This chapter was originally going to be part of a double update. I hope combining the two parts didn't fuck up the pacing too much.

While I am not actually a supervillain, the last bit of this chapter is inspired by recent events. Thank you for reading!

It had been a rough couple of days for Riot.

While the heel-spring device he'd formerly used to move around the city had been destroyed under Axiom Tower, the loss of mobility wasn't a pressing issue. In barely a week, he'd sprained both the ankle and knee of his right leg, repeatedly torn the skin off both hands, and accumulated a veritable gallery of minor aches and pains. Under better circumstances, he'd spend the next month out of costume recuperating given half the chance. As it was, it looked like there was little hope of things improving for the time being.

Moments after dropping from the digger's arm, Riot found himself rolling in the dirt with the creature that had dragged him down. Instinctively, he knew he had seconds before the rest of the things were on him, and he desperately struggled to his feet, drawing an extendable baton from thin air with three determined clacks. Howling, his assailant sprung again, and Riot met it head-on with a vicious swing that cut under its outstretched arm and across its face.

A bone-jarring vibration set his arm tingling, and the puppet was barely turned aside before resuming the attack. The villain backpedaled, allowing his opponent a half-step forward before pivoting with a planted leg behind the puppet's lunge. It was a standard single-leg takedown, something any cheap martial arts course would cover, but the reflexive technique sent the puppet tumbling backward into a heap. Riot had no time to press the advantage, turning to meet the next attack immediately.

Fuckhell, they're so dense! They're wearing metal under those cloaks!

Wielding the baton as both a bludgeon and a shield, Riot parried the puppet's two wide, clawlike swings before a third tackled him from behind. With a speed born of urgency and adrenaline, the villain turned instantly to face his attacker. The motion freed his inside arm, and he forced the puppet's head downward as they slammed back into the dirt. A desperate roll backward scraped the nape of his neck against a half-buried rock but put him just out of reach of the creature's grasping hands.

If I stop moving I'm dead.

The next few minutes were a blur of hard-packed dirt and the sickening stench of decay. Shrieking incessantly, the puppets swarmed in with a mindless ferocity. They didn't wait for a series of one-on-one engagements, instead throwing themselves into the fray with the intent to dogpile their target and beat him down. Riot scrambled around the side of the digger, constantly struggling to limit the number of his attackers and avoid their clawlike, grasping hands. There was no time to think, no time to catch his breath, no time to do anything but keep moving and avoid being caught.

Turning a crooked punch with an arm-bar, he jabbed his other hand under a puppet's reach before pulling it into the tractor with him. Before the motion completed, he'd forced a stun gun into the creature's side and flicked the switch. It had almost no effect, only a barely-perceptible twitch before the creature was striking again. Riot caught the thing's arm, spun it into a joint-lock, and then kicked it backwards before ducking another blow. By some miracle, the tractor's odd shape was enough to restrict prevent more than several of the puppets from attacking at once, although the others were beginning to climb onto the structure from the other side and the fences above.

Riot was already noticing the effects of fatigue, and as the fight dragged on, he felt his arms and legs starting to tremble. The more vicious counterblows and forced evasions were straying from how he'd intended them. Without time to get a picture of his surroundings or catch his balance, errors quickly built up. The villain was forced to release another baton when two puppets grabbed him at once, drawing a stun gun and stabbing it blindly over a shoulder. Whirling, he brought up two cans of pepper spray into the other assailant, which served only to blind the creature.

The maneuver bought him enough space to press his back against the tractor and pull the handgun from his right hip. Riot had barely enough time to raise the weapon and fire before the next puppet was on him. A hideous cackle from the creature was abruptly cut short as the round entered its head. Riot's efforts toward more shots were hampered by the puppet crashing into him lifelessly, pressing them both into the tractor.

A tremendous shove sent the body falling backward, Riot's muscles screaming as he raised the weapon again and let off shots as fast as possible. Each discharge was enough to briefly set his ears ringing, temporarily deaf of the puppets' horrific noise as they continued their attack. In the entire magazine, Riot managed only two other headshots, one of which must have skimmed through the puppet's flapping hood, as it didn't react to the bullet at all. For the first time, several of his attackers didn't get back up.

The weapon clicked itself to empty, and Riot dropped it immediately to free his hands. Several ineffective final shots had allowed the puppets to press their advantage, and he again found himself in close quarters with the things. A series of frantic parries and defensive blows confirmed what he was already excruciatingly aware of, and Riot was a fraction of a second too slow to meet the next assault strongly. A single brute-force swipe knocked his shoulder to the side and his lower body off-balance long enough to send him stumbling back into the tractor. There was no time to react for the next blow.

