And she was definitely not interested in starring in a gangbang bukkake video—holy fuck that was a lot of money—her face lit up with a blush as she skittered away from the edge of the building and out of sight, to the loud and obvious disappointment of the people below.

That was what she got for being so open, posing; declaring her presence in the closest thing the Bay had to a red light district in a costume like hers, she supposed. Even if the reasons for why she was here were completely understandable ones, both in terms of heroics and logistics. Crime was plentiful here. Shady deals in alleyways and back rooms, the passing of drugs, of guns, and money; all of it in the place where she was strongest. It just made sense to start her career here. Even if it was the most humiliating thing she'd ever done so far…while still being somewhat arousing. Shame wasn't half bad as an aphrodisiac.

In case of emergency, flash ass, tits, or other assorted bits. Good to know, even if she didn't plan on ever making it a habit…outside of her costume anyway. Inside of her costume, it just couldn't be helped, so no use crying over spilled milk, right? Right. Not that she had the time for it.

"Start notation. April 12th, 2011. The corner of Adams and Wilson, also known as 'Whore's Row'. First night out on the town, later than planned due to…technical difficulties, easily patched, even if temporary," She still hadn't figured out how to hide the interface, so she'd just started wearing skirts in her day to day life. Not her favorite thing to do, but easier than having someone asking difficult questions about the growing stain on the front of her pants. "And awkward." Taylor murmured the last to herself, her tone soothing, calming when added to the scratching noise that had started up in her pack while she made her way over to the fire escape, gingerly stepping onto it as she did her best not to look down.

Even if she full well knew that jumping, headfirst, from four stories up and onto the cement with her face would leave her completely unharmed in her mind; her heart, bladder, and that pesky sense of self-preservation were different stories. She'd be taking the stairs until they were no longer an option, thank you very much.

"Power at full, recharge is constant due to emotional atmosphere. Minor memetic/public relations ritual completed successfully, with extra effect due to civilian interest. Still not sure if worth the embarrassment and offers of money in exchange for sexual exploitation, no matter how tempting they might have been at the time..." Taylor sighed and rubbed her forehead, hoping she'd remember to take that last part out when she got home. Why did magic have to be so goddamn expensive? "Or the exposure to below thirty-degree weather plus windchill." Taylor winced at the sound of tearing steel, coming from her chest grazing metal. "And my breasts turning into lethal weapons. Will need to tweak the combat charms to be more selective as to what constitutes a threat. Otherwise, the night has started on a high note, one which I hope to see continue as I make my way down to ground level and out into 'Whore's Row' proper." End not—"

On the third floor Taylor paused, her brow furrowed as she looked at the building directly across from her. At the window a mere ten feet away from her; it's blinds fully lifted, the sounds of a surround sound stereo system running what sounded like a war movie easy enough to hear even through the glass…as she caught sight of what might well be her debut.

Lucky.

"Three men. Asian." Taylor whispered to herself, "Predominant colors of the room and their clothing is green and red. They are most likely part of the group known as the Asian Bad Boys." One of the men, the youngest one from the look of him, stood up and moved out of Taylor's sight; returning with a bottle of spirits and a bit of tinsel on his head, a particularly stubborn example of such considering the near frantic motions of his hand picking at his unnaturally tall hair to get it out. It reminded Taylor of an especially fluffy, glittery chicken. With spikes attached. It was probably the stupidest thing she'd ever seen, and she saw Greg Veder almost every day. "Or they might have just left their Christmas decorations out a little late. Not exactly unheard of, even at this time of year, for human laziness knows no bounds…if not for the pile of easily visible drug paraphernalia, sitting on the table."

Needles, pills, baggies of powder in a little pile on a coffee table, sitting directly in front of the tv with a light shining directly on it, made it so that it wasn't all that hard to miss. Neither was the fact that, when she shuffled to the left, she could see a box labeled 'dum-dums' in a clumsy cursive, being emptied into a row of clips by a man in a hardback chair while the one next to him watched tv. It was almost like they didn't even care how open they were being about this whole thing… and the reasons why they were like that made Taylor more than a little sad.

