Hideaway 2.4

Thursday, January 13th 2011. Brockton Bay

Well.

Shit.

Coil had prepared contingencies in case this tinker, Phaerakh, had prepared for his inevitable counter-strike. He had not, however, expected to be so thoroughly shut down, or so quickly. This complicated things.

A Tinker given time to themselves was a ticking time bomb, and the more time they were given, the more tricks they would have at their disposal. Under normal circumstances, Coil would have spent more time preparing a more thorough response, as was his usual operating standard. But the nature of Tinkers, as well as the capture of one of his most valuable assets had prodded him into taking a greater than usual risk.

Phaerakh's response was a brutal reminder why he didn't act in such a manner, and the cost was going to put a moderate dent in his reputation and check book. He could recover from this though, he would recover from this.

After all, while his attempt at retrieving Tattletale had failed in this timeline, he would call the events of that day a far greater success than what occurred in the parallel timeline he was running at the moment. With his ability to peer into alternate timelines, Coil had opted to try for two approaches to retaking his agent.

In his current timeline, he had opted for a precise but overwhelming force of his mercenaries, to put down the traitorous Undersiders, and either kill or capture Phaerakh and her forces, and retrieve Tattletale of course. In the other timeline, Coil had opted for something with less finesse.

He briefly peered into that timeline again, and confirmed that Brockton Bay was, in fact, still on fire.

With a thought, he collapsed that timeline, it was a lost cause. The damage Phaerakh's response had inflicted had been astounding in its speed and staggering in the sheer totality of the damage. The Endbringers, for all their might and power, had never been so utterly thorough in their destruction.

Obviously, Coil was going to need to handle this with greater subtlety.

His actions in both timelines had taught him several key things about his new enemy, knowledge that would be crucial to his victory. First, the power of Phaerakh's scarabs was terrifying, on a level beyond almost anything he'd seen from any other tinker. Second, Phaerakh herself either seemed oblivious to this, or kept such power on a tight leash; to be on the safe side, Coil would assume the latter unless new intel proved the former. Third and most importantly, Phaerakh seemed to react to personal physical attacks with far greater ferocity and escalation than she did to abstract attacks. Fourth, based on her general attitude and aesthetic, Coil could reasonably assume it was Phaerakh who had captured and delivered Shadow Stalker to the PRT; this suggested some level of trust in the organization. More testing would be needed to confirm that third one, but he could exploit the fourth.

He gathered these thoughts and analyzed them. Aware of it or not, Phaerakh took priority as the greatest threat to the city; not just to his own operations, but to everyone else as well. As long as she was allowed to operate freely, she would continue to be an uncalculated danger. This was something Coil would not stand for. The timeline he had closed could not come to pass, he had to ensure it.

He could, of course, always contact his benefactors. But their involvement could undo everything he had worked for in Brockton Bay. No, if Coil wanted to come out of this situation unscathed, he would handle this himself, as he always did. Which meant, it was time to get to work.

When he had launched his operation, Coil was watching from within one of his underground compounds hidden beneath Brockton Bay. Within the plain concrete walled interior of his personal office, he could monitor the actions of those that served under him with one of several monitors on the plain steel desk. One screen had gone dark, courtesy of Phaerakh's attack.

Another screen kept him updated on the current whereabouts of the Protectorate Capes within the city, as well as the last seen locations of every other parahuman both in and out of costume. A quick review of the screen showed Coil exactly what he wanted, and with a few quick calls, he was able to divert Armsmaster off his current route and send him straight into Phaerakh's newly claimed territory.

As he did this, Coil couldn't help but chuckle to himself. Phaerakh had shown some level of trust in the Protectorate, even a willingness to work with them. Under the right conditions, she might even be convinced to join them, it was always a possibility.

So, if the super villain Coil could not defeat Phaerakh, perhaps PRT officer Thomas Calvert could put her talents to more productive uses.

-C-

Thursday, January 13th 2011. Phaerakh's Lair

I made no effort to cover my face in annoyed disgust as my minions collapsed into childish laughter. My little display of sending Coils henchmen running home in their birthday suits had prompted Tattletale to start throwing out snide remarks at my method of attack.

