Chapter 09: Shadow Cabinet
After an uneventful walk from the hospital, I eventually reached home. I didn't waste any time and immediately retreated to my room.
I closed my curtains and sat down on my bed to make space for all of my shades and summoned them around me. Nevertheless, it was crowded and I thanked the fact, that I was able to combine my Shades because the fusion of Mom with this other woman already reduced the number of shades that had to fit in my room.
I didn't ponder on the shortage of space for long. After all, I had no intention of keeping them around, especially the male ones. In the few days since I started using my power, I saw enough skin to last me a lifetime.
I only wanted to learn what each of them could do and then reduce their numbers even further by combining them into stronger, more versatile Shades. I had some small hope, that this would even allow them to promote their ability to the next level, thereby reproducing what happened to Mom.
Of course, even in the event that it was successful, this came with downsides, alone the reduction in action economy this would result in, if I use all of my Shades at the same time, might be considerable. Mostly depending on how many Shades I could merge into one. But I held the opinion that the upside of a broader skillset with fewer weaknesses for my New Shades alone might be worth it, and that was without taking the possibility of combined powers evolving into account. And since it wasn't permanent, I would always be able to adapt to situations by splitting them again should the need for it arise.
I started with my two Shades without Shards, Aka and Kuro, and fused them together into a new being. The result was something unexpected, instead of Kuro, who I used as a base and in which I essentially stuffed the Shade of Aka retaining his appearance. As it occurred in the previous instances when I combined Shades in the possession of Shards. I was now confronted with a Shade being neither Kuro nor Aka, but an even bigger and more muscular fusion of their physical traits.
"That was unexpected. Am I right to assume that both of them don't possess a parahuman power?" asked mom, who had seated herself right next to me. I nodded, and she added. "I think that is might be the reason for this. Your power, most likely noticed that their only usefulness lies in their physical capabilities and therefore added them together this way, enhancing the end result."
She had a point, and I couldn't help but wonder how this scaled up. It could be just a simple addition of their strength, or maybe it follows some other more esoteric concept. Probably something to keep an eye on, especially if I ever create more Shades out of normal people.
"Yes, you are right." I agreed, "I also wonder if it's just physical strength that increases this way or if it includes other aspects like speed, reaction time, and resilience. It should be possible to mimic a brute mover combination with enough shades stacked together."
"Something to keep in mind," mom added thoughtfully, "any combination of those two ratings is more often than not on the stronger side pertaining to para-humans. Do you sense any repulsion force from the Shades by stacking them together this way or something else unusual?"
"No, nothing. Hmm, let me try something."
I separated them again and let them walk closer to me so that I didn't have to stretch myself to reach them. With a simple touch, I made direct contact with them and focused on the aspect of my power that I received from my Allfather-Shade and changed them with it. I gave form to the first image that came into mind thinking about them and Created a Samurai armor around both of them, including a katana each, sheathed at their sides.
Scrutinizing their forms, I grinned at my success. They truly gave off an impressive vibe looking like this, clad in obsidian black armor, wearing demon masks. The idea to do this, came to me when I remembered, that both of them had some knowledge about sword fighting, which brought me to my next experiment. I fused them back together again, and I had to say I liked what I saw. Not only did the end-product result in a bigger Samurai the combined Armor got a meaner look, too. What surprised me at first was the fact that the swords didn't become one but stayed separate, with the New Samurai wearing one at each side of his hip.
It probably had something to do with the fact that before I fused them, they wore their swords on different sides, a clear indication that one was left the other right-handed, and I would wager, this new Warrior in front of me was ambidextrous.
"That's really great if you ever have the need to downplay your power. You could just say that you are a master using humanoid shadow constructs." Mom suggested. "Given their looks, it would probably be the default assumption of anybody who sees them, anyway. Combine that with the ability to merge them into a stronger Warrior, and it qualifies by itself as an interesting power-set. However, at the same time, it would also omit what you really can do."
"Right, something to consider for later." I separated them again and unsummoned one of them. Looking at Iron Rain, I made her take a step forward and commanded. "Shot him with one of your metal raindrops with the same force a bullet fired from a rifle has."
Her response consisted of a [Affirmative] she sent my way and a lazy swipe through the air. The next thing I heard was the loud sound of metal colliding with metal, followed by a faint sound of something hitting the carpet of my floor.
Straining my eyes, I could barely make out a scratch in the center of the armor, protecting the torso of my Shade. When I leaned closer to get a better look when it vanished as if it never was there in the first place. At the exact moment, it disappeared I felt a tiny weeny bit weaker.
It felt exactly the same way when I destroyed one of my Shades only far less pronounced. What surprised me was the speed of the regeneration. It took a destroyed Shade a few hours to reform whereas it merely took moments for the armor to repair itself.
Meanwhile, mom had stood up and walked over Kuro, tracing the formerly dented part of the armor, "that looked awfully familiar, like when Alabaster regenerated himself."
"That's it. So my power once more adapted a power for its own use."
"Seems that way, and I have to say this is beyond useful because if I'm right, this will allow any one of your Shades to near-instantly regenerate, making them unkillable," she mused.
"Not exactly," I dampened her enthusiasm, "my best guess is that regeneration scales with the damage done to them in how much it takes out of me. Regenerating one from complete destruction slightly exhausted me and what happened to his armor was barely noticeable."
"I see, therefore it only serves to speed up the already existing restoration process of your Shades?"
"Yes," I agreed, "but as you said, it's still an extremely useful ability to have. The armor, I created is undoubtedly bullet-proof. So aside from some capes with a lot of fire-power at their disposal. There isn't much, capable of inflicting significant damage to them."
Next, I fused Kuro with Mom and asked her. "Do you feel any different?"
"No, not really. It seems to be no different than the other times you did this. I notice some new skills I gained access to, and I feel physically stronger, but that's about it." She looked down at herself and with a chuckle, said, "at least I don't get his looks. I don't think I would look good bulked up with muscles."
