• Published 18th Jun 2016
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Emerald Gleaner: Retired Monster - Legionary

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Chapter 6: The Pieces Move

A group of eight young men sat somewhat packed together in a white cargo van as said van drove down the street, the moon shining overhead.

The leader of this gaggle of men was a “veteran” gangster of twenty eight years by the name of JJ. Jeffery Jefferson, otherwise known by others as Roach. Roach because he had a habit of managing to escape sticky situations just before they could get worse, as well as managing to survive several gunshots and stabbings, seemingly no worse the wear. Of course Roach would never let others know this but his every movement tended to cause aches and pains like an early onset of arthritis; a life of violence had its “hidden” costs.

Currently Roach and his gang were gathered together in their totality and heading out to spend most of their money buying hardware for themselves. The battle several days ago had drained Brooklyn of dozens of gangs and now there was a power vacuum everyone was rushing to fill. Roach didn't intend to become a big name. Sure he would talk a big game but everyone who didn't want to be walked all over did that. Big names got big targets. What he and his boys needed was some high grade hardware to make anyone who even glanced at them have second thoughts. What they had now, knives and handguns, would make the average man on the street back off, but the oncoming rush of gangs wanting to be king of the hill? In all likelihood, Roach and his boys would get forced into compliance and be made to fight some other gang wanting to be a big name on the streets. It was just good luck he knew one of the local arms dealers who currently had a “surplus” and was promising a discount.

Roach and his gang continued driving along. They had two white vans. The first one full of gangsters and the following one with only two guys up front, the rest of its space meant to carry extra guns and bullets. Unbeknownst to this caravan of gangsters, a shadowy shape spied their progress from afar.

Eventually the gangsters arrived at a warehouse near the docks. It was a fairly tall structure scarred by the second viral outbreak and surrounded by rusting storage containers. Blackened metal sheets marked where viral growths had been burned off as well as hundreds of small holes marking the scene of battle. Milling around the front of the building were half a dozen men trying to look inconspicuous, the bulges of guns hidden under their coats clear to see. Roach pulled his van to a stop before the large overhead door and one of the guards walked over.

“Hey, Roach!” a large, shirtless man greeted. “Boss was expecting ya. Give me a minute an’ I'll get the door opened.”

Roach nodded and waited as the other man quickly darted inside. There was a brief screech of metal before the door started raising. Once it was high enough for his van to enter, Roach drove forward and was quickly followed by his other van.

Inside the warehouse were many stacks of wooden crates Roach knew to be full mostly of random junk to hide smuggled gun parts and bullets. The noise of grinders and sanders filled the air, while in the distance men wearing coveralls worked at tables to remove register numbers from guns.

Roach's two vans came to a stop within the warehouse and he and his men started exiting them.

“ROACH!” boomed a friendly voice. “How's life treating the odd job crew!?”

Outside, the guards were reminded they were supposed to keep an eye out for anything suspicious by the presence of a buyer. They spread out and started to surround the building itself. Two stood in front of the entrance while the four others scattered. One of the guards started to round one of the corners of the building before suddenly being pulled around it.

“Trying and failing to kill the whole lot of us, Marcus,” Roach replied confidently, crossing his arms. “Been doing a bunch of little jobs here and there. Got money to spend. A whole lot of it.”

“Big spender today, eh?” Marcus grinned and crossed his arms. “Got a whole lot of hardware. Some really sweet gear, too. Here, I'll show ya!”

Back outside, two of the guards started looking around the storage containers together. They were already becoming complacent again. One was just looking down the way while the other was giving cursory looks down between containers with a flashlight. As the two passed another space between containers, the guard with the light suddenly widened his eyes. A dark limb lanced out and pulled him into the space within a second, the other one barely half turned in reaction to the slight noise when a cord shot out and wrapped around his neck. He choked silently for a moment before a tug on the cord pulled him head first into the corner of the container. There was a bang and the man fell to the ground, unmoving, before he was dragged into the darkness.

“The hell was that?” said one of the door guards, having heard the sudden bang and gave a shout. “You guys kicking shit over there?!”

Silence met the shout as the other guard jogged over from around the corner.

“Seen enough movies to know where this is going...” muttered the other guard as he quickly pulled his handgun out, clumsily cocking it.

“Find your fucking balls, man,” the other door guard said, but at the same time got his gun out as well. “Let's all check it out.”

The group of three, guns unholstered, approached the containers warily. They were halfway there when two objects impacted the backs of two of the guards. There was a “poomf” followed by a wet splat and suddenly two of the door guards were covered in a sticky, sap-like substance that weighed down their limbs, only just stopping short of fully covering their face and leaving their eyes and noses uncovered.

The last guard whipped around, staring at his downed comrades with wide eyes. He looked up when movement caught his eye and he only had just enough time to see a large, dark shape dropping down towards him.

Back inside the warehouse, Roach and his crew watched on as dozens of guns with freshly ground off registration numbers were laid out on tables. There were quite a few rifles and handguns there, but what caught everyone's attentions had gotten a table all to their own.

“Shit...” Roach said as he picked up one of the guns his crew was now whistling and marveling at. “This really a boom tube?”

“Oh yeah!” Marcus nodded, rubbing his hands together. “Managed to grab ‘em after all the fighting a couple days ago. Only got a few of them so they don't got that discount, just so you know.”

“I'm not complaining,” Roach said with a grin as he tested the gun's weight and sighted down its length. “From what I hear, these things can even kill one of those roid monsters Blackwatch has running around.”

“Can't say anything about that.” Marcus shrugged. “Some of my boys got caught trying to spy on the big fight so I can't say if the armor the big guys were wearing is appropriately badass or not. I like to think these bad boys can mess up anyone's day.”

“If it can make a Cursor think twice, that's good enough for me,” Roach said and put the gun back down. “How much?”

“Now these are top of the line, bleeding edge gun technology,” Marcus said as he started into his selling spiel, picking up a rifle and starting to gesture to each part. “Not to mention the lack of a constant supply. Got plenty of bullets, but not a whole lot of extra stock coming in, ya dig? Taser attachment is a custom job too, so once that's out of juice ya might as well pull it off and tape on a knife. So I'm thinking a good t-”

Suddenly the lights went out and everyone looked up. It was clearly a power issue since the sound of grinders working away at guns died off as well. Instead of getting suspicious, however, Marcus just got frustrated.