She tugged at her suit, "So, are we the world's first mandatory nudist colony then? I wasn't sure what to expect when I joined up, but this was only in my top ten."

"Are you finished?" I was thankful for the mask, my face burned with embarrassment.

Tattletale grinned, "Wait, wait, I've got one more. If we're throwing a surprise birthday for Coil, do we need birthday suits too?"

"Eh, four out of ten." Montu wiggled his hand side to side.

"Fuck you, that was funny." the blonde shot back, never dropping her grin.

Beside me, Trazyn's metallic form shimmered into place and he leaned down next to me. "Not to be critical, but this is why I prefer simple disintegration if I am not collecting my enemies. It's a touch messier, but there's far less room for snide remarks."

I ignored him, again, and glared at Tattletale. A few seconds under the unmoving gaze of my mask was enough to twist her self-satisfied smile into a smirk. "Okay, I'm done."

"Good, then we can move on to more important matters." I said, and snapped my fingers. The video feed of Coil's fleeing mercenaries flickered and was replaced with the map of Brockton Bay, with several bright green dots slowly moving down the street.

My minions returned their attention to the map as I gestured at it and said, "My scarabs are going to follow Coil's men as far as they can manage. As of right now we are limited by range, and I'm not willing to sacrifice the defense grid to extend it. I will be sending a single drone outside of the grid to tail them, but there's a chance they might catch it and it won't make it back. If that happens, that is where you come in, Tattletale."

She pointed at herself curiously, and I nodded. "You know more about Coil's operations than I do. I'll want a full list of possible locations; we can work from there and start preparing our assault."

Cryptek raised a hand. I pointed at him and he asked, "How big are we talking here? Coil isn't a small fry like the Merchants. No one really knows much of anything about him, but everything I've heard ranges from 'shadowy PRT observer' to 'evil mastermind with a death grip on the city'. That's not exactly easy to deal with."

He was right of course, and I had discussed this to some degree in private with Trazyn, in between his lessons. I took those lessons into account and tried to show my approval at Crypteks line of questioning with a nod. Trazyn and dad both had made it clear that the people working under you appreciated being acknowledged and praised for their work.

"Your point is fair, Cryptek," I began. "And taking down Coil will be no mean feat. I will spare you the important details for now, but the current angle of attack is simple. Once we have an idea of Coil's operations, I plan to launch multiple simultaneous strikes. By the time we know where he is, our forces and technology will give us the edge we need to make up for our lack of numbers."

Tattletale leaned lazily on the map table, "Give a Tinker time to build, and they can move the world, or something like that."

"Essentially." I admitted. "Until that point though, it will be up to you, Montu, and you Cryptek, to maintain our territory lines in my absence. I have no plans to expand our current territory so long as Coil is around. We know little about what he has, and right now the other gangs either don't know we exist or don't care. I'd like to keep it that way, as opposed to risk a war on multiple fronts."

Coil was all about working in the shadows, and while my tech was leagues above his own, he had more men and women at his disposal and 'an entrenched network of intelligence' as Trazyn called it. If he was taken out of the picture first, then dealing with the rest of the gangs would be a cake walk by comparison.

Montu tapped his chin, still looking at the map as he spoke, "Then what's our next step, boss?"

Before I could open my mouth, the map flashed red and vanished again to be replaced with a video screen. I couldn't hide my annoyance as I snarled, "Oh, what now!?"

That annoyance turned into panic as the video feed focused on the intruder.

He was a tall and lean man, dressed in midnight blue powered armor, detailed with slashes of silver along the joints and seems. He wore a helmet and visor that only left his lower face exposed, which in turn wore a neatly trimmed beard. At the moment, the man was leaning over on a similarly styled and sleek motorcycle that was surprisingly silent as it rolled down the streets. I saw no sign of his signature weapon, but everyone present knew who this intruder was.

"Oh shit, oh fuck. That's Armsmaster!" Mortu hissed, stepping away from the map.

Tattletale looked bewildered, "What's he doing here, he doesn't patrol this part of the dock today!"

"Goddamnit, his tech looks so cool." Cryptek whined. He shrank when we all glared at him.