I smiled at her small joke. I separated them again and unsummoned my second Samurai and focused on the remaining 13 Shades, not counting Mom.
Iron Rain, Freya, and Allfather I already knew what their powers were capable of. The same was true for the girl with the Echolocation. That left those other two girls.
I pointed at the older one and said. "She possesses an ability that allows her to overclock her senses and processing speed, making the world look like it is advancing in ultra slow motion. "
"That's a useful ability, especially in concert with others. I guess with a power like hers she'd have no trouble counting the wing beat of a hummingbird?" She paused for a moment. "Hmm, Hummingbird, wouldn't that be a good name for her until we find out if she was active and had a cape name before you found her, Taylor?"
"Probably, but why even bother naming them?"
"For convenience sake, of course, to avoid misunderstanding when we talk about them." mom explained.
"Okay, Hummingbird, it is." I tried to fuse her with Mom and immediately felt the repulsion force fighting against it. I loosened my grip on them, and they separated again.
"Too bad," she said, disappointed, "that would have been a useful power to have as a Striker." She was right. I couldn't deny that.
"Perhaps we have more luck with the next one." I pointed at the other girl. "She's far more interesting, able to tag items exceeding a certain size, including people, and is not only able to spy on what is happening in the immediate vicinity of those tagged objects but is also able to teleport to them.
"That would make her one of those rare teleporters not limited by line of sight," mom said, excitement quivering her voice, "which explains why she can access what happens around her tagged objects. It wouldn't do her any good to teleport only to end up stuck in a wall whenever a tag of hers gets moved out of place."
I nodded along, "the only downside, if you can call it that, of her ability, I could make out is that she can only take persons and objects with her that combined weigh less or as much as herself."
"Given that she has the body of an 8-year-old girl, this isn't much." mom added dejected, "She won't even be able to take you with her, let alone me or any of the other Shades. Let's hope we are lucky and are able to fuse her with one of the bigger Shades, at least allowing for one passenger."
I was about to join mom in her disappointment when an inspiration hit me. Wasn't mass equal to density times volume? I fused this girl together with Freya and couldn't keep the grin off my face the moment I realized they didn't reject their fusion.
"I'm gonna have so much fun with you." I declared, grinning.
Mom had a puzzled facial expression for just a moment until she realized what I just did. She ruffled my hair and said. "Of course! You really are my smart little girl." it took some effort not to blush at her praise.
"What do we name her?" I wondered.
"Let's see, how about Blink?" Mom suggested immediately.
"No objection from me. The only thing that might be able to make this even better would be if the other girl could fuse with them too."
I tried it, and my grin got even more pronounced. Watching me, Mom drew the right conclusion.
"A success, good those abilities combined together is what I would call a nightmare to contend with."
Which reminded me, "wouldn't this also be true in the case of Iron Rain having Allfathers power?"
"Yes, yes," mom enthusiastically agreed, pinpointing the two shades in question with her gaze, "do you think they would go together?"
A moment later, and it was confirmed, my power loved me. Another success of combining two powers together into one, but this time the powers didn't only get added together, they evolved into something new, enhancing each other.
"Something is different." I informed mom, "Iron Rain now is able to excrete metal even faster, and I greatly increased output in relation to them being separate. Furthermore, the small range of Allfather power got extended to the full range Iron Rain can exert control over metal."
"Which means, fusing them together resulted in a huge power-up. That's scary. Iron Rain was already said to be one of the strongest capes to have operated in the Bay. For her getting even more powerful and that as one of your Shades, a minion is a frightening prospect, and as far as we know, it won't even stop there."
"I know it scares me too," I admitted with a shudder running through my body.
"What do you mean, Taylor?" Mom asked by tilting her head uncomprehending, "It's your power. You don't have a reason to be scared of it. Those opposing you in the future are the ones who should be."
"All this power at my disposal, what if I decide to do something bad with them?" I asked in a trembling voice, not daring to meet her eyes "It would be hard to stop me."
"Taylor, why do you think yourself capable of that, doing bad things? "
She paused, and when my response consisted of silence, she continued saying. Placing her hands on my shoulders. "Taylor, listen to me, I'm your mother, there is no one knowing you better than myself, I might even know you better than you do yourself, and I can say with absolute certainty you aren't evil. And I can't picture you committing any atrocities."
I gave her a questioning look at her specific use of vocabulary.
"Don't get me wrong, being a cape myself, I know what things can happen to someone and that most would be able to steal, maim and kill if given a reason to. I'm no exception to this, and we are similar in this regard."
"Since I'm already a killer, you mean." It was hard to keep the accusatory tone out of my response.
"In a sense, yes." Sighing, she added. "However, you probably misunderstand me. There's a reason that we have a justice system and that every crime gets its own process with judges determining the sentence because it's simply impossible to judge someone fair without knowing what drove them to commit the crime in the first place. There are mitigating circumstances, and sometimes it's even justified to end the lives of others."
"That's why you said atrocities and not killing or murder because you think under the right circumstances it's the right thing to do."
"Yes, my little girl," she said with a soft smile, "the very fact that you even have self-doubts shows me you have a conscience, and you can't just lose such an integral part of your very being. It is something that makes you, you. Therefore I'm certain you are unable to commit such things."
I thought about her words carefully, and it didn't escape me, how she defined me, allowing for an alternative interpretation to what she tried to convey. I wondered if that was intentional. Given the expertise of my mother with the English language, I doubted it was a mistake. She worded it that way deliberately.
Then I just had to make sure to stay true to myself. After coming to this conclusion, I nodded and directed my attention back to the remaining Shades.
Talking more to myself than to her, I wondered, "so, what else do we have?" and focused on one of the remaining women. "This one has touched base ability. She is able to change the position of objects and persons on the time axis, including herself. Effectively allowing her to change the age of everything she touches in both directions."
Following my gaze looking her up and down, mom asked, "do you think she might be able to use her power to heal?"
