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Jill gave Miss Americana a sidelong look, detecting a note of press conference diplomacy amidst the vented frustration. It was hard to know if Steve hadn't mentioned this woman to any of the Interceptors or if she'd just been out of the loop and it was harder still to intuit what that might mean either way. He was the sort of person who wouldn't bring up something he thought wasn't important but also wouldn't bring up something that was so important that people would feel compelled to help him. Really he just didn't talk much about anything. It was still a novel concept. "Well #$%@," she decided eventually, one eye squinting behind her mask. "That's pretty messed up. Do you think she wants the stuff buried here or would she just be worried about getting caught by her old bosses? What about the other one with her?"

 

- - - - -

 

Beneath the pillar of rock Kimber divided her attention between Tarva and Caradoc, ready to intercede if necessary. In the bitter cold of the antarctic her translucent blues were more vivid, more real than normal even without the power of her soul scythe. Her coat billowed about her ankles and the ice crystal patters on the shoulder glittered in the light cast by Dragonfly's armour. She was familiar enough with the major players of the Terminus to know who Mandragora was and feel a twisted sort of appreciation that they were only contending with the one who burned whole worlds to ash. The poltergeist didn't want to deal with the sorts of boobytraps Steelgrave might leave behind any time soon.

 

She turned her attention briefly to the projected slideshow, seeming interested in the little floating drone. When Dragonfly finished speaking she crossed her arms and cleared her throat in pure affectation. It took a long, awkward moment to realize that she was still expecting some sort of apology for their rude welcome, now that the immediate danger had passed and their intentions had been made clear. It might have been a cultural thing.

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Dragonfly gave Kimber a long, expressionless look before her head cocked to the side, mechanically, like some kind of clockwork contraption come to life. She was not a diplomat, but she'd learned to read people, and she had a fair amount of practice by now dealing with odd personalities. "....regardless of intentions, your appearances made situation actively worse," she pointed out, though her voice was far more analytical than judgmental. She seemed to be thinking aloud as much as explaining anything. "Potentially coincidental, probably not. Gave you a very unkind welcome, but had to prioritize getting their attention -" - she didn't point, but her use of 'they' was none the less not ambiguous - "- before things spiraled."

 

"Don't like yelling much. Not good enough at diplomacy to use nicer words and get results. Used methods available when innocent people were at risk. Possibly my limitations, possibly not. Apologies for rudeness, would do it again if I had to, hopefully won't, prefer genuine cooperation. Please call ahead next time."

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It was more diplomatic than Caradoc would have chosen to be - but from the look of things, it had done the trick. There were things he wanted to say even now - foul oaths and harsh remembrances of a time Tarva had chosen to forget but that he remembered all too vividly, words enough to scorch his tongue even at their thought. But there were more important things than vengeance. There were options to consider, like marching Kimber and Tarva far enough into the Antarctic that they could teleport away without triggering whatever was left in the depths beneath their feet. "You have said what you came to say. Your presence here is a danger to all. You should leave." 

 

"And what is your presence, drone?" inquired Tarva. She sounded coldly contemptuous of the drone. "A dead machine's eyes on a dead place. There is no redemption for you here. Perhaps this one knows better than to pick the bones of the Terminus, but do you? Does your woman?

 

Caradoc stared back at her, face and body invisible behind both holographic and real armor, the wind howling around them, for a long, long moment. "...you are afraid," he said suddenly, and there was despite everything a tone of quiet triumph in his voice. "You think to wound me with your words, but you are a creature of the courts of Nihilor. You would not speak so unwisely if something were not clouding your sense. What frightens you so?"

 

"Because..." Tarva, for all her size, was staying protectively just behind Kimber as she spoke. "I know the magic in this place - now that I am here, now that I have felt it in the air. I know what I saw in my vision! I know who sent Mandragora and his beasts here. And I know if all the life she sent here is not destroyed, then she could yet find her way to this place at the bottom of your world. Given enough time here, I can find Mandragora for you - and what remains of him can be destroyed. I must do this before she finds us. She will hunger for life upon life - if it is life she can feel.The Princess of the Beyond. Nightmare Doom.