Trazyn leaned forward again and observed the armored cape, "So this is one of your so-called 'super heroes', hm? Honestly from the way you humans talk about them, I expected something a bit more… grand. Ah, well, either way he will certainly need to be dealt with. I recommend you take action sooner rather than later, Phaerakh." he put particular emphasis on my cape name, and I shook myself out of my surprise.

Armsmaster had been one of my heroes growing up, alongside Alexandria. Part of it was his aesthetic, part of it was his effectiveness and I'll admit part of it was homegrown bias. Armsmaster was Brockton Bay's big hero; like your sports team, you supported them even if they were terrible at their job. And even with the recent revelations of what the Protectorate had been up to with Sophia, I still had a hard time shaking that awe and surprise at seeing him.

Trazyn's words helped though, they were a reminder that under all that armor, Armsmaster was still a human being, and he could be dealt with. I brought myself back into focus and turned to Montu and Cryptek, addressing them as sternly as possibly.

"Both of you, head to this location immediately," I dismissed the video feed and brought the map back up, pinging the street for them.

"I want you both to intercept Armsmaster before he gets here-"

"Wait, you want us to fight Armsmaster, are you crazy!?" Cytpek yelped, a note of fear in his voice.

"Let me finish." I replied with a hiss, and he shrank down.

"You will intercept him, you will explain that we wish to parlay with him. I will explain the rest on the way, because we don't have time to waste!"

Both men froze for a split second, until I stabbed a finger at the door, "That means go!"

They were out the door in a flash, slamming it hard behind them. I sent several scarabs to tail them and turned to Tattletale. Her expression kept shifting from concern to curiosity as she looked at me.

"What are you planning?" she asked me.

"To deal with the situation at hand. Now shut up, sit down, and let me work." I ordered. There was going to be enough on my plate without her distracting me. If all went well, the next few minutes would go off without a hitch.

And if they didn't, well…

I tried not to think about that too hard, as I sprang into action.

-C-

Thursday, January 13th 2011. The Docks

Curiouser and curiouser.

That was the best way to explain the situation as it was evolving in Brockton Bay. It had all started when that anonymous donor had revealed Sophia Hess' illicit activities, using tinker tech Armsmaster had never seen before. Then, he had received a call that similar activity had been seen in the Docks. And finally, as Armsmaster had altered his course toward the alleged source, he passed twenty seven naked men and women sprinting down the street in the opposite direction of the disturbance.

They had scattered at the sight of him, and he had little time to hunt them down. He settled for filing the video feed into the 'unexpected developments' folder, and tagging one of the individuals with a tracker. The battery wouldn't last long on it, but it would give him a general search area to investigate later once he had identified the source of the disturbance.

He resumed down the roads at a cautious pace, careful to keep his motorcycle silent. The element of surprise was a crucial tool, especially if he was going to be dealing with a potential rogue Tinker. Yet as he turned another corner, what Armsmaster found instead was yet another curiosity to add to the growing pile.

Two men, one stocky and tall, the other short and thin, stood down the road, dressed in gleaming silver armor plating, lined with electric green. They wore full face masks sculpted into emotionless visages, and the larger rested his hand on an integrated belt lined with canisters. That wasn't the strange part.

The strange part was that the shorter man was holding up a cardboard sign with the sentence 'Armsmaster, in here for negotiations!' written on it in big bold letters by a sharpie, complete with an arrow pointing down the nearest alleyway.
Armsmaster snapped a picture of the two with his helmet cam before parking a safe distance away. He activated his built in megaphone, ignored the brief scream of feedback, and addressed both men.

"Are you two the source of the disturbance?" he asked.

Both men looked at each other silently for a moment. Armsmaster's HUD lit up, analyzing both men with a list of notable features. First, they were clearly exchanging a quick conversation with one another. Two, their suits were emanating some sort of energy that he didn't recognize, confirming his tinkertech theory. And third, they had similar builds to known villain duo Uber and Leet. He wrote the last one off as coincidence, as those two weren't the most uniquely built individuals in the city. Besides, only a madman would have hired those two as minions.