“Ah fucking bullshit, man!” Marcus cursed and chucked the rifle roughly back onto the table. “Again!? Ey, Bubba! Get over to the fuse box and fix that piece of shit!”

“Right, boss!” One of the men that had been grinding nodded and quickly ran off into the dark.

“Nothing works right in this fucking city,” Marcus muttered and ducked under the table briefly before coming back up with a box. Opening it, he pulled out a flashlight. “Got a police force with a trillion dollar paycheck, ain't got enough to spend on fixing shit.”

“Ain't that the truth,” Roach agreed. “So how long is this going to take?”

“Got a box of shitty spare fuses in the back with the fuse box,” Marcus explained. “Should be back on any minute now. Anyway, we can do business with flashlights.”

“Yeah, my crew isn't that big so I'm thinking about arming everyone with an assault rifle,” Roach said. “And buying two boom tubes for when shit hits the fan.”

A guard with an assault rifle slung along his back wandered over to the back where Bubba had gone. While Bubba was Marcus' general, all-around repair and handyman, there was a reason the man was in a gang and not working a steady nine to five job. Making sure Bubba didn't try to skip a few corners in an attempt to fix something more quickly and end up killing himself was a part of the job. The guard walked into the back room and frowned at the lack of light from a flashlight. Moving his own flashlight towards the fuse box, he was met with the sight of Bubba slumped against wall. The guard started forward with a curse upon his lips when he felt something wrap around his neck and he fell towards the ground. He struggled and thrashed and attempted to cry out, but the pressure around his neck was immense...

“AK-47.” Roach smirked at the rifle he held in his hands.

“Accept no substitutes.” Marcus grinned for a moment before frowning and looking off into the dark. “What the hell is taking so long? Did somebody go make sure that dumbass didn't shock himself again!”

“I'll go take a look, boss!” a guard said and jogged off.

“So I bet Blackwatch would throw a bitch fit if I was seen carrying this around, huh?” Roach asked, holding up the “Boom Tube” for emphasis.

“Oh yeah.” Marcus nodded. “Those guns are supposed to only be made for them and they are very expensive. Use special bullets, too. Now I can't really get any more of those, but what I can get are rounds that can put down an ele-”

Suddenly a shout of shock and pain filled the air and everyone turned in its direction. Several guards ran in the direction of the shout as Marcus quickly pulled out a magnum. Roach made sure his boom tube was loaded as his boys fidgeted in place, gripping their new assault rifles.

“Yo, what's going on over there?!” Marcus shouted. “Talk to me, damn it!”

“Bubba and two guys are unconscious over here!” came an answering shout. “Someone's here!”

“The fuck...” Marcus muttered and took a look around his surroundings. He only saw darkness, intermittently lit up by flashlights and a bunch of young gangsters suddenly nervous and clutching guns. “Get your asses in gear and look around! And open the front door!”

Men starting searching the warehouse, most doing so in pairs while another ran up to the front to open the overhead door. Suddenly there was the sound of something swishing through the air followed by the brief screech of metal. Then there was the rattle of a metal chain falling to the floor.

“Boss, something broke the chain!” came a shout followed the sound of a door rattling. “Side door is jammed, too!”

“Well kick that shit down!” Marcus shouted back, now beginning to feel a bit nervous. Suddenly a loud bang filled the air along with the sound of wood shattering. Marcus turned to see a collapsing stack of empty wooden crates with several men on the ground sprawled nearby. The explosions seemed to have mostly dazed them, but there were some clear injuries from wood shrapnel. Suddenly another sound that, from personal experience, Marcus knew to be the sound of heads impacting unyielding concrete. He spun around in place to see a flashlight roll into view from behind a wall of crates.

“Oh what is this bullshit!” Marcus shouted, gritting his teeth. “Everybody get the fuck over here!”

Suddenly movement caught the weapon dealer's eye and he just managed to see the blur of a spherical ball land among Roach and his boys. There was a bang and suddenly the air was filled with incredibly thick smoke. No one could see a thing, especially not the guards that had been outside the sudden smoke cloud. Suddenly shouts of pain and surprise started filling the air, and Marcus immediately started waving his hands in an attempt to clear the smoke. By the time any sort of visibility had started to come back, all Marcus could make out was nearly a dozen bodies on the ground and a shape slipping around the corner of a wall of crates.

“Boss, you okay?” one guard shouted as he and the others quickly surrounded Marcus in a crude protective circle.

“No I'm fucking not!” Marcus replied angrily, just barely keeping from pistol whipping the guard. “Who the fuck is fucking with us!?”

“Jesus Christ, man!” Roach said as he and two of his sole remaining boys joined Marcus and his guards. “Did Blackwatch find out you scavved their guns?! Are we getting picked off by fucking Spec Ops or something!?”

Marcus considered the idea seriously for a moment before shaking his head.

“If it was Blackwatch, we'd be dead,” Marcus answered as he lifted up his pistol and scanned the darkness.

“Well who the fuck is it?!?” Roach turned around and scanned the darkness fruitlessly, his extreme caliber gun not feeling at all comforting when he couldn't see the enemy. “Fucking Batman?!”

Marcus was about to lose his temper and vent his anger and frustration on Roach when suddenly, with a metallic clang, something impacted the receiver of Roach's rifle. A moment later, the sound of more impacts filled the air. Roach and Marcus were staring wide eyed in nigh incomprehension of the object that had sliced into Roach's rifle. The object sticking out of the rifle and completely disabling the rifle was a batarang.

The other armed gangsters in the group were having similar reactions as their own weapons suffered the same fate. Then, when the sound much like a flag fluttering and snapping in the wind resounded above them, they looked up as one and saw a black shape descend towards them.

ALPHA

“Are you in a safe location, miss?” the voice on the phone asked,

“Y-yes I am... I... please hurry...” Emerald replied in a nervous voice.

“Just stay where you are, miss. A patrol will be on site shortly,” came the calm response.

“A-Alright...” Emerald answered and hung up. “Ugh...”

Currently, Emerald was crouched in the dark shadows of an alcove atop a building. Considering her current appearance, she had been immensely tempted to find a nice corner to loom like a gargoyle atop of it, but she had been too afraid of screwing it up by getting spotted to risk it. What was her current appearance? Well...

