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Avenger Assembled

(IC) Pop Quiz: That Long Tongue Liar

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January 2, 2018 

North Hanover 

 

January 2 - the last day of vacation for the students of Claremont Academy. It's a good day to wrap things up, and indeed between one thing and another, all of Phae and Cathy's friends are busy tonight. That's okay, it means more time for them. After duty is finished. Auld Reekie has been one of Scotland's most notorious supervillains since before Cathy was born, and no wonder! With his armored, ornately-carved body, he looks a bit like a steampunk robot - though he claims to be the spirit of a demon of pollution bound inside a golem crafted from cold iron. He's notorious in Scotland for attacking windfarms, recycling centers, and other places and peoples trying to pull Scotland into a green, clean 21st century. And as of last report (via friends in the Vanguard who'd rather talk to a Scottish superheroine than an American team), he's recently arrived in Freedom City from Edinburgh, and is holed up in a warehouse somewhere in North Hanover near the Jameson Airport. He's a notorious criminal (albeit not violent enough to be a major priority for the Freedom League) and bringing him in would be a fine feather in the cap of Frostbyte.

 

The warehouses here are new and clean - though rather dull. As far as Frostbyte and Ardent can tell from their rooftop perch, it's all low steel and brick warehouses from here to the chainlink fence that marks the edges of the airport proper. Luckily it's cold enough and dark enough that nobody seems to be trying to spot them above the brightly glowing yellow streetlights here. And one of them has her own means of finding demons. 

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Auld Reekie had never come as far north as her home, in fact, she'd never had to face a true supervillain before coming to Freedom City, but she had seen some of his antics on television and she was more than happy to help put him away. Plus as sappy as it sounded it was always nice to have some time alone with Phae.

 

"We should probably come up with some sort of plan for how we should deal with him?" after Christmas at home her accent was again pretty thick

 

In her ice form, she gently glinted in the artificial lights of the city.

 

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Ardent looked up from her surveillance, her eyes glowing a faint crimson in the darkness of the rooftop, and considered the question.

 

"Keep the range open and wear him down?" she offered as a suggestion, her red-tipped black wings ruffling slightly.  It was a cautious approach, and had the chance of drawing out the confrontation but it also exposed them to less risk.  Ardent assumed anyway, she didn't really know what Auld Reekie could do.

 

She cocked her head to the side, waiting for Frostbyte's decision.  She wanted to tell her girlfriend how beautiful she was at that moment; her ice form, the way the light sparkled off it and her determined expression (and the accent, of course) but it wasn't the right time for that.  Later, when they were done, she'd have the rest of the night to say something.

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Cathy thought about their options for a few moment about their next step, she knew enough not to underestimate an opponent like Auld Reekie.

 

"Let's do a circuit of the place and see if we can work out where he's hiding out." she formed an ice slide in front of herself and stepped on

 

"I don't think we should split up so hop on up!" she gave a wicked little smile "There's not much room so we'll have to be really close!"

 

Trying to be as normal as possible Cathy tended to downplay her inferred vision, tending to ignore the heat auras that surrounded people and things. But in a dark mostly empty place like this is was a perfect tool to look for people.

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Answering smile with smile, Phaedra stepped up onto the icy platform and pressed herself up against Cathy's back.  She wrapped her arms around her waist, for support, and resting her chin on her shoulder which conveniently put her lips near Cathy's ear.  "I might be able to pick something up," Phaedra murmured, keeping her voice pitched low just to be careful.  "Some demons leave a lingering presence, like smoke.  Most people can't see it, but they can feel it.  It's that 'walked across your own grave' feeling."

 

She figured that between the two of them they should be able to ferret out if anyone is down there, and what sort of being they are. 

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Working together,  the demonic duo traced their target to a warehouse right at the edge of North Hanover - one almost flush against the barbed wire fence that protected the airport from the rest of the city. Ardent could feel the demonic presence inside, not one she knew personally but strong in her nostrils like brimstone and blood, while the heat signatures leading there and peeked through partially covered windows more than stood out for Frostbyte. Something was going on in there - something big! The building didn't look promising on the outside, its proximity to the airport perhaps explaining why most of its windows were broken and its metal sides spraypainted with graffiti like strange gang-sign graffiti like G4118. In a neighborhood otherwise new and polished for an industrial district, Auld Reekie's evident hideout looks downright an eyesore.