Finally the shorter one turned to him and spoke to him with a similar, clearer, megaphone effect. "Our boss wants to speak with you. They think you'd appreciate a little privacy instead of doing it in the middle of the street."

Armsmaster raised a brow behind his visor. In general, the Docks weren't inhabited by very many people, and those that did call them home weren't often lucid. That said, if this potential tinker was open to negotiation and felt more comfortable in a more private setting, Armsmaster was more than happy to oblige them.

A quick press to the side of his helmet and he dispatched a pre-rendered message back to Headquarters before parking his bike and stepping off it. One of three hundred and thirty four pre-recorded messages, Armsmaster prepared them in case he couldn't afford to speak aloud for one reason or another. Now the PRT and Protectorate knew where he was, what he was doing, and had a limited time limit to wait before assuming things had gone sour. Ten minutes was what Armsmaster would afford these mysterious men and their employer.

"The Protectorate, and by extension me, are always open to peaceful negotiation." Armsmaster said. He clicked a button on his wrist and his halberd unfolded from the right side of his bike. There was no attempt to hide it as he retrieved it and approached the men.

He held it up clear for them to see and said, "I hope your boss understands that I don't intend on walking into unknown territory unarmed."

"No they expected that." The more muscular one said, before jerking his head down the alley.

Armsmaster resisted a frown. A rogue tinker with a modicum of self awareness was a rare thing indeed. Perhaps he could work with this better than he had anticipated. Normally rogue tinkers were notoriously stubborn and thick headed, terrified of the idea of their creative abilities being limited. Perhaps this one would be more open to joining the Protectorate.

He gave the man a nod, and entered the alley. It was as dingy as could be expected of your typical Dock alley, though it was notably devoid of trash and ruins. Armsmaster's HUD flickered through several different vision types and revealed nothing out of the ordinary, save again for that unfamiliar energy signature.

Its source quickly revealed itself when several constructs detached themselves from the wall and began gently floating through the air. Their general structure consisted of a large bulbous body lined with a set of three legs on either side, and a small head topped with a beady green light and a small under-slung flashlight. They bore a passing resemblance to scarab beetles.

Several of these scarab constructs rearranged themselves on either side of the alley, and let light flood from their heads. Armsmaster watched with curiosity as a holographic figure slowly took shape before him, tinted green just like the hologram from the tesseract labyrinth.

In a matter of seconds, a figure stood before him, her size clearly exaggerated as she nearly stood ten feet tall. They wore armor similar to her underlings, but of a higher quality and even more ornate. The electric green that had seeped from their masked eyes seemed to radiate from every seam of their body, and her mask though expressionless bore an air of regality to it. Their figure was androgynous, impossible to tell if it was male or female. Only the long curly hair that fell from their head gave Armsmaster a clue that they might be a woman.

Then they spoke and eliminated all doubt. "Greetings, Armsmaster." the woman swept her arm forward and bowed in an exaggerated manner, her voice booming with electric modification, like her minions.

Said minions had walked forward to stand on either side of her and were silently watching him. Armsmaster had his HUD watch them both for sudden movement and focused on the woman standing before him.

"Hello." he replied.

She rose up and cocked her head to the side, "A visit from the most esteemed hero of the Protectorate is always appreciated, though I feel I must ask, why are you here?"

Armsmaster thought on the best way to answer this as diplomatically as possible without offending her. Even he could see that this woman had quite the ego on her, so he'd have to be careful with what he said. If he bungled this up, the Director and Dragon would never let him live it down.

"I received a report of a disturbance in this area, possible tinker in origin. Since I was the nearest member of the Protectorate, I was dispatched to see if there was any truth to it." he gestured at her, "I think it's safe to say that there was."

The woman held a hand to her unmoving mouth and laughed, "Oh, I do apologize, Armsmaster. You see, I have just recently established myself, and there are… elements in the city that have taken exception to that. You may have seen evidence of our brief scuttle on your way here, in fact."

Armsmaster thought back to the men and women and nodded, "So that was you?"

"Correct. I had no interest in hurting them, but I felt it appropriate to make it clear that I will not tolerate attempted violence to myself or my court." she said.