If anyone happened to posses Cursor levels of sight they would see that crouching in the shadows, seemingly shrouded by the darkness and wearing a caped cowl, was Batman himself. More specifically it was the Batman from the upcoming and highly anticipated Arkham Knight game. Emerald had honestly been at a complete loss of which version of the caped crusader to go out as. Not because none of them had been very good, but because she had been excitedly indecisive. If Emerald could be honest with herself, choosing which Batman to go out looking like had been the first time she had been giddy about something since she had been a small child. Which of course, somehow led into her feeling like she was having heart palpitations due to stage fright of all things after she had finally chosen and headed out. Despite the fact that, as Batman, it meant that the only things anyone should really see of her is her fist out of the darkness, she was still having a bit of performance anxiety about the whole thing.

It even bled into her target hunting when she was going out looking for a major crime to break up. Due to the fact that Blackwatch is supposed to be a law enforcement entity and not a political one, they had little authority when it came to the city it was stationed within. Though if the Mayor of New York tried to pass some state law that interfered with the Cursors, Blackwatch had all the justification in the world - literally - to get involved. This ultimately meant that Blackwatch's multi-billion dollar budget couldn't be spent on things to improve the city itself. A tad short-sighted, but the organization as it exists now was only three years old. Arguably, things would get better as the system was refined by the UN. This in conjunction with the US' current financial troubles meant there were quite a few thriving smuggling rings within the city.

'The trick wasn't finding a smuggling operation, the trick was finding the right kind,' Emerald thought as she carefully emerged from her hiding spot and ascended to a rooftop with a viral tendril disguised as a grappling hook. 'There were a ton bringing in a bunch of odd food, more bringing in cheap jewelry that only looked expensive, more bringing in actual medicine with only a bit of drugs. Honestly, any of them could have worked for my intentions but I was looking for something a bit more... appropriate. I wanted to find an arms dealer to mess up and what do you know, I even got lucky and found a guy heading to one so I could bust it in the middle of a deal. Hmm....'

Emerald frowned as she came to a stop before a ledge, carefully leaning out of the shadows and peering out onto the empty streets as she fought the intense desires to stand on the roof's corner to loom. Now that she had gotten her first big take down, she was a bit upset with herself acting “out of character”. Would it have mattered to Batman if it wasn't a big time smuggling ring? That it wasn't some people trying to bring in high powered guns into a troubled city or even smuggling out people to be sold as slaves somewhere? Actually, now that she thought about it, it was kind hard to say so since there were so many versions of the Bat, some of which used guns freely and just plain killed people.

'Well it doesn't matter, does it?' Emerald thought as she leapt a gap and came to a stop atop a roof corner, this time freely looming over the edge. 'I'm going with the only interpretation of him that matters. The one truest to the state of being that which is Batman.'

With that she turned away and melded into the dark, racking her photographic memory for all the smuggling rackets she had come across in her search of an arms dealer. There was the faintest flash of light, the only sign of her use of a teleportation, and she was gone.

BETA

“Yeah... I know... no confessions yet...”

Dana Mercer stood at the ready, smartly dressed in a very clearly expensive dress suit. She was standing in an office - James Heller's office - whilst holding a clipboard that was barely holding all the various papers and documents that she placed in it. James Heller's office was quite opulent as a sign of the massive budget it had at its disposal. The furniture was all stained oak and the room had wood paneling and wooden flooring. Heller's desk was a massive custom-made piece with enough surface area to force anyone to stand up to reach things on the opposite end. His chair was another custom-made piece, and was likely more expensive than the desk if only for the simple fact he had insisted on a chair with wheels. Quite an engineering conundrum to account for someone roughly two tons in weight. Finally there was what appeared to be an extremely large painting on the wall behind the desk; it was actually a large TV screen that switched between different scenes every now and then.

“Look, I am literally working around the clock now to ensure this doesn't happen again,” Heller spoke into the into the phone, sounding perfectly calm, but Dana knew better and guessed correctly that James was doing all he could to hide any anger he was likely feeling. “Twenty four seven, ever since the whole thing went down... You have my word Mr. Secretary-General, there won't be another battle in the NYZ any time soon... Yes, I understand. I'll make preparations for their arrival. Good day, Mr. Secretary-General.”

Dana Mercer watched as James struggled against himself with all his might to not smash his phone onto its charge station before burying his face in his hands. There was a long moment of silence before he let loose a loud growl of anger and frustration that likely would have easily scared off a Goliath. Dana for her part simply walked over to his side, leafing through her sizable collection of papers before dropping a few on the desk surface.

“So let me guess,” Dana said casually. “The UN wants to post observers to keep a closer eye on things?”

“Yeah, pretty much...” Heller muttered before roughly picking the papers up and looking them over. “The hell is this?”

“My reports on the Old Guard,” Dana answered. “It seems they are denying any and all involvement with the firefight in Brooklyn. Shocking, I know.”

“Like fuck they haven't got their fucking slimy fingers in whatever the fuck that was!” Heller snarled, slapping the papers down onto the surface of his desk. “They started doing their usual monster experiment shit and set it loose in some fucking twisted experiment! Since some kind of firebomb self-destruct got triggered just when we are about to capture the damn thing. What else could have fucking happened?!”

“The only other explanations is that we either somehow missed a monster somewhere or someone has the same genetic engineering capabilities as Blackwatch does,” Dana replied with a frown. “Both are very bad but also kinda unlikely to say the least. But at the same time...”

“Yeah?” Heller looked up at Dana after she didn't answer.

“Hmmm... no, it was just a thought I need to check up on before mentioning,” Dana replied with a shake of her head before suddenly placing fingers against her ear after a moment she got an odd expression, one that seemed to be a mix of amusement and disbelief. “What? Really? Wow...”

“What the hell is it now?” Heller groused. “It better not fucking be another battle. Just finished promising that wasn't going to happen again anytime soon.”

“We recently got an anonymous tip about gunshots from the docks and...” Dana began and looked briefly stumped of how to explain what she just heard. “It's probably best if you just saw for yourself. The patrol that responded is streaming a live feed with a camera right now.”

“Alright, let's see what's going on now.” Heller sighed and turned his chair around to face the painting. “Put it up.”

