Authors Note: Worm belongs to Wildbow. Warhammer belongs to Games Workshop. St. Weaver belongs to Antony444 (on this site) and is used with permission. I own nothing, I'm just having fun with other people's toys.

Chapter 1: Questions Asked and … Not

Thursday January 27, 2011

Parahuman Response Team Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown sat down at the head of the conference table and looked at her advisors and the tinker tech screen on the far wall showing Director Piggot of Brockton Bay. She wondered if it would turn out to be a good thing that all the Department Heads of the PRT had been meeting in LA when this mess occurred. She was glad she had every room where she was likely to have a meeting set up to subtly reinforce her authority, controlling the PRT was going to be important in the next few days.

"Welcome everyone," she began. "We will arrive at Brockton Bay Airport in about four hours. I'm sure you have all seen pictures of the massive structure that replaced Winslow High School, in Brockton Bay, a few hours ago and have looked at the preliminary reports. I want to use the time available to have Director Piggot give her personal report and discuss our options. So, Director Piggot the floor is yours."

"Hello," Piggot began. "I know many of you have not been following the situation in Brockton Bay closely so I will start at what we believe to be the beginning and work up to the current situation. Our problems started about three weeks ago at nine in the morning on January 4th. A student triggered at Winslow High School and the PRT was called because of a "glowing thing" in one of the school hallways. When PRT officers arrived at the school they found chaos and it took the rest of the day to secure the scene and figure out what had happened.

We eventually discovered that there had been a criminal assault on one of the students and it caused her to trigger. The trigger manifested as an… 'evil glowing thing'…no we haven't been able to get a better description…which seems to have corrupted many of the people who saw it. The only Ward at the school saw it, screamed something about blood, god and skulls then killed two people and used her powers, in front of dozens of students, to flee."

At that Glen Chambers, the Head of Public Relations, interrupted, "That was an utter disaster and it won't get better until we can toss Shadow Stalker in the Birdcage. Have you caught her yet?"

Piggot sighed, "No…Not only haven't we caught her but she is forming a murderous new African American gang which is using a strange X with a horizontal line through the middle and another at the base as a symbol and a battle cry of 'blood for the blood god skulls for his skull throne.' They have been fighting with the E88. They killed Hookwolf a couple of days ago using a completely unknown type of explosive."

Wally Stonemason, the head of the PRT Quarantine sites, said, "I hate to ask this, but it sounds like this trigger is having effects similar to the Simurgh. Are we going to need to Quarantine Brockton Bay?"

"That is something to think about," the Chief Director said, "but let's finish the briefing first. Director Piggot…"

"Well, in addition to the violence Shadow Stalker is at the center of, several students who saw the trigger have showed up at local hospitals over the last couple weeks with unknown diseases. Panacea has been able to heal them and the press hasn't noticed but an outbreak is a concern. Panacea described them as nasty, unnatural, evil things. She seems unduly fascinated by them. I am very concerned by this and strongly suggest that be forced to receive therapy immediately.

"No way in hell," interrupted Glen Chambers, "we can't force Panacea into therapy that would be a disaster!"

"A worse disaster then Panacea going crazy?" Director Piggot asked, "There is something weird about her power testing too…"

"Most Parahumans would benefit from therapy," Dr. Frank Septimus the Head of the Parahuman Asylums offered.

"Silence!" Director Costa-Brown ordered, "your recommendation is noted Director Piggot but we have more immediate problems then Panacea so return to the topic, Director."

"Very well, we also found a woman, about thirty, lying comatose where the 'evil glowing thing' had been. Her DNA matches that of Taylor Hebert the assault victim, although Taylor should be fifteen. She was wearing an extraordinary gown made of a fabric which resembles silk but clearly is not. The gown was richly embroidered and covered with gems. The principle decoration was double headed eagles, whose design exactly matches the ones on the top of the new structure. She was also wearing a number of devices intended to provide protection against attack. Fortunately, they weren't designed to be difficult to remove, although what appeared to be anti-pickpocket protections injured several officers.

Hidden beneath the dress she was wearing a necklace featuring a large ruby that had been carved in the shape of a tear and glowed with golden light. All efforts to remove it failed, when the reactions to our efforts began to threaten our personnel we left it on her. Sensors in her cell will activate the containment foam dispensers if she tries to do anything with the necklace. We sent her clothing and technology to New York for analysis. Has the PRT made any progress on understanding it Chief Director?"

