The story begins late on a Friday morning in Mr. Gladly's World Issues class on the day that he introduces the subject of parahumans
. The protagonist, fifteen-year-old student Taylor Hebert, has been looking forward to the class for the whole semester, but struggles to pay attention, noting that Mr. Gladly (or "Mr. G", as he asks his students to call him) is her least favorite teacher.
Immediately after World Issues is lunch, a meal which Taylor has been eating in one of the women's restrooms in order to avoid the trio of fellow students who have been bullying her — Madison Clements, Emma Barnes, and Sophia Hess. Unfortunately, they find her in a locked stall and dump juice all over her and into her open backpack, ruining her textbooks and clothes. It is after the trio have left victorious that we discover that Taylor is actually a parahuman herself, possessed of the power to detect and control insects, spiders, and the like, and that one of the bullies — Emma — was once Taylor's best friend.
In any case, she dismisses the insects and leaves the school midday to ride the bus home. Looking at the contents of her bag, she sees that one of the destroyed items was the notebook where she was taking notes on how she could become a superhero with her powers. She initially despairs over trying to recreate all the information in a new notebook, but after she gets home, showers, and examines her costume (a bodysuit she was making out of black widow spider dragline silk), she decides to take it as a sign that she should stop preparing and start her career immediately, that weekend.
She buys the remaining pieces for the costume on Saturday and finishes assembling and dying it Sunday, then leaves for her first patrol on Sunday night. She mentions in the narration that her running routine (which she had taken up to build her strength and endurance prepatory to becoming a superhero) had given her a good knowledge of the neighborhood, but that she had never been into the worst, most crime-ridden parts of the Docks until her patrol that night. As she travels along the streets, gathering insects and spiders from her surroundings to bring with her, she spots members of a local gang called the Azn Bad Boys gathering in front of a building, including the leader, a supervillain named Lung who generates fire, regenerates quickly and becomes more powerful the longer he fights. Wanting to eavesdrop on their conversation, she climbs the fire escape of the adjacent building and sneaks around to a point over their heads, where she overhears him ordering his followers to shoot the children. Realizing that she doesn't have any way of getting in touch with official groups of heroes such as the Protectorate to alert them, she resorts to using a share of her swarm to attack the gang, biting and stinging (without injecting venom) the mooks
while biting and stinging (with
venom) Lung in all the most vulnerable places (including there
Lung proceeds to decimate her swarm with his fire powers, eventually simply setting himself on fire in order to kill any bugs that try to approach him. Realizing that she was unable to do anything else against him, and that his gang was scattered enough to disrupt his operation, she begins to retreat towards the fire escape when Lung's instant reaction to her stepping on the gravel roof reveals he has superhuman hearing. He then proceeds to jump most of the way to the top of the building and climb the rest. Taylor quickly checks through the items in the storage compartment in her armor and pulls out a tube of pepper spray her father gave her, as the best she can find that might still affect him. It does, but when she tries to run for the fire escape he is still able to blast her with a gout of flame before she can reach it. She finds herself trapped on the roof and out of options, just waiting for him to heal enough to be able to spot her in the darkness, when a massive animal jumps onto the roof from a nearby rooftop and slams into Lung. The animal and Lung end up in a fight on street level as two others arrive, each bearing two people in costumes — two male and two female, all high school age.
After the four new arrivals disembark, one orders the other animals down to ground level to attack Lung while the others start up a conversation. Taylor remains silent as the leader thanks her for her assistance, introducing himself as Grue and his companions as Tattletale, Bitch (or Hellhound, to the PRT), and Regent. They stop when Tattletale alerts them to the approach of a superhero and Bitch calls her dogs (that being what the giant animals were) back up to the roof. Grue then offers Taylor a ride out, which she refuses, and Tattletale advises her to leave, as a member of the Protectorate who encounters two villains fighting is likely to detain them both. It is not until after they leave that Taylor realizes both that the children Lung planned to kill were supervillains, and that said children assumed she was one as well.
She remains on the roof as Armsmaster — the leader of Brockton Bay's Protectorate team — arrives on a motorcycle and uses his Halberd to quickly reach the roof. He yells a challenge to Taylor, who informs him that she is an (aspiring) hero; which (to her surprise) he believes. When she expresses her surprise that she was not killed by Lung, he reminds her of the Wards (the junior version of the Protectorate); in order to avoid having to discuss her reluctance to join said organization, she asks about Lung. Armsmaster informs her that he had found Lung beaten unconscious and tranquilized and locked him in a cage. Taylor then gives him a full briefing on the fight. Armsmaster then reveals to Taylor that the gang of teenage villains she met had been an infuriatingly-evasive liability, with both Regent and Tattletale being completely unknown entities.
He then asks Taylor whether she wants credit for helping take down Lung. He warns her that taking credit would be dangerous, as other members of the organization (including Bakuda, whom he informs her is a tinker
specializing in bombs who was recently recruited by Lung) would then target her; he advises that she either join the Wards for protection or keep her involvement in the capture of Lung secret. She realizes that the latter gives Armsmaster the opportunity to take the credit himself, but not wanting to join the Wards, reluctantly opts for it anyway. Armsmaster praises her for it, and tells her to call the PHQ if she ever needs help before departing.
Interlude 1 (following Danny Hebert)
The chapter opens with a narration about the history of parahumans, starting with the first, a golden man seen floating over the open ocean on May 20th, 1982, who is latter dubbed "Scion". Shortly after the narration segues away from Scion and other early parahumans to talk about the beginnings of government involvement, we see Danny Hebert, Taylor's father, turn off the TV and pace worriedly — it was three-fifteen in the morning, and he had woken just after midnight to the sound of the back door of his house closing and discovered Taylor was not in her room. We learn from his narration that his wife is dead; also, that he fears she either went running (a routine he knew she found calming) and was accosted or that the bullies at school (whom he knew of, but not the identities of) who had been targeting her had lured her out.
When he hears her come in, he decides to remain in his room until she returns to her own room, so as not to humiliate her by confronting her if she had just returned from being bullied, but when he steps out in the hall to knock on her door, he smells jam and toast — from which he concludes that she wasn't returning from any such encounter. His fear turns into anger, but in keeping with a promise he made to himself not to inflict his temper on his family the way his
father did, he remains in his room, eventually calming enough to sleep and deciding to talk to Taylor about her midnight excursion in the morning.