Dana brought out her communicator and started tapping on it for a few moments before pointing it at the TV and pressing on it one more time. Instantly, the calm scene of an African Savannah was replaced with that of a live feed from the inside of a warehouse. There were several bright lights set up and several Blackwatch soldiers were standing guard, mostly in a circle around a certain spot. Said spot had a large group of rough looking men completely restrained by cuffs around their wrists and ankles. Each cuff also had another chain linking to another cuff, making movement near impossible without perfect teamwork and coordination.

“It was fucking BATMAN, man! He broke my arm!” one of the men shouted loudly before giddily adding. “It was fucking sweet!”

“Fuck you!” responded another restrained man who released a pained groan. 'Uggghhh... my goddamn hand's broke, my ribs are broke and my head feels like it wants to split open...”

“The hell?” Heller muttered with furrowed brows, he stood up and approached the screen. He reached out with a hand towards Dana who quickly handed over her earpiece. “Tell me what's going on here. What the fuck’s this about Batman?”

“Sir!” Saluted a soldier on the video feed. “We found them tied up like this. We started investigating the area and found gun parts everywhere along with ammunition of every kind. We also find a few of our own guns here, likely scavenged from the recent fighting.”

“That gives me a reason to throw their asses in prison but doesn't explain exactly what the hell happened there,” Heller replied.

“Well uhh, sir, it appears the suspects are claiming to being attacked by someone dressed up as Batman,” the soldier answered and bent down to pick something up before revealing it to the video. “Fully functioning bat-gadgets included, apparently.”

Heller's brows raised to their highest extent as he took in the image of the batarang in the soldier's hands. He was silent for a moment before he suddenly began chuckling and eased backwards into his chair. He spent a few moments considering the weapon before speaking again.

“Alright, what about the suspects?” Heller asked, a bit of cheer still obvious in his voice. “How badly are they hurt?”

“Bruises, broken bones and nothing of which would have any long term consequences,” the soldier answered, bringing up a military iPad to read off a report. “As long as they get proper medical attention, they'll make a full recovery. Most any of them might get is an arm that is slightly wonky at flexing.”

“HA! Yeah, sounds like Batman alright.” Heller laughed. “Right, get the scum through medical and lock ‘em up.”

“Right, sir!” The soldier saluted again. “And uhhh, sir? What about Batman?”

“Well, vigilantism is a crime...” Heller began faux solemnly. “But I think in this case we can consider it in the same severity as jaywalking. In other words, don't bother unless you feel like it. I mean I woulda just downed their asses as fast as I could, to hell with the injuries they might get.”

“Same, sir,” the soldier replied with a small chuckle.

“Alright. Anything else I should know about?” Heller asked.

“Nothing from here, sir,” the soldier responded. “But from what I hear, this isn't going to be the last time we get something like this tonight. Been hearing about several more anonymous reports made in the same likeness as the one for this one.”

“Ha, busy night for the Bat. Heller out,” James said with a grin before removing his ear piece and handing it back to Dana.

“So we've got a vigilante,” Dana commented as she turned the TV back to painting mode. “Considering how many people there are with ‘super powers’ in this city, I'm surprised it took as long as it did.”

“Pretty much,” Heller said as he swiveled his chair back to his desk. A small frown returned to his features as he started considering more serious problems. “If some Cursor wants to play superhero, then they can go knock themselves out as long as they don't start racking up a death count. Otherwise the UN would start getting on my ass about it. I've got some more important shit to worry about than someone in spandex.”

“The Old Guard,” Dana stated.

“Yeah. As much as I want to just get rid of them, they've covered their bases politically,” Heller said as he began rapping his fingers on his desk. “Even if I could, I wouldn't unless I was putting them six feet under, I'm not stupid. Just removing their positions isn't enough to stop them from stirring up some serious shit. Better they're here where I can keep as close a watch on them as I possibly can rather than scattered all over the country.”

“I'll make to start using my resources to start digging up as much information as I can,” Dana replied and started leafing through documents again. “Hopefully next time we'll get some forewarning.”

“Let me know as soon as you find anything, Dana,” Heller said as he leveled a glare down at the papers on his desk.

“As soon as I find anything, James.” Dana nodded before turning around and leaving through the oak double doors of Heller's office.

Since Dana was supposed to be Heller's secretary, her own “office” was literally next door. More of a well furnished waiting room worthy of a secretary rather than an office, but it would have been weird if the room before Heller's was nicer. Her own desk wasn't nearly as large as his, but the wall behind her was lined with secure file cabinets. Quickly sorting her many documents and filing them away in their proper areas, Dana's thoughts wandered back to the meeting.

She had a thought she hadn't mentioned to Heller. It was the idea that while the Old Guard were cold blooded killers, they weren't stupid either. They weren't the psychotic leadership that Mercer had put in place once he had fully infiltrated the black ops organization. Suffice to say, a monster on the loose just wasn't in the Old Guard's style and Dana heavily suspected that something else was going on.

Immediately, Dana's thoughts wandered over to the idea that Emerald was in someway involved before shaking her head.

'I'm the one who defended her last time and even I still get twitchy about her,' Dana thought with a frown. 'Goes to show just how much a bad reputation can have an effect on people. But... she reminds me of someone else, who had been seen as a monster but was protective of those he cared about. Speaking of, I think it's about time I talked to Gabriel again and see how things are.'

With that, Dana sat at her desk and put her ear piece back on. Linking it to her computer, she started to make a skype call.

GAMMA

Emerald sat on the floor with crossed legs, and sitting atop of said legs was Twilight Sparkle.

Twilight had finally finished her hornless magic equation and had been spending as much time as she could trying to use it. However, getting her magic to cooperate and move through a material that wasn't as magically resonant as unicorn horn was proving to be rather difficult. Emerald had full confidence Twilight could eventually do it on her own, just like the equation, but in this part it would be simpler to have a bit of help.

The two of them were sitting on the living room floor with Navi nearby, also practicing her magic. Navi was making massive leaps and bounds with every day she practiced. Already she was moving things around telekinetically, a feat that was leaving Sunset Shimmer gaping at the younger girl. Spike was in the kitchen working on lessons of his own, much more conventional compared to outright magic lessons. While Spike wasn't nearly as studious as Twilight was, he was actually a little interested to see how his own education compared to Earth's own system. So far he seemed to be doing well enough, even figuring out problems on his own rather than asking for help. Goes to show you didn't need to be an obvious intellectual like Twilight to be smart.