"I guess so. Why?"
"Because," she started to explain her interest, "it's exceedingly rare for powers to have that ability. In most cases, it's just a side-effect of the given power. Therefore you having one let alone two Shades with healing abilities is quite unusual given the small number of Parahumans with powers like these."
I tried fusing her with Mom, and it stuck. Unfortunately, since the Shade was also limited to touch, I was no closer to learning the rules pertaining, when Shades can be combined and when they can't.
I returned my attention back to the Shades. There were three women left, one with hip-length straight hair, one with shoulder-length curly hair, and the last had a bowl cut.
I ordered the long-haired one to step forward. "She's a cyrokinet not limited to touch, but the closer she's to the object, she tries to affect the stronger, faster, and more pronounced her ability becomes. Furthermore, she can affect the area around her to conjure ice to use as projectiles and barriers."
"How good is her range?" Mom wanted to know.
"Not nearly as good as Iron Rains, it also gets weaker like her cryostasis ability the further away she is from the area she tries to affect."
"Pity, regardless that still makes her a really decent Shade. What about the others?"
The curly-haired walked next to her. "Woah, this one is strong," I said displaying grinning and didn't continue in my explanation. The silence stretched for nearly a minute until Mom gave me her special `don't keep me in suspense, or I'm gonna tickle it out of your look. It was enough to reconsider my silence. The remembrance alone at the last time I was at her mercy was enough to elicit phantom pains of my laughing muscles.
Coming closer holding up her hands threateningly with her fingers in a tickling motion in my haste to get away from her, I nearly fell off the bed. Luckily I was fast enough to get the words "I surrender, I surrender" out before the tickle monster could descend upon me.
The response was a smug grin and a hand wave, to signal me to go on and not to use any tricks.
Head held high, despite my devastating defeat, and with a promise to myself to get tickling revenge, I continued. "She is really strong, capable of throwing lightning bolts. On top of it, she can turn her body into lightning, making her impervious to most attacks. While she is in that state, she can project herself along as part of a lightning bolt thus allowing her to move around this way."
"Let's see, this powerset is somehow familiar. Wasn't there a ... Valkyrie!" Mom suddenly exclaimed, "she's Valkyrie!"
"She was the right-hand woman of the Empire 88 back in the day when I was still a child. According to Mythology, Valkyries were female helping spirits of Odin, the so-called `choosers of the Fallen´ roaming the battlegrounds picking the worthy for Odin's army of the dead. Which he then would reanimate during Ragnarok to fight at his side. But she gave that name a completely different meaning ..."
"Let me guess," I said exasperated, "the ones she chose were those who died."
"Yes, she was one of the most ruthless and efficient killers the Empire had in their rooster since its founding days. She was half the reason the Empire could establish themselves in Brockton Bay by driving out or killing their competition. She could go toe to toe with the best and was even able to come out the winner against whole teams of capes."
"How did she die if she was that capable?" I couldn't help but wonder.
"I don't know. One day she just vanished. As far as the general public was concerned, it was a good thing she did. I don't think there were many questions asked." One more thing for my list to look into. It certainly would be interesting to learn how someone like her could be killed. "What about her?" Mom asked while pointing at the last remaining woman in the room.
"She is probably the most interesting one of the lot. She can halt time." I smugly replied.
"On an object or person?" Admittedly, a reasonable question.
"No on everything." Hearing that response, mom was gaping at me like a fish. I shrugged my shoulders and said. "That's the best description I can give you in what happens when she uses her power. Time simply stops."
"So you are saying when she uses her power, the world just stops spinning and she is the only one capable of acting. There has to be a downside ... I mean that's just ..."
"Super strong? Unfair beyond belief?" I interjected, "It would be if you weren't right, her power does have a downside. As far as I can tell, while the time is stopped, she can solely interact with inanimate objects she can carry with her. Everything else is frozen in time preventing her from interacting with anything, not under the direct effect of her power."
"Which would mean, her power would look for any bystander not too dissimilar than regular teleportation." she mused.
"I'd assume so. I'm also pretty sure that she wasn't able to freeze the time indefinitely."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well," I wondered, "if everything is frozen in time, including the air, how did she breathe?"
"I see, meaning she could only use it as long as she could hold her breath," she concluded.
"Yes, but only if we rule out the usage of tools. A breathing device would have gone a long way to extend the time that she could halt the world. It would still have limited her but to a far lesser degree. Say, Mom, do you need to breathe?"
Momentarily stupefied by my question, she stopped her breathing, and a moment later, after she made sure, told me, "No, I don't."
I grinned while I pushed the Shade into her and to my surprise, there was no resistance. The Shade neatly fused with Mom. What really puzzled me, though, was that so far, I could combine her with any Shade possessing a touch-based power without a problem, but this new cape had something else. Not that I really could complain this power combined with what Mom already could do was utterly broken. Despite that, I would really have loved being able to establish some sort of guideline for my power.
"So, what do we call those Shades now part of you?" I asked her.
"How about Chronos for the one able to alter the proper time of objects and Kairos for the one able to freeze time?" She suggested, "They are both greek gods of time."
"No objections from me. I've always been bad at naming things." A light chuckle escaped my mother's lips at hearing that admission.
"I know, the names you gave your stuffed animals were the stuff of legends. What did you call your Teddy-bear again ..."
I had the strong desire to curl up and die and demanded, "Mom! Stop teasing me!"
"Okay, okay," she relented while grinning at me, "what about the last one? The striker/trump, who is part of me any ideas?" Still offended, I punished Mom with silence. "How about Pandora? Her name can mean `all gifted, `all-endowed´, and `all-giving´, and the last meaning describes fairly well what she can do."
Prodding me by bumping me with her hip, I said, "yeah, why not? I guess it fits."
"What about the other two? she asked, "you think they would play well with me?"
"Let's find out." Of course, it didn't work. Strangely enough, I was able to fuse them together in the body of the Ice-Cape.
