Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
"This is Armsmaster to Dispatch, I am en-route to location, ETA is five minutes."
"Roger Armsmaster, Protectorate Capes are making their way to the rendezvous, they'll meet you there."
The armored hero closed communications and gunned the throttle on his motorcycle, the engine roaring to life as he shifted from civilian speed to emergency speed. The wind buffeted his exposed lower face, and he couldn't help but think how the day had started remarkably peaceful; those were actually the norm now in Brockton Bay, as odd as it was to think about. Parahuman crime was at an all time low, the local economy was flourishing, and the city was slowly growing bigger than ever.
Being known as the city that killed Leviathan had been an incredible boost to reputation and support, though it honestly was far too late. Many of the issues that support could have solved, had already been dealt with some time ago. Truthfully, Armsmaster had been planning on transferring to another city now that Brockton Bay had stabilized, but of course, nothing could be that simple.
At approximately noon, reports had begun streaming in of a swarm of insects infesting the graveyard of ships. These had rapidly changed into calls about ships simply melting into grey goo, before panicked calls came in from across the city about the rapidly growing swarm that now blanketed the bay, and the constant tremors that shook the ground.
A check with Dragon had confirmed that no, Behemoth had made no movements as of late, which ruled him out. Armsmaster had doubted it, but it was always better to err on the side of caution. Realistically, given the description of the swarm, he knew exactly who was behind it. The only question was what trouble she was up to now.
Kicking his siren on, cars parted before his bike, and Armsmaster hit twice the standard highway speeds, which was as fast as he dared go through downtown. He quickly left the newly refurbished skyscrapers in his wake and sped by the Boardwalk, giving him a clear view of the bay.
The Swarm had moved from the grounded ships out over the ocean. A flick of his eyes caused the HUD on his helmet to zoom in and confirm that many of the smaller abandoned ships were being devoured at a rabid pace. He had seen them in action before, when they had stripped Lung of his armored scales and reduced Hookwolf to a blubbering shell of a man. Self replicating small scale machines, they were dubbed scarabs by the PRT due to their beetle like appearance. They weren't particularly durable, but they replicated fast and reduce a car to scrap metal in minutes, before devouring the scraps.
Never had he ever seen them operate on such a scale, or so quickly. Even the super tanker, the ship that blocked nearly all of the bay entrance and had almost single handedly killed the shipping industry in Brockton bay, was visibly beginning to wilt. At the current rate of consumption, he estimated the entire ship graveyard would be cleared in ten minutes, twenty at the maximum.
The question now, was if their creator would stop them at the graveyard, or finally let them loose on the city. Armsmaster didn't trust her or her supposed motives. Some people might say it was a deep seated jealousy in the superiority of her technology and how it had allowed her to do in half a year what he hadn't been able to do in almost a decade. Those people needed to learn to shut their fucking faces.
Armsmaster shook the thought off and finally passed through the Docks to the edge of the ship graveyard. He had to skid to a stop, as a figure was standing at its edge, her long cape flowing in a nonexistent breeze. Stopping his bike, Armsmaster set it to standby and let the automated kickstand activate. With his engine rumbling to a stop, he could hear the almost deafening buzz of thousands if not millions of scarabs at work.
He ignored it and strode towards the figure, the woman, standing before him. "Phaerakh, what are you doing!?" he had to yell to hear himself over the swarm.
The woman turned to face him, emerald eyes flashing. Calling Phaerakh a woman was admittedly a broad assumption. Though she responded to female pronouns, the only sign of femininity was the slight curve to her legs, her wider hips, and a feminine facial structure. Her body was a dull gunmetal grey, shaped skeletal. Only her glowing eyes moved within the deep pits of her eye sockets, focusing on him in an instant.
Her body was decorated in dress that took influences from the Egyptians, the Mayans and the Babylonians. A large cylindrical headdress of green, gold, and grey rose from her skull, a flowing shroud falling from it in an imitation of silvery golden hair. A simple golden Usekh covered her neck and chest, with larger silver shoulder pads that rose from either side of it, trimmed with more gold. A long cape crafted of a thousand tiny metal scales fell from her shoulders to her thighs. A long strip of cloth hung from the front of her waist, with a wider set falling from her back, both halves were connected by golden clasps across her waist. In a word, she could best be described as 'ostentatious'. Or gaudy, Armsmaster preferred that term.
