The Cauldron Hallows
In the Wizarding World, countless children were told a morbid tale of three brothers. On Earth Bet, very few people knew the grisly truth behind the famous Triumvirate. Now, the lines begin to blur, as the story of the Hallows begins anew.
David hovered pensively, half a mile above ground level, as he caught his breath after the protracted battle.
Yet another lost battle. Yet another list of casualties. Yet another failure.
His nostrils flared. He drew a deep breath, letting it out slowly, hissing between his teeth.
Far below his feet sprawled waterlogged ruins. Broken shops and schools and hospitals. Countless homes made uninhabitable, shattered or flooded, or both. Whole skyscrapers snapped in half, or crumbled like stale gingerbread houses.
Large tracts of the north-eastern U.S. coastline, including Boston and New York, had felt the outer edges of Leviathan's tsunami-esque onslaught. Nevertheless, Brockton Bay had been the primary target of the Endbringer's attack. Consequently, it had suffered the greatest losses.
"Seems that the city has gained a rather sizeable lake in the centre, thanks to Leviathan," he muttered. Grimacing under his mask, he let out a morose chuckle. "They already have... The city used to have some kind of seaside attraction, didn't they? Some place called... Broadway, or Walk-the-Plank, or something like that. I guess they could turn their brand new lake into another tourist trap."
Legend floated closer, and rested a hand on David's shoulder. "If we hadn't fought as hard as we did, the East Coast would have suffered far worse. Beating yourself up about the people we failed to save, does no-one any good."
Gusting out a sigh, David shook his head. "And how long can we keep this up? This is a war of attrition... and we're losing."
Alexandria broke off from the group of fliers and assorted airborne parahumans that she'd been liaising with, and flew up to join her fellow Triumvirate members.
"The recovery efforts in the immediate area are underway, as well as could be expected," she informed them. "But the damages to Boston turned out to be worse than anticipated. They don't have enough capes and non-powered volunteers to carry out sufficient search-and-rescue efforts, since so many assets were diverted here, to the main Endbringer defence."
David took a deep breath, and steeled himself. "So, what's the plan? After an event like this, there's usually always a number of new triggers, and we need all the capes we can get. Should we relocate to Boston, and assist them in looking for survivors trapped in the rubble?"
THERE IS A GROUP OF THREE SURPRISING SURVIVORS, RIGHT HERE.
Legend, who had been about to open his mouth to make a comment (intending to criticize David for his callous remark, no doubt), quickly tilted his head to look up. Alexandria spun around in mid-air, facing the newcomer hovering above them, who had somehow snuck up on the three of them without anyone noticing his presence.
David rose rapidly upwards, employing one of his current powers, a variant of gravity-control that included flight. Once he was on the same level as the unknown parahuman who'd addressed them, he glared at the stranger.
"Identify yourself! You weren't here for the battle, were you?" David barked at the new arrival, studying the hooded black cloak they wore. There was something oddly... unsettling about the dark figure, even though David had met countless capes who wore gloomy outfits that concealed their features.
"I don't recognize you," he went on. "Why are you here?"
"If you wish to join the search-and-rescue efforts, you should contact one of the designated command centres," Alexandria said, flying a little higher than the black-cloaked newcomer. She spoke brusquely; perhaps she'd been just as surprised as David? Both of them had plenty of bad experiences with surprises that'd swiftly turned into shocks, and then careened further down into unmitigated disasters.
"Just because the three of us are technically in charge of things around here, that doesn't mean you need to talk to us, if you want to volunteer to help," Legend interjected smoothly, trying to defuse the situation with a smile. "This is a huge operation, and there's a lot of very competent people handling the logistics, who are much better prepared to tell you where your assistance would make the greatest difference."
True; just because this unknown cape hadn't shown up to participate in the main Endbringer defense, it would serve no useful purpose to make the newcomer feel guilty about not wanting to risk their life. Legend was reliable that way, always ready to step up and act the diplomat, patching up potential gaffes and glitches in the public relations department.
And yet... there was something about the newcomer that just felt... wrong, in some niggling, nebulous way.
UH, N-NO... I CAN'T ACTUALLY... I MEAN, T-THAT'S NOT WHY I'M HERE, said the black-cloaked parahuman, waving his hands in a placating gesture. (Her hands? Their hands? Its hands?)