"Not much," Chief Director Costa-Brown replied, "The devices are clearly Tinker Tech but most Thinkers can't get much off of them and those that do tend to insist they weren't made by a Tinker, we are assuming they have anti-Thinker properties. The dress seems to be made of spider silk but it did not come from any species on Earth."

She could not mention Six Eyes, since the PRT Heads didn't know about Cauldron. He had been one of Cauldron's most powerful Thinkers. He could see the history of objects and had been kept in another dimension for safety. They had opened a door so he could look at the clothing and equipment and lost contact with him. When they opened a door to his base monsters came through, it had taken her, Number Man and Contessa to kill them. They hadn't dared open a door to try and contact Six Eyes since.

Sarah Carpenter, the chief of Human Resources, asked, "The reports said she has woken up, what does she have to say for herself?"

"Given the affects her trigger had we are following full Master Stranger protocols," Piggot answered.
"Initially she worked very hard to communicate with us and seemed very cooperative. She made a number of suggestions about dealing with those affected by her trigger and talked about working with the Protectorate. However, she claims to be Taylor Hebert from another dimension and has a crazy story about interdimensional and time travel. She doesn't appear to be lying. We think her power has driven her crazy. Dr. Charles Young from Parahuman Asylum Midwest is working with her and is hopeful. I'm concerned, however, in the last few days she has become much less cooperative and started trying to bypass the Master Stranger protocols. In addition, when she wrote a letter to her Father yesterday she asked him to look into getting a lawyer and challenging her detention."

"Given the effects her trigger had it should not be hard to justify holding her as a threat to the public," Tom Marshall the PRT's Head Counsel offered.

"In Brockton Bay the three weeks after the trigger were unusually tense," Director Piggot continued. "We had a number of people acting odd and more violence then usual primarily because of the rise of Shadow Stalker's gang and their war with the Empire."

"About," Piggot glanced at her watch, "three hours ago, at ten in the morning, while school was in session, Winslow High School abruptly vanished and was replaced with the massive structure of Gothic arches and baroque decoration wreathed in electricity that you have all seen pictures of. Several 'things' have emerged from it, we don't know what they were and they clearly should not have existed in this world. Fortunately, they were immediately destroyed by powerful weapons mounted on the structure."

"What did these things look like?" Glen Chambers interrupted to ask.

Piggot reached for a folder on her desk as she answered, "Our agents on site got a picture of the third one, I'll warn you it isn't pretty." With that she held up a picture of what looked like the love child of an elephant and a penguin with neon pink and green stripes and more insectoid legs then could be counted.

Glen's expression of horror would have been comic in other circumstances as he muttered, "can things get any worse?"

"Don't tempt fate!" Snapped Janice Lovelace the PRT's chief accountant.

Retired General Frank Patton the Head of the PRT's officers asked, "What do we know about those weapons? I would hate to have my people surprised by them."

"Not much," Director Piggot answered. "They are quick, destructive and accurate. They will clearly go through armor but range and most everything else is unknown.

After a period of silence Director Piggot concluded, "There isn't much more to report. We instituted a quarantine around the structure and tried to get our prisoner to turn her power off. She insists that this isn't her but the people from where she came from. She asked to be taken to Winslow. No one here thinks moving her any closer to this structure is a good idea. We are waiting your arrival and direction. The parents of the kids who were at Winslow have gathered outside the police line but so far they are quiet and cooperative. Are there any questions?"

John Toymaker, the Head of the Wards program asked, "How many people are missing?"

"We don't have an exact count," Piggot replied, "but we estimate there were about eight hundred students and sixty adults in Winslow when it vanished."

"If we are going to quarantine this mess," Wally Stonemason observed, "we need to know how far it will spread. Do we have any information on what this woman's power is and what kind of range she has?"

"My people don't have any good ideas, we were calling her a Master and we added a Shaker 10 to that when the building appeared, but we don't know her limits" Piggott said.

"The PRT's thinkers are really weird about this," the Chief Director admitted, "they report large and inexplicable holes in their power. Until this morning they had very little to say, but when this building appeared they suddenly had a lot more information. As a result we are unsure of their reliability."