“You can do it, Twilight...” Emerald said softly as she reached out with her magic again. “Just concentrate...”

A tendril of magic left Emerald body and entered Twilight's body through her back. There was a moment of resistance from Twilight's own well of currently inaccessible magic and then it was gone. Emerald's magic intermingled a little with Twilight's for a short moment, a strange sensation of intimacy assailing the both of them followed by feeling of the both of them somehow being one and still separate. Ignoring the feeling, Emerald “gripped” on some of Twilight's magic and ever so slowly started pulling a small amount out. It was hard to describe what Emerald was doing with Twilight. It both was and wasn't as simple as just pulling a strand of Twilight's magic out, and having the other girl remember the sensation of her own magic leaving her body. It was more akin to learning how to make the Vulkin hand sign in a way. At first you wouldn't be able to make the symbol without simply forcing the fingers into the sign. However, practice it enough and eventually your brain would learn the muscle memory necessary to make the sign without forcing your fingers into place. This was the same idea behind what Emerald was doing with Twilight's magic. Admittedly this exercise meant that Twilight figuring out the hornless equation was somewhat pointless. However, Twilight was the type who would want to know the science behind what she was doing, not just how to do it.

Once again finishing pulling out a strand a magic, Emerald watched as as it retracted back into Twilight's body before it suddenly stopped. Feeling growing excitement inside of her, Emerald watched as the magic started to steadily spread. Eventually, Twilight's entire body was covered by her own pink aura for a moment before it suddenly flashed brightly. When the light faded, Twilight took a deep breath and exhaled it loudly before smiling widely and a bit tiredly.

“I did it,” Twilight said softly with a grin. “I did it!”

“Uh... wow...” Sunset said honestly, blinking at both Twilight and Navi who was now attempting to levitate herself, making little hops that had ever so slightly slowed down descents.

“I knew you could do it.” Emerald smiled and wrapped her arms around Twilight's middle.

“No thanks to you,” Twilight said with an elbow to the girl whose lap she was still sitting on.

“Hey! What did I do?” Emerald asked with a faux hurt frown before it turned into a sly smile.

“You made yourself smell like vanilla,” Twilight said pointedly. “It was rather difficult trying to concentrate on magic when you smell like delicious cake.”

“Cake, huh?” Emerald said with grin, gently grabbing hold of Twilight's chin and moved her face into much more easily kissable position. “Bite me.”

“That's horrible,” Twilight stated but did start to kiss Emerald. However, her eyes widened and she backed away to stare at Emerald a bit incredulously. “Did... did you make yourself taste like chocolate?”

“Maybe?” Emerald smiled. “You like?”

“UUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!” Sunset Shimmer groaned loudly, face buried in the palms of her hands. “Please stop... it's hard to quickly get into my wheelchair to get away.”

“Alright, alright...” Emerald said and both she and Twilight got up from the floor. “We'll celebrate later, I suppose.”

“Ugh...”

“I'm going to get right into practicing,” Twilight said and joined Navi at the coffee table. “It's going to take a while to get anywhere, but now that I can cast magic hornlessly, progress will be a lot more clear.”

Emerald smiled and walked into the kitchen where Spike was still sitting, giving the schoolwork his total attention. She walked over to stand behind him and briefly looked over his shoulder. He was doing pretty well.

“How are you doing, Spike?” Emerald asked.

“I wasn't sure what I was expecting,” Spike said as he leaned back to observe his work. “I didn't know if I was ahead or behind and I'm still not sure...”

“You're pretty damn smart, Spike,” Emerald said, ruffling the former dragon's hair. “You were Twilight's assistant for years. You'll be fine.”

“If you say so,” Spike said with a shrug before getting back into it.

Emerald walked around Spike to the opposite side of the table. She took a seat before digging into a pocket and pulling out several envelopes. Apparently tons of people already knew her mailing address and had sent her a lot of mail. She had tossed most of it, seeing as most of it contained things like hate letters and meaningless threats as well as packages that contained things like literal crap. It might have affected a normal person, but it was already water under the bridge for Emerald. It was hard to even give such things any attention beyond the time it took to throw them away. The only real concern she might have had about such people was if they came after her and her family with the intent to cause harm. Then she would have to hope they were in an already out of the way place so she didn't have to deal with people watching her brutally kill them. The remaining letters came from official sources, addresses of TV networks to be exact so Emerald already sorta knew what they would be about.

'Let's see if I'm right...' Emerald thought as she opened the first letter. 'Dear Oskar Osäker. Sorry Fox, you already alienated me. Good day, Miss Emerald. Blah, blah, blah, request to interview, blah, blah. I think not. Let's see... request to interview, request to interview, request to interview. Is that all they want? At least this final one here doesn't take itself ser- wait.'

Emerald looked over the address of the details of the letter again, her eyes drawn to two words specifically: Comedy Central. After that, she started reading the letter again, this time much more carefully and taking in each word. After she was done reading, she leaned back and started to consider the letter seriously.

'Well... why not?' Emerald thought and took her phone out to take a picture of the letter and one of herself. 'I wonder if they still film in New York or if they had to move the studio?'

Emerald then started rapidly typing out an email with two picture attachments. After sending it, she looked towards the living room. Navi had given up on attempting to get straight to self levitation for the moment and was now levitating multiple objects, Twilight was still trying to do something more than a light show and use her magic for something practical. And Sunset Shimmer was watching the both of them closely with a studying gaze.

'Well, since everyone is working on something productive, I ought to get work on the formulas for my projects again,' Emerald thought as she got her custom iPad out to work on some plans.

DELTA

In a dark room full of cigarette smoke, several old men sat around a table. They all wore uniforms of some kind, either a simple camo suit or Blackwach hardsuits sans the helmet. All of them were old with the youngest looking to be around his late forties. Their expressions weren't happy in the slightest, all of them bearing frowns with one outright scowling.

“Can someone explain to me what the hell happened exactly?” One of them demanded. “Or even how the fuck that happened without anyone here finding out about it beforehand?”

“Everyone here knows what the others are up to,” another man replied. “No one has been running some experiment behind the scenes that just got loose.”