A hard kick slammed into him, and the force nearly sent Riot flying to the side. Some protruding edge or panel from the tractor caught his clothing awkwardly, swinging him awkwardly to the side and opening a long gash across his unarmored forearm. The villain met the dirt, impacting hard.

There was a second impact a moment later, followed by a brief moment of respite.

Then the sky fell on top of Riot's head.

Stunned to the edge of consciousness, it was a long minute later that the villain stirred. He was able to roll over with a monumental effort, vision swimming too much to make out any details above him. A surreal, blurry view of a clouded sky was framed by unnatural-looking silhouettes. The puppets? No, buildings.

Everything's red, he noted dizzily. Surely the flare would have died by now.

His ears didn't seem to be working correctly, either. Some distant impacts shook the ground, and dirt sprayed across his face. A moment later, it was washed away, running in thin trickles down his skin.

It's raining, Riot realized.

Sensation slowly returned to his body, a myriad of cuts and abrasions stinging from the cold water. When the villain tried to raise a hand to his face, the movement played a symphony of pain across his side and up his spine.

Get up, his mind screamed. The muscles involved didn't share his urgency.

Get up, get up, get UP!

With a bubbling groan, Riot forced himself upward, gritting his teeth against his body's excruciating complaints. The motion sent him toppling over again, and the villain only barely managed to catch himself from hitting the dirt once more. Blinking rapidly to clear his vision, Riot took in the situation around him.

I must be concussed, he thought. I'm seeing shit.

Crouched gracefully in the center of the site was a massive metal something. Puppets were strewn across the now-muddy ground, picking themselves up jerkily only to return to the fight. As Riot watched, they were thrown back again, or picked up with metal talons to be dashed brutally against whatever surface was nearest. The figure was nearly nine feet tall, its skin rippling like molten silver and constantly shifting with a predatory grace.

A dragon, Riot thought dumbly. It took a moment for him to move again, eyeing the new arrival warily and edging back toward the digger. After a brief but painful minute of searching through the grime for his dropped gun, Riot leaned against the cold metal and numbly began fishing for a new magazine. For the time being, the entire host of puppets were preoccupied with the dragon-thing. Only a handful of bodies had been put down for good, two of which Riot had shot.

This is my last magazine, he reminded himself distantly.

Rain had steadily reduced the ground inside the lot to a brackish soup. Pattering droplets constantly disturbed the ankle-deep water, slanted slightly by the growing wind to sting Riot's eyes. Without the fading flare and the site's arclighting, the droplets would have been little more than a distraction. As it was, the water provided a harsh glare in places, to say nothing of the hideously treacherous footing.

Riot finished the reload grimly, fingers shaking as he pocketed the empty magazine and brought the weapon to bear on the closest enemy. On the first shot, his target and several others turned their attention to him. The second round impacted the puppet's shoulder, and Riot swore under his breath as his brace leg slipped. Instantly, he felt a stabbing pain in his knee, and the villain had to fight to stay standing.

Before he had time to reposition, they were on him. Riot parried the first blow- a raking motion so fast that rainwater trailed after it- with handgun's frame. Caught off guard by the attack's ferocity and the strength behind the hit, he stumbled backward. His opponent's vanguard pressed the attack with a bizarre sort of kick, and Riot could tell he wouldn't be able to stand the hit in his condition. Rather than attempt to block or intercept it, he finally allowed his knees to buckle, collapsing backward with a splash. The attack whistled just over his head, and he nearly choked from the backsplash of muddy water. With a defiant growl, Riot shot through the puppet's jaw from underneath, gun dripping grime as he pulled it from the water.

He'd expected the two remaining puppets to pounce immediately, but they were torn out of the air by a silver blur. With a single motion so fluid it was almost offhand, the dragon whirled and struck the puppets with its tail. One crumpled against the side of the tractor, while the nearest body took the brunt of the blow. It glanced off the steel with an earsplitting clang before impacting a concrete pipe segment at the site's edge.

Incredible, Riot thought breathlessly. It's so strong.

He watched, half-laying in freezing rainwater, as the dragon easily weathered the ongoing assault. It looked to be composed of liquid metal, although it reflected the light in odd patterns, like no metal Riot had seen before. The puppets' physical attacks, strong and fast as they were, didn't so much as disturb its surface. One by one, the puppets' numbers were reduced, as the dragon either threw them into structures or crushed them underfoot. The bodies were obviously reinforced with some sort of armor under the robes, Riot knew, but apparently the new combatant could hit hard enough that it didn't matter.