"Any idea of what to call her?" I asked mom.
"How about Chione, the Greek goddess of snow?"
"Good enough," I shrugged.
That left me with four uncombined Shades. Three of them, men and the girl with the sound thinker ability. "Let's call the girl Echo," she proposed. Unfortunately, she too, couldn't be paired with another Shade. "What can the other two do?"
I started with the man on the far right. He was a bald narrow-shouldered man about five and a half feet tall. "This is the Shade I got when I killed that monster that attacked us. His power is adaptive regeneration. Whenever he ..."
Mom didn't allow me to finish the sentence and instead did it herself, "... suffers damage of some kind, he doesn't just simply regenerate within seconds. He also adapts his body to withstand it better in the future, which resulted in complete immunity to the attack at a certain point under prolonged exposure. Shit, I knew he was somehow familiar, but I'm not surprised I didn't recognize him in the last picture I saw of him; he looked more like a large dog than a cross between a dinosaur and a Kraken. Taylor, let me introduce you to Crawler of the Slaughterhouse 9."
At the mentioning of that name, a chill ran down my spine. What was a member of the group of psychopathic murder hobos roaming and plaguing the North American continent doing in Brockton Bay?
"You are kidding, right?" I said pleadingly. But the grim expression she displayed disabused me of the notion. "Does that mean the rest of them are still around, maybe even hunting us, hunting me for killing one of them?"
"I don't know Taylor, but if they are around, it is strange that we have neither heard about it or were attacked by now. And since they recruited Shatterbird, it's next to impossible not to notice them if they are around."
"So you are saying he was here alone? Why?"
"Yes, I think so," she said. "I don't have more than circumstantial evidence, but think about it. He climbed out of the bay. There weren't any sightings of any member of the Slaughterhouse nine in the region. Otherwise, the public would know about it by now. So either they bid their time for whatever reason or Crawler was operating alone. I consider the second option to be the more likely one. Either way, we should postpone discussing the what if until we've got a better grasp on the capabilities of your Shades. Should we have to fight them, it might be vital. Furthermore, I also think we should act on the side of caution and look up the Slaughterhouse 9. Find out who is in their current roster and make ourselves familiar with their capabilities. We should form plans for every eventuality and ..."
Mom noticed that I was about to obsess over it and placed a hand on my shoulder at this. "Don't worry Taylor, I'm with you every step of the way, and I don't intend to let anybody hurt you," she assured me. It helped to soothe my nerves. After a few deep breaths, I managed to regain my calm.
Who would have thought that I didn't not only survive an encounter with one of the Slaughterhouse 9 days after my first real usage of my power, and it was even more surprising that I came out of it the winner?
I turned back towards Crawler, and I had to admit that I had trouble reconcile the unassuming Obsidian-colored man in front of me with the monster that emerged from the Bay and hunted me. Powers are weird. I tried to combine him with every other Shade I had but was unsuccessful in this endeavor.
"Listen, Taylor. You should abstain from fusing with this Shade yourself if you can help it." Mom warned me after the last failed attempt.
"I'm pretty sure the changes his power would make to you would be permanent even after you separated from him. Of course, to be certain, we would have to try it out."
I interrupted her. "So I would have to risk becoming a monster just to prove you wrong? Yeah, I'm not exactly keen on trying if I can help it." Instead, I focused on the other man. He had a slim build with nondescript with short hair if not for the missing left underarm. "This one can generate and manipulate magnetic fields in a large area around him. That should give him a decent Shaker and Thinker rating because he can feel them."
"Can he also create lightning?" Mom inquired.
"No, why are you asking?"
"Because according to physics, magnetism and electricity are different sides of the same coin, both able to influence and generate the other."
"So, he probably would go together with Valkyrie, who I already combined with Chione?"
Her nod confirmed my question. Since I had nothing to lose, I tried it, and as it turned out, Mom was right.
"That is incredible, similar to Iron Rain and Allfather combining him together with Valkyrie resulted in a major power-up – Valkyrie power is no longer just able to fire lightning bolts at someone but also able to control electricity in her surroundings the things you can do with that is mindblowing." I had so many ideas, and that was before I read up on the topic of electromagnetism.
"Tell me, Taylor, does his power have a restriction banning him from manipulating magnetic fields inside of living matter?"
"No, it hasn't." I answered, "He can do that."
"In that case, we don't have to find a name for him. This must be Tyr. The one-armed Empire cape, named after a Norse War god. One of the very first capes to earn himself a kill-order with a triple-digit kill count he accumulated within weeks of his first appearance. A true monster, back in the day, the newly minted Protectorate even had to send a hand-picked team of capes to the Bay to put him down."
My God, first Valkyrie, then Crawler, and now this. Does a cape without a body count even exist? Or does this come with the job description and is an inevitable fact – that it is just a matter of time until you get into a situation that says kill or be killed? Or am I just having a streak of bad luck when it comes to the dead capes I have found so far? Because if not, then it didn't paint a nice picture when it came to capes, their personalities, and life choices.
Perhaps I had more luck with the last unidentified Shade. An extremely thin short-haired man. "He can phase matter into a permeable state so it's no longer able to interact with normal matter."
"I can see how such an ability could be useful. Creating pit traps, walking through walls are just two ways to apply his power that come to mind. It might even be used as a defense against projectiles if it could be erected as a barrier that affects everything passing through it." She paused for a moment pondering something and then asked. "Can he use it on the living matter?"
"No, he can't. But that doesn't mean his power can't be used to harm people."
"No, it really doesn't," she said with newfound sobriety in her tone. "What do you think about the name Rift for him."
"Sounds good. Now we only have to merge him with one of the others." Mom, as I suspected, rejected him. The second attempt was successful when I felt no resistance by pushing him into Chione.