David grimaced, suppressing a shiver. Not only was the unknown cape's voice so dissimilar from any noises he'd ever heard from a normal human throat, it was functionally impossible for him to determine their age, or whether it was male or female, or somewhere in between, but... There was also something about the subtle harmonics of that voice which made it feel as though the words were bypassing his ears entirely, burrowing directly into his brain.
"Alright," Legend said, nodding slowly. "So, if you're not here to volunteer for the recovery efforts...?"
Legend paused, waiting until the black-cloaked stranger had responded with an awkward head-shake, before he went on. "...Why did you approach us, then? Was there some other form of assistance you think you can give us?"
Y-YEAH! I MEAN... YES, THAT'S CORRECT, the stranger intoned. I'M HERE TO HELP! I WANT TO PROTECT PEOPLE FROM DANGER, TRY TO SAVE LIVES... WHICH IS, UM... KINDA DIFFICULT, WITH THE DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILI- ...I MEAN, THE STUFF THAT I'VE GOT TO WORK WITH.
David watched the unknown cape with a wary eye. The stranger was dressed in a costume that was darker and even more foreboding than Alexandria's, but their mannerisms seemed nervous, ill at ease. Perfectly normal reaction, really; David had lost count of how many newly-minted heroes, and neophyte capes in general, who'd gotten tongue-tied in his presence.
In fact, the imposing black outfit looked like a poor fit for the stranger's tall, gangly frame. The hooded cloak was draped around them like a black sheet dangling from a coat hanger, and the stranger's gloves wobbled like they were about to slip right off, whenever a particularly emphatic gesture shook them loose.
So why, when this parahuman was vehemently (if rather clumsily) professing that they wished to become a hero, when everything about their body language spoke of star-struck anxiousness and deference...
Why did David feel so vaguely afraid?
Without turning his head, he glanced over at Alexandria from behind his mask. Surely, with her Thinker power and keen observational skills, she'd have a better idea about what was going on.
Alexandria held her arms along her sides, seemingly casual, but her fingers were slightly curled in a certain pattern. A discreet, prearranged silent hand signal: Beware, possible Master-Stranger power at work.
Hmm... That tallied with David's own reasoning, as well. Was the black-cloaked stranger just too new to their powers to fully understand them? Perhaps this unknown cape was simply unaware that they were projecting some sort of... not quite a fear aura, as such, but at least an icy-tendrils-down-your-spine field.
Or was this stranger deliberately trying to antagonize the entire Triumvirate, right in the middle of an Endbringer battle's aftermath, while the universal truce was still in effect?
The former seemed more likely, given the cape's awkward demeanour. Besides, you'd have to be a special kind of brazenly reckless (bordering on suicidal) to even contemplate doing the latter.
While David had been trying to analyse the situation, Legend had kept the black-cloaked parahuman talking.
...BUT THEN I THOUGHT: IF I CAN'T DO ANYTHING ELSE ON MY OWN TO HELP PEOPLE DIRECTLY, I CAN AT LEAST HELP PEOPLE INDIRECTLY... BY MAKING THE PROTECTORATE BETTER ABLE TO DO THEIR JOB, said the stranger. AND, WELL... YOU THREE ARE THE LEADERS OF THE PROTECTORATE, RIGHT?
"So, you want to..." Legend cocked his head. "Give us presents?"
David's attention sharpened. Presents? It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to impress him with gifts, either out of honest admiration, as a bribe, or for any number of other reasons... Most of them self-serving, or outright malicious.
YEAH! UH... SORT OF?
Alexandria looked the black-cloaked stranger up and down. "Really? You look too skinny to be Santa Claus," she said. "And I suspect your cloak is the wrong color, as well."
ERM... I CAN'T EXACTLY JUST GIVE YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO BECOME BETTER HEROES... E-EVEN BETTER HEROES THAN YOU ALREADY ARE, I MEAN, said the tall, dark stranger. YOU'LL KINDA NEED TO... DO SOME OF THE WORK, YOURSELVES.
The unknown parahuman shrugged helplessly. SO, UH... I'M PROBABLY MORE OF AN EASTER BUNNY THAN A SANTA CLAUS, I GUESS?
"Is there another name we could call you, then?" Legend asked. "A cape name, I mean, not the name of another mythical creature."
The stranger fidgeted, tugging at the collar of their black cloak, and let out a noise that might have been an awkward laugh. WELL, UH... FUNNY YOU SHOULD SAY THAT...