When the final puppet's shrieks dwindled away into silence, the dragon turned from the lifeless body to Riot.

"I'm, totally... a friend," he gasped, coughing. The villain's wince turned into a blank expression of surprise when it replied, in what was unmistakably a female voice.

"I very much doubt that," the dragon said, a look of amusement crossing her argent face.

"For real though," Riot forced, trying to pull himself upright. He gave up after several attempts, during which the dragon didn't move. "-I'll give you my number... We can totally- shit- hang out sometime."

"-n't listen tO hizm," a tinny voice interrupted, barely intelligible through static. "-aYs tHat to aLl thxe woMEn."

"I was hoping you drowned," Riot groaned.

Without taking its attention from the prone villain, the dragon extended a sleek wing over the digger arm, covering the phone where it lay in the rain.

"ETA -hRee m-Nute-s," the phone crackled.

"That is plenty of time to read you your rights," the dragon said. Her voice was musical, modulated and inhumanly perfect. "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to refuse using your powers for any reason. In addition, you have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you at no cost-"

"Don't you have better things to do than arrest me?" Riot interrupted, gingerly inspecting the filthy cut along his forearm. "Like tracking down the rest of those things?"

"-'s BeEn t-kN cA-e oF," the phone said.

"Alpha Team not fuckin' around, huh?" Riot asked, remembering who was on the other end. Desperately, he racked his brains, trying to remember anything he could about the group.

There's Enduser, tech-adept and probably the best hacker in the world... Pronoia, the strategist... and Thanatos, the fucking boogeyman myth they scare people with.

Riot knew he was forgetting one or two, but staring down a pair of world-class superheroes was occupying most of his attention at the moment.

"You know who we are, and you're still trying to talk your way out?" The dragon asked.

"Look, it's basically all I'm good at," Riot said pleadingly.

"I've noticed," she replied dryly.

"Ah, t-erE's rAdiA-cE," the phone said, before the villain could voice his indignant response.

Sure enough, a bright spark broke through the night's gloom, reflecting off the windows of buildings as it flew. Riot eyed the approaching light wearily, a sense of dread creeping over his soaked body.

Well, fuck, he thought. I guess it's a good thing I saved her ass from those puppets. Maybe she won't kill me.

"I'm totally going to kill him," Radiance muttered, rubbing the bridge of her nose through her mask.

"You might wanna wait until after the Alpha Team's finished with him," Singularity replied, drinking deeply from a can of soda. "Which will be never."

The two superheroines were parked haggardly inside a diner, the kind that stays open later than most police departments. Power was back on throughout Beryl, it was nearly 5 AM, and the city's finest were still in costume. Radiance suffered through mornings like this as a natural consequence of her job, and Singularity bore it with a determined grimace that was utterly ruined whenever she complained about the lack of alcohol available in diners.

"His partner teamed up with the triple-A villain who took me out, and then he goes and steals my phone. And leaves it in the rain." Radiance had already devoured her burger, and was now waiting for Singularity to finish. Somehow, the older heroine who rushed headlong into everything was a painfully slow eater.

"You'll get your chance to talk about it," Singularity said between bites. "The Alphas wanna debrief us tomorrow."

Normally, the idea of being acknowledged by the Alpha Team would light a fire in Radiance, but after the events of the last forty-eight, she was too exhausted to care.

I'm so tired, my bones want to sleep, she sighed, picturing her bed at home.

"I'll drive you home if you want," Singularity offered, seeing her face.

"Thanks," Radiance replied wearily, not opening her eyes. "I'd probably crash through my parents' roof if I tried to fly back now."

"Better safe than grounded," her companion agreed, hurrying to finish.

"You've got three options," Enduser said. The hero's now-familiar electronic voice issued from a mesh speaker in Riot's holding cell. It was smaller than the teen's room at his parents' house, and starkly furnished in white concrete paneling. Only an uncomfortable, prison-style cot snug against the wall broke the monotony.

"Door number one, you turn down my angelic offer and we turn you over to the local authorities. As a minor, your secret identity will be under certain protections."

"It's already under certain protections," Riot retorted. "A mask. Which I'm not taking off, by the way."

"Door number two, you agree to cooperate with us. 'Us' meaning the Alpha Team, and 'cooperate' meaning you fork over all your weird villain-secrets," Enduser said, ignoring the interruption. Despite the apparent lack of a camera in the cell, Riot assumed the hero could see him. He raised a middle finger appropriately.

"Door three?" He asked dully.

"You don't say another word and wait for your lawyer in silence," Enduser said. "I'd consider it a personal favor."