"Good," she declared by clapping her hands together, "since we are done with this part, I think it's time for some costumes for us. Let's see, how about a dress for Chione? Considering that she can turn herself into lightning in addition to other means at her disposal to prevent herself from suffering any damage makes armor, not an absolute necessity. It certainly wouldn't hurt more protection usually is something to strive for. However, with your Shades being able to regenerate instantly, I think we can allow ourselves to act a little less on the side of caution, especially in this case to give us just a bit more leeway for her costume."
"I like that. Any idea regarding the design of her dress?" I wondered.
"I think a shoulder-free and sleeveless dress allowing her to show a bit of cleavage might go well with her figure. Unlike us, she has something to show off." I didn't like her potshot at our feminity. Something in my expression must have tipped her off. Because she added in an amused voice. "Don't worry, Taylor, having a rack isn't the only thing that makes a woman attractive it is just a small part of it. So what if we hereditary don't lean towards big boobs, we have the long legs, a slim build and great hair all things similar important, and believe me, bigger boobs are only desirable as long as you don't have them. Do you know what one of the most common ailments of women is? Neck and backaches brought about of what they carry in front of them. You should consider yourself lucky you are spared from that."
She looked down at herself and continued. "And this," she pointed at her breasts, "is not nothing, Taylor. Sure, you're probably gonna end up on the lower end of the scale like me, but you won't end up with less than I. I'm sure of it. You are just a late bloomer. Just have a little patience, and you'll see. You'll grow into a beautiful woman."
"Thank you, Mom." She gave me a short hug and riveted back on Chione.
"Hmm, that's good," she said, admiring what I had created so far, "but I'm sure we can do better. Make the dress longer all the way down to her ankle and slit it on both sides of her hips the whole way down. This way, it'll allow more freedom of movement." I followed her instructions and saw the costume take form. "Good, but something's still amiss. I think a train attached to a lazier on her upper arms near the shoulder, mimicry a cloak would go well with the rest."
"I like it, with the long Black hair, she resembles a Wizard or some Noble lady."
"You are right. Hmm, how about we add some bracers and knee-high armor boots made out of metal, and of course, a mask can't be missing. Given her noble look, an ornated domino mask would be the perfect fit."
I gave her recommendation a try, and I have to say Mom knows her way around fashion because it looked really impressive.
"Woah," was all I could say to gave my awe verbalism.
"I know, I'm the best. But it is always nice to get it confirmed."
"Mom! Didn't you teach me, that `self-praise is no praise at all´" I chided her, which resulted in her mock pouting?
"You are so mean."
We only could keep it up a few seconds before we both started laughing like loons. I don't know how long we kept at it until we regained our bearings, but I was so incredibly glad to have her back. I wasn't even know how much I missed those moments in which we just screwed around with each other.
"Four to go, not counting you." I was confused at her statement because there were still 5 Shades, including Mom, in the room.
Noticing my confusion, she elaborated, "Crawler won't need a costume, depending on if the clothes conjured by your power count as a separate entity from the Shades themselves, you clothing him in it might even turn out to be detrimental for his power."
"Yeah, it makes sense." I agreed, "If the armor or costume they are clad in counts as part of their bodies, it will change over time as his body does, so there was no use in designing something for him to wear if it changes anyway. But if it doesn't count as part of his body, putting him into armor would prevent him from getting damaged and therefore his power from adapting, making it useless. So why even bother."
"Exactly, so who is next?" she asked as I unsummoned him together with Chione to create a little more space and turned towards Iron Rain hosting Allfathers Shade. "She is easy." Mom declared and stopped my hand when I was about to touch her. "Why don't you let her do it herself? Or can she manipulate the metal you create with your power?"
"No, it's Darkness given form. Even if it looks like metal, it isn't. This means it wouldn't be a good idea to make a costume out of it for her. In case she can do a better job by herself, with Allfathers power."
My Mom gave me an encouraging smile at my deduction.
"I would say we make her a knight with everything that entails."
I didn't object. It was quite fitting if I considered the interaction I had with her as a Shade so far. After all, she was my Knight in shining armor, who came to save me, well without the armor part. I grimaced at the memory and the fact she was still standing naked in front of me.
I took control of her ability and excreted dark obsidian metal from every Pore of her skin and formed it into a perfect skin tight-fitting full-plate armor around her body. I took great care to ensure that it wouldn't hamper her movement. The end result of my efforts of crafting a full plate armor, which beyond all doubt, only consisted of metal, looked more like power armor than what a medieval knight would wear. It was probably owed to the fact, that it was formfitting, layered out of segmented plates at body parts that would no hamper her movement while simultaneously ensure to protect her. The helm I made for her only had a slit to not obstruct her vision and otherwise hid her whole features.
"It looks really good, but something is still missing. It somehow lacks elegance. A tunic would go a long way to help with that. Since she doesn't have a crest to show off on her torso, it would be prudent to limit it to just the lower part. Split the fabric into two parts front and back at the hip and make it a little beyond knee in length." I followed her suggestion, "Good, and I think a cloak clamped at her shoulders would complete her look." Like before, Mom was right. It really streamlined her look.
"Now, she just needs a weapon." I formed a round metal shield and a sword, the weapon of choice for a knight. I took great care in making a fitting weapon for her, it didn't seem appropriate to give her a run-of-the-mill longsword. Especially considering that her power can make her constructs near indestructible, which was why I reduced the thickness of the sword to a little less than half of what a longsword usually had and improved upon the point of the sword, in the hopes of enhancing its penetrating power. On top of that, I adorned the length of the blade with runes and took great care in designing the crossguard, the end result had an elfin look. It was a weapon of grace, not of strength. When I was done, she sheathed her new weapon at her hip.
"Let's see, all that is left is to figure out, if we can make her costume stick, it would impractical if she had to form it anew every time you summon her. And I don't dare to think about what we might have to do with all the armor she sheds every time you unsummon her."
"I thought about it, and I might have a solution." For the first time since we started, I stood up and left the confines of my bed. I walked the few steps separating us from her and placed my hand on her armor above her heart.
