"So you had your trigger and you got... friends out of it?" asked Miss Militia.
"Yes. They're quite unusual, and they're not under my control or anything, but they do have useful abilities," said Taylor Hebert, wearing her little mask and carrying a book.
A book that seemed to extend in ways that led to her being taken completely seriously as a cape. Books shouldn't be made of materials that seemed to squirm, books shouldn't LOOK at you, books shouldn't carry a faint scent that somehow seemed to taste of madness and the space between stars where cold alien intelligences dwelled.
Miss Militia shook her head. She'd have dismissed it as too much work and not enough downtime except she'd heard the whispered comments from various troopers who all said basically the same thing.
There was some prepwork needed for power testing, so a "meet the Wards" and maybe a young cape would hit it off with them. Right? What could go wrong?
Miss Militia smiled as she hit a couple of buttons. "This is letting them know to mask up, visitor incoming."
"Oh, that's cool," said Taylor. "Maybe Dad freaking out and calling you guys wasn't a mistake."
A panel blinked green.
"Okay," said Miss Militia, considering that the girl's mood had relaxed a bit since she'd arrived a good sign. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet Summoner."
"Hi, I'm -" began Vista.
"What is fucking Taylor Hebert doing here?" declared Shadow Stalker.
"SOPHIA HESS?!" Taylor held out a hand and the book was suddenly hovering there three inches above the hand, covers spread and pages fluttering. "HOW are YOU a HERO?!"
"Because I'm not lame with some librarian power," said Shadow Stalker. "Get out of here and do the world a favor and kill yourself."
"Stalker," began Miss Militia, with a warning tone.
"Oh? And being the bitch who locked me in a locker after eighteen months of bullying is a great power?!" demanded Taylor.
Shadow Stalker went to shadow, crossed the room, and backhanded Taylor hard enough to cause the girl to stagger to the side. "Trash doesn't get to talk back to me like that!"
"STALKER!" repeated Miss Militia, though seeing the air ripple around Summoner gave her survival instincts a clear message of "don't get between them" for some reason.
"Enough! Mgahnnn shuggnglui, mgah'ehye ya mghri feel ymg' ah'bthnk!"
Miss Militia stopped from where she'd stepped forward to physically separate the two. In fact she took two steps back. The sound of some distant bell tolling, the way the shadows suddenly seemed darker, the way the air behind Shadow Stalker had a crack in it as if it were a wall that a Brute had decided to punch? All clues that something had just happened.
The other Wards, all of whom had been either concerned or trying to figure out what to do, all immediately went back as far as they could as the walls allowed them.
"What, you're gonna gargle at me?" asked Shadow Stalker.
At which point the rip in space/time behind her sent a semi-gelatinous tentacle out to wrap around her and yank her into the weird effect.
"Please don't kill her," said Miss Militia.
"It would mean way too much paperwork," tried Clockblocker.
Summoner nodded and stepped close to the rip. "Don't kill her. Just let her know that if something happens to me - my friends from the Other Side know what she tastes like."
Shadow Stalker started screaming. After a few moments of that it cut off abruptly.
"Sophia," said Summoner. "Are you going to behave?"
"I can't shadow through them. Why can't I shadow through them?" asked Sophia's voice, sounding as if she were crying.
"That sounded like some Cthulhu crap, I ain't looking," said Clockblocker.
"Lovecraft got so many things wrong," said Taylor, punctuating it with a giggle. "Not everything, but yeah - probably best if you don't look into the Between."
"'Between' what?" asked Vista, who also was very deliberately NOT looking too close at the rip.
"Between that which is, that which is not. Between Dream and Reality, the spaces where things before space and time dwell," said Taylor.
"So... basically the Twilight Zone and not a friendly part?" asked Clockblocker.
Taylor cocked her head for a moment then nodded. Good an explantion as any. "Are you ready to come out, Sophia? Are you ready to be good?"
"Okay, thank you," said Taylor. She made some noises that sounded like gargling for a moment.
Sophia was deposited back where she'd started out and the tentacle retreated back into the rip before that closed.
Miss Militia was quickly there and throwing a blanket over the girl who looked almost ashen and was shivering. "Stalker? Are you alright, Stalker?"
The shaking girl looked up at her with a haunted expression. She sniffled.
