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"A little scary, but not too scary. That's when I turn into Bad Emma." With the look of guilt that suggested a little girl who knew she'd been doing something naughty, Emma told Paige how Bad Emma liked to cause lots of trouble - wrecking toys and things in her room, then going outside through the window and "doing bad stuff. Bad Emma's not nice, she plays too rough. But that was in the past," she went on, clinging to her mom. "Are the kids at the school nice? What kinds of games do they play?" 

"It's not really that bad," said Jean, trying to reassure Paige. "We lost a couple of keepsake toys, and some other things, but we think it's just bad dreams making her powers come out. We were hoping she'd feel better once we knew for sure she was going to make it into Nicholson." 

-

"I got on my knees and I praised the Lord when Jean was born without any powers," murmured Honey quietly, closing her eyes behind her thick glasses. With the natural movements of a long-term couple, Harry put his hand on the upper part of our back, giving her a reassuring look when she opened her eyes. "Maybe it was different for you, because your husband had powers too, but normal people around superpeople just get...chewed up and spat out. They didn't even know I was Captain Freedom's girl, all those psychos, they just knew I was sweet on the guy who interviewed him for the Ledger and so I got to be number one bait." 

"They're all gone now, though," said Harry, patting his wife on the shoulder. "We haven't even heard from most of them since I retired. I am so sorry about everything that happened, but it's a new generation. Our granddaughter's growing up in a bright new world." 

 

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"Lord forbid a child be born different," LaMarr drawled, his deep bass an ice cold rumbling tide. He understood where Honey was coming from, understood that she'd been through personal trauma in order to stand by the man she loved. He'd been there for at least one panic-drenched night that had ended with ol' Bottlecap just barely rescuing a hostage they'd all guessed was someone important to him. Any patience he'd had for that kind of talk, however, had been spent decades prior and something about her talking about Jav in the same breath rankled.

Turning his attention to Harry he continued, "This is fun but I have essays to grade. You called me." He didn't bother making it a question this time. Harry wasn't much a of liar and LaMarr found himself increasingly unconcerned with upsetting Honey's sensibilities. "That have something to do with the missing pet posters up and down the street?"

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"Oh, all kinds of fun games," Paige assured Emma, making sure her best TV smile was still in place. "I know they have recess twice a day, and there's playground equipment with swings, a slide, and a climbing tower. You'll also get to have art time, music time, and computer time, plus you'll learn all kinds of exciting new things. You'll start learning to add and subtract numbers, and how to read stories from books!" She took a breath. "It sounds like Bad Emma might be a little bit scary. Does Bad Emma ever make you do things you don't want to do? Things you're afraid might get you into trouble?" 

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"Oh, Bad Emma only wakes up when I'm sleeping," said Emma, a little nervous at what was obviously a guilty subject. "She's dreaming right now. I want my bunny," she said to her mom and turned and zipped upstairs, her feet not quite touching the ground as she ran. "My bunny is my friend!" There was an awkward silence from the adults in the first floor, old resentments and grudges spilling together with worries about a remarkable, albeit off-putting, little girl. 

And then a series of remarkable things happened. 

The front door blew open and a man burst in. He was a wiry man of middle height, in his late 20s. He had crewcut brown hair, grey eyes, and a brooding expression on what could be seen of his face. He wore a big game hunter-style ammunition vest and belt hung with grenades and tool pouches, over a camo-patterned flak suit. He also wore a military helmet with high-tech goggles. His forearms bore  teardrop-shape bracers enameled with three sigils and a twisty border.

Raising a silver cross in his free hand (the other bearing a large knife), he declared, "Begone, ye demons from-oh, wow, there certainly are a lot of you in here, aren't there!?" He finished, his voice at a considerably higher register than when he began speaking. As he took a step back from the door, reassessing the tactical situation, it would almost have been funny. But from upstairs came a sound like a little girl's scream - her high-pitched voice suddenly deepening into something harder and more guttural amid the sound of crashing glass. 

In the kitchen, Honey Howard did exactly the same thing - clutching the sides of her head and falling to her knees, her heavy glasses falling to the ground and shattering noisily. She screamed again, her voice distinctly shading to a guttural duet, as if two voices were screaming at the same time. 