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Cathy put them gently on the roof the warehouse and stepped cautiously on the roof of the building, there was a good chance of a skylight that they could use to get a good look inside the building.

 

"I know I don't have to say this, but I have a really bad feeling about this! We should be cautious with Auld Reekie."

 

With the confidence, only a teenager could possess Cathy didn't feel that they needed help, more that he might make thing a little more difficult for them. Though even then she wished they'd gotten help from the rest of their classmates, even one of Madison or her little gang.

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Ardent nodded.

 

She had her "puppy punting face" on, as her swordsman instructor called it, all business while her soulglaive was already out and held loosely in one hand.  Her stony demeanor cracked slightly and she favored Frostbyte with a nervous and every-so-slightly cocky grin.  

 

"We have this," she declared.  "But it would be nice to have Sparkler here, better to have the firepower than not need it, than need it and not have it."

 

She looked around for, and spotted, a skylight that she had hoped would allow them to peer about inside.  Unfortunately it was painted over, which caused Ardent to frown.

 

"I can pop inside," she said, tilting her head at the skylight, "And if it's too much Gate out."

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"Aye her expertise would be helpful right now, but if she was we'd be neck deep in trouble by now. For better or worse I guess."

 

She walked around the skylight looking for an obvious view into the warehouse, frowning that there wasn't one available she stood hand on hips and thought about her options for a moment.

 

"I'm going to try something, hopefully, it shouldn't make thing to hinky if it doesn't work."

 

She touched a finger to one of the smaller panels, sticking it to the glass. She then began to reduce the temperature of the glass rapidly reducing the temperature would, she hoped, shrink the glass enough to come out of the frame. 

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The glass fell out of the frame - revealing a darkened warehouse that showed the scenes of a recent super-battle - and more besides! The moment the glass was open there came a terrible stink wafting up from inside, thick with the scent of burnt sulfur and motor oil, the walls of the once-vacant building were scarred with burns, craters, and eldritch graffiti in some of the languages of the world Below. The marks were cast in red and black against steel and glass on the interior, the red and black not quite dripping because despite appearances they weren't actually human blood. The graffiti on the walls was written in the blood of other things entirely - much worse things. And such graffiti it was. HELLO! the marks on the walls declared to Phae's eyes. COME IN! THERE'S TEA! 

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Ardent glanced over at Frostbyte.

 

"Well that makes me even more worried," she remarked and then translated the graffiti for her her girlfriend, keeping her voice low.  Tapping into her infernal heritage, the half-demon called up her ability to open a Gate but kept it at the ready.  She flashed a quick smile at Cathy, her eyes already shifting to a familiar red-black, and then on impulse leaned forward and kissed her.

 

Then she was through the skylight, flaring out her wings to land gently in the warehouse below.

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Cathy was torn as thing took an unexpected turn, they should have really expected that he knew that they looking to track him down. The sensible thing would be to stay on the roof and provide support away from danger, but she also wanted to be there to support her girlfriend.

 

At the end of the day, there wasn't really a choice and with only a few moment of considering the options, she dropped through the skylight, creating a spiralling column of ice to take her down to the floor of the warehouse.

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Popular culture says that devils look like David Bowie. This is technically true - in that devils can look like anything they please. 

 

The thing waiting inside the warehouse for Ardent and Frostbyte didn't look like David Bowie. With his wrinkled, weather-beaten face, unkempt grey hair underneath a fedora, and leather jacket, it looked more than a little like Keith Richards. Well, Keith Richards with black, leathery wings protruding out of his back. This was not Auld Reekie. That worthy, or rather his iron head, sat on the table next to their host - muttering curses through iron jaws that someone appeared to have partially melted shut. The demon had spoken truth. There was indeed piping hot tea set out on the table by Auld Reekie's head. 

 

Looking closely, Ardent realized two things - she'd seen this guy before down in the depths of Throne, where he had some sort of diplomatic job that had seemed incredibly tedious to her younger self. And he was also a million cannibal worms in the shape of Keith Richards with devil wings - not shapeshifted exactly, but both at the same time. Demons could be that way. 