After a moment of silence Chief Director Costa-Brown said, "If there are no more questions I would like to hear your suggestions about what we need to accomplish in this situation."

Supervisor Stonemason immediately said, "We need to find out what the limits of her power are and why it is effecting thinkers worldwide."

Sarah Carpenter glared at Stonemason and snapped, "Don't forget about the people involved, our first priority should be getting the children back."

"You are too…" Stonemason began.

Director Piggot interrupted, "I agree figuring out the limits of her power and getting the children back would be good. But we don't know how to do either. Shadow Stalker's gang is a massive threat to Brockton Bay, they are violating the unwritten rules, if the E88 also abandons restraint too…I think the Triumvirate should focus on killing her."

"Is a kill order really necessary?" Glen asked. "They are always bad publicity."

"She killed Hookwolf." Piggot answered, "If we don't come down on her hard the Empire will be a problem. If Purity and Kaiser were to cut loose…."

The Chief Director said, "We need to find the limits of this new parahuman…Director Piggot has she chosen a name?"

"She claims 'Weaver' but it fits her powerset so badly most of my people refuse to use it. My people are mostly calling her Satana because of the way she drives people to evil and the fact that those who saw her described her as an angel."

"OK…Satana it is." Chief Director Costa-Brown replied, "So we have three goals, find the limits of Satana's powers, recover the people who vanished with Winslow, and deal with Shadow Stalker. Can anyone think of any other urgent priorities?"

"Finding out if Taylor Hebert is sane, seems like a good idea to me," the accountant, Lovelace offered. "We are assuming she is mad but according to the reports she has been rational and cooperative, it doesn't fit."

"Please…" Director Piggot growled, "we have almost one thousand people missing and twenty some dead because of her. She is started polite but is now trying to get out of confinement and is telling a story crazier than the most absurd movies. She isn't sane. She is murderous."

"How do you know?" Lovelace asked, "shouldn't we check?"

"Head Lovelace," Costa-Brown interjected, "we know because her story is obviously false. It is clear her power has driven her mad. Does anyone else have any goals?"

As Glen Chambers started to speak the Chief Director added, "besides getting the best possible PR out of this which is always a goal."

After a moment of silence Chief Director Costa-Brown said, "Good, then lets talk about how to achieve these goals."

PRT Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown entered her hotel room late in the evening with a large smile on her face. She turned and told, John Brown, her chief of security, "I won't be going out tonight. I want to review some reports and then get a good night's sleep. Secure the perimeter and then get some rest yourself. We will have a busy day tomorrow."

"Yes, Chief Director," he replied and closed the door.

Rebecca then turned back to the room and allowed herself a large smile. After arriving in Brockton Bay she had met with the Protectorate and PRT personnel and more importantly with the press. She had the press eating out of her hand, they had completely accepted the idea that this was an insane cape and weren't asking any questions about capes in general. They were reassured that the Triumvirate was gathered in New York and hadn't noticed that they were being kept there, instead of in Brockton Bay, because of Master concerns. They were so confident in the PRT's ability to handle the situation that they had forgotten to ask about Shadow Stalker. She had the press saying and doing exactly what she wanted.

In addition to dealing with the press, she had gotten the senior officials of the PRT out of the way. John Toymaker had been asked to do a thorough investigation of the Brockton Bay Wards program. She hadn't missed that Shadow Stalker had been close enough to see Taylor Hebert's trigger but had not done anything to stop the assault. She wanted to know if there was a problem there. He really cared for and was proud of the Wards. If there were any problems to find, he would find them.

Janice Lovelace was on the way to Atlanta, the numbers coming out of the PRT Atlanta office were too predictable. She suspected there was some type of fraud going on. She hoped that a surprise inspection by the PRT's Head Accountant would dig it up. The rest of the senior officials had spread out to do their own inspections, meet with Congress, and in a couple cases, Glen Chambers for one, return home.

Rebecca Costa-Brown spoke, "John Doe may be needed here." John Doe was a Stranger who could pretend to be anyone he wanted. He was very useful to Cauldron because he allowed key people, her especially, to be in two places at once. He covered for her regularly. Her staff knew that she didn't act while the Protectorate was in the field, she said it was to minimize conflicts with them, actually it was so John Doe didn't have to make decisions for her.