Armsmaster mentally upped the tinker from 'ego' to 'colossal ego'. A cape with a delusion of royalty was far from unheard of. Hopefully, he could prevent this one from devolving into a Marquis situation.

He also noted that the woman had likely edged into Coil's turf. The enigmatic villain rarely made public moves, but the nature of the attack from what he could tell, fit his MO. The ABB and Empire preferred far grander displays of power when dealing with capes, and as far as Armsmaster or the Protectorate knew, Coil was operating solo with normal men and women in his employ.

The fact that this rogue tinker might have unknowingly made an enemy of him meant he could use that to convince her to join. Again, he'd need to be delicate though.

"You handled it well then," he said. "And we at the Protectorate appreciate you not escalating the situation."

The woman held a hand to her chest in mock horror, "Escalating the situation? My dear Armsmaster, perish the thought. I wish only to pacify and imprison those who would do our fair city harm. It is something we share in common after all, my court and your Protectorate. Speaking of, I hope that my… anonymous tip has been taken into consideration?"

"We're handling it." Armsmaster said, and turned the conversation back to her. "That said, you might want to consider how others look at your actions. An anonymous black box in the middle of a parking lot is easy to mistake for a bomb threat."

"It was never my intention to threaten anyone." the woman insisted. "Only to enlighten you to the situation."

"Yeah, I bet." Armsmaster muttered before saying louder, "Be that as it may, that's not relevant. Do you have a name I can call you by, miss? If only for clarity sake, you understand."

She raised both her hands to the sky, "I am Phaerakh, and before you are the attendees of my court. Together, we are the Dynasty."

Armsmaster filed that away, "Phaerakh...Dynasty… Alright, noted. Do you mind if I ask how long you've been operating, Phaerakh? Your technology is impressive for someone operating outside the influence of the gangs or the Protectorate."

"Hehe, long enough, Armsmaster." she said teasingly.

He frowned, but wasn't too surprised. "Well, do you mind answering a few questions then?"

"I just did, didn't I?" she asked, before adding, "I kid. I will be more than happy to answer any questions you have. Within reason, of course."

"Appreciated." Armsmaster said.

He spent the next few minutes drilling Phaerakh for every bit of information he could. The nature of her tinker specialization, her goals in Brockton Bay, how she had dispatched of the men that had attacked her. Her answers for most were vague, though her description of the attack confirmed his suspicions that it was Coil.

He voiced his suspicions to her, "You are aware that you may have made an enemy of Coil with your actions, right?"

She waved a dismissive hand, "Yes, yes. I am well aware of Coil and what he represents."

There was that ego again.

"Right," Armsmaster said, "I suppose you can handle yourself. But, I urge you to reconsider your current position. The Protectorate may impose restrictions on you, but if you join us you'll find yourself in a far safer situation than if you operate as your own independent power in the city. The gangs don't take kindly to independent capes, let alone tinkers."

Phaerakh folded her arms, and her mood seemed to shift, "I'm aware of my situation Armsmaster, but your concern is appreciated. Alas, I cannot find it in me to bring myself under the yoke of the Protectorate. I, Phaerakh, do not serve the will of others. I am, however, willing to work with you. As I have said, our goals are mutually beneficial."

"Be that as it may," Armsmaster said, pulling a business card from his utility belt, "I strongly urge you to reconsider. I've seen too many tinkers be taken advantage of or killed by the gangs, and it would be a shame to see you join them."

He handed the card to Phaerakh's taller minion and said, "If you change your mind, our contact information is on that card. Your… court... will be welcomed as well, of course."

Phaerakh rubbed her chin thoughtfully, "Thank you, Armsmaster. I shall consider your… urging. Is there anything else I may do for you? I'm sure you can understand, I am quite busy."

Armsmaster looked at her, and then her minions. He wanted to meet the woman face to face, to learn the details of her technology. He had a burning itch at the back of his skull screaming for a look inside her scarab constructs. But, he had a feeling he had done all that he could today. She might be what the analysts back at headquarters called 'a slow burn' recruit. He would have to be satisfied with what he had for the moment.

"I have nothing else for you today, Phaerakh." he said. "Hopefully, we can meet face to face another day."