David folded his arms. "By all means, share the joke," he growled impatiently. "I'm sure we could all do with a few chuckles."
UM... I, UH... I HAVEN'T REALLY PICKED A CAPE NAME, YET. The words sidled quietly into David's mind, like an embarrassed mumble. THERE ARE A COUPLE OF... OBVIOUS CHOICES, BUT I'M NOT ALL THAT FOND OF ANY OF THEM...
The tall cape straightened, perking up with determination. B-BUT I DON'T NEED A NAME TO AWARD YOU YOUR PRIZES!
"Prizes?" Alexandria shifted her position minutely, tension ramping up another fraction. "A moment ago, you called them "presents"."
"Actually, I believe that I was the one who called them presents," Legend interjected lightly. His manner seemed relaxed, almost strenuously so; clearly, he was affected by the black-cloaked parahuman's unsettling presence, too... or perhaps he just didn't want to needlessly provoke an unknown cape, who might become an asset, or might become a threat.
"Should we pick a name for you, then?" Legend asked. "Just a temporary one?"
...MY NAME DOESN'T REALLY MATTER, the stranger muttered. I'D PREFER IF YOU PICKED YOUR PRIZES... UM, PLEASE?
"Certainly... I'll go first." David shot a quick look at Alexandria and Legend, and got a couple of discreet nods in return. They would cover him, if this turned out to be a trick, or an ambush.
The nameless cape made a faint pseudo-noise, like it was clearing its throat.
YOU, WHO HAVE CHEATED DEATH, TIME AND TIME AGAIN, the black-cloaked figure intoned. The words sank into David's consciousness with an air of stilted formality, like the stranger was reading from a script. NAME YOUR DESIRE, AND SEE IT GRANTED.
The darkened sky around them suddenly felt charged with energy, or perhaps the opposite of energy. A stillness and silence so vast and unending, it could drain any measure of power poured into it; a weight upon the world that brought a hush to every living creature, even quieting the very air, itself. Distant lights dimmed, until the black-cloaked stranger seemed the brightest spot in the sky.
David took a deep, shuddering breath. Was this a Master power in effect? Or was it...?
Alexandria shook her head slowly, never taking her eyes off the dark-cloaked stranger. "This feels like a terribly cheesy TV commercial."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Legend nodded, still managing to keep his voice calm and casual. "A soda commercial, maybe? One of those over-caffeinated energy drinks, with tiny warning labels on the can, cautioning you not to chug more than two per day, or you might keel over from a heart attack."
David frowned. How could they sound so laid-back about this? Weren't they feeling this, too? Or perhaps this... whatever it was, might be a targeted power, causing him to bear the brunt of it, while the others only sensed a wisp of the dire atmosphere.
"W-wouldn't say no to a beer commercial, right now." David gritted his teeth, determined not to let this Master power gain control over him. "Watching Leviathan throw half an ocean around always makes me thirsty."
ERM... YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T ASK ME FOR SOMETHING TO DRINK, said the black-cloaked parahuman, deflating a little. IT COULD BE... BAD.
David snorted. "What, not even a glass of water? A mysteriously power-conjured drink can't be worse than the water around here," he grumbled. "Not after most of it's been mixed with seawater, and sewage, and other fluids unfit for human consumption."
DEFINITELY NOT WATER! J-JUST... TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, OKAY? YOU WOULDN'T LIKE THE, UH... THE AFTERTASTE, the unknown cape yelped, cringing fretfully. LOOK, COULDN'T YOU ASK FOR SOMETHING ELSE? ISN'T THERE ANYTHING YOU DESIRE? ISN'T THERE SOMETHING YOU WOULD WISH YOU HAD?
"Are you kidding me?!" David snarled, gesturing wildly at the scenes of devastation far below. "I wish I had the power to beat the Endbringers, once and for all! Every time they attack, thousands of people end up dead or suffering, and everything I do... Everything we can do, is barely enough to drive them off!"
Glaring fiercely from under his mask, David hovered closer to the black-cloaked stranger, his anger overriding the feeling of dread that was pooling in his gut. "You want to know what I desire?"
The stranger's inhuman voice rose to a squeak. ERM... Y-YES?
David jabbed a finger at the nameless cape. He barely managed to stop himself from shoving his hand into the pitch-black shadows within the stranger's hood. "I wish I had a weapon that could kill an Endbringer!"