 

"Hello, children!" said 'Keith', his voice worn and a little reedy with age. "Come in, come in. I hope you don't mind, I brought you a plane-warming gift." He patted Auld Reekie's head affectionately. "He's all bound up in there. Silly bugger should have learned - you take a mortal shell, you suffer mortal threats."

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Cathy knew all about this side of Phae's life, they had had that conversation quite early on, but it had all been in the abstract. Potential Angels were easy to explain away, but right here the devil was in the detail! This was as far from the norm for a girl that lived far away in the isolated Shetlands, and who went to church every Sunday.

 

"A relative of yours?" she tried, with limited success to sound brave

 

Stepping close to Phae, a little protectively, she touched the other girl's hand to give her as much support as she could muster.

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The subtext was, of course, that Phaedra herself was wearing a mortal shell.

 

"In a manner of speaking," the half-breed quietly answered, turning her head slightly to give Cathy a faint smile.  "Much like I could claim Heyzel to be kin."

 

Though she was uncomfortable with the situation, predominantly with the threat to Cathy's wellbeing, Phaedra was reassured by her presence.  She glanced at Auld Reekie's head and raised an inquisitive eyebrow.  "You are a bit far from home," she observed.  Which was true, but also wasn't.  Planar travel is like that.

 

"Why?"

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"If neither of you are gonna have some tea, I'm gonna be a touch put out," said Keith as he poured himself a hot cup from the silver carafe on the table. He filled up a porcelain cup with blue flowers on it, and sipped like a gentleman, pinky out, as he studied Ardent and Frostbyte expectantly. "I was in the neighborhood. You have more friends in this city than you know, darling," he said, nodding in Ardent's direction. He took a seat at the head of the table, the back of his seat cut low enough not to interfere with his wings, and gestured for them to join him. "Please. You wouldn't refuse my hospitality, would you?"

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She sighed and gestured at the teapot, indicating that 'Keith' could pour them two cups of tea.

 

"Wouldn't dream of it," Ardent answered which was not a lie.  She picked a seat, noting that like their hosts the back was low enough to allow her own wings to remain clear.  The hellspawn accepted the offered tea and sniffed at it delicately, taking a tentative sip before setting the cup down in front of her and wrapping her hands around it.

 

"You, of course, understand why we might be cautious," she said.  "The sentients of this plane aren't exactly thrilled when someone from Throne visits."

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"Nor should they be," Keith replied evenly. "Not safe for 'em." He moved quickly, almost in haste, to pour the tea for the two young women - then took a seat again at the table. "Not safe fer the likes of us, either. Phaedra, I'm here to tell ya that yer in grave danger. Things 'r about to get a whole lot worse around her for people like you and, uh, what was your name again, honey?" he said apologetically to Frostbyte. "Didn't quite catch it." Turning back to Phaedra, he went on, "I know you ain't welcome back home thanks to the powers-that-be, but there are some places you'd like a lot better than this. I know this realm over by the Yama boys where there are these hot little Yakshini numbers lookin' to take a walk on the wildside. Get you some of that for a hundred years or so, come back here when it's safer.

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Cathy had become pretty used to the strange and unusual, really it was almost normal to her now. But the sheer weirdness of a demon inviting them to tea was still something weird enough to give her pause. Still, if Phae though it was alright then she'd trust her girlfriend's instincts after all this was her world after all. She slid into a spare chair as far from the head as she could manage, something were still too weird to process right now.

 

"Milk no sugar for me please, and please call me Cathy." she'd considered going for Frostbyte but it didn't seem appropriate considering the circumstances

 

"If it's not too forward may I ask what’s going on exactly that brought you here?  It's not like you were popping down the shops and we were just in the area after all."

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Phaedra's outward calm was betrayed by the gradual shift in her features; the lengthening of her nails and canines, and red and black pooling in her eyes.  "I will give you a moment to think about your answer to her question," the half-breed said to 'Keith.'  "But let me make one thing clear, I have no intention of leaving this realm."