"Emma!" screamed Jean, turning at the sound and running heedlessly up the stairs. For his part, Harry Howard went for the man at the door - long-retired though he may have been, his movements were full of grace as he leaped up against the wall, then jumped completely across the living room, smashing shoulder-first against the man at the door and sending him hurtling outside. 

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LaMarr was out the door after Harry a beat later, with considerably less acrobatic flourish but considerably more thunderous momentum. One arm stretched outward like a firing piston, he enveloped the costumed hunter's face in his palm and squeezed his finger around the other man's skull with the pressure of a tightening vice before angling downward to slam his target headfirst into the suburban lawn. The entire movement took only seconds and when the broad-shouldered civics teacher straightened back up to his full height he was holding the unconscious hunter off of the ground like a ragdoll. "Paige!" he bellowed back into the house even as he raised a hand to assure Harry that the immediate threat was dealt with, "Honey - the wife - something ain't right there!"

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Paige wasted a split second in shock at the way everything seemed to erupt all at once, but it didn't slow her down for long. Her first instinct was to go for the little girl upstairs, but she heeded Lamar's words and ran for the kitchen instead, dropping to her knees beside the stricken Honey. "What's going on here?" she demanded of Emma's grandmother, even as she threw open her psychic senses. To say something strange was going on with this family would be an understatement, but there had to be a link somewhere between all the bizarre behavior and weird coincidences. Who was pulling the strings here? 

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"The...baby. The baby!" Still on her hands and knees and fumbling around for her lost glasses, Honey was looking up at Hologram, and talking - but at the same time she wasn't, at least, not alone. There were two minds in the woman before Paige - one was human, angry and afraid all at once in the way she would have been if the situation had been reversed and her children and grandchildren had been threatened. The other was something else; a sharp, hungry echo of the brush she'd had with the mind of Honey's granddaughter Emma. If that younger mind had been feral and fierce, a young predator growing its teeth ready to take on the world, this was something older, more settled, but no less dangerous for that. The image of a fierce old hyena matriach, like those she'd seen on location shoots in Africa, came to her mind - but the thing at the back of this woman's soul was nothing so clean and normal as an animal.

Upstairs, Paige could hear Jean yelling, "Emma! Emma! Where are you?" 

Honey actually growled as her hands came down on her glasses - then squeezed so hard the frame snapped. "Get away, that bastard woke her up again," she said, voice turning low and feral. "Get _away_..." 

-

Outside, Harry looked like he wanted to wring the neck of the man who had broken in on his family's fragile peace. "What the hell is this?" Practically ripping apart the man's body armor, he pulled out crosses, garlic, and various holy items that made it look like he'd robbed a religious supply store. "Some kind of crummy demon hunter crap? I don't even know who this is!" he exclaimed to Wail, a moment of raw unfairness amid all the horror. 

"Demons," the semi-conscious witchhunter was muttering, "demons inna house..." 

Looking back at the house, Wail could see something small crawling up from a bedroom window and up onto the roof - crawling like a bat scuttling up the side of a cave. As Wail watched, it leaped right off the roof, heading straight for the lawn. It looked like a small child turned feral and predatory, bulging white eyes, fanged maw wide, and fingers extending into long, curved claws. 

Bad Emma!

Edited by Avenger Assembled

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"What the hell are you?" Paige demanded, reaching out with her mind even as she confronted the old woman. "You know something about what's happened to Emma, I can feel it inside your head. You're something like her, or you've got something possessing you both. Can't you see you're hurting her? Tell me what's happening so we can stop it before she kills someone or gets killed herself!" She could hear the shouting from far away, but locked her concentration to her target, determined to get some answers before it was too late. 

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"Aw hell," Wail groaned as the pint-sized terror darted toward him. He had really not been planning on fighting a small child when he'd woken up that day but as usual it looked like the universe wasn't keen on taking his personal preferences into account. "Harry, the girl won't be able to bite me but I don't know that I'm fast enough to catch her," he called, spreading his stance and throwing his arms outward to turn himself into a passable impression of a brick wall. "You need to work with me here, man. Can't let her get far enough to hurt herself." He turned his focus back to the transformed girl, trying to predict where her feral movements would take her next.