...SO MOTE IT BE.
The four words rang in David's mind, echoing deeply like the peals of an immense and implacable bell. Later, he would look back upon this instant in time, and see it as a turning point; a pivotal moment when his life was irrevocably changed.
The nameless cape reached up, and clasped its gloved hand around David's own. He gasped at the contact, and jerked away.
Back-pedalling through the air, David stared down at his hand. There, clutched between the tips of his fingers, was...
...A wooden baton?
THAT WAS A GOOD CHOICE! YOU'RE ALMOST A PERFECT MATCH FOR THE DEATHSTICK, YOU WON'T REGRET YOUR DECISION, the black-cloaked parahuman cheered.
Their voice then lowered to a murmur, faint enough that David barely caught the last comment. ...I THINK.
"What am I supposed to do with this?!" David dropped the stick into his left hand, and waved it in the air.
He surreptitiously flexed the fingers of his right hand, the one that had almost made direct contact with the nameless cape. For some reason, those digits felt prickly and numb, as if he'd briefly buried his hand in snow or dry ice.
"Should I conduct an orchestra? Play the drums?! Oh, I know! Perhaps if I play Leviathan a soothing lullaby, the Endbringer will stop whizzing around at super-speed, and take a nap! That would be a great help!" David shouted. "I'm sure it'd be much easier to punch the thing when it's asleep!"
"...Eidolon?" Alexandria interrupted his rant. "I think you should take another look."
"What?" David growled, twisting his neck to shoot a glare in her direction, and-
"The stick... The Deathstick does that, every time you wave it around," Legend murmured, watching the glowing sparks.
David stared at the greenish-purple motes of luminous energy that trickled from the tip of the stick, drifting gently downwards. Whenever he moved his arm more forcefully, the slow shower of sparks increased to a torrent. The cascades of bright and impossible colours left after-images dancing in David's eyes; or perhaps their fiery contrails simply seared a mark in space itself, that slowly healed and vanished.
The shining sparks traced geometrical shapes and fractal patterns in the sky, seemingly at random. Indeed, to virtually any observers, those patterns and shapes and glowing outlines would seem like nothing more than meaningless noise, like billows of smoke rising from a forest fire, or clouds of ink spreading dark smears through water.
However, to someone who had witnessed the alien horror called Eden, seen the mangled corpse of its physical form first hand, those patterns seemed terrifyingly familiar.
TRY CASTING A SPE- ...I MEAN, TRY CHANNELING YOUR POWERS THROUGH THE DEATHSTICK, the nameless cape whispered.
Shrugging, David raised the sti-
"Carefully, at the lowest possible output," Alexandria quickly cut him off. "If this... Deathstick is supposed to be a weapon suitable for fighting Endbringers, I'd wager that it's meant to amplify your abilities, Eidolon - and perhaps a rather intense amplification, at that. Try it with a weak power, first... Just to be on the safe side."
Alexandria's voice seemed neutral, almost flat, but David knew her well enough to pick up the subtle undercurrents of emotion. Wariness, at dealing with an unknown parahuman and their untested devices. Readiness to fight, if it turned out that the "Deathstick" was a ruse, meant to drain him of one of his powers. (In fairness, it wouldn't be the first time a villainous Tinker or Trump attempted to steal Eidolon's thunder.)
There was also a hint of anticipation in her voice. They both knew that his powers had been waning and weakening; any reliable means of restoring him to his former glory would be a tremendous boon to their efforts.
Sensing the thrum of energy that seemed to vibrate deep inside the Deathstick's core, David couldn't help but suspect that whatever excitement Alexandria felt, it was peanuts compared to his own.
Ignoring the warnings from his instincts, daring to hope for the first time in far too long, David brandished the Deathstick. Reluctantly, he released one of his current powers (an electric Blaster ability with an accompanying Shaker effect, which manifested as lightning bolts that could magnetize metal objects, causing them to glue themselves to another target, or even assemble into crude automatons that would do his bidding), and let his passenger reach for new ones.
Rapid regeneration, that would also let him sprout additional limbs? No, that would probably be hard to channel through a stick, and hard to test.
A mingled Striker-Mover power, that would turn an enemy into a living bomb when he touched them, and - once they'd detonated - would allow him to teleport by switching places with one of the resulting bits of shrapnel? Hmm... No, not that one, either.