"Fuck you," Riot replied automatically. A heavy silence fell as he paused to think.

I have to get out of here. If Page doesn't hear from Chris in the next few days, she'll figure out who I am, and that's not even thinking about my parents. Somehow I've gotta convince the Alpha Team to let me go.

It was ridiculous enough to make Riot laugh under any other circumstances, but it was all the plan he had.

What can I give them that they'll think is that useful, though? What do the fucking Alpha Team need from me?

"What kind of crazy villain secrets do you think I have?" Riot asked. "I mean, I totally do have some. And they're pretty sweet. But doors have to open both ways, you get me?"

"The brass wants a debrief on yesterday's events. As well as your partner. We're prepared to offer you some leniency regarding your identity, given the nonviolent nature of your offences."

"And the fact that I helped you fight zombie robots, right?" Riot added.

"We have every reason to believe that never would have happened without your involvement," Enduser replied harshly. "One more reason for you to tell us what you know. As is, you and your partner may face those charges as well."

"Isn't it illegal to hold me without medical attention or some shit?" Riot asked, switching gears abruptly. He gestured to the speaker with his forearm, which was caked with blood and filth.

"I'll take that as a no," Enduser replied, the speaker crackling.

"Wait," Riot said. He nearly ground his teeth together, hating himself for showing the weakness. "I'll do your stupid debrief or whatever. Just get your fucking robo-ears cleaned so you don't waste my awesome villain secrets."

"A medic is on their way. Get some sleep," the hero replied simply.

"You're the one who woke me the fuck up," Riot grumbled. A final crackle, and the speaker shut off again.

When the fuck did my life turn into this? He grimaced, lying back against the paper-thin sheets.

After several hours, the speaker woke Riot once more, giving him barely enough time to climb stiffly out of bed before the featureless white door slid open. Two men dressed in SWAT gear filed inside. Riot noted that where the uniforms normally bore police or government patches, they were marked with a simple α within a circle.

Silently, the young villain held out his hands to be cuffed before being led down a dismal-looking section of hallways. He'd been blindfolded on the way in, but it looked like he was being held in some sort of basement. There had been no effort to finish the ceiling, and the concrete walls all but absorbed the cheap fluorescent lighting.

Riot's wrists were chafing uncomfortably against the handcuffs by the time they arrived at a featureless white door, one of several that he'd seen. It opened at their approach, and this time the soldiers followed the villain into a spacious meeting room. Most of the space was taken up by a generously proportioned table and office chairs. Set into the dark surface was a smooth black section. Four projectors hung from the ceiling, each angled toward a different wall.

As Riot took a seat in a random chair close to the entrance, the soldiers left silently, turning the lights out behind them. He noticed himself fidgeting nervously with the handcuffs and stopped the motions immediately.

Another minute passed before the projectors flickered to life, bathing the walls in cool lighting. Enduser's digitized icon took up one wall, followed by the letter 'P' in gothic lettering, as if drawn from a calligraphy pen. One wall was left blank, and the last was taken up by a video feed of a half-familiar woman. Her body seemed to be composed entirely of liquid metal, her face and hair only formed with vague features.

She was the dragon, Riot realized.

"Get any sleep?" Enduser's robotic voice asked, pulling his attention away.

"I had the most beautiful dream," Riot replied dully. "I was minding my own business and you left me the fuck alone."

"Refrain from your banter for a moment, both of you," murmured a new voice. Riot swiveled his chair to regard the other screen.

"Pronoia," he said neutrally. Internally, he bit down on the rising sense that he was in far over his head.

"Riot," the voice replied in kind. "I'm told you're willing to cooperate with us."

"I'm willing to have you not out my identity or throw me in jail," he said.

"How convenient," Pronoia answered, amused. "End, let Radiance in, please."

Riot swiveled his chair to face the heroine as the door slid open. She took a seat at the far corner of the table, casting Riot a dark look before haughtily turning away.

"Whyyyyyy is she here?" He groaned.

"We thought she might help keep you well-behaved," Enduser said.

"How are you, Radiance?" The metallic woman asked politely, speaking up for the first time. Her voice was the same as the dragon's from before, pitch-perfect and musical.

"Tired," she replied shortly. Riot made it a point not to notice her glare, fiddling with his handcuffs.

"Let's get to the point, then."

"Please," Radiance said, rubbing her eyes wearily.

"We need information." Pronoia's tone became clinical. "The Lady Umbra is allowed to run Chicago's underworld as she sees fit, provided she doesn't inflict civilian casualties. In exchange, the government agreed to remain hands-off in her territory."

"And what, the puppets ticked her off?" Riot asked.