Phaerakh's eyes flashed with what he now recognized as amusement, and she thumped the glaive she held in her right hand against the stone. The emblem emblazoned where blade met half was of a single circle, with a line jutting from either end and stubbier ones from the sides. The top curved up in a U shape, the bottom remained flat with a single line cutting through it halfway down. Whatever the symbol meant, she had never elaborated and refused to do so.
"Armsmaster!" she greeted, loudly and happily. She spread an arm wide, "I'm so glad you could make it! You have arrived in time for the grand reveal!"
It was hard not to scowl behind his visor, the woman was… difficult for him to deal with. That she was an unashamed rogue did not help matters. The majority of her actions might have helped the city, but he knew all too well how close she had skated to disaster. She was as dangerous as she was powerful, which was a very high bar indeed.
"What is the game this time, Phaerakh? What are you trying to pull?" he demanded.
She paused, and thoughtfully stroked her chin, "I was under the impression that clearing the bay could only be seen as a universally good thing. Was I… mistaken, Armsmaster? Or did I stumble across another of your bureaucratic landmines?"
He ignored the jab and gestured at the swarm over head, "Everyone knows what your swarms can do Phaerakh. Seeing them let loose could incite a panic."
At that, she mimed putting a hand to where her ear would be and listened intently. "Huh, would you listen to that? The city sounds quiet peaceful, if you ignore my scarabs at work."
Armsmaster ground his teeth together and stabbed a finger at her, "Enough! We know about the tremors, what are you pulling!?"
She waggled a finger at him, "Ah ah ah! No spoilers until the rest of the Protectorate arrives. I want this to be as dramatically appropriate as possible, after all."
Before he could start shouting again, she let out a small chuckle, covering the line that represented her with a free hand, "Ah! There's the cavalry, right on schedule!"
A dozen armored vans came to a rolling stop in a half circle around the metal woman, doors flinging open before they had halted and troopers pouring out to surround her. The entire might of the Protectorate joined them: Miss Militia, Dauntless, Assault and Battery, Velocity and Triumph. Even the Wards had been brought to the frontlines, clearly visible on buildings overlooking their standoff: Vista, Kid Win, Aegis, Clockblocker and Gallant all stood at the ready, though they knew that of them only Aegis and Kid Win could be truly effective against Phaerakh.
Miss Militia walked up to Armsmaster, eyes reflecting caution, "Situation?"
"Its Phaerakh." he replied bitterly.
Said woman was scanning the crowd, clearly amused by the sheer size of the response she had warranted. After a moments silence, she tapped her staff against the ground three times. With each tap, a hollow 'boom' shook the streets and the air. On the third, the swarm halted mid air like a thousand silver stars, and silence reigned.
Content, Phaerakh scratched her chin and let out another chuckle, "I am so very grateful that you were all so eager to show up for the grand unveiling! Truly, it is an honor to see the defenders of this city so interested in its history!"
When no one responded, and in fact the troopers visibly grew tenser, Phaerakh shook her head and closed her 'eyes'. "Ah, but I see you have no patience for words. Very well, then allow my actions to speak for me!"
The sigil along her glaive blazed with brilliant light as she raised it over head with two hands and brought it down to the ground in an overhead swing that shook the earth to its foundation. Armsmaster's armor steadied himself, and he caught Miss Militia as she stumbled. The formation scattered, and the swarm began to move again.
In a wave of shimmering silver and flashing emerald, they crashed into the ground behind her. Clouds of dirt fountained into the air as the scarabs quickly and voraciously devoured the land behind her; and as the seconds ticked by, the tremors returned, far more violent and consistent than they had been before.
The ground fractured and split the PRT and Protectorate forces down the middle, forcing them to either side as a chasm grew along the street. Old buildings, long abandoned by their owners collapsed under their own weight and decay. The street buckled and bent, reduced to blackened ruble as… something began to rise from the ground.
Necrotic energy erupted into the sky, shadowing Phaerakh with its glow. Her cape whipped around her excitedly, but she remained unmoving despite the miniature cataclysm that had overtaken the graveyard. Tendrils broke off from the main swarm, devouring debris as it was casually flung aside, and then quickly returning to the main body.
With each second, the old graveyard was gone revealing something new and utterly alien.
Smooth geometric shapes rose from the earth, all connected to a structure that quickly revealed its size as large if not larger than any skyscraper in the city. A pyramid of empty blackness, capped with an emerald stone, rose ever higher into the air, crackling with necrotic energy. The swarm poured over its sides, rapidly clearing the dust and sealing any cracks that may have formed in its violent eruption.