 

While Tarva and Kimber explained who exactly Nightmare Doom was to Dragonfly, Caradoc stepped away from the group and radioed their base. "There are spells within the Terminus that function so," he said, knowing Miss A and Jill would have been listening to it all through the former's radio link to him. "And might well function here, from a being like Doom. These two show no ill effects from the temperature, so they need not be admitted inside, and the energies below fade without the teleportation." He hmmed, then admitted, "I find this sort of petty sniping more trustworthy than flattery." 

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"That's Ghost Girl," Miss A replied to Jill's question, most of her attention divided between the monitors and the conversation outside. Luckily, she had a lot of attention to give. "An actual ghost as far as anybody can tell, one of Sharl's friends from Claremont. I honestly don't know much about her powers. She seems like a nice girl, heart's in the right place, but a really terrible judge of character. She is the one person on the entire planet who seems to truly believe that Tarva can somehow be rehabilitated. As for what Tarva wants... she may just be on the level this time," Miss A admitted. "I think she's probably at least as scared of her old bosses as we are, maybe more since they know her by name." 

 

Miss Americana had several choice words in response to Tarva's taunts, some of them rather at odds with the heroine's squeaky-clean public persona, but at least the mic was dead at the time.  She didn't open it back up again until Caradoc finished making his report. "That's because you're a glutton for punishment" she reminded him, deadpan. "But somewhere in the middle of that massive hissy she just threw, I think she said she could find Mandragora for us. If that's true, we may be forced to deal with her. We just don't have the resources to mount a massive search in these conditions, and inventing something that will do the job takes time. Tell her and Kimber that they can come into the dome and we'll plot out some kind of strategy,  but that if she does anything, anything with her powers without negotiating it first, I'm going to portal her into the ocean. I'm not risking anything down there waking up." 

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"I'm just saying there's a difference," Ghost Girl was explaining the Dragonfly, having decided that a long list of reasons that the armoured woman being rude was actually their fault was as close to basic manners as she was going to get. The phantom punctuated her words with sweeping gestures and extreme expressions that might have seemed like exaggeration if not for the undercurrent of earnestness. "They made her go full Doomcoil and what's left is straight-up marmalade-for-brains. Any one of the Hounds would be a serious problem but Doom-- Okay, so magic is different from science because instead of learning how the rules work it's about breaking the rule just enough to do what you want without doing stuff you don't want, 'kay? That's why most magic has a bunch of it's own rules only those rules are kinda sorta mostly made up so it's tricky." She crisscrossed her arms and jabbed her index fingers in opposite directions as though somehow illustrating her point. "But she has a ton of power and she doesn't care about breaking stuff by accident so it's like somebody driving an aircraft carrier through a marina because why not!" She paused to exchange a look with Tarva before giving Dragonfly a shrug. "So it's definitely not great, eh?"

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"Familiar with magic," Dragonfly confirmed, leading the group back to base; she had to admit that she found the ghost somewhat endearing, now that she wasn't worried about a bunch of scientists dying because of old wounds causing fights in the snow. "Never wrapped my head around how magic works in practice, but some high-energy science is like that too. Getting the effect you want within strict bounds so that you don't tear holes in fabric of reality. Can doesn't mean should, etc. Good to have your expertise, though, as long as it doesn't cause more problems on accident. Not going to turn down benign help if it gets this solved faster and better."
 
She cocked her head, pausing long enough to glance over at the animated spectre. "Do scientists tell you that magic is invalid or too different because it has different rules, or involves breaking rules? Or talk about how magic is just science nobody knows all rules for yet?" Mara needed to get to know more proper mages, come to think of it, but even then.... "Those people are bad scientists. You can tell them Dragonfly said so."

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In Caradoc's experience, neither science nor magic ultimately mattered - certainly the distinction between them did not. Both could build islands of safety and security in their turn, but all were eventually swamped in the ocean of entropy. What did the foundations matter when the edifice itself would crumble within or beyond human lifetimes? But as was generally the case, no one asked his opinion of these matters - so he said nothing. 

 

Once inside the laboratory dome, Caradoc was silent at first, filing in and off to one side as the party from outside (including the two new arrivals) made their way through the airlock. Upon her entry into the room, Tarva hung back as well when confronted with the lair of those who were not her enemies but were definitely not her friends either. Inside his helmet, Steve was staring at her through eyes rendered invisible by the protective plating of his armor and the false 'eyeslits' placed by his holographic disguise. Tarva seemed to sense his gaze on her, though, and spoke abruptly, not quite able to look at Miss Americana. 