They really didn't care, because why should they? No one cared about a place like the corner of Adam's and Wilson. Law enforcement certainly didn't...beyond making sure that places like Adam's and Wilson stayed where they were. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. But that was fine. It was their loss, that they couldn't see the potential in this place. A little fixing up, a removal of the more unsavory, violent, drug-crazed types and a couple of days setting down a warding schema would make this whole area a brilliant place of operations as long as you were comfortable with some of the seedier aspects of life and sexuality in general…which she was not.

Her level of embarrassment had been stuck firmly in the red from the moment she'd gotten here…and it definitely wasn't getting any better, now that the men in the other room had noticed her backing up against the wall, ready with a smile, a wave, and a hint of magic that had everyone in the room dropping what they were doing to scramble for their wallets—an old trick, a spell she'd found for making sure that a man paid what one was owed for their service, even if it was nothing at all. Just forcing them to pull their money out was enough to keep them busy as she took a running leap off the fire escape, screaming the whole way because she was thirty feet off the ground oh my fucking god, to crash through their window; drugs flying everywhere and thugs yelling, still looking for their wallets as she stuck the landing on the coffee table.

She had less than a tenth of a second of feeling proud of herself for once before the legs gave out, dropping her on her ass, swearing like a dockworker as one of the thugs, the one that had been loading the clips, pulled out a twenty and threw it at her; the other two looking at him incredulously as he emptied his cash uncontrollably onto the floor and then began to throw whatever was in his pockets.

For a while, Taylor thought she was going to be violently ill as the implications, and loose change, hit her…but then someone just had to open their mouth.

"That's not how you do a table dan—"

Before he—whoever he was—had even finished speaking, Taylor's combat charms had her up on her feet and onto the man with the stupid hair, faster than the non-parahuman eye could see at close range; the gun in his waistband going off uselessly into her knee as it buried itself into his crotch and launched him into the ceiling with a high pitched squeal, magic flashing as the bullet flattened itself against her defenses. Plaster and wide-eyed dumbasses falling in slow motion as a duo of metal trays she'd scooped up and thrown sometime during her moment on the floor met their marks with a clang against the second man's nose, breaking it with a crunch and knocking him out of his chair while the third took the other across the throat…and time resumed with three bodies hitting the ground.

… She really needed to tweak those charms sometime soon because—holy shit she might have just killed someone were they dead why were people so squishy his nose might have just been pushed into his brain—she might have really hurt these people. Badly enough that she wasn't sure an ambulance would make it in time to help them.

Taylor groped at her side pack, fingers shaking; reaching for her medical kit while she began to hyperventilate…only to come up with a single vial; a guttural moan of despair coming from her throat as she looked around the room, at her suffering—Except for the guy with his nose in what was probably his brain. She was pretty sure he wasn't feeling much anymore… Not that that made anything better—victims.

She was too pretty to go to jail. She wouldn't last a week before some wizened older woman, the head thug of the local cons chose Taylor to be her newest bitch... Or maybe it would be a corrupt guard, picking her out of the lineup whenever it was convenient to have their way with her tight, young body? Hell, maybe a mix of both, just to rub in the fact that her, and her perfect, perfect ass was in jail for murder?!

Taylor Hebert, prison timeshare. That was going to be her life if she didn't think of something, and quick. Maybe she could just…no. That was a terrible idea. Also really illegal.

Taylor opened another pocket on her side pack with a shake of her head, this time pulling out her emergency paper bag and placing it over her mouth, breathing in and out, ashamed and feeling somewhat guilty that the thought of getting rid of the bodies had even crossed her mind. Sure they were all small enough to fit in a single tub with a bit of packing… but where was she going to find an ax and a couple gallons of acid at this time of night anyway? Also, that thought might have been just the tiniest bit racist, considering the victims were all asian… Until, with a sickening crack, gurgle, and whimper, the damage she'd done was erased with a flash of light, a yelp of panic, and a popped paper bag.