"Likewise, Armsmaster." She bowed her head, and then with a flash of light, her figure vanished from sight.

Her minions turned and made their way down the opposite end of the alley. Armsmaster spared a minute to watch them go before slowly returning to his bike. As he knocked the kickstand back into place, he felt a bit of pride. That had gone remarkably well, all things considering.

-C-

Thursday, January 13th 2011. Phaerakh's Lair

Oh god I needed a drink.

That was my first thought when I cut the hologram and collapsed against the table, only barely catching myself at the last second. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked to see Tattletale supporting me.

"Thank you."

She nodded silently, still wearing a ghost of a smile. I let her have it, I was drained. All that pontificating and dramatic nonsense, it was way beyond what I was used to. That it had all been directed at one of my idols just added to the weight hanging from my limbs. It was hard to wrap my head around what just happened, honestly.

After a moment to gather my bearings, I stood up and smoothed my hair back. A few deep breaths and I felt something resembling normalcy return to me. First an attack by Coil, then Armsmaster himself showing up. I honestly wouldn't have been surprised if one of the Endbringers suddenly landed on top of my base at this rate.

"Soooo…" Tattletale drawled. "Should I give you a minute, or are you done fangirling over Armsmaster?"

I shot her a glare and she grinned, "Just sayin'. I half expected you to start squealing once he appeared on screen."

"Don't you have a list to write?" I demanded of her.

She leaned on the table, resting her head on both hands and smiled, "Maybe. But this is more entertaining."

Trazyn laughed in my head, "I like this human. Her smug aura amuses me."

I mentally snarled at him, and jabbed a finger at Tattletale before pointing toward the stairs. "List. Now. I have projects to attend to downstairs, if you haven't started that list by the time I get back upstairs, I am dropping your smart ass on Coils front door."

"Okay, okay." She laughed and started for the stairs.

"I'll get to work, but only cause you asked nicely, your majesty."

I resisted the urge to stomp my feet as I left the second floor and made my way downstairs to the first floor. Tattletale was getting way too chummy. I had to remember that she had worked for Coil before and that there was still a chance that she had some lingering loyalty to him. I also wasn't in the mood for 'making friends'. Much as I hated to admit it, everything that had happened with Emma opened some old wounds that I wished had stayed buried. It took an effort of will to shove those thoughts from my head as I emerged into the first floor and bore witness to my works.

The majority of my scarabs were setup in a detection network within several blocks of my base; they would keep an eye out for anyone entering my territory that shouldn't be. Those that were not out in the network however, were here, building the infrastructure I would need to really take the fight to the villains in Brockton Bay. The generators bore a striking resemblance to the much smaller ones back home, large hollow cylinders made of a material so dark it seemed to absorb light. Once they were activated, they would crackle with an eerie green glow, just like everything else I made.

I set a few of my scarabs to watch the stairs in case anyone came down looking for me, and removed my mask. There was no way I was going to let my hired help see me without it yet, I just didn't trust them enough for it. As nice as the mask was, after the day I'd been having, I need some privacy and fresh air. I couldn't manage the latter since Montu and Cryptek were due back any minute, but I could manage the former.

Trazyn materialized alongside me as I leaned against an unfinished generator. I eyed him warily as I slipped my glasses back on, "So what's the smug comment for today, Trazyn?"

He looked offended at that, "Not everything I say is a running commentary on your antics, Taylor."

"Could've fooled me." I huffed and rubbed at my temples. "God, this is so much more exhausting than I thought it would be. How is a conversation the most stressful part of my day?"

"The chains of politics I am afraid. None are resistant to their weight, no matter their efforts." the necron sighed.

My blood went cold when he cheerfully straightened up. Happy Trazyn often lead to an unhappy Taylor, in my experience.

He rolled his head in an imitation of me rolling my eyes, "Oh come now, have some faith in me my dear. I have a surprise for you."

"A surprise." I said dryly, "For me. From you?"

"Yes, yes. As hard as it may be to believe, I am capable of the occasional bout of kindness. Its a madness that comes with age I'm afraid." he said, even as he walked between a pair of generators.