Now Clairvoyant would remain aware of this room. If anyone came looking for her Doormaker would bring John Doe in to protect her identity. She spoke again, "Door to Changing Room."

A portal opened and she stepped into the room she maintained for switching between being Chief Director Rebecca Costa-Brown and the hero Alexandria. She changed, being careful to move the USB drive with the reports she wanted to review into her costume. Then she spoke again, "Door to New York Protectorate."

She stepped through the portal and emerged in a small conference room overlooking New York City. Legend and Eidolon were waiting for her. Since they were unmasked, she removed her mask and greeted them. They welcomed her and Eidolon congratulated her on how well she had handled the media. Legend looked uncomfortable at that and said, "Keeping the media from asking questions is all well and good but we do need to actually solve the problem. That is not going to be easy or simple."

"Yes, of course," Eidolon answered in an effort to keep things calm. "How should we address our problems? We can't let this keep spreading."

"We will address Shadow Stalker first," Alexandria said. "She has committed many murders and violated all the unwritten rules. We need to come down on her hard. The Brockton Bay PRT, assisted by the Brockton Bay Police and a National Guard unit that the Governor has assigned will sweep the city tomorrow morning. Once they locate them we will move in and kill them."

"Has a kill order been approved?" Legend asked.

"I will sign it tonight," Alexandria replied. "As viciously as she has been acting and as many people as her gang has killed it won't be a problem."

Legend looked worried and asked, "What about the unpowered members of her gang?"

"The members of her gang have been acting with extreme psychopathy and have killed dozens of people," Alexandria answered. "You don't have to kill them, but don't take any chances with them. There are credible reports that they have some exceptionally dangerous knives."

"I'm concerned that Shadow Stalker might have allied with another parahuman, possibly a Tinker," Eidolon said. "We still don't know what caused the explosion that killed Hookwolf. The rumored knives and the couple of bodies we have recovered, whose wounds should not have killed them, make me think there is a Tinker involved."

"I doubt it," Alexandria said. "I think this is more of Satana's shaker effect. The equipment she had with her looked like Tinker Tech too, but we know she didn't make it."

"Why is the Brockton Bay PRT calling her Satana?" Legend questioned. "I have looked at the equipment sent to New York and spoken with the researchers working on it. The decoration is odd, and the technology is incredibly advanced, but it certainly doesn't feel demonic."

"Her effect on people is more important than her clothing" Alexandria answered. "The people who saw her appear, have been acting like they are possessed."

"Is it wise to use such a prejudicial name?" Legend asked.

"We have a problem to deal with, Legend, we can worry about names later!" Alexandria ordered.

"Dealing with Shadow Stalker and her gang will be a start. But she is not the main problem," Eidolon observed. "Do we have any idea how to deal with Taylor Hebert? If we can't find her limits or convince her to restrain herself we will need to think about killing her."

Legend opened his mouth to speak by Alexandria spoke first and spoke over him. "If I was sure of the outcome I would have her killed tonight. The way the corruption she creates is spreading reminds me of the Simurgh. If we don't kill Shadow Stalker tomorrow we will need to think more seriously about killing Hebert. But we are not going to act now. We know too little about what would happen if Satana died. If the kids from the school didn't come back the press would say we had given up on almost a thousand kids. Glen would be justly furious."

"I think that is everything," she concluded. "Get some sleep, I will keep watch tonight in case something comes up. There have been to many surprises for me to think all of us sleeping tonight is a good idea. The search will start in Brockton Bay at six-thirty in the morning, be up and ready by then."

"I'm going home," Legend stated. "This conversation has left a bad taste in my mouth, I want to spend the night with my husband. I'll be back at six-thirty." Then he flew out the window.

"He is becoming a problem," Eidolon worried. "I'm not sure how much longer he will be willing to accept what we have to do. A public break would be a major problem."

"I know," Alexandria answered. "But there is nothing we can do about that tonight. Is there anything else?"

"Just one thing," Eidolon answered. "Those knives I mentioned are more than a rumor. Coil provided one to Cauldron. It cuts through most anything and somehow drains the life force from anyone it cuts. The researchers working with it are trying to stay professional but their reports read as if they are studying a Lovecraftian horror. If Satana gave Shadow Stalker the ability to create these things we have to get Satana's power under control very quickly or this could be worse than Lausanne. We should think seriously about killing Satana."