“It doesn't explain how one of our own just decided to jump ship and join up with a fucking monster and some dumbass gangbangers!” came the angry retort. “I knew Captain Henderson for close to thirty years. He was a true believer in the cause and an absolute professional. Now he just suddenly jumps ship out of the blue?! Let me be blunt, WHAT THE FUCK?”

“Okay, calm down. I agree with the sentiment but getting furious about it isn't going to help,” said one that stuck a nearly burned away cigarette butt into an ashtray. “Let's go over what we know.”

“Well one thing, Heller is pissed as fuck and blaming us,” came the reply of a man still wearing his hardsuit. “Of course he doesn't believe our claims of innocence and if it weren't for the UN breathing down his neck we'd probably have to deal with him going on the warpath.”

“I blame the second generation for the “release the monsters” reputation we have now. Dumbass pieces of shit they are,” stated another with a sigh. “Even some of our own privately asked me if we really didn't have anything to do with that.”

“That is irrelevant to the situation,” said the first angry commander. “The fact of the matter is that there was a monster that literally came out of nowhere because everyone here knows Heller would never make something like that. Which means we have competition.”

There was silence for a long moment as everyone digested that statement.

“...Do you think it's possible the Chevalier set up another group in America?” asked the second commander. “They haven't talked with us ever since Blackgate...”

“Let's... let's consider all our options before we leap for the worst possible one,” spoke the suddenly very calm first commander. “Long periods of no communication isn't unheard of since our founding. Continuing on... whatever this thing was, it was able to subvert minds to create minions. Spreading a highly mutative virus that turns whoever it infects into monsters was a potent weapon on its own, but outright mind control?”

“That has the potential to change the balance of world power forever,” spoke the third commander solemnly. “And chances are whoever made it can do it again. If we can't have such capability, no one else should.”

“You've been rather quiet, Trager,” commented the second commander.

“I've been thinking about some details that were mentioned in the debrief the sole surviving E-Code gave us,” Trager said with arms crossed, eyes glazed over a little from his mind in deep thought. “The monster he fought sounded like some kind demon, par the course for viral monstrosities, but... he also mentioned that it was wearing a Tiara.”

“...Wasn't Mercer's traitor here for some stolen jewelry?” the first commander voiced aloud.

“It was, but...” The Second frowned. As much as he wanted to bring in Emerald... “It seems like a bit of a reach that there is a connection between what the thing was wearing and the Traitor.”

“I admit it is a bit of a stretch and likely a coincidence.” Trager nodded in agreement. “But what else do we have to go on? We might as well follow this lead and confirm if it's a dead end.”

“Our first step should be confirm what kind of jewelry the Traitor was after,” the third commander stated. “If it was a tiara, then it's a point in favor of a connection between the two.”

“Looking at the intel in the database right now...” Trager spoke as he quickly tapped on an iPad he pulled out. “Damn, nothing specific. Just says she is here for missing rocks.”

“Hmmm... should we set Heller on this lead?” asked the Second. “That way we can work on this through official channels. Unless it's Heller or Dana Mercer asking the questions, most of the germs on the island aren't cooperative at all. Plus if something is found we can officially arrest her.”

“No. If we do that we surrender most of our control over the use of the information gathered.” The Third Commander shook his head. “It will slow down information gathering a lot but eventually we'll find out what we want to know.”

“I'll send out some feelers,” spoke the second commander. “See if we can find a germ that's willing to talk to a Blackwatch soldier that isn't flashing his badge for some reason.”

Trager smiled. It was likely this wasn't going to bear fruit, but hopefully chances were the connection was there. And then he and the rest of the Old Guard could come down on Emerald Gleaner like the wrath of god.

EPSILON

Belvedere leaned back in his seat and looked over his stack of paperwork. After making sure there were no mistakes, he nodded and placed the papers in the out tray on his desk.

It had only been a few days since Belvedere had managed to break into the Orion building to access the locked away serum, and only one day for the full effects of the serum to take their course in his body. His legs were now longer and after feeling ravenous the entire time he had regrown his own arm as well. He was now in his office finishing up on some of his work.

'Certainly much easier to do this with two arms,' Belvedere thought as he swiveled his chair around and looked out his window. The new city center was always being worked on. The Wolverines were helping with the construction as well handling the heavy labor as ordered by their commanders. The new city center was nearing completion now and already had some sectors in use and being lived in.

'All of my work is done, unfortunately,' Belvedere thought with a huff. 'What to do now...'

Belvedere considered exactly what to do with his free time for a few moments. He looked down at his legs and thought of the fact that he was still wobbly moving around on them. Deciding he was going to both tour the Hub and train his legs a little more, he got up and walked out of his office.

A few minutes later found the Regent of the Enclave strolling down the completed areas of the new city center with a somewhat wobbly gait. He found himself being reminded of Manehattan, though the towers weren't as tall, they ended at a stone ceiling overhanging the entire city and instead of ponies, Diamond Dogs roamed the streets. Many of the dogs were construction workers building up the rest of the city and wolverines hauling heavy loads of stone and steel.

'I wonder if I'll ever get used to this sight?' Belvedere asked himself as he passed a small group of spiders being lead along by Flandre. 'I hope not.'

After taking in the sights and sounds of the growing city, Belvedere decided take his tour back to what was quickly becoming known as Old Town, the original settlement area they had established when they first arrived in the Everfree over three years ago.

Once he arrived back in Old Town, Belvedere couldn't help the feeling of nostalgia at the sight of the still very much lived in, comparatively crude buildings here. These were the homes that he and the others had built themselves under the guidance of their elders. This was the first true city of Diamond Dogs in over a hundred years settled in a wildly free and dangerous forest. And it was all thanks to Emerald Gleaner's leadership. She may not have been a Diamond Dog, but he could honestly understand why many dogs in the Enclave had come to think of her as their version of Celestia.

He paused suddenly and tilted his head. There was a loud voice reverberating towards him up from an alley. Curious at this, he followed the voice to its origin, getting louder and clearer as he neared. It wasn't long before he found himself in a courtyard shared by surrounding apartment complexes. Said courtyard was full of Diamond Dogs looking towards the far side of the yard where Fenrir towered over everyone.