A simple flash-bang effect, acting like a flare gun that yielded a lacklustre burst of light, in addition to the moderately loud cracking noise emitted by the explosion?
...That might do the trick. He'd used that power before, albeit rarely, and had a solid idea of what to expect from its performance. Measured by the PRT's threat rating scale, it would barely merit a single point of Blaster capacity. Far easier to gauge how much this "Deathstick" could enhance his powers, if he started from a low (and familiar) baseline.
David kept the flash-bang flare gun power in his figurative grasp, and tightened his more literal grip on the Deathstick.
How was he supposed to channel his power through this baton? Usually, this particular power he'd selected would discharge via his finger, or from the palm of his hand; maybe if he just... gave the power a little sideways nudge, while it charged, he might be able to-
The stick bucked in his hand, jolting his arm and his shoulder with the force of sudden recoil.
A large bluish-white orb of pulsating energy erupted from the Deathstick, shrieking across the night sky in a parabolic arc. When it had travelled halfway across the city - that's got to be at least ten times longer than its usual range, David realized - the coruscating energy ball exploded.
Blinding white light bloomed, followed by a thunderclap of noise.
The air rippled as a shock-wave rushed outward from the centre of the blast, jostling the airborne parahumans and causing their capes and clothing to whip about wildly.
Alexandria squinted at the fading glow of the discharged (and overcharged) flash-bang, then turned back to glare at David, cursing vehemently.
"Were your ears already ringing, when I told you to be careful? Dammit, Eidolon! When I said: Use the lowest possible output, I meant that you should hold back! It wasn't a subtle hint for you to try detonating a bomb at low altitude!"
Legend didn't make any scolding remarks, although this was probably not a sign that he agreed with David's actions; more likely, it was due to him currently being very busy, reassuring the other capes and PRT troops in the area that they weren't under attack, that Leviathan hadn't suddenly returned for a rematch, no, honestly, everything's fine, please calm down...
Underneath the mask of Eidolon, the corners of David's mouth were curving up in a triumphant smile. A thrill of victory ran through his veins like the world's best adrenaline rush. He scrutinized the Deathstick, turning it this way and that as he gazed at his new weapon with a gleam of admiration and covetousness in his eye.
Clutching the baton, he whispered to himself. "...But I was holding back."
Legend sighed, finally breaking off his radio communications with the other Protectorate heroes and assorted parahuman assets nearby. "I think I finally managed to convince everyone that we don't need back-up... or earplugs, for that matter."
"Right, the search-and-rescue is still ongoing. Earplugs and blindfolds would be somewhat counterproductive." Alexandria waved dismissively at the nameless cape. "Thank you for your contribution, the gesture is appreciated. However, we really must-"
B-BUT THAT WAS JUST THE FIRST PRIZE! YOU'VE GOT TO RECEIVE ONE, EACH, the black-cloaked stranger wailed, flapping its arm plaintively. One of its dark gloves started slipping off its hand, flopping about limply from the end of its sleeve like a concussed fruit bat.
Alexandria shook her head. "That's really not necessary..."
The nameless cape tugged the errant glove back in place. OH, C'MON! PLEASE?
Legend jabbed Alexandria in the side with his elbow. She glared at him, and then raised her hands towards the unknown cape, palms facing outward in a quelling gesture. "Look, I apologize for... being a party-pooper, but this gift-giving ceremony ends now. You-"
The black-cloaked figure's hand darted out, glove firmly back in place again, and seized one of Alexandria's outstretched hands. Black fabric wrapped around black fabric, two hands joined with just the layers of two similar-looking gloves to prevent direct contact.
With a startled noise, half gasp, half whimper, Alexandria tried to pull away. Her arm seemed frozen in place, two sets of fingers interlocked like an anchor chain between her and the nameless cape.
YOU, WHO HAVE CHEATED DEATH, SACRIFICING PARTS OF YOURSELF FOR YOUR CAUSE, YET LOSING NOTHING DAY BY DAY, the tall, dark stranger chanted. Its voice showed no signs of uncertainty or shyness, right now. NAME YOUR DESIRE, AND SEE IT GRANTED.
"W-what?!" Alexandria hissed, staring at the nameless cape with her free, left hand clenched in shock. "How did you...?!"
Legend soared closer, the glow of his physics-defying lasers lighting up the darkness as he prepared to attack. "Let go of her!"
