Nox @time_parad0x
Chapter 10 - Attack on the PRT

I don't own Worm

This chapter was edited by nags.

On Spacebattles and Sufficient Velocity where this story is crossposted you will find an informational post with all the condensed info of Taylors Shades.

Chapter 10: Attack on the PRT

Suddenly I found myself on the rooftop of a building a block away from the PRT Headquarters. It was the middle of the night. The streets were only illuminated by the streetlights and the moon visible through the cloud cover. At this hour, even in a city as big as Brockton Bay, the number of cars underway was nonexistent. The same applied to the pedestrians, especially in this neighborhood. From where I was standing I had an unobstructed view of the buildings making up the PRT Headquarters.

Freya released her hand from my shoulder, clad in my new costume made out of Shadow-essence, and touched the wall of the staircase door and marked it with Blink's ability. Thereby giving us a point of retreat, that also could be used as a near-perfect overwatch position.

Mom,

- No, not Mom. She impressed on me the importance of thinking of her in her cape persona while in costume. How it helps to separate her two identities if you could even call it such, with her being a Shade, reanimated from the dead. Apparently, it is a good habit to develop in order to prevent a screw-up in calling the names of your teammates in stressful situations. -

She was standing right next to us and carried another tag on her body, in between her shoulder blades. Like myself and every other Shade did, since a few minutes ago. I used it as a teleporter beacon to bring Freya and myself here.

Sending her ahead while she used the power of Kairos allowed me to reach this destination without wasting any perceivable time. By doing so, I also took full advantage of the seemingly nonexistent range limit at which my Shades could operate.

"Listen, Taylor. Before we start, there is one thing I absolutely have to know." Her slightly muffled voice originating beneath her hood said, dead serious, only to follow it up with the question, "did you come up with a name for yourself?" I didn't need to see her face to know that she wore a shit-eating grin while asking me that.

I gave her the best I could manage of an annoyed glare, with my whole face hidden behind my mask. But it didn't stop Mom from interpreting my meaning and laughing at my mock anger.

"It isn't easy." I pouted as I crossed my arms in front of my chest.

"Of course it is," she declared, wiping a non-existing tear from the corner of her mask to emphasize her ridicule, "you are just overthinking it."

"Well, not everybody can cheat like you and stretch a second into an eternity to think on it." I shot back.

"In fact, you can." was her short response, while her statement was true. It made me roll my eyes at her, which in turn made her laugh even harder.

"Can we just start Sage?" I asked, not even trying to hide the annoyance in my voice.

The next time I blinked, Mom, or Sage, how she decided to call herself while in costume, was no longer standing on the roof. Instead, she appeared in the middle of the vast greenery next to the multi-story PRT building.

She placed herself directly above the underground facility hidden beneath the ground. Freya didn't hesitate. Directed by me, her hand came to a rest on my shoulder, and an instant later, we stood next to Sage.

I summoned Chione and used the power of the Shade called Rift to make the matter the ground was made out of, permeable, which in turn formed a small hole of see through and walk through matter right in front of us. I made sure to extend the cylinder of shifted matter down until it reached the deepest level of the facility.

Freya loosened a dagger I had formed out of her essence as a means to deliver her tags and dropped it in the hole. Meanwhile, Chione charged up a ballof sparkling lightning between her two hands and threw it down behind the dagger. The moment the ball made it through, she rescinded Rift power, and the hole disappeared.

I was somewhat surprised, that I could do all that without encountering a problem. Somehow, I wasn't expecting my Shades to have the necessary multi-tasking ability to use more than one of their powers requiring high levels of concentration at the same time. As a result, I was prepared to have to separate Rift from Chione to pull it off.

It couldn't have been easy keeping the matter shifted while simultaneously using the combined powers of Tyr and Valkyrie to create and employ the EMP-charge.

Fortunately, that wasn't necessary. Another mystery I have to get to the bottom of. My preliminary suspect for this multi-tasking capability of myself and my Shades was the Shard I got from Dad.