"I will keep that in mind," Alexandria answered. "Now go to bed, I have work to do. If anything comes up I will wake you."

After Eidolon left Alexandria felt the tension ease out of her body. Managing the press was far easier than managing the Triumvirate. Eidolon was increasingly too quick to kill and Legend was stubbornly resistant to doing what was necessary. She missed Hero, he had been the glue that held them together. He might have had a good idea for how to deal with Taylor's psychosis and even if he didn't, he could have helped them preserve a sense of perspective.

She made a mental note to ask for the reports on the knife that Eidolon had mentioned, but first she wanted to study the newest Wards. While her powers let her take in information at a glance and retain it she needed to take some time to think about it if she wanted to draw useful conclusions from it. She was grateful for the way her thinker powers and brute rating worked together to let her skip sleep for a day or two without it effecting her performance. She needed that ability regularly in order to be both Alexandria and Chief Director Costa-Brown.

Alexandria contacted the agent on Console duty and told them she was on call for emergencies and would be in this room all night. She then logged in and activated the security system to prevent anyone from knowing what she had looked at (being Chief Director was the only thing that had let her slip that through without unanswerable questions). Once she was logged in she pulled the USB drive out of her pocket plugged it in and began reviewing the reports.

January 28, 2011

By just after five-thirty in the morning Alexandria had made a lot of progress. In addition to studying most of the new Ward's files she had also reviewed the report on Satana's knives that Eidolon had mentioned. In addition to cutting anything she suspected the knives spread Satana's master effect. The descriptions of the knives were too close to the descriptions of the 'glowing thing' which had corrupted Shadow Stalker. She passed a warning to the lab to watch the researchers for changes in behavior and to minimize exposure to the knife Coil had provided.

Going back to the file for the third to last new Ward in the Midwest region, she looked at the details on Hardlight. The ability to create and control glowing constructs was versatile and since they could be shaped into cute forms and spread feelings of calm and happiness it was a very PR friendly power. The social isolation she experienced in Iowa City was a problem, especially since her family situation was also poor. She had no siblings; her Father had abandoned the family and her Mother seemed completely overwhelmed and had issues with depression. There was only two Protectorate members in Iowa City and no other Wards. Hardlight needed friendly peers, Alexandria made a note to see about moving Hardlight to Chicago or another city with several Wards and to make sure she made some friends among them.

Alexandria was just turning to the penultimate new Ward's file when the office phone rang. She picked it up and before she could get a word out the officer on the other end started speaking. "Alexandria, we just got a call from Brockton Bay, the PRT office is under attack! A truck bomb was used against the front door and fifty people stormed the building, they're killing everyone!"

"I'm leaving now," Alexandria answered, using command tones to stabilize the console officer. "Wake Eidolon and then call Legend."

"Yes, Ma'am," he replied. But he was speaking to empty air. Alexandria had already flown out the window.

As she accelerated east over the ocean Alexandria cursed one of the oddities of her power. While there was no limit to how fast she could go, and she was immune to the effects of her speed, the rest of the world wasn't. she had to keep her speed down and to route her travel around populated areas to avoid causing damage on the ground. This meant she had to loop over the ocean instead of flying direct to Brockton Bay. It also meant it would take her almost as long to get to Brockton Bay as it would have taken her to get to London. She could go much faster in low earth orbit but climbing to that altitude took time. In this case it was slightly faster to loop over the ocean.

Thus, five minutes after she learned of the attack, she was in Brockton Bay and approaching PRT headquarters. Armsmaster must have been working in his lab on the Rig because he was approaching the main entrance on his motorcycle and would arrive just before she did. As he leapt off his bike, two African American men wearing biker leathers marked with the weird X, in dark red, that Shadow Stalker's gang used as their symbol and carrying long knives that glowed that same dark red charged him.

As they charged they shouted, "A skull for the Skull Throne!"

Armsmaster pointed his Halberd at the man on the left and the head shot forward, it hit him squarely and the man convulsed as the taser Armsmaster had built into it activated. As the head retracted the other ganger approached and Armsmaster swung the handle of the Halberd, which was suddenly surrounded by an ominous green aura, to force him back. In a suicidal move, the ganger leaped on the handle while swinging his knife at Armsmaster's shoulder. He started screaming when he hit the handle but his arm continued forward and the knife brushed Armsmaster's shoulder.