David aimed his newly acquired weapon at the black-cloaked parahuman. "If this thing can kill Endbringers, it can definitely kill you, as well! Now, back off!"
The nameless cape ignored their threats, focusing entirely on Alexandria. WHAT DO YOU DESIRE?
"K-knowledge," Alexandria choked out past chattering teeth, struggling desperately to break free from the black-cloaked figure's grip. "If we b-better understood our e-enemies, our... Our j-jobs would be that m-much easier."
SO MOTE IT BE.
The nameless cape finally released Alexandria - how strong was that skinny, gangly figure, anyway? - and she whisked herself back through the air at high speed, visibly trembling.
...Or was she shivering? David saw her rubbing her arms and her right hand, as if she was trying to squeeze a bit of warmth into her muscles, and her fingers, but... Alexandria couldn't get cold, could she? She was practically impervious, which meant-
"What's that in your hand?" David blurted out, still keeping a wary eye on the nameless cape, who was currently babbling out apologies.
Alexandria raised her clenched right fist, staring at something she held clutched in her fingers. David caught a hint of her eyes that seemed to widen beneath her visor.
...A-AND I'M SO, SO SORRY IF I STARTLED YOU, BUT IT WAS-
"This is... T-that's..." Alexandria stammered, stil focused on the object in her hand. "What? This... Why?"
...OH MY GOSH, NO! H-HAVE YOU GONE COMPLETELY MONOSYLLABIC? IT'S NOT... IT'S NOT P-PERMANENT, RIGHT? OH, PLEASE DON'T SAY IT'S PERMANENT, the nameless cape whined, wringing its hands. EXCEPT, AH... IF YOU CAN'T SPEAK IN MORE THAN ONE SYLLABLE AT A TIME, I GUESS YOU REALLY CAN'T SAY THE WORD "PERMANENT" EITHER, HUH? HA HA... UH...
David aimed his Deathstick at the black-cloaked parahuman again. "Shut up," he growled. "Or I'll be the one doing something permanent!"
YOU CAN'T! I'M SORRY! IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY!
Alexandria looked away from the item in her hand, and stared at the confrontation. Her eyes narrowed. "What?!"
THAT'S IT, KEEP GOING! T-TRY SAYING, UH... TRY SAYING: "EVILDOERS, B-BEWARE!", OR: "IF HANDCUFFS WON'T DETER THEM, PERHAPS FISTICUFFS WILL!", the nameless cape suggested in a pitiful tone of voice. Y'KNOW... LIKE YOU ALWAYS SAY ON T-TV.
David shot the black-cloaked figure an incredulous look. "First, you attack us... and now you're quoting our own promotional cartoon at us?!"
Legend briefly glanced at him, still keeping an eye on their opponent. "I thought you said that you never watch that show?"
I DIDN'T MEAN TO DEPRIVE ALEXANDRIA OF HER HIGHER BRAIN FUNCTIONS, HONEST, the nameless cape whimpered, glancing back and forth between the three Triumvirate members surrounding it. I J-JUST WANTED TO HELP!
Alexandria thrust the object in her hand out towards the stranger. "Cease your babbling, and explain yourself! What is the meaning of this?!"
"What is it?" Legend asked. "What did it... I mean, he... What did they give you?"
After a brief pause, Alexandria unclenched her fingers. She opened her hand enough that the others could see the round object she was holding.
David frowned. "Is that...?"
Alexandria nodded, grim-faced. "...I got a rock."
IT'S NOT A ROCK, whined the nameless cape. IT'S A STONE. THERE'S A DIFFERENCE... I THINK.
"And what makes this "stone" so special?" Alexandria still held the plain-looking nugget aloft, keeping it at a distance from herself, as if she found the nondescript stone repulsive.
IT'S CALLED THE RESURRECTION STONE, said the nameless cape. AND IT'S ABLE TO... WELL, IT DOES ALMOST EXACTLY WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN.
David was stunned into silence. Alexandria and Legend were equally quiet, staring at the black-cloaked figure in disbelief.
JUST... TURN IT OVER, THREE TIMES, AND CALL THEIR TRUE NAME, the black-cloaked parahuman went on. E-EASY-PEASY!
"And then... What?" David huffed. "Instant zombie, just add brains? Or can you do vampires, as well?"