Thank god she had replacements…and that the anti-lethality charms she'd inlaid into her costume—the ones she totally hadn't forgotten about shut up—had finally kicked in…and she could get back to business, now that she didn't have to worry about how she'd look in an orange jumpsuit. Not that she had been, or anything. Any damage she might have inflicted was perfectly harmless and not lethal in the slightest. It was just a little bit of pain for a temporary amount of time. Totally not deadly even if it was tiring on her end.

"Power is down to a quarter after a second of use," Taylor mused to herself, popped paper fluttering to the ground; shoulders going slack in relief at the sound of an unbroken pen at work. She hadn't been sure if it would survive the fall when she'd done what she had. "Obviously a situational tool, even if it is a really good one. The nonlethal option is also working perfectly if a little brutally—as expected. End notation."

Taylor twitched as she heard the person she'd used as a onetime hackysack let out a wet sounding, overly dramatic and, most importantly, unnecessary rattle before he fell still. They'd be fine. It's not like she did any real damage to them. Really. Maybe. Hopefully? Physically at least. She couldn't make any promises when it came to psychological or emotional damage. But that was on them. For being criminals…and stuff. Go justice.

She felt terrible.

Taylor looked around for a moment, tongue in cheek as she slid her second pack, the main one, off, opening it completely as she bent down to start picking things up. A wallet here, a bill there. A still slightly moist gold tooth, a couple baggies of ecstasy… and the DVD player.

But not so terrible that she wasn't going to loot this place down to the bedrock while she could still get away with it. Magic was stupidly expensive at the best of times when it came down to it. Both in materials and finances… That made it so on-site requisitions were a sad necessity, a fact of life until she got up to her feet. Denying resources to the enemy wasn't a bad reason either… As long as she kept telling herself it wasn't.

"Half of this is anime. Why is half of this anime?" Taylor asked no one in particular while shoveling movie discs into her pack. The amounts of perversion inherent in a single one of these sets would tide her over for a week. Some of them, longer than that. What even was Taimanin Asagi? Felt like a magical bomb was about to go off right next to her skin. "Not like I'm complaining or anything seeing how I'm taking them—" Bullet-guy made a sad sounding noise as Taylor took a katana off the wall, giving it a swing before she grimaced and put it back. The thing was as fake as a three dollar bill. "—but come on, people. Stereotypes. Why?"

Taking a step back and a quick look in her pack, Taylor nodded to herself. She had enough room for a little something extra. Sadly not the fifty-inch, plasma screen tv with surround sound…but a couple of books or some jewelry wouldn't go amiss. Little things. Things they probably wouldn't even notice was missing after they came back from the hospital.

Quickly quashing the guilt that came over her right then with thoughts of magic, unpaid bills, and acceptable targets, Taylor opened the door to the bedroom, and just stood there for a while to take in the view… For some reason, when she'd opened the door, she hadn't expected to see a badly burned, unconscious girl strapped to a bed, in a room that looked like an amateur burn ward. IV's, heart monitor—was that a catheter?!—and all.

Taylor had heard about things like this. Heard about the things that the ABB did to girls like her when they could get away with it. This sort of thing. This girl should have been in a hospital. Not—not here, hooked up to a back alley setup, ready and waiting for some—some pervert's idea of a good time.

A touch on an unburned patch of skin had Taylor sighing in relief. She hadn't been touched in that way yet. Good. Now the only thing she was feeling guilty about, was that she hadn't hit those goons harder. Not that she'd left the anti-lethality charms on. Still…this was something she just could not let go without feeling like she wasn't the hero she should have been.

"You know what, boys?" Taylor hissed through an evil grin, hair standing on end, charged with magic as her fingers began to spark with some of the most vicious curses she could think of. "It looks you're going home with something permanent after all…"

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

It was over. It was all over. She was dead, gone, stick a fork in her done. She had shuffled off the mortal coil, kicked the bucket, bought the farm. All the possible ways you could say, 'Sarah Livesey/Lisa Wilbourn is dead' was what she was, all thanks to a lizard with some overcompensation issues and a much larger than normal fire fetish.