I closed my eyes and focused on the Abyss within me. It took me a moment to exert my control over it, a task that seems to get easier the more I experience, I gained with it. Channeling the abyss along my arm, into my fingers, allowed me to inject threads of the darkness into the metal my hand was in contact with. I let it permeate the armor, the shield, and the sword saturating them in darkness. Weaving webs through them and Iron Rain. I connected them with her very self, giving the idiom `become one with your weapon´ a completely new meaning. Because it was exactly what I accomplished. When I was done, there no longer was a separation between her and her equipment. Enhanced this way, they still retained their metallic properties contrary to objects formed from the Abyssal Darkness alone, putting it comprehensively under Iron Rains dominion.
I opened my eyes and unsummoned Iron Rain to check if it really worked. The lack of an empty armor on the floor in front of me said yes.
"How did you do that?"
"It is difficult to explain. The best way to phrase it would be to say I made her armor equal parts shadow and infused it with herself meanwhile keeping it metallic."
A feeble worded, "I see." was the response Mom gave me at my lacking attempt at explaining what I did.
To take her mind off those things, I said. "I might have an idea for a costume for Echo."
I touched her at the shoulder and clad her into a sleeveless ankle-length toga and added a few accessories to it; A theatre mask to cover her whole face and a good dozen bracelets on both of her arms and legs. Her wild short curly hair gave her an exotic look similar to how I always pictured a priestess of an ancient Greek temple to look, which was why I refrained from giving her any footwear.
"I can see the appeal in this costume. What about Freya?"
"I'm not sure," I hesitated, "her powers are all over the place, which makes it kinda hard for me to picture a fitting costume."
"I know what you mean, but we have to clothe her in something." she pointed out. "It doesn't have to be final. Consider it a placeholder until you've made up your mind."
I followed Mom's advice and just made her a formfitting costume out of finely weaved Darkness and added a domino mask. It should suffice for the moment.
That only left Mom and me yet to get ourselves a costume.
Unlike me, she already had an idea of what she wanted her costume to be like as she requested the moment it was clear that it was her turn, "I think a form-fitting armor, more akin to heavy leather than full-plate would suit me just fine. Made out of your Darkness, it should still provide good enough protection. On top of it all, I'd like a long and hooded coat."
I had to make a few adjustments until Mom was satisfied, but the end product looked really nice. Especially the hood that obfuscated her face even without the domino mask she wore exuded some eerie and dangerous feeling she reveled in. She really owned the Dark Eminence flair she was going for.
Which only left me, for a fleeting moment, I considered creating a plate armor for myself. Simply because items created by the abyss weren't weightless, and I suspected that a full plate would be too much for me to handle. Instead, I decided to use the costume of Mom as a base, and the only major alteration I made in comparison to hers was, that I traded her coat for a tightly fitting tunic. I considered the hood hiding my hair and a domino mask to be enough to hide my identity.
"Let's see," she said and bid me twirl around myself "That looks really good. You clearly possess a good sense of fashion."
"I'm sure you saying that has nothing to do with the fact, that we look similar." I dryly commented.
"Of course not, Taylor. How could you even think me being capable of such cockiness."
She replied, whereas her barely contained grin told an entirely different story. I eye-rolled at that. Meanwhile, I had a different problem. The mask I wore didn't come with my eye prescription, rendering my eyesight, limited as it was without glasses, a liability.
Trying to intently read the lettering on the solar system map poster on my wall while holding my glasses clued my mother in, that or me blinking perpetually, that my eyes could be a problem for my cape career. I wasn't blind without my glasses but seeing only blurry outlines of things when they were farther than a few meters away didn't exactly help matters.
"Taylor, what are you doing?" she expressed her concern.
"Well, I can't implement lenses into my mask on the fly, and I don't feel comfortable in my room half-blind, let alone going out."
"I think you lost me. You make it sound like you're on the clock."
"Yes, I am. We don't have much time." I didn't elaborate on it further and mumbled to myself. "then, I've to rely on Echo."
"Woah, hold on a minute." She exclaimed, raising both her arms in a stopping gesture, "Listen, please tell me what this is all about? Despite all the new powers I got, I still can't read minds. So what is it you have planned that requires you to have perfect eyesight?"
"Right," I drawled, "you weren't there with me." She motioned me to go on with my explanation. "In the hospital during lunch hours, I overheard Panacea on the table next to me talking about one of those monstrous capes in PRT custody unable to control her body."
"Okay," she nodded along, "I still don't see how that is even remotely connected to your actions a minute ago."
"Well, that wasn't all that was said."
"I gathered as much. However, the fact that you are reluctant to tell me doesn't inspire confidence that I'm gonna like what you are about to say. Therefore can we cut this shilly-shallying short, and you just come out with it?"
I took a deep breath. "I also overheard her saying, that this cape killed people." While in the process to voice a retort, I hastily told her. "She couldn't help it, she has no real control over her body, and it reacts to stimuli violently. Mom, the guilt over those actions she had no control over is killing her."
Sighing, she summarized, "Let's see if I got this right. You overheard someone telling this sob story of this cape, and of course, as bleeding hearted as you are, you can't just let it go?"
I just nodded at her. Burying her hand in her curly hair, as it was her habit whenever she was frustrated, she rotated once around herself to calm down.
"What are you gonna do?" She inquired, incredulously, a sliver of frustration still noticeable in her voice, "Call the PRT and ask them nicely if you can swap by and visit their prisoner, and since you are already there, take away her power for good?"
"Well, I was hoping you could make the call." As a response to my well-intentioned plan, I received a deadpan stare.
"That is a monumentally stupid idea, Taylor."
Fidgeting, under her hard stare, I nonchalantly suggested a different course of action, "Well, we could just skip the call and visit them without prior announcement."
"That's not what I meant Taylor," she chastised. "You can't just go around and tell people you can steal powers. That's a dangerous thing to do."