* PRT Testing Room *
"Testing on Summoner. January 8, 2011, 1715 hours. Power testing commencing. Summoner, please place your book on the scan plate. Thank you. Book is 13inches by 24inches by 3inches. Weight is 18 pounds. Anomalous density. Unable to determine materials used in book's construction. Appears to be of brown leather with brass bindings and corners. Gem-like... okay those are eyes. Eyes are being extruded and subsumed by the material of the cover. Pages look to be of aged sheepskin. The book is looking at me. Despite the one-way glass. How lovely. Okay, Summoner, you can pick it back up - it looks like we're not going to get more useful information out of it."
Taylor picked the book back up, stroking the spine a few times.
"Summoner, you were able to open a portal in the Wards quarters earlier today. Can you open one now near those sensors? Excellent. It would be best if nothing came through there. Good good. Glad you understand that. We're just going to use a remote probe... Which apparently got eaten as soon as it crossed the discontinuity. Good to know. Can you have your 'friends' back up a bit?"
* PRT ENE HQ Director's Office *
"She assaulted a Ward," said Director Piggot.
"She demonstrated her power on the person who caused her Trigger Event," said Miss Militia. "And apparently held back a lot."
"Nonetheless," said Director Piggot.
"I don't think Shadow Stalker will attack her again," said Miss Militia. "Speaking of which - Shadow Stalker has requested a transfer to another branch. Any other branch. Stated preference is far away from any body of water."
"Well what of this other cape? Can she work with others without doing... what exactly did she do?" asked Director Piggot.
Armsmaster looked up from the report. "Opened a tear in space/time to eight-dimensional space tentatively dubbed Lovecraftian Space."
"'Lovecraft'? That's ominous," said Director Piggot.
"It describes it pretty well," said Miss Militia, putting a transparent box on the edge of the desk.
"What the hell is that?" asked Director Piggot, staring.
"That started out as a Dragontech Type III sensor-drone," said Miss Militia.
"It's moving," said Director Piggot, "except it's not. I can't even tell you what color it is. What?"
"It became folded through different dimensions, fascinating isn't it?" asked Armsmaster. "You can see the top and the bottom at the same time from this angle. They're next to each other and a good four feet apart despite the box only being two feet square. Fascinating."
"That's not the word I'd use to sum it up," said Director Piggot.
"Be glad you didn't look inside the opening, some of the readings were... unusual," said Armsmaster.
"So... Shaker?" asked Director Piggot.
"She has friends on the Other Side," said Miss Militia. "Some sort of hell-dimension as far as I can tell. There was some mucus from the tentacle that we were able to scrape off of Stalker and submit to laboratory analysis."
"Stalker will require some time to be able to report exactly what she saw on this 'Other Side' as attempts to get details from her were less than informative," said Armsmaster.
"Translation - she fainted. Twice." Miss Militia shook her head. "Honestly, as much as I want to see Summoner confined to her house and not join the Wards - I also want to know what would happen if she went up against Hookwolf or Lung."
"Maybe she can be a rogue independent we can monitor and ally with?" suggested Armsmaster. "If nothing else, I suspect she could make prisoner transport a lot easier."
"By having her friends eat anyone trying to free a prisoner?" asked Miss Militia.
* Coil *
Timeline A: Sit at his desk and work on some paperwork. Even in the electronic age, it was a tide that could overwhelm lesser men.
Timeline B: Since Summoner was Taylor Hebert, getting control of the cape by putting the screws on her father would work. Right?
Timeline A: He observed video of Taylor Hebert, sitting at a bus stop and looking bored.
Timeline B: His men approached the Hebert house.
Timeline A: Taylor frowned and looked straight at the camera he was looking at her from.
Timeline B: His mercenaries saw movement and fired a gun. Dropping Danny Hebert to the floor.
Timeline A: Taylor's face went from no-expression to absolute fury for no discernable reason.
Timeline B: The bushes nearest his mercenaries began moving as if there were a storm front moving in.
Timeline A: Taylor's furious face dissolved into static before going to "No Signal."
Timeline B: The medical telemetry from his mercenaries started to go to flatline and their video feeds went out at the same time.
Timeline A: The screen came back but now it was a closeup of a very angry-looking Taylor Hebert.
Timeline B: All of his mercenaries were now reading as dead. Then the screen in that world changed to reveal a closeup of Taylor Hebert with the exact same expression in both timelines.
Timeline A: Coil said "Oh shit." before the lights went flickering and then stabilized at dim.
Timeline B: Coil said "Oh shit." before the lights flickered and went completely out.
Timeline A&B: lots of screaming in the background.
Timeline A: Something was in the room with him.
Timeline B: Ended in screaming and gurgling.