In the meantime, Freya touched Chione and teleported her to the overwatch position. A sensible choice Mom and I agreed on during the planning stages. For the simple reason that she was the one Shade that was best equipped to deal with any interference, from providing cover fire, a distraction, or just to stall one or two teams made up of your average Parahumans indefinitely. The moment she left us, I felt a small static charge passing over me. A second later, Freya returned to teleport both Sage and me to the dagger, deep down in the facility.

We rematerialized on sublevel three, two stories down from the one closest to the surface, the general area the holding cells were supposed to be located according to Mom's blueprints. Which I could only hope were still accurate.

There was barely any light after the EMP had disabled most of the systems, including all the bulbs. The only light stemmed from some luminescence bands placed every few meters along the corridor. The sparse sources of light they provided, even after my eyes adjusted to the dark, was barely enough not to run headfirst into a wall. I had to call myself to order, that no, I was not on the set of the newest horror movie, and I wouldn't die screaming to whichever monster was starring in it.

I fused myself with Echo, who granted me the sound-sense to be able to navigate through the near pitch-black darkness. It also helped to shift the focus away from my sight-based perception diminishing the tenseness and unfounded anxiety I experienced just by being here. It probably didn't help that my mind occasionally wandered back to the words of Panacea that I happened to overhear `she was ripping people apart while being a passenger in her own body´ and that I was here to meet this very girl. Within the confines of the best approximation of an abandoned Laboratory that could come straight out of any horror or zombie movie.

In retrospect, I really shouldn't have let myself talk into watching all those horror movies with Emma and Anne.

I bent down, picked up the dagger, and gave it back to Freya. At the same time, I tried to make sense of the Labyrinth I found myself in. If I hadn't seen the plans beforehand and wasn't able to `see´ with more than my eyes, I was certain I would have been lost throughout the corridors, which are all looking exactly the same to me.

A good idea in general, I had to concede that point to the PRT because it makes break-ins and breakouts more difficult if you have problems orienting yourself.

A hindrance that was not applying to me. I was more worried about all the locked doors and the vast amount of containment foam that blocked off key points throughout the structure to slow down any movement to a near standstill - clever use of containment foam.

Luckily we arrived on the correct floor, thanks to Mom's blueprints. Otherwise, I would have needed the services of Rift once more to path us a way to our destination. We were even able to avoid having to pass through any containment foam barricaded crossroads and corridors by making a little detour.

The main problem I saw myself confronted with was the two guards outside the Case 53 cell. Something we didn't anticipate, as a result, made no plans on how to deal with them. Preferably fast and in a way that left them with no permanent damage.

I had to take them out one way or the other. Mom impressed on me the need for secrecy.

If that was still a possibility at this point. My actions, no matter how accidental they were, might have already put me on the map. Two ABB members mysteriously disappearing, and the Empire not only losing one of their capes - someone who was said to be unkillable - in conjunction with a heavy-armed squad of theirs. Was really not something that wouldn't cause a stir. The only uncertainty was what conclusion they drew from it. But they no doubt suspected a Parahuman involvement of some kind - at least the Empire had reason to.

In an ideal scenario, aside from taking out their surveillance, the guards should have at no point been made aware of my presence. It was easier said than done. Even if I were to succeed in sneaking around them and into the cell of the Case 53, I couldn't risk them interfering or allow them to oversee something not meant for their eyes. Because of this, I couldn't just leave them alone.

I mentally went through the list of powers my Shades had at their disposal. There were numerous ways I came up with how to deal with them on short notice. Unfortunately, none achieved the boundary conditions I set for myself aside from one. But this one had the problem of giving away valuable information about my capabilities, which I was reluctant to do.

On second thought, I realized they would probably suspect us having a teleporter in our midst either way. By a lucky picture having been taken by a camera monitoring the outside of the PRT building. The fact that we appeared inside their base right next to the holding cells without us having to walk down here.