Alexandria was shocked when instead of deflecting off Armsmaster's armor as should have, the knife, in violation of the laws of physics (her thinker power assured her) turned and dug into Armsmaster's shoulder until it was hilt deep. Armsmaster screamed and dropped the Halberd.

The whole engagement had taken less than 15 seconds, as she arrived Armsmaster looked up at her, his strength was clearly waning rapidly and said, "put the head of the Halberd against the handle of the knife and push the golden button that is tenth from the bottom."

She didn't know what else to do so she did as he said. The Halberd was laying next to the second ganger, who was unconscious. She picked it up, put the head against the handle of the knife and pressed the golden button. The head of the Halberd glowed gold, a hate filled screech came from the knife. Suddenly what had been an extremely sinister, blood red, glowing knife or short sword was a simple ordinary kitchen knife.

Armsmaster looked up at her, he was already looking better, and said, "Thank you!"

She smiled at him and asked, "Will you be OK?"

"Yes," he answered, "my built-in systems indicate I am not in any immediate danger." He started to get up and bit back a scream. "But it would probably be a very good idea if I didn't move. Take the Halberd with you, you will need it to deactivate the other knives."

"How did you manage to build a counter to the knives into the Halberd?"

Alexandria winced internally as she noted the guilt in his body language at the question.

"Never mind," she said. "We will worry about that later. I will leave the Halberd here until the building is secure. The police aren't here yet you may need it." Then Alexandria took out two pairs of restraints and tied up the unconscious gangers.

With the front of the PRT building secure, she looked at the entrance. It did sort of look like a bomb had gone off, but a very odd bomb. There was a large hole where the door used to be and rubble scattered outside the blast zone but the ground below was perfectly clear and flat, so men could march into the PRT building six abreast.

It looked like a trap, but there was no other convenient entry for the reinforcements were coming. It needed to be cleared. She took to the air, flew to the left and then turned right and entered the building at high speed and an angle. As she crossed the threshold she saw an ugly yellow beam heading straight for her. Before she could react, it hit her. It felt wrong, very different from any parahuman power she had ever experienced. Her costume began to change.

She lost control of her flight and momentum carried her into the far wall. By the time she hit it her costume had hardened to the point that, even with her super strength, she couldn't move. She was frozen, with her arms stretched over her head in the classic super hero flight pose, encased in a costume that felt unnatural and corrupt. Luckily, she landed facing the reception room so she had a clear view.

The room was wrecked and mostly empty, the bodies of a couple of PRT personnel were laying in a pool of blood by the welcome desk. They had been stabbed many many times. The blast had some odd effects. One section of wall was neon yellow with poisonous green poke-a-dots. One ninth of the wall across from her was covered in fur. What caught her attention though was the teenager standing in the middle of the room. There were three young children tied up at her feet and whimpering with fear.

The young woman was tall and model pretty with brilliant red hair. Or, would have been if her skin hadn't been an utterly unnatural yellow color and she hadn't had donkey's ears stretching a foot and a half over the top of her head. She caught Alexandria's eyes and declared, "All is going according to plan. My God told me exactly what you would do and I beat you. Our flawless plans are our strength. Soon all shall bow before us."

Then cackling like a stereotypical villain (and Alexandria had fought a lot of those) she pulled out a knife and sliced the children's throats. She made sure the blood spurted on the nine pieces of fabric arrayed around her feet. Then she spoke words that Alexandria couldn't understand and which should not exist in this world and which Alexandria would spend the rest of her life wishing she could forget.

Without a sound or any evidence of movement, even to Alexandria's enhanced senses, she vanished.

As Alexandria was wondering who that madwoman was and what type of powers she had the visor that covered the upper half of her face began to change. Strange symbols began to play across it. She sensed them worming their way into her mind and trying to corrupt it. She shut her eyes to protect herself and resolved to wait for Eidolon.

The whole fight, from the moment Armsmaster engaged the gangsters to the unknown parahuman vanishing had only lasted three minutes. She didn't think Eidolon would be more than five minutes behind her so he should be here soon.

Her costume continued to change and begin to try and eat her, but her physical invulnerability held and she continued to wait.