Her last memory was of fire washing over her, her hair igniting and costume melting over her skin. Dying that way was one of the greatest regrets of her life, one she'd never be able to fix now, being dead and all. She was supposed to die rolling around on a giant pile of money damn it! Also, made to order spandex wasn't cheap. Neither was her new haircut. Having both her costume and her hair burn up made her sad.

She should have blown it all on trying to hire someone to kill Coil instead. Or to ruin her parents. All the regrets.

Fluttering her legs, Lisa felt, as expected, absolutely nothing. There was no sound, no sensation. Her blinking felt—muted. Like what she thought phantom limb would feel like. That, by itself, wouldn't have instantly brought her straight to the idea that she had died. Just that she was probably as good as dead, considering the barely alive and insensate piece of crispy, delicious smelling meat person she most likely was.

It was the quiet that did it. The quiet inside her head. The voices, the nudges, the inane pieces of trivia and the constant screeching about the normal levels of bacteria found on your average toilet seat, and how those same bacteria corresponded with local weather patterns. It was gone. She was free.

And now she wanted a bacon sandwich. Odd maybe, considering that she'd just thought of herself as delicious smelling…but it didn't change the fact that she wanted one. One that she was never going to get now, because, you know, she wasn't alive.

Besides that though, being dead wasn't all that bad. A bit boring, sure. But not bad. Better than she'd expected for sure. More fire would have sucked, for obvious reasons… She was guessing that this was Limbo though. Not enough clouds and bacon to be the other place.

Lisa gasped noiselessly as yet another shock went through her, squirming, nonexistent muscles spasming as every ephemeral nerve in the body of her soul lit up.

The ceaseless orgasm chain was a rather nice touch though. Almost got her thinking she was wrong about the clouds the first time… Still good to know she wasn't that bad of a person when she'd been alive. Whoever was in charge of this whole deal deserved a raise or something, for being nice enough to tide her over as she contemplated the meaning of existence. The cycle of life and reincarnation.

You live, you die, you live again. That was all she had so far, and it all made sense. Somehow! Lisa couldn't explain how, but it did! It was missing some points, but she just knew she'd only need a couple millennia more to find the secret in its entirety.

Then, after that, after she'd rebuilt her strength she'd return as a supreme goddess, destined to rule over man forevermore by the glory of her divine right and magi— Who turned on the lights!?

"My eyes!"

"It seems that the healing pool was a success." Lisa's eyes watered painfully, burning in their sockets as she was suddenly lifted up by a pair of the softest hands she'd ever felt. "Skin is a healthy pink, scarring is minimal to nonexistent. Ocular sensitivity is a little higher than expected. Foolish of me, considering that both eyes had to be replaced… Doesn't quite explain the normal skin sensitivity though. Odd. Hold this please." Lisa sniffed, confused for a moment at the white, bleary blob that started patting her face. "Its a towel." Lisa stuck her face into it almost instantly. "There we go..."

"Is that you, God?" Lisa took a deep breath of the fabric against her face. It smelled like lemons, but better somehow. Lemons with spring water? Where was that scratching coming from? Was that a pen? "Is this Heaven?"

"... I—"

"Does Heaven have bacon? Or spandex? Bacon and spandex? Because I really, really want those things and I deserve those things. Oh, and hair. That too. Lung is a dick."

"... The patient, Jane Doe—Lisa!—seems to be coming down from the pain medication she'd been dosed with in an unexpected manner. Ketamine is the most likely culprit. Or endorphins. A mix of both? They may have also inadvertently revealed they are either a cape in a moment of weakness or a bacon and spandex fetishist." The scribbling stopped, turning into the sound of whiteout on paper, something Lisa had gotten used to while she made her plans. "Hero or Villain. That is the question."

"Villain!" Lisa pulled down the towel in front of her face to see the face of God…who was really, really hot. Hot enough to make Lisa debate the merits of continuing her afterlife as a lesbian… Asexuality was overrated anyway. But wow, God was actually starting to look kind of angry. Was that lightn—fuck! "Wait, shit! I mean Hero! Rogue! Innocent bystander! Don't tase me!"