Because of this, I was convinced that the course of action I decided wouldn't make a difference worth mentioning.

Freya teleported to the tag on the roof and threw her dagger to the ground below. Then I waited for the exact right moment, which came to pass just a few seconds later.

The two guards I was closely watching, already on alert, drew their guns after I listened in on their third failed attempt to re-establish communication with their Command Center. Something entirely impossible with the fried radios on them. The EMP did great work there, but I doubted that even if their radios would have miraculously survived somehow, that they could have reached someone. We were not only

dozens of meters under the surface, what further complicated matters was that all the communications relay positioned throughout the walls of the structure were a molten mess.

They positioned themselves left and right in front of the heavy metal door, the Case 53 was behind. With no light and communication down, they retreated into the doorframe in an attempt to use it as cover. They came to a stop back to back with only a little space in between them. Both of them held their guns at the ready and pointed them down the two opposing sides of the corridor.

I could hear the steadily increasing heartbeats in their chests, the slight twitches of their muscles in their agitated state. All of it being signs of fear.

I was taken aback by the realization that, it was me who elicited those reactions in grown, trained adult men. I already knew in an abstract capacity that I was no longer a normal human. Nonetheless, it was an entirely different matter to be confronted with the reality of it.

Not even in my wildest dreams, I thought it possible to be someone's Bogey-Man. It would take me quite some time to get used to the fact that I was to be feared with the powers I had at my disposal. Depending on what I used them for, I held the potential to become a nightmare for humanity or one of their saviors.

I returned my drifting thoughts back to the matter at hand. There would be plenty of time to think of the implications I was just confronted with later back at home after I finished what I came here to do.

I reestablished the control over Sage's body like I did previously with my other Shades and activated the power she was granted by being one with Kreios. The change to my mind was immediate. It felt like some duplicate part of me was suddenly cut off, frozen in time, leaving only a small part of a greater whole behind, anchored in Mom while retaining its ability to act.

I probably should have tried that beforehand, back at home instead of in the middle of an ongoing operation. After all, it could have backfired in so many ways that I should never have risked attempting it here.

I stopped reprimanding myself at this juncture with the knowledge that no matter how good a job I did with it, Mom was surely going to be nagging me for my carelessness when we got home.

I turned my head and saw my own body standing there, unmoving, frozen in time. It was a surreal experience seeing oneself this way. Unable to resist the temptation, I reached for my face hidden beneath the hood of my tunic. The skin of my cheek felt cold to my touch like smooth marble hard, and immalleable. Thinking that I might have more look with my hair, I tried to smooth a strand of hair sticking out from under my hood back. Realizing that it was utterly unmoving.

Apparently, the power of Kraios worked exactly, as advertised. As I retracted my hand, I noticed a barely visible sheen covering my arm - No, my whole body - and wisps of something skirting around it, filling the void of where my arm was just an instant before flowing around it.

Realizing that this must be the air displaced by my body redirected to the position my body occupied to prevent me from creating localized evacuated spaces. A pity - I was sure I could have found ways to weaponize this.

It took me a moment until I was able to avert my gaze from this spectacle. Given that Sage didn't have a need to breathe, I had time in abundance to reach the guards.

Nonetheless, I thought it prudent not to loaf around too much. I followed the dimly lit hallway taking a long way around, thereby avoiding all the obstacles. When I turned into the hallway the cell was located in, despite knowing what awaited me. I was startled for an instant as my eyes puzzled together that what I first thought to be some shadow was a gun at the ready pointed my way.

It was a disturbing feeling that permeated me at that sight. On the one hand, it was ambivalent because I was fully aware a simple gun was no threat to me, neither when the time was paused nor when it wasn't. Given the properties of my costume and the fact that my real body was equipped with Alabaster Shard, but on the other hand, there was this instinctual, more like acquired fear coming from seeing a weapon designed to kill people up close and directed at me.

I wondered how long it would take for somebody to get used to this, if at all possible, and if it would happen to me, eventually.