Obviously he didn't actually do that given that his physical form was just a figment of my mind's eye, but I got the idea and 'followed' him. He led me down between the generators to something I didn't remember commissioning.

There were a pair of black stone pedestals, lined with glowing green energy, under a soft light. Trazyn stood at their side and presented them with a sweep of his arm. "I thought that, considering your slowly growing success, you may appreciate a 'timeline' of your victories so far."

I glanced at him as I approached the pedestals. On the larger of the two, a hand held crossbow slowly rotated in the air, catching the light along its metal components. I immediately recognized it as Sophia's crossbow from the night I'd trapped her in the tesseract labyrinth.

Again I looked at Trazyn, "It's a… trophy?"

He waved his hand in a rolling motion as he spoke, "Trophy, memento, collectible. Call it what you like, it's a piece of history, of your history. Though I have given you the means, it was your thought process and action that earned you your victories."

I looked at the other pedestal and saw the shattered remains of a steering wheel, parts of it simply sheared off. It was obviously from one of the vans Coils mercenaries had been driving, now proudly on display as well. I won't deny it, I was touched by the gesture, and felt a bit of wetness in my eyes.

"We can, of course, create another for your success with the Armsmaster." Trazyn assured me.

"It's just Armsmaster," I corrected, looking at the pedestals with wide eyes, and added, "But we're missing one. Nothing for me taking over the Undersiders base?"

"Well, I figured that was what the Tattletale was for. She is quite the trophy, filled with amusing quips and intelligence." Trazyn said.

I shot him a glare, "Humans don't count as trophies, Trazyn."

"That is categorically false!" he insisted as I turned around and left the little shrine of trophies behind. "Humans can in fact be trophies, you even have a word for it!"

"Tattletale is not a trophy wife." I sighed, "And I can't believe I'm even having this conversation with you-"

The sound of metal bouncing off metal interrupted me. I whirled toward the source, and felt my blood go cold. A loose bolt had come tumbling down the stairs, knocked over courtesy of one blonde haired Tattletale. Who was currently looking at me like I was completely and utterly insane.

I immediately replaced my mask and said, "W-what are you doing down here!? I thought I made it clear I wanted to be alone!"

She raised her hands defensively and stumbled back on the stairs as I stormed towards her, "Curiosity gets the better of e-everyone, but if it makes you feel better, I totally didn't see you arguing with your imaginary friend!"

This wasn't what I needed, this was the last thing I needed. I'd had scarabs set up specifically to prevent this from happening. Thinker or not, there was no way she could have gotten past them without me being alerted, unless I had missed a detail, or…

"Taylor, please don't kill the poor thing. It's only in her nature to stick her nose where it doesn't belong." Trazyn said, his voice echoing through the building.

Tattletale whipped her head around, eyes wide with shock, "Who… what?"

I stopped in my tracks, and rubbed my temples again, "God… god damnit Trazyn."

One of my scarabs detached itself from the ceiling and floated down in front of Tattletale, projecting a full scale replica of my mind's eye image of Trazyn. Her eyes were the size of dinner plates as the skeletal machine towered over her, staff glowing ominously in hand.

Then he bowed and said in as courteous a tone as he could manage, "I apologize for the confusion, Miss Tattletale. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Trazyn the Infinite, Grand Archeovist, Lord of Solemance, and young Phaerakh's patron and mentor. It's a pleasure to finally meet you face to face."


A/N: I LIVE! So context time. I have rewritten this chapter... at least five or six different times. This is one of the main reasons it took so long for me to get it out. Along with the whole pseudo apocalypse going on right now, these constant rewrites killed my enthusiasm for writing. I think in general I hit a bit of writer's block for all of my stories. But I finally persevered and managed to finish the next (hopefully good) chapter! I hope to update a bit more frequently now, but I make no promises as we all know by now that such promises are meaningless. But my plan is to finish this arc and the following interlude before I consider working on one of my other stories. This may in general be my writing plan from here on out, as swapping between stories every chapter just leaves my head spinning.

That all aside, I hope you enjoyed the chapter. My editor is being mysterious and unavailable so expect a edited post up again in the next day or so. Otherwise, leave your thoughts and criticisms in the comments below, and I'll see you guys next time!