Timeline A: Something leaned close to him and whispered. "Don't."
Thomas Calvert leapt off his chair as soon as the odd paralysis left him, the lights flickering back on, and looked around at the room. Nothing out of place. Nothing to indicate what had just happened. Had it been some kind of illusion? A projection?
Thomas checked the security feeds. Nothing out of the ordinary except for a large number of his mercenaries were apparently unconscious. In a straight line from one set of doors to his room. Was that a trail of water on the floor?
Thomas Calvert considered all the possible moves he could make, and decided that maybe he ought to just avoid certain areas of potential conflict. He had enough going on without complicating things, right?
* January 12 2011 *
"Taylor? I got a call from the Principal at Winslow. Apparently they filled out all the paperwork for you to be homeschooled and are asking you to NOT come by. Ever. Did something happen?"
"Oh, nothing important. Emma heard I had new friends and wanted to meet them. She doesn't want to meet them anymore."
"Oddly enough, I can see that."
* Feb 24, 2011 *
"What's Summoner doing here?" asked Miss Militia.
"She showed up at the rally point despite being Wards-age," said Armsmaster. "No time to -"
"Simurgh is at the five mile mark, places everyone," said Dragon over their armbands.
"Hang on," came Summoner's voice over the open channel. "I want to try something."
"Who is this? Clear the line," said Eidolon's voice in reply.
The next bit wasn't over the armbands and despite the distance and wind, the voice carried. The words were in an odd alien language that sounded as if the girl speaking them had inhuman mouth parts.
Cracks appeared in midair, then ruptured, and tentacles shot out an impossible distance to grab ahold of the winged being despite her attempts at evasion. They drew her closer, ignoring the struggles of the multi-winged Endbringer as it tried to free itself. The air shimmered around the Simurgh as it fought against the tendrils holding it even as more tendrils extended out.
Tendrils began plucking wings off, like the Endbringer was a daisy and someone was playing "she loves me, she loves me not" except that the petals that were plucked off were going to one tentacle - the end of which split into three parts with teeth and swallowed the bits coming its way.
"Okayyyyyyy," said a nearby cape, who pointed at Summoner and then addressed Miss Militia. "One of yours?"
"She lives in Brockton Bay, yes," said Miss Militia, who found herself pitying the now-obviously panicked Simurgh and then feeling guilty/angry about that.
"Nothing personal, but I don't think I'm ever going to visit your no-doubt lovely city," said the cape.
"Can't blame you," replied Miss Militia as the last wing was plucked, dropped into the tentacle-mouth and apparently chewed with great satisfaction. She wasn't sure where that impression came from, but she was definitely getting it.
The now-limp and wingless body of the Simurgh followed that last wing.
Taylor shouted something else in that weird gargled language and the tentacles began withdrawing. The last one just sort of waved at the assembled capes, wrapped around itself near the end to give a sort-of thumb's up imitation, and then vanished into the cracks in reality. There was a brief voice saying something in a gargling language that left strange echoes and about a third of the assembled capes either throwing up or fainting. In a few unfortunate cases they did both. A moment later and the cracks began fading away.
Before they finished vanishing, Summoner gargled something in apparent reply.
There was a crackle from the armbands. "Yeah. Right. That just happened." Dragon sounded entirely unsure of herself. "Uhm. Thank you all for attending. Summoner, is there any chance of the Simurgh reappearing at this point?"
"No, he said she was really tasty and asked if we have any more," said Summoner.
"Okay... and you said?" asked Dragon.
"I'll let him know," said Summoner over the open channel.
"WHO? WHO'S HE?! WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!" yelled Eidolon over the same channel.
"Are you sure you want the answers to that?" asked Armsmaster. "Because I'm not sure I want the answers to any of that, and she's in MY city."
There was brief silence over the battlefield.
"No, I'm good." "Yeah, I don't want to know." "Me, I saw an open bar over there. Who's with me?" "I don't think Australia has enough alcohol." "You never been here, mate? We gonna put a dent in it, I'm thinking."
* Feb 24, 2011 *
"Summoner's power is that she can access a multi-dimensional high-energy space with different physical laws than we are used to," reported Alexandria, tapping her finger on the reports. "There are inhabitants of that space. Inhabitants she can ask favors of. Apparently eating the Simurgh was considered a payment on previous favors and those Other Siders want to know if we have any more."
"Summoner apparently doesn't go out and crime fight or otherwise engage in normal cape activity," said Legend. "I've had reports crossing my desk. The only time she's used her power is when confronted or provoked and even then she seems careful to restrict damage."