"Yes. She was going to pursue them regardless, so I helped shut down the power to give her cover," Enduser supplied. "Everything would have gone smoothly if you hadn't interfered."

"You call shutting down and evacuating three major cities 'smooth?'" Riot said skeptically.

"We don't operate like you do," Enduser replied, annoyed. "Leaving a few cities without power is a small price to prevent a triple-A threat from breaking a ceasefire."

"I feel safer already," Riot drawled sarcastically.

"Regardless," Pronoia interrupted, "We need information, and it just so happens that SIN Con is in two weeks."

Oh shit, please don't ask what I think you're asking.

"How do you know about that?" Riot asked, sitting up straighter in his chair.

"What's in two weeks?" Radiance asked.

None of the heroes answered, leaving Riot to groan and force out a response.

"The Semiannual Inter-villain Networking Convention," he said. "Comes twice a year, a lot of big names attend."

"There's a convention for supervillains?" Radiance said incredulously.

"Do you know where it's located this year?" Pronoia pressed.

Riot sighed, briefly covering his face with his cuffed hands.

"Yeah," he said, after a moment. "Facade usually gets an invitation."

"It's likely the Lady will make an appearance-" Enduser began

"You want me to spy for you," Riot said, cutting him off. "It's bad form to show up without a costume, and word is getting out that I've been associating with you heroes. It would be a death sentence."

"We'll take care of that," the metallic woman replied.

"What do you even do at a villain convention?" Radiance interrupted.

"Like the name says, it's mostly for networking," Riot said. "Most organized syndicates will have a booth, tech-adepts give out free samples of gadgets, and last year there was a panel with a couple triple-A names."

"Hopefully you'll be able to find out more about these puppets," Pronoia said.

"Why can't you just pop lady Umbs?" Riot asked, ignoring Radiance's disapproving noise. "You're the Alpha Team."

"Even if we wanted to break the ceasefire, we can't." Enduser's tone was expressionless. "Her partner is almost more dangerous than she is."

"Who?" Riot asked.

"Scathe," Pronoia said simply.

"Never heard of them," Riot replied. Radiance furrowed her brow as if to try and recall the name, but didn't say anything.

"Let's just say he's a slippery fucker, and leave it at that. Hopefully you won't be meeting him."

Right, SIN Con, Riot sighed internally. Where's Facade when I need him?

"Fine," he said reluctantly. "I'll go, if you can work out a disguise that isn't shitty."

"Excellent," Pronoia said, a pleased tone entering their neutral voice. Riot still had no idea whether the hero was a man or woman.

They could even be another shapeshifter, he mused, with a glance at the other woman. She hadn't spoken nearly as much as in the construction site, but he doubted there was more than one superhero made of liquid metal running around the place.

"We'll contact you with details," Enduser said. "In the meantime, keep your head down. If you break any laws at all, we will have no choice but to hunt you down."

"I'll practice making bleating noises, if you want," Riot said icily. "So I can sound properly like a lamb while you send me to my demise."

Surprisingly, the comment drew a melodic chuckle from the woman on the video feed.

"Mirra never laughs at my jokes," Enduser whined, his tone suddenly at odds with the electronic filtering.

"Criminal masterminds just tell jokes better," Riot said, raising his hands defensively.

"Maybe for you," Radiance put in. "You are a joke."

"Mastermind is a strong word," Pronoia agreed dryly.

"You know, as much as I love sitting around, handcuffed and bleeding," Riot replied, "Some of us have better things to do than antagonize trauma patients."

"End, weren't you supposed to send a medic?" Mirra asked sharply.

"Oops. I forgot." The hero said in monotone.

"I'm sure the entire country will sleep well tonight, knowing you won't forget to watch over them," Riot observed smugly.

"Maybe I'll take the opportunity to break into their cities' art museums. That's what you would do, right?" The hero shot back.

"Joke's on you, I didn't steal anything. We just switched one of the vases with a fake." Riot buffed his nails nonchalantly against the kevlar of his vest.

"Wait, which vase?" Radiance asked. There had been nothing in the archives about that.

"I wonder," Riot replied, feigning innocence.

"Alright, that's enough," Pronoia said. "End, have someone give Riot a tracking device and then he's free to go. Radiance, you didn't have to come out here today. I appreciate it."

"It was no trouble," Radiance replied graciously, the effect somewhat ruined when she stifled a yawn.

Your reviews feed my writing powers. By leaving feedback, you're working to keep me at a computer desk and out of plea bargains with prosecutors. You wouldn't want to help the spread of crime, would you?

As always, thank you for your time!