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Honey grabbed Paige's arm and suddenly, even from just the moment's touch - 

There'd been so many times. The terror, the pain, the guilt at not being strong enough to avoid either of the first time - but always her love for Harry, making it all okay in the end. The last time, walking alone on campus at night, it had been Carrion Crow - a laughing old sociopath who'd built himself a stealthy jetsuit to prey on his favorite target - young, vulnerable women. She'd heard the stories about him; she knew what he was. This time she'd struggled, struggled so hard that Carrion Crow had cursed her and simply dropped her in Great Bay from a thousand feet up. She'd been conscious until she hit the water. And after that she'd floated, somewhere dark and warm, with no pain, in what she knew was the void between worlds, waiting to finally drift along to the next world. 

Until the voice came. The Voice had been between worlds for a long time too, trapped over a "political struggle", it said with a low chuckle. But now here had come Honey Henderson, a good woman who'd always tried to do the right thing - but who had died burning with fury, with a rage and grief at a stolen life that the Voice had sensed from all the way across the ocean. Jorōgumo was her name - and she offered Honey her revenge. All she had to do was take her hand. 

-

Emma Howard looked as much like a spider as a girl now, all long limbs and too  many of them, a wide-gaping mouth with biting fangs trying and failing to sink their way through Wail's tough skin. A look of horror on his pale face, her grandfather stood up and without a moment's fear put his hands on the little girl, patting her pink, wriggling back and began patting her. "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Emma sleeps tonight; in the jungle, the quiet jungle; the Emma sleeps tonight..." He sounded old as he sang, older even than Keith, and when she tried to turn on him he embraced her without hesitation, Emma's fangs sinking against her grandfather's forcefield while he used Keith's mass to pin her in place from the other side. And still he sang. 

-

She'd pulled herself out of the bay, soaking wet. Harry had looked everywhere for Carrion Crow afterwards, damn near tearing the city apart - but it had been a bad week and no other heroes were around to help, and Harry had never been a great detective. But Jorōgumo could see things, and smell them, and follow them. Jorōgumo had entered Carrion Crow's laboratory and caught him away from his armor. And then she had eaten him from the feet up. 

He hadn't been the first. She'd been there, every time Honey heard Harry talk about the hideous ugly men that he fought, the murderers and the rapists and the scientists who wasted their gifts on mad dreams of power, and every time Jorōgumo had whispered in her ear and offered her a solution. A solution that sounded better each time. A few members of Captain Freedom's Rogues Gallery had emigrated out of the city, sensing trouble. 

Honey Howard had killed all the rest. 

"I thought God had forgiven me!" Honey was changing now, slowly, her body wracked with the sound of ripping muscles, her jaw lengthening and eyes beginning to bulge and multiply. "When it wasn't in Jean. But Emma is her granddaddy's little girl...and MINE!" 

 

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"Dammit Honey, reel it in!" Paige demanded, stepping back from the shapeshifting woman. "Emma is in trouble, she needs you, not some dark god's avatar! You can control it, and you have to, for her sake! You want forgiveness so badly, are you going to be able to forgive yourself if this thing you passed along to her kills her because you let the monster run away with you! Fight it and help us help her, before it's too late for both of you!" 

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"...alright," Wail rumbled as quietly as he was able, gingerly passing the child to Howard, making sure her grandfather had her well in hand and that neither were in immediate danger any longer. "Alright." Without having even thrown a punch he somehow felt more tired than he would have after going a dozen rounds with the worst of his old rogues gallery. Running a hand through his grey-streaked beard he sighed and looked back over to the front door warily. After a final glance over at the indisposed home-invader on the lawn he headed back inside, looking for Hologram.

Stopping in the doorway to the kitchen he took in the tense scene with a sharp intake of breath. For anyone else it would have simply been a indication of surprise or concern; for LaMarr it might as well have been the cocking of a pistol. "The girl's alright. No need for this to be any more of a thing."

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