“She came to us from a world alien to our understanding!” Fenrir bellowed, his voice clear to all in the courtyard. “She arrived immortal, immune to all sickness, capable of recovering from any ailment and was strong! She wandered among the ponies, she saw their way, and though she found a few she cherished she felt no attachment for the whole! And then she found us! The Diamond Dogs!”

Belvedere raised a brow and looked over the crowd, specifically those in it and their reactions. There were many families from what he could see, couples with newborn pups or pregnant mates or even both, couples with pups that looked to already be ten or so years old but with another clearly on the way. It was from among these that had expressions of interest, attentiveness and even fervor. There were other dogs here, ones that were by themselves. These ones looked to be here purely to pass the time with something, though even among them Belvedere could see these same expressions play across their faces at times.

“She came to us at our lowest. Scattered packs and enslaved dogs forced to play the part of the slaver!” Fenrir addressed the crowd, spreading his arms grandly. “She came to us from a position of power and we feared she would be no better then the Dragon, but she demonstrated even the strong - especially the strong - can be merciful! She defeated the Dragon and gave us the choice that was taken from us. She let us choose to serve or find our own way!”

'What exactly is going on here?' Belvedere thought with a tilt of his head. 'I knew Fenrir was rather loyal to Emerald, but to the point he'd actually deify her? Well, she did give him everything he could have wanted back to him.'

“She returned our lost kin to us and led us to a new home to establish a city to surpass the Old Kingdom of the past!” Fenrir continued his preaching. “And it was from there her works of greatness were only beginning! She would free us further from the shackles of our own hunger! She would not only return to us a nation but make it one the world had no choice but to acknowledge and respect as a rising power! And through her power, those who choose, those who are willing to embrace the change and growth, are bestowed a fragment of her own greatness!”

'Should I do something about this?' Belvedere thought with a hum before shaking his head and turning away. 'No, I think this is one of those things that only her holiness should handle. I think she'd take great glee in this. Oh yes, I can already imagine the joy on her face when she comes back and discovers she is being worshiped like a god. Now, on to business...'

Belvedere walked away from the congregation and decided to next make his way to the surface. Walking through crowds, he couldn't help but notice how he towered over most dogs now. Before, he tended to stand on his hind legs more often than not thanks to his lithe build. Suffice to say, thanks to that habit he was used to standing a bit taller than most dogs, but it was rather noticeable even to him how he was now a full head and shoulders above most. Of course, now thanks to his longer legs it was very awkward and uncomfortable to attempt a more “natural” stance but you had to take the good with the bad.

The Regent Boss of the Enclave soon reached the tunnel to the surface. Before, it was a rather crude system. You either walked the entire way or hitched a ride on the cargo trains running things to the surface and back. A lot of work had gone into improving just that. The tunnel had been expanded upon quite a bit and now had five rail lines leading to the surface, two of which were made to hold a tram system and dedicated to getting people to and from the surface.

'I remember when we had these bolt-bare, cobbled together steam engines running these lines,' Belvedere thought as he boarded the tram and took a seat. 'Amazing how much things can change in only a few years.'

The tram Belvedere had boarded indeed was a rather loud far cry from the alarmingly scrappy looking steam engines they had before. In fact, these trams wouldn't look too terribly out of place on Earth. Some people might comment they looked a tad on the old side compared to the sleek lines of Europe, but it was still a technological leap.

Little over a minute later, Belvedere along with several other dogs left the tram once it arrived. He paused to bathe in the light of the noon sun for a moment before continuing along. When it first cleared out, the surface area the Enclave claimed as their own was nothing more then a slightly churned mess of dirt. There was quite a lot of plant life active up here now. The dragon scale bushes were still here and possibly in even greater quantities to armor up the many thousands of wolverines now staying in the Enclave. The golden apple trees were everywhere as well, and there were always plenty of dogs collecting the fruits of these trees either to eat straight away or make into delicious juice and cider. Emerald had been moving surface operations towards more nature accommodating construction and in return for the decency, Sovereign had moved trees around with no harm to their health when asked.

Belvedere walked along a paved path leading away into the trees. It wasn't too much of a barrier. They cleared up into the next claimed area fairly quickly. The first thing that met his sight was the Great Fox now grounded and being retrofitted. There was a ton of armor plating covering much of the Fox's original hull and the large balloon that provided much of the lift was now completely gone. The top deck was now mostly covered by a steel structure. Overall, the Great Fox resembled an Ironclad more than its original state as a cargo vessel. It even had smokestacks to vent away waste energy created by the new levitation core designed by Moon Dancer. That last part was important to Belvedere. The retrofitted Gray Fox was one of the major things the Enclave had created without input of some sort from Emerald on the technical side of things, it was purely Diamond Dog engineering and magical expertise from Moon Dancer. Honestly, the levitation core likely could have been better, not to mention the propulsion jet engines to provide further mobility likewise could have been more efficient, and weaponry was constantly being added and removed to balance firepower and staying power in a prolonged fight. But in the end it was still something they made and something they could work on to improve themselves. There was even plans to lay the groundwork for several more ships like the Great Fox once the design was finished being optimised.

The Regent Boss then turned his attentions to the other interesting sight in the clearing. It was the training grounds of the Enclave, now vastly changed from the difficult obstacle courses they had originally been to account for the fact their users were Super Soldiers. It was now in use by over several dozen Warhounds, or more specifically the Direwolf branch.

So far there were nearly four dozen Warhounds who had made the leap and became Direwolves as soon as the option became available to them. Belvedere expected there to be well over a hundred Direwolves by the end of the month. As he watched the new Direwolves train and do their best to get used to their augmented forms as quickly as possible, he spotted a sparring pair. It was Tavish and Padfoot sparring with each other. Tavish appeared to have already mastered his altered proportions by the way he practically danced around the lumbering hulk that was Padfoot.

Belvedere smiled slightly at the sight of both of them, reminded of how full of energy Tavish was once his legs finished growing in. The little Alpha had been practically over the moon about the fact he was ever so slightly, if you squinted just right and exaggerated a little, above average in height now. Then Padfoot had made his own appearance at that moment, standing a full head above Fenrir and soured the “little” Alpha's mood instantly.

'We have so much to show Emerald when she gets back,' Belvedere thought as he crossed his arms. 'I wonder how surprised she'll be?'

The Regent Boss of the Enclave, rising power of Equis, turned his gaze skyward with some hint of a grin.