N-NO! THE STONE CAN'T BRING PEOPLE COMPLETELY BACK FROM THE DEAD! NOT IN A CORPOREAL FORM! THAT WOULD BE CRUEL, AND WRONG, AND... J-JUST, NO, the nameless cape hurriedly explained, waving its hands around and gesticulating wildly. B-BUT IT CAN SUMMON THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, AND THEN YOU'LL BE ABLE TO ASK THEM QUESTIONS!
Legend slowly drifted away from the stone in Alexandria's hand. "This stone will... Summon the dead?"
"...And then you want us to interrogate them?" Alexandria muttered, fingers tight around the stone. If she was trying to crush the thing, her attempts didn't seem to be working.
The nameless cape shrugged helplessly. W-WELL... NO. IT'S NOT A MATTER OF WHAT I WANT, IT'S WHAT YOU WANTED... YOU SAID THAT YOU DESIRED KNOWLEDGE, RIGHT? SO, UM... Y-YOU'RE WELCOME...?
Alexandria hovered closer to the stranger, pointing an accusatory finger at them. "Who are you? What are your powers? Are these things some sort of Tinker-tech? What is your purpose for doing all this?"
M-ME? I'M NOBODY! UH... T-TINKER-TECH? NO! I JUST WANTED TO HELP YOU!
"Help us?" Alexandria hissed, hefting the nugget like a baseball she was lining up for a toss. "With this so-called "Resurrection Stone"? You're taunting us!"
N-NO, THAT'S NOT TRUE! I'D NEVER DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT, the nameless cape wailed, waving its hands around and gesticulating wildly.
"But you'd cheerfully lie, and pretend that this trinket could bring back the spirits of the dead?" Alexandria pressed on. "That it could bring back someone like Hero?"
N-NO! I MEAN, YES! I MEAN, IT WASN'T A LIE, IT'S TRUE!
Alexandria loomed towards the nameless cape. "I'll ask you again, one more time: Who are y-"
There was a sudden, stunned silence.
Alexandria reached up to her masked face, and grabbed the loose black fabric that had draped itself haphazardly across her visor. She pulled the empty glove off her head, letting it dangle limply from her fingers, and stared at it. Then, her gaze moved to the nameless parahuman - specifically, to its now bare, gloveless hand.
OH, F- ...FIDDLESTICKS.
The black-cloaked stranger tried to hide its arm behind its back, but Alexandria grabbed its wrist and yanked it up in full view.
The stranger's hand, bereft of the glove that had flown off seconds ago, after the nameless cape made a particularly emphatic gesture... it could really only be described as skeletal. Polished white bone, still staying together despite an obvious lack of muscle or sinew, or any other connective tissue.
"I thought you were just pretending to be another Glaistig Uaine knock-off," Alexandria growled. "But you're aiming for something even worse, aren't you? You're gearing up for some intricate scheme to assassinate us, to kill the Triumvirate and strike at the very heart of the Protectorate."
Alexandria pointed an accusing finger at the nameless cape. "You want to be the Grim Reaper."
David held up his new weapon, still aimed at their opponent. "In hindsight, that explains the name you gave this contraption."
The black-cloaked parahuman yanked its arm free from Alexandria's grip, amazingly doing so without losing any of its spindly finger joints.
YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND! I'M NOT TRYING TO... I'M NOT A VILLAIN! I JUST WANTED TO HELP PEOPLE!
Alexandria snarled, lunging at the nameless cape, swooping through the air quickly enough to cause a minor sonic boom. Somehow, their foe managed to dodge. A strong Mover power, in addition to whatever Tinker ability had let the stranger build these devices? Or just a piece of Tinker-tech capable of feats of super-sonic flight, hidden under that overly ominous black cloak?
"Don't you have even a speck of compassion?" Alexandria hissed, voice cold and flat and contemptuous. "You ghoulish psychopaths, who always come crawling out of the woodwork after an Endbringer battle. You just can't resist the temptation to roll around in charnel pits and piles of corpses, like maggots wallowing in the dirt."
HUH? W-WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!
"You care nothing for the suffering of the countless bereaved people," Alexandria went on. "All that matters to you, is your own obsession with death!"
THAT'S NOT TRUE AT ALL! I'M JUST-
Alexandria exploited the opponent's distraction, and dove in to aim another punch. The nameless cape dodged again-
...Landing right in the optimal spot for the attack that David had been discreetly preparing.