"I know that," I said and was harshly interrupted.
"Obviously, you don't. Otherwise, you would not have come up with this dumb idea. I thought we went over that with Alabaster." She heavily sighed. "Listen, Taylor, at the end of the day, no matter how strong and versatile your Shades turn out to be. You are still a master-class cape. That means you can be hurt, captured, and killed. This was a realistic scenario when you only could reanimate the dead. What do you think is going to happen if there is even just a hint of a rumor that you can steal powers? That you can take away the only reward every cape got for surviving their personal worst day of their lives. What do you think are they going to do out of fear of you taking away the very thing that most capes define themselves with after going through their personal hell?"
"They will take exception to it?" I weakly answered.
"That's the understatement of the Millenia, Taylor. The Gangs, at first, will try to recruit you and failing that, kill if you are a cape with a useful power to prevent you from working for their opposition. However, as power-thief, able to permanently steal them, they might skip this process entirely and sent kill squads after you, and it more than likely won't be limited to the local gangs because everybody might feel threatened."
"You've got to be kidding," I said nonplussed.
"I really wish I were." exasperating, coloring her voice.
"But we could only tell the Heroes and ask them to keep it a secret." I proposed enthusiastic, assuming to have found a way around that predicament.
"Government secrets even before people with powers existed weren't secure. Listen, Taylor, it will just be a matter of time until there is a leak and somebody we don't want to know will have access to that information. Even if they somehow could keep the secret, which I highly doubt, they will be after you for different reasons." She explained.
"But they're the good guys, the Heroes." I protested.
"Oh, I'm sure the Protectorate and PRT might be inclined to forgone the kill squads. However, it will hinge on your willingness to work for them, think about it, a cape able to permanently remove powers. They could come to the conclusion to use you as a deterrent and ultimate punishment for villains, and instead of throwing them in the Birdcage they instead get their powers removed. It would essentially end the double standard of the justice system. Because your existence allows them to reintegrate criminals back into the normal human society. This would also be just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine if you could start using those stolen powers. Every government would love it to regain the monopoly of power they lost with the emergence of Parahumans, which they could if they find the means to control you as their new weapon. Hell, it might even go as far as nation fighting wars over you because they'll consider you the new Eidolon or Scion."
She paused for a moment, thinking on something, and then asked me.
"Could you?" I was totally flat-footed, not knowing what she was inquiring exactly. My puzzled expression must have clued her in because she repeated her question. "Can you use the abilities you have stolen from other Para-humans? What we did in the hospital was me stealing the power and transferring it to you for a limited amount of time. However, can you use the powers you fed to your power?"
"I don't k..." I was about to answer when I thought better of it because instead of guessing, I could just try it out. I reached for the Abyss and felt both lone Shards still within the never-ending darkness residing under the surface. I was about to grab the shard I got from Dad when I heard Mom, who probably figured out my intentions solely by my unsure response to her question.
"Taylor, I think you should refrain from using your Father's power. It's too dangerous to use casually. Try Alabaster's first."
I heeded her advice and changed my choice. Figuratively I grabbed the Shard and fused with it. I was surprised when I didn't register any resistance. Which was in stark contrast to every prior instance in which I was fused with anything. It always was coupled with a varying degree of repulsion attempting to separate the Shade from me, an effect that was completely absent with this loose Shard.
"Okay, I now should have access to the power. How do we test it?"
I had barely finished my sentence when I felt my whole body being invigorated. I removed some of the remaining bandages on my scraped hands and noticed my injuries have vanished. "Nevermind me asking."
"I think that answers that question."
"Yes," I agreed, "but there is something else. I'm pretty sure I can use it indefinitely."
"That changes everything," Mom exclaimed.
"What do you mean?"
"His power, back in the warehouse, I got a really good look at it. Moreover, I even held onto it for a time, which is why I know exactly how it works. Luckily it just so happens to be a power every master class cape would love to call their own since it outright eliminates the most glaring weaknesses they possess."
My eyes widened in surprise. When I finally took notice of what the Abyss had to tell me about this power.
Which coincided with what Mom continued to say, "it resets you every 4.3 seconds into peak condition no matter the affliction, resulting in one being nearly unkillable. Additionally, I think it should be able to neutralize most master effects, which makes it a really good defensive power. Especially in the hands of a master like yourself where they themselves are the liability in fights, either having to hide or having to be protected by their minions or teammates in order not be taken out."
"Well, that's just great." I rejoiced, "does that mean that we can go and save the Case 53?"
"No - " was the short and hard answer Mom gave me.
"Why not? You said it yourself, a major reason you were against it was out of fear for my wellbeing. Now, despite the fact that I gained the means to stay safe, you still won't budge."
"Because it in no way has any significance when it comes to the other points I made, the very moment the cape community is made aware of your existence, you are in danger..."
I interrupted her and started listing what she told me mere moments ago, "of forced recruitment, blackmail, and death in various different shapes or forms. I get that. It's just." I had to pause a moment to get my failing voice back under control, "I wanted to do some good with those powers." I couldn't help but look at my hands, hands that took two lives.
Did they deserve it? More than likely, but it didn't diminish the foul taste it incurred whenever my mind wandered back to them.
I looked up, directly in her teal eyes that were trained on me. I noticed her facial expression going through several changes until it settled into something I identified as determination. She closed the distance between us and hugged me suddenly.
For some reason, my eyes started becoming wet, and I had to fight back tears. "I just want to do something good, with those powers. I ..."
She released her hold of me and looked at me with an unreadable expression.
"I understand, more than you will ever know," she told me with a grimace on her face, "However, there are other ways to do good, ways that don't pose such a huge risk. "
"I'm probably the only one who is even capable of helping this Case 53." I blurted out, "didn't you always teach me, that is the right thing to do to help if you are capable of it? Didn't you teach me proverb Noblesse oblige and even explained to me what it means? I only want to uphold what morals you imparted to me, is that so wrong in your eyes?"