'Either way, I know she'll be proud.'

Many miles away, another leader of state was attending a bit of business of her own.

Princess Celestia stood at the Canterlot sky docks awaiting the arrival of a dignitary. Normally Princess Celestia wouldn't be here and would be back in the palace busying herself with her duties until the dignitary arrived and was met by a servant. But this dignitary was quite different, even so that Celestia wished to meet her as soon as she arrived rather than at Celestia's earliest convenience as would be the norm.

Celestia, flanked by two Royal Guards, watched in interest as a sky ship very distinct from all the others moored here eased into the harbor. It was made of a wood of some kind and that was pretty much the only similarity it had with neighboring Equestrian skyships. The ship was long, sleek and thin and seemed to be made entirely of polished white petrified wood that could have easily been mistaken for ceramics. One could still see the grain of the wood along with the occasional knot along the entirety of the hull. Its triangular yellow and blue sails were positioned in line with the hull much like the sails of a sloop. Embedding in the front, gleaming with the light of the sun were two large yellowish-orange gems, massive polished amber placed like two great eyes on the ship. Those two weren't the only pieces of shaped amber placed in the hull, but they were the largest, the rest being far smaller and spread evenly along the sides.

The people who made the ship were a member city state of the Eldeer Conclaves. Highly withdrawn, secretive, dismissive of most and a few of their people were incredibly long lived. They could trust and indeed had done a lot of political dealings with the member states of the League, while practically a small army of Conclave diplomats stood at the ready to speak with and interact with the members. That said, if the dignitary had been a simple diplomat Celestia wouldn't have gone through the trouble of awaiting their arrival. No, the entire reason why she stood here to meet with the dignitary had been because she was a Conclave Warlock.

Said Warlock was now descending the disembark walkway. The people of the Conclaves were entirely deer and it was no different for the Warlock. Deer were a tall, slender species, taller than ponies, faster, more agile but physically more frail. But as tall as deer naturally were, they still were a bit shorter than Celestia's statuesque figure. The Doe Warlock seemed to dyed her fur coat a snow white, icey blue eyes were accentuated by black paint over her eye sockets and lids. A thin black line of paint ran right from her nose up the middle of her snout. She wore a dress robe of sorts that was blue with yellow accents. Unlike most of the dresses ponies wore, it wasn't made to surround most of her legs and nor did it even fully cover them. The front half of her robes were sleeveless and other half had a half dress like design that covered the back of her hind legs but reached only halfway down. Along with her dress she wore a chest plate made of that petrified white wood which was embossed with a large polished amber. Finally she had a cap-like helmet that covered the back of her head and the top, an elegant singular artificial antler was attached to the back of it sticking up straight towards the sky. Adorned on this one antler was yet another piece of polished amber.

“Ah, Princess Celestia. How gracious of you to await upon my arrival,” the Warlock commented with an easy smile as she approached. “I do hope you have not been waiting long?”

“It is quite rare that any nation has the opportunity to pay host to Warlock of the Conclaves,” Celestia replied. This fact was especially true for Equestria who the Conclaves seemed oddly standoffish with. “Unique circumstances require unique responses.”

“And circumstances are quite unique of late, are they not?” the Warlock said before giving a short nod. “Alas, my manners seemed to have left me for I wish to get to the point of my arrival as soon as possible. I am Warlock Taleena of the Iyandan Conclave. Shall we speak as we make for the Palace?”

“Of course, though I must point out it is hardly a private setting to conduct any negotiations,” Celestia replied as she and Taleena began walking.

“Ah, but Iyandan feels no need to hide our forthright dealings with the venerable Diarchy of Equestria,” Taleena answered smoothly. “But you are right. Perhaps the topic shall of be of trivial matters for the time being? I have heard talk that one Emerald Gleaner has been indisposed for quite some time, leaving an underling to rule in her place?”

“Ah, it is true.” Celestia nodded. “She accompanied my student on an important task which had unexpectedly extended into a prolonged affair.”

“Oh?” Taleena said with clear interest. “Ah, though I wish to ask further, I doubt such would be prudent. How goes the business of Equestria? I admit my knowledge of local affairs is not as all encompassing as I'd like. The most recent I know of is that Equestria is in unsteady economical straits.”

“Equestria has been suffering from a series of highly disruptive events these past few years.” Celestia nodded. “We've been struggling to return from this depression, but thanks to the trade partnership with the Enclave we've been able to spring back incredibly fast. Along with that, the Enclave has been very willing to take up most of the costs for joint projects between our nations.”

“Ah, speaking of projects, I saw that the iconic skyline of Canterlot has changed quite noticeably,” Taleena commented, looking pointedly towards where Cloudsdale used to float. “Whatever has happened to the famed weather industry of Equestria?”

“One calamity too many, I'm afraid,” Celestia replied solemnly. “After being destroyed once before, the pegasi of Cloudsdale decided to live on firmer ground. The weather industry has been moved and rapidly set up in Ponyville.”

“Ponyville? My, what a coincidence. Is that not where all the famed product of the Enclave flows through nowadays?” Taleena asked.

“Yes it is,” Celestia answered. “It's turned into quite the boom town. Who knows, maybe in a few short decades Ponyville will be the site of a new city? Despite the negatives of it all, we are living in quite exciting times.”

“May fate favor the bold,” Taleena intoned instinctively before gracing Celestia with a charming smile.

Celestia returned the smile readily as the two of them continued on their way to the palace. She wasn't fooled by the Doe's friendly overtures. A thousand years of maintained minimal contact with Equestria suddenly broken only now? Perhaps Emerald was rubbing off on her in the wrong exact ways, but she was suspicious of hidden motives.

Either way, Princess Celestia would do her best to prepare for the future.

-TBC-

Author's Note:

AN: And done, took far longer then it really should have but at least it's finally out. It's going to be a bit yet but as you can see the shoe is going to drop, plenty of people going about their business skulking in the dark unaware the game they're playing switched from D&D to Call of Cthulhu

EN: Not much to say this time. Good chapter, can’t wait to see Emerald’s interaction with whoever sent her a letter from “Comedy Central”. And laughing because I called Batman last chapter and lo and behold, there it is. Other than that, Happy New Year to all readers out there-

AN2: Whoops, accidentally typed in FIN instead of TBC

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