New blackstone paths connected to a colossal entryway as large as a three story building and flanked by obelisks that shadowed braziers of burning green fire. Massive stone doors groaned in protest as they were pushed open, revealing an interior bathed in faint green light.
And like that, the rumbling stopped.
At some point in all the commotion, Armsmaster had been knocked off his feet despite his armors best attempts at compensation. He had to push himself from the ground and gaze up at this massive construct, unable to completely suppress the awe he felt. It truly dwarfed any building in the city, perhaps any building along the east coast. The swarm that had once seemed so large and all consuming was dwarfed by its sheer size, flickering between obelisks and pillars that arose from around the building. All of them were made of that same blackstone that crackled with lines of green energy.
The remaining PRT and Protectorate forces slowly got back to their feet, to see Phaerakh looking at them with clear amusement. She stepped to the side and gestured into the building. "If you would follow me please. You have my word that no harm shall come to you or your city whilst you are within my new home."
That was...tempting. On the handful of occasions that she had given her word, Phaerakh had never broken it. Her word was her bond, and if it was given out, she would do her best to fulfill her promise to the letter.
"Remain out here." Armsmaster ordered the rest of the assembled forces. "Miss Militia and I will see what it is Phaerakh wishes to show us. If we don't call in the all clear within fifteen minutes, assume the worst."
Trying to be subtle was pointless; Armsmaster had learned long ago that no encryption save maybe Dragon's could protect his transmissions from Phaerakh. If she wanted to know what he said to the others, she would know whether he consented or not.
Miss Militia stepped up beside him and the two of them walked up to Phaerakh. The iron maiden bowed her head and her eyes flashed again with amusement. She gestured for them to enter first. Armsmaster exchanged a look with Miss Militia, and then took the first step into the pyramid.
When nothing happened, he took another step, and another. The only sound aside from the hum of the swarm, was the sound of his heavy footsteps and the crackle of energy. He turned back to Miss Militia and nodded. The two of them entered Phaerakh's pyramid together, with her following behind them both.
Surprisingly, the doors did not ominously slam shut behind them, but instead remained open even as they descended within its depths. The tunnel was not simply a straight line. On several occasions it split into multiple paths that Phaerakh guided them down. Though Armsmaster's systems kept track of their route, it didn't take long for it to become very complicated and very long. A quick escape was not in the cards, if it ever had been to begin with.
After several minutes of silent walking, Miss Militia spoke up. "How long have you been working on this? And what is its purpose?"
Phaerakh tapped her chin. "Six months. Most of my swarm has been dedicated to building this structure beneath the city. As for its purpose, well, it's quite simple Miss Militia. What you are standing in is no less than the beginning of what may well be my life's work. A monument to honor my mentor, the one who blessed me with the knowledge I possess today."
As she spoke, Phaerakh's voice grew more excited and her pace sped up until she passed them both. "Though he was taken from me, I have not forgotten what he did for me, and so I have sought to honor him in the only way he would appreciate. And it is with that, Armsmaster and Miss Militia, that I welcome you to the beginning of my carefully curated collection!"
With that, the walls suddenly… vanished. One moment they were there, the next they simply… disappeared. Armsmaster had to wonder if the long walk was necessary, or if Phaerakh had simply been building up to the most appropriate moment for, as she said, 'a dramatic reveal'.
Unfortunately, it worked.
Armsmaster froze as he and Miss Militia suddenly found themselves in a truly massive… well, museum was the only way to describe it. Expertly arranged exhibits were carved into the wall in layers upon layers. Many of them were empty, but he could see a dozen or more already filled with familiar faces.
Kaiser, leader of the Empire Eighty Eight in full armor giving a speech to an assembled band of neo-nazi's, Oni-Lee and one of his clones doing battle against Kaiser's twin bodyguards, and Bakuda standing over a miniature city in flaming ruin, bombs in hand. But despite all of that, what caught Armsmasters attention, and truly terrified him, was the center piece of this 'museum'. Three plinths dominated the center of the room, two of them empty.
But, the one closest to them, forever frozen in time, was the form of the endbringer Leviathan. And though its body could not move, all four of its eyes were clearly and plainly focused on them, alive and furious.
A/N: I finally decided to upload this story here, I've been lazy about that. Rest of the chapters are on , but I'll be posting the rest of the chapters daily here until I've caught up there. Hope you enjoyed, feel free to leave a review, and I'll see you guys tomorrow!