"I haven't seen those reports," noted Alexandria.
"Because they've all resolved themselves and she fills out the paperwork herself," said Legend. "Glory Girl once confronted her when she was dealing with an attempt to mug her. The muggers turned themselves in and are now adamant that they'll never return to that city. Glory Girl started to try and intimidate Summoner but Summoner just showed her a picture in her book. By the time Glory Girl recovered from that, Summoner had gone home."
"I've seen some of the reports," said Doctor Mother. "I was unsure of what to make of them."
"Great," said Eidolon. "Is anyone going to tell me what exactly we saw yesterday?"
"I've been thinking about that," said Doctor Mother. "In the animal world, there's always a bigger predator - correct? Perhaps this is the predator to the Entities."
Silence around the table.
"I'm not sure that's it, but it would answer a few questions," allowed Legend. "It said that the 'Simurgh' was tasty according to Summoner."
Eidolon thought about it briefly, then decided that maybe he was better off not pressing for details. For now.
"So what do we do about her?" asked Alexandria.
"Nothing?" asked Legend. "Unless someone attacks her, she just does normal activities like taking online courses. Armsmaster and Dragon are monitoring the area around her home and so far there hasn't been any problems."
"Why are they monitoring the house of a masked underage cape?" Doctor Mother stopped, considered, then nodded. "Because she scares them. I understand."
"Right, if the Empire or the ABB attack their house, the possibility of a large section of city not being there in the morning or being subject to 'Call of Cthulhu' events rises significantly," stated Legend.
"Do you suppose that these 'friends' might be of use for when Scion inevitably acts?" asked Doctor Mother.
"I know I don't want to be anywhere near that fight if I have any sort of alternative," said Kurt. "The math is clear on that."
* Summoner *
"Non-Euclidean geometry is easy, it's the Escherian geometry that gets complicated," explained Taylor/Summoner. "Once you go beyond fifth-dimensional math, a lot of people start getting headaches."
"I see," said Dragon over the internet connection. "Hmmm. Can I ask for your help with a little problem of mine?"
"I suppose," allowed Taylor. "You have been helpful in getting me into these classes. What's your problem?"
"There's this group called the Dragonslayers," began Dragon.
* April 14th *
"Okay, proceed with capture," ordered Coil.
The lights abruptly went out. A smell, as of some stagnant water deep with rusted iron, wafted past his chair.
"Hold that last order. Just a moment," ordered Coil.
The lights flickered back to being on.
Coil considered his options carefully. Clearly he was still being watched. Watched by something he'd rather not think about.
"New information just came to my attention," said Coil to his snatch team. "Pull back for now."
Coil couldn't shake the feeling that something was watching him for a very long time after that.
* May 15th 2011 *
"Wait. He started heading straight for Brockton Bay and then just stopped?"
"Yeah, we have satellite footage and radar. He's ten miles out and just stopped."
"Why would Leviathan start an attack run and just stop dead in the water?"
"I don't... oh. Summoner just showed up at the rally point."
"Funny, but that explains everything, don't it?"
"Yeah, trying to get a drone nearby to see what he's up to."
"Maybe he's trying to determine a secondary target to go after?"
"Maybe. Huh. Got a visual. What's that look like to you?"
"Endbringers can have an epileptic fit?"
"Not that cheap stuff is it?"
"For dealing with an Endbringer fight? Nah. Try it, it's one of the good ones from Australia - not that Fosters crap."
"Okay, he's heading back out now. That's good enough. Cheers."
* Cauldron HQ *
"What's wrong with Eidolon?"
"He has been exhibiting signs similar to those of an epileptic fit. He has no previous medical history to indicate this problem and the EEG shows it centered on his Gemma."
"So... it's his power that's causing him health issues?"
"That seems the logical conclusion. We do have one nullifier but she was away from site and has the usual transportation problems regarding a power nullifier. Sedating David seems to have curbed the worst of the symptoms. It is quite unusual."
"Do what you can, we have Leviathan on an attack run. We'll just have to do without him this time."
* Staging Ground, Brockton Bay *
"Coffee?" asked a guy in a costume, hovering nearby on a garbage can lid of all things.
"Got any tea?" asked Summoner.
"Here ya go, it's Lipton and not fresh-brewed I'm afraid," said the cape, taking one of the styrofoam cups off of his tray.
Summoner took it anyway and looked over the new guy, who was a couple years younger than her. "You from out-of-town?"