 

"I am sure you heard all we said. If you let me cast a spell to find Mandragora, we can destroy what remains of him and be on our way - before she finds us.

 

Privacy was impossible in the small dome - but the scientists around them were mostly occupied with packing up their gear and research rather than watching the super-argument. Mostly. 

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Miss Americana was up and moving by the time the party returned to the dome, giving instructions to the scientists, packing up relics, and adjusting the security protocols in the hopes of somehow moving them beyond their already maximized performance levels. She gave Tarva a long look. "Finding Mandragora is key, but not if it means casting a spell that sets off all the nasties down in that crypt." Her voice was flat, utterly professional, completely affectless. "Can you ramp up the spell by degrees, so that you can cut it off the moment we see it starting to trigger anything?" 

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Tarva stared at Miss Americana for a moment, eyes narrowed, but then spoke with a calm professionalism that seemed rather different than the woman they'd met outside, "I can do so. The spell is easy enough to cast slowly - though if I fail to find him, the consequences will not be mine." Her grip tightened around her lover, but nothing on her face or in her voice betrayed weakness now. Kimber, at least, had seen this before - Tarva tended to give like for like and hate for hate, and met icy reserve with a cold precision like a perfectly cast shadow. With their gear packed up and dark rituals to be cast here, the scientists in the dome took the opportunity to retreat back to the barracks, taking shelter somewhere isolated from the potentially dangerous doings of super-people. "I will guard their door," said Caradoc after a moment's hesitation, addressing Miss Americana as much as anyone there. "We face foes who would choose them as victims first." He knew that Gina's distance inside the robot would protect her from anything unleashed by Tarva - and that Jill and Dragonfly had their own ways of managing. 

 

That left Miss Americana, Ghost Girl, Jill O'Cure, and Dragonfly inside the dome as Tarva knelt on a clear patch of floor and began chanting - drawing on the floor around her with a finger that was suddenly covered with shadowy, inky blackness. The words were a black eldritch speech of which Kimber had heard a little - the eyes that saw and the hands that clenched, the fire that burned but gave no heat and gave no light! Her voice rising, Tarva opened eyes turned into black, featureless pools, the level of eldritch energy in the room growing - but not yet powerful enough to trigger the magical devices below in the cyber-crypt. Not yet! 

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"They'll be all of ours'," Dragonfly had dryly noted, but there was some serious truth to that. She hadn't liked any of this when she'd shown up, and she liked it less and less as time went on, but at least they were doing something, and she was always better when she could be doing something.

 

Except, of course, she couldn't do anything, because magic - what was this, scrying? - was so far out of her wheelhouse that it was on another boat entirely. While Tarva focused literal black magic (Mara was pretty sure black wasn't a great sign, but she also assumed it was normal for someone who dressed like that) Dragonfly opted to sent her drones out across the area, each hovering well out of the way or clinging to a wall or corner, giving her as much camera coverage as her little fleet could manage. Only one stayed nearby, staring up at the ceiling to project a rapidly-shifting UI of the room's status. "Do we have a plan for if we find him, other than....mmh. Atomizing? Atomizing sounds good. Then put atoms into the sun of someone we don't like."

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"I'm on board with atomizing," Jill agreed, arms crossed and leaning against a table where she could keep an eye on the shadow sorceress and her floating gal pal. It sure would have been nice to have an unbiased magical expert to double-check the scrying but instead she was just going to have to keep her eyes peeled and convince herself that she'd be able to recognize something wrong when she saw it. "What are we expecting, here? Are we getting a projection or something or is it just special effects and then we have to trust whatever she says she saw?"

 

"Shh!" Ghost Girl shushed from the opposite side of the scrying circle, casting a peevish look at the masked medic. The poltergeist had drawn her legs up underneath herself so that she was sitting in midair, as close to the edge of the black sigils as she could get without actually crossing their boundaries. Having a snarky audience was enough to put Tarva outside of her comfort zone even before the possibility of one of the Hounds showing up and Tarva did not always make the best decisions when she was pushed out of her comfort zone. She almost hoped something did appear so they could all focus on a common foe. A chill that had nothing to do with the frigid waste outside rolled off of her along with palpable waves of restlessness.

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