"Of course, not Taylor, it ..." She sighed, "Listen, I justwant you to be safe. In my eyes, you are still that little girl that scraped its knee while playing tag with our neighbor's cat." I saw the small smile on her lips at that memory. It didn't escape me that it was forced. "Looking at you on your way to becoming an adult, using my own words against me in an argument, it seems like it was an eternity ago that I held you in my arms. It finally starts to sink in that you aren't a little kid in need of protection anymore, that you are capable of making your own decision."
She sighed again. "You are going to stick to your guns until I relent, aren't you."
My response consisted of a cheeky grin.
"Okay, okay," she relented, "However, we are gonna do it my way, understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am." I saluted her and nearly pricked out my own eye with the temple of my glasses. "Too bad that Alabaster power is unable to do something for my eyesight."
"With all the powers at your disposal, it's likely we find some way to either restore your eyesight to what it should be or to side-step the problem entirely." She closed the distance between us and touched me. After she allowed some time to elapse, she asked me. "Do you notice any change to your sight?"
"No, why? what have you tried?"
"I used the regenerative ability of Pandora on you, but it doesn't seem to work. Let's see," she tipped her chin with her index finger, "can you release your hold on Alabaster Shard? It might be its power is interfering with the healing process. Since it's slow going, you aren't able to notice any changes before you are reset."
I did as she suggested,and she touched me again. After waiting for another minute, I informed her, "still nothing."
"Kraios power won't fix it either, since your level of eyesight is anchored to your age." Mom inhaled deeply. "I really hoped to avoid resorting to it. However, it seemed my hopes were for naught. Unfortunately, I see no other way to solve it with what we currently have at our disposal. Taylor, I want you to fuse with the Shade of Crawler."
"But you said not to less than 5 minutes ago," I remarked.
"I know what I said, and I stand by it. His power is dangerous, it might change your body until it is no longer human, and I don't want that to happen to you. However, it also is the sole solution to your bad eyesight, which is why we are making a one-time-only exception. Use the Shade, and keep it short, just until your eyesight has improved."
I followed her instructions and the changes to my sight were near-instantaneous, restoring it to what it always should have been under ideal conditions. The healing was accompanied by some tingling in my eyes, for some odd reason, I also felt a tingling sensation throughout my whole body to a lesser degree. I didn't keep the fusion up long enough to find out what else his power thought was in need of improvement, and after I discarded it, I reequipped the Shard of Alabaster.
There were still some things I had to test while, what I assumed would be the default Shard in use by me in the future, was active.
I fused with Freya, which I had still standing around in my room. The very first thing I noticed was repulsion force between her and the Shard from Alabaster, far weaker than I assumed it would be since the Freya Shade consisted of 3 Shades and their respective Shards. But given the effort it took me to keep being merged this way, I would have thought, that she just was in possession of a single Shard.
This was a pleasant surprise because it meant by combining Shades with Shards, I can reduce the strain put on me during a merger, allowing me to push the limit far beyond what I could have managed with separate Shades. It looked like I made the right decision when I combined them and I intended to keep them that way.
I sent Freya back into the Abyss and just for an instant, reached for the Shard of my Dadtrying to verify if all unallocated Shards lack the repulsion force or if it has something to do with other Shards, making the repulsion an inherent characteristic of them.
As it turned out, I could fuse with Dad's Shard without a fuss. Which confirmed my theory the Shards are the reason behind the repulsion force because they reject each other. I was about to summon Aku, in an attempt, to push the Shard I got from Alabaster into him to see what happened but ultimately decided against doing it.
His Shard was far too valuable to risk it in that fashion. Honestly, I didn't expect the shard to vanish into thin air or stop working altogether but in case, that I would no longer be able to separate them again, once they are one, I would have thrown away the one thing that might save my life one day. Admittedly I wouldn't lose the power usage per se, but I would lose my constant access to it. I debated if I should risk it with the Shard of my Dad, but that seemed to be a monumentally worse idea.
As a result, I decided to postpone this experiment until I got my hand on a Shard that I wouldn't mind losing. "So, how do you propose we proceed in helping the Case 53?" I had just closed my mouth after asking this question. When I noticed a book in the hands of my mother, I could have sworn wasn't there a moment ago. And did Mom just flicker?
"We have to break in, obviously." She made her way towards my desk and placed the book on it, I managed to take a glance at the title on the spine of it and wondered `How to kill a Mockingbird´ would be able to help us. "Your father never liked this book, he, in fact, despised it. Therefore I thought it might be a good hiding place."
She opened the book and got my first look at a number of folded pages placed into a hole cut into the book. Mom removed them and laid them out on the desk. "Those are the Plans of the PRT Headquarters Downtown, including all there is to know about their holding cells."
I gave her a questioning look. I was speechless. Why would Mom have them lying around? "They might be a little outdated. However, I think it's not a problem we won't be able to handle. "
"Why? How?" She grimaced at my questions as if remembering the answers to them inflicts bodily pain on her.
"Listen, can we postpone talking about this? It is not a topic I'm comfortable talking about, and I don't want to be responsible for your mind being elsewhere during our break-in."
I was about to retort when she preempted my objection. "Please, Taylor." I can't remember hearing her being that desperate. "I'm gonna tell you all about it, just not now."
I nodded and let the topic drop. And we concentrated on the plans in front of us.
This chapter really was difficult to write for various reasons. I tried my best to disguise the infodump it contains into something resembling a part of a story... not sure how well I succeeded in it. You are gonna be the judge of it.
A few things to note, most of you might rightfully think I overdid it with new names for Taylors Shades in this chapter and the ensuing problems to recall them, especially if they don't have regular appearances. I'm aware of this problem which is why I'm happy to inform you it won't take long (a few chapters down the line) until her naming scheme goes back to the drawing board and she comes up with something a little better, reducing the number of names you have to keep track off.