"Yeah, not sure how much good I'm going to be," said the kid, "electromagnetic control but I'm kind of new. Name's Static."
"Summoner," Taylor introduced herself. "Good luck."
"Thanks," said Static, zipping off to finish delivering the tray of stimulants.
Dragon's voice came over the armbands. "Leviathan is stopped at 10.15 nautical miles. Continuing to monitor."
Summoner reflected that being bored during an Endbringer attack was likely a first.
There was silence for a few minutes until someone turned on the local radio station and the local talk station (WBBR) could briefly be heard before switching to WAVE (golden oldies) and the familiar sounds of "Walk Like An Egyptian" began playing.
Summoner took the cup to the nearest trash receptacle, tossing it in, and nodding to the three people (two heroes and a villain) nearby. They waved back, a little nervous looking for some reason.
The rain that had been going on all morning slowed and gradually stopped.
Summoner glanced around, wondering if that meant what she thought it did.
"All channels. Leviathan is moving away from Brockton Bay. Continuing to monitor. Looks as though he's heading due South-Southeast."
* May 30 2011 *
"Ah, Brockton Bay," said Jack Slash, making sweeping gestures to indicate the whole city. "A cesspool of hatred and pettiness, desperation and fear. It's only been a few years but it feels almost like yesterday. So much has changed, but so little has changed."
"Time to... Wait, is that members of the Fallen?" asked Shatterbird as she joined Jack in the parking lot of the 7-11.
"Hmmm? Where? Oh," said Jack. "I hadn't noticed them."
"Notice them? How could you not notice them?" asked Shatterbird. "They're stacked up like firewood."
Jack went over to the little pile of dead bodies. "Very nice, artistic even."
"I want to fight Summoner," grumbled Crawler as he flowed out of the back of the "toy hauler" RV.
"We know," replied Shatterbird. "You've been saying that since we left that town in Nevada."
"Oh, I think this was Valefor," said Jack, holding a head up that had a ragged stump for a neck. "Oooh, look at me! I'm da big scawy Master! This is what happens when amateurs try to reach above their means."
A patch of shadows started making slithering noises.
"I wonder if Poppet can use the parts for anything," said Jack as he looked over the pile. "They haven't been dead... very long at all. Hmmm."
"Something wrong, Jack?" asked Shatterbird.
Jack Slash straightened and looked around. His sense that there were parahumans nearby didn't indicate that there was anyone at all nearby. The 7-11 was closed, but it was 4am and that might just be a regional thing where they weren't 24hours. Like those places in Utah that were part of a chain that had fresh coffee but hardly anyone actually drank the stuff. Or no - bad example.
"Something's here," said Crawler abruptly.
"Yeah, maybe," said Jack, feeling all the little hairs on the back of his neck sticking up. "Siberian?"
A little white van thumped into a curb and rolled to a stop.
"Everyone back in the RV," said Jack, eyes flicking from one pile of shadow to another. "Shatterbird. Get some altitude I need eyes in the air."
Jack took a step back as he looked towards Shatterbird and noticed an eye protruding from her open mouth. The tentacle the eye was mounted on started extending like some impossibly long tongue as Shatterbird's body began to swell up. He checked, saw a tentacle from a patch of shadows that went up her leg, and used his ability to extend a blade's reach to cut at it.
Shatterbird's body exploded from within, tentacles reaching out for him.
"Hell NO!" declared Jack Slash, for the first time thinking that maybe this hadn't been such a good idea.
There was a sound of metal protesting and Jack Slash was rewarded with the sight of his RV being crushed into a little ball and being drawn into a sewer.
"WHY?" asked Jack.
"Because," said a voice as a teenage girl stepped out of the shadows. "I have friends. They knew that nobody would miss you and I promised them something to play with."
Jack tried to struggle as more and more tentacles started drawing him into a patch of shadow that seemed way too deep.
"You live for terror and pain, as I understand it," said the teenager. "My friends don't really understand the concepts too well, but they're very very good at it." There was a flash of pictures being taken. "Goodbye, Mister Slash. It was actually nice of your team to provide me enough money that my Dad can pay off the mortgage."
Jack continued to struggle even as he saw Crawler frantically trying to get away from being drawn into a patch of shadows under a dumpster.
As more and more tentacles pulled him slowly into the shadows, he realized that Shatterbird had been the lucky one.
* NOTE *
This was just a weird idea that was born of reading mp3.1415player's "She Summons Sea Things by the Sea Shore" and wondering what would happen if things went a bit differently.