I continued my walk. The closer I got, the more distinct the badly lit expression of the PRT trooper facing my way became. Although parts of his face were hidden behind the visor of his helmet and the mask covering everything beneath his eyes, I couldn't deny the impression that it displayed fear and determination in equal parts.

The odd thing was that I was capable of reaching that conclusion with what little I could actually see of him. There really wasn't much that could give such feelings away. Short of his body language, as he pressed himself against the doorframe to maximize what little cover that provided, his dilated pupils with weapons held in their hands and their fingers curled around the trigger was more expressive than I thought possible.

I moved the body of Sage in between them to the unoccupied space directly in front of the cell door. This way, both of them had their backs turned to me and each other. I readied myself for a backslash I assumed would hit me when the parts of my mind synchronized themselves once again, in an attempt to not lose the initiative while I regained my bearings.

I steadied myself and unpaused the world. Luckily, I had prepared myself. Otherwise, I would have been incapacitated for a few seconds. What hit me felt similar to when one of your limbs had gone to sleep and was suddenly in the painful process of reawakening. With the difference in my case being that it wasn't a limb but my mind.

There was this prickling sensation like needles pricked inside my brain while the separated parts reintegrated themselves back into one synchronized part, once more.

While enduring this fading-away repercussion, I managed to retain enough of my faculties to execute my plan.

I used Freya and teleported her immediately to the position of Sage and, without wasting a single second, simultaneously laid one of her hands each on the backs of both the Guards. Before they even had the chance to react to the touch, all three vanished and reappeared outside. Near the dagger, Freya had planted in the asphalt in front of the building.

She immediately teleported again, giving those guards not even enough time to turn their heads, and arrived back at my side. She recalled the dagger made out of her essence back to herself. It reformed out of wisps of Darkness in her hand. I took her other hand she offered to me, and an instant later, we reappeared next to Sage.

It never really occurred to me before how strong of power teleportation is in the right hands, how many combat-orientated applications it provides. Instantaneous transportation has a nice ring to it, and it is useful; no doubt about that. But this powerset isn't feared or infamous like so many others when it should be considered far more dangerous depending on the limits of the specific powerset than most other abilities.

I was sure something the Guards outside are willing to attest to after they have stopped wondering what just happened to them and puzzled it together out of the few clues they had.

I released Mom from my direct control and, for the first time, took a look at the door separating me and my target with my own eyes. It was a heavyset door that reminded me more of the entrance to a vault you would expect to find in a bank, not in a cell.

Hopefully, the reason she was incarcerated here was simply that all available cells are that heavily reinforced and not out of necessity to keep her contained.

At least what I `saw´ transmitted through the vibrations inside the cell gave me no indication that I was about to face a bloodthirsty killer. The mass of tentacles I could make out was curled into a ball at the far side of the room. She was trembling like a leaf and gave a picture the furthest of what I suspected a ruthless killer would look like. She was just a frightened little girl confronted with circumstances out of her control, precisely like Panacea depicted her.

The softly spoken mantra she recited to herself with a soft Russian accent, repeating the same words over and over again, telling herself to keep calm, just served to reinforce this impression.

If I wouldn't already be here with the goal to help her, seeing her like that would make up my mind to do just that.

"What's the situation?" Sage to my right softly whispered.

"She is scared and has retreated into a corner of the cell," I told her in response.

"I see," Sage pondered, "how do you want to proceed?"

"We should open the cell and talk to her," I suggested. "I don't want to presume to have the right to make choices for her. Despite evidence to the contrary, I wouldn't want to just take away her powers without asking if it is okay to do so."

"Not wanting to violate her right of self-determination by deciding something major like removing her power without her input or permission. That I can get behind," she said with a grin.

I was sure her essentially repeating what I said in a more technical term was loaded with innuendo I didn't have the context to understand, which was why I limited myself to saying, "I guess so-"

"You know, it makes me really proud hearing you talking like that. However, you surely can't think that she'd deny herself the chance of leading a normal life?"