 

She settled back into her chair, crossing one leg over the other and gave the elder demon a curious look.  "I am not in Throne because I am aware that, there, I am nothing but a tool for others to use.  Or a threat to be eliminated.  But here, in this realm and on this world I can be more than that.  I'm not here for the sex"  Well, not just that, she thought.

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"Politics," said Keith shortly, not seeming terribly interested in Cathy's question. "War. But the real thing that brought me here was the passage a' time," he said, pouring a cup of tea for the two young women. "You say you're staying in this realm?" he asked, cocking his head to Phaedra. "Sure. They treat you fine, you got a girl out of it. But what if it wasn't so fine?" He made a little gesture in the air - and suddenly everything was different. 

 

The scene was a bit like plugging a movie into the Doom Room, or perhaps wearing a high-end piece of virtual reality. Their table was now in the middle of a large crowd of women and men, their faces pale and bodies thin, some with defiant eyes but others downcast - each dressed in bright orange jumpsuits with their heads shaved and words printed clearly across their torsos - GENDER TRAITORS. Looking down, Phaedra and Cathy could see their outfits had changed too. 

 

"Things get better. But they get worse too." Their little group seemed to be in the middle of a large open area of an armed encampment, where uniformed, masked men stood patrol in towers by barbed-wire fences. It looked like two prisoners were in the process of being singled out for special punishment - from what Phaedra and Cathy could hear, they'd been caught in a sinful relationship."

 

"You gonna tell me that's not some of their heads?" Keith asked Phaedra and Cathy, pointing to the two women being led together onto a wooden platform. "They wouldn't do that to you in a minute if they thought they could get away with it?"

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Before Cathy had worked up the courage to come out to her community she'd worried that they'd treat her as a pariah or worse. But whilst the island might be isolated it was still in the 21st Century and most, there were always a few old-fashioned folks, accepted her as she was.

 

"You think you can conjure up anything worse than I could imagine? Especially when I look like this?" she pointed to her pale white skin "I've heard worse from the girls at school, and it's probably had more effect that your little holodeck charade here!"

 

Whilst she sounded as calm as she could manage she was still pissed at the demon at his little display and as often happened when she was the air around her cooled down substantially frost forming in the area. Normally she'd try and reign it in but she knew by many, happy, hours of experiencing that Phae could handle the cold.

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Phaedra wasn't sure if Cathy's comment about her appearance was meant to be deprecating--she thought Cathy was gorgeous and that seemed to be enough--but until now it had never occurred to her that someone might think different.  Or that someone might disprove of her relationship with another woman so strenuously that they'd wish them harm.

 

As the air chilled, Phaedra reached out to touch Cathy on the arm and gave her a faint smile.  Then she turned her attention back toward 'Keith.'

 

"Things getting better, or worse, is just life, so I am told," she said.  "But for better or worse I will not abandon her."

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"Now honey, that ain't right neither.

 

The scene changed - and they were back in their regular clothes. 

 

Well, Phaedra was. Phaedra was exactly as she usually was, a beautiful princess between Heaven and Hell. 

 

And Cathy was old, impossibly old, long white hair cascading on the pillow behind her, her aged body shriveled and perpetually cold,  wearing only high-tech silvery hospital gown. Freedom City's best medical practices of the late 21st century meant the machines inside her gown kept her alive and broadcast her vital signs to the monitoring stations in the next room, where cybernetic nurses waited to pump in the latest in high-tech drugs. 

 

But even as the 22nd century approached, death was death and age was age. 

 

"Every love story ends with somebody dead. Nature of the beast," said Keith philosophically. 

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There was a moment when she was twelve that she'd accept that she might die and made her peace with that, knowing that her life as her life ebbed about it would save another. For some reason, whether it was God, the legendary Ice Maidens ancestry or just her genetic she'd survived that night. So was a little worried whether Phae would see thing the same way so she reached out with her wrinkled hand, she had to remind herself that her normal hand was underneath, and grasp Phae's own hand tightly.

 

"It's the way of all things to end, like ice melting in the warming sun. And when they do we should take time to enjoy the memories of what has been, and like the melt water new thing will grow. Besides..." she managed a little smile, "They say say Clouston women are to ornery to die, they just shuffle away to bother other people!"

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