David fired a Blaster power, a jet of super-heated plasma, channelling the effect through the Deathstick and increasing the output tenfold, at least. He barely managed to avoid spraying Alexandria or Legend with the startlingly amplified area attack, focusing the blast on their nameless adversary.
Once again, the black-cloaked figure was left completely unharmed, once the billowing cloud of searing hot plasma dissipated. How were they doing it? Dodging at super-speed? Turning intangible? Something else entirely?
"Hold back on the lethal force," Alexandria barked. "We don't want them dead, just captured and detained for questioning."
David nodded, and let Alexandria take centre stage for a moment. She harried their opponent, keeping the nameless cape constantly on the back foot, while David released the plasma power, along with another of the three parahuman abilities he currently had access to. He kept hold of the one power he was currently using to achieve flight, and continued to rifle through the abilities his passenger handed him, until he had a set that seemed suitable for incapacitating a foe - even a hostile cape with an annoyingly effective ability to evade attack.
In the end, it didn't make any difference.
Even with the Deathstick amplifying his powers, David had as much luck trying to capture their black-cloaked adversary as a normal human would have had, trying to catch mist.
"How is he doing this?!" David growled, attempting to trap their foe in a string-bubble of space, where the usual three dimensions had been reduced to one, and then tied in a knot. "Why does every single one of our attacks just... Slide right off, or never connect, or something?!"
"I'm not sure," Alexandria grunted, trying once again to corral the nameless cape into position for David to tag them. "If we ever catch them, I'll be sure to ask."
The nameless cape had still been maintaining that same harmless façade, sobbing and crying all the time, while David tried to catch them.
Suddenly, the weeping stopped. The hood of the black cloak turned, as if their opponent was staring fixedly at-
...SO MOTE IT BE.
Four whispered words, the hushed not-voice somehow still coming across clear and audible, despite the distance and background noise.
In an instant, less time than it took David to blink, the nameless cape vanished completely. Gone, like they'd never been there.
David's eyes darted down, and saw-
Oh. The Deathstick was still in his hand.
His heart pounded in his chest from the recent battle. His limbs were heavy, like lead weights, with exhaustion from the Endbringer fight before that. Slowly, he grew aware of chatter from the comms channels, anxious calls from the numerous capes in the area, the heroes and villains who'd turned up to fight back against Leviathan.
Now, those capes worried about what the Triumvirate were doing, and who they were fighting. From the way those messages were worded, David had a growing suspicion that none of the other parahumans in the area had seen the mysterious black-cloaked... well, stranger. And perhaps also Stranger, with a capital S.
He ignored those voices, and turned to Alexandria.
"What happened? Did you see where he went?"
Alexandria glanced off to the side, towards the third member of their group. "Our benefactor-turned-malefactor looked at Legend... and then they disappeared."
David quickly flew over to face Legend. "Why didn't you support us in the fight? Why did you stay back, all the way over here?"
Alexandria joined them, lining up in a simple aerial formation (perhaps unconsciously, perhaps deliberately - there were quite a lot of people watching them, after all) - a roughly equilateral triangle.
"Did you say anything to them?" Alexandria demanded. "Did they give you anything?"
"How could she have done? How am I supposed to have talked to her?" Legend looked disapproving. "She was half a mile away, because you two kept attacking her! For no reason!"
David stiffened. "No reason?! Were you not paying attention?! He was trying to assassinate us! He's an Endbringer cultist, or some other kind of fanatic, wholly obsessed with death and dying!"
Legend opened his mouth, formulating some peevish rebuttal, but Alexandria cut him off. She raised her hand, arm straight out, holding the so-called Resurrection Stone aloft between the three of them.
"These things are clearly dangerous," she said. "A lingering Master or Stranger effect, perhaps... At the very least. We seem to have different recollections of events."
She shot a quick, pointed glance at David. "We'll need to test these devices more thoroughly, later. Until then, we treat them with kid gloves, and avoid using them. For now, we have an Endbringer defence to mop up after."
David clenched the Deathstick in his hand, feeling its reassuring warmth radiating up his arm. "...Agreed."
Alexandria gave them both a curt nod, before she flew off. David followed in her wake.
Neither of them noticed the bundle of shimmering cloth, very nearly invisible against the dark sky, clutched tightly in one of Legend's hands.