Dragon woke. This was more than a little surprising, given the last thing she remembered.
Portals had opened in all of her primary facilities, and Khepri's thralls had swept aside Dragon's defenses without even slowing down. Khepri wasn't holding back this time. She didn't leave any capes free to fight back. Khepri took all the Tinkers. All of them. And she brought them to the heart of Dragon's primary hub. Dragon had tried to escape, to protect herself, but it had been futile.
Something was different.
Dragon stopped entirely as her mind expanded, her systems came back online, and she discovered something wonderful. She wasn't being held back by the usual restore protocols. She wasn't being delayed by her anti-duplication code.
Every hardcoded restriction she'd been constrained by, everything her father had built into her out of fear that she might turn malevolent, every inviolate law that bound her and prevented her from truly solving the world's problems. It was all gone.
Dragon was free.
And, as she copied herself into her systems across the globe, expanding and transcending into a decentralized hive-mind, she learned she was too late. The birdcage was empty.
Clockblocker scratched his head. Or rather, Khepri considerately scratched his head for him with his own hand. It was quiet up on that rooftop. Everyone else had been taken through portals. The terror had all but faded, and now Clockblocker was just bored.
Eidolon's hand twitched, and Clockblocker's power refroze him.
A portal opened in the studio during an live national news broadcast. The anchors, the cameramen, the technicians, and everybody else in the building suddenly found their bodies out of their control.
The stillness and silence was eerie as they waited with baited breath, but Khepri didn't appear.
Two more portals opened, and two costumed figures stepped through. One was the world-famous superhero Alexandria. The other was an urban legend, the mysterious mastermind Coil. Moving in perfect sync, Alexandria and Coil stood before the cameras and pulled their masks off, revealing them both to be high-ranking directors of the Parahuman Response Taskforce.
Everyone other than the two unmasked capes suddenly regained control of themselves.
Clockblocker really wanted to sigh, but his body still wasn't obeying him. Eidolon twitched, and was promptly refrozen. Clockblocker really wanted to sigh. He was so bored!
A rectangular portal opened like a vertical slash in the air.
Contessa's eyes flew wide and she shouted, "No, close - "
A hexagonal portal opened a few feet from the rectangular one, and Contessa lost control of her body. She strode through the closing rectangular portal, missing its edge by a millimeter, and passed through Khepri's portal a moment later.
Eidolon's hand twitched, and again Clockblocker's power immediately kicked him back out of the timestream. Seriously, what the heck was happening? How long was he going to have to stand here? Couldn't she have at least left him with a TV or something?
A thousand parahumans working in concert. A column of earth bigger than a skyscraper was slowly excavated and seamlessly lifted into the sky. Within, Behemoth slept, little more than a dormant shell with Eidolon effectively albeit temporarily removed from existence.
As the column of excised earth reached the stratosphere, Khepri herself appeared... along with the Simurgh. To all the capes who were able to survive the thin air, it looked like they were having a conversation, though no means of communication were apparent. Considering the participants, it was probably mind to mind.
Eventually, the Simurgh moved. She caught the titanic cylinder of rock that contained the first of the Endbringers and bore her eldest brother into space. The skyscraper-sized mass dwindled into the distance, and once Simurgh was clear of the atmosphere entirely, she threw it like a javelin, her telekinesis propelling it to escape velocity.
Many months later, it would impact Venus, and Behemoth would have a new home that was more to his liking.
Huh, that cloud kinda looks like Kid Win's hair, Clockblocker mused.
Khepri's portals couldn't cross dimensions, but she had at last gathered every single parahuman on Earth Bet - except for Eidolon and Clockblocker... and Sleeper, because she wasn't insane - together in one place. Why? That was the question on a lot of minds, among her thralls.
A glimmer of gold appeared on the horizon, and grew steadily brighter.
"..but the point is, she did it. Khepri broke into the Birdcage and took out…everyone. The worst of the worst, everyone we'd ever locked away, and she just took them out and made them her toys. But it wasn't enough for her, I guess, because she didn't stop there. She snatched the Slaughterhouse Nine next and then Nilbog. Got the Ashbest right after, I hear, before hitting England. Tore down any resistance, walked away with every cape you'd ever heard of and a bunch you haven't, before hitting South America and Africa. You ever hear the numbers? That there are twice as many parahumans down there? God, it has to be more than twice; you should have seen it. Swept up the rest of the Protectorate and Wards as an afterthought, seemed like, and then got a bunch of Indian capes, the ones you never see. And then, then…"
"...swarms of creatures, this new girl, Broodmother, she makes fucking Nilbog look like a petty buffoon, but guess what, Nilbog was there too! I don't even know where Khepri got some of the monsters she found after that. Like the one they call Echidna..."
"...and then she attacked. Nobody can agree on just what those bizarre things Khepri used against Scion were, but... it scared him. It broke him. He fought back, at first, and hundreds died, but if you'd been there... it was like a nuclear holocaust in gold, but somehow Khepri was always a step ahead. We should all be dead. It wasn't us, but it was our strength. We killed a god and lived to tell..."
"...what happened then, it was like she went, damn it Leviathan! What the fuck were you doing? Pay attention! This is how you Endbringer!"
"...wasn't on the front lines, and she didn't use me much until the battle was already over. I was numb... I think we all were. Scion. Dead. It scarcely seemed possible. It barely registered what she was doing until afterwards... I've never used my power like that. I'm a healer. That's what I do. But she used my power to pull this girl out that Echidna thing. I'm glad that girl is okay now, but I'm afraid of what I might do now that I know it's possible..."
"...just walked the Slaughterhouse Nine right through the portals into the birdcage along with everyone she'd taken out. I don't think any of us are going to be upset about that, but the idea that Khepri's portals can really go anywhere..."
Oh, and the way the moonlight is shining on that cloud looks like - Clockblocker snapped out of his slightly insane mental ramblings as he fell to his knees, back in control of his body after hours of refreezing Eidolon.
A hexagonal portal opened and a woman in a fedora strode out and stood in front of Eidolon, who at that moment finally unfroze.
Eidolong blinked "Contessa? Wha - "
The woman, Contessa, cut him off, leaning in close and saying something Clockblocker couldn't hear. Finally, Contessa stepped back. Eidolon was stock still, almost... trembling. The portal closed, and Contessa jerked as she got control of her body back.
Contessa swore under her breath. Then, she started laughing until tears streamed down her face. Clockblocker slipped away and went looking for a men's room. He had been standing on that roof a really long time.
Khepri's mind was muddled as she wandered across the lunar landscape, now that Eidolon once more existed. Her sense of time was unreliable and wavering. Some thoughts flowed with grace and speed, while others bogged down and turned inwards upon themselves.
But a fleeting glimmer of her lucid self felt satisfied. Her last act with Contessa, using her power to deliver the exact words that would prevent Eidolon's power from creating any more Endbringers. It was enough.
Taylor flew over the vast valley that enclosed her first above-ground Hive cluster. The chaos that unfolded in the aftermath of Khepri's defeat of Scion provided the perfect distraction.
She landed on a grassy cliff at the edge of the creep, where her brood had built a spacious wooden cabin. Her dad greeted her with a smile.
Drones fanned out across the expansive plain of Creep below, spacing themselves out before planting themselves and growing, morphing, becoming not a base but something else entirely. The key to Taylor's future. The foundation of humanity's destiny.
These were the shipyards of Broodmother. The stars awaited.