"I don't." I conceded, "But I want to do this right this time"

A glance towards the charred intercom affixed in the door frame made it clear that any talk with her had to be face to face.

I summoned Iron Rain and moved her in front of me right next to Freya. Meanwhile, Sage positioned herself half a step behind me and laid her hand on me in passing. With a slight application of Iron Rain power, her complete reign over metal, the door in front of us liquified and flowed aside as we stepped through the entrance into the cell.

Sharing her senses, I witnessed how she restored the door by returning the liquid metal back into place. To make it perfect and in order to erase all traces of the door being dissolved. Sage followed it with a gentle touch of her own. A slight application of Chrono's ability was enough to restore the door to a point in time before it was being liquified.

"STAY AWAY!" the ball of tentacles screamed the moment she noticed our entry into the cell.

"Hello, little one, my name is T..." I interrupted myself before I could divulge my real name. I couldn't help but notice how Sage bit on her lips, in an attempt to prevent herself from laughing at my plight. I felt my cheeks heating up into a blush, and I was, for the first time, glad I was wearing a mask. If mom, - no Sage, I chastised myself - could see me like this, she would never let me live it down. Especially since being in this situation was my own fault to begin with, by not heeding her warning in how important it was to have a name to call yourself even on your first night out.

Which, when I thought about it, I really should have known better. She was the one of us with the experience and the hang to be right most of the time. Oh, how I hate it when she is right, and I disregarded her in favor of my own flawed judgment allowing her to say the words `I told you so´ with a knowing smirk on her face.

Couldn't she have been wrong just this one time and not let me look like a wise-ass on my first day as a cape?

"STAY AWAY!" she repeated herself, this time more forcefully. "I don't wanna hurt you, please I can't control myself." her next words were barely understandable through her sniveling "I don't wanna be responsible for more deaths, please." she begged, "Go away and leave me alone"

It was hard, despite knowing that I could help to ignore her pleading. I have never seen someone be as miserable as her at this very moment, and as a result, had to force myself to continue and not give in.

As a confidence-building measure, I took a step towards her and another which made it necessary for Iron Rain and Freya to take a half-step to the left and to the right respectively to allow me to pass them both. I lowered myself to my knees in order to get my head closer to her eye level.

It was a calculated risk, but one I was confident I could take since we were still separated by most of the room, and I was sure she posed no serious threat to any of us.

"What's your name?" I asked in a soft and steady voice. She was taken by surprise at that question, her pleading and soft-spoken words halted unexpectedly, and even her erratic moving tentacles moving around her head froze for an instant. Only to start anew barely a second later in what was probably best described as the closest approximation that her body was able to perform to hugging herself.

"I ... I don't remember." she stammered. I could see the signs of her being about to break down again after she admitted it.

"Well, in that case, you'll just have to choose one for yourself after I've cured you. But you probably should refrain from asking me for advice. I'm really bad at naming stuff, and the last thing I'd want was to screw that up. After all, you are gonna be using that name for quite some time if I have anything to say about that. I mean, I couldn't even come up with something for myself ..." I couldn't help my rambling. It happens whenever I'm confronted with a person I'm not already familiar with. It didn't escape my notice that she got exceedingly more agitated. She started moving around in a circular fashion within a small confined space not more than a few centimeters from her initial position.

It was more than likely her version of fidgeting from one foot to another. I was alarmed by her tendrils reacting to her new mental state, they acted out, some of them even lashing in my direction.

"What do you mean by cured?" she spat out. "I can't be cured. This healer girl couldn't do it. And they said she could heal all. Why are you making empty promises? Do you enjoy it to get my hopes up just to crush them?" She said, getting louder and angrier with every word she spoke.

"No, no, that's not..." I tried to soothe her, my hands raised in a placating manner when I realized it didn't have the intended effect on her. Switching gears, I gave it another try when I told her, "I genuinely want to help you." The space she bounced around in got bigger and bigger with every second. Her tentacles moved more frantic, giving off the impression to be less and less under her control. The more she lost her composure, the more her focus waned on keeping them in check, and the more they started to develop a life of their own. If what I gleaned from the words of Panacea, this meant attacking everything moving around her. "Please, calm down." I pleaded, "Let me explain."

"Calm down?! I was calm. I just wanted to be left alone, so no one would be hurt. It was you that ignored me. I didn't want to hear another set of empty promises to get my hopes up. I warned you not to get close. I told you I'm dangerous, so why didn't you just listen."

That was all the warning I got before she was in mid-air leaping at me. I already saw her tentacles around my head and crushing it like a ripe tangerine, but something blanketed my view on her a moment before she could reach me.

It took me a second to realize that it was Freya that stepped in front of me and plucked the mass of tentacles with both of her hands right out of the air, I could see how her tentacles worked their way along slung around her arms towards Freya's body, trying to entwine her, to crush her. But couldn't make any headway held in a steadfast grip, denying them any leverage to be used to escape.

The struggle continued for just a moment until Sage reappeared behind the girl well outside of the tentacle girl's field of vision and laid a hand on her. A second later, the tentacles ceased their struggling.

At least to my understanding, they simply lost their strength. Whereas before, Freya had to steady herself and use a modicum of strength to incapacitate the mass of tentacles, it now looked like she was holding a toddler instead of an angry cat.

"They don't obey me. What did you do?" the girl asked near panicked. If she had a ribcage, it would have been at that point that she would have started hyperventilating.

"I temporarily took away your power." Sage nonchalantly said from behind her.

"That's what I tried to tell you the whole time." I said, "We don't think we can help you. We actually know."

"Please," she begged now with tears in her eyes, "don't go away, don't leave, I didn't mean to attack you. I can't control myself when I feel strong emotions. Please, I will do anything... just... just don't go."

"I won't." I said, "I'm here to help you, and I intend to keep my word." which was enough for her to start crying. And for the first time, I really, without a sad overtone, was glad for having my powers, being able to help someone no one else could. It is how I always imagined it would be to have powers and use them for good.

Looking at her body, the confidence in my words faltered, and I couldn't stop myself from expressing my concern, "You think it will work?"

"I think so," Sage said, "it is hard to tell. Even with the two healing powers I have, I can't be sure ..." if she was gonna live long enough for me to use it on her, remained unspoken. Obviously, Sage shared the same worries I did after really seeing in what state her power left her body. She was merely a head with numerous tentacles sprouting out of it, lacking a torso and anything else that would be necessary to resemble a human being. I had no idea how she is even alive without any of those organs usually stored in those body parts she is missing.

And I feared taking away her power permanently would leave her with only what I saw in front of me, her head, and I got the strong suspicion her tentacles might reverse to just being long hair.

Which would mean we had at most seconds to do something about it to prevent her death, not the best prospects for any kind of thing and especially not if life is on the line.

I noticed how the little ball of tentacles intently listened to us. Even if we didn't outright state our concerns, she seemed to pick up on them, her questioning eyes at least led me to that conclusion.

"How to say it best..." I asked myself aloud. "We can remove your powers, we have no doubt about that." her expression gave away her incomprehension "Unfortunately we can't be sure if you will survive the procedure. There is a chance that you might not survive the attempt."

"But there is a chance you can heal me, make me human again." I nodded at her question, and without any hesitation she commanded. "Do it."

"Are you sure?" I asked, trying to make sure she really meant it.

"Yes," she affirmed, "no matter how small the chance I'm gonna take it, even death is better than living like this." Her eyes trailing down at her non-existent body. "Should I die, I at least won't have to suffer any longer, and no one else has to die because of me."

I looked into her eyes, trying to find a sliver of doubt in them, anything really that would allow me to justify not to do it. But I only found acceptance and resolve.

Which didn't make things easier for me, on the one hand, I knew she was the one making the decision absolving me of any blame should the worst come to pass with her dying. On the other hand, it wouldn't matter because, at the end of the day, it would still have been me presenting her with the offer instilling new hope, and it would be at my hands that she would die.

She was supposed to be my redemption from the deeds I was forced to commit, a way to reduce my guilt, not something that would increase the load on my conscience manifold because, in my eyes, she would be the first innocent for whose death I would be responsible.

But would she really die? With my power, there was a chance I could resurrect her. Should I ask her for permission in this case...

I interrupted that train of thought. There was no guarantee that she would turn out any different than most of my Shades. Mom, Sage was an exception, nothing more, and what did it say about me, that I was willing to attempt this in the first place while I was expecting to fail - considering it to be a certainty. Anyone remotely reasonable would abort this before it was too late - something that can't be taken back.

I originally attempted this whole thing because I was convinced she was going to live, right?

Damn it, Taylor, this was not the time to falter. You are a Hero. Heroes save people, so that is exactly what you are gonna do, nothing else.

With renewed vigor, I gave Sage the go-ahead. She placed one of her hands on me and the other one on the girl's head amidst the tentacles. I felt the shard Sage pushed into me establishing a link with it. Without wasting any time, I unleashed the Abyss, its greedy tendrils reached for it and plugged the Shard like ripe fruit from a tree severing the connection.

The effects were immediate, the body of the girl started losing cohesion, the tentacles breaking and withering away, they crumbled to a necrotic mess on their way to the floor. While what little of her was left, barely more than head, was desperately gasping for air.

"I need enough mass for her whole body, set her down oo the ground within her tentacles," Sage said. At a nod from me, Freya complied with her request. The instant the head was lowered into the pile of tentacles Sage applied regeneration and reversed the time on what was left.

At first, she only gained the upper half of a torso, the more the time was rewinded, and the smaller her body got, the more of it was restored, all the while the regeneration kept her alive.

During the whole process, the girl's breathing was suspended numerous times, and every time it happened, I feared that she was dead. Sage was clearly struggling with her task, finding a past version of her small enough that her body could be wholesome again.

If not for the progress clear to see, I no doubt would have felt compelled to end this right then and there. Seeing the girl constantly struggling to stay alive was the cruelest thing I have seen in my life, and I was only watching. I couldn't even imagine what it must be like for the girl.

Sage got closer and closer until she was successful, and the ever-changing body settled in a small form of a girl, I would guess her to be around the age of seven.

She was taking deep breaths and was recovering from the ordeal I put her through. I could feel her shard in the Abyss, which meant nothing less than I was successful. I felt giddy and couldn't help but inwardly smile at this.

"It's done." Sage declared, "Let's go before the PRT shows how they appreciate someone infiltrating one of their facilities."

She had just closed her mouth when I witnessed through the eyes of Chione overlooking the PRT headquarters from her overwatch position the arrival of Armsmaster on his Tinkertech bike. As a result, Sage's suggestion suddenly gained a lot more urgency.

I unsummoned Iron Rain and Sage, while I directed Freya, who was holding the head of the former Case 53 in her lap, to softly put her down.

Her head was gently placed on the floor when she stirred, taking in her surroundings.

"See, I said I'm gonna help you." She looked at herself and couldn't believe what she saw, since she immediately touched herself and even went so far as to pinch her cheek, making sure she wasn't dreaming.

She started crying again, this time tears of joy.

"Thank you, thank you so much."

"Don't sweat it, that's what we Heroes do, helping those in need," I said to her. "I have a favor to ask of you." As she tried to sit up. But ultimately failed to do so, not fully adjusted to her new appendages, which made it necessary for Freya to support her.

"I'm gonna do everything you just have to ask." she declared immediately before she even knew what it was I wanted her to do.

"I would really appreciate it if you wouldn't tell the PRT or anybody else, for that matter, what happened here. Let's let it be our little secret. Can you do that?"

She enthusiastically nodded her head, which made me fear she might give herself a concussion, but as suddenly as she started with it, she stopped. Her expression shifted from happy to fearful in the blink of an eye.

"Does this mean you are gonna leave me behind?" she whimpered.

I didn't immediately respond to her question, which she rightfully interpreted as a yes. It was sort of. The actual plan was to drop her off somewhere safe. "Please, take me with you. I don't wanna stay here. I will be good. I will do everything you say but please don't leave me here. I don't wanna be alone again."

I was about to respond, dozens of reasons to deny her request on the tip of my tongue, of why she couldn't come with me, that we had everything planned out. But then I saw her eyes, her whole expression that laid bare her fears and desperation.

And all those well-thought-out arguments died in my throat, for them to never be voiced. The only thing on the forefront of my mind was -

Screw it – I couldn't bring myself to ignore this cute little girl's desperate pleading. What kind of Hero, what kind of human would that make me? I just couldn't leave her alone.

A moment later, all three of us vanished into thin air.

Authors Note:

To answer the question, that might or might not pop up, how Sage was able to get up on the roof of the building at the beginning of the chapter if she is unable to interact with the world while in her Breaker state. She used the Fire-escape on the opposite side of the building from the PRT buildings perspective – no need to open doors or any other interaction with the world necessary.

Unfortunately, Worm canon doesn't answer the question of what happens to Case 53 Capes, when exposed to a power nullifier, for example, someone like Hatchet Face. (Here I mean those strongly mutated Case 53 like Weld or Garotte/Sveta, who don't seem able to survive without access to their powers.)

(It probably doesn't shut down)-Nags

There are essentially two scenarios of how I think it might work – one, they lose their power, and since the power is all that keeps their body from failing, they simply die. On one hand, it seems counterintuitive to a power suppression or stealing power to have such far-reaching consequences, given the shards' purpose is to gather information. On the other hand, Case 53's and their underlying mutation is something unnatural, something that shouldn't have happened during a normal cycle. Therefore I doubt there are protocols in place preventing the demise of monstrous capes without their powers.

Two, as I described in chapter 08 of this story, I think there is a high chance that non-permanent effects of suppressing or stealing powers leave the Shard still tethered to the Case 53, therefore, preventing their demise. Because even though they lose their power simply the connection is not severed completely.

As you have probably already noticed, I went with the second interpretation, if only to prevent unintended deaths at the hand of Sage. And in a sense, a concession to the plot as a whole ...

In regards to restoring `Sveta/Garotte´ body -

I'm of two minds on what Chronos power is capable of doing. I described it as a power that can influence the proper time of an object or person in both directions forward to the future and to the past. Allowing for some really interesting applications... but in case of it being used on a person, it would not only allow de-aging and return it to a previous condition. This is something usually desired if you are just intending to heal someone but would also have the adverse effect of erasing the memories the person accumulated in the time span he or she is reset to. Allowing for Taylor to erase memories... or in the case of `Sveta/Garotte´ to restore them to a time before Cauldron erased them. (effectively eliminating/killing her present personality with it)

Not really a huge problem IMO at least not in regards to what I have planned in doing with her – it makes no real difference for the story if she can be classified as `Sveta/Garotte´ or `fisher village girl´ but it makes a huge difference in other regards. Because this power is gonna play a major part in the future. (I'm sure some might be able to guess it correctly.) But for that to occur. The power either can't be allowed to change the memories of subjects it is used on, or it has to be up to the user to decide if memories are affected or not.

At the moment, I'm inclined to go with the version the user can decide – it won't break the setting but allows for some interesting uses, but not without drawbacks.

For example, Taylor(Sage) will be able to restore the memories of Case 53 by erasing the memories they gained since Cauldron let them free... making it a double-edged sword. What this power won't be able to do is remove powers. They are anchored to the DNA of the person, and if Taylor doesn't outright reduce them to a state before or after they had DNA the power (Shard) will stay with them. That, of course, doesn't mean she can't steal powers in other ways, just that this particular power can't be used to depower people.

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